Monday, June 16, 2008

Have A Nice Day, Poldy


Subject 3348 Day 1

Subject escorted to Interrogation Unit
by standard Intake Unit escort squad,
locomoting under own power.
Full shackle set. Appears healthy,
approximately thirty years old.
States he’s been in custody one day,
doesn’t know why he’s been arrested.
Manner slightly apprehensive, wary.
Relaxes a bit with leg shackles removed.
Seated posture is erect, alert, tense.
Subject states he is innocent of any crime.
English is fairly good. Middle class?
States he does not know Informant 12,
or why anyone would report his name
to authorities. Claims to be a student.
Denies any connection to insurgency.
Tone superior and dismissive of interrogator.
Claims no knowledge of explosives
or military ordnance. States professors
will vouch for his status at university.
Subject makes and sustains eye contact.
Application, at force 2, from rear,
of the Command Directory unseats subject,
elicits a flow of speech in unknown language.
Reseated, subject is silent, self-contained.
Manner suggests subject is trained to resist
interrogation. Subject remains silent
when asked what he thinks of the occupation
by Provisional Authority Forces. Asked
again, subject remains silent, smiles.
Directory applied, force 3.
Subject has no visible marks,
but right index finger bent to unusual
angle, probably owing to his fall.
Finger straightened by interrogator,
seems normal. Subject still denies
any connection with insurgency.
Asked why he was at his place of arrest,
subject states he was walking home from school
because his family car had been destroyed
by Provisional Authority troops
and the bus he normally took wasn’t running.
Asked where his books were, if any,
subject states his briefcase was taken away
from him at the scene of his arrest.
Arrest report makes no mention
of any confiscated packages.
Subject tenses when interrogator
picks up Command Directory,
but provides no additional commentary.
Preliminary conclusions: subject appears
trained to resist interrogation, provides
minimal answers, probably deceptive.
Involvement with insurgency seems probable.
Recommend return to Intake Unit
for standard disorientation regimen.
Return to Interrogation Unit tomorrow.

Subject 3348 Day 2

Subject escorted to Interrogation Unit,
standard escort. Full shackle set.
Subject appears exhausted, sleep-deprived,
but otherwise healthy, without injuries.
Subject informed that he will only be made
more comfortable if we can rely
on his truthful answers and full cooperation.
Subject states he’s ready to cooperate.
Asked what he was doing at the scene of his arrest
subject repeats he was walking home from school.
Phrasing is exactly the same as yesterday,
indicating a planned, deceptive response.
Informed that no records for him exist
at the university, subject states
there must be some mistake, that he has been
a postgraduate fellow in Sunni poetry
for more than two years. Subject adds
that he has no interest in and has never
participated in local politics
or for that matter ethnic politics.
Asked why no records exist,
subject repeats there must be some mistake.
Subject denies involvement with insurgency
without being asked. Says he is innocent.
Asked what he is innocent of, subject
replies “Whatever you think I did.”
Asked if he is playing games with us,
subject states he never plays games,
that he is quite serious, but thinks he’s going mad,
that the whole world must be going mad.
Subject refuses to make eye contact.
Application of Command Directory,
force 3. Subject lies on floor,
feigning unconsciousness. Asked if he was trying
to steal a nap subject finally states
he has no idea what happened at all.
Told to reseat himself, subject complies,
but slowly. Subject stares down at his hands.
Asked if he frequently has nosebleeds,
subject at last replies in the negative.
Subject thanks interrogator when
interrogator wipes subject’s face.
Subject denies being smart when asked.
Asked again why he was at the scene
of his arrest, subject sticks to his story,
again using identical words and phrasing.
Asked if he is familiar with the term
“Baghdad Jackknife,” subject
denies knowledge, but displays clear
signs of apprehension, fear, dread.
Informed that he would be finding out about
the technique unless he tells the truth,
subject states that he is telling the truth,
that he doesn’t know what any of this is about,
that he only wants to continue with his studies.
Command Directory. Force 3 plus.
Subject makes no attempt to get up.
Advised to be seated, subject does not reply.
Placed in his seat, subject immediately
allows himself to slide back to the floor.
Warned that he won’t be made comfortable
unless we have his full cooperation,
subject still makes no reply. Placed
back in his chair, subject says nothing,
stares fixedly at the far wall,
a known method of resisting interrogation.
Recommend return to Intake
to complete course of preconditioning.

Subject 3348 Day 3

Subject 3348
failed to appear at Interrogation Unit.
Intake Unit reports subject expired
time uncertain previous night.
Intake Unit monitors discovered
subject unresponsive on midnight rounds.
Unspecified pre-existing
condition. This concludes investigation
of Subject 3348.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


They’ll let you down, people will,
even those who never should,
the ones you trust the most, until
they measure out the wormwood.

They’ll break your heart, break the shards,
grind the detritus to dust;
they’ll leave you nothing but your scars,
but you’ll go on, because you must.

Inch by bitter inch, you’ll heal.
Dawn will break; you’ll smile a smile
tempered by your long ordeal.
This may, however, take awhile.

Then they’ll have another go,
which won’t be easier, of course,
nor will it help you much to know
that each succeeding wound is worse.

But put away your violin.
Just remember all this pain
when it’s you bares the bodkin,
as you will. It’s preordained:

family, loves, friendships die,
without exception, each and all;
our quintessential human ties
are ticked out by time’s pawl,

as if betrayal, conflict, change,
neglect, and error wouldn’t doom
the frail connections we arrange
to help us gallop to the tomb.

No, you can’t slow the pace;
nor is there anything to do
except to stare it in the face,
live as though it weren’t true.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Thinking Life

For Tom it all began, as trouble may,
at school, or on the corner near school.
Although he’d never been one to disobey,
one morning Tom defiled the rule:

he let a thought crackle through his head.
It ravished him. Out of that small spark
a small sunrise flared and spread
in one mad moment from the dark,

sent a blue flood of kilowatts
through his every synapse, a holy light
his naïve neurons never quite forgot.
He shambled off to class, confused, contrite,

frightened by its elemental power,
vowed he’d never yield to sin again.
Right. That resolve cost him an hour
before he was back at it, sizzling his brain

without the slightest sense of doing wrong,
glad to tempt the devil in his lair.
But, all considered, Tommy got along
surprisingly well; no one seemed to care

about his secret vice, no one saw
sign or symptom; no one even looked.
Glassy eyes and all, slack jawed,
he fit in. But Tom knew he was hooked.

Strung out. Forever transformed,
the innocent boy he’d been forever gone,
washed away, a matchstick in a storm.
At what point he’d crossed the Rubicon

he didn’t know, just that he’d left behind
the straight life for haunted libraries,
smuggling musty books home to find
clues to metastasizing mysteries.

He tried to stop. A hundred times he tried.
He married, found himself a job, bought
a new television, double-wide,
but Tom remained a prisoner of thought.

And one day his boss called him in,
wearing the look that bosses sometimes wear.
“I like you, Tom. Don’t know where to begin.
You may think it’s none of our affair,

“but let me assure you it certainly is. We know.
You’ve been thinking, Tom. On our time,
playing holy hell with the status-quo.
You’ll have to do it on your own dime.”

Shocked, Tom did. How could he not?
Thinking on the job was serious,
and they had him dead to rights; he’d been caught
with a smoking premise, a red hypothesis.

What to do? First, you tell your wife,
which promised to be no fun at all,
then you try to straighten out your life,
maybe find a therapist to call.

That evening, in television glow,
he broached the subject. “Honey, I’ve been thinking—”
She flinched. “Did you really think I didn’t know?
Every night you sit there with your stinking

thoughts and you think you have to tell me? Now?”
She threw her hands up to hide her tears.
“Did you ever stop to think about your vows?”
He stood. “For the love of Christ. I’m out of here.”

Tom slammed the door, jumped in the car,
gunned it toward the nearest library,
thinking and driving, yes, but it wasn’t far.
He’d done it a hundred times successfully.

But this time was apparently the charm.
He was sitting at a light, lost,
of course, in thought, doing no one harm,
waiting for pedestrians to cross,

when someone rapped the glass at his ear.
A woman. Tom ran the window down.
“It’s not going to get any greener, Dear,
no matter how often it goes around.”

She smiled in sadness more than fun.
“Having a little thinky-poo, then,
are we? Someone needs a meeting, Son.
I’m on my way to one. You’ll fit right in.”

Why he followed her he never knew.
Who can fathom miracles like these?
Tom trailed that thoughtful woman to
a room full of thought’s refugees.

“My name is, um, Tom. I think.”
“Hi, Tom,” some scattered voices said.
“It started out as just a little kink,
but now I can’t control my own head.”

“Tell it Tom, just let it all go blank.”
He saw some smiles, but heard no laughter.
It took a year, but Tom became a plank,
and they all lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Educated Frogs

Two frogs were swimming in a pot.
One asked “Is it only me,
or is this water getting hot?”

“Same as ever, actually,”
said the second, a devout,
“Don’t you trust the powers that be?”

“I must confess a certain doubt,”
said the first, who’d read some law,
“Something’s fishy hereabouts.”

Teacher came. Neither saw.
“Most surprising, is it not?
So what conclusions can we draw?”

Friday, April 04, 2008


If you give a man a fish
you will have fed him for a day;
teach that man to fish,
he’ll pack his gear, drive away.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Lines On Queues

Circumstances favor us or not,
it makes no difference how we view them.
We stand in queues all day, no matter what;
we spend our whole lives getting through them.

PO, market, bank, Security,
inescapable, the severable heads
of some mythological monstrosity
whose divine assignment is to bore us dead.

But there’s something nautical about
Passport Control, the blue changeless shift
of a glaring, bureaucratic sea of doubt
where we are left in our tiny boats to drift,

lost mariners, becalmed in queues
that lead only to the ends of new ones,
graying slowly as cretaceous clerks refuse
our slack yellow sheets, send us for blue ones.

Finally, our documents accepted and approved,
we simply fall up from the shrinking fleet
on wings too exquisitely tuned to move,
our leaden commerce with the world complete.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Driving home in icy dark,
he flew his silver gray Tercel
through the wilds of Echo Park.

Helming starship Cutty Sark,
he navigated rather well,
driving home in icy dark.

By day, the evidence was stark:
his tracks were straight and parallel
through the wilds of Echo Park.

Two old oaks are shy some bark,
but it’s impossible to tell,
driving home in icy dark
through the wilds of Echo Park.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Vacuuos exercet aera morsus.”
Ovid, Met., VII, 788-789

This morning,
getting ready to shave, I
noticed another pimple starting on my

I’d felt it
moments before, in the shower (the
usual uh-oh), but I thought

of it
until I looked into that small
angry, unblinking eye (I.)

I felt
sad, yet resigned: yes.
Resigned, and a little sad, is what
I felt.

If anything
else happens to me, I will write,
tell you my feelings about it, all the

you must understand that that
will be how I will be feeling then,
about that.

Now, I’m
feeling a little sad,
and a little resigned,
about this.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

The first few fairies caused no great alarm,
but every modern news purveyor knows
that circulation rarely suffers harm
from an inch or two of prudent, purple prose,

so stories ran, and multiplied like bugs,
then photographs of widowed lovers crying,
and back among the girdles and the rugs
the standard news that Africa was dying.

Everyone agreed, it was a shame,
but no one doubted NIH could cure it,
and even if the answer never came
the general population could endure it,

so no one thought about it much until
the rich and famous started going down.
And if hemophiliacs were looking ill
as vigilantes burned them out of town,

that was shocking, but the real surprise
was seeing justice finally done, pipers paid:
the insignificant others dropped like flies,
but only perverts had to be afraid.

Like junkies, who anyway were always sick
although supplies were at historic levels,
and rented darlings, and naturally their tricks,
and no one thought to interrupt the revels.

Johns, in fact, were paying with our lives.
Their covert operations were discovered:
not only did they implicate their wives,
but their wives’ boyfriends’ other lovers.

And if the fourth estate began to evidence
a genuine, if muted, new concern,
still the righteous saw diviner sense:
they’d always known you marry or you burn,

and for straying from the narrow path
the freaks deserved exactly what they got;
some were even thankful for the holy wrath,
until they found the funny purple spots.

Somehow everybody seemed to get it.
Most were never sure exactly where.
There were precious few who’d take a bet it
wasn’t something floating in the air.

The dead began to gather in the streets,
as the dead will do when they get their way,
and HAZMATS came to cover them with sheets
that said “Inspected by the FDA.”

But at last the population was reduced
to those few who seemed to be immune;
they found each other, married, reproduced,
whistling the latest catchy Darwin tune.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spring Comes To Oak Park

In the

rhubarb patch

by my garage

the snow flows slowly

into the good black ground,

leaves behind the pink pudgy

arm of some little some-

body’s little doll,


fingers splayed,


Thursday, February 28, 2008


I’m watching
another splendid
London morning
into another
of layered, mildly
blue greys,
made moreso
as crows fret
the tree behind
the little brick
my window perch
on Crystal Palace
Road, braying,
beaks poised
into freshening
wind. Rain
gathers itself
for a long, cold
night. Let it.
Let it paint
the street in light,
send the crows
to grutch in more
expedient shelter.
I have only
these hours
left, to watch,
to point my face
into the wind,
before morning
comes and I
must fly away.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I saw them on the platform,
a mother and her son;
he was in his uniform,
she in blue homespun.

We were crowded close enough
that I couldn’t help but hear;
he was acting cool and tough,
but she could see his fear.

“I know you’ll be a righteous man,
and do the things you must.
It’s all in Heaven’s perfect plan,
the only plan we trust.”

“War is hell; we’ve heard it said,
and it’s very likely true;
but you’ll get accustomed to the dead
after one or two.”

“The sooner you get on with it
the sooner we’ll be done.
It won’t be easy, I admit,
but try to have some fun.”

“Splash their bodies in the street,
paint the walls with brains;
don’t stop until their blood completely
stops the city drains.”

“String their guts across the sand
to ripen in the sun,
and keep your Bible close at hand,
your Bible and your gun.”

“And don’t forget the children, Dear;
a couple every day;
they’re little heathen eyes and ears,
don’t let them get away.”

“Free the ground of Christendom
from the moon and scimitar.
Spread the word of Jesus from
Kirkuk to Kandahar.”

“When all of them are belly up
and victory’s in sight,
we’ll kill a pig and raise a cup
and celebrate all night.”

“I love you, Ma,” the soldier said,
a glisten in his eye,
“I love you, too, so go ahead.
Goodbye, my boy, Goodbye.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

This Be The Reverse

They’re fucked up, your girls and boys.
No use denying it; it’s true.
At first they only broke their toys,
now they’re bent on breaking you.

It never should have come to this;
the schools, the teams, the ballet classes,
the never failing goodnight kiss;
all that for these jackasses?

We ourselves were raised by clods
who’d barely made it from the cave;
but we contrived to beat the odds:
we took our lumps, and we forgave.

We scrapped the wrong our parents did.
We set ourselves to building trust;
now our trusting, rotten kids
are all fucked up. But not by us.

Science points to peers, milieu,
while parents largely get ignored,
so as you bid your kids adieu,
don’t feel guilty. Lock the door.

Friday, February 08, 2008


So. Did life turn out
anything like you thought?
No, it seldom does.
Whatever the dream was,
we all seem to get caught
in the usual roundabouts.

Not that it isn’t better,
sometimes, if we do.
Youthful dreams are mad,
sometimes, as Mom and Dad
insist, and Sweetie too,
so when the fateful letter

comes and we must read,
know our lives have veered
away from us, we find
an alternate design,
some adequate career,
the things we think we need.

But would it kill your Honey
to wait a little while?
Will the bank collapse without
another burned-out
clerk to lose their files?
Other people’s money

is joy to spend, but no
fun to copy out,
and living, on the whole,
is better with a soul
than existence is without.
Money comes and goes,

but dreams are all we’ve got,
all we truly own,
even unfulfilled.
Daughters, sons, build
your dreams of native stone,
and plant forget-me-nots.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Winter Morning

A mockingbird
flashes into
the iced fractals
of dogwood,
clings, alert,
flashes away.
The dogwood
quivers within
its glass armor,

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Painful Case

Jim lived a life where things made sense.
The things he did, the things he saw
conformed to rules of evidence;
he was a Master of the Law
of the unintended consequence.

It served him well, one would think.
Our Jim made fortunes by deceit,
by playing legal tiddlywinks
for the better felons on the street;
if conscience quibbled, there was drink.

It never did. He loved the scam.
He’d watch his clients skip away
from their appointments with the slam
with cockeyed pride that made him say
“I lie, therefore I am.”

Were they guilty? Goodness, yes.
Did it matter? Not to Jim:
they paid him well for his success
at mesmerising every dim
jury with his ferrety finesse.

Then Vinnie Spoons ran amok.
Lacking the requisite retainer,
he engaged Jimmy with a Glock;
the case was truly a no-brainer:
he shot the phone, shot the clock,

shot Jim, leaving more
loopholes than the law allows.
Sometimes Justice kicks the door
and has its way in the bawdyhouse
we choose to call a world. Encore.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Hope In Hell

Were there Hell, and were it built
with graded rings of measured fire
precisely tuned to sinners’ guilt,
surely there would be a gyre

just for those who trot about
with Jesus on their bloodless lips,
who tell the poor to do without,
the mad to get a proper grip,

who wish the ill and crippled well,
pose their own prosperity
as proof that virtue pays. Hell?
A snowball’s chance. But we’ll see.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Enclosed please find one
perfect snowflake, which fell
this morning on my sleeve button,
framing its six-fold dihedral

symmetry in a circle of brass.
Recalling your love of the hexagram,
I couldn’t let perfection pass,
ran for envelope and stamp.

I’m counting on the general chill
to see it to you before it thaws;
not that I really think it will,
but it was lovely while it was.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Another one.
Is it some godly judgment
we endure by cycles?

A yearly ritual
of guilt or expiation?
No. It just gets cold.

The axis leans away,
heat flow is oblique,
blocked somewhat.

A few more old ones die.
We lean into our fires,
glad of them.

Friday, January 11, 2008

An Old Man's Thoughts At Night

It must be the fever, which
for days has plucked my nerves
like fiddle strings, tuning me up
for a concert I don’t want to hear.
I’m not well. My mind is going.
The ghosts make too much noise.
Not that I mind them. I don’t, really;
they’re friendly enough, even jovial,
farmers, who Bruegeled this place
together without square corner
or plumb jamb; they must be shocked
to see it still standing here,
though now additions hold it up.
In any case, they seem content.
One of them, who seems to be
the patriarch, judging by
his bird’s nest beard and the torn
hammer loop in his overalls,
has picked me for his special friend.
He follows me from room to room,
his purpose not exactly clear.
He has a sense of humor, though.
When we meet on the stairs he cuts
a little caper, a quick shuffle,
grins like a goat, invites me to dance,
the dead grandfather of mirth.
At first I was a bit put out,
but now I just ignore him, walk
right through him without a word,
without a look, just as if
he weren’t really there at all.
But the little girl upstairs is quite
another thing, with wide, appraising
Great Depression eyes, wearing
a dress sewn from flour sacking,
clutching a tattered ragdoll
with button eyes bigger than hers,
eyes they both seem to use.
Influenza took her in ‘33.
I’m sleeping in her room, I think,
which must be why I wake to find
them standing there, sober, mute,
at the foot of the bed, studying me
like sputum on a glass slide,
wondering, I suppose, why
I still live. I don’t know
what to tell her about that,
what excuses would suffice.
I confess she unsettled me at first,
but I’m accustomed to her now,
even that spooky doll; I’d miss them
were they gone, all of them.
Now it’s really just the music
has me out on a limb,
a constant crescendo and diminuendo
of high, keening minor chords,
the swell and sigh of almost silence,
like a fitful autumn wind
across a dusty violin.
The music, if it is music,
seems to call, to intimate
that things are really not so bad
over there, all considered,
not so dead as one would think.
Just one big happy family;
rosin up for the Devil’s Trill.
All welcome to the ball.
I find I’m terrified at such
a meddlesome eternity,
fussily embroidered with
such insinuating music,
or, God forbid, the witless joy
of cloth-eared angels perched
forever on their cotton fluff,
swiping harp glissandi through
the bright, endless afternoon
of paradise. Truly, a hell
more than worthy of the name.
No. Death is kinder than that.
Death is only a beautiful quiet,
a silence so profound we forget
to listen to the winnowing wind,
the world’s flat, persistent prattle,
its busy contradictions, ghosts.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Ghastly flu. Back soon, I hope.