Diane Wakoski

   A Californian Fights Against the Old
New England Traditions

                                               to Stanley Kunitz

The elderly famous man goes shopping with
me at the Safeway
and while I m filling my cart with the
most interesting cheeses
I can find 
(alas, not many)
and searching for good mustard and other
I see him
in his sailor’s cap and small
safari jacketed shoulders
bending over the margarines, comparing
prices, looking for sales;
we move together to the coffee aisle,
and while I spot the Columbian
—in a can—lament
that our vacation house does not have a
coffee grinder,
feel complacent that I have
broought my own teapot and can of
Fortnum & Mason Ceylon Tea,
I notice that he is peering at all the prices,
and finally choosing the can of coffee whose prices
is the most spare,
Edwards Brothers.

We move over to soups,
and I finally get tired of watching.
Rebelliously, youthfully (tho I am forty), I say,
“No wonder I will never get rich. I can’t bear all this comparing.”
During the week, I discover that he cooks well,
though I hate losing supremacy in the kitchen. Yet,
his thirty years of seniority makes me feel
like withdrawing over 
and over again.

When he reads manuscripts,
I think of his small figure bent over the Safeway prices,
comparing, looking for the most economical.
I ask myself whether my values represent only the wastrel,
his, the efficient?

No answer. But an understanding of what
constitutes extravagance.
If I spend too much, then
by the same token I think, he spends
too little.

Now, I have to condemn myself, though
for looking at a frail old-man’s life
and letting my own gimlet eyes
give him so little.

“Where is your extravagance now, Westerner?” I ask myself.
“who is being stingy, giving up excellence
in favor of bargains?”

Ashamed of my own lack of generosity
still I must hold the accusation, meanly.
A young Californian rebelling against New England,
knowing my origins are from hot countries,
lands unlike Massachusetts or New York. Lands
where the huge mountains
are deeply packed with precious minerals,
even gold.

Where everything is big,
with the space of the desert,
big, like I want to be.