They never touched when others were around.
You had to find the presence in their eyes
of hunger. That’s how I knew, and then I chose
not to. Yesterday, they walked the sand
of this too flat beach just inside the line
the water leaves each time a wave withdraws.
Her hands shaped the air; he kept his gaze
fixed on the ground, as if it might open
beneath each next step they took—and then it did.
I know you’ll think I’m back to my old ways,
but I’m clean, no dope and not a sip of booze
for the last ten years. This is where I stood
when the earth’s mouth gaped. They didn’t miss
a step. I swear! Then they were gone. Like this!
–First published in 66
Rowboats on the pond:
dancing to laws
they couldn’t name
even if the god
that doesn’t exist
descended this moment
and himself commanded
them to speak
—and our son, sleeping,
nestles further back
in his stroller, animals,
no doubt, tracking with him
through his dreams
the mud of the day
we’ve just lived;
and when he wakes
he’ll read the story
back to us,
the narrative components
bouncing off each other
like these vessels
would do on the water
if all at once their pilots slept
—which, if we’re honest about it,
is how we got here,
bumped and bonded,
from our rage released
into this hope, this boy,
this: his own life.
If what we will become the remnant of
is how we hook ourselves on living; if,
like a rhyme learned years ago and forgotten,
what should be shared but isn’t takes root
deep in the self and grows hard; if there comes,
stiff like a penis over a scrotum of nails,
a moment of chaos frozen, fossil of time’s
true relationship to the order of our lives;
if the naked drums beneath my feet dance
the wounded voice buried in the ancient sex
these green and golden leaves have sprouted from;
if love is what we tell ourselves when beards grow long
and hollow birds build their nests in them,
then all that’s left is to weed the shadows out.
Tik kun olam, a concept that is central to Jewish spirituality, means, literally, the fixing of the world, and it refers to a religious duty Jews are supposed to consider ourselves obligated to perform. In one strand of Jewish mystical tradition, tikkunolam means the task of gathering the fragments of the shattered divine, the pieces of himself [sic] that the god of the Hebrew Bible gave up in creating the world so that the world could live and grow, and then using them to reconstruct the original godhead. On a more mundane, though no less significant level, tikkunolam is represented by such things as the struggle for social justice. For me, writing poetry is also a form oftikkunolam. As Sam Hamill has written, “The first duty of the writer is the rectification of names,” and he quotes Kung-fu Tze [Confucius], “All wisdom is rooted in learning to call things by the right name.” Finding my way through language to a finished poem is the act of finding that name, whether it is the name of the way things were, the way things are or the way things might be. Poetry’s response to disasters like the BP oil spill, it seems to me, needs to encompass all three of those possibilities.
Richard Jeffrey Newman is the author of three volumes of poetry: The Silence Of Men (CavanKerry Press, 2006), a book of his own poems and Selections from Saadi’s Gulistanand Selections from Saadi’s Bustan (Global Scholarly Publications, 2004 & 2006 respectively), translations of two masterpieces of 13th century Iranian poetry. In addition, he has completed a verse translation of a book-length section of Shahnameh, the Persian national epic, which is forthcoming from Junction Press. A former Literary Arts Director of Persian Arts Festival, Newman sits on the advisory boards of The Translation Project and Jackson Heights Poetry Festival, and is listed as a speaker with the New York Council for the Humanities. He is Associate Professor of English at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York, where he coordinates the Creative Writing Project. His website is http://www.richardjnewman.com.