Rodan's hands
Cover of 'Sonnets From South Mountain'

Poems from Sonnets From South Mountain


In the middle of stickball me and Eddy Kaye
noticed it in his driveway. “It’s illegal
to kill them while they’re praying,” Eddy said
as he dangled the stick above its head. A little
water dripped down from the garden hose
that hung in loops beside the driveway, making
a dark, thin stream that ran past the motionless
mantis. “It must be thirsty,” I heard myself saying,
and thought of nudging it toward the water. But Eddy
nudged me first: “No one would know if we did.
Do you think it’d bleed red or green?” In the end
we neither killed it nor helped it to drink. Instead—
a most unlikely act, even a remarkable one—
we did nothing. Nothing at all. We left it alone.

Not the End of the World

“Unhand her, vagabond,” was my one line
in the school play. I had the part of the cop,
a minor role compared to Beth Levine’s,
the heroine, or Billy Wiesenkopf’s,
the vagabond. Still, I took my part seriously.
So although he forgot to take her hand, right on cue
I yelled, “Unhand her, vagabond,” and it struck me
and everyone else, that my line made no sense. Then I knew:
this is the kind of mistake that will end the world;
a question of bad timing will hang in the air
like an empty trapeze swinging above the smoke
of that final disaster. Someone will utter a word
too late to take back, reach for a hand that’s not there,
and “It’s not the end of the world,” will not be spoken.


Richard Singer threw like a girl
and ran like a girl, and though all the girls
insisted he wasn’t a girl, the boys to a man
said he was. Richard said nothing but stared demurely off
whenever teams were picked on the muddy schoolyard—
kids plucked up by their last names, one by one,
till only Singer, the girlish boy whom no one liked,
was left in the middle, the last seed in the pod, the lone
petal. “Flowers,” explained Miss Finkel in science class,
“have male and female parts in a single plant.”
Then she wrote the names of those parts on the blackboard: Ovary
(girls giggling in the back), Anther, Stamen, Pistil…
As Singer copied each word with a flourish, the boys
sat stiffly in their desks and gnawed their pencils.