Excerpt from 'Lowly'


By Alan Felsenthal

Ugly Duckling Presse

Copyright © 2017 Alan Felsenthal
All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-937027-87-2



Two martyrs stalked the earth
almsgiving equally
so neither knew the other
was capable of competition
until the first martyr sacrificed
his life before the township
by jumping into a fire pit.
Some said the second martyr
inspired by his friend's decision
faced the pit and lit himself on fire.
After the first martyr saw this act
he was immediately resurrected
only to end his life once more
by lighting his body on fire
then jumping from the tower.
The town gasped as suddenly
the second martyr reappeared
afire and shaking the tower until
its shattered stones covered him.
This cycle of sacrifice went on
so long the two turned
into an attraction for travelers.
Soon they were no longer
considered martyrs
but brothers whose punishment
for misusing fire
was to continue misusing it.


We sat by the river till night.
What is night

we asked. The time we leave
the river. Like

the weir made out of brush and
boards, we caught the fish. And

brought its body home
in frosted plastic bags. How's

it structured, we wondered as
we reached inside for bones and

when we found the wishing one
that laughs when cracked, only

then we asked for day, which
we knew is where the river was.


A hull made to touch
the arctic shoulder of the vacant
sea. And she is a ship who speaks
words learnt from water.
The half of her you can see
is the present tense.
Her wake is words.
Above, the gods have confidence
in what she says. Years are the stars'
sentence, aimed at your sail —
their incomplete sentence,
your half-made life. 26 stars
line the ship, each star lifts
its own weight like the letter i.
A little timber holds you up too,
speaks when you're not
listening. At times your timber
is light, the stern illuminated.
Other times, the overlong circle
of the sea points with its mist
upward, a rain nestling in the eye
of passing night, to an unchanging
station that blinks like a house
at your terror. It was a good deed,
your birth, and a reward is coming.
Not today, not tomorrow, soon.
The laughing winter, your hair
expires, a film distorts warm faces
you know you'll soon forget.

Even water will forget your skin.
The sun warts your ears' tips,
your lips too chapped to pray. You
who harbored a bull of guilt.
The bull will be appalled
to learn your sentence
spoken by milk in the heavens.
Rewards of human life are
wind without a coat, limbs
torn apart by neighbors, and
sometimes you're the thief.
The body in the well or resting
at the foot of an oak tree.
The half you cannot see
or hear was stolen. You arrived
on a ship, only one exists.
She spoke to you, to your grandparents,
but it was cold for everyone
and so they slept.


The problem of rhyme is not
what grandmother spoke
about when she talked
in her German accent.
What she meant,
the problem of Rhine,
sounded more like rime
frosting the banks.
Perhaps the problem
of Rhine had more to do
with rime than rhyme.
I asked if she confused
the words I used
with other words she knew.
This lapse expanded
with each utterance
the time it takes for what
one means to make pure
sense to the other.
  "My mother
grew this stutter,"
she sighed, "I could not
understand it was words
until she died.
The problem with Rhine
is no river here stays
worthy of drowning.
When the righteous
leave a place, the place
is diminished,
and a woman is finished
who does not know
it is her time to swim.
When everywhere is
winter, there is
no time to consider
freezing, only the harm
in not staying warm."


Excerpted from Lowly by Alan Felsenthal. Copyright © 2017 Alan Felsenthal. Excerpted by permission of Ugly Duckling Presse.
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