Sunday, April 30, 2017

Learning Revolution

I know under the rubble there are burnt faces
and the cracked columns of the past
are glued together with a human glue,
and if I were brave enough,
I could toe the ashes aside
and find the knotted fingers of the people
sticking up imperceptibly
like stubble on the earth’s chin.
I wouldn’t care 
that the nail on the small toe of my right foot
has never taken a proper form
and that when I clip it,
it’s like cutting a cork with a scissors.
There are no clues in anatomy,
for even a pillow can be used as a weapon,
and the fluted cucumbers that brace up my ego
seem to have been passed on through the centuries
and have lodged themselves
between the thinking and doing,
between the palm and the tool.

There are discarded plots in the city
sloping down from the highways
between tenements,
and the ailanthus, that arboreal weed,
is like a gravestone over the lives of the people.
If you listen carefully,
you can hear the chirping of crickets.
There the people spring up like tiger lilies,
and along the roads you can see
their tall stems eyeing the cars.
Propped up by the windows, waiting,
a broken spring in their back,
the old are not docile,
for under their blankets,
arthritic fingers, like human wisteria,
are clustered and living.

And I look down at the children bunched up
in front of me like grass swaying on an enormous field,
and I can see the timber in their eyes
and I can hear the hammers in their brows.
I know their questions are the real monsters
that frighten them,
and I would like to tell them there are no
animals that bite,
because they are always asking.
What I’m saying is I’m redirecting
my thumbs to the proper spaces.
I’m linking elbows over the long marches.
I can feel the cold and my teeth
are chattering like marbles.
I can hear my heart bouncing after me,
but how long can I wait?
There were moments in the night when
I swear it seemed to have stopped beating
for a full minute, and I was scared.

No, I am no distinct rose and the thorns
in my bed are of a human making.
I’m taking my lessons slowly,
I’m not going beyond myself.
I’m learning a new language.
And when the deep faces of the people
are cemented together like bricks in a wall
and my arms have become fluent with possibility,
here will be no creation more powerful,
more inclusive, more human,
and the glass door that I’ve swum behind
for so long will have shattered
and been swept away in its wake.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Shoe History

Shoehorned into a bed where the wolf settled,
sat silent on the sheet and waged water
at my lids, a lone sub in a ocean, the walls 
groping like a gnarled rabbi, a dead garden 
where a fierce teen and a bottle were hunched over 
in a corner and I too frightened to whisper, floating
steadily into my title, my fable, the blazed cradle
where mother swathed me in candles and efficient love. 
Raw were the live bogeys, the pale kohen
who delivered himself holy from door to door
when doors were open to hucksters, to wolves, I spun 
dizzily, a draydl, encrypted with four letters,
each a suffusion of the brown wingtips my father
succumbed in, wore in the Wild West of Manhattan.

Monday, January 2, 2017


He induces, seduces, polemicizes
with indelible postulates, but
only after one's attention has been diverted.

I do none of that.

Conviction, agitation, I respond directly,
obliquely, hear everyone, follow no one.

Say I'm searching for a writer
who has a summation, a continuance.
Realize on the bus one morning
I am that writer.

Sad that people cling to broken machines.
One doesn't want to discard them,
but they are not worth fixing.

A new widget is cheaper. Better.
Although plastic.

So, too, with religion.
Parts break, are irreplaceable,
no longer produced.

What's the point?
What's not the point?
Talk is talk,
although sometimes less.

You have to
establish yourself,
be something or be gone.

Such distortion, such omission,
never describe, never analyze,

Mao wrote,
"If you want to know the taste of a pear,
you must change the pear
by eating it yourself."

Pound wrote,
"Pay no attention to the criticism of men
who have never themselves written
a notable work."

All is laughable, all complex—
to do something in someone's name
he neither desires nor understands.

But to do it in your own
seems self-indulgent, greedy.
Meaningless, irrational.

Where there is repression, there is resistance
—one hopes.

Life is too busy—
working, eating, shopping,

Pound wrote,
"The age demanded an image . . .
Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries
of the inward gaze . . . ."

No, definitely not, not an inward gaze . . .
an outward gaze.
An act.

Exupéry wrote,
"A being is not subject to the empire of language,
but only to the empire of acts."

A tyrant, a psychopath, a CEO,
continually coming, continually going.

But so many suffer.

So many limbs.

Caudwell wrote,
"The price of liberty is not eternal vigilance,
but eternal work."

(This poem appeared in Stand (Leeds, England, U.K.)

Saturday, October 1, 2016



“‘He sat there . . . like a dog, just
looking, without any nervousness,
without any ulterior motive.’”
—Mathilde Vollmoeller, on 
  Cézanne, quoted by Rilke
  in Letters on Cézanne.

An old geezer, indeed, in a pasture somewhere, who 
had never started a painting 
with a wash but expanded outward and outward,
from one disparate element to another,
fusing them,
as if forcing two stones to copulate,
slashing his intemperate strokes
across the canvas while marveling at the chipped 
planes of a lava mass.

He molested himself so brutally, nobody wanted to know 
about it but 
merely to glance at his quivering apples—
produce from a local market, 
propped up stoically on Madam Brémond’s bedspread
(she’d eventually miss them) 
next to a pitcher or any inert object an arm’s length 
while, like an orphan, asking her politely 
for slightly better food.

The house with the ominous cracked walls he observed 
outside Aix that rattled him like a charred body and that 
he rendered with such passionate lucidity
(not in line but conviction),
one knew immediately his intent was not prophetic,
only confessional—

as was his pot of primroses, 
or Madam Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet),
who, it has been written, he treated harshly
and who in his portraits of her sits stiffly, obediently, 
centrally, often tilted to an impossible angle like a leaning 
but stable poplar, with no relevant background, no 
relevant foreground,
merely reiterated, like the slabs of Mont Sainte-Victoire.

It was not subject he was pursuing but surface,
assuming he was aware of pursuing anything,

which most likely he was not, 
simply pummeling the canvas in order to compose 

An ordinary man who had taken on 
a ridiculous task that produced no millinery, 
that no one actually was concerned with until he had 
accomplished it
(and even then it had to be tallied, sold, and written 
about), with neither
ambition nor forethought but merely encumbrance, 
and he couldn’t recall having been asked 
to do anything but sell hats,

although as a child some irascible pedagogue must have 
chosen him out of a class of retards and said, 
let us see what you see—share it with us— because when
look at you, I observe a maggot, a disgusting grub, and 
it nauseates me thoroughly.”

There is something to be learned about living—that living 
itself is a kind of ruin out of which premises can emerge, 
that a painting can ultimately destroy you because one 
realizes  “‘. . . there are no contours but only 

oscillating transitions,’” 
and Cézanne, recognizing himself, shoots up at the table 
and “‘voiceless with agitation’” points his finger repeatedly 
at himself and grieves.

A dangerous man, “angry, mistrustful, ridiculed and 
mocked each time he went to his studio,” said Rilke,
and gather round me, ye children, and throw stones at the 
old man, like a stray dog,
let’s injure him or ignore him to death, how dare he be shabby,
how dare he be Cézanne.

To have labored maniacally over a single shadow that 
may not have been a shadow but a new light others 
had failed to recognize because their understanding was 
so limited, their horror so endless . . .

“Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, 
of having gone through an experience all the way to the
end, to where no one can go any further,”

and Cézanne in his badly lit studio “ran back and forth . . . 
with green apples scattered about
or went out into his garden in despair and sat.”

It was never the morning, it was never the night, it was 
always the irritant, the balm . . . comical, grotesque . . . 
sur le motif he called it, 

la réalisation, as if his marrow were a horse that refused 
to stand still long enough to be harnessed.

Sur le motif, like a wolf on a goat, and Cézanne and I 
stroll through the woods 
and listen to the cockatoos
and the trees breathing, and he looks at me and says,
“This is not the point,” 
and strays off to a precipice where he stands silently
staring over a village. 

“One lives so badly, because one always
comes into the present unfinished, unable, distracted.”

Dissolution is everywhere, and I have no competence to 
account for it, nor Rilke: “. . . the animals
already know by instinct we’re not comfortably 
at home in our translated world.”

Art has its own dominion.
Not reproduction or escorting your grandmother
across the mall,
but rather a corked bottle, a compendium of one’s 
recesses, of one’s luminescence,
one’s penumbras, a central absurdity if you present it as 
an image on a canvas in a thunderstorm blue, 
an offshoot of a color yet to be named, “an eighteenth-
century blue which Chardin stripped of its pretension 
and which now, in Cézanne, no longer carries any 
secondary significance,” said Rilke—

a riddle, a cognition of an individual who looks into 
himself on a surrounding cornfield 
and sees the bottle next to a cornstalk and faithfully 
depicts it, so those who are inclined can wonder at its
austerity, not as a mutation but as an object that has always 
been there and is indestructible, unusable, like a 
horse chestnut, 
something no more than itself,
no less,
and whether the canvas survives means nothing as long 
as one person has viewed it, 
has absorbed it.

“‘Somehow I, too,  
must find a way of making things,’” muttered Cézanne— 
“‘not plastic, written things, but realities that 
arise from the craft itself. Somehow I, too, must discover 
the smallest 
constituent element, the 
cell of my art, the tangible immaterial means of expressing 
everything . . . ,’” 
forms that evaporate and are no more than dreams, 
a sketch on a forgotten canvas that comes slowly 
to the artist, 
who completes it through memory.

And Cézanne gesticulated wildly, not noticing
the old woman passing him bent over from osteoporosis
how sad, how painful,
and we should all help each other, not be a parasite or 
a mood-bearing dilemma who 
diseases others—but a gardenia is a gardenia, 
and it isn’t a truth merely because it’s been duplicated on 
Whatman by an old lady in Missouri.

The authentic is a migraine, it cannot be cured with a herb, 
cannot be hidden under a blanket—
but it can make one aggressively irritable, so even a peach 
surged in him with alarm, 
until he’d run off with his paints, tearing aside angles,
searching under the rocks not for the slugs themselves 
but for how the slugs could be depicted, 
the entire heap of mortality nested in front of him 
like an ostrich cackling, as if it were mocking him.

Absorbed, contained, settled at the bend in the road
at Montgeroult, flat streaks of green-black that guide one
through the bend and into the village,
the orange comearound
so that when finished for the day he folded up his easel and his 
body and strode over that same cobblestone satiated,
for the moment—
inexplicable, as is his art, although one could see process,
that nothing was hidden, nothing disguised.

The craft itself, the discernible, the almost
calculable hairs of the brush, so here was no failure, no 
success, no vocabulary of critique, merely the manner, the 
contusion, when you arise out of yourself, 
incomprehensibly, like a silkworm, like Cézanne, and not 
offering a hand, not acknowledging another,
walked obstinately ahead without intention, without victory, 
without loss, and it was nobody’s business to dispute him

His function was to function, to come next, if possible,
around the deceptive corner that was 
continually curving, that should have been curving, that he forced 
to be beautiful, reflective, if only for an instant because 
it was the path he was  traversing, and we have no right to 
despise it.

Notes: “Cézanne” relies on Letters on Cezanne, by Rainer Maria Rilke,
edited by Clara Rilke and translated by Joel Agee, Fromm 
International Publishing Corporation, 1985. Rilke quote 
“ . . . the animals . . . .” from the first Duino elegy, translated 
by A. Poulin, Jr., Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977. Whatman: 
a brand of watercolor paper.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

All Over for Poetry—Too Bad for Me

For the most part, I've stopped writing poetry. I don't even like to read it anymore. Much of the poetry I see nowadays is not the poetry I grew up with. Poetry now seems to me mostly prose cut into arbitrary line lengths, lacking in aesthetic, linguistic (charged and original use of language), and intellectual excitement. Or maybe it's just me. Or it's become so cryptic, it's not worth the time and effort necessary to work it out. There's one poet I can think of who falls into this latter category. I have nine books by the poet, but the poems are exhausting to read, I never know what I've read, and I can't quote one line from any of the poems. Although the poet is very celebrated, I think the poet just loses control of language and rambles. If the poems are confusing enough, one assumes they're doing something important. But they may not be. I don't think this poet could write an address in fourteen lines. Wallace Stevens, for example, can be complicated, but his control is astounding—one takes something away from each of his poems Also, poetry (as is the case with other art forms) has become so democratized—affirmative action seems to play a big role. You don't need to know anything other than how to speak and write the language. Very discouraging. The visual arts, as an aside, has become a video game rather than a skillful handing of a blank canvas or a solid chunk of material with no shape until the artist makes it alive. I recently watched a film of a group of singers celebrating Pete Seeger performed at Lincoln Center (weird selection of songs) and there was one rapper in the group. He rapped when it came to him, but when it came to actual singing, the other performs sang in a group and he was silent. He was not a singer. Rap is very accessible, in that it's chanting poorly written couplets with no discernible meter and ridiculous end rhymes that don't rhyme to loud music?and some call it poetry. Significant poetry takes a little work but is very rewarding. When it becomes so cryptic and filled with  personal allusions no one but the poet knows, it's useless. You hear a joke and you don't understand it. Someone explains it to you, but do you laugh? No. You say, "I understand it." If someone has to "explain" a poem to you, it serves no purpose, has no effect. The poem should be written so the reader can connect with it in some way, even if it's not what the poet meant to communicate. I heard the singer Stevie Nicks (whom I love) express this same sentiment on the "poems" she writes for her wonderful songs. She generally uses love as a metaphor for other things. She's a little undisciplined and doesn't have the linguistic skills of let's say Marianne Moore, but they're lyrics, not poems, but she still moves me when she sings. I wrote of whole satire on what I on this subject I called "Letters to an Elderly Poet" (i't meant to be satirical while saying something about poetry). But few have read it. Oh, well. I guess I'll survive. I've gotten about thirty-five poems published in lit. mags—seven in Stand in Leeds, England, (the only mag. that seems to think anything of my work), and they have led to nothing, and I'm not aggressive as many poets are. Oh, well, I doubt if anyone with miss me.
      Addendum: Dylan winning the award this year is the last nail in the coffin. Take away the music and read the just read the lyrics, their laughable. Compare to Neruda, Yeats, Walcott, Brodsky, Montale, Seferis, Jiménez, Saint-John Perse, Eliiot, Paz, Pasternak, Saramago, and so on, Dylan's poetry is feeble. The lyrics without the music just lie flat on the page. His "poetry" is for those who don't read poetry—must Include the Nobel  committee to some degree. Its Nobel Peace prize is the most ridiculous.