by Robert W. Greene
Like Giacometti, I watch
you every day be quick,
size you up by touch.
Paring, folding and squeezing,
I close my fingers tighter
on where you're not,
but should be, could be
if wanting were enough.
Out from behind intro and curtain step precise syllables so anarchic but close-ordered in their rhymes and rhythms, so starched and new, yet so quickly familiar and warm-welcoming in their reach, that we weep inwardly out of joy. The connective patter that holds the reading together also moves us, now to laughter, at the sprezzatura of each self-deprecation. He concedes in the end that, yes, his kinsmen claim him for their dream collective, but not his confreres from other tribes. "We are brothers anyway," he adds, wistfully, a word so inexact it could never pass his lips or stain his page.
OLD CHANTS BY HEART
Inexhaustible it was, my mother's store
of Irish songs, words and music both,
hordes of love and unforgetfulness,
the way I wanted to have French.
One great teacher's all it takes.
Mine would trot out diapason and gamme
just to clear a patch of grammar.
He'd hit and run through Rabelais
and push verbs back to Latin roots.
"Because it's satisfying to the mind,"
he would say. And he was right.
Never stumped by anything we met,
he plowed through Baudelaire and Colette,
though his star prosateur was Montaigne
and Ronsard his premier sonnet-maker.
But did he spur his hosts the way
my mother drove her children's army,
long past lore and rote remembrance,
throbbing tunes with her right temple,
her singing step-dancing in God's throat?
Hemingway memorized stately veronicas
whose grace outpranced a charging bull.
I've lived to learn old chants by heart,
to strut my second nature first.
TO FIND ANOTHER GRIP
Knowing where to end a line of verse
comes with learning how to feel a poem
shift gears to find another grip.
A couplet, like a bus, always risks
running past its turn, and then its stop.
Is this, you wonder, the end of the line?
"Is that you, Mumma?" The nurse replies:
"Your mother comes to see you afternoons."
She sighs when she hears of this exchange:
"He hasn't called me that in fifty years!"
A pyramid of ills has brought him back,
reeled him into reach before the end.
In old Bengali families, first or alpha
sons stay "elder brother" forever to
their siblings, never catch their name.
You see your elder's adieu fist unclench,
you try to spin out stanzas for the life
it never held. You'll only rhyme away
at family sings that he will never hear,
unless you grab his hand in time to turn.
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