Bio Note: Two of these poems are on family matters, a recent death, and a revisitation of an early triumph by my mother. The other treats a familiar April subject, spring. My recently published book of linked short stories set in the early 1970s, titled House Stories, is available on Amazon. My op-ed piece on Putin’s war on Ukraine is on medium.com
My Mother Writes the Gettysburg Address
It was like something out of Borges* The handwriting as regular as if produced by a printing press or today, of course, a digital replication Each letter distinct, clearly formed, meeting all the requirements of the Palmer method, or some more local standard, I suspect, though my word cannot be taken for such matters, being the sort of ‘writer’ from whose hand whole words sometimes emerge without a single knowable letter, a kind of mere smear of intellection that some latter-day, more patient me is expected to decipher But not Mom, whose two neatly filled pages of cursive are letter perfect, proportion-perfect, punctuation distinct, spacing exact No word missed or malformed No deviation from the standard of excellence created by that other excellence of composition in Lincoln’s verbal serenade, indeed enhanced by the steady-handed inking of these so perfect words And whose offering of her own perfection was rewarded by the splendidly legible “100” clearly posted at the top of this enduring page of American prose by a long-unnamed secondary-school instructor: Mom’s own handiwork undated, timeless We can recover Lincoln’s dates more easily than Mom’s On what ordinary some-such Tuesday of the scholarly week did the Baldwin, New York public school task her (whose family, of course, had come down in the world) with producing a faultless rendition of the famous document? A task she accomplished with perfect attention. A deed I do not believe I could ever achieve: Unsteady fingers conjoined with restless mind … Had they all – how many young scholars in the room? Twenty-something, thirty? More? in a prewar suburban town, old Yankee-founded village not so far from the shore – met the same exacting standard asked of Mom so perfectly that nothing short of a pronouncement of perfection could be rendered upon this act of diligence, care, and concentration? And when we contemplate those nameless others who work so exactingly in whatever salt-mine existence the prison-door of circumstance has sentenced them to serve, and locked the door, I celebrate you too, mes freres! – deserving, each, to receive your one-hundred measures of perfection – and now proclaim that you may all “Go out to play!”*Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine surrealist wrote “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” a short story about a man who copies out by hand the entire text of Cervantes’ great novel and signs his name as author.
Eating Greek kebab sandwiches, the food of a sunny clime on the banks of the Ipswich River Friends, again, in the broader light of a peek-a-boo season Day lingering each day a little longer on the treed horizon of the reputedly better place just a short way now over the hill Again, the shedding of garments suddenly too warm, discarded in the broad afternoon. The freedom from all that protective armor too jealously hugging the skin And again, the sudden disappearance of that old pal, Banksie: the whitish, frozen, dirt-flossed sort Roads still rugged with their pocked-frozen skin, punchy from the latest round of the seasonal wars Our bodies a little shell-shocked as well from the thousand little prickings flesh is heir to Spring, when the clock lurches forward again to face the lengthening light Season of roused possibilities The obligation to embrace what was given, without asking, what is offered, without a signature, or a warrantee Spring, which takes upon itself, with no formal greasing of the palm, the slim green pointers rising from the wasted earth like infant fingers
Paradise for Today*
The baby was, well, a baby The women stayed to mind it, care for it, mold it, humanize it, make it a child, a daughter She sat in her highchair pudgy fists making sense of a tray The grandfather and I left the women to talk and climbed a gently elevating path through woods to a local hilltop view The laurel, blooming before the birth, faded now, white petal waste with hints of pink like baby flesh, pink-fingertip promises of red-letter days to come The view was pleasant, the day mild and sunny We shared the walk, our thoughts our own, an easy climb with a grandfather in mind two men in a rural space, no one else about Coming down, I chose a short detour to a resting place, a different scene where we could sit upon a bench and look upon a still blue pond The view in early summer dress, the water smooth, unwrinkled as infant flesh The air soft as a chance remark, a shared cliché The land greened over with a new year’s growth There, he remarked, to the silent place – empty and marvelous, as the Buddhists say – “I have found my paradise today” *RIP Leonard Meyerson, 1924-2022
©2022 Robert Knox
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