Tuesday, June 30, 2015


In every known universe, Samuel Johnson,
Walking at twilight with James Boswell,
Gives a large stone a mighty kick
Thus refuting Bishop Berkeley's theory
Of the material world's illusory nature.
In only fourteen of those universes
Does the rock cry out "Oi there!
Kick me again and I'll paste you one!"
In only three of them does Johnson reply
"Petrinaceous threats, Sir, neither daunt nor deter me!"
In only one does everything end in drinks and laughter.

Monday, June 29, 2015


According to the records, George III's ghost
Was first spotted marching with suffragettes
In early 1904. Standing outside
Buckingham Palace
He inaudibly chanted "Votes for women now!"
And unsuccessfully tried to chain himself to the railings.
After that, he became almost a fixture at the protests
Usually appearing in full court dress and powdered wig
But sometimes as an old disheveled man, almost blind,
With a ragged beard and wearing a nightshirt
In a long-surpressed portion of her memoirs
Christabel Pankhurst wrote that she and her friend,
The medium Isopel Graham-Berners, conjured him up
At an otherwise uneventful Mayfair Terrace seance
And he resisted all Graham-Berner’s efforts to dispell him.
"Too," she wrote, "he looked so sad with his blue goggly eyes
That we would have felt it cruel to call in the exorcists.
He and my mother sat for hours in the kitchen
While she read suffragist pamphlets to him
To this day, I'm not sure if he believed in the cause
Or just wanted, for once, to be on the rebels' side;
But perhaps I do him an injustice."
Whitehall still rebuffs
Requests for its files on the king's posthumous career.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


After his tempestuous affair with Madame Seostris
Darkness Visible, the great detective, seldom slept
Throwing himself into his work with such energy
That he began solving crimes before they were committed.
He had no dog in those days and only the shadow
Of a cat that his arch-nemesis had given him
To seal a temporary truce when they had allied
In their desperate bid to cross the
Slough of Despond
In time to prevent the return of the bone-white Lost Dauphin
Whom sufferings and great charisma had driven mad.

We did not write our own adventures in those days;
We pretended to be without vanity and to be surprised
When our amanuenses struck again and our hawklike visages
(All of us had hawklike visages; it was like a badge)
Appeared on the cover of Argosy or The
Eccentric and economical, perhaps even closefisted,
Darkness Visible had let his cat write about him
And after the cat left, the cat's shadow, who remained.
This shadow, worn out by the detective's furious pace
At last induced him to take a brief vacation
The sad consequences of which we know all too well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


A shady, unreliable spirit
Half-seen near dawn
Offered me an old notion
He'd picked up in the street
Or stolen from its home.
Battered, it showed flecks
Of gaudy enameling
"A bit of repair -- you look
A handy sort -- some rewiring,
Dab of paint or two, and she'll
Be better than new."
I had no heart to refuse;
Now take your turn
If the idea appeals to you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


In his swift copperplate hand the boy
Wrote "Do I have a soul?" Despite the sign
Some late visitor had wound his key
Six and a half times. The rabbi shrugged.
"I don't know. What does one look like?
I'm a ghost, not a magician." The magician,
Who seldom spoke, lifted painted eyebrows
To indicate he didn't know either.
"You had one last Thursday," said the windup girl
"It whistled at me, like a kettle, and winked."

Monday, June 22, 2015


It is not that her name is lost
Just misplaced, set somewhere
And then books or a painted dish
Or a half-filled box of shadows
Set on top of it; maybe a rook
Flew off with it, hiding it away
Somewhere in cold Heaven.
It makes it hard to invoke her
Which may be just as well
Since she no longer remembers
Whose patron saint she is.
In the park on sunny days
Abandoned prayers, long turned feral,
Stare at her from the underbrush.

Friday, June 19, 2015


A poem that begins with the sun
Can only dim and dim from there
Unless it finds some other light
That knows more than a trick or two.
Think how surprised the sun was
To be called busy old fool!
But there are other stars of morning
If you know which way to look.
When John Donne bid angels play
Trumpets at Earth’s imagined corners
They came. Seek for them even now
You will find them still, obedient.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


“Just before dawn,” Mr. Stefanacci told us,
“A messenger on a tired white horse
Comes galloping into an Italian town.
Standing in the stirrups he shouts
Constantinople has fallen to the Turks;
The Middle Ages are over! It’s the Renaissance!’
The town bursts into activity, with banners
Appearing everywhere and crowds cheering
As the Mona Lisa strides past, arm in arm
With Michelangelo’s David.” After a pause
He went on: “That isn’t how it was; History
Does not happen that way.” There was, I now think,
A note of regret in his voice. It is because of him
That this messenger who never was
Still comes to me sometimes, on his tired horse,
And I join the crowd, cheering for the Renaissance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Patron of the poor! Also of poets,
Poultry farmers, printing presses,
Fugitives, babies, scholars,
Mariners, midwives and milkmaids!
All these and more is Brigid.
Somewhere, a poor scholarly poet,
All agrime with printer's ink,
With a baby under one arm
And a chicken under the other
Looks to flee the midwives' wrath
By taking to the sea. Alas for him!
Brigid also smiles on nuns
And blacksmiths. Even now,
A burly bride of Christ speaks a name
To the red metal of a new-forged sword.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


The Shadow made a list when he was nine
Of things he wanted to know as did his friend
The Evil That Lurks in the Hearts of Men.
First on his list was the Latin names
Of all the trees and plants in Galicia.
(The Evil That Lurks wanted most to know
How to tie a clove hitch one-handed.) Later,
When the Mutual Broadcasting System
Had decided they would promote The Shadow
To cultural archetype he suggested
That the narrator might suitably intone
“Who knows the Latin names of Polish trees?”
Though Margo Lane explained to him
He never really understood why Blue Coal
(“Let The Shadow and Blue Coal Protect Your Home!”
Rejected the idea so adamantly.

Monday, June 15, 2015


Over time the kraken's dreams
Have filled up with sea wrack and flotsam
From sunken ships. On stationery
From a ship that will go down in 1912
He writes with a pen that, as warranted,
Works underwater. "Dear Sir Alfred,"
He begins, "Though we have not met
You will know that I am a sea monster
Who's been sleeping since the world began.
Lately, while idly leafing through
The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
I came upon your sonnet, The Kraken.
To my surprise you have written that
Some meddlesome angel will eventually
Poke a spear in the ocean, making it boil.
(I must say, I would like to have a few words
With whoever thought arming angels
Was a good idea). At that -- I am still
Following your poem -- I will wake up,
Roaring. (As who wouldn’t at being boiled?)
Then, you write, I will rise to the surface
And die.

                  Again: I am to wake, roar, rise, die.
This came as a shock. Until now I have cherished
A range of possibilities. In my grander dreams
I have become the Slade Professor of Art
And lectured to crowds of eager aesthetes.
More modestly, I assumed I might support myself
By clerical work or, at the very least, rampage
Through some great Eastern metropolis.
Frankly, I no longer see the point of existing
And, as you are the cause of my perplexity
I turn to you for counsel, trusting you will resist
The urge to quote yourself on mine not to reason why.
Yours faithfully,
                    Microcosmus Marinus, Kraken."

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Elliot Bruce was my mother's dog
When she was growing up. This
Was intended to annoy a neighbor
Who had named her baby Bruce Elliot.
My aunts say animals in their house
All considered themselves my father's.
One day, my father knew that God
Was standing over in the corner
Quietly observing. I imagine my father
May have nodded, but did not presume
To disturb God's thoughts. My mother
Would surely have offered suggestions.
What else is there you might like
To know about me?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


If we still had consuls and I was eligible
(And I’m as fit for the job as Caligula’s horse
Though not so handsome) then a year
Might be given my name. A high honor
But not unalloyed. If it brought disaster
How would it feel to hear people thankful
That Larry was gone at last? If it went well
How to deal with wide eyes turning dark
With resignation that I stand before them
And not the good days come back again?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Though I am wary of drinking at Baba Yaga's
My strong black tea has been brewed
By my high school principal, Dr. Leonard Fliedner,
Who was sitting across from her when I arrived
Like an old friend of the house. He nodded to me
And went to make tea, pulling loose leaves
From the pocket of his grey striped suit jacket.
He used a pocket watch to time the steeping
Then measured  a third of a teaspoon of sugar
And one squeeze of lemon into my cup
(Though I have taken milk since some time in my 20's)
He is not someone I would expect to know Baba Yaga
But I smile to see him, so neat and grey and quiet
That he might as well have been alive.
I suppose I felt much as a Christian might
When he discovers his great-great-grandmother
Had been a barmaid at some dim saloon
Much patronized by saints who, for her sake,
Might work a small miracle or forgive a gaudy sin.

Monday, June 8, 2015


“Some day,” said Baba Yaga, “you will look for me
And I will not be found. Against that day, prepare!
Get your own sentient hut on swift chicken legs;
Find a cat who knows how to hold her tongue
When the angry King of the Cats demands answers.
Be not one but many – scholars may count three
Baba Yagas, but there are far more than that.
Send your heart upon its way; should there be need
It will find a road back to you, perhaps in time.
Above all, remember that there will be no day
When I cannot find you; never walk unarmed.”

Friday, June 5, 2015


My father, since he died, feels free
To walk into any poem of mine
And look around. He knows that when
My mother turns up, missing him,
He'll turn and smile to see her.
For now, though, he taps three fingers
Against a conceit, listening to hear
If it is as solid as its maker warranted.
He talks with the punctuation marks
To see if they're content or if some comma,
Doing the work of a semi-colon,
Feels it deserves more pay. On occasion,
He will very gently take a word aside
To suggest it might be happier elsewhere.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


According to Cornelius Agrippa,
Who so far has never lied to me,
I have three spirits always in tow  --
An invisible entourage who sneak
Onto trains without paying.
One seeks my general salvation
The second to reconcile me
To the forces of destiny. The third --
I ‘m not making this up -- is a lawyer.
He's a demon of profession and his job
Is to get all three spirits pulling together.
On the one hand it soothes my vanity
To know I am perpetually attended
And am a procession. On the other,
I'm not at all sure I'm saved. Destiny, too,
Gives me the cut direct at the gym
And the lawyer, who dresses much better
Than I ever have, drinks because
He so very much resents being invisible.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Were he here I would tell my father
That Cesar Borgia's sword was forged
By a converted Jew, born Solomon
But made Hercules through baptism.
In those days one could discover
That one's true self was a pagan half-god
Disguised as a Jewish king and find
An obliging priest to ratify the decision
Perhaps when he left the Quarter old friends
Wondered there'd once been a time
When they and Hercules had together
Thrown breadcrumbs in the river.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Since you died, have you rambled?
Do you turn up sometimes towards dusk
On Chinese roadsides centuries ago
Always welcome for your stories?
Do other poor men share your food
And do you travel with them a while
As they seek the wonder rabbis?
Or do you deal in notions now
Bringing treasures from the pack
You've toted across the high hills?
When there is a wake, does the family
Pay you a few cents to stay up
So the dead man is not left alone?
Does the daughter who cannot sleep
Hear the things you and the corpse
Discuss so softly she ever after wonders
Whether she heard anything at all?

Monday, June 1, 2015

OCTOBER 28, 1910

Oh it was crowded in that little house!
Packed with angels it was and all of them
Had their wings furled tight but more
Kept crowding in. Orthodox angels
Were crammed against Doukhbors
Who had their noses pressed against
The lordly ears of the Nestorians;
There were even some Islamic angels
Who had known the dying man
Since he was a soldier in the

Since she is at every Russian train station
Anna was there too, waiting to throw herself
Under the
6:08 out of Yelets. Tolstoy
Breathed his last at
6:05. The train pulled in;
Anna climbed the steps and boarded.
Their was no room in first class, which was jammed
With angels hurrying on to Moscow but an ifrit,
Riding in second, gave her his seat.