Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Notice Six Things

(being the advice of Linda Gregg to her fellow poets)


ceiling fan rotating
in the church transept
on a cool morning


Michael G's handshake
direct and strong and friendly
as working-class speech


how my head stopped hurting
when I decided not to go
to Cambridge


light blithe on the May leaves
my heart as happy as popcorn


how well Ted Kooser reads aloud
no trace of the tentative


coffee brewing
my mood

-- aromatherapy

on the cheap?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Conversation

for R.

One Wednesday morning a few
months ago, in the Book Rack,
during a slow time, as you Scotch-taped
to the window flyers and notices
announcing concerts and workshops,
you and I had a conversation,
you who've worked there for years,
and I a regular customer.
It lasted at least thirty minutes,
perhaps as long as forty-five.
As you spoke, I listened.

You spoke of New Orleans,
the troubled '60s, and the wounds
inflicted by church and state:
of that rope in the cathedral
which you could not cross,
and other such indignities.
You spoke of priests, both
bad and good (among the good,
you mentioned your cousins,
both Josephites, and one
the retired bishop of Pensacola).
You spoke of recent days,
of the oasis of joy, inclusion,
and rambunctious welcome
that was your friend's barbershop.
You spoke of churchmen
who balked at giving him,
a gay man, a Catholic funeral.

You spoke of the anguish
of this country's history,
its sins and its dashed hopes,
its violence of word and deed,
its persistent hang-ups
with respect to race,
how some of us just want to
move on, gloss over, forget.
You spoke of the joys of family,
of community, of encountering
a good heart, a heart that finds
what's lovable in everyone.
It is the kind of heart you have!

I listened as your words
worked on my brittle spirit
and made it tenderer.
I rejoiced in your company,
in your compassion, and indeed,
in the sound of your voice.
And so I'm writing this poem
to thank you for your gift --
the gift of your story,
the gift of yourself.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Note to Readers

A few poems have been removed as I have submitted them to a magazine!

A Brief History

I ache, I weep,
taste my aching woe:
a Wodin's-Tag of rosaries
after the U-Haul luau.

Cutpurse sonnets,
three for a buck ninety-nine
at the refugees' flea-market.
Dan the Man can't scan.

Bulletin from Belchertown:
dead-heads have havoc'd
the Malbec pioneers
of a corporate Yuletide.

Waifish starveling, November
stumbles onto the catwalk
coiffured à la garçonne.
O maudlin consistory!

Dealing out bushels
of crummy micro-aggression
over coffee at The Sunny Side,
gruff codgers bicker and cuss.

"You have a fresh mouth, chief:
arctic and Emersonian,
subjunctive and sassy.
Who died and made you Elvis?"

I go sowing frost-seeds
in the family snowgarden,
half-past-six o'clock shadow
on my larkish chin.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Autumn Leaves

Some cheer fresh green instead of autumn leaves:
Me, I'm enchanted by the red
of autumn leaves.

You're so lovely, so fire-bright, so vivid!
(All the things I said
to autumn leaves.)

It's such a good feeling to know you're alive
sang Mister Rogers, the Fred
of autumn leaves.

If I were sleepy, I'd bundle up, lie down,
ensconce me in a bed
of autumn leaves.

I bang the keyboard in a righteous fury,
commenting on the thread
of autumn leaves!

Floridians sojourning in New England
are struck still by the dread
of autumn leaves.

The first Saturday night of November
we fall back (we don't spring ahead!)
with autumn leaves.

High-priestess of code-writing, tech-whiz,
hit me with hex-colors! Embed
the autumn leaves.

Dylan Thomas wrote "In the White Giant's Thigh"
-- beery and brash in the shed
of autumn leaves.

A tawny tomcat slinks between the trees,
sleek furry quadruped
of autumn leaves.

In Hyannis it's football with the Kennedys:
Jack and Bobby and Ted
in autumn leaves.

I love these mornings lively with bright chill;
Mount Pleasant garlands the dead
with autumn leaves.

Thomas, old rake! You'll live to see the day
when Xanadu is carpeted
with autumn leaves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Vigils, or, What the Still Night Said to Me

for my poet-friend Carol C

from the vex and nettle
of words.

Heal from the thoughtless
of words.

Heal from the cheapness--
the easy truth,
the facile falsity--
of words.

This silence
will teach you silence
as the light
will teach you light.

Heal from fidget and fret,
from frenzy and folly.
Grow wise.

Bide in this silence,
live in this light,
innocent as silence,
wise as light.


as a white rose aprilling,

as a glue-eyed dreamer
turning from her dream,

as a living stethoscope
to the Heart of Heaven.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trains and Buses

Trains and buses are chapels to me.
I can't really explain it.
I just spontaneously offer
Prayers of ardent gratitude
For the brown, black, white,
Golden, red, dark, pale,
Old, young, tired, lively,
Deeply human beauty
I see there every day.

The other day, after fifty minutes
Of travelling from Arlington
To North Station, I realized
I had heard at least three different
Languages on the way:
English, Spanish, Chinese.
Another day it was Italian,
Elegant and fluent, and I
Understood every third word.

Trains and buses, sanctuaries
Of real goodness. Maybe we don't
Talk to one another, we just sit
Side by side, in civility and peace.
Maybe we'll smile because
The gal across the aisle
Is reading Wystan Auden
Or the fellow's wearing a t-shirt
Celebrating the Smiths.
Or maybe we just like the look
Of some pleasant stranger,
And take the risk of a shy
Magnanimous "good morning."

Trains and buses, you're Jesus
And Walt Whitman, Springsteen
And St Peter, Julian of Norwich,
Pope Francis and Bob Marley,
Even if we don't know it,
Even if we're blind to the blatant
Glory of each other, even if
We're glued to the damn cellphone
Or buried in the Boston Globe.
We sit or stand or chat or read
Or yawn or sleep or meditate,
In temporary chance communion,
Saints of the city, one and all.


All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

W. H. Auden, from "September 1, 1939"


Hate-hardened heart, O heart of iron,
    iron is iron till it is rust.

Marianne Moore, from "In Distrust of Merits"


Lord, defend us from the peroration:
Silence all that politicians say.
They who plough us in to make a nation
Have not known the vision we obey.

Wits that learn from mother-wit are keenest,
Nor is there nobility of style
Till the proud man kneels to help the meanest.
They who justify themselves are vile.

Vernon Watkins, "Strictness of Speech"


What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?

written by Nick Lowe, performed by Elvis Costello

Friday, November 4, 2016

More Than Beer and Dylan Thomas

I met her at the Stopped Clock when she was in her 20s. Bartender and waitress.

Five-eight, five-nine. Dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. She once described herself as “pudgy,” but it wouldn’t have been wise to agree with her!

The first time I saw her, she brought me the Fisherman's Platter: "See what I caught for you! I spent all morning in my boat catching this fish! It's not scallops you taste, it's love."

Once, I had three of her martinis. That was a fun trip home! Had to get off the bus to puke at every other stop. She was putting five ounces of gin in each drink!

She’s banned for life from O’Brien's Pub. She’d beat up the guys who got grabby.

She’ll quote Dante to the bookworms and talk Bruins with the jocks.

She’ll play Patsy Cline on the Stopped Clock jukebox and softly harmonize: He called me baby, baby, all night long…

Sometimes, I'll ask for another Stella, and she'll chirp a chipper Absolument!

She had to get blunt with the lesbian professor who fell for her in a big way.

I asked her out once. She let me down easy.

She'll give a buck or two to Lenny, who asks for spare change a few doors down from the Clock.

She smokes. She drinks. She won't say Jesus! in vain. She'll drop F-bombs at the rate of 49 a minute, but hands off the Holy Name!

She loves Murder, She Wrote. "When I was in high school, I thought Angela Lansbury was the Second Coming."

She likes going to Provincetown. Fewer guys proposition her.

She did a competitive swim once, in the waters off Cape Cod. Beaming, she told me, "I punched a fish!"

She’s a hundred and forty pounds of amazing in a pair of knee-high boots, and I love her more than beer and Dylan Thomas.