The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Barbara M. White
In memory of Lawrence Sack, M.D.
You’ll know when you’re through. At the first hour’s end, I took home
those words, stored them away to protect from fading,
brought you my own words, scattering them about like the papers
on your floor. I did not yet know the clarinet tones
of your voice would punctuate the years. Or that
your words could catch me off balance—hey, this is me
you’re talking to! I moved to the couch, heard
behind me the scritch of a pen, the scrape of a spoon
in a yogurt carton. Your conversation dwindled,
often into nothing except, we have to stop now,
our time is up, a trope you’d abandon
only for: we’ll have to talk more about that tomorrow.
Fridays, I’d rail against the garbage truck’s
ostinato invading the room. One day I began
to hear the silences curled inside my words,
to sense the weight of all I did not say.
Note by slow note, the words I sang, the chords
that hummed in me, approached each other until
I knew we were near the end of the analysis we
were composing. You were about to leave
for vacation. No matter. Time would return
to its regular pattern. We would place the finishing touches
on our work, hear our opening “hello’s” echo
in our final “good-bye’s.” Indeed—that word you intoned
like a secular amen. The future, you liked to say,
is what I can’t predict. Still I had expected
to sit up so fast at the hour’s end one more time
I’d glimpse your feet relaxing in thin, black socks.
THE BEACH AT 34th STREET
No longer was our goal
to build ramparts,
on the slightly darker
strip of sand
beyond the reach
of all but the largest waves.
Nor to sprawl
at water’s edge,
scoop up fiddler crabs,
feel their tickle
in our palms, release
them, watch their downward
scuttle into disappearing
holes. Nor, with limbs outstretched,
to ride the ocean in.
Not even to wade past breakers
to swim, keeping parallel
to shore, alert for undertow
and men who stared
at our young bodies.
The game now was to plunge
into the buzzing, sand-locked
mass of teens as if a monster
wave was curling
above our heads and we had
to dive to escape
its painful weight.
Other girls knew how to parrot
the patter that lured
but said nothing at all, knew
how to sculpt their stance
to echo one another,
knew when to respond
to the bass-drum call of surf,
the salt-drenched air,
and when to loiter
on thirsty sand. Behind us
a woman, white aproned,
still sold swirls of pink
cotton candy. I could hear
the faint clatter
of the buckling ride my cousin
and I once tried.
It had delighted me alone.
the vowels, how thin
their reedy voices.
are consonants. Two
In this spot
I shall place
street signs, leave out
The vowels’ crooning melodies
to live on in the air,
Picture the first Hebrew writers,
tapping their messages
into stone. Imagine their chisels
traveling slowly from right
I shall read my life
from right to left, tap
my days from right
to wrong, from backwards
to lost to nowhere.
The vav can be
a consonant or a vowel,
or both. In the Bible
the vav can change
future to past.
And yesterday I shall plunge
through foam. And the day before yesterday
I shall swim through an ayin.
Then, now, later, never,
I shall, did, may, dive deeper.
And I did, would, must,
glide to the surface, leap
like a dolphin. The music
of an alien land will sing to me.
I shall drift to shore, grasping
a vav, a most unreliable letter.
© Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication