Five Poems

by
Andrey Gritsman


 
 

CATCHER

 

You are a catcher of the lights
from your childhood in the apple orchard,
a lone patrol with smokes in a tight skirt,
reconnaissance detachment.

In the afternoon, after the pill wears off
your eyes are alert and out there
all of them are waiting
to be taken into custody,
into account, to pay their dues of warmth,
to attach themselves to the pulsating surface,
when the announcement of despair is on the air,
unanswered calls, a fugue of fear.

You are the restless creature, lost between
the destination points of the East Coast:
departure-arrival-feast-departure-end again,
in fact, not having any destination, leaving traces
on the highways between the streaming trees,
and in the cities, where the weathered statues
are left behind, abandoned spirits,
which outlived the parting,
not seeing you, still seeing you.

They are inside the niches on the sidewalk,
hunchbacked, lit weakly by the light
spilled from the kitchen window:
egg-salad for your son or late night coffee, before
the Valium kicks in, the glow from the living room
where a book is left open on the low table
by an ashtray filled with your Marlboro stubs,
like fingers fallen off,

those desiccated specimens of breath,
Nature Morte - still life of death
in the Medical School museum
closed for the summer.

for D.D.

 

LONG BEACH ISLAND

 

U-peel shrimp, all you can eat.
Seagulls on the sidewalk
tear apart yesterdayís Investorís Business Daily
by the closed dead-bolted
ice-cream joint.

We sit by the window
in a small seafood shack:
local fish, hearty chowder,
lobster tail on sale, salty golden
fish-n-chips piled up, freckled
sixteen year olds in short
quasi-catholic uniforms,
Irish-Italian stock, up
for eight hours straight.
Daughters of maritime provinces,
eating sea salt for breakfast,
born and raised on quicksand,
on moving islands. Islands,
catching fire at sunset.
Non-existent land, where ships
could not find the straight
to lend the helping hand
to the brothers and sisters.

Burnt offerings of the
pilgrimsí settlements,
drowning in the wetlands.
Cod, haddock, grouper,
scales by the cold fire-ring,
The last rites of a prayer
in the candlelight
as the last ray
touches landscape
in a cathedral of the sky,

as now the sunset touches the face
of my unknown child
across the table.

 

 

DAYíS  LIFE

 

I get up at 7 oíclock.
Not 6.15 like before
since now I donít have to cross the river.

I embrace the Stairmaster,
listening to  the ďStairway to Heaven,Ē
or to  Beethoven,
or to my own pulsating heart,
conductive system firing up
like a lighthouse
sending flashes of light
to the empty sea.

After coffee I am off for work,
obeying speed limits,
using the directional signals.
At work I perform in a formalized
and certified environment,
air-conditioners always set
on low cool, so
they would feel comfortable:

women, sealed in their sheer pantyhose,
like overnight parcels
and men, hiding their bellies
behind the shirts of self-forgiveness.

The deadly routine shapes itself
into various Assyrian forms:
the transparent clouds of deodorant
cover raw essence of the cubes,
spokes and wheels.

Finally, as the day comes to an end,
reversed countdown,
I rest among the shadows of my childhood,
or what I thought it was.
I donít know any more,
it may still go on.

And when I think about it
I can describe it only
in my own language.
And at the place where I am now
it does not matter anyway.

 

 

ON THE WAY TO THE EMPLOYEE CAFETERIA

                                                             For D.K.

 

Along the corridor to the employee cafeteria
we walk down with him as usual
passing paintings of the dead
Members of the Board
from the good old times,
as their Presbyterian bluish eyes
look at me with indignant curiosity.

There is a big window on the right
where spring is trying to make its way
into regulated certified environment
of the inner courtyard. We enjoy it anyway
thanks to the square of cold blue sky,
that looks indifferently
at the bottom of our lives.

So, Dave says: thereís supposed to be good weather finally,
next week. And I think of next week,
and of next month and of the next decade etc,
as I usually do, pretending
that I am perennial and eternal.
And Dave says: Great, my favorite grilled chicken sandwich
is on the menu today.
Well, thatís worth living, I think.

Over the platter he talks about ďHitlerís Willing Executioners,Ē
about insatiable lawyers and about his Mom, who moved to Boca Raton,
where everybody lives now.
And how they went to Israel and Jordan together,
while it was still not deadly.
And that now itís too late for him to make a family.

And I think: What a shame!
What a happiness that would be for a nice Jewish girl,
if there are any left.
And I realize that I can never see his eyes
behind his thick glasses.

And we walk back to the office and now
the Founding Fathers of the Institution are on the right,
their glassy gaze has not changed,
while we had the sandwich.
The incarcerated spring is on the left now,
and the blue eye in the sky still does not understand
how come I donít get it,
whatís going happen with us.
And now I know that he knew,
and I didnít, and that he knew
that I did not know. And that I couldnít even know.
Since itís impossible to know.
Once you know - itís too late,
and thatís the point.

And we go back to work
and donít say anything,
And now I just can guess
what a bottomless void
one can pass by on the edge
walking along the corridor
on the way down
to the employee cafeteria.

 

 

RECEPTION

 

There is a reception after the reading.
It lasts about 30 minutes
since an electrician and the janitorial service
should be paid overtime.

After the applause we all gather and mingle
around the table with
Gallo Chablis, Melba crackers
and with one or two
wet strawberries on the Hallmark plate
like rat hearts at the biology class.

We listen to a 23 -year -old
fiction writer in lilac tights
working on a novel.

During the discourse
we screw, fall in love or
disintegrate a few fellow participants

and spend a lifetime with one
on the other side of the room,
the one we never get to talk to
since she is conversing all the time
with a tall psychotherapist with oily hair,
standing by a trash can
under the red sign "Exit".

We ask, and not hearing the answer -
answer. Busy talking,
we grow fibroids and nasal polyps
and plan our lives for the next twenty years.

As we talk the weak spirit
melts down in a plastic cup
freezing our fingertips,
and by the time the room is habitable
the time is killed and the party is over.

We walk out into the empty street
and the surrounding night
invites us to our real world:
moonlight, wet sand,
cold magnolia leaves,
calling of the freight train,

our own smell, leading us
back home, where nobody waits, so
we can play cards with dead relatives

until someone comes
and turns on the light.

 

Andrey Gritsman is a native of Moscow, Russia, and immigrated to the US in 1981. Gritsman has authored four volumes of poetry in Russian: No Manís Land (Petropol, S.-Petersburg), Double (Hermitage, New York), Transfer (Arion, Moscow) and The Island in the Woods from the Pushkin Foundation Publishing House in S.-Petersburg. His poetry collection Transfer was nominated for the prestigious Russian literary award MOSCOW COUNT in 2003. He has written a bilingual book in English and in Russian View from the Bridge (Poems and Essays), which was published by WORD in New York in 1999. His new collection of poems and essays in English Long Fall has just been published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in New York.  His poetry collection In Transit in English with Romanian translations was published in 2004 in Bucharest, Romania.

Gritsmanís poems and essays in have appeared or are shortly forthcoming in Richmond Review (London, UK), Ars Interpres (Stockholm-New York), Poetry International, Manhattan Review, Poet Lore, Eclipse, Hawaii Review, New Orleans Review, South Carolina Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Bayou, Confrontation, New Press, Poetry New York, Berkshire Review and others and were anthologized in Modern Poetry in Translation (UK), in Crossing Centuries (New Generation in Russian Poetry) and in The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices from the Robert Frost Place, CavanKerry Press.

Gritsman was nominated for the 2005 Pushcart Prize and for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry at the PEN/American Center. He runs the Intercultural Poetry Series at the literary club Cornelia Street Cafť in New York City and is the Editor and Publisher of the on-line international poetry magazine INTERPOEZIA http://www.interpoezia.net