The Island of Daily Life
This one is for Sandy
who loves poems about ordinary things.
For her, I'll keep my abstractions
to a minimum and praise
the open carpentry of the summer cabins
for their impromptu shelves
where every ledge invites a wildflower bouquet
or a drawing from a child at camp
or a special stone plucked from the lake,
and I praise the lake
with its dappled beach and sloping light,
the comforting iterations
of rowboat, bathing cap, splash,
where lakefront trees and small docks
flare in the late afternoon, and a neighbor
calls softly to her daughter it's time
to go, don’t forget your things…
This poem gets up early for the Saturday
yard sale and celebrates the evening
walk across the mowing
through low-bush blueberries.
Sometimes guests from the city.
Always the dog in his summer
haircut announcing his arrival.
This poem honors the poached fish and the beans,
the goat cheese and the wine,
the poems read aloud after dinner
for their attention
to the quiddities, to aspects
of our communal selves,
sheared of the theoretical.
This poem celebrates the passing
of the dish and the return of the bowl,
the full moon now high
above October lakes, shining
on a thousand forgotten beach books.
Because I had nothing my parents wanted
or could use, I sent bread---8-Grain and 3-Seed,
San Francisco Sourdough, Jewish Rye,
anything bakehouse with peasant crust.
When they tore into a loaf of Challah
and reported the saffron-colored braids
just right, I rejoiced like a mother---
not one who gives her breast to her child
but one who trusts her child's care to strangers.
My Mother's Sweet Tooth
A last go at pleasure
she takes the world into her mouth,
she takes the sour cream coffee cake and
the rugelach with walnuts and currents.
She wants a pecan raisin loaf, two loaves,
See's suckers, and almond mandlebread,
and I'll take her hunger any way I can,
mainlining my mother's desires, finding
in her appetites the young woman---
tortoise-shell sunglasses and dark hair
pulled back in a silk scarf---
who gunned the white Ford Galaxy hard-top
convertible, a ringer for Jackie O.
This is her reward for years
of tuning deprivation
like a violin, of learning to do more on less
and less until she lived on argument,
withdrawal, dry toast and black coffee, the fish
dish halved. Now that medical studies show
the skinny live longer, she's gained
the sweet taste of being right all along.
Go ahead, try the ginger scones, there's time
for the lemon poppy seed cake, all the hours
you hoarded have turned into years. Eat, Ma,
you've banked your losses and now's the time
to redeem that self-denial, to cash out.
My father tells the story of his life,
and he repeats The most important thing:
to love your work.
I always loved my work. I was a lucky man.
This man who makes up half of who I am,
who tricked the rich, outsmarting smarter men,
gave up his Army life insurance plan
and brokered deals
with two-faced rats who disappeared his cash
but later overpaid for building sites.
In every tale
my father plays outlaw, a Robin Hood
for whom I'm named, a type of yeoman thug
into certain clubs. For years he joined no guild ---
no Drapers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant
Tailors, Salters, Vintners---
but lived on prescience and cleverness.
He was the self-inventing, Polish immigrant's
by American tools into Errol Flynn.
As he speaks, I remember the phone calls
an old woman dead in apartment two-twelve
or burst pipes and water flooding rooms.
he left the house and my mother's face
assumed the permanent grimace she wore,
forced to watch him
gamble the future of the semi-detached house,
our college funds, and his weekly payroll.
of Philadelphia his Nottingham,
my father fashioned his fraternity
or royal charters but a mercantile
swagger, finding his Little John, Tinker,
Wholesalers, retailers, in time they resembled
the men they set themselves against.
Each year they roast and toast
one member, a remnant of the Grocer's Feast
held on St. Anthony's day, when brothers
communed and dined
on swan, capon, partridges and wine.
They commission a coat of arms, a song,
and honor my father---
exemplary, self-made, without debt---
as Man of the Year, a title he reveres
for the distinguished
peerage he joins, the lineage of merry men.