The Fieldstone Review

The Lens Grinder

by Amos Wright

The publishers say my treatise on the rainbow

is selling a little better this year. And

with the royalties, we can live on more

than just bread and circuses alone.

The Alhambra Decree passed

with a majority vote

and my family was pushed from country to country,

from diaspora to diaspora

like a gypsy caravan captained by Ahasuerus,

all of Europe an anti-Semitic basket case.

I rented a room with a harpsichord

whose keys I never fingered,

and shelved the laws of Hebrew grammar,

Talmudic scholia, the geometric textbook;

determined as I was
to defy the determinism of my race,
                    
cursed with all curses of Deuteronomy.

No war between the mind and the body 

except that which the mind wages

against its own body. 

The sun looks the same 

whether from prison or from a palace 

and we too need resistance

to fly like the albatross. 

The Collegiants agreed 

that God might inhabit the substance of a stone, 

the mode of a mountain, the attribute of an angle. 

Grind a lens so large, they urged me,

that even the myopic, who can buy nothing 

with their frugal thoughts, could see 

the armigerous affections of a determinist 

in cloud formations – that circus of pareidolia – 

reflected in the linished surfaces of Amsterdam’s canals. 

Like Nero straining through the green
of an emerald to glimpse a favorite gladiator

just before he is devoured by a female bear. 

Then a bureaucratic snail knocked 

and produced a writ of cherem:
Elisha’s curse reversed upon me,

for teaching the unity of convex and concave, 

the refracted real image and its virtual other, 

for identifying the shadow of the light with the thing itself. 

Rather to wear the foreskin of a Gentile like a death mask

than to have my visage printed on their Dutch guilder. 

If you don’t like it here, I said with blue lips, 

the early onset of Potter’s Rot, 

you are always free to go.
So, what keeps you here,

when the door is wide open
like the mouth of one sleeping?

God has unloaded the gun of stars. 

If you smell roses, the corpse cannot be too far. 

Even mechanics do metaphysics. 

The Cheshire cat’s smile is no accident. 

What are we human machines then 

but uncanny swine satisfied? 

And then I returned to my lens-grinding. 

The lens grew until it filled the entire room, 

pressing me against the wall. 

I slept under its convex penumbra, 

like a glass tent pitched upon the deserts of the moon

among the silica dust of ground lenses, 

and every morning I polished it 

with the white rags of Maimonides’ turban 

and a few glasses of canal water

until the forty-two she-bears danced to my door, 

ready with the laughter of devoured children.