Four Poems

By Bernard Horn

May 21. Hunger 1

Consider your so-called life, that is,
if your hemming and hawing between
stolen life and pre-life, stolen life and pre-life
can be dignified by that term. Sure, there are
adjectives we living beings are driven
to apply to you: rapacious, single-minded,
flexible, dogged, but that’s just how we are,
driven to deny the nothing that is not there,
while you, like a snowman, do not see a thing.

The truth is you’ve become yesterday’s news
as our poor nation foolishly rushes to open
and the grand old American sport of lynching
Black men slips out of dark crevices into the noontime glare,

though as our people gather in protest,
it’s too easy to imagine you gloating as we teem,
flesh pressed to flesh in our masks,
as you foresee a grand comeback and I
feel compelled to concede
that along the junctures that hook together
the minute threads of stuff
that make you what you are,
there must be found, if not life,
at least some dogged and primordial
desire to be alive.

June 11. The Ideal World Revisited

In that world the enormous white peonies
have spilled the odor of paradise on the air
up and down our driveway,

and a three year old boy on his bike on Concord
takes a long look at our masked faces
and proclaims us bank robbers to his parents,

and a young red-tailed hawk perched on the arm of a lamppost
on Hardy eyes us as we pass below as she rehearses
her role as a fierce and alert bird of prey
while chipmunks and squirrels skitter around oblivious.

In that world the one-liner that tops her closing set,
that Martin Gugino, the seventy-five-year-old
knocked hard to the ground by a cop in Buffalo,
is an agent provocateur,
gets the biggest laugh of the evening,
and the audience goes wild when she unzips
and steps out of her fat suit to take a bow
as she tears off the bloated face and orange hair
in a grand gesture and flings them to the crowd.

June 19. Against Transformation

She lay there in her own bedroom in a hospital bed,
diminished, barely responding to word or touch,
occasional instants of lucidity scattered on her silence,
the visiting hospice nurse having recognized
and announced that this is a “new stage,” a “crash,”
and that the son in England should come right away.

Masked, we stand at the foot of the bed,
you touching her foot as the daughter, all patience,
cajoles a sip or two of water. The image is recalcitrant.
It simply will not budge. Frail as she is,
all the forces of remembrance are impotent
to produce and sustain even a translucent superposition

of how she once was, say, lifting a whole leg of lamb
from oven to serving plate on Passover
and hauling it to the kitchen table to be carved,

that image from long ago bursting into flames
in the mind before being consumed from the outside in,
like a piece of movie film projected onto a screen,
curling up, melting, dissolving,
revealing beneath it the powerful and frail body,
thin limbs moving listlessly,
the shallowest of breaths.

June 25. Litany

Whether you woke at 6:00 am, somehow tuned
to the last breath of our friend, as Ann woke
across the continent at 3:00, I don’t know.
Whether the dying woman heard any of us,
husband, daughter, son, friends of fifty years,
speaking tenderly, inches from her ear, of first
meetings and plays, fiascos and dinners and
Entenmann’s, during what we now know
was her last day, I don’t know. Whether
the haphazard motion of her arms and legs
and whispered no’s the day before that were signs
of discomfort, pain, despair, or something else
entirely, I have no idea. I still have a hankering
for the notion that there is some connection
between how a life is lived and how it ends,
a drop of meaning perhaps, even revelation
or virtue, despite the lesson of Auschwitz,
Hiroshima, or Covid-19, that there is no connection
at all unless it’s to teach us the folly and horror
of dragging our most intimate private needs
and passions, Lear-like, into the arenas
of public life, and I remember, six months ago.
We were walking with our friend in a park
by the water, when suddenly her legs were giving way
and it took all the strength the two of us
could muster to keep her from falling
again. That was the moment our bodies
first registered the seriousness of her decline,
which we did know.

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[…] HORN | Four poems at the Poetry and Covid project, sponsored by the UK Arts and Humanities Council at University of Plymouth and Nottingham Trent […]

Henry Stimpson
Henry Stimpson
5 months ago


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