IF ONLY

If there were truly justice
at least of the poetic sort
perhaps Van Gogh could
have been born 75 years
earlier, and in Vienna
not Holland, so that when
he decided to be rid
of an ear he could have
offered it to Beethoven
neither of his working
in his later years. And
if a poet could arrange
time travel using his license
then he could just as easily
have made the ear work
for Beethoven. But
on second thought,
heaven knows what
the mighty Ninth Symphony
might have sounded like
if Beethoven had to listen
constantly to the critics.

PAPER CUTS

Paper is at once both
the cruelest invention a writer
may have stumbled across
and also her salvation.

The blank page invites,
often demands the pen
and is unjudging, yet the poet
may change or delete
but the paper retains the original
and throws it back in his face.

The computer, many say,
changed all of that, backspace
or highlight and delete and
that mistake, misuse, misadventure
is gone forever, but
with a wrong keystroke
all you may have is a blank screen
and your words so well shaped,
thoughts perfectly expressed
can be lost in the ether.

Where did I put that pen?

DARE I SAY

Few will dare say it, but I
have always imagined myself
among the few at most things
so I suppose it falls to me.

The lifecycle of the poet
incises an arc and there are
recognizable nodes along its path
from beginning to end.

The first poem published in a
journal, no matter how small,
then one in a publication others
have heard of, if never read.

Next you are in good company in
the Review you could find
on the shelves of your bookstore
in the deep past when bookstores existed,

then onward to the self-published
book or chapbook, and maybe one
by a noted press, the apex
for almost any poetic career.

But gravity takes hold, the descent
will be sharp and often ugly, marked
by the poet believing the blurbs
on the back cover of his book.

NOT COUNTING

I have had two,
although the first is long
forgotten, so perhaps it
no longer counts, it
certainly didn’t to her,
announcing its end
like the conductor
of a train running late
on the mainline to sadness.

Perhaps I have not forgotten
but all I see is myself
standing alone, intoning
words to which the crowd
intently listens, much like
the audience at a reading
by a lesser known poet,
feigned polite awareness.

I’ll just say I’ve had one
for it is easier that way
on all three parties.

THE POET?

He stood in front of the class
in a more than half empty lecture hall
and leaned into the podium, almost smiling.

He was here, a real poet, half famous
by his own reckoning, totally so by ours
since he was rumpled, as a poet ought,
his sport coat tweedy and ill fitting.

Still we harbored some doubts,
for there was no telltale sign
of a fountain pen’s ink
on his fingers and his nails
looked fresh from a manicure.

But he gripped the podium, read
and only glanced down occasionally,
so he must be a real poet,
for he didn’t bend the fingers
as if always hovering over
a keyboard, waiting for inspiration.

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

OLD SCHOOL

How much better off would we be
if every poet and wanna be were
compelled to write using only paper
and a quill pen dipped regularly
into a small glass inkwell?

You must wonder if we would see
more elegance, villanelles, sonnets,
and the other forms now lying jumbled
in the great literary waste bin.

What would we discover if left
to our own hand, words born
or twisted by coincidence or error,
no autocorrect function save
the endless manual revisions?

Perhaps this is the failure of much
of today’s poetry, but neither of us
is likely to find out, for this, like
so many others, was cast to pixels
on a device far smarter than I.

THINGS TO COME

One morning last week I decided
to plant myself at a busy intersection
and begin reading poetry, mostly
my own, I have to admit.

I was generally ignored, my usual
state, and that sadly of most poets,
when a scruffy, bearded young man
set up easel and paint next to me.

The morning seemed to relish
the stillness of this urban way station,
and we were easily ignored by the odd
pedestrian on her way to please not here.

As lunch hour approached, the streets
filled, and we were ready, this was
our moment, our world, until the
asylum escapee joined our duality

and preached loudly to those who
dared not avoid us, that the end
was nigh, and that we, artist and poet
were the living promise of heaven and hell.

IN SEARCH

En route to Buddhism, I must admit
I stopped at numerous philosophical
way-stations, none quite as equipped as I
would desire and so I moved on.

Buddhism was my solution, no demands
other than I be present, knowing
I had no real choice but to do so,
all in the recognition of that fact.

I did consider other faiths and -isms,
and each but one had something
to beckon me, but each was incomplete
and I was looking for a full solution.

The easiest to reject was nihilism,
for while it was the simplest to adopt,
asking, no demanding, nothing from me,
assuring me all was nothing in the end,

I knew it would fail me in the most
essential way, for I discovered there
were no great nihilist poets, how do you
write when there is nothing real to say?


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