Monday, November 30, 2015


          The Kraken has slept since before the world’s first beginning and has managed to stay asleep on the ocean’s floor through every beginning since, even the extravagantly loud ones and the one made mostly of screeching colored lights which Coyote made to win a wager. So long has he slept that his dreams have put on substance and walk about as men, though their way in the world is seldom easy.
          If you look at Moxon’s edition of the Collected Poems (though you never bought a copy and were never given one, one has appeared on your shelves) there is a poem about the Kraken which Alfred Tennyson wrote when he was 18 or so, in which he summarizes the Kraken’s fate which is, at the end of the world to “rise roaring to the surface” and die. Tennyson, however, died well before the Kraken, and was waylaid on his way to the afterlife by the ghost of his friend Edward Fitzgerald.
          When they thought of Tennyson, his friends usually did not first think of his being a great poet. Cigars summed him up for some; others thought of his beard, his extravagant sorrow over Hallam’s death, his temper, or his grandly fluent profanity. For Fitzgerald, the essence of Tennyson had communicated itself to the hats he wore, which were no sooner clapped on his head than they underwent peculiar changes, as if their identity had become fluid. It is a rare if pointless gift to be able to effortlessly make a silk top hat fancy itself a sombrero.
          Fitzgerald had been a noticing man, and had become a noticing ghost. He had been shadowing Tennyson’s spirit for some while and was sure it had started out bare-headed. Somehow, it had acquired a hat of even more than ordinary disreputability. “Tennyson, that is an appalling hat!”
          “Fitz? How glad I am to see you! Strange; I never imagined those as the first words I’d hear after I died.”
          “I had something much more impressive prepared but that hat has driven them out of my head.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Whether Hatif is the angel of the unseen or the unseen angel is a matter of some dispute and two senior theologians nearly had a duel over the point some years ago. It would have made a fine show – the two old men, armed with scimitars, meeting in the Plaza at the precise moment of dawn when a green thread can just be distinguished from a blue one, their great scarlet theologian capes swirling about them , the copper spurs on their high boots striking sparks from the cobbles, -- but some joyless administratrix cancelled it, invoking the authority of a stray calico cat which had reasonable cause to believe she might be God.

In any event, Hatif has never been seen in the Dark City, which some take as proof he lives there, at least when he is not brooding in empty rooms or telling trees it is safe to fall – no one will hear them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Answers to questions I should have asked
Haphazardly scattered, still abroad in the world:
A bit of daylight, lost in a mirror since August 9, 1938;
A pocket watch; some notes from The William Tell Overture;
An unclaimed silver medal; a hand setting a pebble
On top of a gravestone; a story which traveled
Forty years to find its only true audience
Silently waiting for it, alone in the crowded house
Drinking black tea from a chipped blue cup.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Silence carries a flute she never plays
She wears dark clothes and smokes cigarettes
Which materialize in her hand already lit.
Quiet, who is her much younger sister,
Has never quite mastered the trick;
She turns her wrist just so, but finds
An allen wrench there, or a Number 4 pencil.

Friday, November 20, 2015


          One way and another, I’ve written a fair number of things: poems, essays, stories (some of them complete), and more than enough chapters for a series of novels, if only most of them weren’t first chapters. I have a muse, but she grew discouraged, put her wings in storage and took a teaching job somewhere in the Midwest. We talk, sometimes.                

          Perhaps 8 or 10 people see what I write -- some of it -- since every editor on earth can find it in his heart to refuse what I submit. For a while, when I was sending lots of things off, the pace of rejection grew so furious that I began receiving rejections for things I hadn’t even written yet. This disturbed the time/space continuum, which banged on the ceiling with a broom, so we slowed down. I once earned money as a caricature of a writer, an appeals lawyer, writing (with fair competence), prose which turned to dust once a case was over.

          Say you’re a fictional character and you’ve sat down and made a cold assessment of yourself. Honesty compels you to admit that you have more melancholy charm and wit than Prince Andrei, a more seductive air than Emma Bovary, and that Sancho Panza and Chita, working together, wouldn’t make half so delightful a sidekick. In your mind, you can read the reviews, perhaps panning the book for the most part, but forced to pause when it comes to you: “But Z! What a triumph! This character leaps off the page, pummels you about the head and shoulders, drinks your whiskey, kisses your wife and runs off with  your wallet! Not to be missed!” Why would you come to me, instead of someone whose stuff makes it into print?

          This is, more or less, what I’ve been trying to say to Melanie Beck, who insists I write about her, despite my being ill-equipped and reluctant.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


When Archbishop Francois de Champvallon died
Hatif, angel of the unseen, was dispatched
To lead his soul heavenwards.
They started late because the archbishop
Had promised the Comtesse de Lesdiguieres,
His mistress, that if he died first
His ghost would stop by to see her.
Then it was raining near
And they missed some crucial turn
Or so they later insisted.  Others
Suspected liquor was a bit to blame
For the fact that eighty years later
They still were wandering around France.
No one, though, has explained how Hatif
Was elected to the National Convention
In the Year One of the Revolution
But if you look at the sketches David made
During Louis Capet's trial
You can still see an empty space
Where Hatif stands; the legislators by him
Have moved aside, leaving room for his wings.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


The dead bishops of Aachen are quiet folk
Emerging from their sepulchers late at night
To clean up the cathedral.  Done,they gather
Outside, smoking the half-used cigarettes
Tourists crushed when they entered,
And watch the stars slowly disappear.
At dawn, the bell named Leopardus
Tolls gently and the bishops fade away.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Sometimes he touches a wheel and the wheel cries out
"So angry! Where was all this anger born?"
Or his foot snubs against a rock which asks
"What is it that has made you so sad?"
But mostly he does not know he is angry
Does not know he is the very father of grief.
His anger has grown so tall, his grief so clever
He cannot see them or that they've filled his house
So he  lives
now in the attic, stowed away
Among cobwebs and mice and housegods.

Friday, November 13, 2015


A small pastel-blue box from Este Lauder
Labelled Youth-Dew Bath Oil
Packed tight with wheat-back pennies
By Lois, my mother in law,
Is somehow now mine so that
If it and the drawer I keep them in
Find ourselves in 1960 we can buy lunch
From an annoyed counterman
Leaving a tip an inch or so high.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


If once the Winter King had fur-lined robes.
Thick gloves, warm boots, they are long gone.
His clothes are rags and thin to transparency
When I was a boy I would see him sometimes
Joining the used up men who would gather
Around oil drum trash fires, flaring high
They’d shuffle aside and make space for him
As should not courtiers for their king?.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


"Your muse is worried," said Baba Yaga,
"Two years almost you've been retired
And you still have not written Paradise Lost."
"Why should I even want to? John Milton beat me to it."
"Dazhe tak, we feel you're growing slack. Even Cardea,
Goddess of door hinges, said so the other day."
"As far as I know, I am Cardea's last worshipper;
If she wants me to write Paradise Lost, tell her
She should, like a proper goddess, come tell me so
In a riddling dream which I can misunderstand
Or disguised as Madonna or Justin Bieber."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


He was named Mordechai but came to America
Where he turned into Max. His wife called him Mortrazik
And his children, the ninth of whom was my father,
Called him Poppa. I cannot call up his true ghost
Since before we met age and Parkinson's
Locked his words away and set his hand trembling.
Thus, I turn to my father's ghost who says his father
Was tall and very strong and overflowed with merriment
(Try bring merry with 9 children. Just try.)
He called my father Sock because that was his first word
And how should a baby not know his own name?
Sock believed Max was a detective. Chasing crooks?
No problem; Max had the ability to jump over a garage.
(Max had a sense of proportion; he never claimed
He could leap over a house.) Sock knew his father
Was a tailor, but where is it written that a tailor
Can't also fight crime? I like to think of my father
Watching his father gracefully jumping
Over the surprised garages of Brooklyn.

Monday, November 9, 2015


In an old French book a man’s love
Takes off its hat to say goodbye;
Why is my love not like that?
I don’t think it’s ever owned a hat
And, if it did, it’s never worn it.
Unkempt, unshaven, stumble-tongued –
It knows nothing of good manners
(I wouldn’t be surprised if it drinks, too)

I could, I suppose, buy my love a hat
A jaunty one, with a tall feather --
But what if it then grew vain
And insisted I rig it out as a musketeer
Complete with cape and high boots
A  tabard and, of course, a musket?
Not even in dreams does wisdom say
Teach your love the use of firearms.

Friday, November 6, 2015


It feels brave to sail a ghostly galleon
Across purple seas but the day comes
When the owner wants profit, not romance;
The market in gypsy ribbons is depressed
There are few buyers for hair like moldy hay.
Years ago such ships in lean times
Might ferry ghosts across the Channel.
Frenchmen – you can look this up –
Used to itch to leave France when they died;
Caesar saw their ghosts crowding the sides
Of vessels that sat low in the water.
What will our deceased wives say
If we come back after so many years
Without money, without songs,
Our pockets stuffed only with ribbons?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


On the advice of Dame Frances Yates
I built a memory palace years ago
(A small one; more a villa, really)
Stocked with symbolic statues,
Enigmatic pictures, weapons, geegaws,
And instruments I cannot play –
All intended to refresh my recollection
Of the vast stores of information
I intended to acquire. (My childhood
Was a series of flags, a flutophone
And a gaudily dressed toy bear).
When my house vanished I moved
Into the palace's old stables
Where someone -- not me; I can’t drive –
Had abandoned a Knox Runabout
With three flat tires. The palace itself
Has been much abused; cats and ninjas,
For no reason I can understand,
Broke in and, apparently disheartened
By the paltry memories I'd left,
Sanded some down and repainted them
Sold or gave away many others,
Dragged in things that caught their fancy
And rearranged everything. I am pretty sure
I was not actually the criminal mastermind
Known as the Dreadlord Zircon 
The summer after fourth grade and yet
I recall so clearly the highlights of his career
And --if the statue of Trismegistos isn't lying –
Exactly where my gang and I hid our loot.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


The old ghost came to my father
Because a dog had told him help,
If anywhere, would be there.
My father was sympathetic
But would die in a few days
Nothing for it but to make the ghost
A rabbi, a Chinese rabbi,
Seeking relief for his flooded province
From Zhu Yujian, the last Ming emperor.
The road was long; the emperor
And the rabbi were dead when they met
The rabbi took his place with the ghosts
My father had sent to make a court
For the emperor's abandoned spirit.

Monday, November 2, 2015


No one watches;
Quickly now – slip across!
Look for a ruined imaret
Glittering with blue tiles;
If it suddenly rears up
Whole as once it was
The lands debatable
Are at your back.
Find a new face;
Assume an old name .