Wednesday, December 31, 2014


More often than not when I’m on 7th Avenue
I see St. Jerome. There’s no mistaking him
He still looks very like the portrait
El Greco made in 1610 though his beard
Is a bit shorter and he no longer wears
The red robes of a cardinal.

                             When I first lived in the City
It was Woody Allen I saw. We weren’t friends
Or even acquaintances but somehow, every week or two,
He'd be walking ahead of me or waiting at a light.
The woman I married once sat behind him at a movie.
Times change. I haven’t seen Woody Allen in years;
Now I see a dejected saint, sitting in doorways.

On impulse, I approached him yesterday – a cold day
And the sky without color as it gets sometime in winter –
“The Vulgate!” I said, feeling a little foolish, “What a book!
Even Wikipedia, while denying it has much textual authority,
Admits it has great literary value.” He shook his head,
Not meeting my eyes.

                                      A few blocks away
Around 23rd, his lion caught up with me. “Forgive him
He rarely speaks. Thank you for your words. If ever
You have need of a small miracle – especially one
Involving translations, skulls or trumpets –
You will generally find us on 7th Avenue;
It is cold north of 40th Street; seek us below.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Do you think the abyss
Has nothing better to do
Than to look back into you?
Nietzsche – a philosopher.
A philologist and a madman,
Could improvise on the piano.
If not for a furious mustache
Women might have called him handsome.
The abyss deemed him a worthy foe.
Nowadays, when you peer at it
It will call out “Friedrich?
Is that you?” Have some pity
And turn your eyes elsewhere.

Abyss, I've heard, is the only English word directly traceable to a Sumerian root. With that taken care of, why has no in Canada ever read this blog?

Monday, December 29, 2014


A little while before Robert Yeats died
The Pollexfen banshee set up her props
Three bloody sheets and a washing board.
She sighed; the rules were so rigid!
Just once she'd like to wail for a death
While standing on her head, or juggling.
There was an American spirit, she'd read
Who played the banjo. She had never heard one
But was sure she could master it. Ah well;
The boy's time drew near. She drew breath to wail
And saw that the oldest boy, Willie, had caught sight of her
She blew a kiss, winked at him, and began her lament.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


A delegation of Minor Georgian Poets
Were, the message said, trying to contact me
I yield to no man in my fondness for Lascelles Abercrombie
Nor am I without regard for Sir John Squire who must
Stagger towards eternity bearing the heavy weight
Of Virginia Woolf's disdain. Still, a tryst with them
Would, I knew, leave me writing wistfully for a month after.
Reluctantly, I arranged to meet them at the ghost of a Needicks
Which, until it was razed, had operated in the shadow
Of the
Third Avenue El. Rupert Brooke spoke most;
Old Robert Graves refused to be seen with Eddie Marsh
So had sent his younger self who ate three hamburgers
Two of them with cheese and one with extra onions.
None of them had American money, so I paid
Not forgetting to tip the semi-transparent waiter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


My mother’s father Joe and I didn’t suit each other
He was small and neat and had clever hands
As well as a suspicious mind. A watchmaker,
He thought the world did not keep accurate time;
Something wrong with the gears perhaps
Or – he deemed this likely – the Great Maker
Had put something into the works backwards

He took precautions; his own watch was always
Set fast so that he knew to never trust it
His brothers and sisters had been born
At European ports as his family slowly felt its was
Towards America. The eldest was Russian
There were Germans too, and one from Liverpool
Before my Grandfather, the New Yorker.

When Joe’s young wife died Ase, his brother,
Der Englisscher, took him in. Ase played poker
But for Joe he learned to play chess. Mabel,
Ase’s smart and stringy wife, did added cooking
And cleaning for two years until Joe could manage
Crookedly to survive. I am not sure
He ever managed to forgive them for this.

On his deathbed – my father was a witness –
Joe woke for a moment and muttered
“What a wonderful, wonderful world!”

Monday, December 22, 2014


Feeling unwell Verlaine was advised
To find somewhere the winter sun.
One of his five unborn brothers –
Scholars disagree which one it was --
Agreed to take his place for a while
Springing from the bottle their mother
Had put him in after her miscarriage.
Over five frenzied weeks he wrote
Thirty three poems and a masque.
When Verlaine returned his brother
Apologized for having shot Rimbaud
Verlaine shrugged and the two
Drank absinthe and drew lots
As to which would go to jail.

Friday, December 19, 2014


          They lost the King towards dusk on the third day. Talking it over later, they agreed that it wasn’t their fault. They had, to be sure, agreed with him when he had suggested that it might be amusing to walk over the Bridge No Broader than the Width of a Moderately-Sharp Razor backwards and blindfolded, with butter on his feet, but none – they were certain – had sounded enthusiastic about it. Pranyabattishur, with the fine-grained obsequiousness which had won him the title of “Royal Servant Most Likely to be Pushed into the Crocodile Pond” three years running, had, to be sure, volunteered to tie the blindfold, but that was just his being Pranyabattishur. “Besides,” as the King had pointed out, “what’s the worst that could happen? We’re already dead.”

          The Minister of Religion had long been a patronage post, but the recently-deceased holder had been driven, out of sheer boredom, to read some of the vast archives which had accumulated over the centuries. “There’s a lot of dispute about that, Sire. Some say that the abyss beneath the Bridge No Broader than the Width of a Moderately-Sharp Razor is bottomless, and that the soul which falls off should be provided with a mandolin and a large fund of interesting things to think about, since he will fall forever and may find time lying heavy on his hands. Others say that abyss cannot be bottomless, as the Universe is finite, and therefore the soul, having plunged off, can look forward to a refreshing dip in the River of Extraordinarily Hot Fire. Artureshnan, though a heretic a most learned man, suggested that the abyss was a metaphor for the soul of man, which can never be fully comprehended, and that to fall into it was to fall into oneself; he recommended taking a shawl as the nights can be cold.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Until she grew weary of it Abetha Gill
Would explain that her employer,
While not fictional, was at least dead
Which comes to much the same thing.

The universe said
"I am not to be bullied;
For Stephen Crane
I have maintained always
An affectionate concern."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


One god alone – a small one, old and canny –
Remained behind, hiding behind a barrel.
Because he never asked them the cats
Of Bread Street would bring him gifts:
Pieces of string, parts of mice, prayers
Too slow to escape their claws. To pass the time
He’d answer the prayers with constructs
Of delicate bones knotted together.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


When the gods departed Alexandria
Music played. In
Bread Street, a flute-girl
Held onto six notes; a rhythm was preserved
In the dreams of an old priest whose wife
Remembered a shadow of silence between the notes.
Call the flute-girl's name -- song will company your days;
Dream of the priest  - you will rise up
The servant of grace. What the priest's wife brings
Are not for words of mine to say.

Monday, December 15, 2014


All those years she remembered the cat --
Royal, his name was, and how he,
Not content with his native tongue,
Had mastered an authoritative bark.

Though she never met him she'd heard tell
Of her grandfather's dog Bill
Who went on errands, returning from stores
Carrying a parcel, neatly tied, though not by him.

Towards the last, though, it wasn't Royal
Who visited her, nor Bill, but her own dog,
Kerry, his tail wagging, his claws clickaclat
On the scrubbed tile floors.

Friday, December 12, 2014


When they moved into the Facility
The wife put a picture in the hall
Just to the left of the door
An ink painting of two Chinese men,
Obviously friends, chatting among trees
They are barefoot; laborers, perhaps
The sun is low in the sky so one man
Has put his broad hat on the ground
Plainly they'd be content to spend
An eternal afternoon together
Occasionally one will wonder
"The old people who lived here --
What ever happened to them?"

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Sometimes in Hell Satan would amuse his friends
By imitating God. Wearing infinity
Loose-draped upon his shoulders
He would gestures and stars
Would conjure themselves in a sky
Which itself would have appeared
Just in time for them to have a place
In which to be. Planets would shudder into being;
Plants and beasts and men would rush on
Half-dressed, trying to remember their lines.
Until Satan grew interested in other things
Some of his creations lingered on, eon after eon;
A few are here still, a bit run-down perhaps
But sought after by discerning travellers
Of limited means. I lived in one my junior year
And still in dreams find myself praying
For things I cannot afterwards recall.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Over the years they’ve spent in that interminable wood
Death has picked up some chivalry from the Knight
While the Devil has become almost fearless
The Knight, however, remains impervious
And, despite their efforts, does not improve

I'll be offline for a bit; talk among yourselves. If anyone can figure why 150 Frenchmen and/or Frenchwomen have logged on to this (or perhaps just one Frenchperson 150 times) let me know. Also, why no Australians?

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Listen; there is no violin
But the same clarinet is there
As in a klezmer song
Ecstatic, miserable, screaming;
But for history's accidents
The tango might have been ours
When other folk heard it
They would think of passion
As they do now, to be sure,
But also of rabbis. "The Lvoviner Rav,"
We'd read, "was a pious man and wise
And when he tangoed furious angels
Put aside for a moment their wrath."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Saint Margaret of Antioch, patron of exiles,
Peasants, the dying and the falsely accused,
Is recognized by her attribute: a dragon,
Either on a leash or draped over her shoulder.
When they are not posing for pictures –
Which they have not done now for years –
The dragon often wanders on his own.
Pope Gelasius called Margaret apocryphal
But it didn't stick. In his cups, the dragon
Insists Gelasius is apocryphal.
He has told Anthony's pig that, sometimes,
He thinks of Margaret as his attribute;
Occasionally he eats one of her peasants.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


The story is well known: on a hot day
St. Brigid unfastened her cloak
And hung it on a sunbeam.
The beam was astonished; "I have crossed
96,260,000 miles,
(Give or take the odd foot or three),
Through trackless space at unthinkable speed
Only to find myself at last a coathook?"
"Don't blame me," said the cloak;"I had every intent
Of falling in a heap to the ground, perhaps
Picking up some dirt and leaves while there
But who has it in them to say no to Brigid?"

Monday, December 1, 2014


When they meet for softball games
St. Margaret of
Antioch fields a team
Of exiles, the dying, and peasants
Against Margaret of Cortona's
Hobos, the insane and third children.
Cortona's retired prostitutes sit on the sidelines
Chatting with the falsely accused of
Cortona has lost six times in a row
But this year has an insane southpaw
Who is master of the screwball pitch.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The Devil and Death have long concluded
There is no point in talking to the knight;
They think he may be deaf. Mostly,
They talk to each other on indifferent things.
Death thinks the Devil might like his sister
If he had one. When there are no watchers by
The Devil does complicated card tricks
Late at night, Death sometimes sings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


The first day we scarcely knew each other
Soldiers from different units and divisions
Not all speaking the same language and some
Not speaking any language at all. I was pretty sure
The man beside me had been on the other side
But felt it would be impolitic to point it out
By twos and threes, by ones and less than ones
We found each other in the dark, in the cold;
The dead were there, of course, but by morning
Had wandered off. The bugler had lost his horn
So stood on a rock and shouted us awake.
We formed ranks and waited for the corporal
Who thought a bit and pointed south by southeast.

Monday, November 24, 2014


It's shoelaces neatly tied,
Bagehot's soul washes its hands
Untroubled by the circumstance
That it has no body, let alone hands
"That," she says, "is the mind's problem;
Mine is that I have no towel."

Friday, November 21, 2014


“From him [Robert Grant] Darwin acquired a lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates …” The Beagle Letters, Frederick Burkhardt, ed (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), p. xiii.

To the extent I had given the matter thought ere I came across this interesting bit of data, I would have assumed that Charles Darwin’s lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates had been a gift. I could have pictured the scene and probably would have had it occurred to me that it was an alternative to doing my job:

Parent: Wake up, Charlie! It’s Christmas morning, and just look what Father Christmas has left for you!
Young Charles Darwin: A puppy? A spy-glass?
Parent: Much better! It’s a lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates!

But now I find I would have been mistaken; it wasn’t a gift at all but something Darwin acquired for himself. I take it that Grant, in addition to being a medical lecturer, ran a small tuck shop outside the Shrewsbury School:

Grant: Ah young Master Darwin! And how may I serve you today? Toffee? Laudanum? Bullets?
Darwin: Nothing like that; I have saved all my tip money for the past term and I want to acquire something good for it. I thought I might get an inquiring spirit and a heart that laughs at danger. Do you have them in stock?
Grant: We’d have to order them. They don’t come cheap, mind you; 80 pounds or so, and carrying charges.
Darwin: A winning personality?
Grant: 63 pounds and there’s a six-month wait.
Darwin: Ah! Never mind then. How about the power to cloud men’s’ minds?
Grant: Nine pounds thruppence.
Darwin: Too dear!
Grant: It comes with the power to uncloud them too.
Darwin: Still, I can’t afford it.
Gant: And about how much were you thinking of spending today?
Darwin: Anything up to 17 shillings.
Grant (rummaging below the counter): Let me see here … I could let you have an incurable addiction to bad puns; very reasonable at 14 shillings, tuppence.
Darwin: But what if I don’t want to make bad puns? What if I want to make good ones?
Grant: We strive to serve, Master Darwin, but we cannot do the impossible. There are no good puns.
(Blows some dust off a box). AhA! I think this will serve nicely, and a rare bargain at 10 shillings. Very rare, this.
Darwin: What is it?
Grant: A lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates!
Darwin: A lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates?
Grant: Hours and hours of educational fun! Why, with this little gem your popularity at social gatherings will be assured! And, tell you what – for sixpence more we’ll include some late-blooming hypochondria and a passion for beetles.
Darwin: Alright then … I’ll take it. And, while I think of it, a half-pound of bullseye candies, some laudanum and a few bullets …

Thursday, November 20, 2014


How many angels can dance
On the head of a pin is, of course,
A math problem. Angels normally have,
I’m told, position but no mass
When they need a body they make one
From available materials: air, say,
Or water or regret or the color green
The right answer then: all of them
Now if only they could agree
On which pinhead to gather
And what musicians to hire;
(Those who favor a bandoleon quartet
Have not spoken to the oboenistas
In sixteen hundred years)
If only they could decide on whether
They should include the fallen angels;
If only Metraton could be taught
The most elementary sense of rhythm

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Two of them I knew quite well --
One worked next door for thirty years --
But the third twin I mostly knew
Through his absence. Some distracted fate
Had decreed that Don Diego Quervedo
Y Sevilliano de Heisler, a Spanish noble
From the soles of his gleaming boots
To the tips of his thin mustaches
Should be born among Hungarian Jews
Who had made a life in Brooklyn.
He took his exile with dignity. Occasionally
He would glance around in shul and shrug
Almost indiscernibly. In his impeccable Hebrew
Lurked the slightest of Castilian lisps.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


According to the scholar Donald Keene
French trains used to have signs
Urging that windows be opened
Vivement mais sans brutalite
Vigorously, but without brutality;
If my father were here I would tell him this
As well as Junius Brutus Booth’s decision
To play Julius Caesar on tiptoe.

Monday, November 17, 2014


As the well-attested case of Sweeny shows
Mad kings gain the gift of flight, sleep rough,
Perch in trees, speak the language of birds.
Mad princes hover a few inches above the ground
And can follow a conversation among sparrows
A mad archduke gains a modicum of grace
And the grass does not bend beneath his feet.
When a commoner is found doing loops
Five hundred feet up the government
Immediately raises him to the peerage.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Towards the thin end of the year the mishaps
Skillfully evaded earlier make a concerted effort
The tea in the cup insists on spilling itself
Keys slip out of bag or pocket and conceal themselves
Straps will break and knots untie themselves
Someone has taken the old sun for repairs
And left a wafer pasted against the sky;
Wear clean socks; don't give your right name.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Once my father saw a headline saying
"MADMAN BUYS THEATRE" and immediately
Set his heart upon seeing the strange and brilliant things
The madman would produce. He was disappointed
When it turned out he had misread "Mayman."
As long as I have known anything
I have known this story and some of the plays
My father's madman might have booked.
Only tonight, though, has my friend Jane
Given me the clue to how the mistake happened.
It was very shortly after World War Two
And labor was still in short supply. It is no surprise
That when the muse meant to inspire my father
Did not turn up for work a moose
Was hastily sent in her place. He did his best.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


At the memorial service for King Phillip II
We Sevillian magistrates took the best seats
And refused to vacate them even when
The Grand Inquisitor himself declared us
Excomunicate. It is sad to have lost Heaven
But we are the sons of Pride and therefore
Must honor and obey so wonderful a sire.

Late at night Jerome's lion
Visits the library on
Sixth Avenue
Standing hours on the sidewalk
Leaving when Patience, the lion to the left
Of the entrance, shakes his head slightly.
 Later, Fortitude will mutter
"Why not just ask him what he wants?"

Monday, November 10, 2014


          In the Book of Scholars you may read, if you choose, of the learned Han Yu, who was said to have written poetry so rare and fine that it could only be read by moonlight, or by the light of a candle of wax that had been refined seven times over. In sunlight the paper simply looked blank; those who tried to read the poems by tallow saw something indeed, but what it was they never said, nor did they, any of them, repeat the experiment.

          Although he seemed negligent and aimless in his doings, Yu’s matchless poems and fine-wrought calligraphy would soon have brought him to a position near the throne, since the Middle Kingdom placed a high value upon the possession of a fine style and a good handwriting. Perhaps even too high a value (if such a thing can be). This, the Son of Heaven desired to avoid. Though a warlord of invincible strength and a politician of fiendish cunning, his achievements were as ashes to him, since his poems were the veriest doggerel, and he wrote in a hand which a cheesemonger might use to abuse a neighbor’s cat. It would be too bitter a dose to have ever at his side one such as Han Yu.

          Yu was singularly blameless and meek, which made it difficult to have him executed (Not impossible, alas. Such things are never impossible). The best thing to be done, it was decided, was to find an honorable means to send him far from the capital. Thus, the outermost province, a land of poverty and sand whose inhabitants were never sure whether they were part of the Middle Kingdom, or the Outer Realm, or perhaps some other political configuration entirely, found that they had been blessed with a new governor. There old governor had vanished some years back, to the mild regret of those few of his mostly illiterate subjects who had known he existed.

          The mild Han Yu set out at once, leaving the capital as befits a new-made governor, accompanied by bannermen and troops of soldiers, by musicians and dancers and the customary hangers-on and riff-raff. The way was long and difficult, however, and, after unparalleled suffering, the new governor arrived accompanied by only a samisen player and three riffraff, one of whom made tea every afternoon. There was also a cat, but this needs no mention since there is always a cat.

Friday, November 7, 2014


On the shores of far Ohio
Lives a corps that’s strong and true
Leading lives by one stern motto;
“Silver’s letters shan’t get through!

“You may write him in the morning
By a light that’s pure and pale
You may write by misty moonlight
Silver shall not get his mail.

“He can look for them with lanterns
Or perhaps a dowser’s stick
A precious few may dribble through
But they will not get there quick.

“Our lot is hard and lonely
And our numbers sad and few
Still, we have our consolation
Silver’s letters don’t get through!”

Thursday, November 6, 2014


"In dreams," the old muse said, "your father
Visited Kamianka Stromilova
The people there grew used to him
And would just shrug as his curious ghost
Poked his long nose in everywhere.
'One of us,' they'd say. 'Strange, yes,
That he won't be born for thirty years
But unmistakably another Kamionker
So where else should he be?'
I was friends with your grandfather then
He was about 12 and unconcerned
That this oddly-dressed son from
Was several years older than he was."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


          I had been to Heaven a few times, just in the way of business, and while I found the inhabitants to be, by and large, insufferable, the place itself was heartshakingly beautiful. Skies a shade of blue with faint hints of gold, filled with all sorts of colorful traffic -- six winged seraphs, mirrored thrones flashing in and out of existence, random self-important angels; symmetrical paths of veined marble leading in wonderful intertraceries that, a nagel once assured me, were both a reflection of and a clue to the nameless heart of God. The sort of place which almost made me regret not having a soul. Not quite, mind you, since I'd long decided that regrets were useless weight, and there was only so much I could carry in the cart.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


The fifth day I woke to find my muse
Whom I hadn't seen for many years
Rifling through my pack. "In hard times,"
She said "We all do as we must."
Time had been unkind to her
Making her younger now than I
But fever-thin with eyes that shone.
I gave her tobacco and the clean socks
I'd thought to wear when I was buried.
She did her best for me, inspiring
Poems in languages I no longer knew.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Towards dusk on the second day
About when green turns to black
A dog started from the road
And followed close at my heels
Until dawn when it faded away
Except for its shadow which I saw
Companying me still. My father
Could speak with dogs and they
Would come from distant towns
Seeking his counsel for their woes.

Friday, October 31, 2014


When it was time to bring up his bones someone knew just where to look:
An old family secret of the key to the door of the room with the trunk
Or the ancestral memory of the great-grandson of his faithful dog
Or he himself in a dream or a vision: “Remember my bones.”