Thursday, October 29, 2015


The boat you launched
On the river of shadows
What became of it?

Your logic was so strong
Your wit so sharp
Why did they always fail you?

That mystery you found
When did you know
It was not yours to solve?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


It was too heavy for my chest
So I put my heart in a wagon,
Gave it a tin cup, sent it begging.
Now I find it driving a black car
With vanity plates.
What foolish authorities
Decided it deserved a license?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


You were dead so when the thunder
Asked me where you were I shrugged
And said you were in Kamionka Strumilowa
Some years before you were born
Teaching your father -- he was 10 or so --
The jokes he'd tell you when you were a boy.

You were dead so when the tree which nodded to you
Even when there was no wind said "Where is he?"
I spread my fingers wide and said you had gone undercover
Cleverly eluding the combined forces
Of Ming the Merciless and Dr. Destructo
And had found work as an invisible detective.

You were dead so when you asked me where I was
I pulled my beard and said "In the great boat of morning
Three cubits from the stern there is an oar
Which no one pulls. There I used to sit
But there's no telling where I've gotten to now."

Monday, October 26, 2015


"I remember," the old muse said,
"The first time the moon was called
As witness to a poet's love;
The excitement! The daring!
Others had picked leaves
Or thrown stones (What says passion
Better than a well-aimed rock?)
But to insolently summon the moon--
I half thought the poet would die
Right then. She thought so too
And braced herself against a tree.

But the moon was pleased
And raised her voice when the sea
Was minded to drown you all."

Thursday, October 22, 2015


I was born in an oven, says the Baker’s Man,
And I fear no rakehell nor hellrake
Nor pitch-pine Jack. I will go hellward
At my own pace, strolling and nodding
To the dotterels and dastards on the way
Munching on a fresh-baked loaf.
Oh, the cats will rejoice when I am gone
But the whores will weep, by the clock,
For a hour and seventeen minutes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Neither good nor bad angels attend the desangelado
Who must, if he is wise, leave men and mostly live
In the company of cats. Among the cats he will find
Angels who never delivered their messages
And now try to sell them, centuries past their due dates.
Nineveh!"  urges one; "Check the oven!"
Cris another. The last time I drank with the desangelados
There was an elderly angel who shrank from my eye.
I suspect he knows the answer I should have given
To a question which was posed to me in 1975.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


The locusts, it is known, have no king
Cats, however, have one, and also
A prince-in-waiting, a regent,
A power behind the throne,
A power beside the throne,
A power beneath the throne,
Three pretenders, a shadow cabinet
And an Empress Dowager.

It is hard for an ambitious locust
No king to disobey; no god
Whose existence he denies.

Monday, October 19, 2015


"But you make no sense!" I said
"That is for me; I am a poem
And wish to be written.
You call yourself poet;
I offer the usual terms."
"You woke me at
3 a.m.
I charge time and a half for poems
Who go prowling when only wolves
Damaged souls and basilisks are awake."
"Done. See that you write me plain;
I think I am a sonnet but that
I leave to your judgment.
The first two elisions are free?"
"As always; this is a union shop."

Friday, October 16, 2015


In one of my father's stories
A committee votes that God
Does not exist but still
Listens to prayers, does justice,
Shows mercy.

My grandfather made watches
Which kept perfect time
But set his a few minutes fast
So did my mother; so do I.
An alibi ever-ready:
None of I it was; I wasn't there
But five minutes away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Times are hard and the full orchestra
Accompanying the Mountain King’s daughter
Has dwindled down to a single saxophone
Who plays a few notes, when he can
(His lungs are not what they were
Nor is his memory without holes).
He hasn’t been paid in two years
Still, by some definitions of the word,
A saxophone is faithful.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Mind washes the dishes while Soul
Pushes a broom, gracefully inefficient,
Sending up clouds of dust which hang
A moment in the late afternoon light
Then drift down to the floor again.
“When is Body coming back?” calls Mind.
“Is Body coming back?” asks Soul.
“She looked so angry when she left!”
“You missed a spot,” says Mind.

Monday, October 12, 2015


All day it has hammered on my chest
Telling me to write it into being
But all I see of the poem is its eyes
Which are frustrate and red.
Like a bad psychic I make vague guesses
"Something with flowers? You have lost
Someone whose name begins with a letter.
You will meet an apostrophe and fall in love."

Many poems have come to me and been lost
Or gone on their way.
                                        So what is different here?
Perhaps this is an old poem which first
Came to my grandfather in a dream
Forgotten when he awoke. Or my grandmother
Saw it looking at her from a heap of tobacco
And would have written it down, or at least
Told it to the girl next to her but the foreman was near
And the pay wasn’t bad – three hellers and a half
For rolling a thousand cigarettes.

Maybe the poem dogged my father for weeks
But love poems don't have red eyes and in 1946
Love poems were what he most wanted to write.

There may be something familiar about the poem;
Did it mutter its name to me on the L train
While I was coming home from high school?
Good luck with that! My mind was filled, hoping
The girl across the aisle would look back at me.
Could it be one I wrote, very badly, in college
And it has limped through the years, a caricature
Come to see if the years have taught me anything?
I make no promises, but I'll see what I can do.
Sit down; I’ll need time. While you wait, tell me
Things you know of my grandfather's dreams
Or of quick-fingered young women
Rolling Polish cigarettes in a half-lit room.

Friday, October 9, 2015


If you were still alive
I would say “Did you know
That Chinese ghosts whistle?”
I learned this from a book
That used to be yours.
Perhaps we have found at last
The answer to what music
Accompanies angels
Dancing on the heads of pins.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


At places the borders are unguarded
So if you watch your moment
You can slip across. A ruined imaret
Glittering with blue tiles, is the sign
Keep your eyes on it;.when it suddenly
Stands firm and whole as it stood
Four hundred years ago, you may know
You have passed the debatable lands
And must learn to wear again
The name you had before you were born.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


To keep up their courage on moonless nights
Chinese ghosts whistle. At night they walk tracks
They laid through
Arizona, California, Utah
The ghosts of Irish navvies, by remembered fires,
Nod to the men of Sze Yap , who,
To oblige the navvies buried beside them,
Whistle harmony for The Waxies’ Dargle.

Monday, October 5, 2015


That heart of stone I had; what became of it?
If I should turn to the man sitting next to me –
The one drinking imported beer – and he should say
That he was Saint Anthony of Padua
And thus patron of finding lost things
I would ask him about it and he
Might say “Here; I have it in my pocket;
It hasn’t brought me  much luck.”

Those words I said forty years ago --
Or would have had the wind not taken them
And whirled them down the Midway –
Where are they? If I should ask
The woman in the office across the hall
She might bring me a map of
Central Park
With one tree circled in red. “There is a wren’s nest,”
She will say “And I saw your words interwoven
With twigs and twine and bits of tin foil.”

My old friend to whom I might have sent this poem
So he’d write and ask what made me think of it
Where has he gotten to? The woman across the hall
Shrugs; St. Anthony of
Padua orders a round
For everyone in the house.