Friday, September 30, 2016


My father grew marigolds,
Snap dragons, garden pinks,
Tulips, bachelor's buttons,
Morning glories, four o'clocks,
Tiger lilies, pansies, daffodils
And some flowers whose names
I have decided to omit
In order to protect their privacy
(You know who you are;
Need I say more than this
Portulaca? Queen Anne’s Lace?
I thought not).
Sometimes a stray cat
Would climb onto the porch and sit
Waiting with me.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


At  3 a.m.the phone rings;
Death is calling; he needs a ride
From some godsforsaken diner
Just off the Garden State Parkway
Near the Jersey Pine Barrens.
 (Though he is wealthy, Death
Rides wobbly one-speed bikes
Or drives a temperamental clunker
Or he wakes folk up because once
You did him a favor so now he thinks
The two of you are friends.)
He has just realized that the ghost
Of Mexican flyer Emilio Carranza
Has been waiting with growing impatience
Since July 12th, 1928 when he crashed
In the Barrens after President Coolidge
Didn’t feed him lunch at the White House.
(Cal had said there was no food there
As Mrs. Cal had cleaned out the icebox.)
Carranza spends the whole ride back
Detailing his numerous operations.
He's uncertain how many platinum screws
Were needed to put him back together
After his 1927 crash in Sonora.
By the time you drop them off
At a Starbucks near Penn Station
It's almost eight. No sense going home
So you take your half-caf latte
And get to work a bit early.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


I'm at St. Jane's bodega
Because the soliloquy
I must deliver
In a language 
I don't speak
Requires impassioned gestures
Of which I'm not capable.
More, some of them
Require at least six hands
And elbows capable
Of bending backwards.
Forgotten people
Are part of Jane's clientele;
No one does passion
Like the forgotten.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Expecting to star
In a poem someday
The frog practised
Jumping in the well
Until his every splash
Was perfect. Finally,
He saw Li Po approaching
(How did a frog
Recognize Li
How many ten foot poets
Do you think
China had?)
The frog leaped
And muffed it entirely
Hitting the water
Without a sound.
Li Po walked on.
His shadow called back
"Don't worry!
He'll fix it in post."

Monday, September 26, 2016


Because she was the first to die
My Aunt Edith considers herself
The eldest of the nine siblings.
Doris, her sister, died today
At ninety seven. I imagine
That about now she is surprised
That a sister who had only
Learned a few words at her death
Has become so voluble.

Aunt Doris must have known
Her strength had limits;
That there were things
She couldn't do.
What these were, though,
I can't imagine. A small woman
Made of iron.
For almost a century,
Her sister Sadie told jokes
At which
Doris laughed.

Friday, September 23, 2016

SEPTEMBER 23, 2006

When my father’s brother Moshe died –
He was twelve; my father three –
All mention of him ceased. Years later
My father asked hadn’t he once
Had another brother? His mother cried
But said nothing. Some families
Are like that. He died young? Do your best
To forget him. My mother’s mother
Slipped on ice and died giving birth to her.
My mother surely used her stubborness
And cunning to find out everything
The grownups didn’t want to remember.
I can imagine her treasuring each slip
Listening carefully for the moment
Her mother’s ghost would appear
As part of a story or to date some event
That was just before Lillian quit her job
Because her friend Essie was fired,” or
I met Lil’s old boyfriend on the train today –
The one who worked in a bakery and brought
Huge loaves of bread when he dropped by.”
My mother, who wrote down many things
Wrote almost nothing about her mother
Except that they shared a name and that
She died because she slipped on ice
On a day when most of the ice had melted.
She surely knew everything though
And what she didn’t know she would
Have made up had I asked.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Most Jews don’t have a godmother
But I do: my mother's old friend Alice.
The pale blue congratulations she sent
When I was born spoke well of the world.
We lost touch after that; I presume she's dead
Since she’s begun dropping by my dreams.
A heavyset blonde with a pleasant face,
She sits down on a camp stool and complains
That my sins are a pale, uninteresting lot;
They should exercise, get out in the sun,
Shed their dark shirts and faded jeans
In favor of codpieces, ruffs and furbelows
Or at least put on vizards and purple cloaks
When they venture into the street. “Your sins
She says, “aren’t feared or loved. Change them!
Sins in farthingales, sins in  slashed doublets
Are the life of every party. When I answer for them,
I want folk to be amazed when we go by
In gaudy procession." She's from
So I guess I really shouldn't be surprised

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Only the base of the statue shows
And a bit of the indeterminate garment –
Could be robes; could be a long coat –
The honored dead sometimes put on
When they’re being sculpted,
Politely saving the artist the trouble
Of being over-nice about anatomy.
Still, I know the photo was taken
In Hyde Park, at the Masaryk Memorial.
For years I saw that statue every day
Casually saluting it when I went by.
A young man I’ll know when he’s old
Sits next to the pedestal. My dear fellow!
How well you looked back then
With something rakish about you
And the faintest hint of the engineer
You might have been but for the War.
So you and Masaryk knew each other?
Pity I never knew; we might have shared
A few stories about you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Her youngest son had, with the best will in the world,
Made her listen to The Lone Ranger five times a week
For six years, so my grandmother Esther recognized
The spirit come to escort her to the next world.
It was Tonto. He was riding Scout, who nodded to her.
She had always suspected Scout was a nicer horse
Than the high-strung Silver, who got all the attention.
Tonto, she knew, spoke every Indian language,
As well as English and some Spanish, so when he smiled
And said bakumen aoyf, Fraulein, she did not gasp
Or ask him where he had learned to speak Yiddish
With a strong Galician lilt, but got up behind
And settled herself to ride through the Badlands.

Monday, September 19, 2016


In a strongly-worded communique
Eight leading religions and the Apple Corporation
Have expressed doubt about God's recent decision
To manifest Himself as a posse of high school girls.
"While we continue to venerate and revere You,"
The statement begins, "we must admit we are troubled
By Your appearing among us as seven girls
Mattawan High School. With the greatest respect, Lord,
Are You out of Your Mind?" At a press conference,
Shondanique Davies, who has emerged as spokesman
For the collective God, commented "Whatever."
She admitted there were some problems in adjusting
To being a collective Supreme Deity. "Rhonda,
For example. She needs to make up her mind:
In or out? One day she's everyone's best friend
And the next she walks by like We're not even there."
Rhonda Jacobson has been unavailable for comment
While she studies for her exam in World History II.

Friday, September 16, 2016


There was a crowd of strong, small, humorous women
With sharp eyes. My mother was one of them
Along with any number of her aunts, cousins and friends
(Her sister was another type altogether, unable
To see through a stone wall. On the other hand,
Like Yosemite Sam or Wile E. Coyote
Tamara could absent-mindedly walk off cliffs
And not fall unless she looked down.)
Some of this breed stayed behind in Poland;
Pictures of the poet Wislawa Szymborska
Make it clear she could love you
Despite the faults she knew you had
And which she'd list on slight provocation.
More; in emergencies she could create
Virtues in you no one else could even imagine.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


In his rare idle moments Svevo,
Assistant to the God of Penn Station,
Has been setting the god’s dreams
To music. (The God of Penn Station
Never sleeps; Svevo dreams for him).
The ghosts who have been waiting
For the 7:43 B & O Express to Chicago
Since October 1, 1926 have begun
To sing some of the catchier tunes.
This unnerves the more sensitive
Nowaday trainmen and commuters.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


For a reasonable fee Francis Birkenhead
Composed and wrote out love letters
In a smooth flowing Chancelry hand;
For a bit more, he'd make them rhyme.
On slow days he might offer to add an air
Of manly candor or maidenly reserve
At little or no extra charge.
Being poor, he could rarely afford
To hire himself for high quality work;
The women he loved received
Laundry lists, fraudulent resumes,
And incomprehensible instructions
For building either a boat or an elephant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Li Po died, they say,
Trying to embrace a moon
He saw in the water.
He never
Merely tried.
Moons always
Welcomed his embrace.

Monday, September 12, 2016


James Harrington, I hear, had a rough muse
She'd come to him late at night, drunk,
Her clothes torn from a fight she'd picked
With a sailor twice her size and kick Harrington
Until he’d throw off the covers and leave his bed.
He’d stumble about, lighting a candle,
Sharpening a quill, spilling ink on his nightshirt,
While she stood muttering to herself or shouting
"Haste, laggard! I’ve a bonzer poem for you!"
Many a time, when he was finally set to write
He'd find her collapsed on his bed, snorting,
Thrashing, choked on tears and laughter,
And then she’d sleep the clock around.
He left her at last for the sedate goddess
Of lengthy works of political economy.

Friday, September 9, 2016


We have, at great expense, acquired a partial transcript of one of this blog’s recent poems, which we now share with our imaginary readership


Robert Hooke and his friend John Aubrey
Stand together, watching the moon eclipse.
As the moon gradually turns dark
Aubrey vanishes too. He returns
With its reappearance.

Neither a long series of covert observations
Nor many ingenious experiments
Ever quite convince Hooke
That the Aubrey the moon brought back
Is the right Aubrey.


Were Aubrey and Hooke friends? Did they even know each other?

They were friends.

How do you know?

Their letters and diaries and those of others; they met frequently and referred to each other in kindly terms.

Did they climb a hill to watch an eclipse?



Wednesday, the 18th of September, 1689.

How do you know Aubrey vanished along with the Moon?

It stands to reason.

Assuming I accept your preposterous last answer, how do you know that Hooke observed Aubrey and did experiments to determine if he was the right John Aubrey?

What else would he have done?

Did the Moon bring back the right Aubrey?

One no more wrong than most Aubreys, at least.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


When ships were sighted, Leghorn’s courtesans,
Ran to the harbor, half naked,
Carrying guitars and lutes and mandolins,
Their hair disordered, hoping their songs
Might lure the ships to land. (Back then,
Sailors were an aesthetic lot.) Don’t say
Today brings you nothing – tonight
You’ll dream their music. And that girl –
Red haired, with a lute? -- treat her well; she
Is your grandmother’s mother’s grandmother;
How can you miss the resemblance?  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Li Po drank alone
Or with his friends.
He also drank
With peasants, officials,
Monks, his shadow,
His reflection, the Moon
(Both full and crescent)
The absence of the Moon,
Memories and a band
Of mountain apes.
With whom can I drink
Who will avoid
Making comparisons?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Robert Hooke and his friend John Aubrey
Stand together, watching the moon eclipse.
As the moon gradually turns dark
Aubrey vanishes too. He returns
With its reappearance.

Neither a long series of covert observations
Nor many ingenious experiments
Ever quite convince Hooke
That the Aubrey the moon brought back
Is the right Aubrey.

Monday, September 5, 2016


In September my mother's death
Seems everywhere, peering from boxes
Hanging in closets, marking the place
Where I stopped reading a book.
How irksome to find her death
Sitting at the breakfast table
Listening to music on the radio!
How delightful to remember her!

Friday, September 2, 2016


Li Po, the sources tell us,
Was ten feet tall. Authorities
Of more recent date
Advise making adjustments
For the size of Chinese feet
Really, his height was just
Eight and a half feet tall
Give or take an inch.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Oh, my heart was tall then!
It peered over rooftops,
Stepped lightly over rivers
(Well, let us be truthful and say
Not rivers but wide streams.)
I was not wise, not wary;
My heart is small now
And fears many things.
Miracles grown old come to me
Pleading to be undone.