Friday, February 28, 2014


Posts, such as they are here, are like to be spotty for the next week or so. Inasmuch as you exist, chat with each other and leave comments.
Meanwhile, two more poems and a sort of prose thing follow.


The beadle is dancing
Graceful, in his thick coat,
Every step exact
As if the Earth had pined
Waiting for his heavy foot
To fall just so.

The cat, amazed,
Pretends by the window
That no mad beadle
Dances with the wind.
But she licks her paw

Aghast, the gods watch.
That their beadle,
Born for ills unnumbered,
Should dance as if
The business of his life
Was to dance!


Before the world was, Wales was;
I have this from Hunt who had seen
A Welsh genealogy. Towards the middle
God creates the Heavens and the Earth.
Not an over-proud folk, the Welsh.
Perhaps they welcomed the rest of the world
Suddenly appearing, slamming into place
Around Wales, which had always been.
Or perhaps it had happened by degrees
The rest of creation coming into focus
And trying to look as if it, too,
Had always been there.

                Some Welsh farmer,
I expect, pulled down the family Bible
(A huge thing, with all the pages blank
Save for the one in the middle labelled
Births and Deaths”) and wrote
Up all night with sick cow. About 10:30
Rest of world appeared. About time, too!”


       Or soon or late I will forget how to remember, and thereafter the atoms which have kindly consented all these years to be me will, realizing that I was not, after all, a destination, but merely a stop upon the journey, recall other business they’ve too long neglected. Bidding each other farewell, they will set off in all directions, in search of new employment. Some will take a brief vacation making, perhaps, a leisurely progress through the guts of a beggar. Others will find that they’ve been transformed into light, hastening to wake some long-buried seed. Still others will gravely dance on star winds between the planets, or be the innocent victims of mad scientists who will shoot them at each other at unimaginable speeds.

       Yet, the universe is more than infinite, and the time will surely come when all these atoms return to one spot, and rejoin. Think of it as a reunion, generally cheerful, but each atom noting to itself how extraordinarily the others have aged, and how entropy has shredded their orbits and dulled the hum of their electrons. Who but I can be guest of honor, conjured up from some obscure dream wherein I’ve taken refuge, and called upon to speak?

       “Friends”, I may begin, “veterans all, what did we not do, what did we not accomplish in our time together? Time itself cannot efface or change the minutes we conquered and made our own. The instant we leapt in the air and hung there, defiant– surely you recall? The laws of the universe were suspended, and whether they would ever operate again was up to us, until we took pity on gravity and consented to alight, and the world was as it was. A small hand; a glance, a body curled on a bed; dust slowly whirling in a beam of light. A message sent through a thousand years, reaching us near death, which we patched and healed and sent on for another thousand or more? The promises kept, and the promises broken, and birds singing for a traitor as though their hearts would break? Voices, many voices. The feel of a round stone held in the hand.

       “We chased love and it chased us, and at moments time courteously stepped aside and asserted no dominion over us. We did well and we did evil, and were done by as we did.

       “These, I remind you all, were ours and are ours still. On a cold morning, over a sunlit city street, the instant we considered whether ever we should be gravity’s servants again continues.”


When Hester Thrale sat down with friends
To play some rounds of euchre
Did coins and IOU’s change hands
Or did they scorn all leuchre?
If one of them misplayed a hand
Did all the rest rebeuchre?
Was peace enforced by winged words,
Or by a small bazeuchre?

The start of my epic poem

       I began this during lunch one day and believe it to be the start of an epic. Now, it may well be that I’ll never go on with it, but even having started it entitles me, at random moments, to lean against a handy wall or passerby and casually polish my nails against my shirt, as befits a man who has started an epic. If I finish it, or course, I’ll be entitled to wander about wearing a mustketeer’s hat – broad and slightly floppy, with a feather – or an admiral’s dress uniform, or both.

I went to see the damned but they
Were gone; it was a holiday.

When the fires are banked the high halls are cold
At the gate a demon all wrapped in blankets
Had waved me through. “No one’s around,” he said
“Make yourself to home.” There is no light in Hell
But the darkness visible has a lilac cast.
My shadow was on edge and kept muttering
That it had told me this was a mistake.
There had been trouble between us years ago
And only by the narrowest of margins
Was it decided which of us would be shadow.
He was smarter; I was stronger; we got along
For the most part.

                             After a while we heard voices:
A few of the old dead, arguing to keep warm.
“I was, I tell you, a woman whose great beauty
Was reason enough for tall cities to burn.”
“No; that was Helen, not you. You’re Isolde,
Don’t you recall? And not the one Tristan loved;
The other Isolde, with the white hands.”
“You’re sure of this?” “No. But we’re speaking Breton.”

Well, someone must consider these things

I have read of a tribe who decided
That Satan was God in a bad mood --
Safer by far to honor them both.
What if they have read it right?
For crimes against Himself
God casts Himself down
To the fiery pit where He vows
Never to rest until He has returned
To the Heaven He has never left.
It is things like this which make
The archangels clutch their heads
And drives the lesser angels
To dance furiously on the heads of pins.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I have read that in 804, while Charlemagne was consecrating a church in Aix-la-Chapelle, 363 bishops were participating in the ceremonies. It seemed such a shame to not have a bishop for every day of the year that two dead bishops who were buried near by leapt from their graves to participate. Unfortunately, this is all I have learned of the story, so I don’t know what happened next. I have a sense that bishops are generally urbane men, so it may be that they calmly welcomed their dead brethren and preceded with the ceremony. On the other hand, it strikes me as possible that a general cry  was heard of “Ack! Dead bishops!” followed by a panic-stricken exodus from the church.

Another true poem

Drummond once saw Night drunkenly
Reeling beyond the hills, shunning the Day
Which was blazing into the world. Now,
Five centuries steadier; Night pays his tab,
Walks slowly home, but riots in his dreams --
Picking fights, challenging the Moon,
Sobbing because the Sun doesn’t love him.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Greetings to the World. Also, two poems

Two lost souls from Poland as well as two from the Ukraine and one each from Germany and Venezuela (hail, Venezuela! You know why) have, I presume accidentally, stopped by here. Probably too soon to announce I'm trending.

My better self thinks it's me, all too willing to say
"That was unworthy of you!" when I've done this or that;
My worse self is humbler, but enjoys life more.
If I sneak out, leaving my decent impulses home
Working on drafts of its interminable admonitions,
The incarnation of my dark desires, my corrupted will,
Inquires after its brother's health, transparently concerned.


For twenty-six years
Ambel Kahn met sunrise,
Six days out of seven,
At the North Gate
Lest the Messiah come
And no one greet him.
Death made him less diligent
He’s there now once,
Perhaps twice a week.
Other gate-haunting ghosts
(Beggars, mostly,
Who even in death
Have no place else to be)
Bring him their problems.
(You think a beggar’s problems
End  when he’s buried?)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The bear

I read of a saint who, worn from long years
Of performing wonders, retired to the wilderness
Where he found a cave. A bear lived there too
But saints fear nothing. Missing him
The saint’s friends combed the wilderness,
Finding him at last. Their journey was hard;
They arrived footsore, wounded and in rags. 
The saint snarled at them from deep in his cave
Fortunately the bear greeted them warmly 
And, at his word, their wounds were healed.

Poem for my mother's birthday

There seemed no end to my mother’s family
Casually she would mention some uncle
Of whom I’d never heard as if from always
He and I had known each other’s secrets.
Mention a place, no matter how obscure,
And some cousin had colonized it.
All her childhood summers had been spent
Among relatives whom now she rarely saw
Yet all their doings were known to her.
I suspected there was some mystic link
Running back to the 1930s: Lillian’s son will study
In Chicago; give Menachem more daughters
So one of them can be there to greet him.

Dan was married to Jenny, my great-aunt;
I saw him once. A very old man with a suitcase
On a very hot day. We lived in the back of beyond then
Some place the subways didn’t run. No matter;
A man traveled by subway even if he was 80
And would have to walk a mile or two carrying
A suitcase packed with things – old silverware,
Tea-pots, a stoppered blown-glass bottle,
Several opera glasses, cameos, a bracelet,
A blue and green polished rock. We were outside;
I can’t remember why. There had been no call;
Just Dan, out of the sun, staggering determinedly.

Jenny wanted you to have these. Dan wouldn’t come in,
Nor take iced tea or cold lemonade. He accepted
A glass of tap-water which I was sent to get.
Whatever they had to say was said before I got back;
No, he would not take a ride to the subway;
He nodded at his niece, nodded at me
Turned and started back. My mother told me
That he and Jenny both had had red hair.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Wrong Hour

Bad enough is that day in Spring when an hour is taken clean away from your life, and you can start a sneeze at 3 of the clock and finish it at 4, but worse, I've always felt, is that day in Fall when they purport to give it back. I don't know what sort of system is used, or how the hours are stored between times, but it's a right muddle. Not once have I gotten the right hour back. Nothing has helped; I've tried writing letters and burning them by the light of a quarter moon when the wind was towards the West; I've carefully written my name and address in indelible ink on the edge of the poor hour (which wept when it was taken). For all the good it's done I might as well have been trying to store light in a leaky barrel.

Not many are so tidy with time as I am, and I resent having to live through a strange hour filled with the crumbs and detritus of some one else's life. Still, there's a sort of fascination in sorting through each year and inventorying the contents of a stranger's hour.

The hour is both taken and returned at night in the hope, perhaps, that the transaction will pass unnoticed. Accordingly, it's common to find a dream or two, disconsolately kicking its heels at having been left like a bug in amber for half a year. I once spent nearly the whole of the stranger's hour vainly trying to comfort a prophetic dream which now found itself without purpose; the event which it was to foretell in brilliantly illusive and ambiguous terms had taken place during the late Summer. Worse, it was mostly in a language with which I am only vaguely acquainted, so many of the most poetic thoughts and references shot right past me.

Then there was the nightmare which, released from long imprisonment leaped at me with a gleeful roar, only to pull back in horror when it saw I wasn't it's intended victim and - even worse - that I am rather fond than otherwise of poisonous spiders. It took three shots of absinthe before it stopped shuddering.

Perhaps worse than the misplaced dreams are the sudden insights which find themselves in the wrong head. Some place in the world, I know, there is a person longing to understand the meaning of creation, and another who desperately wishes to know what Kathy sees in Jake. If I had their addresses I might write them; I would be more than glad to let the mystery writer know how it is possible that Lord Clutterbock was murdered while alone in the locked space station.

Most of my experiences with these stray hours have been interesting, though not without their distressing aspects. The hour passes, taking it's fading dreams or hopes or despairs with it, and I'm back in my own time, with which I have always maintained a relationship of formal politeness. The real problem comes when the hour that was taken holds someone's Death in it. A man's death doesn't fade wistfully away, or melt like a witch in soapy water. The hour goes and I'm left with an unemployed Death sitting there.

Sheer courtesy forbids me to shoo it out into the hallway. What would it do there at 4 in the morning? The three times I've confronted this situation, which is more common, I suspect, than the authorities let on, I've wound up with some stranger's Death sleeping in the spare bed. To be fair, they fold the sheets and clean up the next day.

You'd be surprised at how limited their job skills are. Sure, they can appear dramatically and extract a soul from it's mortal container and then lead it past innumerable hazards (the bridge made of knife-blades, the caverns of fire, the big sheep, and the like) to a realm of inutterable bliss or eternal woe, or a dimly-lit arcade where the soul plays a sort of skittles until its karma calls for it to be reborn, but none of these are much called for in the modern world. At least a passing acquaintance with word-processing would do them all a world of good.

I'll give them that they're a resilient lot. Once they're over the initial shock of having missed their intended target they're not afraid of a little hard work, and, with some advice from me and perhaps a loan (scrupulously paid back), they soon become hospital orderlies or prison guards or lunch room aides. I see them on the street sometimes - they've settled in the neighborhood - and they're always pleasant. I only hope if my death (which seems long overdue, though I'm not one to complain about such things) has met the same fate that someone has done the right thing by it. I hate to think of my poor death sitting somewhere, lost and cold, with no friend to give it a kind word or a good meal.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

An entirely true poem about The Shadow

If you ask “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”
I will answer “The Shadow knows.” But if you go on
And say “And why does he know?” I cannot answer.
Alas, if I had thought to ask my father he’d have said
“They grew up together – a small town in middle Europe
Friends for many years, they grew apart at last. They were not
What they later became. Neither of them lurked
And the Shadow’s teachers thought him bright and predicted
For him a glowing future. His father was said to be
The famous detective Darkness Visible; he was raised
By his mother, the clairvoyant Madame Nachtvogler.
The Shadow always felt it was some failure of his
Which had allowed his friend to take the path he had.
Occasionally, after some hard-fought battle, they would
Withdraw to a dimly-lit bar and talk of things indifferent –
The junkman’s patient lame horse; the winter so cold
That they went skating on the pond that never froze.
It may be that they are immortal; just in case though
The evil that lurks in the hearts of men had his attorney
Draw up a will for him. He thinks the Shadow does not know
Whom he has named as his executor and residuary legatee.”

The Astrologer's Child, again

By force of habit the Astrologer’s Child
Wakes at midnight to see what the stars
Say about the day to come. He ignores
The comets, eternally yammering
About the death of princes. Always
There is much to do with cats;
Three kittens will be born beneath a hedge;
The Yser will leave its banks and destroy
Many men but an old tom will be saved
Floating to safety in a barrel.

Mostly, the stars have given up trying
To guide him through life; instead
They tell him to trim his beard,
To wear socks that match, or nearly do,
To remember food for his cats.


More later. Now this:

On the shores of far Ohio
Lives a corps that’s strong and true
Leading lives by one stern motto;
“Silver’s letters shant 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 will look for them with lanterns
He may use a dowser’s stick
A wizened few may dribble in
But they will not travel 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!”

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The third thing you learn in Ghent

For some reason I seem to have written a fair number of poems about the tourist bureau at Ghent. I hope the good folks of Ghent will forgive me, and the bad ones will stand me a drink when next I'm there.

The third thing they teach you
When you join the tourist bureau in
Is that the dead will sometimes shuffle in
And wait politely, though obviously confused.
Don't stare; it embarasses them.
The bus for
Bruges leaves from the café
Two streets over.
If you advance them fare money tell them
The Banc de Jacauin has branches
Throughout Hell, and, in Heaven,
A night deposit box.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My European readers. Also, The Astrologer's Child

One of the duties which come with a blog is checking the statistics – how many people are there in the world? And all of them not reading this? However, the three German readers seems to have mysteriously become one German, one Pole and two Ukranians. Plainly reading this blog may have unexpected side effects. Consult your physician.

He had lost count of his years but for all that
Was the Astrologer’s Child still, and the stars
Were mindful of him. They would call to him,
Even at midday, saying “Death sits beneath that leaf;
He watches from that window; he it is that brewed
The ale the widow offers you.”
As ever, the Astrologer’s Child would thank them
And look beneath the leaf at Death’s bright eye
Or climb to the window to see
What had so caught Death’s attention.
Whole days he would drink the widow’s ale
In cypress shadows behind her house

For my Aunt Edith who died long before I was born

The stories, restless, may shift owners
My grandmother it will be
Who listened every day to The Lone Ranger
Until the surprising day she didn’t.
Perhaps my father will have danced by the river
Or had his hair turn gray at 19.

There are no stories about Edith
Who died as a baby but time
May bring her some.
One day I may remember
That she had green eyes, or red hair
Or that her sister Rose – or was it Doris?
Once drew a picture of Edith smiling --
A tall young lady in a long dress.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A brief excerpt from someone's memoirs

          The Bells of Hell, not to be confused with the Belles of Hell, who can be visited alternate Thursdays between 2 and 4 A.M., nor with the Halls of Baal, where I worked for a few summers, doing re-enactments of The Death of Tiamat for the tourists. (“Thunderer, thou hast slain me! No more shall the parch-ed Earth cry for the bless-ed Waters of Heaven and be denied, and Thy puissant name shall be for a blessing! Yet forget not Mot ...”) used to be proper great things, made of primal gold and tainted brass, booming and clamoring until you could scarce hear yourself think. Which, given my thoughts in those days, was probably just as well. It didn’t usually matter what time it was in Hell, but when it did, we all knew.

          Then, around the turn of the last century, the noise of the things began to seem somehow quaint, and their names (Nebless Clem, Jenny Brazen, Ill-trusted Fido and the rest) an embarassment. All too medieval, too obvious without the spice of irony which was then popular in Hell. The bells were dismounted from their towers and left in a store room; the demons who pulled the thick ropes were found new jobs, or were killed, or refashioned. An array of incongrous instruments were hung in the campaniles -- dinner bells, bicycle bells, butter knives hanging from strings. By the time of the Great War, it began being bruited about that the Bells of Hell went ting-a-ling-a-ling. A certain cheap effect was gained, granted, like that of hearing a great hulking bruiser speaking in a piping falsetto as he goes about his business of breaking other folks’ bones. Still, I’ve always regretted the change; the Bells of Hell should shake souls with fear and wonder, not make them instinctively grope for change with which to buy ice cream.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Professor Blood speaks

A book I read – it was mostly about how various writers have reacted to Sundays and sabbatarianism – mentions that William James quotes his friend Benjamin Blood as saying that we should say about religion that we don’t know, but we should say it with good cheer and content. Somehow, perhaps because Benjamin Blood is such a wonderful name, especially for a friend of Henry James’ brother, I wrote this:

Bold Ben Blood from Boston Town
Draped in academic gown
Saying “God? I do not know
And am content to have it so.
Whether He is one or three
Does not matter much to me.
I hear He goes by many names
But, as I’ve told Professor James,
If He should turn up at my door
Some Sunday, between noon and four,
And does not ask to be adored
I think that I can manage “Lord”
And take it kindly if he would
Address me as “Professor Blood.”

On receiving two identical emails with the subject line "Blah"

One blah arrived and then there came
A second blah; twas just the same!
I searched my heart, my spleen, my knee
Why had two blahs befallen me?
What strange event, what dire misprison
Had said to two blahs “Be ye risen!
Though courage shrink and wisdom fail
Go both ye forth, ye twain e-mail!”
Perplexed, I went to ask the Shah
What could it mean, this double blah?

The Shah, a man of noble mien,
Was sipping from a brass tureen.
He bid me speak and have no fears
Though he’d been dead for thirteen years
I asked him plain: What should I do
With blah ‘clept one and eke blah two?

His fingers drummed his shaven pate
He said “My son, or soon or late,
To peasant, poet, saint and sinner
Asleep, awake, or over dinner
Reciting life’s do re mi fa
There must come the ill note blah
Why is this and whence come blahs?
No one knows, not even shahs.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Two poems on a cold February morning

The first features James Joyce and his brother Stanislaus; the second the admirable Leonard J. Fleidner.

A few weeks after his mother died
James, the older son, brought a small table
And a chair into the garden.
To read his father’s love letters
Ribboned and kept by the dead woman.
(Frustrated at her hard dying, her husband
Had shouted “If you can’t get well,die
Die and be damned to you!”)
Watchful Stan, the younger brother, waited
Until the last letter was read.
“Well?” “Nothing. There is nothing for me here.”
The ashes of the letters he never read
Stan occasionally saw in his dreams.
Just before he died in Trieste
He called them up, and the chair
And the table and the garden
And ghost of his brother, reading. 

It cannot be that the principal, Doctor Fliedner,
Came to work in a high, stiff collar, wearing shoes
With buttons. Yet I picture him so, his pale face,
His quiet, watchful eyes. He seemed all greys
As if life had leached from him all color
And he walked without a sound. In the mornings
He’d stand sentry as we ambled or pushed inside
Then bear silent witness to our homeward rush.
Once in a great while, he would give in
To some unspeakable urge, sitting at the piano
Playing ragtime music, his body stiff,
While over the keys his long fingers danced.