Poetry Porch: Poetry


Seven poems by Richard J. Fein
from The Last Poems of Yankev Rivlin, a chapbook

List of first lines:



Walt, clasping my waist, me clasping yours,

we brace ourselves, windward, near the black

accordion fence of the ferry, the Battery

resolving into detail as we head into the pier.

Walt, I too bisect V-shaped Manhattan,

jaunting up Broadway, following your urge

to flood myself with the immediate age, to

plunge into the world with my “semitic muscle.”

Walt, my bootsoles jut over the curb as I wait,

their tips sloping toward the bellied cobblestones.

I gaze at the gritty glow of the felloes’ rims

abrasions of dreck glittering on wagonwheels.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
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Russet glints in the hive of the brunette

tapping her right sole on the curb

hint her life is lives, that school-of-hard-

knocks look making her gamey, tempered, one

who figured out the odds in grammar school,

who’s been through the mill, yet might risk

another turn, whose waitress-grit and -stance

put a cheek on her beauty as she waits to cross.

My ghost hand musses that reddish hue, and

when the light changes, I let her go ahead of me—

puckered elbows, calf muscles in high relief, tendons

fluted above the heels, zaftik ball-bearing buttocks.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
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A few berries dangle on long stems, holding

November light in their crimson wither.

Some tips of twigs darkly bud,

wrinkled abortions of spring,

though branches mostly taper at the end.

I strain to find that node of transfer

where a twig ends and alters to air

or air ends and becomes the twig, exactly

where one leaves off and the other begins,

one endowed with the power of becoming the other.

The contour of the tree alters through the seasons

as the tips stretch and blossom, or narrow

to claws, or fall as the forester’s

curved blade slices deeper and deeper,

the trunk left with a glaring nubble

where the branch once started out,

and a thin lip of bark now rims that revealed wood

where fibered smoothness gleams like a sudden birth.

That abrupt dream-white exposure with its tawny center

grains into deepening shades of gray, the grammar

of a blank cartouche, that once-shine of severance now

slowly deferring to the hue of the bark, yet still a shaven

strange appendage, as if the tree had grown an amputation,

this alien, salient oval summoning you to touch it.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
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Your body the first body I loved,

your body, English to me, mine, Yiddish to you—

birthmarks of sounds, scents of words—

as I touched a part of you and you told me

what it’s called, and the layers of synonyms,

and you touched a part of me and I told you

what it’s called, and the layers of synonyms,

and each of us took in the words as we mouthed

the other’s body, our oral anatomies, each

a student-teacher learning how to be bilingual,

while our mispronunciations were augmented

by flesh that occupied lip, tongue, cheek, throat.

The puckered hinges in the middle of your fingers

changed to pink fissures on sallow bones

when your knuckles bent and hand clenched

to show me what fist meant and you playfully

bumped my jaw, and the striated segments of my fingers

and the meandering creases on my open hand became pronounced

after your tracings showed me what palm meant, then

your fingers writing under my chest hairs, from left to right,

mine writing across your breasts, from right to left,

and we pressed our two languages together into

mutual vowels, and then to silence, sleep’s pidgin,

our bodies played out as the night rolled over us.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
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Although she’s old, and stooped, and nodding off

in the rec room, I wonder if she recalls poems of mine—

suddenly surfacing, sounding, taking her back once again—

like the one about us talking at the edge of the bed.

Perhaps she murmurs among the walkers, their slippage

remedied by tennis balls, “Rivlin once loved this body

before it shriveled,” though none of the other residents

will ever know of whom she dreams, mumbling as they doze.

Maybe she thinks I’m dead, no longer choosing words,

she alone in her bed at “The Daughters of Miriam,”

remembering the men she loved, including me, when

every runner, bulb and herbage of us were in season.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
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You wave to me in the crowd,

just as you did in your dream,

and I keep on walking away,

just as I did in your dream,

too far in the press to hear you,

my dream repeating your dream,

your mouth and hands animated

closeups in a silent film. The dreams

fix on my back, heavy as a casket.

Who can choose what looms in a dream?

Exposed . . . Helpless.

                                      The same shapes

seize us in that one and the same dream.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
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What is this strange confidence coming over me in old age?

I did not live my youth, but I don’t want to miss out on my old age.

Is it, at last, I have entered my life, and need old age?

Even in tiredness I sense a reluctant appreciation of the erosion that

            has brought me to old age.

Have I finally acquired a taste for happiness, now, in old age?

It must not come from poetry alone but from self-confrontations still

            churning in old age.

What is it about those re-visitations that make them fresh in old age?

It is failures, I think, that have made my poems, from middle to old age.

But am I also different, changed, or just trying to live with who I have been

            into old age?

I cannot say I have lost old doubts, old fears, old clumsinesses, old mistakes,

            inveterate refusals, in old age.

What is old age when it’s not just trying to keep going further into old age?

Days and nights, failures still ring their dances around my old fires, and I

            keep at my work in my old age.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Fein.
Return to list of first lines.