Thursday, December 31, 2015


I believe I have come downstairs
To bring order out of chaos
And to copy things my father wrote
The cat believes that God
Has decided to provide him a lap.
Who would have thought
That God listens to my cat?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


To get the atmosphere right, John Glassco,
Distinguished Canadian poet and pornographer,
Travelled from 1966 to 1935 to write his memoirs.
He took a room a few blocks away
From  the hospital where his younger self
Was convinced he was dying. He visited himself
One afternoon and made terrible prophecies:
"You will be mayor of a small town in
East Quebec;
You will win the Governor General's Award for poetry."
"Tell me," young John gasped, "tell me that I will still
Write highly stylized fetish poems and novels!"
"You will; they will be published under many pseudonyms."
"All right then; I suppose I will have to live."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Waiting for the late ferry from Cythaera
The drowsy nymphs congregate
Collecting memories until they can afford
A reputable second-tier dream.
Once on board, they sit together
Gossiping about Great Chthulu, whom they knew
When he was poor and glad to run errands
For noctambules and their pale keepers.
One by one the nymphs fall silent and the steward
Wraps their dream around them.

Monday, December 28, 2015


When his wife died in childbirth
On February 25, 1927 my grandfather Joe
Felt his heart stop and then contract
Until it was small and hard and round
And cold as a marble. Ase, his brother,
Brought him home and sat with him.
Joe's deft fingers shook. For three days
He sat in the dark. On the fourth,
My great aunts Jenny and Lena
Brought his chess set from the apartment
Joe never visited again. Jenny opened the blinds
While Lena set up the board. She won
Fifteen games in a row.
She thought she was winning game sixteen
When Joe's eyes narrowed. "Mate in five," he said.
"So you remember how to talk?" said his sister.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


I tried to send my humble respects
To an empress I know
But my computer feels
Etiquette is its younger brother.
"You mean 'hair mumbles' " it says.
Perhaps I do. At any event,
Whatever hair mumbles are
The empress shall have some.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Books I might have written
Haunt me, their well-bound ghosts
Glaring at me from lengthy footnotes
Where I'm not cited or forcing a few words
Into the middle of a quote in some language
I never learned. To quiet them,
I conjured down Jorge Luis Borges
Begging him to write a review
He agreed, after warning me
That it might not be favorable.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


St. Marina, patron of exiles and peasants,
Is irate that Gelasius called her apocryphal
"So what if I was once a sea goddess?
Next to no one worshipped me.
I admit I was eaten by a dragon; but that
Was such a long time ago. I was young and looked
Delicious. It could have happened to anyone."

Monday, December 21, 2015


The trees across the street
Are frozen in gestures of denial
And indignation. They reach up
Demanding Heaven witness
Their entire innocence
Or point downwards
Swearing by the Earth itself.
One spreads its branches wide
Shocked that a tree of its age,
Its importance, must defend itself
Against the accusing leaves.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Returning triumphantly to her draft
The Countess discovered her characters
Had decamped while she was out
Leaving behind an old nursemaid
Too feeble to survive the long trek
To a more lurid manuscript.
Originally meant to add some local color
The nursemaid was scheduled to die
Movingly, towards the end of Chapter 6.
Still, necessity knows no law;
A grumbling miracle was performed;
The nursemaid, risen from her deathbed,
(Her disease turning out to be misdiagnosed
Dutch Elm Tree Blight), did her best
As heroine. The hired ghost of Warren Oates
Did yeoman service as the hero, the villain,
The villain's much-betrayed wife,
And a variety of more minor roles
Sales were surprisingly strong.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


After a while Schrödinger could no longer bear the suspense
And opened the box to see if his cat, which had been
Neither dead nor not dead, neither alive
Nor not alive, had made up her mind. The box was empty
Save for a note in Sanskrit. Translated it said
"You forgot the other set of alternatives -- in the box
Or out of the box. I am now both in and not in your closet
Where I am and am not taking my revenge
On your best pair of shoes."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Before I could begin to write
The poem flickered away
Gone, I suppose, to see
If Li Po has returned.

Monday, December 14, 2015


Partly in jest, my father once
Described my mother as a beautiful spy
Fluent in many languages; if we found out
Where they were spoken she would prove
Invaluable. It seems to me that the baby
Who has taken to hanging around here
Might have understood her perfectly;
Almost five months old, she orates at length
And then pauses. If I had my mother's gift
I would nod and eloquently reply.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


One day Verlaine's mother saw
That a ringer had slipped in
Among the bottles where she kept
Her four unborn sons.
The bottles all looked the same
Their inhabitants staring as usual.
When Verlaine reeled home
He confessed he'd pawned one of his brothers
But, finding himself in funds again,
Had returned to redeem him
Only to find the pawnshop clerk
Offering him two labelless bottles;
He brought both of them home.
"But surely you noticed one was a girl?"
"I am the drunken glory of French poetry
And, as such, need not pay taxes
Or concern myself with infant genitalia."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The Lvoviner dreamed sometimes
Of trolleys running to Ebbets Field
When he woke up he would ask
The Prince of Fire, who'd come by
From God knows where to smoke,
What a trolley might be,
Who Ebbet was and what sort of things
Might be found in his field.
The Prince would light his short pipe,
Take between one and four puffs
And explain. "Trolleys are female trolls
Big and very strong but kindly
In the future they will make a living
By charging a small coin
To carry children long distances.
Ebbet is not a man but a sort of tree
Which bears four different fruits.
Someday the trolleys will carry children
To a field filled with leafy ebbets
Early on summer mornings and watch them
As they run around all day or climb the trees
It late afternoon, the trolleys
Will  take the sleepy children home in their arms."
His pipe finished, the Prince of Fire
Would say good night and go off
To God knows where. The Lvoviner's cat,
Stretching, might say "Do you believe him?"
"Not a word," the Lvoviner would answer,
"But to be the Prince of Fire is hard
And sometimes he needs to talk."

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


The other cat said to my dying father
"There is a trolley now which starts
From near your house in 1938
And stops at Kamianka Strumilowa around 1893
You will find coins in the left pocket
Of the suit in which they bury you;
Pay three fares; I and another
Will be travelling with you."

Monday, December 7, 2015


Since they generally had only one at a time
The cats in my father’s family weren’t named
But simply called the cat. When one wandered off
Or found religion or hopped into Death’s satchel
Another turned up, sent, from some agency
Which keeps track of such things. Once, the agency
Made an error and two cats came together.
They were called the cat and the other cat
And both made a point of meeting my father,
As if by chance, when he came home from school.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Being possessed of great style
As well as being a chthonic god
The Baron does not show surprise
When I introduce the baby to him
Though he shakes his pale head
"If I were in dire straits," he says
"It is just possible that I might wear
An orange striped stretchy
Stippled with pumpkins. But never --
No, never! -- would I also have on
Fuzzy pink socks."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Reports that a baby girl
Has been hanging around my house
Are true. The public is urged
To stay calm. My crack team of advisers
Believe she is, at for the moment,
Using her formidable powers
To learn how to sit upright
And presents no immediate danger.

Monday, November 30, 2015


          The Kraken has slept since before the world’s first beginning and has managed to stay asleep on the ocean’s floor through every beginning since, even the extravagantly loud ones and the one made mostly of screeching colored lights which Coyote made to win a wager. So long has he slept that his dreams have put on substance and walk about as men, though their way in the world is seldom easy.
          If you look at Moxon’s edition of the Collected Poems (though you never bought a copy and were never given one, one has appeared on your shelves) there is a poem about the Kraken which Alfred Tennyson wrote when he was 18 or so, in which he summarizes the Kraken’s fate which is, at the end of the world to “rise roaring to the surface” and die. Tennyson, however, died well before the Kraken, and was waylaid on his way to the afterlife by the ghost of his friend Edward Fitzgerald.
          When they thought of Tennyson, his friends usually did not first think of his being a great poet. Cigars summed him up for some; others thought of his beard, his extravagant sorrow over Hallam’s death, his temper, or his grandly fluent profanity. For Fitzgerald, the essence of Tennyson had communicated itself to the hats he wore, which were no sooner clapped on his head than they underwent peculiar changes, as if their identity had become fluid. It is a rare if pointless gift to be able to effortlessly make a silk top hat fancy itself a sombrero.
          Fitzgerald had been a noticing man, and had become a noticing ghost. He had been shadowing Tennyson’s spirit for some while and was sure it had started out bare-headed. Somehow, it had acquired a hat of even more than ordinary disreputability. “Tennyson, that is an appalling hat!”
          “Fitz? How glad I am to see you! Strange; I never imagined those as the first words I’d hear after I died.”
          “I had something much more impressive prepared but that hat has driven them out of my head.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Whether Hatif is the angel of the unseen or the unseen angel is a matter of some dispute and two senior theologians nearly had a duel over the point some years ago. It would have made a fine show – the two old men, armed with scimitars, meeting in the Plaza at the precise moment of dawn when a green thread can just be distinguished from a blue one, their great scarlet theologian capes swirling about them , the copper spurs on their high boots striking sparks from the cobbles, -- but some joyless administratrix cancelled it, invoking the authority of a stray calico cat which had reasonable cause to believe she might be God.

In any event, Hatif has never been seen in the Dark City, which some take as proof he lives there, at least when he is not brooding in empty rooms or telling trees it is safe to fall – no one will hear them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Answers to questions I should have asked
Haphazardly scattered, still abroad in the world:
A bit of daylight, lost in a mirror since August 9, 1938;
A pocket watch; some notes from The William Tell Overture;
An unclaimed silver medal; a hand setting a pebble
On top of a gravestone; a story which traveled
Forty years to find its only true audience
Silently waiting for it, alone in the crowded house
Drinking black tea from a chipped blue cup.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Silence carries a flute she never plays
She wears dark clothes and smokes cigarettes
Which materialize in her hand already lit.
Quiet, who is her much younger sister,
Has never quite mastered the trick;
She turns her wrist just so, but finds
An allen wrench there, or a Number 4 pencil.

Friday, November 20, 2015


          One way and another, I’ve written a fair number of things: poems, essays, stories (some of them complete), and more than enough chapters for a series of novels, if only most of them weren’t first chapters. I have a muse, but she grew discouraged, put her wings in storage and took a teaching job somewhere in the Midwest. We talk, sometimes.                

          Perhaps 8 or 10 people see what I write -- some of it -- since every editor on earth can find it in his heart to refuse what I submit. For a while, when I was sending lots of things off, the pace of rejection grew so furious that I began receiving rejections for things I hadn’t even written yet. This disturbed the time/space continuum, which banged on the ceiling with a broom, so we slowed down. I once earned money as a caricature of a writer, an appeals lawyer, writing (with fair competence), prose which turned to dust once a case was over.

          Say you’re a fictional character and you’ve sat down and made a cold assessment of yourself. Honesty compels you to admit that you have more melancholy charm and wit than Prince Andrei, a more seductive air than Emma Bovary, and that Sancho Panza and Chita, working together, wouldn’t make half so delightful a sidekick. In your mind, you can read the reviews, perhaps panning the book for the most part, but forced to pause when it comes to you: “But Z! What a triumph! This character leaps off the page, pummels you about the head and shoulders, drinks your whiskey, kisses your wife and runs off with  your wallet! Not to be missed!” Why would you come to me, instead of someone whose stuff makes it into print?

          This is, more or less, what I’ve been trying to say to Melanie Beck, who insists I write about her, despite my being ill-equipped and reluctant.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


When Archbishop Francois de Champvallon died
Hatif, angel of the unseen, was dispatched
To lead his soul heavenwards.
They started late because the archbishop
Had promised the Comtesse de Lesdiguieres,
His mistress, that if he died first
His ghost would stop by to see her.
Then it was raining near
And they missed some crucial turn
Or so they later insisted.  Others
Suspected liquor was a bit to blame
For the fact that eighty years later
They still were wandering around France.
No one, though, has explained how Hatif
Was elected to the National Convention
In the Year One of the Revolution
But if you look at the sketches David made
During Louis Capet's trial
You can still see an empty space
Where Hatif stands; the legislators by him
Have moved aside, leaving room for his wings.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


The dead bishops of Aachen are quiet folk
Emerging from their sepulchers late at night
To clean up the cathedral.  Done,they gather
Outside, smoking the half-used cigarettes
Tourists crushed when they entered,
And watch the stars slowly disappear.
At dawn, the bell named Leopardus
Tolls gently and the bishops fade away.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Sometimes he touches a wheel and the wheel cries out
"So angry! Where was all this anger born?"
Or his foot snubs against a rock which asks
"What is it that has made you so sad?"
But mostly he does not know he is angry
Does not know he is the very father of grief.
His anger has grown so tall, his grief so clever
He cannot see them or that they've filled his house
So he  lives
now in the attic, stowed away
Among cobwebs and mice and housegods.

Friday, November 13, 2015


A small pastel-blue box from Este Lauder
Labelled Youth-Dew Bath Oil
Packed tight with wheat-back pennies
By Lois, my mother in law,
Is somehow now mine so that
If it and the drawer I keep them in
Find ourselves in 1960 we can buy lunch
From an annoyed counterman
Leaving a tip an inch or so high.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


If once the Winter King had fur-lined robes.
Thick gloves, warm boots, they are long gone.
His clothes are rags and thin to transparency
When I was a boy I would see him sometimes
Joining the used up men who would gather
Around oil drum trash fires, flaring high
They’d shuffle aside and make space for him
As should not courtiers for their king?.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


"Your muse is worried," said Baba Yaga,
"Two years almost you've been retired
And you still have not written Paradise Lost."
"Why should I even want to? John Milton beat me to it."
"Dazhe tak, we feel you're growing slack. Even Cardea,
Goddess of door hinges, said so the other day."
"As far as I know, I am Cardea's last worshipper;
If she wants me to write Paradise Lost, tell her
She should, like a proper goddess, come tell me so
In a riddling dream which I can misunderstand
Or disguised as Madonna or Justin Bieber."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


He was named Mordechai but came to America
Where he turned into Max. His wife called him Mortrazik
And his children, the ninth of whom was my father,
Called him Poppa. I cannot call up his true ghost
Since before we met age and Parkinson's
Locked his words away and set his hand trembling.
Thus, I turn to my father's ghost who says his father
Was tall and very strong and overflowed with merriment
(Try bring merry with 9 children. Just try.)
He called my father Sock because that was his first word
And how should a baby not know his own name?
Sock believed Max was a detective. Chasing crooks?
No problem; Max had the ability to jump over a garage.
(Max had a sense of proportion; he never claimed
He could leap over a house.) Sock knew his father
Was a tailor, but where is it written that a tailor
Can't also fight crime? I like to think of my father
Watching his father gracefully jumping
Over the surprised garages of Brooklyn.

Monday, November 9, 2015


In an old French book a man’s love
Takes off its hat to say goodbye;
Why is my love not like that?
I don’t think it’s ever owned a hat
And, if it did, it’s never worn it.
Unkempt, unshaven, stumble-tongued –
It knows nothing of good manners
(I wouldn’t be surprised if it drinks, too)

I could, I suppose, buy my love a hat
A jaunty one, with a tall feather --
But what if it then grew vain
And insisted I rig it out as a musketeer
Complete with cape and high boots
A  tabard and, of course, a musket?
Not even in dreams does wisdom say
Teach your love the use of firearms.

Friday, November 6, 2015


It feels brave to sail a ghostly galleon
Across purple seas but the day comes
When the owner wants profit, not romance;
The market in gypsy ribbons is depressed
There are few buyers for hair like moldy hay.
Years ago such ships in lean times
Might ferry ghosts across the Channel.
Frenchmen – you can look this up –
Used to itch to leave France when they died;
Caesar saw their ghosts crowding the sides
Of vessels that sat low in the water.
What will our deceased wives say
If we come back after so many years
Without money, without songs,
Our pockets stuffed only with ribbons?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


On the advice of Dame Frances Yates
I built a memory palace years ago
(A small one; more a villa, really)
Stocked with symbolic statues,
Enigmatic pictures, weapons, geegaws,
And instruments I cannot play –
All intended to refresh my recollection
Of the vast stores of information
I intended to acquire. (My childhood
Was a series of flags, a flutophone
And a gaudily dressed toy bear).
When my house vanished I moved
Into the palace's old stables
Where someone -- not me; I can’t drive –
Had abandoned a Knox Runabout
With three flat tires. The palace itself
Has been much abused; cats and ninjas,
For no reason I can understand,
Broke in and, apparently disheartened
By the paltry memories I'd left,
Sanded some down and repainted them
Sold or gave away many others,
Dragged in things that caught their fancy
And rearranged everything. I am pretty sure
I was not actually the criminal mastermind
Known as the Dreadlord Zircon 
The summer after fourth grade and yet
I recall so clearly the highlights of his career
And --if the statue of Trismegistos isn't lying –
Exactly where my gang and I hid our loot.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


The old ghost came to my father
Because a dog had told him help,
If anywhere, would be there.
My father was sympathetic
But would die in a few days
Nothing for it but to make the ghost
A rabbi, a Chinese rabbi,
Seeking relief for his flooded province
From Zhu Yujian, the last Ming emperor.
The road was long; the emperor
And the rabbi were dead when they met
The rabbi took his place with the ghosts
My father had sent to make a court
For the emperor's abandoned spirit.

Monday, November 2, 2015


No one watches;
Quickly now – slip across!
Look for a ruined imaret
Glittering with blue tiles;
If it suddenly rears up
Whole as once it was
The lands debatable
Are at your back.
Find a new face;
Assume an old name .

Thursday, October 29, 2015


The boat you launched
On the river of shadows
What became of it?

Your logic was so strong
Your wit so sharp
Why did they always fail you?

That mystery you found
When did you know
It was not yours to solve?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


It was too heavy for my chest
So I put my heart in a wagon,
Gave it a tin cup, sent it begging.
Now I find it driving a black car
With vanity plates.
What foolish authorities
Decided it deserved a license?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


You were dead so when the thunder
Asked me where you were I shrugged
And said you were in Kamionka Strumilowa
Some years before you were born
Teaching your father -- he was 10 or so --
The jokes he'd tell you when you were a boy.

You were dead so when the tree which nodded to you
Even when there was no wind said "Where is he?"
I spread my fingers wide and said you had gone undercover
Cleverly eluding the combined forces
Of Ming the Merciless and Dr. Destructo
And had found work as an invisible detective.

You were dead so when you asked me where I was
I pulled my beard and said "In the great boat of morning
Three cubits from the stern there is an oar
Which no one pulls. There I used to sit
But there's no telling where I've gotten to now."

Monday, October 26, 2015


"I remember," the old muse said,
"The first time the moon was called
As witness to a poet's love;
The excitement! The daring!
Others had picked leaves
Or thrown stones (What says passion
Better than a well-aimed rock?)
But to insolently summon the moon--
I half thought the poet would die
Right then. She thought so too
And braced herself against a tree.

But the moon was pleased
And raised her voice when the sea
Was minded to drown you all."

Thursday, October 22, 2015


I was born in an oven, says the Baker’s Man,
And I fear no rakehell nor hellrake
Nor pitch-pine Jack. I will go hellward
At my own pace, strolling and nodding
To the dotterels and dastards on the way
Munching on a fresh-baked loaf.
Oh, the cats will rejoice when I am gone
But the whores will weep, by the clock,
For a hour and seventeen minutes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Neither good nor bad angels attend the desangelado
Who must, if he is wise, leave men and mostly live
In the company of cats. Among the cats he will find
Angels who never delivered their messages
And now try to sell them, centuries past their due dates.
Nineveh!"  urges one; "Check the oven!"
Cris another. The last time I drank with the desangelados
There was an elderly angel who shrank from my eye.
I suspect he knows the answer I should have given
To a question which was posed to me in 1975.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


The locusts, it is known, have no king
Cats, however, have one, and also
A prince-in-waiting, a regent,
A power behind the throne,
A power beside the throne,
A power beneath the throne,
Three pretenders, a shadow cabinet
And an Empress Dowager.

It is hard for an ambitious locust
No king to disobey; no god
Whose existence he denies.

Monday, October 19, 2015


"But you make no sense!" I said
"That is for me; I am a poem
And wish to be written.
You call yourself poet;
I offer the usual terms."
"You woke me at
3 a.m.
I charge time and a half for poems
Who go prowling when only wolves
Damaged souls and basilisks are awake."
"Done. See that you write me plain;
I think I am a sonnet but that
I leave to your judgment.
The first two elisions are free?"
"As always; this is a union shop."