The famous writer
on the seventh floor
who moved in leaning on a cane
and now needs a walker
oxygen and an aide
sits perched against the next building
smoking a cigarette
on the first bright day of fall
not just smoking
what she once told me
at our building garden party
about the parties she used to throw
We knew everybody
From across the street I watch her
wave dangle and flourish
the cigarette with an elegance
you don’t pick up overnight
a breath of beauty
in those easy motions
I’d like to walk over and say
something nice about smoking
her head cocked toward the sun
a fluid hand in midair
the oxygen tank at her feet
There were so many parties
Oscar and Abraham
The same apartment, but for them
larger, wilder, with variations
in climate and landscape.
A sign they’re better informed.
So many nooks they’ve turned into rooms
along with rooms they’ve made their own.
On sunbaked floors they alone
use up the day’s spare minutes.
No habits of distraction.
Their moments accumulate seamlessly:
a longer life in a shorter span.
Years ahead from the start,
they teach us, with gestures and
simple commands, what’s needed
to make a home. For Oscar,
treats on schedule and demand.
For Abe, strokes behind the ears at any hour.
Most of all, patience and routine.
Yet one look at us and they worry.
How long have we lived with them, and still—
our attention’s in fits and spurts.
We think we’ll have them both forever.
Sometimes Abe runs in circles yowling,
or Oscar barks at nothing we can see.
It’s their game of charades,
as they try to prepare us,
their idiot children, who often
have to guess at what they mean.
A former senior reporter for Crain’s New York Business, Matthew Flamm has written for the New York Times, the New York Post and the Nation. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry East and Poetry New York.