Category Archives: Not Real Poetry

The Good Old Days—Very Old

Good old days poster

And they’re so white!

Here in America we’re in that famous period when thoughtful people who have a hopeful power to inspire us present well-considered discussions of possible ways to solve our problems . . .  Ha ha ha ha! Of course not. We’re having a Presidential election.

Sometimes during elections I like to examine the rhetoric candidates are using, to look for patterns or to bring to the fore some of the unspoken assumptions. This year, however, since one of our parties has held up its middle finger to America and nominated a man who literally goes off raving on a daily basis, what’s the point of rhetorical analysis? Crude personal insults don’t need analysis.

Instead, I wrote a poem. This is for the little Trumpster. Or rather it’s for the people who vote for him. Donald Trump is not actually afraid, he just pretends to be. He’s lying about that, too.

It’s Too Late!

I heard the fearful calling,
wearing ties on TV, frowning.
They were red-faced, arms were waving,
angry tweets on Twitter, spreading.
We must dig holes and hide.
We must hide,
we must hide.

The fearful see the evil
in the sunshine and the moonlight.
They understand the danger
if night should follow day.
We must build a wall and hide.
We must hide,
we must hide.

The fearful run from strangers
who might hurt them, make them ill,
disturb them with their language,
way of worship, who they love.
We must keep them out and hide.
We must hide,
We must hide.

The fearful fear the future,
hate the present, love the past,
when everything was perfect,
but now ruined and spoiled and gone.
We must stand strong but hide.
We must hide,
we must hide.

I heard the fearful calling,
looking sad, depressed, and scared,
crying, “Everything is lost!
And now what will we do?”
We must close our eyes and hide.
We must hide,
we must hide.

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No, Not That New York

painting of man drinking tea

Slowly

Did I ever talk about my alternate life where everything I wear is silk, all wine is good wine, I can choose a different super power every day, and my cell phone always has a clear signal? I can’t remember if I mentioned this.

So anyway, yesterday as I was picking out a yellow silk shirt, I thought “Today my super power will be that everything I eat will taste like spicy onion rings.” I know it doesn’t sound that super, but some days I just don’t feel like fighting evil. Don’t you have days like that? And anyway, spicy onion rings—don’t tell me you’re not wishing for that super power.

Because I am also kind and generous and it doesn’t cost me anything, I wanted to do something for you, so I wrote you a poem about my fabulous life, to let you share it in your small, really small, infinitesimally tiny, way. You don’t need to thank me. I already know how you feel. That’s my super power for today.

How to Drink Green Tea

I will go to my private New York,
where stars will rain on me
like showers of light,
golden glitter pouring from the sky.
I will dance
the way a scirocco
whirls across the desert.

I will go to my private New York,
where the young at heart
will consider me deep and wise,
and the old at heart
will call me daring and wild.
I will smile like Greta Garbo,
walk through rooms like Fred Astaire,
and sing lines from tragic operas
with a voice like ultraviolet.

I will go to my private New York,
where I will sew clothing from rainbows.
I will stitch the hems with a crescent moon,
line the jacket with the songs of wolves,
and fold up a sunset for a hat.
I will stroll like a parade
that happens wherever I walk.

I will go to my private New York,
to invent floral ways of thinking.
I will create new languages out of moonlight,
and when I speak,
each sentence will contain an entire month.
I will consult with philosophers and witch doctors
on the best way to cure melancholy,
and I will drink green tea
in the evenings.

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It Is All Us

two girls in a grassy fieldLast year (i.e., a couple of weeks ago), I was sitting with my daughter in an Indian restaurant, where, it now seems to me, we were in a contest over which of us was going to eat more of the bowl of hot chili sauce that had been brought to the table. While we were there, she also played me a short video on her phone of a man reciting a poem that she liked. I don’t remember what it was, or who he was, and maybe it was partly the way he recited it, but the poem caught my attention and made me want to write something under its influence.

What I ended up with is below. I’m sure I didn’t come near to imitating my model, but this was as close as I could get. Nevertheless, I’ve had some positive reactions to this poem, which emboldens me to put it here. And if it is not to your taste, well, God bless you for having taste in the first place.

We Can Do This

Take my hand
and we can do this.
We can look at a world on fire around us
and see people walking in green spaces.
Instead of broken bricks and hearts,
we can see parks laid out in curving lines,
with benches for resting,
ponds for fish and birds,
and sloping hills for children to roll down.

Take my hand
and we can do this.
We can find those who are ill and pale
and lift them into the bold optimism of health.
We can watch sick children stand,
hands out for toys,
unsure of why they were lying down in the first place.

Take my hand
and we can do this.
We can calm harsh and broken breathing
until it flows like clouds across a quiet sky.
We can hear our own breath move in like peace,
and move out like the healing of spirits.
We can learn to breathe in ways
that show us what is hidden.

Take my hand
and we can do this.
We can hear music when children shout,
people say hello on the street,
store clerks greet customers,
friends talk at dinner,
wives and husbands whisper of things,
old people talk about that day long ago,
and we can hear music
when our own voices speak.

Take my hand
and we can do this.
We can see art when the wind blows,
turning tall grass into magic wands,
with a spell on the end of each.
We can feel art by touching a cold window,
recognizing the magic of two worlds,
one inside another.
We can taste art in cinnamon and lemon and pepper,
as every amazing flavor
creates a new reality.
We can smell art in sawdust
as it floats out in the sunlight,
while the polished wood is silent about its own mystery.

Take my hand
and we can do this.
We can understand
that the distant bird in the sky is us,
that the music coming from an open doorway is us,
that a tree on the other side of the world is us,
that the words of a poem are us.
It is all us.
Take my hand.

Matisse dancers

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I’ll Be Gone a Little While

painting of woman at window

Don’t stop waiting

There is a pronounced tendency these days, among both poetry readers and poets themselves, to think that poetry is supposed to be about the poet. If we read a short story in which a character says, “I hated my father”, it’s that character speaking. If we read a poem in which the narrator says the same thing, we think “Wow, this poet hated his father.” Almost no one seems to recognize the possibility that poetry might be fictional.

So before you read the poem below, I want to clearly make the point that I have not been released from jail on multiple occasions. And feel free to use this poem as needed to help win over the object of your affections.

The Next Time I Get Out of Jail

The next time I get out of jail,
I’ll buy you a pretty dress,
then steal a car and come to you,
just to hear you whisper “yes”.

We’ll celebrate the darkness
with noise and colored lights
and rum and Coke and cigarettes,
with pistol shooting in the night.

The next time I get out of jail,
I’ll bring a case of beer.
When I’ve drunk half and you’ve drunk half,
I’ll whisper in your ear.

Then naked at the window,
we’ll throw chairs out on the lawn.
We’ll sing songs about the Devil
and his cheerful crimson spawn.

The next time I get out of jail,
I’ll wait for a lunar eclipse,
so I can arrive in darkness
to kiss your amazing lips.

Then when the town grows quiet,
we’ll get an open jeep,
turn our music crazy loud,
drive slowly down the street.

The next time I get out of jail,
I hope I’ll look the same
so you can recognize me
when I stand and pray your name.

I’ll write a book about you,
based almost on the facts,
how every time I went away,
you knew that I’d be back.

Next week I will be in Ireland, the graceful land of green and Guinness. I will try to post something from there, but if I do, it will be done from my phone, so don’t be looking for the usual elegant writing of pensive melancholy and wry wit. I’ll be busy with green stuff and Guinness. And if I do not post anything, I’ll be back in two weeks.

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Even If I Never Find It

snowy field

Still looking

I think it’s time to occupy blog space with another poem, before we get back to the serious business of…oh, well…of whatever it is I do here. I’m sure it must be serious, though. If it wasn’t serious, it wouldn’t be in a blog, would it?

I’ve noticed that I seem to have a thing about dragons, and I don’t mean the fun-scary good luck kind from China. (Or I’m just guessing about that good luck reference; maybe I made that up.) Recently I’ve been looking over some short stories I’ve written in the last few years, and I find that I have one about dragons, another in which imaginary dragons are referred to, and a third that opens with a metaphor of a dragon.

Maybe this dragon obsession was because when I was a kid a dragon flew down and burned up our house. I’m not lying. It also kidnapped my cousin Linda, and we had to find a noble knight to go and get her back. That wasn’t easy to find a knight in those days, with no Craigslist.

In writing this poem, I didn’t feel bound by reality, which made it more fun to write. So the images are not true, but paradoxically, the poem itself is true. In order to express some truths, it’s necessary to use a poetic language that tries to pull us out beyond the dull weight of logic and language, out to the weightless space where some realities exist. This poem is, in the end, as true as any poem I’ve written.

You Can Keep Everything Else

I want more dragons in my life.
I want that flame and thunder,
the covert caverns treasure-filled,
the yellow eyes that make me wonder.

I’ve looked in open snowy fields
or the darker parts of churches.
To find the things that dragons bring
requires some cryptic searches.

I’m willing to walk on winding roads
where nothing is in sight.
I want what’s different, secret, strange,
honest by day or taken at night.

It’s a life of smoke and distance
where the papers don’t get signed,
but when you finally smell that fire,
the songs are epic and the singer blind.

Then I’ll drink the wine of a gypsy
who asks if you want what’s true,
or would you rather be happy?
He shrugs, and it’s up to you.

Some days I’ll wake up not alone,fire burning
some days I’ll wake up cold,
but I’ll never wake up thinking
it’s too late and I’ve grown old.

I intend to climb the treasure
to look the dragon in the eye,
and if it chooses to burn me,
that’s how I choose to die.

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For My Next Exquisite Reading

dramatic man

As I dramatically read the poems

There must have been grand events happening somewhere on the earth this week—no doubt there were weddings where the bride wore gold coins, sudden epiphanies in biochemistry labs that brought tears to the eyes of researchers, art gallery openings where the artist felt his heart was beating on the canvas.

My own week was more modest, and yet… I read to a roomful of people who had come to hear poetry, who in fact had paid to hear poetry (true, it was only a $5 fee, but a person could buy an extremely cheap bottle of wine for that). Cultured, literate people as these were, however, rather than drink cheap wine, they came to hear the two featured poets read at Callanwolde Arts Center, an old mansion now converted to better things than sheltering rich people.

In addition to me, the other person reading poetry was Ricks Carson, who read after me and who had a lovely poem about blackberry bushes, in which a bush declares its readiness to let Jesus pick berries. I had never met Ricks before, and we chatted a bit before and after. We were the stars, after all, which people could tell because we both had on long red velvet capes and fine boots of embossed Spanish leather…

No, wait, that was something else I went to. Actually, I wore a red shirt with a red scarf draped around my neck. A scarf is part of my generic poet outfit. I think every performer should have an outfit, like Buddy Holly or the early Beatles.

The reading took place in the old library of the mansion, a building that’s rather striking visually, with both wood and stone carved into decorative patterns, and inside the large room where one first enters—the grand hall, as it were—there is a fairly impressive set of curving wooden stairs leading to the second floor. Of course now that the place is an arts center, little girls taking ballet classes will on occasion run up and down those stairs. The former library where the poetry readings happen looks out large windows to the front terrace.

When I first arrived on Wednesday, I was early, naturally, and even though it was my intention to get there before the audience, I walked into the empty room and thought, “Oh, shit, I hope people show up.” I decided to set my expectation low, to hope for fifteen people, but by the time I began to read, in my red poet outfit, the room was actually rather full, at least 30 people, perhaps. We’re not talking a rock concert here.

It was fun, just fun, to stand there and read poems to people who kindly created the illusion of being enthralled (which I define as “eyes not closed”). I do have enough poems that don’t embarrass me to read in public when I’m pretending to be a real poet (different from going to an open mic event—then any howl about lost love will do). I also feel very comfortable in front of a group of people, so that I can joke and play a bit, and I read well. With twenty years as a college professor, I have professed my way to this.

When the poetry reading was over, I was pleased—and you would be, too, I bet—that five or six people made a point of waiting to speak to me and tell me they enjoyed hearing something I read. One of my goals for this reading was simply to promote myself, to try to get people to know who I am, as more books are yet to come. In addition, I was trying to push the current novel, The Illusion of Being Here, so that I took books to sell, as well as the poster of the cover that I made a couple of months ago. I did sell two copies, so hey, I’m giving myself an award for success on that. Beer for everyone who lives in my house!

As a final small bit of coolness, the entrance fee was shared between the two poets and the arts center, so between that and book sales, I came home with an extra $43. I got paid for reading poetry. How rare is that? And I found a dragon’s tooth in the parking lot.

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Now I Remember

forget-me-not flowers

Forget-me-nots

Let’s assume, just for the sake of theory, not that this could have happened to you, that you fell in love with someone and then it wasn’t as perfect as you thought it was going to be.

Myself, of course, I’ve only read about such things. But theoretically, suppose you were in love with someone, and it was the best thing you have ever known in your life, and yet…at the same time it was like being dragged to death behind a Roman chariot. Would you want to remember it or forget it?

What does the mind do with such emotional whirlpools of memory? Truly, isn’t such an experience, whatever the topic may be, an unavoidable part of being human? Maybe we try to remember the good parts and elevate them to some Holy Temple of Sweet Recall, while banishing the rest to that cerebral purgatory where things like high school go.

At any rate, we wish we could do that, control our memories so as to celebrate the good parts and drop out the rest. In this blog entry I’m brushing past that dilemma with a poem recently completed.

The Garden of Forgetting

Some days I think of walking down
to the Garden of Forgetting.
It runs along the river
with forget-me-nots and metal sculptures
by an Italian whose name I don’t recall.
The last time I went into the garden
I had been thinking about a splendid day
with a woman I was in love with.

Some days I think of walking down
to the Garden of Forgetting,
or did I tell you that?
It has paved walks and benches
where you can sit while everything slips away.
The last time I was there
I tried to remember a conversation,
but all that was left was how I felt
when I heard “we don’t belong together”.

Some days I think of walking down
to the Garden of Forgetting.
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this before.
I was sitting on a bench there
looking at the strange sculptures,
and who knows where those came from.
In my mind I saw a street,
pleasant and shady, where I used to walk.
I had a feeling someone once walked with me,
yet when I recalled it,
I was walking alone.

There’s a garden in our town,
maybe you’ve heard of it,
called the Garden of Forgetting.
I’m thinking of going there.
I heard it’s beautiful.
If that’s true, I’d like to see it.
There’s nothing wrong with my apartment,
just little things that aren’t worth recalling.
I believe there used to be someone else here,
as it feels kind of empty now.
But I forget.

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Like a Preacher at Work

steam trainIt’s remarkable how many things people do as poetry. I’ve regularly attended readings here in the city at three different venues, and they’re like the difference between jazz, bluegrass, and a string quartet, and that still doesn’t include any long epics over a feast of roasted mutton after pillaging Troy. Poetry can go from Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” to T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (that is, from coherent to not quite so). I think poetry is alive and well, in spite of the efforts of some poets and academics to seal it off from common people.

Being one of the common people, during my lunch hour at work I occasionally scribble about on poems. I like having something creative to play with, as it gives the day a greater interest. Lately the style of poetry I’m working with has moved toward deliberately fantastic imagery, without any clear intention to tell a coherent story. In the poem below, there is no secret meaning behind the lines, and it can mean what you make of it. Think of a character from the movie “Casablanca” dancing across the screen, winking mysteriously at the camera, making us think “What was that about?” That’s this poem.

Someone by the Sea

Like a train come down from Heaven
blowing smoke along the line,
like the curls of God’s black beard,
rolling, roiling, out in billows,
the train stopped at Roscoe Station
and stood there hard and tall.

Standing on the platform
holding her worn blue hat,
Belinda Rose smelled smoke and coughed,
and thought of Jesus on the cross.
Beside her was her luggage
as tall as Jesus stood.
She looked at those bags on the platform,
then turned and climbed into the train.

The engine hummed like a jazz crescendo,
quivered like a preacher at work,
vibrating off and on like quarks
that exist, now they don’t, now they do.
Belinda Rose took a velvet seat,
removed her shoes,
and dreamed of sleep.

The steward came slowly down the aisle
selling laughter and weeping and sighs,
and with baskets of bright, subtle roses.
Every fifteen minutes,
or sixteen whenever he smiled,
he paused to double his prices,
calling “Now is the time to buy!”

Belinda Rose bought a single blue rose
in memory of her name,
then she took the name off,
became “Someone”
and tossed her name out in the snow.

Someone looked out the window.
Someone looked pensive as well.
She thought of the town she had come from
where the houses were always on fire,
where children were taught to walk with one foot,
a town where time would flow backwards,
then stop and flow forward again.

When morning came, in the early light
Someone saw trees decorated
with glitter and beads and gold balls,
and the fondest desires of the heart
wrapped in petite paisley bows.
The train rolled by an ocean
as green as emerald eyes,
where the fish sang songs about water.
The clouds sailed by like songbooks,
and the air was like jasmin tea.
Until they arrived at the place where they were,
and they stopped in that spot by the sea.

Then Someone climbed down from train,
took off her hat and released it.Blue hat

And Someone,
softly,
walked away.

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Drop by Drop

people in rainThis week I received a copy of the literary magazine Kenyon Review in the mail. Apparently at some point I entered a contest with them, which I paid for, and my consolation for the usual result (I lose) was a few copies of the magazine. Because I barely find time to read novels, I don’t normally read the magazines, but this time I read a bit, and among my browsing I started a poem.

Maybe I could have tried harder. I read a page—and pardon me if I think I’m not a stupid reader—but after a page I thought “what the fuck is this about?” Like so much modern poetry that I’ve read, it seemed like it was supposed to mean something, only I was too dumb to understand it. So I stopped reading.

Will it seem irritating to you, or even obnoxious, when I post a poem below that exceeds reality? The difference, I believe, is that in this case, when the poem seems strange and surrealistic, it’s supposed to. That’s it. Don’t try to make more of it. Think of it as reading a kaleidoscope. Think of it as eating a bowl of dictionary while stoned.

Waiting For Rain

She stands on the tide as it rolls,
her hair full of sparks from a storm.
She was born as a child of warm soil,
yet she feels more at home in cold water.
The bright smile she shows me at noon
seemed cryptic that morning in mist.

She seems to remember the stories
of babies who wake up their mothers
with whispers about other worlds,
where you almost know something is real.
Some things she secretly writes down,
hoping that angels will read it,
waiting to hear their sad sighs.

She won’t speak unless the rain falls.
Then her voice is like silver and gin.
I’m putting out buckets and waiting for rain.
There’s things I don’t know
and things to be gained.

The smell of cinnamon hurts her eyes,
and diamonds make her weak.
When I tell her how lovely she sounds,
she shows me the knife in her boot,
but unlike the knife in my pocket,
hers only cuts in the dark.

She has a jar of buttons
from clothing she wore in the sun.
She takes out the buttons at night
and holds them a while in the dark,
while she sits naked and shivering.
The buttons are shaped like the future,
and she squeezes them tight in her fist.

She won’t speak unless the rain falls.
Then her voice is like silver and gin.
I’m putting out buckets and begging for rain.
There’s things I don’t know
And things to be gained.

She’s helpful and lovely and wise,
except for the odd-numbered days
when she sulks about cars that are green.
She’s wild and she’s free and she’s absent.
I’ve learned not to question those moods.
She watches the water with interest,
and sometimes she looks at the boat.

I’ve collected the buckets,
I’m waiting for rain.
There’s things I don’t know
And much to be gained.

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Birds Betwittering Between the Bushes

limesWhile we speak of birds, I’ve heard that crows like things that glitter. I somewhat like things that glitter myself. Plus I dress all in black sometimes. Humans have something else in common with crows (besides me). We like audio glitter, little sparkles of sound that catch the attention. Repetition does this, and that repetition is so popular we’ve even made up special words to describe different varieties.

When the repetition is at the end of words, for instance “dumbo” and “jumbo” (and I don’t mean you), obviously we call that “rhyme”. The repetition of sound can also occur at the beginning of a word, which we call “alliteration”. It’s very popular, but these days in America alliteration seems to be used mostly for naming businesses: Dunkin Donuts, Kwik Kopy, Krispy Kreme, Best Buy, Circuit City.

In the artistic revolution of the 20th century, when the rules for pretty much everything went to hell, form in poetry (in English, at least) was abandoned, and yes, I know, not everyone followed the rule to have no rules. Robert Frost held out. Still, one of the mainstays of English poetry for hundreds of years—rhyme—was generally thrown away.

Long before rhyme ruled, the alternative audio glitter of alliteration was the popular technique in English poetry. I’m talking about Old English poetry, not Shakespeare (who is considered modern), but waaaay old English, the time of Beowulf. More than 1,000 years ago. At that time it was popular to create poetry in which individual lines used as much alliterative repetition as possible.

A couple of months ago I began a poem while sitting in a meeting, bored to death, and the first line came out with alliteration. That gave me the idea to try it on the whole poem. (Note: it’s hard as hell to write like this.) Here it is.

Two Margaritas

A lonely amber light lies on the rolling land.
Outside the airplane window, wind blows the clouds away.
Silent, sitting thinking, Sam sees sunlight on a lake.
Far above, he feels the weight of his forsaken heart.

With a drink on her deck as the dusk falls,
Susannah sees the swallows swoop above the lake.
Glancing up, she gazes at the glimmer from the plane.
Somber-eyed, she sighs, and slowly takes a drink.

A cup of coffee in the air, the cart comes down the aisle.
Two more hours to Tucson, to an empty hotel room.
Back behind in Boston, no beloved waits, none calls.
Whether home or hotel room, he hates the hollow hours.

For Susannah, love felt safe, so satisfied, so sure,
until Ray taught her otherwise and told her he was tired.
Now she knows, and knows too well, that nothing’s guaranteed.
Belief betrayed her, broke her heart, brought empty, sleepless nights.

Sam throws his thoughts ahead, thinks about the evening.
He wants to walk into his room, abandon work and worry,
find a Mexican restaurant, maybe make it to a movie.
While streetlights glow, like stars below, across the sweep of land.

Susannah rises to the rail, where watery rays of light reflect.
She doesn’t like the demons here, she thinks she’ll drive downtown.
She’s in the mood for Mexican food, she might take in a movie.
While streetlights glow, like stars in a row, across the sweep of land.

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