︎ Prev          Current Issue          Next ︎

Arnold Klein
THREE FORTY



“Four crack. Two sticks.”
Beside the convocation and the changed acoustics

Of a gala,
And, of course, the game itself, its lingo à la

(Anglo-) chinoise,
What made those evenings different from what their routine was

Was how ludent
“The women” were—though what most struck a fifth-grade student

Like this kiddy
Was not the contrast of excitement and accidie

But the halva
And macaroons—and what went furthest to absolve a

Night’s deflection
From his routine: that parechetical confection,

Joyva Jell Rings;
Nor would he ask, till later, where, in Dante’s Hell rings,

That milieu fit;
Since he was at some pains to anamnesis-proof it.




Come now—Hades?
Local lore indeed ascribed to greaseball JDs

Such black arts as
Sniffing model airplane glue—to spics and schwartzes

(Nearer Sheol)
Pointed shoes and switchblades—I repeat the creole

Of these Jews, coarse
As even then it rang. Nor did the Mosholu’s course

Scent of sulphur.
Indeed, that creek, which Moses (Robert) dammed at Hull for

Street construction,
And thwarted of its destination—that confluxion

Where it tied up
With the river—Drake’s “romantic Bronx”—had dried up,

Though a squinter
Could still make out its silted streambed, winding inter-

Knolls—like I did;
Although, when rain fell, it remembered, or the lie did,

Its vocation,
And flowed—no further than that dam, whose mislocation

And sub-par drains
Produced paludi, after even not such hard rains.




Which God forbid
A tyke should try to play in. Among many morbid,

Fear of “filth” was
The hardest to anticipate. For banned that spilth was,

And the what-for
(Besides its being earth and rain) appalled the tot, for

Pools, the kid heard,
Bred polio—so any was to be considered

Too miasmal
To even go near. So, to one, another phasmal

Way to get ill
Was superadded. Other recrements of shtetl

Folk-empirics
Were less benign. And by the way, the panegyrics

Over-selling
“The neighborhood,” exalting—if a Jew is kvelling—

Things as nugal
As egg creams, stickball, matza brei, Spaldeens and kugel,

Leave the bit out
About how all who could absconded—blindly lit out,

As, say, bats have
Been known to do from hell. But if such habitats have

Need of gilding,
With how gold of a glow must an apartment building

Be bedizened
Before a kid oblives how cramped were co-imprisoned

Intramurals?
But be that as it may, about some, more obscure, ills

Clung an aura
Of superstitious dread—their names, kine-ein-ahora,

Neighbors muttered
Inaubibly, since—so  it seemed—to hear them uttered

Might attract them.
That one could so incur them, or might counteract them

With such jujus,
In this case smacks a bit of that peculiar mou Jews

Show distaste with,
Deriving from the kosher laws—that “feh!” when faced with

Some aberrance.
What it was like to be one whom such undercurrents

Touched routinely
Would wait until my kidhood idol, whose uncleanly

Ill went unnamed
Till sometime after, with a double-barreled gun aimed

Where his wits were,
Expunged the stains that petit mal and grand mal fits were.




Well, but be that
As it may, and granting there’d be lots to seethe at

When the pup’s eyes
Enlarged their frame of reference from extreme close-up size,

And their field-depth
Accordingly, don’t all kids get their home turf’s real depth

And real scale wrong,
And learn to purge distortions?—And to size the bale wrong,

As too dire’s
No less of a distortion than the matza-brei-er’s

Cult of kugel.
Besides, each natal neighborhood is centrifugal

And upholds odd
Proprieties; in each there’s yentas (be their auld sod

Greek, Hispanic,
Irish or Chinese) to roll some charlatanic

Bugaboo out;
And if there’s some kid booked to blow a brain or two out

(And there’s more ways
Than that to go about the business)—ain’t there always?




But be others’
How like so ever those, and granting every mothers’

Sons their own set,
I’m after those peculiar kinks that, like a bone set

Wrong, or quill imped
Awry, just that milieu incurred, so that one still limped

(And still flutters)
For years; and of them, one that, but for just those gutters

And that cell block,
Would never have accrued; for though milieus may well block,

Ground, or spoil
Some vital spark or other, an intense recoil

(Waiving what else
It might induce) may bring accessions, fostered not else;

Those must be owed
To his; and one would find, as one who finds a geode

To enclose a
Surprise precipitate, his formed a heart, sub rosa.



Why’s that “sub” there?
One knows one has a heart. But apropos that cub there,

Hearts that form through
Recoil only really feel their cockles warm through

When revolting;
So one’s uncertain which to premiss the resulting

Heart-farrage on,
Contempt or tenderness. But to return to mah jong:

Of that klatch’s,
One marriage, maybe, wasn’t dud. And yes, of matches,

Most all go south,
But my concern is just those seeds that Three-Four-Oh South

Mosholu sowed
In just that kid—and no, none were what Madame Tussuad’d

Style horrors—
Though Elinor’s and Lou’s, I guess, did go as far as

That—and Mary’s
And Matty’s: for “abuser,” the vernaculary’s

Terms were thinned-down
Too much for tykes to tell. But this tyke still can’t pin down

What type Irving
And Edna’s—and one closer home—fit, worth preserving

As were both plights
Among the horrors of a wax museum of trothplights.




But, since veils might
Be drawn, who knows of others what twin beds of nails might

Their boudoir be?
That Punch and Judy drop the mask of Joan and Darby

In the closet,
Or cudgel-ee and cudgler form a weird composite,

Like in lichen
An alga and a fungus do, is what a tyke in

School must wot ill, If at all, of. This one, though, had axolotl-

Type big-ass gills,
And picked up on a lot, though he contrived to mask ills

From awareness.
About the pair next door though, were there any pair-ness

Those same sensors
Clean failed to pick it up; but neither were my censors’

Circuits triggered.
Still, Edna’s plight, of all—though Irving never figured

For a sadist—
Would stay with me the longest, and still seems the saddest.




Why’d the pup pick
Hers out from all the rest? Though every Moishe Pupik

In P.C.-ville
Denounces as elitest, sexist, racist, evil,

Sick, etc.
The norms of ages past, such an avant-la-lettre

Reprobation’s
Itself a current norm—and one of self-inflation’s

More snot-nosey
Expedients. But, verily, it’s average shmo see,

Average shmo do;
Exceptions are exceptions; and though most do go due

South, what follows
For any pair depends on norms their milieu swallows

And enforces;
And in one (like this was) where the word “divorce” is

To be mooted,
If ever, sotto voce, you see what unsuited

Mates end up like
When thirty years have passed. So even such a pup like

Me’s antenna
Could pick up signals from the neighboring Gehenna.




Barely tingles,
But one could suss the meaning. But with water-wing gills

Like his freak two
Reporting on what irrelation, two by bleak two,

Wedding bands made,
The tot grew up to treat of all connections “ands” made—

Not just bridals’—
As purely fictive—and among those Bacon’s idols

Of the fora
Was self-relation over time—and kina-hora

He grew up to;
Since what else could have so equipped the former pup to

So remit his
That time appears the quote “regime of moments” it is?




On the flip side,
To vacate “ands” is first degree relationship-cide:

Liason-y
Is all affairs can be—in any “X and Arnie”

(Say) rapport or
Attachment is foreclosed: the “and” means “but” or “or” or

“Not” or “no way;”
And all relationships begin the same: D.O.A.




With worse slated.
But be that as it may, and granting “ands” vacated

Mosholu-wide,
The question is, of all within the pup’s purview, why’d

Her despond stick?—
And stuck to one who hunkered under several non-stick

Teflon surtouts;
And the answer—and, again, it’s this ex-squirt whose

Brain this worm’s in—
Is that—unlike the fiends who had the hands and terms in

Mah Jong nailed down
(Those being all their wits could mesh on, given scaled-down

Borough viewpoints),
Poor Edna—who, when they were handing out I.Q. points,

Came a day late—
Found the game too hard—would watch them laugh through alate

Pepsi bottle
Exophthalmic glasses, and the axolotl

(Puer senex
In this regard, at least) took in the increase, 10X

In dimension,
Effected in despondence by incomprehension.




Took in? Put out
Of consciousness, more like. Of course, he’d soon hot-foot out

From that precinct;
But how to get detachment and susceptancy sync’d

When one bans “ands”
Confounded him—though, as it turned out, only sans “ands”

In the middle
Could those two coincide; since what else but that riddle

Is a poem meant
To solve—if only for that beauty in that moment?