Friday, July 24, 2009


Trotsky’s Hand

It’s like dreaming of someone
too much while you’re away
at war; then you come home
to his fingered hat or her

faltering hemline and it’s 
What the hell was I fighting

for? Just another example
of how biography works.
Your character has got 
to have a narrative arc,

some drawbacks, 
something irredeemably awful,

along with his or her strong 
points, to be believable. 
Yet we all recoil in disbelief 
when anything of the sort cuts

a form into our real lives, 
the life of the author. Don’t

despair! It’s just the demands
of narrative! Leda, after all, 
probably never even thought 
to fear anything like that.

Then one day, there it is,
the century actually over

and most of its artifacts
still entirely inexplicable.
This is no walk in the park
with spinach, Swee’pea,

I’ve got no idea where to go 
for extra strength.

I guess that’s what 
they’re selling.
It’s an incidental 
that it cleans your laundry,

scrubs your teeth. What is of note 
is that it is a source of extra

strength. Extra strength! Thank
God! That’s what we’re going 
to need in case they all switch back:
the swan, the prince, the salt.

Even if you weren’t ever accosted
by a feathery god,

you take some heavy losses early on, 
and that will leave feathers everywhere
for the rest of your life; as if 
you were wearing an eiderdown coat;

you just walk around and molt. 
As for the man in the tiara,

that’s a transformation
you never want to go through 
twice, but do, coaxing every
so often your sad, damp, frog

back into his palace. Don’t 
you like your scepter? Won’t

you wear your robes? 
Lastly, salt. Well, who doesn’t 
turn towards the sepia for a second 
look; into the carousel music

and the tortured plaster horses
of the past? But this sympathy

does not imply that I want 
Madame Lot back here
knitting itchy sweaters.
Let’s just try to calm down.

When Stalin took power
he had Trotsky erased 
from the photographs. 
Sometimes, you can still see

a floating hand. Left behind.
So disembodied as to be

almost meaningless. We try 
to ignore it, floating there
in history. We get to work.
There is something to be said for that.

You can’t really expect me 
to roll around naked in a garden

letting Trotsky’s severed hand 
float around my body, 
knowing my body better 
than any lover, his soft,

soft-focused, probing hand.
Yet, how can we do anything

serious with that thing hovering
overhead? A woman working
at a table in the park swats 
away the tickling hand

of Trotsky, and intones
as if to all of history:

Not now. Trotsky’s hand, 
abashed, moves on
to pick some flowers. 
So much is gone that

what is left is inexplicable
without memory, and memory

is painful and very difficult 
to explain. Which isn’t 
to say I mind Trotsky’s hand

snapping its fingers 
and flapping itself like a bird

above my desk or would rather 
have him back, extant,
yammering about world socialism 
and complaining about

the samovar: Is this thing cold again?
So, is this more of a lament

than a complaint? Sure.

But it is always there. This
burden of history is not a bird
but a hand, its wrist a tiny cloud.

It’s very quiet. It fills the quiet sky.


It is from my first poetry book, The Next Ancient world.  I'm not sure what made me want to say it to you just now.  Oh but now that I think about it I suppose a few things come to mind.  the prince, the swan, the salt.  note to self: keep your eye on what transforms, note what of it doesn't change, and henceforth keep your eye on that.

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