The sages have gathered
In the late afternoon
To discuss important ideas,
Argue over details, collaborate.
Beads of sweat form on their foreheads.
They calculate, measure, dissect rats
That run through a maze
Of differential equations.
They reinvent the symphony,
Make predictions about the fall of dice,
Wear out their erasers,
Leave no small stone unturned.
They design a cathedral
Using only Euclid’s ruler and compass.
Solutions are simple, they conclude,
But the problems are endless.
Ashley writes me that life is short
and I should consider having an affair.
What a gold digger she is
now that Miss Mercy Apatka wants my help
withdrawing millions of dollars
from a dormant account in Nigeria’s Central Bank
where she works as an information specialist.
I am happy to know that I can get a university degree
from an online school that will help me finance
the whole thing with a government grant
and that, while I’m doing that,
I will be playing golf for free
on some of the world’s most famous courses.
Jennifer writes that I can have long-lasting
powerful erections with all-natural supplements,
something I am going to need for all the women
I am going to meet, young ones, Christian ones,
mature ones, oriental hotties and
even some married ones in my own city
who are apparently anxious to have sex
with someone their grandfather’s age.
If all-natural supplements aren’t enough,
a Canadian pharmacy offers genuine Viagra at reduced prices
but I don’t think I’ll be needing that;
Viarex Cream has already promised me
a stronger, longer, thicker penis.
Outside, a single mercury vapor lamp
on its tall wooden pole
throws blue fire down
on a gravel parking lot
where cowboys riding pick up trucks
instead of horses
scuffle in the shadows
to preserve their honor.
Blood and spit dampen the earth.
Loose coins from their pockets shine
like the crystals of a broken geode
in the dust their snakeskin boots
have scuffed into a roiling cloud.
Inside, Arkansas Slim and his Ozark Ramblers
have knocked off for the night.
From the jukebox Tammy Wynette cries
Stand By Your Man.
On the dance floor
the last few couples
lean hard against each other
spinning dreamily toward last call,
feet barely moving.
The geese know the way,
so we have always been told,
but today they are circling,
the V not pointing unerringly north,
their living compass spinning
as if they are afraid to land
in such uncertain times.
He lived at the bottom of a shallow sea
among the ammonites and crinoids
when the place we call Pennsylvania
was a part of Africa.
His schizochroal eyes on turret like stalks
gave him a view of everything in his world
but they could not save him
from the great Permian extinction,
nor could his ability to curl tightly
into a ball at the first sign of trouble.
He’d spent the morning finishing
a mural of a herd of antelope
on the back wall of the cave,
signing it with a hand print of oxides
that he blew through a hollow reed.
The fire had gone out during the night.
He dreaded spending the rest of the day
getting it going again, thanks to the dampness
of the fire wood that was left
and the loss of his best piece of flint.
Days ago (he had no idea how many)
his mate disappeared.
She went down to the river for a gourd of water
and never returned, probably
those damned hyenas again.
He thought maybe it was time
to consider moving in with the clan
that had built a village in the valley below
but he couldn’t see himself being happy
in one of those tiny rooms
among all those cro-magnons
who had grown too old
to feed themselves.
It begins with a faint glow on the western horizon.
An explosion in a chemical plant, a forest fire,
maybe a blow-out in a gas well?
Gradually it brightens as it rises,
swelling, an angry blister
in the palm of the winter sky.
Then you hear it pulsing overhead
as if it were alive, breathing
its hot breath on your neck.
Next you feel a chill.
Your hair stands on end.
That’s the last thing you remember.
Now you find you are standing alone
in a field miles from where you began
wondering how you got here, what time it is
and the uneasy feeling
that you have been probed and found
in some way, less than suitable.
He’s not the sort of Gryphon that took Alice
to hear the sad story of the Mock Turtle,
not that sort at all, though you might mistake him
for the same if you saw him reading
sleepy-eyed in a comfortable chair.
No, this one’s speech is cultured,
befitting his university background
teaching interns and residents
on the finer points of medical science.
He has never spoken to me of a mate,
though it is well known that
Gryphons mate for life and that,
if something happens to one of them,
the other remains faithful even in death.
And he has never discussed with me
how long a Gryphon might expect to live,
though he makes reference to selling his condo
and organizing his possessions, which are probably few
except for shelves and shelves of books
which have been accumulating since the middle ages.
He gave up flying years ago,
says that it gives him vertigo
so now he takes the bus or walks
but not if it’s too cold outside.
"Anyway," he says,
"I just don’t trust that my feathers
would stay attached to these old wings.”
Ask him a question and he will answer with a poem,
always a poem about food;
mushrooms, broccoli, kale, artichokes,
lobsters doing a quadrille or crabs,
anything that goes well with boats of melted butter.
I tell him (with good humor) that poems about food
are really poems about sex.
He straightens in his chair, shakes out his lion’s mane,
slowly blinks his eagle eyes,
opens his beak as if to speak,
says nothing but smiles at me
as if he were a Sphinx.
Where Shall I Begin? by Jessica Greenbaum -
Inspiration and instruction in poetry’s first lines.
"My husband was a pilot," she said,
as I rummaged through a box of aeronautical charts
on a long table that sat in the shade
of a tall red maple in the front yard
of the small and tidy yellow house.
They were large when unfolded
and interesting to look at
with their cryptic symbols
for navigational hazards like
radio towers, electrical power lines
and buildings higher that two stories,
all the things a pilot would want to avoid.
"You can have the whole box for ten bucks.
He’s gone now and it’s time to get rid of
all of this old airplane stuff.”
How could I resist at that price,
a box of charts identifying all of life’s dangers,
magnetic compass deviations
and every radio frequency I would need
to request permission to land.
The neighborhood calls it the old Anderson house
after its only owner who went into a nursing home
with a broken hip years ago and never came back
to the four room cement block cube
that old Mr. Anderson built by himself after the war.
The real estate agent says that the asking price
is no more than the value of the lot
and that the expectation is that the buyer
will tear it down to make room for new construction.
We’re here at the open house out of curiosity
along with most of the other neighbors
who all say they have also never been in it.
There is a kitchen with open cabinets
and dining area combined,
two tiny bedrooms, a living room with a worn area rug
and a bath with a claw-foot tub, no shower.
The floors are curled-edged asphalt tiles. Many are broken.
All are worn, yellowed and dented by furniture
that’s no longer here. Some went to Goodwill,
most to the dumpster that sat in the yard.
Last month I saw a funeral procession
of a sheriff’s car, a hearse and one pick-up truck.
That must have been when the old man died.
The pick-up truck was probably the only nephew,
the one that none of us has ever met.
After twenty-two auditions
it was his first role on Broadway,
seven evening performances a week
plus a Sunday matinee.
Officer Brophy, stereotype of an Irish cop
flat of foot and red of nose
in a Moss Hart mystery.
At the end of act three
he puts the cuffs on the suspect
(clue: it wasn’t the butler after all)
and speaks his only line
rehearsed a thousand times,
"You’re coming with ME"
emphasis on the “ME”.
One thousand, two hundred and four performances
and on closing night, just for laughs he says,
"YOU’RE coming with me,"
emphasis on the “YOU’RE.”
Between the second and third curtain call
the director whispers in his ear.
"YOU’LL never work in this town again,"
emphasis on the “YOU’LL”.
They have no idea of their beauty
as they run past the stadium
and round the corner toward the arena,
heading east into the rising sun
through puddled remnants of melting snow.
The leaders are strung out single file
ahead of the pack, stragglers running in pairs
falling further and further behind,
ponytails floating behind them
like the long flowing tails of wild mustangs;
chestnut, brindle, black, roan and palomino.
The poems that I write are stories; stories that are stripped of their narratives, leaving only the most essential elements. As a serious student of poetry, I enjoy corresponding with others who wish to discuss their poetry, the poetry writing process and poetry in general. I am a veteran of many writing workshops as both participant and facilitator. I welcome you to come by and have a look. If you find something in my writing to like, drop a note in my ask (or if you are a follower as a message). It could lead us to an interesting place in cyberspace.
I picture her with red hair in a long braid,
freckled nose and lopsided grin
the way Norman Rockwell might have painted her
as a skinny fourteen-year-old
uncertain what to do with limbs that are
suddenly too long for her to manage
with any sort of grace.
Her name was Beatrice. This much I know
from the inside cover of
The Pocket Book of Robert Frost Poems,
for which she’d paid thirty-five cents in 1959,
annotated originally by Luis Untermeyer
and later by Beatrice herself.
She began on page sixteen with The Pasture
where she wrote in the margin with a soft lead pencil,
"I love to rake leaves".
She then skipped over Home Burial,
perhaps worried by the darkness of Mr. Frost’s theme.
On page forty-seven, Ghost House, Beatrice notes
how she loved the image of the ruined fence
and I thought to myself,
"so do I, Beatrice. So do I.”
A Patch of Old Snow appealed to Beatrice.
She gave it a glowing review.
"I love this poem," she wrote,
"even though I hate litter."
Finally, of Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,
all Beatrice had to say was,
"I really wish I could have a horse"
and from my comfortable chair
at The Window Sill Used Book Store
on a rainy Saturday fifty years in her future,
I was sure that Beatrice made that wish come true.