At the poetry reading, I stood at the podium
looking out over the crowd. I probably shouldn’t say crowd.
There might’ve been twenty people in between the shelves
in the back of an old bookstore in Buffalo.
They were good to come out on a cold, wet, end of winter day.
They were my audience, and I wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for them.
Sure I had a book, but still, if no one wants to get off the couch
after dinner, there’s no reading or reader.
So I have to give them that, though I still felt like I was the one standing
and they were sitting, and it felt like I was peering out at them.
Sort of how the water at the top of the falls looks out over the edge
and contemplates that long going over. It was like that.
I was the poet at the top of the falls.
In fact that afternoon, I had gone to Niagara Falls.
I went to the Canadian side, as you’re supposed to, to get the good view
and I looked it over. Have you ever been there? It’s dramatic.
You can’t really figure it out. All that water, all that roaring.
That might be the main part. The roaring. And the mist.
And because it was the end of winter, there was still snow.
With all the falling water, the mist comes up and the snow
comes down and builds up for what looks like ten stories high
and a couple of city blocks wide.
And all the while the falls continues roaring its head off.
And that’s how I looked out at the crowd. And I told them so.
“You know those falls?” I said peering down.
“That ain’t nothing. I know people who can do that.”
They just sat there looking at me like piles of snow.
Buffalo. What a great place to give a reading.
Even if they don’t know what you’re talking about, they do.
Crepuscular Non Driveway
I try not to antagonize. I try to get along.
First with my wife—I mean, I wasn’t born yesterday.
And with my son. He’s here with some friends
and we’re having a barbecue. Snacks and drinks.
He has drums set up in the garage. There are electric guitars
and amps. One of his friends is a singer.
She’s wearing a floral print dress. Her name is Cammy.
They’re getting ready to play, and I have the feeling
that it’s finally happening. The dullness of winter is gone
and Spring is coming true. Just like it said it would.
It’s sublime, and everyone seems to be feeling it.
I go in to refresh my drink.
I usually don’t think about “refreshing my drink”
but here I am. Just then my neighbor from across the street–
an old-school-codger — is coming down the drive.
When we moved into the neighborhood, he crossed the street
introduced himself and asked, “Are you mechanically inclined?”
I’m pretty handy, I thought to myself. “I fix things,” he said.
“If you ever need something fixed, let me know.”
I pictured a table full of toasters, blenders, old radios.
“Thanks,” I said. That was several years ago.
Now he’s headed straight for the garage, where Cammy
is holding a microphone. Seeing her standing there
reminds me of a television show my wife and I watched
this past winter. Singers compete and the winner gets to record.
It’s one of our main sources of togetherness. Every once in a while
one of us will say, “That’s something.”
And the other will say, “Yeah, but not as good as so and so…”
And a good feeling will hover over as we watch.
We also have a new kitten. When we’re not watching the TV
we’re watching the kitten fly around the room, bopping off the walls
onto the tops of tables and chairs.
If we had a chandelier, the kitten would be up there.
That show and the kitten got us through winter.
Now it’s spring and here comes the neighbor.
Dour, like he has been carrying a load on his back so long
it’s become part of his back.
As I walk over to meet him, I realize it would’ve been nice
to invite him to the party. And just then an electric guitar starts up.
Very loud. You’d think Jimi Hendrix was alive and well
and just happened to be in the neighborhood.
Cammy hasn’t started singing, and I’m wondering,
How are we going to hear her? The neighbor is saying something
I can barely make out, shaking his head like an umpire
standing in the dust around home plate, saying, No, no, no.
And when I finally hear his words they are, “No, no, no.”
And he adds, “It’s not going to work.”
In one hand I have my refreshment.
With the other, I wave to the guys to hold off for a second.
I’m not the boss of springtime and parties, but it is my place
and my hand hangs in the air, like the wannabe master of all I survey.
“Not going to work,” he says again. I assume he means the volume.
“I can’t have it,” he says, “I have to work tomorrow.”
It’s about 8 p.m.
Up until now, the day has been sipping from a long cool drink.
Now the air is starting to darken, the last of the light pouring off.
I’m trying to remember the name for that light, that time of day.
“Crepuscular.” But I can’t think of it now, and at the same time
I’m feeling a little stumped. In the ten years that we’ve lived here
we’ve never had a party and the one time we do– there’s a complaint.
The noise has stopped, and my son and his friends have come over
to see what’s going on. I want to respond with something neighborly.
After all, what we’re doing on this first day of Spring is good
but underneath it, I can’t believe Mr. Fixit is saying I can’t have a party.
I want to be diplomatic, but the words lining up in my head
bump into one another as they get to the tip of my tongue
and all that comes out is, “Come on.”
I’m a little immature, and later I’ll imagine that I have a wand
and cast a spell: Crepuscular Non Driveway.
I point and there’s a puff, and when the dust settles everything is calm
and Mr. No No No has returned to his side of the street.
But for now, all I have is, “Come on.”
“No music,” he says. That’s all he has.
In the meantime, my son, who has come over and is standing next to me,
seems to be growing larger and larger, like a genie
that has been in stuffed in a bottle for a long time and is suddenly out.
His arms are big and folded across his chest, and he’s gazing down
at the little man from across the street.
He looks at me to see if I’m done talking, and then says
to the neighbor in a kind of pseudo-tender voice,
“You don’t like the blues?”
I think it’s funny, but I also know that it’s important to be respectful
and I don’t want to give The Genie the message
that that’s how you talk to your neighbors.
It’s a critical moment in my parenting
and I feel I need to set an example of courtesy–
even when one doesn’t feel it.
The neighbor stands there for a moment, waiting for someone
to say something else, and then he turns and starts back to his house.
I ask my son to turn off the amps, which they’ve already done.
The girl has put down the microphone, and the musicians
are standing around chatting and smoking cigarettes.
I look inside our house. My wife is in the kitchen.
For a second I think I see her moving flowers from the counter
and putting them in the sink, but then I realize
there are no flowers yet. She’s just putting away a few dishes.
It’s dark now. Across the street, through the neighbor’s window,
I can see the pale light flashes from a television
that floods what otherwise looks like an empty room.
And for a moment I think I’m seeing the light of our era.
Flickers on empty walls and inner cells.
And for some reason, I think of creation
how there must’ve been a lot of light flashing: explosions of light.
And for a moment I feel for him.
It’s a little sad at the beginning of time.
And the sound is deafening.
Jerry Mirskin was born in the Bronx, NY, and has lived in California, Wisconsin and Maine. He has worked as a herdsman on a dairy farm, as a carpenter, and as a New York State Poet-in-the-Schools. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, and he has presented his work and given workshops at universities, colleges, public libraries, art centers, and on public television. He is currently an Associate Professor at Ithaca College and teaches select courses at Cornell University. His first collection, Picture a Gate Hanging Open and Let that Gate be the Sun, was published in 2002 after being chosen for first prize in the Mammoth Books Prize for Poetry. His recent collection, In Flagrante Delicto, was released in November 2008. And a collaboration with the photographer, Susan Verberg, entitled Reflections was published in 2012. Jerry Mirskin is the winner of the 2012 Arts & Letters Prime Poetry Prize.