This worldly mask

I’m nine or ten and Dad
gives me the book “David Copperfield”
as a holiday gift—
He puts a crisp new dollar bill
in its pages as a bookmark

A fine gift and I eagerly start to read
The word “caul” appears in the first
few pages and I don’t know what
that is, so I dutifully look it up—
Even then I didn’t get what it means

The Thanksgiving meal that Grandma
made wasn’t made by her
Instead, because Mom was away,
she left us the money and
we ordered in from a delicatessen

named “Smiler’s” which Grandma
insisted on calling “Smileys”
After we eat Grandma sighs
while we clear away the plates
“I’m glad that’s over with”

But we kids, though missing
Mom, really did enjoy it
A real man doesn’t leave if
he can help it but Dad died
years before that meal

Michelangelo Buonarroti who dies in 1564
and his fine biographer, John Addington
Symonds, who dies in 1893, are both
enveloped in a rounded mist that echoes
through us, as energy echoes through time

There’s an extant mystery, a
melancholy even, to old Christmas trees
discarded on city streets, as their severed
strands of leftover tinsel cling to dry green
thistles and their faintly piney smell

If as a child she witnesses the murder
of her father in a robbery at a bowling
alley and then 40 years later she dies
and no one else is left alive to remember,
did her father really die at that bowling alley?

A laceration of yearning is like waiting
for your opposite, your lover
who never appears— but there’s no help
for it—I’m too enamored of my
freedom, too fond of my own ideas

Why this internal war every night?
It’s irritating—flippant and unclear
as if I’m the demon I yearn to avoid
So what if they know my name?
It’s just a name

We seek the critical moment of action
Its particulars
Not the suggestion or the
possibility of action
A life may be dominated

by a central event that shapes
and distorts all that comes later
and, in retrospect, all that came before
Like freedom from and freedom to
the break that colors everything

Michelangelo wrenched his David
from recalcitrant, resistant, unfavorable
marble and he angrily stole
from that marble the life that’s more
alive than this worldly mask can hide





-January 20, 2018-