[Poetry] — James Strowman

L’Chaim

I regard it as a failure if a man walks out of here in a straight line.
— Leon Silver (Nelson St. Synagogue)

heads bow    eyes close
silence    but for your voice

soft against the dark    and I am gone
drifting to things far removed from prayer

into the silent cinema of my mind
gone    for the length of a long shot

a lazy punting downstream    gone
until    I’m nothing more

than a fading speck on the water
and the horizon’s painted red    gone

until    I’m called bobbing back
to the distant tumble of wine

the huddled bodies of clinking glass
incidental    yet    strangely intimate

and for a second    I feel grown-up
standing tall    glass in hand

trying my grip around the stem
until I draw it near    and tilt

let the sweet taste touch my lips
and trick me with its quickening burn

as it sinks deep inside my gut
I tell myself    keep it together

don’t wince    cling to your unfazed face
through the many years to come

Strow

i.

My forefathers must have known strow
as the obsolete variant of the verb

to strew, as each Strow rose from the East
and was strewn like seed over North America,

holding down the suffix –man like a straw
hat against the Atlantic’s trading winds.

ii.

I know some of my ancestors by occupation:
milkman, mealman, chapman, bowman, marksman,

doorman, dustman, showman, beadsman, barman,
ataman, yeoman, bondsman, batsman, bogeyman,

boatman; all Strowman, or Strewman, or, in some
cases, an o slipping between the w and the m.

iii.

What to do with something that belongs to you,
but does not belong, something you have carried

with you your whole life, without any fuss, until
now, its weight bobbing like a bindle at the end

of your stick, a grown man’s hand kind of weight,
which you realise, looking back, is your own?

*

James Strowman lives in Paris where he is completing a doctorate in musicology and teaching contemporary Anglophone music and poetry at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Frogmore Papers, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine, and Ink Sweat & Tears.