Petite madeleines

The sound of sneakers

scraping against a sidewalk.

Basketball courts in the park,

handball games lasting until dark,

youth whirling in an energetic swirl,

running to catch the light,

running the bases in a game of

curbball, the northern summer light fading

slowly, until darkness called us home.

 

Or: the taste of Skittles,

fed to you by slim brown fingers,

perfume intoxicating, her presence

near you addling your mind,

as you walked in a neighborhood

not your own, away from school,

from parents, from all cares,

just the taste of the candy,

and soon the taste of her lips,

her tongue, first love,

unforgettable. An entire world

recreated, with the unhappy ending,

but happy all these years later.

 

Or: the smell of urine

as I descend into the A train station,

whisking myself away to the Village,

or Soho, or Washington Square,

away from what I knew

to places where I could see

my future; to bookstores,

the Main Branch, the original

Macy’s, a trip from home and hearth

to where I was my own master,

scouring the city, at one with it.

 

The triggers of memory which

when we are unaware carry us

to places we’d forgotten,

to times eaten up by the sands.

I remember that? That happened?

Is that how I felt?

Yes, yes, again yes to all those questions.

You may be more knowing,

but you know little more than you

knew then, when every day

taught you something, opening the world

to you, and life, terrible life,

struck you with God’s awe.

 

Every memory an inward yelp

of joy that time is not past,

but ever present, the foundation

of anything worthy.

Nobody knows my troubles with God

Or at least that’s how I always heard it,
listening in the car, head nodding
shocked that it would be declared
so openly, so wretchedly, so strongly.

But we hear what we want to hear;
what I heard as a shaken fist
was a plaintive consolation,
a declaration that only God knows.

Only God knows ones troubles,
the humiliations, the calumnies,
the myriad fardels one bears,
until at long last life lifts away.

But I had my thoughts, and God
knew none of them, cared for
none of them, as he was a
myth, a fairy story told to children,

like Santa and the Easter bunny; great
for Hollywood epics, but mute before
the horrors great and small which
never seemed to be diminished by Him.

My troubles are with an Emptiness, a Void,
a God-shaped hole as big
as the universe, swallowing it in
its event horizon. God the ultimate cipher.

The easy sureties of childhood will
never return; history has worked me
like rough leather. Age hardens
one under the incessant, beating sun.

But why struggle with what you don’t believe?
My struggles are with the real,
and my loves are with the real.
That’s all for which anyone can ask.

Still life

In the end it is an ordinary life;

I’ll leave the heroics to others.

 

The simple pleasure of a coffee

on the porch, to wash down a roll.

 

Coming home after work, entering

the house, fixing a cocktail,

 

greeting my wife after her day

at work, the pets greeting us

 

in their fashion. These form

the prelude to any decent life.

 

The sheer bravery to arise

every day and greet it with

 

something other than dread,

to face it with hope and glee.

 

Most are not made for the terror,

the thrill of the extreme;

 

a sick child, a dying parent,

the stack of bills frighten enough.

 

There’s no shame in that;

every life is a cry against the darkness.

 

Every day passed in peace

is a shaken fist against death.

 

Savor those moments of joy;

they will stand you when grief comes.

 

It will be the moment in the dark

where you hang on to that light,

 

reminding you that things pass

all in their time, all over again.

 

Seek danger if you wish; you’ll see

it will come, willed or not.

They talk to you

This is the thing they don’t teach you in library school: if you’re foolish enough to go into public service, you’ll be expected to talk to your customers.

Oh, I’m not referring to reference interviews, book lookups, and the like. No. You basically have a very expensive degree to be a combination bartender/priest/therapist.

It’s amazing how complete strangers will spill the darkest secrets of their souls to you, once they see that you’re a permanent fixture in the library. And, if you get to know them on a more permanent level—as I have, as I’m that kind of person—you’re suddenly giving medical and financial advice.

One of my regular patrons is a Vietnam veteran. A few years ago he told me he hadn’t been to the doctor in 20 years. At the time he was having all sorts of health issues. I looked at him and asked: “Don’t you have VA benefits?” He had never applied for them. At which point I read him the riot act. I went into how I paid taxes so that veterans like him could be taken care of, and that I expected him to contact the VA as soon as he got home. He didn’t tear up, but I think he was very grateful that someone who was basically someone he just passed on his daily routine cared enough to call him out. (He still has health problems, but at least now he’s taken care of.)

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Two older poems

In Memoriam: For Henryk Gorecki

This sorrow, it burns inside me;
I cannot shake it.
I breathe it in with the air,
filling my lungs to their full.
Even in joyous moments—here,
with you, in bed in warmth at night—
I cannot escape its grasp.
It envelops me completely.

One could be clinical, a gimlet eye
cast at the surrounding world.
No, clinical, is that not the word?
Oh, well, it rhymes, and gives the same
effect. Our words have a wellknown
bias towards those with no voice—
or at least no voice to be heard.
Scribblings on prison walls don’t count.

How much happier to be of the
elect. All would be much simpler:
a sunny life, with the once-in-a-while
balming rain to wash away the doubt
that, perhaps, in some corner
things were as dark and as not right
as the agitators alleged.
Easily forgotten and sloughed.

Or? Chip away, chip by chip,
the stone flaking into the pit,
the marble revealing the form
beneath—beautiful or horrible,
your choice, pay your money, no
refunds after six days, all is
set in motion inexorably.
Life always continues, heedlessly.

Sorrow chooses who it will; chooses
you, or me; him, or her; but it’s
imposed on no one; the gift
can be rejected. It often is.
Sorrow is not despair; it
is fire, and fuel, and heat to warm
the soul. It is the blood of life.
Rest, now; the sun is yet far away.

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Carnival

For some our lives are tragic;
I’m not one with those.
I’m with them for whom life is magic
Until its dying, final close.

Coming out of cloistered shells
Is the first step in leading life;
Inhaling air, ringing bells,
Avoiding struggle and strife.

Sadness abounds on this earth,
It’s shadow hard to escape;
With the sorrow, remember mirth,
Turning life into one long jape.

No, I am not the least bit frivolous;
I have railed and I have wept.
To see all life as boundless
Is how I have come to accept.

March down the street,
Singing with the tune.
Take in the bitter and the sweet
Beneath the eternal moon.

Due poemi

Memories of Alhambra

No colonnades. No scented gardens.
No houris in harems
awaiting the Caliph’s pleasures.

Manicured lawns, one following
the other, down the street,
almost endlessly.

The skateboards, the bikes,
the Sunday barbecues as meat is grilled
and beers are downed .

In winter the rain washes away
the oil and grit, giving a
pretense to seasons.

At night the sky is pricked
with solitary stars, lone beacons
in the town’s light pollution.

The shopping malls swallow you,
gaping scars on the landscape,
black tarmac burning your feet.

Many wish to flee,
to the colonnades, the gardens,
the places which are different.

And yet it is home, for a time—
perhaps forever; its mark
guiding you for your life.

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Two rhyming poems

Never Mind What I Say

Never mind what I say
It’s all a whopping lie
I’m a poet of the day
Pulling you to laugh and cry

Never mind what I say
It’s all a bunch of this and that
I am master of the cliché
There’s always a way to skin a cat

Never mind what I say
The times do change so quickly
Attend too close and you shall stray
On paths dark and sickly

Never mind what I say
Or how my words are bending
The universe goes its way
And all our time is ending

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Two poems

Lies and Misdemeanors

You have gone beyond the place
where belief in me resides.
It’s to be expected,
with what I’ve done,
with what I’ve said,
all the well-worn stories and fallacies.

I who have betrayed you
can’t expect you
to be like Saul on the road
to Damascus,
dazzled by glory.
More like Paul,
in those final moments as he was hoisted
on the tree, that millisecond
before he breathed his last
and realized he hadn’t returned,
the world hadn’t ended,
his tormentors would return home
to wives and children,
and he would be left in a pit.

What could I say to you,
what could I do
which would sway you back to my side,
back to years of comfort?
Nothing. Time, even, is not infinite,
at least not for us.
Feeble, desultory wastrels,
thinking we have a fortune,
when we have a bag
with a hole cut out.

Just know, for all my faults, I loved you,
in my fashion, even though
it was out of the times.
It is not much comfort, I know,
and no recompense.
But it is all one now penniless
can give.

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