Original Poetry / Poetry

Bloom Creative Writing: Poetry by Mark Goldstein

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,” NY Public library Digital archive

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 !

Photo by Wyman Marshall on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s