(The Defenders Online, June 2009)
When I was just a boy, I watched my dad,
Still young, but already dying of thirst,
As, buffeted across a snowy lot,
He caught his boot and fell, hands out, head first.
We’d broken bread together (funny phrase,
I know, but that’s exactly what he said;
A thing we rarely did back then, and now
We never do, now that he is dead),
And, breaking bread, we’d talked of loneliness,
(His for my mom and mine for I forget).
To wash it down, he broke his word and drank,
And, as he did, my heart began to set.
The sun did, too. The sky unpacked its snow,
And I began to pray that he would rise and pay;
Instead, he darkened with the room, and I
Ran out of reassuring things to say.
At last he paid the check, but, as he did,
A girl I knew from school called out my name.
I said, “You go ahead without me, Dad.”
I walked to her, to my eternal shame.
We laughed and flirted heartlessly, as he
Emerged without a hat into the storm.
I manned the window sill and watched, as though
Mere vigilance might keep him straight and warm.
He made his way behind the scrim of white.
But then the wind rose up; I feared the worst
And touched the trembling window, felt the cold,
And saw his fall begin — hands out, head first.
A paltry fact: I’m at that window still.
I cannot fathom why I let him go.
I wish that I had bundled him, or me,
Or us, and made a difference in the snow.
(American Poetry Journal, Winter 2004)
I'm weary of resiliency.
I want the kind of heart that breaks
The way a wafer cracks in two --
Along a fault. Mine merely aches
And bends, as does an autumn twig,
Which, drenched by April rain and tossed
For dead, cannot be snapped in two,
Made deathless by the green it's lost.
Each cruelty I withstand prepares
Me merely for the next one dealt,
Its shadow lengthening along my chest
To maim not cleave the world I felt.
Yes, time, the balm of suffering,
Does quite the opposite for me,
The grave, I fear, will only serve
To deepen my resiliency.
(American Poetry Jornal, Winter 2004)
The April moon had fled it seemed:
No shadows -- everything as black
As bedroom walls that shock an infant back
To earth when he has tumbled from a dream.
Blind hands outstretched, I found the latch,
The weeping tree, your childhood swing,
Then did as I’d been told: I settled in,
(The only sound the ticking of my watch)
Imagining your mother’s face.
Struck dumb in widening disbelief,
That you, her only child, conceived in grief,
Who every evening led the family grace,
Were gone. I pictured her and smiled,
The fairy tale was yours, not mine --
The consummation of a heart confined,
The triumph of a long-embittered child
Who fell in love one snowy spring,
By passion’s uninvited claim,
Escaped the tower, her daily round of shame,
And made of destiny a wondrous thing.
It seemed impossible that such
Could actually take place today,
Or ever had, considering the way
Most lovers ravage everything they touch.
And yet it could. I tossed the swing
Imagined where we’d stow your clothes,
Then felt and snapped for you a tiny rose,
Half-dead – the next of many offerings.
Today, how curious it seems,
Not once in all those draining hours,
Surrounded by a host of dying flowers,
Imagining the life that we would lead,
Foresaw the story’s final shame.
Eleven passed, then five, then nine.
The sun’s mute discovery was mine.
I turned and left, but not the way I came.
(Dana Literary Society, March 2004)
His friends are dying one by one,
Last summer two; this autumn three.
He traipsed them up to sunny hills
And watched them buried six feet deep.
The first, a Russian Jew named Claire,
Whose family fled the Nazi flame.
She couldn’t wait to flee New York,
To bob her nose and fix her name.
Here, palm trees vanquished memory,
The sunshine bleached her blood of grief.
Stark images of ancient flight
Were thrown in sepia-toned relief.
She found a job, she bought a car.
She hugged John Garfield at a dance.
She botched three lines in ’56
In some improbable romance.
She dreamed a life and then she passed,
Last June of cancer at the bone.
No flashing race through crowded streets.
She died anesthetized at home.
The cemetery sun was mild.
The traffic sounded tolerably.
She sank into the Sinai lawn
Without familial eulogy.
My friend does not lament her end.
He says he understands it all,
That holocausts conclude this way,
Between the ghetto and a mall.
What You Took
(En Fuse, May 2004)
I always thought that when you fled,
You'd disappear with everything:
Our photographs, our books, your bed,
My wallet, the engagement ring.
Instead you left it all behind,
And more: your clothes, your diary,
Your diaphragm, an orange rind.
All waiting patiently for me.
You even left behind the chair
Your grampa left you when he died,
Its cushion stiff with ancient hair,
The one he'd used for suicide.
You only took two things I miss:
An unborn life; my hopefulness
I Knew at Last
(En Fuse, May 2004)
I knew a man who hated love.
A timeless female ruse, he said.
Its bait is sex, its bed is glue.
It leaves you struggling, then dead.
A woman sighed, It's too much work.
I'd rather bicker with my cat.
I'm far too old to cry for two.
And as for spooning, far too fat.
Although I lived companionless,
My plaintive note was not like these,
My wail was far more eloquent,
Translated from the Portuguese.
I sang of love as sacrament,
Soul's highest goal and bravest pass,
The rarest gift from God to Man.
A gift too rare for me, alas.
My blood was frail, my spirit crushed,
My psyche rattled on a spit,
And though I dreaded loneliness,
I'd come to Earth to die of it.
But then, one night, I met your hand,
Engaged your laugh, adored your eyes,
And knew at last the way love moves:
Inexorably, beneath our lies.