3 Poems by Jeremy Radin
The evening rustles a wind like a goat
moving through underbrush I come from
a long line of goats stubborn bodies bent
in cold I promise I will return to Russia
dragging a bag of bones build a courage
out of the ones who made the road who
danced like arrows in the leg of the fawn
grandmother I saw you on the deathbed
arms the opposite of days fallen to pieces
I stitched them into a kite flew the kite from
the roof of the hospital cormorants alighted
knitted you back together there on the roof
we danced recalled the day we met fresh
fallen from my mother I entered the world
you were there clapping lightly your bony
arms the small berets in your hair kulots
& wind enfolding your bad leg swollen
the size of goats huddling in the cold
you huddled into the deluge of my life
& did I make room could there ever be
enough room could I have called could
I have written come over unannounced
with buckets of lilacs potatoes buckets
of deconstructed libraries arrows to
shoot into the walls for us to climb up
through the ceiling the floors up into
the matrimony of day to day the space
between days into the rooms of what
happens when we turn from ourselves
long enough to see those gazing at us
through windows of the self I saw you
there turned away did not say hello
told my father to wait now you board
the boat & I am this stationary thing
on the side of the river dark spilling
out of my chest guiding you back
to the banks where you wait for us
already goat frozen on the sand
starlight chewing through the body
that housed the shivering world
Why I Never Learned to Ride a Bike
Imagine a new two-wheeler gleaming in the driveway.
Imagine a boy staring at it, wishing he was excited.
Imagine him plucked from the ground by a tall & beaming
papa, placed atop this tangle of metal spaghetti, imagining
his femur pushing through his leg like a fractured birch
through pinkish mud. Imagine him imagining his inevitable
death, head in pieces on the sidewalk, brain
flopping like a fish. To imagine him imagining this
you must imagine his great-grandfather, Sam, wringing
his hands in the corners of rooms as if choking
an invisible aggressor. You must imagine Sam remembering
the Cossack on the horse, the saber’s arc, his friend’s seventeen-year-old
head cleaved off his seventeen-year-old body, spinning
like a blood-soaked dreidel in the dirt. Once you have that you must
imagine Sam folded into his great-grandson’s
blood, wringing his hands like a backward bell. & in order
to imagine this, you must imagine back before imagining, before
remembering, to when the Lord shaped the ones who would carry His body
on their backs like a bread that would never rise. You must
imagine them crushed beneath the whips, gas, skulls
scattered like flower pots across the ambivalent snow,
& their voices, imagine, murmuring in the brain
of a boy, warning of the unseen force
that hates him, aggressor waiting in the form
of small rocks, minivans pulling out of driveways,
the world rushing past so quickly, too quickly, his heart
a pair of wringing hands
that won’t hold on to anything.
Elegy for Grandma Bess
Do you remember the story you told me when I was small
& frightened of sleep, the two of us huddled in the big blue bed?
Story of a frightened wave that approached a boy on a beach
& said Little boy, I am lost… & before you could finish, your voice
like water unfurling over the sand, I slept. You did this. Tamed
the mishegas barraging my brain, gathered me into the arms
of your voice & carried me back to my center.
Not all lullabies are sung.
Let me speak one to you.
Look, I call you into this room. Look with your eyes, good again.
Look at the rows & rows, glimmering soft in celebration, the quaking
shoulders, lashes ringed in steam.
Grandma, how shall I celebrate you? Let a new language be built for
the occasion, built of your name. Let me drag your name from the bashful ocean
of my lungs. Let me thunder your name in the streets, in the synagogue, let me
teach the torah your name. Let your name be on the lips of travelers & dogs,
of presidents & wild swans. Grandma, let me walk into a restaurant, sit down,
& when the waiter is clearly busy, four plates in his hands, let me say
Young man, let me tell you of my grandmother.
Her name is Bess.
& I’ll say the blue way your eyes blazed through those dark Chicago
winters. & the blue way that they waltzed across the country of a page.
& the blue way they considered the impassive shtetl mountains. & their
blue, blue glittering way as you argued the blue clear out of the sky
& their blue discerning way the day you drove me in the car &
told me the plot of the musical & I fell in love with my future - the way
you knew how to do these things - the frothing heart of your body
wondering, learning, knowing, knowing, how you entered the world
I imagine through the doors of some humming library, the words
clinging to you, & Chicago shook & shook & look
how Los Angeles shakes at your leaving. See us bent & trembling - but what if
I told you we were bent in joy? That the arrows of loss are not arrows, but trees
blossoming out of our bodies, each of us, a forest - every tree, named Bess.
Every flower, Bess. & the moon making light fall down through the flowers
is Bess, & the whisper of the lake against the shore - Bess, Bess, & when
I told my friend about you she said Your grandmother sounds like simply
the Bess, o bless the bad jokes of a life we laugh at anyway! Funny lady, funny
hero, let me say now what I did not say, what I should have said, let me open
the phone book & call every stranger, let me say to them Hello, my name
is Jeremy & Bess was my grandma. She survived the Depression. She rocked
the mighty kulots, wore an eye around her neck, a sapphire star
that could see everything you needed even if you yourself could not
& all she wanted was to give these things, all she wanted was to
survive at your side, & look what she did, look what she made
& would the stranger on the other end of the phone see me pointing
at my father, my aunts & uncle? Probably not. But that isn’t the point.
Grandma, let us move beyond the point, into the gibberish of praise.
What if I told you there is no poem possible, only a blue flash of failure?
Only a bewilderment grasping at sense - but no sense possible either!
There is only before me the vaulting fact of you. Let us make sense another
time - talking politics or books at the table - not when the heart is breaking
like a sea against the rocks. O survivor, stubborn mother, maker of the funny-
named potato, let us all say Oy Gevault! - the only language my heart speaks
for you - your towering courage, your ferocious & ferocious & ferocious love,
did you know that when language failed you, you brought our hands to
your lips & kissed us invincible? That you stayed until your granddaughter
arrived? Did you know it was peaceful & you held her hand, & yes, in that
instant, all of our hands? What if I told you each heart in this room is a room
in which you dance as though at a wedding, that you will come with us
to the next room in which a feast is prepared, a feast for you, I mean
what if I told you we we are going to eat after this, that we will all be
fed in your home, could your eyes be any brighter, o, I hear them,
I hear them dancing through this room, what if I could know anything
other than how I will miss you. & how the waves of grief
will call my name. & how I will answer. & how I will answer.
Grandma, what if I told you I know what happened
the moment it happened - how you stood out on some
unfathomable beach. How the ocean approached & said
Bess, I am lost…
How you gathered the ocean into your arms
& carried the ocean back home.
Jeremy Radin is a poet and actor living in Los Angeles. His poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Union Station, Nailed, Bodega, and others, and his first book, Slow Dance with Sasquatch, is available from Write Bloody Publishing. You may have seen him on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or yelling about wolves in like a Jamba Juice or something. Follow him @germyradin.