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HIRSCH, Edward

I Was Never Able To Pray

Wheel me down to the shore

where the lighthouse was abandoned

and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees

and see the stars flaring out, one by one,

like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,

but let me inscribe my name

in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome

of a sky that never ends

and see my voice sail into the night.

Lay Back the Darkness

My father in the night shuffling from room to room

on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream

and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman

who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold

of a vast night

without his walker or his cane

and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,

while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room

is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest

listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,

to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops.

In Memoriam Paul Celan

Lay these words into the dead man's grave

next to the almonds and black cherries---

tiny skulls and flowering blood-drops, eyes,

and Thou, O bitterness that pillows his head.

Lay these words on the dead man's eyelids

like eyebrights, like medieval trumpet flowers

that will flourish, this time, in the shade.

Let the beheaded tulips glisten with rain.

Lay these words on his drowned eyelids

like coins or stars, ancillary eyes.

Canopy the swollen sky with sunspots

while thunder addresses the ground.

Syllable by syllable, clawed and handled,

the words have united in grief.

It is the ghostly hour of lamentation,

the void's turn, mournful and absolute.

Lay these words on the dead man's lips

like burning tongs, a tongue of flame.

A scouring eagle wheels and shrieks.

Let God pray to us for this man.

Special Orders

Give me back my father walking the halls

of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company

with sawdust clinging to his shoes.

Give me back his tape measure and his keys,

his drafting pencil and his order forms;

give me his daydreams on lined paper.

I don't understand this uncontainable grief.

Whatever you had that never fit,

whatever else you needed, believe me,

my father, who wanted your business,

would squat down at your side

and sketch you a container for it.

The Skokie Theater

Twelve years old and lovesick, bumbling

and terrified for the first time in my life,

but strangely hopeful, too, and stunned,

definitely stunned—I wanted to cry,

I almost started to sob when Chris Klein

actually touched me—oh God—below the belt

in the back row of the Skokie Theatre.

Our knees bumped helplessly, our mouths

were glued together like flypaper, our lips

were grinding in a hysterical grimace

while the most handsome man in the world

twitched his hips on the flickering screen

and the girls began to scream in the dark.

I didn’t know one thing about the body yet,

about the deep foam filling my bones,

but I wanted to cry out in desolation

when she touched me again, when the lights

flooded in the crowded theatre

and the other kids started to file

into the narrow aisle, into a lobby

of faded purple splendor, into the last

Saturday in August before she moved away.

I never wanted to move again, but suddenly

we were being lifted toward the sidewalk

in a crush of bodies, blinking, shy,

unprepared for the ringing familiar voices

and the harsh glare of sunlight, the brightness

of an afternoon that left us gripping

each other’s hands, trembling and changed.

Early Sunday Morning

I used to mock my father and his chums

for getting up early on Sunday morning

and drinking coffee at a local spot

but now I’m one of those chumps.

No one cares about my old humiliations

but they go on dragging through my sleep

like a string of empty tin cans rattling

behind an abandoned car.

It’s like this: just when you think

you have forgotten that red-haired girl

who left you stranded in a parking lot

forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing

around the corner of your dream

on someone else’s motorcycle

roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I’m sitting in a dimly lit

café  full of early morning risers

where the windows are covered with soot

and the coffee is warm and bitter.



I did not know the work of mourning

Is like carrying a bag of cement

Up a mountain at night

The mountaintop is not in sight

Because there is no mountaintop

Poor Sisyphus grief

I did not know I would struggle

Through a ragged underbrush

Without an upward path

Because there is no path

There is only a blunt rock

With a river to fall into

And Time with its medieval chambers

Time with its jagged edges

And blunt instruments

I did not know the work of mourning

Is a labor in the dark

We carry inside ourselves

Though sometimes when I sleep

I am with him again

And then I wake

Poor Sisyphus grief

I am not ready for your heaviness

Cemented to my body

Look closely and you will see

Almost everyone carrying bags

Of cement on their shoulders

That’s why it takes courage

To get out of bed in the morning

And climb into the day