The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Ben Berman


Our sages say: "And there is not a thing that has not its place." And so man too has his place. Then why do people sometimes feel so crowded?
—Martin Buber
Sunday afternoon

Whenever I end up at Curtin's Roadside
Tavern, praising the dulling buzz of light

beer and talking to some woman about
the day's cool jacket weather, how the clouds

seemed to threaten before they disappeared,
I begin thinking about all the weird

ways that I've almost died—the warm blood
that trickled down my thighs, the glass shards

on the ledge surely as sharp as the teeth
of the wild dogs circling beneath

me, as sharp as the focus on each step
when I grabbed the weak and bony grip
of a stumbling, drunken bus driver
and inched weightlessly across a river,

leaning on knees that hadn't locked so tight since
a scantily clad saddhu waved his tridents

in the air, then hurled a burning log
at my head—and I can feel my restless legs

burning and aching as they dangle
above the sticky floor, as my ankles bang

against the foot rail. And the more she leans
in close, the more I feel the space between

us, as though I've already crowded
too many stories into just one body.


Only when man reaches the highest rung, when he reaches his full stature, only then does he become truly humble in his own eyes, and knows what it is: "to bow before Thee."
—Martin Buber

picking up a friend's daughter
            from dance rehearsal

Because work has a way of stretching me thin
I'd always thought of stretching as the ten

minute warm-up before I ran my laps—
push hard against a wall or collapse

into myself and attempt to touch
those faraway toes—I thought we stretched

to reach something, or, at most, to stave off
injury.  But watching this woman lift

off the floor, spring into a fragile balance,
you'd think that stretching, itself, were the dance,

as she swivels and folds, streaming and flowing
from bend to arch to bow, her calf floating

effortlessly above the brass rail—
as though delicate were different from frail.

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