Poem-a-Day for 2004
The following poems were sent out by email during 2004. They are
copyright by Dean Blehert.
Nappy Ewe Hair
[oops, I mean, Happy You, Near!]
New Years Day--the same toothbrush,
not the start of anything except
because we say so, loudly, passionately
at parties, in the seething streets,
in bed -- O, all the newspapers agree
something is starting, but the bland
familiarity of light bulbs and mirrors
tell us the newness is only what we
ourselves have made, which gives us
courage (we who make millions
of calendars agree) to dream again
that we can make decisions stick.
In the headlights, it looked like a man,
but I stopped. She was out of gas,
with a 2-year-old girl in the icy van:
"Hundreds of cars just passed!"
I came to the rescue. This will serve
to remind me that I am not a bad person
for at least the next 10 times I decide
not to pick up a hitchhiker.
You may still encounter
a few genuine queens.
They are not to be disobeyed.
If one falls in love with you, quick! --
become the king she has
mistaken you for.
A Dying Subject
No one really understands me.
Sure, most take a year of Beginning Me
in high school, maybe a semester of
College Me, but they barely scratch
the surface. Soon the rich joys
of classical me will be lost,
A riddle for posterity.
Invest in Better Traps
Spirits are slippery, hard to hold:
If your fist of a heart squeezes you too hard,
you may pop out of your head
I empty my pockets onto the dresser.
Naked, I go to bed.
If stopped by the Dream Police,
how will I prove it's me?
U (and Me) Boat
"Ping! Ping!...Ping! Ping!"
Sonar of the digital alarm seeks me out.
I run silent and deep, twisting and
turning beneath the sheets, desperate
to elude the explosion of morning.
"Ping! Ping!" Whew! That was close!
"BRRRAP! FRRRP!"--risking the noise,
I release gaseous decoy bubbles
and dive for a dream.
A Warped Life
Alarm clock! I pop through
to the visible side of the loom's
pattern to lay down another bright bit
of thread, then vanish again. Over
and under, over & under,
weaving my days.
She holds her baby to her shoulder.
Hard to be polite: I can talk
to Momma's face and Baby's back
or Baby's face and Momma's back.
Ah, but a poet's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a metaphor?
"...the community at large..."
By God! It IS, isn't it!
Who let it out? Where
Can we be safe?
My underwear grows older.
I have several generations:
The oldest survivors are size 34;
The most recent are 38's. These grow
Ragged as I put off shopping
The earnest lady told me
my certainties came from Satan.
"Don't be ridiculous!"
said my mouth.
[Note: In the story books of my childhood, genies, below the waist,
became wisps of smoke. Similarly, in the imaginings of my early
puberty, naked girls got very vague just below the waist (in front).
Hence the following poem:]
On Bottomless Genies and Jeannies
(Or A Lad 'n His Magic) [Aladdin's magic]
In my raw youth, I didn't know
Just how a woman looked below.
Each wet dream, molded without model,
Rose like a genie from a bottle,
Lips I could touch, breasts I could see,
Then fading fast to mystery:
I'm full of passion, but half-assed --
Genies grant wishes all too fast!
Stroking, stroking the magic bottle--
What will come out? Not a lot'll.
Ah! lovely visions, crude, half-bakéd,
Wholly mine, though but half-naked. [and butt-half naked -- that
much I could imagine even then!]
closing your eyes
with me inside.
"Beauty is only skin-deep."
I go into you as far as I can,
coming to the unraveling edge of skin,
but no end of beauty.
Kiss Encounters Deer
You see, poised in the headlights,
a deer, graceful beyond words. You try
to say it--the words keep falling over,
so you tuck it away, hoping to find use
for that beauty someday. Later you meet
a girl whose kiss has a lightness
you can't describe. The words are heavy
on the tongue.
You tuck it away in that same bag,
where it gets jumbled around until
kiss encounters deer,
and suddenly her lips touch you and,
like a deer (whose vanishing
lingers on the highway like the
vanishing of the touch of lips),
Birth and Taxes
When the heart stopped pumping,
he or it hung around, hovering
over the couch, at first
out of pity for the lumpish thing,
no longer him, then for the sheer
luxury of it having nothing to do
with him, this mess he'd been
cleaning up after for 70 years--others
must carry it away, gawk and gag at it,
praise it, clean it, bury it; others
must go through shirts, belts,
ties, shoes, books, check stubs....
After a few weeks, disgusted with teary
and tearless alike, bored at not being
consulted, he/it drifted up and away,
enjoying the lightness, the view,
but sensing a growing attraction,
the inevitability of birth.
Their fear is not of flight,
But of Boeing & Nothingness.
Trying to be profound,
We live between dates
like books between bookends:
Joe Doaks, 1873-1925, noted whatever:
He's complete--starts in 1873, ends
in 1925. I am Dean Blehert, 1942-?,
turning the pages as fast as I can
to find out how it all comes out.
We rendezvous as usual in bed, me
in my body, she in hers, so that no one
will suspect our spiritual connection.
"We can't go on meeting this way!"
Thinking my ideas strange, she said,
"You must come from another planet."
Odd--don't the planets come from us?
"Let me see if I like this," he says,
tasting it with a tidy grimace, slowly,
taking the time to consult with the
intricate fastidious machinery that will
torture him later if he ventures
on his own to like something.
Fever Dream With Cough
A childhood house with unfamiliar rooms,
a dark tunnel beyond the attic door and
a child-me who knows too much
is collapsed by a cough
into a crumpled pillow, which
a second cough shakes out
into a 2 a.m. house one begins
to recognize. More coughs can change
little, but they come, grinding
against something sharp in the throat
that keeps coming back. Attacked
in my own body, where can I go
to sleep? If I can stifle the itch
long enough to dream a subtler dream,
I will tiptoe out of my head along
the dream's edge and be far away
when next my body shakes the bed,
changing nothing, not even dreams.
I Say the Cutest Things
Almost five years we've been married,
but have no children. The oldest
of the children we haven't had
(a boy, I think) is nearly five,
a good kid, tough, bright, cute,
though already his tow-head is light
brown. Whoever had him instead of us,
I'm sure he's loved and in good hands.
The other two (a girl and a boy,
I think) are also thriving. All feel
they are where they belong, among toys,
chairs, and faces they know to be the
only toys, chairs and faces there are.
later, perhaps, each will wonder
if there is not a truer home
than they know, a presence calling
faintly in the hush of wind moving away
through tall grass on the hillside,
a sense of something just out of
reach...which may have nothing to do
with their being the children we never
had. We, too, are doing very well:
My wife's smile never fails to charm me,
and I always say the cutest things.
[Note: Written many years ago. We've now been married nearly 21
Pictures on the grade-school wall:
This is how you make a tree with
crayons: Green balls on brown sticks,
except in autumn, when balls are orange.
That yellow spider in the upper right
is the sun, a long explosion of light,
eaten by the tree-balls. The sky
is always deep blue with white blobs.
And here is how a house is done, a dog,
a cat, and boys, skating. I remember
learning how to draw these things,
but not what they were supposed to say.
They are obscure hieroglyphics now,
speaking almost inaudibly, not of cats,
houses, and blue sky, but of the smell
of crayola wax, my fingernail scratching at dried,
but pungent, chewing gum under a desk-
lid, and the way my colors always
overlap patchily and won't lie down
in neat, bright, discrete solid shapes
like the girl's across from me.
"Just leave me alone!"
He said to himself,
Poetry notebook: my ledger-de-main.
I got a lot done today: There was
sunrise, morning, afternoon, and now
I'm working on evening.
Sleep, waking, sleep, waking...
click-click...If I keep changing
channels, surely I'll find something
I don't know why I get so furious
with my government. It does dumb things,
but even my best friend makes a mess
on the rug once in a while, & a dog
is much smarter than a government.
But I wish my government were as cute
as my dog.
People who think there is no one there
but a brain should not be allowed
to use the word "I". Let them speak
like coy scholars, unwilling to admit
to the creation of anything: "It is
not unlikely that..." "One would
hope..." "It is Evident that...."
Let them speak Only in passives:
"The store was gone to by this body and
shopping done." Let them be fined
for saying "I think", beaten
for "I know"--and for "I love you"
tortured body and soul.
And if they repeat that offense and
won't recant, let them be confined
for life to this cell of their choice.
Either/And/Or by Kierke-guarded.
My heart keeps pounding,
Trying to nail me to my body.
But I will claw my way free,
And the heart will fail.
As I awaken from old dreams of waking,
I know this is no dream, for once before,
when I was awake and knew it,
I left myself a message to remind me
(if I ever returned) where I am,
left it right there
in your eyes.
Don't blow up the planet
Just to make each other wrong.
Why clutch the world so tightly?
You can have it for a song.
Bird chirps off-stage right
Make my day.
No beauty is lost for a poet:
When you goodbye it, hello it.
The Vet says to have him fixed...
But he's not broken!
Who set the cat for Snooze Alarm?
Ten minutes after she meows to go out
(at 6 a.m.), she meows to come in.
The first time the cat curls up against me and falls asleep,
I am proud: See! I can be trusted!
(Children & animals loved him,
the biographies will say.)
After a few nights of dreams of coffins
(because I can't turn over in bed),
my biographers discover that I am
a rough, direct man who sometimes
regrets his violent impulses afterwards,
but doesn't lose sleep over them.
Imagine! Someday we'll be nostalgic
Whoever I am on those days
When I'm not myself, has his own
Obnoxious society. He awakens his
Cohorts, and all that day he clashes
With others who are not themselves.
They get along beautifully,
Except when his dead father
Gets into savage fights
With her dead mother.
Women Know About These Things
Only men die of heart attacks
during intercourse. You never hear
of it happening to a woman. Probably
it happens, but the men don't notice
until later, after the first smoke,
or maybe when there's no breakfast,
so it's assumed that they died in their
sleep. You just can't miss it when a man
dies in the saddle: He...well,
I don't know about such things, being a
man, but it's the sort of thing women
They have good reasons
for being upset with me.
I wish I could help them be less upset,
but how can I argue
with such good reasons?
Then there's the burglar whose neighbor
runs a pawnshop and buys the take:
Good neighbors make good fences.
Artists say we should find
a proper viewing distance. If life seems
rough or blurry or unreal,
we may be standing too close.
I'd best love the world
until I can separate
out of the dung heap
all I've given it --
to make it interesting --
How The Great Poets Have Influenced Me
Planaria are tiny worms.
A researcher claimed he'd taught some of them
simple responses; then, when he chopped up
the educated worms
(for learning is not respected in our time),
and fed them to ignorant worms
(for the ignorant ever devour the learned),
the ignorant worms were found to be educated
(for the punishment must be suited to the crime).
On this principle, teachers
chop up poets and force-feed them
to students, who ever after
We would not eat so many cows and pigs
if they could articulate their
admiration for us in some language
other than flavor.
Some never have a last kiss.
There is always a last time,
but at the time
it isn't the last.
Only later you find out
it was over. Last kisses
are rare privileges granted those
willing to know something is finished
when it is.
Those who will not know
are given, in compensation,
muddy memories in which nothing
is ever over with.
The meek shall inherit
the national debt.
The meek shall inherit the earth.
The strong know they can do better.
Some say we're here on earth
to suffer. I'm sure we are --
and we've made a lot of other
stupid agreements too.
I don't care
what everybody thinks.
I just wish they'd quit thinking it
in my head.
Come here...it's OK,
that's a good tongue --
what have you found in my gums?
Popcorn shell! GOOD tongue!
It is hard to refuse a cat or dog or
small child anything; they are so
certain! The only argument that works
Is brute force.
Adults are more civilized:
You just wave a reason
In their faces, stirring up all the
self-doubts planted long ago by
"Are you sure that's what you want to do?"
("I'LL TEACH YOU
ONCE AND FOR ALL...!")
When I've learned to feel
the most intense joy and sorrow
known to man, I can become
a great poet or maybe even
The Small Steady Flame and the Brief Flare
Love is not
always being turned on, but,
like having a pilot flame burning,
makes it easier.
What Will Have Been
"What bothers me is that soon
all this will be just a memory."
"What bothers me is that the memory
may be an improvement."
I'd be the FIRST to admit
I'm not perfect, said the
He puffs and puffs until in his hands
a bright balloon bounces gently,
turns to him a smiling painted face,
and he melts.
Inside the breakwater, tired slap of
surf on the smooth sand, like a gentle
pat on the ass
in the lull after loving.
Why is it that people who say things
that "go without saying"
go on saying
Can You Spare a Buck?
Don't feed the deer, say the park signs:
Their sharp hooves can hurt you, and
they need to stay wild. Besides,
they'll just trade it for more booze.
This is not an ideal world;
it's an I-deal-you-deal-we-all-deal world.
Relax. Don't worry about a thing.
You're safe here in a meat body
on a stockyards planet where
the leaders are the ones
who wear the loudest bells
and are first on the ramp.
Gesturing over the hole in his
hollow guitar, he plucks from it
tune after tune, like a magician's
endless unfolding of red, blue
and yellow handkerchiefs. Even after
he stops strumming, out fall
a few leftover chords that open up
into white birds and circle overhead.
I stood still for a long time
so the tree would know I was there.
I've been in this park before. I wrote
a poem about it. Don't worry about a
thing--the trees all know me here.
While Other Poets Await Their Turns To Read...
He reads on and on, past many good
stopping points. The stopping points
get better and better.
Birds busy the air, fidgeting
from tree to tree, blips of static
across the clear blue screen.
The dog lopes ahead, starts
at grass hurling two black birds
into a tree.
Across three tables
The trashcan proclaims THANK YOU--
To me? You're welcome.
That Sinking Feeling
He felt drained --
An out-of-sync feeling.
Do not ask of the candidate,
is he sincere? The most you can ask
of a candidate (without being plunged
into bottomless doubts) is what position
he takes, and that's of possible use --
from all that rhetoric to glean
a position, a place to stand,
a way to stand that, perhaps,
you hadn't noticed before (though
passing it daily on your way to work).
Try out some new positions -- see if
you can stand in them, sit in them,
live in them.
Each candidate creates a new position;
who knew there were so many ways
to embrace us voters?
"I'll give you everything you want;
It will save you and your children,
and it won't cost you a dime!" says
a candidate on top in missionary position.
The Primary is our Kama Sutra:
So many ways
to screw us.
The education of a poet is like a trip
to the dentist: Young poet opens wide,
and into his mouth are stuffed wads
of cotton, tubes, clamps--all the
bric-a-brac of 20th Century Poetry.
At last, mouth agape with surreal
drains and cutting imagery, muffled
with obscure allusions, the poet
is ready to speak ("How's it feel?
OK?" asks the dentist): "Mmphrgypxt"
mumbles the patient/poet to his
admiring, uncomprehending audience.
Come to the poetry reading. My poems
are much better out loud -- you get
to see my moustache wiggle up and down
with the tip of my nose.
A facial expression is like a pet:
After years of your taking it out for walks,
it begins to look like you.
I celebrate the "L" that "public" sheds
to become private:
O joyous no-L!
The teacher told us funny names like
Antarctica and that North America was
a continent and even Europe (which
I'd thought a country where things
were quaint and poor). Then we learned
the names of oceans, seas, countries,
states, cities, trees--and someday
I'll know your name.
We move sluggishly from room to room.
The dog prances before, after, around us
like a writer of corny romances,
punctuating our dullest lines
with exclamation points.
Why did the dog cross the road
Because he's a goddamned idiot
and he'll never learn!
There's something I want to tell you...
I forget what.
Wanting to tell you
Doesn't go away as easily
as knowing what.
Waiting For Us To Happen
The dog lies around all day, except
when he dashes to the door to bark
rapturously at a bike or a passing
squirrel, waiting for us to come home
and make life interesting. We arrive,
he nudges our hands and legs during
dinner, joins us on the couch while we
watch TV, wanders back & forth from his
big cushion to our bedside (trying
my side, then yours), still hoping
something will happen, at last, with
a sigh, thrice circles his cushion,
settles down to puppy-whimper dreams.
The next day, forgetting, he waits
for us to come home
and make life interesting.
Today, knowing my reading will be
televised, I find myself putting on
my best underwear, as if for a
striptease or a car accident.
When Fred the cat wants to be fed,
he meows repeatedly, really a squawk,
an irate quack: he looks back, squawking,
as he leads me downstairs
to his empty bowl, talking right to me
so clearly I feel I could speak cat --
though he's never told me the word for
Our love trails off into the night.
What is not said is somehow said and
becomes the night, which stretches out,
as we go our separate ways, to include
others, who sleep safe in our love.
Every ounce of fat is a decision
I let something make for me.
Close Encounters of the Fourth Course
The dessert tray, a shimmering alien
civilization of mirrored chocolate domes
and creamy turrets and tessellated plazas,
cherry-studded, with gardens of emerald
kiwi, descends, hovers, whisks away,
hovers near again--I feel tractor beams
reaching out to me, probing, searching
for intelligent life to pervade,
and now, all purpose, all sense of
proportion vanished, I am being pulled
in, closer...closer--suddenly before my
glazed eyes the pecan pie is about to
speak to me, I know it!...
And that's all I remember.
She has painted her toe-nails ruby red.
Touching! We stand there in our
middle-aged bodies, her bright toe-tips,
grinning up at me, as if, already, we
reminisce: "Remember when you were
a woman?" "And you a man?"
On the pond's surface
yellow leaves slowly go round,
hung between two skies.
Which is the sky?
Do I hang
Not one ripple
tells the way.
Sky so clear the leaves
whether to fall up
When whistled at by a hippopotamus,
It's time to reduce hip or bottom mass
What can you give
someone who has everything?
He speaks of her beauty,
delicate as a floating bud
swirling at the top of a waterfall,
about to go over, and she,
like the bud, utterly unaware
of her beauty.
Feeling the keenness of his admiration,
I cannot but believe it sparks,
leaps the gap like lightning
to confer awareness:
Her knowledge of her beauty
is in his knowing it.
[Note: The first stanza paraphrases a poem by Richard Wilbur. The
second and third stanzas respond to that poem.]
Despite The Disguises Of Some Of Us...
"They even killed the children!"
Why say that? When anyone suffers,
a child suffers.
Morning--chest pain. "You'd better
have it checked out." But he doesn't:
The body is already checked out;
he's afraid he'll be told it's overdue.
Slipping out of the body, only
about two inches. Not much
of a view, hovering at the back
of a shaggy head. He's hardly a twinkling
in the air, a phantom hummingbird
scouting out the spine's convoluted
blossom: Tempting, but if he plunges in,
will he be able to fly away?
The more she nags him about being fat,
the deeper he buries his ribs,
hiding them from man and from God too,
lest one be borrowed for another
They caught mad Ahab
on the freeway, trying to harpoon
an old white Cadillac. The cop
gave him a cetacean.
After years of subduing her passions,
she emerged Victorian.
A transvestite's like any man: he wants
to get into her pants. He's just more
selfish about it.
"If you see a thing as it is,
"Yes, the last time love was a thing,
I seem small, swallowed up by my head,
as the sun is dwarfed by a fingertip,
if you don't know about the distance.
Fred the cat hasn't appeared for meals
two days now. He usually squawks
for his food and demands seconds. This
is not like him. I'm afraid he's become
something else, something not like him
After 2 1/2 days of being a fly-ridden
lump in the woods, a smear on the road,
and a hundred other pathetic pictures,
Fred the cat taps at the pane beside
our door and strolls in, demanding
his next meal, gobbles it down, and asks
to be let out. We're being used.
We should clobber him
with a rolling pin.
While Working On Responses To A Government Proposal
"Shall be available to the user no later than...",
"Shall be provided by the contractor
as required under paragraph II.B.3.c..."--
the military runs on passive voice,
everything carried out by no one
(all asses shall be covered...).
Flies bustling about
on that piece of dung like old-
time movie actors.
Ye Sandwiches Of Little Faith
My healthfood-store sandwich contains:
"Eggs, 7-grain bread, mayonnaise,
tomato, alfalfa, sprouts, celery, seasoning
Ah! What profiteth it an egg salad
sandwich that it hath love,
if it hath not even one small seed
"YOU aren't so damned special!" you yell --
you never say that
to anyone else.
She puts a thin white roll of paper
to her lips and -- strange -- lights
a match, real flame!, to one end,
only inches from her mouth, then -- and
this is odd -- inhales and
breathes out smoke! She must be
practicing for a circus. I'll bet
it's a trick, not really dangerous.
Maybe she'll teach me how it's done.
From his mouth
words come my way.
From his hand
smoke runs interference.
In handling stress,
it helps to get
his or her name.
I am an opinion leader:
All my opinions
follow me everywhere,
like a ragged line
of noisy ducklings.
[Note: "Opinion leader" is a term in public relations
for a person who strongly influences the opinions of his group.]
Sex as a solution to loneliness
is like looking up the answers
in the back of the book.
The REAL party is always going on
in the next room.
After a few lifetimes of bracing
against the rigidity of your own frown
as if clenching in your fists
the bars of a cell, you forget
whether you're trying to get out or
holding on tight
for fear of falling out
or to keep others out.
The earth is an immense data storage system.
Each blade of grass stores
gigabits of information. Our access time
is measured in millennia, if we don't,
in the process, crash the system.
"So all day we sang songs of peace
and protest." Peace and protest?
War and contentment?
Runaway children sell their bodies
to adults who can't run away, so
buy cheap second-hand pangs
of a child's lostness.
"Free Nelson Mandela"--posters always
tell officials to free people.
Officials, do you know how
to free people? Please
I used to think, "Why can't people
just be good?" That was before
I went on a diet.
Life is hard work.
It should end with prolonged applause,
lots of curtain calls, flowers,
and a cast party at an all-night deli.
Actually, it does, except the star
is missing (indisposed? disposed of?),
has to get that beauty sleep for the
next performance of
"A Star is Born".
Strange how my pen knows
I have nothing to say
long before my mouth finds out.
If you know this poem, sing along.
With relief he set his suitcase down
on the motel floor, opened it, and
stepped out of it,
ready for his appointment.
He frowns at the bar,
searching for the lost smile
his glass is winking at us.
After she has the dog put to sleep,
the dog cries all its tears
through her eyes, relieving her
of the mute, tearless gaze.
The child is parent to the person?
[Note: The above is the politically correct revision of Wordsworth's
famous line, "The child is father to the man."]
I reminded myself to remember.
I didn't remember to remember,
but later I remembered that I had
forgotten to remind myself to remember,
but couldn't remember what.
All the real people were finished
years ago. Children now look like
inexpensive reissues of children then.
Old people are shabby imitations of the
mysterious little old men and women
of my childhood. Parents lack that
weighty parentness of OUR mothers
and fathers. Teenagers go through
all the gestures of alienation like
frenetic zombies. And I find myself
unbelievable in this middle-aged role.
The commentators lament the lack of
substance in the campaign, then talk
on & on about how I feel about the
candidates' attempts to make me feel
the way the commentators think
the candidates want to make me feel.
I listen ardently, sneering at the lack
of substance in the campaign, eager
to hear if I feel the way the commentators
think the candidates think they are
making me feel, avid for the last drop
of gossip about who thinks who has been
most successful in making me feel the way
the commentators think the feeling-makers
want me to feel.
They are all so considerate
of my feelings! I can't drag myself away
to go to the polls: I don't want
to miss a word about how I'm voting.
After the breakup of his marriage,
he determined to have his women
without further I do.
Poetry doesn't come easily to me.
I drag her in, kicking and screaming:
"No! Not without all my pretty
adjectives! O! My complexity! You...
you you PIG! What have you done to my
best SYMBOLS! My GOD! No! Stop! People
will see me like this and get the idea
I'm just TALKING to them! Wait!
FLASH! A new age of hope dawns!
The American Psychiatric Association
has proclaimed that cancer is not a sickness,
but an alternate life style.
[Note: The above poem (or non-poem), when first published in Deanotations
in the late 80's, outraged one reader, who thought I was attacking
the Gay Rights movement. That wasn't my intention. Perhaps that
shoe fits, but, in fact, the poem was inspired by an article in
the Washington Post by a shrink who argued that drug addiction is
a perfectly natural and healthy human condition. Traditionally,
when quacks can't cure something by treatment, they cure it by redefinition.
These days the process is more complex: They find a drug that will
suppress a symptom, then define an illness to fit the symptom so
that they can "cure" it with a drug. (Which a person,
though cured, is expected to take for the rest of his life; no wonder
some shrinks want to redefine drug addiction as normal.) It's a
great way to corner the market: Illnesses are created by definition,
and, as needed for political reasons or because they aren't being
"cured" by "treatment", they can be cured by
definition. Invest in dictionaries! Also stock in sarcastic quotation
marks is booming.]
[The reader DID have a point. The APA defined homosexuality as illness
or disorder or dysfunction or whatever until gay organizations made
this politically incorrect, at which point the APA "discovered"
(by a show of hands -- the latest in science) that homosexuality
was not an illness after all. On the other hand, children, having
lousy lobbies, can be found to be suffering from any invented illness,
as long as the symptoms are behaviors that piss parents off, so
that parents don't form lobbies to defend their children. So every
conceivable form of "acting up" is now a "disorder"
to be "treated" by extremely powerful drugs. The APA figures,
what parent will protest a drug if it keeps the kid quiet.]
A Good Walk
When I walk past with my poetry notebook,
big dogs and small run along fences
to yip at me, cats sunning themselves at the curb
reluctantly rouse themselves
to slink under the nearest car and
settle, just out of sight by the curb-tire,
a boy hanging half out of his pants
from a low branch, who has just yelled
to his sister "I'm gonna jump!"
pauses, turns halfway in air to see
if I'm watching; a police car slows,
cruises on, and a man and woman
walking the other way say "Hello",
as if I'd been invited to this party
I'm the life of.
Adolescent, he dreamed of cheesecake.
At 40 he settled for cottage cheese.
After three hours sleep, washed,
dressed, driving to work, my body
muttering the while: "He's kidding, he's
got to be kidding!"
Bird Thou Never Wert
Educational TV swoons over the
"Mysteries of the Human Mind"--meaning
BRAIN, delighting in the discovery
of links--making a synapse twitch to produce
the magic of (TADA!) a facial tic
or (Good Heavens!) an emotion.:
Again and again a doctor is shown
peering triumphantly at the grey pudding
as if, after studying the stains
left by an escaped bird on
the newspapered floor of the empty cage,
one should proclaim, "You see, it's all
here, there never was a bird, just
this old grey stuff!"
Another Adage For The Obscene Herd:
Parents should be sane, but not hard.
Time doesn't go "tick tick tick."
If time has a voice, it is all
our voices, and it chants,
"Be with me always."
I've created a poetry virus: It takes advantage
of a little-known weakness in human isolation
called the Live Communication utility, uses it to
penetrate the system, and proliferates itself
at readings and in magazines,
clogging the lines, making it almost
impossible for anyone to even THINK
of writing SERIOUS poetry.
Life is a slow drowning. Your life
passes before your eyes; it takes
When I die, I don't want a funeral,
just a long scrolling of credits:
parents by..., wives by..., lyrics
by..., the works! Surely I deserve
no less than a movie, much less
a bad TV series.
A Cure For Poetry Disorder
There are a few other poets on this planet,
but I'm the main one.
When, at full moon,
a stake is driven
through my shriveled heart,
all the others will be cured.
Blinding late fall sun --
no hungry leaves gobbling it up
on the way down.
As I expand to fill up a space
larger than my body,
a knowledge of who I am comes
with the territory.
Big beings clumsily mastering
their tiny new bodies, like basketball players
trying to ride kids' trikes.
Every Child's Power
New to our delicate bodies, we have a power
in our reaching: Whatever we touch
is touched by our reaching: the mothers
whose arms are ever after ours
and whatever else is enchanted by our
Desert's child is always cherished
by sand and palms, mountain's child
comes always back to the hills'
glad greeting, the trees we first charm
tend us and are sad to leave or be left.
Nothing can resist, then,
the power of our reaching.
Ways And Me-ness
Too many people get in my way.
Do I get in your way?
Perhaps we should change
The difficulty in getting capitalism and
communism to work is getting capitalists
and communists to work.
Everything will go the way I want
when I regain the ability to want.
Find you're not your milieu,
We will not go free sooner
by waiting harder.
We don't want to out-grow our games.
If you were the size of a planet or a galaxy,
who would you talk to? Playing God
would be as boring as solitaire
or stomping on anthills, but require
more attention. Every lonely child
dreams a doll or book will come to life.
If you know how to grow, you must teach
others. You won't let yourself make it
O to be an English novelist, so I'd
know precisely how things should be
and notice how people wear their hair,
pick up teacups, choose ties (according
to which college), etc., and most people
would do it wrong, somehow, making me,
somehow, don't you know, righter.
Talk War To Me, Baby!
Bomber, fighter, machine gun -- exciting words
to a child just after World War II
(and "World War II" are exciting words).
EEEYAOOLM! Here comes a bomber!...
KaBOOM! Almost as exciting as talk
about going number one and number two
and speculating about the nature
of higher numbers. I wonder what excites
There Are Some Things That A Dog Has To Do -- If He's Really A Dog
"Yip! Yip! Yip!" goes the little dog,
each muscle, each hair convulsing
in his need to tell everyone
that a stranger is at the door.
they tell him, "It's OK." But he won't
shush; he knows his duty!
So they drag him from the room,
Hard to express how much
someone at the door changes the
universe. To express this, we have
poems and dogs.
In its small circle of concrete pot,
this shabby city tree, trunk thin
as the stem of a parking meter,
has tonight for voice a mockingbird,
for breath a breeze from the west,
and for dreams two yellow moths
flitting in & out among the shiny green leaves.
"Look at me! I'm a forest!"
sings the little tree
in the parking lot.
A Cold War Poem
Save us from Russia, China, Iran--
Must we have places too far to walk to?
Save us from governments, unions, the Klan.
Save us from anything too big to talk to.
Save us from saviours who want to be killed.
The tyrant we'll crush, but spare us the slave.
O! Save us from all of the systems we build
To save us from ourselves, who alone can save.
A Small Lie
When you confessed, we laughed
about the silly lie you'd fooled me with
for three weeks, like the bedroom curtains
when I'm in the livingroom, or the house
& your love for me when I sleep or am
miles away, it was there, but it was a lie,
and who knows what else is not
where I am not looking?
Lovely actress in King Kong's fist,
EEEKing out a living.
S. T. Coleridge, finish the poem--tell us:
What did Xanado? And who did Kubla Khan?
Feel free to read the poems,
but PLEASE DON'T FEED THE POETS.
Arriving and departing this evening,
I embrace my aunt, my uncle, my cousin --
the routine embraces, but tonight,
for some reason, each feels as warm
and fragile in my arms as a lover.
We are supposed to care for each other --
even when we are SUPPOSED to.
No history book tells of people waiting
in waiting rooms, because it is not seen
that they make things happen,
nor do they, but THEY happen, or rather,
when enough men have waited long enough,
there occur the explosions we call History.
On drugged streets, at offical desks,
it is risky to wave the white flag of a
smile; they can see the thousand rifles
pointed their way, hear the thousand
clicks; if they smile back, it isn't
pretty. Dangerous to challenge the
Sahara with a teacup of water or to
offer a little love to the unloved.
the conquest of air,
imprisoning it in a tangible cloud.
Lipping it, touching tongue to it,
I feel what the Wright brothers, what
Lindbergh felt, making the air hold them
as I, on the tip of my tongue, hold a billow
Stop Poking Me With That Thing!
Lover, parent, friend, brother,
the more we lie, the more we eye
each other aslant.
Perhaps like Pinnochio's,
our noses grow so long
we can't be close
while facing one another.
It's not that I have no will power--I have
50 pounds more of it than I need.
Will an apple nine out of ten days
keep nine out of ten doctors away?
The world is not our dream,
but we think we must dream it.
Someone said, "Take my place for a minute
and hold up the sky while I rest --
I'll be right back." We did;
he never came back. If it were our dream,
we could undream it. Now we think
if we let go, we'll be crushed, so, slowly,
we are crushed.
Lies are as bright & frail as red & gold
autumn leaves, but when they've been
crunched underfoot, layer after layer,
for millions of years, they rot,
compress into this hard black coal and
oily sludge we live in now & call lies.
Exxon casts oil upon the water, ancient
compressed ferns, dinosaurs stretch out
upon the ocean, taking over again.
I read my poems to my friends. At another table,
a lady, not listening, eats supper.
When I get to the slightly indecent punchline,
not listening, she sputters her soup, chokes, laughs;
live communication exposes all the communication
already swarming in an indivisible ecology
around our charade of separate tables.
Holidays -- we try to care for one another,
like pinning the tail on the donkey,
since we little know who we are,
holding out crude symbols with which to admire
each other's symbols, impatient to remove
our blindfolds (hearing sweet laughter)
and see who makes fun.
The man with the gun is in a hurry
because he doesn't want to know
where he's going. He takes wallet,
watch, sometimes hurts, sometimes kills
people he might like if he had time
to get to know them -- he might even
like himself if he had time, but he is
in such a hurry, barely one step ahead
of an ancient terror; don't get in his
way, or the thing he runs from will
catch him and take him over and
Isn't It Past Your Bedtime?
Sex tags along after
the reaches of spirit,
a small child awkwardly imitating
The babies look at us pleadingly,
trapped there squirming
in sensitive bundles of meat.
Since we have them thus bound and gagged,
they have the right to assume
we mean them harm, strolling among them,
smiling, consoling, we who are free
to move on our tether to the utmost edge
of our body's supply of food, air, sleep
and desire, we who suspect the freedom
One Day, in the Midst of Feeling Wrong...
Maybe I'm right...
I think I could be right.
But then--could someone else be wrong?
Could someone else be full of shit?
It is not unheard of that others
have been full of shit. I can't quite
grasp the vistas this opens before me.
Could I be right?
Lost far from home, I decide to retrace
my own tracks, but as I follow my footprints,
they grow larger, deeper, and farther apart.
At last, standing in the heel of my own footprint,
peering over the rim, I cannot make out
the next footprint on the horizon. I must become
again a giant to take my next step.
The Poetry Reading Game
The new game is Poetical Chairs:
When the poetry stops, you try to find
a chair with someone still in it.
The Poet as Jewish Mama
Here are some nice fresh words...
DON'T make that face at me!
Eat every noun and verb,
or you'll get no adjectives!
And stop playing with the punctuation!
She likes to read from Roethke & Rilke
And their ilke.
My stuff's no kin to Rilke & Roethke,
[A probably unnecessary note, but some readers were puzzled: Roethke
(usually pronounced Rithkah, though it should probably be Rothke
with an umlaut over the "o") is Theodore Roethke, a much-admired
American poet of the last century. Rilke, pronounced Rilkah (Rainier
Marie Rilke) is an even more admired poet from earlier in that century.
Both are kind of classy (snob appeal -- especially Rilke), which
is not to say they aren't good, just that someone might well use
their names to say, "See what a fine member of the intelligentsia
I am". So in the poem I make a bit light of the lady (no one
on this mailing list, someone I met in the '80s) who liked to drop
their names. For the fun of it, I misspelled "ilk" as
"ilke" to rhyme with Rilke and misspelled kith (as in
"kith and kin") as "kithke" to rhyme with Roethke.
I guess the joke is in the silly rhymes, since the European pronunciation
of the names is so Continental and distinguished, but so silly in
the words used to rhyme with them. The two who wrote me were both
confused by "kithke" -- it's just kith (acquaintances)
in silly disguise. The last two lines simply say that my poems are
neither kin or kith to Rilke and Roethke. I'm working on my degree
in false modesty.]
The dogs of third world countries
are not like ours: preoccupied
with covering their noon shadows
and being covered by other shadows,
smart about cars, caring nothing
about people nor wanting to be one of them,
barely noticing them, stepping slowly
through vacant lots like survivors
of too many bombings.
"Here's your food," I say.
"I love you!" says the dog.
"Sit," I say.
"I love you!" says the dog.
"Come here," I say.
"I love you!" says the dog.
I feel loved, yet misunderstood.
Butterfly flashes inside out
the gold inner lining
of blue sky.
From the woods a cardinal arcs past,
making in air a flash of crimson thread
along which I can tear to open my life.
[Note: I hope this poem isn't obscure yet: Don't Bandaids, for example,
still have red threads that you can pull to tear open the paper
covering? (Haven't needed one lately.)]
"Pantyhose!" he said, "Here's another
fine mesh you've gotten yourself into!"
THE LONE POET
Into the crowded room bristling with
guitars, I walk with my pen.
I saw a man savagely beating his horse.
The horse simply, sadly stood there.
"You're destroying him! Please, REACT!" I said
to the horse.
Join the society for the prevention
of cruelty to the good guys.
(Don't worry about the bad guys -
they're protected by law.)
On the way to the Whipsnade Zoo in 1929,
C.S.Lewis had a revelation: "I did not
believe that Jesus Christ is the Son
of God, and when we reached the zoo,
I did." Wonderful, the way
educated Englishmen have revelations!
A Note On The Slaughter of Laughter
In "terror" --
You're eighty now, but are you old?
Is "below zero" cold?
When, after years in bland L.A.,
One frozen Minnesota day
I stepped out of the plane, it felt
Like home. And how could something melt
In me behind that stinging mask?
I know it's impolite to ask,
But are you old? Or underneath
The mask of skin and bones and teeth
And marks of every passing thought,
Are you yourself? -- the one long sought,
Come home? In this cold blast,
Can something thaw at last?
The Cruelest Mouth
"Today", says the Humanities Professor,
"we're going to hear T.S.Eliot readThe Wasteland."
We wait tolerantly, for the scrazzle-frazzle
of the phonograph needle to become
a famous poet becoming the voice
of someone talking to whomever
he's talking to (surely not us).
After hours or only seconds
of scratching, a deep dry voice emerges:
"The WASTE LA-Aaa
and sinks, never to return, since
the Professor can't get the phonograph
working again, so that is all
I've heard of T.S.Eliot reading The Wasteland
on earth and all I need to hear.
For those of you who have just tuned in,
do not be alarmed: This is only
a simulation; you are listening
to serious poetry. No actual live
communication to real persons, living or
dead, is intended.
Look at that audience,
so quiet, perhaps even attentive --
poetry readings renew my faith in human
We've been here too long
when what our clothes and furniture
would say if they could talk
is exactly what we say.
In Hell poor sinners sorely suffer
For their sins. To Heaven go
Their friends and spouses, thence to harp
and chant all day, "I TOLD you so!"
As days and miles grow between us
and within us,
we have less to say to each other;
chitchat of daily details
only exascerbates the distance.
Soon, from star to star,
only the simplest truths will reach
to tell us where we still touch.
[Here's a poem I wrote back in the early-to-mid-80s, when Macintosh
had all the fancy icons, and most computers still used DOS:]
When the Department of Defense converts to MacIntosh...
All the red doomsday buttons will be replaced
with more user-friendly alternatives so that
when the BIG MOMENT comes (The envelope please!
Yes, folks! It's World War III!!), a hand will move
a plastic mouse, which will cause a bright icon
of the planet to vanish into a cute trash can,
and the world will end
not with a bang, but a beep!
On First Learning How Babies are Made:
Strange, seeing a thing as familiar as a bathtub toy,
to suddenly realize what it is, as if,
after you've cherished for years
a silver picture of a president,
someone should say, "This is a coin --
you can use it to buy food," or,
seeing your play-thing with all its clicking levers
and whirring cylinders, say, "This
is the gun with which your father shot
your mother and himself--
there, it's loaded now."
"Get out of bed if you're going to do that!"
I comply tout suite,
Performing all the way to the bathroom
a toot suite.
Rousseau, Why Must We Rue So?
The Social Contract --
scary at times.
the anti-social expand.
[Note: I believe the words "social contract" came from
J. J. Rousseau, who also wrote, "Man is born free, but is everywhere
seen to be in chains" -- referring to and lamenting the popularity
of MacDonalds and other chains in France.]
We expect marvels --
saviors or chimeras --
from the stars, merely because
they are so far away from us;
you and I are as far away from them
and as marvelous: Perhaps
they dream us.
Let us be serious about the distances
to the stars. Stars explode --
a serious matter, calling for a serious
distance. Let us curl up
in tight little balls of gravity,
lest one of us reach out too far
and make fun
The evil man stands alone
in a world full of enemies -
Some days I stand alone
in a world full of those I love.
Loneliness is an archaic luxury
on a planet being eaten up by automatons
with electroconvulsive shock machines and
self-obliterating drugs, our growing blankness
leeching itself to television sets
that keep us filled with emptiness.
There's no time to play Hamlet.
Best not to be a tragic hero,
but to be effective.
What's Wrong With This Picture?
Walking through a neighborhood of immense
rambling homes, lush, shaded lawns
and vivid gardens, Pinkerton-protected,
I realize that I live in Paradise,
for to be able to live in such splendor,
these people must have contributed so much
to the rest of the world that it is
inconceivable that the world's troubles
My car makes the trees
blur past, but I notice
one leaf's slow fall.
Remember the loss of your own universe,
when things wouldn't go the way you wanted anymore,
the magic shriveled, all the stars fell down,
and as you sunk into the featherbed comfort of total darkness,
one last star you'd forgotten about, like the punchline brick
that beans exasperated Ollie (oooh-OOH!), falls,
on your crown, and you think, "Can it be
there is still something of ME here?"
[In the poem above, I mention a star falling, "like the punchline
brick that beans exasperated Ollie (oooh-OOH!). I discover that
many readers don't remember Laurel and Hardy (and here I thought
they were a universal). For those readers, I refer you to Blockbusters.
Ollie is the fat one, Oliver Hardy. It's a standard Laurel and Hardy
gag. The roof falls in on them, their heads emerge from beneath
a pile of bricks, Hardy (the fat guy) looks at dopy Stan Laurel
(the skinny one) and says something appropriate ("Now see what
a fine mess you've gotten us into" or "At least nothing
else can happen to us" or whatever) and at that moment one
last brick drops down on his temporarily derby-less head.]
The physical universe is an old bad argument
mumbling on and on in the head of the guy who lost it
long after the winner's gone home, not even OUR argument --
we just blundered in, like a kind-hearted kid
who tries to make sense of what the drunk on the corner
with the fixed glare mutters to no one.
He thinks the drunk is talking to him,
tries to answer, and must extricate himself
awkwardly from whatever figment
he is taken for..
Seal me up in a narrow tomb and eventually
I will dream myself in a new world,
spacious, airy, colorful, populous,
where each man picks sweet fruit
in his own garden, children laugh in the streets,
and orange sunsets linger; yet,
though no one will admit it,
beneath the joy and fecundity,
all share a conviction that each man
is alone and life is a trap.
My nephew and niece get tired,
walking around the Vancouver Aquarium.
Look! (I say)--the killer whales!
Oh! Look! (they say)--the killer whales!
Success! Poetry should be that simple.
This way, reader, to the exotic
tropical poet, the lurking poisonous
poet, the rare, playful poet; see the
poet leap off the page for scraps
Suddenly all nose, the dog
sniffs a frantic zig zag
toward invisible treasure:
Quick! There...there...Ah! Here's the magic spot! And
exactly dead center over it
Small blue-green cube aswarm
with thousands of tiny translucent fish
flicking every which way as random
as atoms of sunlight...but somehow
they never touch:
No matter how swiftly they dart,
how closely, like the roving,
intricately inter-weaving, but never-meeting eyes
of strangers in a crowd,
at the instant of unavoidable collision
they swerve aside.
I told a small lie for reasons that looked good
for five minutes, then self-destructed,
so I went back and told the embarrassing truth,
thinking, "That'll teach me not to lie,"
but jarred by a worse lesson,
from the memory of five minutes
when I'd known that I
(like all who lie and cheat and kill)
Burrowing your plump warm face
into my shoulder (knowing your lips
are tickling my throat, giggling),
you snuggle up to me, late fifty's now,
but still in your Pooh-Bear-ty.
Time for a little something,
The urgency of sexual ardor ("You! Here!
Where I can see and touch all of you
there is to see and touch!") suggests
it is addressed to someone spiritual,
someone we had never expected to find
so perfectly expressed in a body.
It takes forever to drown, because first
your whole life flashes before your eyes,
which doesn't take long, but at the end,
the picture of your whole life
flashing before your eyes flashes before
your eyes, and at the end of that the
picture of the picture of your whole
life... -- you get the picture.
People don't drown in these flash floods;
they do what they have to do
to turn off their eyes.
I pause to watch the wind
blowing trees beyond trees
over the edge of the hill into the sky.
I gently take over the body
left behind by the one who paused
to watch the wind
and walk it away.
To Realize Dreams, Dream Better
The thought of hot pecan pie with whipped cream
stirs me to crave hot pecan pie. I think of your smile
and miss you. Such nonsense!
It isn't that thought isn't enough,
but that I think so poorly.
What I have is a fragment of thought;
what I want is the WHOLE thought.
The giveaway is when I think I'm enjoying
a slice of pie, then notice its crust is cardboardy,
its innards sugary pulp, lukewarm and cloying,
the whipped cream a milky puddle,
and I realize I've been enjoying the thought
of pecan pie, not the pie.
The piece of pie a cook concocts
from odds & ends of everyone's dreams,
the disappointing average of childhood memories,
is poor consolation for failing to dream well,
failing to have what I already have.
This line was written by my right brain,
this one by my left brain.
This line was written by my left little
this one by your right shoe.
I don't know the name of the star that
wrote this line,
but it's right over
Rule by Fuel:
Dictatorship of the
See how our comings and goings craze the map:
a million criss-crossed lines to tell us where
wheels or feet or only wings can go.
When are you now? I'm here in '89.
Shall we draw a line from me to you across
these trackless wastes where only poems can go?
Indicators Suggest the Sky May Fall Tonight
In A High Wind in Jamaica,
The teen-aged heroine can take a
Tiny tremor, barely enough to wake a
Child from sleep, and of it make a
Monstrous thing, just by saying "Earthquake!" -- a
Talent that would make her a stellar TV Weather Person,
Able to make moderately bad weather worsen
By mentioning possible hurricanes and tornados
That MAY reach us from the Barbados
And MAY "lose some of their strength along the way,"
But we are left with "hurricane" and "may" --
Of which more at eleven and a zillion news flashes
(Interrupting normal programming) -- each rehashes
(In urgent tones, along with brief chats with worried
People who have hurried
Out to stock up on water and rolls of Charmin) --
"HURRICANE","MAY", "THREATENS" and
Attention getters. And at eleven
(Outside, a gusty, starless Heaven),
The weather lady talks to a reporter named Chet,
Standing on a corner, who says he's getting wet,
Then to a reportress at a beach -- her name is Kim --
Her hair blowing at us while we learn there's a slim
Chance that the worst of it will pass us by,
But we should be prepared for the worst. (Why
Don't we just curl up and die?)
Then we hear from Dan,
Who, for some reason, is also standing outside, getting wet, just
to tell us that we CAN
Take a few simple measures to increase
The chances that, upon the midnight, we won't cease
To be ("Tell our listeners about that, Dan." "Well,
So he talks about floods, candles, full bath tubs -- on and on he
Prepares us for the worst that may, though probably reduced
In strength, be, within an hour or two or three, unloosed
Upon us, here on our sofa, watching the television,
Smug about our decision
To stay home tonight -- and now let's hear from Marty,
Who seems to be standing in someone's back yard. He
Says it's getting cold,
With, here and there, snow flurries.
This is getting old.
Marty shivers. Marty worries.
Can't they cut this shorter?
I wonder if there's a cameraman and a microphoned reporter
Standing in my back yard right now?
Well, we get a storm. No flying cow
Falls through our roof. For days after, the TV shows
Nothing but fallen tress, as if they'd been flattened in rows,
Yet all the trees we see are standing tall.
(Some assistant director forgot to tell them to fall.)
It was no hurricane, but almost a "tropical storm,"
"THE WORST WE'VE HAD IN YEARS," says Norm
To Connie, but somehow hearing how bad it was
Is less impressive, now that it never quite happened, because,
Though we (like the hurricane) lost power
And couldn't watch TV for an hour,
A high wind (here or in Jamaica)
Doth not a hurricane make; nor one snowflake a
O word-smitten Weather Wizardess!
I do know who you are.
I watch your face change its form --
swift as ripples on a lake dissolve and
reshape the moon continually --
in a language or dance no "face" can
speak or dance. Something or someone
does not change--in you, in me--as our faces
flicker through time. Even our eyes,
steadily meeting the while,
keep being newly created and cannot hold us
as like dragon flies we dart
between the micro-seconds, weaving
patterns that intersect with time,
miraculously always on the beat.
Behind the smile, something not said
flutters like a singed moth
about the flicker in your eyes.
His first time, nervous, but lucky:
When his knees knocked,
hers opened wide.
He died of internal
"Love never dies!"
you stab it and shoot it and crush it, and
next year it's another sequel,
with Love in his eerie mask
stalking us again.
Fresh gush of wind leaps down
and licks my cheek,
greeting me from cold, spray-stung shores
of nowhere at all, carrying faint music of...
why does it seem of Home?
Perhaps this lost vagabond breath
touches my warm face and thinks, "Home
at last!" so clearly that I take the
thought to be my own, and it is.
The first act in freeing oneself is to
free others--first from oneself.
[The next two poems were written just after the tearing down of
the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Iron Curtain:]
Poland, Hungary, East Germany going free,
all the Western pundits and politicians
writhing to restrain undue optimism--
NOT a pretty picture.
It isn't the wrongness of walls,
the evil of an empire, anguish
of the conquered, no, but the oddness
of people doing things they want to do,
like a woman walking across a line
that used to be marked by a wall
to visit her relatives --
and not the oddness of that, but
that it should seem odd...
The Wobbly Soprano
You could hide another song
between the crests of her vibrato.
Just Being Helpful
"I'll get the door."
"I'll get the lights."
I'll get the walls, the
shadows, the air...
Tonight the autumn sky tries to
stretch away from me, arching high
to evade my reach, but cannot,
while beneath my feet the earth
pulls heavily to resist
my disintegrating lightness, but
my feet tickle it to crackly giggles.
The moon is a tilted ladle of light,
spilling not a drop on the blinking
airplane lights that tiptoe
beneath the silver cusp.
Touch the sky, touch the earth,
touch the sky...aerobic music!
We watch lithe youngsters spin, twist
and shoot baskets.
"They look like they know what to do."
"Is that how a woman sees it?"
"I didn't mean that!" she, laughing,
blushing, insists, but I think
I'll go back on my diet.
"It just makes sense to plan ahead"--
Prearranged funerals. Yuck! I hope
by the time I die, the landfill shortage
will have led to recycling.
The trick will be not to die too long
before the third Wednesday of the month
and to be sure to remove all plastic items
(like credit cards) or anything likely to confuse
the compost-conversion process
from our pockets.
A planet is saved by lots of people discovering
that everyone else is as interesting
as we each wish someone else
knew we were.
We scrape by, day after day,
never knowing where our next
planet is coming from.
Elegy For September 30
With sorrow, September:
If this were October,
It wouldn't be ober.
Presidential Debates (or How Politics Sucks)
First the politicians give you
Very pretty snowjobs.
Then the pundit panels do
Their endless blow-by-blow jobs.
poured lukewarm water
on my teabag.
Stupid eye! You're no Venus Fly Trap!
Let go of that gnat!
I step quickly over tiny acorns,
lest I be skewered by the thrust
of a mighty oak.
In the living room we slump
or lean back or sideways in soft chairs,
legs crossed. Not so, later,
upon the hard alabastor throne --
throne because we plant our feet
slightly apart and stare ahead
with great solemnity
(for it is a serious thing to rule);
throne because while one is on it,
one's worst is hidden from view, because
no one approaches without awkward ceremony,
because for all the apparent dignity,
envy prowls the outer halls, and one is apt
to be unseated, ousted, swept away
in disgrace, hurriedly buttoning and buckling.
But there is no peace
like the peace of a secure throne.
There one can reflect, hold audience
with minions of imaginary creatures, spare
the tiny bug on the tiled floor, and
retinally rearrange those tiles in new
If the toilet had arms,
one could retire to it,
each man his own Lincoln Memorial
with pants bagging below the knees.
The purpose of virtuous action
is to retain the ability to dream
what you want to dream.
The Inside Story
He came from a distant star.
When he arrived, they took him
to a large box and said, "This
is a private building; you can't go
They took him in, this once, and showed him
a smaller box: "This is a safe--
you can't look inside."
They fiddled it open
(disabling the alarms) to show him,
this once. "This is paper.
You can't have it."
He said, taking it, "What's to have?"
They put him in a barred
and padded box and said,
"You can't go outside."
He said, "What's outside?"
and left them there.
If you come upon someone's lost dream...
Don't burn your fingers.
I'm not rich, but I've left my cat
fixed for life.
Her tight blue jeans carry
and gentle bulge of thighs
a tiny diamond of sunlight
when she stands
with her legs primly together,
as if to keep the jewel
Whew! That guy's FAT!
How come his fatness makes me
think better of myself?
Glass table: You can see through it.
Thus, it is less THERE for light,
making it frustrating to hold
a philosophical discussion
with a light beam: "...as real
as this table!" (Thump thump
of fist). "What table?"
beams the light, zipping through the glass
without pausing to reflect.
I keep my poetry very simple lately,
because I'm trying to understand
what I'm saying.
I was right once,
an unforgettable experience --
I'll never let anyone
"I feel lost," we say when we forget
where we hid ourselves.
Something strange about the quiet man
at the next table. I can't pin it down.
Then he speaks -- in a language
I don't understand -- and the strangeness
Coming SOON To A Theater Near YOU!
Lichen-festered, creaking with rust,
dripping grey gobs of mud--
when they return, there'll be no place
to run to, no escape from the stiff-
wheeled buffeting, the skeletal squeaks,
when they come swarming
in their wobbly hordes:
The Return of the Lost Shopping Carts!
Three apples, three oranges:
a still life beyond compare.
Don't hit me--
I'm wearing eyeballs!
Just out of the pool,
her smooth belly gleaming.
As she dries her hair,
the belly button looks right at me,
saying not a word.
I'm finally learning to listen.
Mostly I hear the sound of
my own voice. Now to learn
to stop talking.
The gods are against me.
Nice of them to notice me.
Out of a wall of bodies emerges,
like the opening of a door,
an old friend.
Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book --
Phooey! I've published three little-
The poetic fad is to omit
punctuation, a futile attempt
not to be commatose.
Archimedes with his lever, I
with my lover,
move the world.
Have you never given an anemone an enima?
How anomalous. If I were you,
I'd remain anonymous and enigmatic,
perhaps take up residence in Menomonie,
and never NEVER give an anomalous
anonymous Menemonie anemone an enima!
The first shy kiss--
a leap of face.
Big and Little
When little people turn into big people,
a big person congratulates them:
"Today you have become big people."
Then they set about being big people,
which they think means realizing
the big dreams they dreamt as little people
which big people had told them
they could achieve as big people,
but they discover that big people
are too big to be allowed to waste time
on the dreams of little people,
so they try to create new, big-people
dreams, only to discover that the dead
dreams of lost little people haunt their
attempts, fade the colors and shrivel
the faces of their stillborn new dreams,
so they try to become little people
again and often succeed, but become, not
little people who can dream, but
people little enough to fit into the
tiny tight consolation dreams of people
who are too big--but not big enough.
Kicking invisible dirt
over the mess she made on the rug!
"Isn't da kittums CUTE!"
-- Turning her suit hirsute.
I learn from the mistakes of others:
There are lots of mistakes I otherwise
would never have thought to make.
After many failed attempts to be useful,
we begin to complain of being used.
You cannot enslave only yourself
to your addictions; others stumble
into the shadow you cast.
The Ice Cap Is Melting
Together we explore Antarctica.
You reach my South Pole
just as I touch the hole
in your O! zone.
My friend has an in. I hoped
he'd put in a word for me,
but there was no room
in the in.
Suddenly from the field
a cloud of starlings --
GUESS HOW MANY, WIN A PRIZE!
Not that her body is awkward,
but that her beauty exceeds
what her body can bear.
I know we live forever--we must,
if only to be what can return
the cat's wide open green gaze.
A night of old sad folk songs.
Who am I to be alive
and happily married?
Thou shalt not bear false withness.
Never trust a woman farther
than you can throw a dream.
The strong silent type is a coward,
for no island is a man.
Consolation for bankrupt surfers:
You'll never float a loan.
How is it that fissure of morning
brightness, just there, where curtains
don't quite meet, can generate a hotel-room-full
of grey outlines, nooks, niches of
wrinkled blankets--a shadowland. As if
a fraction of dawn equals a full dusk,
as if morning has been husbanded, doled
out, one crack of dawn per room, don't
be greedy, day broken up into cubicles
of colorless form, looming hints of
depth, how efficient! But why, then,
outside, such extravagance of sunlight?
There one mica-flaked square of sidewalk
basks in glare enough to touch
with grey-brown intelligence the forms
of a thousand suites, the sweets
of a thousand forms, and there,
a glassy waste of shop windows
blasts the eyes with brilliance enough
to gently illuminate the texts
of all the yellowed classics ever
fingered in the mellow depths of reading
rooms, enough to detach from grey dawn
with just the softest mottling hint of
umber a swell of shadowed nakedness
(were you with me), a billion
nakednesses in a billion waking rooms--
one unreadable window's waste of morning
dazzle could touch all these lives, as
once, when I reached to touch, lightly,
that dim fullness beside me,
my closed eyes spilling over with light.
I lead an obscure life.
No one has ever heard of me.
I hope the world will profit
by my example.
What if you just dropped everything,
and nothing fell?
Fall walk. I try for
poems. "Wordy wordy wordy"
scolds a cardinal.
"It's no use talking to her
when she's like this." "This is the only
language he understands!"
"I can't do anything with her!"
Too bad we don't come
with free telephone technical support
and on-site maintenance.
How long before a hairdo becomes
Socrates is a man;
All men are mortal;
Therefore...but can it be,
after all these years,
that Socrates is still a man?
No man steps on the same caterpillar
She sews kids' clothes at a rapid clip,
But as she sews, so shall they rip.
Care racked her
"...love & marriage
go together like a
horse & carriage...
you can't have one
without the other."
from the heyday of the
When I stir you to rage
and won't let you be, insisting
on my rightness,
your rage erupts, fills the room,
overflows present time, floods
the past (where you discover
I've always disgusted you)
and the future (where you just want me
out of your life forever).
I leave you alone. Rage recedes from past
and future, finding ample space
in a present unconstrained by the walls
of my wounded rightness,
spreads out, slowly soaks into the soil,
leaving only a few bright puddles.
Each dewdrop flaunts its diamonds:
"See what the sun has given me!"
Lying down beside you,
I reach out to pat your...Weird!
Oh, you're on your tummy!
Growing fatter, we admire more
our sleek, long-shanked black mutt,
as if stretching ourselves skinny
in a funhouse mirror
for people resemble their pets:
In him is our hope (fat chance!)
that this blubber is temporary,
not touching our essence.
"I wouldn't give him the time of day!"
a hard thing to give: either you have it,
this shared time we're all in together, or,
out of step, you reel through ancient incidents,
sticking at the sticky parts,
struggling to make sense
of lost time superimposed upon
the time of day
that no one can give you.
The special someone you cannot find
is what you will not allow anyone to be.
As a teenager I dreamed of finding
someone willing to sleep with me.
Now I seek out those willing
to wake with me.
Tongue touches hard wet teeth:
This is a skull. How did I get here?
Eyes squint, glittering my puzzlement,
hoping to take me in.
The skull is hungry and thirsty.
Over the years it feeds on muscle
and skin, sucks in the eyeballs,
chews up all but the teeth,
then sits still for a long time,
digesting its meal,
"...and now this:" concludes the newsman,
not knowing what commercial comes next.
I think I'll say that just before I die:
"And now this:"
"Lift up your wings and fly"--
Yeh, what are you doing
with your wings and fly down?
More Often An Orphan...
The murderer thinks just one more killing
will end his problems forever,
but there is no solution
in the offing.
I Was There To Hear
As I walked down a quiet street beneath tall trees,
I heard a rending and cracking and turned to see
thud to someone's lawn 15 feet of branch
thick as my calf. It fell hard, fast, HARD --
harder than a piece of tree one walks beneath
and stretches one's neck to admire should fall.
Where it fell stood no one,
nor any more of me than vision - and I was there
to hear. Then it just lay there, an old piece
of a new design, like all the other dead branches
I've seen lying among leaves, empty of crack and thud,
and I went on walking among tall chirruping oaks.
Walking Beside You
Walking ahead of you (it is hard for me to walk
at your pace), I worry: What if an alien craft
were to beam you up, just you. I'd be walking along,
turn back - you'd be gone
So I slow down to walk beside you. Still, with a
narrow beam, they could pick off you alone,
so I put my hand on your shoulder,
but maybe they'd take you and just
my hand, and you'd worry, what happened to the
rest of me - did I bleed to death, or did the beam
cauterize my stump? - you'd never be certain.
Would you save my hand? Would they let you
remember me? I'd never be certain.
Our old dog would be barking like mad,
snarling at the empty sky, inconsolable.
They'd put me away, too--
In jail if I had no explanation,
or in an asylum if I tried to tell the truth.
How nice to walk along, (the dog nuzzling our hands
then falling behind to sniff at the grass)
kicking the autumn leaves, beside you.
Falling in love,
rising in love,
rising and falling in love.
Lovers were always lovers.
Dreams don't come true
unless first you dream them.
You walk along a street
where kids run in and out of yards,
the wind scuds old leaves and clouds,
and even old ladies seem to be picking their way
the one you have not met.
The bright sky smiles her,
swaying branches breathe her. Windows --
bright piano notes from one,
droplets tossed from the crest
of a sunlit wave,
pink curtains billowing in another --
every window and door is deep
with promise of limitless life.
When you know she's with you,
she is. When you doubt it,
as quickly as a cloud snuffs the sun,
you are alone on a street lined with
warehouses, wire fences, parking lots.
A guard dog snarls.
You are two different people: a lover
and a lonely man. When you meet her
and know what has always been with you
has taken a shape, you are the lover
who has never been alone.
Two lonely people together
are twice as lonely,
as even lovers find when,
lying in each others compliant arms,
they stop creating their dreams
(expecting their bodies to take over),
and perhaps when lovers live up
to their dreams, in the wide skies
of each other's eyes they see
the promise of a whole world
where people have always
cared for one another.
This windy bloomy day
in all that blue
a single tattered cloud
shakes itself out and floats away
like a moth-eaten flying carpet
just escaped from the museum.
Don't look for lies; look for
what's not there. Look for
yourself in the newspaper;
look for immortality in flesh;
look for who pays in a
politician's promises; look for
what's in front of your face
in your philosophy; look at
the shape of the air between
your fingers; seek sincerity in a
mirror; look for the rightnesses
of evil people, the decisions
of victims that they could not
cause things, the ragged lace into which
this white page is cut by squiggles
of print, the unflat world this page
is not, the listener who hears
every word spoken in your mind,
the shape of the waiting of the wall
between the paintings; not the answers,
but the unasked questions; not
the questions, but those who should ask.
the start of too many poems
and too few changes of heart.
Decisions will get you nowhere--
if that's where you want to be.
The morning that is the stale butt-end
of night is, some madmen claim,
the same morning that begins the day.
That seagull knows the shape of the wind,
or someone does and caresses it
with seagull fingers.
In this country
a man can walk from town to town,
full of priceless poetry
and not be robbed;
can write any bloody awful
and not be hanged nor jailed
This is a safe country for poets,
a dangerous country for poetry.
She Cast A Spell
She was an illiterate prostitute:
You could tell by the scarlet H
on her chest.
"He wouldn't know a true poem
if he stepped in one!"
"Personal immortality!" she said,
"What an egotistical concept!" Eternity
is a long time to be egotistical.
Number: That which makes one numb?
Seagulls soar and swoop
over the pool -- wing bottoms,
bellies flash green-blue.
My poems follow well-defined sequences.
For example, those written in Chinese restaurants
are closely followed by those written
while sitting in the bathroom.
Trying to write poems...
picking hairs off the bathroom floor.
Free dental clinic: A gift horse
looks me in the mouth.
You walk away,
your fullness dancing
Complete physical. I must be
middle-aged: more embarrassed
to take off my shirt than my pants.
The art of going for a walk lies
in the ability simultaneously
to know and forget that one ends up
at home again.
As when walking the dog I carry a pooper-scooper,
so, when walking alone, I carry a pen and notebook,
in case a poem happens on public property.
A bureaucrat is a good person,
but too sensitive, hoping inability to help you
will prevent harming you.
She's So Easy
Two strokes and she flops
on her back ("Take me! I'm yours!")
on the grass, purring.
Earth from outer space,
says the article, is an almost
invisible dot, a pinprick of blue,
"makes you feel insignificant,"
says a scientist, impressing me
with the courage of all the PhDs
who daily use words much too big
to fit on the head of a pin.
as if the animator
omitted every other frame.
Pedestrian On The Freeway
Charging a machine gun, OK, but
what's brave about blindly walking
into heavy traffic? Too many poets
use words like "infinity" and "soul" and "passion"
that way. Such words are to be used
bravely, against the odds, or not at all
and definitely not just because the poet
doesn't realize he's stumbled out onto
millennia of heavy traffic.
He sings so off key, I can't tell
off WHAT key.
"Ugh! On my thigh...a tick!"
Must have slipped out of
her biological clock.
The ship goes down.
We escape in little boats.
The little boats go down.
We escape in bodies.
The bodies go down.
My body often imagines that it is I
and that it can imagine
and that the I it imagines it is
is not it,
but it's all wrong,
for it is only it and not
what it foolishly imagines
it imagines itself to be,
imagining it can imagine,
Life came too fast for him.
"Freeze!" he yelled, and was slowly
crushed by the ensuing glacier.
The bank robber yells, "Freeze!"
and everyone turns to stone,
no sweat, so how come I can't
go out on the street, yell "Melt!"
and have all the stony people
You'll be home tomorrow.
It's been so long
I can't even remember
how happy I'll realize
when I see you
I miss you. Not that I'm horny.
That's what I miss. At my age,
it takes two to get horny.
That samurai quickness where the dead
stand dazed a long instant, about to speak,
not knowing they are already dead,
before they topple asunder--
my life has changed that way,
a quiet realization beheading my fears
with a sword so sharp that they stand in place,
gaping at me with an astonishment I mistake for living fury.
I dally in my limitations, looking away,
until, thinking, "What the hell?",
I nudge them, a child who rings strange doorbells,
prepared to flee, and...
they crumple, and I can go,
with this sword, intention,
The time that passes, we are told,
is the only time there is,
all we can have, the tooth-brushing time,
the waiting-in-line time all made
of the same ticking stuff as love-time
and pain-time, all the same leaking away
of all there ever is or can be,
as if we had nothing to do with it,
as if any one idea of anyone's
could be the same as any other.
[Note: What follows is a longer version of the above poem.]
The time that passes, we are told,
is the only time there is,
all we can have, the tooth-brushing time,
the waiting-in-line time all made
of the same ticking stuff as love-time
and pain-time, all the same leaking away
of all there ever is or can be,
as if we had nothing to do with it,
as if any one idea of anyone's
could be the same as any other,
as if the good time the painted lady
in almost no skirt says she wants to give me,
because it is stamped legal tender
by the Universal Time Bank,
is, second for second, indistinguishable
from the long ski-slopes of each heartbeat
as the gravitic pull of our lips merges
your two eyes and my two eyes
each into one, each filled
with the other, lips touching,
and, as if earth had turned upsidedown,
the leap into endless glittering night.
Lovers say, "nice day",
adorning banality with love,
as trees dress up in wind, droplets in
sunlight. Lovers toy with remaining
just human enough to be amused
that Gods can talk about the weather.
"It therefore follows..."
Ah, proof, inevitable sequence of idealets,
toddling after matronly theorems
like lines of ducklings.
And if we persuaded a corollary:
"You don't have to follow, you know;
you can stand on your own,
be your own idea, as if new-made!"--
would the universe shudder?
Walking, clotted with worries...
"Scalpel!" says the wind and is handed
a child's shrill voice, the cutting edge
with which, deftly, the wind
performs open-heart surgery.
People are sending me wishes
that I be happy, that I be merry.
They send me their good will.
How nice of them!
To all who've wished me happy,
I have good news:
Your wish has been granted!
But there are conditions (sorry):
It is important to my continued happiness
that MY wishes (for YOUR happiness)
also be granted. So if any of you have been
slacking off in the general area of
being happy, GET TO WORK!
Don't look at me that way, you dumb dog!
I explained I'll feed you right away,
as soon as I finish... -- Oh, all right!
But it's not fair, your not being able
If you can bend over far enough
and tightly enough,
you can push forward
through the large intestine,
coil through the small intestine,
brave the stomach's acids,
squeeze out through the open mouth
and view the sky,
but it's much simpler to pull your head
out of your ass, stand up,
and open your eyes.
How the language changes!
"Safe sex"! They used to call it
Are you Anti-Choice
Times have changed:
People speak of not throwing out
the bathwater with the baby.
Rest In Peace
or if you prefer a LONG rest,
Rest In Peace Eternally, or:
[Please note: I'm not endorsing the benefits of long long rests.
I'm just amused at the closeness of RIP to RIPE, which, in a sense,
is the opposite of "eternal rest". The sense I have in
mind is from a line spoken by a character in KING LEAR: "The
ripeness is all." Not to be confused with Hamlet's line, "The
readinesss is all" -- though the meanings are similar. Someone
should do a paper on Shakespeare's concept of readiness, ripeness,
etc. It's the key to at least three of his greatest plays, Hamlet,
Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, where an archaic word for readiness
(connoting also quickness, alertness, nimbleness, handle-ability
of a ship) is used several times -- a great word, by the way --
hard to say aloud without getting the concept: Yare. "Yarely
Presence is easier to deal with
than absence: I get more obedience
with "Be gone!" than with "Be here!"
or even "Please be here!"
Cat walking toward the door
forepaw curled in air.