Beijing Background by Bob Marcacci
(Dis Press, Beijing, 2007)
Beijing Background rolls and rolicks, hums and clatters with all the background noise inherent in a city over 17 million strong. Marcacci's eight poems bring our ears and attentiveness to the things unnoticed with the deft skill of the musician and the involved observer. His first poem 'city' takes the two column form, creating a duality of sound and images while meandering along contrasts between extremes. The narrator's alliterative language slows the reader down to better perceive the ideas and themes being examined and illuminated:
"clap-trap gadetry and google boondoggle
of 24/7 people
of color off color jokes"
The city is vibrant for Marcacci and he allows his concept to flow one to another, a churning of city concerns and ending with the knowledge of cycles ever-turning:
"no matter nothing
Marcacci's themes move forward in 'we go on in Beijing,' a poem that alludes to a sense of futility even in the midst of movement, giving the reader a sense that nothing in the city is resolved. There is an underlying drive, however, to keep hoping for change.
"we go on gambling
we go on slapping down cards
in a friendly game
we go on losing and think
our luck is about to change"
Marcacci points to the downside of consumerism, the pursuit of something mythical to fulfill unnamed needs, through the imagry of the conclusion of the perfect spaghetti Western where the good guys win:
"so forth and so on
we go on riding into the sunset and yet"
Futility and fantasy lay side by side, circumscribing the gap between desire and fulfillment.
'stand in spit' speaks of the hidden excrement, the waste inherent in the process of living. The narrator travels to the underworld, an ancient place yet not really sacred, rather simply that historic place where other things are set aside.
"piss into a urinal
encrusted with years
of yellowed waste"
The only sentinel to this cavern is rendered almost comically and thus tinged with tragedy:
"a woman with a black mophead
simultaneously sweeps and mops
as i make my long march
out of the underground"
Above ground, fog obscures the conflict between new and old contruction, giving a matte finish to the city which splits it consciouness between to spaces.
In "Chinese Sestina," the narrator meditates on the presence of English teachers in Beijing, implicating the implied Self in the process. An agent of change, the narrator is uncertain of his role:
"...Days and months
passed too quickly. I don't speak Chinese,
every day, swimming in the Beijing
expectorant. I only speak English."
The narrator speaks on a personal level about the teaching, the money, and the competition that comes with the job. Moreover, the narrator is aware that change is happening on a short time scale, defining the effects of his presence yet uncertain about his complicity:
"There will be more of Beijing, more English
more months and years, and more teachers.
Will there be any more red lanterns? Any more Chinese?"
At the center of the chapbook lies the restful poem "abide." A meditation, the poem slows time down by focusing on the sights and sounds of a busy street corner. In-time, the moment is a split second; in the poem, time crawls as the view shifts from bicycle to pedestrian to turn signal to powertools and ringtones. The narrator reveals the noisiness of the city in a moment of loneliness
"messages in cellular transfer
terrifying ringtones and drones
returning home alone
"seeing red" similarly suspends time, focusing on the symbolic permutations of the color red in relationship to Chinese culture and an outside view of Communism.
"under a red star dog year
in red-glow space neon apartment complex sky
walk homeward in a red-eye night
after red hook and tail"
The result is a division of thought separating the West from Maoist ideologies, hinting at the ephemeral quality of both worldviews while showing the concrete nature of the Beijing's personality:
"electric whine of subway fans
dying heat and half-asleep Chinese
cud gum yawn on the greyblue plastic
seat and look around as we rock faster"
Marcacci continues his meditations using lists through the lines of "I Titled This Poem" which challenges the reader to make associations between the varied concepts presented line after line which appear random in nature. Patterns seem to offer themselves to the reader, leading one to try and guess or anticipate the narrator's intent:
"I titled this poem he who laughs last.
I titled this poem Beverly
I titled this poem is that a mouse in your pocket or are you just happy to see me.
I titled this poem sacrificial vegetarian commodity pith."
There is a playfulness in this poem which also betrays a sense of frustration, one familiar to any poet who struggles to find them and meaning in word symbols. The poem ends:
"I titled this poem why I am not a poet."
A self-deprecating ending having proven a poet's sensibility and allowing the reader to see the poem from the view of negation.
Finally, Marcacci ends the chapbook with "for Bai Wei" a truly lyric poem using commanding language to invite the reader to delve deeper into a lightless ocean as turned on the lines:
"devoid of that suck and that
Like a sudden shaft of light piercing between concrete buildings reaching skyward to block out the sun, Marcacci's poetry illuminates the city with sensory images which resonate from first to last.
Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor received her MA degree in English with honors from Western Washington University in 2003. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in the Katipunan Literary Magazine and the online magazine Haruah. Her short story "Yellow is for Luck" is forthcoming in the anthology tentatively titled, Growing Up Filipino II, edited by Cecilia Brainard. Currently she is working on her first novel, tentatively titled Maganda’s Comb, and she performs regularly as a storyteller with the Bellingham Storyteller's Guild. Rebecca's blog, Binding Wor(l)ds Together, can be found at wordbinder.blogspot.com.