Departure

Just as even weeks before it is time to leave
you begin to think about packing,

about what you will take for the two-week trip –
what to take, which means how much to take,

and how to cram that too much into your luggage,
and what you can reasonably leave behind,

and what it will be like when you arrive
in that still vague new place

which you can neither envision nor avoid imagining:
the contours of each day,

where you will sleep, what and where you will eat,
and as the scheduled date of departure approaches

On Translation

On a muggy morning in Corfu, at Ionian University, some of whose departments are housed in what, if I understand correctly, was once a lunatic asylum, I find myself in a classroom drawing an arc from left to right across a whiteboard. The marker’s running out of ink – a familiar dilemma that brings back One Washington Park, the Business School building at Rutgers-Newark where I taught only last week and will teach again next week. I enjoy smuggling a literature course into this building under the radar of finance. My literature students are the outliers at the Business School; the black-suited business majors rarely make eye contact in the elevators. An aging poet like me is invisible. But here on a Greek island, in this long, narrow classroom, all eyes seem to be fixed on what I’m scribbling.

Skin Care

Broadway and Fifty-first. December gloaming.
A neon glare spills out of a boutique,
brilliant cube, door open to the street,
from which a black-clad figure darts and pounces.
Lithe, lightly bearded, younger than my son,
and standing at my shoulder
before I reach the corner
(I’m abstracted, waiting for the light),
insinuatingly with serpent tongue
he purrs “May I ask you a question?
What kind of product do you use on your skin?”
With which magic words, this messenger
(an angel, but what kind of angel is he?)
lures me into his realm.
He has been trained to recognize the signs:
I’m tired and hungry and preoccupied.
I’m aging, parched; I’m turning to a mummy.
In a flash he has me where he wants me,
seated in his white box, my coat still on.
Piercing light and an alarming mirror
magnify each pore and fleck and vein:
blue cords, brown freckles floating in skim milk.

Fast Ride

The West Side Highway morphs to verdant lawn
with brown-gold patches (horse manure? a barn?) –

lush green track down which we are careering
faster and faster, and no one is steering

or even driving: no hands on the wheel.
I scream. It comes out tinny and unreal.

No anger, though, and (can this be?) no fear.
Laughter. Leaping barriers, the car

plunges into the Hudson, down down down
through strange clear water. Does this mean we drown?

All gone before a single candid gleam
pierces the depths to light up what they mean,

Stars Shine in the Window

Light fills and empties hollows every day.
Dawn, dusk. Unstinting generosity.
But when the black is permanent, the night?
Oh death, be kinder than the goodbye thought.

Bright dark rhyming looks: goodbye, hello.
Two transfixed regards that ask and know
and overflow. A wordless history,
a shadow palimpsest of all we saw.

Lesbia’s sparrow hopping down a lane
toward black, modo huc, modo illuc – pause and go?
Nox est perpetua. It only seemed
the path came to a stop. Then it wound on.

The Trembling Web and the Storage Facility

The summer 2016 issue of Raritan, Volume XXXVI Number 1, arrived not long ago; and (with a nod to the first sentence of Howards End) one may as well begin there. I only irregularly subscribe to Raritan, but I’m always happy to read the issues which make their way to me because I have work in them. About my two small poems in this particular issue, more later. When I opened the quarterly, the second thing I turned to was an essay with an arresting title: “All Poems End with the Word Paradise.” The author of the essay was Kenneth Gross.

Heart-Shaped Stone

What you see is half of me.
Over the other half
invisible wings are lifting.

I find myself in a crowded little shop
toward which some friends are strolling up a hill
with inconceivable slowness. You’re not there.

Perched on a compost heap of artifacts
to stroke or store, to covet or cast off,
I run my fingers over a leopard skin.

The hill is steep. My friends keep not arriving.
Impatient, I reach for my phone
and touch instead inside its little case