She is the adult daughter of my dinner guests. I've never met them, either. I'm in town from out of state, and these are relatives of someone in another state whom I've never met, who happen to live here in Houston. It's not really all that complicated. It's raza.
Strikingly beautiful and dressed elegantly, Tonzi asks would I like to hear a poem? We have been talking about chess, her with exquisite knowledge, me with mild interest. The young woman's conversation bears remarkable similarity to Ginny's, a bipolar friend whom I love as a sister. I note no outward concern from her father and mother, who look on silently. I would love to hear a poem.
That dinner of a Friday night several years ago still has me... enchanted. Such a weak word, "enchanted," but there's no other to describe what happened to me.
The poet leans into the space between our seats. To conquer the noisy ambience, she draws closer to whisper into my left ear. I feel humid breath and occasionally her lips brush my ear. She reads one, then a second, then another. I lose count of what I want to ask, to praise, to exclaim over. I remember one image or an expression, when another takes its place, one after another I lose track of my delight. "I abuse echoes" she tells me, "I abuse echoes because they deserve it" she adds mercilessly. My head spins.
Tonzi performs her work when she recites. Some she sings, others she chants, always she reads with passionate intensity. Her lines sparkle with vocabulary, word play, and rhythm. And something dark. I would like to read these, I'm thinking, when she begins a piece loaded with sexual energy and lovemaking. I glance at Tonzi's mom and dad who sit impassively. Too soon, the courses arrive, first interrupting my concert, eventually, stopping it.
Stunned. That's a better account of the evening. And encouraging, having just learned something important. As we conclude our meal, the poet's father gives me a CD of his daughter reading nine of her poems. He tells me his daughter is bipolar. I wonder why he does this? The CD's called "Tonzi, Cave Woman." In part, it's a souvenir of that remarkable, stunning, enchanting evening. In larger measure, listening to Tonzi read her work is one of those perfect literary experiences that come around far too rarely for too few people.
But come around it has. You can find Tonzi and four of her poems, on the web at
[moderator's note: maybe best viewed/heard with MSExplorer]
Michael V. Sedano, Ph.D.