Jerry Mirskin

Two Poems

Poetry Reading

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.