RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 5

Arthur Russell

To Sarah

When you are old and gone of mind
and I am dead, animal dead,
keep this rent-producing property,
and please, collect the rents.

Go out, if you must,
in your pink house slippers
with fur on the instep and
your shepherd on a leash;
mutter that stuff about your mother
at the bus stop; pick up empty bottles
from the street and do without
combing your stiff grey-yellow hair,

but, please, Sarah,
stomp up and down the stairs on the first
so they hear you coming,
shave-and-a-haircut knock and call out landlord
with your eye against the peephole.

Don’t trust Grudin the plumber, he’ll
sell you your own toilet, but Harold
is good for legal. Also, Sylvia at Citibank.
She’ll try to get you to buy an annuity,
but otherwise good.

So much has gone wrong
in the kitchen and the crutches
and Elliott with his asthma,
and the sex thing between us,
and, I’ve been so bitter,
the books in the back bedroom
are strangers to me now.


Remember the Kandinsky,
that skinny book of Kandinsky prints?
That was such a happy day.
It’s in the back bedroom,
in the shelves under the window.

Now, I’m only Goldberg the landlord with crutches,
and you are Goldberg, the landlord with crutches’ wife.
I can’t help that, but I do love you.


When you die, Russell, the guy
who owns the car wash next door,
will buy this building from your estate,
and then he’ll send his son,
that pretentious, intellectual prick,
to clean out our apartment,
and he’ll smoke a cigarette
in our back bedroom and look out
through the accordion gates
east on Church Avenue
towards Boro Park, where
we first met outside the candy store
when you asked me to buy you
a Pepsi.

He’ll throw almost everything away.
He’ll find the Kandinsky book;
he’ll sit on the bookcase, smoke his cigarette,
look out the window, read the introduction,
stare at the pictures, and

keep it for a souvenir of how he suffered
working for his father,
or as some kind of perverse proof
that he is superior to all the mercantile idiots
like his father and me, who worked
for what we have.

He’ll keep that Kandinsky on his bookshelves
when he goes to graduate school in Syracuse;
keep it in his apartments in Brighton,
Park Slope, Greenwich Village, Chelsea;
keep it when he gives up his fucked-up dreams
of becoming an artiste — he never had talent —
to become a lawyer, get married, move to Jersey,
have a kid and bookshelves,
bookshelves everywhere he went,
twenty, thirty years of schlepping the same books,
college books, grad school books,
his wife’s Elizabeth George mysteries,


until, one day, after his wife leaves him,
he’ll remembered you, Sarah,
and your garbage-sniffing shepherd,
and me, with my two amputated feet
lost in a trolley car accident, swinging
on polio crutches from one property
to the next, shave-and-a-haircut knocking,
calling out landlord,
and he’ll reimagine us as holograms
that capture the sense of style and loss
that he compassions, the way
that what you wanted as a kid
can be shunted into tedious commerce,
the way the past can evanesce,

and he’ll go down to his basement
and pull out that Kandinsky book,
and see how the show was mounted
in May of ‘45
just months after Kandinsky had died,
and he’ll picture us, Sarah,
when we were young and hip
how we went up to Harlem
to see Lucky Roberts play
stride piano,

how we went to see Kandinsky
at the Museum of Non-Objective Art
before it was called the Guggenheim,
being in love before the trolley,
before Elliott and his asthma
made me a bitter puss,
buying that book on the last day of the show —
and it was such a big deal for you,
you said Please, Morris, please let’s get the book,
and your voice made my sternum hum
so I had to buy it for you,
and what would later become
your stiff grey-yellow hair
was beautiful brown, and down to your shoulders,
in waves I used to compare to Barbara Stanwyk,
and you’d say No, I don’t look at all like her,
but you did.


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