SWAN DIVE

Its plump, dusty-white feathered body
sits atop the pond like an inverted
iceberg, as the lindens fringing the field
shed their seeds onto the hardened soil.
The swan lumbers across the surface
with no particular urgency or direction
slowed by the entropy of a late August afternoon,
the laughed shouts of children
plunging headlong to dinner,
diverted to bathrooms
for the cursory sprinkling
of unholy water,
the beast drags its haunches
upward
straining against the gravity
of too many
moments pecking the grains
cast at it by the children.
Its head breaks the surface of the pond
and inches downward in through the green
glaze until snatching its target
at the end of the allotted moment,
like the child’s toy with its colored fluid,
it swings back up on its axis,
and inches away, its dive complete.

The young boy climbs gingerly aboard
the rusty metal seat, a lattice of
peeling enamels, telling the years
as rings of trees, and drops the bar
across his lap, a wave to cousins
denying the tingle in his bowels
as the wheel begins its rhythmic
interrupted rotation, and the sky
summer gray, approaches.
The wheel turns slowly,
the cacophony of little girls
rings false against the fading note
of a carousel.
He rocks gently, mindful not to lean
into the baleful eye of the operator,
and glances down counting those
awaiting their moments until
he hears the grating of metal
and he slides to the side,
as his cage
begins to dangle, the bar greased
by the sweated palms of a rider,
and then the shriek of agony
torn loose from somewhere beneath
his riveted eyes
fixed on the asphalt
rushing to break him.
He lifts his arms out
vainly searching
for the genetic memory of flight.
He strikes with the sound of the plastic
barrel striking a pier, his dive complete.

First Appeared in Twilight Ending, May 1999.

PAYING HOMAGE

No one thinks it all that strange
that novels featuring James Bond
appeared well after Ian Fleming
again made acquaintance with the soil.

Nor are we shocked that Conan Doyle
has seemingly taken up pen again
and brought Holmes back to life,
although many find those efforts regrettable.

And yet when I take pen to paper
and cast line upon line of verse
upon the page, weaving intricate rhymes
and couplets of fine iambic pentameter,

I am called a fool or a charlatan for claiming
my work is merely a continuation of
Milton, Eliot and old William Butler Yeats
but homage is a tough game and I’m up to it,

and I toil away wondering just who
will strive to continue my tales when,
as draws ever closer to my chagrin,
I join the masters as further food for worms.

ISRAEL’S JUSTIFICATION FOR THE BOMB

Once it was fur hats
men on horseback
swords and torches
our villages casting a faint glow
falling into dying embers,
here, one whose skull
bears the mark of the hoof,
there an old one
who would go no farther.

Once it was a helmet
tanks for horses
flames contained in crematoria
cities taken for the deserving
we, merely ashes
shoveled into a pit,
here a tooth, its gold
torn free and cataloged
first the old ones
who could go no farther.

And so we have learned,
we in our kippot
we in our planes
and if you do not hear we
will give you the holy fires of God
you and your villages a faint shadow
and so much vapor, so much ash
carried on his holy breath
for we have learned well
and we have fused these words
in our minds, never again.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

CALENDAR

As a child I lived next door to a calendar,
but not the kind mother always hung
on the wall next to the refrigerator, two,
one for school events and the obligations
attendant on parenthood and the other
for holidays, and adult social events,
the important one she’d say when
she thought we couldn’t hear.
My calendar was Mrs. Kanutsu,
the woman next door, or more accurately
the aromas that would waft from her kitchen
foretelling the Greek Orthodox holiday
about to arrive, only a few hours
after she insured that I approved
of her latest creations, all of which
were replete, redolent with spices
my mothers would never dare use.
I liked Christmas most of all, even
though I was wholly Jewish then,
for it meant she would let me help
make the phyllo, knowing I would
soon enough be rewarded with
a large piece of baklava that strangely
never seemed to make it all the way next door

IMPENDING DEPARTURE

They finally used the word
or one near enough to it
and she was not surprised,
she almost welcomed it.
You can grow jealous of those
with a depth of faith
that a sentence of months
or perhaps less is received
with grace and a smile, a nod
and a statement “I’m more
than ready to go home now,
back to my husband.”
I hope I will show such equanimity
when I am told my time
is quickly drawing to an end,
but I am left with great faith
in myself, and that may not suffice
as I prepare to slip away
into oblivion.

WANDER WHY

The path meandered more than he remembered
but he was the first to admit
his memory was never his strongest suit.
It didn’t help that he had consumed
two margaritas at lunch, and even he
didn’t believe the excuse that this was
a slow day for him, still sober at two in the afternoon.
But he wandered the path, for that
is what paths were there for he was certain.
He had no idea where he was going, and realized
that he would have no idea when he got there.
Still he had great faith in mathematics, that
was his training, his brilliance,such as it was,
and he knew that if he merely wandered aimlessly
without thinking, he would eventually cross
his own path, bump into his former self
and they, together, could devise a plan
to find their way precisely they were intended to be.

TROTSKY

He slipped the knife quickly
between two ribs as he
was carefully trained,
withdrew it and placed it
inside the raincoat, a bit odd
in the bright sun of Mexico City.

He disappeared into the streets
and later toiled in an endless
series of five year plans,
sharing the small apartment
sharing bread and the lines
always the lines and waiting.

Now in Moscow he remembered
the sidewalk cafes, carefully
marking the older man
in his daily travels, a book
tucked perpetually under his arm.

They talked one afternoon
for hours, even while the doors
were closed, shutters drawn
for siesta, he the acolyte,
the old one the prophet
cast out of his land, a pariah.

Walking across the park
winter grasping his throat
he turned to the men strolling
along behind him and wished them
rotting bread and weak tea.

First published in Eureka Literary Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1997)

SHARING

It wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but
you probably wouldn’t have been all that upset.
It was all about you, but not for you, that
comes later, and we know you’ll be pleased.
This one was for some of us who needed this
to be able to keep going, to keep from looking
only back, into the darkness that is our shadow.
He said it was a celebration, and it was that,
and we put on our best faces, hid our tears
as best we could, and as we stood in the cold air
in the cemetery, we only wished it over,
and when the sun appeared suddenly, we knew
you wished that as well, but in your case,
it was more likely that you wanted us working
on the party we will soon throw for you
and that one, too will be for us, but
among the things we miss you for,
was your willingness, you desire to share.

ANYWHERE BUT

I was twelve at the time, would have
chosen to be anywhere but there.
I hated visiting her at home, but this
took my disgust to a whole new level.
We were never close, never would be,
she so old, so old world, so unlike
anyone I had known, so like the women
sitting outside the old hotels on South Beach
waiting for a wave or death, whichever
first flowed in, life having long ebbed.
The room as I remember it was barren,
bleached to a lack of any color,
the bed a white frame, white sheets,
a small white indentation staring
up at the ceiling, up at heaven,
and everywhere what I imagined
were steel bars through which we
and the doctors and nurses could pass,
but which held her tightly within,
serving out what remained
of her ever shortening life sentence.