Issue 12.2

Selected Poems—Fall 2018

By Simon Perchik

*

You are quieted the way this dirt

no longer steps forward

is slipping through as silence

 

though there’s no other side

only these few gravestones

trying to piece the Earth together

 

where the flower between your lips

is heated for the afternoon

not yet the small stones

 

falling into your mouth

as bitter phrases broken apart

to say out loud the word

 

for eating alone :a name

curled up inside and pulls you

under the lettering and your finger.

 

 

 

*

You never get used to it

left and right –moonlight

all that’s left on your grave

 

each night heavier, bitter

with no place to fall

sometimes as snow, sometimes

 

counting on pebbles from others

all night bringing stars

to strike the ground over and over

 

covering you with shadows

and still you’re cold

come here as paths and distances.

 

 

 

*

To live like that, listening

as the sudden dive to the bottom

and though your mouth longs for a sea

 

death happens wherever water goes

–you hear the rain passing by

with shells and salt flaking off

 

from a dress that is still new

covered with moss and grieving

–you slip your hand through

 

as if each sleeve over and over

is filled with moss not yet blossoming

where the branches at the top

 

dig themselves in, opening the Earth

and the small stones that are your lips

filled with falling and thirst.

 

 

 

*

And your throat circles down

the way every kiss is emptied

though not all lips have this power

 

–pressed against a hole in the Earth

you begin where each hillside gets its start

–women know this, decorate their breasts

 

with kisses that never leave

grow those feathers that water from ice

remembers as the sound smoke makes

 

and you sing along till a small bird

flies from your mouth, louder and louder

not yet grass or at your side.

 

 

 

*

What you hear is your chest –with each crackle

more rain tearing holes in the sky

still struggling to open –your heart

 

sloshes around, growing salt from grass

kept wet the way dirt takes the shape

you use for shadows when there’s no water

 

–you stretch out naked as the ocean

on and on without stopping to breathe

or dry or arm over arm become the last

 

the slow climbing turn still missing

circling to calm a nothing beach fire

going mouth to mouth to burn itself out.

 

 

 

*

Slowly the glass, half filled, half

melting down for a slipper

not yet hardened into light

 

is flickering the way a moon

still sets itself on fire

then changes into taking its time

 

and you become an old woman

with a cane, around and around

as if this rim at last remembers

 

overflows and from a single wave

you grasp for air, for a warm hand

and step by step covered with ashes.

 

 

 

*

You feel for corners the way this rug

makes the slow turn into one day more

and though your fingers wander off

 

it’s already flying out your arms

becomes the place that is not a dress

emptied by the dim light from one hand

 

clinging to the other –this worn down rug

has no glow yet, just the darkness

with never enough sky –your each caress

 

lowers the Earth toward you –arm over arm

not yet an afternoon then a night

that lasts a life time side by side as later.

 

 

 

*

You pan for rocks though every breeze

smells from wood lying on its back

and between your fingers a stream

 

ripens as fruits and berries that fall

swallow the Earth hand over hand

the way beginner stones learn to splash

 

so nothing will float free, is melted down

as the darkness you hear spreading out

to dry and further you sift for anchors

 

and all around you the cold ripples

drip into your breath, lay there, whisper

to come up together, say it’s over.

 

 

 

*

Before it could endure its undertow your skull

hardened, was silenced with its marrow

kept calm by the half once seawater

 

and the other taking longer

though everything makes a sound

gathers you in, the way rust on all sides

 

scratches –with both hands you comb your hair

as if it still smells from a gate

that’s no longer iron down the middle

 

and there you listen to it opening

–from both sides reaching out for air

that sounds like shoreline, further and further.

 

 

 

*

Word by word the page clouding over

as if rain would wash the dirt from her face

flower though nothing will change –the sky

 

still covered with fresh dew not yet the stones

that forage forever  as the scent grass gives off

when paper is folded over and over and over

 

and each crease drains, outlasts its emptiness

taking away, making room in the Earth

for this old love note, your forehead.

 

 

 

*

Though she is covered with glass

there is no wind –it’s her sleeve

waving across the way an alpine stream

 

is pulled from a cemetery stone

for the unending free fall

over where a hole should be

 

–you never see the nail

now that the water in the photograph

has darkened, begun to drain

 

make room inside the cold wood frame

for grass, give up, disappear

and under the dust her arm.

 

 

 

*

You didn’t wave back though the leaves

still circle down, spread out, finish

as the sound a train makes waiting to leave

 

–this empty lot is their home, heated

by the scent rising from dirt

getting ready to greet its dead

 

and one by one burn the sky brown

then red then with the same smoke

take away your arms with the pile

 

–it’s a rake you’re holding, the Earth

all day opening its hand

for a cloth dress, a charred house.

 

_____

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk, 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

To view one of his interviews please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8

 

Training

By Sarah A. Odishoo

Training

Sarah A. Odishoo

 

Once you start on a journey, there is no turning back. My brother told me the story years later. Some stories get more real in the telling.

Bryan and Chuck drove off in my brother’s white convertible to Mexico on that winter day because, Chuck said, Bryan wanted warm weather—the sun was too low in the sky in Chicago. Bryan thought he was dying. The only cure—Sun.

They drove straight through, each taking turns behind the wheel, stopping only for food, gas, and pissing. Chuck said wryly later, the whole trip was a piss in the wind. The accident had made Bryan crazy.

When they got to Acapulco, they had one hundred dollars between them, so they had to find a cheap hotel. Bryan’s eyes kept watering, and he kept wiping them with the handkerchief Ma had given him—a yellow silk one—it was so wet by midday, he had to wash it out and leave it on a chair in the sun to dry.

Bryan cried at night, Chuck said. As soon as they got to Acapulco, he wanted to go back home. The room they found was in the poorest section and only prostitutes and the crippled roomed there. But crying at night helped his eyes, watered them, he said, then he could sleep.

 

One eye, his left, had been burned open in the accident, Chuck recalled. That eye open all night spooked him. He thought, “he’s watching me—not just here in this room, but in my thoughts—in my goddam soul.”

Bryan got relief by paying prostitutes to come to the room during the day. Chuck said, “I didn’t care what he did during the day. I left. But I was there at night—I didn’t want any fucking whores in my bed. And he, he couldn’t get to sleep unless he cried and fucked. He missed home.

“Then, one day he brought a goat to the room. It was a kid. He kept it in the room all day as he watched it pace and cry, running into the table next to the window, shoving it with his matted body, looking for its mother, it kept kicking its way into the empty window panes. Bryan lay on the bed drinking Tequila from the bottle, wiping his eye with the stained yellow silk handkerchief, watching the young goat.”

Bryan got the goat for Ziggy, the Arab who lived on the first floor. It was Ramadan, and Ziggy was too poor to get a goat for the dinner celebration. Bryan wanted to test himself.

Bryan hadn’t been in a war, but he had been in the Army. He had been training to go to war. But then the accident happened. His friend, his barracks’ buddy, died in the accident. Bryan thought he was responsible.

Bryan wanted to sacrifice to God, and he didn’t know what to do to make the sacrifice real. When Ziggy talked about Ramadan, Bryan figured if he sacrificed something innocent, it would show God he understood—giving back to the Source what was the Source’s. Then maybe, he thought to himself, he wouldn’t hurt so much.

When Chuck got back that night, Bryan told him what happened.

Ziggy took the kid, grabbing hold of the matted fur at his neck and his backside, and dragged him into the shower. He asked Bryan, “Do you want to cut his throat?” “Yes,” he said, and took the knife as Ziggy held the goat’s head back. Bryan said he tried not to look at the kid’s eyes, full of terror and wet with fear, they rolled wildly back and forth, but Bryan couldn’t help shaking, trying to get his bearings. Bryan cut across the fur, but the goat didn’t die; bleating relentlessly; he struggled against Bryan’s arm, wresting back and forth, biting to get free. Finally, Ziggy, screaming, “kill it, goddam it, kill it,” as he tore the knife out of Bryan’s hand, and ended the goat’s last cry as it went limp in Ziggy’s hand. He dropped the goat in its own pool of blood.

Bryan had started crying at the beginning of the story, and near the end, he couldn’t talk; he was shaking, trembling convulsively, bent over, both hands over his head as if he were being struck.

“I want to go home . . . Take me home.. . . . we have to leave now.”

Chuck said they drove for five days and five nights. Bryan couldn’t drive; his eyes closed blind in pain, while the left one wept involuntarily.

Ziggy and his wife cooked the goat celebrating Ramadan the night Bryan and Chuck started home.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Bryan had been in love with death for as long as I can remember. He loved it like a boxer loves his opponent. He ran until his legs buckled under him, and he’d have to stay off his feet for a week. He’d jump off the highest window ledge of the Rogers Park Bank, the ledge none of us dared. He would walk on the train tracks until the train a few feet away from him would cut us off from him and for seconds all we heard was the whistle howling. When it passed, he would be standing on the other side of the tracks, darkly serious and hardly able to walk back home.

Whenever Chuck would tell the Mexico story, I would feel the same way I did when Bryan would step on the train tracks. My heart would start to pound harder, and trying to stop the inevitable, I would be paralyzed with fear, helplessness, and a terrible fascination. He forced us to watch something we could not stop.

In the story, when Bryan raises the knife, whenever Chuck gets to the part where Bryan raises the knife, I gasp. It is the gasp I hear when the train and Bryan are feet apart; it’s the gasp I hear when I can’t do anything but watch, it’s the gasp—taking my breath away—of impending death. And Bryan trying to get the courage to face it.

When he tried to kill the goat, he saw himself doubled in that baby goat’s eyes, holding the knife and watching the helpless terror and standing it for seconds. He missed. And not being able to kill the goat, he felt something else, something new.

Bryan cried until he got home. Then he stopped. Chuck couldn’t see him after that. He said, for him, Bryan was dead. But he would continue to tell the story as if in the retelling he would get what he couldn’t get when he was there. I suppose it became a prayer.

At first, we saw his displays of fearlessness as a way to mock us, going too far, beating us. But what I have now discovered is that he was too sublime for us to understand. What he did by going too far was a daily unremitting devotion to what he didn’t know—the terrible seeking to know—not just what was humanly knowable, but that boundary line between life and death–the inhumanly knowable. He was called to that fearsome edge, enslaved by it perhaps, but called to act on it nevertheless.

Our minds, it seems, may be nourished and invisibly repaired by a renovating presence, a pattern beyond the world, by which knowledge of that presence is enhanced by our inherent pain. And like passion, that presence struggles to lift us out of ourselves when we think we can control our destiny, and it lets us fall when we need “to see” that which we can’t control.

For me, well, I am still standing at the train tracks, not sure if this time he will suddenly appear on the other side, once the train howls past.

___

Sarah Odishoo is a writer and poet. She has published in a number of small presses, including New Letters and Berkeley Fiction Review. She has also been a finalist in competitions such as Nelson Algren Competition with judges Joyce Carol Oates, James Dickey, and Margaret Atwood. Odishoo was also selected by Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who Among American Teachers (1998–2005).

 

La Petite Morte

By Edward Butscher

Green vase on a white doily

squeezes window light

into lime juice

 

blood of a dinosaur, desert

cheeks like a caked

sea floor, cheese

smiles.

 

An infant’s skull, even if unreal,

can be x-rayed by laser eyes

to unlace a Mississippi’s

imploring

eels.

 

Danger lurks here like a locked

mind in a room that reeks

of empty wine bottles,

lipstick wounds,

perfumed

books.

 

I father an unbearable lightness.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Echoes

By Edward Butscher

If an experiment can be repeated

it proves itself, as may a name sung

by steeple bells in a mind’s Norway.

 

Language and consciousness echo

each another, a scholar reiterated.

 

I think I said I said I think I said I.

 

Edvard Munch’s sequences of lovers

and screams and self-portraits (set

between a clock and Van Gogh’s last

 

bed) retrace his global scream,

ringing out in cartoonish ripples

 

that ululate into a cosmic ocean.

 

Say it again, again and again, knees

exposed to rocks and shame in short

pants, finally shed for knickers, then

 

long pants, and a detached boyhood

of tulip trees and their visible roots

 

clawing at sky and armies of the dead.

 

Ordinary shapes paint in awareness,

walls, doors, women walking away

on high heels, repeatedly framed by

 

long slow days after broken nights

at the far end of an island and a life

 

that replicate what art once saved.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Dementia

By Edward Butscher

Melodic are its three demonic syllables

pried from a deep Roman grave to root

in English hospitals and American labs

or dance like a pranked school skeleton,

serving as a noun escape, an anesthetic

for the last peeled-off sliver of self.

 

Crowned “Nana” by the family and tied

to a window chair by a foreign old age,

she cursed the grown daughters who

mothered her, changing her, feeding her

the Italian treats she loved to break down,

crumbling earth crusts into the silken oil

of remembered olive trees amid sliced

tongues of tomatoes and loud peppers.

 

“Aunt Ida” always, Edith winked coy smiles,

gave a girlish “yes” to whatever was asked,

efficient as ever only in the theatre of her

subway mind, where she wore a Red Cross

cape to tend the crowds of poor strangers,

crawling towards the infant she once was

without seeing the long distance behind.

 

A Polish Jew who fled as a boy to the wall

before settling in a New World and name,

“Yehuda Nir,” swelled by a stuck ego’s war

to save a self, he rose from a lost childhood

to heal fellow survivors, hating the tribe

that had hacked his father from his hand,

unable to forget or forgive or grow old.

 

Under eyelids blacker than any blackness

one can imagine or recall, it means raging

down the mind’s spider-stitched staircase

to a cellar floor where pleasure was simple

as verse, now a night terror, like a Stoic’s

scorned “death,” that can’t sleep or be.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Chaos

By Edward Butscher

I will it still in absentia

with the cowardice of a poet

caged by rag flesh and glass bone

when it scratches a frenzied alphabet

against the porch corner’s cell walls:

 

the final quivers and glazed stare

of a feathered and beaked creature

dumped into this twilight life

from a teacup of darkness

 

only to be slashed back home

without ever growing large

enough to mother another

 

or streak through sun blasts

to snatch a briefer butterfly

from its immense mission.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Caravaggio

By Edward Butscher

Circling tourists, mainly American

and white-haired, are unable to dilute

its spotlight flood, the blood-letting

of a prone John the Baptist occupying

an entire wall in St. John’s Cathedral,

 

his zealot’s head bound for severing

to feed a reckless, feckless beauty—

or to float (strings invisible as shark

atoms) down to that sunless sea

of another poet’s opium dream.

 

A docked white yacht bares masts

tall enough to recall the bristling

forest of Barbarosa’s armadas

when Suleyman the Magnificent

twice gnashed his teeth against

Valletta’s star-stoned bunkers,

awaits our return with champagne

cocktails and glazed tea cakes.

 

The caught faux knight fled Malta

to reclaim Rome’s papal pardon

for his original crime, parading

rough trade across a Biblical stage,

painting the forbidden hidden light,

but he was wounded in the attempt,

fittingly dying of a fever at age 37.

 

Dance with me is the nightly request

as a school of mainly older bodies

surges around a rainbow-lit lounge,

childishly defying pain-jolted bones

and the fecal blackness smeared on

cabin portholes with a blind brush.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Zero

By Edward Butscher

Moses’ eyes concave

into zealot blindness

that makes stone burn,

cold flesh grow green.

 

Serpent as a piece

of red bakery string

dropped on a bed,

 

blinking unblinking

at the sepia smiles

of alien relatives,

 

the old woman’s

cancer-sour tongue

paints her bedroom

the color of corn.

 

This is my crime.

Survival is hers.

 

A robin’s blank eye

mimics a sun nugget

set so still amid vague

fluff carnage of its

wingless remains:

 

the beauty of a thing

that once had breath,

being and beauty

fused into a tear

for cupped hands

to catch intact

 

buffed perfect

between artful lids.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Seasonal

By Edward Butscher

In the green egg

of a nursing oak

I sense the sinew urge

of a resurgent spring,

fingering its lizard skull

like a miniature mine

left behind

by the war

 

while remembering

that morning journey

into her wrecked mind

where demons wore white—

weaned from her bed

by love and a need

to be relieved

of her needs.

 

In the mouths of blossoms

I smell urine-bleached

petticoats, her flaccid

loins rain-plumped

worms underfoot.

 

Past silent houses

and green carpets

of this Flushing town

she never understood,

I plowed her

feather weight

wishing bell peppers

and tomato tongues

could sound our breaths.

 

Older than she,

a porch-proud friend

sat smug above

our slow passage,

 

defending her soil

with rag-flagged sticks

waving goodbye

waving goodbye

 like whips of gull wings

lacerating sun-lit air.

 

In restless fragments

of the sky’s broken

 

shell, in clumsy wing heaps

hacking at heaven’s bodice,

(I hear her climb)

grandmother vine.

“Mama mia!”

she sang aloud

like a lost child

 

or was it “Eddie”

she accused

as the axis of her wheelchair

groaned from the earth,

turning on hollow

catacomb bones?

 

The ghost of a barber

husband was a calla lily

haloing her maize-fine hair

when the glasshouse winked,

smiled, swallowed her whole.

 

We left her there

I leave her there

one maple-tense day

each returning spring

without even a donkey

to bray her home

 

or root up the stranger

who plants her there to die.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Punctuation

By Edward Butscher

When computers democratized

capitals and i-pods abridged words

themselves, deathless prose died

a billion deaths, tiny as pricks

in a condom—and no less perilous

 

Doomed to knowledge of erasure

at an early age by sudden shifts

of scenery and regal personae

(mother, father, nurturing aunts),

which meant predicating subjects

into objects at some felt remove

(brutal as brackets) from a child’s

steeple-high Emersonian eye,

 

the boy platformed castles at his

two Catholic elementary schools

from the sentences diagrammed

with an obsessive cardinal joy,

raising praised context and conduct

ramps under the weight of Latin’s

imported stage directions.

 

After college degrees and teaching

confirmed its value, a semi-colon’s

dragnet sweep had the raft appeal

of rescuing second and third ideas

from history’s enormous annals,

of elaborating revisions and subtle

eddies into carpets of The Master

and transfigured dream lovers.

 

Simon the Poet harpoons his colons

at the other side of the great divide

between conscious and unconscious

space, releasing fresh oxygen back

into the vacuum separating equals,

a mind expanding in a fecund, if

uneasy, way, unearthing old levels

of lore below remorseless stones.

 

But periods remain the most satisfying

to execute, reaffirming a sentence’s

existence at the acme of completeness

even as it concludes, like a Hemingway

story, on death’s implacable sword,

and it is difficult not to love them, no

matter what is obliterated, a sequence

of cats and dogs, whom I would have

saved if I could, like a jaded Casanova,

or the boyhood friends who never

said goodbye in words or a lost shout.

 

The end, in the end, is all there is.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.