Look the tyrant in the eye
And you will see a fatherless boy,
Or one whose father, called away,
Left the gaps that filled with hate.
Don't be tempted by your fear,
See the boy's loaded tear,
Falling, without a father's notice,
Into the mud of gangs and mobsters.
Pierce forthright into his soul,
Inject the vial, with even flow
Refill the gaps with all you know,
Love that boy, never let go.
Written for my friend and mentor, Emerich Roth. A Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to overcoming hatred with love, especially among boys deserted by their fathers.
Gnarled by discernment,
Petite as out of a doll's house,
or another dimension where the unicorns roam,
Sort the fast slow food she would rather dignify with a fork,
At a PEN meeting, of all places, where there should be porcelain
- it's cultured, for goodness sakes -
But there is only this plastic box that rattles and shifts like an inmate's tin cup.
She is the only one
A bite cannot be wasted
- once there were just five lumps of sugar left in her whole world.
What would happen when those were gone?
Maybe the unicorns would come,
although, in as much as she held fast to them, she knew one could not think that way.
Her whole town had - now she was one of the few left.
Authors in the room
Anoint one another,
Assuming importance by meeting other significant authors,
the importance of which is so oppressive -
heating and swelling the temples - that one looks for a way out,
Any way out at all.
She, so near her food,
Remains cool and silken
- it's just another association meeting,
Faithfully to be attended.
Those slim fingers,
Of vein-marbled hands,
Are topped by brittle ribbed nails,
Filed to a point like thinly painted fish teeth.
"May I sit here?" I ask.
She looks up,
Across the table
- eating is not a game.
I cannot hear her reply under the drone of transactions overhead,
Only see her by herself,
quintessentially alone, from beginning to end,
The mirror of everyone else - the reason no one talks to her.
I fill her long, ancient ears
With my sad tale,
And she says,
Deflated, I recount.
"You musn't concern yourself about such things,"
In my notebook,
are scribbled in retired teacher's hand
Under my to-do list that never got done,
All seemed once so urgent
- no more, now that I know,
She took Alice in Wonderland with her on the train to Auschwitz.
Part I of a series dedicated to my friend, Adéle Schreiber, who died of complications due to COVID just shy of 100.
Each band is a tone
from the string of a violin
Playing shades of a year, a decade, a life,
in a split second of crisp winter.
Purity is in the mix,
in the crossing to another hue,
In the warm lining between colour and ice.
Don't you see?
The yearning skyward is the way back to my heart,
The long journey of learning to love.
Anything born in darkness grows toward the light,
like all that is pale and bloodless flows into a rainbow,
A river of stillness,
the seed of a new song, a year as yet unplayed.
Wishing you and yours a rainbow in winter.
Like the first glistening snowfall
Over you, over me,
Nothing was cast, but grew from timeless olive eyes.
Quiet as the focused night
Holding me in its cupped hands,
Listening close for the sea inside the shell.
A thousand stars are raining,
Feeding our skin of trust,
Already wetted by the dew of grateful tears.
On meeting a doctor who listened.
A pin-prick window into universes strung together
By the child's searching eyes through the looking glass,
Alice, what do you see in the swaying?
A pearl rolls shyly in her palm,
Where should it go in this reckless world of gold
To avoid the jaws of jewellry?
In the shallow water hours pass,
Small things flicker and swish
A toy ocean of holed white calcium tumbling.
She knows herself in the tide,
The memories threaded close around her neck
Waiting for a new wave to sift out the sand.
A childhood memory of diving for Puka shells on Maui.
It was their cries that could teach you,
A pure piece of heart sung from the mouth, needing you to swallow and take it to your own
If you dare, you might fear your fear of crying too,
An aria of your sliced red muscle that maybe no one would catch.
It was their freakish smiles that could reach you
Amid the rude schedule and the unkind commute, time bangs his tyrannical scepter,
The toothless gap ignores, widening and narrowing as it mimics your uncertainty,
The eyes so sure you will show it how, they don't blink,
Only the gums shine worry.
It was their sticky hands pasted on the nape of your neck, never letting you go,
So strong, they tugged you across an ocean beyond time,
To the warm cave they never forgot and clung to through the storm of becoming,
Holding you so you will know how to hold
An unbreakable connection.
On the completion of a manuscript about mothers and children.
A glove rests on a traffic light,
A child fallen asleep mid-play
Someone picked up off the ground and tucked in lovingly on a perch.
Above the mud and the melting sleet it dreams of the hand at home,
Of dry warmth and sticky sweets.
A mask hangs limp near the front door,
Exhausted by the burned landscape,
Smoke rising in thin dancers tempting rain.
In the flood, a sea horse drags the mask, parakiting in reverse,
The burden it must bear for my breath.
The sewing lady came to stitch them onto me,
My uniform of glove and mask,
Steeling me in the confusion of traffic
When the red light begins to flash.
On finding a child's glove at the traffic light.
Behind the cement wall, an engine rises in my belly,
Unseen but for the shark's tail
I, with the mind-less courage of a warrior
Run lithe, muscles gleaming steely bronze in the blistering sun
A swan yearns its neck skyward, the paradox of everything
Belief suspended before I see the nose
Breaking into "I don't know"
Shout after a bird in the distance,
"Tears for your freedom!"
Fallen on trails through heaven left by a smirking cigar,
"Nothing is for free."
On watching an airplane take off after a long period of not flying during the pandemic.
Weep for the legless peddler on the curb
or for youth on the drip of a phone,
For the woman through a slit
or her angry aged child,
For stray dogs hungering on the edges of broken playgrounds.
Weep for poppies and presidents and policy
or the face behind the bitter mask of desertion,
For the chasm between home and the airport
or the rifles borne like handbags,
Or the bodies twisting like airborne foliage.
Weep for the murdered guardians of light
or the golden millions melting across the border,
For fibers of trust spat out on strategies
or the dust settled on reports,
Or the satisfaction of a vacuum-packed manual.
Weep, weep, weep
a flood on the plain of parched hope.
On the desertion of the people of Afghanistan in August 2021.
The pandemic has been both beast and blessing. There is barely one of us who doesn't have a family member, friend, or acquaintance who is no longer with us because of it. Perhaps as a result and not in spite of this - beast and blessing are not separate - it demands that we value life, all life, more, This has been a time of worry, but it has also been a time to get lost in what fascinates us so that we can see the connections; to overcome hesitations about spending time rather than saying "later."
In this sense, the island garden series I have created on Instagram is an ode to the pandemic. In the prose poems that accompany the images, there is fear and ease, the unknown and knowing, doubt and faith, fragmentation and wholeness, mortality and eternity. Imagination births a deep sense of connection to each complex being which, in turn, invigorates our imagination, until we recognize that this process is our very source and begs the question of what this means for how we live. The collection consists of fifty-five images and stories, gathered daily through two months of this summer on a small Swedish island where a garden once grew out of little more than rock and sand.