two poems

By Celeste Schantz


I think of him
when I pass what remains of the lot
that used to be the A & P.
He is there in cloud cool April
his shirt crisp, checked,
pushing slow metallic centipedes
of carts in staccato clacks.
Still, sometimes if I listen closely
he whispers to me from the ivy shadows
of the court house,
and sometimes passing
the doors of the old Orpheum
or when I revisit Main Street,
a whisper rises from the sun-seared grass
to his house, shuttered, boarded up,
silent as a sphinx.
I see him peer out
from the eyes of this stone boy
in a fountain spilling dark water;
he regards the faces of strangers at the diner,
bowed behind their late noon glass.
Not one of them, not one
remembers his sculpted lips, the curls,
the thin, birdlike shoulders of a child.
Those that knew him moved away,
we move away
and like young children bicycling past,
the years wheel out of reach,
then everything new moves in.
I try not to forget him
but I do. I do. I will.
Groom of dying light, Father of loss
it must be this; sometimes a child ends up
as sun on sidewalk stones, faded and low,
dappled in evergreens. Who knows—
he might have one day married someone here.

See how these little girls skip across
his shadow, never knowing.		

Shoebox Funeral

I’m remembering the summer of 1967, early dawn; 
we kids are standing on the lake house’s wave-warped dock. 
We’re wide-eyed, drunk on motorboat fumes, 
huddled on the rosy sill of morning. 
Our faces blanch in the sudden flare of lit matches.
Each page of the Times Union chars; the flame
blackens the face of Nixon, of Ho Chi Minh;
as almost-imperceptible alewives 
suckle concentric spirals on water and sky.
We pay last respects to, of all things, 
a small Oriole that flew into the windshield 
of our parent’s old Buick. 
We praise this Oriole, the scarred rock beach, 
praise the chilly oracle of tides; the stench of seaweed;
the pummeled wren house minarets 
that lean away down the shore— 
we just praise all of it. 
We bury you, yellow bird of magic, 
wrapped in yesterday’s headlines. 
We name you Jimmy—a bitter-orange bird, 
tiny talons curled like small hands. 
You’ve got a black crown. 
The newsprint sears, the box lowers
and another American flag drapes a casket 
as the front-page face of our neighbor Corporal 
Jimmy Iannucci sinks through the shallows. 
If you looked hard now 
                                you could still see us 
standing hunched on that old broken clavicle of dock; 
inhale the scent of mushroom rot and smoke.
Soon all of this would simply be a movie reel 
ticking in our heads. Where did we go? 
The lake house was sold in ‘72. It’s overgrown, 
a no man’s land of broken shells, small boned things,
wild mint that strives to climb through quarry stones. 

Jimmy got a white marker at the Armory on South Street.
Our cars drive past it now and then. These artifacts 
I rummage through in dreams, wondering 
when I learned to take death so automatically;
to blithely raise this cup, take sips of morning coffee. 

O Wisdom – when did we grow old 
and learn to swallow grief?


Photograph is of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester, New York, which commemorates the 280 Rochester natives who perished in Vietnam. It also represents American military personnel who succumbed to illnesses linked to the Army’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.