Friday, May 29, 2015

Self-Portrait in the Wee Hours

Creaking and groaning, starting to fall apart
(a quarter-century since twenty-one),
I drink my morning joe at 2 o'clock

in my hermetically bright "living space"
cloistered against nocturnal startlements.
I nibble as I scribble unrhymed verse

graham crackers that come from Partial Foods.
Arlington and poetry, twin havens
for the soul-scarred sleepless man I am!

Fresh from reading Squares and Courtyards by
the Anglosphere's most agile formalist
since Auden's death, I see myself as is --

inexpert, blunt of wit and sluggish-tongued;
indeed, more culpable than capable:
sporadically fortunate self-taught amateur.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Let us go out and walk upon the road
And quit for evermore the brick-built den
And lock and key, the hidden shy abode
That separates us from our fellow men.
James Stephens, from "The Road"

Dread introversion when the spirit shrinks
From any kind of sweet communion-feast,
O dire seclusion of the grudging soul
Forsaking sun, retreating from the breeze,
What power can bring about transfigurement
Of bitter thoughts in isolation proud?
Don't be closed off from life and its surprises,
From grace-filled places -- yes, from thoroughfares
Upon which heaven in human guise has trod:
Let us go out and walk upon the road.

Let us leave shutters and venetian blinds,
And venture far beyond our safe four walls,
Walk to the coffee-shop, the square, the park,
Wherever glad souls gather and converse
In carefree friendliness, in happy health.
Let us find cheer and charity again!
Let us emerge from timid calculation,
From petty prudence, and from wisdom weak:
Let us break free from self-walled cell and pen,
And quit for evermore the brick-built den.

In spending energy, we get it back.
We live again when we encounter life.
By hours of exercise, our strength's restored;
By walking, not by sitting, we stay young.
We catch the kind vitality of light,
And rest when we help others lift their load.
The seed falls to the ground, to spring anew
In a perpetual Maytime of the soul!
Too often, though, we choose the barricade
And lock and key, the hidden shy abode.

Our solitudes and silences are vile
Unless they lead to greater love for souls;
Our prayers are welcome, if and only if
We look to the needs of sister, brother, friend.
We cannot gain beatitude unless
We show forbearance where offense has been.
No psalm or hymn avails as much as a heart
Disposed to listen, serve, forgive, embrace.
There is no dark wood, no fog-clotted fen
That separates us from our fellow men.

Friday, May 22, 2015

You're the Top, or, A Few Lumps of Cole

A jolly lyric, a panegyric
to praise one of Boston's best,
but I should be cautious lest
she be distressed or unimpressed:
I'm far too wordy, it's rather nerdy,
the length to which I have gone;
you'll think me mental, but please be gentle
as I ramble and babble on!

You're the top, you're a mackerel holy,
you're a stop by the Bruins goalie:
you're a beauty queen, you're the leafy green of Spring;
you're a live third rail, and you never fail
to make me sing!
You're a dream, and you drive me loco,
you're the steam from a cup of cocoa --
I'm a reckless guy just arrested by a cop:
Signorina, I'm the bottom. You're the top!

You're as fine as a gin martini,
you're a line penned by Seamus Heaney --
you're a candle-wick, you're a Bergman flick at Cannes:
you're a silver platter, a Pollock splatter,
you're tryptophan!
You're so sweet, you're a comic hero --
you're a treat, but I'm close to zero.
I'm a bloke benighted, a withered blighted crop:
I'm a dweller of the cellar -- you're the top!

You're the top, you're Michelle Obama;
you're the top, you're the Dalai Lama:
you're a red balloon, you're a '60s tune on "Glee" --
you're a jazzy jitney, you're a song by Whitney,
you're a liturgy!
You're a blast from an angel's bugle,
you're as fast as a search by Google!
I'm a dying ember, a cold November gray --
but you're funny, you're the sunny month of May!

You're a bird, you're an ode by Horace --
you're a word in Roget's Thesaurus!
you're a silken glove, a turtle-dove, it's true!
You're the rose of Sharon, you're the voice of Karen
singing "Close to You"!
You're a drape, you're a blind Venetian;
you're the shape of an urn that's Grecian!
I'm a bard forlorn, a Samson shorn of hair:
but you're sterling, you're a girl beyond compare!

You're the top of a fireman's ladder.
You're the top! No one makes me gladder.
You're the subtle charm of a country farm in Maine.
You're a sparkling soda, you're the ears of Yoda,
you're a candy cane!
You're a doll -- oh, you're just like heaven!
you're so tall (almost five-eleven) ...
I'm a case of gout, a doltish lout, a pest!
but if, honey, I'm annoying, you're the best.

You're the top, you're a golden trinket;
you're the top, just like Smith & Pinkett:
you're the manner mild of a soulful child of grace;
to be diplomatic, I get quite ecstatic
when I see your face!
You're the lurch of a locomotive,
you're a church with a candle votive:
I'm as crazed as heck, a crashing wreck. I'm done!
You're terrific, beatific, you're the one!

You're so fab! You're McCartney's Lennon.
You're not drab: you're the bluest denim.
You're Seattle grunge, you're a daring bungee jump --
you're a hedge with brambles, an egg that scrambles!
I am Forrest Gump.
You’re a peach, and you make me feel good;
you're a speech by the late John Gielgud:
you’re a cherished chum, you're the total sum -- a friend!
And this litany I’ve written now must end.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Punk Rock Sonnet for Boston

Boston I love you like a migraine
With your whiskey breath and holes in both socks
Worth more to me than a gangster's bank account
I love you like the F-bomb in rush-hour traffic

Boston I hate you like a dozen red roses
Angelic metropolis O sexy with skyscrapers
You remind me of my best friend's pretty sister
You remind me of happy hour at the old Stopped Clock

O Boston you cut-rate diamond you gem of New England
O emerald necklace extravagant with lilacs
I praise your agony I damn your bliss

Home of the mendicant and the mandarin
You've weathered every storm you've bested every foe
I venerate your tenements I toast your brownstones

earliest draft February 2015
revised May 2015

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Spring: Two Small Poems

tempesta di primavera
la pazzezza


lupine festival
my sweet stepmom
has missed the last twelve

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Autumn 1977, tag football.
The aqua-green uniform of the Dolphins.
I can still hear my eight- and nine-year-old
East Boston teammates sing the wrong words
to a then-popular song:
"Youze are the losers cuz we
are the champions" -- and we were,
despite the handicap of me,
champions of Eastie, if not of the world!


In school, out of school,
I'd flaunt my trove of exotic words:
with no trouble, I could reel off
the meanings of unwieldy specimens
like pneumoconiosis or quattuordecillion
but I was paralyzed by words like
regime, consume, subtle, nonplussed ...
I also thought "permitted" meant "forbidden."


Lowest grades were always
Conduct and Reading Comprehension.
The read-this-it's-good-for-you prose
of Miss Kelley and Mrs Woods
bored me to a despair
more profound than any nihilist's
(I, who would devour books on baseball,
who'd sit in the Reading Room with the dictionary,
who, a few years later, would breeze through Garp!) --
as for conduct, well, sometimes
(in those glorious days of the '70s
before unruly kids had to take pills)
a boy would get infuriated
by someone or something,
and just had to throw a chair
or knock over a desk.


And oh, the schoolbus ditties!

Glory, glory, hallelujah,
the teacher hit me with a ruler;
I hid behind the door
with a calibre .44
and the teacher don't teach no more!

This was back in an age
when sapient administrators
still knew the difference
between a nine-year-old relieving tension
and a school-shooter on training-wheels.


I remember kids writing their names
with their fingers on fogged-up schoolbus windows
Karen '76, with the 6 a loop on the tail of the 7.

I remember metric converters a year or two later
because President Carter was going to make us
reckon in Celsius with the rest of the world.

I remember Mrs Mehrling, the music teacher
who seemed impossibly old, who nonetheless
taught us words to songs by Andy Gibb and 10cc.
Bizarre, when you think of it, a gaggle of preteens
gleefully crooning of the things we do for love!

Mrs Mehrling was replaced one day by Miss Lewis,
freckled light-skinned black woman, vigilant
against our obvious inherited bigotries.
She taught us songs from West Side Story,
and tried to pry our minds a bit further open.

I remember classmates scaring the juice out of me
with tales of the Joseph H. Barnes,
middle-school blackboard jungle
where brainy kids got bruised and humbled quick.
Exaggerated tales, I am relieved to report!

I remember the citywide spelling bee,
the frantic efforts to master tricky orthography,
which paid off with a $25 savings bond,
a blue ribbon, and a memorable photo
with David Finnegan of the School Committee:
The politician tries to shake my hand;
I make a quick grab for the savings bond.


Were they happy days, these elementary days?
Not to put too fine a point on it -- hell, no!
An ill-fitting thing I was, with my fifty-cent vocab,
my fascination with math, and after third grade
my being a year younger than everybody else.

Still, it's weirdly consoling to look back
and ponder the changes in the world,
and the changes in me:
four decades later, graying and girthy,
creaky-hinged and hopefully less smarmy.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Silly Love Song

The scary things love can
    Attack a poor heart with!
Birdsong that stupefies
    Scholars from Dartmouth;
Starlight that lays low
    Professors from Yale;
Moonshine that renders
    A Harvard grad pale.

O, the agonies love'll
    Inflict on your head!
A blow from a shovel
    That leaves you half dead;
A sock in the kisser,
    A punch in the gut --
When Love comes a-knockin',
    He'll find my door shut.

Love should be quarantined,
    Kept in a pen!
I've had the bug once; I
    Don't want it again.
Both codger and stripling
    With fevers grow faint;
You think love's a picnic?
     I tell you: it ain't.

From Sappho to Shelley,
    From Keats to Cole Porter,
This madness leaves millions
    In abject disorder;
From Shakespeare to Auden
    To pop balladeers,
Love promises laughter
    But leaves 'em in tears.

Montague, Capulet,
    Taylor and Burton,
Heloise, Abelard,
    One thing's for certain:
Love's nothing but misery,
    Pain without end.
You want to be happy?
    Steer clear of it, friend.