When I grow up, I hope to be like me:
well-spoken, erudite and dignified,
the kind of man that one can wear with pride
and never overhear you know that he
is not at all what he pretends to be.
With proper bearing, it’s a cinch to hide
the inside me inside the one outside
and work that trick with slick facility.
And when I master me I plan that I
inhabit who I am and where we’ve been –
then surreptitiously, conjoined, begin
to push and prod and nod, and clarify
a problem that we’ve never solved, but should:
is it better to be clever – or be good?
Notes on the Last Years of the Empire
Bring them home on a moonless night
in black craft without markings;
land quietly, and roll to the farthest reach
of a dark and isolated field,
let the doors open and the long boxes trundle down
silently on greased rollers, hushed, hushed, hushed.
Arrange them there by the slow corpse-fires
in the night, in the still, sweet air.
Let body and name and fabric
Querer: to want, desire, wish for, love.
Words mean only what we want them to.
There are no certain meanings, only context.
Context sends the message, context rules
Find your security within the walls
of La Querencia, the brochure states.
At seven thousand feet in Santa Fe
the air is thin, the winter sun still strong;
as shadows lengthen, tones intensify.
Chamisa straggles down the dry arroyo
in puffs of black and gray; silver junipers
scrabble after water in the clay.
Querencia: a place where one feels safe;
a comfort zone, a favorite site, a haunt.
Dark, quiet colors – gray, black, muted greens,
deep brown and gold – commingle with Southwestern
shades of tan; and here are Hokusai prints;
assemblings of kiln-fired earthenware,
good tribal rugs, and shelves and shelves of books,
Twisted, bare piñones mark the sky
like brush marks on a kakemono scroll.
At rest, retired, tired, gone to ground,
we keep the kiva flames at La Querencia.
At Plaza Mexico aficionados pissed
in empty beer containers; gravely lobbed them
at the ricos in the good seats far below.
Aztec rain, you assholes. Go with God.
Querencia: where one feels most at home;
the place from which we speak our deep beliefs;
a place in which we know just who we are.
A wounded bull retreats to his querencia,
that spot within the ring where he feels safe;
his patch of sun-baked sand, his home, his stand.
And bows his head, and stains the ground, and dies.
Now the hiss of rain
on the path we used to walk.
Nothing has been missed.
Maids whisper in the twilight,
planning out the night ahead.
Enoki, carp’s head,
harusami noodles light
as silken spring rain.
In the courtyard evening mist
settles on a gravel walk.
It is good to walk
again through dark stone and mist.
A small bridge and slants of rain
flicker in the lantern’s light.
Patterns on a light
yukata enlace the rain.
Fingers slowly walk
from bare neck to face to head
tracing all that has been missed.
The inn wraps in mist.
An unblinking Buddha’s head
and a single light
guard the garden and the walk.
We embrace the sound of rain.
A walk in the rain,
a man, a woman, light mist:
pines twist overhead.
The trendy shades obscure the fact that she
is sixty. Her second husband, eighty-two,
is dying, inch-by-inch, beside the blue-
green tile Miami condo pool that he
is carried down to every day by two
Jamaican nurses, who agree that he,
betrayed by piss and prostate, wishes she
would simply let him be. Her Gauloise blue
silk scarf, the blonde and silver chignon she
affects, accent the tableau of the two
evading winter, hoping winter kills.
Fixed in the pose she sees to it that he
has shade, sighs to a friend in lighter blue,
“When my time comes, I have these little pills.”
A Memorial Service for My Mother, Age 102
A cousin may have had some work – the chin
looks tighter than before – her husband winces
when he stands, and Edie could not make
the drive, and this one’s hair looks better gray,
and Sam is bent and Becca simply old.
All spy the shakes, the sags, the extra pounds –
the kind of hard-eyed observations she
would have made and noted gleefully.
So as we gather for an afternoon
of memories and praise, exchange quick hugs,
and hover over crackers, goat cheese, trout,
my generation checks each other out:
we fear the next convergence, when the plot
recasts to who is there and who is not.
The when came first, and was no problem since
clocks hung on the market wall had stopped
precisely at the time he had to know,
and there were watches too, all smashed it seemed,
and parts of straps, and down the blackened street
a grand old tower timepiece still retained
an hour hand; and what was good was that
they all agreed: there was no fog or mystery.
Where was simple also, since the maps
and GPS coordinates all showed this village
or that town, and most had names, or he could
find someone to tell him this is The-Street-
of-Music-Stores-That-Used-To-Be or here is
He would write it down slowly, in his way,
and soon began to find the names himself.
He often stumbled, though, at what, for what
was not so clear. Some kind of IED,
they’d say, perhaps behind a truck or car.
Men came with masks and guns and called out names.
The belt is wrapped around a piece of corpse.
A woman, all in black, in line for food.
He learned more acronyms, and all the vast
new nuances that came with improvised.
And next was who, and who turned out to be
impossible. The bloodstains on stone walls
were who, and headless bodies found in lakes,
and gunners torched inside their vehicles,
and chunks of flesh and fat; and still the questions
rang of who was this and who did that,
and who was shot or bombed beyond all moral
sense, and who was God to suffer this?
And when he came to why he took a walk
at noon, behind a berm of blasted earth,
and stripped off forty pounds of Kevlar vest
and shirtless, spinning, spinning in the sun,
leaned against a rock, and puked, and wept;
but still the sun remained, and still he went
on going out each day to sanctify
the old, old cry: who, what, when, where, why?
Michael Cantor’s full-length collection, Life in the Second Circle (Able Muse Press, 2012), was a finalist for the 2013 Massachusetts Book Award for Poetry, and he has won the New England Poetry Club Gretchen Warren and Erika Mumford prizes. A chapbook, The Performer, was published in 2007. His work has appeared in The Dark Horse, Measure, Raintown Review, SCR, Chimaera, The Flea, and numerous other journals and anthologies. A native New Yorker, he has lived and worked in Japan, Latin America and Europe, and presently divides his time between Plum Island, MA, and Santa Fe, NM.