Friday, July 31, 2015

Two Poems by Len Roberts

The Disappearing Trick  

You’ve vanished again, somehow
moved from the seventeenth row,
thirteenth stone in from the road,
snowflakes blown horizontal
across the wide sweep of the dead
while I stumble in cold feet,
cold hands hanging onto the plastic wreath
I intend to clamp to your grave
and tie secure with the thin green threads,
but you’re nowhere to be found, gone,
just as you’d drifted out that black door
on Olmstead Street into twenty below,
jacket open, no hat, no gloves,
only khaki pants and white socks
glimmering above cheap boots
that let any weather in,
only the house of cards left trembling
    on the kitchen table
beneath that dim moon of a bulb,
the star-speckled linoleum gleaming
as it creaked, me turning in a circle
as though you were hiding behind me—
expecting the sudden tap on the shoulder,
the sudden hand-brush through my hair—
not believing anyone with such rings and keys
    and jangling coins
could so quickly, so silently, disappear.

My mother catalogues the wrongs

       the world’s done her,
the cake her parents ate
while she and her eight brothers
       and sisters went hungry,
the long nights in St. John’s Alley
where the man knocked on the door
       of her fifteen years,
so many months spent looking out
       windows, afraid
to leave the house, afraid to buy
a tomato, a cucumber at Rosa’s,
afraid to light a candle in
       St. Bernard’s Church.
The Alzheimer’s that runs in her family,
her sister Verda, then Dorothy, then
       Eleanor and Joey,
and she knows she’s next as she forgets
       the roast beef in the oven,
stumbles over my name, my brother’s, tells
       me he’s got a bald patch
in the back of his head just like her father’s,
tells me the man who has been dead thirty years
helped her clean the cupboard last night,
that he polished the glasses with his breath
       the way he used to,
clattered the forks, knives, and spoons
       into the tray
while the radio played Your cheating heart
       will tell on you,
the shadow of the woman with the red dress
       flickering across my mother’s eyes,
but before she can speak, the image is gone.
Mother, I say, lie down, get comfortable,
and she tells me she doesn’t belong
       in a hospital,
making me tell her she’s not even as she
       looks around
and asks what all the women in white
       are doing here,
why do they come in at night and wake her
       for pills,
where’s Peppy, her dog, where’s her purse,
my mother’s face ten again, waiting for
       the belt, the walk
to school with no winter coat, kneeling
on the thick, green carpet and saying,
God, it’s cold, please wrap me up,
asking me, her father, her doctor, her son
to take her hand and hold it a moment,
       Not to let go, Not to let go.

Len Roberts is the author of nine books of poetry: Cohoes Theater, Momentum Press, 1980; From the Dark, SUNY Press, 1984; Sweet Ones, Milkweed Editions, 1988; Black Wings, Persea, 1989; Dangerous Angels, Copper Beech Press, 1993; Counting the Black Angels, University of Illinois Press, 1994; The Trouble-Making Finch, University of Illinois Press, 1998; The Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems, University of Illinois Press, 2001; The Disappearing Trick, University of Illinois Press, 2007; Translations: The Selected Poems of Sándor Csoóri, Copper Canyon Press, 1992; Before and After the Fall: New Poems by Sándor Csoóri, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2004…

His poems have been published in various periodicals such as Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, Hudson Review, Antaeus, Boulevard, Prairie Schooner, American Scholar, and many others.

Len Roberts (March 13, 1947 - May 25, 2007)

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