Arthur Russell

Come in.  This is my daughter.
This is my son.  This is Jeff,
my neighbor from Great Neck.
We were just talking.
The tv is on.  Can I get you a drink?

A few years back, my dad died
but that was different. He was 92,
lived a life and a half.  His words.

* * *

You, now, only pen and paper.
This could be the end of you, too.

Your black-ink, crowded-hand
words will never change again.

You are a phrase now, a wish
distilled from a scream.

No one will ever see you,
but this is how they will try.

* * *


I have no control.
The B minor Mass pours
across the stage and capsizes
the little boat I escaped in.

* * *


Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.
Glen is dead.  Sleep would be the best thing.
Alan is dead.  Let’s go to sleep.
Steve is dead.  I’m turning in.

It’s like coming inside after
the last guest has been walked
to his car, your arms hugging
your sides and seeing the mess.

The lights serve no purpose
anymore.  They’re just bright.
An empty bowl of chips;
napkins in a glass of ice.

Sleep now.  Sleep late tomorrow
Something will change in the mean while.

* * *


We stand in the hall.
Your father’s casket is in the parlor.
You hold up your hand, fingers relaxed,
in a way I’ve seen in paintings.

When you turn away, I follow.
Now we are walking down the narrow hall
towards the kitchen.  Dozens of framed photos,

dozens of them, on the wall to the right,
and stairs to the left, and as you fit
through the narrow doorframe,
I want to be with you in there.

* * *


Christ died and was resurrected.
Promises along those same lines
were made and widely respected --
chiefly, though, in earlier times.

Nowadays, such expectations
run aground when they confront cold
sand bottoms and weird formations.
Dead is dead or so we are told.

The evidence is equivocal.
The heart offers its pain in proof.
The mind is free to counter all;
and the soul remains aloof.

* * *


Every acoustic trick
has been deployed to make
this troubadour heard
a city block away;

plaster curves and chevrons;
plaster basket-woven forms; glass,
wood, lighting fixtures
and humans in a thousand seats;

fifty years of tinkering
to chase away the flat
or brackish sounds
of the original hall

so that you could come here
and listen to the music.

* * *


People on both sides want to know
that they will be accepted,
even if they are not accepting.

They come to you wrapped up
in misfortune, guilt, ambition.
They want forgiveness from you.
They want you to bless them.

Bless them.  You have that power.
Take their hands.  Look into their eyes.
Thank them for coming, talk to them;
a few words, it can’t hurt.

The emptiness you sense in them
will balance something in your mind.

* * *


I’ve got to go home to my family now.
I won’t bother you with how medium
it is.  You can envy me if you want.
I wouldn’t blame you.  Still, there’s something

I can give you.  I wish it was
a car.  I think a car
would surprise you.  Here’s a Lexus,
Sam.  A blue GS-350.

I would do that for you -- just
to distract you from this,
but a car is beyond my means,
and flowers, casseroles, booze . . . I couldn’t.

But I’m going to give you something.
I want to give you something.

* * *


It has gotten to where you are sitting
in a garage with garden tools hanging
from nails in the thickness of studs, and two
motorcycles, resting, lean on kickstands,

and your neighbor’s porch light
from a small, high window slants
to a bucket and a steel chain near
the door; you sit on a milk crate.

Now tell me the difference between
nothing and everything; tell me
what is yours.  Your body?  Your mind?
What are your hands?  What is your life?

Day is coming on and night
moves elsewhere for a few hours.

* * *


Emily, I am no farther
along this broken path than you
were before the diagnosis.
I am much older than you;

not that age teaches anything.
Can you come outside for a while?
My uncle, my mother’s brother,
took me out when my dad died;

we’d been inside for a week
reading comics, watching tv,
saying hi to visitors.  My uncle
took me on his shoulders
for a walk on Nostrand Avenue.

We stopped with my head
Among the branches of a young tree.

* * *


Two voices, tenor and soprano,
travel a path Bach
laid down 350 years ago.
They are accompanied.

They accompany us.  Now,
the chorus takes the melody
and repeats it in a sinuous jacquard.
Why resolve to a major?

Why resolve to a major?
Why resolve to a major
and leave the audience alone
with its grief? I can’t come with you.

The alto and oboe understand.
I’ll go with them.