Thursday, July 30, 2015


Leaving the hospital
My mother's ghost tells my father's
"That is the best baby, ever!"
"Patroosh," my father says,
"Don't you always say that?"
"I do. And I am always right."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


My father's real soldiers in an imaginary country
Are the ancestors of the real men I once stranded
On the sides of a five-peaked imaginary mountain.
Their own ancestors, though, are more humble
Surely being Marianne Moore's real toads
In an imaginary garden. It is a pleasant place
And Moore’s tri-corned ghost often visits
Sitting under a tree listening to Red Barber
Broadcasting a 1955 Dodger game
The incumbent toads have mixed feelings
About living in Ms. Moore’s garden.
On the one hand, Death has no entrance key;
On the other, there's no sport in hunting
Imaginary bugs which never taste quite right.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Wisdom, the Greeks said, was never a child,
Let alone a baby, but was born full grown
And armed. Forgive me, Athena; I like you,
As far as a man can like a goddess,
Admiring your cool grey eyes, your appreciation
Of rogues and quick lying tongues, but this
Was not the wisest choice you ever made.
Things were always clear to you; the world never
Slowly consented to bring itself into focus.
You cannot recall being helpless and loved.
No mother brushed your scant hair
Nor watched you fall asleep, nor sang to you;
Zeus never threw you high and caught you
So that you loudly squawked and crowed.
Uncles and aunts you had but none
Who made reed hats for you, or funny faces.
No one held you back when you wanted
To give an apple to the man-eating horse.
Wisdom knows, but does it learn, does it wonder
Does it sleep at night and remember being held?

Monday, July 27, 2015


My first grade reader
Did not star Dick and Jane
But their less-successful rivals
Alice and Jerry. Their dog
Was called Spot. I gather
This was the law back then;
If a dog called Mumford
Or a cat named Ebeneezer
Came wandering in,
A dead shot with a .45,
Had her instructions.

Friday, July 24, 2015


When I was born my godmother Alice,
Whom I have never met, sent me a letter.
It started: "Dear
Lawrence Andrew,
Some world, eh?"
Sixty three years on I think she was right.
All I know of her is that she was my mother's friend,
The daughter of Communists, and lived in
Oh, also, she wrote in a small neat hand, in blue ink.
Conceivably, she is alive, nearing ninety
Probably not too mindful that she is responsible
For my soul and its salvation.

                                                      Jews do not
Generally indulge in godparents; I do not know
Why I have one unless my parents thought
I would be much prone to strange sins, a prey
To acedie and simony and the sin of Uzziah,
(Which would have required my first becoming King
And then deciding to be high priest as well.)
Thanks, no doubt, to Alice, I’ve committed 
None of these, nor have I moved boundary stores
Or taken less than market value for my soul
While I am grateful for her her stewardship
I am even more glad for her cheery welcome
Which, granddaughter, I now pass on:
Dear Ginger Luna,
Some world, eh?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Some say I resemble you and I do
But as a shadow, casually cast.
You were born at the moment
Sharp eyes became uncertain
If a thread was blue or green
So I see things invisible to see.
It disconcerts me to find that,
Long years before I was born,
You walked lands I thought mine
By grace and right of first discovery.
I have had to haul down my flags
And tell the kings that lands I claimed
In their names were never theirs at all.
Reflecting sometimes that we both
Have always been fond of shadows
(Also ghosts, dreams, frogs,
Mirrors, snapdragons and parables)
I am almost, for a while, content.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Telemachus, shooting at the suitors,
Remembers the ones who told good stories
And the one who taught him wood lore
He thinks of telling his father
That unmixed evil is rare, and some suitors
Were kind to him. He does not, which is why
There are no great poems about him.

Monday, July 20, 2015


The coupon -- 20% off drycleaning --
Expired a decade ago. On its back,
My father, who did not waste paper,
Wrote down the first lines of a story
About the problems of real soldiers
Occupying an imaginary country.
Has he continued it, I wonder,
Now that he’s crossed the border
And changed his allegiances.

Friday, July 17, 2015


The Tigers of Wrath wish it to be known that,
Maugre William Blake, they do not deem themselves
Wiser than the Horses of Instruction. Thus,
Boys of Summer, Dogs of War and Birds of Paradise
Are requested to stop pestering them for advice.
"If there is more to life than hunting, eating,
Mating, sleeping and being angry," said a spokesman,
"We haven't a clue; try asking the Sloths of Despair
Or, if you can rouse them, the Llamas of Indifference."

Thursday, July 16, 2015



The invisible mountain of the gods
Meru is taller than twenty Everests
But getting to the top is simple.
You may find yourself there
At the end of a troubled sleep
The problem is finding a dream
Willing to carry you back down.


The conclaved gods decreed
Five-peaked Meru did not exist
For how could they ask the Earth
To bear a mountain larger than itself?
No decree lasts forever. Someday
Meru will return, bringing back
All those who climbed her
Thinking she was real.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Themistocles lived near the pit
Where the town put bodies
Deemed too vile for burying.
When no one was by, it was said,
He might strew handfuls of dirt
Or mutter a few words for them.
The Athenians claimed gods
Joined the rowers he commanded
At the
Battle of Salamis. The magi
Watching from high Persian decks,
Asked if Greek gods always appeared
Looking like felons and miscreants?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


The sea coal fires make London fogs
Thicker, more palpable, than all others
Condensing sometimes into a dog or hippogriff
Or megalosaurus, silently patrolling the streets
Until, for a while, the fog consents to lift.
Tonight, the fog has made a constable
With a tipstaff and an unlit lantern
(Fog has no love for fire and casually extinguishes
Unwary streetlamps that sputter too proudly)
Fog scorns detail but works to a large scale
So the constable is 8 feet tall. Still, he is puny
Compared to the giant nude statue of Napoleon
Who stands in Portland Terrace, looking up
"Mon ami," says the statue, "I break no laws here
Save those of probability and you, I think,
Are not innocent of that either. Just now,
On the world’s other side, the Emperor has died
Of poison, of boredom, of grief. When great men die
Corsica, the brothers of death come with tapers
And muffled drums, sweeping through the streets
Clearing the way for his passage. It would be ungracious
For the Emperor's soul not to bid
Ajaccio farewell
And I believe I will see it flying across the moon's face.
You, my friend, will give benighted drunks nightmares
And then vanish back into the fog that made you.
Dawn will find me in my usual place at Apsley House
Wellington will scowl to see again
How calm and regal Canova made me.
Neither of us is here; stand watch with me
Who knows but that the Emperor will notice us
Saluting him amidst his favorite enemies?"

Monday, July 13, 2015


Having seen Don Giovanni the night before
At the King's Theatre, in Ayrton's production,
And then drunk far too much with Harriet Wilson
The Iron Duke woke up feeling rusty. He descended
Very carefully, taking  great care that his head
Did not fall off. He had woken up in tears
For the violin -- the violin, of all things! --
That he’d burnt in 1792 when he and music
Had determined to part ways. As always
Canova’s damned statue was waiting for him.
If a grateful nation must give him naked statues
Why not, say, the one of the Princess Borghese
Or the Three Graces? No one with a hangover
Should have to face 11 feet of naked marble Napoleon.
As always, he nodded to the statue as he went by
Refusing to be cowed. The statue smirked
Silently. "The Commendatore's statue," the Duke said,
"Spoke sixteen to the dozen; he sang; I believe
He would have danced too, given the right cue
But you! A grimace sometimes; a raised brow
Or sneer of cold command, but never a word."
The statue opened his mouth then shut it again.
"Had the Emperor won at Waterloo," he thought
"And France, relieved and joyous, had given him
Some preposterous statue of the Great Duke
He would never have exhibited it with only a fig leaf
Improbably and inadequately preserve its modesty."

Friday, July 10, 2015


Being both a nun and a sorceress is difficult
But not impossible. D'Annunzio's aunt,
An abbess, could see into the future
By means of rare herbs and spells.
Scholars wonder why she did not
Use her athame on her nephew
Or give him some good advice
Gabriel! Break fewer hearts!
Be kind to Eleonora Duse!
D0  not cofound fascism!

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Because she loved them both
Madame Duffand, old and blind,
Left her ill-tempered dog Tonton
To Horace Walpole. History
Does not record how Tonton
Made his way to
Nor when, anglicizing his name,
He became known as Toto
And terrorized rural
For some years around 1900.
Living in retirement now
With the Wicked Witch of the West
He occasionally grants interviews
But will not talk about Munchkins,
Winkies, Skeezers, Hyups, Fuddles,
Bun People or Dorothy Gale.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


His small fat body laid away
Alongside Sheffields sleeping,
Or so they mostly hoped,
In their family graveyard in Sussex,
The ghost of Edward Gibbon
Having hurried back across the Channel
And then through Europe.
Wandered around
Lausanne and then
Haunted Susanne Curchod's daughter
For three and a half weeks.
Processing across the
He saw
Walpole's dog's ghost
Who had joined the pack of wolves
Which had eaten it. (He thought it smiled
To see him but knew he lacked the art
To easily interpret canine thoughts.)
He came to rest among the ruins
Of the Capitol. There, he watched trees
Pushing through the stones
And composed seven hundred footnotes
To add to The Decline and Fall
Should he find himself once more alive.

Some of the friars who lived and prayed
Where Jupiter had been worshipped
Noticed the small ghost, always outside
Even in the chill November rains.
He replied courteously when spoken to
In fluent Latin, with an English accent
And was not dispelled by signs or water
The custos regiminis, a scholar of sorts,
Declared it was an offense against learning
To leave so distinguished a ghost
Outside in the harsh Roman weather.
Calling him "brother ghost," the abbot
Insisted that Gibbon come indoors.
When French troops turned the friars out
In 1797, Gibbon was still among them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Begging your pardon, Sir;
I have been sent to apologize
For making free with your poems.
I'd have thought that you,
Being dead and all, might not care
But pride, it seems, outfaces death.
Apologies are not much in my line
Perhaps you can instruct me
Should I get down on one knee
Or will making my face, such as it is,
Reflect a degree of manly contrition
Be enough? Look, here is a twenty --
Enough to buy both you
And Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Double mocha half-caf lattes.
Friends once more? Good -- and if
You chance to see Shelley plain
Give him my best regards;
Tell him I regret most of the things
I used to say about him.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Just for a handful of silver he sold us!
Just for a ribband to tether his goat!
Just for a crook-fingered hand to uphold us!
Just for the change from a five-shilling note!

Just for the the reasons he once had foretold us!
Just for a ride on the thousand-year boat!
Just for a chance for our fears to unfold us!
Just for relief from a mild strep throat!

Just for a spyglass through which to behold us!
Just to be neither a Slovene nor Croat!
Just to be false to the times he extolled us!
Just for a very warm astrakhan coat!

Friday, July 3, 2015


When the barefoot friars left the Temple of Jupiter
They took the ghost of Edward Gibbon with them
Though a mocker and an infidel he had, in most ways,
Been a courteous and at times beloved cohabitant
Helping the young postulants with their Latin,
Conversing with the eldest friars when, sleepless,
They were ashamed to speak convent gossip to God.
Death improved him and he became less petulant
If less urbane. His little round mouth relaxed
And, violating the strictures of his youth,
He sometimes, not unkindly, laughed aloud.
Christmas Eves he would tactfully absent himself
Going to the barn to listen to such of the cows
As chose to the use their
midnight license,
Conversing with him in a human language.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


For a while my dreams were of days
So ordinary as to be easily mistaken
For the ones I'd been living. In them,
I would wake up, eat breakfast
And go to school. There, friends
Spoke untrue but plausible words.
If there were tests, I found the right rooms,
Mostly knew the answers, wasn't naked.
Fridays I would find I had lived
At least nine or ten days since Monday
And had to randomly decide which five
Were real. This was long ago but still
Librarians sometime squint, reluctant
To shelve me with the nonfiction.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Google is apparently helping a friend of mine
Build a secret army. Yesterday afternoon,
While I was looking up Kamianka Strumilowa,
A message suddenly appeared on the screen
In enormous letters -- capital, boldface --
Bidding me join at once. Defying Google,
Which knows my address and the names my cat
Used in prior lives, is unwise, so my friend,
A gentle soul, now has nineteen followers.
I await instructions. Do we all follow her at once
Or just take turns? Is there a secret handshake?
What does she plan after we conquer Latveria?
When can I expect my decoder ring?