Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

John Samuel Tieman: Self-portrait with folks in St. Louis

At a table in the deli
I’m the guy in the Nam vet hat
the Hasidic kid in line
sings softly in Yiddish
of a childhood he never had
a song of some mythic shtetl
at the table the Black girl dares
the Korean kid to double-dutch
there’s an AIDS activist about
to go for the free refill
the beat cop stares at a nosh

for years even decades
I ran from this place my home
some kid running from mother
dreading her and longing for her
milk in me and me in her milk
packing for a war or another trip
composing as I go
all the words I’d never say
the words that moved me
home finally

still I recall the rains in the islands
the cold in Mexico and how
I imagined my mother standing
on the porch looking south and for
years I’d look back north hoping
to see nothing but distance

now I am in the north
and the north is in me
still I wish for a leaf
to blow in this door
or a wren of all things
to land on a car
all I find is myself whispering
a little Latin prayer
to what and for what
that’s anybody’s guess

Copyright 2020 John Samuel Tieman

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