Leonard Cirino (1943-2012)


Leonard Cirino, long-time regular contributor to the Poets’ Basement (and inspiration to many other contributors) passed away on March 9. Like most who have been inspired and uplifted by Leonard’s poems, I’ve never met him in person, but he was someone who drew you in with his language to the point where you couldn’t call him anything less than “friend.” We here at Poets’ Basement and CounterPunch send our condolences to all those who did know Leonard personally, and wish to let you know because of his poetry, his support of his fellow-writers and fellow-travelers both known and unknown, and his steadfast truth-speaking, Leonard’s circle of friends is boundless.

Marc Beaudin


The Turtle’s Shadow

       after Tomas Transtromer


Climbing this silence, the sky

looks blue but smells like the sea

that is green as a turtle’s shell

carrying all that fern and algae

while the rest of the world pumps out

smoke and fumes. The turtle’s shadow

is dark as the inside of a deep box

hidden under the full glare of summer

that bleeds on the flowers

where heaven becomes earth,

and humans, who are gods’ fodder,

move toward night, hoping for light

in the distance, the silence of morning,

when mules pack the dead across borders.

(Published in Poets’ Basement 19 November 2010)

He was an original, non-derivative poet who went to school with the masters, rather than going to grad school for an MFA in poetry.  His poems will survive in our psyches long after we have laid his pages away.  And we will, no doubt, return to his pages. He was that good a poet.

            –Leo Yankevich

Mother Country

            after Rimma Kazakova


Just before dawn a woman goes to her shadow,

bent on learning what she doesn’t know.

The rain sets runlets glowing, the sun drones

like bees in summer. When has she spent

a more perfect time than late at night

in the meadow, under the moon’s spell,

while slowly gathering the field’s flowers?

With sideways looks that challenge fate,

she finds no words in these starry nights

that can speak the joy she feels. She knows

the world is lovely and walks barefoot

with unflinching eyes and an easy gait.

With all the courage she can muster, she lifts

her skirt and hides her children underneath.

            (Published in Poet’s Basement 23 October 2009)


Every once in a while I’ve run into what I call a “pure poet” – all the dross burned away – someone whose only desire is to tune in, and to help others tune in, to the source of poetry. I love these people. Leonard Cirino was one of them.
Leonard taught himself poetry while he was an inmate in an institution for the criminally insane. He learned it by reading and writing. When he found a good thing, he ran with it, using the words of those he considered masters as springboards into his own work.

He made poetry with the rain and wind.  He took fragments of a cup that had been dropped and broken and made them into a vessel to carry living water. Leonard has gone into the great silence, but the words he left behind keep echoing.

            –Barbara LaMorticella

The Lonely

With passion the dead ring their bones

sweetly, as in a tune from under the earth.

The living seem intent on staring

at jewels, their eyes speckled with envy.

In between, ghosts read their watches

waiting for the time to strike back.

All of them lonely, wanting the skies,

an old sofa, anything that remains;

the moon and stars, their ongoing tears,

shed for the world they once knew, that was.

(Published in Poets’ Basement 24 June 2011)

One never should accept Leonard Cirino as gone – that can never be. A cosmic internet friend, I am for one merely puzzled as to where the great L.A.-born poet is headed – what astral-civilization art-form, maybe a Jupiter-tree, to which Cirino is attracted? Imprisoned, still struggling with the knowledge of good & evil, wanting what is not needed, I will try to remain free to feed from the tree of Leo’s good works.

            –Charles Orloski

Sweet Dreams

(for Leonard Cirino)


Moment of opiate crazy,

Spring lifetimes in Chinese gardens,

He wept like violins backstage at Russian matinees,

his father in heaven carried mail-bags in California rain,

shaved-Leonard set ear close to A. M. radio,

Patsy Cline screamed, crazy, crazy,

her voice levitated Leonard above L.A. Freeway,

& Betsy scratched a door, howled –

she wanted to pee, fetch a tattered ball,

play second base on Babe Ruth’s All-Star team,

more graceful than I ever could.


You know, yesterday I got hospice news from Ava –

I imagined white-cloaked Leonard dropping back to a fence,

pursuing a mysterious fly ball,

mother Marjorie begging him to slow down, catch breath,

and the ball traveled until dropping into his brother’s farm.

Speechless, Leonard searched grasslands, let the ball rest in peace,

got involved with lotus Free Speech Movements,

fly-weight wings flapped, & Leonard healed all asylum wounds

with errant Muse, lounging in “the shelter of tributary shadows.”


His poetry told me something,

Leo needed merely a cool, dry place to sleep,

pencil and paper, Betsy supine on floor.

Eventually maybe a Senior trailer park would do?

Something maybe far from noise, Bangkok lights?

A doctor’s grim prognosis, eternity’s silent reading room,

close to Merton, Dorothy Day, Crazy Horse, Thoreau;

Jesus Christ could be present too, ask over & over,


“Do you believe in me Leonard Cirino?”

Christ it’s four A.M., Ava’s email in my inbox,

it’s cold and raining in Oregon, are there any unspoken wounds?

I insert trembling fingers into Cirino’s beautiful word,

look, look, grinning caterpillars try to move his stone.


Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pennsylvania. He never met Leo Cirino, only exchanged emails. Orloski can be reached at CCDJOrlov@aol.com.


            after Ron Rash


It’s wise to know a memory

deep and historical as water,

called down from the sky to nest

among leaves where the wind slopes

and stirs the leaves, thinks of roots

in the past, back to the time of Christ,

when this clearcut was a grove, limbs

large and sensate, fertile and strong.

It’s the vanquished who have the last say,

knowing their absence will go on forever.


Leonard J. Cirino is the author of numerous collections of poetry, since from several small presses, most recently The Instrument of Others from Lummox Press. He lived in Springfield, Oregon. A very nice write-up on Leonard and his poetry is on Poetry Dispatch.

Editorial Note: (Please Read Closely Before Submitting)

To submit to Poets’ Basement, send an e-mail to CounterPunch’s poetry editor, Marc Beaudin at counterpunchpoetry@gmail.com with your name, the titles being submitted, and your website url or e-mail address (if you’d like this to appear with your work).  Also indicate whether or not your poems have been previously published and where.  For translations, include poem in original language and documentation of granted reprint/translation rights.  Attach up to 5 poems and a short bio, written in 3rd person, as a single Word Document (.doc or .rtf attachments only; no .docx – use “Save As” to change docx or odt files to “.doc”).  Expect a response within one month (occasionally longer during periods of heavy submissions).


Poems accepted for online publication will be considered for possible inclusion of an upcoming print anthology.

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