The Confessions of a Dying Man + Saturday Morning at Temple – Steven Pelcman

The Confessions of a Dying Man

Enraptured with the odd angle
of oncoming death that stiffens his neck
and beckons his tongue to slither beyond
his dried lips salted by summer heat
he tells a story as quietly as god allows.

Out pours a little mouse-trap
house from his mouth
towering above his childhood
and slanted against Polish streets
carrying horses and buggies

in the shadows of farmers
and old men
wearing yarmulkes
praying in dark corners
to not be seen.

This was his song.
This was his rhythm
as much as his eyelids
now shuddering to lift
his soul away from the

sticky sheets and fleshy smell
of long goodbyes
but he is still bent
on telling us his story
and wets his lips to prepare us.

It was a long time coming
this death of his
and he was ashamed
to have outlived a child
and literally everyone

but this is true of all fathers
and again he wet his lips
with the thoughts of sweet grass
he will lie under
and the coolness of fingers

dipped in the water bowl
before prayers
on Friday evenings
when candle light and rising smoke
transfixed his boyhood.

His eyes burned
and we saw tears.
His fingers gripped the bed
and we saw discolored knuckles
that matched the muted earth

where skinless bones
had been shoveled out
of ovens still warm
and tossed across
dirt fields

where families and whole towns
are buried and in his chin,
the landscape still quivers
with the mere memory
of sisters singing and grandmothers laughing.

All this he expressed, freely
in the bubbled smiles
he managed to release
with the help of an oxygen tank
and morphine needles

that offered salvation
and hope; a deadly cocktail
of Holy Grail ambitions
and wooden crosses
leaning against wailing walls

and you could hear the silent
cries for help and we wondered
if veins would burst
with pain, if muscles
contorted the same way

and if the fatty cysts on his arms
and legs would stop
reminding us of little-crazed
mice scampering
in forgotten mazes

gasping for air,
could come alive
and plead for life
but instead they seemed
to gather and merge

in a gulping motion
when he tried to swallow water.
His narrowed eyes
projected a dim light
too weak to remember

names or faces
other than a wife
who still baited him
with promises of eternity
and desperation

and yet he could not resist
telling us more, knowing
he no longer needed to be
the house-broken pet
rambling in wet diapers

when life was so much easier
being motionless and skinned, scaled
and gutted the way his father
and mother had been
when they were removed

from the face of the earth.
And so you look closely
and wonder how those legs
could have carried so much weight.
How did those arms

not always fall
or was the sound of laughter
different in his head
than how others heard it
and were there voices

that made him forget
himself as if he had never existed,
as if nothing had ever existed
as if every voice was the same voice;
the same endless moment.

There was a grunt, a moan
a second of misunderstood pleasure
before a final cleansing
that saw his body curl up
and nurses panic.

And he turned to one side.
The last turn. The last breath.
The smell of alcohol solution
and body odor, of waste and dead air
and dust piled on window blinds

had no meaning.
They had no meaning.
The darkness could not keep
daylight beyond this room
from taking hold.

He had turned leaving behind
untold stories of when he was young.
He had turned only to have
a terrycloth bathrobe belt latched on
like the good soldier’s

helmet strapped tightly beneath the jaw
and chin to keep animal wildness
human and caged. This was the greatest
act of love he could have given;
to make us believe he was confessing

with every word we had said
to ourselves.


Saturday Morning at Temple

Stained glass colored windows
catch sunlight in God’s hands
as wet thumbs turn pages

of scripture and the Cantor
sings hymns to the sad rhythmic
swaying of bodies.

Old men and faithful wives
are lined in wooden pews,
and I envision

the deathly innocence of a father
with doll-like beauty
inside the Torah

waiting for the right prayer
as he is gently held
by the Rabbi who walks by

the poetic features of those able to rise,
rising with the weight
of flood and famine

and widows dressed
in flowing skirts and their aloneness
singing high-pitched melodies

and together
a swell of sound
begins to dance

5000 years of history
in their voices
until the final Amen.

Steven Pelcman is a writer of poetry and short stories who has been published in a number of magazines including: “The Windsor Review,” “The Innisfree Poetry Journal,” “Fourth River magazine,” “River Oak Review,” “Poetry Review Salzburg,” “Tulane Review,” “noah magazine,” “the Baltimore Review” and many others. He was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. Steven has spent the last fifteen years residing in Germany where he teaches in academia and is a language communications trainer and consultant.

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