For us

For us, Richard Nixon was major
He wanted to be remembered for
opening China to the West, for ending
the Vietnam war and thus achieving
“peace with honor” despite being the
cause of thousands of wretched, unnecessary
deaths—I thought he’d be remembered for

Each of us models the world

the shame of resigning the presidency,
for intoning to the American people
“I am not a crook”— Instead, he’s
not remembered at all—People
under age 35 have no idea who this
impassioned, lying, slippery (“Tricky Dickey”),
creepy, foul, revengeful, politician was

Her love is a crystal in his life

She thought she’d grift the feeble,
sick, thin old man—She’d convince
him to change his “estate plan”—She
figured he’d be good for a million or
two—But she found him protected
by those who truly loved him, so
she reluctantly withdrew

Animals in the jungle happily die before they’re feeble

Dad loved that stately Olivetti manual
typewriter—It came to me after he
died—It was sleek and kind of slow
Manual typewriters are slow—
You won’t find new parts for it now
The anesthesiologist “ferried her mind
off to the hinterlands”

Dad died and left my mom alone to raise four boys

She was so frightened—
She was a few months from surgery
for a brain tumor and how she wanted
to live—“I remember you and Merci”
she said, telling me of her trouble—Me
and Marcia had, of course, broken up—It
was cancer and she hoped they got all of it

Do the sweeter moments of life always

When I was younger, to have the New
York Times delivered to your door,
to get an American Express card, meant
you were fully an adult—I had a friend then,
Kevin, who actually did suffer fools gladly
He was patient with them and really
seemed to enjoy their company

devolve into a whirlwind of heartache?

“Because that’s what I charge” said my dentist
when I asked him why he charges so much
Now the guy is good but for ordinary stuff, like
teeth cleaning or fillings you don’t go to him, he
charges too much—For the complicated stuff like
implants, bridges, crowns and root canal, he’s your
man—thorough, creative, concerned and skillful

Are you old, unsteady and invisible now?

Said the forcibly retired talk show host
“If people stop looking at me, I won’t
have to worry about how I look, about
my getting old, about this double chin”
My own cancer diagnosis didn’t faze me
because I didn’t really accept it and I
knew the surgeons would get every bit of it 

So buoyant through the end of my times

-June 26, 2021-

Is the Pope

“Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear
shit in the woods? Does a mush,
room?” So Matt would ask when
he was sure of something obvious and
thought you should be sure of it too
His life was often one of pain and
despair behind a façade of laughter

Love’s first in ourselves

The knife, so sharp, was strapped
to his leg and he said in that tough
neighborhood they could tell if you
were armed, maybe just by the way
you walked—And they’d leave him
alone, even though he was “screwing
the hottest lady on the block”

You couldn’t blame him, he wasn’t well

It meant something to me when I gave
her a pearl necklace—It didn’t mean
much to her—My parents lightly
scoffed at Unitarians—“They don’t
believe but they want to belong” Later,
Howard joined a similar church where
the flowers we held symbolized loss

Their god, whatever it is, is mysterious

Handel supposedly said, when accused of
outrageous plagiarism, “That pig didn’t
know what to do with such a tune”
A squirrel was sitting on his two hind
legs doing nothing and seemed to enjoy this
fine spring day, just like me, a damned old
fool who first sits still and then quietly sings

My mother prized her fine pearl necklace

A friend of mine, a fellow lawyer, visited when
one of my children was a toddler and the other
was newly born—He brought the newborn a gift
and nothing for the toddler who was quite upset
and boy, was I annoyed, “We’ll bring you something
the next time, buddy” He’s the one who, with his wife
(also a lawyer), built this large suburban house

“We don’t give up on our people,

on a hill and insisted on painting it bright
purplish pink and couldn’t understand why
his neighbors didn’t like it “It looks so
beautiful!!!”—I stumbled and fell
Did anyone stop to help? No
Did anyone laugh at me?  No
Did they even see me fall? 

we don’t stop loving them,  

The birds fought the other day
“Screech, Screech, Screech, and Caw”
I don’t know what they said because I
don’t speak bird—I woke up at 4:45 a.m.
and thought “Oh good, more time to sleep”
Bent over, with a dirty facemask on, she
angrily throws an empty can into the gutter   

not even when they’re burning”

She likes hurting people and instigates violence
She’s weak and scared and she knows it
Violence makes her look strong, she thinks
She loves anal sex for the pain of it
“I’m excited, I’m so excited”
Sometimes this is a cruel,
unjust, strange and unfair world

A thinker and a searcher and a wandering soul   

-June 12, 2021-

His quickness

He’d write out his prediction of
our decision and put it in that drawer
there in an envelope—After months of
discussion we’d finally decide what to do—
Then he’d take out what he’d written,  
read it out, and there it’d be—just
what we concluded, specifically

The death of his parents and brothers

His quickness in decision,
his adventurous intellect—all gone
If he’d shown it to us first we may
have rejected it out of hand and
he’d have to fight bitterly to
get it done—This way we all
decided, guided collegially together 

hardened more an already hard man

Oh yes, grandma was wily—
She’d play the decrepit old lady
to the hilt, with humor, wit and
sadness to spare—She had all of
Passaic looking out for her
from the mailman to the librarian
She hated escalators and older now

Love is just like a river

myself, I know why—She was never
quite sure whether those old legs would
get her on the moving steps on time
Fifty-four years ago I was a camp
counselor at a day camp and became 
friends with one of the other counselors
who got on with the kids much better than I

“Hey, who died and made you boss?”

She complained to me because I used
to her, “Too many big words”
Yesterday, I dreamt I dined with the dead
How wise they all were and yet I was,
you guessed it, the life of the party
One politician won’t be coming back—He’s
too pinched of heart and cramped in spirit

We held the keys to paradise

After dad died and mom, a psychology
professor, was busy teaching, Marie, our
housekeeper would make us dinner—When
it became time for dessert Matt would
always say “Marie, Marie bring on the
dancing girls” Your so-called outrage is
cheap and fake, you slithering snake 

She threw them down

I told her all about the river
where all poems come from and
how I go there, dip my dipper in
and sing to myself in the dark—  
She lays next to me expectantly and
we’re together as she welcomes
me, to touch, to touch

and left me defiantly cold

-May 29, 2021-

Umbrella man

 (after a photograph by Steve Pollock)

Said the touchy, tough lady activist,
“Their violence and corruption
are no surprise—Let’s leave the
surprises to children, to those who have
no memory or who can’t think clearly”
He disappeared into middle age
and fought his demons alone

You can seem to be what you are

It alternates light and dark blue
triangles, the large umbrella that partially
covers him as it leans over his head
on the sidewalk, on a grey day
His clothes are clean and neat
as he lies on his back—He’s drunk, we
think, but not necessarily homeless

The fates are fickle and fortune is cruel

I took my four year old for a walk
Everything is new to him—He delights
in pointing at trees, birds and flowers 
The dark blue, light blue umbrella
partially covers the drunkard at
a 45 degree angle on a cloudy day
in a world of sullen achievers

Be good to those who are good to you

Mom’s dead now more years than she lived
Her death left a crater in his heart
This is a world filled with confused
and flawed people, original and clever
kinds of hurts, acrimonious and surly
Republican party liars, power hungry,
knife wielding, garbage strewing asses

It’s a “civil war” when the powerful win  

The city was in pandemonium
“Our government has failed us
We’re on our own”
His blue (light and dark blue)
umbrella leans over him on a
cloudy, rainless day as he lies on his
back, cleanly clothed on the sidewalk

A “revolution” when they don’t

Pat was bold—She’d just stand there,
defiant, while some mighty, brutal
sea wave smacked her in the head
He ended up in federal prison in Danbury,
Connecticut, which he dubbed “crime
school” because of all the tricks of
the smuggler’s trade he learned there

A big blue umbrella for his protection and comfort

That slickly produced newsy TV show
doesn’t ignore the tough and the bad
as it acknowledges it enough to hold
our interest, as it extols a moderate
optimism—tolerant of others
and strict in itself—It’s a good
watch if you’re stoned

What your heart can’t control is you

-May 15, 2021-

They wanted

“No, no, they wanted to have kids
They were into the family thing
and she’s not mentally ill—
She just sees the world differently
than you and I do
To her it’s a funky, quirky place
She’s playful”

Persist and resist

He wore a rough Greek cloth
and slept on the ground until
his mother ordered him to stop it
Once, as a kid, I followed my Dad
around the house “What are you doing?”
he asked “I’m following you” I said
“For Christ sake, cut it out”

are the elements of freedom

In my high school cafeteria
one of the friendlier cooks said,
“That’s good coal, good coal”
referring to the coffee he made
 “I made it myself,” he said
My thoughts would turn
to her in Spring 

Unconditional love hurt

Here avarice is rewarded and
your principles are baggage
All they care about is their iron grip
on power and there’s no desire
to help their fired-up supporters
“They’ll drain their pool rather
than share it with Black people”

Don’t question his ability to tough it out 

Said that old astronaut as he described
the earth from above so many years ago
“Tiny, shiny, serene and fragile”
An austere scientist once scolded a
favorite student, “I goofed and you
goofed for believing me—There’s
no authority in science”

The center of the universe was in her eyes

Within turbulent regimes and their unpredictable
powers, their spoiled autocrats, so easily distracted,
there was a certain unwarranted austerity
to Cato’s vision, joyless, moral, right,
self-conscious, and kind—“No day
once gone, can ever be revived—
Her mortality shocked me”

The center of the universe is everywhere

-May 1, 2021-

Muscle memory

“Muscle memory, guided by intuition”
that was one sage’s ideal and it works if you’re
a professional athlete, like Joe DiMaggio
whose grace in center field, even my Dad
acknowledged and Dad truly hated baseball
Not every problem has a solution—
Dying is real and can be quite painful

Said the sage wistfully

An old Russian proverb says,
“When you stumble into a vat
of milk, keep moving until
the milk becomes butter”   
Every day is a gift—Matt,
how do you expect me to
endure old age without you?

“I wish I had a companion

Were those happy moments you
remember really so happy or is
your happiness found mostly in
the remembrance? A sunny Spring
day, sitting together in Fort Tryon
Park, eating hard-boiled duck eggs and
reading the Sunday New York Times 

along the way”

We used to get the Times late Saturday
night—you had to carefully check the
sections to make sure it was all there
One sage said upon meeting Franklin D.
Roosevelt, “Second-class intellect, first-
class temperament” Order, stability,
imagination, mystery—A poet taught me

Everything we get here is borrowed

it takes real courage to be sincere
There she is now, not a ghost but
a presence—Her shadow tainted his
prior joy—Is it better to be happy for
awhile or not at all?—He became
for awhile a fool, a surly, strident,
know-it-all, known for his chain-

You’ll have to give it all back

smoking, wine drinking, and
tendency to weep—What’s given
should be freely given—“After you
become age 30, people you know
start dropping off and that’s a hell
of a note” He lost his taste for
adventure—“Nothing any good

At best, in this world you’re lucky

happens after 10 at night”
Our emotions and simulations
are all made of stuff—The incorporeal,
like mathematical equations, aren’t
made of stuff, aren’t of this world,
but are very real, nevertheless—
as real as any happy remembrance 

to be a debtor and a guest

-April 17, 2021-

When I was eleven

When I was eleven my Dad wore
a fedora hat to work each day—
Took it off and placed it on the
piano when he came home—That
was the fashion then for ambitious
Madison Avenue executives

A restless wide-ranging curiosity

Lucien said he became a painter
because he used to tell everyone
he was a painter and had to, for
that reason, make good on it
He lived within himself and
didn’t try to conform to us

People love what’s bright and shiny

Heifetz had few students, though
he wanted to teach, because most
violinists found his level of perfection,
and him, too intimidating—He played
with the intensity of one who wants
to live and knows his life will end

True pleasure is simple

There was no trade to speak of
in our little city—“nothing to please
the eye or amuse the fancy”—We
tried, ideally, to cultivate a strategy of
civilized openness among friends—We
learned how to say just what we think

The highest good is the pursuit

“He read my resume and seemed
genuinely unimpressed”
“You should do something more
profound” my violin teacher  advised
me, as he sipped some sherry—“Being
a third-rate violinist isn’t profound”

of pleasure and the avoidance of pain

“If you were a drunkard” said the famous
old country singer, “you might just get drunk
and fight—and I’ve done that too! I went
through all that”—We strain our moral
fiber in those totalitarian moments when
we say one thing and think another

Extravagance isn’t pleasure

Darwin thought maybe he’d become
a country parson who dabbled in
natural history—Real creation’s made
in a trance by a mind’s well-trained
intuition—Then you find your own voice
and identify as a stranger in this world  

and neither is addiction

-February 20, 2021-

She was

She was short, old with white hair,
and bent over, my learned piano teacher
She was of Polish descent and lent me
a book about her teenage hero, Paderewski,
a fine pianist and for a time the Prime Minister
of Poland—She wrapped the precious book
in plastic, held together with rubber bands

Time passing is what life does

In return, I lent her a book on Beethoven
written by his friend, Anton Schindler,
and recently translated into English
I returned her book and couldn’t   
quite properly replace the plastic
She returned mine wrapped in plastic,
held together with rubber bands

Praise for our magnificent human beings

I complained because I wasn’t
allowed to smoke at school
She told me that in Poland, when
she was a girl, she’d be reprimanded
if she spoke Polish, instead of
Russian, in the hallways—Trilingual,
she refused to speak Russian again

Ambitious, cunning, treacherous,

He needed money, lots of it
He felt insulated by money, safe
Cicero pictured Piso, a political
enemy, singing obscene ditties while
lolling about naked among his tipsy,
malodorous, rich Greek friends—
“A mediocre mind, a cur in our time”

ruthless and armed

Cruelty and bombast—the mark
of the fascists—A screaming mob
that’s lost its principles—
Worried? Each night you pass
through death only to return
the next day—She wanted to
vanish, as we all do, each night

Mortal wounds inflicted in view of the

I was her safe place
In that photo, she had an
odd counter look, an innocent
unselfconscious, triumphant look
“He looked at her then with such
love in his eyes”—“You’ll always seem
beautiful to me, a miracle to me”

unrelieved corruptibility and transitoriness

I used to resent those who walked
slow, who blocked the sidewalk
A ridiculous sentiment, I know
I eat too fast and I walk too fast—But
the other day two slowpokes, a mother
and daughter, passed me and neither one
complained about my blocking their way

of human life by every breath, every parting,

He had no excuses for his genocidal acts
Even his son said “He was a lawyer and he
knew what he did”—No miracles unless you
think that unexpected, as yet unexplained
movements of matter are miracles—
She was not at all ambitious but she
was always looking for something

each betrayal, every passion

The dynamic, the patient—
it’s not so easy to combine the two
especially when the machine keeps
breaking down—He started playing
Mark Twain at 70 when he was 29—
As he got older he needed
less and less makeup

visceral, striking and real

-February 6, 2021-

As I get older

As I get older the docs fix
one broken part after another
The car still runs, just not
quite as well as before
You can’t protect the people you
love from the pains they feel

When I love someone it’s for life

She’s a shape shifter with a restless soul,
perpetually dissatisfied, always questing
Though physically deaf she plays
her percussion instruments with
expertise and precision, as if she
can hear them with another sense

An artist reinvents herself

No matter how much water he drinks
his bladder just won’t fill up (“so frustrated”)
and they can’t do a proper sonogram
He’ll need an MRI where he’s placed in a
a tube (“don’t move”) for forty minutes or
so, his abdomen viewed in sound

Nature has no favorites

He has a vital inner life intensely
nourished by fantasies he goes to great
length to preserve from any confrontation
with reality— She doesn’t lie to herself
“I should have known that they would
never let me be president” she said  

Human kind isn’t nature’s goal

Killing and dying in the
name of nonsensical ideas is how so
many of us make sense of our lives
“Stop it, the election’s over, you lost
Reality blisters and crushes you
You’re a damned old fool”

No one stays the same

That famous singer said,
“I won’t watch your documentary
I can’t bear the loss of my family
and I don’t want to confront or deal
with it—I’m way past it”
The years are all in him

Those in emotional pain

Personality’s not something within
that awaits discovery—It’s invented and
perpetually reinvented through choice
For Aristotle the best sort of human
was like him—slave owning and
Greek, devoted to the intellect

for what they saw or did

Personality’s inherently plural and
diverse, not common or universal
If Ally wasn’t just lying when she said
she loved me then it's that she wanted
to love me but didn’t—Loving and
wanting to love aren’t the same thing

Her deep and triumphant sweetness

-January 23, 2021-

Who dares

Who dares to challenge the
community’s ruling spirit?
The part of you that mystifies isn’t
as strong as your skeptical side
When Matt had a hundred bucks
in his pocket, he felt safe

An anarchic, structural difference

The politically connected get
the pardons, the vaccines, the
rare expensive antibodies to
defeat the virus as it foully
invades their bodies, the plague
that would kill their dreams

His mom didn’t deserve such sorrow

Manners matter—
We didn’t make love though
perhaps we should have
It could have been fun for us—
those pockets of conflict and lust,
so much to yearn for

His life, short as it was, was complete

Those great 18th century philosophers,
mystics all, alchemists all—
We don’t remember them for that
Their systematic doubt is so much more
powerful for us than their mystical,
mercurial visions were to them

That party’s over, their hunger’s gone

Capitalism descended into fascism
with no semblance of justice
“It’s their right to reject me and
my right to hate them for it”
I mourn for the future when
all I care about is the past

They die and can’t see our faces

Before time stopped for him
he was quiet, contemplative,
an intellectual—The stand-up, the
funny, the acting—that was his work
His death had no subjective time—
No one experiences death

“The thing about getting old is that”

I stewed over the mistakes I made,
the strategies that didn’t pan out
He dreams about whatever’s pleasant
for him to dream about—Never
lonely in a world together with her—
Never alone in this world

“you’re always the same inside”

-January 9, 2021-