Friday, April 25, 2014

Stopped Clock Villanelle

Patriots' Day. We watch the Marathon
(the Sox are losing big to Baltimore)
in a basement bar safe from the April sun.

Elizabeth's busy. Lunchtime has begun.
Some noontime souse is on drink number four
this Patriots' Day, day of the Marathon.

I'm drinking coffee by the metric ton
and chatting with a fascinating bore
in a basement bar, safe from the April sun.

Rita Jeptoo achieves a record run;
Meb sprints down Boylston as spectators roar:
today, Boston's reclaimed her Marathon!

It's not Elizabeth's idea of fun:
the merest thought of running makes her sore!
She keeps us barflies out of the April sun

until the hubbub of the race is done,
and I must go home. "Check, please, mon amour!"
Patriots' Day. I've watched the Marathon
at the old Stopped Clock. Now, back into the sun!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Need You Tonight

An ardent, plaintive cry: I need you tonight ...
The hot south wind has bansheed you tonight.

Champion of the musha'irah, bravest Shahid,
What lyric young Turk will supersede you tonight?

Haranguer I can overtake, claimed Emily:
Mad demagogues bully and screed you tonight.

Insatiable yen for old-school poesy,
With stately sonnets I shall feed you tonight.

Money changes everything. Can it buy Love?
Demoiselle rich and single, I greed you tonight.

Intolerant tutors counseling tolerance,
Do you expect anyone to heed you tonight?

The voice of Conscience, virtuous seductress,
Says, "Follow me wherever I lead you tonight."

Vespers in Rome. At Santa Maria Maggiore,
Lord of heaven, they glory and creed you tonight.

O Canada, large land of rowdy ridings,
I'll visit Calgary and stampede you tonight.

Our hearts pulsate in passion's turgid ocean:
Poisson d'avril, I've deep-sea'd you tonight!

Illegible bachelor, pitiable wit,
Defeated laureate--who'll read you tonight?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tatterdemalion

Tatterdemalion daughter of mayhem, arise:
Saintly Magdalen, misprized gem, arise!

Above the law, above the teeming fray,
Above the voices that condemn: arise!

From dark alley, from city blight, behold,
These orient stars--your diadem! Arise,

Flee from censorious lips and groping clutches:
You're too dear for the likes of them. Arise!

Why should you knuckle under or pay heed
To the churlish critic's apothegm? Arise:

Bring the gift of your bruised and battered heart
To the bed of the Babe in Bethlehem. Arise!

Suffering soul, the dust whereon you tread,
Sings pride's farewell, wrath's requiem: arise.

Thomas, sing praise full-throated to this rose;
Bless every thorn upon her stem. Arise!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tea

The single drowsy syllable of tea
breathed forth into the wakeful bedroom light
by someone wanting tea, but needing sleep,
acquires a palliative resonance,
diminishing somewhat the claustral chill
of almost midnight, forty-five years old,
married to a room full of books and beads,
the profane hymns of whiskey-throated poets
cheek-to-jowl with papal encyclicals
and other evidence of the catholic creed,
scorned in his teens, but embraced once more
in his long-gone early twenties, banefully
rigorist until mellowed by medicine
and age, and a move away from the brazen city
to the civilized and civilizing suburbs
onto a street boasting its very own bookstore
and the high but humble spire of St Lucy's,
in a town self-consciously progressive but,
compared to the city, homogeneous--
this pleasant precinct where he now resides
content, unfrantic, moderate, and fat.

He gets up out of bed and makes the tea.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Romance

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

White rap blares from a blue Hyundai.
 
A red-faced man looking for the bus
stealthily 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 one of the tonier Beacon Hill restaurants,
state senators dine on policy and crustaceans:
 
O robust lawmakers of true-blue neckties,
car-salesman smiles, briefcases of rhetoric!
 
Squirrels agitate the sporadic crisp leaves
on your well-trodden turf, Old Granary.
 
Boston Common, magnet of loafers and laborers,
bless your sweaty throngs, your hot-dog-and-popcorn vendors!

Lady of natural hair and skeptical eyebrows,
I turn to gaze upon thee and THWACK!--into a lamppost.
 
You are the apple of 617, the Marathon's laurel wreath,
a tattooed cataclysm invading my humdrum radar.

Untitled

Sad expanse this winter noon:
Strategies of bliss wither and fail.

Cloudscape, weak flurry, strong chill:
Dead weight of rime, frost on the bloom of youth.

Books do not solve the puzzle of Wherefore.
Unheard, the antiphons of Melleray.

Ceilings, blank of prospect. Reveries scrabble,
Scamper, fidget, fret.

Looking out, from grey to grey,
Canonical prohibitions, dusty pages ...

Yesterday's will is the might-have-been of Now:
Tomorrow's pestilence remains unpurged.

The scribbler sits and pictures his late joy:
Princess of sable tresses and golden tread ...


[2003]

Chapter

Autumn's revision, brothers, must be bold,
Hatred forsaken, avarice cast aside.

November is austerity's beginning,
Slaying of blisses, end of blithest dream.

All vex and blither, language that explores
Our grandest griefs, pretending to explain.

Transcribe belle mort, bête noire, invidium:
Our psalmody make plain, our lives make pure.

All words have meaning. Nature's fleeting words
In season, out of season, sermonize:

The Preacher's chasing after wind, Job's woes,
Bitterest balm of perishing and birth.

But have we eyes to see or ears to hear
The messages, the proofs, the pictures plain?

Truth of a time, of every saeculum,
Impinging on the sacred-sordid globe,

Invading groves of plastic, lakes of glass,
To change the page, alter the chronicle

Of hearts and spirits, merrily sad, all souls
Briskly evading their terrible greatest need.


[2000]

Friday, March 7, 2014

1976

Mrs McQuillan: could she still be among us?
At the Manassah E. Bradley School in Orient
Heights, East Boston, she regaled me and
other youngsters with True Stories of her
having danced the minuet with George Washington.
(I briefly wondered if Martha had gotten jealous:
her fifty-ish seemed Methuselan to me.)
She polled the class on foreign languages,
curious to know which we liked better,
Franish or Spench. Spench won handily;
I was the sole contrarian. Mrs McQ would
urge us, magisterially, "You bloody kids
should do your bloody homework!" It was
a fourth-grade class in which I was sitting
at the age of seven, precocious and bloody
obnoxious.
                     Sweet Mrs Stuart, the second-
grade teacher (I did spend some time with kids
my own age) held a mock election
that bicentennial year. Governor Carter
got 19 votes. Just one vote for the President.
For once, I wasn't the oddball. A quiet dark-
haired girl named Lisa was the Republican.

Early in the school year, Novemberish,
Mrs McQuillan slipped on some stairs and
broke her back. A young teacher named Mrs
DeFreitas filled in, my Aunt Maureen. 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 Betty Ford (true story), calculating
how old I'd be at the Tricentennial, and eating 
Jiffy Pop (thanks, Mom!) with Donny and Marie.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Advice from a Polish poet

Boredom should be described with gusto!
Wisława Szymborska

How the paint dries quickly
this hot July afternoon!
How the hands of the clock
move more slowly
than a geriatric snail
through peanut butter!

The ghost of Wystan Auden
is on his fifth martini.
Even he has become bored.

Estlin Cummings has begun
using the uppercase I,
just for the change of pace.

Policemen dress in drag
and aim fire extinguishers
at uptight businessmen
trying to incentivize
or prioritize their way
out of the next recession.

Surrealists start making sense,
giving us prosaic descriptions
of the sober blue ceramic mug
filled with cold water getting warmer by the minute,
atop the oval wooden kitchen table
in a dusty apartment
outside Schenectady.

The ice-cream truck
plays Non nobis, Domine ...
The bells of St Agnes
ring out Katy Perry
(fine, fierce, fresh)!

A miscreant in California
listens to a Scarlatti sonata on his iPod
as he breaks the window of the jewelry store.

The climate changes
from hot to cold, the sky
from dark to light.
Remarkably,
October weather precedes the winter.

Sister Bonaventure and Sister Clementina
sit in the Commonwealth Avenue Burger King
and write a collaborative poem
called "Rules for Good Living."
They publish it in Commonweal.

Atheists see the eccentric English bishop
with his Eastern Orthodox beard
talk about God and love, about the stars and awe,
about humility before the mysteries of life,
and they start praying silently, wordlessly,
to some as-yet-unnamed Benevolence.

Construction-workers eat ham sandwiches for lunch
and smoke Lucky Strikes in hundred-degree heat.
During a lull in debate at the State House,
politicians knock back the Maker's Mark
and dive into the polluted Charles, fully clothed.

The coffee-maker tells me the time:
12.41 pm.

Custodians in office-buildings
scrawl limericks in stairwells;
bohemian triathletes
alphabetize their bookshelves!

Radicals dream of Wasilla in the winter!
Balladeers of ballyhoo
hit #1 on the pop charts
with coded odes to casual sex.
Acrobats concoct chinoiserie
and vex the critics with insouciance.

Dogs wag their tails, not looking bored
but happier than a nine-year-old collector
with a Mickey Mantle baseball card.

Hallmark rhymesters
blare Marilyn Manson
as they drive past the country club;
latter-day Saltonstalls
oblivious of the ruckus
stand before mirrors
and practice the broad A
in "ask" and "plant" and "master" ...

Homer Simpson is elected President!
The economy instantly recovers.