Monday, May 6, 2013

Two Poems by Michael H. Brownstein

A Rude Man Parks Cars for a Fancy Restaurant and I Have to Kill Him

My daughter takes a different path home each night.
She does this to avoid the man from the mountain.
He is huge, but very weak -- a show off and a coward.
She knows this is what makes him so dangerous.
She knows this and this is why she is so careful.
She knows this and this is why she walks in the dark
cold extra steps, the damp cold, the rain, the sleet.
He will never offer her an umbrella or an extra coat,
but he is always capable of offering her a bribe.

Freedom and the Fevers Near the End

-- from an anecdote by Alexander Yakoulov who tells of one of Stalin's trains on the way to Siberia stopping very briefly at a crossing and leaving behind a litter of small scraps of paper full of addresses, names and phone numbers

I was there when he train stopped,
Vents open in the cardinal corners like scars
Or better -- the pox mark left by a crucifixion.
The day was a solid blue, so pretty, beautiful.
I could not know what was soldered in behind
Sealed doors and steel curtained windows,
But I could see the litter of paper scraps like rain.
When the train left, I picked up as many as I could
Pretending to be the one in charge of cleaning platforms.
When you bend to work, it is easy to deceive.

Money was hard to come by then, the war just over,
And food, yet there were things you knew needed doing.
Twice before I had failed:  A woman across town
Wailed for help when her baby stopped breathing,
And I could have done one thing, but did not.
Then there was a failure of shelves at the art fair,
A lifetime's work crashing to dust and broken clay.
Was it really so impossible for me to balance one shelf
To save the others?  I left her to her dust and tears.

I had one pair of torn shoes and I was hungry,
And I gathered the scraps of paper and waited.
Somehow I knew I could do the right thing.
Years later I still find a phone number in a crevice,
An address in a pocket, a name stuck in a box
I knew I would never send.

Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published throughout the small and literary presses. His work has appeared in The Cafe Review, American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, Free Lunch, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review, and others. In addition, he has nine poetry chapbooks including The Shooting Gallery (Samidat Press, 1987), Poems from the Body Bag (Ommation Press, 1988), A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004), What Stone Is (Fractal Edge Press, 2005), I Was a Teacher Once (Ten Page Press, 2011) and Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012). He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011).

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