Five Poems

By Seth Michelson

Requiem for Fathers Killed by COVID
—for my father-in-law, Claudio Jorge Conti (1946-2020)

Our dying fathers, taken inward,
no longer embrace us cheek-to-cheek,
but become the tongue within our tongue:
gifting us the language to endure,
gifting us the melodies every father hums:
in the kitchen cooking dinner
or at his workbench well past midnight
to fix your bent bike wheel.
Our dying fathers, taken inward,
shed lab coats for cancer research,
shed dark suits with red ties,
shed blue coveralls streaked with grease;
the tv remote gone cold,
the bandoneón quiet in a corner,
half the chessboard left
forever unmade.
And who will teach us now
the names of flowers
when we go walking through the woods?
Who will guide us to the river
when summer heat
makes it hard to breathe?
The world’s orchards savaged
by crows gashing every peach,
while, below, in unmown grass,
lie a basket, two emptied gloves.
But why out of sight, out of mind?
To the grave we’ll go singing!
Our dying fathers taken inward,
close your eyes and hear them:
their mighty chorus always with us,
more intimate than your heartbeat:
I love you. I love you. I love you.

Cosmopolitical Fugue

Syrian immigrants smash on the rocks
off Lesbos where Sappho sang Don’t shatter
my heart with fierce pain, the line
looping in my head
as I wake from eye surgery:
the soft white of my right globe
sliced open, leaking:
the recovery room blurred red
as I struggle to resurface
from dark waters, listening to radio news:
a Mexican immigrant is speaking Spanish
from an apple orchard in Pennsylvania:
a mi me gusta la vida, the hustle to pick:
ten hours per day, six days a week,
don’t even stop to pee,
es mi vida, O glossy fruit,
harvest of dreams; take a break, dear reader,
to lift an apple skyward till it gleams:
juicy ruby, snug and certain
in the world of your grip, what was once
the picker’s is now yours: sweetness
torn into being, and stacked and sold
by farmers in flannel shirts, muddy boots,
who flip basketfuls onto roadside tables,
apples spilling out like blood from a wound,
like immigrants when rough surf
flips their dinghies, eyes
stung by spindrift, two bodies
already swallowed by the salty roil,
the rest slapping at its icy surface
while crying out in smashed hope:
the pain of shattered migration,
hope a splintered dinghy,
and the Mexican immigrant just now saying
lo que te llevas contigo
es solamente lo necesario,
his voice so clear I see him here:
picking apples from my IV stand
and tossing each burning orb
to a wicker basket across the room: fruit
slashing through the space between us,
red trails of celestial vapor,
red as the surgeon’s first cut, our vision
flooded now with seeing,
so pick an apple, famished reader,
and crush it between your teeth: its juice
our prayer filling your mouth,
an invitation to hope.

2. Wheelchair

Every curb
of every sidewalk

caused me to trip–
a turtle

in the kingdom

of the coyote–
until I learned

to lift my chair–

onto two wheels
and hop

those curbs,
a colt freed to gallop.

3. Stages of Disability

Your crippled life
that of a Paris
among goddesses:
from beauty
by others;

your crippled life
that of a crow
the peach trees
with emptiness;

your crippled life
that of a truck
broken down
in a green valley
that’s fecund,
by gardenias.

4. Cripple Song

“the eye must hear before it sees”
–Jean-Luc Goddard
The ruckus of crutches
on the gravel path
leading into school,
the screech
of a wheelchair
on the hallway’s shined linoleum,
the scratch of cast
against table
whenever you sit down
or rise to stand–
like this
we cripples sing
through the instruments
of our bodies:
through the flutes
of our braces,
the harps
of our prosthetics,
through the xylophones
of the apparatuses
that keep us
and above all else
through the grunts
of pain
in every movement,
pain the wild baton
of the conductor
of this orchestra:
the sections,
directing the rhythm,
driving the melody
of our triumphant arrival.

Seth Michelson is an award-winning poet, translator, and professor of poetry. He has published seventeen books of original poetry in English and Spanish, poetry in translation, and a bilingual Spanish-English poetry anthology. He is frequently featured at poetry festivals, book fairs, and universities around the world, and his work has been translated into many languages, including Hindi, Italian, Malayalam, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish, Tamil, and Vietnamese. His many honors include fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mellon Foundation, and the Lenfest Foundation, as well as prizes from Split This Rock, the International Book Awards, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the American Studies Association. He teaches the poetry of the hemispheric Americas at Washington and Lee University (USA), where he founded and directs the Center for Poetic Research. As a translator he focuses on poetry from underrepresented voices in Latin America. For example, he published the first-ever single-author book of poetry by a female Mapuche poet from territorial Argentina. He likewise edited and translated the groundbreaking bilingual poetry anthology, Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum-Security Detention. It showcases poetry from workshops that he led in Spanish for three years inside the most restrictive maximum-security immigration detention center in the USA for undocumented, unaccompanied youth. All proceeds from its sale go to a legal defense fund for incarcerated undocumented children. He welcomes contact at

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