Hamilton Stone Review #25
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
In winter, all the factories around here
look abandoned, like the people on first
shift just got up and left, leaving behind
their coffee still steaming
in the mug and cigarettes burning close
to the records of transactions so meticulously
noted on ledgers.
Nothing is boarded up or closed
properly and anyone can step inside
take what they’d like without anyone
knowing they were there.
I find this situation unsettling
and yet I can’t help venturing in, too,
succumbing to the voyeuristic
pleasure of running my hands across
different surfaces, holding the various tools
while imagining my life
has purpose beyond the cold
air swelling my lungs
and the oddly brilliant light streaming
through broken or smudged glass.
New sightings run onto scene
Rhetorical gifts feature order restored between early warnings,
identity's disintegration and historians' need for factual assimilation.
Subtlety is cancelled out when primitive paintings collapse against walls.
Frozen, remote sightings of infinite dead are neatly archived.
Quest on, awake, settled in shattering longing.
Pick up manuscript at the point of essence scratching edge of live experience.
It is another place to sleep.
Cling to self-betterment through community.
Isolate outbreak of judgment, curiosity scrutinizes conclusion.
Bizarre campaigns sally forth.
Your drag-along suitcase is bursting with mid-winter.
Time to give closeted stuffy life an inconclusive airing.
Three Singles on the Banquette
orders a full meal
converses, briefly, in French with the maitre’d
sips an excellent wine thoughtfully
signs the bill without scrutiny
the same absent look on each face
It is as if each exists
within a separate cabin
on a gracious ocean liner
occasional chatter (in French) of the waiters
glide past each
In unison, they
and go their separate ways
Breakfast at Bliss
We sit in slanted sunshine
bluster of traffic
exhausted carbon monoxide
just a few yards beyond
upheld Wall Street
Journal newsprint shields.
The white-smocked waiter
glasses full, squinting
into an eastern light
right pierced earlobe earringless.
Vacations are a time
for unapologetic pleasures
so we close menus
and splurge on the special—
runty sausages, rimmed
by smears of hollandaise
mixed fruit compote
in a dainty pile
two egg whites
inert as golf balls
in porcelain cups.
Don’t look back at the drowning city
Don’t turn to study the ones you held,
Bathed, kissed and put in their beds—
Their eyes are shut, their hands are cold.
Don’t look back to the tunnel behind you
Into the eyes of the one you love
As you guide her up from hell’s black alley
Trust that she follows, the one you will save.
Don’t search anymore for the bend in the river
Lost in a prairie of weedless corn.
Don’t stop to imagine the buffalo herds
That drove over grassland, millions strong.
Never dissolve in a vinegar pillar
Or vanish into a mountain of stone
Let nothing grab as you stumble your way—
Not even the serrated cry of the loon.
Head to Toe
You are as close as bee to bergamot
and I am as close as the bruise on your knee.
You are as close as petal to sepal; I am as close
as thimble to fingertip. As close as collar to clavicle
as fascia to nerves. You are as close as truth and I
am as close as conviction. I am as close as salt
to sea spray, you are as close as butter to griddle.
I am as close as steam on a mirror and you are as close
as a dream before morning. I am as close as an umbrella to rain;
you are as close as earthworm to root. I am as close as a limpet to rock,
as clam to shell, as rust to anchor, and you are as close as foam clinging
to the strand. You are as close as wax to wick. I am as close as a match to flame.
You hold me like bark to a tree’s core
and I carry your taste like a name on my tongue.
The heart’s narrow place
is where I love you— an uncertain love
where any stony look or sharpened word
undams a waterfall of fear.
You say I do not trust you
and I say I feel the same.
In the narrow hallway of our parents’ house
my throat twists like a root in soil.
I squeeze past you, careful not to touch,
shut my door and breathe.
I remember the end of winter in our first home:
our mother opened a new door
onto a summer porch and we discovered
a mattress with wide grey buttons.
Sister, how could we know
this would be the last time
we’d throw ourselves onto striped ticking,
kick up our feet, roll together
tickled and tickling:
your skin is apricots, your eyes
shine like polished cherries. Your braids unravel,
wrap me in warm black waves.
I’m laughing, holding
your hand, panting
in spring’s white breezes.
All night the truth happens
and when we wake, the slow
backward confetti of dream rises
as we run hands under water.
When we slowly wake
the ice-melting wind
runs its hands under water:
cardinals call purdy, out the south window.
The wind melts ice
and water soaks earth’s sponge.
Out the south window cardinals call purdy—
one red, one dun, darts between branches.
Water soaks earth’s sponge,
sucks us back to night’s deep well.
Birds dart, one red, one dun, between the branches,
launched like embers in a lake-black sky.
Mud sucks us back to night’s deep well
where the backward confetti of dream rises,
launched like embers in a lake-black sky:
all night truth happens.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Flotsam without Jetsam
All that I love is marginal, she declared.
I still remember her face at the utterance of those words,
the set of her jaw scattering the tsatsiki light—
how we all raced to disagree, eager to reassure,
only to be met by her scorn.
You see, no matter the cause, she had always been there.
Every march since… ,
every strike since… well, no one really knew.
It was she who had always done the reading,
even if she had never been asked to lead the discussion.
She made connections between texts, between texts and contexts,
between word and deed, word and word, deed and deed,
links that left us gasping, famished, devastated.
But she had never been one to acknowledge the numbers of things,
even as others yammered on about “attendance,” “crowds,” and “publicity.”
She was not a theorist above the fray;
she simply saw no point in counting.
So what could she possibly have meant by “marginal”?
Perhaps it was her mother tongue, whose sounds
made some giggle, others shudder,
and about which everyone had an opinion,
although few bothered to master or even learn it.
Perhaps it was her religion, or lack thereof,
in this land of piety and thunder and stones cast,
her insistence upon the known and knowable.
Perhaps she meant us,
the ragtag dependables who trickled to the scenes of injustice,
who tramped across bridges and banged fists against steel and stone,
who met in unheated cellars on folding chairs
arranged in circles to ponder and mobilize.
She merely fled our gathering that evening,
never explaining herself then or later.
For a while, we continued to call on her, in two’s and three’s,
climbing in vain up the three flights of walk-up,
to the fragrance of cabbage soup and the sonata of bawling infants.
Later, our banners flapping in the wind,
we were left to consider her whereabouts, to wonder
whether she still favored flan,
dusk glittering over the green lake next to her ancestral dacha.
Handcuffs around our wrists,
we exchanged sensations of our one long-ago picnic out there—
the clarity of the cream,
the bedlam of the raspberry wine,
the light of birch shadows in her eyes,
her curls skirting the heavens’ embrace.
One midnight, years later, as I slithered along the docks,
in pursuit of specter, ecstasy ephemeral,
I stumbled upon her.
Or rather, she sprang out at me
from behind a column,
where I had been expecting, craving another, others.
I wish I could say
whether her spectacles sparkled under the streetlamp,
whether she was carrying a notebook of words at play,
whether her body still bore the imprint of our era in resistance.
I wish I could say that a kind of precision had been attained.
But I cannot.
I only remember her words, half hiss, half incantation:
You with your stevedores; I with mine.
This cannot end well for either of us, you know.
I am a student of night.
Without sun or even moon I flower.
Well, not really. Instead,
I clumsily cobble together a crazy quilt of
slumber and sentrydom.
The meteorites, braced for displacement,
prove ideal for scooping up my tears,
my principal nocturnal emissions.
The south star, in its generosity,
leads my ever-more humbled frame/
expands my narrowed terrain
into a grove stretching into infinite.
There, equations in mind, compass in hand,
I decipher gradations,
the ebbing of onyx into sapphire into lapis
then suddenly cornflower.
Fur and leaf rustle into shelter’s bustle;
bird and baboon and baby call and respond.
I register changes in tenor and tone—
the chirps, the cheeps, the caws, the glups—
in the spreadsheets of my finger tips,
trying to deflect them from the quicksand around my feet.
I hear slumber lumbering finally towards dawn,
as I wonder how dormir can possibly connect to dormant.
I glance down to glimpse
that my needle can’t stop break dancing,
that my fingers are slipping on the wet well walls,
that that my bloom is now adroop in the fade from black,
that I am abraded by the braiding of
whisper and whimper and remnants of weeping,
the terror of relinquishing darkness.
The day morning failed to arrive,
our chickens listless, the clocks confused,
daisies stunned into silence.
When night was two nights long
by two nights wide by two nights high.
The baker sleeping in.
Padre dreaming of another sun rising
in a mystical realm
of half-dreams and home-baked cookies.
Pa looking for a wooden match
to light ma’s fire.
Dawn, but one blacker than coffee,
yours truly wavering over the sink
while recalling yellow and red.
Remembering what it was like
to see into the far distance.
Light drawing on light.
Is a Poem Fiction?
I’m writing about a forest of pins.
It’s a poem underwater.
It’s a book about sharp edges
and the wee wee hours.
A story about a story setting off
over an apparitional horizon.
Editor, please find enclosed
a borrowed vowel,
the infused souls
of dust-mouthed scribes,
the tale of the stone and the ballerina,
my dog-faced diary,
the chronicles of delightful bedlam,
the legends of squid . . .
I’m writing on a page
of frozen tundra, the moon
dreaming my verbs, mouse-thoughts
encircled within parenthesis;
like smoke rising
in a valley of icy alphabets.
I’m writing a thesis on silence.
A note reminding myself
about what not to forget.
Instructions on how to
take a rip out of the air.
I’m writing on a black envelope
with white letters.
(Suffering requires black lettering.)
I’m writing on my hand,
a parable gestating
at the back of my mind
for the past seventeen years.
There’s blue blood in my pen,
and pencil shavings in my hair.
I’m writing without consonants,
Saturday unrolling its broadsheet.
I’m a book, I want to be read.
The real world a faint glow.
What’s actual vaguely interesting.
I’m carving arbutus,
a calligraphy of blackened sap.
I have an imageless imagination.
My God, I’m my own life sentence.
Dear oh dear, I’m the last of my line.
This Word Has No Word For It
This word is unpronounceable.
it means a bluster of breath.
Spell it as you wish.
This is the first word in words.
It means love
in any language.
And rhymes with nothing.
This is a dirty word.
Nobody knows what it means.
is not an exact science.
The word for blood
actually tastes like blood,
a real jaw-breaker
better left unsaid.
And this word will get you killed.
You spit it at your enemies.
Repeat after me:
This is the word for silence.
Hands that hit are washing hair.
The child lies on a towel, stretched
along the counter’s length. No fear
invades the moment as, untouched
except in love, his head lolls back,
accepting their solicitude.
One rests across his brow to block
his eyes from the soapy, scented flood.
The other hand directs the spray,
playing it across his skull.
The knotted anger of the day
dissolves into a basinful
of winking bubbles. Overhead,
the kitchen clock ticks on its wall
pulsing with their common blood,
its face, like hers, invisible.
His backside bears the memory
of silent fury, but at bath
the hands caress him. How is he
to understand which touch is truth?
Taller, unwilling to believe
that both are truth, he turns away
the hands’ feckless attempts at love,
keeping her remorse at bay.
Anger still arises, but
the blows are feebler now, almost
pro forma. With her mind’s retreat,
love and anger both are lost.
Today the hands play with a doll,
clap to the nurse’s music, help
to speak. Unoccupied, they will
arrange and rearrange themselves.
The child, now bald and middle-aged,
carries the anger for them both,
striving to keep it safely caged,
but feels it growl at evening bath
when baffled animosity
and love begin together their
Night. Sweet water. Hands. Hair.
Letters from Connie
So good to get your letter. I am busy
preparing for my sketching class. We practice
drawing the figure from all angles. Art
and children—two hard masters. I also made
an abstract piece. Leon said it made him sick
to see me waste my skill on such a thing.
Another year already gone! Something
always comes up. It’s been extremely busy;
both children and the baby have been sick.
Leon has been working at his practice
so many hours, the other doctors made
him partner. Healing truly is an art.
Enclosed is a clipping about the local art
fair, where I won first prize, a thing
that’s been eclipsed by bigger news: we’ve made
another baby. You should see the busy—
bodies arch their eyebrows, asking if practice
makes perfect. Four, they think, is sick.
A hard delivery. Then I was feeling sick
not three months later. Oops. It took no art
to diagnose: another baby. Practice
patience, I tell myself. If anything
can teach me, this will. Seeing me so busy,
Leon, bless him, hired a colored maid.
I’ve been remiss, not writing you. Dismayed,
I vow to write more often. (Please don’t sic
the dogs on me!) Girl Scouts have kept me busy.
I help the kids with projects, turn my art
supplies to other uses, try for nothing
too difficult. My hand is out of practice.
Ballet, the supermarket, baseball practice—
I don’t know where I am, sometimes. I made
a bas-relief in clay of each child, something
for Leon’s office. Now the waiting sick
can see my children, captured in my art.
I would have done more, but I’ve been too busy.
Each year I grew more practiced in the art
of self-effacement. Lovesick for a thing
denied, I made a life of staying busy.
Each day my mother in her wheelchair bends
a hair’s breadth closer to a fetal pose.
Her staring eyes are vacant, and her hands
fold like a baby’s onto nothing. Nose
to nose, cajoling, my sad father keeps
performing love’s last duty twice a day:
to hold her death at bay
by spooning mush through her indifferent lips,
Over the last eight years they said goodbye,
my siblings, in word or look when they could feel
contact was being made. Self-exiled, I
waited until the nursing home to kneel,
whisper I loved her, thank her for the art
within me, kiss, and give her leave to go.
Did she even know?
Or was I simply easing my own hurt?
Unknowing, unresponsive, Mother is now
a vessel into which we pour our love,
my brother says, determined to allow
our mother her condition. Can he have
it both ways, believing this, not hearing any
paradox or echo of despair
in his daily prayer:
“Dear Lord, today please take your servant Connie”?
Each day the features in my mirror grow
more like my father’s. I may look like him,
but I’m my mother’s son. How well I knew
the turnings of her mind. I have her grim
survival skills, her bottled anger—pain
transfixed by art—her bourgeois sense of fashion,
her mild depression.
Do I also have the dry rot in my brain?
Mother would have called her fate God’s will,
immutable as any moral law.
I sneer at that, intending to rebel,
take arms against a sea, etcetera,
and exit in possession of my mind.
The rub: if I can tell what’s going on,
it’s too soon,
but when I can’t, all choice comes to an end.
Should I appoint a guardian for my brain?
No family member but some friend who, seeing
me almost gone, would speak to the remaining
fragment of my self, thoughtfully weighing
my poor head in his hands, stroking my brow
as if to diagram the missing part,
then press my heart:
“If you still want to do it, do it now.”
And then what? Would I rush off straightaway,
hoping to get to gun or pills before
the fog came down forever? No delay,
or find myself befuddled in my chair,
staring at a note, its text obscure
as words shouted across a windy gulf:
“Remember! Kill yourself!”
until it falls unnoticed to the floor.
Mother has no such worries as she sits
oblivious to the others, to the aide
who washes her or changes dirty sheets.
That is, I hope her intellect has faded
with the rest of her. I hope there is no clash
of mind with body struggling to die,
no silent cry
buried alive in unresponding flesh.
Perhaps my fears are baseless, perhaps Mother
has pleasant dreams; perhaps she splashes in
that river she desired, where we shall gather,
singing our hallelujahs, but within
her eyes the lack of light befits a tale
far older of a dark and sullen stream.
Across it come no gleam
of welcoming lamp or last wave of farewell.
Across the flooded path
in the gray December dusk,
I saw the raccoon
at the same time that it saw me.
Startled, we stopped, and stood utterly still,
each taking the measure of the other,
its clown face funny and sad,
a mask in the mist.
I let out a breath; it dissolved,
and I felt lightened at last
of workday pressures that count
each minute and make them all pay.
A space opened in my life,
and the animal stepped in,
alien, mysterious, yet inexpressibly close.
I felt the world calling to me,
place of my origin and my destiny,
my sister! and my soul’s habitation.
The moment expanded and contracted;
the raccoon turned, and waddled away.
The eye’s natural focus is infinity.
It requires muscular tension
to accommodate it to close vision.
Similarly, only darkness can relax the iris.
The eye’s finest adjustments are reflex.
Binocular vision creates our sense
of the third dimension--
how images appear in our view,
fading into consciousness.
In my dream I knew where I was,
though I couldn’t name the place.
While the fog drifted and lifted,
I wandered among rows of statuary
placed on a green lawn
in the eternal poses
of Classical and Christian art,
their hard, knowing surfaces
greater than the sum
of my grief and happiness.
Instead, accept my art
of instantaneous fragments,
of the fountain that is my life,
not capturing the motion,
but what it contains
in its ceaseless outpouring,
in a single direction.