2016-2017 FINALIST, COG POETRY AWARDS

 

     Those Summer Breakfasts

—for Robert Hayden

Jacob M. Appel

Every humdrum school day morning

—fall, winter, spring, fall—

my father braved the cheerless

suburban dawn for his paper.  

He read in ruthless silence,

wing-tipped loafers perched  

atop a kitchen chair, blue smoke

curling from the bowl

of his churchwarden pipe.

 

(Already my robe-swathed mother,

aglow with effervescent blear,

had cleared the draining board,

brewed coffee, stirred cinnamon

into my steaming Cream of Wheat.)

   

But summers, no school bus waiting

and chancery out of session,

he’d edify me with excerpts:

war and diplomacy, Carter and Ford. 

Entebbe.  Soweto.  Isabel Peron.

If my focus wandered—followed

Mama’s glance toward Papa’s shoes,

toward the windows she would open

as soon as he departed for the train—

she’d warn:  “Listen to your father.”

 

His litigator’s steel baritone pierced the smoke,

and had I paid attention with greater care,

I’d have understood their tones, their looks,

their silent nods:  how they suffered

each other

for my benefit.

 

The Paper Hanger

Jacob M. Appel

The spider climbs its thread,

wind and sun come and go

in the plat named Garden

of Eden—an acre of clay,

dirt and stones. I take up

space in the same Russian

doll, her wooden shells ranging

from infant to grandmother,

wearing the flat lace apron.

The place between dream

and nightmare grinds as I try

to remember who I am

to many people—the daughter,

son, husband, and my own

mother who walks not with a cane

but by wobbling back and forth

between two peg legs.

Afternoon will come,

and with it tea and scones,

a reprieve from crowded

nerves. Perhaps my sacrum

will relax into an infinity sign.

Today as always I find my way

into the airlock between

these six figurines

that hold me to my age.

Perhaps surly resignation

will wax towards acceptance

beneath the red-lipped crone

who presents her squat icon,

who dotes and holds

all the night stars

blotted out by ultramarine sky.

 

Shrinking with Doubt

Jacob M. Appel

 

A torch-eyed girl seized

mid-breath on a public bus

by the voices of restive gods  

cries out against iniquity,

and I reward her pleas

with 50 mg of Thorazine.

 

How favored she is to be born

unto our scientific wonders,

not into that dark era when

a young Orleans maid, called

by these same volatile gods,

was set ablaze at the stake.

 

Of course, St. Joan saved France.

 

I dare not ask my patients:

Is this the voice that called

Abraham down to Canaan?

Moses forth from Egypt?

Jesus to Jerusalem?

 

The girl knows I know her secret:

Satan lurks in a syringe; shot by shot,

we cure ourselves of salvation.

 
 

Visiting Alumnus

Jacob M. Appel

 

“I once sat in those very chairs,” I say,

“Like you,” which isn’t strictly true,

As I was a rather restive, twitchy scamp

And those low-slung tube steel seats

Must be in their umpteenth incarnation.

But I do recall assembling for visitant 

Grandees—a lieutenant governor’s aide;

Some under-sung chalk-cheeked fellow

Who’d given his prime and his surname

To novel methods for extracting bauxite. 

How the faculty fussed for those men.

 

Now I have joined their ranks. 

All of my own grade school teachers

Dead, or nearly so:  Pretty Miss Teal

And plain Miss Kelly and Doc Horton,

Fifth grade, who dressed as Captain Kidd

Each Halloween and later drowned.

Never again will Mrs. Serspinski trap

‘A rat’ in ‘separate.’  How could she?

She’d be well past one hundred. 

I had not even realized until now.... 

 

And all of those embryonic faces,

As yet untainted:  What’s to be shared? 

Nothing, of course.  Or nothing I dare

Divulge:  The fleeting ways of goldfish,

Of parents.  That all doors exit.  Doubts

Festering, awaiting a stubborn, spiteful

Flame that always sparks too late

Color inside the lines or out.

Infidelity

Jacob M. Appel

 

A kiss stolen on the fire escape

and the world does not end.

Bridges fail to crumble.

No clocks strike thirteen.

 

I am drunk.  She is drunk.

Even the kids appear drunk

although only high on sugar

and inadequate supervision.

 

A Rubicon forded:  like a first

cup of coffee or joint.  For my aunt,

the point of no return is a suicide

note dispatched through the post.  

 

For my grandfather, nearly a rabbi,

the afternoon his brigade liberated

Buchenwald.  Afterwards, his god

neither lives nor dies, but hibernates:

 

A hydrant waiting for a fire.

Now I am (like him) with no

insurance, aflame in my belief

that houses never burn.

 

© 2015 Cogswell College •  191 Baypointe Parkway, San Jose, CA 95134 800.264.7955 • www.cogswell.edu