Sword of Glass

It was my father’s father
who at last came to dinner from far away,
gulped a whiskey, grinned, and said When I have a whiskey,
 I feel like I’m a new man & then the new man wants one, too
my father pouring another & the new, new man
also wanting a whiskey

who tucked me in after dinner whispering,
You must go right to sleep, because if you don’t,
when sleep does come, night will expand
& become a great mass, mold will grow on you,
& in the morning, the sunlight will cut you
like a sword of glass, & you’ll never again
be able to jump up and down.
& he clicked off the light

who for my 13th birthday at his apartment
set out a platter of prunes smoked meats pickled herring
horseradish jam poppy seed rye from which I assembled
a smoked meat sandwich & as I bit growled,
If you don’t like pickled herring, you should tell me
& next time I won’t order it. You don’t know what it means
to be a Jew. You imagine a heaven, sky that shines like a fish,
& the sound of the surface rasp of the sea, but this
is a sorrowful world of fat-free cheese, & recumbent bicycles,
of Christian Science & lonely reflections, of old plow horses—
sullen, worn & indifferent to the whip. The meadows shun those horses!
Everything stings! Everyone cries! & he threw the platter onto the floor—
prunes, jam, meat, all of it

who dressed like a Turkish pimp for Marsh & Jennifer’s wedding,
silk tie painted with women’s faces & palm trees, shouting
when Marsh stomped the glass, Pop goes the hymen!
& washed down two shrimp cocktails with bourbon commanding,
Let us all feast on pie! Rhubarb. Mince. Spanakopita.
waving the menu, calling the waiter, Where is the King of Pie?
smacking a fist on the table, Bring us kingly pie!
Pie for the women in evening gowns, pie for the bride & groom

who, leaning over, took my hand, & speaking softly
& only to me, said, Your father told you I fled the East
to avoid conscription, but I fled because I killed a man
who called me Brudny Żyd—a Dirty Jew.
I was fifteen. You can trust the forest,
but people are chiselers & wolves. Fuck them.

who, when I entered his hospital room,
asked the rest of the family to leave, saying
Sit with me. I can do nothing else.
Skin rashen from whisky & sugar, he grasped my arm,
The River Pishon used to wind like a snake through the larch & pine.
You’ve never seen the boreal forests & soon they’ll be gone.
If I were young I’d disregard the speakable world
& only study the sinuosities of women
& he looked out the window, whispering
more to himself than me,
Life is sunlight held together by blood,
the words drafting like seagulls through motionless air.

And I walked out to the exhausting allure of another day,
to grass the height of the moon, to other, older family faces
appearing at random on petals, bridges, boulders.

In Pleiades, 2015

From Sword of Glass