From "THE STILL PUDDLE POETS" --New Poems © 2008



STAROKONSTANTINOV


Huddled over the kitchen table,
Translucent papers trembling in their hands
They pass the letters back and forth
In hushed voices, share the news
"Such terrible things."
"Put them in the synagogue and burned them."
"Brought them to an open pit and shot them."

Where did you come from?
A place no longer there
A blank on a map
A hole in the heart of the world.

But I have been to Star of Constantine
Seen the frescoed church nestled in the castle tower
The pair of railway stations (trains every other hour)
The bustling town market (for more than a year,
A ghetto exposed to the open air).

I heard roosters crowing
Saw a crowd of cackling geese
Bumping heads in a dooryard.
Under blooming chestnut trees
Down a shaded walk
A blue-brown dray
Pull a two-wheeled cart
Piled high with hay.

The sky was pure and cloudless
The fields a June-green span
The glint of swinging silvery scythes
Flitted across the land.
Except from the stretch of a single copse
Locked in lightless shade.
Where ducklings flocked around a vine-entwined
Barbed wire that held the glade
And mother ducks, their wings spread wide,
Flurried them away.

How strange, so late
To alight at the site
Where on a freezing December day
They trucked the starved and skeletal
To the pit where they would lay
While shots cracked the air till the end of cries
And the heaving earth exhaled and sighed

Surely the bones of those you know
Merge in the verdant grave below
And had you and your brothers
Your vain and lovely sister
Your smart and prideful mother
Remained
All of you too would be buried deep
Where the Sluch and Ikopot rivers meet
In the ravine of the town I dream
Beloved Star of Constantine.


DIRECTIONS



Lech L’cha –
"Go forth to a land I will show you," God told Abraham.
Neither prophet nor patriarch, just perennial pilgrim,
I ascend the hillside behind my house
Follow rays of a rising sun
That point to a place
Where brambles form a lacey wall.
Beyond bare November branches
In a circle ringed by bending birches
Their trunks spilling shadows onto the forest floor
Like streaks of spotlights criss-crossing to center stage,
I thought to find a burning bush
Or at least get directions to that parted sea
But there’s only a carpet of coppery leaves
And a rush of wind rustling through the trees.

Lech L’cha – "Go in," the rabbis say.
Dive instead of climb
Descend through the decades
Hold again the child who touched my face
Re-inhabit the little white house
With the single white birch on its narrow lawn
Embraced by daffodils each April we were there.
From that small circle, glean the closeness of those times
When equally poised between the generations
Life held an intimacy too delicate to last
The baby would lean out from beneath the stroller’s hood
And reach to capture flowers that lined the shaded way
So in the terraced gardens of memory’s recessed hall
Can I pluck myriads of miracles waiting for recall.


THE SACRED SEASON



"In case it happens. . ."
His missive began
Ending with the poignant plea
"Please take care of Mother
Till the last day of her life."
(Which I did)
When I read it on an August evening
More than thirty years ago
It swept over me like thundering surf

A practical list of things to do
In the flamboyant, flourished hand
That had never been tamed
By the ruling demands
Of American schools
Just as his volcanic heart
Had never been calmed
On this predictable plain
Although aside from us
No one knew,
So smoothly had he mastered
The nuances of gallantry and grace
The tipped hat,
The opened door . . .

Two months had passed
When on the golden Sunday morning
That he died
I stood in my daughter’s bedroom
Sunlight raced across the yellow walls
Streaking her lemon-colored dresser
Melting the drawers into batter
As wild with a grief I had never known
I looked down the hallway
So long, so dark, so much time
Left for me to live

This year
The days fall as they did then
Sunday to Sunday
From the Eve of the Fast
To the Week of the Booths
The shock of Thursday
The ordeal of Friday
The storm of Saturday
The radiance of Sunday

It is the Sacred Season
People are sitting in huts
Remembering the wanderings of forty years
I have wandered thirty years now,
Caught in the web of captured time
Pinioned by sunbeams that pour through the pines
Reminded of him of the Tatar eyes
Long dust


The Furrier



Spring 2000:
"You were a coward," she said, though not unkindly,
From her chair behind the walker
Her hair a cloud of silver snow.
Across the room, he bent his domed head
And smiled into the sofa
"I was always afraid
Of the bosses, of the union,
Afraid I’d lose my job."
("In the summer," she told us,
"His sweat would drip on the fur.
Air conditioning? Are you kidding?
In the showroom and the office,
Not the shop".)

Spring 1965:
Neat women in knit suits and beehive hairdos
Earnest men in jackets and stick-narrow ties
Walk a respectful picket line
"Don’t buy foreign-made furs at Saks Fifth Avenue
/Help us keep our jobs"
Their decorous signs proclaim.
He never saw the camera
Catch him center front
Leaning slightly forward
Holding his sign aloft
His face a pane of simple truth
A plainly-dressed man
With a paper in his pocket
For the subway ride home.

Spring 1945:
"Uncle Norman will soon be back
(This his carefree younger brother)
"He’s fun, he’ll make you laugh,
You’ll love him more than me."
Still in uniform, he bent to my size
Coarse woolen sleeves brushed my arms
I touched cold brass buttons and a great gentle face
Burrowed, nuzzled into the darkness of his neck
It was soft and deep as fur
Oh no, there was no one I loved more.