Legacy

My poem is up at The Literary Nest. Here is the poem and some comments from the editor.

Legacy

Here’s one you haven’t heard,
he’d say to start each story—
and we hadn’t.

You could almost see him reach for the tale—
as if rummaging in the junk drawer
to retrieve it.

Sam worked at the Church Avenue Branch
of the library, until blindness
forced retirement.

He taught me to read
after my second grade teacher had declared
me hopeless.

He told stories to kids each Saturday morning
and taught English to adults three
nights a week.

I often subbed for him
as his cancer progressed—
I was happy at it.

Seventy years of smoking
had conspired to kill him.
As if the smoke

had found substance—a fat tabby
that slept soundly on his chest.
I’d kill

for a Camel, he said with what passed
for a laugh—Got one?
I’d have given

him one if I still smoked, but I could see
his mood had changed.
Here’s one

you haven’t heard, he said
one last time—in a half voice
I could barely understand.

When I was your age, I knew
a storyteller—told tales 
that made you shiver.

You have the gift.” he said.
I didn’t stay to watch him die.
That moonless night, the city

was dark as London in the blitz.
Here’s one you haven’t heard, I thought
taking a single baby step.

***
Editor’s Note:

What a lovely and gentle story of a storyteller and his protégée. Notice the linebreaks in stanzas 7-12. The regular length lines and complete sentences at both ends of the poem are interrupted by short lines with breath-stopping linebreaks in the middle, causing anticipation to build up.

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Heat Lightning

Up at Muddy River Poetry Review. One of my favorites for this year.

Allied Van Lines

was parked by

your old place today.

Day-labor gleaned

from the local Goodwill

moved packing crates

and furniture in

Yes, I pass by still—

hoping for…

I am no closer to knowing

where you’ve gone—

but then, that last night

I didn’t know

that we were saying

our goodbyes.

Tonight I watch

the distant flash

of heat lightning

create an abstract show—

“like sky painting,”

I can hear you say

And god, we need

the rain.

But that storm

will offer no relief.

It is somewhere else—

somewhere far from here.

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Spice of Life

This is up at Thimbletter.

Spice of Life

Steve Deutsch 
My dad was infinitely better
with a knife and fork
than with hammer and nails.
And though his 
do-it-yourself skills 
were never the wonder 
of the Western world
his hamburgers were 
the talk of Hopkinson Avenue.
He worked his magic
on a small hibachi
on the fire escape—
his secret spice mix
secure in an old Hellman’s jar.
 
Early each spring
he’d don his ragged Dodger’s cap
and his consecrated robe,
draw the shades,
and prepare a fresh batch.
It was quite a ceremony.
He’d recount each ingredient three times
as if a cantor
singsonging a prayer—
holding each spice jar
to the kitchen light with reverence—
then mix them all together
with a wooden spoon
that had been in the family
since the time of King David.
“Pure gold,” he’d assure me 
with a wink.
 
He taught me everything I know
and even today I can’t be
trusted with tools.
I’m never asked 
to fix a leak,
caulk a backsplash,
or even change a lightbulb.
But a fire in my fancy gas grill
is cause for the neighborhood
to rejoice and noisily
pray for leftovers.
“Hamburgers,” they murmur,
nudging one another 
and applauding mightily 
when I hold up 
the legendary Hellman’s jar.
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Skully

My poem, Skully, is up at the Red Eft Review today. Here is the poem (it is written in three line stanza):

Skully

Last Saturday we met at Denny’s bar

up on Remsen Avenue by the old Seltzer plant.

The pregame show flashed on the big screen

as Sal took a long sip of beer, 

and brought out an old peppermint tin—

inside was a worn RC Cola cap and a piece of chalk

“Remember Skully,” he asked?

as if we’d ever forget

the street game we played as kids 

on four squares of Brooklyn sidewalk—

a game as New York City

as the Empire State Building.

How we prized those bottle caps,

each of us with a lucky one or two—

history written in a hundred scuffs.

We lived small back then

and had to guard the caps from our moms—

who were known to throw out anything

that “sat out.”

I recognized Sals’ RC cap.

He won it from me in the summer of ’54.

We were out the door in a Budweiser minute.

And that afternoon—instead of watching another b-ball game

we chalked the court and played like the children we once were.

Down on hands and knees we flicked bottle caps

with arthritic fingers and called each other 

by nicknames we thought forgotten.

At the end of that afternoon

I had won the RC cap back—

at least until the rematch.

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Two Poems in Rat’s Ass Review

I’ve two poems published in Rat’s Ass Review. Sarah Russell and Mary Rohrer-Dann have poems there as well.

ANOTHER SPRING
 
And in the end I knew
you as well as anyone could—
and that hardly at all.
 
Is that what we
mean by wisdom?
The kind acquired
 
with the years?
Today the English roses
you planted so long ago
 
have conspired to bloom
as one—
the well-wrought flowers
 
coloring the quarter acre
like Matisse gone mad.
What a magic to share—
 
if only I could.
Had you some grand scheme
for the planting?
 
I never thought to ask.
I sit in the afternoon
sun and open myself
 
to memory.
But what comes is colorless,
and I settle instead
 
for the pitched squeals
of the children next door.
Alive with their imaginations.
 
 
COLLOCATION
 
I bumped into him
at the commuter terminal
at Dulles.
He hadn’t changed much.
 
His name was Artie
but we called him Jack—
since Junior High
he was pinned at the hip
 
with the Annette
we knew as Jill.
As a matter of fact
our chance encounter
 
was less surprising
than his Jill-less-ness.
Where was she?
I longed to ask
 
but hadn’t the nerve.
Jack and Jill
did all things together
from the time they were 12
 
to the time they left
for a New England
Law School that wasn’t
Yale or Harvard.
 
But there she was
walking down the concourse
towards us—
the big smile
 
I remember from forever
still on her face.
She was always
a pleasure to see.
 
It wasn’t until
I shouted Jill
that I realized
it wasn’t her.
 
Just some pale copy
stamped out of old plates.
Jack offered no explanation,
just a long-winded account
 
of how he came to sales.
After, I shook his hand
and said with an odd sense of loss,
“Good to see you, Arthur.” 
 

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Dishwatery

Just published today on the Drabble. I love the title

Dishwatery

I am as flat today
—as a peanut butter sandwich
without the jelly,
—as a side of peas
at the greek dinner down the road
—cooked beyond color,
—as Muzak.


People are born as I am today.
—Minds as dull
as Kansas in corn.
—Fireworks gone matchless.
What sparks us?
What creates the ambition
to put one foot in front of another?


I take to my easy chair
with that book I never read
past the opening paragraph.
I have just enough energy
to ponder those deep thoughts
before my nap kicks in.

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Light Fall

My poem was just published by the Mark Literary Review. It’s actually written in tercets, but I no longer have any influence with my blog.

Light Fall

We are fine,

I suppose,

although winter has settled

in like an unwelcome

house guest,

who natters away

all day and night

about the summers

he once knew 

as a child.

We live in the sway 

of a great graying—

our world assuming

the colorlessness

we might find

on a planet

far from the sun.

We are fine, I suppose,

though we fight 

against our estrangement

from this unwelcoming world. 

We’ve been told

the Sun is backtracking

and we are accumulating 

minutes of daylight

as a child might

gather pennies

in a piggy bank,

waiting for that day

in the unfathomable future

when we might

uncork it

and free the light.

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Going Going Gone

My poem was just published by Louisiana Literature. It’s one of my favorite poems.

Going, Going, Gone

Here’s a picture 
of the four of us
by the old synagogue 
on Bristol Street.
It’s February,
and our mothers
have us dressed 
for the Arctic.
Can you tell the coats are
hand-me-downs?

We are six or seven
and closer than brothers.
To hear us tell it now,
we were abandoned
and raised by feral beasts
on the savage streets
of Brooklyn—
but it wasn’t like that.
Sure, we were poor
but who wasn’t?

That was 1953.
We’ve seen
each other through
school and war,
marriage and divorce,
and the promise of infants
who grew and grew
only to scatter
like startled sparrows.

But that’s not what I want
to tell you.

Eddie died this year—
smoked for sixty years
and got hit by a car 
crossing Amboy Street.
In 1961, Eddie hit the longest home run ever
in a Police Athletic League game.
We shouted ourselves raw
as he loped around the bases
even though we lost that game 12 to 1
to a team that never had
to share gloves.

The three of us share old stories 
over dominoes 
and whiskey on a stoop
on Bristol Street.
The synagogue is long gone.
Soon the rich will take the neighborhood.
We will pass
and all those singular memories
will flash out
like an ancient TV tube dying—
like they never were.

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My Poem, Resting Place, just published by The Orchards.

It is written in four line stanzas, though I can’t convince the blog it matters.

Resting Place

I often stop 

at this tiny cemetery, 

just off the state route

that trails down from Hairy John.

Pastels might do the landscape justice—

or a fine camera

in the hands of someone

with a painterly eye.

The deep dark soil

has attracted the Amish—

their farms dot the valley,

and I am often slowed

by horse and carriage

as I coast along

the gentle curves.

But this graveyard

is older than the Amish farms

and it seems unlikely

that the faded names

would spark

a recognition

in the eyes

of the living.

Wikipedia

calls those with a passion

for visiting graveyards

“Tombstone Tourists,”

although I don’t suppose

I qualify— as this spot

of peace and respite

is on my way 

from college to college.

The bones 

buried here

are past memory.

Isn’t that the way of these

monumental places?

Graveyards have always

been for the living.

I finish my coffee.

and grab a piece of the view—

undulating glen

in sun and shade

to see me home.

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Cadge

This was just published in January issue of Burningword Literary Journal (97). Here is the poem. It was written in four line stanzas, but my blog ignores spacing and I don’t know how to change it.

This was great fun to write. My mother and grandmother were great card players (oh, and me). My brother father not so good.

Cadge

I bet the four flush—

worth next to nothing

but looking to all like the key

to the kingdom of heaven.

You told me once

that poker

was half luck

and half bluff.

They had just

cleaned you out again

at the Friday night game

above the body shop on Sutter Avenue.

You and your six

unemployable friends—

passing a cheap bottle of rye

and shots at each other’s parentage,

in a room 

full of reefer

and the sweat 

of day labor.

You told me once

you had no luck—

having given it

all to me.

And I pictured a medallion

bestowed upon the younger brother—

no small burden

you’d hung around my neck—

as if the family’s fortune 

was riding on my narrow shoulders.

“What fortune?”

anyone who knew us might think to ask.

“But, you’ll never be a bluffer,

you told me,

for that you need a pair—

and in our family, I got them.”

Cold as cobra’s breath

I bet my four spades

and watched 

as the better hand folded.

You never were a judge of character—

a lifetime

of confusing 

friends and enemies.

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