Posts Tagged ‘Rutherford’


RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 19

February 20, 2019

John Barrale

My Mother’s Cancer

All the years
of her unhappiness
finally blossomed,

the wild flowers spreading
in sepia clusters,

in sepia clusters,

in sepia clusters,

(so many clusters)

(so many clusters)

the wild flowers spreading

from the soft pockets
of her bones,

from the soft pockets
of her bones,

(so many pockets)

(so many bones)

all her summer coins

in the pockets,

in the pockets,

in those pockets.

The light,
so many colors,
so many coins,
she whispered.

Frank Rubino


Our four, you never knew what was next.
We made our house twice as big and gave them all rooms
when we got married. We added bathrooms too.
When I was their age, we had one bathroom
for five people. A small nook with a tub
and toilet crammed in. A plunger in the corner.
I remember the narrow door, how I used to
bastion myself in there for hours with books.
I still read many of the same books
in the bathroom: I kept them all these years.
My mother used to say of the poetry,
“You are so much better!”

Dad’s aluminum coffee pot was three pieces stacked.
I could draw you a diagram today of the pourer
on the bottom with its nose-sized spout,
the basket set on top of it
where we’d scoop Maxwell House,
and the topmost piece, the dripper reservoir
that set in the basket pressing down the grounds.
I believe an understanding of this coffee process and its equipment
trained my mind to create global computer networks.
Most people can understand coffee,
but they don’t think they know
anything about computer networks.
Somehow I do. Somehow, they do.

With the drywall off, we found the original studs of our house
were all stained blue. The builders had never seen that
on any other job: I think that is what they said, in Spanish.
Barbara expected me to understand them.
Now we know every day there is a blue skeleton,
blue heartbeat. It makes sense for this family.
Our son went out this morning for new tires.
He’s going to expect a zoomy, new-sneaker feeling
like when he first tried skating, expecting to fly around the ice,
but his knees shook and his legs collapsed and he cried.
It took him years to try again; he showed me
a phone video, him finally steady on rented skates
at South Mountain Arena, his girlfriend’s voice in the background.
I put my hand on his shoulder, felt his strong chest: “You skated!”
Right now, he’s driving home on new tires.

Something else during construction: we had a big soft cat
who liked to hide in clever places. One wall that had been open
to blue studs was closed that day and the cat was missing,
and putting my ear to the closed wall I discovered
she was hiding back there behind the nailed in, spackled
dry-board. With claw hammers, we cracked through to free her.

The workmen saw the ragged hole next day and laughed,
making cat jokes in Spanish I only half-caught.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 5

February 8, 2019

Arthur Russell

To Sarah

When you are old and gone of mind
and I am dead, animal dead,
keep this rent-producing property,
and please, collect the rents.

Go out, if you must,
in your pink house slippers
with fur on the instep and
your shepherd on a leash;
mutter that stuff about your mother
at the bus stop; pick up empty bottles
from the street and do without
combing your stiff grey-yellow hair,

but, please, Sarah,
stomp up and down the stairs on the first
so they hear you coming,
shave-and-a-haircut knock and call out landlord
with your eye against the peephole.

Don’t trust Grudin the plumber, he’ll
sell you your own toilet, but Harold
is good for legal. Also, Sylvia at Citibank.
She’ll try to get you to buy an annuity,
but otherwise good.

So much has gone wrong
in the kitchen and the crutches
and Elliott with his asthma,
and the sex thing between us,
and, I’ve been so bitter,
the books in the back bedroom
are strangers to me now.


Remember the Kandinsky,
that skinny book of Kandinsky prints?
That was such a happy day.
It’s in the back bedroom,
in the shelves under the window.

Now, I’m only Goldberg the landlord with crutches,
and you are Goldberg, the landlord with crutches’ wife.
I can’t help that, but I do love you.


When you die, Russell, the guy
who owns the car wash next door,
will buy this building from your estate,
and then he’ll send his son,
that pretentious, intellectual prick,
to clean out our apartment,
and he’ll smoke a cigarette
in our back bedroom and look out
through the accordion gates
east on Church Avenue
towards Boro Park, where
we first met outside the candy store
when you asked me to buy you
a Pepsi.

He’ll throw almost everything away.
He’ll find the Kandinsky book;
he’ll sit on the bookcase, smoke his cigarette,
look out the window, read the introduction,
stare at the pictures, and

keep it for a souvenir of how he suffered
working for his father,
or as some kind of perverse proof
that he is superior to all the mercantile idiots
like his father and me, who worked
for what we have.

He’ll keep that Kandinsky on his bookshelves
when he goes to graduate school in Syracuse;
keep it in his apartments in Brighton,
Park Slope, Greenwich Village, Chelsea;
keep it when he gives up his fucked-up dreams
of becoming an artiste — he never had talent —
to become a lawyer, get married, move to Jersey,
have a kid and bookshelves,
bookshelves everywhere he went,
twenty, thirty years of schlepping the same books,
college books, grad school books,
his wife’s Elizabeth George mysteries,


until, one day, after his wife leaves him,
he’ll remembered you, Sarah,
and your garbage-sniffing shepherd,
and me, with my two amputated feet
lost in a trolley car accident, swinging
on polio crutches from one property
to the next, shave-and-a-haircut knocking,
calling out landlord,
and he’ll reimagine us as holograms
that capture the sense of style and loss
that he compassions, the way
that what you wanted as a kid
can be shunted into tedious commerce,
the way the past can evanesce,

and he’ll go down to his basement
and pull out that Kandinsky book,
and see how the show was mounted
in May of ‘45
just months after Kandinsky had died,
and he’ll picture us, Sarah,
when we were young and hip
how we went up to Harlem
to see Lucky Roberts play
stride piano,

how we went to see Kandinsky
at the Museum of Non-Objective Art
before it was called the Guggenheim,
being in love before the trolley,
before Elliott and his asthma
made me a bitter puss,
buying that book on the last day of the show —
and it was such a big deal for you,
you said Please, Morris, please let’s get the book,
and your voice made my sternum hum
so I had to buy it for you,
and what would later become
your stiff grey-yellow hair
was beautiful brown, and down to your shoulders,
in waves I used to compare to Barbara Stanwyk,
and you’d say No, I don’t look at all like her,
but you did.


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A Tribute to Michael O’Brien

February 7, 2019


We are very saddened to announce the passing of poet, mentor, and teacher Michael O’Brien who joined the poetry workshop in another dimension on Sunday. RIP, Mike, you will be missed by all.

Posting this piece by Jim Klein in O’Brien’s honor.

Finally a Decent Guy in Grad School

We are teaching assistants at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in the late sixties registering freshmen. I get manic and silly. I have 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 in there and rattles one down the left field line, goes into the gap in right with the next, bloops one over first base, and then pulls a low, outside pitch over the left field wall out 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 a while we got organized enough to find our cars and buy a case of beer and go to my trailer. He and his wife would come over for supper. 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 of years we even passed a few times pretending not to notice.

In 1969 I had a fellowship and began working on John Barth, specifically Giles Goat-Boy, full time. I had a library carrel, but before work I’d drink coffee and read the Chicago Sun-Times in the K-room of the Y with a few friends, now including O’Brien. As the year wore on I got into the habit of leaving my reading in the middle of the afternoon and wandering over to Room 206 in the English Building, a huge room with about 60 desks. I was struggling with Barth, and 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 into a critical dither, he would sit there looking into the middle distance through his horned rims, smoking Pall Malls, playing with his beard and dropping modifications and new leads into my spiel. Sometimes it worked the other way. But he had a little speech glitch, and I wasn’t one to give people an extra count in an interesting conversation. He was more metaphorically-minded, and I could tangle his metaphors together. We complemented each other beautifully. Together, we were one genius.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 29

February 6, 2019

John J. Trause

So Rest Relax

Sorry I missed breakfast. Was so rest relax…
Female Japanese guest’s
inscription in the guest book

In the Pomeroy Room of Hollycroft on
Lake Como at the Jersey shore in winter,
I noted the ivy motif of the room,
newly renovated, and read the guest book.

Almost all the prior guests remarked on the
“great breakfast”, “special touches”, “unusual
tranquility” of this frilly B&B.
I too made a contribution in the book:

“Many others have remarked on the special
touches, but I will be the only one brave
enough to name my favorite. I so love
the way the end of the toilet paper is

“folded into a perfect arrow shape to
correspond with the way the face cloths are all
arranged over the towels”. I included
a hand-drawn diagram. They will think you are

a serial killer, exclaimed the TV
comedienne staying in the room down the
hall with whom I stayed up late the night before,
laughing, while the other writers were asleep.

NOTE: Inspired by a writers retreat with Sensations Magazine at Lake Como, New Jersey, January 31 – February 1, 1997.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 22

January 23, 2019

Claudia Serea

Wild cannabis country

I take a few pictures to show my friends the ten-foot-tall ditch weeds, feral Cannabis sativa, cânepă sălbatică.

We walk through vineyards we once planted, now choked by morning glories; through sunflower fields with their dry, sweet scent, and through curtains of tall grasses, thorns, brambles, thistles. I didn’t know the village has become a wild cannabis country inhabited by ghosts. When did the weeds grow so tall, wall after wall of plants on the roadside?

Soon, they’ll take over—they already are. The weeds will bury the road, the few remaining homes. The dirt wings will close over the last houses standing.

The sphinx moths flutter in the windows, trapped, and the wild cannabis country smokes and whistles in the wind.


Like any abandoned place, the church smells of piss from the road. The door is missing, and all the windows, too. We startle a flock of pigeons into flight, and, in the commotion, a few bricks fall.

The girls step over the debris, bending under the crumbling arches. We could do a fashion shoot here, I tell them. The contrast between young skin and torn walls, long hair, smoky eyes, pouty mouths, ripped jeans, it would all look great. All the glossy magazines do that. The models and the photographers go to abandoned places and shoot the collections of fancy clothes in piss-smelling ruins.

The saints watch us from the skinned walls, stiff arms raised in a deaf-mute blessing. Jesus is long gone from the tower. A small cross marks the missing altar like a grave. Several other crooked crosses guard the yard. How come the whole village abandoned this place? Was it cursed? Did the ghosts move in before, or after the people left, swirling in smoke?

I look up at the sky circled by pigeons: Is anyone there looking down through a huge camera lens, at us, moving around, dazed by heat? Is someone taking photos of the girls circling the ruined church? Let’s get out of here before we get a hundred years old, I tell them.


The gray ribbon of the road ties together like charms the sunflowers, the weeds, a paper-thin frog flattened by a horse-drawn cart, a yellow caterpillar, the girls’ bare feet, and an old woman carrying empty tin buckets. The road runs by the cemetery, through the village, and out, out into the vast plain. It’s the only way out of here, the only way into the world. It’s a good thing we’re visiting only once a year, so we don’t romanticize the past too much. This road is the only way from the past to the present, from the dead to the living. I feel relieved when I walk it back.


Meanwhile, the whole village moved to the cemetery. High noon: high weeds and locusts mince the sun. We walk the streets in the cutting wind, the abandoned homes looking as if the inhabitants left in a hurry: piles of things, cars, tin tubs, a tractor, tools, houses with furniture inside, and lace curtains at the windows, empty chicken coops, sheep pens, and satellite dishes on the roofs. It’s true, you can’t take anything with you.

The cemetery extended its new developments into the cornfield. Through the dappled shade, red rows of lord’s cows climb the walls.


The caterpillars devoured the plum trees, the Rose of Sharon, the cherry, locust, mulberry, and walnut trees, leaving them bare, brown, disfigured, covered in sticky webs, skeletons instead of leaves.

We find the house invaded, furry creatures clinging on curtains and walls, falling in cups, twitching on the porch, too many for sparrows and swallows to eat.

Unhurried, they won’t stop chewing, the silent crawl and chew of life and death.
This summer, and every summer, they win.


Like charms on the road ribbon, we carry everything with us: the abandoned church with all its saints, the wild cannabis, the caterpillars, the people who moved away and the ones who were disappeared, the old women who stayed behind, and the ghosts.

We start dying when we’re born, I tell you, and place the charm bracelet on your wrist. This will remind you the wild cannabis country is waiting, but you only have to go back once a year. It will remind you how far we’ve come, my dear. How long we have to go.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 15

January 17, 2019

Frank Rubino


It was walk or freeze one night on Hudson Street.
You know how New York can get desolate and frigid
in some neighborhoods. Nothing’s open,
and it’s just river wind rushing back and forth.
The next time you can sit down warm is long, long blocks away.
My back was so bad, I lowered myself on my cane,
and sank onto the sidewalk ice.

I was OK after a while but

my friend Gigi had been immobilized in her bed
for long weeks. Each of her convalescences
was scarier and, in diagram form,
a livelier animation of black dots:
cancer spreading at a quicker pace.
We skyped so she could show me her wigs,
and talk about our problems with pain
in the funny, philosophical way she liked to talk.

I flew to London where she was in a hospice apartment
Paul arranged. He cooked for her and left us alone
to say goodbye. “Read me the Russians,” she said.
Her hair was shaved close, growing in from chemo,
and she liked me to read and scratch her scalp.
“I can’t control it,” she said,
when her diarrhea gurgled in a tube.
I said, “It doesn’t matter,” and she accepted that.
She wanted to talk about knowing she was dying.
I heard from Paul that she ranted and threw plates
in the very last days, seized by the fear of being forgotten.
She confessed that fear to me, too, as I would pause
reading out loud, making sure that she really wanted to hear
all this about Gusev, the poor Chekov character who slid
dead off a plank and sank into the sea.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Jan 8

January 10, 2019

Milton Ehrich


Let it just be said
that I went up to do a one-nighter
with archangel Gabriel.

His embouchure breathes soul into a Bach Stradivarius trumpet
that he inherited from his father.

His fine bony fingers do the talking,
playing dolce and dolcissimo to not intrude on the bird-chatter
of fluttering doves under the canopy of the firmament.

Everything is stilled when dancers stop and listen
to the liquid gold of his chromatic glissando.

Later, he hits a double-high C, that only a dog can hear.
His arrangement of Ciribiribin is hummed and strummed
by every Venetian gondolier.

His radiant tunes are heard by unseen ears on faraway stars.
Angels can’t sit still and must get up and dance.


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