M.E. Silverman

After a night of summer storms
and the jagged, in-drawn breath
of funnels that seized century old roots
from the earth
and tossed two oaks
onto my lot,
I roam my land with caution
to repair what I can.
On this plank-board bridge
my father built
before I was born,
I kneel between the maple’s flame
and a bank of daffodils,
limp from the weight of rain. 

I push aside a path
between the fallen twigs,
cup my hands
to drink from the storm’s
settled waters,
risen high. 

Never did I think this thirst
could be silenced.





“It is not your light that
can blind us; it is the splendour
of your darkness.”
                      R. S. Thomas 

i. Before Entering the Sistine Chapel

The black rim
around the sun
is God’s blood.

The space within
heaven’s clotted shadows
and the silence
between, that is 

God’s voice,

waiting to be heard,
to be put into words
into the sacred skin,
for all to point and ask,
without answer: Who is
out there? 

ii. After Exiting the Sistine Chapel

What I always wanted to know
about Rome
is why the earth tries to drag
everything down
from heaven.

It is near dusk
or before dawn. I forget.
I wonder
how the quiet night
pins all this gravity,
why we want
to go forth
between your stars?

When will we reach out,
not just in one

not just for
the promised

but for that space
we can never get back? 


iii. At the Foreign Hospital, Three Days Later

I came for a pain,
a sharpness
in the base of my skull,
stayed to visit a stranger,
another wandering Jew.
He settled in Rome long ago
but still felt alone.

Hours in a lobby
and we became two
old stray cats
who will not leave.
Sometimes we feel more Yiddish
than American,
even here where the sun
makes everything golden.

I told you this is the best
part of my trip thus far,
tried to explain my theories
on sadness.
“Too much poetry” you said,
kissed your forefinger
and pointed skyward,
shivering in the white blanket
they wrapped around you.
When it was time to go,
you weakly put your hand on mine
and told me, “The only gift
God can use
from us
is happiness.”

When I left
for the long flight
I imagined you
still there,
the gap-toothed smile,
eyes filled with joy.
I began this poem with:
the black rim around the sun
is God’s blood.

iv. Pupils

Tell me, Lord, if you do not exist,
why do I see you
in the blue pupils
of my daughter,
in the hallelujah
of her unhindered laugh?

Even as I ask,
I know the answer
to why I can’t see you

is because we hold
our Adam hand back,

but why are you still

a stretch,

a touch,

a hand-sting away?


In November 1966, the Arno River in Florence overflowed, killing 33 and displacing 5000 families. In addition, 600,000 tons of debris and mud damaged 15, 000 cars, 14,000 pieces of art and 3 million books.


When my father first heard about the flood,
he boarded a train from France.
He did not go for the people
or the city, he hoped to save
Italy’s artistic legacy
by removing works of art
from their mud-filled cells.

He did not expect brown splotches
on rooftops, overturned cars,
uprooted trees and packed layers
smudged on homes, on churches
and bubbles on every street
like German measles.
He almost turned back.

He did not speak the language,
but lugged Italian books
that smelled like sour underlog
from the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze
to Michelangelo’s Fortress,
five at a time for the purposes of counting.
Sludge swarmed up his clothes,
through his skin, down his throat.


He began to help clean the books
between a Russian and a Spaniard,
dipping their brushes into resin
and then ironing over the substance
to turn it to powder.
A slow process,
it kept the ink on the pages.


At the train station,
windows, white floating tea lights,
filled his departure.

M. E. SILVERMAN moved from New Orleans to Georgia and teaches at Gordon College, with work appearing in, Neon, Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, Chicago Quarterly Review, Tapestry, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Mizmor L'David Anthology: The Shoah, Cloudbank, The Broad River Review, Pacific Review, Because I Said So Anthology, Sugar House Review, and other magazines. M. E. Silverman was a finalist for the 2008 New Letters Poetry Award, the 2008 DeNovo Contest and the 2009 Naugatuck River Review Contest. He is working on editing a contemporary Jewish anthology with Deborah Ager forthcoming in 2013 from Continuum.

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