A Prayer in a Wolf’s Mouth: Poems 2013–2014 and Like Branches to Wind: Poems 2008 by Richard Milazzo

A Prayer in a Wolf’s Mouth: Poems 2013–2014. Turin. Lower Canal Books. 2014. ISBN 9788890538544

Like Branches to Wind: Poems 2008. Turin. Lower Canal Books. 2014. ISBN 9788890538551  

Milazzo Boxed SetRichard Milazzo is a prominent international art curator and critic who has written over twenty art books and has published eighteen volumes of poetry. In his world travels since 1993 he has often written his poems in far-flung hotels, reflecting an antigrail quest, a reluctant yet passionate determination to see the numinous in every creature and feature of this world. A Prayer in a Wolf’s Mouth is, in the author’s words, “orientated toward India” after his recent trip there, though much of it was written in Europe. The poem “Seriously” makes the backward case that gods cannot exist without us, can only live and breathe and think with our hearts, lungs, and brains: “show me the eye / that does not rain, snow that does not return // to the mouth of the desert, a mouth of briers, / the pleading mouth of the thorn bush! / And what poet worth his salt believes that any god / “‘might live, move, be’” without our being, // take a breath, breathe a single word without us . . . / Oh, yes, indeed, the Cretan poet, Epimenides, / that old Sicilian, Aratus, and that prophet of prisons who will set me free / by adjusting my head during my golf swing!”

The poetry in this volume is full of such sudden shocks of irony as with the metaphysics of a golf swing. In “Catherine Deneuve,” the narrator assumes the persona of an old director sitting at a sidewalk café below the actress’s apartment, imagining himself as an extra in the cinema of her glamorous life, though feeling his intimacy might qualify him to be her Hitchcock. In the antistrophe, Deneuve is a reciprocal voyeur as she looks down on that narrator and pins her continuing relevance on his presence. The juxtaposition captures the intimacies within separation and loneliness, as both narrators couch their roles as reflecting the very vibrance of Paris.  

Meditations often merge with eloquent, hot irony into the political and the journalistic shock of “if it bleeds, it leads.” In “Orcagna’s Folly and Cellini’s Pillow,” his commentary on the bloodthirstiness of the famous sculptures overlooking Piazza della Signoria segues into the modern entropy of our human upper crust as it opposes the tough hoi polloi: “indeed, no woman (or man, for that matter) could pass / without the imminent threat of rape or some form of violence – / celebrated in bronze and marble, // . . . Now what is literal is no longer couched in the mythological – / Cellini’s bronze pillow has been reforged into a soft allegory / lauding corporate frenzy and the intestinal fortitude of the masses, / steeped in blood and bloodless in spirit!”

Every poem in A Prayer in a Wolf’s Mouth is a surprise, a leap of unexpected connections that are yet instantly recognizable. “Laurels” provides a vivid twist on Keats’s spirit bird that “never wert.” In “Artaud in Amsterdam,” the city’s frenetic blizzard of activity becomes his own internal blizzard of images: “Van Gogh’s empty, mud-encrusted boots // and Vermeer’s milkmaid endlessly pouring milk into a bowl / will never slow it down.”

Like Branches to Wind is poetry written six years earlier and published for the first time. It is more somber but no less luminous than the later volume, and often finds its world in the concrete and minute, and the strangely erotic, as in this excellent meditation on a candle in a church: “I do not think flower / searches for seed in wind / or bird’s mouth or heart’s flame, / in memory’s sweet darkness // or moment’s sudden procession, / nor does wax dripping slowly / along the side of a candle / search still for light’s last profit.”

And in “My Eternal Fauve,” the author bathes and exalts his human significant “other” in the colors of fauvism, exemplified by Matisse and his muse of vivid color: “your eyes burst into hazel fires, / and your hair becomes a whirlpool / of pink and yellow rivers, / and your face turns into a blue sail // fading off into a lavender sky / and a mauve sea, / and your arms and legs like trees / curl ’round an orange sun, // and your breasts burn like flowers in heat, / and your soul descends into a purple ravine . . .”

A Prayer in a Wolf’s Mouth and Like Branches to Wind are elegant books worth spending much deep time with. The author’s voice is an international and profoundly personal one, indulging in neither lullaby nor scream yet encompassing all manner of metaphysical insights and deeply felt emotions.

James Drummond
Round Rock, Texas

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