2013 Runner-Up - Poetry
Endless Piano or: From Auschwitz to Here
Sheathed in a thin flaky soot
of the day’s dust, the man of bones
glides his fingers in the black
air of his bunk,
his silent eyes suspended in sublime sleep as
notes lift off his tongue,
rising, rising, RISING
a pale, blue-blazered youth dipping
his full freckled fingers down
onto milky keys,
the jeweled chandelier above
his head bronzing his soft skin—
the safe flesh of a
“measly little life,”
as his mother says—
the woman whose silver smile scooped
up a skinny, mustached seventeen-year-old
from a flickering hall of walk-
home cries and pillow-faced mutterings—
quiet burdens of the out-living—
and together bore
the child who will ever sing,
ever play the notes
of the swallowed man.
Jakob “Kandy” Kandelman, Survivor at a Brothel
What, what am I doing here,
standing in this bleary shine,
staring through the window
at the tree that slowly
shakes of its yellow leaves?
How did I even come here?
Why did I listen to Yanik?
I’m always listening to him.
I should’ve refused,
stayed home at that low-ceilinged
den in the place called Queens.
She was a nice girl,
her blonde hair swooping
out from sea-blue eyes,
her lower lip curving as
I didn’t have to play.
Plenty of other men wanted to.
That dumb box was going
to be played.
I should’ve resisted Yanik’s shove.
I should’ve smiled, waved to
those glittered girls and vested men,
gone back to sipping my coffee.
Why did I have to show off?
Why did I have to slam the
keys and make silly faces at
those girls, those beautiful young girls?
Why did I follow that blue-eyed
girl up here?
Why did I have to freeze?
Why did I “choke,” as they say here?
She just wanted to kiss me,
to lie down with me.
Why did I have to pull away, sending
her into the black night
of this dizzying, decadent city?
I’m such a fool!
Fool, fool, fool!
I-- I’ve always been a fool.
I sit here in this bright room,
shirt unbuttoned, that beautiful girl’s
rouge plastered on my cheek
hating myself while baby Avrom—
Oh baby Avrom!—sinks farther
into gray rubble, his pale cheeks
Why couldn’t I save him?
Why couldn’t I quell his cries?
Why couldn’t I hand him that bottle of milk?
Why couldn’t I hold onto it, instead dropping
it onto that cold bunk floor?
I’m sick of listening.
Yanik’s moans through
that chipping wall pounce
on my head.
The twinkling keys
of that stupid instrument down
the hall course through
I don’t want to wait for him any longer.
I want to leave.
I want to sit under that tree,
burrowing in that rain of leaves.
Wedding under the 59th Street Bridge
From the vast glass wall that twinkles
with little orange lights of the city
beyond the blue sea, the tuxedoed man
shakes his head and chuckles
as Frank Sinatra’s croon caresses
the wide purple hall:
I know I stand in line
until you think you have the time
to spend an evening with me,
a prickling to his younger days,
cramped crimson bars of flowing whiskey
and shimmying smoke, watery black eyes
of pink-dressed girls shining
in the dimness.
And if we go someplace to dance,
I know that there’s a chance
you won’t be leaving with me,
a pinch to those hot bleary nights
he drank himself confident, swiveled from the
wooden stool, and slumped back down
when the women giggled and whispered,
his donut-belly flubbing through
his shirt, his mole resting
atop his left eyebrow.
Always the mole,
always the mole.
And afterwards we drop into
a quiet little place
and have a drink or two,
just one, just one with someone
he could talk to, share his worries with.
She sits alone
in the smooth ring of purple, smiling
on the young couples’ midnight sway
on the maroon dance floor.
And then I go and spoil it all
by saying something stupid
like “I love you.”
The man scratches his cheek,
wipes his lips,
From the top of the avenue, the pale child runs
wildly through the unshaven, dirty faces
whose home is the street.
At last, the boy nears his father’s restaurant— lone,
vines growing on its brick exterior, in the
breast of the gray sky.
Faintly-lit chandeliers hang
above a flock of suited men and gowned women
eating bowls of pasta, others swaying
to the slow melody beside their seats.
Housed by a tall gold and crimson wall
of beer and wine, a man with a pony tail
down to his worn brown belt shoots
the boy with a “Hey champ, how ya been?
Been okay myself. Just miss the wife, y’know.”
By the entrance, the boy’s father hugs
the newly-widowed coat lady.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” she cries.
Under a cradling chandelier, the piano player presses
out something penetratingly sad, perhaps a melody
he wrote in the freeze of Auschwitz.
The phone rings and rings,
the middle-aged plump woman behind it gazing
at a slender gowned woman of her age meeting
her husband for a kiss.
By the coatroom, the father lifts
his narrow eyes up from the floor and
lands them on his boy’s.
Go sit down, the eyes glare.
Beyond the sobbing widow, the strained smile
of the bartender, and the impassioned playing of
the piano player, an old wooden chair sits.
The boy sits down on it, lays his head
to rest on the table.
Closing his eyes to sleep, he spots
a toy carousel atop the piano,
horses going around and around.