His body's the marsh of north
Jersey, brackish water,
cattails. The turnpike all
exhausted gravel up to New York.
Yellow stalks stick up from the muck.
I can't walk across him; I'd sink.
He's a wild persimmon, picked
from the briers. Sour, bitter,
wrinkled. He's heart pine, gold-
soft. He's still awake at four
in the morning, and sick.
He's a shtetl in Russia. It's 1904,
the pogrom fires stink and smoke.
He's an old newsboy cap. Silk lining
orange and frayed. He's woolen.
Scratchy but warm, even when wet.
He's in his body on the beach, Coney
Island, the salt sings fritters and beer.
He watches the boys strut in uniform,
link their arms in the pink arms of strange
girls. He is so still feels shells
turning to sand, and the giant creak
of the coasters climbing their tracks.
They click up, up and up; then let go.
To Keep the House Quiet
Father closes the door when he teaches little sister
music. Myron has a stub of charcoal.
He draws her playing great-uncle's violin.
Draws it how it is, the violin too big,
her hair pulled back with twine.
The horsehair bow, brought over on the boat,
smells of Russian cart-horse.
Myron doesn't know how to draw
smell, or the way his stomach yellows
during the long silences.
Something is wrong with Myron's
ears. It always sounds like it's
raining. Or the sound, sometimes,
of galloping horses. Better
not to mention this. He tries
hitting his head against his bed-
post. No change but a small
bruise, safe under his hair.
Far off, the front door bangs.
Father, home from work, beats
his boots against the mud-room
sink. And that is really
happening, Myron thinks.
Myron is gone. Become
flat as the others. Grayfaced,
he eats his rations, and after,
sings sailor songs with the men.
All day he drops depth charges
on submarines with no curdle
in his guts, the inside of his stomach
clean and rosy as a gentile's.
But this is a nightmare. Myron
wakes. Still Myron, fresh as a wet
cut. His bed sways sickly.
Waking comes hard as the lace
crust of ice on the sea, brittle
and stinging. Brittle and stinging,
thinks Myron. He can hear his sister
in her room practicing Beethoven's
seventh, the movement in A minor.
Their favorite key. The four beats,
heavy as walking, as waking.
Myron does it. Lifts his salt-caked
chest, breathes, and marches down
the bright cold hall, to the sound.
Miller Oberman was the 2005 recipient of Poetry Magazine's Ruth Lilly Fellowship
and has recently had poems in Bloom Magazine, the Minnesota Review, and Lilith. Miller lives in Brooklyn with Zero Oberman.