New Poetry

Text
Rebecca Alexander in Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle 

Tzimtzum

take the body

banjaxed by its multiplying failures

and the mind

encumbered by unexpected subtractions

so the path ahead narrows and steepens

towards a destination

neither sought nor known

a world-entire begins its slow retreat

keys that opened the house for decades

refuse to turn

no matter how they’re coaxed and coddled

and she is standing like a stranger

on the wrong side of the door

but lucky to have found 

this street which went missing

on the morning errand 

circling the neighbourhood

its landmarks foreign and bewildering

inscrutable signs on the map

her memory a chalkboard being chased

by a fiend with an eraser

she who could shingle a roof or hotwire a car

Gematrist of Trollope and James

interpreter of tomes, of symbols and ciphers

is light as a husk adrift on a random current

while an obliterating smoke

scrolls through the mind’s swarm of thoughts 

evicting meaning 

is the hour too late 

to take the body and the mind

build them a garden

densely planted with love and friendship

seeded thickly with stories

set free every question you meant to ask

unlock every answer

keep nothing back

before there is only nothing

The Teacher Who Hated Me

I am now the age that you were then

and still

the flapping tails of your blue labcoat

and the jolly face you turned to others

taunt from the formalin haze 

of oneiric halls and stairwells

whose image did I conjure in you

a favoured or wayward sister

whose life and deeds eclipsed your own

I was a silent repository

for your frustrations

no haruspex, how could I divine

that the frog’s life I dismantled deftly

would fail to please

and no objective measure 

of my multiple choices 

would bring anything but scorn

the final project that sealed my fate

a history of mythological creatures 

drew a damning D of disapproval

a shameful stain 

my mirrored face hurled back at me

this is a Canopic jar

for the remains of a memory of failure

and I am taking you apart

organ by organ to put you in it

stoppered for eternity

your heart and its workings

have been weighed

and judged heavier than a feather

let the gryphons and chimeras

have their way 

The Cabinet Without Curiosity

under the Ottoman arches 

of Mohilever Street’s mothballed 

museum of nature

the oracle of the past 

holds court to no audience

stiff-necked from so much looking back

she gazes at the padlocked entrance

imagining the sound

of ibex and hyrax, tortoise and turtledove

jailbreaks from a glassed-in diorama

pummelling the weighty door with rigour

as if they could find home again

in the changed surrounding hills

herbarium pages brittle with heat

and mossed with damp

release their specimens

the unlit air flitters with wingbeats

of cyclamen and bugloss, caper and anemone

rootless and free

to scramble and rewrite their names

she could tell of years of schoolgirls

long-sleeved and sombre 

herded through by wary teachers

for their annual inoculation

as if curiosity could be stilled

and dangerous questions etherized

by a dose of dusty science

if you asked she’d foretell

the ripples cast by a primordial fear 

that fed the rivers which watered the tree 

that gave forth the fruit of an enduring fiction

in a long-ago garden not far from here

but now to her delight

a different kind of garden thrives

behind the 19th-century museum

all who hunger

for fruit or for knowledge

may come and eat their fill

The Hebrew word “tzimtzum” means reduction or contraction. It is used in a variety of contexts, including mathematics and Kabbalistic thought. This poem is dedicated to my mother, who is struggling with dementia.