Charles Chaim Wax
The Invincibility Of Valor
Poem by Charles Chaim Wax
Who did we see trudging towards us
from the end of the Pier but Pop. He wore
a black vinyl leather jacket
with some twelve safety pins holding it closed.
“Hey, you dropped this, ”
I said handing him fifty cents.
“Oh, thank you, thank you,
now I can get myself some coffee.
If I had fifty cents more I could get cake.”
I gave him a dollar.
“I been in the hospital. My feet swelled up.”
“What happened? ” asked Doyle.
“Drinking, ” said Pop.
“Drinking, ” said Doyle amazed.
“I only drank half a pint
but couldn’t finish it, got sick
depressed about life.”
Pop stared at his feet covered with hospital booties
said, “My sons keep coming back to me
can’t get rid of ‘em.”
Breathing shallow now,
the good wind gone from his chest,
a sigh, “One after the other
suicide, no note,
both from this spot
a year apart they sucked water
but their lungs couldn’t hold the ocean
keep coming back, always smiling,
can’t figure that out.”
Doyle held out a ten, Pop didn’t see it
staring elsewhere, then Doyle held Pop
held him hard, both trembling
gulls whooping above wanting tidbits.
Finally: “I got hard luck since I was born
and most likely die with hard luck.”
Doyle shifted to gaze at his beloved ocean
saying: “Bernstein, How deep you think the water is? ”
“Here? ” I said.
“No, out there.”
“Coupla hundred feet.”
“And there’s life out there:
fishes, eels, crabs, sharks, worms,
and they don’t know my name.
Don’t you find that astounding? ”
Pop on the floor now leaning against the rail
ready for sleep, a bit of twitching, but eyes at last closed.
I knew the poem
had already been written
he could do that, listen and compose
while holding back tears
having grieved as much as any man
the only woman he ever loved
loved more by insidious cells gone mad
in her pancreas
shocked when he asked me to photograph her
now near death
face wracked in pain, pure white
eyes already into the skull
had to ask her to
as eyes are everything in a photograph
and the heroism of that slight smile
but he never wrote of her
Later I’d ask to see Pop’s poem.
Staring still at the sea Doyle said,
“Bernstein, those sons sought
an ancient peace when all travails
were not yet born.”
Then: leaning to Pop
placing a wet kiss on his forehead.
Finally: “We are here.”
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