OLD CHORISTERS & Further Poems by E M Schorb

(i.)

OLD CHORISTERS

Singers                                                                                 
of our generation                                                               Look                                                       
are turning up                                                                    from
dead. A serial                                                                     a high bridge, 
killer                                                                                   as highway god,
is injecting                                                                          he drops
them                                                                                    stones on old bones!
with corona                                                                         Even the sap
plus cancer                                                                          of trees is worried
heart disease                                                                        up the trunk
and stroke.                                                                           as the killer
This police                                                                           waits 
silhouette                                                                             for an autumnal 
of the killer                                                                          weariness of
isn’t made                                                                            leaves.                          
of his head                                                                            I am 
and shoulders,                                                                      Time’s agent                                                                    
but of his                                                                              his tool                                                                       
twisted mind,                                                                        he brags.
made                                                                                     Singers  
of a brain                                                                              of our generation
to answer                                                                              think that this
for his crimes                                                                       is a serial crime, 
of torture                                                                              but have 
perpetrated                                                                           no choice                                                                          
on so many                                                                           but to
choristers.                                                                             become ringers
With a rough                                                                         and to pull
cat-tongue                                                                             the ropes
he licked flesh                                                                       and toll
from bones                                                                            the bell.
and made
the others
mercy-kill
to make
amends

 
 
(ii.)
 

THE LETTER, 1942
 
Twenty years . . . years of
l’entre deux guerres . . .
                         T.S. Eliot
 
               I.
 
His mother and father
could not understand
the extreme of his grief,
for his father’s other
son was only half his brother,
and had not existed
in their lives but for letters
and occasional photographs
taken around the world
where the war was, often next
to his Wellington, or by
a field tent, wearing his wings,
a smiling twenty year old
whom he, the child in a yard,
thought must look the way
he himself would look at twenty,
and be a brave pilot
and take up the war
against Hitler and Tojo
in his turn, not knowing
that even wars do not last
forever.  How could the child
be so devastated by the news,
who barely knew of his half
brother’s existence?  How
adults box things up
the child could not know
or believe.  Hard rain.
 

                II.
 
Rivers of rain, as when
you look up through greenhouse
glass on a rainy day, crossed
his green eyes blotting out the blue
dry sky overhead, and
he told the rain of his grief and
he told the blurred, ugly yard
behind the city row house
with its junked, warped
furniture and strata of
ripped linoleum, roses
and geometry, and its wet,
stalking cat along the old spiked
wooden fence, run with rusted wire
meant to throw yourself on, told
the whole world, which was
all the rain of tears
out of his breathless,
heaving chest, narrow
as a chicken’s, out
of his pounding seven year old
heart, and cowlicked hair,
that was trapped by the
four-sidedness of fence
and could not fly with his
grief as his brother the
pilot had flown, whom
he had never known.

 
           III.
 
Let the child race
pointlessly in 
circles, trapped in the 
square yard, and cry
himself out.  The letter
was already over a year
old and smeared with
his father’s few tears,
sad horrible history,
but must be set aside
 
so that life could go
on.  “He’ll get over it.”
“I never thought—” said
his mother.  “No, of course
not,” said his father.
But the yard was sodden
with the child’s grief,
whose head burned with hope
against fact that a mistake
had been made, that this fine
brother was yet to come to him
who had no one, whose
loneliness could not be
surmised by two wise parents,
kept sane by callousing death
and full of the hard world’s rain. 

 
 
(iii.)
 

FROM THE CRIB
 
From the deep recesses of the universe
he woke to find himself
gumming the blue lead paint 
from the top rail of his crib, 
blissfully unaware
of the crack in the Liberty Bell,
or the Liberty Bell itself,
for that matter; Mussolini in Abyssinia, 
Schicklgruber, in Guernica or the Rhineland, 
Tojo in China, 
or any of the problems
of the age into which he had been dropped. 
The lead paint was delicious and maddening,
and would, 
no doubt
make a mad poet of him.
 
He looked around and for the first time 
saw other humanoids (oops, hominoids), 
much bigger, but basically the same.  
They, also, wobbled on two legs, 
holding drinks to their lips,
as he held his empty baby bottle to his. 
One fell back into a faded, flowered 
easy chair, in what seemed,
even to his innocent eyes, 
a flat, shabby and small, 
compared with 
whatever had been before.
 
Years later, photographs would tell him 
who they were.  Someone had taken 
several Kodak snapshots. 
Here was his young Aunt, 
a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, 
who hookied to the City of Brotherly Love
to help with her new nephew, 
the young Master, her big sister’s first child. 
An older boy would have noticed 
the beginnings of her breasts, 
and that she was a pretty young thing 
with startling blue eyes and 
chestnut waves piled up,
but he was unaware of 
these uplifting attractions.
The woman was his Mother.
Later he would understand
that at that point in her life, made-up 
and Marcelled, people said that she looked
like the actress Mary Astor, except 
for her harlequin-shaped glasses. 
The central figure, the one who had collapsed 
in the armchair, wearing what then he, 
himself not much more than an humunculus, 
would eventually discover—by these presents—
looked like the famous-at-the-time 
Arrow Collar Man. 
 
Well, that was his old man, tall, dark, and 
handsome alcoholic,
Depression-fallen from stocks
and bonds salesman, to selling 
The Book of Knowledge in the territory
assgned him by the publisher.
 
His young Aunt stuck a rubber nipple
in his mouth and quickly
the picture faded and never came back, ’til now.

 
 
(iv.)
 

MY WAR WITH ROACHES


                          Pitt Street, Lower East Side
 

I looked into a half-filled beer bottle
left opened and standing out,
saw six dead roaches floating atop the stale, flat beer.  
I was disappointed.
I could have drunk the stuff.
I had no aversion to warm, stale, flat beer, 
and had learned to put a head on it
by dropping an Alka-Seltzer tablet into it.
But I wasn’t about to drink beer that had
six dead roaches floating in it, 
bodies like boats and legs like oars raised up,
so aimlessly.  
The place was filthy. 
I needed order!
 
I went out, bought roach spray,
sprayed the walls, up and down, 
back and forth, until billowing clouds
of poison were closing on me from every corner.
It was bitter cold out, but I knocked the
cardboard out of the windows
and let the fresh frosty air suck the poison 
out from under my nose.
I blocked the windows again.
I surveyed the carnage.
Roaches of all sizes and shapes were swarming
over the walls, dropping from the cracked ceiling
with small, ticking sounds and 
rocking on their curled, chitinous backs, 
flicking, flailing, their feelers drooping.
 
The kitchen gas range was a stronghold,
a fortress of greasy grooves and baked-in crevices.  
I lit the oven and watched until the top
of the stove glowed red.
Out they came by the swarming hundreds, 
feet burned away, feelers melting 
into kinky hairs.  They ran over the stove 
in desperation, panic, trying to find places 
where they could put their feet.
Expectant mothers, their eggs in chitinous cases 
at their rear ends, struggled with their hindmost legs, 
as with an instinct to save their offspring,
to force or kick the cases loose.
Some had their cases dangling 
by only one side when they leaped 
from the top of the stove.  
As they landed on the floor and tried to crawl,
with their burnt feet, their dragging, kinked feelers, 
with their wings askew, and their dangling, 
thread-hanging egg cases, I sprayed them madly
then trampled, kicked, jumped up and down on them,
only wanting them dead.
I saw a fat, hideous albino roach, 
already like the pale ghost of its dead self, 
leap from the stove.  
I squashed it underfoot and swore 
I could hear its white shell crack and 
spray the pale muck of its insides out: squish! 
When I lifted my shoe it dragged itself, 
like animated pus, into a heap of glittering 
brownish bodies.  Thousands of crooked legs
moved sluggishly—then, here and there, 
with sudden convulsive speed—
over the place where the ghost had gone.
 
On the wall was a wooden plaque 
that held sets of false teeth, an exhibit, 
sold by a dental supply firm to dentists.
It belonged to an artist friend who was to use it 
for some arcane artistic purpose 
but who had forgetfully left it here.
I grabbed the plaque from the wall 
and mashed it down atop this horrible mass
of half life.  Then I jumped on it, up and down,
not distinguishing the sound of the breaking teeth 
from the sound of roaches snapping on the stove 
like popcorn.  When I looked down 
there were rolling and bouncing human teeth 
among the slimy dead and still crawling.
Sakyamuni says they will live again.
Needed:  Sneaky Pete, pot, peyote. 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

Schorb’s work has appeared in Agenda (UK), The American Scholar, The Carolina Quarterly, The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Stand (UK), The Sewanee Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, Poetry Salzburg Review (AU), The Yale Review, and Oxford Poetry (UK), among others.
 
His collection, Murderer’s Day, was awarded the Verna Emery Poetry Prize and published by Purdue University Press, and a subsequent collection, Time and Fevers, was the recipient of the Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Award for Poetry and also an Eric Hoffer Award.
 
Most recently, his novel R&R a Sex Comedy was awarded the Beverly Hills Book Award for Humor.

 

 

 

Robin Ouzman Hislop is Editor of Poetry Life and Times at Artvilla.com ; You may visit Aquillrelle.com/Author Robin Ouzman Hislop about author & https://poetrylifeandtimes.com See Robin performing his work Performance (University of Leeds)