Three Poems by Richard Fein


In brainteasers there are no courts or pardon boards.
Always the verdict is rendered but not yet executed.
Clemency is granted not on how justice balances against evil committed
but on knowing which color hat is worn or what stain brands the forehead,
be it black or white but always invisible to the condemned’s eyes──
or on guessing the pleasantly false from the brutally true
that guard the two contrived but ominous doors,
one to freedom and the other to the courtyard gallows.
In the first hypothetical the prisoner must deduce
which color marks each of his fellow felons
and most importantly, is his own stigmata black or white
for that is his final self discovery.
In the second he stands before the portals of death and life
and gets only one chance to ask one guard the way to salvation,
without ever discerning the trustworthy from the dissembler.
But you’ve no time to waste on pointless brainteasers,
for around you is reality where there is no door to freedom,
and all the guardians both lie and tell the truth all at the same time.
There’s only one door to pass through, only one hat to wear,
and the cleverest juggler of falsity and truth
at best wins only a short stay.
For the final truth is in the lethal courtyard
where you someday must enter and the executioner awaits.
But think, think, solve the conundrum, don’t exit clueless
about the color of your mark of Cain.


On E. 26th street, North side,
but not on Tues or Thurs 9:30 to 11:00
when the Gotham city paladins of proper parking
descend and place $55 penalties dressed as bright orange tickets
snugly behind the windshield wipers−−
but rather here at 5 a.m. aligned before me
a daisy chain of the legally parked,
grilles almost touching trunks,
a relentless symmetry of front ends just shy of kissing rear ends,
straight and narrow down the block,
save where one rebel blue Toyota
defies the presumed municipal mandated monotony.
Windshield not facing yesterday’s sunset like all the rest,
but rather eastward towards tomorrow’s sunrise.
Cop car passes, pauses, inspects, still pauses, inspects again, but then moves on,
leaving this misdirected chariot unpunished for its nonconformity.
Such a moving sight at least for me
who contemplates the cosmic significance of this rare phenomenon,
this singular stasis against the traffic tide, this lone weirdo windshield awaiting the dawn.


Oblivion like gravity always wins in the end.
Mass can’t exist without gravity,
and existence is meaningless unless bounded by oblivion.
From dark portals enter the performers
past the harlequins tumbling on the tent-floor dirt
into the circus spotlight to labor
up the ladder to the dizzy-high platform,
growing stronger with each upward step.
They take their first bows then somersault
from swinging trapeze to swinging trapeze high in the air
yet lower than the big top that is over us all.
Gravity, like oblivion, can be deceptively patient
letting the runaways perform their stunts,
until they exhaust their repertoire of death-defying leaps,
grow weary, and decline till gravity and oblivion reclaim them,
as the spotlight switches to newer acts,
and fresh aerialists try their luck at forever staying aloft−−vainly.
And the circus goes on, a cavalcade of wonders-of-the-world attractions,
while its old acrobats slip past the clowns unnoticed,
back into the dark portals from which they came.

Profile: Richard Fein

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