Four Poems


                                         for Hisami Kuroiwa

How  cruel is this month of Covid!
Exhausted Charon crosses the river Letha
back and forth, in a crowded boat
through November’s dark muddy waters
full of decay.
Like a gondolier with masked Venetians
in a gilded gondola during a carnival
except, this carnival has many kings and queens
to be put to death after the celebration feast.

Halloween is over, but some characters
refuse to part with their dress-up outfits.
A Clockwork Orange, in a president’s mask
continues acting like an autocrat in
what was thought to be a democratic state.
He screams, throws temper tantrums,
hires and fires ministers and generals
spews lies, the servants cater to his needs,
and a huge crowd of sycophants
with semiautomatic weapons cheer him
and stand in line, not even distanced socially,
to kiss his ass, protruding  from underneath
his too tight jacket.

The rest of us are involuntary spectators on the shore,
not indifferent, at times – in awe of humans
capable of sacrifice, teenagers on bikes,
taking food to elders and disabled in a lockdown
at other times– in horror,
watching stoned humanoids unravel and spew anger
like the huge redneck at the Grand Central terminal
who pushed my tiny Japanese friend against the wall
convinced she was Chinese,
and she broke her finger in the fall.





When I worked in a mental health clinic (a polite way
not to call it psychiatric, which it actually was)
in Coney Island, the first two years of immigration
my son, who was nine, when we left Moscow,
and I shared an apartment with my parents.
Three nights a week I worked late, till nine pm,
and got home to Long Island City from Coney Island
around eleven.
As I rang the bell of our first-floor apartment,
my father opened the door, and he would greet me
with a barrage of news– “Do you know, what your son
has done today? or, He left his knapsack on the train
on the way back from school, and we had to run back to retrieve it.”
My sickly mother would stop him and say–“ Leave her alone.
She looks so tired.”And she would ask me, if I wanted a cup of tea
and something to eat.

I have to tell you a professional secret– shrinks do get burnt out.
After a long day with patients you need to unwind–
read a paper, look at art, or go for a walk and look at the sunset
even if it is in the city, just focus on the color of the sky,
light and shadows exchanging places.
When I was studying family therapy, one of our professors,
a beautiful blond woman, was going through
a personal tragedy– her son was disabled
after a horrific car accident.
He was going through multiple surgeries,
and Helen was constantly traveling to attend to his needs.
One day she told us, that she could work fine during this time,
except for therapy with paranoid patients.
With them there was no way to penetrate the paranoid bubble,
other, than with anti-psychotic medications.

So, if the patient feels persecuted by the Martians,
Zionists, murdering Christian babies, to use their blood
for Passover matzah, you’ve got no way to appeal
to that person, other than agreeing with them.
In a Moscow psychiatric hospital, I was told by the senior psychiatrist,
training me– “We still have one of the Napoleons’ alive.
But they are becoming extinct.When we meet him, just greet him
and send your compliments to Josephine,
regarding her latest diamond riviere necklace.”

So yesterday, when Biden won, my friend, a psychiatrist,
talked about how we felt a heavy stone lifted from the chest
with the news.
It was unbearable to keep reading the news with proclamations
of Deep State conspiracies, rigged elections, secretly taken away
by extreme liberals, of doctors, who had invented a pandemic
to ruin the economy, and more of the delusional stuff.
We sat in a café in the Village, and crowds of jubilant students were laughing,
yelling, waving the victory sign,
we were waving back,
and for the first time in the eight grim months we felt light,
as if a war ended.

At night I watched the new president’s speech.
He looked like an old history teacher, or a family doctor,
a decent man, entirely approachable.
And he sounded a bit like my mother– he noticed we were tired.





Don’t forget me
Forget me not
Blue forget-me-nots
And white lilacs
Don’t forsake me
Don’t give up on me
Don’t give up on us
Don’t forget to say good night
Don’t forget to wait for me
To  say good morning
And to wish  you a good day.
Words can heal
Words can hurt
Words can kill
Hatred turns into love
Love turns into hatred
Without warning
A beautiful flower wilts
And a dry tree
Grows a new branch
With green leaves
There is no answer
To the main question
The deity says
Love can turn into hatred
But what good would it do?
The earth is dry
Hot wind scorches the skin
Love is breath
Love is water in life’s desert.




In the city the fall is scarce –
you don’t mistake anything for any other thing
old trees at Washington Square Park
are especially beautiful
when it’s half-empty on a Thanksgiving afternoon.
Then daylight acquires enough space
for a lamp post to throw a long shadow
as it’s getting  extinguished
and yellow leaves leave a trail
of antique cold coins on the ground.
A black squirrel  climbs the Hangers’ tree
and you wander on which of the branches
they were hanging people
like Christmas decorations
during the Civil War.
The Washington Arch gets lit and
when the square is emptied
with the exception of a group
dealing and using drugs on the benches
In one of the corners
of the square
and some chess-players on the right
its architecture emerges and starts making sense.
My friend tells me
that a studio in the oldest skyscraper
across Waverly place
costs seventeen thousand a month to rent
because the square is such a special place.
This pandemic Thanksgiving is strange  –
Ink-blue pansies on a balcony of a townhouse
yellow and red asters
and heads of decorative cabbage around a tree
are still alive, just like we are.
We should give thanks for that.



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