Misreading a Line by Holderlin

For weeks I’ve not been well but refuse a doctor.

For weeks I’ve been unhappy but refuse the past.

For weeks I’ve misread a line of poetry

As “the aging of the dead” and not “the aging and the dead.”

For weeks I’ve been depressed

Thinking the dead grow older. One misreading

And I have wasted a thousand years in eternity.




“When I go through the Shade You Throw, Runs A Shudder Over Me”

October reads like a haunted anthology of pages and days. On every page I find the birth of a poet; on every other, the death of a poet. I know the ghost of Dylan Thomas. He’s pissing on my door. Of course that’s Sylvia Plath. She’s a child again. Of course that’s Tennyson. Can’t you see he’s almost blind? At the office party Anne Sexton was so beautiful you could forgive her for dying. These perturbations can be heard in the house or on the street. I pause forever at the foot of the stairs, like Edna St. Vincent Millay. If there’s frost at midnight, it is Coleridge come back to give me a skeletal shiver. If I happen to dream of a haunted palace, it is by the conjuring of Edger Poe. If there’s an urn on a porch it is John Keats flowering again. If there’s a boat on drunk water, it is Arthur Rimbaud. October leaves blow like the cantos of Ezra Pound. Auroras of autumn bring out Wallace Stevens and Wallace Stevens– and after the rain, I’m puddlesure, it is E.E. Cummings standing there. Oh Ted Hughes, you’re back with your crows. And to be sure, John Berryman was born to die. W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot died late enough in September to be included among the spirits of October. And all say “yea.” I’ll be extra observant for the Man-moth this Halloween. Thank you, Elizabeth Bishop. I’ll look under every mask. I’ll see who’s there and who is not.

Homage to Pablo Neruda

Proprietor of a traveling bazaar
Of potent elixirs strained from jungles,
Vials in which rivers rage, flasks of cloud,
The granite voices of Macchu Picchu;
And impure things: wheel ruts, blood and semen,
The severed heads of dictators,
Letters from kings, propaganda;
An earthflow of love poems; and elemental things:
Lemons, artichokes, melons and salt;
Also magic potions, locks of hair,
Moonlight fossilized in stone, emeralds
From the mines of Columbia; snake skins,
Ports of call, arrivals, departures…
Lastly, Chile, like a child’s model,
Raised by the whale spine of the Andes,
With its copper-colored people,
Their stone flute music of mountain mist,
Their poverty and dignity…
Your human cry of the human market.


A name so light you hear it twice,
Like a wing it flies from having been said,
And is buried in the fall the all…

A sad name long on alacrity,
Life lived as though alated,
Alarmed by my alalia and assassin’s dagger…

Abecedarian of homeroom attendance,
Learning the alphabet of experience
And losing a language in alienation.

Almost suffering from aeriality,
Like twin sisters separated at birth,
Always missing each other by a breath.

Ala: alias Allah, Alaq and Ahala…
Last seen riding a butterfly;
Alas, vanishing à la bonne heure.

Haunted Hearing

                        in memory of Henrietta Epstein

Abruptly Henrietta remembered it was January 7th…,
Synchronicity is a bridge over time,
Talking about John Berryman the day he died.
One minute life’s a dream, the next a song…
Henrietta was such a poetry lover
She plucked a candle from her Hanukkah menorah
To commemorate the Oklahoma-born poet.
She told of John wildly drunk in Michigan
Shouting frenzied needing her naked and now
At a party held by patrons in upscale Birmingham,
Even flinging the glass that was shrieking to marble,
Articulating an imperfect present,
Redemption is at war with time.
If eternity is freedom why suffer for life?
“The Mississippi will have its way.” John jumped in,
“More bourbon please, more Baudelaire.”
“I could use one myself,” said Henry.
“Mr. Bones got a powerful thirst.” Henry laughed.
We shivered to the otherworldly recitations,
Our tribute to a poet turned séance to his voices.

In a Gallery of Birds

                             The mind is brushed by sparrow wings.
                                                           Hart Crane

All shadows of a kind                           cross the atlas of the mind.
Alone or with fledglings                            in realistic settings
The ghosts of those birds                             migrated into words.
The longer we stayed                                     the sound of a glade.
Windows doubled as skies                                for eternity in their eyes.
Even for a feather                                             it is a heavy tether.
In each nest                                                     eggs at rest.
Such stillness grows                                        like flight in repose
Mounted there                                                        in flying air.
What is seeming                                                 if nature is dreaming?
What is death                                                    to a hummingbird’s breath?
In an eagle’s gaze                                         soar endless days.
A glass case sings                                      it breaks with wings.
All field marks fade                                    light goes into shade.

In the Beauty of a Lower Heaven

Autumn in Paris is like summer in a lower heaven.
Sycamores and chestnuts paint the air,
Pencil-thin branches sketch the city like Utrillo,
The Seine sets leaves in moon-glass.

We caught the metro at Bir-Hakeim
Near Vel’ d’Hiv, the Nazi detention center.
Cyclists went flying into fire and ash
In the beauty of a lower heaven.

Something grotesque in the accordion
Like a fascist playing Mozart.
Something hypnotic in the sound,
The bellowing of giving birth to terror.

In the beauty of a lower heaven
All the people are lovelier, tranquil,
Even at rush hour music tames
The writhing beast of megalopolis.

Goodnight Paris, bonne nuit,
Your accordions are like history
Repeating the music and the horror
In the beauty of a lower heaven.

Goodnight Roseline, Simone and Eliana…
We will meet again, Aviva…
The doors of the trains are opening
In the beauty of a lower heaven.

Ice Music

                St. Lawrence River

The rivers of the river were moving again.
The shattered ice glided
In one giant flow of crystal shards.
A concert, a symphony of treble sounds,
Frozen keys of light and music
Glittered all along the seaward shore.

Was it the beginning of time?
Or had the end of time begun?
The earth was locked in ice.
Darkness was upon the land.
When sunlight filtered
Through the poison gases
It struck the ice and multiplied.
The light looked through itself,
Dissolving, congealing,
Until the air had cleared.
Light took the shape of a fern
And ferns unfurled out of nothing.
Light moved and there was wind.
Light poured over its rim
And from ice water trickled.
When light was exhausted
The night was born.

Those who live by the river
Have heard the sound of light
In that staccato of shattered ice;
In the sharp tintinnabulous
Wavering myriad of chimes,
They have heard the cold
Remote music of a crystal age.

What Angels Know

A handicapped child is born to test us,
He’ll see if we are worthy of his attention.
The sick hold out their medicine for us to take—
It is good for the soul, they say.
The homeless guide us home unaware.
The hungry feed us with their eyes.
The suffering save us with their heavy tears.
When we are tired of being frivolous
We sometimes look differently at people and at things,
And they look at us and say
Even you are greater than you know.