Robbi Nester: Three Poems


The astronomer and fisherman are brothers.
choosing a solitary life. For both
the sky’s a blueprint, where they find direction,
dark grid, fathomless and mute
as the inside of a bell, where they alone
perceive a sound, guiding them
to planets circling like seabirds, silver
schools of stars. Between bits of brightness,
their starved minds conjure ships out of a swell,
nebulae where none had been before.
The sky feeds from their hands, becomes
familiar, almost tame, unless
watching late into the night, when phosphorescent
motes speckle an endless field, a waking dream
might shock imagination from its sleep, the knowledge
that the precious charts, coiled safely in the cabinet
are a delusion, that the face glimpsed in the mirror, so
reassuring in half-light, masks a swarm
of shifting particles.


Lament of the Midnight Kitchen

Surprised mouth, the plate,
no longer passive, speaks,
and all of china sighs.
How long it has suffered,
so close to the sweet, the savory,
so far from taking it all in.
The fork bares its skeletal gums.
The spoon’s moon face,
featureless as ever,
nonetheless manages to seem smug.
By day, our faithful servants,
at night, they mock us,
our grinning and chattering,
the tongue like a sea slug,
a bathmat in the red and white
sauna of the mouth.
They plot a revolution.
Let no one forget the knife,
that sharp fellow,
his dangerous grin
presents a remedy
for all these resentments.


The Mezuzah

I used to sit at my mother’s vanity
and primp before the glass, fingering her dainty
ornaments and peering at familiar strangers
smiling from their ornate frames.
I was an only child, confident in my position.
I knew the story of my parents’ lives,
marked before my birth and after.
No limits hampered me.
I could be anything I wished.

Then my fingers found a hidden drawer
tucked into the bottom of my mother’s jewelry box.
Triggering the latch, I saw a golden chain
coiled on the velvet lining of the drawer,
tiny likeness of a Torah scroll.
Inside, a scrap of prayer conferred protection
on the one who wore the charm, which had to be
a child, considering how miniscule this was.
I cupped the necklace in my palm and scrambled
down the stairs to ask my mother whose this was.
But when my mother saw the necklace,
her mouth opened and closed
without a sound. Then she said,
“For the baby boy we never had,”
told me these were gifts
for boys, but not for girls,
who didn’t get the parties
boys did at their birth.
For the first time I felt
I must have been
a disappointment of a kind.
She turned away to fold the still-warm
sheets into the basket.
leaving me with questions I would never ask.

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