Michael Salcman

Paper Cuts

Today a friend called who'd just read
my poems about you and said
she didn't know how sexy I was.
She talked about their frank accessibility
and how direct I was in morphing
your body into bluebells and buck thorn.

It stabbed me to hear such praise
just days after you've gone
without a proper good-bye or caress.
Apropos of something I forget,
Braque said one can't live in a state
of paroxysm forever.

But we soldiered on:
there we stand in an old photographic print
caught in the sun, faded and foxed
like two tourists in a cardboard poster
our faces posed in the holes
cut out for our heads
still dreaming of transport.

Soon enough we were debating
what it meant to be wed
in voices and words that came
from outside ourselves
like psychotic emanations.

These are old tropes for an ancient subject
my friend and I often debate—
the death of painting, even of love.
It's all video now, forty years without
a masterpiece, and bits off the street
scattered about in lofts and museums
and white walled rooms.

Love's a lot like art, nothing to worry about
until beauty rears its ugly head
and tears your theories from your heart.

The Vicar
                                      —in memory of Updike

It was much too cold to snow the day we got the news:
the old vicar had died; not a sound
rose skywards from the trees, their barren pews
half-shorn, the rabbits gone to ground.

A tall attentive bird,
with ruddy face and shock of parson white,
he kept unblinking eyes upon the world
and bookish sermons flowing day and night.

And I was the sort of tender boy he said he built them for,
my happy hours spent, a hand upon the spines:
all those small-town woes, with covers blown and torn,
and pages thumbed from use, the record of our times.

Though unappointed at the end, the vicar might have chosen
an icy day like this to leave, silent, sunlit, frozen.

Michael Salcman (b.1946) was born in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia and came to the United States in 1949. He attended a combined program in liberal arts and medical education at Boston University, was a Fellow in neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health and trained in neurosurgery at Columbia University's Neurological Institute. He served as Chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. Author of almost 200 scientific and medical papers, his six medical and scientific textbooks have been translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Chinese. Special Lecturer in the Osher Institute at Towson University, he lectures widely on art and the brain. His course on How The Brain Works is available on the Knowledge Network of The New York Times. Poems appear in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review,  Harvard Review, Hopkins Review, New York Quarterly, Notre Dame Review, Ontario Review, and Raritan; they have received five nominations for a Pushcart Prize. His work has been heard on NPR's All Things Considered and in Euphoria (2008), a documentary film on the brain and creativity. He has given readings at the Library of Congress, the Pratt Library of Baltimore, the Writer's Center in Bethesda, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York. He is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two collections, The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press, 2007), nominated for The Poet's Prize and a Finalist for the Towson University Prize in Literature, and The Enemy of Good Is Better (Orchises, 2011).



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