NAMING A CITY
Madame Carcas said feed the pig she said
heave it over the ramparts. It sailed pinkly
through the parched air, guts splattering
when it touched earth. Troops gathered round
considering the undigested grain. Surely
the siege had failed if there was food enough
to waste on pigs. Surely they had miscalculated
and it was they who would eat dust, rations
already diminished, an enflamed moon foretelling
winter. They broke camp and left.
the walls, cheers, great joy. And then the ringing
of bells, the sonorous chimes. Carcassonne. This
is how the city was named. And now a carousel
and a yellow train. We marvel and pay up. As though
it was long ago. As though there will always be summer
and women seasoned enough to keep us from starving.
In a small village not very
long ago, rats were summoned
to court and when they failed
to appear they were found
not guilty by virtue of cats
and crows who would have gnawed
their bones had they obliged.
After the fair closed down
around ten, we went back
to buy two blackmarket chickens—
one with golden coloration,
the other with feathers like
herringbone tweed. No brooding
on eggs stolen from others.
The pallbearers took turns carrying
the casket. To the south lay
the sea, and north, the castle
and beyond the stone was the maiden
Margot whose yeast cakes were always
studded with raisins. How heavy
death is if you don't take turns.
.......Three can keep a secret if two are corpses.
..............—Yiddish folk saying
Even the dead can't keep
a secret. They barge in,
sit at your table, demanding
to be served. They bang
their spoons like children
crying, Feed me! Feed me!
and you have never prepared
...............Once you would have welcomed
the dead, begged Mother to set out
extra plates. But now they consume
what was promised to the living.
They climb into the marriage bed
with their own unearthly linen,
whispering old secrets you wish
they would keep to themselves.
GIRL TRADES BABY FOR PROM DRESS
How smug we feel, we who measure want
in dollops, but imagine her, wanting
to distraction and to be so trapped.
That's how much she wants the blue
chiffon with blue spaghetti straps,
blue rose pinned to the waist and shoes
dyed to match. She wants the gardenia
wristlet, to dance under the bluest moon,
a chance to be elected queen, to neck
in a rented limosine. A horse
isn't hers to give, nor gold,
nor tea. Kings have traded more,
been called heroic. When Anna
abandoned Sergei, wasn't she tragic?
These days I feel my own parched
throat, the bedrock crumbling.
For the fecundity of your embrace
I too would pay, and dearly.
THE KINGDOM OF SPECULATION
Eggs coddled or poached are the food
of choice in the Kingdom of Speculation
for eggs are exceedingly rare and stored
in brooders. Brooders are guarded by men
who sport checkered vests and twirl
batons. To steal an egg is to be beaten
to death and the graves of thieves
are stacked like dominoes at the edge
of town. The rich feast on eggs
while the poor eat dumplings which look
like eggs but sink in the belly. Chickens
are revered, the most popular tunes
being hymns composed in their honor.
In this Kingdom only the weather is fair
and the air holds the scent of cardamom.
Overhead birds fly ignored, singing
an ostinato: what if, what if, what if.
Barbara Goldberg is the author of six books of poetry, three in Hebrew translation. Marvelous Pursuits (Snake Nation Press) is her latest award-winning volume. Along with the Israeli poet Moshe Dor, she has translated The Fire Stays in Red: Poems by Ronny Someck (University of Wisconsin Press/Dryad Press) and After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (University of Syracuse Press/Dryad Press). The recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and two awards from the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project, her work has been published in Gettysburg Review, Poetry, and The Paris Review. She is senior speechwriter at a large nonprofit organization and lives in Chevy Chase, MD.
Published in Volume 8, Number 1, Winter 2007.
To read more by this author:
Barbara Goldberg: DC Places Issue