Anna, Sam's housekeeper,
Could not tell when dust
Had turned the rugs grey
But Sam never minded.
When she made him tea
Her finger at the rim
Warned her to stop pouring.
Her temper was bad.
Nights he couldn't sleep
They might talk until daybreak.
Dying, she asked him to provide
Some words appropriate
Lost in their music, the
The fiddler, the straggle-bearded flautist,
Look down but see nothing.
Over in the next painting, men dance.
Two of them hold hands; another
Has just leapt in the air. An old woman
Wearing a faded red kimono
Is standing on her porch, watching.
If time moved for them, if the song
Could go on, just three notes more,
The woman would smile.
keeper of the king's conscience
Has horrible dreams. Everyone
Wronged by the king turn up there
Weeping, shouting, shaking their fists.
Who can sleep with such noise?
Sometimes the King's mother --
Bored with being dead -- comes by,
Dressed in rags, her crown askew,
To ask the crowd if they're crazy
"Can't you see this isn't the King,
But just some poor functionary?
Do you think the King lives in a cellar
Which floods every time it rains?
Does he eat only crusts and soup
Because he has no money?"
"No money? Doesn't his position
Come with an enormous salary?"
"Of course it does. But it's never paid."
"Believe me," says the Keeper
"I feel extremely guilty about that."
Flexner says a minor poet
Can be told by his or her lack
Of invisible banners. Also, she says,
Words never choke him.
I was set upon by words in Chicago
In late 1974; they left me bloody
But didn't try to choke me.
I'm pretty sure a gang of words
Stole a bag of raisins from my desk
Some time in the late 1990s.
These probably don't count.
Also, I have searched my house
From attic to cellar without seeing
Any invisible banners.
The very old muse who usually fills
Is on vacation and my muse is ill.
I have just landed a rush order
For 1500 foot/boards of poetry
By next Thursday so the agency
Has sent me a temporary muse.
I think she is a golem.
Her long arms end in huge fists
Her iron grey eyes rarely blink.
Her forehead hides under lank bangs
But I suspect "emet" is written there
As with all the best-made golems.
When she speaks in her deep voice
An echo repeats her words
But with slight differences in tone
And odd hesitations. Her shadow
Is almost ludicrously too small for her.
We have produced three poems so far.
The first, on a stone lion who becomes
Mayor of Cincinnati,
is amiable enough.
The second, about the sadness of pottery,
Drinks beer after beer and sleeps all day.
I'm not sure what the third one means
But it seems to be wanted by the police.
My ancestor from Karlin
Wasn't mad so it must be
He was brave, not caring
When gravity, in one of her moods,
Released her claim on him
So, in the middle of prayer,
He started towards the ceiling.
Witnesses report he continued
Without losing a syllable.
Services over, the congregation
Watched him treading air
Until he washed against a pillar
And climbed down to join them.
The chazan handed him rocks
(Rocks? What were rocks doing
In a synagogue? Praying, I guess
Or perhaps dozing. Hard to tell.)
Which he put in his coat's pockets
So he could make it back to his
Even if a vagrant wind thought
Wouldn't it be rare fun
To blow Reb Aaron to China?
It was no night to be outside
Unsympathetic rain pelted
On hard-looking dreams who
Seemed almost everywhere.
Reality and I took refuge in a bar
Which is where sensible sorts go
On days like that. I don't know
Why it's said reality is harsh
Or stern or that she casts cold light;
She has her human side, especially
When she's been drinking.
She stopped in the middle of a joke
About three farmers and a c.p.a.
To tell me It's them damned dreams
That causes all the trouble.
can see from the photo
That he regrets being dead
Not that he doesn't appreciate
His colleagues -- his ex-colleagues --
Buying a quarter page
In The New York Review of Books
To say they'll miss him.
(You would think he'd be beyond
Caring that the picture
Shows him hung-over
With a ragged part in his hair.)
He supposes -- you can see it
If you look at his eyes --
That time will make death
Seem natural, even easy,
But he's pretty sure he will never
Make a list titled "Ten Reasons
I'm Glad to Be Dead."
The other Larry in my
Was smart and broad and black
And kindhearted. His car
Was ancient and he
Would drive a friend
He could look fierce
For only a few seconds
And then he'd laugh.
On the spur of the moment
He would invent histories
For his friends. I owe to him
My college football career
So surprisingly cut short
By my arrest for treason.
A classmate became a prince
Because Larry said he was
And damned if there isn't still
Something royal about Tony.
Larry died so obscurely
That my law school --
Which keeps careful track
So it can dun us for donations --
Didn't find out for years.
There is no trace of him
On the internet, so I
Must tell you about him.
When the gods deserted
Anthony, the Sphinx
Heard their music two hundred miles away
And caught a few notes, clapping them under
Her left forepaw. There they still rest
Buried deep in the sand. Their loss
Made heaven unbalanced, it's harmony
Less rich, less subtle. Miracles still happen
But they are often perverse or lop-eared
And inflict themselves on atheists and folk
Who worship things that are not gods.
I wish to talk of archives
"Arctic ivy," my machine suggests
I type again: archives
But my machine will not have it
It wants architects or arsenic.
Desperate it asks Archibald venture?
Or do I want arpeggios
Until I am ashamed of thwarting it.
Perhaps archy the cockroach
Has reincarnated as a spell checker
(He wishes to receive carnations).