Ghazal for a Dead Poet
How many poems have gone unwritten since you left?
The star-burnt sky drifts west, but at this hour what constellations are left?
I turn my head. My palms slip, of their own accord, together
The way hands might in prayer, the right to the left.
If only the right hand is used for eating, for touching,
How lonely the hand we call the left.
Last night I sat before a book, turning the pages
Backwards, trying to undo time, reading right to left.
And I could hear your voice speaking, without weight,
Touching the words lightly, first with the right hand, then the left.
George, you already know the answer to the question you won’t ask.
The clock’s hands move right, abandoning the past. Words are all that’s left.
It’s my third cup of coffee, on Saturday.
It’s not that I’m tired, not on Saturday.
In the cup, hot milk swirls till dark,
The way we used to walk at twilight on Saturday.
I drink coffee and sit remembering the tight
Weave of your fingers with mine on Saturday.
Sometimes it’s hard to separate desire from affection,
And hard to know which you want on Saturday.
I admit it, I’m a bad Jew. I don’t pine for Jerusalem, recite
The blessings, or walk to shul in a white shirt on Saturday.
I have my own way of celebrating the Sabbath now: over coffee
In the shade, remembering your face full of desire on Saturday.
Hafiz was dragged to the Mongol Tamerlane
Certain that he’d be killed for Tamerlane
Destroyed whole cities then stacked the bodies
As bricks for walls, unmerciful Tamerlane.
Hafiz had written a couplet that offended.
He’d trade the home cities of Tamerlane
For the black mole on one beloved’s cheek.
Perhaps the mole offended Tamerlane.
Faced with his death, Hafiz cracked a joke
Turning the cruel lips of Tamerlane
To something like a smile: “Bad trades like that
Are why I’ve remained poor, O Tamerlane.”
But for a poet to survive requires
More than the wit to please a Tamerlane.
Caesar Augustus didn’t find Ovid funny
And was, perhaps, crueler than Tamerlane.
Mandelstam lacked the opportunity
To quip with Stalin as Hafiz did Tamerlane
And died in transit to Siberia.
How random are our deaths, O Tamerlane.
Even for Bodies Asleep
Even for bodies asleep, there is usually a clock
On the night table—or in bed, their arms the hands of a clock.
At midnight, one hand disappears underneath another
And touches, intimately, the face of the clock.
Each hour the hands move toward their embrace,
Short lived for us, but who knows for a clock?
It has moods, certainly, but holds them inside, not like
The bells, chimes, and dumb show of a medieval clock?
I wake while it’s still dark and put my ear against your back,
And I know your heartbeat, steadier than mine, is also a clock.
You stir in sleep, somewhere between here and where
I can’t reach you. Neither past nor future are shown on a clock.
George Franklin continues to try to pack in everything he can, including practicing law on Miami Beach, teaching poetry in Florida prisons, teaching yoga when his friends need a sub, and even writing ghazals. His poetry has previously appeared in The Ghazal Page, Salamander, The Threepenny Review, Verse, Vending Machine Press, and Matter, and his criticism in ELH.