MORE MONEY THAN GOD
my father said, again and again, shaking his head
in disbelief at any ostentation; the neighbor’s gold-
plated knocker (we still banged fists) or my own lust
to own the autographed edition or the waxed bronze bust.
It is not only the idea—which should hold all the pleasure—
but the poet’s pencil marks on paper which we treasure
above the memorized poem. And so I fan my flushed face,
signaling the fast-talking auctioneer, who has traced
the provenance, and picks up the pace, multiplying offers.
And who now does my father’s bidding? Heaven’s coffers,
perhaps, are for the destitute; but why did he have to die
to escape the shitty crime-ridden, never-to-be-gentrified
neighborhood of both our births? The cost of living,
he would argue, is not the worth of being alive.
But still he checked each lottery ticket which littered
the empty lot next door, praised their silver latex glitter,
praying to the beautiful unscratched, like little gods.
Money talks, he taught me. But nobody beats the odds.
Originally published in the Harvard Review
Nothing is where I left it. The empty littered lot
next to my father’s hardware store has turned up
two blocks to the north. Even the store itself,
which sold its last hammer and nail to the contractor
who tore it down, putting this substandard duplex
in its place, is missing. And the neighbor’s children
are now the neighbors, and the chalk outline of my father
is rained from the gutter where he settled down with
the bullet that killed him. Somewhere else, the murderer
is murdering somebody else, but everything is the same
in the poem where the poet misplaces his keys.
My old Jewish neighborhood is filled with blacks,
and the African-American neighborhoods are busy
with Asians, and the Mexicans are everywhere
but here, in this dark bistro, in the Soviet era city of Pskov,
six hours south of Saint Petersburg. There is
a Dead Negro on the bar menu. The dead Jews,
my father among them, rise up in protest
like the benevolent protectors they once were.
They are looking for the picket line which is no longer
where they left it. And the leftists have moved
to the right, and God is looking for God everywhere.
Nothing is where I left it. Not my hammer and sickle,
not my Star of David, not my well-thumbed book of poems.
My wife and children are nowhere to be found.
O Amichai, can you help me to find my keys
in the pockets of the Palestinian boy moved
into my Brooklyn home. His sister is missing
and his mother is not where he left her. It’s enough
to start anyone drinking. I’ll have a Dead Negro
somebody says from the next booth, a black man,
maybe the one that killed my father, but in this light
I can’t tell; everyone looking exactly the same.