"Stem" Copyright 2000  Rain Jordan

Starting with a Restaurant

I like to see ice tumble into the glass
before they add the soda, before
they seat me in my favorite corner booth
where I watch everyone tramp in and out,
see people hungering, then sated.
Turning my glass of soda, I like to imagine
that only the cold-and-solid will endure:
Labrador, darkness, promises.
I like to think that my forty years of silence
has a mythic basis, like the legend of baby Moses
grabbing at Pharaoh's crown: how the terrified courtiers
forced him to choose between a dish of royal gold coins
and a dish of glowing coals,
how the boy reached for the coins
until an angel pushed his hand into the embers.
Moses jerked the burnt hand to his mouth,
seared his lips and tongue, became
the stammerer.
                            Nursing my soda, I like to think
I'm a child of climatic circumstance: not Egypt,
but New Jersey--Metuchen, New Jersey--
how growing up in eastern winters
I would leave my tongue print
on neighborhood metal fences, cold and solid,
marking the way home--
how the torn, frozen flesh of my tongue
sizzled with pain.
                                Unlike Moses,
I welcome my plodding tongue, my hesitation.
Let it take me forty years wandering in a desert--
words are the way back home.

Copyright 2000  Joel Katz
All Rights Reserved

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