It was aggressive

It was aggressive and suggestive
I knew there’d be fire
I knew I’d get burned—
The suggestion of a
world in a tear drop, like
some sad misconnections—
stale, chilly and rife

Mom would say when I’d
ask for something she thought
trivial, “What do you think,
that I’m made out of money?”
For the American and Caribbean
slaves, their opposition was often
short, violent and episodic

Many of America’s founders were men
of means but not enormous wealth
Many of them owned slaves
and suppressed them then
by violent, vicious means, with
the arrogance of the living as
they stand around our deathbeds

At a favorite dinner place
grandma would slip the uneaten
dinner rolls into her purse
“They’ll just throw them away
and I can have them for later” The
restaurant folks didn’t care—they
were onto her and others like her

Our acts are over determined,
never just one cause or reason
I’m lucky—relatively unscathed
by life’s losses, always plenty
to eat and a place to lay my head,
in a long, uneventful, peaceful life
Still, I’m troubled sometimes looking

back because so much is over
No hope for a changed outcome,
the past passes in a blur—No chance
to be with those lost to me again
“He’s not much of a speaker
but no one has a better heart
or a clearer head”

Dad tried to teach us children
manners, because in a world without
manners our vicissitudes of loss,
our interconnections with life
and each other, are far too harsh
“I wish I could kick it
with him, one more time”

My love, our love is an enigma to me,
stronger than me—you give me
what you can, I see that now—Every
fraught gesture is a fiery cascade, where
tender electric vectors are vivid ties
of fiery gifts, the mysterious bonds
of our lives and this place 

-August 8, 2020-

He wanted

“He wanted to know everything
but refused to learn anything”
“Timber totes the pixy lock”—
nonsense talk—like the delight my
three-year old took when he jumped
on a puddle in the parking lot
Do mechanical conveniences

make any of us happy? Sure, I guess
Thomas Jefferson, speaking of his
father, said that “though his education
had been neglected, he read much and
managed to improve himself” Now,
instead of having a father I’m the father,
instead of being a son, I’m the dad

Corrupt, self-serving authority,
pig-headed pride, sentimental,
unrealistic, suspect, we become
globally known for a kind of
pathological politics in which
only what’s important to you 
is always so important to me

Grandma didn’t like cats near her but
cats (perhaps attracted by the perfume
she seemed to bath in) loved her “Shoo,
shoo” she’d angrily say, when a cat
came near but cats act as they wish 
When grandma, a skilled musician,
played Mozart on the piano our cat

pricked up her ears as if to listen
When mom, who was a tad tone
deaf played, the cat seemed quite
indifferent—“B-flat, b-flat,” grandma
would yell from downstairs while
mom, as a little girl, practiced piano
She thought she was a witch

because mom couldn’t hear when the
notes went up or down—so how did
grandma know it was supposed to be
b-flat?—“What do you want from the
kid” grandpa would say, “she ain’t
made that way” but mom knew
how to smile, as many women do,

even when there’s nothing to smile about
like she did when we applied for me to
go to a fancy private school—Maybe it
mattered (I got in) and maybe it didn’t—
By the way, it’s a tell, when someone
who might lie, explains to you why
they’re not lying now (they are)—“it’d be

bad karma for me to lie about this,” or “I’ve
nothing much to gain by such a lie”—but an
unwarranted smile? Maybe, that’s just polite
The chinless ones were stronger than us,
buried their dead, made finely cut tools
to kill and butcher meat (and each other?) but, we
believe, couldn’t think or speak symbolically

And though quite intelligent, they fought
for their lives in small tight groups—All
that they left behind for us were sharp stone
tools, hearths, food debris, and their bones—
lives like the unknown and unknowable
source of all consciousness, if consciousness
can exist outside and apart from our minds  

-July 25, 2020-

If your utopia

If your utopia requires a broad transformation
of human survival instincts then it’s not
a realistic, legitimate vision of the future 
Gene thought it well to celebrate certain
holidays to break up the year—Otherwise,
our days would be too much the same, with
the same unbroken pains and gratifications

The younger blades are a lighter,
pastel green and stem from the tops
of the older, deep green stalks
Achilles was a psychopath, Hector
a brutal, beloved protector and hero
The one loved honor first, then death
The other loved justice first, then death

I yearn for the feel of her and with that
I want to send her, to feel her move and
rock, together and touch, to love her—
Wonderful, wonderful—the breadth of her,
our partner’s passion, the intense drive to
please her, the dissolution of barriers,
the intensity, the heat and beat of love

Disparate goals and values—
I didn’t find much in him
Smart enough, I guess, even
at times original he was, for
the most part, benign—He bored
me though his style was clear and
his tone was often agreeable

Ben Franklin said, “Three
can keep a secret if two are dead”
You can’t further isolate those
who are already alone
No one who attains power
will do anything except abuse it
Time is brutal, just look at old age

He spoke of the military, the army
of friendships immediately assumed, 
and so often intense among disparate
types and how that time tended to make
him try to bring out the best in those
who he just barely met, and then—
A kind of spectral happiness,

a ghostly remembrance, transparent
memories, misty melancholy pictures
poured to taste, like the leftovers of
a domestic life lived long ago
“It’s not a scientific theory because
it can’t be refuted and because
it explains too much”

A ragged, gaunt piece-worker, but he owned
apartment houses in Queens, land in Florida
and New Jersey, and he cut cloth every day
from 5:30 in the morning until 12 at night
Damn, he seemed half-mad with greed
If consciousness is destroyed by death
then we all die for a bit each day

I walked into a clear glass door
because it had no markings and I
didn’t see it—Instead, I saw small
blips of silver light and bruised,
but didn’t break, my nose—I later
brought the swelling down with ice
Prestigious things don’t mean

a thing to me—I wear a cheap
Timex watch and when it breaks
I get another just like it—Some
days smell good like marshmallows
and chocolate and some are 
relentless and smell of old age
“Every time I go to town” sang

the old bluesman “the police, they kick
my dogs around” and for years I couldn’t
understand why the cops would hurt his
pets—seemed mean silly cruel to kick them—
Then someone explained to me that “dogs” meant
his feet and he was kicked around and not his pets
Now, that’s a sad song that makes perfect sense

-July 11, 2020-


Sometimes, when fire attracts
you, your scalded hands burn
Prudent rulers expect the
malign acts of their enemies

Not equality though it pretends—
a sometime democracy, though not
always—like Augustus who pretended,
that, in form, his  dictatorship was the

continuation of the Roman republic
Sometimes enough is enough and
despite the easily manipulated, ignorant,
poor racist bores, his followers, we’ll

rid ourselves of this scourge, maybe
Sometimes ours is a reactionary
aristocracy, whose police incarcerate
whom they please and shoot to kill

Gentle pleasures and peace of mind,
emotionally honest, pure
He loved them both but never
expected the two to meet

Sometimes, simple in a deep way,
he wouldn’t give up on you
He would sometimes provide the
way a wolf provides for its pack

The tough egoist of a partner assigned
to me, then a young lawyer, an interpretation
of an obscure, tedious, 1980s oil statute
soon (though we didn’t know that) to be

repealed—“Are you sure?” he intimidates
“I’m sure” I say, but he asks the same
question again, and this time I say
“I’ll stake your reputation on it”

Romans despised the Greeks
for their cunning and trickery
and because of their devastating,
complete dynastic collapse  

But they sometimes admired,
even emulated, the Greek culture,
their learning, their inventiveness
and style—Everything great about

Roman sculpture, architecture and
poetry stemmed, took from and imitated
the Greeks—Truth doesn’t contradict
truth and that weak former camp

follower wrote a very bad book,
as a bad person will, filled with tales
of ornery machinations, disgrace and
corrupt, bad faith-based revelations

Sometimes for some, thinking is
as necessary as breathing, but they’re
rather rare—most of us do so little of it
and engage in life deadening imperceptions

of feeling—She spoke so desperately
that day with the intensity, the pitiful
pleadings of an addict but later claimed she
wasn’t addicted to drugs, but sick in spirit

and mind and so she lied and lied and lied
and sometimes, with some perfect embroidery,
told a sort of truth because, sometimes,
even the most pathetic strivings are true

So much has been erased, so
much has been retained—She
may have won this game only because
I didn’t then think we were playing

My mother wouldn’t accept the concept
of imaginary numbers (the square root
of -1) because she didn’t think numbers
are ideas—Numbers are ideas

We’ve no right to believe anything
worthy is derived from ignorance—
Faith is ignorance
We can hope that when the

demagogue, like the mediocre bore
that he is, gives his speech for the 100th
time the faithful will sigh and cover
their faces in bored exasperation 

If death’s the end then most of what
matters to us is already known to us
But while we can’t know that death’s the end
it’s certainly past the limits of our sight

If love could heal her, she would have fully
healed— a person may sometimes heal a bit—
and her savage wild trickery may for a time, like
a gift, reflect a strange sort of inner-happiness

-June 27, 2020-

Think about it:

Think about it:

The bizarre strike
of the awkward jest—
the grotesque swat,
his bulbous red nose and complete
disdain for those who follow

Think about it:

A near full pack of Parliament
brand cigarettes on the sidewalk,
partially opened, that I don’t pick up
My mom smoked that brand and,
later in life, Matt smoked them too


We may not know a damn thing
about the all knowing, all powerful
monotheistic creator god, if there is one
But we do know this—its spirit, if it
exists, is inordinately fond of beetles


I love my daughter and
refused to acknowledge
that she might take sides
She always tries
to do what’s right


A general, quick to snap at us,
quick to take offense,
in chronic pain most days and
a prickly personality at best—
competent, argumentative, abusive


We fought even to night over possession  
of some strategic waterway— An endless
sun seemed to run backwards that day,
un-harvested corn was as high as our
heads, 8000 of us dead in those fields


His arguments though ingenious
weren’t convincing, they vanished
dreamlike in everything and nothing
A rich man’s war, a poor man’s fight,
a succession of the transient present


He carries a heavy story like
the blank dullness of a gambler’s
stare just before the horses run
How much loss, how much pain,
how much harshness won’t beat me?

Think about it:

Essences are momentary sensations
in individual minds
Spirit’s a transitory awareness, a flash
When grandpa died he was younger than
I am now, but he’s still older than me


With each success we’ll see
some universal in the particular
It wasn’t until my twenties that
I began to situate my sadness,
my stories, my pleasures


Oh yes, Harry was somewhat wild
and popular in a conventional way
I didn’t much like him or consider
the funny originality of his acts which
weren’t, to be sure, aimed at me


Militant monotheism disdains
the variety of free formed lives
Let’s deny the all powerful, fashioned in
the images of humans—it’s not God,
it’s just a bagful of wishes

-June 13, 2020-

Matt acted

In high school Matt acted as though
their ridicule and insults didn’t get
to him but they did—He wouldn’t go
back there and pretend they’d been his
friends—They’d stabbed him daily without
knowing that they did—He quells his
rage now—he pretends they never lived

Why not you?
You, upside down,
it’s your turn
Fair presences weaved
over vile acts
Frogs jump into
and over your grave

A single ever-evolving entity
within which improbable organic life
emerges from an inorganic mess to
develop as plant life, animal life, and
human self-awareness—that  relentless
churning burn, that dynamic serious
jest from which we all emerge

A restless, skillful leader always
looking for trouble—fearless,
unscrupulous, not content unless
he inflicts misery on others or
others inflict misery on him “They
said I was a tyrant but that’s on you
because you never won anything”

“I’m so excited, I’m so excited,” she said
The sweet, so sweet
The salty, so salty
The bitter, so bitter
That’s our heritage, history—
“I don’t often expose myself like
that, as though I’m fearless”

Under a scarlet sun—its relentless
heat, are the rats now eating rats?
What vicious rats!!!
Said the general regarding his career
“It didn’t amount to much good
I was a racketeer for the bankers
and Wall Street—a thug”

When they prescribe their deepest 
form of life, the pious don’t accept
the logic of an indifferent universe, and
instead prescribe forms of compassion, of
comfort, in the face of nature’s toughness,
evils, darkness, stark luck and intensity
“Dr. Hunter, isn’t it so that in your religion

I can, like Dr. Faustus, repent of some
foul acts and be forgiven and saved and then
do more foul acts and expect to be forgiven again
and again, ad infinitum? Some deal” “Young
man, no—If you truly repent then you won’t
do those terrible things, and you’ll only
be forgiven when you truly repent”

When playing punch ball before school
if you hit the hard pink rubber ball with
your fist just right, your fist won’t hurt
and in fact feels good, as you watch
the pink ball soar
Birth, copulation, death—
We don’t remember the first, we’re

delightfully present in the second and
we won’t experience the third—He taught
himself, this friendly salesman, to speak
English by watching TV and as he tried to
sell us some knickknack or other, he said in
heavily accented English “You must cherish
this chance, you must cherish this chance”

-May 30, 2020-

Hey root beer!!!

Every day on the way to high school
I’d get a root beer from this little
place, with its window to the street,
served cold in a cone-shaped paper cup
It got to where they’d pour it when
they saw me coming—One day late
as I walk down the street from

across the street I hear “Hey
root beer!!!” loud from the guy
who knew me only as “root beer”
Left on his own too soon,
he mistakes the like for
the real—desperate sometimes for 
money, affection and company

Work and sleep laced within
a few moments of fun—the sense
of excitement lies beneath—so complex are
we, as we change within our many sides
It’s never the end of time
but it’s always time’s end
with agony’s god at the center  

You’re clever ‘cause your
pleasures may come in solitude—
Impulse, the innermost rational
and irrational, cautiously hidden
It’s stated as it actually happened
but, as usual, we make it up because
the  same messages change their fine

wrought forms, as hardships harden us
Some of time’s presents were poisoned
We can’t step away from life to check
on its meaning any more than we can
step away from a thunderous train
“You can’t swim here, brother,
you’re no longer welcome here”

In the middle of his magnificence,
in the glories of his triumphs.
he’s pensive, he frowns, he stares
Here’s his hundreds of ships, 20,000
troops, a thousand tanks and deadly
military missiles, his air force, his artillery
“In a hundred years all of us will be gone”

In every kitchen scene or living
room on TV, there’s a conspicuous
bowl of fruit—homey, I guess
I like apples and grapes, don’t you?
“Get my mother a new refrigerator!”
my father, as a boy screams at his father
He couldn’t stand to see his mother cry

Dad was a public relations man who
might forget your name unless
he’d sneak to the bathroom and
write it down—“Mom sent me
a kissy face emoji in response
Not sure how I feel about that”
Dreams don’t always fit nice

Brown rats are vicious and more
likely to live away from humans
You certainly don’t want one
for a pet—Our plots don’t move
in straight lines, because nature
hates straight lines—The best way
to die, reportedly, said Caesar,

is “unexpectedly”—You open the
door but your room has changed
The success of coercion is ugliness
We bear witness as we engage
with the world, as we squeeze the
last drops of slavery from our blood
These days, she says, I cry quite easily

-May 16, 2020-

It’s not

When the team was losing we’d go
to the stadium looking for a fight—
Blind drunk passion, stupid and violent,
relentless, desperate, and lost
There’s no private heaven—
Bribes, sloth, greed, our
hidden corrupt fiend is

what failure tastes like
Dad loved plants, even the weeds,
flowers, birds and butterflies
He collected stamps and butterflies
and was a talented amateur photographer
He loved the opera and with his brother
ably deflected his father’s anger

We live in a country founded by
aristocrats, and as John Randolph
admitted and bragged as he railed
against the mob “I’m an aristocrat
I love freedom and hate equality”
A slave is, said our founders,
three-fifths of a human being

If you’re clever you know
love’s protection lasts,
even or especially, in memory
It’s the days of the plague
and I’m insecure
Successful people will
sometimes use small things

to remind them of their humble starts,
like a small piece of pizza with
a little cheese eaten before the start
of an elaborate and expensive Italian
meal served at the now defunct Teddy’s
restaurant in lower Manhattan—“This
was my start, now look at me”

I didn’t think we’d end up
here—in a shoddy, sloppy old courtroom
with high ceilings and indiscreet
bureaucrats, who witness as we
trample on an inner piece of ourselves
Invasive fantasies, strident dreams,
our ancestor’s beast with seven heads

and ten horns whose venom is now
Dad could be intimidating and I was
often afraid to approach him
I’d wait and keep my distance until
I thought it was safe—I didn’t think I was
like him but at work sometimes a colleague
would knock and hesitate to enter my  

office and talk to me, at first,
from just outside my office door
We primitives don’t perform
our rituals based on opinions
Said Feynman “Nature has
a great simplicity and is beautiful
Mathematics describes nature

because nature is mathematical”
Approximations, simplifications, speculations,
we’re the virus people—If I could have
become a fine violinist would I still stress
over words? Maybe—I’ve studied, and
studied and studied and I now know
it’s not where I’ll go, it’s how I’ll get there

-May 2, 2020-

The virus

The virus isn’t always vile and strong
Sometimes it’s just vicious
“The kingdom of God,” said Thomas
“is spread out before us
only we don’t see it”
“Nobody hangs with a loser,
you’ve got to win”

says the foul mouthed coach
like a man who wouldn’t learn
or change his rabid little mind
“Run that fucking ball
down their throats”
“Romance” she said bitterly, “is a
 lie and true love’s impossible”

“What you say to gain popular
support may have little to do
with what you’ll use your power
for after you’ve gained it”
Daily life ruptured, we
exaggerate  “Even the 
birds have stopped singing”

Knowledge is limited, local
Power is dangerous
The women I’ve loved have
something inexplicable,
drawing me to them
“Wherever I am, I’m not
Instead, I’m not”

We get knocked down
We get up
We get knocked down again
Bullets fly by my head
I lost some friends
I struggle with the
virus, inside and out

Sometimes health is just luck
He drew for us a leopard
with the feet of a bear and
the mouth of a lion
The emperor was a fiend
We killed him and yet
somehow he still lives

See our city’s ostentatious luxury,
electric displays, extravagant
banquets, gaudy clothes,
our obsession with wealth and
our love of violent games
Playfully bitter, soulful but
bitter, he carves statues

from wood and then worships
them—and he thinks you
should worship them too—because
his will for the world is his life
The Roman emperor in us steals
and calls it “empire” ravages and
calls it “peace” with its powerful, 

alluring displays of status
This virus is so inconvenient,
tactless, pitiless and you must
abandon your city unless, like the
poor, you’ve nowhere else to go
The magnificence of New York
City, scoffed and cuffed,

permeated with the scourge
of the virus—like a god who
personifies our luck through
time—“The good mothers
are protective, but not overly so,
affectionate and playful” said the
scientist “They’ll always support

their children should they get
into trouble” That scientist was
describing the monkeys she
observed for over thirty years
Glorious complexity emerges
from staid simplicity
“Their children excel at life”

We asked Chekhov’s pet bird
“Why are your songs so short
are you that small and short of breath?”
His bird replied “I’m not short of
breath but I have many songs
and I’ll never be content
until I’ve sung them all”

-April 18, 2020-

We reach

We reach forward for love
and sometimes it comes—
undulating love in waves
The dead-handed past is like
a battle more easily won than
a war, like a man of no mercy,
his tiger heart tight with bluster

I am relaxed and ready to battle
Both church and state are
inculcated, permeated with violence—
illegitimate violence like
the property and privileges
of the rich as if it’s enough for
some vicious old coach to scream

“God damn it, just catch the
damn ball” as though my singing
in the dark (as I’ve done now
for twenty-five plus years) is enough
Afraid that freedom can’t develop
unique powers of individuality in
once more annihilated worlds, we 

cling to things like a form of being
between life and death as if
trapped in myself with a lack of
something not quite  definitive  
You can’t transcend the herd
and be part of the herd
The wish to be protected by

an omnipotent father is a noxious,
stupid wish—and its nature is evil
and drenched in blood like a disease
that kills its host in a corner—
a fate as eternal as its death in a
corner, without being properly
labeled, expressed or constrained

All these years and I’m still
not right—not even sure what
it means to be right—decency in a world
like this?—Some men say they worship
women but don’t seem to like them—
Once a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a human
gleamed within gemstone, amber,

like a painting by Lautrec, caught
in mid-gesture, those magnificent
creatures on the cusp of raw action
Who will wipe the tears from our
faces when the form of life that put
them there first—that indelible form
of life—is a miserable stage of fools? 

We clutch at each other, repel
each other, talk sweetly to each
other, abandon each other, cling
to each other as though the rifts
and the clutch are waves
that undulate in and down as
we deviate and stray

Raw and exposed and not
good enough—the way you
speak tells us who you are—
Death is the great adversary, he’s
a stubborn, passionate, stupid old man
He’s the father, an alcoholic,
who froze to death in the streets

-April 4, 2020-