← Swipe left  ↓ Swipe down
Good Jewish boys don’t shoot heroin,
or so I believed until meeting Steve Cohen,
who roomed with a friend of mine
across the courtyard from my apartment.
I was visiting Terry, when Steve entered,
and slammed his door so hard it sprang open:
a bolting mustang panicked
by the cold steel bit for the first time.
We couldn’t help but see him take out his works
and the little bag, wrap the tube around his arm
as if laying tefilin, as we were taught in cheder—
Hebrew School—winding the black strap around
our forearms, and centering the scroll box with
“Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is one,”
on our foreheads, then putting on the silk prayer shawl
and opening the Mazor, the prayer book, to daven.
For Steve there was almost the same reverence
for that rubber tube that would expose a good vein:
his entry fee to Paradise or at least the oblivion
of the needle, his one prayer answered.
Predictably, it goes out
this night of a freak May blizzard.
I’d normally be outside
watching a last gift of winter:
air cold as a sterile operating room
pumped through the house,
while outside snow falls
in flakes white as moths.
Not a technician’s available
until morning, just reassurances
the house won’t burn down
or gas spread, more dangerous
than an invisible oil slick.
So Beth and I pile on layers,
as if preparing for a trek
through Arctic darkness,
then toss a second
and third comforter
onto our bed,
and spoon into each other.
I bedtime-story Beth to sleep
of basking in Florida sun,
warmth spreading back
and forth between us,
while outside, we almost
don’t notice the snow falling,
and inside: the temperature dropping.
After we’ve stomached our five minute fill
of news about the raging pandemic,
we turn on the classical station, sick
of hearing about this plague that has spilled
over everything to upset our lives.
We know what symptoms should worry us most,
the ones that mean we’re little more than toast.
So no need to hear more about the knives
of disease, or the lies of the Orange Putz,
who declares everything will be just fine
if we send the market soaring and don’t whine,
because he knows, down in his genius-guts
no one who believes in him has to fret.
Still, it’s on music’s charms we’ll place our bet.
Dissonant dread deafens us,
but on Beth’s trip home from work
before the campus slams shut
with the terror of contagion,
a violinist plays at her light rail stop.
“It was gorgeous!”
she almost cries, for joy, not terror.
She tried to record his virtuosity,
for me to hear at home,
but the music’s drowned out
by the light rail’s doors closing
with its warning clang, then
the clatter down the tracks.
“It lifted my spirits,” Beth sighs.
“made me think past the warnings,
the worry for everyone we love:
a glimpse into a better world, music
making the burdens more bearable,”
Beth still hearing the faintest
last notes of celestial melodies.