Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Virgin of Tepeyac, pregnant with grace,
watch over Holyoke Center, the Garage,
Chameleon Tattoos, and the nose-ring place.

Pray for the pink-haired girl of pleasant face
and ink-sleeves on both ghost-white arms. Take charge
(Mother of winter roses, pregnant with grace)

of Grendel's Den, of Peet's; and, just in case,
tend to undergrads studying at the large
pizza pad, not far from the nose-ring place.

Cambridge, magnet for scholars of every race
and creed! María, look down from the stars
and make this city wise! Virgin of grace,

protect the poor souls crouched in church doorways
against December cold, the drunks in bars,
the punks in the Pit and at the nose-ring place.

Gather our hearts in your clement embrace;
hasten with healing for our wounds and scars;
bless Raven, JP Licks, the nose-ring place--
Guadalupeña, womb swelling with grace!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Poet's History

When I was sixteen, I would scribble verse
On what we called math paper, in blue pen.
I'd work the lines over and over again
Till they were dark, obscure, opaque, perverse.

When I was twenty-one, simplicity
Was my bold slogan and my living creed.
A stoic terseness. No roses that bleed
Or hearts that bloom. Just straight veracity.

When I was thirty, I regret to say
My rhymes gave in to the pious urge to preach.
A stern-faced God, all answers within reach:
This was my Muse for many a dismal day.

Now I am forty-five, with weakening eyes.
My mind's grown lazy and my belly ample.
Content with first drafts, I'm a bad example
To younger poets who'd ignite the skies.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poems in French and English

1

veillant
avec café stylo
cahier ouvert

keeping watch
with coffee pen
open notebook

2

qui vive
à cette heure?
l'ascenseur--

who's up
at this hour?
the lift--

3

vent du nord
disparaissant
les feuilles

north wind
disappears
the leaves

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Three poems

(in rickety Italian
and in slightly less rickety English!)

1.

cantare un' inno
a questi tenebrosi
giorni d' autunno

a hymn of praise
for these dark
November days

2.

Bardo vecchio
chi osa rimare
alla gara di poesia!

Emboldened oldster
daring to rhyme
at the poetry slam!

3.

Arlington! O mio paese
tranquillo,
cortese!

Arlington: my favourite place!
Quiet, courteous in its grace.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Eastie

I praise you, East Boston, and I damn you:
Urban purgatory, trash-mouthed progenitrix
Of my bravest poems, adolescent home,
Stomping ground of mobsters, good cooks, athletes,
Ethnic mélange of triple-deckers, Eastie,
Loud and difficult, next door to the airport,
Under the wings of Logan's jumbo jets.

I remember the Salesian Boys Club
Where priests and brothers and other staff would urge
Uncompetitive me to tentative exertions
On the basketball court.
Jim worked there: age twenty,
Avid for '60s music and Walt Whitman,
Literate, progressive, knowledgeable,
Encouraging my more creative side.
I remember Mass in the chapel with Father Sid,
Who was Italian, belying that first name,
And Brother Pat (Irish) who would play guitar
And sing the Beatles song about Mother Mary
Speaking words of wisdom.

I curse you, Eastie streets, for being populated
With a small number of bullies who'd pounce
On bookish me. I remember epithets
That rhymed with "maggot," and I remember
The gentler mockery of "brainiac, brainiac!"

I spent twelve years on Morris Street
Between Sacred Heart Church and the James Otis School:
My bedroom was a purple-carpeted cube
Large enough (barely!) for a twin bed, a radio,
A twelve-inch black-and-white TV, and not
Much more.  All the remaining space I filled
With novels and with books of poetry.
It was in this room that I memorized
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
And other poems by the great ones
Who made me want to write and write:
Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson,
Seamus Heaney, Edward Estlin Cummings.
I crafted rhyming bombast. I made
Strange surrealist flowers
Spring up from cracks in the sidewalk.

Somehow I survived,
Survived ungainly efforts at small-fry baseball
And glorious ineptitude at touch football
With a coach who thought he was Knute Rockne,
Survived the bullying, the name-calling,
The self-inflicted damage, the drinking binge
On the first day of my fifteenth June
That almost put my lights out once and for all,
Survived the loneliness, the doubt, the foolishness,
The deflated and inflated senses of self-worth,
Survived it all by spending endless hours
Listening to Morrissey and the Smiths.

I cannot glorify you, Eastie.  I'd like to wring your neck
Or whack you over the head until I feel
Some measure of guilt over not forgiving the sins
Of what was and is, for better or worse, my neighborhood.


[2011, rev. 2014]

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Celebration

Blushing tumbler
through amber ages
     stages of the wind's velocity
chapped veins brittle in the year's dusk
     fingers curled        air to grasp
as brisk night balks the staunch tree's force


An ode to your soft leaving
is a modest celebration
     we start to speak a darkening dialect
     plucked from a tenebrous lexicon
sinister swirls of weather breathe our chill
our quest for solemn ecstasies

Ripe in its death the newborn ghost of time
begins to winnow our prolific chaff


[1991]

Hotter than Hades

Is Hades hot? A bad surmise!
The flames are there to tantalize.
The icy soul that fain would melt
Seems close to warmth that is not felt.



[1996?]

A Vulgar Poet

He stuck a knife in the life of wit
And was embarrassed not a bit.
His work is art's true antonym:
I cannot hymn the likes of him.

Il Miglior Fabbro

You ply the English word with prudent hands,
unfailing love, keen wit; you've studied well
the noiseless patient spider, how she spins

innate examples of geometry--
a rhetoric of gossamer and silence
that stays composed in the brunt of battering gusts.

The stentor is the desperate counterfeit:
but your lines walk in steadiness and poise;
your poems speak; they do not rant or blare.

There is a place for gladness, for a soul
whose wisdom, humour, charity, and grace
all quietly excel the commonplace.

Imperishable joy! Yes, art's the thing--
and we are lucky to be listening.


[1996]

Plaint

Lovely woman born in June,
Splendid as the summer noon,
Pray for me who thirst for grace
As I seek your absent face
Darker, brighter than the moon,
Disappeared without a trace.
(Twice twelve winters now have passed
Since I saw my lady last.)

Lovely woman born in June,
I shall find your hiding-place
(Chasing you through memories
Till I glimpse your tender eyes)
If it take five dozen years,
Twenty thousand nights of tears
When the only prayer that's said
From the desert of my bed
Is your beatific name.

All your virtues I proclaim
As a holy litany
(When the bedside clock reads three)
To dispel my loneliness:
Come, good angel, come and bless
Him who dies for lack of you:
All my failing powers renew
By your kind and gentle voice;
Then, this poor soul will rejoice
To have regained paradise
Lost once through malicious pride.
(Heaven won't be squandered twice.)

When I find your missing face
In the place where saints abide,
Welcome me to your embrace
And absolve me from disgrace;
Bring about my restoration
With your healing salutation--
Be that day remote or soon,
Lovely woman born in June.