Friday, May 26, 2017


In Wilno they teach you
Do not point at the Moon
Nor pee where it can see you.
Most importantly:
Do not fall in love with the Moon.
Some nights the streets
Are filled with furious Balts
Pointing and peeing
And writing love poems.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


When I submitted the latest design
For my ghost I included a note
That many things were negotiable
I am willing to be real or imaginary
Or some combination of the two.
Palpable? Impalpable? No great matter.
I am willing to wear full armor
And walk battlements armed cap a pie.
On the other hand, I can manage
As a trick of light or a pale shadow.
There is just one thing: I must have pockets
Or where will I put stones and bits of metal?
Where, when I visit my parents' grave,
Will my left hand go while my right
Swoops and points, unfolds and clenches?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Their virtues went armed
Patrolling the streets
In pairs. Honesty itself
Sought my blood
And would have had it
If some well-formed lies
Hadn’t come to my defense.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


William Blake had a chat with St. Joseph
Who advised him that he should mix
Tempera, varnish and carpenter’s glue
With just a touch of gold leaf
Before painting on canvas or copper.
Unfortunately, Joseph knows nothing
About painting. Had Blake checked
With St. Luke he’d have been warned
That the gluie would make his pictures
Fade and darken and vanish until
Only ghosts could see them.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Though dead since living memory runneth not to the contrary
Professor Longfellow tries to keep up with modern poetry
Reading it in English, French, German, Italian, Greek
And Proto-Uralian, which is not really a language
But a conjuration of  parti-colored singing molluscs.
If Harvard summons him back (he was chairman
Of the Department of Modern Languages) he intends
To begin lecturing as if his death in 1882 was merely
A species of inconvenience.

                                                            Though he tries hard
He cannot keep up and so has only recently reached
The Collected Poems of Babette Deutch, published
In 1969 by Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY.
He enjoyed the pale old men playing chess by a squalid window
And thought he could have done something with her three nuns
Listening to Chopin. On the whole, he approved. Then, conscientious
As he always was and still is, to the extent that he is anything now,
He read the front and back blurbs and was startled to see his name
In her brief biography: “She was composing verse before
She could write, and likes to recall that in primary school
She preferred Blake to Longfellow.”

                                                                        Likes to recall!
Did she sit, then, by an old mirror whose glass was thick
At the bottom and thin at the top, sifting memories,
For a young interviewer and, with a smile, saying “Yes,
It is quite true; even in primary school I preferred Blake
To Longfellow?” Perhaps she worked it into bedtime stories
For her two children, five grandchildren and the one great-grandchild
Who hastily had himself born just in time to get a look-in’
In her obituary on the New York Times of November 15, 1982:
“Then the clever child led the prince, the porringer, the pedagogue
And the enchanted pump-handle back to the palace, telling them
That, though still a girl in primary school, she had decided
That Henry Longfellow could not hold a candle to William Blake.
And they all lived happily ever after.”

Friday, May 19, 2017


Arriving just too late to save her, Irina’s angel
Gave her company the entire way from the roof
Of her apartment building to the pavement
In the courtyard. My great aunt
Had excellent reasons for stepping off a roof.
Her angel had his reasons, too, for being late:
There was something wrong with his visa;
His wings did not match, one being longer
Than the other, so that when he wasn’t careful
He’d fly long, lazy circles, repeatedly finding
The Bug River beneath him when he’d meant
To trace the Vistula. Also, he was absent-minded
Once saving an old woman in
When he was scheduled to rescue a child

                    Irina, my grandmother’s older sister,
Listened to the angel as they fell, occasionally
Trying to get in a few words. She was a musician
Though what sort I don’t know. For years
My imagination gave her a violin but now
It demands stranger things, as if she deserved
Krumhorns and sackbuts and tall therebos.
It could be that she sang; perhaps her angel
Provided some sort of counterpoint.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


On days he doesn't hunt Prince Tamino
Dances for an hour before breakfast
With a servant insufficiently nimble
To be elsewhere when the call comes.
Pamina is long gone, having joined
One of Hogarth's prints: Actresses
Dressing In A Barn. (She understudies
The faithful bunter in A Harlot's Progress.)
Tamino has had the castle mirrors covered
Since the day he combed his hair --
Still a pleasant shade of tarnished gold --
And saw Sarastro looking back at him.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Since my brother had cornered the market
In imaginary friends, I made do one summer
With an imaginary associate, seen by appointment.
He was an offwhite polar bear, nearsighted
But impressively big. He sometimes growled
At Gucko and Foofoo when they visited my brother.
To a bear, two year olds are adults. We discussed
Politics and sports. He was frankly critical
Of my taste in clothing and advised me
That eating crayons was unlikely
To impress people or advance my career.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


The recording hisses and pops
Every violin is playing in its own key
Or underwater. The soprano
Died in 1937. She'd forgotten her name
But not that she'd been a soprano.
The baritone was last seen
Climbing into a cab with a companion
Variously reported as having horns
Or a pistol or being shockingly handsome.
None of this matters; Don Giovanni
And Zerlina are singing. As always,
It is the very first time.

Monday, May 15, 2017


If you magnify it ten million times
You can just make out, by a railing,
My old high school principal,
Leonard J. Fliedner. The photo,
Taken from a balloon over Paris,
Shows Dr. Fliedner looking as he did
When I knew him a century later
Excerpt that his mustache is dark
And his coat has a comically high collar.
He is not smiling. He is, perhaps,
Recalling his wild youth or regretting
That he did not, at the last,
Rescue Francois Villon or die
When St. Joan offered him the chance.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


On Seventh Avenue I saw
One of Stevie Smith's tall
And spiky angels. It was
Something over eight feet tall
And narrow as a sword.
No one else seemed to notice
When it brushed aside traffic lights
Or casually plucked a soul
From an aged lawyer hasting
To the First Department knowing
His case was lost already.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Because Anthony ran about the desert,
Hiding from people, never speaking
And living on uncooked roots
The folks of
Antioch made him a saint.
Heaven spruced him up,
Issued him a card entitling him to draw
Upon the illimitable power of God,
And gave him a pig. (Every St. Anthony
Has a pig. It is a universal constant.)
The other St. Anthonys -- there
Are ten of them --worry about him.
He is, by default, the patron saint
Of those who have no patron saint.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Esther was named
After her grandmother
Who was named after an aunt
Who bore the name
Of a half-sister who carried
Her own mother's name
For three days and a half.
The progression
Is long, not endless.
You can trace this line
Back and back and back
Until you are in Babylon
With Ishtar, the lion-rider
Who made an angry trip
To Hell and came back
Still angry but without
Any clothes.

Monday, May 8, 2017


The Emperor dreamed he was a vagrant
Sleeping in a doorway. He dreamed
He was a wall guard watching the stars
Rearrange themselves. He dreamed
He was the Emperor, waking just
As a curtain fell back in place;
The Mandate of Heaven leaving.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


All who know how Tibb --
A small grey cat of uncertain breed
And questionable morals -
Became a saint never speak of it.
Experts believe it may involve
St. Cajetan's wager that he
Could make a functioning world
From oatmeal and fuller's soap.
Tibb's Day, which varies in length
From a few minutes to ninety six hours,
Comes at any time he chooses
Though rarely in summer.
He is the patron of broken promises,
Bad debts and short pieces of string.
It is unlucky to be hung on his day.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


It's not better or worse to be a bear
Instead of a monkey, just different.
I, too, walk upright when I choose.
Scampering is not for me; I lumber.
When angry I am brutal, not malicious.
Bribe me with honey or with praise.
Bright things do not last in my hands.
What you can make, I can repair.
Grace visits me, coming seldom;
I can never make it stay long.
What I seek I find at last. Run now;
Hide among your shadows.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017



The camp followers were with us still
But oddly changed. The sutlers had horns
And hoofs and limp braided mustaches
Tied with small bright bits of string.
They remained reassuringly surly
And did not allow credit. Our clothes
Were mostly ragged but washerwomen
Competed for our  business; tired feys
With black eyes and tattered wings
That could lift them a few inches
Above the rocks and hardpacked snow.


All that winter Death lay sick.
We had no heart to leave him behind
So he rode in a cart, half-conscious,
Groaning now and then.
When we had to abandon the carts
His attendants – bats and voles
And bears who wore clothes and expected
To pass as men – heaped blankets on him
And carried him in a wicker basket.

Monday, May 1, 2017


Tea was drunk with lemon and sugar;
One spoonful for the ascetics, two
If you treated yourself kindly.
If you were sick -- or my brother --
There might be a dollop of honey.
No one outside a book would ever
Drink tea with milk or without sugar.
When I meet my old self nothing
About me startles him more
Than my pouring warm milk
Into a cup of unsweetened tea.

Friday, April 28, 2017


Souls, she said, having read too many of my poems
Are not to be so lightly lost or idly left
Wailing on a river bank, no matter how dark
Its waters run. Her robust and stainless soul
Would throw me into the river should I depict it
Wringing incorporeal hands or fluttering hopelessly
By the Styx or the Acheron or,
For that matter, the Red, the Green,
The Picketwire, the Perdido or the Rio Grande.
Nor would I have it thought my soul and I
Do not get along or that I often go angling
In fulgin  streams. Still, if those mourners
Are not the papery souls of wayward clerists
I cannot think what they are nor why
They seem so tirelessly unhappy.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


My eyes, brown now, were grey when I was a boy
But eyes don't change color, except for infants.
It must be that I've been substituted for myself.
Apart from the eyes, the workmanship is pretty good
So that I very seldom realize I'm not me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


The  black river's water stores the reflections
Of all the towns that ever stood on its banks
On moonless nights, defrocked members of the clerisy
Lower tiny mirrors on long pieces of string
Hoping to bring back a cup, a spoon,
A long-forgotten toy. Sometimes, they leap
Into the river, leaving their thin souls
Wailing on the shore.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Sometimes the moon
Thinks she's a ship.
She throws a heavy rope
Towards a pier
Since 1943. Sailors
(Why does the moon
Have sailors?) swarm down
To spend their leave
In the arms and the beds
Of transparent girls
With rust-colored eyes.

Friday, April 21, 2017


His ghost found himself in a book
Summed up in seven words in a footnote:
“William Middleton, an engineer who went insane.”
These were not the two facts he’d have chosen.
Why not “Ate a lit candle, flame and all;
Had a blind cat who came when he called?”
Or “His mother’s favorite who rode well?”
Or “Could breathe underwater and very nearly
Was elected King of the Cats?”

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Certain memories I store in the episcopal palace
So its ghosts are used to me, nodding
When I come searching for the box where I keep
The stairway I climbed every day for most of 1975
Or putting away again the Krebs Cycle
Which I memorized in 1969; I've come near
To tossing it a dozen times but somehow
Never have.

In the garden stroll the disgraced bishop
And his highborn but slightly damaged mistress.
Following them at a discreet distance
Servants sweep out their footprints
Or would if ghosts left footprints.
At night, I have reason to believe,
The bishop -- something of a scholar,
Something of a rascal, something of a poet --
Rearranges the boxes I keep in his palace
And hides some of his memories with mine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


The sixth day of the moon makes travelers
Love each other. It also drives away mice,
Throws people in prison and mistreats them.
The eighth day is a good time to build
Or release prisoners; be careful
To take no purgatives then. If a prisoner
And no one has released you on the eighth day
Know that the twentieth favors escapes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


It was considered good practice then
For private offices to have their own demons
(The government hired outside contractors
Who did not get benefits.) At PCRD,
My office was next to that of the telichine
Megalezius – we called her Meg.
She was always the first to arrive
But sometimes took long lunch hours.
Her last job had been to dip out Styx water
To bring to the world of the living
Where it caused misfortune. (She says it tasted
Much like raspberries with a hint of lemon.)
Before that, she’d been a minor goddess
Worshipped – or at least rather liked –
By apprentice smiths and ratcatchers.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Twice today a white cat's crossed my path
The first time disguised as Lady Mary Coke
Whom half the world thought beautiful
Making the other half wonder at them,
Saying "She is so very pale. She has
An appallingly bad temper. She is
Entirely lacking in eyebrows. How, then
Can you consider this white cat fair?"
The second time was in an old Spanish book
The hero, raised in
England, slowly remembers
His early life in Cordova. His family refuses
To come into focus but he suddenly recalls
A white cat with which he used to play.
My mother would have warned me that
A third white cat is surely on its way.

Friday, April 14, 2017


I warned God, but would He listen?
Not a chance. He stood there
(Not that there was a there there;
That came later. He stood where
There would have been a there
Had there been one) staring
Into the abyss until you people
Stared back into Him. From this
I date the beginning of all my woes.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


For twenty years no muse visited Macniece;
He became a respected critic whose poems
Were unreadable and unread.
Then his muse returned; he was delighted
She wasn’t sober and had obviously
Been through hard times. Still, he took her in
When she came by at 3 in the morning
Singing and swearing, riding on the back
Of Death's motorbike, her white arms
Locked tight around the driver's waist.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


In time Sparafucile found Rigoletto confining
“An assassin should have more than one victim,”
He would complain. “Granted, I stabbed Gilda
When I meant to kill the Duke, but that
Was entirely her fault – read the libretto!”
He sent  feelers out, looking for other work
Asking Lucia why she would want to stab Arturo
And get all covered in blood when he,
Sparafucile, a professional, could do the job
So much more neatly and at a cost
Surprisingly affordable. Waiting her answer
He has moved in with Rodolfo, Marcello,
Colline and Schaunard. He makes them nervous
But pays more than his share of the rent.
Musetta has grown fond of him.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Quiet sits on the porch;
Silence fixes the roof.
Quiet has a map;
Silence keeps a diary.
Quiet pours the wine;
Silence drinks it.

Monday, April 10, 2017


At the end of a day, a year, of time itself
God turns out His pockets, wondering
At the stray shells and stones and bits of metal
That have collected there. He does not want
To find shreds of things when He does the laundry
Nor to hear the terrible noise keys make in a dryer
So He checks carefully, and finds in a fob pocket
A blue and green marble, chipped, dusty,
But still rather pretty. He gently rolls it in His fingers;
Feels its satisfying weight in His palm. In a desk drawer
He finds an old star, salvage from a constellation
Which didn't work out, and sets the marble spinning
One more time.

Friday, April 7, 2017


You think you know where you’re going
But some agent of Libitina comes and you find
You’ve turned a corner and are going
Somewhere else entirely. There are three men
In a bar on Third Avenue who this morning
Set out for Muncie to be judges
At a pumpkin fest. (The pumpkins of Muncie
Are relieved they’ll not be judged this year).
Some time around twilight one of them
Will suggest going home. We intend
For him to take the long way round
And visit Hy Brasil along the way.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Not cat, not surgeon, I
Have not much thought I
Might be God, travelling incognito,
Even to Myself, through the world.
Still, if the Universe proves
Fond of a joke and I
Wake up as Lord of Creation, I
May incarnate for reasons
Other than those of tradition.
Having failed many tests,
Including some I didn’t know
I was taking, I would be loath
To test Mankind (which, by and large
Has done well by Me).
Nor would My first priority.
Be salvation (Not, mind you,
That I’d want to set Myself
Against saving you all; it just
Wouldn't be high on My to-do list.)
No; it would be from wondering
How sawdust smells when it’s fresh
And dancing in a ray of light
Or what it is to hold a child
Or to be a child and be held.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017



Catalonian babies
Wear pompoms this year.
From the balconies
Of medieval fortresses,
Now become apartments,
Laundry has been hung
As well as yellow flags
With red stripes.
A sad woman walked by
Wearing a coat
Of at least seven colors.
She missed you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


After several thousand years as a corpse goddess
Libitina is now, by a fiat of Google's,
The goddess of corners (You can look it up)
This both pleases and disconcerts her.
Corpses pointedly ignore her; she is uncertain
Of her new duties. Many of the prayers she gets
Were meant for other gods who, being homeless,
Are hard to find, while she's on every street-corner
Her support group includes St. Brigid
(Once a water spirit or perhaps fire incarnate.
Scholars disagree and she's no longer sure herself)
And  Orchil (Death goddess who minors in sorcery;
Also a gourmet cook. Invented by Standish O'Grady
In a fit of Irish patriotism, in 1893).

Monday, April 3, 2017


The day after God made a rock
Too heavy for Him to lift,
Heaven vanished, along with
All who dwelt there except a bent seraph
Two dominions, an addled throne
And a handful of saints. Down the road
A duplicate Heaven, constructed
For just such an emergency,
Flickered to life. A few details were wrong;
There were more cats, to begin with.
Most of the occupants lacked wings
But flew by wildly flapping their arms.
In Peter's absence, St. Brigid
Took over the gate. For form's sake,
The God of this New Heaven maintains
An official residence there but usually
Spends His nights on Earth,
Lying on His Back, looking at the stars
Trying to remember if He'd made them.

Friday, March 31, 2017



Leaning forward, almost whispering,
The preacher said "This morning when
I prayed to God, there was No One there!
I could get no explanation;
Dark-winged angels would not meet my eye."

Beneath their hats, three church ladies stirred --
A sub-committee, prepared for this contingency --
But before they could rise, the preacher's cat
Had leapt into the altar. "Until God returns
We are in charge. Feed us; brush us
And you will find us not unkindly."

Thursday, March 30, 2017


I am not instinctively kind
But my father was. Occasionally
I perform, in his absence, a kind act.

I am not particularly friendly
But my mother was . Once in a while
I listen sympathetically, as she did

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Baba Yaga remembers when snakes
Walked about like other folk,
Wore hats, told elaborate stories
With terrifying morals. Even now,
She says, it us mostly lack of ambition
That keeps them on their bellies.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


My grandfather Max disliked emperors
On principle. Still, if Franz Joseph
Suddenly appeared on
Snediker Avenue,
Running for his life from his enemies,
Max would surely offer him shelter.
He might -- but only might -- tell his wife
That the Emperor was in their kitchen
Eating a large apple. It's possible
Max would think it better to let Esther
Find the Emperor herself  rather
Than having a discussion on how unlikely
A man so old and habit-bound
Had slipped off his throne and turned up,
Hapsburg jaw and all, in

Monday, March 27, 2017


Waking from a dream where he was running
From a grossly offended King of the Frogs,
The poet Ch'en Yu was surprised to see
His late wife, the singer Fa Xiqing,
Sitting in the moonlight. She was sorting
Through a bag of patches and threads.
In the morning he found his old robe
Had been roughly mended. Even death
Cannot teach some people to sew.

Friday, March 24, 2017


You doubt Schrodinger's cat is a poet?
Examine the evidence: He lives, if at all,
In a box -- rich poets are not common;
Following tradition, he relies on a patron
Who cares little about the cat himself
But only the glory he might cast
Upon the House of Schrodinger.
He is both and neither dead nor alive;
None of his works are in print yet his name
Is familiar to many who read no poetry.
Any day now he will and he won't
Accept tenure at a small university.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


There are none now to believe me,
None to take it as more than a small joke,
But my mother could conjure into existence
New distant relatives who would rise,
Stretch themselves, blink a time or two,
And believe they'd been born as others are,
Had mothers and fathers, siblings, friends,
Had moved and breathed, had rejoiced and suffered
And, strange to say, all the world assented
To this impudent imposition,
Letting them conduct themselves
As if they’d legally slipped across the border
Into the real world.

                                  Eleven years ago she died
And I fear that all those she called here --
All those good, eccentric people --
Have begun to flicker and to vanish
To be again as if they never were.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


"I'll have some love," said I,
Rapping the bar, coin in hand.
"We have none left," said the tapster,
"Would you care for mild disdain?
We have it on tap." Well, damne!
But, after all, a man must drink.

Monday, March 20, 2017


As was the custom, his heart was buried
Beneath the altar, his head under the path
Leading to the vestry, his bones
Boiled clean of flesh and sold separately
As souvenirs. His soul was placed
In a jar, with the lid screwed on tight.
The usual prayers were said in Latin,
Dutch, Cornish, Flemish and Erse
And then recited backwards in Pig-Latin,
English, Spanish and a vague Ugaritic patois
Specially cobbled up for the occasion.
You will, accordingly, understand
That, pursuant to the Peace of Westphalia,
The Geneva Convention, Hoyle’s Book of Games,
And the Rule in Shelley’s Case, your client
Lacks standing to be haunting our chambers
Or to be bringing other ghosts after midnight
To make confetti of our files. Also, we demand
That he forthwith cease all attempts at seducing
Personnel above the rank of senior associate

Friday, March 17, 2017



Since you were here,
Here and well in
Zadig and Voltaire
Have formed a partnership
And opened a small store.
I assume Zadig gets first billing
Because even a fictional prince
Outranks a mere Immortal.
This city, capital of a country
Which once existed
And may exist again, but is now
Cater-kin to Shangri-La,
Is right for them both. Both prefer
Lands where the king's writ
Does not run and can barely
Maintain a brisk hobble.
I don't know what they sell.
If you were still alive, though,
You would surely tell me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Here is David, says the guide.
Nonsense! David was a boy,
11, maybe 12; this is a grown man.
One who is quite wondrously fit,
And also 14 feet tall. In other words,
He is a giant -- "Il Colosso,"
The Florentines called him.
It can only be that this fellow
Is Goliath, escaped from the version
In which, to show his disdain
For his opponent, he arrives
Fresh from the bath, not bothering
Even to put on a towel.
Instead of a sword, he carries a sling.
He does not intend to kill David --
Where would be the glory in that?
No; he just wants to teach the boy

The unwisdom of challenging giants.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


For the first time in years St. Jerome
Hauled out his inks and quills
And hand-lettered some pages;
His lion posted them on streetlights.
They advised the world that the saint
Would no longer answer prayers
Would not, in fact, even listen
To anything sounding like a prayer.
Some, though, live in great fear
That their prayers might be answered;
When Jerome next woke, on his grating
On the shadowed side of
Seventh Avenue,
He was under a passion of prayers
Who'd crawled near him in the night,
Trusting he would ignore them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017



Through the doorway, Titian's Venus
Gestured urgently to me, but I shrugged;
The tour was rushing on; Raphael
Was waiting. When I returned home
The picture postcard which hangs
On a pillar next to my desk was bitter.
"How could you not linger? What if
She’s kept a message for you
For the last five hundred years?"
"But," I asked, "can't you deliver it?"
"Me? I am a reproduction. I am slightly
Out of focus; my colors are inaccurate.
You should not trust anything I say."

Monday, March 13, 2017



Since you were here
Since you were here in Barcelona
St. Jo-an has posted on the walls
That he currently has openings
For those who want to pray to him.
He is a reliable general practitioner
Particularly good with those
Experiencing many troubles.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


World is going to be with me late and soon for a bit, so if I don't post for a brief while, just go back to the beginning and read from there. Everything will start making sense and the poems will start talking to each other.
I'll be back.


When I wake up I am no longer
Fluent in Chinese so I have
Only a hazy notion of what
Li Po was telling me last night.
Something, I think, about
He and my father sharing a dream.
Afterwards, each of them
Was followed by the other's shadow.
Up to now it’s been wondered
Why a poet dead since 762
Knew the batting averages
Of the1939
Brooklyn Dodgers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Three painted angels. One of them –
The youngest one, who remembers
No universe before this one – looks out.
And notices you watching. For you,
He slightly increases the tempo
Of the song he’s been playing
For six hundred thirteen years.