Category Archives: Poetry

The River

The occasional groan of the wooden house

And steady soft breathing are all I hear

This dark night. My tired eyes

See nothing in the thick blackness of the room

But the glow from the alarm clock

And the pale yellow light that crawls

Beneath the drapes.

~

And the ache that set root

In the pit of my stomach

Slowly grows again, twisting its vining branches

Around every rib, until once again

My breaths are shallow

And painful, and salty drops of sadness

Roll down onto the pillow.

~

In the morning there will be time

To put away our tender dreams,

As one might put away dishes

In the cabinet of loving expectation.

But in this still moment I think of

The little saucer face,

A chipped teacup tooth

A round bowl filled with laughter.

~

And then, in the camera of my memory,

We slowly tuck the small lifeless form–

Dressed in soft cotton and

Fingers smaller than I’d imagined–

Into a floating cradle warm

With the linen and blanket

Of my swaddling love.

~

Like the dew outside,

Sleep descends mercifully.

And gently rocking like Moses’ basket,

The vessel drifts away.

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Shabbat Shalom

The elevator doors closed

the little cube of a room

I’d raced into after seeing

them open on their own.

And once inside, the yellow ceiling light

and the polished warm-hued trim reflected

the small orange button I pushed

for floor 10.

Only when the miniature fires inside

buttons 3 and 4

lit themselves

did I realize I had boarded the

Sabbath elevator

and thought that seven extra stops

made for a nice number,

an unexpected rabbinical ride.

~

This vertical ride, I thought,

reminded me too of the subways,

just off by 90 degrees or so,

when the express train

snakes local,

and nobody bothers to tell me in advance

that the A train leaving Harlem’s 125th

would stop at 116th, and 110th & 103rd of course,

and fail to bypass 96th

before slowing at pleasant 86th Street,

and pausing at 81st to drop off

museum goers anxious to see the dinosaur fossils.

And what’s one more stop at 72nd

before reaching the usual Columbus Circle-59th?

I will never look at these

seven extra stations the same way

but will instead offer a quiet prayer of thanks

for their underground burrows

teeming with rivet and rodent and tile.

~

Indeed, life offers many

unexpected stops–many knots along its

coiled rope of time.

Perhaps if I could roll the paired dice

of urim and thummim,

I could always avoid the flight

with the unanticipated layover,

the homeless man around the corner

who will ask me for a quarter,

even the slow line at the grocery store

that looks deceptively short.

No, it may be better

to savor these little hiccoughs–

despite their sour taste–

and to realize that interruptions

are life,

even if it’s the M60 bus

hobbling from block to block,

its engine wheezing as it traces

its Parkinsonian route.

~

And so the elevator

groaned and shuddered,

yawning at every floor

with a breath as invisible

as every Cohen and Shapiro

that rode with me that evening.

And with the seven stops,

I thought of suffering and blessing,

of scrolls and incense,

and considered a wish of

“Mazel tov”

to my patient soon to give birth upstairs.

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Tonight it is enough

Beside the wilted head of lettuce

in the refrigerator’s neglected bottom drawer

are two soggy tomatoes, now with soft gray fur.

And in the corner of the bedroom,

the treadmill, 8000 model, stands forlorn–

being better suited to holding today’s casually tossed

shirt and pants

than to counting endless miles I did not run

in the park

or beside the river.  No, all it has to count is up to two–

one brown sock draped over the rail, its mate

flopped on the shiny black tread.

~

All around the apartment I can find

little reminders

of the best intentions that came

to nothing more than the letter I did not write

to Grandmother on the card-stock

with the New York Harbor photo–

its royal water taking in the morning sun

and glistening towers rising from the surf-slapped slate;

or the Ives sonata I never learned

which now gathers dust on the music stand.

~

Perhaps better not to look

at the New England guidebook still with price tags

for delightfully abstract weekend getaways,

the pristine crock-pot in the kitchen cupboard

with the slow-cooker recipes–to save

all kinds of money–

and the print I never hung–you know,

the one of the woolen sheep

herded up the steep slope with the Irish cliffs

tumbling down into the wild blue sea.

~

No, tonight it is enough

as I pad across the hardwood floors

of my bedroom–now October-brisk–

and crawl under the comforter I meant to wash

last week,

to be satisfied with the things I did do

and leave tasks undone to the morning

with its bright ambition

and bushy energetic tail.

Yes, there is another day to mop the kitchen floor

and finally open that 12-pack of

mint-flavor floss, six yards per roll.

~

Yes, I think Emily would understand,

as I reach past the tome of her Dickensonian rhyme

and with a click of the lamp,

send the room into dark, peaceful sleep.

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September 23, 2008

On this September evening

I dip my pen into the black

molasses of an inkwell,

straighten the corners of my curling yellow parchment,

and slide my flickering candle of memory

an inch closer on the rough-hewn wooden table.

A drop of hot wax pleads with my thumb

for attention

while my thoughts drift with the cool breeze

that wanders through the open window,

becoming lost in the swirl of the distant pulse

of Latino music with the somewhat closer swells of

Puccini

and the faint silver clatter and crystalline laughter

from the Italian sidewalk cafe

across my little street.

 

Yes, on evenings such as these

I forget about the busy week ahead and

the busy day behind and

my phoenix of a to-do list.

I forget that I have no quill–

not even a fountain pen–

but a Dell

with cable internet.  No, instead

I prefer to remember the leafy archway, the

occasional loose cobble

as I walked on the local campus–

its agora unfolding before me–

and sat on the broad lamplit steps,

feeling neither warm

nor cool,

with a smattering of students reading,

talking quietly, and simply doing

nothing

as dusk slipped into night

on this nascent autumn day.

 

Setting down my pen and noticing

one thumb red from hot wax

the other smudged sable with words not yet written,

I hope to keep this glassy pond of a evening

somewhere not far, so that some day hence

as I dip my crusty loaf into a small dish of smooth ripe olive oil

at an outdoor cafe

or as I hear a tenor across the

alley while I cut a slippery mango in the kitchen,

I might remember the flickering of this stubby candle

and then

take a moment to sit down on the mossy bank and,

thumb still slightly aching,

look at the water with not even a

ripple.

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Another blog

On the blog English Fail, I saw a funny post. The blog features pictures of grammatical mistakes seen by various grammarians who submit photos. (And for those of you who are worried about me, I do not spend most of my free time looking at grammar blogs. I do not have a problem.)

This picture had a warning sign,

BEWARE!!!
BRIGHT LIGHTS
DO NOT LOOK
DIRECTLY INTO THEM!


One person left commented that it had a haiku-like cadence. As for me, it reminds me of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

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mark113.blogspot.co.uk

Well, I’m here. London. My third vacation of the year is off to a grand start! I had a blessedly uneventful trip here. Planning to get to JFK airport 2 hours before my evening flight, and giving myself two hours for the ~25 mile commute meant I didn’t feel pressed for time.

I have to say that I cannot strongly recommend Air India. My seat assignment–54K–happened not to exist. In fact, the rows skipped from 50 to 56 on the Boeing 747. I got an aisle in the middle section instead. The overhead light did not work. I think there were a couple fewer inches of legroom than on most domestic flights. The flight attendant started yelling at me in Hindi when I asked if beef were an option for the entree. No, just kidding about that last part, but the airline didn’t have the same luxurious feel as some of the other European carriers I’ve flown.

I arrived at Heathrow around 7:00, and within a couple hours I’d cleared customs, grabbed the small bag I’d checked, and was on the Underground–above ground at this point–zipping across the English countryside to the largest city in Europe. The morning sun shined mutedly through the diffuse gray clouds, and I enjoyed seeing country houses, small gardens, and town churches.

The ‘Tube’ feels newer and cleaner than the tired trains on Manhattan’s west side. And the stations, though clearly old, seem better maintained. Strangely, the Underground is not too hard to navigate. I guess New York City is good practice. It’s like I’m finding my way around some remote part of Queens. However, instead of ‘Uptown’ or ‘Bronx-bound’ trains, the trains are labeled things like Harrow or Charing Square or Waterloo, so the traveler has to quickly consult his map to determine if this is, in fact, the desired train. Commonly, the trains are labeled for the last stop on the line, but not always.

Back to my narrative. My first sights of London was from Westminster Pier. Across the Thames I could see the ‘Eye of London’, in front of me was Westminster Bridge, where Wordsworth penned the words in 1802,

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did the sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Behind me rose Big Ben’s tower and the Houses of Parliament, and I took a stroll up Whitehall past Downing Street to Trafalgar Square. I can’t help but think that despite its gargantuan size, London feels a lot more like Boston than like New York. Then again, maybe I’ve heard that Boston is the most ‘European’ American city. In any case, this is one of my first times to travel abroad where as long as I don’t take out my camera and keep my mouth shut, no one can tell I don’t belong.

I checked into my hotel, the gracious Hilton London Metropole, obtained at an even more gracious price of $81 per night, and took a stroll down Edgware. There must be about 30 Lebanese restaurants along the half-mile stretch to Oxford Street.

No need to recount the details of my late afternoon nap, but I did very much enjoy the concert of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields at…that’s right…St Martin in the Fields. On the program were such gems as Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 10, Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, and Dvorak’s Serenade in E major, as well as a Mozart divertimento for an encore. The space was truly amazing. The ensemble sounded very much alive and full of energy in this 300-year-old church. The tone was rich and dark. The divertimento’s sixteenth notes brimmed with electrified precision. The venue was everything a concert venue should be, except, perhaps, for the tacky 3-foot-tall brightly painted cherubs (dis)gracing the proud antiphonal organ.

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Another subway poem

A Little Tooth by Thomas Lux is a very short one I noticed today on the subway after a post-call breakfast with Justin and his brother Nick.

The only thing I didn’t like about it is that the meter is a bit uneven…usually there are four iambs per line, but sometimes more, and other times the feet aren’t iambs at all. The subway car was in a near uproar about it this morning.

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