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Jacket 21 — February 2003   |   # 21  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Tom Savage

Four poems

Is This Two Works Or One?

We are allowed few errors of perception.
Our friends allow some. Those who don’t
Know us allow none. Under the sign of
The salamander, the axe is always
Just about to fall. We resist extremes
Of heat and cold. The world can be
More forgiving than we expect.
Not glamorous, but caring
On rare, trenchant occasions.
Two and a half year old tears
Pour searing out of my sweat pores, now.

Back to the beginning of life every morning,
You are my child.
I am the one oasis you offer.
Irrepressible light behind my eyes.
Dizzying waterfalls of sleep
Take up codependence in my bed.


My fear had lost track of the words
I needed to describe what actually
Occurred. Then I amputated this
Poem’s legs from it’s body
And threw the carcass away.
Teachers say if you look too closely
At which past events have caused
Current ones to occur, you go mad.
On which side of death do I have to go
To grow kind? Is it poetry
When it’s only published on air?
I still need to breathe and go find.

Hairy Jape

I bathe everyday but does it help?
Dousing eau de cologne only adds
Another unpleasant odor. Others
Cackle before making a strange,
Arc-like gesture with their tongues.
Water I’m treading in turns to flame.
But I go on. As long as words survive
They revive me and provide another folder for
The color of clear sky where I relocate them
Once their gestation period is through.
The factor of the matter is: I still breathe.
Not seeing things which are there has
Replaced seeing things not there.
A doctor calls this an improvement.
Hints pile up from once-friends.

For a week I have been unable to write.
Friends no longer care if I commit suicide.
Telephone calls go unanswered on Thanksgiving.
When people believe they see madness, they run away.
I leave lights on in rooms when I’m not there.
A Fillipino nurse says: ‘Not looking for the girl
Of your dreams? Try a marriage of convenience.’
When I don’t respond to her offer of a green card marriage,
She tells me this is her last visit and runs away.

‘Tokyo Cactus Umbrella’

The gate to my childhood park is locked.
Friends threw away the key on May Day
While I wandered near the East River
Looking for ways to escape USA Waste New York
I know. More down poetry than you want to hear, right?
I didn’t time my presentation to please you.
A band called Choking Victim noise pollutes Tompkins Square
Squatters May Day, a holiday for the police only, now.
Plainclothesmen all over. The only laws I break
Are the work ethic and the claw of supply and demand.
Sparrow and Sylvie look locked behind their gate.
I only wanted a word with him.
Paranoia always makes its own rewards look real.
I remember now the locks are left on the gate to look locked but it’s open.
In honor of the apparently evaporated Karl Marx, it starts to rain.
Now the band screams: ‘Save face! Save face!’
Hardly any squatters anymore. But more needs to be saved
Than this place in the air I call my breathing as I stroll.
‘Thanks for the storm,’ say the trees.
‘You’re welcome, ‘ I reply. ‘But I didn’t make it rain.’
As I write this down, the water stops falling.
At some neurological impasse, I step out and feel the rain again.
‘What’s up?’ a black drugdealer says at my building’s front door.
‘It’s what’s coming down,’ I reply. ‘If you can find
A way to keep it up there high in the clouds,
Those of us who love the sun would thank you.
You may be a son of someone else’s gun at night
But daylight spending time brings a smile to your hurt visage.’
These last two sentences the trees advise me not to pronounce.
But the door is already between this man and my skull.
So these thoughts don’t echo in his ears.
He parks on my steps everyday. I never partake of his trade.
Were he and his fellow entrepreneurs to chase the rain from the sky,
The trees and I would launch a search party equipped with EMS CPR
To revive the rain once I’m under some umbrella.
Unlocking my childhood’s gate for me again, the trees
Remind me I still retreat myself to the seven year old’s self-pity obsessions
I entertained forty years ago when my parents threatened
To tear our family in half. I stuck my head in a plastic bag
And they reunited. What’s not resolved returns again and again
Just as this May’s first shower comes and goes
With the picture of a tee-shirt I saw in a store window which says:
‘Aren’t you mistaking me for your therapist?’

These poems were first published in Brain Surgery Poems (Linear Arts Books, 1999), in a limited edition of fifty copies, and reflect the author’s experiences of brain surgery and recuperation. Tom Savage has published six other books of poems including Political Conditions Physical States (United Artists Books 1993), Processed Words (Coffeehouse Press, 1990) and Housing, Preservation & Development (Cheap Review Press 1988). His book of poems written in Afghanistan in 1970 called From Herat To Balkh and Back Again is forthcoming from O.L.A.A.T. Press. For nine years he was the editor of Tamarind magazine and contributed to it monthly. In the late 1980s he edited Gandhabba magazine and taught a workshop for poets and composers at the Poetry Project in New York. Currently he teaches a poetry workshop for senior citizens at Encore Community Services Center/ The Actor's Chapel/ St. Malachy’s Church, New York.

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