Monday, August 31, 2015


Flann O'Brien wrote stories in which the characters were generally in revolt against their author, sometimes to the point of planning to kill him. One of his avatars – Brother Barnabas – apparently died at the hands of his creations I can't say that has been anything like my experience. My characters worry about me, and sometimes offer to lend me advice or small sums of money. I have overheard them, wishing I understood them more profoundly, or wrote better, but they seem more wistful than bitter.

Friday, August 28, 2015


My grandmother Esther was from Lemberg
Also called
Lvov, Lwow, Lviv and Leopolis.
When there was a kingdom called
Its king lived there. Karaites drifted in
From Byzantium. It had  -- still has -- broad streets
Leading to an opera house, so my grandmother
When she was a teenager making cigarettes
With other factory girls may have gone
To see Carmen, which is also about a girl
Who makes cigarettes. Due to
Lvov's shortage
Of Escamillos, or even Don Joses, she married Max,
A very nice man. Over time, mild affection for him
Blossomed into serene and settled dislike.
Had they stayed they likely would have died
Along with almost all the other of the towns’Jews.
She deemed
New York no substitute for Lemberg.
The moon over the
Hudson River was never
A match for the one whose white double
Swam through Poltowa’s broken willows.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


That both of you died does not mean
I have no duty to send you news.
Time, I hear, is different for the dead;
Perhaps I speak to to you at 20
In college and in love so that I seem
An unlikely correspondent, a man of 63
Claiming to be your second son
Sending word that he is a grandfather
And you great grandparents
Of a skeptical child named Ginger.
By this token know me: I inherited the note
You sent, Mom, the day after your birthday.
Had you not changed your mind,
I had never been conjured into being
How unlikely a thing it is to exist!
Next to that, conversing with my dead
Is all in a night's work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Long ago my family acquired a banshee
Who would, when Death approached,
Wail like anything. Since we did not die often
She had much free time which she wiled away
Up in the attic, listening to radio soap operas.
It was a relief when Lodge and Bose and Marconi
Invented radio; until then we told visitors
That we were plagued by sentimental ghosts
Who liked announcers and swelling organ music.
She was last seen in 1956
When Max,  my father’s father, died
(Some members of his shul  felt that proper cohains
Did not have banshees.) Since then, a surly kobold
Bangs a drum to announce Death, if he remembers.
He's skilled but quite loud. Miming last words
Is hard for dying men and sometimes leads
To misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


I have a friend (the Countess de Shufe,
If you must know) who was so appalled
At my allowing a hypothetical red kitten
To be sacrificed in a poem that I have decreed
Its rebirth as a leopard of such ferocity
That it will terrorize nine entire provinces
And be placated at last only by a seat --
Non-voting -- on the UN Security Council.
(She wanted him to eat Justin Bieber
But I have, with difficulty, refused her this.)

Monday, August 24, 2015


The god who ruled the Empire State Building
Has subdivided himself into smaller gods
Each of whom dislikes all the others
(Save for the ineffective god of the lobby
Who lives on popcorn and loves everyone).
The master of feng shui who impersonates
The spire on the Chrysler Building teaches
That sacrificing a red kitten on the fifth floor
Of the Empire State may bring success
But even thinking about it on any floor
From the fifty third to the seventy-seventh
Entails grim afterlives in thrall to the elevators.

Friday, August 21, 2015


To the right stands Jonah, bearded, disheveled,
Dazed; he’s just escaped from the great fish
Which has delivered him to
From the left an angel swoops in, his round, pale face
Lit with concern. He is bringing Jonah a towel.
The artist recorded this long ago but his bright ink
Still commands the eye. My father had a postcard
Reproducing the picture. The angel looked kind to me,
Plainly concerned for Jonah, but something
Made me doubt his scruples. God sent him, granted;
As someone to meet Jonah at journey’s end
But nothing was said about a towel. The angel,
Tracing the
Tigris's meanders, must have spied it
Far below, set out to dry on a bush or a wall
And spirited it off, clean out of its place
As part of some family's laundry, thrusting it
Into the story of Jonah. I imagine that later,
When the Book of Jonah was written, the angel
Eagerly gave interviews. "Yes, I knew Jonah;
I was there, right there, when he came out of the fish.
In fact, I brought him a towel, for which he thanked me."
He still hopes for a new edition of the Bible
In which he figures as the Angel with the Towel.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


The God of Penn Station has next to no budget
And cannot afford much panoply. He gets catalogs
Offering to customize and sell entire pantheons
Which he seldom reads. Svevo, his assistant,
Carefully files them all against the unlikely day
When the God of Penn Station grows rich.
Since the Station never quite closes its god
Feels it would be improper in him to sleep.
Svevo sleeps for him though, and has his dreams
Writing down each one and sometimes repeating them
When the two of them and Fevrier, who does odd jobs,
Patrol the station around five in the morning.
“You dreamt your mother was a sewing machine;
She seemed happy and asked about you.
You dreamt you and the Gods of the Colosseum
Spent the night in a Roman karaoke bar
Where you sang Rodolfo’s last aria from La Boheme.”
“How was I?” “No Pavarotti, but not terrible.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015



When the greater gods pass through
They usually ignore the God of Penn Station
Remembering when he was the Spirit of Ronkonkoma
Until he fell asleep on the
7:56 limited express.
Hebe, though, tops off his beer as she drifts by.


The God of Penn Station received a delegation
Of nervous rats in his office on Platform 17
Under the stairs to
Seventh Avenue.
Is it true, they asked, that you have advertised
For a coyote? Are we and the pigeons not enough?
Coyotes, said the God of Penn Station,
Are very hot right now, and their howls
Will keep drowsy high school girls alert
While they wait for the
2:06 back to Little Falls.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Tapping his long fingers on the keys
John Donne asked Google
"The lost years-- where?
The Devil's foot -- who cleft by?"
His machine sang "I don't know
But I've been told
Streets of Heaven
Are lined with gold."
Dissatisfied, Donne typed
"How get with child mandrake root?
Falling star -- how catch?"
His machine blinked and said
"I'll tell you after I've
Completed my design
To keep the
Mennai Bridge from rust
By boiling it in wine."
The soul of Borges, who had come
To challenge Donne to a game of chess
Or a ferocious duel, depending,
Asked "John, how long
Since you've rebooted that thing?"

Friday, August 14, 2015


There was a dearth of criminals that year
So finally, rewriting the script,
We put a robber between two Christs.
The righthand Christ was Byzantine
A serious man, very keen on judgment;
The lefthand Christ was all brown-eyed mercy
So every time Christ on the right
Sent the robber to well-merited hellfire
Christ on the left redeemed him.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


When they brought the good news from Aix to Ghent
Ghent folks shook our heads. "This news is too good;
There is no market for it here. Carry it to Bruges
Which is so ghost-ridden one must push them aside
Simply to order some cheese, some beer, some bread;
The dead are always looking for good news and will pay
In sound currency. Do not, though, bite their gold coins
To test their soundness; they may bite back.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


The old muse remembers a poem
That, beginning in silence,
Sank into a cold stillness
That grew fainter as it retraced
A street into a quiet heart.
She cannot recall the ending
But thinks a marvelous clown
Entered midway and danced
Magically, in green slippers
Which made no sound.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


As birds will, this one
Had flown into the wrong poem
Where it fluttered about
Disturbing the grammar.
The Duke of Wellington,
Asked about the pigeons
Nesting  in St. Paul’s rafters
And twittering at vespers,
Suggested bringing in hawks
But my muse dislikes blood.
Brushing me aside,
She whistled and the bird
Came to her hand and sat
Seeming content to wait
For me to hire some trees,
Breed up a few birds
And rent a moon
Just two days past full.

Monday, August 10, 2015


George III knew the language of birds
But pretended not too. When a rook
Flying across the moon called out
“Beware! Your eldest son loves not you
Nor any man and will take your throne
While you still live!” the King
Did not pause in his conversation
With the gaudy Anatolian traveller
Busily spinning him a story
Concerning  dervishes and sinister eunuchs.

Friday, August 7, 2015


There has only been one fog since the world began, though we think there have been many because we see only a bit of it at a time. It is not prone to arguing with its inhabitants, nor does it set traps - usually - for those who don't wish to stay. Thus, should you see it on a Tuesday morning and walk in, saying to yourself "This is a Tuesday morning fog," it will humor you in your belief, and when you walk out you'll find yourself, just as you expected, in Tuesday morning. A good host, the fog has escorted you home.

The danger, if that's what it is, comes when you yourself are uncertain where you are, who you are, when you are. You left the seraglio in haste, wearing only the caliph's slippers, and ever since then the dread suspicion has been growing on you that, though you are freezing in the stiff breeze which seems to have come up from nowhere, you may be the caliph. Are you not shod like a caliph? Did you think the caliph’s very slippers would allow another's feet to wear them? Together, they make a powerful case that, instead of rushing naked through the early morning, you should be eating sherbet on your ebony and unicorn-horn throne.

Alas, the slippers, while persuasive, are not of one mind. The left slipper whispers that you may be Murad the Demon, about your business of dispensing appalling justice to friend and foe alike. The right, however, insists it is far more likely that you are Alhasrul, an amiable nonentity who either reigned for 56 days in the 8th century or is fictional, created by the misreading of an inscription. In such a state of confusion (you being a man who cannot out-argue a pair of slippers), you find yourself (whoever you are) in the fog.

The fog doesn't know who you are, nor care. The fog has its own business to see to, and will be equally pleased if it turns out that you are all the caliphs who ever were or will be, or none of them. When you suddenly notice that the fog has gone, leaving you behind, more than likely you'll be standing at the gates to the Dark City, against which the fog has an ancient and unappeasable grudge.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


When my father was a welfare agent
He had a client who heard voices
Which, unfortunately, had little to say.
Mostly, they just seemed surprised
And would interrupt her thoughts with
"Fancy that!" or "Well, I declare!"
She was, he told me, a stoic woman
Who suspected her own sanity
But was a little bitter that madness
Had not proved more interesting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Angels when they descend to Earth
Make bodies for themselves. Usually,
Condensed air is their medium
But almost anything will do. Sand
Has been used, as well as wheat, pipestems,
Shadows and hand-polished anthracite coal.
There is an angel I have heard of
Who makes himself from abstractions
Running God's errands made of sharpness
Or vain regret. He only once clad himself
In Time which left him chronophobic
For some centuries. Another angel,
Called Hatif, has never been embodied
But comes merely as a voice. Accordingly,
If you were awake at three this morning
And, looking casually from your window,
You saw an angel in the alleyway
Behind your building, his half-furled wings
Almost brushing the walls on both sides
As he accepted a drink from the bottle
Extended towards him by a dirty hand
That was certainly not Hatif. The voice
From nowhere which shouted in your ear
"This is not a show -- go back to bed"?
That was Hatif.

Monday, August 3, 2015


"John Heygate -- later to achieve notoriety as the man who eloped with Evelyn Waugh's first wife ..."
Orwell, by D.J. Taylor

Ah yes, and, for a brief while, we all thought
A new road to fame had shined suddenly open!
Jasper Mendez-Pinto got decent press coverage
When he eloped with Evelyn Waugh's second wife
But Hector Ffinch III got barely a mention
For eloping with the third, despite his having died
At least three years before their flight.
It is thought that Evelyn Waugh's fifth and sixth wives
Eloped with each other; so little attention was paid
That this is uncertain. In desperation, Evelyn Waugh
Eloped with his seventh wife. This was dismissed
As a mere publicity stunt. After that, of course,
Things went downhill. When Evelyn Waugh's twelfth wife
Tried eloping some while before they were married,
The Rules Committee made her go back and run off properly.
There is reason to believe that Evelyn Waugh's fifteenth wife
Was spurious, his sixteenth a typographical error
And his eighteenth fashioned mostly of bakelite.
Closure came with Evelyn Waugh's twenty second wife
Who was, of course, John Heygate. As far as I know
The match was a happy one.