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Michael Blumenthal

The Choice

 

I had to choose the one I’d rather be

A heart of stone, or else a flower

Untrue to you, or else untrue to me

 

The choice was clear to you, and clear to me

Under your thumb, or under my own power

I had to choose the one I’d rather be

 

A man who’s caged is never quite so free

No matter whom he stands with in the shower

Untrue to you, or else untrue to me

 

You don’t concur, you surely don’t agree

To you it was mere minutes, and not hours

I had to choose the one I’d rather be

 

The self can be a whole, or just debris

A life can be so sweet, or can turn sour

Untrue to you, or else untrue to me

 

I danced with you, but sometimes we were three

Some birds will build a nest, and some a bower

Untrue to you, or else untrue to me

I made the choice, the one that had to be.

 

 

I Hear the Materials of This World Weeping

 

Sometimes I think the materials of this world must be weeping.

I swear I can hear the wailing of the bricks and mortar,

I hear sobs coming from the dust and detritus of stones,

 

I hear the electrical wires screaming from their entrapment

between crumbled walls and I can hear, I’m certain, the plumbing

and the copper wiring, the plastic tubing and asbestos insulation

 

crying from amidst the rubble, I can listen to the plaster, unable

any longer to hold up the plasterboard and to the large staples

that have held rubber gaskets and exhaust pipes to the walls

 

and it seems to me sometimes that I am living near a hospital

for the moldings and structures of this world, where so many

objects are spending night after night in the intensive care unit,

 

where there is such a shortage of nurses and doctors to tend to

the life-threatening emergencies that have befallen limestone

and cement, the ceramic tiles of kitchens and bathrooms,

 

the reinforced concrete, adobe, lumber, and steel beams all

now gathered in shards in their corners, praying for comfort

and, just beneath them, almost overlooked amidst the chaos,

 

I can hear the cries of human beings, scarcely audible.

 

 

Objects, An Apology

 

All my life I have loved and desired women

but now, as I watch my beautiful wife

painting the front gate so patiently and perfectly

it occurs to me that I have not loved objects enough,

that I have not loved the front gate,

and the now-perfectly-stained shutters

nor even the stone wall holding up my studio

enough, that I have been negligent towards my desk

and the picnic table beneath the arbor in front of me

and, somewhat less so, harbored an indifference

toward the echinacea and butterfly bush.

Now that I am well on my way toward becoming

an object myself, I am taking an inventory

of the pens, the candles, even the small pillows

that gently buffer my brain into the air,

and the wooden bench on which I was just

lying and taking in the sun, and the ceramic vase

I so carelessly dropped the other day in a haste

to satisfy my own earthly hungers, and now

I am watching my wife, with her meticulous care

of everything that breathes and doesn’t breathe,

with her loving and generous care even of me

and I am feeling ashamed of what I have

become—a man so interested in flesh

he has ignored both wood and stone,

even ignored the incredible beauty of his own wife,

who renders all objects luminous with her patience

and care, who is kind enough to consider even me

beautiful. O forgive me, dear objects, forgive me,

dear wife, for I have sinned against all of you,

let me please spend the rest of my days

with a small paintbrush in hand, painting

all the crevices and corners I have missed

and blessing the heavy wooden-and-metal chairs

surrounding the picnic table, and feeling blessed

myself for having found such a wife, for living

in a world in which there is paper and wood

and stone and porcelain and steel, and may

whatever god is watching over this object-filled world

forgive me, and may my lovely wife forgive me,

and let me breathe more gratitude into this object-filled world

and rest my head tonight on these pillows I so love.

 

 

Michael Blumenthal was previously Director of Creative Writing at Harvard and, more recently, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law and has taught at universities throughout the world. In addition to ten books of poetry, most recently Correcting World: Poems Selected & New, 1980–2024, he has published a novel, a memoir, short stories, essays, and translations. He spends his time between Washington, D.C., and in the small Hungarian village of Hegymagas near Lake Balaton.

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