Paul Hostovsky


That Crying Thing

What is that
crying thing that I do
that isn’t crying exactly,
more like a wave, a breaker
that doesn’t break, doesn’t
burst into tears
but just keeps swelling,
plunging toward the steep beach
at the back of my throat,
curving almost deliciously,
the crest thrusting forward,
the trough forming
that beautiful concave place
in which I could live
forever, just catching my breath
in the almost
but not quite spilling over,
that cherished, hollow space?



If you were here I would tell you
how I threw my back out
and everyone I talked to, I mean everyone,
had a backstory–
an uncle or cousin or coworker
or husband or friend of a friend with a bad
back that got better at the chiropractor’s
or the physical therapist’s or under
the knife. I couldn’t stand up straight
for two weeks. And as much as that hurt–
and it hurt a lot, let me tell you–
having to listen to everyone and his brother’s
backstory hurt even worse. Because I didn’t
care. I mean I really didn’t. “Maybe if I didn’t
care it wouldn’t hurt so much,” I remember
you saying back when you were here. I wish
you were still here. I think
not caring hurts as much as caring.
In fact, I think it hurts even worse.


Man Begging Outside the Dunkin' Donuts

“I gave on the way in,”
I tell him on my way out.
He’s holding the door open
for me and the other haves
like a doorman or a maraca player
playing his half-empty cup
of coins. “Thank you,” he says,
“I remember you.” And I feel
remembered, exonerated,
philanthropic, until he says,
“But nothing says you can’t
give again, boss.” Then I feel
exploited, indignant, misanthropic,
and I walk huffily past him with
my overflowing cup of resentment.
He gets you coming and going.
Get a job, I want to yell at him.
But this is his job. He’s always
here. Every single morning
like clockwork. He never misses
a shift. He’s on his feet all day
dealing with a public that
despises him and his tin cup’s
tintinnabulation, a music as old
as the oldest profession in the world.
“Good morning,” he sings to every
half-awake, scowling, disdainful,
gainfully employed soul that passes
through the door. And it’s more
than you or I could muster any
given morning. It’s giving all to all.


Paul Hostovsky

I was introduced to Vipassana Meditation about ten years ago, when a friend invited me to "a New Year's Eve party" at a place called Insight Meditation. I pictured noisemakers, conical hats, champagne flowing. When we got there–I'll never forget this–we entered a large room with more than a hundred people sitting in total silence. This is different, I remember thinking. I took a seat, closed my eyes, and said to myself: I can do this. And I joined in, simply sitting, simply breathing, right through to midnight, bringing in the new year like that. I was hooked. Since then, I've added walking, and reading Braille, to my meditative and contemplative practices. As for the writing, well, I've been doing that since the 5th grade. But I like to think it's gotten a little better, a little clearer, a little truer, since I found my breath.


Paul Hostovsky is the author of nine books of poetry, including Is That What That Is (FutureCycle Press, 2017). He has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter and a Braille instructor.