The Works of Perry S. Nicholas
Even in dreams there are corners,
ones we back ourselves into.
In round rooms we conduct meetings.
Tonight my breath feels hard-pressed.
Most don’t know what it means
to have quarantined affection,
like me and Mina that one winter.
No secrets to Mina’s life, open to all,
a stern Greek father and no mother.
I begged her to flee that remote island
through the tight window she
backed out of every evening.
Then last night my heart suddenly seized,
and the moonlight painted me
into a corner, where my dreams
had no reason to hide. There I saw her.
And for a moment, in the light
of that oppressive Hellenic moon,
I held Mina once again in the round.
I don’t remember you smelling like eggshells;
I peeled off your scent three decades ago.
Each time my grandmother visited
her neighboring island, she cursed
the stench of Turks a mile across the bay.
Ferrying back to her own tiny Greek home,
she told the same story over and over, claimed
their smell still clung to her clothes.
I kept aloof from xeni then, held
my uneasiness inside. I could sense
when someone was hovering too close.
Greeks no longer pay the Turks any mind.
But as I read your letter after so many years,
a story about a daughter, thirteen, kind and lovely,
I stammer—I d..don’t remember eggshells,
and I don’t remember Turkey.
For My Father, Dead Twenty-Four Years,
On My Daughter’s Twenty-Sixth Birthday
She stands taller than both of us,
taller than the stories I’ve told her.
I remember her singing to you
the day before you passed.
You hung on to hear. Through photographs,
she believes she really knew you.
Now she is browner and prettier
than you would have ever imagined.
A sweet son of a bitch, you
never showed the world weakness,
but couldn’t answer the last bell.
She has your skeptical sideways look,
holds on to anger too long;
she is you in so many ways.
It’s your granddaughter’s birthday,
and she thinks she remembers you.
Like Trying to Explain
It’s like trying to explain
how blue the Aegean is to someone
who has never been farther east
than Rochester, or economy to a poet
who goes on one stanza too long.
It feels like wasting a breath on something
that has already expended its last.
How can I describe the dated elegance
of you in curlers, an unruly nightgown,
the stirrings of a generation boiling
under my skin, happy to hate
modern models of love?
How hard it is to tell someone
how blue is blue, how long too long,
or how you filled my eyes with your history
when you stepped over the ‘50s into our time.
Only I, with my sorry degrees and scribbles,
fail so miserably at explaining this primary lesson.
What do you believe it means, this
noisy hobble of the heart? And which
is more pure, the pause or the pounding?
All that matters is what you think you hear
when you eavesdrop on his chest, hoping
he won’t mind you pressing so closely.
It sounds complicated, but it’s not:
you need to discover the cadence.
When you hesitate, store surplus words,
shift your ear inward and shyly off-center,
he doesn’t always respond as softly as he should.
He sleeps like a man on call. It’s you who seeks
a place to rest, bumpy yet more soothing
than a steady one at its failing best.