Take That Pigeon Out of Your Mouth

The urchin on Grand Street hesitates–
the pigeon ambles, unaware of
the predator who approaches from behind.


She pounces, and the bird’s fate is sealed.
The pigeons thinks—“I should have flown.”
It is too late, unless a deus ex machina


should appear.  From the porch of a triple-
drecker comes a mother’s voice: “KAREN!
Take that pigeon out of your mouth, you don’t

know where it’s been!”  Reluctantly, the child
spits the bird out.  Once bitten, now shy, it takes
takes to the skies over Worcester, Mass., and flies,


its heart beating against its breast, urgent, unceasing
until it reaches Shrewsbury.  Never again, it reflects
in its dim pigeon mind, will I turn my back on a girl.


From “Take That Pigeon Out of Your Mouth and Other Awful Nature Poems.”

Greeting Cards From the World’s Grumpiest Poet

Around Thanksgiving my thoughts turn towards those less fortunate than myself. This year, I’ve decided to extend a hand to Giacomo Leopardi, known to his few friends as “Jock.”

Giacomo Leopardi


For centuries, Leopardi has been known as the world’s grumpiest poet. When Matthew Arnold published his collected poems in 1853 he intentionally omitted “Empedocles on Etna,” which is now recognized as one of his top ten poems in both the AP and Coaches Polls. Why? “It’s depressing,” Arnold told a reporter fromVictorian Poetry Daily. “I don’t want people thinking I’ve been hanging out in Leopardi’s basement, listening to Neil Young records.”

Matthew Arnold, after liberal application of Dippity-Do.


I’m in Missouri for the holidays, so it’s but a short drive from the small town where I grew up to Kansas City, where Hallmark Cards is one of the largest employers. I figure if Leopardi can get a job writing poetry for them and is forced to be cheerful from 9 to 5, maybe he’ll snap out of it.

Mr. Kool Aid: Maybe this will cheer him up.


I honk the horn outside his house and he comes bounding out as this trip represents the most excitement he’s had in months. He hated Recanti, the small town where he grew up, and I now understand that bringing him to the Gateway to the Ozarks as an American Field Service foreign exchange student probably wasn’t such a great idea.

“How they hangin’?” I ask as he gets in the car.

“I feel only noia,” he says, referring to the sense of ennui, dreary indifference, torpor, that suffuses his work.

“Here–I brought you something,” I say, and hand him a t-shirt with a bright red Mr. Kool-Aid on it.

“Thanks,” he says with a voice devoid of emotion. “Let’s get going.”

We hit I-70 and make pretty good time as the traffic is light. As I had hoped, the tedium of the drive moves Leopardi to break out of his customary silence.

“Where are you taking me again–and why?” he asks, staring straight ahead.

“We’re going to Hallmark, makers of more greeting cards than any other company in America,” I say, hoping that the possibility of being on the winning team will inspire him a bit.

“What good does it do to greet people,” he says morosely. “Existence is an imperfection, an irregularity, a monstrosity.”

I figure maybe his blood sugar is low and he needs something to eat, so I pull into a Dairy Queen. “What do you want, a Dilly Bar, a root beer float?” I ask as I get out of the car.

“I want a Cappuccino Heath Bar Blizzard,” he says, brightening a bit. “I’ll go with you,” he adds as he opens his door. “Otherwise you’ll screw up the order.”

We order and for once I remember to get enough napkins, then we’re back on the road.

“Did you bring any samples of your work, like I told you to?” I ask, fearing that he’ll be unprepared for what may be his one shot, his one opportunity–to quote the great American folk poet Eminem–at leading a productive life.

Eminem: So poetic, he has to write the stuff on his arms.


“Yes,” he says as he pulls his giant daybook–the Zibaldone di pensieri–out of his PBS tote bag. “Here’s something I wrote to my sister Paolina on the occasion of her wedding.” He clears his throat of the milky DQ sundae-drink, then begins:

The children that you’ll have
will either be cowards or unhappy.
Let them be unhappy.

“O-kay,” I say hesitantly. “Well, uh, that might work for one of Hallmark’s ‘Shoebox’ cards.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s their line of humorous cards,” I say. “Innovative, unpredictable, laugh-out-loud cards featuring a range of humor to serve a variety of relationships,” I continue, reciting the text from Hallmark’s website by memory, I know it so well.

“Hmph,” he says. “I don’t think so. Everything is evil. All that is, is evil.”

The sugar in the Blizzard has apparently burned off. I should have ordered him a chili dog first.

“What else ya got?” I ask, and he flips a few pages.

“Here’s a maternity card I’ve been working on,” he says:

The day we’re born is cause for mourning.

“Well, that might work for a combined birth-condolence card,” I say, trying to stay positive. I realize I can’t take him in for his interview quite yet, so I call and reschedule for later in the afternoon while I try to think of some way to cheer up this stick-in-the-mud of a wet blanket.

We cruise around for awhile, when finally it dawns on me; there’s only one thing absolutely, positively guaranteed to put someone in a satisfied state of mind in this part of the country.

“I’m hungry,” I say as we pull into Arthur Bryant’s. “You up for some barbecue?”

“Heck yeah!”

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

Italians March on B-Schools, Demand Return of Double-Entry Bookkeeping

PHILADELPHIA.  Tony “Baby Shanks” DeFilippo came of age during the 1960’s, but he says he missed out on that decade’s social turbulence.  “I was too busy chasin’ girls,” he says with a sly smile.  “I didn’t have time for no Vietnams, North or South.”

But all that changed during the past year with the rise of “cultural appropriation” as a contentious item on college campuses across the nation.  “I figure, Chinese, blacks, Puerto Ricans all gettin’ theirs, why shouldn’t the Dagos get a piece of the action?” he says of the movement to discourage the use of elements from one ethnic or racial culture by members of another.

Wharton School:  “Who’s the goombah?”


DeFilippo, a garbage man who retired two years ago, was looking around for a new activity to fill his days, and hit upon double-entry bookkeeping, a foundation of modern accounting, which was developed by Italian friar Luca Pacioli in the late 15th century.  “I look at all these places like-a Wharton,” he says in his broken English of the nation’s oldest business school at the University of Pennsylvania here.  “Lemme tell you, when I see how much money those kids make with their freshly-minted MBAs, it really frosts my ass.”

“Mr. DeFilippo has a point, but if he combs his hair right no one will notice.”


So DeFilippo and two former colleagues who rode with him for nearly three decades picking up trash along the streets of Commercial Sanitation District #13 here–Steve “The Icepick” Cotto and Joey “Pockets” Gaetano–joined him yesterday to block the rear  entrance to Vance Hall, which houses the business school’s administrative offices.  “Ain’t nobody comin’ out or goin’ in until they give back double-entry bookkeepin’!” Gaetano shouts with a booming voice that he once used to yell pithy two-word sentences such as “Back up!” and “All set!” to garbage truck drivers.

“Cultural appropriation” has been used by college students to stop yoga classes and a proposed fashion event in which non-Asian women would have worn kimonos, among other protests.  “Nobody’s gone after Tom Waits for trying to sound like a Mississippi sharecropper,” says Martin Weissbard, a professor of sociology at Bryn Mawr College, “but it’s only a matter of time.”

If DeFilippo’s group gets his way chaos could ensue, according to Leonard Beringer, incoming president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.  “Our economy would grind to a halt if we were limited to single-entry bookkeeping,” he notes as he reviews a list of “non-negotiable demands” with a wrinkled brow.  “We’ve been taught ‘debits on the left, credits on the right,’ some of us from infancy.  We can’t change now!”

“Garbage on da left, trash on da right.”

But the group isn’t backing down and they say they’ll keep the pressure on until they get a meeting with the school’s Dean.  “I don’t wanna talk to no provost neither,” Cotto says, causing Gaetano to ask what the unfamiliar words means.  “It’s a senior academic officer at a college or university,” Cotto says as he adjusts his moniker, which had been knocked askew by a gust of wind.  “Either that or it’s a kinda cheese.”

The Poet’s Embezzlement

Every poet cheats his boss.

–Russian proverb.


Into the middle distance
I fix my blankest stare.
I nod my head
at what is said.
My brain is God knows where.


“Our revenue’s declining”-
so says our CFO.
I hear the words–
it’s too absurd–
I care not ’bout his dough.

With every idle moment,
My fancy ventures free
spelunking mines
within my mind,
committing vagrancy.

My body sits upon its chair
To earn its daily bread.
I’ve picked the lock
while on the clock–
the ghost within has fled.

Too bad we’re not in textiles–
at gathering wool I’m good!
Perhaps like Melville’s Bartleby
I’m just misunderstood.

The folks down in accounting
can’t figure out what’s wrong.
Lyric’s gain is mammon’s loss
’cause every poet cheats his boss.


Previously published in The Poetry Ark



At the Feline G-20 Summit

News item:  Three stray cats evaded security and wandered around the main stage at the annual G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey.


“I seriously don’t know what it is with these human ‘leaders’ who think they run the world,” Rocco said as we stepped onto the stage at the G-20 Summit.

“They’re delusional,” I said as I checked the placement of the microphones and the podium.  “They believe they’re in charge, like some crazy guy who thinks he’s Napoleon.”

We were joined by Chester, an orange tabby who went walkabout in 2010 while just a kitten.  He’d been on the run, or “feral” in human-speak, ever since, returning to our home on infrequent occasions to berate us for being domesticated house-cats, while he has fomented revolution where’er he went.

“ME get out?  Why don’t YOU get out?”

“How did the G-7 become the G-20?” he asked.

“If you would come out of the woods every now and then, you might know,” Rocco said.

“I’ll take that to mean you don’t know,” Chester said.

“Ask Okie,” Rocco said.  “He’s older–maybe even wiser.”

“Oak?” Chester said to me with a quizzical tone–or was it merely skeptical?

“It was expansion, like the Memphis Grizzlies, or the Florida Marlins,” I said.  “Broadening the base gets more fans interested in the machinations of the lever-pullers who control the world’s economies.”

Billy Marlin:  “Why am I wearing my pajamas at the ballpark?  Why not?”

“Have they added a wild-card format since I went off the grid?” Chester asked.

“Everything but,” Rocco said.  “You’ve got Turkey, Mexico . . .”

“Mexico?” Chester asked, incredulous.  “That’s like adding an NBA franchise in Oklahoma.”

“They’ve got one of those too,” I said.

“Good Lord,” Chester groaned.  “I step out of the room for 5 years and all hell breaks loose!”

“Enough with the kvetching, Rocco said.  “We’ve got some serious ruling to do.”

“I’m with you,” I said.  “The twenty humans they’ve assembled for this chivaree couldn’t find their asses with both hands.”

“We are the world . . .”

“Why is that I wonder?” Chester said.

“It’s the old student council conundrum,” I said.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“The kind of people who are attracted to world government are precisely the ones who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near it,” Rocco interjected.

“Because?” Chester asked.  He has been out in the woods a long time.

“Because of their vaunting ambition, and overweening self-regard,” Rocco said.  He’s like that; a slumbering giant in the vocab department, but once he gets going it’s Katy-bar-the-door–whatever that ancient phrase means.

“Still,” I said, “I think there’s one world leader who deserves our support as cats.”

“Which one’s that?” Chester asked.

“Angela Merkel.”

I could sense an explosion coming on, like Old Faithful or the Mount St. Helens volcano.  It was Rocco, stifling a laugh, which he could restrain no longer, as he erupted like Vesuvius.

“BAD cat!”

“And why on earth should we give a rat’s rear-end about her?” he asked with evident skepticism.

“Because,” I replied calmly, “she’s got the best lap of any G-20 leader!”







My Chipmunk Can Beat Up Your Chipmunk

My chipmunk can beat up your chipmunk–
seriously, he can.
When my chipmunk walks on the basketball court
the other chipmunks go “You da man!”


He is storied in song and poem,
like the one you hold in your hand.
He’s the toughest chipmunk on my property
if not in the entire land.

He hides in the stone wall on our driveway
waiting for your chipmunk to come along.
He creates a false sense of security
before doing your chipmunk grievous wrong.


Sometimes it’s assault and battery,
other times merely a threat.
You’d think he harbored a grudge
or was trying to collect a debt.

When the bell rings and the round-card girl
holds up her little sign,
only one chipmunk will take a beating
and I don’t think it’s going to be mine.


You say you want to see my chipmunk
but I can’t accommodate you on that
because as tough as my chipmunk is
he was recently killed by my cat.

As Words With Friends Spreads, Some Fear Its Impact

NATICK, Mass.  It’s been a long week for Tony and Dee Ann Stefano, what with two jobs and drop-off and pick-up of kids to and from school, tap dancing lessons and youth hockey, so the young couple is about to enjoy an evening of conjugal bliss while their children spend the night at their paternal grandparents.  “Having your in-laws close by can be a pain sometimes,” say Dee Ann as she slips into her Frederick’s of Framingham Peek-a-Boo teddy, “but it’s nights like tonight that make up for it.”

“Hold that thought, sweetie!”

The couple slips into bed to try “The Mongolian Cartwheel,” a sexual position that requires a working knowledge of the Kama Sutra and a movie-theatre size package of Twizzler’s red licorice.  “We like to make our love-making special,” says Tony, “since we get so little quality time together.”

The two are just about to enter the “Vestibule of Pleasure,” the recommended method of foreplay for the somewhat complicated maneuver they are about to attempt, when a “sproing” sound is heard from Dee Ann’s iPad, which sits on her night stand to receive urgent messages about their children from her aging mother-in-law.


“Who’s that?” Tony asks, a look of concern on his face.

“I got a word from Karen,” she says, referring to a woman across town with whom she plays “Words With Friends,” a multi-player word game that resembles Scrabble.  “This will just take a minute.”

Tony rolls over, forgetting for a moment the couple’s package of licorice, which he removes from behind his back for a piece to chew on while he bides his time.  “It’s the same thing every time,” he grouses to this reporter, who has been allowed into the couple’s bedroom as part of a three-part investigative series.  “We’re just about to get intimate, and she has to go back to her damn Words With Friends friends.”

Portrait of unhappy young couple in bedroom

“Is ‘fluevogt’ a word?”

Experts say the addictive powers of Words With Friends on women is upsetting the nation’s love life during male workers’ prime earning years, with potentially devastating consequences for productivity and standards of living.  “You get guys coming into work grumpy on Monday mornings, just when we need non-farm labor output to pick up the pace,” says economist Fred Metzger of the University of Georgia-Statesboro.  When this reporter expresses skepticism at the somewhat far-fetched theory, Metzger grows defensive.  “You try staying awake studying other people’s mating habits,” he snaps.  “You think I like watching young couples go at it like randy minks for a living?”

Wives and girlfriends say they’re not to blame since Words With Friends offers them relief from the tedium of suburban life.  “Tony says it upsets his Circadian sleep rhythms, but I know better,” says Dee Ann Stefano as she taps in the word “oxen” for a 70-point score and a win.  “I’ve seen him with his clothes off, and he’s no cicada.”

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