R. Sargent Shriver, that one was mine.
Jack LaLanne, Karl Malden, George McGovern, Jerry Falwell,
mine, mine, mine and mine.
I hate to brag but I had a hand
in Molly Ivins. You’ll find my fingerprints
all over Robert McNamara,
a puddle of superlatives
from wading into
John Updike and Pete Postlethwaite.
Up to my neck in Liz Taylor, perhaps
in over my head with Ferlin Husky,
but it was with great glee
I gilded the lily of Madame Nhu,
said it with roses when Max Roach
ceased to beat
waved Harman Killebrew
in from third, his last home run
before pushing up daisies
in deep left center.
practically wrote itself,
the honor all mine,
leaning in to lay on a harmony for
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
A stake through the heart of John Demjanjuk,
my foot to the floor going into the turn
with Carroll Shelby, Ferdinand A. Porsche
urging us on from the backseat
in clipped no nonsense German.
my deadline met through tears
and terrible roars and terrible gnashing teeth.
A job I would have done for free
until they let me go
then hired me back
at half the pay,
my share toward the cost
of wafer thin benefits
corporate policy set forth in this couplet:
Down to two meals a day, who needs a third?
Plump shareholders bray, too stuffed for words.
Lunch is over.
fifteen minutes flies
faster than Neil Armstrong (mine).
To improve productivity, I’ve been assigned
to write everyone’s
in advance beginning with the A’s.
Right now I’m working on yours,
driving home the final rivets
in some standard boilerplate,
composing the final flat line
in a fibrillating
half-hearted Hallmark hatchet job.
Strange Line Fellows
A 3 hour line is hard on feet and backs
and the sun is hot, you get hungry and thirsty
and the lines are deep with people
just like you and laughter and conversations
you don’t want to hear and the people
behind you and in front of you become friends
after awhile sharing the wait, the misery
but once you get inside they go their
way, you go yours and funny how
you never see them again
even if you look, even if you
want to find them once again.
Streets ran with dogs but those curs outpaced them.
Kids whacked baseballs without much care for windows.
Airplanes flew low or blew messages in smoke rings cross the sky.
Blood-red fire engines clanged and swore,
flew down sidewalks when the traffic would not part for them.
Cops rode horses. Bums ate horseshit
Everyone was nervy. Will there be enough beer?
The floats came by. Miss Cheesecake flashed her teeth.
A fake George Washington never told a fake lie.
Is that John Adams.. .no, it’s Georgie Fly, the aging hippy.
And Thomas Jefferson, bless his dressed-up soul,
read a proclamation to three men and a sheep.
The army was out in force. Some real. Some kidding themselves.
One-legged soldiers wore two legged suits.
Medals looked askance at the chests that wore them.
Do I really belong with thirty years of belt-loosening?
The band blew brass in my ear, insisted it was my independence too.
And marchers stomped my one o’clock shadow.
What a July 4th. The chocolate bar in my hip pocket had melted.
This was no way to love a parade.
My mother cried. My father’s hand never left his heart.
My mind was full of what I’d do if anyone dared touch my fireworks cache.
A hydrant burst. Kids danced, cooled off, took it as a sign.
The crippled guy wheeled himself to his open window.
Flags blew from Ms lapel.
An old woman snarled something about “no respect.”
So many people felt good about themselves,
the very-noise-filled air beamed.
A hotdog parted my lips. Harvey Jenkins did the same for my big sister’s.
If you didn’t collapse from the heat, you weren’t trying.
Yet, it was the country’s day. why spoil it with Annie’s cancer,
Rhonda’s beating, Ricky’s drunken fall.
Newspapers kicked up their heels – foreswore
“Middle East War” for “America’s Birthday”.
No journalist was harmed in the killing of their stories.
Home And Auto Repair
A day comes when one has to trust because
there aren’t enough days to spend suspicious,
following up on every lie that might
or might not be. That’s what I tell myself,
counting out bills or swiping magic cards
through robot sales clerks. It’s only numbers –
another thing I say – like in a game,
but a game you don’t want to lose because
the cost of losing means the one game left
becomes a simulation of servitude –
filling out forms for fatigued Samaritans
or bureaucrats of the most sullen kind;
taking orders from idiots while smiling.
The poor used to fear starvation, I hear.
Now we fear everything, even strangers
who give us goods and take our cards while we
wonder which will finally break us down.
Song in the Key of Memory
Students with big umbrellas
splash through campus puddles
while others smile and groan
playing wetly at home.
Pour your sad sugar, sad young man.
Pour it till asked to answer “when.”
Recall your very worst 4 a.m.
Once it rained on Moravian Street.
Bessie, Great Soul, shook out her bed-sheet.
Lovers concluded with sounds indiscreet.
Once I offered each passerby
a Ritz Cracker, Harpo my genius-guy…
collitch kid, tap-dancing-cute, oh my!
Then me and my girl got crazed apart.
Don’t want to think all that much about that part.
Pour your sad sugar for me and my sweetheart.
Pour it to taste, dear sad young man.
Pour that sad sugar however you can.
Never such 4 a.m. again.
The Subliminal Room
That weepy October
marigolds were so full.
I made an omelet with
them. Do you remember?
All November, leaves
mixed with rain, making
streets slippery. We
listened mostly to Chopin.
Leaves droop in September
too ripe and heavy for
trees. I was careful
not to slip, dreading
when leaves would grow
dry and crumble.
Some live all winter
through the next spring.
Chased by winds, they
huddle in corners,
reminding me of mice.
I confessed to you
how I loved Russian
poets and waited for
a silent revolution,
revealing my childhood
possessed by rosaries
and nuns chanting Ave,
Ave, Ave Maria. “Your
navel exudes the warmth
of 10,000 suns”, you said.
We still live in this
Jonah did not want to
leave the whale’s stomach.
We continue trying to
decipher Chopin. Your
eyes are two bunches of
morning glories. Sometimes
the sky is so violet.
Will we ever live by the
sea, Michael, and eat
carrots? I do not want
my sight to fail. Hurry,
the dew is drying on the
Atlanta April 1968
Through downtown streets
Dense with life and grief,
Busloads of people from Milwaukee, say,
Priests, women who had marched with them before:
We have not earned the right to mourn.
We stand crowded into a small corner
Of history’s photograph,
Images grainy, blurred,
Our presence recorded
If only on the microfilm of memory,
Its import known only to us.
The Day After the Storm
The day after the storm
I walk to see
how much the stream has risen.
I remember yesterday:
rain pounding through the
weak limbs snapping
from the canopy,
leaves seizuring with wind gusts.
A storm really will end it all.
Now, standing on the bank,
the stream obscenely swollen,
I see everything in reverse:
raindrops rising from the surface
sucked to clouds whose gray
Fallen limbs levitate
back to their branches,
animals unhole from hiding,
and the landscape
gasps the wind back to
wherever it came from.
Life is not like this,
so easily undone.
But I swear sometimes
I can almost unsee it,
and the swollen creek.
Last night when we ordered red wine
at our favorite Italian restaurant,
the sommelier decanting the Chianti
Classico Reserve’ said, “You’ll find
this wine smells like dead roses,”
and as I inserted my nose below
the rim of the crystal glass to find
out for myself, I suddenly smelled
the fragrance of the plastic rose
my sister brought back from the circus;
more fragrant than the ecclesiastical
incense that used to waft around
our heads on Easter Sunday or
the Evening in Paris my mother
splashed on her underwear before
going out with my father on Saturday
nights and now this wine.
Verse Junkie Says Goodbye
And as you go out the door this time
And oblivion stealthily closes in,
And echoes faintly sound a parting chime
As if the square were finally circled then,
How the twisting loop of time replays
Its ironies, false starts, and happy ends,
Shuttling recollection’s coming days
For us, our true, and our two-faced friends
Enunciating verse as though our fangs
Were savaging some bloody body’s flesh,
Twitching in convulsions where it hangs,
Ripping out, spitting, then tearing afresh.
Walk softly, wisely, but vigorously,
For the hamster-treadmill rotates you back to me.
Shadows in the city of the desert,
Streets segmenting the life in squares and roundabouts;
Motion in the riot of leaves above.
Trees passing over me.
A defiant stop.
As if here on the ground tonight (at the red light)
The light becomes some sort of living thought,
Lying flat, sticking its density to the asphalt
Yellow and dry, like the dust around,
Around my hips, around my mind
Rising as a vortex, deep as a cry,
Why is it that I cross the same path
with somebody else’s feet, as if remote-controlled from above?
As if here on the ground tonight (at a good bye kind of thing between expats)
Glitters in the eyes dropped aside,
In a little pond of flowing years
Interchanging instant memories and borrowing present from this mud
which mixes life with dreams and hopes, fears and struggle within;
It’s been too long,
It’s been too long to dive and find a key which doesn’t exist,
It’s been only years
Buried in sand,
Why am I crossing another path
with someone else’s feet, as if remote-controlled from above?
I guess it’s a start,
Geared through the lights of the stop
In narrow streets, segmenting the blaze in black (Saudi feminine herds) and the slaves
In squares, roundabouts,
Or all the houses afar.
Why am I crossing this path with somebody else’s feet,
as if remote-controlled from above?
An Expression of Dried Flowers
After a year, the separation ended so she had a yard sale
and sold all the trappings of her brief independence.
She gave up her lover
and her tiny apartment
and went back to the stately pillared home
her husband had built for them.
It was for the good of the child, they both agreed.
Months later, the returned wife realized
her memory box had disappeared
somewhere in the shuffle,
like a grey tooth beneath her pillow.
Gone were the dried flowers, drawings and stories,
and the little glass bottles
she’d kept since she was twelve.
The recent love letters,
she had destroyed on her own.
If she suspected her husband, she never said.
The wife merely forced herself to smile
and enjoy all the trappings of comfortable servitude,
simpering like his time-worn basset hound
crouched in front of the fireplace.
Months earlier, as he tossed her memory box
into a construction lot dumpster,
the husband hadn’t recognized
that most of the dried flowers
were ones he’d given her
and this was why she had left him in the first place.