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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Used Bookstores, Grad School, and Genocide in Darfur: Three Poems.

Three poems, below. These appeared in Upstream.

The first poem, "Come Fly with Me," is a real event. It's about the rewards of real life v. the rewards of reading.

The second poem, "I Have to Remember," is about grad school.

The third poem, "The Women of Darfur," is a toughie. I think these thoughts over and over and over. My life has been hard. But I've never, really, been hungry, not even when I was a kid and we ate surplus food distributed by the government. That poem is really a bunch of questions. If you have the answers, please send them in. 

Come Fly with Me

A used bookstore in lower Manhattan.
The pages were brittle and dull.
They didn't glare like new bleached frocks.
The pressure fingertips exert just to turn them crumbed them.
This – message deliquescing under touch – feels like nothing else,
except maybe melting ice.
You might be their final reader!
A used bookstore in lower Manhattan.
It was a zoo, really, housing species extinct in the wider world:
excellent damsels who give and wait and yearn and yield;
stalwart, swarthy, lowborn lads who claim the final prize;
true sacrifice for the greater cause.
I was 21. Just back from Africa,
where I loved a vexed Yugoslav,
through Mango Rains and the fire of siege.
I was on my way to Asia
where I'd love a limp WASP
omming in thin Himalayan air.
I turned a corner marked: "Fiction, S."
And there stood a pale fat man with a sweet sweaty face
blinking behind dust-specked spectacles.
"Sabatini," I noted.
"Yes," he breathed.
"Scaramouche," I probed.
"Yes!" he vowed, fervor rising.
"Haven't read that," I confessed;
"My favorite is Captain Blood."
"Oh, yes!" he practically swooned.
Our eyes gleamed. We swayed together, shared pirates, galleons, and duels.
And then, fools, my feet moved on –
time crumbled beneath each step – to Asia, where – mind! –
I saw tigers, un-caged, and kissed at the Taj Mahal
and then and ever since missed
the pale fat man
with a book in his hand
in a used bookstore
in lower Manhattan.

I Have to Remember

I have to remember:
that the wives don't always have the same last names as the husbands,
the most unlikely people can have power,
not to expect anything,
personal ambition is the highest good,
and not to laugh,
or denounce popular lies,
too loudly.

And I have to remember:
how to dance a czardas,
how much sugar to put in makowiec,
how kiszka smells when it's bursting,
that this isn't forever,
and that my grandmother never learned to read.

The Women of Darfur

When you pray, do you think of the women of Darfur?
Urgent, whispered, oh so concentrated,
you petition the deity for a job, or a parking space, or a negative biopsy result.
In Darfur, horsemen come, kill all the men, rape all the women, and raze the village.
Even the exotic trees,
whose spit makes world politics, and coca-cola, are hacked to the ground.
Journalists' dispatches find the fifth page of the paper but the world does not intervene.
Do you think, "God, yes, give me this job, this parking space, and rescue one Darfur woman"?
Do you think, "God, if I wait ten more minutes for a parking space, if I just go back to cleaning houses,
can we make it ten Darfur women?"
Do you realize that you are not hungry?
That you are not so cold that cold is all you register,
a presence hovering just beyond the stance of each word in your sentence,
a vulture, ready, when you fumble just once,
to swoop in and carry off your ability to form a complete thought?
Do you realize that you are not so hot that you can't have any thoughts…
Do you realize that you are not so tired that anything could have you any time it wanted,
any stray microbe, or mugger, or rapist, or wind
could take your lungs, your bowels, your eyes, your purse, your bipedal verticality,
and you could not resist?
Because that's what it could be. Your life. Your life could be islands of consciousness trapped in a matrix of sensations you devote everything to escaping.
Do you realize how lucky you are to wear shoes?
Do you ever just say "Thank you," "Enough about me," "Let's just concentrate on those women in Darfur"?
When you buy a lottery ticket, when you obsess on how much easier Tom Cruise has it,
when you pray, do you think of the women of Darfur?