Spring 2009

Table of Contents - Vol. V, No. 1


Poetry     Interview     Translations     Fiction     Book Reviews

Michael Salcman


Explaining the Wound

—for Dick Allen

We sit across a lunch of corn dogs and roast beef,
when my friend catches me short
by asking to see my wound.
I look at my blood-free palms
and pull up my shirt
thinking there’s a forgotten scar
or some stigmata somewhere, but no
I’ve never had any surgery done on me
other than a late circumcision
or the extraction of a tooth.
Soon enough he tells me
he’s thinking of Malcolm Cowley’s essay
on what makes writers write—
some childhood trauma
ensiloed in the brain,
like boiled cotton or unsold grain.
Given this clue, I spend a few minutes
trying to fit an answer to his question;
pick one, I say, my bout with polio,
the loss of cousins and aunts in Brataslava
and Hungary during the war,
a cafeteria of disappointments.
But nothing in my history
really convinces him or me, any more
than Cowley’s theory consoles us for the mystery
of why we live to die.
Done with our cokes, I rise to tell him goodbye,
sly in my addiction to facts,
and thank him for his company.
All he does is smile his Buddhist smile—
me not knowing why.


The Girl in Section 342

One row down at Oriole Park
and just to the right of me,
the same girl returns in the same uniform:
rimless glasses and a gingham dress,
its left sleeve pinned back, empty.
I don’t know and am afraid to ask
how much they took off and why.
Was it a tumor in the humerus
or a trolley that dragged her along
and wouldn’t stop,
or an accident at the butcher shop
or a car wreck?
Was it a gunshot wound and
suppuration in her veins that crept
up and almost engulfed her?
Who can guess?
I watch her nimbly climb the steps
to her seat, a cardboard tray with nachos
and a cola balanced in the one good hand.
My male mind wonders how she can
apply mascara at the start of the day
and what she does when her bra slips off?
I’d like to know how she holds a child
or strokes a lover and if he dares to touch
her camouflaged stump with a thrill
or does fear prick at his fingertips?
I notice she never comes alone
and it’s often not the same man;
but why do I care?
When the next batter swings, I turn away,
having better things to do than stare
at a dismemberment like mine.


Turner Sets Out in a Snowstorm

Wishing to paint a steamboat in a snowstorm
Turner, in his last decade
had himself strapped to the Ariel’s swinging mast
for four hours. He was only five foot three
but held to this perch by bitter rope,
stood like a great unblinking owl
and dreamed of a locomotive throwing off steam
while smoke and spray billowed and foamed
across the decks and almost swept him clear.
All the while, his frozen gaze tongued the napes
of boarding waves like maidens’ necks, while bits
of salt clotted the sheets and his rime-hung
lashes. When the white caps at last whipped off
the wave tops, wind frothed the air he breathed in
and the lung of the storm gagged him;
it turned the ocean to steam and stung his brow
with diamond-shaped ice drops.
Was all this pain endured just to paint a souvenir
of the real? In Turner’s illusion the ship slides down
a red and yellow maelstrom and hurtles itself at us,
at him, a churning engine slipping its watery tracks.


What the Bay Provides

At Norfolk, the well-sounded and restless sea
spills into the Bay and rushes to meet rivers flooding
to the east, west and north of the ocean’s mouth, the chill
water carrying its cargo of crab, sook and spat, down below
the warm riverine current. To grow, to meet, to mate
to feed the world along the banks of its watery ballroom,
to be caught in pots and trotlines, seduced by chicken necks
and doors that snap shut just behind cone-shaped tunnels
and fate. Hauled up in flat-bottomed boats, trimmed fair
and transported to the fisher-houses of Smith and Tangier islands,
peeling and soft in old wooden floats, skinned by women
who speak with an Elizabethan “r”, they make
one last watery trip across Tangier Sound to the plants
in Crisfield, where life and its shell are made soft and delicate,
eaten moist on the tongue with a briny smell
that the nose recalls each time it drowns below the horizon of air.


© Michael Salcman



Poetry     Interview     Translations     Fiction     Book Reviews

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