Friday, November 26, 2010

Mr. Bones & Attendant Flights

I was thinking Bones, probably thinking
Like Henry. Happens sometimes. And I'm sure
A stewardess is falling, falling, now
A flight attendant, now a slight depression.
They talk back in patois. They have their ways.
They're violent and clinically unsound
And deader than a deaf door jamb. They're closed.
I think of them, though, waiting in the dark,
Collectedly insentient. Such bones
We use for soup, grow strong & tall 12 ways.

When I became a man, I took such bones,
Plucked free of noodles, cast them in the street,
And read my riddles, almost knew the truth,
Although a blue Imperial, false spare
& painted whitewalls, ran them down like dirt.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Dear Faithful:

Turns out my magisterium overlaps yours after all. Too bad.

Dear Dilettante:

No, "Silence, exile, and cunning" is not the same as "Don't ask, don't tell."

Dear Fellow Student:

I regret the death of Hyman Datz, who taught Johnson and Boswell. (Well, he was old enough. What I really meant was, He taught us Johnson and Boswell.) More an anecdotalist than a scholar, given to re-using notes so old, yellow, and brittle, they looked as though they had been excavated for the occasion, he still inspired students to read authors they would otherwise have ignored. The Augustans are not always an easy sell. They did not tweet; neither were they groovy. Between them Drs Datz and Chapman animated and reanimated the deserving dead. All these years later, and how I love an opportunity to say, "Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding."

In grad school I first encountered Dr Datz in the Dept's main office. He said, "You're Epstein, right?" "Yes," I said. "I hear you're pretty smart," said Dr Datz. "Who wrote 'Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean'?" I told him. "Well, most people don't know that," he said. I didn't tell him my father used to recite that at the dinner table. He only knew a couple poems. That was one. I'd also have been safe if Dr Datz had asked me, "Who wrote, 'Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable, Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,'" but that wasn't going to happen.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Be Gone

They boil, the leaves. I can't imagine why.
They've nothing to do but wait a while, be gone,
And be forgotten. Oh. I guess I can.
Imagine, then, that birdhouse over there--
Well, you can't see it now. Even the scraps
Of wood and seed and feathers have been moved,
Displaced, replaced--we bought it at a shop,
Biodegradable and peasant built.
The peasants moved to cities, some of them,
Others, their hands removed on grounds of state,
Differently accommodated. Now
The blue tits are unhouseled, and the squirrels
Have moved to that manor down the block, where lunch
Is carefully replenished, day by day,
As many days as squirrels will ever know.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

From the mailbag

I don't understand a word you write. I used to think this was my fault, but now I think its [sic] you because you don't write very well.

Dear Anonymous: I suspect you are right. If I were you, I should stick to Great Poets, who always write clearly and simply, as though they were viewing a dead princess through pellucid water.

The child that sucketh long is shooting up,
The planet-ducted pelican of circles
Weans on an artery the genders strip;
Child of the short spark in a shapeless country
Soon sets alight a long stick from the cradle;
The horizontal cross-bones of Abaddon,
You by the cavern over the black stairs,
Rung bone and blade, the verticals of Adam,
And, manned by midnight, Jacob to the stars,

says Dylan Thomas. He's a great poet, and I'm sure you understood every word of that.

Clarity does not prove quality. Neither does difficulty. Keep in mind what Randall Jarrell said: "When you begin to read a poem you are entering a foreign country whose laws and language and life are a kind of translation of your own," and try not to judge the poem by your expectations.