Two Poems by Jacqueline Osherow

Love Song to That Performance Poet, My Mother

Mom! Guess what? I didn’t inherit nothing —

Okay, so maybe I didn’t get your face,

your generosity, your perfect kindness.

That was you in my kitchen this very morning

when Magda refused breakfast (a tad rudely)

and I offered her a nice glass of grapefruit juice

and — it won’t surprise you — she said yes!

Oh lure of the specific! Living poetry!

How you, after dinner, every single night

would offer me a nice piece of fruit

and I would every single night decline.

But you persisted: How about a nectarine?

An apple? A bunch of grapes? A pear? A plum?

And damned if I didn’t take one every time.

Villanelle on the Oldest Known Piece of Writing

There’s a real chance I have it wrong,

the oldest known language written down:

All the songs have already been sung

It sounds apocryphal, but so enticing:

Akkadian? Sumerian? On stone.

There’s a real chance I have it wrong.

Still, it would absolve my noiseless tongue

or at least offer some commiseration

if all the songs have already been sung.

Perhaps it’s why so many bells are rung:

every hour on the hour, a carillon

(I suppose there’s a chance I have it wrong)

helps the air articulate its longing

(The air is longing? I’m not alone? )

for all its songs, already sung.

But why, if I’ve known this all along,

do I keep waiting here, my heart wide open?

There’s a real chance I have it wrong.

All the songs have already been sung.

Jacqueline Osherow’s sixth collection of poems, “Whitethorn,” is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in 2011.

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