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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Gideon's Daughter


On the table, my breath held, the CAT scan
Looks inside for the tiny stone that says "No."
No flow. No go. Like a baby that won't be born.
A reluctant birth, here at the start of my old age.
There's nothing to do but be a kind of drainage,
And hope that, though painful, nothing's torn.

I finally figured why my daughter stands off so:
(The stone can wait.) because I'm not a good man.


Another one about old age. The last, I hope.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Mirror Test


A mynah turns sideways to see his reflection.
One eye cocked, then a hop and pirouette.
Yes. That’s not a competitor. That’s me.
He opens his beak and displays his tongue:
I'm myself though I've mimicked every note I've sung.

So, when I pass the mirror on the way to pee
At night, with just the night light on, who will bet
That old man and the man I’ve never met are one?

A kind of "stout Cortez" error. Apparently for
years, I've confused mynah birds and magpies. Magpies
pass the mirror test. Mynahs are the ones in cartoons.
I like this one. It just slipped out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Empty Bazaar


A shuttered stall, a man with a beard like ice,
And a question from The National Geographic
Which puzzles him. And so he stammers on
And on, relying on God to fill out his words.
He fidgets with some bread, and feeds his birds,
But really, he’s angry at the Question.
Words are trails of crumbs. Knowledge is a trick.
A bird tucks its gaudy head and gnaws on lice.

I sometimes wonder what makes poetry
poetry. For me that "And on" at the beginning of line 4
is the best bit of "poetry" in this.

Monday, February 11, 2013

White Smoke


I wish I could resign like Benedict.
Plead the obvious: age, infirmity.
Spend my days in warm piazza light,
Eat simple meals, and wear clean clothes.
At night, when the dutiful aide goes,
Tell a loving, forgiving God "good night,"
And sleep in a place called the Holy See
Where peace evades the dark, and tradition's strict.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Weir Trinkets


In one field, camel, llama, and bison roam
With a fence-high mournful array of cattle.
In mild, lingering, winter afternoons
We wish the steam of their breath made a ghost
That has broken free of the grave and most
Other claims of the earth, of suns and moons,
And in their lowing, mooing, bite and battle,
There were song, though not one of their heads are home.

After a phrase of Paul Celan's --
"wir trinken"::"we drink" -- from Death Fugue.
There's a field near Frankfort, Ky that owns this amazing array of animals.
And, of course, after paintings by Marc Chagall.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Time on His Hands


The octopus has a different eye and doesn’t resolve
The world to an internal map. We look and feel pity,
Fear, curiosity. He looks back and feels … cold.
Were we a moray, he’d be a lionfish. Otherwise,
He’s content to bide his time. Two eyes, eight thighs.
And a plan. He doesn’t see himself as getting old.
Doesn’t panic or regret or fear that past sixty
One night, he might blink and the world dissolve.

Some species of octopus can mimic the lionfish.
The presence of certain eels can prompt the octopus to hide.
And the octopus eye evolved differently than our own.

Don’t Rap on the Glass


I’m watching the octopus, with his ominous
Eye slit. Behind his tank is a gas cylinder,
Silvered so the octopus could see … an octopus!
While my phone flash winks back from the other side.
It’s like my childhood dream of God’s TV – He’d decide
If I was good or not by what He saw, mysterious,
Of me watching Him watching me. Forever!
I rap the glass and the ink makes me oblivious.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Buddha Mind


Three komodo dragons
ate a small deer:
one in the back, one in the belly,
one in the rear.

The shocked deer endured,
its black tongue taut,
half an hour: four hungry creatures
with just one thought.

I understand this really happened.
Three komodo dragons were seen slowly devouring a deer.
My wife ran from the room and left the poem unread.
Sorry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Icaroi


The Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner

I would turn my skin, so fair and pale,
into something beautiful (not macabre
or historical) like papyrus
and write there the truth: I live in fear.
Tiring fear! that soon, or now, something near
will turn dark, with a minimum of fuss,
and no turning back or show of power.
With death so close, my skin should be a sail.

--after the movie by Werner Herzog
Steiner was a wood carver and a competitive ski "sailer".
The ski sailers of the 1970s flew far beyond the
artificially constrained limits of Olympic skiers.
He's currently a gardener in Sweden. The lucky stiff.
We've never met -- the voice in the poem is fictional.
12-21-81

The Right Stuff

Beyond a certain point, atmosphere fails --
as its own skin fails the salt burned child --
until the gasping jet chokes on nothing
but freedom pursued to a sacrificial end.

The siren sounds our hurry to descend:
a welcome home of skintight fire, distant bubbling,
and desert quiet intent on being mild.
When we are done, a single echo wails.

In the movie's penultimate scene, Chuck Yeager
crashes in the desert an experimental plane by flying higher
than a mere jet could go.
Another Icarus.

Q & A w/ Tiresias in Hades


-Which was worse? To change your sex or lose your sight?
-What’s Sex? Women have clung to dreadful men
From the start. And men only love to have their way.
As for sight, what’s worth seeing so many times?
What was worst was to know God’s crimes
Before He chose to wreak them, to wake each day
and have the long-seen future repeat again and again,
Swarming out of the sun and turning day to night.

October 11, 2011
Several months ago, I read one of those weird internet polls -- if you had to switch either your race or sex, which would you do? Nobody said they'd switch sex. Poor Tiresias did -- rather he had it changed for him -- and then had 2 kids as a woman. When the gods changed him back to a man, he screamed at the sky, "Pick a lane, you bastards!"

The Grouper and the Bat


The Bat, the grouper half-explained, could not look down.
-Look down? the other grouper asked, his mouth an O.
-For fear of falling, you see. The other didn't.
-In my dreams, he screams in terror. -Yes, I see.
-It's instinct, not desire, that makes him go Eeeee!
and open wide for the bugs. -Could you give me a hint
about the bugs? the other asked. -You ought to know
I can't shake the feeling I'm about to drown.

Love Poem


I believed you all & I still believe
& each belief begat a girl. Oh, yes!
Tonite there isn't time to lie to or seduce
the blonde upstairs, a California nurse
who smiled & listened & cued & worse:
all of it a dream, straight from Dr. Seuss,
as if she were an egg & and I was less
& there...I want to be young & never leave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Lost in the Fun House


(prelude)

I remember when all I had to do was read
to you, pat your back as you slept, make a face,
silly noises...when my nonsense didn't need sense,
and the carnival of my love was all.

Now you're camped in your room down the hall,
and when we pass, it's like strangers across a fence,
and my sideshow of faults is empty space.
I should have known that love isn't all we'd need.

1. Storm from the Gulf

The wind flattens Nellie's fur as she herds,
her back to the land, the gulls above like kites.
She doesn't understand that birds won't pen,
and won't leave and don't complain. They sing
the storm closer -- caws and effect. Rising
tide waters bring the junk in -- sardine tin,
magazine cover, fishing line: delights
like the answered prayers of empty words.


2. Comedy and Tragedy

Rain blew up against the condo's shingles --
the storm a placid placer miner, clearing
us out for the gold of holding this place alone.
But we hunkered down and got a video:
The Thin Man, Charade, something we know
enough to love, something loved for being known,
the last summer before child rearing
became child losing, parents as lonely as singles.

3. Beauty

You dawdle like every teenager -- mirrors
and the world look back like you think you look.
One minute like a ballerina poised upon an egg,
next the egg, waiting for the crack to come.
You are, of course, beautiful, as winsome
as any woman a father ever loved, but you beg
me to say nothing, and so I don't, and write a book,
full of the words I've never said and all my fears.


4. Generation

Slugs beset the roses, leaf rot and root rot,
even the bees are dying -- a menacing aphid
undoes their wings. A social insect with no place
to go. My prayer for you, whenever I pray,
is that you'll live a little more each day.
This one day is all we get, one little race
we run, one plot in which our flowers are hid.
For you, my dear, here's one forget-me-not.

1995
Teenage years. What would we do without them? Much better now.

Friday, October 14, 2011

News Reel: Raising All the Boats


The fresh dead along the shallow Irrawaddy
From the cholera in the wells. A flash of silk
Waving from the tied-up junks, and a buffalo caught
In mud, his rope lead taut as the foam churns.
Further down, we chase smoke where the peat still burns
And fly west with the tide where the battle is fought
Against a nemesis as old as mother's milk:
We must burn the past to feed this morning's body.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Peasant in the Woods


Li Po built a life away from Life.
Away in the deep and lonely secret places
Where his work was almost swallowed
As he passed. He stole a life and then a wife.

A dullard from a place she’d thought remote,
She soon shrugged and shared the hollowed
World he’d built, ate his food, raised new faces,
And one night, while he slept, she cut his throat.

12/20/2010 12:05:13 AM
Heavily influenced by the Robert Calasso book
"The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony."
The elemental foundation myths of Greece
are of rape and betrayal.
With AGW, we'll get a chance to check that out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Anniversary Cruise


Both of us love the old. An arch in Oxford,
Inscribed in bas relief, bears a scowling ogre,
But, at this remove, it’s quaint and almost
Pretty. We’d walk, eagerly, through the cold
To re-see what's been seen. As long as it’s old!
We’re getting on, and though not yet a ghost,
You haunt me still, and when you’re out, I wander
In my own life. You. My destination word.

9/27/2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On the Other Side of All These Eyes


Two tawny spiders stepped down the bathroom wall
Toward the sink. Somewhere, up there, were babies
With little fanged lips waiting to be kissed. Or fed.
Momma 1 got to the middle of the mirror.
Momma 2 - or Dad - didn't get any nearer.
Later, someone's leg still wiggled, though dead.
So, how did Buddha deal with little fatal maybes
Fumbling to the can at night from an unlit hall?


Monday, September 19, 2011

A Crystal of Water


I kick at the door in rage. I'm eight and behind
the door my sister is taking a bath. Unfair!
I hadn't known I'd want to see her until she
set the lock. My heel hammers while her feet squeak
in the empty tub. We grow up in a day, a week
at most, baffled by what we cannot see.
Then, she's out, in a towel, with slicked back hair,
unconcerned, older, and so unkind.

I assume lots of little boys develop crushes on their older sisters.

A Dream of Heaven and Hell


A stone field bounded by a stone fence,
guarded by hemlock and oak, as hard as when
a crocus shoot grown flowery at the tip
betrays the time as a pause between snow.
So much depends on that first urge to grow:
my daughter wobbling as if she's on a ship,
a first step taken toward heaven,
a world in which children bury parents.

3-22-82

Flowers


Dream of Aphrodite


A hubub of bazaars with washed turbans dried
and stacked like beehives into a minaret.
There was no oil here, only seductive eyes
behind veils or thighs cinctured with indifference.
While aching to choose, I wandered through tents
as slowly as the ambering of flies,
my sight glazing...waking rigid and wet.
The choice I made was sleeping by my side. 

1-30-81 

Primrose and Blackberry


The ache of inattention springs in a wild
crisscross of nettle and thorn, while the bush hog
catches rabbits napping, snapping their small bones:
an aftermath of roots exposed and burrows cleft,
the blade damp and downy from what its hunger left.
If only walls held the field with more than stone...

Once, remember, we made love astride that log,
its hollows humming and its mosses mild.

2-19-82

A Walk Before Dinner


I walk out past the little disused graveyard,
past its football-size stones, its burrs & weeds,
to the pond we dredged when we had other plans.
Now algae blurs the shore, except where some frog,
startled as I pass, leaps from its green-skinned log
and sets the surface fraying where he lands,
while twin-winged dragonflies hunt above the reeds
and hover near the hole the frog has scarred. 

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony


Many of us stumble into marriage. We like
What we see. We like being liked. We’re in love.
And that’s that. Often enough, it is enough. And good.
But happily, "just enough" is often just wrong:
Why have just the words when you can have song?
A love song is key, in your key, if you would
Be happy and old and reach that hand-in-glove
state in which sap and saint – we and thee – are alike.

for Amelia and Pat 6/11/2011

For Amelia the Hun


My daughter makes a rhyme off "spirea"
adding a syllable: spi-a-ree-a.
Which is silly and constant.
I can't hear the real word.

Clouds are zooming north after an early morning storm.

I imagine Homer,
arthritic and blind,
felt this, imagining Helen
and the pain which beauty brings:
chiming words, Spring's first blossoms,and a young girl.

He pulls at his cheeks,
like my grandfather sucking through his choppers,
and all the monotonous formulae fail him.
A girl chatters beside him.
He wants to write a lyric;
there is sun on his face.
A glacial hunger robs his morning.
The girl is moving around, piling stones together for a house.

We have only two poems by Homer,
good ones,
others interupted, no doubt, by girls.
From the early 80s

Friday, September 16, 2011

Family Portraits


Aunt Jane

After the stroke, the wind blows everywhere.
Her nerves wander; blood loses purpose.
We take her from her bed in halves
while her eyes roll like marbles in a pan.
Once up, she discovers she can stand
and cries though she means to laugh.
In the whirlpool bath she plays like a porpoise;
while drying her, an aide curls ringlets in her hair.

Uncle Louie

Divorce was a truancy for Catholics
who couldn't suspend the old belief, or sin.
Then, since he was a simple man, he drank.
After a long beginning, he found his niche,
as a hotel night clerk with elegant penmanship.
His singing buoyed him, even in "the tank,"
but only Ave Maria or a hymn
in a voice once pure as John McCormack's.


A Picture of My Grandfather at the Bank

The Ugliest Man in Louisville

We're Ashkenazic, I know. Look at him: a Jew
right off the boat! "Oh, Lord no." Mother says.
So, maybe my need is something else: thirty-five
years later, who can say? My heart's like a sieve.
Do I expect this remnant love for you to give
me a home -- or more ancient than that -- a hive?
Family and honey all around and youth that stays?
Or just eyes that look back, in love, as mine do?


This came out of my efforts to establish that we were part Jewish.
DNA evidence finally established it. 1/128th.  A marriage -- or rape? -- back in the 18th century. Probably not from the Davis line, but from the Landes line. Bavarians. And maybe Landes is shortened from Landesman.