How do you prepare for exile?
What do you bring?
Are there roadmaps?
Libraries are hopeless on the matter.
Dewey and LC contain nothing useful--
no Frommer's Guide to the Diaspora.
Sophisticates never trouble themselves
with exile's inconveniences.
They are at home well anywhere.
A clever boutique in London
is really the same as one in Paris,
in Milan, like the one in LA,
and they always have money-besides
the stranger the cuisine the better,
rude cabbies-a touch of local color.
What did the Jews pack
before departing Spain?
How did Dante cope
with leaving Florence?
More to the point, what did my abuela
whisper in papa's ear when he left
for his New York City exile?
All I have is one photograph,
him in his Army fatigues,
smiling at the camera
I'm followed, constantly,
turning quickly to see
but never quite catching my pursuer.
All I glimpse are profiles
of people I think I know
but who turn out to be
When I finally confront my other,
I suspect Death,
but his eyes, their look
of tired water, reveal
just an older me--
a slightly stooped,
through thick lenses,
writing on a PDA.
I step into the elevator,
jamming on the close button.
Why does this memory vampire,
invade my present
to just satisfy his lust
for the past?
That's when I see him--
with large unblinking eyes
behind black-framed glasses,
standing in one corner
counting his pocket change,
me, as a young boy
in red Keds.
I begin note taking,
carefully glancing his way, scrupulously
documenting what he's wearing,
hungering for the secrets
he whispers nightly
in his sleep.
Our eyes meet.
At his stop,
He flies off,
BOOK OF THE DEAD
"Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine:
Et lux perpetua luceat eis."
Dirty faces stare in ancient sorrow.
It's a Holocaust picture:
Jewish children, standing
behind barbed wire, waiting
for Doctor Mengele.
I know fear-Anne Frank eyes trapped in tabloid exile.
Remember the boy found hung in his closet?
His eyes stared wide in astonishment.
In another life, I marched in the Children's Crusade,
carried a wooden sword, rode a broomstick horse.
Anne Frank was there: She told me of the Germans,
the ovens of Auschwitz, the yellow Star of David.
I showed her my arms,
with their bruises, welts, cigarette burns.
Yesterday, eight trucks stopped outside the ghetto;
the Germans had come.
A Kraut speaking good Polish
ordered the Jews into the plaza.
I heard something about doctors, typhus, camps.
When the machines guns opened fire,
I saw a girl no older than myself;
her mouth was a perfect circle of terror.
In Auschwitz, the dead slept
in neat rows three bodies deep.
I witnessed: Gypsy children,
Jewish boys and girls in lines stretching
from one horizon to the other.
They stripped off our clothes,
detached our arms-ate our souls.
When I was no more than five,
Doctor Mengele pointed one way.
Papa and Samuel disappeared with the other men.
Mama and I were sent straight to the showers.
Naked we stood among the women--flesh touching
flesh, voices cursing God, imploring.
When the gas became malignant,
mama whispered in my ear:
"Breathe deep, Greta, breathe deep,"
and down I went.
God created Scarecrow Boy out of straw and feathers,
gave him a ragman's coat, a jack o' lantern's smile.
God said, "I give you the earth, make it yours."
Scarecrow Boy stomped his foot: "Do you love me?"
God replied, "The birds are yours, so, too, the beasts."
Corn stalk eyes smoldered: "Do you love me?"
God unbuckled his belt, "Take the seas, the oceans,
and the minor tributaries. They are all yours." Scarecrow Boy poured gasoline over himself:
"Do you love me?"
On an a coffee table, objets d'art gathered dust--
a prized lacquer box, black, inlaid with turquoise,
polychromatic Southwestern bowls.
Time's Man of the Year peeked from beneath
Stevens's Collected Poetry and Prose;
a pair of Tiffany lamps, sumptuous
with their trumpet day lilies cut in glass, set with
a border of amethysts and moonstones, pouring
light upon a mosaic Restoration hunting scene--
Actaeon's mutation from human to stag, hunter to prey.
Grief, too, was present: Anne Frank's ghost,
a whisper in prison rags with luminous eyes examining
portraits of the family dead, who stared back in quiet
astonishment or looked away embarrassed, recalling
anti-Semetic verses about Bleistein with a cigar.
There were other photos: Uncle Adolf,
old Joe Stalin, Chairman Mao-and pictures
of the boy found hung in his closet,
one at three, another at five, then no more.
His Anne Frank eyes blazed, accusing:
"I once lived in a very beautiful house."
Let's talk about hands,
watch fingers converge into fists.
Do it now.
Don't you love simple elegance?
Pretend you're seven. Pretend your nine.
Hell, does it matter?
Now come back to me and do something simple--
flunk a test, tear your Sunday best.
The first slap stuns-burning, your tongue swells.
The next blow? That acid taste in your mouth
is your own blood, stupid.
Anne Frank said:
"It all ends in Doctor Mengele's tango:
You go right. You go left.
You go north. You go south."
While a half a world away,
a Scarecrow Boy, born outside of Hebron,
nurtured on Marx and Foucault, lurched
towards Jerusalem on his ignorant crusade
to die, at his appointed hour, in a car bomb/ off the Via Dolorosa.
Jesus, Son of Man, cried out for water.
Scarecrow Boy gave Him battery acid.
Jesus, Son of Woman, called out for bread.
Scarecrow Boy pelted him with stones.
Jesus, Son of God, called out for mercy.
Scarecrow Boy plunged a spear into His heart.
To the crows, Scarecrow Boy:
"Eat, there is no Savior."
I am an old man with tattooed numbers on his arms.
In Auschwitz, I was a Scarecrow Boy,
a clothes hanger fit only for rags.
I lived on Armitage Street,
near the crack house on California,
an ancient Jew squatting by the window sill
broken by the memories--
Rachmaninoff and oranges
in a sunny room.
Do you remember the boy?
We rode the North Avenue bus together,
him, a tall youth with wings:
He said to me, "Uncle, look there, Hamlet's fool.
And the skull beside his?"
I said: "That's the seer Tiresias, who died of AIDS.
I've come to tell you
about his overwhelming folly,
a flight too close to the sun,
of his fall, and death by water.
I hold the wings I peeled off Icarus.
This was his last lament:
I came in search of the perfect rose.
Rumors said that I was from outer space,
here to steal the virginity of daughters,
but I longed for roses, not sex.
As a young boy, I was deemed an ugly child,
so papa exiled me to the closet.
I thought, "This was really for the best;
people who saw me stopped and gathered stones."
One night he forgot to lock my door.
I made straight for the window
in hope of catching the sun,
but my sister awoke screaming.
On her nightstand was a single red rose.
The next day papa fixed a sturdy latch on my door.
I should've gone mad, and nearly did,
but the memory of that rose sustained me.
I left my place of exile the day papa died.
I was never like anyone else.
I knew that the moment my wings began to grow:
first stumps on my back, then downy feathers.
Word of my departure made the earth tremble.
People fled at the sight of my shadow.
Overhead, the sun has become a yellow rose.
Everything depends on fragile wings.
My name is Icarus, weep for me.
Gazing at a Picture of Ezra Pound while Sitting in the Humboldt Park Library
The lines on your face tell the whole story;
etched the way a stone
is weathered by mosses,
the madhouse years
you wasted in St. Elizabeths
for passions not worth
the deaths they caused.
Men with half your stature
would have surely gone mad
and to think you turned Yeats modern,
the shirt off your back.
When I gaze at your picture,
I see only living art:
"The River-Merchant's Wife,"
portions of The Cantos,
sculpture by Gaudier-Brzeska,
the artist who died in the war you hated,
the one that drove you insane.
Poetry does strange things to the mind.
I know a man who was friends with Ginsberg.
He now rants anti---Semitic diatribes
in smoky bars along North Avenue.
Could he be crazy,
just like you?
I need this knowledge,
because what remains of my Sephardic blood stirs uneasy in the praise you gave Swastikas,
Ginsberg's friend finishes his last tirade,
steps off the stage.
an exit sign glares red
like an offshore beacon
warning of shoals.
Ezra, il miglior fabbro,
he'll never have
Married Jocasta, Antigone abused--
crimes offending the Gods,
but that's only half the story.
Remember the Mapplethorpe photos?
You know the ones:
his face encased in leather;
flesh bound, crouching naked
against the New York skyline.
Then there was the night
he and Foucault deconstructed
a bottle of cheap red wine
over the head
of a San Francisco muscle boy--
public relations nightmare.
The official story (Death in Colonus)
was a tale dreamed up by Creon,
to cover up untidiness in the royal family.
But I saw those dark last days
(drugs, needles, unprotected sex)
and when he died,
cast his death mask.
Life isn't diamond flawless,
but amber, caramelized earth sugar,
beauty with imperfections, a drop of tree honey that long ago trapped a predator ant in fossil resin,
who now stares back at the world through yellow lenses,
eternally watching, eternally blind.
I gave you this strange gift:
time suspended in candy.