Burningword Literary Journal

My tercet just published by Burningword. Lots of fun to write.

No Strings Attached

In Darwin,
Minnesota
the biggest ball

of twine
is unencumbered
by human

frailty.
No discontented lovers
struggling with rope

burn
anxious to be free.
No lasso-

twirling cowpokes
waiting in ambush
for that special

someone.
No timber-hitched
twosomes and threesomes

double knotted
like old sneakers.
No families

held together
by spit
and slip

knots.
Just a ball of
purposeless string

bigger now
than the town
hall.

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Two more poems on the Write Launch

Two more poems on the Write Launch:

Second Nature

You would have loved
to have me in your class.
I was born with the soul
of a mule—plodding through
with heavenly persistence.

I’d march around my room,
high above a smoldering Brooklyn,
recite irregular verbs in Spanish,
and practice trilling my r’s
to the uncaring mirror above the dresser.

I took to math and history,
could diagram Faulkner’
prose, but never got far
with foreign languages.
I slowly learned

what it means to be born to.
I am an aged city kid
still most comfortable
with the lilt of moonlight
on a wet sidewalk

in East New York.
With the basement
steps to the Blue Note
and the way
my pulse takes

to the time of the subway
shuddering as it clings to the rails.
Forty years gone and I can still
advise you where not to be when
and get around Manhattan,

blindfolded and hobbled.
I love my little town—
dammit I grow things now,
but I will never be at home
in the surrounding woods, bedeviled

by beasts, real and imagined,
that range in size from ticks
to bears. When I first moved
here a friend who came to visit,
sampled the food and nightlife,

looked at me
sorrowfully and wondered
out loud how I dealt
with a place that was
so green.

All you need know

My grandfather, the lumberjack,
was often mistaken for Paul Bunyan.
When he yelled “timber”
it could be heard
from Seattle to Vancouver.
Once he felled an ancient oak
to teach me the lore of tree rings—
wide for a good year,
narrow for a bad.
His calloused hands caressed
the log as he said,
“this is all you need know of life.”

Grandpa, the watchmaker,
was stooped and gray, but elegant
as if he’d stepped out of a portrait
from a forgotten time of formal grace.
What Rodin would have given
to marble the bones of his hands.
I would sit on his workbench
in a shop full of child-sized tools
and watch him work and rework
the movements of a timepiece.
With a thousand pieces splayed before him
he’d say,
“Here I create time,
and time is all you need know of life.”

My grandfather, the farmer,
had the finest two hundred acres
in northeastern Kansas.
A doughty man born without ear or rhythm
he’d sing the standards—
“Ain’t Misbehavin” or “Makin Whoopee!”
as his steam tractor wobbled through
the flat fertile fields.
We’d all smile to imagine him singing
his heart out.
Once, I watched
him put his arm into soil elbow deep
and come away with loam black as pitch
and teeming with worms.
“All of life is here,”
he said to me.

Grandfather, the soldier,
had a grand mustache
that made him look like Pancho Villa.
He fought with Black Jack Pershing
in the Belleau woods
where corpses outnumbered
the bullet scarred oaks.
He would don his uniform
and his tin cap
to shoot targets with his long gun
at a quarter mile range.
I never saw him miss.
Fingering a spent cartridge, he said
with a tired smile,
“this is death—
all who live must meet it.”

My grandfather died when I was five.
I have few memories.
In one I sit on his lap
and stare out the kitchen window
at the unsuspecting walkers
on Riverdale Avenue.
We sit in silence—
his face is so yellow and worn
it seemed carved of candle wax.
At the last, I remember
I waved goodbye to his hospital window
impossibly high in the massive brick
then walked away with my mother.
Swaying and sobbing,
she held my mittened hand too firmly—
as if all life depended on it.

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Three poems on The Write Launch

Here is the first of the poems:

Checking in:

There you are Dad

on our cobbled deck

splayed out in my favorite chair,

our nearly feral cat

content to be on your lap.

You hold up the perfect tomato

so round and red-ripe—

I can almost smell it.

It’s the best photo I’ve ever taken.

How is it

no one smiles like that anymore?

That miraculous summer

of just enough rain

and just enough sun,

you and Mom would often visit

our small college town

set down among ridges

rolled up so regularly

they seem like ocean waves.

Mom would pitch in,

while you stationed yourself

on the deck,

and scanned the natural world

like a ship’s lookout

in an iceberged sea.

We all waited on you, Pop—

our pleasure to watch

your many cares

melt away

in the swollen sun of summer.

By now,

the town has grown

to a minor metropolis.

We don’t grow our own

tomatoes anymore—

content to shop

at the farmers markets

that dot the countryside.

Today, at first snow,

the site of our old tomato patch

is white as time-honed bones

but if I close my eyes

I can still see it,

vibrant in that luscious red

that was our

glorious season.

Posted in poetry, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Two more poems from Softblow

At the Bay

We were sitting
at Liman’s
in Sheepshead Bay—
right on the water—
which was lapping
over some fashionably
placed rocks
with the regularity
of a metronome.

He was gabbing—
he had the gift—
timing the movement
of his ink stained hands
with the patter of his speech.
We had been eating
and drinking for two hours
and I was worried
about the tab.

The gaslights came on
as the sun set
and in the warm light
I could better see how old
and frail he was
He was the Great Uncle—
the family stain
the outlaw-artist-etcher
who passed paper—funny
money, and served time
inside, every decade.

But, he was charming—
and I was smitten.
I could tell
from just his cadence,
he was family.

He left for the Men’s
just as the check arrived.
A back way out,
I thought, staring at a bill
half the size of my mortgage.
But, he was back in a flash,
snatched the check from
my trembling hands,
gave me a wink
and the waiter,
five, crisp Franklins
.
He whistled
“Stormy Weather,”
as we walked away—
the song grandpa
would whistle
when content.

Acnestis

We were all there
that late August day.
Fox and Mike and Mesher,
Potsy and Buddha
and Bernie the Skunk,
even Arnie was there—
the dumbest smart guy
on the planet.

And Bobby
and his younger brother Petey.

We played five on five
which was too damn many
for our narrow court.
The game would end,
as it often did,
in a fight.

Everybody liked Petey.
Tall and rail thin,
he walked on the balls of his feet
as if his ankles were springs.

Bobby was two years older—
a broad hulking menace
who smoldered on a short fuse—
a certain something
behind his eyes said
clear as a name tag:
I’m crazy.

Bobby told us over and over
he didn’t want his younger brother
hanging around.
But no one could make him leave.
He’d suffered Petey all summer
and when his brother bumped him at the foul line
he’d had enough.

He beat on Petey the way
an older brother does.
We figured there’d be
a bloody nose, a black eye or two
and some cracked ribs they would
tape at Beth-el.
But then something changed
and we knew in an instant
that Bobby would kill him.

It took four of us to pull him off.

That school year Bobby did Juvie
and his brother learned to walk with a limp.
They moved in December
from a rat trap in Brooklyn
to a rat trap in the Bronx.

Bobby died in ’69 on Hamburger Hill.
Petey took his game leg
to Fort Hamilton
and was declared 4f.

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New Poems

Pleased to have three poems on Softblow Poetry Journal today. Here is the first poem and the link.

http://www.softblow.org/

A death in the family 

We hustle it all to the dumpster

couches and chairs

lamps, rugs and bedding,

the knickknacks

that fought

for space 

on every flat surface.

It’s just stuff now

and we’d like to clear the place

in time for lunch

and an early flight home. 

Stories inhabit our belongings

and make them dear.

And you were so good at the telling—

your face softening with delight

as you’d describe a complicated deal 

involving your great uncle Saul,

a second-hand store,

and a horse-drawn cart.

It made the rickety dining room table

seem like a gift from the Romanovs. 

For a minute,

I think of my home

and wonder 

how long it will take the kids

to empty it.

But this is no time for reflection—

the sleep sofa

is heavy and oddly weighted 

and the dumpster seems 

farther away with every load.

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Stevieslaw: A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

 

Two or three of my passwords changed themselves last night as I slept. Apparently, they’re  programmed to do that every December 5th on non-leap years as a security measure. So-called experts may disagree with that conclusion, but what else might have happened?

It’s not really much of a problem. I simply need to request a new password on those sites using the old password that I do not know.  I remember using their recommendation for a strong password which looked very much like a word I said around the dinner table when I was five or six, which led to a painful spanking. Fortunately, I have everything written down on a napkin in magic marker. Unfortunately, I washed the paper napkin by accident last week.  It’s only my email and all my other accounts butI lived for many many years without them, so I will be fine.

My local pharmacy has a remarkable device for old people.  It’s a non-screw lid prescription bottle that allows people of my generation access to their many medicines without the need to stand on a street corner with a sign around their necks begging for help in twisting off caps.  Am I bitter? Perhaps.

My modest proposal is that people over the age of sixty five be assigned one single userid/password for everything.  I suggest the userid be your first name and the password be your last name, but perhaps first initial and last initial might be enough. We need to face the fact that anyone who really wants to break into your account, can.  They break into banks and department store and defense department accounts—if they want to see your latest order from the Montgomery Ward catalogue, they will.

Until my modest proposal gets traction, you may get in touch with me by phone or snail mail.  Or stop by.  I have a tablet and a computer for sale.  Perhaps you can figure out how to turn them on.

 

Posted in gang gang dance, Humor, parody, sleepless in state college | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

New Brooklyn Poem

My poem Bouncers was just published by Muddy River Poetry Review.  Here is the poem:

Bouncers

 

Did you know that New York

surrenders the energy

of its frenetic days

slowly.

You can hear it,

like the faint sigh

of a bicycle tire

with a leaky valve.

At 3 AM it’s done

and the city streets

are unburdened by the buzz

of millions of tethered lives.

 

Tony told me that

soon after we’d reconnected.

 

He was easy enough

to track down,

and we would meet

for coffee on occasion

at the Pink Pony

on Ludlow Street.

Old and Army-thin,

Tony loved to talk

about Brownsville,

the Canarsie Bouncers,

and my brother—

the Warlord.

 

They were a greased-up gang

of Jewish and Italian kids

in combat boots and garrison belts

that headquartered

in his mom’s apartment

over the greengrocer’s.

They hoped for girls and glory

and spent the nights

looking for fights

with the Hispanic and Black gangs

that shared the neighborhood.

My mom said their claim

to fame was that

they never changed their clothes.

 

Tony raced his chopper

up and down Hopkinson Avenue

all hours of the day and night.

One day his Uncle Frank

grabbed him by an ear

and took him to an Army recruiter.

Army life suited him.

Tony told me he’d fought

in Vietnam and every backwater

battle that never made the NY Times.

 

Tony rode his bike

well into his eighties.

He’d take to the streets at 3

and ride ‘til dawn.

He boarded a Greyhound last week

for one last visit with his aging

Army buddies scattered across the country.

He hopes to see

two old Bouncers,

Sal and Artie

in San Diego.

 

He gave me his bike to tend.

Ride it,

he ordered.

At 3 every morning,

I hump the bike

down four flights of stairs

and ride for an hour or so

in the eerie dark

of early morning

absorbing all that freed-up energy

with every breath I take.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in gang gang dance, poetry | Tagged | 2 Comments