I feel the excitement of the rainy season
coming on. The wildebeest, the zebras
and the impalas will come.
They’ll be crossing the river
where we’ll be waiting for them.
They all know it but they have no choice.
James came home
from the state institution
declaring that he
was no longer Jesus.
It came as a great relief
to all of us who found
Jesus to be an annoying man,
ragged, blunt who rarely showered.
I sometimes miss him though,
even more than I miss the wine.
He’s been making his puppets
and performing shows in the park
for as long as anyone remembers.
His specialty is fairy tales;
Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood,
Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin.
At the end of the day the stage folds up
and everything is packed into an old van
which he parks behind a warehouse.
Around midnight he comes out
onto the fire escape to have a smoke,
to check on the van and make sure
that we are asleep.
There are times, right now being one of them,
that I have no idea why you look at me that way,
those sad eyes pleading and soulful.
I think I have given you everything you could want.
Tonight I made dinner and afterward went walking with you
and the whole time we talked about things you care about,
or at least the things that I think you care about.
Yesterday I took you for ice cream
then we went to your favorite place on the beach
where we could listen to the sea birds
and sit close to each other and alone.
I sense now that you think somehow I have fallen short,
that maybe I’m not the perfect man you expect me to be.
Well, all I can say to that is maybe you should go.
Or at least lie down with your chin on your paws,
nose tucked underneath your elegant tail,
and quit staring at me like that.
Here’s little Joey Stalin,
just a babe in his mother’s arms.
See how she beams with pride.
And little Adolf in his sailor suit
holding the string of a circus balloon
in his pudgy fingers. Was ever there
a cuter little boy?
And look at Pol Pot, so far
from the killing fields.
Isn’t he just like a miniature roly poly Buddha?
Just look at those chubby cheeks.
Here’s one of baby Augusto Pinochet.
He has such beautiful eyes, so curious,
so dark and alert for his age.
you were such a precocious child.
And that gorgeous christening dress;
did your mother make it herself?
Idi Amin in his wicker pram
being pushed along by his mother.
His little bonnet is so cute
but doesn’t he look hungry?
I have my cage
with it’s separate dishes
for water and seeds.
I have my perch, my swing
and a little silver bell I can ring
whenever I feel like it.
I have a mirror
but it took a long time
for me to figure out
the handsome bird in it
The bartender and waitress
have made their plans.
The chairs and tables are stacked.
The ashtrays are as empty as my pockets.
Through the door
beneath the blood-shot eye
of the exit sign
is an empty parking lot
where nothing waits.
Learn to FLY!
(sign near an airport)
"Yes, I want to learn to fly,"
I said to the woman on the phone.
"I saw your sign outside the airport.
I want wings, wings with feathers.
I want to leap from the roof
of a tall building and soar over the city.
I want to hover over the park.
I’ll build a nest in the top of the tallest tree.
I want to glide to the ground
to pick at scraps or eat popcorn
at the feet of elderly women
wearing galoshes, shawls and head scarves.
I want to lounge on equestrian statues all day
and shit on someone’s expensive car.
I want to fly so high, people really do look like ants.
I will call out to them and they will point at the sky.
(“There he is, the crazy man who thinks he can fly.”)
Yes, I want to learn to fly,”
I said to the woman on the phone.
"I saw your sign outside the airport."
"I don’t think we can help you," she said.
My pet piano on its three wobbly legs
quivers with excitement as I enter the room,
takes two steps forward and one step back
as I approach, bends down for me
to stroke its shiny black finish
then smiles broadly its wide white smile.
I pet it just so and it plays me
a little from the Goldberg Variations,
which it knows to be a favorite of mine,
then the opening movement
from the Moonlight Sonata.
When I pat its lid it grows playful
and teases me with Jellyroll Morton
and some Eubie Blake then,
just as I am about to fall asleep,
it plays a little Brubeck
and all three of Satie’s Gymnopaedia.
We were kissing on a blanket
thrown onto hard ground,
my hand beneath her petticoats
clumsily searching a way through
the many layers of undergarments.
There were noises from the rocky beach below,
men talking low, the lap of water
on the sides of boats, the squeak
of a wagon’s wheel.
Drops of rain began to fall,
one striking her bare breast.
We hurriedly rose to leave,
pulling the blanket over our heads.
Walking home past fort Mackinac,
we heard the sound of drums,
saw silhouettes of soldiers
running along the tops of the walls.
We could not have known it then but
by morning, all will surrender.
Sometimes I’m mistaken for a leper.
It’s the bandages I think.
But really, I’m not and I’m not a bad person
once you get to know me.
I’m just an ordinary mummy
trying his best to get along
in a world that (you have to admit)
seems to favor the living.
You have no idea how tough it is
unliving the way I do, women and children
screaming at the sight of me,
archaeologists tweaking my nose,
pulling at my bandages trying to see
if I was a man or woman.
Come on for Ra’s sake,
leave me a little dignity.
You can’t even begin to imagine
how creepy these old museums are at night.
And as for this so called curse,
just you try being shut up
in a sarcophagus for a few millennia
and see what kind of mood you’re in,
especially when you have to carry
your heart around in a jar.
Reality intrudes less
with each day one grows older.
The wanderlust tends to fade
along with hearing and sight.
There still are bills to be paid
but none of them seem urgent.
There are pretty girls to see
but none are obtainable.
With every morning that comes
evening is less important.
There is poetry to read
you once never had time for.
If there is a time to live,
realize that time is now.
It was exciting at first.
I would strip down naked
and sneak into the women’s locker room
at the YWCA or into the changing rooms
of fancy dress shops uptown.
That got old after awhile
so I took to playing practical jokes,
bumping into people
and spilling their drinks,
making rude noises
while standing next to someone,
watching them squirm
as they tried their best to look innocent.
I tired of that too
and started to feel bad
at the cruelty of it.
So now I wear this long coat,
these gloves, this hat.
I smear greasepaint on my face
and paint my lips. I put on
these dark glasses
and walk around among you
hoping I won’t be noticed.
Leaping Larry Chene’s pile driver
has The Great Mephisto against the ropes.
Larry begins running, bouncing off the ropes
on either side of the ring, building speed
for his most famous move,
the flying head scissors.
The crowd is ready for it,
chanting for The Darling of Detroit.
But Mephisto rallies and,
just as Larry goes airborne
like a working class Baryshnikov,
the villainous dog ducks out of the way.
Larry lands hard on the mat,
the wind knocked out of him.
Mephisto rolls on top of the helpless Larry
in an unexpected reversal of fortunes,
pinning him to the mat. The referee
smacks the floor. It’s over.
The crowd erupts in boos and catcalls
as Mephisto goes into his victory strut.
Now Mephisto gets a little too proud.
He launches himself into the air,
slamming his full weight onto the still struggling hero
but the blue-collar champion has a surprise.
He kicks his legs high into the air
putting Mephisto in a choke hold
between the bulging muscles
of his enormous calves.
Mephisto struggles but can’t escape
Larry’s python grip. Slowly,
slowly Mephisto’s body goes slack,
his eyes rolling into the back of his skull
until only the whites are showing.
In unison the crowd jumps to its feet
spilling beer and popcorn over the arena floor
chanting, “LAR-RY, LAR-RY, LAR-RY!”
The ref may have called the match for Mephisto
but if you were in Grand Rapids that night
you saw how good triumphs over evil.
The noise of pages turning
In the library is deafening
Despite signs everywhere
The romance section is filled
With non-stop sighs
Of the starved-for-love
And sweet smell of jasmine.
From mysteries there is the crack
Of a revolver and from behind a shelf
A woman’s scream.
Travel is a cacophony of train whistles
Boat horns, jet engine sounds,
Jangle of busy porters,
People in a hurry.
From history, the sound of clashing swords,
Acrid smells of black powder, flashes
Of heavy artillery beyond the horizon
Like heat lightning, horses
In the throes of death,
Mourning of widows.
In religion, calls to prayer,
Odor of brimstone,
Moans of the damned.
But in poetry, where both
Love and death have come to read,
Only the sound of leaves
Falling on water.