David Rosenthal

David Rosenthal lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Oakland public schools. His book The Wild Geography of Misplaced Things (White Violet Press, 2013) was a semifinalist for the Richard Wilbur and Donald Justice Poetry Prizes. His poems and translations have appeared in print and online in Rattle, Measure, The Formalist, Unsplendid, Birmingham Poetry Review, Modern Haiku, and other journals. He has been a Pushcart Prize Nominee and a Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award Finalist.  His Website is https://davidrosenthal.weebly.com."

Piles of Things

I don’t put things away where they belong—
I set them down on tabletops and shelves
where piles accumulate. The piles themselves
are missing items put back in the wrong
collections, redistributed among
the wild geography of misplaced things
that forms around me in concentric rings
of monuments to what does not belong.

And just beyond these monumental rings,
there is another ring of vacant places,
longing to greet the repatriated faces
of all the never quite forgotten things
that once conformed exactly to the spaces
settled now by dust and fading traces.

Originally appeared in Measure

From a Window

It isn't snow—the petals from
the blossoms of a nearby tree
have harvested without a plum,
to gather on the ground below.
Around here we don't often see
the strange and lovely, lonely glow
of Winter's fallow imagery.
But then again, this isn't snow—
and if it were, it wouldn't be:
it always seems to disappear
before it has a chance to grow
the way I see it growing here.
But I forget, this isn't snow—
the petals from a plum tree near
the fence have let their branches go
to take their chances on the air;
and nearly frozen from the flow,
the tree itself is almost bare,
except a lightly dusted layer
of crystal flakes that aren't snow.

Originally appeared in Pivot

Serious Faces

Set the tables with their chairs
and turn the sign around,
secure away the better wares
and pull the awnings down;

settle the tabs and hitch the carts,
and set out for the moon—
for when the end of laughing starts,
the rest is coming soon.

Call back all the forward horses,
bid the guards stand down,
dismantle all the outer forces,
lay aside the crown;

abandon all the open ports,
and leave behind the dune—
for when the end of laughing starts,
the rest is over soon.

Originally appeared in Pivot

The Slowing

Tomorrow doesn’t creep in a petty pace
for me. It comes too quickly and it goes
just as quickly, till nightfall, then it slows,
but only long enough for me to trace
my fortune’s fall from me, and mine from grace—
down all the falling footpaths that I chose,
past all the open doors I had to close,
and all the mirrors I could never face.

The slowing only lasts a little while,
not even long enough for me to grieve
the yesterday’s tomorrows I compile
and neatly fold to fit into a file
that’s hard to use, but easy to retrieve,
like flowers up a cheap magician’s sleeve.

Originally appeared in Blue Unicorn

Without Words

Whatever woke me, I forget,
but birdsong made me stay.
The sun had still not risen yet,
and wouldn't rise all day;

and neither would the darkness lift
its shadows from the ground;
and neither would the cloud bank drift
away without a sound.

I heard them making plans to fly,
and then I heard them go.
The birds left me behind, but I
was comforted to know

I'd somehow managed to retain
some learning without words:
I knew the afternoon would rain
when morning broke with birds.

Originally appeared in The Lyric

The Test

I know it's coming, I just don't know when.
I've lived too well too long to not have known
a horror that would stab me to the bone,
and lay my plans with those of mice and men.
Anticipation is a pathogen,
but not severe enough. I must atone
for all my comfort. All the seeds I've sown
will come to harvest, I just don't know when.

I sowed them, so I know what seeds I'll reap.
I have no wood to knock, no bets to hedge.
I signed the contract with a bleeding pen,
and now I have to let the imprint steep
until its cold diffusion nips the edge.
I know it's coming. I just don't know when.

Originally appeared in Blue Unicorn; reprinted in Carapace (South Africa)

I Remember Everything

And I recall it all just like a list
a convict memorizes every day
of everyone who had him put away,
and every time he met up with a fist,
and all the pretty girls he never kissed,
and every lie he heard a lawyer say,
and every day he never saw the day,
and all the opportunities he missed.

But I forget the epic poet's song
that tells the tales of old heroic acts
recounting generations of the gods;
and when I try, I get the order wrong,
and I get lost remembering the facts,
and weary of a melody that plods.

Originally appeared in Sparrow: Yearbook of the Sonnet


He sat for hours in empty rooms, alone,
where shadows were the only other souls,
and shafts of light were pale, white blocks of stone
descending like the ancient marble poles.

He never needed anybody near,
he never had to pry the sash apart
to catch a breath of moteless air, or hear
a sound more distant than a beating heart.

Instead, he opened his door to the ocean,
the way the ocean opens to the light;
the way the light, without the slightest motion,
opens to the darkness of the night.

Originally appeared in The Lyric