You were the smallest, Paul—
the shortest, leanest, blondest, bravest
in our crew—and you have retreated less far
into darkness.  I remember the day
that would etch your wound into my mind,
each catch and notch of memory glistening
with your blood.  There was bright sunlight
and deep blue sky   a blaze of white roses
and the dark gray haze of the new state road
the highway commission had bulldozed
into our lives.

You were wearing a round-necked polo shirt
and rolled-up jeans, a black leather belt
and high-backed sneakers.  Zigzag stripes crested
on your chest in vertical waves that flowed
from neck to groin: a map of some watery terrain
no friend or parent could decipher.  I remember
how the dark blue denim rippled over your thighs,
the lapping rivulets at your knees, the way
your gold-brown hair was parted.  At our water hole
between parkway and woods, your clothes
dropped off

and you dove into the cold spring water all of us
knew to be sacred: a dark pool released
from the dictates of nature   where we could breathe
without constraint   without the harsh odor of fear
or desire stinging our nostrils.  You dove
and we cheered, living for the moment in the rare oxygen
of the underlife you had plunged into   feeling again
the icy water of time wash over us.  And then you
broke the spell, bursting the surface as you held up
your hand, gashed open with that raw diagonal slash
that even now, five decades later,

wildly pulses—that wound written deep in your flesh
with the jagged edge of glass from a smashed
beer bottle—your ruined hand held up for us to witness
in all its bloody splendor   your wound, Paul: the sky
ripped open just when we needed it whole.


Marguerite Curtin, 68, was found clubbed to death in her Ozone Park home Tuesday.

She must have been sleeping
that dark evening in November
or reading in her upstairs bedroom,
drifting on a tide of words, then
swimming with the black but moon-
struck current all the way down river.

She must have been lulled by the rush
and propulsion of language, so that she
could hear nothing extraneous   nothing
below the surge and murmur of the pulsing
stream, nothing above the moan and pitch

of it. One thing is clear: she didn't hear
her murderer enter, didn't hear
when he clicked on the TV or, later, climbed
the stairs: immersed as she was in the books
she loved, she let the world float away.
Why would she wake when death entered?

                        * *

I remember her in her brightness,
how she stood in the stark landscape
of the classroom, winsome and matronly,
at once.  Her starched white blouse,
though buttoned to the throat,

could not conceal the rise and fall
of her breasts.  We called her "Ma" Curtin,
though she was still in her early 30s.
Archetypal 'schoolmarm,' she forgave
our ignorance while encouraging
the tiniest sparks of wit and insight.
How we relished her sternness:
in her casual displays of anger or irony,
we read the grace notes of affection.
I recall her pale Irish face, her sharp tongue

and short temper, but also her nosebleeds
that taught us she, too, was vulnerable,
only older and more complete. Who knew—
if we kept hammering away at our lessons,
one day, we might shine like her and live.


We had no girls
but there were songs—
rock music beating our feet awake

"Bony Maroney" made our bodies shake
"The Twist" and "Shout"
drew the poisons out

Temple dances
were where we went to pray
and Bob would spin and wriggle like a saint

turned on a spit above unholy fire
and I would rescue him with kicks and splits
that calmed his fever   for a little while

We two had sensed that dancing
eased the pain that adolescence spiked
into our brains   so that we howled for love

that wouldn't arrive     Like wolves,
we prowled the darkest nights
until rock music   struck our lives again

like jags of lightning   from a summer storm
How many boys learned worship
at the dance

and lived to love and nurture
as grown men? Bob and I would dance
until our legs couldn't stand

our feet couldn't walk   our gasps wouldn't end
We danced ourselves alive   and then
we danced again.


Long Island, Early 1950s

A summer day    and Mom gets lost
on the parkway      It's getting late:
the time when shadows gather      One
more turn, and we're at Pilgrim State
In the back seat, Harriet and I grin
at each other:  Is she making a delivery?
Maybe Aunt Edna, who sits up front,
on edge as usual    with all her grievances
showing      When you're eleven or eight,
you don't know it can be you      Darkness
creeps in a little under the arched
entranceway to the hospital    where the car
is parked    but running      Now Edna is
cracking up    the tears are streaming
and Mom, good sport that she is, is
already in stitches:  their laughter is a cross
between howling and weeping       Whatever
this disease is, it must be catching:  Harriet's
snorting and shrieking    Edna's choking
and hacking    Mom's slapping the wheel
with both red hands    and I can barely breathe
in the face of this hysteria      It's a great time
to be alive    when the signs shift and a new
reality encroaches:  who can find her way home
then?  When Mom gets us rolling again, we
fall silent:  ready to be admitted at last
to this house of dementia and heartbreak.


Here he is, minus his camera,
the Brownie Hawkeye that has captured
shards and shrapnel and shell casings
of his life. Whoever has taken this photo
clearly loves him—you can see this
in the easy tilt of his body    in his arms,
so still and free of tension.  His hands
have fallen open:  barely singed leaves.
Everything about him seems tranquil,
the way a 5 o'clock June breeze is:
soft, to the point of losing focus.

You can see now that even his gaze
is fading    that the smile (so perfectly held
for nearly 50 years) has been smudged
or slightly erased. Who could have guessed
at his darkness, that soon he would tilt
earthwards    like a tree visited by lightning?
The dark foliage of memory obscures
and deceives.  Surely, this child who breathes
in the cruel century he inhabits is a ghostly self
who watches    but will not speak.


Mass graves are being dug in Lapland for the carcasses
of 40,000 reindeer that must be killed and buried. . . .

--Newsday, July 28, 1986

Not only reindeer must be buried
but salmon in the streams
trout in the freshwater lakes
and lichen laced with a dark
and destructive energy

How will the Lapps survive?
Who will assure their future?

Fisheries run dry under the star
of radiation      Grazing lands burn
under the Chernobyl moon
How will the Lapps survive
when food-gathering

carries a death sentence?

Seized by fatal poisons, their world
has grown silent and luminous
Who now will search for chanterelles
or cloudberries    in the somber beauty
of autumn?


Brother, what do you gain from living alone-
and what do you keep?

Vision of a split branch ripped from an oak
by lightning    night descending

like a burning mountain    daylight pouring
in torrents from the east    loneliness

deeper than a lake that never freezes
memories that race into the brush

from every path I've taken    the need
to be found again    and lost

And what of you, brother—what will you

Memory of a woman who drew me
to her breast    then pushed me away

her belief in me that warmed my coldest

love of a child that gnaws at my heart
property that has owned me    that soon

will set me free    a grave with an address
a path strewn with fallen leaves


After days of rain, I walk in the first strong sun

to where seed heads of grass
shine silver-white

on this quiet late-summer
morning    and cows

and a young calf graze
their heads dipped in brightness

What is the sun for
if not to light the moment

when the mockingbird flies
silently    from the top rung

of barbed wire that rings
the pasture    like a wing

of unheard notes    escaping
from a guitar?


Warren Lake, Nova Scotia, 1996

Some sounds are too quietly pitched
for the human ear    and here
only the green and golden mosses
know them      For millions of years,
the wind's orchestra has tuned up
the timpani of miniature waterfalls

has trickled time away

Here, pine needles tick ceaselessly
in the fires of early June    as if
that barely audible symphony
measured the rise and fall of the sun
Under birch leaves and balsam,
the oldest hymns of creation tremble.


He was going to the Knicks game
at the Garden, a wet Tuesday evening,
dark smudge of gray sky.

There was a planet, fragile and wounded
as himself, and the only tool available
to save it was his tongue:

his words would stitch the severed worlds
together. I saw that the wind was his enemy
and fate his tormented sister,

that he loved the ruins of memory
and grieved his abandoned daughter.
He was a writer who had stopped writing,

a dreamer whose nights shed no light.
Only this damp and drizzly season
could reason with him.

His wife's calming fingers still held him.


The sky darkens and Mars approaches
Death drums make a thunder gods
of the old planet never equaled

How easily we are deafened
by shocked cries jetting from torn mouths
how quickly seized by the sound

of the dead falling silent

There was a time when the next town
seemed another galaxy    when the pain
of being human could be quieted

by a small meteor shower of kisses
on our cheeks.


Charles Fishman is director of the Distinguished Speakers Program
at SUNY Farmingdale, Associate Editor of The Drunken Boat, and
Poetry Editor of New works Review. His books include Mortal Companions,
The Firewalkers, Blood to Remember:
American Poets on the
and The Death Mazurka, which was selected by the
American Library Association as an Outstanding Book of the Year (1989)
and nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. His 8th chapbook,
Time Travel Reports, was published by Timberline Press in 2002, and
his 5th collection of poetry, Country of Memory, is now available from
Uccelli Press.

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