Dear Czesław,
Hard to believe it’s been 12 years,
but listen, hey, Happy Anniversary!
I wasn’t sure about having this letter
printed in The New York Times —
do you still subscribe? — but I didn’t know
how else to reach you. I notice
the obits sometimes look more like
the personal ads, with all their messages
to the departed. I suppose you probably
get the Times online — kind of crushes
my picture of everyone sitting around
in Heaven with the paper open
in front of them — but you might
have the same problem I do — no
delivery to this address. Bummer, huh?
They sell it at Starbucks, but maybe you
don’t have a Starbucks on every corner
or maybe you favor that nitro cold brew
or take your coffee the way they served it
at the Med. I miss the Med, don’t you?
I really just wanted to let you know
I’m thinking of you and I’m glad for all
that “was wild and indecent” in you
— even if you’re not!

© j.i. kleinberg


Dear Tod,
Thought you’d like to know
I’ve heard again from your friend
the Nigerian prince, who’s vacationing
in Saint-Tropez with my friend
Shelly. I can picture them
together — her dark curls
and his, her vanilla flesh
his chocolate — though his taste
in companions favors
the purse, the rings, the platinum
cards, hers ensorcelled
by baritone notes, by lyric
lust. And now his jubilant
postcards freckled with her
exes and ohs, her little purple
hearts, his pleas for rescue.

© j.i. kleinberg


The girl in the apartment upstairs
vacuumed every day — the burr
and clatter of the building’s Hoover
racketing across wood floor, linoleum,
bumping baseboards — the thump of wheels
running over the sill between rooms —
the motor hum and vibration —
that was all I ever knew of her.
I tried to picture her, thought I might
meet her one day at the mailboxes,
say something nice about her clean floor
as the dust bunnies waited silently
beneath my bed.

© j.i. kleinberg


The origin of tears

Because we began as rivers stretched supine
along the slow-carve trace of sea-flow —
because we stared up into the chronology of light
and into the faces of saurian beasts
who saw in our liquid musings only themselves —

because the seasons passed over and through us
and we were absent volition, moved by the will of water
and mud, by the rain of cinders, by the slow unfurl of ferns,
witnesses in that waiting to meteor and eclipse,
scorch of heat and frost —

because in that great duration we could not sing
or laugh or point at the first crack in the egg,
we could not turn toward one another or away,
our meager cells scarred by a battalion of abuses,
our glue untested, at every tide change

threatening to split apart and wash away —
because when the sea abandoned the shore
to a sandscape of wind, we rose in gouts of dust
and fell again into an unwelcoming oven
where the margin of life was too small to measure

and invisibility equated survival —
because we were so near extinction
before we had truly come into being —
because we were less than dust
in a gully etched between lava flows —

because we recognized the hopelessness
of our survival, our evolution —
at that moment we compressed all energy
toward the center, as we do still,
and expressed our parched hopes with tears.

© j.i. kleinberg


The alley has gone to hell, garages belching
robot grunge and failed steampunk rust.
In between, a green sprawl of pumpkins
and watermelons lines the fence
and spills over the tops of compost bins.
An Airstream that has seen too many rivers,
aluminum foil peeling from yellowed windows,
is raised on cinderblocks to shade hunkering cats.
Over there, they’ve given up on the bamboo,
or maybe given over, letting it claim the steps,
the deck, the front door and back, the automatic
light switch a feeble gesture of occupancy.
And Jim’s fence, well, he probably isn’t
going to replace it this year, just prop it
again and let it lean and sink deeper into the grass.
Chickens mutter in their wire pens, narrating
the afternoon as a single crow monitors
my progress up the alley, swooping low and loud
just above my head. On these hot weekends,
with the buzz of lawnmowers and the tock
of baseballs from the park, I like to remember
winter, to recall the tree-cracking winds of November
and how the light shines upward from the ground
on those rare and welcome days of snow.

© j.i. kleinberg

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