V. Quick Time|
MAZEL TOV! A BLESSED LITTLE HAND
a little hand protrudes, resting on a draped fluffy down.
A hand begs gentle cuddling,
Clean hand, pure, young, so sweet.
Knuckle lines soon begin to show age.
Now so young, you will grow up soon
Hair will rise,
showing their route to your heart,
wrinkle lines will give your age away,
like circles on a tree.
your hands will always be, little, blessed.
—Vincent J. Tomeo
ODE TO MY BREATH
O breath, you are with me
even when I sleep—
you fill me, then empty,
expand and contract me;
always and everywhere
your inflation and deflation
are my inspiration—
O breath, you were the first
thing out of my mouth at birth
and shall be the last at death,
you have been faithful to me
longest—you stretch when I am languorous
and contract when I’m afraid;
you hold the space with me
when we are in between—
between thought and action,
stillness and movement,
invitation and letting go
O breath, you always leave me
empty, squeeze my contractions
deeper, so I am ready
to be filled
O breath of life
you are in all
breathing beings, even the trees
and greens receive what I give,
offer what I lack—a happy dance
of oxygen and CO2
O life force, you expand me;
I will be ash and earth
when you are gone for good
I want to count our every coupling—
each inhalation a birthday balloon,
each exhalation its release rising
up/up and away
O breath, I have had enough
scares to know the fear of losing you;
I have held you too tightly
in my panics,
let you go with she-bear sounds
in my pride
O breath, even though I love you,
I am not you, nor am I
my thoughts, even of you,
or this or that or any other thing—
O breath, only you
can gather those frightful thoughts
of our final separation
back to now/here
rise and fall—
each/breath the only moment
—Kate Marshall Flaherty
The flower is dangerous.
Nonetheless, I have picked it.
The biggest, whitest, most
glaring Shasta daisy.
I can hear my mother yelling: Don’t! I do.
She snaps a picture.
This is where my bravery begins.
Or so I like to say.
In truth, I don’t remember.
I only look at the photograph
of me scrutinizing the flower.
The light one finds in baby pictures
begins to whisper.
It is December 18, 1940.
Nothing is as it seems:
the sunny winter afternoon,
the garden with its pretty flowers.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
In 1942, when Mom divorced Pop,
I stopped talking.
I played by myself in the backyard sandbox;
wanted to be held, but held back;
grew pensive and sullen.
Around age eight, I fell in love
with my mother’s Baldwin upright piano.
Music was mercy,
my freedom from speech,
my freedom from being spoken to.
I lingered over Schubert’s fragrant,
overripe chords; pursued the ardent ebb
and flow of Brahms, Beethoven.
Beauty became a form of redemption.
Allegro! Andante! Largo! Forte!
I obeyed Italian commands of dead Germans.
Found a new voice with the help of Bartók.
At thirteen, I surrendered to Chopin—
his wistful wind-swept waltzes,
his rendering of each phase of the heart.
I wanted to live forever, play the piano until
I was as old as Moses.
The charm is broken, the piano put away,
and I grow old, except in dreams.
I am a girl sitting at a Baldwin
upright piano. I have been playing
for hours, a metronome clacking behind
each melody like a clock. My back
is tired of straightening, my feet are tired
of pedaling, and my hands,
my tiny horses, have galloped miles.
I am playing for my father,
not my literal father, nor a false
father divorced from the one
who fathered me, but for an eternal
father. A version, perhaps, of the first
Pop, who once held me on his knee
as light lengthened into summer.
How did summer slip away
so casually this year? Without a sigh?
Without a nod to those who care?
Or does it still breathe among
the powdery wings that cling to a few
forgotten flowers? Still shed
its languid light on stubbled grass,
shriveled fig and rotting pear?
This is the pensive time of year,
this time of passing. The shadow
grows, the sweet light goes, and one
by one the gentle ghosts move on.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
AT THE MOVIES
“A moving picture, because it moves, is the one form of narrative
that cannot convey an idea.“—Gore Vidal
Against the white unmovable screen of clouds,
three eucalyptus stand frame by frame.
How beautiful each leaf,
each form of branch and trunk.
Above, in the dark cobalt blue of night,
the moon is not quite half itself.
Inside, enchiladas and home-made chili sauce
simmer softly in the oven.
A lull before the clatter of plates
and ideas overlapping.
Here, outside, the coolness is an ecstasy.
Three silhouettes—one of which you have to crane
your neck to see—each one an idea,
a single stopped emotion;
each detail incisive as a rare well-chosen word;
dark and particular as the story
in an Ozu movie that moves
slowly out of time as if it were a novel;
moving and unmoving like the long still shots
in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalene Bach,
where each frame, like the music, is sacred.
An idea? A generalized emotion? Below, I hear
raccoons picking their way up the slope,
stopping every few feet to nibble
on some old tortillas I’ve just thrown out.
It is time, I suppose, to sit down to our own dinner;
to stop yearning toward the eucalyptus—
craning my neck to see the third—surprised,
yes, still surprised by how beautiful. The clouds
illumined like a waiting motion picture.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
DESERT ON ALL SIDES
After a 12-hour day of
pouring concrete on the frontage
road west of the Arizona
and California border,
the heat is so delectably hot
that I feel faint even though the sun
has disappeared behind the western ridges.
My feet burn as I stand
in a bare patch among the chamise,
black sage, and buckwheat.
In the twilight,
I can still see how the wind
shaped the sand into
They look as if someone
has tossed the letters of the alphabet,
into the air, and they landed
across the landscape.
Then, there’s the silence like
the flight of a burrowing owl,
or the steps of a slow,
In this heat and silence,
night arrives with its stars,
moon, and the long shadows
of the cottonwoods
along the arroyo
beside my truck.
Near the road, is an abandoned cabin.
Its rear wall has toppled,
and the back room
opens to the wilderness.
As I slide behind
the wheel of my truck,
a deer and two fawns step out of the shack.
As they pause to look
at my headlights,
I realize this is about
as my life will get:
a spectacular nightscape
with Kronos on the radio.
—Joseph D. Milosch
ONE HOT AUGUST NIGHT IN THE DESERT
I arrived at my mobile lab at 5:30 AM
and worked until 9:00 PM.
Closing my work trailer,
I hitched it to my truck
for the six-hour drive.
Slipping behind the wheel,
I thought I’d die for some coffee.
I felt fortunate to find my cup full
and knew it was a testament
to how busy my day had been.
Stepping outside the cab,
I leaned against its front fender.
Watching the stars, I became
aware of how sweet the sand
and cactus smelled.
Winding through the deer weed
and chamise, the breeze seemed
to whisper, and while I listened
to it, I wished my wife
was here to hug me.
I didn’t want the hug I received
in church or outside a restaurant.
I wanted the hug that made me
feel I’d live a long time
among the odors of her hair
while she enclosed me
with the warmth of her body.
After I finished drinking,
weariness settled over me
like the night sounds become audible,
and the hollow-fluted,
echoed between hilltops.
As the desert’s delicate breeze
touched me, the coyote continued
to call for the absent one.
—Joseph D. Milosch
STAYING IN THE LINES
Trying to keep
awake on the LIE
while going 70,
I blink, turn up the radio
lick my fingers to wet
my eyelids, catch
feel like a kid trying
in the lines except
if I go over these lines,
I will get killed.
My work now is astonishment.
Here the breeze—an impulsive playful puppy.
There a lark—perches on budding maple
head thrown back, breast a quiver,
sings straight at the sun,
Do I walk at a slower pace?
Is my mind unable to process a riddle?
I am no longer a young woman,
must keep to my work,
which is mostly choosing stillness.
To be roomy enough to listen
for newness every second
to look for miracles—
Budding woods, blooming gardens
Trees curtseying in the wind
Flock of pigeons glitter like confetti
Love falling from lovers eyes, and his eyes.
Which is mostly choosing to invite my longings—
the mind chatter, the infectious desires
to sit on the porch with me
as valley breaks open at sunset like a rose
astounded at the silent spaces in between.
NEVER GO BACK
the peeling paint porch off the kitchen's cracked
linoleum door that doesn’t shut
looking out at the barn 90 years old
carl’s father built that rich darkness
every peg every piece of the loft the holes
that let in the light the light spilling over
the smoothed grooves the horses wore 90 years
through the sills of their stalls spring
and two hummingbirds come to the Rose
of Sharon hummingbirds I’m barefoot on the porch
you bring me coffee we eat our eggs from the same bowl
and the hum and scratch when the one car a day goes down the road
what other sound but the stars spinning?
my dress pulled over my knees my hair still long
unbraided oh that wood scratching and sweet smelling
the side of the barn cows coming back pears
in the pear tree peaches must be fall
now they must be falling on the ground I leave
my muddy shoes outside you carry in the firewood
dirt on your arms and I do nothing I have nothing I have
to do you are taking care of me feeding me keeping me
warm no thing changed but in two years two trees in the yard
dying and one car rusting outside carl’s arm swollen a fall
he’s 87 lot different from 85 he’s a little bit scared
and smaller he wants to tell me about the barn tell me about
his horses the little horses he and his brothers rode
the house across the way the granary smoke house privy
tools in the shed three tractors in the barn
—Kelley Jean White
WALKING ALONG THE BEACH
in memory of my sister Sharon
(December 17, 1934-September 19, 2019)
It will be windy for a while
until it isn’t. The waves will shoal.
A cormorant will trace its double
along glassy water.
The sea will play this motif
over and over. There will be
no preparing for separation.
Water will quaver in driftwood,
gulls will nap on the shore,
and when the low tide comes lapping
and clear, the curled fronds
of seaweed will furl
and splay, brushing against
sands marked by the passage of feet.
A gentle rain will fall as we
continue in the evening light.
The ocean glitters. Pelicans begin
their homeward flight. Remember
how we played on this same
beach when we were children? What
was torn from us? What was kept alive?
—Constance Rowell Mastores
MY SISTER'S TRIPLE-CHAMBERED HEART
For Sharon Rowell, creator of the huaca: a clay
triplechambered vessel flute. Mendocino, California
The forlorn sigh spreads over her as she lies dreaming
a potter's dream in shapes of clay - foghorn-sound
so different from the blasting horns you hear
off the San Francisco bay. This voice comes just to her
and makes her want to weep - round, intimate
and deep - comes just to her. And makes her weep.
She wonders how to answer him, how she will love
him back. At her potter's bench, she begins to form
a single-vessel flute. As years pass by, she expands
her love into a triple-chambered heart. And ocean-
near she plays to him, and ocean-near his song
comes back - intimate and deep - and makes her weep.
—Constance Rowell Mastores (ca. 2000)
Note: performances on the huaca by Alan Tower, a student of
Sharon Rowell, can be found on YouTube.
But we feel them
In the smell of their perfume,
In the chants of our youth.
The bald headed clarinetist at the concert,
Brings my brother to life again,
The hot pink silky suit, hugging the soprano’s bulging hips,
Reminds me, recreates my mother.
Her urging me to stop, not to run so far.
Her voice sticks in my brain.
I fight the command,
Invisible, but there.
A brother gone, returns with the turn of a hairless head, a smile, a
pair of jeans
A mother, invisible, present in my mind,
Wearing her favorite dress,
Her voice, loud and controlling.
We live with the ghosts of our youth,
They are alive in us.
—Yocheved Miriam Zemel
These days it is enough
to drive this ribbon
of asphalt on county road H
through the black Wisconsin night
headed toward 46 and Amery,
with “Hotel California“
making it easy,
a hand on the wheel
the other slapping the arm rest
with that crescendo toward the end,
in concert with the rhythm,
in concert with my life.
Tonight I’m very much alive,
working my way through
the dark country of Polk County,
wanting to believe this is
what death is like: driving down a country
road with music,
the lights on bright
showing me the way home.
I know a tree
it stands hidden high on a hill of the Hudson Highlands
the tree has a bole, a hole
just my height
a big round “O“ like from a child’s crayon
The tree is the only elder I still have living
so I talk to it
it listens well
I have spent my grown years listening too
but never did I leave anyone breathing cool air,
gazing at the tender river supine below and taking off friskily
down a path
When I pass, I’d like to turn into a leaf
on the tallest branch of my friend tree
so I can see so far into the world too
and counsel wayfarers so wisely.
I have a moment
I took a moment though I don’t know who I took it from
I spent days in coins, dollars
time, it is said, is money
yet I lack both
I once slept years like Sleeping Beauty
I’m awake now
I can’t say for how long
Time is on your side
I am on no one’s side
I hate to see anyone lose
can’t we call it even
This will take a moment to finish
I’m filling in the moment like a coloring book
It’s an afternoon in June and I’m sitting under a cascade of pink roses
my black dog is at my feet
the honeysuckle on the breeze is sweet
my dog ran hard and I fought to stay alive
and that is our whole life story.
New York’s headstones stand tall, noble, amplified, but in California
most are mere plaques, sunk so deep into grass, so close to their
I step on their edges on the way to visit my parents
who once lived on a continent where Jews were buried up steep hills,
out of sight; where monuments carved with mystical signs and sorrow now
toppled, scattered, desecrated, as if scorn for dead Jews is dominion
where vandals practice their skills with gouges and hammers.
In 1948, when Jordan’s troops seized East Jerusalem, they laid new roads
with the grave markers of Jewish scholars, and in Hungary,
I watched goats graze among the fallen matséyves, taking nourishment
from the dead that fed the grass. In the meadows,
uneven mounds betrayed the presence of mass graves, Jews shot
at the edge of ditches they were made to dig, then
covered over, the ground heaving for hours from those buried alive.
Millions burned, smoke and ashes never sanctified.
I grieve for their eternities, for their souls entombed in ghettos of
for bones decomposing under Prague’s sidewalks
where the poet and Kabbalist Rabbi Avigdor Kara sleeps eight
unsettling centuries under soil layered above his grave
like glacial striations
before his tombstone is disinterred.
Its replica in the Maisel synagogue, his
poetry speaks to the Easter pogroms of 1389.
Are the dead allowed to tell us the future?
..…they have committed atrocities and acted in malice/devised schemes
to cover up the killing and their dead bodies were like refuse…..
In the ancient city’s Old Jewish Cemetery, the gravestones still
against each other like weary crowds of protesters. I tried to read
the faded dates, the chipped names. I felt their presence
and found we were compatible.
In 1945, on the ground near the crematorium, pages rustle in the
wind. The diary of a fourteen-year-old girl from Lodz will travel
halfway around the world for seventy years until liberated to the
printed page. *
Rywka adds loose pages to an old student copy book
she will omits no line of grief: Dear God do not let me flinch
over and over she binds her losses like sheaves
as she pushes the blunt needle, she pierces her finger
traces of blood leave a ghost print
a drop for mother, a drop for father, one for Abramik, Tamarcia, Cipka
and five drops more for the fall of mankind
she becomes their sanctuary
they live within her like nesting dolls
she hears them through thin membranes
people think her a dreamer
when she misses what they say, she is tending her family
she carries her dead by day; at night she sails alone
she pulls out her craft hidden in a copse of birch trees
as she enters the sea, she recites lines from the sacred poem:
if all the skies were parchment and all the seas were ink…
when she rows, she pulls gifts of imagery to her
in the blessed silence
released from the constant shouts of condemnation
she hears the music of her identity
she hears her holy teachers’ lessons
hung before her lucid as sky writing against a dark screen
she aligns herself with her Lodestars:
Mother Torah and Father God
she uses the scaffold of one to climb toward the other
her first language is prayer
she sends up her psalms
twin flares propelled in equal measures of pain and hope
her book fills out
as her body loses its claim to gravity
she will curl into the inscrutable smile
carved in the white bone of the moon
when clouds part to reveal a brilliant swathe in the dark water
she will spread out as a sea lane
the rhythm of her tides pull me back between her lines
I bow my head and begin again
DO YOU NOT YET KNOW THAT EGYPT IS LOST?
Mahane Yehuda Market, 5.7.18
Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?
Egypt never ruled my soul.
Even when my body was enslaved, under the weight of soil and stone
I was free to myself.
All my work in mud,
Burning bricks in the flame,
Was for the sake of heaven,
To reconcile my soul with the sweat
Of my body forever holy.
My spirit knows no despair.
My light, which was created before man,
My kingdom of flesh destined to be conquered
By my soul that hovers
Over the surface of the waters, the seas, the sages, the ages
There remains only to remove the veil that masks
As the waters cover the sea
Revealed is the Face
That never ceased to see
His children as they are –
Children of G-d.
translated by Sarita Perel and Esther Cameron
TO GIVE ONESELF UP
To give oneself up to the journey, to give oneself up to wonder, to the
To the tremor
that pushes the heart through the gate to another world.
oneself up to the glimpses of light shaking up a world that imagines
itself as stable,
oneself up to the wind that stomps through the deserts, while the body
dances to the music,
oneself up to the ancient spirit of the Fathers, playing silently
between the sounds, and the
oneself up to the holiness revealing itself, loving, enfolding,
erupting, conquering, demanding, collapsing in one lucid moment, in the
kitchen, the body
sprawled on the floor that slides out from under,
oneself up to the moment in which the world crumbles into shivers of
oneself up to the tender smelting that burns the heart of flesh in
penetrating gaze that reveals all sins.
oneself up to disconnection, to detachment from the world, to rupture
To be an
angel, a seraph, to give oneself up to higher guidance, to give oneself
up to faith, to the journey
on foot through the desert,
To solitude on
the dry journey, to the scorched earth, to the highest heavens that pour
down on thirsty
oneself up to a long and tormenting quest, to the flashes of light that
gleam out one minute
before it's too late, before it is too collapsed, before it is too
oneself up to madness, to perdition, to wander without direction in
oneself up to the fall, to the attraction of dust, to the crushing, to
the endless despair,
winding of mud shrouds, surrounding the soul to the underworld.
oneself up to shame, to remorse, to the sorrow of the Shechinah, to the
knowledge of Torah, of
halacha, to the band of companions
oneself up to the faith that light still remains in one.
That one is
not yet abandoned, that the sun will return.
oneself up to the earth, to the rhythm of its pulse, to the rhythm of
life and work, routine,
Faith in love,
that it has relevance here, in being.
oneself up to one's wife, to one's children, to earning a living, to
give oneself up to creativity, to
To the love of
one's brothers and sisters till the last drop, to the future city to be
built, to one's country
ascending by degrees, in flames, crashing into the bottomless pit.
oneself up to the present moment, to what is true,
To the light
that shines only today.
translated by Sarita Perel and Esther Cameron