Friday, December 30, 2016


Grey water on a cold day.
Frozen ground that rings
Beneath my feet. A gull
Hangs in the air, unmoving.
Unblessed hour, why
Should I remember you?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Hell endures but its patience
Does not. Wearied of Dante
And his poking about, some
Of the more creative devils
Ran up a good imitation
Of Purgatory for him to see
And then outdid themselves, making
A Paradise rather like the one
They remembered in the hope
That he'd be satisfied and
Go back to Florence. Alas,
The demon playing Beatrice
Fell in love with Ba'al, whose God
Won raves from all the critics
In Hell (insert here joke
Referencing number of critics
In Hell). Both of them at last
Had to be exiled to Heaven.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Dogs he understood, and cats would nod to him
As one well fit to give counsel in perplexity
But of the language of birds he had little
Enough to ask for directions, perhaps,
Or to know a joke was being told. Just as well,
He said, to hear birdsong as music. Winter geese,
If you let them, could break your heart.

Monday, December 26, 2016


Years ago my morning self
Bitterly insulted my evening self
Apparently there was a duel
Of which I only heard
After my morning self
Had been gravely wounded
And carried home on a shutter.
My evening self spent some years
In Ostend, to avoid arrest.
The world spins; when now we meet
We discuss indifferent things.

Friday, December 23, 2016


What if the sea should fall in love
Thinking of you until it grew
Sick with longing and the kraken
Asleep in the deepmost waters
Grew uneasy because the sea
Was leaving its work undone?
What if the Moon wrote poems
Remembering that it saw you first
In some southern latitude
And its heart is troubled still?
What if the Prince of Fools
Grew wise with wanting you
And sought counsel from the Moon
And sought comfort from the sea?

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Thanks to a Google misread
Of an old book, Libitina,
Formerly a corpse goddess
Is now Goddess of Corners
The saints, not to be outdone,
Are holding interviews
For a patron saint of corners.
If you think you may qualify
Please appear simultaneously
(Since saints can bilocate)
At our offices in
Tierra del Fuego.
Applicants should bring
Photo i.d. or miraculous icon
And proof of access
To the illimitable power of God.
Also, if you are one of Ursula's
Eleven thousand virgins
Please remember that
We remain uncertain whether
Any of you are free-standing saints
Or just attributes who can talk.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The very first crocodile began a thought
But could not finish it because
Cold blood slows the synapses.
His sons and daughters went on
With that thought and even now
Each crocodile contributes what he can.
Some argue that the world continues
Because angels, leaning on their spears,
Are waiting to see how the thought
Looks when finally it is complete.

Monday, December 19, 2016


If the spider in his web
Over the chipped basin
Chooses to wear mourning
What is it to me? His hat
Has a band around it;
His coat is some color
Much darker than black.
Every one of his eyes
Is filled with compassion.
I draw away; his sympathy
Might be infectious

Friday, December 16, 2016


In ancient Rome when the time came
For the dead of the house to leave
A living man would stand by the door
And spit beans into the street. It may be
That this only works for Roman ghosts
Or perhaps I use the wrong sort of beans
But my dead just shake their heads,
Mulling over who among them
Should most be blamed for me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


There are days when death is not one
But a wrangling committee
Including three gods, a dog,
A backtracking algorithm that squints
And something that looks like an abacus
With an indefinite number of legs.
Libitina, once the Goddess of Corpses
But now of Corners, due to a misprint,
Is a non-voting member. Of them all
She is only one who, if I asked,
Might give me a lift back home.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


After he died, my grandfather Joe
Got a job in a good copy
Of an Edward Hopper painting --
The famous one, Nighthawks.
I visit sometimes. He hangs
In my doctor's waiting room
Sitting on the corner stool
In the center left of the picture.
The pay, he says, is not much
But the coffee is good
And the refills unlimited.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Of a sudden, one of my eyes
Is farsighted while the other
Remains myopic as ever.
If some poem of mine now
Seems particularly unfocused
Try looking from across the room
Or squinting at it closely.
If these don't work
You might pretend to walk away
And then whip your head round
To see what it gets up to
When no one's watching.

Friday, December 9, 2016


Emperor Rudolf had a bell
To summon the dead
One night he rang it.
First came old Fritz
His former servant
Who died of typhus;
He asked if Rudolf wanted wine.
No, said Rudolf, nor beer
Nor kirsch nor even
A nice warm negus
With nutmeg sprinkled on.
"Tell me, good Fritz,
The secrets of the dead!"
"Sire, I know none. I could
Tell you how to make negus?
First, heat  but don't boil
A fair measure of port
(It needn't be very good port)
Stir in some lemon juice
And a lump of sugar. Cinnamon,
If you have it, and then nutmeg;
A bit of clover honey
(Clover, mind you, or the negus
Will be ordinary)
Half a measure of boiling water
And drink it right down.”

Next, the ghost of a sentry
Drowned three winters ago
From falling in the Vlatava.
The only secret he could impart
Concerned a grouchy barmaid
Who knew how to cure
Even the worst of hangovers.
The Emperor wrote down her name
In his Kunstcammer catalogue, beneath
A drawing of an ape holding a mirror
For a perplexed-looking mermaid.
That note has caused much confusion
To modern students of his reign.

Last came Rudolf’s own ghost
Looking very thin and parched.
He would not speak but was willing
To play chess. He won two games
And drew the third.

Monday, December 5, 2016


I will probably be away from this blog for a little bit for medical-type stuff. The six or eight of you should talk among yourselves for the next week or so, read the old posts, or put up arcane coments.
Also, rejoice! Rejoicing is important.

Li Po called on the Moon
And his shadow to drink
And to dance with him.
Who knows but if you call
They will answer you?

Sin and Death built a road
Where no road could be
Perhaps your morning bus
Travels that road.
Examine the other riders!

Friday, December 2, 2016


When I first met the white horse
He had Napoleon on his back;
They were crossing the
This was in a magazine ad -
For Courvoisier, I think -- the Emperor
Flourished his sword and pretended
He was off to conquer
You could tell he felt embarassed
To be shilling for a liquor company.
I haven't seen the ad in years
But yesterday I saw the horse
In a Rubens painting. Napoleon
Does not appear there. Perhaps
He told his agent "If Rubens calls
Tell him I'm not born yet."
Instead, the rider is an Arab hunter
Who's being bitten by a tiger. The tiger
Looks angry; the hunter looks surprised.
The horse looks as he always does
Rearing, tossing his handsome head,
His eyes large and intelligent,
Pretending to be barely under control
But inwardly poised, waiting
For the painter to put away his paints
His tiger, his hunter, his emperor,
And pull out a nice apple.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Two old people are talking on film
For all the world as if they were living still.
Siegmar reads poetry, his fine voice
Grown reedy with age. Lois listens, then says
That in China, where poetry is chanted. you see
People walking by, chanting to themselves.
The camera pans around the room –
Wall hangings, a lamp, some pictures
A blue teapot; mismatched salt and pepper shakers
(The salt tall and tapering, the pepper short and fluted,
Their tops dented from many years of use.)
Lois gently runs a finger over the teapot
Whose shape calls for just such treatment.
Who would think I could so miss a salt shaker
Or need to bid a teapot a long farewell?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


(These postings, of course, mostly add up to an autobiography. It's a bit surprising, I admit, t find out how big a role a variety of things including demons, saints, Baba Yaga. kings who can fly and ancient parliaments seem to have played. I should have paid closer attention.)

Though rain was expected the Addled Parliament
Had gone out lightly clad and came back
Feverish and delusional. The Useless Parliament
Ran off for a doctor but got hopelessly lost.
The Merciless Parliament and the Blessed Parliament
Were dancing and could not be disturbed.
The Good, the Bad, the Long, the Short, the Black,
And the Parliaments of Dunces and of Birds all refused
To reconstitute themselves. Only the Parliament of Bats
And the Mad Parliament were there at the end.
Later, the Rump came into the death chamber
To weep and steal one of the pennies the Mad
Had left upon the Addled's eyes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Towards the end of her life
Dame Edith had doubts
That she was still real.
On days she wasn't careful
She'd pass through walls
Or surprise her reflection
Looking somewhere else.
She wrote a friend
That the poems didn't care
So long as she wrote them down.

Monday, November 28, 2016


I knew an angel so old
He remembered the universe that God
Did not make. He worked, as I did,
At the Tourist Bureau in Ghent
Answering the questions of people
Who’d meant to be in Antwerp
And ghosts seeking Bruges.
When the front office needed,
Or thought they did, a miracle
I would be sent to find him,

Angels can bilocate so he was often
In two places. During office hours
He might be off drinking with demons –
There are an awful lot of them in Ghent --
While also in the supply room
Playing cards with the shadows
Of clerks who died centuries ago.
They cheated, but so did he
Which may be why he was in Ghent
And not hanging about in Heaven.

Friday, November 25, 2016


I am grateful that bears
(Or was it smugglers? Memory
Never agrees twice running)
Gave me in a dream new papers
Proving beyond doubt
That I exist. But I am uneasy.
When I sleep my shadow
Arrives late and disheveled.
If a cat walks by my shadow
Abandons me and follows it.
Days later Franz Kafka
Or Elinor Glynn or both
Send me insistent visions
That my shadow -- again!--
Needs to post bail.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


A side effect of discovering the elixir of immortality
used to be
That tigers would obey you. (Scholars still debate
What position jaguars, cheetahs and ocelots would take.
Lions, it is known, would just look worried
As if you spoke some language they'd long forgotten.)
In these sad days, though, the most to be expected
Is that cats will sometimes bid you good day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Occasionally I call up a sheet
From the 1940 census. There my father
Is thirteen, the youngest of nine people
Living in his parents house. Doris,
His sister, is still Dora and Jack,
His sister Annes husband, lives there too.
All but one of the surviving children
Live together; Harry is elsewhere.
They werent much for black sheep
But if they had been Harry
Would have applied for the position.
In a later world where I existed
Harry was a sort of irate spirit
Spoken of but seldom seen
But he lived somewhere and did
Something, perhaps many things.
My inventory of facts on him is small.
Like my grandfather, he could perform
Lightning calculations. He went west
To work for a New Deal project
He had a mean streak; money
Never stayed long with him. Sometimes
When my father sang hed remember
That the song was one Harry taught him.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The sun shone when you were born
For 12.39 hours. The high temperature
Was 87 degrees. That night the low
Was 71. There was a gibbous moon
Waning towards its vanishment.
Three macaques whod escaped
From the Parque Zoological Lofling
Had made it across the border
And decided to chance their luck
In the city called The Avila's Odalisque
(Macaques are all romantics)
They were moving in the shadows
On the Avenida el Rosario
Just when you gave your first cry
And, wishing you well, disappeared
Into a dim-lit bar. In those days
Anyone with a few pesos
Could buy all the drinks he wanted.
(Ice, though, would cost you extra.)

Friday, November 18, 2016


Take a lower cabin with a porthole?
You'll half-suffocate in rough weather
When it is shut fast. Upper cabins
Have skuttles which can remain open
But, if there's a fight, the sailors
Will knock down your cabin
To make room for the cannon.
Really, this decision of yours
To go to
India via the year 1810
Increasingly seems ill-advised.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Very late on cold nights certain stars --
Visible only two hours after
And only from the Midway --
Would take me on long looping walks.
I'd pass your house and wind up
Strolling along
59th Street.
Then, crossing a field, I'd exchange shrugs
With the tall and lonely memorial
To Tomas Garrigue Masaryk.
(Winds off
Lake Erie enforced our privacy.)
He'd tell me that unsuccess in love
Was bad but having your son
Thrown from a high window
On Stalin's orders was worse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Sometimes when I know there is no hope of reaching some destination in my dream my friend's car pulls up, opens its door, and we set off. My friend, alas, is dead even in dreams so there’s no one behind the wheel, but the car is used to driving itself. Even when I first knew it, decades ago, it was more the idea of a car than the thing itself, as if the pieces of many old machines -- only some of them cars -- had found themselves in proximity to each other and decided to pretend to be a car. It has bumpers meant for a bigger vehicle and its rear windows cannot be lowered. To keep things in balance, the front windows cannot be raised. It knows I am not its master but remembers me as someone who always needed a ride.

Monday, November 14, 2016


The urgent need to write arrives
Before the poem since the poem
Is in no hurry to be written
And has its doubts that I
Am really suited to its needs.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Rumor spread through the school
That Mary Dimmish, once a kirkgrim
Who haunted a church and now
English mistress, was keeping
A provost in her cupboard.
(Whether his will kept him there
Or if he was a sort of trophy
Or a souvenir of days at the beach
Rumor would not say, smiling faintly
When pressed by the senior girls).
At last Anne -- an American and so
Not subject to ordinary rules --
Interrupted a session on unsprung rhythm
To ask "Miss Dimmish, everyone says
You have a provost. Do you?"
Miss Dimmish raised her left eyebrow
Then lowered it. Raised the right one
Then blinked twice and sighed.
"Perhaps. But only a very small one."

Thursday, November 10, 2016


John Aubrey kept his dreams in a box
Which wound up in the Ashmolean
Along with his manuscripts, letters,
Drawings, compasses, sea shells
Odd-shaped stones, plans,
Keys, a lute owned by Thomas Hobbes
And a large number of worn boots
Most meant for the right foot.
The dreams in the box now
Are not Aubrey's but belonged
To a nineteenth century curator
Who never threw anything away.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Because I’ve written of them both
The last Ming emperor and St Jerome
Use my dreams as a meeting place.
They seem to enjoy themselves
But time drags for me -- Jerome
Has no words and the emperor
Usually speaks Chinese. Someone
Convinced him that Nid oes ofn
Is how one says thank you
For the use of your dream.
It is not. (I asked Joseph Hucks)
It is Welsh for Have no fear.

Monday, November 7, 2016


It is the fate of some poems to be dismembered, there lines having then to find new homes as best they can. Occasionally, though, it is possible to rejoin them and send the resurrected poem off through the world again, lurching and rejoicing. As here:


The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And mama in her kerchief and I in my cap
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,--
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I thought for a moment it must be Saint Nick.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset was seen;
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn had blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved and for ever grew still!
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!"

Friday, November 4, 2016


Hubris says these dreams are mine
But sense looks skeptical
"Show me some proof of ownership --
A sales receipt, a deed, a will
Naming you residual heir
To your great grandfather's dreams
And his ceremonial spoon collection.
Or just show me the tools
With which you crafted them
And I'll call them yours. No; it's a trick
Language has played on you.
Examine one; is it not older, craftier,
Sturdier than you? Your  soul,
Finding an hour's shelter in a place
Vast and changing, whistles a tune,
Puts beer in the refrigerator,
Says 'this is mine.' "

Thursday, November 3, 2016


In those days we would
Turn our hand to anything.
I still have the work orders
Demanding a ship
Made from dead men's nails
A resistless spear,
A woman made from flowers
And a gallows
Suitable for hanging mice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Do the angels of Bread Street have jobs?
I have never seen them working.
They sleep in doorways
Their great wings furled about them.
They breakfast together unspeaking,
Passing around sacks of stale rolls.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


An absurdly small shadow
Trots at the golem's heels.
It looks something like a cat
Who's lost an ear.
It trips over itself
And occasionally stoops
To examine bugs
Or pebbles or its own feet.
My offers to buy her
A new shadow
Have been refused.

Monday, October 31, 2016


Abetha Gill, Anne Milton’s servant,
Is about 40 and has red hair.
I wish I knew what she did
Before she appeared one day
In a poem I was writing.
She does not approve of Satan
But once gave him a scarf.

Friday, October 28, 2016


For a while, a character from an unwritten book
With a degree in sign language interpretation
Would translate from the lower left  corner
Of my more important dreams. She grew bored
And began doing quick summaries of the action
 "He is having another long conversation
About bears. Now he is being chased by the sink
From his apartment on
Cottage Grove Avenue.
He's talking again but it's just blather.
Wouldn't you rather watch me dance?"
I admit she dances very well
But she was distracting, making me ignore
My dreams and they resented it.
She comes by still from time to time
If it's rainy and she needs a place to sleep.
When did my dreams become a refuge
For imaginary folk without homes?

Thursday, October 27, 2016


The golem who’s been serving as my muse
Stays up all night reading and making
Enormous heaps of cornmeal pancakes.
Despite the pancakes, I have been resisting
Her latest idea which is to write about
Sainte-Beuve’s mistress –  the one
Who wanted him to believe she was Spanish
And so slept every night with a dagger.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Blind Anna, Sam's housekeeper,
Could not tell when dust
Had turned the rugs grey
But Sam never minded.
When she made him tea
Her finger at the rim
Warned her to stop pouring.
Her temper was bad.
Nights he couldn't sleep
They might talk until daybreak.
Dying, she asked him to provide
Some words appropriate
For a conversation with God.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Lost in their music, the horn player,
The fiddler, the straggle-bearded flautist,
Look down but see nothing.
Over in the next painting, men dance.
Two of them hold hands; another
Has just leapt in the air. An old woman
Wearing  a faded red kimono
Is standing on her porch, watching.
If time moved for them, if the song
Could go on, just three notes more,
The woman would smile.

Friday, October 21, 2016


The keeper of the king's conscience
Has horrible dreams. Everyone
Wronged by the king turn up there
Weeping, shouting, shaking their fists.
Who can sleep with such noise?
Sometimes the King's mother --
Bored with being dead -- comes by,
Dressed in rags, her crown askew,
To ask the crowd if they're crazy
"Can't you see this isn't the King,
But just some poor functionary?
Do you think the King lives in a cellar
Which floods every time it rains?
Does he eat only crusts and soup
Because he has no money?"
"No money? Doesn't his position
Come with an enormous salary?"
"Of course it  does. But it's never paid."
"Believe me," says the Keeper
"I feel extremely guilty about that."

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Some mornings I wake up thinking
The Egyptian was right! Heaven
Is surely made of smoke! But then
I start wondering, After all, the Irishman
Saw a cold and rook delighting Heaven
While the Bible builds it of gold
And pearls, jasper and crystal
A vast Faberge egg, lovely but not
Much use if youre hungry. Perhaps
The American soldier had it right
Saying Heaven and Hell and Hoboken
Have much in common.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Hortense Flexner says a minor poet
Can be told by his or her lack
Of invisible banners. Also, she says,
Words never choke him.
I was set upon by words in
In late 1974; they left me bloody
But didn't try to choke me.
I'm pretty sure a gang of words
Stole a bag of raisins from my desk
Some time in the late 1990s.
These probably don't count.
Also, I have searched my house
From attic to cellar without seeing
Any invisible banners.

Monday, October 17, 2016


The very old muse who usually fills in
Is on vacation and my muse is ill.
I have just landed a rush order
For 1500 foot/boards of poetry
By next Thursday so the agency
Has sent me a temporary muse.
I think she is a golem.
Her long arms end in huge fists
Her iron grey eyes rarely blink.
Her forehead hides under lank bangs
But I suspect "emet" is written there
As with all the best-made golems.
When she speaks in her deep voice
An echo repeats her words
But with slight differences in tone
And odd hesitations. Her shadow
Is almost ludicrously too small for her.
We have produced three poems so far.
The first, on a stone lion who becomes
Mayor of
Cincinnati, is amiable enough.
The second, about the sadness of pottery,
Drinks beer after beer and sleeps all day.
I'm not sure what the third one means
But it seems to be wanted by the police.