Bill Birns

On the Porch at Fleischmanns

“So much suffering, the Kennedys,
like a curse.”

On faded hotel porch,
she tells me, this old woman
in duster and slippers, babushka
pinned round her head,
her Auschwitz childhood
fresh in her mind like yesterday.

“Such a handsome man, that Mengele.
Everyday in boots and long white gloves.
And tall.
It is a curse!”

We sit in Bushkill Hollow,
Armstrong Tract, behind
the west slope, Shandakens,
beyond the blue mountains,
here on this run-down hotel porch
at the head of the Fish.

“The father, the old man,
was a bad man. Ambassador,
he turned away the Jews.
They all did. Look at the queen.
At what's happened to her.
What's happened? Do you see?
Turned away the Jews
at Palestine, everywhere,
no one lifted a finger.
Only Cuba.
They let a ship in at Cuba.
It is a curse: to see the children die,
to suffer as the Jews suffered.
He lived so long, he and his wife,
to see”

Here, at Gerte's faded
mountain resort, survivors sit
on rented summer chairs,
of an evening, to remember.

The Day Teddy Died

Suddenly it's 5:45 in the morning and Maggie
is licking my face for a walk. Up, quietly, so
not to wake Suzanne, I pull pants over
the shorts I sleep in, sweatshirt over my tee,
teeth, face, pee and clip the lead
to the dog's anxious collar. Turn a knob
quietly and we're gone, Maine's salty morning
a brisk slap on the cheek. Not 6 A.M. yet.

Called by the sea, Maggie must do
her morning preparations before we can
walk on the beach, so winding our way
street to street to street downhill, till
bingo, let's make it to the shore,
good dog, across the Boston & Maine to
seaside villas of the Quebecois, and see
the sun rise golden-rose over the sea.

Now back, we go, as every day, down
grand honky-tonk amusement way. I smile
at the local girl sweeping the morning street,
pass the line at DUNKIN' DONUTS - registered
trademark - striding now to Maggie's quickened
pace, up Old Orchard Avenue, past the church
I've shook off. Maggie shudders
against the breeze of weeds. We turn
up toward the RITE AID (words used by permission
only) toward home

and coffee: one scoop for every two cups
and feed the dog and go
into the living room to boot
up the computer, and there GOOGLE ® said
that Ted was gone, and oh
I said, and oh again, and heard
Teddy's voice on that old Dion record,
you know the one, Abraham, Martin,
and John
, and how his voice
cracked as he buried another brother
and then Mary Jo, God rest her
soul, and the slow, intermittent rising glow,
back to center stage, in love and working
and all, and from my lifetime mezzanine
seat I'd seen it all.

8 things you didn't know about the Austro-Hungarian Grand Duke, Franz Ferdinand

The kid-prince, Franz was 33 years
younger than his despot uncle. Liberal,
by the standards autocracy abides, he chose
to go to Sarajevo, his Imperial advisors appalled!
Neither hated nor feared his Slavic brothers,
Orthodox or Muslim, Bosnian or Serb. At 14,
a Lieutenant, Captain at 21, duty was his honor,
honored was his name. While Viennese pastry
burdened his jowls, cousin Rudi's suicide
burdened his soul. Drunken, cowardly, it was,
Franz thought, to destroy one's forbidden lover
and one's life
. No. Franz fought 6 years for
his Sophie, accepted morganatic insult
for his bride. Love reigned: 2 boys, 1 girl,
contented family man. Heir, ready to ascend
when the 84 year-old Emperor dies. Then
he'd treat with the Russians and the Serbs, loosen
up on the Slavs, bring 100 years of peace. Live,
Sophie, for the children,
he said, and died.

About the Author

Bill Birns has lived and worked in the Catskill Mountains for over 40 years, teaching a couple generations of Catskill Mountain kids at Margaretville Central School and Onteora High School. Bill is the author of A Catskill Catalog (Purple Mountain Press, 2011), a collection of essays on mountain history and culture, and The Myth in the Mountain (Mountain Arts Media, 2013) a poetry sequence mixing history and myth in the Plattekill Valley on the west slope of the Catskills.

Another Catskill Catalog will be published by Mountain Arts Media in November 2014.

Bill has studied with Larry Levis, Donald Justice, Carol Frost, and Michael Waters at the Catskill Poetry Workshop, and with Lynn Domina through Writers in the Mountains.

A graduate of Union College, Bill holds a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Linguistics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His 1986 dissertation was a study of the dialect of the Catskills.

He and his wife, Gayla, share three grown sons, and four grandchildren. They reside full-time in Fleischmanns.

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