I retired from the SUNY Buffalo English Department in 2004. Have published a dozen or so collections of poems. Such my addiction to the sport of squash racquets my headstone is to read: "ONE MORE GAME?" See more of my poems HERE.
Ange, tu m'as connu!
I knew that silhouette elegant in black,
that arm upraised, hailing, and stepping toward
a cab in the furious street...who, reaching
to pull the door shut, turned in my direction
—but not, after forty years, the haggard rock,
the supernatural contour of her face, and eyes
as if they'd looked on the purely evil and
utterly boring so long that evil bored
and boredom was itself their only evil.
Then the charred gaze fell blankly on me
—from the blackened stones of a wayside shrine,
an empty place where someone once died
and a last gasp of smoke now clutches at
the luckless, halted passerby, demanding,
Did you think you amused me, fool?
Yes, I, too, had scraped my match, burned and moved on.
After trial by fire is trial by ash.
I bow to the verdict of the embers.
Editor's Note: The title of this poem is in Yiddish. Malke ("Queenie") is a feminine given name and toyb means "deaf" — "Deaf Malke."
When she was still a tiny girl,
well, not so tiny, a little girl,
one day her mother's lips were speaking
and saying nothing, birds were mute,
she saw her father clap hands at her
and shout no louder than the sun
cries out crossing the heavens. That night
the lightning stroke buried itself
in the sand as silent as a snake.
She grew. She grew. And heard no better.
Grew. And heard no more. And understood
she must be so always, forever.
Now she knew: God the righteous one
punished her for something she had said,
said or heard—did it matter which or what?—
something bad, for sure, for God is just.
Nothing less could justify the God
of this affliction that took from her
her mother's dear voice and the voices
she had never known—nor ever would—
of her daughters. And yet she heard
well enough her own voice saying
always within her, "Punished. Punished."
An old old woman died, and brought
her faith into the presence of
the face of God, which was kindly
and spoke to her so, "Malke, dearest,
you've suffered grievously enough.
Shall I restore at last your hearing?"
But Malke was humming, humming.
"Malke, beloved child," God's voice grew
more tender, gentler, more urgent still,
"let me restore to you your hearing."
But Malke went on with her humming.
"Malke, please," The Divine One whispered,
"just a taste of the honey of hearing
—surely, one little taste can't hurt you."
And Malke was humming, humming,
"You forget, dear Lord of hosts, I'm deaf.
I can't hear a word you're saying."
And so for all Eternity
The Divine Lips plead and Malke answers.
On the phone from Florida, it's Louie,
nearly a cousin, almost long-lost.
There's something important he wants to know,
after all these years. I hear it in his voice.
It's like he's put a package down and looks up
and he sees sky, horizon, trees, something
empty, endless, peaceful, always the same.
"It hit me all of a sudden.
Listen, Charlie, don't worry about me.
I don't second guess myself anymore.
I'm sure I made the right decisions.
Really, people can envy me,
I've been as lucky as hell:
I got my health and all,
I'm like a bull I'm so strong,
I could live forever if I had to,
Charlie — honest I could."
But underneath, there's something else.
Shy, puzzled, urgent is how he sounds. I find
I'm bending over the phone to get closer.
"So how are things? What's going on?"
and then so low I've got to hold my breath
to hear, "Charlie, tell me," he whispers,
"how ... how's the weather up there?"
I guess he's asking about the family
he left behind — do they miss him,
the wind and the rain and snow,
the immortals from long ago? and after all
what good would it be to survive alone?
And so I tell him what he wants to hear,
"Lousy, Lou, the weather's worse every year."
©2016 Irving Feldman