He gingerly took that first step,
careful not to stumble,
not knowing beyond that door
lay a universe of curious troubles.
Silk batiks hung over windows,
beads replacing doors and
the color red dominant –
bleeding through as if
claiming territory, crowding out
unwanted spectrums of colors,
a flag of caution, of warning,
but he felt the opposite,
drawn to this eclectic warmth,
this claustrophobic tableau,
bearing olfactory witness,
to a unique mix of musk
and powder and incense.
The walls hung with
dark scenes from distant mountain hovels
with odd clusters of nameless hordes.
They gathered in shadows
to negotiate hard lives
of labor, grit, and compromise.
Even their horses looked grim.
This ramshackle studio,
bastion of small mirrors
and tables holding framed photos
of unsmiling people in
other century’s clothes,
a clipped pile of receipts
by a burgundy checkbook.
And barely visible,
in the next small room over,
her bed, beautifully appointed,
an inviting exhibition of
soft pillows and knitted throws,
a prize taunting and teasing,
a destination of desire.
He came to that space
hoping to know her intimately,
to convince with charm and panache,
a hunter in search of prey.
Now, disarmed, he whirled in
strange recesses, thrown akimbo
by this derelict den of exotic enigma,
seducer now seduced.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Our family packed into the Olds Cutlass.
and drove across the large bridge,
past miles of endless cemeteries
that lined the highway near the airports,
beyond the bright lights of Northern Boulevard,
past Alexander’s department store,
to Rego Park, land of red brick apartments,
one of which housed my paternal grandmother.
Some nights we’d have dinner with my father’s
mother’s youngest sister and her husband:
she a tall, stately blonde,
he a small dark man with a moustache.
He was talkative, opinionated,
a fast talking wheeler-dealer that hawked politics.
He worked in a clothing store
on the lower east side, holding his own
against those haggling for lower prices.
They often had their friends over,
people who were strangers at best,
and they only spoke Hungarian.
I learned my father not only understood it,
but seemed able to add an occasional comment.
He translated for my mother,
yet I sensed her frustration,
because their talking in a language
where I knew maybe three words
didn’t seem very nice to the rest of us.
Back then, I was confused by the genealogy,
unsure how we were all related,
and the unexpected onslaught of strange words
and guttural sounds further alienated me.
I would go into the next room
to watch television, but nothing good was on.
On a small porch I found a wicker chaise lounge
with a convenient rocking mechanism.
I stretched and let my eyes go out of focus,
distant trees and flowers fading into a blur
that I hoped might hypnotize me forever.
It didn’t work. I didn’t stop time
or magically transport myself to my own bedroom.
What I did manage was total invisibility;
I had wandered off and no one was coming to find me.
Here in this land of extreme carpeting and
creepy plastic-covered sofas, I had managed the feat
of hiding in plain sight, fading into my surroundings
like that chameleon my friend had shown me.
I sat there, convinced I might never be found again,
and that it might take weeks, months, maybe years
before my absence would work its way into this
strangely animated Hungarian exchange.
Well into the sinecure of her summer,
she looks for amusements,
laying subtle triggers
bound to snag one far less aware,
more likely to stumble against the power
of that raw disquisition, her proclaiming
the rules of relationship regulation
as if stating scientific fact.
His response is supplication,
an argument against limits,
a plea for heightened engagement,
a celebration of their unity
prior to the inevitable parting.
She takes a parenthetical tone,
cautionary and unyielding.
He shows her a heart on fire,
a playlist keen to enflame and incite,
to pluck sensation from memory
and spark it to reanimation.
But she is keen to sever the connection,
to allay the fantods haunting her dreams,
to get on with the rest of her life.
Under the slick guise of sincerity,
she sweetly explains that sooner beats later,
that there’s no reward in waiting for eventual pain.
He lies there after, prostrate,
not quite hearing the words right in his mind,
all echoes and reverb, modulated nonsense
that tricked him into misery as maturation,
a death match of emotion versus reason.