I saw the hand of Rasputin
cast in bronze and used as an oversized
paperweight on someone's desk.
The authentic hand. Smooth as Italian leather.
It was molded from plaster before he was killed.
Bought at an auction in Europe.
She was a collector.
She knew the value of everything.

I wouldn't like Rasputin's hand
on my desk, even though it wore the skin
over its fine bones like a soft glove
and healed the tsarevitch.
I wouldn't like her Samurai sword.
I'm glad I don't know what I'm worth.

There are days when the whole world
feels like somebody else's collection.
Even your hands. We walk
in another country and the mist
slowly rises above the lake
like the heaviness we left,
Only it's not our heaviness.


Sometimes, waking, I forget
where I am. The things around me
go on with their old existence
like props in a play, as if the curtain
has just risen on a room in an Italian villa.
It's not my play.

In the old life there was a photo
of Valentino on my desk.
Agnes Ayers was swooning in his arms,
the Sheik in a rapture of lips
without any words.

Benevolent uncles spoke in a language.
I didn't know, their fleshy hands,
their anxious eyes smiling
as they patted me gently on the head.
Like watching a silent movie,
when they opened their mouths
like fish under water
I turned off the sound.

All that sweet absence.


Once I learned the thirteen principles
of Rabbi Salanter, but I remember
only seven: truth, diligence, honor,
repose, cleanliness, frugality,
and silence. If I collected words
they would have to belong,
like moss or fleas. Things you say
that I can believe in.

Honor reminds me too much of the Samurai.
I like repose. It belongs to this landscape
where even the lizards rest
when we stand still
and look at the wall together.

Naming the things of this world
you begin to own them.
Cyclamen. Mustard.
I can't manage so many flowers.
But I already know the word for lake in Italian.


Gulls wheel over Lago di Como
at sundown on their way south
trying to catch the last warm currents.
Their wings are white, then silver, and then smoke
when the light abandons them
and dusk settles in their feathers.

If you don't collect things,
it's easier to move. Easier to stand
on this cliff for another minute
and watch the leaves fall, one by one,
yellow, into the lake.
They belong to the air
for the time they are drifting.
It's a long way down.

by Shirley Kaufman

Other poems of KAUFMAN (2)

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