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.