The word bird does not itself take flight

nor do the letters robin insert their beak
deep into the field of white between the text


We are torn from being by a heavy horizontal line
that bars the signifier from ecstatic union
with the signified.




I would like to write a poem, Fidel,
that would serve your revolution,
but I find myself unable.
All that I can do, Fidel, is to write a poem
about how I try to write a poem
that would serve your revolution.

In the first verse I start to write, Fidel,
that I still remember Martha, my first girlfriend
back in college; how she’d walk barefoot on the lawn
from her dorm room to the commons, treading carefully
so as not to crush the soft grass and the flowers;
how proud I was of her when she went to Cuba
to cut cane with the first brigade, the Venceremos,
how much respect I had for her when she returned,
dropped out of school, and went to work to serve the people
at a clinic in el Barrio de Harlem.

But then I have to write, in a second verse, Fidel,
that I can’t forget how Martha wept and wept—
I thought she’d never stop—when she learned about
the dissidents that your soldiers put in prison,
and her outrage at your claim that this was done
to save the revolution; how she went back to school
to study corporate law; how shocked I was
to hear that she died when her car went off
the road, which her parents called an accident,
but I knew was suicide.

And so the darkness of the second verse
blots out the brightness of the first,
and I erase them both.

So I start to rewrite the first verse, Fidel,
write this time about Marisol, an old woman
in Havana, about my anger when I heard about her life
under Batista; how she stood outside the iron gates
of a mansion in Vedado and begged for food,
wearing dirty rags that did not cover up
what she called her private parts; about the joy I felt
when she told me that the revolution taught her
how to read and write, gave her work and dignity,
and for a moment, Fidel, I believed in you.

But then a second verse arrives, Fidel,
about my father who once dreamed of revolution—
he named me Carl Fredrick Auerbach,
after Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels—
about his bitter voice when he spoke about
Stalin’s gulags, Khrushchev’s revelations;
about the scorn he heaped upon his younger self,
and I hear his advice to me before he died:
to trust no one and to believe in nothing,
and I feel ashamed, Fidel, of my belief in you.

And so the new life in the first verse
is aborted in the second
and I leave them both unwritten

I would like write a poem, Fidel,
that would serve your revolution,
but I find myself unable.
All that I can do, Fidel, is to write this poem
about why I can not write a poem
that would serve your revolution.



Don’t stare at me like that. I swear
on my signed copy of Che Guevara’s diary
that the only reason I put on the uniform
that Kim’s Chinese Laundry had mistakenly
delivered to my apartment was because
it was the only clean thing in my closet.

Granted, there was a certain sensual pleasure
in the deep blue of the trousers, the knife-edge crease,
the jacket with the insignia and the badge.
But as the students say, in their snickering,
condescending way, I’m a child of the sixties.
My uniform is the absence of uniformity.

I will admit my genuine enjoyment
walking past the group of smug young preppies
loitering in front of College Hall,
as I watched them freeze, desperate to look innocent.
I felt powerful, confident, in charge.
It was better than years of psychotherapy.

But I can’t tell you what would make me wear it
during office hours, so I could watch the students squirm
in the only chair to sit on in my office—
deliberately made too small—while they stammered out
incoherent pleas for change of grades,
which I found quite easy to refuse.

And it certainly wasn’t me, it was what
the uniform whispered in my ear
that made me picture Stephanie—who comes
to class in halter tops and miniskirts,
when she’s there at all—on her knees before me
in my office, working for her “A.”

I beg you to believe that I never would have done it.
And anyhow, the point is moot.
Just yesterday the laundry realized their mistake,
and Kim himself came to take it back,
leaving me just me, which came as a relief.
How can you imagine that I miss it.



Carl Auerbach lives in New York City, where he has a private practice of psychotherapy. Now that his four children are grown, he is pursuing a long-standing interest in poetry. Carl’s had three poems and a short story nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, The Baltimore Review, Bayou Magazine, Blue Lake Review, Brink Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, The Cape Rock, Chrysalis Reader, The Coachella Review, Colere, Confluence, Corium Magazine, The Critical Pass Review, descant, The Distillery, Eclipse, Edison Literary Review, Eleven Eleven, Euphony, and many other publications.