ENGLISH CLASS

He had planned
the exercise for weeks,
certain this one
would allow them
to break through the wall
that had imprisoned
the metaphors within them.
It was simple, and that
was its beauty, too many
attempts had become
bogged down, mired in
the fear that words
could do the greatest harm.
The exercise is simple,
he said, and they
put pens to paper.
Later, toward the end
of class, “would one of you
be kind enough
to read to the class
your description
of a young woman’s lips?”
One boy meekly rose
and through half clenched
teeth said, “Her lips
were precisely shaped
to barely cover her teeth.”


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

YIDDISH

My grandmother lapsed
into Yiddish only on special occasions
“where other words won’t fit”
she said, where there is
no English to describe
the indescribable, blessed
be He, but we knew
that it was merely
a convenient way to keep
us out of the conversation,
while they clucked.
Mah Johng is a game
that can only be played
in Yiddish, she said,
to hell with thousands
of years of Chinese history.

She remembers the Golem
she met him once
on Fourteenth Street
when she still had
the liquor store.
She thought it strange
that he wanted gin
and not Slivovitz
but Golem can be strange
under the right circumstances,
and he did speak Yiddish.

THE LAWS OF DREAMING

 

Then, in a moment, it stopped
without warning or obvious cause
and it was suddenly dark.
I thought of prying open
the doors, stepping out
into the tunnel, proceeding slowly
down the narrow walkway
eventually into morning.
In the dark, the few bulbs
remaining cast a faint glow.
It was easy, I knew,
to slip from the path
onto the rails where
a misstep is fatal.
When I told her all of this
she clucked and said
I have these problems
because I dreamed
only in English with
its minefield grammar,
where a misstep would
blow up the ghosts of the day
which had waited
so patiently for the
exorcism of sleep.
She said she could dream
in five languages, but
to avoid confusion
limited herself to English
and Mandarin so when
she sensed she was drifting
toward the dam, she could
take up pictograms
and ride them across
the river of night.