Thursday, August 30, 2007


A life ago on a winter beach
I saw a woman walking the duff
that marked the gelid water’s reach,

tracking the meander of frozen fluff
that kept the sea from the iced sand,
a narrow passage, but way enough;

all the rest was snow, the land
sculpted by honed talons of air,
an eldritch scape. Hatless, hands

gloved, fisted to a red pair
of bulbous fruits on black stalks,
she was borne on a black wing of hair.

I was under the boardwalk
burning my driftwood, hunched
into heat, safe from the screaming hawk;

she saw my smoke, turned, crunched
up across the glazed snow.
I saw how chapped she was, how clenched

against the cold, yet her steps were slow,
measuring the way. I laid on
the last of the wood, poured some joe

from the thermos, the heat mostly gone,
held it out as she came up.
But she only stood silent, withdrawn

from all but the fire, ignored the cup
to worship at the votary
between us, upright, black as a bishop.

Her eyes were reaches darker than the sea.
I couldn’t guess her age; I knew
she was older, a bit, older than me,

but she wouldn’t be seen; she let me construe
the wisps of steam from her red wool,
her insulated hiking shoes.

Enough, it seems. Recovered, beautiful,
my blackbird started for the beach,
drained my heart, left it full.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Is This Thing Called Failure?

Once it was a lathered mutt
I saw in the window of a train,
defending his equipment hut,
choking on his rusty chain.
I was glad to be going places,
certain I could make it rain.

Then I saw it in the faces
of the stained old birds in parks--
you know the ones I mean--the cases,
wanderers who found the mark,
turned away in disbelief.
I saw, but the auspices were dark.

I saw it drop its scrim on grief,
add the cruel plasm of despair
to the spent tenure of handkerchiefs.
I saw it hover in the air
over schoolyards, eyeing its clutch.
I saw it damned near everywhere.

But lately? Lately not so much.
I’m pushing Pullmans late and soon,
going places, deals and such:
Cedar Falls tomorrow noon.
And nothing’s in my window but
a monkey grinning at the moon.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Madness of Monarchs

King Charles VI of France,
believing he was made of glass,
eschewed his carriage on the chance
a bump would smash the ruling class.

He’d pace the palace corridors
by night, howling, which so aggrieved
Queen Isabeau that her ambassadors
were forced to insist she mustn’t leave.

But, wolf or wineglass, the man
was insufferable, and so Odette
de Champdives was made to stand—
or sleep—as Isabeau’s soubrette,

and she, for the next thirty years,
went unnoticed as she lay
in the queen’s place in the queen’s gear,
while Charles pounded the cold parquet.

Later, in Bavaria, we find
among the aristocratic psychos
the Princess Alexandra, who dined
as a little girl on grand pianos,

a fact she steadfastly maintained
until the day she shuffled off
these mortal scales, and which explained
the sonant passages when she coughed.

Her nephew, Ludwig II, was worse;
he declared that night was day,
roamed the frozen black traverses
bundled in his golden sleigh,

looking for a place to build
another pile of gingerbread;
Ludwig’s fantasies fulfilled,
what if the exchequer bled?

Called “The Fairy Tale King”
by trolls, Ludwig was declared
unfit for rule, then for lingering.
His little brother? Ludwig squared.

Otto by name, this unpleasant
fellow believed he could retain
his sanity only by shooting a peasant
every day, which became a strain

on the servants’ quickly thinning ranks.
At last they bribed an inside man
to chamber Otto’s piece with blanks,
and picked a gardener to stand

alone in the field till a shot was fired,
and then to fall convincingly dead;
Otto, relieved, would then retire,
demons quiet in his head.

Nowadays, there’s Georgie the First,
who is by all accounts the worst;
a vain, incurious, callow clod,
his policies are set by God

in frank, extended nighttime chats.
They sit and dish on this or that
until they’re seeing Eye to eye
on who should live, who should die.

Henri I of Haiti once
marched his army off a cliff
to demonstrate obedience;
death wasn't at all so swift

for those refusing, but it was sure;
Henri Christophe was then alone,
rebels approaching. He had the cure:
a bullet through his own breastbone.

If only George could take a hint--
though a heart shot would not apply,
and one in the head only scatter lint--
he could reach around, and try, try.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Passersby

You see them everywhere,
the dazed and disbelieving passersby,
faces full of the things they’ve seen,
disillusioned, ashen, torn between
rage at having truth assault their eye
and dumb wonder at the luck of being there.

Innocent passersby,
with no love of seeing or being seen,
folk who live in the thin zone between
the actual and that which meets the eye,
things dreamt and things really there.
Decent citizens: they’re everywhere.

Maybe it’s death they’ve seen,
maybe the desperate gunman caught between
the cops and the proprietor’s dead eye,
or maybe they saw that tangled form there
hit, spread its humors everywhere.
They’ll never be the same, the passersby.

Maybe it’s love between
two perfect strangers that compels their eye
to follow strolling couples here and there;
why else would we meet them everywhere?
There’s no escaping them, the passersby,
and they remember everything they’ve seen.

Maybe another eye
to faithfully reflect them standing there
is what they search for everywhere,
some connection. Or do the passersby
simply collect the incidents they’ve seen,
bright pages to press their days between?

They won’t always be there:
things will go unnoticed everywhere.
They tend to disappear, the passersby,
taking with them all the things they’ve seen,
love and death and everything between,
the traces of ourselves still in their eye.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The ocean never was my friend.
The suck around my feet was clear,
even to me, that peeling boy:
less than the titan’s rubber toy,
I always knew enough to fear
a force I couldn’t comprehend.

It fed us well, that much I knew,
thrilled us as we dragged taut
lines across its lacy crests
for fish mother cooked and blessed.
I never counted what we caught:
the bill was always overdue.

Later, bellied down in swells,
a soggy match, tossed, belayed,
I knew a greater will was set
on closing out my aging debt;
we haggled through an endless day,
her clauses drumming in my cells.

Now my feet are warm and dry
but the old accounts are status quo:
the black Atlantic lies between
this surf and one I’ve never seen,
and by its phosphorescent glow
I reckon what I’ll owe the sky
if all I am, all I know
can fall away, let me fly.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Everyone thinks you ought to have it made,
but you’ve worked for your place in the shade;
you’ve grown accustomed to the general freeze,
and you don’t relish sitting with the other hacks
forking the Kevlar chicken and flaccid peas,
knives politely in the next diner’s back,
while some connected gusher thanks the Lord
and every living creature in the trade
for his third Children’s Coffee Table Book Award,
which cost his agent more than the project paid.

But you go. And inevitably comes the year
when it’s you who’s got to stand and be sincere,
recite for the assembled belly-aches
your modest, grateful, nonchalant address,
perhaps read them a few short takes
from the latest pound of flesh you’ve brought to press,
while home in your kitchen the knives sing in the drawers.
And after the dim applause and the fishy shakes,
you go home to begin a study of the floor,
glad of the murmur the refrigerator makes.

Still, there’s almost always a new day,
another crisp tomorrow on the way
in which you might reclaim some self-respect
by dint of your customary industry.
But laurel’s thornier than rank neglect:
you find your readers sitting on your knee.
The one thing that keeps you from the drink
is someone in a bare and distant country
who might look up from a winter page and think,
“I know this guy. But how does he know me?”

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reading People

They smile out at us, those who’ve made the grade,
proud but humbled by the simple truth,
pedigrees established, dues paid,
the multiple traumas of each hideous youth
survived and surmounted, inherited measly beans
now become groves of bearing fruitwood,
winners, who went for it, who reaped by means
of tireless lottery stubs their Peoplehood:
they lie in waiting rooms to be adored.
People. Too special to ignore.

But what have we to do with smiles like these,
we who cringe when the dentist calls our name,
who cling to the gimcrack biographies
suddenly struck by the odds they overcame?
What shall we call ourselves, we who choose
lives unsuitable for even brief reviews
in simple language smudged on limp slick,
accounts which, even spiced, would be
too bland for even the aching and the sick?
If these are People, what form of life are we?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Lies, dishonesty, inveracity, corruption,
artifice, bad faith, trickery, lies,
lies, mendacity, cozenage, imposture, cunning,
mythomania, lies, peccancy, chicanery,
crookedness, diddling, lies, double-dealing,
distortion, lies, cheating, evasiveness, bunco,
feigning, lies, secrecy, pharisaism, cloaking,
ambidexterity, duplicity, lies, fraudulence,
lies, dishonor, graft, aberrancy, lies,
dissimulation, cozening, lies, gullery,
equivocation, lies, falsification,
lies, deviance, fibbery, flimflam, lies,
improbity, swindling, lies, treachery, grift,
sham, Pecksniffery, sophism, lies,
confabulation, lies, whoppers, lies,
gyppery, deceit, lies, equivocation,
garbling, exaggeration, embroidery, lies,
misfeasance, lies, scams, lies,
two-facedness, lies, shiftiness, dodgery,
lies, hanky-panky, lies, blague,
trickiness, lies, sharp practice, lies,
truthlessness, lies, underhandedness, lies,
Tartuffery, cant, dissembling, lies,
glibness, lies, insincerity, lies,
perjury, lies, falsity, prevarication,
lies, delusion, paltery, misinformation,
casuistry, lies, speciosity, lies,
spuriousness, lies, dupery, highbinding,
lies, fourberie, bushwacking, lies,
misconstruction, lies, trumpery, lies,
manipulation, masking, lies, concealment,
heterodoxy, lies, illusion, lies,
doublecrossing, subterfuge, lies,
misrepresentation, lies, pseudology,
lies, indirection, damned lies,
lies, misstatements, lies, misguidance, lies,
cock and bull, lies, canards, lies,
lies, faithlessness, lies, lies, lies,
lies, lies, lies, lies,
lies, lies, lies,
lies, lies,

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tea and Symphony

All day the mumbled thunder
rolls across the windowsill;
you sit with orange pekoe under
lemon skies that will not spill.

Ignes fatui flee your cup,
unruffled in the hollow air,
decline your elbow, spiral up
the spindle of your rocking chair.

You take the stillness as a veil,
the silence as a state of grace,
as distant lightning plays a pale
music on your distant face.

Distant music in minor key,
pianissimo, a swallow’s song
that filters from the balcony
as the violins are walking on.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

At Home With Hitler

The Fuehrer never likes to make a fuss.
This gracious house of his might well be
a businessman’s retreat—he’s one of us.

Although in every tasteful room we see
Europe’s finest artworks on display,
perhaps the rarest gems are those that he

himself created in his former days,
maybe better days, he sometimes feels,
back when a true artist lived on praise.

But times change, change a great deal.
Now, here at Haus Wachenfeld,
the burdens of his office all too real,

he’ll gaze out at the Obersalsberg, held
by chapel shrines, ferns, the chain of lakes,
(truly a prospect without parallel)

and stare until his great heart aches
with the overwhelming beauty of the scene,
with knowing that man is what he undertakes.

Inside, the color scheme is green
throughout, the palest jade, cool repose;
in every room the paired canaries preen

for their dear Fuehrer in gilt cages, compose
a charming music to ease his burdened heart.
He gets one out, lets it kiss his nose.

He has a writing desk from Herr Mozart,
and people scouring Europe for the best
antiques; of course he’s always keen for art.

At last the Reichsfuehrer invites his guests
to sit, take some sustenance outdoors,
with the fresh mountain air to aid digestion.

A strict and dedicated herbivore,
the Fuehrer will permit himself no flesh,
but serves truite saumond a la Monsigneur,

along with a winsome Riesling to refresh
our happy palates, though he himself demurs.
Herr Kannenberg, the chef, provides a fresh-

picked garden salad and eine Spur
of soup for the Squire of Wachenfeld, who tends
to the garden himself, a true connoisseur.

The gardeners, he says, are Freunde, friends
he visits every morning without fail,
to sample something choice, to recommend

some new technique, or simply to regale
them with his jokes. They love, and they respect,
his mastery of every last detail.

Our hunger quenched, we must now inspect
the kennels and the Fuehrer’s famed Alsatians,
a place where love and science intersect.

Perfection truly crowns his dedication
to the breed; his careful hand produced a true
nobility, the very face of his proud nation.

He romps, tosses Hundekuchen chews;
this heartwarming, affectionate exchange
is irresistible, so blithe, so impromptu.

But it doesn’t do to spoil them. Off to the range,
where archers hone their skills for Children’s Day.
But a major comes, whispers. He is changed.

Sadly, the Fuehrer must take himself away.
When the fate of everything is in one's hands,
one has no private life. One has no say--

nation, party, volk--nothing but demands.
But affairs of state must take priority,
of course. Of course. We quite understand.

We leave the Fuehrer’s home reluctantly,
only grateful that we had a chance to see
how full of grace a country home can be.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Even lichen mocked his heart
with riot on the local stone;
less resigned to life apart,
the rock itself was less alone.

Long estrangement turned him cold,
dry as leaves beneath his shoes,
a man impatient to be old,
a man with only time to lose.

But then a sudden summer came:
the sun’s trumpets blew a storm
that shook his self-sufficient frame,
left him living, left him warm.

Love, it was. Summer? Her eyes,
her spirit welcoming and wide,
and joy, and infinite surprise,
when she agreed to be his bride.

But summer is a funny thing;
summer warms, and then it burns,
and then the waning season brings
a morning when the weather turns.

Within her was a shuttered room,
protected from the light and air,
and deep in the abiding gloom
he found another living there.

He wasted no reproachful tears,
never spoke of what he knew,
but tended through relentless years
the lovely lichens, green and blue.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Philip Larkin


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Black Dog

Every morning, guaranteed,
they come, an ordinary man
walking his dog on a tight lead;
the dog’s the size of a minivan,

of an unreflective black that wrings
the color out of morning light,
even its eyes; its tongue swings
across teeth of brilliant white.

Passers-by give them room.
They weigh the same, within a pound;
it’s clear the beast can take its groom
wherever it wants: it chooses its ground,

chooses where, chooses when,
allows the man to trudge along,
even to stop now and then,
but they don’t sniff the roses long.

A gentle tug on the silver chain
fastened to its master’s wrist
puts them on their way again,
dog and numb equilibrist.

Then I see them all around,
pegging down the avenue
chained to their funereal hounds,
envying the free, the few.

We stop to watch a little while,
but there isn’t much time, I know;
my hulk, with a feral smile,
insists it’s time to go. I go.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


“Men are from Mars, women from Venus”
doesn’t account for the excellent fit
of Venusian vagina with Martian penis.

Biologists certainly wouldn’t expect
so apt a relation in alien creatures
unlikely to meet, much less to connect,

which proves a nifty slogan wrong.
Our prime directive is to breed;
it’s small beer if we get along.

Our lives are shaped by ribosomes
that never spare a thought for love
or the conversations in our homes.

Women are Earthlings; men are, too.
Nature, indifferent to daily annoyances,
made us to mate, if we can, and we do.

Which tells us why, plan as we will,
it’s always a gamble to sit and gaze
into strange eyes, depthless and still;

we may find ourselves reflected there,
assuasive, warm, idealized,
as we journey off to Anywhere.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Bearing their supernatural tits,
the bronzed, succulent nitwits
arch and flex across our screens
glistening in saturated pinks;
wet with research, slick as ink,
they populate the dream machine

with smiles white as urinals,
caught in an eternal prime
concocted to remind us time’s
a fickle friend to lovely mammals.
It takes a smile precisely cold
to warn us that we’re getting old,

a rigorously empty head
to waken our sincerest dread
without putting us off our feed.
If things are bad, there’s always hope
in model land; they may be dopes,
but they’ve got the remedies we need,

the clothes, cosmetics, leaders, cars,
island sunsets, sleeping pills,
purveyed with such exquisite skill
we wake in sunny Zanzibar,
our bathing suits two sizes small,
wondering why we came at all.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Wisdom of Diogenes

Diogenes the Dog sat outside
a brothel, shouting, "A beautiful whore
is poisoned honey! Have some pride!
A beautiful whore. . . " The men swore
a bit, tossed some silver, cried
for silence. It wasn’t long before
Diogenes gathered up his money,
struggled to his ruined feet.
“Time for a bit of poisoned honey,”
he said, going in. “Sweet.”