Steven Kleinman
Metaphor of a Starfish

                         after Aimee Nezhukumatathil


In the ocean, the starfish are pulling 

                            off their own arms,

killing themselves, their bodies, spilling, 

                           attacking themselves to escape

what I imagine is the pain of a world 

                           that no longer makes sense,

as on the beach a half world away, 

                           I watch large tankers

dredge sand to increase the likelihood 

                           that land values will increase 

this year. I am a big fan of land values 

                           increasing. I have a family house

we can’t afford, the storms 

                           raised maintenance costs,

and insurance for the floods, 

                           the house that was

my electrician grandfather’s gift to us 

                           will likely sell and with it will go this island

where I’ve watched the beaches 

                           grow and shrink my whole life. 

I’m thinking now that the starfish

                           are displaced from their arms

not by what the storms brought 

                           but by what brought the storms.

At home, neighborhood boys 

                          die from a lack of contact,

wrestle on the sidewalks

                          in front of Mister Bill’s house.

He works early in the morning

                          and returns by end of school, so 

on hot spring days this is where

                         parents know their boys will be safe. 

A starfish with short hair, and one 

                         throwing a football, and one yelling,

and a starfish whose name I’ve forgotten

                        with a chipped tooth, and a starfish who 

grabs my hand as I pass, as I return 

                        around the corner on my walk from work,

grabs and asks if I would take him 

                        to the park to see the yellow school busses 

that he always wants to see.       

                       He holds my hand 

as we walk across the street

                       toward my door—can you imagine? 

Why is it so hard to show affection

                       to this boy? Others on the ground 

pull at limbs the way starfish do, 

                      escaping what brought the storm.

This one just looks up at me, his small

                      hand in mine as we walk toward my door,

and I tell him no, again, and again. 


Found In Volume 46, No. 04
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Steven Kleinman
About the Author

Steven Kleinman’s poems are forthcoming or available from the Iowa Review, Oversound, The Cossack Review, The Collagist, Devil's Lake, Horsethief, Construction, and elsewhere. He is the assistant editor at Saturnalia Press, and he is a founding member of the Philadelphia Poetry Collaboration.