I cannot sit her down and say things that will make the
difference in the shape of her feet
or sounds from the kids she teaches when they ask all the time;
they ask about the world
and the lonesome way people behave.
She will say things now, on the phone,
that startle me;
like once in 3rd grade she asked me about God
and it was just sitting there;
the beliefs we carry or don’t.
She tells me about the ‘sometimes scrapes and bruises’
hidden under the kids sleeves
and how they might cling extra hard
before a long weekend.
She shows me math on little cards;
they teach with little cards that fit in my hand,
I cannot tell her to be careful because
the windows, the doors.
we need them.
if not to show them the world –
its glory and the absolute magnitude of its science,
love, hot dogs, green trees, pastry dough, foreign lands,
but to run,
she might need them to run.
Sail Me Away
Boats in the Bronx sometimes lay on the land sideways,
half-asleep with their hands curled underneath.
Off in the corner of the backyard, they can often be found
up against a shed,
caught in the space between the tireless bike
and forgotten hula hoop.
A few times you can find a Bronx boat strapped to the back
of a fierce truck –
or dragged into oblivion by a sturdy chain.
I have never seen a Bronx boat on the high seas
of the nearby beach or asleep on the third floor
of the parking garage.
If one had the time or inclination, I suppose a good Bronx boat
can sail across Boston Post Road all the way to the other side of the world,
with all its rough waters
and rabbits in the moon
Published in Pacific Poetry, 5/2019
The First Noel
Allison from high school had a paper smile
torn at the edges –
ran for a bus against the windy round corner
of her spotty neighborhood.
Black eyed boots and three lonely brothers.
I ate cookies at her house one soggy morning before holiday break.
Her mother swaying around the kitchen to Frank Sinatra
the tossed family mail covering crumbs
on the thin plastic tablecloth.
No one in her small kitchen dreamed dark cars on the highway
soaring planes against wide open skies.
They were trapped between countries,
their language getting lost on the rim of a glass.
Her father studied me hard then barreled down the stairs
returning hours later with a small Christmas tree –
slanted and confused
he held it up like a prized fish.
She told me once –
as she puffed her Marlboro lights in the deep tunnel of our HS staircase –
that no one listens to her screams;
she could crawl her way out of a cloud
and had eyes in the back of her head.
Allison from high school pulled me with her
into the top shelf of the hallway closet
to search for stars, glass balls – long tubes of snow.
Made from detergent and baking soda they sat in a marked box
trapped like time and stuffed with tissue.
We spent hours tossing tinsel, stretching ribbons –
and when each skinny branch
was somehow given a fix –
placed it on a covered box.
We sat holding hands looking at the shiny cones of silver;
candy canes hanging their necks
dangling like question marks.
Look at what we made
Look at what comes from nothing.
Published in Versewrights, 2017
The House of Abraham: Summer with Sadie
Sadie was old for a hundred years of Atlantic City postcards
and yellow pages with underlined ads for lawyers
that spoke Yiddish.
She kept her delicate, tangled necklaces in a glass box
on the second shelf of her side table.
She’d ask me to untangle them each time we sat together.
Sadie never wore them so I wondered how they connected themselves-
the top to bottom;
I wondered how just the stale air of her room confused the tiny strands of 24 karat gold
and whether she found some clarity in the wee hours of the morning
and threw them confetti into the air.
As I unhooked the tiny links from one another,
the lazy hum of artificial breezes
with the bright light/antiseptic smells filling her
Baum-Rothschild Pavilion second door by the exit eastern exposure with single bed:
I thought I would be her one day –
thought I would be some stretched-out old lady clinging to expired coupons
and the daytime soaps.
A wrong turn one Tuesday morning landed my broken jeans into the
basement morgue with lines of drawers
and its background of Motown swirling the frigid air
into a recurring nightmare.
I said to my best friend on the #26 bus home;
“Put a pillow on me when I get like Sadie”
then reapplied acne cream to my 12 year old chin.
Sadie died during the last week of my community service
as though she were the end of my project.
I could wrap her up then, in a final grade of personal effect;
ending with a meet to her granddaughter for extra credit.
If someone were to ask me about that summer of old lady smells
and weekends at the beach –
I would remember the Jello she left bouncing on her spoon
and all the gold chains that to this day –
I can still untangle with just one hand.
My mother saw faces in everything.
The bathroom tiles would hold a Saint –
mouth parted in warning/hands crossed in prayer –
right there on the floor by the side of the tub
near the wall.
We would be called from our deep holes of a bed
and stand balancing on sleepy feet
searching between the random splashes of water that formed pools
around our curling toes.
We saw nothing.
Angered, she would pour herself another glass of scotch
and stare at the face until the cloudy shape became another.
Before long we shuffled back to bed
our failure finding a space
between the loose puzzle pieces of our bedroom.
Jesus once sat for two and a half hours
on a crumpled paper bag in Poe Park.
We were shopping for Easter shoes for Danny
and she wandered off following pigeons into their spaces
in the gazebo –
their lonesome hiding spots on building ledges
They spoke to her sometimes.
Danny would listen for hours –
his anxious ears turned up to her urgings
but i gave up two years earlier when i realized
they spoke to everyone and no one ever listened.
A crowd gathered at the benches;
a group of bargain shoppers their elbows
competing for space
sliding against each other;
anxious to see the screaming woman
announcing that He was there –
that if you looked ‘here, here’
if you stared down your own nose
at the right angle –
you would see Him.
He was there.
A Spanish mom with her two kids
crossed herself furiously
before deciding that there was nothing but a Vieja Loca.
My mother cried that time –
her eyes swirling around in her head;
she pulled at the blinking lights on her sweater
that danced like sparklers
on the fourth of July.
We never saw them.
The blinking lights.
Once – in church – the priest was talking in his low church voice –
eyes closed –
wailing front row ladies were bowing their hats
feathers like soft silky strands in bright purple and gold.
My mother said the picture of the lost kid from the news had formed
in the stained glass windows on the right side
by the chorus.
That he was there –
the lost kid –
and that it was a sign from God that he returned home.
All the church eyes drilled on my mother –
Danny crying as the people behind us pulled their kids away
like we were made of fire.
Their eyes flash cards hatred peeling off my church coat like a grape.
People shook their heads at her –
pointed their fingers –
their shame dancing around our feet;
marbles rolling under the pews –
hiding under the kneelers.
The Priest handed a phone number to my grandmother –
their whispering voices covered the back of our heads like a slap.
The schoolyard faces were the worst.
My mother would come screaming from across the street
when the devil himself appeared wedged between the rungs of the slide
or sat waiting for us in the pool of water
that carried popsicle sticks around and around
in the dusty Bronx rain.
We spent the next summer without friends holed up in our room
watching the grainy re-runs on our black and white TV.
We stabbed at our closets and curled ourselves into balls.
My mother saw faces in everything.
Eyes, lips, all breathing there like an extra heart.
Published in Versewrights 2017