The sun filters through windows
hitches onto tales nine decades
old. A spectral witness--
I watch you and Maggie
dressed in young boys’ clothes,
steal cherries from the neighbor’s tree.
Years later, you, your brothers
and sisters (my uncles, aunts)
roll up the parlor carpet, crank the victrola
dance the Lindy Hop & the Shimmy.
I still can feel the polished hardwood floor
vibrate beneath nimble feet.
When I’m no longer here
can no longer dream of stepping
from the kitchen door of the brownstone
on Kenmore Place to the garden
can no longer imagine the peonies in full bloom
when my older sister was born
or envision the glider that seats four—
Who will recall the fragrance of the grapes?
Or the goldfish swimming in the rock garden?
Will such memories evaporate or keep sailing by—
a ghost ship in a shifting sky?
The doves visited every morning
in the spring and summer
came to the window sill and cooed
till we stopped what we were doing,
gave them our full attention.
Shy in their presence, I refused to kiss you
while they peered inside, shifting
from one leg to the other
bearing messages we couldn’t understand
until they grew bored
and flew away.
Nonetheless they comforted us—our day went better.
When you died, they stopped coming.
I haven’t seen them in years….
so much went out of my life when you ceased to be.
On a Moon Fragrant Night ☊
On a moon fragrant night the ear a cauliflower
hearkens to the cries of the impoverished street
singer, hearkens to the swish of his modish rags
‘neath the torn curtain of sky. Parched thieves
crouch near the simmering pond, sneak into
the poet’s garden, steal lilacs—white, purple,
lavender—whose gnarled branches curl & twist
block the crooks’ egress, banish them to anguish
& the dissonance
of unresolved chords. May you never know pain
of the chop block, never suffer branding
of your skin, never be felled by the moon’s
scimitar, deafened by the cymbals’ crash or waste
your dandelion years
riding camelback through the Hindu Kush. Such trials
are not for you, mon petit chou-fleur. Come sit beside
me, listen to the song on the far side of the tattered
moon. Then we’ll gather the wind-scattered seeds
that lie beyond
the bleak horizon, allow the stream of regrets to flow
past us. Dreams will perch on our window sills, mirages
drift past the scrim of sleep, swift as the golden fish
who plunge into the bellowing waters. Listen! for the ear,
the cauliflower ear will carry you deep into its spherical music.
Afternoon at Frick Park
We hike downhill--
just my speed these days--
Rupa and Kevin deposit me at a bench
climb back up to retrieve their car, then me.
The park seems deserted.
I’ve been reading too much about guns, suicides, murders.
A beat up car pulls into the parking lot
a creepy guy coaxes his dog out
onto the grass where the poor thing can barely move.
“Goldie’s fourteen and her hips don’t work so good,” he says.
Pedestrian traffic picks up:
almost every passerby has a dog on or off a leash
a child in or out of a stroller.
A park ranger whose green shirt reads STAFF
demonstrates how to strap
a hammock to two trees, spaced well apart
invites his colleague to lie down in it.
“Is the hammock for park visitors?” I ask.
“No,” he laughs, unties it, puts it in his car for when he
wants a snooze.
A clutch of clouds obliterates the sun, triggers a sense
of unease. Two years ago today my neighbor shot his wife.
The papers are full of such stuff—toddlers with loaded guns,
terrorists, tedious accounts & statistics of bodies violated,
mutilated, murdered. Wars spring up like children’s toys,
Bop and Pop. The tale of Mayerling palls, ho-hum.
Can we care about Crown Prince Rudolf--tsk! tsk! when history
is steeped in our killing fields, in the French blesse during
the wars, in the dried blood of Babi Yar or of Burundi,
the Mexican clandestinas or prehistoric mass graves in Kenya?
Is it still possible to mourn the murder-suicide
of Crown-Prince Rudolf?
For three years Niki de Saint Phalle was addicted to shooting
works of art, mesmerized by pellets bursting from a .22 long rifle
into bags of paint embedded in plaster. Boom! the monochromatic
white blooms as sacks spurt and splatter violets and reds, oranges
and blacks. Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns likewise take part
in such innocent massacre.
A woman in high heels and chiffon,
a crown of flowers in her hair
steps out of a Toyota, grabs a child’s hand.
Friends and family (and the fiancé) arrive, spattering
the grey parking lot with finery in greens, pinks, blues.
The cluster of celebrants walk across the road
to a secluded area where a minister intones blessings.
The Scent of Flesh
The scent of burnt flesh lingers…
in the fruit I eat
the wine I drink
ashes shroud the land with pelts of grey
soft, soft they fall
the violet thistle trembles…
a gentle drum of terror
seals the leaves of trees
a red fox shrieks, a barn owl
there is no secret closet in my home
no place to hide
fear slams one door, then another
the hunt is on
dark splotches rorshach their clothes
spill down the stairs
weep deep into the grass
I flee into the barren hills
trailing a river of grief ’s memories--
burnt at the stake
my arm an abacus
its numbers the math of slaughter
on a ravishing September day in Kiev
we fell, pop, pop, pop
the ravine told it all
the imagination of cruelty
is a crab whose overarching reach
I wander here/ there, a charred ghost
in this village or in that
no one left save those who hunt and hunt
and hunt me down
their rage, the shockwave of an exploding star.
"I ain't no sit-down man"
his spine bent beneath
he works silently
without pause, intuits potential
in scavenged objects. Push-pull
he hauls metal scraps―
sharp edged wire, mattress coils
bicycle parts, paint cans―
to his 60-watt shed
gathers lighter scraps―
twigs, bird feathers, acorns, splayed leaves
brittle with death
boils coffee in a tin pot
crumbles, smears an earth cake on wood
textures violet wall hangings with house paint
bought on sale
the afternoon light fades
as decay’s vintage heaps up around him.
a shape emerges beneath
scarred fingers that wield a welding iron
and tame the jagged remnants.
and the Grand Concourse--
excites passersby with
the scent of pastry
oozing high score butter
Boston cream pie--
Two blocks away
across from Poe Park
at 2535 Valentine Avenue
in her nightgown.
her deal hands
ashes from her cigarette
into the green glass ashtray.
Not yet acclaimed
for her sculpture
(that would come later)
nor for her mandelbrot
(she hadn’t yet acquired
my aunt had attained
a level of local renown
for starting fires
when she cooked pacha.
To be accurate, it wasn’t
the pacha that caught fire
but the toast--
her attention distracted
by solitaire or perhaps
reveries of Russia where
she’d spent her childhood.
Whenever flames leaped out
from the Sunbeam T-20
she’d unplug it
rush to open windows--
their apartment and hallway
set off the alarm.
Firemen arrived to find
by the unfolding drama--
tsktsking on the sidewalk in front
of the white brick building.
Perhaps my aunt’s toaster
was defective or the wiring
in the Bronx apartment faulty.
But the pacha—calves feet braised
with bulbs of garlic—
was prepared to perfection
the dish served glistening and wobbling
on black toast.
This is the house that Jack built.
This is the nail that lay in the wall of the little red house
that Jack built.
This is the tetanus caused by the nail that lay in the
wall of the wood and brick house that Jack built.
This is the fear the tetanus spread as it seeped through
the rooms of the gingerbread house that Jack built.
This is the spore that locked the jaw of the green beret
man in the house made of sand that Jack built.
This is the person, stiff as a claw, who could breathe
no more lying miffed and sore in the Summerside
cottage that Jack built.
These are the children, they’re all forlorn, hugging their
father tattered and torn who would soon be a corpse
but now lay on the bed in the tiny blue house
that Jack built.
This is the dirge that clearly emerged in the hard concrete
yard near the nail causing tetanus drilled in the wall
of the broad expanse of the grey fieldstone manse
that Jack built.
These two strange men who climb over the fence are
approaching the bench near the nail causing tetanus
drilled in the wall of the home on the grange
that Jack built.
These are the guns the men slung and then flung towards
the wall with the nail causing tetanus lodged--
you know where—in the white stucco house
that Jack built.
These are the children asleep in their beds while visions
of sugar plums danced in their heads with nary
an inkling they’d all soon be dead and buried
instead ‘neath the treacherous wall that held
in its thrall the nail causing tetanus which brought
on the fall of the chimney and all of the once
standing house that Jack built.
Phone Booth at 100th
Married at 24
our first home
100th and West End Ave.
the bakery and fish store a block away.
From the bathroom window--
no blinds or curtains yet--
I crane my neck
to make out the Hudson.
Saturday nights, alarms and sirens
murders real or imagined
and on the corner, a phone booth.
In the dining room a bell
to summon the butler
who never comes
two claw foot bathtubs
a dumbwaiter to store potatoes and onions.
At night when we turn on the light
roaches scurry over stove and sink.
Throbbing with blood lust, my husband
squashes ten or twelve adults, babies--
no matter. The exterminator visits
short-lived peace until our neighbor
sends them back in our ongoing relay.
Between us a living is made.