Allegory of Waters

As she neared the traffic light on I-17
in Lauderdale Lakes, headed for Publix,
80-year-old Maisie Rosnokov from Sunrise—

because she was addled by the choice between
brake or gas, or fretful over her sister-in-law’s
curt remark at last night’s canasta game,

or absorbed by any number of possible cognitive processes,
forgot to stop. Don’t laugh.
It could’ve happened to any one of us.

The asphalt streets, the built structures, are metaphors for
       thought.
They help us navigate swampish experience,
sentences that finish despite prevailing life,

but really cast ineffective nets over fast fish and lots of escaping
       waters,
civilizing sieves, when only the heat transcends us,
air shimmering over the barbecue.

But let’s get back. The impact caused Murray Cohen’s
ark-like Chrysler, idling in front, air conditioning full blast,
to career into one of the many canals in the area.

Ungainly, the car trundled over the bank
for a moment afloat in a water working fast for all its murk and
       torpor,
whose sack stole irrevocably over him
 
like a contract: Mafia, nature.
Poor Murray sunk in slo-mo, twenty feet under, helpless inside
an automotive weight that followed out its own fate of physics,
cement elements.
 
At that point you can not open the windows,
sealed in by the water’s brackish caulking,
its wallpaper patterned in the paisley of single, cellular life.
 
In this translucent halavah, this fluid Velveeta,
the car was now a studded nut,
coin in the vault, jeweled streak in the ore.
 
Maybe the Anhingas in the trees, the cotton snakes snoozing in
       the mud,
the minnows tickled by algae, were startled,
sensed trouble. Probably not.
 
What did he do down there in the time remaining?
What could he possibly have done in this drive-in movie?
I hope he found some comfort.
 
For instance, maybe the water was an assuaging sofa,
a hydrotherapeutic hour, where the prone, elderly
Murray became the ideal analysand, and could freely associate,
 
relaxed in a stream of consciousness that took him to truth at last.
“I should’ve had that affair; I always hated my sister.”
Or he was blessed by a kind psychosis
 
so that Mary held him close, Pieta style, in her everlasting arms,
a Jewish Jesus stayed Jewish, deli bagels and lox in a bag on the
       seat.
Maybe he even regressed in this comprehensive uterus,
flowed back through amniotic fluid to Panama, a conscripted
       salmon
swum to early minestrone sea, dallying with paramecia and
       methane,
to oceanic oneness.
 
But most likely he pimpled over with terror, diarrhea,
shivered in a nerved sweater whose cables unraveled forever.
On stage he was an unbelieving magician
 
whose act went terribly awry,
pulling out of his hat and his mouth
an unstoppable array of oddments—
 
feathers and sweat pants, memories of his mother frying eggs,
duct tape and worms, the snow up North,
all of it knotted together like a series of scarves, an endless dream,
mullioned connections,
 
like the streets that skirt the canals dampening the backyards
of the condominium village and its shared airspace,
like Maisie hovering sorrowful over the sides, the cops on their way,
Lilah wondering where the devil could he be,
 
like the spongy brain in fluid, suspended in the head,
in a body 90% water.

 

Against Photography
Profound, torch in hand, I’d regress through the rocky centuries,
a poor little Neanderthal rich gal. Then, on whim
I’d descend to my portrait gallery, subterranean album.
Since I’ve commissioned the hunters with their fur berets,
who needs to sit for John Paul Sargent?
In my cave, I’d view images of loved ones
better than those Kodak snapshots of balked light
broadcast in forensic envelopes—matte, or glossy, finished.
 
Among herds of mammoth, elk, and reindeer,
along with stenciled hands and the shamans’ masks,
my children are portrayed in day and chalk, burnt wood and coal:
my daughter’s honey blonde hair like some bison’s mane,
       her lips a berry juice,
my son’s teeth long as the tiger’s sabers.
 
Oh, to begin before art, unaccountable, when all of us were originals,
when these images appeared equal to the real, summoned its
       miracle.
Sky from sky, earth from earth, life from life, each its own phenomenon.
Inside these walls, centuries rain small drops, the future mature,
the bats asleep in their leather capes content with their schedules.
We have no developmental stages here: no elk taking his first steps,
no awkward bull ruffled and boutonniered at the high school prom.
 
As I hunt outdoors on my own,
as I hurl my spear so it pierces their tender sides,
closes in on the heart, the eyes otherwise,
I will know that this hunger is spirited, existence obeisant.
Spelunker of love, apologist for all my raw doings,
I return to them to worship their presence,
these inviolate forms who wait down below,
protected from me and my human breath, who forgive me,
who can see no reason for blame.
 

 

Deborah Gorlin’s first book of poems, Bodily Course, won the 1996 White Pine Poetry Prize. She is the co-director of the Writing Center at Hampshire College and a freelance writer.

Tags:
Death
Nostalgia
aging
BOMB 66
Winter 1999
The cover of BOMB 66
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