The Saigon of Tranquility
Not her backward somersault on a moon so orange
you could juice it. Not the snow goose
among a flying V over the moonscape
who dropped a bayonet
shaped quill into her shoulder basket
of bitter papaya and tree fungus not
meant for the brother he didn't
find tunneling toward
daylight. The hell with the years
of moonlight into the future, in
an alley dusky and littered
with trash behind the Boston
Harbor Custom House, where
he will not
step on her toes or reach
for the dark ravine
of her dimple, dark glasses
and cane. Nor will she
spray the pepper
into his shock. She will not
tuck the right toe
of her shoe behind
her left heel and turn
on the ball of her foot
while he crumbles
into the next
century. She will not
and neither will he.
© 2015 Roger Weingarten
Roger Weingarten is the author of eleven poetry collections, including Ethan Benjamin Boldt and The Vermont Suicides, Knopf, and Shadow Shadow, Infant Bonds of Joy, and Ghost Wrestling, Godine. Co-editor of eight poetry and prose anthologies, he has taught and read at conferences, poetry festivals, and universities internationally. He is the founder of and was the senior professor in the MFA in Writing Program and Postgraduate Writers' Conference at Vermont College from 1980-2008. His awards include a Pushcart Prize, a Louisville Review Poetry Prize, an N.E.A Fellowship, and an Ingram Merrill Award in Literature. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, APR, The New Republic, Poetry East, The Stonewall Book of Short Fictions, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Currently at work at a collection of new and selected poems, Electric Bitters, he lives in Vermont with the poet Kate Fetherston.
Largely due to the novelistic structure of his second book, Ethan Benjamin Boldt, some critics tagged Roger Weingarten as a narrative poet. What they missed is the lyric element in his work: meditative, linguistically wild, and sometimes satiric. Weingarten is an iconoclast who should be read like Pound. The Four Gentlemen and their Footman is his postmodern take on High Modernism, a multilayered meditation on the nature of being, a self-skewering, conflicted, and impassioned Roman a clef told in a voice full of riddles and double entendre, occasionally in other languages, as if the mishaps of the poet’s life were the stuff of black comedy—his objective correlative.
Roger Weingarten’s geometrized sestinas swarm forth like the surround sound of a dioramic kaleidoscope spinning on super speed. Rabelais, Joyce, and Nabokov bubble up, but so many savors season this stew. The beauty and intellectual depth of Weingarten's diction is simply wondrous. Whatta mind! In the flash of a syllable wiseass blossoms into poignancy, and I know of no ironist more profound or sincere.
The Four Gentlemen and Their Footman dances with a cat named mehitabel, the poems careening through the multiple lives a man slips in and out of over the years. Roger Weingarten's language is both weapon and hammock, a trap or sly embrace and what a joy to burst out with snorts of laughter while reading a poem! With the powers and passions of brilliantly unpredictable language, the poet navigates a continuous tremor of betrayal which both shored up and shattered his first family then seeped into his marriages; the visceral complexities of being a guy, and a Jewish one at that, are both hilarious and wrenching. Yet both the poet and his poems are vigorously optimistic. Tender, bitter, uproarious—how can you not love a book like this which gives and gives and gives.
Jazzy, allusive, and electric, Roger Weingarten’s new collection embodies an "unquenchable/yen for the trembling." With his staccato rhythms, trademark enjambment, and technicolor diction, Weingarten never goes gently in these cubist marvels that mythologize experience and the poet’s own fathomless imagination even as they bare his ragged swooning heart. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for "a jar of spirits." Prepare for "hallelujah and a haircut." Here is a master who gives "the skin/off my back, stretched and tacked/to a frame." The Four Gentlemen and their Footman is "whole being blossomed." You hold a marvel in your hands.
— Adam Tavel