The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

David Axelrod

Kaddish

                                                 for Nicholas

 

              May and July, the Dog Days
and now this dry October
             among the tribal stones,
so many of us lying here—
             Auslander, Radetsky,
Benjamin, Goodman, Weil—
             three thousand and thirty
in all and as of today,
             refugees from places
they were unwelcome
             in our time and before,
plus you—youngest-most-gentle,
             three thousand and thirty-one—
whom He maketh lie down
             in henbit and bitter cress
alongside the Highland Canal
             and constant hiss of mid-day
traffic on Alemeda, mourning
             doves whinnying softly
between the limbs of ashes.


             When we strewed your body
with dust from Jerusalem,
             we had meant to go on,
our business being among
             the living only—braiding
the hair of a girl, holding
             the hand of a newborn, meals
gathered from gardens, served
             to friends, the water, wine,
and all that is ordinary
             commerce passing between
abysses we call sleep.
             What duty of ours here,
where only a few dead
              are honored to excess?


Firstborn, what honor remains
              besides our pile of pebbles
left here these six months
              on an unmarked grave?
Your name—
              what did it mean to anyone?
The old may remember,
              but the young are gone
ahead and do not look back.
              Your mother on her knees
presses her hand down hard,
              surely earth will give way
beneath her and you emerge
              healed by your journey
through dim Sheol. She would
              speak if she could, if anything
besides rue would answer.
              Something else awaits us
beyond you, but what it is
              or where and when it begins
we are yet to learn.

 

 

David Axelrod

Simplicissimus

 

Wet lumps of women huddle in doorways
and I take just a quick peek as I pass,
a little sip of the war’s nitty-gritty.


The sky is so low and gray it forces us
to bend down so as not to bump our heads
against the dreariness winter sends.


Add the roar of waterfalls, a holiness
to the city’s dispossessed tribes—far off
and persistent above the traffic noise—


the river laced with plumes of cyanide
from played-out silver mines in the foothills
upstream, from whence, my namesake,


the warrior-king and psalmodist,
in a rare mood of social justice, promised
help doth come. When I cast mine eyes


unto those hills, help doth not come,
only a street preacher with a soggy
handbill from the flophouse for women


with children, who asks me, “Is it normal
to feel this way?” Good Lord, I wonder.
When will mercy crack the code?


Riddle me that. Or riddle me this.
“Hope begins here," the signboard
above the doorway reads, "No vacancy."

 

 

 

DAVID AXELROD is the editor of Sensational Nightingales: The Collected Poetry of Walter Pavlich. His recent collections of poems are Folly and What Next, Old Knife?, both from Lost Horse Press. New poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cascadia Review, Cloudbank, Fogged Clarity, Hubbub, Miramar, Southern Poetry Review, Stringtown, among others. 

 

 

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