Happy birthday, schmuck

The graying good-time guy, red-faced, meaty,
barrels out of the café in a fit
of gut-joy and laughing, adds “many
fucking happy returns,” and plants his full-

suited self on the sidewalk in the way
of passers-by who weave to avoid him,
a choreographed urban ritual
observed by Bacchus’s sober companion

who curves her diaphanous scarf round
her nearly young throat: a noir goddess,
she doesn’t stoop to quaint, cautionary Shhhh,
her look could garrote a world of drunken clowns.

“You’re in the way,” she says, words reechoed
at the murder trial, unheard by the doomed
well-wisher alive with high winey cheer—
Hey schmuck, mark her rat-poisoner, lipstick smile.


It’s one of those things with a governess

I see you in a Victorian nightgown,
your willful brush-flogged hair set free for sleep,
your candle lights an elegy to your fate,
you try a prayer to kill your belief

that god is an unfair, outsized employer
who browses through your credentials to reject
your failed life—twenty-four, poor and overschooled,
you see ash blinding your mirrored eye

and time drags a sea of dead weeds over you.
You think, I’m so bored with despair, and hear
echoes of stillness, mad last breaths blow out
the candle, swirled darkness paws your hair,

invades with shriek, moan, quacked laughter,
snarled hymns, last rite glee—I don’t know how to faint,
you say aloud to your plague of guests
and in darkness dare to start a new life.


Like I can’t believe it, she’s so into vampires

Feel my stare, low-grade high school flower,
and believe the montage-smog chill invoked
by a coffin-eased, un-sun-kissed presence
that hums to your tremble of metaphor,

poor gawky victim of coarse spun half-life,
with one blink my dead mind drives a daydream
through shrivel and blank to epitaph,
a graffiti of sophomoric disbelief.

Believe me, I’m just a normal immortal,
blood taste shared with gated communities
that shun theatrics of fang, flared cape,
glary pale skin– to prey with impunity;

so, feckless folklorist, less than aware
of the shade who overhears your slur,
your fate, to whet eternal appetite,
like to be so into the bliss of my bite.

Harvey Zuckerman began writing poetry over a decade ago following a long run of writing plays. He has taught at Columbia University, the University of New Hampshire, CCNY, and he is a long-time instructor at SVA.