May 2008

Jeff Friedman


Jeff Friedman's fourth collection of poetry, Black Threads, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2007. His poems and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, 5 AM, and The New Republic. He is a core faculty member in the M.F.A. program in Poetry Writing at New England College.


While sea creatures quivered
in a whale of a wave, while a vein
throbbed like a cursed tribe,
a knuckle hardening in the gut,
while nipples glinted in mirrors
and a moan vibrated over knotted strings,
I licked a Comice until
its russet coat melted,
and sweet juice welled up on my tongue.
I licked red grapes, bright seeds,
rocks, salty Savannah grasses,
the velvet inside a pocket.
An orange moon teetered
on a pink trail. Striped
lemurs jumped into the light,
climbing higher and higher
into deaf branches. The spotted
leopard waited in the cattails,
his eyes bright with prey.
I licked gritty stones,
pearly caves,
milk seeping from pods,
spicy sauces from the fingertips
of the Nile. Invaders rode
rough waters behind polished wooden prows
shaped like the heads of horses.
The snake inside coiled and coiled.
I licked the wings of a bird
until nothing was left but feathers,
orange moon dropping into a ditch
as the silk robe struck the floorboard
and cried, "More, more . . . ,"
as Amaretta filled her luscious
frock, as a tuft of hair
floated toward the window, as the dewy
eye blinked and a little brown
sparrow told another lie.

Sunday Morning Breakfast    

Elbows on the table, my uncle Harold
swears at his boss in Hungarian
for assigning him department stores
in small towns "where there is no money."
My aunt Ruth shakes her red hair,
"Harold, drink your juice."

From across the table,
my father looks down at me
as I take a bagel. "Wait for your mother,"
he commands, but he's already
eaten half his bagel and he's still chewing.

My mother never stops serving,
carrying in plates of scrambled eggs,
toasted bagels, onions, cream cheese,
canned peach halves, fruit cocktail, pads of butter,
tomatoes, jelly, pitchers of
water and juice, the coffee percolator.

Next to me, my sister rakes her eggs
into patterns on the plate,
while my cousin Nancy
puts a whole block of cream cheese
on her bagel.

My father looks at her in disbelief,
and uncle Harold swears in Hungarian
but my mother rushes in,
stripping off the silver foil
from a new cream cheese,
offering it to my father and uncle,
"And there's another one in the fridge."

Before Nancy can lift her bagel
and cream cheese to her lips,
Harold pushes out his palm
as if signaling cars to stop at an intersection.
This time, he shouts in English,
"You can't eat all that."
I nod at her. As she bites in,
white bubbles float over the table,
rising toward the chandelier
until I reach up and pop them
with my fork.



Jeff Friedman: Poetry
Copyright ©2008 The Cortland Review Issue 39The Cortland Review