A Christmas Ballad

In anguish unaccountable
the steady ship that burns at dark,
the small shy streetlamp of the night,
floats out of Alexander Park
in the exhaustion of dull bricks.
Like a pale-yellow, tiny rose,
it drifts along, past lovers’ heads
and walkers’ feet.

In anguish unaccountable
sleep-walkers, drunkards, float like bees.
A stranger sadly snaps a shot
of the metropolis by night;
a cab with squeamish passengers
jolts loudly to Ordynka Street,
and dead men stand in close embrace
with private homes.

In anguish unaccountable
a melancholy poet swims
along the town. Beside a shop
for kerosene, a porter stands,
round-faced and sad. A ladies’ man,
now old, lopes down a dingy street.
A midnight wedding party sways
in anguish unaccountable.

On Moscow’s murky south-side streets
a random swimmer sadly floats.
A Jewish accent wanders down
a yellowed melancholy stair.
A fragile beauty swims alone
from New Year’s Eve to Saturday,
exchanging love for bitterness,
unable to explain her grief.

The chilly evening floats above
our eyes; two trembling snowflakes strike
the bus. A pale and numbing wind
slaps reddened hands. The honey-gold
of evening-lamps flows out; a scent
of halvah fills the air. The Eve
of Christmas holds the pie of heaven
above its head.

Your New Year’s Day floats on a wave,
within the city’s purple sea,
in anguish unaccountable—
as though life will begin anew,
and we will live in fame and light
with sure success and bread to spare;
as though, from lurching to the left,
life will swing right.

–Joseph Brodsky

of these things, i wait

Where was I, where did I go?
Under docks toe-tracing sand,
waiting for the phone to stop caring.

I wait, and speak when asked.
and there are gaps when no questions come
so I shuffle around room to room.

My twenty-ninth Christmas came with no candles,
While strangers on checklists tear my paper
In yearly waltz of mandatory love.
At the place I have to call home.

There stood Main and Pritchard storefronts,
Rogers’ Clothing sidewalk sales in Junes,
In fall, I smelled fireplaces in the fog,
In winter, bouncing hope for canceling snow.

My city died too slow to see it.
One place closed up, we just waited for another.
Mostly one came and painted the old ironwork,
But mostly is sometimes-never, and so we faded.

Tall grass grows in summer, all on its own.
while thorn-bush grows, while steams change beds,
Small plywood bridges melted apart,
and the birches fell and grew and fell.

You chose me to hold your splinters,
we spoke until tongues cracked dry,
and drank vodka. Then I waited.

One time, you questioned me, I did not answer.
You asked, but I did not give.
You walked off, in halting steps.

Grow and go, grow and go,
Take Promethean sparks and start anew,
It’s best, this leaving me colder.

That catholic love eludes me
The John and Jane, rose and chocolate sort,
All that moonlight and dancing,
Rings and cake.

It’s mine to craft words,
To gauge eyelashes, to triangulate your hopes.
And shiver, and breath; after all
Chosen second is code for never chosen.

Mine to wonder
how the moment feels
and only hear news later,
to celebrate and mourn.

I know how to mourn.
To haunt alcoves, run fingers on windowpanes,
Feeling winter puff around
and watch the snow fall.

do you believe in
first sights and first sighs,
heartbreak and destiny slobbering through?

try to pinpoint the moment
stopwatch your life in quarter hours
journal the unslept history entire —

each there-and-then meets a maybe-not,
as love, as hope, as never-will all do

the Buddha calls it sin to love too much
and church demands it only upwards.

so wait a while, and sit here
though I have nothing to teach,

save that the wind will come later
flowing and disturbing the sands
which the water will smooth

to have no map, to have no direction,
no words, no path
that is to be.

so trace toe patterns in the sand
until the shine tells you stories
you already knew.


I only wash my finger
around your dampening eyes
to hear words and find others
to waltz with you beneath
these lowering clouds,

Lighting small torches
hoping to find the one that
burns the right part of me
away, to scent the world
better for you.

I only want to find
the hymns that write
your story in ways that
it no longer makes
your blood faster.

I only look to see
the glimmer and the hope
the wonder beating drums
and hear your trumpet ring
of slain dragons.

On the porch, warm night,
jumping each phone ring,
trying to remember
someone like he never was,
the only one facing it.

I only want to find how
I can spin it all to me
there’s so much room
to savor the weight
and lighten yours

the pale ambassador

to a.h.

That warm bright California rage
throws sunspears, tans smiles to leather.
a place half-here, half-there, still home
only in irritating sense of red, white, blue.

The racing dry river of midwest west
covered by the metal plane’s bridge.
Knowns dot it, rocks breaking the stream
with turbulence and glances downwards

Here seen a velvet envoy, from a land far flung,
Always scratching letters, soaking in the sun,
Making tired dances, until the dance is done,
Crafting words and smiles with a salty tongue.

but unnerving quiet when guard is down.
he looks, he waits, he watches the halfmoon,
has another gin, and jerks his head to see
a voice with sharp eyes, but turns aside

— the speaker’s not the same. Foreign sands
feel smoother; foreign waters feel softer
The sense of it-will-rain lies, the smell
of air hangs smoke and gravel and clear water.

A spider without her web will starve. Reach
eastward but not for east, northward not for
snow, but the blue brown hazel gold mirrors
that show portraits at favored angles.

after the reception

In corners, when the party tent folds,
there you’ll find me. I promised.
We droned earlier, when spotlights dove
into glossed lips and walmart earrings;
form show and dance, elegant pathetic —
all while we revered one unvoiced howl

which brooked no pain, no ten dollar merlot;
singular, it blurred me twice a minute —
but shook nowhere. Rooms rocked and headached.
But stars grew when the floodlights died —
it sparked here, you see, by this stream
near the bench behind the potato peels.

Come, sit, throw stones at caveman fears
of breaking sticks and winds and basilisks.
Your words will see roses, cobwebs and beetles.
We’ll set a sunrise fuse, spike the dewdrop punch,
and sing two counterpoints of dark days
two musics lifting wherever one drones.

You’ll leave south, i’ll leave north.
Songs will dampen out, waves on strings.
Memory can quake when left alone.
So here, learn my baritone, write your halftenor
hear the howl, hear the streams, hear me,
and try deeper.