Saturday, June 2, 2012

CELEBRATIONS AND BEWILDERMENTS

-1-

I am born
With no rain to prophesy
The way for my becoming
The still house
Leaning like ash
Into the wind.
It is no great birth,
But it will have to do.
Aunts & uncles
Twitter with rumors
The moon hangs
In its trice.
Even this plain event
Will not happen twice.
Europe rumbles with protest,
A fire half gone out.
I am indecent
& turn my bare rump
To the lunatic fringe,
Bellow at the sound
Of vanishing planes.
Dodo, lory & lobster,
Everything with noses
Press against the panes.

-2-

Surely, I cannot matter very much;
Whether I live or die
Will not upset the spinning
Of this world & where I touch,
My fingerprints will be dried
& wiped away. But I take my sinning

Seriously. Born in an overweight
Colony of New York,
Manhattan, to be precise
I smile at the humorous fates;
Praying among tides & wet
Rocks, I fish for a finicky muse,

& by formal senses am irreligious
Though my informal sense
Is a Cheshire of a different color:
A male Alice in Wonderland, my gracious,
Falling through the present tense
Down a hole to the world’s cellar.

Language in which I joke & rave
Will in turn fall into disuse
Snared by ages far more visual.
Where is the rabbit with his glove?
Before I succumb to LSD or abuse
The latest drug, allow these casual

Words to celebrate the sensual
& sensuous, articulate careers
Of bewilderment & celebration, putting
One’s house in order with essential
Loves & mercies. “Oh my ears
& whiskers, how late it’s getting.”

-3-

Raised on bad music,
Echo chambers, drippy lyrics,
Raw grind of the hurdy-gurdy,
My adolescence lingered
Long past my thirties.

Where was the gift for pain
That pure musicians harbored,
Grand decisions hammered
Into chords? Guitars
Twanged, singers stammered

Out there blue-eyed verities
Hiccoughed, gulped, & shouted
Feckless tonalities. Love
Was wholly transistorized,
Radios blossomed in the leaves

& never fell. Girls shrieked
At phantasmagoric hips
& shifting navels, moaned
For Eustachian nonsense,
My generation necking,

Petting breeding, to a beat.
At night, in convertibles,
My soul hugged triteness
Like a whore, eased itself
Into a tepid sweetness.

Oh I loved it & can mark
My age by an age’s titles,
A decade’s mellowed song
When lips were wine & no one
Was broken-hearted very long.

-4-

Television & radio said to me, “DRINK ME”
Beautifully printed on it in large letters,
As cowboys rounded up their critters,
The Green Hornet solved life’s mystery.
On Sunday, Christ blessed the Shadow.
Dow the rabbit’s hole I go
& if Madison Avenue says DRINK, I drink.
“Dinah’ll miss me very much tonight
I should think.”

“Soo-oooop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup.”

Whenever I hear the Grand Canyon Suite,
My ears perk up at pounding feet
Of a galloping horse & the mighty cry
of HI HO SILVER. My childhoods rush by
To the Lone Ranger.

“Soo-oooop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup.”

Or if Donna Dianna’s overture
Is in the score,
Then it’s Sergeant Preston
& Yukon King who freezingly appear.
Personally, I don’t hear a thing
For I’m up to my ears in horse manure
For blizzards from a Klondike western.

“Soo-oooop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup.”

-5-

“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “
must be shutting up like a telescope.”

The planets are put away
This evening. Venus
Covered with pajamas;
Stars in curlers.
Revolution has

Darkened the universe.
I must be shut up
Like a telescope.
My optic nerves
Are reversed.

Nebulae freeze. Fish
Stiffen their gills,
The sun’s swerve
Crystals on the still
Atlantic curve.

Perhaps this planet
Is insane, the mad
Gathering thoughts
With broken toys,
Sleeping in days

Of simple rotations,
Scuffling here to there,
Crowded exchange
Of names with names.
My lenses range

The ocean for a sign;
Seaweed craters
Bulge with a moon’s
Fanatic threads,
A lobster’s spoon

Lifts the sand & lets
It fall, sifting
To the ocean’s lap
What is give is in
Brief trust, perhaps –

The constellations’ sleep
Andromeda sewing
Mars’ snowy caps
Be at ease, it must
Make sense. Perhaps.

-6-

“Alice’s right Foot, Esq.
Hearthrug
near the Fender
(with Alice’s love)

Oh, dear what nonsense I am talking.”

Right foot, I’m addressing you.
You point outward
When you walk, whether
It’s away or toward
& it is my father’s
Walk you imitate. Right shoe,

Go it alone. I know we choose
Our parents, that
I know. Born to them
We make them over, fit
Them both to the same
Bony world where death’s clues

Grow intricate, under the house,
The hearthrug, near
The fender. Blessed be
he who does not bear
His parents’ weight, sees
In their deaths his own. His

Freedom is dearly bought or is
Freely given, but as
He walks away, note
The pointing of his
Feet. Right foot,
Ligaments & navicular, 5 toes

Cramped into an ontogenetic pose,
Why do you look thus,
Laced up hearse-like
Black, ready to bruise
The furniture, ready to hike
Onto our neighbor’s lawn. 5 toes

Listen from your size 8 shoe
Behave. Walk tall.
Heel, set down straight.
Arch, don’t fall.
Phalanges, point right.
Right Foot, I am talking to you.

-7-

The house of poverty
Gives daily reassurance:
Should you die first, my dear,
I’ll enjoy the insurance.

“How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale?”

Take risks, take risks,
Tae risks, my darling dear,
For if you live a natural life
We’ll have a pool of tears.

Take risks, take risks,
Don’t merely sprain your back.
Should you die first, my dear,
I’ll drive a Cadillac.

“How doth the little housewife
Improve her shabby wreck?
She takes out insurance
On her husband’s slender neck.”

Take risks, take risks,
Climb buildings when you drink
For should you fall, my darling,
I’ll mourn you in mink.

Don’t walk, my darling’s darling,
Drive, pogo-stick, or fly
For should you have an accident,
I’ll see you in the by-and-by.

“How doth the little housewife
Improve her shabby nest?
She takes out insurance
On her husband’s flabby chest.”

Take risks, take risks,
& don’t inspect the tea
Though one diamond is quite nice,
Ten look best on me.

-8-

“I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly, Alice replied
very politely, “for I can’t understand it myself, to begin with;
and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.”

Size is not stable.
Pity is. Lungs contract
At cooler currents.
Fingers find more suitable
Temperatures

In which to grope.
Wedding rings
Hold fast in winter
Grow loose in spring;
Even doors

Are known to stick
Depending on the weather.
Size is mispronounced
By distance. Quail feathers
Become more

Than a tree; buttons
On a blouse, the moon;
A cup’s rim
Displaces the afternoon,
Becomes a shore

In the minutes’ tide
As fingers touch,
Flesh loosens or enlarges.
At love’s approach
Size is not sure,

Tears are, & where are
The childhoods we outgrew?
What size were they?
Once, in awe,
I would tour

The kitchen, that lumbered
Jungle in afternoons
As huge as sleep.
Turn the spoon
& we are

Upside down. I sit
On my shadow,
& as the day retires
I see my legs grow.
Come not near

I’m not what I seem;
I change with a lens,
Am 5’7”
In a temporary sense.

-9-

I am here
With no sun to prophesy
The way of my becoming;
At the sea of crocodile tears,
I lean with laundry
To the wind’s direction.

Down to the desperate
Mooning cove, I
Draw in the planetary
Fish, the mock turtle
& the mock sun.

Crab & lobster cast
Their shells, brittle
Spoons to hold the tide
The cove inside
Gives back my voice.

A gray shell
Over phosphorescent water
Is this cove.
Here is where the salt glitters.
I am mad as a hatter.
The dollar’s scalpel
Cuts away at my nerve.
I lie down
In the mooning cove
To be trimmed by the waves.

To insects, small sperm
Of my father. The egg
Is a planet & mating
A 9 month plague
To the pure

Design of women’s stomachs,
Until life is spent,
Round, round & rounder.
Sometimes an accident
Pares

A man’s length & cuts
Him short, long bones
Collated by surgery,
Amputated leg, feet gone,
The shears

Open & close; inches trimmed
By a simple haircut,
The child cries. Look away
& close your eyes. I am not
Here.

-10-

A woman uncovers, bathes
In the current & small
Fish glide through her legs.
We do not speak. She is
Beyond where undertow drags,
Where the moon is a shell.

-11-

I’ve yet to find
My breathing room
Except in sleep.
There my mind
Puts on death’s wing.
There delicate wish
Keeps her court. I fling

My self through
Flamingo borders,
Muted embroidery
Of a landscaped Kingdom. Do
I need a passport here?
Work permit? Security
Clearance? May I wear

My clothes the way
I please? I fall
In earnest through
The Freudian hole,
To where fair women lay
At my beck & call.
Here I feel my way.

Each in its singular moment;
Its grave ambushed
By a sudden lark.
None molested or pushed
Into a foreign mold.
Here, marriages hold,
& no mealy mouthed monster lurks

To chase the child back home;
The pepper bell rings
Its entire chromatic scale
As roses do. I fling
My ego down to embrace
Fluorescent shades, the whole
Hyacinth world. My face

Is reflected by a snail’s
House; my sleeping song
Is rubbed & polished,
Hummed by a cricket’s ankle;
Crane’s beak, toad’s head,
& minnow are enlarged
By my dream’s clean spill.

-12-

“The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time,
and was going off into a doze. . .”

Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z

Amid what dreams
Down what rabbit holes
Dare the dreamer slide?
With every snore,
A lifetime of report cards
Pile up at the door

C B F A F
C B C A A
D C A A A
F D F A E
A B A A C

Is Rome the capital of Paris?
Does the King pay tax?
Facts, facts, facts,
A lifetime of facts –

*WHEE, a gold star for Johnny!!

all sentences begin with a capital letter
I-N-D-E-C-I-S-I-O-N spells indecision
1 plus 1 makes two
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Be prepared.

z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z

The dreamer dreams of his report card:

$ $ $ $ $
$ $ $ $ $
$ $ $ $ $
$ $ $ $ $
$ $ $ $ $

*WHEE, a gold star for Johnny.

-13-

Am I a horse
To be saddled
& bridled,
Ridden madly
To the world’s whim?
“Who are you?” says the caterpillar.
I dare not answer him.

-14-

I’m in a dither.
Should I work Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z
Or should I sleep?

DAGWOOD DAISY

“Soo-ooop of this e-e-evening
Beautiful, beautiful soup”

Zip goes the universe Twinkle twinkle
little star

FLASH GORDON BUCK ROGERS

Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z “Fury said to a
mouse”

ZORRO MICKEY MOUSE

BIFF
BANG BOP
ZIPPIDEE DO DAH

50,000 commercials of a life;
Drink Me – no, ME
Eat this – no, THAT:
Huggermugger haggle
Of a comic book struggle.
Even when I’m dead
There’ll be a balloon
Growing out of my head,
Onomatopoeia of the eyes’ sweep.
Should I work
Or should I sleep?

-15-

“I wonder if I’ve changed in the night? Let me think – was
I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can
remember feeling a little different.”

Shard grown
The morning that I wake to.
Shard grown
The garden that I walk through.
I wonder if I’ve changed
In the night & wonder
If my niece keeps a nightlight
In her room. Afraid of the dark
It is the best we can do.
“You are old, Father Stern,”
The young man said.

I sit on a rock
To hear myself grow.
“In my youth,” Father Stern
Said to his son,
“There was nothing you could do
That I could not do.
I could run circles
Around you, you & you,
At football, tennis,
Or drawing a rose.
I might even have balanced
An eel on my nose.”

“You are old, Father Stern,”
The young man said,
“Yet you incessantly stand on your head.
At your age, it is a foolish sight.”

“I stand on my head
To set the world right,
Which is what you should do,
Young man,
Instead of reading and writing all night.”

“You are old, Father Stern,
& your jaws are too weak
For anything but shredded wheat,
It is with your gums
That you’ll have to eat.”
“The world has teeth
To cut lives in half.
What good are you with college degrees,”
Replied Father Stern
Highly displeased.
“I don’t see enough of your type
Don’t give yourself airs.
Be off, or I’ll kick you
Half-way down the stairs.”

I bow to the living.
Are they the same
Since I went to sleep?
The path before me is not the same.
Shard grown
The sky that rivers overhead.

-16-

Am I an ox
To be struck
& yoked,
Prodded by whip
To cart military manure?
“Walk a little faster,” asks the snail,
I pretend not to hear.

-17-

Capsized vaguely
In arterial wonder,
Slap dash treacle
From the treacle well,
I place my ear
To the trawling moon.
Each moon is a shell.

I hear blood beat
To the ocean’s trellis,
Tremulant worlds
Barely out of reach.
Molasses leaves are wet
With prayer, beach-
Shade to hold myself under;

The shrimp world leaping,
Frog & friar bird,
All the impossibles,
All in keeping
With this day of birth,
A mere man of small worth,
Who has fully acquired

The taste to survive,
Slap-dash treacle well.
I turn my ear
To the wind’s propaganda.
It blows my shadow
Out of proportion.

-18-

“Now I’m opening out lie the largest telescope that ever was.”

“Goodbye feet.” The journey
I take is footless,
The attitude of distance
Is in my head. I progress
Sideways, then back,
Then back again.

I counterfeit a map
If feet should follow,
Counterfeit days
Of virtuous events.
Let them say he did
This, this & this
Fell here & there
For all sorts of reasons.
A chief reason was this:
He needed his paycheck
More than his wisdom;
He padded his eyes
& nerves with cotton,
When truth is not a poem,
Poetry is rotten.

-19-

Am I a worm
To be hacked
& hooked
Pierced by a pin,
Luring fish from a lurid sea?
“Come a little closer,” says the Whiting.
The swimming world is mocking me.

-20-

This is the place
To rehearse the quadrille,
Delicate steps
By the treacle well.

First, rehearse kissing,
Then lying apart,
Economic quarrels
& domestic hurt.
Recite the lines
Of the well-worn heart.

Enunciate speeches
To accept your awards,
Ribbons & medals
Or symbolic sword.
Curtsey & bow
If kings give the word.

Be elegiac for girls
Who loved you once,
Who undressed in rooms
You’ve not seen since.
Invite these women
To the jig-time dance.

Conjure soliloquy to scare
The dead from their crime,
Question expediency,
The coffin’s quick-lime.
Invite your friends
To dance the jig-time.

Advance to the curtain
As cool evenings spill;
If the house leans forward,
Breathlessly still,
Then is the hour
To begin the quadrille.

-21-

The journey that I take
Is footless – the snake
On its belly, cranes
In the air, the whale’s
Leviathan wake,
The footless menagerie
From here to there.

-22-

“Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?

Down the rabbit hole.
It’s all very Freudian
Or so I’m told.
Alice, Alice,
I would like
To bring you to the palace;
Alice, Alice,
Pretty little Alice.

Open the windows,
Open the door.
Somehow I feel
I’ve been here before;
Susan, Susan,
What little tongue;
What would Freud say?
What would Jung?
Susan, Susan,
Put away the broom,
Take off your apron
& come to my room.

I broke a vase,
I shattered a glass;
I went to confession
& to high mass,
But my contrition
Was ineffectual
Since my sin
Was entirely sexual.
Leslie, Leslie,
I love you for certain.
Susan, Susan
Draw the curtain.

Down the hole
To Libido land;
Margaret, Margaret,
Can’t you understand?
What I want
Is not so shocking

Eileen, Eileen,
Take off your stockings;
Come on, Meg,
Show us your legs.

Writing this doggerel
Is exceedingly rash;
I won’t allow my child
To read such trash.
Barbara, Barbara,
Your face is red;
Isn’t it time
We went to bed.
Alice, Alice,
Pretty little Alice,
I would like
To build you a palace.

For I’ve lumber to spare
I varnish the wood
With a slow solitary
Sweat, polish the floors
With a difficult wax,
Hang crooked curtain rods
To seduce morning’s
Appeal. The mice
Move inside to finish
Their meal’

Water from my faucets
Spills with lake life;
The turtle under the porch
Entertains his wife.
“This house is mine,”

I say, “built it
With my own 10 thumbs.
All you did was watch.”
A garden snake comes
To undo the front latch.

Ants crawl under the cracks.
“Stay out of my room,”
I say, but they pay
Neither heed nor rent.
I build a chimney

Out of bricks & cement,
But cranes nest on it;
Blackbirds on the roof
Mock at my work.
A weasel

Tests my bath before me.
This is my small house.
I have a bed within
& when I sleep, the moths
Fly the covers up to my chin.

-23-

“There’s no sort of use in knocking,” said the Footman, “and
that for two reasons. First, because I am on the same side of the
door as you are. Secondly, because you are making such a noise
inside, no one could possibly hear you.”

I place my shoulders
To the sagging roof,
To its cucumber frames,
Its chimneys & rafters,
My small house

Must be built, lest
The rains drown me,
The sun burns me to a crisp,
A breeze unfoots me.
Families of mice

Breakfast on my boards;
Termites cluck
Contentedly; spiders
Clutter my closets
With sheer lingerie;

Their long night’s spinning
Reinforces my walls.
Half the roach world
Waits in my halls
& listens for my hammer.

“Hurry,” says the caterpillar,
“I want my bed there.”
The snail wants a window
& plenty of fresh air.
I build him a couch.

-24-

I fall from the archetypal
Saddle, loosing the reins
In this trespass kingdom.
The ox pulls me in vain;
Two-headed worms
Nuzzle at my heel, all
Amazed by this strange caucus.
It is as
The menagerie’s dream,
No one knows to what purpose.

-25-

“They were indeed a queer-looking party that assembled on the bank–
the birds with draggled feathers, the animals with their fur clinging
close to them, and all dripping wet, cross and uncomfortable.”

This is the blameless menagerie
Here in the perilous kingdom,
The kingdom of dream & act, country

Of lost causes, I heard of some
Animals of winning air, a few
Disenchanted, a few struck dumb,

But here was incredible assault, a show
Of strength, the vaudeville
Of horror. These rebel creatures knew

How to will, how to inflict animal will
Upon a host of peoples; the mole
Burrowed further underground, whales

Overthrew the sea; on land, the whole
Animal kingdom was in revolt;
Man, man, man was the word and fuel

To the fire; the natural world unraveled
Itself; our sister planets shrank;
Mere insects carried bombs to level

Villages; our President took to drink;
The Pope published an encyclical;
Members of the UN could not sleep a wink;

Russia’s Premier warned of overkill;
Even children’s pets grew rabid;
Mouse & hare wore human clothes; eagles

Shrouded the sky. A few cynics said
It was sheer science fiction
Of a very low order; prophets read

From Apocalypse; entire nations
Knelt down to beetles & gnats;
Football was cancelled; crustaceans

Closed their claws everywhere; bats
Give pigeons radar reports;
Newscasters, as usual, were on the spot

& casually reported the latest sport.
“It’s a dream I shall awake,”
Everyone said, but knew in his heart

A futile waking. The animals were cruel,
But not more than expected.
Man, man, man, was the word & the fuel.

-26-

Horse, ox & worm,
The mixed human metaphor.
Could it be
That I’ve been here before?
The eye’s precognition
Swims into view.
Shard-grown the morning
That I wake to;
Shard-grown the garden
That I walk through.

-27-

“How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk
with their heads downwards! The Antipodes, I think . . .”

I turn reality upside down,
Wrench out of context
My foot’s modest balance.
My friends & neighbors
Crane their necks

To what my acrobatic act,
From teachers I fully learned
The necessity of tact;
On Wall Street’s bear & bull
I knew well of money’s pull;

From politics I gleaned
A grassroots violence;
From psalms & all the holy works,
And unspeakable silence.
But now, turned

This way & that, reality
Like that other known
Becomes skin deep
Exists in arbitrary contexts
Impossible to keep.

Easily the skin I wear
Is bitten by dirt & dust;
It wrinkles, rips & tears;
My fingers bleed
At the slightest

Cut. By rolling somersault
I come to turn
The flimsy ground inside-out;
By standing on my head,
The fern

Becomes a sky of momentary
Worth. With my head off-balance.
I choose a stance
& ram it thru the ground.
I turn reality upside down.

-28-

“Does Your Watch Tell What Year It Is?”

I am certain
The world would have me old,
Load on me, from 16 on,
Old men’s responsibilities
& their arrogant possessions,
Imagination traded
For a carpet or a curtain.

What year is it?
Look to the teeth of the clock.
I have been old so long
I do not remember any youth,
Anytime I did not bear
The threat of war,
The bullying dollar in my gut.

What time is it?
It is the mortgaged hour
My father’s illness
In pain all night
To keep the payments straight,
Maintain a roof, a bed,
A place to sit.

Father Stern, are you sure
That you did right,
Doling out your life
Year by year, selling words
& souls & annual reports
To keep a son, 2 daughters,
& a wife? I cannot share

Your life, I refuse.
For you it is too late
& all your teeth are false.
I want to cure your life
With mine, seek a world
Apart, where men sleep late
With whom they choose;

But I am certain
The world would have me old,
Tell me where to bark
& why, put me on my haunches
Till I repent. I wake old
To earn myself a roof.
Father, I cannot ease your pain.

-29-

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went
on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least – I mean what I say –
that’s the same thing you know.”

Truth is how I stretch it,
Verb relativity,
Topography of noun:
Choose your stance
& ram it through the ground.
Thus, the plastic song;
Thus, the plastic feet:
Whatever way you go is wrong
& incomplete.

I have witnessed marriages’ decay,
Their cooling speech,
Gradual kisses,
Quarrel where truth plays
Both sides. Thus, our universe,
Its planets & sun:
Granted two choices
We choose the wrong one.

On that we may agree
When our own eyes do not agree,
Parallax of judgement
Between wish & history.
Thus, day & night;
Thus, all the mottled elements
Of atmospheric terror:
Whatever choice we make,
We make in error. . . . .

-30-

“It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again, and
looking anxiously about as it went, as it had lost something. . .”

This is a poem of fans & gloves,
Various accouterments,
Coats & buttons of all our lives,
A veritable closet of lost items,
Dresses with torn hems,
Soiled handkerchiefs,
A mountain of books, borrowed & lent.

Tie-clasps, ties, frayed collars,
This is my clutter
& my former wife’s – her hair curlers
Cast every which way, pins
& needles mislaid in cushions,
All waiting to impinge
To fall on our heads with a clatter.

Blessed are they who own naught
That 10th beatitude
Which Christ in his sermon forgot,
For they shall travel without luggage,
No overweight baggage
To drag them down,
No lost wallet to destroy a holiday mood.

When I was young I believed in a land
Of lost pots & pans,
Where possessions stood in line,
Awaiting their owners patiently,
Oh so patiently. No objects own me,
I slip from their grasp.
This is a poem of gloves & fans.

-31-

“I wished I hadn’t cried so much!” said Alice, as she swam
about, trying to find her way out. “I shall be punished for it
now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears.”

Let the water rise;
It has no license
Nor have I
To make a moral
Out of things.

How many planets know
The optics of travail;
The moon above me
Is a shell;
The shell beneath me

Is a cove. Let the ice
Do its work
& water; I have
No license
To make a moral out of things.

-32-

“Perhaps it doesn’t understand English,” thought Alice: “I dare
say it’s a French mouse. . .” So she began again: “Ou est ma
chatte?” which was the first lesson in her French lesson-book.

French confuses me,
All syntax but my own,
& my own is non-dramatic
(not to mention ungrammatic).

In college my French was terrible;
I let my accent slide;
When called upon to recite,
I contemplated suicide:

“Ou es ma chatte;
My chatte est brown.”
“That’s enough,” my professor said,
“It’s better you sit down.”

The old professor grimaced;
All my classmates jeered;
I never did find out
Where the damned cat disappeared.

-33-

“I beg your pardon!” said the Mouse, frowning, but very
politely. “Did you speak?” “Not I,” said the Lory hastily.

The lories with their brush-like tongues
Live well in captivity;
In fact, some positively take to it
With masochistic avidity.

For all their brilliant feathers,
Reds, oranges, & yellows,
These parrots praise themselves quite well,
& think they’re clever fellows.

What you speak, they parrot back
Word for Word for Word;
That they should have original thoughts
Would be exceedingly absurd.

But that’s how they earn their bread & butter
(or fruit to be precise)
It provides them with a cozy home
For a moderate price.

-34-

“Tut, tut, child,” said the Duchess. “Everything’s got a moral,
if you only can find it.”

Extinct since 1681
The solitary Dodo
Disappeared in toto
& left behind not even one.

The Rhaphus Solitarius
Had wings but could not fly,
For he was so contrarius
He did not even try.

& the Rhaphus Cucullatus
Was too much like his brother
(It’s a mark of scientific status
To tell one from the other.)

& neither one was very bright.
Both disdained the art of flight.
I doubt that either had a smidgen
That they were cousin to the pigeon.

Well, it suffices me to say
Whatever pigeons have, Dodos lacked it,
I think there is a moral here.
But I shan’t be didactic.

-35-

“FURY said the mouse.”

The labyrinth of fury;
Who will lead me forth?
I turn every which way.
Which way is South?
With way is North?
Riddle me this:
What is the difference
Between a rave & writing desk?
I cannot say.
My intellect is amiss.
Which way is South?
Which way is North?
Riddle me this.

My age loves progress.
The rocket’s
Furious ride.
My work goes backward,
It goes from side to side;
I cannot tell
The good from the best.
Which way is East?
Which way is West?
An echo answers faithfully,
Its message
Carefully rehearsed.
How can I tell
The bad from the worst?
Hickory, Dickory, Doggerel
Riddle me this:
How many women dare I kiss?
How many promises
Dare I make?
Who shall judge
The riot of my youth?
Which way is North?
Which way is South?

-36-

“I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury” said cunning old Fury. . .

All went furious when I was born;
Europe fell blitz
Asia wore horns,
A cuckold menace
In a world on the fritz.
War came to set it right,
Or so I though
What was hunger that it should touch me?
Where was madness
Or a sudden drought?

All fell furious when I was born,
Mad dogs & Englishmen
Disaster’s slow burn,
Mushrooming, mushrooming,
To the count of ten,
Not even stopping to let me in,
But went blithely on.
I was not so naked that I could not be clothed.
What was torture to me
Or the tattooed skins.

Later that decade I teethed on film;
Pearl Harbor & Iwo Jima,
Stark geography aflame
With John Wayne & Robert Mitchum.
No time for Octo Rime
String quartets & snob culture,
The world measured out its tedium
Between wars,
Flattened itself on flickering lights.
I saw no real ashes,
Only Hollywood scars.

To the brink of the 50s I fled to film
Battleships & PT boats
With James Cagney at the helm;
Kamikazes & Okinawa
My growing up was afloat
With salvage & jetsam,
Jingoism of Saturday Matinees.
I was not so cold that I would not be warmed.
Nor so hungry
That I was not fed.
What should I know of the Enola Gay
& mushrooming, mushrooming.
As I left the theatre
In the glare of the day.

-37-

“Alice nothing: she had never been so much contradicted in all
her life before, and she felt she was losing her temper.”

This winter of my discontent
Has simmered through autumn,
3 seasons longer than I imagined
& no bargain at that.
If I live so long, at 60
I will be indolent & fat,
& what little I’ve gained
Will slip toward
An autumnless & rotund continent.

I know my friends would have
Their poets differently,
A scannable, optimistic voice,
Chanting rejoice, rejoice,
Mincing imagery to the grave,
While some would have me
Pale & melancholy
With a drayhorse face.
I give only what I give.

Friends & strangers alike
Are marching, marching, marching;
Theirs is a seasonless route,
Infinities of stars beat them home;
Winds splay them; firs droop.
A 5th season’s weather keeps them awake,
Swallows both step & words.
I am ill content to watch them go.

But leave me. There is no beauty in me.

-38-

“The queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great
or small, ‘Off with his head!’ she said without even looking around.”

The rage is not abstract
As in a poem by Tate
Where Alice grows mammoth & fat.
It is not hate.

Down the rabbit hole
All elbows akimbo,
Alice knew how always to be sweet;
Though knaves spat fury,
They fell at her feet.

The caterpillar was aloof;
The queen was rude;
The king did not know wrong from right.
But Alice was not flustered;
She remained starched, curious & polite.

I think now of the fluids
That Alice drank,
Warm liqueurs full-bodied & tart,
Steeped in fantasy’s drink,
& wormwood aged.

I think of combustible solids
That Alice consumed;
Her height unconstant, unstable.
How could she dare complain
When her flesh mushroomed?

Rapt n youthful extravagance,
Mad-cap teas & trials,
Alice played out her virgin part.
How could she possibly rage
At a world that had no heart.

-39-

“'Tis so,” said the Duchess: “and the moral of it is – Oh
'tis love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round!”

Love. How shall I speak of it?
Shakespeare’s sonnets measure it,
Graves, Wyatt, Cummings & the rest;
What shall I say that has not been said?
Words spoken in a darkened room
Or at a station wen the train pulls out,
A child knows these words as well as I.

At night, when the fever’s on me,
I know may sex’s rack & ruin,
Terrible confusions of want & need,
How love is often something else again,
Leaning to the agony of words,
The repeated scansion of a hurried scrawl,
Each phrase weighted & carelessly pointed.

It is easy to be sentimental about such things;
A look, a sign, a touch & even hurt,
Cupid’s arrow & all the courtly tradition;
Some say it is enough to be silent,
But I think not so; so say
It is brief music, but I think not so.
Love? How shall I speak of it?
Say that often in a sunless field
A soft wind blows. . .

-40-

“From the Queen. An invitation for the Duchess to play croquet.”

CROQUET
It’s time to play
Croquet.

The ball is rolling.
Go fetch it, Alice,
If you want to live in the palace.

games. games. games.
Let’s play games.
King’s X Parcheesi. Hide & seek.
King’s X Chess. Billiards.
Oily, Oily, infree. Bridge. Pool.
Poker. Football.
Chinese Checkers. Baseball.
Ph.D. Tag, you’re it.
Monopoly Badminton.
Step on a crack, Spelling bee. Rugby
Break Scrabble.
Your mother’s back. Spit in the ocean.

Let’s play games.
Grab the flamingo by its neck
& don’t let go.

) 0 (
The ball is rolling.
Go fetch it, Alice,
If you want to live inside the palace.

-41-

“Oh, don’t bother me!” said the Duchess. “I never could abide by figures.”

This is the poetry of numbers,
of 6’s & 11’s
Five & seven say nothing.

Alice, Alice, with all your tricks,
Your social security number is 263-64-2876
Your telephone number is Butterfield 8
If you concentrate extremely hard,
You’ll certainly remember your library card: 5G-87631
Keep it up Alice, you’re doing fine:
College Registration number: 00059
Selective Service number: 6-39-42-605
“Hardly a man is now alive.”
Zip code: 20015
Voter’s registration certificate: 322433
Membership card, Museum of Modern Art: 665567
Code name: 007

“Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is – oh dear! However, the multiplication table doesn’t signify . . .”

X 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
2 2 3 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
3 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 30 33 36
4 4 8 12 16 20 24 28 32 36 40 44 48

(There must be a moral here somewhere)
Alice, your number is up.

½ ½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½
½½½½½½½½½½½½½½I’m a fraction½½½½½½½½½½½
½½½½½½½½½½½½½½of my original self½½½½½½½½½
½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½½

(There must be a moral here somewhere)
This is the poetry of numbers.)

-41-

“Go on with the next verse,” the Gryphen repeated:
It begins ‘I passed by his garden.’”

I passed by his garden,
Pulled down his vines,
Uprooted bush & fern.
What was left I burned.
I ask no man’s pardon.

I passed by his garden,
& damned his scream;
Every tree felt my ax;
Goldenrod bend underfeet;
I left neither stem nor root.

I passed by his garden
To enter his huge house.
His doors & windows broke,
What I liked I took.

I passed by his garden,
Set foot for a far heaven;
Flames heralded my presence;
Ashes where I’d been’
I passed by. I ask no man’s pardon.
GIN WHISTLE BILLING DAY

There's a lot of talk
Going on
How death is the grim reaper,

& how Gene Michaels
Ran off
With that Southern Fried,

Finger-licking blonde Hostess
At Smart's Diner,
But that don't mean nothing to me,

For when that Gin Whistle blows,
I come out of the fields,
My hands in my pockets,

& I come across for the seeds,
The rake, the hoe.
A share-cropper don't have nothing,

He works another man's field
& when that Gin Whistle blows,
He comes up with the scratch - or else.