I was born in Shanghai, China, the son of Holocaust survivors, and grew up in New York City. While I value my anonymity, I have had several brushes with famous people. My father was a classmate of the great logician, Einstein’s Princeton friend Kurt Godel, and I met him once, long ago, when I was little. All I remember is that it was July, but he was wearing a winter coat. I was schoolmates at Stephen A. Halsey Jr. High in Queens with Tommy Erdelyi, who became Tommy Ramone of, well, The Ramones. Another Jr. High classmate, who also went to Stuyvesant High School with me, was Walter Becker, co-founder of Steely Dan. We rode the subway together most mornings from 71st and Continental Avenue on our long journey to 14th Street in Manhattan. Now I live in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where I taught in the English Department at Saint Cloud State University for thirty-one years, and I can attest to the fact that all the children in the Lake Wobegon area are, indeed, above average.
Another Day in America
You’re on a street where panic plumes, red stain billowing above cars and traffic lights, scramble of legs, a siren’s Doppler wail. A body lies twisted, harsh angle, blood-soaked blouse, just at the base of a bay tree. Every eye has shriveled, every mouth torn into gaps of flesh. Now your city is a crime scene; yellow and black tape winds around the park.
Paramedics whisk your neighbors away on stretchers, swaddled in white blankets.
The air is filled with smoke. Police shouting, pushing people back, cameras everywhere.
You can neither stammer nor cry in this public din. Still, you’re whole enough, if slightly
deafened, one of the lucky ones. And though you won’t sleep tonight, you’ll rise from your bed, stiff, aching and bleary-eyed, having survived another day in America.
Behind the Wall
Binghamton, April 3, 2009
That’s where the eye waits, bloodshot
and blind with the rage of bridges and rot.
Metallic lust, the long barrel of his gun:
wrong time, wrong place
and the coughing of red mouths.
Cover your eyes
in this trembling noonday light…
yet we believe images familiar now, two
by the grip of terrible gravity
Seen only in the tug of their longing:
velocity, targets, impact where lines converge.
What the Bullets Sang
In memory of the Charlie Hebdo murders, 1/7/15
Today bullets sing the praises of flesh.
How soft it feels, how fragile the bones
beneath, how red and copious the blood.
Someone barks at the sky, and the moon
appears, swathed in an ocean of clouds.
Offended, he fires off a thousand rounds
and the moon bleeds and disappears.
All night, pens draw their own form of
blood. In the morning it is calm and silent
and cold. Later, snow begins to fall and bare
oaks scratch quietly at the gray-white sky.
Somewhere the rage grows again, heated
ball pulsing at its swelling core. Someone
nails the only face of god to a dying tree
face without mercy, a human face frozen
in adamantine certainty. A crow screeches
and the echo bounces back across the snow,
falling to earth among trees and fields and tears.
First published in Beakful
So little at stake in this cold room,
with my eye at the level of grass.
Such an illusion of safety in oaks
gently waving, and a glimpse
of my neighbor’s roof covered
with branches and twigs. Already
there are many dead, the newsflash says,
another flood of bullets and bombs.
Angry red men are waving their fists,
experts talk and talk, drones circle
distant battlefields, a new kind of Valkyrie
gathering souls with unblinking, mechanical eyes.
“…the house returns
to the peace of the pines and the sand”
Gray morning. September,
and summer refuses
to die. My neighbor jogs
by, waves, already sweating
in humid air. His daughter
rides her bike to pace him
as he goes. Near the river
they disappear into mist.
Around my house, fat
hydrangeas rust. Already
a few leaves begin to blaze
on maples. Weary oaks bend
closer to earth. I’m waiting
for something here, a promise
someone made or a workman
not yet come or the buzzing
phone, but it’s lost on the other
side of time. My calendar
comes up blank, even dates
gone missing, as if the solid
walls we’ve built so carefully,
foundations of concrete block,
gravel and asphalt streets
could liquefy and drain off into sand.
©2016 Steve Klepetar
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