Issue 7 :: Spring 2005  
 Avatar Review
[Avatar Review]  [Contents]  [Contributors]  [Editorial]  [Submit]
Stephen Burt

Miami Beach

for Milton Heller & Esther Burt Heller

"Perhaps the essence of being a Jew meant to live forever in a state of expectation for that which would not come." --Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers

To end one's life and know it by degrees Like the men and women in these pictures: In their eighties in their Seventies One shirtless blue jeans hooked over a paunch With sun across his ribs their fine white hairs The frequent naps the world too soon confined To one square mile then a square half-mile A woman framed by full-moon glasses holds Her tiny opal earrings in her hands The swept-back wings the mustard-colored steps Front the last kosher hotel Here fame has saved The nautical fins and sterns the turquoise curves The edifices steaming in the wake Of their expensive futures As for these The shirtsleeve women men in iron chairs The lucky the ocean-faced the escapees Who squint and smile and grieve they faced the sea The Europe it has held with shaky hands Who sat in the sun on balconies younger than they And watched their language set all afternoon

(Previously published in American Letters and Commentary)

Canal Park Drive


Here we are in Duluth. They have remade
The strenuous, swept edges of the largest
Body of fresh water in the world
So we would come and visit, and we
Did: above our heads
Some bradycardic boxcars pull
Their taconite over their trestles, then over
And underneath the shadow of the bluff...

To ask the kids (So do you hate it here?)
Or question the slow clouds (Where would you go?)
Would show the same broad hopes, and would betray
Us (Where could all the girders lead?)
As if we meant to offer something else.

Refreshment, strong air, onions frying, hops.
A brand-new stage recumbent on a pier
Where brand-new wheelchair ramps describe floodwalls.
Fresh waters plane the middle distances
Like seminal regrets,
Are interrupted by one buoy, one boat;
Gulls shift, declaim and moralize, and these
First lineaments of rain
Simply continue, as if testing old
Adages on the origin of us,
Propelled as we are by whispers, and whispered hints
That here is some place we would rather be.

(Previously published in AGNI)

Frightening Garden Tools (Invade Your Dream)

Domesticity scares me: the pressure to make a grid plan—
A good plan—and saving, and knowing for what and for whom
Each act takes place. And yet the alternatives nod
Like split convictions, poles to ski between,
The hunches of derelict fences that nobody plays,

As one might play a wooden xylophone,
"Xylo" meaning "wood"; hence "wooden," redundant
Though also a needed reminder, like all these
Iced phrases, sills of houses we could choose
Or choose to live among. The frozen curves

And lines across the first roof cover
Themselves, then melt slowly, slovenly, in a surplus
Of effortful cousins' shovelings. Henceforth
I will accept the major premises;
I promise to take up this space, and to enter each act

On time and crisply, though across the way
Foxgloves proliferate, vans cough, and one
Chipped sunglass lens shines purple through the snow.
—There are risks involved, you understand.
—I didn't know you spoke French. —I don't, though I am.

(Previously published in Fuori)
Photo credit: Corel