I’ve come to think
That maybe I don’t
Know myself at all
That perhaps those
Who do, see me in a
Brighter light of truth
So internally blinding,
Distorting all I see
Dragging me through
Emptiness and solitude
Clarity forever eluding me;
Any ray of hope vanishing
Like a tear falling into the sea.
Today I wish the poem would write itself;
The baby change her own diapers,
The dog pick up after his own mess
And the rains drench some drought -
Stricken land where farmers pray
To rain Gods, women walk miles to
Empty wells with clay jugs balanced
On their heads while children drink
Fervently at contaminated rivers,
Becoming sicker, thinner—plagued
By every malady except thirst which
They quench even though it kills them.
Today I am happy that gray is a color;
It filters out all that ails me, blots the
Sun shining unkindly upon my face,
Revealing every sign that youth is fading;
The pronounced lines, bumps, flakes of
Dead skin, wiry brows and yes, some
Gray strands of hair staring at me with
Contempt. The grayness mutes the anguish,
Longing and weariness, shrouding slowly
Falling tears, making my sluggish gait appear
Graceful and dignified; but the gray won’t
Stave off the inevitable, only prolong it.
Happily, though, there were some brief
Moments when the clouds parted and
Eager rays of sunshine appeared; when
Familiar voices spoke, innocent smiles
Lunged upon me, thoughts provoked
Tender memories of how small hands
Feel in mine, how lips so moist and gentle
Caressed my face and how a single glance
Transformed gray into a rainbow of a
Hundred million colors, filling the sky with every
Shade of promise, every tone of hope and
Possibilities that are boundless and near.
What if you really exist
Pitter pattering about
Gnawing on cables,
Perhaps you’re a ghost of
Mice gone by, returning to
Haunt, taunt, terrorize
Shuffling across the floor
Re-staking your claim on
Territory lost in battles
Long ago fought; but
Your encroachment will be in vain
My artillery is proven, unrivalled
Well-armed with brooms
Buckets and the unmitigated
Will to defeat you, though
Should you decide to retreat
Or surrender, you will
Be treated as any prisoner of
War; extended the civilities
Due to lawful combatants in
Accordance with Article 1 of
The Hague Regulations
Released at the end of hostilities or,
In the event that you should
Be killed in the throes of war,
Honorably buried, your grave
Marked and properly maintained
Surely there must be an endgame
A way out of this predicament; and
While I’m willing to negotiate, offer
Gestures of good will, I am prepared to
Sacrifice my own life as a martyr of combat.
Forever fussing over the baby
Snapshots and video of nearly
Everything; routines of coffee
Making, toast toasting, butter
Smearing, chocolate sprinkles
Sprinkling. Creatures of habit
These Dutch in-laws: heatless
Sleeping, long morning walks,
Midday pie, scorching tomato
Soup and sour pickled zucchini
Saturday bread rolls, croissants
Afternoon fries fried crispy out
In the garage. And while there
Is little in common between us
Efforts are made as courtesies
Extend revealing the character
Of these often difficult affairs—
Cultural differences, languages,
The usual walking on eggshells
Trying one’s best not to offend
While struggling to maintain a
Semblance of dignity. I’m alone
In my journey of discovery, not
Knowing who these people are,
What they believe in or how the
World is perceived through their
Eyes. Yet it is I, the stranger in a
Strange land, the one who must
Conform, adapt and accept the
Oddities and idiosyncrasies that
Are placed before me on a road
That at times seems paved with
The impossibility of ever doing
The kind that torment
Even through their
There are no vowels
No punctuation or grammar
In the language of love
But there is a voice
One that is heard
Echoing the sorrow
Of solitude and longing
I thought I heard your
Voice calling out to me
Yearning to be freed
From the deafening silence
Unspoken words of
Thoughts void of reason
Lacking substance and spirit
Perhaps the fragile balance
Between perception and reality
Has curtailed our need for speech;
Our mouths, tongues and voices made silent, forever.
I’ve discovered a
One that sits delicately
Upon the cusp of
Where dreams are foretold
Illusions bar reality…
Flying ships and
Infuse rich textured scenes
Buoyant and masterful
Luscious and lustful
Bursting with flora
Every blade of grass,
Drowned in the
Unforgivingness of the
What will we call you
Nameless unborn baby
Thrashing around your
Mother’s womb like a
Hip-hop dancer, kicking,
Gettin’ jiggy wit it in your
Warm liquescent abode.
We’ve decided on a name
Beginning with the letter
C—we’ve got A, B and E
Covered—just filling in the
Gaps; saving the D for a
Boy (who will probably turn
Out to be a girl anyway)…
I quite fancy something
Old fashioned, Charlotte
Perhaps, I suggested
Cordelia, who, like in
Shakespeare’s King Lear,
Was the youngest of
Three daughters (vetoed).
I wonder what would happen
If you remained nameless
Nothing to identify you
Except for your appearance
Your smile and loveliness
The color of your eyes or
Perhaps, simply some numbers.
What’s in a name anyhow?
Will it define you?
Help you get into Yale or
Reserve a table at Le Bernadin,
Courtside seats next to Jack;
Will it stand out next to P’s
On the marquee, your name.
We’ve run out of dead relatives
To name you after, my mother
Had a bird named Cal as a girl
Perhaps that would suffice;
But you know whatever your
Name turns out to be you will be
Loved with all our hearts and might.
Enigmatic master of escape
Rendering chains and shackles
Inoperable, beyond explanation
Kellar would have been proud of the
Wild Man you became, King of Cards
Escapologist, debunker of spiritualists
Some said superhuman
Zealous, fearless prestidigitator atop
Hamerstein’s Roof Garden
Audience members left dumbfounded
Roped and nailed packing crate
Removed from the water tank
You escaped in fifty-seven seconds…
One twenty-six in the afternoon
Devastating blows could
Induce fatal results though
Never denying your immortal fame or
Inspiring young magicians like me.
It’s what I miss most
The feeling of belonging
Knowing exactly where things are
Because they are where they’re supposed to be.
It’s the familiar things
Remembering where the potholes are
Just in time to swerve the handlebars
On my Schwinn Fastback.
Knowing that when you ring
Michael’s bell he’ll be downstairs
In flash, ready to play ball or
Chase or hop a roof or two.
It’s the creaking back stairs
The loose planks on the porch
The Good Humor Man’s
Clanging bells and Chocolate Eclairs.
Listening to my grandmother
Talking on the phone in her
Telephone voice, ordering chickens and
Brisket from Sonny the butcher.
Walking to school, Mrs. Bloom
The crossing lady patting my shoulder
As I cross Granville; I should have
Fastened my galoshes.
I know where everything used to be
All the best hiding places
I knew everyone and
Everyone knew me.
That is what belonging is
To feel part of a world
Where everyone is interconnected
By hot dog stands and pizza parlors.
Belonging is holding a
White, puffy dandelion
Making a wish and blowing its
Fluff to the wind.
Today is one of those days
Where it would be nice to have a
Plan B; I knew the day would come
Where my mind would be void of
Design, where even the simplest
Ideas could hardly suffice to disguise
Themselves as substance; where my
Own disillusions and nonchalance are
Forbidding, almost provoking me
To step out onto the ledge, raise
My hands above my head and shout…
All I can do is watch the budding trees
The sleeping babe, the dog anxiously
Awaiting nothing; I can collect crumbs
From the table, try to recall the dreams
That kept my mind restless more than
Half the night, the other half spent
Rearranging baby legs, blankets and
Thin, lifeless pillows. But there is much
To look forward to: frozen pizza and
Mini ice cream bars, a stroll down by the
Canal where geese tend to their hatchlings,
A visit to the supermarket, the afternoon
Sun, warming my face, reminding me
Of all the things in life I have to be grateful for
And all the wonders that are on the verge of
The broken wing is no fault of the bird.
It is made all too fragile and delicate.
But with time it can mend,
And once again may the bird learn to fly—
For the bird never forgets how to fly.
The broken heart is no fault of the man.
It too is made fragile and vulnerable.
But with time it can heal, forgive,
And once again may the heart learn to love—
For the heart never forgets how to love.
Un Ala Rota (The Broken Wing)*
No es culpa del pájaro un ala rota.
Es demasiado frágil y delicada.
Pero con el tiempo puede repararse
Y así el pájaro puede aprender a volar de nuevo—
Porque el pájaro nunca olvida como se vuela.
No es culpa del hombre un corazón roto.
También es frágil y vulnerable.
Pero con el tiempo puede repararse, perdonar,
Y el corazón puede aprender a amar de nuevo—
Porque el corazón nunca olvida como se ama.
*In celebration of World Poetry Day, today’s special edition Poem A Day is “The Broken Wing,” which I have reprinted here in English and in the original Spanish. This poem, written in Granada, Spain, in October 1988, was the first creative writing of any kind that I did in Spanish and to this day remains my favorite poem.
*Para celebrar el Día Mundial de la Poesía, hoy mi Poema del Día es “Un Ala Rota,” escrito en Granada en octubre de 1988 y representa mi primera “intenta” literaria en lengua castellana, y sigue siendo, hasta el día de hoy, mi poema preferido.
Wondering why there are no
Help wanted ads for poets.
It’s as honorable a
Profession as the next;
One that suits me to a T
Allowing my short attention span
Rosy opportunities to produce
Intangible concepts, flowing drivel
And creative output that is neither
Commercially viable nor esteemed…
All in the space of five minutes (or less).
But it’s what I do, effortlessly, efficiently;
It sooths my mind, calms my restless spirit
Keeps away the heebie-jeebies
Engages otherwise useless commodities
Which I can no better exploit than
Lemurs milking cows or explaining
Spherical standing wave interaction theory
(No offense to lemurs).
So who will hire a poet—and why?
In days gone by a patron would support me
Financially; providing me with clean, sunny
Rooms; a Negress to iron my
Shirts and leave hot meals on a trolley
Beside my writing desk.
I would learn to smoke
Gauloises, wear narrow trousers
Tight blazers, flaunt brilliantined hair.
I’d sip Absinthe late into the night
Wearing silk pajamas,
Two (why not) Asian lovers in my bed…
This is the glorious life,
Bohemian yet refined,
The embodiment of the highest pleasure
Though one that is often incompatible
With stability, prosperity and sanity.
Who needs the poet?
In the end I suppose no one,
We are an unserviceable breed
Overtly supercilious and
Ominously destined to be equally
Remembered and forgotten
For absolutely nothing.
Like a sweet sixteen
Waiting impatiently by the phone
In a sixties love song
For a boyfriend’s call
That never comes
Or the freckle-faced girl
Standing on the curb
Anticipating the arrival
Of Mister Postman
Who brings no letters
The wife with her baby in arms
Staring out the window to an
Empty street, her husband
Scribbling a final, blood-stained
Note from the front
It’s only been a day
But it feels like a lifetime
Addicted to the sound of your
Voices, calming my soul like a
Rush of heroin through my veins
I know no other emptiness
Than the one that separates us;
There could be no crueler suffering
Or malicious castigation
Only interminable longing and torment
So I’ll wait patiently
With hope and sanguine resolve
For the moment when your
Thoughts return to me
And I can breathe again.
It’s never too late to learn
How to cut a bagel
So that both halves
Come out even
I always thought it was skill
Some astute mastery
High art or acquired aptitude
Which I possess for nothing
I am the embodiment of
Mediocrity, the quintessential
Try and try again
Back to the old drawing board guy
But I am resilient (to a point)
Determined as I am disenchanted
Seeking truth and wisdom
Though rarely achieving either
I learned how to cut a bagel today
Each half perfectly symmetrical
Now if only I can learn to make the
Sesame seeds stay on.
Your rich history
Stands on fertile ground
Civil War battles fought there
Over cups of strong coffee;
You were not the original
Family home, but a concession
So that the widows and fatherless children of
Would have a place to live.
You were an old country mill house;
Functional, bereft of the luxuries of the
Elegant city dwellings in the heart of
The Madrid de los Austrias…
Where thick, tufted armchairs
Hefty mahogany furniture
Were no match for the humble
Rickety hay-woven chairs and
Wobbly tables of country life.
Now, years later,
You are visited by
The Children, and the
Who have made a playhouse
In the chicken coup, keep their
Fancy weekend bags in the cold
Storeroom where preserves were once
Kept from season to season.
The stream still flows beneath you
A river divides your land between
Murcia and Albacete;
Wild boar still trample the corn
María Jesús tends to her demented husband…
Lizards and spiders and the ever-present
Smell of the smoky fireplace
Fill the mill house with memories,
Ones even I cannot fail to recall.
The brick I lay my head upon to sleep tonight
Is cold and wet and hard.
The floors are damp, water trickles
The walls are soggy and charred.
They’ve turned off all the flood lights
Boarded up the windows tight
They’ll all go home to soft warm beds
Whilst I’ll freeze here tonight.
When morning time comes
And the wrecking ball swings
Other bricks will fall;
They will drop from above
They will crush my cold bones
Surrounding me inside of their wall.
My limbs lay limp upon the rainy cold ground
Ground my skin’s glued to like dry ice,
Skin beginning to peel from the bone
Leaving nothing un-shown
And just enough bone to barely suffice.
The brick I lay my head upon to sleep tonight
Is turning to dust before my eyes;
I try not let it for it’s all that I have
And all that I have to despise.
I hear sirens in the distance
I see smoldering blue embers
I feel my breath slowly trying to escape;
I hear the trampling of footsteps
I hear men walking closer
I see shadows, figures and shapes.
I can feel them approaching
Tossing debris from their way
I hear their radio’s crackling sound;
But they seem not to see me
Though they’re looking right at me,
Oh, Lord won’t I ever be found?
And as they’re passing me by
I let out a frozen sigh
Then one man turns around to another:
Did you hear something there? he asked with a sense of despair,
No, the other replied as if not to even care,
And I was left there like a cinder to smother.
The brick I lay my head upon to sleep tonight
Should be polished, majestic, engraved;
When will they find me, set me free from my fate?
When will my body finally be saved?
Or will they take me away in a black plastic bag
Tossed on to the paddy-wagon floor?
And where will I go once I get there?
Will things be just as they were before?
Will I have a warm place to call all my own?
A chest of drawers and heater for warming?
Will I be safe and sound with caring friends all around?
Will I wake in my own bed in the morning?
I finally arrive to a sterile white room
A sterile white man asks me what is my name.
He hardly awaits my response
Strings a tag on my toe as if it were some childish game.
The brick I lay my head upon to sleep tonight
Is the only thing I have to call all my own;
For I haven’t possessions, a bed or a room,
You see I haven’t even a home.
And while reporters keep coming up with catchy words
Blaze and inferno—anything that entertains,
I lie here waiting while they’re sifting through rubble
Searching for clues and remains.
At last count sixteen dead, fifteen more missing
Unaccounted for just like me.
But I know where I am and I know where to find me
Can I be that hard for them to see?
The brick I lay my head upon to sleep tonight
Is warm and dry and soft;
It comforts me in many ways
It keeps my spirit aloft.
And soon the sound of hacking saws
And sledge hammers tearing town walls,
Will fill the air with cries of despair,
Though in the end they’ll find nothing at all.
For I am nothing, was nothing,
And nothing could ever I become;
But a transient, a vagrant, a loser, a wino,
An addict, a loner, a bum.
So sleep city sleep in your comfort and warmth
With your pillows of cotton and down,
As I lay my head down on this brick upon the ground
I wear proud like a king wears his crown.
*Originally titled “The Brick I Lay My Head Upon To Sleep Tonight,” I wrote this poem in the early hours of Tuesday, March 16, 1993 after witnessing firsthand the horror of an extra alarm fire at Chicago’s Paxton Hotel, located at 1432 N. LaSalle Street, two blocks away from where I was living at the time and where I was awakened at about four a.m. to the sounds of fire engines and the smell of smoke which was wafting past my 11th story window. In all, 15 people died and more than 25 of the hotel’s 130 residents were injured.
It’s a common attitude
Thinking we’ll age well
Maintain our boyish looks
Our long, thick manes
Burly faces and zeal
But as the years pass
Our bellies protrude
Our lust for life
For beautiful women
Fine wine and cars
By unfulfilled dreams
Our bodies rebelling
Attesting to our fragility
The aches and pains
Heartaches and loss
At times too much to endure
But we cling to hope
Reminded by glory days
When we feared nothing
Prepared to conquer
Even our own mortality.
How many once upon a times I have written
How many incomplete chapters
Until you came along
That random September afternoon
Introducing yourself as my father
(But I already have a father)
Telling me about your lost photos
Army dog tags
The hundreds of thousands
They stole from you;
Telling me about Beth
(has a new last name)
(her mother was our neighbor)
But not mentioning the
Like why you left
Why you never called
Surely you must have
Thought about me…
My unfinished novel is about you
Your quest to find me
You hear I live in Spain
Arrange to go there
Learn the language
Enroll to learn English in my school
Become my student
Befriend my wife and son
In the park on the
You’re the nice man
Who gives my boy sweets…
Then one day you reveal
Your true identity
But I knew all along
From the very first day
Though it pleases me to no end
Knowing that at least
You’ve paid your
I decided to see what would happen if I launched an R.M. Usatinsky Page on Facebook, a place where I could center my writing-based activities and where people interested in following my work would have a sort of one stop shop of my literary offerings.
To that end I was excited to reach over 100 fans in just over a week. The premise was to offer one free, downloadable short story every month until the end of the year once I hit the 100 fan mark. I also added the incentive of giving away three signed copies of my poetry collection, “My Zayde: A Recollection,” if I hit my objective my the end of the first week, which I did. Signed books have already been sent to North Carolina, Florida and Illinois in the United States.
I have also begun uploading the complete poetry collection “My Zayde: A Recollection,” including all of artist Judith Sol-Dyess‘s drawings from the original first edition book. First published in 1994, the book re-tells the life story of my great-grandfather, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, in what Rabbi Herschel Strauss calls, “A vibrant language combining poetry, prose and storytelling.
February saw my initiating yet another new project, A Poem A Day. As the name suggests I will be writing a new poem each and every day, poems that reflect my current attitudes and experiences. Follow the daily poems here or in the Poem A Day archive at http://www.satinskypress.com/tag/apoemaday.
I am also working on compiling a definitive retrospect of my early collected poems in a single limited edition, “When Lucky Was a Blue Dog,” which I hope to release later this year and containing 150 never before released poems written between 1970 and 1990.
On the music front, my son and I are in discussions to record a full-length album of my Spanish language songs this summer. Watch this space for more details as they become available.
Finally, I have signed up with Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle publishing services and will soon begin releasing my works there. I am focusing more on ebook editions both for their positive environmental impact and for making my work available to a wider audience at a more modest price point than I can do with printed books. I’ll be releasing my first Kindle ebook title, “A Balmy August Wednesday,” a collection of five short stories, on April 1st at a retail price of under $3.00.
Thanks for all your support and happy reading!
I was hoping for a little
Peace and quiet
Sun peeking through
Spring waiting patiently
To make her long-awaited
But shrieks from a
Clanking washing machine
TV vomiting resonant images
Of nature’s unforgiving fury
Render me incapacitated
With a helpless sense of
There is only one earthquake;
It rumbles through my being
Suffocating the still
Unflustered movement of
Only one tsunami;
Thrusting its giant wall of ocean
Drowning me in its torrent of
Time is unforgiving
It ticks away the
Longest hours and
Mocking us as we
Check our watches
Only to be deceived
Time can never truly conceal
What knowledge can reveal
That our destiny is linked
Wantonly to the human quest
For immortality—blindly searching
And time reminds us that
Nothing lasts forever
Our existence depending
Equally on our impermanent
Reality as well as the
Perpetual motion that
Guides us recklessly through
Our days, nights and folly.
I’m hoping there will be enough time
To do all that remains to do
To see you grown
To sing all the songs
I wish to sing to you
Write the words that
No one but you will read
When you’re older
And curious to know
What I was like.
There are moments
When I allow myself to believe
That when I am gone I will be able
To see you from above
Illuminate your way
Protect you from harm…
But what if I could see
Though unable to provide you aid or
Comfort you in moments of despair
Would I still choose to see
Or would I merely live in eternal darkness.
It will pain me to leave you—
Contemplating that moment brings a
Raw, icy sting to my senses
Leaving me feeling impotent
Fraught with grief
And missing you more than I ever have.
You have kept me from sleep yet another night
Tossing and turning are all but futile remedies
For your frequent visits to my dreamworld
Now all too common to even mention
Time and time again;
Is this longing
I blame youth
Who is solely liable
For all of my folly and lack of maturity
How could I have possibly known then all
That life has taught me since those days seeing
You there alone on the back porch observing me.
I can inhabit this reality
A sacred place in my subconscious
Where our souls are tightly intertwined
Inseparable through time, space or circumstance
That when you reach your hand out to me in the hallway
I can feel it, take it in mine and lead us to another dimension
A place where I should have taken you all of those many years ago
So years later you would save yourself the trouble of being merely a phantom.
I remember the first
Steps of my oldest child
The warm Mediterranean sun
Beating down on the boardwalk
The cool sea breeze that made the
Seagulls look as if they were
Floating in the sky,
Frozen in the moment,
Suspended by puffy white clouds…
The little boy with the permanent smile
Shiny red cheeks and
Navy blue shoes;
Endless curiosity and zeal
Walking along the barricade
Holding on ever so cautiously
Until the moment of confidence arrived;
You let go—free from fear—
Taking those first steps
Towards the rest of your life.
And how vividly I recall my
Older daughter’s first steps;
The hotel lobby in the “City of Counts”
Dusty from the ongoing renovation
You stood supported by a blue
Armchair beside a round glass table
Upon whose fingerprinted top you were
Turning pages of a cardboard picture book;
Just then our sea-faring cousins arrived,
They’d come to see us in Barcelona,
One of their cruise’s ports of call.
As they entered the hotel I greeted them
They kissed your mother and pinched
Your brother’s cheeks, mussed his hair
And then, simply because you could,
You took your first steps,
Falling into the arms of my cousin Carrie,
Who if she were still with us today
Would rejoice in recalling being a part of
That special moment in your life.
And it seems like only yesterday
When my baby daughter took her first steps
(Probably because it was only yesterday!);
Sliding along the slick wood floor
Holding my hands
First both, then one
Until you stopped in the middle of the room,
Took stock of your surroundings
Your playhouse, wicker pram, the garden;
And all at once you noticed the red chair
Standing alone against the
Burgundy velvet drapes…
You let go of my hand
Bracing yourself momentarily against the radiator
Then, with all your determination and might,
Took your first three steps
Reaching the chair with
Knowing that anything you desire
Will only ever be within arm’s reach.