Tuesday, October 31, 2017


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


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

Friday, October 27, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Fool! You've lent your angel's wings to Caravaggio?
He'll shed its feathers in half the taverns in
And, if he doesn’t use his own dice, will lose the wings
To some one-eyed sailor or a pimp from
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


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


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


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


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
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


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
Greenwich, honking at regular clients,
Moving on if they said "Not today."
Immortality comes on its own terms.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


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
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


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.