POEM OF THE WEEK

 This webpage contains poems by Richard Greene.  Poems are posted to the  page weekly.  The poem for the current week appears first followed by previously posted poems .

Poem of the Week

Poem for This Week

August 28 – September 4, 2016

Seventeen

That summer I worked at a camp
not far from the city
on the other side of the river.
One of the counselors, Didi—
Shirly Lutz, from Akron Ohio—
was a lithe, compact girl
with a sweet smell of sunlight about her,
and as she sat in the high lifeguard chair,
her smooth legs crossed,
the guys would crowd around
like stage door Johnnies
vying for attention.

Didi and I had the same night off
and we’d go into the city
down to the Village
and all night smoky jazz,
heading back to camp
not long before dawn
taking the nearly empty subway
to the bridge.
The buses didn’t run at that hour
so we’d walk the mile across,
solitary voices
high above the water,
the sun rising at our backs,
our shadows stretching out
long as the life before us.


Poems for Previous Weeks

August 7-14, 2016

The Girls of Summer

The lodge where we stayed last night
had iron in its water
like our house at the lake
where I spent my childhood summers
and as I was falling asleep,
one thing leading to another,
I thought of the Hutchinson girls
with their blond hair and bouncy curls.
seeing them in my mind’s eye
on the lawn
between their big house and the breakwater.
The youngest was in her early teens
and I a couple of years younger.
They were my American dream.

They’re probably grandmothers now,
if still among the living.


July 31 – August 7, 2016

The Lake

There was a lake in Michigan
where I spent my childhood summers,
a glacial lake
with hilly banks
scooped out of flat farmlands.
A mile wide and three long,
it was big enough
for the far shore to seem a foreign place,
adding to the mystery of the water
with its large carp that hovered in the shallows like blimps
and its murky depths,
tall seaweed reaching up at you
as you swam into the deep water
where there were primitive slashing carnivores
alligator gar
rumored to have once attacked a man.

But there were also the sunfish and bluegills,
their rainbow hues visible in the shallows,
bass, streamlined and speckled,
minnows that would swarm away from you
flashing out of the water in formation,
and boats,
sailboats with their canvas wings,
small motorboats
their back-mounted motors buzzing
like insects of legendary decibels,
and the big ones with their inboard engines,
the Cadillacs of that watery place
emerging from their houses with a self-satisfied rumble
to turn and breast the water,
cleaving it,
filling the air with spray,
rocking smaller boats with their waves.

Then there was the Honeymoon
a two-decker
miniature version of the larger craft
that plied the far vaster waters of Lake Michigan.
It made the rounds of the lake on weekends
tooting its train-like whistle
and announcing over a loud speaker
“Around the lake and down the river to Watervliet
on the Honeymoon.”
Every weekend the Honeymoon,
regular as church bells.
The boat has no doubt long since been scrapped
but it still makes the rounds of the lake in my memory,
its ghostly speaker calling us in its wake.


July 24-31, 2016

Midsummer Day

Over ninety Fahrenheit,
fans flailing in the house,
butterflies busy in the garden
extracting coneflowers’ pollen cache,
a flurry of butterflies,
some a modest white
others blue
or gaudy orange,
like confetti tossed in a sudden gust.

Above the house
clouds pile high,
with the fine sheen of porcelain,
luminous in the noonday light.
The weatherman’s predicting thunderstorms.
Maybe that’s why the butterflies flutter so.


July 17-24, 2016

In Greed We Trust

Forget about Harriet Tubman.
We should put Ronnie on our 20s
and a prosperity gospel credo on our bills
and on every courthouse lawn as well.

What’s all this claptrap about inequality,
this commotion over executive compensation?
Shouldn’t we be grateful to the rich
for lifting all our boats?

Economics and equity demand
that the 1%
be freed of all taxation.
Are we a Christian nation or not?


July 10-17, 2016

America the Beautiful?

For somber waves of death
for black men, and boys,
under the guns of panicky, racist and simply brutal police?
For being a world leader in gun deaths?
For lower life expectancy than 30 other countries?
For higher infant mortality than 37 countrie,s among them Cuba?
For having the second highest incarceration rate in the world,
exceeded only by the Seychelles?
For coming 17th worldwide in student reading skills,
22nd in science and 31st in math?
For over 30 million people who still don’t have health insurance?
For higher medical costs than any other country?
For devastating medical charges
that impact most on those least able to pay?
For the ability of the wealthy to buy votes, laws and “justice”?
For the 1% of the population that receives 20% of the income,
owns 40% of the wealth,
parks much of its money abroad in tax havens,
often pays less taxes than those with much lower incomes
and lobbies for even lower taxes, with much success?
For companies that exploit, cheat and mislead their customers,
even cause their deaths,
and for their overpaid executives
who are not held to account for their misdeeds?
For our “free” market system?

Now let’s make America great again
by cutting taxes more for the rich,
building a wall on the Mexican border
and torturing those suspected of terrorism.


July 3-10, 2016

Summer Evenings

They say the late summer hours
were devised for farmers
so they could begin and end their day
with the rest of us
but I think they were made
for children
playing games in the dusk
when fireflies begin
their semaphore of courtship,
and the ball and the players
become harder and harder to see
when there’s still time
for ice cream
and childish discourse
while walking home
in the voice-filled darkness.


June 26 – July 3, 2016

Early Explorer

Living in L.A.
when it was much smaller than today
I ranged far
on my balloon-tire Schwinn
from our suburban fastness
eastward down the daylong boulevard
rolling the city’s length,
like LaSalle
exploring the great mid-continental waterway,
past movie houses
and department stores
full of siren temptations,
past buildings monotonous as waves
toward the city’s towered center
which I saw each time longingly from afar
but reached only once
having to turn back time and again
to be home before dark,

westward toward the ocean,
that shore I never reached,
picturing its blue expanse
with dogged anticipation
as I toiled my way   
past mile on mile
of urban Gobi,

or over the high hills to the north
through untamed canyons
with their boulder strewn streams
and groves of scrub oak
to the range’s far shoulders
overlooking a broad valley
that reached into the blue-gray distance
(imagining myself a pioneer surmounting
the last westward fold of the Sierra)
then down to the citrus groves
where I lingered
among multitudes of orange globes
in the welcoming shade.


June 19-26, 2016

The Acorn and the Tree

I held you in my arms
all six foot five of you,
yet to be,
round featured
toothless
unable to walk or talk
or feed yourself.
I carried you where you needed to go
spooned puree into your mouth
removed your smelly diapers
wiped your bottom
bathed you while you splashed.

Now, your six foot five unfurled,
long nosed
bearded
articulate
judgmental,
you could almost carry me.


June 12-19, 2016

The Competitor

When I was a boy and played baseball
I always hoped
the ball wouldn't be hit my way.
I couldn’t catch it
and didn’t want to be under it
when it came down.
When I threw a football
the awkward spheroid wobbled
through its brief trajectory
without the slightest hint of a spiral
and when I picked up a bat
it seemed that it and the ball
repelled each other. I was always last to be chosen for a team
and that was just as well with me—
nothing expected
nothing lost—
except that I cared
like any man-child.
So I learned to use books.
They were heavy and hard
and full of words
that hurt more than stones or sticks.


June 5-12, 2016

Aficionados

When we were ten or eleven
my cousin Dicky and I
used to hike a mile
to the little store
down by the crossroads
to buy a cigar,
for our father, we said.
Then we’d slip the gold paper ring
it came with onto a finger,
and stroll back home
along a road
where nobody knew us,
puffing ostentatiously
and enjoying the shocked looks
of those we passed
in a trail of pungent fumes.


May 29 – June 5, 2016

Memorial

Reading the name
of a young man who died in war
saddens us.
Yet more the names of thousands
engraved in granite or marble,
their parents’ hopes and dreams
interred in stone.
All that remains are a few keepsakes,
and memories
of newborns, toddlers, vulnerable boys,
youths becoming men,
those now sad memories,
and names carved in cold stone.

Who wanted those wars?
Their leaders of course,
but all too often those same young men,
and all too often
those who mourn for them.


May 22-29, 2016

First Tug

“I’ve got a fish” I shouted.
I was five,
gone fishing with my father
in his boat with oars I tried
but couldn’t manage.
It seemed such a long time I sat there
dangling a worm in the water,
the boat gently rocking
in the drowsy summer sunshine,
when suddenly there was a tug on my line,
that first tug
of a lifetime.


May 15-22, 2016

Room with Cats

Two bushy cats
dispose themselves
about the room,
one on the couch,
paws in air
head upside down
tracking me intently
willing me to rub its belly,
the other on a chair
under the dining table
studying, no doubt,
the secret underside of tables,
and when the chair is drawn out
rising like a lion from the grass
ravenous
for a scratch behind the ears.


May 8-15, 2016

Floppycat

A cat wandered into our house
when I opened the back door.
My wife called out
“Oh!  A cat got in.”
She’s allergic,
so I knew what I needed to do.
I found the cat in the stairwell.
It was our neighbor’s.
His name is Oscar, but he’s not wild.
He didn’t try to run
or twist loose when I picked him up
holding him behind the front legs
as one would a child being held up for inspection.
He just went limp
if not with pleasure
at least philosophically
and stayed that way till I put him down outside.
I said to my wife
“Remember that cat when you’re feeling stressed.”


May 1-8, 2016

Cat Dreams

Our neighbors are away for a week
and we’re feeding their cat.
We go in the morning and evening
and the cat is alone the rest of the day.
I worry about her being lonely.
I hope she has a rich fantasy life
filling her hours easily
with daydreams of catching mice,
scooping goldfish out of their bowls,
maybe rerunning Tom and Jerry cartoons in her head
with the cat outsmarting that pesky mouse.
Maybe she imagines herself a lion
letting loose a roar
that scares all the humans
for blocks around,
but when we come to feed her in the evening
she looks like just a tabby cat,
nothing more.


April 24 – May 1, 2016

Black Cat

As I stepped out the front door this morning
I saw a black cat crouching
in the shadow of the trees
looking like a piece of night left behind.
It sprung away immediately,
more spooked by me
than I by it,
and ran out into the road
where it paused to check
what I was up to
and as it paused in profile,
its body slung from haunch and shoulder
as if suspended on springs,
it looked much like a panther,
this scourge of mice.


April 17-24, 2016

Feline Delicacies

I saw a cat leap straight up
next to a bush in our garden,
didn’t see it on the ground,
just suddenly airborne
in that mysterious cat manner,
and then I saw a butterfly dart away.

I didn’t know cats fancied butterflies.
It must be like eating cellophane.
Maybe the cat didn’t know,
thinking the ones in our garden,
big yellow tigers,
in the same class as canaries.
Then I pictured the cat
trotting off contentedly
with papery wings
sticking out of the corners of its mouth.
If Italians can eat farfalle
why not cats?


April 10-17,2016

Eighty-four Going on Eighty-five

I recently moved to another state
and am frequently asked my age
as I sign up for this or that.
Each time, though I only say “eighty-four”
I think, with a mental titter,
“eighty-four going on eighty-five”
for it reminds me of those long ago days
when I was eager to lay claim
to being almost one year older.
“Six going on seven”
I’d say with a modest smile.
Now I say it matter-of-factly
and the smile is wry,
but still with a touch of pride.
Of course I don’t hope for my listeners to respond
“My, what a big boy.”
It’s another sort of compliment I’m fishing for:
“You certainly don’t look your age.”


April 3-10, 2016

Forever Young

Though I‘ve long passed the scriptural three score and ten
I don’t feel old inside my skin.
My legs don’t falter.
My hands don’t shake.
My eyes don’t water.
My mind doesn’t stray.
I feel in the driver’s seat
up here in my brain.
In fact I feel about nineteen,
still given to enthusiasms,
still remembering mistakes.


March 27 – April 3, 2016

Pas de Deux

I have a neighbor
who’s in his eighties I’d say.
He’s frosted all over
slightly stooped
and walks with a cane.
He has a little white dog
that matches him in dog years
with that stiff gait old dogs have.
I see them walking together
several times a day,
tottering down the path,
to oblivion.


March 20-27, 2016

Nitro

Nitro, so-named for the potency of his farts,
is no longer potent in any way,
has trouble lifting his leg
and produces a weak stream when he does.
You can see the moiré patterns of cataracts in his eyes.
He wanders into the street
stopping traffic,
his hearing no better than his sight.
I herd him back to our neighbor’s yard
and tell Patty he was in the street again.
“He’s getting so bad” she says
in a very soft voice.
“Maybe it’s time to put him away.”


March 13-20, 2016

Old Dog

I knew you when you were young, old dog
joyfully bounding about
lunging toward us with love
and playfully away
ever eager to chase ball or stick
your tail wagging exuberantly

Now you move at a measured pace
your claws clicking slowly on the floor
like a clock ticking time away.
When you sit or lie down
you lower yourself laboriously
and struggle to raise yourself up again,
your hind legs trembling when you stand.
Your tail wag is hardly more than a twitch
and you seldom bark anymore,
though sometimes you bark inexplicably
as if you’ve seen something
none of the rest of us can.

I come to the farm once a year.
I’m preparing myself for you not to be here
when I come back again.


March 6-13, 2016

Dog Photo

I am eight.
Duchess is kissing me
with blissful spontaneity,
her long collie muzzle
thrusting up lovingly
into my face.
I am smiling
with a mixture of appreciation
and the reflexive reaction
of one being tickled
by a very wet, canine kiss.


February 28 – March 6, 2016

A Boy and His Dog

I still remember,
though it was almost eighty years ago,
the day my parents brought her home.
I was seven.
When I came home from school, they said
“We have something for you”
and ushered me into the pantry.
There was a puppy
with its crushed velvet fur,
not yet collie silk.
Love at first sight.
Her tail wagged.
My heart beat faster.
I named her Duchess
thinking it aristocratic, I suppose.
In my teens I thought it corny
but now I see it fit her long collie nose.
That was over three quarters of a century ago
but I still remember what she looked like in that little room.


February 21-28, 2016

To the Basement and Back

Looking for something in the basement this morning
I noticed once state of the art equipment I’ll never use again,
which reminded me
of other phantoms that haunt my nether world,
paint that no longer adorns our walls,
gadgets whose use I no longer know,
the too warm sheepskin coat I never wear,
still good suitcases
supplanted by newer ones that won my favor,
books I’ll almost certainly never read again, nor lend,
a book I was going to return but never did
which reminded me in turn
of friends I meant to call,
but weeks turned into months
and months into years,
and I came back upstairs
bearing the baggage of those years.


Poems for Previous Weeks

February 14-21, 2016

I Feel Your Heartbeat
even though we’re not touching
when we see each other and smile
after I’ve been away.

I feel your heartbeat
even though you’re not at home
when I come upon
the sentimental gift I gave you
sitting on your pillow.

I feel your heartbeat
when I call you at your office
just to say hello.

I feel your heartbeat
and mine scats
in syncopated rhythm
round your metronome.


February 7-14, 2016

Jane Austen at Fort Dix

I heard a broadcast  
commemorating Fats Waller
whose centenary was that month.
They played Ain’t Misbehavin”
and it took me back fifty years
to when I was a draftee at Fort Dix
and spent my Sundays at the enlisted men’s club.
Though I’m not a clubbable type
it was the best place to escape from the barracks
where there was the risk of being called upon for extra duty.
I was working my way at the time
through the complete works of Jane Austen
(which I kept well concealed the rest of the week)
and secluded myself in a balcony
reading those works so far from the military mind
while a fellow refugee played piano downstairs
and sang in a clear Irish tenor.
Ain’t Misbehavin was one of the songs he sang.
Fats Waller, Jane Austen and an army base.
Now those Sabbaths in that club,
deep in that place I’d have shunned if I’d had a choice,
sing amongst my memories.


January 31 – February 7, 2016

Memories

I don’t need more memories
yet they keep coming.
Nearly seventy years’ accumulation stored away
in the attics, closets, cupboards of my mind,
but more arrive each day,
and the bedchambers too are full
of animated guests.
Granted, some don’t stay,
and some stay only awhile
taking their leave considerately.
Others, however, remain,
stalking the halls year after year,
some unremarkable,
some congenial,
some unwelcome lodgers who resist eviction.
And so, though the house is full
it keeps on filling
for it seems there’s no end
to the memories it can hold.


January 24-31, 2016​

I was going to post a poem called "Still Delighting in Snow" this morning, but given the furor of the storm that's just visited us here in the northeast, it didn't seem appropriate.  For that matter, nothing in my oeuvre did, so, for lack of anything more suitable...

Ode to Forgetfulness

People are always going on about memory—
all those allusions to Proust and his madeleine—
but forgetting is shamefully neglected
though it probably occupies a larger space in our minds.

Much can usefully be forgetorized,
we could helpfully send each other forgetoranda,
and the world might be a better place
if aspiring authors wrote forgetoirs.
Then too, many of us could most appropriately
be seen off with forgetials
or have them erected in our names.

Someone needs to write a how-to manual
called, perhaps, “Forgetance of Things Past”
or “Don’t Waste Your Time Searching for Lost Time”
or maybe just “Fuggedaboudit”.


January 17-24, 2016

Winter Hues

Beds of marigold cloud
glow through the branches of naked trees,
coloring winter’s drab sky with hues
of which a spring day could be proud.

 
January 10-17, 2016

Geometry
 
Another cloud-shrouded winter morning.
Raindrops bead the windowpanes
refracting a dusky landscape
where streetlights still shine
enclosed in luminous spheres of rain
while at my desk

a cone of lamplight
pierces the enveloping darkness.

 
January 3-10, 2016

More Global Warming

First snow,
now late December,
and just a dusting at that
if dusting is the right word
for such a wet snow.
You can see it’s getting warmer
and wetter.
Is this the way the world ends, then,
with neither a bang nor a whimper
but with a gurgle?


December 27, 2015 – January 3, 2016

Landscape in Gray

Beneath the leafless trees,
their branches etched on fog,
the river spreads,
metallic in its cold repose.

 
December 20-27, 2015

A Scrooge for Our Time

Our scrooge isn’t pinched
or crabbed or wizened
or even miserly.
He’s smooth-cheeked,
boyish looking,
and if not jolly, at least civil,
when not opposed, perhaps,
or behind the wheel.
He gives to United Way,
maybe his church
and certainly his party.
He believes in BMWs
free markets
lower taxes
and welfare queens,
but not ghosts, alas.
His mind is well-waxed
 

December 13-20, 2015

Functional Family

I belonged to a functional family, alas,
not a good preparation for the literary life,
and was never very neurotic.
If I’d been institutionalized
they could have mistaken me for one of the staff.
So I guess memoirs are out for me
and confessional poetry.
I’ll have to write about the happy life,
but what will the poetry panjandrums say?

 
December 6-13, 2015

What Poets Wear

Slouch hats, top hats, hard hats
berets, Stetsons, toques
sunbonnets, war bonnets
baseball caps
with brims reversed
horn-rimmed glasses
granny glasses
monocles
shades

toggle coats, trench coats, togas, capes
jackets of tweed and leather
jump suits, striped suits, tights and kilts

smocks, pinafores, leotards, jeans

gingham, taffeta, satin, velvet
vinyl, crêpe de Chine

baggy sweaters, sweatshirts, hair shirts
T-shirts
with cigarette pack in sleeve

ascots
stethoscopes
feathered boas

pumps, Mary Janes, stilettos
oxfords, Doc Martins
Wellingtons, seven league boots
birthday suits

That’s what poets wear.



November 29 – December 6, 2015

Car Love

“Little can match the elegance
of the early Horch convertibles”
The Economist says this week.
Horch?  I’ve never heard of it.
So I Google
and recognize
a car I’d seen in old German films,
some Prussian in a swooping officer’s cap,
riding one, top down,
as if it were a mobile throne,
or a handsome young man
with well groomed hair
standing beside one
looking as if he were about to take
a picnic basket
out of the boot. 

Maybe I’d never heard of it
because of its harsh consonants,
aficionados preferring more euphonious names,
Bugatti, Lamborghini, Hispano-Suiza.
Yet there never was a car
more elegant than the Horch 
with its buff body,
long running boards,
spoked spare beside the hood,
hood as long as the legs of American girls.
Truly a motor car
(not just a car, mind you,
or automobile
or auto, heaven forbid).
And the dashing model names,
phaeton, cabriolet.

I sit stunned
like Toad of Toad Hall.

 
November 22-29, 2015

Book and Other Worms

A medieval monk
finding a bookworm in his Bible
opined
that the worm,
having eaten God’s word,
was none the wiser for it.
Are we?

 
November 15-22, 2015

Tappan Zee Sketches, Week 5

The Seasons

     ***

November 15.
Just one sailboat
left at anchor.
Is it lonely,
and does it remember
those warm days
when it ran with the wind?

     ***

Through a veil of snow
I see the mountain’s dark brow.

    ***

A pair of geese,
heads held high,
float by
with three goslings,
still fluffy feathered,
golden brown,
looking like brioches with beaks.

     ***

Summer solstice.
The sun, seen from our window,
rises over Sleepy Hollow.
I mark the spot
like an ancient astronomer.
Six months hence
it’ll rise over Dobbs Ferry perhaps.
North and south it shuttles,
weaving the tapestry of the seasons.


November 8-15, 2015

Tappan Zee Sketches, Week 4

Landscapes

    ***

The far bank so far away
a train running along the river there
looks like a toy,
and Tarrytown
arrayed on its hillside
like a tabletop display,
a fine collection of houses, steeples,
buildings,
and a bridge,
a bridge to other realms
real or imagined.

    ***

A full moon glowing orange
on a blue-gray sky
over sailboats at anchor
and the far bank flecked
with the first lights of evening
looks like a Japanese woodcut.
Later, the sky turning black
and streetlights festooning the far shore,
the moon, now the color of a rice paper lantern,
lays a shimmering path on the water,
a road to the Floating World.

     ***

Early morning fog
draped like cobwebs on the trees
lining the river bank,
nightlights embedded
like stars in a nebula.

    ***

There’s a huge rainbow
over the far bank of the river
this evening,
spanning miles.
Monumental would be
too small a word for it.
It looks like the gateway to another world.


November 1-8, 2015

Tappan Zee Sketches, Week 3

Boats

  ***

A forest of masts,
sailboats at anchor,

their hulls aglow
in the dim light
of late afternoon,
all pointing upstream
(aligned by the tide)
as if awaiting
some momentous happening.

     ***

Beautiful boats,
beautiful boats,
even with their sails furled,
and how much more so with sails deployed
like long-haired beauties.

     ***

I’ve never been into sailing
but I think I know now,
as I contemplate the boats
outside the window of my new home,
why others are.
It’s like dancing,
waltzing with a stiff breeze,
tangoing with a slow one,
and when the wind is strong enough
doing the Lindy,
man and Mother Nature
in vigorous embrace.

      ***

I’m awfully fond
of the Tappan Zee tugs,
small but standing tall
like rubber duckies,
and capable
of pushing around big ships.

 

October 25 – November 1, 2015

Tappan Zee Sketches, Week 2

More Birds

     ***

Very early this morning
a flock of migrant geese
flew close by our window,
honking noisily,
as if their team
had just won
a world cup.

     ***

Geese are drifting with the river tide
honking as they ride the slow current
as if to let it know
it isn’t moving fast enough.
Surely these are New York geese.

     ***

Seagulls are flocking over the boatyard.
At this distance
those graceful gliders
look like scraps of paper
caught in a swirling updraft.

     ***

A great blue heron
lingers on the shore
with the sinuous grace of calligraphy.

     ***

There’s a small cluster of piles
at the end of the spit of land
on which our building sits
where seagulls like to stand
very still, for minutes at a time,
looking like bird carvings.
Perhaps they see it as performance art.

 
October 18-25, 2015

For the past year, since moving to Nyack, NY, I've been writing a series of poems entitled Tappan Zee Sketches.  The Tappan Zee, for those of you who don't know, is a wide--about three miles across--lake-like area of the Hudson running from about 10 to 15 miles north of the northern edge of New York City.  Zee is Dutch for wide body of water, and Tappan is the name of a subgroup of the Lenape (also known as Delaware) Indians, who lived nearby when the Dutch settled this area, almost 400 years ago.

 Our apartment is literally a stone's throw from the water and I've been spending much time over the past year observing the the birds, the boats and the changing scenery of water, riverbanks and big sky visible from our windows.  

 Beginning this week I'll be sharing some of these poems with you, They don't have titles, but I couldn't resist the whimsical title I'm assigning to this week's poem concerning the appearance of migrant swans I observed about this time of year a year ago. 

Swan's Way

A pair of mute swans,
fall migrants,
are bobbing in the water
beside the pier of the yacht club.
So big, so white,
such long necks
as if they enjoyed nothing so much as swallowing.

A workman gets up from his lunch
to shower them with the remains of his potato chips.
They scoop them out of the water
then hang around like dogs
waiting for more,
beckoning with their long necks
as if they could conjure food out of the air. 

 
October 11-18, 2015

What Little Boys Are Made of

At a school where I swam
a wall was hung with students’ trunks,
many decorated with tropical flowers,
one with palm trees and beaches,
another with surfers,
then a Spiderman
and dragons and skulls,
some probably chosen by mothers
others by boys—
guess which—
to the rolling of maternal eyes.

 
September 27 – October 4, 2015

Women Who Wear Baseball Caps

The first woman I remember seeing
in a baseball cap
was a PhD candidate
in biblical history.
I was reminded of this
when I saw a young woman today
wearing one while jogging
setting a pace for her progeny perhaps
for she looked like one of the young mothers
who populate our town.
She ran with vigor and grace
and I imagined her in elementary school
running faster than the boys,
or on her high school track team
sprinting toward the tape.
 
It sends a message, I guess:
“This girl likes to play with boys.”


September 20-27, 2015

Her Boudoir Is Everywhere

A young woman at the wheel
of a red convertible
in front of me at a traffic light
unbinds her ponytail,
almost an act of intimacy,
right in the open air.
She runs a thick comb
through her now loose mane
and straw and rust and glints of gold
shimmer in the tree-filtered light.
Then with deft fingers
she binds her hair up again,
ready to go before the stoplight turns,
and I wonder what sort of face is in front
of that fine head of hair.


September 13-20, 2015

How Donald Trump Is Like Zeus

Olympian,
living high
in one of his eponymous towers
surrounded by clouds of dollars.

He’s a shape changer,
one day a Democract
another a Republican,
one day a swan,
another a bull,
and all that goes with
those symbolic creatures.

Which, along, with his spun-gold mane,
makes him divinely attractive to women,
as we know from his own revelation.

He unleashes thunderbolts
to strike down dolts like Jeb
and others who dare defy him.

 And one day soon
he’ll disappear along with all but one
of the GOP presidential candidate pantheon.
 

September 6-13, 2015

Domestic Encounters

When she emerges from the bedroom
in the morning
my wife looks for my feet
stretched out in front of my easy chair
and seeing them says to herself
“He’s there.”
while I hear the whisper of her slippers,
and smile.


August 30 – September 6, 2015

A Woman’s Laughter

defies gravity
brightens a cloudy day
makes the dog wag its tail
         the child grow,
         man submit.


August 23-30, 2015

Women Are Silk

Men are tweed.

Women are buttercups,
men thistles.

Men are bears,
women gazelles.

Men are iron,
women quicksilver.


August 16-23, 2015

The Lake at Evening

The sky is still,
the water too,
hushed,
expectant,
as the worldlight dims
and trees silhouette
a watery stage
where fish dimple
the plainsong surface
and birds pirouette
through the gilded air.


August 9-16, 2015

Rowing

I like to row in evening
when dark trees
frame the still lake
and the water mirrors the sky,
to glide over the smooth surface,
stroking in slow rhythm
leaning back on the oars,
sending spirals spinning
like galaxies
into the reflected sky.


August 2-9, 2015

Clouds

Over the high ridge
clouds blossom
from an emptiness  
of flame-blue sky,
blossom and vanish
and blossom and vanish again
in a display
of planetary
prestidigitation.


July 26 – August 2, 2015

The Taste of Raspberries

I taste a raspberry and suddenly
I’m in a body much smaller than this
picking berries
from a thorny bush
in a summer field
amidst meadows and woods
under a bright canopy of sky.


July 19-26. 201

Apple Factory

The apple tree,
summoning its resources,
bears blossoms
and new young leaves.
Then the blossoms recede
leaving fruit buds
and the leaves deploy their solar panels
drawing from the air
the infinitesimal building blocks
of plants and anthracite and diamonds
to shape
red globes of fruit
shiny and sweet
fashioned of earth and air and rain
and the fires of the sun.


July 12-19, 2015

Morning at the Pool

I swim weekday mornings
when there are few people at the pool
mostly senior citizens like myself
or stay-at-home housewives
and those of their progeny
too young for summer camp.
This morning a toddler
enjoying his first summer on two legs
totters precipitously at the poolside
while in the water I glide
through a net of sunlight
refracted by the waves.


July 5-12, 2015

Independence Day

Recurring dreamlike
through the haze of time
the tedium of those hot summer days
my back to the grassy slope
where spectators remain
bent over the ballpark
of that small town
as dusk turns to dark,
and rockets loop lazily
through the velvet air.


June 28 – July 5, 2015

Learning to Be a Biped

Out for my morning walk today
I saw a young father with a toddler
learning to make her way on two legs.
As I stopped to watch
she came down a walkway  
arms upraised for balance
legs in a diaper straddling spread.
When she came to a step
her father reached over to lift her down
but she brushed his hands aside
seated herself and inched forward
till her feet hung down to the walk below.
There she stood up
and beamed me a triumphant, gap-toothed grin.


June 21-28, 2015

First Steps

I saw a toddler the other day
who looked like he'd learned to walk only recently,
holding his hands shoulder high
hoisting his feet well clear of the ground
leaning forward precariously
his legs barely keeping up with the rest of him
as he scampered at a staccato pace.
I asked his mother how long he’d been walking.
“Just a week”, she said.

First week of a journey
that will last the rest of his life,
toddling, treading, striding, strolling,
strutting, marching,
sprinting,
dancing,
staggering, stumbling, tottering.
He’s gone the first few hundred steps
and is on his way.


June 14-21, 2015

Cotopaxi

Just below a great snowy cone in the Andes
on a broad, flat shelf of mountain
wild horses race
keeping pace
with wind-driven clouds overhead,
breath steaming  
long manes swirling,
exhilarated,
as if created
just moments before
out of the primordial chaos.


June 7-14, 2015

Machu Picchu

Above a plunging gorge
the city hangs
amidst a jumble
of sheer slopes.

Yet the walls of its houses,
their stones so carefully fitted,
sit as solidly on the narrow ridge
as old men on a porch.

At dawn
I climbed
the fog veiled sentinel peak
and emerged in an immense arena
of snowy summits
aglow in the early light.

 
May 31 – June 7, 2015

Orinocos of the Imagination

I’ve never been to the Orinoco
and have seen few photos of it,
but I feel I know its sinuous lengths,
winding between thick jungle walls,
flashing silver in the sun,
delicate waterfalls
threading from cloud shrouded cliffs,
dense foliage
adorned with birds of kindergarten colors
and jaguars that merge into shadow,
the insistent music
of bird cry and monkey chatter,
dugouts and caimans
scoring its sleek waters,
those who people its valley
gliding nearly naked
through twilight forests,
dappled by the distant sun.
I know these lush landscapes
from my dreams.


May 24-31, 2015

Butterfly Dream

In those remote reaches beyond the Andes
where jungle laced with shining rivers spreads
where one can travel all day
without seeing another of human kind,
I found myself once
in a river of yellow butterflies
a flood of flickering wings
shimmering down my day-long road
where it ran between verdant walls.


May 17-24, 2015

The Eternal Return

Sometimes as a child
under a summer sky
I’d hear a flapping
louder than any flock of birds,
and, looking up, would see
a plane of a sort I no longer see,
one I would name excitedly,
Autogyro!
I thought they’d vanished
like the child that was me
but one was recently in the news,
landing on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
Does this presage the coming
of my second childhood?


May 10-17, 2015

Becoming Dickie Again

I saw my cousin Bob last week
for the first time in decades
His hair is white now
and he looks older than his father did
the last time I saw him,
but he called me Dickie
and it made me feel like the Dickie I was
those many years ago.


That Tree

That tree was still youthful when my mother died,
that tree now gnarling with age.
If she’d stood by the kitchen window where I now stand
she’d have seen the tree,
much smaller then,
and the pond beyond
with its tendrils of early morning mist.
She gardened here
up the hill
where chickens now roost.
It was a cock’s crowing—
something,
city dweller,
I hadn’t heard in years—
that woke me to the light from another time,
the ghost of that young tree,
the mist above the pond
and the fog shrouded mountain across the valley
on which my mother might have gazed
near the end of her too young life.


May 3-10, 2015

Cosmic Questions

Arcturus, Canopus, Alpha Centauri.
When I was a boy
looking up at the night sky
and an older cousin
gave me those names
I was glad to have them
and wondered
what it was like for the men, bearded and strangely garbed,
who first named those stars
and spun theories about them,
and if beings like us
circled them
and gave them names and stories,
and whether the universe ended
and if it ended
what was outside of it
and how that could end,
or go on forever.
Seventy some years on
I still have few answers
and these are the least of things
of which I’m ignorant.


April 26 – May 3. 2015

Aficionados

When we were ten or eleven
my cousin Dicky and I
used to hike a mile
to the little store
down by the crossroads
to buy a cigar,
for our father, we said.
Then we’d slip the gold paper ring
it came with onto a finger,
and stroll back home
along a road
where nobody knew us,
puffing ostentatiously
and enjoying the shocked looks
of those we passed
in a trail of pungent fumes.


April 19-26, 2015


The Competitor

When I was a boy and played baseball
I always hoped
the ball wouldn't be hit my way.
I couldn’t catch it
and didn’t want to be under it
when it came down.
When I threw a football
the awkward spheroid wobbled
through its brief trajectory
without the slightest hint of a spiral
and when I picked up a bat
it seemed that it and the ball
repelled each other. I was always last to be chosen for a team
and that was just as well with me—
nothing expected
nothing lost—
except that I cared
like any man-child.
So I learned to use books.
They were heavy and hard
and full of words
that hurt more than stones or sticks.


April 5-12, 2015

The Crew

A crew is out for early practice
caressing the morning air
with rapt strokes
cleaving the smooth water
with rhythmic thrusts
feeling no doubt
it’s good to be young
and drowsily awake
stretched out on a long-limbed river
this fine spring morning.


March 29 – April 5, 2015

Spring Snow

Wet snow coats
twig, branch and bud.
Against the still black streetç
the waning season
limns its last words
in bold calligraphy.


March 22-29, 2015

Winter’s End

This Sunday morning is less somber than the last.
A lightness ruffles the solemnity,
children’s voices rising from the park
where recently the ground was shod in ice.
The clouds are taller and sunlight peaks their summits
with a vibrant white.
A flock of pigeons flutters in the light.
The hazy air is tuned on higher strings.


March 15-22, 2015

Mr. Heaney’s Complaint
 
“I’ve no spade to follow men like them”
said Seamus of his father and grandfather.
“Between my finger and my thumb
the squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”
Not much digging you can do with a pen
his father thought.
That boy always read too much.
His mother encouraged him.
And when there was work to be done
he was nowhere to be found.
Words never planted potatoes
nor harvested them.
 

March 8-15, 2015

Office Poetry

I write poetry in my office.
That may seem incongruous.
One writes poetry in a garret,
en plein air,
beside a lake,
under a tree,
perhaps in a studio,
but in an office, no.
It’s not as if I were malingering.
It’s that poetry and office
seem antithetical.
Yet the poetry I write in my office
is no different than what I’d write
in a place of romantic poverty
or pollen dusted air.


March 1-8, 2015

Plate Linguistics

You wouldn’t want to eat from home plate.
You can eat with a dental plate but not from it.
You could eat from a tectonic plate
but you couldn’t put it on your table.
You can have too much on your plate
without being able to eat any of it.
But may your words be silver plated.


February 22 – March 1, 2015

Birds of a Feather

Geese are military,
flying in formation,
honking in unison,
standing erect as Prussians,
their chests thrust out,
even employing a certain military gait.

Crows, on the other hand,
are anarchists.
They may fly together,
but, like bikers in bands,
each to its own beat,
emitting raucous and sardonic cries.

I think I’d rather flock with the crows.


February 15-22, 2015

Evermore

Outside our front door I find
two large crows
in a leafless tree.
Too large for its naked branches,
motionless,
with vitreous eyes,
they look like clockwork birds,
but in their gaze I see
wary minds
appraising me.


February 8-15, 2015

Winter Brilliance

The geese are flying again
swiftly
after the languid slowness
of the snow,
celebrating the whitened fields
with noisy exuberance.

The geese are flying again
under blue banners
of cloud emblazoned sky.


February 1-8, 2015

The Sun and the Moon

The sun
either burns with righteous anger
or turns its face from us
as if unable to bear
our nocturnal debauchery.
The moon, on the other hand,
regards our antics with equanimity,
a smile lighting
its dissipated pallor.
The moon is sardonic,
the sun, well, intense,
but the sun,
as they say of virtue,
triumphs,
effacing its unwelcome interlocutor
in a cleansing auto-da-fé.
By nightfall, however,
the moon is back,
like that phoenix
called human nature.


January 25 – February 1, 2015

“The Dangerous Gift of Beauty”
         Wendy Becket, Carmelite Nun

I see the moon tonight
through the fanlight
wondrous bright.
I don’t imagine the moon sees me
for it would have to have
vision more powerful than any telescope
to perceive so small an object
in the distant darkness of this room.
But perhaps it does, if it’s a goddess,
as the ancients reasonably believed,
unless it’s blinded by its own brilliance
like so many who consider themselves divine.


January 18-25, 2015

Empress Moon

The moon
with her porcelain sheen
reigns over the night sky,
her realm of dark matter.
The lightless flame of the cypress trees
and the spiky limbs of leafless trees
reach skyward
obeisantly.


January 11-18, 2015

Cherries for Breakfast

I’m having cherries for breakfast this January morning,
here well up in the northern hemisphere.
These cherries have made an Odyssey
of some six thousand miles
over country roads, highways, city streets,
across three, maybe sometimes stormy, seas,
the length of two continents,
past many lands and isles,
to come and nourish me,
bestow on me the pleasure of their flavor.
They’ve traveled in boxes
closely confined
rudely bounced and jostled in the backs of trucks,
and in rolling, pitching ships,
suffering, for all I know, from mal de mer,
all for me.
I thank you, cherries.


January 4-11, 2015

As I Remember Jerusalem

The old city
its narrow streets
fit for no more than men on foot,
donkeys and their carts,
streets paved with stones
that knew the feet
of David perhaps,
prophets, Jeshua and his apostles
men of imperial Rome
the armies of young Islam
crusaders out of the west
(Provence, Chaumont,
where cedars of Lebanon still grow,
Tuscany, Sussex, the Palatinate),
streets given over to tourists now,
merchandise hanging in passageways
like laundry from tenements,
houses of pale Jerusalem stone,
the cliff-like wall of the temple mount
where the sanctuary stood
two thousand years ago,
edifices from Roman times
excavated but still underground
like impacted teeth,
testimony that the city has piled up,
a rubbish heap.

I scarcely remember the modern city
the new buildings
the wide streets,
just the old,
memorial,
battleground.


December 28, 2014 – January 4, 2015

Nothing New

Tonight a year ends.
Some will see it out tooting and hollering.
Not us.
My wife’s already in bed
and I’ll join her there soon.
Were it not for this poem
I’d be in my armchair reading,
my eyelids succumbing to gravity,
and my head may yet be on its pillow
before the clamorous hour.

Suppose there were no years.
Would anything be different?
We think important things have ended and begun
when it’s only a matter of digits on a calendar,
perhaps some resolutions,
largely to be unfulfilled,
or the earth beginning
another of its innumerable circuits around the sun.

The world doesn’t stop at midnight
like a train changing engineers.
There’s no bump in the road of time.
The scene hasn’t changed.
The characters remain the same.
The play goes on as before.
Dramatic climax is no more likely
at this moment than any other.
There isn’t even an intermission.
A foot raised at the end of one year
comes down the next
with no pause in between.

But, as the planet circles its star,
at a certain point in its orbit
where it’s arbitrarily said to have started,
humans bellow and hug their fellows,
as if this carousel hadn’t gone around
a few billion times before.


December 21-28, 1214

Coming to Jerusalem

I went by bus
from Amman to Jerusalem
crossing over the Jordan, which,
in my mind a great river,
turned out to be
only a small, murky stream
with scrub clad banks.
Arriving in the Arab part of the city
I took my suitcase in hand
and walked over to the western side
where suddenly
the streets were full of people
who looked like they were from the Bronx
circa 1950
and anyone could have been
my cousin.


December 14-21, 2014

By the Plain of Jezreel

Once by the plain of Jezreel
across from the well of Gideon
where trumpets filled the night
across from Mount Gilboa
where Saul and his three sons died
I climbed a hill
and on the other side
saw hills ranging far and wide
over the Jordan and into the land beyond,
and heard voices in the wind.


December 7-14, 2014

Boots on the Ground

Put boots on the ground, they said,
as if they were dragons’ teeth
which, sown, sprout spectral armies
that fade away, once battle is done,
leaving no blood behind.

They said nothing about
the men and boys
who would no longer have feet
to wear those boots,
or would wear them to their graves.


November 30 – December 7. 2014

In Memory of

Another World War II pilot gone.
Obit on a back page of the Times
“Pilot who downed Yamamoto dies at 84.”
A photo of three lean young men in khakis
looking as if they never could be 80
posed in front of a fighter plane
Pacific palms in the background.
He began high school about the time I was born
and I began it the year he downed the infamous admiral.
My cousin Bob was a fighter pilot in that war,
so much a part of my adolescent imagination,
and it’s almost as if the young man in the photo,
now, unbelievably, deceased,
were my kin.

Obit the same day for Percy Goring, 106,
last British survivor of Gallipoli.
When I was a boy it was the last veteran of the Civil War
and, when a young man, the Spanish American.
For earlier generations it was the Revolutionary
the Hundred Years, the Punic, the Persian,
always one within reach of living memory,
and always some last veteran
to nurture
nostalgia for old wars.


November 23-30, 2014

Remembering Vientiane

Known among early European visitors
for their gentleness and insouciance,
they lingered in a backwater
of this turbulent century.

I lived in their capital
near the broad Mekong
on a dirt lane
bracketed by old wooden temples,
unpainted and weather stained,
with their muffled bells
and slow traffic of orange-robed monks.

Only roosters
disturbed the peace,
until tanks came
clogging the narrow streets
grinding them under ridged treads,
spewing manic metal
onto roofs and shutters,
like the rhetoric
of clashing ideologies,
and bodies erupted
from the river’s smooth surface.


November 16-23, 2014

Veterans Day, 2006

Each day we read in the Times
the names of our soldiers
who’ve died in Iraq,
sometimes imagining bits of their lives,
the towns where they grew up,
their families,
their now grieving spouses and friends,
and we’re saddened.
Yet more with the names of thousands,
mostly young men,
engraved in marble or granite,
their parents’ hopes and dreams
interred in stone.
All that remains  
a few keepsakes
and memories
of newborns, toddlers, vulnerable boys,
youths becoming men,
those now sad memories,
and names carved in cold stone.

Who wanted those wars?
Their leaders of course,
but all too often those same young men,
and those who mourn for them.


November 9-16, 2014

Off We Go

I had occasion to use the word navigator a few minutes ago
and the Air Corps anthem sprang to mind
(not Air Force—we’re talking 1939)
along with a picture of my cousin Bob
and his buddy JN
slouched in lawn chairs
feet up on the railing
of Aunt Evy’s back porch,
talking and joking,
Bob cracking his knuckles, as he always did.
That was seventy-one years ago.
A couple of years later Bob became a fighter pilot
and JN a navigator.

JN married my cousin Sue,
in his Air Corps uniform
two years into the war.
I was 13 and at their wedding reception.
JN and Sue’s children are now in their sixties
and Bob and JN both died last year.


November 2-9, 2014

Off We Go Into the Wild Blue

That blue yonder doesn’t look wild to me.
It looks tame, tranquil, peaceful.
What’s wild is going into it
something man for so long couldn’t do.
Oh, in balloons,
but not very wild that.
Then in aeroplanes
surfing the air
the wind in their hair
peeling off
rolling, looping,
in aerial combat.
Plenty wild that.

My cousin Bob
was a fighter pilot
in the second world war.
I picture him tall and gangly
on his training flights
soaring blond above fields and towns
higher than any bird,
playing tag with the clouds.
Yes, wild.


October 26 – November 2, 2014


Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder
    
I saw a plane rise out of the valley,
a sliver of reflected light,
close to the ground at first
barely above the treetops
but climbing steadily
until, buoyed only by air,
it cleared the hills on the other side,
and I felt the exhilaration of a pilot
planing into a cloudless sky.


October 19-26, 2014Dancing with the Wind

I’ve never been into sailing
but I think maybe I know now,
as I contemplate the boats
outside the window of my new home,
why others are.
It’s like dancing,
waltzing with a stiff breeze,
tangoing with a slow one,
and when the wind is strong enough
doing the Lindy, or an Apache,
man and Mother Nature
vigorously entwined.


October 12-19, 2014

The Balloon Vendor

Dressed in threadbare clothes
he tows a large cluster of balloons,
Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus,
smiley faces in many colors,
to tempt those
whose parents, he hopes, won’t refuse.
At night he goes home to a meager meal
in a place where he lives alone,
or with his own children,
who dream of balloons.


October 5-12, 2014

Balloon Fair

A skyful of balloons
hanging on mere heated air
wafting us back to a time
when sedate spheres
grazed in blue meadows
and man rose above the earth
suspended from silent globes,
when the atmosphere was disturbed
only by the subtle cries of birds.


September 28 – October 5, 2014


Possible Disasters

    I

What with the hole in the ozone
I have another concern.
The moon was visible today
in mid-afternoon,
and I wonder if the planet’s air is escaping.
Could the rest of it suddenly go
with a great hiss
sending us careening
pell-mell through the galaxy?


    II

We forget
that the sun doesn’t rise or set
but that we rotate past it
hurtling around Earth’s axis
at something like mach speed
and that if this enormous merry-go-round
suddenly stopped
we’d go flying off in tangents
like so many drops of water
shaken off by a dog.


Poems for Previous Weeks

September 21-28, 2014

Watchworks

As the earth spins
the moon revolves around the earth
the planets revolve around the sun
the solar system revolves around
the center of the galaxy
and I sit at my desk
scribbling.


September 14-21, 2014

Floating World

The moon,
like a Japanese lantern,
hangs from the branches of a leafless tree
on a screen of deep blue sky,
as if a print by Hokusai.


September 7-14, 2014

Midnight Moon

Light was spilling out
around the shade
of the window
overlooking our small atrium
and I thought
something  might be on downstairs,
but when I got out of bed
and went to the window to look
it was the moon,
twice normal size,
to my myopic eyes
seeming to hover
just over the house,
as if our own
private moon.


August 31 – September 7

Angelology

White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.
   William Blake, The Little Black Boy

Now that I think of it
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of a black angel,
nor a brown nor yellow one.
I imagine there are some
but, if so, why do you so seldom, if ever, see them?

Would black angels wear white?
Could white angels wear black or brown?
Do angels have a change of clothes
or do they always wear the same gown?
If so, how often do they wash it?
Do they sweat?
Do they wear underwear?

Do they eat?
Do they excrete?
(Maybe they only sip dew.)

Do angels weigh as much as humans?
Then how do they lift those heavy bodies with wings?
Are they exempt from the laws of gravity?

What language do angels speak among themselves?
Hebrew?  Latin?  English?
Do they speak to each other at all?
If so, what do they talk about?

Are angels evangelicals?
Do they believe in the prosperity gospel
and that the poor are poor because they’re feckless?
Do they read Ayn Rand?
Are they literate?
If they could vote, would they vote Republican?

Do angels in good standing, fallen ones aside,
wage war on each other?
Do they engage in crusades, jihad?
Do they belong to sects?
Do Catholic Angels make war on Protestant ones,
Sunni on Shia, orthodox on reform?

Do angels have genitals?
If so, why?

How many angels could stand on the head of a pin?
Why would they want to?


August 24-31, 2014

Avatar

Googling Brian Turner’s poem “Autopsy”
I turned up an entry for the autopsy of another Brian Turner
shot to death in Denison Texas.
It wasn’t the poet
but it occurred to me that it might be another incarnation,
a doppelgänger cut loose from the original
by the rootlessness of American society
and raised to a different fate, like a separated twin,
or an intrusion from a parallel universe,
a cosmic hernia.
And why not
what with black holes, and big bangs, and the multiverse?
Maybe we all have avatars,
musicians, actors, gunshot victims, more ordinary folk,
an assortment of selves.


August 17-24

September 1, 1939

Where was I?
At home in our tranquil suburb?
In school, or was it too soon?
Playing with friends?
Reading in my room?
Still at the lake perhaps
or on a train
coming home.
I don’t know what time of day it was,
don’t think I even heard the news.
My parents surely knew
but they must have said
best not tell the children.
Nor did I know of Kristallnacht
Anschluss
the Sudetenland
Munich.

It was probably summery still,
the leaves unchanged,
a calm September day.


August 10-17, 2014

World’s Fair

I went to my first world’s fair
when I was eight.
As is the way with such events
it was more about us
than the world,
and refracted the future
through optimist eyes.
You wouldn't have known
from anything on display
that a cancer festered
in Europe’s bosom
or that the most brutal of wars
was mere months away.
Nor was there any inkling
of the  baleful new words
soon to be unleashed
on our vocabulary,
blitzkrieg, storm trooper, quisling,
kamikaze, Hiroshima,
holocaust,
while the Futurama
with its ebullient guides
depicted a morrow
of shining towers
where poverty was ostracized,
Oh, the world looked good
in our neighborhood
in the spring of ’39.


August 3-10, 2014

A Boy’s War

I was seven
when it began,
Anschluss, then Munich—
Kristallnacht slipped by
wholly unnoticed by me—
and within a year
blitzkrieg was loosed on Europe.
Then Dunkirk and the fall of France.
I heard the news on the radio,
but it didn’t seem so momentous.
It was part of life as I knew it,
along with boyhood fantasies
like the warplanes I drew
and learned to recognize
daydreaming of one day playing the hero
by spotting an enemy.
If it hadn’t been for my parents’ hushed tones
even Pearl Harbor might have seemed
like some extravagant sports event,
for in my boyish mind
death was unreal,
and war a game.


July 27 – August 3, 2014

The Things They Carry

I hear casually booming voices in the street
and, looking out the window, see
two boys in their early teens.
From the sound they might be men,
and I think of such almost men
some will grow up to be soldiers,
carry their childhood fantasies
into the world,
like flags,
and I think,
in another part of that world,
if not for good luck in where they were born,
these men-children would bear arms,
kill and be killed
before becoming men.
What could be more manly?


July 20-27, 2014

The Charms of War

It was a good war,
World War I,
for us Americans
who were in it only briefly
and didn’t lose so many young men.
It had its compensations,
its mademoiselles,
its Hemingway,
old Europe
with its worldly charms,
and our heroically coming to its rescue.
Then tickertape parades
down lower Broadway,
and the best of times
in left bank cafés.
Would we have been there
if not for the war?

Then World War II
less romantic, true,
but righteous,
a war against evil,
the best of wars.
And even less virtuous wars,
food for nostalgia even there,
for we love war
and will, I suppose,
as long as men grow from boys.


July 13-20, 2014

The Century’s Wars

I’m not good at birthdates
but have always remembered my stepfather’s,
for his was the day
the Great War ended.
We have a photo of him in France,
on a hill overlooking the Rhine,
a tall, clean shaven, young marine
in breeches, boots and campaign hat
hands on hips, legs spread,
seeming to tower like a monument
over the river’s far bank.

There’s another photo of him,
on Saipan,
carbine in hand,
soiled battle fatigues,
helmet with chin strap hanging open,
looking smaller than I’d ever seen him look.
That was the day
his friend’s son died there,
a friend he’d carried
from a battlefield in France.


July 6-13,2014

Your Grandfather’s War

Your grandfather fought in “the great war”.
He was in a famous battle in France
wounded with shrapnel and mustard gassed,
may have shot at the enemy and been shot at—
I never asked—
may even have fought hand-to-hand
where you can see the grime on your enemy’s face
and the fear in his eyes
over the frantic thrust and parry of your bayonet
and his
and feel the frenzy of your own fear.

Now that war is history
so remote you can read of it
innocent of the feelings
of those who faced each other
in an effort to survive
and kill.


June 29 – July 6, 2014

Summer Is Here Now

as I remember it
consecrated by fireworks:
the long languorous days
tedious sometimes
but still sweet;
swimming in the lake
where skin and cool water meet
and fish dart away
from this alien invader;
water slapping on boat or dock
or weaving nets of sunlight on a boathouse wall;
the white froth of bow cleaving wave;
a sail flapping lazily as we come about;
or in a rowboat
suspended between water and sky
waiting for fish to bite;
playing into the dark hours;
and through the night
the myriad sounds of insects
and the lullaby of frogs.


June 22-29, 2014

First Day of Summer

The trees have donned their summer uniforms,
field flowers their yellow and blue glad rags,
wheat and corn, though still short, stand tall,
orchards nod with knobby fruit,
green scents fill the air,
bees are abuzz, butterflies flutter,
cows moo, mourning doves coo,
and fish in their cool brooks
welcome the warmth of the early morning sun.


June 15-22, 2014

Men of Stature

All these men of stature,
the statesman, the judge, the general, the dictator
the titan, the tycoon, the magnate, the mogul
the bishop, the pope, the ayatollah
the philosopher, the laureate,
all were once infants
lying on their small backs
kicking aimlessly
grabbing handfuls of air
feeding from a teat,
were once small boys
mixing up their words
unable to cross the street alone,
then, a bit older,
with clear skin, piping voices    
and still childish repartee,
and adolescents
contrary, sullen, unsure of themselves
driven by the fever in their loins.
You wouldn’t have imagined
that these boys would one day be
men of stature.
Nor is it easy to imagine now
that they once were young and vulnerable.


June 8-15, 2014

Progress

During the French revolution
the Marquis de Sade,
appointed as a judge,
was jailed for the crime of “moderatism”
for refusing to apply the death penalty.
We’ve made much progress since then
and, as always, America is on the cutting edge.
Today no law-abiding, God-fearing, right-thinking,
       pro-life American
would fall prey  
to this last unspeakable perversion
of that infamous libertine.


June 1-8, 2014

Painting with Words

Words are my medium.
I paint with them,
clumps of words
thick as impasto,
tincture of words
delicate as Chinese watercolors,
acrylic, tempera, fresco,
bright colored words,
words insistently monochromatic,
words full of light
or shadow,
words airy as clouds,
heavy as iron,
living words,
inanimate words,
words sumptuous and simple,
realist
expressionist
surrealist
impressionist
I lay my words on with gusto.


May 25 – June 1, 2014

Memorial Day
Hopewell, New Jersey, May 2005

It was enough to make us weep,
half a dozen veterans of the last great war
looking like fading away,
followed by the high school band,
booming bravely into adulthood.
Next a squad in Civil War uniform,
harking back to the source of the holiday,
a fratricide that seems today
to have occurred in another country,
not just another century.
A retired Humvee
with a small girl in back
wearing a grunt style cap
and waving mechanically;  
vintage cars,
big ones from a century ago
with wooden spokes
and other vestiges of their carriage genes,
still boxy ones from the 20s,
the streamlined 30s,
the fishtailed 50s,
a couple of Mustangs, an early Corvette;
then the fire engines, big and bigger,
like armor-plated rhinos,
our town’s  brigade riding old fashioned red,
others yellow,
sage green from a well-heeled town nearby;
delegations of Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies,
one scout troop with a five-piece band
trying like twenty-five;
a motorcycle club,
plenty of paunch and gray hair,
and, though some ponytails,
suburban angels rather than Hells.
Finally a platoon of kids
all safely helmeted,
one tireless on a pogo stick
others on scooters and bikes
and even a few on tricycles,
training for future wars.


May 18-25, 2014

Nude Descending, a Staircase
     In honor of Dada

Let her go.
Who wants to sleep with a woman
who looks like a collapsed staircase,
like an alien from outer space?
You could get cut by those sharp edges
or tangled in the jumble
taking years to extricate yourself.

No!  Throw her clothes after her
and tell her to keep going
right on out the door.


May 11-18, 2014

The Modernists

“Come down”
said Chagall’s mother.
“Why does that boy have you floating in the air?
It’s dangerous.”

“Ouch”
Said Picasso’s mistress.
“What are you doing to my face?
I feel like I’m looking two ways at once.”

“How do you like it?”
Van Gogh asked.
“I’m not sure,” the star responded.
“Do you think maybe it makes me look too much
       like a pinwheel?”

“How are you today?
Matisse asked his model.
“Feeling a bit flat” she replied.

But when Munch asked the same question
the answer was
“I feel like screaming.”
“Good” said Munch.


May 4-11, 2014

The Twittering Tree

branches scratched on a flat gray sky
ornamented with feathered spheres
distributed with subtle symmetry;
starlings resting on a leafless tree
looking like a painting by Paul Klee


April 27 – May 4, 2014

Don’t Let Your Daughter Marry a Poet

Don’t think you can judge a poet by his poems,
They may be sensitive, compassionate, humane,
fired with a passion for justice
and yet their author may be a monster of egocentricity.
In fact, more often than not that’s the case.
So don’t let your daughter marry a poet
if you can prevent her from doing that, or anything else.
Better a good natured, humble man,
anybody clearly nice.
Don’t be taken in by poets’ grand ideas.

But I doubt you’ll heed my advice.


April 20-27, 2014

To Be a Poet You Have to Be Shaggy

at least figuratively,
above all figuratively,
with a mind like a long, disordered mane
that a muse can wrap her fingers in
whilst riding bareback.


April 13-20, 2014

Poems I Never Finished Reading
and Probably Should Have Had Better Sense than to Start

Aubade with a Broken Neck
In the Room of Glass Breasts
Gallant Phantoms through the Pineapple Door
If I Ever Mistake You for a Poem
The Rumored Existence of Other People
Ode to the Creosote Bush
Ode to a Wire Brush

One Bee Escapes the Ether and Grabs What’s Left of Air
Lament of Shovel and Bell (Noon)
Poem in the Manner of a Refrigerator
The Exquisite Foreplay of the Tortoise
Southampton Turned Suffer into Suffolk
Love Letter Written While Speeding Past the City Limit Sign
Splitting the Distance, an advanced application of Goldbach’s Conjecture:
Thirty Lines About the Fro
That was the mind’s wild trapezing from an oak limb
Trial of the Oblique Triangle: Building Permit #78


April 6-13, 2014

The Arcane Art

I heard it said once
that Lorca was a poet
when he washed his hands.
How do poets differ in this respect
from ordinary mortals?
Do the perform their ablutions with misty eyes,
a mysterious smile,
a self-exculpatory mien?
Do they do it with snow water
lovingly preserved
through the summer months
or water brought from afar
from glacier or mountain stream?
Do they do it chanting verses
from the Mahabharata
while one hand
caresses the other
in a liquid embrace,
or dictating poems
while laboring over the wash basin?
Would I know it if I saw it,
that one washing his hands
was a poet,
and could I tell by watching closely
whether a great one
or a mere wannabe?


March 30 – April 6, 2014

What the March Wind Saw

blossoms and clouds blowing white
against a blue-washed sky

aureoles of daffodils
above the winter stubble

forsythia miming sunlight
beneath the leafless trees

budded boughs cascading
from early greening willows

birds, birds, undeterred
by all the bluster and chill


March 23-30, 2014

In This the Spring of My Eighty-third Year

I hear the mourning dove’s first murmurings
breaching the winter silence,
anticipate green stems
thrusting miraculously out of bare ground,
exploding slowly
into flowers,
leaves sprouting from twigs’ hard fingers.
For the first time in months
I scent earth’s odors.
Reborn
this first day
of spring


March 16-23, 2014

I Saw a Heron Flying

It was cold when I opened the door
and a gauze of cloud covered the sky,
the sun a muted disk behind its curtain.
In the chill air, a bird call seemed to echo.
As I wondered at its strength and clarity
a large bird labored into view.
A goose I thought, without thinking,
but then,
too large,
and I saw the long legs trailing
and the crook’d neck at the prow.
A heron, I thought,
a great blue heron!
And the cold morning air
seemed less like the last breath of winter
than the first of newborn spring.


March 9-16, 2014

My Muse

My muse is a noodge.
She has no sense of propriety.
She’ll intrude on any occasion
to poke my elbow
tug at my shirt.
It can be while I’m deep in conversation
listening intently
or even talking,
viewing an exhibition,
listening to music,
in the grip of laughter,
trying to make out,
at the theater,
in the office, the bedroom, the bathroom,
at weddings,
even funerals.
She’s always importuning.
Are muses supposed to be like that?


March 2-9. 2014

Going to the Dogs

There’s a dog that sits in the display window
of a second hand store in town,
amidst all the furniture, pictures, mirrors,
lamps and bric-a-brac
you wonder how anybody
could ever have wanted to own.
The dog can be seen there every day
stretched out alongside the window
in the sphinx position
like a china dog
but locking gazes with passersby
with its large sad eyes
as if it had a story to tell.

Inside, astride the path from the door,
lies another dog
a wirehaired terrier
looking very much secondhand
with its coat worn down
like the nap of a welcome mat
walked over by too many feet.

And there’s a third one,
a big black bear of a dog—
with, strange to say,
a top knot on its head,
like Buddha,
or a sumo wrestler—
that suddenly appeared
in a narrow aisle between the clutter
and brushed by me
with a lack of the deference
you expect from a dog.

There’s an old couple too
with a sour word for everything.
They look like the owners,
but perhaps they’re merely pets.


February 23 – March 2, 2014

Hot Dogs

Dogs riding in fast moving cars
holding their heads out the window.
Cooling off, or just having fun?
Seeming to grin,
or is it only rictus from the wind?


February 16-23, 2014

Goldfinches in February
 
I hear snow mixed with rain
lashing against the window panes
but goldfinches are at the feeder
just as on a summer day.
I want to give them hats and coats.

 
February 9-16, 2014

Adventures of a Young Dog

Up through woods and meadows we hiked
with Dewey
my nephew’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever
bounding up the long slope
carrying his big head easily
and, as if it didn’t already weigh enough,
hefting thick branches in his mouth
as lightly as fetching-sticks,
whacking our calves with them as he wheeled by
tracing manic arabesques,
at one point hoisting a log
half as big as a fence post
and bringing it to us eagerly,
zigzagging up the mountain
collecting odors
stopping only to roll in the snow
or rub his muzzle in it
with young dog ardor,
Dewey,
full speed ahead!


Februay 2-9, 2014

Young Dog

Our neighbors have a new dog.
I haven’t met it yet,
just seen it out the window,
but even from across the street
I can tell it’s young.
Not quite a puppy.
Too big for that.
Just young.
How can I tell?
The spring in its step,
its ears flapping,
its coat flopping,
its tail wagging
like one of those old car aerials
when the car hits a bump.
And well might it walk wit
h a bounce.
It has two pre-teen boys for family
and a lovely, red-haired mom.


January 26 – February 2, 2014

Forever Fourteen

My cousin Sue called to thank us for the flowers
we sent for her ninetieth  birthday
and we reminisced
talking, among other things,
of the time she was babysitting me
at the lake in Michigan
and I fell off the breakwater,
one of those family stories
that’s told again and again.
I was seven and Sue fourteen.
That was seventy-five years ago,
but Sue is still fourteen,
in that other universe
of my memory.


January 19-26, 2014

Babies

Dirtying their diapers,
burping up food,
smearing it on themselves,
throwing it,
bottoms to wipe,
and faces and highchair trays
and floors,
and sometimes even walls,
and, oh, the caterwauling.
We’d find it all intolerable
were it not that they smell so nice,
when clean,
like talcum powder,
that their heads are so smooth and soft,
that they coo and smile
and kick the air,
that our species needs them to survive.


January 12-19, 2014

Gaga

I’ve been writing quite a few poems about my new granddaughter,
as some of you may have noticed,
and though I’ve always had little interest in “desktop” pictures
viewing them as I do fashions such as selfies
or posters on one’s bedroom wall,
her photo at two days old
now graces my desktop
and I go there often,
something I almost never did before,
to admire that picture.
I open the desktop and there she is
looking out of my computer screen
large as life and lovely.


January 5-12, 2014

The Sentry

Since the baby arrived
the dog has posted himself
at the foot of her crib.
He lies there most of the day
and when someone approaches, sits up
ready to spring to her defense.
If he could, I’m sure he’d say
“Who goes there?”
Soon she’ll be pulling his ears.


December 29, 2013 – January 5, 2014

Bayla Rose, Day One

Is she conscious of the difference
the air, the cool, even chilly, air
the brightness
the unmuffled sounds
her wants no longer automatically satisfied
having to make them known
to cry
make that startling sound
and wait for a response?
Is that life’s first lesson?


December 22-29, 2013

Winter’s Child

On this solstice day
my granddaughter was born.
The sun stood still for her.


December 15-22, 2013

My Cousin Sue is Ninety

I have a black and white snapshot of us
in front of an apartment building in Chicago,
snow on the ground.
I’m four in the photo, Sue eleven.
You can already see that prettiness
that made her high school homecoming queen.
I remember her a few years later
babysitting me at the lake in Michigan
behind the Ferguson’s house,
she and one of the Ferguson boys flirting.
I remember that recording of Sweet Sue
we played over and over
one of those summers before the war
and a few years after that, her wedding
when I was thirteen,
the groom in his Air Corps uniform.
I remember her daughter Chris as a toddler
at some family  gathering .
Then I went away to school
and saw Sue only once in a while.
Now she’s 90.


December 8-15, 2013

Debut
 
My granddaughter
is about ready to come out.
One day soon
she’ll be ready
to drop into this world
like a parachutist leaping from a plane
gulping air and crying,
Geronimo!


December 1-8, 2013

The Girl in the Watery Chamber

My granddaughter
lives underwater,
yet feels, I’m sure,
no fear of drowning,
in a space so small
she’s in almost constant contact
with the walls,
yet showing no signs of claustrophobia,
in a darkness almost complete
illumined occasionally
by a blood-red light,
yet undisturbed, it would seem,
by what we might think of
as a scary scene,
kicking often
but not as if to break free,
just exercising, I suppose,
floating there in her watery chamber
in no hurry to get out.


November 24 – December 1. 2013

Acrobats’ Thanksgiving

I spy a robin in our magnolia tree
this chill November day
and wonder why it isn’t gorging
on the nearby winterberry bush.
But then more arrive
and one hops over and begins to dine
and another, then a gang.

The wind is whipping the branches
but the robins ride them easily
with the skill of sailors on a stormy sea
while spearing berries
with unerring accuracy.


November 17-24, 2013

Ochi Chornye

The dark eyed juncos have returned,
telling us winter’s on the way.
That name makes me think of temptresses
from times when women ringed their eyes
as if to underscore their passion.
I think of Mata Hari or Theda Bara,
But no,
the dark eyed junco’s none of that.
Its eyes are simply dark rather than light,
and dressed in gray smock and ecru bloomers
it looks more like a school girl
than a femme fatale.


November 3-10, 2013

Football Weather

Leaves scuttling along the streets
like small creatures.

Fine rain,
barely a drizzle,
not quite cold enough for snow.

Hands on the wheel
I roll down the road
to the imagined sound of a halftime band.


October 27 - November 3, 2013

Alas the Asters

It’s a beautiful morning in late October,
a day that makes me feel
as if I were back in Southern California;
such warmth, the sun’s low angle,
its light glinting off surfaces,
a scent of dryness in the air.

But the asters,
yesterday dense and brilliant as star clusters,
are wilted.
They look like squids out of water,
signaling the end
of the season of flowers.


October 20-27, 2013

Dog Walkers

    I

Dog walkers with their clusters,
Park Avenue, Fifth or the Park,
like balloon vendors
with their wares.

    II

I often see dogs walking their masters,
pulling them along resistant—
or unable to move on their own?
Why do they call them masters then?

    III

I saw an old woman
walking her dog.
The dog seemed fragile and arthritic
back bowed, legs bent.
The woman walked with a cane.
And so seven legged
and tethered together
they tottered down the hill of life.


October 13-20, 2013

The Midas Touch

It’s still warm
here in New England
though early October
and the asters are full of bees,
portly bees,
not wasp-waisted ones.
Why they flourish in fall I don’t know.
Perhaps they have fur coats,
for these are J.P. Morgan bees
piling up pollen all day long,
turning it into gold.


October 6-13, 2013

Just a Mongrel

As I was taking my morning walk
I passed a woman with two dogs.
One of them, a Dalmatian,
strained at its leash
tail wagging
soliciting a pet.
I obliged and asked her what the other was.
“Just a mongrel” she said.
Barred from the aristocracy
congenital stupidity,  
hip problems, neuroses
and other blessings of the pure bred!
Bad karma I guess.


September 22-29, 2013

Summer Closings

Summer ended today
according to my calendar.
What does the calendar know?
Summer ended weeks ago
for those to whom it matters most,
school children
back in the classroom
confined in rigid rows,
gazing wistfully out of tall windows
as summer draws twice to a close.


September 29 – October 6, 2013

I wrote this poem nearly a decade and a half ago and, as readers will recognize, the computer specs that appear in it are laughably passé and puny.  To paraphrase one of our more famous generals, old gods never die, they just become outmoded.   RG September 2013

The God Machine

The, for the moment,
state of the art
450 MegaHerz
256 megabyte RAM
12.8 gigabyte hard drive
machine
reposing on my desk
sometimes does inscrutable things,
which only confirms its divinity,
as does the mysterious poetry
of its specs,
this big ram,
hard driving goat god
of a machine.


September 22-29, 2013

Summer Closings

Summer ended today
according to my calendar.
What does the calendar know?
Summer ended weeks ago
for those to whom it matters most,
school children
back in the classroom
confined in rigid rows,
gazing wistfully out of tall windows
as summer draws twice to a close.


September 15-22, 2013

Internet Ambivalence

When I seek enlightenment
I pray to the great god Google
and sapience descends on me
like Saint Elmo’s fire.

But knowledge was the original sin,
so what is it I’m taking in
with electronic edification?
Am I wasting my life
surfing the web
in a sort of cybernetic endless summer?
Am I becoming obese
with information overload?
Have I put my head in a cloud?
What would Dr. Faust have said?


September 8-15, 2013

Mr. Hobby Lobby

“Hobby Lobby’s lawyers will argue that a commercial company can, legally speaking, be Christian — with the same rights to religious freedom that a person has.”   New York Times, August 3, 2013

Can companies be baptized?
Can they take the sacraments?
Should they have the right to marry?
Do they have a right to life?

Do they have souls?
Do they go to heaven or hell when they expire?

Can they be put in jail?
Can they sit on the Supreme Court?


September 1-8, 2013

Learning to Love Hydrangeas

I never cared much for hydrangeas
until I married a woman who does.
There were white ones
at my grandmother’s house
and I remember them dried
and scented of age.
Then there were those watercolors
of cottages with hydrangeas,
too sentimental to my mind.

Now we have a hydrangea,
large as a pigmy hippopotamus
and I thrill to its size
to its cluster bomb blue blossoms
and the remembrance
of those watercolors I used to despise.


August 25 - September 1, 2013

Sunflowers

I bought three sunflowers
at the farmers’ market.
The brawny blossoms  
stand in a vase
on our dining table
looking like plate-sized smiley faces.
It’s hard not to smile back.


August 18-25, 2013

Beauty and Truth

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
            Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Though the beautiful can be true.
and the true beautiful,
truth is often ugly
and beauty often blinds us to the truth.
Life isn’t as simple
as we’d like it to be.


August 11-18, 2013

The Ficus

The ficus in our dining room,
once scraggly and forlorn,
is sprouting new leaves.
We acquired it eleven years ago
with the house we moved into that year.
The former owners told us
a friend would come to pick it up,
but no one did.
We nursed it back to health
watering it weekly
fertilizing it twice a year
adding fresh soil
moving it to successively larger pots
till now it occupies a large glazed one
with an old Chinese look
like something from a courtyard
in the Forbidden City.
We took it with us on two moves
fussily supervising its loading
to the annoyance of the moving men.
We did all this
not because it was beautiful
but because it was homely and left behind.


August 4-11, 2013

Arriba!

I saw a toddler across the street
clearly not long on two feet
stepping out in that wobbly way
of one learning bipedal locomotion.
I thrilled to see this child
recently risen from his knees
and thought of my granddaughter,
still in the womb,
that one day soon
she too will rise up
and totter her way
across a small patch
of this planet’s surface.


July 28 – August 4, 2013

Of Bulldogs and Geraniums

I’ve never liked geraniums,
their scraggly shape,
their puny blossoms.
Yet some do.
Nor do I care for bulldogs
which also have their devotees.
Is it homeliness they’re embracing,
responding to the need for love?
I can relate to that.


July 21-28, 2013

Akhmadulina of the Imagination

When Akhmadulina died at 73
I looked up her photos
in Google Images.
The luscious young woman
with big eyes,
the eyes of an ingénue
in the face of a serious poet,
and skin like an ad for beauty soap.
You can see how Yevtushenko fell for her,
a pretty face
and those other features
young men so easily imagine.
But not the slanted, tartar eyes
Yevgeny wrote of in his memoirs.
They were just imagination.
Perhaps her poetry too
for don’t we judge works
by their creator’s appearance?

Then later pictures,
showing her middle aged
still attractive
but sending a different message
no longer the young woman still almost a girl
promising softness, passion,
but mature, self-confident, self-possessed
maybe a bit self-satisfied
buyer beware
a handful for her husbands.

Then there’s the picture with Yeltsin
that appeared in the Times with her obituary
Bella, heavily made up,
smiling coquettishly
like the cliché of an old European woman,
one used to see in the movies,
the woman who lives upstairs
seen usually in her dressing gown
by the young artist
as she reminisces of better times.

Finally there’s the picture with Putin
Akhmadulina smiling broadly
she who in her earlier years
spoke truth to power.

But perhaps the Akhmadulina I see in the photos
is just a person I imagine.


July 14-21, 2013

The Model

A favorite of the Beaux-Arts school
in the early years of the century
she was the model
for numerous works,
looking like all the goddesses who ever were,
cunning, majestic, imperious.
But it was no more than one of those illusions
that beauty breeds in the minds of men.
She spent sixty-five years
in a mental institution
where she died
unrecognized.


July 7-14, 2013

American Beauty

“What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness.” Tolstoy

She was on the far side of pudgy
and still sucked her thumb
though she was 11 years old.
She prided herself on her equestrianism
turning up her nose at those who didn’t ride.
She was cold toward her younger brother
and made promises she didn’t keep.

About seven years later my mother came home
with a copy of Life magazine,
Joan on the cover,
striding long-legged down Park Avenue
chestnut hair blowing out behind,
over the caption
“Typical American Beauty.”


June 29 – July 7, 2013

Weddings

I remember the weddings,
remember them all.

My cousin Sue and her high school sweetheart
on leave from the Air Corps
in ‘44
First time I got high.
I was thirteen.
It was champagne,
at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Brother Jeffrey and his Italian-American bride
with her large clan
at a country club in Pacific Heights.
Tuxedos.
Live orchestra.
Adults dancing with children
into the wee hours.

Brother Michael and Alice
at her parents’ home
on a hill overlooking Boise.
Guys with long hair and wire-rim glasses.
The sky still light at ten o’clock
on that far western edge of the time zone.
My daughter, four,
in her long white dress with strawberries
glowing in the twilight.

Brother David and Elaine
in their adobe in Santa Fe
Elaine and her sisters
dancing sinuously while lip syncing to
“You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,”
and my son, about eleven, dancing up a storm.

Sister Deborah and Rob
in wine country
in an old Victorian hotel
their friend singing in a sweet tenor
“Makin' Whoopee.”

I remember others.
Those were just a few.
Three of them ended in divorce.


June 23-30, 2013

Ultrasound

My daughter’s daughter,
growing toward her first debut,
six months away,
already has a fully formed hand
that signals us a greeting
across the generations.


June 16-23, 2013

Anthropomorphizing

Early morning.
A cardinal sets down on our feeder
still rumpled from his night’s rest
his crest flattened and tousled  
his plumage in disarray
a downy white feather protruding from his back
as if he were an old pillow.
Though several birds can fit at the feeder
he grumpily chases others away.
Perhaps I should have filled the feeder
with coffee beans.


June 9-16, 2013

A Few Weeks in June

The seventeen year cicadas are back
sounding off like steel drum bands,
celebrating their freedom
after seventeen years under ground,
seventeen sexless years.
Were I a cicada I’d bust out long before,
have a night on the town.
Not only are they locked up without parole,
when they get out
they don’t get a bus ticket and fifty bucks
but predators waiting at the gate
and the only ones that really go free
are the ones the predators don’t eat.
Then they get just a few weeks
and the males die right after they mate.
(I might too if I hadn’t been laid in seventeen years.)
O cicada, yours is not a gentle fate,
but who ever said that life was fair?


June 2-9, 2013

The Blue Jay

The blue jay looks so fine,
though perhaps a bit overdressed,
like a doorman at a posh hotel
or a drum majorette,
but when it opens its beak
it doesn’t sing.  It squawks
something resembling Brooklynese.
In these ways it doesn’t differ much
from creatures of the human kind.


May 26 – June 2, 2013

Cousin Gull

Wet air has swept in from the coast
bearing gray layers of cloud
and gulls that wheel and cry
over the shopping center parking lot
(wet black like tidal flat)
searching for the fallen fry
or other delicacy,
at home with us
and our machines
as if they knew
our progenitors too
had climbed from the ancestral sea.


May 19-26, 2013

Domestication

The rabbit whose burrow
is in the bushes
in front of our house
shows no fear of me.
It no longer flees
when I come suddenly
out the front door.
It no longer freezes
when I turn in from the street
fixing me
with one large, lustrous, all-pupil eye.
It no longer even stops nibbling the grass
when I walk past.
It has confidence I won’t pounce.
It thinks that I’m domesticated.


May 12-19, 2013

Molly

You were born in France
and wild they say.
No, feral, wilder yet.
I didn’t think to ask how they lured you inside.
Milk perhaps,
the feline’s wine.
But you were too secure in yourself
to pass up free meals
and so moved in.
Then one day
they came back to America
and brought you with them
Born a chat you became a cat.
Did you miss your French terroir?
Do the mice speak a different language here?
No matter.  You made yourself at home.
Now you wear a collar
and sit in the sun
in the catnip
planted just for you
and bring your masters—
pardon me, hosts—
birds, and mice and chipmunks
as any polite guest would do.
They react strangely
almost as if repelled.
Do they not like
French cuisine?


May 5-12, 2013

I Love You Molly Ivins

you who dubbed Dubya shrub,
strapping, six foot ruby-haired girl
with a tongue that could knock men down,
at home in Northeastern preppy
or redneckese,
rare liberal in the Lone Star State.
For you I’d pray the Lord
spare Texas from fire and brimstone.


April 28 – May 5, 2013

Aunt Molly Road

Near where we live
there’s an Aunt Molly Road
and every time I pass it
I wonder who Aunt Molly was
and what she did to earn her fame.
Whatever the case,
I think such names should be widespread.
I offer my own for Uncle Dick Drive
and on behalf of my wife
Celeste Circle.


April 21-28, 2013

Fadeout

Deaths last week
of Jonathan Winters and Maria Tallchief,
avatars of comedy and dance
in my youth.
It seems the world is dying around me,
though it’s just the world I knew.
New worlds have long since been born
and grown to maturity,
but I’ve never known them so well
as that world with which I grew.


April 14-21, 2013

O Pioneers!

Forsythia has bloomed
making spring irrevocable.
First it was crocuses and hyacinths,
shy and vulnerable yet brave.
Now it’s forsythia,
brash, cheeky, devil-may-care.
No turning back
it seems to say.


April 7-14, 2013

Mary Brown Dingle

I just discovered from a Google map
that there’s a place in our neighborhood,
an urban one, mind you,
called Mary Brown Dingle.
It’s hidden behind back yards
and accessible only from a block-long cul-de-sac
called, grandly, Glendale Avenue.
Such a wealth of incongruous names.
If the world knew
we’d be the object of envy.


March 31 – April 7, 2013

Prelude

Crocuses are out of the ground today,
rising up like marching bands,
yellow ones
flashing their brassy thanks to the sun,
sounding the bugle call of spring.
Soon blue notes will follow,
and red hot ones,
and purple poetry.


March 24-31, 2013

Reveille

I’m going through one of those bouts of insomnia
to which the old are prone.
I turn my arthritic body over in bed
at four or five AM
and can’t get back to sleep
so I get up and read the morning Times online.
I also see the dawn
that most of my life I’ve rarely seen.
This morning it’s cloudless
and at this hour
a burnt orange fringe
swells symphonically over the eastern hills.
It takes me back to my days in basic training
one of the few times when I was often up at dawn
and I feel in my 80 year-old flesh the sensation
of being the young soldier I was then.


March 17-24, 2013

To Everything a Season

Spring, summer, autumn, winter,
eighty times I’ve lived that cycle,
for my year began in spring
born with the flowers
and leaves and grass.

Spring, summer, autumn, winter,
always the same yet always fresh.
Pity him who tires of the seasons.
He tires of life.


March 10-17, 2013

Thinking of Spring

While it’s warm enough this late winter day
to hang a scrim of haze
over the nearby mountain,
the trees are still leaflessly etched against a milky sky,
but I picture a day
when they’ll be stippled with green,
and bathed in blue warmth that’s here to stay.


March 3-10, 2013

Pudding

There’s nothing better than pudding.
Ambrosia can’t hold a candle
unless
perhaps
it always was a pudding.

I even like the sound;
something embraceable,
something to curl up with
on a cold winter’s night.
Better than honey
or schatzi or mon petit choux.

When I was in military school
the commandant’s daughter,
a well upholstered teen,
was known among the cadets as Pudding,
Pudding Burnett.
I never learned her actual name.

Then there’s the road off the Taconic,
Pudding Lane.
Every time I pass it I think
what a lovely address it would make:
Richard Greene
1 Pudding Lane
The Empyrean.


February 24 – March 3, 2013

Custard

“Oh,” my wife said,
“I forgot to eat my custard last night”
and at that eggy word
my saliva began to flow.
I tasted the creamy, cool concoction
in my brain.
Instant anticipation,
serotonin,
dopamine,
only to be disappointed,
for custard, sweet custard,
I’m not allowed to entertain
in this glucose intolerant frame.


February 17-24, 2013

Wet Snow

Fat clumps of flakes
cling to the trees
like cotton bolls
but whiter,
for nothing’s whiter than snow.
Imagine the fabric
we could fashion
if we could make cloth
of those crystals.


February 10-17, 2013

Enough?

I used to root for snow to pile higher,
set records.
It gave me puerile pleasure when in ’47
it kept falling in Manhattan
till the streets were quiet as a holy day,
big soft flakes heaped well over knee high,
shutting down Wall Street and the subways,
and in Washington in ‘79
when my neighbor’s Volkswagen
turned into a ski mogul
and the government
of the most powerful nation on earth
came to a whispery halt.
The more the better, I felt.
But it wasn’t the shuttings down  
that moved me
so much as the lullaby of soft and white.

Today here in New England
with snow up over my knees again
it seems my inner child
may at last have had enough.  


February 3-10, 2013

A Chicken’s Lot

Hens pattern the chicken coop,
splotches of chestnut and white,
depositing eggs
like Fabergé favors,
perfect spheroids
of perfect white,
or the soft brown
of Rhode Island Reds,
for us to gather
morning and night
still warm
from the ever hopeful breasts.


January 27 – February 3, 2012

Homage to the Egg

I don’t know why lay an egg
is a pejorative expression.
What could be more perfect
than those gentle spheroids
in their softly glowing white,
subtle brown, blue and other hues
amiably speckled or plain?
Surely when UFOs are found,
evidence of civilizations more advanced than ours,
they’ll be shaped not like saucers but eggs.


January 20-27, 2013

Things We Take for Granted

Eggs, for instance,
something dumb hens produce.
They wander around
a bit ridiculous
with their dust mop bodies
mounted on sticks,
their diminutive heads
pecking tidbits off the ground.
Then, once in a while they sit down
and, clucking fatuously, lay an egg.
Whereupon we other two-legged creatures come
and gather those eggs
without much thought
in our big heads,
not even dreaming of omelets,
maybe stifling a yawn,
or we buy them by the dozen
in the supermarket,
just another item on our list.
But imagine trying to make by hand,
or even by machine,
something as delicate and perfect as an egg.

 
January 13-20, 2013

Chickens in Beverly Hills

We kept chickens in Beverly Hills,
not in the early days
before it had become
an island of affluence
but almost half way into the 20th century.
It was during the war,
poultry and eggs were scarce
and my mother was not one
to worry about being déclassé. 
So every day
after I pedaled home from Beverly High
I gathered eggs
in that hen house
amidst the stars.


January 6-13, 2013

December Night

a glacial moon
stars like beads of ice
the sky a crystal palace


December 30, 2012 – January 6, 2013

Making Love Last

Why do we always think
that love is forever
when we know it so rarely is?
Why do we think our feelings
will never change
when most last only minutes?
What would happen if we said
“Let’s love each other for a year or two”?
As expectations of eternal love
make fools of us,
maybe if we expected love to go away
it would, perversely,
stay.


December 23-30, 2012

December Day

I pause in my daily walk
to observe a squirrel
engaged in its perpetual search for food.
The squirrel pauses too, eyeing me warily.
I utter soothing, low-toned words
and, though its tail twitches,
the squirrel doesn’t run up a tree.
Perhaps that’s because it’s contentedly fat,
looking like a stuffed animal,
which, of course, it is,
stuffed with acorns
against the coming scarcity.
I could know it was December
by the squirrels’ girth.
I pass the college pond
where geese alight.
I wonder what they’re doing at this latitude
this late in the season
but there they are coming down,
their air brakes on,
to fracture the pond’s reflections
not of red and yellow leaves
but of skeletal trees.
I reach downtown
and Main Street’s thronged with shoppers
in cold-proof outerwear,
another sign of the time of year
Yet, though warmly dressed,
they hurry against the cold
moving more briskly than in other seasons
emitting phantasmal puffs of breath
like purposefully moving trains.


December 16-23, 2012

So Much

We love each other so much
that when we kiss, in cold weather,
sparks fly
as when steel is ground on stone
or a current jumps a gap.


December 9-16, 2012

Kisses

Retired now
I stay at home
while my wife goes out to work,
and in the front hall we kiss
as we did when it was I
who went out the door
but now our lips don’t meet
for there’s lipstick not to be smeared.
And so we bring our mouths near,
so near we can feel each other’s heat
and detect each other’s familiar scents,
not quite touching
yet closer in a way
than if joined in a full-blown kiss.


December 2-9, 2012

December 1, Snow

The first month of winter
dawns on the wonder
of a whitened world.
We don’t think yet
of treacherous footing
or lack of traction,
of slush and grimy residue.
For now it’s all joie de vivre.
Our inner child skips with delight.


November 25 – December 2, 2012

The Girl She Was

I asked my wife if there was anything she could do
about a hole in my pants pocket.
She said she had some iron-on patches for that
and I thought of how she used to make her own dresses,
in addition to being the only member of her family
to go to college.
I pictured her as a girl
learning to sew at her mother’s side,
and then in school, quiet and shy but a star pupil,
and I yearned to help her achieve
all her hopes and desires
and dispel all her pains and fears.


November 18-25, 2012

So Presidential

Oh Mitt Romney,
what a fine looking president he would have made,
would have looked so good in photo ops,
not out of place even on Mount Rushmore
which now, alas, he’ll never grace.
Too bad his principles weren’t as firm as his jaw.


November 11-18, 2012

About Love

When we say love
we mean many things
some similar
some almost contradictory.
There’s Christian love and concupiscent,
romantic,
sibling, parent-child,
love of a long-time spouse,
puppy and platonic love,
love of friends,
of pieces of music, movies, pets, money,
celebrities.
This list is not exhaustive.

So men sometimes say they love
when what they really mean
is that they want sex.
Young people ask
whether they’ll ever fall in love
when they already have.
A little later they say
I’ll love you forever
when what they really mean is
maybe a few years,
though they don’t know that yet.

No wonder we’re confused.


November 4-11, 2012

On the Boardwalk

“New Jersey was reeling on Wednesday from the impact of
 Hurricane Sandy, which has…wiped out iconic boardwalks
 in shore towns that had enchanted generations of vacationgoers.”
 New York Times, November 1, 2012

I’ve never been enchanted by boardwalks.
Who wants to plod on boards
when one can tread God’s good ground?
Who’d rather trudge amidst cotton candy
and the scrum of commerce and crowds
when one can stroll in solitude
with just earth and sky for company?
Who’d rather listen to the clomp and babble 
of those vacationgoers
than to the songs of birds and cicadas
and the soughing of wind in the trees?
And yet, and yet
there’s the sand all around
and the tang of the salt-sharp air,
the sound of the surf,
and the cries of gulls,
and their wheeling apostrophes,
and the bright sun on the sea
and the bright sun on the sea.

October 28 – November 4, 2012

Halloween 2012

Vampires, zombies, chain saw murderers,
kiddies grace the streets.
Ghouls, gorgons, ghosts in sheets
throngs slow and fleet.
Movie monsters, latter-day demons,
with blood they are replete.
Witches, Frankenstein, Mitt Romney,
the maskers are complete!


October 21-28, 2012

A Time of Falling Leaves

The chill of autumn is upon us
and leaves have begun to fall,
their herb-like odor 
redolent of those days
when after school 
we threw ourselves 
shouting and laughing
onto piles of dry leaves,
or, older, played ball
on the leaf-flecked streets 
until our hands grew numb 
with the cold of dusk
and we were called 
into the warm brightness 
of our homes.


October 14-21, 2012

Memorials for the Living

I went to a memorial service two days ago
for a man I hardly knew.
He was head of a poetry group 
I attend once a month
and I occasionally met him outside
but we never had a deep conversation
never exchanged more than a few words.
I thought him amiable
but someone at the memorial service
said something about him I’d sensed 
but never put into words.
He was non-judgmental,
much more than just amiable, 
accepting people for what they were.

He was an attorney
and I worried about his practice.
I often worry about such things.
It isn’t the money I’m concerned about
so much as blows to the ego.
Projection no doubt.
But with Carl it was something more.
Perhaps he seemed too amiable for success as a lawyer.
Then I learned at the memorial service
that he specialized in helping the down and out
not just with their legal problems,
usually involving, I gathered,
being in trouble with the law,
but with their lives.

Here was a beautiful man
I’d had so many opportunities to know
but of whom I knew next to nothing
and I thought
everyone should have memorial services while living
so we could know what they are before they’re gone,
and, now that I think of it,
why should monuments be just for the dead?


October 7-14, 2012

For They Shall Inherit

There was a red fox sitting on our front walk today
belly to ground like the sphinx
or one of those lions in front of the New York Public Library
sitting there in broad daylight
calmly licking its paws as if it had just finished an ice cream cone,
looking around as if curious
rather than concerned about threats to its safety.
It couldn’t have been calmer
if it had been sitting in its own living room.

So it goes
the wild animals getting less and less wary of humans,
the deer, the moose, the bears and,
oh yes, the rabbit that nibbles the clover
on our front lawn
and doesn’t hop off hastily
when we come out the front door.

What’ll it be next?
Deer nuzzling us for a handout as we plant our gardens?
Rabbits hopping into the kitchen to share our salad?
Have we lost our credibility?


September 30 – October 7, 2012

Dormers

Give me a room with dormers
from which to look out on the world
to make my walls shapelier
to banish the monotony of the vertical
to wrap me in a roof’s embrace
up where I can hear the rain
where I can look out on the treetops
and the sky can look in more readily.
I had such a room in my youth
and have one again today
and, oh, it keeps the gerontologist away.


September 23-30, 2012

Montgolfier Returns

When I opened the shades this morning
there was a large balloon
outside our window,
one of those of man-bearing size,
ribbed and gondolaed and gaily colored
like something from a Jules Verne story.
It was drifting slowly toward us
growing larger as it came,
drifting slowly
into the 21st century.


September 16-23, 2012

Northampton Meadows, 1864

I have a postcard of a painting
from a century and a half ago
of a landscape I can almost see from our window.
It could be a landscape by Poussin,
for another “Shepherds of Arcadia”;
meadows, copses, hedgerows,
a tranquil river meandering,
and, in the background,
low but dramatic mountains.
Now the meadows are cluttered
with commerce and cars,
strip malls,
parking lots,
boxy buildings,
fast food restaurants,
dropped down on the landscape
no matter how.
But on my desk is that view
of the scene before progress came,
and I look upon it as one might
on a photo of a love who has died
or taken up with someone else.


September 9-16, 2012

Everyday Things

The sky that’s always with us
in light or darkness,
a radiance of moon,
the seasons,
the tree behind the house,
the birds that sing so tirelessly in its branches,
the shadow of leaves on a wall,
a spouse’s touch.
Should we cherish them any the less
for being commonplace?


September 2-9, 2012

County Fair

The fair has come to town
as it does this time every year,
summer fading,
foreshadowings of fall in the air,
a still hot day
an extra-blue sky
clouds piled high as wedding cakes.

On the fairground:
booths and rides that sprang up overnight
and will vanish just as suddenly;
cotton candy, corn dogs, pulled pork,
funnel cakes, fried dough, fried everything,
fifty-star American cuisine;
a tattoo parlor, a tarot reader,
game booths—odds favor the house—
rides with animal-shaped pods
for children to ride like joeys,
a Ferris wheel towering over all,
chairman of the rotary.

Pig races out of Tampa
just after the Republican convention there.
Kachunga and the Alligator Show,
a performer and his menacing reptiles,
also out of Florida.
I’m reminded of a man with one blind eye
I saw once in a park in South America
displaying trained birds in a cage.
The birds sang
for coins dropped by too few passersby.


August 26 – September 2, 2012

The Dance of Morning

Morning mist veils the trees
turning their plain raiment of leaves
into a diaphanous gown
threaded with sunlight. 
Then a breeze stirs the trees
and birds begin to chatter 
like tambourines.


August 19-26, 2012

Late August Is Here

Pleasant days
cool nights
the way we’d like it to always be.
However I still feel a sense of loss 
an end to summer fun
as if I’ll soon be back in school again
even though I’m eighty-one.


August 12-19, 2012

Great Spangled Fritillary

No it’s not an oath.
It’s a butterfly
and we see one in our garden from time to time.
Imagine,
something great in your garden,
not just an ordinary flower,
bee or lepidopteran,
but a great one,
and not just great, but spangled.
 

August 5-12, 2012

Swallows

      I

darting ballistic 
through the startled air,
cleaving it with scything arcs,
incising swift graffiti
on the sky’s enamel,
hewing free
with their scimitar flight

        II

On summer evenings
swallows sometimes sport
above our house. 
Engaged in acrobatic high jinks,
they dodge, they dart, they swerve,
carve sweeping arcs,
like skaters on a pond,
then folding wings to sides
plunge 
with look-no-hands bravado.


July 29 – August 5, 2012

Summer Symphony

The days grow warm
then warmer,
blossoms display their petals,
clouds congeal
out of transparent sky,
thunderheads tower,
the air heaves into motion
then subsides,
drumrolls of rain
beat on fields and trees,
leaves are shaken,
puddles swell,
the sky clears,
the ground is dry again,
crops nourished
on the long summer light
grow stealthily
until one day
the corn is man tall,
children recycle perennial games,
frogs chorus,
songsters of tree and air
do solo turns
while insects drone obbligato,
till autumn
with its melancholy airs.


July 22-29, 2012

Summertime

As a child I spent my summers
with a crew of cousins
at my grandfather’s house 
on a lake in Michigan
where we passed much of our time swimming
and trooping into town for ice cream, or movies.
Horror films were a favorite,
Igor pouring molten metal on us,
in three dimensions,
from the tower of Dr. Frankenstein’s house
(which for many years  made Victorian houses 
synonymous in my mind with horror),
the Incredible Shrinking Man 
fleeing a housecat bigger than a rhinoceros,
rubber dinosaurs
rampaging through The Lost World.
The youngest of the gang 
I took all this seriously
peering out from between my fingers
through much of the show
clamping them shut when the going got too scary.

Then there was the amusement park 
only 12 miles away 
(which at the time seemed far to me
as if distance stretched
in inverse proportion to one’s size),
the fun house
with its whimsical mirrors
and the forced laughter
reverberating from its loudspeakers, 
the papier-mâché monsters in the house of horrors
exciting more hilarity than terror,
and a large flat cylinder of a ride 
that rotated so fast 
you could hang on its inner side
defying gravity,
a sensation that visited me in my dreams.


July 15-22, 2012

To Everything Its Season

Through the open window next to my desk 
this summer day I hear 
the voice of our young neighbor naming things.
“Daw” he shouts, full blast.
“Yes, dog” his mother says.
“Daw” he shouts again.
Then “tee.”
“Yes, tree” his mother says.
It was only a month or two ago,
after long seeing him carried from house to car and back
(no light-weight he),
one fine spring day I saw him totter down the walk.
Now, merely a few weeks later,
he not only walks the walk
he talks the talk.


July 8-15, 2012

Summer Is Here Now

Summer is here now
as I remember it
consecrated by fireworks:
the long languorous days
tedious sometimes
but still sweet; 
swimming in the lake
where skin and cool water meet
and fish dart away
from this alien invader;
water slapping on boat or dock
or weaving nets of sunlight on a boathouse wall;
the white froth of bow cleaving wave;
a sail flapping lazily as we come about;
or in a rowboat 
suspended between water and sky
waiting for fish to bite;
playing into the dark hours; 
and through the night 
the myriad sounds of insects
and the lullaby of frogs.


July 1-8, 2012

Newbie

Our neighbor has a new baby
just ten days old.
Chiara is her name.
I saw her yesterday in her buggy,
her head a small coconut, 
sleeping as new babies will
after the hard work of being born
and with so much growing to do.

I’ve seen many a newborn
but, in my end years now,
I was moved
to see this child
so near her beginning
and wondered how she feels,
emerged from the warm maternal sea,
surrounded by air and breezes,
experiencing bright light and colors 
not just the ruddy dimness of the womb,
hearing sounds clear, not muted,
seeing shapes, 
and figures in motion
such as her mother and me.

What an adventure!
And only just begun.


June 24 – July 1, 2012

The Climbing Tree

The tree was tall
but made for climbing
branches close to the ground, 
thick foliage 
where we could perch
concealed from the world
like secret birds,
branches closely spaced
a Jacob’s ladder
into the airy realm
of birds and squirrels
and the daydreams
of tree climbers. 


July 17-24, 2012

The Kite

dances on air
still joined to our hand
capering to our command
its string an extension 
of our nerves.
Through it we reach 
cloud high
as if we rode the wind
and the whole wide sky
blew through our hair.


June 10-17, 2012

The Swing

I walked to school past Freddie’s swing
and it sang its siren song to me.

“Come, Freddie’s friend,
sit down and swing,
forward and back
forward and back.
Make my arc reach high
until your feet scrape the sky.
Soar and plunge
soar and plunge
until you feel your insides race
to keep pace
with the rest of you.
Feel the air thicken
claw at your clothes
press on your face.
Hear it rush by your ears.
Then hang your head back and watch
the clouds reel by
the clouds reel by.”

And before I knew it
I was late for school again.


June 3-10, 2012

Listen

to streams
rustling over stones,
waves
pulsing against the shore,
the sound in a seashell
of your blood
coursing through your inner ear,

to a chorus of crickets
filling the quiet of the night,
the boom and chirp and racket of frogs,
a lone owl hooting,
the early morning twitter of birds,
the coo-OO-oo-coo of mourning doves,
the clamor of crows,
geese overhead announcing autumn,
the soft clucking of hens,
a rooster’s fanfare for the sun,

the sound of wind
soughing through the trees,
the patter of rain on a roof
or its voluminous tattoo.

Listen
to the sounds pervading silence.


May 27 – June 3, 2012

Grampa Louis

I knew you when you were old.
To me you were never young.
I see you always with an agéd pallor.
Yet you were once a child, as I was,
short of stature,
knowing little of the world.
Then there was a time when you lusted,
a condition hard to imagine
at the age you were when I knew you,
and you fled to America
with your dark hair and steady limbs,
made your heavily accented way
until you had amassed the means
to house your many children
and their children too.
But I remember you best
ineffectual with years
cursing in three languages.


May 20-27, 2012

Grampa Bill

My grandfather was one of nature’s gentlemen.
If you’d met him or seen a photo
you’d have thought banker perhaps,
but his career was tending bar.
The earliest picture I have of him
is at the ‘34 World’s Fair
celebrating Chicago’s “Century of Progress”,
fresh out of prohibition,
standing with me on his shoulders
in front of the tavern
where he worked.
Earlier he worked in speakeasies
and one of my last memories of him
was behind a bar in the Bowery
presiding over the premises
in his dignified, still easy speaking way.
I don’t know that he ever did any other kind of work
except for a short stint in a liquor store
when his health was failing.
I remember my parents
talking sotto voce
about what to do for Bill.
My last memory of him is in an oxygen tent
coughing with dignity.


May 13-20, 2012

Granny

My grandmother
was ignorant, superstitious, opinionated
and full of odium.
Half old world, half new
she believed nuns were bad luck
like black cats
and was fond of describing people’s clothing
as looking like it came out of a cow’s behind.

She didn’t like girl children
and was hard on her daughter and granddaughter
but indulgent toward my brother and me,
pushing food at us
without asking my mother or sister
if they wanted more,
making special dishes for us,
and remarkably tolerant
of our shortcomings,
though she did turn dour
after she found a photograph of a nude
in my dresser, under the socks,
when I was 13.
She didn’t say anything about it,
but it disappeared,
and she gave me grim looks
every time our paths crossed
for the next few days.

She was five feet tall
and called herself “peanut granny,”
for she had a sense of humor
along with her paranoia and scorn.

She was married twice, and,
not surprisingly,
twice divorced,
and didn’t have much education,
but she made her way in business
and took care of herself
without anybody’s help,
even giving my mother
a nice sum of money toward a house.

Then she suffered a stroke.
When I visited her in the nursing home
she still recognized me
but called my baby daughter Helen,
which was my mother’s name.


May 6-13, 2012

Death of a Diver

He sounded the sea too deep
not dropping a weight on a line
but dropping himself
down the mile steep wall
past the fantastic formations
the rainbow hued fish
into the watery twilight and beyond
to where all is darkness,
into the abyss.

How long did it take him
to reach the farthest depth?
No matter.
He had given himself long before
to the rapture of death.
Or had death surprised him
seizing him suddenly by the throat?
We think of death as steady, calm, methodical,
but doesn’t he sometimes suddenly wheel about
and scythe us down?

And dragging his victim farther,
six thousand feet.
Was that necessary?
Perhaps death isn’t the gentleman
some think him to be.


April 29 – May 6. 2012

Jim

Hearing Randy Newman on the radio
I think of you.
I remember a song of his you liked
that ended in the refrain
“You give me reason to live.
You give me reason to live.”

I didn’t share your taste for Newman,
but we were alike in more important ways,
both foreigners in our own tribe,
uncomfortable with the badinage
that passes for bonding.

You were the kind of teacher who could make a difference
but worked in a place
where differences weren’t appreciated,
while I managed to pass
by hiding my heterodoxy
behind an everyman face.
With each other
we could remove our masks.

Then I was away for a few weeks
and when I came back you were dead, a suicide.
Every time I remember you I think
if only I’d been there to hold on
maybe I could have kept you from slipping
into death’s cold embrace.


April 22-29, 2012

April 18 was Holocaust Remembrance Day in the U.S. this year.

Yom HaShoah

“Yidn, schraybt!”
“Jews, write!”
the historian
Simon Dubnow
cried out
as he was led away to die,
Riga
December 8, 1941.
And write we did,
Anne Frank
Primo Levi
Elie Wiesel,
too many to remember here.
Then came the others
to write that thousands lied,
David Irving
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
David Duke.
Why?


April 15-22, 2012

Friday April 13

It’s Friday the 13th
and the axe and chainsaw murderers
are out in force
hideous smiles pasted on their faces—
helping old ladies cross the street,
assisting school crossing guards,
carrying groceries for mothers with small children—
under the influence
of sunshine and spring.


April 8-15, 2012

Disney Spring

Young leaves
drape the trees
with chartreuse veils.
Forsythia flowers like fountains,
like roman candles.
Soon the hills will be
awash with green
and the whole scene
will be transformed
from black and white
to Technicolor.


April 1-8, 2012

Comfort

I heard a boy crying across the street
and went to the window to see why.
I was about to go out and try to help
when his mother came and picked him up
he three quarters her height
and I thought to myself
how nice it would be
if we had mothers big enough
to pick us up throughout our lives.
If we weren’t comforted, at least we’d laugh.


March 21, 2012

I'm rerunning, as a tribute to one of my best friends from college, who died this week, a poem about him I posted four years ago.

Residence on Earth

Opening Neruda’s poems
I notice an inscription inside the cover

May 1950
to R. Greene
with affection
Ulu

Ulu, my cosmopolitan classmate, a refugee,
who so named himself
with rare self-assurance,
and I’m carried back over half a century
to that time
when our faces were still unlined,
our limbs firm and confident.
Rooms facing each other across the hall
and studying into the night
we would meet when we emerged
befuddled by the lateness of the hour
laughing at something for reasons
nobody but us could have discerned.
Since then our paths have diverged
and it’s been—how long?—
close to three decades since I last saw Ulu,
but noticing that inscription in the book
I see him as he was then,
hear in my mind his delighted laugh
and think of lines from Neruda:
“or as from high above the road,
the crisscrossing toll of bells is heard.”


March 18-25, 2012

Harbingers

Spring, it seems,
is just around the corner.
The weather’s warmer
after many cold, drear days,
birds are more abundant,
the young vivacious,
poets dreamy,
and contrails send
celebratory streamers
across a cloudless sky.


March 11-18, 2012

We’re Off to See the Wizard

It’s nearly March
and most days
the temperature’s in the thirties or forties.
Winter’s snow piles are melting
like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Soon spring will come
like Glinda the Good
and Dorothy will be young again.


March 4-11, 2012

A Woman’s Laughter

defies gravity
brightens a cloudy day
makes the dog wag its tail
the child grow,
man submit.


February 26 – March 4, 2012

Still the Same

Somewhere are young women
I once knew
some 50 years ago,
still young
still the same,
unwrinkled
slender
supple,
hair still glossy
voices velvety…
somewhere in the lanes and alleys of my brain.


February 19-26, 2012

Ginger

A group of us used to gather
at a sidewalk café in Montparnasse.
I remember
a tall, slender Englishman
coming up to you one day
exclaiming languidly,
“Ginja dahling!
How wondfl to see you
dahling!”
He said you were looking lovely,
and you were.

I was a student at the time
and you a married woman
living with your husband in Paris.
Now, almost five decades later,
you’re long divorced
and living in Virginia.
I see you from time to time
at family reunions, and funerals,
and you’re still lovely,
with that inner glow
that outlasts time.


February 12-19, 2012

Savoy Ballroom

I was listening to old Dixieland today
black bottoms, blues, stomps, rambles,
crawls, grinds, rags, drags.
It was hard to sit still.
I guess that was the idea.
Well, three quarters of a century on
we’re still twitching.
Somewhere those old jazzmen
must be slapping their thighs.

I’m reminded of a time
fifty years ago
when I heard one of the last of them.
Walking along a street in Manhattan
I saw a sign.
It was Bunk Johnson,
at the Savoy.
(Even aficionados didn’t know he was still alive.)
I went that night
and remember still
a cavernous, summer-warm hall
and that sweet trumpet
from out of time.


February 5-12, 2012

The Theater Is Closed

I mourn the Yiddish theater,
already in decline
before I,
California born,
was even aware it existed.
I learned of it
when we moved to New York
and I went with my mother
to the Lower East Side
for pastrami, corned beef, lox
and other deli delights.
I’d see the marquee signs for plays
(with Jacob Adler, Boris Tomashevsky, Molly Picon)
alien to me as Chinese opera,
I who know little Yiddish,
a smattering of words and phrases
pungent but quaint.

I mourn that stewpot of emotions
simmering off stage as on,
those old world theater people,
with their soap opera lives,
aspiring to higher art,
the audiences with their old-country minds
devoted to simpler fare,
seeing their unmoored lives reflected
in the shimmering pool of stage,
all those for whom that theater
was real as life.


January 29 – February 5, 2012

Confession

I’m a serial poet.
Many times I’ve committed poetry,
taken an image, a feeling, a thought, a phrase
and manhandled it into a poem.
I plead in mitigation
that it’s a crime of passion.
Or is it temporary insanity?


January 22-29, 2012

Snow Days

I used to root for snow
wanting more and more to fall,
inchoate memories of sledding
swirling in my head
like snow in one of those old glass globes,
but now in my ninth decade
I grimace when snow begins
and the memories that form
are of shoveling, slipping and slush.
Yet along with those are memories
of days when school was closed
or I had a day off from work,
and I don’t know whether to grimace or grin.


January 15-22, 2012

Poetry in the Suburbs

Sure, there’s poetry in the country
with its fields and woods
and hills and waters
and welcoming sky,
and in the city
with its multitudes
its landmarks
its storied neighborhoods.
But in the suburbs,
among the frantic highways,
strip malls,
office parks,
overly neat subdivisions
and other conformities?

It’s there.
You just have to catch it
out of the corner of your eye.


January 8-15, 2012

The Hunger Artist

Often when I get up in the morning
the light on the valley we see from our window
or on the hills beyond
or in the sky
is doing something interesting
and I feel compelled
to write a poem about it
before sitting down to breakfast.


January 1-8, 2012

Nothing New

Tonight a year ends.
Some will see it out tooting and hollering.
Not us.
My wife’s already in bed
and I’ll join her soon.
Were it not for this poem
I’d be in my armchair reading
my eyelids succumbing to gravity,
and my head may yet be on its pillow
before the clamorous hour.

Why all the fuss?
The planet goes round its star
and after a certain time
passes the point
where it’s arbitrarily said
to have started,
whereupon, all over Earth,
waves of humans bellow
and hug their fellows,
as if this carousel
hadn’t gone around
a few billion times before.


December 25, 2011 – January 1, 2012

Goldfinches in the Snow

Though dawn has come and gone
you might think the sun hadn’t risen,
the snow so heavy
you can’t see houses down the block,
but two goldfinches are at the feeder
shrugging off the flakes.
These birds, so yellow in summer,
now seem out of place
for though they wear drab winter coats,
I think of them as the color of sunshine
and am always surprised to see them
these gray and frigid days.


December 18-25, 2011

Solstice

The sky is clear this morning,
that light, early morning blue,
a few feathery clouds
like sandbars in a shallow sea.
It reminds me of that Eakins painting
of a single scull on the Schuylkill
under a sky like this
nearly a century and a half ago.

I note where the sun rises,
near its southernmost point,
south of that tall Douglas fir
someone brought
from the far edge of the continent
about the time I was born,
rising over those old mountains
just south of here
as it has
for two hundred million years.
I ask myself
how many more years I’ll have
to watch it rise.


December 11-18, 2011

Lost in Space

We cannot see the Milky Way
that disk of countless stars
one of which is ours.
We are electrified.
We have cities that shine in the night.
Our messages move fast as light.
We can travel as far in an hour
as our ancestors could in days.
We have countless libraries with more books
than that once matchless one at Alexandria.
We know what matter is made of
and many of the secrets of life.
But we cannot see the Milky Way.


December 4-11, 2011

Nightscapes

       I

I was struck by the night
and saw stars.
The immensity of space
hit me between the eyes.
It was soft as velvet
but there was so much of it
my senses reeled,
standing here
on this small planet,
less than a speck of dust
in our universe.


       II

along the empty road
alone in night’s expanse
suspended
in a cloud of stars


November 27 – December 4, 2011

Madagascar

The languorous lemur lolls in its leafy bower
under the moon’s silver dollar.
Wide eyed it sees into the night
where moon-shadowed under the foliage lies
darker than dark
the wet rot of the jungle floor,
where predators pad and prowl
in darkness but not invisible
to the lemur’s Keane eyes.


November 20-27, 2011

That’s Amore

The moon can be seen
from our front window
rising this very moment
from the hilltops across the valley.
We see it so only this time of year
when the leaves are gone
and our satellite
is in the right quarter.
It’s full tonight
a perfect disk
for our delectation,
yellow, as it is
when low in the sky,
looking, it’s true,
like a big cheese,
one of those wheels
I used to see on display
in Italian delicatessens.


November 13-20, 2011

Signs of the Season

The geese are back on Paradise Pond,
an armada of them
floating peacefully in a warm November sun
which, low in the sky,
though it’s only mid-afteroon,
dazzles the ruffled water.
Dry leaves drift
across my field of vision.
I don’t need a calendar
to tell me Fall has come.


November 6-13, 2011

Jane Austen at Fort Dix

I heard a broadcast some time ago
commemorating Fats Waller
whose centenary it was.
They played Ain’t Misbehavin”
and it took me back almost sixty years
to when I was a draftee at Fort Dix
and spent my Sundays at the enlisted men’s club.
Though I’m not a clubbable type
it was the best place to escape from the barracks
where there was the risk of being called upon for extra duty.
I was working my way at the time
through the complete works of Jane Austen
(which I kept well concealed the rest of the week)
and secluded myself in a balcony
reading those works so far from the military mind
while a fellow refugee played piano downstairs
and sang in a clear Irish tenor.
Ain’t Misbehavin was one of the songs he sang.
Fats Waller, Jane Austen and an army base.
Now those Sabbaths in that club,
deep in that place I’d have shunned if I’d had a choice,
sing amongst my memories.


October 30 – November 6. 2011

Unseasonable

It was dusk all day today
the temperature not much above freezing
and a little after two in the afternoon
snowflakes started to float down past the window.
Soon there were herds of them,
stampeding.
It seemed more like Thanksgiving than late October.
Then I took a nap
and when I awoke
there were three inches,
nine to twelve predicted.
It looks like a Bing Crosby Christmas.
I must be dreaming.


October 23-30, 2011

Pictures of Yesteryear

Looking for an old photo
I came across another
from almost sixty years ago.
It was rolled up in a mailing tube
addressed to my mother
in the handwriting of my youth
and labeled prominently
Reception Station
Company C 14.7
Fort Dix, N.J.
September 15, 1954.

I’m at the far left of the back row
cap raked low over eyes
looking about fifteen,
though I’d already finished graduate school,
and I think to myself
if my children looked at this photo
it would seem to them
like ones from early in the century did to me,
alluding to wars known only from books,
while in my mind
the years elapsed
seem hardly more than months
and those days like recent history.


October 16-23, 2011

Bivouac Weather

It was cold this morning
with wind driven rain
and when I went out for the paper
my mind was swept back 56 years
to when I was a young draftee
in basic training.
We bivouacked for a week
in weather like this
sweating under ponchos all day
while the rain drummed with its fingers
on our helmets,
sleeping two to a pup tent at night
in flimsy government issue sleeping bags,
awakened after a few hours by the cold.
Some nights it was cold enough to snow
but it was worse when it rained
for if you brushed the tent in your sleep
rain seeped through where you’d touched it
smearing your sleeping bag with water
dripping on your face and neck.
But this morning
as I padded back to the house with the paper
I felt like I was 23.


October 9-16, 2011

Hydrangeas

Our house is crowded with hydrangeas
parlor, kitchen, dining room,
some a profusion of blue
others green wannabes,
rescued by my wife
from the late season chill,
so with these we must make do
until summer comes again
and the hydrangeas.


October 2-9, 2011

Autumn Rain

a chill whisper
sifting assiduously
onto roofs and trees,
gathering the cold sap of its veins,
shafting bright spheres
at the pavement

on into the afternoon
its voice rising
with rhythmless momentum


September 25 – October 2, 2011

Sunday on the Bike Path

A runner passes
bobbing like the needle
on a slow moving sewing machine,
flickering in the sunlight
that falls through the trees,
as if dematerializing,
diminishing
diminishing
till he's not much larger
than an exclamation point.

I stop to talk to a dog.
Her name is Sadie
her owner advises.
Friendly name for a dog, I say.
I stop for a fuzzy cat.
It looks severe
but, very uncatlike,
comes right up to me.
Charlotte the name on its cat tag says.
Clearly a feline of lineage.

Bicyclists pass,
some properly uniformed
in Star Trek helmets and spandex,
some violating the dress code shamelessly,
families with kids on small bikes,
littler ones in child seats and trailers
like passengers in limousines,
guys with babes
deeply décolletéd,
some with mates more sedate.

I walk, don't ride.
My wife took my bike away
for my eightieth birthday.
You're too old to bike, she said,
I don't want to have to take care of you
if you fall and break something.
Bye bye bike
after all these years
my biking days finis.
Got no ticket to ride
but I don't care.
The bike path's still there
and I can ambulate,
as my stepfather,
born in 1895,
was fond of saying,
on shank's mare.


September 18-25, 2011

Deconstructing the Eon

I received an e-mail message this morning reading
“Please not eon your calendar.”
I’m sure this has some semiotic significance.
It came from a poetry group
and eons aren’t things to be treated lightly
but I’m not sure what it means.
It’s clearly asking for some sort of nullification,
but how does one nullify an eon?
Is it asking us to shorten our calendars?
I don’t know of any that cover that span of time.
Is an eon what it’s really talking about
or is that a symbol for something else?
Does it mean the end is near,
a message of apocalypticism?
Merely saying it exhausts me.
The author must know something I don’t.


September 11-18, 2011

The Hospital Poem

My muse sidled up to me
as I lay in my hospital bed
and tapped me on the arm.
Write a poem about being in the hospital, she said.
It’s hard to write lying on your back, I said.
Besides, what’s to write about?
You can write a poem about anything, she said.
Hospitals are the antithesis of poetry, I said,
you’re wheeled about
poked and prodded
cut open and sewn up
stuffed full of things
like a culinary concoction,
and you’re always on your back
looking at the ceiling
or others’ heads and shoulders
as if you inhabited an upside down universe
while everyone around you
is privileged to live upright,
and what with the noise
you couldn't sleep
even if they didn’t wake you
five times in the night,
and the food tastes like it's been through the laundry.
No wonder the wards are filled with moaning.
And all those bodies being jockeyed around on gurneys,
like some kind of carcass race,
crowds of visitors coming and going—
you’d think they’d come to see a show—
attendants bustling
as if their exertions
kept the world turning,
and the strange words that fill the air
osises and itises and otomies and ectomies
like the buzzing of insects.
How is one to make any sense of it?
There you go, she said.


September 4-11, 2011

Old Men

Old men don’t care what they wear.
They dress for ease and comfort
or with whatever comes readily to hand.
Today I wore tennis shoes
to a restaurant named Demarchelier.
The head waiter looked down his nose.
at which point he might have spied dark sox
if I hadn’t happened to have opened the drawer
with white ones.
I’d wear ties that are too wide or narrow
if I bothered to wear ties,
my suits were fashionable a generation back.
and the style of my glass frames
is almost as out of date.
I often stay in my pajamas all day,
I may wear a T-shirt to the pearly gates
and hope St. Peter isn’t persnickety
and if he is
I know a less uptight place.


August 14-21, 2011

August

After a hot July it’s August
when the curtain of summer sometimes lifts
and we get a faint glimpse of fall.
I no longer sweat on my morning walk,
the sun warming instead of burning,
and the house feels fresh
with the windows open all day.

They call these the dog days
which sounds like a time when you’re feeling low.
But no, it’s because the heat of this season
was ascribed by the ancients to Sirius,
the dog star,
brightest in our sky,
which rose with the sun
this time of year.

Now the nights are cool and clear
and a chorus of stars
sings the fine weather.


August 7-14, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Fever

There were nine yellow swallowtails on the butterfly bush
when I glanced out the window this afternoon.
It looked like the bush was dancing
but then I saw it was butterflies
flitting from flower to flower
their wings winking semaphore.
Stoned on nectar, I suppose,
like revelers at a rave.


July 31 – August 7, 2011

Tigers

There are tigers in our garden.
Not just a tiger.
They abound
among the shrubs and flowers.
They come in groups of two and three and more
their yellow and black stripes
mingling with the blues and whites
of the echinacea and buddleia.
But these tigers have forked tails.
No, they’re not demons.
They’re butterflies.
And those Latin names
that might belong to some exorcism rite?
Coneflowers and butterfly bushes
as they’re known hereabouts.


July 24-31, 2011

Ossuary

Rubbing my arthritic hands I notice
the skeleton inside.
It’s as if the flesh were retracting
revealing bone,
but more likely
I’ve merely become conscious,
as befits my age,
of being a soft receptacle
that soon will biodegrade.


July 17-24, 2011

The Way We Were

We were at a party the other night
and our gray-haired hostess was telling us
how she’d moved to town.
“I was pregnant at the time,” she said,
and it occurred to me
that one seldom thinks of the elderly
as ever having had sex.
It’s as if their children were immaculately conceived.
But what we are today
isn’t what we were once upon a time
and she who now seems a paragon of propriety
might in her youth have been
disconcertingly passionate.


July 10-17, 2011

It’s Hard to Believe We Were Ever So Young

Looking through old photos.
Cousin Sue and I in Chicago
in front of one of those courtyard buildings
recognizably of the place and time.
I must have been four,
Sue eleven.
She’s now eighty-six.

Myself, sixteen, with my Uncle Sam
and cousin Siggie
on that fishing trip
to the remote Canadian lakes
where the rivers drain into Hudson’s Bay,
Uncle Sam and Siggie
now both deceased.

My sister with her firstborn
on the hill behind our family farm
wearing her father’s World War I campaign hat
with a pheasant feather stuck in the band
her son toddling beside her.
He’s now forty-five.

Myself with long brown hair,
sideburns, moustache and granny glasses
cradling my infant daughter in one arm.
She’s now thirty-nine.


July 3-10, 2011

Life Is a Merry-go-round

I remember when I used to take you to a merry-go-round
a phantasmagoria of horses and other beasts.
I didn’t ride with you—it gave me motion sickness—
so I used to bring something to read
as you went around and around and up and down again and again
with that obstinacy only a child can achieve.

Now you’re long past the age of merry-go-rounds
but I still see you going up and down on pumping steeds.


Beginning of July

Not Independence Day yet
but already
fireworks punctuate the night.
It’s warm enough
to walk around in shirtsleeves
yet cool
the air like silk
against the skin.

On our hill above the town
we hear the firecrackers
ceaselessly popping
under the big black tent
of the sky.


June 26 – July 3, 2011

Learning to Ride a Bike

We’ve all learned to ride a bike,
or most of us,
usually with our father
running alongside,
as the one who art in heaven,
steadying us with one hand
but finally letting go
as we wobble away
exhilarated but uncertain.


June 19-26, 2011

Watercolor

Descending the Adirondacks,
winding our way among the mountains,
we come upon the Hudson,
not the great waterway
that flows between Manhattan and the palisades,
but wide enough to be called a river
yet shallow enough,
white brows of water cresting the rocks,
for fly fishermen in waders
to complete the Winslow Homer scene.


June 12-19, 2011

When the World Was New and Smiled

After a stretch of July in May
today, this first week of June,
the weather’s making amends.
This morning’s as fresh as that brook in the woods
I explored when I was a child
with its rustling water,
still chill from cool nights,
and its newly minted tadpoles,
fresh as the trillium’s starry carpet
and the strawberries growing wild,
fresh as the memory of those days
when the world was new and smiled.


June 5-12, 2011

The Not so Discreet Charm of Squirrels

I used to have violent fantasies about you
when we had a bird feeder
but now we live in a place
where bird feeders are forbidden
and your kind abound.
It’s all the acorns, I suppose.
(Do squirrels dream of oak forests
on long winter nights?)

Now I find you charming,
your diminutive ears and snouts,
seemingly all pupil eyes
and sumptuous tails,
with their manic twitching,
your supercharged loops across lawns,
the way you chase each other
and scuttle about
like animated fur hats,
the way you stick your head
around the boles of trees
to peer at me
after you’ve scrambled up
to put a safe distance between us.

A bit of birdseed, I think,
isn’t too high a price to pay
for your entertaining ways.


May 29 – June 5, 2011

The Broken Guitar

There was a photo in the book review
of First World War dead,
Italians in a defile
killed by Austrians the caption said.
Italians? Austrians?
They haven’t made war on each other
for nearly a century.
Yet there the Italians lie
all in a row
as if asleep in a dormitory
except that their bodies are strangely twisted
and too dirty for sleeping men,
as if mud had flowed through that defile
trying to bury these mothers’ sons,
and on the ground
next to one of them
a muddy guitar
its head broken off.


May 22-29, 2011

Sound Effects

I’m learning the language of birds
to conjugate their verbs
decline their nouns
as one learns a foreign tongue for the opera.

Yesterday I listened
as an oriole’s aria
came right through our windowpanes.
Later a mockingbird made it a duet.

Today despite rain I hear
songsters everywhere.
I thought the downpour would quench their ardor.
But no. It seems to make them all the more boisterous.
I open the door
and a chorus rushes in.


May 15-22, 2011

Lamb White Days

It was fine today,
this fifteenth of May,
flocks of fleecy clouds
grazing in cornflower fields
watered by yesterday’s rain.


May 8-15, 2011

Lambing Time

In England once in the spring
riding through the countryside
after dark I would see
lamps aglow near barns
signaling farmers’ nightlong labors
at the birthing of the lambs.
I’d hear the bleating of the newborn
and see them still wet and unsteady.
But in the morning, riding by again,
I’d find the new arrivals
firm on their feet as matrons,
though suckling,
and sometimes gamboling, tentatively.


May 1-8, 2011

Big Bang

The magnolia tree outside our window
explodes with blossoms
half the size of dinner plates.
Walking into the living room
you’re accosted by a throng of them
crowding the window frame
with pearly pink and white
so dense they hide the tree.
You look out the window and, POW!,
those blossoms are in your face
shouting
Look at me!
Look at me!


April 24 – May 1, 2011

Still Delighting in Spring

Eighty times
I’ve witnessed the coming of spring
crocuses, daffodils, jonquils,
hyacinth, narcissus
poking miraculously
out of bare ground,
leaf buds emerging
even more miraculously
from twigs,
stippling woods and neighborhoods
with their fair green,
pointillist pigment of forsythia
dappling yards,
all the signs
that there’s life
in the winter barren matrix
of earth and wood,
and in this old body of mine.


April 17-24, 2011

It’s in the Air

Warm spring day.
Students from the college
out in numbers
on the green again grass
of the small park near town center,
some sitting, most lying, on the sward,
some in small groups
a few alone
but most in pairs,
and pheromones fill the air.


April 10-17, 2011

April Is the Cruelest Month

It looks like the last day
for the snow pile at the end of our driveway.
Once a veritable glacier
it’s down to the size of a few rags
and the temperature’s supposed to hit 60 today.
The whitest white at creation,
it’s been dirt encrusted for weeks.
Still I’m sad to see it go,
that once proud pile of snow
reduced to a wet spot on the pavement,
crying, as its last crystal liquefies,
Oh, what a world!
What a world!*

*Following in the footsteps of the author of this poem’s title, a footnote for those who don’t remember their Wizard of Oz: the last two lines of this poem were the last words of the Wicked Witch of the West, dissolving after Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her.


April 3-10, 2011

Hello, Is Polly There Please?

The phone rings a few minutes after nine.
A young woman’s voice,
a lovely voice,
could be that of a radio announcer,
a TV anchor,
contralto
forceful
self-confident
perfectly modulated
as if she’d been rehearsing this moment for weeks,
training for it for a lifetime,
practicing to get the voice just right
for this call
to a wrong number.


March 27 – April 3, 2011

Aliens

So I complete my eightieth year.
I’ve joined the nation of the aged.
For most of my years
I couldn’t imagine being old.
Those who were seemed to me
like creatures from another planet,
old throughout their lives.
But now it’s the young who are alien
and I look on them with wonder
at the time warp in which they exist.


March 20-27, 2011

Arrivals and Departures

Looking in an old file I find
a copy of my birth certificate
and notice that its says
“Born Alive, 4:27 PM”
and that moment comes to life:
afternoon light,
a hospital room,
my mother
in the full force of youth
(the certificate says “Age at last birthday 22”),
myself
kicking as infants do,
face still puffy from long immersion
still red from being squeezed into this world.
Will leaving be any easier?


March 13-20, 2011

Putting Drops in My Wife’s Ears

I bend over
those delicate appendages
and her warm woman’s body
curled up on our bed
in nightgown, robe and winter socks.


March 6-13, 2011

The Taste of Summer

Blueberries or raspberries
fresh from the bush
some for the bucket
some for the mouth.
I remember picking berries
with my mother and sister and brother,
my mother gone over six decades now,
that summer we spent at my aunt’s farm
when I was fifteen.
I can taste it even this winter day
as I breakfast on blueberries,
brought from another continent,
and I remember my mother
her voice, her dark hair, her fair face
on that berry laden hill.


February 27 – March 6, 2011

Snow White

Another snow last night.
I wouldn’t be surprised
if the number were in double digits.
Another day for lumbering around in boots
shoveling out the car
navigating slush and snow piles.
I’m running out of new ways to describe it.

It’s beautiful, for now,
coating roofs
clinging to trees
covering all
with clean whiteness.
Yes, beautiful,
but so was the evil stepmother.


February 20-27, 2011

Bedtime at the Bakery

“Good night honeybun” says my wife.
“Good night sweetiepie” say I.
“Sleep well” she says.
“You too” I reply.
So say honeybun and sweetiepie.


February 13-20, 2011

Einstein in Love

“Einstein Confused in Love”
was the article’s title.
It’s hard to imagine
Einstein in love
not to speak of making love.
So with many a venerable figure,
Luther, Bach, Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher.
But that which to us seems inconceivable,
they had no trouble conceiving.


February 6-13, 2011

Snowmania

When I was young
I hoped for snow,
the more the better
for sledding and snowmen and snow angels
(snowball fights I could do without),
days off from school
and later from work,
and just the thrill
of seeing the world blanketed in white.
I continued to feel that way
even after I had cars and walks and driveways
to be dug out,
but now I’m of an age
where it’s hard for me to shovel
or maneuver a snow blowing machine,
I’m uneasy driving on snowbound streets,
and, as I no longer have work to go to,
everyday’s a snow day, so to speak.
Still, when we had a big snowfall last week
I found myself perversely hoping
for it to rise to ever greater heights.


January 30 – February 6, 2011

Your Grandfather’s War

Nearly a century ago
your grandfather fought in “the great war”.
He was in a famous battle in France
wounded by shrapnel and mustard gassed
may have shot at the enemy and been shot at—
I never asked—
may even have fought hand to hand
where you can see the grime on your enemy’s face
and the fear in his eyes
over the frantic thrust and parry of your bayonet
and his
and feel the frenzy of your own fear.

Now that war is history
so remote you can read of it
innocent of the feelings
of those who faced each other
in an effort to kill and survive.


January 23-30, 2011

Snowmen

I haven’t made a snowman since my children were young
and before that when I was a child
but my hands remember those cold spheres of snow
and my body how they got harder to roll
as they grew bigger,
and I remember foraging in the cold
for sticks and stones
for arms and nose and eyes.
I never bothered to go to my mother’s kitchen
for a carrot nose—
I would have had to take off my boots
and maybe my snowsuit as well—
but I think I used coal for the eyes
back in those days when
we still had a bin in the basement.
And I recall all those stories
of snowmen coming to life.
I may have staged a few myself
in the theater of my mind.
Why this fascination
with men whose temperature is that of ice
and who when warmed
turn to water?


January 26-23, 2011

Freshman Goddess

There was a girl I admired
in my freshman year in high school.
Her name was Jill,
a name I’ve found piquant ever since.
I sat right behind her in one of my classes.
Was it Latin or algebra?
I don’t remember.
The subject is lost
in the vision of her honey blond hair
inches in front of me, all semester.
It was straight and glossy and cut in a pageboy
and I imagined I could smell its clean fragrance.
But I, still shorter than many of the girls
and looking like a grade schooler,
though sitting so near,
was fated to admire her from afar.


January 9-16, 2011

High School

High school wasn’t a high for me.
I was one of those
to whom it brought home
the ruthless stratification
to which this primate is prone.
No longer safe in the unjudgmental bosom of my family,
no longer sheltered by a mother’s reassurances,
in the grip of pubescent hierarchies
as harsh as those of chimpanzees
I began to judge myself
and was one of those who found themselves wanting.


January 2-9, 2011

Functional Family

I belonged to a functional family, alas,
not a good preparation for the literary life,
and was never very neurotic.
If I’d been institutionalized
they could have mistaken me for one of the staff.
So I guess memoirs are out for me
and confessional poetry.
I’ll have to write about the happy life,
but will the poetry panjandrums be interested?


December 26, 2010 – January 2, 2011

Family Secrets

‘Tis the season of family gatherings.
The young and the old
the quick and the slow
the cheerful and the gloomy
the reasonable and the difficult,
we gather together
eagerly, or out of a sense of duty,
to devour large birds,
stuffings and pies.
We argue
we laugh
we look like a Saturday Evening Post cover,
but you seldom see what’s inside.


December 19-26, 2010

Homage to Omar Khayyam

Just before dawn
a crescent moon and Jupiter
still shine
in the boundless clarity
of a December sky
like a flag unfurled
over the ramparts
of morning.


December 12-19, 2010

Ducks on Ice

Ice on Paradise Pond this morning.
First time this season.
Ice in Paradise?
Sounds more like Dante’s Hell.
Yet ducks repose
blithely on the frozen surface
displaying no fear
they might be there
for eternity.


December 5-12, 2010

A Boy’s War

I was seven
when it began,
Anschluss, then Munich—
Kristallnacht slipped by
wholly unnoticed by me—
and within a year
blitzkrieg was loosed on Europe.
Then Dunkirk and the fall of France.
I heard the news on the radio,
but it didn’t seem so momentous.
It was part of life as I knew it,
along with boyhood fantasies
like the warplanes I drew
and learned to recognize
daydreaming of one day playing the hero
by recognizing an enemy.
If it hadn’t been for my parent's hushed tones
even Pearl Harbor might have seemed
like some extravagant sports event,
for in my boyish mind
death was unreal,
and war a game.


November 28 – December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

The campus is almost deserted
save for crowds of southbound geese
rest stopping on the pond,
the sun is a smudge on the cloud covered sky
and I feel the cold air on my cheeks.


November 21-28, 2010

Bling Bling

Words colonize our vocabulary.
Some of the intellectual kind.
Parameter and paradigm spring to mind,
surviving in some corner of my consciousness
like soldiers hiding in caves.
Existential is still fighting the good fight
though Weltanshauung
has seen its time.
Then there are the popular ones
such as “whatever”.
Recently bling bling has arrived.
I saw it in a poem the other day
and someone used it three times
in a meeting I attended last night.
It’s become a sort of linguistic…
bling bling.


November 14-21, 2010

Toward Tastier Language

The Captcha for a message
on a Times article I just forwarded
was “language pancakes”,
an interesting idea I think.
You can’t grab ahold
of a word or sentence
but pancakes are palpable,
edible, better yet.
You can eat your words, of course,
but they’ll do little to please your palate,
while pancakes
served up with butter
and maple syrup,
and maybe blueberries,
that’s something else.
If newspapers were written in pancakes
instead of journalese
they might not be in so much financial trouble.


November 7-14, 2010

Autumn Riff

crews on the river
geese overhead,
shells’ glide fractioned
by oars’ measured strokes,
wings beating their muffled rhythms
against a fanfare of fall foliage
and the pulsating blue
of a November sky


October 31 – November 7, 2010

The Coming Cold

It’s still October
but already the nights seem longer than the days.
I suppose that’s because it’s dark now
when I get up in the morning
and when we sit down to dinner.
Looking out the window
into the darkness
it feels as if the cold to come
were lurking there
waiting for us
to turn out the lights.


October 24-31, 2010

Fall Day

Piebald patterns of sunlight and shadow
flow over valley and hills,
wind herding the clouds.
Some trees already naked,
others still clad in copper and gold,
wind rattling their leaves.


October 17-24, 2010

Skipping Stones

I remember skipping stones
as a boy,
looking for those round flat ones
you don’t find everywhere
and throwing them just so
index finger around the stone’s circumference
arm out to the side
tilting the body a bit
so the flat side of the stone hit the water
and bounced off
not just once but as many as four or five times,
part of the game being
to see how many bounces you could get
each smaller than the last
till the stone sank in the water
as a diminuendo
diminishes into silence,
or a memory dwindles
into the distance
of time.


October 10-17, 2010

Skipping

I saw a child skipping today
and thought to myself
how long it’s been since I skipped.
Since I was a child I suppose
before I was weighed down with gravity
and gravitas.
October 3-10, 2010
Hill Country, Autumn
Farm houses and barns nestled in coves,
small meadows in the hills’ folds,
a few cows,
too few to call them herds,
cornstalks in patches too small to call fields,
leaves like golden armies
in the sun.


September 26 – October 3, 2010

The Colors of Evening

In early evening
when the low lying sun
tints the clouds and treetops pensive yellow,
while the cloud tops are umber,
shaded from the sun,
and the sky’s blue is shadowed by its depths,
I think,
fine colors for a flag,
though for what kind of kingdom
I couldn’t say.


September 19-26, 2010

Ultimate Marathon

Tomorrow will be my 80th autumn equinox
yet I never tire of the change of season.
It doesn’t hurt that today is a perfect end to summer,
cool morning, warm afternoon, cloudless sky,
but I know I’ll feel the same when spring comes
whether the day be fine or foul.
And by then I’ll have completed my 80th lap around the sun.
I can already hear the crowd in the stadium cheering.


September 12-19, 2010

Grackles

      I

In the forge fire light of early morning
a grackle quarters our lawn,
spearing breakfast without breaking stride,
as if it were skewering sinners
on a field of Judgment Day.
Its black coat shines purple,
like a threadbare preacher’s suit,
its eye an ember yellow
like the fires of a nether place.


      II

Grackles, with their yellow eyes
and coats of purple sheen.
seem to reflect the infernal fires.
Crows, on the other hand,
for all their Hell’s Angel airs,
are shabby in their shiny black suits.
Grackles, I suspect,
are Beelzebub’s messengers,
crows merely his clerks.


      III

New Latin Gracula, genus name, from Latin graculus, jackdaw.
American Heritage Dictionary
Oh grackle, you seem a dyspeptic fellow
with your jaundiced eyes
and querulous cries
and coat of iridescent black
that looks like a well-worn undertaker’s frock.
You seem to wear a permanent scowl.
Are you a discontented fowl?
Now why should that be?
Perhaps you’re full of envy
because cousin crow is bigger.
Or could it be because men
hold you in such low regard,
go so far as to call you vermin!
But who are they,
clumsy creatures that can’t even fly,
to look down on one
whose name comes straight from Latin?


September 5-12, 2010

Cousins

The house finch so plain
the goldfinch so fetching
close cousins but
one is touched
with fairy dust
the other with just ordinary.


August 29 – September 5, 2010

Yo Titmouse

This evening I engaged a tufted titmouse in musical conversation.
That’s their usual form of communication, you know.
It’s as if opera were their natural medium
and what to us is normal discourse
to them is a remarkably insipid form of expression.
The titmouse sang peter, peter, peter, peter, peter
and I sang the same right back.
Several times we repeated this repartee
but unfortunately that was the limit of our conversation.
If I’d had the words I would have said to him
Oh lucky bird,
the bouncy alliteration of your name,
the panache of your crest!
Though we associate that sort of tuft with punk
on you it looks perky
and you don’t seem the least bit sullen or contrary.
In fact you seem simpatico.
I’d count you among my friends if I might.
That’s what I would’ve said if I could’ve
but all I could say was peter, peter, peter, peter, peter.


August 22-29, 2010

Bird Love

I love the roundness of certain wrens,
and the way they hold their tails erect,
the great blue heron’s elegance,
long legged birds perched in trees,
the green heron’s stubby gravity
and tunic of forest hues,
the titmouse’s big eyes and jaunty crest,
the cedar waxwing, so soigné,
the flamingo’s neck
for Wonderland croquet,
the blue jay’s drum major uniform,
the cardinal’s red cassock and ecclesiastical mien,
the downy woodpecker’s piano key plumage,
goldfinch yellow glimpsed among leaves,
the oh so indigo, indigo bunting,
the junco’s soothing gray,
the chickadee’s pluck,
the crow’s uncouthness,
robins at tug of war with worms,
woodpeckers jack-hammering trees,
cormorants hanging their wings out to dry
or paddling low in the water
like home boys in low riding cars,
the hummingbird’s powers of levitation,
the swallow’s aerial ballet,
the catbird in the catbird seat,
the oriole’s long, fine song,
the veery’s eerie, fugal notes,
the wood thrush’s haunting melody,
honking choruses of geese,
the peaceful fluting of the dove,
the eldritch hooting of the loon,
and these are just a few.


August 15-22, 2010

Walking the Seasons

It’s August now
and I walk in early morning
to avoid the heat
down to the pond
its surface dimpled with bubbles,
life fermenting beneath.
In winter I walk at midday
to eke out what heat I can
from the distant sun.
Spring and fall are best,
shaded by bowers of tender leaves
or the gold and scarlet trappings
of summer’s obsequies.
Each season I walk a different world.


August 8-15, 2010

Titicaca

the lake
astonishingly blue
in the mouth of nevados
poking like teeth
through the dry land
a creature in whose throat
one sees the cosmos


August 1- 8, 2010

In the Cordillera

We pass a herd of alpacas
their coats powdered with snow.
Then the land falls away.
No telling how far or deep it goes
but beyond is a high ridge
distant enough to be blue,
yet beyond that a mountain
its face all caked with snow
so large it looms
as if the moon
had come back
to the place from which it came.


July 25 - August 1, 2010

Once in the Andes

I came upon a village
high on the altiplano
barely below the perpetual snow
a place so cold
no crops grow there
and only the native fauna are able
to browse the moss-low grass,
withstand the ethereal chill.
There impassive alpacas graze,
and guanacos
shy of men
course over the high land
with stiff, swift strides.
So the villagers,
heirs of a once proud empire
(architects of the portal at Tiahuanaco
opening now only on the sky)
live with these creatures
in long kinship
weaving coarse cloth from their wool,
shaping footwear from their hides,
feeding of their flesh,
trekking for days
to trade their meat and cloth and leather
down past the snowy ramparts of the cordillera
down through the clouds.
On the village square
I heard them intone their ancient music,
the rasp of their flutes
like the wail of the Andean wind.


July 18-25, 2010

The Taste of Raspberries

I taste a raspberry and suddenly
I’m in a summer field
in a body smaller than this
amidst rolling hills
green with meadows and woods
under the sky’s blue banner.


July 11-18, 2010

Heat Wave

It's a wonder that the air
so light you can move through it
without noticing it’s there
can stand stone still for days,
leaving leaves unstirred
hour after hour.
A high pressure area
the weathermen say
holding the summer heat in
like an enormous bell jar.
Three AM,
still hot,
and you can see the humidity,
like aerosol spray
in the wan light of the streetlamps.
There’s no more freshness
in that air
than over a highway
in a traffic jam.
I flinch to think
that when day comes
it will be sunny.


July 4-11, 2010

The Usefulness of Genetic Alteration
                                           (Pace Ovid)

Genetically Altered Salmon Get Closer to the Table
                                  New York Times, June 26, 2010

With altered salmon
that played backgammon
we could draw up our chairs
and spend the afternoon gambling.

Converted cod
so close to God
would make fine fundamentalists.

Modified whales
with shells like snails
could finally stop those Japs from whaling.

Transformed trout
could learn to shout
so we’d know where to find them.

Improved bass
would have more class
hatched in white tie and tails

but snappers
would be
even more dapper
if they came in ruby-red dinner jackets.

Now I won’t harp
on clams or carp
for I think I’ve said enough
to demonstrate the usefulness of
genetic alteration.


June 27 – July 4, 2010

The First Day of Summer

The clouds are white impasto on the sky.
The brightness strains the eyes.
The heat is like July.
A family is having lunch
at a picnic table in the park.


June 20-27, 2010

Dunes

When I was a boy I often visited
the dunes along the Lake Michigan shore,
hills of sand taller than trees
half covered with tenacious grass and pines
but opening on the water side
like puddings
their insides spilling out in long sandy slopes
down which you could run and slide
with avalanche abandon
and come up clean,
nothing more than sand in your clothes
and laughter in your mind.


June 13-20, 2010

The Road

      I

The Road isn’t a way of getting somewhere
so much as of getting away,
an opening onto a world
free from order and obligation,
a realm of quests and wanderings,
a place where you find
that which you create,
or never imagined,
a trail leading nowhere,
yet anywhere,
and that’s the grace of it.


      II

We’re on the road again
wheeling down a strand
of that grand net that binds the continent,
free from the chainlink fence of everyday,
the ever-same landscape outside our window.
New landscapes greet us with open arms.
New towns approach
holding out new names
new configurations
new faces, if we stop to look
(though, passing, they may seem the same),
and histories hidden in books
lining the shelves of libraries we’ll never visit.
The climate changes subtly,
the flora too,
even the fauna invisible from the road,
and the town from which we came,
farther away each day,
becomes hazy with time and distance.


June 6-13, 2010

Doggerel

      I

Dog Pastimes

My dog is into weaving.
It’s the woof he likes.
He doesn’t know from warp
but he can woof all day.

      II

For Better or Verse

On behalf of the porcine kind
I protest the term doggerel.
Why shouldn’t it be called hoggerel?
I protest even more on behalf of all felines
this canine misappropriation
so typically unilateral.
What I really want to know
is why it isn’t called catterel.


May 30 – June 6, 2010

Go forth Young Graduates

I went to a graduation today,
heard the talk of achieving ideals,
saw the young graduates, lean and nimble,
and their parents thicker and slower,
no longer dancing the way they used to,
and clothed in compromise.
And I thought how the young smile, or sneer,
at the failings of middle age
not conceiving that they too will pass that way,
and of how we collude in their fantasy
needing it as much as they.


May 23 – 30, 2010

A Perfect Day for Bubble Chasing

Our neighbors’ granddaughter
is chasing bubbles in the yard
running barefoot over the grass
batting the bubbles
as her mother blows them
and squealing.
The weather couldn’t be better
neither too cool nor too warm,
a perfect day for bubble chasing.


May 16-23, 2010

Pemaquid Point

You feel the force of the ocean here,
the wind driven waves
pounding the water white,
fraying the land’s rocky edges,
even holding the season back,
the leaves still small and pale here,
now in this middle of May.
You feel the water’s weight and breadth,
filling the deep Atlantic basin,
stretching to far-away continents
under many-hued skies.


May 9-16, 2010

Christine Peck

There was a very short poem
I liked very much
in our college paper
sixty-two years ago.
I quote it here in full.
Eretz Yisrael
Spoils of war among the clover
Lies my tender, bawdy lover.
Between his thighs let there be grown
flowers that would crack a stone.
That was the time of the first Israeli war,
1948, about this time of year.
Reading the poem
I wondered admiringly
about this young woman
who eulogized her lover’s bawdiness,
not the sort of virtue one would memorialize
in synagogue or church.
Not long ago I sent for an alumni directory
and looked her up, without success.
I tried authors on barnesandnoble.com and amazon.
No better luck.
I wonder what has become of Christine Peck.
Did she go on to write more?
Did she find another tender, bawdy lover,
or many?
And what of the life she lived
and looks back on,
in her eighties now…
if still alive?
I wondered too how many remembered her poem
(Was I one of a handful?
Surely not alone.)
and how many who remembered it once
are alive to remember it still.


May 2-9, 2010

The Road by the Lake

The road by the lake
where I spent my childhood summers
was here again
when I stepped outside tonight,
a faint odor perhaps,
something in the feel of the air,
the lights beyond the trees…
It visits me from time to time,
a ghost of summers past.


April 25 – May 2, 2010

Scary Waters

We had a pond where I used to swim
when I was a boy.
No sand on its bottom
just muck.
I’d plunge into the pond
from the dam at its lower end
and climb out the same way
to avoid setting foot
on the murky bottom
where sharp objects might lie in wait
and slithy, even poisonous, creatures loiter.
Then there was the lake where I spent my summers
and sometimes swam the mile across,
danger in the mere distance,
and after the water deepened a bit,
carp big as a man’s thigh
hovering like sinister blimps over the sunlit bottom.
I only saw them when in a boat,
never when I swam,
though the thought lurked in my mind
that they might not be vegetarians after all
or that they might be tempted nonetheless
by the sight of a succulent youth.
Then, as the water deepened,
there was tentacled seaweed
its stems disappearing into shadow,
and after the water became too deep
for even the tallest weeds,
the dark depths
threatening to pull me down
to a bottom so far a body wouldn’t rise for days.
I tried not to think as I swam
what lay below.
And almost anywhere alligator gar
menacing as their name,
some longer than a boy.
Once my father caught half a bass
the other half bitten off by a garfish
while the twice unlucky catch was being reeled in.
Would the bigger ones attack a human?
I’d never heard of such a case
but could see the headline in the local paper
“Boy Attacked by Man-eating Gar.”
Yes, life has its scary waters,
and I’ve swum in some.


April 18-25, 2010

There’s Something About a Lake

the mysteries
beneath its surface,
its alien inhabitants
in their alien world;
its changing moods and dress,
vivacious blue,
tranquil green,
somber gray;
garments plain
or ornamented
with wind whipped lace
or sequins of sunlight;
calm as a monk in meditation,
contorted with stormy anger,
or performing its glad dance
under a sunny sky.
There’s something about a lake
that plays on our minds and hearts.


April 11-18, 2010

Li Po

The poet Li Po,
the story goes,
trying to embrace the moon
while inebriated,
fell into a lake and drowned.
If this is so
the water would have splintered
as he struck it
into a multitude of moons.
What more fitting apotheosis
for a poet?


April 4-11, 2010

Here Comes the Parade

The forsythia bloomed yesterday
yellow sprays everywhere
flying the flag of spring,
leafy regiments coming on behind
the birds piping them in.


March 28 – April 4, 2010

Truth or Poetry

Once we thought
all things consisted
of earth, air, fire and water
a lyrical notion, it seems to me.
Now we know they’re truly made
of bosons, leptons, quarks
and other products of pedantry,
which goes to show
that being right isn’t everything.


March 21-28, 2010

I Like a Woman with Wrinkles

being of wrinkled age myself.
It’s as if we were fellow immigrants
in the country of the young,
the fresh faced
and so often self-absorbed,
with their new enthusiasms
which they fancy
set the standards for all time.
No, give me a woman who knows
how fashions come and go
who’s earned her wrinkles
with toil and grief
with whom I can empathize,
and compare notes.


March 14-21, 2010

Miep Gies, Died January 11, 2010

This was the woman
who sheltered the Franks,
brought them food
on a bicycle loaded with bags,
brought high heeled shoes
for adolescent Anne,
kept Anne’s diary
after the family was taken away—
it was months before
she could bring herself to read it—
and every year
on the day the Franks were marched away
drew her curtains
and shut off her phone.
She lived a hundred years.
May she live for hundreds more
in the minds of men.


March 7-14, 2010

Inching up on the Equinox

It comes a couple of minutes closer
every day,
the fiery notches
in the ridge across the valley,
where the sun rises,
each one farther north,
the snow,
so long on the ground,
reduced to patches,
and the path where I walk by the river
soft again, ready for grass to sprout.
In a few weeks
the starkness of winter trees
will be laced with budding leaves
and the woods,
silent today,
will ring with the songs of birds.


February 28 – March 7, 2010

Built of Words

Let’s kiss and make up, we say,
putting our lips together
to mend a breach,
as if they were a bridge
between the islands we can be.
An embrace can serve as well
but words
are the most enduring of all,
bridge or wall.


February 21-28, 2010

Love and Death

Romeo and Juliet
had a great love
because it was so brief.
Had it lasted
they would have squabbled
about his leaving the toilet seat up
and why dinner was late
and who would do the dishes.


February 14-21, 2010

Married Life

You have a husband.
I have a wife.
We know what conjugal life is like,
the united front
the tug of war
the complementary anatomy.


February 7-14, 2010

Calendar

The progress of the seasons
is marked on my study wall
like pencil lines in a kitchen
charting a child’s growth.
Each morning
in this frigid February
the sun’s warm tide
washes farther into the room
illuminating another book
in the bookcase on the north wall,
slowly scanning the rows of volumes,
counting the days of my years.


January 31 – February 7, 2010

Here’s to You Mr. Robertson

Pat Robertson says the earthquake in Haiti
was God’s punishment,
for the Haitians, he says,
made a pact with the devil
to get their freedom from slavery.
And what of all the innocents killed?
Is God a terrorist
or was that just collateral damage?
And who has Pat Robertson made a pact with?


January 24-31, 2010

Earthquake, Port-au-Prince, 2010

If we could hear all the cries from Haiti
we’d clap our hands over our ears
our faces twisted in pain.
If we could hear all the cries
from around this world
on almost any day
we’d be pressed to the ground
as if by a raging hurricane,
but we’ve learned not to listen
or maybe never learned to hear.


January 17-24, 2010

The Intellectualization of Almost Everything

You can’t just enjoy wine anymore.
You have to be an oenophile.
We used to be content to like a tune
or a performer.
Now you have to be a connoisseur.
And, so it was with modern jazz
while classical music
became a theoretical construct,
the serial murder of melody.
Painting and sculpture,
conceptual recently,
were abstract before that.
You needed a Clement Greenberg to interpret it.
Then there were the architectural allusions
of postmodernism.
The novel wasn’t novel enough,
so we have Ulysses and the nouveau roman.
And poetry,
not least, poetry,
the double acrostic of the arts.
You may think you appreciate it on your own
but you can’t.
You need a college course.


January 10-17, 2010

The Inner Child

I know I’m a different person than I was
in my youth
but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.
It’s as if all my mistakes had happened yesterday
and could happen again tomorrow,
as if I were like a tree
growing by adding layers
with all previous versions nested inside.
Am I unusual in this?
I doubt it.
We think our faults unique
when actually they’re common as grass.
There’s been much talk in recent years
of the inner child
as if this were a part of us
that’s still spontaneous and pure,
when in fact it is, like the original,
full of needs and insecurities
and clamoring for gratification.


January 3-10, 2010

Lost in Space

We cannot see the Milky Way
that disk of countless stars
one of which is ours.
We are electrified.
We have cities that glow in the night.
Our messages move as fast as light.
We can travel as far in an hour
as our ancestors could in days.
We have countless libraries with more books
than that once matchless one at Alexandria.
We know what matter is made of
and many of the secrets of life.
But we cannot see the Milky Way.


December 27, 2009 – January 3, 2010

Cosmic Questions

Arcturus, Canopus, Alpha Centauri.
When I was a boy
looking up at the night sky
and an older cousin
gave me those names
I was glad to have them
and wondered
what it was like for the men,
bearded and strangely garbed,
who first named those stars
and spun theories about them,
and if beings like us
circled them
and gave them names and stories,
and whether the universe ended
and if it ended
what was outside
and how that could end,
or go on forever.
Sixty years on I still have few answers
and these are the least of things
of which I’m ignorant.


December 20-27, 2009

December Dawn

A dim glow of snow
on fields and houses
still in Earth’s shadow,
but overhead
clouds shine
like sandbars in a shallow sea.


December 13-20, 2009

Their Jungle Gym Is Overgrown with Vines

In the house
there’s a bedroom, I imagine,
or more than one perhaps,
preserved as a museum,
on the walls posters of decades past,
surfaces otherwise uncluttered
beds always neatly made,
and those who remain behind,
their hair gradually turning gray.


December 6-13, 2009

December 7, 2007

Scarcely a word in the media today
about the anniversary.
We’re too absorbed, I suppose,
in our latest war.
But I wonder if pearls are forming again
in that harbor of sunken ships.


November 29 – December 6, 2009

Giving Thanks, Conservatively

I am thankful that my health isn’t un- or underinsured
and that they can’t take my insurance away,
that I’m not unemployed, or underemployed,
that I don’t have to live on the minimum wage,
that my home isn’t being repossessed,
that I’ve never been homeless
or lived in a house with rats,
that I didn’t grow up in a ghetto or Appalachia,
that I didn’t have an absentee father
and that my mother wasn’t a high school dropout,
that I never went to a school
where reading scores were low
or went to bed hungry.
As for those who can’t say the same,
tthey should suck it up.


November 22-29, 2009

Carriage Horses

lined up at Central Park,
waiting with equine patience,
or melancholy,
heads hanging,
daydreaming perhaps
of racing across the steppes,
powering a chariot in the Hippodrome
or, splendidly caparisoned,
bearing the flower of knighthood
into the lists,
now waiting for tourists
at 59th and 6th.


November 15-22, 2009

November Afternoon

The scene’s in black and white
this November afternoon—
patches of dark cloud,
silhouettes of leafless trees,
galvanized gray sky—
save for a few gold streaks
squeezed from the hidden sun
and a faint spangling
of yellow and red,
the few remaining leaves.
An afternoon for crows.


November 8-15, 2009

What’s in a Name

I’ve never cared much for my name.
It’s always seemed prissy to me
suggestive of well scrubbed little boys
in brown velvet rompers with Eton collars
or short pants and glasses,
or middle aged men whose trousers are always
freshly cleaned and pressed.
The name echoes too my mother’s sharp “Richard!”
when I’d misbehaved
or wasn’t paying attention,
and its subtly pejorative ring,
in the mouths of other boys,
real boys not being called by their proper names.
(Hank or Jim, not Henry or James.)
Lord knows
there’ve been enough macho Richards,
the Lionhearted for obvious example,
or Wagner.
But somehow the name has become
associated with propriety.
Who was the model?
Was there any?
What sort of fate did parents suppose
they were spinning for their offspring
when they gave them this name?
In recent years I’ve taken to using Richard
as a distancing device,
a formal appellation
like the name on a business card.
I don’t like Dick much better.
Though it may have been suave in the twenties,
it’s always seemed hard edged to me
and, aside from its other connotations,
it was what my father was called,
for I suffered the additional indignity
of being a junior,
and my father was one
with whom I didn’t identify.
His was an easy case.
His parents, old world Jews,
wanted a new world name.
What could be more remote from the shtetl
than Richard?
As for Rick
that seemed to me like a name affected
by denizens of the society column,
the sort who play polo
with playboys named Raoul or Lance.
Maybe Dickie was the attraction,
a little boy one could willingly embrace.
My wife calls me Dickie,
as my Mother did in good times.


November 1-8, 2009

Rainy Evening Near the Hudson
    Homage to Childe Hassam

Rain runs black on the street
down to the river
through a fringe of trees.
On the far bank
lights glitter
on the gray of evening
twined in the branches and leaves,
and lamps send yellow streamers
up the pavement.


October 25 – November 1, 2009

The Beach in Autumn

I like the beach best in autumn
late October, say,
on an Indian Summer day
when the vacationers have gone
and most of the shops are closed
(still displaying summer clothes),
the sand untrampled,
the sun at midday nowhere near overhead,
so you’d know it was off-season
even if you’d lost track of time.
It’s being as close to alone as one can
in a place so often encumbered with crowds,
as if one had traveled back
to a time before people flocked to the shore
when coming from inland one would find
only the open sea
and gulls and sand.


October 18-25, 2009

If Husbands Did the Laundry

it wouldn’t be the same.
Our minds would be off somewhere
thinking of golf or game.
We’d put in too little soap
or too much,
get the timing or temperature wrong,
put shrinkables in the dryer
or make it too hot,
and after we took the clothes out
they’d stay a rumpled mess
never get folded
not to speak of ironed.
Whereas when a woman does the wash
we think of neat nests
of houses with built in vacuums
of even dirt floors swept.
So our wives should consider themselves lucky
that we don’t insist.


October 11-18, 2009

 Misogynistic Mutterings

Remember those pubescent girls
who screamed for Frankie or Elvis
hands pressed to cheeks
mouths agape with ecstasy?
It’s hard for me to imagine
what sort of carnal thrill
could have caused so much delirium
among maidens touched by no more
than the sight of a pompadoured youth
switching his hips in syncopation
or a skinny one
clutching a microphone,
as if it were a piece of anatomy.

Svelte virgins then
stout ladies now,
middle aged or blue haired,
coupled countless times,
with children of their own
or grandchildren
next in line to scream
for some aphrodisiac celebrity,
some brimming with disappointments
others quite content
some sadly disaffected
others romantics still
but all knowing now that life is,
if you’ll pardon the expression,
no bowl of cherries.


October 4-11, 2009

This Is My Church

Grand columns of oak and maple
rising to a leafy vault,
the sky for windows.
Sparrows, finches and squirrels
the congregation.
Preacher we need none,
for in the leaves and grass,
if you listen well,
you can hear the wind
whisper its sermons.


September 27 – October 4, 2009

Late September

There’s seasonable chill in the air
as I go out for the morning paper.
The grass casts long shadows
and glistens with dew.
Squirrels bound across the lawn
in joyful arcs
miming the exuberance I feel.


September 20-27, 2009

The River

We don’t often think
beside a small stream,
a brook we can straddle,
of the great river
in might become,
the ocean
into which it might empty,
flowing away clear
over its pebbled bed,
white flecked
down a perseverant slope,
over falls
through forests
gathering bulk and muscle
through farmlands
past towns
becoming broader
and darker,
past cities
that bridge and bind
yet cannot fully tame it,
then free
into the welcoming arms
of bay or estuary
and at last to the ocean,
like a son
come back from long wanderings.


September 13-20, 2009

To the Source

I’ve lived near the river’s end,
where its wide waters slide
into bay and ocean,
and watched ships ride the deep water.
Often I’ve dreamed
of tracing it to its source
past the farthest reach
of ocean vessels,
past stretches where the silken flow
is trimmed with frothy white
and you can see the mountains’ bones
beneath the water,
climbing, ever climbing
through field and forest
at last to the place
in a watery meadow perhaps
or hidden under trees
where the great river is born
issuing from the earth
in a stream so small
you could cup it in your hands.


September 6-13, 2009

Surrounded by the Universe

In these early morning hours
in this room
it begins
stretching outward
from the circle of lamplight on my desk
to the leaf-dappled streetlight across the way
to the moon’s chalky mirror
to the distant incandescence of the stars,
from the scratch of my pen
to the scrapings of insects in surrounding fields
to the faint but ceaseless aura of traffic sounds
through the intermittent silences of space
to the obliterating but unheard stellar roar,
and so to the dead-quiet edges of this universe
where starlight thins to blackness,
from the small circle of lamplight
on my desk.


August 30 – September 6, 2009

Listening to Ravel

Playing a recording
of Ravel piano works
as I do paperwork,
I only half listen,
but my mind is wafted by the music
like a sailboat in a shifting breeze,
as if the sky were summer blue
tufted with clouds,
and I were somewhere off the coast
of Normandy,
or inland perhaps
in a sparsely furnished room,
sunlight falling through arched glass doors.

 
August 23-30, 2009

Trees

their leaves suffused with sunlight
or layered in shadow,
inert in still air
or riffled by a breeze,
boughs rising in wind
like waves on a great green sea.
What better canopy
for a world?


August 16-23, 2009

Wind

The air that has lolled for days
on earth’s green cushion
bestirred itself today
stretched its long limbs
heaved an immense sigh
and launched itself over the town
jostling branch and blossom
spanning leagues
with each beat of its wings.


August 9-16, 2009

God

I came across a bug on our patio
waddling laboriously across the stones.
It’s wing casings were prettily candy striped.
A beetle I suppose.
It showed no sign of alarm at my presence
even as I leaned over for a closer look
engulfing it in shadow.
Oh innocent creature
unaware of human caprice.


August 2-9, 2009

Godzilla

As I mow our lawn
a cloud of midges
spews out in front of the mower,
a panic stricken crowd
fleeing a hundred-story monster.


July 26 – August 2, 2009

Six Feet

I remember aspiring anxiously,
to being six feet tall,
the height of “fine” young men.
“He’s six feet now.” I heard my elders say of others
masters of many accomplishments
to hear their parents tell it
but above all—above all, yes—over six feet.
That was the measure of a man
in those quaint days
(as the days of one’s youth are always quaint)
when the world was at its good war
and boys were going off
from Main Street,
and Park Avenue,
some to remain abroad forever
“six feet underground,”
as if that were deep enough
for a body to stand up
without breaching the surface,
and I, too young to go,
still strove to measure up,
5-7, 5-8, 5-9 and so on
until, hallelujah, six
then, glory be, an inch to spare,
an inch and more I’ve since lost
to the attrition of time.
But the pride still is mine
of having been taller than average,


July 19-26, 2009

The Competitor

When I played baseball
I always hoped
the ball wouldn't be hit my way.
I couldn’t catch it
and didn’t want to be under it
when it came down.
When I threw a football
the awkward spheroid wobbled
through its brief trajectory
without the slightest trace of spiral
and when I picked up a bat
it seemed that it and the ball
repelled each other
like opposite poles.
I was always last to be chosen for a team
and that was just as well with me—
nothing expected
nothing lost—
except that I cared
like any man-child.
So I learned to use books.
They were heavy and hard
and full of words
that hurt more than stones or sticks.


July 12-19, 2009

The Competitive Society

Why does everything have to be a competition?
Getting into kindergarten for a start.
Then no longer good enough
to just enjoy playing ball.
Have to be in Little League.
Not sufficient to please teacher or parent
with orthographic prowess.
Must compete in spelling bees.
And if a pretty child
you may be tarted up
and entered in a beauty contest.

Bird watchers vie
to amass the longest lifetime lists.
Yoga practitioners strain
to be the best contortionists.

Even poetry’s no longer just an individual art.
You can participate in slams
and be awarded points,
or not.
And serious poetry
has become a competition
to be the most arcane.
It’s a zero sum game.

Slackers, even, now compete
to see who can be the slackest.


July 5-12, 2009

Pictures Then and Now

Time was, unknown to most of today’s youth,
before the spread of suburbia and the multiplex,
when we went to the movies in palaces,
not like Versailles or Buckingham, to be sure,
but rather vast dark chambers
where shifting light beams played on mote-filled air,
like sunlight falling through clouds,
where we passed our Saturday afternoons and evenings,
immersed in adolescent murmurings,
entranced by motley patterns on a screen
or necking in a place called the balcony
like courtiers in some ornate nook
surprised there by Watteau.


June 28 - July 5, 2009

Third Story Poems

       I

Our new place is on the third floor
where the trees don’t so much hang over us
as rise like a tall hedge
fringing a sky
where dawn clouds today,
in several shades of gray,
seem to threaten or promise rain.

But then comes the sun
projecting its tawny, tree filtered light
onto the far wall
glowing through leaves as though stained glass
pouring lemon onto the ink wash sky.
And then the tricolor
of bluest blue
the pastel yellow of sunrise clouds
and the café au lait of shadows
cast by the clouds on themselves.

Outside our window
a squirrel scampers up a branch of a massive oak.



        II

We see the birds fly by at eye level
not just in the sky.
And we’re eyeball to eyeball
when they build their messy nests,
as we ours,
lay eggs and rear their young
in dwellings with no curtains
(as ours, until we get the shades we ordered)
up here where we,
both species,
look down on groundlings with condescension.


June 21-28, 2009

Dad

When I was small
and we’d leave some relative’s house
where we’d been visiting at night,
my father would carry me to the car
telling me about the stars
and I would ask
“What was there before the stars?”
Or he’d sing to me, and I’d say,
“Daddy, you sing like Bing Crosby.”
But that was before I was embarrassed
by his telling everybody
how much our belongings cost,
and before he began to tell me
“You don’t appreciate
how important money is.”
We were separated forever
by that tectonic drift,
for he died
before I was capable of seeing his needs
through the glare of my disapproval.


June 14-21, 2009

Silver Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair

as if some cunning craftsman
had spun metal
into silken thread.
It was chestnut brown when we met.
Her skin, all smooth then,
has begun to show fine webs
and is slack under her once firm chin.
But, when I look on her, I think
this is the girl I wed
and feel the need to kiss her cheek
or, if she’s bent over some task,
the nape of her neck
or, if she’s sitting with the hem of her dress
resting on her thighs,
to reach out and touch her knee.


June 7-14, 2009

Worms

A medieval monk
finding a bookworm in his Bible
opined
that the worm,
having eaten God’s word,
was none the wiser for it.
Are we?


May 31 - June 7, 2009

Petty Larceny
 
Squirrels, cunning felons, overcame
every obstacle I contrived
to keep them from our bird feeder.
I was possessed by proprietary rage
until one day I watched one
enjoy a generous serving of sunflower hearts,
as if they had been decorticated for his pleasure,
and afterwards lift a leg and scratch contentedly,
and I thought about what they were stealing,
birdseed,
and how like us they are in their larceny.


May 24-31, 2009

Squirrels

They bound across lawns in buoyant arcs
leap distances worthy of comic book heroes
flourish their tails like feathered boas
stand up on their hind legs human-like
posing their front paws charmingly,
overcome every obstacle
devised by man
to keep them from our bird feeders.
They’re winsome.
They’re perseverant.
They’re ingenious.
They’re thieving scoundrels.


May 17-24, 2009

A Rainy Day in May

Rainy and chill today
though the middle of May.
Not a salad day my wife says
looking in the fridge.
More like a beef stew day I say
gazing out the kitchen window
at the raindrop punctuated puddles
on the street.


May 10-17, 2009

Mother’s Day

Two young mothers at the pool
acquaint their progeny with aquatics
that they might be champions one day
or at least self-confident in the water.
The mothers converse,
babies attached to their hips
like accessories,
smiling much at each other
and their children even more.
After a while
they place their offspring
on the pool’s edge
carefully, as one might put a glass bowl
back on a gift shop shelf,
continuing to grasp them firmly
as they talk.
The babies
one a boy, one a girl,
but too young to appreciate the difference,
sit in the tile gutter
gurgling like the water,
absorbed in their half-formed worlds.


May 3-10, 2009

Dressed to Kill

Spring sports a chartreuse negligee
of new young leaves
bedecked with blossoms,
magnolia, cherry, forsythia, plum.
In the yard so dowdy most of the year
she parades her gaudy finery.
Oh spring is a flashy floozy.


April 26 - May 3, 2009

Awakenings

It’s not the end of April yet

but suddenly it’s summer warm.
New leaves lather trees
blossoms burst over field and yard
lawns are littered with petals and dandelions
squirrels chase one another
bees are abuzz
and my old loins stir with surprise.


April 19-26, 2009

Contact

A sparrow
vernal explorer
alights on my windowsill,
so close,
feathers quivering
head swiveling
vulnerable but alert.

I at my desk
engaged in weightier search,
alert
but vulnerable.


April 12-19, 2009

Betty Greer

The first girl I admired was Betty Greer.
That was in fifth grade.
Girls I’d known before
though subtly alien
seemed not all that different from boys.
It was only in fifth grade
that they became creatures apart.
I went to a bigger school
where the kids weren’t all from the neighborhood,
weren’t almost family,
and something inside me changed.
Girls became yearned-for-from-afar beings,
like angels.
I sold my three pet ducks
or rather asked our handyman to sell them for me
(probably for somebody’s dinner—
I didn’t ask)
to buy angora mittens for Betty Greer
for the Christmas of ’41
not realizing
that the world and its wars
had fated me to move on.


April 5-12, 2009

Joan

She was a grade ahead
and helped me with my homework
so we could play after school
as a result of which
I lagged in my learning
of multiplication tables.
We explored the woods
behind her house,
a brook with newts
and boggy ground
favored by jack-in-the-pulpits
and skunk cabbage,
talking of childish things.
On cold fall days
we would build a fire
and bake potatoes in the ashes
hovering near to stay warm.
When their outsides were charcoal
their insides still hard
we pulled them out
split them steaming in the cold air
and, too eager to wait for them to cool,
ate them gingerly
with a little salt.
We never reached the end of the woods.
It seemed so far,
though when I returned years later
it was just a stroll.

We used to make ourselves laugh
until the laughter became real.
Good buddies, in short,
though I was a boy
and she a girl.

One day a gang of us
were teasing another girl
and Joan, hands on hips
faced us down
with a stinging rebuke.

Not long after I moved away
We didn’t see each other again
until years later
when we were young adults
but she wasn’t good looking
and I was shallow enough to care.


March 29 – April 5, 2009

Mildred Munsees Spring

When I was a boy
a good many decades ago
a girl named Mildred Munsees
lived in our neighborhood,
very pale blond,
a real Rhine maiden type,
anti-Semitic too.
I remember her up in a tree
about this time of year
hissing and spitting
arguing that it was better to be born in winter than spring
(while I was trying to see her underpants),
for she was born March 19
while I was born the 23rd.
Today, the 24th, I took a walk in the park.
It was a balmy day,
the first in weeks,
and I thought of Mildred Munsees.


March 22-29, 2009

On the Verge

Though the trees are barren still,
nothing but naked winter wood,
and the fields are brown and bare,
it’s warm today
and soon,
as soon as tomorrow perhaps,
buds will emerge amazingly,
flowers will rise out of empty ground
as if from a conjurer’s hat,
bushes and trees will don lacy green
and the earth will deliver
new leaves of grass.


March 15-22, 2009

This Dove Is Not for Mourning

The mourning dove doesn’t sound mournful to me,
wistful maybe,
but contented rather than melancholy,
as if happy with the day
whether a chill March one like this
or a sultry one in August.
For me it sings of childhood summers
spent in the country idly,
of warm mornings
when fresh from bed
I could comfortably step outside shirtless,
of times when I could hear
the trees’ full rustle
and waves lapping the shore,
and see fish dimple the mirror of evening
and swallows swoop
over the languid water
streaked with gold.


March 8-15, 2009

Long Day’s Journey into Suppertime

Not much drama to my days.
Retired.
No longer warring in the way of the young
needing to prove themselves.
Beyond the hurdles of the mating game
tranquil in a marriage not in the least tempestuous.
Children grown.
Not worry free (if such exist in the parental mind)
but doing OK.
Little social life.
Never really cared for it.
Seldom go to the movies or even watch TV.
Bored?
Not a bit.
Attend to family business, meticulously,
in a way not possible in my busy years,
exercise diligently,
do the grocery shopping,
cook for myself and wife who works,
read, study even,
email of course,
spend most of my time in my armchair
or at my desk,
venturing forth when I feel the urge
seldom because I feel I must.
But then,
isn’t all drama really in the mind?


March 1-8, 2009

Father to the Man

I used to lope down stairs.
Now I plant one foot
cautiously after the other.
Sometimes I trip going up,
not stepping high enough.
My arms and legs grow thin.
My right eye no longer coordinates well with my left.
I used to spend a great deal of time
undressing in my mind
women I saw on the street.
Now I sometimes have to remind myself
of gender differences.
But when reminded
I still harbor fantasies much like those
I had when eighteen,
and my likes and dislikes,
not just in women,
are still much the same.
If I were to meet myself as I was then
I’d laugh in amazement
at how much I shared with this youth.


February 22 – March 1, 2009

The Quiet Life
Life is as quiet
as a Caribbean isle
where, always close to home,
I loll in the tropics of my leisure
in the palm groves of my mind
seldom rising from my virtual hammock
idly penning verse.


February 15-22, 2009

Knit One, Purl Some

My wife’s a knitter
her stitches smooth and even
neither too tight nor too loose.
Looking up from my book
I see her in the lamplight
her face tranquil
her hands doing their miniature dance.
What could be more wifely?


February 8-15, 2009

Snow Day

Her office is closed for snow
and I cancelled a dental appointment,
though I usually brave the elements,
for it’s good to be home together
in a blizzard of white confetti
celebrating this anniversary
of the day we met.


February 1-8, 2009

Self-Portrait with Cigarette

The summer I was eighteen
I took up smoking
thinking it would enhance my image.
It wasn’t the tough guy I had in mind,
not Humphrey Bogart
but some Sartre-like philosopher
wreathed in smoke,
like an oracle,
wielding the white wand elegantly
between long, slender fingers,
drawing the fumes deep into himself
as if they were charged with visions.
When I wasn’t in the Village
at some off-Broadway theater, art cinema
or jazz club
I paced the streets of Manhattan
perfecting my technique
suppressing the callow tendency to cough
learning to exhale through my nose
even blow smoke rings,
ironically of course.
In the end I was an accomplished smoker
but no more Delphic than before.


January 25 – February 1, 2009

Hanging Out at MOMA

I first visited an art museum
in my early teens
because it seemed the thing to do,
but I didn’t understand
what people saw in those walls full of pictures.
Then I had a hip young teacher
who was into modern art,
still somewhat new in those days,
and her pheromones blended in my brain,
with the art she advocated.
I became a champion of cubism and abstract art,
arguing heatedly with my parents
and other philistines,
and took to visiting MOMA
consorting with those angular dames
the Desmoiselles D’Avignon
or contemplating a painting
by one Pavel Tchelichew
of children in a tree
that looked like a photograph
of systems vascular and lymphatic,
or a nebulous galaxy.
I tried to read the meaning in it
as in everything I saw,
and the less revealed the more I read.
This, I imagine, is how art critics are bred.


January 18-25, 2009

My Age of Aquarius

I happened to look at a picture
that’s been hanging in our house for years
but seldom intrudes on my consciousness.
(A thing of beauty is a joy forever, the poet said,
but when you see it every day
it becomes like wallpaper, I’m afraid.)

The picture’s a drawing by my friend Lennie
of his wife Esther
pregnant and sitting on a bed, sewing.
It’s from some forty years ago.
We were in Ecuador,
I working for our government
and Lennie escaping, I suppose,
from the materialism of American life,
or maybe the draft.
In photos from that time
I’m wearing long sideburns
and granny glasses.

So Lennie and I were pals.
He introduced me to pot
(I wasn’t very precocious that way)
and I remember a moonlit night
we grooved on a chain link fence.
Esther was pregnant with Yamara,
a Quechua Indian name.
They later had a boy named Sparrow
who’d be in his thirties now.
I’ve often wondered
how he fared with his name.

I heard that Lennie and Esther had divorced,
but that was after I saw them last,
over a generation
and three Republican presidents ago.


January 11-18, 2009

The Girls of Summer

The lodge where we stayed last night
had iron in its water
like our house at the lake
where I spent my childhood summers
and as I was falling asleep,
one thing leading to another,
I thought of the Hutchinson girls
with their blond hair and bouncy curls.
seeing them in my mind’s eye
on the lawn
between their big house and the breakwater.
The youngest was in her early teens
and I a couple of years younger.
They were my American dream.

They’re probably grandmothers now,
if still among the living.


January 4-11, 2009

Snow Again

The sky is blue this morning
streaked with gold
but within the hour snow will come,
the weatherman says.
Somewhere, not far from here,
a continent of cloud is drawing near.
The blue will be drowned in gray
the gold transmuted into pewter
and the sky will begin to fall
in feathery fragments.


December 28, 2008 – January 4, 2009

Hand in Hand

They pulled up in their car
grey presences behind the windshield.
The old man got out.
He had a neatly trimmed beard
and wore an almost threadbare toggle coat.
A retired professor from the college perhaps,
and possibly handsome once
though his nose now grown too prominent
his cheeks too thin.
His wife, her face puckered with age,
also might have been pretty in her time.
I imagined them in their youth
taken with each other’s beauty,

though to each other
they may be beautiful still.

 

December 21-28, 2008

Feliz Navidad

I just read my wife an email to friends
who are spending Christmas in the Southwest.
My message closes with
Feliz Navidad.
My wife often stops me from singing catchy songs.
“Don’t sing it,” she’ll say,
“I don’t want it stuck in my head.”
But on this occasion
my normally sedate and serious spouse
embraces me at my desk
and sings the Spanglish carol
wriggling her hips against my shoulder
and I think
What if the world could see her now?


December 14-21, 2008

Holy Days

Sometime between Hanukah and Christmas
wet snow coats roofs and trees
like a confection by Martha Stewart,
and I think I hear Bing Crosby
crooning background music.


December 7-14, 2008

December 7, 1941

 For the young the war was far away,
something happening in Europe,
something vague.
School was more real,
our back yard,
Freddie Appleton’s house.
Then that day
it invaded our home,
the voices on the radio
somber, hushed, like voices at a funeral,
solemn, stentorian, outraged.
My father was on the phone
talking in urgent tones.
He was activated,
reporting for duty the next day,
and we would follow him,
exiled from Eden
through no sin of our own.


November 30 – December 7, 2008

 Insomnia

Awake at 3 AM,
the crescent moon,
sharp as a shark’s tooth,
wedged in the leafless trees.
The winter sky all clear and cold
and dark as ocean depths,
faintly menacing
as if predators lurked
in its inky transparency.


November 23-30, 2008

First Snow

Rain comes
painting a thousand mirrors
on the pavement,
a dense panorama
half formed
as in a dream.

Vehicles ply with caution
the melting streets,
the landscape in pools.

Then snow.
A man hurries by my window
his coat collar turned up round his chin.


November 16-23, 2008

Progress

During the French revolution
the Marquis de Sade,
appointed as a judge,
was jailed for the crime of “moderatism”
for refusing to apply the death penalty.
We’ve made much progress since then
and, as always, America is on the cutting edge.
Today no law-abiding, God-fearing, right-thinking,
pro-life American
would fall prey
to this last unspeakable perversion
of that infamous libertine.

November 9-16, 2008

The Veterans

Of all the young men
who went to war
over half a century ago
still believing
in everlasting love
and life too long to think about,
confident they would return,
though only some did,
and confident they would get ahead,
though only some did,
many have fallen
from the ranks.

Of those who remain,
the hard muscles
that propelled them
across the fields of death,
and life,
have shrunk,
and their muscular ambitions
have withered.
Now they look back
and remember those days
when they went to war
fit and trim
and felt they could outrun mortality.


November 2-9, 2008

Our Late Geranium

Our geranium had to go;
had gotten too leggy
was reaching the top of the window bay
kept falling over in its pot.
I refrained from asking my wife
what she did with it.
Didn’t want to know.
Threw it in the trash, I suppose.
I hope it didn’t suffer.


October 26 – November 2, 2008

Of Bulldogs and Geraniums


their scraggly shape,
their puny blossoms.
Yet some do.
Nor do I care for bulldogs
which also have their devotees.
Is it homeliness they’re embracing,
responding to the need for love?
I can relate to that.


October 19-26, 2008

Burros

I remember the donkeys of the Andes
where I once lived,
burros, burritos,
ito signifying small in the language of those lands,
those long-eared, long lashed,
dust covered donkeys,
shaggy and taupe,
no larger than young colts
but thicker, more compact,
as if built for struggle,
seeming sweet and shy
yet capable of breeding with horses
(so much taller and more elegant),
and of carrying loads
that would daunt a larger beast,
of carrying a sea chest over a mountain,
or a man,
his legs spread wide,
capable of carrying heroes.


October 12-19, 2008

Autumn Again

Chill air
streams in from the west
unveiling a sapphire sky,
bending blade and branch,
stirring the chimes
on our back porch.
Autumn tolls
over fields and woods
as it tolls in my memory.

Schoolboy again
in this season of my life
when carefree days retreat
with the migrant birds
and leaves layer to earth
through the pensive air.


October 5-12, 2008

Still Life with Plums

I bought a box of plums
at a farm stand today,
their sapphire blueness almost rivaling
that of the autumn sky.
One of them had a leafy stem attached
and I imagined them in sunlight
still on their tree,
spheroids of succulent color
among the turning leaves.


September 28 – October 5, 2008

Life and Times

Reading May Swenson’s Riding the A
I’m beamed back in memory
to that time in my early twenties
when I rode the subway daily
between 23rd and 116th and Broadway,
reading my texts or the Times,
tranquilized by the motion of the train
and the click clack of wheels on track,
rolling timelessly
through station numbers mounting
as the years
or counted down in memory,
and now I find those years alive
like images on celluloid.


September 21-28, 2008

September 17, 2008

Clear skies,
bright sun,
warm or cool you could say.
Summer clings to its last days.


September 14-21, 2008

After the Fall

did Eden remain the same?
I think not.
Else we could find it today.
I think it became a tangled wood,
maybe desert,
or a parking lot.


September 7-14, 2008

Developing Eden

Eden was lost
the Good Book says,
but I’m sure that it’s been found.
With man covering the earth,
by God’s grace,
such fine real estate
can’t be unknown ground.
I’m sure it’s been improved by now.
No more lions or tigers at least
nor other dangerous beasts.
(We don’t care how bright they burn
in the forests of the night.
We don’t want them in our backyards.)
And no more elephants trampling.
They’ve been harvested for tusks.
What’s more this comes with an economic plus;
Noah’s ark has been downsized.
And no more dense growth to tangle our feet.
The land’s been scraped and scaped
and tastefully lined with streets.
Now we can glide from one end to the other
in comfort and at ease
in our powerful SUVs.
No more meadows looking seedy.
All well kept lawns and fairways
barred to the naked and needy.
An elegant sign now graces the gates,

          Eden Gardens

      Residential Estates


August 31 – September 7, 2008

Sue, Sue, Kalamazoo

I was talking to my cousin Sue last night
about the old days
when she was in her teens and I in my pre-.
We were of the summer cousins
who used to assemble
at my grandfather’s house at the lake,
stocking shelves in the storehouse of memory.
Cousin Sue’s in her 80s now
and I in my 70s
and when we talk
we rummage merrily through those memories.

Last night Sue was talking about
how they used to pick me up in Kalamazoo
when I came from the East on the New York Central.
I don’t recall the town at all
though I’m sure I was there more than once.
I conflate it in memory with another K
the Kellog company
which is in Battle Creek,
not far away,
where, as I remember,
they made some cereal,
the advertising slogan said,
by shooting it out of guns,
though why they thought that would sell a cereal
is beyond me today.

I’ve another magic memory
of a town nearby,
Holland Michigan,
where they grew apples the size of grapefruits
too large to get my young hands around.
And then there’s Glenn Miller’s I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo
which we used to listen to
on 78 rpm
in the sunroom
along with Harry James’ Sweet Sue
and in my mind cousin Sue
is that gal from Kalamazoo.


August 24-31, 2008

The Czar’s Army

I read an article this morning
by a man whose grandfather fled Russia
to avoid conscription in the Czar’s army.
My grandfather did too
and I wonder how many others.
His grandfather ended up in Brooklyn
working the docks,
mine in Chicago
selling scrap.
Others worked as sales clerks
and tailors
and peddlers
beavering away in the new world
so their grandchildren could be
doctors and lawyers and journalists
and artists
and write poems about them.
We have the Czar to thank for that.


August 17-24, 2008

The House at the Lake

My grandfather had a house on a lake in Michigan
over a hundred miles from Chicago where he lived.
I wonder how he found the place
and why it attracted him
an immigrant from Lithuania.
Did it remind him of the lakes of his homeland
or did it just seem a nice place
to get away from the heat of the city?
And why should it seem odd to me
that he took to a lake in Michigan?
Perhaps because he would have seemed so alien there
where foreign accents were rare to nil.

But he was enterprising.
After coming to America
instead of staying in New York
he went west in this to him exotic land
to Chicago where he became a scrap dealer
successful enough to buy a large house
and several acres
on a lake in Michigan,
this little old man
with his thick accent and old world ways
whom I thought of as a kind of accidental appendage
to my American dream.


August 10-17, 2008

The Lake

There was a lake where I spent my childhood summers,
a glacial lake in Michigan
with hilly banks
scooped out of the flat farmlands,
a mile wide and three long
with a large bay at one corner
big enough around
for the far shore to seem a foreign place
adding to the mystery of the water
with its large carp that hovered in the shallows like blimps,
and its murky depths,
the tall seaweed reaching up to you
as you swam into the deep water
where there were primitive slashing carnivores
alligator gar
rumored once to have attacked a man.

But there were also the sunfish and bluegills,
their rainbow hues visible in the shallows,
minnows that would swarm away from you
flashing out of the water in formation,
the black bass, which, though not so visible,
would rise to your lure,
and the boats,
sailboats with their canvas wings,
small motorboats
their back-mounted motors buzzing
like insects of legendary decibels,
and the big ones with their inboard engines,
the Cadillacs of that watery place,
emerging from their houses with a self-satisfied rumble
to turn and breast the water,
cleaving it,
filling the air with spray,
rocking smaller boats with their waves.

Then there was the Honeymoon
a two-decker
miniature version of the larger craft
that plied the far vaster waters of Lake Michigan.
It made the rounds of the lake on weekends
tooting its train-like whistle
and announcing over a loud speaker
“Around the lake and down the river to Watervliet
on the Honeymoon”,
the river with its sandy banks and willow groves
inviting the young explorer.
Every weekend there was the Honeymoon,
regular as church bells.
The boat has no doubt long since been scrapped
but it still makes the rounds of the lake in my memory,
its ghostly speaker calling us in its wake.


August 3-10, 2008

Seeing Water

Even now, in my sixty-seventh year,
I still experience a thrill
when rounding a curve
or topping a hill
I come upon a body of water,
whether festive blue
or sullen gray,
open to view
or half hidden by trees.
Even a small lake
I pass almost every day
still surprises me
with a pulse of pleasure.
It summons up, I suppose,
the lake where I spent
my childhood summers,
its mile-wide waters
abloom with sails,
where I fished
as day segued into night
and gold streaked
the sky’s book of hours,

the remote Canadian lakes
where I basked in a solitude
broken only by the lonely cry of loons,
moose grazing in the shallows
or the occasional band of Cree
in their quiet canoes,
gathering wild rice,
and overhead at night
the sky-spanning, pulsating
polychrome curtain
of the aurora,

or the Hudson
where I whiled away my time
watching ships slide languorously by,
the slow kaleidoscope
of clouds and sky
over the Jersey bank,
or seagulls
gliding against
the towering Palisades
so steady on their wings
the world seemed to move
while they stood still,
and in the background always
the tremendous harp of the bridge
gracing the river’s canyon
as it might the very gates of heaven.

Then there’s the Pacific
which, more precocious than Balboa,
I first saw at age six,
having come from the east
with my grandmother
who, indulging me,
drove straight to the water,
not even stopping
at our new home.
It was overcast that day
and I was disappointed
that the great ocean
wasn’t the least bit blue.
Still, it was the Pacific,
spreading all the way
from California to Cathay
with a leap
only the imagination could equal.



July 27 – August 3, 2008

A Distraction of Butterflies

Butterfly season is here.
Last week there were just a few.
In recent days they’ve been coming in crews
like harvesters to fields of ripe grain.
Meanwhile I’ve been neglecting
to write poems about death and suffering.


July 20-27, 2008

Jo Stafford Has Died

Heard it on public radio this evening.
Didn’t care much for that kind of music in its time
but now, in my mind, it stands for my youth
and I felt as nostalgic as any ‘40s pop music fan
when at the end of the broadcast
they played her song
You Belong to Me
with its flowing melody
and her young voice
soaring above the band.

It seems like the world is winding down,
though I know it’s just me.


July 13-20, 2008

Ode to Wholesome Pastimes

Hiking, birding, gardening,
we approve of these.
So much more healthy and wholesome
than watching TV
or playing computer games.
And they don’t depend on an uncertain power supply.
No, they look to mother nature for their energy.

Then too they’re venerable
like some purveyor to the queen, “since 1862”.
Granted, hunting is even more so,
but it kills.
Or fishing
which makes us swell with pride
at being smarter than a fish.

But hiking, birding and gardening,
they’re OK.
And those who do them too,
not slick
like the spin doctors and celebrities
who crowd our pages and screens
in their Armani suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes
or whatever they’re wearing these days.
So I speak for the L.L.Bean-clad of this world when I say
give me your hikers and birders, in honest boots,
your gardeners, in kneepads, smocks and jeans,
who don’t use electronic means
and aren’t trying to persuade anybody of anything.


July 6-13, 2008

Summer Evenings

They say the late summer hours
were devised for farmers
so they could begin and end their day
with the rest of us
but I think they were made
for children
playing games in the dusk
when fireflies begin
their semaphore of courtship,
and the ball and the players
become harder and harder to see
when there’s still time
for ice cream
and childish discourse
while walking home
in the voice-filled darkness.


June 29 – July 6, 2008

Independence Day

Recurring dreamlike
through the haze of time
the tedium of those hot summer days,
my back to the grassy slope
where spectators remain
bent over the ballpark
of that small town
as dusk turns to dark,
and rockets loop lazily
through the velvet air.


June 22-29, 2008

That Tree

That tree was still youthful when my mother died,
that tree now gnarling with age.
If she’d stood by the kitchen window where I now stand
she’d have seen the tree,
much smaller then,
and the pond beyond
with its tendrils of early morning mist.
She gardened here
up the hill
where chickens now roost.
It was a cock’s crowing—
something,
city dweller,
I haven’t heard in years—
that woke me to the light from another time,
the ghost of that young tree,
the mist above the pond
and the fog shrouded mountain across the valley
at which my mother might have gazed
near the end of her too young life.


 June 15-22, 2008

Perfume of Peonies

I open my window
and perfume of peonies
wafts in on the night air.
Invisible in the dark
these extrovert flowers
still let you know they’re there.

At first I think it’s lilacs,
think of a dooryard blooming
and reflect that dooryard sounds better
than front yard or back.

But dooryards it seems have gone the way of porches,
supplanted by more modern yards and decks
like Bauhaus replacing Arts and Crafts.

So I solace myself with the poetry
of peonies in the night.



June 8-15, 2008

Crossing the Connecticut

Crossing the Connecticut
is now routine, humdrum,
not the adventure it once was.
I roll over it on a bridge
in a crowd of cars
high above the water
most of the time barely noticing the broad river below.
Time was when you had to notice
when you crossed on a makeshift raft
water lapping its edges,
trying to steady your horse
so it wouldn’t disturb the delicate balance,
when centuries-old forest spread far and wide
punctuated by a few fields and farmsteads,
scored by a few trails
and there was no sound of cars,
no sound of man other than his voice
his axe, musket or other occasional contrivance,
no smell of asphalt or exhaust
just that of earth, plants, trees
the smoke from widely scattered chimneys
and maybe a horse between your thighs.

Crossing that bridge in the morning rush
shoulder to shoulder with other cars
I think of those days,
but when the traffic’s light
and I can see the water
reflecting the gentle mountains
that embrace this valley
I think of the view from one of those mountains
of the river snaking through fields and woods,
of a loving painting of that scene
from not far short of two centuries ago
and of the first pioneers
standing on the rim
excited by the wide, well-watered valley
opening before their eyes.


 June 1-8, 2008

Scent from the Past

Opening the back door this evening
I’m caught up in a scent of earth and vegetation
from over 50 years ago,
the dark aroma of the road along the lake
where I spent my summers
and sometimes walked at night,
the oil-calm water on one side,
a small tremor disturbing its reflections,
interiors on the other side,
stage lit behind their window panes.

For a moment I think I’m seeing the lights
from houses next to that long unvisited road,
but then I’m back in the here and now,
though the scent of that old ground
still tugs at my memory.


May 25 – June 1, 2008

School’s End

8 PM a mid-May evening.
Twilight still.
A boy in tee shirt and shorts
meanders down our street
as if with no particular place to go,
and I’m reminded
of having trouble concentrating in school
this time of year
with the green outdoors
framed in the classroom windows,
summer having begun already
in my mind.


May 18-25, 2008

Processional

Promenaders have come again
to the path beside the lake
deserted all winter long
save for dry leaves cartwheeling in the wind
and the rare passerby
collar turned up round his chin.

 

Today the path flowers with fresh faces,
children running,
laughter.

In the lake fish leap,
geese glide in proud pairs,
a cormorant
emerging from a long dive
bursts into the welcoming air,
and turtles assemble
on rocks and fallen trees
celebrating the sun.


May 11-18, 2008

Ties

I see my life before my eyes.
No, I’m not facing death,
though of sufficient age.
I’m merely rearranging my ties:
wide ones, no longer in fashion,
reminding me of wide lapels,

generous sideburns and longish hair,
shaggy moustache and granny glasses,
and protests over that war;
the striped ones
from my buttoned-down Foggy Bottom days;
the ones for suits I no longer own,
though I remember the haberdashers
where I bought them,
who also are no more,
wiped out by the whims of trade;
the cotton plaids and prints
recalling summer places
and warmer climes;
and a few for suits and jackets I’ve retained
for weddings, funerals
and other events
where coats and ties are still de rigueur,
fewer and fewer every year.
If my ties could speak
I’m sure they would say,
“My, how the world has changed.”



May 4-11, 2008

Citizen Soldier

I was a soldier once
in a far away land
though not on death’s hallowed ground.
It was during an undeclared peace
and I went to an office every day
where I battled armies of paper,
and by night toiled in other ways
in beer halls and brothels.

There were field exercises, to be sure,
and Saturday parades
where we practiced maneuvers
unseen in warfare
since the redcoats were ambushed by the minutemen,
and our company commander polished
his patent leather holster
lovingly as an apple,
while we waited to march by
sharply aligned
as if all of one mind
our bodies going one way
our minds another.


April 27 – May 4, 2008

Blossom Time

Blossom time
fruit trees in flower
pompons of pink and white
garments of lacy green.
I remember the Massif Central
about this time of year
over fifty years ago
that high ground
spattered with new leaves
small orchards blossoming here and there
but mostly a sprinkling of green
fresh as the clear streams
with their thin sheets of ice.
Why that spring
out of more than seventy?
Perhaps it was freedom,
for I was a young soldier then
on leave
driving from Heidelberg to Provence.
Perhaps it was the solitude
after the enforced society of military life,
alone and free
driving down a country road in France
the world just greening
the streams still braced with ice.


April 20-27, 2008

Pyrotechnics

cloudy spring day
late afternoon
satin gray sky
trees abloom
blossoms bursting
in the tingling air
like fireworks
at a county fair


April 13-20, 2008

Planned Obsolescence

My hands no longer work the way they used to.
They ache this morning
and I had trouble opening a jar.
Problems too with my wrists, eyes, feet,
shins, shoulders, sacroiliac.
I’ve had my body in the shop
several times of late
but the wheels still squeak
the steering’s loose
and it chugs when going uphill.
Trade-in, however, isn’t an option.


April 6-13, 2008

The Crew

A crew is out for early morning practice
caressing the soft air
with rapt strokes
cleaving the smooth water
with rhythmic thrusts
feeling no doubt
it’s good to be young
and drowsily awake
stretched out on a long-limbed river
this fine spring morning.


March 30 - April 6, 2008

Out of an Economy Endlessly Growing
 
This is no longer the same America, Walt,
the land you gazed upon and listened to
from the coast where it began,
a youthful land
unsure of itself, yet cocksure,
still sorting out who it was,
a slower land, horse-paced,
an aspiring land
with much to aspire to,
a land bent on nation building
with a continent to fill.

We know who we are now.
We’ve lived through
“the American century”
and the world emulates us,
would you believe it,
though grumbling.

The continent is now full from sea to sea
not just with homesteads, towns and cities
but with highways long as the Mississippi
and half as wide,
satellite cities clustering around our cities of old,
housing plantations with scores of dwellings,
buildings big enough to hold a town.
There are boxes in our houses and auditoriums
with pictures that move and talk.
Our space is filled with messages
that can circle the globe in an instant.
With all our building
we’ve used up so many trees
that many of the forests you knew
have all but disappeared
and we’ve paved over more fields
than a thousand men could plow in a lifetime.

We no longer need to walk
or ride a horse or behind one
to get where we want to go,
for we have carriage-sized machines,
almost one for each of us,
that hurtle across towns
and through the countryside
at speeds that would lap
your trusty old nag
seventy times a day,
and flying machines
that leap the continent in hours!

And so we race by
the places where we used to pause
and had the time,
had to take the time,
to face those we passed
and talk with them.
Now we can travel coast to coast
talking at most
with a few toll collectors,
those who fuel our machines,
impersonal night clerks in impersonal inns
and bored youths who work in our
“fast food restaurants”.
Our eyes don’t meet,
we exchange a few functional words
like putting coins in a jar,
and we’re off.

All the things we aspired to,
we have them now,
as well as things you couldn't have imagined
in astonishing variety
but there’s never enough.
Our appetite for things knows no bounds
and we spend more and more time
creating them
shopping for them
and enjoying them for just a short while
before moving on to the next.
And move on we do
at a pounding pace
the way you might run down a rainy street,
for fashions change now
almost as fast as the weather.

Everything is fast these days.
We work fast
we eat fast
we talk fast
we try to think and read fast
and we change our interests fast
and our trades
hurrying from one to another.

So the promise of your time
has been fulfilled
the possibilities have been realized
but where in your time
we had a few empty spaces to fill
we now have a vacuum of a strange sort.
The more we fill it
the more it grows.


March 23-30, 2008

March Wind


          I

The wind has blown since dawn
rolling the sun up the slope of day,
sweeping away the darkness,

and now, as the sun
rolls down the other way
the wind is blowing the light away.

 
           II

This side of the window pane
the air is still
but I know the wind blows
for beyond the glass
trees writhe in frenzied dance
this day of the equinox.


           III

The wind comes down
with a rush and a roar
like a locomotive in a 3-D movie
hurtling towards us menacingly
piston rods pumping frenetically
whistle a deranged shriek
trailing cyclonic clouds of smoke.
Why does spring come on this way?

 
March 16-23, 2008

Residence on Earth

Opening Neruda’s poems
I notice an inscription inside the cover

May 1950
to R. Greene
with affection
Ulu

Ulu, my cosmopolitan classmate, a refugee,
who so named himself
with rare self-assurance,
and I’m carried back over half a century
to that time
when our faces were still unlined,
our limbs firm and confident.
Rooms facing each other across the hall
and studying into the night
we would meet when we emerged
befuddled by the lateness of the hour
laughing at something for reasons
nobody but us could have discerned.
Since then our paths have diverged
and it’s been—how long?—
close to three decades since I last saw Ulu,
but noticing that inscription in the book
I see him as he was then,
hear in my mind his delighted laugh
and think of lines from Neruda:
“or as from high above the road,
the crisscrossing toll of bells is heard.”


March 9-16, 2008

Portents of Spring

For the first time in months
it was mild this morning
when I stepped out for the paper.
At least it seemed that way
after relentless frozen nights and frigid days,
the ground in a shroud of snow,
the sky a mournful grey.
This morning it was warmer
than when I went to bed last night,
the front walk was wet with melted snow,
and down the block I heard a cardinal cry
cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer.


March 2-9, 2008

The Voices of Stones

Who can look on Ayers Rock
without hearing songlines,
Stone Mountain
without Dixie or the Battle Hymn
ringing in one’s inner ear,
Angkor or Machu Picchu
without phantom voices,
boulders without mountains’ deep bass,
pebbles without the murmur of streams?
Who says that stones are mute?
They whisper, babble, boom, chant, sing.


February 24 – March 2, 2008

Men of Stature


All these men of stature,
the cosmologist who stares out of today’s science page
theorizing about the multiverse,
the statesman who steers the massive ship of state,
the poet who opens us to new ways of seeing,
the titan who snares the globe in his corporate net,
the bishop
the pope
the judge
the general
the dictator
all were once infants
lying on their small backs
kicking aimlessly
spasmodically grabbing handfuls of air
feeding from a teat,
were once small boys
mixing up their words
unable to cross the street alone,
then, a bit older,
with clear skin, piping voices
and still childish repartee,
and adolescents
contrary, sullen, unsure of themselves
driven by the fever in their loins.
You wouldn’t have known then
that these boys
would one day be men of stature
nor is it easy to imagine now
that they once were young and vulnerable.


February 17-24, 2008

How I Know I’m Getting Old

When I was young
and the Andrews Sisters were popular
I couldn’t imagine what people saw in them.
I didn’t care for their songs
or three part harmony.
But basically it was what they stood for in my mind.
Though I knew no Andrews Sisters fans
I could imagine what they were like:
people who lived in tacky houses
and voted for Eisenhower,
women with perms
who waxed orgasmic
over refrigerators,
and said things like
“Ladies first” and
“That’s what little girls are made of.”

Now when I hear the Andrews sisters sing
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,
or The Boogie-woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,
nostalgia creeps over me.


February 10-17, 2008

Seventy-six Going on Seventy-seven

I recently moved to another state
and am frequently asked my age
as I sign up for this or that.
Each time, though I only say “seventy-six”,
I think, with a mental titter,
“seventy-six going on seventy-seven”
for it reminds me of those long ago days
when I was eager to lay claim
to being almost one year older.
“Six going on seven”
I’d say with a modest smile.
Now I say it matter-of-factly
and my smile is wry,
but still with a touch of pride.
Of course I don’t hope for my listeners to respond
“My, what a big boy.”
It’s another sort of compliment I’m fishing for:
“You certainly don’t look your age.”



February 3 -10, 2008

After the Storm

After a day of sleet and slush,
skies of gloomy gray
and a nightlong drumroll of rain,
morning comes
sounding a note of sunlight
on the slope across the valley
while in the eastern sky
chords of blue and gold strike up
an overture to a new day.


January 27 – February 3, 2008

To My Brother in His Sixty-Eighth Year

Our sister was seventy this week
and I thought to myself
incredulously
you’ll soon be sixty-eight.
I was nine when you were born
and though I remember the name
of the hospital you came from
I have no recollection of what you looked like
until you were going on two,
and that maybe from a photo of us.
In it you’re wearing a naval jacket
with two stripes on the sleeve.
Your hand in the pocket,
you look casual and self assured,
Churchillian with your plump cheeks.
Yet it’s probably not until you were eleven or twelve
that you made a three dimensional impression
on my mind.
Now you’ll soon be sixty-eight
your hair is gray at the fringes
your pate bare above the brow
all trace of baby fat vanished long ago,
but I have no trouble visualizing you in the round.



January 20-27, 2008

Cotapaxi

Just below a great snowy cone in the Andes
on a broad flat shelf of mountain
wild horses race
keeping pace
with wind-driven clouds overhead,
breath steaming
long manes swirling,
exhilarated,
as if created
just moments before
out of the primordial chaos.


January 13-20, 2008

Angst

Anxiety for Luxury Brands as Tiffany Reports Slowdown
New York Times, 1/12/08

 

I wring my hands
for luxury brands.
They’re not flying off the shelf
maybe not even crawling.
That’s appalling.

So much love and care
invested in their shaping,
like only children,
and now they’re orphans
abandoned and forsaken.

It’s shocking that in this wealthy nation
our finest creations
have no takers.
We need a better safety net
for luxury market makers.


January 6-13, 2008

Happy New Year

Suppose there were no years.
Would anything be different?
We think important things have ended and begun
when it’s only dates on a calendar,
perhaps some resolutions
(largely to be unfulfilled)
or the earth beginning,
for over its four billionth time,
a new circle around the sun.
The world doesn’t stop at midnight
like a train changing engineers.
There’s no bump in the road of time.
The scene hasn’t changed.
The characters are the same.
The play goes on much as before.
Dramatic climax is no more likely
than on any other day.
There’s not even an intermission.
A foot raised at the end of one year
comes down the next
with no pause in between.
Isn’t it really the same bottle
with a new label?


December 30, 2007 – January 6, 2008

The Mountains Are Losing their Snow

I remember the first time I saw it
driving west as a child
the white wall of the Rockies
rising out of the high plains
like a phalanx of moons;
then Mexico,
Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl
serene above the city;
later Ecuador,
the avenida de los nevados,
Cayambe, Antizana, Cotapaxi, Chimborazo,
and snow capped cones
framed by jungle;
then farther down the spine of the continent
Illimani looming over La Paz
like a thundercloud.

But the mountains are losing their snow.


December 23-30, 2007

 

It’s That Time of Year Again

 

That’s what it says near the top of the ad,
a half page in the Times.
The caption below reads
December To Remember sales event
The photo shows a box wrapped with ribbon
a window
a handsome stone house across the street
a woman’s well-formed hand above the box
a tasteful sweater sleeve covering her arm.
The hand is holding a bow
between thumb and index finger,
and under it there’s an expensive car.
I picture a child in Darfur.




December 16-23, 2007

 

Ouch

 

No matter how many people like my poems.
It always hurts a bit when someone doesn’t
even if it’s merely indifference.
Something like what happens after the nurse says
“This’ll pinch a little.”
But rarely mortal.


December 9-16, 2007

 

Confessions of a Bourgeois Gentleman

 

My life, I confess,
Has been largely without drama.
Oh, I spent a few days in a war zone once,
though not in combat.
I’ve had my share of depression,
but always of a low key sort,
like a bad cold,
and endured small childhood traumas,
though nothing worse than being bullied.
Then there was being the last one picked
when the boys were choosing up sides for a game,
and the banal ache of rejection by the opposite sex.
Yes, there was loneliness,
again not out of the ordinary,
but enough to give me an unencumbered view
of the poetry all around us.
So it comes as no surprise to me
that I’ve been speaking poetry
most of my life.




December 2-9, 2007

 

Becoming T. S. Eliot

 

When I was young and impressionable
I wanted to be T. S. Eliot.
No matter that I didn’t understand much of his poetry.
I felt a man of letters was the most admirable thing to be.
As for the physical heroes of yore,
I knew that wasn’t me,
and, having been “poet laureate” of my eighth grade class,
I aspired to emulate
the paragon of modernity.
The first step I took
was to get horn-rimmed glasses
though it was arguable whether I needed glasses yet.
An aunt of mine said to me
with amazing perspicacity
(though she never even went to college)
“You may think they make you look intellectual,
but you’ll have to wear them the rest of your life.”
I kept them anyway
and wear glasses still
but, as far as I can tell,
they did nothing for my poetry.


November 25-December 2, 2007

 

First Snow (Manhattan, 1952)

 

Rain comes
painting a thousand mirrors
on the pavement,
a dense panorama
half formed
as in a dream.

Vehicles ply with caution
the melting streets,
the landscape in pools.

Then snow.
A man hurries by my window
his coat collar turned up round his chin.

 

 

November 18-25, 2007

 

The Twittering Tree

 

branches scratched on a flat gray sky
ornamented with feathered spheres
distributed with subtle symmetry;
starlings resting on a leafless tree
looking like a painting by Paul Klee




November 11-18, 2007

 

The Charms of War

 

It was a good war,
World War I,
for us Americans
who were in it only briefly
and didn’t lose so many young men.
It had its compensations,
its mademoiselles,
its Hemingway,
old Europe
with its worldly charms,
and our heroically coming to its rescue.
Then tickertape parades
down lower Broadway,
and the best of times
in left bank cafés.
Would we have been there
if not for the war?

Then World War II
less romantic, true,
but righteous,
a war against evil,
the best of wars.
And even Nam,
food for nostalgia even there,
for we love war
and will, I suppose,
as long as men grow from boys.




November 4-11, 2007

 

Crows in the Rain

 

I’ve always wondered what birds do in the rain.
Surprisingly, I’ve never seen.
Today I noticed a cluster of crows
hunched stoically (I imagined)
in a tree
a cold November downpour
running down their backs.
One was clucking faintly
as if in misery.
Now I don’t much care for crows
but seeing them pelted with icy water
gave me a shiver of sympathy
and I wanted them to be
somehow immune
to the wet and cold.
They must be, I thought,
or they wouldn’t be sitting in a tree.
But then where would they sit,
those shifty, thieving,
suffering fellow creatures?

 


October 28 – November 4, 2007

 

Those Days

 

I open the blinds on rain
and a chill autumn day
and am reminded all at once
of other such days,
Manhattan in the dream of youth,
Heidelberg—my time as a G.I.,
Paris on some visit,
and all those views
charged with longing and loneliness
and yellowed leaves
wetly embracing the pavement
in a parody of love.

 

 

October 21-28, 2007

 

Autumn Sonata

 

Sunlight pierces the clouds
setting linden leaves aglow
yellow as daffodils
against a dove-gray, autumn sky,
as if the seasons were juxtaposed.
And I hear music playing
on a long ago gramophone,
the sound of strings
pressed between the years
like a blossom in the pages of a book.




October 14-21, 2007

 

Moon Madness

 

Stepping out our front door
I’m suddenly awash
in the cries of geese
filling every corner
of the night sky,
silhouettes bobbing
across the lunar disk,
a crowd of shadows
driven to mad dance
by the spectacle
of a full moon
floating free
of the planet’s grasp.




October 7-14, 2007

 

Bird Watchers

 

Birds sitting on a telephone line
along US Route 1
in the heart of New Jersey,
like city dwellers
leaning on their window sills,
watching what?
The passing cars?
Counting makes and models perhaps?
Spotting the rare antique
or maybe even a once in a lifetime
Lamborghini?
Do they compare sightings
at the end of the day?
Do they have clubs?
Do they harbor warm feelings for us
and yearn to protect us
from environmental degradation?
Do they fear
we’re becoming
an endangered species?




September 30 – October 7, 2007

 

Moving

 

It was your ninth birthday
26 years ago today
that the movers came.
Your mother and sister had gone two months before.
You stayed to finish day camp
and I stayed with you
coming home every evening to a half empty house,
you from camp
I from Foggy Bottom.
We ate most of our meals out
and you had your fill of pizza,
and popcorn shrimp.

You finished camp
and the next day
the movers came.
When they were done
I swept the floor for a last time
and we got in the car and drove away
to another city, another state,
leaving behind an empty house
that was no longer ours.


September 23-30, 2007

 

Mécanique Céleste

 

Laplace, I’ve just learned,
wrote a book call Mécanique Céleste.
I wonder if it’s a users manual for Celestes
for I have one
and I’d dearly like to know how she works,
if such knowledge is vouchsafed to man.


September 16-23, 2007

 

Terms of Endearment

 

I left my wife a note this morning saying,
You’re a doll
and the other day
I called her my old lady.
That set me to wondering
about the origins of such expressions.
I remember old lady being used
in those movies they used to make
about motorcycle gangs.
Could it be a tender tribute
to a promise of permanence
among the famously footloose?

My regular name for her is sugarplum,
something fragrant and delectable,
always in season
in this alcove of Eden.

Her favorite for me,
currently,
is pumpkin,
though I’m not very round
or at all orange.
Huggie bear is another favorite
easy to decipher.
Then there’s stud muffin
Why muffin?

But my favorite is bubeleh,
a fragment of Yiddishkeit,
out of the mouth of my
Italian-Polish, Roman Catholic wife.




September 9-16, 2007

 

Sandwich Man

 

Some mornings my wife
goes to work early
and I make a sandwich for her.
I pile it high with healthful ingredients
and wrap it lovingly in foil
neatly folded at the ends.
Drive carefully, I say,
and let me know
if you go anywhere after work.

 

 

September 2-9, 2007

 

Summer's End

 

This morning
for the first time in months
it was cool enough
that I felt like wearing something
next to my skin.
All the summer's haze had gathered
into a few small clouds
hung out like newly washed sheets,
and migrant swans came down
on the wings of the wind.


August 26 – September 2, 2007

 

September 1, 1939

Where was I?
At home in our tranquil suburb?
In school, or was it too soon?
Playing with friends?
Reading in my room?
Still at the lake perhaps
or on a train
coming home.
I don’t know what time of day it was,
don’t think I even heard the news.
My parents surely knew
but they must have said
best not tell the children.
Nor did I know of Kristallnacht
Munich
the Sudetenland
Anschluss.

It was probably summery still,
the leaves unchanged,
a calm September day.

 

 

August 19-26, 2007

 

Man and Dog

 

Long ago you decided to join our pack.
We had fire to warm you on cold winter nights
and fed you bones and scraps.
You helped us hunt,
warned of intruders
and helped us drive them away.
Later you herded our other animals.
Above all we gave each other love.
Now we enter you in shows
walk you on a leash
and pick up your feces in plastic bags.

 

 

August 12-19, 2007

 

Dog Photo

 

I am eight.
Duchess is kissing me
with blissful spontaneity,
her long collie muzzle
thrusting up lovingly
into my face.
I am smiling
with a mixture of appreciation
and the reflexive reaction
of one being tickled
by a very wet, canine kiss.




August 5-12, 2007

 

Duchess

 

I still remember it
though it was almost seventy years ago
the day my parents brought her home.
I was seven.
When I came home from school, they said
“We have something for you,”
and ushered me into the pantry
and there was a puppy
with its crushed velvet fur,
not yet collie silk.
Love at first sight.
Her tail wagged.
My heart beat faster.
I named her Duchess
thinking it aristocratic, I suppose.
In my teens I thought it corny
but now I see it fit her long collie nose.
That was close to three quarters of a century ago
but I still remember how I felt
and what she looked like in that little room.

 

 

July 29 - August 5, 2007

 

Fête Champêtre

 

I open a window shade and find
a yard full of birds and butterflies:
robins bobbing for worms,
mourning doves davening for seed,
goldfinches upside down at their feeder
sparrows spearing what falls;
tigers in force on the butterfly bush,
a black swallowtail on a coneflower,
cabbage whites everywhere.
It’s as crowded as Times Square.

 


July 22-29, 2007

 

Wings

 

Butterflies
born again with wings,
wrinkled, wet, deflated,
yet, glory be, wings,
that soon dry, deploy, display,
wings of many colors,
plain and parti-colored,
tiled and striped,
wings with peacock eyes
or strung with lights,
kaleidoscope wings
art nouveau wings,
wings the span of a man’s hand
thumbnail wings,
wings spread like kites
or solar panels,
or reaching up like sails.

Butterflies busily fluttering
from flower to flower
tirelessly sipping, siphoning
their long probes inserted
into the heart-depths of flowers.
Butterflies bucketing
across fields,
over yards
or breaking off suddenly from foraging
to circle one another in rising spirals,
mating in mid-air,
then laying eggs

and in the spring
eggs hatching into caterpillars
smooth and segmented,
tufted or hairy,
striped like tribal bracelets,
like peppermint sticks.
Then the caterpillars spin cocoons
to lie inside
until, one day,
they reappear
with wings…
wings, wings,
glorious wings.




July 15-22, 2007

 

Tiger Season

 

Two tiger swallowtails in the garden today.
First I’ve seen this year.
Been expecting them for the last few days
since the echinacea bloomed.
Now I know that summer’s here for sure.




July 8-15, 2007

 

Dogs

 

Smooth, fuzzy,
hairless, shaggy,
elegantly coiffed,
big as bears,
barely larger than rats,
faces elongated to squashed,
dappled, spotted, monochromatic,
shades of brown, black, yellow, white,
amiable, menacing,
smiling?, growling, making sheep’s eyes,
barking, woofing, arfing,
slobbering, kissing,
tugging, fetching,
tearing, bounding,
sleeping, twitching,
putting paws on your chest,
chewing slippers,
gnawing bones noisily,
imploring at the dinner table,
sniffing intimately,
marking turf.
Dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs.




July 1-8, 2007

 

Wag's Tale

 

Driving down the street
I saw a dog standing in front of a house
facing some workmen unloading a truck
a ball in its mouth
its tail wagging tentatively
as if to say “Anybody for play?”
but tempered with the recognition
that it might be importuning.




June 24 - July 1, 2007

 

Coalition of the Willing

 

Having trouble keeping our allies in Iraq.
Not much help anyway.
Hard to coordinate,
a dozen contingents of less than battalion size
speaking as many tongues
(bringing Babel back to the Fertile Crescent).
And we have to pay them to be there,
money we could put to better use elsewhere.

Solution: dogs.
Really willing.
Wouldn’t entail much political protest;
no bitchy Cindy Sheehans.
Would make our army warm and fuzzy.
Good at sniffing IEDs.
Useful for scaring information
out of prisoners.
Would raise the level of military intelligence.




June 17-24, 2007

 

Firefly Time

 

Fireflies tonight,
first time this year.
Looking out the window
I see them winking
where there was only darkness
yesterday,
signals from a time
when fireflies foretold
freedom from school,
playing late in the dusk,
and the languid procession
of long summer days.




June 10-17, 2007

 

Sumer Is Icumen in

 

Birds clamor at dawn.
Mosquitoes buzz through the night.
Cars grow hot in parking lots
windshields bespattered with bugs.
Lawns demand to be mowed.
The war of the weeds has begun.
We shall know sweat again.


June 3-10, 2007

 

I Was a Soldier Once

 

I was a soldier once, and young,
though I never fought in a war,
no buddy of mine died in one
and indeed I don’t remember
that any Americans fought in those years
or even if there was a war at the time.
I was a peacetime soldier,
drafted,
with no dreams of glory,
though I came to dream of waging war
on the military mind.
Oh, there were intelligent ones
but they took care to hide their intelligence.
It was OK to be smart,
but thoughtful, no,
nor inclined to see things in shades of grey.
Decisive was the ticket—
though it didn’t matter where that decisiveness led—
respectful of tradition and authority
and the primate hierarchies of rank.
So it was a time of disgruntled draftees
overeducated and disdainful
hating every minute of their military lives,
and I was one.
But I survived.

 

 

May 27 – June 3, 2007



The Things They Carry

 

 

I hear casually booming voices in the street
and, looking out the window, see
two boys in their early teens.
From the sound it might have been men,
and I think of such almost men
(still, I know, partly children)
some will grow up to be soldiers,
carry their childhood fantasies
into the world,
like flags,
and I think,
in another part of that world,
if not for good luck in where they were born,
these men-children would bear arms,
kill and be killed
before becoming men.
What could be more manly?




May 20-27, 2007

 

Look Who’s Coming to Dinner

 

I put up a goldfinch feeder not long ago.
For weeks none came.
Then at last they arrived,
sometimes singly,
or in matched pairs
rhythmically pecking at opposite sides
like figures striking a bell
on an old town clock,
sometimes in trios, quartets,
sometimes so many they have to wait in line.

When I was a child
sighting a yellow bird
excited me,
for they were rare,
and still are
(unless you know where to look).
Now with our goldfinch feeder
I see them almost every day,
but, though I may look blasé
as befits my age
I still experience that childhood thrill
whenever those bright birds
alight outside our window.




May 13-20, 2007

 

Falling in Love with Greer Garson

 

Reading recently about a 1942 film
I was reminded of Mrs. Miniver.
My memory of the movie is vague—
something about the home front,
stalwart English and the war—
but I remember falling in love with Greer Garson.
I was eleven at the time.
A few years later my brother
became enamored of Ingrid Bergman.
Ingrid Bergwin he called her.
He was much younger than I.
For a later generation
it was Julie Andrews, I suppose.

What is it with the American boy,
this partiality for European stars,
and what would Tom Sawyer say?

 

 

May 6-13, 2007

 

Listening to Fats Waller

 

I think
this was the music of my mother’s youth.
She danced like a flapper, I suppose,
something it can be hard
to imagine one’s mother doing,
but she showed me the Charleston
when I was in my teens.
We danced it the only way you can,
energetically,
mother and son,
between the sofa and the baby grand.




April 29 - May 6, 2007

 

So Many Springs

 

So many times
I’ve seen winter stick and straw
metamorphose
into the yellow of forsythia and daffodils,
hyacinth purple,
pink and white blossoms
of magnolia, cherry, apple, pear,
chartreuse of new young leaves,
grass that’s vivid again,
seventy some times that I remember,
but I’m grateful still.



 

April 22-29, 2007

 

Springtime

A time of new leaves
and blossoming trees
of pollen swirling
and birds returning
of coy looks
and languid urges
of preening and wooing
and lolling on the grass.




April 15-22, 2007

 

Cardinal Number

Early spring mornings,
this time of year,
a cardinal
belts out his song
right next to our bedroom window.
Its the same song every year
two bars, three notes each
delivered with operatic vigor
and always just before the first light of dawn
or a bit after.
Why does he sing so?
I think he wants to let us know
that our yard is his territory.

 

 

April 8-15, 2007

 

Rites of Spring

 

First it was crocuses
thrusting up
out of the bare ground
like the sound of a woodwind
piercing a silence.
Now forsythia has flared
proclaiming itself with brassy fanfare
while from bush and tree
leaf buds emerge
pianissimo
but building to a grand crescendo.

 

 

April 1-8, 2007

 

Passover

 

I was eight
when I learned the four questions
(Why is this night different from all other nights?),
a duty reserved for the youngest child,
memorizing them in Hebrew
in the car
on our way from the suburbs
to my aunt's apartment in the city.

For me that night was a time
of waiting hungrily for dinner
through a drone of words
in a language I didn't understand,
a blur of readings, songs and prayers,
and of falling asleep after dinner,
drowsy from the ritual wine,
on a big bed covered with fur coats
that smelled of perfume.

I didnt get any thrill out of stealing the afikomen
(a sheet of matzo conspicuously hidden under a pillow
and ransomed with a gift)
while the adults pretended not to see,
a privilege reserved for the youngest,
and the questions I mouthed
weren't the ones I would have askedfor it seemed unfair to me
that the Lord had hardened Pharaohs heart
then punished the Egyptians for it.

It only occurred to me years later
that this holiday celebrated freedom.

 

 

March 25 - April 1, 2007

 

Pushing up Pumpkins

 

This is the last day of my seventy-sixth year.
I'm leaving the three quarter century mark behind.
That sounds like a vessel filling up.
I suppose in a way it is,
filling with the well-aged liquor of life,
but it's more conspicuously an emptying.
The hour is nearing midnight--
may the literarily correct forgive me
for mixing my metaphors--
and before too long the bell will toll for me.
I won't turn into a pumpkin
but I might end up fertilizing some.
More likely, cemetery grass, alas.
Cemeteries should be turned into pumpkin patches.
Then we'd be memorialized
by cheery orange globes
instead of cold stone slabs,
and we could be sure
that someone would visit our resting place
a few times a year
to plant, harvest, cultivate.
We might become pumpkin pies
or jack-o-lanterns.
What a lovely afterlife!

 

 

March 18-25, 2007

 

Birthday Poem for a Senior Citizen

Looking in an old file I find
a copy of my birth certificate
and notice that its says
"Born Alive, 4:27 PM"
and that moment comes to life:
afternoon light,
a hospital room,
my mother
in the full force of youth
(the certificate says "Age at last birthday 22"),
myself
kicking as infants do,
face still puffy from long immersion
still red from being squeezed into this world.
Will leaving be any easier?




March 18-25, 2007

 

Birthday Poem for a Senior Citizen

Looking in an old file I find
a copy of my birth certificate
and notice that its says
"Born Alive, 4:27 PM"
and that moment comes to life:
afternoon light,
a hospital room,
my mother
in the full force of youth
(the certificate says "Age at last birthday 22"),
myself
kicking as infants do,
face still puffy from long immersion
still red from being squeezed into this world.
Will leaving be any easier?




March 11-18, 2007

 

Room with Cats

Two bushy cats
dispose themselves
about the room,
one on the couch,
paws in air
head upside down
tracking me intently
willing me to rub its belly,
the other on a chair
under the dining table
studying, no doubt,
the secret underside of tables,
and when the chair is drawn out
rising like a lion from the grass
ravenous
for a scratch behind the ears.

 

 

March 4-11, 2007

 

Cat Capers

A tabby cat
idly explores
the courtyard
in front of our house
like a restless boy
whiling away his time
waiting for a family reunion to end.
It sets out with a stutter step
as if playing
at changing of the guard,
stops to stand upright
against a car bumper,
clapping its paws futilely
but with no self-consciousness
at some airborne target,
then resumes its rounds
parading its long shadow
the length of a grassy strip,
bounds twice
for no apparent reason,
crosses a parking lot
with a stroboscopic gait,
and disappears behind
a row of parked cars
never to reappear on the other side.

 

 

February 25 – March 4, 2007

 

Thaw

Woods and fields are brindled now
with ragged patches of snow
while in the earth life stirs
as rivulets run
across the thawing ground
and the warm breath of day
rises in the light
of the early morning sun.

 

 

February 18-25, 2007

 

Poets Emptying Garbage

“Poets don’t empty garbage”
Bob Dylan said.
He was wrong.
I often carry
the detritus of our lives
neatly wrapped
out into the darkness.
What could be more poetic?

He also said
“Poets aren’t on the P.T.A.”
Wrong again.
I've changed many a diaper too.

Who says
a poet has to be
this or that?




February 11-18, 2007

 

Sugar and Spice

“My darling boy,” says my wife.
“Your septuagenarian boy,” say I.
Fact is I feel more boy than seventy some.
But it’s rather, I suppose,
my wife adoring that imaginary boy
of photos from the family album.
And for my part I love the girl
once blond and looking shy
and imagine her
laughing with her friends
the way girls do
more readily than boys,
and see her sitting knobby kneed
behind her school desk
knowing the answer
but too reticent to raise her hand.
I see her now
inside this gray haired woman
who speaks her mind.

 

 

February 4-11, 2007

 

The Poet Laureate of Hart Avenue

 

I’m the poet laureate of Hart Avenue
Hopewell, NJ, USA
pop. 2,000.
I memorialize our ceremonial occasions
write odes to what’s passing on the street
the birds and squirrels in our backyards
our sky, our seasons
the butterflies, the ants, the bees
the trees
whatever’s happening on Hart Avenue
that’s of universal import
which is to say
just about everything.

 

 

January 28 - February 4, 2007

Baskin' Robins

Robins descended on our winterberry bush today.
There've been scouts,
but these birds are fastidious.
They don't eat the berries just anytime.
They wait till a day in mid-winter
when for reasons imperceptible to lesser kind
they know the berries are ready to be enjoyed.
Then they descend in a gang
like kids piling into an ice cream parlor.

 

 

January 21-28, 2007

This week’s poem commemorates International
Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27.

 

Growing Up

While I was growing up in a comfortable suburb
a million and a half children
Jews like myself
died in camps,
not like the ones where we passed our summers.
While I dallied down the tree-lined street to school
past big houses and spacious yards
those other children
were turned out of their schools and homes.
While I studied Hebrew and piano lackadaisically
those other children learned firsthand
the meaning of the Kaddish and the dirge.
While I pushed away the food
my grandmother urged on me
those other children grew thin
till they seemed not much more than skeletons.
And while I lay in my familiar bed
in my lovingly furnished room
fretting, perhaps, about a catch I'd flubbed,
but nonetheless falling asleep easily,
those other children slept fitfully
disturbed by barrack sounds
and nightmares of men in jackboots
and the smoke from chimneys.

 

 

January 14-21, 2007

Chicago Winter

That winter the lake froze over,
ice piling up on the shore
like cards scattered
by a capricious hand.

I imagined what it would be like
walking to Michigan
sixty miles away on the far shore,
ice so wide
I would see the Earth’s curve,
sun bleached sky
blending into the frozen surface
in one vast, luminous chamber,
then stars stippling an infinity of night,
as if I had stepped out
into the universe.

 

 

January 7-14, 2007

 

Cat and Goose

The air is suddenly full of geese
dozens, scores,
wave upon wave
like bombers over Tokyo
all honking vigorously
as if they'd been sent off with a rousing speech.

The neighbor's cat
is racing around the outside of his house
now on his third lap
excited perhaps
by the aerial enthusiasm
or maybe unhinged
by the sight and sound
of so many fat birds
flying out of reach.

 

 

December 31, 2006 – January 7, 2007

 

My Father’s Top Hat

Seeing a photo in the Times today
of someone celebrating the New Year
in top hat, white tie and tails,
like a traveler from another time,
I remembered the topper my father had.
It collapsed into a disk
when you pressed down on the crown
If you turned it over
and rapped the brim against your hand
it sprang back into a cylinder
with a pleasing pop.
My father kept it on a closet shelf.
I used to take it down sometimes
when my parents weren’t around
to play with it;
cylinder, disk, cylinder, disk.
I tried it on too
to see how I looked
but it came down over my ears.

Some hats are mostly practical
like ski or baseball caps,
but others are like peacocks’ tails—
the feathered flourish of a cavalier’s
or a lady’s flowered chapeau—
mating plumage, of course.
What of the top hat?
All that vacant space under the crown.
And not decorative.
Au contraire, severe.
How on earth did a hatter get such an idea?
The answer, perhaps, is in that mad word.

Though the form may be absurd,
people wear them still.
They’re thought to be debonair.
Think Maurice Chevalier,
Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire.

 

 

December 24-31, 2006

Winter Solstice

The shortest day,
born in darkness,
endures the gray limbo
between dawn and dusk.
But nightfall kindles
primeval fires
where light blossoms
from the cold ground.

 

 

December 17-24, 2006

 

How I Know It’s Winter

There’s no ice or snow
so I can’t see the cold
but I can see
the bare trees
dead stubble in field and garden
the sun still struggling
to clear the horizon at 7AM,
its glare low in the afternoon sky
and that of rush hour headlights
on roads already dark at 5,
and dark eyed juncos in the garden.

 

 

December 10-17, 2006

 

The Afterlife of Gods

What happens to gods
when people stop believing in them?
Do they expire,
or live out their eternities
in some special limbo
for the late divine?

Though we don’t recognize them
by name,
some may live on
in the hearts of men,
a confined space, to be sure,
but widespread.
Mammon, of course.
Mars, Venus and Bacchus too.

But what of Baal, Ra, Zeus, Thor,
Quetzalcoatl,
and all the others?
Are their immortal remains
shrunken and shriveled
like sun-dried fruit,
or do they survive
in fine form
playing endless rounds of golf
in some other-worldly
retirement community?

 

 

December 3-10, 2006

Betty Greer

 

The first girl I admired was Betty Greer.
That was in fifth grade.
Girls I’d known before
though subtly alien
seemed like boys in many ways.
It was only in fifth grade
that they became creatures apart.
I went to a bigger school
where the kids weren’t all from the neighborhood,
weren’t almost family,
and something inside me changed.
Girls became yearned-for-from-afar beings
like angels.
I sold my three pet ducks
or rather asked our handyman to sell them for me
(probably for somebody’s dinner—
I didn’t ask)
to buy angora mittens for Betty Greer
for the Christmas of ’41
not realizing
that the world and its wars
had fated me to move on.





November 26 – December 3, 2006

 

Endangered Species

All my life it’s been Ace combs,
reliable as…
Kellogg’s Cornflakes?
I never much liked the name—
made me think of youths with greasy pompadours.
Still the combs were good,
not quite unbreakable as advertised
but more durable than most,
and whenever I went to the drugstore to buy a comb
I looked for Ace.
Now they’ve disappeared from the shelves
displaced by a rabble of brands I don’t recognize,
but I still have an Ace in my bathroom cabinet,
reminding me of simpler times
and my long gone youth.

 

 

November 19-26, 2006

Above the Valley

Above the valley
where old mountains slumber
grizzled and gray with leafless trees,
a counterpane
of fence-stitched meadows
glows in the parchment light
of late November
and calico clouds bedeck
a cobalt sky.

 

 

November 12-19, 2006

 

Strike up the Band

Geese have taken to the flyways,
wave after wave,
the air charged
with their ragged woodwind cries,
stirring as marching bands
striding smartly
over fall fields.

 

 

November 5-12, 2006

 

The Days Grow Shorter

 

It's dark now when we sit down to supper,
when I open the door on the morning paper.
Day has become parenthetical.

Leaves, dry and fractal,
slide down the curve of the season
slow-glide down Earth's arc
through air still thick with sunlight.

Soon the air will turn brittle,
harden on window panes,
and the leaves, all fallen,
will drift through the streets
like the aimless crowds of the underworld.

 

 

October 29 - November 5, 2006

 

Veterans Day, 2006

 

Each day we read in the Times
the names of our soldiers
who've died in Iraq,
sometimes imagining bits of their lives,
the towns where they grew up,
their families,
their now grieving spouses and friends,
and we're saddened.
Yet more with the names of thousands,
mostly young men,
engraved in marble or granite,
their parents hopes and dreams
interred in stone.
All that remains
a few keepsakes
and memories
of newborns, toddlers, vulnerable boys,
youths becoming men,
those now sad memories,
and names carved in cold stone.

Who wanted those wars?
Their leaders of course,
but all too often those same young men,
and those who mourn them.


October 22-29, 2006

 

Indian Summer

 

harlequin hued trees,
the fragrance of fallen leaves,
the quiet streets
of children away at school,
the sight of one's breath
in the chill of evening
or on mornings
when frost glitters
in the light
of the late-rising sun,
summer warmth suffusing
this late October day


October 15-22, 2006

 

To the Basement and Back

 

Looking for something in the basement this morning
I noticed once state of the art equipment I'll never use again,
which reminded me
of other phantoms that haunt my nether world,
paint that no longer adorns our walls
gadgets whose use I no longer know,
the too warm sheepskin coat I never wear,
still good suitcases
supplanted by newer ones that won my favor,
books I'll almost certainly never read again, nor lend,
a book I was going to return but never did
which reminded me in turn
of friends I meant to call,
but weeks turned into months
and months into years,
and I came back upstairs
bearing the baggage of those years.




October 8-15, 2006

 

Geese on the Loose

 

Crowds of geese
over the lake
this fall fresh afternoon,
flying helter-skelter
not in neat formation
but in ragged troupes
honking raucously
like partygoers--
blowing away the old year,
tooting in the new--
joyously free
unbound by gravity,
nowhere they need to go
nothing they need to do.



 

October 1-8, 2006

 

Memories

 

I don't need more memories
yet they keep coming.
Nearly seventy years' accumulation stored away
in the attics, closets, cupboards of my mind,
but more arrive each day,
and the bedchambers too are full
of animated guests.
Granted, some don't stay,
and some stay only awhile
taking their leave considerately.
Others, however, remain,
stalking the halls year after year,
some unremarkable,
some congenial,
and some unwelcome lodgers who resist eviction.
And so, though the house is full
it keeps on filling
for it seems there's no end
to the memories it can hold.




September 24 - October 1, 2006

 

Autumn Road

 

Autumn arrived with the wind today
on a highway of clouds,
macadam grey
stretching flat bottomed
to the far horizon
through fields of flagrant blue.




September 17-24, 2006

 

I Was a Soldier Once

 

I was a soldier once, and young,
though I never fought in a war,
no buddy of mine died in one
and indeed I don't remember
that any Americans fought in those years
or even if there was a war at the time.
I was a peacetime soldier,
drafted,
with no dreams of glory,
though I came to dream of waging war
on the military mind.
Oh, there were intelligent ones
but they took care to hide their intelligence.
It was OK to be smart,
but thoughtful, no,
nor inclined to see things in shades of grey.
Decisive was the ticket--
though it didn't matter where that decisiveness led--
respectful of tradition and authority
and the primate hierarchies of rank.
So it was a time of disgruntled draftees
overeducated and disdainful
hating every minute of their military lives,
and I was one.
But I survived.


September 10-17, 2006

 

Coalition of the Willing

 

Having trouble keeping our allies in Iraq.
Not much help anyway.
Hard to coordinate,
a dozen contingents of less than battalion size
speaking as many tongues
(bringing Babel back to the Fertile Crescent).
And we have to pay them to be there,
money we could put to better use elsewhere.

Solution: dogs.
Really willing.
Wouldn't entail much political protest,
no bitchy Cindy Sheehans.
Would make our army warm and fuzzy.
Good at sniffing IEDs.
Useful for scaring information
out of prisoners.
Would raise the level of military intelligence.




September 3-10, 2006

 

Soccer Season

 

September 1,
gray and unseasonably cool,
as if autumn were already here,
I drive by the high school playing field
where the portable soccer goals are out.
Images of picking my son up after practice.
His birthday's today.
He's thirty-three
and I picture him now,
six inches taller than me,
with broad shoulders, long nose,
and wide mouth,
bent in an ironic smile,
and inside the image of the man
a much smaller one
with the gently angled features of a child.




August 27 – September 3, 2006

 

Last Days

 

Summer ends twice,
once by the calendar,
and once before
when cooling nights and waters
give notice
that carefree days are at an end.
No more lingering lazily abed.
No more wondering what to do next,
or wandering
without a destination in mind.
The reign of alarm clocks is about to begin.
And slowly we slip away
from mountain, lake or shore
like sand sifting down in an hourglass.




August 20-27, 2006

 

Butterfly Ballet

 

Looking out the window
almost any time of day
I see tiger swallowtails in our garden,
and, to let them know I'm glad to see them,
I sometimes say,
in that welcoming Spanish way,
"Esta en su casa",
"You are in your house".
These are macho mariposas,
living up to their feral name,
big yellow butterflies
a hand's breadth wide
with black stripes on their wings.
When I approach they don't fly away,
they pay me no heed
just keep sipping nectar
as if to say
"You think this is your garden?",
imbibing as tranquilly
as patrons at a soda fountain,
inserting their long probes into the flowers,
like straws,
but suddenly a pair
will pirouette around each other
in helical dance
as if caught up in a whirlwind,
or romance.




August 13-20, 2006

 

A Manatee Comes to Manhattan

 

A manatee has been seen in the Hudson River
gawking at the tall buildings,
wondering at the absence
of mangroves and palm trees,
poking its W. C. Fields nose out of the water
as if it were about to don a top hat
and tap dance down Broadway.

This is just the beginning.
The climate's becoming warmer
the seas are rising.
Soon manatees
will crowd our summer streets
like tourists with fanny packs.




Aug. 6-13, 2006

 

Early Explorer

 

Living in L.A.
when it was much smaller than today
I ranged far
on my balloon-tire Schwinn
from our suburban fastness
eastward down the daylong boulevard
rolling the city's length,
like LaSalle
exploring the great mid-continental
waterway,

past movie houses
and department stores
full of siren temptations,
past buildings monotonous as waves
toward the city's towered center
that I saw each time longingly from afar
but reached only once
having to turn back time and again
to be home before dark,

westward toward the ocean,
that shore I never reached,
picturing its blue expanse
with dogged anticipation
as I toiled my way
past mile on mile
of urban Gobi,

or over the high hills to the north
through untamed canyons
with their boulder strewn streams
and groves of scrub oak
to the range's far shoulders
overlooking a broad valley
that reached into the blue-gray distance
(imagining myself a pioneer
surmounting the last westward fold
of the Sierra)
then down to the citrus groves
where I lingered
among multitudes of orange globes
in the welcoming shade.




July 30 – Aug. 6, 2006

 

Fog on a July Morning

 

Pre-dawn fog
veils the trees
blurs hard lines
dissolves solidity.
Houses loom like ships.
Our familiar town
becomes a mystery.




July 23-30, 2006

 

The Climbing Tree

 

The tree was tall
but made for climbing
branches close to the ground,
thick foliage
where we could perch
concealed from the world
like secret birds,
branches closely spaced,
a Jacob's ladder
into the airy realm
of birds and squirrels
and the daydreams
of tree climbers.




July 16-23, 2006

 

Summer Shadows

 

As a breeze stirs the leaves
it seems cool
among the flickering shadows
under a lone tree or forest canopy
or in the house
where summer lingers
somnolent
in the flickering shadows.




July 9-16, 2006

 

Watermelon Days

 

Here I am, a graybeard, eating watermelon
and remembering those summers
when I could count my age in single digits,
summers at the lake where my grandfather had a house
and all the cousins would assemble for dinner
around my grandmother's large table.
Though there's plenty of melon in the fridge
I find myself cutting close to the rind,
as I did in those days,
and there I am,
still that boy at seventy-three,
at the table with the tiffany lamp overhead
or descending the hill to the lake,
its remembered water, smooth and green,
lapping softly on the shore,
and the sound of mourning doves in counterpoint.




July 2-9, 2006

 

Independence Day

 

Recurring dreamlike
through the haze of time
and the tedium
of those hot summer days,
my back to the grassy slope
where spectators remain
bent over the ballpark
of that small town
as dusk turns to dark,
and rockets loop lazily
through the velvet air.




June 25 – July 2, 2006

 

Seventeen

 

That summer I worked at a camp
not far from the city
on the other side of the river.
One of the counselors, Didi--
Shirly Lutz, from Akron Ohio--
was a lithe, compact girl
with a sweet smell of sunlight about her,
and as she sat in the high lifeguard chair
her smooth legs crossed
the guys would crowd around
like stage door Johnnies
vying for attention.

Didi and I had the same night off
and we'd go into the city
down to the Village
and all night smoky jazz,
heading back to camp
not long before dawn
taking the nearly empty subway
to the bridge.
The buses didn't run at that hour
so we'd walk the mile across,
solitary voices
high above the water,
the sun rising at our backs
our shadows stretching out
long as the life before us.




June 18-25, 2006

 

Our Backyard

 

Reading something rural
by a poet from Vermont
I think to myself it would be nice
to live in such a place,
explore it with my poetry,
but then I look out our back window and see
a sky of very blue and white
a trio of goldfinches at our feeder
a squad of robins
combing the yard for worms,
and a young squirrel
chasing a robin playfully.




June 11-18, 2006

Dandelion Wars

Oh dandelion so merrily yellow
with your delicate feathery spheres
and your seeds so fine they float on the breeze,
how have we become enemies?

Where did we get the idea for lawns?
Was it hubris
a need to master nature,
to show who's in control?
Do we see beauty in uniformity?

And you dandelion, why yellow?
Why not modest green?
Is it wise to flaunt yourself
before those who consider you a trespasser?
Are you taunting us
(yellow is the color of laughter, I believe),
saying "here I am
and you'll never get rid of me"?

Though we may be at the top of the totem pole
though battles we may win
fact is you've fought us to a draw
oh lowly (?) dandelion.




June 4-11, 2006

Cat about Town

6AM, a mild June morning.
A cat is padding down the sidewalk across the street
coming back from mousing perhaps
or a late night rendezvous,
going home for his saucer of milk
or just enjoying the early morning air.
As I watch him saunter down the street
I say to myself
now there's a cat who's living life to the full.




May 28 – June 4, 2006

Pie

Apple, blueberry, cherry, peach,
coconut custard, banana cream,
boyhoods soft-focus dreams.

I used to stop at the neighborhood bakery
on the way home from school
to buy an individual pie
one just the size for a boy
except that an aunt
with whom I stayed for a while
forbid me them,
deeming pies bad for one's health.
Seeing me once coming home
downing a pie as I approached,
she gave me a scolding so fierce
I flinch from it to this day,
when pie is forbidden me again,
age having taken its toll.

Shades of Simple Simon,
Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn
and maybe Adam too
for what do you suppose was his favorite dish
after that first taste of sin,
which leads me to a metaphysical question,
was pie designed for boys
or boys for pie?




May 21-28, 2006

Catch as Cat Can

A cat sat under our bird feeder this morning
staring up with a studious appearance
more of meditation than menace
as if it were considering how to get at the bird seed,
rather than the birds,
but, though it was sitting there in plain view,
it looked furtive to me.
Cats always do.




May 14-21, 2006

The Tree

That tree was still youthful when my mother died,
that tree now gnarling with age.
If she'd stood by the kitchen window where I now stand
she'd have seen it,
smaller then,
and the pond
with its tendrils of early morning mist.
She gardened nearby
up the hill
where chickens now roost.
It was a cock's crowing,
something, city dweller, I rarely hear,
that woke me to the apparition of the tree in its youth,
the mist on the pond
and the mountain across the valley,
swathed in early morning fog,
on which my mother might have gazed
near the end of her too young life.


May 7-14, 2006

Room with Cats

Two bushy cats
dispose themselves
about the room,
one on the couch,
paws in air
head upside down
tracking me intently
willing me to rub its belly,
the other on a chair
under the dining table
studying, no doubt,
the secret underside of tables,
and when the chair is drawn out
rising like a lion from the grass
ravenous
for a scratch behind the ears.


April 30 – May 7, 2006

Frabjous Day

The sky its brightest blue
the clouds their cleanest white
the air balmy
as young leaves
bedeck the trees
in their fairest green.
What a fine day to be on Earth
sailing around the sun.




April 23-30, 2006

 

Dog Photo

I am eight.
Duchess is kissing me
with blissful spontaneity,
her long collie muzzle
thrusting up lovingly
into my face.
I am smiling
with a mixture of appreciation
and the reflexive reaction
of one being tickled
by a very wet, canine kiss.


April 16-23, 2006

Dog in the Daisies

Her black dog sits among daisies
in a photo my daughter sent
his tongue hanging out appreciatively
savoring the splendors of spring.
Black and yellow like bees
happy amongst flowers again,
like school colors for cheerleaders
hurrahing the vernal team.
Its dogs and daisies
and drowsy days;
its spring in the hemisphere!



 

April 9-16, 2006

 

Daffodils

 

Oh daffodils, the daffodils
beneath the trees
in our backyard,
everywhere in the neighborhood,
all over this patch of planet and more,

of poets long beloved,
but still worth a word or two,
so yellow, so yellow
they make one giddy,
oh daffodils, so daffadowndilly.




April 2-9, 2006


Crayon Work

 

Colors burst from the ground
like a child's fancies,
splashes of crocus, daffodil,
hyacinth, jonquil, narcissus.
New leaves fleck trees
with diaphanous green.
Blossom clouds puff
from shrub and tree,
and forsythia challenges
a cornflower sky
with impudent graffiti.




March 26 – April 2, 2006

 

Birthday

 

Dawn rose on a clear sky this morning
a few small cakes of cloud
gilded by a billion candle light.
Today I'm seventy-five.

 

 

Seventy-five

 

I woke up 75 this morning
suddenly three quarters of a century old.
I can look back on three generations
six dogs
a dozen presidents
almost as many cars
and an even larger number of wars.
Yet I don't feel any older than yesterday.




March 19-26, 2006

 

Hasta La Vista Baby

 

Though we may love snow
we're never sad to see winter go
like a charming guest
who has bad habits
and wears out his welcome.




March 12-19, 2006

 

Winter's End

 

This Sunday morning is less somber than the last.
A lightness ruffles the solemnity,
childrens' voices rising from the park
where recently the ground was shod in ice.
The clouds are taller
and sunlight peaks
their summits with a vibrant white.
A flock of pigeons flutters in the light.
The hazy air is tuned on higher strings.


March 5-12, 2006

 

The End of the Race

 

For much of our lives we wish we could hurry time,
become one of the older kids,
then an adult,
graduate,
end the week's work sooner,
gallop to an anticipated holiday or anniversary,
for a child to be born
and we're pleased when time seems to run flat out.

Then one day we notice
the end of the course is in sight
and we'd like to slow down.
But time keeps cantering
at its habitual pace
immune to rein and spur alike
and what seemed so slow before
now seems all too fast.




February 26 - March 5, 2006

 

Medicine Man

 

I've arrived at the age of medicines.
Every morning I arrange a bouquet
of varying sizes, shapes, colors, textures, transparencies.
You are what you eat, they say.
I picture a man made of pills and capsules
like a sculpture composed of found objects
by some Picasso of the medicine chest.

I remember seeing my grandparents,
and then my parents,
setting out their daily array of medications.
I didn't give it much thought at the time
but now I know it defines the old,
and I've become one of them.

Most of my life it's been "them".
One doesn't think of oneself
as destined to be old
For that matter, one doesn't quite believe it
when it happens.
I see the signs
but their significance escapes me.
My body may be old
but not me.




February 19-26, 2006

 

Watch Your Step

 

Beware the grammar police
and their auxiliaries, the punctuation prigs.
The penalty for a split infinitive is unspeakable
not to mention a comma splice.
When asked who’s there
don’t answer, “It’s me.”
If you do, it may no longer be,
but you’re safe with I.
If you want to prosper in this life
watch out for the spelling constables
and the handwriting cops,
pay attention to the proctors of political correctness
and above all give heed
to the propriety priests
lest you end up
for an infraction as small as using the wrong fork
in that circle of hell assigned to the indecorous.




February 12-19. 2006

 

Snowy Morning

 

Though dawn has come and gone
you might think the sun hadn't risen,
the snow so heavy
you can't see houses down the block.
Two goldfinches on the feeder
shrugging off the flakes
and a third waiting patiently
as if it weren’t bothered by the cold.
Somehow these birds,
so yellow in summer,
seem out of place.
Though they wear their drab winter coats,
I think of them as the color of sunshine,
forsythia, daffodils, dandelions, buttercups,
and am always surprised to see them about
these gray and frigid days.




February 5-12, 2006

 

Under the Apple Boughs

 

There was a wall along the road
where we played soldier
behind the loosely stacked stones.
Next to it a row of mountain birch
tops tinted in memory with evening sun.
Then the house
in dappled coat of whitewashed brick,
and the orchard with gnarled trees
where we pressed apples on chill fall days
and savored the cold, sweet cider.

Outside my bedroom window
a magnolia tree glistened,
and, beyond, a broad lawn
sloped down to the pond
where frogs held nightly congress
and I learned of mallards
and snapping turtles
and green-winged teals.
There we skated in winter
until darkness hid the agate surface,
swam impatiently in spring,
the ice barely melted,
as if our innocence protected us from cold

Between pond and house
stood a lone apple tree
where, as I watched at first light,
pheasants gathered
in their courtly plumage
to feast on windfalls.

Then bombs fell on Pearl Harbor
and soldier games gave way to war.




January 29 – February 5, 2006

 

World's Fair

 

I went to my first world's fair
when I was eight.
As is the way with such events
it was more about us
than the world,
and refracted the future
through optimist eyes.
You wouldn't have known
from anything on display
that a cancer festered
in Europe's bosom
or that the most brutal of wars
was mere months away.
Nor was there any inkling
of the baleful new words
soon to be unleashed
on our vocabulary,
blitzkrieg, storm trooper, quisling,
kamikaze, Hiroshima,
holocaust,
while the Futurama
with its ebullient guides
depicted a morrow
of shining towers
where poverty was ostracized,
Oh, the world looked good
in our neighborhood
in the spring of '39.




January 22-29, 2006

 

Where Have the Hurdy-gurdy Men Gone?

 

Where have the hurdy-gurdy men gone--
Reader, do you even know what they were?--
the knife sharpeners, the milkmen, the icemen,
who peopled the world of my youth?
Have they all quite faded away,
or is there an alternative universe
where crowds of them circle in the streets
performing the slow waltz of time?




January 15-22, 2006

 

Milkmen

 

This morning I dreamt of the milkmen
who used to deploy through the half-lit city,
when I was a child,
with their cargo of clean, white liquid
and rows of glistening bottles,
depositing their burden
on doorsteps and porches
with a soft clinking
that made sleep
all the more voluptuous.

This morning I dreamt of milkmen,
but, when I awoke,
they were no more than a dream.




January 8-15, 2006

 

The Bear

 

I found a worn teddy bear in our attic,
one half-remembered
as if only a dream.
When I squeezed it
it played a lullaby,
a tune I remembered
without knowing its source,
and with that tune came back
a time before memory
that I knew only from photographs,
of my mother
younger than I could recall
smiling with pleasure at me,
of myself still bald and stubby legged,
or lofted gleefully on a teeter-totter,
or a bit later
posed and pensive
with a halo of light brown curls.

For years that bear
lay in its box
waiting for me to pick it up again,
that bear I can no longer find.




January 1-8, 2006

The Ficus

 

The ficus in our dining room,
once scraggly and forlorn,
is sprouting new leaves.
I noticed them when I opened the shutters
this morning on another gray day
in a winter of early cold and snow.
We acquired it eleven years ago
with the house we moved into that year.
The former owners told us
a friend would come to pick it up,
but no one ever did.
We nursed it back to health
watering it weekly
fertilizing it twice a year
adding fresh soil
moving it to successively larger pots
till now it occupies a large glazed one
with an old Chinese look
like one you might find
in a courtyard of the Forbidden City.
We took it with us on two moves
fussily supervising its loading
to the resigned annoyance of the moving men.
We did all this
not because it was a beauty
but because it was homely and left behind.




December 25, 2005 – January 1, 2006

Still Delighting in Snow

I still delight in snow
some seventy years after I first did.
Though my body now is tentative,
my spirit weary of lifes contests,
I still take pleasure
in that world of whiteness
just as I did when I resided
in a frame so small
I can no longer remember how it felt.
Was I an infant?
No way of knowing,
but when I see snow fall
I sense boy-feelings of decades ago,
flakes on my lashes,
against my skin,
the bracing scent,
the compact blizzard
as I tumbled from my sled
a scattering of cold powder
turning my eyebrows white,
as now do other causes,
my clothes encrusted
the wetness soaking through,
the warm kitchen
where I disrobed
("Get out of those wet clothes!"
my mother said)
fading
into the one where I sit now
tapping out this poem.




December 18-25, 2005

Deep Snow

Snow came during the night
padding rough fields
with sensuous curves,
burying brown stubble
in voluptuous whiteness.
Then came sunlight
sliding softly over the fresh flakes,
running its fingers
down the hills' shining flanks,
caressing the slope by the kitchen garden,
embracing the house in blue shadow.




December 11-18, 2005

Snowfall

The sun, a fiery nest
in crystal flecked haze,
is soon no more than a smudge,
embers smothered in ashen cloud.
Stillness settles
on a waiting world.
The snow begins,
mere motes at first
speckling the sky's gray shell,
then a steady flow of flakes,
soon swarming, swirling, driving sideways,
whiting out fields, trees, houses, hills,
coiffing bush and branch,
muffling the ground
in downy layers,
wrapping us
in a cocoon of silence.


December 4-11, 2005

That Time of Year

Gorging on turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce,
pumpkin and apple pie,
I think of those who rarely taste meat,
seldom sleep with their bellies full
or pass a hunger-free day.
Reading how our children are becoming overweight
I think of mothers without enough food
to still their children's hungry cries.
What if we spared a few calories for them?

Seeing my fellow citizens
carrying piles of clothing into dressing rooms,
leaving stores with laden bags,
I think of the people clothed in our discards
baled, shipped and sold
in bare-soil markets around the world.
What if we sent them what we spend on new clothes
before the old have worn out?

Seeing driveways with three cars
I think of those who have no shoes.
Seeing McMansions
I think of shacks with dirt floors and cane walls,
shanties of cardboard or flattened cans,
children playing on unpaved streets
where open sewers ooze.
What if we gave them what we pay
for a few hundred square feet?

Seeing the crowded shopping centers
I think of the hundreds of millions
who live on less than a dollar a day,
earning less in a year
than we splurge on Christmas gifts in a few weeks.
What if they all turned up at the mall?

Seeing us filling our houses of worship,
professing love of God, I ask
what if we could find more love for our fellow men?



 

November 27 – December 4, 2005

Ode to Wholesome Pastimes

Hiking, birding, gardening,
we approve of these.
So much more healthy and wholesome
than watching TV
or playing computer games.
And they don't depend on an uncertain power supply.
No, they look to mother nature for their energy.

Then too they're venerable
like some purveyor to the queen, "since 1862".
Granted, hunting is even more so,
but it kills.
Or fishing
which makes us swell with pride
at being smarter than a fish.

But hiking, birding and gardening,
they're OK.
And those who do them too,
not slick
like the spin doctors and celebrities
who crowd our pages and screens
in their Armani suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes
or whatever they're wearing these days.
So I speak for the L.L.Bean-clad of this world when I say
give me your hikers and birders, in honest boots,
your gardeners, in kneepads, smocks and jeans,
who don't use electronic means
and aren't trying to persuade anybody of anything.


November 20-27, 2005

North Wind

Yesterday north wind came
scrubbing the air blue
sending clouds scudding
across clean fields of sky
lashing leaves from trees
sweeping away summer's traces.

When I went for the newspaper
this morning
the front door opened
on a wall of chill air.




November 13-20, 2005

The Century's Wars

I'm not good at birthdays
but have always remembered my stepfather's,
for his was the day
the great war ended.
We have a photo of him in France,
on a hill overlooking the Rhine,
a tall, clean shaven, young marine
in breaches, boots and campaign hat
hands on hips, legs spread,
seeming to tower like a monument
over the river's far bank.

There's another photo of him,
on Saipan,
carbine in hand
soiled battle fatigues
helmet with chin strap hanging open
looking smaller than I'd ever seen him look.
That was the day
his friend's son died there,
a friend he'd carried
from a battlefield in France.




November 6-13, 2005

Boots on the Ground

Put boots on the ground, they said,
as if they were dragons teeth
which, sown, sprout spectral armies
that fade away, once battle is done,
leaving no blood behind.

They said nothing about
the men and boys
who would no longer have feet
to wear those boots,
or would wear them to their graves.




October 30 – November 6, 2005

Suburban Autumn

The chill of autumn is upon us.
Leaves have begun to fall,
their herb-like odor
redolent of those days
when after school
we threw ourselves
shouting and laughing
onto piles of dry leaves,
and, older, played ball
on the leaf-flecked streets
until our hands grew numb
with the cold of dusk
and we were called
into the warm brightness
of our homes.




October 23-30, 2005

October Morning

The hazy morning air
though honey gold
supports no bees
only dry leaves
tracing their slow arabesques
toward the ground.


October 16-23, 2005

A World That Was

 

As I turn on the radio
this Saturday afternoon
opera swells out
from where I left the dial
and I'm transmitted back
more than half the century
to those peaceful prewar days
when I had no intimation
of what the future held,
and our radio
with its gothic wooden case
was tuned to the Met
in the living room
surrounded by birch and magnolia trees
and the long, smooth slope of the lawn.

I associated opera then
with dull times
when I was housebound
and would restlessly quarter
that thicket of sound
chafing for something to do.
For years after
I never cared much for opera,
but it sings to me now
of a world that was
in a child's hopeful eyes.


October 9-16, 2005

 

Just Before Dawn

Pale green seeps
into the soft fabric of night
as if dipped in light.
No stars in view;
their glitter subdued
by dawn's tide
and the moon's faint luminescence.
Only an appliqué of trees
adorns this dark tapestry.
That and a crescent moon.




October 2-9, 2005

It Was One of Those Fine October Days

 

It was one of those fine October days
free from summer's heat and haze
but not yet gripped by autumn chill.

It was one of those fine October days
when the sky's so clear
you can see the moon
through the atmosphere
at midday.

It was one of those fine October days
when the trees sport yellow and red
instead of everyday summer green.

It was one of those fine October days
when one draws a deep breath
and is grateful
to be resident on Earth.


September 25 – October 2, 2005

The Sphinx

Behold the sphinx with its powerful torso
mighty as a lion if not more so,
with a human head on top of it all.
But not much it can do with a mouth so small,
not good for ripping prey,
no way,
not threatening nor fearful
nor equipped with a roar
that would blow down your door
or even give you an earful.
Perhaps that's why the sphinx is so inscrutable.
In this world of fortunes so perilously mutable
it doesn't want anybody to know that
its just a very big pussy cat.


September 18-25, 2006

Rhapsody in Butterflies

It's mostly small white butterflies again,
some with a spot or two
but still plain and unassuming.
So the season began,
followed soon by varied hues,
black, then sulphur, and blue,
and swallowtails,
tigers, big and boisterous yellow,
great spangled fritillaries,
like tambourines,
and finally monarchs
swelling the season's close
with orange harmonies.
But now it ends as it began
returning to the simple tones
from which that grand crescendo grew.


September 11-18, 2005

 

Silly Man

 

I was a serious boy
and most of my life
rarely indulged in silliness.
Oh, I was prone to the inadvertent kind,
causing me to avoid the deliberate sort all the more.
Then I married a woman who liked my jokes
and gradually I extended them
into a bit of clowning.
She laughed and I clowned some more
and again she laughed.
I was energized,
like a dog walking on its hind legs
egged on by applause,
and the more my audience of one applauded
the more I two-footed it,
progressing to splits and fast buck-and-wings.
Now I even clown in public, sometimes,
and when I do, publicly or privately
I feel lighter for it.
At this rate, I'll end up floating away,
like a helium filled balloon.


September 4-11, 2005

 

Back to School

The weather turned cool last night,
the end of August near,
and my mind returns to school
schedules
homework
confinement in a classroom
gazing out a window at a still bright sky
enduring through still open windows
the lure of fresh autumn air.
All this weighs heavily on my mind
though I haven't been to school in fifty years.

 

 

August 28 – September 4, 2005

 

The War Against the Weeds

It's an endless war we wage against weeds.
Just this morning,
bringing in the morning paper,
I noticed weeds among the pachysandra,
weeds with narrow-eyed leaves
and runty flowers,
for whom that miniature jungle
seems a preferred habitat,
and I stopped there on the spot,
newspaper in hand,
in my pajamas,
to take out the intruders.
And so it's been since gardening began,
or at least soon thereafter,
this war between man and weed.
Makes the Hundred Years' War
seem ephemeral.

 

 

August 21-28, 2005

 

At the Beach

 

Summers at the beach
we turned pink on the yellow sand
wore grit like a second skin
fast high-stepped to the water
on sand sometimes so hot
we tried to run without touching ground,
splashed into the cooling water
tasting its brine
our nostrils full of that scent
that told us where we were
when we first drew near the shore,
swam out to waves
that carried us headlong on their crests
whirling us down as they crumbled
supplying us with breathless tales
when we were back on land.
Then we walked on the wet sand
where water followed in our footprints
while we gathered shells and sand dollars
and flat, smooth stones
rounded by the tireless work of water,
and watched white vested gulls,
those dapper beachcombers,
waddle down the strand
or, balancing on a breeze,
glide down the shore
like notes of an arpeggio.

Then late in the day
when we were tired and the tide came in,
mesmerized by the ocean's pulse
we watched it rise on the beach,
dissolving sand castles,
so painstakingly wrought,
then, nonchalantly, slide back down,
and at night
the timeless sound of breaking waves
lulled us to sleep.


August 14-21, 2005

Midsummer Day

 

Over ninety Fahrenheit,
fans flailing in the house,
butterflies busy in the garden
extracting the coneflowers' pollen cache,
a flurry of butterflies,
some a modest white
others blue,
gaudy orange,
like confetti tossed in a sudden gust.

Above the house
clouds pile high,
with the fine sheen of porcelain,
luminous in the noonday light.
The weatherman's predicting thunderstorms.
Maybe that's why the butterflies flutter so.



 

August 7-14, 2005

Summer Morning

Night having gathered the haze
woven by the heat of day
come dawn
has laid it to ground
adorning web and blade
with bright beads
while the sky,
stripped of its veils,
stuns with blue nakedness.


July 31 – August 7. 2005

Where Are You Now Shirley Temple?

Where are you now Shirley Temple
with your upbeat songs
and sunny curls
and dimples that could wish the world's cares away?
Not in some nursing home, I hope,
halo dimmed with blue rinse,
watching movies in your head
and smiling at cameras no longer there.

The world is coming undone,
warming at an ominous pace,
fish fast disappearing from the seas,
terrorism a plague.
Where are you Shirley Temple,
now when we need you most?


July 24-31, 2005

Summer Symphony

The days grow warm
then warmer,
blossoms display their petals,
clouds congeal
out of transparent sky,
thunderheads tower,
the air heaves into motion
then subsides,
drumrolls of rain
beat on fields and trees,
leaves are shaken,
puddles swell,
the sky clears,
the ground is dry again,
crops nourished
on the long summer light
grow stealthily
until one day
the corn is man tall,
children recycle perennial games,
frogs chorus,
songsters of tree and air
barnyard and pasture
do solo turns
while insects drone obbligato,
till autumn
with its melancholy airs.


July 17-24, 2005

 

Pullman Memories

 

Riding a train
takes me back
to those boyhood summers
when I traveled alone
from New York to Chicago
starting from Grand Central Station
with a gentle jolt,
gathering momentum
past the vacant eyed apartments
of upper Manhattan,
wondering about the people
who lived inside,
then over to the river
where we hit full stride,
our wheels clicking
at a Dixieland pace,
the Hudson Valley scrolling by,
lake-wide river, stubs of old mountain,
the play of light in a cloud crowded sky,
until we turned off at Albany
into mile on mile of farms and woods,
imagining myself again
into the houses
along the right of way,
those who might live within
seeming not quite real,
as we no doubt to them,
two worlds
sliding by one another
each in its own continuum
of time and space.

Then in the dining car,
self-conscious but proud,
the center of attention
in that adult place,
and not long after
in my berth,
snug as a tent,
shaken down to sleep
by the jiggling of the train,
waking during the night
when we stopped
at some anonymous station,
pulling the window shade up a crack
to see if I could make out a sign
of where we were,
watching the moving figures
swathed in steam,
silhouetted against the platform lights.

Then it was morning
and the flat fields of Indiana
were wheeling by,
telephone poles
were riffling by,
at a dizzy pace.
Like a horse
galloping back to its stable
at the end of the day,
we seemed to accelerate
as we drew near our destination.
I felt I had to hurry getting dressed
lest I would still be in my pajamas
when we reached Dearborn Station
where the train might be shunted off
before I emerged,
my father on the platform muttering,
"Where is that boy?"
But we slowed down
as we swam into the denser urban landscape
and instead of being caught unprepared
I waited impatiently
for that endless city
to end.


July 10-17, 2005

 

First Tug

"I've got a fish" I shouted.
I was five,
gone fishing with my father
in his boat with oars I tried
but couldn't manage.
It seemed such a long time I sat there
dangling a worm in the water,
the boat gently rocking
in the drowsy summer sunshine,
when suddenly there was a tug on my line,
that first tug
of a lifetime.


July 3-10, 2005

Summer Is Here Now

Summer is here now
as I remember it
consecrated by fireworks;
the long languorous days
tedious sometimes
but still sweet;
swimming in the lake
where skin and cool water meet
and fish dart away
from this alien invader;
water slapping on boat or dock
or weaving nets of sunlight on a boathouse wall;
the white froth of bow cleaving wave;
a sail flapping lazily as we come about;
or in a rowboat
suspended between water and sky
waiting for fish to bite;
playing into the dark hours;
and through the night
the myriad sounds of insects
and the lullaby of frogs.


June 26 – July 3, 2005

West Side Memories

We lived across from the planetarium,
mere yards from the sky,
while just down the street
was the el,
and still vivid
under the long gone girders,
a barbershop
with its candy stripe pole
and its carousel pony
astride which young clients sat,
at the center of the universe.


June 19-26, 2005

Summer Is Tomorrow

When I opened the back door this morning
the air was mild
and sunlight
decanted steadily onto the deck.
I saw blue flowers
grown over its edge
and a butterfly fluttering above.
Summer is tomorrow, I said.


June 12-19, 2005

Early Me

Looking at a photo of myself
toddling across a lawn
arms upraised,
I find it hard to envision
being so small,
looking out of so low a place,
standing hardly higher
than my mother's knee.
No, I have no recollection
of such a me.




June 5-12, 2005

Memorial Day
Hopewell, New Jersey, May 2005

It was enough to make us weep,
half a dozen vets of the last great war
looking like fading away,
followed by the high school band,
youth booming into adulthood.
Next a squad in Civil War uniform,
harking back to the source of the holiday,
a fratricide that seems today
almost as if it occurred in another country,
not just another century.
Then making up in creativity
what our town lacks in size
a retired Humvee
with a small girl in back
wearing a grunt style cap
and waving mechanically;
vintage cars,
big ones from a century ago
with wooden spokes
and other vestiges of their carriage genes,
still boxy ones from the 20s,
the streamlined 30s,
the fish tailed 50s,
a couple of Mustangs, an early Corvette;
then the fire engines, big and bigger,
like armor-plated rhinos,
our town's brigade riding old fashioned red,
others yellow,
sage green from a well-heeled nearby town;
delegations from veterans groups,
Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies,
one scout troop with a five-piece band
trying like twenty-five;
a motorcycle club,
plenty of paunch and gray hair,
and, though some ponytails,
suburban angels rather than Hell's.
Finally a platoon of kids,
all safely helmeted,
one tireless on a pogo stick
others on scooters and bikes
and even a few on tricycles,
training for future wars.




May 29 – June 5, 2005

Early to Rise

The birds are busy at first light,
an orchestra of them
twittering in the trees.
They can't wait slugabed
enclosed in hermetic habitations,
reach out to hit a snooze control,
pull covers over their heads,
so, they don't fight the advent of day,
try to go on sleeping
while the world awakes.
No, its almost as if they eagerly awaited
the lightening of the sky
and at its first trace
rose to embrace its daily revelation.
Then quick about their business
in the air still fresh from night's cleansing
they go to work
with songs in their throats,
while we humans still struggle
against the coming of the day.


In Memory of

Another World War II pilot gone.
Obit on a back page of the Times
"Pilot who downed Yamamoto dies at 84."
A photo of three lean young men in khakis
looking as if they never could be 80
posed in front of a fighter plane
Pacific palms in the background.
He began high school about the time I was born
and I began it the year he downed the infamous admiral.
My cousin Bob was a fighter pilot in that war,
so much a part of my adolescent imagination,
and it's almost as if the young man in the photo,
now, unbelievably, deceased,
were my kin.
Obit the same day for Percy Goring, 106,
last British survivor of Gallipoli.
When I was a boy it was the last veteran of the Civil War
and, when a young man, the Spanish American.
For earlier generations it was the Revolutionary
the Hundred Years', the Punic, the Persian,
always one within reach of living memory,
and always some last veteran
to nurture
nostalgia for old wars.


May 22-29, 2005

Early Birds

Quarter to six a mid-May morning
the sun not risen yet
but light enough
that this bit of the world is visible
aside from where the remains of night
pool under bushes and trees.
No traffic on our street so far
nor other noticeable human stirrings.
Crows cawing down the block.
Mourning doves crooning amorously.
A woodpecker's ratta tat tat
in the woods across the way.
A finch hops out from under a shrub
and takes off with two companions.
They fly in close formation
down the empty street,
already about their business
while most of us human kind are still asleep.


The Splinter

I got a splinter in my paw this morning
and my wife took it out,
as she usually does,
but she was sleeping late, so I had to wait.
I babied the hand for an hour or so,
and while I waited I wondered,
what would I do if I had no wife?
Go to the emergency room?
That would be overkill.
My doctor's nurse?
On Saturday?
A neighbor?
What did I do before I married?
Removed my splinters myself.
But one becomes dependent on a spouse.

When my wife awoke
she extracted the splinter easily.
"My lion," she said,
and I mimed an MGM roar.


May 15-22, 2005

Forever Young

Though I've passed the scriptural three score and ten
I don't feel old inside my skin.
My legs don't falter.
My hands don't shake.
My eyes don't water.
My mind doesn't stray.
I feel in the driver's seat
up here in my brain.
In fact I feel about nineteen,
still given to enthusiasms,
still remembering mistakes.


The Passing Parade

There are children on our street,
all sizes and seasons,
mounted on parental chests, and backs
like rajahs in their howdahs,
chauffeured by in buggies and strollers,
rolling past our window
on skateboards, scooters, bikes,
towing sleds and wagons,
toting books and backpacks,
bats and balls, hockey sticks,
toddling, swaggering, slouching, flouncing,
bouncing balls down the sidewalk as they pass,
earphones affixed,
boom boxes for bands,
or babies cries and babbling,
fluting voices
and brassy ones,
some loudly in chorus,
some softly in pairs.
It's a parade,
a pageant,
an opera,
a performance that lasts so long,
the protagonists age before your eyes.
Gradually, to be sure.
You can't see it month to month
or sometimes even year to year,
but sooner or later you notice
that one after another
they've grown man high,
and then they stride offstage.




May 8-15, 2005

I See Myself Becoming Old

 

My closet is full of suits I don't wear anymore.
Nothing I need to wear them for.
There are days when I stay in my pajamas till noon.
I picture my heirs looking at my wardrobe one day
asking "Can you think of anyone who can use these
or should we give them to Goodwill?"
Or, "Would you like this tie as a remembrance of Dad?"
As I read the obits of the recently deceased,
which I took to doing a few years ago,
I compare their ages to mine.

Then theres the arthritis in my hands and feet.
My left foot aches when I walk
and I suffered a rupture in a time-worn tendon not long ago.
I have more trouble lifting things and getting around.
Don't jump over puddles anymore
for fear of the damage I might do coming down.
(No more kicking up heels for me.)

What will it be next,
the incipient cataracts?
My hearing isn't what it used to be.
I don't think I need a hearing aid yet,
though my daughter disagrees.
Or will it be something unforeseen
like that ill-fated tendon?

I see myself becoming old,
yet it's as if I were watching it happen to somebody else.




May 1-8, 2005

 

On the Downhill Side

August is almost over
having, it seems, only just begun.
Once past the apex
we speed ever faster.
Ascending was slower
The landscape labored by.
Each time you rounded a curve
there was another just ahead
and you never saw the summit
much less the decline on the other side.
Then one day you notice you're on the downgrade.
The landscape unreels
at an accelerating pace.
You glimpse lowlands in the distance
from time to time
but the road
absorbed in its curves
never reveals its destination.
Down you go
wind pressed to your face,
applying the brakes
which no longer work the way they used to
and the last thing on your mind
is to shout whoopee.




April 24 - May 1, 2005

 

Blossom Time

Blossom time
trees abloom
pompons of pink and white
garments of lacy green.
I remember the Massif Central
about this time of year
almost fifty years ago
that high ground
spattered with new leaves
small orchards blossoming here and there
but mostly a sprinkling of green
fresh as the clear streams
with their thin sheets of ice.
Why that spring
out of nearly seventy?
Perhaps it was freedom,
for I was a young soldier then
on leave
driving from Heidelberg to Provence.
Perhaps it was the solitude
after the enforced society of military life,
alone and free
driving down a country road in France
the world just greening
the streams still braced with ice.




April 17-24, 2005

 

Dog in the Daisies

Her black dog sits among daisies
in a photo my daughter sent
his tongue hanging out appreciatively
savoring the splendors of spring.
Black and yellow like bees
happy amongst flowers again,
like school colors for cheerleaders
hurrahing the vernal team.
It's dogs and daisies
and drowsy days;
it's spring in the hemisphere!




April 10-17, 2005

 

Spring Snow

 

Wet snow coats
twig, branch and bud.
Against the still black street
the waning season
limns its last words
in bold calligraphy.




April 3-10, 2005

 

The Kite

dances on air
still joined to our hand
capering to our command
its string an extension
of our nerves.
Through it we reach
cloud high
as if we rode the wind
and the whole wide sky
blew through our hair.




March 27 –  April 3, 2005

 

What the March Wind Saw

 

blossoms and clouds blowing white
against a blue-washed sky

aureoles of daffodils
above the winter stubble

forsythia miming sunlight
amidst the leafless trees

budded boughs cascading
from early greening willows

birds, birds, undeterred
by all the bluster and chill





March 20-27, 2005

 

What Men Are Made of

 

My uncle Walter looked like a cat
with his round cheeks
and just-ate-the-canary smile.
He liked to fish,
you could imagine him playing with a mouse
and you might think you saw feathers around his mouth,
though that was merely his moustache.
At the same time he looked like a bird
with his jaunty walk
tweed jacket
and feather in the band of his hat.
Part bird, part cat;
that's what men are made of.





March 13-20, 2005

 

I Saw a Heron Flying

It was cold when I opened the door
and a gauze of cloud covered the sky,
the sun a muted disk behind its curtain.
In the chill air a bird call seemed to echo.
As I wondered at its strength and clarity
a large bird labored into view.
A goose I thought, without thinking,
but then,
too large,
and I saw the long legs trailing
and the crookd neck at the prow.
A heron, I thought,
a great blue heron!
And the cold morning air
seemed less like the last breath of winter
than the first of newborn spring.





March 6-13, 2005

 

First Notes

Though winter is with us still
the birds have begun to sing,
to the cues of spring,
first a cardinal, then a wren
and now this morning in early March,
as a chill dawn pinks the sky,
the wistful fluting of a mourning dove
which, after winter's longueurs,
when few but crows were heard,
now finds itself bestirred
to loose its song.





February 27 –  March 6, 2005

 

Ode to an Island

 

My sister lives on a Caribbean isle,
little more than a dust mote on a map,
no realm of magic,
nor Ariel, nor Caliban
(though a touch of each),
no stage for grand drama,
merely the familiar theater of domesticity,
but birds flower there
and flowers take flight,
fish flash rainbows over the coral,
palm fronds sway to the wind
as if spellbound in dance,
and in the night
as you drift into sleep
you hear the waves upon the reef
intoning the ancient anthem of the sea.

 

 

February 20-27, 2005

 

She

 

She sews my buttons
washes my shirts and underwear
wraps packages for me
and scratches my back.
She checks my spelling and punctuation
and supplies words I can't think of
and names I've forgotten.
She reminds me of birthdays,
even those of my closest kin,
and other important dates.
She also remembers our early dates,
where we went and what we ate,
and almost everything I've said,
and holds me to it.
She's a glutton for hugs and kisses
and other canoodlings.
She likes to tuck me in
when I go to bed before her.
(And I, for my part, like to be tucked.)
She calls me pumpkin and bubeleh.
She makes sure I don't forget
to get her cards for holidays
and put out the trash.
She lets me know when I've got food in my beard
and calls to my attention
driving errors and other transgressions.
She tries to dissuade me from eating
things that aren't good for me.
In short she is my
W-I-F-E.



 

February 13-20, 2005

 

I Feel Your Heartbeat

 

I feel your heartbeat
even though we're not touching
when we see each other and smile
after I've been away.

I feel your heartbeat
even though you're not at home
when I come upon
the sentimental gift I gave you
sitting on your pillow.

I feel your heartbeat
when I call you at your office
just to say hello.

I feel your heartbeat
and mine scats
in syncopated rhythm
round your metronome.



 

February 6-13, 2005

 

Winter Brilliance

 

The geese are flying again
swiftly
after the languid slowness
of the snow,
celebrating the whitened fields
with noisy exuberance.

The geese are flying again
under blue banners
of cloud emblazoned sky.



 

January 30 – February 6, 2005

 

Boxes

 

Our basement is full of boxes
stacked at random
and often when looking for something
I'll be surprised
by the debris of another time,
my children's toys or baby clothes,
my son's baseball cards
that haven't been touched in years,
the paraphernalia of forsaken interests,
long unused pots and pans,
and as I sit there sorting
memories flicker
in my mind.





January 23-30, 2005

 

Memories

 

I don't need more memories
yet they keep coming.
Nearly seventy years' accumulation stored away
in the attics, closets, cupboards of my mind,
but more arrive each day,
and the bedchambers too are full
of animated guests.
Granted, some don't stay,
and some stay only awhile
taking their leave considerately.
Others, however, remain,
stalking the halls year after year,
some congenial,
some unremarkable,
and some unwelcome lodgers who resist eviction.
And so, though the house is full
it keeps on filling
for it seems there's no end
to the memories it can hold.



 

January 16-23, 2005

 

The Boy Within

 

Noticing the photo on my bookcase
of a boy being kissed by a dog.
I think to myself
that boy is me,
65 years ago,
and I think
somewhere in me
that boy still exists.
Yes, I no longer look the same.
My hair is gray.
my skin no longer smooth.
I wear spectacles.
I have a beard!
Yet, looking at that boy,
I feel we are one,
as if the boy were like a butterfly
lurking within
a caterpillar's skin.



 

January 9-16, 2005

Words

What are words?
Mere marks on paper,
maybe shallow grooves on a hard surface,
but often nothing more
than a trivial disturbance of the air
less palpable than a breeze.
Yet they propel us through our world
as furiously as any hurricane!



 

January 2-9, 2005

 

Birds in Black

 

Stepping outside I find
mere feet from my door
two large crows
in a leafless tree.
Too large for its naked branches,
motionless,
with vitreous eyes,
they look like clockwork birds,
but in their gaze I see
wary minds
appraising me.



 

December 26, 2004 – January 2, 2005

 

Winter Surprise

 

It was unseasonably warm
when I went to bed last night,
but when I awoke this morning
there was snow on the ground
and I felt that subtle excitement
that snow brings.
When I raised the window shade
the lower panes were frosted
and I could see only the sky.
It was its brightest blue,
a few small clouds glowing warmly
in the early morning sun,
and a pair of hawks quartered the air
with no urgency of cold.
Then I noticed white on branches
and bent forward to see the ground.
There snow surprised me
flashing across fields
where I had expected
only winter's dun shades.



 

December 19-26, 2004

 

Note in a Bottle

 

I write this poem to
I know not who.
Whoever you are,
wherever you are,
if you should retrieve it
from the ocean of words around us,
I hope it will speak to you.



 

Children's Story

 

A bee lights inside our window
this late October day.
How did it get in I wonder.
I didn't hear it buzz by when I opened the door
nor see it out of the corner of my eye
nor feel a backwash from its wings.
But there it is on the windowpane.
What to do?
We can't live with a bee,
can we?
No, my wife wouldn't, even if I could.
(Wives are more practical.)
Were it a fly I'd swat it,
but a bee is too fine a creature for such a fate.
So I open the casement and blow
with all the force of my lungs
as if to extinguish candles on a cake
realizing, as the bee veers out
into the cold October air,
that it probably won't last the night,
that my breath is death to that bee.
Will it go knowingly, frantically wanting to live,
or is that beyond the insect mind?
Perhaps it will be numbed by the cold
and slip away anesthetized.
It's dark and getting colder now
and I wonder if the bee is already gone
or dying out there alone in the dark,
and I wish we could live with bees.
If this were a children's story
the bee would share this house with us
and we'd look upon each other
complaisantly every day
and in the spring the bee would go forth
and resume its gathering ways.



 

Season's Greetings

 

A card came in the mail today
on its face an old photo
of five boys running
across a snowy field in Central Park.
In the background tower the cliffs
of Central Park West
veiled in falling flakes,
as if this were a valley exempt from time,
and the boys,
their knees suspended in exuberant stride,
are wearing caps with earflaps
from that season when the world was young.
Now here in my warm kitchen
miles and years from that place
I feel its snowfield under my feet
and about my shoulders the sensation
of winter's cold embrace.




Copyright 2016. Richard Greene. All rights reserved.
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