DEFINE-ITELY

It takes only moments for someone
to ask for a definition of poetry.

That task is at once terribly
simple and equally impossible,

a poem is many things
but not now or ever:

a paean to a self-aggrandizing
leader without soul
or sense of direction,
moral and literal;

a rant on how
all are conspiring
against you despite
your stable genius;

a Jeremiad decrying
facts contrary
to what you wish
them to be;

any attempt you
make or condone
to rewrite
“The New Colossus.”

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.

A LOST PEN

I wrote a poem for my father,
about how one afternoon
the oddly green ’57 Caddy
appeared in the driveway
and he polished its chrome for hours,
even waxed the black bumper bullets.
It was the love of his life
he said, except for his wife,
he added after a moment.
The years would prove
that addition was most likely false.
I could send him the poem, he
might actually read it, he would
remember the Caddy, much
as he now remembers my mother, with
a fondness that fills the voids
in his fading memory.
He is not much for poetry, never was,
wasn’t all that much for reading
and poetry had to rhyme, at
least the good ones did, but
while he agrees with Hecht, he would
no more recognize that name
than that of Amichai, even rewritten
in the grating hand of Ted Hughes.
My father does not understand poetry,
does not understand all that much
these days and what little he does
bears constant repetition, and yet
he remembers well odd bits and pieces
and forms them into his own fictions
that become momentary realities.
He is Brodsky rewriting Mandelstam,
a new Tristia, sharing only a name
with its precursor, but one its author
claims is truest to its origin.
My poem will be tucked away
inside a yellowing journal, his Caddy
is rust and scrap, but in his dreams
he carefully polishes the chrome
and waxes the bumper bullets.

First appeared in The Alchemy Spoon, Issue 1, Summer 2020

The Japanese invented
haiku certain that a painting
of great beauty could
be completed with only
a few strokes of the brush.

The Japanese have no word
for what we claim is higher
order poetry, academic and
pedantic are two other English
words which easily apply.
And the Japanese are hard put
to comprehend so much of what
we deem experimental, the result,
a friend named Yoshi said,
of what seems the odd scraps
of a dictionary torn apart
by an unexpected tornado.

In Tokyo every tree knows
that at least four
poems lie within it, each
awaiting the appropriate
season.

HAIKU

I picked up a book
off the shelf this morning
one hundred haiku

it was like sitting down
a word starved man, tired
of searching for an always
denied sustenance, and here
laid out before me, a repast
of the sweetest grapes,
bits of sugar caressing
a tongue grown used
to the often bitterness
of ill-considered prose.

As midday approached
I knew that this was a meal
to which I’d return.

WAITING FOR TEACHER

It should come as no surprise, for both
Buddhism and Hinduism grew
out of the same fertile soil.
An older Hindu man said, “do not look
for your Guru. When you are ready,
your Guru will find you.” I knew
the Buddhist equivalent, and its corollary,
when the student is ready, the teacher
disappears. My poetry professor’s yin
couldn’t grasp my yang, and I am
still waiting patiently for my poetic Guru
but despite my growing age, he has yet
to appear, but my spirituality seems
on firm ground, so it may not really matter.
But during my weight, I have found
Oatley, Duval, Rose, Kirk, Cullen,
and though I have met none, and not
a one has found me, the Nirvana they place
in bottles at my disposal, that they willingly
a ship from Australia, makes me wonder
what other possible Guru I might need.

ELEGY FOR A POET

(for Allen Ginsburg)
You died quietly in your bed
friends gathered around
the cars and buses of the city
clattering out a Kaddish
to a God you had long ago
dismissed as irrelevant.
We would have expected
your to howl, to decry
the unfairness of it all,
but you merely said
it is time, and slipped away.
Who gave you the right
to depart without leaving us
one last remonstration
against the insanity
that surrounds us, one last
censure of the fools
who we have so blindly chosen
to lead a generation
into a hell of our creation.
You had your peace
but what of us
left behind, what can we
look forward to
in your absence
save the words we know
so well, can recite by heart
that no longer beats
in your breast.


First appeared in Living Poets Vol. 2, No. 1, (U.K) 2001 and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum vol .30, Nos 1-2,  2006

TRIANGULATION

He says that foremost
Mao Zedong was a poet,
and knew that all poetry
must at some level
be political, must
incite the reader to rebel
against complacency.
I say that Zhao Zhenkai
wrote as Bei Dao
as the ultimate act
of rebellion, sacrificing
his very identity.
He says that I
am anchored by
the weight of realism,
and I say that he
needs reeducation.
She says that neither
of us will ever write
the just open bloom
of spring’s first rose.


First appeared in the May 2019 Issue of The Broadkill Reivew

CITY LIGHTS

It was a Tuesday in October
or a Wednesday in March,
hard to say which, but evening.
We had taken a cab from the Hyatt
Embarcadero or the Fairmont,
it didn’t much matter,
and sat in the Chinese restaurant
on the edge of Chinatown, or
a pasta and seafood joint
in North Beach, and you said
it was a small earthquake, while I
was certain it was the waiter
who drained the half empty
wine glasses en route to the kitchen.
We walked slowly along the street
past the “World Famous Condor”
in all its tacky glory, and I said
it was the birthplace of silicon,
we had Carol Doda to thank for that
and you said I was perverted
and suggested we go across the street
to the club featuring nude dancers,
but I balked when I saw they were men.
Finally we compromised and walked
around the corner to the City Lights.
You wandered impatiently around
while I stood transfixed
in the poetry section, a warren
of shelves, a ladder on wheels
and corners, and held, almost fondled
a fresh copy of Coney Island of the Mind.
I read it slowly, a man stood
behind me shifting his weight
from foot to foot, “It’s not all that good,
adequate, but there’s Bukowski and Ginsberg.”
Without looking back, I reached for Gasoline.
“At least that’s a good choice,” he said
and in growing anger I turned
and sneered into the nose
of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.


First Published in Creative Juices, December 1998.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

The room is awash
in words, they pile up
in corners, form untidy stacks
that perpetually threaten collapse,
strewing consonants like shards
of ill broken glass.
It might not be this way, for
words need order, a rubric
in which they are forced to operate.
But here, in a room of poets,
anarchy is the sole grammar,
and in the face of order
someone throws a Molotov cocktail
as we are all consumed
in the flame of self passion.