If It Rains or Freezes
A dead groundhog out of reach under the old wooden porch has taken over the air. Killed by eating german wasps sprayed with pesticide. So my children would be saved from anaphylactic shock. And today is the birthday of the world. And today ruth bader ginsberg died. Which means among other things and because this is among other things a poem and resists narrative that you’re probably thinking about the buildings rounding toward the sun and the ‘muggy street’ turning out of the shade and about billie holiday and breathing.
What is the opposite. Inverse of a miracle. A curse. Maybe. Simply judgement. Have I polluted the rivers. Do I walk humbly in my transgressions. When did death become a form of equilibrium. Of redemption. I refuse your equation. I am an echo. I am sick of your ‘joy in death, that philosophical understanding of carnage.’ The conversation. The diminishment of the stranger. The figure. Not idol. A woman in gray hoodie and grim bedazzled jeans. Cardboard sign. A dog pacing on the narrow and newly gentrified medium. Turning with each passing car. Around. The iraqi construction worker who tells my brother the building will stand. In sha’Allah. I could go on & on. So could you. A ‘kerosene’ miracle. As words signal some struggle. Some relation. And I am tired of silence. The pretense. Moving through space. The fullness of all space. Of turning away. Or back. Into orbit. Into the star we call out. And bring near. The endless collapsing of distinction. The elevation of the self over olam. The blinding sun and the little bird on the rooftop. I cannot identify until it bounces and stabs the cold air with its beak.
Should I say I remember the pietà hidden in the stone. Say I remember moses with his horns. I remember one time at the immaculate heart of mary church. A frighteningly foreign hanging impaled marble white statue. Is this grace. The living lines. Easter. Latin—not that far off from hebrew for an american only partly an american—mass with my grandmother. Because I adored her. I was often her accompaniment. Playing for laughs and flashes. A covenant passing between us. Dear reader. Did I hit you too hard. Did the hammer ring the bell too loudly. Should I set aside my insecurities. My direct indirection. My apologies. I’ll try to keep you in mind. ‘Keep it with mine.’ Where else does the thorn bush of thought flourish. Suddenly. I am thinking of the desert. Suddenly blooming bright green after a surprise of rain. How else do we survive.
And she died when she left the city. The steinway sidewalks. Frying. The smell of cumin and coriander. Found light and water in us. Enough for the golden marguerite to finish blooming. Then nodding off. Desperate for pruning. Then she died again. And I am always aleatory. Elsewhere. When people are dying. Now. Though sooner or later we all step into and through one of our own and many shadows.
And now I want to be the witness before the rosary breaks. Testifying. About the way belief is timeless or the way belief denies time. Whose belief. I am as open as an embrace. Unfolding as your yellow petals. See the impasse. The traffic at standstill before the tiled tunnel. Exhaust from tailpipes and heat waves from car hoods. I come from the land of diners. If we don’t start at the beginning. You can see the green domed mosque from the highway. There is no beginning. Only the pretense that orients.
I should tell you. I know all the jewish christmas hits. Love the lambent light of the C9s. I am bearing myself. Will basal growth keep us through the thick thicket of snow. I have a catholic sense of guilt. Recently I got sick from all the incense at a joyless wedding mass with disavowed smiles. Smells and bells. As my wife’s protean family likes to say. I’ve been trying but not trying. You see. I am not anywhere. And I can’t write from inside your other houses—and this is how the ‘meditative man’ fails.
May I ask. Then. How long must I serve the image of myself that isn’t myself. Given to me. Given to you. Another you. The fossils call upon us to hypothesize within the framework of their survival and our own. My son lines up all of his stuffed animals on the back of the green couch in a prehistoric timeline. Woolly Mammoths he says don’t marry each other like people. Besides. They are dead. Unless we raise them. The herds. Set loose. Deepen the plowed plains. The soil. Dust. Feel your ribcage. Cracked. For surgery. As uniformity is not unity. We ‘may be skin and bone.’ We may ‘turn and burn.’
My eight-year-old neighbor likes to linger at our door while waiting for my children to put on their shoes to play. She stares from just inside the glass. Holding the storm door ajar and sees the candles lit for the holidays and spits does a jew live here.
Later. My neighbor on the other side in a scramble to heed the call for dinner leaves a sketchbook on our front porch. Straightening. I flip through the pages to catch a name. I am guilty of delaying the decoding. I landed on a drawing in crayon. No less. A swastika outlined in black, colored in dripping red just above star spangled banner.
Surrounded. Deflecting. My neighbors want me to burn for what is written upon my doorpost. I say. But that’s not always true. They want me to burn for what’s written in their scripts. I say. Though that may not be true all the time either. Do I confront the father. The son. The mother. The holy ghost. The whole apparatus.
In this poem. My son is seven. My daughter six. At what age do I confess to them that their neighbors would watch as they writhed. Would throw them into the back of a pickup and drag them and beat them and then go to bonfires in pastures and drink beers.
The story we write around our story is not your story. Our fence changes when we repair. Your world needs someone to hold down. To hold head. To drown. My book is not old. Consciousness is conditioned by conditions. I say. I want to believe children are children. I say. ‘Who is this who darkens counsel.’ Speaking in hypothetical conjecture. Is it possible to keep love & reject love. Intertwining. Negating. Or. Strengthening.
‘I think I know enough of hate’ I say. I would have given back the garden key too. What limbs can we safely cut. You ask. As the trees sway. Shokeling. ‘Dark—branched, tall dancers.’ My mother looked ahead to make us whole. Though no one is ever. In themselves. We ‘shore the fragments.’ Cover the challah with a white embroidered cloth. Her mother saw us only as we were to her. And love is a book that reads itself. And the dancing loosens the dead wood. ‘And the great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin voice will be heard.’ And love is a choice we make every day. Even when it is made for us. Out of necessity. Not by us.
And who will wander through the rain. The bitter freeze. As fall ends. It is cold and growing colder. Everyday. Will you hold me. In my difference. Other or stranger to all. Stranger. I think. Better. I insist. Would I hold you. Or on to you. And what will hold us all then. When the ground is too hard. Too hard for us. Too hard for us to open with our aching fists.
DANIEL BIEGELSON is the author of the book of being neighbors (Ricochet Editions) and the chapbook Only the Borrowed Light (VERSE). He currently serves as Director of the Visiting Writers Series at Northwest Missouri State University as well as an editor for The Laurel Review. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Interim, Painted Bride Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, & The Shore, among other places. Find him at danielbiegelson.com.
Artwork by David Dodd Lee.
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