Friday, November 17, 2017

BAD COMPANY



Before committing his more serious sins
Ahashueros would loudly bid his soul
To go bide elsewhere for a time
Lest it be offended or incur some stain.
Who disobeys the King? The poor thing
Would slip past the soldiers at the gate
And visit with the bathhouse ghosts
From whom he learned to gamble --
At which he became surprisingly good --
And to swear, unconvincingly.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

527



No wind; a few branches shift
Perhaps the tree dreams badly or
Wants me to think a breeze blows
That I'm too palpable to feel. A leaf
Falls, describing a plumb line.
I gesture just so, stretching my hand
So the scar on my left index finger
Shows white where a car's door
Decreed it would never quite straighten
The spells that made me may alter;
Who will finish this poem to you?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

DATA



Joe Lampert could reach his open hand
Into mid-air, clench it shut and find,
Without fail, a chessman in his fist.
His watch was always five minutes fast
His shadow six minutes slow. My mother,
His daughter, told me his childhood friends
Mostly grew up to be gangsters.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

BRAZEN



The golem, if she is one, felt I should write
A poem about the bronze statue of Achilles
Which stands in
Hyde Park and is reputed
To be the ugliest public statue in
England.
It’s 18 feet tall and made from melted cannons
Captured from the French by Arthur Wellesley.
It weighs 33 tonnes, which is, if you must know,
Seventy three thousand, nine hundred twenty pounds.
Originally nude, it somewhere acquired a fig leaf.
Its head belongs to the Iron Duke. He looks irate
At being exhibited nude in
Hyde Park. How the golem
Got it through customs I cannot guess. She lugged it
Into my dreams two weeks ago and refuses to take it away
Last night, the standard anxiety dream I'd ordered
Turned into a farce. My accusers kept bursting into laughter
Or whispering "My God! Where did you find that thing?"

Monday, November 13, 2017

NOT FAR FROM THE RIVER



Twelve below; the sidewalk
Rang as I walked on it.
I wore a three piece suit
Made of brown corduroy
Which had fooled no one.
Because I was cold,
Because I was unemployed,
I was eating ice cream.
This made sense at the time.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

FLOWERED CUP



The wide, shallow cup believes itself
To be immeasurably old.
The flowers running around it
Are from a place that isn’t here.
Its handle remembers gold paint
Drink from it quickly; only sentiment
Keep its atoms from flying apart.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

AUK



Turns out the bird is what matters
You take a Noah -- pretty good seaman,
Family man, likes his alcohol --
And he sends out, say, an auk.
Auks are all gamblers at heart so
He'll bring back a deck of cards
Or maybe some loaded dice.
Next thing, he owns the
Ark
Noah has to start pawning animals
Planning to redeem the zebras
And wapitis and elands and aardvarks
Once his luck comes back. Captain Auk
Steers the boat on and on.
Dry land? What use is dry land to him?

Monday, November 6, 2017

ARK



When Noah sent out a raven
He expected it to return so
When a dove came back he knew
Something was wrong. Plainly
Another ark was out there
One whose captain liked doves
Which Noah had deliberately
Left off his boat. Years later
The raven hosted the two Noahs
In a dream from which all three
Woke no longer certain
Which of them he was. The trouble
With doves? They never
Have such dreams and always
Know exactly who they're not.

Friday, November 3, 2017

EULALIE




If you must write about her
Prepare; reinforce your punctuation
With heavy-gauge copper rivets;
Make your lines drag; hidden caesuras
May slow her down. Like enough
The morning will find
Eulalie Echo
Sitting amidst flindered words
A few inches above the ground.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NOTE



The fickle pensioners of Morpheus
Have their bars in the lower world
Which we call home. Dangerous once
They do little harm now. Brigid --
Saint, goddess and, most importantly,
Bartender -- occasionally does a miracle
And they sleep without dreaming
That once they were faithful.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

RELATIVE



Sir William Oldys, Norroy King of Arms,
Never denied that his grandmother
Was a cat. His friends didn't ask
If this had always been so
Or was the result of diligent study
Or the operation of an enchantment.
They lived well together. He often
Brought her home bits of fish;
When he was knighted, she gave him
Three-quarters of a field mouse.

Monday, October 30, 2017

PECKISH

The unread poem
Eats punctuation
Until there is none
The words look
Uneasily at each other
Weren’t there more

Friday, October 27, 2017

DON'T BLAME ME




Suppose your Monday self is only somewhat like
The man who has to be you on Tuesdays
And Wednesdays’ version doesn't think much
Of either of you. Thursdays have to make do
With damaged or irregular souls, paid by the hour.
Fridays -- you have no idea what happens on Fridays.
During the summer, Saturdays and Sundays
Are worked by versions of you when you were a teenager.
Once school starts, though, you take who you can get
Grateful if an imaginary friend or ancestral ghost
Holds the fort until you turn up again on Monday.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

ONE OF AESRED'S



For convenience he always
Kept some pallbearers. with him.
They occupied their evenings
With cards or drinks.
Mornings were spent training
Carrying coffins with them
While running errands.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

BEFORE THE WRECKERS COME



The unread poem deteriorates;
Children break in, stealing punctuation
To sell as scrap. A lone comma remains,
Frantically trying to make it appear
That the poem's still a going concern.
Vagrant words slip in; the metre,
Once stern and unforgiving, is humble,
Running errands in exchange for drinks.

Monday, October 23, 2017

ISSUES




God exists sometimes.
It depends
On His mood. Still,
He has no days off.
When He calls in sick
He always gets through
To Himself, saying
"Who do You think
You're fooling?"

Friday, October 20, 2017

LATE



Given the circumstances
If I stay up until 3 or so, like as not
Some poem will wander up the steps
To knock very quietly at the door.
Bound elsewhere, perhaps not mine to write
Looking for a kind word, an apple,
Perhaps a cheese sandwich, Velveeta
With tomatoes. My father would be
Wide awake at this hour, like his mother.
I am not native to the night but stay there
On sufferance. I leave the poem asleep
Slumped over its food; if morning
Finds it here still maybe we'll see just what
The two of us can make of each other.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

CHALLENGE



It has been long established that unborn babies
Know everything and that administering angels
Make them forget it all just before they're born.
This is best done by a touch on the philtrum --
The indent just above the upper lip.
Your angel, distracted, made a poor job of it
So you are born knowing how to polish shot,
Mend old china almost invisibly and make
A very decent varnish for violins. Also,
You are fluent in several languages
Which have been extinct for centuries.
Your job is to so construct your life
As to make each of these talents essential.
You will have -- oh, eighty seven years and change.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SOUP



When God goes for a walk He first
Has to incarnate himself. The universe
Is His, of course, but if He goes out
As the universe there is no place left
For Him to walk, nor anything left over
To make an umbrella in case it rains.
Accordingly, God throws together
Things He finds at hand -- old prayers,
Soup cans, remorse, hope, the battery
From the 1898 St. Louis Perfectos,
And a few cats to liven things up.
I know a cat who is inordinately proud,
Even for a cat, because she has twice
Moseyed around the docks as part of God.
I have questioned her closely but all
She has been willing to disclose so far
Is that bean soup and fried rice were served
On both occasions. This is bad news for me;
I cannot abide even the very best bean soup.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

REPURPOSED




Old semi-colons were a drug on the market.
At the yard, we'd let the upper dot go free
(They never really work as periods. You can tell
When people use them anyway; their voices
Rise inappropriately at the end of a sentence,
Tugged upward by the dot straining to fly.)
The lower half we would repaint and then sell
As heavy gauge commas, fit for use in sentences
Where those flimsy modern ones might buckle.

Monday, October 16, 2017

WHAT THEY HAVE IN ATHENS NOW IS JUST A SPACE



One dark and almost moonless night the Agora
Made its escape, leaving an empty space behind
Since then it has led a fugitive's life,
Turning and trimming and rarely sleeping
In the same place twice. It distributes itself
For safety's sake, becoming the Agora 

Only when there is absolute need. Its stallholders
Whisper offers of drugs in
Union Square
Waiting to be artisans and merchants once more.
Its inquirers live underground, ranting in subway cars.
Their philosopher's robes stuffed in shopping bags.

Friday, October 13, 2017

ORAZIO



Fool! You've lent your angel's wings to Caravaggio?
He'll shed its feathers in half the taverns in
Rome
And, if he doesn’t use his own dice, will lose the wings
To some one-eyed sailor or a pimp from
Dubrovnik.
You will not see them ever again, Gentileschi;
Signor Merisi will clap them onto his back one day
And be off. Who knows what he'll say of us
After he's had a few drinks in Heaven?

(for those who are interested in such things, there stil exists a letter from Orazio Gentileschi to his friend Caravaggio, seeking the return of the angel's wings Caravaggio had borrowed.)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

TWO WOMEN IN A SMALL TOWN



The woman on the left is trying
To see past the photographer,
Wondering who I am and why
I act as though it is my right
To approve her posture
Or her curious left ear
Peeping out from her hair
She is not hostile, hoping
I am her grown old or perhaps
Some descendant who smiles
To recognize his own ear.

The woman on the right, though,
Does not like me one bit.
Let him stare! she thinks;
Poor unborn thing! Never
Will he know what book
Lies facedown on this table:
Never will his fat fingers
Reach past me to straighten
The blurred picture of fruit
That hangs on the wall over my head.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

REST ON THE FLIGHT




Jane Morris has wandered from where Rossetti left her
Over into one of Caravaggio's paintings. There,
She has plonked the baby Jesus-- himself a refugee
From middle-stage Rubens -- on her lap and fallen asleep.
She's so tired that she takes her surroundings
For granted. Next to her, a wing brushing her shoulder,
A teen-age angel plays the violin for Joseph and a donkey;
Joseph holds the music up but the angel's gaze is inward
The donkey watches over Joseph's shoulder
Gravely attentive, following the melody.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

TEACUP



Though W. H. Auden had a teacup
Whose crack opened a lane --
Quite a narrow one, mind you --
To the land of the dead, do not
Expect this crack in this teacup
Also leads there. Most of the time
Such cracks lead to alleys
In places with names like Slurry
Or Fliednersham's Folly.
By the time you make it home
Your tea will be stone cold and,
Like as not, your replacement
Will have thrown your shoes away.

Monday, October 9, 2017

AUGUST SANDER'S PHOTOGRAPH LABELED "OFFICE WORKER"



The picture is dated 1928 so
The smiling woman is not
My mother, who was a baby
In New York and not yet qualified
To do office work in
Berlin.
An alternate version, perhaps.
Her desk is immaculate --
Another strike against her.
Right angles were never friends
To my mother. A typewriter sits
In a lowered part of the desk.
My mother typed so fast
Her fingers blurred while words
Scrambled and tumbled toward her
Trying to reach her before
She needed other ones entirely.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

HORNPIPES, FOUNDLINGS AND GEESE



When John Thomas Smith was two
Nancy Dawson, the hornpipe dancer,
Died and was buried under a stone
Bearing only her name. It is still there,
Behind the
Foundling Hospital.
Sixty years later, Smith noted her death
In his sort of an autobiography.
There she is, a few pages after
The goose Smith's mother once knew
Who worked with a cheesecake woman
In
Greenwich, honking at regular clients,
Moving on if they said "Not today."
Immortality comes on its own terms.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

TOP OF THE NEWS

How strange! My mother's voice
From sixty years ago, reading
The first lines of a children's book.
My Noah's ark is my favorite toy
It has a little girl and a little boy.

Reading my father's journal about a trip
To
Iowa to see my wife's parents
Where he saw the picture that now
Looks at me from across the room.

Monday, October 2, 2017

SMALL GODS AT THE LAUNDRY



Saponix, if not appeased,
Makes the water hard so suds
Will not last. Dhergo
Loves to tie clothes in knots.
The sophisticated demon
Klikiklak suddenly appears
All steam and lullabies, lulling
Tired laundresses;
They slip on the wet stones
And fall into the water.

Friday, September 29, 2017

CIVIL TWILIGHT



Drowsy bees, loathe to sting,
Buzz querulous inquiry as I pass
Grass gods cease and then resume
Interminable wars against fate
A quiet door swings shut
A small hand moves a candle
From one window to another.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

ENEMIES



Despite my strict instructions that I was not to be admitted
The housekeeper let me in through the kitchen door,
The butler fed me the remains of his own dinner
And the chambermaid loaned me her bed and her savings.
Every morning the gardener's cat would bring flowers
Or, if it was Thursday, some apricots or cowcumbers.
Only I was hostile, looking daggers when we passed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

AT ONCE



You are on a road but at every point
Simultaneously. You are singing
Beneath a clear sky while sheltering
Under insufficient trees from sleety rain
You are being robbed. You have become
A robber, the newest member of the band
And their aged captain as well. You are eating
At dozens of inns, at farmhouses, in fields.
You’re hungry and the next meal
Is days away. Your dreams are all happening
Right now and vagrants have set up shelters
In their bright alleys and ruined courts.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

POWER



In the beginning, it’s about power;
You say Space; it’s off in every direction
Booming and exuberant
Set on its joyous unmaking
On the way back
Unless you send Time
To hiss and whisper and ribbon out
Making Space hurtle past itself.

Monday, September 25, 2017

ANSHE MULLER



The poet Mikael Anshe Muller
Was invented ten minutes ago;
He immediately set to work
On his memoirs. The agency
Sent round a muse. She was
A bit rusty, having last worked
In 1898 as staffage in paintings
By John Atkinson Grimshaw.
She's in at least seventy pictures
A woman in a long dark dress
Holding an umbrella and usually seen
From the rear or in three quarter view.
In those paintings it's always sunset
Or twilight or full night. Shoplights
Make the wet street glimmer.
As staffage she knows her place --
Vital but secondary. She pauses
Thinking her own thoughts. Dark masts
Rise in the background. Anshe Muller,
If he'll listen, will know what wares
The night shops sell, what ports
The night ships have called home.

Friday, September 22, 2017

YAHRZEIT



My mother could never resist treating waiters
And checkout clerks and deliverymen
As if they were people. How embarrassed I was
When she asked the waiter with an accent
What town had seen his birth, how long
He'd been here, did he like being a waiter.
He had such a nice voice! Did he sing?
By the end of the meal, the waiter -- his name
Was Pyan Soo -- was showing her pictures
And inviting us to the kitchen to meet his brother.

Because she liked their looks, my mother
Bought herbs from a Sicilian market.
An old man stopped her as she left,
Acting out the best ways to cook with them.

When my mother was in the hospital
For the minor procedure from which she died
She struck up a conversation with a nurse
Who had many problems. My mother
Promised to think them over.

(If I asked it of them, pronouns would do more work
But I enjoy the words "my mother.")

Thursday, September 21, 2017

YELLOW DOG



Abraham Lincoln, said my father, knew of a tonic
That could make you a new man, with enough left over
To make a little yellow dog. The first part is only sense;
Who does not make a new man each time he wakes
Choosing among those pieces of him that lie to hand?
This memory but not that one; this vice but
Not – never again! – that virtue too dearly bought.
From suchlike things I have conjured myself
At least ten thousand times, without a tonic.
What concerns me now is that yellow dog
Making itself impudently of the parts left over
Bad enough when he barks at me when we pass,
I on my way to work and he off to chase sticks and cats
And other dogs, but worse- far, far worse! –
Those days he grins at me or offers a sympathetic paw.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

CH



Once in a while someone tries
To tell Coleman Hawkins that
He died in 1969. It never takes.
Listen. A few notes drift a bit
Past the minor key they started in
When he played them at Kelly’s
But that’s about it. Somewhere
It is always 1946. The war is over
And the cloud of cigarette smoke
Hanging over the music
Won’t do you a lick of harm.

Monday, September 18, 2017

SECOND FROM THE LEFT, DANCING IN THE STREET FOR AN AUDIENCE OF FOUR CHILDREN



Suspended in midleap you look
To be forty or so. Not old, no;
But not all that young  either.
I like your beaky nose; some day
You may become Margaret Dumont
Eternally perplexed by Groucho Marx
But adoring him all the same. He, too,
Is puzzled that he loves someone
Who will never eunderstand his jokes.

But that will come later. For now,
The problem is that you, along
With three other women in ballet skirts
Jumped in the air just as Andre Kertesz
Snapped a picture. There you hang.
Even Death can't draw you down
Or move one finger of your flat hand.

Friday, September 15, 2017

PREMONITION



Jane Welsh Carlyle had a presentiment
Of her death. Faceless men, she dreamed
Carried a heavy coffin into her room
And rested it before her on the ground.
It was fine thing, made of close-grained wood,
Lined with soft purple velvet. She said
“Are you sure? I do not think Mr. Carlyle
Would spend quite so much money.
Pine is a very decent wood and pine needles
Are well enough for a corpse’s rest.”

Three days later, she had another dream
The same men returned but one of them
Had acquired a face, or borrowed one,
So that he could look chagrined.
“You were right. The coffin was meant
For quite a different Mrs. Carlyle.
If it is any comfort the three monkeys
We were supposed to bring to you
Have brought her no end of trouble.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

BEFORE DAWN



The most important
Poet to emerge
In France since
World War II
Is being pursued
Through the streets.
The least important
Poets to emerge
In France since
World War II
Nod to each other;
Today they’ve found
Something
To write about.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

FOR AESRED



One of the perks of being God
Is existing while not existing
Ayin, who does not exist,
Prays to both, but not
At the same time.
Her shadow
Has holes in it
For which it blames
Moths who are sworn
Servants of the locust's god.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

NEW NEIGHBOR




Hedge priest's unhappy that hedge witch
Has moved into his shrub but admits
Hedge whore might be worse. Or,
He confides to hedge player over
His hedge beer, very much better.

Monday, September 11, 2017

BRILLO



The Unmoved Mover knows who
Spray-painted it with graffiti.
It has no desires. Still
It wouldn't mind if someone
Scrubbed it clean again.

Friday, September 8, 2017

MOUSEBONE



She sees in the dark so Baba Yaga
Carries her mouse-bone lantern solely
In order for others to see her.
The storm, rapidly approaching,
Has left her the only god
Walking along the beach tonight.
If you must pray, be careful.

Monday, September 4, 2017

ROOMER



One thing that surprised my father’s ghost
When he rented rooms in Kamianka Strumilowa
Was to find  The Shadow as a fellow boarder.
Every morning, he’d see The Shadow leave
For his job of knowing what evil lurked
In the hearts of men. (This was before
The Shadow fought crime; in those days
He contented himself with knowing.)
Quite late at night, my father
Might glimpse him coming home to eat
Small servings of unappealing leftovers.
Some weeks there was a shortage of evil
And The Shadow’s rent would be late.
Others, there was so much evil that my father
Would be sent off with a piece of chalk
To mark evil for The Shadow to know
Once he had a few spare minutes again.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A VARIETY OF THINGS ABOUT MAX



My grandfather Max grew up on a farm
With ten brothers and sisters and
A very great number of ducks. This
Was in the uncertain lands, then
Part of Austria's Poland but now
Ukrainian. A tossed coin sent him
To America where, he became a tailor
And a cutter, turning huge bolts of cloth
Into coats. His children played
With giant spools. Some weeks
The cutters never went home but slept
On the giant tables or under them.
For some years he owned a factory
On West 39th Street in Manhattan.
Growing up in Poland
He’d helped his father make wine
In Brooklyn he had a garden
And grew plums, peaches, and apricots
But his grapes refused to make wine
Turning always into vinegar.
He called each of his children
By the first word they tried to say. Sadie
Was Gninganoy; Doris was Napougie;
My father was Sock. That leaves six
Whose true names I don't know.
In summer, he and his landtsmen
Might eat cantelopes and then
Drink schnapps from the hollowed halfs.
His children called him Poppa.
His wife Esther called him Mortrazik
I don't know what he called her.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

AT THE END



His small rooms were filled with souvenirs
So extensions were quickly slammed together
Once it was clear that the suitors' ghosts –
Sighted on an old-fashioned boat
With masts of bone and cobweb sails
Riding against the wind towards Phaecia --
Were coming to see the dying Telemachus.
He lived among us here, had children,
In the long years after Ithaca was forbidden him.
We assumed these lordly shades of men
Princes, warriors, priests and magicians
Came to gloat or to extract revenge long delayed
But they seemed to see the dying old man
As if he was still the half-orphan child
They'd  helped to raise, spending nights
Comforting him, telling him tall stories
Making little animals of cedarwood and cypress.
Their ship’s spiderspun sails billowing with winds
None of us on shore could feel.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

CORPORAL



One day a second corporal marched out of the fog
And fell in. So far as we could tell, he was identical
To the one we already had except, perhaps,
The scar under his left eye was a trifle shorter.
Also, he mostly spoke in a language none of us understood
He knew to obey the sergeant, could make a fire
From wet and rotten twigs and sod.
And remembered not to spit where the moon could see.
Schultz was afraid of him but Schultz was afraid
Of corporals in general so we didn’t wonder at it..

Monday, August 28, 2017

ALONG



That Tonto spoke Yiddish was no surprise;
From listening with her youngest to episodes
Of The Lone Ranger my grandmother knew
That Tonto could do almost anything.
After she died, he’d clattered up
To offer her a ride on Scout. They chatted;
Tonto, it turned out, was an orphan too.
He'd never seen Lemberg but had heard
That its streets were wide and that
The second oldest fish in the world
Lived in the waters of the Poltowa.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

OFFICE



One slow Thursday the Unmoved Mover
Emanated an office which naturally
Soon filled with file cabinets, desks,
Cubicles, phones, shredders, agendas,
Interns and some things which are,
So far as can be told, people. Serving
The Unmoved is not easy. Aristotle
Decided it should spend eternity
Contemplating itself contemplating
Itself contemplating. Aristotle
Believed this would be great fun.
Efforts by the publicity department
Have not persuaded anyone
That Aristotle was correct.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

CRESCENTIA



St. Crescentia's miracles
Are delicate, filagreed things
Covered with tiny bells,
Shards of seaglass,
Or, sometimes, feathers
From imaginary birds.
The one I know best
Includes a cage
Where old moonlight
Sits behind mouse-bone bars.
It was made in answer
To prayer not made
By a man I did not
Turn out to be.