Boy on a Doorstep

Louie’s Bar & Grill, 6/28/53

Tattered manila from a bottom drawer,
the seam frayed, photos spilled to the floor,
and face-up (what chance?) just one 3 x 5,

scallop-edged like a ceramic blade.
Slice the years away and pooling there,
amid the black, white, and gray, well-deep

with wonder, a boy’s soft curves emerge
framed in angularities: a barroom’s
hexagonal tiles, a marble sill

and granite step where he sits
beside a doorjamb mimicking
an I-beam of the El in the near distance—

everything solid skewed around him,
schemata that hold . . . what meaning for a child?
His legs pivot out toward Webster Ave.,

sunward, to what’s been captured
as a blur of motion stilled: a city
bus negotiating its turn up Bedford Park,

a sleek sedan in the outer lane,
a Studebaker perhaps or Hudson,
like an era about to disappear.

His torso and head have turned
to address the saloon’s brooding dark,
toward a lens level with his eyes,

a sudden word having been tossed out
to lure attention, to reel him,
at least momentarily, into focus,

a strategy to distract from
the Cracker Jack box that appears
to have consumed his right forearm,

the sugary feast almost gone, except
for the promised trifle he reaches for,
or maybe already grasps, a prize, for him,

of not so trivial value. What does he see
beyond that direct line, from eye
through camera lens, of the mass

of the one crouching deep inside?
The boy’s countenance offers no aspect
of surprise, nothing at all of amusement

or startled annoyance. No fear.
He is, as yet, poised, at peace;
his gaze less blank than quizzical,

surrendering no hint of what
a three-year-old might comprehend
of love. Or drunken infatuation. Or self-regard.

Look how he’s composed in time and space.
How his eyes unsettle all he sees.
How they interrogate the man within.

To Someone Somewhere After All These Years

I thought divorcing was an art worth perfecting
over time, like a vintage coaxed through fermentation,
bottled, with a label, then consigned to a near-subconscious
cavern till it might mature, and decades later be ready
for a toast to old times’ sake and savoring. But after more

than twice the span our marriage lasted, when I uncorked
the email labeled Hi!, I sensed by the way it swirled
before my eyes that this was nothing I’d have chosen
for dining alone, and yet I sipped: We should be able to
communicate, then more, I told you you’d win awards—I dreamt it.

Then came the subtler undertaste of I lost the real love of my life
to Alzheimer’s, and despite the way my head reeled
I knew she clearly meant not me. I swallowed hard,
Were you ever going to tell me you were/are gay?
and I’m not writing with recriminations in mind, but

I just thought we might—I don’t know what—be friends?
I paced the room awhile, then turned and sat back down
to finish what she’d poured out for me, and after the final
dot and her new last name, I was amazed
how my finger wavered on “Reply” and then “Delete.”

Richard Foerster was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1949, the son of German immigrants. He holds degrees in English literature from Fordham College and the University of Virginia. His numerous honors include the “Discovery” / The Nation Award, Poetry magazine’s Bess Hokin Prize, a Maine Arts Commission Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and two National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowships—as well as two Maine Literary Awards for Poetry. In 2019, Tiger Bark Press will publish his eighth collection of poetry, a New & Selected volume, titled Boy on a Doorstep.