Nationally known and former Trenton area poet Pablo Medina’s “The Foreigner’s Song: New and Selected Poems” is a type of aural retrospective. Here the Cuban-born American poet reaches back to his first published book of poems, the 1975 “Pork Rind and Cuban Song,” culls from five others, and releases 19 fresh works that open with “That Dream Again.” It’s a fitting title to start the book. Not only does Medina mention dreams in a number of his poems, he charges his poems with a dreamlike quality — one that leads readers to a place where familiarity and certainty surrender to strangeness and reflection.
In the following selection from his 1991 volume, “Arching into the Afterlife,” the poet explores a subject that he returned to frequently during his time in the region: the landscape of the Garden State:
Something secret raced down the street
and left a smell behind —
a rose in heaven, a cat long dead.
Someone hung intestines from electric lines,
nuzzled a gravestone,
tasted the ashes of apple pies.
I saw boys straddled on fences
looking for manhood
and women with eyes for pigeons.
Their brains were full of knives,
Their hearts were full of feathers.
In Camden just under the wind
I heard the sighs of an old poet walking.
He sensed the meanings of chimneys,
he sang until the factories whimpered
and the willows turned up their branches
and the ruins turned to butterflies.
Out of the marsh,
out of the center of the function
of things, out of the arching roadway
and the roaring trucks, out of the drainpipe
as the snow melts and purifies the dark,
out of the itchy poets and the pest
control deputies and the organized men
lounging in the dream canoes and ladies
in fur coats dripping with mustard,
out of the blue light of blindness, the city rises
Gorged on best intentions, sucking
The teat of the mother of dawn,
Newark of a little laughter, a little
light, a little beer on the stoop,
a little jazz in the stairwell.
Newark hoping for some rain, some flood
left over, grateful of the work
that fills the spaces between love,
facing the spot where the sun rises,
the sea makes waves, a girl
sucking on a lollipop is looking down the boulevard.
Deep winter night.
The tongues of the Common quivered —
the salt tongues,
the tongues of the dreams of Hungarians,
the tongues of windows sealing envelopes
for their husbands,
tongues of macadam,
pine barren tongues,
tongues of poets and politicians
battling one another with mirrors.
I meet a woman
cradling a stone in her arms.
The doctor found it by her bladder
waiting for light.
She walked on singing.
Her talisman cracked.
when the snows come
they stay for days,
when the snows leave
the night wounds heal.
The highways point
to states of concrete,
waves, golden corn.
Love, the next under rushes
by the ice-jammed river.
The Foreigner’s Song: New and Selected Poems, Pablo Medina, 172 pages, $18.95, Tiger Bark Press.