Poems by Richard J. Newman

Clean


The first bus of the morning
screams into gear, pulls slowly
into traffic, a beast
stretching itself to start the day.
At the red light beneath my window,
as a few raindrops hit the pane
above the one I’m looking through,
the driver turns his wipers on
and the thick gray clouds
spread out above this city
release the drunk and vengeful man
they’ve been holding back
since last night. He beats
his fists against the glass, trembles
my entire building when he screams.


I want to feel his rage against my skin,
so I head downstairs, my shorts
torn, without
pockets, my shirt
as well, in sandals
that if I left right now to search for you
would not survive to the end of my block.
I walk the garden path
till I’m standing at the south end,
soaking wet and watching
the water in the fountain
dance its welcome
to the water from the sky.


The winter I was seventeen,
Kristin pushed me down
into this fountain’s center, her face
framed by trees I climbed
when I was eight and nine and ten.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
I nodded. She smiled,
bent between my legs,
and as she fumbled my zipper open
nothing, nothing as I
hardened against her tongue
came to me of the man
pushing himself between my teeth,
pouring into me
out of who he was
who he was,


and then who I was
gathered itself
to a point in me
I kept for myself
as long as I could,
until, in answer
to a summons
I’d only half believed
the world contained,
it rose up out of me,
white against the white
flakes just starting to fill
the quiet air around us,


and it was,
I was,
clean. 



Not Yet the Women They Would Grow Up to Be


That night, twelve girls huddled in a tight ring 
on the floor of Northwood lodge, the rain falling
loud enough on the roof that we sometimes
had to shout to be heard. I told them it was time;
their beds waited just a dozen yards away.
“But that would be like daring the storm to hit us,”
Nicole said. Her bunkmates nodded,
eyes tearing up, afraid, they all were,
that the tempest now roiling
Indigo Hills Camp
would strike more accurately
than last week’s storm,
which missed their bunk
by a young tree’s width.


I don’t remember what I said to get them moving,
but fear tightened their steps to inches
as mud sucked like horror movie slime
at our feet. Once inside, they clung to me,
and to each other, convinced that closing their eyes
would leave them not defenseless—they knew
they had no defense, that if lightning
was going to strike, it was going to strike.
They just didn’t want to be asleep if it did.


Later, on my final
unit walk-through,
I saved their bunk for last,
hovered in their doorway
to watch them sleep.
A fresh round of thunder
rattled their windows,
sent me stumbling
back onto the path,
heavy, ready to burst
with what I knew I could not
ask them to hold.


Turning my flashlight off,
standing still as a rod
beneath the falling water,
I waited for the light
another strike would bring,
each drop hitting my skin
like a small stone.
Heaven itself,
I thought,
was stoning me.


When nothing else struck,
I trudged downhill
to my own narrow bed,
pulled the shade to block
whomever might be watching
and slept, rising in the morning,
alone and guilt-ridden,
from dreams I could not remember.

Author most recently of For My Son, A Kind of Prayer (Ghostbird Press), Richard Jeffrey Newman curates the First Tuesdays reading series in Jackson Heights (in Queens), teaches at Nassau Community College (on Long Island), and (all too rarely) blogs at richardjnewman.com.