Captivated by Michael Cervas

 Author photograph by Richard Bergen

In Captivated Michael Cervas pulls out all the stops. As in his earlier book, we are given splendid poems in which history, science, foreign culture, and sport are metaphors for essential truth, but now there is an even greater admixture of hilarity and irony, increased emotional depth, and a series of love poems to die for, though beneath it all a current of melancholy runs deep. Captivated begins with poems of childhood, an Edenic condition in which the serpent is never far off but sometimes forgotten. Throughout the book, jubilation and anxiety do battle and both win. Emotions are never half-hearted in these poems, be they the terrible sadness of losing a much-loved father or the ecstasy, danger, and yes, hilarity of all-out love. One of the greatest strengths of Captivated is the way it plays variations on its title, which cuts in opposite directions, pointing toward both captivity and sheer delight. Prepare yourself for a journey into both realms. You will not be the same when you return, as early readers of the book have discovered. Naomi Shihab Nye comments that “because Michael Cervas is captivated by life and its luscious, haunting details, ironies, and linkages, he writes mesmerizing poems with the power to transport a reader instantly, fluidly, deliciously into so many places we want to be. I love his work.” And this from James M. Kee: “In the beautifully measured lines of these poems, Michael Cervas explores the many ways in which we are ‘captivated’ by our lives ‘here on earth.’

Cover painting by Bryan Nash Gill
There are the ambiguities of experience recollected from childhood—those occasions when we first found ourselves feeling both ‘safe’ and ‘scared.’ And there are the losses that ‘eat right through’ everything, carrying all to an inevitable ‘anonymity’ that even memory cannot hold off. But there are also ‘journeys’ on which we find ourselves, suddenly and surprisingly, standing on ‘holy ground,’ acknowledging ‘moments of grace in the rush of time.’ Variously hopeful, grateful, and wryly self-deprecating, Cervas’ poems transport us to a place where ‘love love’ is comically affirmed even as its dangers are readily acknowledged. Perhaps, the volume suggests, we can only be captivated by time’s wonders when we have come to terms with the ways in which time holds us captive.”

Michael Cervas lives with his wife Deb on the campus of Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut. From his backyard, he can watch the sun rise over Talcott Mountain and the Farmington River thread its way through the valley below. It is a perfect place for reading and writing. At Westminster, Michael teaches English and directs the school’s Poetry Festival as well as the Readings in the Gund Room series. He also enjoys playing music (especially jazz) and sports (especially squash), both of which he considers simply to be other forms of poetry.

Click here to read sample poems.

Click here to see/hear Michael reading from Captivated and his earlier book Inside the Box.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-04-7

Copyright © 2011 by Michael Cervas

6" x 9" paperback, 80 pages




Eating in Eden

If a boy wanted something to eat
on a summer’s morning in the woods
behind our house on Thorn Drive
— something sweet and cold —
he had only two choices really.
He could shinny up the thick trunk
of the ancient black cherry tree
in the very middle of our forest,
inch himself out precariously
along the ever-narrowing branches,
then reach up to grab the wine-
dark cherries floating in the sky,
pop them by handfuls into his mouth
and spray the pits out in a juicy rain.

Or he could squirrel his way deep
into the center of the wild blackberries
that hugged the ridge at the border
of the woods and the old farmer’s land,
risking scratches and skinned elbows
to tunnel far enough into the dark canopy
of bushes to find the ripest ones,
thimbles that stained his fingers and face
with wild splotches of mulberry paint
and soaked into his shorts so deeply
he could smell the berries’ tartness
fermenting there even months later.

Either place, up high and suspended
above the forest’s carpet of loam
or lying down low on the soft ground
in the silence of the aromatic earth,
a boy felt alone, safe and scared.


Pitching and Catching

So I’m sauntering across
the quad on a hot summer’s day
going to check on the mail

when I glance down the road
and see two roofers, one perched
right on top of the gymnasium,

poised like a weathervane,
the other just stepping out of his van
suddenly pitching something,

a 95 mph fastball, almost invisible,
right at his partner, who flashes
out his left hand and snags the object

(hammer? stapler? cold drink?)
right out of mid-air. “Nice toss,” I shout,
not knowing whether they’ll even

hear me. A moment of grace
in the rush of time. “Hey, what about
the catch?” cries the other guy

catching me by surprise. “Great
catch too,” I yell, as all of us laugh
and I remember quiet evenings

long ago when I played pitch
and catch with my father, and later
with my son, a game as ancient
as our species, the way we come
to know each other in the day-to-day
pitching and catching of our lives.



Loss takes up inside of everything sooner or later and eats
right through it.
— Sue Monk Kidd

I lost the only watch my mother ever gave to me
— a graduation present — on a summer’s day

at an Eat ’n Park out by the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
I must’ve slipped it off in the bathroom to wash

my hands, and then left it there on the filthy sink.
Today, just a couple of days before the start of spring,

the persistent March sun is eating at the snow,
imperceptibly transforming all of winter’s darkness

into pearly trickles of light. Just the same I know
there is darkness here too, ready to devour that sun.

My father was sitting at his desk, just after lunch,
looking at travel brochures, maybe dreaming

of the marble Aegean Sea, its mirror of blue
reflecting Athena’s temple in the splashing sunlight,

when he clutched his chest and dropped out of my life.
One night when I was twelve, I awoke in a sweat,

tiptoed into the bathroom, turned on the light,
opened my mouth, and squinted hard at the mirror

to see bones and flesh crumbling away, like a photograph
dissolving in chemicals, until only my eyes were left.

Once, we lost our two-year-old on an idyllic morning
at one of her sister’s games: all the other moms and dads

went to search with us in the suddenly labyrinthine
woods behind the fields, while all I could hear

was the cry of an invisible plane somewhere above.
Loss takes up inside everything sooner or later

and eats right through it. The planet spins, the galaxies
whirl, the infant stumbles into old age: why just last summer

I took an enormous branch from the oak in my yard —
eaten away inside by insects — and snapped it like a twig.


Like the purple scar carved
deep in the night’s sky
by the sudden flash
of a shooting star
your absence
stays with
me for

Meeting Mister Buddha at the Doctor’s Office

After making eye contact with Carol the receptionist
I sat down in a chair next to the only other person
in the office at the time. He seemed to be about
my age but he was pretty flabby (clearly he had not
played two and a half hours of tennis that morning
in the hot September sun). After a moment’s silence,
Carol looked at the man and said, “Mister Buddha,
are you sure you don’t have any cards with you?”
I looked up in surprise. You just never know when
or where the Buddha will appear, that’s the truth.
He reckoned his wife must have taken the new ones,
and so there he was caught in a bureaucratic pickle.
But Carol — as always the mindful receptionist —
suggested he could just fax in the information later.
She asked him to fill out a registration form —
name and telephone number only. Mister Buddha
agreed there was no need for any more work
than was absolutely necessary, and then she asked
for his $15 co-pay, which he paid in small bills
before turning with a smile and heading out the door.
Suddenly I wasn’t all that worried about my lab
results — and, in fact, they turned out to be just fine.
It was somehow good to know that Mister Buddha
himself doesn’t always carry his insurance cards
and that he has a higher co-pay than I do.

Falling in Love

How did they choose their subjects,
those sly Italian scientists at Pavia University
studying the mysterious love molecule
known officially as Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)?
Did they put an ad in the local newspaper for
volunteers already stupefied by love’s first pulls and tugs
to mosey on down to the lab
as soon as they started feeling the symptoms
(pitter-pattering heart, sweaty palms, giddiness)
or did they do a little scientific matchmaking of their own
in the nooks and crannies of their brightly lit laboratory
— where else would the chemistry be better, really?
Or maybe they set up a few spy-cams out on the piazza
trying to identify strangers with the telltale signs —
that light-footedness that can spin a man around
or that dreamy obliviousness you always see
in the blissed-out eyes of the just-fallen?
However they managed to round them all up,
one thing’s for certain: the molecule is short-lived.
The published results (in Psychoneuroendoctrinology)
show conclusively that falling in love triggers
a fantastic jump in the level of NGF of new lovers,
but only for a brief time, and never for more than a year.
The fire consumes itself and the passion vanishes
like smoke in the wind in the hills of Tuscany.
The quantity of the love molecule in the blood falls
back to normal, where it hovers for the rest of us,
as we mope through our days and nights hoping
against hope to be one of the lucky ones
chosen for the very next experiment.

Romance in the Days before E-mail

Everyone knows romance
lives in expectancies, blooms
in the hours and days of waiting
for the next chance meeting,
for the slow sensuous morphing
of touch into kiss, of braided
fingers into the dazzle of lips
before all breathing stops and
the heart begins its new life.

This kind of love takes time
to grow, feeds on doubts and
indecisions, lives in daydreams
of imagined pleasures, a history
of desire that simply can not
be written in instant messages.
Romance needs the tectonics
of time shifting all around it,
needs distance and anxiety.

Three months into marriage
my father spent a lunch hour
writing a letter to my mother.
My dearest wife, he began,
still too shy even to name her,
every day I pray to become
more worthy of your love.

He posted that letter in a box
and waited three days for

his feelings to climb ten miles
of crooked streets from Pittsburgh
to Mt. Troy, every night looking
into her eyes, imagining her
reading his tender words
while during the days he sketched
his plans at the drafting table.
Three whole days when his life hung
in the balance of romance.


That’s what they called it
— all of them — in sermons

and stories, in broadsides
and diaries, letters to kinfolk,

sometimes even scrawled
in haste on the bark of trees:

a little girl only seven yr.
captivated by the Indians,

stolen away from the flames
in the company of mothers

and babies, and maybe a few
scared older boys and girls.

And so began the only
cross-cultural experience

available to the Americans,
everyone on the other side

of the divide, it seems,
wanting desperately now

to know just how savage
were the savages, how naked

would those captives become,
how dense were those forests,

how seductive was the touch
of red skin, the lure of barbaric

whispers, the aura of their fires,
the freedom of the wilderness.

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