Selected Poems
A wind that is time alternates with a wind that is place, and God remains down here like a man who thinks he’s forgotten something, and will stick around until he remembers.

 

Yehudi Amichai

Sometimes What We Miss

When she heard the child cry out,
her right arm jerked to a grotesque angle,
fingers splayed and froze.
She dragged her twisted right leg,
foot curled inward, as she limped
across the floor.

From its crib, the child reached out perfect arms,
kicked its bare feet against the bars,
insistent like a ragged shutter
on a windy night.

With her left hand, she squeezed rigid
fingers into a fist, bent her shoulders
and gently scooped the child with her forearms.
Gurgling, the child nuzzled against her neck.

She crooned a lullaby of lemon trees
and goat bells tinkling,
the music of laughter
of shoes dancing, hands clapping
to the beat of the tarantula.

In this way Rosalita taught the child
how to make its body sing.

   
 

 






Image

 

Snapshot of an Ivy League Faculty Wife

This Saturday morning
I’m sitting cross-legged on the bare wood
floor of the Chancellor Green rotunda,
my long hair pulled back and wearing
my husband’s Oxford shirt, sleeves rolled up,
wide-band mod watch – it’s the late sixties.

Tonight’s the faculty Christmas dance.
My assignment – whip up a diamond-stud 
décor, lots of pizzazz and greenery.
Would garlands of balsam
look more festive wound around
columns or swagged from balcony railings?

Later, I slip into a chocolate velvet gown,
darken my brows, dab on pale lipstick.
Oh so late to the dance, eight of us
stoned, laughing at nothing and everything,
until someone gets wildly silly, sets fire
to the linen tablecloth.

My husband’s chairman asks me to dance,
his arm brushing my breast, his fingers
weaving through my dark hair.
The sacrificial lamb, I keep smiling,
oh how I keep smiling, and the band
won’t stop playing fox-trots.

 

 

Counting Backwards in London

On this fine Sunday afternoon, I was alone
in the flat when George and his two mates
arrived, and George, having had too many pints
at the pub down the road, wanted to stay,
but his mates kept insisting they had to leave,
they’d be late returning to base, then George,
a captain in the British Army, was careening
down our long hall on my three-year-old son’s
tricycle, bent on counting backwards to the last
time we’d seen each other, on a Salisbury
golf course, George on his belly on the grass
showing me how to take the lie of each hole
for its strategic location, much the same way
he’d taken aim at smugglers’ camels crossing
the mountains in Yemen or when he’d combed
Belfast for booby traps and homemade bombs,
and I wanted him to stay longer, wanted him
sober, so we could relive the races, games
of pontoon, darts, high tea in his mum’s garden,
because, as his mates dragged him off
the tricycle and managed to stand him upright,
we had no idea if we’d ever see each other
again and I’ll always remember his broad smile
and how his blond hair flopped across
his forehead when he turned at the top
of the stairs and said, I’ll come to America
next spring to see you
, and he did.

 

 

 

 

 

Leah at Octoberfest

Elmo and Sponge Bob were there
and a fairy princess in pink and white net,
Spiderman and clowns,
and pumpkins too,
and scarecrows in chewed-up felt hats.

But Leah, with a hot dog in her left hand,
a jug of blue juice in her right, couldn’t take
her eyes off the monster
she didn’t have a name for yet: Grim Reaper
– hooked nose, red eyes, black cloak,
bloody cardboard scythe – and two paces
behind him a pint-sized double.

From the pony ride, the plastic bubble
trampoline, the haystacks she kept lookout
for the monster. Then he was in front of her
coming closer. She dug into her pocket
for the handful of stones she’d collected,
was about to fling them in his direction,
when he suddenly squatted
and tied the shoelaces
of his side-kick sitting on a bench.

Look, she shouted, he’s a Daddy,
and dismissed him as only a child can.

 

 

Image

 

 

Eighteenth Birthday

Antoine learned how to be that extra child
in someone else's house,
wear hand-me-downs and skip meals,
the kid with the different last name.
If he made too much noise,
got in trouble at school,
or the foster payment came late,
his belongings got packed in a brown paper bag.
If a government car brought a stranger to ask,
How're you doing? bullshit like that,
his heart went ballistic, mouth kept silent.

One ordinary day, he heard words
like the slash of a box cutter,
Your dad's in jail, your mom's been sober,
we're taking you home.

This skinny twelve-year-old bolted,
ran barefoot down broken cement, shouted,
I'd rather be dead than go back there.

The day he turned eighteen
Antoine was put out of the shelter.
Baggy jeans,
immaculate Nikes,
hair twisted in dreads,
a stuffed backpack slung over his shoulder,
he stood at the curb with no place to go,
bouncing his head to a Walkman beat.

 

 

 

 

 
Image  

Herman Sharp (1899-1918)

My great uncle was killed at Argonne,
his body buried in foreign soil.
For its first hometown casualty,
Maywood created a park,
inscribed his name in bronze.
Other wars, more dying.
The ground was renamed Veterans Park.
No relative was there to protest
and children who swing on the swings
don’t wonder.

Today the only proof I have of his life
is a faded photo postcard.
He’s posing in front of a fake cannon,
the Capitol painted as background.
Crisp uniform, broad smile.
His buddy close at his side.
The message: Dear Mom and Dad,
See the new watch on my wrist.
How many hours, days until
innocence fell to artillery fire?

 

 

Hampstead Again

for Billy and Jimmy

On a snowy day, when the neighborhood
has gone quiet, except for the plows,
I’m peeling onions, stripping layers of fat
from a pot roast, sizzling oil in the pan.

And it’s Hampstead again. Grey leaden
skies, damp warning its way through
our clothes. Along the streets where Keats
took a turn, past the chemist, the ironmonger,
I’m choosing grapes, lettuce, fresh beets,
and tomatoes at the greengrocer’s.
You two are juggling oranges and apples.
At the butcher’s, you kick up sawdust,
giggle at pigs’ feet, fake gag at the tongue
and the tripe until a stern Brit scolds you both.
Short hop to the bakery where a plump-faced
clerk greets us: Right wet one we’re havin’.
I pay for warm yeasty loaves; you wolf down
jam tarts as if you haven’t eaten in days.
Then the ten-block walk home loaded
with parcels. I sidestep puddles; you splash
about like irreverent ducks.

While the roast simmers, I curl up
with a book, any one will do, and listen for
echoes of the lively dinners,
when we gathered at table, forks ready.

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Carnegie, Late Afternoon

Orange sky
slips below the tree line.
College oarsmen, stroke by stroke,
slice ever-graying water.

On the road, arms awhirl,
a legless man, wheelchair-bound,
placard round his neck
I’m a homeless Vet.

All race against the fading light,
resolute on course.
One outwitting midnight’s chill,
others to the boathouse.

 

 

 

 

 
vicarage  

English Summer
Idmiston, Wiltshire

Warm July evening, roses prickly with thorns,
burbling brook at the rear of the garden.
George, Harry the Horse, and Rusty stop by
the Old Vicarage, our half-timbered rental
– sloping plank floors, brick oven –
for an evening of pontoon, ham sandwiches,
and brew. Down ten quid, George flicks on
the telly for the racing news. Instead
we hear…one giant leap for mankind.

Outside, we stare up in silence. The sky,
rife with secrets, has shed another mystery.
We wonder aloud if this could be a hoax.
No matter. An excellent excuse for celebrating
til the 3 am ritual, trucks rattling past the door
on the rutted road from Porton.
Two kilometers away, hidden in the sleepy
countryside, a chemical warfare plant.
Cargo, toxin-filled containers bound for the sea.