STEWART FLORSHEIM

POETRY

Hunger

 

Walking through the locked hallways

I imagine maniacal sounds—people howling,

the indecipherable wails of a man

tearing apart a book as he looks for

the one sentence that will save him.

Instead, there is only the blaring

silence marked by squeaking soles.

 

In the corridor for people who will not eat

there are no mirrors, only Hockney posters—

blue sky, blue pool, green palms, sun.

The hall appears too cheerful

for the young girls who seem to float by,

girls who may want to be invisible

or defined by the spaces they have emptied.

 

My daughter does not want to eat. I think

I can understand: there’s purity in restraint.

The body becomes a temple of denial

and grace. She waves to us from her room

and I recall the days when she stopped eating,

my wife and I finally raging at each other—

the hunger beginning to consume our lives.




The Prostitute
after the paintingThe Prostitute, by Amedeo Modigliani, 1918


The woman did not expect this kind of life,

her hand held over her heart to protect her secret:

If her father had not been killed during the war

she would still be minding their millinery shop in Paris,

her father’s designs becoming more outlandish

as the threat of war became their reality—

large-brimmed black velvet hats with a wreath of convolvulus,

others made of shirred chestnut satin with a fringe of skunk.

His commentary on war went unnoticed by the

wealthy women who frequented their shop,

the wives of generals and officers,

all of them happy to mask their fear with frivolity.

 

The woman looks apologetic as she sits on the side of the bed

after she and Amedeo no doubt made love,

her head tilted as though she is about to make a statement:

Amedeo, you silly man, we are both so weak: Take me,

ravage me, but you will never know wh
o I am.



Precipice

1.

In my dream, I wander through the old apartment building.

I know all my neighbors are dead but when I ring their bells

and say my name, they open their doors without hesitation.

It takes them some time to undo their multiple locks—

the police bars, deadbolts, door chains. I wonder

if they’ve been locked up like this for years,

most of them refugees from Hitler’s Germany, consumed

by the fears they secure on their side of the doors.

 

2.

The old ladies pinch my cheeks even though

I’m as old as they were when I lived in the building.

They speak to me in German and invite me in,

offer me layer cake and Manner Schnitten from Austria.

Die Tage sind lang, they say, aber die Zeit geht schnell.

They all know my parents have been ill and ask me

how they’re doing. I tell them they’ve been dying

for years, but they refuse to let go.

 

3.

The elevator ends on the sixth floor.

To get to the roof, I need to climb a flight of steep stairs

and push open the heavy metal door. To the south,

the George Washington Bridge is lined with traffic.

To the west, I can see the Golden Gate. The sun

is rising and I hear a multitude of voices:

my children, wife, friends. I can’t decipher their words

but the sounds are dissonant and sweet.