Donna Baier Stein
I live in Bernardsville, where I write poetry and fiction and publish Tiferet Journal (www.tiferetjournal.com). My poetry chapbook Sometimes You Sense the Difference was published by Finishing Line Press and my story collection Sympathetic People by Serving House Books. These poems are in a book-length manuscript I'm currently working on. More info about my publications and awards can be found at www.donnabaierstein.com.
Watchman of the Night
An insomniac, he feels night’s muzzle tighten
as he sits on the porch under one bare bulb
like a close moon.
Soon, someone signs his name in a foreign tongue
while crickets, elusive as lost eyelashes or Andalusian gypsies
chirr in the country beyond the porch.
Bruised by near shadows,
he decides to stuff his guilt once and for all
into the o-shaped mouths of blossoms.
But he’s still awake an hour later,
and watches a sad-faced rabbit bedded in jungle grass,
rediscovers that mounds of ivy breathe.
As the moon glints off the birdbath
and dogs howl two doors down
he watches his wife inside the house
lift her hand to the phone before it rings.
Finally he burrows in bed beside her
but still listens – this time for the sound
of fences coming down.
As a child, he wilted after dark:
crossing an unmarked border he would lose his skin.
Voices would call his name.
There would be searchlights
and voices trilling his name,
but he wouldn’t answer.
-originally published in Beloit Poetry Journal
Turning, I harness
an image of my two-year-old son
in the mirror peeling above our heads.
I see the mirror-image
of a horse painted rose, brown, blue, oyster-white
and a burnished brass pole.
Above our reflections
one thousand white bulbs
the next turn may bring
a brass ring.
Again and again,
we pass a man whittling
a lion, full-maned and burly.
The man stands mute
near the Wurlitzer organ,
one constant in this whirl
of noise: silvered strains
flowing from paper rolls in
its pipes: viola, flageolet, piccolo and bass.
Castanets, a glockenspiel.
Entranced, I imagine
the next time I circle
the mirrored canopy
my hair will be the color of pale oysters,
my son a grown man.
For in that hypnotic pool
of our likeness—whittling man,
white lights, ostriches
and circus chariots--
the years quicken.
As we dismount, we tilt
on warped floorboards,
lean on a far-sighted giraffe.
-originally published in The Washingtonian
I remember the afternoon we entered
the Tomb of the Bulls,
remember its double-sloped ceiling
and gaily-painted bands of lozenges and circles.
Inside, we saw a woman on terracotta,
Iphigenia, being led to her sacrifice,
armless, and carried by a winged creature.
That year, I turned to your face above all others,
tracing the line of your brow,
dropping the cloak of desire over your head.
It was Iphigenia her father chose to sacrifice
so he could pilot his ships to Troy in fair winds.
But there in the tomb, Iphigenia remains
with cryptic smile, always looking up
toward a man who holds her with disregard.
The walls of the chamber-tomb
were flaked, their colors bleached
as a white-tuniced Apollo
leads Iphigenia and her winged captor.
Massive, with muscular legs,
the painted men are ruddy and full-featured
while Iphigenia’s profile
lies almost colorless on a light ground.
Apollo himself is armed with bow and arrow.
That year, in love, I too was eager
to accompany archers, angels, gods.
But as the stories go, too often
a god will visit, wound with his arrows,
Still, Iphigenia was finally saved.
Artemis, virgin huntress and goddess of the white moon,
rescued her from the altar, leaving a stag in her place.
In this life, only a few can resurrect the dead.
Only a few pay close attention.
-originally published in Notre Dame Review
©2015 Donna Baier Stein