Rhoda Greenstone, 4/24/2011

Current Occupation: Writer & Mench
Former Occupation: English Instructor, Mother, Salesperson, Paralegal, Editor, Journalist, Secretary, Portrait Artist, Waitress
Contact Information: N.Y. born, but in love with southern California, where I taught language arts and humanities for 25 years. I still struggle with the difficult choice between writing and painting—not sure why writing won out. My poems and stories appear too infrequently in such journals and anthologies as Grey Sparrow (Snow Jewel), inscapes, Poetic Diversity, Poetry Quarterly, The Rag, Verdad Magazine, Wascana Review, and others. I was among a select group of poets chosen to contribute a chapter to Poem, Revised (Marion Street Press) last year. Currently I am held hostage by competing manuscripts (one a novel entitled Lost Paradise; the other a full-length poetry ms. tentatively called Report from Diaspora’s Distant Shore).


Leon Fleisher’s Artistry

Playing piano with only one hand
The concentration in Fleisher’s face hurts to watch.
His eyes bulge and strain, his creased forehead drops sweat
Onto the keys, his lower lip quivers and droops under
The weight of his labored breathing.

Even though his incarceration in limbo is through,
Freed Fleisher continues to play one-handed,
Lyrically winning every contest with Ravel
(Is it out of habit—or is it gratitude?).
Imagine the years the maestro had to listen to
The music flailing inside an impenetrable lockbox
He sensed yet couldn’t see, felt yet couldn’t reach,
Unable to crack the right combination.
He has ached over the vibrating timbre
Of silenced crescendos no one else can modulate.

Modern science has reanimated all fingers,
Has loosened his carpals and metacarpals,
Infusing them with hummingbird whirs,
Has saturated his hypothenar eminences in
Humid tropical adagios con moto,
Hydrating liquid song that had
Dried between the pisiform and the
Hamulus of his hamate bone, until virtuosity overflows.

Fleisher’s refusal to abandon his art simply because
The intricate machinery of his hand had
Betrayed him makes me wonder
If it would be possible to orchestrate poetry
After I had to forfeit half my letters. What if
My penstrokes struck up only a half-meter, or if
Rhyme dodged me, just a stretch beyond reach,
Would I retain any faith, could I tenaciously pursue
Music-making for a dwindling audience of one?


Woman’s Work

Ambition is always a dirty word
When it modifies woman
As in “Could Hillary possibly be the
Most ambitious woman in the United States?”
Or in my late father-in-law’s favorite:
“I’ve never seen a woman as ambitious as you,”
Which always left me feeling as if I had just farted.

Alone, on the dictionary page, the word
Is as mellifluous as Beverly Sills conjugating
A Rossini aria.
Random House’s first definition?
“An earnest desire for some achievement, power,
Fame, wealth, etcetera.” Feel the build-up?

As in: what gets a man the merit badge he earns daily,
The adulation of Hercules, just by joining the labor force,
Yet for a woman it’s that cowlick she has to zap
With Mega Super Hold hairspray to keep from flying away;
Or it’s wax she must dissolve, then
Artistically scrape off the linoleum
To prevent (gasp!) premature yellowing;
Or it’s enduring the agony of the newest underwire bra,
The entire time plugged into a Dictaphone.


A Life’s Labor

Pay for a day’s labor is one more iron gray
Shackle link in the seventy-five thousand
Measures of gravity I’ve been endowed.

Each month the links are weightier.
Some days they refuse to forge,
Shortening the perpetual chain.

Some weeks each piece seems worthless
And has to be broken off and beaten down,
Destroyed in order to be remade.

After so much work, I believed I’d awaken
With relief in my eyes the hour I became
Too weary to weld one more ingot.

Although I arise tired, solder is in my fists.
Defiant, hateful of stasis, I openly steal from
The upcoming undoing of timeliness.


Burnout Revisited

What a hypocrite Dylan Thomas was
Unable to survive beyond his fortieth birthday, he was
So ground down by the relentless pestle that forms this
Society, he couldn’t keep from drowning in a whiskey
River that made a rag of his liver. Yet, pouncing on
Flaws (as addicts do), he exhorted his own enervated
Father to not go so gentle, but to fight, to rage, while
He cowered, shirking from paying his utility bills.

In the activism of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, courage
Seemed so simple, until I learned how politics go
To hell when it’s a constant battle to keep food on
The table or children inoculated or in properly fitting
Shoes or separate from gangbangers. Parental energy
Gets sapped by jobs six separate bodies should do.
When savings earn no interest and goods grow steadily
Less affordable, when sickness has to be battled in secrecy,
Paid off in monthly installments for two to three years (if the
Patient is lucky), funds that should go to replace a car held
Together with Double-Bubble and prayer, inner fire sputters.

Bill Moyers interviewed a famous academician, a
Prize-winning Jungian who has secured a chair at Princeton-
Yale, whose rarefied air has graced her with profundity.
Her new book reveals The Truth Behind Burn-out, “Which
Is not what anyone thinks it is,” she announces on her throne.
“Truth is burn-out is merely boredom, the result of too much
Repetition, redundancy in a society gone soft, where tomorrow
Is as predictable as yesterday, and jungle drums are Ancient
History. Woe to us when the Hunter-Warrior’s role is passé.”
Amazing how much light gets spent in the entropy between
Planets, how the musical pitch flattens between spheres to
Allow for such disparate visions. Here I stretch on the razor
Cusp of osteoarthritis after scraping by too many servile years, my
Height shrunken from prerequisite kow-towing to unqualified
Authorities. Daily my ears battle tinnitus, campaign contributions
Ripped off by shallow politicians who run solely for perpetual reelection.
My inflamed arteries clog from choking down forgotten promises.

Iniquity a generation after the poet’s demise—not ennui—adds
Up to burnout no raging against a dying day can reignite. Our enemy
Isn’t fear of death or dead archetypes. Year in, year out subsistence
Sucks the spirit dry. Habitual games of keepaway incinerate all souls.

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