Michael Salcman

A Poem by Dr. Rieux
(Or Dr. Seuss Meets the Apocalypse)

In quarantine it seemed the obvious thing to do
All of us read The Plague by Albert Camus


But for a critical cow outside the gates going moo
And silent birds flying above our city’s zoo


Not many felt disappointed or filled with rue
Spending our days with The Plague by Albert Camus


When the bill for arrogance and greed came due
We paid more in pride than mere vouchers it’s true


What a poor exchange had been made for social glue
Blindness and spite from The Plague by Albert Camus


No more trips to the gym or standing in queues
No unmasked meetings beyond casual ones and twos


No enlightenment came on slow walks to the loo—
All of it foreseen in The Plague by Albert Camus.


It’s Hard to Carry the Weight at Night

This is the rattling voice you hear
before the fall into the ravine
the knotted noose, the guillotine
the voice at the back of your head
its whispering silence and lack of politesse,
its slippery sibilance residing.


It may defeat you chewing away the years
spitting them out of your brain
abashed with age,
barely able to read the fogged-up print
of a final testament, something received
on a page, film or musical score
boiling the time that’s left
into chiseled granite.


It’s hard to carry this weight at night
your on-off-switch apparently stuck on re-rehearsing
what came before in too few tomorrows.
You’re feeling Time’s smell on your breath
the struggle and eternal problem
of life, nearing its end, and a supposed peace
quietly screaming its rage.


Outside in my Underwear

Sitting outside in my underwear
I watch the blue-gray sky
darken with hot clouds,
my eyes searching out a visitation
of small white butterflies
amid the slow chase of a blinking
firefly, its indecisive light aping
my mood. My wife’s just left
crazed by cabin fever,
she’s desperate for an evening run
on the cracked sidewalk cement
of neighborhood blocks.
The heat has silenced the crickets,
gone well beyond their thermal
sweet spot, as steamed leaves fall
like small parachutes
from the heights of tulip poplars,
gently smacking my face and calves,
loosened by an itinerant breeze.
A lone red deer mincingly strolls
the boundary line between our yard
and the house next door,
each of her halting steps cautioned
by the noise of forced laughter
neighbors entertaining
guests like ghosts.
I’m struck how the plague has come
to seem as normal as Spring.


Thirty-Year Poem

Paralyzed with delight,
the morning stripes our faces
and bed clothes;
the blind shadows
of the blinds
climb up our torsos
licking at our chins.


How to begin the first day
of our thirtieth year together?
Make morning tea and jam,
go for the papers
sleep in until the cat gets up
and whimpers for attention?


The minutes pass, the warm wet spot
on the sheets turns cold. First
you move away, then rise to wipe
your bottom dry. Out of sight
my drowsy limbs spread wide
in a hazy loom of light,
feeling strangely lewd
and alone, twenty years ago.

Michael Salcman is the author of The Clock Made of Confetti; The Enemy of Good is Better; Poetry in Medicine, his popular anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness & healing; A Prague Spring, Before & After, winner of the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize; and Shades & Graces, inaugural winner of The Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020). Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil in early 2022. Also a physician and art historian, Salcman was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. Poems appear in Arts & Letters, The Café Review, Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, New Letters, and Poet Lore.

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