Embers on the Stairs. Ruth Bavetta. Moon Tide Press. Irvine, California. 2014.
Ruth Bavetta reads like the most reasonable person on earth in the poems found in Embers on the Stairs.
Don't be lulled or fooled by the even modulation of her voice, these poems are piano string taut and all in time. Bavetta has nailed the resonant voice. You hear wisdom, not a lecture, just smart enough to nurture the silly out of you.
Fifty years I worked
the sewing machines.
Kept on even after I married
the salesman with the curly hair
and wide smile. I was past marrying age
by then and glad enough of him.
The vacuum cleaners didn't sell,
so when I got home from work
he was always there, smiling. It was a year
before I found the bottles hidden
behind the radio. I never learned
to drive, took the bus to work,
but I paid for the house,
and the new car when his broke down.
After they cut off his cogliones
because of the cancer
I divorced him so the State would pay
the hospital and the doctors.
He died anyway.
I'd do it again, though, marry
a man who smiles.
Bavetta can be very tender when she's kicking at that old can death, but I would tell the reader there is a melancholy price to be paid for her particular wisdom.
You can see that transaction playing out again and again in these heart-rending morality tales.
Such gentle affection can sometimes feel trite or contrived, Embers on the Stairs escapes any of that. Again and again Bavetta reveals some secret knowledge that we have only previously suspected, hoped for.
Last Bus to Paradiso
I shall die, someday, on a tourist bus,
whose weary driver, bored
after three hundred thirty-four
trips to his particular wonder,
nods off for a nanosecond
during sweet and lustful thoughts
of his girlfriend's luscious rump.
One day on the Transpeninsular two-laner,
Baja California Sur,
the speeding bus -- broken seats,
open windows, swaying Virgin and all --
will hurtle to meet its twin head-on,
while passing uphill on a blind curve
with no third gear.
Or will the rear wheels slip and grab,
in Norwegian mud as the driver guns
the engine, desperately and too late,
to escape our sudden sternward slide
into the freezing fingers
of Porsanger Fjord?
I think I would prefer
the Italian coast, where I'll make
a long, graceful, arcing plunge
from the brink of the Amalfi Drive
to join the bones
of some long-forgotten ancestor
who fished the ink and azure depths below.
We're not much for name calling here at Today's book of poetry -- but if forced into a corner we'd call Ruth Bavetta's very fine Embers on the Stairs "pragmatic optimism" of the highest order. Or as one of my favourite writers on the planet, Joyce Carol Oates, said: "Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst."
Every story doesn't have a happy ending but it is still good to know that hope prevails.
Dream of a Different Life
With my lover I went
where the roads end,
and upstairs there was someone
with closed eyes, closets
with clothes left hanging.
We breathed the dust of bracken
on dry east winds
while beetles swarmed
and the sky grew darker
and farther away.
There was still time,
I said, lying.
Life does not always work out as we planned or hoped -- but it does just keep on rolling, with or without us. Bavetta reminds us of this, with considerable cheer, to take note of the best moments, that is how we endure the rest of it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruth Bavetta's poems have been published in Rattle, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, North American Review, Spillway, Hanging Loose, Rhino, Poetry East and Poetry New Zealand, among others, and are included in the anthologies Twelve Los Angeles Poets and Wait a Minute, I Have to Take Off My Bra. Her book Fugitive Pigments was released in 2013. She loves the light on November afternoons, the smell of the ocean, a warm back to curl against in bed. She hates pretense, fundamentalism and sauerkraut.
"Embers on the Stairs is the latest book from Ruth Bavetta, an accomplished poet and artist. Her poetic tone is modulated but she relates discoveries both amazing and heart-wrenching ... This is a collection that will be wept over for its poignant truths, delighted in for its unique and exact images and cherished for its wisdom and foibles, its sheer engaging humanity."
-- Joan Colby
"Ruth Bavetta's poems are clever. But that's okay because they are also heartbreaking and universal and astonishingly good. As you read them, you wonder how she got into your house to see and report such things. These are mature poems. A woman looks back over her life and yes there were mistakes, but there was much joy too. I really had to laugh at the guilty pleasure of buying books, and eating standing in the kitchen were calories don't count. These things are almost better than sex, except there is no need for glasses when having sex. See -- this is a book should read."
-- Lisa Cihlar
"Bavetta's poems are refreshingly modest, almost delicate, yet able to transform the ordinary again and again through their potent imagery."
-- Jefferson Carter
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