Friday, May 29, 2015


Not easy to erase a hel-rune!
Lop off his head with your sword
And he'll go find another
Waiting patiently in the sedge
Its eyes brimming with pale light.
His ashes, thrown in the river,
Will be collected by efts and elvers;
Wet footprints will cross your dreams.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Every empty theater's ghosts believe that they
Were once the Lord Chamberlain's Men.
On a ruined stage at
midnight try whispering
"Hoi! Burbage; art deaf? -- that was your cue!"
Some burly shade is sure to conjure himself up
Out of rust and cobwebs,out of echoes,
The memory of a prop sword at his hip.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Dead people are singing for me
And in French which, despite
Seven long years of classes,
I cannot understand. (Still,
If ever seized by foreign agents
And smuggled into Occupied
I will be able to contact the Resistance
So long as their password is
Pardon me; do you have cherry tobacco?
Pardonnez-moi; avez-vous tabac
Avec l'air de ceries?

                                      But let us
Get back to the singing dead folk
(Since they are French I guess
I should be returning to our muttons
But I don't like mutton and, once parted,
I would not have the unwisdom
To return). The next room's computer
Decided I wanted to hear Gallic suavity
Rejecting my choice of Brahms'
Double Concerto as too gloomy
For a Sunday morning in spring.
It irks me that it was right.

                                          How pleased
The dead French seem! One of them,
Backed by a full orchestra and a chorus
Of shrill-voiced soubrettes, is now
Singing "Ramona," which my mother
Used to sing, though not in French,
With words she'd make up on the fly.
She had to make do, though,
Without soubrettes. My father
Actually knew the correct lyrics
But preferred the ones she invented.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


"Still, O'Nolan never forgot about eternity."
-- Myles Before Myles, John Wyse Jackson, editor; Chapter 1

No truer word was ever spoken!
I can well remember crawling
Over the rooftops at dawn
And O'Nolan caroling out
"Don't you ever wonder
What Eternity is doing now?
Is he still, do you think,
The laughing boy we knew
Or has Time, his old enemy,
Made him lean and sober?"
Once, when someone refused
To loan him six groschen
O'Nolan's eyes were pinpoints
"Eternity," he said, "would never
On the worst day ever he had
Have treated me so!"

In the old days I was never
As close to Eternity as O'Nolan
Though we smiled when we met;
I was too shallow for him.
There was also bad blood
Between him and Infinity who is
Some sort of cousin of mine,
Though many times removed.
When O'Nolan died, though,
Eternity gave me a lift home
From the services.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Being on a train reminds me of angels
Not here, not there, both and neither.
It is just a story that the revolted ones
Populate Hell. All and none of them rebelled;
For convenience, they use different names
Depending on their location. In Heaven
Michael is Satan's indomitable foe. In Hell
He has a pied-a-terre, calls himself Beelzebub,
 And is Satan's trustworthy lieutenant.

Two rows away, Schrödinger’s cat
Is free in a woman’s lap and in his box
And lolling in the seat across the aisle.
Schrödinger, poor fellow, is dead. His will
Is in a language no one but cats can read.

Friday, May 22, 2015


When no one is there to listen
The old tale stirs and begins
To tell itself. Small things change;
Surely the hero used to avoid
Such preposterous hats?
And had he always loved
The second girl? No matter;
He has always loved her now.
Prison, though, has not improved her
And her tendency to hover
Two inches above the floor
Is, on the whole, unnerving.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


You know how it is; 4 a.m. and an indefatigable bird
Has decided this is the very time to pour out
His profuse strain of unpremeditated art
On the river birch beneath my window.
There's nothing for it but to shrug on a robe
And struggle downstairs to try to write.
"Muse!" I say, "There is a poem I wish to make
About Nathaniel Johnson, Samuel's brother,
About whom almost nothing is known except
That he died at 24, perhaps by his own hand.
"Sorry," the Muse says. She is the very old one,
Filling in for my regular muse, who is on vacation
Wandering in
Calabria. The old muse offers me half
Her cheese sandwich. "What of Peter, Erasmus' brother?"
She says. "I think I could inspire a sonnet on him."
I refuse; we compromise on Stanislaus Joyce
Who, she says, used to take her dancing in

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Near Trieste there is an old entrance to Hades
Once popular with Romans but little-used now.
Stanislaus Joyce, stranded in the city
By his brother’s destiny, had entertained himself
By tracing the way there on maps he would make
Late at night and burn before going to sleep.
After he died, he haunted for a while the school
Where he’d long taught Irish-flavored English
To hapless Serbs and Italians, who loved him.
Many of them died in the war; their ghosts
Importuned him to come along with them
Down the Timavo River to where it feeds
Into the Styx. He hadn’t the heart to say no

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


The great detective Darkness Visible
Would occasionally give small sums
To St. Anthony who is the patron
Of those who seek. It bothered him
That he could never see Anthony plain
But just a certain shimmer of light
Which would accept his donations.
Later, seldom at a convenient time,
Anthony's pig would come trotting by
With a tax receipt in his mouth. Invited
To share a beer, the pig would accept.

Monday, May 18, 2015


The fog enveloped me and wrote an address
But the letters ran and eluded all efforts
To capture them, scattering down the alleys
And up the shaded oops. I'd have been returned
Marked "undeliverable," save for my mother who,
Not knowing much about me, charitably saw
To my deliverance, on a spring day, five minutes
Before the circus, just across the street,
Began its afternoon show. What better music
For an entrance than a steam calliope
Roaring out "March of the Gladiators?"

Friday, May 15, 2015


The bear I wanted to be when I grew up,
Before I grew up and turned out to be me,
Comes by sometimes, usually on a Sunday,
With coffee and fresh
Boston Creme donuts.
He can do things I can't -- ride a bike, juggle --
But does them now just to keep his hand in;
He bought the circus years ago. When he dances
With some spangle-tights girl  he wears a tuxedo.
I intended none of this but he has no wish
To live in a forest. The closest he comes these days
Is when he walks his dog -- a spaniel -- in the park.
My totem animal, also a bear, does not trust him.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Once, Hephaistos Amphigueus' little brass goblets
Would fill themselves and walk about the table
Politely pausing before guests. These days
The god mostly avoids men, living among apes,
Still grateful that they nursed him back to health
When he was thrown headlong from the sky.
The goblets, though, remain. When Baba Yaga's hut
Strolls through Heaven on its long chicken legs
The goblets follow, thinking they've found their mother.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Baba Yaga, bored, has been reading about herself
“Did you know,” she asks Perrun, who drops by
To talk about the weather, “that I am often associated
With certain types of mushrooms, a type of cake
And also a pear? I am kin to evil Czech wood nymphs
As well as a slow-moving Lithuanian sort of elf.
I appear in a list of deities in Mikhail Lomonosov’s
Great work Russiiskaia Grammatika
There are, it says, sometimes three of me; all
Called Baba Yaga. One of them is sometimes kind
Which one do you suppose I am?” Perrun says
“Not the kind one, I think; I have been here an hour
And you have not offered me any food; no tea
No mushrooms, no pear, and certainly no cake.”

Monday, May 11, 2015


The ghost of an idea leaves its reflection
In three poems. One of them survives
The night on which it was written.
Later, inaccurately translated,
It becomes a proverb. In time,
The right words will turn up;
There is no need to hurry.

Friday, May 8, 2015


In time the poem may conjure
A poet and get itself written
But sometimes the poet
Refuses to appear or tries
To break the poem to her will
Or splashes paint over it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Rimbaud escaped the poems
Besieging him in
But found them waiting
At Java,
Aden, Harrar.
From spite, he ignored them.
Some of them linger still;
The more sinister muses
Always seem to have a few
Tucked away somewhere.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


It took Borges less than half Eternity
To catalogue the Infinite Library
Even allowing for coffee breaks,
Alcohol breaks, cigarette breaks,
Afternoon sitting in the sun breaks
And long walks with Pierre Menard
And the Tichborne Claimant.
“I could have done it quicker,” he told
A seminar of angels who, in his honor,
Conjured themselves out of pauses,
Questions and respectful silences,
“Had Homer and Milton not assisted
But they would not be put off.”
 “Are they,” a seraph signed,
More blind, then, than you?”
“No,” said Borges, “but I am blind
In Spanish; the work goes faster.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


I knew Baba Yaga, the old Muse said,
When she was young and fat and kind;
This was in the old days when everything
Was undetermined and Excalibur did not know if he
Was to be a sword or a man or perhaps a bird
Coasting idly on his green-flecked wings.
The kraken was wide awake those days
The soul of every party, not dreaming
He would spend his life in dreams.

Monday, May 4, 2015


Afraid of seeming foolish
I rarely persisted in my folly
And so avoided wisdom.
Just as well. Who knows
If I'd have liked being wise?

Friday, May 1, 2015


I wrote a poem once about the angels
Who casually walk in and out of stories
My father wrote. They seem different
From the ones I’ve known – quieter,
More reflective, much better at listening.
Though it isn’t always mentioned, I believe
Many of them, like God, have a dog.
Late at night, the angels and their dogs
Go downstairs and take each other walking.
My angels resent playing utility.
When necessary, some cats or a shadow
Usually show up help me, or the odd saint
Looking to supplement her pension.