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Charles Fishman: Three Poems

1942: A Counter-Melody | Opening | Late Spring Quickens

1942: A Counter-Melody

When I was born, say the rabbis,
I had free will. I could suck
the rubber or plastic nipple—
my mother refused her breast.
I could sleep and drool, dream
or fall into nightmare. It was
summer, mid-July: morning glories
on fences and Mars up to his armpits
in blood. I was born into summer
but it was the summer of death.
It was death enriched by a season
of unblighted fruit, by a harvest
that seemed unending. Blood
was elixir and tonic—a thick soup,
a perishable broth.

But I had willed myself conceived
in a safe country, in the Age
of Undeliverance, with the nations
torn from their thrones, with the centuries
walloping gongs. And I was free
to learn American South-Bronx English,
free to will darkness to lean in closely.
My hyper-emotional family—warped
banjos, lutes with broken strings—
I willed them, too. I was lord of whim
and gave the wind direction. I caused
the anchor-light of justice to go down.
And I chose no mentors but turned
solitude into a symphony, a canticle
of harps and chimes.


Celery branchlings
curl around the rotted core
of last fall's strongest plants

Mint seedlings unfurl
under roots of garlic
whitened and stiffened

by winter: they rise
at the edges
of the herb bed

New carrot tops expose
what leaf-mulch and snow
have hidden: the beginnings

of abundance     Wild onion,
as always, is flourishing:
nearly impossible to lift intact

from the cold soil     Roots,
in unrestrained billions,
push downward

Chives send up their green
electric probes     Tiger lilies
break old ground

and start their long voyage
skyward     First croci
open, braving wind and rain,

bright rosy mauve and yellow-
orange: clusters of mute
and rooted finches

The half-frozen tips
of peach branches open:
each small green leaf a flame

And spring's first cardinal beams
to the far reaches of the planet
the red voice of his feathers

Everything vivid yet tentative:
strawberry leaflets flaring
in the early dusk of March

tulips and daffodils spreading
their green fingers   delectable sprigs
of parsley   too delicate to touch

Late Spring Quickens

After a month of rain,
I ride my bike to the beach
and give myself to the wind

blowing in from the Atlantic.
It's late in the day, too cool
to sit and read. Swings

in the make-shift playground
hang empty yet drift to right
and left, as if ghost children

sit in them, waiting for a push,
for that first swift launch
out of ordinariness

into the ocean of new life.

I walk the tidal sift at the edge
of this sunless bay, listening
for the quick trilled notes

of the blackbird's song
the whispered epic of the reeds
the deft music the buffeting wind makes

It's good to be silent and alone
where fate's hammer may not lift
and strike   to pick up bits of broken glass

to make a path more safe. Someone else
walked this way today and saw
the luminous spill of the waves

the combed hair of the rocks   moss-green
in late spring sunlight   tide-wrack
of smashed lobster pots on the eroded beach.

Here is the sill of the world where the will glows
then dims   where each cold shimmer comforts
and rebukes.

Poet's Biography:
  Charles Fishman is director of the Distinguished Speakers Program at Farmingdale State University, Associate Editor of The Drunken Boat, and Poetry Editor of New Works Review. His books include Mortal Companions, The Firewalkers, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and The Death Mazurka, which was selected by the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of the year (1989) and nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. His ninth chapbook, A Terrain, can be read at

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.