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Richard Silberg, Poetry Flash Associate Editor

Richard Silberg was born in New York City in 1942. He received his B.A. from Harvard in 1963 and his M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 1973. He is Associate Editor of Poetry Flash, host of the recently relocated Poetry Flash at Cody's reading series in Berkeley, and teaches "Writing and Appreciating Contemporary Poetry" and poetry workshops at UC Berkeley Extension. His poetry has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Denver Quarterly, VOLT, New American Writing, North Coast Review, City Lights Review, Parthenon West Review, The Addison Street Anthology: Berkeley's Poetry Walk, edited by Robert Hass and Jessica Fisher, and other publications. His poem "The Audience" is featured in the Berkeley Arts Commission's Poetry Sidewalk.   His books include a study of  speculative social philosophy, The Devolution of the People, (Harcourt, Brace and World) and two books of poetry from the Korean, which he translated with Claire You:The Three-Way Tavern   by  Ko Un (University of California Press) and Flowers Long for Stars  by Oh Sae-Young.   His essays from Poetry Flash  were published as Reading the Sphere: Essays on Contemporary Poetry  (Berkeley Hills Press, 2002). His poetry collections include Doubleness  (Heyday Books), Totem Pole  (3300 Review Press), Translucent Gears  (North Atlantic Books) and The Fields  (Pennywhistle).

The following two poems appear in his latest book Deconstruction of the Blues  (Red Hen Press, 2006).


Crow

           Were you inside or outside the flesh
        when the pain hit?   That was the boundary
       of fire   or fortune   Not unlike stage lights
            dividing performer and audience   Or
 working in a zoo   asking yourself the positioning
         question   who was the animal and not
   As a young man   I was playing across   dancing
that line   by knowing my patients   My attendant’s
                          white love

               Harold was my favorite

     We could talk head to head   hanging
                in the hallway traffic

We could banter   Harold was almost cute   a lisping
          babyish touch to his speech   Steepness
       behind his eyes   suggesting love   or mockery

                   My alter schizo   I felt
       we were   in some hangout doublethink way
                            the same

      So   end of the summer   leaving the hospital
      when he asked me would I take him to a movie
                            I felt bound

   But meeting him on 125th St   he looked older
 humpbelly jiggle to his walk like an old man’s
dilated   the crow in him   a flicker of hilarity

                It was strange outside
            I eighteen   he late thirties
              I sane   and he crazy   or
                  crazy in remission

      Then in the movie dark   he wouldn’t
                    stop talking

    “Do you like that woman?   Do you?
             Do you like her titties?

   Her titties are killing me   If you die
            in a movie are you dead?”

           I could feel him speeding
                       raw zero
      nothing between us but questions

 “We should have gone to that other theater, hunh?
            We could still go to that other one

      You probably don’t want to do that
 I bet you won’t take me to a movie again, hunh?”

 Someone hissed   I went cold   and a little scared
      “People are getting angry, Harold   Let’s go
                      to the lobby”

         In the lobby he started to wheedle
popcorn   sodas   chocolate bonbons   The colder
        I got   the more agitated he became

        I began to feel like Harold’s mother
        his cold bad mother   He was smirking
             sucking at me   clammy as death

          “You know I don’t have money   You’re
                           taking advantage”

           As if the mirror cracked between us
Indian women sew bits of mirror in their clothing
  so malevolent spirits will see their reflection
                     scare themselves away

                     a sidewise tusked look

           demon   brimming   teeth big as guns

                 Harold attacked me   Nothing
              a brief flailing   fingers   nails
        he ripped at my face   But he was wincing
                     ducking his head blindly
                 as if he wanted to creep inside

  Then we stood looking at each other   split faces
            In the theater lobby   where no one
  seemed to notice   concession girl   other patrons
            Maybe they thought we were playing

            Harold gone dull   inward half smirk
                  his round heavy cello body

    Should I have said no?   No movie   Would that
                      have been cleaner?

    He wanted to hurt me for leaving him   To claw
  through the boundary between us   Deeply   I imagine
he wanted to kill me   and eat me   and have me inside

                 And I wanted to be rid of him
                    Harold   burden   clammy baby

        I walked him outside   he just jiggled along
      saw him onto the bus   and never saw him again

                          That was the way
          I blurred   smeared   out of the hospital
     
           dream kill   romance of madness


My father was a show business agent, so when I was a kid I saw way too many standup comics, and I grew to hate them. So maybe that’s way I wrote this poem whose premise is the elimination of jokes, moving directly to the punchlines. — R.S.

 Stilts

Naomi     I left you on the Charles River bank     high raincloud
            alternate  lives

                   Take my wife     please

      The poem of punchlines     walks on high hips
long radii from the pelvis
                                                        with the speed of acronyms

          Good shot, ma   right in the cunt

  You’re the one with the dirty mind

           you
with me in this poem     because I’ve said your name

                               long      muscled river

  Each joke begins in sorrow      My wife is so fat
                          that
There’s this woman
            with a dog named Uranus
      a despair
                                  and laughs it off       out
                          wits it

        So Saint Peter turns to God and he says
 “Look     you wanna play golf?       or you wanna fuck around?!”

        A new laugh life     nano life in endorphin city

           We’re imaginary people

                   with the same names as the
      real people

               only now we’re walking on stilts

You’re still there Naomi      by the river in my mind
        although I backed out of your life
     although you rose up above me
                     working like a high raincloud

       That’s no ladle   that’s my wife

The telephone book walks on stilts

                              the dictionary
        frozen dynamo     all the words laid out on spokes
to the heart

      What do you think that is?  a piece of shit?!!

So Thomas Edison leans in over the test tube…“Hello-o-o?”…

                               Everything is a punchline
                       for the right joke

       a white crumbling

                  coltlike face     rain blond hair

    your features working
   as though you were going to call to me
                           backing out
              between lives

      Tough luck, tootsie       wrong kind of vampire!

                      They both had a beard      except the mouse

         Some people can tell ‘em   and some people can’t

                  But I kept
                           strapping on my stilts
              backing
                     and filling

                     I wanted
                            the alternate

                       Naomi   colt          Naomi   cloud

                     jokes and jokes     years and years
                           you echo
                  become my psychedelic straightwoman
                        in our bandshell by the Charles

                                Why are you writing a poem of punchlines
                            when you loved me?

                                                                  I puff on my cigar

                To get to the other side

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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach