Dancing With the Refrigerator

In the fifties when the madness of dance
descended upon the youth of the land,
enflamed by images of other teens
flickering across TV screens


from Philadelphia, of all places,
practice was essential if perfection
was to be achieved, and a necessity,
since able males willing to serve as partner

were in short supply.  It was as necessary
as a pessary had been to their mothers
for girls to practice their steps holding
on to the handle of a refrigerator.

Stoic, stolid, the appliances stood
doing their duty as men would,
allowing the girls to shine; after all,
a fridge is just an appliance.

I wonder what passions pulsed
through their Freon tubes,
trapped beneath their skins of
avocado green, harvest gold and white.

To feel the warmth of a girl’s hand upon
their handles, tiny lights unlit within; up
in their freezer compartments their brains
frozen like those of boys they stood in for.


For the duration of a 45 rpm record, they might
believe themselves beloved, but of course
nothing would come of it.  The most
morganatic marriage Faulkner could dream of

did not contemplate that an icebox
would lose its cool over
a gamin’s brown locks.  And
as for those girls, now long grown,

let us hope they have men
as solid, if less cold, and capable
in their domestic dealings
of better expressing their feelings.

I Miss Miss Near-Miss Congeniality

I once dated—and I’m not making this up–
not quite a Miss Congeniality, but a runner-up
at the Miss Massachusetts Teenager Pageant
Yes—she was my lady, and I was her gent.

Image result for miss congeniality teen pageant

I met her on the outbound T
we both got off at Copley Square.
She was more than congenial enough for me
and had blonde highlights in brunette hair.

Image result for copley square t station

We started to talk of this and that–
actually, to be more specific–
about a crazy guy who jabbered as we sat,
stifling laughs at his dementia tres horrific.

Image result for crazy guy subway

I suppose that’s a flaw that would hurt your chance
if you revealed it when asked a beauty pageant question.
“Are there any social causes that you like to advance?”
“No but I crack up at guys with manic depression.”

Image result for teen beauty pageant question

We went out for a while, I had just hit thirty,
but no matter how hard I tried to get her into the sack
she resolutely refused to do anything dirty.
She’d go away for the weekend, and call when she got back.

Image result for copley square bar dave mckenna

I never quite pieced her personality together;
We eventually stopped seeing each other.
I needed a girlfriend who was more than fair weather,
not always running off to take care of her mother.

And so I miss Miss Congeniality (runner-up),
fate dashed her from my lips like a flowing cup.
We coulda been something, her and me,
but instead she’s just part of my yuppie history.
Image result for crazy guy subway

I suppose there’s a lesson, however odd,
for all who would strike up an acquaintanceship
on public transportation, with a beautiful broad:
a lunatic’s not enough to sustain a relationship.

The Night of the Red Sox Living Dead

One afternoon, while heading home
Upon a hot commuter train,
I fell asleep, and dreamed this poem,
As summer’s light began to wane.

I saw a scene of baseball’s past
When stadiums were built to last
With brick-and-ivy outfield walls
Bombarded hard by sluggers’ balls.

And every man, and every maid
Would swelter in the noon-day heat.
And by the time the game’d been played
They’d smell as bad as postmen’s feet.

My reverie became a wish
That bordered close on heresy:
That Fenway Park, the Red Sox home,
Become an air-conditioned dome.

And as I slept the train rolled on
Past Back Bay then to Newtonville,
My narcoleptic state absorbed
What otherwise was time to kill.

Through Wellesley Farms to Wellesley Hills
And Wellesley Square I slept.
Through Natick and West Natick too
The engineer appointments kept.

When hot and groggy I awoke
To the conductor’s awful yawp,
The scenery out my window showed
We’d rolled four stations past my stop.

I stumbled off the train to see
A wave of fans in front of me
With baseball caps upon their heads
That bore the letter “B” in red;

it was–

The Night of the Red Sox Living Dead.

Their heads had swelled (or was it mine,
That lay asleep for all that time?)
“Ortiz” and “Schilling” on their backs.
With wild surmise and looks quite wacked.

They staggered towards me, two by two,
I froze, then turned and tried to flee.
Well, what exactly would you do,
If I were you, and you were me?

They seemed intent on mayhem mad
Or maybe something even worse.
As I imagined just how bad,
A mother hit me with her purse.

“Get out the way, we’re comin’ through!”
She screamed from deep within her lungs.
She pushed a snot-nosed kid or two–
Why is youth wasted on the young?

I stumbled back on to the train
Not knowing how or even why.
Crushed flat beneath a press of flesh
I thought that I was going to die.

We rattled back towards the town
From whence I’d come when wide awake,
Squeezed tight so I could make no sound
Squashed flatter than sardine pancakes.

West Natick first, plain Natick next
By Wellesley Square I’d caught my breath.
“Excuse me,” I could finally say,
“I’m getting off, my stop is next.”

“This guy here thinks he’s getting off!”
A ghoulish fan saw fit to scoff,
And then a chilly chorus said,
“He didn’t say the magic word!”

I racked my brain both high and low,
Then left, then right and upside down.
What sound would cause the zombie hoard
To let me off at Wellesley town?

I couldn’t think, I had to beg,
“Please tell me,” I implored a girl.
“I’m really not too bad an egg,
If not the nicest in the world.”

She looked at me with deep brown eyes
That bore through me like fine drill bits
A loyal fan, quite undersized,
She’d brought along a catcher’s mitt.

Child of the Damned, in schoolgirl clothes,
A tartan kilt of blue and green;
She wore a pair of Mary Janes
Her brown locks tossed by breeze unseen.

“If you want to get off this train
In Wellesley Square, one stop away
You’ll have to say the magic word!
Or ride with us to Yawkey Way!”

I didn’t want to go that far, I’d rather
–if the truth be known–
Be sitting in my easy chair
And watch the stupid game at home.

She read my mind by ESP
The zombies then advanced on me.
“Just say the simple syllable
And we’ll ride on while you go free!”

My mouth was dry, no words would come
I guess you’d say I’d been struck dumb.
In fear I struck a fetal pose,
And on they came, as zombies come.

The little girl sank to the floor
Like Jolson, skidding on her knees,
And screamed “You silly nimmynot–
The word you need to say is ‘Please’!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Red Sox and Yankees: Why Can’t We Be Enemies?”

Zoot Sims on the Booze Cruise

As I recall, he got top billing, as was
his due, which meant you had to wait
through somebody else’s set to hear him.

On the way out of the harbor, with some
people there just for the night in the
ocean air, and the booze, of course,

there was some jostling for place, but
it was nothing more than you would
encounter on a city pavement at lunch hour,

and it accomplished zilch; there were
several hours to go and by that time,
those who had come for the dating and the mating

would be sloshed out of their minds, resting
against the wooden benches like distraught
mourners at a funeral, waiting for the death

of tomorrow’s hangover. Then you could
make your move, and hear one of the great
tenors of his time, when those who didn’t

know what they had bought tickets for
had given up. I came down from the upper
deck and found standing room behind the

band, a perfect view of the man I’d first heard
on an EP of The Four Brothers of Woody Herman’s
band and wondered—what kind of mother names

her kid Zoot? He had the unknowing and the
cognoscenti in the bell of his horn, his warm tone
taking the chill off the early summer eve.

And down front I saw a mirror image of myself,
but a little hipper; tapping his foot, a carefully-
chosen baseball cap on his head, while I was

still in a business suit. He was more self-conscious of
his attire on a night where time had warped,
and it was an evening before he and I had been born.

We Must Love One Another or Die: A Brief History

It is one of the twentieth century’s most memorable lines of poetry:  “We must love one another or die” wrote W.H. Auden in the eighth stanza of “September 1, 1939,” his echo, on the eve of World War II, of W.B. Yeats “Easter, 1916.”


E.M. Forster, the novelist, said of Auden “Because he once wrote ‘We must love one another or die’ he can command me to follow him.”  The lines were frequently repeated, sometimes in truncated form, in the days following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  They were even taken in vain by Lyndon Johnson during his 1964 presidential campaign against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater.  Johnson’s infamous “Daisy” commercial depicts a young girl picking petals from a daisy; she is slowly replaced by the image of a nuclear explosion over which Johnson’s voice is heard saying “We must love each other, or we must die,” an unpoetic rendering of the line that was inserted into a Johnson speech by an unidentified speechwriter.


And yet when the poem was reprinted, four years after it first appeared in The New Republic, Auden chose to delete in its entirety the stanza in which the lines appear.  In 1957 he wrote to the critic Laurence Lerner “Between you and me, I loathe that poem,” and he resolved to omit it from his further collections.  The poem was, he thought, too flattering to himself and his friends, with whom he sat “in one of the dives [o]n Fifty-Second Street” as the poem opens.

LBJ’s “Daisy” commercial

Finally after a decade he allowed Oscar Williams to include it complete in The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse with the line changed to read “We must love one another and die.” He subsequently allowed the poem to be reprinted only once, in an anthology printed a quarter of a century after it originally appeared in print, with a note stating that he considered it and four other poems “to be trash which he is ashamed to have written.”

Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street

There has probably never been a greater disjuncture between a poet and seven words he’d written.  What was it that so disturbed Auden about the line after it had flowed from his pen to paper?  The thought that by loving each other we could avoid a sort of death in life?  Perhaps; since Hitler and the gas chambers followed the “low dishonest decade” that ended as America went to war, it must have struck Auden in retrospect as youthful naivete to think that love alone was enough to counteract evil.

His revision–”We must love one another and die”–surely states a fact, or at least a probability; everyone will die, and most will know love–merely physical or all-engulfing–before they do so.  Still, Auden considered it trash, too easy a formulation.  Between the nights of love and death, there is always the tedium and homely stuff of everyday life–a dog scratching its “innocent behind on a tree,” as he observed in Musee des Beaux Arts.  Love and death, while central themes of Western literature, leave great gaping holes to be filled by long periods of work and sleep and boredom–and poetry.

I’m Immune to Their Charms

Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra,
Hours and hours of Wagner’s operas;
I’m not saying they’ll do you harm–
It’s just that–I’m immune to their charms.

Artichokes and juicy rare steaks,
Home-made pineapple upside-down cakes,
Served with a cherry, cold or warm–
either way, I’m immune to their charms.

Boiled lobster, ample rears,
Romantic movies that bring my wife tears,
Outdoor plumbing at gentlemen’s farms–
One and all, I’m immune to their charms.

It’s not as if I got a shot
That inoculated me.
All these things may go to your head
but they don’t intoxicate me.

Nature not nurture is to blame–
I don’t know what else to say.
This stuff may bring pleasure, I know it’s a shame–
can’t help it–I was born this way.

Mafia movies, flicks about spies,
fashionable specs on unfashionable eyes.
Genteel novels that thrill school marms,
One and all, I’m immune to their charms.

Sports talk radio, German wines,
You can have ‘em, I’ll be fine.
Little red ants all alone or in swarms–
Either way–I’m immune to their charms.

Kiss Me You Fool!

She enters the room in a cloud of perfume,
Her bracelets jangling an irksome tune.
Her hair swirls round her rougéd face
A strand here and there is out of place.

She knows what she wants, what she wants is a man;
To achieve this end she’s conceived a plan.
Her plot is well-laid, her look is quite frantic;
She’s decided to play the hopeless romantic.

She takes on the air of Blance DuBois,
The Juicy Fruit™ working within her two jaws.
Her eyes are vacant, her head thrown back
To better display her pencil-width neck.

She’s ready to steal a man from his wife,
His hearth and his home, his humdrum life.
Her dream is to be the great love of her era,
A reincarnation of the late Theda Bara.

She spies an accountant, a full CPA,
She’s not at a loss for sweet things to say.
She opens her mouth as if to drool
And says breathlessly—“Kiss me, you fool.”

The guy looks her up, then down and sideways.
He’s not quite prepared for a human sachet.
He lowers his voice to be more discreet,
Then says to her softly “How’s your balance sheet?”

She’s shocked that he’d question her financial condition.
To hell with bean-counters, he can go to perdition!
She slaps him and lurches along the buffet—
She’ll never again vamp a CPA.

Her next target’s one with an air of assurance;
He sells both life and auto insurance.
She figures she’ll take him to romantic school;
With a sultry dark air she says “Kiss me, you fool.”

The fellow assesses the risk and the premium;
He sizes her up but won’t fall for her schemium.
“Your charms, I agree, are quite ineluctable—
But first I must ask—how high’s your deductible?”

Her face turns bright red, then she blushes entirely–
She’s not met a man so completely un-squirely!
She spins on her heel, her tears ‘bout to choke her—
All coquetry’s wasted on an insurance broker.

And then, ‘long the wall, she sees a new prospect;
A reticent man with an erudite aspect.
He seems rather nice, not a jock or a tool.
So she tries once again: “Kiss me, you fool!”

He gives her a look, and takes off his glasses
And blithely succumbs to her manic passes.
The guy was a fan of the silent screen
And would fall for that line almost sight unseen.

Moral: If you want to be a hit, throw your pitch to the right batter.