Spring 2021, Volume 30

Poetry by Bernard Horn

Valentine 2014

                  Song of Songs 7:1-4

Yes, the flesh does hang differently
at seventy than it did when we met
decades back on the beach
in Herzliya, you lithe
in blue bikini, I in a baggy
green bathing suit, thickly bearded
with a tangle of dark hair,

yes, you caught your foot between rock and root
and broke your ankle at the end of our
hike in Austria in September,
and I caught mine on a post outside the library
two weeks ago and fractured three ribs,
and, yes, the imagination takes far more coaxing
than it used to at easel or desk,

but, still, we will manage to maneuver
down the sleet coated driveway in an hour
to get you to the doctor on time,

four-and-a-half-year-old Roni
did demonstrate to us this morning
on Skype from Tel-Aviv
that she will be Queen of the Night
on Purim this year by showing us her shiny black shoes
and hitting the high notes
of the famous aria, her mouth a perfect O,

and whether stumbling in crevices
or graceful in sandals, there is not a foot in the world
I’d rather massage at night, Love,
than yours.

Death, Rothko Said

“Death,” Rothko wrote in his studio a few blocks from Radio City,
where the Rockettes kicked their way through my Jewish childhood
on Christmas and Easter, is one of the necessary
“ingredients” of a work of art–like the malkosh,
for instance, the special word in a desert country
for the last rain–death: the truth element
in his calculus of beauty. Wit: the human element–
a triangle constructed from
childhood stickball as night falls
on South Eighth Street, Brooklyn,
a six-year-old girl bringing mountain snow
home in a cup to her pal in a tropical city,
and a horseshoe crab on its back
at Rockaway Beach, all of its legs in motion–
is necessary, too, he said. As is chance, tension,
irony, hope, and “a lustful relationship
to things that exist.” And memory—
I would add, a lifetime falling away
before my eyes a month ago at an inadvertent
return after nearly seventy years to McCarren Park Pool,
which closed time and again
from the polio scares of my childhood
summers—the second human element.
“When Ika died,” my friend said two years ago,
as the mind drifted outward towards infinity.
“When Ika died,” he said two months ago
on Skype, the phrase having become
the before and after of his life.

The Snorkelers

                 (after Whitman)

Unruly old vastness,
indifferent ocean,

I think I could spend my life
among the snorkelers, at the edge of
some reef in the Red Sea; they have only one
eagerness: to point out the latest specimen of stunning beauty
that swims into their ken.

They do not brawl or rage against injustice.
They do not dwell on pain, inflicted and received.
They do not think they are gods.

They don’t regret the past or worship the past.
They don’t drown the present in plans or worries,
hopes or dreams. They are not
respectable, but a few
old timers, remembering the reef
entirely free of leprous patches,
laconically remind us
this earth
is all we have.

Sunday in the Park

Today I’m thinking about a summer Sunday afternoon
in van Cortland, my father showing off with a soccer ball
to his European immigrant buddies–obviously,
he really was a star as a teen in Poland–though he’d
never dispute his pals’ grand recollections over gin rummy
Saturday nights–not one peep from his lips!–
while I played second base in a pickup softball game
and missed an easy pop-up and a grounder too
because I kept throwing glances his way.
You are dead thirty years.
That day in the park was nearly sixty years
ago, I was twelve, and you were too
strong and near to be a symbol
of anything. Who will remember you
easily heading the ball between makeshift goal markers
past two defenders and a goalie, when I die,
too? Who will remember I’d caught your eye
in the park that day and realized you’d been watching
me, too, the two of us in clandestine complicity,
as, in the old tales, a young woman peeks out
from behind a trellis and a slightly pulled back curtain
at the moment when her forbidden lover
passes by below on the street each day
and sneaks a glance up at her window?




BIO: Bernard Horn's debut poetry collection Our Daily Words was a finalist for the 2011 Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry. His poems have appeared in journals including The New York Times, Mississippi Review, and HuffPost, and in Devouring the Green: Anthology of New Writing. His translations of Yehuda Amichai's poetry from Hebrew to English are published in The New Yorker. His book, Facing the Fires: Conversations with A. B. Yehoshua, is the only work in English about Israel's pre-eminent novelist. He is Professor of English emeritus at Framingham State University and lives with his wife, artist Linda Klein, in Framingham, Massachusetts.