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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Poem for H.

I walk the night to keep my five wits warm.
I'll start with Roethke's line. I'll make a sonnet
of rhymeless five-beat lines and call it yours,
if you'll accept this paltry, tattered gift.

I'll walk tonight in cold November rain,
and let the raindrops fall unhindered on me.
I'll make a sonnet on the way back home,
pacing its rhythm on the soaked asphalt.

Indoors, dried off, I'll watch through the wee hours;
fueled by coffee, I'll work on my mad poem:
Ophelia's bouquet of thorns and weeds.

Awake till dawn, I'll keep my five wits warm
by the héarth-fíre of póetry, by the shápe and fórm
of language, by this deathless kindly light.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Back in the Day

When I was five years old,
I would read the dictionary
in the small closet
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

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 cafés
Peopled with cyber-wise habitués
    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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September

Summer is getting tired of me.
And all my heavy mornings.
And all my hot air.
She really can't endure
my being so full of myself.

I have begun to wilt,
brown around the edges.
Summer can't hide
her exasperation.

We snap at each other:
pissed-off church-ladies,
browbeating partisans.

Summer's really had it
with how I blow
everything out of proportion.
She's fed up with
my weepy wallowing,
my bargain-basement
histrionics.

Time for a change.
Overdue, in fact.
Trot out the old saws:
turning over a new leaf,
grazing in greener pastures.

But springtime weather
isn't in the forecast.

Summer tells me
in a frosty voice
she wants to call it a day.

Monday, September 17, 2018

books should be

books should be
as fleeced yearlings
with no vestment
to shield their bulk
from November's
crisp business

books should be
artistic pilgrims
dusty sophomores
learning to lean
with souls unruffled
to the vesper light

books should be
rambunctious
full of the old one-two
sedate as coffee fiends
lawless as virgins
they should tell

deep stories
of ravers and rovers
(rant me a canticle
blush me some gospel
regal pauper
spurned and bitter prince)

books should be
egregious as
the speech of sisters
should slap you with mercy
and render you exultant
as any earth-bred seraph

Monday, August 20, 2018

Field Work

It's still my favourite Seamus Heaney book.
I met him at a reading. Boston College,
April of eighty-five. I was fifteen.
I shook his hand and blurted, "I try to write!"

"Oh, we all try to write, don't we? Probably
hard to make time for it, with your studies and all."
Kind and indulgent toward a teenager
too callow to be awestruck. I blame his ghost

for planting in my addled pate the notion
that a poet's rarely sober. His "Elegy"
(to Robert Lowell) reads: You drank America

like the heart's iron vodka. Lowell's image
(I'd later learn) translating Pasternak.
Wild and fierce and better than the movies.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Small Immediate World

Poetry is at least
half listening
as the carpenter
is being carved
by the wood.

*

What do we find,
whom do we perceive,
when we are silent
in a room full of silence
and Saturday sunlight?

*

Meditate.
Listen to the sound
the light makes
as it touches
leaves to life.

*

Share a poem
with a room full of strangers.
It doesn't have to be yours.
Maybe something you memorized
twenty, thirty years ago.
Some word which sustains,
one might say, which redeems.

*

Let me give thanks now and always
for whatever you have done,
for whatever you are doing,
for whatever you will do,
to help heal the wounds
of the small, immediate world.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Cherish the Sparrow

Cherish the sparrow
in a world of traffic.

Give thanks for cloisters
and quiet wisdom.

Prize the frail light
of six in the morning.

Hold to the human,
the flawed, the hurting.

Reject television:
the standard, the fake.

Tiptoe to approach
small lives in the hedges.

Wish upon several
immeasurable suns.

Embrace the common,
the close, the warm.

Yearn for the palpable,
ache for the near.

Crave consolation,
pockets of silence.

Sit in this life,
in this wayside chapel.

Hurt as you reckon
missed chances of mercy.

Hear the clock tick
in the sheltering dark.

Drink clear water
and wait for April.

Remember tomorrow,
recall the future.

Its name is promise,
its place is joy.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Riffraffiana

1.

On Saturday, before
I wash the coffeepot,
I'll write to Milwaukee.

2.

Eighty degrees out there,
but I'm in here
where the air conditioner's
steady hum and dry cool gust
drowse me quite stupid.

3.

Housecleaning, I find mail:
an eighteen-year-old
Christmas card from a TV news reporter
in answer to one that I had sent to her;
a recent Easter card
from the Archbishop of Chicago,
likewise answering one of mine;
letters, four or five, a handful,
from an old poet of New Hampshire
lately who has joined the numberless dead.

4.

Hundred-yard walk to the mailbox,
but I don't want to move:
mattressed, pillowed, reluctant to budge.

Still, I could use a dose of fresh air,
of summer sun, of the shade
of broad tree-limbs.

5.

You have noticed, haven't you,
that midsummer's leaves
are trashbag-black
compared to the neonate
green of April?

6.

All my words:
used up, rusted,
a '75 Dodge Dart
with smashed-out
windshield, car-corpse
fit for the junk-heap.

7.

Sometimes I second-guess
my second guesses.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Reading William Stafford

Hearing Stafford's
tone of voice,
catching his
peculiar song,
like a murmur
solitary,
far removed
from mob and throng ---
but this murmur
(whisper even)
beckons us
from slender book,
counsels Careful,
urges Look,
ventures quietly
Rejoice.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lifespan

I remember, forty-odd years ago,
in the William Francis Nursing Home
on Woodbridge Street in North Cambridge,
a lady announcing to a member of the staff:
"I was born in 1886."
I was seven, eight at most. She was ninety,
a generation older than my grandmother.
Who was President in 1886?
(Grover Cleveland. I had to look it up.)

In my lifetime (I was born
the year that Nixon assumed Cleveland's old job),
I have seen faces and heard voices
spread across thirteen decades of history!
And if I were to die today,
the date of my death would likely
coincide with the birth
of someone who will live into
the twenty-second century.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Girlfriends

Celibate bachelor pushing fifty,
I have so many girlfriends
I've long ago lost track.

They all know about each other.
Most of them are spoken for,
indeed several are married.

Some are silver-haired and dignified,
ladies of polish and erudition,
rich with the wisdom
born of experience,
others fresh-faced and lively
as a college campus,
loud with laughter
and good clean fun.

Some are as sweet
as a chanson by Fauré,
as gentle as a springtime drizzle,
as pious as the psalmody of songbirds
when the sun wakes up.
Others, by their own admission,
are tough old broads
plain as potatoes.
Others still
are brisk professionals in heels,
or jaded thirtysomethings
who've seen it all twice over
and aren't impressed.

Some have dulcet voices
redolent of Savannah,
languid as the Mississippi.
Others have voices
that give you a jolt
like a sharp north wind
knifing between Boston skyscrapers.

I love them all
with the spendthrift love
of Jesus in the Holy Land,
promiscuously blessing
Samaritans and tax collectors
fallen women, unlucky fishermen,
the dispossessed, the possessed.

I love them all
with the frank abundance
and ungrudging charity
promised but not delivered
by all those atrocious
People's Republics.

I kiss the ground they walk on,
I kiss the feet they walk with,
my thousand thousand girlfriends
who somehow put up with me.

Monday, June 18, 2018

68th Letter to a Poet

Awake till three, I tried
reading Allen Ginsberg
but overdosed on his
naughty-boy language:
baldpate sophomore.

I nodded off to TV jazz
before I could shift gears
to Wallace Stevens,
that incorruptible Eleazar
of the Apocrypha.

Half past seven now:
am contending against
the stiff day's blind
insistence, relentless
sanctimony of sun.

Sparrows chisel this
headstone of a Sunday;
I sit, all coffeed up,
still blear-brained
from short-breath'd sleep.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Magic Spell

Guido, i' vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io
fossimo presi per incantamento
Dante Alighieri


Picture this, buddy: you and me and Kevin,
air-lifted by some jacked-up magic spell.
Dropped in a boat. We sail halfway to heaven,
carried along on wind-breath and wave-swell.

No stroke of bad luck and no crappy weather
can screw up our plans for a beautiful day.
All of us, we're in this thing together.
Enchanted island? Awesome! Think we'll stay.

We've got Katrina with us, and Michelle,
and what's-her-name, Apartment 507.
We play sick music, blasted to eleven.

The girls know all the words to "Uptown Funk."
(Everyone dances better when they're drunk.)
This is the life. My boss can go to hell.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hymn to the Mother of God

When blowhards, rogues, and charlatans
    Appall me with their deeds,
In my soul's grief I seek relief
    And pray your circled beads.

When liars, fiends, and murderers
    Infest the public square,
I lift my eyes up to the skies:
    Bright Star, I find you there.

When mercy's mocked and justice jeered
    At podium and forum,
No mob or throng can thwart my song:
    Regina Angelorum!

Blossom unblighted, Rose of May,
    Maiden of Nazareth,
At nod of night, at dawn's first light,
    I praise you with each breath.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Astronomers

Scientists probe remotest galaxies;
    Sky-gazers gawk at Jupiter and Mars:
I tell you, though, this young black woman's eyes
   Could make astronomers forget the stars.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Back in the Day

I believe in 1974.
I was five years old,
reading the dictionary
in the room where reading got done,
and intent on unlocking
the mysteries of the pantry
where the light always seemed
a tristful tint of brown.

I believe in 1975.
We moved to Morris Street
and I turned six
and Jimmy Napoli, twice my age,
taught me the Our Father and the Hail Mary
on a small blackboard in the basement.

I believe in the smell of sauce
(which we called "gravy")
coming from triple-deckers
where Italian grandmothers
labored 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 believe in 45s
of old r-&-b music
that Dad got from his friends
who owned bars with jukeboxes.
When the songs weren't getting
played anymore,
I'd inherit the records:
"Everybody Plays the Fool";
"When Will I See You Again?";
"Rock the Boat";
"You Make Me Feel Brand New."

I believe in 1976,
with its Bicentennial Minutes
and my month-long case of pneumonia
and Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford
nineteen to one in Mrs Stuart's
second-grade mock election.
That quiet girl, Lisa,
who said three words all year
was the only one to vote against
the Georgia governor.

I believe in sandlot baseball
and 1977
though I was incompetent with the bat,
hapless at catching flies.
Even worse at football,
touch football, no tackling
for eight-year-olders
(though Coach George Smith
did plenty of hollering,
high-strung Vince Lombardi wannabe).

I believe in 1978
with its outlandish heaps of snow
in January and February
and the heartbreaking Red Sox'
loss to the Yankees in October
in the one-game playoff
where Bucky Dent
homered off Mike Torrez.

It was farewell to the Bradley School
in 1979, and hello to the Joseph H. Barnes:
I'd heard rumors of tough kids
who'd beat up a "brainiac,"
but my trepidation was unwarranted.
No bruises, physical or mental:
but gentle mockery for wearing "high-waters,"
pants whose legs didn't go all the way down:
that was just about it.
The girls, I found, were merciless,
but I liked them anyway.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Our Lady of the Rosary

To you we sing: a million tongues, one voice;
to you who bore the Giver of all breath:
Queen at whose sight all heavy hearts rejoice,
accept this garland of our ardent faith.

Through careworn fingers pass the circled beads:
an abacus that tabulates our praise,
a lullaby to calm our crying needs,
a remedy upon our sickest days.

Fifty Hail Marys, coolly burning coals,
refresh our speech until, no longer sour
with hate or pride, no longer parched by lust,

we beg you, Nurse and virgin, heal our souls:
minister mercy now and every hour
until we give our bones back to the dust.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Sunrise

Awake all night,
I rearrange
my fixations,
alphabetize
my compulsions,
shuffle my crushes.

Just after five,
I pop the pill
of sunrise.
Dim light
through the blinds
slips me sleepward.

In my last
waking moments,
I pray
the Lord's Prayer,
the Serenity Prayer,
the 5:29 prayer.

I give myself over
to the swerve
and sweep of dreams.
My bed is church,
my lethargy
is liturgy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thicket and Thorp

Who blossomed
this frost-branch
out of slumber?

Who's been splashing
noisy colours,
blaring bright music,

disturbing
the chilly peace
with blithesome burgeonings:

tuft of pink,
pillow of white,
spike of violet!

Sun-bathed earth,
who woke you,
softened you?

Forsythia,
insolent stripling,
who gave you leave?

Magnolia, crocus, daffodil!
I could dance
among gravestones!

Southerly wind,
sting me suddenest!
Life me, blood me,

season of spice and song,
pang, pulse, petal,
bane and bliss!

Riot of lilac
beneath the endless
breadth of blue!

Monday, April 16, 2018

My Poem

Coffee! The fuel that helps me start my poem.
Priceless or worthless? A work of art, my poem.

You're Modern English, Soft Cell, ABC,
New-wave romance melting hearts, my poem.

Cupid gets plastered in a downtown pub:
I'm punctured by his beer-flung dart, a poem.

If I were Ted Kooser, if I were Jane Hirshfield,
What would rise to the top of the charts? My poem!

I survey the train-wreck of my college days:
Yes, Fate will sunder us, rip us apart, my poem.

But now I'm forty-nine. Life can't be better!
I sit at the laptop, breathe. I start my poem.

I'm such a buffoon at Harvard Square parties;
I'll pounce on any excuse to blurt my poem.

My rhymes are vested in a suit of armour.
No barb or jibe or sneer can hurt my poem.

It's rarely well-behaved, not often proper:
Loutish, ill-shaven, malapert, my poem.

Sometimes it flies into a mindless rage,
Curses, knocks over the apple-cart, my poem.

Tommy's a silver-tongued devil, a sexy beast:
Gray-haired pot-bellied shameless flirt, my poem.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Arlington

Let's wander, get lost, go astray in Arlington!
Come on! We'll dally, linger, stay in Arlington.

Strangers here are friendly, friends are strange:
Peace permeates each day in Arlington.

There's no such thing as road rage or bar brawls:
Very few folks get carried away in Arlington!

I go over to St Agnes's to pray my rosary
With Mrs Novena, the Labouré of Arlington.

I say hi to the neighbours, to Spy Pond joggers,
To Mass. Ave. sparrows---cheerful, gay, in Arlington!

Nero's becoming a favourite spot of mine,
And the Kickstand, cool café in Arlington.

We're not too far from bookish, ivied Cambridge:
We lean a little left (our way in Arlington).

Starbucks plays host to ladies who sit and knit.
Heck, I might learn to crochet in Arlington!

Did I spot Roethke at Not Your Average Joe's?
Let seed be grass and grass be hay in Arlington!

Selectmen meet each Tuesday at Town Hall:
Citizens get to have their say in Arlington.

Of course, there are ten thousand parking meters:
If you drive, expect to pay in Arlington!

Tommy, old boy, this poem's for the birds:
Sing it to robin, finch, bluejay in Arlington.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Primavera

~~~ * + * ~~~ * + * ~~~

swift as the wind

and slow as morning
her bare feet kissed

dead earth alive
out of months of snow

and tons of winter

~~~ * + * ~~~ * + * ~~~

young as the sun

and bright as life
earth sang his joy

in daffodils
and hyacinths

in leaves of easter

Monday, March 26, 2018

See the Pyramids

Wear your birthday suit on Christmas Day;
Watch the bubbles form on crème brûlée;
Build a ziggurat with potters' clay!
        You're the one for me.

Move to Curaçao and get a tan;
Read The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Hear Bob Dylan singing, if he can!
        You're the one for me.

When in Calgary or Californ,
Pluck a rose for me, but watch the thorn!
Heaven bless the day that you were born:
        You're the one for me.

How I dote upon your shapely bod!
Sacred are the paths your feet have trod.
Won't you kiss me, for the love of God?
        You're the one for me!

Fill your coffee-mug with gin and juice;
Find a comfy chair for your caboose:
You're bewitching me, you silly goose!
        You're the one for me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Chadesh Yameinu

I listen to your music
in March---
fittingly, as your name,
Aviva,
means springtime.

Let the sun see you,
your voice urges.

Your song is light to me,
the Hebrew words
are balm and blessing,
grace and gift.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Young Woman on the Bus

Young woman on the bus
sitting toward the front.
From several seats away,
her sleek black hair
appears to be a wimple
framing her holy face.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chasing the Waves

i. m. Thomas DeFreitas (1940-2018)


With Dad. Revere Beach, 1972.
My three-year-old legs would scurry to pursue
The beast of the Atlantic in retreat.

Of course, its watery paws would soon rush back
To maul the shore. I'd run from their attack
As quickly as I could on toddler feet.

Delighted, Dad would look on, and would shout
Encouragement and warning: "Hey, watch out!
They're gonna getcha!" I would shriek and laugh.

I'm older now than Dad was then. No son
To teach this excellent art of having fun,
Of chasing waves for an hour, or a half.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Vernal Sequence

Innocent
of politics,
the birds
of Mrs Álvarez.

*

Do dials yawn?
The waking treetops
answer
with silence.

*

Old poet
consorts
with winebibbers.

*

While I breathe, I hope --
blossoms!

*

Heavy thumbs
on a dumb drum:
late spring rain.

*

Trust the day
and its thousand
graces.

*

Who would not
embezzle bliss from
April's treasury?

*

Forsythia, Elaine,
New Hampshire:
yesteryear.

*

Flowers, bees,
strawberries, joggers:
joy! joy!

*

A statue of Ignatius
among the lilacs
and the undergraduates.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

For Frank O'Hara, in Dubious Homage

One-hit wonders, Friendly's ice cream, furry kitten-slippers!
You invade my doleful precinct with your slapdash insouciance!
Wasilla, Flagstaff, Oconomowoc, Hoboken,
when will you come to me, wring my heart, ravish my eager flesh?

It's February. Can Spring be far behind?
Ask any New Englander, with memories of snow,
two feet of the stuff, on April Fool's Day,
twenty-odd years ago.

Pepperoni pizza, Depakote, baseball cards!
Nine-year-old opera enthusiasts! Audenesque reality shows!

I remember at age 16 I found your poem "A Step Away from Them"
in The Voice That Is Great Within Us.
I liked the way you slipped Italian phrases
into the cheerfully fluent chatter.
My English teacher, Mr Halloran, dismissed you:
"I wouldn't give Frank O'Hara the time of day!"

I remember at UMass Amherst a few years later
how the dark-eyed librarian tittered
when he saw the cover of your Selected Poems
(a drawing of you in the nude).

Glaswegian soup-kitchens! Eighties synth-pop!
Isn't the gladiolus the worst kind of John Hughes film?
Caedmon of Coca-Cola, Homer of ham sandwiches!
O transcendental ten-speed! Metaphysical Massapequa!

Monday, January 29, 2018

To Aeronwy Thomas

I remember that day a year before you died
when Dan announced to the St Paul's coffee-group
that you, Aeronwy Thomas,
daughter of my all-time-favourite poet,
would be reading that night at the Grolier.
I didn't go. I had some weak excuse:
didn't want to leave my apartment,
didn't want to travel in the dark.

Perhaps I was afraid—
afraid of how I'd react to seeing in person
Dylan Thomas’s daughter!
I might have burst into tears,
into nervous explosions of words,
blubbering and gushing praises
to your late father.

He wasn't just a poet to me.
He wasn't the down-to-earth Seamus Heaney
signing my copy of Field Work, and being indulgent
toward my teenage exuberance.
He wasn't John Ashbery, delightfully bickering
with James Merrill about the double sestina
in that legendary odd-couple of a reading
at Mount Holyoke.

Dylan Thomas taught me my own language.

He was a working-class lad from the provinces:
a young dog roaring like a druid lion,
a verbal Merlin on a pagan sabbath
glorying the grass, brooks, nooks, dales, vales,
the oceans above, alive and bright with stars—
hymnographer of a war-torn century,
voice of a curly cardigan'd seraph
thundering peace to the coal-black veins of the earth.

I put your name, Aeronwy Thomas,
through the YouTube search engine,
and found you reading your own poems
from a book called Later than Laugharne.

When I heard your first few words—
telling us your name—
I started weeping.

Your father's poetry
thrilled my otherwise ordinary adolescence
among triple-deckers and fire-hydrants,
amid MTV and Brat Pack films and America.
I learned by heart his psalms to the estuary
stretching beneath the Boat House,
his hymns to the cormorant, to
herons and shells
that speak seven seas
eternal waters away
from the cities of nine days' night ...

Your father in the flesh
was my father in the art.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Snow

1.

What makes these wrinkles
in the pristine snowscape,
creases like those in aged skin,
inert arctic rivulets,
veins of grey amid the white?

2.

Underneath the streetlight,
fresh-fallen snow
is sequined
with luminous blue!

3.

Outside the Mexican restaurant,
a two-foot snowman
atop a three-foot snowdune:
olive-green stocking-cap,
burgundy-and-rust-coloured scarf,
and thin black twigs for arms
one of which holds
the restaurant's take-out menu.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Victor Howes

1923-2018


You shape and play the language with skilled hands,
unfailing love, keen wit; you've studied well
the diligence of spiders, how they spin

instinctive models 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.

You gladden us who hear and read your words;
your humor, charity, and native grace
all quietly excel the commonplace.

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

Monday, January 1, 2018

64th Letter to a Poet

Surely, below zero in Arlington
at not quite 4 am.
I make the first coffee
of the brand-new year.

I watch Msgr McFarland,
dead since 2001, say the Rosary
on CatholicTV. Then I switch
to CNN, and glimpse festivities
in New York, Seattle, New Orleans,
Sydney, Hong Kong.

This New Year finds me
gray, tired, bruised,
within hailing distance
of AARP
and the first colonoscopy.

Lots of things in my life
fill me with distaste,
with trepidation.

But I begin the year
as I begin most days:
with a measure of hope---
snow as yet unblackened
by the world's trudge and traffic.

The Song of Xerxes Riffraff

I've lurched through middle age More sophomore than sage, More prodigal than thrifty Now that I'm over fifty. I hear the hounds...