March 19, 203

Baghdad “Shock and Awe,” 3/19/20

We had worked hard to forestall this one, but war fever is hard to resist. A few days after it began, Terry and I wound up in Orlando. She was attending a nursing conference and I was huddled alone in a Disney World hotel room, watching CNN ’round the clock. 

March 19, 203

I was on the way back from Burlington
when the war news began to break.
I had gone as Connie’s sidekick to the
opening of O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music.

We sailed on the Grand Isle Ferry
through ice floes and dark water,
listening to calm NPR voices say
the terrible things. How many times 
I’ve traveled through the night, 
listening to war news on the radio.

This war, that war, the next war…
headlights light but a few yards ahead.

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

In the Rare Book Room

Photo: Nigel Beale, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The Strand Bookstore in NYC is a bibliophile’s dream, staffed with eccentric experts on arcane subjects, populated by floor after floor of every title imaginable. At the very top is the rare book room, a temperature- and humidity- controlled environment for all the books I lust after, but could never afford.

In the Rare Book Room

My daughter Elena turns to me and says,
“It smells like your Dad.” I take a deep breath 
and there it is–all those generations 
the old books have steeped in pipe smoke
in the libraries of bookish men, seeping back
out decades later into the air-conditioned air. 

His dimming face comes sharp in the mind’s eye
again. I see him turning pages.
The smell of his aftershave.

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

Digging into Metaphysics

Porpoise laughing at humans. Photo: Naotake Murayama, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

To be taken seriously as a poet, sometimes you have to swim into deeper waters, reckon with the whichness of what and unscrew the inscrutable.

Digging into Metaphysics

What makes humans human–image
of God? Featherless biped? What? 

Some say “the animal that laughs”–
but now we know that apes laugh,
and that cats smirk, if not chuckle.
Language?–talk to the chimps.

On the darker side, other creatures 
also eat their own and make war.

As I lean on my shovel, it comes to me
that none of God’s creatures but humans
will dig rocks out of a field all day long.

What this says about our position on
the evolutionary ladder, I can’t say.

But porpoises and whales gave up
on hands and feet to go back to sea.
I think they got tired of digging.

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

Mousetraps

Photo: Dr Mary Gillham, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Another shiny new poem smelted from the rusty ore of old “Listening Post” prose.

Mousetraps

For years I had the dismal duty of adding 
tiny forlorn corpses to the household trash.

One fall, during the first cold snap (the kickoff
of rodent season), I invested in a live trap,
hoping to shorten my sentence in Hell. 

After that, my morning chore took me
out into fresh air, down the trail out back
to perform an act of liberation.

There was just this niggling suspicion that
each morning I released the same mouse,
who saw a long walk back and a warm night
in stir as fair trade for sharp cheddar.

Posted in Poetry | 1 Comment

October 15, 1969

Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, a.k.a. “The Wall.” Photo: Craig Fildes, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Many folks from Potsdam went to DC for the big Vietnam  Moratorium March that day, but those who stayed behind marched here in Potsdam and read the names of the dead from a little stage set up  in front of (old) Snell Hall.

October 15, 1969

We stood in the fallen leaves and read
the names of the war dead from dawn
until dusk, then on through the night.
There seemed to be no end to them.

Now, when the color of afternoon light
is just so and the leaves are gold above and
gold below, when they crunch underfoot
to release that sharp odor of tea,

I remember. 

Posted in Poetry, The Other Village | Leave a comment

No Cure for Leonard Cohen

All kinds of music gets stuck in the top of my mind: pop tunes, carols, hymns, blues. I walk to their refrain for half a day, then pass on to something else. But some music wraps around the brain stem, permeates the convolutions, gets in there for keeps. 

No Cure for Leonard Cohen

His songs dig hooks into memory–
deep, dark, rich, complex as chocolate,
but unsweetened by sentiment.

Transcendence and despair do duets,
celebration and regret. Beauty sheds
her merely pretty clothes; pain uplifts. 

Behind one devastating line, the heart
is hid. His half-destroyed voice demands it:
Chase the holy; seek it in the broken.

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

Library Daydream

A candid view into the fantasy life of a superannuated English major. 

Library Daydream

What if I had had a rock ‘n’ roll band
with a wild drummer boning apocalypsos,
sun to a solar system of tubs, tubes, triangles,
gongs, gourds and gizmos gunning out
a Ragnarok roll, each rat-a-tat tattoo thrilling
a different nerve up and down the spine–
had smoke and lasers, epileptic strobe lights,
molten hot-spots and morphing backdrops,
and each fat thwap on the fretless bass made
the giant woofers leap like shock paddles
to the heart. Then the tight-jawed guitarist
cruising for the far horizon, all jib sails free
on a solo of twisted euphony, and fountaining
up from the singer’s belly, the liquid scat,
talking in tongues, off her thrown-back head
while she boogies as if God has his hand
in her pants. Finally, the whole front line
taking it out to the stage-edge, leaning over
the reaching hands, building the sound
like breakers higher and higher, rising tide,
up to a last tsunami of drumming,
a great unison shout, then out the lights.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beautiful as Ever

In another poem I call ed memory “that other light by which we see the world.” This is never more the case than when we look upon those we love.

Photo (detail): Leonardo Ciamberlini, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Beautiful as Ever

Along the river, I remember your long hair falling
around me, eyes wide open as you bent down.

Heart-pounding kisses. How the moon
paved a white road across still black water.

After fifty years, that moment floods this 
moment, and we are beautiful as ever.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rescuing the Buddha

Periwinkle, aka myrtle. Photo: Anne Burgess, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Sometimes the poem writes itself, and sometimes it speaks for itself, too. So I won’t bother with any further explication.

Rescuing the Buddha

Twenty years ago, he sat enthroned on a marble plinth
in a little clearing among the lilacs facing a sandstone slab
where I would sit in contemplation on my blue zafu.

But one night a storm wind uprooted three pines, toppling
them onto the lilac bower, toppling Buddha from his seat.
And so I left him, waiting for spring to unlock the land.

And then I left him some more. Years passed in busy-ness.
But sometimes I would peer into the spreading wilderness
to see if I could catch a glimpse of the fallen effigy.

Retired now, I find myself with time to battle back
the invasives, the deadfall, the smothering grape.
I chop and saw, dig and plant, rip out roots, fell trees.

I see a block of white overgrown with feather moss,
surrounded by myrtle. Cutting a path through dead lilac
to the marble block, I see a bump in the green beside it.

Going to my knees, parting the ground cover, I find Buddha,
back turned to me, face down in myrtle. I take him in my arms,
wash his dirty face, and stand him back up in the morning sun.

Twenty years have wrought many changes in this body, 
in this mind. But the Buddha is unchanged. Face down
in the dirt, raised up high into the light–same same.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

EarthSky News explains Genesis

How did the universe become transparent? NASA’s Webb space telescope has found that in the early opaque universe, galaxies were surrounded by huge, clear bubbles, as depicted in this artist’s illustration. The bubbles gradually merged together over about a hundred million years, with the entire universe becoming clear and transparent as a result. Image via NASA/ ESA/ CSA/ Joyce Kang (STScI).

EarthSky News explains Genesis

In the beginning,
after the Big Bang,
stars in clusters
formed invisible
to one another through
dense hydrogen gas.
Space was opaque.
And darkness was upon
the face of the deep.

Starshine slowly ionized
the gas, turning it clear.
First one, then many
glimmers could be seen.

Bubbles of transparency
merged to encompass
whole galaxies until
a whole galaxy was
small as a pea inside 
a hot-air balloon
by comparison.

Later (a hundred million
years later) the bubbles
had all merged –the whole
universe transparent
to the light. Fiat lux.

Posted in Poetry | 2 Comments