Monday, July 4, 2011

Papir iz dokh vays

Papir iz dokh vays
un tint iz dokh shvarts.
Tsu dir, mayn zis lebn,
tsit dokh mayn harts!

Paper is still white
and ink is still black.
To you, my sweet,
my heart still pulls!

Yiddish Wedding Song

Outside, in this night, the birches are white,
reaching up from the earth still and black,
dark as the blood which clouds my heart,
and slowly floods my sex.
I hear you singing the wedding song so aching,
here where we first confessed~~
two fresh blushing girls, sweet-smiling and shaking,
holding hands beneath this bar, in secret,
so long
so long
so long
in the past.

I didn’t know I’d see you.  I only stopped for a drink.
A klezmer band clad in khaki and Birkies,
with violin, clarinet & soft drums, start up a waltz
and on stage you appear, outré as ever,
your fire red hair curled above white shoulders
in blue satin, strapless, with a doll’s pink bow
trailing down your gown, you begin singing.

You sing to me, I think as I swing my sweet orange slice around
circling my foggy summer beer, a tall Oberon.
But that’s the trick of the stage, in the spotlight, 
straight ahead you gaze and into my heart without seeing.

I want to tell someone at the bar,
“You see that girl? She once was mine.”
But I sit alone and wonder if that was true,
as if I had possessed you, as if I could.
I had the desire, and so did you,
but we slipped through it, that wedding dance,
luminous moonlit breasts and kisses,
crepe lantern roses, so quickly eclipsed.

At the end of the song you come down
and drape your arm around another.
My heart drops, too.  I cannot face the loss
of the love that had seemed the answer.
I’d let it go, that question, I thought,
I’d made peace with what was empty.
I’d painted you as my dream girl,
but I soon saw the cracks, the ways we’d never match.
You were wise enough to end it, saying,
“I love you too much to offer you less
than you deserve.”  It was true It was true
But, tonight, I cannot face it.

Tonight, I kiss the dark arches of dripping branches,
sigh the sidewalk air home,
& listen very softly as my crowded heart breaks
all alone.


  1. the yiddish wedding song marries this so completely.

    i wish
    as though
    i were a birch
    and my arms a breeze
    and you a man.

    gorgeous you.

    and you make me laugh, your profile picture completely dashing what it was i thought i knew of you. but then the beer you drank in a parking lot just last week (?) undid that too. keep undoing. what will be left?


  2. Hahaha. Thanks, erin.
    That's my "serious writer" picture!
    I found an online eye wear purveyor that let me plaster glasses on a picture of myself.
    I'm wondering now at the image you may have had of me.
    Was I in a quiet frock,
    sipping a sherry,
    scribbling odes to orioles as
    the sun slowly slipped down
    past my English roses?

    Thanks for reading. After I saw your trees and river image, I hoped that you would come and read this.
    I was leery of the pathos quotient in this piece. I hope I kept it tolerable.

  3. such beautiful pictures and so sad if love just doesn't find the way...“I love you too much to offer you less
    than you deserve.”...this made me think and i wonder if_we ever can give enough..and i don't think the hebrew lines - would love to hear it sung..

  4. Thank you, Claudia.
    It also makes me wonder for what my wide open heart was asking.

    Perhaps if I were more tech-savvy, I could embed a player, but it seems this song isn't readily available online.
    If you have iTunes you can listen to some snippets from their store.

  5. The strange relations Stevens once acknowledged as piercing us weave so finely through this odd love song (how can they ever be other than odd, the beloved always both intimate yet ultimately alien), a klezmer band with its redheaded torch singer (surely a doppler of oddness, similar yet strange), the rich malt of single-sexed pairing, the "luminous moonlit breasts" (another doppler), the wild sense of presence reverberant so bittersweetly in the absence, the fact that the affair is long in the past, that it opened doors that couldn't remain so (another doppler, another ostinato beat in many of your poems). What is it to receive a moon in fullness, except to go on with a moon-sized hole in the soul? A reverbrance of an old music, haunting and lilting in the ear as one walks home alone (a paradox there), with a heart "crowded" with a past, breaking "quietly all alone." Can't live with it, can't live without it. Go figger. Hearing the music would diminish the poem, in my book. -- Brendan

  6. How do we bear the ache?

    I do so like the wedding song's ground for this poem. I love how you begin, with white birches that are also black, and red. Like our blood, white, red, then black.

    We long to possess, and be possessed, as we long to be free also. The loss is so poignant here, and no, I don't think it is too much.

  7. Nice post!

  8. "surely a doppler of oddness"
    I really want to use that line!

    Thanks for your insightful commentary, Brendan. I have the tune sung by Mandy Pantinkin and also by my ex-girlfriend, and it's going around and around my head. I find myself humming and whistling it. Oy!

    Anyway, this has been sitting inside of me for a while and I'm still not sure about the form the story has taken here. Since I prefaced my poem with the Yiddish lyrics, I think I felt pushed into writing with some rhyme and meter (not my usual style) and that gave this a restrained feeling. I was eager to know if it resonated with an audience. I'm not sure if it feels "true" to me. Perhaps I'll revisit this again and rewrite sometime.
    I felt strongly about the white/black and blood connections here, so thanks, Ruth, for acknowledging that.

  9. jane, i answer blushedly, yes. blushedly and pathetically. sorry. i like you much more dangerously broken from my sorry box. all of us, really.


  10. And I from my own box, as well.
    You are most heartily forgiven, Erin, since that picture IS partially me, or a persona I occasionally adopt.