The Inheritance

By Stanley Moss b. 1925 Stanley Moss
In Canada, on a dark afternoon,   
from a cabin beside Lake Purgatory
I saw your two clenched fists in a tree—
your most recent rage—until I came to my senses,
and saw two small lighted glass lamps reflected
through a window onto the maple leaves.   
Was it simply that I had stolen away
in the wilderness to go fishing on your birthday,
twelve years after your death, and you
less than your rusty pliers in my fishing box?

It is late August in the moral North.   
To answer your first question,
I obey the fish and game laws
of New York State, Ontario and Quebec.
The odd branch has already turned red.   
As for me I have turned inside out,   
I cry for revolution against myself—
no longer red, I’m parlor pink and gray,   
you, less than a thumb print on a page.

Matters still outstanding: you will not remember—
a boy, I cut school, sneaked out
to the 42nd Street library to read among readers
like a stray lion cub taken into a great pride.
I have kept your Greek grammar,   
your 78 revolutions per minute   
recording of Rossini’s Barber
you played to stop me from crying,   
almost my first memory.
Your “valuable papers,” now valuable
only to me, I fed to a fire years ago.
Frankly I am tired of receiving letters from the dead   
every day, and carrying you on my back,
out of the burning city,
in and out of the bathroom and bedroom,
you less than the smoke you wanted for a shroud.

Let us dance with Sarah behind the curtain   
where God in his divine humor
tells Abraham Sarah will at ninety bear a son,
and she asks laughing within herself, “Will I have pleasure?”   
Take one foot, then the other … Imitate a departure
if you make it not, and each going
will lend a kind of easiness to the next.   
Father, you poisoned my father.   
I am standing alone, telling the truth
as you commanded. (Without too many
of the unseemly details, like the sounds of you in bed   
sucking, I thought, on fruit I later would not eat.)
You, less than a seed of a wild grape.

Today, in the last moments of light
I heard a fish, a “Musky,” your nickname, break water.   
As I sing my song of how you
will be remembered, if I could
out of misericordia, I’d tie you to the mast
and stuff your ears with wax. I regret
some parts of the body forgive, some don’t. Father,   
do not forget your 18 inch Board of Education ruler   
on which I measured my penis, marking its progress.   
You kept it on your desk before you till your old age.   
One reason, perhaps, for the archaic Greek smile   
I wore on my face through boyhood.
I never thought I’d dig your grave with laughter.

Stanley Moss, “The Inheritance” from A History of Color: New and Collected Poems. Reprinted with the permission of Seven Stories Press,

Source: A History of Color: New and Collected Poems (Seven Stories Press, 2003)

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Poet Stanley Moss b. 1925

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Living, Youth, Relationships, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

Poetic Terms Elegy

 Stanley  Moss


Stanley Moss was educated at Trinity College (Connecticut) and Yale University and makes his living as a private art dealer, specializing in Spanish and Italian Old Masters. As a child he visited Europe with his family, and after serving in World War II he taught English in Barcelona and Rome, where he became familiar with the religious and mythical figures that appear in his work.

He is the critically acclaimed author of The . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Living, Youth, Relationships, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Elegy

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