3 Poems by Gerard Sarnat
Fiftieth Anniversary Of Going Blind
“A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling
the Great Decline of religion in America continues.”
-The Huffington Post, 17 May 2015
Last stretch south from college near Boston, living on
non-inherited wits, my hippocampi having learned the trick
of hiding behind a girl or at least standing near abandoned vehicles,
I got a hitch with a jaunty guy who claimed to be the sword swallower
at a traveling circus now parked outside a haunted house
in Patterson -- decades after med school I’d give my eyeteeth
to make a home visit to Doc William Carlos Williams’ haunts.
The bizarro’s wife also served as the senior mustachioed
fat lady’s stand in. She forced me to lie down under her in the back,
buried my head beneath disco balls, Kewpie Dolls,
sequined seahorses, five open-mouthed wide-eyed clowns playing pinball.
We eventually stopped somewhere in Philly
while a preppy friend twiddled his thumbs at the Liberty Bell.
Waiting in the family Main Line tailgating station wagon,
Ed drove to their bonkers-large Haverford place
so I could drop him off and make my way to Germantown
to pick up the love of my life.
Punching above my weight, I first met Karen
when my buddy fixed us up for Princeton’s homecoming game
just the week before fellow Harvard alum JFK was assassinated.
The blond folksinger took a few slugs from my silver flask
of rotgut whiskey, charmed off my class ring
and other things then proceeded to get herself
to a convent experiment that ended by New Years.
Next chance to resume, this near-sighted Californian,
realizing he’d lost his glasses back in Jersey,
tapped the brakes through a blizzard.
It took two and a half hours inching inching inching inching
opening the driver’s door a crack
to keep track of the camouflaged central white line,
every once in a while pulling over
to look at a map or take a nap.
Karen's auf Deutsch mother was immediately
unimpressed by my Jewishness, and frankly
the ex-nun’s still shorn appearance left me cold
so we called it quits
after which I took the next bus to Cambridge.
Arrived on a Saturday night,for the first time this atheist
gave a second’s thought to going to Hillel
but quickly dismissed it in favor of
more solitary dorm bedroom oh my activities.
Lured to Yonker's Asylum
Testosteroned court receivership asskicking after my Greater Good actions invite lawsuits –
run off the road by plaintiff goons who shot out the engine block -- my own hooligans
assure no knives/ Glocks packed or bugs/wires on our boardroom’s telltale secure lines.
A bodyman makes damn sure I’m not mugged or kneecapped in the civic center
can occupied off-hours by fire station groupies who rendezvous there with hook-‘n-
ladder johns’ mullets which’re all business in front but all bring-it-on party in back.
After we won and kept dominion over our clinic and jobs, a friendly local druggist
sent a picture postcard, “Ain’t seen you in church. When you’re back from Hoboken
(Doc Williams, don’t you worry, no one else knows about your apartment there),
please pay a visit to the third story yokels’ bedlam in the tenement on your corner.
Their Rutherford neighbors complain real bad, have been badgering the beat cops
last coupla weeks.”... From the hard-bitten Big-Sister-In-Charge, “Dad cheats, wanders,
puts everything back onto me. His barmates know how to show a girl a good time but
gave me filthy diseases. Not wanting to be no martyr or pervert, I’ll lay it 200% on you.
But don’t expect to get paid or nothin’.” Fresh as lead paint, can’t fake desperation,
she swaddled a baby the size of a half loaf of bread. Cheeks and nose smudged
with impetigo, the adolescent hacks hunks of lung. At this rate with a $100 of luck,
bunch of kids might grow up to become shut-your-trap pudding-faced garbage hustlers
or briefly expensive two-timed whores. “Here’s a picture to look at!” entices the children
downstairs, through the turnstile and trash, into my Oldsmobile before the alternator finally
turned over and we went bonkers on our way toward a safe Jersey haven.
Bringing It All Back Home
“It's all been done before, it's all been written in the book...”
- Bob Dylan
“DaddyDadDaddy!” my son starts it up,
wailing during a not unusual Western Wall
shopping mall sale skirmish. Unsure if he’s hit
in the lips by another child’s rubber ball or a rock,
I wipe some blood off his chin while my wife scans the crowd for worse,
Watching crowbars and tire irons gain steam,
we’re uncertain if Arabs and/or Jews.
The whole family caught in the flash flood, my job is to exit
this cataract quick. I put my body in the road to flag down
taxis that don’t exist, wave and plead with speeding cars
but not one stops until I flopped on the beat-up hood
of a truck stalled in the middle of the intersection --
which gives me seconds to commandeer the door open
for daughter/ wife, of course horrifying the woman driving.
All in, I megaphone and gesture, “Move fast!”
to the lady who doesn’t understand my words
and we really didn’t understand hers, but nothing
matters ‘cause she gets what’s happening, the vehicle
slowly turns over, and off we go through East Jerusalem
to the American Colony Hotel where she parks our differences,
gives me a handshake, kisses my wife and kids after raising a veil.
Gerard Sarnat is a physician who’s built and staffed homeless and prison clinics as well as a Stanford professor and healthcare CEO. He won the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry is published in academic-related journals including University of Chicago, Stanford, Oberlin, and many others. Gerry’s writing has also appeared widely including recently in such U.S. outlets as Gargoyle, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, and more. He’s also authored the collections Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014), and Melting the Ice King (2016). Gerry’s been married since 1969 with three kids, five grandsons with a sixth on the way and looking forward to future granddaughters.