Two Poems

An Invitation to Dinner

The table was very long.
The impeccable arrangement
had cinema-lighting:
everything seen at wide angle.
There were napkins in every crevice,
and white hands lay responsibly,
in regiments, across the table-top.
Peaches sat alone on a plate.
Bottles cast their long blue shadows.
We were the honorable guests
of a very distinguished gentleman
in the latest rubber suit.
The large aquarium windows
cast us all as through a lens.
The world, it seemed, was watching.
The tablecloth bore patterns
resembling tiny maps of Europe.
At the head of the table,
our host opened his brown briefcase
and removed several colorful schematics
for the newest multiplex in Jerusalem.
His father told us stories
of the slave trade in the Congo
and the Crimean War.
Somewhere, he said,
the valleys are full of orphans.
Somewhere the sun sets on burning cities.
The wine was brought.
The maid of a middle-aged man in a scarf
filled in the bald-spot on his head
with black putty.
A woman coughed up a tooth.
The main course was brought, to applause;
she adjusted her blue blouse.
Out on the bay, the row-boats
gathered in a wide circle,
beneath the low-hanging sun.
The woods bowed and peeled off their clothes.
Logs were fallen in the clearing.
An owl dropped worms into an empty nest.
The time had come.
We smoothed our white napkins
and let our hands slip nervously under the table.
Our host lifted his fork.
We watched him, as one watches
an elephant raise its silver tusk.
In the yard, a flock of pigeons
was looking for statues to shit on.
Nervous men unbuttoned their collars.
The evening sputtered and released.
The fork descended:
He ate a glazed pheasant.
He ate a buttered porridge.
He consumed a flayed duck.
Outside the moon hid behind purple clouds.
Quiet cornfields across the ocean were shivering,
and thin women stooped to grab the meager husks.
Other plots were disease-ridden,
dense with ivy and orange smoke.
We finished the meal.
Our silverware was taken.
The bald man turned to our host:
The fields outside, he said
are pre-Raphaelite, full of icy meaning.
Our host frowned. My coat, he said,
is soft and streaked with colors,
like a striped leopard.
Everyone burst into applause.
The sun kissed the horizon
and made its entry.
At last, the chef emerged.
The room went silent.
Every head twisted to the orange smoke
that bellowed from the kitchen door.
We had all been imagining
what he would look like,
but nothing could have prepared us
for what we saw.
Against the far wall, a bureau started to shake.
The bald man lifted his gloves
and pointed to the rubbery, flickering cadre
of moths and mosquitoes in the lampshade.
It seems, he said,
they are after the peaches.


My childhood waited beside a beached whale,
and my sand-drawings were the feverish footnotes
to the thousand cities I knew I’d never visit,
after thirteen years of watching the tide
and the horizon squinting out beyond knowledge,
invisible continents that hid at the horizon-edge.
It stank just mildly, and the ocean rolled in,
while my feet and the tips of my fingers
made firepits in the sun-oven sand.
The house wasn’t far, the wood planks and sawdust
and white parents who flickered between rooms,
my unborn sister still becoming
at the bedside of my coldflash dreams.
I played alone, and hummed without tune
to the drum-obeisance of the sea,
its endlessness and circling beyond me—
a song no mouth could sing out loud.
The air was dry, the sun hung loose,
and my skin was red and pocked with craters.
My feet passed lightly over the rocks,
my body a kite in the sea-morning breeze,
moving always a step ahead of its shadow
and the quiet that the water carried in
with the air salts and the diving birds,
all of them together, all whirling beyond me,
coming and leaving to lands I’d never see.

So it was the monument I set after at twenty,
clawing belly-down in the feral muck
quiet as a shelless crab descending
through layer after layer of darkness.
The ship that took me to the bombed-out mainland,
crowded and shaken as my childhood was vacant,
ferried off in the fog behind my tracks.
And the fatigues I wore, the dim slimming of eyes,
led me along the barbed-wire-cold ground,
a mercenary smile with its thousand easy poems
and washed-out friends contorted in its wake.
The voyage had been calm, the cabin’s dark circle
a lost vestige on the Pentecostal sea,
the waves against its hull in all their dull feeling,
while I scribbled verses at the wood-plank desk.
Now I was a ferryman for my own lost island,
emissary for the phantom sands
and the land no course or sailor could map:
what the seagulls spoke of all summer,
the sound of my mother spilling the cream-jar,
the after-effect of a wave,
all of it made tangible in some secret, moving continent
I’d still never reached, though I wrote about it ceaselessly,
until it became my only beauty
and I muttered its hymns through opium nights
of fireworks, shells, and an endless London sky.

Now eighty, or more, my body a creaking ship
tied up at port, I’ve tired of imagining
the other sea, the other, more real sky,
and all the cities of light I hoped I’d see
(before the smoke and the darkened alleys,
the women whose skin is never soft enough,
the love whose song is never close enough,
and so many claimants to the throne of beauty),
gathered around on the earth’s quiet globe,
if only in the memory, here, now—
a circle of beauty, landscape recovered
from the hieroglyphic dust and the future’s tinny cipher,
the self eased out from the clutches of self,
a life suffered from, and by, its own forgetting.
So tie the rotted sails, let slip the thought
that kept us leaning endlessly at the port,
staring out to sea—forget anything
that seemed worth remembering, let it slip out with the waves. 

—David Lurie, Milwaukee, WI