The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Richard Foerster

Long After


I. The News at Midnight

Six decades gone and still the fiery brand
survives, the sear fleshed like a scar,
though the wound’s invisible,
worried by habit’s mindless fingers.

A kind of itch not even neglect
can soothe. To say I exist is insufficient,
to say I wished her dead amounts to much
the same: a void to pour worlds into.

Now in the night, my windows draped,
the room pitched with broken sleep,
comes a bolt igniting a twinge, an ache,
a rash burning with suppurations

of remorse. Call it a son’s residual affliction,
the viral bloom she’d have me call affection.

II. A Locked Door

Stripped, I’m pink. A suckling pup soon burnished
red. An ember bellowed in huffs of fury.
Al? Don’t hurt . . . She taps at the door. He whispers:
Boy, if you ever . . .

Al, don’t hurt the boy . . . though he deserves it. Three
callused fingers stroke from below as leather
flails across my cheeks. But it’s her, her whimpers—
seeping like semen’s

muffled spillage, salt of the denim sea I
drown in, whiskeyed breath at my ear. (Whose naked
wrath unbuckles here in the night, whose sobbing
pleads for redemption?)

Just forgive, forget is a useless mantra.
Mother, mouse, enabler, provocateur: what
made you love him so, that you sacrificed your
child on that altar?

III. The D Train

Catechized and street-wise at seven,
I already knew a soul could turn
bootprint black or hard as dust
tamped flat on a sidewalk slab:

Dreading those walks from school,
I gladly stepped on every crack
and line, letting sin engender
other rhymes: Watch your back . . .

and you’ll be fine. Grown secure
in the leaky raft of my immortal soul,
I set myself adrift one day. I disobeyed
and entered the rumbling cave

I hoped might lead to brief salvation.
The subway became my river.
In ’56, no one took note of a boy
with fifteen cents in his pocket

for passage through an underworld
that opened into light: so many
possible futures elsewhere. Home
by dinnertime, I’d resume my past.

IV. The Latest Inventory

Time-ravaged : blind : deaf to the world
as she had always been with faculties
intact : never learned to drive or play
a sport : held no political conviction :
born under the Kaiser’s reign : Mahler
still three years from his grave : at ten
fever-wracked with Spanish influenza
: hair gone then graying : crossed
in steerage on the Bremen : sat
in Manhattan’s dark : tutored by talkies
Love Parade : Applause : then married
in haste at the Crash : the 30s : her 40s
post-war in the Bronx : then a boy : a boy
like a Dresden doll : a curio to keep
close and dusted : never clean enough
: white as the tub she scrubbed
after sending him for a bath :
Spic’n’Span for his scuff prints : a hiss
of Pledge for a smudge : pots washed
and dried before dinner : going cold
with waiting always waiting : a click
in the lock then rages : Al, don’t hurt :
the 50s : the 60s : Dragnet and Perry Mason :
feet up on the sofa : then countless reruns :
waiting for justice to be served : the culprit
exposed : the boy banished to bed in clean
pajamas : Wait till your father gets home.

V. Lazarus, Come Forth

Consider it’s all untrue,
the memories a grown man resurrects

and that the summoned dead
are not them but ghosts in tatters

that never lived except inside
the windy cavern of his head.

Then why persist to stitch and mend
a narrative fraying at the seams

and still not make a winter coat
to keep from shivering, to keep

his breath from turning into ice,
or worse, an empty vapor?

VI. Charon

Come now, boy, stop wandering
these endless tunnels, looking to escape.

You’re old enough to comprehend
they flow in only one direction.

And that token you’ve kept clutched
in your fist, see how sickly green

it’s turned with bitter sweat—and yet
it holds the miracle you seek: the meager fare

you’ll need to send a mother on her way.
Now give it here—and leave. Or else you stay.



Richard Foerster



Nights, of late, I dream me setting out
on dark waters, borne by a craft

I imagine should carry me best
toward dawn: a barge for dredging?

a scow to haul the day’s bulk freight
to port? The skeptic in me thinks, keep

what will you have at the oars,
keep the cargo you alone—and row:

a kayak seal-skin taut on a driftwood frame,
a birch canoe for easing through a forest of reeds . . .

but there comes an age when one wakes near
to drowning, thrashes up through brackish

dread. You should have trained for this,
propped in your precarious scull, kept

your back’s broad sinews firm against the goal
even as the now distant wherever-have-we-been?

dissolves before your eyes. Backswimmer,
boatman, see how small you are.




RICHARD FOERSTER is the author of seven volumes of poetry: most recently, River Road (Texas Review Press). Among his many awards are the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry. He lives in Cape Neddick, Maine.



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