Today's poetry for today's world

Michael Salcman


Michael Salcman was born in 1946, Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and

came to the United States in 1949.  He attended the combined program in liberal arts and medical education at Boston University, was a Fellow in neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health and trained in neurosurgery at Columbia University's Neurological Institute.  He has served as Chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore.  He is the author of almost 200 scientific and medical papers and six medical and scientific textbooks translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese and Chinese.  Now Special Lecturer in the Osher Institute at Towson University, he lectures widely on art and the brain.  His course on How The Brain Works is available on the Knowledge Network of the New York Times.  His poems appear in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, Harvard Review, Hopkins Review, New Letters, and the New York Quarterly.  His work has been heard on NPR's All Things Considered and in Euphoria (2008), a documentary film on the brain and creativity.  He is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two collections, The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press, 2007), nominated for The Poet's Prize and a Finalist for the Towson University Prize in Literature, and The Enemy of Good Is Better (Orchises, 2011).




Click on the cover to buy The Enemy of Good is Better.








My Father always carried a penknife

to pare his green apples, raising their skins

in perfect spirals.  He never drew blood

slicing his bananas for breakfast,

their dark-seeded cores like little faces

dropping into the milk, one more item

in a life of a thousand chores,

one more notch in a life advancing

by millimeters or inches, not seconds or days.

I watched him turn himself as carefully away

from violence as a lathe on a table leg,

cutting each curve and flourish

from the flat face of a block

clamped in his hand.  His hand and its thumb

never shied from the blade; he knew

that what you do with any tool gives it its value,

like a life—not too eager or afraid.




Alaska Quarterly Review: Vol.27 (no.1&2), Spring & Summer, 2010, p. 223

Poetry Daily, June 21, 2010

The Enemy of Good Is Better, Orchises Press, Washington, 2011





Click on the cover to buy The Clock Made of Confetti.    





              Chrysaora quinquecirrha



The trembling lampshade heads

and shivering arms

have no strange beauty to speak of—

no phosphor glows at night.

No bones, no heart, no brains, no eyes.

The day I no longer recall their name

I feel the onset of age

while hauling up

the anonymous curling slime

of tentacles on the anchor chain.

Whatever I once called them

there’s no swimming in the midst of this,

so many small ones float by our boat

there’s no safety reclining on a raft either,

the conditions precisely as they wish:

hot and humid, a briny mix.

If relief comes, hours later

it’s not the name but the knowledge

of how forgetting goes:

life’s awful and terrible things wiped first

some small resentments next,

before steering towards a final music,

the mind set free of memory.




The Ontario Review: No.67, Fall/Winter, 2007-2008

Nominated for The Pushcart Prize

The Enemy of Good Is Better, Orchises Press, Washington, 2011





Click on the cover to buy Stones in Our Pockets. 








Like immortal cells growing in a dish

the alien swans multiply beyond our wish

for silent beauty. And the buried day rises as a dream—

how to kill the mute swans its theme,

one Tchaikovsky never penned,

is now debated in shore side bars and fens

by oystermen who lift their glasses

in sad farewell to black skimmers and underwater grasses;

they mourn the native tundra swan

and the least tern before it too is gone,

and if alien beauty must be trapped or shot

or poisoned, its nested eggs addled not

to hatch, they’re willing to concede

how often beauty breeds dark necessity.




Raritan: 22(2), Fall, 2002

The Clock Made of Confetti, Orchises Press, Washington, 2007




Click on the cover to buy A Season Like This. 




Writer’s Tip:  A poem should have an on-ramp that welcomes the reader in and an off-ramp

that gets him out of his reverie; in between is a highway that often writes itself.                 




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