Not Our Tribe, Jewish Cemetery Night, & Late Winter Dawn

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.

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“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. 

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