Closer

Like a muffled metronome
behind me, there are footsteps walking—
much too close. I cross the street,
because it must be me they’re stalking.
But the cadence of the feet
in iambs on the dim concrete
comes closer, closes in, repeating
in my ribs: my own heart knocking
and outrunning me—a clock,
its hands quicker than feet. It’s beating
time, a tuneless shadow locked
inside me, where I hear its omen
sure-footed and close to home.

Plumb Line

“The shrine may become so important that the idea
it stands for is consigned to oblivion.”
………………………………………………—Abraham Joshua Heschel

The plumber’s flashlight shines on the meniscus
of water atop the drain’s face, blank obsidian
to full moon in an instant, moon for a drunken
cricket to drown in. I’ve yet to count our losses

within the flooded basement, as his light
catkins water drops & stray puddles still
budded on the floor. All around us, piles
of half-soaked boxes: maternity outfits

Editorial Afterward to Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Pass”

When Isaac Bashevis Singer passed away in 1991, he knew that his work would be left undone. He had left behind heaps and piles of material in his so-called “chaos room” – the walk-in closet where he kept manuscripts, clippings, notebooks, certificates, diplomas, awards, letters, and many other documents and objects from his literary and personal life. His son, Israel Zamir, wrote in his memoir that, during the last visit when his father’s mind was clear, Singer went into the chaos room and said, “Oh, my God, I’ve got to live another hundred years to edit the stories, translate them into English, and publish them.”

Derecho

After your bus drove away
I stood looking at the empty grass
where the white house used to be,
living room clapped in half
by a lightning-loosed tree, the storm
that day a folklore, pentecostal.
First there were the firetrucks, the wail and mania,
and then the green cherry picker that lifted
a man in its mechanical fist
to fix the downed lines. You stood
at the helm of your scooter
to watch in your philosophical quiet
as the movers emptied the wings
of the house—tree like a sudden thorax—
and the clouds jostled in epiphanic blue.
And one day the bulldozer came, to raze
the staggered remains, then men
from the city chainsawed the trunk
into smaller and smaller disks,
until there was only the scrubbed earth
like a knee ripped of its scab.
And still you had never asked,
neither of us knowing the site of this undoing
would be your kindergarten bus stop
and in your pink backpack
you would climb into the yellow roar
and wave to me and fold
your secret questions like a note
to be slipped in a lunch, opened later,
token of that thrifted dollhouse
we call childhood.

Metaphysical There

The tree frog’s two syllables rising from night trees sound exactly like a plea, or like a final question: is it is it is it, and it means oh what a night we inhabit together, hanging our songs out in the cool air like blessings on the doorframe.

Until I found my life there, I was afraid of the dark. Until it had hidden me from grave danger, I didn’t know how close the embrace of night in all its splendor through which I could hear voices and footsteps but was never seen.

Habits of Reading: Alissa Valles and Edwin Frank in Conversation

When, or how, do a writer’s words take their place in the memory and imagination? What does their having done so have, in fact, to do with those words? This is the accident.

Edwin Frank, “The Accident,” Snake Train: Poems 1984-2013

 

Pastime

About as useful as a pitch-black hall of mirrors,
or an iWatch in eternity, with Siri saying “Sorry,
I missed that” to no nobody in particular,
all the personal data dormant, moot, mute—

mornings, back when the work was new,
with my coffee and the white page, and the whole day
ahead of me without distraction, I’d play

my go-to pastime imagining the old man I would be
four decades later in the same chair
at the same desk imagining his younger self
imagining his older.
…………………………………O my blind deaf dumb

Closet Meditation

I’m afraid half my shirts are frayed.
Yet I can’t throw them out.
Even the torn one stays. You never know
when you might need to do a messy job:
unstop a drain or grout the bathroom floor.
Other shirts are almost new.
They’re for the days
I’ll have to give a lecture or
sit for a TV interview.
(There’ve been none recently that I recall.)
Mostly I’m here alone. I write.
I wouldn’t have to wear a shirt at all.
And yet it sets a tone –
but what’s the tone I want today? I might
decide a shirt of bold design
wouldn’t be bad
so that perhaps (if you dropped in)
you’d like the plaid and never see
the loosening threads, the early signs
of imminent decay that would remind
you just how surreptitiously
all our wraps can fall away.

The Sun Speaks of Her Lover

(a Cherokee myth)

Alone, by darkness, and without a name,
My lover came to lie with me each night,
But kept his fervent face so out of sight,
I wondered from which tribe and clan he came.
So, with the ash of embers from my flame,
I brushed his cheek before his morning flight.
Next day, I saw. He now lives far, in shame.
No longer are we ever found together.
So marked we are, we neither seek another.
Forgive me, that I gave my love too soon.
All Heaven stands between us, since: the weather,
The warmth, the winds, and time. He is my brother,
That one the Principal People call the Moon.