Charles Fishman is director of the Distinguished Speakers Program at Farmingdale State University, Associate Editor of The Drunken Boat, and Poetry Editor of New Works Review. His books include Mortal Companions, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and The Death Mazurka, which was selected by the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of the year (1989) and nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. His 5th booklength collection, Country of Memory (Uccelli Press), was published April 2004; and, his 10th chapbook, 5,000 Bells (Cross-Cultural Communications), was published November 2004.

An Angel to the Jews

Every angel is terrifying.—Rilke

Such inwardness: the head down
only the strong nose, prominent, under
the red crown of hair    his aqua-
and-sea-blue feathers    his heavy mountain
of wings   and a cape encompassing him—
ochre and black caftan—a kind of prayer-
shawl he waits in as we weigh his exposed
left wrist    the enormous down-swept hand
What number will we see when the sleeve
climbs higher?

                     * *

Now we can gaze upon the haunted face—
green as algae, pink as adobe brick
Arms extended skyward, he is swathed
and shielded, but not with the cloth of God,
though his hands are split in blessing
and the silence of gravestones    is in his heart

                      * *

And now, bald and wingless, lost against
the sun, he hunches into pain    then stares at us,
that hand of light swiped across his mouth
Angels should have no tongues

                      * *

He’s seen a shadow descend on the entire world
Nothing he says will free it, so he rages and screams
then flies up into the obliterated sky

                     * *

Now, he howls into his wings, the only heaven
he knows       Yes, he capitulates, yes, I am a Jew.

White Seasons

Nothing has value except for the hunger
one has for it. . . .
--Camille Corot


Today, the first white crocuses
opened, the year's first bees
found those silken cups. The ground
began to hum . . .    Spring came
up to our ankles, a purr of light,
the thick gold sweetness of honeysuckle.
How rich we were: the unfamiliar sun
licked winter from our backs
and laid us down, softly.


The sky was bitter-white
like an old sheet washed
to translucency. In the wind
that lifted then, our lives
shook, trembled into focus.
We would sing again, our cracked
voices quaver. Like slain wings
caught in a sudden updraft,
all we had lain down for
would surround us.


Again, in the realm of the senses:
wet road black with snow, snow
encysting branches, a white crust
the north wind will rub clean:
beautiful spare symmetry
of winter trees.


Quiet falls like dark snow
under the ceiling where we sleep,
silence with the weight and substance
of dreaming children, children hidden
in the darkness and danger of dream.

What is this place where we breathe
so peacefully, where the darkness
is a life?