Friday, July 29, 2016


I planned to write about my mother
Who loved poetry -- her talk
Was where quotes met misquotes
And had lurid and glorious offspring.
Or then there are movies;
She saw almost every one
From, say, 1935 to 1944
So if I come now upon the scene
Where Claudette Colbert bites
Ray Milland's nose I hear, from 1940,
The echo of an approving sigh.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


In her efforts to increase sales
The very old muse has arranged
To have my poems translated
Into Linear B. The translator –
Dead these three thousand years --
Is unfamiliar with concepts
Such as computers, forklifts
And inline roller skates. Still,
She does her best. I like the one
In which the moon and I
Play knucklebones to amuse
A fretful minotaur.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


One of the suitors, Glaucus, was fat,
Walked slowly, told good stories.
His long, clever hands carved
A soldier for Telemachus
From a stick of alder wood
Later, he made a dryad and a satyr
So the soldier would have friends.
For years after the suitors' deaths
The dryad regularly appeared
In Ithacan dreams. The soldier
Went with Telemachus to Clusium
And shared his tomb. The satyr
Meant to play an important role
In the boy's life, guiding and advising
But wound up in a different tale entirely.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


My father first met Li Po
On a warm evening in 1946
Brooklyn College.
Li Po was urging his shadow
To dance and the moon
To drink some wine
From a clay jug.

They next met in 1961
On a subway train.
My father was going
To his night job.
Li Po spoke of a woman
Whose husband died
Defending the
Jade Pass.

Somehow, by 1985
They'd become inseparable
At times they made do
With one tall shadow
Between the two of them.

Monday, July 25, 2016


My heart’s in the highlands
My heart is not here
My heart’s in the highlands
A-chasing the deer
Or else down on Fourth Street
Ordering beer
Armed with a fiz-gig
A sort of a spear
Used to hunt fishes
Not to hunt deer.

My heart’s in the highlands
I told you before
My heart got all huffy
And stormed out the door
About half past three
Or a quarter to four
Using foul language
(Which one must deplore)
And left for the highlands
Or else for the shore.

My heart’s in the highlands
Unless it has crawled
Out on the highway
Where it has stalled
And waits grim and mopish
Thence to be hauled
By some way-worn tow truck
With tires gone bald.
My heart isn’t home now
I’ll tell it you called.

(Note: I am delighted but puzzled that some people in Germany and Russia have been reading this obscure blog. If you have a moment, I'd be curious to know how you came across it. Meanwhile, welcome!)

Friday, July 22, 2016


Before we began our campaign
Few were aware of the problems
Of having a ninja baby. Born stealthy
Some of them are three months old
Before their parents catch more
Than the most flighting glimpse of them.
There is something unnerving – believe me--
About a silent baby, dressed in black
Clinging next to the window at  3 A.M.
Squinting thoughtfully at the moon
As if only it understands her.
No matter the parents  your ninja child
Is, of course, Japanese. Communicating
Can be extremely difficult.
Nor can one use sitters who aren't masters
Of a wide variety of martial arts

Thursday, July 21, 2016


My grandfather Max must often
Have seen Archie Goodwin
Since the two of them worked
On the same block -- Archie
Needling Nero Wolfe into being
The world's greatest detective
And Max making women's coats.
That Max was mostly real
And Archie mostly fictional
Would not have prevented
A degree of friendship.
When I read the old books
I always hope a case will turn
On some fine point of tailoring
And Wolfe will say "Archie,
Have Mr. Silver in my office
A few minutes after six."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Since he was busy with a washday miracle
St. Gerasmus deputized his lion and sent him
To the Fourth Ecumenical Council
Chalcedon. His letters to the saint
Would constitute a historical resource
Of almost incalculable value
Had they not been carelessly misplaced
During the Great Clean Up of 739.
Rumors persist that he and Jerome's lion
Threatened to eat several small bishops
After too much wine and an argument
Over the consubstantiality of the Holy Ghost.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Some doubt that I speak truth
“Ten Saint Anthonys!” they scoff.
But think; over seven billion souls;
Ten Anthonys (eleven if you invite
Antoninus of Florence along).
Thus, seven hundred million people
Per Anthony, and that excludes
The clamorous dead, who have
Their own prayers. (There are tales,
Unconfirmed, of a St. Antonina.
Since I am half rumor myself
I sometimes see her, grey cloaked
Shopping in stores which closed
Years before I was born. You wouldn’t
Believe the bargains you can find there.)

Monday, July 18, 2016


It has been pointed out
By an acute and imaginary reader
That the St. Anthony in my poems -
The patron of those seeking what is lost -
Is not the Egyptian anchorite
Who is often depicted with a pig,
But a Paduan, born ten centuries later.
Further research, though, shows
That every Saint Anthony
(There are at least ten of them)
Is issued a pig at orientation
Along with access to the illimitable
Power of God and a map of Heaven
Last corrected in 1321.

Friday, July 15, 2016


When my mother was twelve
She decided it was unlikely
That five foot nothing
Would ever be statuesque.
There was still hope, though
Of turning out charming or,
Better still, fascinating,
Elusive, dangerous, untameable
(Something like the Dragon Lady
With a better sense of humor.)
If she was merely cute
She'd join the Foreign Legion.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


In summer many of the characters I employ
Lie low, so I make do with whoever shows up.
Distressingly, many of them speak only French.
They assume I can, since I took it in school
For seven years. Alas, the first year was spent ---
If I recall rightly – memorizing a brief monologue
By someone –old and perhaps deranged – toiling up stairs.
It went: Premiere etage! Deuxieme etage! Troisieme etage!
Quatrieme etage! C’est haut! I suppose I could make
Louis XIV run up and down the stairs of a brownstone
But it seems wrong to ask this of so kingly a man
Whose high heels, in any event, would make it hard.

Six more years left me a meager heritage.
I can seek help in two ways: Aidez-moi! Au secors!
But if it’s offered I’ll have to quickly change topics
Demanding an umbrella (Donnez-moi ta parapluie!)
Or humbly seeking cherry tobacco (Pardonez-moi, Monsieur;
Avez-vous tabac avec l’air de cerise?) If my characters
Have neither umbrellas nor cherry tobacco I can
Express sympathy. Quel dommage! Quel horrible!
Ah, tres triste – je suis desole!” Wait, though;
I have wronged myself. It seems I can also
Ask for a pen from someone named Pierrot
By moonlight in order to write a word.
(Au claire de la lune, mon ami Pierrot,
Pretez-moi ta plume, pour ecrire une mot.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


The poem said “I am exactly
What I want to be
Try adding something
And I will bite you.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


He had strange, wonderful tools
But could fix his daughter's watch
With a knife tip and a bent wire.
His own watch was always
Precisely five minutes fast.
His shadow kept time by the sun;
The two of them never agreed.

When my grandfather played chess
Union Square, his shadow
Would wander away to listen
To the blind man and his daughter;
She sang; her father played a flute.
Sometimes the shadow danced.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Polonius should have no ghost
Yet there he is, across the aisle
In this crowded train. He nods,
Knowing I see him as he is.
He has a well trimmed beard
And his left hand never rests
But flutters, summons,
Flies up in sudden warning.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Towards dawn on a hot summer night
In 1898, Paul Verlaine’s four brothers
Drifted one by one into a dream
Belonging to Celeleste-Marie Duplaix.
(Until they arrived it had featured
Some sort of animal, possibly a goat.)
She knew them at once and pitied
Their dusty existence. (Lacking ambition,
They had not been born Their mother
Kept them in preservative spirits
As a talking piece in her parlor)
Loading their bottles into a pram
She took them to the Opera
Hoping they’d enjoy the change.

The cold men at the Opera door.
Care not a whit that you might
Be visiting them in a dream or that
Your charitable spirit has made you
Take unborn children to see things
More lively than credenzas and side tables.
Celeste-Marie was naked; the fetuses
Searched themselves but found not a sou.
Who knows how things might have ended
If Verlaine and I had not been there?

Verlaine had been dead for two years
And was, anyway, stony broke.
By a happy chance, with the luck
That eludes me outside of dreams,
My right hand clutched rubies
And my left held seven tickets.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

FROM 1940

Beyond the computer screen is my mother
In 1940, looking at me from a census summary.
She is 13, still called Lillian, living in northern
Brooklyn --
The 23rd Assembly District -- with her father Joseph, 43,
Her stepmother Fannie, 38, and her half-sister, Tamara, 6.
How young they are! My mother has reached
Her full height of five foot nothing.
She has been accelerated, as we used to say,
Skipping two grades, making her
A very short high school student. If this is a weekday
She is wearing a middy blouse. If it is Saturday
She is going to, or is at, or has come home from the movies
About which she knows everything a bright 13 year old
Can learn from reading the news and fan magazines
With a skeptical eye. (It will never be easy
To fool my mother.) Perhaps she is in the kitchen,
With Fannie's mother (Jennie, 67), explaining in Yiddish
The plots of movies she's seen. Fannie and my mother
Have been at war for years. Jennie and her husband
(Charles, 76) have joined my mother's camp.
Jennie has taught my mother Yiddish
So that, once she has children,
My mother will be able to say things
They don't understand.
I’m not certain, but I think she's just told Jennie
That some man in 2016 is thinking of her.
"Eh," says Jennie, "just a ghost; don't mind him.
Everyone knows ghosts are crazy."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


      No one shooed us out this time. The room was crowded with people touching each other – hugging, or holding hands, or perhaps with just hanging on to a sleeve or resting a hand on a neighbor’s shoulder. My parents almost never touched each other, but my father had my mother’s hand in his.

      Grandma was lying in bed, her eyes closed. The machine next to the bed was making loopy, graceful waves, whose peaks were stretching farther and farther away from each other. She opened one eye, then the other, and looked straight at Ray Green, who looked young and nervous, his eyes very wide and his back very straight. One of her hands lifted slightly and Ray was there, holding it and talking to her, very quiet and very fast. He had the most beautiful smile.

      Noreen looked at me, then at the window. Everyone was looking at my grandmother, and Noreen went and put her hand on the pillow, and one finger on Grandma’s cheek. It made a lovely picture, even for those who couldn’t see the American soldier, his long black fingers resting gently on an old woman’s palm. I edged to a window, which looked like it hadn’t been opened in years, and nudged it up an inch or so. It squeaked, but one of the cousins and my mother was crying, and no one seemed to notice. Grandma’s fingers curled around Ray’s, and she died.

      I didn’t look then. I didn’t want to see whose ghost it was who had joined Ray, rising from the bed. So I don’t know if Annie Wilk, eighteen, walked by me, her short curls bouncing, or the old woman, a bit stout and short of breath, who made wonderful scones on Sundays and knew without being told that the gift I wanted most of all when I was seven was a jackknife with two blades and numerous attachments, including a little scissors and a fish-scaler. There was a touch on the back of my head as they passed.

Monday, July 4, 2016


      The elevator opened; a doctor and a nurse came by, both making a sort of fast strut straight to Grandma’s door. When they were inside, my grandfather (Grandfather? He looked much too young and soldier-like for that) fiddled with his rifle for a moment; almost the way some men I knew fiddled with a pipe while the words they needed came to them.

      “I’ve been dead a long while, and she’s lived her life. Met people, done things, raised a child. People change; even dead people change. I suppose I’ll know in a few minutes whether we’re still enough of who we used to be to still love each other.”

      “So you don’t know?”

      “No. I have a suspicion and a hope, but we’ll see.”

      “She’s definitely dying, then?”

      “In about 15 minutes. I’m her escort.”

      Noreen swallowed a giggle when I repeated this. The local paper had been running an advert for “escort services” lately, and our father had hummed and muttered and hinted his way through explaining what such services entailed.

      “Our soldier grandfather quirked his lip, somewhere between amusement and annoyance. “It’s not quite a dance I’m taking her too. “

      I wanted to impress him, so I said “You’re a psychopomp! Noreen, he’s going to lead her to the Land of the Dead.”

      He wouldn’t tell us much about what it was like being dead. “It’s just like being alive, if you set aside the fact that it’s totally different. Some things stay, and others that you thought would never change just fade away. I can still assemble a rifle, or the ghost of one. I’m pretty sure I used to be able to wiggle my left ear, but I can’t now.”

      “We should go in now; there’s just a few minutes left. If you want to do me and your Granny a favor, see if you can open a window in there, even a crack. I am very pleased I got to meet you.”

Friday, July 1, 2016


(part 5 on Monday)

     Noreen came with me. In part, I wanted her moral support. A ghost turning up was no good sign for how long Grandma had. I also wanted her in the hall with me so people walking by might assume I was talking to her and not to someone they couldn’t see. I think also I wanted to show her off to Greenray, in case he was disappointed in me.

      He was still there when we got back. He was sitting on the ground with his eyes closed, and he’d taken his rifle apart. “Do you have a watch?” he asked. I told him yes. “Does it have a sweep hand?” It did. “When I say ‘go!’ start timing.” He took a breath, said “Go!” and began putting his rifle back together. It took him 76 seconds. He shook his head and said “It used to be under a minute.”

      I told Nory what was happening. “Why would a ghost carry a rifle? Ask him if he shot anyone.”

      “This your sister? Tell her I can hear her fine. I never shot anyone.” I repeated what he said. It would be boring to have to write in all the repeats; if you want verisimilitude, just imagine an adult American’s voice being echoed by a nine year old English girl’s. The American’s voice is deep but, to my disappointment, doesn’t drop g’s or use slang.

      “Ask him if he has to wear his uniform because he died wearing it.”

      “What sense does that make? Besides, I was just wearing my underwear when I died. I’m in uniform because Annie liked my uniform. Tell you the truth, she hasn’t seen me for a long while; I’m counting on the uniform to help her recognize me.”

      “Do you love Grandma?”

      There was a thoughtful pause, as if he was trying to pick the exact words for what he wanted to say. “I was in love with an 18 year old girl named Annie Wilk. She had green eyes and freckles and short, curly hair. She was white, and that bothered me; I didn’t like white people, as a rule. I had a hard time believing she didn’t care I was colored.”


      “Black, girl; black. I knew her for just under three months, and I never heard her lie, or even come close. She and I were a good fit; if I’d’ve lived I think, despite all the white-black problems, we might have made a good life. I still think about her. But do I know the old woman in there? Does she remember me, or just my uniform, and being young?”