Diane Wakoski





Night Blooming Jasmine: The Myth of
       Rebirth in Berkeley, California

It wasn’t on Crete, but in the hills of Berkeley
where the Daughter disappeared. And forget crocus. It
was the pink rhododendrons, like festival lanterns
or sunsets over the bay, which attracted her.
Their season is the season of that town.
The Maybeck houses
with their brown woody, thrushy sides
grow like hedgehog mushrooms, out of the slopes.
She lives there, hidden all winter in one of them,
and then like Garbo going out for groceries
in her shades, spring
          with tulip trees and hawthorn,
          with azalea, the pinks and whites, not even her colors,
          not the girl in the swing ruffled with the beauty
          men do not know how
          to touch—spring
brings her out, could that be?

No, she is going for The New York Times, she is slim
in her dark clothes, she has cheek bones and ankles
that the screen will notice. She is not made to protest
war or the loss of free speech, she is made for dark espresso
bar, a grocery
smelling of fresh pasta and tins of tomato paste,
the coffee bean store with vials and philters, and alchemical
ways of extracting aromas,
her foot in its thin shoe, entering the bakery,
the boulangerie, where long sticks of bread or round
          pannikins
of whole grain are waiting.

This is the town where poets lurk, and books contain
musical notes often stamped with gold leaf. It is the
place where you learn that everything has a skeleton, a
          structure
of bones which is more important than the flesh, so
changeable, which covers them.

Corn bread here is
a sculpture of meal and moisture. Polenta a cake
stirred until the spoon stands alone in the mixture, where
soft things gain stiffness, it is the place where wine can be
          truly
conceived of, if not made, and it is where everyone learns
          to be
an architect.

I envy those who dwell in this city, the
bones of the world, I call them. Am a different
kind of Daughter than the Mistress of Chez Panisse,
or the woman who taught me I could not be a pianist.
Not elegant-boned, more a carapace,
I walked through the streets, wearing my own shades,
          disguised
as one of the young, oh so sad, bums, an alcoholic cloud
of Night Blooming Jasmine wafting through my moonlit hair.
You’d never know it was the city of rebirth—
a concept incomplete without a sojourn underground
coming first. I know what happens when you look back/
I’m not doing that. Some part of me never left;
I belong to the place
    like the Maybeck houses,
           the Edward Teller of the Atomic Bomb,
                   the Greta Garbo women cooking
                          in the fragrance of night blooming jasmine.