Results for category "2016"

25 Articles

The silence

I don’t really like the park
like this—everything is winter
deadly— infused in sickly browns,
even the vigorous ducks,
under dark clouds
Transitions hurt

There’s often been a sickly side
to our politics—for instance, in 1951,
the McCarthy era, Thomas Mann saw
the fascists take control again
and, in panic and disgust, fled
Southern California for Switzerland

She loves me now,
attaches herself to me, thinks
there’s nowhere else to be
Jean-Paul saw through their surfaces,
to their cores of bitterness and greed
beneath well-tailored suits

Newsreel footage of the Nazis,
originally shot as Nazi propaganda
An incredulous newscaster in American
English intones over pictures of the bastards
in church “And they thought God
was on their side”

The true philosophers of that
era, the 1930s, taught us that
fine sounding bourgeois values
can’t be trusted or even
taken seriously—that politicians
will say anything

Lives narrow in time—
trapped like an egg in its shell,
careful as a wolf in the woods like
a rich tender density repressed
within a surface placidity,
so tight, colorless and weary

When the initial love thrill
goes, as it must, some leave,
some stay, some moderate,
and some break away
Last night I dreamt I wasn’t,
anymore, afraid of death

We are bizarre, unstable,
unlikely, improbable—
contingent before birth, after life,
coiled in a mirage of status
and control—roiled expeditiously
within the silence that surrounds us




-December 30, 2016-

These things can stop

These things can stop
the music for awhile—
The exalted and pathetic
became his favorite churchy style
There it was – a series of durations
within an indrawn gaze

Economic inequality and
popular frivolity –
mass distractions mask
their elite domination, their
fascistic, nihilistic glee
Turn it on guys, turn it on

Emily said “I relish the cold”
(as I shivered)
“Relax yourself into the wind
Breathe easy and it will blow
through you, it won’t chill you,
it won’t singe or sting”

“When you think right
your mistaken thoughts stop
even in your dreams”
Undaunted by rejection,
he comes back to play us
like some unworldly foreign gene

With his quick mind he couldn’t get
why his students didn’t understand
what they read or what he said
“Sometimes we think we know
something but we don’t—
what we know is nonsense”

Stephanie was lovely but she’d
sometimes place her right hand
in front of her mouth to talk,
to hide her crooked teeth
Even after she had them fixed
she’d do that out of habit

Their marriage failed—
those strict gender roles, those
hushed up infidelities, that
unsatisfactory dedication
to the accumulation of property,
offspring and prestige

I look in the mirror and see
Grandpa’s paunch—
They say he spoke with his fists when
young, that he was lean, tough and mean
I only knew the sweet, old, paunchy guy
who looked somewhat then like me

I make myself up as I go—they say
that philosopher’s ugliness vanished
in the vibrancy of his talk and some said
“If it wasn’t for his harsh ways think what
he might have done” and others said “Despite
his harsh ways, look at what he’s achieved”

“We call her the ‘mummy’ because her
face is like this”  (she stretches her
facial skin taut with her hands)
“Horrible, horrible, horrible” and she
laughs—then she gets all serious and says
“Not me, I plan to age gracefully”



-December 17, 2016-

Why I’m grateful (Thanksgiving, 2016)

Real pleasure requires at least two—
someone to use me, someone to use
“Painting, I can still paint”
He was at the time making his art
from colorful paper cutouts
“There’s plenty of time to paint,
I’m only 83”

Thought about an old love as I watched grave
diggers yesterday dig deep into icy ground,
their toughness as they shovel the ground
by hand, while we few mourners grieved
So she left me back then— now I’m glad
I’m not stuck with some menopausal,
prune-faced, narcissistic, freak

Then there was the guy known as
the mayor of the gym because
he led our raucous locker room talk
(Don’t get all out of joint dear, sports, not
women, sports mostly) and he used to
put his fancy black shoes and socks on before
his pants just to show us he can

Don’t be fooled—
the animal in that picture with Debby
isn’t a friendly, sloppy red-haired
retriever and nor is it alive
It’s a small lion she imported from Africa
She admires her birds and beasts stuck
in time, fierce, stuffed and mounted

My countrymen fought in Vietnam—
I didn’t
Our elites used napalm to destroy—
Not I
Like Pompey the Great,
some lives outlast their powers
God, how I loved her, over so many nights

Graduation night celebration, high school
There’s Andy and Linda— an item
all through high school
There’s Linda crying her eyes out
while Andy sits on a bench and whispers
sadly to no one of us
“Why must Linda always embarrass me?”

With a combination of sacrilege
and extravagance on all sides,
children burned and no one would help
The emperor had unkempt hair and
bad teeth and used platform shoes
to disguise his short stature and
hypocrisy was his preferred

weapon of persuasion
We saw noble pictures and
admirable statues of him everywhere
We tried to be staid and true
Now we’re all about the bawdy,
the rambunctious and,
we no longer care who’s in or out

My dear, like the old centurions,
we have all felt pain that cuts deep—
Never underestimate your abilities
to just tough it out
like some soulful old music
played with great eloquence,
in a violent eternity of doubt



-December 3, 2016-

A pall settles over us

A pall settles over us

What do they think as the bullets
spit past or before the train hits
Did I do this?
Do I deserve this?
There but for luck go I?

It wafts into air

Remember, long ago, the well-dressed
German-Americans in Inwood Park
Casual Sunday for them
in their dress more formal
than anything we’d ever wear

What do we cling to?

The alien other
The not-me upon whom
I depend in a muscularity of
memory with the tufts of dry leaves—
red, orange, and green above me

Love that grows in the pall 

Death’s not new to us—
In the course of this life
each of us dies many times
He was addicted and prey to an
agitation only heroin could stop

or in other sordid places

What about them now—
The offices they held,
their jobs, their aims,
aspirations, anxieties,
their luck both good and bad

In a place from which no one returns

The lilting of the train
wills you to sleep, makes you
miss your stop, takes you
to a foreign place and makes
you late for our date

there but for luck go I 

Heard on 14th street, late ‘60s:
“Shuga, Shuga Shugaaaaa!!!
We got shuga pops for the kiddies
And we got Gleam, Gleam toothpaste
Keeps your teeth clean, clean, clean!!!”

Comforting illusions deceive us

It’s bad for us when
we seek a truth that doesn’t ask
about our preferences
A truth so stubborn and thick
it forbids us to think of them

like a brutal, indifferent machine

She and me fit together then
like an obscure, unlikely puzzle
You didn’t hear me say, “You’re far
too beautiful for me to try to please
and you’re way, way out of my league”

that slices through innocence

Reticent, ill at ease with strangers,
their first impressions of him never good
Contact between him and them
was through a hardened membrane,
an awkward armor of silence

So we give up on public lives

The rumbling of the train comforted
me in ways my soft bed couldn’t
I fell asleep on the train
and missed my stop
and that’s why I’m so late

We focus solely on our pleasures,  

See Mark, a pretty fair artist, sweat as he fills
trash into plastic bags by the highway
for his community service with a fellow group
of petty scofflaws—Mark’s crime?
He used slugs instead of tokens for the subway

fused tight in our excitements

Unsubstantiated rumors, second
guesses, hints of plots, half-truths,
gossip, unreliable speculations
and forebodings, all the work needed
to be cleverly mean and subtly cunning

as a pall of ghosts settles over us



-November 19, 2016-

We’re just crooners

We’re just crooners—
we sing of our loves as the
sun gleams into the rain

He was a generous man
This didn’t make him a man
of feeling or empathy
or a pleasant man
or a scrupulous man
or a truthful man or even
a good man

Experiences that seemed mundane
can, in memory, flash signals,
be guideposts, or enflame 

“That chair was broken
before you sat on it
I can see you’re embarrassed
because you think you broke it”
Dude, if I thought I broke your damn
chair, I’d have told you so—
I’m not stupid, unaware, or dishonest

What about the neighbors, husbands,
mothers and others hell bent on consuming
those they profess to care for? 

Nicole (please call me
“Nicolette” but never “Nicky”)
wanted Phil to love her and she
decided to wait on him, get him a drink
That Phil was an adamant type
who didn’t think anyone
should wait on him or anyone,

The world is not created once
and for all—we recreate it
for ourselves many times

certainly not his lover,
and certainly not for free
The look of disgust on his face
as she literally ran for that drink
was something quite miserable to see
When it’s good it’s never so good
as to make up for what turns bad

It was a time when
the calm of happiness
left my depths undisturbed

That child on the plane
didn’t stop talking once
Really, she never shut up
But if you listen to her high-pitched
happy chatter and let her words go
she seems to say just one thing alone
“Look at me, love me, I matter” 

Each time they met 
she’d prove it again—
Hatred retaliates to excess

On her bad days she was confused,
an uncomprehending bundle
of feelings unshielded by intelligence
Is this the price of her former brilliance?
She’s a bit daft some would
callously say and they didn’t
seem to care if she heard them

The ecstasies, the triumphs,
welcome as they are, never
quite make up for our losses 

The one-eyed man of myths
can’t see in, he can only see out
He’s a man of brutal, earthly powers
He doesn’t need or perceive his inner swirls
and rifts, and he’s vain, cunning, and tricky
What he means isn’t clear in his mind—
so he lies

Like an exhausted swimmer she
painfully keeps her head above the waves
of time that threaten to consume her

So the years go by
We know that old age gives way
to youth, that the most solid fortunes
and thrones vanish and that
celebrity is a passing thing
We accept this onto our
mental retinas and nevertheless we sing

Hardy, strong and set as the light
photographed against a glass building,
like a fiery cacophony of splendor




-November 5, 2016-

It’s concealed in a labyrinth

It’s concealed in a labyrinth 
Today I awoke in a box,
my reflexes tame
in a world grown utterly typical
Memories of dreams and
memories of what’s real
can feel the same

Don’t ask my lover to explain me
She understands me less
than I understand myself
Like a mysterious and implacable
externality all boxed in, what we 
herald, announce and see depends  
on how we polish and set our lens 

Mrs. McDermott,
my third grade teacher,
explained to the class one day
“Peter is tardy because, in walking
to school this morning, Peter lost his way”
There should be a special place in hell
for those who injure children

Something distinctly noble
blends in with what’s base in
our conduct
Catty academics, for example: 
“There’s early Wittgenstein, there’s 
late Wittgenstein and then there’s
Professor Finch’s Wittgenstein”

Once the waters free the unencumbered
river flows easy, full of grace
I never pretended to be so fatherly
That was your fantasy
“Is that all there is?” I’d ask, “Is that it?” 
When Matt had a $100 in his pocket
he’d be confident

So he wasn’t upset that hot fall day
as he went on the train alone to Syracuse,
not quite 18, to be a freshman at the University 
“Mom gave me 100 bucks so 
I knew I’d be okay”
We take some elements of personality from
our parents and others we must create 

An old lion like me needs to dream
When grandma got older and a little
more deaf she’d hum to herself
I’m not sure she even heard herself 
I also don’t know why a little phrase
from Faure’s song “Lydia” repeats
itself in my brain— I know

no one named Lydia (never did)
and I don’t remember the French lyrics
Just that little turn of phrase
delights me now as I think of how
grandma used to hum to herself
Why this song and not some other?
I know many fine songs 

Gene cried deeply at Mom’s funeral because
her like would never come his way again
I felt that way too but my bitterness,
my tears, stayed with me
There’s a certain incuriosity brought 
about in time and it can become hard
to tell the truth from trash in the mind

If we believed in heaven then we might fear
the wrath of the dead—all the miserable things
we said and felt about them, how we miss them 
But none of us believes in heaven
And it’s not because they’re dead
that our affections for them will grow faint—
It’s because we ourselves are dying

-October 8, 2016-

And then the same sadness

And then the same sadness—
let it sweep over you,
let it come
Memory is our creation
happy and cruel at once
Our loneliness, intimate and aloof,
is like a mask in the shadows

On this glassy, opaque lake
each surface reflection distorts
in obscure recesses of a self and
there follows a pattern of light,
a veritable algebra of sensitivity
from which we project our now
into the past and future

What do we think of
when we think of death?
We can’t picture to ourselves
anything other than ourselves alive
When we think of death it’s our
lives we project like a man
who stares at dark skies

Scaly green weeds and at their
tips fiery, tough yellow flowers
I no longer believe that strangers
might possess unearthly magical powers
Some men are so sensitive to beauty
that they suffer more than others
when they find it in a woman

“I don’t do moderation” he says
Her long straight red hair past her waist
Now she stretches, now she runs
Like a painter who catches her
mid-motion, she’s the symbiotic
alien other, fertile, dangerous—
and then she’s so beautiful it hurts

When we live a long time
our memories intertwine
Tight-laced, attractive, complete,
this mental state is obsolete
We suppose that we know exactly
what things are and what people think
for the simple reason that we don’t really care

We put something of ourselves everywhere
We wish to be understood because
we wish to be loved and we wish
to be loved when we love
From this glassy mirror-like lake
from under our opaque surfaces, come
these, our own fiery, obstinate flowers

But should our hearts be roiled
our view is through a
dizzying kaleidoscope
It’s like a family reunion
with me and my dead brothers—
an illusion that soon vanishes
into the cold recesses of self


-September 24, 2016-

I was just over 12

I was just over 12 when Dad died
Ms. Lapotan, my teacher, said
“So someone you thought would
always be there, won’t be there”

How callus was the king who
upon hearing of a favorite son’s
death in battle said,
“I never thought he was immortal?”

Like a key that hides
in the depths of my mind
as fickle as pleasure
as startling as sadness

all love, like everything else,
leads to farewell
like a name that’s forgotten
when everything I do to bring it back fails

On the road, Joel used to cut off Mack trucks
to hear their angry drivers blow their horns
The sound of Mack truck horns transformed
for him the ordinary into brute aesthetics

After all we’d done to each other
I’d welcome her back for sex
“I didn’t expect to be
turned down,” she said

Pleasures don’t last but
their echoes still sound
in fickle bits that oppress,
taunt and tempt

In a scene of parting it’s always
the person who is not in love that
makes the pretty speeches because
love can’t show itself in speeches

We who think deeply about life
know a great deal but we
never seem to get how anticipated
losses will actually feel

The best way, they say, to be
sought after is to withhold yourself
Try that cold-hearted bluff,
I dare you, when it matters

We don’t much emerge from ourselves
What we know of others we know
through ourselves and what we know
doesn’t always help

Prescient, she could sense the end
like a tangible tale,
like a diamond-like stream
that no one but she could see




-September 11, 2016-

Late, winter and dark

When I lived downtown
there were no stores open after work
It wasn’t a popular place to live then
I ran into a street guy selling pears
It was late, winter and dark

He said “Here, take the whole bag, cheap,
just a dollar” “Thanks” I said
When I got them home they were all rotten,
every single one of them
so I postponed our rupture again

Gene has this terrible cancer
“Lung cancer,” he said
Why? He has no idea—
he never smoked
Dreams of her still provoke me

It’s the contour of the wood
that determines, for a master,
the only right way to sculpt it
The power of her love can’t undo
the terror of the things he’s done

On the day of my third panic attack
an aggression that horrifies as it tantalizes,
an energetic trip before it stops
a most honest little phenomenon—
freaky, funny lookin’ and hot

In a group of stern talkers, someone
must laugh, several of us perhaps
Every little mistake a catastrophe,
like the rat that ran the wrong maze
or our brilliant, brittle break-up

In a moment of enthusiasm
I find a vital unity
previously unaware of itself
She said “I’m not your protector” but she
meant “I was never your lover”

The first tine I ordered an adult drink
I was on an airplane and asked for
a scotch and soda—never had one before
and I thought, “That’s an adult drink”
A little bottle of liquor (J&B)

is given to me with club soda
and ice in a clear plastic cup
with a plastic red stirrer
“So sophisticated” I think
as I drink and enjoy it

The glittering actress on the beach—
that throb of ancient desire
She first dallies in the dominatrix role
Calls herself “Mistress Talia” before
she goes all in and fully becomes her

As marketers know, most of
us don’t read what you write,
don’t hear what you say
You’ve got to shout and tout
for the little we see to get through

Some days it hurts a lot
Some days a little less
like a Middle Eastern stubbornness
and docility I either know how
it ends or don’t care

When on hard drugs Howard
once asked, “This feeling of good
health, can you get it
from being in good health?”
I have an accent that comes

from nowhere in particular
Our longing to believe
Our reasons to forget
Your stuff, my friend,
is smooth and unique

You dance from the heart
and you’ve got the technique
We become neither
famous nor notorious
Now the rumors are rife—

there’s more layoffs on the way
Hey, there’s no magic pill
for what we’ve got, no remedy
Just the stillness of a love
that lasts for eternity




-August 27, 2016-

Two Birds

(after a photograph taken by Steve Pollock)

One bird squawks
The other bird flies 

In solitude I try
to soar within my mind
I rarely care about
where I’ve lived
or where I’ve been

One bird soars
The other bird sings

The look in her eyes told me
what her words denied—
that she’d soon take flight
For that moment, at least, she lost
her look of cunning and vulgarity

One bird stares
The other bird ascends 

We live within falsehood,
smile at it, practice it
We use it to smooth and soothe
all without meaning
any harm or hurt

One bird holds its wings up strong
The other bird cries 

Scathed in time’s sorrows
I prepare slowly, carefully
so as to perform spontaneously,
fiercely, ferociously,
like a heart on fire

One bird scowls
The other bird lifts

The older I get
the slower I heal
I more than ever now indulge
in fantasies of lightness
and ascent

Up the one bird goes
The other bird breathes intent

Her charmless, toughness
like a weed that withers
as she shows us, at last, her true face
The face you show as you age
is your real face

One bird exhales strongly
The other bird glides 

Out of painful curiosity
I pierce my way to you
The sea shows both light and dark
Grief is its own release—
until the sea released me

One bird hovers on the wind
The other bird still seeks




-August 13, 2016-