Tuesday, January 31, 2017


In May, 1812 the Comte de Flahaut
Stopped in Lemberg on a mission
For Napoleon. His  famous charm
Was so palpable that, when the Comte
Was indisposed, it would put on his cape
And stroll the boulevards on its own,
Nodding pleasantly to everyone.
Ninety years later, my grandmother
Was born in that city and in her dreams
Returned always to its wide streets.
Occasionally, Flahaut, Talleyrand's son,
Would detour through those dreams
But her heart remained stubbornly true
To the Emperor Franz Joseph.

Monday, January 30, 2017


My soul having wandered off
I hired a temporary one
It came in for a few hours
Monday through Friday;
I expected grave
And thrilling consequences
Of being soulless,
If only nights and weekends,
And I'd lead a purple life,
Committing unspeakable crimes
But, alas, my crimes
Were small and drab
And entirely speakable.
When my soul came back
It straightened things out
In about three hours.
We drank wine that night
And agreed to go on
Just as we'd done before.

Friday, January 27, 2017


Alfonso of Aragon's choir
Followed him about in case
There was a sudden need
For music. In the forest
They rode with him, swatting
Branches from their faces,
Trying to stay on key.
Death was not accepted
As grounds for retirement.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


On the one hand,
Saint and Bishop of Hippo,
Wrote The City of
And his Confessions
As well as much else,
Decisively changing
Christendom's course.
On the other,
Simplicius, his friend
Could recite Vergil

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


The tired watermen
Sleep on the hay
Carried by barges
Down the dark river.
I stand on no shore
Under no stars
Watching them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


There is a photograph
By Atget, say, or Evelyn Hofer
Or perhaps Bourke-White
Of a mournful room in
Over towards the left
Is a mirror. This is a famous picture
So you come across it often.
Lately, the mirror has begun
Showing your reflection.
Also, a small cat from a tintype
Henry Dixon made in 1881
Has started to push open
The door of an old cupboard.

Monday, January 23, 2017


By routine operation of the law of sympathy
Every St. Anthony sooner or later has a pig.
Anthony of Padua's it was who, acting at the behest
Of an unknown client, thought by some to be God,
Determined that the escaped saints had gone to ground
New York. He was, as always, cautious, operating
In the shadows where an investigating pig
Can pass almost unnoticed. For the the rough stuff
He depended on Jerome's lion, while Sukey --
The closest thing to a bad girl of all Ursula's virgins --
Acted as his eyes and ears in Heaven. In Heaven
No one pays any attention to virgins.

Friday, January 20, 2017


St. Jerome usually can be found
Somewhere along
Seventh Avenue
Sitting in a doorway, his gaze
Turned inward. His doppelganger --
Forged some time in the Ninth Century
Probably by bored Styrian nuns --
Moves around more and takes
A bit more notice of the world.
Occasionally, he buys large bottles
Of Quimera Imperial Stout
To share with his silent original.
His small and skittery miracles
Are much prized by collectors.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


It is well known that Baba Yaga's hut
Has chicken legs and a will of its own.
It is bigger inside than out. Some say
That a man might wander for years
Down its ever-branching corridors
And emerge in good time to witness
His own birth. One may leave prayers
Under the doormat; they will be delivered
Though not necessarily to the gods
For whom they were intended.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


At the very entrance Baba Yaga
Stands with a torch. I had no intent
Of her being in the poem but
She never listened to me when she
Was just a witch; why should she now
That she is among the gods?
My fault, I know, thinking the gods
Could use a witch among them
After Hecate put away her phltres.
I had ordered from my supplier
A very superior sort of moonlight
Which never arrived so the torch
Is the only light available.
It would be appreciated it you
Would pretend the light offered
By a nearly toothless old woman
Smoking an indescribably foul pipe
Is soft and romantic. Ready?
We begin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


To Fu slept on a tomb graced
By unicorns who faded
When dawn arrived.
Who can write of
Things like this?
An ode, then
To old wine
Sour but

Monday, January 16, 2017


My father drew a picture of some angels
Sitting in an attic, listening
To the people in the house below.

He drew pictures of my children
Among the giant balloons, floating
Down Fifth Avenue on Thanksgiving.

He sent me a picture of a sinister rabbit
Looking at the flower my mother always drew.
I knew the rabbit; he used to haunt
The margins of letters I wrote home.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Just the other side of that pillar,
Where you can't see him, God
Has settled himself comfortably.
He is telling a story about Raven
To the servant girl Hilde. Raven
And Hilde are both tricksters;
If they ever meet they might create
A much cleverer breed of men
With a few glossy black feathers
Placed discretely around their bodies
But God is not certain such men
Would be an improvement over those
Who presently mismanage the world.
While He thinks it over, Hilde
Waits in a picture by Saanredam
Of the great church in
When God grows weary of us
He sits in its clear-lighted aisles
Chatting with Hilde or another
Of those the crook-backed painter
Keeps stored for Him there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


If you need a small miracle in Ithaka
Your best bet is to submit a petition
To the one hundred and eight suitors
Who died to mark Odysseus' return.
They rest beneath plane trees in a park
Except for Amphinomous whose corpse
Insisted on being buried by itself.
They do not do heavy lifting, mind you;
But can be relied on for small sums
Found in pockets you knew were empty,
Relief for toothaches and the bad dreams
The local demons inflict on tourists
They cannot cure heartache but know
Large numbers of distracting anecdotes.
Major miracles are done by St. Joachim
Tuesday or Thursday from 10 to 6
And alternate Friday afternoons.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Clearing my parent’s house after they died
I found in the box room of the attic
Standing in a corner, behind some suitcases
Long done with their travels, a dusty Buddha
About an inch tall. He seemed unperturbed –
Well, he’s a Buddha; being unperturbed
Is his m├ętier – that we’d lost each other
At least twenty years before in a state
A thousand miles or more away.

Monday, January 9, 2017


God leans His back against a pillar
And tells the servant girl a story
There’s a giant in it and so giants
Wake up to find they exist again
Quickly, they send a delegation
To plead with God to make them wise;
They grow so tired of being oafs
Easily fooled by tailors and farmboys
Tripping over their feet or falling
To their deaths from cut beanstalks.
Would it be too much to ask
For just a bit of grace this time?

Friday, January 6, 2017


During the war I could seldom reach the imaginary castle where I stored most of my memories, and years passed afterwards in which the present did not loosen its urgent grip on me. When finally I made the long journey, over a road filled with deep craters, driving an oxcart my greatgrandmother had once described to my mother, there were boards over most of the windows and the great door was nailed shut. There was a servants' entrance, though it had never been much used. I had few servants and they weren't the sort who bother with doors. I tied the ox to a tree and it started grazing while I picked the lock.

Inside, my former self was exactly where I'd last seen him 12 years before, asleep in my memory of a comfortable chair. I looked at him for a few moments. He hadn't aged, of course, but the dust in his hair made it grey. There was a cat in his lap -- one of the memories I had inherited from my father. None of the cats who have lived with me have talked -- not to me, at any rate.

I grew up without cats because my brother was allergic to them, so  had never witnessed my father having a conversation with one. Still, I had seen dogs bring him their woes, so I no more doubted his claim that the cats with whom he grew up spoke than that he had flown with angels. He was an unusually truthful man, using up my family's store of honesty so his children could manage only the occasional true word.

After he died, most of my father's memories had wandered off into this world or that, but some had wound up mixed with mine, which was why there were talking cats in my castle and a rather surly angel who didn't talk. Anyway, she didn't talk to me. None of the cats had been given names since my grandfather had felt they might consider it an insult. (The dogs had names, but dogs are less touchy about such things.) There was usually just one cat, who was referred to as "the cat." If a second one moved in, it was "the other cat."

Thursday, January 5, 2017


Why pins? So angels will have a place to dance.
Why angels? So the pins don't go to waste.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


These stars are none of mine.
These hours are not properly made.
These minutes are under the legal limit.
Throw them back! I have become
An earlier version; where are my mag wheels?
The radio thinks it's 1973 and Brother Al
Will pray for me if I send him
Twelve dollars, mailed care of
Wheeling, West Virginia

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Walking down the midway my ghost
Will pause just where I used to pause
Where the cold lake winds whistle
Around Masaryk's tall memorial.
I no longer smoke but my ghost
Forgets this. Between his fingers
He'll have one of those awful cigars
That were company on certain nights
When I needed to study or needed
Not to fall asleep.Some campus guard
Will write in his pad "2 a.m. -- ghost
With a cigar, arguing with statue."

Monday, January 2, 2017


As part of our program
Of cultural outreach
Zheng Qi, a minor poet
Of the Tang dynasty,
Will chair a discussion
With minor Georgian poet
Lascelles Abercrombie,
And minor Greek poet
Erinna of Lesbos.
It is advisable
To arrive early.
There are no microphones
Abercrombie mutters
And we have no translator
For Zheng Qi. Errina
Intends to stay silent,
Protesting Fate
For allowing
Only four lines
Of all her poems
To survive. We will,
As always,
Serve refreshments
But they will not
Be very satisfying.