Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose


Ducks, the feathered biped, take to the air
And are transformed. We should keep faith with dirt,
Carpets and planking our relatives; but ducks
All but turn cartwheels, launching off of sky,
Air to air missiles. We are only earthed.

You wanna buy a duck? You say, Duck, duck,
A bird. Who cares? I ain’t afraid of birds.
You say the secret word, and what you win
Is life eternal, if you’ll only die;
And who brings down the news, who marks the spot?
A duck, a duck. Your kingdom by a duck.

We lay enmeshed in eiderdown, a pair
Professing satisfaction and perplexed
Our fluid situation had been stanched
And we were now what we were going to be.
She twitched the duvet, adjusting me, and hoped
I wouldn’t take too long to be re-lit.
A fire for my fireplace, she said.
She threw the cover back; unfeathered, made
A sight an angel would have molted for.
Ducks died so you could show yourself, I said.
What a canard, she answered, moving in.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Sentimental Christmas Poem

A mystery play is why
We say again this year,
And me a Jew and dry
As ash on toast, Good cheer
And peace on earth. And stuff.
And, no, it’s not enough.

I never met an elf.
I fed a reindeer corn—
He picked it up himself,
In truth. When you were born,
Redemption might have been
Avowed, pomaceous sin

Cancelled. But maybe not.
The land of snow and ice,
Marprelate and marplot,
Is far from paradise.
We murder to dissect,
Said Wordsworth once. I checked.

And nevertheless we are
Together on our grounds,
Pretending yonder star
In ancient flaming Zounds!
Promises you to me.
And here we are, we three,

Wholly a family,
An hour now or two.
This is the trinity
Available to a Jew:
For this an angel came
And vouched no greater claim.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The True Meaning of Christmas

Can we expect the box of books to come,

Pat by Twelfth Night and just in time to save
The meaning of Christmas from The Tartar Kings,
The Merovingian Mayors, and The Last
Of the Mohican Princesses in a brief
Deerskin corset, stiletto moccasins,
And arrows Nessus's poison painted pink?
Lebkuchen while we wait. You watch the door.
The FedEx guy's already late. He stopped,
I'll bet you anything, to sneak a peek
At Lord Jim on the Road to Mandalay.
He's cracked the spine of Christmas, Baby J
And paper, bound to tell the death of kings,
The sport of lepers calling round the world,
The time is right for reading in the street,
And we are dead and dying for a word.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Dream of Fair Women

Come winter, we shall learn the ways

Of women, young and wanton, run
Amok in books, which we shall praise
For literary merit. We
Shall substitute them for the sun
And make believe they’re history.

Juliet is not much like school,
Nor Guinevere like Mrs Beale,
Who is not golden, nor a fool
For chivalry. The cold and snow,
Unlike Isolde, is not real.
And where did all the Helens go?

Not to our school. Not then. Not yet.
I looked and then returned to read
Where princesses glittered jade and jet.
The janitor died of smoke and flame
Down in the boiler room. I need,
But cannot quite recall, his name.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Light Concludes in Lightning Bugs

When the sky was a vault, the stars were stuck

To the underside. We wished for luck
On falling decals. First the sun
And then the moon blinked off for fun,
Relit for entertainment. God
Was merciful, but very odd.

Grounded, alfalfa didn't care;
And cherries ripened in an air
Closer to home, where pigs agree
That slop is their theology.
The decals slipped and fell at night,
Yet there was no decrease of light.
Piercing terrestrial disguise,
We brought them home as fireflies.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Wells of Time

This will transport you to the elder times,

Fire like slabs of meat and smells so strong
They pound the air in dactyls. In a pinch
You can recite your “Please, Sir, send me home,”
There where the heart is, but no wolverines
Or kettles of boiling grease or water nymphs.
What would you give to have your teeth decay
Authentically, to wear a powdered wig,
To spread your plot with nightsoil, or to fetch
A fair price on the open market? Home
Is what you looked like when you were a boy;
But now you’re not. Now you could almost stay
Old as the hills when hills were young, and you
Were cold and muddy. Please, Sir, send me home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

And a Happy New Year to You, Too

The year sheds skin and time and cash.
The firedrake burns down to ash
His habitation.  The road is clear
All the way home to Happy Year,

Coming soon.  With the proper friends,
Nobody notices when it ends,
This derelict calendar.  The few,
The consequent, have naught to do

But watch the helicopters tow
The End behind them as they go
West, of course, and into the spring,
Where next year's lark prepares to sing.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Wet Work

They are not of the state.  They homestead here
Privately, adjunct piddling field of corn
Too shiny to be spent on ethanol.
Deprived of pensions, with a family tree
Ruined by mountain pine beetles and burned,
Not for the fuel, neither for decoration,
Their saints declared fictitious, they accept
That they are spooks, discharged without a mandate
Or ammunition. Yet they hone their knives,
They oil their sheaths, in case the Lord should find
Them home at the last, stalked in their empty yards.
They scan reflexively. The gate is shut
Because it squeaks, as useful as a song
To keep raptors at large, repelling goons
And toothless hitmen, hired by the day.
Don't never write down nothing, they were taught,
Though mostly they ignore what they were told.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Poem Unrequested

The mice knew first, the crickets and the small
Wrens, who muted their music in respect.
The Bigguns had no reason to expect
A coming, first or second, so they all
Went to the circus, laundry, or the mall,
To buy some smoke detectors could detect.
And then they bought a family to protect.
The beetles sang, We shan't shut up till Fall.

Somewhere the news was posted. In a paper
Of general circulation, someone read:
Death shall have no dominion, being dead;
But he was only someone, not a shaper
Of big opinion. Big opinion heard
Interruption and said, Shut up that bird.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In the Year of Our Lord

In 1436 the gods of war

Changed their approach and stained their skins, their clothes,
Their reputations, and left the Roman world
For residence in gray geographies.
They bought clean papers, forged fresh fingerprints
From fish scales, and denied the love of men
A role in their affairs. They wanted blood,
Never a tough commodity, but chose
Abstention and the madness of no voice.
They broke their bows, inventing new disease
As more efficient and anonymous.
They drew bad dreams on hitmen fast asleep
And offered explanations via signs
Of nature—clouds and a chemical response.
It was a time of gravity and loss.
They raised the dead, then sent them back for good.
They ate their young and easily made more.
The story would end here, except that birds,
Disguised by night, concealed in brush by day,
Sang their way clear and called it parable.
Later the wise men said it was history.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Exercise: Patience & the Monument

A choice to be alone is good,

Although you haven't practiced much.
Don't walk. Don't hurt. Don't cook. Don't touch.
Pretend your legs are made of wood,

Pinocchian your heart and head.
Remembering is quite all right,
But try to reach beyond tonight.
Concentrate on your ancient dead--

I don't mean Agamemnon's brood
Or Marshall Ney's aunt's brother's wife.
Someone on whom you bet your life
And lost. Back when the world was lewd

And you in touch. All right. Enough.
Now you can make your mac and cheese
And sing what every little breeze
Whispers. And feel your legs. And stuff.

Friday, October 07, 2016

The Tempest

The air is full of music, but the isle

Gets bad reception. Under every rock
Scamper the grubs that were somebody else--
Will be again. The Ghost of Christmas Past
Or The Nobel Prizewinner for the Blues.
Thrones go unoccupied, but fires set
At twilight smell of camphor, and great moths
Sing little liebestods while sailing in.
The stars are green. True love never runs smooth,
But walks at a brisk pace. The wind blows warm
Across the bay, where seals on plaster rocks
Snore gently, dreaming dreams of fish. The eyes
Of magi close as well. The roads are waxed:
Young lovers slip away, concealed by mist
Imported just for them. It rains and rains.
It rains and rains, and ships capsize, the crews
Borne to the shore on water wings. They find
The aborigines, diaphanous
In raindrops, dancing pas de deux, de trois,
Wrapped round themselves and singing, Liberty.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Unruly Breaks the Day

Peep-peep, chook-chook,
The briddes rebuke
And take short wing.
They scold and sing.
It’s what they've donne
For sheep and sonne;
It’s what they do
For gods and ewe,
Fodder and pun.
The briddes review,
Chook-chook, peep-peep,
Who wins, who won.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Apocalypse Now

This first appeared in The Shit Creek Review

The end of things may have come yesterday,
When frozen sparrows dropped from budding trees
And spectral hordes on smoke-stained ponies rode
Suburban streets. With swords. And women gave
Birth to stones. When red anacondas hung
Like plastic icicles from guttering.
Those all seemed predicators. Like the voice
Who spoke out of the sewers, “Be ye not
Amused. This is an actual alert.”
And yet the network news provided live
Detail about absconded brides and junk
Bond status for GM and Ford. I watched
Game 6, and no one said the final match
Was cancelled for Apocalypse. I spread
Fertilizer, clipped a forsythia
Whose day had passed, but which will bloom again
When spring returns and all these frogs are gone.

Friday, September 23, 2016

When Birds Divorce

When wrens divorce, the children fly.

Young tits from broken nests decry
The wounded tree, the severed song,
That feathered fate who hopped along
A bobbing branch, while in the park
A lone and separated lark
Complains to the under-birded blue
That there is nothing more to do
Than lean on a pelicanic thorn
And end with song this garish morn.
Or so the ornithologist
Explained. Perhaps a point was missed.
I caught the gossipy detail,
Who’d been distracted by her pale
Brow and her raven hair, a thing
Reminiscent of a wing.
So scientists construct a plot
That shows themselves where they would not.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pastoral Care

Rough winds on premises to let,

And summer’s lease is triple net.
The cuckold goldsmith in the sun
Makes melting pots of everyone,
While Amaryllis in the shade
Regrets the choices she has made.

Her bowered beau regrets no more
The nights he spent in days of yore.
Though Amaryllis shine too hot,
He will be spent when she is not,
Which, he suspects, the flock has known
Since they were fleeced, then left alone.

And greener pastures beckon.  Soon,
She will exclaim, this prick of noon
Will feel his autumn felix frost.
Then she is warm and he is lost
In fields of blasted corn and clover,
Rough winds at hand, and summer over.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Old Kings and Things

Ignominy thwarts both

King Cyrus and his cook,
Whose name was Xx3.
I know, I know, you took

King Cyrus 101
And learned him in detail.
You had him for your tea.
You bought his socks on sale.

His bedpan holds your soup.
His cook is dust and hair
And someone’s sidewalk salt
And someone’s Dutch au pair.

Your Cyrus is an art.
His cook is a disguise.
It rains their blood and bones,
And slaves fall from the skies,

And children in their beds
Cwtch up to ancient kings.
Old dogs on counterpanes
Bark at transparent things.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

My Republic

This one was in Plainsongs, a long time ago.

To my republic immigrants arrive
with no fanfare of paperwork; they come,
and right away they ask to be left alone.
They want to go where yeoman farmers live
and beekeepers and Latinists.  Old maids
give them each maps and send them on their ways,
unstamped, unnumbered, all unphotographed.

In my republic each one makes a stop
at gift shops which sell baseball gloves and bats
with which they make their own ways to the dark
sinuous backroads of the heartland states,
thence to disperse to dry or forest places.
No one keeps count.  No one’s allowed to do so.
You’ll hear them playing catch in summer’s dusk,

trying to learn to act like you and me,
even the ones who exit tropic climes
in oddball togs woven from unknown bolls.
If not at first, then soon.  They must be just,
like us, and just a trickle, which is why
they all play ball, a sort of crowd control,
the only one allowed in my republic,
short on theologians, long on shortstops.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Congress is Happier Than Your Hand


It isn’t death, whatever princes say,
Not when I dreamed of sandwiches, and kites
Fell on us all, like panicked meteors,
Leaving us naked at the first alarm.
These sheets don’t wind. These covers aren’t for keeps.

Conceive of dirt as history, says Prince.
If you don’t dust, you’re worth a Ph.D.
In Native Studies: who you were Way Back,
Who was the Who before you were, and who
Taught grease stains how to kiss my lady’s hand.
It isn’t Alexander in a bung,
Not necessarily, but someone’s some
Distance away now, never regretful, made
A building block, like calcium or beets.
Don’t sweep: it might be love. It might be sense
Of history in Bag Type H, sucked up.

We are not quite immune. This ham was once
A pig among his peers, a Gadarene,
Alliteration challenged, equaller;
And now a sandwich of most perfect gist,
Chap-fallen, cheesy. We shall all be toast.
If better not to be done, then pourquoi
Are pillows only broad enough for heads
Solus and undistinguished in the dark,
Though full of these dramatic congresses
With faces blurred? You know it isn’t death.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Foundation Myth

Leastwise, they said, they had a proper book,

With “thou” and “withal.” Under a fruity tree
They read and didn’t understand a thing.
She had her hair--her tresses, she was told;
He had the muscles God might give a goose,
Were He so minded. They thought they looked swell.
It rained, but not so they knew wet from warm.

One day the sun went elsewhere, and the leaves
Showed them no comfort. One day she was sick,
Of nothing, really, and then she was gone.
He blamed the varmints, critters in the dark
Who laughed at her and told repulsive jokes.
He said he would remember who she was
And what they did, but what they did was made

A part of where he left, and who she was
He told so many times that he forgot.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Doing Cambridge

Cambridge is just a town. The B & Q,

The Spar--they sell the things we buy at home:
Bacon crisps, bird nuts, those vacuum-paks of screws.
Doesn't seem much like wisdom habits here,
The flagman said, and pointed at the sign.
To Let or Toilet, one of those. The sound
Of mobile phones or angel choristers,
One of those, unsettled the browsing ducks.
Considered taking wing, they did, but stayed,
And after practiced evensong for crumbs,
Birds of paradise in their bright green hoods,
The porter said. You can't go in there. Them
Is proof of the existences of Jutes,
Angelic doctors, the actutest choice,
And girls so daft they make your head explode.
I pressed my face against the leaded glass.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Edible Arrangements

Our friends are celery and thyme.

They’re acorn squash and coriander.
They used to pass the oddbox rhyme;
They used to copulate, philander,
Sweat out of every pore, and curse.
Now they grow grass, and we grow worse.

Our friends are honey locust; mud
Becomes them. No more shop and dance
With anyone who warms their blood
And shtups the lot in true romance.
Eggplant, maybe, and Queen Anne’s lace.
No one grows with a greater grace.

Yam and bo, they were once a pair,
Love in an atmospheric venue.
R ♥ J on a bark is their
Gnarled and edible hostel, menu,
And home at last, the beetles say,
Leaves in the fall and flags in May.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Born Under Our Bed Sign

Under my sign are born the hard of hearing,

The hard of heart, the hard-up double-clutched
Investigative annalists. We act
Out conversations with ourselves, until
We’ve polished every line to silken splendor,
And who cares if they never happen? Lust
Is academic, omnipresent, pent,
But not exactly personal. A tale,
Worth more than actuality, is told
In Roman periods, by steel dip pen,
To pages not intended to be read.
That is my sign, not her sign. Where she walks,
Firelilies blossom and bombs explode
In anthills underneath the path. The toll
Is glorious among the hoplites. Drones
Behead themselves in homage; cynics rise
Buck-naked from their tubs and bow. She lies
Like rivers flow, by nature. She observes
The holidays of vegetable dyes,
The saint-days of the unredeemed, the last
Rites of Pompeii. The birds all wish they were
Self basting in her wake. They know the signs.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Book of Simple

The Book of Simple instructs you how to make

Your gut behave. It tells a tale of long
And distant. How, without it, can you steep
Teabags of Life? Would you like her to be bleached
And buxom, do you need to make her love
The man you were, unlikely as that seems?
You've got to go there. Really. You go there.

Of course it isn't cheap, not having been
Online auditioned or a paperback
At Harold's Half-Price Inwits. There's a crone
In Crawford with a stack in her Tuff Shed,
Guarded by gargoyles and a papillon,
But drop-ins she doesn't like are mostly dead
And numerous. When Lifetime tried to shoot
A movie version there, the black was white.
I bought one at her jumble sale last May.
It changed me round. Now I can call to mind
The minor dramatists I never read,
And then some. And the foxes stop to stare.
They catch some scent, a brief response to pain.

It can't be memorized. It must be read
Each time as though from scratch. The crone once made
A golem in a golden-thread sombrero
Who danced at her command. The April rains
Reduced him to a plaster statuette.
Made in Crawford, it says there on the sole.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


"Storyville" first appeared in Staple.

Just once? Upon a hundred million times
he woke and learned to speak and knocked her up
and watched her die and ran away and hid.

Each branch of this bears twigs, and each twig flowers.
The children live. The wife runs off. She finds
a man who loves her less and turns her out
to bus the tables of a mining town.

He makes a million - somethings. Dollars. Pails.
He trades the cow for beans. He plants the beans
and learns he loved her more than provender.
But it's too late. She's dead. Or wiping tables.
Or on her way to Jacksonville, where God
has called her to be Sister Angeline.

In one small blossom he is deaf and dumb
and sees his town in black and white reversed.
He finds her anyway. They stay. They live
ever after, just off Sueño Street.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Short Course in Theology

An old poem. It appeared in The Ball State University Forum.

Nobody ever said that God was nice,
only that God was God. Picture Apollo,
that's Phoebus Apollo, flaying Marsyas
for the considerable crime of piping
as well, he'd said, as any god. How heinous.
What hubris. Whistling all the while, Apollo
peeled epidermal curlicues off of
the living sinner in his dextrous hands.
Now wonder what your friends' child did, that he
died slowly of a brain tumor at six,
first going blind, then losing all his hair.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Ad for Astra

To what are we fastened, luv,

As if you didn't know?
A woolly mastodon of pain
With braces on, for show.

A dancing clam, a rhyming slug,
A logarithmic cow.
Oh, set your sights on shiny stars
By night, by God. But how?

I think not, luv. The rain it rains
On aching necks and backs.
And what will come will come. For now
You'd better not relax.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Norman Inquest

This appeared in Plainsong.

King Harold had an arrow in his eye,
Which made his princeps difficult and gauche.
It bumped the mirror when he tried to shave
And hung up on his undershirt. His thralls
And churls inclined to sniggers as he passed--
Those bobbing feathers. Polity declined.
He bore sharp pain, like megrims, and he'd miss
The stirrups, if they'd been invented yet
(1066--he couldn't quite recall
If Saddler had made stirrups, though Clyde's Dale
Was large as life), and distance was too hard
To calibrate--he fell into a well
And had to be winched back up like a bucket,
A frog stuck in his jerkin. And the rot,
Decomposition in his nether parts:
How difficult to saunter like a king.
Then language withered like a hag-hexed crop.
Most third-declension verbs were hard to follow,
All Norman now, as if the iron head
Had tweaked all 3 bones in his inner ear
And no more freemen could decline a king
And field was just as hard as fealty.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Independence & Resolution

for Douglas Wilson

Listen, he said, the sound of flies
Above the riffle, that bodes well.
The old man sat, in sad surmise,
And thought of revelation. Hell,

He told us, when the world was new
And we ran guns and gerunds sang,
I watched the mountains turning blue.
Ecclesiastics never rang,

And girls were disappointed I
Moved them along. Now I can hope
That when my grey habiliments die,
The Queen will wear a dab of crêpe.

The music of satiety,
Which has no wings and does not grow
In memory, plays endlessly
And only strikes the notes we know.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Please Take a Moment to Locate the Exits

King of the Night, he is.  He doesn’t like you.
He doesn’t like your backstory.  Your charm,
Like Bottom’s bottom, isn’t something special.
The mists of midnight blow away.  You stand
In the Aisle of Target, looking for your shoes
On shelves of mouthwash, rodent spray, and cans
Of 3-in-1.  King of the Night, he says,
“Wet cleanup on Aisle 7, where the lute
And zither sale  has just concluded.   Please
Exit the store, and, listen, don’t come back.”

Saturday, June 11, 2016

But no tote bags

I am considering a pledge drive for RHEpoems.blogspot.com. The goal would be to raise readers, not money.  Perhaps I could raise some minor Cavalier poets, although they're probably afflicted with I'll Read One of Yours, If You'll Read One of Mine Syndrome, and theirs are all about ale and girdles.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Civis Romanus Sum

This appeared in Plainsongs.

The immigration man will let you through
Because you’re white and smell okay, but not
So Customs, who keeps profiles on a lot
Of funny types, including some like you.
You will feel funny, if he wants you to.
You’ll act as though your Henry James were hot.
That biro is suspicious. You forgot
All that old stuff, which looks like something new

When undeclared. So make a speech: I deal
In artifacts of the mind. I’m odd. I write
At painful and eccentric times of night.
I smuggle into books a way to feel.
I bear impediments of no appeal.
I am a citizen. I transport light.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Ideal for Ferns

Last time I went out on the town they didn’t

Just rent my room or box my books downstairs,
Pamper a pauper’s feet with my worn socks,
Or give my parka to a banker’s brat.
They sold my dog. They shot my desk. They dialed
My radio to Sister Carmen Todd,
The Bride of Pop. My mom declared me dead.
“He’s dead,” she said. “I do declare.” They made
My car a planter: somehow, they observed,
A hatchback is ideal for ferns. They mist
The ferns. They painted my pine bedstead white
And hung some Jesus where I used to sleep.
His eyes will track you if you try to rest
There now, but no one will. They mist their ferns.
The air must turn the color of balloons.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mortal Lovers

Year on years, pages and pages, 

I have soaked myself in sages.
You who come here, the unwary,
longing to complete your knowledge
in the ventriloquil college,
pause, perhaps, but do not tarry.

All these parti-colored bindings
bind the heart in all its windings;
flecks of red on green and blue,
all they are , all they stand for,
saturate the heart with candor.
They are what you turn into.

Daphne, who, however stately,
could not be the god who lately
ran her down amid the clover,
Daphne’s lovely, green, and shady,
but had rather been a lady
with a flawed, a mortal lover.

This appeared in Lyric, a long time ago. Had it been written yesterday, I'd have used initial caps. I was tempted to change it, even now, but I suppose something is owed to the poet I was when I wrote it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

And This Was Only Monday

What do you say when trees begin to dance –

I see you, though I don’t know what you are?
Look at the starlings fall out of the trees,
Indignant anyway, now mortified.
There in the moonlight, starlings on the grass,
What will they tell their mothers? I was mugged
By Terpsichore
? The world is just as strange
At Adam’s desk, where the blue screen of death
Devoured a fortnight’s work complacently,
And he has organized Consuela’s name
In paperclips. A pigeon on the ledge
Begins to sing a Kindertotenlied.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Lente, Lente

As old as Moses, balm from Gilead

Can’t touch this, more like stale Rice-Krispie Treats
For knees, when I remember they’re my knees;
And still the angels whisper numbers, like
Da-dum da-dum dum-da da-da dum-dum.
I can make English of it, only barely.
Slowly, slowly, the horses of night arrive,
Tacked for a king in black, with golden reins,
The stirrups folded up across the saddle.
Believing that the fairy tales are true,
I bow and wait for one to speak, but can’t
Quite straighten up. Dum-dum dum-dum dum-dum.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

When Dis is Done

Nobody thinks about Persephone

That much, though here she is, a normal girl,
Stolen away and raped in Hell by Hades,
Betrayed by fruit, although her mother is
The goddess of breakfast cereal and toast,
Dazed, dim, and bleeding in a sooty place
Even the iron heroes couldn't stomach.
6 months off for good behavior, and 6
Back, was the best deal even Zeus could cut,
And you tell me you have no time to think
Of Proserpine (you see, even the name
Is changing), and the innocent's allowed
A line and a half of Milton, which is more,
My dear, than you and I are due for Hell,
And we were not that innocent, besides.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Hesperides, Such As They Are

The Raintown Review for this one.

Here there are no rough winds, and here no snow
Disturbs construction: twig by twig they nest,
The birds of summer. Here we have a plan
For wasting time, not spending it; the gold
And lilac spring dissolves in pools so brief,
The grass absorbs them like a sponge. We sing
Like blackbirds; but without the gift of song,
Soon forgetting what we were singing of.
Our trees are wrapping pits in juice and flesh,
Dressing them up for going underground,
Absent of light, flowering memory,
Ready to take one for the common good.
Within the hedge our fledglings ask, How long?
And even birds don’t dare to say, Forever.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Major Bear

Although I'm cracking wise and quoting Yeats,

explaining all the voices Kant can't do,
the damn bear won't look back. He has a den
accessible to meat- and berry-men,
but not to those whose popcorn-covered cates
feed just themselves. He may live in a zoo,

which is his loss to bear: but one must buy
goodwill from prisoners. He can smell my heart,
so fat, so crowded, from this far away.
When I go home to betty, he will stay,
a bear among men, a bear who will not try
to rise above his nature. Take your art

to some museum, where a red Matisse,
resigned to gilt, rectangularly framed,
hangs. Never shuffles. Never craps or roars.
Blinks not. As squares dance in the in-of-doors,
my bear is moated by such white police.
Die, will you? Do. The bear will not be blamed.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tomorrow in a While

Tomorrow, or tomorrow in a while,

After you lay down secateurs and pause
To watch the housebirds swoop, and when you smile,
Thinking of what a wilderness it was,
This little eden, when the warmth of order
Makes of fatigue a friend, when you install
A sense of fence along the gravel border,
Carving out here and here and here from all,

Remember that it was not always so.
Change uproots comfort, stains, then shatters, glass,
Packs up a house in boxes, hands to weeds
Their lasting triumph. All disaster needs
For flowers to be overcome by grass
Is one small crack through which the wild can grow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Not Far Behind

Spring on the horizon, the nightbird says.

I’m here, you know, not going anywhere.
It’s in the offing, spring is. Blackwing says,
We’re here for the duration. Longtemps is
Our middle name.
 Now bring the car around.
We’ll soon fill it with primroses and peepers.
We feed when you’re asleep, the jetblack says,
And never seem to get enough to eat.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ripe for Recruitment

Under the bridges, then, where can be found

Men lost, bootless, unready hands on fire
And hair they use as lockpicks. Or The Last
Piazza, where the contract killers meet
Their lawyers, to insert a venue clause
And limits on assignability.
Down by the tracks, it’s far too popular,
Crowded with scads of housewife-realtors
Who need time off to study Avila.
The Polo Club will take an application,
But not call back. And Kitty’s 24
Prefers you dazed, emetic but aroused.
Or there’s the crossroads. Sandwiches and smokes
Purchase apparent assent. Fruition is
Another matter: these are not the deans
Of Mayhem College; often they forget
Objectives, falling asleep on wiry doormats
Stamped with cardinals and black-capped chickadees,
Right at their victim’s feet. Such tasseled shoes.
Nothing says loving like a drunken bum
Sprawled at the doorstep, hunting knife in hand,
Asking, if kicked, for dollar bills and beer.
Try beneath bridges. Covered in newsprint there,
Soldiers with stories, drumheads fast asleep,
Forage for excess, settle for skinny sweets.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When you just can't get enough

You know, if my posts here don't suffice to fill you up, you can find more of me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/richard.epstein.3) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/rhepstein1), even, rather more infrequently, on Ello (https://ello.co/rhepstein).  But if you are pressed for time (or not all that interested), it's the poems which really matter.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

From the Homefront

No, not a mansion, an estate,

Nor a chateau.  It’s just a house.
The taxes here are second rate.
No pheasantry.  The famous grouse
In the odd cupboards never call.
We have a lot.  Who has it all,

He works downtown.  His hands are clean,
He’s made of iron, cap-a-pie.
He is a gent we all have seen.
The women claim he ran away,
Just at proposal.  We are sure
His kind is weak and won’t endure

A liberal incumbency,
Yet there he is.  And here we are.
We mow our own.  And you can see
The oil which needs a newer car.
We have a vision: Saturday
We’re going to scrub those stains away,

Uncreak the door and love our wives
And make our children sweet and smart.
Life after life, lives after lives,
We barely finish where we start,
Exceptional in no detail,
Tepid and permanently frail.

The heat increases.  As we sink
Beneath our debts, the clocks explode.
No one has asked us what we think.
Our recent bills have come in code.
It’s later than it used to be,
We translate one.  But there are three.

A civil servant with a broom
Is dancing.  There’s a gravid fox
Has moved into the rumpus room
Where cellotape obstructs the locks.
Lawyers assumed to boardrooms rain
Upon the gold and fruited plain.

An organ grinder plies his trade
At 6 o’clock: This is the news.
We waltz in the diminished shade
Between our house and Duncan’s Mews.
The children write, We have been lent
By LSE to Parliament.

Thus we, content, replant the mint,
Repaint the windowbox, and wait.
My wife takes off her clothes.  Her hint
Is good enough.  We shall be late,
We shall be last.  We shall be saved,
Our names erased, our dates engraved.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Trick of Perspective

This appeared, with very slight differences, in The Melic Review.

We haven’t an excuse. Across the black
Perspective gimmick of the bay the boats
Are barely visible, yet here we are,
Watching and squinting, as though we were ernes
On holiday. (Ernes live in puzzle books,
A figment of the crossword, curtly vowelled.)
We do not see the fish beneath the white
And roiling surface, nor the lords who live
Over the curvature. (Borneo is
Speculative: though editors assert
It ought to be Brittanicaed, you can’t
Prove that by me.) Out here our stars are shaped
To sell cold drinks. Our room begins to sound
Like home, but with more towels. (There is a robe,
But we are going to dis-. We can’t afford
The cost of clothes, not with a moon like that.)
On such a night as this Jessica changed
Her faith for ducats. Our Discover card
Embraces lands beyond the curvature
Of thigh, where light and heat both are induced
By friction. And the dolphins leap to light.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Losing the Thread Count

The world is not asleep, though you may dream
It dreams of you.  It’s busy with the bus,
Running late, and a list of shepherd’s pie’s
Constituents.  It doesn’t even snore;
It doesn’t toss.  It turns a blinded eye
Half of the time. You’re looking for a mitzvah,
Kissed from the dark side, full of hugs and zzzs.
You get an email, Jewish Singles Hot
& Holy Hurry Hurry.  Now’s the time
To turn your hot cheek to the cool percale
And hope the dead don’t know what’s going on.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Security at an Exhibition

We stand where we are stood, assigned to fill

A vacuum till the posh begetters come.
Trust us for that. The portraits say their names,
Whereas our labels are not blessed with art
Or opulence. From pockets we spill keys
And gummi bears and Zippos from the war,
Absent the ruffs and velvet hats. Our skies
Are free of putti, pennies in a jar
Betray no pudgy burgher here. We stare,
But are not scanned. We are the dragons now,
Extant beyond the borders of the frame;
And look at this one, gilt and dark and grime:
The demigods are falling from the trees
Like caterpillars, waiting for the change.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spring Song

In the symmetry of seasons we have spring

today, winter tomorrow, spring again
the rest of the week, but all without the edge,
the knifeblade chill, that fall is always flaunting.
Something is happening here, and it is green.

Runners keep trying to run in shorts, retreating
to polar fleece, renaturing bare skin.
The snowdrops are almost done before the crocus
are more than scallions. Every day the stalks
need Lebensluft and take it. Every day

the light advances on the night, the poise
of seasons, symmetry and share alike,
spins on the scented air, which can be spent
but never saved. Accumulation fails;
and winter waits in Wollongong, or somewhere.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Balance Sheet

If you are such a big deal, the real thing,
Where are your merit badges, where your stars?
Where are your fancy crockpots and your cars?
I fear you are not such a sichy ding.

Have you appeared at late night, on a stage,
Drunk, vexed, and barefoot, hooting like an owl?
Have you been told by witches, Fair is foul—
And put that robin back into its cage?

I didn’t think so.  When the big black van,
Equipped with no restraint, no jaws of life,
Waves bye-bye to your trouble and your strife,
Try to remember when you were a man.

Before you had a credit history,
You had a rock, a jackdaw, and a tree.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Garden Gods

Leis festoon my Queen Elizabeth

this morning, so she is both pink and coral,
one unexpectedly. Who would do

such a thing? The contractor next door,
him with the hemi? The SEC lawyer,
retired from niggling? A stranger,

hell bent on whimsy. Saints preserve us
from the drunken fey, the determined oddball
hoping to go Wilde and run to fat.

I think it was Zeus himself, eagled
as he has been bulled and pissed, leaving a gay
reminder that gods are not solemn,

except when they want something special—
grilled bones, sobbing virgins, grim obedience—
and prefer a boner to doctrine.

Bees back off from the paper hanger,
annoyed by mimesis and crude deception.
They own a queen way too fat to care.

Friday, February 26, 2016

AngelBug271: A Retrospective in Perspective

The things left out would fill an armory:
snow mattresses made out of fresh-cut spruce,
cross hatched, Air-Wicky, noisy in the night;
the thrum his pulse beat the last hundred yards
of a 440; locust shells on trees,
adhesive, alien, empty; new Keds.

Some themes, though do emerge, and many words.
7 poems begin with moon & stars;
and "tears" appears in every single one.
The word for Love.  The word for blood.  The word
made ink, but never flesh.  Not even chance
makes miracles.  The moon.  The stars.  The moon.

The grout between the bathroom tiles.  The wind
unrolling the awning.  Look: they are not there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Good Die Young

The good die young. Will you not try

To be good temporarily?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For Two Nights Only

Left me the day before the opera came

To town, a Fledermaus for bellowed love,
Its banjo on its knee, and would not stay,
However grievously implored. It went,

Trailing a cloud of bosoms, a mist, a wake,
Heaving the way Valkyries do. Left me,
And took up with a drummer from down South,
A treadmill salesman fit to be untied

And smooth as putting greens. Left me just as
A pitcher of tequila sunrises
Mysteriously emptied. Left behind
Headache and backache and cocks without a crow.

These are the days the market crashes, boys
And girls beneath the stripèd awnings; clay
And scalded dogs are everywhere, the heat
Like Tristan, broken kneecaps, broken heart,

And me without a woodwind to my name,
Ensemble on my own. The holidays
Are coming, leave me with a stocking, lumps
Of coal, and acappella, myrrh and myrrh.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Whither Fled


No, I will not plant this ground
With mace or betel, this a sound
And normal garden. Get thee hence.
I think I need a taller fence.

It is not normal thus to be
Enmired in normality.
Peas and squash. And butterbeans.
Petunias, maybe. What it means
Is you have died while standing up.
Might as well plant these, buttercup.

No, take them back. I have my seeds,
And they sufficient to my needs.

Do they draw girls? Do dryads fling
Themselves about your trowel-y thing?
Do garden nymphs, with pansied skin,
Invite your stamened self within?
They do not feed on beans and peas,
Who court with pollen dancing bees.

A pandar of the flower bed.
What kind of shit is this you spread?
I grow to eat. I eat to grow,
A bit of flower there for show,
Mere decoration. Here I till,
Repository of my will.

And what a way. Spirit will not
Indefinitely be forgot.
Plant coconut whilst still you can.
Vanilla saffron. Be a man.

So I can watch them die and sink,
Mere bitter herbs who would not drink?
My soil's more fit for summer squash
And dirt for annelidic nosh.
I'll make my beauty out of use
And not descend to plant abuse.

Except for chewing. Your recruits
Salute you from their martialled roots.
Meantime the spirits all have fled,
Your gardens grown from gardens dead.
I fear your dull capacity.
Do grow this pekoe for your tea.

My beets require service. Move.
Their lives need water more than love.

As the world turns, it turns through black
As well as brown. Here hide your eyes
With this.

A lettuce-leaf. Surprise,
Surprise: you scorn the nutritive.

You breathe. I do not think you live.
You speak.

I do not think you know
Where nymphs and vegetables go,
Together compost, likely lost,
And do not feel the common cost.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epstein's Constant

This also appeared in Orbis.

I’ll call this Epstein’s Constant.  It implies
the angle of the vision from the man.
It imports paraendrocrinology
into aesthetics via sense of touch.
It makes all macroeconomics just.
By Epstein’s Constant all girls understand
all boys, and boys occasionally know
something about one girl, if they apply
themselves.  And Epstein’s Constant.  When you view
the stars through Epstein’s Constant on clear nights,
Magellan’s Cloud will match both Decalogue
And the Decameron in tone and luster,
measured against whatever scale you like.
It never changes. (I said it was constant.)
It knows no history and yet applies
To what your mother told your father you
told your teacher.  Although it will not bend,
applied to love it usually finds
the path most sinuous between two points.

Friday, January 15, 2016

When Lions Come

This appeared in Orbis.

When lions come to the door to drag you out
into the street, they won’t want elegy
or meditations on the Elder Breughel.
It’s commonsense and die with them: plain speech
is what they have time for. They’re not chimpanzees.

In camps, if you make it there, interrogation
occurs in prose, in real time, not in feet.
Elephants can do prosody; lions think
elephants have gone soft, wasting their gifts
on rumination, wallowing, and tusks.

Under the klieg lights lions want the truth.
They won’t even tell you, Soon you can go home.
Maybe they eye a haunch and hum a little.
Confess the truth and change for death: that’s all
the deal they offer, all they need to know--

lions don’t hope. They are. No note is sent
advising your next of kin you have been laid
with wildebeests and zebras in the pit
where herbivores accrue, praying, say lions,
they could be lions next. Not bloody likely.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dead Grandpa, He Dead

from The Complete Dead Grandpa

Goose, gander, ducat, duchess, dead dead dead,
and nothing you can say will bring me back,
nor cumulo-nimbus fleece floating atone
for birthday candles blown or naked gifts
on disco-lit parquet. Dead. Dead is croaked,
frogs on a spit, Achilles in the pit,
and ordinary Me blue in the face,
a little while at least. The high-toned art,
allusive and annoying, leaves me cold.
I'd rather be a butcher in Portales
than talked about in Paradise, where odes
are picayune accomplices of dirt.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

In That Great Gettin'-Up Morning

They came in caravans, like mushy peas

Lined up on a table, stuff you wouldn't eat,
No, not for anything, not even if
You had to sit there till your plate was clean--
It was, but moving peas onto the wood
Surface, which doubled back globular green,
Didn't much count--and you couldn't go out,
So there you sat, and they came on in files
And filled the fields in rows, one after one,
As if for concert parking; but the songs,
Sweetest when never heard, made dead birds fly
And unseen eagles fall out of the clouds
Onto the roofs of Minis. As they sang,
The caravans, of John Brown's Body Wash
And Vengeance is A-Coming Like a Go-Go,
The smell of sacrifice, the trampled dust,
The blue smoke of electrics ill installed,
Rose over hills where harts skipped and the roe
Carried their heads like trophy wives and posed,
The ungulate mission. Psalms of praise abound.