A Theme for a Saturday Afternoon by Norm Sibum

Norm Sibum’s Ephemeris will return next week, and will thereafter appear bi-weekly, on every other Friday. Meantime, Encore Literary Magazine is proud to present below a poem from his A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry-winning collection, Girls and Handsome Dogs (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2002).

A Theme for a Saturday Afternoon

While I lay there, my eyes shut,
Some rose burgeoning in my skull,
I resolved to sniff that flower
For its being the emblem of my desire,
Politics, perhaps, a better subject.
Are not rebellions sacred, peasants noble?
Are not the pitchforks blessed?
Does not the divine instruct
Order on this homely earth?

                Her pleasure was swiftly had - she did not linger.

While I lay there, eyes unshut
With which I doodled in the dark,
Tannenbaum rolled a fabric up her legs.
Time and space knit together.
While I saw Berlin, Vienna,
Rome and Manhattan in my mind,
It was prayer: the woman deep in it at the mirror,
Combing silence into her hair.

And while fallen princes pawned their jewels,
While poor men burned their books for fuel –
While weary women boiled cabbages in rusted pots
And whacked their kids, Tannenbaum before her image,
With ivory comb was gathering
God’s chaotic pensiveness.
And whole worlds may fall apart
And still, a woman may turn on her heel
And pass beyond a curtain
To the relics that she markets.
Yes! With an air of one for whom
The wolf is always at the door.
I went out that portal to another door.

‘Well, Eddie,’ I addressed the parrot
Who was a picture on the café wall,
Who with beady eye and wicked beak
Looked half the face of God,
'Did you ever read Hobbes’s Thucydides?’

It should come as no surprise at all
That in the time it takes to blink an eye
Heavens, earths and underworlds
May all rear up and roar
Their arrival on the scene:
Messalina entered Lucky’s Diner.
I could not help but notice her.

Once I read history for the knowledge - now I read it for the smut,
But this darling didn’t resemble a wife of Caesar,
Didn’t seem an habitué of the baths.
Not she who schemed against
Her husband’s speech impediments,
But this Messalina of these avaricious times,
This piece of work chimed like a bell.
Her voice was as pious as a monk’s cassock
With the idea of island heat and cresting wave and a proper man.
'My kind of girl,’ some old soldier bragged.
I saluted a cackling bird and left.

Sex and Tannenbaum were my theme,
      History a second option, religion a distant third …

But now, in a room of the Traymore Rooms –
The year come around to high summer,
Shadows creeping down the terraces
Of moody trees - I reconsider.
While children shriek and dogs romp,
While the old on benches part their lips
To the traces of a breeze, time’s the mystery,
Time is the spectre that shakes out her hair and the heart stops.