The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Eleanor Lerman

Someone New

 

All through the spring evening, there is

the longing for Jerusalem. Dates and figs,

            water and wine

If these were not my own memories, I would

            renounce them

but I know that they are real. Breathless afternoons,

hot and gold and dusty. That is what one longs for,

really, having emigrated to the new world, having

expected what is as old as time—promises, of course,

and what always follows: ruin. Intrigue. Rot and rebirth

 

Then a letter arrives from Paris. It speaks of the

women and girls who have gone there for the shopping

Soon, they will fly away home, clasped in the embrace

            of their beautiful dresses,

woven out of prayers. Prayers for the lost Jew,

for the lonely Christian and for their holy longing

We were with them once, we were all there,

            in the beginning, before all this, all that

 

Sitting at my mother’s table is a recollection

that still belongs to me. She kisses me and all

            the stars fall from the sky

Memory, memory: say it is not too late to

gather together in someone’s name and then

            name him

Name someone walking home, someone

who knows nothing yet. Someone coming

            in the dusty, golden spring

Someone who our broken hearts cannot

remember. Oh yes, please: someone new

 

 

Eleanor Lerman

A Myth Sitting by a River

 

When the body and soul separate

in the time of their living years

(and this does happen: illness, heartbreak,

unfathomable yearnings—who could

possibly specify the cause?) you know it,

you feel it, usually before dawn

Sometimes, it seems, the soul is so

loosely attached that it can be unmoored

as quickly as a sail being torn from its mast

by a random gust of wind

 

Afterwards, the body remains at home

tending to the housekeeping. It sweeps

and sweeps while the soul sits on a

riverbank somewhere, looking at clouds

The soul, it seems, has kept the best

memories: a silver dress that

knew how to dance, a kiss from mama,

and the one good year. Or maybe two

 

What happens next, do you think?

Will these companions ever

meet again? There are great

black birds lifting themselves over 

the horizon—war birds, death birds,

or perhaps just birds of passage—

and what they signify is

maybe yes, but maybe no

 

At home, a bone in a hand

lifts a broom. A myth sitting

by a river sighs, rises, and feels

the wind gathering once more

It empties its pockets

It says goodbye to everything

 

which signifies that

it will never be seen again

unless it is

 

 

Eleanor Lerman

The Younger Self

 

The younger self is drinking in a bar

off Washington Square. Is it too young, really,

to be served? That doesn’t matter since it

no longer inhabits its physical form

It only exists, now, at the tail end of

a ghost generation that has scattered

not to the winds, exactly, but to

houses in the mountains, houses

at the shore, where clouds come in

through the windows, thinking that

they hear familiar music. Perhaps they do

Some of us remember. Some do not

 

The younger self would like you—

yes, you—to get on a train, come back,

come home, come live that life again

It is difficult not to try because something

might still be there: the cold room on the

side street in the beloved city; soup in the pot,

the red jar that held the better medicine,

and the stars that came in through

the windows. In those days, they knew

how to speak, which is amusing, now,

since all the stories they told us were lies

 

The younger self calls on the phone

every morning. Clouds in its brain,

stars on the plate instead of breakfast

and still, it is beautiful. It is a beautiful girl

who can drink away the day, who dresses

like an actress, who does not care that the dog

worries it would be left alone or that the work

you do now is harder. Much harder

But you have to do it. You want to do it

You begin it every hour, again and again

 

The younger self, perhaps, is growing

impatient with us. It thinks that it

might just want us to pass this note along

to others who will undoubtedly know

how to reach her. So here it is

Don’t even tell her that we said hello

 

 

 

ELEANOR LERMAN, who lives in New York, is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories, and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry as well as fellowships (in poetry) from the National Endowment for the Arts and (in fiction) from the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2016, her novel, Radiomen, was awarded the John W. Campbell Prize for the Best Book of Science Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Stargazer's Embassy, was published by Mayapple Press in July 2017. www.eleanorlerman.com

 

 

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