Selected Poems. The Next of Us is About to Be Born, edited by Maggie Anderson, Kent State University Press, 2009.
“The books in the Wick Poetry Series present exciting writing by new and emerging poets. Diverse, surprising, and politically and emotionally charged, this series has published some of the best new poetry being written, chosen by many of our most beloved and respected poets. The Next of Us Is About to Be Born is a valuable addition to the landscape of contemporary poetry.”—Harvey Hix, Finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry for CHROMATIC
The Next of Us Is About to Be Born is an anthology of fifty-five poets published in the Wick Poetry Series celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. Designed to be an eclectic grouping, the anthology illustrates the exciting new directions poets have been taking from the early 1990s to the present, in keeping with the Wick Poetry Center’s mission of encouraging new voices.
Twenty Questions for Robbie Dunkle. Kent State University Press, 2004.
“Inspired by the story of Secundus the Silent Philosopher and the twenty vital questions posed to him by Emperor Hadrian, J. Gabriel Scala’s Twenty Questions for Robbie Dunkle moves swiftly and deftly into the essence of human existence—memory. Imbued with that ancient consideration, Robbie Dunkle emerges as a chance metaphor for the poet’s own past, the dead past, which becomes our past, with all of its wonders and wastes, which only brilliant poetry can revive this powerfully.”—Larissa Szporluk
“J. Gabriel Scala’s series of unanswerable questions to seventh-grade companion Robbie Dunkle are singular as pebbles, marked with vivid details of a lost but living time and place. Scala throws them far into the water until they resonate, sending circles out into the abyss, captivating us in the endless human process of cycling through the past.”—Annie Finch
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL POEMS IN JOURNALS AND ANTHOLOGIES:
ON CHOOSING CHILDLESSNESS
Moon City Review, Spring 2013, p. 183.
“Blind Date for Old Turtles Yielded Eggs, No Offspring”
—The New York Times, October 8, 2008
In the article, she is nameless, this Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtle
who had lived alone, the last living female of her species, undiscovered
inside the hull of a Chinese zoo. For half a century
no one questioned the childless ache that thrummed in her belly,
the way she sometimes sank into the murky water, eyes lowered, making
her solitary progress to the filthy bed below, the years of preparation:
fattening up and building nests, rising each year from the dark mud,
each year without child, searching out the full sun on her back, the frail
air where eggs could safely wait for one to come. The dreamed one,
the one imagined almost into being. And then scientists and doctors,
the zookeepers got involved—threading needles into her veins, exposing her
soft underbelly, injecting hormones, taking her far from home
to one who climbed on top, the weight of him pressing down on her,
the weight of emptiness and hope, the years of longing, bearing down
on her, that yielded eggs, hollowed out, cracked and brittle, that died
one by one. The scientists make plans for the two turtles to try again.
How can they know how the longing slows and stills, finally dissipating
into the air like the stench of a startled and dead bird who lay for hours
gently panting at the bottom of a windowpane before finally letting go?
Sunrise from Blue Thunder Anthology, edited by Millicent Borges Accardi, Pirene’s Fountain, 2011.
Lately I have been terrified of words, words like:
nuclear crisis; like: tsunami; like: cold front,
while I sit in this apartment and watch chaos unfurl
like: a shoeless girl on a curb; like: a ship
atop a building.
This is not about the Japanese earthquake, it’s much
too soon for that. That story, anyway, cannot be written
by me. And I should say, as an aside, that my own feelings,
like: helplessness; like: horror; like: grief,
are inconsequential and do no one any good. No,
this is not about the hundreds of thousands who
just a few days ago were doing things like: cooking;
like: laughing, and who are now smoothing the hair
of their child who lay still in a crumpled car on the shore,
who are now clustered around a wind-swept fire in snow.
If it were about them, I would say: you will survive this.
I would say: if there is nothing left but the kitchen sink,
grab hold of it and remember the smooth slice of knife
separating fish from skin, root from bark. Remember
washing apricot and fig, and the way the sun streamed
through water while you washed your son’s hands.
Naugatuck River Review, Summer 2010, p. 60.
Mr. Takaji checks in on me from time to time, from the upstairs office
where he sits all night – faded flag on the wall, a letter from President
Clinton in a dusty wooden frame. The regulars seep in,
buy hot coffee, bags of chips, after the bars have closed. They linger
like boys loitering in halls, carry with them a conversation, angry
talk about the Muslims in our town. George snorts
at headlines: Harassment, vandalism a reality for Muslim-Americans,
draws a finger, slow, across his throat. Mr. Takaji comes down
from his loft, holds a picture, in his hand, in the air:
a young boy stands mug-shot-style in front of a chart, his name
white letters below his chin. Inscribed on the frame: Tule Lake, 1945—
Do you see this? he asks. Everyone here knows the story:
The dusty, ill attended Labor Day parade; boys in rows saluting behind
concertina wire, aging grandparents slowly sinking into desert floor.
His voice resonates. Their heads nod as if on a single spring.
The fluorescent lights flicker and whirr. Everything looks yellow.
His hand shakes. I turn and look at the regulars, their faces
ashen, awkward. They line up, pay for their drinks. The ball jangles
their departure. They leave him standing there, black and white photo
hanging mid-air. The glass rattles in the frame as he drops it, heavy
on the counter, slowly shuffles back up the stairs.
Hang that on the wall, he says from the top, his voice a tired whisper.
I turn and look up. He is wiping his glasses with the bottom of his shirt,
he is wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
Quarter After Eight, vol. 11/12, 2006, p. 188.
In that moment, that brief, illusive moment, you actually allow yourself to think: somebody better be dead because the cars and trucks and exhaust fumes have come to a sudden and complete stop in front of you, and you almost, just barely missing by the skin of your teeth, hit that station wagon full of kids who are now making ugly clown faces in your direction as you pull out your last cigarette from the crumpled pack at your side, throw the snickers bar wrapper out the window and realize you have to use the bathroom—soon—and you’ll be even later than you were already going to be meeting your lover at that little restaurant with the red and white checkered plastic table cloths to have one of those I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry conversations that has had you tied in knots for the past three weeks, that has made breathing an act of sheer will and he’ll sit on the other side of the table and watch you squirm like your father’s fishing bait, watch the way you twirl a swatch of your hair around and around your finger trying to keep from biting your nails which need painting or shifting too noticeably in your chair and eventually he’ll let you off the hook…he’ll give you permission to breathe again and you’ll call him a son of a bitch under your breath and knock your chair over as you get up, excusing yourself, and practically run to the bathroom where you’ll curse and cry and scream and the old woman coming out of the stall behind you will click her tongue and shake her head and make you feel like a three-year-old having a tantrum in the middle of the Bellevue Baptist Church social where there is little or no mention of Christ or hypocrisy, just talk of lemon meringue pies and kids these days and everyone is looking at you as you exhale loudly, squash out the smoke you have smoked to the butt, raise your middle finger to the horn blowing behind you and notice that the cars are now moving.
Sierra Nevada Review, vol. 16, 2005, p. 62.
I once believed I was the sea, until I opened a vein,
saw no spiny starfish or milky white nettles—
You believed that children should dream, drew your arms
around imaginary wings and said: instead of float, fly.
Now that you are dying, I hold your hand, borrow
these words for you: I am human, I am human.
I will not be an angel again. The sky is aflame with
the quietness of this rending. I wake.
Poems & Plays, vol. 10, 2003, p. 14.
My mother whispers hush softly into my hair while I rock,
a steady metronome of grief, now that she has risen
from her leaning stance, lifted her head from your dead body
and walked away from this grave.
I am slowly disappearing under her hand, a rose beneath snow,
roots stretching down into the ground, down into moist soil,
to touch you one last time, to intertwine thin fingers with yours,
and whisper soft the secrets I never told.
Father, I would stay here with you, in this darkened and quiet
tunnel, the weight of it burying my view. But she is pulling
on me. She is tearing and screaming for me to come back.
Her fingers are raw with the digging and digging.
Poems & Plays, vol. 10, 2003, p. 13.
Three weeks to the day after
my grandfather’s body was cremated, I am
sitting on a horse
in the snow
a day after my wedding.
We surmise each other,
the horse and I. She is pulling
at my tug, listening for the tch tch
that tells her to move. It is beautiful,
the snow falling in fat flakes,
the horse’s breath in the air,
my new husband smiling
as he brushes the coat of his own horse.
Death is all around us. And why not
speak of it? It is in a person
to feel such things,
to be aware of her skeleton,
the bare trees.
The limbs of the oaks are covered
in white. The snow covers too
the open field, hiding
the graves. I clutch the reins,
dig my heels into her side.
SCENE OF A BOY ABOUT TO BE KILLED BY AN ONCOMING TRAIN
Beacon Street Review, vol. 16, no. 2, 2003, p. 88.
He believes the window is not broken because he holds a shard of the pane
in his hand. He conducts an orchestra with a bent stick, bows to the audience.
Bells and frayed string hang down from the branches in a cluster of trees
that line the rusted railroad tracks along mission 66. He pauses to notice
the bells, now rusted through, their silver burned out, the clapper long gone,
that hang with the rope, and wonders if it once held the frail neck of a boy.
He looks from the glass to the bells and back again. There is no salvation in either.
A symphony plays in his head, one-two-three, one-two-three, the violins are mad
with their humming, a lone cello murmurs in the distance, he is spinning
and laughing. The bells take up their dancing, the ground rumbles its applause.