Margo Berdeshevsky

Whom Beggars Call

…and a heart that understands cuts like rust in the bones. [St. Augustine]


The two at the church door say “Ma fille,” they know I need,
they French-style kiss my

“bises,”
from beggars,
kiss me, twice.

The man who cannot love me whom I
chews his say I cannot correct, or love.

Like blue foxes, or birds,
graciously, the holy night
folds.

Or
Christmas stalks toward slouching Bethlehem again, the markets are ripe with foie gras,
and people will eat well while my beggarbrave days,

Oh obviously I see the concentrated man beside the church wall, so near if he was animal,
he’d bite. He’s drowning in plastic, and bottles, and bread, and blood. He’s carefully
daubing at his forearms with white paper, seining scabs in the thin noon, this rain is
straight-pins, he’s a serious kid inspecting his skinned knees in it, his arms bleed so near
if he was animal–

I pull my black woolen glove, I’ll empty all my pockets to his un-expectant hand, no not
touching it. I watch my coins, how they slip his loose claw. It’s because of how I have
purposely eluded making a skin contact, it’s because his lips, his water-eyes, I know how
to drown, and I look in his glare, the red-rimmed lakes so near the River Seine, and my
voice says “Go get something for the arms, your arms, yes?”

“Oui petite Madame, oui, c’est clair,” in his sidewalk lair he looks in me all blear and
limpid at the same, how is it possible, to correct? One hand shoots out at me to shake my
hand–a gentleman. The heartbeat drowns me. Can I not touch the leper? Or, I take his
skin to skin, cold off-key sweetness in it, hands like aftertastes of bitter almond, rinds, oh
open walnuts. In the rain, my glove, my black woolen house is too bright already.

In a blizzard dawn in another house, a red haired son rolls to his mother’s stretch-marked
belly, speaks in sleep, “You’re all the light I’ll ever need.” On my worried stairs, I’m the
glass one, sadder one, older one whom beggars still call “little lady,” and want to touch.

*

I am not wise.
I hide in churches.
The healer looks at me, and says I’m an exploded windshield, fissures sprayed across
the feet of chance. She says the break unveils the fragile underbelly and that’s good.
A strength.
Fragile. Strength. Fragile. Strength or mumbling like a beggar’s mantra, cross the Pont
des Arts.


I let him go like death, uncorrected.
Or graciously, the holy night folds my heart and other pages I have tried to memorize,
slowly as a blindness in its infant light.
Or
Christmas stalks toward slouching Bethlehem again, the markets ripe with
and the man
chews his own bones, blue fox in its winter snare. He bites his rosewood
pipe, or cannot love. Let’s say I try to heal him. Let’s say I try to heal him and I cannot,
or, he needs to be corrected. Or, tended by mendicants, bells,
the terrible starved angels speak.

I stain it on the mirror’s palette: change! I scrawl it 'cross the marble, manic as that man
of bones, or make it in a burned sienna lipstick-blood, beginning of a murderer’s tale or
scant salvation. Change. And Christmas stalks the hearts.

At the round dark vault that houses Mary Mother of
I light my mama’s candle,
“here, dead bird,”
and mutter until I think I begin to fathom it: our mothers. our births. our begging.

If there were ways to get to sides of lakes of no circumference.
Or two beside the church-door pray,
“On fait la bise, ma fille?”
They want to kiss me for my coin. “Que le bon Dieu t’aide, ce soir,
ma fille. On fait la bise?”
as though I may not say but Yes, and kiss me.

The man
chews his own bones like tough birds, like the fox, bites his pipe, or cannot
love. Let’s say I try to heal him.

Say dragonfly, spine, convulsing. Say sad or manic or belly flayed toward what invented
him, or God why are my wings in your teeth? Say I pray, I correct, I pray. I pray for this
whole cold season, stair after stair, oh obsessed as a roof-rat, her nest of dark red sleeps,
the tangle of her un-brushed hair.

*

Well I’m an actress who knows only a few of her lines.
As close to Advent as to her cave, unable to dream; or There is
a dream, I’m playing the mad Ophelia again. I’m humming snatches, broken-boned. There’s
paper in my mouth, I’m eating a postcard from my lost love, chewing it, oh
absentmindedly the words I have not read may get inside me this way may leave
their inks on my mouth, stains–“Oh where is the beauteous majesty of–” line-
plunged birdlings, of the rain.

I am haunted by the grim
man I am trying to heal.

Your tall and educated walls–Break them. Your fortune, lose it. Your everything, too big
for you. Your all that is the wound, unhealed. I send you pieces of God with my shaking
hands. Chew them, along with your bones. In dream I’ll meet your demons, twice their
size. How my hands are but salt, are raw with the daily sea. How I am haunted by giving
up. By your elegant fire pit, gone gray. Or Christmas stalks toward slouching Bethlehem
again, the markets, ripe with foie gras, and the people will–

Oh obviously I see the other, so near if he was animal, he’d bite. He’s drowning in–He’s
carefully daubing at–inspecting knees in it, his arms bleed so if he was animal–he’d
chew them off, or caught.

I pull my woolen empty, all my no–not touching it. It’s because of how I have
purposely, because of his lips, his water-eyes, I know how to drown. “Your arms, yes?”
or Christmas stalks whom beggars call–

“Oui petite Madame, oui, c’est clair.
“Que le bon Dieu t’aide ce soir, ma fille,”

in his sidewalk blear
how is it possible,
to correct?

“I heal you with correction. You need to be corrected.” Alice said so. I heard her.
One hand shoots out at me to shake my hand–a gentleman. The heartbeat drowns me,
skin to skin, cold off-key sweetness in it, hands like aftertastes of bitter almond, rinds, oh
open walnuts. Change, I scrawled across my mirror, before I left my dark house. Change,
for a merry Christmas. In the rain, my glove, my black woolen house is too bright already.

In a blizzard dawn in another house, a red haired son rolls to his mother’s stretch-marked
belly, speaks in sleep, “You’re all the light I’ll ever need.” On my worried stairs, I’m the
glass one, see-through one, or older one whom beggars still call “little lady,” and want to
touch.


[“I heal you with correction, you need to be corrected.” —Alice Notley]

Margo Berdeshevsky

Whom Beggars Call is from But a Passage in Wilderness (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2007).

Poem, copyright © 2007 by Margo Berdeshevsky
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2008, From the Fishouse

First posted on March 22, 2008 12:11 PM