Jeff Friedman

Two Prose Poems

Father and Son Singing

“You don’t sing much, do you, son?” my father asks, sitting in his chair in the living room. He sings broken phrases, disconnected words, syllables that could be mantras the way he bends and stretches them. He sings melodies full of coins and fountains of cash. He sings a son who embraces his absence with real love. Now sitting in my chair, I sing too: bridges falling into holes, ties dangling from branches, monogrammed handkerchiefs sailing like kites. I sing the belly of my father, hands that rip cardboard boxes in two, his stubbled cheeks and chin, pillowcases stuffed with bills. I sing glossy wingtips sparking on the pavement, suits made of dust, the melody in the covered mirrors. His song ends with a sigh, mine with a gurgle. Neither of us can carry a tune.

Mother in the River

Mother didn’t disappear like other mothers; instead, she became a river. Every afternoon, my father brought her flowers and begged her to come home, but she didn’t answer his pleas, and soon the flowers disappeared, either drowning or flowing south. My sister waded into the water, small fish grazing her bare ankles. She whispered things to the river she didn’t want father or me to hear. Sometimes she laughed— her face radiant with light—as if mother had spoken to her. Sometimes she disappeared beneath the surface, basking in mother’s warm breath, she said. Stepping over broken glass and crushed cans, I walked the river bank until I knelt on the rocks by the water. I picked up a stick and stirred the ashes and bits of bone so that they would mix with the current, but some came back to cling to the rocks. At dusk, mother shut the shades of her windows and closed the door.

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Jeff Friedman’s eighth book of poems, The Marksman and Other Poems, is scheduled for publication by Carnegie Mellon University Press in fall 2020. His poems, flash stories, and translations have appeared in Poetry International, Poetry, Agni Online, New England Review, American Poetry Review, American Journal of Poetry, Sentence, New Flash Fiction Review, New World Writing, Hotel Amerika, Antioch Review, Flash Fiction Funny, and The New Republic. He has received numerous awards and prizes including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016 and two individual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council.