Selected Poems

In the Beginning

I was there 
when you were squeezed 
from your mother’s womb, 
coming into the world 
not like a deity, 
clean, calm and complete, 
but as a man does, 
red, wrinkled and vulnerable, 
looking bewildered and indignant, 
like a turtle deprived of its shell. 

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. 

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
as if to let all know
how much they love.
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.

Winter’s End

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

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. 

 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

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.


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 were there before the stars?"
Or e'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.

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

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.


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.

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 in those days
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.

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.

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. 

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.

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 HudsonValley 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.

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 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,
and 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.

Where the small Midwestern river
issued from its lake
running smooth and brown
under a translucent vault of willows
I went exploring
when I was ten or so
imagining myself a voyageur
descending the mighty Mississippi.

There I encountered exotic fauna,
catfish with their mandarin whiskers,
looking learned and wise,
mud-puppies emerging from the water
like the first sea creatures
venturing onto land.
There sandy banks
sank into sepia waters
and a sunlit world
was steeped in mystery. 

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
the Sudetenland

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

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. 

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. 

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.

Listening to Fats Waller
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,
mother and son,
between the sofa and the baby grand. 

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. 

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
that 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 see,
they did nothing for my poetry. 

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. 

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
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 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 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. 

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. 

Firefly Time

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

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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

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

The sunlight disappears
and looking up I see
the shining edge
of a large, dark cloud
sliding overhead
like an enormous ship.
I think I hear thunder
and soon the sound is distinct
mingling with the exclamatory voices
of a family
on the path behind the trees.
Then large raindrops splatter
the deck beneath my feet
and I hear laughter
beyond the trees.


sun spangled
sail flecked
homespun bay,
cloud bannered
beach blazoned,
yes, wine dark too

a fanfare of trumpets
and cellos,
the somber brilliance
of a northern sea

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. 

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.

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?


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

Driving to the Sun

From Paris
to the Costa del Sol we drove
in my dilapidated convertible
in the springtime of our lives
down a long, straight Roman road
tunneling through pines
on into Spain
drifting through Madrid, Granada, Sevilla
then to Málaga 
the top down
Colette and Serge
perched on the seat backs
waving to the earthbound
as we sailed through small towns
on our way to the sky.


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.

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. 

Listening to Ravel

Playing a recording
of Ravel piano works
as I do paperwork,
I only half listen,
pondering more mundane matters,
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.

Land or sea,
the mind idles
as if listening
to the buzzing of a bee. 

The Sea

What is this thing we call the sea,
this wall of thick transparency,
life floating through it
as in death’s dream,
with sky of bottle green,
and skin that breathes,
this creature half wide as a world
that we love and fear,
like deity? 

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. 

Upon A Peak in Darien

Imagine a new ocean
finding yourself at its edge
wondering how wide
how tumultuous its storms
what strange creatures dwell therein—
like those that fill the uncharted spaces on old maps—
what continents rise from its waters
their mountains how high
their forests how vast
what islands garland its expanse
what civilizations its rims
what sort of men, savage or urbane, people its shores.
You might well look with wild surmise.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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. 

My Daughter

My daughter,
but looking twelve,
still a child
while other girls
are becoming women,
walks to the school door
with a faintly jerky step
toes pointing slightly outward.

She looks vulnerable,
or is it that I know
she's teased
and feel
a fierce desire
to protect her. 

The Passing Parade

Children drift down our street,
all sizes and seasons,
mounted on parental chests, and backs
like rajahs in their howdahs,
chauffeured 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 as they go by,
earphones affixed,
boom boxes for bands,
or babies’ cries and babbling,
fluting voices
and brassy ones,
some loudly in chorus,
some softly in pairs.
A parade,
a  pageant,
an opera,
a performance that lasts so long,
the protagonists age before your eyes.
Gradually, to be sure.
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.

 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.

I Feel Your Heartbeat

I feel your heartbeat
even though were 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.

A Woman’s Laughter

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

Polished Stones

Beneath the leafy layers of the wood
folding green on green
the creek sings
echoing the faint, discordant tones of reverie.

Under its sinuous surface
stones glimmer
taking shape,
like words.

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.

Rievaulx Abbey                       

Once filled with glowing glass,
its tall arches
are full now with the green of fields and trees.
Sunlight plays in the empty nave,
the sky for a roof, 
a shifting panorama, 
Wedgwood blue with cameo clouds,
fretted by passing birds,
or dark but pierced with stars.
Wind, rain and snow freely flow
where worshippers once kneeled.
The altar is a knoll,
wild flowers the congregation.


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,
as if created
just moments before
out of the primordial chaos.

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.

Rainy Evening Near the Hudson
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.

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.

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 Morning

The hazy morning air
though honey gold
supports no bees
only dry leaves
tracing their slow arabesques
toward the ground.

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.

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.

Just Before Dawn

Pale green seeps
into the soft fabric of the 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 applique of trees
adorns this dark tapestry.
That and a crescent moon.

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 noman’s hand,
by the sound of a voice merely
and 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.

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.

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.

This morning
when I went for the newspaper
the front door opened
on a wall of chill air.

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.

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
see it out of the corner of my eye
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.

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
for a scratch behind the ears

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 these views
charged with longing and loneliness
and yellowed leaves
wetly embracing the pavement
in a parody of love.

Homage to Leonard Nathan

There was a woman in Ithaca
the poem said
and I thought of Penelope
the crowd of suitors.
But it was nothing like that.
She was a woman in a motel
who wept all night
with no allusion whatsoever
to the Ithaca
of myth and heroes
but our Ithaca
real as motels
and coffee shops
and lonely people.

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.

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,
with vitreous eyes,
they look like clockwork birds,
but in their gaze I see
wary minds
appraising me.

The Twittering Tree

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

A Chicken's Lot

Hens pattern the chicken coop,
splotches of chestnut and white,
depositing eggs
like Faberge 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.

Forsaken City

Passing this small city at sunrise
I see it sleeping fitfully by its river
where once working mills lie idle
windows broken
smokestacks still.
Here as dawn breaks
I imagine hundreds
turning over in their beds
pulling the covers up,
nowhere to go today
or any day.
Yet the salmon sun
still swims up its ladder of clouds
and flights of geese slide overhead
as if this place were forest still
instead of a city turned to rust.

The Bridge

It was a city like others of its time,
of low buildings
and slender steeples,
until, in its third century,
two towers of stone were raised.
Higher than any cathedral,
they could be seen
from every part of the city, and beyond,
soaring above all other works of men,
not to strive toward heaven
or flatter a capricious king
but to span a channel
between two arms of the sea.
Longer it was than any bridge before
and loftier
so that tall-masted ships
could glide beneath
as easily as gulls.
For this it was hung from cables
woven against the sky
like a web wide as a forest
in which to catch the stars.

The Young Man in the Painting

The young man in the painting
is coifed and clothed in the style
of two centuries before our time.
He looks privileged
and not given to deep thought
as he builds a house of cards
in that moment long ago.

Generations have passed
since his smooth brow wrinkled 
his plump cheeks melted
and his look of concentration
was replaced
by the vacant stare of eternity.
Yet he still lives
on canvas
as he builds his house of cards.

In the Attic

In the attic
among the cobwebs and mementos
in the dim light
diffused through clouded windowpanes
I hear voices in the street
footsteps in the house below,
but there's no going back to that house
where I was young
so many years ago.

My Third Grade Playmates

My third grade playmates are 68.
Smooth skin has withered.
Nimble bodies have grown tentative.
Voices once fluting now grate.
Dreams have curdled.
Ambition is in disrepair. 
They are full of memories
and in memory they are preserved.
The children of my memory
are old.

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.

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.

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.

Silly Man

I was a serious boy
and most of my life
rarely indulged in silliness.
Oh, I was prone to the inadvertent kind,
slips I chastised myself for,
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
encouraged 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.

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
dont answer, "It's me."
If you do, it may no longer be,
but youre 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 reserved for the indecorous.

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 there's 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.

The Taste of Summer

Blueberries or raspberries
fresh from the bush
some in the bucket
some in my mouth.
I remember picking berries
with my mother and sister and brother,
my mother gone nearly 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 all the way from Chile
and I remember my mother
her voice, her dark hair, her fair face
on that berry laden hill.

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.

Winter Brilliance

The geese are flying again
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.

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 Earths 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.

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 life’s 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)
into the one where I sit now
tapping out this poem.

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 Year's, the Punic, the Persian,
always one within reach of living memory,
and always some last veteran
to nurture
nostalgia for old wars.

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.

Remembering Vientiane

Known among early European visitors
for their gentleness and insouciance
they lingered in a backwater
of a 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 ideoligies,
and bodies erupted
from the river's smooth surface.

Old files

sifting through old files
like layers of earth
yielding up bones
and pollen,
the shards of life
breath clotted
by the dust
of triumph and failure
desire and loss

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.

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.

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?

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?

Homage to Omar Khayyam

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

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.

Play Jolly Music at My Funeral

I've taken in recent years to thinking about my funeral
and have decided to make one paramount request:
play jolly music at that ritual.
What good does it do to heap on dirges
or other mournful melodies?
I won't be there to be gratified by the grieving
and if I could tune in
I'd be happier to see those present have some relief.
Jelly Roll would be nice.
Joplin would be fine.
Something by Fats Waller would certainly do.
Those early jazzmen knew what they were up to
when they set about making funeral marches swing.
So swing me away, please, with a rousing tune.

Last Words

I'm ready to cross the river now
on this rickety raft of bones
in this bag of sagging skin.
Let me swim.
All my life I've swum
beginning in the womb.
Now is no time
to start riding in boats.




















































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