Joel Savinsky



The pins are meant to tell the story but
they don’t, missing even the temples
on the map of where I think I have been.
Churches, tombs, holy sites, places of
sacrifice meant to awe the penitent –
yet I do not recall the descent of peace,
or any rising of prayer worth a praise song.

In Spain the cathedrals were heavy
with Rococo candy, which sat
in the nave on columned thighs,
short of breath, cloaked in the dust of
embarrassment about an empire lost.

Summoning Madurai with arms, breasts
and moon buttocks, the goddess Meenakshi
gathered in her embrace a busy city,
the figures of her shrine’s gopuram running,
rutting, climbing, twining in a great acrobatic
pyramid, taking every moment of life as
it comes in a dance, a scented, chanted text.

Northeast, over Kyoto’s raked furrows
of small stones, in courts where silence
would reign, seekers see and say what
they will. A US geologist proudly tells
his students the chemistry of the rocks.
What is the sound of one tongue flapping?

It is hard to smile, easy to worry. A friend
pretends to pick up a stone, throw it,
awaken the snake over the Buddha’s head,
assure us the moral sentiments are safe in
some other gardener’s shrine, in dirt, in offal,
in whispers, where the architects of the sacred
have designed nothing special, neither altars
or sepulchers, but have hidden the secret key
in the everyday: a sanctuary in a cup of tea.



How to Make Love to the Dead

They are not beyond reach,
palpable still on late nights,
in early mornings, in our stars and
stares, at the waking dream state, in
the tableaux seen from bus windows
and train stations, where they have
posed to watch us watching them.

The imagination’s fingers know
their faces, other senses catch hold
of their breath, feel their gaze,
hear the muscular sighs of love,
despair, worry, the living and
the missing conspiring to tell
fortunes and reinvent history.

You make love to the dead when
smiling at the inevitable indignities
you once visited upon them, by
recalling the abominations of Leviticus
committed in their pursuit or
the invocation of their name.

If you can cry at even the casual
tenderness that went un-noticed
at other times, you may also understand
how their way of being changed yours.

You make love to and with them when
re-making this world a little more like
the one they wanted, by tasting the warmth
of their smile at your saddest moments, and
discovering that the broken skin from each
of those mutilated memories is finally beginning
to knit into a complete, forgiving embrace.





On the Hoh River

I found her in
a national park, hiking
and hugging the bank
of a rainforest river,
walking east against
west-flowing water.

Temperate air,
a cold look,
hot-springs somewhere
off to the south.

She was not happy
to see me
or be seen.

Neither of us wanted
to be or hear a voice,
but knew that silence,
total, would haunt the day
worse than the minimum
of words. She excused
herself, and I nodded.

When a person says
I am not feeling
myself today, who is it
that does the saying?






Joel Savinsky is an activist, a writer, and a retired professor of anthropology and gerontology. His most recent book, Breaking The Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America, won the Gerontological Society of America’s Kalish Award, its book of the year prize. The places where his poetry and nonfiction have appeared, or are in press, include The AvocetThe Berkshire ReviewBlood and ThunderCirqueCrosscurrents,Down in the DirtFree State ReviewThe New York TimesPageBoyPassagerThe PharosRight Hand PointingStarfishThird EyeWindfall, and Xanadu.