WOMAN FALLS IN LOVE WITH A GUY CALLED TROUBLE
In the title poem to the book Café Crazy, and the last of a series of poems about heartbreak and loss, quest for love and its measures of defeat and defiance, the New York City based poet and flash fiction writer, Francine Witte writes about a cafe called Crazy:
Where the stink of old perfume drowns out
the coffee aroma. Where the hurt girls go
to watch their loves die.
The book indeed with a cinematically chronological look at these hurt girls, captures a peculiar 1950s sensibility, time when the single life made emotionally and sexually warped figures out of women. They seem to fail at finding fulfillment and happiness in relationships where men posture and eventually leave.
There are the Charley poems, a guy fashioned after the cavalier and domineering yet charming attitude of a Charles Bukowski type taunts and teases a woman, someone who has trouble with Charley, yet is willing to wait on him, fawn over his sneering attitude.
Witte’s poetry writing talent is uncannily very much like Bukowski. She expresses his overtly self-complimentary musings in the poem ‘In My Poems, Sometimes I Have Children’.
Daughters mostly, because I know
their routines. Flatirons and tampons.
To invent boys, I would need to ask
questions, learn to talk sports.
In my poems, sometimes,
my children appreciate
It is the misguidedness and inability for her to pursue a normal life with husband and children that brings to mind memories of her very own mother and father, as in the poem, ‘Atlantic City Boardwalk, 1949’.
‘Years Later’ is a poem about her and her mother shopping for bread. Witte cleverly uses the metaphor of bread to describe pregnancy and giving birth.
I would watch the knife cut into that pregnant
bread belly, aroma filling the air like a baby.
Further into the poem she writes:
I would take one more breath of that breadsexy air.
It is with this sense of disillusionment that these women carry on given moments of loneliness. The poem ‘What Started as Fun’ gives further insight into the masturbatory inclination of these desperate women.
And right there in your kitchen,
as you stand at the sink and wait
for him to text you back, you touch
your own breast.
Despite the emotionally repressed confessions, strength of these women builds into a crowning glory when they fight back. It gives off subtle reminders of feminism.
In the poem, ‘Tomato Scream’,
I stab the tomato. It oozes like a wound.
The poem, ‘Not Only’ gives the impression of a murderous act of suffocation.
I deserve better, she said,
as she billowed a blanket
over the bed that was only
half-slept in. Third time
this week. Love graveyard,
she thought, and that’s when
she heard the birds, all of them
gone vulture now, tapping their beaks at
the window pane, hungry to gnaw
on the corpse.
From the 50s sentiment, the poems progress to what would be deemed as the 60s and 70s, eventually and to the present day. These poems are centrally a look at an American woman who is single and her struggle in relationships with men. Essentially, Francine Witte is painting with words a sort of evolution, from the Creationist Theory to the Bing Bang.
‘Earth Before Us’ reminisces about,
… unwalked paths,
its undug soil, and all that
unbreathed air. There were
holes that man would later
fill. Spaces trying to close
But couldn’t. The animals
knew it. Could smell the futuresmoke
of burnt forests. Fish, too, could feel
the weight of the ocean, still heavy
on their backs
This poem particularly enforces Francine Witte’s grit and worth of knowledge and curiosity of the world that existed before we subjected ourselves to gender and sexual politics.
The theme of evolution is also imagined in the pace of the book as the women grow to become obsessed and fed up with these men, challenged in topics relevant today as domestic abuse.
Witte’s intentional use of the image of fire beginning with the introductory poem ‘Not All Fires Burn the Same’ set the tone for the literally implied fires,
flying under the cabinets, and you could have
burned the kitchen down.
as well as others suggestive and sexual,
…And when he kissed you, you
could taste the ashes still in his mouth.
Women in the book, Café Crazy, have been represented all through elements of rock and roll songs, from Tom Waits to Lucinda Williams, and even Rickie Lee Jones’ eponymous first album.
The book itself is like a rock and roll record as the poems turn into songs.
As implied earlier, there’s a spontaneous relevance to film, particularly Robert Altman, a lonely, seedy America where a woman falls in love with a guy called trouble.
‘On My Way’ then fittingly feels like a movie about to end, saying goodbye to love, driving past a cornfield, reminiscing about a man she calls an asshole.
I had eaten an entire country.
I thought of you way back east,
staring at the ghost-me I left
By the time the poem, ‘Café Crazy’ closes the book, it feels like imaginary credits are beginning to roll.
Memories of the poems live on within our hearts, whether as a woman who has felt all these feelings before or a guy who has been the jerk to a girl.