Four poems from the collection After the Word
“When a wife . . . goeth aside and is defiled; or when the spirit of jealousy come upon a man, and he be jealous over his wife; then shall he set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law . . .” –Numbers 5:29
But is it really her fault? It depends who the story belongs to, or how it started, anyway. It made sense for her to live in the extra room of the guy she knew at work. It saved money she really needed. And they’d hit it off from the beginning— smart, funny, he liked the same music she did. She tried to resist at first, but he kept coming on. What could she do? Okay, keep her clothes on. But by then it was already too late. The problem started with the very part that makes us human. Why couldn’t her husband have a job that would let her stay home anyway? Trouble is, she wanted that job in the next state. She didn’t like the travel, but once she was there . . . everyone at work liked her, and she had so much in common with that guy. No one was surprised. Not even the husband when he thought about it. He was glad for the law that was holy; he didn’t know it at the time, but now he believed.
The One I Love
“He’s a cold wind” the book says. And He’s supposed to be a friend, but that depends on the angle. From here it’s a blank idea with no temperature. Yes, I know that’s wrong; just, the temperature isn’t measured. It’s like the child in the coloring book— white and expressionless, but ready to smile if I can find the right colors and words to explain. Something about the blue sky and the one I love makes this the center everyone wants to find. I know He’s more reliable than I am, and you always liked his looks, whatever they are. Not that his demeanor is a factor; but maybe it is. Another thing I’ve never understood. Last week was hot and sweaty before the front blew in to clarify the surroundings and make another life, and no one’s recognizable anymore. Even now the time we’ve hoped for is coming. I say I’m ready, but the moment won’t last. Nothing does, and this time when the phone rings I’m going to answer.
“I will not take a thread nor a shoe-hatchet nor naught that is thine lest thou shouldst say, I have made Abram rich; save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men that went with me . . . let them take their portion.”—Genesis 14:230
Sure, the ones who came along deserve food. They must be attended. There’s another war perched on the next page. Don’t I understand? Not even close. The politics here fill all the machines, and I keep thinking I ought to pay attention. I do, but imperfectly, always hoping for better– the basketball game tonight; warm spring weather; a woman calling with news I like. Meanwhile more and more leaks away, and I barely remember why I’m here. This is supposed to be the explanation, but the point keeps getting lost. Still, I’ve got enough right here to get through the day, right? So I might as well enjoy it.
Doesn’t every story begin with the weather? God is behind it of course, whatever that is, and the colors keep changing, so I can’t always see what they compose. But no one doubts the fact. Like everything else, the issue is geography— where exactly the mind is, how its position shifts, how much I can devise of the configuration. Call it casserole, soup, the agglomeration I feed on which is the only thing I can eat. I may not always like it, but some versions I will– enough to keep me coming back, mouth open, trying to memorize the language, mix the paint, hum the notes. Everyone agrees this is the way, and it’s not easy. If it were, no one would bother. But look at that sky! Did you hear the story?
Poet, biographer, and editor Barry Silesky was born in 1949 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He earned a BA from Northwestern and an MA from the University of Illinois-Chicago. His books of poetry include The New Tenants (1992), Greatest Hits, 1980–2000, and The Disease: Poems (2006). He has also published a book of micro-fiction, One Thing That Can Save Us (1994). He is a noted biographer, and his biographies include Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time (1990) and John Gardner: Literary Outlaw (2004).
Silesky lives in the shadows of Wrigley Field with his wife, fiction writer Sharon Solwitz.