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Richard Foerster

Early Gothic Tales

The tintinnabulations of a brittle dog-eared book,

a belfry, a bastion, a crypt

with a clock

like a mouth pried open

to swallow the minutes.


Tabulations of sound: riprap, the frass

of fallen trees,

fragmented stones along a forest path

where a boy finds himself in the mist


of another childhood,



In which he awakes beneath the rip and rap

of a pendulous blood-slick blade,

its lustre of fire,

the yawning gulf of a thousand thunders,

his gibbering murmurs.


In which a heart resounds

like an unstrung lute

suspended in the airless room.


In which an executioner stands

with his hood slicked back

amid the bastion’s breach.


In which the boy is no longer a boy

but a clock

that measured the minutes by the beats of a heart.

After Listening with a Friend to Marty Balin Sing “Comin’ Back to Me”

Let me explain back then. In ’67, I’d already worn this vinyl down.

And so there we were, seaside, on my classmate’s Larchmont lawn,

four prepsters, post-prom, with our dates in the warmth of June, and I

was blissed out on Balin’s transparent dream, the guitars’ hypnotic

pulse, the recorder’s lilt. Some of us were drunk while we listened

and watched the Sound’s luminescence spill onshore. The air was aswirl

with fireflies and moths, and the yellowing scent of my date’s gardenias

was drifting up the sateen slope of her breast. That’s when I sensed

it was not summer that held it’s breath too long. A twitch had begun

cascading from the crook of my neck where she’d nuzzled her head.

And yet I hesitated to disrupt her occasional sigh for fear

the night would collapse around me like cinders at the LP’s end

when the arm lifts. Oh, I’d been there before—the janitor’s boy

in a rented tux among the posh; the scholarship boy unmannered

in country-club niceties of toggling knife and fork; the boy

put in a jar, screwed tight, not least of all by his own hand’s torque—

lost in that tidal yearning to kiss, then not, to want, then pull away.

I remember watching my friends that night, how their fingers

inched into unknowns, how their tongues had already learned

a language less harsh than the one I’d been made to speak at home.

I’d watch them after gym amid the steam and banter, how the soap

streamed from their bodies like music, how pure and potent

and relaxed they were in the certainty of themselves, and I . . .

I wondered if that girl’s name and the searing expectations

in her gaze would ever dissolve, like the ice has in this tumbler of gin.

Tonight, here with you, when I pulled this scratchy record

from its sleeve, it wasn’t to resurrect from the mist of that place

and time some shadow of her, or even them. Nothing to do with that

distant stirring. It’s always been about something far less

tangible, something I’d hoped would return in the fullness of its beauty.


gradually I’m changing to a word

—Stanley Kunitz, “Passing Through”

Entropy as trope, < τρóπoς, a turning, as in

flesh to grit, to smoke’s billion particulates

into stratospheric blue: Giotto in the ground

pigments he mortared into heaven; or Sargent

embodied in the stroke of cadmium white

on the guitar left floating in ghostly silence

above a ruckus of flamenco chords;

or Chihuly ensouled in the molten

silica’s cooling, in the ephemeral bubble

of breath held in the hard unforgetting;

and as here, more modestly, in the gentle

kneading of the five ingredients my aunt

taught me were essential, sixty years ago

in the ritual of rolling the assembled

mixture in my hands before easing each

portioned orb into the blood-red sauce,

in the nourishing aroma that arose then,

so diffuse, yet reclaimed in this, my small kitchen

of ideas—it’s the sort of afterlife I can’t help

but think she would have chosen for herself.


Richard Foerster's ninth collection, With Little Light and Sometimes None at All, was published by Littoral Books in September 2023. Among his many honors are two National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowships, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and the Bess Hokin Prize awarded by Poetry Magazine.


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