An American Refugee on Vacation in
Summer solstice in the Staré Mesto of
everyone as usual is looking for Kafka.
Even the 14th Count of Lobkovicz,
a cultured soul who shows me
the 400 year old mummified arm in the Church of St. James,
who speaks of the Master Theodoric
with the voice of a true connoisseur, to whom
locating Tycho Brahe's tomb
in Our Lady Before Týn is the merest child's play,
even he can't find Kafka.
Reported sightings at No.2 and No.3 Celetná
go unconfirmed; the café
at The House of the Black Madonna is closed.
Waiting for more reliable information
I smoke three Havana cigars:
a Romeo and Juliet, a Cohiba and a Partagas.
I do not manage to visit more than two houses in which
Kafka wrote or worked.
I do manage to visit the Castle that gave him nightmares.
I watch the clock on the Jewish Town Hall tower
run the wrong way round
and the Czechs lean backwards going down
the steep escalator in Republiky's Metro.
I do not twist my ankle on the cobbles in Celetná Street;
I do have dinner with two actors in a barrel-vaulted restaurant
two stories below the Gothic ground.
I make love to one woman and to this golden city.
I deserve nothing of this but the sound of bells.
I used to be golden threads of bristly light
folding down a swale of light gray clouds
onto the lavender in the morning beside the blossoms
of sweet white violets. Before that I used to be cold
water in a tin cup beside a clump of mint growing
near a forest of white pine, but now I’m your lips curled
around a cigarette as you hunch into the winter rain.
Nearby, herds of water rings penned in
by the lake’s shore break open like hope.
What escapes rises into the succulent air, circling
slowly, like a tanager lost in the leafless ashes,
floating still in the winter afternoon, like a spirit lost
over skeletons of toadflax, flowering catchfly, ironweed,
and steeplebrush, before finally coming to rest
in a soybean field puddling out in the rain
south of Marion, Ohio. But none of us
knows any of that now, not your lips stroking
a last suck of embered fire, not your mud-caked boots,
or your tightening back as you plant a white pine
on a hill sloping down to the stream rushing
in a freight train of snow melt. Spanking the bottom
of its plastic pot with the flat of a spade as you cut free
where it’s root bound, for some reason you think
of the cicadas last May, their ratchet cries of longing,
still rotting in the grass, their delicate orange-veined
of wings, like the touch you imagine when you separate
the curtain between desire and faith, between what you know
and what you want, and all that ungovernable land that lies
Last night we sat passive in a dark room
a hematite sky accompanied by music
Large figures who lived in available light
loved and failed against one wall
When the lights revived hours later
the survivors that valued the dark gathered coats
the stars of their nightmares rolling behind
What It Comes To
Sometimes I cry for that young man
I loved fifty years ago. My, my he has been
dead for almost half a century.
His voice trembled when he spoke to me.
What did I know of men and their cupidity?
And do I cry for myself,
that lonely, ignorant woman?
Not half, I think.
Even in my sleep I laugh,
a common sentiment.
The average cheap romance;
the family's dull drama.
and skin that you are—
you didn't even want
to come to the desert without shoes.
Scorpions, snakes, thorns.
But there were the stars
and the breath of something, stamens,
the centers of the thinnest tissues;
and almost intangible universe.
Howard F. Stein
For Whom Do I Say Kaddish?”*
Tell me, for whom do I say Kaddish?
The number grows, so many have died —
My father, my mother, my grandparents,
So many uncles and aunts —
I was named for one, a lifelong soldier
Killed in the Battle of the Bulge;
The millions murdered in death camps,
Including half of my family;
The tens of thousands murdered in pogroms
All over Europe for centuries; the martyred sages.
Then there are the living, the resilient, the survivors,
But whose lives are haunted
By the terrors of so long a history of settling in,
Only to be later hounded out, hunted,
And butchered along the way.
For the tormented living, I say Kaddish, too.
I say Kaddish even at times
That are not appointed, times
When I am alone and not at the synagogue
In the company of a minyan.**
I violate the Law to say Kaddish,
So many dead, so many names
To remember and to keep alive
In me. Sometimes they take hours
To recite, and I know I will never
Finish. There will always be more.
It slowly creeps into my awareness that
It is my turn to begin to say Kaddish for myself —
For hopeless desires, even for hope itself.
For dreams and tasks I have been given
Generations ago and cannot possibly
Fulfill. I gently lay them to rest
In the cemetery of my heart,
And let them finally die with me.
For all these, and more,
I say Kaddish.
*The “Mourner’s Kaddish” is a prayer in Aramaic that Jews recite
at appointed places in the Hebrew liturgy for the most part in memory of a
deceased relative. For many modern Jews, it might be the only prayer they
know. It is recited during the Yizkor or memorial service four times
a year, twice daily during the eleven-month period of mourning following the
death of a family member, and afterwards at the daily services on the
anniversary of their death.
** A minyan is a minimum ritual quorum of ten adult Jews, male or
female in Conservative and Reform denominations, and only male in Orthodox
practice. Any group short of this number cannot perform certain rituals,
such as reading the Torah, and reciting the Kaddish, which are public
It have to be a kind of walking on the
ceiling. And outside,
a loon. No marshland. Still, four calls. The footsteps,
close to be occurring on a floor. Too audible.
Wht. Wht. Wht. Wht. Then nothing.
The calls so measured. Then the sounds of dishes
The water running. Spatulas, maybe. But as
outside the bedoroom window. Someone doing dishes in the yard.
Or maybe not a loon.
Or someone walking up the stairs, perhaps, if stairs
Before I was born I was water.
I thought of this sitting on a blue
chair surrounded by pink, red, white
hollyhocks in the yard in front
of my green studio. There are conclusions
to be drawn but I can't do it anymore.
Born man, child man, singing man,
dying man. This is a round river
and we are her fish who become water.
Get a Good Seat, a Good
Lying low we stay cool the best
part of the morning, the good part
of a decade separating effort
Life is this
perfect headache that keeps you sensate,
keeps you honest, seasick really,
finding your feet in that carnival
rumba someone fixed
into the soundtrack
your personal ringtone, personal trainer’s coo
calling you forth from your anthologized
heart to the world-as-bride.
the laminate dancefloor, the songlist to show not all love is sad
but makes the best contemporary song adults sing
when drunk or accelerating through traffic stop
Lying low to watch
jets pass through park trees fingers shading sun
to get a good view, the best, the first day to work
waking up late, trailing in smoke past a shuffling commotion,
a sheaf of papers. So get it out of your system,
get the gears in mesh,
Now everything’s going to change as the wheels lurch forward.
Everything, when she walked by the air, softened with caution,
with grace applied as addendum, as
afterthought, burning the 90’s burning that song
from memory and I was born today born the day
after yesterday when my heart skipped a beat
a digital glitch and said I’m here for the after party here
for the aftertaste
gone bad like gun metal and aspartame, here
to be counted and ignored, with my cousins, all of us
rushing forward hair blown back
like a shampoo
commercial to sell a decade’s weariness beginning
to jitter towards a hum-able melody.
is a physician, brain scientist and essayist on the visual arts. He was
chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and
president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. Recent poems appear in
such magazines as Alaska Quarterly Review, Ontario Review, New Letters,
Harvard Review, Raritan, Notre Dame Review and New York Quarterly.
The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press) and a chapbook, Stones
In Our Pockets (Parallel Press) were published in 2007.
S.D. Lishan is
an associate professor of English at The Ohio State University. His book,
Body Tapestries (Dream Horse Press), was
published in 2006. His poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have
appeared in the Arts & Letters, Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Bellingham
Review, XConnect, Barrow Street Creative Nonfiction, ForPoetry.com, and
other fine magazines.
Allan Peterson's latest
book All the Lavish in Common won the 2005 Juniper Prize. Recent
print and online appearances include: Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, Bat
City, Boston Review, Northwest Review, Perigee, Press 1, and Ted
Kooser's American Life in Poetry. He is a recipient of fellowships from
the NEA and the State of Florida and has been nominated nine times for
Pushcart Prizes. He lives in Gulf Breeze, Florida and Ashland, Oregon.
Stone's recent book, What Love Comes To, is
published by Copper Canyon Press.
"What It Comes To" is taken from
New and Selected Poems.
Howard F. Stein, Ph.D. is Professor and Special
Assistant to the Chair
Department of Family and Preventive Medicine University of Oklahoma Health
Maclay's second book,
The White Bride, is published by University of Tampa Press. Her
first book, Whore, won the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Her poems
have appeared in American Poetry Review, FIELD, Ploughshares, Poetry
International and many more journals. The above poem is selected
from The White Bride.
new book of poems,
Saving Daylight, is
published by Copper Canyon Press. "Harrison is one of America's most
versatile and celebrated writers..." "He see the sacred in the world
around him." (New York Times Book Review)
poems have appeared in IMAGE and The New Zoo Poetry
worked as a public schoolteacher in Los Angeles for twenty years.
He's "married with
two daughters, a mortgage, and a car,
and a manageable caffeine addiction."