2014 String Poet Prize Honorable Mention
Snow turns to sleet and rain; the car
off cruise control. Headlights glare
on sparkling asphalt. I like to think
I’m a good driver, but I panic, brake
too hard. The tires lock.
Brake slowly is what all the books say,
but it takes so long to stop.
Each new patch of black ice
surprises me, and I slide
before I realize what has happened.
Head-on, towards the guard rails,
metal against metal, my pulse races,
I grab the wheel—tight, too tight
steer into the skid, steer into the skid, steer into the skid.
Black ice lasts for only twenty feet or so.
Finally, I stop.
Readjust my seat belt, restart the car,
release the clutch, one foot on the gas,
the other perched over the brake.
A misnomer, black ice. Black ice is transparent,
transparent as the grief that hovers above
the asphalt as I look for the lights of home,
my father no longer sitting on the front porch waiting for me.
Die Sonne Scheint
My father would phone to tell me each beautiful morning,
the sun is shining, and I would answer
über uns ins bett, over us in bed.
If you say it fast, it sounds like bruns ins bett,
to pee in bed, and we would laugh the way, he said,
he and his brothers and sisters laughed
when they were kids in Germany.
No clouds that day in July we bury him.
Only a red-tailed hawk that circles and circles.
We walk behind the coffin to the open grave.
The sun warms our backs as he is lowered into the earth.
My father didn’t want to be completely in the sun.
Close by is a large maple tree.
I have to stop myself. I want to shovel and shovel and shovel and shovel.
As I say mourner’s kaddish for the first time, the sun shines.
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei rabbah, exalted and hallowed be God’s great name.
For seven days, I sit on a low chair in the living room.
Callers come to give comfort.
When it is quiet, I go to the backyard, to the garden
we didn’t plant this season.
Weeds grow everywhere.
Birds come to the feeders my father always kept filled,
that I now fill–
rusty-capped sparrows, slate-colored juncos,
chickadees, even a downy woodpecker.
I lie down in the grass and look up at the sky.
There is no hawk circling.
Die Sonne scheint.
My father went each morning to his garden.
He taught me to smell the soil to see if it was good,
to feel the dirt slide across my hands, to never
wear gloves, to stay in the middle of the row when planting seeds.
We’d look for work to do in the garden,
and sometimes there was nothing more to do
than watch the garden grow, wait for the harvest.
He thought that haricot vert were the dumbest thing he’d ever seen–
he liked his Kentucky Wonder beans, big and bursting with seeds, leaving
them to grow in the summer sun as long as possible.
Last winter he told me we couldn’t save
the parsley from the snow and ice, even though
we put blankets over it.
He got pneumonia in February.
In April, he asked me if I thought he’d get to his garden, and I told him yes.
By the end of May I brought him
cherry tomato plants to keep on the deck.
He no longer had the strength to pick
the first tomatoes that ripened in June.
August: I bring dirt from the garden
to his grave and scatter grass seed.