NEARING THE EXIT
Ten Poems
by Herbert Gold

2018

Seven decades after giving up poetry, celebrated novelist, short-story writer, and essayist Herbert Gold has returned to the love of his youth, with ten powerful poems about facing the exit door. 

Published by Les Gottesman.
Cover design by Ari Gold
Purchase hard copy HERE.

 

My Father in "Our City of Cleveland”

That strange foreign father
hardly spoke as he ate his "cholesterol."
Mother said, "Sam! Drink your citrus!
It's good for your body!"
But he preferred chicken skin fried with onions,
a taste carried from the "old country,"
and oh, it was good, even in the new country,
best for his soul.
I loved it, too. We shared something.
But I was different from him, preferred my gribben on toast.

In the new country
which Mother called "Our City of Cleveland,"
this cholesterol was good for us both.

On a Sunday afternoon, the newspaper cast down by his chair,
my father would blink, rise, saying,
"Let's go for a walk," in our city of Cleveland, 
and avid, I jumped up.
We walked, my father mostly silent,"
studying the houses, For Rent signs, For Sale signs,
and then said, "That's enough."
We went home.

To the house where sunk in the stuffed chair, 
he picked up Der Tag or The Cleveland News.
If I interrupted him, he grunted,
or in a generous mood, sighed
and offered me the single column in English
to the left on the front page of Der Tag.

Did I spell that correctly?
I know no Yiddish except his few words to Mother, such as
"Put the kids to bed."
In our city of Cleveland.

When I asked Mother why he talked so little, 
why he didn't talk to me,
she explained, "But he's a good provider."

I hardly knew him.
Perhaps he grunted other words, 
I now believe he grunted some, 
perhaps to me when I slept
or to himself when we quarreled,
which meant I love you.

I sometimes believe it.

Perhaps I should try grunting
to my impatient sad son.                                               

                                                                                                                                        

Those Times, Those Years

I sat at the Cafe Dante
with the famous Shelly,
no need to name him, it's not required here.

On gloomy Manhattan November afternoons,
when Greenwich Village was still the Village,
I'd telephone him:
"Are you interested in coffee?"
"No - espresso," he said, correcting me.  
"I thought you'd never call."

Cafe Dante on Macdougal Street
when the Village was the Village still,
although those as old then as I am now
insisted the Village was no longer
The Village.

I plowed through the chill and drizzle,
my mission to meet Shelly,
although he was unlike me, this friend,
bald early, insisting on shots of black espresso,
while I took steamed milk in mine.
He had a shaven skull, a hairy back.
We forgave each other our differences.

Throughout the Village, it was "the cocktail hour",
words I no longer hear, although others may.
For us it was coffee or grass.
For some it was cactus, peyote, magic mushrooms,
gifts from Mexico
straight to a storefront on East 7th, near Avenue A, B, or C.

Shelly became even more famous, 
celebrated, then regretted.
Like everyone someday,
buried
or cremated and scattered
or kept in a jar on a shelf by a child, lover, or spouse.
I read this ultimate news in the Village Voice.

Maybe in an empty espresso tin.

Now in New York, I stay nearby.
Although the Village is no longer the Village,
yet still is, it is!

I stay near the Cafe Dante
but can't enter even when it's wet and gloomy in November.

Happy times of November murk and melancholy,
of onrushing early dark, opposed by a hissing espresso machine,
with Shelly.
With bullet-headed Shelly.

 

Melissa

My lost wife,
the wife I lost,
the mother our children lost,
the wife I loved,

still lives when I remember,
as the leaf still lives
when I rub it and the leaf crumbles
but the smell is in my hands.

When I rub the memory,
her scent,
the breath of her body,
of love, our arms clasped around our breathing,
still there when it's not there.

Clinging, locked,
it fills my nostrils.
We know nothing is forever,
but forever was then and also now,
still there when it's not there.

It fills my nostrils and my heart
and an ancient word is the only possible word
-  my soul.

                                                                        

Memo to Self Re: Predawn Blackness

Gifted, ambitious, at the door of middle age,
my son has entered uneasy distraction.
He has his reasons.
Others like him (but not my sons)
are already renowned, riding good fortune,
artists like him.

Long, lean, a keen bicyclist like his mother,
but it's not enough.
Long, lean, and keen is never enough.

I tell him I love him,
esteem him, believe in him,
his work, his strength, his unique place in the world.
I can't give him what he craves.

A father wants to offer his son
the sky and all the earth beneath.

We are apes, needy and greedy, seeking glory
in family, neighborhood, town, the world.
The pleasures of appetite aren't enough,
fresh air in the morning, loving arms at night.
We are greedy apes seeking fugitive glory,
but take solace in the occasional miracle
of loving arms encircling our griefs against the night.

A young woman holds him quietly in the dark.
She can give him that.
And while she holds him onto sleep
or as they lie awake,

I merely write these words.

 

Shelly Again

He brought a gift from London,
a rusted street sign with my name on it,
GOLD ST. captured in the dead of night,
(like me, he was a night wanderer)
more likely, with its scabs of rust,
an antique shop souvenir.

"You must be an admiral or a poet,
they name streets in your honor."

GOLD ST. accumulates more years, more rust,
propped in my window.
And tomorrow or the day after or a year from now,
maybe more, these futures are not certain,
one of my sons will have it to prop in his window,

minus my memories of Shelly
unless the rust breathes them into the air.
And minus my surprise. Minus my reminders
of how Shelly liked my sons’ and daughter's mother.
But she was too married for him.

Shelly wore boots with heels and,
"You have to buy a pair," he commanded me,
or (a threat) he would.
"What's your goddamn foot size?"
A dire threat.

I refused to tell him my goddamn foot size.
Foolish boys laughed like foolish boys,
and we were friends until he died.
Foolish things return from the gloom of November
in the drizzle on Macdougal Street,
where I now stop walking before the Cafe Dante.

We even laughed about my wet feet,
his dry feet in leather goddamn boots.
Foolish middle-aged boys.

My sons and daughters will have their own memories
of laughter followed by losses.

I'm still a memory creature.
Shelly would be also,
but is not any longer.

 

Daughter, Nightmare, a Wife

Old enough now for the funeral of a daughter;
tributes to her from those who cared for her,
those who loved her.
Does the death of a daughter mean I'm too old?
Too unreasonably old?

Yes, during waking nightmare, the night says yes.
The night judges harshly, the dark,
its shadows and deeper shadows, is unforgiving.

Yet the day follows
(well-known fact, including sunlight and cloudlight)
and at cafes nearby, the girls
who look into a boy's eyes or the eyes of other girls -- 
it doesn't matter if they're not looking into mine,
that's a mere detail -- 
their laughter and the resonant music of promise
are not mere details, they are the essentials....
In this music of young women, I'm young again.
I think I'm young.
(Coffee helps.)

It's not just the coffee.

So comes again, uninvited, 
the feathery touch of the ghostly warm wife,
the one I loved, 
and then her tight womanly grip,
that swaddling clasp,
all griefs pressed away,
as two bodies become one.
I am hurled back into the past, thrown forward into eternity,
forever and never again.

The chaos of reality
is never mastered,
so make it a carnival
or at least a busy cafe.

I feast my eyes,
I devour my time,
I cover my mouth with a paper napkin,
not for a pit or seed or gristle,
but to spit out regrets
which are also pits, seeds, or gristle.

For example, a daughter lost.

                                                                                                                                                 

Love Love Love Oh Careless Love

Amid the noise of daily life,
the dailiness of noisy life,
we look for love in the undertug of blood
before yet knowing what love is.

Occasionally some find it,
or hope they do, or pretend they do,
even believe they do.
So much we need what we don't know.

That moment when, without words,
we meet in silence.
Love love oh rare love
drawn from time with no end of it.

We ask words to find the moment
when time stops.
We need silence without words.
I've been both blessed and lost --
and then blessed again,
studied love and learned what I could.

Well, I'm finding out in the end,
or maybe not.
Too bad there's no answer after the end.

 

THEFT

Wicker basket, sandwiches on nut bread,
the chilled wine in cloth wrapping,
sunlight and a hillside, cloudlight over a mountain,
and an ironic lady apologizing for an excess of effort….
I carried the basket into a sloping mountain meadow,
took it from her but didn’t apologize.

"It’s not sexist, needn’t say you’re sorry
just because this is California.  But thanks anyway.
Men sometimes can still do the carrying."
She took a deep breath and invited me to do the same
because there was plenty of air in California.
"I think I’ll lie down here all by my lonesome,
it’s highly recommended.  Shade and sun both,
like life.  Nobody around.  If it strikes your fancy,
join me. "

A jokey lady.  I dream her still.
She stretched on the leaves and grass.
I lay there by her side.
Side by side.  At first.

She danced her way deeper into me
than I was into myself.
"Me too," she said, "me too, we’re together."
I was deeper into her than she was into herself.
Wisps of gathering clouds above us
darkened like the unknown future.

We dropped into sleep on a California hillside,
grass in our nostrils, pine in our lungs,
sense burned into scratches and scrapes
among the debris of sandwiches eaten and, hastily, not.
We were in a hurry.  No need to hurry.

Two anxious souls were one soul that day, that year,
one tranquil soul forever.  So we thought.

But is this ever allowed?
Just because a summer hillside under the California sun?
Was this allowed for one girl and one boy,
amazed heart leaping in his chest?
It was the dream of two souls
lifted together into their dream on a mountain meadow
under the noontime sun.

Daylight brightness forgets that night comes again,
always follows,
like age, like habit, like death,
and even memory steals away.

 

MELISSA (1943-1991)

To remember our marriage,
to celebrate our divorce,
she sweetly brought me a spider plant
"Because they never die," she said.
Tendrils green, hanging like dreadlocks.

Teasing, as she did when she was happy,
angry, or confused,
a little notch at the left corner of her mouth,
she offered a green gift in a brown pot.
It seemed permanent.
And she kissed me.

She died, but the spider plant gives birth to its shoots
for years now, green, nearly forever.
I clip away the crisp brown leaves
and the green feels its chance,
takes it,
forever, it seems, forever.

I snip off the spreading brown
and water the pot, and green is born overnight,
it seems,
as if there really is a forever.

There was a storm.
There was a helicopter.
"She didn't die," our sons and daughter say,
"She was killed."

Her end is not the same.
The end is always the same.
But like the spider plant --

II

She's only gone when I wake.
When I sleep, she lives in dream,
Stubborn, immune to time, age, and catastrophe,
Denying that all who live must die.
Yesterday lived last night and again,
And then again.
More than enough time and too much,
Until soon enough I will submit --
All who live must die.

Until I submit to the truth dream denies.

Our children also sleep,
And will dream when my dreams stop.
Of her holding the lamb chop by the bone,
Ferocious, teeth bared, delighted,
Attacking the last bloody shred.

Their children will also count
Their losses, which are like mine, like yours.
The blessings we gain
Are always lost but forever present
At night, in dream,
Avid, ferocious, teeth bared.

III

She didn't run out in full her life
before she died.
I've lived three acts
(or four).  I've tried.

It's now we live
and then we go.
No night, no day,
no tomorrow.

I thought the time
of love would suffice
for her, for me -- 
we paid the price.

All our ends
are just the end.
The same for me
and you, my friend.

 

Okay, This Is It

Headline in the National Enquirer,
found on an empty airline seat:
MOBY DICK AUTHOR DIED BROKE!

The front page bulletin
quoted a letter to her mother
from Herman Melville's wife:

"Dear Mother, I have terrible news for you.
Herman has taken to writing poetry."

This is not a poem,
but it puts the appropriate stop
to the preceding poems
which are not really poems either.    

Exit near.
I recognize the hour.
You guys stay.

 

                                                   HG (1924 - ?)