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Richard Becker

Crossing Newburgh Bridge


Prospect Park

Crossing Newburgh Bridge

“…it was as if there were an invisible thread joining all the outside birds”—Elizabeth Bishop

She knows Elizabeth Bishop went to Vassar.
And her rejection of her Mom’s potpourri—
a garnered keepsake—was not Earth
shattering but left me in dismay as she pressed 
it in my palm when we parted just outside 
the college on the Hudson River Walkway (re-
purposed long after the 1974 fire from what 
had been a railroad bridge in Bishop’s day).
An eclipse only dreamt of up till now dims 
the morning sky over Poughkeepsie
as I head down I-84 for home. Ten miles
from the college is an abyss for missing her.
It’s 9 A.M. and a large gray Moon cuts 
across the Sun as she blurts “Damn it Dad, 
it’s so unreal” on the car’s Bluetooth.
And I whisper “Yes I know. And daughter, 
please be well. Be well.” Merging with I-87 
I stop off at a Vista Point with other moon-
watchers none of whom squeezes 
potpourri in their pocket. Moon blocked Sun: 
three words dispel preventing any absent 
daughter clichés. The potpourri. 
The bridge farewell. The abyss. 
And nature’s own eclipse.

Last century on another continent French jets 
hailed an eclipse that shut down Paris. 
Everyone from parapet sitters to street flâneurs. 
From café squatters to map-bound tourists. 
Everyone donned safety glasses. All heads 
tilted skyward. But a cloud cast a pall. 
Nor did jets thrill me in those anti-nuke 
anti-war days when my thoughts rang
quixotic as Picasso’s in the Great War 
when he made a bathos pitch to camouflage 
French soldiers with his harlequin diamonds.
In front of his museum on Rue de Thorigny
in mid-day night a chanteuse sang to me 
with hurdy-gurdy warbling how her heart                                                                   
wept rain * in vibratos of an age so sad                                                                    
and strange it seemed to brush 
my cheeks with mute French kisses.                                                               
Back here the mountain view comes alive 
with flecks of light and I behold two worlds 
in trinity with ours. The Sun whole
though dimmed by mountain fog. 
The Moon a shrunk white cloud. 
And while I stand on this outcropping 
where late summer heat waves rise off hoods 
of the remaining cars I sniff the intimate 
smell of my ex-wife’s sock drawer.
And the daughter of that long and troubled 
marriage off to college on whose 
school breaks I must confront the changes 
teachers and her reading will have made. 
11:00 A.M. For all I know Bishop’s 
invisible thread that fixes overhead 
a flock of geese in vee-formation guides 
the galaxies in space and holds the Earth 
in place: its chemicals and ghosts.

*«Il pleure dans mon Coeur». Paul Verlaine

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My wife sleeps through
the dryer’s clattering
sound that keeps me
wide awake and thinking
of my composer friend that died.

A modernist poet once
dubbed death the mother
of beauty. I don’t fear it
only its arrival and oblivion.

As he napped neighbors’ calves
lowed for milk and cows
for milking while we walked
in the meadow grass without him
and Carol warned not to forget
to check our feet for ticks.
She spoke not of the grass
or flowers thick and bright
as they were.
                       Later when we ate 
the homemade muffins 
contemplating our life’s joys 
and sorrows family and friends
we had and miss I asserted 
that I ranked Carol’s muffins
high among life’s joys 
at which point he snarled, 
“I’m afraid they just go 
right through me.” 
                           Three months 
later Carol’s postcard came 
in perfect hand telling 
of his courage and where 
in nearby mountains 
they would pour his ashes                        
now dissolved in ground 
and loam and cow cakes
and on Catskill’s orange 
Canna lilies.
                        My view is
Mt. Washington
would have hung them longer
in the air. And while the illusion                                                                                
of his essence swirls around
me like Freud’s bees of the id
I begin to till the vessel
of his death’s exigent course
toward “Beauty’s” urging me
into things I do not know
and far beyond those which
I used to think I did.

One of his enduring traits
was the gift of gallows humor
that got him and those
around him through the pain
and fear of death’s oblivion.

And as we gathered
for goodbyes at the door
that afternoon in Willow
the cows again were lowing.
And we were hugging
when he quipped “O if only
you could lend me some
of your own body weight!”

Then during the long drive
home we could yet hope
for his recovery—but one
that never came about.

Tonight getting into bed
my wife and I recounted
those two days in Willow.
At 10:30 we could hear
distant Amtrak rumblings
down the River James.

And at 11:00 a pair
of great-horned owls plotted
bearings at the minor third
“for trapping supper”
and I said I would not want
to be a vole right now.
                                    And she
replied minutes before sleep
“Sounds point to a world
of constancy and change.”                                                                                         

I go to the laundry room
and gaze at pants and shirts
and underthings drying
in the vortex that as a kid
I used to watch intently
as kids do when they thrust
and cling and fly apart.
But it’s mid-night now
and I switch the dryer off.

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Prospect Park

You’re straining not to squint in bright sun
after you’d already swallowed tears
when Mom scolded you for grass stains
on you dress.
                      And I remember breezes
trembling distant sounds of bagpipes
from the Army Arch that dusting
your cheek with auburn hair skittered
dry leaves to me off camera.
                                               In your lap
Mrs. Hershey’s coal black spaniel
made you smile at the shutter click
when in wake of yawning it caught
its bright red tongue between its lips

what Mom called a piece of felt sewn on
now the only color not yet faded.

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Richard Becker’s poetry has appeared in The Baltimore Review, America: The National Catholic Review, Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose, Cold Mountain Review, and is forthcoming in Main Street Rag. His sequence, “Fates,” was a 2008 Chapbook of The Literary Review. Becker, a concert pianist and composer, is an Associate Professor of Music at University of Richmond where he is Head of Piano Studies.


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