small talk :: eleanor lerman

It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
dinner. The bread, the meat

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history.

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins

the mystery of meteors :: eleanor lerman

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead
Leonid’s brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss,
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer,
open windows, find beads to string with pearls
You would not think that I had survived
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air
She has been alone, she has known danger,
and so now she watches for it always
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes.
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly,
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly,
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood,
come love, not love, millennia of portents–
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

what the dark angel knows :: eleanor lerman

A man is begging on his knees in the subway. Six-thirty
in the morning and already we are being presented with
moral choices as we rocket along the old rails, through the
old tunnels between Queens and Manhattan. Soon angels
will come crashing through the ceiling, wailing in the voices
of the castrati: Won’t you give this pauper bread or money?
And a monster hurricane is coming: we all heard about it
on the radio at dawn. By nightfall, drowned hogs will be
floating like poisoned soap bubbles on the tributaries
of every Southern river. Children will be orphaned and
the infrastructure of whole cities will be overturned. No one
on the East Coast will be able to make a phone call and we
will be boiling our water for days. And of course there are
the serial killers. And the Crips and the Bloods. And the
arguments about bilingual education. And the fact that all
the clothing made by slave labor overseas is not only the
product of an evil system but maybe worse, never even fits

so why is it that all I can think of (and will think of through
the torrential rains to come and the howling night) is
you, sighing so deeply in the darkness, you and the smell
of you and the windswept curve of your cheek? If this
train ever stops, I will ask that dark-eyed angel, the one
who hasn’t spoken yet. He looks like he might know

starfish :: eleanor lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish.
And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.