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Howie Faerstein

Sugar & Salt


After a breakup I joined a speed dating affair held in a cavernous hotel ballroom. Socially distant singles of all ages occupied chairs at separate tables & every six minutes a director at the podium exclaimed rotate. Men then moved on to the next table to speak with women most of whom asked Are you a dog or a cat person? (Think of all the dogs & cats I’ve had!) I found it discomfiting since at the time I talked only to myself.



I first fed sugar cubes to a horse when I was six, either the vegetable peddler’s horse or the knife sharpener’s pony. I’d hear the bells clanging & a booming call: Knives sharpened, scissors & knives. Enormous eyes, curling eyelashes, wet nose—with sticky fingers I’d swat the swarming flies.



From chrysalis, swallowtail.

From black-footed tick, disease.


When father came by a month after mother left him, we were living in an attic, needed money to buy a car. His chapped hands, like mortar, like brick. He helped out with some cash & we gave him cold cream to take back.



There were long nights in a strangely familiar apartment off Third Avenue where a devoted, somewhat deranged, clarinetist practiced scales relentlessly. Once he finished he’d play Autumn Leaves till dawn. People from the floor above bang on their floor. We bang on the ceiling. The music plays on. The dream repeats. Salt & sugar. Sweetness with its double e like eyes or mice teeth.



I thought nothing as comforting as strolling

Manhattan with my brother on Friday nights.

We'd catch an Antonioni film or Truffaut’s latest,

then in Chinatown eat clams in black bean sauce at Wo Kee

on Doyer Street before taking the local back to Brooklyn—

I thought nothing could be sweeter.



From winter: flakes spiraling, whales breaching.

From spring: shoots furling, green fingers twisting.

And the red-headed freak on McDougal Street wearing John Lennon Granny glasses. He was real, not just a rumor, had sugar cubes dosed with LSD for sale & I bought a half dozen & later my friends & I let the lysergic acid dissolve on our tongues.

Do we really need instructions on not giving up? Think of all the fascists in our midst. Didn’t I just eat the sweetest orange?


A Taiwanese woman was going blind in one eye when doctors found four microscopic sweat bees living under her eyelid, sipping her tears. Once the bees were removed her vision improved. We’re all aware that moths drink the tears of sleeping birds, shine shears the swaying meadow & snowlight bends the body’s atmosphere, each second infused with rapture but how often do we weep beneath quilts? Have you ever seen swallows sleeping?



From seed: eggplant.

From junco: cardinal, bare white lilac branches.


Limping over from the stove, my Ukrainian Grandma placed a glass of hot swee-touch-nee tea—tsvetochny, the Russian word for flower—in front of me, seated at the kitchen table three blocks from the Atlantic. I’d take two lumps from the sugar bowl, hold them between thumb & index finger & place them between my front teeth. Only then would I take a first sip. Only then would she serve her carp with carrots in such a way I've never tasted since.

Exchange numbers &




Death in Brooklyn, Long Ago


Ex-wife & I once had predatory sex

on a derelict basement couch

neither of us had ever before sat on.


She had something to prove…

(did she believe she was successful)

as I had everything to lose

which I did       eventually.


Ragbag of divorce & dissolution

exile expatriation

both of us diminished


It’s so easy to answer the phone & declaim

there’s no one here with that name.


When the utility company’s granted a right of way

does it mean the same as

My baby gave me

an easement through her heart.


And since lilacs’ intoxication

& bloodroot's fleeting bloom

last a week or less

is it comparable to one’s early love,

to woodcock’s first sky dance, phoebe’s

first tail flapping, come April.


Total abandon, surge of shame,


Figures in windows lose definition

they often lacked to begin with.


Even my eyelids

now pocked & wrinkled


my mouth, feral,

a bracelet of charms.

Howie Faerstein is the author of five poetry collections. Stay (Human Error Publishing) was published in February 2023. Poems and reviews can be found in On the Seawall, Nixes Mate, Nine Mile, Banyan Review, Rattle, upstreet, Verse Daily, Hole in the Head Review, and Connotation. A multiple Pushcart nominee, Cutthroat Discovery Poet, and recipient of the NOVA 2022 poetry prize, he’s co-poetry editor for CutThroat and lives in Florence, MA.


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