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.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014


The third day was so cold the sun
Had shivered down from the sky
To stand by the kitchen fire.
We soldiers billeted in the house
Shoved together to make room
And shared what food we had with him.
After a long pull from the corporal’s flask
He coughed and shook himself
Nodded friendly-fashion all around
And returned to his station.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Since he was born before 1900
And died well into his 90s, Alex,
My mother's friend, must surely have been
Almost the last of Franz Joseph's cavalrymen.
Old and sick, he drew endlessly
Flowers or boats or long moonlit roads
Or the man in the bed next to his.
The tall ghosts with whom he'd riden
Insistently clattered into his dreams
Demanding he join them. His hands
Pained him so he could barely hold a crayon;
I wondered how they could draw so well.
One morning he woke up in uniform
On horseback, holding reins in hands
No longer twisted, and knew that he had died.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Lost in a Welsh thunderstorm
Joseph Hucks, friend of the poet,
Found shelter with Coleridge and two men
Whose names are unknown to history.
About midnight, Coleridge thought
It would be as well to go mountain climbing;
The lightning would illuminate the way
And the wind hurling rain at them
Would be invigorating. For once his golden tongue
Failed to persuade. He took the only bench;
The nameless men were given blankets
And slept on the floor, wrapped in them.
Hucks was allotted the most uncomfortable chair
In all of Southern Wales. Searching the house
He found only one book: a Welsh dictionary
Which he spent the night reading.

Monday, October 27, 2014


As all who have known them. and many who have not, will tell you, the voices of the Sidhe are music incomparable so it is no matter to wonder when you hear that Oisin, Finn’s son, listened for a hundred years and thought that an evening only had passed. However, not everything you’re told is true, and Oisin, mayhap, was aware of each day that passed, even without the sun’s passing each day to advise him of the fact.

If you’ve heard of Oisin (who is it that is so poor in knowing that he has not?) you know his father was Finn, son of Coll, and that Finn’s strength waxed from dawn till noon, and then declined until by night he was barely a match for three strong men, an eager boy and a small and quarrelsome dog. He had come down mightily since he was a god, though he did not regret the change (he was never one for regret overmuch) and rejoiced more to lead the Fianna, his sworn men, through the shadowed forest than ever he had to roll across the sky.

Such a father is a burden and a glory, and Oisin loved him with all his heart and wished with all his soul to live where none had heard of Finn. There, perhaps, he couldn’t hear the thoughts of men when they looked at him, thinking “A quick hand, a ready wit, yet who so ready as Finn? The face is much like, but something lacks. The chin a bit less perhaps? The eyes not so eager? Something.”

Friday, October 24, 2014


Some seek God on mountain tops
Some search the sheltered valley
I have seen Him many times
Asleep in Booble Alley.
-- J. Wellington Nix

            It is well known that when God comes in corporeal form to the Dark City He comes as a cat, which perhaps explains the cautious deference with which cats are treated there.  For a time I had pursued this lead, and interviewed, with due respect, whatever cat crossed my path. However, each and every one – from Persian queen to tattered kitten – assured me that it was, indeed, God whom I was addressing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


A cat-faced man with shepherd’s crook
Stands in the road, defying the snow
His dog, a lolloper, chases flakes
(In America the gods, even if they’re cats,
Have dogs. My father told me the dogs
Were here first. “In the beginning
God went walking with His dog.”)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


In high school I began having dreams which were disturbingly ordinary. In a typical one I would wake up and take the subway to the school I was attending and sit where I always sat in my classes. There might be a test, but I never felt undue stress about taking it; a friend might give me news, but it was never startling – he had had a cold for a few days but was better now; his oldest sister was engaged; he was tired because he’d stayed up to watch a movie on tv. In response, I started absenting myself from my life for days and weeks at a time, not knowing I’d been gone until I was suddenly back, perhaps having to finish a sentence without being sure of the beginning. My life seemed quite able in those days to live itself without me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


At Lizzie Siddall's burial, her husband,
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, threw his poems
Into her open grave. Some time later
When he opened the grave to retrieve them
He was annoyed to discover that the poetry
Strewn on her corpse wasn't his. Worse than that,
It was quite good. For many years afterwards
Mrs. Arnold would wake up wondering
Why Matthew was chuckling in his sleep.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Omens used to come early in the morning
(I never managed to see what messenger
Pushed them through the mail slot). The envelopes
Were grey, with no return address. Inside would be
Almost anything – a green feather, say,
With futhark words inked carefully on the shaft,
Or a used match or a pottery shard
And a slip: “this omen packed by 346”
Once I got a series of numbers which,
When dialed, rang through to Fufluns’ voicemail
I left a message but he never called back.
When I asked him about this, years later,
He told me he knew nothing about it.
(He was off duty then, and mostly sober.)

Friday, October 17, 2014


Before the beginning of things, Day and Night were simply ideas, in perfect balance. This Earth was meant to always bask in Day’s light, or to while away eternity unraveling the mysteries of Night. Some accuse Day, or what would be Day once Time began, of stealing Night away and ravishing her. Others say that Night seduced Day, or that Night pitied Day’s bright burning certainties and gave her the gift of darkness. However it happened – and there are many more tales than these – in the end there was nothing to be done but to leave this world of ours a wonder and jest, where Day and Night both rule.

Their children are born uneasy and do not speak to each other. They are fey and beautiful and quite dangerous, and lead wayfarers astray. There are worlds where it is always dawn, or always dusk, and if you chose your moment, or have the fortune to have your moment chose you, they will take you to one. If the mood strikes, they may sometime bring you home.

My business was urgent and would brook no delay, yet I was no longer of those who are welcome to ride in the great Ship of Day. Neither could I comport myself as one who expects to be carried in the Moon’s arms as she makes her journey, attended by her resplendent lords and ladies. Dusk, though .. Dusk can be approached by anyone, if you chose your moment well.

So I stood at a slant to the grey hour and saw Dusk coming, poling his flat boat along himself. No great gods pull at oars for Dusk, nor does his boat run of itself for very love. Sundry dreams, as always, were trailing their toes in the water, for Dusk never refuses them a ride. Strange it was to see a great grizzled nightmare sitting amicably next to a small dream of mine which I had forgotten long ago. They had no common tongue, and spoke to each other in signs.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Afterwards, we found Fufluns asleep in a barrel
And woke him, though with some difficulty.
He refused us point-blank. Yes, he was a god
Or had been one, but he was out of practice
And hadn't had a worshipper since the Etruscans.
The Baron coaxed him: " These day-gods need us;
Without me, they have no one with style,
No one who can make a battered hat and torn clothes
Look so cool. And -- believe me, brother --
We're going to need a god for alcoholics
Before all this is through."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Machiavelli has been working long  hours
In an antique store in Little
That the neighborhood disappeared years ago
Beneath entrances to the
Battery Tunnel
Does not disturb him. He has posted a sign
“Men judge generally more by the eye
Than by the hand, for all can see
And few can feel. Everyone sees
What you appear to be, few really know
What you are. You break it, you bought it.”
After work, he goes to a tavern
With the other dead of the neighborhood.
He pays his shot, buys the occasional round
And is generally well-liked.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Afterwards those who remained
Chose shifts, some to rule the day
Others to watch the night
And a few to grace the borders
The temples of the twilight gods
Became immensely popular;
Sneeze and you’d miss the sermon.

Friday, October 10, 2014


On the whole, I enjoyed growing up in the Virtual Cloister. Some of my friends used to fret because they were never sure which nuns were real and which simply cge’s. They spent hours each day carefully watching each sister, and then met at night to try to hash out whether Sister Mathematica had been badly programmed or simply had neurological issues. Did Sister Perpetua glow because she shared a special relationship with God, or was it simply l.e.d.s? (One night over the very weak beer we brewed in the chemistry lab I suggested it might be both. The idea was not met with any enthusiasm). While I joined in the speculation, I wasn’t really concerned. Being 14 I was far more concerned with the question of my own reality. Of course, I had better than usual reasons for this concern.

The nuns themselves had been in the VC so long that I think they were no longer sure who was what. “Children,” Mother Superior would warble “reality is a variable quality, and not to be relied upon. Better to be a decent illusion, a pious dream, or even a moral enigma, than the most solid citizen of a wicked world.”

When my father found himself in sole charge of me, I’m told, he first, very fairly, asked my advice, persuaded that no one could be more concerned in the matter. Unluckily, at seven weeks  I had not yet developed the ability to calmly weigh all factors and come to a workable solution for which I would later be notorious, nor did I discuss my ideas with sufficient clarity. Given that my advice (which he was willing to believe was cogent) was couched in a tongue unknown to him, he made the best decision he could. A superb swordsman, an expert tactician, a fair battle wizard, he had no idea of how to raise a child, having never been one himself. He met his ancient foe the Cyberpope in an inn on neutral ground. Between them, they decided that no better place could be found for me, at least for the time being, than the Virtual Cloister.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


When the Art Institute closes Hopper’s characters
Finish their coffee and pay the late-night counterman
Usually the woman in the red dress goes straight home
But occasionally she stops at the Marienkirche
Where her sister is the servant girl sitting by the pillar.
Every year or two they trade places for a few days

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


       If you aren’t already facing the situation, you may well be soon. It’s late at night, you’re desperately tired, yet one of England’s many parliaments is yattering on in your living room, oblivious of the time.

       It started innocently enough. In the bar, it seemed charming and witty, and you invited it up to drink grog, or perhaps to snort patchouli. You didn’t quite catch its name. It might be the Long Parliament, or then again, the Short Parliament (is it wearing lifts in its shoes?). There are so many possibilities! You can only hope it isn’t the Wicked Parliament, nor the Drunken Parliament. It might be the Foolish Parliament, the Barebones Parliament, or even the Addled Parliament. And may Fortune keep it from being the Rump Parliament!

Does it seem to regret it’s former life? You may have the Reformed Parliament on your hands, but, then again, it may be its unregenerate younger brother Ernest, the Unreformed Parliament. Could it be the Parlement de Bordeaux, having nipped across the channel to do some shopping for the wife and mistress? If it is composed of a large number of birds, the odds are that it is Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowles.

       Whoever it is, though, it is having far too good a time to even think of leaving. It is making motions and having divisions and at any moment it may resolve itself into a committee of the whole. No hints have worked, not even the stagiest of yawns. When you turned out the lights, several members whipped candles out of their pockets (oddly, they were already lit). Even standing on the table and saying in a bad imitation of a brogue “Bejabbers, it is that tired I am, and me with a date to be sinking the Lusitania in the morning!” has brought no results except that the Speaker has made some room for you to lie down next to him on the woolsack.

       You have two choices. One is to simply allow the parliament to remain in session until it is dissolved, listening to it talk about tenths and fifths and membership by tenure. However, if you chose this, remember that the Long Parliament was elected in 1640, ejected in 1649 and came back for another go eleven years later. Or, you can call us. We have conjured up and retained the exclusive services of the ghost of Oliver Cromwell who, for a surprisingly reasonable fee, will stalk into your home and thunder “You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” There is no Parliament so hardy as to stay after hearing this.

       Of course, you then have the ghost of Cromwell haunting your flat, but there is only one of him. Perhaps you can charge admission. At any rate, call us soon. We’ve grown tired of his company and he’s driven all our friends away.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


His name was Scoggin and, since he’d died
Five hundred years and more ago, we’d meet
For coffee near Union Square. The baristas
All smiled at him, waving off his attempts
To pay them in badly-minted old coins.
Last night he was whittling a chain of links
Out of an ivory scrap he’d found somewhere.
“For a child,” he said when I sat next to him,
“She’ll dream of it some night and wake up
Holding it in her hand – the left, I expect.
She’ll go places the Fates intend her not to.”
I objected; he expected it of me. “But I’ve read
That the Gods themselves cannot defy the Fates.”
“So they cannot, being gods. Dead jesters, though,
Are not wholly subject to the Fates. 
Makes them crazy; especially her with the shears.”

Monday, October 6, 2014



I made a sudden turn down 54th Street
Because St. Jerome was sitting in a doorway
On 7th Avenue. There is bad blood between us
And, even after a night of steady drinking,
I was not eager to face Jerome and his lion
With only my pig to back me up. Sometimes,
Though, there are too many saints in this town;
Apollonia was there, arguing with the Baal Shem Tov
While he made gentle shushing noises
And kept a wary eye on those pliers of her
Which she kept waving for emphasis. Siddhartha
Lives a few blocks away; he let me sleep on his couch.

Friday, October 3, 2014


(A man sorely missed, my father!)

It seems to me
There must be sacredness in this world
Or maybe hovering just outside it -
I don't want to define it
I want to expand it.
It's hidden but drops clues to itself -
No, not hidden but perceptible only afterwards
A favorite coat found long afterward
In the recesses of an unused closet;
Someone you know who's just died;
A plain man when, for an evening,
He gets to put on a tuxedo;
The granddaughter who once wouldn't rest
Till she sat next to you;
The neighborhood you revisit after forty years;
The earth when you're preparing to leave it;
Yourself, maybe, once you're gone.

God the Executive
Doesn't tell everything He knows
Gets information from you He's already heard elsewhere
Gives broad instructions and leaves it to you to figure out what He meant
Makes each subordinate think He's keeping an eye on him
Gives hints to each that he's His favorite.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


"I have heard," said my cat, "that Egyptians
Would shave their eyebrows when a cat died
To indicate their extreme grief. There are nights --
Especially those on which you're late with dinner --
When I reflect on this, taking comfort
On how strange you're going to look some day."
"But," I said, "I am not Egyptian." "No matter,"
Said my cat, "I trust you’ll behave correctly."