Poetry by Alan Felsenthal


By Alan Felsenthal

It’s not that I didn’t know to say no, I didn’t
know you could.
Whoa!—or is it woe?

My woes glowed inchoate. You can’t say no
if you don’t know how, I said to the child.
Nothing’s a response.

The fifth child among the four questions.
Different from the one who cannot ask, he can
only ask certain ones.

His pain the pain of sitting under the balsam
willow with a fever, forehead full of snot and
prayer, sniffing for air, swollen eyebrows.

Aching under the tree’s leaves, he cannot be relieved
by the willow bark. The bark withholds
salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin.

A smell like a balsam fir without being one.
It can’t speak to you with words like God—
but you can ask it anything.

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