Friday, April 29, 2016


Though they live a few blocks apart
St. Jerome rarely sees
El Greco's. A few times a year
They lunch at the Harvard Club.
Caravaggio's saints tend to be fit,
Even buff. His powerful old Jerome
Could probably juggle engine blocks
While El Greco's looks as if a breeze
Could carry him aloft if sadness
Didn't ballast him. Caravaggio's
Is a man of means. El Greco's lives rough
And sleeps in a doorway on
Seventh Avenue
Years go by in which he never speaks.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


As I run, I grab an illusion from the ground
And tie it in place with a length of memory
I found in my pocket this morning.
It fits almost comfortably between
A few notes of music, a thunderbolt,
Election returns from 1824, the conclusion
Of a speech the Lost Dauphin would have made
If he’d ever been found, and a radish
Which played a featured role in a story
About the Baal Shem. Still your criticism;
I make myself from what's at hand
And no man can do more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


In the great survey of medieval England
Called the Domesday Book
There is only one female jester.
Her name was Adelina. How hard
To be the only joculatrix in the country!
I see her running at a steady trot
Along the roads, where there were roads,
Somersaulting over hedges, sleeping rough
And not often. As she ran, she'd tell jokes
Or shout out riddles to ploughmen
Breaking the soil with dibble sticks
For spring planting. At harvest,
She'd tell them the answers.
When Death found her at last --
(And a hard time he had searching for her;
Small and fast and wearing motley so faded
You might take her for a shadow)
She was juggling apricocks while telling
A long story about a farmwife, three monks
And a talking duck. Death let her finish,
Let her catch the last apricock in her cap.
Did he laugh? Well, he should have.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


If I were, say, a duke and a troubadour
God might let me have a mistress
Called Dangereuse whose portrait
I would paint on my shield. When the Pope
Demanded I return her to her husband
I’d mock his nuncio for being bald.
Being careless, I might lose an army
But the great Abbey of Fontevraud
Would call me founder. I would sing
That my love's touch made dead men sigh
But her wrath could kill from miles away.
How poets and mistresses have dwindled!

Monday, April 25, 2016


"My children the Egyptians
Are drowning in the
Red Sea!
How can you rejoice?"
So my father, quoting God,
Asked at every seder.
I always wondered
Which rebuked angel
Spoke first. Or is God
Still waiting for an answer?

Friday, April 22, 2016


If I unroll my fingers just so
The gesture may continue
Into the air, growing freer
Passing from tree to tree
Then carried and elaborated
By half an oak leaf here
A torn paper wrapper there.
Translating itself, it is
A riffed sequence of notes
Or a play of colors
Dancing on the water
Or, looking like a girl,
It pays the ferryman
With a coin and a brief smile.
So tired it will be,
So changed, with beads
Woven in its hair, you
Will scarce know it as mine
When it touches your hand

Thursday, April 21, 2016


The world thinks I wear glasses
Because my eyes are bad;
The baby knows I wear them
For her to remove and lick
And lovingly put back on my face.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


If you want the semblance of my Great Uncle
Open Alice in Wonderland to Tenniel's picture
Of Humpty Dumpty. The likeness is uncanny
Except Humpty looks arrogant and Ase
Looked only kind, like a benevolent ogre
His child-eating days long behind him.
Surely he wasn't always bald and craggy
With a grinning, gaping mouth and eyes
Droop lidded but still seeing wonders?
Unlike my grandfather, his younger brother,
Who was small and deft and dapper
Ase was large and sprawling. His fat fingers
Could not do card tricks. What choice then
But to learn magic?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Basho's frog? Swallowed by a heron.
The well? Dried up long ago.
The noise the frog made
Jumping in the well? Still here.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Rav Samael came to me while I slept
Insisting I go with him to the City gates
Where, as most days, he would wait
In case the Messiah came. (When he lived,
Samael went every day but after his death
He’d take the occasional day off
To arbitrate the law suits of the dead
And meddle in the affairs of cats.)
The gates were as I had imagined them
Guarded by old and sleepy soldiers
Who invite us to sit with them.
The last public letter writer,
Whom I’d not seen since the 1920s,
In Paris, was there. Her table
Seemed more rickety than ever
But she was younger by a decade or two.
Her prices were fair so I told her
My ideas for this poem. Reading it over,
It seems different than I meant it to be.

Friday, April 15, 2016


The new moon never came but my grandfather
Said he knew where to find an old one
Having attended the funeral as a boy.
The moon woke with a shudder, shouting
“Flee! The Turks are at the gates of Vienna!”
It took us hours and two bottles of benedictine
To calm him down and make him listen to us
Even then he would occasionally shake his head
And mutter dire warnings; “Birnam Wood
Is on the move! Martians approach Paramus!
Starlings and elms conspire against you!”
He was dubious but agreed to try.
He was too old to just lift over the horizon
So climbed the tallest tree we could find
And then kept climbing until he stopped,
One hand resting on a pale star,
And leaned back, an uncertain crescent
Just enough to see our way home.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Rav Samael is at the city gate at dawn
So the Messiah will be greeted
If he comes today. The soldiers nod;
The ancient public letter writer smiles
And offers him an apple slice.
She sits by her rickety table
Leaning on one elbow, enjoying the shade.
When a customer approaches
A pen appears in her hand; an ink bottle
Uncorks itself. The sand which she'll throw
On the wet ink when she's done
Rattles impatiently in its box.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


My father came back from China
With a second shadow. Mostly
It kept his first one company;
You hardly knew it was there by day
But late nights, after my mother died,
And only my father’s lamp burned
On all of Brokaw Road, it served
As company, telling my father
Of the lost Ming emperor and his cat.
Both shadows were at his funeral
But, though asked, neither spoke.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


As you know, when angels peer into your cave
Booming "Awake! God, in His Wisdom,
Has made you a saint! Go! Glorify Him
And manifest His Love for His Creation!"
It is no use pointing out you're no Christian
Are, in fact, an animal -- a brown bear, say.
As a saint, I draw on God's infinite power
To heal the sick, restore the dead (on occasion),
Do the odd card trick; I've learned to juggle
There are no written instructions.
This, since animals began performing miracles,
Has made life unnecessarily difficult.
Three cats, though, and an elephant
Say they are preparing a manual.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Assume the universe -- except Wales,
Which has always been there --
Begins at 6 p.m., October 22, 4004 B.C.
At which time God sets out from Swansea
In every direction at once.
                                                Where and when
Will He meet Himself; will it be raining there?

Extra credit: When God runs into Himself
He will say "Fancy meeting You! This calls
For a drink!" Where should They go?
How should They split the tab?

Friday, April 8, 2016


Three gods sharing a meal in a dim cafe
Where the waiters have been dead for years
But still work, because the tips are good.
It's grown late but the gods have just
Opened another bottle. One gestures
For the headwaiter to join them.
He takes off his apron, puts on slippers
Sends the busboy for the jeweled crown
Hanging on a nail in the kitchen.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


The part of the story they leave out
Is that just before the latest bride
Can touch the forbidden doorknob
The ghost of Dr. Erwin Schrödinger appears
Saying “For God’s sake, Miss, don’t!
According to my calculations
(And my cat has checked the numbers
Three times and a half)
Until you open that door
All former brides are alive and not alive
Murdered and not murdered.
More than that, all of them
Have written best-selling novels
Some of them have written best-selling novels
None of them even knows how to write
Except Mary-Lou, who pens the occasional feuilleton.
Until you open that door
They have all made ground-breaking discoveries
And none of them has, though Mary-Lou
Has built her own clock-radio.

Leave the door alone and you’ll be so happy
That God will wonder at it
Saying ‘I never made her
To be so happy as all that!’
While being so sad you’ll not go out
In daylight lest the heart of the world
Break into pieces too small and jagged
Ever to be put back together,
And all the other brides
Who will live and not live at the same time
Will be so happy, so sad
Except Mary-Lou. There’s no predicting Mary-Lou.”
But the bride doesn’t listen
And Schrödinger wishes he had stayed home
Sending his cat – a persuasive animal – instead.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


I wake up and my grandfather's ghost
Sleeps in the chair beside my bed
When he wakes he will halfway open his eyes
And pretend he is not lost, not angry.

My mother, at 11, felt studying Deanna Durbin
Might teach her to be charming.
This would likely come in handy
If the Prince of Wales came to Patchogue.
(And if he doesn't come? asks Essie.
I'll still be charming, my mother says.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


As a child my mother knew all the original names:
Frances Gumm; Archibald Leech;
Julius, Adolph, Leonard,
Milton and Herbert ...
The list, so far as I could ever tell, was endless.
Her own displeased her. It came to her used
The former property of her own mother --
Killed by an icy step and complications
Of giving birth three months early --
So she experimented. She had a library card
Made out to Jane. She thought of joining
All the Theresas in her family or becoming Isobel
Because a nearsighted girl once called her that.
She always intended to her own self to be true
Once she discovered who that was.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Fear sat with me while I was sick,
Held my hand, sang to me,
Gave me spoonfuls of broth,
Told me stories. Later,
It put pennies on my eyes,
An obol in my mouth
And a twenty dollar gold piece
In my suit pocket so my friends
Knew I died standing pat.
During the service, Fear
Smoked a cigarette,
Stretched out on my coffin
And fell asleep.

Friday, April 1, 2016


My friend, of whom I am jealous,
Has an alter ego I've never met.
This is what I know of her:
She eats almost nothing but caviar;
She generally wears one sock
And nothing else. As an alter ego
She is required to fight crime.
I don't know if her one-sockedness
Helps or hinders her in this.
There are rumors she is having
A torrid affair with the ghost
Of former governor Thomas E. Dewey.
Since I started these rumors
I am not sure if I should believe them.