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[Poetry] Four Poems by David Tager

Family Portraits by the Sea

Clad in linen, my gleeful mother scoots across wet sand

and broken shells to feel the froth of water on veined legs.

Her granddaughter surges like a dolphin through

the cresting waves. She is the guide who led

her to this place. I sit in a beach chair on the ridge,

stave a broken umbrella in the sand against

wind and sun, hunch to last till hunger calls.

I listen as their voices rise and break like egrets fishing.

My mother listens to our voices rise and break like egrets fishing

in the wind. The sun lasts, hunched as hunger calls.

Umbrella staves pierce like blowing sand. She

reads in her beach chair on the ridge where she led us.

She is our guide, clad in linen. I surge like a dolphin

through the cresting waves. My gleeful daughter

scoots across wet sand and broken shells, red

shovel in hand, to feel the froth of water on her legs.

Brief Taste of Heaven

The search is always the same.

Boots greet miles of dirt and roots,

dream of rest on a wide outcrop,

granite or limestone buffed by rain,

fissured by ice, ancient sea scoured.

Slice salami and cheese on a ledge

that resists age and suffering.

Lean back in a hollow–cool in high

summer, warm in the late autumn sun–

one heel hedged on a fin of raised stone.

Here on the Beaver River, for example,

at the head of a waterfall, a playground

of boulders to clamber over,

each with a new view of the churn,

the pines, the ripening woods and gray sky.

I coil gingerly into pigeon pose on a rock,

the slab indifferent to the press of my weight,

the ache of half-century muscles and joints.

Later, I float the currents of Henry James’

sentences, while the river, stealthy above,

fierce below, steals breath from birdsong,

mutes outrage and the pillage of the train

rattling to the refinery by the bay. We

are young even when our bones turn

brittle and bruises bloom on our skin.

The falls spray time on dimpled stone.

And the stone’s perspective?

Cartwheels of light through mist,

hurried sky, another human

storm gathering straight line winds.

White Landscape

I run with microspikes for the ice

where the trail is steep and exposed,

alone except for the occasional dog walker

trudging in his thick boots and coat

as the morning sun spills over the ridge.

We are at home any hour in the whiteness

and shadow of bristly snow-tufted cedar

bare spindly oak, bent prairie grass.

A pileated woodpecker tocks at the trunk

of a dead sycamore until it hears me

and stills, its red crown startling

against white sky and white bark. Its fear

lays quiet as rocks in the creek under snow.

The city bulges and sags with a brightness

that hurts if you stare–an old man

on stained sheets in a hospital bed

shimmering in harsh light. He shouts

about rights, demands dinner and a smile

from the nurses forced to work overtime.

The dog walkers and I nod beneath fleece

when we pass, beards threaded with crystals.

We are not hardy, or strong,

nor exceptionally intelligent—though

it is easy to get drunk on that draft,

loosen the tongue like one accustomed

to others listening. Ease comes from ease,

the habit of spikes on the ice, warm boots

in the snow, a well-stocked wood stove

waiting at home. Truth is

we have what it takes to feel safe


(I.M. EGC, 10/16/2020)


Friends call across the ocean to tell us

you died, Ester Gagliano Candela,

in the converted garage beside

the shuttered stucco villa

where your mother bunkers

in her dementia. They say

that when she heard the news

two tears slipped through

before she turned to her TV.

Sea breeze rustles dry palm leaves

in your father’s garden gone to seed.

You know precisely how earth lifts and buries.


Thirty years ago, Ernesto, dapper

even in his garden clothes, gently

scolds the straining dogs as he

ushers us past cascades of oleander

and bougainvillea into the cool

shadows of your parent’s home, a comfortless

Victorian couch, coffee on a bright tile tray.

Lines in a newspaper brought us together.

Do you remember, Ester? Lemon, fig

and medlar branches strain

for the light that pierces your window.

Pecked fruit drops to rot in the yard

outside our gap-toothed garden doors.

There we huddle two damp winters,

except on weekends when we climb

black metal stairs to the heated flat

where you and Guendalina monitor

your daughter’s sullen adolescence.

Your friends, soon to be ours, enlighten

us to local curse, demand twisted

vowel sounds from our mouths:

Auminnini u bar a pigghiarini nu caffé.

Windows mist while the pasta boils

and when we laugh too long and loud,

fogging the view of Monte Pellegrino.

In your kitchen I learn to tease ink sacks

from cuttlefish, stuff them with tentacles

and breadcrumbs, set to simmer

in sauce the color of sky meets sea

when dark comes on. It is the year

they chunk the Berlin Wall, shifting

Italian plate tectonics we need

you, a geo-physicist, to explicate.

Ester, you extoll the wines of Alcamo,

a certain butcher’s stuffed rolled veal,

ricotta fresh from Piano degli Albanesi.

Doyenne of friendship, you lay bare

how a meal evokes past and future

gatherings, flora, fauna, magma,

forces we ride and sometimes cultivate.

I see, though I am not there, a pair

stooping to collect samples at dawn

on the gray slopes of Etna, the inky

slopes of Stromboli. You ignore any hint

we perceive you as a couple. Remember

that eggplant evening in Guendalina’s courtyard?

So many ways of taming bitterness—

tomato, salt, sugar, vinegar—

you tend grill, she flits from

the kitchen, and in between,

hot embers, tired smoke.


One last conversation at your nephew’s

wedding, surrounded by the friends

you gifted us. Worn and thin as your failing

hair, dressed in a white sweater, you

shrug off questions about cancer,

fatigue, your mother’s erosion,

inevitable as the course of lava

Sicilian politics, the convulsions of a

prickly stubborn island you taught

us to call home. Lines

in a paper brought us together.

Time presses us into place.

David Tager lives in Columbia, MO. His poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and translation have previously appeared in journals such as The Crescent Review, The Kenyon Review, Manoa, Well-Versed, and Tamaqua.


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