rare grasses poems by maria sassi

picture of maria sassi

Photograph by Anthony Mensah


Rare Grasses, Maria Sassi’s long-awaited third book of poems rings all the changes, all the joys and sorrows of a life lived to the hilt. We are gifted with love poems, praise poems, ekphrastic poems, and moving elegies. They are formal, they are free; they are very Italian, they are entirely American. They are a blessing. Dick Allen says this: “Rare Grasses, indeed! These are Maria Sassi’s best poems yet: poems especially notable for their myriad descriptions of captured sound, including the exceptional ‘The Stuttering Riff of Cicada.’ They are poems of anticipation, poems of memorable people perching on a piano, or delaying starting a day of farm work, or even imagined after death as speaking in the rustling of leaves. And throughout Rare Grasses are not only perfectly realized sonnets (including one to an egg), but implicit homages to poets Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop and John Berryman. . . and flowers and the color blue abounding everywhere. Sassi’s new poems, layered upon sorrow while simultaneously rising above it, are always musical, always fine, poems to be read aloud and cherished.” And this from Dana Gioia: “Congratulations on the publication of Rare Grasses. It is a wonderfully diverse collection in both technical and thematic terms. Your art has deepened through the years.” Gray Jacobik says, “Reasons abound to both respect and, more importantly, cherish the poems of Maria Sassi’s Rare Grasses. My first half-dozen are their musicality, pacing, reticence, precision, tenderness and scope—and on and on their qualities gambol. I implore you to read and re-read these poems, for they are sustenance for the long haul, the best words can do to convey to another a taste of what it is to own an acute intelligence in a highly sensitive body, that of a lifelong writer who has regarded much, thought deeply, borne joys and griefs to their fullest breadth, and stayed tuned to the natural world, its creatures and its moods. Here, if you will open your heart, is the gift of truly privileged utterance.”
  rare grasses by maria sassi cover image
  Cover painting by Gray Jacobik.

Maria Sassi, who was for several years Poet Laureate of West Hartford, Connecticut, is a prize-winning poet and playwright. Her first poetry collection, Rooted in Stars, now in its second printing, is part of The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Her chapbook What I See presents ekphrastic poems, three of which have won international poetry prizes: the René Magritte Prize and the Salvatore Dali Prize. Maria’s poems have been choreographed and performed on national television, and she is the author of several plays. Among these is the verse-play Dreams and Loves of the Septre Family, which received the Bicentennial Award and was staged at Hartford’s Old State House, and The Yellow Light, winner of the One-Act Prize sponsored by the Hartford Stage Company, which produced it in concert. Her prize-winning video, Five Ocean Poems, completed with a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, was distributed to public institutions throughout Connecticut. For many years Maria taught creative writing with an emphasis on poetry at Hartford College for Women/University of Hartford, and she has hosted poetry events at several venues including the Noah Webster House, Hartford’s Old State House, and the Charter Oak Cultural Center. Her work has been much anthologized and published by many literary journals. She has read at venues throughout the Northeast and at the Poets Library in Edinburgh, Scotland; and she has lectured on the work of many national Poet Laureates. With her husband Bill, Maria Sassi lives in West Hartford.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-97-9

Copyright © 2015 by Maria Sassi

6" x 9" paperback, 80 pages



Copyright ©2015 by Maria Sassi



August Peaches

You bring me these! Two rosy golds,
pale-fuzzed from the tree
that leans near our house    um’m,
they smell like sun on hay—

                                           you covered
them with strong mesh so squirrels couldn’t
steal them, bite-test for sugar, leave them
on the ground in sly-squirrel disregard.

These peaches, lush in light cream at tea
this afternoon on the porch or for an evening
drink in the garden near the patch of phlox—
sliced, skin and all, into tall-stemmed
glasses, Zinfindel poured over      um’m,
each winey crescent lifted out with our fingers.

The best way is like this—break the membrane
glowing to our teeth     sweet meat makes juice
brim our lower lips     juice trickles
from our mouths     mouths of peach     so close
Kiss me.

Of a Startling Blue

Wind and hard rain last night
flattened the bluebells,
stems awry as if in a game of sticks,
some with their bulb hearts
bared for us to replant.

I remember how we found them blooming
in a patch at a petrol station
in Cornwall on the ocean—tiny bells
of a startling blue. I wanted them.

You dug some up with a sharp tin lid
we found in the back of the rented car
and when leaving Heathrow,
you stole them onto the plane
hidden in the lining of your jacket. . .

they show every May in ground swells
of blue, bluer than ocean,
bluer than bits of some heaven’s fallen sky.


Scattered Light on Dark Hay

after “McVey’s Barn” by Andrew Wyeth


Loose hay falls every which way in lines
of greenish-black with spear-head ends.
A ragged square of cadmium yellow
is small and alive in the middle, a sun patch
in a near-black miasma.
                                 A barn, half sunk
like an ark on a sea of tangled waves emerges.
No moon. No sky.
                            Two sagging windows hold
painted light from a place where high-strung
music comes and see-saws, a bow on a fiddle string,
a barn dance at Bailey’s Farm the autumn I was
           We rummaged hay by handfuls looking
for the squiggle of gold broken off my
birthday ring.
                   We looked until the fiddler tuned
and the tallest boy pulled me toward the
rough-planked floor to wait for the caller’s
first call.
             Sound of cicadas’ shimmery drone
came in from the country night to mingle
with the screech and whine of strings, our
stomping feet.
                        Everything rocked. Lamps
swinging from rafters drew bright circles
on the shaking floor. We danced the rounds
in bobbing light, the smiling face of the tallest
boy above me . . .
                                 Years later someone told me
he was found on a road in upstate New York in
a car filled with carbon monoxide.
now reverberate from this Wyeth scene—
the caller’s raspy shouts, the fiddler’s stuttering
rise and fall . . .
                          and how we all whirled
in and out of the light’s reach.


There Is Always the Ride Home

after someone informs you the night nurse
has signed in and the doctor stares
in your eyes, his words slamming hard
warped words, bleak words. Too many.

Things are never like a Fifties film
where Ingrid Bergman, in a darkened room
sobs. Her soft-lit scene with grief
is in elegant seclusion.

We never see her journey from the hospital,
cordoned-off cliff where her love
was lost. In life, the ride home happens
after someone from the staff leads you

toward the elevator. They expect you to
leave, not linger. You fumble for keys,
legs going limp, inane thoughts of traffic
lights, yellow to red, narrow streets . . .

your lungs tight, the dank air of the parking
garage already in there. The collar of your coat
grazes your face and you’re furious with its
soft existence and not sure why.

Parked on the roofless floor, you stare
at the sky’s dark grey, sit a long time behind
the wheel, shut your eyes to see the blackness
beyond . . . like the rock you both found
on Dunn’s Beach, hundreds of mica lights in
its dark weight, fingers crossed tracing the
paths to each one. You finally start the motor
and slowly maneuver down the ramps.

A tiny animal with razor teeth is at it in the
area of your heart. The car nears the end
of the bottom, and if this were a movie, it would
start to rain now. You turn onto the avenue.

Names at Fairview

wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight . . .
                                            – Dylan Thomas

They rise around me—gravestones,
life names etched on their faces,
names given with holy water, sprinkled
salt on the infant-tongue. All cradled
in earth now and battened under granite,
milkstone, balst.

One crow on the asphalt walk wet with dew
ignores two mourning doves, their silly dirge,
old blues, old blues... Wars are gone
from here. Now angels muster.

I have taken the road through high gates up
to this place called “Fairview”—
as if the dead can see those distant hills
turn silver-green in April, these tall pines
covered with the honor of snow.

I weed and water the family plot, sun
warm on my back. I place iris
on my child’s footstone. Sometimes, I sit on
my grassy place next to his, close my eyes
and imagine great light, imagine
the rumbling sun we are told to watch for,
a splintering radiance we are told
will tap these sleepers up
in blinding bursts,
ream on ream of light coming like
wild wrecking balls to shatter and open
the walls of heaven—
our blue planet . . . vapor.

Then, the promised release?
the upper sky filled
with the risen singing the sun,
singing the Light . . . their name
in some far capsule of time—
a coming time
who knows . . .


Checking the Homesite

When they come
after the rubble settles
and the wait of years
for radioactive dust to clear
seems long enough,
I wonder how they’ll get here,
how they’ll look . . . maybe return
in one gigantic wheel within
a wheel, the kind Ezekiel once
noticed . . . step out tall, just nine
to begin with, male and female,
faces like angels, smug know-it-all
looks Renaissance artists like Giotto
imagined . . .
wingless, of course,
wearing shimmery jumpsuits, toting
titanium cases holding anti-oxidant
tabs, The Book of Common Prayer, a few
saved disks of music from Vivaldi to
Brazilian jazz . . . and seeds—someone
remembered grass.
And light. They’ll
need it—strobes, flares, at least some
sort of new-wave solar light attached to
their foreheads because it will probably
still be dark . . .

The Stuttering Riff of Cicada

Now it begins, cicada’s song. My Nonna
named him the reckless one trilling the green
old glamour. His sound from branches to sky,
easy tarantellas, the lost pavan,
sway of moon on shadowed hair, persona
of drowned or lingering love, a music of dream—
stepping time.
                            Wild autumn comes to ply
the sluggish soul. And cicada’s one-man
band performs a stuttering riff, sweet trauma
of ostinato phrase rising, falling in clean
glides of trumpet as we slow-dance to “I
Remember You.”
                               His sly stridulations will span,
end our season, resonate our days,
musician of sinking summer, last to play.

One Dawn, Fast-walking in Hartford

my sneakers whacking the sidewalk block
by block, city air settled, almost sweet
as it carried the wail of the 6 a.m. down
from Boston. That sound. Clemens, way back,
heard it whistling over the mist of little
Hog River that ran by his house. He would
be out there on his filigreed veranda
observing the sky, pull out his watch at
the train’s call, then slap the rail of his
veranda and go walking down his river boat
deck. It rolls beneath him. . .

Harmonic wail, half mournful, half enticing—
Stevens heard it sorrowing over the sleeping
houses, into his screened window, ruffling
his papers, his poems as he packed a briefcase
for the long walk to his office near the Capitol.
Walking east, he can see how a rising sun creates
various scintillations on the gold of the dome
and may stop to scrawl a word, a line,
then go on walking. . .

The men who first layered the leaves of gold
on the Capitol dome were up there by dawn
and the wail of the 6 a.m. was faint and far
as they practice their jeweler’s art in the sky—
always wishing to work safe hours before
bright sun created gleamings, a sparkling
on gold that unsettles their footing, their sight.
I heard how years later some had bad dreams—
walls of sun, eyes burning, a slip on a curve,
scaffold breaking like tulip stems and falling
around them as they walked down air,
the bright noon air. . .


Small hands held high for the basket
of holiday cookies Emily lowered
from her bedroom window in Amherst—
children reaching for the sweet crumble
of sugar and ginger in their mouths,
mouths innocent of questioning eternity,
their chance of becoming “immured in heaven”
by way of pneumonia, scarlet fever
or sledding crash on the skull of a hill
where blinding glare from sun on ice
can render the oak at the bottom invisible.

Glare everywhere some winter afternoons—
it skids off the sun, glitters the ground,
the standing trees, the stunned sky.

Rare Grasses

monocotlydon: class or subclass of herbaceous
seedplants . . . parallel-veined leaves and floral organs . . .

Oh, we have listened to the singing grass
the way the learned singer wrote
sermons in sun and soft rain—
whispered lores, promised healings
from palms near a river, woven cradle
for the found child.
Spreading earth
held the tangled roots. Blue
spangles grew on blades of green
and we rolled in them down hills of
Seton Park, whirling our sky around us . . .
now rarely seen. Once we believed
the opening to heaven was blue as the
flowering stars of the grass—our bodies
of light would rise on their scented waves.