POEMS

Poetry for me has always been both playful and contemplative,
arising as much from dream as from memory.

After Chillon

We did the tour belatedly—
a century or so late—
stalking the gifted great
who inhabited this rivage
as if it were their private stage,
the wealthy, worldly masters
of the universe and art and real estate
whose leisured pulse becomes as sinister as glorious Chillon:
here, in this vast citadel that looms like a mirage
across a lake of ice-blue glass,
women were hung, Jews broken and burned,
thousands of captives held and destroyed.
We know palaces of hate they never dreamt of,
hangars and stadiums and camps where death became a science,
yet here we are with our maps, eager as shoppers,
buzzing through the medieval towers with phones and apps and guides.

 

What happened here?
The rich had baths, ate lamb, enjoyed the precursor of fondue.
Prisoners were dropped down a long chute
onto a bed of knives.
Only Bonivard survived, his chains burnished by fame.
Why was he held? Who perished? Why? We’re
spellbound by the names—Rousseau, Hugo, Byron and James—
as if mere autographs could somehow justify
the weight of our attention.
Casting our own disappeared into oblivion,
we have time to admire the décor
of a dungeon, to stop on our way out
for a few souvenirs that say
we too were here:
we loved the view.

For my Mother

On What Would Have Been Her 83rd Birthday

Wisps of dream blur the outlines of the bed,

The bed floats like a stage in a room filled with your breath.

In this scene there is no apron, no embrace,

Just the awkward triumph of your presence,

Proof of your brief stay on earth:

Shafts of light streaming with dust.

Oh vanished one, there is no ease in mourning,

No moment of reprieve for the curtains that keep billowing

Without you, the hammock that keeps swaying

In your absence, this room

Where there is no desk, no clock, no floor:

my heart opening and shutting without rest.

Ninety

for My Father

That diminutive old man in the exhibit, leaning in

to get a better look at Rembrandt’s face in his self-portrait at the Metropolitan

or the floating blue of Monet’s lilies in the Orangerie in Paris

or Giorgione’s painting of his aged mother in the Accademia in Venice,

that stroller by the Seine, the Grand Canal, the Hudson, in khaki pants and jacket,

that passerby seen only from behind as he moves through crowds we share,

still at ease in the world though stooped and slowed by age,

that elderly man who stops to buy the newspaper and then resumes his walk,

who stops then at the boulangerie for his baguette and shambles on

to sip his first espresso standing with his back to me,

that citizen whose steady onward step pulls me along as if on some invisible wire,

belongs as surely as I do to this moment or as little,

luring me across the years with sightings so precise

that even now they catch me unaware

so that, like someone in a dream or mesmerized,

only after I’ve followed him from street to street, over bridges, along rivers,

when at last he turns a corner and I glimpse his silhouette,

only then do I feel the jolt beneath my feet:

it’s someone else’s father in your clothes, another man in your misshapen shoes,

another seeker after art and love and truth

vanishing instead of you just up ahead.