Friday, January 8, 2016

Two Poems by Steven Cramer





For the Bullies of West Morris High

Their childhoods must have come and gone
In a welter of manure smells and morning fog
And fistfights with their dads, tractor debris
Oiling their unseeded lawns
Like flotsam from destroyers lost at sea.
But this is speculation.

Loitering between classes where the corridor
Curved past the diorama
Of the Parthenon—on each side flanked
By school editions of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Homer—
They backed their dungarees against the glass,
Closed ranks as if to keep us from those myths

They weren’t the heroes of.
Or fishing out a longhair from the shower stall,
They’d lather up his head
With hocks until the kid begged shamelessly
To be cast back. From homeroom to gym, shop to study hall,
These hydra-headed farmer’s sons held sway.

Something about these Ralphs and Orens,
Dennises and Earls, has quietly turned timeless.
Like shame, the memory of them smolders
Half-hidden in the embers of cupped cigarettes.
On subways now one sometimes reawakens
Briefly in the nasal cough
Behind our backs, that stiffening in our shoulders

Before they flayed our shirts from loop to belt.
If to us they looked like avatars
Of Polyphemus, they weren’t killed so easily.
Even those the government had dealt
Unlucky numbers in the Lottery
Would have joined up anyway,
Determined to refuel whatever wars

The likes of us had marched against.
And when one or two showed up each year
Between the hallway’s lockered walls
In gauzy graduation photographs
Assembled in that same plate glass display,
Their violent grins, circled by wreathes,
Grew handsome in the afterglow of death.


Everyone who left us

Everyone who left us we find everywhere.
It's easier now to look them in the eyes—
At gravesites, in bed, when the phone rings.
Of course, we wonder if they think of us.

It's easier, now, to look them in the eyes,
Imagine touching a hand, listening to them talk.
Of course, we wonder if they think of us
When nights, like tonight, turn salty, warm.

Imagine touching a hand, listening to them talk—
Hard to believe they're capable of such coldness.
When nights, like tonight, turn salty, warm,
We think of calling them, leaving messages.

Hard to believe they're capable of such coldness—
No color, no pulse, not even a nerve reaction.
We think of calling them, leaving messages
Vivid with news we're sure they'd want to know.

No color, no pulse, not even a nerve reaction:
We close our eyes in order not to see them.
Vivid with news, we're sure they'd want to know
We don't blame them, really. They weren't cruel.

We close our eyes in order not to see them
Reading, making love, or falling asleep.
We don't blame them. Really, they weren't cruel,
Though it hurts every time we think of them:

Reading, making love, or falling asleep,
Enjoying the usual pleasures and boredoms.
Though it hurts every time we think of them,
Like a taste we can't swallow, their names stay.

Enjoying the usual pleasures and boredoms,
Then, they leave us the look of their faces
Like a taste we can't swallow. Their names stay,
Diminishing our own, getting in the way

At gravesites, in bed, when the phone rings.
Everyone who left us we find everywhere,
Then they leave us, the look of their faces
Diminishing, our own getting in the way.


Steven Cramer has published five Books of Poetry: The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987); The World Book (1992); Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997); Goodbye to the Orchard (2004); Clangings (2012).

His poems have been published in such periodicals as Poetry, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Ploughshares, The Atlantic Monthly, Harvard Review, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, The Nation, New England Review, and many others.

No comments:

Post a Comment