Rockaway

I was swimming the other day
Along the coast of the Rockaway Peninsula
When a flock of hundreds of birds
Came in low out of nowhere
Eyes dark and determined

And then I thought of François Mitterrand
How he served thirty Ortolan buntings
For one of his last meals, how they are
Caught alive, blinded, force-fed and drowned in Armagnac
So as to be killed and marinated in one fell swoop

I have never been this close to so many birds
See how they dare make themselves available
In the silvery, silent end of season
So majestic and yet so at hand
The significance if which, I have decided,

Is more than just this

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Made by Human Hand

Open doors distract me
Closed doors confine
It’s hard to find a door
That I don’t seem to mind
 
I like the simplicity
Of these ancient quarters
Walls white as snow
Floors dark as water
 
Revolutions take all colors
Even hurricanes have names
Dictators claim the benefit of doubt
But their dead are still the same
 
Searching the stars above
Led to only earthly treasures
So I read my King James Bible
For its smell of burgundy leather
 
It takes such limpid rhymes
Regret comes second-hand
Man’s search for tangible beauty
For things not made by human hand

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Swimmingly

Here, where the surface
Cuts everything in mercurial halves,
I look at life
From both sides, now

Clouds drifting by
The sun on the water
Drawing my shadow on the ocean bed
Ink of sand, salvaged from Plato’s pen

Frail, flickering, down there
In the chicken wire of reflections
But my, how my arms are still strong
Like the legs of a young woman

Dancing, I who never danced
Hustling, I who never hustled
As if they were the only arms
In the food chain.

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The Problem With Literature

The problem with literature is, essentially
That a good poem looks a lot like a bad
(Even as a good doctor
Might wear the lab coat of a quack)

Good and bad poems share that same
Monochrome mess of letters
Strewn across the page
At times

With rhymes
(Though, with The New Yorker, that’s a corker)
But, really, there is no way to tell
Except by reading.

Some poems have line breaks
As sensible as shoes
Some                           have
Not                                e.e.

Still, that might be a modern poem
(Even as a hipster chef
Might wear the jacket of a hot-dog vendor)
And it could be one darling of a poem

But you can’t know for sure
Until you have read it
And by then,
Like swallowing a bad oyster,

It’s too late.
Unlike oysters, however,
You can return to that same poem
Decades later only to realize

That you — yes, you!
Are no longer the same
And that’s why we need
The problem with literature.

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Sonnet 1

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919
Killed twenty-one men and a closet queen
It was ten years before the stock market crash
But stuck in molasses, you don’t think about cash

Horses were trapped in the sticky mess
And very nice people shot them to death
Even the elevated train was destroyed
What a let-down for Sigmund Freud!

The tank was filled just to spite Prohibition
The country, like the booze, was in bad condition
It’s amazing what a population will entertain
To keep their supply of fermented grain
But the lesson to be learned is that tacky goo
Should be in kept in small jars labeled “George W”

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Sonnet 2

It’s a blind date, and they say lovers don’t eat
But I buy crustaceans and bake bread, whole wheat
I cook a stew in this huge oven of mine
While you’re on your way, taking your time

And then I see your face—you’re a vegetarian!
So I whip up a feast quite unbarbarian
Made of the choiciest organic ingredients
Just to show I adhere to experiments

I may not be the man of your dreams
But I know how to sizzle ‘em Boston baked beans
I may not be tall and handsome enough
But I serve Champagne Pierre Leboeuf
And if this night doesn’t end as I planned
At least I’ll have won your digestive gland

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A Prairie Home Companion

A brief note: I have been invited to make an appearance on “A Prairie Home Companion” on May 10, 2014.

The show is live from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. I won’t even try to explain what the Ryman means to me. Tune in and see what we come up with.

You can listen to the show live (and later) here:

http://prairiehome.publicradio.org

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