Richard Fein


. . . also thank god just as much for unanswered prayers.
All of you count 23 strangers passing by you on a city street.
The odds are 50/50 that any given one of you,
shares the same birthday with any given one of them.
These odds are computed
by counting  those who don't share your birthday,
and by the 23rd passerby that's a head-or-tails chance.
Life's nonevents  make your good or bad fortune.
A rush-hour  speeding truck once lost control
at the crossroads so near your home,
but you overslept that day.
You've never won the lottery jackpot
and so you've kept your lifelong but poor friends.
How can you rejoice over or regret what never happened?
With a whole cavalcade of nonevents parading by,
it's an exponential certainty
that so much has been granted or denied to all of you.

Glimpses of Elvis on Mars,
a two-headed baby baptized twice,
a world of improbabilities reported
by brazen tabloids stacked neck-high
on the checkout aisle racks.
I pass through this world
with a basket full of toilet paper, cookies, and pickles.
Her cheeks are shrouded by her long brown hair.
Her deft, long fingers move the merchandise,
the cost quickly rising as the laser scans.
She pauses and offers me a smile,
revealing a slightly crooked tooth among the pearly whites.
She scolds me with her delicate fingers.
They point to an expiration date.
The cookies are put aside;
she has rescued me from a stale sweetness.
Her graceful fingers get back to business.
Deftly she processes my purchases.
I give her dollars; she gives me change.
Her fingers press my hand
longer than needed to exchange currency.
But the coin is cold with no time for warming.
Our skin must separate,
for the sum has been totaled and paid.
A line of commerce waits behind us.
Her eyes are blue. Her hair is brown.
Her fingers have touched and moved me.
Nearby, movie stars cavort on metal racks,
arm and arm at gala events.
But right before me stands,
a long-haired girl with one slightly crooked tooth,
and blue eyes that almost wink at me.
Beyond the glittering Hollywood doings
one more tabloid solemnly proclaims
that aliens from Venus are invading soon.

feminists should fume,
for after years of struggling to chomp on cigars just like the boys,
they find their victory over chauvinist convention going up in politically correct lack of smoke.
And how can backroom city hall cronies hide their faces
when the covering cloud of cigar smoke is now verboten?
Do they bribe the municipal building inspectors?
But they are the municipal building inspectors.
More melodramatically, what does a spy do now before hearing ready-aim-fire,
when his last cigarette has been barred by the Surgeon General?
Even pipes are taboo.
What becomes of the psychoanalyst’s pregnant pause,
that deep puff and long exhalation followed by a Freudian inspiration
as pipe smoke envelops both patient and couch?
With all lungs breathing the now socially acceptable air
and the sum total of humanity’s phlegm decreasing,
does the polite cough after a social gaffe
become too obvious without the chain smoker’s alibi?
And a great poetic metaphor is being snuffed out,
two lovers afterwards, lying in bed staring at the ceiling,
there may still be naked butts no lit butts to mark the end.
Ah, the end of a love affair,
gone the warm orange glow fading to a cold dark ember in the bedroom ashtray.
In this militant health-conscious world the metaphor is
out of a drooling ex-lover’s mouth dangles a stick of celery.
If a  dragon seduces then it’s without fiery breath,
for fire is flagrant but seduction is insidious.
If any dragon seduces, it’s a Komodo dragon
and it has no hot-blooded weapons of desire
like the wide wings and talons of the hawk
or nimble feet and claws of the cheetah.
The dragon’s heart always keeps a metronome-like beat
pulsing cold blood through its veins.
But cold-blooded patience outpaces hot-blooded speed..
The Komodo’s mouth holds a toxic brew,
a poisonous bromide of bacillus and spit
stirred with a forked tongue.
First the kiss, the deadly hickey, that faintest Judas nip,
and no victim can flee from its own defiled skin..
Corruption courses through the victim’s blood,
while with flickering tongue the dragon trails the sweet smell of decay.
For once the dragon’s teeth has caressed its quarry then with
belly close to ground,  waddling dirt-straddling legs,
mouth agape, fangs fully exposed, deadly saliva drooling from its lips,
the seducer devours the seduced.
The first ring broke my dream of a summer forest.
Dark shadows grew between sunlit trees.
The second ring found my dream even more disturbed
flowers fading, their scent decaying into miasma.
The third ring roused me to more wakefulness,
and a slimy toadstool turned into my phone.
And by the fourth ring my covers were strewn aside,
myself naked, my hand frozen on that phone.
The fifth ring, it was 2 a.m., who would phone at 2 a.m.?
The sixth ring  and I took mental inventory of the ones at risk,
my dad far away, my sick mom across town,  my daredevil son.
But there would be no seventh ring, I just felt it, for seven is a lucky number,
and what could follow an unanswered 2 a.m. call but only uneasy silence,
so trembling with dread I grabbed the receiver.
But in my ear,.“Cynthia forgive me I still love you”
“I ain’t Cynthia” and I slammed the receiver down.
Sleep, sleep, to return to sylvan paths
But minutes still flashed on the clock, 3 a.m., still awake.
Cynthia, Cynthia, for surely he must have phoned again,
this time the right number to answer a wrong.
And I hoped she yelled “It’s over” while slamming the receiver down
as I had done, robbed of my forest dream and left listening to silence in the dark.
But by 3:30 I wished  her to be  a more forgiving soul.
They’d talk, cry, laugh, then Cynthia’s front door bell would ring
and they’d be pass the rest of the night in dreamy union.
Only then at 4 a.m., I  found myself back in my forest,
among flowers, greenery, colorful mushrooms, and the redolence of flowers
till the dawn sun gently woke me.

“Dear applicant, we’re sorry to say no to you.”
But if no brings sorrow why say it?
Wouldn’t a yes salve your sadness?
Sorry? the word’s lack of nuance nags me,
for it’s such a guilt-free sorry.
Your rejection of my application didn’t use words like
repent, atone, contrite or remorse
for such words imply a sorry of your own doing,
a sorry that screams for undoing.
But there’s no hope of that, is there?
No hope of you including me among you.
You hand me just a perfunctory sorry
and of course an insincere sincerely yours.
You probably forgot about me the moment you mailed that sorry to “applicant’s address.”
Or maybe you’re still having a condescending laugh over my application,
and your sorry is really a euphemistic snicker.
But sorry to me is real.
Repent, atone, contrite, are also real,
and I use them now remorselessly.
I repent, atone, and am very contrite
that I applied to you in the first place.
And so I also declare with my deepest guilt-free  sorry,
that you have not deigned to elect into your grand collegium—
me, myself, and I, the one most skilled in crafting the sincerest sorriest of we’re sorry
to all those pretentious enough to apply for inclusion among your minions.

Copyright © 2009 Richard Fein



Richard Fein was finalist in The 2004 Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition. He will soon have a Chapbook published by Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin, Madison.  He  has been published in many web and print journals, including Southern Review, Morpo Review, Perigee, Skyline, Oregon East  Southern Humanities Review Touchstone, Windsor Review, Maverick, Parnassus Literary Review, Small Pond, Kansas Quarterly, Blue Unicorn, Exquisite Corpse, Terrain Aroostook Review  and many others.  He also has an interest in digital photography and has published many of his photos. Samples of his photography can be found on photo album.