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.

Monday, August 21, 2017

KNOW

Since she doesn't exist
The angel Ayin
Cannot answer prayers.
She listens, though,
To all who want
No one to hear.

Friday, August 18, 2017

PREFECT



The prefect's statue does not accept that he is clay
Nor that the state he served fell centuries ago.
He stares back into each face peering at him
In the display case where he keeps his office.
Some day the vandal who chipped his nose
With a stone idly tossed will surely return;
The prefect will arrest him in the name
Of the Empress Regnant Wu Zhao.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

AT THE MUSEUM



Henry VIII's dress armor
Is black, with golden details,
And filled with ghosts.
Thomas More looks
Through the eyeholes
Great Wolsey sits at ease
In the expanded belly.
Sometimes, the left hand
Slowly clenches; Cromwell
Is having a bad dream.
The six wives
Lodge in the codpiece
Except for Boleyn
Who sits in the helmet
Arguing with More.
Henry's soul huddles
In the left boot's tip
Wishing the others
Would quiet down
So a man could sleep.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

PERFORMANCE



The music strikes up; dancers,
Already on stage are in motion.
They’re just a few at first but,
From the wings come more
And more again until the stage
Cannot hold another. No matter;
A scrim lifts, and there is space
For those coming from everywhere
Rappelling from the rafters, streaming
Down the aisles. The musicians
Put down their instruments to dance;
The music now plays itself. Last of all,
You rise, arms links with yours
And you’re dancing.
                         If this isn't Death
What can it be?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

THE RETURN



Grown old, Mr. Hyde finds he misses
Dr. Jekyll. He is not a chemist –
That was Jekyll – but he has the notes
From the original experiments
And signs up for some courses. His wife
(Hyde gave up murdering women years ago
On the advice of his cardiologist) thinks
Jekyll is unlikely to return from wherever
In Hyde he’s been larricking about. Still …
She prepares the guest bedroom
And buys porridge; Hyde hates porridge
But says Jekyll will want it at breakfast.

Monday, August 14, 2017

INCIDENT



Almost featureless, the ghost
Stands by a wall. The rain
Makes people hurry by.
I furtively put in his hand
The memory of a dime
One of the old ones, silver,
With Mercury's head on it
He curls his fingers around it,
Nods and is gone.

Friday, August 11, 2017

CHEAP AT THE PRICE



If this was 1940
I might take a subway --
One of the new
IND lines --
And walk a block south
To
24 West 40th Street.
There, I'd ask "Do you have
The Goddess of Time?"
"Certainly," the jeweler would say
"That"ll be one dollar down
And $2.87 a month
For the next ten months."
My grandfather, a watchmaker,
Might have cautioned me
That any watch called
The Goddess of Time
Was no better than it should be
And was not to be trusted.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

CALL NOW



Chief Mullica, licensed detective,
Can be found, when he chooses,
At 577-S, The
Orpheum Building,
Jersey City, where it is always
October 1940. He is willing to train,
To investigate, to fingerprint,
To shadow and to solve
Cases which have baffled
More ordinary detectives.
That he works out of a building
Torn down 60 years ago
Is not a problem. 
For $15 a day and expenses,
He’ll  travel almost anywhere.
Particulars, say his ad, are free.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

DANCERS IN A SKETCH OF DAUMIER'S



So tightly they grip hands!
How fast they circle round!
The goose, in vain, honks
Alarmed that their feet
Have left the ground.

Monday, August 7, 2017

AYIN



Alif, who can't be seen,
Has an apprentice --
The angel Ayin --
Who doesn't exist
But hopes to.
Homeless, she sleeps
In alleys, wrapped
In a torn shadow.

Friday, August 4, 2017

FIX-IT



My grandfather Joe could tell why a watch had stopped
By winding it, holding it to his ear and then tapping it --
Three precise taps. After this, the diagnosis:
A bit of grit in a cog wheel or a broken spring
Or a simple desire for attention. He'd ask for a tool --
A needle, say, or a butter-knife or a drop of oil --
Which always proved to be the right one. If people
Had been watches, he and his older daughter
Would've gotten along quite splendidly.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CHILD ALSO OF PODARGES



In my despair I called on Xanthos
Which is odd. What use to me
Zephyr's child, a yellow horse
Who'd wept for Patroclus
And raged at Achilles? Still,
One goes where one must.
An immortal horse, half wind;
There might be worse company
For the cold journey I'll someday take.
Lions and bears, a pig and a horse;
Any number of cats, stray virgins
And glum saints. Really, we should get
Some banners and perhaps
A small escort of trumpets and drums.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

COURTESY?



I could hear God, jesting with the Lvovner
As I approached, but, catching sight of me,
He fell silent. Really, God? Does my unbelief
Require this pretense that You don't exist?

Friday, July 28, 2017

IN MY DEFENSE



In that neighborhood you could pass a virgin
Sweeping the streets, nod to a virgin
Directing traffic, on your way
To drink coffee next to a table
Where three virgins were discussing
The best way to make origami cranes;
Really, how could one more vestal hurt?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

WHOM WE KNEW



The Emperor Rudolph had his wizards
Summon great Achilles to attend him;
But every Achilles thinks that he
Is the great Achilles -- even Zeno's
Who spends a dull eternity
Not reaching a smug tortoise.
Getting lost in the palace corridors
They roistered into a dream
Belonging to Bette, the new kitchen girl.
Achilles the first -- the Greek one --
Rode on a large yellow horse
Who introduced himself as Xanthos
"Achilles speaks only Greek; I will translate
For him and the others. Achilles you know;
These gentlemen are the Achilles of
Rome,
The Achilles of
France, the Achilles of Sicily,
The Achilles of
Lombardy, and the two
Achilleses of
England. (Since one of them –
The first Duke of Wellington--
Won't be born for almost two centuries
We have represented him with a handsome rag doll.)
How can we serve you? Please note that all these men
Are brave beyond measure but have bad tempers
Except for Achilles of
Lombardy, who is kindly
But something of a coward."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

TWO OUT OF THREE



The man who thinks "I'm sauntering"
Is fooling himself. Odds are he's ambling,
Or, more rarely these days, moseying

The money in my wallet whispers
Thinking I do not hear. Someday,
I will learn its language.

Monday, July 24, 2017

PREPARATION



The last public letter writer has no mirror.
Every morning, she rises from the ground
And models herself on a faded photo
From 1910. She wills herself into focus,
Dabs on a touch or two of color,
Waits for customers. There are always some.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DISCORPORATE



After Cavafy died that part of his soul
Responsible for the rejected poems
Didn't leave with the rest of him.
Some mornings bleak-eyed tourists
See it, dressed in impeccable evening clothes,
Drilling alongside soldiers who fell
During the Siege of
Alexandria
Evenings it spends quietly with the ghost
Of Ptolemy Auletes, whose equerry it’s become.
Occasionally it picks up a stick,
Dips it in water and writes a new poem.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

IN CASE YOU'VE BEEN WONDERING



My favorite thing about being a pharaoh?
Not the occasional ride in the Boat of the Sun.
The view is unparalleled but even pharaohs
Are expected to take turns pulling an oar
Rowing through the deadland while Atum sleeps.
Nor is it sharing beer with Hathor under a tamarisk
The beer is good but Hathor talks endlessly
About being both Ra's mother and daughter
Which she considers infinitely amusing.
Some pharaohs revel in smiting their enemies
But I’d no taste for war and somehow
All my enemies smote back.
No; the best part was having a second shadow
And a decorated box in which the shadow slept.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

PAWLING

Many a ghost in Pawling thinks he is the revenant
Of former governor Thomas E. Dewey.
You'll see them crowding the streets after snowstorms
Each with a shovel and a disciplined mustache,
Digging out cars, clearing sidewalks, soliciting votes.
At high school games Pawlonians are used
To massed Thomas E. Deweys taking the field
To perform at half-time. In time, they grow weary
Shunning the light, their mustaches gone ragged.

Monday, July 17, 2017

WAKING JUST BEFORE DAWN



That I was stiff from sleeping in my chair
Was Daniel Defoe's fault; his account of
Winchester
Had not kept me awake. My soul, restless,
Was typing clumsily at the computer, its lips tight.
Frankly, I am rather scared of it these days
Though not because of its torn ear or missing eye --
The predictable results of age and the life it lives.
When it returned from its long absence
It wrapped itself in all it was wearing --
A rough-woven blanket -- and slept for three days
When it woke, it didn't know me or itself
And scoffed at the notion that a soul
Could sleep, could talk, could bide its time
Until the moment for escape came round again.

Friday, July 14, 2017

TALKING WITH GUCKO



Because my brother no longer speaks to him
His imaginary friend Gucko calls me with news
In the hope that I'll pass it on. I don't tell him
That E. isn't talking to me either. I rely
On Foofoo, E.'s other imaginary friend,
For what little I know of him these days.
How fortunate to have had two phantom playmates
So there’s always one to not talk to
And one for company while growing old.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

INSTRUCTIONS



First, you must learn to answer when you sleep
To names not quite your own. Keep your face
Slightly out of focus at all times. If coins
Drop into your palm, hide them quickly.
If saluted as the Lost Dauphin, nod regally.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

YO VI ESTO



Sleep and I weren't speaking that year
So I was not wholly awake when Terpsichore
Wandered across the Midway and possessed
My Trusts and Estates professor, a small, squat man
Made uncomfortable by this sudden access of grace.
His lecture went on -- he was talking, I think,
About entails and the Statutes of Mortmain --
Though his every move had become a dance.
How that man could shimmy! His will was cast iron
His eyes like angry marbles. His closing words
Carried him down the aisle so that, at the bell,
He flung wide the door and tap danced away.

Monday, July 10, 2017

ANCILLARY MATTERS



In a 4 to 3 vote, the committee ruled
That God would no longer exist
But would still comfort the afflicted,
Mete out justice and inspire
Love and wonder, confusion and hatred.

Friday, July 7, 2017

THE MTA DENIES RESPONSIBILITY



Among the unplanned consequences of repairs
To the
Joralemon Street subway tunnel
Was the sudden appearance of Walt Whitman
In the laundromat on Middagh where he now lives.
He appears to be about forty and, while reticent
About the exact circumstances of his return,
Talks endlessly about himself and his dismay
At
Brooklyn living under Manhattan's thumb.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

COMFORT



Nights when God remembers being young
Lying awake for hours, forgetting that He
Is the Lord of Sleep, troubled and restless,
Michael hurries off to fetch Satan home
To tell the old stories and to sing
In a voice just this side of silence until
God's burning eyes fall shut at last.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

SPEAK



Do you bring news then?
What hand scrabbled in the dirt
And then was still? Whose eyes
Glittered through the smoke?
Was there a moon that night?
Did an unlooked-for child
Walk through the fire?

Friday, June 30, 2017

ALL THE WORLD




The rules of balance usually make
Quiet, dapper Falstaffs
Befriend rumbustious Prince Hals.
The end remains the same:
Hal lies dying and Falstaff,
Painfully come from the grave,
Weeps careless tears the king
Has lost the ability to understand

Thursday, June 29, 2017

PO'EM



The coach was - crowded -
Because -
She insisted  - on - entering
Not as herself but - as
Eight other women  - and
An absent-minded boy --
About nine years old.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

FURYU NANA KOMACHI



One pale spring day in 1760
Kutsukawa Shunsho decided to paint
A group portrait of the poetess Ono No Komachi.
Coaxed and persuaded, versions of her
Left, for a while, the ninth century
To pose with props in his studio. Afterwards,
The old dancer fell asleep, her head
On the lap of the girl who brought rain.
Komachi the courtier and Komachi the beggarwoman
Wandered about
Edo, telling outrageous lies
And winking at every man they passed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

AUBADE



As you approach Joralemon
Two homeless gods nod to you.
The shadows dogging your heels
Turn the corner, pretending
A dream has ordered them
To visit the
Municipal Building
At three in the morning.

Monday, June 26, 2017

WARNING



Descending from transcendence
To immanence can be disorienting
Caution is advised; objects
Appearing infinitely far
May be infinitely near. May,
In fact, be you, with a mustache.

Friday, June 23, 2017

16 GAMES OF CHESS (REVISED)

When his wife died in childbirth
On February 25, 1927 my grandfather Joe
Felt his heart stop and then contract
Until it was small and hard and round
And cold as a marble. Ase, his brother,
Brought him home and sat with him.
Joe's deft fingers shook. For three days
He sat in the dark. On the fourth,
My great aunts Jenny and Lena
Brought his chess set from the apartment
Joe never visited again. Jenny opened the blinds
While Lena set up the board. She won
Fifteen games in a row.
She thought she was winning game sixteen
When Joe's eyes narrowed. "Mate in five," he said.
"So he remembers how to talk?" said his sister.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

UNSETTLED



At the 2001 Prague Conference on Artificial Life
The ghost of Rabbi
Judah was occasionally seen
Sitting quietly at the back of a morning lecture.
He'd take a few notes and once asked a speaker
Whether he agreed with Eliyahu of Chelm
That the possibility of a golem acquiring a soul
Could not be ruled out. This set off a loud debate.
The fact that the motherboard of an early laptop
Was known to be suffering in Hell was deemed
Interesting but not genuinely conclusive.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE MADONNA WITH A POMEGRANATE



There are nights when she badly needs some coffee,
A little fresh air, some personal space, so Botticelli's Madonna
Lets the child have the pomegranate and hands him off
To one of the angels crowding round her. Lifting her hem
To keep her feet from tangling in it, she climbs
Down from the painting. On her way through the Uffizi
She stops to chat with Venus, her older sister,
Asking her to check on Jesus should he start crying.
They know her at the  small bottega across the street;
She drinks her coffee, and smokes two cigarettes
Beneath the stars. Before returning to her painting
She stands in front of it for a moment, wishing
It wasn't quite so crowded and that two of the angels
Weren't resting their books on her.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

FAMILIAR



The pseudo-St. Jerome has not been issued a lion
But is followed around by a shapeless blur
Which may someday coalesce into a lion
Or at least an enormously large cat.
Occasionally a claw scratches the sidewalk;
A tooth sometimes gleams in the lamplight.

Monday, June 19, 2017

THE WEEK



On Monday,
Fate was inexorable.
On Tuesday,
She was more lenient.
Wednesday,
She stayed home sick
(The Goddess of Whatever
Did the best she could).
Thursday,
Fate worked late
Docketing invoices.
On Friday,
She resolved again
To find another job.

Friday, June 16, 2017

HOW POEMS ARE BORN



"Jane Austen" said the very old muse
"No," said I, "a good writer but not
My dish of tea."
                    "What if I tell you that,
According to a letter in The Telegraph,
For December 30, 2011,
Her eyes were ordinarily hazel
But she could turn them blue or grey?"
"Not a bad trick, but I still think no."
"There is," she said, "also a corpse."
"Corpses are good. What sort of corpse?"
"The sort who hangs from a gibbet."
"Covered in tar?" "If you like."