in memory of Czeslaw Milosz
The soul remembers that there is an up
and that there is down. It recognizes the earth
and the trees, the breadth of a Negev desert.
The soul knows the delicate, the livable layer
between dirt and the vast blank expanse
of the universe. The soul draws the horizon.
When my mother and I climbed the uneven steps
leading up one of Jerusalem’s
narrow alleys, she made a mistake
and looked down. She became so dizzy
she had to sit, and ascend the remaining flight
on her hands and knees. Not one
of the passersby offered to help.
My mother said, they think I’m climbing heaven’s aerial stairs.
On her hands and on her knees.
My soul somersaults. My soul stumbles
with the smallest of steps.
My soul knows only to keep moving.
In a big city, perhaps Paris or New York,
an émigré poet walks slowly
along foreign streets. In his arms, he carries
a microscope. Through it, the poet sees
that even on the tiniest scale horror
is the law of living things. The poet can’t stop looking
through the eyepiece.
When my mother began to suffer vertigo,
my father and I simply pretended otherwise. One day
we rode glass-paned elevators. The next day,
it was huddled against the door. She said, it’s like crossing
a suspension bridge in a hurricane.
She’d never been on a suspension bridge.
On bad days, my mother sat in her chair and barely
moved, never looking down or turning her head. The last month
of her life, she had trouble reading analog clocks.
The émigré poet writes poems about truth. People in exile
write many poems. He writes letters. In one, he asks the Pope, what
have they left to us?
My soul is vertiginous.
My soul shakes like dry sticks. My soul, trembling,
an atom flung loose.
Outside the window, a light wind blows
and hundreds of red and gold leaves rise up and up
over an ice-skinned river. This, though every tree I see
is bare. The leaves, defying even gravity,
“Vertigo” first appeared in Nimrod International Journal, Fall/Winter 2011, Vol. 55, No. 1.