SAYING IT WITHOUT SAYING IT

Image result for sleeplessness in painting

Saying it without saying it

Is the entire creed of the poet.

He will read you, slowly, Swinburne,

Or Wordsworth. To love? Or learn?

He wants you to live beside

His verses of inspiration; the fertile ground

Where, together, you and he may hide,

Greenery shaped to your desires—

Whether it is wet, or steep, or round.

The poet announces when the poem is over;

He says when the inspiration quits;

He loves you almost as much as he loves other poets.

A poem keeps reading him.

A semi-colon keeps him up.

A poem has the night figured out;

It knows every moment. Though sleepless and full of doubt.

He failed to say whether he would be

Able to live with you. Read his poetry;

There you might hear

Of pearl and white; that was a tear;

He didn’t say; he didn’t say;

He failed; it’s true—he loved you entirely.

And aren’t you a poet, too?  Don’t we cry, “I didn’t love them enough?”

Why can’t you say it? “I love! I love!”

 

THE ATTEMPT TO OWN

Image result for man reading the newspaper in painting

The attempt to own the things we see

Is impossible. It was easier to own me.

All you had to do was fall in love—and be

Everything that I might call my poetry.

Now I register everything you do,

Even faintly, by a rumor, but it’s you; it’s you:

In things I read about—we no longer talk,

In things I remember—we no longer walk

Side by side; in things—is that really you,

Doing, I hear, what I know you never used to do?

You are changing for the better, you

Own me. It’s nearly nothing. But you do.

 

 

WHEN YOU SEE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS HAPPY

Image result for woman laughing in black and white photo

When you see someone who looks happy

It is no proof they are happy.

You and I have been around long enough to know that.

Happiness is inarticulate and solemn as a cat.

Someone who makes a great deal of noise is not happy.

They are letting off steam. (But I wouldn’t tell them that.)

If you see someone with a chainsaw, who is trying to get things done,

Or a clerk, in a freezing mist, who insists he has to run,

You don’t think of happiness, or song.

Do you see that woman over there, the one who is laughing?

She loved me once.  Ask her if there is something wrong.

OREGON

Image result for oregon black and white photo

So you’re going to Oregon!

Rosalinda! Why is the one

Remaining—who says goodbye—

Always full of tears,

And the one who leaves for Oregon

The one who hasn’t cried in years?

Go to Oregon.

I don’t care. I’m not one

Who usually cries.

But Oregon? You caught me by surprise.

In the quaint Northeast I have my books.

Go then. Go to Oregon, with its mountain looks

And its colorful meadows, vast.

I still have my tears. I still have the past.

You will leave the mess

Of your other decisions, always saying yes,

Ignoring my no.

Okay. You never listened to me. Go.

I will put to bed every decision you made.

Enjoy the dark you love. I’ll enjoy my shade.

You have no family and friends there, you

Are just going. Go. I hate the going, too.

There you go. To Oregon, with your dry eye.

And of course! You don’t know. You don’t know why.

 

 

 

 

 

DANGER

Image result for sheep and dog in renaissance painting

Man’s best friend viciously attacks the stranger.

What you felt was love. Or was it danger?

Stand up for yourself until this ends.

The truth doesn’t matter. As long as you have friends.

The isolated tree is not really alone.

You, in bed. Your isolated groan.

One of many in your head, as you can’t sleep.

A comfort, I suppose, if your friends weep.

If they can’t do anything, are they friends?

Take this letter, give it to the boy

Who sings, and writes poetry, and guards the sheep.

Protection is the beginning of the ploy.

Is this defense? Or what it defends?

CINEMA AND POETRY: A REVIEW OF THE UNCOLLECTED DELMORE SCHWARTZ, BEN MAZER, EDITOR

Image result for DELMORE SCHWARTZ

I began to think about a whole lot of things as I was finishing Ben Mazer’s introduction to The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz, just published by Arrowsmith Press.

How does a poet exist in an unpublished, uncollected, or unnoticed state?

How much does the critical and editorial apparatus impact how society apprehends a poet?

Ben Mazer—and hopefully, very soon, many more—will be answering these questions as they pertain to the wonderful, but increasingly neglected writer, Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966).

I was thinking about the cinema, the modern poet as movie-lover, and how this might contribute to the “uncollected” reality of Delmore Schwartz—an author editors and publishers have never known quite what to do with.

Delmore Schwartz burst upon the world in 1937, by way of the Partisan Review crowd in New York City.

Ben Mazer, born in New York City, and raised in Cambridge (Delmore attended Harvard) and a splendid poet himself, is also a daring and sleuth-like editor: Mazer’s ‘Uncollected Schwartz” is a gem.

Mazer’s well-researched work features various genres: poem, story, essay, review, symposium memoir. Which is nice, because Schwartz excelled at them all.

But is this the problem of Delmore Schwartz’s reputation?  “Various genres?”

The poets America loves generally don’t get involved in other aspects of writing.

Where are the essays of W.S Merwin, the plays of Robert Frost, the criticism of Emily Dickinson, the novels of T.S. Eliot, the short stories of Ezra Pound?  No, somehow it diminishes the poet to not be, in terms of output, a poet.  The occasional essay on poetry is allowed, but that’s it.

Schwartz, the writer of variety, is like Poe, in this regard.

But even as Poe worked in, and even invented, or furthered, a number of genres, the 19th century Virginian—limited critically by the “macabre” label—stuck mostly to short pieces—and Poe mostly finished, thankfully, what he started; the single exception, a play.

Schwartz abandoned what seems like hundreds of writing projects.  A prodigy lauded early in his career, winning praise for a short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” Schwartz became bogged down in overly ambitious attempts at the long and unwieldy—a pity, for this modern talent should have followed Poe’s advice: the complexity of modernity requires brevity.

Schwartz didn’t use Poe as a guiding star. Both writers shared a certain quixotic arrogance; Poe obeyed form as a writer; Schwartz often did not, and ended up without an epidermis.

Looking back, Schwartz was best, by far, as a short story writer—as good as anyone in the 20th century—but his splendid efforts in this genre, strangely, seem to have only added to a literary reputation of promise followed by insanity, failure and waste.

No one, including Schwartz himself, wished Schwartz to be pegged as a writer of short fiction. The fiction world doesn’t always know what to do with poets, especially the ones who enter as poets first, fiction writers second. Had the order been reversed, Schwartz might have enjoyed a greater social stability.

Schwartz had two sides:

1. the doubtful, sentimental, highly emotional, poet

2. the crass, witty, profoundly wise, and pitiless, critic.

Fiction allowed these two sides to often mingle and shine.

Literary essays allowed Delmore Schwartz insights to peek out.  I’m not a big fan of High Modernism, but when Delmore writes on Stevens, Eliot, Auden, I feel a certain pride. Delmore’s intelligence as a critic is stunning.

Schwartz drowned in modernist self-pity, focused too much on the contemporary in his essays, and wasted too much time on long poems.

Otherwise, there was no stopping Mr. Delmore Schwartz.

One could argue Schwartz is a major poet. But poetry was a disturbing, and not really a friendly, medium for him.

The acerbic, joking, philosophy, the impatient, stuttering, thin-skinned, reflective, doubting, self-pity—all these things which the complex torrent of Delmore Schwartz was—freely articulated in poetry of the loose and modern manner, resulted more often than not, in opportunity by a genius missed.

The moderns who encouraged him were the “modern” moderns, the ones who turned their backs on Poe and everything before Rimbaud, and who liked the idea of residing in 1922 and nowhere else. The obscure heft of Joyce and Pound were unfortunately touchstones for New York City’s highly introspective genius, one who passionately saw through Pound, the person, and rejected him. Rimbaud began it all for the “modern” moderns, and so it’s not at all surprising Schwartz found himself, as a yet lauded and reputed poetic prodigy, hurrying into print a translation of Rimbaud, an imaginative English version of the Frenchman’s “Season in Hell”—almost universally ridiculed in the press for its translation errors; and as the bad reviews came in, the nervous prodigy’s honeymoon was over. Schwartz already had a personality that doubted. He didn’t universally like everyone, and he was not universally liked. When his reputation took a hit, it was pretty bad.

As we advance into the early middle of the 21st century, High Modernism is due for a hard look; well, at least it may help us understand and revive Delmore Schwartz.

Delmore’s survey of Wallace Stevens is the best thing, for my money, in Ben Mazer’s The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz. The mind of Delmore Schwartz is a treasure—without a doubt, this is the singular fact I have come away with in my recent acquaintance of the author who died at 52 alone, in a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Did cinema kill poetry? Schwartz’s guilty pleasure was going to the movies.

Poetry came apart, losing its lyric, leather-bound anthology, fireside, charm, somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, and for Schwartz this was always a good thing, because he belonged to his time, and he sums up the existence of Stevens as an “art for art’s sake” poet—almost ruefully, almost pejoratively—as due to “industrialism.”  The Wordsworthian whine, which didn’t stop with Modernism: the machine produces sorrow.

Stevens, according to Schwartz, is an “Art-man.” The poetry of Stevens smoothly and matter-of-factly occupies the museum, the concert hall, the ivory tower seminar room, the library, the poetry reading. Stevens is for Art, as opposed to the “life” of “disorder,” “presided over by the business man and the Philistine…”

Schwartz acknowledges the danger of this attitude, claiming it inhibited poets of the “Art-man” school in the late 19th century, but Delmore allows Stevens a triumph in it, for going, with a certain amount of intelligent self-consciousness, all in with it. Down with “industrialism.” Up with Wallace Stevens.

The reason cinema is so important for Delmore Schwartz—his break-out short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” literally takes place in a cinema as the protagonist watches a “movie” of his parents prior to his birth—is manifold.

Schwartz’s youth coincided with film taking its place as a form of entertainment and art—but which was it? Poetry was losing out to other distractions, and cinema was one.

Film was a guilty, time-wasting pleasure for a poet like Schwartz, but it was a vital connection to “philistine life,” too. Schwartz was not Stevens, and cinema was one central reason: poetry for Stevens was purely aesthetic; Schwartz belongs more to the news-reel voice-over, the screen play, the drama, realistic but flickering, the movie of the peanut-crunching crowd. The hard-nosed, factual, aspect of film represented an important antidote to Schwartz’s morbid, fatalist, autobiographical nature.

The fatalism of film—a memory captured, to never be escaped—seen through his autobiographical obsession—his family divorce drama seeps into almost everything he wrote—underpins his iconic story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”

Fortunately, Schwartz cared too much about people (his writing is very social) to be overly distracted by the horrors of “industrialism.”

Schwartz, who deeply admired Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, had a love-hate relationship with all the art movements around him—with a stammering, clumsy, combative, social persona, mixing uneasily with his genius, he couldn’t be as intellectually independent as he should have been; his “connections” in the intellectual circles of the John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the Partisan Review, and Harvard, where he met Laughlin, the editor of New Directions, were all important to him, more than he realized, or wanted to admit, and so the natural, original, impetuous, lonely greatness that was Schwartz kept trailing after the divided, humiliated, tortured, social animal that was Schwartz.  He unconsciously attempted to resolve this by uncritically admiring the aesthetic writings of his contemporaries (saving his critical energy for gossip towards them as individuals) and so the poet he was meant to be was colored, like the dyer’s hand, by much of the inferior work of his time.

His genius, in the fiction and the essays, mostly won out. In his poetry, it mostly did not. He absolutely nails Stevens in a manner which is fully sympathetic, but manages to diminish him, which is only proper, since Schwartz was, it seems to me, the wisest of his circle (a judgment I am well aware will not be taken seriously because  “High” Modernism is to this day, yet overrated, and due to the reputation of “crazy” Delmore Schwartz).

“A Note on the Nature of Art,” the second essay in Mazer’s collection, is first-rate in a perfectly logical manner; it patiently explains the difference between the “expressive” and the “critical-expressive” and doesn’t allow social reality to roll over aesthetic reality, which it will do, unless the critic is familiar with Aristotle and common sense—which Delmore happily was.

The essays are 30 pages of the book; putting aside the poems, of which there are 15 pages—the best one, I think, is “Sonnet,” published in 1950 in the Kenyon Review—we have an excellent 20 page story, and a 5 page memory on his Jewishness, also good; the essays occupy the bulk of what is excellent, as well as the story and the small prose memoir, proving once again, at least for me, that we should not look to Schwartz’s poetry as the best example of his work.

For me, as way of quick example, “the worms of fear spread veined” and “but the elation and celebration of the motions/of energy everywhere,” from two different poems, reside as things scattered on the surface; these quotes don’t feel integrated wholly into their poems—too much of his poetry features interesting parts which are not quite fused; there is a unconnected quality which I don’t meet in the prose, and which curtails my enjoyment of the verse. The longer poem, “Dr. Levy,” which Mazer cites for especial praise in his introduction, has emotional sincerity, but it feels more like a short play of not-quite-realized profundity, than a truly realized poem.

True, some of the poems in this volume are high school poems—ironically, there is one on Poe.  Schwartz didn’t care for him.  In his introduction to his long, prose poem, Genesis, Schwartz says he will write like a modern; he will not write like Swinburne—which of course means Poe.

The story in the volume, “An Argument in 1934” is wonderful; the lucid presentation of three, young, intellectual friends, interacting socially, is sensitive, highly observant, and subtle, without being busy or overbearing, and the theme: realism triumphing over the intellectually abstract, is expressed through both dialogue and action in a clear and poignant manner.

This review is not meant to devalue Schwartz as a poet; I just think his fiction is superlative. Profound. Funny. Timeless.

And this is good news: Ben Mazer is set to edit more Delmore Schwartz—the Collected Poems has been green-lighted by FSG, which is very exciting, indeed.

Hopefully “The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz” will be the start of a Delmore Renaissance.

I’ll close by quoting “Under Forty” from a symposium published by the Contemporary Jewish Record:

The contrast between the authority of the public school teachers and the weakness of the Hebrew school teacher is one which makes the child wonder what reason can justify the emphasis upon Jewishness. I remember my own extreme admiration for the rabbi who spoke to us on Sundays. It seemed to me that he could prove or disprove anything, and that he could find profound meaning in any story or incident. But I took this to be a personal gift; he was a very wise man; he seemed more intelligent than any of the teachers in public school. But then I merely wondered why he limited himself to what we then called temple, and I had no way of knowing that his dialectical and interpretative skills were an inheritance.

 

*******

The Scarriet editors, Salem MA 11/14/19

 

SHOULD POETRY BE INSPIRED BY POETRY THAT DIES

Image result for white sands of arabia

Should poetry be inspired by poetry that dies?

By a black burden on a page, just because it cries?

In a trivial moment I became permanent

To you. All art is the art of surprise.

The composer sought symmetry

In such an outward manner, the Jew

Who looks inward nearly despaired.

Mozart is Arab in his outward look.

The extrovert who loves is never prepared.

What you read in a book may change

Your world view in such a way

You will contemplate white sands all day.

You may dimly feel what dimly comes next.

You may lose your temper at a party.

And stay. But still feel cheated out of sex.

It doesn’t matter. The genius won’t sit still

For anything. And you will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOTHERHOOD

Image result for mary and jesus in renaissance painting

Motherhood would not be possible

If a woman always and only loved her man.

She doesn’t love you.

Find another. Do what you can.

Sacred motherhood, when the quiet, placid woman

Is filled with the tender love of her child,

Is the last flower you pick, the last flower which grows in the wild.

Life is a monologue; you have one opinion, not your own.

Dramas and fictions convince you two

Are talking. But no. It’s only you.

The more you agree, the more you feel alone.

There are never two talking. We speak to ourselves.

This is loneliness. The insight into hell.

Unless you are a woman who doesn’t want a man.

Then you are doing very well.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW

Image result for mirror in renaissance painting

I believe, because I see

The mirror, and in it, my beauty,

I need to act a certain way,

And that’s because of what the mirror shows me every day.

Sometimes I excuse myself and go

To seek a good mirror, a mirror in private.

Why I do this, I don’t know.

My beauty pleases me in private,

And when someone from the crowd

Stares at me, in a place where privacy is not allowed,

So that their stare becomes, for me, a mirror, in fact,

I find myself attracted by their lack of tact,

And then, at once, I carefully teach myself how

To repay them. My poems have always lacked

A way to see and believe. How

Can words presently believe, and see,

The embarrassing, private, fact of my beauty?

My poems are only involved with knowing,

Not seeing, but only knowing what will be,

Because to know the future is the only way to know how.

But since you looked at me,

With the beauty of your being, glowing,

I don’t know what will happen now.

 

 

WHEN, IN SLEEP, THE UNLUCKY FEW

Image result for waking from sleep in renaissance painting

When, in sleep, the unlucky few, share everything,

Nothing is theirs. Their waking is like poetry.

Too late for them to say what they really mean.

They shared their agony in pleasurable dreams,

Saying aloud what should not be said aloud.

To the children, this was wrong. The dreams’ authorship

Had no business being anything to them.

As if evangelicals were princes of dreams,

In sleep, things came to light in words.

There was a great noise in those dreams—

A talking congregation of what had migrated before—

What would have to go into the poem as “birds”—

They told them—and by announcing to them—

And deep in sleep, this was naturally unwise—

They loved her! They loved her!—

They heard what they should not have heard,

And their poetry, too, was defeated, too late to revise.

Her name was the poem,

Her name, the confession and the word.

 

THE GREATEST HATE

Image result for lit tents at night

Too much love—then we merely like.

Too much hate—then we dismiss—

The greatest love and the greatest hate

Are when these two have equal weight—

Then we die. Suffer. Kiss.

The greatest hate is mixed with love;

Love is sweeter, mixed with hate.

The doubt you feel when she makes you wait

Is a feeling made from love and hate.

Romance suffers. Then she relents.

And all perfumed, kind love erects its lighted tents.

Love needs hate for strength,

But one devours the other, at length.

Without hate, love’s passion dies.

Without love, hate lacks suspense and surprise.

The greatest kiss, with tongue and teeth,

Brushes what’s above, and dines on what’s beneath.

Hate me. Watch as I destroy the math,

The illogical hell which heats the bath.

I’ll love you if love has time

Tomorrow to love when it throws away this rhyme.

 

 

 

SLEEP, WHICH I REJOICE IN

Image result for sleep in renaissance painting

Sleep, which I rejoice in,

Is, I realize, not my friend.

Having slept when you walked by—

I’m now awake. And cry.

I miss you—so much.

What is sleep’s, compared to your touch?

What is sleep’s gigantic mouth

Compared to yours, the warm, wet south—

Which tickles me in your green, informing weather—

Life—our consciousness of our being together?

Asleep to love,

I miss being awake to love,

The state when I see you, and you see me,

The absence of which, is why I write my poetry.

I sleep angelically, to avoid sin,

But am assailed by dreams, which put me in

Hopeless, foggy, situations, where I miss,

Because of excuses and sleep, your trembling kiss.

I would sleep, to forget how much I cry

Thinking how I slept when you, half asleep yourself, walked by

On the way to—who ever knows?

Time loves us. But goes.

 

THE CUTE, NOT THE DOG

Image result for the dog in renaissance painting

The poem, not the man.

Can the word do more than the elephant can?

The picture, not the woman.

Do I want to look, or hear a sermon?

The beauty, not the person.

Your body loathes the person

Who thinks about you.

Your shape doesn’t know what to do.

The shape of your heart

Doesn’t love. Only the heart

Strives to ask, and loves the art

Of asking. There is a left handed

Way to walk. The foot demanded

Poetry. And left the poet stranded.

Iambic pentameter is alive.

Take a step. Count to five.

The only thing the picture does

Is make it possible, later on, to love.

Or I might love the picture now.

I won’t love you. I don’t know how.

 

A RHYME THAT’S RARE

Image result for telescope in painting

Crying the long tear

Because in my lung, a tear.

You should have been here.

There were three triangles on stage.

The show was for one precisely your age.

Up into the half light, I could see

The tiniest window in my poetry,

Which five scientists, around a telescope,

Having looked out of, froze all scientific hope.

My poetry would not be studied, nor read.

The life seen on this particular star is dead.

Did you see me moving around?

Does this poem have sound?

I saw it. I saw Emily Dickinson there.

Not her. A poem and a rhyme that’s rare.

 

 

 

YOU’RE ONLY HAPPY IF THAT SAD DAY

Image result for sad Satie

You’re only happy if that sad day

Which made more sadness has gone away.

Because it’s gone, and because it was truly sad,

The happiness is, today seems glad.

Yesterday was sadder than today—

You, by comparison, are not as sad.

If you were sadder then, good news!

Sadness then is beautiful news!

Today, you’ll be able to hear the blues—

Chopin, Debussy, and sad Satie,

The music you listened to with me—

Today, you can hear it without crying,

Calm in the sadness you are feeling now,

Dreaming by the low blue valley now.

The love which hurt you—because I was lying,

Becomes, in the notes of our familiar song

The artificial sadness you felt all along

Because truth was yours, and I was wrong.

You can finally enjoy the saddest song

Like others, and the others who are strong

Make you strong, too,

The others who always seemed happier than you.

You were often sad—but never mad!

None could be as sad

As you—who loved, and because you loved, were gladder

Than all that now compares to something sadder.

Today you can listen to Satie

Though you once listened to him with me.

 

 

 

 

WHITE

Image result for ginger people south park

That “ginger” episode of South Park was hilarious.

Oh hello there. Welcome to my poem on the white race.

I knew a blonde guy with freckles, a boyish handsome face,

Who wanted to be Italian. He thought they

Looked better than him.  In leather, like Andrew Dice Clay.

He used to sarcastically call a young woman, “mom,”

Who was a single mother. She was darker than him. Maybe half Italian?

He used her living room table

For war games. Cotton balls as puffs of smoke. This ranks

Pretty high in my amusing memories. Models of German and Russian tanks.

He knew facts of the Eastern Front in World War Two

And was amazed, but chuckled about it, too.

It’s how a growing mind contemplates

Woe. It asks how this horror compared to that horror rates,

And laughs, even as it ravenously debates

The choices a young man must make,

As it has, then eats, then has, then eats its cake.

He pronounced “the crawling chaos” in scary tones and laughed,

Aware of how ridiculous it was to admire H.P. Lovecraft.

And this would go on in a drunken haze,

Jokes about H.P. Lovecraft amusing us for days.

Ich bin white. Hetero and white.

Therefore I speak from a frightening height.

We discussed King Crimson and Emerson.

The 20th century, in the kitchen, limped on.

Halloween and the World Series. Laundry. Then to the bar.

Later to a party. I felt pale, and wished I

Were more interested. A freckle on her thigh.

I was gentle, and listened to her

Describe Tom Augenthaler as a cur.

Who was she? What was going to happen?

We can’t all be failures by gradual degrees.

Some fall. Some open a box. And remove mighty armies.

Going back to the beginning of time

I imagine every race indulged in sin.

(The air up here is thin.

Poetry slowly invades my skin.)

He left Wall Street. History and similitude

Are how we, who inherit the world,

Laugh. We laugh, and lose the world.

 

 

THE LOVE SONG OF THE CEO ENVIRONMENTALIST

 

To make oil more valuable, the oil men

Pretended oil supplies were doomed.

So business and scarcity together,

Like honored, chaste love, in the 20th century, bloomed.

Oil, as plentiful as water, was the new gold.

Since oil isn’t really rare,

The suppliers and their allies had to scare

The public, to whom all that oil was sold.

Just as you did. Darling, every day

You made it clear: you would take your love away.

Your delightul supply

Was limited, pushing up my demand;

Love streamed freely into my eye,

But yours was the blinding sand

Which made my philosophy die.

I formed a picture of you in the street,

A hazy picture, aesthetic, and sweet

Which people in my mind traversed.

Like Rockefeller, you got me. I was the poet, cursed,

To bring you homage, anxiety, and tears.

The marketplace of the heart made you rich in those years.

You carried out your threat. Your price rose.

Romance kissed. But supplies froze.

I gave you all I had, but could not afford

To stay with you, my beautiful landlord.

There is no art, Baudelaire. There is no derangement.

Poetry and love is a business arrangement.

The greatest aesthetic belongs to God.

Not the paintbrush, Baudelaire. The rod.

Innocents die in accidents. Is the Creator to blame?

The senators are silent. The price of oil is still the same.

 

HEROIC VULGARITY

Image result for moon in renaissance painting

The Raven was replaced by pigeons

In the picture above the entrance of the museum,

When it was decided in January of 1923,

From the moment we first read Wallace Stevens,

When modernism alerted us to society crashing around you and me,

What the horrific perspective of the Art-man told:

Society was menacing, and art had better be bold,

Navigating the irony of the mock heroic

In accents mocking the mockery,

So as not to be too disparaging of the sublime,

Considering in 1923 it was about damn time

For the industrial revolution to finally say

What exactly it was doing to banks and artists in the present day.

Hart Crane, as you know, was sick of it all,

Either writing The Bridge or jumping from the boat,

Which made us think of poetry that imitated Hemingway

Grabbing Gertrude Stein by the throat.

Cigarettes more available, and possibly the cinema, too,

Struck Delmore Schwartz as a meditative tool

For post-war social products and Marxist art—

Tossed into the verdant pool

Surrounding meditation itself, as well as the diseased and bloated heart.

John Crowe Ransom will no doubt have something to write

On this poem written on 1923, which I wrote after reading the Platonism of Schwartz last night.

Unless T.S. Eliot, who is me, goes ahead

And writes something on the matter, instead.

Ben Mazer, then, will find nothing to say.

He’ll just go. He’ll be down the stairs, cautious on the path, under the moon, and away.

 

 

 

POETRY CLIMBING INTO LOVE

Image result for moon in renaissance painting

The details don’t matter

Is what they say.

The band was crazy and just started doing things that way.

And people followed. Pitifully, because they followed.

The details don’t matter.

Think of everyone you love. Do you care about their details?

No, you just love them. The details don’t matter.

Oh but they do.

Now comes the part of the poem which turns; the theme becomes new.

(It changed—so it must true.)

Details matter a lot.

How complex, this rot.

How nuanced, this dying, which is all;

A dying which began when you were small.

Dying, so everything has to be done quickly.

Nothing can wait. The bad

And the good both happen fast

(Ahh that’s right. The past.)

So you aren’t sure if your luck

Is leading to some other disaster, or not,

Thinking and doing tied up in the rot

That is happening; you aren’t really thinking at all.

Your life, both fast and slow, the innumerable details which appall,

Don’t stop accumulating, they

Are the monster and the dribbling lagoon.

The poem’s middle ground is the moon.

“Do something, poem!” you cry,

Regretting and embracing the big goodbye,

As you paint the lean, abstract moon

With the regrets that must come soon—

In such a way that a poem’s art

Will recognize, hunt down, eat every juicy part.

You know what will be there in the end?

Strange laughter, coming from a strange friend;

The insults, the comforts, we doubt, (but like a dog—what do you want?) attend.

 

 

 

 

I AM PART OF THIS WORLD, AREN’T I?

Image result for seductive witch black and white photo

I am part of this world, aren’t I?

The overheard conversations, the wine,

The announcements on the screen,

Someone likes you. What does it mean?

Everything is connected to something

Unlike itself. Nothing is virtuous or clean.

Greatness mingles with the low and mean.

Romance is a presentation; love, an act,

Which is yet, love. You can’t get over this fact.

You finally fall in love with one who makes

You resent everything else. That’s all it takes.

She becomes the world inside the world

Which doesn’t tire.

You look for her in the wide sea. In a fire.

You would give anything to return

To yourself, before she made you burn.

 

 

 

PLEASE READ THIS

Related image

Oh please read this. I know

You’re curious. And, I also know,

To you, I am underground,

And this poem is pathetic, a sound

To comfort myself—where you are not found.

Just to know that you see

This, gladdens my poetry,

Which is better, in every way, than me,

Who, in real life, failed you.

I hate real life.

In life, I cannot talk to you.

How real is that?

Except through this. So this is what I do.

Life knows how failure attends

Every love. Unless, somehow, it make amends

Far, far, from desire, which ruins.

Do you see all those ruins?

Swift desire’s been there

Making, with its bounty, everything bare.

I seared you, I scorned you,

I burned you; nothing I saw with my desire

Had anything to do with you.

I burned. But everybody loves a fire.

Except paper, sleepy home, safe work.

Burning, burning love. The biggest, biggest jerk.

Here. I write this quiet poem, hoping,

You’ll see it, among the ruins, coping.

The fire’s out. But read this, anyhow.

Look. And give me quiet comfort now.

 

I COMPETE AGAINST STUPIDITY

Image result for intoxicated female sports fans seek autographs

I compete against stupidity. That’s it.

Claiming I was too competitive, you had a fit.

And now we’re both embarrassed. Our friendship’s over. You lack the wit

To see what I’m competing against.

Congratulations. You did it.

You made me win again.

I wasn’t competing against a friend.

You were competing against me, in the end,

You thought I was stupid to compete

Against you. You made competition sweet

By removing all the stupid. The bliss

Of our friendship was like a lover’s kiss.

It is possible to remove all the stupid from

Everyone, even as we see everyone else as dumb.

That’s what love is. But thinking “everyone else” included you,

You ruined it. That’s what people who can’t love do.

 

 

MY MOUTH, WITHOUT BREATH

Image result for death mask of keats

My mouth, without breath,

Yesterday, spoke of certain death,

And now I lie here, as if to prove

Both I and this poem cannot love.

But listen, I am still breathing.

Every line of a poem must be

A little poem, miraculously.

There is nothing known

Quite like the boredom of a poem.

This one bores me to death!

So for excitement now,

I’m closing my eyes and holding my breath.

This is what poets do. They exaggerate

Stillness, memory, despair, hate.

Even so, this sweet deceiving

Is alive for you, and softly breathing.

ALL WE SEE

This parade of life, all we see,

All that is, is death. And life? Life is what will be.

What you cannot see, lives—

And death? Beware of what it gives;

Seeing its gift, you are blind—

Invisible creativity is much more kind.

This dog, slobbering on your cheek

Is love wearing you thin—death making you weak.

I hate to tell you that visible love is out

To kill you—your sun is disappearing without a doubt.

You don’t know if the sun will rise tomorrow.

This is why wisdom is always mixed with sorrow,

This is why what you left behind

In the womb is the only thing that’s kind.

THE LEAST APART

Image result for close up of a bee

We swarm over each other like bees

Without dignity; “thank you” and “please”

Make the office run;

Like a kindergarten teacher, the boss is having too much fun.

Why don’t they leave me alone?

I can save things from themselves on my own.

I amuse myself easier when I’m alone.

The cooperation necessary isn’t here.

“Thank you” sounds more hollow every year,

And “thank you” is all we have

As we sink into HR’s grave.

Let’s start over. Picture Good lying in bed,

Half-asleep, too beautiful to work.

She can work, but they will, instead.

I joked with the one thin girl in the office.

I was kind, but now they think I’m a jerk.

I didn’t really want to work.

A worker bee? That’s not me.

The rules said there should be rulers

And the rulers perfect the hum.

The sounds I once adored were

Blended in with honey which stuck

To me and I couldn’t get unstuck.

“Get dressed. Don’t be a jerk.

Poetry? Right. Thank you. Go to work.”

 

 

 

ASYMMETRY

Image result for large dark sunset cloud

I stood deciding for a long time

Which life? One of appetite, or rhyme?

The time I dreamed on that took so long

I forgot what I wanted in the song.

The time I wasn’t happy

Was much longer than when I was.

I noticed the vast difference between when hate doesn’t hate

And when it does.

There is no reality without one axiomatic principle,

And now as I write my poetry,

Hidden from you by the thinking in my poetry,

I make you ask: why is there obscurity?

Why is there almost no excellent taste,

And so much wild, stupid, complaining waste?

Why do we die, covered by a majority,

Crushed by injustice, inevitably absurd,

The hero, a minority, almost never heard,

And beautiful poetry never gets to say a single word.

The answer is asymmetry,

The reason we write poetry

When all about us, by careless mockery,

Love, feeling love, is ashamed,

And you and I are never named,

Never portrayed, or seen,

And you and I, even you and I, lie apart

For years, stretching thin the disproportionate heart.

We don’t exist together in this world except by a principle,

We must fulfill, even against our will,

And this principle is asymmetry,

The way for anything to work; the world must be

This way, in art and life; it’s why you no longer love me.

It’s why this enormous cloud, stretching across the sky, dark and vast,

Makes me cry, and not the past.

 

 

 

 

 

THE BEAUTIFUL HUMAN RACE

Image result for the famous torso

The beautiful human race

Has something odd about its beauty:

The beauty of the face

Is always the same as the beauty of the body.

This is not possible.

Does this prove beauty is a miracle?

How does the beauty of the face and arm

Combine? Or love? Or do us harm?

Her body and her face exactly match in how much beauty they own,

As if the face with eyes and the blind body were both by the same God known.

Would you expect a beautiful neck on you,

If rounder, to be more respected?

Do you believe all differences are true?

The body has eyes the face does not,

Seeing into what is there, and what is not.

These beautiful fingers

Know what it is like

To move like a face

When someone has a face they like.

The body will always be beautiful

If the face is beautiful. The ratio is precise. How?

When we sleep, what do the nearly sleeping know?

When I desire to kiss her face,

I desire to kiss her body, too.

Beauty and desire were lost in a maze,

But led out by what a greater beauty knew.

She has a face I want to love with kisses, for hours,

But the body will run away.

The busy earth, too dark to see its flowers,

Turns brightly away as flowers face death.

Not once in the lingering spring

Did I feel on my face her beautiful breath.

Yesterday’s winds die

In a sweet continuum.

Her beautiful body and her beautiful face on her beautiful body cry.

The earth does not know its flowers.

But she does. Her body will stay.

Her face was respected

Before seeing the body,

Looking to lie there in that flowery place,

Next to my body and next to my face,

Everything in its place,

As the mind might do,

(You can lie there, too)

Even as she is sad and moody,

Obsessed with how limited time lives in infinite space.

Why is this always true?

As if the body and the face already knew?

How can great stretches of the known

And the unknown lie together?

How can the religious universe not know the spiritual weather?

How can the warm heart not know the face

Is cold, because it is thinking of space,

Which dies, though it goes on forever?

How do I reconcile my philosophy

With her face that doubts the weather?

 

 

I LOVE WHEN I PRETEND TO LOVE

Image result for resurrection in renaissance painting

I love when I pretend to love.

I love you because you love

With wit, and not with love.

Love rises

In a poem of surprises.

The thought that stays ahead of love

Defeats love, and enlarges love.

I love you because you say you love.

What’s lost with love is won with wit—

It loves, when it’s defeating it.

Deciding to love you, I couldn’t see

You loved me loving you. You didn’t love me.

I love you because you say you hate;

I need to love you, so I’ll wait.

Love is happy, by wit, to be misled.

Wit is happy, in love, to stay ahead

Of love. I love when I pretend to love.

Love didn’t love. It rose from the dead.

 

 

HE’S FUNNY RIGHT AWAY

Image result for mount auburn cemetery

He’s funny right away.

I think a while, and don’t know what to say.

He wrote the offending line

When he was sober. I drank wine

And bitterly assaulted him privately.

His smile vanished. And suddenly

I saw what his love for me was.

He doesn’t when I’m gone. When I’m there he does.

 

 

 

 

TOO MODERN TO FINISH THE MELODY

Image result for Mozart's vienna in painting

Too modern to finish the melody,

And repeat it a million times in my ears,

For months I heard your melody,

But melodies will melt in the passing of the years.

So when I heard yours on the soundtrack last night,

Growing faintly louder from the lower depths

In the scene where she leaves him forever,

The effect had no effect on me.

That was our melody

For a while, but you took it away.

A beautiful one, but now it’s for others to play.

Let them have it. Let them steal it,

And hide it, in movies and songs.

Let them have those memories, regrets and wrongs

Which torture, as floating melodies do,

As I, incompetent, was sweetly tortured by you.

Let them repeat your melody, in pieces, making each note bend

Into longing discord, as a film comes to its heavy end

And he looks at her for the last time,

Just as this attempts to end in one last rhyme

With the feelings for you I once had

Before I found new sorrow

In a Mozart melody, far more sad.

 

 

WHY DID SOCRATES LOVER OF TRUTH

Related image

Why did Socrates, lover of truth,

Hate poetry? Poetry is not scientific proof,

But looks like science and its fame:

The science of details, aloof,

Proud, splendid, phantasmagoric,

Making love and pleasure seem the same.

Stern science knows more of love

Than all of poetry, and its sighs.

Puritan science knows you cannot be

Both sensual and wise.

If you laugh and kiss and coo

There will be no science for you.

Yes! You may get the scientist undressed

To laughter. Love laughs the best.

But keep your love out of the schools—

The mad love of kisses, sighs, and drools.

The world called, with the roar of trumpet and drum,

And one responded, at Delium.

Let’s go with sober Plato

And laugh secretly with him:

There is a sound that wisdom makes

When it laughs, which you might be able to hear:

It is the light of the eye when it is radiant and clear,

A look a lake has, when you see to the bottom—

A perspective, musical and dear,

When the wonder of the child creeps upon

All that you are—and all you are looking on.

Here’s what Socrates knew,

And though you love poetry, I’ll tell you.

The mediums of democracy are the first thing

The oligarch controls:

Entertainment, news production, popularity polls.

This is why for 2,000 years, the State

Made you forgetful, resentful and late.

“Is it hot in here? Or is it just me?”

No. It’s the golden oligarchy.

The common sense of common people

Will see to it things are okay.

But the oligarchy and its poetry

Is dark and leads you to a darker way.

Rosalinda! The poetry you said

Neglected your body. And completely dreamed your head.

 

THREE POEMS RANDOMLY NOTICED

Related image

The poet Babitha Marina Justin

There are no “hit poems.”

I’m addicted to singing, humming, or whistling snatches of songs to myself—the pleasure and comfort of music is incalculable. How many people use poetry this way, or hold poems in their head, as they do song?

I sometimes feel the need to speak a favorite poem out loud just as I feel the need to hum a favorite song.

But poems do not flow inside us the way a popular song does.  We don’t whistle poems.

A “song” can have almost no real melody at all. A mere enthusiastic chanting or rapping of words is enough to seem like music. But “music” sells. “Poetry” doesn’t.  It’s kind of a strange thing.

How many people appreciate songs!  And how few, poetry! And yet, the “music” which accompanies song lyrics is such a stunningly simple, almost accidental, thing.

If only there were a way to work backwards from a melody which bewitches, to one that just walks along, so that we might include a poem, by slow degrees, into that realm where tune, almost frivolously, adds so much.

The melody which-has-no-words surpasses with its meaning the meaning of words—and is the despair of poetry, which will always lack what song has.

But just as “song” lyrics ride on their wordless music, there is wordless music that also lives, not in the air, but inside the best poems—inhabiting the poem’s thought itself, as charming in its way as any melody sounds to the ear.

A perfect, stately, example is Shelley’s brief poem, “To ____.”

The meaning of Shelley’s poem points to the absence of words which we find in melody; notice how Shelley hints at the real, the substantial, the meaningful—and the absent.

One thought is too often profaned
For me to profane it,
One feeling too falsely disdained
For thee to disdain it;
One hope is too like despair
For prudence to smother,
And pity from thee more dear
That that from another.

I can give not what men call love,
But wilt thou accept not
The worship the heart lifts above
And the Heavens reject not,—
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow?

The mathematician who is Shelley is apparent immediately—the poem begins with a number, the most significant one—one.  One—as in “no other,” as well as “all, or all important,” and both meanings join together in the philosophy of the poem as a whole.  What is this unspoken thought: feeling, hope, pity?  It is revealed in stanza two—“love.”  Love is already expressed in stanza one—especially in the particular inclusion of “from thee more dear…” after the poet has moved from “me” to “thee” in the fourth line. But when “love” is named in the second stanza, Shelley denies it (or the name of it) and moves onward to “something afar” as Two (moth/star) steers its way back with the aid of “desire” to the One (“something afar”).

Shelley’s poem sings (rhymes) with poetic “music,” but Shelley also sings (can we say this?) with his philosophy.

Just as real music (heard melody) is beyond poetry, Shelley’s teasing, mathematical, philosophy is an unheard music which breathes beyond the poem qua poem.  Missing the commonplace directness of prose and the real music of music, poetry represents by what it lacks—and Shelley’s philosophy is in perfect keeping with this lack.  The last four lines of Shelley’s “To ___” are so majestic, we almost experience it as music itself.

When, against our will, against our understanding, against our perception, poetry moves us beyond the meaning of its words, we succumb to something which we don’t perceive as poetry, and yet is higher than poetry, in the poetry. And, as poets, or readers of poetry, this unsettles us, because it is what we were looking for all along, and yet it is so rare we don’t usually expect it, and we feel sorrowfully that this excellence will ruin most other poetry for us; and further, poetry which hints at something beyond also reminds us of the sphere of our sorrow.  Shelley does not escape the “sphere of our sorrow.”  In his poem he leaves us with it, even as he strives in his poem to leave it.

Just as religion discovered the secret of the self, (worshiping ourselves by worshiping another) and the Italian Renaissance the secret of painting (perspective), Romanticism discovered the secret of poetry (refinement of desire).

The poems that move this writer the most invoke “the desire of the moth for the star.”

Poems do not come into my head as nearly as often as songs.  But here are a few which have arrived at my doorstep recently which would be in my head—if poems, poor poems! were songs.

I want to show you this poem (or “flash fiction”) by Jacqueline Doyle—which could never possibly roll around in your head like a song. It has no recognizable tune. This piece creeps into one’s affection with philosophy, in the same way Shelley’s poem does. There is a “prose directness” to it, but it lives through its philosophy, not as a piece of prose, which it nonetheless is. Just as we experience all paintings as layered paint, we experience all poems, even verse ones, as prose pieces. Then we “step back” and see the paint (very close up we see only a confusion of paint) become an emotional picture with perspective. Just so, we “step back” from the prose to the “view” brought about by the “perspective” of the poem/flash fiction.

Checkmate

I’m sorry I made you cry when I won at chess. We didn’t know each other well, it was our first match, and we played on a small wooden travel chess set that we’d just bought in Thessaloniki. The tiny chessmen had wooden pegs that fit into holes on the checkered squares and the board folded in half and became a box to store them. I was a pretty good player back then, that is, quick and impatient and incapable of planning ahead more than one or two moves but with good instincts. I must have cornered your King, maybe swooped in with my Queen. I didn’t crow triumphantly or laugh when I checkmated you and I couldn’t understand why you cried. Or maybe you didn’t cry, just wiped away a tear. We were on a worn red plaid blanket in the shade of a gnarled pine tree, camping on an empty white sand beach in Greece. The sky was so blue, the ocean turquoise, the air warm and gentle. I was lulled by the soft, rhythmic plash of the waves, the faraway cries of seagulls. I’d never been to such a beautiful place. You were 27, I was only 19. You left your girlfriend behind in Germany to meet me for a month’s vacation in your pale green VW bus. I don’t know whether you apologized to her. And then you followed me back to the US and lived with me my junior and senior years and I apologize for suggesting that you return to Germany a couple of months early so you could get a head start on finishing your degree while I finished mine. If I hadn’t suggested that, you wouldn’t have had the affair that you hid from me until we were in the Pyrenees on a motorcycle trip from Germany to Morocco with her and some other friends. I guess you apologized to me and I know I took you back after the trip I’d left so abruptly and I apologize for my mistake because I should have known it would happen again but instead of planning ahead more than one or two moves, I settled down with you in Germany where I liked being a foreigner and then married you five years later and I apologize for going back to the US and embarking on a PhD in a university town in upstate New York where the only job you could find was checking students’ backpacks at the library for stolen books. I was crushed when we broke up over your affair with a girl at the library, and I apologize for feeling relieved as well, and maybe I should have apologized for not taking you back six months later, but really I was out of apologies at that point and certainly didn’t believe yours. I should have realized when you took getting beaten at chess so hard that none of it was going to work out, probably I should have thought more than one or two moves ahead back at the beginning when you left your girlfriend behind to vacation in Greece with an adventurous American girl who was just passing through. I’m sorry I didn’t know that but the sky was so blue, the Aegean so turquoise, the air kissed my skin and it all seemed very romantic to the romantic nineteen-year-old I was and I’m not going to apologize for her or for beating you at chess after all.

“Checkmate” uses the brutal metaphoric device of comparing a game of chess to love. All the rhymes in the world could not smooth or hide the fact that this metaphor is a risky attempt, to say the least. But here she is, audaciously attempting it.

And here it should be said that poetry is not metaphoric, any more than painting is metaphoric. The whole construction must contribute to the whole of the embodied philosophy. Flesh is philosophy and philosophy is flesh, in art. It is not quite correct to say Doyle’s attempt is audacious; she succeeds because of what she calmly builds.

She doesn’t reduce love to a chess game. She reduces a chess game to love, which is why the metaphor succeeds.

Poetry aspires to love, and this is the only path—the path must lead (up or down, it doesn’t matter) to love. Reducing love to a chess game leads away from love, diminishes it, insults it, even. No poet wants to do that.

Human love can fail in a poem, as long as it is not love’s fault. The desire of the moth is heightened, because it is for a star. The failure of the desire has nothing to do with anything. In fact, desire is more chiefly desire when it fails; philosophy finds no hindrance in desire that fails.

The irony, of course, is that she wins the chess game but loses the love. It helps that she recalls the chess game much later—this adds a poignancy in the way the poem is built. Love isn’t chess (the obvious aspect of the metaphor, thankfully, is tacitly rejected). To “win” against your lover is the goal of a chess game, but not the goal of love. And this unfortunate truism (truism is the enemy of poetry) is mitigated because one, she is surprised when she wins, two, it is implied the beauty of the scene in Greece inspires her to win, and three, she reflects sadly, in the poem, on how she didn’t see what her victory, and his reaction to it, at the time, meant.

It is not metaphor, but perspective which is the soul of both painting—and poetry.

Perspective belongs to mathematics (geometrical in painting) and Jacqueline Doyle finds the necessary quantity, measurement, and perspective in her trope of “seeing one or two moves ahead”—this lovely, quantifiable idea is what the incidents of the story hang on. This is the “star” of the moth’s desire—the yearning to see “the possible moves ahead” on the limited (one) chess board shared by the (two) competing lovers in the chess game depicted in Greece, which evokes a tear in the male loser/lover. The tear symbolizes the frustration of the moth, the loser/lover who cannot reach the star. This idea is completely unspoken in the poem—yet clearly belongs to its philosophical construction.

The poem, “Checkmate” is like a novel, and is better (as an idea) than a novel, since it accomplishes the same in much less time. The poem and novel share the same object: philosophical perspective fleshed out; there is really not a single difference between the two genres, save the length of the endeavor. The only notable variation is verse, which attempts to be memorable—in a manner similar to song.

The following poem by Babitha Marina Justin, is another work which I happened to see recently, in a just-published book, I Cook My Own Feast, which was kindly mailed to me all the way from India. This poem is briefer, but still has the heft of an American story, or a Russian novel.

AN OLD WOMAN

There is an old woman
who tries to catch up to me.

She drags her foot
along with me,
and sometimes, she interferes
with my steady steps.

‘For God’s sake leave me alone,’
I yell as I used to yell at my mother.

She smiles and keeps her distance,
keeps her resistance.

It was only the other day
after a session at the gym
that I caught her shadow in
the mirror—pirouetting on my toes,
weakening my knees.

I ran out of the gym,
stumbled over steps and crouched,
alarmed that I was being stalked.

I looked up to see
my old woman
helping me up
with a beatific heroic smile.

In Babitha Justin’s poem, the “star” (old woman) finds the “moth,” (poet) but all the same, we have the same delicious torture evinced by the Romantic trope: the “desire of the moth for the star.”

The little things in this poem, as well as its presentation as a whole, mark it as a work of delicate genius. The telling and the action of the poem are one; the narrator and the old woman are one, the vast distance between the old woman and the poet disappears quickly, forcefully, as the poem unfolds, in a manner evincing the highest literary taste—with suspense, finality, and inevitability. Yet—along the way, there is still room in passing for the uncanny and the original: the way dancing is invoked (“pirouetting”) even though we are at the “gym.” The triumph of the old woman is a mixture of a thousand feelings: awe, horror, passion, sweetness, grace. The control of the elements in this poem is masterful. The inescapable nature of the poem invokes for me the artistic unity of moth-tied-to-star, which I am certain no reader could escape—or withstand.

The last poem we’ll look at is by David Berman (musician, Silver Jews) who I met in Arad, Romania in 2016, and who unfortunately took his life this summer at the age of 52. He was kind enough to give me a signed copy of his book, “actual air,” which was published at the end of the last century. The first poem in the book is such a wonderful poem, I wonder if he wondered occasionally why it did not make him famous as a poet—it’s that good.

The coherency and cohesiveness of the poem works on a number of levels. We see the poet writing the poem within the poem, and one might term this post-modern, but there is no such thing, really—all wonderful poems have an element in which the poem is writing itself as we read it. The poet hovers, as it were, self-consciously above his poem as he writes it, putting the reader all the more into the middle of the poem’s icy labyrinth. The reader is the moth, incapable of resisting the poem (the star). The reader’s present act of reading mirrors the poet’s prior act of writing—as if the poem didn’t exist at all. Desire obliterates all distance from the star—the poem is not the poet’s, but our own, for the poem seems to exist for us more perfectly than the poet could possibly exist for himself, or for anyone else.

In Berman’s poem, the narrator makes up a story on the spot about snow angels (ideal figures of the human “written” in the snow) to his little brother, whose child-like questions drive the dialogue/poem—which relies on the acoustic and sensual aspect of a snowy landscape (almost per Robert Frost)—the central line of which is “I didn’t know where I was going with this.” The poem ends with one more question by Seth, the little brother, who is “writing” the poem as he is trying to figure it out. The added scene of shoveling and “trading hellos” with the “neighbor,” the passing mention of the “farmer,” in the hurried, desperate, yet playful, telling within the telling of the poem, which hints at the biblical figure of Cain, the “farmer” who “shoots” the angels because they were on his “property,” all the elements of the poem hang together and disappear, in perfect keeping with all the poem, itself, evokes.

Snow

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels
had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who shot them and I said a farmer.

 

Then we were on the roof of the lake.
The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn’t know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

 

When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.
Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.
A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

 

But why were they on his property, he asked.

 

****

Scarriet editors  october 16, 2019

EVERYBODY’S NICE

Image result for funeral of love in painting

Everybody’s nice. You can ask them.

But they won’t tell you. They will laugh,

But what can they say? Yes, they’re nice.

Everybody’s nice. The silent ones,

Who don’t know what to do, are nice.

The strangers who look strangely at you.

Talk to them. They’re nice. The slightly odd ones at work

Who annoy you. Admit it; they’re as nice

As you are. You saw them being nice to others

After they annoyed the hell out of you.

In the end, nice is all that matters to you.

Nice is what we have to do. Even after

Murdering someone, the murderer will be

Nice. You might be murdering someone

In your head and they will think you’re nice.

You have to be nice. Even if someone asks you to be nice.

This poem is nice. Extremely nice.

If you don’t understand someone, you have to be nice,

And if you do understand them, naturally, you are nice.

Have I left anything out?  Apologies

Arrive after a spurt of anger. We are nice.

Sometimes it’s exciting to watch others not being nice

But those taking tickets, and those sitting next to you, are nice.

The nice rule the world. The nice can be nice, just like you.

When she first opened her mouth—and sounded nice,

I felt no sexual attraction whatsoever;

She guessed the secret. Nice gets it.

But, being nice, what could she do?

This one was nice when she broke up with me.

It was like a beautiful apology

Which I didn’t want, but I knew was coming.

How can we pretend or defend?

You don’t have to be nice. Don’t apologize,

I said. But I was nice. She was nice.

It was terribly nice. In the end.

 

 

LOVE HAS A SINFUL MOUTH

Image result for mars and venus in renaissance painting

What my lover said to me last night

No committee or impeachment inquiry

Will ever make right.

My lover made it her mission to destroy

Everything which brings you joy

But luckily, only through me.

I laughed, but only privately.

She told me things you don’t want to hear

Or maybe you do—

You hypocrite you.

 

 

WHEN WE DON’T WANT TO LOVE

Image result for leo the lion in renaissance painting

Only when her body was ready for a baby
Was she horny, and she didn’t want babies—
So this made my lover really fucked up.
She never said: when I ovulate, I’m horny—
It would have made her sound like a whore.
She didn’t like sex. So one day she just gave up.
And I, the annoying male
Finally got annoyed. Fail.
She was INFP and I was INFJ
And love never judges, but I judged her, anyway.
I judged her like mad,
Writing extroverted poems—but sensitive, and sad,
Which ignored the other side of her nature,
A sneer rising up, to defeat me and Nature.
She was a water sign, or an air sign, I forget.
As a Leo, I was proud. I think she was sorry we met.
I take everything as it comes, and rise above,
But burn myself up in fits of self-love.
My poetry machine, unable to shut down,
Makes the lion speak like a motley clown.
Had I used fewer words
We might still be hopping about together like birds.
Oh she didn’t know that I, the well-adjusted,
Was puzzled—because I needed to be loved.

WE ADORE THESE PICTURES

Image result for benjamin west paintings

We adore these pictures of the sun,

And from afar, we adore this handsome one,

But up-close, in the place where kissing’s done,

Everybody’s ugly.

From above, trees look like toys stuck in the ground.

God’s distance is a view inside a sound.

In a selected spot, I find the warmth of the sun.

Everything seen is already done.

The sun dwarfs the earth,

But when I look, what’s the small sun worth?

To everything—everything

I close my eyes.

All thought is the thought of a surprise.

 

WHAT I CAN NEVER HAVE

Image result for resurrection in renaissance painting

What I can never have

Is her—when she and I

Loved with the same sultry cry

In the garden and the leaves.

Hidden love, on the run, in the outdoors,

Is the best love, no matter what anyone believes.

If you have not kissed shy, full, breasts

In the moonlight, when any moment

A stranger might intrude,

You have not seen Jesus Christ, or ever been delighted by the nude.

If you have not written a love poem to one you should not,

The saints cannot hear you, and your sun isn’t hot.

When she and I were sober, and equipped only with language, which betrays

Love, still we loved, and if this love stays

It is because of that tree and that moon

Which, when the night arrives—

And that will be soon—

I will think of her while doing other things.

Romance, which other people hate, still sings.

What I can never have!

But I had it, and this is why,

In my breast, forever, is that same sultry cry,

In my mind, forever, that terrible love

Which puzzles with its beauty, love.

 

THE BUILDING CODE OF GOD

The towers are perfect. Hot running water

And clean towels on the 73rd floor.

And look. The next street over, there are more.

Nothing overshadows you like New York City.

Even if Beethoven were here, he would drift about silently.

Overwhelmed by the talented, the mechanical, the iconic, the pretty.

I don’t care who you are.

New York City is the gleaming star.

Don’t bring your small town, conservative attitude here.

We’re New York City. Colorful and queer.

The subway system is a long ride

Just to get over to the west side,

And if you go way uptown?

I’ll see you, then. See you around.

The massive towers and the vast

Towers, architecture of the recent and less recent past.

When Spotify employees take cabs, they go fast.

In New York City it’s impossible to get lost.

You were lost already when you lost what you never lost.

The towers. They determined the cost.

The swift, clean subway takes you to Harlem by ten.

At CUNY, a statue of Alexander Hamilton.

The lovely brownstones, the sycamore trees,

The old Gothic hills. The transfixing breeze.

New York! The borrowers and the professors

And the traders and the intellectuals

And the cheap labor from all over!

That’s what you are and wanted. Chipped and far.

Every pavement brick accounted for.

That’s why its gravity drew you here.

Greater than the past, or your dreams, or grandmother, dear.

Hard, curved  cement.

Better than what any poem meant.

A lonely pussy cat on the 60th floor

With loneliness and a modeling career in store.

Delmore Schwartz dying in a midtown hotel.

Not all of the immigrants did well.

New York didn’t care.

A deep homeless stare.

Great poetry doesn’t always sell.

And sometimes in the suburbs a will

Takes over not even New York City can kill.

The conventionally handsome are attracted by the money

And women are conventionally pretty

In New York City.

But, like anything else,

It’s always better somewhere else.

You were never really here.

It was intellectual. It was language.

You weren’t really queer.

Is this the right corner? What’s the best cologne?

Nobody knows. New York is unknown.

New Yorkers, New York-neutered, are blasé

About themselves, not overawed,

The restaurant, the movie, the play

Is boring, and bored, with its perfect jaw.

But New York City silent, in the dawn,

Is the most beautiful thing, in the dawn.

And the small green park with amateur jazz

Reminds you New York City is small

And vulnerable, as well as tall.

Here the great numbers protect you.

More makes more. There’s nothing new.

New York City is looking back at you.

Surfaces. Roman, black, dane, jew.

A small Christian church, anxious to save,

Around the corner. On the 90th floor, you shave.

The tall goddesses come here to live.

The funny, strange faces. New York City pulls to give.

New York City is made to be

An indifferent building to the poetry.

There is too much here to ever use

Seriously by the muse.

I am hectored by New York City. I lie down

And pee in my white toga. In my green gown.

Once I spilled my guts downtown.

And you know what? Nothing can compare

To her—who has never even been there.

 

 

DESPERATE

 

Related image

When they like you, you are pleased,
But when they like you desperately,
This is love, and you don’t like it. The problem is easy to see:
You want love, but love only happens desperately.
Desperate was the world, when it began—
It began with Desperation, not with Man.
Desperate to begin,
Love does not care about sin.
Look—the lawful universe,
Prior to starting, obeys no law. Law makes desperation worse.
So don’t be surprised by desperate surprise.
Love will always surprise you. Her beautiful eyes,
Which you never really saw,
Are beautiful. And will break every law.

 

THE CHILD POE

Image result for baby raven

The child says there should be more—

More candy, more kittens, more stories

At bedtime, more bedtimes, more.

More brothers and sisters. The child says

We have to go back to the store.

The store has everything—well, not quite.

The child says this isn’t right.

The child asks for another store in the middle of the night.

The child wants more breaths. More.

The children arrived before. Is this why

My child says, “more?”

We have to go back to the store.

We don’t have money. We need more.

We need more—to buy things at the store.

We hate these things. We don’t want any more.

Yes we do. We want more money for more.

We need to keep swimming to the store.

The child was right to want more.

To want more love. To implore.

To work more, so we have more.

Write more poems. Poems don’t belong in the store.

Yes they do. Even poems.

And we will buy more.

If we lose one, there will be more;

Another mother, another father.

Another child, waking from a dream in the store.

This is the answer to grief: More.

Please, one more poem.

More love. More sunset and song.

How did you convince yourself the child

Who chooses more is wrong?

You ask the child: you are choosing what?

The very act of choosing is what we dare to choose.

The will. The will. The will.

But the will to be nothing matters, too.

Are you choosing the child?

Or is the child choosing you?

What does it matter?

Did you choose yourself? Was it your choice?

Look at the way you wrap your legs around yourself

When you read your public protest poems.

Your arms folded around yourself. Your voice.

You say to the child who wants more,

I’m in control here. This is not your choice.

We can’t have more. Not more—which depends on narrow belief.

Listen to my voice.

My voice. My older voice, filled with grief.

 

PHILOSOPHY AND LOVE ARE DEAD

Image result for socrates in renaissance painting

Socrates tried to tell you love, which creates and desires,

Is better than reasonable friendship, putting out all the fires.

The quarrel is between poetry and philosophy;

What you got wrong is poetry is the friend—

And philosophy, love. And since you are wrong, both for you must end.

When I wrote my poems to you, love came through my words;

Sparrows sang of love—you had never noticed these birds.

You never noticed the humility of the bees hovering,

Those dark hairs, the soft covering.

Poetry made every creature seem

Friendlier; love was a pleasant dream.

But cold philosophy lives in poetry,

My poetry was never

Merely a friendly gesture—

I was creating myself and you

As one mind, hating all things

Except death, and because of death, the true.

You felt my poems were the gift of a friend.

Philosophy begins when my poems end.

Leave the poems. Look at the bees.

It’s time you let philosophy please.

I quit, having been paid by you

With love. But the poet wanted to be true.

 

 

EVENING

Image result for blue evening in the capitol

It is evening. We think evening

Will cover up our wrong.

Detective tales sing this song.

After the poem is over

We walk the ruins of the day,

Our reputation ruined,

Thinking of something to say.

The first detective story

Was not at all gory.

It was just a matter of a letter

Which compromised the state.

Something the ambassador said

Which was wrong, or merely, late.

The poem I gave to you:

Do you remember that evening?

When everything, including the evening, seemed true?

 

WHEN, AFTER ALL, YOU REALIZE YOU LOVED

Image result for resurrection in renaissance painting

When, after all, you realize you loved—

As best as you could love,

Saw—as best as you could see,

Were—as nice as you could be,

Under the circumstances, the best,

Even sadly, even at rest,

The beautiful day dying,

The unfinished philosophy crying,

But Aristotle was right all along,

And the myths, and the song

And the fixed stars, not exactly right,

But not wrong, the calculations

You made, interminably—

The sad truths remaining out of sight—

Eyes easily closed, next to the lisping sea,

Considering the warlike nations,

And yours, the small island, with species

Preyed upon by domestic cats—

Who purred, but killed, just like that.

Your island alive to the healthy look of the sun,

When nature’s young beauty, almost done,

Gave to adolescence, fit to adore,

A delicate beauty, and even more,

The strict honor among men,

Good, again and again,

Allowing women and girls to go freely about,

Making them beautiful under the sun beyond a doubt,

Being free. They were free.

So, statistically,

There was far less homosexuality.

Love made a delicate sound

On your small island, and one bird

Flew up, far, and around

When you said the right word.

 

REVENGE OF THE TEASE

Image result for violent female goddess in indian art

Everything he touched turned rhapsodic,

The teeth, the tongue, the inside of his mouth,

The breath, his lips, were liquid and melodic.

But he wrote a song that was wrong.

Now his lyre’s unstrung. It hangs there,

A skeleton instrument, dry and bare.

“The Revenge of the Tits” was the name of his song

And he sang it with his usual, glorious touch.

The men liked it. The women, not so much.

His theme was an idle dream

That occupies many a head,

Absent-mindedly, and maybe sadly, lying there in bed—

Deeply, many times, thought—but never said.

Why shouldn’t this appeal to the poet?

To speak what is often thought, but never spoken?

He spoke. And this is why his lyre is crushed and broken,

And why they found him, the sheriff’s men,

Cut in the gorge. He will never sing again.

He sang truly.

But his fans became unruly.

I saw them in that dim Thule,

Shady like the route my lover took,

When she and I put down the book.

His theme was—all women are in prison:

Imprisoned by their delicacy and tits,

Either passive, or aggressive and shunned,

And he sang it. And he was torn to bits.

To avoid his death

There was nothing the singer could do.

They ended his rhapsodic breath,

So I breathe softly and delicately around you.

I am the singer in the gorge, with my tiny piece of cloud above,

And I always, always, always, always sing of love.

 

THE VICTIM

Image result for ancient mariner

You are not wrong to be the victim.

A choice is not a choice,

If, let’s say, you choose badly

In country, roommate, husband, or wife.

How could you know what everything entailed?

We all are victims of life.

And if your lover, who now pretends to be the victim of you,

Even as they loved you over and over again,

Is now ashamed,

Well, that will happen. Everything will happen.

If we link hands with women and men,

Or smile at every child, we are traveling to eternity;

Eternity sounds like Emily,

A name who sounded like her poetry.

That’s why, as a victim, I cannot agree.

Nietzsche’s “eternal return” is proven wrong,

Since how will eternity eternally return

In one gesture, blood stream, or song?

No, even the lucky are victims of life,

Even if we find the secret—

A good job, a happy husband, a sexy wife.

If you get that, let me know;

We can make time stop for you, or go slow.

No. You, the victim, me, the victim, yes!

Let’s plant what we knew in what we know.

Correct. Who in the world dares confess

They knew? They did? They made their breath?

Who? Who steers their own ship, flying and sinking towards terrible death?

 

 

 

 

 

 

PERSONAL HABIT

Image result for jim morrison drinking

After drinking for four hours at Paddy’s bar

I was in love, and felt like a star.

Unable to sing, I was still full of song.

I was right and told people. Was that wrong?

I was unsuccessful, of course;

At dawn, I fell off Harry, the English horse.

I was ready to start world war two.

I wish I were American and puritan—like you.

But this frowning Iranian? This polite man from China?

They will certainly do.

WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR ME?

Image result for fanciful women portraits in paintings

I can give you a look

At what others don’t normally see.

I can give you words

Immediately poetry.

That’s all romance is,

And you might be startled at how easy it is.

And this might give you pause.

Love is the only thing that’s simple

And has no laws.

The unspoken? In love, no. All is spoken

And seen, at last. Love is that complete.

You are not expected to be neat,

But I can see you wanting to be.

Wanting to be. Wanting to be.

 

A RICH LIFE

Image result for biden brags about ukraine

Lots of road rage on Twitter these days.

The Internet is a great mixing bowl of chemical reactions—deep identities interacting. In some ways, the battles are bracing and healthy. Bad emotions are burning off.

The poor need community. But the poor often look up to the rich and try to be like them. The rich are often hostile, cruel, defensive, and isolated in their judgments.

With all this mixing, cruelty has found its community—community has found its cruelty.

A lot of this is due to Trump, but let’s put aside politics for a moment.

The current controversy in the public sphere involves an international fight between two rich men: Trump and Biden.

Like the Internet, which mixes people from all walks of life, and exposes a great deal which has never been exposed before, Trump is a rich boy from the rich club fighting other members of the rich club—and this is exposing a lot of things which are usually kept quiet.  That’s why there’s all this fuss today.

The rich—like the gods on Mount Olympus—fight with each other—sometimes.

Sometimes the gods fight so much they forget they are gods—who mostly rule in silence and secrecy over nobodies like us.

Trump is fighting with other rich people, and a lot of it, this nobody imagines, is purely personal—and he’s using working class, middle America as his ally—and highly indignant, elite, chattering class, liberals as his rocket fuel.

The phenomenon of Trump is exactly like the internet, and mirrors it—a mixing of different classes and beliefs and situations which creates a great deal of electrical energy. Trump is unsettling other rich people like Biden—and Biden’s friends. The Trump era is exposing how the gods on Olympus behave.  It’s not so much what Trump is, but what he is stirring up.

Let’s not get caught up in the rage and the fear too much. Hang together, people. This is a great moment in American history. Learn, laugh. Enjoy it. We are.

—The Scarriet Editors

 

WHAT IF AT THE END

Image result for shakespeare's as you like it in painting

What if at the end,

You realize you were wrong?

Will this change the beginning,

And the middle, and the late middle,

And the end, of this, our lonely song?

What if, at the end,

You understand how lonely

You were, and how you always had the key

To escape your prison.

And the one you wanted—was me?

Will it make a difference, then,

When you cry out,

And see my face, and there is no doubt there was no doubt?

I wonder this, not because wondering is what I need to do.

I know. I never wondered when I thought of you.

 

 

PHOBIA

Related image

You know someone by their fear.

Some are afraid and some are not afraid, to be queer.

This fearless man is homeless, the germs

Cover him with invisible flies and worms.

This woman showers three times a day.

She washes germs and love away.

This woman believes she will be attacked

By the one she loves.

She assembles hawks to defend the doves.

This man has such a fear of losing money,

He doesn’t believe there is money.

White, he believes his great-grandmother is black,

And one midnight she will take him back

And trade him for a farm animal

He saw once on the Disney channel.

My phobia is I love you until I die.

No one makes a sound. And no one knows why.

 

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: