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South Fork Poetry: ‘Last Requests’

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 14:00

 

are clear in books: "Dorset, embrace him . . .

And make me happy in your unity";

and in old movies: "Take care of my hyacinths."

In opera, last pleas fill the diva's arias.

 

I've waited for last hopes, my amulets

against silence. My father, dying, spoke

in an urgent Polish he'd not used in years,

but his words, staccato trumpet notes,

 

were not injunctions. When my mother's life

crested like a wave before it breaks,

I asked her wishes. She said, "Ice cream, quick!"

and hurled a glance that said she was not in pain

 

but dying, and must hurry on with it.

Lips trembled open: "Don't kiss me again.

No, you catch everything. But thanks for coming."

Then quiet. In a trance, a captive audience,

 

she could not stop my vows, but not a syllable

I uttered had been left unsaid in tiffs,

snarls at ogres in the stories told

on rainy days until the china mugs

 

rattled on glass shelves, in alphabet games,

nouns binding us like ropes we strung with beads

and lifted up, verbs spinning like bedsheets

we dried, then pulled taut. Words were for wishing

 

on first daffodils, secrets kept from others.

Now I'll take any edict, fiat, murmur,

gossip, or prayer. Hers, not another's.

When the phone rang at dawn I thought, wrong number,

 

and blurred the verdict. Even expecting it,

I was not prepared, nor will I be

in her rooms, tapping a crystal bowl,

waiting for words to burn through it like sun.


From "Mourning Songs," a poetry anthology just out from New Directions, edited and with an introduction by Grace Schulman, who will read from it on July 18 at 6 p.m. at Canio's Books in Sag Harbor. She will read passages from her memoir, "Strange Paradise," and new poems on Aug. 3 at 5 p.m. at the Amagansett Library. Ms. Schulman, a winner of the Frost Medal who lives part time in Springs, is distinguished professor of English at Baruch College.


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