Madeline loves it
And sits as Mother would.
The priest is like her Father
Dressed all in grey,
Palms fluttering with
Legs and arms spinning anti-clockwise
Like the priest's eyes slide
From side to side.
We are his for an hour
But he cannot touch us,
For we are jewels to be watched,
And, one day taken.
Nobody has ever held his hand
But Grandmother, with rings like
Little girl's warnings.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
80-YEAR-OLD WOMAN IN THE INDIAN RESTAURANT
You used to be a librarian
At Brooklyn Public and NYPL
You live on Avenue M and Ocean
And you got robbed
But it was your fault, really
You probably shouldn't have kept the door open
Even if it is a Jewish neighborhood
And you like this place
But there are better places around
But you like to come out here
Cause you used to live around here
And you are heading off soon
To go to the library
To borrow a Victor Borge tape
Oh, you know him
What's that you said?
I'm sorry, I can't hear you
New Yorkers hate when I ask them to repeat themselves
You said you watched him when you were eight
At your aunt's on Nostrand
Terrible thing, he escaped from Denmark
Funny, but such an odd sense of humor
Just like my cousin
Also a comedian
I think the library still has his
What do you call them?
If I listen closely
I think I can discern
The death rattles
of Old Brooklyn
Over here, in this little idyll
Where American flags still fly
In front of detached one families
The sprinklers turning on and off
Soaking well-manicured lawns
I can hear the pangs
In the abandoned synagogue
And proceeding out of
The mouth of the old drunk
That one with the faint brogue
Leaning against the door
Of Mickey Reilly's bar
Who Colleen serving up the Guinness
Tells me has to call a cab nightly
To take him to his home
on Schenectady Avenue
To rejoin his dog, old
His wife, old
His son, grown, around on the holidays
His TV, on, the news, Letterman
I can see the decay
In the lines on the forehead
Of the fiftysomething Jew
Double parked on East 51st
Waterfalls playing on his tape deck
The model 1994 too
I can feel it wither
In the hands of the old Italian
Ashing his cigarette
By the swings in Power Playground
Hands that once kneaded dough
For the best pizzeria
On all of Avenue N
Before he sold it to the Albanians
Who in time will sell it to the Mexicans
And they still dance in their best suits
Over at the American Legion
And Greekie still serves
The eggs and toast just right at George's
But the last yachts off the Paerdegat
Will all sail off in their sunset
On their way to Jersey shores
The sons of displaced migrants
From Cork, Naples, and Riga
Displacing themselves yet again.
ON MOVING TO RURAL WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA
I’m becoming more and more like him every day
The babyface won’t last forever
And my fuse is shorter now
I’m turning into a foreign man of foreign ways
And I’ve withdrawn for the most part
I’m prone to joy
And prone to rage, just like him
I guess I’m an immigrant too
I’ve journeyed to some queer land
Where the people are odd
We’re all strange though, in his mind
Their ways aren’t my ways
But I won’t look back
He never did
I don’t incline my head in the direction of the old country
That’s just a memory to me
Just old Polaroids that have grown yellow and frayed
Still, the displacement rattles my bones
I wonder how it affects him
We all must have known it at some point
Even the wife’s Congregationalist forebears, centuries ago
I can understand them
And I can understand him
I found a new nation here
And I’ve made sure to try to blend in
I don’t speak - my accent marks me
I have my own enclave, just like him
I talk when I’m there, with my people
I tell stories about the pop of a Spaldeen off a broomstick,
Summers playing in the stream of a Johnny pump,
And how the August sun melted the chocolate cones from Joe B’s truck
I always make it sound better than it really was
I’m sure they’ll understand me out here
Just like they understand him back there
I wave, greet them with a friendly “hello”
And they don’t walk on by
It’s on 322 -
Take a left,
And place your foot gently on the brake.
He calls out,
stenciled on a Chinese immigrant’s tee shirt,
at a strip mall,
in a town off I-80,
and I sit down to a meal of white rice,
chicken and broccoli,
and those little crunchy noodle things,
a fortune cookie,
Sprite instead of oolong tea,
this ain’t fine dining,
a rest stop off I-80,
that stencil on a Chinese immigrant’s tee shirt,
I bow my head,
take a breath,
eat and drink.
I am the co-founder and Poetry Editor of Beautiful / Losers Magazine (http://
beautifullosersmagazine. wordpress.com). My fiction and poetry have been published in Zygote in My Coffee, The Camel Saloon, Citizens for Decent Literature, ppigpenn, Gutter Eloquence, Horror Sleaze Trash, Dead Snakes, Yellow Mama, Quail Bell Magazine, I Am Not A Silent Poet, Rusty Truck, Pink Litter, The Galway Review, Record Magazine, Soul Fountain, Randomly Accessed Poetics, Winamop, Visceral Uterus, Fuck Art Let's Dance, O Sweet Flowery Roses, Pretty Owl Poetry, The Milo Review, Postcard Shorts, and Farther Stars Than These. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Beloit College, where I learned under esteemed poet Bei Dao.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
A Man and a Dog
A reporter asked Wilbur once
if there were any advantages
to being deaf and Wilbur
used sign language to say
not that he could think of
except you miss all the gossip
and that’s a good thing
if you live alone in a trailer camp
in a small town in Oklahoma
but it’s not a good thing
when a tornado comes through
and everyone else hears it
atand gets out alive
but they forget to wake you
and you go up with the tornado
along with a dog
you can’t hear barking,
two small stars in the sky.
As Wally Explained on the Locked Side Later
Another day at the zoo and
Wally’s new job was to feed the apes.
Old Stanley had fed the apes
for 40 years and loved the job
but told Wally he was retiring.
He was showing Wally the ropes when
Wally got hit with a coconut
lobbed by JuJu, the oldest ape,
who liked Stanley but not Wally.
Stanley drove Wally to a dentist
to check the damage to his teeth
but the dentist wanted to be paid
in advance and Wally had
no money, only a bus pass
and a bag lunch back in his locker.
He had never had a credit card.
The dentist looked and sounded
like Mel Brooks and kept saying
he wanted his money before drilling.
Wally’s father came to the office
and started writing a big check
to the plumber who had come over
the previous week to fix the toilet.
Bleeding from the mouth Wally yelled,
“Dad, write the check to Mel Brooks,
not the plumber," but his father said,
“Wally, shut up for a change" and he
kept writing the check to the plumber.
His father had been dead for 30 years
but he and Wally never got along well
when his father was alive either.
Answer Me This, America
Took the wife
to a pancake house
the other day.
Skipped the pancakes
had bacon, eggs,
hash browns, toast
Wife went fancy,
had an omelette.
Grabbed the check
because the busboy
the table early.
A young dervish
new to the job
swirling his cloth
for minimum wage.
to realize he'd work
three hours and a skosh
to pay for the same
if he left a tip.
with our great nation,
how we do business.
Have both ears open.
Hoping for an answer.
Marimba in the Afternoon
Raul is a kind man
who plays marimba
in a salsa band at LA clubs
late into the night.
Some afternoons he plays
at a nursing home in Cucamonga
where he was born, grew up
and dashed home from school.
He’s paid with a taco,
maybe an enchilada,
a burrito now and then.
On a fresh tamale
almost as good as his mother
used to make after being in
the fields all day, long ago.
Old-timers in the day room
bounce in their chairs, some
on wheels, to Raul's music.
Long ago they were young
and danced all night in
tiny clubs after being paid
a few dollars a basket for
picking grapes and plums
under pounding sun.
Many years ago Miriam’s parents
took the kids for the weekend
while she and Jack motored north
to fish for trout in Montana
at Miriam's request.
Unsteady in her hip-waders
but casting with abandon,
Miriam lobbed a snide remark
and the hook snagged Jack's ear.
Jack told her not to worry,
just a tiny bit of blood.
He'd put a band-aid on it
back at the cabin
before he fried
the rainbow trout still
wriggling in her creel.
Decades later Jack is back
at the cabin with his Phyllis,
a quiet woman who
has never cast for trout.
He thinks she’ll do well.
Jack’s lost track of Miriam,
who sold the house long ago.
The kids are on their own.
He still scratches the ear
where an itch recalls
Thursday, January 28, 2016
She calls her mother daily,
lips taut, teeth cracked open slightly,
her speech restricted
to only the most mundane of sounds.
Meanwhile, her mother pulls on
her daughter's words
like hands round rope
in a tug-of-war.
She wants the truth to come pouring out
along with the small talk,
break through these unnatural barricades.
But what's on the daughter's mind is too dense.
It can't be wrenched from her head
without taking half of her brain with it.
So her mother's futile entreaties
sweat and ache, grow callouses.
But she'll telephone again tomorrow
and then the day after that.
She has this urge to sa)' little
and hold back much.
Her mother feels a duty
to nibble at the ordinary
while imagining the worst.
It's a ritual that fills a need.
Mostly, it's the need of the ritual.
JOEY AND THE MOTORCYCLE
You were drawn to the chaos,
borne around bends,
through thin, dangerous channels
or brandished above me
over trees, rooftops,
your crazy grease-stained wheels
farther and farther below,
your dying like flying across the sky.
Watching the stars,
I want to separate you
from how I feel,
awed by your untamable,
before ice played a role,
and slid you on like water
racing for the downspout -
the grave that knew
it was only a matter of time.
A drunken brawl
that he can hardly remember
and Dan had lost half his front teeth,
found himself sprawled on a sidewalk
in Dover, Delaware,
spitting blood and molar,
a burning throb in his jaw
as if someone had connected
with a flaming arrow.
A cop came by,
thumped Dan's wayward mouth
into a smile.
Dan reckoned it was tough,
from that angle
to tell what the joke was all about.
All he could think about
was his busted face.
how long it would be
before even the ugliest of women
found it to be kissable again.
He never did locate a dentist
who would work for nothing
or a fancy lady friend who could see past
his sunken cheeks.
But there was always liquor.
It never asked for
what he wasn't prepared to give.
His gums could testify to that.
There were more brawls,
but. at least,
he never lost another tooth.
One night, a homeless woman
offered him a place to sleep
under her bridge.
And she had a bottle of rotgut
which she shared.
That's how low Dan's sunk
since we hung with him back in the day.
He eats out of dumpsters.
Whatever money he comes by
goes straight to the liquor store.
Soon, his insides will go the way of his canines
and without need of an intermediary
like a punch to the gut.
Dan's the one we all consult
if we want to know more about
a downward spiral.
And his run-ins with cops
are our dispirited lecture
on the true meaning of the law.
He's also a good example
of the tipping point
when alcohol becomes booze.
And he and his toothless bride
are a willing case
of what it takes sometimes
to be with somebody.
How many years is it
since we were all in high school together?
We knew Dan before he was an illustration.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Greenland and Antarctica
Field ice knuckles down to the sea
and fractures. Slabs coast away
to addle container ships lurching
to New Jersey, Hamburg, Rotterdam.
I lie awake worrying that bergs
as big as Manhattan will crush
these fragile ships and deprive us
of necessities fresh from China.
Aren’t you worried, too? Your back,
as you sleep your crescent of sleep,
is a map on which I can project
new seas, new continents no one
even mildly sane has explored.
Maybe you’re dreaming of field ice
shuddering as thick rivers melt it,
climate change sickening the air
with the cries of failing species.
Maybe you’re dreaming of hiking
those ice-fields with me, crampons
groaning with purchase, ice axe
poised to slaughter pale creatures
that loom in the chilly fog. I press
against you, hoping that layer
upon layer of flesh will protect
the planet from its ugly secrets.
You stir a little but snooze away
my local effects. Antarctica
and Greenland seem so far away,
their rugose coastlines beaming
with winter sun or brooding
with winter dark. Which winter
are we? Early traffic sizzles
as the daily commute begins.
No one commutes to Greenland
or Antarctica, but the ice fields,
caught between competing eons,
simper like freshly printed paper
on which the latest scripture scrawls.
Red and White Stripes
Framed in the red and white stripes
of your six pillows your face
goes adrift, warping into places
I can’t enter without mourning
the forty years we discarded
like a cargo of empty oil drums.
The city grumbles to itself
with most of its passions muted
by the buzz of construction sites
and the criminal expressions
of cops in fresh new uniforms.
We should visit the museum
with its Dutch masters blazing
and Goya too angry to paint
but painting anyway, on and on
into black and gray infinities.
We should lunch like typical
elderly couples, late blooming
over delicate little sandwiches
and glasses of oily white wine.
In a few minutes the patter
of your bare feet on the hardwood
will present angles of vision
no one since Adam has enjoyed.
The snore of traffic will become
gossip of epic proportions,
and the stoplights will pause
on yellow for hours at a time.
The cops will almost learn to smile,
creasing their aggressive trousers.
Then you’ll fade into distance
rendered geological by habits
we hope to acquire. And then
I’ll know why the red and white
stripes of your pillows say nothing
of ordinary blood and flesh.