Siegfried Mortkowitz




it’s morning and my knee hurts when I move it
the right one but only when I move it
so I stop moving my right leg but now
there’s this dull ache under my left shoulder blade
in a spot I can’t reach to rub or massage
and I’m alone or I’m surrounded by strangers
and living in a world where it is forbidden
to ask a stranger to rub your back the way
I used to ask my cousin Bella
to rub my back when we were 12 or 13
and she would slowly glide her small soft hot fingers
over my skin making me squirm and sigh
squirm and sigh with such desperate longing
but nothing happened ever between us nothing at all
though I dreamed of her breasts while walking to school
and dream of her breasts achingly still this is the pain
of regret the regret of restrained desire which Blake said
breeds pestilence then a shooting pain down my left arm
not a heart attack but the result of a twisted neck
from sleeping in an awkward position something amiss too
in my left ankle also heartburn gas hemorrhoids
when young the body is a well of pleasure when you are old
it is a sack of pains and you begin to learn the names
of over-the-counter drugs you carry them in your pockets
the pills and creams and ointments and capsules
lidocaine ibuprofen acetaminophen paracetamol
shark liver oil to name just a few
but nothing cures you nothing gets rid of the pain
and you imagine your body attacked by shrieking redskins
firing flaming arrows from slender canoes
or hooded thugs sliding bamboo slivers into your eyes
your skin your fingernails your knees your lower back
while asking questions to which there are no answers:
why does love diminish the world? why do we grow old
and die? what do you call a Hungarian fly
that bugs the Perfect Master?


SIEGFRIED MORTKOWITZ works as a free-lance journalist and lives in Prague. His work has appeared in Brown’s Window, After Hours and a nameless (and now defunct) German magazine in the form of a box (which contained the loose pages). After Hours Press has just published his first chapbook, Eating Brains and Other Poems.

Read an essay by Siegfried Mortkowitz on Frank O’Hara’s great poem “The Day Lady Died” in B O D Y