Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Trick

A minor miracle, you rise
from nothingness, the ghostly gray
palm on stage, like Venus did,
stepping into flesh from foam.

We do not perceive the sleeve,
the preparations, the pair of pearl
buttons fastening the glove,
the tall black hat of magic. Our

eyes are fixed on what’s beyond
already, following a flash
and flutter high above: a dove,
like love, or life, gone up in smoke.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ice Wine

As the light withdraws, I concentrate
on summer, other days, warm memories,
distilling them into clusters of grapes
glistening with frost, like those dark globes,
intentionally left unharvested,

still clinging to the vines. I wonder if
it might be time to let the cold be cold,
and let that sweetness fill my heart also.
I’m no expert in hearts, but I feel
winter might work its magic on me, too.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Haunted House

A skull’s an awful place to find yourself
alone: it’s dark, and damp, and cramped, a-crawl
with thoughts, like insects, busy all the time.

The only time light gets inside is when
the bone is cracked: say, by an accident,
or surgery, or violent attack.

There is this strange impression created by
the eyes—a world outside the cranium.
But this is background noise, the buzz of flies:

a cloud of doubts rubbing hairy hands
together, looking forward to a meal
more substantial than your mind. More real.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ferryman's Complaint

Let’s look at today’s takings:
one hundred and fifty-five
thousand across, out of a potential
six billion customers. Plus one
roundtrip. That’s you. A poet. Nothing, 
proportionally speaking. No,
business isn’t what it used to be.
Nothing compared to what I used to earn:
smallpox, plague, diphtheria,
tetanus, septicemia—when
spears and swords were all the rage.
Homer was quite kind to me.
His doctors never washed their hands
or bloody instruments. They moved
from gut wound to gut wound like the Fates,
up to their elbows in intestines,
endlessly stitching things
shut. A hush surrounded death
back then. Customs were respected.
A coin deposited beneath
the tongue, two coins covering the eyes,
pennies meant something. That’s
how Alexander came to me, Caesar,
countless others I could name.
I never forget a friendly face.
These were the decencies the family
attempted to observe even if
no money could be found. For me,
the thought always counts. I’m not greedy.
I’m not unsympathetic. But
I do have a staff to support. Liability
insurance. Lawyers. Cripples
and children under twelve pay half.
Pregnant women and infants
ride free. They always will. But
at least Homer and friends made 
an effort. You expect charity. Look.
Don’t take my hand. Just look
at these hideous blisters. Look.
I worked my fingers to the bone:
The Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele,
Influenza, Amritsar,
The Invasion of Manchuria,
Guernica, Nanking, The Blitz,
Buchenwald, Dresden, D-Day,
Hiroshima, Korea, the killing fields
of Cambodia, Rwanda. AIDS. The list
goes on. I don’t do charity work.
I’m not in business for my health,
you know. I slipped a disk
ferrying those mystified millions
across this damned river. For free.
I did my bit at Dunkirk, too.
You look surprised. Don’t be.
I keep very careful accounts.
A miracle is what you owe me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wild Strawberries

On either side of the path leading up the hill to our cabins at camp, tuffets of moss relax beside nervous strawberries that tremble and glisten like jelly. I am not normally a berry fancier myself, but I will make an exception in this case and stop.
O how they melt in the mouth! No sugar snowflake, no pearl in acid, no metaphor on earth could do the sensation justice.
You have to try one of these things.
What is the matter with you?
Only to cashews, you say. And needles.
Oh. I see what the problem is. Only an idiot lost on his way to a party and scanning the horizon in a pirate eye-patch would suggest some connection between the succulence of strawbrerries and the proximity of a privy. Honestly. You seem to have lost your sense of depth along with your virginity today. Put down the plastic spyglass. I will take care of your cutlass. See if my eyes—this pair of binoculars—will help.
The outhouse is really on the other side of the hill—somewhere over 40—light years away, you see, past the sunset. This is camp—the eternal present—here and now.
There aren’t very many private epiphanies I am willing to part with. But, since it is you, and our roles are reversed—and you have so conveniently consented to kneel—and I am holding the cutlass to your throat—I am happy to share.
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Swallow, scum.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Friday Nights At The Met

Having had my fill of abstractions for the evening—I did not enjoy the special exhibit of turquoise dinosaur turds—I decided to take the escalator downstairs and spend my last few minutes among the clichés housed in the recently renovated collection of classical bric-a-Braque, to see what I could see.

In those days, I carried a black Moleskine everywhere I went and recorded everything I saw. I clutched my pen with the white-knuckled determination of a thief gripping the steering wheel of a Porsche: I would not leave the world empty-handed.

In truth, I really had no earthly idea what I was up to besides scribbling: joyriding from place to place, face to face, world to word, wasting time; hoping, in the course of my travels, I would unearth a reason to exist—something, if not exactly noteworthy, or new, at least something more diverting than doing endless donuts around Death in the vegetable aisle at the supermarket.
And so it transpired that I discovered myself on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. In that vast glass-vaulted gallery, I found a garden of broken images that—taken together and carefully weighed—amounted to less than a worm in terms of its collective artistry, but nevertheless remained resolutely human, even beautiful.

For me, this was Heaven. I dipped my fingers in a purling fountain and flicked water at Poseidon. I flipped the bird at Julius Caesar. I peeped around the shattered ass of a faceless Nike. And I whistled at what I saw. For—basking under a beam of light bespangled with billions of starry motes that suggested this section of the Cosmos was still, secretly, under construction—I spied the alabaster corpse of a laughing Cupid impaled on an iron spike.

I saw a legless young man in a wheelchair sketching that sculpture with excruciating care.

That vision of Love changed my life.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Consumers, Hi!
We are your mouths
We eat you out
Of home and house!

We like your kids,
We love your wives,
But most of all,
We want your lives!

Send bits and pieces,
Pixels, pics,
Whatever you like,
We’re mouths not dicks!

We’re flexible,
Textible, and it’s true,
We all have teeth,
All smiling at you!

So, feed us faces,
Fingers, shit,
We don’t care,
We asked for it!

For we are Just:
The huge abyss
That yawns beneath
The things you kiss!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Pixies of Possibility

Irreverent things, small and free,
they normally dwell in dells, or woods,
where Now is a tree and Later might be
a house in a river, in one of its moods.

Above us they flutter, wings buttering
the oleo air like Wonder Bread;
they fling cinders from fires, uttering
the magic words: Maybe, Perhaps, Instead.

They turn Comedies into Tragedies,
the kind of Despair that dances with Joy:
for hit by a bus, or a passing breeze,
a frustrated toddler flinging a toy—

it’s all the same. A Possibility,
when photographed, will always appear
as a luminous smudge—like poetry.
Nothing threatening, nothing to fear,

I’m sure that you have seen their lights,
I’m sure you’ve also heard their song,
looking up from a book on one of those nights
you heard a siren hurtling along.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Indiana Jones and the Abyss: A Fragment

The Cast:

Harrison Ford: Professor Henry (Indiana) Jones, 38, archaeologist, adventurer, lover, our hero.
Karen Allen:    Miss Marion Ravenwood, 30, Indy’s love interest, us.
Paul Freeman: Dr. René Emile Belloq, 45, Indy’s nemesis, a villainous Frenchie, Time.
Musclemen and Mummies: The arms of clocks everywhere.

Marion! Marion. Listen to me.
Start anywhere. Pick anything. Random
paragraphs. Find one. Just read it. “He
reached the inner chamber of the tomb.
‘Osiris curses he—’ He? Whom? The key
cartouche was missing. A granite wound
grinned grotesquely at him. Hacked away.
Deliberately. And recently. René.

The stale aroma of a cigarette—
Gauloises—suggested the Frenchman.
His rival. Vandal. Yet. Amentophet
still lay in his sarcophagus—still band-
aged tightly; the mask the six bald priests had set
on Pharaoh’s face almost four thousand
years ago rested on the young king’s brow—
still glittering, still golden. Nothing stolen. Now,

Why? Stubble growing through a scar
irritated Indiana’s chin.
He scratched it with his flashlight. On the far
wall there appeared a royal procession:
Four horses led a chariot. War.
Conquest. Famine. Death. He was certain
this predated the Apocalypse
of St. John. A whistle passed his lips...”

No! Try again. Wrong episode.
If we weren’t busy over an abyss
I would explain it all. It’s hard to hold
a lecture swinging on a whip like this.
Trust me. Just trust me. Somewhere—down the road—
we will get back to Pharaoh and Osiris.
Look, Honey, if you wanted to know more,
you really should have read the script before

you took the part. So, try to focus. Try.
We’re clinging to existence by a thread.
Everybody knows we’re going to die
before we are finished. So, skip ahead,
past where René will ask me, “Why?
Why do you waste your life among the dead,
Professor, excavating legends—stones—
to sit in some Museum? Doctor Jones,

exactly what do you get out of it?
An evening in Byzantium? A tan?
Americans. Tourists. Buffoons. You love it:
how love runs through your lives just like this sand
runs through my fingers. Shall I prove it?
How useful love is to a dying man?
Look. Two identical canteens. One full
of water. This one—empty—love. All

you have to do—untie his mouth—is choose.
Choose one canteen and then we seal you in.
If you select the water, you will lose.
If you pick love, then, I will see you win.
I guarantee a postcard marked ‘Toulouse’
conveying your—affection—for Marion
will be arriving in Nepal next week.
Choose wisely, Indiana. Let him speak…”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Last Ghost

Before he goes, he turns

around, surveying things

one final time, making

sure that his memories

will all be found neatly

arranged by the new boy.

A model Corsair and a Zero

square-off on a doily

beneath a ceramic lamp

his mother painted. While,

overhead, an Enterprise,

his father’s handiwork,

slowly revolves in the dark

bedroom. Sightless eyes,

belonging to the stuffed

frogs he will leaving,

look up in silence at

the orbiting starship,

lost in whatever thoughts

their cotton brains contain,

unaware of what they are

to him: his family.


He taps his rocker and

it rocks, predictably,

keeping perfect time.

Part metronome, part throne,

it coordinates the headlights

careening along the wall

into his mirror. Those

lightning flashes at night

will not be missed. He’s glad

that dresser isn’t coming,

really. He has outgrown

the child inside. He flips

one of the handles up,

then flicks it down again,

to hear how it collides

against a plate of brass,

letting go of the past.

The noise it makes is nice.

So he lifts it up again,

so he can hear it crash

again, a kamikaze,

ending something grand.

Jonathan Swift

Dean of odd ducks, he dipped his pen
In a funny ink, distilled from the Furies
Holy manure: he hated man
Bespattered with shit, shouting, "Yahoo!"

Famished as Death, he fed the lord
A suckling child, the choicest meat
Butchered on his block. The King of Beasts,
Society, laughed and licked its chops.

Harelip in hand, Irony hoped
He fancied her figure. Her fractured face
Broke in two smiles. Smitten with love,
He kissed her palm, "Let's kill the light."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Poor Fool

“Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all?”
—King Lear
Heaven was just the place for him to go.
He never understood this world. You know,
We would discuss it over marmalade—
Those violent forces—how the world was made.
He would take soldiers—strips of buttered toast—
And dip them in his egg, completely lost.
Most considered him a child—a half-wit.
Like any parent, my poor heart was split.
His gags were creaky as an outhouse door,
And yet I loved him—loved him to the core.
He turned the girls to jelly. In his eye,
There twinkled something wild in black tie
Which frightened my officials, children, and dogs.
He painted funny faces in the fogs
Which rolled in like thunder from the sea
Those nights we kept each other company.
He tested my love constantly. He’d twist
My heart right into knots—without a sweat—
One drop of effort. For some reason I
Don’t fully comprehend, he teased me, “Why
Are you so melancholy, Lord—so blue?”
He pinged me with a pebble from his shoe,
His face a mask of innocence. Of course,
I think he knew he would wind up a corpse.
I hanged the lad in public to remind
The peoples of the Earth that God had died.
They stared at him like vegetables. The few
Who cried for Mercy I hanged twice. Like you,
I wished his last remarks had shown more flair,
A little bravery. Jerked in the air,
He gargled, “Jesus,” and choked. His final joke,
One word, dissovling in the sky, like smoke.


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Longest Journey

Today, while practicing for the national implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act , I tried to have a prescription filled in New York City.

I went to my local community health center, as you do for these things nowadays, when you desire to obtain a controlled substance legally. My local community couldn’t find my prescription in the local community safe, although they had a record that the prescription had been called-in and signed by a certain responsible individual (my doctor) the day before.

The nameless woman I was speaking to at the desk summoned a file clerk. The file clerk, Carlos, took off in an elevator to determine where my prescription was hiding. Since Carlos was the only other person in the place with a name, besides my doctor (who was missing) and me (who was definitely there), I followed his progress with relief. I could watch the numbers on the elevator indicator traveling up and down from where I was standing. Carlos seemed to be having fun, spending a little time chatting with anonymous friends on every floor. I had seen something similar in a Laurel and Hardy film once.

When Carlos finally returned, he came panting out of the stairwell. I realized that I had been fooled by the blinking lights. He was doing his best. Carlos was very friendly, very apologetic, and he smiled. A smile always goes a long way with me, even when I am annoyed.

I took the sweaty prescription to the in-house pharmacy, seeing what hard work Carlos had done, and to show I had no hard feelings against him (as an individual) or my community. The cute pharmacist said that it would take about fifteen minutes to fill and gave me a sleek little black beeper, which I slid into my pocket.

I went back out to the lobby. I sat down beside a duct-taped slash on a tattered vinyl seat, and I pulled a book from my messenger bag, and I tried reading to pass the time. Right now, I am reading The Longest Journey, the third of five novels written by E.M. Forster, the one that nobody reads. Like the rest of humanity, I really couldn’t concentrate on The Longest Journey either. I had this niggling feeling that I had forgotten to tell the pharmacist something. About an allergy? An adverse reaction I once had to sulfa drugs as a child? No. It wasn’t that. It couldn’t be. All of that information was in my file. The computer would catch any dangerous drug combinations, I was sure.

So, what was I missing?

I sighed and felt my thigh to see if the beeper was still there. The beeper was still there. Then I took out my iPhone from the other pocket. No bars. No reception. No calls. No Facebook. No news. 3:58 pm. I realized then that I had a teleconference with Chicago in two minutes and that there was no way on Earth I was going to get back to the office in time. I was going to miss my appointment. I rolled my eyes.

When I did that, I caught sight of the elevator indicator again. Moving things have a very mesmeric effect on my mind. I watched the elevator going up and down for a little while more—for ten more months, at least—until the buzzer buzzed in my pocket, shocking me back to Reality like a sudden collision with the sidewalk.

I blinked several times before I felt steady enough to get up and go over to the window where you pick up prescriptions.  

To arrive at that particular nightmare, you go through another glass door and around the corner from the window where you drop your prescriptions off.  

This pharmacist was pretty cute, too, but not quite as cute as the other one, I noticed, as I passed by the window and stood there, studying his face. In fact, they could have been identical twins. Except that the second fellow looked so much older than the first: apparently, the computer was down and this man had been arguing with the cadaver in front of him for the last nine years. And there were nine other mummies waiting to see him, each rather angrily enjoying a different stage of decomposition.

I left the line before I joined it. I wasn't scared by the mummies, of course, but I did mull over going back to my seat in the lobby, and watching the elevator lights again, until those curséd corpses had been disposed of by the whip-wielding, wise-cracking adventurer I knew must be on the way. (I was sure that somebody with a landline, somewhere, must have placed a call to South America.)  

But my seat was taken.

I am forty-four. And I really didn’t think it prudent to waste the next eighty-one years of my existence (9 x 9, see above) standing around; even if Dr. Obama (my missing Doctor) was already leaping into a seaplane in the Amazon basin with a fresh supply of his Incan anti-mummy vaccine; even if I could watch the elevator going up and down.

I had to be practical. I had to remember Chicago. And E.M. Forster. And you. And me. And the mummies. We might not be so lucky to live so long.

Instead, I decided to leave without my prescription. I knew that my drugs were ready, theoretically, and I guess that knowledge was almost prescription enough. I would return the beeper and come back later, when the mummies were gone.

Since I couldn’t find Carlos, I said, “Goodbye,” to my other friend, the young pharmacist who took my original prescription. I am not sure that he saw me. He seemed to be very involved with his iPhone, playing Angry Birds.

I took the train back to the office and sent a note of apology to my colleagues in Chicago about the meeting, mentioning my run-in with the mummies.  

I still haven’t heard back from Chicago.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Ginkgo

Pages, pages
all around
my courtyard fall
without a sound.
Yet, full of sage
advice, this tree
might hold a book,
dog-eared, like me:
a paperback,
spine cracked and dry,
shedding leaves
and leaving sky.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Loon

I know it sounds crazy, but—like you—I might be a tenure-track catamite today, instead of a virtuous poet working temp jobs that I detest: if only Fred had selected a slightly tighter pair of pants that evening—our first date. 
Our dinner was fine. French. Bouillabaisse. His conversation and his choice of wine, thoughtful and excellent. We discussed my possible future—the famous men and women (and others) that I might meet at cocktail parties with his help.
After coffee and crème de menthe, we took a stroll. He waxed poetic, rattling off bits of Bishop and Merrill by the light of a waning moon. It was a beautiful autumn night. The sky was clear. The air was crisp. Three or four stars sparkled above Manhattan. I doubt that we would have lived happily ever after, but we might have enjoyed a few evenings of strip-poker in his apartment, or, at the very least, a healthy hand of Old Maid.
It was not to be. I was his student, you see, and a former gymnast, as I had just demonstrated on the horizontal bar in a little park near his apartment.
Fred Roland was here on a special Visa: a visiting professor of poetry at the university. And he wore baggy khakis.
I looked down at his face. I kind of admired the man for attempting to defy time as well as gravity: turning purple, eyes-bulging, hanging upside down in Washington Heights—keys, credit cards, condoms, and a handful of change cascading from his pockets. I realized with sadness that cards were probably no longer in the cards for us. Not even Old Maid.
So much for my career.
I lifted my eyes toward Heaven, and I sighed, “Don’t kill yourself, dear.”
He consented to live, with a grunt, after a painful attempt at something more spectacular—some kind of spin—before he dismounted, with stinging soles, upon the Earth.
Fred staggered over to a nearby slide and sat on its steely lip, to catch his breath and balance. I crouched to collect the scattered contents of his khakis, chattering about how I had once crushed my nuts in junior high attempting a similar move.
He said nothing.
When I thought I had collected everything, I handed the stuff back to him. He sorted it. He counted the change. He looked at me quizzically. And then he looked around. He squinted and he said, a touch tersely it seemed to me, “I think you missed something.” He winced, “over there.”
He pointed to a derelict disk shining in the dark.
I followed his shaking finger and walked over to where he was pointing, to see for myself.
He was right.
I had missed something.
I picked it up.
Even in the dim orange light under the swings, I could tell it was a coin. A newly minted dollar. A lost Canadian Loon.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Man Inside

Goose-stepping down a model
Tokyo street, picture a man
half-dressed in a Gojira suit
preparing to stomp around Japan.

Suspended by suspenders, his
lower parts are all reptile—
rubber ones, I grant you—fake.
All is fake except his smile

The smile is real. He loves his job:
crushing cars, burning towns, killing.
Monsters have more fun than us.
They know it's far more thrilling

to revel in monstrosity
than be a good man for forever,
lying in a foreign field
nobody will visit. Never.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Fall mornings like this
conjure up the hand
of Helios. I see
the great sun god himself,
patting the flanks of his horses
with affectionate fire,
offering one last word
of advice to Phaëton,
before the eager boy
takes off in his chariot,
and loses control of the day,
the night, the entire sky.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Iliad

For J.M.

Death changes nothing. Priam still is king.
Horses run. Fresh flowers—lilac, rose—
still lift the spirit out of time to sing
an everlasting song. No heroes

here. Only towers made of sound. The wind
sweeps across their breastworks like a hand
across a harp: a vortex twisting in
agony across a devastated land—

a land hard to define. A voice. Not
one in particular: the voice of dust,
one speck among millions; an arrow shot
into your throat; remains of a man who lost

his life in a long-silted river, drowned,
as a great battle raged all around.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lux Fiat

Sitting by the Hudson,
reading Borges, I
removed my Ray-Bans,
looking up from my book,
risking a little blindness.
I wanted to let the light
fill my empty eyes.
I wanted to be Borges.
I wanted to hear that
immortal Latin phrase,
spoken from nowhere,
the first day of Creation.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Dear Martial, may I
borrow a vertebrae?
I need a keystone
to cap an epigram
to glorify our age—
this golden age of poetry.

My name is Eric. Yes,
I know you dont know me.
I’m an American poet.
I have no spine to speak of;
apart from one eyebrow
(see) lifted in irony.