The Metalsmith

for A: husband, artist, polio survivor

In the tick, click, tick on tile

the brace nicks and crutches thump.

Iron strips stiffen the upper lip of bone.

Hammer life down cold,

quench the buckling heat

of shame and pain

to steel.

 

To steal—to step up,

to get up, move on, forge

two minds to one. Fuse seams

then crack the mold. Fashion bodies

in a bold line raw.

 

Together we polished through urban grit

and desert blows. Dented,

scoured, yet still I know

that tick, the mechanical click,

the pitch that sounds you—

you are my gold.

 

My Old Man

                                                   Do not go gentle . . . .

My old man

took 6 months to fail, but did it loud—

a full brass bellow.

With a Chaplinesque shuffle,

bones askew,

his whole body sobbed

onto Mom’s breast.

 

After she rushed from the hospice—

angry with second billing

in his slapstick melodrama—

he broke through life

like a thug with a bat

beating on glass.

 

He bequeathed to us all

his taste for shame,

that sad appetite

he never slaked.

 

 

Yangtze

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Holy Cross Parochial School, Philadelphia

If I told you how, as children,

we navigated rivers of gold

on our way to school, you

wouldn’t believe me.

 

Mt. Airy in ’49, when maples

straddle wide streets

and rain down yellow leaves

for us to float on—

 

sliding in leather-soled maryjanes

over the wet slate

until a slab, jammed into

the current by the roots themselves,

 

trips us up. And when

we wash into the schoolyard,

where ginkgo and oak meld

into a macadam delta,

 

we swirl into the whirlpool

of Mother Purissima’s glare,

from under a ridge cut in her brow

by the cruel white wimple:

 

after our thrill of heaving

downhill, life wide open,

she shuts us like a book

long out of print.

Published in Passager, Issue 40, 2005, as “School Song.”

 

Nothing Can Be the Same Then

There, at that seam in the rock

where something else intrudes in the grain

and holds strong

 

but wears thinner with each thaw—

like a sable hair from the master’s brush

stuck on canvas,       near Rembrandt’s eye,

 

it lends human dimension, makes it

vulnerable, so when the varnish cracks

the image is rheumy, the rock breaks.

 

So subtle are these faults

we don’t believe them: capstone

crashing loose in spring rain,

 

oil flap peeling at the conservator’s mend.

Nothing can be the same then—after

comes a sour taste, biting joints,

 

the last maple leaves holding on.