Alison Luterman


THE WORLD CARD

I always wanted the World card,
naked androgynous figure striding the globe,
adorned with laurel and lightning bolts.
Not for me the gold coins, showering from heaven,
or the ten full cups, with the happy couple
toasting their monogrammed linens.
I wanted the world:
history with its wide and fiery maw,
bristlecone pine trees, endangered species,
the seven secrets and their keeper.
I wanted the world's children, all of them,
not one or two buckled into carseats,
but the amassed crowd,
the weight of their need on my chest.
I wanted all the dropped apples,
and the perfume of apple blossoms,
and the bruised knees of the gardener praying for rain.
I wanted to cross the sky and come back
bearing dead stars in my hands, fossil fuel
for poems. I wanted to inhale God's breath
till it singed my lungs; to be used up by love,
to hang from a tree by my heels.
"Be careful," the old fortune-teller advised me shrewdly
at the shop where I paid her ten bucks
to turn the deck over in her ringed, swollen fingers.
"It's not always a good thing, you know—"
but I wouldn't let her finish. I didn't want good,
good was too small. I wanted the world.



SCHMALTZ

My grandfather died asking for it,
sweet, greasy juice of bird-who-never-ran-fast-enough,
yellow smear of fat on a bagel.
Tubes in and out of every hole of him,
total failure of the body to survive its own appetites,
and his scared sons leaning over the hospital bed,
hungry for last words. "Sure wish
I could taste some schmaltz," he rasped, and died.

Sentiment comes and goes, but food is serious.

The old man in charge of the kosher butcher shop
has a white, flowing beard, hooded eyes, hawk nose.
He wears a jeweled and embroidered yarmulke,
and a blood-stained apron.
Those blazing eyes see right through me, I can tell—
they know I only go to Temple once, maybe twice a year,
to hear Kol Nidre and say Kaddish,
just for the painful sweetness of the minor key.
And he can guess that I only shop kosher because it tastes better,
while at home we eat pepperoni pizza straight from the box,
but he gives me my heavy bird anyway.
Even the faithless should eat well.

Behind the shop, in the parking lot,
Leroy approaches with his rags and Windex.
Says today's real bad, no one will even talk to him.
Tears in his eyes, he describes the meal he wants to buy
around the corner at KFC:
"Two pieces, a breast and a leg.
Mashed potatoes. Green beans, a biscuit. Gravy."

Hunger the common language that unites us,
less elegant than music, more painful than love.
I give him a dollar, plus all the change I have,
and later regret

not letting myself give more: a five, a twenty.
Not much else can furnish
that full feeling, besides the kindness
we yearn toward; our poetry, our schmaltz.