3. When to Flee
we flee at night
we board a ship
my father worries about old Lateen sails
and worn clinker-built hulls
are they sea worthy?
was he duped?
there are so many people on board
I am afraid we will sink
afraid they will overtake us
afraid they will take Father
afraid they will torture him
he has already told us if he is caught
we are never
bow down to idols
I rehearse refusal
even under a whip
the ship sails despite rotten hulls
He gently tacks the old triangular sail against the current
He skims us past the Spanish Armada
who have orders to shoot
stars look down
and speak in a language we have not yet learned
on the ship
my father studies Going Out of Egypt
written by the Abarbanel earlier this year when he flees
Spain for Naples
Naples for Corfu
father lays its maps over our voyage
he reads three maps
one bleeds through the other
A Life Without Terror
I live near the ocean so I’ll know when to flee,
where to go, not north, not over the hill—
I can already see ruby licks of fire—not
through those roads wrenched from rocks
that slept intact through the earliest embers
but could melt if severely tested;
you’ll find me standing below my fragile
home, ankles cold and white in the shallows
just where the sea’s lurch sputters out, praying
the flames won’t reach. After all, there are
seas of sand between us. At my back, a horizon
free of hazard. I want to live without dread
or terror, with the advent of whales,
with reliable tides and pelican vision, with
dolphin happiness and the gull sitting softly
beside me in its pocket of sand unblinking
like yesterday. I could not catch its eye
but sat nearby, the waves gently lapping,
my grandson reading a book, just sun
the crow sits on the building site
does he know it’s a building site
will he fly away in the morning
when the men come to work?
—Lois Michal Unger
They drift away,
float into the ether--
helium balloons, gone forever,
out of reach,
never to be held again.
The brown one
was my favorite;
I held on to it
longer than the others.
it slipped out of my hands.
I tried to catch it,
but I was too late.
I wonder why they won't leave.
The fence cannot control them;
they could fly right over,
but they don't.
they eat bread from my hand.
Even the ones who
manage to clear the fence
always come back.
I suppose it is easier
to eat free bread than to
forage for your own.
There is comfort
in being fed, sheltered.
You checked out
while I'm still climbing autobus stairs
once I took four seconals
you thought it was funny
now you said goodbye
shut the door
to a world
that was a disappointment
a sign do not disturb
a bottle of pills
Good nite good nite
—Lois Michal Unger April 2011
AT THAT MOMENT OF LEAVING
at that moment of leaving
when you read a magazine
as if it would go on
be back again
and I knew
I wanted to hold that moment
keep that moment
I had to let go and
—Lois Michal Unger
Discarded by that haughty intellect
Which now defines you as its outstretched wings
Define the eagle’s silent flight— direct
In its simplicity as thought that springs
Unchallenged to your mind, and carries you
Above the throes of ordinary life;
Yet I in my simplicity renew
That right that led us to this parting strife:
What skies you soar, what things you see from your
Exalted provenance, I cannot know
From here, nor how without you I’ll endure
This life that you, disdainful, see below
You. Think then what you will of what I feel;
Emotion, and not thought, makes my life real.
Other countries are out there.
I am not bolted to America
as this one is or that one is.
I can catch a flight,
be in Canada inside the hour.
Or be in Mexico in maybe four.
I'm not condemned to this street,
this town, this state, this anything.
The ocean at my door is nothing.
My loving you doesn't prevent me crossing it.
Sure I can't speak French or German
like a native
but who wants to be a native anyhow.
My passport's in order.
I've money for the plane, the hotel.
I could be a Scottish fishing village,
a Moroccan bazaar,
a Japanese theme park...
that's what you have here,
a guy with the potential
for being somewhere else.
You think that without stakes in the ground,
there is no ground,
that where you are
is where you have to be.
You call my name
but no louder than Helsinki
calls my name.
You make a home for me.
But I look at a map
and see no homes.
He said “you are
the great love
of my life”
and left again
for another month.
—Lois Michael Unger
The weather in the
living room is bad,
claps of ridicule,
derision, and contempt.
My insides are
icing up from
the cold stares
flaps are stuck
called you lame
when you told me
to get a life,
should have just
big mouth’s buckled,
Looks like a
rough landing with
a long layover
for repairs before
we can fly again.
—Martin H. Levinson
Bird in the attic
Her wings brush the pane
as if she knows by instinct
that confinement is a dream,
from which wings alone my awaken.
She flutters up and down the pane
searching for answers in the light
as if a mere entreaty
could shatter an invisible wall.
Now she weaves the huddled space
and slams the pane till her beak turns red.
She cries out in fear against this
encroaching fate, this finite doom.
I tug and pull and yank until
the old window opens with
an ancient shriek, and she is free, while
my heart flutters madly in its prison.
The Wings of Love
Where can I fly? Be free?
Do I want to fly… or do I wish to flee?
To get away? Escape?
Or do I merely wish to sit and rest,
To hear the quiet voices inside myself?
Or perhaps I just want to sit and be.
To inhale the scent of newly mown grass
And watch the wind flow through the trees.
To listen to the song of birds,
the clicking of crickets on a summer night,
the coo of pigeons on the roof,
the pitter-patter of rain or thunder in the sky.
But pardon me…. I must fly….
Inside. To answer the insistent cry
of a downy miracle
demanding my presence
time’s arrow. Heart’s a moving target—
So far (years photons take to reach nearest stars)
what doesn’t bother salvia has missed me.
May time’s archer shoot me with small change.
(And if he has quick work to do, may the wonder-taker fell
me before those I love.) Mortality, Salvador Dali
no longer fears you and his oeuvre never did.
I do. (You forgot the adverb still, or that timely phrase,
but not for long.) It doesn’t seem to bother buttons,
Betelgeuse, snails, weeds, ambergris, redwoods
or those who listen: Not-I inside isn’t ready to fly,
isn’t ready to die; even in darkness O sings.
Been grounded so long seems like flight
Seventeen hours since spine injections,
placid pitter-patter of rain drops on our
A-frame nest’s wooden bedroom roof,
gossamer comforter on top, warm flossy
mattress pad underneath, silky smooth
guardian angel next to me, waking before
dawn without torment; wounded skeleton
feels almost normal for 1st time in months.
Holding walking stick then not using it,
I rise on two feet for morning ablutions,
carefully dispatch what have become
formidable stairs, press otherwise-set
Mr. Coffee to On, actually pet the cat
before bending gently to fill kibble dish
(deferring clean water to purring mistress),
perch on downy ergonomic computer rig.
A fledgling phoenix at repose, I can now
manage my own organic steel-cut oatmeal
& blueberries before considering how to
tackle vexing pent-up business stuff though
only after taking a few motionless minutes
to contemplate kneeshipsswings (potentially
+ vertebrae) that remain anything but feathers
covering an ossified wattled endangered body.
Not tonight, the aides say, not tonight.
His rattle has stilled
and the battle won’t build
till he’s ready to fall from great heights.
Not tonight, the aides say, wait a bit.
Draw close, watch his chest, hear his breath.
(Yes, it’s drawn-out, this vigil with death.)
You’re welcome to lie here, or sit.
Not tonight, the aides say, but quite soon.
He has emptied his mind,
all his senses are blind,
he is circling back toward the womb.
Not tonight, Dad, I say, not tonight.
Here’s a legend you told once to me
about herons, of gulls soaring free,
of the heightened awareness of flight.
Not tonight, the aides say, not tonight.
Listen up and you’ll learn something true
about him, ambiguity, you,
and death’s failure to set all things right.