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FIRST GENERATION AMERICAN
A billboard on the way to Ashbery’s reading:
How to take that?
Then a sign by the sluice dam:
Water rises rapidly.
I whisper to the one who knows my heart
we’ll get old together
You’re wearing the same clothes as yesterday.
After everyone in the library fell asleep
who could say if the poet,
whose parents never harmonized doo wop,
continued his reading.
And who could weigh the failed connections
fabricated in fear of a moment missed?
Crossing the border we stop in a diner,
order shadow on rye,
hold the lamplight.
Then back home with nothing to show for it.
No one had painted.
tables, the landscape
All things shift once we enter the shoe store.
Clerk asks if I have any questions and I gush
If we are but memories of place and the earth is maimed
are we then less than we were?
Looking out the boxy window to a field of coltsfoot and wild onion,
not two miles from where we planted garlic and fennel,
ploughmen declared rebellion
and President Washington ordered
that their blood soak the valleys.
My people are from Zamechov and Stavish—
desperate Jews existing in the muddy shtetl,
fearful of the coming night,
the next day.
What is this jamboree
of plenitude and poverty,
platitude and illusion?
What is this, America?
milk and money,
Howie Faerstein’s latest collection is Out of Order (Main Street Press) and his previous books, Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn and Googootz are available from Press 53. His poetry can be found in On the Seawall, Nixes Mate, Banyan Review, Rattle, upstreet, Verse Daily and Connotation. He’s co-poetry editor of CutThroat, and lives in Florence, MA.