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Friday, November 16, 2018

Back in the Day

When I was five years old,
I would read the dictionary
in the small tiled room
where reading got done.
When I was five, I was intent
on unlocking the mysteries of the pantry
at Nana's house
where the light always seemed
a tristful tint of brown.

When we moved to Morris Street
and I turned six,
Jimmy Napoli, twice my age, who lived upstairs
taught me the Our Father and the Hail Mary
on a small green chalkboard in the basement.

There was always the smell of sauce
(which we called "gravy" in East Boston)
coming from triple-deckers
where Italian grandmothers
laboured over hot stoves
all day every Saturday.

Unfailingly,
these same grandmothers
could be spotted
sweeping dust and litter
from their sidewalks
on weekday mornings.

I had more 45s of r-&-b music
than any other kid on my block!
Dad got them from his friends
who owned bars with jukeboxes.
When the songs would fall into disfavor
and not get played anymore,
I'd inherit the records:
"Everybody Plays the Fool";
"When Will I See You Again?";
"Rock the Boat"---
don't tip the boat over!

I can recall Bicentennial Minutes
and my month-long case of pneumonia
and Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford
19 to 1 in Mrs Stuart's
second-grade mock election.
That quiet girl, Lisa,
who lived up the Heights,
who said three words all year, maybe four,
was the only one to vote against
the Georgia governor.

Age eight brought sandlot baseball
though I was gloriously
incompetent with the bat,
incurably hapless at catching flies.
Even worse at football,
touch football, no tackling
(though Coach Smith
did plenty of hollering,
high-strung Vince Lombardi wannabe).

Then came the Blizzards, plural, of '78
with outlandish heaps of snow
in January and February.
Then came the heartbreaking Red Sox loss
to the Yankees in October,
in the one-game playoff
where Bucky Dent
homered off Mike Torrez.

Soon, it was farewell
to the Manassah E. Bradley School
and hello to the Joseph H. Barnes:
I'd heard rumors of tough kids
who'd beat up a "brainiac,"
but my fears were unwarranted.
No bruises, physical or mental:
just gentle mockery for wearing "high-waters,"
pants whose legs didn't go all the way down.

The girls, I found, were merciless,
but I liked them anyway.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

This Unbidden Love

The most unthinkable
Flower that ever will have grown
Is the explicit lilac with its lurid scent,
With tremulous petals bent by the wind,
A breath alive, a flesh unknown,
A world springlike and full.

The ripest sweetest fruit
Turned liquid on the swirling tongue
Becomes a wine-drunk whisper tasting loud,
Revives forgotten midnights in the gut,
And bitter sinful saccharines
Stimulate the tooth.

Two souls, four lungs: each nerve
Breathes fulfillment of its dream
While this unbidden love, the tide's great surge,
Turbulent ecstasy of rapturous urge,
Makes live, in one climactic rhyme,
Epitome of sense.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

At the Town Garden

I skipped my last chance at Mass
On All Saints' Day.
This was more important.

At five thirty in the evening
In the Robbins Memorial Garden,
We gathered. Sparsely at first.
Always a few who are early.
Then dozens. Then scores.

Local office-holders turned out:
Sean Garballey, Cindy Friedman.
The human rights commission chair.
Representatives from the ADL.

We wrote notes of condolence
To the Tree of Life Synagogue
In Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.

In my note, I quoted the Psalmist
To pray that we as a nation
Might banish bigotry and bullets
And embody the sacred words:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
When kindred dwell as one!

Friendly women distributed signs
For the lawn, for the front porch:
Hate has no home here.
And there were badges, pins,
With the same message.
I got one for myself.

The cantor from Temple Isaiah
In neighbouring Lexington
(A woman of forty-five, give or take,
Short of stature, zaftig, cheerful)
Played her guitar and led us in song
In English and Hebrew:
Olam chesed yibaneh;
Build this world from love.
I sang along as best I could.

As dusk fell, we lit our candles.
A hundred, maybe more, bunched thick
In the jacket-and-sweater chill
Of a rainless autumn evening.

I saw a familiar face:
Carol, smiling and silver-haired.
I used to sit alongside her dad
(May he rest) in poetry workshops.
Carol gave me a hug
And I told her, I had to be here.

I noticed half a dozen police officers,
Quietly watchful.

We heard speeches
Detailing the determination
Of the Jewish people
To be peacemakers
In spite of persecution.

We heard outrage
Over words of fear and falsity
From figures of national prominence.

We heard Elie Wiesel's admonition
That the opposite of love
Is indifference.

When wax from the candle
Drizzled hot onto my hand,
I blew out the flame
And switched on the beam
Of my cellphone's flashlight.

We gathered to commemorate,
To sing hymns and elegies,
To commit ourselves
To ways of understanding,
To spread light, to be light,
To proclaim to our corner
Of the cornerless world:
A heart of death cannot cut down
The Tree of Life.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Autumn Villanelle

Rags of light hang from the prongs of trees;
Harvests of frost lurk among thews of bark.
Chill grips leaves in throes of blush and breeze.

October's red is lush summer's decease:
It gets late early. Hours before dark,
Rags of light hang from the prongs of trees.

And Autumn, bleak Designer—if you please—
Invigorate us with your drastic work!
November, come with gusts of rustling breeze!

Toil till day dies. Anyone who sees
Leaflife’s blast and blight surely won’t shirk:
Rags of light hang from the prongs of trees.

Exult in northerly cacophonies!
Trace a cold alphabet on glazed glass. Mark:
Poems compose themselves, braced for the breeze.

The year diminishes by slow degrees:
Months mourn their own loss as the sun goes stark.
Rags of light hang from the prongs of trees;
Enter December. Ghostly snow. Deep freeze.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Monday, October 8, 2018

Menotomy Rubaiyat

Menotomy! Pleasant monotony!
Who'd call you dreary? Certainly not me!
    I've lived here now for eight years and five months
And hope to stay until I'm ninety-three.

'Course, nowadays you're known as ARLINGTON:
A place of tame excitement, low-key fun,
    Bookstores and libraries and restaurants
And bike-paths for a morning ride or run.

You have a church or two. No temple, though!
Your residents will sometimes clear the snow.
    You have two high-schools (public, Catholic) and
Five grade-schools where the younger children go.

I like it here. Your climate's rather nice.
There are extremes of heat and churlish ice!
    Your politics tilt leftward. Fine by me:
There are progressive souls in Paradise!

I have a two-room flat on the third floor.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery's just next door.
    I've got a parcel of amazing friends:
Sweet Arlingtonians whom I adore.

Mass. Ave. boasts dozens of homey caf├ęs
Peopled with cyber-wise habitu├ęs
    Who sip espresso as they surf the web,
Busily idling through their slow work-days.

The Bible Christian and the lesbian teen
Live here in peace---and everyone between!
    You're like a quiet Cambridge, welcoming
And placid, fringed by Mystic Valley green.

Menotomy, you're my newfound hometown!
You seldom greet me with a troubled frown.
    I'd rather live here than in ancient Rome
Or in loud Boston. ("Turn that music down!")

Menotomy, with shrubs and shrines so dear!
I cherish your suburban atmosphere!
    Hope flourishes amid your brick-paved lanes
Unstained by hatred, and untouched by fear.

Friday, October 5, 2018

73rd Letter to a Poet

The flare and flamboyance
of this New England October
will diminish to a brittle cipher,
will petrify to cold severity,
will harden into doctrine,
bitter, stiff.

A year of losses it has been:
intimate deaths, sundered loves,
faith punchdrunk and tottering.

Who can bear this cacophony---
riot of grief and grudge,
stifled cry of thwarted aspirations,
collapse of dreams held dear?

Winter decrees:
You will know dark days.
You will endure
the mortal agony of cherished hopes.
Amid the wreckage of your consolation,
you will learn to live.

Back in the Day

When I was five years old, I would read the dictionary in the small tiled room where reading got done. When I was five, I was intent on...