Uncollected Poems


1966 to the present





 

 

Disaster

Something is wrong.  The telephone rings.
You don’t say what.  Only meet you
At home.  Is there still a home?
Or a hole?  My coat is half-way on.
The day is cold and windy, clear as a Sunday.
I can smell the coffee factory, and pleasure
Comes to me with breathing, impossible to reject.
On the train, I force myself to think of disaster.
We come out of a tunnel, and height calls to me
Across the river from houses where you could be drawing curtains,
Merely watching motes in the sunlight.
Yet, when you said my name just now, you apologized
And something in me perceives what I can’t understand,
Knows it is something.

What do I know of disaster?
After the meeting, the women take their cars.
We go out of the house.  The cat is dead.
He is shoveled up, and we get another.
Or at lunch, we are eating, and a friend
Suddenly calls on us, her face
Bloody from falling off a bicycle.
More?  I even know you slept with someone in a truck,
But you said it was a large truck.
And were you pinched in the subway?
We will learn to think of it as having happened.
Bad things can be replaced in the memory, outlived.  I think.
I hit the tunnel, searching for the root
Of a mountain, and have thoughts of Rh negative,
But vow that problem too is solvable.
I have ended, after all, more difficult works
Than a small baby.  It will breathe––
New blood!  Illogic!  Bad construction!  My mind wrestling
With the problem will solve it in an evening.

When in love, one knows how the beloved will look
When speaking certain things.  News of
Her own death, even.  Love is new pain.
The mind allows disasters, beyond what fate
Cooks up:  Cancer.  “Cancer?” I say,
Knowing even I could not cure cancer
Even for you.  But if you leave me
And die, can’t we still see Europe?
And swim together at least another summer?
I know the disease is relatively slow.
There will be time to think:  it will not happen.




from The Household (1966)



The Personals

My wife reads them.  She wants to keep abreast of what’s available
Like a person who owns a house but still follows real estate.
I imagine her back on the market, because I’ve died
Or I’ve slept through garbage day again
Or one fatal time too often I’ve turned away in our bed
Insisting on the right of a depressed, anxious person
To freedom from happiness––
The happiness she is always trying to give me.
And how would she advertise?  Humorous, carefree man needed
For a life without inexplicable descents?

When she comes back exhilarated from evening class
And tells me all the dirty jokes she’s heard in carpool
Like the one about “How do you know if elephants have been
    copulating in your backyard at night?”
And she turns to me in the dark and tells me she has the hots for me
And I just want to be alone in my bitterness
And she just wants to romp with someone in her liveliness
I think of the personals

                                            And I surrender
Though I’ll be damned if I’ll talk to her
And I concentrate on stretching apart my toes
And letting the pleasure sparks dart around between them.

She doesn’t seem to notice how furiously quiet I am
And anyway, I’m not furious
I’m a sour, sensitive thirty-five-year-old writer/teacher
Searching for an attractive, even-tempered woman interested in the arts

And as well-mated as I’ll ever be
I drop off to sleep.  In the morning she rises to our son’s first cries
And I rise to the groan of the garbage truck
And think about nothing I was so blackly thinking of last night
Except how you can know elephants have been copulating in the
    backyard

Because you get up in the morning and find that some of the trash can
    liners are missing.



To My Father, In Palm Beach

Yesterday must have gladdened the hearts
Of all you Floridians.  Snow clotted the sky.
Trees bowed to the ground and died.
It was like something out of Snowbound
Or Currier and Ives.  Like the blizzard of ’48
In the photograph of Grandma
With a dead blackbird on her head
Eyes squinting in the snow-glare
Holding the rope attached to my sled
And me sitting on it––a plump, snow-suited god.

Last night I took Becky out to the woodpile
Snow so high she swam in it
A fat dark form against moonlit drifts.
A black dog we didn’t know
Came up to us and licked our faces.
It was hard hauling the logs
And stumbling past the buried house
Patches of light spreading across the snow
I felt shadowy all of a sudden
Like one of her early memories.

If Mom were alive, I bet she’d telephone
Right after the national weather report
And laughingly invite us South.  Still
Your oranges came and we were touched.
Sun Golds.  Huge orange pills
To keep us from all harm.




from The Personals (1982)




Animal Locomotion

Plate #197:  a man and a woman are waltzing
A couple of measures, their embrace
Fractured into milliseconds
Like the fleeting feelings that flit across the heart
Impossible to catch.  The page
Looks like a contact sheet,
Just small differences from frame to frame
In the swing of the long dress, the dark
Coattail, the angle of the shadow the woman
Casts on the man’s face.  Mounted in a zoepraxiscope,
The couple would waltz forever, “limited,” as Muybridge put it,
“Only by the patience of the viewer.”  But here,
In twenty-four frames we see thin slices of their time
In each other’s arms.  The inner infinity.
Like those cross sections of a human body I once saw
Mounted between sheets of glass on the stairway of the Museum of Science
    and Industry,
The body sliced crosswise and so thin––that’s the way time is sliced here,
As if each moment deserves a salute, as it does during love.

On other pages we see leopards stalking
And elephants loping, and naked men
Swinging bats and pole-vaulting, and naked women
Balancing water buckets, or descending stairs
With metronome needles taped to their sacroiliacs
In their animal motion.  But here a man and a woman are waltzing
In their clothes, like twenty-four couples at a dance.
The body has not much changed.  Those water globules
And sinews since splashed into dissolution
Are the same as in any Y locker room
Coming into being and dying.  But these two are clothed
In time.  The black suit.  The floor-length gingham dress.
In every frame they are beautiful:
In 3 their clasped, raised hands obscure his thoughtful downward glance.
In 7 they are both in profile, as though hurrying
To collide.  In 9 her smile
Begins to emerge from shadow like a new moon.
In 17 a great wind seems to blow her east,
And only his arm locked around her waist, and his chin above her shoulder,
Keeps even the tip of her shoe still touching the ground.

Though by 24 they have come apart a little.
Oh, this was the time when time began
To be counted in seconds, and love
Was first anatomized.  The man and woman
Joined together in their intoxicating waltz,
A lifetime in two bars, and then a parting,
As always.  But Muybridge makes us see
What has always been there but invisible.  The horse
Lifting all four hoofs off the ground at the top
Of each gallop.  And the moment
When the man and the woman
Were bound together before their parting
In infinite tenderness, empathy, and amusement––
Within their century
And its millions upon millions of split seconds.




from Anniversary (1992)





The Household (1966) was published in New York City by Columbia Review Press in an edition of  320 copies.

The Personals (1982) was published in Tucson, Arizona by Yarrow Press.

Anniversary (1992) was published by Chekhov & Co. in Framingham, Massachusetts with six color laser prints by Nan Hass Feldman.