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by Linda Lerner

Young Man With A Guitar
(Tuscaloosa Alabama 4/29/2011)

a young man with a guitar on his back
stares out on piles of rubble...

like photos ripped to shreds, newsprint scatters
this scene across five states pursuing tornadoes

those who survived fled before
the photographer could capture them
who this man will bring back in song
strum guitar strings to resuscitate
those doctors couldn't, rebuild lives

I know this as I know how someone
can be brought back to life line by line in poems
as I know what he must have sacrificed
to have saved his guitar for this purpose

a man who'll never be able to explain
to some woman how he knows
what birth pangs feels like
convince her there's no one else,

this woman he'll meet far from here
who'll sense others breathing down her neck
as he presses close, the smell of
blood clotted earth dust swirling around them

Without Sound or Sense

I hate the smell of garbage
rank odors in old hallway buildings
can't stand street drilling, jackhammers
pounding outside my windows
boom box thunder, cell phone voices
buzzing around me like bees I want to swat
voices in knock down drag out fights
kids screaming down the street
a car screeching to a stop inches from
someone's shout, a hey, fuck off
from someone who walks into me while texting
                       except when they're absent
and I don't smell any coffee, taste a morning's burnt toast
breathe the scent of freshly mowed grass
of forbidden cigarette smoke or
wake to a helicopter jamming with
a sanitation truck, can't hear
a single subway musician as a train
speeding thru snaps his violin or
guitar strings, when there's no rage or joy
exploding on a street

I can't feel the city's atonal rhythms
in my head, my heart picks up nothing:
thoughts without color or sound swirl around
in weatherless space... the poem is still born

42nd Street on a Saturday Night

Corralled off sidewalks onto streets
beneath the technological fallout of flashing billboards
everyone is breaking down digital...

the man I am with has vanished into his watch
his eyes force down the watch hands
it is 7:45, we have 15 minutes to get there
what is wrong with me he says without speaking

the crowd thickens, feels like dust
blowing in my face, and how we move
isn't like walking feels like riding on horses,
I tell him this without speaking, riding slow so slow
he looks at me as if I'm crazy

a slow motion stampede of people
riding thru every color of sound
thru the flash of gunshot speeding lights

do you hear it do you see
we've been flung back in time
I tell him with my eyes body turning
up down everywhere but

he is too far into his watch to hear me…
It is one minute to eight; a huge billboard
drops down before us
we are standing in front of a theater
I don't know if it's real or if the man who
now steps out of his watch is

real is what he wants to see
forcing me there even if it's not where we are


I knew a bartender once
who could pour non stop all night
watched his hands move across the bottles
like piano keys, crowd four deep
and he'd pour right thru them
way your voice keeps pouring out
glassfuls of your day, when
it's all I can do to stay up
beer mugs of arguments, shotglasses of job grievances
the phone pressed to my ear,
wide awake now, you're finally done
my eyes close over his hands
hours into sleep

Linda Lerner was born and educated in New York City; Her most recent collection, Takes Guts & Years Sometimes, was just published by New York Quarterly Books, June 2011,

She's previously published thirteen collections of poetry: Something Is Burning In Brooklyn (Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, 2009) Living In Dangerous Times (Presa Press, 2007) and City Woman (March Street Press, Fall 2006), both Small Press Review's Picks.

Two previous collections also had that honor; she's been nominated twice for a pushcart prize. In 1995 she and Andrew Gettler began Poets on the Line (, the first poetry anthology on the 'Net, for which she received two grants.


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