Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lot and his Wife

As a former New Yorker, I have always felt a peculiar sympathy for the people of the twin cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. We have so much in common, after all: leash laws, skyscrapers, sewers, a selection of fine art galleries and restaurants, the world's best hospitals, universities, and tourists--in a word--everything that passes in intellectual circles as sophistication.

History, amateur astronomy, and sodomy are some of my favorite pastimes, and it is rather rare when any two of my hobbies overlap, let alone three. This is why, yesterday afternoon, I was fascinated to discover that astronomers, relying upon ancient Sumerian records from Ninevah (another dissolute metropolis) have actually managed to
pin-point the very morning when somebody up there, certainly a rube, God, the force of Gravity, perhaps, Time, Dumb Luck, or in a moment of disappointed anger and disgust, Love, decided it was time to remind the citizens of Sodom of Gomorrah of their triviality. And their mortality.

And lo, on the 29th of June, in the year of 3123 B.C., at dawn, just as the curious gymnast from Iowa State had finished his 7th beer, and the predatory beasts had gathered round, each with a terrific boner, upon the horizon there appeared a disco-ball [Fox News says asteroid], and then, to the tune of Waterloo, the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from out of Heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities ... [Abraham] looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and beheld, and lo, the disco-ball was broken, and the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace...

I am paraphrasing from Genesis, of course. And I may be mixing things up with an amateur video installation project I was tangentially involved with in college, in the late 1980s, just before we really understood how the Heavens worked. Or retro-viruses.


Still, when the dust of our party days settles, all we are left with are salty pillars, fossilized sulfur, lonely people, lonely planets, confusion, a couple of frightened friends, and the dubious distinction of having seen enough human folly to enjoy the reputation of a survivor and a cynic among one's peers--and the lingering consolations of poetry.

Jumbled in the common box
Of their dark stupidity,
Orchid, swan, and Caesar lie;
Time that tires of everyone
Has corroded all the locks
Thrown away the key for fun.

In its cleft the torrent mocks
Prophets who in days gone by
Made a profit on each cry,
Persona grata now with none;
And a jackass language shocks
Poets who can only pun.

Silence settles on the clocks;
Nursing mothers point a sly
Index finger at a sky,
Crimson with the setting sun;
In the valley of the fox
Gleams the barrel of a gun.

Once we could have made the docks,
Now it is too late to fly;
Once too often you and I
Did what we should not have done;
Round the rampant rugged rocks
Rude and ragged rascals run.

-W.H. Auden

Monday, March 31, 2008

Gradus ad Parnassum

I had not planned to take any time off from blogging, but it seems I did. I attribute this to a couple of factors. Exhaustion (I have been very busy at work), poor internet connection in Queens (where I have been living on salmon, sweet potatoes, blood oranges, sex, and string beans with Yasu in Jackson Heights for the past couple of weeks), and a pitiful lack of ideas ( an endemic problem with me).

I returned to Connecticut last night. Today's burden of work is a bit lighter, and I find I have a bit of extra time to jot down a few lines of poetry.

I am going to take a self-consciously different tack toward writing. I have been doing a bit too much mock-epic, narrative, preeing, violent, quasi-cynical crap for a while, and I would like to try something more...mature? adult? nuanced? readable? I am not sure what the appropriate adjective here is. I am open to suggestions (even four letter ones.)


The point is: times change, people change, and poetry changes. We must keep up with ourselves, and with the times. I have been in an artistic rut. I have been reading my new collection of Elizabeth Bishop with great delight, and I have been thinking more seriously about finishing that MFA I started at CCNY a number of years ago, so I want to try something a bit more serious in tone. I want to start taking steps toward something larger. A poetic career? Who knows. Let's see how the next few months go.


So, here are a few baby steps toward that end. A transformative experience from 1977.


While I was sitting underneath the table
Whizzing marbles around my fruitcake tin,
Enchanted by the orbit one white marble
Traced in blue, thin slippers padded in.

Dad, did you hear? Ben Crosby's dead.
They just announced it on the radio.
Dropped dead in Spain, while playing golf. They said
A stroke. No—Bing? The radio said so.

My marble whizzed around a few more times
Before it shot off, like a bullet, straight
Across the kitchen as the doorbell chimes.
Must be the paperboy, collecting. He's late—

It's quarter to eight.
The slippers shuffle out.
Ma, the neighbors say they've lost a kid!
And thawing stewed rhubarb under the spout,
An apron dipped,
Go, hide yourself!

I did.

Monday, March 24, 2008

More Ozu

I am sorry I didn't get to this yesterday, but I was so busy with work that I didn't have time to write.

Saturday and Sunday night two more wonderful films by the celebrated Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu premiered on my tiny computer screen: Early Spring and Tokyo Twilight. Faithful readers of this blog will recall Mr. Ozu from a post in early January, where I discussed his film Ohayo, or, Hello. A little Ozu on the weekend seemed like a nice way of rounding out a couple afternoons of Japanese grammar.

Both films are set in mid-1950s Tokyo and concern families adapting to the new realities of post-war life in Japan. Today I would like to talk about the first one, Early Spring, from 1956.

Early Spring opens with a 30-something veteran (of WWII), a salary man, Shoji (who works for a brick manufacturing company), and his wife, Masako, a housewife, rising in the morning. It is clear that she has much easier time waking up than he does--although she might not enjoy the world she wakes to any more than he does. We soon discover how a crushing daily commute to Marounuchi, obligations at work, obligations to friends, a dull, mind-numbing job, a son dead of disease are slowly conspiring to dissolve their marriage.

An initial flirtation between Goldfish (an office girl) and Shoji becomes increasingly serious, after a company outing. They arrange a date. They drink a bit too much. They kiss. And Shoji and Goldfish spend the night together at a small hotel. Later, Masako discovers lipstick on a her husband's handkerchief. She says nothing to him, and only alludes to the discovery to her mother. Soon, Shoji begins coming home later, and later, and finally, one night, Goldfish comes to the house of the Sugiyamas to confront Shoji. After this, Masako packs her bags and moves back in with a friend.

This is the story in the foreground. Behind it, there are several parallel stories being told simultaneously. The miserable life of the salaryman, the matter of fact way older couples cope with infidelity (a shrug of the shoulders and the proverbial rolling-pin applied to the peccant husband's head). There is also the embryo idea of democracy, on a local, personal level--choosing a path for yourself over falling into one prescribed by a closely structured society: abandoning office life to run a coffee shop, for instance. In some sense, these are the choices facing the generation charged with the task of rebuilding Japan. Will you exchange your wife for your mistress? Where do your loyalties lie? Can you be loyal to the past and to the future? Can you be loyal to yourself? Shoji makes peace with Goldfish with a handshake at his going away party.

Just prior to his wife's departure, Shoji is presented with a choice: to accept a three year transfer (with the prospect of a promotion) to a branch office in a distant depopulated prefecture, or stay in Tokyo. After his wife leaves, and a determined effort at reconciliation on his part, which Masako rejects, he decides to abandon Tokyo.

The final few scenes of the movie are set in the brick factory in the mountains where Shoji now works, and in the apartment he occupies in the poky little town surrounding it. Suggestively, enormous brick smoke stacks may be seen from every window, constantly belching smoke, working hard to rebuild Japan. It is a gritty place to live. But Shoji can walk home now, and he doesn't have to bother with trains. He may not enjoy the wild nightlife of Tokyo, but he does have time for reflection, and reading.

No life is without regrets, and none without its surprises, as Shoji finds, one afternoon, when he shuffles home from work to find one of his wife's dresses hanging on the wall. She has decided to join him. And it is here, in the ugly little factory town, surrounded by smokestacks, and mountains, they resolve to put their lives back together.

Like all of Ozu's films, this film is beautifully filmed and quietly understated. It is also very Japanese in the tension between social obligations, personal and public lives--ancient necessities that seem as distant and arcane to us today as private tears.

Never in the film did I doubt that Shoji and Masako deeply loved each other. But love is not always enough. And I was never sure that their marriage would survive until the final moment where Shoiji returns to his rented rooms in the mountains and we (both the viewer and Shoji) see the dress hanging on the wall.

Although they decide to begin rebuilding their lives in this new place, Ozu does not leave us with a rising crescendo of music signaling that all will turn out for the best. The last image we see is a departing train passing behind a black smoke belching chimney in the mountains. Above the chimney , soars a large white radiantly beautiful cloud. The future is remains obscure, of course. But for Masako and Shoji, we may have reason for hope.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

The Easter Bunny seems to have skipped our section of Queens last night. No baskets full of plastic grass, no chocolate, no eggs hidden in the lights, no lilies this morning. Just instant coffee. I may have to go to a diner for some Challah French toast, by way of compensation.

Not much on the agenda for today: brunch, gym, shopping, Japanese studying. Maybe a movie or some poetry later. A quiet day.

Here is some John Donne in recognition of the season:



THOU hast made me, and shall Thy work decay ?

Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste ;
I run to death, and Death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.
I dare not move my dim eyes any way ;
Despair behind, and Death before doth cast
Such terror, and my feeble flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it towards hell doth weigh.
Only Thou art above, and when towards Thee
By Thy leave I can look, I rise again ;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour myself I can sustain.
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A few changes...

No new poems today. And I have not read the paper yet, so I don't know if I have lost any more heroes, or friends.

I had a very delicious egg and cheese sandwich for brunch this afternoon (courtesy of The Jackson Restaurant, in Jackson Heights, Queens) and a cup of less than spectacular instant coffee. The laundry is done, however, and it is sunny, so I have ample reasons to rejoice.

I have made some long overdue edits to a bunch of poems today, and I have included links to them on the right, below my blog profile. The poems are in no particular order.

Click on a few, when you have time, and let me know what you think. The only thing I can say about them is that I wish they were written better.

I am going to take a much need shower now, perhaps a nap. I am still recovering from my four day bout of insomnia earlier this week.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In Memoriam

It has been a difficult couple of days here at Wheniwasoneandtwenty. First, we lost Arthur C. Clarke, on Wednesday. Today we turn over the New York Times to discover we have lost the actor Paul Scofield.

Paul Scofield is most famous to audiences for his portrayl of Sir Thomas More in the movie A Man for All Seasons. More, of course, being the the 16th cenutry jurist, author, intellectual, friend of Erasmus, Lord Chancellor of England, and confidante of Henry the VIII. More was the author of Utopia (literally, "Noplace," in Greek), the grandfather of novels like Erewhon, We, Brave New World, 1984, a whole genre of Utopian and Dystopian literature. More was beheaded on July 6th, 1535 for treason--which, at the time, could be construed as a polite refusal to recognize Henry the VIII as supreme head of the Church of England.

I first saw (and read) A Man for All Seasons in my 11th grade English class. (For which I will be eternally grateful to the otherwise somewhat distasteful Miss Tracy.) I would not say the play changed my life in any material fashion. But Mr. Scofield's performance did have an intense philosophical, even spiritual effect on me as a boy. Especially the following exchange between Sir Thomas and his son-in-law, William Roper:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

A man of conscience, certainly, and an idealist. More was also a contemporary of Machiavelli. More was a jurist, a lawyer who recognized something about the seductions of Princely power, and the consequences for religion, and for the rest of us. This realization and his stubborn refusal to stick to his conscience--to die "the good king's loyal subject, but God's first"--cost him his life. More slipped into my early pantheon of Heroes.

Thank you for bringing him to life, Mr Scofield.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Quiet Night

Last night, before Yasu came home (did I tell you I finally moved to Queens?) from his dinner party in the city, I spent a few hours alone in the apartment, head propped up in bed, reading Elizabeth Bishop, and listening to the soft patter of rain on the surface of the air conditioner outside. It was not an unpleasant sound, but a tiny tinny noise, more urban lullabye than an annoyance.

It fit in perfectly with the mood of what I was reading. Every now and then I would get up to pee (too much water with those six salty Chinese dumplings I had for dinner) and the sound of the rain would be overwhelmed by the unsalubrious and embrarassing sound of me. I had a hard time putting the book down when I clambered back into bed.

Here is a copy of the last poem I read last night.

It is nice, sometimes, to snatch a passage of poetry from a book and meditate on it as you drift off to sleep. It can have the most interesting effect upon your dreams.


Elizabeth Bishop

The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend
as long on us,
you've been, dear friend,
precipitate and pragmatical;
and look what happens. For Time is
nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair
in bright formation
are flocking where,
so straight, so soon?
-- Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Memoriam

It's hard to know what to say about such a remarkable man. He was never afraid to face the future, I think. Too many today are.

He will be missed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I believe this is post number 57 for my blog. All I can say is, "Wow."

While I am positive that blogpost number 57
will certainly be seen as a revelation by my friends--an occasion for joy, laughter, cherry-filled chocolates, and garlands of garter-belts, I feel that for ordinary members of the public (Mr. or Ms. J.Q. Voter, if you will), those unfamiliar with the wittiness this blog, the number 57 may prove a bit alienating, even elusive. Numerologically, it may be of no significance, but I think that this number, like many numbers, calls for a few moments of sober reflection, once the hangovers from yesterday have worn off.

Let us recognize today, March 18th, 2008, for what it really is, as it will be remembered by posterity: this is a moment never to be repeated--a moment in the History of the world much like that magical morning a novice named Newton awoke with a start under an apple tree; or the afternoon the louche, professional ladies of France yawned and rubbed their eyes during the liberation of Paris in 1945; it is an occasion of no less importance, in the universal scheme of things, than the evening of July 20th, 1969, when I, your humble author, still but a babe in swaddling clothes, an irascible raisin scarcely 3 days shy of 10 months old, slept in my portable bassinet, at Aunt Boot's house, on Ontario Avenue, in Niagara Falls, and drooled, while Neil Armstrong took his first tentative steps on the Moon. I come in Peace for all mankind.

On the occasion of my 57th blogpost, let me just say for the record, should any of my previous comments have created a contrary impression: I love everyone. I am the true candidate of Hope, and Change. I may not be running in any elections, but damn the torpedoes anyway: I intend to plunge straight into tomorrow, and blogpost 58. Tomorrow begins another chapter in the endless saga which is me, and my relation to you: the world, the world of words, and the weather. Let us us pray:

Our Father Who Art in Heaven,

Barring any natural disasters, and in honor of occasion 57, and the effusion of telegrams pouring into my desk from world leaders in regions and capitals as distant, dissonant, and seemingly unrelated as
Obama, Japan and Cicero, NY, I would like to present a poem ( a propos de rien) to my readers, by the late, great Dr. Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin.


I have always loved this piece. Rarely, in literature, do we find a minister so empathetic, so profoundly attuned to the harsh, transient beauty of urban life.

See you tomorrow.

A Description of a City Shower
Date of publication:
17 October 1710, in 'The Tatler', no. 238.

Jonathan Swift

Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
Returning home at night, you'll find the sink
Strike your offended sense with double stink.
If you be wise, then go not for to dine,
You'll spend in coach hire more than save in wine.
A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Old aches throb, your hollow tooth will rage:
Sauntering in coffeehouse is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate and complains of spleen.

Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings;
That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
While the first drizzling shower is borne aslope:
Such that sprinkling which some careless quean
Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean:
You fly, invoke the gods; then turning stop
To rail; she singing, still whirls on her mop.
Not yet the dust had shunned the unequal strife,
But, aided by the wind, fought still for life;
And wafted with its foe by violent gust,
'Twas doubtful which was rain and which was dust.
Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
When dust and rain at once his coat invade?
Sole coat, where dust cemented by the rain
Erects the nap, and leaves a mingled stain.

Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
The Templar spruce, while every spout's abroach,
Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tucked-up sempstress walks with hasty strides,
While streams run down her oiled umbrella's sides.
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits;
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed;
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, doth run them through)
Laocoon struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear.

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Fillth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre's shape their course;
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweeping from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.

(As a side note, I would like add that I have only had about 5 hours sleep in the last 3 days, and the opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect opinions of the writer, his relatives, or business associates. Or that big growling goat--YOWL!)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Of Spring, I sing

It is coming painfully slowly this year, isn't it? Summer isn't even on the radar.

I had a brief foretaste of warmth when I visited Yasu in Houston last month,
as he was helping set up an exhibit at the MFAH, but all that lovely, ambient warmth re-crystallized back into snow, in my mouth, the moment I stepped off the plane at LaGuardia. And then, this morning, waiting for the 7 Train in Jackson Heights, the wind cut through my pants like a knife.O, for a beaker full of sunburnt mirth, or something...

Maybe a little skin in a speedo.

Now there's an idea for a poem...
Astoria Pool
August 12th, 2003

Resting my elbows on the silver rail
curtailing the promenade above the pool,
I count twelve swimmers and one white sail
sailing through the sycamores. As a rule,

I don't pass through this park most mornings on
my way into Manhattan. But today
a chlorine breeze beckons me. I iron
my kakhis very quickly—jump into gray

briefs. I have some trouble picking a tie.
Summer ties look terrible on me
for some reason. I check the knot as I
press the little moon-shaped dial key

on my cellphone. I should have called you.
Unfortunately, I tried to inform
Robert of all the cumulonimbi to
the South, ascending the diving platform.

All Robert wanted to discuss was dicks.
“Fuck the clouds,” he said. “Can you see
any lifeguards? Take some pictures—quick—
before it starts raining, you retard.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Letter to the New York Times

One thing I forgot to mention, and which probably deserves a posting of its own.

I wrote a short letter to the New York Times the other day, protesting how Astrophysicists had drawn up plans for the Earth to be devoured by the sun in 8 billion years. I also included my sonnet on the end of the world called, "The End of the World," for the contemplation of the author of the article. It was his report which inspired me to write my sonnet.

And, do you know what? The reporter, Mr. Dennis Overbye, kindly responded.

I shall reprint our peculiar correspondence
in toto.

Dear Mr. Overbye,

The article in Tuesday's (3/11/2008) science section entitled, "Kiss the Earth Goodbye," alarmed me greatly. I have no intention of kissing the Earth goodbye. It is a lovely place to live and I intend to be here for the duration--come Hell or high water.

As a poet, I am not like a lot of the other lunatics who write to The Times. I would like to assure you, and your colleagues, that I intend to take measures--very stern measures--against any and all Apocalypses in both the near and distant future.

Here are a few. Measures. Metaphorically speaking.

Yours sincerely,
Sort of,


The End of The World

If I were more convinced that God exists,
I’d probably have a quiet word with him:
According to the Astrophysicists,
The future of Manhattan’s looking grim.

A billion years from now, all the science
Suggests our friendly little sun will swell
Into a red, ill-tempered, gaseous giant,
Devouring my apartment—yours as well.

No mention how this will affect our rents:
This is a funny item to conceal.
Let’s find a lawyer: there are instruments
Available for renters to appeal

Excessive rents. There’s no apocalypse
A lengthy bit of litigation can’t eclipse.

And here is Mr. Overbye’s response

Good luck with God and the apocalypse. I myself am not a very good sport about it. And I will only go kicking and screaming onto the spaceship out of here.


I have a feeling he didn't read the sonnet, don't you? Oh, well. Nobody really reads poetry anyway.

Still, it is nice to know that whatever political differences one might have with the occasional editorial stance of the Times, we can at least agree about scientific matters: that the end of the world would be a calamity for Republican and Democrat alike.

Contrary to appearances, maybe all is not lost, after all.


It has been a couple of days since I have written. It was a busy week at work, full of bankrupt corporations that needed dissolving. On Friday, I was practically stapled to my desk for 9 hours. I have the scars in my wrists to prove it.

Yesterday morning, I started to put together a new selection of poems for a new chapbook contest. There are about 25 pages in the manuscript, 12 poems, the longest individual poem being about 10 pages. I need to edit a few things yet, and to write a small introductory bio piece.

It is difficult to know what I should say about myself, besides the fact that I worked my way though college at BU, by working in Mugar Library. It took six years to get my BA rather than the conventional four. I am also thinking of going back to school to finish my MFA, part-time.

If I may be candid, the only poetry teacher I have ever found absolutely indispensable to the study of poetry is
The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Though, I shall always be grateful to Professor Christopher Ricks for teaching me how to read T.S. Eliot, and Shakespeare.

Yasu thinks an MFA would help me find a teaching job in Japan. Which would be nice, since I am sick of New York. All the more so, since I live in Connecticut.

Anyway, all I need is a 150 word statement. I will see what I can put together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. And Tomorrow. And Tomorrow. You know the rest.

Right now, it is Sunday. I need to take a shower, study Kanji, and fold clothes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Diffugere Nives

It is amazing what 10 hours of contiguous sleep can do for a person. I feel much better today than yesterday.

I am afraid I did have to skip Japanese class last night. I try never to do this. I think I may have missed 3 classes in the last 2 years. But I was a corpse last night, and starting to stink by the time I closed down my computer. So, I informed my classmates, and sensei, that I wouldn't be coming.

Instead, I bought bottle of cabernet and caught the 6:04 home. I had two glasses of wine, a grilled pork chop, a mountain of mashed potatoes, a chocolate rectangle (a brownie) and went to bed at 9:14 pm. I woke up this morning famished and refreshed at 7:10am.

How exciting my life is, it is difficult--even for me--to comprehend.


I have been very remiss lately in blogging about celestial events, and in recent days there have been several noteworthy items in the news. There has been this, and this, this, and today, this.

I did mention the article in the New York Times the other day detailing the end of the word--I mean world. At that time, I posted a preliminary appraisal of the event in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, which I took down a few hours after posting it because I re-read it, and it read like garbage.

So, here is a new version, dedicated to my friend Nancy, who is instrumental to mankind in many ways, not the least of which is helping me work out my poetic ideas.

The End of The World
For Nancy

If I were more convinced that God exists,
I’d probably have a quiet word with him:
According to the Astrophysicists,
The future of Manhattan’s looking grim.

A billion years from now, all the science
Suggests our friendly little sun will swell
Into a red, ill-tempered, gaseous giant,
Devouring my apartment—yours as well.

No mention how this will affect our rents:
This is a funny item to conceal.
Let’s find a lawyer: there are instruments
Available for renters to appeal

Lease changes. There is no apocalypse
A lengthy bit of litigation can’t eclipse.


Another thing I have been is poetically remiss. I have only posted one short fragment of our founder, A.E. Housman.

Here's a whole poem by Housman, a translation of Horace's "Diffugere Nives", "The Snows Are Fled Away", by one of the greatest classicists of the 20th century.

See you tomorrow!

Diffugere Nives

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The weather today is actually not so bad in New York, in the 50s, but last night I had a difficult time getting to sleep. I think I only managed about an hour of solid slumber. And I am at work now, so I am feeling a bit obliterated.

Here is a vivid memory, a vain attempt to perk up my spirits.

Chanson de la Pluie

I said, “No thanks,” to Noah,
While crossing 14th Street;
He seemed to be selling umbrellas
Out standing in the sleet.

Most passersby ignored him:
He wore a puffy coat,
A golden clover pendant,
And he coughed, to clear his throat:

Unbrellas, unbrellas, unbrellas!
He coughed again.
Unbrellas, unbrellas, unbrellas!
Unbrellas beat the rain!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The End of the World

I am at home today, in Connecticut, doing laundry, getting ready to haul a few of my things to Queens to move in with Yasu, for the next month, once he finally descends upon New York from Tokyo, before he moves to Houston to take up his position as a curator.

I was listening to WQXR this morning (the radio station of The New York Times) and I heard a rather solemn report on the fate of the Earth several billion years hence. It seems we are going to be greedily gobbled up by an engorged sun, once it has converted all of its hydrogen fuel to helium. Evidently the whole Earthly affair is going to end with a burp, not a bang, or a whimper. I always figured this was going to happen, but I just didn't know it would happen so soon.

So, I am off to take a hot shower, to meet my end cleanly and comfortably. And in case Yasu calls from the airport, and I have to hop on the train and head out to meet him for Indian food and a quick cuddle before the end of the world.

It is best to be prepared for these things, don't you think?

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Rarity

Imagine my delight and my disappointment today when I visited Posman Books in GCT, during my lunch hour, to look up a reference in T.S. Eliot's Collected Poems, and I discovered a new edition of the poems of Elizabeth Bishop!

I add the word disappointment because the copy of Eliot's Collected Poems I was expecting to find and refer to in the store must have been sold in recent days. I was greeted by a great gap in the E's: the whole event reminded of child grinning with a missing tooth.

I bought the Bishop, and the Eliot reference I found on Amazon:

The annoying thing is that I cannot find a complete copy of Eliot's poem, "Fragment of an Agon," anywhere on the web. I have it at home. But I am at work and I want to read it now!

Pardon me.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program of dance music from the Palm Tree Lounge in Palmyra, New York...

Side Effects

One of thing I have noticed lately, when I drink a bottle of wine, which is not very often, is that the next morning, when I wake up, I usually don't feel like Thor has spent the night kneeling beside my pillow hammering horseshoes on my head. I am not sure why this is. Perhaps all of this exercise is paying off in increased metabolism. I am reluctant to theorize. I will just note that I am happy not to feel moldy this morning and whisper a soft, "Hosanna!" and leave it at that.

Many things to do today, so I don't have time for my typical long and tedious post.

Instead, I would like to you leave you with a Koan to chew over til tomorrow.

A Note to Narcissus

Narcissus, I’m your well:
Look deeply into me
And try to love yourself—
Not the things you see.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

This Isn't What I Intended

I was going to write about the Swedish meatballs with dill sauce I had at Little Poland for dinner tonight, and about Lori and Dave, visiting NYC from North Carolina, but I got sidetracked. When I returned to Connecticut from my afternoon in the city, I accidentally drank a bottle of Pinot Grigiot, and now I don't feel like describing the sauce, which was the oleaginous element binding the whole idea together. Another alcohol related tragedy, I guess.

Anyway here is a poem I wrote ten years ago about my friend Michael, who first introduced me to Little Poland.

We haven't spoken for a while, and I think he now works as an artifact in a museum in Berlin.


Because of all we have
Committed to the fire,
I seldom kiss your thigh
Without a faint desire

To put a period
To these pointless affairs
Where the sex is so exquisite,
Nobody really cares.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Soggy Saturday

The weather outside is pretty shitty in my corner of Connecticut, so I have decided to stay inside, and skip the gym.

The first two issues of my new subscription to Sky and Telescope showed up and there are some interesting articles on the new Mega telescopes being proposed. One with an astonishing 42 meter mirror! I imagine with a machine of that size cosmologists will move from counting stars to combing them out of the beard of God.

As for me, since the stars are destined to be invisible tonight, I am going to do a little laundry, a little reading, maybe a little writing. I may crank up the Victrola in the dining room. I’ve left two steaks on the counter to thaw, and I have two large celery roots in the fridge, aching to be boiled and turned into celery root mashed potatoes. And then, there is also that bottle of sake that I bought on my way home from Grand Central which needs finishing. I must attend to THAT.

In case you were wondering, I put out the second steak out for you. On a rainy day, feeling a bit cut off from humanity, one is apt to grow a little melancholy. A little lonely.

That's why I'm glad we're going to have dinner.

Until then, in honor of skies and telescopes, here is a little Auden...

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Parade's End

One of the things I do, apart from writing poetry, or blogging, or studying Japanese, or day-dreaming, while I am at work, is legal research. Usually this is a pretty dull affair, consisting as it does of finding cases, legislation, past legislation, pending legislation, proposed legislation, pertinent legislation, peculiar legislation, articles, bill-jackets, treatises, SEC Filings, researching the legal history, and histrionics, of individuals, corporations or other entities duly constituted and incorporated in the U.S., Canada, the UK, EU, Mexico, Mongolia, Mars, the Lesser Magellanic Clouds, and M-31.

Most days I leave my desk at 5:30 with a hideous headache.

Even so. Beastly as these headaches sometimes are, collective life in the corporate cube is not all bad. You do have access to oxygen, elevators, emergency stairs, windows, computers, cafeterias, and highly corrosive coffee and tea. And sometimes you stumble across something curious in the course of your work. In one of the cases I was copying from the New York Law Journal this morning, I came across the surname: Tietjen. And for some reason, in the the back of my brain I heard a little bell tinkle. Where had I heard that name before?


Actually, there was no bell. In fact, if the truth be told (which it occasionally is in this blog), I knew exactly and instantaneously where I had heard that peculiar name, or at least an echo of it, before: Parade's End, by Ford Maddox Ford. I quote from Wiki:

Parade's End is a tetralogy (four related novels) by Ford Madox Ford published between 1924 and 1928. It is set in England and on the Western Front in World War I, where Ford served as an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a life vividly depicted in the novels.

The novel chronicles the life of Christopher Tietjens, "the last Tory," a brilliant government statistician from a wealthy land-owning family who is serving in the British Army during World War I. Tietjens may or may not be the father of the child of his wife, Sylvia, a flippant socialite who seems intent on ruining him. Meanwhile, Tietjens' incipient affair with Valentine Wannop, a high-spirited suffragette, has not been consummated, despite what all their friends believe. Much of the novel is spent following Tietjens in French trenches as he ruminates on how to be a better soldier and untangle his strange social life.


"Much of the novel is spent following Tiejens in French trenches as he ruminates on how to be a better soldier and untangle his strange social life."

I work in an office, and I know very little about the trenches of France, only what I have read in the work of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but I do know something about entanglements. I wake up with knots in my shoulders all the time. Still, I wonder if it is wise to conceive of life in general, or your life in particular, as a novel--or worse, a poem--even from the safe and sanitary distance of Art?

What happens if you want to put your goddam book down and just get some sleep?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Practical Banana Promotion

Yesterday's post about Orpheus left me feeling rather miserable last night, and after my 900 calorie cardio session at the gym, I collapsed in a heap in one corner of the 8:07 on my way home. My boyfriend, Yasu, was in Hiroshima last week visiting the Peace Memorial, as a part of his dissertation research, and I think that's how that particular thread of thinking unravelled into a poem.

I am not sure if you noticed in the poem, but Orpheus plucks his lyre 3 times, which is an extremely oblique reference, I think, to the Trinity test site, New Mexico, where the first atomic test was conducted in July of 1945. I don't believe that was the test where they built a small town to observe the effects of the bomb on cities. Evidently, I am conflating those two events. No wonder I had such a headache last night. But I was recovered enough this morning to make a few changes to Orpheus.

Now, what does all of this have to do with bananas? Besides the (generally--though by no means universally) well recognized insanity of nuclear war? Well, I will tell you.


As I slumped in my seat in the train, I somehow found the energy to scroll around the selection wheel on my iPod, flpping by: The Clash, Elgar's Cello Concerto, Gorecki's 3rd Symphony, Kindertotenleider, I ran across Anna Russell's exegesis on the fine art of selling bananas: A Practical Banana Promotion, and I started silently to smile. Did you know that your typical banana has 88 calories--the same number of keys as your typical grand piano?

It's true. It's one of those odd numerical coincidences—like the number of plays by Shakespeare equalling the number of more or less complete extant Greek tragedies (37). Or cheetahs and chairs each having four legs. I'm not making this up you know.

Well, as my smile started to broaden a bit, and various jingles for encouraging the consumption of bananas were proposed by Mrs. Russell, and the obvious associated dangers, I recalled a poem I had written for a writing seminar a few years ago--a sort of loose, vanitas piece--making fun of my weakness for bleakness.

Still Life

You know that big bunch—
those long, green bananas
I bought for my Wheaties—
just sat there on my cracked
countertop for days
not seeming to mind
being left alone: until

I went to peel one—
then all of them
suddenly turned black.

I must do a better job eating my fruit, I thought. Not only is it good for the bowels, it is an egregious waste of money to let it sit around and rot. Besides, I have no desire to wind up my days wearing white flannel trousers, running my tongue along my dentures, wondering if I dare to eat peaches, or not. Do you?

Yasu returns from Japan on Sunday. And I move in with him in Queens. And we are going to spend the whole month eating bananas, peaches, apples, and other immemorial fruit.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, March 3, 2008


As a poet, I have often wondered what it must have been like to be Orpheus, the great Greek granddaddy of rhapsodes, bards, and beatniks everywhere. I wonder what kind of a person he was like? Was he as amorous as Ovid, for instance, or more of a family man like Nabokov? Did he dress up and get drunk, like Dylan Thomas, for Halloween? When I picture Orpheus, for some reason, I can never get the picture of Harpo Marx out of my head. To each his own, I guess.

Although anybody beating on a pickle drum in Union Square Station could induce a few felicitous souls already on drugs or disposed toward motion to dance, it takes something extra special, I think, a little bit of latent madness, or maybe malice, to coax a Megalith to move, or a cliff to clap. I have a feeling Orpheus was such a man. I wonder if he and I would have been friends?

An Anthem for Orpheus

Some animals were gathered in a ring
Around a poet, playing with a song;
He sighed and plucked a solitary string,
“It’s music. What could possibly go wrong?”

The lion lying there, beside the lamb,
Drifted off to sleep in the tall grass;
Brooks trickled in, and so did boulders, and
Humanity stood up, as if at Mass.

He handled his equipment with such skill
He held a brief monopoly on sound.
He plucked another string, and then another—til
A mushroom cloud erupted over town.

Some say this was the first experiment
Mixing religion, politics and art.
The town was made of music, not cement:
Construction in cement had yet to start.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Catching a cold.

I have that creaky feeling I always get when I have been invaded by a foreign body bent on doing something malicious to my person.

Either that, or I don't feel like memorizing 20 new kanji for my Japanese test on Wednesday.

Or maybe I over did it at the gym yesterday. I went up 10lbs in every category and I ache in every joint like a sinner in the hands of an angry God. I guess that's what I get for skipping church.

Anyway, here is an old poem that seems to fit with my dissipated mood. I hate Sundays.

Pipe Dreams

It seldom takes more than a toke, just a whiff,
To start my tongue reeling off stories of you;
On our naughtier nights we might split a spliff,
Surrounded by haloes of smokiest hue.

God only knows how I lost my huge honey!
Through railroad investments, a cyclone, a ring?
Ten carats of coal I once hocked for money
To pay for potatoes? I replaced it with string.

The calamity came from Switzerland—Berne—
A skiing instructor, I forget on which Alp.
His mittens said Matt, and I said I can turn
A blind eye to that. Hard liquor and whores, they help.

But now only cads will attend my cotillions!
Now, only cockroaches and creditors call!
Mostly cockroaches—I seem to have billions—
All poking forks in my nerves through the wall.

So, I sit in a corner, just nibbling my knuckle.
The party is over, and my place is a sty,
And I think of five fingers once torn from my buckle.
“Darling, don’t hurt me,” you said. “Don’t cry.”

Friday, February 29, 2008

Second Thoughts

You know how, yesterday, I apologized for my little parody of Homer from the week before? Can I take the apology back?

I had some second thoughts about it last night, when I was on the rowing machine at the gym, listening to Styx--Come sail away! I just can't let sleeping dogs lie.

I started tinkering with it again on the 8:07 pm train back to CT, and I was still hammering away at it on the sofa last night, about 12:30 am, when I finally dragged myself to bed for some very agitated slumber.

I think I may have come up with something at least passable, if not poetical.


“But now the suitors trooped in with all their swagger
And took their seats on low and high backed chairs.”

—Homer, The Odyssey, I.169-170., tr. Robert Fagles

Since one should never grant Reality
Jurisdiction over human life,
I’ve been rewriting Homer’s Odyssey—
Pretending I’m Ulysses. You’re my wife
In this new version, my Penelope.
I come—exhausted—from the arms of strife:
I’ve just spent seven years inside a cave,
The plaything of Calypso. A love slave

Is not the life for me. Though divine,
Love making’s rather hard upon the knees
When you’re my age. And men must watch their wine
If working with large machinery. Please,
Penelope, be patient. I’ll be fine.
A lifetime of adventures on rough seas
Can leave a sailor—no—I won’t say limp—
But—for seven years I lived on shrimp,

Oysters, clams, and Lobster Thermidor—
Foods rich in zinc—a bitter chemical.
I don’t know what the oysters use it for;
I merely note that zinc’s available
In several things I don’t eat anymore.
Calypso used it for cholesterol:
She liked to think of me as her dessert
And careful preparation couldn’t hurt.

Calypso’s kitchen—her exotic flair
With spices, strange devices, and romance—
Left me, most mornings, paralyzed, I fear.
I don’t think love stood much of a chance
Between us. No. Nymphs do not declare
Affection for a pair of underpants
Kept folded in a drawer for twenty years.
And Nymphs do not dissolve, like salt, in tears.

Come here, Penelope. Have some champagne.
This crystal’s a great improvement on the shoe
I used to drink from. I am so ashamed.
The things that cruel Calypso made me do—
Every word she uttered was profane.
She was a scorpion, compared to you,
My dear—Penelope—my darling wife.
I’m lucky I escaped her with my life.

Penelope, I’ve something to discuss.
I have been thinking of retirement—
Abandoning the hot, Homeric fuss
For an existence less—well—violent:
To be a janitor, to drive a bus—
Pay taxes, and the butcher, and the rent!
Shall I say, “Sayonara,” to the port,
And take up bowling, or some other sport?

I know a few objections might be raised.
Your husband may show up in Babylon,
In jokes, immortalized as the milkmaid
Who is discovered in a leather thong
Behind a big bull, spying. I have prayed
For guidance from the gods—prayed hard and long—
And Heaven has been silent. I am still
Ulysses—king of Ithaca. I will

Not live forever. Yes, much earlier,
We should have had this little conversation.
In retrospect, too much may be too clear
To men involved in the affairs of any nation…
Wasn’t Telemachus’s hair much curlier,
And lighter, when I left? He’s changed. Our son.
Not only taller. He smiles like a stone.
How does he handle sitting on my throne?

Would you consider the lad self-reliant?
Do dingy diplomats command his ear?
“Son, listen, nobody could blind a giant—
A brute like Polyphemus—with a spear—
Forget a charred broomstick. All the science
Indicates he’d die.” I want to hear
About our boy, dear. Tell me, did he sigh
With satisfaction when he learnt I didn’t die?

He has this distant look which bothers me:
As if his dad were a museum piece—
An amphora—a piece of pottery
Dredged up from somewhere after centuries.
Does he realize he’s won the lottery?
I am Ulysses—not some fool with fleas
You try to pity, briefly, till the smells
Begin to catch up with your nostrils.

Perhaps we should have named the child Mike...
Are you certain that he belongs to us?
When I left Ithaca, he was a tyke—
So tiny. You raised him yourself. I trust
Your judgment, dear—your motherly insight.
Would he object to being devious
In a world where honest men cannot be found?
Please tell me that he walks on solid ground.

I want to know what kind of man he is,
Penelope, because, when we are dead,
This palace—and our people—will be his;
Us, this antique furniture—the bed
Where you received a young man with a kiss
That shook the stars—or so the servants said—
Might easily be tossed into the fire
And not be missed. And I would be a liar

If I said otherwise. Penelope—
I’m old. I’m tired. I’m dying for a bath.
I’d settle for a pot in which to pee.
Penelope, downstairs, they’ll hear you laugh!
You haven’t changed. You’re still my Queen, I see.
I never doubted you. But when I asked
About Telemachus your face turned white—
As if you’d seen a ghost. He’ll be alright.

Though in the banquet hall, as we speak, great
Cups of wine are being passed around,
As fifty pairs of lips prepare to break
Fresh bread together. I can hear the sound
As fifty greedy mouths agree to take
Turns with you, my dear, Ithaca’s crown.
For twenty years, they’ve gorged themselves at will:
Tomorrow I present them with the bill.

I didn’t travel all the way from Troy
To just roll over, like a dog, and die.
I won’t let any harm come to our boy—
But I must go. Help me to untie
This bundle. No, the gods do not destroy
These parasites. Telemachus and I
Do that. Now, let me borrow an old sheet:
It’s cold out there. I need to get some sleep.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pieridum Vates

One couplet I shall always remember from my desultory days of studying Latin is this, a comment directed from an exasperated Ovid to Cupid, from Amores, book I:

'Quis tibi, saeve puer, dedit hoc in carmina iuris?
Pieridum vates, non tua turba sumus..."

Which may be (very) loosely translated thus:

'Cruel boy, who put you in charge of poetry?
We are the Muses's men, not in your crowd...'

The reason I recall it now. A variation on Ovid's 'Pieridum', (a crystalline spring flowing through a mild valley in Macedonia once regarded by the Greeks as sacred to the Muse) was mentioned in the poem I was reading this morning on the display screen of my cellphone, between Stamford Station and Mamaroneck: Pope Alexander's Essay on Criticism:

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again..

I guess I have a hangover from the injustice I did to Homer in the piece I published last week, where I pretend to be Ulysses, and I invite you, dear reader, to participate in the whole feckless farce as my partner in crime, my faithful Penelope.

In an effort to placate Apollo, and the other angry, ambient powers of Creation who may be lurking in the shadows, interrupting my sleep, I would like add something to my blog a bit more circumspect in scope, a little less ambitious in effort.

Please accept my apologies Parnassus.

The Poet

The language that he used was plain,
As undistinguished as his face,
He mumbled in a monotone,
And, now and then, he lost his place.

Largely, he talked about himself,
As people do. I understand
His views on Life extended from
A callus on his writing hand.

The critics charged, “This garbage lacks
All pretense of Poetry—
Insisting words evoke no worlds,
They shed no light...” One could see

His powers were quite limited.
He evidently had bad eyes:
The sad result of too much sex
On sandy beaches at sunrise.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Thief

This morning I woke up with a chill at 6:43am, the covers dumped in a colossal blue heap on the floor, and a slight headache: the victim of an all too vigorous dream, I suspect.

Whether it was a bad dream, or a good one, I cannot say, since I am terrible at interpreting symbols.

It did leave me with an idea for a poem though. So, I suppose, I should be grateful to Heaven for that...

The Thief

On nights like these—
So dark, so cold—
Are fires lit
And stories told,

While in my bed
My lover sleeps.
And I wake up
With icy feet.

A cough, a twitch,
Then all is still;
And one is left
To contend with a chill:

To wonder if
As cold as he,
Might turn to steal

My comforter
To make itself
More comfortable.
It’s possible.