Len Eskowitz has
been teaching Literature and Composition at Roxbury Community College in Boston
as Professor of English, adjunct, though he also confesses to having held an
artist’s long series of dumb jobs that have drained his time as much as they’ve
helped him continue. He began writing poetry as a student at the
University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the 1970's, when he was associated with the
Small World School of Poetry (an early version of the Hexagon Foundation).
He has been creative in a wide variety of fields, not only poetry, but creative
and critical prose, as well as in the visual arts, where he has produced
pastels, water colors, acrylics, even photography. One academic observer of his
first exhibition compared his pastels to those of Milton Avery. Nonetheless,
these past several years he has focused on his poetry and has published in
Neo-Victorian/Cochlea, Liberal Arts, Worcester
Review, New Dimensions, and
Chiaroscura, has won
a number of small prizes at the Worcester Poetry Association, judges Judith
Steinbergh and Christopher Gilbert. He has completed and is circulating his
first collection Weather-Dial,
Yankee Dinner and
Dream-Work soon to
Still Life: The Herring School's In Late, Far from Home, Lonely Sources
Queen's Time (Song) Crystal On the Evangeline Weather-Dial
The Great Wall of China A New England Home The Lecture Dreamwork
Crossing Borders The Love Seat Haunted House A Crossroads Story Confirmation Postcard from a Volcano Night Animal Spirits Steamed Yankee Dinner
The Comets Escape Moakley's Crane The Rabbi and the Herring
The Renunciation Cetacean
STILL LIFE: THE HERRING SCHOOL ‘S IN
. . . Can he who slays the elephant
for his ivory be said to have "seen
the elephant"? These are petty and
accidental uses, just as if a stranger
race were to kill us and make buttons
and flageolets of our bones.
-- H. D. Thoreau
The belt brought
row upon row in from
the tanker and in from the night.
Herring assembled almost like
children in rows going to school.
Silver scaled, glistening under
fluorescents, and so so soft. One
lost one’s fastidiousness and
longed to touch each beautiful bit
of still life, each subtle scale,
and forgetful of fish that flowed
untouched past one’s insensate filleting
machine, pick a single one up.
glassey-eyed and plump in palm,
trace it from nose to fin to tale,
almost to caress. Each separate fish,
a silver stroke in the portrait, each
so remarkably like the other, the
belt black and sides dull metallic
gray, the crew in denim and plaids
and spattered whites, thin
cloth jackets and pants, and ever
so certainly individually shucked into
brown and black plastic gloves and boots,
as herring after herring ,
eyes open in unblinking wonder at
hideous efficiencies that men and
machine might bend themselves to, each
individually finding its shining belling
turned up and spit and shucked, guts and blood
and blood and backbone and all, then in a snap
shipped to America’s dinner table, C.O.D.
The night droned by and
the belt seemed to whisper and sing to
me as it rolled on under my eyes
into the dark, rolled through coffee-break,
brown-bag supper and down-time cat-naps
as others iced the fish and calibrated
machines or opened new tank-batch
for us to work on into the night without stop
that’d let fish pile and bellies break
or loads wilt with incoming fresh catch and
morning sun. Mainers around me smiles and said,
You’ll see flounder and sardine-mackerel,
dog-fish and ground-fish, blue and
butterfly-fish, and tonight you’ll get so tired
you’ll work now and ever after
as in a dream. And I saw them scrambling smiling
and with dream-like untiring mechanical speed,
old fisherwomen and bearded men and young
girls home from school alike (we don’t work
the winter, so all ‘re out for an occasional
first boat in spring), scramble to ensure
each individual herring is directed off the belt
and into the rollers and cutting machines to be packed,
unbroken but by design. Merciless mercy, to try
to let not a single fish elude nimble reaching
hands and be broken, ever-so-neatly snapped
into two, should the belt pile up. Broken
backs and bodies, needless wreckage, wet
bodies shoveled en masse from belt and pavement
underfoot into barrel; for pet-food or fertilizer,
they said. Life-juices, shreds and water, all
caught and (to disbelief and humor and unaccepting
admiration) bottled, labeled and sold: broth, cocktail,
clammato, or such. Waste not, want not, my partner
said knowingly. Freedom from waste, perhaps,
but even so, does that mean no want? No waste
of another kind? And can there be want
in want of want? I wanted to ask, but knew
that my friend would not hear.
Transfixed so with wonder in the roar and failing
light in these earth-works, earth’s bowels, that
so little such attends such horrible beauty,
the precision, the charitable care only that each
shred be properly caught and weighed, numbered and valued,
I suddenly could see a silent orchestrated school
of fish hovering before me, a silver miracle,
so many pilots faithfully pointed in one direction,
homing somehow for somewhere, through the gray blue green
transparent sea. And if pilots and school so
obviously orchestrated, what the plan? And why to here?
And if classroom and lesson, what point to such paradox?
If only someone could tell! If once here,
fish might miraculously spring to life, to walk on tail
and talk, what might they say of our commercial wonders?
And of their own silent purpose? Would they tell of life
seen outside of our picture-frame, beyond this one small room?
Or lecture at all that we do not see before us?
That precision and charitable beauty might come to mere shreds
and stacked cardboard boxes. My friend would speak
of blessings of plenty, question not inequality and
sacrifice called to mind.. Should we hold ourselves so
separate from simpler life? If preordained, all for the good?
Was I too on a conveyor, where might it lead?
Why these pictures, rolled before me?
My friend, I knew, would say no more talk talk
alone ’s waste, as the belt and the whispering night
rolled over me and I could not talk to talk.
LATE; FAR FROM HOME; LONELY
The man rides along in the bus;
The bus rides along with him;
And the road is a great snake
Growing from darkness into darkness.
All swirls about, refracting from
Then into now. Somehow he should be able to
Choose and stand. Somehow he should
Dominate that world...
But the thoughts are blown off in the wind
He sees himself in the window
Babes are gobbled
Cabbages rule in the stead of kings
Trees bend in a weeping procession
Over the moving road and the moving bus
The house, the storied commitment, the fairy princess
There right; here wrong and right and
The road snakes from the past into the dark.
Cabbages are fighting the kings.
Where is compassion merely practiced?
Where is it shared?
Might the one come before the other?
And however might the two ‘come one?
-- Spark and flame?
Would you they?
You ask that the rainbow be parted, I believe.
I would make myself part of the necromancy, the
glory, the color of day.
Isn’t the bar of the compass
QUEEN’S TIME (SONG)
rainbow light leaves no child forsaken
though inebriation of elixir
may bar the Queen now
‘fore King’s bow.
Bouquet of spring,
rainbow rosemary elixir, bow and bar,
will lead hare and hind to
fixed amidst the humming light.
The transfigured soul,
Necessary shadows of Being:
Glinting facets of crystal,
Fasceting being that nil of all,
That All in all.
OFF THE MAINE COAST ON THE EVANGELINE --
BETWEEN PORTLAND, ME, AND PROVIDENCE, RI
Moment amidst the dark
passage, river in an ocean;
time, waves recapitulating each other,
one and another.
Once we said only our mistakes
could come back to haunt us --
returning like flies to pester.
Evil does; momentary soul sickness
in transit. Scandals in the nations
house; fires in Miami, Marxists fighting,
marching Nazis and Klansmen
in Connecticut. Where, how
could there be forgiveness?
We answer, those blessed with grace
answer. Graceful answers,
each in turn finding the old way, old paths,
unique seconds unraveling surprise
Hesitant voicing of a given range,
certain act, seer sight-
diadem like that caught
between falcon and falconer –
finding the river in the ocean.
And where to? Prow amidst the waves;
Ever leaning starboard.
Ship’s horn sounding the warning of further fog,
We continue, voicing the uncertainty,
the certainty, the surprise.
WEATHER_DIAL: AN ELEGY
neither fear nor courage
– T. S. Eliot
A woman sits amidst the hush
lounging, book in hand, light within,
darkness dancing before and by and without.
Part of the pattern, Grecian
tapestry of today and tomorrow and…
mindful of men falling midst ambition, storms
swallowing towns, lovers’ quarrels, terrorist fears, endlessly
burning bushes. Mind made like a modern meteorologist’s chart;
still here, she ponders, cold calculations of snow in chalk there.
Lady Picasso a’dream, space’s purpleslashes somehow mingling
with her own feminine curves: certain charted lines all set, now
Nature holds her holy breath, now it’s ten, now it’s twelve, now it’s two, and
All’s still. And men and women and children hurry with incredible
slowness to tape window, lock shutter, clear porch, provide
flashlight and candle, fuel oil and gas and well-stocked pantry,
as all appears as in a seer’s omniscient ball, clear, shivering
gently in anticipation of onslaught of fate foreseen, hope forlorn,
hope foregone, meteorologist’s chart like a poetic metaphor yet
so sharp this picture, still crystal of Today & Tomorrow,
Quiet & Chaos. All form that Cold Pastoral, that abstract whole,
symphony of unheard melody, she thinks; never ending inner pattern,
inner engulfing the outer edges of whatever it is
we are and may yet become. Peace to him within whose imagination
can comprehend the pattern without. But the hesitation here,
before dawn, eternally competing, completing, never complete.
Uneasy ease of self’s forms; fantasmic future, caught here,
Weatherchart telling of men falling,
limbs chilling, words crossing words.
Imperturbable figure of mind,
a woman sits amidst the hush, book in hand,
the swirling dark pirouettes about.
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
We have tossed our hat
over the wall; now let us
follow after it.
Oh, you Lover of Walls,
Waller, student of minor poetry,
what would you wall in, wall out?
Capper, what would you cap, and why?
Boxer, a six round go, a play ’d bring more joy
than passing success in boxing me.
Librarian, could you lock away all books?
Scholar, critical, condemn us to decades’ diet
of unrelenting bibliography? for a fee?
China built its Great Wall, you say?
A cakewalk, you see, symbol of futility,
for the hordes, Chinese and Mongol, raged, rage
season-long on both sides in fray.
Hebrews’ Wailing Wall? -- symbol for the unwalled,
unwallable, the wall-less in each of us.
The Great Berlin Wall, you say,
got men on both sides a’ fearing and a’ trembling?
But it made "Ich bin ein Berliner"
world’s Rosetta Stone, common man’s touchstone.
The Maginot Line? A scratch on a map,
no margin, crossed, erased in but a day.
England’s Channel but a dirty ditch crossed in a hop,
the Atlantic cause for a brief pleasure cruise.
Oh, you Lovers of Walls, governors,
presidents, prime ministers,
would you give decree, stamp STOP!
across our map, FREEZE! for Massachusetts
and New Hampshire, FLOURISH! for Phoenix
and Philadelphia? Shall these long golden rows
of olive grove stay as in some painter’s picture,
forever in WAIT! unnaturally young? Those
reach upward toward the sun, root, ripen, deepen,
fall, spread in ever richer abundance?
The great poets and their students knew.
Knew that government and art could only be as great
as common earth. Chaucer knew,
packed whole earth’s pilgrimage in one mere poem.
Shakespeare knew and would his night-black ink
be eternal morning-bright.
Donne, too, knew, for verse picked a flowering
mandrake root, caught a falling star,
would cram whole sky into four quarters,
and whole quarters into one mighty rhyme.
Blake knew and placed eternity in one mere grain of sand
and for all time.
Dickinson knew and slyly stole a sun -- or two! --
wild nights, day’s cedar walls, and gambreled sky
Yeats knew and caught the dance of our days
in his lusty song, and
Auden, too, in praising Yeats, all our days to unprison,
all to renew,
rolled Mouth of All Days
into a speaking
Waller, student of minor poetry,
could you wall us in? wall us out? On all
sides of all walls
earth ‘s a’ flower, cherry trees in bloom,
the winds are full, and sing.
Guys and girls in flocks drop plum-ripe
on splendid grass,
spirits a ’rising in a rush, a bubbling fountain
and bloom tall palm-like
in milk and nut-sweet meat.
Raise a noise, a joyous shout and
hullabaloo, aaah, only for you,
you minor students of poetry.
For grasses, trees, scudding clouds,
couples walking coyly hand in hand,
milk-fresh faces, smiling faces, gleaming strawberry
hair fading into the dusk
in silent home-window a’ light, wall, roof top in shadow,
all under a rip’ning sun,
all a thousand tongues bespeaking common communion
with Keats and Shelly, Shakespeare and Donne.
Waller, what would you wall in, wall out?
Capper, cap? How could you even have dreamed?
even have begun?
Earth’s a’ flowering, cherry trees a’ bloom,
the winds are full, and sing.
A NEW ENGLAND HOME
-- for James F. Beard
It was a house,
but not a house,
located in a city really
not quite a city,
in a hollow between two hills,
a shadowy valley on a river
we called the Mystic.
(Not much of a place, really;
hardly significant space.)
And the house we meant
to name Mystic Harbor,
though the river was not
really named the Mystic.
Or much of a river, where we were.
The house was a rambling
old New England colonial
dating back to the early 19th century,
to the 1820’s at least, 2nd oldest here,
though it was really older and oldest.
>From the outside it looked
so small, dark cedar shingled and low,
its shoulders hunched in the wind,
chimneys weathered, stubby, almost bowed,
a one floor addition to the left
that would contain the family room, a ragged coattail,
the roof sagging slightly with earned fatigue
of too many years of honest service.
>From the outside, it looked so small, matchbox small,
hugging its curve of road so as not to be swept over the sharp
drop down the bank and into the rushing waters just below,
domicile precariously perched, dwarfed by fir-studded hills.
Peer into the shuttered panes to no avail!
Step into our front door, then, careful of
the three large steps leading immediately down
and the space opens immediately over you: a cathedral
ceiling stretching up under eve and pitch of roof.
Along the far wall, behind an island, the galley,
and above framed in a series of portals, rushing blue waters.
Suddenly you’re at the end of your tether, cast off, at seas as the earth’s at sea,
at sea with surprise at space infinitely larger within than without.
To the right, another deck with kitchen table and chair on it
and behind, a black cast-iron, wood-burning stove vented in an old fireplace
and throwing vital warmth that will linger, when all fires are gone.
Here you may gaze as the sparkling blue mystic stream glows between its banks,
skim its beauty as morningfresh cream, as old-time Yankees used to skim ice from ponds,
taken for granted here, perhaps, but an emperor’s treasure in India. Here is roof, table,
bed, hearth & heartiness to sustain one through roaring New England winter
or a writer’s blizzard of rejections! Rest to still hurtling days, blur of rising
and setting suns, moons. At far left above all this, overlooking all,
a loft climbed upto by vertical ladder like Father Mapple to his Quebec
or a hand into the rigging, though you found only small writing table, Venetian
green-glass lamp, cane chair, a broken-in coach and built-in bookcases,
pulpit enough, father, for our purposes. At galley level again,
past kitchen and wood stove, a fireplaced sitting room
looking out over a two-level deck that stepped down into the rear yard.
Beyond that, a small low-ceilinged white-walled fireplaced library.
Up the narrow white stairwell, white fireplaced bedrooms left and right
on a generously thick-slabbed colonial floorbed. Here
would go the brass bed, the motley quilt, the throw rug.
Here’s a telescope you’d shared with your ten year old, both of you
staring at brilliant stars in night skies above. Here a sextant from
days of yore, a chronometer, a clipper ship in a bottle.
>From every window, the winding river; water, water, all around, beauty within and without.
Downstairs through the sitting room, onto the deck and beneath, untamed half-acre.
Here you would still have room enough for gazebo and wild rose and cornucopia,
bee hive and lilac and most sensual of honeysuckle.
With the foundation above ground on riverside, open boarded-up window for light,
and door. Here’s wine cellar, here’s playroom.
By the foundation, under deck, a greenhouse, and a few steps further out
a spiraling blue spruce climbing to the stars, perhaps even
a few branches of Concord Grape to match the vineyards
worked in your library. This, the house we surveyed!
These our dreams.
We never rented it, never lived there.
Never bought it, sufficient monies were lacking, and, anyway,
all this wasn’t anything that could be owned.
We never owned it, or lived there.
We have never left.
for Walter Rideout
He told the story with a smile, though it never
sounded to the department like anything to laugh at.
He said that it was like a waking dream. Suddenly, he realized
he was in front of an audience. With a start, he realized
it was Yankee Stadium and not the 2000 World Series, Yankees
against the Mets, but there was an audience in the darkened stands
waiting, and a podium before him, and he was supposed to lecture!
About what, he had no idea, not the faintest memory, but as a cold sweat
broke out over him, he realized he was holding papers, his speech.
No problem, he would just read. No, no, it was only this week’s TIME
magazine. A prop? He didn’t remember, no matter. Suddenly, he felt
as if he were standing there in his birthday suit, and maybe he was
wearing "the King’s new clothes," it was all, all the same!
Squirming, a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach,
he wished it were late, late, at night, and he was twisting and turning,
caught in the throes of the horrible nightmare of our daily all-too-real existence.
He had this dream again that he was out in the back yard, digging, digging,
digging, why digging clandestinely, without light or sound,
why digging at all he had absolutely no idea. Why repeated,
if not nightly, or at least a handful of times a year, he couldn’t say.
The morning after, however, the real family nightmare began.
He remembered it clearly, the family going out to visit Grandma,
his dearest, most favorite relative. He had work for his graduate classes,
couldn’t go along, and a week later she had passed, left this earth forever.
Heartbroken, he went to the funeral service, followed the casket to the cemetery,
watched wordlessly as it was lowered into that pit in the ground
and heard the smooth, quick sound of spades biting the earth, and the thud
of earth falling on the casket. He remembered thinking, Grandma,
why couldn’t you have waited for me, let your favorite redhead grandson say goodbye?
As he wiped away a tear. But she had passed without word, left this earth forever.
That evening as he tossed in his sleep, he was digging, digging, digging,
stealthily in the dark, feeling just like a thief in the night, a graverobber.
He had been here so many times before, he realized, digging, digging, digging.
Suddenly he realized he was digging for a long white casket, digging
it up, picturing himself struggling under its weight, dragging it to his wagon
and driving off, so upset he saw little about him in the dark streets, remembered less,
nothing more than digging, digging in his backyard, feeling like a thief
in the night, a graverobber, digging a pit large enough for a casket.
Remembered thinking, "I’m taking you home, Grandmother.
You’ll be safe; you’ll never leave again. No thief will ever rob you
from us again, not even Death." He would remember little of this afterwards,
though nights he would forever wake remembering that he had been digging,
clandestinely digging, digging, never knowing why, but always digging in the dark
who lived and told it first
In your self-portrait,
a princess, a Russian ballerina,
laughingly, "a gazelle in dull pink shoes"
twirling in "a theatre’s dark coulisse,"
dreaming of being one twirling pink gown
amidst "spring’s floccules," explosion of cherry blossoms,
rehearsing before the accidental audience
to a magical music, notes from Don Quixote,
dazed and amazed at the finale’s unexpected applause.
You who enchanted onlookers
and as a child would have cast healing spells
and doctored the sick of the world,
tell this story, this dream of life before
you crossed the border
to this freer world.
Nightly you dream of descending
into underground catacombs,
Beatrice entering into a dark wood
to meet your friend, your lover.
You see yourself talking incessantly,
frantically, your lips moving
almost too fast.
He stands before you, dark,
an impassive shadow,
his lips motionless,
sealed like doom,
his eyes wet with a tear
of love, a tear of pain,
his finger silently tracing the line
of his lips,
as if to say, don’t speak,
we may cross this gulf and speak. No more.
I understand and love, but my lips
are never to open,
only to gaze amidst the silence
the silence that muffles
For three years nights,
periodically, you meet
as if to doctor each other.
Then you blink.
He is gone,
and again you wake,
again covered with sweat.
Until you are able go back to visit,
to travel to meet his family
in Kiev, city of beauty,
and finally you know.
You hear, startled,
that he has left,
three years ago,
crossed that border,
into the silent night.
THE LOVE SEAT
As I told everyone at the time,
Furniture Warehouse & Distributors, too
who patiently listened without comment,
it was a case worthy of People’s Court:
The Case of the Defective Love Seat.
I bought it fully a year before,
paid for it in bimonthly installments,
a few dollars, whatever I could afford,
terms so liberal!
At long last it came into our empty new house,
part of three pieces, sofa, recliner, love seat.
It sparkled, and an empty room became home.
Its browns, blues, and natural hues meshed with all, even
with Flamingo Island, the picture on the wall.
We got the feel of the set gradually,
as people grown into things, a new car, good shoes, etc.
My son soon sprouted out of the couch before the TV,
the wife at last found her place on the Love Seat,
though it was far too short and her stockinged feet
forever stuck far out over the end, a point for comedy.
Perhaps because we first used recliner and sofa alone,
no more problems appeared (apart form the question of length)
until one day a tear opened on the love seat arm
and despite makeshift repair with needle and thread,
spread and spread and spread, threads entirely unraveling.
I was aghast at first, newness fled, and
affection was dashed. How could it be?
Then I saw damning evidence,
cross_hatch stitching _ an original wound and repair.
Now the distributor said that it was a close out,
no returns or guarantees against flaws, if accepted on delivery _
see the small print on the back of your receipt.
Maybe they could fix it. But the first repair hadn’t worked.
I had my first fight with them, told them
the Attorney General’s Office objected
(to unadvertised seconds, to small print, to disclaimers, etc.),
had the next with a wife who wouldn’t help bring it back
when I couldn’t make an appointment, who wouldn’t do anything for me.
As I had to drive off into a storm to make another,
she threw me out, got an order, refused to talk.
When this storm, too, abated, I could clearly see
the terms had been liberal, a few dollars
a month, a divorce, a lifetime of repentance.
The lesson when purchasing sofas, Love Seats, et al,
was to look for the small print,
know that you could not see all on the back,
that you might have to grow into it,
for seams to tear, flaws to tell.
Damage once present was forever, repairs would never hold,
and however much care, purchase held terror.
It was always a matter of Trial and Error.
It was a case for the People’s Court:
the case of the Defective Love Seat.
I bought a New England home
built a New England home
worthy of Waldo,
A House of Possibility.
Bought one to be Beginning,
Breakthrough breathing throughout
with only Brightness, Hope not Hopelessness,
not Hell, but Heaven on Earth.
Over my Garden and Roof, only
fair-weather cloud & Plethora Possibility,
through my grove of birch could only whistle Rain,
Gales of Gold, gales of liquid Joy.
I thought I built with Planks of
Unquestionable Potential, Cedar of Certitude,
incapable of Collapse.
That day has fled,
Night thunders into open windows,
washes walls, cascades down stairs,
a Flood rising in every Room,
every room full of wriggling Shadows,
and Nightmare dogs in my Footsteps.
I thought my front door Beginning.
I carried my Bride over the Threshold &
found the Other Side
seeming Ending &
without Warning, without Reason, or Cause….
My Shadow and I walked into
our Farmhouse kitchen that day, and
the Colors ran and faded before our eyes,
Dreams dispersed like Smoke from Woodfire.
Our Loss still Haunts it today,
& under our eyes as we watch
that great expanse of Green & Blue, Lawn & Sky
Darkened with a Night of Stormcloud & Fire.
Storm descended to Hover over our Gazebo.
I thought I could see Snakes & Dragons tumble in the Murk,
hear Foghorn moan and Thunder clap.
O, my Eden, my Eve, My Evelyn, my Evangeline….
As I watched, Pain flowered all over my Garden,
Flowered into exotic, parti_colored Succulents.
I sought the Key, the Compensation, the Why, &
Could only utter, "Oh, My!"
Could only utter the cry.
Imagine this man
trying to sell me this dog,
this short man
with long, mane-like black hair,
moustache, waggish grin,
a heart full of love,
and dog-like plea
in eyes asking you to like him.
"Couldn’t you keep a dog?"
"With all this space
in a big old New England house,
you have to have space
enough for my buddy,"
his smile seemed to say.
"I found him standing
lost and confused
in the middle
of two intersecting streets.
Like a few others,
in that park
behind your house."
knowing that somehow
my house and yard
and the park behind
routinely became home
for the abandoned,
just like my waggish friend.
I no longer had time or patience
for this pooch,
but I think he found
another home anyway,
and my friend went on to adopt
a house of lost dogs, dozens
at the mercy of an Animal Officer
to keep roof over their heads,
to keep herself and dogs fed,
to forestall death decrees,
to find good homes
for the poor, unwanted.
A hard job, acting as Savior
for the doggish of this world.
My waggish friend,
this short man
with such a big heart,
with long hair,
moustache and sad eyes,
laughing and dead-pan
all the same,
my simple carpenter,
my poor handyman,
told me of feeding time,
how he’d walk to the right
and all the heads, behind their bars,
would turn right,
he’d walked to the left,
they’d all look to the left,
and for effect
looked to the right
and slowly looked to the left
all the heads
would turn right
and would turn left
my Pied Piper.
I imagined dozens of tongues,
all hanging in anticipation,
but laughed, told him
he’d missed his occupation --
This waggish man
with such a doggone expression,
this man another friend
between Lost & Found."
Strange how the lost
or near lost
always seem to find
Anyway, to wrap up this,
my short story,
I didn’t keep the dog,
but doggone it,
seemed to have
adopted the man,
at least for the while,
enough so that another friend
protested, "You married him!"
Somehow, some of us forever
pick up strays.
I offered my handyman
work, a chance
to make himself handy.
Gave him my rear room
one time, another
my living room couch.
At least we tried
to make a place for him
in the family
until as the doggish do,
he made a mess
in my car and
on my floors
and had to go
and was finally found
under the freedom of open sky,
in another park,
as will happen to those
who don’t find a home
of their own
in sufficient time,
those the great
of this world can’t help.
A sad story
for all times
of a short, waggish man,
with a big heart,
with long hair and moustache
and sad eyes,
a crossroads story.
We heard of his passing
after the fact, assumed
others wouldn’t have known
& called and emailed all.
A mutual friend sent an "urgent"
note belatedly, "Is it confirmed?!"
Another mutual friend had
bumped into him,
after he was supposed
to have passed, she swore;
before she escaped
back to her home in Canada,
they had talked of his plans
for the future, for reform.
Well, we’ve all known
he had had this way of slipping
out of tight situations,
a latter-day Houdini,
and he had been laying low,
on the lam, if you will.
Still, his mother
is supposedly hosting him today,
his ashes on her mantle,
and we’re all planning
this memorial celebration.
I can write with a laugh.
Slip out of this,
if you can, my friend!
Little likelihood he’ll
watch his funeral from afar
like Huck Finn watching friends
dragging the muddy Mississippi
for his miserable body.
Or like Mark Twain himself
opening a newspaper
and reading his own obituary;
having the last laugh.
Confirmation? Can anyone
prove St. Peter accepted
a poor soul
at His Gate
with open arms,
a radiant smile
and gift of Grace?
Suddenly, I can hear
the laughter of this Archangel,
this Gabriel, laughter
for this funeral feast!
Oh, he’s has uncaged himself,
this poor carpenter,
in another country,
free, as Whitman was free.
Look, now, he might say,
I’m in the soil
and in the leaves
under your shoes,
in the light
and bright blue pane
of sky overhead;
in that other country,
in that other place.
POSTCARD FROM A VOLCANO
I don't know whether
there will be time enough for this
I fear that it will be lost
amidst the clutter of this house
remnants of meals, unwashed dishes,
letters going out, coming in
kept, as we strive to recover ourselves,
opened and unopened books,
a husband and wife's clothing (intimate and other),
a child's toys, carelessly tossed on the carpet,
dreams sloppily scattered across the
floors, the walls, the air, the windows of this house.
I don't know
A man from a volcano came to me today.
He was born in the volcano, grew.
I, too, yesterday, explored a volcano house
microscopic. Too small for anyone to see.
Too large not to be missed, not to be
entered. I pray, a doll's house, dream house, entered.
On the corner of Aetna Street &
an imagined Volcano Street – or
so I was prepared to say
To underline the place, the pain.
Oh, you steaming Mexican, Hawaiian craters,
mine is like yours & different.
Whether or not I revisit that centuries old home,
its carpeted rooms, doorways, halls,
whether or not I finger its switches, faucets, sills,
whether or not I again run fingertips over its wainscoting
& intricately designed wallpapers, I will now never leave.
A woman doctor, psychologist, writer, talked
this morning on the radio in my head
of lives, love, & fateful encounters,
sweeping us up in life's lava,
life's and love's searing pain. These we meet --
Stop us, transfix us in time.
Postcards from volcanoes erupting here,
Dickinson's, Stevens' man from a volcano
floating in the sun, coursing on the molten flow,
remnants like the clutter I fingered in this house
like the grainy panels of this house's walls
and wondered where it might fit, where we might fit,
fateful & kept here, mine is a different volcano,
not just a chance leaving, a particular pumice,
like the floating honeycombed stones I used to collect,
cast from distant fires & Fate on a Boston shore! Not just
a historic volcano whose peak we live under,
as we live under unmitigated poverty, inequality,
mine's that & the volcano of these
now just cluttering here, waiting to
be fingered, understood, ordered, waiting to be given voice,
selves waiting to be recovered, humanity redeemed,
I don't know whether in this eternity
of humanity, I don't know whether
there will be time. . . .
They come in the dead of night
as I work the graveyard shift
just before the blizzard’s onslaught
and just like the Secret Police
of Old World Prague, Budapest, or Berlin.
"We’d like to talk to you, please,"
I am told; and am asked about relationships,
disputes, hopes and fears, ideals and dreams,
about weapons -- knives, guns, gun licenses
(don’t believe in them, I say frankly) –
and unspecified crimes. At three they hand me
my papers, my expulsion order (crime undeclared):
expelled from wife, son, bed, kitchen and home,
banished, exiled, dispossessed. Hours later
I walk into the desperate waking day’s wet streets
too ashamed to call anyone to ask the way,
walk blizzard-beaten, ice and snow-enameled pavement,
walk into the waiting week, weeks, storm-stunned.
I have coat, sweatshirt, jeans, underwear, sox and shoes.
I have my wallet, my ATM card, my credit cards.
My only immediate place to sleep, a ’76 Chevette
(a briefcase, a few books, Matthiessen, Feidelson, Howe,
Thoreau, and Hawthorne’s appropriate SCARLET LETTER in back).
My library, files, correspondence, manuscripts -- lost.
I am told I can return home to get things,
but they say they will have to accompany me;
the police say also they have no time, and perhaps
I might be asked to pay the cost of their salaries
for the duration of the escort. The second day,
I hear that she has to be there, have you arranged it?
But I’m not supposed to talk to her, to call, write,
communicate through an intermediary. It is open-ended, he says.
One says she called, said she never wanted to have you arrested,
may drop it all, relent. It was a mistake. And he’d never
have issued the warrant, if he’d interviewed her first.
Has anyone ever said she’s not playing with a full deck, he asks?
Another: they want to prosecute those like you,
disgruntled husbands, no matter what she chooses, you see.
It’s the times, you must understand. It’s an Affair of State now.
I protest I’ve never broken a law, never had a problem,
from when I went through an impossible disciplinarian high school
without so much as a misdemeanor mark, a rare achievement. But no matter.
Another: speak to the Clerk of the Court to get the order amended.
I go back to Court, the Clerk tells me to go to Probate.
Could I do that myself, could I do it soon? He only smiles
as if to say, don’t dream. And don’t waste our time.
I buy some underwear from a discount house
(shirts and pants, replacement sweaters and vests, too dear).
I buy shaving cream, toothpaste, comb, and the like.
Around me people dance and sing Christmas, Hanukkah,
but my own holiday cheer this season for cards, friendship -- frozen.
Humbled, I am taken in by a friend, sheltered, fed.
Privacy, independence, and (offered a pork chop for dinner)
even my diet now another’s, I am lost displaced, alone.
Father, I think, we were so unalike, at odds, perhaps
perhaps this is what you knew when as a teenager you left Poland,
wandered Europe, leaving dearly-bought parts of you,
libraries (even more costly to transport, ship, or store),
in cities too many to remember, somehow staying one step ahead
of the Reich, the Nazis, the ovens that were to consume all that you knew.
Perhaps this is how you remembered family and estate
in another time, in another country. Perhaps this is why
you were always so reluctant to eat at another’s,
whomever we could visit, family, friends, customers, stopping
always to eat out before we would arrive, leaving us embarrassed
at others’ generosity, for we never understood.
A sometimes man of letters, books, I think of others,
now seemingly distant cousins, of Franz powerless before his
infallible Father-judge, fearful of bosses arriving to knock
at his door, invade his home, berate him for unfathomable reasons,
at officials arriving to wake him and hand him his papers
placing him on Trial without explanation, without good cause.
Of Vladimir, whose Russian fairy tale palace’s noble childhood
swept away by 1917’s Bolshevik avalanche seemingly now in another dimension.
Friends, let me out of your world, I didn’t ask for it;
let me walk off and lose myself in the shadows.
This isn’t a TV drama, why does it seem I’m walking off into a storm
of music, a symphony, a Bach fugue echoing in my steps?
Open my car door, even my Chevette seems to cough counterpoint,
still ever so slowly hauling me along up over Belmont Hill to more toil.
Stormy days pass like cymbals, money flies away like lost notes
for necessities, bills that somehow stick to my fingers,
a new exhaust, a weld when I step through the car floor, debt
repayment, food, and soon, a single room, a doctor, lawyer, lawyers.
Let me walk deeper into the shadows, perhaps I will be free.
One night I wake and, my credit cards, where are they?
My license, my company photo ID, my ATM cards -- all missing.
Like other things gone before, tokens of identity, things that had made me.
I am truly dispossessed, one among the lost.
Spring, time of sudden, startling revival,
reawakening, reversal, and I stare
at my spring garden and sadly wonder
what could have so stealthily plucked
yet another row of innocent seedlings
from their dark earth beds and left not a trace.
Yesterday a dozen zucchini, pepper, and tomatoes
stood proudly at attention, today a row of craters
and not a footprint in the soft, warm, black soil.
On the front lawn my Nigerian "uncle,"
guest here since he fell ill,
now stirs himself, revived with the season,
and stretches out greedily seeking every ray
for his health, an incongruity, a black shape
sucking in spring’s bright rays, with his complexion
a black sheep in this New England Eden,
no, better, an exotic African eggplant
rooting, growing in my very garden!
Suddenly from under the barn, these three,
four, five fat, furry creatures stick out their heads,
raise curious noses to the sky, and assured
all is safe and to their liking, bolt out and
like tailless beaver gambol about our lawn.
One little one goes right to my seedlings,
and I see my thieves, caught black-pawed
and red-handed in the light of day. The monsters!
It’s a veritable Picnic on the Grass!
Slowly, disbelievingly, shaking my head as if
to clear my sight of them, I carry on with my work
from inertia; carry the day’s clippings
to the compost heap behind the garage. I turn,
and another little one has followed right behind me!
Raising and twitching its rump, resting on its front paws,
sniffing the air, and looking on intently with little boyish
Disney-like curiosity. As if to discover what I was all about.
"No!" I shout with puzzlement and anger.
"Don’t you know you were supposed to be afraid?"
And with a wild wave at the barn, "That you were supposed
to run and hide? Get away with you!" I said, voice rising.
"They’re only innocent little animals; don’t hurt them,"
my warrior carpenter warned threateningly as he arrived.
"Yesterday, one of the old ones was lying out there on the lawn
and sunning himself beside your sleeping Nigerian friend.
They slept and snored, side by side." But my elder African uncle,
my erudite professor of history, arising from his slumber and
stumbling upon my Court with saucer-wide eyes can only
look on, patting his stomach and offering with unfeigned delight,
"What a wonderful meal they would make!" His mouth almost watering.
Education aside, almost a cannibal ready to fire his iron pot.
For all my anger, I’m horrified, and my carpenter furious: "Eat pets?"
"Eat the children!" And I can only respond with wild, rueful mirth, what a sight,
with this group of animals indeed acting like human parents with children,
and my civilized and urbane friends
acting no more than like animals.
Oh, I thought, with the revelation of this cruel spring light,
this is Nature. This, but Animal Spirits at work!
And man and animal, animal and man, species not so far apart
as you would have like to have thought. These the lessons
of the earth with its narcotic warmth. The responsibilities of man and art to share
this earth, this place, this peace, this other heaven, for however so long
our sojourn. This the spring wisdom, the spring fright.
STEAMED YANKEE DINNER
Astrophysicists who determine
size and shape and worth for our world
argue that the universe is saddle-shaped,
if space is filled with dark matter, flat if not.
All hinges upon the shape of nothingness,
and on hints of cosmic terror. If saddle-shaped,
inappropriate and inelegant for the Emersonians
who complain that things were in the saddle
riding ruckshod over all of us, Facts our Fate.
How appropriate, then, our shopping trip
through the local super market,
to pick up a handful, a mess of lobsters, live,
watch them scramble on the steel scale,
the value of their small universe.
Weighed and measured, it was duly noted
that scale was shaped like a steel saddle.
I remember when in high school working
behind that fish counter, the
steaking or filleting of salmon or trout,
tuna, Chilean sea bass, tilapia, or Australian orange roughy,
selecting the Captain’s Cut or whatever, Karma
for one well read in literary pursuit of Moby-Dick
to fall into such fish-works. We were taught to slam live
lobster into the steam for five minutes,
then to pop them out, plump, moist, steamy, and cherry red.
"Don’t feel a thing, don’t know what hits them, poor critters."
Or so they used to tell those of us who worked the steamer.
I remember one guy working in a T with a picture of the granddaddy
of all lobster dropping small squirming naked men and women and children
into a steaming caldron, and our laughter at the nightmarish fantasy.
No, the poor critters don’t feel a thing and are honored to be on our plates.
I’d laugh at the thought. Laugh, that is, until the day two lobster seemingly
jumped off their scales, and a half dozen of these tongueless, speechless creatures
let off from their scale a great wailing, a tearless, wailing, terror-stricken cry
so high and shrill as to make your teeth shiver. With fallen face, I asked, "How?"
Suddenly saw the creatures were quickly dragging their ragged claws back and forth
over those silver saddles, as if knowingly, intelligently, creating a cry of the universe,
a shriek of cosmic despair. Oh, the universe and everything seemed saddle-shaped
that day, and everything seemed to cry of steel limitations. A Yankee steamed supper
suddenly seemed the least palatable of meals, a tossed salad of dark matter and dark
vision, my friends and I imaged caught in our own boiling pool of existence,
the world, a harsher place now, stretching from freezing cold to boiling hot,
heedless of the individual, a gamut with mere existential zones of survival
and zones of dissolution, comfort or discomfort, simply by chance.
for Carl Sagan & Stanley Kunitz,
poets & astronomers both
I always read about comets,
know the images and theory
of their origin and make-up.
In elementary school I read
IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET,
fantastic tale of baleful days
of seeing an angry red eye
dominate the sky
as it hurtled onward
and felt the chill
of the wake, the ebb and flow,
the shudder to the earth
as we finally went through that tail.
I remember the wonderful bookcover, the image
of struggling humanity sent back
to primitive time
by the almost nuclear holocaust
and still staring at the sky, stunned.
It was bad science, I know,
if effective fiction for a youngster:
fiction felt deeply, remembered.
Comets for decades of my life thereafter were forgotten,
consigned to the closets, the dark boxes of experience,
distant, almost abstract, unreal,
known only in the math & film of the astrophysicist.
Reality had paled before poetry.
Until that season several appeared, naked to the eye.
Nightly on the way to work, I’d see Hayakutake
slanted over Walden
Books and Lexington Center
and, more amazingly, nightly, see the next,
Hale-Bopp slanted over R128 North
even through the windshield of the moving car!
And on one particularly clear night from my backyard
seemed to see a tail stretched halfway across the sky!
To this day I don’t know whether real or imagined.
I came to feel them not-so-distant friends
and for the first time think of myself, a spec on a sphere,
lost, triangulated somewhere in the cosmos.
Somehow, I still feel friendly connection
and distant relations
though, the next time on that road,
the universe threw a hissing,
fuzzy ball of light
over my shoulder,
that left me open-mouthed,
though it immediately – and luckily –
popped into nothingness.
Oh, I was watching still as that other Eye in the sky,
the Hubble, sent pictures of a third, Shoemaker_Levy 9
breaking into a series of angry, fiery fists
that pummeled Jupiter
for all mankind to see
and remembered pictures of volcanic eruptions
wreaking havoc on its moon Europa,
just at the moment we skimmed its surface.
By amazing, mathematically improbable
But after the revelation
of my heavenly friends
for the first time
we all find such places real, and I
can only think this a part
of a divine dance,
a waltz with the universe
and its lords
coming to life,
and showing they were there
and watching, too,
as we drove through
their outer city limits.
On this dreamlike
With the crystal clarity of
he awakened as in a dream.
His dream animal a gray wolf
stalked about empty cages,
the lone circus animal
this gray steppenwolf
on a concrete apron, a circus-like
white floor. Somehow he knew
he had somehow slipped free,
stalked restlessly, restlessly,
and so relentlessly for a way out,
sought futilely for a way out.
Everywhere cages, cages, cages,
everywhere their cold black iron bars
and the black lines of their shadows,
strange, surreal shadows
looming even larger than the bars,
and everywhere palpable menace.
Suddenly he backed up, spun around.
Began hurriedly, hurriedly, hurriedly
retracing his steps, weary and hungry.
After a short while, THERE, there, he saw it,
the open cage door. He slunk in, muzzled
the door shut behind him, dropped to the floor
and, protected by the cage and iron bars,
stretched out and immediately fell into sleep.
There, he lay twitching, twitching, softly
whimpering as invisible snouts reached
between the bars to nip at his pelt, nip at flanks.
In a deep dream sleep,
under a bloody full moon, invisible
enemies snapping at his heels,
he loped off, off into the night.
"The crane is my
-- Joe Moakley
Never really thought much
of the Cranes, that is
Steven Crane, Red Badge of Courage
and all; sophomoric, I thought,
unusual for the nineteenth century,
though I liked his girl Maggie,
the flower of all city streets.
Nor did I like that other Crane,
Hart Crane, Bridge, Brooklyn and all.
Buying his palaver as good
as buying that Brooklyn Bridge.
I thought Hart and his anguish
too fashionable, too existential,
at least too much so for me.
I never thought much of the Cranes
or of literary criticism.
Now that other Crane, another matter,
hatched out of bedrock,
his feet plumb vertical,
straight under him;
his bones, steel strong.
His wings reaching upward
and out for that great blue heaven.
His energies bringing much cod and herring
and many nests to our bay shore.
Moakley’s Crane, a rare bird,
indeed, the rarest of all,
for his unceasing work all over our land
for his charity to all other birds,
working our flats, our quays,
for his soaring, yet unassuming flight.
Moakley’s Crane, a rare bird,
a bird of another feather.
Silhouetted under the setting ruddy sun
in his time you could see
the steel black silhouettes of legs and arms and necks
sprouting up all over,
multiplying many times over,
reaching up all over our horizons,
stretching our very horizons,
his steel black silhouettes of fertile wings stretching
over innumerable nests in our mud.
Abou, abou, for time is short and his comes to an end.
Abou, abou, for time is short and his comes to an end.
Abou, abou, for the one may die, and live forever in the tribe.
Moakley’s Crane. A rare bird,
a bird of another feather,
a real eagle, Moakley’s Crane.
THE RABBI AND THE HERRING
One morning mother told me
about her Rabbi,
with a name just like ours.
Said she’d met him
walking the streets
in her old Dorchester haunts.
I was visiting her then at the home,
in imagination rolled up my eyes,
I already knew about her midnight walks
all over old Dorchester, in sleep, in dream.
And now, an imaginary friend, a Rabbi no less?
So later that Tuesday morning she told me
she’d introduce me to her imaginary Rabbi.
He visited Tuesdays and Saturdays.
I smiled to myself.
Regular, wasn’t he?
And shortly thereafter met the Rabbi.
Lefkowitz. Contracted to the home,
to the Star of David.
A man with amazing eyebrows
who taught history and theology
and served as Rabbi, all part_time.
Mother had a really remarkable way of doing that.
Every time I thought they might be right,
that she might be lost in some deluded fantasy,
she’d pull me up, show me just how wrong I was.
I never knew for sure, but supposed
she’d first met him on some outing. In Dorchester.
So mother’s Rabbi introduced himself,
a friendly fellow.
Chuckling to himself,
told me how Saturdays
mother had even started going to services.
My untrained, unobservant mother?
Observing the Sabbath?
Orthodox in her old age?
Oh, our canny Rabbi knew.
He had to have something special
to bring this congregation to him,
The Rabbi told me so.
An inexpensive bottle and a little pickled herring.
And they all followed him to the Chapel, this Pied Piper!
The Rabbi congratulated himself
on successfully employing Group Psychology,
and my mother, with her non8institutional meal, Real Politic.
God was like that, worked in amazing ways.
And mother was like that;
just when you thought you knew.
She would go out, ironically forced to KEEP OUT
of elderly housing she loved so to keep spirits up,
to ward off waiting depression. Knowingly. Willfully.
Now they had locked her in, locked her up, for her own good,
and they thought there would be no further incidents
(not that she fell more than you or I), no getting lost
(not that she ever got lost), so she would be EASY TO KEEP.
So they thought. But now she walked out nights
all over Dorchester, over her old haunts,
as she dutifully reported back mornings
before sleep had cleared out of her eyes.
Mornings those days at the nursing home,
she literally bubbled over, rambling. She’d been
on Quincy Street. On Wayland. On Intervale. At the old
Dorchester High. And maybe she’d been on Blue Hill Ave.
At Grove Hall with Morris and Ida, our old favorite aunt and uncle
long since passed out of our lives.
The nurses smiled knowingly,
made notes in their log books. "More confusion, dementia."
I saw the rumpled, unmade bed, and knew otherwise.
I saw the sleep in her eyes and knew she’d just gotten up,
and knew that she’d walked out long and far alone in the dark.
Another morning they wrote she lay still and straight as a board,
as the nurses, frightened, or probably just impatient,
tried to rouse her, called to her, exhorted her,
"Bertha, are you there? Can you get up?"
They prodded her, tickled her feet, to no avail,
as she refused to, willfully happy
until much later. She told me, the social worker asked,
"Bertha, are you all right?" And she had returned the question,
"Do you know what it’s like to lose your freedom?" Another
morning just after, sitting up in her chair by her bed
gesturing to the bed, to the rumpled sheets, she said with
finality, "Even THAT doesn’t help anymore." I understood,
only I, but even I wasn’t prepared, when logically, successfully,
a few days later she did not return, was not there anymore.
…beyond the horizon
a distant station
…on a lonely cetaceous isle
in the dark watches sucking waters
swirl ‘round, charts masked craggy shoals
and rip tides and relics of crustacean past.
Lonely light, life beating pulse cries out,
"I am here, I am here, I am here, here
there’s signification," if only that the pulse
speaks of found shoals, of surrounding
hovering dark and deathly fear
that shoal darkness will call
all onlookers in
for the long night.
"I am here, I am here,
I did but recently know
of that light
…and small circle
…of home space.
It wasn’t that before
domesticity was blacked out against
air raid and piratical ravaging, just that
it was obscure in the vast surrounding
howling sea, a spot on my map only,
. . .out there.
Now and then I take the copter
to the mainland, it mapped out and
supposedly secure. I pass over rushing
waters and uncharted nubs of rock
too small to be previously noted,
perhaps now thrust upward by some
…in the geosphere,
…or by cataclysm unseen
above wave, and warily wonder if other
adventurers might have already settled there,
… for home,
whether they might already chart from them
changing seas, churning tides _ glorious gold
stretch of sea under flaming diurnal sun,
sea stretching horizon to horizon
…I patiently chart
on my old sailor’s chart,
while each settler,
…peering through his own black,
he only can know.
is consequent part
…of that thin grid
…stretching across the dark,
grid of distant stations speaking
only sometimes, speaking
to each other, more often speaking and lonely,
heard by no other; though consequent,
each can only be gradually known
among his neighbors, and with each,
…of the slowly shaping whole.
Oh, the whole evolving picture
is pre-set in its either-or’s,
bits of rock
can appear less relevant, but
climbing an overlooking height
and looking down on the sun-struck bay,
the whole suddenly appears,
sparkling diamond shreds
scattered across an equally sparkling sea,
in some mind’s eye,
by an abundantly
December, Nineteen Hundred Eighty One
Often do the spirits
Of great events stride on before the event
And in today already walks tomorrow.
-- Schiller, Wallenstein
Snow shrouding Boston Commons in mid-December.
Swan boats long since stilled by frozen
Ponds and rivers, arteries congealed,
Snow falling falling from the heavens over countless
golden capitol domes,
On the Caffeeh”user of Vienna,
On the shops of Budapest
And against the doors and windows of Gdansk.
Light two candles of the Menorah on the first day,
Light them in the dusk of Hanukkah.
The attack came on December thirteen.
The world-heart skipped in its beat.
The nation-body stiffened,
Eyes glazed under the shroud of martial law
Cast in the dead of winter by weasel-eyed
Generals and Soviet marshals over the body and people
It came as craven souls questioned themselves
At the commons’ request to reconsider relations, simply
To question direction of one’s feet - last straw;
Leading heart failed.
It was a dark cold day for man.
Choked with drifts of self-concern, people had panicked,
Fled through storm for the border on the Chopin Express
And in a crescendo, a concert of uncertainty and fear,
Now returned on the Chopin Express
To find families to protect,
Know their fate, and if necessary in Holocaust times,
To die with them.
Crescendo burst in directionless, discordant notes,
Choral climax of tragic theme too much for Chopin,
Hosha’nas and pizzicatos, basses and off-key sopranos,
Welter of voices too many for the presses.
It was a dark cold day for man.
On the second day light three candles against the dark,
Three candles of hope….
Voices of autos were to run dry under bans, society’s cogs
and wheels to stop.
Meetings were forbidden, presses and pens broken off in mid-line,
All to be unwritten, all to be unread;
Tongues were silenced with books, locked.
Phone receivers hung empty;
Television eyes darkened, stared back blank,
Or repeated the same grim message,
Like the self reviewing itself before its end.
The war games were on, heads in Warsaw were waging war
on the body of the people.
- Do not fear, all’s well,
Repeated a stiff military man,
The self’s Mental Censor.
Citizens who disobey only
Who refuse to work
For the greater glory of the state
Will be impounded or shot;
And impounded, released only
When they believe what they ought
Believe, said the self’s Mental Censor;
And minds revolted.
In the dead of winter blackness of black of absolute bans
Descended upon street corner and common parlor.
Descended for a second time upon modern history.
Light another candle against the dark.
Galilean decree given with religious dread,
Some peered anxiously up through snowy skies at planets
Just above, Jupiter with her belts and family of four moons
Easily visible, Saturn with her majestic rings, even Mars,
Ancient warrior of the Gods, still all whirling unhesitatingly
In their orbits with the earth about the sun, not sun about the earth,
No more so moveable than a volcano might explode inward,
Than clouds can fall or raindrops drop up into the heavens.
Still, Marxists cast their fellows in indoor cells,
Even cast members of the central Presidium
In this attack of the self against itself, this Inquisition.
And each man was cast in the prison of his home,
Each locked in the cell of himself,
All feared to ask others of their fear.
Doors closed upon silent door,
Empty room lead to empty room,
Window faced upon window with drawn shade.
Only Roman Catholics seemed to meet and in echoing
Churches prayed alone in silence for peace together.
Light another candle against the dark.
All that escapes from behind the curtain of blackness,
Lines tracing flickering pictures, indistinct on
oval screens of glass.
A world peers through that fence at a lonely place,
Distant walking soldiers on snowy cold streets,
Tanks on city corners,
Or pictures frozen in oval snapshot, stilled from the glass -
still page one news on man’s cold dark days,
All that escapes from behind the curtain of blackness.
"The Killing Begins," has begun, will begin, they say, but voices
Tragedy made known in frozen pictures of eloquent silence.
Snowy tracks on a Warsaw waste crisscrossing
Across a screen, tracks to nowhere,
Speaking the unspeakable,
Making the unknowable known.
Light another candle against the dark.
Hidden, caught in pitchblack
Corridors thousands of feet under
Frozen sod, coal-laden earth,
Sons of the earth renounce relations with the dark
Faces shining dimly in hand-held lamps, thought lost
Words ascending and vanishing in the black void.
Miners, recall your ambassadors;
Workers, close your doors and windows to all entreaties.
Come, brothers, close your borders;
Come, shred your treaties with those above,
Flee from your tyrannical work into your world of work,
alone your own, rightfully home
For the alienated, defined by the word, imprisoned in the word
Worker; how dare they touch you in the earth? They know not
What they do. You are the sons of the earth, its rightful heirs,
they know not….
Seize your own nests in fear,
Suffer cold and hunger in fear of fear,
And to suffer is to endure and love and hope.
You cannot ascend from yourself for fear, cannot hope
In fear for your freedom, in defiance and triumph persist
in that fear,
For persistence alone is your hope and movement,
And darkness, your sole light.
Light another candle against the dark.
and a Weasel
a political dance
that one would step too far,
that one would step back,
fear that the music would stop
Progress and Regress
Despair and Hope,
that the circle wouldn’t be broken,
that the rhythm would pick up
and grow stronger and smoother
and that to dance
would truly be
And even dancers light another candle,
Light a candle on the seventh day.
and the Macabees refused soldiers’ demands for unclean
sacrifice to Zeus, and Mattathias the father called,
"Whoever is for the Lord, let them follow me!" and
turned on the soldiers and drove them out of town, and
left themselves for the mountains with the Hassidim who
would rather die than render homage to Caesar, homage to
false gods. And they knew that the soldiers would return. And
the Macabees read in "Daniel" how the worthy had suffered
before for believing in their faith, until God saved them,
punished the wicked, and destroyed the cruel and unjust
king with his false nation. And given courage in their trial,
the little bands of Jews turned upon the philistines, and for
those of the Macabees who fell in battle, others seeing the
cruel treatment came and took their places, and the Macabees
defeated an army many times their size, a second, a third.
And in two years Mattathias the father and Judah his son
captured and entered Jerusalem. And the 25th of Kislev was
declared holy day, "Hanukkah" or "dedication" for the
rededication of the Temple and the relighting of the
Menorah that had been put out by the philistines.
And one day’s small container of oil, source of so
much fear for its endurance, burned wondrously through
a second and a third, burned eight days until oil
enough had been found, for truthfulness and honor,
courage and pride and care and love of justice and
liberty are forever with striving and hope and strength
oil enough, and the light fed upon itself and belied oil
and wick and set aglow other Menorah and light in ever-
widening circumference. And for the first time in 400
years since Babylon conquered Judea, they came to be
free from foreign rule, and in wonder the light
Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan.
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied that it will say all,
When you hear that he says too that
Poland, that ugly duckling of a nation
And her heroes become the swan,
That out of drab khaki conformity
And rejoicing in today,
She blooms into her own - for her freedom and ours – blooms
Like winter lightning in the night dark sky or
Crocuses amidst the last spring snow.
And with care for the common man as man
And candid strength of character and a pragmatism
That rejoices in Today
And refuses religious immolation of self
In Tomorrow of Church or State, hope of fear,
With hope and courage to risk and certainty in her uncertainty,
Crocuses appear amidst the spring snows.
The Duckling has changed in the twinkling of an eye,
Has shaken free of frozen ponds and rivers
With majestic wings fanning the world’s are,
And has leaped into desolate December heavens
to prove herself forever a shining example among peoples,
Light another candle on the eighth day, the ninth;
Let all burn, burn fiercely against the dark.