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Alvin M. Laster - Poetry

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A POET'S PRAYER

ACCEPTANCE

AFTER THE FALL

AMUSEMENT PARK

ARABESQUE

ARRANGING FLOWERS

AT THE PLAZA

AT THE THEATER

BABY IN BUFF

BALLET IN A TIN CAN

BECOMING FATHER

BIDING MY TIME

BLIND CHILD AT THE PIANO

BRINGING UP FATHER

CARNIVAL

CASABLANCA

CHANCE ENCOUNTER

COMPANY

CONVERSATION IN SIGNS

CONSIDER THE ZUCCHINI

COUNTING TIME

CROWS

DEAR THEO

DIANA  AND  I  DINE  AT  THE  SEAFARER

DIFFERENT

DINNER

DISCOURSE

DOING IT OVER

ELDER SONG

ELLIS ISLAND

EMMA

EPISTLE

EVER SO HUMBLE

EVERYTHING WEARS AND WEATHERS

FATHER

GO DOWN MOSES

GRANDFATHER TO GRANDDAUGHTER LEAVING

HEADING HOME

HOMAGE TO THE TATTOOED MAN

HONEST ABE IN WASHINGTON

HOW THE GIVER GETS

IN THE GARDEN

INEZ

JUDGEMENT

KENNY AT THE BAT

KNEADING LOAVES

LET THERE BE...

LIVING IN DISORDER

LOOKING AT FACES

MAY FLY

MEMORIAL for Laura

METAMORPHOSIS

MIDAS

MUSHROOMS

NIGHT SKY

NIGHT

NIGHT VIGIL

OF GRANDFATHERS AND STONES

OLD SHOES

ON THE BEACH

ORACLE

PAVAN FOR A GODDESS GONE

PASSAGES

PEELING ONIONS

PIGEONS

PRAYER

REMEMBERING GRANDMOTHER

REMEMBERING SISYPHUS

REQUIEM FOR ANNE FRANK

RESURRECTION

SAID MRS. REDWING BLACKBIRD

SECOND BLOOM

SKIPPING STONES

SNOWFALL

SONG OF PROMETHEUS

SORTING LAUNDRY

SURFING THE INTERNET

THE DANCE

THE EARTH AND I

THE END OF FANTASY

THE FALCON

THE MASTER CHIP

THE MEETING

THE NEW WORKERS

THE PARTING

THE ROUND BELLIES OF WOMEN

THE STORM

THE SUN STOOD STILL IN THE HEAVENS...

THE WALL

THE WORLD INTRUDES

TIME

TO CHUCK, MY CHILDHOOD FRIEND

TURNING CARTWHEELS

VENICE

VESPER

VIOLETS

VISIT TO THE NETHER WORLD

WORDS









TURNING CARTWHEELS      

        The earth, grooved in its habitual orbit,
           is spinning toward summer.
        Warmed by the nearing sun, the days
        are lengthening like shadows before
           the dying light, and on the lawn,
        a child, two generations removed,
               is turning cartwheels.

        Sitting in a peel-paint lawn chair,
           I think I see his mother in some
        past performance, displaying
           the same agile gymnastics;
        and this grandfather wonders
           that life repeats the way spring,
        and tulips, and terror cartwheel
           predictably through time.

        A few thousand miles from this lawn,
           there are places where winter
        seems stuck, stuttering its doom like
            a broken record; places without love,
        where children are huddled in shattered
           houses, eaten by hunger and flies,
        alien to joy and the careless
           practice of the cartwheel.

        When exuberant Martin spins
           through the air, the world of his
        childhood turns upside down,
           and he is walking on bouncy clouds,
        dipping his young feet in the blue of sky,
            so that he might write
        his name on the earth, the minute
           his vaulting shadow spills upright
        on the soft belly of summer.

        May each spin bring him joy,
           and give him lift for the turn yet to come. 
            May he be spared the earthbound tug   
               of pain and calamity,and may the force
            of the feet of all the young cartwheelers
           steady the world and bring summer
                      and healing in its turn.
           
                  ©  Alvin M. Laster
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LET THERE BE...

Let there be summer in every small town
    where the housing grows sparse
             and small farms roll out like a green carpet

Let there be farmers leading their herds
    to the milking barns, where grasshoppers
       feed in the hayloft and cats
          and kittens sun in the long
                 grass on a long day.

Let there be sunshine and blue skies
    with a scarf of starlings unraveling
         against a great white billowing cloud.

Let there be bees humming their joy
    as they bring sweet offerings,
       homage to the queen.

Let there be white cottages with green shutters
    and great pompoms of peonies
        in the flower beds and violets
           creeping into the lawns.

Let there be labor and leisure and renewal.

Let every soldier in every conflict
    drop his weapon and turn toward
       home and the arms of loved ones

Let there be peace and joy in the world
    for once and  forevermore.


                  ©  Alvin M. Laster

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NIGHT VIGIL

I was young then, when satellites,
lit by echoes of sunlight, first appeared
in the night sky like shooting stars.

Binoculars to my eyes, my head pillowed
on a mound of moist meadow,
I searched the vast country of the night.

Then it appeared, a sharp glowing
knife, slicing through the light show,
thousands of miles above my perch.

Leaping to my feet, brimming with wonder,
I confronted my own minute presence,
the way a hawk in a windstorm

confronts its impotence and fragility,
caged in this vast and infinite cosmic stew
that enlivens, nourishes and kills us all.


©Alvin M. Laster

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THE END OF FANTASY

Night throws a black-clad leg
   across the window sill and pulls
its sequined torso through.
   It has come upon this children's hour
bearing sly enticements...
   dreams of never-never land
     where fantasies are currencies
and colors never fade.

Within their darkened rooms,
   the trusting children
      mount the downy perch of fancy,
   arms spread and feathered
to the wind, to take the wide-eyed
         leap into tomorrow.

We, who should have grown
       beyond the lure of fable,
     have embarked upon a kindred flight. 
Like lost children, we ride
       our destined orbits around
  Time, our aging fantasies urging
      us on with hands extended,
                   the dream .
            almost within reach.


                   ©Alvin M. Laster

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TO CHUCK, MY CHILDHOOD FRIEND

What brave warriors we were
in those long summer afternoons,
defenders of the playfort we built
on Green Mountain, tree branches
for guns; rat-tat-tat. side by side,
how we mowed them down, Chuck,
against overwhelming odds, in spite
of your handicap.  Remember?

Well Chuck, I grew up, and became
a real soldier and found that war is not
anything like the games we played.
Here, in this faraway country, young men
are being torn apart by roadside bombs. 
The noise is deafening, blood pools in bomb
craters, dying boys scream for their mothers
with their last breaths.  Believe me,
I have never been so terrified.

I killed a man, Chuck.  In a panic,
I shot him, even though he had dropped
his gun, and held his empty hands above
his head, his frightened face pleading mercy.
When he fell, I dropped my rifle, and my legs
buckled.  I fell to my knees on the bloody ground
beside him, and I couldn't stop sobbing.

It wasn’t like that when we were kids, Chuck,
was it?  We were heroes then, and we felt good.
We could end the war anytime and go home
to dinner.  Oh, Chuck, I wish you were here,
now, to tell me why I am kneeling
in the freezing mud... weeping...weeping.

                        
© Alvin M. Laster


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OF GRANDFATHERS AND STONES

When I was a pebble on the scalloped
landscape of home, Grandpa taught me
that Vermont had a stubborn soul.
He dared me to sink a spade into the ground
anywhere, without feeling the scrape
and hold of rock and root.
Grandpa figured as how it took a full day
of Genesis just to fill Vermont with stones,
there being so many and such a weight of them.
They were, he said, God’s gift and curse. 
They are for children to throw
at crows and barnsides, for farmers to sharpen
their tongues against,
for mountains and monuments.

Most Vermont grandfathers could read the stones
like history books, could tell whether
they came out of the rolling ice fields or
out of an upthrust from the earth’s belly. 
They could hear the wind in them,
the way islanders can hear the ocean in a shell.
My grandfather learned
to listen to the counsel of the stones,
when they spoke to him like oracles
in the many tongues of silence. 
“Vermont grandfathers,” he said, “when they go
to their rest, do not go from dust to dust.
They go from stone to stone.”




©Alvin M. Laster


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AMUSEMENT PARK

There is an eerie silence, here.
The calliope is gone and the wooden
steeds with their painted manes 
have galloped off to some lesser
merry-go-round, the cruel iron
bits still lodged between their jaws.

A strong gust of wind whips up sand
and gravel, as it whistles through
the skeleton struts of “The Wild Tornado”
with its dangling “O”, and I hear
the screams of the frightened girls,
gripping the lap bar on the steep drop
from the shattered apogee...

and I am 16, again, my arm around
some giggling Suzzie in bobby socks 
and penny loafers; the dream, rueful
as the faded clown face on the tilting
“Fun House” with its wide-mouth
entrance, sweet as cotton candy,
and promising as the pitch-dark ride
with Suzzie through the “Tunnel of Love.”
                   


©Alvin M. Laster

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ELDER SONG
                                      
I am wary of long shadows, so I hesitate to look
behind me or count my days.  I am, however,
counting my blessings: the gifts of seasons,
spring leaping out of roadsides and meadows,
running up her colors; the long days and luscious
fruits of summer;  autumn flashing audacious hues;
winter’s frosty breath on window panes; icicles
hanging from drain pipes; snowflakes on the tongue.
 
I am grateful for September beaches, for lithe
young women in large hats,  waddling tots,
the bubbling laughter of children... mine and yours,
the grace of dance.  I harbor little apprehension
for the great mysteries waiting for me in the wings,
but I trust that I will find some precious gifts
among them to compensate for the losses
that Time exacts for its offering of years.  

It has taken me more than three quarters
of a century to invent myself, to fill my head
with notions, mindset, and the careful
construction of attitudes. I have known the love
of a strong woman, the nurture of  grown children.
and I walk, each day, among caring people.

Today, I reach up to grasp a handful of light,
and I capture a universe of atoms in my fist.
I release them, so that they, like I, will merge,
once more, with the great sea of life of which
each of us is a precious part... that great melange
that stretches before us, as infinite
and illimitable as the great blue dome of sky
above and the silent cosmos beyond.
               

©Alvin M. Laster

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THE SUN STOOD STILL IN THE HEAVENS...

high over Gibeon, where Joshua’s armies
sallied forth under the piercing light.
The world turned twice while the battle
was won and the fallen fruit of the field
rotted and stank in the killing heat
of the long day of the drawn swords.

In the lowlands of Egypt in the time
of the lingering light, Abdul, the fisherman,
dragged his net, haul after tiresome
haul, from the heated waters of the Nile
until exhausted, he gave himself to sleep
upon a bed of rainbow catch, and the boat
drifted swiftly on, unguided, seduced
by the song of the thundering waterfall.

In the village of Zalmon, under the shade
of Mount Hor, teenaged lovers waited
for the concealing night, hand yearning
for the touch of skin, mouths hungry
for mouths, flesh hungry for flesh,
as the overlong day wore on.

The River Jordan meandered through
the parched sands of Judea, while a full
bellied adolescent, brimming
with child rubbed her birth bed covers
in the cleansing waters, until the last
doubling bolt of pain delivered her offspring
into the longest day of the world.

Joshua’s battle won, God’s covenant kept,
the moon rose high in the heavens
and darkness fell like a mourner’s shawl
upon the carnage of Gibeon.  Only sky-borne
Pisces witnessed the plight of the drowning
fisherman and saw the silver Nile welcome
the return of the fisher’s catch.

The new moon invited the children of Zalmon
to renew their lust.  In darkness their
bodies entwined, their eyes bright-shining,
like the spangled sky.  Darkness fell
upon Canaan, where a mother-child rocked
her suckling infant, and the ears
of the night heard the singing stream
render a lullaby to the sun.   Peace
settled upon the world, and the sacred
book of long days was closed forever.

                     

©Alvin M. Laster

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ACCEPTANCE

 My friend, do not expect the world be true,
 for Nature celebrates its imperfections... 
 the faulted leaf, the mottled feather,
some slightly altered symmetry.

See how blue October skies, without
a vagrant wisp or two of cloud, can be
as tedious as over-righteous men;
and how convening blackbirds choose
the crippled sycamore from which
to crow their brash disharmonies.

So I have pruned expectancy, and learned
to take things as they come: the silver
edged with tarnish, the greens a little wilted,
a circle out of true.  And I will call you
honest, friend, unless the lies you tell to me
are different from the lies you tell yourself.
                      

©Alvin M. Laster


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HONEST ABE IN WASHINGTON

                     (A fable)

They took him for Raymond Massey.
Shaggy beard, deepset eyes, craggy face.
He paused on the steps of the white-pillared
Capitol, jostled by lobbyists and lawyers,
There were howls of laughter when
the autograph-seekers saw what he had written
on the backs of the envelopes they had offered
him for signing with their strange inksticks.


A century and more of guns and gore gone by
since they had put him down to rest, final rest,
in the cramped box, dark of life traded for
dark of death, his hands crossed left over
right upon his breast, the plain gold band
dulled by melancholy and reproach.
Now, like Persephone in springtime,
he had left his silent world to walk again
the unfamiliar places he had walked before.

Earlier, the surly uniform at Ford’s Theater
had tugged at his beard, checked his likeness
against the picture on a crumpled greenback,
reproached him for a “bad joke”, shouted
                     “Impostor!”
and pushed him roughly out the side door
into the steamy street, where an urchin hawked
souvenir flags with fields of too many stars.

He climbed the long steps trailed by laughing
children and approached the black man in blue,
who turned the children back and, awestruck,
ushered him onto a Senate floor with its fat
moneychangers, spouting Beltway babble.
“Awesome place,” said a young tourist.
“Hasn’t changed much,” said the stovepipe hat. 
“No, Sir.  Hasn’t changed at all.”



                              
©Alvin M .Laster


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THE WORLD  INTRUDES

It is three-thirty in the morning and I haven’t
slept a wink all night.  I would take a sleeping
pill, but I will have to get up at six to drive
to work, while still under the influence.

Too much on my mind... the monthly car
payment, my son’s college tuition,
the cost of my daughter’s wedding reception
are eroding my eroded savings. 

Tomorrow, another mortgage payment
comes due, and I marvel that so many
serious concerns can inhabit this small head,
 and try as I may, I can’t shut my mind off. 

I have a little house in the suburbs,
a job and a boss that keep me harried,
but grateful for any employment
in these bad times.  I have a loving wife
and a golden retriever that consumes
more food than I do.  I should be
a happy man, but I worry too much.

I turn on the TV and flip my remote
to CNN.  Somewhere in Iraq a roadside
bomb has just blown up a Sunni school bus.
Bodies and blood are everywhere.

I crave sleep, but an adulterous
woman in Afghanistan, is being
stoned to death by the Taliban.
 I plunge my TV screen into darkness
and silence, and I fervently wish
I could do the same with my mind.
                      
©Alvin M .Laster


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CONSIDER THE ZUCCHINI

Push the tan teardrop of its beginning
into a hill of loam, and watch for its
thrusting emergence, the vine stretching
its length along its shadow, while donning
a green garment to court the sun.

Consider the zucchini, blinding
and throttling all contenders for its
square of soil and sun, as it plays out its
manifest destiny, unfurling yellow banners
to stake a claim upon the land.

Oh, how it celebrates fecundity!
Soon green sausages take possession
of the vine, thickening their personal
armour against insurgency of slug and beetle,
as they grow to robust fullness.

Seeing the hunter-gatherer in the patch,
they play at hide and seek among
the fans and shadows, rejoicing at
retreating footfalls, while sucking water from
the giving ground to pump themselves blimpy
and unbeautiful before the game resumes.

Consider Zucchini the Magician,
popping his green fingers from a green glove,
yellow silks from a green tube, flowers
metamorphosing into more green fingers,
till the summer becomes so full of edibles
that the gardener cries for mercy and
pleads for the killing kiss of winter.


       © Alvin M. Laster

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TIME

At dawn, Time, sprung like a sprite
out of the glow and befriended me,
indulging me with witless play
all my lively days.  We ran
with the sun down floral paths,
danced on our shadows
and splashed in a silver pond
among the water lilies.

Time let me trip gayly
down the wind-swept meadows
and filled my days with surprise.
Along my merry way, I learned
the wiles of courtship
and the music of the soul.

When noon blazed overhead,
my blood blazed in my senses.
It was the time of ripening,
when love and desire claimed
my consciousness and held
me tightly in its thrall.

My muses led me a happy chase.
My pen danced across my pages
to a new and fetching tune,
while my heart found another,
and love bound us to Time.

How, in all my dreaming, could
I have known that the sun
would begin to set so early,
and that Time would bare its teeth
like a hungry wolf and nip at my flesh,
gnaw at my bones, drink my vigor.

Like a lover, jolted, Time in all
its mutations, shuttled me
into its shade and left me
with fading memories of halcyon
days, early love, and that moment
when I danced on my shadow
and splashed in a silver pond
among the water lilies.


       © Alvin M. Laster

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The New Workers

Last month,
Wittko and Gomez.
Today, a New  Worker stands
on line in old Zukauska's place
meeting the unrelenting
tin parade, rivets
at the ready.

A cold hand
fires the welder's arc,
spraying indigo and ebony
on trafficked ceilings, while deaf
ears ignore the screech of
gears.  No Monday morning
lamentations here.

The sighing belts
are never quiet now.
The New Workers shun the coffee
breaks, have no union cards,
no tales to tell,
no mornings-after, no need to rest.
They whirr, buzz,  click and bang
in uncomplaining occupation.

The shop steward is gone,
replaced by a suggestion box.
The foreman, who only yesterday
paced the line frenetically,
is seated now before a board
of blinking lights and levers.
The inside temperature
has fallen to a chilling sixty-two degrees.
   
    The New Workers never punch the clock   
    The New Workers never cease their toil.   
    The New Workers never dream of tropic isles.   
    The New Workers never leave the line to pee.   
       The New Workers wield a new broom,
              and we are the litter of the past.


                             ©Alvin M. Laster

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ELLIS ISLAND                   

"I'll never forget the smell of it," Father said.
"Thousands of unwashed bodies, foul from
sickening days in steerage, moving in lockstep,
mingled essence of filth and fear enveloping us
the way a storm cloud shrouds the sun."
     Welcome to the Promised Land.

The salt spray at the ferry's prow breaks
into prisms, and through the shimmering rainbow
the specter of a great castle appears,
becomes substance... glass, brick, stone,
undulating arches, open portals beckoning.

The landfill is solid underfoot.  Panning the
harbor, I think how the Babe, my boyhood
hero, could have clouted a ball from here
across the water to strike, for all her colossal
majesty, the nearby lady of the torch.

The doors swing easily, and I enter the belly
of a dream to find a ragged army of beggars
pressing forward in long lines, moving in sleepwalk,
a babble of tongues, thrumming like a beehive,
incoherent as the cries of crows.

I look for my father in the long hall
of the floating palace.  I think it is his back I see
in the worn suit, where he is bent over the soiled
carpetbag he lifts as the line moves on toward
the officer shouting contempt in a harsh voice.

I hear the cries of infants, cradled in the arms
of ragged children.  Eyelids are rolled back, stomachs
poked, hair examined through a glass, papers pored
over and checked against the manifest.  Then suddenly,
the vision disappears.  The hall is empty.

I scan the black on white portraits lining the walls...
dark foreign faces, strange garments. 
They are all my father, all seeds awaiting the
sowing beneath the gaze of a harvest of pilgrims
come to pay homage to ghosts of hazy remembrance.

I feel his presence.  My father whispers in my ear:
"It will be all right, my son.  I am not afraid anymore. 
Tomorrow I will give you this land."


© Alvin M. Laster

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LIVING IN DISORDER

This morning, I discovered
I had run out of milk
for my breakfast cereal.
It was another example
of my disordered life.

I have left sweaters
everywhere, lost countless
pairs of eyeglasses and keys,
mistakenly gathered mail
from my neighbor's mailbox
and arrived late and missed
too many appointments.

How many opportunities
might I have squandered?
How many trails have I
failed to explore, because
of my indifference?  How
many trains have I missed
because I hadn’t gauged
my time or planned ahead?

On the other hand, I may
have discovered better
opportunities and other fertile trails.
Perhaps, there is truth
in destiny, for I am still 
losing keys and eyeglasses,
while I am exploring new trails.
winning the lottery, missing
trains and avoiding dark
 tunnels to nowhere.


© Alvin M. Laster


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CARNIVAL


Like a bird of prey, she waits for you
in every carnival from here to
everywhere... Desirée, Queen of the Gypsies,
mystic of the tea leaves, dressed in the
gaudy banners of Romany, jingling
her cheap bracelets like tambourines.

Standing before the last tent
on the Avenue of Grotesques,
like a beautiful Scylla, keening
over the whirlpools of illusion,
she is ready to lift billfold,
lost hope, and questing heart
in one deft move.

She will draw you into her tent with
incantations and promises of ecstasy,
sell you potions to woo the wind
and amulets against camel straws.
.
She will marvel at the length
of your lines, tell you of riches,
journeys and dark strangers.

When the incense clears and the next
pilgrim shades the entrance,
Desiree will send you into tomorrow
with dreams and expectations that turn
to dross like her worthless bangles
and a vision of paradise that will
fold like her canvas palace, then
vanish like a specter in the night.

© Alvin M. Laster

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AT THE PLAZA

I am sitting in the Palm Court at the
Plaza, sipping my second Margarita
(or is it the fourth?), wondering
how long I have been here.

Nothing blocks my view of the room.
The waitress took the opposite
chair away, giving it
to the incoming party of five
including the flat-chested woman
in the starlight jacket.
I listen as her companions
stage-whisper: “Occidental Oil”.
“Buy short”, “Zurich elves”
while she chases ice
with a mini-straw and sneaks
an occasional peek
at (I think) me through
half-drawn, painted lids.

Last night, melancholy and alone
in my small room on the West Side,
I looked out the window
and considered how the sunsets
grow redder as the year
draws on....

And who in the world  was John Tyler?

To tell the truth, in these bad times
I can’t afford the tongue-in-cheek
fraud they peddle in this place:
palm trees in New York,
pearls that never saw shells,
dreamers, straw-grabbers,
queens-for-a-day.
Why do I return so often?

At the table behind me, a man
chortles and a woman breaks into
an aria of giggles.
I cover my ears to block their
ridicule, shut my eyes
to drown them in darkness
and I slip into fantasy.

I am dancing with Starlight Jacket,
inhaling the scent
of roses and pheromones.
She pulls me into her, stirring
the longing that possesses me
like the signet ring
grown tight below
this crippled knuckle.

The excitement is too much.
The room spins.
The fantasy ends.
I sit alone at the table,
an empty pocket Prufrock,
my bad ticker pounding,
gone Starlight Jacket,
gone Margarita,
Hovering maitre d’....

And who the hell was
        Hoagy Carmichael?



© Alvin M. Laster

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THE DANCE
(to my partner, my wife)

The dance is an exercise in grace,
     the body’s offer of compliance
         to the music, while each turn,
    each step, bonds with the beat.         

                Every tendon, muscle fiber, heart
                    beat, is given to the discipline,
          as the body becomes bird, sprite
and graceful line in turn.

When I danced with you, my love,
    two bodies given to the song
        and to each other, it was always an act
     of love.  Each step, each break, each dip
became a mutual dedication.

    I love you as a trumpet loves a riff,
as a dream loves its dreamer,
          while you, my partner, and I became
both loved and lover, melded by the dance.

                  Alvin M. Laster

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THE PARTING

Old friend, did you ever recall the way
we children played away our long summer
hours in our hideaway in the lush
overgrowth of Soapstone Mountain,
where we, an exclusive fraternity
of two, buried pennies in a tin can bank
          against hard times?

Did you ever reminisce upon a
pair of lusting teens on the make,
decaying condoms in their wallets,
making them feel like Casanovas, waiting
for the right moments and right girls,
while secretly afraid they would say,
           “Yes.”

I married a year after you to the woman
you found for me before we went off
to war, returning whole and reunited
to enjoy children and picnics
together at Sea Island beach, before
long forgotten words or deeds
sundered our bonds with the cleaver
                of rage.

You cannot know I have come
to see you, white and still, in your oak
and satin bed to plead forgiveness
for the many years of diminishing anger,
for being too proud to make the first
move or accept blame for our
           estrangement.

I am here to lament our parting, wishing
I had swallowed my pride, so that we
could have had that final conversation,
where I would have told you that you
remained in my thoughts,
that I grieved our fall from affection
to unwarranted bitterness, and that
           I loved you.

© Alvin M. Laster

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OLD SHOES

These old shoes have walked me
just about as far
as we can go together.
Cuff-buffed, worn, and weathered,
They squeak their tired protests,
while ulcerated undersides
emit faint, fetid sighs,
poor soles, to let me know
that trudgery is drudgery.
Now they tweek my tender
bunions to remind me
that even the best
of friendships can wear thin.

Tomorrow I'll tie the old
clodhoppers together, tattered
lace to lace and consign them to the
dustbin, dust to dust, before
I keep my overdue assignation
with new old shoes... wingtips,
fashioned out of fashion's vice...
the pair I bought in haste ten years
ago, but banished to my darkest
closet-corner, where they
wait like hungry hounds
yearning for a meal of bones.

But first I'll take
a few toe-stretching moments
in my sagging easy chair
to screw my courage up,
as I am wont to do,
before I suffer all things new,
untried, unsure of fit...
callous for lack of wear.


                    © Alvin M. Laster

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SORTING LAUNDRY


Snowbound Monday...
   and I am reading Nemerov
      in my easy chair by the window,
    large flakes fluttering like white
doves outside, piling up
     on lawn and lamp post.

You dump done laundry,
     warm on the bed.
    and begin to sort.
I abandon my book and add
   two hands to the mix.
laying ribbed socks on ribbed,

black on black, brown on brown,
     until I find a missing blue,
   clinging tenaciously inside
your red nightdress.
    It protests with a static snap
     as I pull it away.

We laugh knowingly, seeing
     the moment as metaphor
Our hands touch
     and cling briefly,
before we return to the work     
     of sorting our lives,

sorting our countless tangled
    experiences into separate, but
     private compartments,
where we bury the darker ones
     deep under the pile.

                      © Alvin M Laster
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AFTER THE FALL


When the  heat and the floods have subsided;
when the water has drained from the shorn land
and silence reigns once again upon the unforgiving
Earth, the searing wind will sweep the past away.

How long might it take for the waters to recede?
Would some life-form remain in the sea
to produce a simple organism capable of
crawling upon the ravaged land and take hold?

And might evolving forms possess historical
insight, some misty dream of granite meadows,
where foolish creatures predicted the Fall,
but continued their headlong progress to doom?

As I am writing this poem, I look out my garden
window, where  crinkly leaves snow from an old maple. 
A squirrel is busy collecting nuts and crab apples
to store for winter.  The squirrel is innocent,

intuiting that he will harvest and store
forever.  But I can see the gathering evidence
that the Great Fall has already begun, and wonder
whether giants may roam the earth again.


© Alvin M. Laster

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DISCOURSE WITH AN AGING BRAIN


Old friend, permit me these brief comments,
posed to mend a growing rift in our relationship.
We’re both aware we have a common destiny,
that we are bound to suffer time together;
and we’ll no longer leap and soar as
when our blood was hot and sparking.

We know that there are limits to expectations,
but I have seeded you with soaring moments,
sensual highs, and intellectual promise, in
the hope that a harvest of memories would
fill my autumn cornucopia to the brim.

Instead you fumble the names of treasured
friends and obscure the spice of  bygone
clusters of shimmering moments behind 
an overgrowth of brush and shadows.
But let us not give time this victory.  Shape up! 

We still can put this show back on the road,
dazzle the dwindling audience, capture and focus
their attention, so they will say, “There’s old Al,
sharp as a tack and full of the old get up and go,
bright as the sun on a blue-sky day.” 

How about a bright new enterprise, old buddy?
Set aside that old album with sepia photos
of faintly remembered names and places.
Let’s kindle new spirits, light new fires,
and sing new songs to spur us on our way.

                      © Alvin M Laster
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EPISTLE

Dear friend,

Nothing...
           but NOTHING
in this lifelong day could rate
a chuckle, let alone a laugh.
You might say this deadbeat
world was littered with
banana peels, and true to form,
I never missed a pratfall.
And me without a lude!

As if the bongos
          tuning in my skull
                 on last night's sour wine
were not enough, Con-Ed jackhammered me
awake with syncopated howitzers
at five A.M., and the inquisitors
down at UNEMPLOYMENT don't start filling
rice bowls until nine.
Talk about long mornings.

Like you,
         this city has abandoned me.
I tramped its filthy streets for half
the afternoon, searching for a friendly face.
No dice.  So I hung out
in this creepy park watching weirdos
         watch me
             watch them
                  watch me
until my skin began to crawl.

I rode home in a desecrated subway car,
swinging on a metronome that ticked me
                      in
                  and out
of rancid armpits, while some
broad-assed woman pressed her buns against
my rear and gave me an erotic high
that kept me standing all way uptown.

  I said my usual genuflected
           "Thank you, God"
on finding that my furnished room
had made it through another day without
a forced intrusion by some uninvited
junk dealer.  But when I made
my hurried call to Dial-a-Porn,
hoping to connect before my subway
                  turn-on
                       turned off,
I got a neuter busy signal.

So here I sit,
my growling stomach silent now,
courtesy of Lipton's Cup-a-Soup
            and Oysterettes,
writing this final letter on a piece of
paper napkin, asking you to... please...
come back.  Oh, please come back to me.
No long-term commitment required
               or expected.... Please.
Just for a day,
                   an hour,
                             a look,
                                    a laugh.

                                              Love,
                                                  Me.


©  Alvin M. Laster

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PRAYER

Give me, each day, something to praise:
The bubbling laughter of a child at play
Or the daylit moon, floating in a haze
Of frothy clouds on a summer’s day.
Let me be pleasured by such simple things
As the sweet song of birds and the rainbow glow
Of sun on a dragonfly’s lucent wings.
Help me be humble and kind as I go.
Make my love clear to the ones I hold dear,
My family of nestlings gone from the nest.
Keep them safe, unencumbered by fears.
And at best,
  Dear God, through their years
                          Hold them blessed.

                          ©  Alvin M. Laster

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BECOMING FATHER

Another day extricates itself from time
   and calls me to a world of change.
I rise and don my father’s mask to
   face the shaving mirror on the wall.

I hold my safety razor in my father’s
    sausage fingers, pull taught the wrinkles
of our cheek, lift our chin and squint
   our squint, as we let the razor ride.

I drop my gravely voice two octaves,
   when I sing our daybreak song.
And when I walk in the world,
     I slow our gait and bend our back,
               forgetting I am me.
         


                            ©Alvin M. Laster



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CONVERSATION IN SIGNS


          they were only thoughts away
              across the room
      beyond the bridge of sound
                still
                     I heard them
              heard them speaking
                               heard them
               with my eyes

                    she spoke to him
               in flights of butterflies
                     he answered
               with a soaring of birds-in-hand
                      tipping his finger feathers
                into shades
                       of whispered assonance

    she wore on her face
           a sky of changing clouds
                     he wore
             the chalkless face of mime
                          and soon
                   the quiet room resounded
             with a symphony
                          of lilting poems
                   sung in silent chorus.


                          ©  Alvin M. Laster


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AT THE THEATER

If you had seen the play,  “War in Two Acts,”
you would have heard its captivating overture,
Concerto for Grenade and Mortar Fire.

You would have inhaled the searing aroma of
spent black powder and become stoned
on the bitter brew of fear and burning flesh.

Between the acts, when the stage is lit with
flare and flame,  your ears would be pounding
with the music of the Heavy Metal Bullet Band.

In the second act, you’d have seen a beautiful
seductress in diaphanous gown, pirouetting
down stage, toward you, beckoning as she spins.

She would be pointing a painted finger at the
most innocent and passionate participant... YOU,
before lifting the veil from her death’s-head face
to kiss you with her boney mouth,
as the music fades and the curtain falls.
                       © Alvin M. Laster

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EVERYTHING WEARS AND WEATHERS

Everything wears and weathers.
There is nothing old but cannot use
another coat of paint, a new facade,
a bold addition, some ornament refurbished.

This wrinkled envelope is house
for my corruptible machine of bone
and muscle which has seen better days.
It now plays tricks on me, screams for repair,

lets the bitter wind blow through,
and leans a trifle on its weathered beams,
yet still stands obdurate against
the escalating fury of the storm.

Tomorrow, I will move this battered shack,
every aging plank of it, upon a sky-high
hilltop, and set its creaking studs
where it can catch the sunlight

dancing on the window panes, while breezes
sing new songs along the eaves.  And then
I think I'll paint the sighing shingles
dayglo red to court the hummingbirds.

© Alvin M. Laster


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VESPER

Beneath starglow and nightsong,
outside of stress and serenity,
twin beacons of green
search and glide.
It is the time of hunt and hide,
stalk and stealth.

The bobcat tracks the hare,
the snake forsakes rock for rodent,
the owl squeezes the last squeak
out of the mouse,
yet nothing dies,

but passes from
one form to another,
as life feeds on life,
feeds on life,
at night as in day,
on earth as in ocean,
forever and ever,
        Amen
     

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AUNT EMMA


Smell of rose water and
glycerin on her hands,
sour milk on her skin,
Sen-Sen on her breath,
Aunt Emma appeared each
July, like sun in summer,
to take her idyll, rocking
rocking, dreaming on our
suburban porch.

Sungold braids circled her crown
like wilted laurel, sometimes wispy
and askew, tickling my my cheek
as she leaned closer to whisper
with all her final “t”s and “g”s
enunciated, how she trembled
to hear Caruso at the Met or how
she supped at Sardi’s after openings.

The city lady sometimes walked
unsteadily, and blushing, said under
her breath, “Those dizzy spells...” and
shook another purple triangle out of the
thin tin box, before she gathered me
into her ample lap, called me “Pet”
and told me about missed chances.

Some mornings, she’d shake her
demons early and take me to the
candy store to buy Black Crows,
ocarinas made of chewing wax,
licorice twists or Jujubes for letting
her (she said) share my bedroom
and for shutting my ears to her snoring
and the sound of swallows in the night.

Each year she’d put a silver dollar
in my hand the day of leaving.
Then I’d go inside and take
the empty bottles from beneath the
pillowcases in the bottom bureau
drawer and cart them out the back way
to the rubbish heap without a word to
Ma and Pa, who anyway (I think),
knew all about it and were sad.

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DIANA  AND  I  DINE  AT  THE  SEAFARER

I lift my small daughter that she might see
the slithering bodies in their luminous
olive sheaths crawl one upon another
in one corner of the aquarium tank
at the Seafarer Restaurant on Wolcott Street.

Disarmed, defenseless, they drag their great
wood-wedged claws, their eyes swiveling
on rooted stalks, while sweeping antennae,
like robot sensors, search for the authentic
essence of ocean among the huddled masses
of armored hulls and segmented tails.

In this place of nourishment and gluttony,
these creatures wait their fiery destiny.
"They have counted more seasons than you have
yet to see," I tell my child, "although each time
their growing bodies cast away another
too-tight shell, sharp-toothed predators
chased them through rock and rockweed,
hunting the sweet meat of the nude crustacean.

"It is an irony of life, my precious child,
that these hard-shelled crawlers, survivors
of the terrors of the molt, should come to this...
the caged capture and the brief unknowing wait
for searing death in the culinary waters of the Seafarer."

As we are guided to our table by the window,
we observe the castoff casings, fire-red
and dismembered, heaped in shredded mounds
upon a dozen platters on the tables of other diners.
The waitress waits with pencil poised.
We order soup and pasta.

       © Alvin M. Laster


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CHANCE  ENCOUNTER

The twilight music at the forest’s edge was
anything but symphonic, crickets and
katydids tuning their instruments, as I
picked my way along a woodland trail.

The scent of pine, spicy-damp, oozed
from the mossy path as I entered upon
a clearing, where, startled, I intruded upon
another figure softly panting at my side.

The warm presence of deer turned
a wild face toward mine, and for what
seemed stopped time, a young doe and I,
frightened by our surprise encounter,
stood frozen... two shadows in a clearing.

Ears pricked up, muscles tensed, she leaned
toward me till I could feel her breath upon my
cheek, smell the wildness of her musk, feel my
heart thumping, thumping wildly in my chest.
  
We held a long moment, before she bolted,
merging with the shadows, leaving me beholden
for that gratuitous gift of unity and the etched
memory of that chance encounter in the dusk.
                          
© Alvin M. Laster

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RESURRECTION
                         
in a struggling emergence through shared blood
i have come blind and wanting out of time
into the new morning of an ancient world

     where once  block by block   I lifted pyramids
     built temples  laid track  felled forests  traveled
     with the winds in sampans  stirrups and cloven hoofs

i have followed blood-scent  loved cruel men
planted seed at the bearded triangle of beginnings
and seen the flowers grow and multiply

i have gentled the dying  pitied the poor
     shared crumbs  passion  and dark secrets
     and i have bitten the hands of the giver

i am mortarboard and dunce cap  Paris and Helen 
hunger and abundance  victim and prey 
i have trusted wolves and betrayed friends


  thrust like a lancet into this midway funhouse
     a menacing place of distorted mirrors
     i am this years model of the holy ghost

an inherited patchwork of genes and random
incidents  born with an immaculate mind
and a glass spoon in my mouth with which

     to dig the black hole where i will lay my bones
     at midnight   there to await like a chrysalis
     the miraculous and redundant rebirth of the world
 
 © Alvin M. Laster

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METAMORPHOSIS

The winds of winter
that roared like rapids
through Banning pass
have spent their fury in prisons
of steep-walled canyons.
January rains have
changed the land,
leaving crack-patterned
mudcrusts in the washes,
and ruts and ridges that
flow like pleated skirts
from the hips of hillsides.

A new season has found
this thirsting desert 
and spread a Jacob's
coat upon the sand.
Verbena flows in purple rivers,
redfinch and bluebird bloom
in the tamerisk. 
Hanging hummers
bullseye the hibiscus,
flashing sunfire
from luminescent bibs.

The wilderness responds
to the season's flux.
A chrysalis bursts,
and spring emerges
like a buntinged butterfly
to cover the desert
with painted wings.

© Alvin M. Laster







GRANDFATHER TO GRANDDAUGHTER LEAVING

 You are out the door, Granddaughter,
 running shoes tied and sprinting, where
 ghost runners, your father before you.
 your grandfather way up ahead,
 closing on the finish line.  You have
 left your old body, like the empty
 chrysalis of a butterfly, behind you.

 I see your mother’s hands, empty
 as her womb, reaching out, almost
 touching, hoping you will turn your
 head back in a gesture of reassurance,
 knowing that you won’t phone in at
 eleven from such a heavy date.

 Your backpack has been stuffed with
 some of what you will need at school
 and life, while your mind is waiting
 to seduce the future, to break into
 full flight, eyes focused on destination. 

 You will dig your toes into the wonders of
 the world with the abetting wind of
 history and genetics at your back,
 experience recording the measure
 of your progress like a pedometer.

 Ghosts will be waiting for you at the tape,
 cheering you on.  Open your ears to
 their longings and their hopes. 
 Those  yearnings should be for
 trumpets, heralding your success. 

 But know that this is just one of many
 races you will run alone with only
 the ghosts of your childhood and your
 forebears shouting and pressing their
 hands together at the finish line.
 © Alvin M. Laster

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MAY FLY

 May’s first warming kiss awakens
 a sleeping pond, that wakes, in turn,
 a million newborn sprites, lifting
 on rainbow wings into a bright
 new world’s one-dayness.

 With singular intent they begin
 their wild revels under the sun,
 creating life, while courting death
 in one abundant day.  It is the Mayfly’s
 birth and bridal day, when death waits
 for the light to dim along the far horizon.

 Today, my beloved, I stand with you
 upon the loamy banks of the pond
 that spawned these fairy creatures,
 sending them to their aerial dance,
 mating on the fly, like long distance
 cargo planes, fueling in midflight.

 Tomorrow these evanescent creatures
 will fly no more, leaving the earth
 around the pond slick with mica wings
 and crushed bodies.  They will have known
 nothing of the blackberry summer,
 the blaze of autumn or the crystaline

 hush of a snowfall.  They will
 have done their worldly work 
 of casting their futures upon
 the water, as we had cast ours,
 so long ago, upon the land. 
 When we turn to each other,

 we can see how the sun has tolled our
 prior years in furrows on our faces,
 and in silent unison, we contemplate
 longevity: the joy and wonder of our
 many days, fond yesteryears
 and limited tomorrows.

 © Alvin M. Laster

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THE MASTER CHIP

 We have seen the blue planet floating
 like a brilliant sapphire in space.  Airborne,
 we have seen villages, traced rivers,
 streets, gorges through isinglass windows,
 traced blue veins on backs of aged hands. 

 All these and the fullness of every
 family tree are imprints on the face of
 the master chip, a virtual map of the world,
 its triumphs and malefactions reduced
 to a series of gates and passages.

 We have witnessed a spider’s riddle
 glowing in the light of a red dawn,
 seen a golden eagle ride the blue wind,
 and a mote spinning in a sunbeam.
 All these are wired and imbedded.

 Today we stand on the promintory,
 hammers in hand, Lords of the Universe.
 Let us honor this fragile costruct,
 intergrate it into the green circuit of
 continuity, before the hammers fall
 and shatter everything into oblivion.

             © Alvin M. Laster
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VENICE


 Gliding across the moonlit water, 
 the rhythm of the gondolier’s stroke
 recalled the melody that charmed us
 earlier that night in that dim bistro. 

 You leaned back against my body under
 the shadow of an arched bridge.  New lovers,
 we snatched at the night, hoping to hold it,
 hoping we could save it for our tomorrows.

 When I asked you to say my name
 under the stars, you said it in a whisper,
 as you bent to my ear, caressing
 the word with your lips, as in a kiss.

 We are old now, my love, but I grow
 young again, my heart lifting on the silver
 water of a canal in Venice, my blood rising
 each time you kiss me with my name.


© Alvin M. Laster 

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ON THE BEACH


 The sea never spoke to me
 before about beginnings.
 There were only the requiem cries
 torn by the wind from throats
 of falling seagulls.
 And there were shells...
 too many shattered shells
 and disembodied crab claws
 scattered on the sand each morning,
 too many bleached skeletons lying
 like broken pocket combs
 among the tangled clippings
 of Medusa's hair.

 But this new Atlantic morning,
 while the priming sun
 pumped blood into the ocean's
 pulsing skin, light-footed around
 the blue coffins of mussels,
 like another stick-legged carrion picker
 on the beach, I saw among the carnage
 a single hatching sandflea rising
 like a Boticelli Venus
 from the pearly fragment
 of a scallop shell.


Alvin M. Laster ©

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CASABLANCA

 
On that first night spent
 together, we sat breathless
 in a tromp l'oeil palace
 courtyard in Byzantium
 where plaster clouds hung
 in nimbus limbo
 below a firmament of
 winking incandescent stars.

 In the darkness of our courtship,
 I squeezed the hand
 of my substantial Ingrid,
 while the popcorn-scented
 air grew heavy with
 longings for shared scenarios;
 and I knew that Destiny
 had torn our tickets
 at the door.

 Here we are, a few hundred
 shadow pictures later,
 propped in the feathered
 cloud-cover of our bed,
 lost in a reminiscent fantasy;
 and as before,
 your warm hand
 at rest in mine.

 We are watching the Late
 Movie on the tube,
 featuring the same
 doomed lovers, who by
 the grace of celluloid,
 seem younger than tomorrow
 in our seasoned eyes..

 It is the final scene.
 The last flight out of Casablanca
 taxis down the runway, consuming
 time and space.  It rises
 like an apparition
 against the smoking sky,
 diminishes, and disappears
 into the flat plane of one
 thin screen and moment.

 It is the script for all
 our passages...
 yesterdays remembered
 in the timeless
 one-dimensional theater
 of the mind.

 Then in the darkness that
 precedes sleep, I think
 how near in pulse and being
 all the lovers of the
 world must be
 those moments when
 first passion stirs their
 blood or when they
 see their dreams of
 Casablanca fade and die.

©Alvin M. Laster

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PASSAGES

 
Young as sunrise, I longed
 for x-ray eyes so that I might
 see forbidden secrets
 under Jenny Garber's dress.
 I am bearded now,
 and I have seen what I had
 hungered for only to discover
 there are mysteries of flesh
 that lovers never fathom.

 When time had taught me wanderlust,
 I dreamed of visiting exotic places:
 the delta of the Nile, the green
 carpets of Cork, Istanbul with
 its famed bazaars.  I have been there
 and have seen the grand illusions, 
 places wearing beggars' faces
 behind their travelogue facades.

 In sleep, last night, wrapped
 in the velvet shroud of darkness,
 I balanced on a slender tightrope
 like a blind Wallenda
 who could not judge how far the fall
 or know the distance to the safety of an end.
 I awoke in a portentous fright,
 knowing that a man could hold like
 that forever, and hope alone
 could brave another step.

 Today I met a wizened man,
 stooped low, and slow within
 his crinkled parchment, who said
 he knew the secret of a fading blossom,
 could smell the dying of the leaves.
 I looked into his milky eyes
 and saw a dim reflection
 of my face.  "Come," he said,
 "and I will teach you about winter."


©Alvin M. Laster

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 IN THE GARDEN

 We have traveled the long road to
 yesterday in search of our first home. 
 This looks like the place, but the garden
 is not as green as we remember.

 My lover waits in the shade of a large
 boulder, dreaming fitfully about
 slithering things, the voice of wrath and
 the pain that love brings, while I shake this
 great outspreading tree as hard as I can,
 my arms and hands one with its rough bark,
 my eye set upon some half-hidden prize
 that appetite and mind can taste,
 though it is far beyond my reach.

 I would leave this place of hope
 and menace, if only I could free my
 hold upon this towering enigma,
 this presence rooted more in mind
 than earth.   She joins me, now... adds
 her strength to mine.  In unison, we grasp
 and shake, hoping that the seedpod
 of redemption might be clinging
 overhead among the mysteries,
 and that we can bring it down before
 it grows overripe and spoils.

 The prize holds.  A cold wind blows.
 We huddle against the chill, and turn
 to leave the garden, empty-handed
 and chastened, as we came.
                       © Alvin M. Laster

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HOMAGE TO THE TATTOOED MAN
              ...saith the preacher,
                         vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

 
The message of his beauty
 spread across the desert
 like a purple tide of sand verbena
 following a rain,
 and the quivering air resounded
 with a chorus of hosannas,
 as a multitude of hopeful blind
 gave praise unto his nameless name.

 A raven spread a cape of night
 across the gothic sky, while shrieking
 invocations to the celebrants
 of Ego who followed down
 his shadowed path into
 the arid kingdom
 of the spurious Golgatha
 to enshrine the tattooed man..

 And they came:
 Turks with jeweled scimitars,
 gypsies draped in rainbows,
 midgets tall in top hats,
 dusky nymphs with painted breasts
 and powder on their thighs,
 knights in burnished armor...
 and all about them butterflies,
 great golden swarms of butterflies

 The morning sunshine threw a mat
 of shade beneath the preacher,
 while it warmed his
 tawny body and traced
 his sacred symbols
 with its luminescent fingers,
 anointing with a golden light
 his tattooed crown of thorns.

 The pilgrims found him naked at the
 crossroad where his majesty of presence
 and the symbols of his priesthood,
 etched in indigo and black,
 set them trembling
 before him as they kissed
 his tattooed back.

 The supplicants proclaimed
 this miracle of line and life
 a hallowed simulacrum.
 They groveled in his shadow
 and beseeched his benediction,
 a grant of fame or treasure,
 some mystic act of healing,
 immunity from feeling,
 a piece beyond all measure.

 But he offered only silence,
 a cruel offensive silence.

 Then the shadow of the mountain
 erased the precious icons
 and the Queen of Night embraced
 him, while the angry congregation
 unleashed its mounting fury
 in mindless bloody violence
 upon the tattooed man

                             © Alvin M. Laster
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     THE DINNER PARTY

  
  In this gay gathering of the select, 
    the wealthy and enlightened set
    are seated like a jeweled ring
    around a festive centerpiece.
    They speak about the new French frocks,
    and why Clarissa needs a shrink,
    the intricacies of put-and-call,
    the vagaries of the market-place,
    and they recall the costly fall
    of all their trusted blue chip stocks.

    The sounds of laughter rise and lower
    like crystal goblets at a champagne toast;
    and in this grand display of opulence
    they talk of Mozart, Munch, and Proust,
    while gossip searches for an eager ear,   
    and ego speaks to ego, stroke
    for measured stroke, across a sheer
    abyss of mutual indifference. 

        They speak of life in Camelot,
        and how the welfare state cannot
        afford to tend the misbegot.

    And now, the escalopes de veau
    is served upon the Rosenthal,
    and creamy hollandaise is flowed
    across a bright green row 
    of fat asperges.  The diners wait
    until the customary ritual
    of praise is lavished on the white Bordeaux,
    then pinkies perk in unison, and all
    the tight-lipped mouths begin to masticate.

    After the mousse and Courvoisier,
    they play the games of dropping names,
    what's hot, what's not, a play review.
    And then a line or two of white
    delight goes up a straw, and once again,
    the players in this bleak soirée
    put their timid fears to flight
    and gain a state of grace anew.

        They say that life is bittersweet
        with all those homeless on the street,
        and "Oh my dear, the price of meat..."

    The great glass clock strikes one
    to speed the lingering departure
    from the pillared hall. 
    Here and there a dull cliché,
    a stifled yawn, a hackneyed pun,
    and then the paneled door
    is shut against the honest night, and all
    the white Mercedes speed away.

    The master pours another comforter
    of scotch, staggers to his room
    and gives himself to drunken
    sleep across the quilted spread. 
    The butler escorts Madam
    to her chambers, undresses her,
    serves a lusty last dessert,
    then leaves her weeping in her bed.

        When face to face, betrayed, besot,
        the beggars dance a grim gavotte,
        and never speak of Camelot.

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REMEMBERING SISYPHUS                                              
       for Albert Camus

It was summer in Algiers, dear Albert,
and the eternal chariot rode the blue dome like
doomed Africa on a restless sea.  The fragances
of almond and carob, the long brown legs of
women on the beach, cloudshade flitting like
mothwings on the sand-- even such enchantments
failed to spell the mind from the tragedy and
triumph of the stone.  Remember?

I am on a strand in Provincetown, not Oran,  
though the same torch flickers as a cloud moves by,
and the sea sings the same old rondo in
the language of the moon.  But the bright sand
undulates beneath too many bodies on this
littered edge of the sea where I am worming
my way between torsos, blankets, and
boomboxes toward the cooling waters
to immerse my toes in that vast stew
of ocean life with its muck of now and then.

You were so right, Albert.  If life were not
absurd, would all these weary mammals lie
about like schools of suicidal porpoises
stranded on a burning beach?  Would I have
joined the weekend caravan through
labyrinth and gridlock to congregate with other
babbling strangers, here where ebb and flow of
promise and desire repeat uncertain rhythms
compound anxiety, and breed illusion?

Tomorrow is Monday come around again, Albert,
and the stone is restless.  I will bend my
back and face it, dig my toes into the ancient earth
from which Prometheus molded me
and all my fathers, and I will prepare
to shoulder my life another time.

© Alvin M. Laster

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BABY IN BUFF


She plops down on her dimpled sit-upon
      and cries
            dry tears,

until she sees a shadow dancing by.

     Then up
           she comes

to totter on uncertain pegs of pudge
      across
           the room.

Two rosy peach halves bounce along
      one up,
            one down,

in comic, syncopated invitation
      to pinch,
           to pat,

perhaps to touch once more the innocence
      we lost
            too soon.


©Alvin M. Laster

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BALLET IN A TIN CAN

I open the tin with a slotted key,
rolling up the curtain
to an overture of appetite
and I see the silver-clad Rockettes,
lines of torsos frozen in formation,
waiting for the music to begin,
as if some Pompeian disaster kissed them
and held them in time.

I think of the Portuguese children
and  the chap-handed women
humped over the scarred wood table
with its litter of fanned fins
and guillotined heads with their
golden eyes glassy and staring.

I see a red-fingered ballet
dancing the time-set choreography
of the workplace, laying the bodies
to rest in those miniature metal coffins,
alternating cadavers, head to toe
in a numbing routine,
until death do them part
and night comes on, dropping
its own dark keyless curtain
upon the nameless, faceless chorus.
                           ©Alvin M. Laster

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VISIT TO THE NETHER WORLD


The night wind rose to roil the water and
    set the boat to rise and fall.  So cold
it was, it chilled my bones and chafed my face,
    while at the stern, the back-bent boatman
groaned the rhythm of his pace.

I dipped my fingers in the moving stream,
    where steaming water issued fetid
mists that stung my nose and draped
    the shore where ghostly trees,
like black-boned skeletons arose.

Too soon, we reached the destined shore,
    where blazing fires illumined shades of
squandered years, ego and desire,
    pretensions of a Theseus grown old,
diminished, witless and unloved.

And there, emerging from the overgrowth
    of tangled brush that claimed the place,
a shape emerged, a form I thought
    I knew from years and trials before.
The apparition wore the younger face

I wore, when dawn broke red, and I
    knew spring, and partridge berries
decked the forest floor.  My arms held high,
    extended for embrace, I saw
the ghost reach out to me and sigh.

It waved me back and disappeared.
    I bade the ferryman pole me back
to where life’s flaming autumn reigns,
    that I may sing my days among the quick,
Till time release me from its chains.
                         © Alvin M. Laster

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SURFING THE INTERNET

Eyes focus on the back-lit screen,
Portal to the internet,
I hit the keyboard keys to get
Phosphor shamans to convene.

They offer insubstantial pages,
Graphics, graphs and information,
Histories of every nation,
All the wisdom of the ages:

How to run a dairy farm,
How to get from here to there,
And should a daring techie dare,
How to make an atom bomb.

Name a subject if you please,
Nasty queries, not forbidden,
Antisocial arts are hidden
In the Net’s interstices.

How the interact seduces!
Never lets attention stray,
How it steals your time away,
Lures you to its many uses.

If for porno, you are lusting,
Erotic sites are dime a dozen,
Just be surreptitious, cousin,
Nice folks find those screens disgusting.

I’ve learned some wisdom from my wife,
(an enemy of AOL)
“Reading books can sure be swell,
So dump the Net and Get A Life!”

© Alvin M. Laster

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BIDING MY TIME


I am getting on, actively using my days, while
counting my blessings: the gifts of seasons,
the long days and luscious fruits of summer,
the ebmine-clad trees of winter,
snowflakes on the tongue,
autumn flashing audacious hues,
and spring leaping out of roadsides
and meadows, running up her colors.

I am grateful for September beaches,
for lithe young women in large hats,
waddling tots, the bubbling laughter
of children... mine and yours,
grace on the tennis court.
I harbor little apprehension for the great
mysteries waiting for me in the wings.

It has taken me more than three quarters
of a century to invent myself, to fill my
head with notions, mindset, and the
careful constructions of attitudes.
I have known the enduring love
of a strong woman, the nurture of
grown children. and I walk, each
day, among caring people.

Today, I reach up to grasp a handful
of light, and I capture a universe
of atoms in my fist.
I release them, so that, like I,
they will merge, once more, with the great
sea of life of which each of us
is a piddling part... that great melange
that stretches before us, infinite
and illimitable as the great
blue dome of sky above us
and the silent cosmos beyond.

© Alvin M. Laster

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THE EARTH AND I


Earth and I are kin.
I am an intimate of all things,
made of wood and flesh,
all things that be and feel.
I am opaque, palpable,
a mass of mass.
I want no part of weightlessness.

The juices sweetening in the apple,
reconstructed, course within my veins,
squirt through pump and passage,
hammer at my temples,
nurse my cells.
That ambient sea of space
affords no charity for me.

The dreamlike television pictures
of an alien ship, afloat
in an indifferent ether, conjures up
some narco-fantasy or
Star Trek TV serial.
I want my clay feet
planted on green earth.

Content to spend my sentence
midst the monkey men,
who live, regenerate, and die
within this shrinking compound,
consuming and consumed,
nourishing and nourished
at the common trough,
I’ll leave my DNA to further
use on planet Earth.
Let brave, dream-driven astronauts,
explorers of the endless blue,
defy the laws of gravity
to capture fire from the stars.

       © Alvin M. Laster

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DOING IT OVER

There we were, the hard work done,
easing downhill toward another
resolution, when our lives crashed
like an errant computer and a world
of work we had not “Saved “
disappeared into nowhere,
like a magician’s colored silks.

Now we must begin the arduous
reconstruction, the painstaking
attempt to recover what we
had before, the passion and the flow,
continuity and trust restored,
everything in its proper place,
menacing misstrokes avoided...
trying to do it over.

Perhaps, that is the work of the world...
doing things over.  It is our work, now;
Finding the broken shards and gluing
them together, so that the seams won’t
easily be detected by the casual observer,
so that only you and I can know
that something traumatic had
happened here, something that might
have been avoided, if only we had
anticipated and “Saved” it.

© Alvin M. Laster

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JUDGEMENT

Let me paint a picture for you:
It is Judgment Day.
You can tell that
by that eerie cloud that
floats upon the face of morning
in a sky that is hot enough
to fry birds.

Picture this cool cat with a horn
standing high upon a mountain top...
Gabriel, in jet- black silhouette
against the red sky,
blowing his Resurrection Boogie.
Here comes Bourbon Street
wailing across Little Round Top,
the Marne, and the rice paddies
along the Mekong delta.

And like the Book predicts,
the ground is giving up
its saints and its pariahs:
the killed killers,
the sword bearers,
and bullet makers.
They are gathering to face the final test
of Quality Control.

Here comes the Judge.
And here you are, the proud
patriot with clean hands
and noble intentions,
bearing missals and Bingo cards
for character references,
while pleading  nollo contendere
to the charge of false worship
for your hymns of supplication,
before the rusted cannon
on the village green.

He is pointing at you like
Uncle Sam in those
old recruiting posters.
It's enough to terrify a Green Beret.
"Bum rap," you say?
"Change the rules?"
"Waste the Judge?"

         © Alvin M. Laster
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THE ROUND BELLIES OF WOMEN


Here is our domicile, this Earth,
this circle, end touching end
in a seamless spinning,
like atom and nucleus, sun and moon,
revolving in ordained spaces,
circularity assuring continuity.

And here we are, we two,
my eyes holding you in loving compass,
tracing the new blue veins
that pattern the hanging curve of
laden breasts at rest upon the great
tumescent mound of life within you.

Lying in the circle of your arms,
I rest my head upon the pulsing dome,
listening for secrets, feeling
the sea-surge swell and fall,
as on that night we loved
and rose and fell under the round moon.

Held within our orbital capture,
we thrive upon a legacy of spheres.
And while our frantic feet spin the road
beneath us, unwinding our tomorrows
like reels of fragile filament,
men pay their fees in primal coin
by thrusting seeds of promise into
the soft round bellies of women.
© Alvin M. Laster

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BRINGING UP FATHER

Last night I saw Father rub his fists
into the hollows of his eyes, a sign
that his day had been too long,
and that he had had enough of waking.
I took him in my arms, gave him
his pacifier, carried him to my crib,
and there I sang him to sleep.

He seemed so peaceful, dreaming
my dreams for me, living my life for me,
becoming my future with each sighing breath;
now and then waking with a start,
as if threatened by some unknown.
I sang him folk songs of the old country
with a touch of Beiderbeck and Coltrane.
Watching him sleep, I was suddenly
overcome by his humanity, his trust.

I wanted to pick him up and hold him,
instead, I punished him for being late
for dinner, for using foul language,
for misunderstandings. When he was good,
I let Father play with my toys, ride my bike,
wear my Tom Mix signal ring. I wanted
to hold him captive in my room; let him
smoke my pipe, and learn life through me.
I scolded him for turning away, for not being me.

He grew into manhood, wearing my old clothes,
wanting everything I had, walking with the same
fast pace, loving the same woman that I loved
as a boy; jealous of the woman I loved
as a man. I resented his being too reliable,
too resolute. I shamed him for disparaging God
and for his frequent declarations of disapproval.
Father did not live up to expectations, nor did I.
Yet, let him who harms this man, this spirit,
be forever consigned to perdition.

At the end, he wrinkled my face and assigned
me to atrophy. Then he was gone...
without a proper goodbye, a proper blessing,
and without asking my permission.

© Alvin M. Laster

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SKIPPING STONES

It has to be the right stone.
Flat is better... more surface against
the water, so it might belly into bounce.
It must be polished by the flow
of tide and time; balanced, and with trim
leading edges, so it might skip and fly.

This morning, rolling back my years,
I search the lacy border of sea and sand,
until I find a proper stone among the
tide’s debris of weeds and broken shells.
I fondle it, bounce it in my palm to feel
the heft of it. This one is good.

I crook my fingers around its edges.
I get the angle right, draw back my arm
and let it sail into my green years.
The stone arcs and levels, flashes in
the sunlight, before it dips to kiss
the sea, then lifts into flight again.

Even in my skip-stone childhood,
I sensed that my life would have
to be like that... like the right stone,
having a keen edge, a proper shape
and proper balance, if I were
to skip and fly and skip again
to clear the swelling tide
and reach that vague horizon,
where sunstream lights the sky.

© Alvin M. Laster

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WORDS

Born out of silence,
  we enter a world of sounds
    with only a cry in our throats,
      mind/word/lips, a dark tunnel,
         where language grows.
Words...
  We are filled with them...
    articulate syllables,
      struggling to convey
        meaning, to emerge like
          butterfly from chrysalis:
     "Mama",
          "Home"
               "Earth",
                    "Universe".
Listen,
    how they fill the hush
         like blizzards of snowflakes.

Words...
    symbols that rub against
         each other and catch fire:
              warmth and light for the mind,
                    music for the ear,
                         terror for the soul,
                              honey for the heart:
"Grace",
         "Melody",
                    "Love".

We are ready, now.
                Let us "SPEAK".



© Alvin M. Laster

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ARABESQUE

See how that chain of twining blossoms
draws a border about the mythic scene
featured in this medieval tapestry?

We call those figures "arabesques".
They serve, like grace notes in a
Schumann rondo, to ornament a theme in art.

So it is, when scarlet berries cluster
on the snowy vine or when wisteria adds
its scent to scent of lilac in the air.

So it is when peacocks fan their hundred
eyes or when my lover walks in solitary
elegance across a field of sunlit flowers.

© Alvin M. Laster

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COUNTING TIME

Returning from an evening stroll, I peer
into the study window to see reflections
of the bright geometries of evening
imposed upon the features of a dimlit room.
How strange to find Orion spread across
the open sheets upon a music stand.

The night lights stream across the sky
like regiments of fireflies, winking...
lights on, lights off in time, while Pisces
chases Pegasus and winter chases fall;
and I recall my own Polaris of the music
room, silver flute to lips, fingers flying.

Body-bound to the ordered moon, yet
seeking orbits of her own, she turned
against the constancy of lights-on-lights-off
worlds and played her strange tunes
while counting maverick time
with tapping toe:
     and one, and three, and two....

The basic order is inviolate. The tides
in ebb and flow, the sun in rise and set,
the earth in frost and flower,
counting time... all dying and reborn,
chasing and chased in turn.

But the beat that keeps us moving
through this spinning concert hall
of dawn to dusk is ever changing.
Each season brings us galaxies
of tapping sprites who search beyond
the hackneyed harmonies in search
of unsung songs... songs unfixed,
unknown to place and mind...
counting time:
     and one, and three, and two.

© Alvin M. Laster

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SNOWFALL

The snowfall is bleaching
the north meadow,
laying a whisper of white
over furrows and fenceposts,
while transforming bare bones
of treetops into intricate
patterns of lace.

Indolent winter advances
with a white hush,
erasing the signs
of her seasonal poverty
as some men hide
their indigence of character
beneath a mantel
of elegant deception.

She dazzles us with her crystal
rivers and plumed cedars,
while parading her brittle
finery like a lady of the night,
until time wears her down
and a new warming sun
reveals again the green-singing
innocence of Eden.

© Alvin M. Laster

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KNEADING LOAVES

On Friday afternoons, Mother baked bread.
Too young for school, I would
kneel on a high stool in the kitchen
with my chin on the table,
leveling my eyes to the white oak
breadboard to witness the
sufferance of the wheat.

To the pull and snap of the kneading,
dark voids lifted from the
living nest and opened small
bird-like mouths that peeped their
sour-sweet messages of fermentation,
the love song of the yeast.

The dough would rise to stroke her palms,
nuzzle knuckles, and lick the satin
flour from her finger folds,
while the happy house
hummed the dream of bread.

Today is Friday, and I am kneading loaves,
my own child watching at my side,
and I am thinking how
repetition can make the heart whole,
just as fairytales told over and over
can pull the familiar around
a small child, like a feather
comforter, to herald safe sleep.

Now the dough springs under my
fingers. Small airy universes
grow and pop to the rhythm of push
and pull, bubbles birthing bubbles,
generation birthing generation,
each speaking to the next, so that
if I bend close enough and listen,
I can hear them whispering:
"Tomorrow. Tomorrow."

© Alvin M. Laster

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MEMORIAL
for Laura

This morning on my early walk along
the edge of the wood, a small bird swept
across my path, and lit upon a tree.
Suddenly the whole forest was filled
with one bluebird, its back a continuity
of sky, a red rose blooming upon its
winter breast. Then it was gone like a
season past, the wood still echoing its being.

I am walking now on the edge of evening.
Long shadows wave out of trees, filtering
rose light out of the tumbling sun,
but I can yet see the wondrous bird
in the red breasts of clouds
and the outspreading wings of the sky.

So it is with the passings of singular things,
bluebirds, friends, parents, children.
So it is when the warm hand cools
and falls away, leaving its familiar feel,
like a remembered bluebird, filling
the infinite green forests of time.

Dad

© Alvin M. Laster

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MIDAS

The days grow short. The autumn sun hangs low
upon a freckled sky, and chill, still air
assaults the vine. But see how sunset’s glow
has dusted gold and russet everywhere;
how on the crowning featherfringe of hills,
the crimson maples ornament the blue;
and how, down falling slopes, vermillion spills
like wine, puddling around cedar, pine and yew.
Fat moles have burrowed deep beneath the mold,
while hoarding squirrels scamper through the brush,
aware the flaming harvest will turn cold
beneath the aging season’s Midas touch.
And O, how fierce my autumn flames in me;
How dear, how warm! How near the frost must be.

© Alvin M. Laster

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SONG OF PROMETHEUS

I took you on a pilgrimage to darkness
into the oozing cave of all beginnings,
where god shadows, torn from elemental
firelight, danced and postured,
giant and menacing, upon the limestone
walls, and told you not to fear.

Kit in mouth, I carried you into the secret halls
of alchemy to smell the burning brimstone
and taste the acrid distillate; to find that dreams
outlive the dreamer, that fools outnumber
wise men, and gold is colder than its starlight glitter.

You grew, and side by side, we hacked
the briars, cleared the undergrowth along
the mountain trail, where air is thin
and heady, where eagles hold dominion,
and sky seems just another leap away.
I told you to tread carefully and look
but briefly at the sun.

Today, I give you fire. See how it lights
the night, warms your flesh, eats the forest?
It is a gift of love, garnered from the heart
of lightning. It is the eagle that waits for me
on a mountain crag. It is the adversary
that waits for you upon the final battlefield.

© Alvin M. Laster

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ARRANGING FLOWERS
           for Hannah

Schooled in needlepoint
       and cookery,
   your fingers flit like
so many butterflies
      among the cut flowers
you are rearranging
  from an aging bouquet.
    You remove the tired daffodils,
  cut the stems of keepers,
and face remaining blossoms,
      lily, lilac, baby’s breath,
    so they might brighten
  every aspect of the room.

I herewith pay obeisance
    to you, great arranger,
  your mind flitting like
      so many butterflies
    among the details of our lives,
      discarding tired cares,
  sending children off
      to blossom in their
own bouquets, setting
      us to keep awhile,
   fragile as your
      favorite eggshell vase,
   yet flaunting
 our still-bright colors
    in the late afternoon
   of our lives.

© Alvin M. Laster

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MUSHROOMS

Whispering secrets to the mouldered
   Earth, these harbingers of forest thinnings
Elevate their broad sombreros.
   Deep within the flesh enfolded,
Lie the seeds of new beginnings
   Following tomorrow's snows.

In the shadowed morning light
   Up pops another parasol
To cast its spores with indiscretion,
   Each a woodland acolyte
Responding to an ancient call,
   The sacrament of resurrection.

   © Alvin M. Laster

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NIGHT SKY

The night is splattered with cold fire,
burnt offerings on a velvet spread.
There flies Pegasus, there Pisces and
here Orion, mighty hunter of the night.

Seeing so grand an evening lightshow
I pause to count my personal stars, those bright
acquirements that lit my way throughout
the long/short season of my wandering.

How could I have known, throughout
my sun-filled days, that when
the light grew dim, such great
and many mysteries would yield their
precious secrets to my knowing?

Now, the hour of the owl come ‘round,
the evening star illuminates the road
behind me, disclosing all the
wisdom and the folly,
   so I can see at last
     why I have been
       where I have been.

© Alvin M. Laster

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ORACLE

Take
your question
to the highest mountain,
the promontory where
the world reveals itself
in ragged pieces
through the mists of morning.

Find
the graybeard
who has seen beginnings
and watched a hundred
thousand sunsets kindle fire
in the western skies.
Ask him to set you
on the golden way to wisdom,
the passage to nirvana.

He will
talk to you
of oceans and acorns,
he will sing the songs
of raindrops on a green canopy,
remind you in wind-whispers
that Socrates found it
in the hemlock,

the priest
in an icon, the cripple in his crook,
the lover in an embrace,
and you , dear pilgrim, here...
here upon this promontory,
where the world
reveals itself anew,
piece by splendid piece,
through the mists of morning.

© Alvin M. Laster

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Said Mrs. Redwing Blackbird:

"Look at them!
Hinged heads!
Vulture appetites!
Why do I bother, anyway?
Their father calls them tyrants,
and for the most part
shuts his hearing to their shrieks.

"First brood.
How could I have known
while I sat there, imperturbable
upon the marble clutch,
(chirp about boring!)
dreaming of warming
and preening the little downy dears,
and fancying their first
hesitant fits of flight,
that such scrawny starts
of life could be
so unrelentingly demanding?

"Grateful? Don't bet your
last sunflower seed on it.
Today, the moment dawn lifted
its bloodshot eye
above the ruffled treetops,
I started chewing worms to stuff
into each waiting craw,
and even as I stopped to catch my breath,
they wailed in unison for more.

"The sun and I, exhausted from
our grueling nurture,
have had enough.
At last, our petulant charges sated,
we glide in red-eyed grace to rest.
But now, as in my sheltering wings
I fold the sleeping demons of the nest,
heartbeat to tremulous heartbeat,
I think their father overstated.

"Sweet, sweet-sweet-sweet
t-r-r-r-r-r-ouble."

© Alvin M. Laster

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SECOND BLOOM

Some years the lilacs bloom
a second time before the summer ends.
Aunt Emma said it only happens
when the sun rubs its ruby back
against September before wandering
off to greener places.

On one of those air-dead August
afternoons, when the heat of day
licks at underarms to leave them
moist and musky, I watched
Aunt Emma dozing, smiling
in the wicker rocker, reviving
last night's luscious dream,
stretching her pleasure longer
than the porch's creaky planks.

The boy of me had marked
Aunt Emma old, had never seen
the wash of gold upon her shoulders,
the swains ogling her swan neck,
Uncle Charlie chasing her among
the apple trees, before he
wandered like September's sun
off to greener places.

When I grew older, Mama
told the man of me that Emma
had an Indian summer.
He was a milkweed tuft riding
a breeze, a tinker passing through,
looking too much like a younger
Uncle Charlie for her to let him pass.
She loosed her hair and held him.
Autumn Emma danced in
swirling chiffon and tasted
lip ambrosia once again.

Some years the lilacs bloom
again at summer's end.

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DIFFERENT

There were about eight of them
stretched out upon a silent
talking-wire
looking from far away
like a line of asterisks
against a pale blue page.

Birds. Black birds,
tails where tails and
heads where heads should be,
all ruler-spaced a wing away,
except that one, looking at
another horizon and putting
a wider cushion of indifference
against the flock.

A train of ants, flowing
like one-way traffic,
task-set and single minded,
will sweep a rock-bed
free of sand to build
a fragile mountain.
But there's that renegade
again, finding an errant path
to another place to start
another mountain.

What is it sets a mind
perverse? Rears the rogue?
Sends the monk to granite silence?
What profit can it bring
to sing the marching
song off key?

None can say what
motivates the errant bird,
the maverick ant, the monk, the rogue;
and none can know what impulse
leads a man to don the thorny crown
of principle and urges him
to drag his destiny
to Calvary.

© Alvin M. Laster

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THE MEETING

Silent and insubstantial as the passage
of time, I enter the small room.
A veil of dust, patina of neglect,
has settled upon the cluttered furnishings.
The scent of age hangs like
a shroud around the place.
I speak softly. "I am here."

The silent man, gunnysack of bones,
sits slumped upon a straight-backed chair,
wrapped in darkness, transfixed before
the electronic glare of Metromedia TV.

Encased within a silent block
of sound, he hears no more of what
I say, than of the yapping huckster-box
that prattles lunacies between
the pitches for commodities he can
not use or comprehend. I look
into his pouched unseeing eyes,
imprinted with twin replicas of light.

"I think you know me, now. I visited
your home on several occasions in years past.
Come. Let me take your hand
in mine and I will comfort you."
He sees me now, draws back into the
creaking chair. His furrowed face
reflects his grave uncertainty... perhaps,
a lack of recognition. I speak again.

"I will take you to your mother's house,
where a hammock, made of string,
still hangs upon the broad-planked porch.
We will walk the pine-smelling, woodland
trail, you dreamed last night, so soft with
moss and partridge-berry underfoot.

"There you will see your love again
and feel the cool velvet of her inner thigh.
You will hear your sister's liquid laughter
and the spring-cold life-renewing brook."
The old man?s fragile angles round.
He exhales the essence of his life and shuts
his eyes against the luminescent screen.
He knows me, now. He rises to embrace me.

© Alvin M. Laster

 

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LOOKING AT FACES

You guide my hand to the domed
stadium that has risen where
your slim waist used to be.
I feel kick-off and somersault.
I observe momentary angles
and sudden bulges on the parchment
of your tight drum with its
outsy navel, protruding
like a cauliflower ear.

The wonder of it provokes
an urgency. I begin looking at faces:
yours, with its flaring nostrils
and lips puffing to a pout
during these last prenatal days;
mine looking back at me
from the shaving mirror,
oversized nose, crow's feet,
the soft chin lacking determination.

I resurrect the family
album to peruse the faces in
the fading sepia photos,
cracked likenesses, curling
off the black-as-mourning pages:
Aunt Margaret, Uncle Teddy,
your parents with their
23 Skidoo fashions and
their Catskill Mountain smiles.

You are sleeping now, and the moon,
shining through the curtains,
lights a face I know better
than my own. You are still;
but the little drummer is not.
He/she is doing the genetic shuffle...
juggling a gene here, a chromosome
there, within the ageless double helix,
that threads the past and present
to the hungry future.

While you sleep,
the miracle of the night
is stamping its hallmark
upon the old-new countenance
that waits to claim our affection.
And she/he will manifest
every family face we have
ever known and loved.

© Alvin M. Laster

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READING THE WALL

Advancing upon the soaring wall, with
long-practiced stealth, I enter the dark jungle
of names: Aaron, Abbendilio, Abernathy....

My pink-cushioned fingers reach out to
reverence sharp-edged letters on a polished face:
Booker, Bouchard, Bouley, Clark....

And I think about names... how the primitives
held them secret, so that no one could steal them,
for to lose one's name, was to lose one's soul.

A 'copter chugs the air above. My skin
tightens. Blood leaps. Reflex trips me
to my knees: Huang, Jones, Kadish, Long...

I crawl into the shadow of the stone, and
find a name I knew, one that wore a bloody face,
Malachik, Charlie Company, a name stolen at Danang.

But where are the names in black pajamas, the
cowering women and children of the flaming huts?
Parks, Reynolds, Sanchez, Turner...

And where is my name... the one I am sobbing against
the wall? Can a soul have been stolen without
the name? Vitale, Wilcox, Wazambo, YAHWEH.

© Alvin M. Laster
Winner: Winchell Award

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HOW THE GIVER GETS

Borne on a breeze, the sweet message of scent,
     whispers its offering to the bee.
Singing its buzz-song of joy, the bold intruder
     enters the long tunnel of the daylily.
There it gathers sweet nectar, while
     the blossom bathes it in the gene pool
of its tomorrows, getting as it gives.

So it is with lovers,
     each holding the other?s
heart in thrall, one body
     welcoming the other,
in a ritual of mutual offering...
     release and immortality.

It is the way of the world:
     the beggar and the alms giver,
the deer and the meadow,
     the earthworm and the sod,
the egret and the ox,
     the poet and the muse...
getters and givers, all.

© Alvin M. Laster

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KENNY AT THE BAT

Last night I had this time-warp dream,
Ken, that you were four feet tall in your
Little League uniform, playing
center field for Najarian?s Market,
with the score 13 to 12 in the
fourth inning, after a medley
of errors on both sides.
You know how it was.

When you came to the plate,
I stood up in the stands,
expectant father, and shouted:
"Look 'em over, Ken,"
and "Out of the Park!"

When you connected, the ball barely
rolled toward the mound,
and the throw to first
was over the baseman?s head.
You held up at second, both feet
on the bag, having grown at least
a foot taller along the way.

Seeing you there in your small triumph,
I prayed that your life would be
a parade of such small miracles;
that every curve life sends your way
would find you waiting, bat at the ready,
that your feet would be sure and fleet,
and that the throw at home would find
you standing on the plate, your team in
the lead, and the game in your pocket.

© Alvin M. Laster

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PAVAN FOR A GODDESS GONE

Hear this pavan for a goddess gone,
who danced with her devils, Desire and Charm,
With pouting lips and lithesome shape
she could fill the masculine heart with lust,
while hidden inside her, a castaway child
cowered and cried for a satiable love,
cried for the love that would still her fears
and hasten her demons to flight.

Come, dance to the song of the castaway child,
dressed in her celluloid goddess gown,
with a push-up bra, and a shattered
id and a vial of sleep in her beaded purse.
Step lightly around the ego-shards,
they are sharper, far, than broken glass,
and the wounds they inflict can cleave
the heart and bleed sensation dry.

This is the end of that sad pavan,
a slab of cold flesh with the fire gone.
Still is the music, and still the child.
Gone is the hunger for a satiable love,
a love like the loves of the silver screen,
since a cry for attention died in the throat
of a castaway child named Norma Jean.

© Alvin M. Laster


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NIGHT

The sun staged a last gaudy
light show against the sky,
and Night glided in
like a raven to pluck the eye
of the mountain cyclops.

Beneath the moonglow
and the nightsong,
outside of sleep and serenity,
twin beacons of green
search and glide.
It is the time of hunt and hide,
stalk and stealth.

The bobcat tracks the hare,
the snake forsakes rock for rodent,
the owl squeezes the last squeak
out of the mouse.
Only the season of the sun is changed,
as life feeds on life,
feeds on life,
feeds on life,
at night as in day,
on earth as in ocean,
forever and ever.
     Amen
   © Alvin M. Laster

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FATHER

Bull of a man!
I looked upon your strength with awe...
hulking chest with geographic veins,
cobbled muscle for a back,
great biceps, sinewed arms that tossed
me like a weightless cloud
astride your airplane shoulders.

Mercurial strider!
Sidewalks flowed like rivers beneath
your hurrying feet, while I, on colt legs,
raced breathlessly to keep apace
abetted by your handpull jerks
across the high, intrusive curbs
down byways of segmented slates.

Competent mender!
you renewed all fractured baubles,
broken toys, and wounded pride
with patient care and time-honed skill,
with wire, glue and candy treats
conjured from a gray tin box of everything
except an antidote for time.

Helpless stranger!
Those trembling hands have lost their grasp,
your stride has slowed to halting gate,
faint memory cannot locate
the gray tin box, the lost gray days,
while here I stand in rage and grief
before this fading apparition.

© Alvin M. Laster
Published in Arabesques Trumpets and Grace Notes.
Northwoods Press

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GO DOWN MOSES

Old Mose could dribble a ball across
a hardwood floor like a dancer
doin' pirouettes 'round a bouncin' bubble.
Whoosh, he could find the target
from a mile off, eyes closed, back to hoop,
hook shot sailing up on the screamin'
sound, GOOOOO MOSES !

Ole boy spreads his wings,
blacker-than-night crow, slick feathers
gleamin' an' runnin' sweat under
the hot lights, risin' on thermals, layin'
that ole egg clean in the nest, him
hangin' there 'gainst gravity.
OOOH OOOH! GO DOWN, MOSE!

Then sailin' down court, slippery, like
them words in Psych 101, too many
letters, meanings stranger than
the dude jazzin' his Mom t' other side
the shabby room, a small boy cryin'
waters of the Nile into a torn pillow.

Ole Mose could rack up markers
like an auctioneer at an eviction sale,
bleachers shoutin' the tally,
numbers ridin' the rim of his mind
like sines an' cosines in trig,
screams hurtlin' from tenament rooftops,
sirens waking up the dark streets,
squeezin' the pain outa his head.

Mose be a Nam copter fueled on a snort,
hoverin' forever above fuzzy faces
at a Sunday church service,
the whole congregation singin'
GO DOWN MOSES, him tangled
in the stranglin' net. Whooosh.
Poor Mose. Ain't no promised land
fer you, man. God's truth.
Ain't no promised land.

© Alvin M. Laster

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REQUIEM FOR ANNE FRANK

As I walk past the house at Prinsengracht 263,
    I glance up at a dark window and see your eyes.
    You are looking with longing at the children
        rolling hoops in the street.

It is the Sabbath. Earlier your mother had spent
    a small eternity brushing your hair. You seemed
    patient enough, but then time was all
        you had. Time and words.

Time is all there is for all of us, little Anne,
    and language is all we have to explain
    ourselves to ourselves, to bandage our
        wounds and allay our fears.

You are gone now, leaving behind the record of
    your hours, your lost innocence, and the little
    pleasures scattered like small candles
        against the gathering darkness.

© Alvin M. Laster
Published: The Anthology of New England Writers, 1999
and High Tide 1999

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VIOLETS

The month of April has barely
made its first tentative statement,
and here come violets
staking out their territory
with purple banners, brazen

as a giggle at a prayer meeting.
It is a bold recurrence that
I try to banish from
my garden by an annual
penance done on bended knee.

When the first sweet wink
of green lures me to the tulip beds,
I find them waiting there,
mocking, multiplying like loaves
and fishes in the Galilee.

They are the trouble that comes in bunches.
Tired, now, of their old haunts,
they have begun to march in brave
battalions across the lawn, in bold
defiance of my weeding fork.

Perhaps one day I'll learn to live with
them, these hallmarks of the season,
these lessons in persistence told again,.
thrusting out their purple tongues
in unison to sing spring's
eager welcome to the sun.

© Alvin M. Laster

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BLIND CHILD AT THE PIANO
Polonaise in G Minor.
For B.L.

Somehow Chopin entered into
this darkeyed world, shaped
blunt fingers into nimble sounds,
locked ear and string
in a lover's embrace.

Tell me princess of keyboards,
Is Poland possible where
there are no pictures?
Can fingertips know meadowgreen
or autumngold, when
the black mouths of shadows
swallow all the light?

Her small body sways in time.
Lips tight, lashes lowered
like bars across an opaque window,
her fingertips are a flight
of pink doves, homing.

Tell me sage of the ivories,
what is the color of beauty?
Can a minute pass
when the night cannot?

(c) Alvin M. Laster

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INEZ

High above the trailer park,,
a river of stars flows across
the night sky, and the moon in its
radiant fullness drizzles a pool
of silver upon the metal
roof of the Air-Stream.

Inside, Inez sits transfixed,
the TV screen mirrored in her eyes.
She fills her days with soap operas
and a few rows of white powder,
while her landlord-lover finds salvation
in a bottle down at Carmine's Saloon.

Inez and Angel do not know
that they are good for each other.
Good and bad.

He gives her a roof for shelter,
a shared bed, and three squares.
He indulges her expensive habit.
She gives him companionship,
love, and a body to use and abuse.

She loves the electronic night,
when the TV store is open for business,
parading its gaudy trinkets across the screen,
where a credit card, an 800 number,
and Angel's forbearance has bought her

a tourquoise ring, a plastic bust of Elvis,
a genuine olive-wood crucifix from
the Holy Land, and a framed portrait
of the last supper, blossoming
upon a field of black velvet.

Before Angel returns she will snuff the
candles that flicker before her collection of
plaster saints; she will freshen her body
with a wash cloth, place a dab of cheap
perfume between her breasts, and
prepare herself for heaven and for Him.

© Alvin M. Laster

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COMPANY
(a valentine greeting)

There is no way to be alone
in this big house where your
endearing presence leaves
impressions in the chair cushions,
raided cottage cheese
containers in the fridge,
baubles on the night table.

You may be off in some remote bazaar
(Loehmans or the Crystal Mall),
or doing Grandma service
for our newborn seed of seed
in distant places, but there are
always ghosts of you at work
in every room... battalions of footless
shoes waiting at parade rest

at an open closet door,
an oven glove upon the stove,
waiting for your hand, a cheval glass
where charm examined charm
and lingered when you left.
Tonight, in a jangle of sleeplessness,
I leave you singing the sleepsong
of your breath, your still body
nested in our bed,
secure as our long-practised love,

only to find you waiting for me
in the bathroom... a conglomerate
of potions (Ponce de Leon cremes),
a damp washcloth, bleeding a lip print,
crumpled at the sink, and a
corps de ballet of pantyhose
(exquisite annoyances) dancing
brazenly along the shower bar.

Empty hose. Empty room.
Yet there you are, a comfort,
like my old soft slippers,
the baby's first cry,
or the promise of a first kiss.

© Alvin M. Laster

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HEADING HOME

I am heading home, driving northbound
through a country village, where telephone
poles at the roadside hang like rows of crosses
from their wires, even-spaced and linked,
a necklace of fetishes, dangling unceremoniously
before the weary travelers eyes, courtesy
of Northeast Utilities and Ma Bell.

A click of a dashboard switch, and the world intrudes.
Words, springing like swallows from the mouth
of a talk-show sage, inform his youthful
caller that nothing is more important than
what he owes his conscience, nothing
less important than his own pretensions.
The caller, too busy being young to understand,
phrases his confusion and clicks off.

I turn the dial through music, hucksters, weather,
traffic reports and news. I find the air so seeming
full of rock and babble, that there must, I think,
be precious little space left for birds or angels,
or this auto, speeding toward its destination.

My house is waiting with its lights aglow,
a spruce sided cottage, so familiar that
I have given it a name. I call it Home,
this sacred place where the tall birches scratch
at the shingles, whenever the weather turns foul,
to ask if they might come in out of the wind
and rain to share my warmth and company.

I do not bother to find my key. Intuition shouts
the message of my homecoming in her ear.
My knuckle, drumming urgency on the windowpane,
will lure her, smiling, to the door, and while
I wait, I think about the glass between us,
this counterfeit, whose transparency promises
continuity, openness, and access, although
in truth, it is divisive as a wall of steel.

Then she is there, the door swung open,
the smell of dinner mingling with cologne;
and all the grating traces of the day, turn their backs
against the light and slink away, like chastised
children, into the shadowed recesses of night,

©Alvin M. Laster

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REMEMBERING GRANDMOTHER

Grandmother was an iron woman.
Mothered a son, then twin boys
who died in their first year, despite
the desperate cupping and leeching.
Grandma dried her tears and had eight more.

Grandfather was a railroad engineer.
Built bridges and tunnels for the iron horses
that would bundle the nations of Europe.
Spoke seven languages for instructing
the babble of foreign laborers spiking track.

Once each year, Grandpa returned home
bearing gifts from afar... a bolt of colored cloth
for a new dress, and money to pay the debts
run up at the grocer, the cobbler and the weaver.
Then he'd start a new baby and go off again.

When the dynamite misfired and the
tunnel collapsed, Grandpa was among those who
shouldered its weight and was never recovered.
Grandma vowed she would not wear black
until they carried his body home as proof of loss.

She wore the bright-colored cloth he had
brought her... rose red, tansy yellow, purple of gentian,
defying the village harridans, who snickered
and gossiped, as how she should be wearing
the crow-colored dress of mourning.

Finally, at ninety, they dressed her in black,
and carried her off in a coal-black carriage.
They laid her to rest in a tunnel not unlike
Grandpaís and they covered her with loam
in a green-grey garden of stones.

©Alvin M. Laster

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A POET'S PRAYER

Dear Lord, please break my pen if I scrawl gibberish;
Make every word I write do service to the tome.
Remind me that each phrase must drive the point I wish
to make, and that a burst of pretty words is not a poem.

Please help me to concoct a stew with lots of meat.
Remind me to remove the fat and add a pinch of spice.
The taste of it should linger, and should you taste it twice,
the redundance should enhance the heady treat.

Don't let me line up adjectives like autos in
a traffic jam, or string a line of adverbs to a strand.
Let me make sense with brevity, but when
I fail, please don't absolve me, Lord. Stay my hand!

© Alvin M. Laster

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PEELING ONIONS

The old woman sits on
a three legged stool
in the summer garden,
her head bent to the pungent
bulb, tears spilling
down her cheeks.
She is peeling onions.

Her knob-knuckled fingers
deftly wield the paring knife
as, ring by ring, she
works her way through time,
through layers of sun,
layers of rain,
cricket-singing nights.

How perfect the onion;
how like the universe,
its sun and planets,
planets and moons, spinning
in tireless orbit, like
God-loving dervishes celebrating
linkage and wholeness.

It is like the old woman
who is grandmother and mother,
mother and daughter,
daughter and unborn grandmother,
nestled one within the other
like the leaves of the onion,
and always waiting,

always embracing the nearest,
like Russian nesting dolls,
holding against unseen fingers,
resisting separation.
And always the tears
falling on the patient ground,
nourishing the onion field.

© Alvin M. Laster

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EVER SO HUMBLE

1.
The cardboard packing case curls like a sleeping
cat upon the subway grating, where welcome
warmth mitigates the winter chill.
Within, the talker-to-himself
(given this day his daily bread)
dines upon cold morsels gleaned from
the rusted rodent-residence behind
the golden arches on fast food boulevard.

2.
In the parking lot of the Gourmet Shopwell,
night falls upon a battered auto
that serves as warehouse for the
portable pickings of former dwellings.
Behind its frosted windows, an infant,
sandwiched between two bags of flesh and rags,
coughs in her sleep and burrows deep
into the warming body pile.
Four arms respond to cozy her.

3.
In the window of the notion shop along
the littered avenue, a guard dog sleeps with
one eye open to the midnight street.
By day, a window shopper might see,
among the cluttered wares, a rack
of day-glo signs bearing such legends as:
GOD LOVES YOU
BLESS THIS HOUSE
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

Alvin M. Laster ©

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THE FALCON

Come! I will show you the hunters' signatures:
feathered death upon the beach, coot skulls
lying light as ash along the marsh,
a cake of blood and fur beside a burrow,
a cruciform shadow circling beneath a
bloody sky at day's last fall.

And here is Perigrinus, the hunter's hunter.
He is perched upon his leather throne,
dozing beneath a canopy as black as Homer's slate,
where hood and thong contain his fury,
though the bow is drawn and arrow waiting.

Tell me, court assassin, when you hurtle
through the screaming wind, talons tearing
flesh and feather, can you hear the thumping
in the dying breast? Does bloodlust ease
when you have dropped the crimsoned prize
in tribute at the master’s feet?

Yet, who among us has not worn the hood
and done the master's bidding, ridden the
whirlwinds of the sky, targeting the frightened eye,
pursuing beating wings? Pity the fangless falconer,
lashed to this perilous perch of clay,
while all about the falcons fly and dive like
stones upon a field where everyone is prey.

Alvin M. Laster ©

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PIGEONS

Each morning they fall
upon the square like locusts
over Pharoahís Egypt,
littering the streets with
excrement, while cooing
lamentations, more mournful
than the prayers of Jews.

Beloved and beleaguered
by children who bait
them with moldy croutons,
they await, with
programmed patience,
the three-o'clock popcorn lady
with the spattered shoes
and chk-chk song.

When the sun falls behind
the granite walls,
the pigeons loosen their wired
grips upon the square and soar to
thatched watchtowers and
battlements along the crumbling
cornices of buildings, high
above the canyon's mischief.

Darkness rises from below.
The last preening dove tucks
his head into a pillow of down,
issues a coo or two
to the grey bundle
of sleeping mate and glides
on wings of sleep into
a gleeful dream of pedestaled
and unperturbable
green generals.

© Alvin M. Laster

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THE STORM

Suncrest...a luminous wedge lifts
the lid of darkness,
and the sandpaper day steals in.

We awaken from separate dreams
into echoes of distant thunder,
and we dress behind eggshell screens.

She slippers behind me in the kitchen,
sounding the alarm with her silence,
while yesterday's anger reverberates

like the peal of a bell renewing
itself in diminishing waves
long after the clapper is still.

The storm brews with the coffee,
simmers in the tight etchings
around the mouth, deepens the

violet darkness of her eyes
with its quiet fury, brooding,
anxious as a catapult.

Enough! Show her the broadest
aspect of the back, the line of sinew
shoulder to shoulder. Cockstrut

through the slamming door, through
bird-scatter, with the chill wind
following down the path

into sunstream and flower-scent,
honeysuckle whispering to the nose.
Turn to see her looking

through the window, coffee cup in hand.
Bow and make a scented offering.
Break the granite glance. Disperse clouds.

"Not much of a storm, I guess."
She smiles... nods.
"Just enough to set things straight."

Published: Connecticut River Review (CPS Anthology)
© 1999

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CROWS

Looking, in their black cloaks,
like mourners at graveside,
they nudge one another for advantage,
squawk, and tear flesh, lifting
the road-kill with bloody beaks.
Life feeding upon death, they are
the brooms that sweep clean.

Traffic interrupts the feeding frenzy,
and they reluctantly take wing,
tracing intersecting circles in the sky,
before falling once again, like
black snow upon the unfinished
feast on the asphalt plain below.

Eagerly they return to the work
of the world, these necrophiles,
these funereal harpies, somber
morticians of the roadside dead.

© 1999

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DEAR THEO,

This day, the light faded from the field as if
some great shutter were closing it out.
The falling sun bronzed the windows of the
big house for a few brief moments before
the fat raven, wings spread against the sky,
lit upon my palette for a perch.

Earlier, I had seen the reaper work his way
toward me in the wheat field as I painted, the
golden grain falling in swaths before his blade,
and I knew I must finish my canvas before he
could reach me with his sharp blade and cold eye,
or I would fall like the wheat before him.

Now the night is alive with fireflies. They
are piercing the night like earthbound stars,
blinking their urgent messages in cold light, while
Time comes to me dressed in an October wind,
pinching my face into shallow wavelets,
chafing my skin and chilling my blood.

Dreams drift like feathers on the night air.
There is Paul picking the sunflowers off the
canvas and holding them to his nose, mockingly.
Then a brown-skinned girl with lamp black hair
lifts her skirt as she passes the window,
and he is gone, leaving the flowers behind.

I awake to see the sharp-tipped cypress slashing
the sky. The stars follow me like the eyes
of wild cats, as I gather my brushes, fold
my easel, and stumble back to my lonely lodging.
Tonight there is a fetid odor on the wind, as if
death had passed me by with eyes averted.

I will remember this turbulent night on canvas,
but there are no pigments for the pain of
Paul’s leaving. The storm gathering in my head
is beating away at my temples, trying
to get out, so I will have to take a larger dose
of laudanum to solicit sleep this night.

Dear Theo, I am sorry to tell you about my pain,
and that the demons have returned. They are
chewing my canvasses to shreds and stealing
my light away. Oh my dear Theo... help me...
help me. Once more, the sky is full of
blackbirds, and I am the seed of the field.

Published in: “Reach of Song” an anthology pub. by the Georgia Poetry
Society
Published in literary journal, “Blue Unicorn” . . . 1995

© 1999

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