The Madwoman Who Called on My Wedding Day

She was calling, she said,
from the bowels of a library
on a college campus where she
hid each night and slept among the
stacks.

She’d been living that way
for years, moving on when she was
discovered to someplace else
where she would blend in
with the scenery and pass
undetected among the young.

I heard her out. She’d reached my name
after running through the directory,
alphabetically. Apparently no one in the
a’s or b’s or any of the c’s before me
had done so. It was a strange tale she
told, how she’d been cheated  of her inheritance—
money her father had left her–
by a trustee, distant and cold,
far off in California.  She said she had no money to
live on, or even fight with, because of him.

I called the fellow, a reasonable sort.
He thanked me for my concern and
the attention I’d given his ward,
but he said she was off her drugs,
the police had been alerted.
They knew she’d come East and
were looking for her but they hadn’t
found her yet.  There were too many
libraries for her to hide in, in this
City of Books, a place such as Borges
imagined where for every

rational line there were rows of senseless
cacophony, a library that was the universe,
the librarians in suicidal despair.

I rolled over in bed to answer the phone and
heard her voice again, more desperate than before.
They were closing in, couldn’t I help? She asked.
What had the trustee said? She wouldn’t say
where she was—perhaps I’d turn her in.

I don’t recall exactly what I told her other than
to say I couldn’t help her that day;
another woman —the one who would
become my wife— was waiting for me in a church.
She was not the sort who’d tolerate a groom
who’d dare to show up late to his wedding and hers,
and so I demurred. You’ll have to try the
next name on the list, I said.

But you’re the only one who’s talked to me yet,
she said, and those words rang in my head
like overtones of plainsong, Gregorian chant
echoing in the chancel up to the apse,
as I repeated my vows, facing the light
streaming through a stained-glass window
thinking of her disordered mind, which kept
her running as I prepared to settle down.

Winner of 2nd place, 2018 Shadow Award, Molotov Cocktail, vol. 4.

Upfaked Out of My Love Shoes

It was a New Year’s Eve in the ’90′s
and I was at loose ends. I decided
to skip the midnight show
and go to a party with friends.

After the obligatory dance with my hostess
to her then-favorite popular song
(If memory serves correctly, it was
Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”),
I scanned the room for possibilities
and was struck by a frame that loomed ahead of me.

A dirty-blonde woman in a little black dress,
her face a picture of chagrin
Was similarly looking around as if lost
other’s heads ending at her chin.

Six foot two if she was an inch
(I’m only 5’11″), She had that
je ne sais quoi about her
that caused my dough to leaven.
I figured, what the hell, I’ve got nothing to lose
except for my place standing next to the booze.

I sidled on over and caught her eye, and gave her
my best friendly smile-the one that says
“Don’t dial 9-1-1 on your cellular phone–
I’m not coming on just to jump your bones.”

She smiled back and we started to talk
about this thing, that and the other.
I asked her what she did, her time to kill
she said “I’m a basketball nut-I like Louisville.”

I loved her right down to her leastest neutrino–
“That’s the school that relieved us of Rick Pitino!”
Who made the ill-advised trades I’d had my fill of-
(who did we get for Chauncey Billups?)
The coach who made big bucks from motivational speeches
and sucked life from the Celtics like a plague of leeches!

“I know what you mean,” she said thoughtfully
as she gazed off into the distance:
“Eudora Welty is not walking through that door, fans,
neither is Flannery O’ Connor.”
Did I hear her right? I swear, on my honor,
She definitely had no flies upon her.


Eudora Welty

I was stunned like a mule hit by a 2 by 4
if you’d struck me with a feather I
would have been on the floor.
“You like Southern Lit by Gothic Girl Writers?”
I asked as she sat and I scooted beside her.
She nodded and spoke with a Blanche DuBois air–
“Most men are so vulgar-your type is so rare!”

I’ll skip the next twelve months and pick up a year later.
We’d dated–I think–but I’d not consummated her.
I was wondering-when exactly will we do the deed
to which all romantic grapplings inevitably lead?

Another New Year’s party, another dance,
another opportunity for romance.
We were getting along famously enough
when she said “I’ve got to go and pack my stuff.”

“Why,” I asked, “Are you planning on moving?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I’m going back to Kentucky.”
“Why now? Why there? It seems unbehooving–
why should I be the one who is so unlucky?”

“I guess,” she allowed, “I should have told you sooner.
There’s a guy back home-we’ve been taking a break.”
So all of this time, I shouldn’t have spooned her.
“I hope that this won’t cause your poor heart to ache.”

She left the next day, I’ve not seen her since,
and what might have been
to this day makes me wince.
She at the low post, me at point guard,
feeding her bounce passes, nothing too hard.

A spin move, a head fake, a drive to the hoop
or me throwing a lob for her “Alley Oop!”
With all of the picks that I could have set her
I find even now that I can’t forget her.

From “The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head, and Other Wayward Women,” available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com.

How to Cheer Up a Sad Song

It is one of the most difficult problems of aesthetic philosophy: What do we mean when we say that a song or poem is sad? I’ve read Aristotle, Kant, Croce–Benedetto, not Jim–all the big names. As far as I can tell, nobody’s come close to answering the question.


Benedetto “Don’t Call Me Jim” Croce

 

More important—it seems to me—is why isn’t anybody doing anything about it. You’ve got all these sad songs out there—from the peaks of “Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn to the swamps of “Feelings” by Morris Albert—walking around depressed, ready to do something drastic if somebody doesn’t cheer them up.

The main reason I ended my career in philosophy when I graduated from college is this do-nothing attitude. I’m sorry—you can’t just write A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics like Kant and leave people hanging. You’ve got to deliver on your prolegomena, otherwise you’re just a tease.

That’s why I’ve gathered the Kindertotenlieder–“Songs on the Death of Children,” poems by Friedrich Ruckert set to music by Gustav Mahler, probably the five saddest songs in Western culture–for a holiday excursion.  School vacation doesn’t end until next Monday, I’ve got to get them out of the house, take them shopping, do something to snap them out of their morbid mood.


Mahler:  “What a bunch of brats.”

 

We pile into my Ford Taurus station wagon with the fold-up rear seat. It’s not the nicest car in our garage, but it’s the only one that will seat six comfortably.

“Where’s the seat belt back here?” It’s Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n, who’s always a whiner.

“The clasp is under the seat, the belt’s on the side rail,” I say, trying not to snap. It could be a long afternoon.

“I want to stop for coffee,” says Nun she’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen.  “And not at Dunkin’ Donuts.” Mr. Picky.

“Does this car have GPS?” Wenn dein Mutterlein asks. “Because you know you’re going to get lost.” I’m beginning to question why I thought this was a good idea.

“I know where I’m going,” I say, a bit testily. “We’re going out to the candlepin bowling alley on Route 9. They’ve still got the Santa’s Village display up!”

“I hate Christmas.” It’s Oft denk’ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen, who’s pouting in the back because In diesem Wetter! called shotgun before he could.

“I think you’re going to like this place. It’s got candlepin bowling . . .”

“Candlepins is hard!” says In diesem.

He’s right about that. “I’ll ask them to put the bumpers in, so you won’t throw any gutter balls.” He’s mollified, but he’s still got a grumpy look on his face. “Santa’s Village is cool,” I say, hoping to get them to think happy thoughts. “All the reindeer move their heads, and the elves in Santa’s workshop swing their hammers.”

“Is there food?” Wenn asks. That’s one thing I made sure of. The last thing I need is five German lieder with low blood sugar on my hands.

“There’s the usual assortment of soft drinks and candy in the vending machines, plus they have pizza.”

“Yay–pizza!” yells Oft denk’ich. Maybe there’s hope.

We pull into the parking lot and the songs pile out of the car. These guys have been around for over a hundred years, and yet they shuffle into the bowling alley like sullen teenagers. If it weren’t for my strong commitment to volunteer work, I’d say that no good deed goes unpunished.

We go up to the counter to rent shoes. I look down at their liederfüße and see that Nun will has forgotten to wear socks. “That’s going to cost us an extra buck-fifty,” I say with an upraised eyebrow to express my disappointment.

“It wasn’t my idea to come here,” he says as he checks his iPhone.

We have to wait for a while to get a lane with gutter bumpers. There’s evidence that Germans have been bowling since 300 A.D. so you’d think these guys would have picked up the game by now, but no, they still need a crutch that was invented for toddlers. I chalk it up to their lack of social skills. Don’t sit around the house like a gloomy Gus if you don’t have a date–get your friends together and make your own fun!

I get them Cokes—probably not a good idea with the caffeine–and let them have the run of Santa’s Village.  After a while I see them start to smile a bit, and I begin to sing—“I often think: they have only just gone out, and now they will be coming back home.”

“What?” says Oft denk’ich.

“Nothing,” I say. “Finish that soda–our lane’s ready.”

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

A Few of My Least Favorite Things

Portable crappers, and phat gangsta rappers,
Overdressed lawyers who think that they’re dapper,
Blonde second wives who are festooned with bling–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

New SUVs that my teenage son crashes,
Posh window treatments with jabots and sashes,
Pant legs that stick ’cause they’ve got static cling–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

When a friend croaks, when my feet stink,
When I’m feeeeling sad . . .
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Cool summer cocktails whose tonic is flattened,
Obnoxious parents with children they’ve fattened,
Hearing your cell phone when you let it ring–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Visible butt-cracks and sandals with sweat socks,
Income and sales tax, celebrity de-tox,
Middle-aged men who still wear college rings–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

When the pierced tongue, and the nose ring
Become more than fads–
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Non-urgent emails with little red flaggies,
Mice that my cat kills in clear plastic baggies,
Ersatz Gambinos who say “Ba-da-bing”–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Travel by buses and overstuffed bedding,
In-laws who offer to sing at my wedding,
Being held hostage, all tied up with string–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

At the Repo Man’s Christmas Ball

It was the depths of a recession,
And real estate prices had fallen.
Some contractors were overextended
And their creditors were callin’.

Me? I was just doing my job
Arranging for repossessions
Of cranes and ‘dozers and backhoes and such
By gun-for-hire Hessians.

One was a guy named Rocco
with a gooseneck trailer and truck.
Another was known as just “Jimmy”
By those who were down on their luck.

They were glad to hear from me, though,
The guy who sent them the work;
They had to eat too, they’d say,
When the deadbeats would call them both jerks.

So they’d wrap their log chains ‘round the axles,
and drag the machinery off,
Then we’d sue for the balance that was due
with a grim face and contemptuous scoff.

When Christmas time rolled around
I found an envelope in my mail box
Inviting me to the Repo Man’s Gala,
The prom for my school of hard knocks.

I dressed in my best vest and finery,
and put on patent leather shoes;
I looked forward to wining and dining
‘Cause repo guys knock back the booze.

I drove to the cheesy steak restaurant
and looked for a place to park
but my little white banged-up Toyota
presented a contrast quite stark

With the varied and sundry tow trucks
That the repo men used for their labor,
A pit bull in each of the front seats
and the ball bats they swung as their sabres.

I squeezed in between two behemoths
big boom winches stacked on their backs
with barely an inch in between us,
a gnat couldn’t fit through the cracks.

When I entered I was greeted by cheering
and glad handings all the way round,
but when I emerged with my speech slightly slurred
my Corolla was nowhere to be found.

I looked high and low for my compact
that was missing from its parking space.
I scanned the dead-ends and alleys
I looked every god-damned place.

But nowhere did I find hide or hair of it,
It had vanished into the snow.
Had I failed to pay parking tickets
and given cops reason to tow?

When I turned I saw guys with their dollies
all red-faced and florid from drink.
One said “Hey–you don’t look so jolly–
There must be a problem, methinks.”

When I told them my car had been stolen
While I hobnobbed with them inside,
They scratched their heads and hemmed
and hawed until finally one replied:

“I don’t want to start no trouble,
On this festive occasion and all,
But one bit of advice that I’d give you—
watch where you pahk at the repo man’s ball.”

The Sylvia Plath Foreclosure Sale

I grew up surrounded by females.  My dad owned a women’s clothing store.  Both of my sisters were girls, and my mom was a woman.  We had two female cats whose names–Big Kitty and Baby Cat–could have been taken straight from a Eudora Welty short story.  As far as I know, the box turtle in the basement was female, too.

plath
Eudora Welty

As a result, I am uniquely well-equipped to intervene in, and resolve, disputes between women, sometimes referred to colloquially as “catfights.”  At the tender age of twelve, my dad took me to see a night of men’s, women’s and midget wrestling matches.  The truths I absorbed that night, all wide-eyed innocence as the ladies leapt upon each other’s bodies from the ropes, I have put to good use.

plath1

That’s why I am frequently called on to referee the All-Female Poetry Slams that are held around New England as fund-raisers for what A.J. Liebling disparagingly referred to as “the quarterlies,” the high-brow, low-revenue publications that pluck drops of verse from the torrent of poetry that is showered on them, providing them with a brief, mayfly-length existence, before they are recycled at one of the region’s many picturesque do-it-yourself town dumps.

“You’ve got your helmet, right?” my wife asks anxiously as she eyes the bandage on my forehead that covers a three-inch cut I received last weekend when a symbolist poetess smashed a villanelle over my head after I whistled her for a shot-clock violation.

“Yes, dear,” I say sheepishly, like a kid who’s asked if he’s clipped his mittens to his coat sleeves.  It took three stitches to close the wound, and my carelessness will leave a scar that matches one I acquired four decades earlier when my helmet cracked in a freshman football game.

plath2
“Mixed metaphor–3 minute major penalty.”

“I worry about you, okay?” she says, her face a placemat of concern, like June Lockhart’s on Lassie when Timmie announces he’s going upstairs to study for his algebra quiz and doesn’t need his genius collie’s help.

“Just be careful,” she says with a lump in her throat.  “I love you.”

“Love you too,” I say.  We kiss, and I head out the door with my gym bag.

I arrive at the Blacksmith House in Cambridge, one of the rougher venues on the NEPA (Northeast Poetess Association) circuit.  A crowd of black-turtlenecked women and girls mills about outside, smoking French Gauloise-brand cigarettes, “freestyling” with each other.  The losing female–the one who “craps out,” unable to come up with a quatrain after her opponent finishes–often runs off in tears to gorge herself on pastry inside.

plath3
The odds-on favorite.

I move through the crowd with difficulty, as many of the distaff versifiers have gigantic egos and yield only grudgingly.  I squeeze through the front door and notice that two women are already going at it, and the bell hasn’t even rung yet!

“You couldn’t write your way out of a Barnes & Noble bag!” one screams at the other, who has a hand full of beret and is trying to get at her adversary’s hair.

“Ladies, ladies–please,” I say, with more extreme unction than a Catholic priest at a big donor’s dying bedside.  “What’s this all about?”

“She says she was into confessional poetry before me!” the one in the beret says.

“You’re a Ginny-come-lately,” the other hisses.

plath4

The shock of recognition hits me, even though both women have had cosmetic surgery recently.  In the beret is elena gotchko, who’s had the capital letters removed from her name, e. e. cummings-style, since I last saw her.  Her opponent is jean-marie benson, who opted for an Italicized style during a recent fellowship in Rome.  I notice that she’s added a hyphen between her first and middle names and her face is still puffy from the surgery, which has not yet been approved by the FDA.  Even though neither will be eligible to enter the Yale Younger Poets Competition ever again, I have to admit that both are looking great.

“Why don’t we settle this lawyer-style,” I say, “using summary judgment.”

“How does that work?” elena asks.

“You both give me your version of the facts, and I decide solely on the law.”

Okay,” jean-marie says.  “I was into confessional poetry at such a young age I had an Anne Sexton Dream House, with working car running in the garage.”

“Hmm,” I hum.  “elena?”

“That’s nothing,” the lower-case literata fairly spits back.  “When I was a little girl, I had the Sylvia Plath Brown ‘n Serve Toy Oven!”

plath5

I look at the two, trying to conceal my self-satisfied amusement.  “That’s it?” I say.  “That’s the best you’ve got?”

“Well, yeah,” gotchko says.  “I thought that made me–special.”

I can’t help but emit a mirthless little laugh.  “Excuse my frankness,” I say, “but give me a break!”

Others have started to crowd around now, anxious to hear my decision.  “I can beat you both–I handled Sylvia Plath’s foreclosure sale!”

“What?” squawks a forbidding women with a Katherine Hepburn-Main Line Philadelphia accent, and a haughty attitude to match.  It is Professor Natalia Seals-Croft, Head of Women’s Studies at Bryn Mawr.  “Sylvia Plath was never foreclosed on!”

plath6
Hepburn:  “I’m thinking of a poem between 1 and 10.”

“Well, she wasn’t,” I begin, “but the site of one of her poems was.”

I’ve got them eating out of my hand, and it makes me hungry.  “Bring me one of those congo bars, and I’ll tell you the story.”

My blood sugar restored, I launch into my tale.  “Sylvia had a summer job at Lookout Farm, in the suburbs west of Boston.  It was there that she overheard the conversations that she wove into ‘Bitter Strawberries,’ which was published in the Christian Science Monitor.  You can find it on neuroticpoets.com.”

“So?” Seals-Croft asks, one eyebrow making its way up her imposing forehead like a mountain climber with crampons.

“In the 1980’s,” I begin, “the farm had a new owner.  He’d taken on a lot of bank debt to buy the place and was going to try to turn it into a year-round attraction, with llamas the kids could pet and ride, u-pick-em apple harvesting, a butterfly exhibit.  Real estate prices dropped, the bank got nervous, and they started to foreclose.  The owner called me up and I put him into Chapter 11.”

plath7
Lookout Farm:  I’m telling the truth!

“Why didn’t you start at the beginning of the book?” gotchko asks.

“It’s not that kind of chapter,” I explain.  “It’s a court proceeding in which a company is protected from creditors while it attempts to reorganize.”

“There’s a lot of insolvency in Dickens,” benson adds helpfully.

“Right,” I say, then continue.  “Anyway, the guy didn’t have enough cash flow to pay the bank, and people wouldn’t come to the farm until he’d fixed it up, and he couldn’t raise money to do it.  So the bank got permission to foreclose.”

“On the very land that Plath walked on,” gotchko said sadly.  “So what did you do?”

“Everything goes when the whistle blows,” I said, “unless you can find a ‘straw man’–”

“That shouldn’t be too hard on a farm,” benson interjected.

“Not that kind of straw,” I explained.  “Somebody friendly to the owner who’d buy it and maybe sell it back when he could come up with the money.  So while the auctioneer’s rattling off the terms of sale, I launched into a desperate plea.”

“How’d it go?” the woman behind the counter asked.

“I’m glad you asked,” I said.  “Here it is.”

On Lookout Farm, where Plath did write
  I rise to tell you of her plight.
If no one raises up their hand
 The bank will shortly own this land.
Where she picked berries, red and blue
 and where we planned a petting zoo.

The room was silent.  Finally, a young woman in toreador pants and black glasses spoke.  “So–did anybody come through?”

“No,” I had to explain sadly.  “My guy lost it.  Since then the place has gone through two owners, neither of whom knows Sylvia Plath from a lath.”

“What’s a lath?”

“A thin, narrow strip of wood used in building lattices,” I replied, becoming emotional.  “They’ve got laths all over that place.  You’d think they could name one–just one!–the Sylvia Plath Lath–but no.”

I noticed a few tears running down pale cheeks, and the owner came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Thanks very much for sharing that with us,” she said.  “Would you like a complimentary vanilla latte or something?”

“No thanks,” I said, after I’d calmed down a bit.  “I’ve got promises to keep.  And, uh, miles to go before I sleep.”

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

Librarians on Ice

 

Not sure where I got the idea for “Librarians on Ice”
but after due consideration I think it could be nice.
Instead of a thick-thighed, scantily-clad songstress,
I’d feature a lass who favored Library of Congress.

Bedecked in sequins, with a plunging neckline,
she’d scowl and assess me a two-cents-a-day fine.

 

 ice1

 

After intermission, when folks returned
with souvenirs they’d bought with dough hard-earned,
they’d plop in their seats and eat something chewy
and enjoy a review by the Decimals of Dewey.
I wouldn’t carry them out to too many places,
for fear that the skaters would trip on their laces.

 

 ice2

 

Instead of wooden barrels for the guys to jump,
I’d bring in file cabinets, those big metal lumps
that used to house note cards, usually three by five
(I’m showing my age now, I’m barely alive).

Or maybe book returns, stacked back to back,
for them to hop over, with skills that I lack.

 

 ice

 

The only problem at this point I see
might not trouble you, but it surely does me:
when the show was over, and we’d called it a wrap,

and the last leaping skater had crashed on her tush,

if the paying audience wanted to clap
they’d be met with a stern and admonishing “SHUSH!”

 

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 from Victorian 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.”

I Am the Poetic Kiss of Death

In a line much admired by Jorge Luis Borges, Christopher Marlowe’s Faust says to the apparition of Helen of Troy “make me immortal with a kiss.”

I’ve got the opposite capacity–I am the poetic kiss of death.


Jorge Luis Borges

In the fifteen years since I began writing poetry seriously–and comically–I have persuaded editors to publish thirty-five of my poems.  If I’ve got the math right, that’s an average of 2.33 a year, more frequent than my birthdays. I’d like to think this isn’t too shabby a track record for a tyro just starting out, but I don’t think I can continue at this torrid pace, in much the same manner that I predicted Pedro Ciriaco, shortstop of the 2012 Boston Red Sox, would cool down from a torrid .293 batting average in his rookie year. Pedro spent the next season with the Kagawa Olive Guyners of the Shikoku Island League Plus and has been out of baseball since 2015, so I was right about that.


Pedro Ciriaco, rookie shortstop phenom: Gone and forgotten.

I anticipate that the frequency with which my poems get published will dwindle and then come to an end entirely, like our solar system, but for a reason other than the law of averages; I am the poetic kiss of death. If I keep writing poems and having them accepted, soon there won’t be any poetry publications left–for anybody.

My poems have appeared in fourteen different publications; four have died shortly after they ran my stuff. Coincidence, or something more sinister? You be the judge.


Philip Larkin: “You sure you’re a poet, old man?”

Light Quarterly had been around since 1992, and had published John Updike, among others. Its subscribers included the libraries at Harvard, Brown and Columbia. Tough noogies. They made the mistake of accepting my Lines in Contemplation of a Tragic Accident, and the rest is history, or the end of their history. They’re gone.

Then there was Literary Dilettantes. I actually won their Parody of Epic Proportions contest with The Beerneid, a parody of Virgil’s Aeneid. For those keeping score at home, I hadn’t won anything since 1962, when my Little League Team shocked the world with a 4-2 upset of the Optimist Club team to win the B-level city championship. Chicago Cubs fans like to say that any team can have a bad century, and I can sympathize; I only had a bad half-century.


Virgil: Did he have something to do with it?

But before my poem ever hit the shelves I received an email from the publisher saying “our art director had some personal issues to take care of. She was able to start working on the issue but the demands in her personal life are not allowing her to finish for the foreseeable future.” (Note that he didn’t avoid the gerundic, as Strunk & White recommend.)


Strunk & White: “You’re still confusing ‘that’ and ‘which.’”

So just like that, I’ve got two literary homicides hanging over me. The circumstantial evidence would strike a cynical, world-weary cop as suspicious. “What kind of freaking rag shuts down just because its art director has personal issues to take care of?” you can hear him sneer as the glare of a bare light bulb shines down on my sweat-drenched face. “I don’t know, they said they were legit,” I say after he stops beating me with a rubber truncheon and the Yellow Pages. “They didn’t even charge an entry fee.”


“Okay, let’s take it from the top. You was mindin’ yer own business, imitatin’ Philip Larkin.”

Then I got two poems published in The Poetry Ark, an on-line anthology that was the product of a multi-round competition, like Dancing With the Stars, sort of a Who Wants to Be America’s Next Poet Laureate? I tried to track it down as I wrote this post and I found a reference to it on the internet, but when I clicked on the link I got that “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage” message, the same one I get when I try Nigerian websites hoping to get refunds for my kids’ on-line purchases of high-tech baseball bats.

So that’s three down.  Putting this post together I checked on a little litmag that specialized in prose poems–right in my wheelhouse, as the baseball announcers say.  They published my piece The Mutes, but when I went back to get the exact date and year, I found a sad little message saying “Mulberry Fork Review is on hiatus.  Indefinitely.”  You beginning to see a pattern?


Eliot:  “What’s more boring than a baseball game?  A double-header.”

Which leaves The Christian Science Monitor and Spitball, “The Literary Baseball Magazine,” which has published four of my poems about the St. Louis Cardinals, a field of literary endeavor overlooked by T.S. Eliot, a native of the city that was “First in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League. ” I’ve got copies of the issues in which they appeared, and I’m guarding them with my life. I need something to show the grammar police when they knock on my door and say “Are you gonna come quietly, or do we have to beat you in iambic pentameter until you wheeze like a Hallmark greeting card?”

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

Mike the Cat

This is a poem about a cat named “Mike,”
a name for a cat that I rather like.
Not Mitzy, or Kitzi, or Bitsy, or Ditsy,
  Mike’s a guy, and his name quite fitzies.
He doesn’t go for the cutesy-wootsy,
  Although his feet look like little bootsies.

He wears a tuxedo, as he roams around,
  his aging belly slung low to the ground.
His eyesight is fading, far as I can tell,
  so the birds don’t worry that he wears no bell.
He makes his rounds like a cop on his beat,
  moving silently, slowly, on little cat feet.

We try to persuade him to join us for lunch,
  he demurs and moves on, but thanks us a bunch.
He’s got things to do, places to go,
  he’s a busy feline, surely that you must know!
He’s the cock of the walk in our condo complex,
  he monitors every construction project.

He’s up quite early, and stays out late,
  I don’t know that there’s any gal that he dates.
He plays the fields, by which we’re surrounded,
  he gets quite jumpy when by dogs he is hounded.
If he were a human he’d be way down south,
  instead he walks round, with mice in his mouth.

He’s quite self-sufficient, which can be a vice,
  he rejects entreaties if you try to be nice.
He doesn’t need charity, thinks you’re a dunce,
  for trying to get him to sit with you once.
No, Mike is quite the independent guy,
  I know ‘cause I failed the time that I tried.