Motor City

How many revs does your motor make
And how do your tappets beat?
How much oil does your gasket take?
How deep is the tread of your feet?

There once was a time when I made my rhyme
In an artistic trance where reveries dance
With Brautigan and Pound
And Dylan’s sound
And being alone with nothing to do
And where did that go; it went so fast
While it felt so slow.
Got this painful feeling I’ll never know.
It all broke apart when my back was turned
And gurgled down the drain with all I learned
And got all replaced with the money I earned
With my co-opted dream and my gears all meshed,
One big engine is all that’s left
To my mind/hand/heart which whirs and whirs
All well-oiled
And the memory/feel/thing never stirs
Underneath all the power of the purrs and the blurs.

C’mon baby, downshift with me,
Mesh and press and make it smooth.
That’s all that counts, that easy clutch
And the rest don’t matter all that much.

Tell me—how may revs that ole motor make?
How do your goddamned tappets beat?
How much oil does your crankcase take?
Any tread on the souls of your feet?

Not Well? Big Girls Don’t Cry

You bit your lip and waved at air.
You tugged your sleeve and pulled your hair.
Your face turned dark and filled with pain,
Your teeth ground down in heat and strain.

I understand. You need not speak.
It’s not your day. It’s not your week.
Our talking’s hard, but let me try;
You just must know: big girls don’t cry.

You are
(of course)
Not well.

That’s absence of being well,
Not the same as sick.

Life did it to you, you say?
Oh, really?
The reason does not matter, it’s
Just that you’re not well.

Letters to the Editors of Life — 1980

I want to thank you for the most heartwarming…
How can you publish a description of that…
It is not that I doubt your sincerity, but …
It is reassuring in this age of deconstruction to see …
Although the logic of our involvement may….
Well, five letters in search of a substantive thought;
Praise to our country, whose people are taught
That each vote counts (no matter if dumb)
As the totals all mount (aggregate scum)
But does a man more right than his neighbor constitutes a majority of one?


In the old country (how happy I was)
There was our house
In the village
By the river. I saw fields of oats,
I was young
And we sang in the afternoon.

Oh everything was just—

The dark bread was gritty and strong,
The soup was thick and brewed.

I would lope to school
To be cuffed, again, by the rabbi (who was pious but not too forgiving),
My tablet and ink in my sack and a chunk of lunch cheese in brown paper.

Later, it was warm and good,
Returning home
To the smell of tea hanging beneath red curtains,
And my shoes were left at the door.

In the old country the air was clean.
In the old country my father was an honorable man.
(How happy I was in the old country.)
In the old country there was wheat
And the Volga sang to me at midnight.

Sad was I to leave these well-known scenes,
To pack my colorful-gamey clothes
And sleep with my bundle touching my leg lest it be taken;
To vomit over the rail
And smell salt air
And see an ocean
And not see the Volga at dawn.

How good it was, how happy I was,
In the old country, I mean –
If only it weren’t for the Cossacks….

March Seashore

After long winter languor, I again smelled the sea.

It is a pleasure: unstale air
Piercing abdomen
Making me aware
Once more
Of half-dead senses
Stagnated in dusty books.

I understand day
In all fullness:
How the wind can echo sunlight,
And create the crisp blueness of sky.
It is a revelation, how clear things appear,
Gray-hard across the harbor,
Moving toward me on salted gusts.

Sharp – pointed – sensation equals
New definition (revealing deep natures, revealing relations):
Caw of gulls
Horizon on sky
Air on flesh
Salt against air
Cold birth against armchairs (that swallow winter people in their warmth).

I stand upon wharves
Cradle ropes in white arms

After long winter languor, I again smelled the sea.

Muse of Another Day

Muse of another day,
Simple, honest, attentive,
Not quite passed, but passing
As amber leaves on autumn winds must pass, and
In passing, leaving
Memories and grieving
Of wondrous hours now dying,
Crying in the night.
Would that I might feel again the hearts I felt before
Who swept, too quickly, by me,
Racing into twilight.

Soul of another vision,
Clear, sweet, revealing,
Not quite fled but fleeing
As children robbed by guile must flee
And in fleeing, leaving
Memories and grieving
Of wondrous hours now dying,
Crying in the night.
Would that I might grasp again
The strands of life and loving,
Living and forgiving
Now all too quickly gone.

If you would linger yet a while
In dilettante-ish waste
To hear laments on dyings
And on passings
And on flowing flames forgotten,
Anachronistic dreams of anachronistic people
Stretched across the rack of time
And cracked dry as rotting flesh—
Fabric eaten by the moths of progress—
Promise drunk sere by the sun—
Lake beds in patterns checkered by despair—
If you would trace the steps of honor
Into musty ethers of my mind and
Find there a nothingness,
A pulp of pap, a crown of hate,
A bitter loss as yet unsung,
Hear then now:
I speak,
Speak only for you.


Gently balanced on the peak with quake and quiver now it leaps
Into the void, surrounds the breach and swallows all the pulsing black.
Northward, skies reflect the coming of defeated night’s succumbing,
Arid beams begin the plumbing of the day’s unreal attack.
Loudly now with growing passion, hanging orb: begin to fashion
Bit by bit the living ration, filling up the rancid lack.
Soon the bitter taste of being starts all kind existence fleeing,
Chasing, hounding, never freeing, waiting for the will to crack.


Why God? Why?
Turn of knife, churn of screw
All my life, each hour through?
Every pulse a knot in the stomach.
Fear and shaking.
All giving,
No taking.

I was my own Prometheus,
Played with fire and was burned.
Chained to my rock I lived
And cried and learned.

Why God? Why?
Never cried
As a child,
Except in anger as children do,
But not in pain.
Why now?

Why do I shiver in heated rooms?
Why do I roll in tear-soaked sheets?
Why do I whine
Against the night?

Every moment
I am aware—
Why God? Why?
Of things I coat with sugar against the hurt?
Then comes the force that strips the gut-spine bare
And shows, across dark fabric, anatomies of despair.


That streaks along the canvas of my soul
And ebbs and flows into the corners of all time
And drowns the sullen earth in green and red,
Never again to show as real and true
But forever to be hidden

Were I to dig beneath the paint in search of – who can say?
What would the universe reveal?

Brush brush
Bold and free
The brush strokes paint me with deceit ‘til naught remains
Of what I really am
Save a plastered hulk of hell
That reeks of wines fermented
From the sewers of my soul.


Tomorrow is right now, only better
And untired,
Unwilted flower of fantasy,
Subtle odor without decay,
A chance to not betray
That which is already slaughtered
On the altar of yesterday.
Tomorrow is the rumor of our guilt,
The lie we tell ourselves which sweetens our todays:
Poisoned blessing of vanity,
Hide the hollowness we are….

Midnight is the promise the deception will endure.
Twelve strokes