I Wish You Loved Me as Much as Your Phone

We’re here together, but I’m all alone.
Your body’s here, but your mind is gone.
I might as well be in The Twilight Zone–
I wish you loved me as much as your phone.

You call me baby, you call me doll–
And then you say “I gotta take this call.”
You talk to someone from parts unknown–
I wish you loved me as much as your phone.

When we get home from our evening date
I think of romance as it’s gettin’ late.
And then I hear that little nuisance ring
I don’t know why you can’t turn off that thing.

You say you love me as you stare at your screen
The way you treat me is beyond obscene.
When you look up you’ll see this bird has flown–
‘Cause you don’t love me as much as your phone.

I Wear My Erudition Lightly

I wear my erudition lightly,
or at least I really try.
If you put on a heavily learned cloak
folks won’t think you’re a regular guy.

So I drop bon mots at cocktail parties
when the conversation starts to flag.
Like “Didja know that a guy named Tiresias
used to walk around all the time in drag?”

Or the fact that Lincoln crossed the Rubicon
to end the Peloponnesian War?
It was either that or the French Revolution,
I’m sure I read it somewhere before.

I’m also good with orthography,
I’m a former spelling bee champ.
I’ve never misspelled H2SO4
And I know why the lady’s a tramp.

I know about quantum mechanics,
Which is a concept thought up by Niels Bohr.
I take my quantum in every three thousand miles
and they lube my four-on-the floor.

I took some classes in vers libre,
which I found to be most stimulating.
I also drink mojitos and daiquiris,
and I find them all very intoxicating

If you want to display your brainpower,
don’t be afraid to let it all out.
When people say they think I’m unlearned,
I don’t leave any room for doubt.

To Make Ends Meet, More Poets Turn to Discounters

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Curtis Bascomb, Jr. is a third-generation family business owner, so he has more than just his time and money invested in his workplace.  “Grandad founded this place on a promise,” he says with a trace of a lump in his throat.  “He believed no poet should ever go without a figure of speech because of high prices.”


“I’m looking for a synechdoche for wine.”

 

And so the Poets Discount Supply House was born, a harmonic convergence of New England thrift and the historically impecunious nature of the poet’s trade.  “I’m entering my coming-of-age collection in twenty chapbook contests at an average of $22.50 a pop,” says would-be poet Todd Heftwig, who prowls the aisles looking for bargains.  “If I can pick up a slightly-used simile or metaphor at half-price, I may be able to recoup my investment.”

poetry1
“There’s a size 7 and a half sestina back here with seagulls in it.”

 

In addition to garden variety figures of speech such as similes and metaphors, the Poets Discount Supply House carries more exotic forms such as synechdoches and metonyms, as well as a deli case stocked with onomatopeia and tropes.  “We buy this stuff fresh every day,” says Bob Vibeck, who started with the company when it was run by Bascomb’s father, Curtis Sr., in the 1960s.  “That’s why poets come back to us even when they hit the big time, which is really still the little time.”

The store is located in an undistinguished warehouse off a busy commercial street, part of the family’s business plan to keep costs down.  “We can sell you a package of three generic themes–seagulls, unrequited love, the effect John Coltrane’s music had on you in college–at half the cost of the high-end retailers,” says Curtis Senior.  “That’s our sweet spot.”


“If you need a rhyme for the word ‘love,’ line up on the right.”

 

The store is ramping up for what is usually its busiest time of the year, as shoppers stop in for a turn of phrase for a Thanksgiving toast, or get ready for Christmas proposals, when the family will bring in temporary sales help to handle the crush of smitten but unlettered Romeos.  “These guys come in here with something scratched on a cocktail napkin looking for le mot juste,” says Curtis Junior, shaking his head.  “I tell ‘em you can’t bring in your own stuff, you got to buy it here.”

 

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

On Having a Non-Affair With a Flamboyant Minor Dada Poetess

Poet William Carlos Williams had “a non-affair with the flamboyant minor-Dadaist poet Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.”

The New York Times Book Review

Elsa, you must not take it amiss
if I do not succumb to your fervent kiss;
I have a wife I’ve cheated on before
So it’s not because I’m true to the missus.


Williams

 

It’s just that—well, I don’t know how to put this—
With a Dadaist poet a non-affair is the height of erotic bliss.
The way you Dadas turn everything ceiling to floor
If we are to love, a mile is as good as a miss is.


The Baroness, gettin’ jiggy with it.

 

Another impediment, although you I’m lovin’—
I’ve counted your syllables—and you have a dozen!
If we were to marry, my friends I would bore
Introducing “my wife, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.”

So let’s keep it chaste, between you and me,
For minor Dada-ettes forever free should be.
Oh, I forgot, one absurd thing more—
My hat rack adores your other bee’s knee.

One Hurt in Collision at Intersection of Art and Commerce

WELLESLEY FALLS, Mass.  Beth Upshaw is both a painter herself and an intrepid soul who helps others make a living in the hand-to-mouth world of the arts by operating a gallery in this upscale suburb.  “I know I could make more money at a nine-to-five job,” she says as she adjusts the frame of a work by her friend Cecilia Carver, “but I wouldn’t get that little glow you feel when you make the world a more beautiful place.”

art

Image result for suburban art galleryThat can-do attitude is what led Upshaw to take money out of her retirement plan–at a tax penalty–to open bEth uPshaw sTudios, as her stylized logo expresses it.  “It throws people off their guard for a second–they stop, look and hopefully come in.”

But Upshaw is off her game a bit as she opens up this morning; a fight with her boyfriend Kurt Mergen Saturday night has put a damper on her spirits, and she has to work harder than usual to greet customers pleasantly, much less cheerfully.  “Kurt didn’t like his wine at Boit de Nuit,” she explains of their dinner date gone wrong, “and things spiraled downhill from there.”  Upshaw took a sniff and told him not to be a whiner because the restaurant was busy and a woman she knew was waiting on them.  Mergen got defensive, saying he knew more about wine than she did, and Upshaw reminded him that she’d been a sommelier in a previous life in 19th century France.

Image result for art gallery
“The catalog says this is the air conditioner vent.”

That was the last straw for Mergen, who rolled his eyes and then struck at her most vulnerable spot; her own art, which she describes as “post-neo-pop-Abstract Expressionist.”  “I have a hard time imagining you in that context,” he snapped as he tore a piece of baguette in half.  “You, who produces the kind of art that wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of a bank lobby.”

Color rushed into Upshaw’s face, and her eyes narrowed to grim little slits as she hissed “You son-of-a-bitch!”  Diners seated nearby who didn’t hear her realized there was a problem when she stood up, put on her coat and scarf and stormed out of the restaurant, stopping only to take a mint at the cash register.

Image result for art bank lobby“I’m fine now,” she says as she excuses herself to wait on an elderly couple who’ve come in to browse, “but that bastard has had his last free plastic cup of chardonnay and cheese-on-crackers at my gallery openings.”

Image result for art bank lobby
“Excuse me–none of these pens work.”

The customers–a man and woman who have moved into a +55 year-old condominium complex up the street from Upshaw’s gallery–congratulate Upshaw on the life and color that she brings to their new neighborhood.  “People who think the suburbs are boring should come see your little place!” the woman gushes.  “I had no idea we were moving into a Little Bohemia here.”

Upshaw demurs appreciatively and leaves the two to themselves, offering to help them if anything “catches their fancy.”  After a turn around the gallery the man comes back to her desk and asks about a piece that holds pride of place on the largest wall in the all-white space; a striking red, yellow and blue work that Mergen once compared to a Wonder Bread bag on acid during a previous argument between the two young lovers.

“Number 43?” Upshaw inquires hopefully.

“Yes.”

“Well, that one’s by me!” she says with a note of modest self-approval in her voice.

Image result for wonder bread bag
Wonder Bread bag (not on acid)

“Oh, you’re an artist, too!” the woman exclaims, and Upshaw blushes just a bit.  “Well, I’d better be after what my parents spent on my MFA!”

The older couple laughs, and the man explains that they just wrote their last tuition check the previous spring.  “How much is this one?” he asks as his eye roams over the canvas.

Upshaw gulps just a bit; she can tell the two aren’t hagglers, so her fear is they will walk out if she tells them that she was hoping to get $5,000 for it.  The bitter memory of the night before has given her a stiffer spine, however.  “I am an artist, dammit!” she says to herself as she recalls Mergen’s brutal put-down.  “And I deserve to be paid what I’m worth!”

She surprises herself by blurting out “Five thousand” before her resolution can become sicklied over with the pale cast of modesty, and is shocked when the man says “That sounds reasonable–I’ll take it!”

The transaction is concluded happily at the gallery’s point of sale terminal, and Upshaw says she hopes the couple will enjoy the painting in their new home.

“This isn’t for the condo,” the man says.  “I’m the president of the new bank that’s going in up the street–I’m going to put it in the lobby.”

That’s Why the Lady is a Slut

She’s never too bloated to eat a Slim Jim.
She never showers before taking a swim.
She belches loudly at the Pizza Hut–
That’s why the lady is a slut.

She’s not the type to play bridge at her club.
Doesn’t like salads, preferring a sub.
If she were a dog you’d call her a mutt–
That’s why the lady is a slut.

 

She likes the free, fresh wind in her hair
As she dares
To drive getaway, it’s okay.
She hates New England, ‘cause it’s cold and it’s damp–
That’s why the lady is a tramp.

 

 

She doesn’t like opera, and hates the ballet–
If a flick’s got subtitles, it isn’t okay.
Won’t do Pilates and it shows in her gut–
That’s why the lady is a slut.

 

Her blue eye shadow says she’s a bimbo.
When she screams at you her arms are akimbo.
An old boyfriend’s name’s tattooed cross her butt–
That’s why the lady is a slut.

trampstamp

Highway Poet Tells Bureaucrat to Hit the Road

ENFIELD, Connecticut.  Mike Abruzzioni is Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Roads and Bridges at State Highway Department District #2 Headquarters here, a position he earned after many years of service, plus frequent contributions to state legislators.  “It ain’t what a lot of people think,” he says of the keys to his success.  “In addition to hard work, there’s a lot of ass-kissing you gotta do.”

Image result for led highway sign

Still, after two decades climbing the bureaucratic ladder he thought he had achieved some measure of personal freedom to do his job as he pleased, including some latitude as to the messages he posts on the Department’s LED message signs.  “Frankly, I didn’t even know Connecticut had a poet laureate,” he says ruefully.  “Seems like a waste of money to me at a time when I got to lay off two brush-hog cutters.”

Image result for brush hog cutter
“I leave a wake where’er I go/That’s what you get whene’er you mow.”

Abruzzioni is referring to the run-in he had with Tristram Morgan, the state’s official poet until December 31st of this year, after he posted “Stay awake/take a break/for safety sake” along Route 1 over the July 4th weekend.  “I didn’t think nothin’ of it, then I get a call the Monday morning after from the Arts & Cultural Council saying they’re filing a grievance against me.”

The complaint referred to the terms and conditions under which Morgan took the largely honorary position of state poet laureate, which pays only a stipend of $2,000 plus a 5-minute shopping spree at Annie’s Gently Used Romance Paperbacks in West Harford.  “POET,” the rider to the standard state contract terms and conditions reads, “shall be the official source of all poetry purchased by the STATE until the expiration of the term hereof,” which the assistant professor at Trinity College says entitles him to craft the traffic messages that are flashed to motorists.

“I found Mr. Abruzzioni’s little doggerel to be deficient in many respects,” Morgan sniffs when the question “Who cares?” is put to him by this reporter.  “An elementary, almost banal rhyme scheme.  The abbreviated line length–surely the marks of a poetaster.”

Image result for state highway headquarters command center
“Take the detour round West Hartford/or what the hell is all my art for?”

In its place Morgan began to post verse that, in the formulation suggested by Archibald MacLeish, tended to “be” rather than “mean” and echoed the work of the state’s most famous poet, the notably obscure Wallace Stevens:

Nutmeg State, Dunkin’ Donuts
Please slow down folks, and don’t go nuts.

When Abruzzioni objected, saying his work was protected by civil service regulations, Morgan began to write poems that crossed the line into advocacy, as Byron’s late work was enflamed by his support of the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey:

Poems written by highway hacks–
They give me bad gas attacks.


Image result for highway line painter truck
“Hey–slow down/What the fuck?/Don’t you pass my/painting truck!”

Ultimately the conflict between the two public employees will be resolved by binding arbitration before a three-member panel composed of a writing instructor from the University of Connecticut-Storrs, an industrial accidents court judge, and Bob Nash, the driver of a line-painting truck who is hoping to move up from two-lane state roads to four-lane highways eventually.  “I’m gonna try to be an impartial judge,” he tells this reporter as he squints into the sun at the end of the workday.  “On the other hand, that D+ I got in senior English means I can never get a job at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.”

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

Me and Emily Dickinson in the 70s

          Prior to a recent restoration, the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts had an “unfortunate 1970s vibe.”

               The Boston Globe

I was in the lounge at the Emily Dickinson Homestead, waiting for the Belle of Amherst to come downstairs, and frankly I was getting bored.  I’d been playing Pong for three days straight, and while I was getting good at it, my wrists were sore.

A docent passed by and, despite her seventies-style clothes–miniskirt and platform heels–she looked quite decent for a docent.  I turned and called out to her.  “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” she answered as she flipped her Farrah Fawcett feathered bangs to the side.

“Any idea when Emily will be coming downstairs?”

“And who may I say is here to see her?”

I riffled through the cards in my literary hand and played the only one that could possibly cut any ice with the reclusive poetessa.  “Well, I’m a published poet.”

I thought I heard a sniff coming from the woman’s nostrils.  It could have been because she was a cocaine fiend, as were so many artsy types in the seventies, but I sensed it wasn’t the glamour drug of the decade but her contempt for my meager–some would say non-existent–literary reputation that was the source of the sound.

“What publications have seen fit to print your work?”

“I got a poem published in The Christian Science Monitor.

“Never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have.  It wasn’t founded until two decades after Emily died.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, The Atlantic Monthly published a little humor piece of mine.  Once.”

“That . . . might be of interest to her.  Let me inquire.”

I had, like a clumsy dentist performing a root canal, struck a nerve.  While Dickinson carried on a correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson that lasted almost a quarter of a century, and at one point the two met, he contributed a number of articles, essays and poems–even a serialized novel–to The Atlantic.   She, on the other hand, never got beyond The Springfield Republican, Drum Beat, and The Brooklyn Daily Union in her lifetime.

While the docent brought news of a visitor from the 20th and 21st centuries to the eccentric recluse who rarely came downstairs, I sauntered over to the jukebox.  All the big hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were available.  I put in a quarter, which in seventies pricing got you three songs, and punched the buttons for Stayin’ Alive, Disco Inferno, and Jive Talkin’.  I was boogeying discreetly around the room when her penetrating gaze penetrated through my polyester disco shirt, causing me to turn and look to the top of the stairs. 

There she stood, as she must have appeared to Higginson in 1870: I had anticipated that she’d wear a mini-shift or jumper dress, or perhaps a drop waist or tunic dress, but instead she wore a turquoise jumpsuit that made her look like the love child of Elvis Presley in his Vegas years and a Smurf.  It was . . . exquisite.


“This one’s for you, Emily baby!”

 

“These are my introduction,” she said, handing me a brand-new Sony Walkman.  

“What’s on it?”

“I made you a mixtape.  It includes a few poems . . . and some bitchin’ cool songs I think you’ll like.”

“Oh wow,” I said as I scanned the handwritten playlist on the cassette.  “I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers . . . Let’s Stay Together by Al Green . . . and Best of My Love by The Emotions!  Did you know I like that song so much . . . I downloaded it twice on iTunes?”

“What’s iTunes?” she asked.

“Sorry, I forgot that we’re stuck in the 70s.”

We sat and chatted easily in the front parlor of the homestead, then our talk turned–inevitably–to our shared interest.

“So . . . you’re a poet, too?” she asked timidly.

“Well, most editors and publishers don’t think so, but I’ve had a little success.”

“Are you going to make that stupid joke from Cracked magazine that you seem to like so much?”

“If you’re looking for someone who’s had a little success as a poet, I’ve had as little as anyone?”

“That’s it.”

“I could never pass up the opportunity.  I wanted to ask you . . .”

“Yes?”

“About your philosophy of poetry.  You seem to want it 100 proof.”

“What does that mean?”

“Hard liquor–like whiskey.”

“Liquor has never touched my lips.”  

“That’s a metaphor.

“Oh.”

“You’re on record as saying ‘If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry.”


Thomas Wentworth Higginson

 

“Yes, I said that to dear Mr. Higginson.”

“And ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.'”

“I recall saying something to that effect, yes.  Why do you ask?”

“Well, I wanted to try out some of my poetry on you, see if it meets your high standards.”

“Okay, hit me with your best shot,” she said, anticipating Pat Benatar.

“This is a little something I call poetry is kind of important.

“Why didn’t you capitalize any of the letters?”

“That’s an innovation in poetry that will be introduced after you die.  Anyway, here goes.”  I cleared my throat and launched the ship of my most famous poem onto the stormy seas of her intellect:

poetry is kind of important,
a poem can be a big deal.
you can write one about your girlfriend,
and how she makes you feel.

The August air hung heavy in the room as the breeze through the window onto the porch died.

“That’s it?” she asked.

“That . . . in all its glory . . . is it.”

She closed her eyes for a second, then rose.  “Miriam!” she called out to the docent.

“Yes?” replied the woman who had tried to keep our two poetic souls apart.

“Please show Mr. Chapman to the gift shop–I think we have a ‘Hope is the Thing With Feathers’ t-shirt in men’s double-extra large.”

Sharon From Tenafly

It was orientation week, at my highbrow college
where chalky pedagogues would stuff us with knowledge–
but first, a time to get to know each other;
we’d take a bus trip, all of us together!
and ask questions about majors, sisters and brothers
then walk the dunes in the early fall weather.

Sharon

I was seated behind a girl named Sharon
with coal black hair that she chose to wear in
a bohemian bun, held tight by tortoise shell clip.
She turned and took me in with a look
that was seductive and arch, knowing and hip,
and put down her Marx or Freudian book.

She introduced herself and then she queried
“Where are you from?” and I said “Missouri,”
except that I pronounced it in my native tongue
as people from the southern and the western parts will:
“Mizzuruh,” I said, and as if she were stung
she screamed, then laughed, and finally was still.

poor white

“That is so charming!” she loudly exclaimed,
she was off to the races, I couldn’t explain.
“Do you always wear red-checked lumberjack shirts?
and keep straw or toothpicks ‘tween your teeth?”
I hesitated to correct her, bit my tongue till it hurt,
but within myself I started to seethe.

I decided I’d try to string her along,
and see if she’d buy my dance and song.
“Are you first to go to college in your family?”
she asked, and I decided to take the bait.
“I’m the first to graduate,” I noted happily,
“from pre-school, kindergarten and also grade eight.”

outhouse

“Oh dear,” she exclaimed, “you’re so—so rural!”
she said with an emphasis that might have been plural.
“Your home—does it have indoor plumbing?
or must you repair to a bare, stinking outhouse?”
she said with a frisson, as if she were slumming.
and I was overcome and began to play head louse.

“What is this ‘indoors’ of which you speak?
Is it something we’ll see after orientation week?”
She recoiled in horror, aghast at my plight,
I was a Walker Evans photo she’d seen in a book,
Left behind by civilization’s march towards the light,
She rated me lower than a Seacaucus mook.

bowling

“Where are you from?” I finally rejoined,
I’d decided I’d rather stay out of her loins,
“I’m from Tenafly, a ‘burb of New York City.”
“Is that,” I said, “anywhere near Paramus?”
“Why do you ask?” she said with some pity.
“I used to watch ‘Make That Spare’ in pajamas.”

 

Moral: You’re only as sophisticated as somebody else thinks you are.

For Young Cowboy Poets, Hot Practices Only Get Verse

AMARILLO, Texas. Joe Don Mergen has just a week and three days left before he begins the school year as a sophomore at Darrell Royal High School here, but he says he’s looking forward to it even though it will mean an end to summer fun.

“It’ll mean the end of two-a-day practices, and I’m all for that,” he says.

Joe Don was a highly-touted halfback at Tommy Nobis Junior High School when a crushing tackle in the last seconds of a come-from-behind win over archrival Bum Phillips Voke-Tech left him with a fractured vertebrae, effectively ending a promising football career.

“I was real depressed there for a while,” he says. “I considered suicide, but I learned at Vacation Bible Camp that you can go to hell for that.”

So Joe Don followed the route taken by an increasing number of Texas teenage jocks whose football glory days are prematurely cut short and joined his high school’s Cowboy Poet Squad.

“It gives you something to say to girls,” he says with a shy smile. “Most of the guys on the football team never get beyond ‘Wassup?’”

The frontier ethic that turned Texas high school football into a metaphor for the hardscrabble nature of life on the windswept plains of the adjective-rich Lone Star State has been carried over to high school poetry with the tradition of “two-a-day” practices. Morning practices begin at 6 a.m., and there is a second afternoon session every day until Labor Day.


MacLeish and McKuen

 

“This is where we separate the Archibald MacLeishs from the Rod McKuens,” says head coach Jim Ray Dugan, a former English major at the University of Texas. “I don’t want to hear any sentimental ‘June-moon’ crap out there today-understand?” he barks at thirty young men who fear that they will be consigned to the school yearbook staff if they don’t make the cut for the Cowboy Poetry Squad.


Burma-Shave signs

 

After limbering-up exercises that include limericks and Burma-Shave rhymes, the boys divide into offensive and defensive groups, with Dugan taking the Romantics while his assistant, Ray Eberle, works with the Symbolists.

“Guys, we’ve got six weeks before we play John David Crow Prep,” he says, referring to a long-time powerhouse that had three representatives on the Parade Magazine High-School All-America Poetry Team the previous year. “You guys have got to be sharp, you’ve got to scan your sonnets pre-cisely, okay?”

“Yes sir!” the boys shout in military fashion. “Mergen–line up against A.C.,” the coach says, referring to an African-American senior named Alonzo Carl Byrd who is already drawing comparisons to Langston Hughes. “When I give the signal, you peel out, okay?” he says to A.C.

“Got it coach.”


Langston Hughes: 9.7 yards after the catch

 

The boys take their positions across from each other at the line of scrimmage as their coach counts off a quarterback’s cadence–”Hut-one, hut-two, hut-three.” He slaps A.C. on the butt, and the wide receiver takes off on a traditional sideline-and-up pattern:

Old Bill Jones had two daughters and a song,
One went to Dallas and the other went wrong.

Mergen back-peddles and keeps Byrd in front of him, as he’s been coached. Suddenly, Byrd puts the “up” move on him after Coach Dugan pump-fakes a pass to the sideline.

His wife she died in a poolroom fight
While he kept singin’ day and night.

The juke-step has given the receiver a yard on the defender, and the coach lofts a tight spiral that Byrd is just about to haul in when Mergen recovers.

You’re wife’s as ugly as a bitch coyote
And you ain’t half the man of Truman Capote.


Truman Capote: “Why did you drag me into this post?”

 

“Good job, son,” his coach says gruffly, not wanting praise to go to the young man’s head with the home opener coming up.

As Mergen trots back up the field, his coach notices that A.C. Byrd is bent over, puking up his guts. “Goddamn it A.C.,” Dugan yells. “Were you out drinkin’ last night?”

“Just some amaretto while I worked on my sestinas,” Byrd says, obviously winded from an elementary pattern he should be able to handle easily if he had followed the squad’s mandatory offseason conditioning program.

“If you guys think you can go out there and sling a few similes around and beat John David Crow, you are sadly mistaken,” the coach says as he shakes his head. He blows his whistle and calls the entire squad into the middle of the field for wind sprints.

“All right, we’re gonna go at it hard today, cause I get the impression some of you been doggin’ it on me,” the coach says, and the budding poets inhale deeply, preparing themselves for the worst.

“Haikus and villainelles, stay right here. Elegies and terzanelles, over there.”

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