Spring Cleaning for Poets

Spring comes late in New England, so we’re behind the rest of the country when it comes to spring cleaning. I tackled the garage last Saturday, we did the patio and the backyard the next day, and as we finished up my better half made the sort of helpful suggestion that always casts a pall over the rest of the weekend.

“Can you do something about those four stanzas of three lines each at the bottom of the basement stairs?” she asked.

“That’s a villanelle I’m working on,” I said, and if I sounded a bit miffed, I was. “What do you care? It’s not in your way—you never go down there anyway.”

“I nearly broke my leg stepping over it when I was bringing up the lawn furniture.”

That sealed the deal—around our house it’s safety first, last and always. We keep one of those flip signs in the front vestibule: “543 days without a major household accident,” and we turn the card just before going to bed each night.

“Maybe the poetry is starting to pile up around here,” I said.

“‘Starting to’?” she asked dubiously. “We agreed that poetry was going to be your thing—along with garbage and changing the cat litter—remember?”

“Okay,” I said, recalling our longstanding division of labor. ”I’ll do a poetry next Sunday.”

Yesterday when I took stock of things I found that the clutter was worse than I thought. There’s the big notebook I take on the train each day and the little notebook I keep in my desk drawer for moments of late-night inspiration—those were full—but I also found scraps of poetry in my winter coat pockets, in the console of my car, in my brief case. All of them possessing some merit, some lyrical element, but none of them finished, none of them formed into a literary whole.

There was children’s poetry—”Fuzzy, buzzy bumblebee, hope he doesn’t land on me!” There were lines that expressed the tragic sense of life: “Something is born, and something dies.” That’s not going to find its way into Reader’s Digest. There were wistful recollections from my boyhood growing up in a small town. I was enamored of them all when I wrote them but I had to admit–they weren’t going anywhere.

Eliot: “I just picked Ezra Pound’s pocket.”


Still, I hated to just throw them out—what a waste that would be! I try to maintain a pretty small poetic footprint; like e.e. cummings I don’t use capital letters all the time, I sometimes write haiku with lines of 5, 6 and 5 syllables (nobody ever notices) and I frequently recycle other poets’ best images. As fellow Missouri poet T.S. Eliot once said, “Mediocre writers borrow, great writers steal.”

They didn’t really hang together, though, my many fragments of inspiration. I needed some guidance that only the best poetry can provide, so I turned to this month’s issue of plangent voices magazine, at $3.75 your best entertainment value. If your tastes in entertainment run to the obscure, the impenetrable and—in the special Christmas double issue—offensive poetry.

Call me bitter, but when I was removed as editor of that forlorn little rag in a bloody coup (I was treated for severe paper cuts at the student infirmary—$10 co-pay!), I had it headed in the right direction. We had doubled our subscriber base from one to two (thanks Mom!), we had cut our backlog of unresponded-to submissions from 2,348,274 to 2,348,251, and we had adopted a tough anti-favoritism policy that would become a model for the non-profit poetry (but I repeat myself) industry. If, for example, a poem was approved for publication by an editor who had already slept with the author, a second anonymous editor had to sleep with him/her as well. Then and only then was the poem deemed worthy of publication.

plangent—as it is known to insiders of the poetry game—had lately become a fierce advocate for so-called “flarf” poetry; poems assembled from the results of odd internet searches such as “rubber bustier” and “discount tire sale” and “Vic Wertz” were combined in an aleatory fashion, producing results that were sometimes striking, and sometimes . . . crap. Just like regular poetry!

Image result for vic wertz
Say it softly, gently, and don’t fear repetition:  “Vic Wertz . . . Vic Wertz . . . Vic Wertz.”


But I didn’t need to go to the internet—I had random, unrelated scraps of language sitting on the desk right in front of me. So, I took my scissors and created this reusable, dishwasher-safe poem from my winter’s worth of poetic fragments. Enjoy!

Fuzzy, buzzy bumblebee—
I saw where Scott Joplin played his ragtime to trail-weary cowboys.
The Citgo sign, rolling up and down like a windowshade,

A cynical tongue in one so young—
They dropped Eddie on his head, we said.
Ah, the mistakes we make when we are young!

What were they thinking, my dad and mom
When they decided to call me “Con”?
The crazy ladies to whom I send poems

excite me by long-distance pheromones.
The cats sits on my lap, langorous, while
helicopters and gulls circle overhead.

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”


Lookin’ for That Four-Eyed Girl

On misunderstanding a line from a Crosby, Stills & Nash song for 36 years:

There’s this girl, and she don’t wear no contacts
If you ask me the stark naked facts is
She looks much better without ‘em
She’s a real cool fatale femme.

I saw her just once on the street–
inauspicious occasion for us to meet.
But as she passed me by
I took in every one of her four eyes.

I would drive backwards round the world
Lookin’ for that four-eyed girl.
Checkin’ in my rear-view mirror
in the slim hope that I’d see her.

Her frames were made from the shell of a tortoise.
She knocked me dead—totally rigor mortis.
Ladies, you should wear ‘em if you got ‘em.
With lenses thick as Coke bottle bottoms.

I’ve looked high and I’ve looked low–
I seek her face everywhere I go.
But I remain here alone on the shelf
‘Cause I happen to be myopic myself.





The Brand on Ben Jonson’s Thumb

The thumb of Ben Jonson’s right hand
bore a burnt-in “M”; a brand
that stood for “manslayer.”
He admitted he killed one Gabriel Spencer,
but avoided the gallows with a prayer.

The verse by which he saved his life,
having run Spencer through with his knife,
was the Psalm that begins “Have mercy on me,
O God according to thy loving kindness.”
He knew his Latin, and it set him free.

The brand on the killer’s thumb bespoke
that the perpetrator had previously invoked
the benefit of clergy. He’d asked for the book
and read like a clerk, and so like a clergyman,
beyond secular courts, was let off the hook.

You were allowed to claim the defense just one time.
The mark kept you from excusing an additional crime.
The man Jonson killed was an actor who’d slain
another who threatened him with a copper candlestick.
He ran a rapier through his eye to the brain.

Thus Jonson went on to write his plays;
the former bricklayer mended his ways
and never resorted to short sword again.
Saved by the book, he dueled with words,
and lived when he could have been hanged.

A Second Winter

I don’t mind being cold in the winter,
I don’t mind being cold in the fall;
I mind being cold in the springtime—
I mind it most of all.


In winter being cold is quite natural–
In fall it fits the looming gloom,
But in spring, you want to be outside,
Not stuck inside in your room.

In November the weather’s getting colder,
In January cold’s all you’ve got.
But in April it’s supposed to get warmer,
So it bugs me quite a lot.


I’ll take all the snow that winter can throw,
I’ll take autumn leaves covered with frost,
But a spring that’s cold very soon gets old
When you think of the chances you’ve lost.

You could be throwing a Frisbee
to an agile border collie;
You could be getting dizzy
swinging ‘round some nubile young dolly.

Hip Hop Dancers Posing

But instead you look out your window,
at the all-pervading drizzle.
It certainly is depressing—
as the rappers would say “fo shizzle!”

So you sit and thumb through depressing plays
writ by guys like Harold Pinter,
and wait until May to make your play
at the end of this second winter.

A Premature Dirge for LIBOR

     LIBOR, the interest rate benchmark based on dollars on deposit in London banks, will be phased out in 2021. 



Alas, poor LIBOR—I knew it well,
its death will cause no minstrel’s
perfervid raptures to swell.

I never could figure out what was so great
about the London Interbank Offered Rate.
Of interest benchmarks, it was the one to hate.

It mucked up the drafting of promissory notes
and for that reason alone, lost lots of votes
but I suppose it floated London bankers’ boats.

It was kind of fixed, and kind of floating,
if it saved you money, it left you gloating,
‘bout how you’d scored off of interest rate quoting.

There was something clubby about the whole affair
that needed a scandal to let in fresh air
It might as well be London as anywhere.

It all got started with petrodollars
roaming around London like gentlemen scholars
properly dressed in their British wing collars.

Once they get in your coffers you can’t let them just sit,
got to get them working or your boss will have a fit.
even if you personally don’t give a . . . hoot.

And so Nigel and Reggie and Ollie would lend them
and borrowers here and abroad would spend them
until it came time eventually to end them.

You can see how this sort of thing could go bad
with much back and forth between City lads
who’d much to reap from behaving like cads.

So when Kingsley needed the rate to decline
he’d offer to take a friend out to dine
and fill him with truffles and champagne and wine.

All he needed to do was say the right thing
about which way the rate should swing
and all of a sudden, he’s the LIBOR King!

And so with the movement of just two lips
came a ripple in the rate of several bps
and LIBOR jumps!  Or maybe it dips.

But those days will end soon, and it’s just as well
for some went to jail, and some went to hell
but I won’t be mourning for LIBOR’s death knell.

Reggae on Hold

To me the thing that never gets old
is hearing reggae music when I am on hold.
It makes me think that the operator gal
she’s tokin’ at her switchboard like a ganja pal.

She so bold,
playin’ reggae on hold.
Smokin’ something gold.
Playin’ reggae on hold.

I dial into the conference line promptly at three
and find that there’s no one on the call but me.
Instead they’re playing Marley on the little squawk box
much more pleasant than the business talk

To me, hearin’ reggae on hold.
I’m totally sold
on the reggae on hold.

But finally there comes the fateful hour,
people chime in with their voices so dour
From miles away I can see them glower
so under my desk I go to cower . . .

I take a deep breath before I dive down deep
I close my eyes but I don’t go to sleep
I excuse myself, I don’t mean to be cold
I touch the mute button then go back on hold

Because for me—the joint is rolled
I like reggae music—when I am on hold.

Russian Women Want to Date Me

In the long, dark night of the soul,
when I’m feeling all alone–
there is comfort close at hand;
all I need do is pick up my phone.

Turn the thing on at the end of a week
that has made me feel that all hate me,
and there I find–much to my surprise—
that Russian women want to date me!

There’s Marina and Ekaterina,
ready to cross the Volga,
there’s Evdokia—no jokia–
and a pert young thing named Olga.


Of course, they’ve never met me,
so I’m not sure how they would know,
that if I were to say “Come hither,”
with me they would willingly go.

But I’ll take it on faith (Russian Orthodox)
that they’d be happy with me,
far away from long lines for staples.
in the land where food samples are free.

The cool thing that gets me in the groove
as I look at these Siberian beauties
is the website promises “Girl Make 1st Move!”
so I’d be relieved of my courtly duties.

I wouldn’t have to schlep around
buying flowers and making reservations,
I’d just sit on the couch like a torpid slouch
while they loved me without hesitation.

But alas, one thing stands between us,
that makes going out kinda hard;
I have a strict rule that bars relations
with chicks who need major credit card.