Thursday, March 31, 2016


A song about plum blossoms
From a yellow house by the water;
Li Po walked on, not realizing
His shadow remained behind
Playing  an accompaniment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Those days I was much troubled by the Moon
midnight often sent me down the midway
Of a fair closed before I was born.
On my way to Masaryk's statue I'd pass
The tower room from which you might be looking.
I would express regret to the statue that its subject
Had been thrown from a window in
Some nights he’d answer "Long ago it was,"
"Long ago and quickly over."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


After Li Po died his shadow became a monk
Living on a mountainside, practising austerities
And doing a good deed now and then
Until by mixing distilled holiness and a little dark magic
He felt he might conjure Li Po back into the world.
Sadly, he'd over-estimated his powers
Raising up only two jingle writers,
A weaver, three grey pheasants, a cook
And a horse who could do simple math.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Some days I am tempted to send a note
To everyone I know saying
La belle dame sans merci hath thee in thrall
Just to see who writes back "Yes!
Exactly so! But how did you guess?"

Friday, March 25, 2016


A fine thing! Your brother has a destiny
So strong it casually picks you up in Dublin
And deposits you in Trieste
Where you teach English for many years
The poems you never wrote mourn for you.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


The Chinese poet Li Po often wandered
Into my father’s stories. He’d enter juggling
Three oranges, a rooster and the moon
Or telling about a night spent failing
To outdrink his shadow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Post Your Own

Or go back to the first post. A blog is generally written forwards and read backwards.


If there was reason enough, I suppose
Baba Yaga could make a rough figure
From dust and twigs. St. Anthony might find something
Very like my soul, perhaps caught in a hedge
Or loitering with La Golue and Boneless Valentin.
The Lvoviner would recite a nine syllabled name;
His wife would correct his pronunciation.
The mad king would provide music; Li Po
Would bring wine and amuse the cats.
The magician's wand -- not the ebony one
Chased with gold but the plain ash stick
That works -- would be tapped three times
And there I'd be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Concerned he might be fictional
The Lvoviner turned to God
Who was also troubled.
"What choice have I, Lvoviner
But to show mercy, heal the sick,
Punish the joyfully evil?
How much harder this will be
If I don't even exist! Come along;
We will consult Bishop Berkeley
Perhaps he has found an answer."

Monday, March 21, 2016


Perhaps when it is done the poem
Will be a pale and timid thing,
Squeakerous, furtive, drooping,
With eyes three-quarters closed.
Now, though, as it clamorously
Demands to be born, it swears
It will be more than seven feet tall
With teeth to crack a walnut
And a gut to digest the shell.

Friday, March 18, 2016


Just as  Hannah Moore promised me,
Reading popular fiction debased my taste,
Slackened my intellectual nerve,
Let down my understanding and --
I wonder Hannah knew this –
Setting my fancy loose, sent it gadding
Among low and mean objects
Where, I have to admit the life
Seems to suit it. It seldom comes home
(My taste, my intellectual nerve
And my understanding still live with me)
But when it does, it has feathers in its hair
And it always brings presents --
The geisha it found in Montmartre,
The rag and clockwork imagination
Which works well enough in dry weather.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Since you were written in light
I’d have translated you
Into my native tongue:
Gestures, smoke, echoes;
But you were living with numbers
Then somehow married a bone
The coffee I drank long ago
So I could see you still
Forbids me ever to sleep.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Most of my prayers
Never make it out of the City
Sometimes I'll see them
Begging for change on the subway
Or wearily resting in the steam
Rising from a sidewalk grating.
One of them plays chess
With ghosts in
Union Square.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


If your stay must be short
The best way to see Heaven
Is from atop a mad elephant
Who stops for nothing.
As you race by, angels
Stop dancing on pins;
A few wave. Cats
(Your sister says there are
No cats in Heaven?
Tell her she's wrong. )
Leap from rooftops
Joining you for a bit.
(Though they won't admit it
They are secretly grateful
That you and your elephant
Have come to Heaven
To give them a ride.)

Monday, March 14, 2016


Bad enough is that day in Spring when an hour is taken clean away from your life, and you can start a sneeze at 3 of the clock and finish it at 4, but worse, I've always felt, is that day in Fall when they purport to give it back. I don't know what sort of system is used, or how the hours are stored between times, but it's a right muddle. Not once have I gotten the right hour back. Nothing has helped; I've tried writing letters and burning them by the light of a quarter moon when the wind was towards the West; I've carefully written my name and address in indelible ink on the edge of the poor hour (which wept when it was taken). For all the good it's done I might as well have been trying to store light in a leaky barrel.

Not many are so tidy with time as I am, and I resent having to live through a strange hour filled with the crumbs and detritus of some one else's life. Still, there's a sort of fascination in sorting through each year and inventorying the contents of a stranger's hour.

The hour is both taken and returned at night in the hope, perhaps, that the transaction will pass unnoticed. Accordingly, it's common to find a dream or two, disconsolately kicking its heels at having been left like a bug in amber for half a year. I once spent nearly the whole of the stranger's hour vainly trying to comfort a prophetic dream which now found itself without purpose; the event which it was to foretell in brilliantly illusive and ambiguous terms had taken place during the late Summer. Worse, it was mostly in a language with which I am only vaguely acquainted, so many of the most poetic thoughts and references shot right past me.

Then there was the nightmare which, released from long imprisonment leaped at me with a gleeful roar, only to pull back in horror when it saw I wasn't it's intended victim and - even worse - that I am rather fond than otherwise of poisonous spiders. It took three shots of absinthe before it stopped shuddering.

Perhaps worse than the misplaced dreams are the sudden insights which find themselves in the wrong head. Some place in the world, I know, there is a person longing to understand the meaning of creation, and another who desperately wishes to know what Kathy sees in Jake. If I had their addresses I might write them; I would be more than glad to let the mystery writer know how it is possible that Lord Clutterbock was murdered while alone in the locked space station.

Most of my experiences with these stray hours have been interesting, though not without their distressing aspects. The hour passes, taking it's fading dreams or hopes or despairs with it, and I'm back in my own time, with which I have always maintained a relationship of formal politeness. The real problem comes when the hour that was taken holds someone's Death in it. A man's death doesn't fade wistfully away, or melt like a witch in soapy water. The hour goes and I'm left with an unemployed Death sitting there.

Sheer courtesy forbids me to shoo it out into the hallway. What would it do there at 4 in the morning? The three times I've confronted this situation, which is more common, I suspect, than the authorities let on, I've wound up with some stranger's Death sleeping in the spare bed. To be fair, they fold the sheets and clean up the next day.

You'd be surprised at how limited their job skills are. Sure, they can appear dramatically and extract a soul from it's mortal container and then lead it past innumerable hazards (the bridge made of knife-blades, the caverns of fire, the big sheep, and the like) to a realm of inutterable bliss or eternal woe, or a dimly-lit arcade where the soul plays a sort of skittles until its karma calls for it to be reborn, but none of these are much called for in the modern world. At least a passing acquaintance with word-processing would do them all a world of good.

I'll give them that they're a resilient lot. Once they're over the initial shock of having missed their intended target they're not afraid of a little hard work, and, with some advice from me and perhaps a loan (scrupulously paid back), they soon become hospital orderlies or prison guards or lunch room aides. I see them on the street sometimes - they've settled in the neighborhood - and they're always pleasant. I only hope if my death (which seems long overdue, though I'm not one to complain about such things) has met the same fate that someone has done the right thing by it. I hate to think of my poor death sitting somewhere, lost and cold, with no friend to give it a kind word or a good meal.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Green leaves and flowers;
From measureless unbeing
You almost traveled
To the shores of day
A treacherous stone
Or foe unsuspected;
The tale goes untold.

Green leaves and flowers;
Do not rest easy!
Be of great heart
A hero high-headed
Among the unborn.
Find love, kinsman.

Green leaves and flowers
And sky-colored cloth
Echo of an unheard voice
Memory of an unseen face.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


My father's late for the rehearsal
So this poem's supporting cast -- a banshee,
Two cats, my grandmother, most
Of the 1939 Dodgers, Sts. Brigid and Jerome,
Jerome's lion and Hans Castorp --
Amuse themselves as best they can
Crowded into my grandmother's kitchen.
(It is
3 a.m., but she would've been awake
Even if I hadn't sent this crowd along)
The banshee tells a very involved joke
At which only my grandmother laughs
The cats debate proper ways to greet
The ghost of the last Ming Emperor
Who is said to be travelling with my father.
There is a noise outside, but it is only
Castor Oyl and J. Wellington Wimpy,
Players from Thimble Theater, hoping
For some work as extras in the poem.
The banshee is starting another joke:
"Nat Silver, the ghost of an emperor
And Li
Po's shadow walk into a bar ..."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


When Baba Yaga appeared among the gods
Her house -- the one with the chicken legs --
Determined to improve itself. Day after day
It does deep-knee bends for hours. The owls,
Who have colonized the rafters, complain
That they’re turning into doves;
Baba Yaga lets them keep their talons
And has added phosphorescent eyes and fangs.
The mice in the straw have discovered
They can do conjuring and grant wishes;
The doves say this spoils their taste entirely.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


I meant to type the phrase "at need"
But my machine, in its mechanical despair,
Conjured up St. Nerd. As a new saint,
And a rather clumsy one at that,
He solicits your prayers. Send him some;
We will sift through them. Who knows
What sort of miracles he may have
Up the sleeve of his misbuttoned shirt?

Monday, March 7, 2016


Lincoln, my father said, spoke of a tonic
Which would make a new man of you
And there'd be enough left over
To make a little yellow dog. I smiled --
Strange bits of information were always
Fluttering around my father, so at need
He could pluck one from the air. Now,
A bit late, I wonder. Who sells this tonic?
What would this new man be like?
Would the yellow dog live with him
Or make its own way in the world?

Friday, March 4, 2016


I knew Eternity when I was in high school
He and God and I -- unpopular kids --
Would eat lunch together most days.
Since William Blake can’t keep his mouth shut
Everyone knew that Eternity was in love
With the Productions of Time. (There were
A lot of them and God used to claim
He had trouble telling them apart).
They mostly seemed to find him rather creepy;
“It’s like he’s stalking us; he is always there!
He needs a hobby. Or a life.”

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Knowing from what language I was translated
Would be of some use, I think. It is obvious
I am not the original; words from different eras
Jangle against each other in sentences which
May be disconcertingly short or instead,
Gasping for air, straggle on interminably.
Then there are my obscure references;
Did I really mean to compare the sun’s course
To a broken-backed snake? If so, why?
Was I thinking of Alexander Pope’s
The Art of Sinking in Poetry? Again, why?
If nothing else, the inept use of idiom
And the embarrassing attempts at modern slang
Make it all too clear that much has been lost
And replaced by the first thing the translator
Found to hand – broken bits of glass,
Poorly-stuffed animals, memories of a girl
He meant to talk to in 1974.

                                                At times I wonder
If there was an original or if – it happens –
I was born in translation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


It is not really a matter of shame
That my family's banshee sets to wailing
When one of us is about to die
But I find it puzzling. Banshees are Irish
While my father's folk were Polish Jews.
Having a dybbuk would be more regular
(And, in fact, we do,  it having replaced
One of my cousins years ago). We are,
Usually, long lived folk so the banshee
Often waits years between engagements.
When my father was dying it spent days
Wailing and washing clothes in the duck pond
Behind the town library; the ducks -- a surly lot --
Complained to the Library Board which,
Out of respect for the books my dad had read
And because banshees have talons, voted
Six to four to do nothing whatever.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


I’ve read of a woman who believed the moon
Was her first husband. When it was full
She would stand in the street and yell at it
Saying it had never loved her. As it waned
She grew kinder, called it pet names,
Urged it to come inside or, if it insisted
On braving the night air, to at least
Put on a scarf, a coat, some gloves.