Alive | Poetry | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram

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This Chelsea rabbi had a brother
who assembled hats or spun cloth
or had his own yellow pages
I forget,
and his brother had a cousin
who wanted me for a wife
even though I was a half jew
I was still their pretty outlaw
their gem in blue jean rags
with the blue eye lids
full of thin tragic veins.

I told the cousin,
“I have no place to live”
and he gave me his egg salad
and a MetroCard
for the month of August.
We were sweating
when he swore he saw me at a rave
but he was so thick in the pants
from all the potato food we had to eat
to make up for the dead
and their crawling up the wall anguish.

I was only half grateful.
I hated everyone
on an equal basis.

So there was some talk on the telephone,
some mumblings of rabbis and cousins
and these strange men
that cared about my soul
just because somewhere
there was a jewish woman
who was my mother—
they didn’t know her
like I did—
they blanket approved her
into their adorable hot black suit brotherhood
their curly hair small business assembly
they just greenlighted her
based on her ghost.

So down the chain of cousins
came this code, the code to a building
no one lived in
in East New York.
It was next to a bulletproof fried chicken franchise
and a store where you could buy
wheel pasta, discount smokes and pork rinds,
all of which I did buy and consume
as well as Del Monte peas and carrots.
But that comes later.

First I got out a knife
and held it tight through the night
on the spent starry mattress
listening to the gunshots
feeling like
the weakest animal in the kingdom
my body paler than the moon
my eyes sadder than a wound.

There was nothing to do but wait.
I was waiting for section 8
or another rabbi rescue.
I thought it safest in the bathroom.
The tiles were cool.
I let the tiny stones refrigerate me.
I set down the knife by the door
and stayed that way for days.

Then I read the book Alive
straight through without any breaks.
The men clawed through the snow
and ate their friends
and survived and survived and survived.
No one knew what they went through,
and they came home and sat in a fancy restaurant
feeling like frauds
wishing they could crawl through the snow again,
wishing they could feel alive again,
like they did when they almost died.

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