Tuesday, September 30, 2014


In Hell they all are quite fond of William Cowper
Satan himself will spend hours explaining,
In great detail, Heaven's geography.
When he recites something new the demons
And the damned listen together quietly.
After John Milton he is Hell's favorite poet.
While he lived Cowper had a marvelous dream:
He was in Heaven; countless angels were singing
The harmony was overwhelming; the beauty frightening
And it was some time before he could put the music aside
And hear the words. "Everyone will be saved!"
Sang the angels, "Throughout the universe,
Throughout every universe that is and every one that isn't
Absolutely everyone shall be saved! Except,
Of course, William Cowper." Sometimes he wonders
What he will do when he is alone in Hell.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Before we began our campaign
Few were aware of the problems
Of having a ninja baby. Born stealthy
Some of them are three months old
Before their parents catch more
Than the most flighting glimpse of them.
There is something unnerving – believe me--
About a silent baby, dressed in black
Clinging next to the window at  3 A.M.
Squinting thoughtfully at the moon
As if only it understands her.
No matter the parents  your ninja child
Is, of course, Japanese. Communicating
Can be extremely difficult.
Nor can one use sitters who are not masters
Of a wide variety of martial arts

Friday, September 26, 2014


          “Go, if the need is so strong in you,” his wife had told him (I trust she was his wife though I’m not sure who it was who would have married them in the barrowlands. Still, my tales have a moral tendency, so we’ll assume the two of them lived in a state of matrimony, though I’ll not go so far as to call it holy, lest you start down the way to not believing me). “But remember one thing: ride as far as you like in the sunlight or beneath the moon, but do not dismount among the mortals. If your foot touches earth, you’ll not return here.”

          He promised to just take a quick look, and to let his friends and family know where he might be found, for they might by now have noticed he was gone and be worried (though only mildly; a hero and the son of a hero makes a great noise when he dies and they’d be sure they’d have heard the echo of his mighty going). Then, off and away back to her, with perhaps a few shawls and an engraved drinking-horn tucked in his saddlebag as souvenirs.

          By now you should know me well enough to have some confidence that I’ll not lie to you, so I must confess that I don’t know how long it was until he found himself trotting along under an open sky with the sun shining mightily on him. Deep breaths he took as he rode, and the smell of trees in sunlight, he realized, was something he had been missing. He took out his horn and blew a long blast which changed note in the middle; the call he alone ever used, to announce that he was back. No answer came. He blew his call again, but there was only the echo of it to hear, and some angry bird cries. “So late in the morning and no one risen? I have missed a night of mighty drinking!”

          He was about to blow his horn again when a man came over the horizon. Oisin had never seen the man before, but knew at once he was no hero. His thews did not bulge; it seemed an open question as to whether he had thews at all. He was so thin and meagre that, with a knife subtle enough you could have spent a rainy day making three of him out of Oisin, and had enough left over to make a scrappy dog. He had an odd flat hat on his head, with a button it, and he rode a thing of two wheels with a basket at the front (Surely, since there are just the two of us here, I need not be so coy and circumspect? Very well then; the man was on a bicycle).

          “A good morning to you, man, and can you tell me where the Fianna Fail are this day?”

          “And good morning to you,” came the reply. “What a beautiful horse! Your Old Irish is really good, though your agglutinates are a trifle sketchy. With whom did you study?”

          Oisin blinked, as would almost any man who has just found that his agglutinates are not all they might be.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Every now and then the cat
Looks up from my lap,
Mid-purr, to see if I
Have now become my wife
Who is off in the world.
The cat is sure it is cussedness
That makes me stay myself.
When my wife comes home the cat
Will humph at her, thinking
"Why were you so stubborn?"

(To all what reads this: a glorious New Year!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


          I have read somewhere of an Irishman, a son of Finn I think, Oisin probably, or maybe his brother or perhaps I’ve mistook my generations and it’s Oisin’s son that I’m speaking of, but – in any event – the man went to live among the fairies, having fallen in love with a queen. (It always seems to be a queen of the fairies in such doings, as if Titania or Maeve have nothing on their day calendars but to go find a mortal with whom to dally. Does no one love a Sidhe alewife, or pine for the daughter of the fairy who mends the carts?) And, being a hero and the son of a hero, he did nothing so common as hang about the Far Lands for a while; he abode there for a space of time.

          But there came a moment to Oisin, if that’s who he was, and he missed the sun and the moon (light in the barrows is stored in urns and grudgingly ladled out, so that if fairies weren’t quick healers they’d be known for their bruised shins and battered noses, which would detract from their glamour). He missed his brothers too, and the warriors of the Fianna Faile, and he thought he’d make them a visit, perhaps stopping at an alehouse to see how the year’s brewing had come out and whether the aleman’s daughter remembered him. Now, if he were wise, he’d perhaps have noticed that the moment that brought him this thought was a very old and tattered scrap of an instant, as if it had been traveling long, and the way not easy, to find him. However, it is burden enough for a man to be a hero and the son of a hero, and had there been wisdom in him too Oisin could scarce have stood from the weight of it all, strong man that he was.

          Now, the queen of the fairies (or perhaps she was only a duchess, or even a mere marquise of the fairies; I look always to tell the harsh truth but characters in my stories often stand on tip-toe when they see me looking their way) advised against him going, telling him that the sunlit lands would seem very drab after his days with the Sidhe, and was it not enough for him to have won the love of a queen (or a duchess, or marquise, or even – Powers save us from such things! – a baroness)? and that it was altogether a bad idea. Thus it was determined that he would go, and he put on his boots with the silver spurs and saddled his great white horse with a saddle of gold and rode off. (He took off the spurs a few minutes later; fairy horses are not kindly things, and – lover of the queen or no – it would have had him on the ground under its hooves in a moment had he so much as scratched it with a spur, be it never so glittering).

Monday, September 22, 2014



I have been advised to write poems
About people I know, or,
Failing that, about myself.
Perhaps one on my aunts? I have many
And, mysteriously, new ones
Appear sometimes, old women
I’ve never met who still
Have known me all my life.
So, the next poem that came by
I looked at sharply, trying to see
If it might be about an aunt –
Aunt Sadie, if choice were mine
Who is short and sharp and witty
And walks gamely on crippled legs.
But the poem had a cold, mad eye
And was plainly about the Emperor Wang;
He and Sadie would never live well together
Nor Anne, nor Doris, nor Mabel,
And certainly not Rose or Jenny or the one
Who died young and her name with her.
(As for my Aunt Tamara – she
Is a Russian novel).

Friday, September 19, 2014


Two days ago was half-St. Patrick’s Day, a sort of holiday, I discover, obviously celebrating  a partial saint who performed semi-miracles. At his command, Ireland was, perhaps,  cleared of half its snakes. Or  maybe he worked only Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays. In any event, I am relieved to hear of his existence; poor Crescentia needs an assistant; she’s has been working quite hard – we consume miracles like popcorn some days -- and this blog couldn’t afford another full saint’s salary.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


It has been a while since I read it, I admit;
Still, I’m fairly certain that Charles Lamb,
When he wrote his great essay on retirement,
“”The Superannuated Man,” did not say a word
About standing in the rain scrubbing a trash bin
With chlorine bleach.

                                                He must have had a bin.
Did his sister Mary clean it? Or, perhaps,
When his friends – Keats and Coleridge,
Hazlitt and De Quincy and Jem White –
Grew worn from too much wine and wit
They picked up the rags and soapy water
And set to.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


If the fountain howls what care I?
Or  if the water in the bowl trembles
And mirrors forth things unhappening
Why should my heart uneasy grow?
Of Lethe water I’ve not drunk
By the Styx I have sworn no oath;
There is a sixth river some say;
To  it will I give answer.

Some certain hell hung, ready to strike
At enemies uncertain who would come if only
I would call them forth, but I had no will
To make or mar the resting day
Green undying in my hand.

Prince of Nothing, your subjects grow impenitent
The dead bawd in the market hawks her wares
The shards stir in the basket, planning
Revenge against the potter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Eternity is in love with the productions of Time
Which is sad, really since they – giddy Truth,
Slippery Patience, and the rest of that sorority --
Wouldn’t spit on him if he were on fire.
“Dude,” God says to him in the cafeteria
As they wait on line, “get over yourself –
She’s just not that into you.” (Eternity
Cannot comprehend why God speaks
In outdated cliches, nor why the two of them
Are still in high school.) “Who’s not into me?”
“All of them.” That God is Eternity’s only friend
Does not always mean they like each other.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Truth, the daughter of Time,
Rarely speaks to her father.
Her sisters vainly preach
He kept secrets from her;
She does not forgive.
For great occasions
He sends jeweled minutes
Which she does not unwrap.

Friday, September 12, 2014


In time Sparafucile found Rigoletto confining
“An assassin should have more than one victim,”
He would complain. “Granted, I stabbed Gilda
When I meant to kill the Duke, but that
Was entirely her fault – read the libretto!”
He sent  feelers out, looking for other work
Asking Lucia why she would want to stab Arturo
And get all covered in blood when he,
Sparafucile, a professional, could do the job
So much more neatly and at a cost
Surprisingly affordable. Waiting her answer
He has moved in with Rodolfo, Marcello,
Colline and Schaunard. He makes them nervous
But pays more than his share of the rent.
Musetta has grown fond of him.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The Shadow had the mysterious ability
To cloud mens minds. He had learned it
From his aunt, Euphonia Penumbra,
Whose elusive beauty destroyed three empires
Seven kingdoms and two grand duchies
As well as badly crumpling a republic
And irritating a loose federation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Borges, bored with being dead,
Decided to return as three notes
From a tango to which he had listened
Geneva when he was seventeen
And studying for his baccalaureate
The authorities refused; those three notes
Were spoken for. Very well he would be content
To be  a gleam of light on a dagger blade
Drawn during a back alley fight
June 14, 1901. "Really, Senor Borges,"
Said the authorities, "Consider our feelings!
We do not these days trade in melodrama."
Arbitrators were called in; or perhaps they simply
Had been drinking nearby. Negotiations continue
But observers say there’s little hope of resolution
Any time soon. Consult this poem for developments.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


One winter, says the old muse,
I lived with Li Po;
How that man could drink!

Monday, September 8, 2014


After a day swimming in the lake at Patchogue
My mother would hear her father’s car horn;
She’d climb on the running board and ride home
Clinging to the car. What model was it, I wonder;
How far did they go? Did they talk on the way?
Did she close her eyes and listen to the wind
Or did she watch the world flowing by?
How easy it would have been to ask her!

My father’s mother when she was young
Danced by some river in Galicia.
There was an emperor then: Franz-Joseph
She rather liked him. I imagine it must be something
To have an emperor. Perhaps you feel sorry for folk
In ordinary countries, who have only a king
Or the poor people who must get by
With an archduke, an elector, a president.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Alfred Lord Tennyson was tall
And smoked cigars. He swore
With enthusiasm. He’d recite Maud
Even when no one asked him
(Perhaps especially when no one asked him)
A lesser poet would not have dared
To wear hats so ancient and terrible.
On his deathbed he opened his eyes
(A peculiar shade of hazel they were)
To ask a visitor if she’d been taught
How to dance a sarabande.
He interrupted his death to rise
And make a slow demonstration.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


 Save for form at Passover seders
My father almost never drank wine
Still, he loved Li Po's poetry
So I shouldn't really be surprised
To find their spirits together
Singing to the moon, both of them drunk.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The Moon
Means very well
But does not know
How to drink.
As a dancer, though,
Who can compare?

A shadow
Cannot speak
But knows when one
Needs company.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Under the table snores Ben Jonson
Herrick went out for air two hours since
And has not returned. Dowden does not look well
And Shakespeare is still nursing his first ale
Knowing he'll have to get them all home.
What madness drove them to think
They could outdrink Li Po?

Monday, September 1, 2014


Inshul had been served by a troop of large desert apes; I’d kept a few on, and they, along with the afrit cook, had made a pleasant dinner (If you’ve been wondering, the mere fact that one is the lord of the drought is not incompatible with an appreciation for a good glass of wine). Chubu put down his axe and his carpet bag and ate with us, and I learned that my pantheon was undergoing changes.

The odd thing was that our worshippers had won; they’d invaded and conquered quite a nice kingdom on the other side of the mountains. Now there was the problem of getting all those new subjects used to being subjects, which meant that places had to be found for at least a few of the gods of the defeated.

“You were their war god?” Merhut asked gently.

“Yes. I suppose all the weapons gave me away. But Marduk …!”

I knew my brother Marduk, though I’m not fond of him. “He beat you bare-handed, didn’t he?”

“Barehanded, with his eyes closed and while composing and reciting a poem about the battle. The thing scanned beautifully, too!”

As I said, some of the defeated folk’s gods had to be folded into the victor’s pantheon. It made things go easier, and smoothed the way towards two peoples becoming – more or less – one. However, Marduk wasn’t the sort to welcome a second war god into the family. Why not stick Chubu somewhere inconspicuous? Cities were all the rage then; and who, really, would care if the drought god was a young beweaponed fellow with a wondrous beard, rather than a well-polished skeleton?

“I believe all my weapons are supposed to symbolize the power of the drought. Something like that. It sounds very boring.”

“You’ll get used to it. The apes are good servants; I’ll miss them. If you’re fortunate, someone may remember that the drought god used to patronize lascivious nuns. That beard will go over well with them, if they’re anything like the nuns I knew.”

“You’re being very decent about being replaced.”

“No sense fighting it, and I’ve had a long run. Don’t be too hard on the priests; they’re an irritating lot, but they can’t help it.”

Merhut could have stayed, but she came away with me. “You’re too helpless a set of bones to be let out alone,” was how she put it, but I was grateful.

And how have we lived since? Well enough, all things considered. The Christians exorcised poor Chubu years ago, but he went down fighting, surrounded by the bones of scattered saints. How I look never changes; I’m not sure what mortals see, but probably not a skeleton since I don’t startle most of them. Merhut’s hair has grey in it. There’s a pension I get; there’s savings and we sell amulets at craft fairs sometimes. (Can I interest you in one? Keep you safe from drought, I promise).

And yes, I will accept a drink. All this talking has made me dry.