You counted them before you understood
that you were counting, chose the basket wrapped
in scraps of newsprint, knew that you were trapped
in shoes you wouldn’t trust the neighborhood
to welcome, and so you walked away. What should
have been unbroken silence shriveled and snapped,
obscured the path you thought repentance mapped.
Walk it nonetheless, as few else could.
What matters once you’ve claimed that way as yours,
and walked that bitter mile through the dust,
and pierced the veil, and mastered your disgust,
is pulling all the corpses from the rift.
No other rescue matters. When those doors
fly open, shed everything that’s not a gift.
The new year creeps along on six-toed feet,
but no one breaks the silence. Friends you thought
would not commodify confess they’re bought,
that rhythm leaves them stranded. Incomplete
reversals bind you to them when they cheat.
They treat your notes like tea leaves, turn your fraught
predictions into wages. If they’re caught,
they claim your ignorance and vow retreat.
A noose around your neck, the invitation,
limp and bloodless, hangs. The hooded chorus
chants your name. Recite the invocation.
Joy has left you, as you once left the fold.
We told you then that you had made a promise.
Keep it now. Reveal the past you've sold.
Stand firm between the bludgeoned and suppressed,
the excavated skull and fallow field;
that mannequin with nipples, fully dressed;
those homeless children. Peel away the shield
you find there. The paradigm that grows will show
how far you’ve run and where you hid the plow
your uncle gave you. Shatter what’s below.
The one illusion still intact is now.
Use it! Allow the edifice they built
a chance to crumble. Watch them lose restraint.
The dance they’ll do will force what bloomed to wilt
and they’ll be lost. You’ll call their wailing quaint.
The boundaries you’ve abandoned can’t conceive
protection. Don’t look back. You had to leave.
Richard Jeffrey Newman is a poet, essayist, and co-translator of classical Persian poetry. He has published two books of poetry, Words for What Those Men Have Done (Guernica Editions 2017) and The Silence of Men (CavanKerry Press 2006). He has published a chapbook of poetry, For My Son, A Kind of Prayer (Ghostbird Press 2016), and three books of translation from classical Persian poetry, most recently The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Junction Press 2011). Newman is on the executive board of Newtown Literary, a Queens, NY-based literary non-profit and curates the First Tuesdays reading series in Jackson Heights, NY. He is Professor of English at Nassau Community College. www.richardjnewman.com