“Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”
So that’s what Rachmaninoff looks like,
with his Leonard Cohen hat,
all these years later on Amazon Prime.
He was my first hi fi purchase,
a reel to reel recorder,
from a little hi fi basement shop
under Skelton’s Drugs
in Champaign, Illinois.
I could afford one tape,
but the fidelity of that
slithering magnetic surface
Billy Skelton took hundreds
of portraits of the artist
as a young man with his Nikon,
I discovered martinis
and sideswiped a parked car,
Goldwater came through
on a whistle stop
and two of my fellow journalists
took down every word
so he couldn’t claim
to be misquoted—
Now, this is Rachmaninoff,
and I can have him anytime,
for free, and we seem to have
solved the music problem.
So, life can be wonderful,
as well as terrible, and
we will increasingly have
the power to make it good.
Since human history may
only just be beginning,
we can expect future humans
to make some great things
we can’t even imagine.
In Nietzsche’s words,
“There has never been such
a new dawn and clear horizon,
and such an open sea.”
One of My Father’s Jokes
I just remembered one of my father’s jokes,
(not a joke really, he didn’t
tell jokes very well,
he was more of a storyteller)—
one of the jokes he did tell was
“Why did the ram run off the cliff?:
He didn’t see the U-turn—
But I remember
something his friend said:
they were at a long meeting,
and there were pitchers and glasses of water
on the table, and when they were done,
somebody said, “OK, where is it?”
and my father’s friend said,
“I almost ran
out of rubber bands.”
If the Walls Have Ears,
the Ears Have Walls
I can’t miss.
I’m not in charge.
Scan my pupils, and take my thumb print.
The terrifying anonymity of the good clicks,
but the strictures of the self,
even at rest, if not risk.
The heroism of my forebears
is a weight I take lightly.
That art comes out of a lot of indolence
is something I believe in mildly,
uniquely in my clan.
Time wounds all heels.
I believe everything’s OK
if I can make a joke out of it.
Or a poem.
I would say to you
that truth isn’t a cartoon,
and poetry isn’t inflating
a pig’s bladder.
Fine-tuning old poems
under the influence of
Hayden’s string quartets
is as high as I want to get,
even if I can get higher painting.
I am one of those who breathe.
I want the range of my brain free.
I don’t have space for you,
or for girls who make me feel
like Humphrey Bogart,
even if they do have boats.
A lot of serious-minded people
want to avoid the trap of self-expression.
Wit without irony would be nice too.
A directness of attack on top of
a solid compositional structure
is another wet dream,
but sap doesn’t flow that way,
and we don’t walk in a straight line.
Why not say what happened
in the baldest possible way?
It might make you feel better.
It might make everybody feel better.
The background is always
turning out to be the foreground,
a window with a view of the uncanny,
but this connectedness is actually
a type of human happiness.
The Rose Bowl
The actor’s theory on a talk show
was that you should do whatever
pops into your mind right away,
all the rest is just dithering around
trying to talk yourself out of it.
His example was waking up at 6:30 a.m.
and going to a hospital cafeteria.
(We never got around to finding out
what he did next.) This green
on my fingernail reminds me
that you can never ruin anything
because there is no telling
what it was supposed to be.
There was a football coach who
won The Rose Bowl on the theory
that if one of his players was going
to make a mistake he should
make sure it was a big one.
Melanie said she liked that bird
at the top of my painting, I said
I liked the wheelchair bottom left,
and we were consumed with laughter
and opined that nothing better
than that would happen all day.
Born to Be Blue
In the Chet Baker movie,
Ethan Hawke gives his life
to junk because, he says,
it makes the lines straighter
and the notes fatter.
I’ve got the junk, I thought.
I’ve been on it for decades,
so, instead of trying to get
away from the meds,
maybe I should just relax
and use them as Chet says.
Then, in the Times Sunday,*
with a multi-colored graphic
of the human brain,
there is the headline,
“Return to the Teenage Brain.”
The infant brain is blown glass, it says,
and it slowly hardens in adolescence ,
but Depakote, or valproic acid,
which I take, seems to reverse the process.
(Some musically-naive adults have been
taught perfect pitch while they were on it,
something only trained children
under six can usually learn.)
I started with Thorazine in the 70s,
(which is a chemical strait jacket),
and that was replaced with lithium—
softening my teeth and blocking
all dreaming for decades, and
finally led to kidney disease
before giving way to Depakote.
I was started on four .75 mg. pills
and, after years of good behavior,
the dose was reduced to three.
I went AWOL once or twice,
(and got in trouble), and
I’d leveled off at two since.
Then I read in the Gray Lady,
No doubt you are wondering whether
people who take this mood stabilizer for
bipolar disorder are walking around in
a constant state of enhanced neuroplasticity.
And perhaps they are; we haven’t a clue,
I’m back up to four!
*October 9, 2016
“An Unmarried Woman”
Some say, “If you live long enough,
life teaches you how to live.”
Let’s try tonight after another Giants win,
with a stack of logs on the fire,
so my wife can watch Jill Clayburg
in “An Unfinished Woman,”
with Alan Bates,
Paul Mazursky, director.
The twin towers are still there
in the opening shots.
No doubt the skill is
to be happy with
the way things are,
to be OK with the way
Pippa pulls, especially
just after her bath, not
to be embarrassed by
the man who says, “It
would be nice to
have a little training.”
She’s my workout, I’m
her last chance, two-
time loser that she is
at the shelter. I’ve
seen the man; now
I want to see the dog.
My son comes over for the game
with his April
and her generous bosom.
He is my best friend and consiglieri.
She shows my wife the pictures
of her two cats in my son’s apartment,
along with a thousand pictures
of her bosoms.
After the narrow win–
he has to explain
First and Ten to her–
they drive away
in her BMW.
I take a long nap,
Z makes me
lemon and ginger tea,
and we put Pippa
in her house and eat
and watch the rest
of the second game.
Then dark chocolate,
my glass of red wine
and “60 Minutes.”
I take the trash out,
and set up the meds,
the fire and the movie,
and here I am, as usual,
every Sunday night.
Just a few minutes before an election obit,
I jump into the middle of Freud’s
Jokes and the Unconscious
and read a simple thing:
the unconscious is childhood.
Not as elephant with
a conscious rider on top,
not dark downstairs,
or a sea floor, but childhood.
My mind goes back to playing
Frying Pan on the box elder tree
in the back yard as big around
as a Monet haystack.
On the back of whoever was It,
we’d draw a frying pan (I guess
it was a form of Kick the Can)
with a big handle that ran dangerously
down around the buttocks,
add in all whatever awful stuff
we could all think up, and
go hide and try to get in Free.
Then we’d rub lightning bug guts
on our clothes and run around glistening.
Terrible things happened in that yard.
We filled the tire swing with everything
from the sandbox, twisted it up as high
as possible, and set it spinning out in
manic circles ejecting it all as it unwound.
Easter chicks grew up to run around
with their heads cut off.
The rabbit escaped and broke
a slat in gate with his head.
Dad blasted pigeons out of the eaves
with his shotgun.
908 5th Street, Brookings, South Dakota,
the home of a former mayor.
The joke was that New York
had “Television Hour,”
Chicago had “Radio Hour,”
and Brookings had Sexhauer,
the name of the local grain elevator.
Truman rode by our front door
in a ’48 Ford convertible.
The phone number was 529R.
Anton translated three
of my poems into Russian,
so now I am a real poet.
I wish I had written
Too many bottles of wine
we can’t pronounce.
I wish I had written
I traded your broken wing for mine.
Castro died this weekend.
I remember when he came to power,
about the same time as Elvis.
I remember the Cuban missile crisis,
and Adlai Stevenson at the UN railing,
“I’m prepared to sit here
until all Hell freezes over,”
demanding the Russians admit
to the pictures of their missiles.”
I had a date with Sue Brown,
and borrowed her brother’s car.
This was in Indiana, and I wasn’t a poet then.
Wayne strained Anton’s translations
back through the computer translator,
but they didn’t come out poetry.
see the ball
on the bat
as he hit
I’d like to see
how the poem
wind on water,
the crack of a whip
as a wisp of hair,
It would be
good to fuse
bring the poem
to a stop
or get up
on a ladder
I wish for
to see how
the damn thing
I’d like to
and its soul
Johnny Sue’s dad’s home,
roaring drunk at 3 a.m.,
and he’s slid into his own bed,
beside us, because he doesn’t
know we’re lying here,
staying overnight in Gary,
Indiana after a night
We didn’t see “Tom Jones”
because Albert Finney
didn’t sound like
a movie star to us.
We settled for Tony Randall,
The Mustang and The Beatles
have just arrived.
In this one night,
we’ve spent more than
a month of groceries.
You’re frightened by
his drunken mumbling.
I’m patting you to reassure you.
I don’t want to embarrass
Mr. Suchovsky, lying
here just barely on the bed.
This is about as ineffectual
as it is possible to be,
and I prolong the spell.
Finally, Chuck rescues us
and steers his father-in-law
to the couch in the living room,
soon to be awakened by
a crashing clock radio at 6
for his job on the railroad.
He wails “Mother,”
Both he and Chuck
think I should have
punched out this
old man in his
What a dick I was.
I couldn’t take
care of you,
or protect us from
the drunken fathers
Just trying to cover everywhere,
always turning left, just trying to cover
when a strip of brown is fun, building
the brown up, and the idea becomes that
surface everywhere, all the time painting to
the Ninth, with both hands, on the always
shifting painting, moving it left—then it’s
getting too dark, so more white, more yellow—
now where’s the red? and here comes the chorus,
and it reminds him of a vaulting, happy
little boy on his father’s knee (and his sisters,
and his own daughter),
Hof hof hof, Pferdchen lauf Galopp!
Uber Stock und uber Steine,
Aber brich dir nicht die Beine!
Hof hof hof hof hof hof
Pferdcchen, lauf Galopp!
Hop hop hop, pony goes gallop
Over sticks and over stones
But he never breaks his bones . . .
and he’s in the painting now, in the red
paint, nothing but red, on his father’s knee
again, desperately, into the rest of the red,
fast, until he’s done, the singing’s done,
and he sits listening to the music,
almost thinking its started over
again until it’s done.
“Knights in White Satin”
I had a new girlfriend,
so I needed a new bar.
One afternoon at that bar
a trucker told me he had written
the words to “Knights in White Satin,”
and the band had take him
with them on a trip to Australia.
Another time, a student told me
that if you hit a drumstick continuously
for half an hour you can do
anything you want.
Although I’m no drummer,
I’ve come to believe that’s true,
that you’re not breaking down–
you’re breaking through.
It’s not a hundred repetitions,
or muscle memory,
it’s going to a place
you’ve never been.
I almost want to say
“Arbeit macht Frei“
but I don’t think anyone
would understand that
The Reddest Apples
I wish everything worked as well
as a toilet brush.
Toilet paper is good too.
Every time I go shopping,
I think that everything
would work better
if the cooks picked out
the lettuce, so to speak.
I always try to get
the reddest apples
for the antioxidents.
I told a housewife,
and she said,
“The next thing you know,
we’ll all be eating blueberries.”
My son and his new girlfriend,
who leases a Beamer,
went to an estate sale,
and bought an old Centenary plate
as well as a silver candelabra
from a firm in Connecticut
that went out of business
in the Depression.
It was tarnished and broken.
He likes the way it looks unpolished.
He likes candelabras.
It’s his first estate sale.
Silver is $20 an ounce,
and he paid $5.
He’s investigating welding silver.
There’s a cold way and a hot,
requiring a torch.
Hot has more silver in the solder,
and is better.
He just likes candelabras.
He deserves it.
He still has his blanket.
We’re head to toe,
like scars on the bed,
clipping my toenails—
its not romantic, or even
necessary, but the bath
softens the big toenail—
and she gets busy
with her task bending
close to my feet under
the light, a woman
attending to her
in delight, as the
work goes evenly,
collecting the soft
nail parts, handing
the largest one to me,
and I lie ecstatic, her
hard nates in my
in my delightful,
the cove her
and the ridge
of her back to
the studying head
bent to its work.
Love Story Gone Bad
Mike said Jeff’s dead.
I don’t feel much,
maybe this will help.
Meeting someone so much smarter and cultured
really cleanses the palate.
Mike said his mind was like a jewel box,
but the lid was on really tight.
First, I showed him a rejected poem.
He said he could get it published in The Unmuzzled Ox.
He had named the magazine for a friend.
It’s from Ecclesiastes, I believe.
Mike named Lips.
I should have known
he’d fallen head over heels in love with me,
but that wouldn’t be me.
We went to a baseball game,
and we were so busy talking we’d yell,
“Get him! get him! get him!”
without knowing which team was up.
He sent me a bunch of ads
he’d cut out
with his cartooning on it.
There was a comment on
the size of a drink of whiskey
For years, he was my “ideal reader”
and kept me in the game.
I was so dense I didn’t figure it out
when he gave me a perfect kiss in my ’69 VW.
“He’s even expert in this,” I thought.
My daughter kisses that way.
I wondered if he taught her.
Me and Jeff, and Mike, Harry, and Terry,
a Baptist and four Irish Catholics,
three drunks, three prostate surgeries,
one death by drowning,
and one bipolar: hospitalizations,
and kidney disease from the meds.
One night Jeff wanted to recreate
blasts from the past
from the ‘Dorf in Passaic.
“We’re not going to do
blasts from the past,”
I said innocently ironically
(or ironically innocently.)
Harry always wants to talk to
the most important person in the room.
It’s always Jeff
but, lo and behold,
this night it’s me.
So Jeff organized get togethers
where I wasn’t invited.
I was hurt but secretly pleased.
All these years of a silent competition
and I’d won.
The Man in the Blue Shirt
We were standing
jocularly in line for
something like breakfast,
and I insist loudly
that the man in the blue
shirt, a displacement
no doubt, for Hansen,
give way for O’Brien.
So there we stand,
when Susan comes in
with her big Shepard.
I take the leash,
she takes my place,
and I say I’ll have
whatever she has.
The leash is plush
like a theatre rope,
black and so long
I have to double it.
She was a drunk
and got hit by a truck.
Did I mention
it was Heaven?
When [Martha] Nussbaum is at her computer writing,
she feels as if she had entered a “holding environment”–
the phrase used by Donald Winnicott to describe conditions
that allow a baby to feel secure and loved. Like the baby,
she is “playing with an object,” she said. “It’s my manuscript,
but I feel that something of both parents is with me.
The sense of concern and being held is what I associate
with my mother, and the sense of surging and delight
is what I associate with my father.
The New Yorker, July 25, 2016, 40-41.
Unlike this poor driven woman, I write lying down: poems only,
once a week, after a Sunday of pure sloth, except for walking the dog.
I subscribe to the theory that large amounts of boredom
are necessary for the production of art.
For the transitional object, a couch, $75 at a yard sale
amateurishly recovered in cheap fabric of an Indian design.
My daughter’s used Mac laptop on my belly, the screen turned black,
helps me into the illusion of subjective omnipotence
where my good enough mother may contain
my hallucinations, primitive anxieties, as well as
poem stem cells. (Did I mention that I put myself to sleep first,
having arranged myself with the cushions under my feet
and supporting my back?) Then the big reveal:
the screen is brightened to see what verbal goo goo
we have wrought. Starting from the bottom usually,
strings of meanings are picked out and straightened across the screen
Grunting effortings have given way to casual play;
the other side of the head enters the game.
Caps, spellings and punctuations are added to taste.
Erasures happen, double substitutions and changes
in the batting order employed. Tighter and stronger
are twisted into the text by the busy fingers
on both arms working together. Form shows up—
Mother and child, and now dad, all happy with it.
Now its time for the social world
and bumping into other co-productions.
“Light in the Shape of a Fastball”
“Light in the shape of a fastball.
The complete horse delivered whole,”
Kathy wrote. This too,
my manic writing made her feel
For my 75th birthday,
my son took me to the ballgame,
my youngest son. I thought it was
sort of a 7th inning stretch.
For my life.
Down the giggle comfort into heroic happenstance,
vines of hopeless warts canvas the feuding gizzards.
Anybody stupid enough to go around with crayons in their back pocket
has more on their mind than we can measure.
Kenrick Lamar’s pimping a butterfly yesterday,
and I’m trimming on an old painting
with enamel house paint, $5 a quart, $80 worth.
I think his pops tells him
next time the earth is going to open up
and the poor are going to kill the rich people,
may be even EAT them.
This after five Dallas cops are killed
and seven wounded Thursday.
I listen to hip hop when I paint
because I’m going to fake it until I make it too.
The thought occurs they are butter poets than we are.
I don’t know, but I’ve been told,
I could give a shit what you think of this,
but I would like to just, please Jesus, please me.
Blueberries and Pears
in Cheerios and Almond Milk
My sister’s daughter wants
to be / or is a boy.
She’s a Christian.
Better than a stick in the eye.
To review the bidding,
she’s concluded it’s up to God now
becausher son is in the thicket of the city,
his brother the only contact,
and obdurate about an email sanction.
I recommend Scriptotherapy,
prescribe a regular habit
that could do her
a world of good.
How many other transmothers
would love her bestseller,
I carry on.
But wait. Next morning
it comes to me
while I’m making the bed,
she mustn’t pray,
this is her prayer,
don’t waste it on God.
She will be god, I explain,
over blueberries and pears
in Cheerios and almond milk,
god talking to herself.
And her words will hold
the whole world,
and she will dwell in
her word temple forever.
Put it that the helicopter
sounded like a nagging thought
all the way through the newspaper,
maybe it was a persistent dragonfly
that suddenly bloomed into fact
once he opened the door.
It was right above his lawn,
and he kept his eye on it right down
the steps and across the yard
until he bumped into the bird bath,
suddenly catching it
and slopping water onto his shoes.
Put it that a fire hose was connected
to his neighbor’s hydrant
a full block away from
the yellow police tape,
and a riff raff of firefighting
blockaded his walk.
That night a lonely hose
was still drizzling
onto the pile, the pernt is
days later he saw two
somethings he had never
seen before both somewhat
bigger than chickens, but brown,
with ugly crooked necks.
His wife, who could have been
a detective, provided Vultures:
a dog had been singed
in the fire and was being
cared for at the Humane Society—
No doubt something had burned
along with the shrubs and the tree,
and the side of the house next door,
something like a cat, or mice,
something barbequed to carrion
had brought the Vultures:
something in the rubble
smelled, the poem.
The Wound and the Bow
I’m 74 and a half, going on 75,
and learning to whistle again,
trying to reach ti and do
going past the high school,
and I’m thinking of Miss Wismer again,
and Ben Barteldes who, out of
his wicked outlandish humor,
raises his hand and says,
“Jim Klein stabbed me
in the arm with a compass”
(something that was not true,
and could never be true,
but Ben had to have his fun),
and then Miss Wismer
attacked me and hurt my feelings
by saying I was so smart
and if I ever realized my potential—
but I hadn’t, and wouldn’t—
But who wanted to be good at Biology anyway?
I’ve heard about The Wound and the Bow,
(I’ve never read it, but I totally get it, )
and Miss Wismer’s words have stayed with me
in a way that lost jobs and tight handcuffs
and jails and strait jackets never have,
and I’m always asking myself
if I’ve done everything I can,
(because if I have there’s no disgrace,)
and if I have, it’s enough,
so Miss Wismer
still bends my bow.
Early in the Spring
I mowed the lawn today.
The lawn was covered with tiny oaks,
early in the spring.
The grass was wet,
but I didn’t realize it was making the lawnmower hard to push
and I pushed as hard as I could
with rubbery arms
and wiped out all those little acorns
like so many weak old man poems,
and it came to me that
I was like this big oak tree above me,
and all these were my multitudinous wasted offspring,
just another harvest-less effusion
trailing behind me day after day
and there were no worries
I was this indifferent profuse tree
dumbly above me.
It’ll be interesting to see
how we fail tonight
because we have no Heaven,
and no expectation of meeting
our dead dog there,
and Nature not so much—
other than walks around the neighborhood,
but not a covey of biological names
or any pleasant cases of adjective-ness—
not to say there is no life
of the mind and spirit,
just that the butter notes
are left wanting.
But the fierce urgency of now
bends toward the terrible hunger to create,
(no wonder there are so many unpublished songs,)
and the day keeps waking up
hungry in the crib,
and the grass grows,
and the mirror never
William Carlos Williams Center
The Story of A Story
Gail said someone
we both know
wanted to put some
of her poems
on the net
and that made
but what did I think?
I said if it makes
don’t do it but I would
because it’s the same thing
as spitting in the wind
or pissing in the ocean.
A guy I once knew,
at the University of Illinois,
actually wrote a story
called “The Story of a Story”
about mistakenly publishing
the same thing in two separate places,
(which actually made it three in toto).
Paul really enjoyed reading that story.
It wasn’t a mortal sin like when
Williams wrote a story and
forgot to change the names
and got seriously sued.
Anyway, who do we
think editors are?
They put their pants
on one leg at a time
the same as we do.
This isn’t the chicken
and the egg problem;
we are the chicken
and the egg, so
don’t be angry,
and don’t be sad–
the one you’re with.
I’m learning to whistle, again.
I haven’t whistled since
I had my so-called wisdom teeth out.
That was a happy day,
because when I started to wake up
from the sodium pentothal
with a mouth full of gauze pads,
the nurse was laughing at me
and going into another room
and reporting what I was saying
to roars of laughter.
Whatever I said was funny.
I prolonged this hilarious agony
as long as I could
and listened the laughter
and Johnny Cash singing
“A Boy Named Sue”
on the radio.
But that was the end of my whistling.
Like Chet Baker, who couldn’t
pay his dope dealer and
got his teeth knocked out,
my embouchure had been changed.
He couldn’t play the trumpet,
and I couldn’t whistle.
Sometimes, I think I’m entering
When I try to whistle
I sound like a young sparrow
working on his chops.
I wish I could whistle now like
I could when I was walking home
from setting pins for two leagues,
(48 lines, 9 cents a line,)
to eat a sardine sandwich
and watch the Million Dollar movie
with my mother.
William Carlos Williams Center
I said I thought
Edward Snowden was a hero
before we started watching,
he bored himself by saying
(he hadn’t always thought so.)
It’s the best spy movie I’ve seen,
technically adventurous,, unpredictable,
beautifully shot and acted,
—these people were really scared—
If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,
how do they balance the loss of privacy
(which is really the same as slipping up a little
on Liberty and Freedom),
against the monstrous asymmetrical
digital, biological, and nuclear threats?
The instruments of a perfect future repression
have been erected to protect us.
I’m not sure of my attitude about that.
Of course, there are heroes everywhere.
After All Winter
The first day of spring
weather and we’re
going to University
Hospital because the
wife has a tight chest
and she’s 67 and
has high blood
pressure and too
but after overnight
she’s OK and she has
hundreds of sick days
and then we can get
a bunch of medical
leave at 80 percent,
(I know this sucks
as a poem, but it has
the slight advantage
of being true), so I have
the prospect of a decade
or three of just trying to
teach her what I’ve
time and living behind
the beat all week, plus
manic in the attic on
to write a poem Sunday
night—we’ve finally got
something, our ducks
in a row, and after a roof
and a furnace and
a couple of water
heaters we’ve got most
of what we need, the lawn
mower even started up
on the third pull this
morning after all winter.
The Blue Marble
A good design
should work from
map the ocean floor
while others trawl around
and bring up occasional
scoops from the bottom
and paw through that.
I believe in the
scoops of goop.
I paint works in
from the corners,
with both hands,
and I never know
which end is up,
usually the opposite
of what I supposed.
The ecology movement,
The Whole Earth Catalog,
is the child of the space program
when the blue marble
first appeared and
we began to think
in the omniscient
point of view.
For Some Reason
We Had Matches
Cousin Bobby died
this week. Big
I was ten.
We were in
a truck in
a wheat field
at harvest time.
For some reason
we had matches.
It seemed like
a good idea
to light straws
I climbed into
the truck Bobby
was at the wheel
he let out a big
gulp of smoke
and we laughed
I watched a movie,
where not a word is spoken.
It’s in sign language,
about a school for deaf mute kids
in the Ukraine.
It’s an exciting movie,
though I have no sign language.
The kids are off the reservation.
It’s a better movie
than a Macbeth I saw,
where the words
are the best part, as usual.
The kids in The Tribe
they had to become
their own vocal chords.
They signed as fast
as moving lips and
everything they did
was very hyper.
They acted as excited
as their language.
It wasn’t beautiful verse.
It was worse.
It’s Always Good to Know What
You Should Be Doing at All Times
like the bricks of a good building.
Spending the day hopping
from one lily pad thing you like to do
to the next like a happy frog.
No worries about being pitched off
the top of a tall building by two bullies.
No finding yourself walking around
like a chicken with its head cut off.
Just going from one thing to the next
in the right order at the right time.
And the beauty of Saturdays when you paint
but don’t take a walk,
and Sundays when you walk along the railroad
and your son comes over in the afternoon
and you write that night.
And Mondays, when you walk along the river
and put your stuff on Facebook,
and Thursdays, when you don’t have to work out
but you take your wife to her job and food shop,
and Fridays when you do your bills
and take a bath and maybe get lucky
and have a fire and watch movies
until its Saturday morning
and time to paint
and around the rosary again.
My neighbor is proud that he’s 88.
He went into the navy after high school
and served on a battleship,
one of four brothers.
Each one served in a different branch
of the armed services,
and they all came back.
Except one brother had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Every man in his unit got it,
all 10000 men.
They were all given blood transfusions.
(I’m thinking this can’t be right,
or it would be a famous scandal.)
He knew a nurse at the Vets
who had taken care of his brother.
He never complained,
but then what good would it do.
His brother said he couldn’t figure out
how he had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He never played baseball.
I noticed Verde used the term “marble heaven”
in the translation of his opera “Othello”
broadcast on PBS this afternoon.
“Marble heaven,” I thought.
I wonder what he means by that?
We don’t believe in heaven anymore.
Let alone marble heaven.
I don’t expect to be reunited with my family there.
I wouldn’t want to be.
It would be a high price for immortality.
70 virgins would be a problem too.
What a bother all the theologians have been up to.
What an industry religion is.
The perfect product.
You can never get enough of it.
It keeps wearing out.
There is no price billions won’t pay,
and, oh, what they’ve paid in the past.
It’s enough to make you want
to pray to marble heaven.
After the Cave Painters
We’re All Dilettantes
I tried to make the painting end
with the song,
and ruined it, I almost said.
But that’s wrong.
It wouldn’t have worked anyway.
I was premature.
I thought it was an interesting mistake,
thinking I could fall into an incredible synch.
But it wasn’t an interesting mistake at all.
It was just a show I was putting on for myself.
Strange but harmless, I guess.
Next time we’ll know.
It takes a long time
to outgrow who you are.
The Ultimate Sophistication
I was just trying show
how plain fact
is so beautifully
tied four ways
that laying bare
its interior design
requires the ultimate
so the poem
is freed from
the shadows of
what’s been seen
or aspired to,
by crude copying
or facile plot.
No such thing as a true sentence,
no such thing as a complete thought,
everything is a comma splice,
word order is a myth,
there is only darkness
we imagine because
if there are words
we can feel safe,
but it’s all a nothing,
we can never be “right, “
I almost said,
from our own point of view,
which is another useless fiction,
the page is a dissociation,
and all we can do
is make it a little better
bit by bit,
but that’s enough,
if there is such a thing,
which, of course, there isn’t,
at least we can try to be wrong,
each of us in our own particular way,
and leave it all on the field
as they say “sincerely,”
Johnson said, “Language
is the graveyard
of dead metaphor,”
if I remember grad school
correctly. The word “butcher”
is derived from the Old French
bochier, from boc,
and its probably also
the ultimate origin
Reviving zombie words
can be a risky
and poetical thing to do
for the novice
in the classroom
where the cheese can get binding
and it can become apparent
that “love handles”
actually refers to fucking,
and “to get your shit together”
really is about shit.
The Milky Whey
I was just remembering Susan’s pussy,
and the strange curvature of her back
above her globes,
and one night in a motel
on Rt. 3
when the lights on Garrett Mountain
looked like the Milky Whey.
And I remembered my dead dog.
Live by the gesture,
and die by the gesture.
How can I learn to do better in time?
The Navajos treasure
They take them as being divine,
reminding them of their limits.
The real beauty of the game
is in the bad bounces
The poet doesn’t have a notebook
and doesn’t date his poems.
Kerouac is said to have
proved to himself
he was “self-ultimate”
by writing a great poem,
in his opinion,
and throwing it away.
Comparisons are odious,
but distinctions are all we’ve got.
I can’t walk past a playground
without finding the cutest girl.
Juxtapose two whites,
and watch one turn gray.
I’d like to tell you about my wife.
3rd time’s the charm.
She’s an East Indian from Trinidad.
She lived in a mud house
and carried water with her sister,
so she has a perfectly flat head.
When they got running water,
they rubbed their asses on the stand pipe.
I guess she was about l0 or 11.
She and her sister had to chop firewood
in the morning by torch light
and get cow shit for all the floors.
She was often beaten by her mother.
Once her father made her hold
a big rock over her head as punishment
until her neighbor rescued her.
Another neighbor, who she wished was her mother,
got her head cut off with a cutlass.
She saw that, and her father
tried to put the head back
and gave the woman sips of salt water.
She was bookish and unhappy,
despite excelling in cricket, she says.
She came to America as a mother’s helper
in her teens to a Westchester family
so she is an unusual combo
of peasant and aristocrat.
She finished high school and worked her way
through a master’s degree in social work
with an assortment of jobs,
the last being a chef for 8 years
for an ambassador, the bastard
never declared her for social security
so we’re are still paying for that.
(He has an endowed chair in history at Princeton.)
She is a better flower arranger than you were.
I noticed that and got her painting lessons,
and so that’s how I started painting.
By the way I’m better than you.
She’s a great flower person and gardner.
Also a wonderful poet.
As you remember, I had a black wife (10 yrs.),
and I’ve been married to Zorida over 20.
Between you and me, it’s been a good move
to have married away from women’s lib.
When we were courting,
she often gave me food from her plate,
which never fails to touch me.
She has a temper,
but she never holds a grudge.
She’s a fabulous cook
and is a famous hostess.
She’s made a man out of me,
which I’m sure you can appreciate
is a pretty good trick.
I’m really happy, Dad,
and I’m happier than you were,
or Grandpa Klein for that matter,
so say what you will
about the third generation.
The Day Stalin Died
The day Stalin died,
four of us stood
at the corner
of the playground
like the directions
on the map
and worried about
what would happen.
Then one guy
at my feet,
at how small
my boots were.
Max Meyer’s Farm
The kids in a Colorado town
half the football team, of course,
but an equal number of girls–
and I’m thinking spring,
and flat bellies and high hineys,
shy grins and game faces,
but mostly just a bunch of
silliness and fun.
The kids say, “Its just nudity!”
But there are three phones
with hundreds of pictures,
and parents and police and principals
are sorting out who is 18
and who is a minor,
who can be charged,
and with what.
makes everything so dirty.
God has a lot to answer for.
I remember the hayloft
at Max Meyer’s farm
after a picnic,
the dust motes and bales,
a bunch of kids,
a wonderful huge swing,
and a girl
with her pants off,
her legs wide apart,
pissing straight down
at a knothole in the floor.
Keith Richards’ Father
We saw the Keith Richards documentary
on iTunes Friday night.
He said he ran away at 17,
and the road became his home.
His parents divorced,
and he lost contact with his father
for 20 years, years when
he was often in the headlines.
Keith’s father was an upstanding man,
and he knew his father
would be disappointed in him,
but he wrote him a note
and got a reply.
Keith was so frightened
about meeting his father
he took Ron Woods with him.
His father turned out to be
a little old man with bandy legs.
After a very few minutes,
everything was smoothed out between them,
and they were on very friendly terms.
Keith took his father with him on his next tour
and, in his words, showed him the world.
He kept showing his father the world
for the next twenty years.
The man locked up in Cuba for five years
did three things every day:
he found something
to laugh at each day,
and I can’t remember the first one.
I wonder what it was.
The last New York Review of Books
had an article about a show of
French paintings of prostitutes and their johns,
but they couldn’t have Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
because it was at MOMA,
so they had to content themselves
with a study for the painting. It was
a disappointing arrangement of curved lines
that looked like a dissolving cracker
with pink stuff on it.
It had none of the hard,
of the finished painting.
Picasso was actually
so upset by the work
that he kept it turned to the wall
for several years.
The other thing in the issue
that reminded me of it
was a young Susan Sontag
sitting upright on a bed smoking
by Diane Arbus.
Somebody once said, “Music
is the space between the notes.”
Miles once told Herbie Hanncock,
“Don’t play the butter notes.”
Even in athletics they have
addition by subtraction.
When I take a nap,
I put on Light Classical on the TV,
and then I back it down
to Classical Masterpieces.
But sometimes I go one too far
and land on Easy Listening,
and that’s truly obscene.
I’ve got a knife in my hand,
and I have to keep it working away from me
on something outside of me.
The bad part would be
if the knife turned toward me
and my knowing the right thing to do,
(and the right time to do it),
tipped over like a crane in the city
and the well-worn shoe pinched
Making art is a bad habit.
Where does it stop?
What can replace it?
How keep the knife cutting away
instead of turning inward?
The real question is why do anything
that hasn’t been done better
so many times before
(and so many times after),
but, of course, nobody else can
put your own particular stank on it.
It’s always fun to see made up things
because real things
are so much stranger,
and they seem so normal,
which is the real surreal part.
You stand in the window
with your back to the room,
and the room asks
“Who said that?”
and you say, “I did.”
“You looked like
the loneliest person in the world.”
But that doesn’t matter
because you did what you could.
The Square Root of All Evil
Some people think
they have to figure out
the square root of all evil
to be happy and well,
that they can’t think
I hate to quote Yogi Berra,
but a perfectly sensible
thing he said was,
“It’s impossible to hit
and think at the same time.”
The hand is the quicker calculator,
as if calculation is what it’s about.
Pity the poor young marrieds
who resolve to settle
before they go to bed.
The perfect love of animals
is because they are dumb.
The White and Black Dog
There was a white and black dog,
(obviously a displacement),
and he had the ability to divide himself
down the middle from nose to tail
and run around in two halves
on two legs each side,
and one part followed me
and the other part my wife, happily.
Then we were at a Black woman’s table,
and she gave us a clear tasty soup
with something green in it.
When we got up from the table,
our dog was in a closet with some
other dogs, which was no trouble,
and he was whole again until
we let him out and he divided again
and began following each of us happily.
Heaven, I guess.
I’ve been working on a poem for a long time
that begins, a love poem, of course,
that begins, “Whatever you are,
despite what you are,
fitted to me on Kind of Blue,”
and I haven’t been able to make it
work because one of the lines is,
“because it isn’t easy not to love”
and so I’ve tried,
“since it isn’t easy not to love,”
and “because it’s not easy not to love’
and this time in bed,
after all these years,
the first line was,
[Kind go Blue]
Whatever you are,
despite what you are,
fitted to me on Kind of Blue,
however it comes around
this time, I have no idea,
because it isn’t easy not to love.
It’ll continue until the kinks
give way to those we relax
as we have to learn how to
though I never wanted to walk
down a groove of confusion
with the smell of gunpowder
behind me into this silence
at the end of the record,
and the lines wriggled across the page,
and the head crept neatly to the end
of the last line, and that must have
been the rest of the dream about
the self-dividing black and white dog.
The Juke Box
This poem is the same as a prayer.
It comes from the same place,
and it goes to the same place.
And if god is there, he doesn’t care.
I’ve got all the time in the world
to play with myself and write a poem.
I don’t even need two dimes
to slide into the pool table
at George and Eddies.
Eddie always said,
“I’ve got all the time in the world
to play 9-ball with nice people!”
The day they opened up,
George left for California.
Eddie’s wife was at the bar.
I called her Eddie.
All the pockets had names.
The side pocket was called
The Juke Box.
The pernt is I’ve got
all the time in the world
to write a poem, and
it’s better than prayer
because I don’t know
where it comes from,
and I can’t blame god
because all he provides
is all the time in the world.
This dogless walking
is faster to be sure.
There is nothing
to concentrate on
but the form of
the walk itself,
heel and toeing,
the in and out
down the block,
I Always Wanted a Boy
I always wanted a boy,
but, when the time came,
the doctor said,
“It’s a little peanut of a girl,”
and I couldn’t have been happier.
Those few words changed everything.
Words are that important.
That little poem
set you on your way.
My father used to say,
“Time wounds all heels.”
There’s no fish so big
that words can’t land it.
Maybe it isn’t too early
to start looking for a kidney,
but when the time comes,
the crack of some verbal whip
will cut down the runaways.
And, when it’s time for me to go,
glib sentence rotaries will roll on.
Acorns Are Falling on My Porch
There comes a time when,
even though you’re
the head of the family,
the proper place for you to ride
is in the back seat,
a mixed pleasure
to be sure.
while they struggle
with the road upfront.
You can’t see much,
which is a little scary.
Plenty of time
to think up interjections
in the conversation,
no matter how
It’s interesting to see
how things go on without you,
a little sample of what
it’s going to be like
when you’re not
Pretty Boy, Pretty Boy, Pretty Boy
I was standing on the back door steps,
and you were dead in the yard
with Ma wailing over you.
A man in the street
was standing by the bed of his truck,
and a policeman was going
back and forth between that man
and your Ma and you.
He asked me her name,
and I said Zorida,
and he went with the man by the truck
to offer their condolences to Ma,
and then they came up to me–
all in the geometrical slow time
that great emotion sometimes assumes–
and I said to myself,
I’m not going to make a poem out of this,
I’m not going to make
a God damn poem out of my dog’s death,
no matter how great,
and I also said,
I’m never gonna have
and we’ll just have to see
how that one comes out.
A Soft Rain
A soft rain has begun to help
moisten this late July heat misery.
It sounds like lots and lots of
rain drops, which is what it is,
and cars fly by like sewing machines
because I was going to say
the rain sounded like fabric being torn.
But I’m grateful for the rain.
It’s making things cooler,
and gently intruding on my funk.
Now I can feel a little breeze,
and soon I’ll have finished
a wonderful old man’s poem
about almost nothing,
the poem, not the old man,
and everything will be all right.
China’s Stock Market
China’s stock market’s in a dither,
and the usual cliche about
“not trying to catch a falling knife”
is replaced by today’s warning
about “100 Steinways” overhead.
Someone adds he’s never seen
“a bubble pop halfway.”
If language is the graveyard
of dead metaphor,
politics and business is a vast plain
where carnivorous verbal thingamajigs
battle in endless night.
The French have a modest idea
that can be just as upsetting:
“The job of life is to find out
just where you fit in.”
I should be ready for that.
74 now. Bipolar, 20 hospitalizations.
No real job since 1986.
Three marriages, three kids,
two literary magazines,
a house and three condos.
100 poems and some books,
but a ms. I really want published.
Many paintings but still an amateur.
I just did my personal best on Bowflex.
Fourth stage kidney disease.
I have no idea where I fit in.
Don’t want to.
I do know I’m not near done.
Resolved: Keep on,
and cut the meds.
A Beautiful and Learned Poem
I wish I could write a beautiful
and learned poem about
something other than myself,
but my doctor told me
it isn’t too early
to start looking for a kidney,
and I wonder if all this
folding paper boats
against the flood
is ever more than
a survival strategy,
no matter how genteel.
I’ve just stepped into
the deep end of the pool,
and I can tell you I’m pissed off,
if that makes any difference.
This will just make me worse,
which I’m sure to enjoy.
I could let my hair grow
to remind me I have less time,
and embark on another adolescence,
or I could set about managing
my old age like a manager
stuck in an 18 inning game.
“Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”
“Too soon old, too late smart!”
Burt van Mannon used to say that
when I was a kid.
I always thought it was just
a clever use of words like,
“He didn’t see the ewe turn,”
or, “Throw the fish away
and eat the board,”
but now the cheese
is getting binding.
To tell you the truth,
Burt’s blues brings
nothing to mind.
My mother used to say
I thought everything was all right
if I could make a joke out of it.
It’s true. I think
everything’s all right
if I can make a poem out of it.
And I mean everything.
I’m reminded of Fisherman George.
He always sat at the end of the bar
with his back to the door.
One night I sat down by him,
and he revealed that he liked
the way I carried myself.
He said, “I’ve seen the man,
now I want to see the dog.”
Just the other day,
a Cuban woman was
admiring Pretty Boy.
She left me with one word:
I’ve seen the poem,
now I want to see the man.
It’s In His Kiss
Some people can mix paint,
and some people can’t.
Some people have good taste,
and some taste good.
As it says in the song: it’s in his kiss.
Art students never overdraw the gesture:
they always under draw it.
The mind is the prison,
and it takes some kind of a jolt
to get all parts of it singing in a chorus.
An old man can’t even piss in the night
unless his mind’s right..
God is not dead.
He’s the perfect breath.
Among// Of// Us
imitating the Wms. of
from “The Locust Tree”
in my 8′ wide used trailer,
Illinois U. at Urbana
“little peanut of a girl”
fitting in a shoe box,
a mirror against her crib,
and butterflies on a mobile
just out of her reach—
a new father
and a new poet.
(She got a full ride
for a Stanford MFA
The old lines
came back to me
mowing the lawn—
Williams at the end
of his career
joining me at
the beginning of mine,
yet I’m still
here in my crib
How Do You Describe the Color Brown
To a Blind Man?
How do you describe the color brown
to a blind man?
What does Thank you mean
in this wordless world?
Language is the bars of our cage,
yet we persist.
The universe is not a sonnet,
not even close.
It doesn’t take much.
I’d give anything
for the acuity of the blues.
I had a kind of a girlfriend once,
and we made love one time
in her basement or something.
Then we went upstairs
because her patents weren’t home
and there was a lighted landscape
above the couch,
and the thought ran through me
like a shot,
“I’ve got to get out of this.”
“I Liked the Blue Stone Better”
“I liked the blue stone better,”
I tell the contractor who had just
replaced the sidewalk with concrete.
The losing game of retaining walls.
No street was ever improved by making it oneway.
What we don’t need now are new neighbors with money.
Fat guys in shorts shooting Roundup.
Don’t get me started on trees.
But there are pleasant summer moments,
like listening to Keith Hernandez
run down the young Mets
to Mike Francessa on the FAN.
I’m just in front of Clares Liquors,
and Keith is telling Mike that
the Mets aren’t strong up the middle,
that deArneau is a line drive hitter
who will hit 10 or 15 home run,
but he doesn’t want to get him excited
about hitting homers.
And Duda has started swinging
at bad changeups out of the strike zone
like he did last year,
and he’s got to learn to stop doing that.
An extremely wellturned out lady
in a white suit with a short jacket
comes out of the liquor store
with a heavily loaded cart.
Something falls out of the bottom,
but she stops and picks it up gracefully.
Doesn’t seem like anything broke. Unperturbed.
Flores is a liability in the field,
but he’s such a good hitter
he isn’t going anywhere. Maybe third.
She lets the cart go carefully,
and it just barely bumps
against her beautiful cream-colored Chrysler.
Tejada wears down.
She’s loading her packages in the back seat
instead of the trunk.
There’s her tight white bootie
as she reaches far into the interior.
She backs out and calmly walks around
to the other side and drives away.
Lageres thinks too much.
Keith wishes he’d just relax and play.
Time to turn off the radio
and go food shopping.
I Don’t Lie
My mother taught me not to lie,
and when I was pretty young
I decided it was just simpler not to do so.
There were fewer things to keep track of.
I wasn’t necessarily good;
I was just innocent.
Well, everybody embroiders and stretches
and dissembles, and lies,
and because I didn’t lie
these inexactitudes would pretty much escape me.
If I were a cartoon character,
I’d be walking down the street
with a cloud above my head,
but there’d be nothing in it.
Then, from time to time, sometimes
weeks or even years later,
I’d figure out the truth.
I wouldn’t solve anything.
It would just come to me out of the blue.
So I read in The Times this week
about a woman in Poughkeepsie
who was accused of murder.
She and her lover were kayaking,
and he’d drowned.
She’d waited half an hour to call 911
to report he was lost in the 46 degree river.
She hadn’t acted right after the event.
She’d even sung “Hotel California” onstage
just a few days later.
She wasn’t smart on Facebook,
and had plans for her two life insurance policies.
The authorities eventually determined
she had messed
with her boyfriend’s kayak.
They found her diary
and a place in it where
he had wanted a threesome,
and she wished him dead.
Well, I took a walk with my dog,
and, after a while, I remembered
a late winter night in the 70s
when my two girlfriends
showed up at my door together.
I had no idea. I still don’t.
I was listening to the 70’s on Apple radio,
little pop tunes strangely quaint
in this day of hook ups and hip hop,
and I remembered a summer
when I had a wife and a lover,
and the key to an apartment.
I’d set out on my bike
in the afternoon (what could be
more innocent?) and do the deed.
Eventually, a strange thing
evolved: I had become
the base of a teeter totter
between my wife and lover,
each one getting higher and higher
in the August afternoon delights.
Everything’s a little clearer in broad daylight.
I had committed the perfect crime
until my friend came back and asked,
“Who tuned my guitar?”
I’m in my rubber room,
and everything’s too soft.
I wonder what I’d do
if a terrorist with a knife
was threatening to cut off my head
if I couldn’t write him a poem he liked.
And what kind of a poem
would a terrorist like?
That’s such a tough assignment,
I might as well just please myself,
and, come to think of it,
I am that terrorist.
And I’m all right with that.
And I’m all right with this.
Johnson County Hospital
Did I ever tell you I was an orderly
at Johnson County Hospital, Franklin, Indiana,
in college, because I was teaching your mother to drive
since I failed Philosophy
because I had fallen in love with her,
and there is an S curve on the way to Shelbyville
and, since she didn’t noh how to drive,
she missed the curve,
and we kept slamming into fence posts
until I wrestled the wheel away from her
and jerked my ’51 Mercury all the way across the highway
and we came to rest just short of a bridge
in a creek with my laundry hanging in the back seat,
so I had to get a job as an orderly,
and once there was a live baby
in a towel in the utility room,
and you could see his heart beating
through his flimsy chest,
and the skin was so translucent
the arteries ran red and the veins blue
all over his body like it was in a text book.
For some reason, I didn’t think
that was out of the ordinary.
There was a man named Norton
who always tore up his oxygen tent.
You’re not supposed to restrain a patient,
but the nurse and I finally tucked his covers in
really really tight to try to stop him.
One night, I was sleeping in a wheelchair by his bed,
and I’ d reach up to stop him clawing.
When I put out ice water at 5:30,
he said he wanted a smoke.
Later, I saw him sleeping
on his lawn with his mouth open.
Somebody came in for an ingrown toenail,
and we gave him a sleeping pill
and he fell out of bed and got a concussion
and we were out of oxygen tents
and Ganz panicked and I didn’t even think
of the one with a mask in the utility room,
and he died. What did his family think.
The first night Ron Carson who got me the job
he showed me how to catheterize a guy
with red soap and green soap and KY jelly
and drain it in a kidney dish,
and the next night I did it.
One guy was in so much pain,
he moaned all night
until we got a doctor’s order,
and when he finally got relief
he insisted on giving me twenty bucks,
and I resisted until I finally gave in
and said I’ll take my girl to dinner
but never did. Sometimes it didn’t go so well.
The doctor had to order the size.
Once, I couldn’t get this guy’s catheter in
and the nurse couldn’t,
so Wheeler the Head Nurse came,
and the way she walked
always reminded me of a half track,
and she took this guy’s dick
and the catheter,
a 13 not a 16, in the other hand
and jammed and jammed it in,
and I was watching in the doorway,
and I thought,
Well, I could have done that.