July Night [poem] by Mark Elber

It’s a warm July night on the open bow of the Port Jefferson ferry churning through the waters of the Sound from Bridgeport, the Long Island coastline sprinkled with electricity
As the prow parts the sea

And these are the same waters once crossed by canoe, by raft, by skiff, by schooner from ports of trade
The same rocky coast carved by glaciers
The same song of the waves and gulls and slap of sails, the bell of the mast at night because there is wind, because there are ears listening in the dark on their wooden porches, on their beds behind the open screened windows as their loved ones breathe with the rhythms of sleep
And we dock 80 minutes later, ejecting automobiles into the humid night

But I will walk—on the docks of weathered planks and splinters, on the gravel, the concrete, the blacktop, up the steep hills that gape back forever across the Sound
Past the huddled two-story houses that accompany the street up the long ascent from which natives looked through the thick trunked trees as Europe was arriving with muskets and false promises
And I am walking in the tracks of someone else’s ancestors
Humming a rock ‘n’ roll melody from the age of the transistor
Wearing a purple hand-stitched belt from the Incan Andes to hold up my black Gap jeans
Eating a swirled frozen yogurt

And the cow was brought on the ocean-crossing vessels of milk-fed Europe
And the cone is one part southern cane
And the rough napkins from their black dispensers were once rooted in the dark soil amid the compost of dead leaves

And we are the children whose names drowned in the passage across the Atlantic
Or who camouflaged our God in the God of he who lashed the whip
Or whose laugh was turned back at the border to return to the land of the vanilla bean and cocoa plant
And in our sneakers and sandals and boots and loafers, we trample the buried steps of the natives of the aboriginal night.

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This poem put the editors in mind of Aimée Harris’s poem “The War Was Won with Ice Cream.”]

Image by Diego

Mark Elber grew up in New York City.  Did his undergraduate work in philosophy at U. of Penn. and graduate studies in the field of Jewish mysticism mostly at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and then back at Penn.  Been writing since his early teens.  Published poems in Mudfish, Home Planet News, The Sierra Nevada College Review, Minetta Review, Arc, and Slow Motion among others.  Won a few prizes including Undergraduate Poetry Prize at Penn and Beat Museum Poet of the Year 2007.  Residencies at Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Lake, and Arad Arts Project.  Wrote songs for 20 years and fronted a band for five of them.  Author of The Everything Kabbalah Book.  Lives in Fall River, Massachusetts where he is the rabbi at Temple Beth El.