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Ken Weisner

Visiting Grandfather

It’s spring break, and I’m knocking at
my 85-year-old grandfather’s door
—he still has his own apartment
in a facility that also has skilled nursing
but not yet quite for him…
he’ll live seven more years, long enough to say
“I’ve lived too long.” 
It’s strange; he doesn’t answer the door
as usual, or say “come in.”

I have to knock again and wonder if he’s OK.
Only then I hear him say it, and I swing the door.
He’s seated in his chair across to the left,
cataract glasses in place, familiar smells, medicinal,
musty cushions and dish soap, dust in light,
books, salted boiled eggs,
and the hint of a gardener’s stale earth;
room lit from the balcony to the east
where he tends to his African violets,

wild hairs growing from his nose, his ears….
a poor loser at chess—a survivor of Dachau,
and behind his chair, his wall of images:
the Dolomites he climbed as a youth;
a Durer, a Schiele, a Klimt—
a lovely photo of my grandmother
who died 15 years before
and bold turquoise-black,
a Guatemalan weaving I gave him once.

And right now, at his feet,
a woman—Margaret from a few doors down—
her hair tied up yet freed in strips; she is
kneeling there, not turned toward me,
but staying put, her hand on his leg—oh please—
they are fully clothed—I know she’s in her mid-eighties too—
plays a little piano and loves to hear him sing,
accompanies him now and then—Margaret
a woman his age: what the hell! I think—music
has brought them together,

but it is their bodies I’m being asked to witness;
she could have gotten up before
I entered, but they wanted me to see this.
Have I stepped into a Fin-de-siecle salon,
some dusky front room/ antechamber
of the Hintergasse? the tenderness
is brief, erotic, palpable—
I am meant to witness something indelible
something incredible that says—
having intended only my filial duty—

here is one form of love
you have never imagined,
the core, the inner rings.
But in that one small thing, do you see
how many others are inferred?
Do you see, from this, the absurd workings, gaudy,
in the pattern on the peacock’s wing?
Do you see the ache of suffering
lined up there next to the ache of love
in the beauty of the wings of fate?

Beauty is just nature
doing its job—and love is just the
Riesenrad, the Ferris wheel high again
above the marrow’s Danube—
your turn at the top.

To this day, I still like to think of them
looking into each others’ eyes
when I knocked, she not wanting to get up—
him smiling at her, and when I knocked again,
only then him saying—come in….
How much they enjoyed showing me
this intimate possibility.
It only lasted a moment, and then she rose.

There Wasn't Always An Internet, You Know

I remember my mother discovering and reading
my briefly treasured pornographic novel
Naked Return (where did I get it? I don't remember.
Jeff's house? God was great)—this is not a dream.
She knows I can see her, leaning casually against the doorframe,
a sophisticated Viennese woman now sort of inexplicably
imitating Walt Whitman posing with the spear of summer grass.…
But this is not the sort of literature she has in mind for me,
and she is brilliant. Here's why: she never says a word. Just reads
and knows I can see her reading from across the house.
Knows I'm ashamed and speechless with embarrassment.
Knows she's found my secret. I sort of admire and still hate her for this.
Just reads it and puts it back.

I was to be her musician, writer, an intellectual.
She'd gone back to school and was teaching,
grading every night, late into the night. My father and I
were probably both jacking off, when I think about it.
So the two parts of my brain cross-wire right there,
the two women in my life thrown grotesquely together—
Elsa, the heroine, who gets with the hired help, and my mother.
And that night, in shame, I throw the novel, oh alas—
even the chapter with the milkman, all of it
ripped in half with my bare hands—why so forceful?
and scattered to the wind into the woody canyon
behind the house where some other lucky 12 or 13-year-old
on his way to an Oakland Public School might find
a few scattered, windswept pages, little treasure maps
leading directly from and to that first orgasm—which came as
quite a surprise—same book, a few months earlier, at Jeff's house,
yes, and where his parents didn't care what he read in his room—
baseball novels or sexy books or Mad magazine.... whatever...

but oh, that one pearl of cum, that sweet fire,
that ripcord bloom of awe that led pretty quickly
to all the troubles and themes of all my mother's fancy books, from Lawrence,
to Shakespeare, to Milton, to Salinger, to Roth…
man against himself, man against mom, man against nature—
that we are not what we seem, not you, not my father
or my mother, certainly not me,
not Elsa either. Not even the milkman.

Chamber Music

You’re playing a duet, Ashokan Farewell
and I have nothing to do with it,
just listening from the next room
as you and Russell sing on your instruments
a song of longing—and nothing could be better
than his violin bow that can breathe without breathing—
the arm, the hand, the touch, the fingers
that have no stopping place, no bursting lung,
just phrase and time—that gradual exhale,
the song—that turns us from star into dust and back into
star. And you, on piano, not so much about melody
or chord structure as about home,
the nurturer, the listener—the earth
they spring from—comfort
that even from the impossible distance
of paradise, reminds me of the body again,
how brief, and with what possibility.
Now you've switched to Bach, just reading
together in Bach, together on the forest paths,
the journey like a mutual memory—a place we shared.
How could I possibly be happier than to imagine
this music going on forever—
even absent that most precious thing, my life?

Lydian Mode

To wake up in another language, another country…
How fragile these steps, these journeys of mind,
these things called endings, beginnings,
foundations—what key are they really in?
You begin to suspect you’ve been written in Lydian mode—
what seemed a cadence, now only a point of departure,
a passage across expectation, while the stars,
like distant grandfathers, are seeing you through
to a whole new perspective as if the “A” in amen
opened back to “A” again, ending in awe,
always by leaving something behind—a beloved, a place
on earth, a body—some assumption, some
expectation. What key exile, what key
my father?  What holds me now?

Ken Weisner

Ken Weisner is a longtime resident of the Seabright neighborhood in Santa Cruz but teaches writing & literature and edits Red Wheelbarrow through De Anza College in Cupertino. He is author of two books from Hummingbird Press, The Sacred Geometry of Pedestrians (2002) and Anything on Earth (2010). Ken’s work has previously appeared on Sam Hamill’s “Poets Against the War” website; in The Music Lovers Poetry Anthology (Persea, 2007); on The Writer’s Almanac (August 6, 2010); in the “Willing Suspension Armchair Theater” production of Lost and Found: The Literature of Fathers and Sons (May, 2009); and in recent issues of DMQ Review, Chicago Quarterly, and Porter Gulch Review.

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