Tuesday, March 31, 2015


The last Ming Emperor Zhu Youijan
Has his court in the shadow of Coal Hill.
This fact was not much known in the West
Until my father (fl. 1926-2011)
Made his way back with the interviews
He’d done of ghosts who’d drifted,
One by one, to visit the Emperor until
They found they constituted a court.
One of the lesser officials was or is –
It is not quite clear which -- a rabbi
Who, not realizing he’d died on the road,
Arrived to petition the Emperor
For relief for his congregation. Their synagogue
And homes were swept off by the Wei --
A usually peaceful river in an angry mood.
The Emperor has mulled over his response
Since 1647, three years after he died.
To occupy his time, the rabbi has become
A deputy in the shadow ministry of works.
He has an ingenious plan for flood control
For when the fickle mandate of heaven
Bids Zhu Youijan live and reign once more.
Meanwhile, when my father -- a ghost himself now –
Visits the Court, the rabbi puts his scrolls aside
And translates for the Emperor.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Having lived among traitors I can assure you
That between treasons they are the kindest of men
Penniless, alone in a strange place, seek them out.
If there is no profit for them in your loss
They will drink with you, teach you songs, listen to you
And, when you have grown fat again and your secrets
Have some value, one of them --the one the others
Never suspected -- may sell them all to you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


My grandfather Max was quite religious
Until he got married, my aunts tell me.
My grandmother, though, had her doubts.
At some point her doubts apparently decided.
They actually liked him very much better
And began following him about everywhere.
At the very height of the busy season
Max would have to work almost without stop
He and the other tailors would snatch brief naps
On the long cutting tables.  While he slept
His wife's doubts purred quietly on his chest.
Deserted by her doubts, Esther, my grandmother,
Bitterly decided to keep the most kosher kitchen
On all of
Snediker Avenue. It got to the point
That rabbis sometimes called to consult her
On abstruse points of dietary law.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Since the first of them, in November, 1504,
Pulled a stuborn thorn from a saint's paw
All Hulls, even the most unwilling ones,
Have gone the quickest route to Heaven.
(You thought that all saints were human?
 Believe me, if God becks a finger at you
It is worse than useless to tell Him
That you're a performing bear)
Accordingly, when the stonemason
George Washington Hull died much too young
Of acute silicosis there were no lines for him
Nor any papers to fill out in triplicate.There was
However, his first wife, though he'd been married just once
To a woman who was still living and not even ill.

He had told Mary and Margaret, his daughters,
Stories of finding Sabrina, a woman of the wild
From the most ferocious corner of untamed Ohio
And traveling back to civilization with her
On the way, their adventures multiplied
But Sabrina was dauntless and the wilderness
Always greatly respects dauntless women.
No canyon was to wide to be leapt across
No mountain too tall to tunnel through.
Rattlesnakes bit their own tails when they saw her
So they could roll more swiftly from her path;
If they thought she looked glum, grey wolves
Would gather around her at night to tell her jokes;
The Great Midwestern Sabertooth Armadillo himself
Lost two falls out of three when they thumb-wrestled.

Even in stories the Hulls have impeccable morals;
If George was going to spend years crossing Ohio
There was nothing for it but to marry Sabrina
(Mary was skeptical about the officiating tree shrew
But her father insisted it had been lawfully ordained
By a breakaway faction of the Southern Missouri Synod)
Though Margaret asked repeatedly, he never said
Just what had finally happened to Sabrina
He simply looked solemn and said that story
Could only be told at exactly the right moment.

But he’d coughed himself out of his body
And, as a Hull, popped into Heaven
Before the right moment came.
And there was Sabrina, coming in too.
They tried to stop her at the door
The quota for fictional people, they said, was filled
"Whether I am real or not, I was married
To George Washington Hull so I am Sabrina Hull
And Hulls go direct -- no detours  -- to Heaven"
(This was before Lucy Stone had discovered
That a woman might perfectly well keep her name
No matter who she married, so don't blame me
For my strict adherence to demonstrable truth).
A woman who has heard the jokes of wolves
Is hard to gainsay; when she is a mistress of logic too
There is no just no stopping her.

             Of course,
The other Mrs. Hull showed up some years later
But, though sometimes sniffing at tree-shrew marriages,
Life in Ohio had taught her how to share.)

Monday, March 23, 2015


No one quite knows how Baba Yaga
Crept in among the gods, but there she is
Ask her and she will say she has simply
Returned to her former station
After her long spell as a sorceress.
"It ain't uncommon among us gods, " she says,
To spend a life or two down with the mortals;
It improves the breed, you know." She leers
Companionably and puffs at the clay pipe
Clenched between her horrible teeth.
Her carnivorous chicken-legged house
Used to snort when she said such things
But she has lately bought its silence
With shining promises of aluminum siding.

Friday, March 20, 2015


My heart hung all upon a silken dress
But I found the poet Yeats before me.
So I wandered, lonely as a cloud
Only to find I wasn't alone at all;
Damne if Wordsworth wasn't there as well
And, with all the impudence in the world,
Was also wandering lonely as a cloud!
And so it went the whole time
Byron was going no more a roving
Just when I meant to, and by the light
Of the very same moon I'd picked out!
To the library then, planning to take
All knowledge for my province
Only to have Francis Bacon -- Francis Bacon
Of all men!  --had popped in ahead of me
And taken all knowledge for his province.
Even in sleep there was no escape
When I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls
Alfred Bunn was in the bed already.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Meeting yourself is meeting death, it seems.
Your reflection nods at you sadly;
You ride towards yourself at twilight
Wearing a green hat your wife has bought
But not yet given you? Order your affairs
Your time, I'm told, is almost up.
But why should this be so? Of myself
I am extremely fond. When abroad
I buy gifts to surprise myself at home.
My fixed intent, if I and I should meet,
Is to not lead myself down shadowed paths
To the last of all homes but to cry
"Well met at last! Come-- some coffee? My treat."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


It was St. Patrick's Day and I decided
To look up online the etymology
Of the word "wharfinger."
(I knew what a wharfinger is:
The man or woman who runs a wharf)
But the computer was puzzled
Did I, perhaps, mean "wharfing god?"
It happens I have for some time past
Been actively recruiting for a pantheon
Now I apparently need a god who wharfs
If you when you woke up you were (a) a god
And (b) had the ability to wharf
Applications and brief essays should be sent in
(Real gods will know where to send them).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Going to my old office would be, I suspect, as close to being a ghost as I can come while remaining alive. Though a serious attempt would be made by some to make me feel welcome there would be some startlement at seeing me by daylight, From the visits I used to get there from the superannuated and from those who had found new jobs, the overwhelming sense people would have would be discomfort -- they would be where they belonged but I would not. If I didn’t leave after a few minutes, an exorcist might have to be called in. This would actually be a fair motive for visiting; the office I recall could only be improved by men in heavy robes with bells and books and candles chanting and processing up and down and bidding restless spirits depart to their appointed homes and trouble the living no more

Monday, March 16, 2015


That angels used to take my father flying
Has never surprised me. Most likely
They enjoyed his company. As an adult
He would recall these flights with pleasure
Despite the fact that the angels -- known, as a class
To be generally early or late -- would sometimes
Fly hastily across
Brooklyn, fling my father
Back into his bed and then rush off.
Years after his death, travelling through the seventeenth century,
I met a Spanish nun, Sor Maria
Magdalena de Agreda.
To my surprise, she had met my father
And remembered him. The same angels who flew with him
Used to take her from
Seville to New Mexico.
She wasn't quite sure why. She sometimes preached
To some puzzled Indians, none of whom understood Spanish.
One night, she told me, the angels had my father with them
He was seven; his hair kept flopping over his eyes
The angels had lost track of time and then decided
It would be faster to get him home to 1933
By way of 1648. She is not the first I've met
Who cannot help wishing I was my father.

Friday, March 13, 2015


It wasn’t the demons; the neighborhood
Was used to demons, rioting in the bars
Or being noisily sick in the alleys.
Demons told jokes. Not good ones, true;
But the angels never seemed even to smile.
A barmaid told me she’d heard them laughing
I doubted this. Drink never made them happy
They’d won the war; God was on their side;
When had they stopped dancing?

Thursday, March 12, 2015


All dissatisfied, a trumpet tune
Walks through the sodden woods
Complaining, its hands in its pockets.
It is joined by an organ tune
Which, more morose, has its hands
Thrust even deeper in its pockets.
They continue until, coming on a clearing,
The trumpet tune bows; the organ tune curtsies
And they join in a galliard. A harmonium
Which Bach himself set high in a fir tree
Suddenly adds an accompaniment

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Once in a while my dreams take me
To a small village, whose narrow streets
Are filled with low wooden buildings.
Folks nod at me in the marketplace;
At times I'll nap in the bath house
Where the ghosts make space for me.
Never have I doubted where I was:
My grandmother's much-missed home town --
The only place, she felt, which did things right.
But now I find she came from a large town
With wide streets and gleaming bridges
Where statues looked out on the river.
There were more statues in the opera house
(The opera house? Why would a shtetl have an opera house?)
Including a bust of John Gielgud's great-grandmother.
The bath house ghosts know of her town
"You're much better off here," they tell me.

Monday, March 9, 2015


You thought an enormous chair
Would just fill that empty corner
But the men who bring it to your house
Are strangely obsequious. One of them,
You think, tugs his forelock as he leaves.
In time, courtiers conjure themselves up;
You find yourself giving audiences
And practicing the common touch.
Before you know it, half of
Has fallen to your troops. Your mother,
Long thought to be dead, turns up
A leader of the anti-you underground.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Before he was a baby the ghost of Marcellus,
Nephew of the Emperor Augustus
Was several centuries old. (We know this is true
Since Vergil reports Aeneas and the shade of Anchises
Saw Marcellus in Hades, long before the birth of
How tedious it must have been, waiting to be born
And then to live but nineteen years! In Hades,
Despite the terrible post-war overcrowding,
They didn't even bother to relet his rooms.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


After every Ragnarok the lesser gods
Emerge from the foxholes to set things right
Mercy lies slain? Very well; Carnea,
The Roman goddess of doorhandles,
Will now be taking her prayers.
Great Odin no longer patronizes war?
One-eyed Amatsumara will serve.
He is also a mechanic; henceforth
The Valkyries will gather the dead
On carnivorous motorcycles.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


The third expert expressed doubt
That the soul in the box
Was Paganini’s. “Too small,”
He said, “and not shiny.
When we gave it a violin
It didn’t twitch an eyebrow
Or pretend interest. Probably
The work of some local botcher;
In the early 19th century,
After all, Europe was filled
With unscrupulous artisans
Willing, if their price was met,
To make anything, no questions asked.
Why, in my own father’s family
There was an uncle who,
During the late Risorgimento
Lost his soul or had it stolen
And came home with one jerry-built
From copper tubes and spiderwebs.”

Monday, March 2, 2015


The mechanical boy one morning
Began adding a small "wr"
At the bottom of each page
 He was not sure why:
The words seemed anchored now.
The magician watched closely
And, in the evening gave the boy
A card which said "William Rice."
Three days later the magician
Introduced himself: "Halabi."
"William Rice" said William.