THOSE WHO DIE IN THEIR SLEEP
When the mind is wakeful
and the eyes are shut,
ears buried in their pillows
hear the song and
then it fades behind them
as on a distant shore,
and some drown then
and can never hear again
the song of the dreaming mind
singing its own mystery,
but now the song of the non-
life of the non-mind, of
the stars wheeling to Nowhere,
of time ending, snuffing out
the stars, one by one, the song
of all that has never known
of its own existence.
THIS MAN INSISTING UPON LIVING
How can I leave you with only one?
If I give you nothing but that which I give
what will protect you? Is this, do you think,
only a rationalization, because I want to live?
Is my heart as black as this typing ink?
But I cannot leave you with only one!
No, no, no! Nor can I leave you
with only these, stamped and stamped, only these two:
nor could I leave you with more if I had any more;
no, not with three, if it were that three
were here for me to leave, or
even if I were lucky and had . . .
but I cannot leave you with only two.
Nor could I dream of
leaving you with only these three.
How would you survive;
how could you ever get along?
I must leave you with at least four.
Do you think that four will be enough?
No, I don’t either; I’m sure you’ll need more:
five at the very least, yes, at least five.
Oh, I am going to worry, worry so!
I had better re-think this.
Yes, I had better think more about this,
for how could I live with myself
if you didn’t have enough to get by on?
Yes, it had better be six, or seven, ten perhaps,
and if I stay until tomorrow, I can, if I try,
make it twenty or thirty, a thousand—yes!
It must be a million: I must keep up my strength:
perhaps I had better not go: I’m so busy.
The rain flooded down the back steps and in under
the old linoleum, floating it, with its sad faded roses,
above the slab floor, an hallucination of a magic carpet,
the backyard’s muddy effluvium oozing into every corner
and crevice and halfway down the hall to the bathroom,
and making my mother cry for all her hard waxing work.
My father, the superior drunk, had left us in this dump
in Newark to go off selling his bullshit books in Buffalo,
and to shack up with his beautiful vocabulary, quoth the raven,
a bottle and a bimbo, and not to have to sit here with us,
under the dripping pipes wrapped in soggy cardboard
by the puke-green wall of bricks with a thousand holes
in them for the bedbugs, roaches, and rumpled ringdings
that came out at night and crawled all over us, biting,
that swarmed like emigrating termites when the lights came on.
The asbestos-insulated furnace belched, farted, and hummed
outside our door, a jack-o’-lantern whose serrated teeth
did not scare the rats, who warmed to him, in his furry gray suit
that glowed in the dark, a giant rodent Golem. One could hear
him breathing through the thin walls that divided the superintendent’s
apartment from the front basement, a pathed indoor junkyard.
We had to wend our way out through that La Brea Tar Pit
to get to the stairs that climbed and turned out to the street,
where we would peep up to see if anybody out there
would notice where we were coming from, which was out
from among the dented old metal cans full of raw garbage,
and what peculiar species of spelunker we were—what
Untouchables were surreptitiously seeking light and air.
I lied about my age and became a Western Union boy,
having shoeshined my way to the top, saved my money
and bought a bicycle, a Western Flyer, O Icarus! I found
my mother a pretty little apartment high over a pizza joint,
and we moved up into the air and the smell of baking dough.
My timid mother was shocked at such derring-do, daring
to fly so high, so near to the sun; and, for a while, we were
happy. But my father came home and said, “This place is too
expensive.” We must get another sump-pump dump to superintend.
“Another nice basement that drips piss?” I asked, and added, “No,
I can afford to pay this rent, as I have been doing
for some time now. Now stick with me on this one,
Mom.” But we better do what your father thinks best,
she whispered; and I said to myself—
“That’s it, never again,”
as I helped to carry our embarrassing paltry possessions—
“Impedimenta” my father called them—through the streets.
My father led the way like a brass hat, soused and self-
important, my mother followed him into nothing but worse,
with a “Wither-thou-goest” and a last wistful look up
over the pizza parlor at our window of opportunity, a
dutiful wife of the Fifties, and I planned my escape.
E.M. Schorb’s poem “The Souls” won 1st prize in the 2023 Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition for free verse. His recent collection Words in Passsing was Winner for poetry in the Southern California Book Festival and the International Book Awards 2023, and finalist or runner-up in several other 2023 poetry collection competitions. Website: http://www.emschorb.com