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The Specter: 5 poems

Ron Charach
From:   Dungenessque. Signature Editions, 2001


Masking the Terror

Behind the picture window
his mother stroked his hair,
in full view of his classmates;
they would never let him forget it.
"What did the others get?"
He brought home the highest grades,
played with an uneasy passion;
but the grades and the roles in operettas were
foretold; report cards
were read on arrival
and signed, each blending in
with the others: his family
was an audience. He refused
to wear spectacles
and could see his classmates down the road
long after they saw him.
He borrowed his father's glasses
to imitate foreign teachers
for the relatives.

At home alone
he searched through empty drawers,
behind doors, under bedspreads
looking for talismans,
the lost toy,
a soldier perhaps,
missing in action under a mountain of fluff.
He would arrange the figures in parades:
human, animal,
human, animal, animal, animal, human,
and then collapse the line.

At four
it would seem they switched dogs on him;
the first one had a bad heart
and couldn't run;
the second: same breed
but a bit smaller
and it ran like the wind;
Mother swore it was still
Sparky.

In need of mirrors,
the corrective sheen
of soothing fantasies
on long walks by the edge of the lake,

he would gaze out to the line of prairie
at the sun
going down to his orders;
but resentment reared its head
inside a filled-out adult
without substance:
the hollow Easter bunny
whose curves disappoint
from the first head-lopping bite.

Was there a hole for the worm to exit?
Because his step was inert
he took to wearing
boots with two-inch heels,
taps for a resonance,
and masked his terror
that death would come
in the middle of life.

At fourteen he set out to meet girls.
He had lucky lips, but would speed through partings
with subdued red hellos
in a crowd.

He forced himself out
into adult life;
learned the muscles in his neck.
A sense of never looking right
with no relief till the night walks
home from The Great Hall.
Other young men respected him;
a sense of his sentence on the rack,
did they imagine a scream?
Haughty,
he read the letters,
breathed deeply at the praise of peers;
If only they knew
how their admiration nourished him,
even if the legs trembled
as they bore the specter out on walks,
arms feigning a martial swing
and the abdomen tightening
whenever he was stopped,
and forced to reveal
his terrified,
terrifying eyes.

Words with the Mariana Trench

Who expects to find you
yawning beneath Micronesia
just north of the Caroline Islands;
every word that locates you
rings with poetry. And yet you are
a thorax of cold black rock,
an Everest pulled through from the top,
taunting ambitious fools
lowered into you in cages
hooked to ropes as thick as wrists,
but thin as spider-web
to your six thousand fathoms,
--is it more?
For you eat their sonar
and send back no signs.

You are the last objective correlative
the great depression
at once receptive and forbidding,
and what insight
from the flickering lamps
of your lost divers?

The gulf
that cuts between the hemispheres
of fat and nerve and fluid,
the inner Mariana of those convoluted ranges,
knows no light around the thin limb
that enforces the passage from right to left
to right again.

A young boy dreamed of filling you,
his thin soul spreading like a vapour.
But you were too real.
You'd freeze a vapour to its breather,
taking him and his fantasy
as an afternoon snack,
keeping your evenings free
for me.

I know
the ideals that you crush make you softer,
send shivers through your tortuous walls
'til you moan and reconsider.

So I guard my reasons well;
as one would polish his harpoon in the morning sun,
test instruments of physics in a windless lagoon.
You'll know when I dive in, Mariana,
and you'll light up the Pacific
with a delirious welcome home.

The Ganges

My third night in the warm study,
the tiffany lamps transforming
the books themselves;
on cured animal skins
their titles in red and silver and gold,
resins;
pens and folders scattered about the roll-top desk,
with a clear space around your picture
like a space in my mind.
I reach for the portfolio
that leans at the desk, bloated
and straining at its large gold zipper,
when I come upon a smell
that won't blend with the musty rays
of books and sweat-worn leather;
the smell of my body in the room.
The portfolio drops from my hands
and I startle
at the sight of your picture.
Alone at my desk.
Somewhere inside these books
a cluster of words to describe you,
a chapter about great rivers and their deltas . . .

How many worlds am I removed from you
your bright face mirrored in the tiger's eyes,
a taste of your fleeting smile in his teeth.
He smiles at me,
not an animal smile;
unapproachable
as the Ganges.

The Man Who Cheats the Company

The words of the greats
disgusted him.
He would rather bleat and squeal
than be a vessel,
one more processor
on the milk-run of knowledge.
How far he was
from the oily ones who smiled for their bosses,
the Company people
launching tiny salvos
from behind the rules.
Now that he was boss
he cringed when they nodded
and showed him as much tooth as they dared.
He would sooner bite into tin foil
than be one of them,
though he was nothing himself.

Then she appeared,
her head slightly averted
as her body moved closer.
Turning him like a tap
with her walk, her smile,
the feline postures
of her sleep,
her wide-legged cotton suits
up which a hand could slide
straight to the warm wet root,
easing into her slender body
with a sweet guilt
that washed away boredom.
His sins called out for a temple in flesh,
towering over the man
who cheats the company.

He threw open the hold of his emotions
with no need to please.
With ease
she had primed him for a change;
He no longer lived for important mail,
or craved sleep,
or stared at his throat in the mirror
for signs of a heartbeat.
He watched her now;
she was filling him in,
from within.

The Three-piece-Man in a Serious Suit

So now I sleep when the others do?
How far from that extravagant boy I once was
chasing my red prairie sun
behind the clouds,
shearing glaciers from the sides of mountains
with my mighty boot.

I should think well of her;
she helped roll the gauze across my eyes,
chloroform for the fool within;
I could hide him away for years.

No need now for the dotted-line form,
to be the bird that casts no shadows.

And if she dies,
look for a woman to love less . . .

Under skin and the roof of sky he took stock:
all he had were his ideals;
whoever has less has nothing more
than supermarket meat
and is more hollow than I am.

The table was set,
and he reached for the wine,
his hand sliding 'round the goblet like a viper.
Then his lips widened into a smile,
and the smile spread
to hers.


Ron Charach's works copyright © to the author.


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