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David Gershator






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POETRY




FREE VERSE

    Poetry brought me to poetry: the Hebrew Bible, Lorca, Rimbaud, Hopkins, Yeats, Karl Shapiro, Whitman, the Beats....
     Here is one of several poems where I speak to my inspirational buddy, Walt. This appeared in the anthology Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn:*


FOR WALT AND THE LION TAMERS

First ran into you
hiding out around Bushwick Public Library
I was in love puppy love with a young blonde librarian
stamping long litanies of date dues
she loved my first after-shave lotion
touched me touched your book
made me blush and come back
for more date dues

Public library had small concrete lions out front
what a rush of lines and lions!
verse after verse you devoured me!
I was raw and you ate me raw
you got to my bones and sucked them clean
turned them into panpipes in a tenement
where the only pipes I knew
were cold radiators and faulty plumbing
man, you had me

Later someone tarred the lions
still later someone smashed the lions
later still they up and disappeared
itís tough to be a lion in Bushwick Brooklyn
library lions donít stand a chance
in the man eating streets
they went just like this
the neighborhood went just like that
gone with the lions to some landfill

Sometimes, Walt, I still see you around
working in a shelter for the homeless
I still keep in touch with your Leaves
first touched in a leafless slum
where grass was out of bounds
where I was ashamed to bring a friend or a date
but I wasnít ashamed to bring you keep you renew you
pay your date due fines bail you out
always tempted to steal you
                                          
I knew that you knew me inside out
I touched you  touched a man
I wouldíve loved to touch the librarian
but whatís a blonde compared to a book, Walt
I knew youíd outlast the damn lions


*edited by Julia Spicher Kasdorf & Michael Tyrell (NYU Press, 2007)


In the 1960ís and Ď70ís, poet types were putting together cheap, sometimes govít funded, magazines and chapbooks. Readings on and off the campuses. Ethnics and beatniks and real life celebrity poets, wow! took the place of dead or almost dead white men. The New York Times on our performance at the Sixth World Poetry Therapy Conference: "One of the highlights of the day was a reading by members of the Downtown Poets Co-op."

David binding bks
Print
                                            Center


Downtown Poets got started in the 70ís as a cooperative endeavorĖĖpoets pitched in to lay out and bind books by hand. The Print Center in Brooklyn provided cheap printing and stapling machines. I'm stapling books there on the left, and on the right, Enid, Robin, and I "working" at the printing machine.

Don Lev, Enid Dame, Ivan ArgŁelles (on the left below), Fritz Hamilton (on the right), and Althea Romeo-MarkĖĖa young award winning poet who started out as my student in the Virgin Islands, were on our list. Partially funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NY State Council on the arts, our titles included, among others, The Invention of Spain by ArgŁelles, Palaver: West Indian Poems by Romeo-Mark, A Father at a Soldier's Grave by Hamilton, Intercourse with the Dead by Lev, On the Road to Damascus, Maryland by Dame, and my own Caribbean based collection, Play Mas' (mas' being short for masquerade).

Ivan

Fritz
                 







One of the Blackbeard poems
from Play Masí:

Play Mas

Blackbeard teaches
his wife karate
kills her in the process
itís OK
the police lose the evidence
what are friends for
his girlfriend
is pregnant
so the score is even
one down and one up
he doesnít want her
to lose the evidence
claims his baby
will bust bricks
with a single chop
minute he comes out
he has a few bets going
the police will keep
the evidence
if his baby is born
with a beard on

*******

And another true life poem from Paradise:

She was pregnant
when she flew in
and sheís leaving
with empty arms
and a tan

Sheís tasted clocks
and coconuts
and done her time
and drunk her milk
laced with sand

Itís strange how
the grains get
into everything
you drink

Papayas tenderized
her stew
mangoes puckered
her lips

Youíre not allowed
to carry soft fruit
off island

She drops her fruit
and flies.

*********

The poet Stanley Nelson wrote:
   "There is a lilt and life to these lines, a lyrical toughness. You are that rarity: an academic who does not write academically!
   In the midst of this lyrical playfulness (playful in the good sense that jazz is playful) we are suddenly struck by images that startle and arrest: 'sunsets slow to move as baskets of ripe mangoes': 'Suggestions/of starts and mosquitoes/multiply like surgeons/over a Unicorn operation.'
   This is good work...."

*********
I rewrote most of the poems in another small chapbook, Kanji: Poems of Japan.
ďAsakusaĒ survived intact:

ASAKUSA

anone
no need for priests
for pagodas
for incense
and saffron sleeves

today must be a day
for us cagey crickets
donít ask who let us out of the cage
when weíre green we sing

Tsuyo
look up...clouds cut the sun
only a few pigeons block the wind

& the giant sandals at the Main Gate
wait for the Lord of the Untranslatable

*********




Elijahís Child
(Cross Cultural Communications, NY)
is an autobiographical collection.
I converse at times with the prophet
Elijah himself:
Elijah's child
                                            jacket


INTERVIEW: ELIJAH AND THE POET

POET: Well, Mr. E,
you donít mind if I shorten your name--
itís the fashion in a fast age.

ELIJAH: No, I donít mind. Iím used to speed.
My chariot really moves.

POET: You have a chariot?

ELIJAH: Fireís the color.

POET: Thatís right, I caught you once in a famous painting.
canít remember the artist.

ELIJAH: You were the artist. You were a kid.
You liked flaming wheels--fire engines....

POET: How do you know?

ELIJAH: Same as I know everything.

POET: What I want to ask is
are you still real?

ELIJAH: Are you?

POET: Iím a fictional character who suffers.

ELIJAH: So am I.

POET: But youíve been around for thousands of years.

ELIJAH: And youíre one of my agents.
You've been around for thousands of years, too.
Timeís up. Iíve got other appointments.

POET: O.K. Where will you be next Passover?

ELIJAH: Open the door and find out.

POET: But Iíve opened the door for years,
for centuries, for eternity.

ELIJAH: Open it again.
Itís the opening that counts.
Everything else is childís play.


*******


DAVID

Again in Jerusalem
someone calls out my name
Who knows me here?
A young mother
calls out David David
in the City of David
Who knows me?
The cracks in the stones
call me back to an echo

I turn around to see
where the cracks lead
where the child is hiding
David David
in the City of David

I was here before
and Iíll be here after
If not me  another David
advancing toward the tower
and the young motherís voice
following
calling
echoing
David David David
come home

*******
 
  Mexico is a myth monger's fertile ground in Aztec Autopsies, from Solar Noon Books, 2014, with e-book available on line.    Ordering info. 

Aztec
                                            Autopsies

Mexico's Aztec gods lie just beneath the surface:

COATLICUE

My skinny arms
no match
for your fanged armaments
you skin me raw 
my hands are your gloves
my skull hangs from your belt
my heart adorns your neck

O mother of gods
mother of men
snake woman
mother monster
mouth filled to overflowing
with your chewed up children
where are you now?

Ripped from your place of darkness
abandoned among the bones of shining houses
O heart of the earth
O flowering euphemism
O destroyer, creator, life giver, devourer
what are you now?
 
Nothing but a museum piece
one more Aztec deity biting the dust
calling it nourishing calling it home

**********

Mariachi music always spins me into another orbit...and then there are the daily headlines....


LULLABY FOR BARE LIGHT BULBS

Early and late broken lullabies
rattle laments for bare light bulbs
mocking homicidal maracas
I bury the dead moon twice
over smoking mica mirrors
and melancholy echoes
nursing infants in AztlŠn
where umbilical cords burn
to the tune of peyote baby formula
in forgotten war zones
 
If no hallucinations
no Mexico no mirrors
no other face for inventing faces
for scorpions spiders rattlesnakes 
for dogs with perfect vision and no insight
not even for the old lady
of the childbirth market 
walking the riverside at night
crying crumbs and baby bottles
crying diapers and pulque
searching always searching
for the infant drowned in her breasts

No one helps her look for her sons
ripped out of ancient narcotic calendars
old men now
missing men now
men missing brains now
Alzheimerís men with no
sequence or consequence
men with bald heads silver teeth
decayed voice boxes

No excuses no alibis no crimes
except matricide fratricide infanticide
I listen with them now
for the bedtime song in the street
confessions of self torture
raising bells in the bones
cradling the ultimate blueprint


*******

Running up the Pyramid of the Sun at dawn is one way to commune with the Plumed Serpent.


TEOTIHUACAN

Iíve come back to find out
who ran up the steps
and disappeared
Iíve come back to excavate my head
at the base of the pyramid
Iíve come back to serenade
the redemption of mescal worms
ignite Aztec confessions of compassion
tabulate the barking birthrate of edible dogs
suckled at the breasts of peasant clay

I circle like a black buzzard
like a desecrator
like a feathered volador
thrown out into the air
spinning upside down
until I find my hands and feet
and lost contact lenses
delivering visions through the glass door
of reconstructive surgery
where broken gods recuperate
iced in apiaries of clones

Iíve come back to hear my head sing
running up against the logistics of lungs
panting up the Pyramid of the Sun
Iíve come back to excavate my heart
to touch reborn stones
to dig into my own voice

to find the ultimate archaeologist
the head that talked to Indians at the top
the heart that talked to Indians at the bottom 

**********

A pile of manuscripts await the verdict DONE.

This is from Dividing Jerusalem, the title poem, which has been anthologized....

DIVIDING JERUSALEM
                          In memoriam: Yehuda Amichai

You take the olives
Iíll take the figs
you keep the sparrows
Iíll take the doves
you take the red grapes
Iíll take the green
is there no other path
divorce divorce 
I heard a prophet preach
divorce divorce
I hear a young bride weep
is there no other way
peace peace
is there an echo
divorce divorce
you close your roads
Iíll open mine
you take the rocks
Iíll take the bones
you take the sheep
Iíll take the goats
you take the skulls
Iíll keep the tombs
fifty fifty
on the seven gates
to the city
Lionís gate for you
Zion gate for me
Omar for you
Moriah for me
we divide Gehenna
we split Siloamís waters
we share Dolorosa
we flip coins
for Davidís Tower
you take no I take yes
you take yes I take no
divorce divorce
I heard a man calling
to his echo
divorce divorce
I heard a blind imam
whisper to the deaf
divorce divorce
I heard a deaf rabbi
talking to the Wall
divorce divorce
a mournerís vow
divorce divorce
an orphanís wail
divorce divorce
you take the voices
Iíll hold the visions
you take the tears
Iíll hold the cries
you hold the breeze
Iíll hold the air
Solomon Solomon
how do we split
this baby
you take Mohammedís horse
Iíll take Messiahís donkey
you take the pita
Iíll take the matzŠh
you take the Prophetís suras
Iíll take Davidís psalms
you beat the durbakee
Iíll blast the shofar
you chant Allah hu akbar
Iíll sing the Shema
you make whole
the maimed and crippled
Iíll ask Ezekiel
to liven up
wake up
bring back the dead

From another manuscript in progress, American Alien, poems which appeared in Home Planet News:


EDNA, WE MUST STOP MEETING LIKE THIS

Thereís Edna St. Vincent Millay
my motherís favorite
scandalously romantic poet
her verse confronts me
among the advertisements
on the Manhattan bound F train
(Hey! Poetry-in-Motion
itís good for you--eat it)
it seems I canít escape the Spanish refrain
recuerdo recuerdo
Iím willing to bet Edna said it
with an American accent
recuerdo recuerdo
and I see a candle burning at both ends
for my holy mother Mary
who tried to burn her own way out
and got burned
using the wrong burner
recuerdo recuerdo
and I go back and forth
on the Staten Island Ferry in my mind
seeing Edna and my mother so merry
why do I feel like jumping off
as Lady Liberty hits the high notes
a yenta on speed recuerdorecuerdorecuerdo
I wish Edna would get off this subway
with her Greenwich Village Spanish
why does she have to bug me every morning with
recuerdo recuerdo I recuerdo too well
and it kills me before breakfast
recuerdo recuerdo
when they opened my mother up
they found a short candle
burning at both ends
hardly any time left
recuerdo recuerdo
when they open me up
what will they find
a crematorium for candles
or some knives that were twisted by
Edna St. Vincent Millay
mugging me on the F train into Manhattan


*******

STRANGERS WAVING

People wave I wave back do I know them
do they know me who cares
I just like to wave back
itís good exercise
if I ever run for president
I just like to wave
though I donít recognize a soul
I wave to children truck drivers sailboats
anything that waves
or makes waves
Iím a born waver and wave maker
for anything close to my wavelength
cars roll by drivers wave 
they seem to know who I am
when I hardly know myself

itís disconcerting not to know
when others in the driverís seat
zip by seeming to know
and with a wave of their hand
acknowledging this knowledge
leaving me mystified
on the sidewalk--what a gesture!

was it the wave of true recognition
or the wave of mistaken identity
was I taken for someone else
and if so who is that person
who passes for my person
am I impersonating someone
or is someone impersonating me   
I can only wave them off
as I wave hello
to a stranger in a passing vehicle
headed for gridlock


*******

The Akiva series is a biographical sequence based on a relative, Akiva Gershater, one of the few who survived W.W. II in Vilna. He wrote an article titled ďOn the other side of the ghettoĒ in a collection called Bleter Vegen Vilna (Pages About Vilna), 1947, published in Lodz by the Farband fun Vilna Yidden in Poilin. YIVO Institute in New York has a pre-war film in which he briefly appears.

I never met Akiva. Though he lived until 1970 in Holon, Israel, I did not learn of his existence until 1979. I was told by a cousin certain factsĖĖthat he was a photographer, librarian, and, during the war, worked as a shoemaker. Many unanswered questions remain...at times I push the facts over the edge into probabilities.

VI

POSTWAR MISSION

After the war
you were possessed
you crisscrossed Poland
on a personal mission
gathering up Jewish children
foundlings orphans
prying them loose
from their adopters, foster parents
risk takers, simple folk
peasants or city people
saviors or bounty seekers
you used persuasion
pleas and bribes
to save the children
from Poland
and send the remnant
the saving remnant to Palestine
(you a one time Bundist
who had no use for Palestine)
you knocked on so many doors
your only regret
the doors that didn't open
the children too young
to know their own name
the children baptized
in the waters of amnesia
the children born to oblivion
the children lost and found in Poland
the children of Poland
lost to Poland
lost to the mercy of Poland


     VII

AN ORPHANíS TALE

It was around Easter
you appeared at the doorway
of my Polish parents' house

Winter is over
soon there will be wild strawberries

You speak of an exodus to the Holy Land
and what my parents would have wished

I listen to your words at the door
you seem to be an emissary
from another world
the world of some other people...
my people?

You want to take me away
My Polish parents
want to take me to church

You promise me an unknown land
as if you were Moses

I'm torn
I want to go I want to stay
you can't promise me
my parents back again
why do you want me to follow you
you're not my relative
you're not my father

Where do you want me to go
why should I miss the holiday
I hear the bells of St. Stefans...
how can I belong to you

And yet...I answered the door
and you took my hand and led the way
so here I am your follower
speaking now in the tongue of Moses:
Hinťni*

*Here am I

VIII

A CHILD ASKS THE SHOEMAKER,
WHO AM I?

Who am I
I can hardly imagine
let alone remember my parents
maybe some Hanukkah candles
some Sabbath lights
I didn't know who I was
and even now sometimes
I don't know who I am

How can I abandon
those who saved me
from Passover slaughter
from the German Angel of Death
from Christmas to Christmas
from Easter to Easter

They say the angels of death were Polish
but the angels of mercy were Polish too!
I spoke Polish not Yiddish not Hebrew

Did I make the right choice
What would Solomon say?

Can anyone fill Solomonís shoes?
A cobbler from Vilna?

You came too late for me to choose


     IX

NEXT OF KIN

Uncle or cousin
I don't know
can't know
will never know
those who could make
the family connections
were killed

but since you were
an intellectual
a photographer
with a good eye
for framing a picture
then I'll call you next of kin
why not

It's easy to see you
as a shadow
since I collect shadows
for a family of shadows

since I will always belong
to a shadow generation


HAIKU

Iím attracted to the Japanese literary and aesthetic world, in particular haiku. Haiku writing releases alpha waves in my gray matterĖĖat times I go into a trance-like state, sedate and meditative, as opposed to the rhythmic, driven, impulsive high of the free verse free fire zone.

Hereís a Haiku Society of America prize winner:

the rock gardener
making sure
nothing grows

***

For the New Year:

in a busy yearís diary
one blank page
after another

***

From New Jersey:

power outage
picking out stars
with a flashlight

***

stiff with autumn
the hop gone out
of the grasshopper

***

hiking
only a Monarch
breaks the silence

***

tired of hitching
pointing my thumb
in the wrong direction

***

forest preserve--
a woodpecker chooses
the utility pole

***

Japanese pond  photo, DG
Boat  photo, DG
by the pond
fishing for his notes--
the haiku poet

***
at the dock
watching someone else's boat
come in

***

For more illustrated haiku, click here for Caribbean Haiga.

A mix of haiku and prose makes a haibun. The haiku often crystallizes out of the prose
or reflects on the prose in an oblique and tangential manner. In this haibun, in Frogpond, I use a thematic haiku sequence:

SPRING CITY

N.Y. Port Authority bus terminal spring weekend free theater free dance free crowds oops sorry Iím in your way--a group of hare krishnas hare hare rama rama ramamama rama drums tambourines ramalamadingdong thanks gang youíll never know what an inspiration youíve been Iím heading for the mountains free air free pines free streams goodbye krishnas hello Ramapos hello Ramapoems. Get me outta here.

spring--
running up the escalator
I miss the wrong bus 

my bus pulling out
your bus pulling in--
what couldíve been

goodbye, New York
Oh for that first whiff
of skunk
 
bus stop
back to New York
every dandelion plucked

***


PANTOUMS

While itís stimulating to have an established track to run around in, some tracks donít do it for me. I give a wide birth to villanelles and sestinas. However, I am attracted to pantoums, mainly for the echoes, often surprising to me and possibly to the reader. Thereís a kind of singsong, obsessive quality to them.

When I use specific poetic forms, I use them as a guide and try not to adhere too rigidly to the formĖĖthereís always room for play and innovation.


BABY NIGHTMARES

My babyís got nightmares
Only three years old, precocious child
Sheís got the late night panics
She puts my sleep on hold

My childís only three years old
Not old enough to know the world
She puts my sleep on hold
Iíve got to lullaby and goodnight her

Not old enough to know the world
What can she be afraid of?
Iíve got to lullaby and goodnight her
Sheíll know the world of nightmares soon enough

What can she be afraid of?
I know my fears from A to Z
Sheíll know the nightmare world soon enough
Her night terrors make me jump

I know my fears from A to Z
Fires, tsunamis, terrorist attacks
Her night terrors make me jump
Iím a professional nightmare jumper

Fires, tsunamis, terror attacks
She puts my nightmares on hold
Sheís got the late night panics
Precocious child, my babyís only three years old


*******


GOOD! YOU WAKE UP

Good! You wake up ready to take on the absurd
Now you look both ways at the traffic of birds
And before you know it you wonít know what hit you
Itís that simpleĖĖyou can die laughing

You stop to look both ways at the traffic of birds
No need for seers when the leaves prophesy
Itís that simpleĖĖyou can die laughing
There are strangers who will know what to do with you

No need for seers when the leaves prophesy
I add my fears to the confusion of too many candles
There are strangers who will know what to do with you
They will bring you home in a jar meant for fireflies

I add my fears to the confusion of too many candles
Soft echoes and one more light to burn
They will bring you home in a jar meant for ashes
They will pour you like breadcrumbs on the water

Soft echoes and one more light to burn
The holidays come at you like exploding candy
They will pour you like breadcrumbs on the water
Your sex will embrace a new shape of rain

The holidays come at you like exploding candy
And before you know it you wonít know what hit you
Your sex will embrace a new shape of rain
Good! You wake up ready to take on the absurd

*******

WE TWO SEEKING ONE

Our faces light up after long separation
We split the pomegranate
Itís a red letter day
Why hold anything back?

We split the pomegranate
Two halves make one whole
Why hold anything back?
Itís Platoís fable in the Symposium

Two halves make one whole
Thatís the kind of math I love
Itís Platoís fable in the Symposium
Alone together and together alone

Thatís the kind of math I love
Itís amazing how seeds fall in fall out
Alone together and together alone
Recalling whispers, your bite or mine

Itís amazing how seeds fall in fall out
Fruits we shared, apples in Eden
Asking in whispers, your bite or mine
We have a language and a private garden

Fruits we shared, apples in Eden
Itís a red letter day
We have a language and a private garden
Our faces light up after long separation

*******

ďPoetry Loves RainĒ takes off from Verlaineís famous ballad ďIl pleure dans mon coeur/Comme il pleut sur la villeĒ and recalls student days in Paris. Verlaine was also one of the first Western poets to use the pantoum form. 


POETRY LOVES RAIN
         homage to Paul Verlaine

Poetry loves rain
An evening with Verlaine
Pouring words into poetry
Turning words into rain

An evening with Verlaine
A refrain over the Seine
Turning words into rain
It becomes hypnotic!

A refrain over the Seine
Turning rain into words
It becomes hypnotic
Words turn into wine

In the rain on the run
I thought Iíd be back
Turning words into wine
But where is that map?

I never went back
I was on the run
It took a different map
to know the way

I was on the run
Turning wine into rain
No idea of the way
Poetry loves pain


                  *******

GHAZALS

The ghazal is another intriguing form. It has a film-like cut and splice quality--dream sequences that make their own connections, suggestive and sometimes surreal. The poem is made up of several two line couplets, verbal beads on a string, yet each bead can stand on its own. Its Arabic origin in the sher must also appeal to my Near Eastern side.

GHAZAL OF AMBER BEADS

The wine disappears in the mouth of a drunken sage
A blind translator hands me an empty page

I worry the beads in hand, a shepherd of stones
The ruins of Babylon litter a babbling age

Are you married to your calculating heart of hearts?
I fall into a midnight collapse, the opposite of rage

Thereís no refund for clay gods or sky gods here
We pay to release white doves from an iron cage

Come inside in the name of a loving ambush
Come alive to where our bones may click and engage

Searching for an address you come to my door
every address except yours swept off the stage

Understanding that thereís no understandingĖĖ
the understanding that lets us disengage

*******

GHAZAL OF THE UNATTAINABLE

Give your bones the choice of winter or May
I long for the unattainable and sleep on what you say

Ah, woman, I wake up to the silent treatment
Sleeping policemen shake up the dying day

Partners in crime suffer the same horoscope
A lottery of losses is the game in play

My fortune for today: get another fortune
My fortune for tomorrow: same as yesterday

You wrote in code on the calendar
Your words hid in the open: winter words I salted away

You fell off the planet--Iíve come down to earth
You were a woman, not a metaphor for clay

*******

ďStorksĒ is a ghazal in free verse, which makes it something else, more of a free verse psalm....

STORKS

The ramís horn no longer blasts your bones into roses
The candelabrum no longer ignites fierce tribes of thorns

What leaps out of sleep like the dawn gazelle?
What voice shakes the dew off the mountains?

Old prophecies come and go like beaten echoes
driven into a wall of misunderstandings

You lost the war on mirrors and return time and again
to pick up the bits and pieces from the bottom of the harbor

Only an ancient migration of storks
can lift your eyes to voices out of the blue