Two Poems

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Rendezvous Fantasia

Here you are, after all these years.
You’ve chosen our diner.
Well done.
It’s still open,
and our favorite waitress still works here,
although, despite her politeness,
it’s clear she doesn’t remember us.
I order the Cobb salad (minus the bacon),
and you the turkey burger.
I find comfort in ritual so abruptly restored
and resilience in this linoleum terra firma.

Here you are, after all these years,
Time has not been genteel.
We’re both heavier than we were,
than we ought to be. Our hair has turned
to shades of pollution and slush.
Yours once shone strawberry and carrot.
There are lines where once smoothness reigned,
sagging where once tautness,
trepidation where once ease.
Still, we savor the hearty fare,
the bonhomie of the unchanged neon.

Here you are, after all these years.
But your style still blossoms casual, elegant.
I like your charcoal gray sweater and burgundy shirt.
You were always so put together.
As always, you have arresting reading material.
Lately, you’ve been immersed in the essays of Montaigne.
The observations, the witty dissection of self
have never been more alluring. And the way you look at me,
into me—all I can do is look down. Michel would get it!
Your confidence has never been more polished.
Yes, pass the pepper please. Cheers.

Here you are, after all these years.
We never could find a way to be together.
You, managing the plague, plagued by a wandering eye,
and of late, the tangle of pills, powder, and needles.
I, with the dragons.
We tried so many different iterations:
lover, friend, reader, host.
Only always was the jangle beneath:
the accusations, the appraisals, the never-enough.
All of it is on hand, even today. But still this banter,
blessed by the waitress we are sure almost remembers us.

Cobb salad and turkey burger gone
(but not forgotten),
my hand on the door,
my body poised
and handshake,
I wonder if this encounter actually happened
or whether it was a fantasy within a fantasy
and if there is a footpath out from anomaly.

          Where to from these fluorescent lights?

My love, please don’t die without me.

Throne, with Cat

If I were in a thrift shop,
the backdrop would only heighten its charm.
Ah yes, there is the ancient prophetess who nudges me forward.
The specter of negotiation shall not be summoned.
The racks of polyester shirts and slim neckties and chiffon frocks
and Bakelite-buttoned houndstooth coats,
the framed prints of rock stars once drooled over,
would all give way,
retreat to the bleachers.
Its ashes-of-rose folds would beckon,
brightening my day mild.

If I were in a museum,
it would sit atop a mini-dais.
A crystal decanter might sparkle just off to its right.
Only just in time would I withdraw my fingertips
from the mead residue particles I imagined there.
There would be a placard praising its form—
both voluptuous and spare—
clarifying its standing in the history of dazzle.
Against the whiteness of the walls
and the company of compatriots of earlier eras,
it would surely elicit admiration, however measured.

If I were in a shrine,
passersby might gawk,
drawn by flames flickering in weeping glass
and the relief of acceptable mourning.
Incense smoke might float upward.
Flowers in various stages of decay might be visible.
In the gloom,
it will be hard to know for sure.
And even if deciphered,
it would be off limits,
as if cordoned off by a rope of my own twisting.

Only we are in this poem;
this is what’s left to me.
Between these words,
the sun demarcates the disparity
between the auburn of your head locks
and the ginger of your beard.
You look up from trumpets blaring,
hips shimmying,
sopranos trilling,
cross your legs,
and smile at me.

The feral cat you rescued from the alley
writhes, restless beneath the glide of your hand,
unable to endure, unable to turn away from such pleasure.
Because I never shared her ambivalence,
I understand its utility, its necessity.
Somehow the cat knows not to scratch
those spindly-strong cherry wood legs.
I’ve never said a word to her.
There was never time.
She slinks in and out of your presence—
just as she does in this poem.

This poem might have been visualized in a well-appointed room.
The secret to maximizing moonlight is close at hand.
I once read somewhere how to rearrange star dust.
I can experiment,
conjure beakers and Bunsen burners.
If that fails, I can dig up that citation.
Even if I can’t pinpoint the whereabouts of kisses,
I honor your freckled hand caressing the mid-century book covers.
I amplify your tender whispers on the new anti-social media.
I polish the floors where your favorite armchair stood.
Never has your legacy been more resplendent.

translated from the Yiddish by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub