Honey and Six Poems by Sharon Leiter

Street of My Life

 

Street of my life, I have left you and I have returned,
   wandering nights in your renovated future,
The deed has passed into my keeping, and the dead,
   ever gracious, have agreed,
   to pretend they have never left.

Short, unexceptional street, lined on both sides
   with two-story brick houses,
Each with its painted stoop, pouring bruised-legged
   children down the stone steps,
With its flower pots, its wooden bench and iron-fenced
   “garden,” large enough for
   a single flowering tree a row of crunchy-leafed bushes,
And the last house with its Florsheim Shoe sign fading
   fainter every year above the empty lot
Where we ran from delicious phantoms, huddled in holes
   and blasted off for red planets,
Aspiring Brooklyn boulevard, with your anchoring
   apartment houses on either end,
Your chicken and egg store, your Moishe’s fruit cave,
   your corner candy store,
Your Stakoff’s grocery, flanked by wooden milk crates
   where fleshy-armed young women in sun dresses
   sat and sunned, rocking high-wheeled carriages,
With your hot tar belly where we played stick ball
   and watched pink spauldeens washed down
   your gutter-maws by dirty rainwater

Faithful first street, forgive me!
I left you too soon, when you still held my footsteps,
   echoed them, stretched them, fitting me well
   through my lengthening journeys.
I ran from you, stealthily, all the while looking backwards,
   in the years when to cross the street alone was
   to vanish forever
From the dark rooms of the sister-cramped apartment,
   where your cracked squares led me and led me
Through the maze of childhood.

I have taken you south, to the chunky brick school
Where my first sexless self dutifully died, peeling
   from me like a pumpkin’s tough shell, leaving me
   naked and wet with seeds
And I have taken you north across the fast traffic
   of Kings Highway where the smoky city air
   encircled me, fondled me, handled, inhabited me.

To you, street, through the new valleys and rises
   of my body, I have whispered my lusts,
Left drops of congealed woman’s blood on your dry
   gray skin, signs scattered to lead me out of
   the night-thickening forest.
I have raced down you, heavy with shames,
   woman flesh, terrors,
Light-headed in rhinestone diadems, clutching
   paper prizes, passports to other lives.

Blind to the grass sprouting from your cracks,
   the flits of the yearlong sparrows,
   the sway of the nameless, reliable trees,
Feeling only the warming wind
Hearing only a vague implacable hum
Touching only the black dancing shadows
   on your sun-bleached face.

Loving you, street of my life, I mourned you ahead of time,

Knowing you would go, that blockades would suddenly
   bloom at every entrance to you,
Each white wooden X a fresh cross on a stranger’s grave.


Substitutions

for Darryl
 

Only one day at
at time passes.
One deep dream
disgorges us
into the faithful
light. Yet we awaken
to refurnished eyes.
Families have passed from earth
while others have appeared
from nowhere,
anchoring us
to this world.
The ones I love are not
the ones I loved.
And yet, for you and me,
only the flesh surrounding
the flame of that old
familiar ecstasy
has changed.


Honey

for my daughter Robin
 

I will be able to
forget myself —
but never you,
who have multiplied
your love,
each golden step
dripping
from the one above,
honey descending,
honey spreading,
honey unending

a golden pool
and in it I discern
your light —
though never you,
who stepped
from a shadow
and mothered a universe


Russia In Winter

 

Your fault
damn you.
You kept me back.
You dilly dallied
shilly shallied
detoured me
north and south
and around
my proper life.
You made me
laugh and
buried me
deep in each
detail
of summer.

Ten lousy
minutes would
have made
the difference.
But you didn’t
remind me —
and somehow
I too forgot
the plane
I was trying
to catch
would have
exiled me
one more time
from the ones I loved
to the dare
to the test
the life in the world

to Russia in winter.


Theirs

for Sammy
 

Their air is the air of Eden and
the heady days just after.
Their light is wild,
uncaptured.
They bob a little when
they move,
light buoys on
the warm
teeming
waters.

Their passions are as air
for there is nothing
they will not love,
grieving each object
taken from their hands.

The night of loneliness
is not theirs,
for they are everywhere
assailed by the trumpets
of the first day.
They have not yet
stumbled on
the stone statue
of the naked boy
beside the moss-draped pond.


I Ask For Sleep

 

But the neat, nearly symmetrical
tree of pain — a pine, I think,
for its leaves are sharp
and always green —
stands upright in the center
of the quiet field
I call myself.
Lie down, I beg.
But it will not
until my scouring
mind has visited
all seven seas of a weeping planet,
relived my every mistake,
blinked at the edge of its own grave.
The world has no pity, I tell it.
Only the heart has pity.
Only then does the tree’s
needle silhouette
smudge softly,
its claw-black roots
go gray and slack
against the papery
wash of day.


Regathering

 

singed scraps of awareness
sift through a smoky sky

when the pain lets go
you struggle to rejoin yourself

you and your armchair battle
to retain your body’s shape

holding fast against
the whoosh of dissolution

and you, who’ve always stood outside,
seem to remember the moment —

before time as treachery —
before dawn as disappointment —

when the jar alive with every
firefly of goodness shattered

sending the sparks sailing for all time
through the prevailing dark


Sharon Leiter
Streetlight pays tribute to our beloved poetry editor, Sharon Leiter, with a selection of seven poems from her book The Night Heart Knows Every Word, 2012. Poetry co-editor, Lisa Ryan, commemorates Sharon in a special blog: In Memoriam: Sharon Leiter.

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