August 15, 1986/ 8PM

We are beating out familiar shapes, you and me.
It is not new ground, you know,
Even for ourselves,
And the going quite slow.

And there are hammers,
Many hammers
Wielded by deliberate arms dripping sweat.
Our champions do battle—
Lines we did not write
Leading to confusions we did not intend,
And the clatter-shock of steel on steel,
Sparks in the barn-dark of our minds.

If we could understand—
But everything is “ifs”
After all
And “ifs” are funny things.

You have your hammer when you’re angry.
So do I.
We each recognize our own……
But that one only.
The rest are swung, unnoticed, unremarked
In the dark
Off the mark.

And so how does it happen,
That rapid beating of steel,
The noise and concentration
Just to build a simple shape
So easy to conceive?
I do not know
But there is one very simple thing:
Somewhere, anvils ring.

A Conversation with Frank Sinatra

I am talking here with Frank Sinatra.
He is talking through songs.
I am reliving all the wrongs.
I know he understands.
It was a game and I thought I made up the rules,
Long time ago, crying at night,
While in the next room
My parents fought the same battle
I’m fighting now.
And no one won
Because no one can.
It’s dug into my mind; I can’t help it.
She doesn’t understand but
You are my Christ, you bleed for me,
I kiss your stigmata and the blood is mine.
Her wet flesh cannot buy me,
My mind aches more than my body
For the fear of doing it her way hurts more than the thought of parting.
I need her, Lord,
To cross the Jordan alone
In the dark of night
Is the widest voyage of all,
For if she will not love me
Across the spreading light
Then sing me a song and let me cry.
I can explain it in reason if
Explain it I must but
I don’t want to explain:
I want it so, in childish impatience
And I refuse that it should not be so.
If you love me you will understand.
That is what love is:
To understand when there are no reasons.
I cannot stand on shifting rock and be chastised for it.
I can stand or I can be chastised
But not both.
There were nights my body twisted
(long ago between dark blue walls in an old Brownstone in stinking Brooklyn—
The smell of gutters in summer
And some rummy pissing in the alley)
When your guts jump out of your throat
Every time someone yells
Or throws a pot
Or curses
Or insinuates
Or challenges—
You can’t erase the feeling
(never erase it)
Blasting out of your belly til you cannot sleep any more
Soaking your sheets, shirt pasted cold and dripping to your chest
And the milk truck rattles through the dawn and you crawl out of bed without sleeping.
Won’t spend another night waiting
To hear
What will be said,
And me to smooth it over
Bridging broad chasms between word and world.
Nerve endings don’t heal, they burn over memories you cannot suppress.
She does not understand
That I am a child of pain.
I fear it more than not having her.
Out walking at dawn
And the first dumb bird presages more blind sunshine
To blur years of anger,
Acres of fatigue,
Miles of not caring or caring too much.
Sing them the truth if you will; tell them for me:
Today is like yesterday only it hurts more
Because there is one more scar.
I will walk down by the river and,
If no one can see me
I will cry a little
And sit on a bench and feel sorry for myself.

Long Time No Rhyme

This is not a poem that you want.
This is not a poem that you need.
One could view this effort all as naught.
A random shot that one ought not heed.

This is not a rhythm that I sought.
This is no catharsis in my plans.
A simple outflow of unbridled thought,
Written by surprised, unwitting hands.

It’s no doubt best you throw this page away.
It’s either waste or salt upon a sore,
That sincere effort should no doubt defray
Lest burning yet again assail the core.

Well – if you’ve not yet taken my advice
By tossing out this silly little try,
Then listen not to my unspoken voice
To which best efforts ever give the lie:

Against all sense I know I love you still.
Against all sense you know I always will.
The ultimate presumption wends its way:
Without solution, yet I have my say.

Who Has Loved You?

And who has loved you
When your mind whistles wildly through the empty chambers of time?

What will you think, or say?
Of what merit? And, what to weigh?

When you compare these things,
At the final moment of your heart

As harridans require your last,
stored morsel of you that you had hoped to hide away?

Is constancy the thing? Or mine?

The quality of breath, the energy of Spring?

All flowers admire the sun. Some are better flowers.

Who loved your son
When you glanced back?

It all must matter somehow.
At the very least, sometime.
When your mind whistles wildly
Through the empty chambers of time.

The Other Day I Did Not Love Her

I am unlike you
(and that is good).
I am unlike myself, also
(and how that is I do not care).
I am defined by secret processes,
I am better
(and that is so, I know, [I think?] in my way).

The other day I did not love her.
She was not myself again, but far too bold –
Yourself was you, uncompromised,
So I protested.
She was told.
I am what I am (damned if I shouldn’t be).
And she is me, also (most times).

If I do not possess,
I do not exist.

It is so
I say so.

Sonnet to L

Whose love is there, to test my heart.
And twist my will to patterned heat
But love of you that from the start
Impelled by sullen blood to beat?

Whose passion there to vex my soul,
And wreck my anguished body-lust,
But love for you that makes its goal
To grind my loins into the dust?

What couplet ends this bitter dirge?
What denouement to this sad cry?
What evil force subsumes the urge
To wish that warmth and fondness die?

This is the final couplet, L —
I love you best. That’s all to tell –

Sonnet for Jeannie

“I’m in love”
She declared,
And stepped back a yard
or so
To survey the impact.

“It’s the first time I ever liked anyone –
Ohofcourse I’ve liked a lot of people but ….”
“It’s the first time you really liked someone?” I suggested.
She smiled assent.

Come you then now,
All who really liked
And called it love,
All who came to this place
With intentions to deceive
By silence,
By violence,
By groans against a night,
Stealing precious light
And casting it to darkness:

Beyond the circle of fire
The glowing eyes can wait,
Too soon dies the pyre,
The flesh devoured by hate.


Ode to Springtime

Sing of springtime, when child and man alike
Scorns anachronistic concepts
And seeks the elemental spirit,
The keystone we know is never there.

If less time were spent in honest quest
And more in cynical seduction
Christ and law would suffer
But December would find more children born.

Love is the politics of springtime,
The compromise in the hayloft,
The bargain struck in the smoke-filled room,
The betrayal of trusts when summer heart abounds.

Let us quickly rape the virgin season
Lest we pause and be chaste for no reason.

Midnight Telephone

“Guess what?
I won’t be seeing you ‘til Friday.”
You said.
Said too quickly.
Triumphantly, as if in punishment
(do you wish to punish me?)
Relievedly, the lifting of onerous compulsions.

I am a chore to you,
I know,
It is hard
(life is hard)
to be all things at once, and be them well.

So your mother issued a reprieve
(“So you don’t see him tomorrow; so what?”
She said,
I know –
I picture her very words –
The intractable logic of it all –
The finality of “so what?”)
And you eagerly snapped it up,
Relishing a day alone, wherein
I would not upclutter
The mill-race of your mind.

Sleep well, exhausted by the weight
Of doing all at once the things
Of life and love
in the separate channels of your will.

There is time to love me tomorrow,
Having barked your “Just leave me alone” today,
I will wait
(I think …).
After all,
Life if hard in the living.

Man Bites Dog for Love

“Man Bites Dog for Love”
(Headline in your local newspaper, page 3)

Man bites dog; that’s news.
But bites for love – means what?
Loves whom, and how?
Can’t love dog, or else why bite?

Let’s try again.
Man bites dog for love of whom?
Not love of self, or wouldn’t bite.
Dogs taste bad, I’m told.

Okay, okay. Try again.
Man bites dog for love of woman.
Driven to it? Understood.
But untrue. Women won’t allow it.

So what’s this mean, all this news?
Man bites dog? A silly thing.
To bite a dog for the sake of love
Is not what a loving man should do.

Okay! Okay! I confess.
I bit the dog, for love of you.
Want more proof of how I feel?
I’ll eat him up: love mutt stew.