Department of Writing
Poems from Poetry Night
A Night Out
I told the waiter there was schmutz
on my machete. He informed me
I wasn’t sitting in the Yiddish section.
Being bilingual, I told the waiter
there was gunk on my machete. Oh, he apologized
then and brought me straight away
a new machete, with which I sliced
the brisket as if clearing a path
through a forest to a temple in life
more glamorous than the four dollars
and thirty –two cents in my pocket
with which I couldn’t possibly pay
what I owe jean-Paul Sartre for writing
“No Exit,” since walking out on that play
Introduced me as if for the first time
to the moon. Try feeling crushed
by the void of existence while staring
at a waxing moon with or without
a full stomach before or after
cleaning your machete on your sleeve.
Yes, that’s a dare, double-dog dare,
to talk as kids used to talk in a time
of innocence that certainly never existed
I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly-fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
When February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man eloped
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.
A wedding night
A groom goes out with a pillow to where the sheep
are white bushes across the hill. Dirty white
bushes across the hill and places his pillow
at the top, just before the top, a few inches
from the top for his head so he can see, almost, yes
he can see the curve of the earth, out
where there is only water. But there is a ship
on the only water, on the curve of the water
to his left and right, as the dirty white bushes
move, as the ship moves to the east
along the curve, and he thinks of how his pillow
will smell in his bed, beside his bride,
of grass and sea salt and the curve of the earth
and coming home, she will breathe all of these
when she leans over him, drapes his face
with the night of her hair, the curve of her
falling to all sides, from a center, from a moon,
from an asking, from a giving, from now on.
The Angel of History
There are times when the child seems delicate, as if he had not yet crossed into the world.
When French was the secret music of the street, the café, the train, my own
receded and became intimacy and sleep.
In the world it was the language of propaganda, the agreed-upon lie, and it bound me to
itself, demanding of my life an explanation.
When my son was born I became mortal.
Our days at Cape Enrage, a bleached shack of rented rooms and white air. April.
At the low tide acres of light, boats abandoned by water.
While sleeping, the child vanishes from his life.
Years later, on the boat from Beirut, or before the boat, an hour before helicopters lifting
a white veil of sea.
A woman broken into many women.
These boats, forgotten, have no keels. So it is safe for them, and the emptiness beneath
April was here briefly. The breakwater visible, the lighthouse, but no horizon.
The music resembled April, the gulls, April, but you weren’t walking toward this house.
If the child knew words, if it weren’t necessary for him to question me with his hand—
To have known returning would be like this,
that the sea light of April had been your vigilance.
In the night-vaulted corridors of the Hôtel-Dieu, a sleepless woman pushes her stretcher
along the corridors of the past. Bonjour, madame. Je m’appelle Ellie.
There were trains, and beneath them, laddered fields.
Autumns the fields were deliberately burned by a fire so harmless children ran through it
making up a sort of game.
Women beat the flames with brooms and blankets, so the fires were said to be under
As for the children, they were forbidden to ask about the years before they were born.
Yet they burned the fields, yet everything was said to be under control
with the single phrase death traffic.
This is Izieu during the war, Izieu and the neighboring village of Bregnier-Cordon.
This is a farmhouse in Izieu.
Itself a quite place of stone houses over the Rhône, where between April's forty-four
hidden successfully for a year in view of the mountains.
Until the fields were black and snow fell all night over the little plaque which does not
that they were Jewish children hidden April to April in Izieu near Bregnier-
Comment me vint l’écriture? Comme un duvet d’oiseau sur ma vitre, en hiver.
In every window a blank photograph of their internment.
Within the house, the silence of God. Forty-four bedrolls, forty-four metal cups.
And the silence of God is God.
In Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, in Les Milles, Les Tourelles, Moussac and Aubagne,
the silence of God is God.
The children were taken to Poland.
The children were taken to Auschwitz in Poland
singing Vous n’aurez pas L’Alsace et la Lorraine.
In a farmhouse still standing in Izieu, le silence de Dieu est Dieu.
Page last modified March 11, 2014