With this two-part poem by Mark Goldstein , we continue our new series of original fiction or poetry by writers who either published their first book at 40 or after, or who have yet to publish a book. Writers interested in submitting work should see our guidelines.
2 Baths (Circa ’71)
Mikvah Yetev Lev – Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y
With rules set forth for this and that:
what one can eat, and with what spoon,
and when, and on what platter?
What to wear atop one’s head?
Which prayers to say,
and at what time of day?
Will odd feelings when seeing naked men,
be accepted by the Rebbe as okay?
Apparently, the mikvah in the basement
of the three bunched-together brownstones,
merged years ago into the Temple
near the corner of Lee and Hooper,
must’ve passed muster; being certified as Kosher
by a learned group of rabbis,
then signed-off by a plumbing inspector,
whose name was Sal LaRussa.
By mid-morning most of the congregants
have gone to Yeshiva or to business.
One foot up on a basement bench
a black-bearded man sits clipping toenails,
towel slipping off his shoulders
exposing a hairy bearish back.
Upstairs, alone in the vestry
a younger man stands, a long black leather strap
wrapped around a finger, his hand,
then wound ‘round and ‘round his arm.
The final winding, binding a small box to his bicep.
Another black box banded to his forehead,
he genuflects fervently, bending at the knee.
His face closely faces a wall of shelves supporting;
a stack of thick tomes, bottle of Slivovitz,
and a tray with four shot glasses.
His dangling ringlets and tassels toss to and fro,
in sync with the private staccato prayer
he mutters to himself as he sways,
his frayed open prayer book balanced
atop an outstretched, bound-up hand.
At ten in the morning,
a thin glossy sheen can be seen
floating on the water’s surface in the
Yetev Lev’s Men’s Mikvah
as a sharply angled ray of summer sun
shines down through a narrow basement window.
Refracting telltale testimony
to the brisk level of activity
one would expect to see
in a small pool posited as the threshold
between the unholy and the holy.
It would be deemed miraculous
if this sacred, soul-cleansing cistern,
if tested by the Board of Health,
contained water confirmed pure;
considering the long queue
of redemption seeking bathers
who’ve been walking hot summer streets
in dark garb designed for wintering in Krakow.
Sub-contractors: descendants of ancient Roman plumbers
and precise mosaic artesans,
most hailing from Bensonhurst,
had done their utmost to comply with the Bible’s ancient specs.
Received a thumbs up from the learned mikvah Rabbis,
then got the job signed-off by LaRussa.
Another entrenched gateway to purity
excised from newly hallowed ground,
designated holy enough to sanctify the brethren;
the stubborn, still fervently observant remnants of a Diaspora.
Absolving their sins with a brief prayer
and a quick dunk in blessed bath water, carefully collected
in a pit dug in the earth
beneath a Brooklyn brownstone’s basement.
Continental Baths – Ansonia Hotel Basement- 2109 Broadway / New York, N.Y
A coconut jugged, grass-skirted hula dancer and
his companion; long trident in hand, purportedly Poseidon,
posed for a picture next to the Continental’s
ornate Romanesque, blue pool.
Splashing water spewing for effect from nozzles overhead,
they reposition two chaise lounges, pulling them up
nearer, for a clearer view of the Continental Bath’s main stage.
Already playfully costumed for the occasion,
they’ll sip Piña Coladas in anticipation
of the gala Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday Review featuring
“Bathhouse Betty” Midler who hails from Honolulu,
accompanied by Williamsburg’s own cutiepie,
Barry Pincus Manilow, on the grand piano.
Soon, several hundred sated, well-lubricated,
Turkish towel donning friends or strangers
will begin to filter out from the labyrinth
of thin-walled, cramped, private cubicles.
Others, re-wrapping towels ‘round waists, withdraw
from the fogged-up spa and smoky saunas
where repressed suburban closet dwellers,
lithe modern dancers and libertines from downtown
can, on hands and bended knees canoodle,
shrouded in a cloud of steam,
engulfed in hot anonymity.
Slight Barry, betowelled, steps up onstage, tinkles a few keys.
His jaunty solo piano overture signals
the start of the evening’s campy cabaret.
All yelping sounds, insistent sighs, moans, slapping flesh
and heavy breathing cease.
Others return to their seats from the free buffet.
A spotlight shines on “Divine Miss M”
as she makes her entrance in black bustier.
She’ll delight all of her “boys”, fans and visiting vicarious voyeurs,
who paid a cover charge,
with bawdy songs and risque banter;
throwing in, with a wink, an inside joke
about “loving everything about this place,
except that goddamn waterfall.”
In the wee hours of the evening,
spent revelers will towel off and dress,
pass by the Continental’s gratis,
in-house “Free V.D. Infirmary,”
and walk up a steep steel staircase to the street.
A young man heading back to Brooklyn,
suddenly refreshed by cool mist in the air,
already feels self conscious, dreading
the damning stare or askance glance
from the taxi’s rear-view mirror.
Wondering what judgement the night-shift cabbie
queued-up, up on 74th Street will cast upon him;
this flushed, clean-shaven loner
being delivered from here,
back to the old neighborhood.
He hops into a yellow car.
The bleary-eyed driver flips on the meter,
then steers their way crosstown.
Soon, bridge lights flash passed,
the bather’s driven home
plotting the story he’ll tell mother over breakfast
about his night out carousing with his pals
after the Ranger game.
Silent, the tired cabbie stares at the roadway,
sloshing through the increasingly wet gloom,
anxious about not making quota,
and if he can find a return fare back from here
so late, on this nasty Tuesday night.
Mark Goldstein is a Bronx Baby Boomer born in 1950. A quiet boy, Mark discovered his “Voice” while writing confessions/mea culpas to his parents to assuage guilt, justify bad behavior and/or preemptively calm their reaction to the inevitable discovery of his various misdeeds. Graduating from State U. of N.Y. with a degree in English, he attended poetry workshops at The New School and The 92nd St. Y in the mid-70’s. Marriage, family, gettin’ ‘n spendin’ subdued the Muse until Mark’s retirement in 2016. Time’s a wastin’, time to play catch-up – this is my first published piece! Thank you Bloom !