Naomi Guttman: from The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera


Though Ari won’t believe in God, she knows that something somewhere
must be counting—calories and carbon use, every inner tube she’s ever burst,
every acid-crusted battery—somewhere there’s a ledger for the damage
of existence: each bottle top and what it cost the Earth,
the atmosphere, accruing to the rubbish mountain of her soul.

Joy is only sugar, an empty source of energy, and happiness a fiction;
it’s misery and guilt that architect the real. And the body,
the body’s just another spring of discipline; something counts each lick,
each sip, each chew, each mile she runs with weights on arms and legs
up and down the neighborhood so early that she wakes the dogs.



Ari’s dyeing yarn in tea when Stephan lopes into her studio—
headstrong first-born, jeans too short again. Can he have a dollar
for the dollar store. What will you buy? though she can guess.
Cap gun. He studies tea leaves swirling in the sink. The air stretches.

Don’t you have enough? They’re all broke. She tries to squash the knot
of righteousness crawling up her throat. Hasn’t she told him
about plastic, about waste? The garbage patch sprawled the width
of continents? Half a billion tons. When we throw away
it just goes somewhere else. He looks up, shoots her
with his eyes: So it’s over anyway, and it’s your fault.
Her fingers probe her pocket for some change.



Upon mansions usurping marshland, upon springs ever warmer
by degrees and sooner, let curses fall, and let frog no longer breed
by river’s edge, nor leave egg sac under sodden forest logs, neither
in lake’s reedy shallows. Let frog not sing nor her children sing springtime
comb and fingernail, nor chew mosquito on humid nights. Not even protect
your bedchamber, your kneading board. Over frog-corpse roadways,
his petal underbelly absorbing poison from runoff ditch and gold course,
let sorrowful sound rise. Let male be made female by chemical castration,
and as her song evanesces, let your cradles empty, empty, empty.

Ari Backus, 2006.
Felted wool, grass, reeds, acrylic,
foil, lightning bugs, birth control
pills, beads, rain, moss
100×80 centimetres


Naomi Guttman’s first book of poems, Reasons for Winter, won the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry. Her second, Wet Apples, White Blood, was co-winner of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Best Book of Poems for 2007. The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera is her third poetry collection. Raised in Montreal, she now teaches creative writing at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY.