Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Poem about Clothes

The blue pajamas,
with lighter blue pinstripes.
Winter pajamas
which I wear in July
against the chill of the air conditioner.

My olive-green jersey
from Redwoods Abbey
in Whitethorn, California.
Ordered it online. Never been there.
I throw it on when I'm around the house,
or going out at 5 am to Gail Ann's
before I've had a chance to shower.

The good black shoes that I wear
when I read the Scriptures at church.
I bought them for cousin Jenn's
April wedding a few years back.
I never attended,
as Debba fell ill, and needed me near.

And this thing
rumoured to be a pair of boxers,
like a tattered plaid flag
that has seen too many
New England nor'easters.

The short-sleeved shirts in the closet,
slightly more than twenty.
The long-sleeved shirts in the closet,
slightly more than twenty.
At least half a dozen
no longer fit very well.

Two pairs of slippers,
one brown and leathery
and sturdy,
one dark blue and fuzzy
and somewhat flimsy
with years of use.

My red-white-and-blue
Reebok warm-up jacket
that I wear in spring and fall,
to which I have affixed buttons
(or badges, as they say across the pond)
of St Anthony of Padua
and St Faustina Kowalska.

My winter anorak
with zippered pockets
where I sometimes keep
a small cheap wooden rosary--
dependable, user-friendly,
but missing its cross.

My white gym socks
which, due to my inexpert laundering,
have soles that are slightly
but ineffaceably grey.

And whatever became
of that thin brown jacket
made of something like parachute material,
that I wore a quarter-century ago,
when I amtrak'd the continent
with future astronomer Luis?
Just up and disappeared one day.
I must have left it over a chair
in an Amherst lecture hall,
in a Franconia restaurant,
or in a Boston library.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

1976 [revised]

Mrs McQuillan: could she still be among us?
At the Manassah E. Bradley Elementary School
in Orient Heights, East Boston, she regaled
the class with True Stories of her having
danced the minuet with George Washington.
(Her fortyish seemed Methuselan to me, so I
did briefly wonder if Martha had gotten jealous.)

I recall a pale but happy Irish countenance,
and blouses that tended to match
the near-blackness of her hair.

Mrs McQ polled the class on foreign languages,
curious to know which we liked better,
Franish or Spench. Spench won handily;
I was the sole contrarian. Had I been wittier,
I would have said that in Octember I like Franish,
but come Novober I speak nothing but Spench.
She would often berate us, theatrically,
"Why don't you rascals do your bloody homework?"
It was a fourth-grade class in which I was sitting
at the age of seven, precocious, bloody obnoxious.

I was obviously little, the littlest in the class.
In fact, I recall Mrs McQ’s
improvised sing-song rhyme
(intending endearment rather than derision):
“Little Tommy Tiddlemouse lived in a littlehouse.”

This was the year when Governor Carter
beat President Ford 19-1
in my class’s mock election.
For once, I wasn’t the odd one out.
A quiet girl named Lisa was the Republican.

Early in the school year, before Christmas,
Mrs McQuillan slipped on some stairs and
hurt herself badly. A young teacher named Mrs
DeFreitas filled in, my Aunt Maureen
(of blessed memory).
One day my aunt read a card to the class
from the recovering Mrs McQ, reminding
those of us who needed reminding
to do your bloody homework! I was too busy
doing the Hustle with Charlie's Angels (true story),
calculating how old I'd be at the Tricentennial,
and eating Jiffy Pop (thanks, Mom!) with Donny and Marie.

1978 [revised]

There were two massive winter storms that year,
two weeks apart. The second, termed the Blizzard,
dumped feet of snow on the remnants of the first.

They took a month-long chunk out of third grade.
Our front door grudged to open, and the glass
of all our windows bore a brilliant frosting.

The governor addressed the public, wearing
a different sweater each day. The rest of us
discovered communion in our common lot,

walking in streets few cars could navigate,
wielding our shovels, building our snowmen,
searching for anyone who was selling milk.

Some coastal towns got ocean-water flooding
on top of snow and brutal winter wind.
Inland, a boy died, buried beneath the drifts,

beneath the glacial heaps ... Soft as a thief,
snow stilled the blood-pump, froze the young lungs,
cries stifled by the suffocating white.

A year older than me. Ten to my nine.
Peter. I remember his first name.

Summer in Boston [revised]

Two fifteen on a Monday afternoon:
mercy irradiates the Hub's asphalt and concrete!

White rap blares from a blue Hyundai.
A red-faced man looking for the bus
fingers a plastic rosary
imported from Pewaukee or South Bend.

Two nurses speaking kreyol ayisyen share a laugh
as they wait to cross Cambridge Street. Traffic!

At No. 9 Park, state senators dine
on policy and lobster Thermidor:
O robust lawmakers of true-blue neckties,
car-salesman smiles, briefcases of rhetoric!

Boston Common, magnet of loafers and laborers,
bless your sweaty throngs, your hot-dog-and-popcorn vendors!

Squirrels agitate the sporadic crisp leaves
on your well-trodden turf, Old Granary.

Woman of youth and color, woman of skeptical eyebrows,
apple of 617, laurel wreath of the Marathon,
tattooed cataclysm invading my humdrum radar,
Song of Solomon, lioness, African Aphrodite,
I turn to gaze upon you--THWACK! Into a lamppost.

Boston, you are lively!--as a hive of bees,
bees bumping and jostling, bees roughhousing each other,
bees in the hot rank brunt of an August afternoon,
bees that pulse and buzz, bees that pool and swarm,
honeybees, summerbees, manic and dizzy and glad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Nineteenth Century

She walks the night with soft unsandalled tread,
And shrinks from morning, as from secret shame:
A sapphire diadem adorns her head;
And in her heart resides a rose of flame:

Her fingers, fashioned for celestial lyres
Or for the beads of love's sweet rosary;
Her eyes, composed of cool immortal fires;
Her words, arrayed in star-bright purity.

Bless my solitude, lucent muse of night!
(Prays the poet in dimly cloistered room) --
Obliterate the vestiges of fright!
Rescue my soul from bleak enduring gloom!

Will she, incarnate moon, dream-petalled flower,
Consent to consecrate his darkest hour?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Epigram

Taking potshots
at men in mitres:
a pastime this Agnostic has enjoyed --

principled foe
of the mean old Church
gainfully by whom he is employed.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dog's Age

I haven't walked through Herter Hall in a dog's age.
No midweek Amherst pub-crawl in a dog's age!

Maple and sumac, birch and linden, arching oak:
Our hemisphere hasn't seen fall in a dog's age.

Outfielder utterly inept at America's pastime,
This schmendrick hasn't played ball in a dog's age.

Quondam enthusiast of the Simple Minds,
I haven't heard Sister Feelings Call in a dog's age:

Nor have I heard Mrs Wight speak of soldiers
Stationed in the province of Gaul in a dog's age.

No sign of my honey-pie since Flag Day!
Not a glimpse of my baby doll in a dog's age.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, tilting marvel,
Hasn't stood straight (though it's quite tall) in a dog's age.

Recalling the incident of the black umbrella,
I've not seen the Burlington Mall in a dog's age --

Nor seen my lady's chamber, where in olden days
I was wont to loll and sprawl, in a dog's age.

What do you do all day, Signor Dormiglione?
Nothing to speak of, nothing at all, in a dog's age.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Old Friends

Pizza, pasta, strawberry shortcake, coffee:
Deb and I at Uno's on JFK for
dinner, conversation, and silly stories,
      Wednesday at seven.

Outside, Cambridge bustles despite the rainfall
slapping Harvard, blackening traffick'd asphalt;
Deb says something funny and Jove responds with
      thunderous laughter.

Friends we've been since Challenger's fatal mission,
since the days of Oliver North and Contras; --
storms we've weathered, worse than the one in Cambridge:
      yes, we're survivors.

Now we've racked up eighty-eight years between us:
college kids were born after we left college!
Reagan's gone, and Morrissey's pushing sixty;
      Chelsea's a matron.

In this age of mischievous forward-thinkers,
Debba's humor keeps me from going bonkers --
heart, rejoice with gratitude at the blessing!
      Friends are a treasure.

Morning Notebook

Stones in the throat. I cannot sing or speak,
Or even cough because my strength grows weak.

*

Coffee at seven fuels the sluggish brain.
Eighty degrees with a good chance of rain.

*

The lady barkeep, lovely and assertive,
Rebukes the drunk whose gaze is rash, not furtive.

*

The library as pleasure-dome: indeed!
I've borrowed more books than I'll likely read.

*

Behold, young Septimus, would-be hedonist,
Composing odes to lips he's never kissed.
Behold the same chap in arthritic age,
Too spent for lust and too resigned for rage.

*

He prays, whose faith is full of doubt,
For passion's flame to be snuffed out
And grace to fill his soul --
But as he pleads his pious case,
He sees another lovely face
And abdicates control.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Vigils

It's an owl's
brow of a night,
fretful with rustlings
of sky-black leaves
and whispered griefs.

Stars (those purists!) scowl
upon a kept slept suburb
complacent and snug
and twitchingly still.

Will that bloat moon,
gravid and luminous,
bless the fieldstone church
of Spencer's Cistercians
fifty miles removed
from the blare and blight
of the Boston projects --
Spencer, sequestered
from the mad masses of commerce?

Will the beaded vowels
of Gregorian responsories
be heard in a heaven
rumoured to be attentive
even to the voiceless
aspirations of the poor?

Will the liturgy of Vigils
heal the mind's bright injuries?
Will this dark and holy vacancy
be filled with life and light?

Will the brute blurt of polemic
grow silent and wise?
Will this agitated continent,
drunk with progress, goofy
with ephemeral certitudes,
be shriven, be forgiven, be redeemed?