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."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

CONTINUING EDUCATION



To keep their licenses, supernatural beings
Have to occasionally take classes
Intended to keep them informed
On recent developments in theurgy.
Seated alphabetically, Abaddon,
The angel of the abyss, sits by Abiala,
An African goddess who carries a pistol.
Next to her -- perhaps -- is invisible Alif
And so on, until Zzzaxx, who isn't’t real.
Knowing this has made him bitter
As has his certain sense that even if
He were to cross the illimitable distance
Of the lecture room, crossing the bridge,
Leaping the chasm, evading
The Concupiscent Bees and surviving
The Hopscotch Game of Eternal Doom,
Abiala still would have no truck with him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

ONE OF AESRED'S



He knew a few lines at least
From every song he ever heard.
When cats brought him souvenirs
From their night hunts he thanked them
Knowing they took offense at hearing
He'd no use for half a mouse.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

BIRD



A robin just now hovered at the window
Wings beating clumsily; he wasn't built
To hang in the air. (A hummingbird
Would make it look effortless.)
He flew away, obviously surprised
And with an air of disappointment.
Who is using birds to send me messages,
And who does this robin think he is
To judge me unworthy of them?

Monday, June 12, 2017

COOKING



When my mother cooked, the ghost
Of her stepmother's mother
Would watch from the shadows
Muttering approval. Yes,
So much and no more salt; yes,
Stop kneading -- the dough needs rest.
If you tap the egg just so
It will obey you, cracking cleanly.

Friday, June 9, 2017

S.D.



After his third drink
And before his fifth
He was perceptive,
Witty, charming.
His fingers became long
Leaving trails of light
As they flew about
Illustrating, pleading,
Pointing, mocking.
The ghosts in whom
He had no faith
Gathered behind him.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

KAMIONKA STRUMILOVA



Kamionka Strumilowa is 41 kilometers from Lvov
And is called Kamionka because of the huge
Rocks which wandered in with the glaciers and,
Liking the look of the place, stayed on.
Esther never thought much of Kamionka;
She was of stately Lvov which could,
If it were hungry, have swallowed Kamionka
And had Przemysl for dessert. Max, though,
Was fond of his home town and their son,
Born 7,182 miles away, knew the names
Of every street and every family. When ghosts
From Kamianka find themselves in New York
They sometimes come by though my father,
Since he died, is seldom found at home.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

DREAMING



From time to time, Ming the Merciless,
(Relentless foe of Flash Gordon,
Former emperor of the planet Mongo)
Turns up in my dreams. Most often,
He has a character role -- an old soldier
Down on his luck, or a traffic cop
Trying to persuade angry chickens
To keep on their side of the road. Once
We were beggars and shared a tin bowl
Of quite horrible soup. My father
And Ming were for some reason friends.
Having recovered from seventeen bouts
Of certain death  -- including being tossed
Into three volcanoes and twice being thrown
Off cliffs and once being thrown off a cliff
Into a volcano -- Ming insists that
My father may return not much the worse
From having been buried for six years.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MAKING DO



The roosters having urgent business
Which demanded they be elsewhere,
Monsters perched on low branches
Caracolling to wake us. The jays
Were in conference; djinns had to steal
Shiny objects incautiously revealed.
The dead refused to acknowledge us;
The mayor called for volunteers
To rattle chains and haunt the living.

Monday, June 5, 2017

CATS



Lembergoise cats never hurried.
Gossiping idly in the sun
Exchanging barbed stories
About the folk who fed them.
(If I find a cat from Lemberg
He will remember things I forgot
Years before I was born)

Some sleepless
Lvov cats always
Padded along the wide streets
While the others slept uneasily
(My father spoke the language of cats
With a heavy
Lvov accent.)

In Lwow, the cats learned
To walk upright and to open jars
When war came, they vanished
Through tunnels they'd secretly built
(When I meet one of their descendants
We exchange complicated signs.)

A Lviv cat is simply a cat.
These days this is more than enough.

Friday, June 2, 2017

TODAY'S FOUND POEM



"Blue beans"
Are bullets or shot.
Three small bullets
Or large shot in a bladder
Would make
An excellent rattle
For a child.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

SOCIAL NOTES



In the purlieus of Pawling the Comtesse
Begins her summer progress. On request,
She will sing or tell stories or dance
Among the tombs to keep the fiends at bay.
Since there is no king in Pawling, the dapper ghost
Of Thomas E. Dewey touches against scrofula;
The Comtesse gives thin gold coins to the victims
With her picture stamped upon them.