“I don’t know,’’ my father used to say
when I offered the conversational tic,
an adolescent affectation.
He liked to put people on the spot.
When they said they loved reading
he’d ask, “What was the last book
you read?’’ Uncomfortable silences
ensued, he rather enjoyed it.
Or if we were sitting around at
dinner and referred to him in third person,
the matriarchal duet, my mom and
sister emotionally outweighing the
two of us. I had divided loyalties
at best, anyway. “Who’s he?’’ my
dad would say, countering the
implied lack of respect, deference.
He wasn’t a martinet, or much of
a disciplinarian, though. When we first met
my in-laws, in deepest New Jersey,
he offered, “So this is suburbia.
Is there a lot of wife-swapping going on?”
The living room was an oil painting.
Forever after, he called
them the “Jewish Babbits.’’
Still, he wasn’t a jerk.
At least I don’t think so.
Smart-aleck, I guess, and not averse
to trying to get a rise, stave off boredom.
Do I know, even now, what he was really after?
I can’t say, couldn’t try. It’s complicated.
I don’t know. Neither did he. Do you?
“I don’t know,’’ my father used to say
The Rape Guy approaches the podium,
with practiced confidence, Jimmy Stewart smiles.
He knows the ropes,
been through this drill before.
He lives around the corner from my brother-in-law,
who says he doesn’t know him but his wife is
“delightful.’’ I’m delighted. Aren’t you?
Who wouldn’t be? Just a drunken
grope and grab, lurch and lock,
his Irish Catholic pal
always ready to turn up the noise,
set the stage. Dominis vobiscum,
the Latin Mass is still the best.
Closeted libido, directed who knows where,
Three in the room.
Three’s a crowd, three’s company.
Company man. It’s all good.
Ask around, ask anybody.
Justice for all, stop the
witches. Burn the bridges,
burn the bras. Burn the
evidence, wipe the screens.
No one saw what they didn’t
see. The sea is calm tonight.
We all see what we want
to see, we all want what’s
best for the child. Baby,
let me be your loving Teddy Bear.
I don’t want to be a tiger,
tigers play too rough.
I don’t want to be a lion
‘Cause lions ain’t the kind
You love enough.
Look at that face.
Would I lie to you?
Were you lying
that night? Or upright
when we came
to save your very soul
and lose our own. Gladly.
guns and roses,
what’s the point.
left out standing in the cold.
If I had a thought, I’d tell you,
bow my head if there’s a prayer.
no such luck,
no such mercy
i am waiting, I am old.
give us this day our daily bread,
maybe we’ll feed it to the dead.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say Vanilla Ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I’m thinking of a funeral pyre.
But if you had to ask me twice,
I’d throw the dice.
Bring Kid Rock over for a round or two,
Burn one or two or three or four,
Look out for lice. Watch the backyard
Barbecue glow. Orange in the night.
Let’s do it twice.
The jackals have their sideways reproaches,
the great-aunts their brooches crusted
with emeralds or rubies or paste, the wine
has its slowness, the commuter her haste
but inside each thing is also something other,
strange, counter, shadow of an airplane
inside the raincoat, chessman in the otter,
pirouette in the luncheonette, note
emerging two octaves out of range.
Everlasting is comrade to this moment’s
flash; glance away, it’s another day,
you’ve lost one chance but here’s another,
some cash, a sublet by the water; all
this bother moving place to place, shifting
syntax, anxiety attacks, the fights
and late-night make-ups, disgrace,
mercy in the friend’s face may make rich
recollection lying on the deathbed or
seconds after a head-bonk ends it
and from eternity’s cracked-open lid
that first pet the vet injected
while you held a paw and wept
bounds forth as if from your own chest
to greet you.
Tell me something I haven’t heard before
How bridges in Paris are rusting bolt by bolt
and rivers are tired of their secrets
How night loves to wash your body
Empty the words from your pockets
rearrange the stars if you have to,
but tell me something untold before
How your desire never sleeps
How your heart shatters like glass
when you break bread with your father
Tell me how you invite transgressions
and slip knots around the waist of afternoon
so twilight never leaves your side
Weave syllables into a net that stretches
from the flea market on the outskirts of this city
all the way to the back alleys of your childhood
then speak to me in your native tongue
so I may grasp things lost in translation
and hold them like saltless tears
or small fires burning in wilderness