“And the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” –Edgar Poe

The most acute horror in our Modern Age is French.

Start with the French Revolution stench

Of Sade. The guillotine impulse of a nation gone mad,

Replacing the sad and sober reason which seeks a view from above.

My father—devoted to my mother—my father, whom I trust and love,

Earned a master’s degree in history, and was only too glad

To inform me of Uncle Ho—heroically fighting for little Vietnam

Against the United States. Patriot? My dad wasn’t even a fan

Of America, having studied Charles Beard, who made the claim

The Founding Fathers were wealthy, opportunistic wits.

Any hope I, as a boy, would love my unique country, was blown to bits.

My father hated America, capitalism and the rich, so I felt the same.

Not that I can ever defend the horrible Vietnam war

Which created the righteous, radical, freak on one hand,

The duped flag-waver on the other; divided, both sides take a stand,

Irreconcilable, like the War Between the States, breaking in two, my beloved land;

This: The British Empire’s “divide and conquer” goal balkanizes all—

So at last, the globalizing ambition of cynical empire rules all.

The wonderful French, who helped the American Revolution win,

Succumbed to the Red Terror, and fell into theory and sin.

By the middle of the 19th century France joined Britain in making

The world a collection of weak states for the taking;

France and Britain used neutrality so the Confederacy dared

To win meat-grinder battle after battle, for recognition;

Russia, freeing her serfs, was the only major state who cared

America survive. It was a cruel world the French and British ushered in.

The Red Terror introduced the world to communism—it spread

By good yet weak ideals; after the Opium Wars—Free Trade fed

China’s debilitating stupor—Britain, France pushing opium’s largesse—

During the insanity of World War One, Russia changed to Soviet red;

Mad Germany and Japan’s genocidal Second World War menace

Saw Rousseau-influenced, U.S. hating, Mao win, and though

My father convinced me Ho fought heroically for Vietnam,

It was only later I found out more about Uncle Ho.

He belonged to the Chinese Communist party. He had a French education.

The vicious Pol Pot (hello Jimmy Carter) was schooled in France; first you go to bed

With French intellectuals, then in the spirit of the Red Terror, you turn red.

When backwards Khomeini, the Trojan Horse, was wheeled into Iran,

He arrived from Paris. French Leftists trumpeted Khomeini was the man

For beautiful Persia, though he was reactionary and villainous to the core;

French Impressionism (Abstract Painting trash) replaces History Painting; a tour

Of French cultural history since the Red Terror will make you see

The intellectual CIA, MI6, of leveling fanaticism, serving the same master,

Crushing reasonable lives and free nations while celebrating chaos and disaster.

If you must to listen to an intellectual, listen to me:

Love with your forgiving and devoted heart your mom and dad.

Give everyone a chance, never go on hearsay that someone is good or bad.

Run if French intellectuals speak, even if you spill your Amercan soda, your Indian tea,

Put “Republic” in your life, remember what is Divine and what is Comedy,

Love the wisdom of U.S. law, and the poetry which sings musically.


















The crazy think people are crazy

In a ratio of how much they are crazy.

In a text message my wife called me crazy,

Recalling a former lover’s text, calling me crazy,

And I thought, for a moment, all woman have one soul, which is crazy;

Women have different shapes, but one soul, which is crazy,

My lover and my wife, exactly the same, the same crazy;

All women who love you at first inevitably turn crazy,

Just because they realize, loving you, they were crazy,

And crazy always needs to convince itself it is not crazy;

I, of course, am crazy when I think the crazy are crazy,

Because one person is not crazy; we all live in crazy

And crazy cannot exist in one person. The all is crazy;

That’s why it seemed wife and lover had the same crazy;

There’s an all-encompassing all, which is crazy.

Within this crazy only the sanity of the individual is crazy,

Because only one at odds with crazy is crazy;

The whole thing cannot be crazy; only parts can be crazy,

And that’s why, using reason with wife, lover, I was called crazy;

Unless you join in with the Crazy All, you’ll be called crazy;

The only way not to be crazy is to join the crazy.

The One cannot be anything—everything disappears in the One;

So if you act like everyone else, you are not crazy—

But also you are not interesting, not loved, not loving. You are not crazy,

Because that’s what the crazy person so badly wants: not to be crazy.

We can safely avoid trouble, or lose a fortune—if we are lazy.

Time will tell if we are lucky—or if this is completely crazy.







Calculating the odds of three birthdays in a row,

My friend multiplies three hundred sixty five, three times.

Not three hundred sixty five times three,

But three hundred sixty five, times three hundred sixty five,

Times three hundred sixty five—which is a very large number.

The bigger the number, the lower the odds,

And the lower the odds, the closer to “a chance in hell,” or a “miracle.”

We cannot take our time; we have to find three birthdays in a row

Immediately, and that’s why we multiply instead of add.

My friend said “three random persons,” but what it really means

Is “three immediate persons.” Random is not quite right.

Charlie, Doris, and Sam in our office are all Leos,

And not only that, July 25, 26, and 27, next to each other;

And these odds are what we were playfully going for,

(And now it’s a poem. But still playing.)

But Charlie, Doris, and Sam are not “random” people;

They work in our office, we know them, and there’s nothing

Miraculous about them as it pertains to their birthdays.

There’s only 365 days in a year; to find one birthday match

I would only have to ask 365 people, and August 10th

Would step up and shake my hand, so why do we have to

Multiply 365 times 365? That number is too big, isn’t it?

Multiplying is just adding very fast; multiplying is merely fast addition.

Mathematics is about speed as well as amount.

So that big number is our denominator,

Which is what we are “going into,” the size of the army we attack.

And then we replace one, with three times two times one—

Or six—as the numerator; three calendar days on either side is an easier hit.

But yes, the big number, the denominator, is too big; the first birthday nothing,

The first birthday can be anywhere—the odds of the first are three hundred sixty five

Over three hundred sixty five, or one—or, no odds at all.

So three birthdays consecutively only need three sixty five

Multiplied by itself once, not twice. But hell, that’s still a big number—

Nearly impossible odds. Difficult enough to find a soulmate,

One born under the same star as you are: 365 to 1.

And then the next factor: that life’s circumstances will be favorable

To the two of you? Then we have to multiply 365 X 365,

And we get 133, 225 to 1. Those overwhelming odds

Say you will never be happy in love.

Happy birthday. I love you. Good luck.





It was easier with the previous president. He was “black,”

So I said to myself, I’m a good person, so, of course, I will like him.

But this new one calls up different sets of judgements

Which force me to consider silently the following:

“He’s a different party than the black one. Is it racist, then,

To support him? It would be wise to hear what those who like

The previous president say, because there are many of them,

And you can never prove for sure you are not racist

And I don’t want to be seen in a bad light by many people

For whatever reason, even if it doesn’t reflect who I am at all.”

If you think this poem is going to explain Edward Snowden

Or which billionaire or which younger, beautiful wife,

Or which amendment or which tarrif to support, you’re wrong.

If you think I can just love you, if I will love you, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.




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There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

It is not a myth; love does give the loved a glow.

When high mingles with low

Love mingles them. There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

The science prized, when dead things do work, or go,

Is the conspiracy of love. There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

Love feels, hears, sees. Love makes the passionate blood flow.

Love makes the birds fly—love makes music fast and slow—

Love makes the moon fly over those who sleep below.

Love, when loved, says yes to all. There’s nothing love doesn’t know.

But everything can offend love.

Once offended, forever, love

To all love says no.


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The critics have been saying—have you heard them?—

Art depicts truth making a collage of naked scenes,

And fiction tells truth, even when it lies.

Yes, fiction is true because, well, it’s real if you read it, or see it with your eyes.

What you see is true—whether made up, or not. The true

Is anything—even if it’s false—which has an impact on you.

So what is true? A spy for the CIA? LSD?

Pornographic comedy?

The truth is, truth has nothing to do with art at all.

It’s true the white guy, crushed for his poem in The Nation, was sincere,

But his poem lacked context. Even a polite, 19th century, audience

Would have asked, “What the hell is going on here?”

The more art says it is false, the more it is true;

The worst art announces the falsity of its reality to you.

So the greatest art, we must all agree, completely lies.

It is completely false, but sitting there, as true as can be, in your eyes.

Bad art is always inappropriate, even with its not-so-secret moral.

Life has morals and truth; art is merely the beautiful sadness of seeing,

Unless it have context. Only with context is art, love, life agreeing.

Life listens to morals it doesn’t want to hear.

You’ve had a difficult day. Let me read you this uncanny poem, dear.









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I ruined you—I’m sorry as I can be.

Love doesn’t ruin those who love,

But if you love, and try to flee,

Love frowns on that. With poetry.

Those in love are always making up their mind.

Is the other true? Beautiful? Kind?

I was true—and jealous; I knew

Those as loving as I wanted to love you, too.

I made up my mind, and you did not.

I loved more and you loved less, and there’s the whole plot.

I kept writing poems, but you went.

Poems you received, which I anxiously sent

Now languish. Lovers should stay away

From poems. Read news as poetry.

News is passionate. Poets are insulted, too.

News is good. Let the news ruin you.





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I will never express an opinion again.

She erupted in fury.

Okay then, I’ll tell you later, what’s the hurry?

If I’m alone, and it is beautiful, I will look,

And anything I like, will go in my book.

When I remember a strange dream I had,

One that makes me at the same time deeply happy and deeply sad,

As I struggle to remember it—I noticed this just yesterday—

Remembering a dream, by a dream smitten,

I struggle to remember, not as in life, but as if I were trying to remember something I had written.

So dreams have menacing, lucid images,

But the brain which lives with words

Is the brain that dreams,

And reality is nothing but light and dark

Mingling in beauty, and shaped by thoughts of schemes:

“I will make love to Ruth when she is alone in the corn,

And I will awake without dreams or disagreement. And all that seems

Will be nothing. And someone will be born.”

Or whatever grotesque ideas we say to ourselves when we are alone.

All opinions voiced will be contradicted, or marked down as vice.

And if it finds agreement, that’s a waste. To speak or love a beauty twice.




Shrinking experience is the only pleasure.

Too much for you to understand—and you rebel.

Endless vistas of people wrestling with truth

In complex urgency is the real description of hell.

The Chinese epigram of swift delight

Says drinking alone on a summer night

Surpasses all knowledge, and who cares if the epigram is right?

Later you may come to see,

“Too much drinking isn’t good for me,”

But so what? Let’s say your pleasure doesn’t come from drinking.

It still arrives when your world is shrinking,

When poetry, loyalty, music, a small square

Narrows your vision down to whatever you need to be there:

Velocity, a kiss, a promise, an eye that looks,

A thank you—to preface all endings which introduce all books

You happen to read, while waiting

For your life to start: A long, ambiguous love. A sweet, sharp hating.








I, the poem, would like to introduce

My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Prose.

Scholars say that poetry is subtle,

And hiding secrets is how poetry knows.

But I would like to defend my parents,

Who keep more secrets than I.

Scholars say poetry is more subtle—but that’s a lie.

My parents understand there are things we should not say

And the poem is trouble, and needs to stay out of the way.

Prose is long. Prose can read novels all day.

Your jokes were mean. Digression is your hell.

Prose is professional in what it doesn’t tell.

Business and politics know this, because they have something to sell.

But the poem will blurt out the truth in front of your very nose.

Condolences and flowers will be sent to Mrs. Prose.



The only chance poetry has,

Thinks this poem, is not that it was

Once more beautiful then,

When evening lights four summers ago surrounded

You and her in doubt—

The stranger’s echoing shout

From the darkness sounded

Like the end of something—

No, that the sound now

Which creeps into your ears

Conveys to you precisely how

Sound is where the best sights occur;

Isn’t this where poetry has been hiding for years?

Sweet speech, giving up its intricacy,

As if that slow piece by Eric Satie,

Blocking out all the hullabaloo,

Loves her best, but tonight comforts you.




A woman will get her way

Because she is a woman, but not today.

The sun shines with neutral energy

On poor, downtrodden me,

Part broken heart, part headache, part poetry.

A colorful jazz boat

Remains bravely afloat,

Built by someone who hates jazz.

An ancient wood working expertise

Makes sure musical sleaze

Is bouncing off the harbor,

Lending bad taste to the traveling water.

With iambic pentameter I celebrate the past

As the mighty sun, falling fast,

Brings the smooth night, where I will make a child at last.

Innocent, this child, but a child afflicted soon

By the feminine unhappiness of the darting moon.



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I’m in the game you’re losing,

And by winning—such are the rules of the game—

I (winning because I’m sensitive) feel the pain of your losing,

And you, loser, are angry and full of blame;

Your anger is why you’re losing; thankfully I’m not the same;

I’m winning because you’re losing—another rule of the game.

We have an alchemy, we affect each other, we are interested

In each other, and will be until we are dead.

Love and wisdom is measured by how materially

You feel and stretch your influence and interact with all.

I do this with my soul and poetry;

I don’t need to pick you up in a car, or call.

There is always your country and your body

And loyalty to these is strong and beautiful,

But the world—your soul—has another place to go;

It might be Athens, the academy, Socrates or Plato,

A place we seek to better ourselves; the United States

Is the present day Athens, the place where the world seeks its soul,

And the world is one—the ether of the world moves as a whole.

Loser, you live in my world, and all the poets reading what we do,

Hear the sighs I make while I’m writing, but I’m not writing anything to you.

I don’t need to do anything to know what you are doing;

As you know, the winning like to know,

But there is a game and everything you are doing

Is in the game everyone is in. So I know.

Isn’t it funny how the tiniest clue

Can tell you everything about a person who is hiding everything from you

Because they know they are losing? And you

Win, because you are doing something so obvious, no one notices what you do?




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When sleep gave me sleep I slept.

I never forgot what I learned.

I recalled the flame, the heat, the smoke,

The ash, and, in the dark, everything that had burned.

All that vanished I kept.

All I lost, I knew;

It was inclusive and deliberate,

From the small additions to the large loss of you.

Love will give you things

And then those things will drift away

But love gave you those things,

So those things do not go away.

When sleep gave me sleep I slept.

And every dream named as lost, I kept.

When sleep gave me sleep, I slept.

I slept better and better, night after night,

Each night, better in my memory, and better, much better, the light.

When sleep gave me sleep I slept.

That little box by my bed? Look and see what I kept.




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Bob Mueller says I must hate the Russians,

So I guess that’s what I’ll do.

Well look at that jaw on Bob Mueller!

He must impress you, too.

A woman on the internet asked me how I could support Putin.

And then she asked me about abortion,

And I thought she was changing the subject,

But one cannot change the subject these days; everyone is suspect.

She used the term “reproductive rights” with the authority

Which comes from using such words. She admired my poetry

But she was deeply disappointed in me, I could tell.

Didn’t I support abortion? Oh that. I said I did. What the hell.

Look. On this summer day Hitler will attack Russia.

It’s there on his To Do List. “Kill millions.”

Rise from bed. Shower. Breakfast. Kill millions. It’s what we all must do.

Pick out your favorite hand bag. Your best evidence. You come, too.





Do you really want to hurt me?

Of course you do.

Love needs to be mean.

What else is new?

Love needs to drift into other feelings,

The kindly pastor have other dealings

Than with the passionate son.

When the musician pauses, and the music

Has to steal away,

Into a theme of slower tempo which the wood winds play,

You will know why—when the music’s slow movement is done—

The opening having been the best harmony you’ve heard today,

Making statement after statement in the key of E,

A key which now has you thinking differently,

The forest, though old and green, will never quite be the same.

She would bring you here and call you by your name.

This is better than people: a solitary seat in mid-spring with the hazy sun

Spread out above you, and here she is, she is the only one,

Who lives for you somewhat tenderly and indifferently.

Legs pressed together, she whispers, “Do you really want to hurt me?”

Before she gets up to go.

It is never necessary to be on time, you know.






Beautiful fake news. Poetry.

Senstive and fake. You and me.

“Since he left me, he’s not worthy,”

Says the rose of best selling poetry.

Beautiful, 60s angel! Joni Mitchell!

Senstive, lovely, and totally fake:

“They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum,

And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em.”

You are beautiful, you sweet and lovely mistake.

Don’t tell me I don’t love trees. I love trees.

Don’t you see? It’s fake news. Fake news is the real disease.



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Take me to the very brink of desire

Where the fire is hot, but I am not killed by the fire,

And the beauty of limb and breast and face

Makes me lose myself, but not in disgrace.

Let me stay intact, even as the parts

Of me scatter, as if there were a thousand hearts

Necessary to love her.  Did you know in these times

Professors recommend against poetry that rhymes?

Don’t worry, I don’t believe the experts,

Or what they say about hearts.

Give me two contrary moods together,

Dionysian madness and Apollonian cool;

The only way passion can last forever

Is to mix the judgement of the priest with the love of the lowest fool.

Kiss me in the two extremes.

Meet me in white light; embrace me in dark dreams.






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Now I understand

The endless grains of sand;

I understand why

There is endless sky.

I know why when I walk along,

There is endless bird song,

Why a lake is not the last lake,

And why forever and infinity are not fake.

It is so you can be;

Of all, you a possibility;

And away from all that hurts and kills,

We can walk the endless hills.




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I need to explain my obsessive love. Nature makes women passive,

Yet in control, slowing the aggressive rush of the foolish male.

I’m not aggressive. Okay, no big deal; let the women be aggressive.

Nature lays down the template, but not all obey.

Nature, wise, knows to leave open more than one way.

There are males so passive, they have children

With women they do not love or pursue.  But “have children”

Is what nature wants—aggressive women are fine, then.

But many males are aggressive, to a stupid, reckless degree.

The average woman is strongly passive, and takes no interest in me.

Women prefer the meaty guy, solid and unwavering,

Nature’s model most conductive to solid, common sense breeding.

Me?  I’m as skinny as a girl, and can’t make up my mind.

Nature has varieties, but also creates kind for kind.

A certain kind of moody, aggressive woman pursuing me

Had been the sum total of my romance and sexuality.

Enter Rosalinda. She is my obsession. Can you love one forever?

How did she defy the infinite combinations?

How did she make it so that beside the millions I love only her?

Rosalinda! A story for all people, and all nations!

Desires and children pour forth, but there is only one love like this!

Rosalinda! Rosalinda! To say her name. Only her arms. Only her kiss.

Only her! Only poetry and philosophy for her. Rosalinda.

All my troubles come from this: aggressive women leave me cold.

The aggressive woman who nature decided is right for me

I accepted. As nature’s male, I accepted nature’s women—

But I never loved aggressive women. I was passive,

And I was unhappy in my passivity. Rosalinda made me bold.

Rosalinda, modeled in nature’s perfection, was strongly passive,

And drew out of me, by slow degrees, my male aggression,

Which I had never known. And like all obsession, Rosalinda,

In the way her passivity madly enticed me, was what fate had to be.

She knew I was passive, and Rosalinda was incomplete, like me.

Rosalinda had the gift of passive female genius, proper to entice

Any aggressive male—she was beautiful, passive, and not too nice.

Her passivity was perfectly designed to feed my fire, and my desire

Was fed by her—who showed me her charms, oh charming fires of ice.

I was made aggressive by her, who was passive, and she knew

In her discerning passivity, aggressive wasn’t something I could do.

And though nature made her passive, as the most desirable women are,

Like me, Rosalinda was different. Rosalinda loved under a different star.

Beneath her natural passivity, Rosalinda was aggressive, and so she

Was not fully happy. She caused me to love, but couldn’t quite love me.

Unkind fate. Rosalinda was not equipped to complete nature’s plan.

She did not want children. Rosalinda had the gift to attract a passive man,

And turn him aggressive—which nature wants males to be.

But Rosalinda’s refusal used love to punish the passive side of me,

And her perfect female passivity, even today, deeply unsettles me.

I, the passive one, loved her aggressively. She, the aggressive one,

Loved me passively. Oh Rosalinda. Look what we have done.

Rosalinda has wasted her genius, alone, barren, and sad.

I grieve for Rosalinda! Though with poetry, desire, children, I should be glad.



















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Why are there these obvious truths we somehow never see?

Why don’t you see the obvious, which is terribly obvious to me?

Why do you court ignorance, and not study the history?

Why dance a certain dance and not ask, what is dance?

Why do you think you know, and never give yourself a second chance

To better know, to winnow, to sort, to observe, to enhance?

Why do you practice such certainty?

Why do you fear doubt, which is your greatest friend?

Why are you certain there is no God and everything will end?

Why do you receive and receive, but never think to send?

When I was bullied in school, I didn’t say a word,

Because I believed that bullying was absolutely absurd,

Like fighting yourself—so I crept away and wrote a word,

And studied it, and wrote a poem I called, “Absurd.”

And showed it to my father, who couldn’t figure it out.

I said it was a poem, but he frowned in complete doubt.

He asked me about the bully. The real bully. The real lout.

He told me, “If a bully picks on you, put him in his place.”

He said, “Protect yourself. Punch him. Wipe certainty off his face.

Poems…? Listen, they won’t change the human race.”

And that began my poetic career;

I questioned poetry. As I am questioning here.

Distance, indifference. Middle distance, beauty. Up close, fear.

Haven’t you noticed beauty in a person disappears up close?

A face is beautiful, until you just look at the nose.

I need perspective, discernment, measurement, dose.

Why would you fail to experiment? Why would you fail to question all?

Not study love like a scientist before you wound and fall?

And finally, why would you play a tall person, if you aren’t tall?

It all doesn’t come from you. Life exists in a certain way.

Limits exist. Know when to rebel, and when to obey.

If the sea and the wind and the sun say so, stay.

Why are there these obvious truths we always somehow ignore?

Because they are hidden by your thoughts? Because they don’t reassure?

Don’t look for reassurance. Look for the one

Thing so obvious you don’t see it. You’re not done.



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I hate to be the one to say this,

Since I am a woman in the body of a man,

And if the poem says this because it can,

Please don’t be offended or sad,

Even with your smothering mother, your absent dad;

I think you can sympathize and understand.

This poem just came to me; it wasn’t planned.

If you listen to this poem’s opinion on sex,

Try not to think about your mother, father, or your ex,

And your husband, is that him in the next room?

Dead to the marriage, writing a poem in a cloud of gloom?

Try not to think about anyone, and let me state

It wasn’t your fault, it was merely fate

That you fell in love with a woman hiding

In a slender, tall, regular-looking guy you had fun deriding

As Woody Allen, intellectual, yes that’s me—

With anxious parents, finding an outlet in theater and poetry.

I never had surgery to get woman and man

To belong to my soul; all I use is metaphor and a certain inner feel,

And with my slender hand, occasionally turn the wheel.

It’s ironic that only the pretty feminine face—

Oh fast moving, pitiful, dying human race!

Looks good in the haircut of a man.

Don’t try to be beautiful; beautiful can only do what it can.

The woman wants only two things from a man,

Kids and a good salary—she’s miserable without these

And also miserable if she doesn’t know she wants these.

And the man is miserable for the same reason, unless he writes

As the most unhappy being

You had the good fortune of reading—or seeing.











The human is a ridiculous species,

Pushing out babies as it pushes out feces.

The definition of the soul?

Simply that which understands the whole,

And with this understanding forgives the whole sorry mess

Of being human in the ignorant brevity of its acute distress.

Men are hard-wired to conquer, build, kill,

And love pathetically in accordance with fantasy and will.

Women are expert at fooling themselves and others,

Which they must do, to love, to become mothers,

Hand in hand with the creepy, unworthy example

Of calculating, indoor males, wholly selfish and not beautiful,

Or the rugged male outdoor type, running off to climb a hill

Or kick a ball; propagation never meant to fulfill

Anyone, but necessarily pushing onto a future state

Otherwise empty, beating into submission children, hate,

And all the impulses which desire blindly seeks,

So in a whole lifetime, the sum of happiness is a couple of weeks,

When in delight and trust we find bliss here and there

By accident, joy in the face of necessity, so rare,

The whole enterprise such a doubtful, aging mess,

That the hungry world, pressing down, forces out a yes,

As we curl into wakeful sleep with a little music, fast, or slow,

A worrisome vacation beginning, and that yes meant no.



It was your fate not to know
She was at the airport.  You had to go
Right away. And you didn’t.  She almost didn’t wait,
But you’ll never know she was there, and not to know this fact is your fate;
The others think it’s a tragedy you dreamed,
And did not know. But only ignorance will be redeemed.

It was your fate not to know
She fought for you. To you, it looked like nothing but a distant glow.
But the enemy and the flames almost broke through the gate,
Which she defended for you with the energy of hate.
She almost died for you while you dreamed;
But let that go. Your ignorance will be redeemed.

It was your fate not to know
She had been waiting for you, not him.
By chance, you secretly observed her lingering below.
You made the wrong assumption and assumptions grew
Into truth—but truth only for you.
Insults sprang from that mistake. You became a mistake that dreamed.
She’s justified in hating you now. But only ignorance will be redeemed.


Image result for india july

Welcome to another installment of Indian Poetry, where Scarriet briefly engages each month with 7 contemporary poets from India who write in English. For the English-speaking reader, World Letters, for a few minutes, is spread out here before you, accessible in all its beauty and complexity. Scarriet does not cheer or flatter—the opinions are sincere.

Tabish Khair writes essays and novels, and his poems (published by a major publisher) read like good prose—which could be good or bad, depending on what you want from your poetry. Poetry is the fine dining of food. We want our poetry to be cooked with the best ingredients—that is, we want our poets to be slightly smarter than our prose writers, be slightly more educated, have a few more ideas—as they whip up the magic preparation of what we call poetry.

There are thousands of poets whose poems rise to a certain prose competence, and there is always a feeling when reading their poetry, even with some admiration: I wish this were less like prose and more like poetry.

Tabish Khair is, unfortunately, one of these extremely competent poets. Take the first stanza of “Nurse’s Tales, Retold:”

Because the east wind bears the semen smell of rain,
A warm smell like that of shawls worn by young women
Over a long journey of sea, plain and mountains,
The peacock spreads the Japanese fan of its tail and dances,
And dances until it catches sight of its scaled and ugly feet.

The first line has two wonderful things going for it: a lovely iambic rhythm and an arresting phrase, “semen smell of rain.”

But the second line is pure prose:  It explains. It uses too many words. And, the music is dull. And the effect is…well, we’re now reading prose…”A warm smell like that of shawls worn by young women.”

The difference is startling.  Put “the semen smell of rain” next to “shawls worn by young women.” There’s no musical correspondence whatsoever. The poem turned into a novel after one line.

Khair’s lyric subjects, and his acute sensitivity to those subjects, are exquisite.

Of course it is asking a lot for a poet to be lyrically exquisite in every line.


Akhil Katyal understands what poetry is—journalism which tells important news by recounting small things. Most importantly, he is witty; he also feels deeply; and he does his research—one could easily see him writing investigative prose pieces for Vanity Fair, the New York Times, or the New Yorker. (Katyal is a college poetry teacher)

Is poetry journalism?

Today, the best of it is—educated readers these days read journalism and novels; they don’t read much poetry, and so a poet strikes a compromise: let my poem be a journalistic essay—detailed, factual, up-to-date, like any decent piece of journalism, one-sided? Sure. Maybe political, maybe not.

But finally, and this is what a good poet like Katyal does—add a touch of sentimentality, just a touch, and widen the time/space window, so the whole, at last, seems more poetry than journalism.

Here’s an excellent example (notice the journalism: “ozone,” etc) from Akhil Katyal, (and a fine poem):

For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now

How are you?
I’m sure a lot has changed

between my time and yours,
but we’re not very different,

you have only thing on me—

I have all these questions for you:
Do cars fly now?

Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?
How do you folks manage without ozone?

Have the aliens come yet?
Who is still remembered from my century?

How long did India and Pakistan last?
When did Kashmir become free?

It must be surprising for you
looking at our time,

our lives must seem so strange to you,
our wars so little

our toilets for “men” and “women”
must make you laugh

our cutting down of trees
would be listed in your “Early Causes”

our poetry in which the moon is still
a thing far away

must make you wonder, both for that moon
and for poetry.

You must be baffled,
that we couldn’t even imagine

the things you now take for granted.
But let that be,

would you do me a favor,
for “old time’s sake”?

Would you go to Humayun’s Tomb
In what used to be Delhi

and just as you’re climbing the front stairs,
near the fourth step, I have cut into

the stone wall to your left-
“Akhil loves Rohit”

Will you go and look for it?
Make sure it’s still there?


Anand Thakore, with a musical, and ‘some schooling in England,’ background, was a real delight for this critic to discover.

Is Thakore known in America? A poem like “Elephant Bathing” almost needs no comment—it is that good.

Note how much is going on in the poem, driven by a Wordworthian mental energy, and expressed with such ease and clarity:

He will never go there again,
Hip-flask in pocket, camera at hand,
Far from the crowded confines
Of the human animal he could not trust,
To the lush cricket-choired thickets
He so jealously loved;
Dense, creeper-canopied spaces
Where he would listen eagerly
For the sudden slither of a python’s tail,
Or the persistent mating calls of leopard and crane,
Studying the stealthy ways of predator and prey,
Till panther, bison, hyena and stag
Seemed part of a single guileless continuum
He had only begun to see his part in.
Now home and city hunt him down,
Building about him their busy labyrinth
Of doctors, nurses, brothers, and sons;
Though tiger and spotted deer remain,
Frozen above his bed in black and white.
An egret pecks noiselessly at a crocodile’s jaws,
As pale flamingoes, stripped irretrievably of their pinks,
Leap into a flight forever deferred.
Where you are going, they seem to say,
You will have no need for us or all you remember.
And yet the thought of getting there is not unlike
A great lone tusker taking the plunge,
His vast grey bulk sinking below the riverline
Against a clear black sky,
Till there is no more of him to see
Than a single tusk,
White as a quarter-moon in mid-July,
Before the coming of a cloud.

There is more poetry in Anand Thakore’s hyphens than in most poets’ metaphors.

The lovely syntax, which ends in lines like, “He had only begun to see his part in,” is magnificent. The worst praise given to Thakore would be to praise his grammar—as powerful, smooth and sure as the instinct of an animal—because grammar makes most poets, as poets, uncomfortable—which is a terrible shame.

Anand Thakore, on every poetic level, is a master.

Jeet Thayil is the classic ventriloquist-as-poet—there exists a happy estrangement between the poet and himself: he, who is never amused, and lives in a kind of continual panic—talks directly to himself, for his own amusement.

There are those who “try and write a poem for others to read,” and then there are those who write for themselves alone, and, after it’s finished, say, “Oh! that will do for a poem.”  Thayil is very much in the latter camp, and really, it’s the better camp to be in.

This state of splitting oneself up—“I’m going to start talking to myself now—not going to write a poem!—just talking!…” is the ventriloquism of the poet talking through (during?) the poem—we doubt the ghostly voice coming through the poem and we doubt the ghostly poem itself, but somewhere in the back of our brains the two meet up, and all is good.

Ultimately, any trick—the one practiced by Thayil, or any other—to “make what you’re writing seem like poetry” is going to have the same effect as the leaf which ‘gives off green,’ which looks green, but has no green in it—the poetry is a sign there is no poetry at all in the person who is crying to us “as a poet.”  The poet is hollow, empty—a ghost.  And this awareness that one is hollow is the one thing which makes the poet feel aesthetic, or, if aesthetics is not a hang-up, reassured.  And, of course, the projected voice, which wants no part of the poet, is a ghost, too.

As we would expect, a desperation of ghosts exist everywhere in Thayil’s poetry.

Life Sentence

Let’s say you’re not opposed to the ghost
in principle, you understand her neediness,
and let’s say she’s distracted, or busy,
she’s busy looking for a way back in,
but the shore appears distant,
not to mention, impossible to attain,
a far-off place where her former friends
no longer speak her name, which is lost,
and no word she hears is audible
through the static and the clatter;
so let’s say you forget to speak her name,
you do not repeat her lovely name,
because your talk is of meat and money,
and let’s say you’re not crazy or bitter,
it’s just that you don’t want to hear her say,
Why, why did you not look after me?


Saima Afreen writes apocalyptic poetry—the kind where the end of the world is in every line; blood, stars, milk, grandparents, fire—a blinding, cosmic rhetoric makes the reality described in the poems resemble a few seconds after a nuclear blast; the shower of debris is the poetry—blown to bits by poetry, covering us in ash; the quotidian is gone; and this is both the weakness and the strength of such poetry.  We have the ability to absorb such verse, but the verse seems almost eager, at times, to destroy that ability.

Squeezed sunset
Adds its fire to blood;
the skin holds kilns
of centuries, flickering, melting
lifting rusted letter-boxes
by their roots, the frost within
the struggle of light.

Is how her poem, “Valediction” begins.

Saima Afreen writes fiercely, her poetry lifting us up in its arms, to put us down, who knows where.


Anupama Raju is mystical, playful, strange, and, when not too abstract, or self-resigned, a very strong poet.

Everyday Sounds

The neighbour slams the door,
swearing at an unwelcome milkman,
expects his next guest to arrive –
the other he would like to murder.

The lady upstairs grates a coconut,
drags a chair across the room,
hopes it will drown the argument
with the other whom she cannot hate.

The child downstairs wails,
holds a gun to her parent’s head,
screaming for the brother’s toy –
the other she wouldn’t grow up with.

You chew weak tea without slurping,
read the papers, talk of the world’s woes
in your succulent prose while I respond in insipid poetry –
the other language you don’t acknowledge.

I continue to speak.

The apartment house chaos is described well—especially in the second stanza, with the half-rhymed stanza of “coconut, room, argument, hate.”

Is it wrong to wish the poet had fought a little harder in the final stanza?

“I respond in insipid poetry—the other language you don’t acknowledge. I continue to speak” is perhaps meant to be other than what it seems, but to me, it seems like surrender. It’s impossible to pronounce “in insipid” without sounding insipid.  The sounds of the apartment house are more interesting, and perhaps this is the point. Is “I continue to speak” meant to be heroic, helpless, or both?  Raju is teasingly mystical, and if you don’t ask too many questions, I think you’ll quite enjoy her poetry.


Sujatha Mathai has published five books of poems; she uses poetry to—inspire.

Almost 500 years ago, in his Sonnets, Shakespeare asked, what is poetry’s “use?”  It turned out, for Shakespeare, it was simple: to inspire romance, marriage, and reproduction.

One goes back further in history and finds “The Art of Love” by Ovid, which gave advice to lovers.

Contemporary views on love have taken a darker turn, as more and more voices are heard, many struggling with grim survival, and the urgency of love and breeding has been replaced by U.N.-type concerns of individual rights and sustainability.

In the following poem by Mathai, the pragmatic grandmother has the most interesting line—it’s the latter part of the poem (which we sympathize with, of course) which unfortunately becomes a bit abstract.


“He who seeks light must learn to walk in the dark” —St. John of the Cross

When I was seventeen
And dreaming of distant lands
And faraway loves,
My grandmother said
‘Get her married
before the light
goes out of her face.’
The light in a woman’s face
Should not be so brief.
It’s meant to last a long time,
Nourished by the soul.
Well, they got me married,
put out that light.
But I learned to live in candle-light
When the other lights went out.
One learns by subtle contact to reach
Electricity at most mysterious levels.
Light goes from the face, but
Survival lends one light
that shines most brightly.
She who seeks light,
Must learn to walk in the darkness
On her own road.


This ends our July report. Thanks, as always, to Linda Ashok, the inspiration for this international sharing.



Image result for milky way

The shape of a hand, the hip

Which swings beneath a dress,

The smoothness of a brow, an upper lip,

A plea marked by intelligence and distress,

An eye which sparkles in our direction,

A nonchalance, a hidden desire,

A face, which after friendly inspection,

Intimates a wild and daring fire

Might give us comfort beneath cool trees,

Or warm us listening to music together in bed,

Or make deciding which positions give us ease

A thing to love, or a rapturous kiss, instead,

A laugh which we find easy to return,

A hope, heaven imagined mutually,

A decision to stay, to agree, to turn

Another way and still love that other way greedily.

The sweet revenge of a deep wrong,

Justice in tears, in a heart, in a song.

Things which make us love go on forever,

The origin of country, the history

Of race, the flooding of a particular river,

The ancient slavery that today breaks free,

The respect of children and family,

Attachment to nature, fate, brave modesty;

All things make us love.

The turning of the moon below us, the silent stars silent above.


Your biggest mistake was hating the normal.

Well, you didn’t know what the normal was.

And so your rebellion was unwise.

You confused eccentric costume for the normal and its disguise.

Since the language of music is universal,

The more popular the music, the more normal,

Since humanity, in total, is by definition, normal;

There is no other way to love than to be normal.

To hate the normal is a fruitless obscurity—

A desolate, inarticulate, poverty,

Hating beauty, happiness, profit—in idiocy and envy.

There is no way to be successful, in social relations, science, or rhyme,

Than to please the normal, in the most normal way possible, all the time.

If you think the normal lacks idiosyncrasy and passion, you are wrong.

You are tedious and crazy. Everyone loves my song.




Image result for george martin in studio with beatles

After failing auditions, George Martin

Decided to take them on

Simply because they were funny.

Really? How does that translate into love songs making money?

Are comedians good musicians?

Perhaps. But these lads had failed auditions.

It turned out Martin was right. He knew

That humor is generally bold and smart,

Can tell a story, and humor hides a broken heart.

Humor also covers the hostility of rivalry

And transforms it into love. He could see

The fierce kidding of rivals, John and Paul,

Might be the impetus to conquer all.

Humor likes surprise, finds a way, is pliable.

Martin, knowing his own musicianship reliable,

Felt, with empathy, he might engineer

Success, with patience and a ruthless ear.

Finally, and this is perhaps the best

Advantage of humor: the studio is a test

Of patience as one produces a song,

Singing, playing, writing, recording can all go wrong.

Humor keeps one going between takes,

Between all the faking pop music makes.

“Do you want to hold a penis?” as they wait.

Time and work is important to make a band great,

“Do You Want To Know A Secret?” is heard

And loved. Not the 32nd take, but the 33rd,

And the engineer erased what didn’t sound right.

For George Martin it was a hard day’s night.

In the beginning, doubt. Love Me Do

Was Paul’s. Not bad. But they all knew

They had to do better. Nothing is easy.

John stepped up with Please Please Me

Because he knew he could do better than Paul.

“Last night I said these words to my girl,”

Had dramatic immediacy; John had won.

This song would be their first number one.

But George Martin—who made the prophecy

That it would be number one—with empathy,

Did not reject it, but increased the tempo,

And it all went well. Until humorless Yoko.








She will hate you until she is dead,

And the burning moon will always be red

Unless it fly up in the blue,

Pale, white and oblivious to you.

Why is it red? It shines through the atmosphere.

Hate and misunderstanding are here.

The moon like a terrible omen,

Helpless and red, like a dying Roman,

Symbolizes the silent hate,

Of her, your enemy, who lies in wait.

The worst enemy is one you loved,

The worst enemy is one who loved you.

The worst enemy is one you kissed,

And you held in the act of love.

Love turned to hate is a terrible crime,

Oh God! To be resolved only in helpless rhyme!

Your love who graced the night

Now loves someone else, in spite.

Your love who graced the day

Is now an enemy, who will never go away.

The moon, the end of a cigarette,

A symbol of passivity. You must passively regret.

Nothing hates like love—see now how it hates.

Sad, the parting. But now the hateful enemy waits.

The moon burns like a cigarette end,

The red ash of a heart—who once loved you, and vowed she would always be your friend.














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