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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 1: January 2020
Poem: 1305 words
By Matt Bialer

Island

 
       
I’m in Herald Square
with my camera
Street photography
Looking to take pictures
of the people I pass
couples holding hands
tourist families
business people
rushing to an appointment
negotiating their phones
Air Pods
Tee shirts
REMAIN CALM
LOVE
IT’S GONNA BE OKAY
Sirens
shrieking
More than one ambulance
three of them
so loud
people hold their ears
Remain Calm
I wonder 
who they are saving?
Who’s in trouble?
Sirens shrieking
Two days
before you died
the nurse from hospice
wanted me to sign
a DNR form
Do Not Resuscitate
I didn’t want to
Counterintuitive
What about
our marriage vows
in sickness
and in health
to love
and to cherish
until we are parted by death
Do Not Resuscitate
I don’t think
that’s what we said
We wrote 
our own vows
Support each other
Stick with each other
no matter what
No matter what
And the rabbi said
“Adonai
our God
let there soon be heard
the voices
of the loving couple
the sound of their jubilance
from their canopies
and of the youths
from their song-filled feasts”
People hold their ears
Remain Calm
Nineteen weeks
after your death
but who’s counting
I attend
my new bereavement group
Good to be with others
in my predicament
to hear their points of view
their struggles
tears
but also laughter
The Hassidic man
in our group
slept in a separate bed
from his wife
six kids
ages 6 to 28
two married
Collages of her
on the walls
blown-up photos
spray painted
a red heart
over her bed
Two months
after she passed
“It’s how I survive
It’s how I keep her”
The rabbi told him
“Stop this craziness”
two months after
“Stop this craziness
It’s time to move on”
Sirens
shriek
Remain Calm
A woman in the group
husband gone seven months
says she’s
always running
Always running
Not as in
running in the park
but running on trips
Rome
Amsterdam
“I guilt my girlfriends
into going with me
guilt them”
Another time
taking her young children
to Paris
Running on trips
I have no plans
to travel
I have no plans
I can’t 
because Izzy
is finishing high school
I have no plans
“Stop this craziness
It’s time to move on”
Always running
Do Not Resuscitate
Another woman
in our group
always did 
lots of physical sports
with her husband
all over the world
All over the world
Hikes
surfing
rock climbing
cliff dives
They were 
in Indonesia
when he died
From the Greek
“Indos”
means India
“Nesos”
means island
Comprised
of 18,110 islands
more than 6,000
of them uninhabited
Ocean’s calm
translucent surface
Active volcanos
grade into swamps
lowlands
shallow Java Sea
Decades of purges
and coups
violent secessionist movement
But you wouldn’t know it here
so peaceful
a paradise
They were hiking
along the Kinabatangan River
in Sabah, Borneo
Ancient rainforest
temples
orangutans
clouded leopards
They spotted elephants
by the river
Borneo pygmy elephants
a rare sighting
They felt grateful
and blessed
But later
after surfing
Mentawai Islands
an archipelago
off the coast
of West Sumatra
waves
up to 15 feet tall
They’re on the beach
Her husband
collapses
Dial 118
Takes an hour
for an ambulance
to come
Takes an hour
Not well equipped
doesn’t look like
an ambulance
They don’t 
have the same level
of paramedical training
as elsewhere
in the developed world
It’s too late
Too late
She wants
to take him home
hassles with the authorities
leaves their 70-kilo bags behind
told by someone
“Nothing goes unused here”
Nothing
Too late
Sirens
shrieking
Remain Calm
Do Not Resuscitate
“Stop this craziness
It’s time to move on”
Always running
running on trips
I have no plans
to travel
I have no plans
I am an elephant
isolated
from the herd
Lost
Nineteen weeks
after your death
but who’s counting
Another in the group
afraid she’ll lose
more people
Afraid
because she’s a single parent now
she’ll die
on her young children
I nod
in agreement
I’m more aware
something could happen to me
More aware
What would happen to Izzy?
Fear
I will lose people
Do Not Resuscitate
“Nothing goes unused here”
Nothing
Too late
Sirens
shrieking
The other day
I was supposed
to meet my close friend Jane
for a walk
in the park
She texted me
had a stomach ache
had to cancel
I’m sorry to hear that
Feel better
The next day
she texted me
“Had to go the emergency room”
Gallstones
in her gallbladder
Alarmed
I visit her
I have not been
in a hospital 
since you died
I have not been
in a hospital
Familiar and strange
EKG/ECG monitor
blood pressure 
She has to have
laparoscopic gallbladder surgery
cholecystectomy
to remove the gallbladder
and gallstones
several incisions
Surgeon inflates
her abdomen
with air
to see clearly
See clearly
Relieved
she’s going to be okay
I want to visit again
but Izzy
is home sick
bad cold
hungry
needs orange juice
Am I at home?
No
at work
Why aren’t I home
with her?
I had to work
and have to visit Jane
“Come home”
I will early
cancel a meeting
Sirens
shrieking
Do Not Resuscitate
DNR form
purpose of informing
and instructing paramedics
EMS
hospital physicians
and medical staff
to forgo
any resuscitation attempts
Forgo
in the event
of cardiopulmonary
or respiratory arrest
I reluctantly sign it
In sickness
and in health
to love
and to cherish
“The voices
of the loving couple
and of the youths
from their song-filled feasts”
“Nothing goes unused here”
Nothing
Do Not Resuscitate
“Stop the craziness
It’s time to move on”
Remain Calm
Nineteen weeks
after your death
but who’s counting
I open the second drawer
of your night table
filled to the top
prescription bottles
You were a pacifist
but this was
your war chest
your secessionist movement
Tramadol
Escitalopram
Letrozole
Quetiapine
and more
Your war chest
I am an elephant
isolated
from the herd
Lost
I want to see clearly
see clearly
Always running
running on trips
I have no plans
to travel
I have no plans
When Izzy
visited Tanzania
last summer
she went on safari
saw elephants
learned about
deep rumble
communicating over great distances
sharing our human awareness
of family bonds
community
recognizing
the bones
of a loved one
A herd
against the backdrop
of ice-capped Kilimanjaro 
A little one
runs for a river
so excited
about the cool water
trunk wobbled 
like jelly
Like jelly
I am meeting parent friends
Austrian restaurant
for dinner
I arrive early
Hostess asks if we have a reservation
No we don’t
“How many will you be?”
Six
When the first of two couples arrives
my friend Sarah
asks do we have a table
I say yes, for six
“But’s it’s for five”
She sees the realization
on my face
frustration
I’m sorry
“It’s okay”
I oddly forgot
Do Not Resuscitate
I want to see clearly
I’m in a small turboprop plane
flying over islands
I’m lost
in the fog
Lost
No instrument rating
cannot navigate
don’t know
if I’m up or down
Looking for land
an island
an air strip
a place to land
The Twilight Zone episode
jet airliner
a flash of light
severe turbulence
unable to contact
anyone on the ground
no radio
Descend below the clouds
identify the coastline
Manhattan Island
but there is no city
no buildings
just forest
and grazing dinosaurs
They go back up
increase altitude
to catch the same
freak jet stream
hopefully return home
Return home
Captain
addresses the passengers
“All I ask
is that you remain calm”
Flying over islands
I’m lost
in the fog
Lost
Looking for an island
an air strip
a place to land
where I’ll see
an elephant
on the beach
Ocean’s calm
translucent surface
An elephant
on the beach
stroking
the bleached bones
long dead companion
trunk lingering
over the skull
tenderly


—Appears here with author’s permission from his collection, Always Say Goodnight: Elegies for Lenora (KYSO Flash Press, March 2020). Goodnight is a tribute to his beloved late wife, Lenora Lapidus, who was Director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. Ms. Lapidus died on May fifth, 2019 after a long battle with cancer.

Matt Bialer
Issue 1, January 2020

is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry including Radius (Les Editions du Zaporogue); Already Here, Ark, and Black Powder (three from Black Coffee Press); Bridge, The Valley of the Eight, and Third Eye of the Inner Light (three from Leaky Boot Press); Tell Them What I Saw (PS Publishing, UK); Formation (Weirdo Magnet); He Walks On All Fours (Dynatox Ministries); and Ascent and Wonder Weavers (two from Bizarro Pulp Press). His poems have appeared in many print and online journals including Cultural Weekly, Forklift Ohio, Gobbet, Green Mountains Review, H_NGM_N and La Zaporogue.

In addition, Matt’s an acclaimed street photographer (primarily black-and-white) and an accomplished painter of watercolor landscapes who has exhibited his works widely. Some of his photographs are held in the permanent collections of The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, and the The New York Public Library, and his watercolors reside in many private collections. His photographic monographs, A Moment’s Notice (with foreword by D. Foy) and More Than You Know, were published by Les Editions du Zaporogue in 2016 and 2011, respectively. The same publisher issued a book of his paintings in 2012, Shadowbrook.

Author’s website: www.mattbialer.com

 
 
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