Michael Salcman

Other People's Poetry


At some point, I read two to three books a day,

stuffing my brains full

until my ears bled music, my eyes itched

with visions and my hands trembled

with each new vowel. It got so bad

I forgot things I'd known for years,

useful things, like the small bones of the hand,

Italian Baroque composers,

the novels of Turgenev,

and the ages of my children.

Finally, some ballplayers from the '50s

completely disappeared.

It seemed there was a storage problem—

not enough DNA or coiled protein

or neural dendrites stuck by other dendrites

until they screamed, each neuron in my brain

festooned with other people's voices.


Enveloped in the shroud of their music

I found myself lost, cut off from my own

syllables, a captive of  their consonants,

a prisoner of the territory.

To save myself I began to steal

(but only from the best).

At first, I took the small furniture of their sentences—

you know, a caesura,

a pair of parallel clauses, a sweet assonance,

or enjambed

verb. Soon enough, I progressed to grand larceny,

the occasional metaphor or simile.

When they put me away at last

I'd just finished Stopping by the Woods, good

but not the best thing I have written,

it doesn't seem to go especially well

with my Cantos, but it's musicality 

and restful nature have helped me here,

listening to the tintinnabulation of the bells

outside the window of my cell, arrested

by (for) (in) a bout of poetry.



Watching Buffalo Bob


I'm on the floor, my back

on a child-sized mat, my eyes

at rest on the white mahogany

TV set we bought the year before


my sinister leg buckled and bent

from the virus.

Mother kneads polio's stiffness

from my knee, milks my calf


and ankle, pushes me to push.

My big toe moves a little:

she glows at our success,

and a line of wet forms above her lip—


the afterbirth of effort.  I give

her a smile; it's all I have at five.

A physician and teacher of art history, Michael Salcman is the author of two collections: The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises), nominated for The Poet’s Prize, and The Enemy of Good Is Better (Orchises, 2011). His anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors and diseases is forthcoming. He has served as chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and as president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. In addition to Innisfree, recent poems appear in Alaska Quarterly ReviewHopkins ReviewNew LettersNotre Dame ReviewOntario Review, and New York Quarterly



Current Issue
Contributors' Notes

Email this poem Printer friendly page

A CLOSER LOOK: Linda Pastan

Don Berger

George Bishop

Lavina Blossom

Judy Brackett

Shirley J. Brewer

Mark Jay Brewin, Jr.

Emily Rose Cole

Philip Dacey

Colin Dodds

Phillip A. Ellis

Susan Mitchell Evans

Roger Fogelman

Lucia Galloway

Joshua Gray on Yvette Neisser Moreno

William Greenway

David Brendan Hopes

Kinzy Janssen

Carol J. Jennings

Judy Kronenfeld

Hailey Leithauser on James Arthur

Elaine Magarrell

Victoria Kohn Michels

Simon Perchik

Allan Peterson

Roger Pfingston

W.J. Preston

Oliver Rice

Michael Salcman

Catherine Simpson

Lee Slonimsky

Katherine Smith

Myrna Stone

Robert Joe Stout

Matthew Thorburn

Lawrence Wray

Remembering Ed Zimmerman















Last Updated: Feb 22, 2020 - 12:30:13 PM

Copyright 2005 - 2020 Cook Communication.