Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Chimes of Freedom Flashing . . . .

The Poet Bloggers 2018 Revival Tour continues . . . .

In the city's melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden as the walls were tightening

                                                – Bob Dylan

I have just been invited to speak at "Darkness on the Edge of Town" - An International Springsteen Symposium sponsored by the Pennsylvania State University and to be held in April at Monmouth University, on the New Jersey Shore. This will be my fourth presentation dealing with Springsteen and his music. Prior to this I have talked on the subject of Springsteen and John Steinbeck (at Monmouth and again in at a Steinbeck conference in Sun Valley Idaho), and on the Boss and Woody Guthrie. The topic this time around is "Chimes of Freedom: The Social and Political Impact of Bruce Springsteen’s 1988 East Berlin Concert."

Springsteen and the E Street Band performed across Europe in the early autumn of 1981 as part of its 1980-1981 The River Tour. This included four concerts in West Germany, one of these at the ICC Halle in West Berlin. Bruce and Steve Van Zandt took the opportunity of this gig to cross through the Berlin Wall into East Berlin for a short visit during which they walked about unnoticed (with the likely exception of the Stasi, East Germany’s ubiquitous Ministry of State Security).

Seven years later, Bruce brought the band back to Germany as part of the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express Tour, playing concerts at West Berlin’s Waldbühne and East Berlin’s Weissensee Velodrome, the latter before an enthusiastic audience of 160,000+ (in comparison to the rather sedate crowd of 17,000 in West Berlin). Bruce described the East Berlin audience as the largest he had ever played to . . . "I couldn’t see its end." In fact, it was the largest concert by a western artist in the entire 40 year history of the ill-fated German Democratic Republic.

Two months later Bruce would join several artists for the world-wide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! during which he made his first overt political statements . . . "trying to assert myself as a world citizen . . . This tour marks my graduation of sorts." But it was in East Berlin where Bruce Springsteen rang the chimes of freedom for the first time for all the world to hear. And just over a year later the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall came down for good.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

With a New Year Comes New Posts

A friend and fellow poet informed me that a group of poets who also blog have pledged to resurrect their blogs for a 2018 Revival Tour. Each will try to post at least once a week during 2018.

I host two blogs. "Looking Toward Portugal" is billed as general commentary "from the edge of America" - www.lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com. I have been posting there fairly regularly since late 2008. This blog, on the other hand, is more literary in concept and execution and it was designed to use social media as a means of sharing some of my literary endeavors - poems, flash fiction, criticism and reviews, literary news, obituaries of literary favorites . . . whatever strikes my fancy - with a wider audience.

So I accept the challenge and let’s see how well I do. Listed below are the writers who are participating so far. Check them out and share what you like with others. That is how we build and support our community of writers. And if you are a poet blogger, why not join us.

Happy reading and writing in 2018!

                  Beth Adams http://www.cassandrapages.com
                   Teresa Hichens Ballard http://teballard.blogspot.com/
Sandra Beasley http://sbeasley.blogspot.com
Carolee Bennett https://gooduniversenextdoor.com/
Mary Biddinger wordcage.blogspot.com/
Andrea Blythe http://www.andreablythe.com
Dave Bonta http://vianegativa.us
Jim Brock http://picturesthatgotsmall.blogspot.com
James Brush http://coyotemercury.com
Angela T Carr https://angelatcarr.wordpress.com/
Patricia Caspers http://www.patriciacaspers.com/
I. F. Caton http://analogverse.blogspot.com/
Grant Clauser http://www.uniambic.com
Kevin Connor https://ordinaryaveragethoughts.wordpress.com/
Jared Conti http://www.theoracularbeard.com
Josephine Corcoran http://www.josephinecorcoran.org
Jill Crammond https://jillypoet.wordpress.com/
Jenelle D’Alessandro http://www.borderandgreetme.com
Laura E. Davis http://www.dearouterspace.com/
Kate Debolt http://www.katedebolt.net/blog/
Heather Derr-Smith ferhext.com/
Risa Denenberg https://risadenenberg.weebly.com/blog
Amy Dryansky https://amydryansky.com
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow http://cschwartzbergedlow.blogspot.com
Andrew Eickstead http://www.unleashingthewordhoard.com
Lou Faber https://anoldwriter.com
Jeannine Hall Gailey webbish6.com
Gail Goepfert gailgoepfert.com
Erica Goss http://ericagoss.com
Uma Gowrishankar https://umagowrishankar.wordpress.com/
Sarah Kain Gutowski mimsyandoutgrabe.blogspot.com
Charlotte Hamrick zouxzoux.wordpress.com
Erin Hollowell beingpoetry.net
Trish Hopkinson https://trishhopkinson.com/
Jennifer Hudgens https://jenniferelhudgens.wordpress.com
Catherine Hume https://catherinehume.wordpress.com/
Crystal Ignatowski http://somehiatus.tumblr.com/
MJ Iuppa http://mjiuppa.blogspot.com/
Charles Jensen https://charles-jensen.com/kinemapoetics-blog/
JJS https://thisembodiedcondition.wordpress.com
Jill McCabe Johnson http://jillmccabejohnson.com/blog-chanson-daventure.html
Collin Kelley http://www.collinkelley.blogspot.com
Kathleen Kirk https://kathleenkirkpoetry.blogspot.com/
Anita Olivia Koester https://www.forkandpage.com/
Lakshmi thiswinterheart.tumblr.com
Courtney LeBlanc wordperv.com
Lorena P Matejowsky https://nothingbutblueskies.wordpress.com/
Marilyn McCabe OWrite.MarilynonaRoll.wordpress.com
Ann Michael www.annemichael.wordpress.com
Amy Miller http://writers-island.blogspot.com/
James Moore jameswmoore.wordpress.com
LouAnn Sheperd Muhm https://louannmuhm.com/
January Gill O’Neill http://poetmom.blogspot.com
Shawnte Orion http://batteredhive.blogspot.com/
Ren Powell https://renpowell.com/category/poetry/
Bethany Reid http://www.bethanyareid.com/
Susan Rich http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.com
Lee Ann Roripaugh https://runningbrush.wordpress.com/
Sarah Russell https://sarahrussellpoetry.net
Jennifer Saunders http://www.magpiedays.com
Carl Setzer https://questionsall.net
Martha Silano http://bluepositive.blogspot.com/
Kim Bailey Spradlin www.kimbaileydeal.net
Bonnie Staiger https://bonniestaiger.com/
Rosemary Starace https://thresholdview.wordpress.com/
Hannah Stephenson http://thestorialist.com
Stephanie Lane Sutton athenasleepsin.wordpress.com
Christine Swint https://balancedonedge.blog/
Carey Taylor https://careyleetaylor.com
Dylan Tweney http://dylan20.tumblr.com/
Michael Allyn Wells http://stickpoetsuperhero.blogspot.com/
Lesley Wheeler Lesleywheeler.org
Allyson Whipple http://allysonmwhipple.com
Sean Wright https://sbwrightpoet.blogspot.com.au

*This list is current as of January 3. I have joined the ranks today


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Chambered Nautilus

He moves by necessity from one room to the next. The passage way closes behind him; there will be no going back. Past is past. Gone. Irretrievable. And he will stay in this room only briefly, before moving to the next, and the next after that. Each one larger. And so it goes. Then one day he shall exit through the final passage, leaving this house forever, never to return. It will have become to small to meet his growing needs. All that remains are the former chapters of his life. He wonders where the next ones shall be written.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Acoustic Shadows

Awakening early in her attic apartment, he stood at the window looking out over the rooftops of the German city.  He imagined the flash and detonation of British bombs dropped here thirty years earlier.  That night she had told him her father had been a Luftwaffe pilot who bombed London during the Blitz.  Staring across the rebuilt city he recalled his grandparents telling him about a night spent in the Covent Garden tube station, coming up the next morning to find their flat a pile of rubble. Fires still raging. Their neighbors dead.  He did not tell her that story.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Staring into the mirror, trying on his dead friend's shirts, he would keep what fit, the rest destined for another’s closet. He wanted them all.  They had similar builds, but the cut was often too tight in the shoulders, or they were not long enough.  He was sad leaving some behind.  Memories abandoned.  Each shirt recalls an occasion when his friend wore it.  He smiles and looks at the pile of shirts.  Whether they fit is irrelevant.  He decides to take them all to keep his friend near, whispering to him from the closet about those distant memories they shared. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Heavy poles with sinkin’ line tied to streamers.  Trollin’ began here in the north woods.  It’s sittin’ starin’ at the water ‘tween fish.  You gotta hold on to your pole.  Several sports lost poles cause they was daydreamin’.  Easy ‘nuff to set it aside to light a cigarette or poke through your kit bag.  But if’n a lunker latches on while the mind’s a’wanderin’ your pole’s gone and a day’s fishin’ is over. Trollin’ keeps the fly deeper longer than jackin’ it back and forth overhead.  That there’s beauty but you ain’t catchin’ fish with your fly in the air. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Baffled King

Photo by The Toronto Star

These are the first two of a series of flash fiction stories to be posted here.   These are 100 word short stories.  Not 99 words.  Not 101 words.  100 words.

Raised in staid Westmont, on the other side of Mont Royal, he preferred the bohemian life of Le Plateau, his townhouse in the rue Vaillièrres, a block off The Main, across from Parc du Portugal.  There he sat on his stoop, watching the children play and the passers pass by, sketching poems, song lyrics, his secret chords that pleased the lord.  This was his home although he died on the Left Coast, buried across Mont Royal before anyone knew he was gone from them.  They came to his quiet stoop with flowers.  It was “cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.”

The Tilted Sea

In his dream the sea began to tilt to one side in the far distance. As if the sun was setting heavier in that quadrant of the horizon than in another. He wondered, if this continued, would the waves stop advancing against the shore, shifting instead to that downward side of the sea, taking the tide with them? Seashells would no longer wash ashore and there would be no reason to walk and wonder along the water line. The sea’s mysteries will have found other places to hide, and eventually there would only be desert where the sea once surged.

Monday, March 28, 2016

An Extraordinary Vacancy - Jim Harrison, 1937-2016

Photograph by Robert DeMott
Jim Harrison, one of my favorite writers, passed away on Saturday (March 26) at his modest casita near Patagonia, Arizona where he spent his winters in more recent years.  The rest of the time he resided in Paradise Valley, in the shadows of the grand Absaroka Mountains near Livingston, Montana.  In the coming days I will be posting a longer and more well thought out tribute to this unique American writer.  For the moment, however, I want to mark the sad occasion of Harrison’s passing at age 78.

Thomas McGuane, perhaps Harrison’s oldest living friend, noting Harrison’s passing in the current issue of The New Yorker, writes that Harrison died at his writing desk.  It seems to me entirely appropriate; that he would have wanted it that way.  He adds that Harrison’s death “leaves an extraordinary vacancy” for family, friends, and admirers who never had the pleasure to meet and know him.  I am one of those who feels cast adrift.  The thought that no more words will be unleashed from his pen saddens me deeply.  I never met Harrison, yet my life and my own writing has orbited his since the early 1970s, when I first became aware of his unique perspective on human foibles and our interaction with the natural world.  More on this at another time.

I have been reading Harrison’s latest poems published recently as Dead Man’s Float by Copper Canyon Press, and his newest collection of novellas, The Ancient Minstrel, both of which arrived in my mailbox just days before Harrison died at his writing table in Arizona.  The poems especially memorialize his pains and sadness in his twilight days.  I take perhaps a small degree of comfort in the fact that he is no longer suffering the various pains and infirmities of recent years, that he is no longer burdened by loneliness since the death of his beloved wife of 55 years last October.  After a long and productive life, perhaps the fire in his heart finally went out.

I close my eyes and I try to imagine a young boy casting an alder fly into a quiet pool under a distant cutbank of the Pere Marquette not far from his boyhood Michigan home.  A rainbow trout eyes it closely as it drifts past, not realizing, if it strikes out of habit, its quick transit to an awaiting net will be memorialized in the words Jim Harrison quietly, thoughtfully, etched into pages of his own immortality.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Island Schoolteacher

Monhegan Island with Manana beyond
This poem is inspired by a 2004 oil painting by Jamie Wyeth (born 1946). 

                        After Jamie Wyeth

            a wink on the distant western horizon
            Pemaquid Light greets the early morning
            skies still star rich with dawn’s approach
            beyond her window Manana a silent sentinel
            snow blanketed it is impossible to chance
            upon Norse runes etched in its coarse granite
            somewhere near its hidden bleating foghorn
            a rising tide washes around Casket Rock
            as it slowly vanishes into its watery crypt
            harbor emptied of all boats the island
            lobstermen gone to sea to pull their traps
            the Laura B rounding Nigh Duck passing
            Smutty Nose to the rime-encrusted wharf
            this is what she sees from her cottage
            secreted above dark village & quiet harbor
            she sits naked at her bare morning table
            fresh from a bath her hair towel wrapped
            it drapes across her back & thigh cloaking
            her modesty from the gaze of no one present
            she does not stare toward the winter sea
            the village houses rising like tombstones
             from the snowfields beyond her window
            her attention rests only on an open book
            a piece of toast clenched between her teeth  
            she quietly plans her day’s lessons dismissing
            another long night of tired lonesomeness
            & dreams of a day she boards the Laura B
            when it takes her quickly & far from this place

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Abigail

Photograph by Spencer Stewart
Later this month my wife and I will celebrate our 41st anniversary.  When we first dated in college I used to write her poems and tack them to a bulletin board in the theater's green room.  She responded with a pen and ink drawing.  I'm still writing and now she paints.  This poem is for her.

           - For SallyAnn

            in these most foiling of times
            when I find myself at odds
            with friends and foe alike
            I think of you as my Abigail
            my rock   my wife   but most of all
            my friend   my best of friends
            without whom I am nothing
            but a tattered banner flying
            in the weakest of winds
            you are the mast to which I
            tether my greatest hopes and ambitions
            if I do not tell you this enough
            it is only a weakness in my character
            you are my country   its hope
            its flag   its sweetest anthem
            I can say no more than this
            you are its tallest shadow
            when the sun shines its brightest

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I spent much of the month of October traveling throughout Germany, and during a week in Berlin I had an opportunity to visit some of the refugee and migrant processing centers in and around the city.  This was at a time when Germany had graciously opened its borders to what Carolyn Forché has called the victims of extremity . . . this at a time when they were arriving faster than the German authorities could handle them . . . at a time when other so-called civilized European nations were turning their backs on this tormented migration . . . at a time when other Islamic countries were quick to turn them away.  It is one thing to see their plight on television.  It is another thing to observe it up close and personal.  

This poem was written one evening in Berlin after a day of witnessing first hand what happens when much of the civilized world, including the United States, turns its back on the innocent victims of incivility in its most heinous aspect.

            a rainy evening on Alexanderplatz
            a Schnell Imbiss on Greifwalderstrasse           
            drinking Turkish beer a döner box
            to nourish me at the end of the day

            sitting alone here watching Erdogan
            on the big screen in the back
            a pause in a soccer match played
            in Monchen-Gladbach in the rain
            the fellow who made my dinner
            shakes his fist at the TV
            “lanet herif!!” he curses     
            that modern sultan who smiles
            in Ankara not hearing this
            the pleas of his own people
            this obscene taunting in rainy Berlin

            smiling I try to forget this morning
            in a park in Alt-Moabit a steady
            swarm of migrants stamping its feet
            standing numb in a line steaming
            in the rain I study each sad imprimatur
            anguish etching many damp faces

            no Azhan called out by a muezzin
            only the Johanneskirche bells tolling
            reminding them who and where they are
            they who are beyond their ken and culture
            they who transited Erdogan’s land
            crossing the vast Anatolian plains
            searching for lives better than
            the shattered ones they left behind
            they who put children in tenuous boats
            believing the Aegean safer than land

            I try to forget the image of the Syrian boy
            drowned and washed ashore in Turkey
            Erdogan still smiling in Ankara
            while the whole world watches in horror
            its tears like so much dismal rain

Sunday, April 12, 2015

He has Earned His Sleep - In Memory of Tomas Tranströmer

On March 26th, poet, translator and psychologist Tomas Tranströmer passed away in Stockholm, Sweden at the age of 83.  And although his collected works occupy very little space on a bookshelf, the response to his poems, both in Sweden and abroad, has been immense, the honors many and impressive, culminating in the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011 "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."

Robert Bly, a prominent translator of Tranströmer, noted that when Tranströmer began to craft his early poems in the 1950s, it was still possible to write a nature poem in which nothing technological entered.  As his career progressed, however, it was not so easy to separate the two, as we see in his 1974 long poem Östersjöar [Baltics] and the mingling of maritime life in that wonderful labyrinth of forested islands and the waters of his native Stockholm Archipelago along the Baltic Sea coastline.  We marvel that the poetry of earth is never truly dead.

The American poet and critic Stephen Burt tells us: “More than most poets, Tranströmer survives translation, since his effects so often come from metaphors, images and situations.  Other effects come from silence, from negative space . . . .” 

In memory of Tranströmer’s passing, I would like to share one of his earliest poems, “Solitary Swedish Houses,” which was published in his second collection of poems, Hemligheter på vägen  [Secrets on the Way] (1958), and translated by Robin Fulton.  I first heard Tranströmer read this poem in Tucson, in 1974, and again a decade later, in Stockholm:

“Solitary Swedish Houses”

A mix-max of black spruce
and smoking moonbeams.
Here’s the croft lying low
and not a sign of life.

Till the morning dew murmurs
and an old man opens
– with a shaky hand – his window
and lets out an owl.

Further off, the new building
stands steaming
with the laundry butterfly
fluttering at the corner

in the middle of a dying wood
where the mouldering reads
through spectacles of sap
the proceedings of the bark-drillers.

Summer with flaxen-haired rain
or one solitary thunder-cloud
above a barking dog.
The seed is kicking inside the earth.

Agitated voices, faces
fly in the telephone wires
on stunted rapid wings
across the moorland miles.

The house on an island in the river
brooding on its stony foundations.
Perpetual smoke – they’re burning
the forest’s secret papers.

The rain wheels in the sky.
The light coils in the river.
Houses on the slope supervise
the waterfall’s white oxen.

Autumn with a gang of starlings
holding dawn in check.
The people move stiffly
in the lamplight’s theatre.

Let them feel without alarm
the camouflaged wings
and God’s energy
coiled up in the dark

Tranströmer  was a hugely popular, almost rock star figure in his native land.  One American critic referred to him as “Sweden’s Robert Frost.”   So in closing, let me paraphrase that American bard:  The woods are lovely, dark and deep;  he has shared his music . . . and earned his sleep.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

At the Pond's Edge - A Tribute to Donald Hall

This past week The Washington Post reviewed Donald Hall’s newly-published volume, Essays After Eighty.  At the age of 86 he describes himself inhabiting an “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” that is old age.  It has become, sadly, “a ceremony of losses” of lovers, family and friends, including fellow poet Galway Kinnell who passed away just a couple months ago (see my November 9, 2014 tribute).  Hall freely admits that at his age he feels complacent about death.  I am reminded of his poem “Affirmation,” the open line that reads: “To grow old is to lose everything.”  And after a litany of losses encountered throughout life, it ends with a pledge to “affirm that it is fitting / and delicious to lose everything” in the muddy edge of the pond that is life.  Another loss he recognizes yet without mourning is poetry.  After a rich poetic life, Hall believes poetry has abandoned him in old age.   He has felt it gradually sliding away.  “I had 60 years of it; I can’t regret it.”  Thankfully, his prose endures. 

So, as a tribute to Mr. Hall and in celebration of his most recent volume of essays, I am going to share with you one of my favorite of his poems, a poem about the poet and one of his readings.  “To a Waterfowl,” should not to be confused with a similarly titled and mostly forgotten poem by the American poet William Cullen Bryant first published in 1818.  Yet, perhaps like Bryant’s poem, Hall speaks to the idea of being alone in the world.  Even more so now in that “unanticipated galaxy” of his final years on earth, wondering about the direction that poetry has taken him.  “Poems are image-bursts from brain-depths, words flavored by buttery long vowels,” he writes. “The sound of poems is sensual, even sexual.”


Women with hats like the rear ends of pink ducks
applauded you, my poems.
These are the women whose husbands I meet on airplanes,
who close briefcases and ask, “What are you in?”
I look in their eyes, I tell them I am in poetry,

and their eyes fill with anxiety, and with little tears.
“Oh, yeah?” they say, developing an interest in clouds.
“My wife, she likes that sort of thing?  Hah-hah?
I guess maybe I’d better watch my grammar, huh?”
I leave them in airports, watching their grammar,

and take a limousine to the Women’s Goodness Club
where I drink Harvey’s Bristol Cream with their wives,
and eat chicken salad with capers, with little tomato wedges,
and I read them “The Erotic Crocodile,” and “Eating You.”
Ah, when I have concluded the disbursement of sonorities,

crooning, “High on thy thigh I cry, Hi!” —and so forth—
they spank their wide hands, they smile like Jell-O,
and they say, “Hah-hah? My goodness, Mr. Hall,
but you certainly do have an imagination, huh?”
“Thank you, indeed,” I say; “it brings home the bacon.”

But now, my poems, now I have returned to the motel,
returned to l’eternel retour of the Holiday Inn,
naked, lying on the bed, watching Godzilla Sucks Mt. Fuji,
addressing my poems, feeling superior, and drinking bourbon
from a flask disguised to look like a transistor radio.

And what about you?  You, laughing?  You, in bluejeans,
laughing at your mother who wears hats, and at your father
who rides airplanes with a briefcase watching his grammar?
Will you ever be old and dumb, like your creepy parents?
Not you, not you, not you, not you, not you, not you.

* "To a Waterfowl," published in The Town of Hill (1975)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Stone Table - A Tribute to Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)

Galway Kinnell passed away at his farm in Sheffield, Vermont on October 28th.  He was 87.  “The Stone Table” is one of Galway Kinnell’s most recent collected poems and contains imagery also found in The Book of Nightmares dating back over forty years to the early phase of his career as a poet.  Unlike the despair pervading this earlier collection, the more recent poem  exudes hope even as the poet realizes his career and life are approaching their eventual end.  Describing “The Stone Table: “It feels very heavy. It is in bondage to narrative, familiar surfaces, and an expected outcome, a poem composed on earth,” in this instance, his farm in Sheffield, Vermont.  The stone table becomes a resting place that later meditates on the poet Donald Hall's daily trips to Jane Kenyon's grave near their home in Wilmot, NH, and to its ironic epitaph.  The stone table, at the poem’s conclusion, demonstrates the poet's own strong desire to remain fixed to earth. Sadly, Kinnell has flown free from us now, leaving us wanting.  Hall survives.


Here on the hill behind the house,
we sit with our feet up on the edge
of the eight-by-ten stone slab
that was once the floor of the cow pass
that the cows used, getting from one pasture
to the other without setting a hoof
on the dirt road lying between them.

From here we can see the blackberry thicket,
the maple sapling the moose slashed
with his cutting teeth, turning it
scarlet too early, the bluebird boxes
flown from now, the one tree left
of the ancient orchard popped out
all over with saffron and rosy,
subacid pie apples, smaller crabs grafted
with scions of old varieties, Freedom,
Sops-of-Wine, Wolf River, and trees
we put in ourselves, dotted with red lumps.

We speak in whispers: fifty feet away,
under a red spruce, a yearling bear
lolls on its belly eating clover.
Abruptly it sits up. Did I touch my wine glass
to the table, setting it humming?
The bear peers about with the bleary undressedness
of old people who have mislaid their eyeglasses.
It ups its muzzle and sniffs. It fixes us,
whirls, and plunges into the woods—
a few cracklings and shatterings, and all is still.

As often happens, we find ourselves
thinking similar thoughts, this time of a friend
who lives to the south of that row of peaks
burnt yellow in the sunset. About now,
he will be paying his daily visit to her grave,
reading by heart the words, cut into black granite,
that she had written for him, when they
both thought he would die first:
Or is he back by now, in his half-empty house,
talking in ink to a piece of paper?

I, who so often used to wish to float free
of earth, now with all my being want to stay,
to climb with you on other evenings to this stone,
maybe finding a bear, or a coyote, like
the one who, at dusk, a week ago, passed
in his scissorish gait ten feet from where we sat—
this earth we attach ourselves to so fiercely,
like scions of Sheffield Seek-No-Furthers
grafted for our lifetimes onto paradise root-stock.         

* "The Stone Table," published in Strong Is our Hold (2006), 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Autumn Coming and Going and Coming Again

This is an excerpt from a posting to my blogspot - Looking Toward Portugal - on October 10, 2014.  It was presented at the Iota Club & Cafe, in Arlington, Virginia, on the evening of October 12, 2014.

I am always keeping my eyes open for that first suggestion of autumn.  I spend my summers in Maine, and come August, just three short months after the trees begin to leaf out in spring, there are always a few maples with branch tips beginning to flare red.  It seems a bit curious to be swimming in a small lake while trees bordering its shores are already exhibiting the first flashes of color bespeaking the colder temperatures and cooling waters that can’t be that far off. 

September is the month when one feels what Truman Capote called the “first ripple chills of autumn,” when the fall colors arrive in earnest in northern New England.  The first to turn are the swampmaples and popple in low wet areas.  Then come the various shades of reds, oranges and russet among the red and sugar maples, scarlet oak, and sumac; the ash trees’ deep purple; the yellows among the popple, birch and willows; and finally the more subtle tans and browns among the oak, beech, and sycamore.  With these early chills the color increases almost daily in its proportions and brilliance. The leaf peepers also arrive around mid-month; they come, they look, and they are gone again by mid-October.  They have little understanding of the full evolution of a northern New England autumn.  It’s too bad they are unable or unwilling to experience its entire range and spectrum, from the onset of color as well as its evanescence.  I honestly believe that autumn in no more colorful, nor more awe-inspiring than it is in these northern climes.  For this reason alone I always try to postpone my annual trip south until after the autumn colors have reached their zenith. 

With the onset of the killing frosts of October the season is better disposed to the arrival of winter.  Cold rains will mute the colors, and as they fade, the leaves will quickly forsake the trees and fall to the ground much too soon.  Not all of the leaves will fall, however.  A few drained of their color will continue to flutter through the stiffening gusts of winter.  No surrender.  It is not uncommon for snow to fall by Halloween, first at the higher latitudes and elevations, but quickly enough snow is common place when November arrives.  The leaves are raked against foundations for insulation as houses and out buildings are tucked up for the winter.  The calendar may say it’s still autumn, but our senses tell us something different.  Truly a touching end to the briefest and most poignant of seasons.

Monday, March 11, 2013


       (You Probably Thought This Poem Was About You)

       Vermont is where philosophy professors go to summer,
        where poets and novelists hide in secluded cabins,
        cottages, trailers, sequestered in rooms with wood stoves,
        scribbling with pencils, tapping typewriters, staring
        at the ghosts on their computer screens.

        A philosopher poet sneaks into Vermont
        from the north, no flatlander seeking respite
        from Boston, Hartford, New York. He wanders
        down from Montréal, the mean streets of Maisonneuve,
        seeking solace in a Church Street bar
        far from any other philosophers and poets.

        Burlington’s businessmen drinks their beers,
        nurse a scotch and water, a dry martini.
        Some eye the pretty girl as she tends bar.
        The philosophical poet is happy to be here.
        “Mademoiselle, un autre biere si vous plait.”   
        He forgets he can order his beers in English,
        flirt with the barmaid who smiles, not telling
        him to fuck off in the language of love.

        At a corner table a young woman sits alone,
        sipping a glass of white wine and reading
        a dog-eared volume of Vincent Millay’s poetry.
        The poet cleverly inquires why she reads Millay.
        She smiles at him; does not tell him to fuck off.
        He sits, they eat, drink, and laugh through
        the evening, leaving the Church Street bar
        in the wee hours, footsteps hushed by the
        the wind-driven onslaught of snowflakes hexagonal.
        Strange how poetry seems to unlock all doors.

        Later the poet stares beyond her darkened window;
        the snow a hushed veil of urgent whiteness obscuring
        the lake and the vestiges of the Adirondacks beyond.
        Farther south the Taconic ridge where Vincent lived
        at Steepletop, where she died alone and where
        she now lies buried.  She did not hide away in Vermont,
        choosing Berkshire foothills over Green Mountains.
        All the poet sees from this window is the snow ticking
        in night shades, no three long mountains and a wood,
        no three islands in a bay.  There is only darkness.

        In the morning the poet heads north and homeward,
        along Lake Champlain and beside the Rivière Richelieu,
        homeward to the eastern precincts of Montréal.
        Who said it is Vermont where professors summer,
        where poets and novelists go to find a reasons to write?
        The poet can think only of a fleeting winter’s night of passion;
        of poor Vincent, her bones in death’s cruel embrace.
        In Maisonneuve he sits alone and tries to write a poem about it.
        “Mademoiselle, un autre biere si vous plait.”

Friday, December 21, 2012


                                         For my friend Michael Bernstein,
                                               murdered by terrorists, December 21, 1988

       The plane ascends beyond Heathrow.
        I stare out at the dimming countryside,
        as wing lights tick through clouds,
        rivulets of rain streaking my face's reflection.

        There is an explosive device beneath my seat,
        plastique wired to a timer, fused long
        to detonate in winter darkness.
        Soon my tattered flesh hangs
        from the bulkheads, bone and sinew
        vaporized in a heart's pulse.
        My eyes float through the broken fuselage.
        Wreckage and human carnage rain
        from the night sky, the whine of vertical velocity
        masking the screams of those still living,
        if only for a few moments longer.
        I ask myself why.   
        I have hurt no one, offended no one.
        Yet I am a victim of invisible terrorists.
        They do not know me, they will never know me.
        I no longer exist.  They have seen to that.
        But I know them. (I have always known them).
        They cannot remain invisible forever.
        My eyes are still floating, watching

Monday, December 10, 2012

Williston Road (Fathers & Sons)

                        Te szegény, szegény.
                        [You poor man, you poor man.]
                             "Nem én kiáltok," Attila József

                    fifty years ago
                    his eye fixated
                    dark vacant stare
                    two steel barrels
                    silent & not vacant
                    trigger gently fingered
                    squeezed firmly
                    & eternity rushed in
                    his disappearance
                    echoed along Wood River
                    passing beyond Sawtooths
                    who was he
                    avatar for all fathers
                    who look at their sons
                    pondering & wondering
                    how they failed them
                    wanting desperately
                    not to fail them
                    one more time

                    many times I traveled
                    down Williston Road
                    once while a storm
                    blew in off the Gulf
                    once in a swamp fog
                    once on a gibbous moon
                    waning & questioning
                    why you also chose
                    to disappear shedding
                    family & friends
                    suddenly & so easily
                    gone yet in plain view
                    many times I traveled
                    down this long road

                    traveling Williston Road
                    this time the last time
                    there will be no explanation
                    to my question why
                    no words at all this time
                    a plastic esophagus
                    offering bagged nutrients
                    respirator a constant clicking

                    returning home now
                    this painfully familiar road
                    its skirtings of live oak
                    burdened with Spanish moss
                    approaching storms
                    swamp fogs & moons
                    whether waning or waxing       
                    all soon to be forgotten
                    once blue edged flame
                    has taken all that remained
                    to its final disappearance

Friday, December 7, 2012


                        Birds call us into the moment.
                                Victor Emanuel

                    at every compass point
                    fog gauzes horizons
                    northward Egg Rocks
                    sulking stone rookeries
                    westward bay’s edges
                    southward open water
                    thousands of miles only
                    sea its many mysteries
                    eastward Monhegan Island
                    somewhere mist growing
                    thicker we sail deeper
                    our bow quickly scatters
                    delicate-legged storm-petrels
                    rafting in gentle seas
                    dancing across waters
                    separated into oblique
                    gray-green sea foam
                    levitating wings arced
                    facing vertical wind gradients
                    above wavelets they patter
                    surface film foraging food
                    plankton tiny crustaceans
                    fishing boats chummed detritus
                    white-patched rumps flashing
                    undertails as they skim
                    skitter in every direction
                    dark wing points meeting water
                    they disappear into fog
                    reappearing in different places
                    to dance again disappear again
                    Gorky called them streaks of black
                    lightning soaring proud free
                    over gray sea plains
                    gregarious pelagic tempest
                    messengers shunning land
                    preferring migrating life
                    soon they depart these waters
                    returning south nesting rocks
                    Tierra del Fuego & South Georgia
                    distant antarctic climes
                    as lifting fog dissolves
                    channel buoys clang & moan
                    gull screech & cackle announcing
                    slow approach to Monhegan
                    Duck Rocks & Smutty Nose reveal
                    shadowy waterlines to starboard
                    to port darkening shores hint
                    early morning sun reveals
                    storm-petrels disappearing
                    taking little interest in landfalls

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Maples Leaves

                            For Hugh MacLennan

                    sun setting beyond
                    the Citadel
                    fair Nova Scotia
                    with stars visible
                    & a quarter moon
                    over the Maritimes

                    farther west sun
                    dips behind Montréal
                    steep shadows sent
                    across city canyons
                    frozen St Lawrence
                    snow & ice
                    turned crimson
                    arboreal apparitions
                    dark along its banks
                    & all the while deep
                    waters pour seaward
                    across Québec
                    draining Great Lakes
                    into a dark Atlantic

                    sun passing westward
                    Ontario anomalous land
                    sprawling northern wastes
                    timber & rock & water
                    only animal footfalls
                    maniacal loon cries
                    towns tied together
                    by thin steel rails
                    cold macadam

                    prairies almost endless
                    Manitoba plains afternoon
                    bluish snow muted
                    & wind a continuous flux
                    scouring long drifts
                    over frozen seeds
                    of Saskatchewan wheat
                    through lonesome coulees
                    into the Cypress Hills

                    Alberta beyond
                    to the Rockies
                    & beyond them
                    British Columbia
                    & its island coda

                    a nation formed
                    Atlantic in the east
                    Pacific in the west
                    an unborn mightiness
                    unknown to itself