David Berman |
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.
It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.
I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.
My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.
If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.
As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.
I can't remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It's one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.
Sometimes I am buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
"I am about to learn what it's like to live here.
Oftentimes there is a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image.
I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).
I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design though I haven't figured out
how to string them together yet,
but I've begun to notice that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.
Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I'm not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?
It reminds of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater
numbly watching you dress
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn't know where to begin.
If you were cool in high school
you didn't ask too many questions.
You could tell who'd been to last night's
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.
You didn't have to ask
and that's what cool was:
the ability to deduct
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don't know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.
A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager's promise.
Not like I'm dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but.
Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declarations.
I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won't get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.
There are things I've given up on
like recording funny answering machine messages.
It's part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes
I hope you won't be insulted
if I say you're trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.
It's just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.
I'm not saying it should be this way.
All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.
We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.
Why? I don't have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts
and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He'd never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.
The hill out my window is still looking beautiful
suffused in a kind of gold national park light
and it seems to say,
I'm sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I'm available if you're not working
on a self-portrait or anything.
I'm watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.
I'm just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact --
not even a place but an occasion
a reality for real things.
Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic
or religious," but these are valid topics
and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor
possibly dreaming of me
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason
no reason that a dog could see.
I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don't disfigure it
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.
I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue
though no one seems to call the advertising world
"Madison Avenue" anymore.
Have they moved?
Let's get an update on this.
But first I have some business to take care of.
I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head
and for a single moment
my voice is everything:
Self-portrait at 28.
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi |
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Oh, if a tree could wander
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> and move with foot and wings!
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">It would not suffer the axe blows
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> and not the pain of saws!
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">For would the sun not wander
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> away in every night ?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">How could at ev’ry morning
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> the world be lighted up?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">And if the ocean’s water
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> would not rise to the sky,
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">How would the plants be quickened
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> by streams and gentle rain?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">The drop that left its homeland,
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> the sea, and then returned ?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">It found an oyster waiting
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> and grew into a pearl.
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Did Yusaf not leave his father,
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> in grief and tears and despair?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Did he not, by such a journey,
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> gain kingdom and fortune wide?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Did not the Prophet travel
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> to far Medina, friend?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">And there he found a new kingdom
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> and ruled a hundred lands.
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">You lack a foot to travel?
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> Then journey into yourself!
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">And like a mine of rubies
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> receive the sunbeams? print!
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Out of yourself ? such a journey
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> will lead you to your self,
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">It leads to transformation
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;"> of dust into pure gold!
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Look! This is Love – Poems of Rumi,
class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt;">Annemarie Schimmel
Marilyn Hacker |
An unwrapped icon, too potent to touch,
she freed my breasts from the camp Empire dress.
Now one of them's the shadow of a breast
with a lost object's half-life, with as much
life as an anecdotal photograph:
me, Kim and Iva, all stripped to the waist,
hiking near Russian River on June first
'79: Iva's five-and-a-half.
While she was almost twenty, wearing black
T-shirts in D.
, where we hadn't met.
You lay your palm, my love, on my flat chest.
In lines alive with what is not regret,
she takes her own path past, doesn't turn back.
Persistently, on paper, we exist.
Persistently, on paper, we exist.
You'd touch me if you could, but you're, in fact,
three thousand miles away.
And my intact
body is eighteen months paper: the past
a fragile eighteen months regime of trust
in slash-and-burn, in vitamin pills, backed
by no statistics.
Each day I enact
survivor's rituals, blessing the crust
I tear from the warm loaf, blessing the hours
in which I didn't or in which I did
consider my own death.
I am not yet
statistically a survivor (that
is sixty months).
On paper, someone flowers
and flares alive.
I knew her.
But she's dead.
She flares alive.
I knew her.
But she's dead.
I flirted with her, might have been her friend,
but transatlantic schedules intervened.
She wrote a book about her Freedom Ride,
the wary elders whom she taught to read,
— herself half-British, twenty-six, white-blonde,
with thirty years to live.
And I happened
to open up The Nation to that bad
news which I otherwise might not have known
(not breast cancer: cancer of the brain).
Words take the absent friend away again.
Alone, I think, she called, alone, upon
her courage, tried in ways she'd not have wished
by pain and fear: her courage, extinguished.
The pain and fear some courage extinguished
at disaster's denouement come back
daily, banal: is that brownish-black
mole the next chapter? Was the ache enmeshed
between my chest and armpit when I washed
rogue cells' new claw, or just a muscle ache?
I'm not yet desperate enough to take
comfort in being predeceased: the anguish
when the Harlem doctor, the Jewish dancer,
die of AIDS, the Boston seminary's
dean succumbs "after brief illness" to cancer.
I like mossed slabs in country cemeteries
with wide-paced dates, candles in jars, whose tallow
glows on summer evenings, desk-lamp yellow.
Aglow in summer evening, a desk-lamp's yellow
moonlight peruses notebooks, houseplants, texts,
while an aging woman thinks of sex
in the present tense.
Desire may follow,
urgent or elegant, cut raw or mellow
with wine and ripe black figs: a proof, the next
course, a simple question, the complex
response, a burning sweetness she will swallow.
The opening mind is sexual and ready
to embrace, incarnate in its prime.
Rippling concentrically from summer's gold
disc, desire's iris expands, steady
with blood beat.
Each time implies the next time.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
A younger woman has a dazzling vision
of bleeding wrists, her own, the clean incisions
suddenly there, two open mouths.
their speechless secrets, witnesses not called
to what occurred with as little volition
of hers as these phantom wounds.
of scars, in flesh, in spirit.
by mine in ranks where now I'm "being brave"
if I take off my shirt in a hot crowd
sunbathing, or demonstrating for Dyke Pride.
Her bravery counters the kitchen knives'
insinuation that the scars be made.
With, or despite our scars, we stay alive.
"With, or despite our scars, we stayed alive
until the Contras or the Government
or rebel troops came, until we were sent
to 'relocation camps' until the archives
burned, until we dug the ditch, the grave
beside the aspen grove where adolescent
boys used to cut class, until we went
to the precinct house, eager to behave
I count my hours and days,
finger for luck the word-scarred table which
is not my witness, shares all innocent
objects' silence: a tin plate, a basement
door, a spade, barbed wire, a ring of keys,
an unwrapped icon, too potent to touch.
Allen Ginsberg |
When I die
I don't care what happens to my body
throw ashes in the air, scatter 'em in East River
bury an urn in Elizabeth New Jersey, B'nai Israel Cemetery
But l want a big funeral
Patrick's Cathedral, St.
Mark's Church, the largest synagogue in
First, there's family, brother, nephews, spry aged Edith stepmother
96, Aunt Honey from old Newark,
Doctor Joel, cousin Mindy, brother Gene one eyed one ear'd, sister-
in-law blonde Connie, five nephews, stepbrothers & sisters
companion Peter Orlovsky, caretakers Rosenthal & Hale, Bill Morgan--
Next, teacher Trungpa Vajracharya's ghost mind, Gelek Rinpoche,
there Sakyong Mipham, Dalai Lama alert, chance visiting
America, Satchitananda Swami
Shivananda, Dehorahava Baba, Karmapa XVI, Dudjom Rinpoche,
Katagiri & Suzuki Roshi's phantoms
Baker, Whalen, Daido Loorie, Qwong, Frail White-haired Kapleau
Roshis, Lama Tarchen --
Then, most important, lovers over half-century
Dozens, a hundred, more, older fellows bald & rich
young boys met naked recently in bed, crowds surprised to see each
other, innumerable, intimate, exchanging memories
"He taught me to meditate, now I'm an old veteran of the thousand
day retreat --"
"I played music on subway platforms, I'm straight but loved him he
"I felt more love from him at 19 than ever from anyone"
"We'd lie under covers gossip, read my poetry, hug & kiss belly to belly
arms round each other"
"I'd always get into his bed with underwear on & by morning my
skivvies would be on the floor"
"Japanese, always wanted take it up my bum with a master"
"We'd talk all night about Kerouac & Cassady sit Buddhalike then
sleep in his captain's bed.
"He seemed to need so much affection, a shame not to make him happy"
"I was lonely never in bed nude with anyone before, he was so gentle my
shuddered when he traced his finger along my abdomen nipple to hips-- "
"All I did was lay back eyes closed, he'd bring me to come with mouth
& fingers along my waist"
"He gave great head"
So there be gossip from loves of 1948, ghost of Neal Cassady commin-
gling with flesh and youthful blood of 1997
and surprise -- "You too? But I thought you were straight!"
"I am but Ginsberg an exception, for some reason he pleased me.
"I forgot whether I was straight gay queer or funny, was myself, tender
and affectionate to be kissed on the top of my head,
my forehead throat heart & solar plexus, mid-belly.
on my prick,
tickled with his tongue my behind"
"I loved the way he'd recite 'But at my back allways hear/ time's winged
chariot hurrying near,' heads together, eye to eye, on a
Among lovers one handsome youth straggling the rear
"I studied his poetry class, 17 year-old kid, ran some errands to his
seduced me didn't want to, made me come, went home, never saw him
again never wanted to.
"He couldn't get it up but loved me," "A clean old man.
" "He made
sure I came first"
This the crowd most surprised proud at ceremonial place of honor--
Then poets & musicians -- college boys' grunge bands -- age-old rock
star Beatles, faithful guitar accompanists, gay classical con-
ductors, unknown high Jazz music composers, funky trum-
peters, bowed bass & french horn black geniuses, folksinger
fiddlers with dobro tamborine harmonica mandolin auto-
harp pennywhistles & kazoos
Next, artist Italian romantic realists schooled in mystic 60's India,
Late fauve Tuscan painter-poets, Classic draftsman Massa-
chusets surreal jackanapes with continental wives, poverty
sketchbook gesso oil watercolor masters from American
Then highschool teachers, lonely Irish librarians, delicate biblio-
philes, sex liberation troops nay armies, ladies of either sex
"I met him dozens of times he never remembered my name I loved
him anyway, true artist"
"Nervous breakdown after menopause, his poetry humor saved me
from suicide hospitals"
"Charmant, genius with modest manners, washed sink, dishes my
studio guest a week in Budapest"
Thousands of readers, "Howl changed my life in Libertyville Illinois"
"I saw him read Montclair State Teachers College decided be a poet-- "
"He turned me on, I started with garage rock sang my songs in Kansas
"Kaddish made me weep for myself & father alive in Nevada City"
"Father Death comforted me when my sister died Boston l982"
"I read what he said in a newsmagazine, blew my mind, realized
others like me out there"
Deaf & Dumb bards with hand signing quick brilliant gestures
Then Journalists, editors's secretaries, agents, portraitists & photo-
graphy aficionados, rock critics, cultured laborors, cultural
historians come to witness the historic funeral
Super-fans, poetasters, aging Beatnicks & Deadheads, autograph-
hunters, distinguished paparazzi, intelligent gawkers
Everyone knew they were part of 'History" except the deceased
who never knew exactly what was happening even when I was alive
February 22, 1997
Carl Sandburg |
THE HORSE’S name was Remorse.
There were people said, “Gee, what a nag!”
And they were Edgar Allan Poe bugs and so
They called him Remorse.
When he was a gelding
He flashed his heels to other ponies
And threw dust in the noses of other ponies
And won his first race and his second
And another and another and hardly ever
Came under the wire behind the other runners.
And so, Remorse, who is gone, was the hero of a play
By Henry Blossom, who is now gone.
What is there to a monicker? Call me anything.
A nut, a cheese, something that the cat brought in.
Nick me with any old name.
Class me up for a fish, a gorilla, a slant head, an egg, a ham.
Only … slam me across the ears sometimes … and hunt for a white star
In my forehead and twist the bang of my forelock around it.
Make a wish for me.
Maybe I will light out like a streak of wind.
Langston Hughes |
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you--
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St.
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age.
But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white--
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--
although you're older--and white--
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
Vladimir Mayakovsky |
My most respected
comrades of posterity!
exploring the twilight of our times,
will inquire about me too.
And, possibly, your scholars
with their erudition overwhelming
a swarm of problems;
once there lived
a certain champion of boiled water,
and inveterate enemy of raw water.
take off your bicycle glasses!
I myself will expound
I, a latrine cleaner
and water carrier,
by the revolution
mobilized and drafted,
went off to the front
from the aristocratic gardens
of poetry -
the capricious wench
She planted a delicious garden,
Myself a garden I did plant,
myself with water sprinkled it.
some pour their verse from water cans;
others spit water
from their mouth -
the curly Macks,
the clever jacks -
but what the hell’s it all about!
There’s no damming al this up -
beneath the walls they mandoline:
It’s no great honor, then,
for my monuments
to rise from such roses
above the public squares,
where consumption coughs,
where whores, hooligans and syphilis
in my teeth too,
and I’d rather
romances for you -
more profit in it
and more charm.
setting my heel
on the throat
of my own song.
comrades of posterity,
to the agitator
the torrents of poetry,
the volumes of lyrics;
as one alive,
I’ll address the living.
I’ll join you
in the far communist future,
I who am
no Esenin super-hero.
My verse will reach you
across the peaks of ages,
over the heads
of governments and poets.
will reach you
not as an arrow
in a cupid-lyred chase,
not as worn penny
Reaches a numismatist,
not as the light of dead stars reaches you.
will break the mountain chain of years,
and will present itself
as an aqueduct,
by slaves of Rome
enters into our days.
When in mounds of books,
where verse lies buried,
you discover by chance the iron filings of lines,
as you would
yet awesome weapon.
It’s no habit of mine
a maiden’s ear
will not crimson
when flicked by smut.
In parade deploying
the armies of my pages,
I shall inspect
the regiments in line.
Heavy as lead,
my verses at attention stand,
ready for death
and for immortal fame.
The poems are rigid,
to muzzle their gaping
of all the armed forces
the cavalry of witticisms
to launch a wild hallooing charge,
reins its chargers still,
the pointed lances of the rhymes.
these troops armed to the teeth,
which have flashed by
victoriously for twenty years,
to their very last page,
I present to you,
the planet’s proletarian.
of the massed working class
is my enemy too
inveterate and of long standing.
Years of trial
and days of hunger
under the red flag.
as we would open
in our own house;
but we did not have to read
to make up our minds
which side to join,
which side to fight on.
were not learned
In the roar of battle
it erupted into verse,
the bourgeois decamped
as once we ourselves
like an inconsolable widow
to a funeral march -
die then, my verse,
die like a common soldier,
like our men
who nameless died attacking!
I don’t care a spit
for tons of bronze;
I don’t care a spit
for slimy marble.
We’re men of kind,
we’ll come to terms about our fame;
common monument be
Men of posterity
examine the flotsam of dictionaries:
out of Lethe
will bob up
the debris of such words
who are now
healthy and agile,
with the rough tongue
of his posters,
has licked away consumptives’ spittle.
With the tail of my years behind me,
I begin to resemble
faster through what’s left
of the five-year plan.
has brought me
no rubles to spare:
no craftsmen have made
mahogany chairs for my house.
In all conscience,
I need nothing
a freshly laundered shirt.
When I appear
before the CCC
of the coming
by way of my Bolshevik party card,
above the heads
of a gang of self-seeking
poets and rogues,
all the hundred volumes
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi |
There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Him to fill you up,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
comes to you of its own accord,
and the yearning for it
cannot be learned in any school.
From: ‘Hush Don’t Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi’
Translated by Sharam Shiva
class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; TEXT-ALIGN: center">NEXT Poem
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class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt">The Poetseers
Francesco Petrarch |
TO LAURA IN DEATH.
Marge Piercy |
The dark socket of the year
the pit, the cave where the sun lies down
and threatens never to rise,
when despair descends softly as the snow
covering all paths and choking roads:
then hawkfaced pain seized you
threw you so you fell with a sharp
cry, a knife tearing a bolt of silk.
My father heard the crash but paid
no mind, napping after lunch
yet fifteen hundred miles north
I heard and dropped a dish.
Your pain sunk talons in my skull
and crouched there cawing, heavy
as a great vessel filled with water,
oil or blood, till suddenly next day
the weight lifted and I knew your mind
had guttered out like the Chanukah
candles that burn so fast, weeping
veils of wax down the chanukiya.
Those candles were laid out,
friends invited, ingredients bought
for latkes and apple pancakes,
that holiday for liberation
and the winter solstice
when tops turn like little planets.
Shall you have all or nothing
take half or pass by untouched?
Nothing you got, Nun said the dreydl
as the room stopped spinning.
The angel folded you up like laundry
your body thin as an empty dress.
Your clothes were curtains
hanging on the window of what had
been your flesh and now was glass.
Outside in Florida shopping plazas
loudspeakers blared Christmas carols
and palm trees were decked with blinking
Except by the tourist
hotels, the beaches were empty.
Pelicans with pregnant pouches
flapped overhead like pterodactyls.
In my mind I felt you die.
First the pain lifted and then
you flickered and went out.
I walk through the rooms of memory.
Sometimes everything is shrouded in dropcloths,
every chair ghostly and muted.
Other times memory lights up from within
bustling scenes acted just the other side
of a scrim through which surely I could reach
my fingers tearing at the flimsy curtain
of time which is and isn't and will be
the stuff of which we're made and unmade.
In sleep the other night I met you, seventeen
your first nasty marriage just annulled,
thin from your abortion, clutching a book
against your cheek and trying to look
older, trying to took middle class,
trying for a job at Wanamaker's,
dressing for parties in cast off
stage costumes of your sisters.
were hazy with dreams.
You did not
notice me waving as you wandered
past and I saw your slip was showing.
You stood still while I fixed your clothes,
as if I were your mother.
combing your springy black hair, ringlets
that seemed metallic, glittering;
remember me dressing you, my seventy year
old mother who was my last dollbaby,
giving you too late what your youth had wanted.
What is this mask of skin we wear,
what is this dress of flesh,
this coat of few colors and little hair?
This voluptuous seething heap of desires
and fears, squeaking mice turned up
in a steaming haystack with their babies?
This coat has been handed down, an heirloom
this coat of black hair and ample flesh,
this coat of pale slightly ruddy skin.
This set of hips and thighs, these buttocks
they provided cushioning for my grandmother
Hannah, for my mother Bert and for me
and we all sat on them in turn, those major
muscles on which we walk and walk and walk
over the earth in search of peace and plenty.
My mother is my mirror and I am hers.
What do we see? Our face grown young again,
our breasts grown firm, legs lean and elegant.
Our arms quivering with fat, eyes
set in the bark of wrinkles, hands puffy,
our belly seamed with childbearing,
Give me your dress that I might try it on.
Oh it will not fit you mother, you are too fat.
I will not fit you mother.
I will not be the bride you can dress,
the obedient dutiful daughter you would chew,
a dog's leather bone to sharpen your teeth.
You strike me sometimes just to hear the sound.
Loneliness turns your fingers into hooks
barbed and drawing blood with their caress.
My twin, my sister, my lost love,
I carry you in me like an embryo
as once you carried me.
What is it we turn from, what is it we fear?
Did I truly think you could put me back inside?
Did I think I would fall into you as into a molten
furnace and be recast, that I would become you?
What did you fear in me, the child who wore
your hair, the woman who let that black hair
grow long as a banner of darkness, when you
a proper flapper wore yours cropped?
You pushed and you pulled on my rubbery
flesh, you kneaded me like a ball of dough.
Rise, rise, and then you pounded me flat.
Secretly the bones formed in the bread.
I became willful, private as a cat.
You never knew what alleys I had wandered.
You called me bad and I posed like a gutter
queen in a dress sewn of knives.
All I feared was being stuck in a box
with a lid.
A good woman appeared to me
indistinguishable from a dead one
except that she worked all the time.
Your payday never came.
Your dreams ran
with bright colors like Mexican cottons
that bled onto the drab sheets of the day
and would not bleach with scrubbing.
My dear, what you said was one thing
but what you sang was another, sweetly
subversive and dark as blackberries
and I became the daughter of your dream.
This body is your body, ashes now
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
my throat, my thighs.
You run in me
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,
you sing in my mind like wine.
did not dare in your life you dare in mine.