Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads in them
-- Marianne Moore

Insects who live in
Imaginary gardens
Are not sure theyre real.
Those who ask the toads
Do not return.

In his brown study the Blue Devil has stayed up reading
Le Rouge et le Noir for the seventeenth time. As always
He hopes for a new ending; this time the arc
Of Julien Sorel’s life will alter. He’ll board a ship, say;
Arrive at Newark and travel by stages to Cincinnati
Where he’ll tend bar, develop a sense of humor,
Marry a milliner who will cut his hair
With pinking shears. Leaving the book open,
Fifty pages from the end, the Blue Devil
Whistles his black dog out of the corner,
Puts on a scarf, checks an address; walks out the door.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


We heard a voice from the shore calling
“Tell them, sailors, when you make landfall
That Pan, Great Pan, is dead!” Strangely,
The first thing I saw on the shore
Helping to moor the ship, was Pan himself
Making fast a rope wound about a post.
I could not be mistaken; I knew
Those pointed ears, those crooked legs
Those eyes, yellow and disquieting.
He recognized me too; not always
Had I been a sailor. Taking my pay --
A fair sum; the trip had been long --
I went with Pan to a wine shop
(Not wise perhaps, but I had become
A follower of unwisdom). Three men
Neither drunk nor sober made space for us
And listened. “Near the Isles of Paxi
The wind suddenly began speaking
Mere babble at first, but then words
Telling us to report the death of Great Pan.”
“A sad thing!” the oldest drinker said
“My wife will give me no peace now
And I will have to turn Christian at last.”
“I will miss him, I think,” said the youngest
“The night is full of gods and the meadows
Are filled with goats but the combination
Was a rare thing.” The one not young or old
Raised his cup. “A toast, then!” cried Pan
“We will drink to my memory.”

Monday, April 28, 2014


Though she drove me hard, my muse
Used to be punctual, stopping by
In late afternoon; or to watch the day turn
Upon the point of midnight. Quality did not worry us
We were after numbers; the notebooks still exist
Filled with rough drafts, placeholders for the ones
Which would come in time and take their lordly places
Calm and serene, with every word inevitable.
I’m not sure if the muse who comes now
Is the same who visited me then. If she is
I have not been good for her. She comes in half-frantic
At any hour, disheveled, grumbling, muttering
“Who said that you were a poet?’
When I say “Surely it was you,” she groans
And shakes her head and kicks me awake.


No instrument by which I’ve reckoned
Could tell me where the summer flies
No demon perched astride a second
Could say “Here, where my left leg lies
She loves you still, but on t’other side
You are for her as things that were
But safe among the dead reside.”

An unmarked border, no fence, no sign
“Your money is no good, your ways
Are strange to us. New stars shine
Than those you knew on other days.
Your marvellous lies none care to know.”
When did your pockets fill with dust?
But step lightly as you go
If strength won’t do then cunning must.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Friday afternoon; the workweek not gone
But fading. Other music is imagined
And begins to play. A shadow listens;
Beckons to other shadows who follow
Down an alley that vanishes.
Ghosts shake themselves, gain substance
Conjure themselves into being.

Three in the morning; the night
Is just a little thin at the edges
Stretching itself to last until morning
Decides to come. The hour is not ungodly;
There are all too many gods about
Who’ll not be seen by daylight.
Look – surely that is Great Pan
Rummaging for deposit bottles;
Three cats are debating in an alley
The fate of the unborn day.
Love is not here; she left a note
Painted on a brick wall.
A house light snaps on; Death
Has had a bad dream.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Except for now and then
Country music and I have not
Been of much use to each other
(Though I will admit there is
No better antidote for self-pity
Than standing alone at midnight
Singing “Everybody’s going out
And having fun.
I’m a fool for staying here
And having none.
I can’t believe it that she set me free;
Oh, lonesome me!”).

I know no good reason why the ghost
Of Patsy Cline should decide
To reside in my head today.
She is a frail spook, I’ll grant;
Died young, I think; a hard life
Leaving a name and some music
And many sad admirers behind.
Death has not been kind to her
I can tell this because she can remember
Just one line of all her songs:
“I fall to pieces.”

Her backup trio, for old times sake
Keep her company; they can recall
Even less. Just “Woa, woa, woa”
And then Patsy’s ghost mumbles what she means
To be the next line:
“Each night when I remember you?”
“Whenever stars shine in the blue?”
“Whatever I am trying to do?”
No use; the words are gone and so
We go back; I fall to pieces
Woa, woa, woa.

Tap it on the table; Dum (pause)
Dum dadadum (bababum)
Or whistle it softly on the platform
Surprising other passengers who
If they fall to pieces do it
Quietly  and without harmonic  backup.

I could, I suppose, call exorcists
Patsy and her backup would surely
Be no match for swooping Valkyries
Hollering down on them
But then, my mind would be filled
With large fierce women carrying spears.
Rest here, then, for a day
Falling to pieces until the night
Puts us back together.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Whenever I begin to write, the moon grows vexed, knowing I’ll demand she make an appearance. The ghosts which wander the halls, though, are always glad to hear my pen, expecting work. (Time hangs so heavy on spectral, death-forgotten hands). Stones put on dignity, yet somehow think of dancing. The mountains are unmoved; I rarely write of them. Death sends the shadow of his shadow; I’ve used its services so often it has thought of taking a room nearby.

I met Murder on the way
An old man, with a bad toupee,
And not, as I’d expected, grim
St. Michael cracked a joke with him
Each walked and jested with the other
As one would with a long-lost brother.
I stood there goggling at those two
St. Michael said: “Do I know you?”
And put his hand upon his sword
Till Murder stopped him with a word
“Stay, good Michael! Cease! Forfend!
I’m loath to lose so old a friend
Who’s never let his common sense
Hold him back from my defense.
He always speaks so well of me;
My work in foreign policy
He praises highly, and my plan
To arm each woman, child and man
He deems a very just solution
(Well-rooted in the Constitution)
To pressing problems of the time,
Crowded streets and petty crime.
Come, friend, come and break some bread
We’ll talk about the recent dead
And cities burnt, and battles waged.”
But I was otherwise engaged.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Some of the dead of Egypt once rowed
The Boat of Ra across the sky or helped fend off
The monsters that suddenly blocked the way
Others went to the Fields of Iaru, a pleasant place
But you had to do your own work there
Hoeing and weeding and gathering; the ushabti
Spent their days singing and gossiping;
Instead of the three or more souls a man might have
Ushabti had one apiece. Still, Osiris liked them.

Long since the Boat was carefully docked
The rowers dispersed, becoming jinns or angels
Or being reborn as men or cats or cows
As seemed best to them. The Fields remain
Only a few ushabti in them, but they
Have learned to brew surpassing beer
Which they offer freely to the dead men
Who, mistaking their proper paths, find there
A good substitute for Heaven.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The mirror crack’d from side to side
“My Doom has come upon me!” cried
The Lady of Shallot

But alas, by eventide
She was sore wounded in her pride;
It seems her Doom forgot

She gurgled now, all angry-eyed,
Contemplating deicide
In sooth, she liked it not

“I should by now have gently died
Been shrived and mourned and left to bide
In some poetic spot

“It seems that I’ve been set aside
Like some ill-favored cast-off bride
To wait and sit and rot

“Like someone whom the Fates deride
(It’s not as though I haven’t tried)
It’s just not fair! It’s not!”

She left her tower, went outside
Let ice-cold anger be her guide
She travelled like a shot

And soon she found, ah woe betide!
Her Doom! She saw him sit beside
A fuming, boiling pot.

“Have at thee, Doom!” the Lady cried
And drew the weapon at her side
“You die here in this grot!”

Her Doom looked mild on her and sighed
“These chips,” he said, “are nearly fried
They’re better while they’re hot.”

“So Tennyson,” quoth he, “has lied
If I were you I’d let it slide
Go read Sir Walter Scott.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


You think, perhaps, that it is easy to be mad;
“Farewell, Reason! I’m off; I’ve slipped your chain.”
I tell you it is not. Three years, seven months,
Six days I have followed Sweeny, who was King
And now lives in trees. Madness, like much else,
Takes practice. For the first six months, Sweeny
Could understand never a word the birds said
And feared their endless tweeting would drive him sane.
He could fly as soon as he and reason parted
But was clumsy at it, crashing into trees,
Perching awkwardly at night, liable to fall.
He flies well now; threading through the forest
Listening to the curlews and laughing at their jokes
(His courtesy is royal; curlews’ humor is dull).
His dreams tell him he will be king again
Unable to flutter a foot above the ground.
I prepare against that day.

One morning I woke on the ground
Which is where I accustomedly sleep
And found Sweeny gone. From the branch
Where he had roosted for the night, a cuckoo
With strange markings stared at me, bright-eyed.
Two hawks perched beside him, stiff and glaring.
In Sweeny’s service you grow used to odd sights
Nor did it seem amiss when the right-hand hawk said
“In the presence of an emperor, it is customary to kneel
Until he bids you rise.”

Monday, April 21, 2014


Of a Saturday or Sunday in the Dark City one is likely to see exhausted birds of every kind, sleeping on rooftops or convulsively clutching tree branches. There always seems to be a sort of truce between them, and one may see wrens and humming birds sharing a roof with owls and hawks and ospreys. Only the ravens flock by themselves on these days, and they are showing their usual wisdom in doing so.

          It used to be common knowledge that, since before the beginning of the world, every raven was obligated to bring a grain of sand to Hell every Friday. No one knows for sure why Hell needs sand, or if it needs it at all, or simply wants to remind the ravens of their old allegience. Me, I suspect that Hell may be trying, very slowly, to switch places with the world, or perhaps they’re building something. In any event, I always try to bring a handful of sand or two back from Hell, just to slow then down.

I don’t think men ever knew what bargain the ravens had made for which this was their payment, and few men now remember why ravens are so familiar with Hell. Still, the bargain holds. On Fridays you must look sharp and quick if you wish to see a raven.

          But ravens are dealmakers, and it long ago occurred to them that they more or less keep their contract if the sand gets to its destination, regardless of the messenger. Thus, they are forever finding other birds who, in return for some ravenly service, or perhaps to pay off a bet, will deliver a grain of sand to Hell. Most make the return journey safely enough, and the ravens do not grieve for those who find no exit.

          Most of the birds which stagger from the sky in the Dark City recruit their strength for a day or so, and then fly off, resolved to make no more bargains with ravens. Some, though, seem content to trade the forest for the roof tops and brooding trees we offer.

          One such is a hen whose bright eyes hold more of wisdom and terror than it is common to find dwelling in a chicken’s head. She came staggering into the courtyard of my building one day and collapsed. Her feathers were singed; and I realized that she had walked to Hell, left her grain of sand, and then walked out again. I spoon fed her on beer for a week, and we parted ways with mutual respect. She’s still to be seen strutting quietly in the shadows, and the cats do not molest her.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


          Well, if they’d asked me against whom I wanted to be matched, I believe I’d have chosen the fool. He is a gracious and noble opponent and, win or lose, it is an education to play the fool. I once saw him play ducks and drakes to a standstill, and the feathers were everywhere, and one of the ducks, at the close of play, made the most extraordinary curtsey which I have ever seen. Still, I thought, looking at the board, I could have fared worse (In those days I thought in such phrases, a sad prey to the delusion that they went well with the floppy hats to which I was prone). I could play the sedulous ape well enough, and perhaps show him a trick or two before we were done.

          The sedulous ape is not an adversary to be taken lightly. His reach is long and, for all his air of deliberation, he is capable of making lightning-quick moves which seem inspired though later, as you nurse your wounds and analyze your defeat, you can see how they’d been planned since the beginning of your game. In fact, when we were rooming together in Barcelona, he once told me that there were moves he’d been planning for generations, waiting for the right opponent to be born.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


There are ways of sending letters in dreams
But no sure ones. Postmen from Thurn und Taxis,
Gallant men all, are reliable, but can scarce read
And insist the address be in old German
Blackletter, looking as if an arthritic spider
Has crawled from the ink and merrily danced
Defiant of its eight-legged woes.

The Royal Waverly Mail is much praised
But they will not exist for a century or more
And avert their eyes when we speak to them
Thinking they deal with spirits.

Best, perhaps, to find some dream-haunting beast,
Chimera, unicorn, manticore, rok,
And ask it to keep your letter until the adressee
Dreams of it. If you use this method I recommend
The Antichrist. He’s trusty, appears in many dreams
And – this is important, so mark it well –
Has pockets in his fulgin clothes.

Friday, April 18, 2014


          I had never had a heart or word to speak against those who watch sheep by moonlight, but neither had I discovered in myself any great longing to be of their number, despite the many who had prophesized, with a certain satisfaction, that this calling I would ultimately follow. Now, though they have a reputation ill enough, I have never heard of one who has turned his hand to mischief after joining the profession, but they are silent men, mostly, and aloof. The ravens think well of them, and will stoop from a clear sky to stand upon their shoulders and whisper in their ears. ‘Tis like the ravens discourse upon the ways of God, learned from their kinsman, the crow. Whatever these shepherds hear, though, they do not repeat, nor have I heard tell that they give answer to what the ravens tell them. They are out in every weather, and any pay they receive does not hang heavy in their pockets.

          Still, I was, you might say, at a turning point in my life and, for all that I had told all who would listen that I’d just as soon forego the honor, I found myself, towards the close of day, standing on a platform, the focus of every eye in the crowd. The ceremony had been scheduled for much earlier, but it had rained heavily most of the day, and some things cannot be properly done in the wet. In late afternoon, though, the rain stopped, and we got underway.

          I had spoken some few words – persuasive, even eloquent, I thought, and such as might turn a heart of flint to beating flesh, but I might have already been talking to a flock of the moon’s sheep for all the response I could see. Suddenly, I gave a mighty leap (not entirely of my own will, mark you) and gave thought to how astonished they’d all be if I continued to rise, disdaining the dull ground forever. Still, the unlikeness of this even was just being brought home to me when I saw, over the crowd's head, a fellow standing on a flat boat who crooked a finger at me. The light, by then, had mostly faded, but I could see his great dark eyes, which seemed to wish me no ill. Gravity, I thought, can wait, and I joined the fellow on the boat.

And I have been here since, persuaded that if I step ashore Gravity will recompense somewhat roughly my refusal of her invitation. She is not a lady who takes anything lightly, least of all the failure of an intended guest. Nor will her friend the Moon, perhaps, be amused if her sheep go all unwatched of a cold midnight.

Grace and favor, I’ve been told, was extended to me in your memory, so I’ve reason enough to be grateful to you, even if you wee not by way of being kin to me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Only six angels live in Ghent ; three others
Visit routinely. One of those resident
Had the desk three over from mine when I
Worked for three bezants and a bent sequin
(When I could get them) at the Tourist Bureau.
He was a very old angel and had been, he said,
A sort of functionary in the old universe –
The one God did not make.
There had been some sort of fuss in Heaven;
The other clerks told me they’d heard
His praisesong had not been up to standard
While the other angels sang Hosannah!
Or “What glory can compare to His?”
He would mumble “God? A nice chap.
Generous. Holds His liquor well.”
So he had wound up in Ghent .
After office parties it was my job
To see he made it safely home. Some nights
He’d look in the street for a stray pin
And urge me to dance with him on its head
Or remember that angels are able to be at one time
In two places. We would reach his house to find
He was already there. We would rattle the locked door
While he pretended to be asleep.


The Beagle's naturalist, Mr. Darwin,
Found a toad miles away from water.
Kindly, he carried it in his hat for hours
To a pond. There, it almost drowned
Until he scooped it out again.
The toad, an atheist till then,
Preached afterwards that Fate
His unmourned death had decreed
Had not his frantic prayers
Moved God to reconsider.