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3 poems by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

September 27, 2013 by Reader's Connection

The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems, 1979-2011
On Tuesday, October 8th, at 7:30 p.m., Alicia Suskin Ostriker will appear at the Clowes Hall Krannert Room at Butler, as part of the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series.

“Old Men,” “Born in the USA,” and “At the Revelation Restaurant,” from The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems, 1979-2011, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, © 2012. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.



At the Revelation Restaurant

Ecclesiastes sits across the table
And whenever I start to whine
He starts to laugh

Sometimes so heartily and suddenly
That he spills his soup–
Buddha (the waiter) looks sympathetic

Then I read the fine print
On his enlightenment special
Reject birth get off the wheel

But Mama Gaia flounces from the kitchen
Exclaiming Must we despise our bodies
Just because the philosophers and pharmaceuticals,

The priests and politicians, the advertising industry
And the movie industry tell us to?
So I whisper, Mama, I like my body

Washing and touching itself in the bath
Was the beginning, so sweet, then dancing
And kissing–too late to stop now–

Since I know my eyeballs and clitoris
Will turn to muck or dust as the Preacher
Reminds me, and the process of dying

In all probability will be extremely painful
Mama, tonight I intend to order
The soup, the salad, the entrée, the dessert.


Old Men

It seems to me the kindliness of old men
Is something incommunicably vast.
My grandfather, behind them all, plays chess
With studious Yiddish Socialists in Heaven,
Which he did not believe in, and awaits
Me eagerly slipping onto his lap,
To hear “The Story of the Man Who Traveled
From Place to Place.” For he had walked across
Europe to London, he had sailed
To the goldeneh medina. My other grandfather,
Who sat in a brown chair near the piano,
Not permitted by his wife to speak,
But smiling shyly, eyes shining like windows
In a Litvak village on a Friday night,
Waits also. And an Irishman named Frank,
Who trimmed the bushes in the Project gardens,
Called me “Margaret O’Brien” for my braids,
And let me use the shears. Lastly my dad’s friends,
Who lived like lambs in the lonely East Side playgrounds,
Petted me, taught me checkers patiently,
For many windy autumns.
And were we not safe in the Land of the Free,
And was this not as good as paradise?
It seems to me then that God’s a grandfather–
Infinite tenderness, infinite distance–
Not that I have any religion, but
It seems a way to talk about old men.


Born in the USA

Born in 1937 in the USA
Not yet a war year though war was coming
Along with its patent leather and bow-tied photographers,

When I say I feel like a rusty Dodge
I reveal my age, my brand, in an age of brands.
Here I am that Depression-era child

Whose father took her yearly to Coney Island
Where we ate Nathan’s frankfurters,
Whirled madly in cars of remarkable lacquers,

Stood with the crowd, sighed at the fireworks.
At the end an American flag gleamed over the ocean
Telling us it was time to head for the subways,

Damp sand blowing across the boardwalk,
Linoleum stained with juices and an oilcloth table at home
Where we beat time and sang

Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union
For we believed a better world was coming.
Such and such my sources and my spring.

For which I sink to my knees in gratitude
And dare you my fellow citizens
In the nation of money

I dare you to mock me.



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