Thursday, April 30, 2015


So I was listening to a set of cds called Music That Won The War"which is mostly standard World War II songs, like The White Cliffs of Dover  and Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer  and I hear, for the first time, Carmen Miranda singing Chattanooga Choo Choo, mostly in Spanish but with the odd bit of English flying through. Once in a while, she sings in something which is neither English nor Spanish; the chorus, I presume in desperation, tries to get up a football cheer, going "boom chick-a-boom chick-a-boom chick-a-boom." Since I know the makers of the set wouldn't lie to me I can only assume this song drove Hitler to despair. In a crash program, thousands of recordings were pressed of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing Three Little Fishies. She was fearsome but no match for Miranda, and the Axis was doomed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


It has been some years since God used
Public transportation so His assumption
That a nickel in the turnstile would still suffice
Is not unreasonable. For most of 1939
He commuted to a coat factory on
West 39th Street
Which Max, my grandfather, owned. If Max knew
One of the tailors was God he never mentioned it
To my father. My father could be absent-minded
But he probably would have remembered this.
Still, I rather wish I had thought to ask him.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


In dreams I can drive
Not cars but horse carts
My hands easy on the reins
Talking to the horses
Who know all my stories
But listen anyway.
In the cart behind me
The cat-headed man dozes
Holding still his crook'd staff.
Some debt is between us
But which way it runs
I have long forgotten.
If I asked the Lvoviner
He might be able to tell me
But he is a long four years dead
And liable to be cranky.

Monday, April 27, 2015


When not dancing the life from faithless men
The willis occupy their time as best they may.
Some turn scholar, learning to speak to goblins or
Rusalkas or troglodytes, or discussing with kobolds
The finer points of occult mineralogy.
Others cultivate plants or a languid manner
Or spend days reading every page of scholarly journals.
Around 1500 one of them became a discalced nun
From sheer boredom. On visiting days God
Would talk to her from the other side of a grating
But, though she enjoyed His company, she never
Even thought of believing in Him. The other nuns,
Clubbing together their poverty, purchased her a soul
Which she kept in its original wrapping until 1945.
Why she passed it on then I have never learned
But I promise I will tell you if I do.

Friday, April 24, 2015


When the apostrophe can no longer
Keep itself aloft it drifts down
And finds work as a comma.
When times are hard, it curls up
And calls itself a period. The pay
Is miserable but there are always
Jobs for periods.

Exclamation marks think they know everything
But age makes their backs crooked
Until they can only question.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


The woman I was used to seeing in the poem
Had left, taking only three commas and
A dented apostrophe. Another had moved in
But did not expect to be there long.
Her poem was being redone. The other inhabitants
Tried to pretend nothing had changed.
"It is just as I told you," God told me later
"People never like where you put them.
Keats  -- nice fellow, Keats -- originally hired
A tall, thin, nearsighted girl to appear in
La Belle Dame Sans Merci but Rossetti told her
She was born to be the Blessed Demoiselle
Since then, there have been at least twelve Belle Dames
Two of them, and by no means the worst, male."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Having shot himself with the Gironi airgun
Lewis died not far from the
Platte River.
Clark and Sacagawea wrapped the body
In a tattered buffalo robe and buried it
On a night when the moon was too worn
To make accusations. York and Charbonneau,
The old voyageur, worked until dawn
Making a new Lewis from corncobs and clay.
When there was just enough daylight
To tell a blue and green thread apart, York
Wrote "porquoi?" on the simulacrum's right foot
While Chabonneau wrote "porquoi non?" on the left.
Most felt the new Lewis was an improvement
And were sorry when, a few years later, it too
Found the burden of being Meriwether Lewis
Too much for anyone to have to bear.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Young women -- often Marthe -- were his favorite models. He painted them in a hat, in a turban, with a pink collar, with a seagull, blending into a landscape, clustered in an interior, walking, seated, leaning over a basket of fruit.
Bonnard: Shimering Color, pp. 72-73 (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 2000)

It wasn't easy doing all those things at once
Though everyone liked seeing me in my pink collar,
Turban and hat. Where Bonnard found his sea gulls
I have never known. They were strangely tame
But had eyes too considering for birds
And when they screeched they seemed embarassed;
You could almost see them wishing for quotemarks
As if "graw!" and "ankhh ankhh!" were being said
Under constraint. So, on one of my posing days
When I was blending, clustered, walking, seated
While leaning over a basket of fruit and Bonnard
Asked me to balance a wine glass on my nose
And hum the Marseilles, I looked at the seagull
For inspiration. He shook his head slightly
That was enough. "M. Bonnard! It has been a pleasure
To model for a man Henri Matisse will some day
Certify as a great painter but I fear we must part;
What you want is beyond human endurance. Perhaps
You should see if the zoo has a trained seal
Who could use ten francs for two hours posing."

Monday, April 20, 2015


Need, if sufficient, or faith unfathomable
Can conjure up God, but not for long
The weight of thinking about forever
Is too much and God winks back
To wherever He is or isn't when not
Being conjured into being.

                                                  Some few
Don't conjure but, looking around,
See two trees, a surly cat, a bus
Whose driver is disputing the fare
God is offering for a ride downtown.

Friday, April 17, 2015


Rebuilding the pleasure quarter
Workmen found a god sleeping
Under the remains of a table
In the ruins of a large tea house.
It was felt a god was exactly
What the quarter needed
And negotiations were commenced.
He was quite small and slept
For days after a minor miracle
Nor could he keep straight
That a whore's prayer
Does not wait for an answer.
After the war the quarter
Was shut down. Some say
The god was dead by then.
Others insist they've seen him
Drunk and living rough. The whores
Insist he lives. Their prayers,
As usual, go without answers.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


The undersized boy
In the great church thinks
He is there to slip a coin
Maybe two out of the box
Not knowing the church
And most of the congregation
Will not survive the war
So that the colored windows,
The marble pillars, the pretty girl
Flirting with the sacristan --
Along with the fat priest
Who said nothing when he saw
A small hand with a coin --
Exist now only because the boy
Grew up and one day
Gave them all to his daughters
In a story the youngest one
Writes down when she is old.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Most literary histories of the time will tell you:
Wordsworth’s talent died forty years before him
But only lately have the details of its last days
Begun to emerge. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote
A detailed letter to Coleridge which was found
In the summer of 2006 by a scholar cataloging
Coleridge’s opium visions who found a dream
Which had gone unread since it was deposited,
Mislabelled, in the Bodleian. In a wavering hand
(Yes, Dorothy drank; what of it?) the letter relates that
Late in the troubled year of 1810, Wordsworth
Had gone off on one of his compulsive walks
His long legs scissoring 40 miles or more a day
His talent, which had always a weak chest,
Could not keep up. It turned back, knocking
At the door just as dusk was gathering its forces
And the night birds were taking up their posts.
It was feverish and almost delirious speaking sometimes
In the German which Wordsworth had failed to master.
As far as she could tell, Dorothy said, it thought
It had offended the North Star der Nordstern;
And begged her to apologize for him. She and Anne Vincy
(Sometimes spelled Vincey), her maid, put it to bed
But later moved it to Thompson’s Castle of Indolence
Which was almost unvisited then; the National Trust
Would not refurbish it and open it to visitors
For a century and a half. They built a fire; a country doctor
Bled it and purged it but warned them against hope.
On the third night, with Dorothy dozing in a chair,
It sat bold upright and cried out in a loud voice
Words Dorothy tried later to remember but could not.
It sank back dead. It’s body has not been found;
It is presumed the two women, perhaps with the doctor,
Arranged a private burial in the castle’s boneyard.

When he came back from his tour the women
Told Wordsworth nothing of their failed efforts.
More, they did their best to make him think
His talent lived still. They would tell him
They’d seen it watching the sun set over the water
Or making a clumsy drawing of a cat. In time
He stopped asking about it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Great jags of rock there were and scree
And broken shingles though surely no house
Had ever stood there. Unfriendly shapes,
Dimly seen, darted in the water -- such things
As may feed a sleeping kraken waiting the world's end
So he can wake and roar and rise and die.
All that is worst of me sat looking in the dark water
Not angry, for a change, but only sad and tired
I sat  beside him; he seemed too wretched to be feared
There was nothing to say; the debts between us
Were ones I had left unpaid.

                                            Every wicked urge
Has his own wicked urge who follows him about
Tempting him to commit good deeds.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Come January I would unbutton my coat
And, walking slow against the wind, go see
What might be new with
Lake Michigan.
Since I seldom wore hats my ears
Cried out against me, but who listens to ears?
The sidewalks rang in the cold and I thought
“Winter and I understood each other.”
When the night wind speaks these days
The language is one I no longer know.

Friday, April 10, 2015


If the nine of them were a baseball team
Aunt Sadie would be the wily pitcher
Shaking off the signs her mother gives
From the dugout. Her speedball, true, is
Nothing special, but her screwballs
And her deceptive curves break
At the last moment, gleefully arcing
Just within the strike zone’s corners
So the ball slams time after time
Into Aunt Doris’s glove. Sadie’s so good
The outfielders are bored. Uncle Joe
Seems asleep in right field; my father, in left,
Is carefully imagining a game to be played
Fifty years hence, unless it rains.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


One of the perquisites of being a priest
Of Cardea, goddess of door hinges,
Is that she makes house calls. Spend years
Leaning to pronounce Huitzilopochtli
And sacrifice thousands of prisoners
With your Aztec flint knife until your wrist aches
And your dreams are filled with beating hearts;
The Sun will not even remember your name.
Serve Cardea and when your door squeaks
There she is, with an oilcan and a screwdriver.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


A week before the end, Franz Schubert
Wrote to his friend von Schober
To say that dying was boring him.
Did von Schober happen to have
Any new books by James Fennimore Cooper
Or, indeed, anything good to read?
If so, Schubert's brother could pick up
Things left at Frau von Bogner's coffeehouse.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Since Li Po died the Moon
Has not been the same.
She wanders; she repeats herself;
She rides to market
On her tattered broom
As if she were an ordinary witch.

Since Li Po died his shadow
Has rarely been sober
Three cats have made a pact
To support him. They bring him
Green wine and fish heads.

Since Li Po died Li Po
Has meant to comfort the Moon
To visit his shadow
To thank the cats
But keeps being distracted.

Friday, April 3, 2015


I grew up among virtuous folk --
A mixed fortune. My own virtues
By and large, are not natural
But simply surplusage
From the people around me.
So much had they I think 
They never knew a small amount
Would attach itself to me
And I too young to brush it off.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


On his last voyage Columbus
Took a trumpet player along
Perhaps to play for the Emperor
If China was finally found
Where it should have been
If Mexico wasn’t there instead.

When I read of this I thought
Musicians and ghosts both wander
And surely the trumpeter
Made his way to the Emperor
Though after many trials
Taking gigs along the way

Following jazz up the Mississippi
Along the St. Lawrence, then getting lost
And following it back down
Finding at last the hidden passage
By which the waters of the Amazon
Mingle with the Yang Tse.

All this I meant to write about
But my father’s friend, Zhu Youijan
The last Ming Emperor, was not
Feeling musical. The trumpeter
Stood on the shore watching
The poem pull away without him.