Deck by Benjamin Saltman

Benjamin Saltman
Ithaca House
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following magazines in which some of these poems first appeared: Poetry Northwest, Ironwood, and Bachy.
Copyright 1979 by Ithaca House

This book was published with the aid of public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, for which we are grateful.
All rights reserved. None of these poems may be reprinted in any form without the written permission of the publisher except for brief excerpts in reviews.
108 North Plain Street
Ithaca, New York 14850
Ithaca House books are distributed by SBD (Small Press Distribution), 1636 Ocean View Ave., Kensington, CA 94707
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data:
Saltman, Benjamin.
       I.  Title.
PS3569.A4623D4	811'.5'479-22756
ISBN 0-87886-107-6
Benjamin Saltman
51 Richardson Road
Kensington, CA 94707
For those I love beyond my knowing Helen, Jeanmarie, Lara, Marjorie


The deck was shuffled. The poems follow the sequence of the cards.


The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on their throne when they arrived, with a great crowd as- sembled about them--all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as the whole pack of cards: the Knave was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him; and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other. --Lewis Carroll

Deck: Six of Hearts

The frequency of turning of the whole animal
makes its hollows, the color where it turned/
and the tablecloth's history is in the fingertips.
Hunger forces the mind toward justice
and the plate sits heavy on the cloth . . .

The trail of memory is constantly not the memory
and yet this homage to rye bread
to the grating shoe on the gritty pavement
homage to retrospect / to a natural order
too much like mechanical order
and confusion like dispersal in death
past all outline / past haze and glitter

where a window and a bush cast themselves
upon the warm slag of torn walls.

Deck: Ace of Spades

So soon?  So awaken and be limited
be sunlight and catkins fallen from the tree
into the yard formed by sleep / scattered.

To begin: stone has no seasons.
Black and serious is power.
Yes to begin with the slammed door

all climactic acts with high wave forms.
The gas stove poofs its blue jets
round the pierced ring to begin.
To begin with the assertion of meaning
first by its denial, hopeless, curving, central.

Deck: Eight of Hearts

Those cows posturing on the slope
are set for tourists, for all they can eat.
So much for passion at Cambria-in-the-Pines,
Vivaldi for the lunchers at the Grey Fox Inn,
so rich a sound of eating . . .

and nearby below the white sea sleeps /
and, let's see, Orson Welles once bought
this stretch of Big Sur Coast

bought it for Rita Hayworth who would not go
for fear of the wilderness.  The cows musing.
Love will not explain these rendezvous.

Deck: Two of Hearts

Caterpillars slide down through the trees,
warm wind makes such beings unstable
so they whirl / then intervention by leaves
slashing the sunlight.  The green caterpillar
on the orange tree is a tunnel / green finger
transformer transforming . . .
these worms like chill water down my sleeve
tarnishing the distances, swinging
all dying to turn complacent wings
telling me not to move.

Deck: Ace of Clubs

He helplessly watches his daughter
pour out summer on the beach /
chemicals of the plastic ball in the sun
and coconut oil lotion.  Sand continents,
the ball seething in a sand kettle.
The baby's head in purple sun smells
like bread / the ball the baby and the sun
are chances between surging water and his towel
trying to make him understand.

Between water and rock each meteor of sand
is glint / is hot with hate
or absence, and the baby drives her stick through
vinyl sand singing "Oh..."

Her first brief look being why it is
and now her plan for popsicle sticks
for her ball and the sun.

Deck: Jack of Clubs

The usual hamstring pull /
the tears of losing hardly real

but the plastic grass was dry
and seared his skin dream driving

his high cleats / and the rules were fair,
you could see the score.

Night games a thousand runners
pass beneath opaque birds

and there's the penalties, the strange beliefs
of stunned suburbanites whose bosses

got them passes, forcing their faces
toward superstars, his battered eyes.

Deck: Jack of Spades

"Shaken that planets will not survive, Lord
protect my lions / my spiders hide.
We never were sole killers for this place, 
let lush trees regenerate / waters clean themselves,
the worms accept their peaches": so he sang
and watched them go.
"And if I go
in this blue envelope, if we go yet
let the stars have the night animals
and the sun its looking grass, let flagella flash
and for songs let crickets be."
Those amber shells / everything gone.

Deck: Two of Clubs

Those fights at breakfast were not more serious
than death / they made less sense.
"I'll get out of here alive, I'll just
disappear."  "Disappear," Lara says.
A seductive humming from outside /
the night theater has just let out its wings.
"O great agony..." a dream sings
And she says "What do you want?  How can I know
what you want?"
"Raspberry jam dried on the table, that's what
I want" and the baby saying "What!"
like a tennis ball whamming
a garage door.  Annealed cracks in a paste of crumbs
in the table, that's what.

Deck: Three of Clubs

Have mercy on me, on my eyes injured
in the dark drunk in the rain on the bad side street
unable to reach her.  At the phone stand
near the propped tree slick and wobbling,
drunk weeping through his hands, and the cars
throbbing against his hands...there under the litter
in the sick grass ants washed and rafted
sliding on wrappers.  And through the rain the phone
glowing, needles working the drunken eyes,
and deeper / deeper ants checking the eggs, constantly.

Deck: Seven of Diamonds

They grew safe, a right degree of challenge
caused the right fear / their appetites
never sagged for crab, the "mushu pork,"
the Carta Blanca.  Days so various they felt
redeemed even by their medical coverage.

Was it then a sense of privilege?
The houses with heavy shake roofs, the spanish tile /
not crushed rock and tar broken out in scars.
Pleasure, and the obligation to serve which goes
with privilege, the sense of public good which is
the difference between privilege and ripping off.

And in soft light of bedlamps they abutted
with such ease that through each breast 
reverberated a cosmos, they were a condominium.
Pledged well-being in tennis courts where lights
hovered like praying mantises / agreed to fight busing,

learn sign language, give a day to the clinic / examine
the heart, be self-aware, vote always, make the young
adore them and so not murder them too soon.

Deck: Eight of Diamonds

The morning run of the neighborhood trees...
Mist softly correcting the neighborhood.
Hoarse first words, tongues begin questions
and all light grows yellow.  Newspapers
which slapped concrete before the rain 
now darken and settle / I hardly
waken.  News of a great man's death
has slow going this morning.  Children
turn their faces to be kissed or surprising
offer their lips.  It's wrong to see clearly
as long as the research labs are still working /
but did he die?  Was he part of night?
Was he the huge dark body through which we saw?

Deck: Seven of Spades

Casual prayers were days with monarch butterflies
and eucalyptus / the grass blue in winter,
dust of the road still kneeling toward water,
prayers like casual glances at a freeway.
At the Big Sur River at Andrew Molera Park we 
under butterfly beauty urging search
high as if leaping from leaf to leaf.
Certainly we didn't help each other.
We offered nothing to their fertility,
but when they mated, tigerish with slow pumped
it seemed more than for themselves / it made us
wait at last where the river gargled the bay
and the orange seaweed nodded over its ocean.

Deck: Four of Clubs

So ends part the first wherein Lady Isobel
practiced being ravished / not forced.

Something she could wait for handsomely and not miss
if it went past completely.  Cultivating
held breath and lines slowly gathered like the stems
of her lips about her lips.  Living with surprise
she could devote herself also to knowledge of soul 
travel /
football/ transfiguration / rock / and the amelioration
of hairstyles.  So when the future swung its hammer
down upon her anyway, she rushed to accept it
screaming "Oh, no!"  Her cry fit well the day's event.


I've never torn up a deck of cards in my life, and I don't believe in squeaking if you lose. --Amarillo Slim

Deck: Ten of Spades

Redwoods had been so hacked that sycamores
muscled in, and with sycamores their insects
and birds interpreted a thousand years
of throbbing...
Their songs hot wire drawn bitterly.

He hiked down from SF with hash
to our tent at Pfeiffer.  Easily
again became a comrade being high /
chuckled, smelled redwood,
heard redwood and fern hissing
in the dappled arms of the sycamores.
Seeing oblivion,
a small stream in the sun creasing winter.
Blue hands seemed right.

"If you can't convince yourself of
inner life," he said beside a cobwebbed stump,
"then that's it, Pal," and passed the pipe.

Deck: Jack of Diamonds

The past glistens like a boiled egg /
yesterday beneath a profusion of flowers,
mastered by hands moving instruments.
"Waterlilies" by Monet mastered him.  Why all that
Blue buried in the Louvre?
became shadows of birds soaring
into his shoulderblades / butterflies
settled on the fingers of children and waited
pulsing like express trains.
The world became a surface, even the graves on the
Willingly he ambled toward the summer casket
whose light turned out to be yellow
as if passing through old skin.

Deck: Queen of Clubs

Reduced by change pulling at courage she
appeared in Pittsburgh with a shopping bag
murmuring against her leg.  Her passion was

just lifting her eyes to strange facades /
leaking window ledges, housedresses,
her historical moment.  Roundnesses

she had left in the Old Country, let's say
the Black Sea, whereas her spring was
sudden and governmental, a show of life
for purposes of power to becalm a people.

No one could say that behind her powdered cheek
she longed for Cossacks, yet her heart had burst
and smoked in terror / and Pittsburgh she regretted,

was shades and flickerings settling
at night from mills along the rivers.
So often the rivers burned.  With her money

wrapped in her handkerchief and fist
she marched upon the present against multitudes
clutching pride / fanatic in what she would not do.
Her miss-dyed hair mixed grey and blonde and green.

Deck: Queen of Hearts

Sit here beside me, there's smoke in the air.
Was it that to conceive of her was
to make myself unworthy?  Then everything is simple
and self-defeating, and that ends it...
But as if a burnt-leaf smell was her hair
and as if sensing her brief powers of seduction,
she envisioned being stalked through October
from the beginning / and surviving as the gift
of a smooth body and with contempt for her own art.
And disappearing behind her yesses where no hand
could catch her true wrist, no kiss reach the corners
of her eyes or press her high cheekbones.
Not that she ducked attention
or changed her major or left town: her lovers
were a normal few, aggressive, incoherent, and
She gave them her unreal wrists and eyes and Los
  Angeles tan.
She tried to see it their way / she would bring
great luck being bright and fabulous possession.
She could not have happened to me alone, I have been 
And for those who lived with her she might as well
have been another woman.  She lurked behind herself
whatever she offered.  I can remember calmly
what I brought upon myself ever since I hedged
against her loss.  "She's for me in every woman,"
I said almost from the first, lying, fearful and lying
as rain grew cold preparing winter and general sleep.
So now she can never be for me in anyone.

Deck: Five of Clubs

Beatings he gave the kids for their greenness
and would have turned those acts 
decent and forgiven with just words

in careful moves transforming acts
making the language of events redeem events
as usual / everyone healing anyway.

But if he could get out to the yard, even still heated,
and watch ants carouse among grass blades, maybe
a breeze would hum at him prophetic

in those small struts.  Free him of judgment
to be there with destiny.  Destiny that tugged
the honey-colored mandibles.  Wordless

destiny that made meaning meaningless and
slapped suddenly a child, embraced another, threw
a case of light bulbs into the sea.

Deck: Five of Hearts

Blessed stupor in the small threaded roots.
Taste of pillow / soft burst
the squid's transparent spine, the beak.
Wrong to want such contact / forcing greater distances
so you say
blundering in brown leaves
slick wet hands
the tufted head implying mindlessness.

O my beautiful land
simmers in the last heat.
Belief in sleep / in the fresh hillside
through a door in the mattress
where a drowsy boy licks lost chocolates.
And far across the hills the streamers of light
the hulking autumn...

Deck: King of Spades

Something dreamed that brutality would make it
During the ice storm each window wore its other
of ice / we stared from the car into abstractions.
Drapery on the telephone wires, crystalline twigs,
and rain seeding the roof metal.
 There will be such moments
for which these moments were visions for us
given to death and saying prayers like blue hostages
in cars waiting in parking lots for glass to shatter /
the engines grinding at the cold.  Like flamingos
cut out of paper for a retinue, like pink suns pasted
to the inner globes of bone--our torn idea of Floridas
sunnier than Florida.  Such was our resistance.

No comfort in wool, the wipers chattering helpless
slapping the windshield ice, dank upholstery,
inert signals on the dashboard.  The price of the car.

Deck: Jack of Hearts

This life given over and the curved earth exposed.
He hoards a tree, a breathing, the white morning
on the linoleum.  Still plenty of time
for the glossy end of summer.
He drives downtown to coffee cake.
The white shirt and all debates end at the locker.
He fashions with knife a block of wood /
it becomes a lamp.  He breathes,
he sets out his stockings in the sun.
He slowly rattles the front page, and a nimbus
    surrounds him
and his callouses.  The huge energy of the bluffs,
the chicken shack diners radiant over the Allegheny.

He coughs up the black year of 1936.
He marries a bargain.  And his love goes with him to
    the end.

Deck: Six of Spades

The heavy crows in their sprawl sweeping
over the houses, the stones pausing in human beauty
the fingered crow's wings, all rubble and tough sky
a human beauty...and a bemused looking 
at the also inhuman trees / the totally
inhuman turning of a squirrel's hand

as if when the flood fell back sucking out
the open windows and we kneeled exhausted
calling to the horses to save themselves, there was
a shimmer between human and inhuman mercy / and
birds yelled
in the walnut trees or tried to break walnuts
from a height by dropping them to the muddy street.

And there was no end of grotesque sundowns
on cemented faces, no end of mornings either
for the convulsive clay beneath the city.

Deck: Ace of Hearts

Only seeming to be lost, seeming to go easily
one thing about those blessed days is / once
here they grapple earth and the wind can't move them,
rapidly cast out roots so with each blast
they hold tighter, grow more solid...
They become the past and that's all right.
The mood is somber, there's a smell
of burnt gunpowder or burnt newspaper.
Families are alerted by the acrid smoke.
Over the whole neighborhood people pause listening
though it's the smell that first took their
attention.  They hear nothing.
They are betrayed by their need for proof.

   Thus complete families
find their limits, hysteria about lost time
/ and it would be silly to pretend otherwise.
Having the name of lost each thudding heart
reminds them, gone to stay in December when
were blackest and wettest / lost
in disgusting vague episodes whose slim value
remains only because a few dramatic types
keep insisting on it.  And the model or metaphor
is that, back then, even in the act of love attention
slipped aside, and they had to remind themselves
to say those words they did not know were true.
Gone words beside the road / carpets beside the beds.
Vague phrases, true in not being right or whole.

Deck: Nine of Clubs

The child at the window
the rain dripping from arbor to patio
the sun's dazzle hidden in whiteness
behind the juniper, the dark green juniper 
frosted by palest green / so the child
is hidden.
       Present song
makes flutes of the branches

electricity running through webs of water
under the grass

dripping lemons shaped like the child's eyes

seeing a procession of wheelchairs
in a green hospital / glittering spokes

and in apartments the first hugs
the bemused abstracted kisses
       earth shrugging
and weeping easily / comforting easily.

Deck: Four of Diamonds

What's left of our white alder lies in the yard
round of orange
waiting for splitting
the maul, the wedges
the stacking.  Such energy leaks out /
the treestump still in a rage
the yard's passive gaze in a drapery of yellow
across the massive segments
     of a huge worm.

When those cylinders drummed the tight lawn
and wood flakes spurted down the sunlight
I saw children birthing slip shoulders free
suddenly into yellow hands /
  and placental earth
that fed the tree into the rocking salted air
chamber for its tassels
   received its howling.
Confusion of changes and returns.
The girls climb wondering the alder logs
the little girls / the moths fluttering.

Deck: King of Clubs

He drove it seemed a getaway or breakout.
Had taken a hostage but she needed
medicines like April weather or vinyl.
He had dreamed of exchanging her for future lives,
but didn't know who wanted her / she smelled
like sour metal...

Or he was squatting gazing from an ambulance,
his memory of ether, the moon cruising
its own truck through the wired important darkness,
ambition glittering in factory windows /
the moon surging backwards and forwards over them
fabricating his losses.  He could have yelled.

Yet he remained flexing his hands feeling bandages
hearing gravel hiss and spatter from soft tires
/ stared at the pattern of streets following the moor
trying to remember her, trying to work out her
for his life, or to keep her alive, or to find her.


"What!" said Narumov, "you have a grandmotherwho knows how to hit upon three lucky cards in succession, and you have never yet succeeded in getting the secret of it out of her?" --Alexander Pushkin

Deck: Two of Spades

Without a guide and desperate
he grew pale with belief citing glacial mantras.
Effort left blue fingertips / his brain starved

he lived symbolically
his suicide symbolic

first stepping out of transparent skin
then out of blood and at last
it was winter.
His name was one-hundred-and-forty-six-pounds,
his destination mineral

the thin ice propped by twigs
half-embedded leaves
and a milky wash suspending something
like shredded tobacco or taco meat.

Those moments he turned to his heart
from disgust, to the warm cave
empty but suffused with pink smoking light
as if in triumph
as if his faith sustained him

someone's glove soaking on the lip of ice at pond's

Deck: Six of Clubs

What shifts in oily retinas of glass
in morning light
and restless strands of muscle in shoulder and thighs
of auditorium crowds
is simply gone: eyes of cats closing and closing
cats on sheds or dark shelves in garages / under-

throats enraged
breeze of programs and menus / desire touching or 

sticks or tines and so on
and precise cupboards, paint like tracings of 

sullen worms
sobbing, struggling for breath in darkness.
And whatever moves is what the mover is:
the brick building's salted glisten changing
shuddering escalators / sudden transmissions grabbing
the bellies of old cars
the unranked iron flaking / the trucks lost already
as they pass / they pass.

Deck: Four of Hearts

In early morning the streetlight secretly sucks
hard blue candy.  Children asleep in lighted rooms
have let their nightmares trail behind them.
Fathers and mothers having stumbled back to bed
begin to hear the harmony of the place pitching
its vague presence to the almost invisible clouds.

The living swing deep into the earth
shy in the suburban dark / quietly
the root hammocks creak in the earth.  The blur of
circles the brown hedges and the apparently still trees.

Therefore only sleepers see how each thing
live and dead sets out from the choked neighborhood,
how the carpets slip away from under the furniture
and trees abandon dripping piled bracelets /
how families separate swimming upwards past all
how slowly atom from atom soars apart.

Deck: Ten of Clubs

Yesterday the 747's embraced /
attendants backflashed disaster epics as they
fell into the fire...a fireball in the fog,
and within it as in the sun's circle a ship embarking
on a spring cruise to the cave
of Polyphemus.

    This was as serious and moral 
as war, this death of tourists /
and ponderous teams must go poking through carbon
looking for what stains their fingers.  Technicians
will haruspicate the locked tapes and proclaim

the blame.  Yet neither "human error" or machine
survives Circe's compounds or the Islands of the Sun
from which a man returns always alone
stumbling from the blind Canaries.

Deck: Nine of Hearts

"Why come to me?"  said Nicolette
"with silence / your sort of sorrow?"
The tree failing at the window could not reach
him either where he walked trying

to feel trying to feel / to listen with leaf-dry ears
for directions from closing earth.

"But I think of little farms" said Aucassin at last
"eroding, and corrupt colors distracting the
from their pleasure...and if I were moved then,
if I spoke then..."  he stopped in the darkening room

because she had moved taking his hand saying "No"
as streaked darkness outside stretched "No, you
could have learned from children that crying
speaks belief that someone hears.  You haven't said /
you don't speak to me."  "But I speak"
said Aucassin.  "You won't hear how I was hurt
how I even said I was afraid..."
And Aucassin and Nicolette argued the silence
and argued Autumn out of its last blood.

Deck: Queen of Spades

Sliver of grey is Pfeiffer Falls
thread down the bluff /
the seam of whose miracle?
One of the ways to see in lichenous rock
as if poured from a cup
touching the delicate fern.
Small water bringing ghosts.
My fingers dredge the wounds / slits
and roots on the path and from the sky.
Persistent slender water dividing the world
running under the small bridges.

Fog numbing the tops of the hills,
even the blue wildflowers cold and silent.
The dead stiff mouths of the wood arrive here /
huge holes gleaming with black ladders
of carbon crowing both side of the stream.
On both sides the fires failed long ago
leaving a little unintelligible water.
Source merciless and ignorant gulping stones / dazzling.

Deck: King of Diamonds

Old men at the spa / their genitals pink
as bubblegum
flesh sagging at their sides
gaze at the heaving jacuzzi.  Lowering
to prepare themselves for cannibals

slowly put on loose underpants engrossed
lean on lockers / soon to move
their tender white-rimmed feet toward intravenous
solutions.			Meditating
dim lymphatic lives, misty glasses, adrenal pasts

crying what happened what happened downward
to themselves / thin porky pigs steaming
to shined shoes, trembling grateful fingers.

Deck: Three of Hearts

The sick go on turning away in humility /
not to count lost days.  What happens to small things
embarrasses the halls, even the unaccountable pain
"I can't breathe!  I can't breathe!"

Yet each demand lined with the arrogance
of helplessness
borrowing the large motions of death.
The sudden love of warm eyelids /

the air buzzing as in autumn
when the lungs are trees immobile and crystalline
and sequestered from the body
from the huge mothers and fathers and overwhelming
intimacy / a sense of stuffed animals carrying flowers.

Deck: Ten of Hearts

In halfsleep affections are tactical
and touch is above all pleasures /
her smile as she strolls
with hand rooted in his backpocket
feels his rump
and her memory absolutely gluts her eyes

of contentment of her nipples
they take pleasure in / warm uncoverings
of whole selves become surface
in the morning when the city's lights dissolve

these strangers gleam as if in knowledge of each other

and the dead flies in the store windows
become streaks of caramel.
The lovers seem to say: "Of course we can't accept it
He leans to her: "I'm more than you can handle."
"Oh yeah!  Oh yeah!"

Deck: Three of Spades

I brushed blue flowers and a storm of flowers fell /
the myth of how this feels is slight.
Jimmy Carter was dozing on his vacation island
but here the season was withdrawn.
Another would be offered in its place /
an epic.

So projections of fulfillment would go on
while I made of those flowers
what they were.  Blue
and of a name I preferred not to know.

Rich and for a moment for my eyes.
And as if each petal tapped a source of water
flaunting its darkness here.
For a few steps after I was dizzy
as if I'd been the wing they had waited for
or a groundsman's careless shoulder.
I didn't change direction exactly
yet something had happened to the line drawn from
my car /
something if it had been darker
I might have bowed down before.

Deck: Ten of Diamonds

At cinder level at crumb level
the sound of the horizon is a particular wall

where caterpillars wheeze
where yellow twigs
surrender to yellow leaves / and the maker
has not been made.
Where the singer has not yet sung.

Romantic gestures of the mildewed peach
reveal slyly its dry stone
pitted light as volcanic slag.
Which the singer cannot sing as
"cold drink of water"

"banana squeezed to butter by the tongue."

Politics is a lung disease at crumb level.
Quiet peachstone wrinkled / tan as a scrotum.

Deck: Six of Diamonds

No one preferred to live at the gas station
in summer under fluorescent sticks /
yet in the desultory craft of mini-serve

and after nine no cash accepted, only credit cards
(moths browsing the grease), drivers were startled
to be living transformed blinking
at the pumps

as if set up by vampires.  Dandelions waved
from the yellowing faces of the pumps
and from the moon sliding in glass.

A skeletal overhang practiced its depleted
art / drivers stumbled out
as if ordered by transylvanians
to serve their furry cars.

Deck: Seven of Clubs

Having come this far
our finch excited in the living room
scatters seed across the table
beside the candlesticks / mocks
the three cats outside the sliding glass door.
Awesome and detestible green knits itself into the air.
Awesome the crushed snail.

And baby Marjorie cries "rain"
at spiderwebs glinting from the roof
bent by a small breeze / such making sense of spring

where the yard will not be good
and tomato worms want blunderingly to live,
where needles of the sun and moon run up and down
knitting block wall and light together.
Where change is the journey
and what the yard has instead of heaven is


"To think," said Mr. Oakhurst, as he rose from a ten minutes' sitting with a gain of five thousand dollars,--"to think there's folks as believes that keerds is a waste of time." --Bret Harte

Deck: King of Hearts

A man with full cheeks
the face of an immigrant / sepia

stands before a dark tree / white shirt
turning brown at its edges, its tails

tucked burning into sunlight the fire invisible
the shirt curling like old cabbage.

Under one arm his string-tied package
bulges as if with shoes and

he is about to go / it will be forever
a brown leaf waits behind him

like a detached hand in the air
birds wait in the detached sky.

Whatever happens here will generate
what happened before / he will wander from Kiev

to Brussels / burning O Father backwards
beginnings slowly out of beginnings.

Deck: Eight of Clubs

That nothing is finished / that the earth
remains unrhymed in color
where Nixons appear and reappear and steam
goes on licking the rocks.

Breakfast foods as corrupt
as the general and his degenerate firing squad
but sweeter, no appeal the same / nothing the same:

all hallucinations in which minutes pass
and pages separate days as if they were the same
to add to a final score.

Am I thirteen?  Is it another warm spring?
And she in her slip ironing forever in an upstairs

Deck: Four of Spades

The future is driving its car through an upper floor,
the building cruising too close to me
on a wet night when the lights flicker /

when huge partners thunder in the stories below.

The plastic panels quiver in their forms /
everything is as lightweight as a bracket
standing at such speed that the city causes
inexplicable wounds.  Suddenly a chest caves in 
yet no one says "He broke into himself."
Huge amounts are spent on reruns and the news.

Tonight I feel like a crew and the winter
sweeping prayers into blue corners where windows roar
where busy mottled shadows argue
weeping over the rain and shivering with appetite
sunless / forced above ground far from the all-night

Deck: Five of Spades

Simple moment in the Chapel of Precious Memories.
The many objects, the brocade, the deodorant
took away the air / and the groom and bride
were tangled in wallboard and wire.
The wedding ended when the veil dissolved
in the reception hall.  "It's enough we're here"
"We put together what we live"
"I'm honest with myself at least" "What does he do?"
"They lived together for a solid year"
"More divorces mean more marriages"

Blue windows sweated to contain these voices.
Rib and pelvis strained at the knots of clothes,
but for a while no hero could restrain the cold cuts
or potato salad.  One guest brought in six months of
      tennis balls,
another offered shrimp-like babies in a serving dish.
Nothing tore the bridegroom from his bride.
The bride's bouquet was soaring through the room,
the cake stacked up like planes in holding patterns.
And when the doors were open and the sky
rushed in upon the furious mouths, winter fell
upon the cake and mustard, the plastic cups and paper

Deck: Nine of Spades

Somewhere there would be blue winter but here 
I built a fire against the rain and naturally
it was mine to crumple the L A Times / split
kindling on our used brick hearth.  And light.
The kitchen window opened for the right draft,
a twisted-out coat hanger ready for marshmallows
we settled into worship of heat
and the damp bark hiss of last year's 
cut walnut.  Flares and bouquets
of the pine trees in the yard crept close
in the form of our daughters gleaming
reaching back to the bleared strings and clusters
of lights / chains of dancers waving the low city hills.

I lay my head on Helen's thigh, the baby jumped
me, the girls crowded over us in a struggling jealousy
of blankets, stuffed bears and windup radios /
as if we might squeeze back upon each other, enter
and together pour into the fire into the light
becoming for a while ghostly rags of paper to wave /
wave, blink and fall upwards toward the rain.

Deck: Seven of Hearts

A calm part of them remembered the farm fair.
Fresh with blood of a sheared yearling
and the lamb's naked dazed stumble
the crowd eroded back to ring toss and aluminum
and the children put down to walk / it was another 
where fairs are families and throb in the throat
of the galaxy, the tractor shuddering and woodsmoke
and iron kettles.  "Hello, I'm ordinary."
"Are you ordinary?"   "Isn't this ordinary!"

   That fall weather
was a tree rooted in a moon they saw even in daylight /
trailing but lost easily as they strolled under the heavy 
awed by their luck, enchanted by their riches.
A yellow cardboard picture of swirled frozen custard
drifted in their memory like a spectral boat.  "Be mine"
they murmured at the dust and straw.  "Be with us
   and alive."

Deck: Two of Diamonds

A long time since I watched a spider
skating the air mending his home his business
or an ant hauling something's leg over a hot pavement.
Change is made simple by forgetfulness.
What I was then must have been what I saw 
and remain.
And yet I make up what I saw.
Chance recovers those trees and sets them
in cocoons in August.
Thick-bodied black crablike spiders
from my California house interpose against the past.
I try to see through delicate shadows
into the crook of the backporch steps in Pittsburgh.
I make the steps /
I blister the slate blue painted wood
where a long glide to the walk is forgetfulness.
The distance cannot fabricate itself / the spider
is delirious in darkness.
And I make up in joy the long line of ants
trekking across America to me.

Deck: Five of Diamonds

Something in apples
always made me sweat under the eyes.
There used to be worms in apples
preparing to fly.
And the yellow apples eaten at night on the front
glowed meekly like bulbs of low wattage.
A sliver of peel sticks between my teeth.
A flower lurks at the core.
And the seeds that wait in their little garages /
that go on waiting
and never say a word against the failures of earth.

Deck: Nine of Diamonds

More than her nervous smiles must tell
how agonies of change eased her.
A life rounds itself in change and she
certainly rounded herself.
Simple persistence made her new, was her rescuer.
What did she collect before doll furniture?
Guilt, regret in tiny frozen dresses.
When she arrived at what she feared it made her

She had been close to beautiful when adolescence
broke upon her unsuspecting endocrines.
For forty years her misery left her bones
to bask upon her body: she was fat at last
huge supervisor of doll estates.
Known to the antique crowd / a friend.
Hypnotized her husband, kept her children close,
slipped past her own danger to herself.
She was given to weak tears and Almond Roca /
retained her delicate wrist.
People loved to hear her laugh.  She was new.

Deck: Queen of Diamonds

The quavering of trees after you / Eurydice.
Your thighs grown passive.

You twisted your hair wondering
what would be tangled there.

You felt a yellow moon / a lake /
a mist of insects.  Crickets that left their shells.

How vaguely you created your lover / your fingers
fell away as if when your soft arms reached against his

you knew that you would weep /
sensed that you had made a world.

Ecstatic the shadows growled.
The guitars awoke and then the lights.

Deck: Three of Diamonds

Not to have said was part of saying
small words
hard sand/ a running girl
rubs her breasts inside her shirt

torn/ a stretched bird drowning
on the beach dying
dragging letters.  An agony like wire.

Not to have said was an excuse
was part of waiting/ a score
blood-tipped fluted

in simple form to seize the land.

The simple tongues of water at the mountainside.
Not to have said was incandescent / was

the tongued estuary and its drift
sleepless in exile across Pyrenees, the Urals, the Sierras

into simple ground / silt in the driveway
pine needles brown heaped and cool
quilled summer mornings.
Not to have said was how it happened.

Deck: Ace of Diamonds

Newer cause for silence
yellow moths the sun's disintegration
obscures old quietness light upon light.
Joys superceded / smiles slip away and the face grows

Last summer when I showed my daughters
first fireflies hung beneath bushes and slowly sailing
I saw us in the greencast singing damp evening /
Jeanmarie, Lara and Marjorie
frail planets afloat among leaves.

They brought the light they saw by / it was theirs
and cast upon the future such modest wings
I was afraid and comforted.

Now another year's yellow moths have come.

Deck: Eight of Spades

Saturday not far from Venice Pier.
Cool evening / and the attendant distances dwindle.
Those who glance at the sea
do it longingly as if measuring a return
but are lightly snared again
in the faces of others.
Out on the pier knives are scraping fish.
Sunset pink light trembles south in the Marina.

But here
skaters pass slowly on soft wheels
that glow like jelly candy. . .

Though you look there is no blue on the water.

Benjamin Saltman began writing poetry seriously in 1965. Deck is his fourth published book. His poems have appeared in a number of magazines, such as Kayak, Shenandoah, Massachusetts Review, Ironwood. A new book of poems, Wood County Elegies, is sched- uled for publication in spring, 1980. Saltman lives in Northridge, California, is married, and has three young daughters. Since 1967 he has taught verse writing and contemporary American literature at California State University, Northridge.
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