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Elliott batTzedek

Conception Waltz


late afternoon out to the barn

key and Motor Medic in hand

rain of rust, door rolls open—

’57 F150, once with custom pipes

and running boards


door locks never used not even once


lift the steel hood, tighten the cables

on the battery new just last week

pull out the cardboard scrap to check

the geography of the countries of stains


chrome of the door handle that’s flaked in your hands

since Dad had to lift you up to open it yourself


hinges and your voice both

grinding scratches so long

since either prayed


the smell of him might still remain


the imprint of his left thumb on

the flat of the choke throttle

youtube says pull it one half inch


but it’s the heart that looks now, seeing

more than a camera ever could

pull the lever as far as it will come

spray WD-40, slide it in and out again


until you feel you’ve reached the end


when were keys ever so small?


Turning and hoping

turning and holding breath

turning and a click and a sputter

and then the waltz of feet & hand:


pedal choke clutch

pedal choke clutch

pedal choke clutch


sputter and die

sputter and gasp

sputter and shudder

and then


the closest purr to the purr the engine purred

for him that this truck will know again


Let the engine run

lie down across the seat

decades of dust and still the smell

of hay and ponies and the Carhartts

soaked with gas and oil he

wore home from work

six days a week


perfume of a life lived with

limited choices, pony manure enough

to grow tomatoes wider than

a supper plate


stretching out along my back the jerky

engine’s idle, the rocking of the rhythm

to which I was conceived



Singin’ this will be the day


How much wood would

a woodchuck chuck

if a woodchuck had a

pickup truck, a chainsaw, an axe dull,

and one sharp awl?


1 cord 2 cords 3 cords, more

10 cords 11 cords a dozen cords haul!


I have a rocket in my pocket

I have no time to play but time anyway

to eat my peas with honey

which kept them on the knife, until

not last night but the night

before when 24 robbers came

to my door.


Scholastic Book Club, A Rocket in My Pocket:

the rhymes and chants of young Americans,

best 25¢ I ever spent on a

book, my source book, my head


when left too quiet begins

to chant these poems, beats of a life

in a predictable 4/4, comfortable

cadence of country music.


Eastbound and down, loaded up and

lonely teenage broncin’ buck, pink carnation,

pickup truck, I knew I was out of

luck the day the music





boy do I have a bone to pick with you, bones, so make

no bones about it but rather better bone up on it now

that you’re the rag and bone man, dancing a final

dog and pony show, throw me a bone, I’ll grab hold tight,

as if that were all my life is now, which is today’s

bone of contention


come look close then closer, to see what was bred

in my bones, yes we’ll dig for the bones in it, measure

the skeletons that skulk in my closet, and after give rest

to my weary bones


the doctor says: bones are covered by a thin layer of tissue called the periosteum


knick knack paddy whack the quickest dog

gets the fat off the bone, the slowest suckles

meal out of marrow while my bones

cleaveth to my skin, and to my flesh—

about this, there are most surely no bones but

dem bones, dem dry dry bones


the doctor says: it is the nerves in the periosteum that “feel” bone pain


dying rot that is my bone closet, bitterest

closet where my boners were forced to hide, my want

as dry as a bone coat, mouth crammed so full of bone

dust and sawdust that I’ll never know the taste of what

the preacher said: the good is oft interred with their bones


the doctor says: and for this bone pain there is no remedy


oh tales of blood and bone, the talking bone,

the telling bone, rattling bones, tattling bones,

rolled them bones and took my chance

still Death it was got the bigger half

of my wishbone


fe fi foh fum

Death smells the blood of every one

and grinds their bones to make

his bread, here at bone idle, here

at bone dry, here where you can make

no bones about that



Wedding Dance


Lawfully married at twenty-five husband

lawfully married at fifteen wife,

two faces, startled, they’d not expected the flash

two hands, posed by order on the knife.


Two faces, paled, foregrounded by the flash

anxious hands, trembling, so photo’s blurry knife.

Can you believe so-late-to-be-married husband?

What is she doing, so-young-to-be-married wife?


He’s marrying who? husband,

wed so soon after death had come for his life—

watching his best friend burn in drag race crash—

then drafted, so people were happy he found a wife.


On base the minister said too young so they dashed  

to find any preacher who’d declare man and wife,

there, ’58 in Fort Hood, watching Elvis drive past, and that

was the day’s story they told the rest of their lives,


these newly weds, for whom keeping secrets was custom

and silence and lies just how you tried to save your life.

Husband to mask grief, wife, a do-anything-dash

to leave father’s house, so focus the camera on the shiny knife!


Secrets crushed under silence so bestly, bestly kept, and

then soon a baby, then soon two more, and so they grew a life

pinned down in photos, truths dark backgrounded by the flash.

Look—he, a trying-to-be husband, look—she, a loving wife.



Elliott batTzedek is a Pushcart-prize nominated poet and liturgist. She is the recipient of the Robert Bly translation prize, judged by Martha Collins, and a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Award. She works in four slightly different parts of the bookselling industry, and also as a liturgist for Jewish communities across the U.S. Her poems and translations have been published in American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, The Broadkill Review, Lilith, I-70 Review, Hunger Mountain Review, Sakura Review, Apiary, Cahoodaloodaling, Naugatuck River Review, Poemeleon, and Philadelphia Stories. Her chapbook the enkindled coal of my tongue was published in January 2017 by Wicked Banshee Press. A chapbook of translations from Shez, A Necklace of White Pearls, is forthcoming from Moonstone Press in 2024.


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