Not Our Tribe Jed Myers My daughter writes, to all those who follow her on the web, my eyes are the same as my father’s. She means to reassure herself they are not so strange. But mine are a stranger’s eyes, as were my grandfather’s, open late like the immigrant grocer’s lit with the awnings up after midnight, eyes whose lids jittered in sleep, disturbed by the deep vigilance behind. His eyes kept watch for his loved ones’ safety, spied 60th & Cedar from the porch, scoured the faces ahead as we advanced through Rittenhouse Square or 30th Street Station or down 54th toward Murray’s for Nova and whitefish on Sundays. Those eyes adjusted the unspoken levels of risk by the millisecond. I saw the near- imperceptible grimaces of that business on the live graph of his face as he squeezed my arm for no evident reason again in the A&P checkout line. And when he did let his eyes close over for a brief drift into the night, he had his ears take a shift. Listen, how many sounds in a quiet row house could be something metallic and honed as it’s slipped from its sheath of hide. My grandfather’s ears would quick wake up those eyes adapted by our centuries of practice as unwelcome guests. Such eyes’ irises dilate for dark coats against starless black. They diffract silhouettes on horseback or mufflered motorbikes. These lenses detect unmarked vans through the rain-glazed glass of coal-dusted panes as those wagons kill their lights and roll on to park beneath our apartments. These eyes are the same as my ancestors’ scanning the dunes in sand-wind after dusk. I look at my daughter’s eyes, the electric pic by the quote on her posted page. She’s wrapped in an easy embrace with a friend. I see the ages’ squint no joy can erase. It’s the inherited readiness. To make my peace with it, I say this: her eyes, our eyes, must also have earned the keenness to discern that secret search for trust in the lines, the clench, the twitch of the wanderer’s face. The fresh-arrived clutch of strangers, terribly dressed, kids pulled tight against shawls and prints by parents’ spasmodic grips, bus schedules out under lowered brows, eyes kept down but we catch them lifting for glimpses into what’s imminent—our eyes grasp in those instants, they’re not our tribe, but we know them as kin by their eyes.
Jewish Cemetery Night Jed Myers Those headstones at Mount Carmel, each must weigh more than a man, and taken a couple of men a piece to bring down, one then the next, nearly a hundred, into the night. This was a team, I imagine—together they pressed their shoulders and chests and cheeks and palms in uncanny brief intimacies into the names of women and men who walked the Northeast Philly streets before these raiders were born. I see the impression of some part of loving father remain for minutes embossed in the pad of flesh under a thumb. Another’s brow is stamped with the Hebrew letter aleph that stands for the first of the Ten Commandments. I hear the men grunt in unison on the heave after three. And the gratification, the bonding these guys, I’m sure they’re young, must be able to feel, with what they’ve achieved— what lives have they been leading? Is this as close to a shared heatedly held meaning as they can get, faceless amalgam of the dead under their feet and available to be blamed? The hugs these topplers must’ve exchanged, shined by their sweat in the moonlight. What lives led to this? That it was just common hate could uplift them? Don’t they drink their pints after work in the tavern, cheer and curse the game over the bar? Doesn’t it keep their hides secure round their hearts and their eyes off each other? I think it’s that secret aloneness does it, down in the dark dark as the dirt.
Late Winter Dawn Jed Myers tent cluster under bare trees by the freeway tent hamlet wreathed by an entrance ramp gulls’ silhouettes hover-swarm the dumpsters on a market’s back lot newsprint and brown paper bags layered into a damp bed by the trail frost like a holiday’s glitter still on the skins of cars and I’m warm in the wool of my coat and already the purple crocuses the purple hellebore a mama raccoon leads three plump young across the street I am alright in my scarf and hat this isn’t Syria
Jed Myers is author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press), and four chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels (Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award) and Love’s Test (winner, Grayson Books Chapbook Contest). Recognitions include Southern Indiana Review’s Editors’ Award, the Prime Number Magazine Award, The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Prize, and The Tishman Review’s Millay Prize. Poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Myers lives in Seattle and is Poetry Editor for Bracken.
“Not Our Tribe” was originally published in Solstice.
“Jewish Cemetery Night” was originally published in Rattle.
“Late Winter Dawn” was originally published in Poets Reading the News.