NOT SLEEPING NOW

The kid is late again today, but that
is sadly not unusual, the old man said.
I ought to get rid of him, but I know
he needs the job to feed his family.

In the meanwhile, I’ll now have
to hobble down to the meadow
and hope my collie, who’s as old as I,
is up to the job of herding sheep still.

And I know that he will only shrug
when I threaten to dock his pay
for the loss, hell, even just the profit
I lost on the corn the cows consumed.

I get that he’s tired, those late night
gigs at club in town, and I hear that
he’s thinking of joining a trio in Chicago,
though I have no idea how they ever

heard his playing out here in fly-over-ville,
but I guess I’d better let him get his rest,
for if he becomes a star, maybe he’ll
remember me in his first CD’s liner notes.

CAT (PSYCH)OLOGY

It wasn’t until I hit
middle age, which on my scale
will allow me to live past 100,
that I discovered that cats
are Celtic deep in their hearts.
Our cat, she who adopted me
and forced her then owner
to marry me, like it or not,
was in love with the tin whistle
and the uilleann pipes playing
had her in my lap, unmoving.
But she had her Buddhist side
as well, sitting zazen for hours,
longer if accompanied by
shakuhachi flutes. She said
that cats were discerning,
were connoisseurs of music
loved cello, viola and violin
but barely tolerated the bass.
It was why, she said, all
the great composers wrote
for the higher strings.
And, she would add,
as for dogs, well they
loved country music most,
reason enough for pity.

THE CLUB

It’s jazz, it’s a club,
but there what once was
is no more, there are
no ashtrays on the table,
overflowing early into
the second set, no cloud
of cigarette smoke descending
from the too dark ceiling.
There is no recognizable odor
of a freshly lit Gaulloise,
in the trembling fingers of
a young man trying to look cool,
trying not to cough on each
inhalation, in the calm fingers
of a young woman who
you know speaks the fluent
French of her homeland.
It is none of those things
but it is jazz, it is a club
and in this city, now, it must suffice.

THE CLASSICS

He says he has always hated classical music,
and would rather listen to nails dragged across a chalkboard.
He has been out of school for many years so I
suspect he no longer realizes what nails
on a chalkboard really sounds like, how even
opera, which I can’t tolerate, would be preferable.
He rattles off a list of composers he despises,
Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, and on
and on the list goes, and I have to conclude
his distaste for the music is sincere and deep.
Still I ask if there is nothing he will accept,
if not like, but which will fall short of detest.
He pauses a minute in thought, then smiles,
and says he does have two guilty pleasures.
He admits he will listen to classical music, but only
as Beethoven did after he went deaf in 1816,
or failing that, he’d welcome John Cage’s 4:33.

A SONG FOR A LOVER

It is hard, looking back, to recall
just how many hours I spent searching
with a fair amount of diligence for just
the right song to express my love.
Most often I would find it,
but only after that love had been
replaced by another, demanding
a new song — you cannot use
the same song for two different loves,
that crosses well over into tacky.
I have to admit I’ve given up
totally on that quest, even as
the number of available songs
has grown exponentially, or so
the various streaming services suggest.
I have only a single lover now,
have for twenty years, and
as her hearing has slipped away
it is her lips that read mine,
and that is all the song we need.

THE GIFTS

They brought him myrrh
on a flaming salver and all
he could do was say
“This is something I would expect
from a butcher or a carpenter,
and the camera angles
would never work, so bring
me napalm or punji stakes
that we have proven to work.”
They brought him ripe oranges
and the sweet meat of the pineapple,
its juice dripping from his chin,
and all he could do was tighten
his grip on the AK-47 and dream
of night on the edge of the jungle.
They brought him Rodin, Matisse,
Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake,
but all he would see was
Bosch and Goya, and then
only by the light of fading candles.
They brought him the String Quartet
in A Major played on Strads
and Guarnaris, but he
wanted the retort of the howitzer
the crump of the mortar,
the screams of the child.
They brought him his child
wrapped in bandages
missing fingers and toes,
and all he wanted was
the nursery, a newborn
in swaddling, suckling her breast
as he stroked her head
and remembered the moment
of her creation.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

BACK IN THE DAY

My uncle and I would sneak away
from the seemingly endless party,
no one wanted to attend and couldn’t leave.
We go up to my room and turn on the radio.
He’d want to look for the Senators game,
but they’d left town and
no radio could pull in Minneapolis anyway,
but despite Killebrew, Arbitron sealed their fate
and this was Yankees country as well.
I try to pull in C H U M from across the lake.
It played music the local DJs wouldn’t touch,
in which never found their constrictive playlists,
provided by dad’s pal, the local rack jobber
come self-assumed all label A&R man.
Still, Mel would listen with me until he was missed
then try and sneak back to the party, while I
listen Don into the night, hearing songs
I have to hunt for at the record store,
for one thing I knew was that it didn’t
have a section marked Canadian Content Rule.

A NIGHT AT THE ROSE

Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.


First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000

NAME THAT TUNE

He says, “I write songs
without music, my head
Is a libretto warehouse.”
She says, “You string words
like random beads, no
two strands the same.”
He says, “Symmetry is
for those with linear minds
who can’t see out of the tunnel.”
She says, “Dysentery, verbal,
is a disease to be avoided
particularly by poets.”
He says, “I’ll sing a song
for you if I can only
find the right notes.”
She says, “Fine, but know
it is the silent space between
the notes were the music truly lives.”