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

    flipped
    in the kingdom

    of the coyote–
    until I learned

    to lift my chair–
    pop!–

    onto two wheels
    and hop

    those curbs,
    a colt freed to gallop.

    3. Stages of Disability

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

    your crippled life
    that of a crow
    famished
    mid-winter:
    the peach trees
    stripped,
    melancholic
    with emptiness;

    your crippled life
    that of a truck
    broken down
    in a green valley
    that’s fecund,
    sun-splashed,
    perfumed
    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
    vertical,
    and above all else
    through the grunts
    of pain
    in every movement,
    pain the wild baton
    of the conductor
    of this orchestra:
    connecting
    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 sethmichelson@gmail.com.

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