A few poems I've written over the past years when the mood struck...

 ©BBernstein

©BBernstein

         Day’s End on Rice Lake

 

We bear off from the dock

in the old kevlar canoe, 

two aging lovers in red

in case the duck-hunters are out too,

paddling leeward from wide open waters

into the quiet reeds

of the marshland.

 

The air is soft, soft,

smelling of almost nothing

but a coolish hint of autumn

until we enter the channel, bow in,

lined with bulrush and purple lupin.

Our paddles churn the water, so rich with life,

and bubbles rush to the surface stinking of decay.

 

A swarm of murmuring midges up ahead; we duck.

Belly up among the cattails, a silvery fish portends

something. Looking neither left nor right,

a beaver head swims across our path

for the moment prepared to share his mucky turf

with our large drifting craft.

We’ll be gone soon.

 

Redwing blackbirds land on reeds

which bow low even under their tiny weight.

Then six more appear from nowhere. Then twenty.

The sky is dense asudden with birds, hundreds,

one flock flies east, one west, they switch.

With paddles across the gunwhales, we sit,

amazed, watching the sedge,

which every second sends out scores more birds

whose whoosh of wings fans our faces:

Can there be any plan?

 

As quickly as it began, it’s over.

Like moments after a stone hits water,

the rings disappear,

and you’d never know it happened. 

A chill lingers.

 

So without word we put in once more

to quickly reach the open lake, just as

the enormous lump of apricot butter

melts into the mountains.

I spin ‘round in the bow like Lot’s wife

to catch a last look, but

the sun is no more, the birds have flown away

and above our wake, only a tuft of pink cotton floss

left in the darkening clouds.

 

©Susan Avishai 2017

 
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Skin

 

The little boy strokes his finger

on the crepe-like skin of my inner right arm

over and over... fascinated... far away

from the Thomas the Train book I read aloud.

 

It’s not like your skin, is it?  I ask him.

—No, mine isn’t wrinkly.  

I tell him, That is because you are three

and I am sixty-six.

 

He is satisfied with the answer, as was I

feeling my own grandmother’s neck, loose and

rippled as a shoreline when the tide went out.

I had no idea

                    How she considered the time left to her.

If she was afraid. Or if the sweet, brave child 

taking up the journey forward was mostly all she needed.

To someday let it go.

 

©SA2015

 
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The Store

 

Saturday mornings we go with him, my brother and I,

to his store on The Main, wedged between 

French Canadian bridal shops and Jewish dry goods, 

to his world of automotive parts in grimy bins.

He unlocks the front door, and we run in, 

smell cork from gaskets, oily bush bearings,

each with twelve- or fourteen-digit part numbers 

he knows by heart C14-5368047 Zed.  And when I'd say 

Daddy when's my birthday? he'd shrug and be off by a week.

 

We sit at the big desk and punch holes 

in sheets of scrap from trash bins, staple them, 

scribble on them.  When we grow bored we find him 

in the front going through invoices, making checkmarks, 

stamping 'paid' on carbonned bills, making the odd cash sale 

of a headlamp bulb, BF978862-49D, to a passerby in a wool coat,

who leaves slush on the wooden floor.  Go play, he says.  

We chase each other down dimly lit aisles full of metal bits 

in bizarre shapes, belts, nozzles, switches, bolts.  My fingers 

are blackened, I wear masking tape hoops like bracelets 

on my arms, and the grease on my dress will make my mother frown 

when I come home from his dirty world,

dirty as he comes home, every night.

 

We get dimes to buy Cokes two doors down 

and he tells us, not looking up, bring me back one too.  

The street is banked with grey snow, pedestrians scarved 

and rosy and shod for Montreal winters, bleak sky, 

the smell of hot fried potatoes and corned beef 

escapes through the door each time a diner leaves the deli. 

Karnatzel hangs like wash in the window,

pickled red peppers stacked in shiny jars clear to the ceiling.  

The fat man in the white apron smelling of spices 

hands us each a slice of rye bread yellowed with mustard.  For free.

 

We had long left childhood, windshield wiper blades, 

brake pads, sealed beams, each other as playmates, 

the day he is driving back along St. Viateur with seven 

new purchase orders and who knows what else in his head. 

He notices the ebony smoke in a cold cyan sky.   

Dress stores and delis would burn white. 

He knows nothing but the tires in his cellar could produce 

foul smoke like that. He arrives long after the firetrucks 

and watches from the sidewalk like everyone else 

as his world goes under water, and black ash floats slowly 

over the street.  

 

©SA 2002

 

 
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The Kissing Trees

 

In New Hampshire summers 

before we were fit enough to run the lake,

we'd run as far as the Kissing Trees.

It was a good landmark: two maples

wrapped around each other, inextricable.

A fifty foot embrace.

 

If on a clover-smelling evening, 

you'd walk by them slowly, 

you'd wonder how it happened.

Two seedlings chance-dropped into the same hole 

or was it some divine plan?

Now, after decades of twisting upwards 

to the light, hardened and bent, 

they appeared a couple barely moving 

as if slow waltzing at a grandchild's wedding.

 

One early July day, on my first run 

of the new season I went as far 

as the Kissing Trees and I stopped.

Scarred at the places it had been fused 

to its mate just a single tree remained 

in that place. I stood there 

on the shady dirt road still breathing fast,

wondering how on earth lumbermen

had pried the two apart.

How chain saws must have disturbed 

the birds for days, as two or three foot chunks 

were removed, piece by piece.

How the lone tree may have resisted, 

then resigned its hold.

How the decision had been made by someone 

not to take them both down

though it would have been 

a quicker job.

 

©SA1998

 
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Age

 

I was married at twenty.

I thought about dinner menus

right after breakfast.

I listened to Dvorak in the afternoon

and at night I swallowed my pill.

I clipped recipes from magazines,

served date cake on Limoges.

I sold Avon door-to-door the first summer

wearing white gloves and a hat,

and I practised signing Mrs. on my cheques.

I was so old.

 

At forty-nine I was separated.

I thought about dates 

and sex 

and men.

I ate supper off chipped Corelle

watching Seinfeld in rerun.

I wore my son's outgrown jeans.

I listened to Joni and Ani, 

smoked grass with my kids,

and sometimes even grew it on the windowsill.

My grocery lists were scribbled with poetry.

I bought condoms.  

How young I was.

 

Now sixty-five looms up ahead

with children grown and parents dead.

Free 

        at 4am to sip some Scotch,

think about art and death 

and must I take a final stand on God?

I listen more to Leonard Cohen.

I’m on hormone replacement. 

It still surprises me to see

a new wedding ring on my aging hand,

surprises me who wears the matching one

we bought together in a Kyoto fish market.

Surprises me what might still be washed ashore.

Or dropped from a tree.

Or said by you or me.

We are the right age.

 

©SA1999, 2014


I wrote the words for Two Native Sons in 2016. It tells of the surprising crossroad I encountered while reading Sidney Iwens' memoir of his experience during WWll, (How Dark the Heavens) while I was participating in a residency at the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Latvia.

Bob Bernstein put the words to music and he is recorded here, accompanying himself on guitar.

https://www.rothkocenter.com/en/ekspozicija/iii_international_textile_art_symposium

   

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Him

In life he was designed for a job—

utilitarian, noisy, dented and scratched in odd spots.

His best gear was first.  Second jerked at times.

And he was difficult to shift into reverse.

Just one station heard clear on the AM,

or maybe it was the tuning dial bust.

But he covered a lotta road on a tank of low-grade

and if you changed the oil when you remembered,

that’s all he needed.

 

In the end he lay, a tiny light in a dim room

where time is measured in breaths.

The wax turned liquid, the oval flame shortened,

until just past midnight, as we held his cool arms,

a whitish wisp of smoke shot upward

and the wick drowned.

Without a sound.

 

Although my father lived like a truck

he died like a candle.

 

©SA2006

 

 
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The Dress

 

You reside still, in your closet

your scent faint, like sachet.

Seven boxes gone to Goodwill, yet

the racks are still filled with

blooms of fuchsia, turquoise, lime. 

Joyful proof you dressed for 

summer all the time.

 

Years ago I sat on the queen-sized bed

as you prepared yourself, magnificent, in powder blue.

The skirt satin, the bodice lace,

a much littler me in flannel pj’s …watching… learning 

what it was to be woman.

 

Last evening I carried that dress, beautiful still,

the fabric of fifty years flaky as paper, the armpits stained.

I stood by the massive metal bin, as it absorbed the

bagged remains of other tenants’ far lesser moments, 

and added the dress.

 

And to this crudest of burials I appended 

a prayer, a silent apology, the kaddish of a daughter, 

for you, 

my lovely mother 

of Summer.

 

©SA2010

 
 
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Salt and Sweet

 

It sounded classy and I know I've seen them 

paired in food sections of the Sunday magazine.

But last night as I watched you quarter 

a Comice pear on the tray you brought upstairs,

you spread its flesh with a creamy bite 

of room-warmed Roquefort and placed it with your fingers

into my open mouth as I sat naked, 

I thought it tasted strange.

 

Of salt 

and sweet.

 

A novel coupling, like maybe you and me

daring sensual complement though each 

bound up are we

with another's soul and another's memory.

Can we ever expect to blend quiescently.

Or do we just savour the taste

 

the taste of sweet 

and salt?

 

©SA1998

 

 

 
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Evening on Lac Gilmour

 

Alone tonight but for the dragonflies,

we push out from the dock into the darkened reflection of trees--

birches like ivory chopsticks hinged at shoreline, the lake

plate glass, striped momentarily by paddle pull, the blade drips

with the juice of forward thrust.

 

We go east drawn by cedar smoke you can taste,

and the bullfrog's bass notes. Overhead Venus appears first.

Or is it Mars? I know nothing of stars. A peeved whippoorwill whistles

whip-poor-WILL as though we had pronounced it wrong all along,

foolish humans.

 

How natural you now seem paddling stern, no longer sixteen, my ballast,

your white hair aglow, backlit by the last of the blue.

Two worlds touch: Jerusalem of higher, Jerusalem of lower

and we skim the line between in a white craft

of perfect design.

 

We pull in paddles amongst the budding waterlilies and drift,

and all the knitted bits of night converge--

the conifer, the cricket, and the cobalt sky.

Comes a time you return home. And out of the still

a beavertail smacks the water sharply.

Comes a time you know

you're not alone.

 

 

 

SA©2004

"Visit" is a poem I wrote and then got to read on PRI's To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast, with host Anne Strainchamps.