Steven Cramer

Flight, Ours & A Burn So Bad It Requires Ice
May 24, 2020 Cramer Steven

We’re in bad, we’re in terrible, shape
when it comes to time. Like a clock-
face not so much a circus ring of hours
as Dali’s melting watch; like the boy
with senioritis, who says “who cares?
it’s just history,” and grows to a man
never missing a reunion; like Sungir
mammoth hunters, who glue 60 fox
incisors to the belts of their dead,
their important dead, for the trek home;
like early filmmakers, who understood
and then, but hadn’t mastered meanwhile;
like the wedding VHS moved to DVD,
then to the Library in the Cloud, seen
years later, divorce exceeding marriage,
then replayed another decade on,
divorce outstripped by the dead;
like headstones with a birth and death
date, plus one birth date and a dash—
the widows having lots of friends to do
stuff with, no one to do nothing with;
like. . . Enough! or Too Much! Slow down.
Common swifts are so adapted to flight
they don’t, or almost don’t, have legs.


Sanibel Beach Resort

Years ago, we took us and our kids
on a 90-percent white cruise to Istanbul
from Rome. In no time I got smart
at discriminating my white from the others’.
I watched Italians bully in line for ice
tea or lemonade, the two free drinks—
their Dantesque vowels, honey on the page,
a sort of noise pollution in my airspace.
The English, being Brits, queued; the French
seemed to take their cues from the Italians.
The Germans had no sense of line at all.
But oh, my Americans, you made mouth-
sounds like rusted gears, belched at will,
your slurry banter fit for jotting down
only on the blackest cocktail napkins;
and not just did I know your every slight
(for an exhaustively ugly list, click here),
but by ‘tween-age, I’d had the lot by heart.
Now, down in Sanibel, our black
30-something waitress warms my coffee.
Our—no, the—server’s Floridian lilt
has me constantly asking sorry—my tip,
at 18 percent, a runt of a reparation.
It’s her kids, not ours, who will sink
first under the next flood. There’s jack
shit that she, or semi-snow-birds like
ourselves, can do to stop it. “Is there
a map of downtown?” is the best
I’ve got to ask her; “what downtown?”
her best answer. What’s in my head
is more or less in hers: gates that open
into gardens outside time. But each gate
locks out them, us in, our garden’s ours.
She’s about to clear away the yolky orts
of our Americans. We rise to go,
no clearer where, in America, we are.

Sometimes I believe people with substance
abuse issues have all the fun. After all,
it’s the ovaries and liver of the scrumptious
pufferfish that literally take your breath away.
Today, during Opus 69, back comes Mozart’s
metaphor for passion I just made up:  a burn
so bad it requires ice.  For years, in my fridge,
I kept my cocaine in glass vials the size
of Lilliputian beer mugs—where did you
keep yours?—and entered the era’s debate
about which end of an egg a loyal citizen
cracks first.  I loved many things I didn’t
understand:   modern sculpture, fondue,
that duct tape works least well on ducts,
that beauty like abattoir means slaughterhouse.
Now there’s a carrot ruining history, don’t
we need more words whose melodies can’t
mean their meanings—pulchritude, for one?
I’ll never ride that lofty appaloosa. . .
For years I thought scherzo meant schizo.
For years priests turned cinctures into nooses.
So much about living is sadly mistaken.
So much of living should be titled “Untitled.”
(For years priests turned cinctures into nooses.)
Some nights I go to my threadbare backyard,
stand there, quiet as a sun dial, staring at the sky,
and soon enough realize I’m looking at the stars.

Steven Cramers seventh collection of poetry, Departures from Rilkewill be published by Arrowsmith Press in October 2023. His previous book, Listen, was published in 2020 by MadHat Press and named a “must read” poetry collection by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. His other books are The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (Galileo Press, 1987), The World Book (Copper Beech Press, 1992), Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (Lumen Editions/Brookline Books, 1997), Goodbye to the Orchard (Sarabande Books, 2004)—winner of the Sheila Motton Award from the New England Poetry Club and an Honor Book in Poetry from the Massachusetts Center for the Book—and Clangings (Sarabande Books, 2012).  His poems and criticism have appeared in numerous journals, including AGNI, The Atlantic Monthly, Field, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New England Review, The Paris Review, and Poetry.  Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and two fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, he founded and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.