Tuesday, July 31, 2007


They’re everywhere. We, their prey,
do well merely to hold the line,
salvage remnants of our days;
it’s part of nature’s grand design.

They close on us like toxic skies
thick with soot, slide their bleak,
soulless, calculating eyes
all over us, a gaze that seeks

only life to smother, joy
to quell, opportunities
to break our shiny birthday toys,
count our heedless calories.

Clergy bids us to be nice,
in fact to love them, but the scent
of such self-interested advice
is rank, familiar, evident.

To make it worse, they always seem
to prosper, to have the upper hand,
their monumental self-esteem
beyond our power to withstand.

They get themselves elected, twice,
despite their pinched and addled brains;
leaving us to pay the price
and try to scrub away the stains.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

All Night News

All night we addicts take our turns,
connect for cigarettes or sweets,
or a cup from the immemorial urn

abstracted from uremic cheetah
to be simmered lovingly all day,
until a glance will etch the teeth.

Awful coffee, is what I’m saying.
No one bothers to pretend
it hasn’t always been that way,

and yet the heads recoil again
and again from the waxed-paper rims,
delighting the fixed few old men

who gather as the day gets dim
to court by night the cardboard
queen who hypes Virginia Slims.

Yes. Much as it’s to be deplored,
an itch for the bitch nicotine
will still often jog me toward

that urn in the odd hours between
gray despair and dawn’s red ink.
But I head first for the chrome caffeine,

unable to care what the regulars think
of someone who never seems to learn,
who always winces, always drinks.

Friday, July 27, 2007

In a Country Churchyard

I saw an ancient woman at St. Paul’s,
in Virginia, kneeling, busy among the graves.
She watched me inspect the sober meeting hall,

finger the native granite, before she waved,
called me to see her weather-blackened stones.
She scrubbed at the discolored architrave

of an old family stele, her miniphones
almost lost in the blue hair that escaped
her blue knitted cap. I could see her bones

as she bore down, the stark, defined shape
of her carpals as the brush stretched her hands,
her vertebrae in the thin skin at her nape.

“It’s just something I’ve never been able to stand,”
she told me. “A dirty grave is a pure disgrace.
It’s all this awful traffic. Should be banned.”

“The exhaust. It eats up things we can’t replace.
This black is nothing but acid. It’s not just smoke.”
I wished her luck on the ban with my straightest face.

She scrubbed awhile in silence before she spoke.
“When I’m gone this place’ll melt, that’s all.
Well, fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em. I hope they choke.”

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I’m getting old. My friends are settling down;
they’re less messy when they go these days,
no bent Ducatis at the edge of town,
nothing left on streets to hose away.

They go in bed now, which I suppose
anyone would wish, given a choice,
propped on clean pillows, the family close,
framing their last thoughts in their last voice.

Better, surely. But if the funerals of youth
mourn lost potential as much as fact,
elders’ eulogists must grapple with truth;
with life behind us, we must hope for tact.

Though I don’t suppose it matters after all
what the living say, or if indeed
they even notice; whether we hit the wall
or wither, the same end is guaranteed.

Things will happen, birds contrive to sing,
trees, forests, fall; the sound will live
in other ears, the beat of drum and wing
part of someone else’s narrative.

All that matters, all we have, is now:
the past is gone, futurity’s a parlor trick.
This candle flame is everything we know,
the light and heat we make of wax and wick.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Missing Persons

No one’s certain where they go;
that much, at least, is sure;
exactly what they can’t endure
detectives rarely get to know.

Their photos overflow our files,
which hardly matters—these are faces
citizens can always place,
but haven’t seen in quite awhile.

They go for cigarettes, a drink,
or just to walk, have a think,
a quick breath of evening air,
then no one sees them anywhere.

Small wonder. They’re anyone,
nothing much to catch the eye
but portable oblivion
no witness can identify.

Small potatoes. Millions sit.
Legions disappear in place;
they never leave, simply quit,
staring into middle space

while newly solitary kin
attend to folds of empty skin.
We need a Bureau of the Blank,
a Mostly Missing Persons tank,

where armies of psychologists
can puzzle out the mental twists
of those who leave, but fail to go,
familiar faces no one knows.

Here’s to those who hide and hare,
who pack their kit and catch a train,
spare their families the pain
they cause by simply being there.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


What’s imagination but
memory, reshuffled, cut,
and dealt again in new games,
old pictures, new frames?

And memory is imagination,
random bits of information
ordered, filed, labeled fact
by idiot molecules we pack
for storage in the bowl of goo
we trust to guide us, see us through.

And dreams, the ancient mystery,
perennial absurdity
or Morpheus’ lighting fixture,
are they not a simple mixture,
fancy and recall, rehashed each night,
a pinch of joy, a peck of fright?

And what’s madness but a dream
displaced into the dry regime
of daily life, to strew the sheets
on which we’ve scrawled complete
concordances of joys and pains,
to ravish our disordered brains
and leave us sporting in a lake
of fire, fitting us to make
of pterodactyl Noah’s dove?
It has a name. We call it love.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


In Eden nothing went amiss;
they didn’t have a use for gray,
just a chain of perfect days,
an unremitting happiness

to visit on the primal pair,
who lacked for nothing; all was there
to simply pick, hanging low,
all the loaded branches bowed

to an earth that rioted with life,
and all was plenty, all was ease,
and Adam and his bony wife
were happy aborigines.

For a time. (If time could be
where nothing happened, nothing changed,
where nothing could be rearranged
by order of His Majesty...)

But soon, dreaming of her dreams
inspired Eve to coin the scream;
Adam asked her what it was:
“Because, Addy; just because.”

Then, leaving Adam at his chapel,
Eve got hungry for an apple,
decided she should go to college,
tasted of the Tree of Knowledge.

The Old Man was steamed, of course;
He stormed up on His highest horse
to cast them out. Adam prayed.
Eve was skipping all the way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Memories of Old Scratch

I saw him once on the Lex express,
alone in a door seat, old, a fright,
dentures halfway out of his head,
swaying somnolent or drunk or dead
as the passing local station lights
flashed his specs with festive menace.

Twelve, I saw a Frankenstein
no one cared to recognize,
a secret no one would admit:
although he swung no ropes of spit
and was eminently civilized
in his gray wool overcoat and Times,

he rocked quite alone beneath
his mentholated cancer blurb,
the casual passengers all sardined
safely back from the grinning fiend,
no one the slightest bit disturbed
by those unspeakable acrylic teeth.

I was glad to get a seat,
too green to face the fact
in his Phantom of the Opera act,
until he snapped awake, stared back.
“Have a nice day,” he clacked,
got off at Fifty-ninth street.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Sitting with my steaming cup,
a creature yet capable of choice,
I take my bitten pencil up
to trace the music of your voice,

how it touches me, makes
its silky way through tympanum
to malleus, incus, stapes, shakes
cochlea and nervous system,

finds the skin, where it draws
each tiny hair erect,
chills me in the narrow pause
dividing bliss from intellect.

Give me bliss. Only speak:
let love parse its own
demotic. Mandarin or Greek
will shiver English in my bones.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Rape

The world hums. Crickets saw incisive
treble over the roar through trees
of the rush hour river of steel. Above
is a high, unblemished, glacial azure,
perfect skies to loose a rain of fire,
or spangled gods astride the light
descending in a fine haze of gold.

But miracles are scarce around here.
Lately we make do with mysteries:
this morning in the mean little wood
that binds our town, serene against her tree,
they found the torso of a woman. Girl.

China white, unbruised, she bore no
butterflies or random slices, near her
only a curious lack of blood, or limb,
or any violence less meticulously
executed than her cuts, so tidy
through the joints that some said doctor,
some endorsed a butcher round the bend.

Some wondered who she’d been, what she’d done
to get herself stripped like a stolen car,
but she was featureless, a cipher, mute.
Nothing disturbed her. She was that
at which the whole town had come to look.

I wondered at the one who’d put her there,
how a soul so mangled could exist among us
undetected, but even this began to seem
more likely than miraculous. In fact,
the whole scene began to take on
a certain festive domesticity,
began to be a commonplace, a horror.

All of us. The just deserts and pipers paid
sent up a scattered, speculative laughter like
a plague of moths. Even my neighbor, pockets
pregnant with film, dealing his instant closeups
to the citizens. I, watching.

Friday, July 13, 2007

First Grief, for Morgen

My gran would always tell us, Flor and me,
owlish, unbelieving postwar pair,
“Read your Bible every day. Behave:
God has His eye on you.” She gave
every worried cent to priests for prayers.
Nodes of sanctity deformed her knees.

A steely prophet stirred our morning oats;
longing for the grave, for heaven, awe
inspired her to overcook our groats,
serve a side of Revelations raw,

as if she couldn’t bring herself to say
how people live a tick, and pass away.
Endless bliss, then, was Florrie’s answer
as the pale filaments of cancer
raveled through her mind. As she died.
Now they’re baking biscuits. Here. Inside.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Acrostic for Molly

Mistress of a mapless realm,
ontogeny can overwhelm;
let laughter, love, and history
lead through mystery to mystery
you never solve nor hope to solve.

See this tattered world revolving
tilted in its liquid skies,
oceans blue as infant’s eyes,
ranging through the boundless dark
miraculous, the one true ark.

All philosophy is vain:
hold your counsel with the rain,
ephemeral and absolute,
and know that Eden’s choicest fruit
revealed a budding human garden;
nothing else escaped unpardoned.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


I remember watching you cook--
you did cook once in awhile,
and it was good, once in awhile--
how it would always fry me when
you’d slice the veg on dinner plates
with knives I made a point of keeping
sharp enough to shave a peach.
I kept my silence at the time
because, after all, you had
a knife in your hand, dulled perhaps,
but good enough for government work.
My Japanese water stones
went paper thin for love of you,
and in truth I came to admire your skill.
You’d lay waste a whole family
of blades with a single stir-fry,
Sabatiers, Solingens, Henckels,
wreck any and all with flair,
then sit with an accomplished air,
fork up what your wok had wrought.
I miss those days of quiet rage,
the coiled suburban rancor, kisses
laced with bitters, salty with spite.
Most of all I miss the taste
of dishes not conceived of by
the weirdest Angelino chef,
the unidentifiable greens,
the ineffable mystery of it all.
Why I should be thinking of these
things now I can’t say.
I must not be getting enough
charcoal nowadays, or maybe
I’ve just lost my edge and miss
the whetters nested in your drawers.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Questions

Where do accidents go to wait?
Is there a mishaps’ union hall
where they report for time and date,
warm the bench until the call?

Do they tensely scan the classifieds,
hope for an accidental spot,
a little freelance on the side
to fix the roof and stir the pot?

And how do bulls in china shops
get in? Are there finishing schools, charm
academies with durable props,
where blue-rinsed, punctilious marms

prepare the rusticated beeves
to leave their clover and sighing grass
for the small beer of collar and sleeves,
life among the tinkling glass?

And what of the elephants in the rooms,
the ones we never talk about?
Aren't the dirt and noxious fumes
enough to make us throw them out?

Or do we need our faithful friends,
tolerant enough to stand and be
unnoticed as we all pretend
we don’t smell what we don’t see?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Birthdays come to get us all,
an equity which seems unfair
enough to warrant alcohol,

but let’s not part with any hair:
youth’s no earthly paradise,
and life’s not a flight of stairs.

It’s always youth for sacrifice,
to stuff with misbegotten lore;
for youth’s tuition, youth’s the price,

birthdays make us wise, if sore;
if knotty heads undo no walls,
they recognize an open door.

Birthdays come to get us all;
take your vengeance at the mall.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King Georgie is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Our Daddy was a thirsty man
with brothers who were thirsty too:
they joined the Navy after Pearl
and fought, and won, and got the girl,
and played the heroes on the avenue
till glory ended, life began.

Joe, the eldest, beauty’s boy,
stationary engineer,
refined his Jimmy Cagney mask
and labored at his silver flask;
he chased his blended malt with beer,
became a problem to employ.

Gerry, Grandma’s baby bright,
darling of the Jesuits,
went to Fordham on the Bill,
and went to live on Beacon Hill
with other boring, wealthy twits,
steeping sneaky, day and night.

Between them was our Daddy, Jack,
Golden Glover, lightning hooks,
a cat, who couldn’t drink his tea
without a shot of J&B.
He never lost his youthful looks,
always landed on his back.

Joe went first: his yellow moon
declining in a yellow bed,
jackolantern begging wine
of any come to check his signs.
At thirty-seven, he was dead;
we drank his health all afternoon.

Gerry was a real surprise.
Liver in the common twist,
he coughed up cold cash for hope,
but the doctor coiled his stethoscope,
told him he’d be greatly missed.
We toasted Gerry’s quick demise.

When Daddy left our dwindling scene
Grandma’s teeth were tinctured green
by the minty dram she loved so well,
that helped her send her sons to hell.
Thumbing shut his thirsty lids,
she swore to raise his thirsty kids.