Five Poems

Paul Hostovsky


The first time we kissed
you turned away, saying:
“Not on the mouth. Not yet. I’m
sorry. There are things
I haven’t told you…”
I didn’t understand.
But I understood enough
to gather your hands
in my hands,
to rest my cheek
against yours,
and to kiss
your cheek,
your temple, your
eyebrow, and then
only the side
of your mouth,
its corner. It was
a sort of lateral kiss,
like looking a little to one side
of something to see it better,
like with stars,
or with poems,
or like the truck that carries the glass
on its side,
because of the nature of its cargo.


The Message

In the dream I was living with your death
and it was intolerable. When I woke
you were alive, and the dream of your death
receded like the dark. I went about my day
in a kind of daydream—eating, drinking, walking,
talking to the living, not recognizing which ones
were living with death. But I kept thinking about
how intolerable it was, the loss, the thinking about
the loss, and the not waking from it ever. I thought
it’s the thinking about it that’s intolerable. As if life
were thought. And so while there was still time—
before there was no place in life where the thought
of your death was not—I called you. I got your machine.
I left the message of the dream on your machine.


Ars PO

A poem should have
at least one good list—
anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?
A poem should be
as a package you might put
into the hands of
unsuspecting others.
Can you be trusted?
Can they be trusted?
You can receive a thing
without opening it.
You can reject a thing
without opening it. You can
read a poem by holding it up to the light,
holding it up to your ear
and giving it a shake
to see what shifts. You can
even walk away from it
and come back to it later
to see if it has changed
you, opened you. Oh my
bearer of rectangles,
if I could tell you
how to tell the pure
money of the poems
from all the other rectangles
in your little square truck
with its picture of flight
on both flanks,
if I could show you
how to feel it
through the envelope,
like a Braille letter,
like someone else’s
goose bumps in your hands,
worth its weight in
transport of a kind I cannot
teach you how to make your own,
though you steal it,
though you open every
letter, oh my poor
letter carrier, rich already
with the handling of it,
though you look for it in all
four corners
of its own sumptuous
destitute world
which is thinner than paper,
which is air itself,
air from the country
of someone else’s
mouth, oh my beautiful
mailman, I would,
I would.


The Self

It was a Buddhist lecture on the Self.
There must have been fifty people
in that room with the eight Vicissitudes,
six Stages of Metta, four Noble Truths,
three Kinds of Suffering and two
ceiling fans spinning, spinning. She was
sitting on the other side of the room,
touching herself. I couldn’t stop staring
as she twisted a strand of her long hair
round her fingers absentmindedly,
listening to the speaker, holding it
to her lips, sniffing it, tasting it,
eyeing it doubtfully, then letting it go—
She caressed her cheek, her forehead,
the palm of her hand cupped her chin, fingers
drumming. It was a pensive attitude
lasting only a moment, for her hands
grew restless again, and she started hugging
herself, her left hand massaging her right
shoulder, her right hand making excursions
to the hip, belly, armpit where it moored itself
with a thumb camped out on the small hillock
of her left breast. I couldn’t help wondering
if she could feel my eyes on her body the way I could
feel her hands on her body on mine. “Don’t
attach to anything as me or mine,” the Buddhist
speaker who was Jewish before he was Buddhist
was saying, “because attachment is the second
arrow.” That’s when I realized I had missed
what the first arrow was. And then, as in a dream,
I was trying to raise one of my hands lying
in my lap like two dead birds, belly-up, to ask.


Looking at Boobs with Aunt Edie

Me and my Aunt Edie are looking
at my parents’ wedding album.
My parents are dead; my Aunt Edie
is living with Alzheimer’s; I’m fifty
and twice divorced—just to give you
an idea, a preamble. On the first page
a photo of my mother and grandmother.
Aunt Edie’s short-term memory is shot,
but she can still remember the name
of her fourth grade teacher, her best friend
from camp, her great Aunt Millie, Uncle
Donald, and the exact number of the house
on Observantenveg where she lived
in Maastricht until she was eight: #46. “Hey,
look how busty Saftah looks,” she says,
and we stare awhile at my grandmother’s
boobs. I smile, nod, turn the page
to a photo of my mother and grandfather
walking down the aisle arm-in-arm. “Hey,
look how pointy Reggie’s boobs are here,”
says Aunt Edie. And I can’t help noticing
the theme that’s developing page by page,
breast by breast. And I’m wondering if
this is a side of Aunt Edie that was always
there, only covered up, inhibited, corseted like
her own ample breasts (“which were always
much bigger than your mother’s, you know,”
she’s telling me now) and only coming out
in her late seventies, now that she’s forgotten
the reason for keeping it hid. Whatever
the reason, her celebration of the bosoms
of the women of my family is making me
squirm. That’s when she looks up, adjusts
her bra strap, fixes me with a penetrating
hazel arrow, and says, “If I didn’t know you
better, nephew, I’d say you were blushing.”

Paul Hostovsky’s poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Best of the Net, The Writer’s Almanac and The Pushcart Prize XXXIII. His latest collection, Dear Truth, is available from Main Street Rag. To read more of his work, visit his website. E-mail: phostovsky[at]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email