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Michael Salcman

First Thing in the Morning


The man with strong hands squeezes his head

From ear to ear until he can feel his face

Disappear except for the nose peering back

At him from the mirror and the honking noise

He makes sneezing into a tissue.

The woman first checks to see if she’s bleeding

A monthly or if she can move her ballerina legs

After cracking his nut hours ago deceiving him

With false cries of pleasure. All these years

What does he know about her physiology

When he has only his? He warms his face

With a towel before shaving barber cream off

A light beard using a two-piece blade and slaps

Mentholated alcohol on pink cheeks and chin

Looking a lot like a baby pig made of plastic

He keeps on his desk for saving lone quarters

He finds in his pants taking the rolls to his bank.

She saves paper money in her bag from trips

To the grocery store and other venues he knows

Nothing about if they don’t serve dinner or beer.

She knows the size of shirts, shoes, even the hole

At which he tightens his belt and where he goes

To the dentist. His practical knowledge is limited

To museums and getting flowers for her birthday.

She never leaves home without makeup and doing

Her hair. They joke about planning for everything

Even their graves: she says his stone should read

Still Talking, he wants Still Shopping on hers.



Geometry of Death in a Painting


Here and not here the pillar and the sphere

As in a still life by Cézanne


No rectangle of a cracker box

In a Morandi either


Far outside the mobile

There are almost no triangles in art


But for the faint itch of Malevich

And Russian Constructivists.


But in today’s collage

The papers wear the architecture of pyramids


Pasted flat on a garbage dump

Beneath cracks and scratches in a black sky


Shaped like two stealth bombers in a pileup of wings

Held taut by strips of measuring tape


And an egg squeezed in between until memory bleeds

Of a final flight made in the darkness of night.



A Few Things Have to Change


This is one of those times when the water just sits in the Bay

Like a blue scarf hardly rippling

And the squawking gulls fly up in a haunting ballet

As the tired body waits for spring

Its every muscle filled with a memory of hauling sail.

If you want most things to stay the same, they say

A few things have to change.

Some of the gear has been put away on order

And the captain retired to crew.

No one knows this when they are young and oiled

Weighed down with the power of a bright new machine.

You watch the first morning sun-rays stream across the Bay

Until the chill eases in your bones

As if every day is either a good day or maybe a last.



Michael Salcman, a child of the Holocaust and survivor of polio, is former chairman of neurosurgery at University of Maryland and president of The Contemporary Museum. His poems appear in Barrow Street, Blue Unicorn, Hopkins Review, Hudson Review, New Letters, Notre Dame Review, Raritan, and Smartish Pace. His books include The Clock Made of Confetti (nominated for The Poets’ Prize); The Enemy of Good Is Better; Poetry in Medicine: An Anthology of Poems About Doctors, Patients, Illness, and Healing; A Prague Spring, Before & After (Sinclair Poetry Prize winner); Shades & Graces (Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize winner); Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems (2022); and Crossing the Tape (2024).


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