What can I say about Hal Sirowitz? Imagine that Alexander Portnoy, the hero of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, grew up to be a performance poet instead of a NYC Commissioner. Sirowitz wears his family like several layers of clothes on a hot day. The poems he sweats out are a deadpan testimony to the sort of care a young man needs to take, just to get through his day without suffering death or dismemberment. According to his Mother, that is. He’s one of the best exponents of Jewish angst I know, including Woody Allen.
Nice man. He gave a poetry reading in Borders at Westlake Mall in Seattle, and signed my copy of Mother Said (1996), his most famous collection. Here’s a video of Sirowitz reading Chopped Off Arm and No More Birthdays.
And now you’ve got the intonation, here’s one you can imagine him performing.
Don’t stick your hand in the water,
Mother said, while your father is rowing.
A fish might think that one of your fingers is a worm-
I heard that the constant water in their eyes
makes them nearsighted-& bite it off.
Then you won’t be able to count to ten
on your fingers, & you’ll flunk
all your math tests. And you won’t
be able to get a good grip on your baseball bat,
& what would have been a home run
will now become a single. And don’t think
that just because you’ll have one less fingernail
to cut, we’ll make your life easier, & treat you
like a cripple. Your remaining fingers
must learn to work harder.