My heart’s a little tough
From being kicked down streets, byways
Like some discarded piece of steak.
All dried up, crisscrossed with a rake,
It rolls along, distressed, alone,
Without a trace of muscle tone
To make it race, or skip a beat—
Upon the sidelines takes a seat
To watch the heartless ones play games
Of wins and losses, and who blames
The other one for what and why.
No heartfelt tears to mourn the lie,
It hopes that someday soon you’ll come
To rescue this endangered one.
Looking for greatness
everywhere, I did
Think trees remote, irrelevant in time.
My outlook stiffened as deep problems hid
Their faces; and each day stopped on a dime.
Severe intentions froze my narrow view.
I was a fool—and each tree thought so, too.
And so I laughed when you
spoke well of trees;
Sneering at your daft simplicity
As you praised spread and species, and the ease
With which they stood. Then, in complicity,
The trees conspired to catch the passing breeze
That ruffled your scant hair illicitly,
Pulling your tie askew as if to tease.
Lifting your Panama, it laughed at me.
The day arrived when Edna
was too blind
To live alone. She gave her things away—
The china owl with one glass eye—her mind
Was on the bumps in sidewalk cracks that day.
A flowered pitcher, empty, save for tears—
She knew what faced her in that place where old
Folks had to go, so, facing her worst fears,
Packed canisters devoid of flour, cold
Old roasting pans, some ribbon, recipes,
Affections, memories, her younger face;
Mementoes of her eccentricities,
And all that passing time could not erase.
The absence of all laughter in the gloom
When all would end in one small, scoured room.
A poem, subscribing to a
Flies higher than the highest planes,
Seems safer than a rose-red tan,
Or traffic in the fastest lanes,
Where people die in random crashes.
And yet how dangerous are words?
Combined, their meaning soon surpasses
A single, random act. Like birds,
We let words fly. The way they fit
Reveals much more than we admit.
After a freeze, the ground
is hard and sere.
Hard ice piles up upon the crusted snow.
Dry plants shrink back. They seem to show their fear,
As I do when I think back on the flow
Of time and shrink a little in my shell,
And know I’ve learned my lesson very well—
That every crack in armor writes a line,
And in the end you use it as a rhyme.
There is an awful leaden
Upon my heart. Inevitably
I cannot see, approve, relate
To what destroys my fantasy.
I see some whole, enjoying me
With open heart; but yet to date,
I do not meet one who feels free
Enough to love. At any rate,
I am that object on the shelf
Priced out of reach—star on the tree
Or in the sky. I find myself
Caught in a trap; see I must be
A pale illusive fantasy,
Who cannot please or pay the fee.
There used to be a garden
in the back—
Fine vegetables, some zinnias, a pack
Of Four O’Clocks around a step of wood—
It seemed as if thick clustered roses could
Climb higher than green even rows of corn
Above the highest peaks, just to adorn
The house, two chimneys and the slated roof.
My house. So if some others were aloof,
Disparaging my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams,
I had four walls, two floors, two silver streams,
A meadow and a pine tree and a hill.
A few bright thoughts, like zinnias; my will.
for Bob Fisk
One fat uncle
had some money,
But he had no sense of fun.
Though he lived on milk and honey,
Told his nephew, just begun:
kid, go to the City—
Push a rack, or ride a bike!
Would it be an awful pity
If a job you didn’t like
Brought in something for your board?
Think of what you could afford!
But there was
Not so rich, somewhat in debt—
Thought that jazz and other junk’ll
Help create a string quartet.
He tried to
teach him violin, though
He’d have been a better drummer.
But then, what do uncles know?
Winter, fall and spring through summer:
stubborn or betray me—
I’ve been feeding you for years.
Think of how you could repay me!
Trash those silly baby fears!
from grey old uncles
(Who love to let off steam and prate)
Gives a kid with guts carbuncles—
Why sign up for what you hate?
Push a cart
in old Manhattan,
Make you uncle’s fiddle sing—
Jump a ship, heave to and batten!
There is a
shadow drawn around the space
Which you once occupied within my mind.
A vacuum now exists there; yet a trace
Of words and gestures lingers, to remind
That shadows made by your dark, clouded past
Are more substantial than the ones you cast
Upon that path and open door, my face.
Now shows the negative; the empty rind
Of what had looked to be a full embrace
Has proved to be a tight and choking bind
Made up of smoke and mirrors, rope—a blast
Of rarest spice turned stale. We’re done at last.
saving, I stand here. My phone
Records the gossip trees exchange all day
In leafy syllables. Some hours away,
I’ll forward it to others when alone.
I am the one,
as silent as a stone,
Who wants to hear what trees might have to say—
Confiding in a hushed arboreal way
About an awkward branch where knots have grown,
Magnolia stretched his limbs too wide,
Annoying pristine Bridal Wreath, and then
Gave fat Hydrangea quite a bumpy ride—
Exposed the Moss Rose for her thorny skin.
All in a
passing interlude, which then
Admits the steady pecking of a wren.
Just where the air hung
sharp as wine
Under the moon and star-lit shine,
Gypsies were singing, waked our cow.
Where are the sons of Egypt now?
Under a cloudless dome so
Roaming the back streets in the dark;
Living in storefronts, trivialized,
Dull and diminished—civilized?
I like to think I still
Out of the casement, dreaming, keen,
Longing to crawl through long, sweet hay,
Quick, jump the stream—then off, away.
Campfires are burning
Midnights, near any rock and rill—
Shadows still journey to our old creek—
Ghosts, calling back that lost mystique
Beside bright painted
Secrets are waiting for me there.
Dressed in my spangled skirt, I’ll learn
How to read fortunes as bonfires burn.
Von Gogh had a bedroom (so
With a slanted roof that leaned one way.
My roof had no slant; his bed was wood.
Mine was iron, brass; the spindles could
Draw thin curves there, upon the whitened wall;
All in a brilliant crimson; narrow, tall…
Van Gogh was forced to leave his yellow house.
We all are Gypsies, moving is our lot,
Forever trying for the very best,
And in between, just hoping for some rest.
Some summer people, simple,
Tarnished with the grit of day,
On the dampening sand, entwining,
After all their talk and play.
Happy faces, some revising,
White marks where straps slipped away;
Hamstrung muscles, sore and straining,
Got from running every way.
Shadows, working into
Rich skies start to fade away—
They can see the sunset glowing,
Red and gold that fades to grey.
I never thought that you
The slippery man of mystery
You liked to intimate that you
Were then. And so confusion grew,
And when you couldn’t pull it off
You gave a little awkward cough,
Retreated to your store of money
Which suited you to spread like honey.
Leaving faint trails of it
You couldn’t lose! That manic shout
I hear, whenever fools get stuck,
Was yours—you could afford a truck
To pull you out in any weather—
Regard for you flew like a feather.
Lost in leaves, rain in the
Can run away with memory.
Lucky the one who still believes
That life is full of symmetry.
Though pigeons claim
Attempt to tell us otherwise,
A vast and dull sorority
Proclaims our freedom from surprise.
They fear the brunt of
life, but when
Air cools, and floods of fluid rain
Drop on the places we have been,
The best of us begin again.
Water, transparent, green
Sand, in a softened ochre mass.
Grey lumpy rocks, in lined parade,
Framed by pooled water, smooth as glass.
Plunging in waves, the
Circuits of pastel; flaming brass.
Opaline rainbows fade to shade
Upon the clear green of the grass.
Never the same, the soft
Out of this mix landscape is made.
Now we will try to save the earth
By eating insects. What’s it worth
To serve ourselves such awful chow?
We’re cautioned that a gaseous cow
Can take away the oxygen,
To give up oil, and coal, and then
Hope that the sun will shine each day.
Just hope; for Heaven’s sake, don’t pray,
But watch the many windmills play
As ducks, unlucky, drop in thickets.
No matter, soon we’ll snack on crickets
Roasted, dipped in chocolate sauce.
They’re bugs, we’re human—and we’re boss!
One recent twilit evening a
Ran into a slim crescent Moon, and sat
Down with him on the terrace of a bar.
They ordered drinks, and settled in to chat.
The Star said I’ll have
fireflies in a jar,
The Moon requested double sunlight, neat.
He much preferred flirtation from afar,
But drama makes a starlet’s life complete.
They flirted; then Moon
said he’d hoped they’d meet,
And where do Stars come from? Star simpered, sipped,
Then belched some red hot sparks—the intense heat
Made her loquacious; she asked Are you ripped?
On her third jar of
fireflies, she tripped.
I think I saw you here last month, said Moon.
My orbit every now and then gets tipped;
You were that hot one, weren’t you, in Cancun?
You’d like a constellation,
Said Star, You’re young, too changeable, I’ve heard.
And, seeing your dark side this afternoon—
I have to twinkle; that’s my final word.
Star rose, and faded in a
cloud of blue
As Moon sniffed; muttered It’s not me, it’s you.
*(First published in Trinacria)
It used to be that there
was a division
Between the arts, and each had segments, too.
A poem was just a poem after revision;
A painter mixed his colors—blue was blue,
And didn’t need some trash,
or added gravel
To make it more exciting to the eye.
Once, dance depicted grace, and human travel
Through life was not a calisthenic lie.
And when did sculpture
morph into some girders,
Well rusted, piled together in a heap?
A thousand of these small aesthetic murders,
And art began to take a frantic leap
Into the current chaos that we think of
As progress; and the little love we keep
For beauty is sunk deep below the stink of
The odor of a rotting garbage heap.
*(First published in Chronicles)
Two kitchen windows. They
Upon a narrow strip of lawn,
And bittersweet. Just after dawn
The air is sweet. The morning gone,
The day’s in flower, sun is out.
Dishes are washed, and drawings done,
And all the bustle and the brawn
Of commerce now has been withdrawn
As afternoon lies, soaking sun.
Lazy, languorous, open to
A blaze of red, the deepening blue --
A window with a larger view.
I watched her fingers
flashing in the sun
Over the paper, hovering just where
A letter to an old friend was begun,
Describing work she had before her, where
Some baby chicks behind the
coal stove warmed,
And butter made from cream, just pasteurized,
Was setting in thick yellow skins. When formed,
I churned it up till butter turned; surprised
To see her pen still
moving. Then, her ring --
One tiny brilliant diamond in green gold --
Reflecting on that pen. A magic thing,
These beams merged to create a compound mold
Of jewel and pen,
intriguing me; a call,
Before I could articulate or scrawl.
Pachelbel plays, as my good dentist drills
Decay away and fixes dental ills
That aggravate, but cannot heal the sum
Or even part of my pierced heart, struck dumb.
His soothing room holds light like pear liquor;
Pale amber, making everything a blur.
Each light ray shines; the art-filled walls grow dull
And dim the confines of each cubicle,
To grey the waiting room, fine books, the couch,
Meld them in squares, where coffee tables crouch.
I wish that withered hearts were quickly patched
As teeth can be—as hardwood, badly scratched,
Can soak up soothing oils to heal each burn;
When pain waits for us, everywhere we turn.
Water, transparent, green as jade,
Sand, which may someday turn to glass.
Grey lumpy rocks, in lined parade
Framed by some darkened damp sweet grass.
Plunging in waves, the skies invade—
Circuits of pastel; flaming brass.
Opaline rainbows fade to shade
Upon the water, green as glass.
I muse a lot on what has
Sweet scents, croquet upon the lawn,
Poems read, just at bedtime,
Words forming pictures, gliding rhyme.
A rabbit’s shadow on the
Formed by small hands—a pine, so tall
It scratches sound upon the porch—
Moon moths, a citronella torch;
A stretch of time, a quarter chime,
The hope my musings might combine
With hope for that bright future time
When all these things may fuse, align.
Pianos left her many years
She hasn’t sung in concert for a while,
Or cared to dress with any sense of style.
Her eyes are bad; she doesn’t read a lot.
This year, the snow took
much too long to go,
And her heart pondered those in double files
Who, armed with wily smiles, like crocodiles,
Lashed out their words as if they were buckshot.
Of all the many things she
tried to know,
A few stood out along life’s bumpy mile.
Like Caesar, as he traversed the great Nile
With Cleo, in a convoluted plot,
It was too much. She turned her eyes to truth
In beauty, which had solaced her from youth.
What a Wit is Worth
For John Whitworth*, poet
Oh, Whitman was a rhymer who enjoyed to play the part
Of complicating everything. It’s something of an art
To ramble on for pages on the pinprick of a thought,
Which makes word choice irrelevant, and form seem overwrought,
And chokes the flow of meter like a clot within the heart,
And leaves the scansion bumpy as an overladen cart.
Oh, you may paint your wheelbarrows as red as Commie traitors,
Make sure your plums keep cool and bland in sleek refrigerators,
And hope to Heaven you will cause great earthquakes and unease
Disturbing all the critics huddling roosted in the trees,
But Whitworth’s worth more half again than all the free verse clamor
That issued from that country boy whose hyperbolic stammer
Has branded modern poetry these hundred years or so.
So, now along the bottom road, as in arrears we go,
Feel sorry for poor poets blaring pompously, full blast—
And wave the flag for wit and humor—these things truly last.
*English poet John Whitworth passed away
in April of 2019. Among his other accomplishments his last book
was Joy in the Morning (Kelsay, 2016). He
also wrote a book about writing poetry—Writing
Poetry (A&C Black, 2001)—and was the
editor of the anthology Making Love to Marilyn Monroe: The Faber
Book of Blue Verse (Faber, 2006). Quoted on thehypertexts.com:
"I write in rhyme and metre because ... because that is what I do. That
is the way poetry presents itself to me. I can't write it any other way.
I'm not at all sure I would want to, but even if I did want to I
Bury A Poet
Some poets write, then publish
what is written—
Victorian ladies comment, are half smitten,
Close followed by those ones who count mistakes—
And in the end, well… all it ever takes
Is some old crank know-nothing with a grudge
To space out paragraphs of narrow sludge;
Bean-counting lists; more negative the better;
Word after word, to make one bitter letter.
these words are measured by
The blot upon the page, and all in sight
Join in the ruckus looking for a fight.
This fan club—harsh and brash—is on the rise,
To praise each other’s efforts to the skies.
The poet? Buried
in subservient lies.
He’s on his speaker; she’s talking on her phone.
He hears her clearly; she feels left alone
Beneath the surface of the deepest waves,
And strains to find the clarity she craves.
His sentences lack something at the end,
Then tidal pull returns them, lest the bend
Of that deep undertow of thought and sense
Might rise up and demand some recompense.
Those other people climbing in his car
Push him across the waves to take him far
Beyond the depths where she might care to go—
She isn’t sure how far, and must go slow.