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Other notable work by Barry Koplen.
Do you know how beautiful you are? You once asked
as we rode a sunlit boulevard toward a far away beach
your hand resting on my bare leg as I drove.
I’d heard that question before. It didn’t fool me;
its novelty lasted as long as the golden moments of a green light.
I run my eyes along anxiety’s dull edge,
well worn by long dark moments
sometimes hours before my alarm sounds.
Summer has gone,
too, and there are no more babies on my hip as I step
from stone to stone to avoid falling
on this winter path, a frozen highway.
I cannot lean into its unbanked shoulders
that remind me of you.
Now, in white out conditions,
I am like a poorly caged bird
trapped in a four-wheeled sanctuary,
at best, a fragile shelter.
A man in a movie once said
I would do anything
in my power
to make you
It’s always that way
in the beginning,
her sardonic smile.
He once told her
she would never regret
That was before
he held her head
beneath the surface
and canned conversation.
She found air, finally,
in the silence of his absence.
She becomes a kinked
the two of them
now pressing herself
into that dark scene,
his unresponsive empty space.
Winter casts a cold light
in sedate shadows of Autumn;
her hands now work
a fragile dough.
She wipes her cheek,
takes a breath,
chest stiff as pantry labels.
Oh love that seemed immortal
as his breath against her breast,
now she must resist—
will never stop,
may never want to show
as frost creeps ever slowly
on a cold and crystal field,
as frost creeps ever slowly
on her cold as crystal dream.
In the dark seeing
pink patio petals;
no one can see her
penning new words.
This rain, drought soothing,
swirling and washing
to an asphalt drain,
easing the clatter,
the clanking of
his ill neglect
and her own fear of
Inside the kitchen,
of baked Chicken Paris,
steamed garlic broccoli
pulling her gently, light as a lover,
sensual while she sips
a second glass of wine;
Harold and Maude
paused at the moment
so she can soak in
the rain and be thankful …
he’s no longer there.
*Published All Things Girl, Nov/Dec 2007*
She tries to read, to think
but cannot escape
the exhaust of pungent
as she waits on an oil change.
A couple waits, too,
on a bench outside
the plate glass window
boasting rebuilt engines.
The young man says,
his voice low,
in his tight ball cap,
his too big jeans,
he can fix cars, too.
His companion stares
behind dark glasses,
cheek lines taut,
too hard for twenty-something,
her expression vacant, unfeeling
as the Styrofoam cup in her hand.
Inside, she tries to read, to think;
the kids will soon be gone,
ensuing silence she knows is coming,
lulling pages of pain,
when alone, she’ll read
over and over again;
then, carefully replace —
reasons, rejoices, and regrets
She tries to read, to consider
a new love,
but somewhere truth blurs
as she looks out the window,
past the couple, silent now.
Good Light of Memory
She looks out the window
across the red geraniums
and marigolds, past the pitcher,
its cool amber clarity,
a hand on her heart.
He insists on
short, empty calls,
clear, but distant
across years and a thousand miles.
What she really wants is
to press into
his elusive warmth,
like she did when they set trot lines
on a clear Georgia afternoon,
black snakes clinging to steep sunlit banks,
when she clung to his belt loops
in water too deep.
she braces, relies on fading ghosts,
to sing the songs
from years ago.
Tall listing images challenge
memory, old and flickering,
bringing no lasting warmth.
Wine Filled Cars
Sweet summer water in this clear sky float;
the hum and murmurs of everyday silent
When Berkely Cole lived
there were wine filled cars –
Cavalier sunlight courses on the back
of this good pause
despite his maddening tutorials
in the liberal, but good drip of all things considered,
talk of the nation, and fresh air, so fresh
at times she chokes –
The moment passes,
kansas voices quiet;
she reaches out, lifts its veil,
presses her lips against it
before it evaporates in the heat.
*First reference from Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa.
Second reference from National Public Radio Segments.*
Carmen Alexandra has written three novels, the first published, When The Ugly Comes, has been hailed as an adult version of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Eichman traveled extensively as a military colonel’s daughter and studied for eight years under the impressive auspices of master fiction writer, Leonard Bishop, Dare To Be A Great Writer. Earning her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and Literature from Kansas State University and now an Assistant Professor of English, Eichman manipulates language with exquisite intuitiveness while creating provocative and unforgettable poems and stories. Providing richly textural and symbolic work, she is now completing her fourth major literary work and continues to publish poetry. Her poetry embraces the sphere of domesticity and the independence of a woman at the same time, normalizing the love for independence, the love for the kitchen, and the love for sensuality. Her published poems include: “Sleeping Guards,” Spring Board Journal, (Fall 2005) “Unwanted Lover Leads the Poet,” Subtle Tea (Spring 2006), “Red Edge Obsession,” Borderline, (Summer 2006) “Sleeping Guards” and “Mistrust,” A Little Poetry (Summer 2006), “Against Pleasure Guilt Madness,” All Things Girl (Fall 2006), “Visitor” & “Unfurled,” Dan River Review, “Funeral Residue,” Invisible Ink Poetry (Feb 2007), “Solid Ground Still Far Away,” The Argotist Online(Feb 2007), “Hotel Balcony,” All Things Girl (July 2007), “Good Girl,” All Things Girl UK(August 2007), “Frost Forms,” Invisible Ink Poetry (Fall/Winter 2007), “Fresh,” All Things Girl UK(Nov/Dec 2007), “Free Fall,” All Things Girl UK (Feb. 2008), “Enough,” All Things Girl UK(Sept 2008), Contemporary American Voices, Featured Poet (December 2008)
One fan describes Alexandra’s work: “I’m just sitting in the bleachers watching her and marveling…she is much more drama than anything else…it’s like I’m watching her free climb, waiting to see which direction she will take next…and all I can do is watch…”
Our beautiful Calpurnia irons,
sings, listens. I sit on her chenille bedspread, her bed
between two brick columns on our basement’s concrete floor. On Tuesdays,
I love being next to laundered scented sheets, her neat uniform,
her clean hands, her soothing hymns about unfortunate Jesus.
She tells me little Jewish boys like me
don’t know Jesus. I ask if he could iron
as good as she.
Calpurnia laughs, strokes my hair
as if I were her patient pup. She pulls me gently against her waist,
tells me Jesus didn’t do maid’s work, returns to singing,
I watch her smooth strokes, her perfect folds, the growing pile in our wicker
basket. She tells me to go play with the boys next door, that I need to be
a football star. Was Jesus, I ask?
She bends down, eye to eye with me, says he was crucified, says it so softly
I think it’s a special feeling like the one she has when her eyes close as she smells
Mom’s pink percale pillow cases. She says she is percaled then. I want to be too.
If she thinks so much of it,
I want to be crucified.
I tell her. I say I want to be crucified so you will hold me
like a pillow case, so you will think I am the best thing ever.
Calpurnia puts down her iron, sits next to me, cradles my head
against her chest. If there was still a world outside, it didn’t matter to me then.
I was being rocked and sung to, cared for and protected. I ask Calpurnia if I
am going to heaven. She whispers yes.
She starts to hum as I shut my eyes,
her heaven so close I am already there.
Even if Zellner, the civil rights instigator,
remembers Bloody Monday in Danville, Virginia,
I won’t ask him about that long day, its brutality,
don’t have to. I know the local leaders, Reverend Campbell,
Reverend Echols, their children.. I know about the beatings
and the beaten.
Main Street, where they marched, did not part for frightened
protesters like a Red Sea although
their blood reddened Main.
That brutal day, I, an insignificant Jew, saw terrified young blacks,
jittery white cops trying not to feel anxious about administering
ages old dour strictures.
No one asked me to be Moses that day. Zellner didn’t try to be, probably
wasn’t born knowing how. I knew the motions, had seen pictured
his raised hand, its commanding staff, the need for steady eyes, a reassuring gait.
But that June 10, 1963, Main Street was a speckled banner, a clear sign
that read Social Injustice Lives Here.
But it died after that day. With each bludgeoned marcher, with each bloodied baton,
another prejudice dropped like a discarded chain on stiff asphalt. Segregated
movie theaters, public schools and libraries, color coded restaurants
began to disappear.
Without much help from me. Sure, I was there, but
my voluminous notes and Holocaust epics, locked in my trunk,
didn’t matter. I sensed that Jew hating was different from black hating.
So I didn’t say much.
Decades later, I still await my chance to march
when Zellner calls to say he’s coming to Main again to start something,
something big enough to cancel anti-Semitism at its source.
Zellner would probably do that for us Jews. He would probably say
that its way past time for that.
Of course, he’d come to me first to make sure things were done
the right way so that profound change would take hold, would last.
He’d take me aside like a co-conspirator, would ask me about that Red Sea
trick, about the wizardry he needed to pull it off.
an occasional sport
Pick up game at Third Avenue court, my team wins.
Basketball thoughts ride home with me, quiet as replays
in slo mo, that last second steal, hip fake, jumper, swish.
At home, TV dinner, a note on the table that says my love
for the hoop, too adolescent, too big a part to take
out of our lives. I look at my sneaks, wonder if they’ve
left black marks on the tile floor.
Back to the note, its short lines, its unwritten meaning,
its failure to mention when she’ll be back. Or if. I roll
it into a ball and toss it toward the waste basket. I miss.
On TV, the big game, Duke and UNC, almost time. More
hoops. Big games, even better than church on Sunday.
She used to laugh when I said that. Until I traded time
in the pew for Sunday morning four on four.
She was pissed. No dribbling on God’s time, I guess. No
substituting prayer for pick and roll, its fall away hook.
Didn’t work, my saying I prayed when I played, that God
helped me score. I multitasked, I said, using her favorite word.
I set a shining example, I said to myself, knowing we had lost
despite that. She used to cheer for me, handed me a beer
when I came home, rubbed my shoulders. Laughed at my goofy stories.
That’s when she called me
her occasional sport.
New York is hasty about
privacy fences, is quick to stick
yellow crime scene tape
where sidewalks and buildings
have been sullied and bloodied,
shot up and crashed into,
defamed and defaced.
New York cleans itself up
like a good prize fighter
his badly cut eye. The City
is a styptic master
when patching up unsightly horrors
or gaping eyesores, closely guarded.
Getting near a burned out tenement
or a crumbled monument is
That block of concrete grief,
its mournful disarray,
is its own poignant memorial,
its fate oozing stench
an essential ingredient
to finalizing tragedy
and its ragged jagged edges.
In the South, they understand
that emotional need to confront
the irreversible, to see
Schwerner’s burned out blue station wagon
with its melted tires mounted on
concrete blocks, identical in heft
to that packet of grief
a mourner seeks the absolute match to.
Love, the pejorative
My summer near Boston after Kennedy was shot
was tricky. Me, working in Hyannis, far from my home in the South,
far from my Carolina girl down there where she talks like me.
Up here, they say they like things. We say we love things. We even say
we love people we don’t really love. We’ll say we loved Kennedy.
We’ll say we love baseball although I haven’t learned to say I love
the Bosox, but I was trying, trying to get excited
that summer to rave about Yastrzemski and Fenway Park.
At work in Hyannis, everyone loved Yaz but me. I didn’t know Yaz
like I kind of knew the President. I knew him the way I knew how to bus tables
What I did know to do was to follow orders. Owner’s daughter
tells me to buy tight pants for better tips. That’s no big deal,
I think, since I wanted money for a Bosox ticket, a chance to see Yaz,
to see what all the fuss was about.
The daughter asks if I would work late one night. I say yes, of course,
and we close the restaurant, just us two. Want a ride? she asks, and I say yes
to that too. When we drive past my house with my rented room, past where street lights and moon light shine and she stops the car, slides closer to me, says she heard me say I loved her waitress Miranda and wondered if that was true.
I only remembered saying love ya’ to Miranda, the sad girl who wanted me
to listen to her mournful story about her dog being run over.
I remembered hugging her like I hugged my grandmother, saying love ya’ when she left.
Before I could tell the daughter all that, she said
she thought I’d love these more and she unbuttoned her blouse.
I was cornered. My thoughts flashed to my girl back home. I wondered
whether she’d believe my two little words would have taken me to this.
Maybe I should learn only to like Yaz. Maybe I only really liked the dead President.
Maybe up here, I said to myself, words count more than what feelings say.
Tap water pours into my glass, clear
as a romantic poem
or love when it comes
as a gift
or as an opening, say as a jam jar,
clear but for its strawberry or blackberry
or marmalade inside, and then,
when you hand it to me to unscrew
its metal top and you watch me
as I loosen it, then hand it back
so that you can finish the opening,
so that you can dip your finger inside,
then offer it to me, pleased that I
caress your offering, welcome
to me as water, as its giving,
as the glass of you I have become.
about Barry Koplen
Almost ten years ago, Barry wrote a book about teaching poetry to reluctant high school English students. While he was in high school, Barry’s first poems were published. Years later, while a teacher at Sterling Jr.-Sr. High in Greenville, SC, one of Barry’s poem won a prize. Many years later, he studied with mentors such as Baron Wormser, former poet laureate of Maine. In 2007, Barry was enrolled in the MFA program at Pine Manor College. There he studied both young adult prose and poetry.
Since the late 60’s, his poems have appeared in collegiate magazines, many Net sites, and in newspapers. In 2004, his poem, “Joseph“, was published in Breath of Parted Lips, a hardback collection published by the Robert Frost Place. In 2007, two of Barry’s poems were included in the collection of the 100 best poems submitted from the last five years to a Chesapeake Bay area literary review. Frequent readings are ongoing.
Barry has crafted six chapbooks, and is working on a seventh. Also, he recently completed his first novel, No Gold Stars, about his integration, forty years ago, of an all black public school in Greenville, S.C.