Pages

Monday, October 16, 2017

In the Silverware Drawer After Dark

The steak knives
are playing the Ramones
at full blast.

The salad forks are dancing with the teaspoons
to the tune of "Come On, Eileen."

A solitary soup spoon sits moping
in a corner reserved for the dateless.

Plastic sporks are having a spitball fight
as if it were a high-school cafeteria!

The butter knives
are writing love poems
to Parkay,
to Land o' Lakes,
to I Can't Believe.

And a loutish corkscrew
is making rude remarks
to the shapely tablespoons.

If the tablespoons could give him the finger,
they would.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Joy as It Flies

Judy, dark-haired, olive-skinned,
studious, with Goldwater glasses,
introduced me one afternoon
in her college dormitory
to the poems of One Times One
(she was sitting on the bed,
cross-legged, barefoot)
and I became Estlin Cummings'
hugest fanboy.

Anna, petite, with honey-coloured curls,
acted a scene with me
from The Lion in Winter
(Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry Plantagenet)
where we had to kiss---
and when she kissed me
she meant business!

Naomi was five years younger than me,
literate and brassy:
we scooped ice-cream together
in Cambridge
that Tracy Chapman summer.
I liked her feistiness,
her frank language,
and her love of old movies:
Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe.

Rachel was sweet,
small, gentle, pale:
didn't quite seem twenty.
She told me of classes
she had when young
where she learned Hebrew
through Peanuts comic strips.

Ladies, you're well into your forties,
as am I. We'll never meet again.

I remember you all---
I light candles, write poems
in your honour
as each of you has given me a soul-gift
however small
that my memory cherishes.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Advice

Give us poems
as hard as the sharp stones
beneath the feet
of Christ.

Give us poems
that insinuate their way
between dying fiery leaves:
squirrelish breezes
in the early burn
of dusk.

Give us poems
battered, worn-out,
damaged, suffering,
give us poems
that have seen better days,
give us a young widow's heart
seared by hot grief.

Give us odes
to the joy of morning,
irised light
bejewelling
the wet, lush grass.

Give us stubborn poems,
poems that won't budge,
impenetrable poems,
monumental,
thick as the ice
of a Minnesota lake
in the wince and grip
of winter.

Give us laughter and colour,
drunkenness and jokes,
give us the come-hither look,
the blunt nudge of tongues,
the saucy dance of a language
frisky and lissome.

Give us ---
in the swelter of noon,
a haven of shade;
in the nerve-rattling din,
a cool pool of silence;
above the waste and wrack
of a ruined city,
the resolute and watchful purity
of a single lasting star.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Notebook: September 28

A couple of hours
before the sun comes up,
and here's a list
of the things around me:
coffee, second cup,
in a mug decorated with cacti
and the legend MI CASA ES SU CASA;
seven-year-old laptop,
for blogposts, social media,
the flotsam and jetsam that passes
for the news of the day;
Wallace Stevens' Collected,
to re-read "Sunday Morning";
air conditioning
as it's a sultry night,
unpardonably so
for this close to October;
my friend Mary's book,
her clear and complex poems
of wild accuracy
and adventurous precision;
my reading glasses
parked where they should be,
the "cheaters"
(I really should fill the prescription
for the bifocals).

But what among these objects
of 3.36 am
will bring out the poet in me?

Who knows?
But I'll sit here and write
until I exhaust the coffee,
or maybe until morning comes
with its bombastic sun
and the noise of commuters
and the riot of birdsong.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dear Diary

Little red journal
from the Peter Pauper Press
in White Plains, New York,
blank book with the KEEP CALM
AND CARRY ON design,
you're all right.

You're the perfect size:
five-by-seven,
portable, uncramped,
easy to write in
as I lie in a bed
surrounded by books and beads,
icons and dustbunnies.

I've marked you up good.

You're ideal for those private jottings
I wouldn't want God to read.

You contain everything
from AbeBooks wishlists
to notes for my deeply spiritual
prose-book in progress
(top-secret! don't tell anyone!).

You've kept my words safe
since early last year.
Thank you. And carry on.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Difficult

Difficult
to find evidence
of heaven and its angels
in city sidewalks
landmined with dog-crap,
in the loutish honking
of reckless drivers,
in the always-open church doors
being locked
when you'd most welcome
a silent heart-to-heart
with the courteous
God of the Anglicans.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Grace

Our daily world
with its shopworn customs
masks the miraculous:
this coffee
which perks me
out of sluggishness,
this air
that fills
and flees my lungs,
this sun
now ambering the leaves
of September.

Kind words
of a friend.
Help of clinician
and counselor.
Benediction
of a holy one.

Traffic that grumbles
down my street.
Neighbours that smile.
Solitude
that shines
benign and peaceful.

In an hour or two,
I'll get ready
to face the world
and its happy
obligations,
knowing that some angel
lurks in the subway,
or on the bus,
or on Hanover Street,
hiding behind
a fireplug,
a sparrow-dotted fence,
a stranger's
welcoming face.

Ritual: Ordinary Time

September in my late 40s.
Sunset. I'm heading over
to the 7 Star Grocery to pick up

a half-gallon of lowfat milk
and a loaf of whole-wheat bread.
The darkening air (damp, cool)

smells like mosquitoes. I walk
past St Agnes Church, asleep
until tomorrow, and remember

that I haven't seen Roxie today,
so I pop into The Book Rack
for my soul's health's sake.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Chapter One

You were eighteen and I was twenty-two:
It must have been the summer of '91.
Our hearts were young, the world still fresh and new.

We were so smart; we didn't have a clue;
We drank cheap beer and danced, had lots of fun--
You were eighteen and I was twenty-two.

Your cat had kittens; skies were always blue;
I grew a beard, read Herrick and John Donne.
We laughed as romance blossomed fresh and new.

And everywhere from Braintree to BU,
Butterflies frolicked madly in the sun:
You were eighteen and I was twenty-two.

We've got gray hair now. How the decades flew!
I'm diabetic, walk more than I run,
But can recall when our romance was new.

We're still best friends, stooped me and squinting you:
We know that each new day is Chapter One!
We're no longer eighteen and twenty-two:
Our lives still bring us blessings, fresh and new.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Books

Harvard undergrads
used to read books
on the Red Line train.

How many eyes nowadays
scan print and paper?
Virtually none.

*

Luddite,
I’ll still carry
three or four paperbacks
in my tote bag,
the poor man’s Kindle.

*

When I was sixteen,
I hid a copy
of The Colossus
in my jacket pocket
at Steve & Cory’s wedding.

Thirty years have passed
since I bought my first volumes of verse:
Eliot’s Four Quartets,
Rimbaud’s Illuminations,
Heaney’s Field Work.

Eliot because it was cheap,
Rimbaud because it was French,
Heaney because Mr Waldron
said he was good.

The printed page
is bread to me,
life and light,
shelter and sustenance.

*

Sure, I’m as guilty
as the next guy
of checking the iPhone
during a dull commute.

But there are times
at home alone
I’ll pick up a book,
an old favorite,
weathered, seasoned,
and pace from room to room
reading aloud
to the four walls,
to any muse or angel
that might be haunting me.

*

Wystan, Estlin, Theodore, Marianne,
you wouldn’t be the same
as lucent type on a small screen.

You’re most at home
in dead-tree editions!

I lift your pages
and kiss the verses
as the priest
kisses the Gospel.

Monday, August 28, 2017

She's So High

Cloud-foe, she havocs
ferns and fritillaries
from August to autumn.

Lily of the labyrinth,
mischief-maker,
she anthems dusk,
plucks the harp of dawn.

Silent dancer,
heaven-minded,
she pirouettes
down malls and halls,
insouciant and free.

Moon-coin,
spendless silver,
she heals all wounds
with her light.

Songbird, skylark,
she makes music
against the scowl of now.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Young Woman of Boston

Elegant as pi
to the hundredth decimal,
beautiful as a quadratic equation,
close as Cambodia, distant as winter,
precise and mathematical
as Audrey in Roman Holiday,
she walked, silent perfection,
into the funeral home,
and even the dead people noticed.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rascal's Litany

Dragonfly in the synagogue,
ladybug in the chapel,
mosquito in the ashram,
grasshopper in the Zen garden,
moth in the mosque,
pray for me, a poor sinner,
a wretched addle-pate.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Portrait

The rainbow badge
on the backpack
at the sandalled feet
of the Tufts student

sitting patient
in the stilled trolley
at Lechmere Station
at ten in the morning

this slight & slender figure
twentythree at most
her closecropped hair
and modest hornrims

and soft semi-smile
as she sits reading
the Boston Metro
& the trolley starts

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Photograph

Ruins of a Cistercian abbey.
Summer's heat greens
the cloister-wreck.

A low stone wall
out of Frost's blank verse
winds beside a stooped elm.

Grass, moss, ivy
(heedless, creedless)
claim these saint-acres,

this ghost-church
whose time-bitten archway's
ablaze with strong low sun.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Summer Rain

Pluck me a tune on your lyre about the rain!
Let curious minds inquire
of summer rain.

July's skyscape is scurrilous with clouds:
what weird thoughts they inspire
of summer rain!

Unseen forces have driven dull spring roots
to quicken memory, to stir desire
for summer rain.

Have you loosened the bands of Orion?
Who is the snowflake's mother? the sire
of summer rain?

Thunder blasts, lightning flares, floods drench:
streetwalkers adorn their attire
with summer rain.

Sages and masters, teach me the sweet truth
that heaven is someplace higher
than summer rain.

Poets, pursue disreputable muses
into the murk and mire
of summer rain!

Drinkers of gin nursing their martinis
are wishing for something drier
than summer rain.

This morning I hear an impromptu concert
of timeless songbirds: a choir
in summer rain.

During the season of lavish monsoons,
all rivers swell, all straits are dire
with summer rain.

Tommy, old pal, old buddy, go for the gusto!
Sing like a bard on a wire
in summer rain!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Experimentations

Ocean, liquid tinfoil:
woolgray skies.

*

Among napkins,
pill bottles, silverware,
and unpaid bills
in torn-open envelopes,
observe the miscreancy
of the waking mind.

*

Coffeepsalms.
Silver selah
of summer rain.

*

Collecting randomalia
into grist for gratitude.

*

Evening walk
to the café:
sparkling water,
cashier smiling,
glad to receive
payment in quarters.

*

Build wordshrines
against the glare and shout,
against the ruckus and rush.

*

Stalled, stilled,
the mind abides
here, how, now.

Monday, July 10, 2017

To My Birthday

1.

Celebration, eighteenth of June! marking four dozen trips 'round the sun!
Who would have thought this muddle-headed oaf could have lived so long?
Life of pitfalls and triumphs, darkness and felicity,
Life whose several calamities have thus far not disabled me,
Life whose misadventures and mistakes do not outweigh the blessings,
Life which inspires gratitude oftener than dismay.

Can I complain about your weather, Birthday? You were much too hot for me!
A torrid toaster of a day which set Massachusetts abroil!
Cambridge wilted beneath the glare of a rude insistent sky,
No cloud balked the sear of the sun, no shade diminished the blaze,
The Common's parched grass groaned beneath the tonnage of summery heat.
Nevertheless, Miss H and I found our way to Epworth Hall
And heard Rebecca Neale read several of her poems.

There was air conditioning and good cheer in the room where Rebecca read,
A carpeted classroom or seminar-room of Harvard University:
Wine and cheese and carrot sticks, crackers and grapes and seltzer,
And forty of the poet's friends
Seated on black swivel chairs, comfortable, wheels on the legs,
All of us listeners eager, attentive, thirsty for lyric refreshment,
Gathered to hear the poems of Rebecca Neale's first book, slender,
Read beautifully by the poet herself,
Her generous dark chevelure streaked with a lovely silver.

Rebecca remembered it was my birthday and gave me a hug;
I was pleasantly surprised as we don't know each other all that well,
Only as fellow poets in a Boston-area workshop.

I lamented the fact that she didn't read my favourite poem of hers,
That lushly orchestrated paean to spring at the end of her newborn volume.
Nonetheless, you were a pleasant day, and I am grateful to you
For the joy of having been with Miss H to hear Rebecca's poetry,
And to celebrate the completion of forty-eight years despite oppressive heat.

2.

Birthday, O Birthday, you deserve a better poem than this:
You deserve the vatic orotundities of Walt Whitman,
Or the wacky exuberance of something by Kenneth Koch,
Maybe a tone serene and reflective, in the manner of Wang Wei,
Or cadences as flat as the Nebraska plains, forthright as Ted Kooser.

I could write about my own advancing age,
Signs of wear and tear, the nugatory debilities,
Improvements in health made with the help of clinicians and support groups,
Twenty pounds and more jettisoned over the past few years,
Measurable reductions in the blood-sugar levels, more frequent morning walks,
I could proclaim my fathomless joy and gratitude for my friends,
Poets and neighbours, churchfolk and gals at the Book Rack,
Recent friends, online friends, friends from back in the day.

Luminous date on the calendar, midway through the year!
Despite my gawky voice, my gracelessness of gait, I make bold to salute you
With this rumple-trousered ode, this five-o'clock-shadowed cadenza,
This carol of awkward effusion, this hymn of glad-hearted gusto.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Muses of the Wee Hours

Muses of the wee hours,
ghosts of the immortal dead, ghosts of the great,
Dylan of Laugharne, Estlin of Patchin Place,
Marianne the Presbyterian Confucius,
Wystan of old York, of New York and Kirchstetten,
Theodore of Saginaw, Emily of Amherst, Wallace of Hartford,
Hart Crane whose lyre was the cabled Bridge,
Mr Longfellow of Harvard Square,
Walt of Camden and Mannahatta,
Will of Stratford, Dante of Florence,
Catullus of barbed epigram and tender elegy,
angel-muses who inspire the living,
Mary of Provincetown, Ted of Nebraska,
Donald of Wilmot and Danbury,
wittiest Wendy across the pond,
muses of the Bee Hive Table here at home,
muses of the New England Poetry Club,
muses who give dear Elena her luminous genius,
muses of the kitchen and the nightlight,
muses of Folgers Instant nuked in the microwave,
muses of the Sylvania AC
blasting drafts of cool into the bedroom,
muses of the venetian blinds that Uncle Dan put in,
muses of the notebook where I scrawl and jot
with noggin propped on the pillow,
muses of the 1369, muses of the Kickstand,
muses of San Benedetto sparkling water,
muses of pentameter, muses of anaphora,
muses of the medial inversion,
muses of my mischievous vernacular,
muses of the Arlington Farmers Market,
muses of the bike path, muses of Webcowet Road
and its Little Free Library,
muses of the early morning walk,
muses of exercise, muses of contemplation,
muses against the heated shout of talk shows,
muses aloof from TV and its noises,
muses disdaining the vulgar in high places,
muses of ardor, muses of love, amusing muses,
muses of the alternating solstices,
muses of the changing face of earth,
muses whose words bethrong my shelves
in metric tons of un-Kindled text,
boon companions, drinking buddies,
saints and sages, sinners and fools,
be with me as I try to shape
the sounds that rattle about
my less-than-quiet mind.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Out for My Walk

Arlington, Massachusetts, 5.15 am,
first morning of summer ---
air cool and dewy:
sprinklers, sparrows, squirrels;
a wide-awake rabbit or two;
the dedicated runners, avid and trim;
the odd walker, casual, paunchy.

The same lawn on Bates Road
plays host to two signs:
Sean Garballey for State Senate
and Cindy Friedman
for State Senate.

Just enough scribbles of cirrus
in the sunrise-hour sky:
white hairs streaking the chevelure
of a beautiful woman over fifty.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Discovering

Verses from the Tehillim,
          a song
     in a timeless tongue:
try the language of the hymn ---
    words come out half-wrong.

Erev Shabbat: the temple
          holds kind
    faces all around:
Adonai, Love Eternal,
    meets me where I stand.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Playing Language

Tonight I sit,
boy-clarinetist emeritus,
hunt-and-peck pianist,
guitarist in my dreams,
musician manqué,
and play language instead.

I play consonants and vowels,
stresses and unstresses,
pyrrhics and spondees,
iambs and anapests.

Tonight I'll improvise
a blues tune,
a jazz riff,
a classical concerto,
a power ballad,
new wave,
synth-pop,
arena rock,
glam rock,
hard rock,
alternative,
emo, shoegazing,
industrial,
a post-punk paint-peeler,
a fab remake of the Beatles,
a campy cover of the B-52s.

Tonight I'll perform an aria,
belt out a drinking song,
hum a disco tune,
sing a Christmas carol,
intone cantillations,
chant Gregorian.

Tonight I'll smoke
imaginary cigarettes,
drink real cups of coffee,
replenish myself with water
and sleep and prayer
and poetry.

Tonight I'll think of tomorrow
when I'll play for you
and for you alone.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monastic Wisdom

Fr Wigram, white-haired Cowley monk,
was chatting with a postulant
who asked him which "method
of contemplative prayer"
he preferred.

The older priest
scratched his head and admitted:
"Well, usually I just kneel down
and hope for the best."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I'm Here

I hear the birds
of Lady Primavera,
a noted purveyor of lilacs.

I see daffodils at my laptop,
hyacinths by the recliner,
bumblebees in the coffee-mug,
robins by the iPhone,
sparrows atop the fridge.

Antic, frisky,
April announces,
I'm here! and flings
her hundred thousand flowers,
a laughing Ophelia
whose mind is all light.

Pray you, mark!
this tuft of green
which shines like nature's neon.
And look, this willow
burgeoning aslant
a gaily chattering brook!

All this bright grace
after long months
of cold hope!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Killer Poem

Reader, you've been villanelled to death:
Limericked, coupleted, doggerelled to death.

If I've tolled you once, I've tolled you a thousand times:
No man is an island. Knelled, belled to death.

Your Irish eyes squint at ancient pages
In Celtic lettering. Book-of-Kelled to death?

Rhymes assault your ears from the nursery:
Little-lambed and farmer-in-the-delled to death.

On Cupid's bow, how are my heart-strings bent:
O Stella! I've been Astrophelled to death.

This impecunious oenophile, poor wino,
Drinks on the cheap. He's muscatelled to death!

Starting earlier every year -- Halloween? Really? --
The Christmas season. Joyeux Noël'd to death.

Her mind was a victim of glossy magazines:
Cosmo'd, Vogued, and Mademoiselled to death.

Talk-radio addicts binge on bluster:
Bickered, shrilled, harangued, and yelled to death.

The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss.
Sylvia Plath's line. Arielled to death.

If I were a rich man, I'd biddy-biddy-bum ...
You'd find yourselves Zero Mostel'd to death!

Like Terence Trent D'Arby in 1988,
The weary world's been Wishing-Well'd to death.

Ground Control to Major (or Minor) Tom:
Where's the Rocket Man? Jet-propelled to death.

A Rootin-tootin' Ghazal

This poem has no GMO's! It's gluten-free!
It even defies gravity! Isaac-Newton-free!

The night owl's eyes prevent the morning watch,
But I would have the wee hours hootin'-free.

My calculator's batteries are drained:
No abacus for back-up. Computin'-free.

I gave away all my Jethro Tull albums:
My classic-rock collection's flutin'-free.

Rare is the corner on my side of the tracks
That's drinkin'-, druggin'-, prostitutin'-free.

Knotheads and Leftpapas trade barbs:
I'll switch the channel to stay disputin'-free.

In my home office, it's always casual Friday:
I don't dress up. I'm three-piece-suitin'-free.

Buy me a seat on the Amtrak to Chicago;
I'll leave South Station on the 2:10, free!

Where have you gone, Boris Nikolayevich?
I liked Mother Russia when it was Putin-free.

Missing his target by miles, Thomas engages
In a round of not-so-straight shootin', free.

Friday, February 24, 2017

After Blake

A squirrel on the cold brown grass
Defeats the loutish and the crass.

A sparrow on the bare black tree
Makes boor and braggart bend the knee.

A cardinal darting through the hedge
Sends solemn hearts over the edge.

A puppy on a supple tether
Brings bright flowers in winter weather.

A kitten at its playful frisk
Leads timid souls to take a risk.

An eagle on the tall lamppost
Silences every blustering boast.

A crow that pecks in a lonely field
Compels the pushy oaf to yield.

A pigeon waddling in a puddle
Dispels all doubt, clears up the muddle.

A snail inside its wee shell curled
Brings light to a self-darkened world.

A duckling bathing in the brook
Asks hasty eyes to stop and look.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Prayer

A chilly January night.
Fingering a wooden rosary,
I sit on the third-floor balcony
In a darkness here and there
Dotted and streaked with light.
I'm dressed in winter pajamas.
No one save Heaven can see me
As I look up at the Hunter's belt,
Down at asphalt and grass.
The light traffic of Route 60
Hums within sight and hearing
Just past the hundred-yard path
In front of my apartment building.

It's thirty, thirty-five degrees.
I wrap this cold around me
And my sluggish senses waken.
I drink darkness like water
And listen for whispers of mercy
In the endless star-sparked sky.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Clean Sheet

Winter morning. Sunrise, moonset.
Spidery branches of bare trees.
Lucent blue skies. Eighteen degrees.
Clean sheet of morning light
on which I dare to write the word
in tentative penmanship: joy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sustenance

We go crazy for honey and syrup,
for sugar and sweet chocolate,
for rich pastries and sumptuous
desserts. But we are nourished
by humble roots and plants,
by common fruit, by daily bread,
by pure familiar water.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Two in the Morning

It's Wednesday, two in the morning:
instant coffee and an English muffin.
Chilly in the kitchen. Forty degrees
and a cold black rain outside.
                                                I complain
to the four walls of my apartment. I complain:
There is beauty that I cannot dance with.
There are songs to which I don't know
and will never learn the words, poems
which my voice is too dusty to render.

I wish I were young. I wish I could sleep
eight hours each night. I wish I lived in
Montana. I want to visit holy ground.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

January 1

The birds of Mrs Álvarez
make an intermittent song
that sweetens this mellow morning.
It is Sunday, New Year's Day,
and a World Day of Peace.
My Christmas stuff is still up.
I send you this poem as shalom.

In the Silverware Drawer After Dark

The steak knives are playing the Ramones at full blast. The salad forks are dancing with the teaspoons to the tune of "Come On, Ei...