Monday, March 31, 2014


Late; the candles are burning down
He is writing to Stella. He knows we’re there.
Posterity always looks over his shoulder
Noting he had dinner with Patty Rolt
And will have a plum-cake for breakfast
(A gift it was, from Stella’s mother).
Meniere’s bells are always ringing in his ears;
There are always ghosts from the future.
He imagines we are there for his wit
Or to better know Harley and Bolingbroke.
“P a a a s t twelve o’clock!” The passing watchman,
Dead three hundred years, is calling still.
It is to hear that call and, perhaps,
For the plum-cakes that I have come.


Thistlewood was hanged
On a day filled with music;
Masked chimney sweeps
Danced at every corner.
The Princess Lieven
(Who, in her sleep
Composed good poetry)
Wrote to Metternich
That she was sad.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Who’s spry as a gibbon, a chimp or baboon?
No one but me, or Siegfried Sassoon.
Who’s fiercer than any bewhiskered dragoon?
No one but me, or Siegfried Sassoon.
Someone to tell you the way to Rangoon?
No one but me, or Siegfried Sassoon.
Who’s known as the Belle of East Saskatoon?
No one but me, or Siegfried Sassoon.
Who’ll carve out Mt. Rushmore with only a spoon?
Who’s fuller of wind than a blowing typhoon?
Who’s friendly with Popeye and Alice the Goon?
Who regrets deeply he started this tune?
Who’d stop if you give him a battered doubloon
Or told him the way to the local saloon?
No one but me, or Siegfried Sassoon.

Siegfried Sassoon! Siegfried Sasson!
He can’t come too late! He can’t leave too soon!
He haunts me at midnight! He haunts me at noon!
He snipes at the Sun; he sneers at the Moon
He plays the harmonium (never in tune);
His mustache has turned a revolting maroon!
That snuffling, shuffling murthering gossoon!
Will I never be freed from Siegfied Sassoon?

In the twisty corridors of Hell
No light there is, just darkness visible,
Or so I’ve read.
Thus, if through Hell your journey tends
Don’t glance about in search of friends
Among the dead.
Do your business, take your pay
And go upon your fortuned way
With quiet tread.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


When Ravel lay dying the ghosts
Of dead princesses besieged him
Each one asking why he’d written
No pavanne for her. Was she not dead?
Or did he think she was not a princess?
“Please,” he cried silently, “I am trying
To make my peace with God.”
Better, the princesses said
To make your peace with us.
Seeing he had no choice he rose
And lived another thirty-four years.
Dying again, the princesses came
Saying that, for Couperin and Bolero,
They had forgiven him. A passing seraph
Muttered “But really, is Bolero music?”


Friday, March 28, 2014



Sometime in its history the handle found that fate
Did not call it to remain part of a cup, so it left;
The rest of the cup I have now. On it, a pattern
Of brown and yellow small leaves chase one another.

If you look at it closely the onyx cube will show
A building shimmering on a green background
Why this was I didn’t know; the Aztec craftsman
Who surely carved it, must have had his reasons.

I have that too, and the Japanese demon queller.
It worked; no Japanese demons ever came by.
I wonder if they sometimes complain to my mother now
“We travelled so far to see you; why did you quell us?”

Thursday, March 27, 2014


“It all”, said Satan, ”comes down to imagination.”
Anne Milton was annoyed with him.
He could tell because her lips were thin
And she had slopped tea putting down his saucer.
His fault, really; he shouldn’t have given her the book
A proof copy of Christopher Hill’s great life
Of her brother. Not published yet; not even written
And Professor Hill still centuries away from being born.
But proof copies turn up in odd places.

“You might have told me; it made me feel so lost
Reading that I died years ago.” Satan sipped his tea
Not as hot as it should be and too much honey
“God and Christopher Hill say you are dead
And lying quiet in your grave. I say otherwise;
I say you live here; like the people to your left;
Fight with those who live to the right of you.
It all comes down to imagination. God imagined me
Or, as He likes to say, created. And, to give God his due,

“He made a good job of it. I was a wonderful angel
And, as a demon, who can compare with me?,
It is a poor creature who never fights his creator
A bad son who dies with ‘Yes, Father’ on his lips
I insist you did not die but give me the welcome
Your brother refuses. Two of a trade can never agree
And he and I two  rebels. You live, I say again
Because I will have a friend in this cold city.”
Just like that –for every reason and none—
Between a sip and a swallow, her anger faded
“What is it like to be damned?” she said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


"Oh eggs, never fight with stones!"  Chinese proverb

Always suspicious
Wary and vulnerable
Eggs walk on eggshells.

Stones crowd the sidewalk -
Eggs slink by invisibly
Wishing they were stones.

Stones and eggs once friends.
When friends fall out, eggs notice,
It's not stones that break.

When eggs tell stories
They tell of the giant egg
Who will avenge them.

Egg philosophers:
"To improve our characters
Heaven sends us stones."

Eggs negotiate:
You don't drop us out of windows
And we won't splatter.

Seeking a way out,
Eggs make rules for stones to live;
Now - teach stones to read.

Eggs resolve: We're soft -
To stop stones from killing us
We must become stones.


The hat looks proper – perhaps a bit jaunty
With its brim curled slightly, but unbattered
The white-haired man beneath it, the artist Cezanne,
Seems drunk, though cheerful, leaning in a doorway,
Emerging from a shadowed house into the light
Of a dazzling Provencal morning.

Photos can lie; perhaps he is not drunk at all --
Still, he has donned the clothes of a larger man;
His cuffs spill over his shoes; the bottom of his vest
Is unbuttoned. The chair he holds was stolen
From a dream Van Gogh once had;
All wobbled lines and strange proportions.

So small an old man in such large clothes
Might be blown for miles. I  believe Cezanne,
Knowing this, grasps the Dutchman’s chair
So he can sit when the winds are done with him.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


The battery's power is dwindling
My fingers are too fat for the keyboard
So I type one letter after another
Hoping that if I go through the motions
Some muse will come (not my usual one --
She is someplace warm, where lights still work --
But one who does odd jobs, trying to look ethereal
While she blows on her hands to keep them warm)
From the dining room I hear a voice cry: Dead!
Not Great Pan this time but the lantern.


     And, without warning a trapdoor whose existence you’d not suspected slides back before your feet and, while you don’t topple in, you find yourself peering into an uncomfortably deep abyss which represents all that is lacking in you. Let’s not exaggerate; though you’re seized with a sickening sense of vertigo, the abyss is not bottomless. It is simply very deep. If you were to kick a stone into it, you might then leave and plant, say, a field of wheat and tend it to maturity and reap it with an old-fashioned sickle. The wheat could then be ground at a mill, and a loaf or two of bread made from the flour. When you finished a sandwich made from one of the loaves, you could amble back to the abyss where you might have ample time to wait before you heard the very ghost of an echo of the sound the stone made when it rattled against the bottom. See? Not bottomless at all.

Monday, March 24, 2014


          I have never liked to wear suits, nor have they ever evinced the slightest trace of wishing to be worn by me. The moment I put one on it fills itself with aforethought malice. Buttons decide that they’re in the wrong line of trade, and decide to take up a carefree, vagabond life. Cuffs fray without the least excuse, and holes appear where they have no right to be. A day on which I must wear a suit is not a merry one, as I am continually reminded of how recent was my descent from the apes. (I will omit the painful subject of ties, which plainly are worn in reminiscence of the noose-wearing Burghers of Calais, to remind men that they are mortal, and to make them glad of it).
          Neither do I like to buy suits, as they cost vast sums of money, which I immediately mentally transform into more pleasant things, such as piles of books, or vacations. I put off buying new suits for as long as decency allows, and then reflect that “decency” is, after all, a very flexible concept, and delay a while longer.

          Still, sulky brutes though they are, I have never had a suit simply vanish on me before. It is nowhere to be found; not hanging up nor lying down. Utterly gone, a dark grey suit, and leaving never a clue behind.

          There are several possible explanations. The one which strikes me as most likely is that it was made by the grandson of the maker of Dr. Holmes’ one-horse shay, and, no part being weaker than any other, shivered itself to dust in an instant. (Given the frequency with which I buy suits it may have been a century old, or may have felt that a few years with me were equivalent to a hundred elsewhere. It would not be the first, alas, to feel so). If that is what happened, I am fortunate that this didn’t occur while I was arguing a case, as I would have been subjected to numerous bad jokes about having gone to court and lost my suit.

          Another possibility is that it was inspired by Gogol’s story about a nose which struck off for itself (my suits, though ill-natured are well-read) and has gone into the world to seek its fortune. The phrase “oh, he’s an empty suit” may have more meaning than you think. I intend to look very closely at pictures of political gatherings from now on.

          Or – a darksome thing to contemplate! – my animus against suits may have got the best of me. In a fit of ugly passion I may have somnambulistically risen from my bed and slashed the unwary grey suit to ribbons, and then eaten the remains. (There’s a bottle of chocolate sauce in the refrigerator which is suspiciously low). Or, a gigantic moth may have swallowed it whole (the suit, not the chocolate, which giant moths abhor).

          Anyway, wherever it has gone, it is gone beyond hope of recovery. I really must buy a new one, and soon. Next week … month … year …

Sunday, March 23, 2014


O Scamander! I’ve heard it said
Your waters once ran thick and red
With blood of heroes newly dead
(Hurrah for heroes safely dead!)

And by your waters grim and gory
Great Homer came and made a story
That gave you everlasting glory
(What is life without some glory?)

Trust old Homer as a guide; he’s
One of those who comes and tidies
Deeds of the fierce Hellenides
(Long gone now, the Hellenides)

No echoes of the warhorn’s blast
Disturbs the shadows of the past
A blind man knows the way at last.
(Oh blind man, lead us home at last!)

By the tingling of my fingers
Something comes and glumly lingers

By the itching of my knee
It wisheth much to speak with me

By the tickling of my nose
It speaketh in a sort of prose

By my eyes which seem to glisten
I will not for a moment listen

Saturday, March 22, 2014


          If you’re as old and I, and were born in the Dark City, you can remember when there were no vultures. We had, however, a whole nomenclature for them, which some say is why the vultures came. Others contend that we were simply saving time, knowing that the vultures would come. Fidicula was the word for a falling vulture, which was, and is, entirely different from mestapho, a rising vulture. A falling vulture is reputed to be a creature of supernal wisdom and generosity. Unfortunately, no vulture can remain fidicula very long without crashing, in which case one no longer refers to it as fidicula but as morbismo, which loosely translates to “that mass of bloody feathers on the ground there which used to be a vulture.

          The vultures aren’t a problem, just a puzzle. Most of the time they’re neither fidicula or mestapho, but simply pernal, which requires them to wear small hats and hang out in bars, drinking cherry schnapps and trying to borrow money from strangers. A few are resistasius, and work in the garment trade.

          Research is normally done in the Dark City by interviewing cats. The cats, however, are evasive on the subject. Some deny that there are any vultures in the City; others say that they are the City’s karma, which decided to grow wings and live on road kill. Still others simply sneer at the question. No cat has given the same answer about vultures twice, and no one is foolish enough to ask a cat the same question three times.

Note: I am pleased to note that this blog has been conjured up in Germany 15 times. If you're one of the Germans out there -- perhaps the only one who reads this? -- send me a comment. Or, if you're French, tell me why you're not reading this.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Two Poems

She Complains of Him at Last

If he had been a poet and no magician
If he had been a magician and no poet
Things might have been well or well enough
But as it was, all was confusion.
His idea of me gradually turned solid
And began showing up at meetings
Raising obscure points of order
Or waiting afterwards with an umbrella
Worried that I’d catch cold from the rain.
Even dead I could not get away from her
She pleaded my case so well that heaven –
That cold and rooky place – made room for me.
My friends in hell think I’ve forgotten them.

On a July day in 1656 the lawyers’ men saw
In the entrance to the house Rembrandt had lost 
Twenty five paintings, including three
By his friend Jan Lievens with whom
He had shared a studio when they were young.
Also, two naked plaster children,
A plaster head and a plaster child (asleep),
Four Spanish chairs with Russian leather seats
Two black-seated chairs, a pine step-stool
And a shabby shoe. Since then, that shoe
Has been searching for its mate. I have seen it
Under a streetlight, on subway tracks and –
As a prop – in someone else’s dream.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Perhaps not the day

On My Way to Work ...

An old woman looked at me and gestured
Not afraid, merely routine, two fingers
Turning down flanked by two pointing skyward
Redirecting any evil I meant her
Down another road. I am exorcised,
Yet my only thought of her was that
She was standing at the top of the stairs
Blocking my way unless I took a step left.
Still, she may have seen Satan in my eye
Since I was thinking of him and of what
He and John Milton’s late espoused saint
Said when first they met.

                                      In the elevator
A slender man was juggling his breakfast,
A big orange arcing back and forth
Between his hands. An easy thing to do
But he missed a catch and glared my way.
Whatever business you have with me
Perhaps should wait until tomorrow.

And a note to Michael: Thanks for the comment! Have you  a blog I can look at? Let me know.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014



Before there was an Emperor
There was the Emperor’s cat
Which, by sheer force of personality,
Compelled the Emperor into being.
Five cats have done their best
To make something of me.
Alas! Two dogs had other plans
And so I am not an Emperor.

This much I know: One spring day,
Around the time I was being born,
The poet Edith Sitwell had brought
Her ailing brother Osbert to New York.
I made my debut at the Polyclinic
Opposite the old Madison Square Gardens;
They were a few blocks uptown
At the St. Regis. At 4 A.M., while my father
Was hailing a cab on 116th Street, Edith,
In a huge turban and strange silver robe
Confronted the man at the desk.
“There are noises in the wall,”she said
“Plainly, some poor nun has been immured there
And wishes to be released. If you give me the tools
I will free her myself.” The clerk sighed,
Saying, “Dame Edith, we have told the Archbishop.”
Sixty years have passed and only now
Have I learned this. When I am ninety
I expect to know wonders.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One thing about Mot

I had a mind to write something about Lancelot, grown restless in death, but instead I came up with a poem about one of the more dour gods of Babylonia. It’s an odd process, this writing business, at least for me:

Had you met me in my power
You would not have rejoiced.
God of the drought was I, of dry fields
Baking under uncaring suns
Mot I was called and Death
Was pleased enough to call me kin.
(Skeletons all look alike and who
To say we were not brothers?)
I had some priests – unpleasant men
Though my worshippers were worse
Praying that I would make fallow
The fields of others. (Many died; wheat,
For those with silos fill, sold high.)

After he killed great Tiamat, Marduk,
Who did not like the desert, came after me
Bellowing, waving his sword. Seven months I ran;
They built a shrine where he caught me.
What good to be a god when Marduk
Leaves you broken in the dust?
If year by year the sands creep towards the City
Do not curse Mot; the drought
Has found itself another god.
(Find, if you can, another Marduk).

          Mot turns up, so far as I know, only in stories about his being slain by Marduk or by Ba’al, though this may have happened more than once (some argue it was a yearly event; it probably wasn’t one Mot looked forward to with any eagerness). I’m still trying to figure out why he came when I was looking for Lancelot. Perhaps they room together in the afterworld.

I am oddly fond of Mot, who makes no pretenses about things. I have a story about him somewhere.

Monday, March 17, 2014


It's always the same, afterwards: the shattered lamps, the light lying in the dust, dead, or near enough so. Easy enough to take care of the pieces of lamp, though some of them are sharp, and cut fingers are common. The glass parts can be melted and blown into chimneys again, and remounted on the metal parts, which generally don't break. A dent or two, perhaps - easy enough to hammer out.

No, the problem generally comes from the dead light, which tends towards a fretful outlook. Light doesn't like being dead (unlike doornails, say, or vaudeville, both of which find death to be  an easy, undemanding sort of condition). It rests uneasy, and persists in trying to illumine. Of course, being dead, what it mostly illumines are other dead things. For a phantom with weak eyes and a taste for reading, the Dark City must be a pleasant place. For respectable spirits, who like a bit of decent darkness in which to operate, it can be a problem. The skeletons in their closets have given up trying to sleep, whiling away the time with long, acrimonious cribbage matches.

Like any light, too, dead light brings shadows in its train. An ordinary shadow knows it's place; on the ground mostly, or thrown up against a wall. It doesn't hang around bars, trying to cadge drinks, or ride a motorcycle at two in the morning. It doesn't stand in the moonlight, it's hands in its pockets, making rude, overly accurate remarks about the living. Most especially, a nice, normal shadow doesn't sing. Dead light shadows do, and they are partial to being accompanied by instruments that quite obviously hate each other. Gongs, bagpipes and harmonicas were never intended to meet, and certainly not to fight over the soul of a tormented Strauss waltz.

Accidents happen. We know this; we accept this, albeit with an ill grace. It may happen that you - surely not on purpose - will break a lamp while you're here, and find yourself standing with your mouth hanging open (we've seen you in this pose; it's not attractive) over the corpse of the light. All we ask is that, when you leave, you take the dead light with you. Packing materiel is free, at the concierge's desk. We also offer very reasonable rates on shadows.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


The second thing they teach you
At the tourist bureau in Ghent
Is that there was no good news
And certainly not from Aix;
Browning made it up.
His eyebrows rising heavenwards
The chief clerk asks
“And who would give a horse
Their last measure of wine?”

On a narrow street in Kalamazoo
Where everything’s old and nothing is new
On a rainy day, in that shadowed way,
I stood a while and thought of you.

On every corner in Kalamazoo
A church stands. Ghosts have much ado
Beneath a steeple to pass as people
On Stuart or Westedge Avenue

The false is close kin to the true
The past will always claim its due
And filled with rue I dreamt of you
On that narrow street in Kalamazoo