Friday, May 18, 2018

Fairy Tales (May 18, 2018)


The first time
      I went to the tree
             was to knock on wood.

No one answered.
      The second time I knocked, 
             the tree, wild in the wind,

leaned toward me.
      No bad luck arrived.
             I went back and knocked again

to tell the tree
       my good fortune
              was not forgotten.

Chiseling a nest hole
       in dead wood,
              a woodpecker drills a downed log.

The rapid blows of its beak
      hammer me awake
             each night for a week.

Beneath the bark
       nymphs live
              like hidden charms

people leave
        in drawers or cupboards
               for protection.

I believe in tree spirits
       who embed their souls
              in this wood.

They are not immortal

but their lives, 
       says Hesiod,
               are ten times

that of the phoenix,
       who outlives nine
              ravens, who outlive

three glorious stags,
       who outlive four
              crows, who outlive

nine generations of aged men.

Beyond the shelter-
       belts of farmsteads,
               found deep

in poplar woods
       and birch thickets,
             a flicker assaults a tree

as nymphs
       retreat into the tunneled
              ruts of the trunk.

The bird chips away
       without distraction.
              Its showy

red patch,
       a splash of blood,
                catches my eye.

       wing buds
                of an immature insect

are like the rising
       nipples of a
               young girl.

The temptation
      to slide a finger
             over the small mounds...

Fly away!

The nymphs are free,
       changed forever
               as they brush

the pond's scalloped edge.
      What part of me they take away
            will settle some day.

Deep in dying wood.
         I will be there
               when you knock.

The Mermaids

The spell is a mouth’s
perilous-o as they dark circle the boats in
their most resplendent pliable armor.

The concept fish aligning with girl
or love with death
to bring down men at sea, temptation

confused into offering,
the mismatch of like plus unlike
really likes, straight to rock bottom.

No equation has ever been this badass.
It’s the men who will enter the spell
so far into exhaustion as weather, as waves,

the tide pulling toward if, letting go then
over the whale road in the company of
the dolphin, the only other animal, I’m told,

who can do it solely for pleasure. It.
You know what I mean. The lower half
aglitter, the top half brainy as beautiful

is sometimes, murderous lovelies, their plotting
and resolve and why not
get these guys good, the lechers.

To see at all in the whirling, to hear
what anyone might
in wind roar and faint whistle

don’t worry about girls shrewd
as whimsy, legend-tough
to the core. Don’t. But it’s

their spell too, isn’t it? Locked there.
Aligned with singing, dazzle
razor-blackened green. Not that they

miss what human is like or know any end
to waters half born to, from where
they look up.

Men in boats, so sick of the journey.
Men gone stupid with blue,
with vast, with gazing over and away

the whole time until same to same-old to
now they’re mean. After that, small.
Out there, the expanse. In here,

the expanse. The men look down. Aching
lure that hides its hook steely sweet

to o my god, little fool’s breath
triumphant, all the way under and am I
not deserving?

Fairy-tale Logic

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

By a route obscure and lonely,   
Haunted by ill angels only, 
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,   
On a black throne reigns upright, 
I have reached these lands but newly   
From an ultimate dim Thule— 
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime, 
       Out of SPACE—Out of TIME

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,   
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,   
With forms that no man can discover   
For the tears that drip all over;   
Mountains toppling evermore   
Into seas without a shore;   
Seas that restlessly aspire,   
Surging, unto skies of fire;   
Lakes that endlessly outspread   
Their lone waters—lone and dead,—   
Their still waters—still and chilly   
With the snows of the lolling lily. 

By the lakes that thus outspread 
Their lone waters, lone and dead,— 
Their sad waters, sad and chilly 
With the snows of the lolling lily,— 
By the mountains—near the river   
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—   
By the grey woods,—by the swamp   
Where the toad and the newt encamp,—   
By the dismal tarns and pools 
   Where dwell the Ghouls,—   
By each spot the most unholy—   
In each nook most melancholy,—   
There the traveller meets, aghast,   
Sheeted Memories of the Past—   
Shrouded forms that start and sigh   
As they pass the wanderer by—   
White-robed forms of friends long given,   
In agony, to the Earth—and Heaven. 

For the heart whose woes are legion   
’T is a peaceful, soothing region—   
For the spirit that walks in shadow   
’T is—oh, ’t is an Eldorado! 
But the traveller, travelling through it,   
May not—dare not openly view it;   
Never its mysteries are exposed   
To the weak human eye unclosed;   
So wills its King, who hath forbid   
The uplifting of the fring'd lid;   
And thus the sad Soul that here passes   
Beholds it but through darkened glasses. 

By a route obscure and lonely,   
Haunted by ill angels only, 
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT
On a black throne reigns upright,   
I have wandered home but newly   
From this ultimate dim Thule.

The Stars and the Moon

In Legends of the Jews, Lewis Ginzberg writes that an Egyptian princess hung a tapestry woven with diamonds and pearls above King Solomon’s bed. When the king wanted to rise, he thought he saw stars and, believing it was night, slept on.

Scaling ladders with buckets of white enamel,
I painted the stars and the moon on my windowpanes   
to hold back days and nights. I yanked the telephone
and stopped the wooden clock. The weeks a lightning stroke,   
desire turned to love. With my blue diamond,
I sliced minutes in half and made days vanish,
fooling the hours.

                           I became so skillful   
at firmaments that miracles occurred:
a bearded comet moved across the room   
breeding no omens, tearing no major kingdoms   
into small provinces, but there it was,   
reminding us that rock may spin and flare,   
lifting the senses, burning into sight.

You eased pale hands away; I saw your shoulders   
recede through doorways, watched your image fail   
with your famished smile. I left our room
with dream-filled eyes, and standing in the sun,   
I gazed at bricks and glass and saw, suddenly,   
flashing in stony light, the stars and the moon.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Deep Musings (April 13, 2018)

The Quiet World

In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.

Achieving Closure
By Hal Sirowitz 
You’re both trying to achieve closure
in this relationship, my therapist said.
You want to marry her. She wants
to break up with you. And I think
she’s going to prevail, because
it’s a lot easier for her to break up
with you than it is for you
to marry her. You’ll have to buy her
a ring, go for a blood test, & get
both families involved. All she has
to do is not see you again. And
it seems like she has already started doing that.

Lending Out Books

By Hal Sirowitz 

You’re always giving, my therapist said.
You have to learn how to take. Whenever
you meet a woman, the first thing you do
is lend her your books. You think she’ll
have to see you again in order to return them.
But what happens is, she doesn’t have the time
to read them, & she’s afraid if she sees you again
you’ll expect her to talk about them, & will
want to lend her even more. So she
cancels the date. You end up losing
a lot of books. You should borrow hers.

I Finally Managed to Speak to Her

By Hal Sirowitz

She was sitting across from me
on the bus. I said, “The trees
look so much greener in this part
of the country. In New York City
everything looks so drab.” She said,
“It looks the same to me. Show me
a tree that’s different.” “That one,”
I said. “Which one?” she said.
“It’s too late,” I said; “we already
passed it.” “When you find another one,”
she said, “let me know.” And then
she went back to reading her book.

We Drove Into Town
By Matt Cook

We drove into town
To buy dead animals and beer
And white wine for the girls.
Cornwallis was driving the car.
An expert was talking on the radio.
Cornwallis knew more than the expert did,
Which made us feel strong.
We went to a farmer's market.
Cornwallis saw a man he wanted to avoid—
A minor character he knew from his high school days.
We bought a dead chicken and some new potatoes.
The dead chicken was expensive,
Because it was a chicken that had had a good childhood.
The girls requested a dead chicken that had a good childhood.
We drove away, successfully avoiding the minor character.
In the parking lot of the beer store,
We saw a dog leading an unexamined life.
The radio was now threatening to give away prizes.
We went inside and the dead chicken waited in the car.

Bounden Duty

I got a call from the White House, from the
President himself, asking me if I’d do him a personal
favor. I like the President, so I said, “Sure, Mr.
President, anything you like.” He said, “Just act
like nothing’s going on. Act normal. That would
mean the world to me. Can you do that, Leon?” “Why,
sure, Mr. President, you’ve got it. Normal, that’s
how I’m going to act. I won’t let on, even if I’m
tortured,” I said, immediately regretting that “tortured”
bit. He thanked me several times and hung up. I was
dying to tell someone that the President himself called
me, but I knew I couldn’t. The sudden pressure to
act normal was killing me. And what was going on
anyway. I didn’t know anything was going on. I
saw the President on TV yesterday. He was shaking
hands with a farmer. What if it wasn’t really a
farmer? I needed to buy some milk, but suddenly
I was afraid to go out. I checked what I had on.
I looked “normal” to me, but maybe I looked more
like I was trying to be normal. That’s pretty
suspicious. I opened the door and looked around.
What was going on? There was a car parked in front
of my car that I had never seen before, a car that
was trying to look normal, but I wasn’t fooled.
If you need milk, you have to get milk, otherwise
people will think something’s going on. I got into
my car and sped down the road. I could feel those
little radar guns popping behind every tree and bush,
but, apparently, they were under orders not to stop
me. I ran into Kirsten in the store. “Hey, what’s
going on, Leon?” she said. She had a very nice smile.
I hated to lie to her. “Nothing’s going on. Just
getting milk for my cat,” I said. “I didn’t know
you had a cat,” she said. “I meant to say coffee.
You’re right, I don’t have a cat. Sometimes I
refer to my coffee as my cat. It’s just a private
joke. Sorry,” I said. “Are you all right?” she
asked. “Nothing’s going on, Kirsten. I promise
you. Everything is normal. The President shook
hands with a farmer, a real farmer. Is that such
a big deal?” I said. “I saw that,” she said, “and
that man was definitely not a farmer.” “Yeah, I
know,” I said, feeling better.

Proverbs from Purgatory

It was déjà vu all over again.

I know this town like the back of my head.

People who live in glass houses are worth two in the bush.

One hand scratches the other.

A friend in need is worth two in the bush.

A bird in the hand makes waste.

Life isn’t all it’s crapped up to be.

It’s like finding a needle in the eye of the beholder.

It’s like killing one bird with two stones.

My motto in life has always been: Get It Over With.

Two heads are better than none.

A rolling stone deserves another.

All things wait for those who come.

A friend in need deserves another.

I’d trust him as long as I could throw him.

He smokes like a fish.

He’s just a chip off the old tooth.

I’ll have him eating out of my lap.

A friend in need opens a can of worms.

Too many cooks spoil the child.

An ill wind keeps the doctor away.

The wolf at the door keeps the doctor away.

People who live in glass houses keep the doctor away.

A friend in need shouldn’t throw stones.

A friend in need washes the other.

A friend in need keeps the doctor away.

A stitch in time is only skin deep.

A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

A cat may look like a king.

Know which side of the bed your butter is on.

Nothing is cut and dried in stone.

You can eat more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Don’t let the cat out of the barn.

Let’s burn that bridge when we get to it.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Don’t cross your chickens before they hatch.


Throw discretion to the wolves.

After the twig is bent, the barn door is locked.

After the barn door is locked, you can come in out of the rain.

A friend in need locks the barn door.

There’s no fool like a friend in need.

We’ve passed a lot of water since then.

At least we got home in two pieces.

All’s well that ends.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

There’s always one step further down you can go.

It’s a milestone hanging around my neck.

Include me out.

It was déjà vu all over again.

You Are the Penultimate Love of My Life

I want to spend a lot but not all of my years with you.
We’ll talk about kids
but make plans to travel.
I will remember your eyes
as green when they were gray.
Our dogs will be named For Now and Mostly.
Sex will be good but next door’s will sound better.

There will be small things.
I will pick up your damp towel from the bed,
and then I won’t.
I won’t be as hot as I was
when I wasn’t yours
and your hairline now so
When we pull up alongside a cattle car
and hear the frightened lows,
I will silently judge you
for not immediately renouncing meat.
You will bring me wine
and notice how much I drink.

The garden you plant and I plant
is tunneled through by voles,
the vowels
we speak aren’t vows,
but there’s something
holding me here, for now,
like your eyes, which I suppose
are brown, after all.

About My Very Tortured Friend, Peter

he lives in a house with a swimming pool
and says the job is
killing him.
he is 27. I am 44. I can’t seem to
get rid of
him. his novels keep coming
back. “what do you expect me to do?” he screams
“go to New York and pump the hands of the
“no,” I tell him, “but quit your job, go into a
small room and do the
“but I need ASSURANCE, I need something to
go by, some word, some sign!”
“some men did not think that way:
Van Gogh, Wagner—”
“oh hell, Van Gogh had a brother who gave him
paints whenever he
needed them!”

“look,” he said, “I’m over at this broad’s house today and
this guy walks in. a salesman. you know
how they talk. drove up in this new
car. talked about his vacation. said he went to
Frisco—saw Fidelio up there but forgot who
wrote it. now this guy is 54 years
old. so I told him: ‘Fidelio is Beethoven’s only
opera.’ and then I told
him: ‘you’re a jerk!’ ‘whatcha mean?’ he
asked. ‘I mean, you’re a jerk, you’re 54 years old and
you don’t know anything!’”

“what happened
“I walked out.”
“you mean you left him there with

“I can’t quit my job,” he said. “I always have trouble getting a
job. I walk in, they look at me, listen to me talk and
they think right away, ah ha! he’s too intelligent for
this job, he won’t stay
so there’s really no sense in hiring
now, YOU walk into a place and you don’t have any trouble:
you look like an old wino, you look like a guy who needs a
job and they look at you and they think:
ah ha!: now here’s a guy who really needs work! if we hire
him he’ll stay a long time and work

“do any of those people,” he asks “know you are a
writer, that you write poetry?”
“you never talk about
it. not even to
me! if I hadn’t seen you in that magazine I’d
have never known.”
“that’s right.”
“still, I’d like to tell these people that you are a
“I’d still like to
tell them.”
“well, they talk about you. they think you are just a
horseplayer and a drunk.”
“I am both of those.”
“well, they talk about you. you have odd ways. you travel alone.
I’m the only friend you
“they talk you down. I’d like to defend you. I’d like to tell
them you write
“leave it alone. I work here like they
do. we’re all the same.”
“well, I’d like to do it for myself then. I want them to know why
I travel with
you. I speak 7 languages, I know my music—”
“forget it.”
“all right, I’ll respect your
wishes. but there’s something else—”
“I’ve been thinking about getting a
piano. but then I’ve been thinking about getting a
violin too but I can’t make up my
“buy a piano.”
“you think

he walks away
thinking about

I was thinking about it
too: I figure he can always come over with his
violin and more
sad music.