Monday, February 29, 2016


God stretches and stands,
Reaching for the stick and the slouch hat
(Which the seraphim hate
Since it makes Him look disreputable)
And whistles for His dog, meaning
To be off again on His travels.
As usual, He pauses, sighs,
Puts down the stick, hangs the hat
Back on its hook, and gives the dog
A biscuit. Still, three senior angels
Have drawn up protocols, just in case.

Friday, February 26, 2016


"Some day, George," said the music master
You will be king. You will reign decades
Go mad, go sane, go mad again
And stay that way. A long white beard
Straggles down your chest; no one
Thinks it wise to let you near a razor.
Oh, you will also become almost blind
Stumbling through the palace, arguing
With dead ministers. Your only consolation,
Perhaps, will be the hours you spend
Playing the harpsichord, boldly and inaccurately
As befits a trueborn king. Usually
You will play something by Handel. But this
All depends on your learning it now."
"What did you say? I'm sorry, Sir;
The gardener's daughter passed by outside."
"Never mind. Start from the beginning
And keep your eyes on the music."

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Ghosts are squatting still
In the imaginary palace I built
After reading Dame Frances Yates
On the ancient art of memory.
She recommended storing information
And recollections in ordered ranks
In the rooms of some fancied structure
So they could be easily retrieved.
It turns out I have no knack
For building palaces. (My inability
To draw a straight line
Should have tipped me off.)
Though I invite them, no monsters
Will ever stay in the moat. A pig
And three hens live there.
Once in a while a griffon
Who belonged to Pope Gelasius
Perches on the balustrade
(If that odd thing is a balustrade;
I really should have looked
At the definition before building it)

My memories took one glance
And refused to move in. Most of them,
I think, are homeless and living rough
So I can never find them when I want.
They come by when they feel like it
Then leave when I want them most.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I can tell when my soul is present
Which is not much of the time
Unless it has so mastered silence
That I hear no sound as it lurks
In some dark alley of myself,
Perched on a trash bin, watching
And listening and taking notes
Which it intends to produce
Once the defending angel says
"Your witness." If it is truly in me
All the time, never out drinking
Coffee or something worse
From chipped cups with, say,
The ghosts of Edward 
And Dennis and Hedda Hopper
Tell it that I consider it a damn snitch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


That Boreas denies this wind is no surprise
Zephyr says it is never one of hers
Since she has been dead since Great Leo
Pleaded for the life of
Notus, busy with his thesis,
Does scratch work on weekends
Making small breezes only the mice notice.
As ever, unlucky Eurus speaks no word,
But shakes his head furiously
The brushwork reminds me of Pazuzu's
But looks more delicate than he could manage
If the wind is your work send proof and I
Will bring it to you, riding my eight-legged horse.

Monday, February 22, 2016


From the sky’s fifth quarter comes the wind
Houses shiver; the trees pretend indifference
Though the dead leaves turn green
And swirl up to their former stations.
Senior dogs are gathering in alleys,
Trying to plan a measured response;
The cats frantically barricade the streets
With old crones' bones and blank gravestones
And mortared confessions no one owns.
On its hook in his shop the butcher's apron
Sings gay and gaudy lies about him
A poem comes to my hand; all beak and talons
And crafty eyes turned cold with rage.

Friday, February 19, 2016


While everyone else in that large family slept
My father would be awake in the attic
Studying perhaps, or writing imperishable things
Which have perished. After her hard day's work,
His mother would read old newspapers
In the kitchen. (She got full value from her papers
Never letting one go until she had read it all
The news, the ads, the serialized novel,
Advice, recipes and those strange short bits
Compositors used to make the columns even.)
A few hours before dawn she would go upstairs
And bring him some tea and perhaps a cookie.
Did she bring a cup for herself sometimes?
And what did they discuss, those nachtvolk?

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Picture unwritten poems as a hopeful, shabby lot,
Extras in La Boheme, with eyes keenly focused
On the health of the stars playing Rodolfo or Mimi
Late at night, over coarse wine,
They discuss who might write them into being
"Szymborska? I heard she was dead. Besides,
I don't look good in Polish. There's a Scottish girl
Who might do, but I think she's a bit young for me;
Or then there's always that blog fellow.
His muse tells me he's desperate."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


My father slept as a boy
Beneath warm blankets his father
Sewed together from scraps.
The first toys he had were a bottle,
A spoon, and some large spools
Which had been honorably retired
From holding thread. They spent
Their leisure years as towers
Or racing across a kitchen floor.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The winter stars pretend
They know nothing of me
Nor of the vows
Spring heard me make.

Giant balls of flaming gas!
Do you deem me too small
To be kept to my promises?
I will put my hand up
And make you vanish!

Monday, February 15, 2016


For a small fee, the public letter writer
Will write you a dream. She is very wise
And very calm and very old. Her eyes
Are large and quite sad. In truth,
Those who say she has been dead
Since 1912 have the right of it. No matter;
You will find her sitting in the shade
Of a long-demolished building.
She will see you two blocks away
Noticing your shop window reflection
Looks nothing like you today.
Before you were born she knew
You would come, and what dream
You would ask for and what dream
You should have asked for instead.

Friday, February 12, 2016


When he was 19 Rimbaud
Decided he was done with poems.
To prove he was in earnest
He bought a revolver
Threatening to shoot
Any poem which approached
And asked him to write it.
Having achieved no consummation
His unwritten poetry
Lingers. Tourists report seeing it
On gray-green nights
Throwing rocks into the River

Thursday, February 11, 2016


The poem trying to escape my head
Is too noisy for me to understand.
Is it a love poem, or one made for spite
Or another damned vision coming to me
Because my father who, since his death,
Wears the robes of an adviser
At the court of the last Ming emperor,
Is busy arbitrating the affairs of ghosts?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Since she died time has not marched on for my mother
But ambled, moseyed, meandered, hopped on one foot
And then on the other, jumped rope (single and double-Dutch)
Gone off on tangents and sometime flowed uphill
So that my 10 year old self accepts days
When he eats lunch (a hamburger on rye bread;
Cream of mushroom soup from a shallow green bowl )
With me as I was at 7 months (some sort of glop, eaten with gusto)
Or as I may be at 96 (some sort of glop, eaten with gusto).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Dogs and cats used to visit the Lvoviner
Mostly towards dusk. The dogs would loiter
In the courtyard, pretending surprise
That accident had brought them there.
A gesture from the rav, one eyebrow raised
Or lowered, even a shrewd glance
Would satisfy them. Cats, though,
Convinced they were kin, would just turn up
In drawers and closets, under blankets,
Staying as long as they wished. Cold nights
Found them on the Lvoviner's chest, claiming
They were there to keep him warm.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


If things were still as they were
A hard road would lead to hearing
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Number 1,
With Vladimir Horowitz, Arturo Toscanini,
And the New York Philharmonic of 1942.
First, you’d have to collect a pinch of grave dust
For each musician, as well as the stagehands
(Union rules forbid resurrecting the orchestra
Without the stagehands). A flautist
And a French horn player are still alive;
You would have to send them tickets
And make them young again. Then,
Having conjured up the dead (Hint:
Call up Toscanini first) and restored the living
You’d book the Platonic Ideal of concert halls
(Good luck finding an open date!),
Allow for rehearsals, allow for Horowitz
Quitting in a fury no fewer than three times,
But probably no more than seven,
Tell the Tsar that if he wants to come
He must buy a ticket like anyone else.
Well worth it, of course, but not at all easy.
As it is, I put on my earphones and the ghosts
(How kind they have become in death!)
Play it for me, and then the Emperor Concerto.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


When you left school at ten, Grandpa,
What was your first job?
Your mother -- what did she call you?
Were you with your young wife
When she slipped on an icy stair
Then died bearing your daughter?
Was it returning from her grave
That you first set your watch
A few minutes fast? How surprised
Doom's henchman must have been
When next he leapt from the shadows
To find you five minutes away!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


One day in her home town my grandmother Esther
Saw the ghost of the Emperor. This surprised her;
Franz Joseph was alive and even if he wasn’t,
Why would he be selling used clothes in Lemberg?
Still, she had no doubt. This was the face she’d seen
On stamps and coins, in schools and post offices.
She had always a soft spot for the Emperor;
And many decades later, in far-off Brooklyn,
Deemed herself still a reasonably loyal subject.
Her husband could, if he wanted – and he did –
Vote for Roosevelt but she, having grown up
With a monarch, considered a president
To be something inconsiderable. Franz Joseph
Did not roam about asking people to elect him.

Esther was 15 that day in the market with no intent
Of ever leaving Lemberg. Sometimes in her dreams
She flew, but when she looked down, saw the Poltowa,
Its bridges filled with statues which craned their necks
To see her flying by, waving at them.
(Her ninth child, my father,  also flew in his sleep
But I don’t know if he ever saw the Poltowa.)
Brave, she walked up to the Emperor
Who was extolling a pair of almost new pants
To a skeptical buyer, stretching the cloth
In his semitransparent hands. He gave her a smile
Behind his enormous mustache. How we have dwindled!
I cannot talk to dogs; I cannot fly in dreams
The closest I’ve been to an emperor is not very close
Though Dwight Eisenhower walked into my mother,
Knocking her down, three months before I was born.

Monday, February 1, 2016


When my grandmother died her ghost
Lingered for a few weeks to finish reading
Some of the decades-old newspapers
She had stored in the basement.
It was 1977, but she wanted to finish
Some serialized novels and be sure
That the Siege of
Stalingrad was over
And the Allies had still won World War II
Leaving her free to revisit her real home
In the debatable lands of middle