Storage Space

Storage Space
A Collection of Contemporary Poetry

Darren A. Stein

Copyright © 2008 by Darren A. Stein. Library of Congress Control Number: ISBN: Hardcover Softcover 2008910063 978-1-4363-8377-6 978-1-4363-8376-9

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CONTENTS
Storage Space .......................................................................................................... 9 Watching Old Men Playing Tennis ....................................................................... 10 The Consistency of Baby Poo ................................................................................ 11 Toy Cars and Immortality .....................................................................................12 Odds and Evens .......................................................................................................13 The Curse of the Ordinary .....................................................................................14 No-daddy-else ..........................................................................................................15 Exercising Patience ................................................................................................. 16 I Think I May Be Dying ............................................................................................. 17 Bird Watching at the Western Wall ................................................................... 18 The Holy City .............................................................................................................19 They ..............................................................................................................................21 The Golf Mad ............................................................................................................22 Among the Eucalyptus .........................................................................................23 In Passing, I Said to Rikki......................................................................................24 Picture Window ........................................................................................................25 Bahama Sunset in Soweto (1994)................................................................... 26 Stars .......................................................................................................................... 27 South Africa ........................................................................................................... 28 Letter to Karen (March 22, 1995) ................................................................... 29 A Dog Called Spot ...................................................................................................31 File 13..........................................................................................................................32 Howard Davis .......................................................................................................... 34 Concrete Worlds ..................................................................................................... 35 Ode to Writer’s Block ............................................................................................ 36 Two Feet .....................................................................................................................37 Mr. and Mrs. Nostradamus ................................................................................ 38 Lost............................................................................................................................ 39 Tin Cup-Tin Heart ................................................................................................... 40 Mists ...........................................................................................................................41 A Fear of Ghosts and Distance.........................................................................42

Ode to the Solutions of a Math Problem at Two o’clock in the Morning ........................................................................... 43 I Wonder .....................................................................................................................44 Caged......................................................................................................................... 45 Red Dust .................................................................................................................. 46 On Asking for Directions ......................................................................................47 Frayed Nerves ......................................................................................................... 48 The Thought of Her ................................................................................................ 49 Here and Now-Now and Then .............................................................................. 50 An African Picture Postcard ................................................................................51 In Their Eyes .............................................................................................................52 Love and Space ...................................................................................................... 53 The Fishermen’s Sacrifice.................................................................................... 54 Last Words for a Blind Duckling ........................................................................ 55 Love in Pretty Packages ....................................................................................... 56 A Message from the Damned .............................................................................57 On Missing the Dead ............................................................................................ 58 When All Was Done ................................................................................................ 59 So Tired..................................................................................................................... 59 To Be or Not to Be? .............................................................................................. 59 I Felt the Days ........................................................................................................60 When I Least Expect It .......................................................................................... 61

For my best friend, Ryan Schroeder, whose memory is always with me, and for Grandpa Ted and Grandpa Pete to whom I promised I would one day dedicate this book.

STORAGE SPACE

9

Storage Space
“You have a rented storage space!” he laughed contemptuously. “Whatever happened to the shed in the backyard?” “It went with the backyard,” I replied, thinking of my tiny two-bedroom unit for my wife, my two children, and me. “You need to learn to get rid of your junk,” he sneered. “If you don’t use it, you don’t need it.” So I thought of my little stockpile—among the odds and ends, the baby cot and pram that we may or may not use again; the antique furniture my grandmother left me, which isn’t practical, but which I just don’t have the heart to throw away; a bicycle which my son is still too small for, and the extra chairs that we might need if we ever have that dinner party we’ve been planning for years; In the boxes: old books, comics, and CDs, which, like old friends, provide a warm reminder of an earlier time, and like all good friends, we daren’t betray. My little storeroom is a window to my soul—a snapshot of all my hopes and dreams, my memories, and relationships. To discard it would be to reject a part of myself—to amputate that which I find meaningful. We all need a little space to store the things we treasure, no matter if its worth cannot be weighed in gold. No one denies a bloke a bank account where fictitious ones and zeros rise and fall in virtual vaults but do not have the comforting smell of granny’s inlaid side table, or the dusty CD you used to play over and over again. So I’ll keep my junk, thank you. I’ll risk being called pretentious or oversentimental because there’s nothing wrong with that. Like a child clinging to his teddy bear, I gain security from my physical memories, and when I am gone, then they can sell my junk, or my kids can put a little bit of Daddy in their own storage rooms, which is impractical, but which they too may lack the heart to throw away.

10

DARREN A. STEIN

Watching Old Men Playing Tennis
Watching old men playing tennis, Limbs held together with tape and plaster, knee guards and arm straps; Cardiomonitors and Nike shoes worn by the world’s top athletes. Like pros, they smash their service, their free hand clutching at the twinge in their hip or lower back. “Good shot!” he shouts, “Humph!” he answers, “Aaagh!” they chorus. “Game set and match,” and off they shuffle in painful preservation of their manhood to the loving arms of their physiotherapist or chiropractor.

STORAGE SPACE

11

The Consistency of Baby Poo
Where once we spoke of art, philosophy, music and film, local politics, or international news, now we speak of the consistency of baby poo; the color of mucous, and the sleeping habits of our three-month-old son. Our intelligence has all but evaporated— Wide-eyed we babble nonsense, dance to the beat of purple dinosaurs, and constantly seek advice from others, our adult confidence lost in a sea of parental perplexity. We tiptoe around our home at nap time, drive ten kilometers below the speed limit, and decline dinner invitations because they clash with our routine. We are doting slaves to the biological whims of an infant—compulsively obsessed with the consistency of baby poo.

12

DARREN A. STEIN

Toy Cars and Immortality
I watch my son playing with his toy cars on the lounge-room carpet, making vrooming sounds and crashing noises like I did when I was his age. I still have some of my own old cars which I have given him, which he adds with glee to his Lightning McQueen collection and that other Disney character whose name I always forget. I watch and smile at his expression of intense concentration, lying prone on the floor as he pushes them to some imaginary destination; I feel that warm glow inside, and realize that I am the continuation of my father as he is the continuation of me; and that it is through our children that we will truly live forever.

STORAGE SPACE

13

Odds and Evens
Every religious person talks about values a lot— about how they have them, and why those who are irreligious do not. Every irreligious person justifies their values too— why they have them, even though they don’t do what the religious do. To the religious, those who are more religious than they are fanatic; Those who are less so are heathen. I guess, all in all, that makes just about everybody, even.

14

DARREN A. STEIN

The Curse of the Ordinary
When should we give up on our ambition? When should we realize that our poems—our novels— will never be published or that our paintings will never be displayed— our self-assured genius unread, unseen, and unappreciated. When will we stop sending entries into contests, or letters to publishers? When do we come to terms with the fact that we are just a teacher, just a husband, just a father, and that is all that we will ever be. We are just ordinary men with overblown ambitions, and our talents, through lack of luck or quality, will never win us fame or recognition. Be contented with the little things we tell ourselves. Pay your taxes and love your children, and abandon the frustrations of a broken heart.

STORAGE SPACE

15

No-daddy-else
Many dads are heroes— they catch crooks or put out fire, but none of them have what I have, ’cause no-daddy-else has Gaia. Many dads are skilful— unblock pipes or string up wire, but none of them have what I have, ’cause no-daddy-else has Gaia. Many dads are millionaires— with money to retire, but none of them have what I have, ’cause no-daddy-else has Gaia. If I could choose to swap my place with any dad I desire, I’d say no thankyou, all the same, ’cause no-daddy-else has Gaia.

(With Inspirational Credit to Ogden and Frances Nash)

16

DARREN A. STEIN

Exercising Patience
“Mr. Stein,” said the woman’s voice on the other line, “We have processed your CT Scans and need you to return to your doctor right away.” Hmmm . . . waiting . . . moments of waiting; Waiting to see the triage nurse, Waiting to see the doctor, Waiting to see the surgeon, Waiting to see if the medication works, Waiting for more test results, Waiting, dear God . . . waiting.

STORAGE SPACE

17

I Think I May Be Dying
I have been carrying around a pain in my left flank for six weeks. Every day it gets worse. Eventually my GP prescribed an ultrasound. It indicated that I had a distended liver and should avoid fatty foods, but the pain kept getting worse. Next, a CT Scan. This time, they discovered an infected appendix, but they could not operate because it had attached itself to my colon and threatened to take my lower intestine with it. So out of pre-op onto two weeks of antibiotics, with a colonoscopy and further tests to come. But I am still in pain, and it keeps on growing. I am told not to worry however, I am not feverish nor vomiting, but I am worried; with two kids and a new job . . . well, at least I have some form of life insurance . . . still, I am worried. I think I may be dying.

18

DARREN A. STEIN

Bird Watching at the Western Wall
There are small birds which live between the cracks of the Western Wall— Tiny sparrows that dart, from behind the weighty clumps of Shikaron plants, to unseen hungry families in their nests. Outside, black swallows swoop back and forth in some arcane dance, pausing every now and then to cling upon the rocks for rest. Watching them, I often wonder, Are these birds holy? Do they absorb something from the stone in which they live? Are these bricks holy, or merely old? And does God notice the hypnotic sway of the Swallows as they weave in rhythm to their avian song? I have glimpsed a rare white dove perched briefly on the wall, only to be driven off by common pigeons who peck and scratch and defecate upon its sacred edifice.

STORAGE SPACE

19

The Holy City
Years of praying toward the Western Wall— of staring at photos of soldiers and men in prayer shawls weeping at its ancient stones— have given way to disappointment. The first thing that strikes you is the stench— the dirt, the unwashed streets, and the piles of uncollected refuse that litters the streets of East Jerusalem and the Old City. I have gone back to my township days in South Africa— To Soweto, to Dobsonville, to Snake Park. This holy city is a third world slum. Of course, it isn’t all like this; I made the mistake of avoiding the birthright programs and whistle-stop bus rides that hurry old Americans and bleary-eyed penitents from the sanitized end of town. I have walked instead along Saladin Street, through El-Wad, and the dingy avenues of the Muslim and Christian Quarters—small doors with damp, darkened rooms, jackknifing higgledy-piggledy in the shadows, while above them television aerials like metal trees strain skywards, desperately trying to grow toward the light.

20

DARREN A. STEIN

But this squalor is not racist; it is not unequal— As I trudge back through the religious ghetto of Mea She’arim, two black crows eye me suspiciously, pecking at the rancid poverty on the streets, while standardized men in dark attire, like Oompa Loompas scurry back and forth with concentrated purpose. Tomorrow, I will hire a car and leave the city— explore some other part of this ancient land and the home of my people. I will leave behind the tour guides who force themselves upon you and rob you blind for the courtesy of advising you which corner to turn. I will cross to the other side of the road and steel my nerves against the terrifying rush of Israeli traffic and its flagrant disregard for life.

STORAGE SPACE

21

They
They stole my neighbor’s car. They robbed the local bank. They murdered him in cold blood. They raped that poor girl. They drove up oil prices. They increased taxes. They are the universal association of evil. They are the nameless perpetrators of wrong. They must be stopped.

22

DARREN A. STEIN

The Golf Mad
My brother-in-law, the accountant, plays golf once a week. The rest of the time, he pretends to play golf. At any moment, you might catch him swinging or putting with an imaginary club—rocking to and fro as he lines up the perfect shot or lands that elusive, yet brilliant, hole in one. He spends long hours in front of the television watching men in mismatched trousers stroll across the countryside; cameramen like World War Two searchlight operators scanning the sky for dimpled enemy balls. And again—while saying grace or sharing a family celebration like birth or the coming of age—there he is dancing back and forth, not to the sound of the band, but in his constant quest to be below par. I cannot help but agree with him when he happily refers to himself as a Golf Nut: The first step toward mental health is admitting you have a problem.

STORAGE SPACE

23

Among the Eucalyptus
(On Immigrating to Australia)
There is a different mood among the Eucalyptus. Here, the rustle of leaves does not cause one to start in fear that there will be a hungry charge from out the dark, with talons sharp and white fangs—all that are welcoming. Here, the soil does not pound beneath one’s feet, and all that is glimpsed amid the rustle of leaves are the luminous eyes of a possum or the shaded beauty of a lyrebird. The land does not reproach one here; It does not revile one’s very presence; It is not, like Africa, an angry land, and its people, like its beasts, make ineffectual calls that pierce the night but do not stop one’s heart, and allow one to sleep in peace beneath the stars.

24

DARREN A. STEIN

In Passing, I Said to Rikki
As I said, “I do not write poems about you.” This is not a bad thing—it means I do not twist sentences or make phrases do tricks in order to convey some sentiment with queer metaphor or awkward simile. My feelings cannot be measured through words or misrepresented by their inability to distil the magnitude of real emotion. When it comes to saying how I feel as a poet, I am dumb, and fall back on that old cliché, those plain three words of common stock— “I love you.” That’s somehow enough, the truth is made of simpler stuff.

STORAGE SPACE

25

Picture Window
(Proposal to Rikki)
I had a dream, we were standing in front of a large picture window, staring out onto a garden where our children laughed and played; And we stood, watching, slowly growing old with experience— and in love— forever safe in each others’ arms.

26

DARREN A. STEIN

Bahama Sunset in Soweto (1994)
Perhaps we will sit like PostRevolutionary Cubans in their sidewalk cafes and Spanish Squares, puffing contentedly on aromatic cigars; We will sip beer in our shebeens, and laugh together with a sense of collective satisfaction at some accomplishment—a scale now tilted in our just favor. And we will smile, over fermented bellies, at a future full of hope, and vague promises of freedom.

STORAGE SPACE

27

Stars
I saw the pictures of our old South African presidents, and I recalled images of earlier times in far-off places, of little grey men with short moustaches, who also spoke peace but spread misery. I remember people saying, “Oh, come now, it’s not as bad as all those outsiders say it is.” But they never felt it. They had forgotten what it was like to wear those little yellow stars, or have a big red J stamped in the front page of their passports. Of course, it was never as bad as all that over here. Their skins were stars enough. And we all sat back, numbly, blindly, answering our own age-old question: “How could anyone have let it happen?”

28

DARREN A. STEIN

South Africa
The land wants blood, the soil thirsts for it— The time of relative peace has made the baked cracks run deep, now it demands anointment. Already we can hear the rumblings in the earth affecting the minds of men; The land wants blood, the soil thirsts, and it will be fed, Oh Lord, it will be fed. Can we not renew its thirst for water or has it grown fat on this human delicacy which we feed it, unsatiated, with both abundant ease, and a little pleasure.

STORAGE SPACE

29

Letter to Karen (March 22, 1995)
It is cold in Johannesburg. There was an indifferent rain, which wet us on our trip up to the city— Despite this, a fire burnt in the veldt at Vosloorus, blurring our view, making the motorists in their Mercedes squint, but for a moment, at the many shacks that lined the side of the highway. There are ghosts on these roads— in these townships, and in the rain puddles, there are red reflections of crimson skies that are not there. In the smoke, I was seized with apprehension, plagued by images from memories which did not seem to be my own. It was all a dream, it seems— Nothing, but a dream. And at night, or in the day, with the help of the Imovane, that is what they are— only dreams.

30

DARREN A. STEIN

When I pulled up to the house, I thought, “Had I ever left?” But when I stepped inside, I knew I had. Things had changed. The Earth had shifted beneath my feet, and from where I stood and viewed the world, objects cast long shadows— long and frightening shadows—in which things lived and crawled, and I, too tired, could no longer fight those battles I had done. Had done, though not entirely won. Yet from the hills whence I had come, there was a sun. Its faint glow all but piercing the clouds; Its weakness—its failure to stand up and take back the sky corrupted and exploited by the shadows—cast now even longer claws along a longtime battered ground. I have so hoped to kiss that sun again: To raise it high above the shade, and hold it so it never sinks from view. Perhaps this place will always be in darkness, but I—my heart one day released from night—will escape to the warmth, and move to some place bright and new.

STORAGE SPACE

31

A Dog Called Spot
Young Billy had a dog called Spot he said it would snap and growl; He said would guard his home against all burglars on the prowl. But Spot would never show his fangs, he’d never keep the watch. He’d simply take his cold, wet nose and shove it up your crotch.

32

DARREN A. STEIN

File 13
You said that’s where you put things, unwanted things—painful memories and events. It’s a big file—File 13. A veritable Pandora’s Box which you bury deep inside your brain. As an outsider, I fear that file. I fear I may be thrown inside, or probe so deep I’ll lift the lock and loose its raging contents to your conscious mind. You are scared of File 13— your demons in a box— those things which haunt the texts and mental pages of your mind. You avoid them, yet feed them, and they wait for you, patiently, till one day you might pull that file and show those gasping thoughts the light.

STORAGE SPACE

33

I dread that file’s effect on you, I fear that it will shut you off— It will not let you find your love, express your love, accept my love. I fear the monsters in your brain, the creatures of a surreal past, will crush the petals of my rose— my gift of love— and leave it mashed into the dirt, the dying scent within the air, the wonder of its bloom undone, the promise of our love left bare.

34

DARREN A. STEIN

Howard Davis
Poor Howard Davis, just twenty-one, Gave his young life on the fields of the Somme, From his faded blue portrait he asks just one thing, To end our own lives in the name of the king.

STORAGE SPACE

35

Concrete Worlds
I look through the glass wall of a world cast in concrete. I look through glass walls at smoke-filled skies and flickering images of fires burning around the globe. Somewhere, in deep pots, are museum displays from a younger planet: Green vestiges of a healthier, cleaner time gone by. I read the pages of other men who watched the World-Poets who sang their praise to that which was . . . And I, the cliché of modern grey man, singing nothing but clichés of lost innocence and the descent into hell.

36

DARREN A. STEIN

Ode to Writer’s Block
I have nothing at all to write about, really, nothing to write on at all. I just lie back trying to think now, really, with nothing to think of at all. My stories have no beginnings, no middles, or endings in sight, And no characters form as I scratch with my pen or doodle with all of my might. Why can’t I write epic poetry, like Homer or Milton once wrote? And am I to lie till the day that I die, never able to scribble a note?

STORAGE SPACE

37

Two Feet
(In memory of a young boy run down on Bertha Avenue, Johannesburg, 1994)
Just two feet sticking out from below a grubby blanket. Just two feet, naked to the world— a body flung out of its shoes by a passing car. The scurry of gesticulating police officers slowing traffic; helpless paramedics administering syringe needles to keep the spark from extinguishing inside a shattered body . . . white from impact . . . wet with fear. All those passing by indignantly stop and stare, or pass a hasty glance over their shoulder as they hurtle toward a more discernable destination, leaving behind two feet, that wave good-bye to a heartless world.

38

DARREN A. STEIN

Mr. and Mrs. Nostradamus
“Could be you’re wrong,” she said. “Could be? Could be I am,” I said, “but so many times, I have been right— those people are all dead.” “They should have listened then,” said she. “They should have, yes,” said I, “but that’s people for you once again,” I said and breathed a sigh. “Don’t fret so, Nostradamus, dear,” said she in tones so biting, “It’s not your fault the silly fools can’t read your bloody writing.”

STORAGE SPACE

39

Lost
I got lost somehow along the road and couldn’t find my way about, The more I searched, the more I strayed, and no one heard my cries for help; No signposts lined this rocky path, No faceless strangers could I ask to point the way, or show me how to end what seemed my senseless task. I stumble through infinity, each step I take I try— Not think that I might trudge this path until the day I die.

40

DARREN A. STEIN

Tin Cup-Tin Heart
I think there was a hint of compassion in her eyes as she crossed the street in avoidance of the bundle of fleshy rags with the blanket and tin cup. Years of conditioning and fear of disease almost gave way to the toss of a coin or a timid approach, but at the last second, her courage slipped, and crossing the street seemed easier somehow, less wrought with anxiety and the fear of improbable reproach. Across the street, a hawker grinned, slightly hopeful at the advance of the distracted woman, the lanes of traffic putting a world between her and the beggar. Making eye contact, her hand fumbled for her purse, testing its security, but the surge of the pedestrians tilted her intentions, and she was swept off toward Woolworths, before fetching her children from school.

STORAGE SPACE

41

Mists
Her face still haunts me through the mists of memory— A brief glance; A chance meeting, And an image which snags At my mind like ivy. How is it that people’s faces, their simple presence can have such an effect upon one? A mask without a past, an unknown personality— A work of art—the human being.

42

DARREN A. STEIN

A Fear of Ghosts and Distance
We are both so scared of pain, of hurt and disappointment; We carry with us rooms of ghosts— the memories of happenings we wish to bury deep inside. We speak in codes, dancing around the edges of conversation— a little symbolism here, a little poetry, and the constant emotional and intellectual probing. I thought I’d killed my past, I thought I’d plucked it from my brain and sliced it from my night-sweat dreams. But my past was stronger now it seems, those ghosts so strong and I so vulnerable that now I dread have lost my chance, have lost that opportunity—have lost you. Will we always hide behind this mask of words, or will we liberate ourselves with honesty, a show of love—a kiss? I fear that I will frighten you, and stir your own beleaguered ghosts. I fear to tend the status quo is better than to let you go, Thus hold that thought, though far away, I too reside inside your heart, And pray, that in this world—this horrid world— I’ve finally found someone to love, someone with whom I wish to stay.

STORAGE SPACE

43

Ode to the Solutions of a Math Problem at Two o’clock in the Morning
(For Heidi)
An integral equation keeps my mind awake at night, And robs me of my rest till I can get its answer right. Geometric problems plague my thoughts and weary brain, As algebraic fractions make me break beneath the strain. I’m vexed by long-division sums and algorithms too, Kept up by calculations like the square of twenty-two. At last, I finally gain relief and drift to sleep again, When the bloody answer hits me in my bed at two a.m.

44

DARREN A. STEIN

I Wonder
I left the seeds of someone’s death behind me in an open field, A dozen silent limpet mines by freshly planted grass concealed. I waited for that unknown foe to leave their unknown home and base, To march upon this open field and meet the Reaper face-to-face; And somewhere in an unknown land, an unknown boy about my age, Packed plenty socks and underwear to cloth him on that violent stage; He waved to all he loved good-bye and smiling then turned to depart, Not knowing on which foreign field his fragile life would blow apart. I never met my deadly foe, I never saw his frightened eyes, I never had the chance to see that one I’d so learned to despise: I wonder if he thought of me while blundering to meet his fate, I wonder if he too was filled with someone else’s senseless hate.

STORAGE SPACE

45

Caged
(For Ryan)
They’ve clipped all your wings, my friend, So you couldn’t fly; Strapped you to that cage there And thought you would die. But you never obliged them, You never gave in, Your mind could still wonder, Your soul could still sing. Confined to that wheelchair, A sardine in a can, But no other person— So walked like a Man.

46

DARREN A. STEIN

Red Dust
This red dust, a fixed rectangle in the ground. This red dust, six feet of mud that hides the coffin of a man—a friend— about my age—with whom I cannot walk, talk, or pass the lonely years that remain for me: The Band-Aid of life—a community of misery—sharing and consoling the one mirror image of ourselves— the one who knows and gives a damn that we exist. God, if you exist, then you have smashed my silver glass, and left me standing helpless and alone, to face the days of solitary contemplation, unshared ideas, and my own future plot of red dust.

STORAGE SPACE

47

On Asking for Directions
I’d have asked, my friend, what I should have done? What decision I should make? In the past, I would have turned to you for guidance and advice, but now, it seems that I am on my own, and perhaps with such decisions always was. I know what sentimental memories can do. It augments abilities, heightens fondness, and invests in lost friends virtues that weren’t entirely theirs, but were raised in the intensity of our interaction— the hard things forgotten, for in truth, they dwindle in importance, and go where they should. I remember that Frost poem when I imagine your answer—the one you liked so much— “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” Should I tread upon that unknown path, Ryan? Should I take the road less travelled by? Frost never spoke of the fear I feel, the devastating doubt and the agonising possibility of making wrong choices. In the end, I will travel by faith—blindly. I will do my best, and never know where the other road might well have led— a more satisfied stomach, but a dying soul, and a heart that knows it should have tried the road not taken.

48

DARREN A. STEIN

Frayed Nerves
My nerves are frayed, you know? And I just can’t cope anymore, I just can’t cope anymore! The other night a drugged-out man pulled me out of my van, and I lived my death, I lived my death, as I’d done, so many times before. But my nerves are frayed now, and I can’t live my death anymore. Somewhere, I have to live my life.

STORAGE SPACE

49

The Thought of Her
For chances not taken and unknown possibilities
Maybe there was something in the thought of her that made me think I could feel her, that made me think I knew she was thinking of me. Somehow, it did not matter that we did not see each other, never talked to one another, because to me it was her being in the world that counted, a reassurance that there was always a chance that she would be there when I needed her or when she needed me; The idea that things work themselves out in the end and that God brings together whose who should be. Somehow, I thought all this, yet somehow, I might have been wrong about her, or about God. Why do we condemn ourselves to life? To live it the way we do—through a sense of imaginary obligation or dependence? Why do we create our own hells and live with the ghosts of dead memories for years to come? Why could I never forget her? And why do I love her so much?

50

DARREN A. STEIN

Here and NowNow and Then
I came to this Egyptian land, this ancient land, and saw its wonders—its temples, its statues and its high-pointed buildings that prodded the sky. All these I saw, but in the streets, in the alleyways, I saw more. I saw the people’s past in their eyes, I saw the people’s present in the way they lived and breathed. Beneath the tracks and footprints in the sand left by tourists who wondered across the picture post cards in the desert was another Egypt— another India— another world. Behind the well-built walls—the proof of pasts that shook the world— was a hunger in the streets, a cramp in the belly of the people. Here and now were the legacies of fallen empires; Here and now its children left to die. Now and then, the lens would cross the plains of Africa, and now and then, the blind would see the children cry. But now and then did not relieve the famine, did not destroy the weapons, did not condemn corruption, did not propose the question: Why?

STORAGE SPACE

51

An African Picture Postcard
Let us walk hand in hand across the hills like others did in greener climes in England way up North. But this is Africa, where chocolate box scenery can’t be found, and we stumble over loose rocks, past thorn trees, blackjacks, snakes, and khaki bos that make up the unseen building blocks of Africa’s picture postcard. Let us walk, you and I, through this country. Let us probe the old stone circles of native tribes who, like us, still wonder under the grey-blue storm clouds of Highveld skies. Let us stare in wonder at the valleys of a thousand hills, and the fire-bright yellows, and the wind, and at the end of the day, I will pick the blackjacks from your clothing, as you will do for me, and I will read you poetry from Africa, about real people, and a real country, and you, and me.

52

DARREN A. STEIN

In Their Eyes
I’ve seen their eyes— when you tell them what you want; when you tell them what you do; what you dream. It’s callous, scornful, snobbish. People tend to break each other down, try to bend them to their idea of the collective normalcy— public acceptability— and slowly people die, inside, where it counts, where their eyes reveal the disappointment and hate that looks at other people and breaks them too.

STORAGE SPACE

53

Love and Space
I would like something clean, comfortable— something nice. I’m tired of the dis-ease, of mismatched dates, and of sexual tension. I’m tired of feminists who dictate our equality and then make me pay for dinner. I’m tired of brats, or greenies for whom I do not suffer enough— I want, I want, I want . . . something simple, with no hang-ups, no rules, just me, and her— Let her keep what she is. Let me be me. And let us be ourselves . . . together.

54

DARREN A. STEIN

The Fishermen’s Sacrifice
The sea spray danced above the greywhite churning violence of waves as the fisherman prepared something bright, colorful, pretty, at the end of a sharp line—a gift for the fish. Yet as the object of his generosity was accepted freely into the mouth of the fish, the man revoked his offer, tugging back and taking with it the life of the fish. And when the fisherman ripped the brassy hook from its fighting mouth, slimy and gasping for breath, he tossed the bait— the gift—high onto the beach where the waves could not claim payment of their stolen prize. So when the mother screamed upon a sandy beach swarming with startled bathers, their bellies full of seafood, she did not understand that it was a sacrifice which was taken by the waves in retribution for their scaly comrades stolen from their homes in the murky depths.

STORAGE SPACE

55

Last Words for a Blind Duckling
Nature blinded a baby duckling today. It clawed out its eyes so that the blood and vitreous humor streaked across its downy face— The rest of its body—perfect. Its tiny wings—perfect. Its soft, webbed feet—exquisite, but for two inky rips where the eyes had been. The duckling lay there paralyzed, unwilling to move. It made no sound nor gave no fight as I lifted it and watched its chest heave with pain, or fear, or effort. The needle the Vet gave it was, I think, for mercy. There is no room in this world for a blind duck. There is no room for a perfect little body with a ravaged face, or a little soul, which though in youth, is unwilling or too tired to move.

56

DARREN A. STEIN

Love in Pretty Packages
For Roxanne
In a shop on the corner, there’s a man selling love on pretty paper—processed cards with messages manufactured in bulk with heart-shaped chocolates. It saves time that way. We purchase emotions along with our groceries and barter one poet’s words for another, over dinner with complimentary Champagne. Romance is not dead. One can find it on special at the local newsagent for five dollars including tax—cuddly teddy bears with silky red hearts to tell us that we’re sexy. In a prepackaged world, we are lucky that there are people behind typewriters writing for Hallmark and other card companies, telling four million people with the same words—“I love you.” How do we face the ones we love? How do we cope with any reality which is not on TV? How do we connect? How do I touch you? Perhaps that is why we need someone else to say it for us; To give expression to our emotional illiteracy. As much as we have refined communication, rising high above the beasts to send messages across the galaxies, or e-mail England in a matter of seconds, we still cannot say the simple words: I love you.

STORAGE SPACE

57

A Message from the Damned
I am choked by the inability to express myself in poetry—that perpetual feeling that nothing’s right. This is a message from the damned: the ranks of souls who’ve seen the lie, who know the truth about the mind’s own hell, and the way Life triumphs over those who live it. This is a message from the damned: who’re out of sync with chance and luck, who’ve felt the stinging roll of dice, who’ve seen the smiling face unmasked, and know our race’s secret vice.

58

DARREN A. STEIN

On Missing the Dead
Why is it that we so long to talk to the dead, to kiss their lips, to sense their touch, or to feel their presence in our bones? We long for some communication— some contact with the ones now gone. We dream of their faces, their voices and their smiles; We dream of their love and their embrace; We put words in their mouths in conversations in our heads, and when we dream, we dream of something which is gone, and hang our hopes on empty space.

STORAGE SPACE

59

When All Was Done
At once, the land had slid away, The little I was sure of—gone, My so-called strength and peace of mind Had come to naught when all was done.

So Tired
My eyes both burn, the mind is dead, the only inspiration’s—bed. I cannot write, the ink will keep, so close my eyes and go to sleep.

To Be or Not to Be?
There are no poems for times like this, just slide the blade and hope for bliss, and if by this the Church me curse, then read them Hamlet’s famous verse.

60

DARREN A. STEIN

I Felt the Days
I felt the days go by like eternities. not that they took long in the living, or that they dragged behind, but that our time of departure seemed eons gone. I remember thinking of her, trying to comfort her—failing in both. Perhaps the conflict we know in one life is ended in the termination of another? I do not regret those moments, centuries ago. They seem like distant dreams of innocence, or purity, a lack of judgment. One day we will see them for what they Were—an Eden prior to the fall of man. Perhaps, tomorrow or the years ahead, I might catch your reflection in the shifting glass of a shop window, or an old man’s mirror, and you will turn to me and smile, and dream of that which could have been, but never was.

STORAGE SPACE

61

When I Least Expect It
There’s a man with a machine gun hiding in the corners of my mind. Well, they’re not really corners—The mind has no angles you see, just curves which cast long shadows that blend with his camouflage gear. He hates men and women, especially women, but men too. He sees people through gunsights, and he makes my trigger finger itch, my muscles twitch, and he comes out when I least expect it. He has been there for a long time, my man with the machine gun, though he sometimes looked a little different—A long time ago he might have had a spear or a battle-axe, but he has always been there, and he comes out when I least expect it.

This page is for version tracking purposes only. This is not part of the book and will be deleted when the book goes into Author Copy Stage.

Designed by

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Jake Muelle
Antonio Nocos Jr.

Corrections Done by : Date :

October 31, 2008

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