Man and Lad
I saw a man and a lad on their front lawn today.
The boy was too young to wave.
I was reminded of my son Bowman’s first words.
We were in the woods behind our house.
The fireman was there too with his big white dog.
While we were leaving, I asked Bowman how liked the dog.
That’s not a dog,” he said,
looking over my shoulder, “that’s a horse.”
My Green Blood
The torpid river frothed
and the gales gashed,
then the plains toasted the haze.
How can we suppress the yawns
as we gallop into battle?
What of the fat and gentle?
How fight with a structure
of touched fingertips?
I have only my laziness
to fight with,
and my talents to fear.
These sores can run clear.
The Tire Iron
I was going to write a poem
after dinner Sunday night,
but I fell asleep
and lost my glasses.
They cost 500 bucks,
so I didn’t want to step on them.
I carefully stacked up the books
scattered on the floor around me
and found three quarters in the couch,
but no glasses.
They were under the couch.
But still no poem.
When I looked out the door,
I saw these burgeoning red flowers
that reminded me of forsythias.
I remembered the summer
Harry and I painted houses.
As Harris Wilson said,
Harry did the massive work,
and I did the fine work.
We were scraping a garage
in an old lady’s backyard
when she came out and asked us
to cut down the forsythia bushes,
which have yellow flowers,
growing in the corner of her yard
because Negros might hide behind them.
Harry imagined a dictionary for her,
the word forsythias, an illustration,
and the definition: a bush Negroes often hide behind.
I don’t know why the forsythias came to mind
more than four decades later:
maybe the profusion of blossoms.
The idea is to go
can find you
if you want to write,
but it’s too damn hot tonight.
I’d like to write a poem
as good as “Happy Birthday”
or “Jingle Bells,”
is too sophisticated for me.
I’d really like to write
with the power
of poor white trash,
a Chinese star made in shop class
glinting toward the forehead
of an adversary
in the surreal light of a Prom
or a pistol with an eagle on it
thrown into “roiling waters.”
Especially, I envy the deep learning,
punch, and panache,
of a story
about a lifeless fuck
endured as payment
for a meal and a martini
for a hungry single parent
who teaches at a university for food.
Scott hails me, and we shake hands because it’s Thanksgiving morning.
This is the first time I’ve learned his name though we’ve waved these many times since he first slowed his car and accused me of casing houses for burglary on my daily walk.
He had just been victimized he was quick to explain, (and every time thereafter.)
I can’t help it that I’m curious.
He has traded his old Mercedes for two new little Chevies.
He’s reading a thick paperback he says is the sum total of all histories.
He’s a lapsed Catholic.
He isn’t a poet, but he’s written a screenplay.
What is he doing right now, I want him to come over and I’ll give him some stuff. Thanks, but he has to get something, and then help his wife cook dinner.
I didn’t recognize him, but he attended one of our workshops,
(without a poem, just to sit in.)
You people are hard core, he opines, and promises to try to come Tuesday
He says he’s crazy.
Me too. Certified.
George and Eddie’s
“I’ve got all the time in the world
to play pool with nice people!’
Eddie used to say on afternoons
when I’d drop into George and Eddie’s.
We’d slide two dimes into the pool table
and play 8-ball, the 8 in the side pocket
by the juke box. I had a new girlfriend,
and I needed a new bar.
George and Eddie’s had an unspoiled
wooden bar and shelving out of the forties,
if not earlier. They had Tony Pro glasses.
The clock was set to the right time.
Small beers on tap were ten cents.
I met a trucker there who said
he wrote the lyrics to “Knights in White Satin”
and the Moody Blues took him and his family
on the road to Australia out of gratitude.
The story goes that George and Eddie were partners,
and the day they opened George left for California.
Lots of afternoons, there were only three of us:
Eddie and I playing pool, and his wife behind the bar.
I called her George.
Eddie had something wrong with his eyes.
He didn’t use a proper bridge
but just pinched his thumb
and forefinger together,
which is wrong. Usually, he won.
I thought about Eddie today.
I don’t have a new girlfriend now,
and I don’t need a new bar,
but now I’m the one
who has all the time in the world
to play pool with nice people.
Back before I had a computer,
by which I mean when
I was chained to a typewriter,
I’d look at the keyboard and pick a letter
and follow it with other letters randomly
until they finally made a word.
I’d continue on that way until
I had a whole page of typescript.
Then I’d edit and retype many times
in an effort to find out what I might have meant.
I think I might have been imitating
a misunderstanding of what Eno
and Paul Simon were doing.
It was as labor intensive as mining for gold,
but, as there was no alternative,
it was fun at the time.
I thought I was exhuming my unconscious.
We watched a movie
called “Frozen River”
about a single mother
and an Indian woman
who smuggled aliens
into the US from Canada
across a frozen river
in the trunk of her car.
That is truly bogus.
The US/ Canadian border
is the longest
in the world,
and you can
just walk across.
This woman lived in a trailer
with her two kids,
but her husband was
a gambler and AWOL.
Her kids complained
there was no food in the house.
She said there was
popcorn and Tang,
and they just had
to make it to Friday.
That I believed.
The Peaceful Horses
I read about the discovery
of a buried personage and
his coach with six horses.
The horses were so peaceful
they looked drugged but
the dogs were in agony.
Williams Center, 11/6/19
Ken’s pond is healthy now.
I’m glad to hear it.
It has been a long road.
A childhood friend tried to doze it bigger,
plugged up a spring that fed it,
and the pond started emptying.
Ken took him to small claims court
and won, to no effect.
Ken went to the state and found out
about an additive he and his son-in-law threw in
from a rowboat one wonderful afternoon.
Cesar left a stick from the fire pit at his door to show
the size of the largest of the trout he had just dropped in.
This spring, Ken and my daughter caught
a bunch of big catfish from a nearby pond.
To say the least, this has been a very rainy year.
As we sat on the back porch after breakfast,
Ken volunteered that the pond is “very healthy” now.
I was surprised to hear that word attached
for the first time to what has been an old story.
It didn’t turn out as good for swimming
as Ken had hoped, but it was fine for fishing.
His eleven-year-old granddaughter had
been out there all day recently.
I asked him if they had eaten any this year.
“No,” he said, “we’re too fond of them.”
Williams Center, 9/4/19
As a boy I loved Cheerios,
tasty milk-suffused circles of oats,
but I have kidney disease
and I’m not supposed to have oats.
I forgot that, and recently I have renewed
my relationship with Cheerios, happily.
Of course, my wife disapproved,
and, when she read on the internet
that Cheerios uses Roundup in their fields,
she really disapproved.
I smiled to myself at the idea
of being able to eat enough Cheerios
to give myself cancer.
I have been following Roundup for several years,
the crown jewel of the Monsanto Corporation.
It is a dramatically named product that can make
a homeowner feel like he is using a six-gun
to kill weeds in his sidewalk.
Now, after some adverse court rulings,
they have calmed their ads down.
Now you are directed to put a cap over
the weed and apply the poison.
I don’t know why I pay attention to ads.
I notice that Johnson and Johnson
has been paying ladies for causing cancer
with their baby powder.
Somehow this amuses me.
I picture Miss with powder on her legs
after a shower and J&J losing in court.
The law of unintended consequences
and figure and backgrounds in humor
is the same thing, but it always works.
I put Cheerios on our shopping list.
My wife crossed them.
I bought them anyway.
The air was thick in the kitchen.
Then she threatened to spread the Cheerios
on the weeds in her garden.
The Perfect Crime
In the sixties, the twin cities
of Champaign and Urbana
had two newspapers,
the Champaign-Urbana Courier
and the News-Gazette.
I don’t know if either one
still exists, but for a while
I held down the police beat
for the Courier.
Bob Sink was the editor.
He said he wasn’t going to hire me,
but then I smarted off
because I had nothing to lose
and he said maybe
I could be a .300 hitter
and there was room on the paper
for five or six .300 hitters.
Bob had a lot of theories,
He said he never hired anyone
who didn’t outscore him on an IQ test.
It was the Age of Goldwater,
and Bob said he didn’t see why
we needed a head of
the Board of Education.
who had a foreign policy.
H smoked Chesterfield Kings
and had a tremor,
and I worried about his ash.
Bob was in Urbana,
but he was trying to get
Champaign Police Chief
Harvey Shirley fired.
For one thing, he believed
Chief Shirley’s nephew,
also a member of the force,
was a thief.
He explained that cops
pull on a lot of locks at night.
Of course, Shirley
and the Champaign cops
hated the Courier.
It’s hard to make a story
out of arrest cards: $6 stolen
from a high school locker, etc.
You needed the Chief
to make it a real story,
“Drop it, you sonofabitch”
or they used the dogs.
Everyone was very happy
about the Canine Squad.
Finally, something wonderful happened.
Two men shot each other to death
in a Black bar called Mary’s Place.
The Champaign cops exulted over
“the perfect crime.” No evidence.
No arrests. No trial. Just Justice.
Two mug shots, with the numbers,
appeared on my front page.
Williams Center, 5/1/19
Dear Aunt Ruth,
I’ve just thought of you the for the first time
in many, many years because I realized
I’d love to see your face if you could hear
Aretha Franklin sing “Amazing Grace.”
It would be a revelation to you, stuck In
the fifties in Lily-white Brookings, South Dakota.
Not that you weren’t ahead of your time.
You were our soprano, and you sang the “Messiah.”
You taught us about “Negro Spirituals”,
especially “Go Tell It On the Mountain”,
And we sang it like a pep song.
The blues, not so much.
Aretha sings with the Southern California Choir,
beautifully coordinated young Black voices.
They do a syncopated version of
“Just A Closer Walk with Thee”
that would amaze you. She sings,
“He’ll put two angels beside you.”
I find that really something.
Also,“What A Friend We Have in Jesus.”
“What a privilege to carry/
everything to God in prayer . . . . /
Oh what peace we often forfeit/
Oh, what needless pain we bear/
Just because we do not carry/
everything to God in prayer.”
I was so curious about “Amazing Grace”,
I discovered it was a protest song about slavery
written by a reformed captain of a slave ship
played in the movie by a raggedy Albert Finney.
Ultimately, their long shot legislation is passed,
but their singing is so castrato.
“Amazing Grace” has been recorded many times,
but not like Aretha and the Southern California Choir.
Her improvisations seem like the lyrics to me;
her struggle to get past the word “through” is heroic.
She even quotes “The Old Rugged Cross”
in a long beautiful Interlude of humming.
Your eyes would have glistened and wept
while I cried and held you through the ages.
Williams Center, 4/3/19
I Apologize for Ruining Your Sleep
I can’t think of a true sentence
that won’t indict me
for thinking about love all morning,
hard against your hairless warm body
and robbing you of your proper sleep.
I plead guilty to those physical aggressions,
and to numberless unnamed acts
that flitted through my consciousness
as though I were a younger man, or boy,
or even much less of an old man.
The eye and the mind never age,
and the imagination is always swift.
It was announced this week
that Tom Seaver has Alzheimer’s,
and will be confined
to his vineyard for the duration.
In our area, the world has more
than enough of my own poems
and paintings to satisfy itself.
What will I do with myself?
Of course, this is not an unusual circumstance
for someone my age to be in.
God only knows how many paintings
Cyfford Still has under lock and key.
I envy Tom and his grapes.
My father once told me,
“You can’t make a quantitative
impression on infinity:
only a qualitative one.”
This is the dilemma:
is it possible for me to get better
at something I’ve done for so long
when ignorance and stubbornness
have always been
my hammer and tongs.
At the Bar in Botany Village
For years I knew I was going to have to
do something at your funeral,
and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Some might like the attention,
but I really loved you,
and there is the matter of
the persistent catch in my voice.
Of course, you’d be dead.
That would be a bother,
as I mentioned to you.
Your wife said you were committing
the world’s slowest suicide.
You didn’t deny it.
A long time ago,
at the bar in Botany Village,
you whispered that you’d like
to blow your brains out.
This past year, I have wished you had.
I told the priest what you said,
but he confessed to me that he was
a twenty year recovered alcoholic.
I was so moved by that
I gave him a copy of my book.
He complimented me on my weak voice,
said it made me seem more authentic.
We had a couple for brunch this week.
She drank water.
I mentioned what you’d said,
and she made me see
I had it backwards:
You weren’t an alcoholic because
you wanted to blow your brains out;
you wanted to blow your brains out
because you were an alcoholic.
Is that about it?
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
I have the same breakfast every morning,
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes,
The Original & Best,
with a cup of blueberries,
two tablespoons of ground flaxseed,
and a teaspoon of cacao nibs
right off the tree.
Though I’m the only one
in our house
to eat Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
I buy it in the biggest box available
out of convenience.
It holds two large
wax paper bags.
Every morning, I hold a bag
by its lower right hand corner
and lift the opposite corner
the raging jaws of Pippa,
my counter-surfing dog.
Always, as I watch
the golden corn flakes
and gold dust fall to the floor
where desperate Pippa
licks up every bit,
I feel the warm glow
philanthropists must feel
for about, I would guess,
the same cost.
Williams Center 2/6/19
We are teaching assistants at the University of Illinois
in the late sixties registering freshmen.
It was so boring,
I get manic and silly.
I have a good fastball, a curve,
and a change-up going right away.
Then I start mixing in the junk:
a screwball, an emery ball,
and this guy with horned-rim glasses
and a trimmed black beard, O’Brien,
he stands right in there
and rattles one down the left field line,
goes into the gap in right with the next,
bloops one over first base;
then he pulls a low outside pitch
over the left field wall
onto Waveland Avenue.
We had a powerful effect on each other,
found ourselves acting as one.
We left together yakking
and started walking somewhere
we each thought the other knew where
we were so busy talking.
Finally, a decent guy in grad school.
After awhile we got organized enough
to find our cars and buy a case of beer
and go to my trailer.
Here was this great guy!
Our wives, who had never met,
couldn’t catch up.
Voices blurred and the night ended
with O’Brien and me staring
at the cold chicken and potato salad
as they tried to make conversation.
It was embarrassing.
The next couple years we even passed
a few times pretending not to notice.
In 1969 I had a fellowship
and started working in a library carrel.
As the year wore on, I got into the habit
of leaving my reading in the afternoon
and wandering over to the
English Building to talk to O’Brien.
Without the release of teaching,
I had a backlog of things to talk about.
If one of us hadn’t read something,
we said so.
He had read a lot more,
and I had read some things better,
While I talked in a critical dither,
he sat looking through his horned rims
into the middle distance
smoking Pal Malls,
playing with his beard,
and dropping modifications
and new leads into my spiel.
He was more metaphorically-minded,
and I could tangle his metaphors together.
We complemented each other beautifully.
Together, we were one genius.
I finished my degree.
Times were tough,
but I finally landed a job
at a shit operation.
In a few years, I got him
a job there too.
We made the English Department notorious.
I was the manic-depressive,
and he was the drunk.
When people had writing problems,
they often came to me.
When they needed a loan
or an abortion,
they went to Mike.
Max Greenberg said
he should have been a priest.
Mike O’Brien’s Funeral 2/7/19
A rare moment of equilibrium, balanced,
the felt impossibility
of getting this refrigerator up the stairs.
Or back down again, either.
These deep-breathing folks look
too ridiculous to stay unbothered long,
which arrives soon in the form
of a Spanish man
with a too-short dolly.
“Don’t worry. He’s loco.”
Bless the heft,
bless the reserves
never called on before,
bless the footprint on the wall.
Bless standing it on the wrong end.
Bless tipping it over again.
Bless the Spanish man.
Bless the little wife.
“Ice cream, refrigerator.”
Bless two friends
who found impossibility
a motive again.
Williams Center 2/6/19
My first car was a ’30 Model A coach,
Ford, of course, but it wasn’t
a deuce coupe with tear drop headlights,
which would have been the thing.
But it was $60, and I was 14 years old,
and you could drive to school in Kansas.
I painted it with a paint sprayer
that attached to the vacuum cleaner.
There’s a lot to tell about the car,
but what brought it to mind
was someone called “Cocoa Puffs.”
I don’t think I’d even had a date at the age,
but somehow there was a girl in front with me,
and probably a couple in back,
and we were driving around aimlessly
and laughing after mugs of A&W root beer
on a very rainy night when we picked up
two boys from Haskell Institute,
an Indian school in Lawrence, Kansas.
Jim Thorpe once played for Haskell Institute,
but that doesn’t narrow it down very much,
he played for pretty much everybody,
and these boys were very young
and very loud and drunk and wet,
and they had one thing on their minds,
and that was Cocoa Puffs, who seemed to be
some kind of authority figure or disciplinarian.
They kept referring to him hilariously,
without malice or regret, as though their
nickname for him made everything all right.
And I remember them better than my first car.
We called Pruzansky Plumbing,
on Oak Street, in Passaic,
for a water heater, $1300,
the old one lasted ten years—
Pruzansky Plumbing is
a fifth generation concern
with pictures of mom
and pop on the truck,
almost 100 years
of busted knuckles,
and plumbers’ butts,
let’s sing that again,
almost 100 years
of plumbers’ butts,
and bruised feeling.
That kind of endurance
reminds me of my father’s
first job out of seminary,
being a circuit rider
in rural North Dakota.
He preached four times
each and every Sunday
and sang duets with
my mother, then 19,
even though he
couldn’t really sing.
When asked about
the chances of getting
little churches to unite,
all he said was,
“A few good funerals
and a few good fires.”
I’m with Cesar.
He had a heart attack
recently, it seems.
His left arm hurt terribly,
and it felt like a spear
had gone through his backbone
and penetrated his heart.
He was groggy and wobbly.
Cesar drank half a bottle of liquor
and started to feel a little better.
He loaded his shotgun
and took it into bed with him,
and said if anyone
tried to fuck with him
he’d blow him away.
Like I said, I’m with Cesar.
And Cesar’s with me.
Our Coffee Table
This is all so much bullshit
like my timid little paintings
with oil house paint seeking out
the cheapest kind of originality
that comes from using the wrong,
or unusual, materials. I love how
difficult it is to use oil house paint and
the unfashionable shiny surface it leaves.
I used to admire the wooden bowls
and lamp bases my grandfather turned
on his lathe with their scored imperfections
he filled with wood filler. Nobody wants
anything handmade anymore. Somehow
it reminds them of death or losing
their virginity or being poor or ignorant.
They want something with a price tag
to be sure. I love our coffee table.
We bought it at a yard sale. Oak,
handmade, $20. I’ll never forget the
look on the man’s face as he went
into the house and we took it away.
Paul McCartney can’t read or write music. He doesn’t think of it that way, marks on a paper.
I wish I could type on a typewriter the way I used to be able to. My fingers have become weak, hesitant, and flaccid.
I’ve been reading Nabokov’s Speak, Memory this week, and the mystery is no more: he is a great English stylist because English is his first language. His father was so upset with his Russian he engaged a Russian tutor for him.
After Nabokov, why bother to write. For that matter, why bother after the 23rd Psalm?
What does “Fail better” even mean?
We had a little dispute, and my wife broke the toilet seat. It wasn’t even wood, she complained. It was plastic.
Birds on remote Pacific islands are swallowing bottle caps and dying. Their stuffed dried carcasses on the beach resemble junk art.
A tiny turquoise dental flosser on Pippa’s favorite patch of grass to piss on irritates me every day. There is also always a tiny play shower shoe in the street by the Round Building when we pass.
Plastic never dies. The only thing better than plastic would be something that destroys it.
Of course, we’re all eating it the way the Romans ate lead.
Williams Center 1/2/19
The Rider is a young man with a plate in his skull
where a bronco stepped on him.
His sister is on the spectrum,
his brother is a quadriplegic,
and his father is someone
he doesn’t want to turn into.
His mother is dead.
The Rider can’t ride in the rodeo anymore,
but he does train horses.
His father even buys him Apollo,
and the Rider breaks him
and takes him for what he calls “cruises”
in the western badlands of Dakota.
After a lot of other shit happens,
he goes to look for Apollo
and finds he has injured his leg.
This is what I wanted to write about.
These malformed people have a perfect vision of justice:
If an animal, like Apollo, is injured,
he must destroyed because,
should he dream of running and kicking,
he won’t be able do it because of his injury.
For the first time, the Rider and his father cooperate.
His father tells him to walk away
and whistle for Apollo until a shot rings out..
A long view of the landscape shows
the Rider in miniature,
and the small body of Apollo
and his tiny father holding his hat in his hand.
I think father had the Rider whistle
so Apollo’s last thought would be a happy one.
Since the Rider and his family are human,
they will have to persevere with their imperfections.
Swinging from the Heels
strong creeping forward,
let the brush fall
in rhythmical creation,
make the sun
in eight sure strokes.
Head inland, bust sod,
Endure the plains,
Find a new lake.
clever yokel lore.
It’s been a year since I saw Harry
last summer at O’Brien’s.
He startled me by saying
“Don’t beat me up!”
when I walked in the room.
Harry was always the Uber-manly man.
When we painted his house
Harris Wilson always said, “Jim does the fine work,
but Harry does the massive work.”
Now he’s a winkled up old man
who takes the steps one at a time sideways,
AA three times a week for 30 years.
When he was at his worst, his brother Tommy
gave me what for because of the shape he was in.
Then Tommy himself fell into drunkenness.
Harry drove to Seattle and made him go the doctor.
Tommy stopped drinking and got a job driving
golf carts for the workers at the Microsoft campus.
He had no social life save for an abused chicken
who came from down the road to join him on his porch.
Now Tommy gets up and does the crossword on the porch,
and the chicken from down the road joins him for the day.
The Third Person
Maybe the answer is
to refer to himself in the third person,
as he read in the paper today
so he would recognize he is not
the same thing as his thoughts,
though he doesn’t see how that works,
and what a strange idea that is but
he is writing this up
from the bottom of the page
and feels that he could go to
sleep now out of sheer
Where Does the East Meet the West?
I was walking my dog
on a Sunday morning
thinking about a poem I could write
like linking tinker toys
when I saw an iron scow
type of thing you see on the street
when there’s new construction
or renovating going on,
and I realized I was musing
that, if it was night,
I could climb up onto the edge of that thing
and sit on it backwards
with my pants off and relieve myself—
we turned the corner,
and, halfway up the block,
there was a house being remodeled
with a Porta-Potty in the yard.
I thought this would be a better poem
than I was planning, but I wasn’t good enough to do it,
Joyce or Donleavy would be great at it,
and we passed it—two and a half blocks
home I calculated,
and it’s probably locked–
but then I might not make it,
so we went back.
It was unlocked.
Pippa was quite hot,
but I found it very comfortable.
Pigs in a Blanket
The art show Sunday was in two rooms
on the third floor of a tiny walkup in Greenpoint.
That much I can say with a neutral voice.
I can’t estimate the percentage of people there
who wanted to read at the Williams Center,
or for whom English was the first language.
Igor Satanosky had the most interesting name.
I found it was more difficult to talk about
someone else’s work than my own.
For the most part I succeeded, but if I could
have caught one of my remarks in a butterfly net
I would have captured “labored” as a characterization
of a small painting on the wall opposite.
Selwyn didn’t seem to notice; he was entranced
with the blonde on his phone he will meet
for the first time in Paris on his way back to Australia.
He had packed the show in two suitcases.
After being shown how, I tried to take a picture
of the passionate but ungrammatical Indian poet
and my wife, but he was unsatisfied
with the result and had someone else do it.
The Polish draft and Polish-American food
in the restaurant across the street was wonderful,
and I was able to relieve myself.
My Funny Valentine
Please let me stay where I can get
if I climb really hard into what might
be called the friendly confines
of the ballpark of your heart.
Hurt can’t glimmer the painful
experience when frightened officialdom
walked along puttering and flinching
between these dessert tables
and the curb of their haunts.
Vivid and handsome prospects
were all that mattered, chameleon
couples sportively enhancing
their environs as they proceeded
apace with their inhibitions.
If you live long enough,
life teaches you how to live.
You need to keep up some interests, of course,
and there are a number of systems in you body
that you really need to keep an eye on.
No matter how old, you need goals,
but things should be moving toward simplicity,
the ultimate sophistication.
Plus, you get to watch the extreme austerity
of an almost empty mind colliding with
the lush Rousseau-like foliage
of its desire to communicate.
Today, I forgot the word drones.
Then, while we were watching 60 Minutes,
and a story on brain trauma
from battlefield blast forces,
I had to ask about the word again,
and I told my wife I was losing mental function.
“Everyone is losing mental function,” she said,
“babies do from the moment they’re born.”
She’s smarter than that.
She once read her cousin’s dictionary cover to cover.
It’s a metaphor from male bees.
It’s Sunday afternoon,
and for some reason
the Mets aren’t on,
it’s March Madness,
so my son and I watch
The Shape of Water,
and at the point
where the Black friend
frantically tries to warn
the main character that
the monster G-man
is about to get her,
she dials a fifties
pay phone in the hall,
and my son asks,
429R, I tell him,
my first phone number
in Brookings SD,
but we didn’t dial it,
we said it to the operator.
Then I told him
about party lines.
He could hardly believe that.
We had one phone,
in the hall by
the kitchen table,
and my sister and I
would hear my father
trying to get off the phone.
He’d say, “Surely,
When he hung up,
we’d ask him how
There was a
in town with the name
Sexhauer on it.
made the joke
“New York has television hour,
Chicago has radio hour,
and Brookings has Sexhauer.”
We’d listen to
the Poka Party
Saturday nights on
WNEX from Yankton
brought to us by
Grain Belt beer.
The story was there
was a competition
at the state’s beginning
about which town
would get the college
and which one
the insane asylum,
and Brookings lost
and ended up with the
South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
I heard them referred to
last week on TV
for the first time.
My first phone number
and I can’t remember
and other number
I’ve ever had
other than my present one.
And I even forgot that
at Shop-Rite last month.
Friday, I pretended not to see
the very fat man who
works as a check-out
clerk at Shop-Rite, but
he called me an “asshole” under
his breath as we passed.
His sister was a drunk
and got hit by a truck.
The first time I saw him,
he was a tall, beautiful
blonde boy, and we were
helping him pick up his
new motorcycle in Clifton.
I only recognized him
decades later, as we say,
when I saw him leaving
her empty house as my dog
and I walked by. Once
I had fucked her on something
in the back of her garage,
and, when we went into the
house, there was a seascape
with a special light above it
over the couch, and I realized
I had to get away from her.
I couldn’t get
a painting right.
It had been too easy.
I thought it lacked
was a term
I made up for
myself being an auto-
loving the way Van
fit together like
too much for me
to hope for, I reasoned,
from his meticulous
drawings, and my
by both arms on
a rotating left
As my painting
tension, I decided
to fill in
with some of my
oil house paint,
$5 a quart,
$80 in toto.
It was hard work
the brown cover
At least it took
a long time.
Then I couldn’t find
a place to hang it,
it was so dark,
even in the kitchen.
But at supper
time, with the light on,
it started looking good,
the light bouncing
the shiny surface.
It had a nice
I’m looking forward
to going out to Loewes
to buy a gallon of
that liquid rubber
that can transform
a screen door into
an everglades boat
with a propeller.
What an amazing
black that will make.
A Letter to a Stranger
Someone said a poem is
a letter to a stranger.
And that stranger
What a privilege it is
to carry on with myself.
The wheels of justice, the
freedom of the press, the
priesthood of all believers,
what tinker toys!
Truth is there
is no truth.
There is bats at dusk,
and shadows and
reflections, and the
work of light and dark
If, at any moment,
the most neurotic person
is the one doing the talking,
what does that suggest
with only alphabets
to play with,
on and on,
putting on a show
But who else to
put on a show for?
The Wine-Dark Sea
“I’ve got all the time in the world
to play pool with nice people.
Your break, young fellow.
You’ve got the stripes
and the juke box.”
He means I have to make
in the side pocket
by the juke box.
The time is always accurate,
and the pool table is two dimes.
The bar is a beautiful brunette,
dark wood unmarred since the 40’s.
Eddie has cataracts
and employs a stiff grip
on the cue
with this thumb on top,
which is wrong,
but I rarely beat him.
This is George and Eddie’s.
The day they opened,
George left for California.
It’s just the two of them,
Eddie and his wife.
She looks like their dog.
I call her George.
I found this place
because I had
a new girlfriend
and needed a new bar.
If the Walls Have Ears,
the Ears Have Walls
If I was in prison
and had only this part
of a piece of paper
to write a poem on
and I had to start
with the fact
that my left hip hurt
from where I fell
when I slipped on
the snow climbing
because my dog
of me and I had
just woken up
from a long nap
because of the pain
but I still wanted
to leave something
I’d have to say
I don’t need this
much space or
a new sentence
because my father
told me once that
time wounds all
heels and once in
our ’49 Lincoln
he had bought
from a farmer
who had used it
to haul grain
had a vapor lock,
and he grabbed
a hammer with
a broken handle
from under the seat
and a guy riding
in a truck said Hey
something, a question,
and my Dad yelled
back at him something
which included bastards
and smote the engine
block and got back in
and started the car
and all five of us
One Sunday, “I’m as old as Gifford,”
I said to myself suddenly
as I reached the crest of the steep
railroad embankment with my dog
and stepped over the guard rail into the street,
Gifford, with the straw hat
and a Winston stuck into his goofy smile,
hobbling around all day on our road crew,
7 to 7, with half an hour for lunch,
the one non-union crew in town.
We made some very mediocre roads
in Lawrence, Kansas the summer of 1963–
and now I’m as old as Gifford.
When we had laid the forms
and it was time to pour,
I was in the puddle with
hip boots and a grain shovel
trying to push the mud around.
After we were finished, I’d watch Gifford
pushing the bull float back and forth
over our oblong wet concrete pond,
and then I’d join him on his knees
learning to finish and put the edge on.
Finally, I got promoted to Gifford’s helper.
Tom Black got pissed and quit,
and I was back in the puddle.
Tom Black always made fun of Gifford
and called him out of his name
and laughed at him. Gifford
wasn’t as disrespected as Arky,
who got hit in the head with a clod
crouching down in a ditch trying
to take a shit out of his overhauls,
but he was made fun of and laughed at.
One day, chunky, pasty Jimmie,
our bull dozer driver and foreman,
said if you follow Gifford around all day,
and pick up what he picks up,
and do what he does,
by the end of the day
you’ll be ready to drop.
I’m as old as Gifford now,
I realized at the top of the bank,
if not older, and for the first time
I wondered about what Jimmie said:
did he mean it, or was he just
trying to cover for Gifford.
On 60 Minutes they say
there are more galaxies
than grains of sand
on all the beaches in the world.
There are more movies too.
One, Saturday night, a two-hander
as they say, a play really,
was about a couple who
bumped into each other
and watched a meteor shower.
Before it was over,
both characters were filled in
like two graves.
The other, better movie.
was about a female
Russian literature professor
in the time of Stalin
who was sent to Siberia
for not condemning
before they spoiled
like food in the fridge.
She wanted to die,
but a German doctor,
also a prisoner, nursed her.
He gave her a volume
but he’s shown
in the background
as she opens the book,
takes a breath from it,
and holds it against herself.
The Third Person
Maybe the answer is
to refer to himself in the third person
as he read in the paper today
so he would recognize he is not
the same thing as his thoughts
though he doesn’t see how that works,
and what a strange idea that is, but
he is writing this up
from the bottom of the page
and he feels that he could go to sleep
now out of sheer ornery desultoriness.
It’s Sunday night and Z is talking to Karen.
They often talk Sundays
because they have traded places.
Karen has no place to live this winter
since she has offended the woman
she was housesitting for:
she wouldn’t leave her stuff alone.
(Karen prides herself in organizing households–
she organized ours.)
Zexplains that this situation is about control,
and this woman is afraid.
Z is good at this because she is a social worker
with 30 years of experience.
Once, she was a frightened girl in Trinidad
trying to escape ignorance and groping men.
Karen hired her to help with her kids,
and amazed her by being a white woman
who lovingly showed her the tricks of dress
and makeup and etiquette and lady stuff.
Now they’re talking about Jonathan and Amanda
like an efficient team of mothers,
which is what they are.
Z inquires if Karen could stand a roommate.
She steers the conversation back to the offended lady
so Karen can understand her mistake.
Karen has no place to lay her head.
It all happened so slowly, and everybody
had their eyes open the whole time
and watched the thing unwind.
I mowed my leaves
today. Boris filled
four paper bags with his.
It’s easier to mow,
I have a bigger lawn,
and I don’t want fertilizer
and weed killer
on my grass.
We each have big
sister oaks nearly
touching on our
county road corner lots.
He spent all day
raking; I mowed
in under an hour.
I like to think of
my lawn as a
with wild flowers
in the spring.
The whole time
I wondered did
Boris hate me.
The White Marble
There’s a picture of the earth from Voyager
a billion miles away,
give or take, a white marble,
and the thing I tell my son today
is my blood pressure Wednesday was 115/15
after driving past 3 schools letting out
in Passaic and Clifton with my wife in the car.
The 2-8 Giants managed to beat
Kansas City 9-6. After the game,
we looked at the lopsided, sinking toiled in A4,
and I said I will own this 30 years,
so let’s fix it, three-thousand should do it.
Pippa always scared me at night dragging
me down the back steps until I counted them.
Night after night, there are five,
so numbers make things safe for us,
save for the white marble.
A Happy Old Man
I would write an honest
sentence if I could.
Obviously, I can I’ve just
I mean to say what has
a happy old man to say?
Poems are written by sad
young men who need
to write poems to show
they are alive.
I’m alive I just don’t need
to write a poem except
I will feel worthless if I don’t
write one, and then
I’ll have something to play with.
I need to write a poem
so I’ll have something to play with
so I don’t feel alone
There now I’ve written a poem
that begins with a true sentence
early on, and I don’t
feel worthless, and I have
something to play with
even though I’m a
happy old man.
The End of July
The end of July,
is kicking back.
isn’t rushing anymore,
No more fucking around
on the lawn,
or in the gardens.
No more playing
in the driveways,
or on the sidewalks.
I feel sorry
the retaining walls.
Your very lack
is special to me.
The hardest part
is climbing the stairs.
At the Movies
At the movies,
there’s an orphanage
in a junkyard
and this kid
with a skinned head
lifts himself into the frame
and I’m reminded of myself
and the haircuts
my Dad “gave” me.
He had chrome clippers
that looked like she had legs
he manipulated with his hands.
It pulled and got stuck.
When he took it apart
and blew on it,
his breath was bad.
The hairs pricked my neck.
We hated the haircuts.
He made them short as possible.
Also, to cover his mistakes.
Then we’d let my hair grow out
until my mother got after us.
Once it got long enough
that I started parting it.
They thought I had
and laughed at me.
At the Bar at Appleby’s
At the bar at Appleby’s, to eat with my wife
before a movie,
and this fucking guy
has a black tee shirt
I’LL KEEP THE MONEY, GUNS
AND YOU CAN HAVE THE CHANGE
This upsets me
and I keep trying for a better shirt
TIME WOUNDS ALL HEELS
IF THE WALLS HAVE EARS
THE EARS HAVE WALLS
GENIUS IS 99 PER CENT PERSPIRATION
AND 1 PER CENT INSPIRATION
GENIUS IS THE INFINITE CAPACITY
FOR TAKING PAINS
These are lousy tee shirts.
They are ironic, and sound elitist.
They don’t have great words in them
like Guns and Money and Freedom.
He’s even got assonance going.
Politics is a bodega,
and I’m getting small change
from some kind of a raw deal.
I console myself by thinking
his fat, gray-haired wife looks
like his Sunday School teacher.
He’s lucky she takes him out Saturday nights.
Guns, I’ll give you.
Money and Freedom, you’re on your own.
Do you think Money is what’s under your bed?
What are interest rates?
How about the world’s seven central bankers?
Ever hear of Bitcoin and mining for crypto-currency?
Somehow Helicopter Ben and Keynes’ idea about
paying men to dig holes and fill them up again comes to me.
Your idea of Freedom is probably as small and shriveled as your dick.
I’m tempted to say you’re too dumb to vote.
When you wrote, you did know the power of your words.
May silliness and sorrow overtake you;
For my 76th birthday,
I had linguini
with red clam sauce
because they didn’t have
hash brown sausage casserole,
but the best thing: Ken told
about Cesare leaving a
milk can in front of his door
to show he had been there
with a stick from the fire
pit on it about the size
of the biggest of 15 bass
he had left in Ken’s pond.
Frankly, I do not love you.
There were always little tragedies,
but it isn’t enough to go on singing.
If I had to say what had to teach me,
I’d say, “elbow grease.”
truer words were never spoken.
And, “It’s always something.”
Spinoza would have been happy
He did say what Peter
tells you about Paul
tells you more about
Peter than Paul–
and that makes me
a little uneasy as I write this.
You forced me to take naps,
and I dearly love them now.
The happiness of sleeping
when it rains
is something you
Not to lie
I’ve always remembered.
There was the time when
you made me see you naked
after your bath.
I heard you tell another woman
that little boys should
always see their mothers.
You must have enjoyed it
more than I.
The Thumb Cork
“I kissed her while she pissed.”
“Turkey in the Straw, “WCW
until I got up with
a loud fart at 6,
got back into bed
Right in my face!
I wasn’t that close
. . .
I forgive you, I sd
You’re not Jesus
Well, I’m a follower
I’m not a Muslim
She goes go the bathroom
and tries to pay me back,
but farts sideways.
I’m not a Muslim
And my parents aren’t either
But you don’t forgive much
She leaves and comes back
with a belt.
I’ve been beaten with a belt
Don’t tell me about beatings
I was knocked into a pie safe once
and had my eye closed a week
and I slept five hours
What were your parents then?
I’ve been beaten with fists
on the top of my head
. . .
She starts laughing loudly,
remembers little kids
hearing their parents fart.
One kid had never heard
his mother fart.
Some kid asked
Did she have a thumb cork?
She had never heard that,
but she knew what
a thumb cork was!
(laughing, laughing, laughing).
She decides she is
falling in love
(almost as much
as Pretty Boy)
and has to get up.
Do you want both fans on?
It’s a waste of electricity
I get my electricity from the sun
Still, you shouldn’t waste it
Bowman and April
My son is a control freak
and April is
whatever he says she says
and puts her head
on his arm and laughs.
is from Hell
and they obviously
April’s laughter flows like a river.
They were just here and he
was trying to teach her
to drink red wine, describing
the three kinds of tastes
you can find in the wine if
you drink it properly.
Of course she refused,
grabbing his arm.
My contribution was to say
she has the information now
and some time
when she’s alone
she’ll try it.
We carried on
and April’s laughter
ran downstream like
hundreds of bubbles.
When they left she said
Can I come over
without him some time?
Why I Don’t Sign My Paintings
Phillip wants to know
why I don’t sign
I say it’s because
I don’t know
end is up.
Fred told me
a good design
all four ways
and Ashbery once
wrote about a painter
who, at times,
turned his work
So, somehow, I
started to turn them
a quarter turn left
whenever I was
Then, they began
hanging from the
I began using
We stand on the shoulders
of those proceed us,
I explain to Phillip.
He says, We dance
on their shoulders!
Father’s Day, Shea Stadium
The little boy
was so cute I wanted
to touch him.
His father texted his wife
they had arrived
everything was all right
and he was having
She asked him
to take a picture.
He held up
the icy plastic drink
and shot it
with the infield
in the distance.
She texted back:
take a picture
of our son
On cold South Dakota mornings,
it was my duty to warm
my baby sister’s bottle.
One day I set it in
a pan of water on the stove
and warmed my back
as I read a Sport magazine.
I enjoyed the heat on my back
until I could see my sister
my name behind me.
My attention was split between
my magazine, the warmth
on my back,
and my sister’s distress.
I prolonged all three until
my shirt flared up
and I ran across the kitchen
and rolled on the rug
beneath the sink
as we had been taught
to do in school.
That was when
it really hurt!
I’ve got a mark on my arm
and changing color.
My wife tells me that
I’ve got some shit on my back
the doctor might as well look at too.
I ask the nurse if she can see the burn.
She can’t, but I tell her the story anyway.
She wants to know how old I was: ten.
What kind of parents had me
heating up baby bottles at ten?
German, both sides:
Klein, Keck; Schade, Shafer.
She knows what I mean.
Her father was a German.
But her mother was
And she was an angel.
My jazz player neighbor
is back from Australia
where it’s summer.
He was 3 weeks in Eastern Europe
where he did all right: he didn’t get sick.
They say the Norwegians are the happiest
people in the world,
but it’s dark, and they’re always loaded.
I tell him Ben Webster once introduced
himself to the King of Norway
as the King of the Saxophone.
Ben was the Beauty and the Beast,
(the Beast when he was drunk),
and one time he kidney-punched Joe Lewis
in a restaurant
and got laid out on the hood of a car.
Though I didn’t know anything about boxing,
I always rooted for Ezzard Charles.
Maybe I just liked the name.
I wanted someone to beat Rocky Marciano.
He’s been watching Jersey Joe Walcott.
He remembers the punch:
Jersey Joe stepped in–stopped into half-time–
and delivered the knockout.
Jazz musicians always used to
work out with boxers.
It’s the same timing.
Now there are no more boxers.
Maybe If I Wrote A Sentence That Would Help
I’m just trying to write a poem
because I’m a dumb German kid
who’s been trained to do
at certain times,
and it’s Sunday night
and time to write a poem
like it was time to take a bath
Wednesday nights and Saturday nights.
All these years later and
I’m still afraid of unstructured time.
And I still have to take a piss
before every meal.
I hit the lottery in the parking lot
of Shop-Rite yesterday–
a business envelope
thick as a neighborhood payoff
was left in an empty cart.
It reminded me of a spleen,
or a pussy, or something.
I didn’t think of it again
until checkout when I noticed
a curly-haired little old woman
as short as a Brownie
who was moving her groceries
from the basket at the handle
to the bottom of the cart
to make it easier
for her to put her items
on the cashier’s belt,
something I had never seen.
“Miss, do you use coupons?”
“Yes,” she answered, and
the philanthropist’s wheel
turned and ignited
a flicker of happiness
in my chest.
The Coffee Maker
I read in the Times today
about a silly man
who wanted to plan his death,
and made his wife and friends
sit with him in his garden
for two days after his death
until the undertaker took him.
Greg Allman died.
He had five children with five mothers.
His father was murdered by a hitchhiker in 1948.
There’s no point in writing poetry
if you’re afraid of self-incrimination.
The blunt facts batter us continually,
and we’re drowning in such ineffable
beauty all the time in our hi-tech,
hi-touch world. Poetry isn’t just
another technology, just another
fine way to receive information.
So I confess I’m guilty of needing
to write a poem this evening
even though I’m a happy old man
who, despite my proclivity for doing it
the hard way, has everything, and
everyone, I need–but a poem.
After Reading Williams’ “The Pink Church,”
I am unmanned to go on about Fazia’s wedding
at which we arrived late
because we rode the brakes all the way
to The Little Wedding Chapel,
the turnpike bumper to bumper
fixing winter disrepair.
(I signed as a witness
having only seen the picture-taking.)
But The Little Wedding Chapel
was nothing, this union
of Hindu and Muslim,
nay Pentecostals, (and immigrants)—
childhood sweethearts separated
by life to wed middle-aged, with four kids,
in a new family already seven years underway,
God damn The Little Wedding Chapel!
I say the reception was the ceremony,
secular for sure with an MC
gross as Donald Trump,
but he read Fazia’s testament,
a true rendering
of the lines of force
that had brought all of them
to this critical mass
because she was that honest,
and fulsome—the six of them
making testament, and true,
that theirs was a holy family,
and pure, having lived in sin
these seven years, if there is
such a thing, they all together,
six, lives running as rich
as the standing rib roast.
It’s Your Birthday
It’s your birthday, and you are 68.
You’ve been working all your life
since you carried dishes for your mother
when you could barely walk.
You balanced water from the standpipe
which is why your head is flat on top,
and you got up before dawn
to chop wood for the stove
and get cow shit for the kitchen floor
before there wasn’t any left.
You helped raise ten siblings.
You took many beatings.
Your mother made you quit school.
You escaped the Islands
to be a mother’s helper,
a light housekeeper,
a cook for an ambassador
(who didn’t pay into
Social Security for you),
an Honor Student,
and, for about thirty years,
a Social Worker.
We met at a poetry meeting.
You had $9000,
and I was $9000 in debt.
I haven’t had a real job since,
but we made a good team.
You won $7,000 from the NJ Council of the Arts.
You went to the Korean store this morning
in the $6000 Cadillac I bought you
and refused the buy the blueberries
because they were $1.50 for a handful.
You forgot the lettuce.
You made me a breakfast,
and one for Bowman later.
I hadn’t washed the pot,
but you made Sunday popcorn.
I have only
I’ve got to be
the high school,
so I race through
in a thicket
or prospect around
for gold in
them thar hills,
to catch a
germ of truth.
Rarely, have I
time to inspect
a brush mark,
a rope trick,
the give and take
of a mobile.
I’ve got all
in the world,
so much for
after all, is
Finally, A Real Spring Day
The Mets play tonight,
so I’ve got all the time in the world
to write my way out of jail
this Sunday afternoon.
My light is starting to wink at me,
Dr. Williams is being a silly old man,
and my laptop just died.
I shouldn’t have brought up this popcorn.
Other than that, how did you like
the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
But I am finding out it’s a joy
to be freed of the keyboard
and to see my thoughts
“A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss”
“A rolling stone gathers no moss,”
the Indian doctor said with such an accent
I could hardly understand him.
What did that mean to me?
I was afraid to answer
because I didn’t know how to
I was so absolutely hamstrung
by those few words,
cheaper and more binding
than plastic handcuffs.
I don’t always know the truth,
but I do know a lie when
it’s spelled out for me
in a dazzling formation—
the two black orderlies
were Judas goats
leading a woman
with two deputies,
and two nurses
in a procession
to the Quiet Room—
my first poem.
Simon and Fazia are to be married Saturday.
Simon decided he needed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
to send his proposal into the infinity of space.
At the summit he couldn’t: he had to climb down.
When he finally proposed, Fazia laughed at him.
She’d read the ask on the back of his climbing plans.
Cezanne Said a Painter
He used enough blue
to suggest air.
He wanted it to seem
you could walk behind
and not have them
look just pasted
on the canvas.
I painted to “Double Fantasy”
I’ve always thought John
was the one with balls,
but this time I was moved
by Yoko’s singing,
she was masturbating
and I squeezed a tube of
white violently all over
as long as she lasted.
“Jesus gave me the water,”
someone sang on
KCR this morning,
“and it wasn’t from the well.”
A friend in grad school
said Lt. Calley
concretized the metaphor,
that those women
dead in the ditch
in Viet Nam
Language is the graveyard
of dead metaphor,
so it looks like
and we can’t
The carnivorous metaphor
Two Apposite Thumbs
Atop Each Other
There is nothing
than these hands
my chest waiting
for something to
move them apart
and down onto
the sense of
old iBook G4.
“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.