Shirt

The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams, The nearly invisible stitches along the collar Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break Or talking money or politics while one fitted This armpiece with its overseam to...

Mixed Chorus

My real name is Israel Beilin. My father Was a Roman slave who gained his freedom. I was first named Ralph Waldo Ellison but I changed it to the name of one of your cities Because I was born a Jew in Byelorussia. I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. My other name...

Improvisation on Yiddish

I’ve got you in my pocket, Ich hob mir fer pacht. It sees me and I cannot spell it. Ich hob dich in bud, which means I see you as if You were in the bathtub naked: I know you completely. Kischkas: guts. Tongue of the guts, tongue Of the heart naked, the guts of the...

IV. Street Music (from City Elegies)

Sweet Babylon, headphones. Song bones. At a slate stairway’s base, alone and unready, Not far from the taxis and bars Around the old stone station, In the bronze, ordinary afternoon light— To find yourself back behind that real City and inside this other city Where...

From the Childhood of Jesus

One Saturday morning he went to the river to play. He molded twelve sparrows out of the river clay And scooped a clear pond, with a dam of twigs and mud. Around the pond he set the birds he had made, Evenly as the hours. Jesus was five. He smiled, As a child would who...

Grief

I don’t think anybody ever is Really divorced, said Lenny. Also, I don’t think anybody ever is Really married, he said. Because English was really his second language And because of Yiddish and its displaced Place in the world, he never really Believed in his own...