Apologia for an On-Line Flirtation

(pace Matthew Prior)


You say you saw what I said last night
to a woman whom I’m not married to;
a quip on a social media site
dear, that’s what people—when on-line–do.

This sort of thing has happened to wits
since before the internet was invented.
Their women object to the things that they’ve writ
overestimating what was intended


by a fillip, a lagniappe, a mere bagatelle
that’s tossed to an acquaintance casual
of the opposite sex, who for all they can tell
is a rival, a lover quite actual.

The mistake that is made, by those not in the trade,
of stringing together words idly,
is to think the facetious one wants to get laid
by flirtations the poet casts widely.


At the end of the day (as the business drips say)
I always return home to you, dear.
And along the way, I never stray
I really have too much to do, dear.

You get my paycheck by direct deposit
you can see on-line all my expenses.
If it’s an affair of the heart you’re trying to posit
The facts rebut your inferences.


What woman would go with a man so cheap
that he’d only pay cash for his wooing?
If another woman I wanted to keep
lack of funds would be my undoing.

So let us end this tiresome strife,
it’s consumed too much of our night and our day.
I’ve many girl “friends” but only one wife
And believe me, I want to keep it that way.



The Gertrude Stein Look-Alike Contest

We’re getting up in years, we few forthright men who revealed to each other that we wanted to write back in our youth.  It takes a lot for a guy to open himself up that way to another man.

Is it Ed, or Gertrude?


There’s the odor of the effete about sitting down, waiting for inspiration, then scribbling your purple prose out on the blank page.  And there’s the sin of ambition.  You’re not content to become an accountant or an actuary–you want to become famous, huh?  You think you’re better than everybody else?

But we stuck with it with varying degrees of failure, and now find ourselves looking back on what we haven’t accomplished.  It’s about this time of year we get together for some wistful bonhomie as we slyly check out each other’s bald spots and paunches.

Faulkner:  Gave up a promising career as a postmaster and took the easy way out to become a Nobel Prize-winning novelist.


There’s Ed, the guy who was smitten with William Faulkner as an undergraduate and almost allowed his infatuation with the Mississippi Master’s stream-of-consciousness style to ruin his career as an air traffic controller.  There’s Rob, the Hemingway fan who had cosmetic surgery performed on his cat to add a toe to each paw.  And there’s me, the Fitzgerald nut with my inflatable Zelda love doll.

Regardless of whom we modeled himself after, we had to admit that four decades later we’d been worn down to the same nub.  When we hit our fifties, we all started to look not like our Lost Generation heroes, but like . . . Gertrude Stein. Stoop-shouldered, thick about the middle, not much hair.

“It was *sniff* cruel what he did to us!”


At first we joked about it in a nervous manner; keeping the horrible consequences at bay.  But after a few years of channeling the woman known for her sophisticated baby talk, we embraced our inner Gertrudes.  We turned competitive–as men are wont to do–and began to hold annual Gertrude Stein Look-Alike Contests.

When word got out there was the obligatory human interest story in the local paper, which got picked up by a wire service.  The next year we were overwhelmed, like Yasgur’s Farm by Woodstock.  Our little burg of twenty-some-thousand was transformed in a day to a mid-sized city five times that size by 80,000 grumpy, stocky, cross-dressing guys with close-cropped hair wandering around in baggy skirts muttering stuff like “I like this town but I don’t like that I’m in this town.”

You had to work to get it just right.  Some of the younger squads would come into town with fancy matching embroidered loden coats–”Milwaukee Gertrude Brood”–and then crap out when it came time to complete the phrase “a house in the country . . . “

“Is not the same as a country house!” I’d fairly shout at the laggards from the provinces who thought all you had to do was skim “Tender Buttons” the night before “Stein Time.”  Fat chance.  As the Great Lady herself said, “Do you know because I tell you so, or do you know, do you know?”

You’d hear guys at the cash bar complaining about the judges as they hitched up their loose-fitting dirndl skirts.  “Gimme a break,” I said to one loudmouth, and it wasn’t the absinthe talking.  “What did Gertrude say–’The deepest thing in any one is the conviction of bad luck that follows boasting.’”  That shut him up.

Best buds!


We went into the men’s room to relieve ourselves before we went on, and I caucused with Ed and Rob at the urinal.  “You’ve got to remember,” I said as I cleared a path through the knee-length scarf I’d added to my outfit that morning, “be paradoxical, obscure and repetitive.”

“What was the last one again?” Ed asked as he shook himself.

“Repetitive,” I replied.  “Like ‘I who am not patient am patient.’”

“Can I write crib notes on my sleeve?” Rob asked.

“NO!” I snapped, then lowered my voice when heads turned.  “The essence of a good gertrudesteinism is errant, antic circularity.”

“Okay,” Ed said over the roar of the hand dryer.

“You guys ready?” I asked.

“I guess,” Rob said.

“You guess?” I straightened him up with a stiffarm to the shoulder.  “‘It is funny that one who prepares is not ready.’  Got it?”

“I just don’t ‘get’ this Gertrude gal!”


A look of enlightenment came over him, as if he finally understood calculus, or Avogadro’s number, or the appeal of Kathie Lee Gifford.

“Got it,” he said.  “The one who ‘gets’ something is the one who is gotten.”

“Attaboy,” I said with a grin.  “Let’s go–in a direction we don’t want to go.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Dead Writers Make More Money.”

Writing My Obituary

It came on all of a sudden, like a summer thunderstorm.  We had been talking at dinner about friends and family, and family of friends, who had passed on recently, and my wife became teary-eyed.

“You just never know when you’re going to lose someone,” she said as her face clouded over with foreboding.  “If you died . . .”

“You mean when I die . . .”

“I was going to say, if you died soon . . . I wouldn’t know what to put in your obituary.  You’ve done so many . . .”

She choked up, and couldn’t speak.

“Trivial things?” I offered helpfully.

“I was going to say ‘stupid,’ but yes, maybe ‘trivial’ is a better word.”  She had that stoic demeanor of an ancient female relation in a tale by Faulkner.  She would not just endure, but prevail against the forces that threatened to snatch me away from her at any minute–a light beer truck driven by a texting Teamster, for example.

Her concern was timely.  A week earlier I’d fallen in a hole in the pavement next to the Surface Artery, the high-speed boulevard I must cross on my way to work, and tumbled into the road, so we’d had a recent intimation of my mortality.  “You’ve mentioned a riderless horse before . . .” she said as her voice trailed off.

“I was kidding, sweetie,” I said as I patted her hand.  She was too young to remember the poignant touch that this symbolic animal lent to the funeral of President Kennedy, but I recalled it vividly.  I’d long ago decided that it was over-the-top, de trop as the French would say, right after they corrected me for thinking that “cheveux”–which means “hair”–is the French word for “horse.”

“I don’t need a riderless horse,” I said.  “Times have changed.  I was thinking more along the lines of a driverless car.”

“Like Google is making?”


“Well, that would remind me of the way you drive,” she said, as she stifled a sniffle.

“I don’t think it will be hard for you to write my obit.  I’ve already done a lot of the spadework.”

Image result for frank conroy stop time

“You have?”

“Yep.  Surely you’ve read my autobiography–‘So Far, So Good’?”

A look of chagrin scuddered over her face, like the shadow of a low-hanging cloud as it blows by above you.  “Actually, no,” she admitted.  “When did you write it?”

“Fifth grade.  I got an A+ on it.  It’s considered a classic of the genre.”

“What genre is that?”

“The youthful autobiography.  Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves.  Stop Time by Frank Conroy.  Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story.”

“Why does he get to have two colons in his title?”

Image result for bieber

“He’s The Bieb.”

She rubbed her finger under her nose, and I handed her my napkin.  She’d already used hers, but I wipe my hands on my pants, so mine was clean.  “I didn’t know you’d written an autobiography.  But what about . . .”

“The later stuff?”


“I’m not sure I’ve actually accomplished that much since then.  Remember, I was a two-time spelling bee champ, earning a perfect score both times.”

“That’s why I don’t need a dictionary with you around,” she said, as she took a turn patting my hand.

“I’d become the first class president in my little Catholic school from a mixed marriage . . .”

“Like Obama?”

“Sort of.  My mom’s Protestant.”

“And yet, you never hear about that on the news.  So after that . . .”

“Well, I was a member of a prize-winning polka troupe in sixth grade . . .”

She began to choke up again.  “Who . . . who was your partner?”

“Carolyn Spretzel.  But I’m not in touch with her anymore.”

“Not even on Facebook?”

I placed both hands on the table so she could see I hadn’t crossed any fingers.  “I promise.”  I did what I always do when I want to comfort her: I got down on my knees, scooched over to where she was sitting, and gave her a big, wet, warm, sloppy kiss.  Husband as golden retriever.

“How about your memorial service.  I know you want a traditional New Orleans band, right?”

Image result for new orleans funeral band

“Correct.  ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’ to the cemetery, ‘Didn’t He Ramble’ coming back.”

She looked off into the distance.  I could tell she was calculating in her mind how the mounting cost of my obsequies was going to cut into her merry widowhood, and I’m not talking about the bustier.  I mean her decorating budget, once I was gone and could no longer stand athwart the entrance to the living room, yelling “Stop!” when she tried to put up new window treatments.

Image result for merry widow bustier
Merry Widow

“How about poems,” she said finally.  “I know you love poetry . . .”

“But you hate it.”

“I only hate it when I don’t understand it.”

“Don’t worry–I wouldn’t make you read any Wallace Stevens.”

“Who’s he?”

“According to Robert Frost, The Poet of Bric-a-Brac.”

“Like your mother used to have on that knick-knack shelf in her dining room?”

“Right–the one I crashed pretending to be Wile E. Coyote clinging to a ledge one night.”

Image result for wile e coyote ledge

“Why were you doing that?”

“I was young and stupid.  And animated by the spirit of a Warner Brothers cartoon character.”

“Okay,” she said, apparently forgiving me for a misdeed that my mother–now gone–couldn’t.  “So what poem would you like?”

‘The Lotos-eaters’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.”

“Why does he have a comma in the middle of his name?”

“I don’t know.  I guess he was a big star in his time, like The Bieb.”

“How does it go?”

“You don’t have to read the whole thing, just these lines:

Dear is the memory of our wedded lives,
And dear the last embraces of our wives
And their warm tears: but all hath suffer’d change:
For surely now our household hearths are cold,
Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange:
And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy.
Or else the island princes over-bold
Have eat our substance, and the minstrel sings
Before them of the ten years’ war in Troy,
And our great deeds, as half forgotten things.

I waited a moment for the sound of the last words to die away.  “Do you like it?” I asked at last.

“It’s okay,” she said, and now her tears were dry.  “Just don’t come like a ghost to trouble my joy when I’m having my girlfriends over.”

Don’t Go Breaking My Artichoke’s Heart

You’re so cruel, I can’t stand you.
You dip the leaves in butter when I hand them to you.
Then you pull them slowly though your teeth.
I’d hate to see what that looks like from underneath.

Image result for artichoke eating

Don’t go breaking my artichoke’s heart—
I can’t stand to see how you tear them apart.
You peel off their petals, one at a time–
And then you act like you’re a friend of mine.

Image result for artichoke eating

You eat them whether hot or cold.
I sit and watch you, it’s getting old.
I offer you zucchini and you say no thank you.
If it weren’t frowned upon I’d spank you.

Don’t go breaking my artichoke’s heart—
You treat it like a science when it’s really an art.
You dip them with care, then you eat them,
that’s no way for a human to treat ‘em.

Image result for artichoke eating

Personally, I can’t stand the fuzzy center.
It’s in a place I don’t want to enter.
I think it’s disgusting how you savor the heart–
That’s got to be the most emotional part!

Don’t go breaking my artichoke’s heart—
Not if you want to be my only sweetheart.
It’s a thistle that’s also a vegetable–
I find that totally unacceptable.

Hepcat Herb Clark, Bongo-Playing Poet-Narc

“Beatnik” George Bermudez, an undercover narcotics officer, learned to play the bongos, memorized Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” and became a published poet in order to infiltrate drug rings.

Review of “St. Marks is Dead” by Joel Millman, The Wall Street Journal

“After I finish my solo do you guys want to buy and sell some drugs?”

As I rang the bell to the “pad” where I was told a crazy drug party was in progress, I gulped to clear my throat–I didn’t want to sound nervous when the host answered the door.  “Beatnik” George Bermudez had had his cover blown the Saturday night before, and I’d been called in to replace him while he went into hiding for awhile.  There was no telling what the beatnik drug “kingpins” would do if they caught a “rat.”  Make him watch an entire Professional Bowlers Association tournament–they were kingpins, after all.  Or it could be something worse, the ultimate in hepcat punishment: force me to listen to an entire evening’s worth of beat poetry.

I checked my shirt pockets; in one I had a voice-activated recorder to collect incriminating drug slang–“Mary Jane,” “weed,” “dope”–as evidence.  In the other, a Sony Walkman with a tape of Oscar Wilde’s “Amor Intellectualis” that I could listen to surreptitiously if anybody challenged me to recite one of his poems.  It was kind of a shibboleth among the druggie crowd; you had to know an Oscar Wilde poem by heart to make it into the inner sanctum, the room at the back of the apartment that had strings of beads hung from the lintel of the door frame to better conceal the illicit activity going on inside.  “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” was no good anymore since Hernandez had been reverse-busted, and anyway, I could never figure out how you were supposed to get “jail” out of “gaol.”

Wilde:  “Please–leave me out of this post.”

I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and, when they stopped, I assumed I was being examined through the peephole.  The door opened just a crack–the “dealer man” didn’t unhook the safety chain–and I heard a voice say “Who’s there?”

“It’s me,” I said.

“Who is ‘me’?” the voice said.

“I think you mean ‘Who am I’–don’t you?”

“Don’t go all existential on me.”

“It’s not existentialism,” I said, bristling a bit.  “It’s just good old-fashioned grammar.”

“I had quotation marks–inverted commas–around the ‘me’,” the voice said.

“Oh, well, in that case, everything’s ‘cool’ man,” I said.  “I’m ‘Hepcat’ Herb Clark.”  I could have added the rest of my moniker–“Bongo-Playing Narc”–but I was undercover, and so was allowed to conceal my identity to the ‘perp.’”

I heard the chain scrape back through the lock, then the door opened and I saw him: Frankie “Skitch” Mayerson, kingpin di tutti kingpins.  “Who sent you?” he said.

joe friday
“You’ve got to get inside the druggies sick, demented heads!”

“Bongo Players Local 148,” I said.

He looked me up and down with a skeptical gaze.  “Lemme see your bongos.”

I pulled my bongos out of my rucksack.  It was usually full of rucks but I had tossed them onto the ruck pile back at my “crib” before coming over.


“Skitch” looked them over, nodded and twisted his mouth into a little moue of approval.  “Not as good as the ones George ‘Beatnik’ Bermudez used to play, but I guess they’ll do.”

I started to step in the door but felt the shock of a stiff-arm to my chest.  “Wait a minute,” “Skitch” said.


“Are you a published poet?”

He must have thought he was dealing with a real rookie.  “Of course I am.”

“Show me your publication credits,” he snapped.

“A day at the beach,” I said with a contemptuous grin on my lips.  “Like fallin’ out of bed.  It’s like takin’ candy from a . . .”

“Enough with the lame figures of speech!”

I reached into my rucksack and fanned my published poems in front of him, like a poker player showing a royal flush.  “Light, plangent voices, Spitball . . .”

He didn’t seem impressed, so I turned over my hole card.

“The Christian Science Monitor.”

I heard him exhale involuntarily.  “The same rag that published Sylvia Plath’s first poem?” he gasped.

“The same,” I said, and rather smugly.

“Then you’re jake with me,” he said.  “Come on up.”

I climbed the steps behind him and when we reached his second floor apartment, I entered a den of iniquity.  Once you walked through it, you got to the living room of iniquity, then the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom of iniquity.

“Everybody,” “Skitch” said.  “I’d like you to meet ‘Beatnik.’”

“Hey, Beatnik,” everybody said.  They were slovenly dressed and had bad posture, but each one kept their quotation marks on straight.

“Are you going to play the bongos for us . . . like the last ‘narc’ did?” a guy named “No Nickname” said.

I glared at him.  A few of the other “Bohemians” in the room stifled laughs.  For a group that thought of themselves as “liberated” I thought it was hypocritical of them to stifle stuff.  But that’s how the “beat” crowd was; self-proclaimed non-conformists who dressed alike, talked alike and thought alike.  A bunch of malcontents who were only happy when they were unhappy.  So-called “rebels” who went out of their way to . . .

“Why don’t you stop your internal monologue and . . . like play something for us–‘Beatnik’,” a willowy blonde named “Venus” said.

“Crazy, man!”

“I’ll see you and raise you,” I said, narrowing my eyelids to grim little slits.  “I’m gonna play a bongo solo and recite a poem at the same time.”

There was a gasp from the assembled multitude of attitudinizing post-adolescents.

“That’ll be wiggy!” a woman in a French sailor’s shirt said over the shoulder of the French sailor inside it.

“It would be like breaking the sound barrier, Daddy-O!” a cool tool in a beret said.  “But . . . can you really do it?”

I snorted at him with disdain, and recalled a homely expression from my days of manual labor in one of the “m” states in “flyover country” unknown to these East Coast “sophisticates.”  Out where men were men, women loved them, poems rhymed and jazz had a melody.  “If you don’t think I can do it,” I said, “just hide and watch.”

A few of the crazy cats and kittens heeded my warning and crouched behind the second-hand furniture and coffee table.  “5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1” I counted down, like some mad German scientist about to launch a rocket Americans needed foreign help to build because of the over-emphasis on social skills to the detriment of math and the sciences in our K-12 education system.  And then I fired my jets and achieved lift-off:

Yeah, bongo-crazy baby . . .
You’re the one for me, oh yeah!
You’re oh-so-bohemian baby
Not at all meh!

I looked at the disaffected youth before me–they seemed to be “digging” my “groove.”

Everything’s ‘cool’ baby,
Although you lit a flame with your sparks!
I like your groovy nickname baby
which is held in place by
your quotation marks.

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

For Contestants in National Haiku Writing Month, Focus Is Kind of Important

SOMERVILLE, Mass.  Jayne Eisenstadt will be the first to admit that she’s not the world’s hardest-working writer.  “I took an independent study because I get freaked out by the deadlines in creative writing classes,” she says as looks off into the distance, searching for inspiration.  And how did she do, this reporter asks.  “I guess I’m too independent for independent study,” she says with her lips twisted into a little moue of chagrin.

But Eisenstadt made a New Year’s resolution that she was going to change her laggard ways, and began to search for a writing competition that wouldn’t tax her tender literary constitution.  “A month to write a novel is way too short,” she says, referring to the NaNoWriMo, the contest in which budding authors write a novel in a month.  “I thought I could handle a write-a-short-story-in-a-month contest, but I froze just as I was about to click on the ‘Enter’ button.”


After scouring various free listings of open calls, she was about to give up when a friend told her about “NaHaWriMo,” a contest that only requires contestants to crank out a single haiku in a month, albeit February, the shortest month on the calendar.  “Now that, I thought, was more my speed,” she says, referring to the seventeen syllable Japanese poetry form that is like writing with training wheels for blocked, buzzed or busy budding poets.

But as Groundhog Day rolled by and Valentine’s Day approached, Jayne found herself coming up short on her haiku, which she describes as a “work in progress that’s not progressing much.  Tell me how you like it so far,” she says, as she shifts gears to the elevated tone commonly used by poetry slam contestants:

I think of you all
the time. Do haikus have to

She grins sheepishly, but Steve Alfrond, another blocked writer who signed up to be her “writing buddy” in the contest, gives her a little “tough love” of the sort that her less engaged friends can’t provide her.  “I think you should try harder,” he says, looking into her eyes but maintaining a cool, professional distance.


Jayne, who is known in writer’s groups she’s quit or been kicked out of as overly sensitive to criticism, responds defensively.  “Let’s hear what you’ve written before you dump on me,” she huffs.

“Okay,” Steve says a bit warily, since he’s notorious among his friends as the “author of seven unfinished novels.”

Moon out my window
on the snow. Where does it go
during the day?

It’s Jayne’s turn to smile as she counts the syllables in the last line on the fingers of one hand.  “You came up one short, dubohead,” she says with a superior air.  “You only have four.”

Steve looks down at his pad, rests his chin on his pencil, then scratches out the question mark and re-writes the last line to read

during the day, huh?

Among the Painterly Poets

He brought his aesthetic approach to the inner life of colors in a series of 10 poems commissioned in the early 1960s by one of his clients, Fuller Paint Co.

Obituary of Ken Nordine, “word jazz” poet

We were sitting at a tiny table in the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, calmly enduring the scornful remarks and sneering put-downs of the more-successful poets who bumped into us–sometimes “accidentally” spilling their drinks–as they made their way back and forth between the bar and the men’s room.

“Oh, excuse me!” they’d say in mock-apologetic tones.  “I must have been rocked by the poetic earthquake that’s shaking the world these days.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” I’d say, matching their contempt with a little of my own.  “So funny I forgot to laugh.”  Not exactly a new comeback, but–like all great art–it has stood the test of time since I was in fourth grade.

Dylan Thomas, admiring a freshly-applied coat of acrylic.


“Don’t let it get to you, Forest, it only encourages them,” my girlfriend Violet Orchid said.  I turned and looked deeply into her leotard, then–after she cleared her throat–into her eyes.

Violet Orchid:  “Crazy, man–crazy!”


We were nursing our drinks; none of us had any money in those days, unlike the capital b “Beat Poets,” who could command as much as $5 for a couplet, $7.50 for a quatrain, $20 for a sonnet!  But what did we care?  We were young, we were mad for colors, we could live on paint fumes and paint chips if we had to!

But still, we were all feeling a little down.  The Beats had captured the imagination of the nation–and try saying that five times fast–through a skillfully-executed plan of public relations.  They wisely decided to swim in a school, like fish, so that it was harder to pick off any one of them, while giving them the appearance of a full-fledged movement.  Dingbat reporters from TIME magazine swarmed the Village, looking for something to report on besides the loss of China to the Commies, notebooks in hands, asking their fatuous questions:

“So poetry–doesn’t have to rhyme?”

“No, daddy-o, don’t be a square!” the Beat Poet on Call to Answer Your Inane Questions would say.

The reporter would dutifully transcribe the obscure argot for readers unfamiliar with the crazy, wigged-out talk of the Best Minds of Their Generation, and the headline-hungry versifiers would snap up the next issue as soon as it hit the newsstands to find their slang immortalized in one of Henry Luce’s popular Glossaries:  “Chick: A female hepcat.”  Then the squares would flood our crowded little neighborhood, scouring our mean streets for espresso, bebop, and “reefer.”

“hey guys,” a voice said through the thick cigarette smoke.  It was our friend red menace, looking a little green around the gills, but upbeat nonetheless.  In pursuit of the purity of his e.e. cummings-style poetry he’d recently had the initial letters of his first and last names de-capitalized, and he was still a little puffy in the face.

“Hi red,” Violet said as he bent down to kiss her.  She had, of course, slept with him and just about every other crayon in the box, but I didn’t care.  We were into free love and no attachments; women, we guys had agreed, were basically public utilities, with periodic outages, harsh dunning when you didn’t come through with money, and spotty service during the hot summer months.

“why’s everybody so down in the mouth?” red said.

“Just look over there,” I said, my tone as bitter as my coffee.  “Don’t you get sick of The Beats hogging all the attention, when we have so much to offer the world of poetry?”

red was cool, slowly rotating his eyes sideways to take in our smug, bongo-playing competitors.  “call me crazy . . .”

“You’re crazy,” Violet said.

“i meant figuratively,” red continued, “but i don’t think the beats’ business model is sustainable.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“they’ve staked out a position as outsiders.  if they succeed, they’ll become insiders, with their pictures on the cover of time . . .”

“I think you have to capitalize the T,” Violet said.  “It’s a proper name.”

“fine,” red said.  “Time, getting teaching positions at the universities they now scorn, becoming tenured, comfortable old farts with interest-free housing loans, holding forth at sherry hours.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said.  “That doesn’t mean I can’t hate their guts.”

“knock yourself out,” red said, “as long as you pour your rage into your poems.”

I sat there and absorbed what he’d said for a moment.  Something about it didn’t sit right with my personal aesthetic.  “I don’t think the ‘angry young poet’ style is for me,” I said.


“No.  I’m more interested in . . . art for decorating’s sake.”

“really?” red said.  “do tell.”

“Does the poet roll his words on smoothly so that there are no air bubbles?  Does he use a drop cloth so as not to spill ink on the floor?  Does he start on one side of the paper and work his way evenly around the page?”

“you make poetry sound like painting a living room,” red said.  “it’s just crazy enough that it might work.”

There was a commotion at the entrance, the kind of hubbub that only occurred when a publisher, an agent or a critic showed up, raising the possibility that one of us might be touched by fame or fortune.

I looked up and making his way through the crowd, I saw a stocky, balding man with a paunch, hardly the sort of avant-garde presence I expected.

“Forest Green?” the man asked, extending a hand that looked like a lump of recently-kneaded pizza dough.

“That’s me,” I said warily.  Had I knocked up some suburbanite’s daughter visiting the Village for a taste of bohemia?

“I’m Ed Kolewski, Finger Lakes Paint & Wallpaper, how ya doing?”

“Fine, fine.  Do I . . . owe you money?”

“No, not at all.  In fact, I want to pay you money.”

“You do?”

“You betcha.  For a twelve-poem cycle extolling the virtues of my wide selection of oil-based and acrylic paints.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Absolutely.  I’ve read your colorful poems, and they’re just the thing I need to move buckets of product.”

I scanned the room, and saw glimmers of jealousy steal across the visages of the poets who had, only a few minutes before, looked at me like I was moderate Republican running for New York City Council.

“At your service,” I said, putting on the manner of a cool businessman about to close a big deal.  “What were you thinking of in terms of price?” I asked.

“Let’s see,” Kolewski said, fingering his chin as he looked at the picturesque tin ceiling tiles overhead.  “How many poems are there in a gallon?”

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

The Pickleball Coach

I’ve a sensitive subject that I need to broach–
I think my wife’s fallen for her pickleball coach.
The extra lessons, and extended sessions,
are making me suspect this racket-sport Hessian.

“It’s a game that’s well-suited for elderly people!”
she says when I ask for details ‘bout the creeple.
“Then why is he so damn . . . young?” I ask.
as she heads off with gym bag and chic water flask.

“I think you’d like it—it’s fun and social!”
“That’s the sort of thing I hate the mocial.”
“He’s patient and pleasant–unlike you.”
“With the fees we pay him, I would be too.”

“You can play with two people, and also with four,”
she says, as she sashays out the door.
I don’t know the rules, and I don’t want to learn them–
if I find her copy, I’ll be tempted to burn them.

Perhaps I’ll consent, before I die,
to try this new form of exercise.
‘Til then, she can play, and I’ll be the grouch
whose favorite sport is to sleep on the couch.

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.”