Writings and Reflections

Poetry

by Lloyd B. Abrams

Some poems may contain words or images
that a reader might find offensive or objectionable.
The reader's discretion is advised.



circle of lies circle of lies

... is a circular word construction consisting of four word pairs: plausible deniability (at 12:00), deniable plausibility (3:00), undeniable implausibility (6:00) and implausible deniability (9:00).
Poem 1    May 11, 2007      It‘s best to view circle of lies as a PDF     

struggle

i struggle
to find an answer
         my answer
         the answer
         any answer
about being
         nothingness and the infinite
about spirit
         unknowable and the ever-present
when i get close
         when i think i'm getting close
i get zapped
         kicked in the teeth
         knocked on my ass
out for the count, almost
         six, seven ... at eight
i stagger up
         scoff away the stupor
         brush off my gloves
to struggle
         once again

Read by Ben Bresky on his show The Beat — Israel National Radio, Spring 2007

Poem 2.1    May 25, 2007      (up to top)

balloons

mylar balloons hang by threads
         ribbon-tied to wheelchair grips
         HAPPY BIRTHDAY / IT'S YOUR DAY
primary color cartoon comic book balloons
         tail to the birthday boy hardly a boy
         unfunny no mirth no humor no meaning
mylar balloons buoyant
         on helium life support
         hover on heavy air currents stifling wafting
         drifting spirits impatiently waiting
wheeled into the day-room
         body slumped rigid tied into the chair
         blue striped blanket over the knotted sheet
         as if anyone might notice might care
         might visit might give a damn
mouth flattened no longer a smile possible
         amusement no longer accessible joy long forgotten
         even the pain's being managed
okay everybody let's sing
         happy birthday to you happy birthday to you
         happy birthday dear
         lost yellow smiley face name tag Saul magic-markered
         only the minimum wage workers bother to join in
how about another? okie-dokie ready?
         how old are you now? how old are you now?
         are you one? are you two? are you
ninety-one going on two
         too oblivious to focus
         sensing annoyance irritation frustration
menacing mylar phantoms
         bobbing above beside behind
         agitated restless somewhere nearby

Poem 3.1    May 30, 2007      (up to top)

my grandma

last night i hugged my grandma in a dream
and breathed in her silky silvery hair

she was even shorter than i'd remembered
she had to stand on my feet on tiptoes
like i used to when i danced with her
so many years before

oy my lloydie she used to say
you're such a boytshik'l
laughing her whole body grandma laugh
shaking her grandma head
as she poured me 7up from a green glass bottle
capped with a red rubber stopper i could never get to work

i got to hug my grandma annie
but never to thank her for those couple of pennies
for telling my mother it's all right
don't worry he can go by himself
to the candy store at the end of the block
where i took my sweet time choosing
but always picked out a couple of strands of chocolate licorice
and let one soften in my mouth savoring it
relishing every bite every swallow
as i dawdled my way back to Grandma's

i hugged my grandma in a dream last night
and got to say good-bye

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 4.2    May 31, 2007      (up to top)

board of directors

the once dignified meet on the boardwalk
         in the locker room
         at the diner
         in the parking lot to wipe off their cars
         on the fishing pier at the end of the road
to kvell to kvetch to boast to complain
         about children grandchildren great-grandchildren
         if it's the truth they should only be so lucky
to pontificate bravado-speak
         regurgitate what's pandered on their transistors
                 ten-second sound bytes out of context
                 glib phrases uttered by guileful pundits
                 solving the world's problems by negating others
         demand the point to win pointless arguments
         validate their vitality their virility their masculinity
         affirm that life still has meaning
         show prove convince themselves they still have it
betrayed by father time
         called by first names with impudence
         enslaved by their pensions
         ensnared by the system
         imprisoned in their bodies
         stifled by the future
         preyed upon by lost hopes
         praying to wake up one more day
their agenda is engraved in stone

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 22, February 2012

Poem 5.1    June 2, 2007      (up to top)

impermanence 1

scowling razor wire-topped fencing
safeguarding bulldozer-high hulking mounds
cement-gray red-brick rubble
rust-brown jagged stone wreckage
dust-swirling formless crumbling cairns
heaped up sepulchral ephemeral monuments
but no 9/11 eulogy
no tear-shedding elegy
no time for mourning
just another demo corp's tear-down job

excreted forth from the pile in majestic rainbow lettering
proudly announcing!
coming soon!
a condominium strip mall luxury senior residence
professional offices supermarkets boutiques galore
an Applebee's Best Buy CVS Denny's
i can hardly wait
until the wrecking ball swings by again

Poem 6.2    June 3, 2007      (up to top)

finale

charblackened forest leadened sky
howling storm-flattened deadscape

bowing genuflecting prostrate
tossing bones upon the spreading sludge
crapped-out snake-eyed expired

no chocolate pudding skin
no warm entwining embrace
no rainbow intoxication
only a monochrome prism
an infernal optical prison

pulsing thunder crackling lightning
fissures percolating sulfurous smaze
stagnant stifling smothering choking

visionless eyes stretched wide agape
mouth pupils nostrils dilated incredulous

ashes swirling blizzard flakes
blanketing enshrouding obliterating
utterly and without absolution

Poem 7    June 8, 2007      (up to top)

beggars

tichel'd hijab'd woman bleating
scarfshawl'd woman kneeling pleading
infant chimplike suckling at her breast
a second languishes torpid distressed

arms outstretching palms upreaching
depleted eyes rise up beseeching
hebrew arabic swahili chinese
spanish hindi omnilingual ... please

pernicious voracious poverty smirks
we all hope the tour bus a/c works

Poem 8.1    June 18, 2007      (up to top)

horror within

make the voices stop
please make them stop
can't take it anymore no more no more
shut up shut up shut up

stop persecuting stop calling me
pathetic worthless willful evil slime
and worse, nothing
crazy loony bonkers psycho fucked-up
yeah, maybe
but not nothing

stop dominating stop commanding me
to cut slash burn swallow jump
to do myself in
for my own good for the good of everyone

the i i am i was
already expunged annihilated
only skin bones nerves cell-tissue
organs insistent on functioning
for no other purpose
than to continue my suffering

please make the voices stop
please make it stop

— Appeared in Perspectives -- Poetry Concerning Autism and Other Disabilities Volume II, 2012

Poem 9.1    June 20, 2007      (up to top)

dead eyes

eyes reacting to movement light color
         a slit lamp an ophthalmoscope
         affirming rudimentary corneal cortical activity
damaged orphans listless in cribs
         cries bring no comfort no response
         no reason for existence
         their vacant stares through rusted slats
dementia'd golden-agers dribbling on their bibs
         senescent cerebral disintegration
         pinpoint pupils inside milky white sclera

but ...
unengageable junior highers long given up
         blank-eyed incurious expressionless
twenty- thirty- forty-somethings
         lead eyeballed plodding up subway stairs
ageless everyothers vacuous waiting
         staring into space no time no continuum
no eye contact no I contact none possible
         desolate brainscape mental void
         as if broken inside
... if eyes are the window to the soul
         what's to be made of this of them?

Poem 10.1    June 25, 2007      (up to top)

as good as it gets is long forgotten

to love honor comfort
         for better or for worse
i repeated the promises
         i'd signed the marriage affidavit
         scanned the ornate ketubah
         but glossed over the fine print

to love honor comfort
         in sickness and in health
last january a new year limped in
         she'd gone astray in our neighborhood
         lips fingers toes frozen blue numb insensate
just months ago disheveled unshowered
         face unwashed teeth unbrushed
         neglecting to wipe forgetting to flush
last tuesday perched on the piano stool
         hands on keys feet on pedals
         no mozart concerto forthcoming
         only a requiem of quiet sobs in a minor key
today expressionless eyes yet panicked
         filled with shame with sorrow ... who knows
         forgot my name forgot our name
         alien i'm already a stranger estranged

to love honor comfort
         'til death do us part
how much time's left doc what's going to be
         dealt from the top or the bottom
         the death spade ace or will joker trump all
for her sake for my sake
         for all our sakes
         i hope it'll be over soon

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2011

Poem 11.2    July 3, 2007      (up to top)

dead end no u turn

black on yellow diamond
below red black on white square
metaphorical landmark at concord and franklin
primary color juxtaposition on retroreflective sheeting
monotonic dead pan steven wright one liner

ya cant go back gramps dead end no u turn

ya got one chance pardner
aint no dress rehearsal
no do-overs no indian giving
no apologies sir
nah nah nin nah nah

so
go ahead
make the turn
see how longs the road
see how far it gets ya
see where it takes ya

but promise me now
ya gotta promise
no backsies
no guarantees no appeals
no pleading no supplication
no one listening anyway

Signs at the corner of Concord Court and Franklin Avenue, Malverne, New York
Steven Wright: I bought a house on a one-way dead-end road. I don't know how I got there.
Poem 12    July 6, 2007      It‘s best to view dead end no u turn as a PDF      (up to top)

life demarcated

imaginary white line to a tossed down shirt
         first base paced off so many feet more or less
         a chalk lined diamond quarter sector of a circle
         world of my youth and later still
four worn black lines painted on bleached concrete
         two perpendicular and two parallel to the wall
         world of my paddleball days weekends eves
reflectorized white border sprayed on poured pavement
         hugged caressed on a one speed columbia
         a three speed schwinn a ten speed raleigh
         now a sixty three speed recumbent vision
         worlds overlapping time and being
measurable lines stay fixed immutable

Poem 13    July 11, 2007      (up to top)

more than mister wallet

swanky shopping plazas dingy outlet malls
bleak dreary depressing inescapable as minor key muzak
no star one story second rate eatery valet parking no less
three story facade shouting its unimpressive presence
buy buy buy!'s the mantra
buy more buy often buy until ya drop until ya drop dead
after all goddam it ya listening?
ya need that sixty inch widescreen
ya need that three point eight gigahertz
ya need that dvr broadband five point one surround sound
ya need that in your face mcmansion forget its outa place
ya need that suv the hummer the land yacht
ya need that upscale upsized supersized
on sale today one day only last one we have lemme check the back
nope last one ya gotta act now now now
yeah yeah yeah i need but i dont wanna need
... i want to keep it simple not stupid
want it like it was not like it doesnt have to be
dont want the illusion elusive chimera the make believe was
not the fake sawdust on urethaned flooring
not the olde time ice cream parlor a chain of too many
not bigger better not gotta have the best
until you're bled dry your bones turn to dust nothing left to exhume
you gotta un'stand sir its makes the world go 'round
what are ya ... some kinda subversive?

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011

Poem 14    July 18, 2007      (up to top)

after the kids visit

we hug our daughter our son-in-law
our son our daughter-in-law
we hug and kiss their boys
hug and squeeze them again
can't get enough

after they're buckled in
we reach in for one last touch ...
when the oldest one says bye grandma bye pa
and waves his miniature hand
when his baby brudder blows us a kiss
when the littlest big-eyes us and smiles
i want to grab them hold them
possess them their spirit
but of course i know i can't

when their camry their odyssey
pulls away from the curb
a wrenched away part of me leaves too
never to be recaptured retrieved
i want to need to have to believe
that that part will somehow live on

as the taillights recede
i reach for grandma's hand
we sad-hug under the stars
walk back up our path
to clean up the mess left behind
in our again empty home
though the echoes remain

Poem 15.2    July 19, 2007      (up to top)

my numbers

i am categorized circumscribed defined by pretend numbers
        superficial false yet whined and whinnied about
abnegating individuality accentuating faceless privacy
         sixteen digit master card ten digit checking account
         nine digit medical card six digit pension id following a U dash
may as well be dingbats unintelligible scrawls chicken scratchin's
         or a upc bar code etched onto my skin
unique alphanumeric aliases meaningless identifiers assigned to me
         or is it me to them?
these collections of symbols relegated to me are not numbers at all

my heroes are elegant calculatable approaching infinity ... and named
         largest mersenne prime 9,808,358 digits long
                 2 raised to the 32,582,657th power minus 1
         irrational pi to 1,241,100,000,000 never repeating decimal places
         googol a 1 followed by 100 zeroes
                 googolplex a 1 followed by a googol of zeroes
                 googolplexian a 1 followed by a googolplex of zeroes
their majesty and power are unfathomable daunting ... almost godlike

others are more prosaic
         megabytes left to download
         bicycle miles pedaled between chain lubes
         bottom line net worth on a spreadsheet bills to pay on another
         fastest train to montauk on a closely analyzed schedule
         green mileage markers flashing by to the last exit
         miles traveled average speed odometer error and eta
more than just occupying my mind

five digit numbers are my latest favorites
         based on odometer readings five letter words or randomly chosen
         then a mental computation with the sieve of eratosthenes
         primes or near primes and composites
         perfect squares or differences of squares
         the result the unique solution is comforting soothing reassuring
unlike the remaining years months weeks days hours minutes seconds
unlike the unavoidable demonic countdown to zero

Poem 16    July 23, 2007      (up to top)

for we have brought nothing

squalling blustering into this world
         with goose eggs and diddly squat
         with nothing tangible nothing fungible
amass and hoard money property possessions
         on the never ending installment plan
         cannot deny yourself
gotta have it you gotta have
         the best the biggest
         for better but maybe worse
struggle to buy buy buy
         bust your ass
         to live the great american dream
         deplete your well-being
         until you bleed not only red

when the end game is over
all that’s left besides watery good-byes
are bequests to others
         who might or might not remember or care
memories in the hearts and minds
         of the bereft who do
and a name in times-roman
         etched in gray polished stone

silent exposed alone at that last exit
         there’s nothing to leave with
there are no pockets in shrouds

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011

Poem 17.1    July 31, 2007      (up to top)

stroke aftermath

cognitive impairment spatial disorganization
disorientation disequilibrium deterioration
peripheral blindness neuronal dysfunction
aphasia apraxia anosognosia
symptoms limitations prognoses
words phrases utterings admonitions
unhearable unbearable unrepeatable
at first washing over almost caressing
waves rippling rolling swelling
cresting breaking crashing
tsunamiing hopes and plans for the future

gone are the golf games
trashcanned are scorecards each hole and stroke
yellow highlighted birdies eagles sorted by date
now sandtrapped sandbagged triple bogeyed
by an equal opportunity cerebral accident

gone are mother boards expansion cards cables parts
computers once assembled set up given away
ctrl-alt-delete resetting no longer possible
now memory-lost frozen blue screened
by an extreme prejudiced neurological event

gone are the cameras meters lenses filters
negatives contact sheets slides
double weight matte paper stored in the fridge
defiled occluded over exposed
by a swirling erosive ischemic cascade

for the staggered carer the bearer forever
the unforeseen unimaginable incomprehensible
yet ... a reaffirmation of a half century together
beyond richer or poorer beyond sickness and health
... a full time commitment to still love honor and cherish

— Appeared in Perspectives -- Poetry Concerning Autism and Other Disabilities Volume II, 2012

— for G. B.

Poem 18    August 6, 2007      (up to top)


east lake road, southbound

you know what i'd really like
         she says
a tiny house on a spit of land
jutting out into the sound

i wonder if there'd be room
         i don't say
for me in that tiny house
or would it be big enough for just one

i've often wondered
         she says
what would've happened
if i'd gone away to college
how my life would've been different
maybe we'd've never met

perhaps it was preordained
         i say
though i usually scoff
at destiny and magical thinking
and wonder what she's really thinking

ooh look at that
         she says
a three-car garage beside the road
white-painted stairs leading down
to an upscale cabin almost hidden by hemlocks
on the grassy shore of the lake

i can't i'm driving gotta watch the turns
         i say
it's too winding too narrow too treacherous
and i don't ... didn't want to look
afraid that i'm not included in her dreams

Poem 19.2    August 26, 2007      (up to top)

catching up & overtaken

mashing down the penny b
         peninsula boulevard in c b lingo
         in highest gear
         doing twenty or so
         with the wind of course
ahead a pace line of lycra heads
         half or maybe a third of my age
         the gap is narrowing

early morning dream
upbound elevator turns horizontal
         has its own roller coaster mind
         i've no fear except questioning how
then into a subway station of multi levels variant tracks
         mismatched trains of disparate sizes
         can't find my way don't know where to go

early morning dream
on a cold steel table under the halogens
the doctor sloughs off three and three words more
         close 'im up
         there's no use
me?
         got to be somebody else
         not even enough time for kubler-ross's five-count

grinding up the v z
         verrazano bridge in c b lingo
         in low gear but not the granny
         seven or eight m p h or so
         done it before know i can do it again
alongside i tell my son in law go ahead
         i'll catch up on the downstroke
         when i'll be doing thirty or so
         without a tailwind

Poem 20    August 28, 2007      (up to top)

obligation

i make the call every week
to touch base to stay in contact
to keep our families close

we used to confide our deepest thoughts
our fears our turmoil our angst
not expecting answers solutions
but genetically-shared perceptions and insights

rare now is the challenging discourse
about current events politics world affairs
the human condition
our diverging lives our inevitable aging
the inexorable final decree

now i get routine questions predictable answers
about our kids their kids the grandkids
everybody's fine okay honky dory terrific
if only it were true

now i get rehashed diatribes
predigested points of view
from cable news talking heads and virulent talk radio

now i get jokes read verbatim from the 'net
i grit my teeth sigh to myself force a laugh
a pick-up click and the spouse interrupts
wait hold on i've got a couple more

this time i'm lucky to break in
i gotta get going got things to do

but every week i make the call
often hoping for no more
than the welcoming greeting
of their answering machine

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2011

Poem 21.1    September 17, 2007      (up to top)

in limbo

i keep on
walking the dog
making the bed
feeding the birds
paying the bills
... i keep on

no more
calling following up
juggling appointments
renewing refilling prescriptions
rearranging pill bottles dispensers
cleaning ointmenting diapering
... no more

they say
go on with your life
don't live in the past
you've got to think of yourself
the whole worlds before you
... they say

... what ?
yeah sure easy
busy signals gone
no longer on hold
steady dial tone
waiting
for
what

Poem 22.1    September 19, 2007      (up to top)

haiku 1

tobay beach 9-25

angry waves crashing

stealing last rite of summer

spat me back on shore


Poem 23    September 26, 2007      (up to top)

ennui

nothing excites me anymore
not ain't-my-demographic first-run movies
not must-see tv's flashy emptiness
not roided boys blocking batting bashing
...none of it'll change my life one bit

just easier staying home eating in
in front of the tube
watching reruns of reruns
law & order's three stale flavors
judge judy's low life feuds
family feud's hooting and hollering
... dumbed down tranquilized sedated

why spend on acquiring more possessions
hot terrabyte computer old monochrome vista
flat screen plasma transfusion
eight cylinder all wheel drive
... yet nowhere to go to end up

but yeah i'm still yearning searching
wondering why i bother
to drive to the beach in my rusted out clunker
to pace the boardwalk marking off time
to stop at the end to gaze towards the west
... you've seen one sunset you've seen 'em all

then again, maybe not

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011

Poem 24.2    October 1, 2007      (up to top)

tanka 1

hollow promises

brushed away 'til the morrow

everlasting soul

frolic on borrowed time 'til

gabriel come a-courtin'


Poem 25    October 31, 2007      (up to top)

tanka 2

mist hovers waiting

over clearing in the woods

respite for the soul

dog snuffling in wisps and whiffs

purposeful and free of angst


Poem 26    November 1, 2007      (up to top)

tanka 3

thinning canopy

becalmed quivering stillness

cezanne's fading glow

golden-agers side by side

anguished moans in silence


Poem 27    November 8, 2007      (up to top)

cinquain 1

follow

marching corpses

lock-stepping bliss junkies

arrhythmic drumbeaten flunkies

i won't


Poem 28    November 9, 2007      (up to top)

internal distress

they

believe

in judgment

severe decrees

trembling awestruck before their almighty


their souls visited ... fates inscribed and sealed

the next day's breath

repentance

averts

dread


Poem 29 - a double tetractys    November 15, 2007      (up to top)

haiku 2

crunching underfoot

shrouding mist stillness hovers

ice storm's fury's passed


Poem 30    December 14, 2007      (up to top)

haiku 3 - a senryū

grandma said I stunk

caught in downpour they bathed me

got the wet dog blues


Poem 31 - a senryū    December 22, 2007      (up to top)

life in the waiting room

coltrane on my ipod clone
         miles and monk next
fold back the op-ed page
         check my cell phone's time
corner-of-the-eye a couple
         blank-staring into space behind shriveled masks
         identical intense scowls oblivious to CNN's crawls
         talking heads volumed low

what's going on inside
what are you thinking about
what occupies that space
         i want to ask
how can you sit there and do
         nothing

— shirley?
         always first names
— please come with me
         shirley glares through coke-bottle lenses
         and sighs and purses her bloodless lips and wobbles up
         and drops her faux leather pocketbook onto the old man's lap
who meekly accepts it with an upward glance and a nod
         left alone to blank-stare by himself

miles on now
         monk and hancock to follow

what is he thinking about
         is he thinking at all

Poem 32.1    January 6, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 4

fractal clouds expunged

winking, coy, winter disrobes

seesaw swings of glee


Poem 33    January 9, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 5

saw baby's first cries

been in the zone had the buzz

good and bad to come


Poem 34    January 10, 2008      (up to top)

sedoka 1

been kinda happy

shouldn't focus attention

the other shoe'll surely drop


shanks do most damage

plummeting from highest arcs

bright to bleeding in a flash


Poem 35.1    January 16, 2008      (up to top)

“but wait…there’s more”

mom's cards pictures drawings notes
dated title pages ripped from library books
all rubber-banded in humid-stuck drawers
greased with rancid unwrapped soaps
a futile battle against mildew and mold
when the summer a/c's turned off

all of her books stuffed into kirkland drum liners
carted off to the library branch
         a payback an offering
forgot a receipt not that it matters

cleaned out the gasket-torn rusted-out fridge
more garbage bags tossed into the proper green dumpster
eyes watching from behind half-open blinds
         of the condos and garden apartments encircling
         — hey you ... you leave that computer there on the ground?
         — no sorry wasn't us
don't they have better things to do

sepia'd portraits and black and whites prints
wedgewood knick-knacks and porcelain tchatchkes
shrouded in terrycloth towels
         saved for visitors who'd never come
wrapped with 3M sealing tape blue dogs and brass clock
         in thirteen corrugated cartons
         shlepped to the route 1 pak-n-ship
         to be ups'd north
antique brass clock
         blue chinese dragon-dogs
         now guarding our mantel

the tvs and vcrs
        and everything else
left for next time
knowing without admitting aloud
there won't be a next time

Poem 36.1    January 16, 2008      It‘s best to view “but wait…there’s more” as a PDF      (up to top)

brunch with the guys

before ed died we had five
         sometimes six
we could commandeer the round table
         in the corner by the windows
         to watch the comings and goings
         luscious young ladies but so unattainable
now that we're down to four
         i wonder without saying
         what's gonna happen when there'll be fewer

we order without menus
         a western sandwich on challah
         three specials oj and coffee skim milk on the side
         egg whites and basted eggs and a stack for me
         oh and separate checks by the way
it's always the same
         so much comfort in that

we shmooze on
         about photoshop and scanners and tivo
         about xp and linux and broadband
         about wives and children and grandkids
         about health problems and ghi and golf

i drift away ruminating
         about how long we've known each other
         our decades-old excitement about internet access
                 first dialing up with a nassau number
         then lifetime access for a one-time fee
                 an offer that subsequently perished
                 like lenny like john and like ed

they drop like flies as it is said
         i must enjoy my friends as long as i'm able

In memoriam, E. D.; for G. B., D. O. & J. W.

Poem 37    January 19, 2008      (up to top)


at the community concert

why
does that lady
         that lady sitting on the aisle
         straddling her rubber-handled quad cane
why does she have to switch on her penlight
         twice three times each selection
         to read what's on the program

i fantasize
kneeling next to her ordering her
         — turn it off
         — put the damn thing away
         for good measure adding
         — what's wrong with you?
         — why can't you just listen to the music?

i conjure up my mother sitting across the aisle
         taking in a concert like this one
         disparaging it as only a diversion

then i feel ashamed
         just surmising realizing
         sensing the aisle-lady's grasp for illumination
         for order for cognition
         a failing battle against enfeebled memory

at the third penlight flash
         when my eyes flick right once again
         i too feel her desperation
         and shake my head and sigh

tomorrow
         in many years
         it may just as well be
me

Poem 38    January 20, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 6

haiku in my head

hearing seeing syllables

three lines coalesce


Poem 39    January 20, 2008      (up to top)

friday morning ’round one a m

kissed her cheek while she was asleep
pulled up blankets that had slid down
thanks she murmured let out a sigh

slipped under covers switch off the lamp
on my right side stretched out my leg
sought soft skin yearning for her warmth

reached out placed my hand on her crown
barely touching not to wake her
thus comforted i closed my eyes

Poem 40 - tetrameter triplets   January 21, 2008      (up to top)

viral infection

calamitously unleashed
exuberantly immoral
         arrogant
         narcissistic
         malignant
genetically imbued
supernaturally endowed
egomaniacally unrelenting
insistent on wreaking havoc
over heaven and earth

…unstoppable

it will not desist
until
it self-destructs
and takes with it
every other living thing

Poem 41    January 23, 2008      (up to top)

supplication

once squeezed out
baby cries out
for sustenance soothing
to be membraned
back into its womb

once cast off
man cries out
for sustenance soothing
answers to eternal questions
quelling of primordial terrors
all-encompassing refuge

these overarching yearnings
are unobtainable unattainable
without artificial constructs counterfeit crutches
and thus
are
ultimately futile

Poem 42    January 25, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 7

skin is getting old

can see wrinkles of aging

rest of me's still young


Poem 43 - from VHA    January 27, 2008      (up to top)

rational dysfunction

linear function
divide years remaining by total life expectancy
         assume 80 a nice round number
and get a steadily decreasing fraction ratio
         60 is three fourths of 80 40 is half 20 is one fourth
         10 is one eighth and so on
life ≡ time is supposed to behave linearly
         with order sequence steady progression undistorted decline

non linear function
divide years remaining by years expended
         again assume 80
         75 is 15 times 5 70 is 7 times 10
         60 is 3 times 20 40 is 1 times 40 20 is one third of 60
         10 is one seventh of 70 5 is one fifteenth of 75
the ratio's decrease accelerates over time
         the velocity is not constant not linear
life ≡ time feels much more like this curve
         a fast motion movie a logarithmic slide
         a quickening rush a diminishment on the rampage

Poem 44    January 28, 2008      (up to top)

red light green light

missed a red light today
         too close for comfort
three cross streets clustered
         traffic lights in synch
         until today

stopped in time
         no harm no foul
         got honked at anyway
         waved my hand sorry

been there when
         timing belt shredded gas line ruptured freewheel seized
         each time walked away
         mopped my brow phew

running on automatic
         taken for granted
paying attention
         thought i was
         until today

Poem 45.1    January 29, 2008      (up to top)

shades of blues at dusk

boardwalk at twilight
         balmy breeze huffs the bugs away
         two late-middle-agers like horny teens
         snuggling, nuzzling against the rail
we break our embrace, walk on, holding hands

— i was just thinking about something
         she says, casual, teasing
— ohhh nooo ... not again!
         i answer, exaggerated, mocking
we chuckle together outside-within
our shared-secret language
         of jokes, routines, gestures

still, i sigh-exhale
         imperceptibly i hope i stifled it
         an omen in our language that i won't want to listen
despite the reassuring shtick
         i fear what's coming: frustration, irritation
         being brought down, gnawed at, eaten away
— about what?
         i ask moments later, as expected, continuing our continuity
         while thinking, so what's it going to be about this time?
                 redoing the bathroom?
                 refinishing the floors?
                 decking over the cracking patio?
         or worse, more ominous:
                 persistent strain-stress between family members
                 should've's about buying that summer house out east
                 rumblings of depression just beneath the surface

the disquiet, the doubts, the angst
         are gnats
         aroused and stinging
when evening's breath becomes still

Poem 46.1    January 31, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 8

my wife's gentle breaths

I lie awake fretting

our fingers entwined

— For VHA

Poem 47.1    February 3, 2008      (up to top)

never discarded

> hey look, i found a letter
         she unfolded a yellowed looseleaf sheet
         filled with dark angry scrawls
> it's one i wrote to you back in eighty-two
> you know when things between us weren't so good

i acknowledged her discovery with a grunt
         though blurred some by decades
         i'll never forget those harsh nights
         of hurt accusations and discord

< you want me to read it?
         i reached out my hand
< or is it another of those letters you wrote only for yourself?

> no, not really
         answered only the first of the two questions
> anyway it's missing page two
         as she re-folded it and slipped it away

didn't want to watch where it went
         probably in the kitchen cabinet
         behind the aspirin and the vitamin c

wondered why she hadn't torn it to shreds
         or burned it back then
         when she was yearning for a serenity
         i couldn't provide

Poem 48.2    February 4, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 9

oil-slicked asphalt

pregnant clouds mournful tears

iridescence reigns


Poem 49.1    February 5, 2008      (up to top)

intermission

< so, how'd you like it so far?
> i don't know ... it's just, uh ...
< and we've seen some of the actors before, like on t-v
> you obviously liked it more than I did
< yeah, but ...
> well, it just wasn't my cup of tea

damn it! ... i wanted to ask
         < aren't these second row seats great?
         < don't you get a rush just by being here?
         < isn't it exciting to experience live theater? ... here in the city?

damn it to hell! ... i then wanted to add
         < what ever happened to your adventuresomeness?
         < what ever happened to your spirit?
         < what ever happened to the woman i married?

but all i actually said was
< maybe the second act will be better

she shrugged her shoulders, sour-faced me
> maybe ... we'll see

i decided to enjoy the rest of the show
         ... as best as i could

Poem 50.1    February 18, 2008      (up to top)

infatuation

this morning

at our weekly torah class no less

sitting around a table covered with thin white plastic

i fell in lust in love

again

Poem 51    February 19, 2008      (up to top)

sandy knoll

before the next
after the one before
scan panoramic landscapes
threateningly bleak from far away
up close replete with concealed delights

searching how far from where I've come
steps etched into sun-baked grit
evil pranksters' exhalations
sweeping obliterating
trudge blindly on

Poem 52    February 24, 2008      (up to top)

haiku 10

tonight's moon is full

crossing holding father's hand

safe in his shadow


Poem 53    February 26, 2008      (up to top)

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 54.1    March 11, 2008      It‘s best to view IN MEMORIAM as a PDF      (up to top)

deflating

i really feel good
i feel so good
felt so good
felt so

mantra fades
who am i kidding?
bubble's punctured
helium high is gone

find the magic tape
cover every hole
but even i know
it won't work

never does

Poem 55    March 14, 2008      (up to top)

orchestral

i exist
within and about
an unbounded lattice of
chaotic oscillation resonance
dissonance harmony
pandemonium stillness

an ever-mutating schema of
the affective cognitive volitional
their strings sinews skins
stretched turnbuckled taut
plucked strummed bongoed
palpitated squeezed caressed

an unrehearsed symphony
the mellifluous cacophony
that is my life

Poem 56    March 24, 2008      (up to top)

incomplete servings

was a day back when
heidi our first terrier
nosed my mother's unpalatable meatloaf
around in her bowl
like a willful anorectic
refusing to eat any
though she would eat anything else
... the stuff of stories to follow

was a day back when
i visited my mother
now older by decades
down south in her condo
couldn't get enough of the pot roast
she reheated every night
... the heartburn was worth it

was a day back when
i watched heart-aching
as my mother's live-in
took the almost untouched
beef with chinese vegetables
shoveled it into the garbage
out of her sight
... and already out of mind

— Appeared in Perspectives -- Poetry Concerning Autism and Other Disabilities Volume II, 2012

Poem 57    March 24, 2008      (up to top)

becoming unglummed

monday
any bleak day
doldrummed depleted bummed out
got a bad case of the blues

realizing's the catch-22
then following through
all i've gotta do now
is ride out the storm

Poem 58    April 2, 2008      (up to top)

disconnect

< i downloaded fitna while you were away
> what?
< it's an anti-muslim movie made by ...
         she starts rinsing off some dishes
i wait for her to finish
         and was about to continue
         when she turns the water on again
when she's done this time
i turn a page
         and say nothing

she comes upstairs
         mouses on the other computer
i check the clock on mine
she checks her email opens up firefox plays solitaire
more than twenty minutes go by
> i'm gonna take a bath then go to sleep
< you could've seen the movie
         < it's only seventeen minutes long
> i wasn't into anything serious

she gets up to leave
i acknowledge-wave without turning

Poem 59    April 2, 2008      (up to top)

what might have been

through twenty-six-year-old eyes i see
streisand cheeks and streaked blond pageboy
her standing on the faculty lunchroom line
i can't approach her i'm married so is she
i wouldn't know how to what to do

like a lovesick teen i pass her classroom
to peer through reinforced panes
to catch a glimpse before i'm spotted
our bifurcated lives keep us apart

we both attend a required retirement dinner
fueled by alcohol we proclaim our affection
confess our mutual need our yearning
still we inhabit different realms
only accidentally coincidentally intersecting

a couple of afternoons we do meet up
to grasp at the straws of years slipping by
to promise to rekindle gasping embers
after i kiss her cheek and say i'll see ya
it all seems pointless futile
except for the empty what-if ache

through sixty-one-year-old eyes i see
shrunken cheeks and silvered hair
her standing on the supermarket checkout line
i turn away to order appetizers
when i look back she's gone

Poem 60.1    April 8, 2008      (up to top)

61

40 was a piece of cake
50 no problemo
but 60 brought a composite
of reality
trepidation
dread
dad dead at 65
grandpa at 65
no matter mom hit 85
and grandma 90
60 a tough number
to confront
swallow
absorb
now 61 in my forever prime
the only way is to resist
to face-off
stare-down
endure

Poem 61.1    April 20, 2008      (up to top)

countdown

how many days to go? i’m asked
they know i keep track
counting today? i ask
no not today
so i tell them: eighteen class days
then another eight
until our high school will once again
wither and whimper its last gasping breath

but hey who’s counting? i ask
convincing fooling myself
that i’m mocking only the others
who are counting down their days
who aren’t asking the real questions
of me of themselves
         by me of myself
how’re you feeling about it?
         how do i feel about it?
what’re you going to do?
         what will i do?
who will you become? how will you define yourself?
what’re ya how’re ya who’re ya gonna be when you finally grow up?

i’m still counting down those last twenty-six
with a vengeance
until it’s time
to begin the rest of my life

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 22, February 2012

Poem 62    May 16, 2008      (up to top)

masturbation, literally

reluctant ember glows
wick flickers to life
excited tungsten incandesces
cartoon idea balloon inflates festers
thus ... a poem a microfic a story is born

limit the adverbs show don't tell
dialog description details
abhor absolutes energy vampires fluff
kill space-filler words of negative value
work gets itself typed on the screen
thesaurus'd spell-checked proofread
saved printed backed-up
paper-clipped three-hole punched
slipped into the binder uploaded to the website

gets headited in the shower
on the next dog walk bike ride
during mental down time
before falling asleep after waking up
gets rewritten reworked revised
saved reprinted how many trees?
backed-up clipped punched
slipped into the binder uploaded
repeat previous steps

catharsis one reward
a finished polished work another
an offering to the godhead of creativity
self-gratification at its finest

Poem 63.1    May 22, 2008      (up to top)

a grave too shallow

slipped a coupla crisp twenties onto each gravedigger's outstretched palm
begged them to claw out another six feet with their backhoe
wanted uncle benny the bastard deeper than deep

sorry senorita not allowed ... besides the máqina
no can do ... and the straps for the casket
they won't reach that far down

wanted to ensure benny was interred way down
so he could not bring us down anymore
with his hateful venomous tongue
his loveless garlicky embraces
his cruel loathsome temper
his vile filthy caresses

no magnitude of dirt could possibly entomb
what benny bequeathed his loved ones
could prevent his lecherous legacy
from leaching right back up

what remains is our remains
discontentment
pessimism
shame

our instability
timidity
fear

— Appeared in Toward Forgiveness / An Anthology of Poems, 2010

Poem 64.1    June 6, 2008      (up to top)

still life

we're enveloped in shade
under the crab apple past its prime
i'm waiting for jimmy my wheaten
stretched out on wet grass panting
too dog-tired to go on

you there
silver haired lady
behind double-pane glass
pillow-propped up
whatever do you seefeelhear

your focus
if there's a focus
is it only on the tv
affixed mounted on the wall

timidly tepidly i wave
maybe i'll get your attention
maybe you'll see us notice us
maybe you'll realize there are still lives
still a life
besides what's blaring on your screen

hey you goddamn it
the least you can do is turn your head
the least you can do is look

Poem 65.2    June 14, 2008      (up to top)

impermanence 2

mounds of cement-gray red-brick rubble
truck-hauled away
its sand-dirt-coated parking lot a flattened expanse
a basement cavity to the east an unfilled grave
one forgotten pile in the southwest corner
a misbehaving wreckage-child set aside discarded
like the sentient children and adults
who'd inhabited that space
whose voices if you listen closely enough
still reverberate
in the jagged stone wreckage
in the rebar remnants
in its vestige remains

no longer a promise of revivication resurrection
no more proudly announcing!
no more coming soon!
those signs've been removed dragged away
or toppled surrendering on their own
with neither a murmur nor a plea for redemption
only wayward swirls whistling over what's left
kicking up dust
bending weeds too stubborn to succumb

Poem 66.1    July 5, 2008      (up to top)

sycamores sick of ’em

i used to hate the sycamores
their stinky sticky scaly buds
mottled exfoliating trunks
camouflaged
they'd better hide from me

i used to hate the sycamores
their faux maple leaves
browned crisped fallen to the ground
crunching under my bicycle tires
it's only the middle of my summer

how dare they drop so early
how dare they force me to face
another first day of school approaching
another term of disillusionment
another counting down to the end of june

but i don't count down anymore
and i no longer hate the sycamores

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 67    September 9, 2008      (up to top)

impermanence 3

a wasteland
before there was possibility
now only broken promises
watched over by a lone skeletal sentry
a misshapen tower stripped of lights
surrounded by crashed-in fences
secured with rusting links and locks
wonder if anyone has the keys

wreckage mound greened over
concrete overtaken by whispering weeds
the sandy-edged pit no longer so deep
its sides no longer so steep
nothing left but crazy eddies
of swirling landless debris

Poem 68.1    September 9, 2008      (up to top)

impermanence trilogy

june 3, 2007
scowling razor wire-topped fencing
safeguarding bulldozer-high hulks
of jagged rust brown stone
heaped up sepulchral ephemeral monuments
formless crumbling cairns
but here there's no 9/11 eulogy
no tear-shedding elegy
no time for mourning
just another demo corp's tear-down job

excreted forth in majestic rainbow lettering
proudly announcing / coming soon
a condominium strip mall luxury senior residence
professional offices supermarket boutiques galore
an Applebee's Best Buy CVS Denny's
i can hardly wait
until the wrecking ball swings by again

july 5, 2008
mounds of cement-gray red-brick rubble
truck-hauled away
its sand-dirt-coated parking lot a flattened expanse
a basement cavity to the east an unfilled grave
one forgotten pile in the southwest corner
a misbehaving wreckage-child set aside discarded
like the sentient children and adults
who'd inhabited that space
whose voices if you listen closely enough
still reverberate
in the flattened ruins
in the rebar remnants
in its vestige remains

no longer a promise of revivification resurrection
no more proudly announcing / no more coming soon
those signs have been removed dragged away
toppling surrendering on their own
with neither murmur nor plea for redemption
only wayward swirls whistling over what's left
kicking up dust
bending weeds too stubborn to succumb

september 9, 2008
a wasteland
before there was possibility
now only broken promises
watched over by a lone skeletal sentry
a misshapen tower stripped of its lights
surrounded by crashed-in fences
secured with rusting links and locks
wonder if anyone has the keys

concrete overtaken by whispering weeds
the memorial mound greened over
the sandy-edged pit no longer so deep
its sides no longer so steep
nothing left but crazy eddies
shifting swirling
unsettled

Poem 69.3    September 15, 2008      (up to top)

truth be told

i was reading a scene from a story i'd written
some years back
the facts were spot on both now and then
when i wrote it
         so i thought

had the words overwritten the memories
i began to wonder
if the narrative itself has become the truth
whatever the truth was
         how will i ever know

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

Poem 70    September 20, 2008      (up to top)

stilled life

silver-haired lady shuddering
behind double-pane glass
now shuttered
hope there wasn't much pain

vultures circle
loved ones who never found time
real estate agents squabbling for points
wannabe buyers with no money down
banks battling for their fortunes

fast forward
deteriorated roof
fallen flashing
overgrown bushes
boarded-up windows
weeds turned to reeds
even the for-sale sign askew

but to you it doesn't matter anymore
only to us who remain

A sequel of sorts to poem 65 -- still life -- June 14, 2008

Poem 71    October 1, 2008      (up to top)

milestone millstone

61 • 52 / 130 / .353 • 7
roger maris breaking babe ruth's home run record
mickey mantle's triple crown statistics
cobra 427's zero to a hundred to zero elapsed time

numbers from my youth still inhabit me
still haunt me still mock me why i ever cared so much

the 1961 battle between roger and mickey
a record broken on the last day of an asteriskable season
snapping a black and white photo
with an argus camera aimed at our 21 inch zenith

the mick my hero my idol
i even mimicked him flexing my fingers when i batted
delighting elated at his peak rounding the bases
grieving disillusioned when he struck out wincing
when he died i cried which took me by surprise

from a standing start launching to 100 then squealing to a stop
can you believe it? just count 'em off
one one thousand ... two one thousand ... up to seven one thousand
but now an internet search declares actual 12.4 & 13.8 seconds

which brings me back down to earth
facts whether true or false make me wonder
why these statistics were so important in the first place
and how i measure value in my life

Poem 72    November 2, 2008      (up to top)

writer's disillusionment

chose two of my best stories
that everyone claimed to love
        you write so well
        you should send them off
        you could get them published
thought i'd try a competition
edited them for the umpteenth time
did a word-count double-spaced formatted as required
wrote a check for the entry fee
mailed the brown envelope off
waited

worried that the check didn't clear right away
did they get them would they read them would they care
could i win could i place could i at least show

summer languished by
i fantasized
maybe i'll win
maybe i'll be in the top ten
maybe my writing'll be acknowledged appreciated rewarded

pixels missing on the contest website
no first prize
no honorable mention
not even the top one hundred
how many entries could there've been
what do i have to do to win

Poem 73    November 2, 2008      (up to top)

dreamworld

i must've been living in a dream
of dependent affluent ease
and then the fall
a hip a life
two lives shattered
now bills taxes living wills
statements payments paper mountains
an avalanche of angst
live-in aides taking up space
dining room morphed into an infirmary
hospital bed at the picture window
calling crying moaning bleeding
nightmare with no escape
can i wish for him to die
so i can dream again

For R. K.

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2011

Poem 74    November 3, 2008      (up to top)


combat weary

my alter ego a hydra
barraging the muse
spewing poisonous breath
it alone is immortal

i'm tired of dwelling
in that dark and dreary place
of insult affliction and anguish
of sickness dysfunction and death

redemption might arise
from the ashes of catharsis
but never a conceptual guarantee
only a final reckoning

i cannot escape
diminishing arc inhabiting
the soul of the plot line i battle
but refuse to call my life

Poem 75.1    November 19, 2008      (up to top)

soaring

skimming above crystalline waters
peering down at picnic revelers
i wave with no hands
exalting in effortlessness
banking
whooshing away
ecstatic silence

surfing queens boulevard
forever downhill
urethane wheels retract
quickening
gliding hairbreadth above pavement
hastening past
traffic cross-streets lights stores
a blur
potholes ridges ruts
unfelt

jumping down fourteen stairs
then another twelve
landing
awakening
heart pounding
joyous

Poem 76    November 20, 2008      (up to top)

good doggie

i love it jimmy smiling

when we're at the field
jimmy's too far away for comfort
comes running towards me
ears flapping
he seems and i feel so full of joy
point down at the ground
mock severe say come here
stops next to me
pat him rub his back
scratch behind his ears
smile and say good doggie

i love it
when i've been at the computer
tiptoe into our bedroom
jimmy's on our bed stretched out
half tail starts waggling
oozes over on his back
get on my knees
lean my head on his body
hug and scratch and rub his belly
hum softly say you're such a good doggie

i love it
when jimmy stops stares at people gets them to react
approaches sits next to a child allows a fumbling hand
stands in front of the tv eye-asks to be let out
assumes the begging position next to me at the table
leans his head on my leg gets me to go already
places his paw on my mother-in-law's knee when she cries
jimmy's such a good doggie

— Appeared in Paws, Claws, Wings and Things … Poetry For And About Pets, 2012

Poem 77    November 21, 2008      It‘s best to view good doggie as a PDF      (up to top)

haiku 11

yesterday's reigns've fall'n

grave pelting drops incessant

now incandescent


Poem 78    November 26, 2008      (up to top)

dem dry bones

through the valley of dry bones rattling
awaiting sinews flesh skin resurrection

flows a river of sodden tennis balls
amputated from medical walkers
banished to the trash heap of memories

undulating over bent broken tubes
their once optic flourescent felt
a faded mass of ashen oscillation

yearning for the breath of the four winds
so the vast slain multitude may live again

— from Ezekiel 37:1 - 37:11

Poem 79    November 30, 2008      (up to top)


older

my autumn of becoming
not exactly old
but older

depleted
when last year after a long walk
i was only fatigued

feeling it
each morning
my first creaking steps downstairs

and now requiring
         extra layers gloves and hat
                  bicycle tights forget the shorts
                          slippers and socks no bare feet
                                   finger warmups before the keyboard
                                            jumbo-sized bottles of costco's ibuprofen

i'm no rockette but still i'm kickin'

Poem 80    December 13, 2008      (up to top)

unhappy horse manure

another eulogy
smooth soothing phrases
like clown makeup
masking the harsh and unhearable

i've gotten to know him her whomever
says he with clerical collar or yarmulke
with sad pious eyes
with mournfulness perfected in a sideshow mirror
uttering crib-sheeted words
from a playbook shelved under fiction
reciting the some-truths and untruths
that will may might never
incise the abscesses
cauterize the wounds
anesthetize the ache

... so tell us what do you know
... what are your euphemisms for
vicious intolerant unyielding
abusive divisive spiteful ...
where do you find these
in your reverential lexicon
of kind-sounding lies

Poem 81    December 16, 2008      (up to top)

pesky varmints

they're at it again
scampering skittering atop the roof
traversing from suet cage to bird feeder
performing high jumps back flips contortions
backyard trials for the squirrel olympics

tormenting our frustrated terrier
with the inbred temerity to pursue them
twitching beefy bushy tails
chittering from just low enough
as he barks plaintive pleas for them to descend
just this once

when he's coaxed inside
our squirrels come charging back down
from brown leafy nests cradled high in the branches
of the sassafras tupelo and oak
intimidating pigeons robins and doves
cardinals flickers blue jays and wrens
on their quest for the rodential gold medal ...
the perfect sunflower seed

Poem 82    December 18, 2008      (up to top)

idling

stuck in neutral
engine running
sometimes pinging
sometimes misfiring
but mostly rumbling
depending on the warmth
the prevailing winds
the internal storm brewing

all's left to do is
step on the brake
grab the gear stick
shift it into drive
press down the gas pedal ...

yet still
it's so damn hard
to
just
start
moving

Poem 83    December 27, 2008      (up to top)

angry at

on the warpath
again

this time
it's advertising circulars
bagged in cheap plastic
blanket-tossed from vans
strewn onto lawns sidewalks streets
picked up perhaps
by many who garbage-can recycle them
by few who breathlessly await them
but never to be ignored

wet filthy expired
they litter our surroundings
despoil our neighborhood
denigrate our community

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011

Poem 84    January 3, 2009      (up to top)

elusive perception

i boardwalked through mist and drizzle
past strands and swaths of marsh grass
in hues of wheat and cheddar and honey
past stunted splotches of graygreen pines
keeping my hooded head down
alert for nails and shards and broken boards
and when i returned to where i began
my psychesalving mission was fulfilled

i relativevisited today
deepdropped into a tattered sofa
balancing a coffee-stained cup of tepid herbal tea
on my knee and nodding and smiling and listening
to words muttered through dusty yellowhaze
filtered through once-sheer lace curtains
tales concocted from a reality long past
unsaid accusations hidden inside raspy utterances
like noxious waves crashing down through the fog
my bobbing-doll head my chip-painted grimace-grin my eyes glazed over

Poem 85.1    January 7, 2009      (up to top)

heisenbergin’ feelin’ good

boardwalkin' westerly bound
one point two miles out
feelin' not fabulous not great not t'riffic
but simply ... easy-goin' good

clothed perfectly for the gusty cold
shoes tied just right
avishai cohen's bass lines in my earbuds
no aches no effort no angst
one foot in front of the other a mantra
on mesmerizing parallel slats
a zone of zen-like tranquility
... just movin' along

want to bottle the moment
put it on ice
sip from its contents when it's dark and bleak
when the road ahead is rutted and impassible

oh man ... darn ... damn
realizing that just thinking about it
then putting it into sub-vocalized words
will burst then dissolve
this fleeting moment of serenity

— Heisenberg Principle: pairs of conjugate variables cannot both be known with arbitrary precision ... here, the feeling of overwhelming well-being cannot be retained once it's being analyzed or even considered

Poem 86.2    January 10, 2009      (up to top)


sliced from life

our family history
is written in tears

tears in the mythic fabric
fragments from a tattered tapestry
portentous moments from a deliquescent past

conjured from faded photographs
dredged from melancholic memory
punchlines without the laugh track

depression breakdowns drinking abuse
swindlers fakers cancer divorce
heart attacks suicide spiritual death

we dwell within the morose
enter the realm of the uplifting
only if there's space on the page
only if there's time

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Fourteenth Annual Literary Review, 2010

Poem 87    January 16, 2009      (up to top)

haiku 12

wavelets lapping up

ocean debris in their wake

expunging footprints


Poem 88    January 17, 2009      (up to top)

visiting quartet

demon sat down for breakfast
said he needed quiet
had black coffee two eggs rye toast
lit up a marlboro started hacking

satan came for lunch
said he was on a diet
but picked pickles off my plate
finished half my salmon sandwich

god appeared around dinner
said i shouldn't worry
ordered in a thin crust pizza
mushrooms onions extra cheese

angel of death showed up 'round midnight
said he was in no hurry
ate cheese puffs flipped through the channels
fell asleep snoring on the couch

Poem 89    January 21, 2009      (up to top)

home visits

my dog jimmy is running for mayor
or a shortcut to heaven so it seems
doing his mitzvah of bikkur cholim
visiting shut-ins during our walks

like tory and fodo and winston
to the north
or rufus and happy and biscuit
to the south
dragging me to their front doors
where i'm obliged to ring the bell
or knock on the door
then wait for a canine or human response

sometimes he wants to chase them around their backyard
sometimes he wants to barge in to check out their bowls
sometimes he wants to touch noses to see how they're doin'
sometimes he just wants to hear them bark

our visits don't last very long
for there are other stops to make

Poem 90    February 3, 2009      (up to top)

loss not found

unrepentant ghosts of sorrow
scratching tell-tale souvenirs
into facial fault lines
a living canvas taut with grief

unshed memories today tomorrow
fragility fueled by ever-fears
behind a mask a haunted smile
searching yearning no relief

Poem 91    February 12, 2009      (up to top)

hang up

i’m just the husband of a wife
whose second father
just died
         and now
i share less and less of her
as she tends to the widow
as she had tended to his passage
         as we also age
i’m getting good at being by myself
to thrive in solitude
         so i believe
i’ve gotta push myself to make connections
knowing isolation breeds depression
that blooms like a weed in my family tree
         and i wait
until she hangs up the phone
then she extends her arms
         we embrace
never leave me she says
her voice filled with tears
         it’s too visceral too needy too cloying
i crack that old joke about why men die first
because they want to i say
thought neither one of us laughs
yet still she complains
you know that’s getting old
yeah i’m sorry i say
         we hug again
but for real this time
and while we melt together
i wonder which one of us will die first
         who will lose
the other half of our soul
that binds us together
despite others despite life
despite time spent apart

Poem 92    February 13, 2009   ...   Rev 92.1    January 20, 2019      (up to top)

stop bye

we're seated
octogenarian tag-team
flanking our dusty couch
lateraling questions
we're fumbling for answers
mutely

while
preoccupied with their own
interests worries activities
what they think do believe
stepping on our words
we realize

there's
no breathing room left for us
long odds against dialogue
we wither for want of a hook
no point

         honey, i think your mother ...
         oh, right ... jeez, i lost track of time
         well it's been really nice
         sorry we have to go

in the car
we sigh shake our heads promise each other
we'll never be like that

Poem 93    February 17, 2009      (up to top)

it’s too early

my youngest grandson's bris
was held at eight on a thursday morning
with the daily prayer service just before ...
and his grand uncle my brother
couldn't wouldn't just didn't show

for my older grandson's bris his excuse was
it's too early ... it's in manhattan the railroad the subway the traffic
then and now so many others gladly came
to celebrate our simcha with us
everyone who counted
everyone else from our family

i'm furious and hurt and disgusted
at my older brother's it's too early crap-out
then and again now
for the pathetic truth is otherwise
his antagonism animosity small-mindedness
his intolerance self-loathing anti-orthodoxy
his inability at 67 to grow up and rise above

i'd like to scream at him all these things i feel
but i'll probably tone it down to
you really disappointed me
and try to leave it at that
for the sake of shalom bais
for the sake of keeping peace
in our family

bris: the ritual circumcision held on the eighth day after birth ... simcha: joy; festive occasion

Poem 94    March 1, 2009      (up to top)


for ever and ever

if the snowfall is heavy
i shovel the balcony
to prevent ice dams forming
and subsequent leaks

when i was out there some years ago
from a few blocks away
the molten-gold voice
of our daughter rang out
ever stronger as she neared
king of kings and lord of lords
and he shall reign for ever and ever
hallelujah hallelujah
         hallelujah hallelujah
and i listened rejoicing
through lingering snowflakes
in the muffled quiet
of a silvery afternoon

now i am serenaded only
by the sibilance of the wind
the creaking of the sassafras
the echoes of reminiscence

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 95    March 3, 2009      (up to top)

seven-thirty clusterfuck

bookstore library coffee house scene
introductory anticipation premonitory sensation
and a drum roll please ... for our featured poet
         i wrote this when i was inspired by i remember back when
         i i i i'm so full of myself look at me listen to me amn't i aren't i great
         my book my book i'll read from my book let me turn to the page
cooing cowing mooing melodic
spouting spitting ranting raving
getting into the rhythm now
into that flow zone now
into that bippity boppity gibbery jabbery
where relevance meaning come second by far
where utterances are priceless gems glibly refracting
to others ... to whom?
who ooh and aah and sigh two-syllable hmm-mm's
maybe gasp applaud politely of course 'cause that's what's expected
and in wonderment exclaim
         ohhh it's so powerfulll so absolutely amaaazing
so so ... what's the word i'm lookin' for?
i'm so speechless i ... i ... can't hold it innn

nah i didn't let it go ... don't believe it ... it's all bullshit ... gimme a break
i cannot be here ... this isn't me
you aren't me ... all of you ... get out now
you humanoid distortions in my fragged sideshow mirror

Poem 96    March 6, 2009      (up to top)

as it is written

i find myself
speaking in phrases
i've written before
words and descriptions
honed over time
taking on emphasis
that may never've been

i've a fear of becoming
a self-referential
sound byte machine
halting then mind-searching
for the best thing to say
believing what is said
has the imprimatur
of truth

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

Poem 97    March 11, 2009      (up to top)

the golden land

we play-acted our vignettes
before a holocaust survivor's group
improvising about agitated depression
moving to assisted living
mental illness's impact on a family

i heard my grandmother's voice
within their thickly-accented yiddish
responses questions observations suggestions
in the silences

i heard my grandmother's voice
and her story -
cossacks pursuing on horseback
outside minsk where she lived
while her own demons gnawed at her from inside
         not wanting to leave
but disembarking from steerage onto the goldina medina
suffering fear poverty hunger abuse
spawning depression anguish persistent sadness
         a broken and sorrowing heart

her legacy
to us
her survivors

Poem 98    March 12, 2009      (up to top)

retort to a blank screen

lean times
the muse is out to lunch
punched out early
on vacation
maybe gone for good
no telling when he/she/it’ll reappear

heh heh ... i’ll thwart ya ... i’ll call your bluff
come out come out wherever you are
no ... huh?
then i’ll expose you for the fraudulent trickster you are
hide from me will ya?

so muse-ee baby
here ya go
take these lines of writing
despite your absence
despite forsaking me
despite hanging me out to dry
so what if these words aren’t artful or sensitive
breathless or sparkling
or reflective of the human condition

up yours muse
i don’t need ya
i’ll just fill up the screen with pixels
... hey you ... wait a sec ...
where d’ya think you’re goin’?

Poem 99.1    March 20, 2009      (up to top)

dwellers in darkness

huddling in caves awaiting first light
torch fires glisten on wet-shimmering walls
whites of their eyes and decaying teeth
jack-o'-lanterns warding off dread

peering through arms raised to shun away slivers
of morning rays filtered through faults and fissures
a young one a brave one skitters on pebbles and sand
towards the opening the mouth but shudders to a stop

looking back turned ahead he's frozen
by terror excitement by disparaging sneers
elysian fields beckon far from the night
of impoverishment superstition and fear

he dives from sure death as he leaps forth to life
in the misery of their shadows their mourning begins
in his freedom from shackles his morning begins

Poem 100    March 23, 2009      (up to top)

parallel parking
        parallel lives

look! _ there's a spot
         waddya talkin' about?
up there on the left _ in front of the red car
         nah _ it's probably a goddam hydrant

         hey _ what about right here?
it's too small _ you'll never get in
         gimme a break _ i know how to park
you want me to get out and help?

c'mon _ pull over and i'll _
         no _ stay right where you are
i'm just trying to help
         i don't need your help

         damn _ i gotta pull out and try again
i told you you weren't going to make it
         you know something? _ you're such a bitch
yeah _ well _ that makes two of us

Poem 101    March 26, 2009      (up to top)


friday evening

four hot dogs two fries two sodas

medium-sized portions mediocre food


ricky and marla huddled in the corner

ruthie and joey in paint-stained pants


hyped-on-sugar toddlers in the aisles

hours-way-past exhausted offspring


wizened black man in torn overalls

old man's slippers lady's painted face


extended families expanded waistlines

four hot dogs two fries two sodas

family special

sixteen ninety-five plus tax

manna from fast-food heaven


whispering sweet everythings

gossiping over their rug rats


careening zooming whooping

squabbling squalling screaming


pushing his lady's wheelchair

nibbling their weekly diversion


stretched-to-the-bone budgets

sixteen ninety-five plus tax

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011

Poem 102    March 29, 2009      It‘s best to view friday evening family special as a PDF      (up to top)

schnorrer

when i think of a beggar i envision
the hajib'd pauper nuzzling her vacant-eyed infant at the old city gate
the street urchin hawking chicklets on a back street in tijuana
the foul-smelling panhandler jingling a cardboard cup's coins

when i think of a schnorrer i picture
the disheveled chasid trolling for handouts at a wedding
the relative in the restroom whenever the dinner check is proffered
the telephone caller from a charity soliciting yet another donation
our dog rooted at his usual spot next to me at the table

with his chin on my armrest
jostling my elbow with his snout
blinking his big sad brown eyes
staring woefully at me
shnuckling his nose
licking his chops
clinking his tags
pawing my knee
looking haggard and forlorn
resenting my every mouthful
... he can't possibly be that needful
unless you ask him of course

with his expertise and erudition
he could teach the master class in schnorring

Poem 103    April 7, 2009      (up to top)

encounter on the path

out of the noon o'clock haze
come a man and woman
in matching green parkas on a balmy spring day
walking the way old people walk
slow ... steady ... slow ... his arm in hers
he stops forces his hands up on a light pole
stretches ... walks on

my wife says you know he looks familiar
to me he looks like every other geezer with a short silver beard
as we pass them she says ... doc?
he turns ... looks befuddled
it's me ... vivien ... from the pool?
oh yeah i remember ... but i wonder if he does
and i say i'm lloyd ... the guy on the that bike
yeah ... oh yeah he mumbles
then ... you know i've been in the hospital
well i'm glad you're out my wife says
yeah ... the doctor tells me i've gotta do my walking

years before he cut back his dental practice
to surf sail swim womanize
wore a gold cock ring all the time
had multiple girl friends
made lewd comments
played the sex-hungry dog

as we separate my wife says i was just thinking about you
at night i hope ... he answers

Poem 104    April 10, 2009      (up to top)

bitter self-affliction

a second cousin twice removed
nods off within her maxwell house haggadah
between the four questions
and the ten plagues

there’s her backstory –
snowboarding accident
fractured pelvis painkiller abuse
manipulative skel boyfriend
bank account withdrawals detox withdrawal
father’s anguish mother’s heartbreak

and tonight –
her pinprick pupils
her sojourns to the bathroom
her slurred boy-i’m-so-tired excuses
her coming self-destruction
as together we read passover’s backstory
of slavery and freedom

we’re afraid for her
fearing the damning prognosis
that she might not survive
the self-imposed shackles
of her own oppression

Poem 105.1    April 12, 2009      (up to top)

contact low

sometimes i feel so slate-gray crappy
though i'm doing the same things i've always done
walking writing reading riding
movies classes workshops meetings
listening to jazz sporadic love-making

in the past my runner's high couldn't cut through it
pedaling these days just advances the odometer
and even while being involved
with family and grandchildren
ennui and melancholy smother me like goo

after several months
of broken sleep sourness fatigue and angst
i finally come to realize
that the person closest to me
has been suffering in secret too
that the whirling wings of her demons
have enveloped me in their turbulence
and i had been oblivious yet again

this realization mollifies and assuages
but those damn infernal demons
don't spontaneously take flight
they've now become ours

Poem 106    April 14, 2009      (up to top)

three fourteen a m

blankets kicked off awake shivering
cpap machine's air flow's too strong f'in annoying gotta take it off
unhook mask air hose knocks off cordless phone damn gotta pick it up
reach for the on/off switch almost silent fan fades away stillness

three twenty-one
achy sore i'll never fall asleep
shoulda taken a couple of ibuprofens
click sony's sleep-timer press in earplug
button-hunt through the a-m stations
wfan wor wabc wcbs wins wepn ... back to the fan
aaron from brooklyn go ahead chris on his cell phone helen from manhattan

three thirty-two
station i-d then sell your gold your precious jewelry just mail it in yeah right
richie from east islip manuel in new haven jeff on the turnpike
property taxes filing deadline new checks laser toner computer virus update
hips dull hurt knees sore break in new shoes order a second pair discontinued
did i order refills did we get that rebate will it rain tomorrow walk the dog wet
chest dull throbbing stomach growling shoulder muscles heart attack jesus no
was it cutting ivy at the preserve picking up the grandchildren or the real thing
jim from the bronx sal on the car phone eric from new jersey

three forty
twenty-twenty update
yanks win mets lose phillies cards sox lakers nuggets nets rangers devils
not another night like last night gotta get some sleep
damn i need the bathroom doze off sitting on the bowl
should i take a valium do i need one do i really need one
yes yes yes i do but only a half only a half can't really hurt do need one
it'll be first time long time like charlie from northport
back into bed pillow's damp flip it over
big george from staten island go ahead you're on the fan

three fifty-six
carl from the diner max in his limousine
lawnmower starting honda brakes squeal sink stopped-up dehumidifier empty
books overdue read gas meter nicads or nimhs mail in poem she's snoring again
still school not programmed dreams cannot teach dreams classroom nightmares
it's finally kicking in
the hell with the cpap for now
pull up the blankets
turn on my left side
settle head into pillow
stretch
let go
breathe in
exhale
greg fro ...

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 107    April 21, 2009      (up to top)

in the e r 1

i sit worrying
as much about tomorrow's procedure
as about not being able to take care of my responsibilities
walking the dog
filling the bird feeder
mowing the spring grass
checking my email
doing the bills though i've got a week or so

it's gonna be tough
letting others care for me
care about me
even if it'll be for only a couple of days
hopefully

so how do i deal with this
this realization
that i could've died
if the cards were dealt wrong

— Wednesday, April 22, 2009

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 108    April 30, 2009      (up to top)


in the e r 2

this sucks
i don't want to be here
hooked up to machines
waiting waiting for decisions
that could be either bad
or only undefinitive

this is ridiculous
i have an iv sticking in my right arm
i didn't want it in my right arm

i find it hard to face my wife
to watch her watching me

i find it difficult
to watch my man
lying there
hooked up

how do people keep their spirits up
when they hear we're going to admit you
again

i cried into my dog's chest today sobbing
i don't know how to feel
sometimes most of the time

i want to escape
i want to jump out of my skin

i feel that right now i can be writing my epitaph
maybe this poem will win a prize

i don't have very many black hairs left
some people some loved ones
some spouses just run and go
can't take it
and we just started on this journey

i was thinking about this just today
with cancer it goes on and on
we are not to have that hanging over our heads
but i forgot about our own sword of damocles

i feel like withdrawing
i'm so unhappy
i can't deal with us but i must of course
she shakes her head almost imperceptibly watching me
as she's writing this down
i see the disappointment
in her face
the should haves or the shouldn't haves
the vital signs in led red and green orange still look pretty good

you're a heart patient
that's what the security guard said

i'm a fucking heart patient
a new identity i cannot reject

— Transcribed by Vivien Abrams with additional text Saturday-Sunday, April 25-26, 2009

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 109    April 30, 2009      (up to top)


room 2019 snch

the waiting is the worst
wrapped within the waiting
is the unknowing
that goddamn unknown

blood enzyme levels electrocardiogram
wireless heart monitor blood pressure oxygen level
was it another heart attack
or not i hope i hope
the never really definitively answered questions
that like you really want the answers to

looking out at the baby greens pinks whites reds
surrounding the main parking lot
a day of busting color warmed by record-breaking heat
just yesterday at the park
the colors were more muted almost reluctant to pop
because it was yesterday
today the world is one day older

i don't know how to feel
i do feel burnt out a husk
one day i'm bicycling
five-mile walking jimmy
preparing for mowing the lawn
cutting ivy at the preserve
the next day nothing nada gornischt
lying in the e r on a stretcher once again
now up here i'm waiting for tomorrow
the cardiac catheter angiogram
i'm learning new words all too well

maybe i did do too much
but i will not die with self-recrimination

— Sunday, April 26, 2009

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 110    April 30, 2009      (up to top)


heartrending words

’round midnight in the e r serenaded by discordant riffs of anxiety
monitored wired iv'd-up bionic by proxy
pulse-ox heart rate systolic/dystolic in readouts of red blue green orange
dextrose saline heparin dripping pricked and stuck hematomas come later
six hours already on a clock standing still racing ahead dreading tomorrow
i'm handed a phone ... mister abrams ... this is doctor chen
         thankfully straight-talking a no b s guy
... you had a heart attack

what exactly is a heart attack i ask not fully knowing
         but knowing my father's first was fifty-two years before almost to the day
         and imagining picturing in no!-not!-me! denial mexicans overrunning the alamo
heart attack ... myocardial infarction ... heart tissue damage ... necrosis ...
why not just a cardiac event – which'd be captain renault's much more pleasant words
and i know when the event happened – being vise-gripped while riding six days before
congestion indigestion chest tightening in a crescent pattern and my left bicep too
elevated levels of blood enzymes creatine kinase and troponin
electro-cardiogram spikes compelling symptomology – it ain't lookin' great i know
angiogram angioplasty cardiac catheterization – in the card-cath lab for short
and as they wheel me down i stop 'em and ask ... what's the worst-case scenario?
bypass surgery but we don't do it here ... don't worry [shoulder pat] you'll be all right
unmentioned unspoken is a worse worst-case scenario

femoral artery puncture site radioactive dye fluoroscopy with jazz in the background
eighty and ninety-eight percent blockages – jeezus! – in two arteries d'ya see ’em?
on the triple-screen array yes i do i do see ’em – like pinched-off worms inside me
balloon catheters drug-eluting stents ... they're sorta like ballpoint springs
multiple prescriptions blood thinners beta-blockers and nitrates
plavix metoprolol isosorbride and nitroglycerin under my tongue if needed

you need to rest for a coupla days mister abrams make sure to take your meds
no lawn mowing for now maybe cut down/out the caffeine
no bicycling for a while no heavy activities no heavy lifting just take it easy
yeah ... just take it easy

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 111.1    May 4, 2009      (up to top)

new lease

could've been worse
a helluva lot worse
could've happened ten days later
in record-breaking late april heat
pedaling through central park
struggling up the fifty-ninth street bridge
climbing and speeding down the verrazano
during this year's five-boro pre-ride

and if it had been ten days later
and if an artery got itself blocked just two percent more
the minor heart attack i did suffer
might very well have been the big one

so i've got a new lease on life
as it is said
but i'm having real trouble
dealing with thinking about contemplating all this
for i often feel as though i'm passing through life
like a smooth flat stone absurdly skimming
on a turbulent sea

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 112    May 7, 2009      (up to top)

hypervigilant

when there's
congestion indigestion
a twinge a throb a spasm
my chest my neck my left arm
i pause
rub where it's bothering me
worry why what's the cause

you'll be like new the cardiologist said
maybe not new but better than before
a coupla aortic stents'll do that

yet i'm wary now about my
         genetic predisposition
         caloric cholesterol consumption
         overtaxing overdoing it
         careless callous denial
gotta keep a lookout
especially over my shoulder
for those apocalyptic steeds
and their thundering hooves
of my own internal pogrom

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 113.2    May 14, 2009      (up to top)

untogether

they
were at my wife's surprise party
attend church together
swim laps side by side at the rec center
joke with me
when my dog drags me over
to check out their doggie's bowl

from their outward affection
their seeming absence of hostility
their living under the same roof
i never would've guessed
that they've been divorced
for seven months already

i cannot walk in their shoes
nor even imagine
how a couple married for forty years
could lead their parallel lives
and together so seamlessly act
as one becoming two

Poem 114.1    May 17, 2009      (up to top)

grandpa

watch me grandpa!
i put down the paper
grin with delight
shout attaboy! way to go!

don't have the bumper sticker or license plate frame
the coffee mug baseball cap or t-shirt
proclaiming me WORLD'S BEST GRANDPA
wonder if i even qualify

lately i've been feeling more like a grandpa
i've taken to things slower than grandma
who became their grandma right away
and now realize there's almost nothing better
than a little boy's smell and a squeeze and a hug
and my nose nuzzling the littlest's soft cheek

today
they're 0, 2, 4 and 8
tomorrow maybe the day after
they'll be 10, 12, 14 and 18
and perhaps younger ones
may be joining our lollipop gang
squealing with glee
read to me! chase me! play with me!
are you watching me grandpa?

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 115.3    May 29, 2009      (up to top)

lovingkindnessed

— didya take your meds? we might be out late
— d'ya have ’em with ya? don't want ya to forget

my new status
according to my wife-lover-partner-best friend
is needing to be reminded
— you know i care for you
— wouldn't want anything to happen to you
yeah i know i know
can't find soft words to answer her back

it's bad enough having a heart attack
though i prefer to refer to it as a cardiac event
— you mean like a wedding?
— a black-tie affair?
it's worse being treated like a child
c'mon i'm all fixed up the stents are working
don't you see i'm just like before?

but when vulnerability and mortality tag-team us
jangle the keys press the latch
pound on our front door
her concern and care and lovingkindness
— wouldya please take it easy
— i want to grow old with you
mandate ministering to myself
as well as honoring and cherishing her

— Appeared in Toward Forgiveness / An Anthology of Poems, 2010

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 116.1    June 2, 2009      (up to top)

worn t-shirts

i still have a few dozen
out of the couple hundred i've amassed
silk-screened stenciled heat-transferred
from marathons and ten-k's
from bike tours and pc-expos and souvenir shops

no polyester inhabits my drawers
only 100% cottons deserve to be kept
so many have been black-bagged big-brother'd
or tossed out with the trash
the best of the best are all that are left
all extra large that still fit

some of my favorites
         marshaling the ms-tour and the five-boro
         completing the seagull century
         defunct firms like borland and global crossing
         gifts from the kids especially
are becoming unseamed and unseemly
cotton wears out over time of course
just like it's happening to me

Poem 117.1    June 3, 2009      (up to top)

nursery school graduation

in graduation caps
of shiny blue oaktag
with golden tassels
securely stapled
they march
holding hands
two-by-two
down the aisle
to pomp and circumstance
from a tinny boom box
four- and five-year olds
so full of promise
with big toothy smiles
and innocent courage
who timidly wave back
to moms and dads
and grandparents standing
beaming with pride

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 118.2    June 6, 2009      (up to top)

at the bus stop

morning mist already burning off
eleven children with backpacks and carry-ons
four mothers two grandmas an older sister
one father several steps off to the side
stand languid at the corner
as the number eighteen school bus
flashing red overhead lights
rumbles to a stop
swings out its stop sign and safety gate
folds open its doors
to allow the ordered line
of acquiescent children
to step up into its innards
waiting yet not pulling away
until a twelfth
trailed by her harried flustered mother
comes running
to join the others

the afternoon scene plays in reverse
a somewhat different cast of supporting actors
stand in the hazy sunshine
for the yellow behemoth
to disgorge the now rambunctious dozen
who dart off scampering racing chasing
shouting nos vemos see ya g'bye

Poem 119.1    June 11, 2009      (up to top)

a good dad

on the bethpage bikeway
my son pulled aside and asked
your dad ... was he a good dad?
his question took me by surprise

i'd never thought about it just that way
took a while to think it over
then answered yeah
he pretty much was
had a gruff exterior but was mild-mannered gentle inside
allowed me room to be who i'd be
forgave my numerous transgressions
especially the serial auto accidents

my brother was valedictorian a concert pianist
i barely made top ten percent
refused to practice quit piano lessons
played baseball bicycled whenever i could
yet i was judged on my own merits
my own strengths my own skills

my son's question forced me to reminisce further ...
dad was thirty-four when i was born
i was thirty when he died
still feel loss and emptiness three decades later
though time has attenuated the ache
i've yearned to have known him
into my thirties forties fifties
wonder what our relationship would've been like

mom's presence was more pressing
soon after dad's death moved 1300 miles away
lived into her eighties
was more difficult too
more emotional more testy
more like my brother has been

i've been more like dad
reluctant reticent laid back
i wish i could have asked my dad
about his dad
... was he a good dad?

Poem 120    June 18, 2009      (up to top)

consummate burger

last night i had the best burger ever
fresh empire ground turkey lean not extra lean
salsa - trader joe's mild and santa barbara garden style
blended in then shaped into
three third-of-a-pounder burgers
canola cooking oil sprayed
on a kitchenaid stainless steel non-stick fry pan
half cabbage shredded three white jumbo onions sliced
sautéed then scooped into a bowl to await
burgers pan-sizzled a bit more than medium rare
as our kitchen fills with that sweet-tart pungency

one trader joe's knotted challah roll slightly warmed
one burger smothered with onions and cabbage
topped with heinz ketchup and grey poupon mustard

that first ambrosial bite and every bite that followed
was nirvana
so ...
tonight i'm having the one remaining

Poem 121.1    June 22, 2009      (up to top)

beating the rain

nineteen days of precip
through the twenty-sixth of the month
approaching a rainfall record for june
but ... i've been beating the rain

alone on a father's day bike ride
eastbound on jericho turnpike
foreboding black sky looming
sped to roslyn road headed south
crossed old country road against the red
gusty tailwind pushed me over twenty twenty one twenty two
raced in high gear gleeful trepidatious
tentative sprinkles morphed to rain morphed into a downpour
wet-braked to a stop under a defunct beauty salon's tattered awning
watched a car wash close its bays
when droplets no longer plopped onto runoff
resumed pedaling on puddled roads
got so wet and filthy it mattered no longer
rode further south to freeport's docks
at the gazebo next to the fishing station
it started misting mizzling drizzling again ... i started laughing
i had beaten the rain

all tuesday it'd rained dogs and cats
but our dog refused to budge ... even to lift his leg outside
by three i couldn't take it anymore
got on shorts waterproof shoes rain jacket hat
you wanna go for a walk? i asked dreading dragging him downstairs
but he sprang off the bed ... what the hell's this? i wondered
he fast-paced me through the woods to petco for treats
the more torrential the more spirited he became
ran like a crazed puppy off-leash along the creek
was so soaked and muddy après le deluge
i had to give him a bath
but ... in the tub not once did he complain
we had beaten the rain

darkening thursday charcoal clouds brooding
waited for a lull to mow the lawn
as i finished raindrops began pelting
so ... i stripped off my shirt sneakers socks
skimmed away weeds from garden beds
scrubbed the birdbath filled the bird-feeders
trimmed the bayberry bush spread kitchen compost
when i was completely drenched
i turned my face upwards
to exalt under nature's showers

Poem 122.2    June 26, 2009      (up to top)

st paul's garden city

from further away st paul's garden city archway

this high victorian gothic building
stands regal
closer it shows its age
it's now derelict
its roman-numeral'd tower clocks
have stopped at two twenty three
ten after three five to five
one minute to seven

up the pitted pot-holed driveway
i bicycle to my favorite rest stop
where an invigorating breeze blows through
under a vaulted deeply-shaded archway
next to boarded-over basement windows
blackened brick missing mortar fallen roofing shingles
chained door handles between school and gymnasium
miniature gargoyles perched on columns
threatening guarding only me

on this humid summer day
i savor half-chilled cool-blue gatorade
physically comforted yet disquieted about
an empty school and its echoes
the scent of polished wooden floors now scuffed and dusty
the view through classroom windows now begrimed
the lingering sense of magic and wonder that'd taken place
within these abandoned walls

Poem 123.1    July 2, 2009      It‘s best to view st paul's garden city as a PDF      (up to top)

got dem ol' time plavix blues

mosquito bite mayhem
pinches and pricks galore
slow-healing wounds
unsubsiding scars
my new epidermal decor
got dem ol' plavix blues
dem plavix blacks 'n' blues

lookin' like hematomas
like nasty melanomas
dermatologist said don't worry
i get a lotta guys who look beat up
like they went a coupla rounds

these days it takes weeks
for anything even superficial
to a-l-m-o-s-t disappear
just try not to get hurt he says with a laugh

then more pragmatically ...
you realize plavix is a blood thinner
it prevents clotting keeps your blood flowing
blacks 'n' blues are what you can expect

bruised and beaten?
i wish i'd known about of this side effect
i could've saved myself the copay

-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 38, May 2016

Poem 124.2    July 7, 2009      (up to top)

kinesthetic melody

i've heard it thrumming
when pedaling
mowing walking
in years past when i was running

a six-beat eight-beat bass-line of
foot strikes leg pushes arm swishes
a body in metronomic motion
wringing tranquility
out of ambient cacophony

when a mozart adagio
emanates unintended
and blends with the cadence
or a miles davis standard
a rolling stones song
i can i do get some satisfaction

this hypnotic earworm becomes
a delicious mantra of
harmony
serenity
flow

Poem 125.1    July 14, 2009      (up to top)

derivative drivel

this poem
is substantially similar to ones i'd written
a while back

they say
one should be evolving improving
over time

i've been hoping
that they – the ones who presumably know
would be right

the words now
are varied but the maturing self at the keyboard
remains stuck

i've compared
some previous breathless strophes
and found

that those
were probably a lot more transcendent
than these

Poem 126.1    July 15, 2009      (up to top)

banality

just keepin' it real
we're exactly where we must be
whatever happens is for the best
it ain't gonna change / so deal with it
you can't always get what you wa-ant
nothing we can do about it anyway
so what can ya do
it is what it is
shit happens
it's god's will
it's all good
like ... whatever

i've got nothing
else to say
other than
a meaningless
platitude

Poem 127.1    July 29, 2009      (up to top)

our fortieth

on a summer sunday afternoon
we planned to meet for a laid-back lunch
with our children and our grandchildren
i wanted to bicycle to queens
then shower and change when i got there
our daughter-in-law suggested wouldn't it be nice if you came together?
so in we drove
it thunder-stormed anyway

we expected
three-year-old Yitzi waiting at the screen door
but not all the others appearing from the sun room kitchen dining room
shouting surprise! forty years! happy anniversary!
laughing hugging big smiles abounding
mock complaining
ya know you're late ... we're starving ... let's eat already

bagels and bialys
lox and cream cheeses
salads and swiss
veggies and fruit slices
two cakes to top it off ... chocolate and vanilla
the hell with the cholesterol

my brother was instigator and catalyst
our son and daughter arranged it
and ... they got us
here's to forty more!

–to Steve & Tove, Jonathan & Maryellen, Miriam & Jeff, and all our other in-laws and outlaws

Poem 128.1    August 5, 2009      (up to top)


ultimate dragon

i don't need
my wife our relatives
my relative wellness
to make my life miserable

i don't need
traffic jams my aging van
our avalanching economy
to lose hours of early morning sleep

nor do i need
the stupidity disrespect
selfishness of others
to put me over the top

i can do it all from within —

savor joyful anticipation
before preoccupation's sourness kicks in

turn ecstasy inside out
and dwell within a core of angst and aggravation

stretch out sorrow
like bitter taffy infused with saltwater tears

within me is the ultimate dragon
to nourish and leech off an afflicted soul

The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down. – Joseph Campbell

Poem 129.1    August 11, 2009      (up to top)


thermogenic escape

we -
my dog and i -
meander alongside buildings
crossing to the shadier side of the street
when we have to
hugging chainlink fences covered with ivy
next to browning lawns
beneath sycamores already shedding

leaves stock still
the sun beating down
on this suffocating morning
we're like desperate mammals scurrying along
the sheltered edges of rock walls and cliffs

we -
my wife and i -
explored jerusalem one august
skirting along ancient walkways
shielded by limestone walls
winds off the desert intensifying
the incandescent fierceness
burning my calves
melting my soles

then too
i felt like a primitive creature
as we hastened through the shadows

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 130    August 28, 2009      (up to top)

hershey park

old man hershey
grabbed me from behind
with his right hand reached for my wallet
with his left vise-gripped my balls
growled into my ear
spend you cheap bastard spend
didn't even have the decency
to nibble the back of my neck

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011
— Appeared in Retail Woes, 2013
Poem 131    August 29, 2009      (up to top)

contact list

late summer afternoon
lounging outside with time to kill

i flip open my cell phone
access its address book
work through it from a to z
adding editing
but mostly erasing
businesses gone defunct
people who've moved
people i've lost favor with
people who've died

when i'm done
i save it to the micro-sd card
but keep the old version
just in case

Poem 132    September 2, 2009      (up to top)

rock scramble

maybe this time i bit off more than i could chew
clambering over boulders
searching for handholds
struggling for footing
bending misstepping contorting
scraping my shin on a jagged edge
bleeding quickened by anti-coagulants
and then - damn it! - another gash
this time on my arm
taking out a rag
stanching the seepage
honey ... it's nothin' really
assuring her as much as myself
but we did get to the top

before those anti-coagulants nitrates beta blockers
i scrambled as well
avoided an e-r visit until i could no longer refuse
heard heart attack in-patient angiogram stents
demanded to wear sweats and a t-shirt
no hospital gown for me ... until i had to

after
voicing my angst
when can i bike again? long-walk the dog again? mow the lawn again?
be normal again?

i know life will never be the same
now i bite off - maybe - a little bit less

Poem 133.1    September 8, 2009      (up to top)

rosh hashanah

this year
i observed
the two-day high holiday
on sparkling glorious afternoons
by riding my bicycle
to jones beach the first day
and long beach the next

where i was greeted by
purifying breezes
incandescent clarity
diamonds
shimmering on the ocean's surface

and i was uplifted
though not by mumbling prayers
to cast away my transgressions
but by being here and there and then
for my god is within me

Poem 134    September 20, 2009      (up to top)

bubble boy

at eighteen or so
i said i wanted to be with her
she was so upper westside wise
i was so long island oblivious
she said i was living in a shell
so how could i really be with her

the grad stude at the counseling center
spent twenty-five minutes
listening and checking his watch
agreeing i existed inside an emotional bubble
before sending me on my way
with syrupy words of consolation
don't worry it's normal it'll get better
but it wasn't like acne or allergies
or being pleasantly plump - mom's indulgent euphemism
things promised i'd surely outgrow

i'm not wholly bereft
there have been times
when i've broken on through
but that persistent shell is self-healing
that inflexible bubble unpunctures
and i'm left floundering
lost within

Poem 135    October 3, 2009      (up to top)

hush of night

stillness
moon lights our room
i was up
couldn't sleep
next to me
her gentle snoring
stopped
i listened
worried
waiting for her next
inhale
exhale
heard only silence
reached over
under the blanket
settled my hand lightly
on her chest
felt the rise
and fall
huh .. what the ... why'd you wake me
turned on her side
settled her face
into the pillow
not waiting
for my answer

Poem 136    October 7, 2009      (up to top)

final play

in my head
it's the seventh game of the world series
and i hear
mel allen's red barber's voice
with the crowd roaring underneath

folks it's been quite a game
the yankees are ahead one nothing ...
there are two outs in the bottom of the ninth
and the dodgers have loaded the bases
there's a full count on the batter
and the pitch ...
it's a long fly ball to deep right center
and i take off running
from the kitchen toward the bedroom
down our beige-carpeted hall
and when i reach the wallpapered wall
i leap
and make a one-handed catch
against the center field fence

as i trot towards the infield
the crowd is screaming
mickey! ... mickey! ... mickey!
and i tip my cap
to my adoring fans

Poem 137    October 12, 2009      (up to top)

family legacy

grandpa jack cursing chasing me
slashing at me with a hanger
striking once then again
before mommy screams him away

grandpa jack in striped pajamas
quivering on a burgundy brocade chair
sipping from a glezele tey fumbling
slipping from his impotent grasp
glass shards a slice of lemon
pooled on the parquet floor

a proud pogrom survivor
intimidating in his own realm
here an auxiliary policeman
weaponed with only a brass whistle
debased to pressing in die goldene medina sweatshops
emphysema and schnapps his downfall
while we his progeny play out our parts
on our shtetl pushcart careening forward

and i, once ... but not ... removed
am running from his fury
am running from my fury
shushed before him by mommy and grandma
a cube of white sugar drops from his lips

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 138.1    October 16, 2009      (up to top)

fallen canopy

morning sun slivers through
early autumn boughs ablaze
with dew-exalted golds crimsons oranges rusts

nor'easter prevails
over season's first fall
unbrowned leaves crumple underfoot

cool crisp nights follow
until that day
fluttering leaves
descend murmuring
their susurration their requiem

Poem 139    November 11, 2009      (up to top)

mitigation

life's wire is tightening
dragging me howling towards the brink
strands've been stretched out
from e to f to f sharp to g
an elegiac melody in a minor key

i resist
plead with the tone deaf turnbuckle
to slacken to release to relent
rarely
is its tautness relieved
and if so
just barely
and if so
perhaps the very last time

Poem 140    November 27, 2009      (up to top)

guy with a map

i'm the guy looking bewildered
in Jerusalem and Amsterdam
in London and Paris
standing on the corner in sea of pedestrians
idling on the roadside as traffic speeds by
sitting in a train car on a bus in a museum gallery

i'm the guy with the unfolded map
searching for street signs
checking our bearings
asking for directions only when necessary
saying just a second hon to her stoic countenance
while sharing the exasperation she's so adept at hiding

i'm the guy entrusted with
figuring out where we are
knowing where we're headed
deciding what direction to take

i'm the guy with faith in my maps
because when we feel lost we're not really lost
and through experience i do know
that we've always gotten to where we needed to be

Poem 141    December 3, 2009      (up to top)

first freeze

it'd dropped down to twenty
wind chill near zero
this morning's walk
through the woods
is coldest since last winter
waterlogged earth's hardened
twigs and oak leaves crunching
snap-crackle-popping underfoot
tendrils of ice fingers
reach up from the muck
along a shaky boardwalk
creaking like rickety bones
like mine perhaps
under seven thin layers
my pebble-gloved hand holds a leash
our shaggy terrier scampers ahead
marking sniffing reveling
huffing out white wisps of air
we're both in our element

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 142    December 12, 2009      (up to top)

christmas bows

between a beige brick mcmansion
and a victorian painted lady
stands a faded yellow house
with graying lace curtains and droopy brown shutters
a sad little house too tired to cry

along the sidewalk
twist-tied to a rusted chain link fence
are worn out bows of velvet
in shades of vermillion and faded burgundy
in orange-red and firebrick and water-stained scarlet
nine on the fence and three more hung from windows

today we pass the sad little house
my dog stops stares as he often does
now at the shriveled silver-haired lady
in a threadbare gray coat and red and green scarf
who's out in the frigid air sweeping her stoop

noticing she turns faces us
smiles like it's painful for her to smile back
at my wheaten terrier - my ever cheerful pal -
who pulls me right through the open gate to greet her
wanting a scratch a rub maybe some kind words

i say hello as she pats him and says you're a nice doggie
i point at the mcmansion
with the inflatable snowmen and a herd of white reindeer
with strings of bulbs and LEDs to be lit
then glance towards the painted lady
with the nativity scene guarded by angels all kneeling
and santa claus a-waving perched high on a sleigh

some people do it up way too much she says with a shrug
i've got thirty more bows most of 'em tattered
stored up in the attic in a big cardboard box
my husband bought a new one each year before christmas
- forty-two in all - until my sweet benjamin died
... and why only twelve bows you may be wond'ring
well ... for the only twelve really good years we had together
but those were the very best very best time of my life

Poem 143.1    December 18, 2009      (up to top)

unforseen consequences

dizzy dean of the gashouse gang
between 23 and 27 he was probably the best
a future hall of fame pitcher
hit by a line drive
broke his foot came back too soon
changed his pitching motion to favor his sore toe
hurt his arm lost his great fastball
at 28 he was just another pitcher
at 31 he was done

post-blizzard shoveling
hiking shoes replaced by heavy mid-cut boots
still walking the dog for miles as before
slipping on ice slogging through snow
having to be cautious having to change my gait
swine flu shot in the left arm
gastronomic overindulgence
stomach ache muscle ache shoulder ache left arm ache
sunday night call to the cardiologist
monday morning visit
ekg bp history
it's just musculoskeletal i'm told
you shouldn't worry so much
yeah ...
i shouldn't worry so much

Poem 144    December 28, 2009      (up to top)

the queen of sorrow

unbidden
unannounced
the queen of sorrow
barges in raging
raving with indifference
with no engraved invitation
no one requesting the honor of her presence
no honor in her presence
just tears
heartbreak
anguish

Poem 145    January 5, 2010      (up to top)

some days good ...

in twenty degree weather
the lady stood in a tailored suit and black leather boots
tethered to her jack russell terrier
with a retractable leash

hi how're ya doin i ask
as my dog pulls me closer
my what a lovely dog she says
in her franco-germanic lilt
you know i love animals ... how old is he?
'bout nine or so i answer
how long have you had him?
six and a half years i answer
i ask again but how are you doing?
oh some days good and ...
her voice trails off as if she understands
that no one might want to hear a litany of woes

that other time more than a year ago
she stood in her persian lamb coat
with a red and green corsage
i'd asked how're ya doin?
she answered you don't want to hear ...
i'm so miserable ... you can't imagine how horrible ...
i want to die ... i want to kill myself
five magic words ... five fucking magic words
i talked softly reassuringly tried to commiserate
but that quintuplet's claxon was pounding
and i left her and went home
shared my what should i do's with my wife
walked back to find her exact house number
knowing that the house with the yellow shutters just wouldn't do
when i called the desk sergeant - not nine one one
he asked why'n't ya call earlier whadja wait so long for
i didn't have an excuse and i felt accused
well i'm calling right now and i left it at that

for a long while i hadn't seen her
though i'd heard yipping from an window upstairs
i worried about what might've happened
maybe she did kill herself maybe it was my fault
i asked a neighbor who didn't know much
mumbled something about alzheimer's
well that'd explain it
though i never knocked on her door
to find out for myself

i didn't see her again until today
i'm relieved she's okay
at least she's not dead
and she repeats my what a lovely dog
i love animals you know ... how old is he?
i answer 'bout nine or so
how long have you had him?
and i answer 'bout nine years or so
as my dog is pulling me away
i realize that's not the right answer
nor would it matter

Poem 146    January 12, 2010      (up to top)

blurred vision 1

happened again doing yard work
scratched my cornea on a tree branch
same place in my backyard
this time i didn't rub it
didn't try cleaning it out with a q-tip
didn't wait like last time for it to clear up

but i didn't go to the e r
i called the ophthalmologist
got the last appointment - six p m
waited 'til after midnight to see him
left at two a m after a full examination
with a formulation of eye drops
with scripts for ointment and a painkiller
oh praise thee my twenty-four hour pharmacy

Poem 147    January 12, 2010      (up to top)

blurred vision 2

scratched my eye outside
a twig snuck behind glasses
held my panic at bay with
bad jokes and male bravado
didn't try rubbing this time
didn't try q-tipping it out
got to the ophthalmologist
sat for hours trying to read
focusing my dominant eye
hurt when i tried to close it
how will i sleep i wondered
when will the doctor see me
held my novel at an angle
tested which eye i was using
which eye was the blurrier
i sat waiting over six hours
for the doctor to examine me
the anesthetic felt so good
whew what a goddam relief
it's only temporary he says
and you can't use too much
like they might in a hospital
a corneal abrasion he said
a gouge shows on the screen
lucky it wasn't on the pupil
there ... it's right below it
got eye drops and ointment
and a painkiller if need be
left at two in the morning
stopped at the pharmacy
got home applied ointment
taped a patch over the eye
tried to sleep tried to sleep

Poem 148    January 12, 2010      (up to top)

ol’ brown eyes

after i've fed him
after i've shared morsels of my own dinner
he stares at me

when there's nothing left worth begging for
he sits on his haunches
and with big sad brown eyes
he stares at me

sometimes i just can't take it
i mimic travis bickle –
you lookin' at me?
you lookin' at me?
well who the hell else are you lookin' at?
i'm the only one here ...
he stands and ambles over
leans his shaggy body against my leg
turns and pushes his head up onto my knee
and stares at me
i scratch his ears his neck under his chin
bend over hug him
kiss his big black wet nose
then i smile

— Appeared in Paws, Claws, Wings and Things … Poetry For And About Pets, 2012

– Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver, 1976

Poem 149    January 14, 2010      (up to top)


at the grave site

don't need yuz at all
i can dig my own grave
throw myself face first
under six feet of despair

by myself then by proxy
i can shovel rocks and pebbles and sandy dirt
onto the naked knotty pine planks
those resounding thuds
resonating with reluctant finality

don't just stand there
laugh a dusty laugh for me
crackle your chalky lips
get the juices flowing
drop in another stone or two

when you've had enough
when we've both had enough
take that long-handled shovel
and jam it back
into the firming ground

Poem 150    January 29, 2010      (up to top)

haiku 13 - a senryū

son husband father

a man in pain suffering

we all agonize


Poem 151 - a senryū    January 30, 2010      (up to top)

holding pattern

eighty-six tough years
with an epilogue of misery
broken hip »« botched replacement
        rehab went nowhere
catheter
infections
procedures
pain
bleeding

hospice care at home
waiting for him to die
living will’s mercifully explicit
no heroic measures
palliative care only
no feeding tube
no food no water
        can’t swallow anyway
nasal cannula
morphine in the IV
just keeping him
comfortable

please take him already
please let the old man go
please let him slide
        into oblivion

Poem 152    February 19, 2010      (up to top)

our laureate prevails

we assemble in droves
in coffee houses and bookstores
libraries and gin joints
tattoo parlors and cafés
to honor and salute
worship and exalt
our beloved poet laureate

but also
to weep and to wail
to beseech her
please free our muses
so our keyboards may clack
our gel pens flow
our typewriter keys strike ribbons
with rhythm and speed
so words and sounds and colors
can fill screens and pages
with pictures and perceptions
with empathy excitement elation

the muses have heard the call
our words cascade forth
our hearts brim with gratitude
we heave a collective sigh
so suffused with joy that we
now say ... amen

– for Gayl Teller

Poem 153    February 22, 2010      (up to top)


rushing

on the highway parkway 135 495
i'm driving
sandwich on my lap
vegetables in tupperware
iced tea in a jar with a straw
brake lights in front and further ahead
i'm rushing
rushing as usual
to an appointment a meeting
a reading a workshop a class

i consider the retiree's lament
don't know how i found the time when i worked
so trite so annoying so damn true
all i wanted was to finish what i was doing
revise that last stanza write that last line
lube that chain install that program make that call
brush the dog jump in the shower set up my meds
those clock hands accelerating
those LED numbers flashing by
please make them slow down

Poem 154    March 5, 2010      (up to top)

march 9th in the woods

yesterday
seen from atop a wooden slat-way
a wizened blanched complexion
reeds weeds brambles trampled
crushed by sodden snows
flattened by windswept rain
dead trees felled by winter lightning
crackled burnt bark
on hollow blackened trunks

today
a barely perceptible countenance
pale yellow greens and faint dark magenta
beds of dampened ivy glisten
thorn bushes sprout puny red prickles
to be sidestepped as they harden
stray sprigs of bluish purple crocuses
mini daffodils in vibrant yellow
tiny leaflets push up through
cat o' nine tails lying prostrate
breezes cleanse away winter's torpor
the woods are awakening

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 155    March 9, 2010      (up to top)

at the retired teachers meeting

i look at these people
some dumpy some aging well
some stooped and limping
some agile and spry
all of them old

i can't possibly be this old
i watch them as i stand
leaning against the lobby wall
as they pick over mini-muffins scones and cookies
i wonder what they were like

in classrooms halls offices lunchrooms
were they benevolent or vindictive
creative or insipid
proficient or ineffectual
have they grown and matured
or become tragic caricatures of their former selves

entering the auditorium
it looks so familiar
many are already seated
along each aisle in ones and twos
all the way to the very last row
possibly planning a quick getaway
or exhibiting a callousness about manners and decorum
just like at faculty meetings long past

perhaps they haven't changed
that much at all

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2011

Poem 156.1    March 21, 2010      (up to top)

nor’easter aftermath

whining grinding chain saws
sound the death knell
of century-old oaks and fallen firs
amidst burning sawdust two-cycle fumes
and a fading pine fragrance

plowed over by a late-winter nor'easter
devastating in its ferocity
i've never seen anything like it
intoned as a mantra
a muffled trumpet whispering taps drifting off with the wind

it's bad enough when
citified halfwits move in and amputate trees –
too big too many too much shade
squirrels nuts berries bird poop too messy
i want more grass

but when those furious tempests
ravage and devour
we mourn their loss
for those majestic trees
they'd belonged to us all

Poem 157    March 21, 2010      (up to top)

across 59th street

on the seventh floor
of a nondescript glass-walled building
we're in a conference room
preparing our vignettes
to be improvised before an audience
of two hundred social workers and trainees

on the seventh floor
across the street
are workers seated in rows
scrutinizing flat screens in rows
tapping keyboards in rows
mouthing utterances into headsets
gesturing rising up calling out
settling back
scrutinizing tapping mouthing
counting off the minutes
before lunch
before the weekend
before retirement
before the final checkout

Poem 158    March 28, 2010      (up to top)

almost eight p m on sullivan street

as dusk morphs into night
a stooped once-tall man
limps from a four-story walk-up
a sad little gray dog waddling
at the end of a brown leather leash

they meander to the corner
stop in front of a 24-hour bodega
he reaches for a pack of camels
under a buzzing street light
taps one out
lights it with a match
takes a deep drag and coughs
wipes his mouth with the back of his hand

his dog sniffs and squats
pees next to the lamp post
then they turn to head back home

Poem 159.1    April 5, 2010      (up to top)

headwinds are mocking me

pedaling down my driveway
i turn north into a headwind
that’s gusting right at me

forecast called for a breezy afternoon
all around tall trees are swaying
waving … and not friendly-like

an american flag flails against
its straining cords clanging
chortling as i downshift yet again

my cycle computer is a cruel taskmaster
judging impugning taunting
and this spring my rides seem harder
maybe it’s those vengeful april winds
maybe it’s the heart medicine
maybe it’s ’cause
i’m not getting younger

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 160.2    April 13, 2010      (up to top)

torn pants

i was in first grade
or maybe second
when i got called up to the board
and i remembered with horror
that the inseam of my corduroys
had torn
all the way under

happened after lunch
when i bent over
on the playground
my soft worn brown pants
that swished when i walked
i heard
them rip

and at the board
while doing the addition problem
i tried hard to not move
to not hear the laughter
to not burst out crying

Poem 161    April 28, 2010      (up to top)

perfect play

my lips curl into a sad wistful smile
when i think back to
that chilly dull sunday afternoon
when i was 15 or 16
bicycling around with my glove on my handlebar
looking for a game

found a church baseball team practicing
on the islip high school field
waved to my friend eddie - the minister's son
they said awright go play center
they were down a few men
i ran to the outfield
caught a couple of flies
made a couple of plays
threw to second base ... to third
hit the cutoff man the right way

then the final drill of practice
i was the last man standing
a long fly is hit
i race back nab it
turn and rifle throw
a perfect one-hopper to the catcher
as i'm running in
i field a bouncing ball behind second base
one-hand a bunt
and i'm thinking hoping
that maybe ... just maybe
they'll let me join 'em
but i'm told sorry kid ... it's a church team

no equal opportunity back then

Poem 162    April 28, 2010      (up to top)

comin’ a’callin’

they drop by in droves
to feast on bird seed and suet cakes
maize on the cob and peanuts in shells
twittering squawking jeering
tweeting chirping cooing –
grackles and sparrows
blue jays and cowbirds
blackbirds with red wings
couplets of cardinals
starlings with babies so raucous
crows strutting their stuff
woodpeckers and red-headed flickers
doves and pigeons
even a red-tailed hawk once perched on the feeder
but never a mockingbird
though he sings his songs serenading us
throughout the night

Poem 163    May 10, 2010      (up to top)

my father’s son

we shared a bedroom
my older brother and me
his bed was still empty
i awaken then pass by the bathroom

my father sits on the toilet
in white t-shirt and boxers
chain-smoking camels
coughing and exhaling smoke
emanating the rancid odor of worry and fear

he sees me says the son-of-a-bitch shoulda called
everywhere there’s a payphone
he has no fuckin decency

his voice trails off as he takes another drag

don’t worry dad i say
though my words are empty
even in my teenager’s mind
i realize the aberrant connection
between his anxiety and reward
he worries → his son comes home → his agony was justified

now it’s fifty years later
and i’ve seen the pattern in myself
a case in point – the five boro bike ride
forty two miles through new york city
and i’m checking weather on the internet
listening to news radio 88
i’ve lubed the chain cleaned the gears
examined the tire tread checked air pressure
and damn it damn it! i’ve done this ride over a dozen times

and i worry
replace joyful anticipation with dread and self-doubt
will i get a flat?
make it up and over the queensborough? the verrazano?
will the wind be for or against?
will i break a spoke? crash?
will ... i ... make ... it?

only when it’s over
when i’m sitting on that big orange ferry
on the way back to the battery
do i smile that we as marshals –
my son-in-law and i –
rode with the front line of bicyclists
all the way up to central park
through the concrete canyon of sixth avenue
that the wind wasn’t gusting and the weather was easy
and that yes i made it up and over those bridges

i wish i could bottle the feeling of accomplishment
the warm proud satisfaction that i’d done it once more
so i could uncork it next time i have interrupted sleep
but i have no illusions
because i am only my father’s son

Poem 164    May 10, 2010      (up to top)

love birds

they come for the breakfast specials
sit catty-corner at the table
next to the window
overlooking the parking lot

between bites of runny eggs sunny side up
nibbles of dry rye toast
and sips of decaf with skim milk
he reaches for her
their hands entwine

she leans over and gives him
a peck on the cheek
it takes some effort
for she’s wide and in her seventies
he’s well in his eighties

they share the glow
the smiles the innocence
of teenagers falling in love

Poem 165.1    May 12, 2010      (up to top)

gone is the darkness

the corner of delaware and wilson
where the road surface changed
from concrete to blacktop
was once in deep welcoming shade

during sweltering doldrums of summers past
when i pedaled right at that corner
it felt – i felt – cooler and serene
like turning into a secret refuge
of my own restorative sanctum

that was before
march’s annihilative nor’easter
which flattened seven huge oaks and pines
to become lifeless fodder
for chainsaws and stump grinders and wood chippers

the corner now
is under a diminished canopy –
several tall trees are still standing
but in that sparsely shaded lightness
the loss is palpable

Poem 166    May 20, 2010      (up to top)

four boys at the park

on a gray sunday afternoon
our grandsons
nine five three and one
ran and climbed and swung
on the red and blue jungle gyms
played tag and traded silly bands
had ice cream sandwiches
from the carnival truck

the oldest led the way
up the spider web ropes
his five-year-old brother followed
then shinnied down the pole
the tentative three-year-old reached the pinnacle
shouted i did it!
and the youngest who just started walking
climbed up and across the red ropes
like it was just a walk in the park

Poem 167    May 24, 2010      (up to top)

riding the line

when i’m spinning
in high gear
on a newly paved road
with a wide parking lane
and the wind is with me
and it’s slightly – or more than slightly – downhill
you’ll see me grinning
for it’s me who’s enjoying
the rider’s ultimate high

but
when the road is pockmarked
and the gods of the winds are conspiring
and it seems like it’s uphill all the way
and the endorphins have yet to kick in
i grit my teeth and curse a bit – maybe more than a bit --
and then bear down
to follow that solid white line
from one reflective marker to the next
to the next to the next
i’ll get there eventually
the wind can’t always be in my face

Poem 168    June 1, 2010      (up to top)

doggie dialectic

listen ...
you dog you
we are not walking to petco today
nor to the bakery for a cheese danish
nor to mcdonald’s for a double cheeseburger
not even to grandma’s for a hebrew national frank

you are going to walk a simple loop
in our neighborhood
like every other normal dog
there are enough sniffs to be had
enough pee-mail to read
enough places to lift your leg

and furthermore ...
i am not your servant
i am your master
oh yes i am
so you can stop looking at me like that
stop staring at me
and stop waggling your tail
... oh no you don’t
don’t do it
don’t you dare roll over
i am not going to rub your belly
oh all right
... but just this once

— Appeared in Paws, Claws, Wings and Things … Poetry For And About Pets, 2012

Poem 169.1    June 3, 2010      (up to top)

trimming the hedges

there’ve been annual challenges
that measure my strength and endurance
that test my manhood and virility
... marshaling the five boro in may
finishing the seagull century in october
cleaning the gutters with freezing fingers in december
and today is another –
trimming the son-of-a-bitchin’ evergreens

for some it’s just an everyday chore
but our hedges are house-front wide
seven feet high ten feet deep
and paring down the bushes
in mid-june heat and humidity
in a long-sleeved shirt with pine needles sticking
become three hours of life-affirming truth

one year i roughhewed the hedges way back
but they’ve re-arisen to taunt me
i’d attached a pole to the trimmer
to reach the almost unreachable
i’ve even cut a hole through the center of the hedges
and stepped onto a rusting milk crate
to cut back what was once uncuttable

remedies have been suggested by others
like buying a longer gas trimmer
... but why spend the money? – it’s only a once-a-year job
maybe hiring somebody to do it
... over my dead body
removing the hedges entirely ... it’d open up the front they’d say
... that’s not going to happen

and lately
caused by global warming no doubt
the job has to be repeated in september
so i must face the mirthless exhausting challenge
twice as goddam often

Poem 170    June 7, 2010      (up to top)

between spaces

behind shopping centers and strip malls
are raw and blackened spaces
more authentic than the gaudiness
residing behind fraudulent facades

between lines of prose and poetry
are the white gray and blank spaces
where subtle nuances and vague meanings
are often unwittingly filled
with unintended truths

within silences and guarded gestures
between couples and lovers
are moments of stark clarity
that permeate through
despite persistent obfuscation

lurking within and inhabiting shadows
are the other-worldly confessions
of genuflecting spirits
of whimpering lamenting souls
seeking atonement
seeking redemption
seeking sanctification

Poem 171.1    June 21, 2010      (up to top)

pill poppin’ poetry

i was gonna write a maudlin piece
about measuring my time left on earth
by the number of empty a-m and p-m slots
in my seven-day pill organizers

then i realized that the meds i ingest
sound so mm-mm good
have assonance and consonance
create their own internal rhyme
like plavix and aspirin
advair and imdor
zetia and zocor and zantac
lopressor and flonase
co-q-10 and calcium
singulair and salmon oil
saw palmetto and potassium
and of course
garlic and ginkgo biloba

and i found
that the generics
have names like
metoprolol and isosorbide
simvastatin and ranitidine
clopidogrel and fluticasone
– purely generic names that are
definitely not worth a poem

Poem 172    June 22, 2010      (up to top)

derelicts

you can tell
you can always tell when you see them
with their blackened curling roofing tiles
their vinyl siding moldy and discolored
doors and windows plywooded over
bushes and trees overgrown
fence slats broken and missing
driveway and sidewalk disintegrating
while weeds push up through cracks
a regularly mowed lawn turned to hay
and not even a for-sale sign
not even a hope
that a once lived-in home
will soon ... will ever come alive

Poem 173    July 1, 2010      (up to top)

heat wave

a record-breaking hundred and three in the city today
out here in the merciful high nineties
and unless you’re confined to an a-c cocoon
it seems that the heat will never end
but it will
except on that one episode of the twilight zone

so as i rode my bike this afternoon
with the sun blazing on my skin
with my black brake levers scalding
i cut my speed because i had no choice
stopped to hydrate with water and gatorade
took it easier because i’m 63 and supposedly prudent
though maybe i shouldn’t’ve been out there at all

it got me to thinking
about things that might never end
that feel like they’ll never end
like grieving the death
of a spouse or a child or a loved one
like suffering from mental illness
and wanting to put an end to it
like pain that even a morphine drop
can’t cut through anymore
and i thank my lucky stars
whatever the hell that means
that i can ride in the heat
get home and shower in cold water
sit at my computer in my air-conditioned office
and type then edit this poem

Poem 174    July 6, 2010      (up to top)

my beard

my wife said
one of the main reasons she went out with me a second time
was because of my beard ...
back then it was a goatee
... that was more than forty years ago

no silver streaks then
it was all a deep rich brown
no need to joke about spilling yogurt on it

every now and then i have it trimmed back
and cut around the edges or it’ll look unkempt
and i’ll look like a lunatic when my hair is blowing in the wind

our children and grandchildren have never seen me
without a beard
they’ve never seen my bareskinned face
i wondered if they’d recognize me
either back then or even now

my wife says that i should never ever cut my beard
it has felt so soft against her cheek

Poem 175    August 22, 2010      (up to top)

beggars in prague


we thought it was the same person …
we first saw him on the charles bridge
then in the old town square
a third time near the old jewish cemetery

they all looked the same –
about twenty or thirty perhaps
emaciated and disheveled
in filthy flannel shirts
grimy long pants
lying flat on knees and arms and elbows
foreheads resting on a cobblestone
prostrate unmoving
a cardboard cup in an upraised hand
beseeching
silently waiting for a czech koruna
a swiss franc
maybe even a euro

there was no new york city-like
aggressive panhandling in prague
but their self-degrading posture
which was so blatant and bizarre
and which on another level
was similarly repugnant
still
haunts us

Poem 176.2    August 22, 2010      (up to top)

barreling down the autobahn

we rented an opel invicta in opalescent silver
the size of a newer toyota camry
for insurance purposes
they wouldn’t rent us a volkswagen or a mercedes
for we were headed to a former eastern bloc country

occasionally on the autobahn
we saw signs for 130 kilometers per hour
– about 80 miles per hour –
but most drivers were going faster
including me
i kept it at 90 ... sometimes 100
didn’t want to go much faster in a rental car
plus i was in my comfort zone

we were being passed by audis porsches and bmws
even motorcycles were whizzing by
i couldn’t imagine doing over 100 on a motorcycle
i once had my honda up to 90 on the wantagh parkway
and realized that my boots were about a foot from the pavement
and there was nothing solid around me

once a dark gray mercedes zoomed by us
shaking our opel in its wake
it must’ve been doing 150 or so
and as it disappeared into the distance
i chose to not even bother trying to catch up

Poem 177    August 22, 2010      (up to top)

perfect program

for sixteen years
i programmed our high school by myself
at the end of every august

after the budget finally came in
after the units were allocated
after i’d already gridded out
singletons and doubletons
i used spreadsheets to construct a master schedule
then uploaded it to the main computer
tested and tweaked it
processed summer school grades
revised the schedule to reflect the changes
sent heads of departments their classes by period
so they could return to me teachers and rooms
then typed it all in using macros and shortcuts
checked teacher programs checked room use
tested and tweaked it
filled in holes in student schedules
ordered production of program cards line schedules student change forms

... and on the first day of school
previous term no-shows dropped from all classes
dragged by unsmiling parents decided to return
new students from here and from there lined up to be admitted
guidance counselors already began clamoring for changes
and the masterpiece i’d created
– the elegant immaculate program –
had lived in its own perfection
for at least the long labor day weekend

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 39, August 2016

Poem 178    August 30, 2010      (up to top)

yearly rhythm

twice each year for sixteen years
i programmed our high school
except during my sabbatical year
when i mercifully missed the mid-winter turnover

i retired nine years ago
and for these past nine years
the stress of unending weeks
at the end of january … the beginning of february
the end of june … the end of august
all of september … even into october
has carried forward and has not relented

during all of these weeks
i’ve had a sense of incompletion
a feeling that i was missing something
a foreboding sense of angst
a frightening misplaced sense of excitation and agitation

i’ve had ongoing nightmares
that i’m still there
that the school hasn’t been programmed
that it’s my fault
and i wake up sweating chest pounding head aching

until perhaps these past several months …
i’ve heard not the internal clamoring
… only some muffled whispers
not the thrumming
but a faint nagging hum
somewhere in the not so distant past

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 22, February 2012

Poem 179    August 24, 2010      (up to top)

arbeit macht frei

you cross over the tracks
where the trains clanged to a stop
and the first thing you see
though you have anticipated it
from documentaries and newsreels
from faded black and white photos
are three words in wrought iron
arbeit macht frei
– work makes one free –
that are part of the main gate
under the entryway arch

but you’re still unprepared
you don’t know how to react
but you do focus your camera
zoom in and out
then press the button
take the obligatory picture
of those three words in silhouette
as tourists like you and me
move aside in hushed silence

you wonder what they’re thinking
what’s going on in their heads
as you unlatch the gate
which squeaks on its hinges
and enter the courtyard
of kz-gedenkstätte dachau
the dachau concentration camp
the first concentration camp built
a model for all the later ones
where rudolf hoess and adolph eichmann
served their apprenticeships
a school for violence for s s men
under whose command it stood
where the blackened soul of nazism
was first made manifest

a labor camp
where jews and gypsies
criminals and homosexuals
communists and malcontents
– undesirables all –
were forced to stand at attention
with your feet together
your hands at your side
your eyes staring forward
unable to move
twice a day
for hours sometimes
to be counted
to be humiliated
to be dehumanized
in the heat and in the cold
in snow and rain
forced to stand at attention
forced to stand
until you couldn’t anymore
and if you dropped
or if you died
it was the end for you
for there were the crematoria
belching out black fetid smoke
and you knew
and everyone knew
what was happening
in that whitewashed building over there

as the tour continues
you’re shown the room-sized wall map of europe
and the names of hundreds of such camps
spread throughout germany and poland
czechoslovakia and austria
france and italy and belgium
where the same degradations went on
the same roll call
the same viciousness
the same evil
at all of the camps
for if nothing else
these good germans running the camps
these home-brewed workers who claimed to know nothing
for if nothing else
they were consistent and meticulous
methodical in their torturing and killing
and their just following orders
to keep the annihilation machine going

adjacent to the courtyard
where you stood or fell
were two barracks
still left standing
behind them were the foundations of scores of others
filled with bluestone and gravel
in precise rows and columns
like good germans goose-stepping
before their führer
raising their right arms in salute

as you are led through the restored barracks
you are told that a room built for twenty-five
was made to hold a hundred then four hundred
with pockmarked toilets
and a washbasin that sometimes worked
with tiny windows up high on a wall
and you wonder how it felt
to be there
to be in there
when it was boiling or freezing
with hundreds of others
just like
you

and you imagine yourself
lying in those oversized bunks
weak and hungry
always hungry
in your filthy striped uniform
the blue digits tattooed on your arm
pressed up against
lice-ridden bunk mates
suffering from typhus
coughing up blood
feverish and nauseous and aching to the core
and you wonder how
you could have ever made it through

Poem 180    August 30, 2010      (up to top)

little boys tummies

there are few things better
than rubbing a little boy’s water-wet tummy

when he squeals
in the swimming pool
throw me again grandpa!
i of course pick him up
toss him way in the air
or as high as i can
– for he’s getting heavier every minute –
then he splashes into the water
and i reach out
he grabs onto me with his miniature hand
i hold him close
wrapped in my arms
i nuzzle his face
rub his belly
make silly sounds
and he giggles

there are very few things better

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 181    August 30, 2010      (up to top)

silent sunrise

we were at
a hiking and yoga retreat
a weekend of synthesis
according to the brochure

they had us up at five in the morning
to meet at the boat house
to hike
at five a m
i couldn’t sleep on the puny bunk beds anyway

in silence in the near dark
we started up a rock-strewn dew-damp pathway
i sensed then glimpsed several deer thirty yards to our right
until they scampered almost noiselessly away into the brush

as we reached the ridge
where our path intersected the appalachian trail
the sun had just risen in all of its yellow-red-orange glory

we sat on boulders at the edge of the ridge
like sentries within our silence
as the world before us
once again
became illuminated

Poem 182    August 30, 2010      (up to top)

cpap machine

i’ve got sleep apnea
which means that many times through the night
my breathing
pauses
abnormally

after two overnight sleep studies
the respiratory specialist said
if i didn’t use a cpap machine
i could die in my sleep

so i’m hooked to a machine at night
– on life support so to speak –
a fisher & paykel sleepstyle 200
continuous positive airway pressure machine
that blows heated humidified air through flexible tubing
attached to a hybrid model 500 universal mask
which covers just my mouth
with soft nasal pillows into my nostrils
and this means that unlike full-face masks
i can wear my glasses
and read or watch tv until i fall asleep

my wife had wondered how she could sleep
with the constant whoosh of the machine
but she doesn’t mind at all
now that my snoring has been stopped

Poem 183    September 3, 2010      (up to top)

theresienstadt

a gullible world had been told
that hitler had built a city for the jews
65 clicks northwest of prague
a city for writers artists musicians leaders
to protect them from the vagaries and stresses of war
for safer keeping than what was afforded elsewhere

but hitler’s henchmen had actually
emptied the village of terezin of its 5000 inhabitants
and eventually filled this ghetto
with up to 55,000 jews at a time
where artists risked lives to steal materials
so children could surreptitiously
create paintings and drawings

the red cross visited this ghetto just once for two hours
and witnessed a carefully orchestrated ruse –
shop windows along their route were filled with goods
a bakery with breads
a candy shop with bon bons
happy children shown running
orchestras and chamber groups playing
and a film was made
showing this mythic idyllic village
... this way-station to extermination
where starvation and disease were rampant
where thousands died of malnutrition and exposure
and then cremated in four gas ovens
where almost 100,000 jews died
of whom 15,000 were children
where families and the elderly were brought
to be shipped east to auschwitz-birkenau
so the annihilation machine’s insatiable appetite
could be appeased

Note: Only 132 children survived the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp
Six thousand drawings made by children are now in Prague, Israel and in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2011

Poem 184    September 3, 2010      (up to top)


the first day of tishrei

a sparkling late summer morning
exhilaratingly cool
the eighth of september 2010
the first day of tishrei 5771

i’m out walking our dog
and i mention to a neighbor
that today is rosh hashanah
and she says
yes i know
it’s always beautiful on your high holy days
i nod and say yeah
because i’ve heard this before
this banal cordial generality
though it could possibly be true
for after all we are – supposedly – god’s chosen people

and i wonder how beautiful it was
for god’s chosen people
to be so meticulously chosen
on the first of other tishreis
on october 3 1940 in auschwitz-birkenau
on september 22 1941 in dachau and majdanek
on september 12 1942 in belzec and sobibor
on september 30 1943 in treblinka and buchenwald
on september 18 1944 in chelmno and mauthausen and jasenovac
as they gathered for roll call
as they were forced to stand at attention
for hours and hours
forced to stand with their arms at their sides
with hands on their hips
with both feet together
staring forward
unable to gaze up at the crystalline sky
in the prisons and at the collection points
in the labor camps and the transit camps
in the extermination camps
as god shut his blessed and beneficent eyes
to their suffering
as he turned his supreme and merciful back
on their torments
as their mighty and compassionate god turned deaf
to their cries of anguish
and let them be starved
tortured
electrocuted
experimented upon
bludgeoned
shot
hung
as men and women and children
were marched
pushed and prodded
between electrified barbed wire
between henchmen wielding guns
between slavering and snarling dogs
as they were marched to the showers
moaning
praying
pleading with the almighty
pleading with their eternal god
crying out the holiest of words
shema yisrael
adonai eloheinu adonai echad –
hear o israel
the lord is our god
the lord is one –
and though they praised and exalted their god of lovingkindness
he still
he still
he still allowed them to be gassed
to be cremated in the blackened ovens
to be buried like broken dolls in mass graves
in this wondrous world he created according to his will
he still allowed them to be murdered
in his magnificent universe where he made peace in the heavens
he still allowed millions to be annihilated
in his glorious kingdom where he is sovereign
where he is adored and sanctified
for ever
and ever
amen

Poem 185    September 9, 2010      (up to top)

a funeral too many

in my extended family
there’ve been two recent deaths
grandma nora was eighty-six
but a cousin once- or twice- removed
was only twenty
both were unexpected

grandma lived in a retirement community
suffered from depression dementia deterioration
had twenty-four hour care and was slowly fading
until a massive stroke or coronary
ended her life

but the cousin
was just finding his way
out of problems with drugs
out of problems with family
out of problems with self-acceptance
and as he slept in his car outside his home
something he was wont to do
his breathing became labored
then ceased

yes people die
we all’ve gotta die sometime
and when you’re aged and in failing health
you are on borrowed time

but when a kid is only twenty
it is a funeral too many

Poem 186    September 22, 2010      (up to top)

deferred reaction

at solemn events
– funerals especially –
i’ve prided myself
in taking it all in stride
while others sob and wail
i just shake hands and hug and say the right things
or stand at the grave site
untouched unmoved
unable to be reached by the enormity
even when i’m shoveling dirt
even when the stones are thudding down atop the coffin

i wonder if it’s normal
to make jokes at the mortuary while we plan my father’s funeral
to knock on a coffin while i’m pall-bearing it
to examine my mother’s tax return while she’s having broken hip surgery
to laugh about slowing the heart monitor after suffering a cardiac event
to not feel anything
even at the dachau concentration camp
where i should’ve been moved
and just felt like i always do
or more aptly
didn’t feel like i always do

weeks months even years later
i might find myself stirred
triggered perhaps by something unrelated
though i’ve kept it inward well-hidden
or maybe it’s just a matter of time for whatever it is
to fester out through emotional pores
like pyroclastic ooze
then i react
feeling if not entirely whole
just not totally empty

Poem 187    September 22, 2010      (up to top)

a man jogging

the bald cocoa-skinned man
with the death mask
wears a black pullover
green janitor’s pants
black combat boots
trots around the lake
passes me again
unsmiling unacknowledging
his back hunched
hands pumping rolled into fists
a boxer at the heavy bag
fighting on the inside
pounding at his guts
pommeling his imaginary opponent
into submission

Poem 188    September 30, 2010      (up to top)

at the vietnam veterans memorial

i seldom cry
but as i descended the ramp
to the base of the black granite walls
past those thousands of etched names
with my own image reflecting back
i reached out to touch those silvery letters
with disbelief about the magnitude

my son hugged me
comforted me
as i began tearing then sobbing
realizing the enormity
of what could’ve happened
how my life could’ve been changed
could’ve been
snuffed out

it’s not that i lost someone close
nor was i even deployed there
fighting yet another war
based on lies and false assumptions
but i could’ve easily been shipped over
to be flung at an invisible enemy
to serve as cannon fodder
to become yet another one
of the expendable
fifty-eight thousand boys
who perished fighting an old man’s war

i was crying because i so clearly understood
that my life too
had been molded by that war
forced into teaching special ed
in a ghetto junior high
to earn and keep a deferment
getting passports in case we had to leave in a hurry
planning to move to canada if there was no alternative
being reclassified I-A – available for military service –
as a draft board desperate for bodies
took all occupational deferments away
being bussed to fort hamilton twice
failing my first physical exam
eventually passing a second
and in a panic
dropping in at the american friends service committee
for draft counseling and guidance

the american friends advocate saved my life
he advised me to request an appeal –
i still have the xerox copy of the law in my files –
on the basis that their arbitrary and despicable act
of abolishing deferments was illegal
so i got my II-A deferment back
as well as my life

i subsequently spent over thirty years in a city high school
moving from special ed to burnout to teaching mathematics
then into a teacher-administrative position
growing into my responsibilities
learning and innovating on the job
so my life wasn’t ended by a barrage of hot lead
or shrapnel tearing into my body
i didn’t come back in an aluminum coffin
my life wasn’t just
thrown away

we have two grown children now
with five delicious grandsons
and a wife who loves me
most of the time
and there were benefits
for working for over three decades
in a dysfunctional bureaucracy
fighting budgetary constraints
battling for integrity and self-respect …
because i’m receiving a defined pension now
… with social security we’re doing well

but i always shudder
about what could’ve happened
in the jungle
in the rice paddies
in the killing fields
half a lifetime
half a world
away

— Appeared in Freedom Verse, Patriotic Poetry In Celebration Of The American Spirit, 2013

Poem 189.3    Oct 5, 2010 .. rev Feb 7, 2013 .. rev Sept 28, 2013 .. rev Nov 13, 2014      (up to top)

counting down

i used to count down
the minutes left in a class period
the hours until dismissal
the days until the weekend
the weeks until the holidays
the months until summer vacation
the years until retirement

now i count down
the minutes left in a game on tv
the hours until my evening meds
the days left in my pill dispensers
the weeks until the kids visit
the months until my cardiologist’s appointment
the years until the end

Poem 190    October 8, 2010      (up to top)

compilation poem

this is a compilation poem
written entirely by me
this line right now at 3:47 and twenty-one seconds
and this next line thirty-six seconds later
thirty-one heart beats later
and the i who’s writing this now
after checking my pulse
is different from the i three minutes ago
infinitesimally different perhaps
but different nonetheless

and if i’ve written a poem
more substantial than this one
– though i could hardly see how of course –
that’s taken many minutes and hours
and with revisions days or weeks more
i’ve certainly changed
in the intervening time
emotionally
physically
mentally
and i am no longer the person
who typed the first word
... i’m somebody different
perhaps even changed somewhat
by the sheer process
or writing this poem
after all how could i not be?

Poem 191    October 8, 2010      (up to top)

fuckin’ old farts

you see ’em doing 20 in a 30-mile zone
40 in a 55 and in the left lane to boot
taking an extra five seconds in the turning lane
or when you’re behind ’em honking
while their right turn signal’s blinking
waiting for the red signal to change

you see ’em shouting at me with their gravelly voices
as i blow through a red light on my bike
hey! ... ya gotta stop!
and i salute with one finger
shout back fuck you sir
and what’r’ya wastin’ your time for?

you see ’em in the library
in the gym in the locker room
wherever old farts meet up to shmooze
repeating verbatim
the hooey and hogwash
they’ve heard on talk radio
pontificating their bullshit about
health care and immigration
the economy and obama
as if whatever they might say
might ever make a difference

you see ’em on the checkout line
cashing in wrinkled coupons
counting out pennies and nickels and dimes
from a quikoin rubber purse
imprinted with a faded yellow logo
from a bank long-since defunct

you hear ’em sitting at the concert
crackling their candy wrappers
leafing through their program yet one more time
shining a goddamn flashlight ...

you hear ’em sitting behind you at the movies
asking what’d he say?
then the other answers even more loudly
you shush them
and after the third or fourth interruption
you say would you please be quiet?
but what you’d like to say
what you’re really itching to say
is would you please shut the fuck up

you see ’em ...
if you stay healthy
if you’re lucky
if you live so long
... you see ’em staring at you
with a face you hardly recognize
with that comical unbelieving look
... staring back at you
in your fogged-up
and now clearing
upstairs bathroom mirror

Poem 192    October 21, 2010      (up to top)

at a loss of words

my mind is littered
with the ghosts of first lines
for poems and stories
i thought up while driving
while walking the dog
while scrubbing in the shower
while tossing in bed
but which i never
ever wrote down

when i’m sitting in front
of the celibate screen
with that irritable cursor
winking and blinking at me
like a two-dollar whore
i’m hungering for my muse
to feed me a line
but those delicious dazzling words
flitter just out of reach
those luminescent ideas fizzle away
like a receding wave
on the spongy shore

Poem 193.2    November 2, 2010      (up to top)

worst fear

i was riding in the car today
listening to the npr sunday puzzle
trying to think of a creature in six letters ...
and i tried to remember
the name of the fish
that fish from the amazon
that can chew men and cattle to the bone
nibbling in schools in a matter of minutes
but that fish’s name
would not come to me
yet it was on the tip of my tongue

i’ve had other such forgetfulnesses
failures to recall
disrememberings
or switchings of words
like peanut butter for potato pudding
or dish washer for refigerator
and when this happens
when i disremember
when i draw that blank
the first thing that does come to mind
are words i can never forget –
alzheimer’s dementia
mental decay deterioration
and the horror of it all

i finally got it!
the south american fish is the piranha
but it’s not in six letters

Poem 194    November 2, 2010      (up to top)

life lists

mid-autumn
a chilly late saturday afternoon
i’m riding through eisenhower park
pass by a cyclocross race
bicyclists on modified bikes
jumping up and down on steps
careening around trees and bushes
riding full bore for an hour

i’ve never done a cyclocross
though i have done centuries
marathons but not triathlons

i’ve been to london and paris and prague
jerusalem tijuana and amsterdam
but not moscow shanghai or mumbai

i’ve been married forty-one years
have four grandsons
never had an adulterous affair
though i have sinned in my heart
like good ol’ jimmy carter

never dropped acid
never did meth or coke or shrooms
but had a too-long affair with pot

there are many things on my fuck-it list
i no longer wish to do

remaining is my bucket list –
things i want to do
exploring the inca site at machu picchu
seeing the smoke that thunders –
victoria falls between zambezie and zambia
observing native species in the galápagos
riding a recumbent bicycle in holland
spending a lot more time in israel

these are my two lists
one with cross-offs and erasures –
never-minds and not applicables
the other with check boxes
of places to i’d like to get to
things to i’d like to do
a lot of life to live
before

Poem 195    November 23, 2010      (up to top)

gathering thoughts

i often find myself sitting
in workshops and classes
readings and shiurim
meetings and study groups
wondering
what am i doing here?
though within that thought
my words are stronger
and my mood much darker

i look at the people around me –
who are these people?
... as if to distract myself
i think of the question
in jerry seinfeld’s voice
who arrre these people?

i take out a note pad
settle down
listen to my therapist’s advice
that’s it’s not good to isolate myself
that it is good to be with people
even if some of them are wrong-headed
egotistical
imperfect
intolerant

maybe i’m more like them
then i’m willing to admit

Poem 196    November 23, 2010      (up to top)

different drum

life would be so much simpler
if i didn’t march to the insistent beat
of that different drum

i’d be watching must-see tv
couch-potatoing with a brew
eating fast food with the herds
of sheeple who just go along with it
blithely live life
with nary a thought
about consequences and truth
living life without questions
of right and wrong
without the nagging doubts
arhythmic grays
between-the-lines musings
that gnaw away at me

life would be so much simpler
and i wouldn’t be as miserable
wouldn’t make myself so miserable
i’d have it all
under control
thinking
it is what it is
and nothing more

Poem 197    November 23, 2010      (up to top)

impermanence 4

that barren westbury avenue lot
behind razor-wire topped fencing
is no longer vacant

once home to a boces school
turned to rubble and carted away
where the echoes of children
have long been silenced

inhabited now
by a trailer
two dumpsters
rows of mercedes-benzes –
hundreds of cars and suv’s
sedans and crossovers
trucks and wagons and roadsters
lined up and orderly
no gum chewing
no talking
no getting on a teacher’s nerves

maybe it’s a good thing
that those acres are no longer empty
that the lot’s been put to some use ...
but except for a lone watchman
the land
is devoid of life

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 19, May 2011

Poem 198    November 23, 2010      (up to top)

aging before my eyes

i noticed it first time when
harriet z was on line in the cafeteria
and instead of the svelte
elegant secretary whom i saw
every fifth period
a much older lady
was standing in her place

i see it sometimes
when a woman takes off
her glasses to rub her eyes
stretch her neck
the crows feet wrinkles
sagging skin
alter her countenance
too many years forward

sometimes when i hear
someone talking
his voice and intonation
apart from the words
morph him
into a senescent version
a caricature perhaps
his father

all people age
some not so well
i’d rather not see it
ahead of time

Poem 199    November 24, 2010      (up to top)

at the senior center

on a gray november afternoon
four of us met
to read our poetry in the day room
... we decided to start early
fearing that a few would pick up and leave

there were thirteen in attendance
and an aide in a white uniform
whose eyelids had already started drooping

two seniors were playing cards far left
four were chatting decorating a christmas tree in the back
leaving six women and one man for us

the man smiled at the picture of my wheaten terrier
i’d showed around
said he loved my poem ‘good doggie’
said he had a shitzhu
said – tapping his chest –
you’ll really miss him when he’s gone
it’s really bad believe you me
i told him i’ve thought about that too
and shuddered
... while the second poet read
he put on his flannel jacket and left

as the fourth poet read
the lady in red stood up
pulled on her black coat
waved at the remaining five
and she too walked out

four readers
five sitting in our audience
had this been a waste of an afternoon?

we were almost finished ...
outside a locked door
stood the man in the red flannel jacket
who’d returned
with his little brown dog
i pushed open the door
bent down and scratched
his ears his back
under the chin
of his sweet little dog
while the man was telling me
about his previous pet
a chihauhua-pomeranian mix
who lived to be twenty-five
saying don’t believe it? ... go ask the vet
and we traded anecdotes
about our love and connection
to our four-legged friends

as we were leaving
another poet said to me
you see ... you touched him
so maybe it was
after all
worth it

Poem 200    November 30, 2010      (up to top)

photo grays

out walking my dog
on a frigid december day
peered over my eyeglass frames ...
through transition lenses
a lime-green lawn was turned olive gray
a pale yellow house had been painted off-white
the robin’s egg sky was a vibrant ultramarine

for many years i’ve been seeing the world
through photochromatic brown or gray tints
darker in the winter much darker in the cold
and i’ve been experiencing the world
through many lenses besides visual
that’ve surely changed over time

my holy grail
could be like the ophthalmologist’s instrument
known as the phoropter
with refractive lenses of all sorts
emotional physical intellectual
tactile aural sensual
that can be adjusted just so
so i could dial in the world
like i want it to be
or – at least –
like i think i want it to be

Poem 201    Decenber 9, 2010      (up to top)

fun car

we became part of their “image”
a group of four couples
to whom we were assigned
to continue our glow
after our marriage encounter weekend
in a fading hotel on northern boulevard

one couple showed up in a black sedan de ville
another in a lincoln
a third in their fun car
a red corvette convertible

... eight caring people
older than we were
wealthier than we were
and instead of addressing our inner lives –
the raw emotions tapped into
during those magical forty-six hours
they talked about surface issues –
their adult children
older than our preteen and teen
their vacations
which we could never afford
their upper middle-class lives
rubbed into our faces
though they never
– they would never –
realize it

Poem 202    Decenber 16, 2010      (up to top)

in love with my two-wheeled steeds

some would’ve called my honda cb550
a piddling rice burner
’cause it didn’t go puh-ta-ta puh-ta-ta
puh-ta-ta puh-ta-ta
like a harley davidson in heat
... japanese bikes were often more civilized

riding a motorcycle was a part of my life
for five years and thirty-five thousand miles
something i needed to do
something i had to get out of my system

my first motorcycle was smaller
a cb360 i bought in 1975
on a halloween eve
a night when my wife put her hand through a window
pounding in anger
screaming at me
while our sabbath evening food was getting cold
but while i was going through
the death of my aunt
and a manic episode

i rode that cb360 to brooklyn almost every day
through several winters
but not in the rain if i could help it
... i wiped out on the belt parkway
near pennsylvania avenue
on my wife’s twenty-eighth birthday
on one of the coldest days
of one of the coldest winters on record
– it was nine degrees that morning–
as she was recovering
from a near-fatal ectopic pregnancy
requiring emergency surgery
... and a near-death experience

she said she knew it
absolutely knew it when i went down
felt a cold hand caress the back of her neck
shivering
she claimed that god was there to catch me
... i needed to be caught
between two lanes of traffic
as i swerved at sixty miles per hour
to avoid a stopped highway truck in the left lane

then i got the cb550
because i could justify it –
after all
the belt parkway accident wasn’t my fault
a bungy cord had snapped off
wound around the rear axle
seized
and i’d gone up and over the handlebars
crushing my left testicular blood vessel
on the gas cap or the left mirror
... i landed face down arms out
i was wearing a full body suit
that was torn in the crotch

on broken boots
i walked to the ambulance
was taken to interboro hospital
discharged nine days later
... while recuperating my father died
maybe he couldn’t stand seeing me in the hospital
i often think he traded his life for mine

continuing to ride was hurting our marriage
except when we rode two-up
then it was okay
but her fear of loss
her fear of death
her fear of abandonment
was often more than she could tolerate

we both knew
it was only a matter of time
until the next one
and the next one might’ve been a lot worse
the next one was my fault
i was passing a car on the right
– yeah a stupid move –
but it squeezed over into my path
i went down on my left shoulder
suffered an acromioclavicular dislocation
– a shoulder separation –
... after that healed
i ended up selling the bike

i do miss riding sometimes
but i do not miss dying
before my time

the postscript --
that summer i bought
a raleigh racing bicycle
with campagnolo components
rode that for many years
and thousands of miles
then discovered recumbent bikes
... during the past fifteen years
– i’m now on my second –
i’ve ridden over sixty thousand miles
on these two-wheeled steeds

Poem 203    Decenber 17, 2010      (up to top)

the best is not

if i choose a candidate or an ice skater
a singer or a gymnast
a stock or a bond
and think that they were best
... i know that they would lose
unless there was a seismic shift
in the space-time continuum
or an eruptive fluctuation
in the structure of reality

my choice almost always
results in
the kiss of death
the coup de grâce
the mortal blow
... maybe i ought to switch
my allegiance
my devotion
my adoration
to whom and what
i hate the most

Poem 204    Decenber 20, 2010      (up to top)

recurring nightmares

i’ve witnessed a murder
i’m fleeing from danger
i’m going to be late
horribly late

my telephone has a dial tone
a faint buzzing
i key in the numbers
9-1-1 perhaps
wrong number
start over
no dial tone
just static mocking me

on my cell phone
are unintelligible voices
one bar flickering
i want to throw it
somewhere

i’m running from
or running towards ...
my legs are elephantine
and i’m slowing to a walk
my legs pushing through quicksand
hardening

i’m galloping on my bicycle
one tire flats
i fix it
but then the other
rolling on the rims
chain rubbing
brakes sticking
i’m riding ever uphill
though on level ground

i’ve gotta get out of here
start up my car
i’m moving but slowing
stomp and stomp and stomp on the gas
sputtering to a stop

i wake up panting

Poem 205.1    Decenber 20, 2010      (up to top)

the cheeseburger imperative

it used to be enough
when he lead me south and west
over the brook and through the woods
across sunrise highway
to petco – where the pets go
for crunchy treats from the doggie buffet table

it used to be enough
when he pulled me south and east
navigating the grid of freeport streets
past village hall and our holy redeemer church
to the bodega on the corner of church and pine
where we shared a yummy prepackaged cheese danish

now he marches me with utmost urgency
tracking north and west
through roosevelt and north baldwin
and at each crucial corner
he lifts his nose
licks his lips
deciding which way to turn
to get to his ultimate destination
mcdonald’s ...
where he is treated to
a much more delectable selection
a double cheeseburger ...
with all the fixins

Poem 206    Decenber 28, 2010      (up to top)

tunnel of loss

the widow wears her anguish
like a raven cat suit
all-encompassing unforgiving

she plods along a tapering path
yearning towards acceptance
yet mired in her forever grief

crows of sorrow
etch their footprints
beside her teary eyes

she feasts on melancholy
gorges on heartache
is never sated

Poem 207    January 15, 2011      (up to top)

along winter’s ocean shore 1

i stride along the edge of life
imagining limbless proto-amphibians
slithering from the surf
but it’s winter and sixteen degrees
a seeker of warmth
would never venture onto this land

as the tide turns
i turn to walk towards the setting sun
on glistening gray-bluish-green sand
skirting the wavelets rippling up
leaving foamy beads behind

the crimson-orange fireball
is reflected upon the undulating ocean surface
its incandescence is dazzling
it descends
ever-so-slowly sinks
almost touches
then kisses its fiery swallower
tantalizingly and deliberately submerging
finally! it is consumed
but still has one glorious act –
igniting the furrows of mackerel clouds
the heavenly crown above

Poem 208.1    January 27, 2011      (up to top)

along winter’s ocean shore 2

along the shoreline
is detritus
left by the receding tide
fragments of shells
sand-scoured pebbles
severed crab legs
remnants of horseshoe crabs
crumbling spongy driftwood
a ghostly white stingray
but shards of green and brown glass
everlasting bags of plastic
polystyrene packing peanuts

thankfully oblivious
sanderlings in a swarm
alight as one
skitter on the shore
follow the surf edge in then out
while noble gulls bob on the waves
until one finds a morsel
then cawing and squawking
and intimidation betides

Poem 209.1    January 27, 2011      (up to top)

near death experience

ectopic pregnancy
ruptured fallopian tube
no time to prep
emergency surgery

hovering above
observing
disconnected
yet not apart

the other me
lies beneath
sea green shrouding
not yet apart

Poem 210.1    February 8, 2011      (up to top)

mister hale

irwin hale
a retired aerospace engineer
was short in stature
as was alma his wife

they lived diagonally across the street
in a custom-designed house
with lower countertops
tinier door openings
diminutive rooms

irwin cut his lawn
with a red toro mower
stopping bending picking up twigs
placing them in a burlap bag
attached to the handle

he mowed his lawn
into his eighties
shoveled the snow
cleaned out the gutters
while alma tended to her garden
fussed over the house
fussed over irwin
and at dinnertime
called in the cats who were still out
accounted for with color-coded toggle switches
attached to a pegboard
beside the kitchen door

i yearn to be like mister hale
mowing my lawn into my eighties
living into my eighties
spry and active and aware

Poem 211    February 15, 2011      (up to top)

more than half of our lives

on her forty-first birthday
i queried my wife
d’ya know how long you’ve been married?
yeah ... too long she said
no seriously i answered
i give up she said
you’ve been married half of your life i announced
that’s way too long she said
maybe it’s time for a divorce

on my forty-sixth birthday
i queried my wife
d’ya know how long i’ve been married?
not this again she answered
no ... guess
sure ... twenty three years she said
and that’s half of my life i declared
i can’t take any more of this she said
you’re getting on my nerves

on our forty-first anniversary
i queried my wife
d’ya know how long you’ve been married?
here we go again she answered
more than two-thirds of your life i proclaimed
this is getting worse and worse she said
leave me alone already ...
and stop counting

i can’t wait until 2015

Poem 212    February 15, 2011      (up to top)

onanism in print

when i’m at a reading or a meeting
and it’s announced
that someone’s having a book
published!
we ooh and we aah
and with shit-eating grins
we politely applaud

and i sit there seething
number one i am jealous
but number two i get so damn disgusted
because any schmuck or schmuckette
with a wad of benjamins
and pages of breathless excrement
can do exactly
the same thing

they don’t call it vanity press
for nothing

Poem 213    February 17, 2011      (up to top)

looking up

fifty days have passed
with snow on the ground
i’ve been out walking our dog
every one of those days
every day for many years

while i’m out walking
i scan the sidewalk ahead
to avoid
unshoveled snow turned to ice
cracks in the concrete
puddles at intersections
waiting for traffic
– which seems heavier every day –
to pass us by
so we can finally cross

on an almost balmy day today
i looked up
and saw what i’ve been missing –
the intricate network of gnarled branches
of oaks and maples silhouetted
against a majestic blue sky

soon these skeletons
will be covered with baby green
... and i smiled

Poem 214    February 17, 2011      (up to top)

eleven o’clock receiving line

outside his brown-brick sanctuary
the father stands in his lime-green vestment
embroidered with a lustrous golden cross
receiving parishioners after the ten o’clock mass

they pass by in family groupings
small children running here and there
chasing siblings and friends
they pass by in ones and twos
a man in a striped shirt on this blustery day
a woman in a black persian lamb coat
guided by her jamaican caregiver

they want to need to make contact
feel his warmth his spirit
a two-handed shake
a bear hug and a slap on the back
a pinch on the cheek a tousle of hair
and he says just the right words
the words they want to need to hear

as the line dwindles
the father dons a red baseball cap
urged onto him by a teen-aged fan

he smiles benevolently
beatifically upon his flock
their god’s representative
on this mortal soil

Poem 215    March 1, 2011      (up to top)

inspiration then silence

i’ve attended chabad classes
with titles like
beyond never again
toward a meaningful life
soul maps and soul quest

although what i’ve learned
has filtered through by osmosis
i can’t seem to grab onto
any one topic
about which to write

a poem
that’s what i want to write
i want to be inspired
but when i have something in mind
it sounds trite or passé
perhaps because so many words
of adoration and exultation
have already been written
in hebrew and aramaic and yiddish
and in so many other world languages

but more so i think
because of the undying faith behind
and underneath those words
and its claimed trueness and validity
that i can’t or i won’t embrace

Poem 216    March 8, 2011      (up to top)

man and woman on a balcony

the vibraphone begins its mournful tune
soft dragging on a snare drum maintains one beat per second
the bass hums one note softly below
then begins complementing the melody of the vibes
on the seventeenth bar
the trumpet edges in to continue the melody ...

this is happening in crisp black and white –
it is evening
a man in a dark suit white shirt and tie
with the build and the suaveness of a fred astaire
stands at a balcony railing gazing over the city
the 59th street bridge is off in the distance
he picks up and sips from a glass tumbler
appears wistful
waiting for something ... or someone
to happen

the clatter from the loud party inside breaks his reverie
a woman with ingrid bergman eyes
in a black cocktail dress
slides open the glass door and wanders onto the balcony
the hubbub subsides as she slides the door shut

she shivers and says it’s chilly out here
oozes toward him
her heels click her approach
can you spare a cigarette? she asks
as if he could possibly refuse
he draws a silver case from an inside pocket
picks out two
taps their ends on the case
places them between his lips
flicks open his zippo
lights them with the flame cupped in his hand
snaps it shut
pockets the lighter and the case
slips one cigarette out of his mouth
hands it to her
she takes it as her hand lingers on his

the tips of their cigarettes burn red-orange
the only color in the now gauzy scene

they face each other as she draws nearer
we can see the electricity between them
we can feel the tingle of the bluewhite sparks

her eyes search his face
with her wet yearning eyes
they’re inches apart
his body seems to meld with hers

our melody continues
everything is in pantomime
we hear no conversation

the glowing tips of their cigarettes dance
in slow-motion swirls
as they speak silent words
as he touches her shoulder
as she smooths back her hair
as he gestures
as she entices

her face is passionate with quiet want
his need is crackling though icy veneer

they place their cigarettes
on opposite sies of a cut-glass ashtray

he embraces her
for he cannot help it
as they kiss
we move in for a closeup
of a chaste hollywood kiss

the camera draws away
moves to focus on the two cigarettes
at opposite sides of the ashtray
their tips still glowing
the smoke from each one rising
swirling around its counterpart
as the music slows
ending with a fading four-beat trumpet note

– Ekphrasis poetry inspired by Nature Boy, composed by eden ahbez, originally sung by Nat King Cole
This version is from the 1955 Album Blue Moods, by Miles Davis, trumpet
with Britt Woodman, trombone; Charles Mingus, bass; Teddy Charles, vibes; Elvin Jones, drums
and based on a Yiddish song “Shayg mayn harts” (Be Still My Heart) by Herman Yablokoff

Poem 217    March 10, 2011      (up to top)

saturday on the boardwalk

at the point four mile mark
i’m trying to get into my stride
cell phone rings
damn it

as i flip it open as
my wife’s photo appears
i say hiya ... what’s up
she answers it’s about tomorrow
you know ... plans with the kids

just what i need i think
here i’m trying to get into it ...
let me call you back she says
i’ve got another call beeping through

i keep on walking
waiting for the call back
can’t get into my pace
and i’m seething

know i shouldn’t be
for it’s about being with
our grandkids
yet i still am
damn it

Poem 218    March 19, 2011      (up to top)

lasting impression

when i think about my father
the first image that comes to mind
is the last thing i remember
him lying inert in his underwear
on the floor
dead
in a pool of vomit
and other bodily wastes

after thirty-four years
i still often wish
the police hadn’t called
that february night
for me to drive out
to have to see
to have to smell
to have that image
left
as the one
that i remember

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2012 – A Poetry Anthology

Poem 219    March 21, 2011      (up to top)

power brunch at the diner

the two garrulous guys
with their power-moussed hair
their power eyeglasses
wearing rumpled off-the-rack suits
charge into the dining room
demand the corner table
next to the window
the one that’s meant for five

they force-laugh
at each other’s remarks
remove their jackets
hang them on empty chairs
roll up their sleeves
loosen their ties
they have business to discuss
connections to make
agreements to forge
high finance to arrange
as they order from the specials
on the plastic-coated menu

they get their coffee
then their eggs and fries
slather them with ketchup
gesticulate between mouthfuls
self-absorbed in their actions
until one gets a dollop of ketchup
on his silky power tie
shouts son of a bitch
takes a napkin
dips it in his water glass
tries to wipe away the stain
but it smears even more
his force-laughing mood
is over and done with

Poem 220.1    March 26, 2011      (up to top)

underground

the seventh avenue local
throbs beneath
the sidewalk
its bass-line
as reassuring
as the ozone odor
of electrical arcing
and the rhythmic
de-duh de-duh
de-duh de-duh
that recedes
into the pulse of the city
as it rumbles
uptown

— Appeared in The New York Times Metropolitan Diary column, April 15, 2013

Poem 221    March 27, 2011      (up to top)

rasta dog

our wheaten terrier’s last grooming
was in july of last year
he is way overdue

though jimmy is brushed
every day
his silky hair
now coils
into doggie dreadlocks

he’s been called shaggy
by a man we encountered
jimmy wasn’t amused

a young boy asked
is he a komondor?
– a rare hungarian dog who looks
like a four-footed wet mop

now even we are calling him
rasta dog
at least until his spring shearing

Poem 222    March 28, 2011      (up to top)

forgetting

i seem to be forgetting
things
words
words mostly

my cardiologist asked me
what i was taking for GERD
i opened my mouth
to say the drug name
drew a blank
sat with my mouth agape
i said why’nt ya check the list of meds
i printed out
he leafed through the file
oh yeah ... ranitidine he said
i wonder if he gave
my wife a momentary glance

thinking about this poem
i drew a blank on
a word that has a similar meaning
thesaurus did pop into mind
then some seconds later
a lifetime later
synonym!
finally broke through

it happens rarely
but lately more frequently

i’m anxious
disturbed
scared

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

Poem 223    March 29, 2011      (up to top)

one way through

my memory lane
is not the idyllic path
through glistening woods
with animated birds chirping
on an balmy june morning

rather
it twists and swerves
through sinister shadows
rutted with potholes
puddled with could’ves
and should’ves
and self-doubt
turned to apathy

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

Poem 224    April 11, 2011      (up to top)

dreadicare card

the white 6 by 9½ inch envelope from the
department of health & human services
arrived today

i’d been expecting it
knew what would be inside
my brand-spanking new
medicare health insurance card
effective the first of this august

with current fifteen dollar copays
ordering refills online
reimbursed deductibles
this sliver of red white and blue cardstock
has already upset the apple cart
especially my myth of being young

my father died at sixty-five and a day
old people are sixty-five and counting
but not me
no ... not me

i do not want this harbinger of things to come
to reside in my wallet
to haunt me
to constantly remind me
of my mortality

Poem 225    April 13, 2011      (up to top)

just playing at

they’re all so excited
bubbling over with glee
i sit there wondering
what the hell
is arousing them so

sometimes i think that
i’m just playing at life
about things i do
writing poetry
riding my recumbent
work-playing on my computer
because i can’t reach that level of elation

they’re so involved
or appear to be
and yes i am jealous
unless … of course …
they’re just faking it

are they so fragile
that they need to be so exuberant?
or are they just so damn good
at hiding their trepidations?

Poem 226    April 28, 2011      (up to top)

bichromate

i loved visiting my dad’s drugstore
on my way home from school
or when i rode there by bike

i always wondered what those
sequences of tiny black letters meant
the ones printed in grease pencil
in my father’s meticulous hand
on boxes of chanel N° 5 eau de parfum
on cartons of lucky strike cigarettes
on bottles of terpin hydrate with codeine

when i was old enough
i figured out it was a code
but still couldn’t decipher it

i asked him plenty of times
i must have driven him crazy
– ’cause he told me so –
until he finally relented
and said …
BICHROMATE
B means one and I means two and so forth
– it’s the wholesale cost –
but you better keep it a secret

i promised him i would
… until now

Poem 227    April 28, 2011      (up to top)

elijah’s cup

following the seder’s grace after meals
a fifth cup of wine is poured
– the cup of elijah –
the front door is opened
verses from the psalms are recited
beseeching god to pour his wrath
upon our persecutors and oppressors

for the night of passover
was the guarded night
when god protected the jews
from the plague
which slew all egyptian firstborn
and opening the door
expresses a trust in god’s protection

throughout time
these pious stories and beliefs
have been interpreted so devoutly
so reverently and ardently
yet when god is needed the most
when he’s prayed for
pleaded for
… when sobbing men cry out for him …
the result seems to be
disdainful silence
rejective and indifferent

Poem 228.1    April 28, 2011      (up to top)

homes once dignified

it doesn’t take long
for a house to lose itself
as realtor’s signs sprout
like the knee-high weeds and dandelions
that’ve spread their seeds
from once-lush lawns
no longer manicured
or edged against
cracked and crackling sidewalks

sharply-bordered gardens
once sown with impatiens and begonias
now lie fallow
burnt and untrimmed hedges
are overgrown with vines
invaded by underbrush
littered with soggy pennysavers
mcdonald’s containers
crushed red bull cans
... it doesn’t take long
for a house to lose itself

Poem 229.1    May 24, 2011      (up to top)

GOT HIM (SHOT HIM)

GOT HIM (SHOT HIM) was the headline in rhyme from the Tampa Bay Times
The Butcher of 9/11 is DEAD from the San Francisco Examiner
ROT IN HELL from the New York Daily News
the stately New York Times announced in upper case times new roman
BIN LADEN KILLED BY U.S. FORCES IN PAKISTAN
OBAMA SAYS, DECLARING JUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE
... VENGEANCE AT LAST ... from the New York Post
just one word – DEAD – from the St Petersburg Times and the Chicago Sun Tmes
WE GOT THE BASTARD from the Philadelphia Daily News
and similar sympathies in a multitude of languages
graced the front pages of newspapers throughout the world

i opened our Times when it was delivered
like every day in a blue plastic bag
had noted what crawled across the screen the night before
later ... coming back from walking the dog
my neighbor rolled down his car window
shouted with a proud wide grin hey we got ’em!
i asked waddya mean?
it took a few moments
before i understood

we got ’em
we shot ’em
we killed ’em
that butcher
that bastard
that monster

who exactly is this we?

Poem 230    May 24, 2011      It‘s best to view GOT HIM (SHOT HIM) as a PDF      (up to top)

at the bandshell

jones beach
on a sultry summer evening
a neil diamond pretender
in a bejeweled satiny red shirt
is crooning a ballad
his voice digitally enhanced
two women from a group of five
sitting on aged embroidered pillows
on the wooden bleachers
nod at each other
stand up
step down to the concrete floor
then step-slide-step untouching
like marionettes unsmiling
like late middle-aged ex-ballerinas
atop a rhinestoned jewelry box
dancing together apart
because that’s all there’s left to do

a song later and another song later
they’re up again
doing the electric slide
the cha cha cha
dancing the minutes the hours away
under a hazy half-moon rising

Poem 231    July 1, 2011      (up to top)

end of june

summertime
and the livin’ is easy
don’t you believe it for one moment

with this year’s may and june
came my fragile brother’s bipolar meltdown
my friend’s depression and major back surgery
my wife’s fractured knee and her rehabilitation
her retirement and finding a new path in life
my daughter’s move from accessible queens
to more than an hour away in new jersey

one of these mornings
you’re going to rise up singing
but not now for my brother nor my friend
my therapist says i shouldn’t dwell in my negative
in their negative
that i should stay away from the toxic
over which i have no control

then you'll spread your wings
and you'll take to the sky
but machu picchu is out
our vacation gallivanting is out
even a moonlit stroll on the boardwalk
has become a challenge

so hush little baby
don't you cry
but there’s no daddy and mammy
standing by

-- Summertime lyrics by George Gershwin, et.al

Poem 232.1    July 7, 2011      (up to top)

at a daytime summer concert

the glistening-white luxury mini-coaches
from senior living facilities
with the bristol the atria
and plattduetsche home stenciled on the side
are parked conestoga wagon-style
around the periphery
along with half-size golden-yellow school buses
from special needs programs
like the kiss center anchor and ahrc

under the thinly-shaded sycamores
already shedding their leaves
oldsters sit on nylon-webbed garden chairs
while youngsters are propped up on tattered blankets
under the sweltering noonday sun

it’s the eisenhower park series
of wednesday lunchtime concerts
and in the trailer turned band shell
a dozen or so choraleers
in red shirts and white pants
in tenuous four-part harmony
are singing folk songs and oldies tarnished by age

as they harmonize i’ve been working on the railroad
some of the oldsters mouth the familiar words
into the humid long island air
while the youngsters rock to a tempo
all their own

Poem 233    July 21, 2011      (up to top)

at mount ararat cemetery

a long island summer day
it’s the week before my medicare takes effect
i bike to the cemetery in lindenhurst
where my father and mother
–philip and sylvia –
lie side by side
under a plain headstone inscribed ABRAMS
in elegant times new roman

though i’ve biked there every spring or summer
it has never struck me just this way
that it’s my last name too
and this is where for eternity
i’ll be pushing up daisies also
as my father used to joke

squawking crows cavort overhead
under tufts of clouds
as i study the foot stones
and envision my own –
my name in hebrew
laibel baruch ben feivel
– lloyd barry son of philip –
then LLOYD B in a larger font
followed by
beloved husband father
brother grandfather

i step back under the shade
of a scraggily pine
realize as if for the first time
that these two people
born in early 1900s
and now buried in plain pine boxes
– that these two people and nobody else –
are the ones from whom i came
– the ones who gave me life

when i’m here
i usually can’t find the right words to say
i don’t ride here with an agenda
i forget to bring the mourner’s kaddish
which by now i should know by heart but don’t
but this time i beseech them
to please look out for my brother
– their older son –
who’s been going through a very rough time

since i’d had a late start
i realize the cemetery is about to close
i search for a pebble or two
line up a large one and a smaller one
above the two interlocking triangles
that make up the star of david
engraved above our family name

i pedal to the office
wash my hands as is the custom
drink some gatorade
and then ride home into the northwest wind
all their own

Poem 234    July 29, 2011      (up to top)

old man’s arms

my sun-tanned arms
on which nicks and scrapes
gouges and contusions
having bled
too profusely
because of a blood thinner
– an antiplatelet drug –
are now healing
and have turned into
angry crimson
and blue-purple splotches

an old man’s arms
are attached to my body

Poem 235    August 7, 2011      (up to top)

outside the souvenir shop

on this year’s vacation
i refused to schlepp through souvenir shops
there are no postcards i want
no books no mugs no doodads
no overpriced tchotchkes made in china
emblazoned with our destination
all destined for a box in the basement
a bin in the garage
or the trash heap
in the not-so-distant future

i’d rather be sitting outside
sipping a cold root beer
on a bench in the shade
next to the
unmollifiable baby and the bewildered parent
sweating children asking please can i have it
or another geezer mumbling to himself
about why it always takes so goddamn long
for them to make a decision

we need to get going already
we want to hightail it out of here
we’ve got to get moving
to the next tourist trap

Poem 236.1    August 21, 2011      (up to top)

embracing the rain 1

i walk within her cloak
her life-giving force
imbibe her generosity
i fear her not

i open my arms to her
raise my face
close my eyes
revel in her exhilaration

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 237    September 7, 2011      (up to top)

embracing the rain 2

i prepared for her wrath
tied my waterproof shoes
zipped my rain jacket
pulled on my gortex hat
opened the front door
stepped out into a caressing mist
– a gentle cleansing kiss

i walked five miles
through several downpours
as clouds grew dark and angry
but i feared not
for there was a peephole in the southwest sky
where an eye of brightness tried to open

i was soaked through
my sweat-wicking shirt was saturated
partly by the rain
but mostly from perspiration
and my shoes felt waterlogged

i’d gotten drenched
but that was all
for i’d embraced the rain
and reveled in her glory

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 238    September 8, 2011      (up to top)

off season at the beach

the best time
to swim at the beach
is off season
today was one such glorious day

the ocean at tobay was cool but not cold
clear and free of sea lice seaweed and jellyfish
the sea bed was sandy
the waves were high
yet neither too rough nor too gentle
there was no riptide no undertow
it was an absolute delight

before we knew we’d get chilled
we lumbered out to shore
took warm showers under the balmy sun
dried off in the caressing breeze
changed in the car
then drove home

september 13, 2011
was the most perfect beach day
in our lives

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 239    September 13, 2011      (up to top)

zenning it

plodding through a sandstorm
stung with blowing granules
cloaked with grains of sand

running in a blizzard
ice balls enshrouding my beard
eyelids freezing shut

riding into a relentless headwind
slowing slowing but still pedaling
grinding out the miles

perseverance
an absolute faith
that i’d be able to zen it
to go with the flow
to suck energy from antagonistic force
to make it
through
to the end

Poem 240    September 16, 2011      (up to top)

dark visions

in those moments
deep into the night
when i’m neither awake
nor asleep
i have visions
haunting visions
of how it might be
near the end

for her?
for me?
holding a gnarled hand
my gnarled hand in hers
listening to labored breathing
gasping to take in air
bearing witness to the struggle
struggling to stay alive
saying it’s all right
being told it’s all right
… you can let go
… i can let go
everything will be okay

as the vision recedes
i reach over
to touch her
to make contact
to reassure myself
that everything is still
… okay

Poem 241.2    October 8, 2011      (up to top)

scene at the park

at the playground
next to the train station
sit brown- and tan-skinned
caregivers and nannies
cell-phoning and laughing
sharing snacks and gossip
as sweating screeching
lily-white children
chase and tag each other
past squeaking swings
through colored tubes
up and down the slides

parked beside a bench
are several wheelchairs
in which ancient men
sit slumped
fading
away

Poem 242    October 11, 2011      (up to top)

high holy days

there have been jokes told about jews
who show up in shul only three times a year –
on the two days of rosh hashanah
and eight days later on yom kippur

… i’m not one of those jews
for this year i attended only the kol nidre service
on the evening before yom kippur

i persuade myself
i’m observant in other ways
i’m moral and ethical
i don’t do bad deeds
i don’t transgress
but i don’t fast on yom kippur
because in years past i ran
and now i ride my bicycle
which are much more spiritual
and get me closer to a higher being
or the universal consciousness
if there is such a phenomenon

Poem 243    October 12, 2011      (up to top)

assembly included

i looked forward to seeing
the baseball movie moneyball
it got some good reviews
and finally! a movie for adults

later i realized that it followed the story arc
of the hero’s journey
– our hot-shot/self-absorbed protagonist billy beane
– the irascible/defiant manager art howe
– the statistical magician/analyst peter brand
but with modules of scenes and subplots
pulled from the dusty shelves of past movies
and inserted like the many brand names so clearly displayed
– veteran scouts opposed to beane’s ideas
a greek chorus of naysayers bull-shitting around a conference table
– beane’s cutesy tween daughter whom he fears he’s losing touch with
whose singing becomes a bridge between scenes
– the obligatory locker room scenes
with testosterone a-flowing! camaraderie! anger! inspiration!

yes the movie was exciting … i was drawn in
– it’s not hard to identify with a counter-culture icon played by brad pitt
but in hindsight i feel tainted and manipulated
and i wonder if most – if not all – works of art
– music writing painting sculpture dance –
are assembled the same way
from plug-inable parts pulled from warehouse shelves
and the quality of the work is merely in the variety
and subtlety of the construction
or the skill with which the audience can be bamboozled

Poem 244    October 13, 2011      (up to top)

powering down

blown capacitors
corrupted hard drive
burnt-out motherboard
dead power supply

missing dll
invalid string
no recovery program
a fatal exception has occurred

can’t search
can’t use email
can’t play solitaire
don’t know what to do
i’m lost
drowning
i can’t breathe

i roll away my task chair
sit back
take a deep breath
think about a downing a xanax

maybe real life
is about to start

Poem 245    October 28, 2011      (up to top)

movie trailer voice-over

in the tranquil suburbs
of northern new jersey
are places
you ought … not … be
behind 7-elevens and starbucks
inside shopping malls on sundays
within the walls of mcmansions
long vacant
are things … beings …
better
left
alone

without knowing
without your knowledge
you … might be a carrier
attacked from within
your innards seized
by
the baby … who comes at midnight

coming soon
to an obstetrical theater
near you

Poem 246    October 31, 2011      (up to top)

kmart clown

it’s all hallows eve
rush hour in penn station
he stands near the toilets
opposite tracks 15 and 16
in an orange afro wig
red foam clown nose
twelve ninety-nine clown suit
over dark green sneakers

holding orange balloons
under his arms
blowing into another
to form a wannabe dachshund
a geriatric poodle
a phallic-shaped bunny
for the witch-slut with the attache
rushing by on high heels clacking
to catch the five thirty-three

get out of the way asshole
shouts a red-faced commuter
prob’ly inebriated
go somewhere else
who the fuck needs a fake clown
in a kmart costume
blocking the goddamn way

— Appeared in Local Gems 13 Days of Halloween email newsletter, 2014, and in the print version published 2015
Poem 247.1    October 31, 2011      (up to top)

pimp dog

jimmy has the face
the vitality
the charisma
as he struts down the sidewalk
like john travolta
to the bee gees’ stayin’ alive
as if he owns the street
shaking his hairy booty
and his stubbly waggly tail

women turn and smile
as he stares back at them
with mesmerizing brown eyes
they cannot help it

girls swoon over him
they ask does he bite?
i say no but i might
they ask can i touch him?
i say sure … go ahead
but i’m thinking something entirely different

if i weren’t married
he’d be my ice-breaker
my deal-maker
my procurer

i wouldn’t need match.com
eHarmony or JDate
all i’d need
was my dog
and a dream

Poem 248.1    November 5, 2011      (up to top)

new baby

i hold my new grandson
in my flannel-shirted
grandpa arms
my lips graze
his silky scalp hairs
i hum softy
hear baby noises
gurgles and tiny moans
he opens his eyes
fusses a bit
i rock him
his eyes close
he snores softly
it’s joyous
but overwhelming
this new life in my arms

yet after
i feel raw
vulnerable
depleted
it’s almost too much
to grasp

– for Eliyahu, b. November 10, 2011

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 249.1    November 19, 2011      (up to top)

sudoku blues

when we’re tired of tv
we sit at the kitchen table
with matching mugs of tea
in a halo of light
from the pull-down fixture
working on sudoku puzzles
printed from the web

i write in the obvious numbers
with a number 4b pencil or in black ink
use a red or green pen for possibles
scan for single square candidates
naked and hidden pairs and triples

i finish my puzzle
this time seems easier than usual
look over at her
she says oh you’re done already
i ask can i take a look at yours?

in a huff she stands up
glares at me
stalks off
climbs up the stairs
i shout what’d i do?
i get punished for offering help

after her bath
she excuses her angry exit
claims she’s competitive
but without stating the obvious
… maybe i should’ve kept
my biiig mouth shut

Poem 250    November 23, 2011      (up to top)

caller id

i know he’s there
that someone’s there
i’d called several times
got a busy signal

right after
when i hit repeat
i get the answering machine
leave a curt message
hang up annoyed
’cause i know
he’s been screening his calls

usually he returns the call later
apologizes profusely too effusively
maintains he was in the bathroom
claims that he had to answer the door
insists he had to keep the line clear
call waiting is not in his lexicon

so i’ve learned
to do it too
like when i sat down to dinner
saw his number on the readout
let it go straight to voicemail

i’ll call back
only when it’s convenient

Poem 251    November 23, 2011      (up to top)

exsanguination

when i get morose
or engage in a mind exercise
i mull over suicide
and the most efficient way
to accomplish it

i’d mentioned that i’d stick
a shotgun in my mouth
pull the trigger
my wife says it’d make too much mess
i wouldn’t want to come home
and have to clean it up

i’ve thought about pills
a handful of opiate tabs
or a syringe full of morphine
might do the trick
… but might not
i wouldn’t want to gain consciousness
after my stomach’s been pumped

but a warm bath
and a well-honed knife
a sharpie or a scalpel might do
a slice along a vein
an artery severed
and my life would ooze out
right down the drain

Poem 252    November 23, 2011      (up to top)

pathfinder

when we leave the house
our wheaten terrier jimmy
decides which way to go

if he turns right
it’s through the preserve
to petco for a mini-sausage
and points south

a left
it’s through the school yard
then on to grandma’s
for a hebrew national frank

cross the street then right
it’s to our bodega
for a packaged cheese danish
which we share

cross the street then left
it’s a lap around the field
then on to mcdonald’s
for a double-burger
from the dollar menu

at the end of sixteen feet
of retractable leash
jimmy struts
with resolve
determination
doggedness

but sometimes he fools me
leads me to places
unexplored
unsniffed
un-peed upon

finding an abandoned park in roosevelt
i’ve never known was there
dragging me to home depot
where he so insistently tries to pull me in
bringing me into a cul-de-sac
where he discovers a hidden pathway
leading to a slow-moving stream

he must be fulfilling
a biological imperative
and all i have to do
is follow along
at the other end of the leash
watch for cars before we cross
pay for his treats
and scratch behind his ears
on an as-needed basis

Poem 253    December 1, 2011      (up to top)

disunited

another bleak morning
we’re walking the dog
on a narrow sidewalk
along maple avenue
my wife trails several yards behind

when she says something
makes an observation
i mumble a tepid response
which she probably can’t hear

when it’s brisk and chilly
our walks get longer …
although most of the time
i do like her company
i occasionally / often want to walk
alone
… but can’t seem to find
the exact right words to tell her
what my needs are

today
i’m tired bored annoyed
thankfully our dog finds
a different route to follow
but to the same old places

when she answers her cell phone
yet one more time
i get angry
but don’t say anything as usual
… it’s our daughter
and she’s been having this problem
i know it’s a valid reason for a call

nonetheless
i pull out my mp3 player
slip on my earphones
tune her / it all
out
in my embittered quest
to get this quiet time for
myself

Poem 254    December 6, 2011      (up to top)

dear mr fantasy

winter 1969
just smoked some weed
lying on the carpet
bulky koss headphones
eyes closed
traffic’s on the turntable
dear mr fantasy comes on
four syncopated bars
drums guitar synthesizer
then

        Dear Mister Fantasy play us a tune
        Something to make us all happy
        Do anything take us out of this gloom
        Sing a song, play guitar
        Make it snappy …

i’m blown away
my head’s nodding
my mind’s swaying
the voice the beat
the music the words
dig furrows into my soul

winter 2011
walking the dog
mp3 player
koss clip headphones
striding along
in a zone
the fourth cut from feelin’ alright:
the very best of traffic
those transcendent four bars

transported back
and deep within
forty years’ve passed
i’m overwhelmed
start bawling
dog turns
stares up at me concerned
moments go by
until i calm myself
wipe away tears
        You are the one who can make us all laugh
        But doing that you break out in tears
        Please don't be sad if it was a straight mind you had
        We wouldn't have known you all these years
… and we go on
Dear Mr Fantasy music by Steve Winwood and Chris Wood, lyrics by Jim Capaldi, 1967
– F S Music Ltd & Island Music Ltd

Poem 255    December 7, 2011      It‘s best to view
dear mr fantasy as a PDF      (up to top)

man in a blue suit

he stood near me
at the 72nd street station
waiting for the downtown express
a heavy harried-looking man
in a shopworn blue suit
cinched with a single overtaxed button

his graying hair blown askew
reddish striped tie loosened
bulging shoulder bag
maybe an evening school teacher
maybe an overworked adjunct
maybe an assistant manager
in a second-rate firm

he stood near me
where two stops later
at 34th street / penn station
the doors would slide open
exactly where the stairs would be
to descend into the terminal

i was out the subway car first
scurrying down that flight of stairs
to make the express to babylon
with three minutes to spare

i hope he made his train
so he could sit down
exhale
and get some inner peace

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2012 – A Poetry Anthology

Poem 256    December 15, 2011      (up to top)

dream car

a two-door bentley continental gt A Bentley Continental GT

has whispered my name
ever since it debuted in 2003

i saw my bentley on the triborough
veering right towards manhattan
while i was driving our minivan
to a family gathering in riverdale
hey look i cried there it is!
my wife said oh … so that’s it?
maybe i should get you one for your birthday?

it was midnight blue
with a muted silver leather interior
hugging the road with tenacity
a throaty rumble
from its turbocharged six-liter engine
these bentleys could generate 567 horsepower
can go from zero to sixty in 4.4 seconds
hit a top speed of 198 miles per hour
in an elegant supercar
weighing over five thousand pounds

i lust after my bentley
but i live in the real world …
where would i park it?
our garage is filled with decades of stuff
there’s barely room for my bicycle
and it’s too small anyway

what about the driveway?
or along the curb in front of our house?
what does one do
with a car costing two hundred thousand dollars?

yet still …
i imagine flooring it
on a barren stretch of interstate
a two-lane rural straightaway
the back stretch of a racecourse
i imagine grand-touring in it
to exotic locales
five-star destinations
places yet undiscovered

but here on long island
i’d face the ingloriousness of
stop-and-go traffic on the parkways
the holiday mess around roosevelt field
rush hour on merrick road and sunrise highway

and what happens when i get to bj’s or trader joe’s?
how far must i park it from errant shopping carts?
or at the library or doctor’s offices where spaces are a premium
how would i stop it from getting dinged and scratched?
how would i feel when i noticed the first dent?

moreover i cherish the days
when i don’t get in the car
when i can run my errands by foot or by bike
returning overdue books
dropping off a tax payment
picking up eyeglasses at costco
playing lotto and mega-millions

but when i see the occasional bentley
– there are others around besides mine
i get a yearning in my gut
an overwhelming desire –
damn i want that car
– but of course i know
down deep
it can only be a dream

Poem 257    December 29, 2011      It‘s best to view dream car as a PDF      (up to top)

my dream of liberation

though i’ve been retired
for nine and a half years
i still have nightmares of school and work
of the term schedule
being neither started nor completed
of my office stripped of computers and printers
about elevators that run horizontally
of examining my department schedule
and watching ink disappearing
of losing my car
of my car catching on fire
of losing lesson plans
of losing my clothing
about seeing a student – holy shit! my student! –
diving off a stairwell

some dreams unravel
when the actuality that i’m retired
creeps into awareness
but in others
i wake up panting
sweating
my heart pounding

early this morning
in yet another school dream
i was given three unrelated social studies classes
in three different classrooms
periods one three and five
though i was a math teacher
though i had constructed the school program
though i always taught only two periods a day
though hadn’t taught first period in years
though it meant three separate preps

when i questioned the department chairman
and he shrugged his shoulders
i realized
with the type of epiphany
that flows from desperation
that i hadn’t stepped foot in that school in years
– not even for a visit –
and so i had no business being there

i stood up to speak in the faculty cafeteria
that it was over for me
i was gone for good
and the staff began shouting
lloyd! lloyd! lloyd!
and i felt a sense of relief
wash over me
a reprieve so profound
that i finally
felt
free

Poem 258    January 1, 2012      (up to top)

ain’t nuthin’ to say

i often feel
that i’ve come to the end of the line
my output of writing
has dwindled to nada

the creative spark has been doused
smothered by a cascade
of frazzling brain cells
motivational gridlock
don’t-give-a-fuck fatigue

yet still i’m impelled
to double-click on wordperfect
open my poem template
increment the poem no to 259
emend month day to January 4
change title to ain’t nuthin’ to say
and start pecking away

hoping that a fortuitous jumble
of thesaurus-enhanced words
might ooze through my cranial fissures
to express a vision or revelation
a statement about the human condition
or simply to create melodic rhythm
the music of the mortal soul

Poem 259    January 4, 2012      (up to top)

when the silliness stops

in the parking garage
of a generic medical building
a stooped man in a long gray coat
pushes his silver-haired wife
seated backwards on a roller-walker
to their faded plymouth reliant
the plastic stroller-sized wheels
balking like disobedient children
at each crack in the pavement

he remembers her conspiratorial nod
some years before on a dreary autumn day
in the parking lot of home depot
when she stepped up on a flatbed giggling
as he rolled her to the entrance

he remembers her playfulness
at the travelodge in charleston
when he pushed her on a luggage cart
down the blue-carpeted hall
and her squealing let me off
please! i’m gonna pee

he remembers with tearing eyes
the muscular man he once was
the agile dancer she once was
how so very good they were together

— in 2012, originally titled “when the laughter stops”

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 30, February 2014

Poem 260.2    March 16, 2018      (up to top)

steady decline

i met up with my friend out walking
usually he greeted my dog
with a big smile and a how’re ya doin’ boy
this time he looked haggard

so what’s up? i asked
i’m really concerned about my mother he said
she’s been in the hospital
now she’s home
she’s 94 you know
never been sick a day in her life

i knew all that already
but let him continue

and she’s declining … steadily
i don’t know how much longer
it’s gonna be

it’s gotta be rough for you i said
yeah he answered you don’t know the end of it

when our biological imperative has been sated
when our procreative function has been fulfilled
father time will have his way with us
and we’ll never know how much longer
it’s gonna be

Poem 261    January 17, 2012      (up to top)

words better left unsaid

we often spout forth
what first comes to mind
vile repugnant words
that should’ve been filtered out

once uttered
noxious words can’t be retracted
you can’t go back in time
and silence them
… like cooking eggs
the spewing out is irreversible

apologies might mollify
saying sorry might appease
but the hurt
and the guilt
will endure

Poem 262    January 17, 2012      (up to top)

fillies and foals

we’d had enough of the city
we’d eaten dinner seen the play
we’re rushing through penn station
to pick up some fro-yo
before getting on the 10:35 express

a silent clarion call sounds
and up comes the stampede
from great neck and garden city
from paramus and piscataway
freed from the aluminum chrysalis
glistening and expectant
these emergent foals
clad in microskirts
and low-cut silkies
scamper up the stairs
to the midway and concourse
prancing and preening
on high-heeled hooves
their knobby knees bare
their wide-eyed eagerness
they’re snorting with excitement

ready for the city’s nighttime pleasures
primed for meeting and mating
may their cravings be appeased

Poem 263.2    January 28, 2012      (up to top)

two old men walking

a february afternoon
record-setting warmth
two aged men
separated by a generation
are walking arm in arm
in ragged overcoats and woolen hats

despite their age difference
they closely resemble each other
perhaps they’re father and son
or more aptly
great-grandfather and grandfather

the more elderly man
trips on a crack
stumbles
is caught and righted by his son
he grabs his arm more firmly
they continue on as one

Poem 264    February 1, 2012      (up to top)

dialectic harmony

a hot summer’s day in altoona p a
we were two forty-somethings on vacation
waiting on line in lakemont park
for the world’s oldest roller coaster

two pre-adolescent girls
were standing behind us
having a critical crucial dispute …
it’s probably about israel and the middle east
my wife whispered to me

their argument consisted primarily
of yuh huh’s and nuh uh’s
enunciated with a fervor
that only two petulant pre-teens could muster

now we are seventy-somethings
and for the last thirty years
we have coopted their manner
of reconciling differences of opinion
by asserting yuh huh and nuh uh
nuh uh and yuh huh
wherever
and whenever
appropriate

Poem 265.1    February 11, 2012      (up to top)

hypocritical oaths

i’m gonna tell you a dirty joke filthier than the aristocrats
it’s called … the hypocrites
who conceal their fascism behind the stars and the stripes
         while concealing adultery abuse alcoholism and abandonment
         under the indecent skirts of traditional family values
who have so-called best friends who are black or jewish or hispanic
         while goose-stepping for white power in gray-flannel suits
who rail against same-sex marriage and gender equality
         but who foster religious warfare and racial intolerance
         while spouting irrelevancies and inanities from their holy texts
who want free and protected speech censored
         while embracing hateful spiteful regurgitations and demagoguery
         from their talk-show gurus newspapers and on-line pundits
who want the most vulnerable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps
         while cutting them off at their legs and butchering their souls
who would deny social programs and the safety net for others
         while receiving social security and medicare
         and corporate welfare for themselves
who would gleefully throw the ninety-nine percent under the bus
         while strangling the middle class and lower class
         with their god-given battle cry of all for me and none for anyone else

… perhaps you haven’t found this joke funny
but it’s not in the telling
the punch lines you must realize are landing square on our jaws
because they’re doing it to us
while smiling with their pearly teeth
         and shaking our hands with surgical gloves
that’s right … now you got the joke
… because they’re fucking us
in each and every vilest way possible

Poem 266    February 11, 2012      (up to top)

“choosey”

everyday in our backyard
we fill the bird bath with fresh water
feed the birds with wild bird seed
hang up blocks of suet
and toss out two or three dozen or more peanuts
still in their shells

while wrens and starlings
pigeons and cardinals and doves
imbibe on the seeds
blue jays and a red-headed flicker we’ve named big red
come for the peanuts

we rush inside to wait for the onslaught
soon six or seven or eight blue jays
come swooping in
cawing with alarm
calling each other
and then cawing with delight
grabbing a peanut at a time and darting away
except for one finicky blue jay we’ve named choosey
who picks up and drops peanut after peanut
searching for the just the right one

while the others have already flown off with two or three
choosey is still at it …
testing thirteen fourteen or fifteen perhaps
until he finds the perfect one
which he carries off to join the others

Poem 267    February 11, 2012      (up to top)

words to be unheard

how do you tell your brother
your seventy-year-old older brother
who’s been plagued for all his adult years
by the oscillations of bipolar disorder
who you met up with in the cemetery today
to commemorate your father’s one hundredth birthday
that his basic activities of daily living
leaving random unshaven tufts of bristly hair
wearing a cat hair-covered sweater reeking from smoke
smelling from the urine bag he’s forced to wear
… that his basic adls have been compromised?
that his grandiose speech and florid expansiveness
his ecstatic pronouncements of feeling wonderful
i’ve gotta tell you … it’s great to be this agei’ve never felt better
despite the thrice-weekly dialysis
despite the missing molars
despite the snot that was dripping from his nose
at the raw-cold cemetery and in the warmth of the diner afterwards
were issues i could not address
… that i would not be allowed to address
because whatever he claims or proclaims is tainted by illness
and because of his rhetorical skill and tyrannical control
he has no need or desire whatsoever to listen to others
… so how do you tell your older brother
that you recognize that his hypomania is starting up again
that you know that the depressive phase must eventually follow
and that he really really really needs to seek help now
before he’s hospitalized yet again
… that you know – you fucking know
that whatever you say
whatever you ask of him
will inevitably fall on deaf ears?

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2013

Poem 268    February 16, 2012      (up to top)

minyan maker

after a course on ethics from the talmud
taught by a young ultra-orthodox man
in his yarmulke and haredi uniform
there’s a quick count to determine
if there are the requisite ten men present
to make up the minyan for maariv
the prayers said everyday after nightfall

i’m one of only ten
so i’m obliged to stay
anyway … it’s a mitzvah – a good deed – to be the minyan-maker

i am far from observant
though i’ve davened before with my orthodox son-in-law
i silently read or skim the english text
on the left hand pages of the prayer book
but i find it so repetitive that my mind wanders

while the other men enunciate each hebrew word with fervor
speaking aloud though almost silently
keeping their feet together or bowing as necessary
i turn the pages or count down how many are left
standing or sitting as appropriate

yet
as the murmured ancient words wash over me
the susurration softens my ignorance and cynicism
the whispered voices are like echoes from the ages

Poem 269    February 16, 2012      (up to top)

specious aspirations

after i was promoted from tenderfoot
to second class boy scout
i came to realize that we were expected
to progress in rank to first class then star and life
that it should be our desire so carefully inculcated
to attain the ultimate honor – to become an eagle scout

we were gently pushed and then not so gently prodded
to earn merit badges and awards
to do projects and service
to attend jamborees and summer camp and read boys life
while wearing boy-sized military uniforms and saluting
while reciting the oath with three outstretched fingers
… i never got to be first class

as a teen i used to bicycle around our village
looking for choose-’em-up softball and baseball games
i was never in little league or connie mack
– maybe my parents didn’t believe in it –
i played junior varsity baseball thought i was a junior
went one for fourteen because i’d never learned to hit fast pitching
warmed the bench the rest of the season

as an adult i used to drive and bicycle around nassau county
looking for a paddleball game
i played to improve my skills
have a workout
enjoy myself
be with my friends
i never did enter a paddleball tournament
to find out who was the best!
never hungered for that kind of prestige
i just wanted to play the game

when i was a teacher and coordinator
and after i became my high school’s scheduler and programmer
i was pushed to further myself
to strive and be ambitious!
so i could advance and move up in rank
i sat in graduate school classrooms
wrote research papers about intelligence and learning styles
and of course racial disparity
did my required internship in place
got my professional diploma state certifications and city licenses
… i was following the career pathway
set before me by the mantra of that’s what’s expected
advised that’s what you’re supposed to do
and towards the end of a long hot summer
after weeks programming our school
from home and then in my office
i was named acting interim assistant principal of organization
– the school’s a-p-o! –
just as expected

but two days before the labor day weekend
after a day-long conference in the city
after hours of soul-searching
after realizing that i just couldn’t claim ownership of the job
and after a miserable sleepless night
i told my newly-appointed principal that i didn’t want it
yes i was backing out
it’s not the right thing for me right now i said
and i was warned that a wonderful opportunity like this
came along only once in a career
the not-so-veiled threat was loud and clear
so i gave up the chance of movin’ on up
thinking maybe some time in the future
as if

despite the craziness and pressure
of programming our high school twice a year
i loved the job –
a job which i taught myself
with spreadsheet tools i’d developed
with databases i’d constructed
a job that allowed me to be innovative and creative
a job that allowed me to be autonomous
and i was making a difference

and along came writing
which i’ve done mostly after i retired
short stories and mental health vignettes
poems in my own idiosyncratic style
yet throbbing like an imperative
in workshops and readings
is a collective primal yearning
which mandates that i as a writer
should have a lust and a craving
for that ultimate goal –
drum roll please – publication!
so one day i could say
this appears in my book …
i’m reading from my new chapbook …
i was just published in …
and on and on and fucking on

once again
i find myself traveling a divergent path
i don’t care much about publishing
don’t want to spend vanity money
on a narcissistic endeavor
i just want to type words on the screen
edit revise and print out final copies
stow them in my three-ringed binder
sometimes share my poems or stories with others …
i just want to enjoy what i like to do –
taking part
in the act of literary creation

though i’ve long given up paddleball
and i haven’t run since knee surgery two decades before
i now ride my recumbent bike two hours or more
on long loops to bethpage park or jones beach
through garden city or floral park or long beach
and though i’ve been a lead marshal in the five-boro
and i’ve done short group rides and centuries
i’m never going to win any bike tour
it’s just not in my lexicon

i don’t live my life for glory
for there’s honor and joy to be had
in simple sublime pleasures

Poem 270.2    March 6, 2012      (up to top)

waiting for the n-19

the three men are there
as they always are
standing on the corner
waiting for the 3:18 bus

you watch them
while you’re waiting for the light to change
and you could tell
that they’re sort of
off
they look disheveled
their faces are vaguely vacant
and you feel a bit discomforted

a few blocks away
is a day program for adults
with persistent mental problems …
the men take the public bus
from bellmore or seaford or lindenhurst
– if they’re not in a hospital –
to sit in the day room playing games
doing puzzles doing crafts doing art
drinking coffee watching tv
catching a smoke outside during breaks
sitting in groups discussing time management
personal hygiene and how to handle money
until they’re ready to leave on the 3:18
and return the next morning
going through the motions
pretending it’s a job
living an imitation
of a productive life

Poem 271    April 16, 2012      (up to top)

fear and comfort come at night

i awaken in the middle of the night
it takes but a heartbeat or two
then i’m stricken by the recurring horror
that i will be dead
that i will no longer have consciousness
that i will cease to be

i lie there terrified
start thrashing
but i muffle my moans
don’t want to wake up my wife
have her ask what’s the matter
answer you know the usual
have her say oh that as she falls back to sleep

this time
though i still thrash about
i let the terror wash over me
it eventually dissipates

later in an early morning dream
a little boy all a-giggles
is running towards me
with his arms outstretched
wanting to be picked up and held

i am suffused with joy
and inner peace

Poem 272    April 19, 2012      (up to top)

getting humbled on the downtown express

as i made my way to the north end
of the 72nd street platform
i noticed a well-built black guy
strumming an imaginary guitar …
no biggie i thought
just another act
in the new york city scene

when the flatbush-bound express arrived
he stepped on before me
sat down on an empty seat
looked up
waited a few beats
then got up and said
here take my seat sir …
i was blown away
did i really look that old?
i said no man
my ass already hurts from sitting all day
when he hesitated
i said go ahead it’s yours
he sat back down
i smiled and we fist bumped

i stood dumbfounded
as the express barreled southward
i wanted to yell at him
curse him out
how dare he remind me
about the obscenity
of getting older?

Poem 273.1    April 24, 2012      (up to top)

death by celery

my older brother almost died the other day …
when they heard him hit the floor
his wife and son ran upstairs
found he’d stopped breathing
if not for his wife’s cpr he’d be a goner

he was ambulanced to the hospital
bedded in the coronary care unit
tests showed his electrolytes
and potassium levels were off the charts
steve’s been on dialysis for over ten years
– a long time for a dialysis patient –
some at his center call him the miracle

he’s often strayed off his stringent diet
but lately he’s been scarfing down celery
which they found out the hard way
has a high sodium and potassium content
we think of celery as a benign vegetable
but not for someone on dialysis

for the next day or two
he’s waiting for his levels to drop
so the surgeons can operate
on the spiral fracture in his leg
that he broke during the fall

Poem 274    May 3, 2012      (up to top)

another pass on the five boro

i’ve loved riding the 5-boro bicycle tour
first as a rider and later as a lead marshal
but three years ago
i had a heart attack
had two stents installed
several days later still had chest pains
and on the sunday before the tour
– a day we marshals would’ve ridden the now defunct pre-ride –
i spent my time gazing down at the budding trees in the hospital parking lot
on an exquisite but deceptively dangerous
unseasonably warm spring day

two years ago it was nasty and wet
my son-in-law and i decided not to show up
and last year they cancelled the pre-ride
a wonderful perk that i was furious about
lack of funds was the excuse of course
and i was compelled to attend a party for a relative who’d turned 90

then this year my left knee was complaining
– the one i had arthroscopic surgery on two decades before –
it had been stiffening up and causing pain
climbing stairs had become a challenge
pedaling my bicycle had become impossible
my orthopedist said you’re on medicare … you’ve got arthritis
proceeded to drain the fluid
injected cortisone into my knee
it felt like new the next day

so this year
i – perhaps – let myself be talked into driving to new jersey
to celebrate our daughter’s birthday
and to see our grandsons
for the sake of family togetherness and all that

with the knee causing problems
and the windy days we’ve had this spring
i hadn’t been riding that much
and the beta-blocker i take
to control high blood pressure
causes a fifteen-minute lag
until my heart rate catches up with exertion
and i wondered how it would be to sprint up sixth avenue
from the starting point in lower manhattan
controlling the thousands of riders behind us
and the bicyclists encroaching from side streets

thus i spent the deliciously cool then gloriously bright bike-tour day
driving in the incomparable stop-and-go of the cross bronx expressway
in a surly sour mood
obsessing about could’ves and should’ves
beating myself up thinking yeah maybe i should’ve ridden it
despite the joy of playing with my grandsons in the park
despite driving them to the bakery to pick up a birthday cake
and a cookie or two
despite the overall joy i should have felt

maybe next spring
i’ll sign up once again to marshal the bike-tour
yeah …
maybe next year

Poem 275    May 9, 2012      (up to top)

the hungerford sextet

the six men
from the hungerford and clark funeral home
in matching black suits
white shirts and black ties
march from the glendale bakery
like the blues brothers without shades
with coffee and pastries
to wait outside our holy redeemer church
their hearse and limousines
warmed up and ready

inside the brown-brick edifice
prayers are being intoned
eulogies are being said
tears are being shed
as the men in black banter with each other
sip coffee from their styrofoam cups

when the massive wooden doors open
the men spring into choreographed action
to help serve as pallbearers
to slide the casket
into the maw of the cadillac hearse
to hold limousine doors open
as stunned mourners stand waiting
needing to be ushered
needing to be conveyed
to their beloved’s
final resting place

Poem 276    May 15, 2012      (up to top)

death not by celery

my brother’s been in the hospital for more than two weeks
though he thought his stay would be only a few days
his indulging in celery with its high potassium content
hadn’t done him in
although he had stopped breathing
and had to be revived

doctors say that possibly his fistula
and the arterial plumbing
were not working efficiently
that his dialysis was not properly cleansing his blood

the spiral fracture in his leg when he collapsed
was finally operated on
more that a week after his hospital admittance
the surgeon had to wait until his levels were down

now he’s waiting for a discharge to rehab
a center in oakdale had already been chosen
but he needs an angiogram in his arm
to check the blood vessels
he needs to be cleared
so he can go on with his life

Poem 277    May 18, 2012      (up to top)

cartoon character

eight years after we were married
we drove upstate to a vegetarian conference
slept in our ten-by-ten tent on a newly-mown lawn
listened to invited speakers
attended workshops
ate limited-menu communal meals together

on sunday night
there was a dinner-dance
followed by a campfire
hailed as the culmination
of our exciting weekend!
for me things were getting too close for comfort
my emotional space was being impinged
the safety of my individuality was being imperiled
i stomped on my cartoon brakes
spewed out a cloud of dust in my wake
to avoid being swept over the menacing cliff

throughout my life
i’ve had similar brushes
with what i perceived
as a threatened loss of selfhood
and i’ve similarly jammed on the er-er-er-er-er brakes

now i wonder
if i’ve avoided delicious opportunities
to grow to flourish
… to live

Poem 278    May 18, 2012      (up to top)

designated bearer of bad news

when i was twenty-three
and still living at home
my uncle marty called our house
asked to speak to me
it was a big deal at the time –
calling long distance
all the way from utah

he said i want you to do something for me
i want you to tell your mom and dad
that your aunt sarah has cancer
and she’s probably going to die
great … just great i thought
just what i needed

so at the kitchen table that friday night
the evening my father was off from work
i laid it out … just like that
i didn’t embellish … i didn’t mince words
and i told my mother that her younger sister
was going to die

aunt sarah
my sweet gentle aunt sarah
hung on for six years
until a fateful day in september 1975
when she finally succumbed
to this day
i don’t really know
why uncle marty chose me for the job
why he didn’t tell his sister and my father directly
why he hadn’t asked my older brother
to be the bearer of the calamitous news

i wish i’d asked uncle marty before he died
we’d stayed in touch
i’d had plenty of opportunities

perhaps the reason boils down
to a personality trait he saw in me
an unfortunate ability
to act dispassionately
coldly
to seemingly not be affected
by awful things happening

… that is
until later
sometimes much later
when the shit finally catches up

Poem 279    May 18, 2012      (up to top)

an audience of one

all of my short stories
poems and drabble
are posted on my website
it’s neither a blog
nor a facebook presence
but a full-blown indexed website

the website has great value to me
my poems are in date order
and numbered consecutively
i can search through all of them
by typing a couple of words in firefox
i can look for repetitive themes
and repetitive phrases
i can also steal from myself

once i had a counter on the site
but the only time it incremented
was after i updated the site
then checked to make sure
that the html code
and hyperlinks were perfect

but i finally removed the counter
– a tribute to narcissism –
because i couldn’t face the obvious slight
that nobody was visiting
no one cared enough to stop by

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 39, August 2016

Poem 280    May 22, 2012      (up to top)

held hostage

although i can ride my bike any day
i really enjoy riding on weekends
when traffic is light
and there’re things going on in the parks

but lately on several sunday afternoons
i’ve been compelled to drive to new jersey
to visit my daughter’s family …
sunday is the only day they’re available
because of their uncompromising observance of the sabbath

on the most recent friday afternoon
our son-in-law got on the phone
– i suspect instigated by my wife –
and he says hi papa … are you coming out on sunday
the boys would really like to see you

damn i thought nice move guys …
the boys – eliyahu moshe and yitzchak
– six months three years old and almost six –
three grandsons getting bigger every day
sweet and feisty and delicious as only boys can be
surely i would not want to disappoint them
surely i could not possibly have the temerity
to take a stand for what i want
surely i must not urge my wife to drive there herself

thus the quandary –
how to balance selfish resentment and family obligation
and how to avoid the sour feeling i’m being held hostage
by devotion to family
and love

Poem 281    May 22, 2012      (up to top)

serenity between the lines

on monday evenings
i’ve been attending a writing workshop
on the west side of manhattan

during monday afternoons
after i edge and mow my lawn
work i welcome
both for the physical exertion
and the metronomic rhythm
i stand in front of our house
for several soothing minutes
admiring the freshly cut grass
the squared-off edges
the evenly-spaced indentations
made by the lawnmower wheels

then i shower and shave
prepare my sandwiches and vegetables
to enjoy on the almost empty 4:52 express
which speeds me into the city

i purposely set up the juxtaposition
between my two monday worlds
as i make my way past weary commuters
waiting to take their place on the train i’d disembarked
dodging and weaving through hurrying crowds
climbing up to the uptown express
packed with stoic blank-faced passengers
changing at times square for the number one local
alighting at sixty sixth street
then meandering through lincoln center
to stop at the riverside library
to kill time before our workshop begins

the grid of upper west side streets
disturbed only by the irreverent diagonal path of broadway
resembles – but just barely –
the rows left by the lawnmower wheels
and the quiet residential blocks
resemble – but just barely –
the calm and serenity
of the suburban street
which i call home

Poem 282    May 22, 2012      (up to top)

vanilla man

the express to penn station
sat idling near harold interlocking
east of the sunnyside yards
waiting for the signal to proceed

while i was listening to miles davis on my mp3
gazing out the north-side window
i watched a 40- or 50-something man
in a brown fedora black-rimmed glasses
a slate blue jacket zipped up to his neck
tan polyester slacks and black shoes
with white socks peeking out
as he walked between puddles
on the pock-marked sidewalk
past a junkyard and an empty lot
surrounded by barbed wire
and a concrete commercial building
as nondescript as he

i fantasized his middle-aged monday –
eight hours on his feet
selling discounted appliances on commission
in a too-brightly fluorescent-lit store
several blocks removed
from the thriving commercial strip
gentrified by 20- and 30-somethings
who’d moved in with their young children
and their mortgages and student loans
in the new up-and-coming neighborhood
featured in the latest full-color
new york times photo shoots

but he’s returning to the seedier section
across the tracks
many dollars away from where they’ve settled
to a fifth-floor apartment
in a rundown brick building
and all he’s hoping for
is that tonight – please!
the elevator won’t be on the fritz

Poem 283    May 25, 2012      (up to top)

tenderness at the diner

while i was waiting for the left turn signal
i watched a man in a shirt and tie
and pressed chinos
pushing an ancient lady in a wheelchair
across six lanes of stopped hempstead turnpike traffic
from st joseph hospital to the embassy diner

i joined my three friends inside
for our bi-weekly meeting
of the great minds of the western world
also known as our geek brunch

while we were shmoozing
about the woes of the world
the man pulled the back door open
having guided her wheelchair up the ramp
and sat her several tables away

the young man was neither eating
nor fielding a bevy of cell phone calls
but speaking softly smiling at her
when her pancakes were served
he cut hers into bite-sized bits
stuck her fork into each
slid the fork to within her limited reach
when she brought her coffee cup to her lips
he helped steady her quivering hands
when she was finished
he held her arthritic hands in his grasp

as usual
we still hadn’t solved the problems of the world
but i gazed around at my three friends
whom i’ve known for almost thirty years
remembered that there used to be six of us
and i take for granted – but shouldn’t –
that we’ll all be sitting around
the same corner table in the same diner
two weeks from now

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 30, February 2014

Poem 284    May 24, 2012      (up to top)

ornery son of a bitch

my wife often refers to me
– her loving husband –
as an ornery son of a bitch

she cites as one of her reasons
among a list of many she has enumerated
that i can never ask for help

if you come from a household
whose matriarch grew up with and in a depression
a lesson you might learn
is to never impose on others –
don’t ever ask for anything
and thus you will not be beholden

when i separated my shoulder
in a motorcycle accident
not only did i buy a long-handled brush
so i could scrub my back by myself
but on my first day out
i drove to the coward shoe store in hempstead
to buy a pair of clarks wallabe moccasins
so i wouldn’t have to ask for help
tying my shoelaces

it’s okay … you can count on me
are loving caring words …
but to me are only words

Poem 285    June 1, 2012      (up to top)

adaptation

i see many oldsters wearing them –
sneaker-shoes … frumpy and often white
with clunky velcro closures
i shake my head
and whisper to myself poor bastards

until …
i think back to the time
after a motorcycle accident
when my left arm was in a sling
and i ran out to buy moccasins
because with one hand
i couldn’t tie my shoelaces
and i reflect upon
my 92-year-old mother-in-law
who visits a podiatrist
to get her toe nails cut
and my middle grandson
who at five
couldn’t get the hang of tying his shoes
so we bought him new balance sneakers
with hook and loop closures
and my now-deceased grandmother
whose arthritis and bunions prevented her
from wearing anything but
extra-wide shoes
fastened with velcro

and i contemplate adaptation –
how when we’re encumbered
or physically challenged
we still try to do all we can
to get around
to lead our lives
as normally as possible

Poem 286    June 1, 2012      (up to top)

saying good-bye to an old friend

the middle-aged couple were sitting
in the waiting room of the veterinarian
before them an ancient black dog
with white hairs around its muzzle
wearing a chest harness
lay shivering scared

our dog had just come out
of the examination room
having had a check-up tests shots
medicine that cost us a paw and a leg
and all he wanted to do
was to greet and sniff their dog

but when our focus shifted to them
and noticed their reddened faces
their freely-flowing tears
their dog whose ribs were so apparent
whose weakness was so palpable
we pulled ours away
and said the only thing we could say –
we’re so sorry
and they said the only thing they could say –
it’s all right

later i hugged our dog
nuzzled his neck
scratched his belly
and hoped i’d never have to make
their kind of decision

Poem 287.1    June 8, 2012      (up to top)

garlic breath

we reestablished
our love affair with garlic
on our way home from a play in the city
at a seventy-five cents-a-slice
pizza joint on sixth avenue
i handed them two twenty five
for two slices and a soda
later dropped three quarters
on the counter
for another hot slice
which we anointed
with granulated garlic –
a garlic so potent
i was still tasting it the next morning

several weeks later
before i went out
i had to make a choice
between spreading garlic on my turkey-salsa burger
and possibly repelling some people
or missing the delectable flavor
of the zesty aphrodisiac

naturally
the garlic
won hands down

Poem 288    June 8, 2012      (up to top)

just lying there

my seventy-one year-old brother
is in a rehabilitation center
recovering from a spiral fracture
of his right leg

he’s learning how to do
what he took for granted
just a month before
climbing stairs
walking to the toilet
standing while taking a shower

there’s more to this story of course …
almost dying and being revived
the possible failure of his dialysis apparatus
compounded by severe bouts of depression

i was reluctant to visit him
feared the urine smell
barely covered by disinfectant
i’d been to rehab places like this before
so i appeared around seven
knew visiting hours ended at eight
surprised him
watched jeopardy with him
he knew a lot of the answers
… many more than i did

we talked only during commercial breaks
but when the show ended he turned off the tv
we covered the usual things
my wife my grandsons
his son’s marathon
his wife’s video job in the city
where he feared she wouldn’t find parking …
peripheral things
non-threatening things

and i found myself
conversing with a frail aging man
lying there in unmatched sweats
who’d dozed off twice
waking up with a start
apologizing
saying he’d blacked out
saying it was happening all the time
saying he was also forgetting too many things …
this from a man
with a memory like a steel trap

i tried to reassure him
said that there’s such a thing
as hospital head
didn’t really know if such a term existed
but which i defined
as being lost out of place and time
in an environment so foreign
so much unlike
home

he seemed to buy my explanation
but i’ll never know
i never know how he’s really thinking
he has the self-preserving habit
of acting as if …
as if things are wonderful terrific
so we’ll see how it goes …
if the orthopedic surgeon
will finally allow him to return home
to get back to a normal life
however that simple but loaded word
– normal
is defined

Poem 289    June 8, 2012      (up to top)

catching my breath

my allergies are awful this season
seem to be getting worse
every year
i thought i’d outgrow them eventually

i was bicycling down peninsula boulevard
rolling with the wind
hitting the lights
breathing hard

felt something raspy in the back of my mouth
tried clearing it out
coughed
coughed again hard
felt myself wheezing
had trouble catching my breath
i braked pulled over stopped
finally
i expectorated
got whatever it was out

it took a few minutes
to get my breathing back to normal

and then i continued on

Poem 290    June 11, 2012      (up to top)

dogs are better than people

i first saw him at petco
walking ramrod straight
his fatigue cap visor just above his brow
he had to have been army
now probably retired

he strode over to his car
inside were two dogs
a pit bull mix
an english bulldog
so appropriate i thought

i next caught up with him
at silver lake in baldwin
the halfway point on my walk
i was relaxing on a bench
his friendly slobberers came over
to be scratched rubbed patted

we got to talking
he wanted to get away from too-crowded new york
move to a pre-fab cabin in georgia
on a remote four-acre tract

after enlisting during the vietnam era
serving for 41 years
he claimed all he wanted now was quiet
a peaceful coexistence with his dogs
yeah i said lotsa times dogs are better than people
you got that right he said

i wished him luck
we went our separate ways

Poem 291.1    June 11, 2012      (up to top)

low battery

when i’m out walking
with my dog or by myself
the hour or two on the road
goes by quicker and less tediously
when i’m listening to jazz or blues or reggae
classic rock or podcasts from public radio

as my dog and i stepped into the preserve
in the middle of a sonny rollins cut
there was sudden silence in my headphones
of course i knew what’d happened
my mp3 player's battery was exhausted
i hadn’t remembered to charge it

but now i heard different kinds of melodies
the repertoire of a mockingbird perched high on a tree
raucous caws from a murder of crows
rustling reeds in the bog
leaves whooshing in the breeze
belching from an eighteen-wheeler on sunrise highway
wheezing from an decelerating railroad train
at the station nearby

further in those man-made sounds were muted
all i could hear then
besides tweeting and chirping
was my dog sloshing through the brook
and tall trees quavering in the wind

Poem 292    June 18, 2012      (up to top)

clown school

in the middle of the summer
after i retired
i enrolled in a two-week clown intensive
held at the flea theater in manhattan
taught by clowns and performers
from the new york goofs
and the big apple circus

we were taught how to be moved by music
how to juggle plastic rings and scarves
how to spin dishes
how to balance sticks on the tips of our noses
how to apply clown makeup
how to develop a persona
which in my case was that of a crude old man
with a pronounced yiddish accent

i was there with several older teenagers
and 20- and 30-year olds
in some cases i was twice or thrice their ages
and sorry to say
i failed miserably in many of the skills

but i hung in there
commuting on the long island railroad
jammed in with straphangers on the a-train
sweltering on the hot and humid city streets
changing into putrid coolmax shirts
to handle my profuse perspiration

after those two weeks
i realized that clowning perhaps wasn’t for me
like other endeavors
the young’uns were on their way forward
following their dreams
while i was undergoing
a different kind of transition

but i had one thing
that these up-and-comers didn’t have –
experience!
i had worked in a circus
for over thirty years
how else could one characterize
the dysfunctionality
of the new york city board of education
how else could one describe
the lunacy
of an under-achieving
inner-city public high school
that on top of everything
was getting set to be closed
for the sake of trying something new
when everything had failed before
for the sake of a new brush sweeping clean
for the sake of breaking up a large institution
into a bunch of mini-schools
despite unavoidable extra costs
in a perpetually cash-strapped organization


i’m approaching the tenth anniversary
of the clown intensive
with wistfulness
but not with sadness
i do hope my classmates got to
whereever they needed to be
i know that i became less inhibited
more giving
and happier

Poem 293    June 21, 2012      (up to top)

a better person than i

my wife has had the ability to forgive
the kinds of things
that would gnaw at me …
she has that kind of gift

when she was eight years old
she was with her father
as he sat reclining on his favorite wicker chair
taking his last rasping breaths
her mother was across the street
talking to a neighbor
she ran out
screamed
ma come quick
it was too late

several years passed
her mother married a man
whom she’d known
from their school years together in germany
… soon my wife’s three paternal uncles
had their father change his will
from an equal twenty-five percent split
for each of the four sons
which would’ve been passed down
equitably to my wife and her sister
to a thirty-thirty-thirty-ten split
using the justification that
my wife’s new step-father
– a self-made man who escaped from the nazis –
would provide more than adequate care

… of course their jealousy and resentment
their greed and disrespect
never influenced their actions
for evil deeds can always be justified
there was a large stamp collection
containing rare european specimens
earmarked for my wife
which was summarily diverted
into one of the uncle’s possession
… after all
what use would a young naive girl have
for a bunch of worthless paper

her mother’s new husband
turned out to be a tyrant
not physically abusive
but mean-spirited and emotionally absent
so much unlike her warm and giving
father who died

after her stepfather’s recent death
it was discovered that in his will
the family house which had been placed in a trust
and which was supposed to have been
divided into equal thirds
for my wife her sister and her half-sister
as promised
was actually split up
so that my wife and her older sister
each received one fourth
while their half-sister received half
… their half-sister
of course
would never consider
equalizing the unfairness
… after all
it would not be in her best interest

i’d like to ask my wife how she’s done it –
how she’s been able
to submerge her emotions
how she’s been able to let it go
how she’s been able to keep up
a relationship with the uncle
– and his wife –
who were probably the main culprits
in the unfair division of her grandfather’s assets

through the past forty years of our marriage
i’ve wanted her
to confront her uncles
maybe just to get an explanation
about how they could cheat their nieces
how they could be so selfish
to their own brother’s children
but she has steadfastly refused
… the only remaining uncle now
is close to one-hundred
and is no longer lucid

i suppose she’s been able to forgive them
her deceitful uncles and her spiteful aunts
her complicit grandfather
her stepfather and his myopic views
her mother for allowing it to happen
her half-sister for not making it right
so i stand in awe
because even though i’d like to ask her
how she’s been able to get past it all
i don’t want to stir the pot
i don’t want to bring up old hurts

but if any one of you bastards
is listening out there or in the great beyond
i want to say
shame on you for what you’ve done
and i’d like to add
with two fully outstretched middle fingers
go fuck yourselves

for i cannot yet forgive

Poem 294    June 25, 2012      (up to top)

rules of engagement

we were sitting in the embassy diner
for our biweekly brunch-meeting
of the world’s greatest minds

we moved onto yet another earth-shattering topic
… where to get high quality groceries
at the lowest prices

three of my friends shop
in a over-crowded store on old country road
where the parking lot
is as difficult to maneuver
as the cramped narrow aisles

gerry started talking
about having gone to a dollar store
and buying a large plastic flower with a flexible stem
so he could attach it to his shopping cart …
he would theoretically not lose sight of it
a problem which the others have encountered

i’d heard this story before
i wonder if the others had too
although none showed any recollection

our group has been meeting
for more than a decade
we’ve learned not to criticize
not to toss in even a friendly rebuke
although stories and jokes
have been told more than once …
after all
three of the guys are around eighty
give or take

so we swig down our orange juice
devour our pancakes and our eggs
drink our coffee
with refills of course
and segue into the next monumental topic

if we could bottle and distribute
the special ingredients
that’ve allowed our brunch group
to have lasted so long
we might actually have a chance
of achieving world peace

Poem 295    June 29, 2012      (up to top)

turning over in his grave

i’m on medicare
i also have part d drug coverage
yet i order my prescriptions
from a pharmacy in canada
because it works out best for me

along with two partners
my father owned a rexall drug store
which did well for many years
selling high-end perfumes and cosmetics
pharmaceuticals and sundries

i watched him doing the accounts payable
writing with an esterbrook fountain pen
in his elegant script
adding the columns in his head
on narrow-lined index cards
slipped into plastic sleeves
in a leather-bound ledger
and reverting to an adding machine
only when a tape record was needed

i heard him agonize over third-party payers –
welfare reimbursed for prescriptions
less than a dollar over cost
and about how many charges
were subsequently disallowed
i heard him grumble about abraham & straus
cutting into the store’s profits
about how pathmark
was stealing away local business

and i think about all this
when i fax my prescriptions
to a website in vancouver
enter my order on their website
and type in my credit card
wait for several weeks
to get my shipment from india
thus bypassing the local pharmacies

my father might be turning over in his grave
if he knew what i was doing
but he also just might be giving me
two thumbs up

Poem 296    July 2, 2012      (up to top)

numbers late into the night

i’d awakened
stumbled to the toilet
now i’m back in bed
trying to fall asleep

i’m sick of listening to talk radio
through a tinny ear bud
and though a bottle of xanax resides on my night stand
i choose a better drug –
a mental numerical calculation
called trial division

i take a five-digit number
derived from a five-letter word –
A equals 1 J equals 10 thus 0 through Z equals 6
or from my bicycle odometer after a ride
and i successively divide it
by all primes less than its square root
if none of the primes divides evenly
then the five-digit number must be a prime
and if it’s not prime
it might just be an interesting composite

and just as your eyes glaze over
from this convoluted mathematical explanation
my own computations begin fading away
and i’ll usually doze off
thankful that most of the time it works

Poem 297    July 15, 2012      (up to top)

twenty-two bucks for pancakes?

going out for breakfast?
oh what a luxury …

i’m fortunate
to have a defined pension
social security
to have the means
to go anywhere
to do or buy anything we want

but always with me
are the nagging remnants of my upbringing
to save and save
avoid spending for extras or frivolities
keep things going as long as possible
abstain from splurging on something new
never ever be ostentatious
and then be forced to face two joy-deflating questions
what d’ya need it for?
and
why can’t you make do with what you have?

it’s a tough nuttiness to crack
this pragmatic behavior
tailor-made for the age of depression

Poem 298    August 3, 2012      (up to top)

mind on vacation

maybe because it’s summertime
i yearn for escape

as we’re walking our dog
waiting for a japanese sedan to back out of a driveway
i hear a rumbling ford 150 pickup’s tires spraying gravel
as it pulls into a hamburger joint at a crossroads in west virginia

when we pass by a spanish restaurant in freeport
lit by an oddly yellow mid-morning sun
i feel the stickiness rising from a sidewalk in amsterdam
as a baker’s assistant sweeps wet leaves into the gutter

as we rush towards penn station
through the broadway pedestrian mall at herald square
i have a sudden taste for luscious dark cherries
bought from a cart on neuhauser strasse in munich’s city centre

sounds and tastes
the unmistakable odor of the ocean
the aroma of damp pine needles at twilight
the singeing hundred-degree heat on my calves
reminiscent of jersualem during a heat wave
hot enough to melt the soles of my walking shoes

i want to get away
i need to get away

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

Poem 299    August 3, 2012      (up to top)

wake

dearly beloved
we’re gathered here together …

funerals – structured events –
priests and pallbearers
rabbis and hearse drivers
all know their roles
play them to perfection
with or without the crib sheets

but the viewing
the wake and the shiva
are where truth begins to emerge
the ever-tainted truth
that’s painted and clouded by grief

in the rawness
between the tears and recriminations
you become acquainted with
family dynamics shrouded before
by repression and regression
projection and sublimation
and most of all … by denial
and you hear the should’ves and could’ves
that might have
just maybe
forestalled the severe decree

Poem 300    August 7, 2012      (up to top)

old fart

during our vacation
my grandsons
with appropriate trepidation and wariness
again clambered over boulders
to immerse themselves
in a rock-strewn river

i wanted to join them
but the first time i’d left behind my water shoes
the second time my swim suit was up at the car
i could have easily gone and changed
but i just … didn’t

i’m afraid of becoming that fat old fart
sitting at water’s edge
watching the others having fun
using as an excuse an arthritic knee
the easy wounding and bleeding
caused by blood-thinners
being overweight
not being able to fit through narrow openings
not willing to risk
being scraped up by boulders
by rock faces
by my aging aching ego

Poem 301    August 8, 2012      (up to top)

remembering jerry gold

last night
in yet another school dream
though a decade has passed
jerry gold came to me

no longer with the mischievous face of a tummler
– his summer job at kutsher’s in the catskills –
who wanted nothing from administration
other than to be left alone
to teach his phys ed classes
insisting give me five … stay alive

jerry gold who had the bravura
before he and i and another teacher
were about to begin a three-on-three
against seniors from the basketball team
to make a set shot from the foul line
then from the arc
and finally from half-court
who then cantered around the court
high-fiving the cheering throng
who had come to watch us play

jerry gold who loved modern dance and ballet
and me back then thinking dance?
a macho-type guy who loved dance?
little did i know
jerry gold who kidded me when my spirits were low
saying lloyd whatcha worryin’ about?
… you’ve found a home here

jerry gold now bloated and aged
leaning on a walker
exiting the school building with me at dismissal
and i say jerry … how’re ya doin?
he looks benumbed bewildered
staring straight ahead
as hordes of black and brown teens
freed from six hours of confinement
spirited off around him
glances at me
mumbles that’s why … i had to … give it up

jerry gold
you are still in my thoughts

Poem 302    August 10, 2012      (up to top)

some vacation

we returned home from a vacation
with our son and his family

how can i tell my wife
who so looked forward to going away with them
especially to be with our two older grandsons
that i didn’t enjoy as much as she did
our week away in new england?

she keeps on reminding me
that in a couple of years when they’re teenagers
they’ll want nothing to do with us

yeah it’s adventurous to traipse through lost river gorge
climb the steps to the flume gorge in franconia notch
to watch the little ones spelunking in boulder caves
to follow them through an armory museum
watching the performing bears at clark’s trading post
hearing their ewws at the grossology exhibit at the ecotarium
sharing their wonder and discoveries

but … it had become enough already
focusing primarily on children’s activities
waiting outside the umpteenth gift shop
not getting enough exercise
eating out a lot
eating too much

i assume i’m supposed to feel uplifted and refreshed
after a vacation
but i feel morose and irritable

my wife keeps suggesting
that she’d like to now go away with our daughter
and her brood of three young children
who age from nine months to six years
our daughter and husband are observant jews
who obey the laws of shabbos and kashruth
who don’t own a tv
who want only kosher activities for their kids
yeah … sure … traveling with them would be such a blast

moreover
when do we get our vacation
to do adult things?
but if you ask me what i really want to do
i’d be hard pressed to give a cogent answer

maybe machu picchu and iguazu falls
perhaps israel again though we’ve been there twice
we’re already been city’d out
having visited jerusalem and london and paris
been to the wall seen the eiffel tower and picadilly circus
amsterdam and munich and prague
seen the canals and the red light district
went to dachau and theresienstadt concentration camps
and the greatest city in the world is a 43-minute train ride away

as of two minutes ago
i turned sixty-six
i’m not getting any younger

i don’t want to die
regretting what i’ve missed

Poem 303    August 14, 2012      (up to top)

in the land of broken dolls

in the land of broken dolls
teddy bears
cold stiff ragged
have been banished to the highest shelf
while a new soft bear with both eyes
is cuddled by a little one
a thumb stuck in her mouth

lionel trains have been derailed
switched to forgotten sidings
their orange and blue boxes
stacked out of sight
on the dusty floor in back of a closet
amidst
baseball gloves arthritic and mildewing
jigsaw puzzles missing pieces
a rusty red wagon without wheels
romance novels with pages ripped out

barbies have lost their kens
have lost parts of themselves
while a new american girl doll preens
in her excitement
as her life is being created

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Sevententh Annual Literary Review, 2013

Poem 304    August 30, 2012      (up to top)

upstaged in oceanside

a breezy muggy monday
the last night of the summer readings
at the oceanside gazebo

i usually bring my dog who’s almost twelve
perhaps jimmy doesn’t relate to poetry
but he loves the attention
especially the crumb cake
… at the fourth of july barbecue
jimmy’s in doggie nirvana

there’s an open read scheduled
on this late august evening
perhaps several scheduled readers had bailed out
i sign the sheet
slot number two is free

tony calls the first four of us up
tells us to read just one short piece
herb goes first
i’m next
as i fiddle with the microphone
jimmy steps off the platform
sniffs a rose bush
lifts his legs
starts piddling
and piddles
and piddles
and piddles some more
he takes the longest pee i can remember

when he’s done
when he’s finally done
i say thank you very much
get laughter and a round of applause

only then is it my turn
to read a poem entitled
old fart

— Appeared on the Summer Gazebo Readings Blog, April 14, 2013

Poem 305    August 30, 2012      (up to top)

a rant in twelve quintains

i hate the noise
the bitching
the constant unquiet
the hundreds of channels of crap
the hundreds of ways to waste away lives

i hate my arthritic knee
my cpap mask
my ashthma inhaler
my prescription regimen
the black and blues caused by my blood thinner

i hate knowing that i’m fat
avoiding looking in the mirror
getting inexorably older
being made aware of the odds for diabetes
knowing the end result of obesity

i hate duplicity
the tiny lies of parents and teachers
the blatant lies of politicians
the phoniness of psychopaths-in-training
the awful world if republicans get elected

i hate the do-gooders
with their hands in your pocket
political correctness
people with ideals with a capital i
who know nothing about the world or me

i hate aggressive arrogant people
their bellicosity and belligerence
forceful numb-skull morons
who believe what they hear on talk radio
who want you to believe it is so because they said it

i hate stupidity
people who’re too stupid to know they’re stupid
incompetent boobs
with delusions of grandeur
wearing clothes straight out of midas’s closet

i hate diesel fumes
belched out from u p s trucks and buses
while i’m walking
when i’m riding
when we’re stuck behind a jitney in the midtown tunnel

i hate the must-buy mentality
the lament that last year’s purchase is now obsolete
the pressure to acquire
the unhappiness that comes after
when realization bubbles up

i hate people with too much money
the owners of luxurious yachts
who idle in the harbor
spilling fuel in the rainbow water
as they fill up their insatiable tanks

i hate the bullshitters
whose gift for glibness
is not seen through by admirers
who never know
how empty their suits really are

i hate dying
i hate death
i hate the fear
i hate the idea of not being
i hate being no more

Poem 306    September 5, 2012      (up to top)

suburban triathlon

walking the dog on a hot humid morning
at least he has the good sense
to lead me to the brook
he wades in shakes out
with a ahh look on his face

edging and mowing the lawn after lunch
a full body sweat
chaos into order
hosing myself off in the sun
my reward

parking at field six
in the late afternoon
wading into the water
diving into a wave as it crashes over me
repeat as they keep on coming

it’s not the ironman
but at my stage in life
it’s just as exhausting
just as exhilarating

Poem 307    September 5, 2012      (up to top)

panic … stricken

it’s late afternoon in august
we’re at jones beach field six
a strong wind is blowing from the west
we walk into the surf
the waves look huge
though they’re only five or six feet high
we are wary

we always enjoy the ocean
when it’s warm in late summer
especially if the jellyfish are not around
we usually get to the beach
stay in the ocean for an hour or so
take showers then maybe go out to eat

today the waves are crashing around us
we bob up and down
keeping watch staying alert
as the waves come in groups of threes
and sometimes fours and fives

because we are pushed east
we get out for the third time
and move west to go back in

i can see the tide rising on the beach
suddenly i can’t touch bottom
i try to paddle closer to shore
i’m not successful
i’m not going anywhere

i tell my wife that i’m afraid
she’s had lifeguard training
she starts guiding me in
i notice that the lifeguard is watching us
after several strokes and pushes
i touch bottom
and just as suddenly
i’m being thrust forward
a cluster of swells are breaking over me
i try to count to three
maybe there are more

i’m being tossed around in the surf
i try to get up on my knees
try to get a hand hold
but i’m being bowled over
buffeted and banged around
i feel like a rudderless whale

finally i feel a hand
helping me up
i rise
wobble to the shore
stand there gulping in air
watching the ocean
it’s angry
i’m angry

my wife wobbles out of the surf
i know she’s worried
this has never happened before
this feeling of helplessness
and i’m still breathing hard
you okay? she asks
you had enough?
i wanted to get back in
to fight that damn ocean
i didn’t want it to get the best of me
but i thought the better of it

yeah i had enough i admit
c’mon … let’s go
i know we’ll be back for more

Poem 308    September 5, 2012      (up to top)

labor day 1998

the final day of summer vacation
my last gasp of freedom
before the beginning of another school year
i was taking a long bike ride
i wanted to make the most of the day

as i rode towards jones beach
on the bike path along the wantagh
an inordinate number of bikers
were heading the opposite way
many cars were also traveling north
it looked like an evacuation

i asked one of the bikers what was happening
he said they’d closed the beaches
there was a storm approaching
although it was overcast
it didn’t look too threatening to me

south of the first bridge
the wind began to pick up
my mother’s admonishment
it’s better to be safe than sorry
popped into mind
i decided to turn back

i joined the exodus
of bicyclists and skaters and drivers to the mainland
felt some raindrops
after i passed through cedar creek park
i turned west on merrick road
to ride towards home
and safety

the drops became bigger heavier
the western sky looked angry and dark
darker than i’d ever seen before
and just before the deluge
i rode up the driveway of engine 5
of the wantagh fire department

i asked if i could wait the storm out
they said sure thing
allowed me to bring my bike inside
invited me to sit in their lounge
we watched the cardinals play the cubs
they even offered me a beer

between innings
i got up to use the bathroom
looked out through a window
saw only darkness
assumed the window faced another building
but i looked through the front door
it was pitch black outside
rain was pelting the driveway
the wind was howling

we watched as mark mcgwire
– he of steroid fame –
hit his sixty-first home run
tying roger maris’s home run record
– the one with the asterisk –
i’d watched that game with my dad
back in 1961

when the rain finally stopped
i thanked the men
headed out on merrick road
to continue my trip home
weaved past fallen limbs
passed through carless intersections
under traffic lights
that had ceased functioning

as i rode i thought about my dad
how he would have dealt
with his free-flowing anxiety
with the high blood pressure
that eventually did him in
knowing his son was out riding
wondering how he would fare
riding into
a perfect storm

Poem 309    September 24, 2012      (up to top)

playing in traffic

i do much of my bicycle riding
on heavily-traveled suburban thoroughfares
merrick road and peninsula boulevard
stewart avenue and old country road

there are some streets i do avoid
long beach road in oceanside
much of hempstead turnpike
central avenue in the five towns
before a jewish holiday
… that crazy i’m not

i could stay in the neighborhood
meander through subdivisions
pack my bike in my van
to drive to eisenhower park to do loops
ride back and forth on the path to jones beach
but it’s almost as bad as running
around and around
on an endless track

so i’m out there riding with traffic
fighting for my own narrow space
on the right side of the road
weaving through cars stopped for a light
to get to the front so when the light changes
i can be first to pull away
it’s the safest place to be
but i know at that some point
as i get older
my reflexes will begin to slow
my judgment might not be as sharp
and i’m afraid
that i’ll lose my nerve

it takes a certain amount of guts
to ride like i ride …
i once had an air horn
with an inflatable tank
and i used to blow it
so cars would get out of my way
it was anything but defensive riding
i removed it some years back –
i didn’t like my frame of mind
my misplaced trust in a very loud horn

if i lose my nerve
i don’t think
i’d be able to get on my bike
ride thirty miles or so
on those busy streets
i might have to revert to the parks
to those unending loops
to those laps upon laps
where there’s no challenge
where i’m not getting anywhere
where it’s just
safe

Poem 310    September 24, 2012      (up to top)

kol nidre disconnect

the only high holiday service i usually attend
is erev yom kippur
– the evening before the day of atonement

as i entered the sanctuary
the congregation president asked
if i’d accept the honor of holding a torah scroll
standing aside the cantor’s pulpit …
of course i agreed

i embraced the scroll to my chest
as i would cuddle an infant
while the cantor intoned kol nidre
the haunting ancient melody
declaring all vows prohibitions and oaths
undone cancelled null and void

i handed the scroll
to another congregant
returned to my seat
as the cantor repeated the incantation
and then once again

but i didn’t feel sanctified
i didn’t feel anything
… yet i so much wanted to

we were sitting up front
in seats assigned to us
in alphabetical order i presume
i had really wanted to sit further back

i should’ve moved
i wanted the sacred songs and prayers
the cantor’s ethereal voice
to wash over me
to somehow cleanse me from afar

during the third reciting of al chet
– the collective confession of sins
repeated ten times during the yom kippur services –
i disengaged
i couldn’t wait to leave
but because we were sitting in the second row
i couldn’t just walk out

so i stood when told to rise
sat when everyone else sat
followed along in the prayer book
mouthed some familiar words in hebrew
read responsively though with indifference …

my disconnection was so palpable
on this
the evening before
the holiest of high holy days
when it is sealed –
how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born
who shall live and who shall die …

Poem 311    October 4, 2012      (up to top)

toot that horn!

one of my longer walks
takes me to maple street
as far west in baldwin as one can get
where the long island railroad
reaches a low point
before it continues its climb
towards the baldwin or rockville centre stations

i stand next to the tracks
wait for a train to approach
during the evening rush
the trains come quite often

as a train gets close
i rotate and lift my arm to my shoulder twice
most often i get a horn response
maybe one short toot
sometimes two longs a short and a long
– the standard signal before a crossing –

it makes me so very happy
… joyous … almost ecstatic
i feel myself grinning wide
and after one or two
of these momentary human contacts
with the train’s engineer
i continue on my way
with a smile still on my face

Poem 312    October 4, 2012      (up to top)

bitches

you can spot them
monopolizing the swings in the playground
hogging their table in the lunchroom
whispering in the back corner of study hall
gossiping in the kitchen at the party
holding court at the haddasah meeting
at the bible study group
in the common room of the senior center

you can watch these girls these women
these not so grande dames
pull themselves into an impenetrable circle
mined and barb-wired
fenced off to others
by their snobbish body language
their nasty sneers and stares
their warped sense of entitlement

whatever their age
they’re the ones
who proclaim stay away
      we don’t want you
we’re special
      and you are not
we’re deserving
      and you’re not worthy
we belong
      and you never will

Poem 313    October 5, 2012      (up to top)

doggie tactician

so tell me …
why must i scratch and rub your belly?

just because when i walk into our bedroom
your head is on my pillow?

just because when i say your name
your stubby tail starts twitching?

just because when i sit on the bed
you ooze over onto your back?

just because you’re lying there
with your paws dangling in the air?

just because you glance back at me
with your big brown doggie eyes?

or just because you know darn well
that’s exactly what i’ll do

Poem 314    October 8, 2012      (up to top)

on the bocce court

the bocce players
in flannel shirts and polyester pants
in suspenders and tattered jackets
are standing on the bocce court
arguing advising and kidding each other
in thick and melodious italian
about how a ball should be played
how a ball should’ve been played
to get as close as possible
to the pallino – the target –
or to knock the opponents’ balls
out of the way

after the eight balls are bowled
tossed in the air past the center line
a man with a carpenter’s folding rule
kneels down to determine
which balls are closest …
points are tabulated
the pointer on a scoring dial is rotated

on this breezy balmy sunday afternoon
i can almost imagine
this old world game being played
in palermo or florence or roma
a concertina’s melody in the background
the aroma of cooked food wafting over
a kinship that transcends distance

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Nineteenth Annual Literary Review, 2015

Poem 315.1    October 15, 2012      (up to top)

can’t complain

i was frustrated irritated …
i’d gotten up early
rushed through my email
to allow an hour to walk our dog
on a warm and windy mid-october morning

we’d gotten as far as the corner
the usual route to our loop through the preserve
as we were crossing jimmy stopped short
put his head down
refused to go any further
i had to drag him out of the street

he has often balked when he hears thunder –
sometimes rumbles only he perceives –
today though it was cloudless
but i figured his senses are more acute than mine
so i took him home
he wanted no part of being outside
i didn’t want to make him more miserable

i got to the diner early
for brunch with the guys
i told my friend who arrived first
that i was feeling stressed and the reason
then realized immediately
that his troubles are enormous by comparison …
several years earlier
his wife of fifty years had suffered a stroke
and they live day to day
knowing that things will never get better
hoping that things will just stay the same

i’ve similarly felt thwarted
when i complain to my wife’s mother
and she answers
you never realize what they had to go through …
over there

i thought i should’ve kept my morning blues it to myself
maybe i had no right to complain
i said sorry … i think i shouldn’t’ve said anything
you know … with your wife and all the …

but my friend answered
if you’ve got a pebble in your shoe
it still hurts …
this pebble … it’s only a small thing
but it still bothers the hell out of you

Poem 316    October 15, 2012      (up to top)

failures

school dreams –
dreams filled with anxiety
even after ten years of retirement

some go like this …
i walk into my classroom
i feel like i shouldn’t be there
i know i’ve been gone a while
i can’t find attendance sheets cutscan sheets class rosters lesson plans
i wonder what i’m doing here
the dream self-affirms that i’ve come out of retirement

students are sitting only on one side of the room
or some are sitting way back in a corner
of an unusually long classroom with glass walls
sometimes the students are young and eager
– the brightest ninth graders i’d programmed for myself –
sometimes surly seniors walk in and out of the classroom
while unknown students and visitors wander in

or … i’m given business classes to teach in the basement
in a windowless alcove of the cafeteria
i’m assigned to teach english or social studies
though i’d switched years ago
from special ed to math
i have no damn idea what i’m doing

i check with the payroll secretary
to see if i’m going to get a check
i wonder if i’ll have to reimburse the retirement system
since i’m now earning a salary

when i leave the building
i can’t find my car
i wander through grid-less streets
while knowing i’d had this type of dream before
where i don’t know where i’m going
can’t find my way back

the actuality was …
sixty-five percent of my students
failed my classes
whether i had gifted freshmen
or jaded upperclassmen …
sixty-five percent failed

in ninth year math or sequential math or math “a” –
they change the curriculum and the books but it’s all the same –
to prepare our students for the regents
we had 130 lessons to complete in a year
within 183 so-called “instructional” days
less regents exam days
less in-class test days
less review days
less post-test-aftermath days
leaving approximately 135 days
in which to teach those 130 lessons
… very little time for anything else
like doubling-up on a lesson
so our kids would fully understand a concept
like recreational math to really get
our kids to love math

and in a forty-two minute period
there was never enough time
especially when homework was involved
how could we be expected to collect homework
correct it
and then hand it back?
it would take a few minutes out of every class
if it’s three minutes out of forty-two
the it’s seven percent of the allotted time
or to go over several problems from homework?
to get the kids to do the homework?
to at least hand something with their name on it in?

one strategy we had was to have the students make
carbon copies of their homework
they’d keep the original which they’d self-correct
and hand in the copy which we’d check off
we’d be spending time in class
going over homework problems
six minutes divided by forty-two
equals fourteen percent

i gave word-processed tests
based on questions from old regents exams
perhaps not an original and imaginative
but the wording of the questions was the same
i wanted to get my students to see what was expected
i rarely chose the hardest questions
found myself steadily lowering the level
finally choosing the easiest questions
even having extra-credit questions
went over a review sheet the day before
using the same questions with different numbers
went over the test the day after
… still there was sixty-five percent failure
yes sixty-five percent

maybe there was more i could’ve done
teachers were continually beseeched to do better
exhorted and admonished to do more
we became the whipping boys of the administration
of the board of ed of the mayor
we were the easy target – sitting ducks
after all you couldn’t blame the parents
and you certainly couldn’t blame the students
so look who’s left standing

maybe i could’ve stayed after school
skipped lunch
devoted my free periods to extra help and tutoring
to have students draped around my desk
but i believed
there was a point of diminishing returns

a true story …
in summer school one of my colleagues gave a math test
with each correct multiple choice answer in bold
… many of his students still managed to fail

some of my colleagues
seemed to have more success
had higher passing percentages than the norm
our assistant principal did an analysis
of the transcript database i supplied
found that many of these colleagues’ students
repeated the following term’s class multiple times
they had been too ill-prepared to be promoted
then they used up valuable class space
would rarely complete the math requirement required for graduation
would tend to eventually drop out
… but these colleagues had better statistics
thus looked like quite a bit better
than me

and all this took place
in the poisoned atmosphere of dysfunction and incompetence
where fiscal starvation dried up motivation
where who-gives-a-shit attitudes killed enthusiasm
where periodic battles for a decent contract undermined morale
where professionalism and good intentions disappeared
where vital years were sapped of devotion
where time was marked
life was counted down
until the final bell

Poem 317    October 15, 2012      (up to top)

siren’s song

the sea of reeds along the bicycle path
sways like hula dancers
to the melody of the wind
beckoning
pull over
step off your bike
come stroke our captivating cattails
fondle our feathery clusters

now that you’re enchanted
beyond hope
powerless
lower your lustful gaze
reach out
touch
caress
the glistening crimson leaves of poison sumac
the glossy burnt-orange tri-folioles of poison ivy
learn their insidious names –
toxicodendron vernix and radicans –
come to adore these voluptuous plants
whose unforgiving nature
will soon become too familiar
to you
now
the newly enraptured

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2013

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 318.1    October 18, 2012      (up to top)

a tiny act of love

got home from a workshop
my wife was upstairs in the bathtub
turned on the tv
sat down with a box of cheez-its
started watching a show on dvr
munched the orange salty crackers
soon became thirsty

went back to the kitchen
looked for something cold and wet
opened the freezer
saw only one frozfruit in front

wanted that frozfruit
knew how much she enjoys them
could certainly do without that one
so i left it for her

i would’ve liked a kavod
– an acknowledgment like
hey thanks for saving it for me
but thought mentioning it would be crass

this time i’ll keep my tiny act of love
to myself

Poem 319.2    October 25, 2012      (up to top)

après le déluge

freed
torpor lifted
i can write again

only time i’d been out
was walking the dog
raking leaves
breaking up branches
i’ve also been sick

we’ve walked
through our neighborhood
sighing about lost trees
these downed familiar friends

we’ve walked
through south freeport
inhaling salty air
suffused with diesel fuel
waterlogged furniture on sidewalks
boats launched onto front lawns
homeowners struggling
some stop to talk
our dog sits by their side

we listen to their plaint
shake our heads
so glad it wasn’t us

i can’t hold it all in
all of their sorrow
all of their loss

Poem 320    November 16, 2012      (up to top)

in the wake of hurricane sandy

november 7

it’s taken more than a week to type this
haven’t written anything but emails

hurricane sandy has departed
the superstorm as the media had named it

i know the hurricane and its aftermath
are fodder for writing attempts
but i’ve been blocked …
just like two years ago
when we stopped at two concentration camps –
dachau near munich and theresienstadt near prague –
and it took more than a month
to process the awful overwhelmingness
and to get any words typed on the screen

during sandy we were lucky
only a few branches snapped
two high hats got blown off
lost power for half a day
cable for several days
could live without tv and the internet
spotty cell phone service was angst-producting

two miles south
freeporters nearer the water were not as lucky
cars submerged
boats strewn up onto front lawns
houses were flooded
homes were lost

right now we’re hosting a wheaten terrier like jimmy
our dog’s buddy from years ago
whose parents lost their townhouse in the surge

they’re moving to florida in a few days
while their home is being renovated
back to 1980s standards
however that will play out for them

we’ve had it lucky
the homes owned by a brother-in-law
and the adjoining one by his sister
in belle harbor in the rockaways
right on the atlantic ocean
were destroyed
most of each was washed away
along with the seawall
that failed to protect them from the rushing waters

this is the first day
i’ve been away from my house
except for an orthodox bar mitzvah
that was onerous and never-ending
less a joyous celebration
than an exercise in tedium

my wife is in new jersey again
caring for our daughter
who’d sliced off the tip of her finger
had it reattached
has to keep it elevated
can’t even diaper the almost one-year-old
she needs someone with her full time
and … they lost power for six days
they were lucky compared to others
who lived along the shore

i’ve taken the railroad in to see a show called grace
i’m sitting inside a starbucks
on the corner of seventh avenue and fiftieth street
looking out the window
killing time until the seven o’clock curtain

i’m watching the animation
on the barclaycard headquarters
phrases crawling across the facade
we live by our measure of success – yours
earn success everyday
teamwork excellence success

customers – some sipping coffee and lattes –
are charging their cell phones and laptops
hundreds of thousands of new yorkers
and other tri-state residents
still do not have power
do not know when they will get it

a nor’easter is bearing down
sleet rain snow are already falling
the wind is picking up
i had to get into the city
i had to get out of my house
where the two main topics
are sandy and the elections
thank goodness for the elections …
that president obama prevailed
thank goodness the democrats
retained control of the senate
thank goodness the antiquated selfish message
of the monstrous republicans
were repudiated by a majority of the voters

i’m watching people walk by
bundled up
hooded scarfed umbrella’d
snowflakes drifting onto their heads

i’ve been slurping a quarter-caff grande light
for the past fifteen minutes
i’m feeling better
as the caffeine seeps in

yet another empty double-decker bus passes by
no one’s sitting up top
few people are inside

this cathartic writing is working
getting out of the house is working
i hope the lirr doesn’t experience
storm-related delays
on the return trip home

throughout it all
i wonder if i have survivor’s guilt
am i allowed to feel this good?

november 16

after the excellent broadway show
i’m disturbed by worries about returning home
annoyed about having to replace
a metrocard i’d just replenished and promptly lost

when i got back to the forty-ninth street station
i read
on the information sign under the estimated minutes for the next train
all lirr trains from penn station are suspended
i subwayed there anyway
figured i could cross over to the eighth avenue side
take an e-train to jamaica
at least i’d be closer to home
maybe there’d be a babylon train out of jamaica
or else i could take the n-4 bus to freeport

when i got to penn station
there was only one train heading out
it was bound for ronkonkoma
i got on fretting all the way
couldn’t hear announcements in the car
called my son as soon as we emerged from the east river tunnel
asked if he could pick me up in hicksville
he lives in merrick so he asked how about westbury?
i said i don’t know if it’s gonna stop there
no conductor came through to collect tickets
even when i asked several passengers
none seemed to know
none cared enough to respond

in the middle of the nor’easter
he drove to hicksville to meet me
then to drive me back to freeport to pick up my car
it’s really gratifying to having a son
who’ll go out of his way for me

november 30

it’s been a month since sandy’s wrath
our daughter’s finger is healing
leaves are piled along the curb
huge trees and limbs are still all around
waiting to be carted away

i can’t imagine how people who’ve lost their homes
can function
of course they’ll go on
for it’s all they could do

gas lines are back to normal
we’ve taken my mother-in-law to the movies
we’ve made runs to bj’s and costco

life is getting back to normal
however normal can be measured
however the new normal is defined
after a deadly storm’s devastation

Poem 321    November 7, 16 & 30, 2012      (up to top)

on philip roth's retirement

at age seventy-nine and a half
after authoring thirty-one books
philip roth announced
that he had retired from writing

i’ve read most of his books
identified with his characters –
their conflicts fears and angst

in an interview published in the new york times
he looked back at his career
with apparent satisfaction and few regrets
he’d reread much of what he’d written
he said i can’t face any more days
when I write five pages and throw them away
i can’t do that anymore

i wish i were that talented
that prolific
i guess in my own small way
i do have my good days
i can type words on a screen
set up creative plot lines
write poetry that has meaning
reflect on my life in my own words
yet sometimes i too feel like packing it away
but i’m still hitting the keys
though not nearly as copiously as he

tacked to his computer
is a post-it note that states
the struggle with writing is over
he said i look at that note every morning
and it gives me such strength

Poem 322    December 2, 2012      (up to top)

numbers on a scale

if
the pointer creeps higher
than that accursed hash mark
or the readout exceeds
those damnable digits
then there’s emotional hell to pay

if
on the other hand
the pointer has receded below that set point
or the readout shines its countenance upon her
then all is good in the world

i’ve lived with her inner turmoil
for as long as i can remember
i don’t fight it anymore
don’t argue with it
don’t attempt to fix it
don’t try to smooth things over
though her joy of life is subverted
by those numbers on a scale

i just let the monster have its way
and hope it’ll be better
tomorrow

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 30, February 2014

Poem 323.1    December 13, 2012      (up to top)

affenliebe

the german term affenliebe means monkey love …
simian mothers lick and nearly suffocate their young
… applied to humans
it disparagingly implies an overly affectionate doting
a blind exaggerated tenderness

how can i compete
when three of my grandson’s other grandfather
showers them with presents
rolls around on the floor with them
offers to change their diapers
… in his eyes they can do no wrong

so … i have trouble considering myself
an equally worthy grandfather
when i measure myself
against his adoring indulgent ways

until i realize i’ll never be like him
but i do get them to giggle at my silliness
play with them in the park
drive them to the bakery
buy each of them a cookie
right before dinner
put them to bed
read them more stories
than their parents think they’re entitled to
and most of all …
i hug them
squeeze them
whenever i get the chance

i don’t need to be an affenliebe
to show my love
and to be loved right back

Poem 324    December 18, 2012      (up to top)

burning bush

on the overcast saturday before
in hempstead lake state park
my dog and i took a walk
past a lily-covered pond
encircled by trees
flaunting their autumn colors
glowing goldenrod coral and crimson
i stopped to admire
and rejoice

on the dismal wednesday after
we walked through the neighborhood
all our exquisitely-colored leaves were gone
torn away by raging wind and rain
from the terrible october storm
that shall remain nameless

between two homes
beside a massive oak wrenched from the ground
against a backdrop
of washed-out grays and browns
were two bushes of flaming scarlet
… yet they were not consumed

Poem 325    December 25, 2012      (up to top)

thus fortified

at jamaica
a leathery ruddy-faced man
trudges onto our inbound train
plops down in a two-seater
yanks off his gray woolen cap

reaches into a pocket
pulls out a mini bottle
swills down the amber liquid
gazes out the window
sighs

west of woodside
he cracks open another
sips it this time
wipes his mouth
on the sleeve
of his faded blue peacoat

now
he’s ready
for a hot night
on the town

Poem 326    January 5, 2013      (up to top)

where the hearth isn’t

new year’s eve
we approached our neighbor’s house
smelled smoke from the chimney
i said oh no … fuckin’ fireplace
she said behave yourself

walked up the front steps
exclaimed happy new year!
did the hand shaking air kissing
admired the festive table
i began to have trouble breathing
couldn’t speak in sentences
couldn’t form a coherent thought

escaped to the kitchen
made small talk with the hostess
my wife found me
mumbled i can’t breathe in there

they gathered in the living room
for humus and veggies and cheese and crackers
i hadn’t eaten
wanted to hit the brie

whispered to the host i’ve got to get some air
stepped outside
took deep breaths
walked home

i stunk from smoke
my clothes stunk from smoke
hung my clothes outside
only my underwear didn’t stink
took a shower
no way was i going back

made my own delicacy –
a triple-decker sandwich
seeded corn bread from a jewish bakery
smucker’s natural peanut butter
polaners apricot preserve
caught up with the times
did the easy-on-monday puzzles

my wife came home a bit later
said she didn’t feel like staying
with the others without me
i said sorry … it was awful
i just couldn’t take it

i know … it’s all right she said
shrugged her shoulders
we hugged

she peeled off her own reeking clothes
hung them outside too
changed into pajamas

hours later
we watched the ball drop
… and we kissed

Poem 326    January 5, 2013      (up to top)

losing control little by little

we’ve been opening brokerage accounts
transferring in all of our stocks
i’ll no longer have to keep track
of dividends base prices reinvestments

we’ve found a roofing company
they clean out our gutters
i’ll no longer have to maneuver
our 36-foot extension ladder
to scrape out wet leaves with freezing fingers
on frigid december days

my wife had contracted
to have an in-ground sprinkling system installed
i’ll no longer have to spend
an hour or two every second or third day
watering the flower beds by hand
positioning sprinklers every thirty minutes
on our front and back lawns

as much as i’ve enjoyed the responsibility
of keeping spreadsheets of our investments
climbing up the ladder
standing with a pistol grip nozzle
i’m told it’s good to let someone else do it for now

it’s been difficult giving up these obligations
these encumbrances
these duties
which make me feel alive
and needed

Poem 328    January 21, 2013      (up to top)

redemption machines

in front of costco
a tiny asian lady slides
beer bottles and soda cans
dasani and poland spring bottles
into recycling machines
some accepted
others spit out
ignoring the wrong sku readout
ignoring the wrong way readout
kept cramming them in
waiting for the tiny printout
waiting for her promissory payout
waiting

like the blue-haired lady
who flocks to a c
on the fifteen-dollar bus
who blows her social security
ignoring the odds
stuffing coins
into the hungry mouths
of disarmed bandits
all she’s got to do
is press a button
wait for the k’ching k’ching
of dropping coins
praying for the jackpot
waiting for her improbable payout
waiting

Poem 329.2    January 21, 2013      (up to top)

riding into the sunset

my ten-year-old bike shoes
had worn out
threaded holes
into which cleats are screwed
had broken off

still had a pair
of twenty-year-old shimano shoes
that worked kind of okay
with a pair of dura ace pedals
but they never fit just right

i’m sixty-six years old
just bought a new pair
of sidi dominator bicycle shoes

not just a minor purchase
cost over two hundred bucks
i was raised to make do
with what i have

there’s the ancient joke
about being so old
that i never buy green bananas

but i’m optimistic
i intend to keep on riding
and riding
until i need another pair

Poem 330    January 21, 2013      (up to top)

the end of sudoku

when we’re on the train
coming home from the city
we sometimes each do a sudoku
if i finish mine first
she might ask what’re ya doin’ … showing off?

if i try kidding around
point to a sudoku she’s working on
say the two goes over there
referring not to any particular square
she might get pissed off and answer
why’nt ya mind your own business

if i attempt to make contact
… like loving couples do
ask conciliatory-like
you want some help?
she might retort
do i look like i need your help?

thus a benign but addictive puzzle
has become a malignant issue in our relationship
so i’ve decided
after much hostile contemplation
that there’ll be no more sudoku for me

when i see one she’d been filling in
i turn it face down
when she’s working on one
i ignore her and walk away
when she offers me a blank puzzle
like she’ll do sometimes
more to leave her alone
than as an offer of peace
i smile and say no thank you hon
and try hard
very hard
to keep the vitriol
out of my voice

Poem 331    January 21, 2013      (up to top)

when we’re sixty-four

we might be strolling the boardwalk
or rambling with the dog
and i’ll start musing
did you ever think
when we parked under the verrazano bridge
fogging up the windows
that we’d have two grown children
twice as old as we were back then
one would be a detective
the other would become orthodox
you’d be a grandma
of five delicious grandsons
that we’d still be fooling around
acting foolish
naming the birds and squirrels
who show up at our feeder
blackie birdie big red choosey little bubba
calling our dog
nuh nuh boy big nose dee dee honey boo boo
calling each other
doodie head cocka-leakie peepie nose tuba lips
and other goofy names
too embarrassing to disclose

we’ve come a long way
these past forty odd years
so … hat’s off to you, vivi doggie

Poem 332    February 8, 2013      (up to top)

jigsaw puzzles

the three- and four-year-olds
are busy at play
dressing up in clothes from the pile in the corner
building dreams with large maple blocks
assembling melissa & doug chunky jigsaw puzzles
with big wooden pieces

the young couple is downstairs in the rec room
putting together a thousand-piece springbok puzzle
of crayola crayons called sticks of color
connecting the frame pieces proceeding inward
working together with promises of love
certain that they’ll be together
now and forever

during recreation time
at the stroke center
he’s watching his eighty-five-year-old wife
grappling with a five-piece mickey mouse puzzle
fumbling to grab the over-sized knob
struggling to maneuver the minnie mouse piece
onto the green cartoon base
c’mon hon you can do it
he urges
you’ve done it before
he pleads
desperate to keep the exasperation from his voice
desperate for her to succeed
desperate

Poem 333.1    February 24, 2013      (up to top)

on their way to praise and prayer

eight graying black men and women
sit in the front room of mcdonald’s
sipping from tall cups of one-dollar coffee

they’re donned in their churchgoing best
suits and jackets and well-polished shoes
modest dresses and pant suits
with understated rings and jewelry

an amiable gentle group
they’re talking softly with each other
having worshiped together for years

just before eleven
they rise
clean away their refuse
slip on their overcoats
gather their well-worn bibles
step out into the rawness
walk arm in arm
through the parking lot
then around the corner
to the healing faith apostolic chapel
their sunday home
for their beloved benevolent god

Poem 334    February 24, 2013      (up to top)

at mother teresa’s shrine

from the over-crowded apartment buildings
the multi-families across sunrise
the shelter across the street
they come one by one
to sit on a stone slab bench
before a statue of mother teresa
painted white and azure
holding as if an offering
an infant
in her outstretched arms

closed eyes
anguish on his face
he rocks
mouthing prayers
and hail marys

tears in her eyes
fingering rosary beads
crooked fingers keeping count
she whispers
beseeching words in spanish

when they’re done
they slip a couple of coins
onto a hollowed-out scoop
in the statue

comforted
at peace
they depart

Poem 335    February 27, 2013      (up to top)

nirvana on sunday

going to jones beach on a sunday afternoon
was a big deal
mom made bologna sandwiches for us
salami sandwiches for dad
we packed four aluminum lawn chairs
with yellow and green webbing
into the trunk of dad’s oldsmobile
no blankets for us
no sand to bring into the house
mom was a fanatic about that

we never got there early
always had to park way back in field 5
shlepped the chairs and food
through the parking lot
through the tunnel
out onto the sand
i hoped it wouldn’t burn my feet

my brother and i ran into the ocean
sometimes dad joined us
though more often not
never mom
after a while
mom called us in to eat lunch
but we had to wait a half hour
to go back in
so we wouldn’t get cramps

after jumping into the swells
body-surfing back to shore
repeat … repeat … repeat
i loved standing at water’s edge
my feet being steadily buried
by the incoming wavelets

when our beach afternoon was over
we carried those oh-so-heavy chairs
back to the car
when we got home
mom made us spray off sand
with the cold garden hose

after a shower
i walked into the den
lay down on the foam slab sofa
to fall asleep to the sensation of waves
lapping around my legs

in the early evening we went out for chinx
to the new taloy inn in bay shore
where all four of us ordered
the same inexpensive dish –
subgum shrimp chow mein …
never from columns a and b
never the specials
never wavering from the immutable choice

mom taught us
how to signal the teapot was empty
by moving it to the edge of the table
and leaving the lid up
taught us how to resent her
pushing her food
onto our plates
saying i can’t eat it all

still
it was sunday heaven for me
i never knew any better
until years later
when i went to chinatown
with workers from our special ed summer camp
we ordered a bunch of dishes
passed them around
as they were brought to the table
sharing the taste sensations
sharing a meal

Poem 336    March 1, 2013      (up to top)

do zombies vote?

a new york times headline
in today’s business section –
at amc zombies topple network /
during its run last fall
the walking dead
was the highest rated show
among viewers 18 to 49

who are these animated corpses
resurrected by mystical means
bereft of consciousness and self-awareness
yet ambulant and able to respond
to surrounding stimuli?
are they the sixty-one million
who cast votes for willard mitt romney
the forty-seven percent
who voted republican
against their best interests
who despise big government
though they’re receiving medicare
and social security
who favor low tax-rates and loopholes
for the one percent
at the expense of everyone else
who would rather subsidize oil drilling
than feed a hungry child

who are the real zombies?

The New York Times, March 4, 2013; zombie definition from Wikipedia.org
Poem 337    March 4, 2013      (up to top)

givetomydoggie.org

i think our wheaten terrier
is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization

like the american friends service commitee
and the united jewish appeal
chabad.org
and defenders of wildlife
pestering us with emails
dinner-time phone calls
acknowledging each
and every contribution
with a glossy solicitation
imploring us for more

or they’re like him
begging at the table
his heavy head on my knee
starving brown eyes
… when i slip him a morsel
he comes back for more
when i slide chicken scraps into his bowl
he comes back for more
when i say enough!
he still comes back for more

they’re like addicts
parasites who live off of us
once the spigot’s turned on
they can never be sated

Poem 338    March 4, 2013      (up to top)

my mother’s yahrzeit

it’s been thirteen years
since my mother’s death
late evening quiet
suffuses our house
dog snores twitches on his carpet
my wife places a beeswax memorial candle
inside a juice glass-to-be
atop the naked white stove

she dons a gray knit hat
i get a midnight-blue kippah
– my favorite woven skull cap –
and the artscroll prayer book
kept beside the shabbos bread board

with a wooden strike-anywhere
i light the long-wicked candle
wait until the flame steadies
open to the bookmarked page
for the mourner’s kaddish
the hymn of praises
magnifying and sanctifying god’s name

together we recite the ancient words
she from the hebrew
me the transliteration
yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mayh rabo
        may his great name grow exalted and sanctified
she pronounces the s’s as t’s
b’ol’mo di v’ro chir-usayh
        in the world that he created as he willed …
slow down i say
i wanted to get it right this time
v’yahlich malchusayh
         may he give reign to his kingship
b’cha-yaychon uvyomaychon
        in your lifetimes and in your days …

she pauses as i muddle through
this most basic of prayers
i’m upset with my ineptitude

i wonder if my mother
a cynic and doubter if there ever was one
would appreciate or even care
that we were reciting the kaddish
for her but for us as well
that we were remembering
commemorating celebrating
eighty-five years
of a life once lived

i sigh
say you know she would’ve really loved
sam and ethan
yitzi and mo and eli
she’d never even met any of her great-grandsons
unless you believe in illimitable connections
… to me the jury’s still out about the supernal
the supernatural the spiritual the religious …
especially the religious

i shake my head ruminating
say at the end
maybe i should’ve done more
i’m disappointed at myself
though i did take care of her finances
maybe i should’ve flown down
more often
should’ve called
more often
besides saturday mornings
when long distance rates were lowest
once when i dialed her on a tuesday afternoon
she rebuked me
you couldn’t wait until saturday?
before slamming down the phone

each summer
before her health deteriorated
she flew up to visit for the ten days
between the maturation dates
of her certificates of deposit
spent five days with my brother’s family
five days with us
complained
when it was unseasonably chilly
when it was too drafty in the car
when she had to compete with our children for attention
and after losing to them petulantly announcing
i’m not coming to visit anymore
then i had to placate and commiserate

sometimes things got so raw
i couldn’t wait
for our five days to be up
to drive her back to j f k
only to have her say
why’n’t just drop me off
save the money on the parking
– though she gifted us thousands every year –
and me arguing
c’mon ma … i want a proper goodbye
though i couldn’t wait to be rid of her
then once in the terminal
when her flight to fort lauderdale was called
her – red-eyed and weeping
me – standing before her inert
unable as always to respond
other than hugging her tepidly
then having her dismiss me with
well i’ll see ya … have a good life
as she turned towards the gate

i should’ve really hugged her
even given her a big smooch
should’ve been more compassionate
should’ve been there for her …
especially during those last couple of years

these damnable should’ve’s
my nasty feelings and selfishness
they gnaw at me

but i was another person back then
with different values and needs
a different understanding
about sympathy and empathy
about the needs of others
especially my mother’s

thirty-six years have passed
since my father’s death
when within six short months
my mother emptied her house
had the garage sales
sold the home where i grew up
upped and left long island
on the amtrak auto train
to follow the herd
to subtropical florida
leaving her two sons
and their families-to-be behind
– i’ve often wondered how she could do that –
to start a new life in a deluxe two-bedroom
an extra bedroom for visitors
or an extra bedroom for a live-in
if and when the time comes
and that time did come
with a fucking vengeance
untreated high blood pressure
because she knew better than doctors
renal failure
neuropathy
congestive heart failure
dementia
then death

i can’t go back in time
can’t in retrospect make things right
i know i shouldn’t beat myself up
over what i could’ve done
should’ve done
didn’t do

i can only live my life
with what i’ve learned
hope to not repeat my mistakes
hope i’m a better person
now

o’se sholom bimromov
        he who makes peace in his heights
hu ya-a-se sholom olaynu
        may he make peace upon us
y’al kol yisro-ayl
        and upon all israel
v’imru: omayn
        now respond: amen

Poem 339    March 21, 2013      (up to top)

death masks exposed!

we grow up assuming
when the lone ranger
shoots a bad guy with his silver bullet
the guy just drops and dies
no muss no fuss

as a guy is having a fatal heart attack
he grabs his chest
looks surprised goes down
that’s all she wrote

if you google death mask
click on images …
you’ll see only replicas
of a sanitized reality

a far cry from
your uncle lying in hospice
paper-thin wounded skin shrunken eyes
shallow breaths through a mouth agape

your pallid brother
wired to monitors beeping in the medical i c u
slipping into and out of consciousness

your father-in-law
in a fetal position in a hospital bed
in his once-formal dining room
air rasping in … then out

your own father in an undershirt
inert on the body-fluids-soiled floor
beside the marital bed
eyes and mouth frozen open

while we wait
until the doctor-on-call
nursing supervisor
funeral attendant
just doing their job
squeezes eyes and mouth shut
tidies the body
pulls the sheet up and over
slips the body into a zippered bag
to be gurneyed away
so we can go on
with our sterilized pretenses

Poem 340    April 19, 2013      (up to top)

takin’ it easy ain’t so easy

annual cleanup at the preserve
from one side of the brook
we were trying to free a morass
of bottles soda cans styrofoam cups plastic bags
held fast by fallen branches and a railroad tie

because no one had waders
we were using a rake
to drag debris over to our side
to be black-bagged and shlepped out
when we couldn’t reach any further
one guy said all right … that’s it …
we’ll get it next time

next time
it can wait until tomorrow
good enough for now
it is what it is
are phrases foreign to my lexicon
the shrug and the lackadaisical mindset
are not in my frame of reference

i’ve promised to be down in five minutes
after she announces it’s dinnertime hon
though i know full well that i’ll be longer

i’ve replied i’ll come to bed soon
eventually watch the sun rise
getting a stubborn computer to boot up

when my daughter was at a recital
i sat in the lobby perfecting a program
stopping just long enough to hear her sing
… well i do have some priorities

i often wish
i could be like a fellow bike rider
who when my derailleur broke
simply shifted my chain by hand
looked at my worried face
said hey shit happens
you can use the other derailleur
until you get it fixed

yeah … i just wish
i could take things in stride
blithely let worries wash over me
refuse to be overly concerned
but that is unfortunately not
who i am

Poem 341    April 25, 2013      (up to top)

day fifteen

it’s been two weeks and a day
since i last played canfield freecell and hearts
– my drug-trio of choice –
on the computer

i got tired of going to bed after two a m
wasting my life away with a veritable time-suck
while calculating how many straight freecell games
i needed to win
to increase my percentage by one measly point
stopping every two or three games
to view the readout on a scientific calculator
to eight decimal places
this number becoming as significant as playing

i figured that if there were support groups
for gamblers and alcoholics
overeaters and bulimarexics
bipolars and cancer survivors
sex addicts and masturbaters
shoe addicts and foot fetishists
there’d be a group that could help me

so i googled solitaire addiction
found not a support group
but a game called addiction
– just what i goddamn needed –
so i quit cold turkey
erased screen shortcuts
though i realize files and links and temptation still exist
and i count forward the days
one by one

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 39, August 2016

Poem 342    May 2, 2013      (up to top)

cascadence

mom is an avid walker
but her hammer toe left untreated
overlaps an adjacent toe
only canvas sneakers
from kmart’s discount bin
bring comfort

her daily outing
on the winding trail through the complex
turns into a struggle
turns into an impossibility
she no longer exercises

high blood pressure is left untreated
she knows better than her doctor
just like her husband the pharmacist
who refused to take the medicines he purveyed
… he dropped dead
the day after turning sixty five

kidneys start malfunctioning
she ignores her doctor’s advice
to limit her dietary intake
to begin taking medication

congestive heart failure
renal distress
bring on neuropathy
she loses sensation in her feet

while wearing
her favorite worn-out sneakers
she slips then falls on her threadbare carpet

meat-wagoned to the emergency room
she’s told her renal level is so low
she must undergo dialysis
then … subsequently … forever
an outcome that has terrified her

she’s eventually sent to a rehab center
wants to watch jeopardy
needs to change channels
her remote is not working
instead of pressing the help button and waiting
– deferring to her mantra of never wanting to impose –
she slides out of bed to change channels
crumples to the floor
shatters her hip
is back in the e r
operated on at midnight
… after the allotted number of days
returns to the rehab center

when she’s discharged
she makes the decision to remain at home
with twenty-four-hour care
her third caregiver is a gem

she’s fortunate
listens to classical music
reads when she’s able
lies in bed as the tree she has watched grow
sways in the subtropical breeze

a year or so passes
she decides
in a fleeting moment of lucidity
to put an end to dialysis
only then will hospice take over

within a week
she succumbs

Poem 343    May 8, 2013      (up to top)

first impression pentalogy

first impression 1

i saw her struggling
moving boxes
up an eight-step stoop

i parked my bike
on the sidewalk
helped carry up the rest

with a luminous smile
and a lilting voice
she said thank you so much

i go out of my way
to ride past her brownstone
hoping to bump into her

maybe the laws of probability
are against me
maybe she just moved away

Poem 344    May 14, 2013      (up to top)

first impression 2

i was on my raleigh ten-speed
rounding the corner
from stanton to kenneth

she was in a white two-piece
emptying out the trunk
of a forest-green buick lesabre

carrying pathmark bags
towards an opening
in a tall stockade fence

she looked back at me smiled
a luminous smile
an inexpungible smile

whenever i pedaled west
i turned that corner
hoping to catch a glimpse

the buick sedan had become
a silver toyota station wagon
then a midnight-blue minivan

the wooden fence
was torn down one day
replaced with solid white pvc

i think i saw her once
but she’d become much older
didn’t give me a second look

Poem 345    May 23, 2013      (up to top)

first impression 3

on the dekalb avenue bus
heading east on lafayette
sitting across from me

was a twenty-something girl
whose silver-blond tresses
flowed past her perfect angelic face

beside her was a black leather portfolio
i assumed she was an art student at pratt
a fact affirmed when she alit at st james place

i saw her only rarely –
when the gods of the m t a
conspired to synchronize our commutes

i constructed an image of her as a free spirit
a creative and artful and gorgeous lover-to-be
after all this was 1970

but never got up the nerve to address her
to even mumble a hello
i could only gawk as furtively as possible

one time a fellow student sat beside her
my angel turned and asked in full brooklynese
so whatcha doin’ t’night?

wile e coyote smashed into the canyon
road runner screeched to a stop with a beep beep
and porky pig stuttered th-th-th-th that’s all folks

Poem 346    May 28, 2013      (up to top)

first impression 4

i first saw her standing on line
in the teacher’s cafeteria
oh wow i thought she’s somethin’ else

back then in our inner-city high school
each department was run by an a p
as an insular fiefdom

as a special ed teacher in a corner of the building
i didn’t get to see her much
but i did learn who she was

i found myself walking past her room
looking in through plain panes
eventually replaced by reinforced glass

i found out that she was married
since i was also i had to keep my distance
it would have been ridiculous and futile to pursue her

fast forward through thirty years
working together in my office
finding out we had shared a mutual attraction

she transferred to another school then returned
at a retirement dinner we got soused
and expressed our undying love for each other

except for several open-school night dinners
and a peck on the cheek
our love has remained unfulfilled

Poem 347    May 29, 2013      (up to top)

first impression 5

when i was in college
the mystic inn in bay shore
was my main watering hole

though virtually all patrons were lily white
one girl who came into the place
was swarthier than most

she often plugged in the jukebox
started dancing by herself
her moves were fluid and riveting

and while she was lost in her sensuousness
even if i was involved in a game of pinball
i had to stop and gawk with lust

one tuesday around eleven i got up the nerve
to ask her out to the diner
linda was soft-spoken and sweet

she was training to become a cosmetician
she already had a child
her family was abusive and vicious to her

this was too far out of my league
we both knew there was no future for us
but decades later i can still picture her grace

Poem 348    May 31, 2013      (up to top)

every fifteen days

i have two pillboxes
that each hold seven days’s worth of pills

when i fill the a m and p m compartments
i add another day’s pills to two tiny glass bowls
i leave on the counter
thus saving an extra filling and a half each year

i measure my life in fifteen-day increments
it never ceases to surprise me
how quickly pillboxes empty

Poem 349    June 22, 2013      (up to top)

for once just the guy

when my wife is finished
with the sunday styles section
from the new york times
i read the modern love column and social q’s
– so what if i’m not in their demographic –
then turn to vows –
the twenty-first century page heading
for marriage commitments and announcements

i say you know something hon?
what?
i never see a picture of the groom by himself
my wife who has heard this before
replies you’re an idiot

i say i don’t care if they’re gay or straight
for once i’d like to see one darn picture
of just the guy
after all i add they sometimes have pictures
of the bride by herself
… though it’s becoming more uncommon …
she replies you know you’re an idiot

so one time i took an exacto knife
sliced away half of a smiling couples’ photo
showed her the picture of just the guy
announced look hon!
my life’s quest is finally over!
she looked up at me with the stink eye
replied i can’t believe i married an idiot

Poem 350    June 22, 2013      (up to top)

last dog lament

you know something? i say
i really love my dog
my wife joins the game
whose dog is it?
i pout then say okay it’s yours
because she’s actually the nominal owner
then whisper to myself
so she can hear it of course
but he’s really mine

but as much as i love our dog
he puts a crimp in our lifestyle
we can’t just leave impromptu in the morning
say to take the train into the city
and return late that night
who’s going to feed him be with him
he takes it so hard when we’re gone

we’re not getting any younger
as the cliché warns us
as much as i love him
as awful as it sounds
i sometimes wish he weren’t around

i look down at him breathing slowly
on the mat on our front porch
he’s content just to watch the world go by
sometimes he gets up walks over
knocks my typing hand onto his head
looks up at me with those big brown eyes
i would miss him so so much

Poem 351    June 22, 2013      (up to top)

trimming the bushes

for the past twenty-five years or so
june 16 has been the day dedicated
to trimming the bushes

on this first day of regents exams
i had little to do at school
so i cut out
came home and tackled
the almost impossible task

this year i wore a long-sleeved techwick shirt
switched to miles davis on my mp3 player
started with the bushes in back
only four feet high and six feet deep …
with my black & decker trimmer
they’re a walk in the park
compared with others to follow

over the years i‘ve lowered my expectations
about the fourteen-foot bush-tree
guarding the gate
i cut only the reachable branches sticking out
didn’t bother topping it off
which i could no longer do even with a six-foot ladder
nobody could see it anyway
except me

after an iced-tea break
i tackled the yews shielding our front porch
they’re six feet tall and nine-feet deep
– as deep as a ping pong table is long –
after finishing the four sides
i began working on the top …
only by standing on a ladder
and leaning into the limbs
could i extend my reach
to the uncut twigs a yard and a half away
that was the almost impossible task

after filling four garbage pails
i … was … done
i stood on the sidewalk
admired the precision and evenness
i turned chaos in order …
at least for another year

and
i hadn’t dinged my arms
      causing blotches of purples and blues
hadn’t cut the new extension cord
      causing a cascade of curses
didn’t have those muscle aches
      which mimic symptoms of a heart attack

i look at thirty-inch gas trimmers
but they’re four hundred bucks or more
i and use my electric one only once or twice a year

people – including my wife –
ask why don’t you hire someone to do it?
and my answer is
it’s something i’ve done for forty years …
and it’s something i need to continue doing

Poem 352    June 22, 2013      (up to top)

wedding bands

we bought shiny gold rings
on forty-seventh street in manhattan
though plain and flat
we loved their heft and their newness
and what they meant to us

several years later
in a parking-lot bazaar
off broadway in the village
we found matching sterling rings
that cost only six dollars each

decades passed
on a muggy august afternoon
we drove to fortunoff
to buy new rings –
rounded platinum bands
as unpretentious as the others

i keep my six-dollar band
on a sterling heart-shaped key ring
that my betrothed created
from square five-millimeter wire

the square wire has rounded
its twists have worn away
it’s kind of deformed
but i’ve been carrying her heart
for over forty-four years

Poem 353    June 25, 2013      (up to top)

crows

Poem 354    June 27, 2013      (up to top)

geese and crows

goose-stepping gaggling
aroused agitated honking it up
molting dunking preening
waiting for the signal
running on water in jackboots
like crazed jesuses
streaming into wedge formation
zeroes and messerschmitts
readying for the onslaught

goddesses of war and death
messengers and protectors
omen bearers and tricksters
jackdaws ravens crows
black ones overhead
cawing cawling cackling
hundreds thousands
flapping here and there
this way and that
anarchic rowdy unruly
finding their way nightly
to their roosts
touching the clouds

Poem 355    July 7, 2013      (up to top)

bullshit at the barbecue

between mouthfuls
of oleaginous cole slaw
shoe-leather hamburgers
shriveled hot dogs
fermented watermelon slices
are words interjected such as
exquisite
superb
phenomenal

the tongues of extollers –
the pretentious putzes
who utter these fanciful words
when they gush over a restaurant
when they rave about a musical performance
when they excrete ejaculations of enthusiasm
oh my god it was so …
their tongues should be
ripped from their maws

or at the very least
they should
for the sake of genuineness
and undistorted speech
be subject to
an exquisitely hot
superbly soapy
phenomenally high colonic

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2014

Poem 356.1    July 10, 2013      (up to top)

times square at dusk

i stand in awe
at the center of the universe
between the broadway pedestrian mall
and the downtown traffic on seventh
doing an open-mouthed three-sixty
like a bumpkin
from a farm outside of dubuque
staring at the kaleidoscopic phenomenon
at the dow jones and news crawls
at animations and lit-up facades
at gargantuan neons and banks of leds
samsung and barclays … chevrolet and kodak
panasonic and maxell … hsbc and reuters

i’m in the firmament
eavesdropping on languages flitting and floating
blurted by wide-eyed children in new disney t’s
hushed by wary parents guarding faux leather fanny packs
i hear jazz riffs of sibilance and articulative cadence
the hippity hoppity bippity boppity
of spanish and hebrew and portugese
midwest twang and uptown slang

i’m in wonderment
in this phantasmagoria
at the crossroads of intergalactic pizzazz
but when it becomes almost too much
the real realization bubbles up
like a roller coasting slowwwwing
when i klean-strip away the masquerade
boil off the over-the-top excess
the essence of what remains
is no different
than a concrete slab warehouse
abra cadabra’d into a walmart
a lego-brick plate-glassed one-story
hocus-pocused into a strip mall
with a yogurt shop lottery place burger joint nail salon
times square’s magic bubble
has pffff’d
away

after our show i guide her westward
she asks
you sure you don’t wanna walk down seventh?
… i know how much you enjoy it over there
i answer
i had enough … it’s all too crowded and not much else
so we head over to ninth
pick up a coupla one-dollar slices
fast-walk the dozen blocks
down to penn station
hoping to make
– with a two-minute stop for carry-on dessert –
the 10:35 express
home

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2014

Poem 357    July 25, 2013      (up to top)

melancholy afterglow

after the oh shit!
after the oh god!
after the scream-grunt that cannot be mimicked
after that sharp intake of breath
after the final shudder
we rest
let a few minutes pass
she asks hon d’ya wanna strip the bed?
i say i wanna take a nap
but add yeah okay
it’s gotta be changed anyway
we slide out of bed
fold up the quilt
strip off sheets and pillowcases
flip and rotate mattresses
carry the laundry downstairs

in our darkened deserted room
an empty unmade bed awaits
cooling under the whirring fan

Poem 358    July 26, 2013      (up to top)

onionskin skin

my grandmother
mother
uncle
had skin so thin
i was afraid to touch them
terrified they’d split apart

now
on my arms
are angry bruises
from nicks and cuts
loathsome purple blotches
from scrapes
and unwitting smacks

i wonder
what my grandsons think
after they’re done staring
after they look away

Poem 359    July 26, 2013      (up to top)

arachnophobia not

i love spiders
but at arms length
i would not want to get stuck
spelunking through a web-filled cave
or having sticky silky threads
clinging to me while laying cable
under the family room

but there’s nothing more intriguing
than watching a hairy tarantula scurrying
with eight supremely synchronized legs
or an inch-long juicy spider
weaving its gossamer web
in the corner under our porch ceiling

i yearn to be of service to them
on august evenings
i grab small insects
– large moths might tear the strands –
toss them at the web
some might drift through
but when one adheres
in a flash the expectant spider
scuttles down and wraps up its prey
for a five-star meal to follow

one summer evening in zurich
we walked over a wooden covered bridge
spanning a glistening lake
where spiders and their glorious webs
inhabited every roof support
every crossbeam
every electrolier

like us
most visitors were mesmerized
not by the romantic moonlit water
but rather by the thousands of arachnids
spinning their webs
awaiting their victims
and then …
the magnificent moment
when we reveled in a sublime
inescapable ensnaring

Poem 360    August 9, 2013      (up to top)

bedside vigil

through the afternoon
her skin has become waxen
her lips slackened

two daughters hog the bedside seats
each holding a hand
one is whimpering
the other’s eyes are closed
as if in denial

i’m numbed exhausted
perched on the window ledge
counting the seconds between breaths
one one thousand … two one thousand
some come five … seven … nine seconds apart
at eleven one thousand i become wary
but … another shallow breath follows

it’s after sundown
i need to drive home my daughter
who walked from new jersey …
i place my hand on omi’s head
lean down to kiss her
whisper it’s okay
you can let go
whispering because
the others might take it the wrong way
though they’re probably thinking
like i am
it’s enough

i don’t know if omi hears me
so the vigil continues

— Honorable mention, JCC Poetry Contest, 2014
Poem 361    September 13, 2013      (up to top)

waiting

i wonder if my sister-in-law
will send us a text saying
we’re taking him off dialysis
or will she call us

after all his multiple system failures
surgeries beeping monitors
breathing tube feeding tube
colostomy bag

after all the hours of lethargy
increasing non-responsiveness

after all the encouraging yet non-committal words
from his i c u medical team
about keeping him comfortable

after all the discussion at their home
would’ve’s could’ve’s
what if’s why didn’t i’s

after all the tears have been shed
what is there left
to say?

Poem 362    September 28, 2013      (up to top)

an end to the waiting

for six weeks
he’d been in the i c u
confined to a negative pressure room
feeding tube through his nose
breathing tube through his mouth
later through a tracheostomy
colostomized dialyzed
leg wraps inflating deflating
an ear lobe bruised by an oxygen sensor
mrsa on his lips
fucking lying there
my older brother
my sweet gentle older brother
reduced to led readouts
multicolored jagged lines
on computer screens

after losing most
of his necrotic lower intestine
his incisions weren’t healing
his skin was breaking down
his dialysis was no longer effective
and caused his blood pressure to crash
he wasn’t getting better
he was never going to get better

he was momentarily lucid
when somebody called out his name
but only sometimes
or when his wife was mitchering him
squeezing his face
finger-opening his eyes
talking at him inches from his face

she said they’d spoken about it long before
the it being prolonging his life
the it being ending his life
he didn’t want to end up this way
he never wanted to be a burden

this was no longer
the husband father brother uncle
retired teacher musician gardener
friend neighbor punster
piano accompanist
lover of his white cat
birdbath filler
garbage taker-outer

this was no longer him
this depleted body
being barely kept alive
by machines

it could not go on any longer
it must not go on any longer

on thursday afternoon
it was time
a morphine drip started
a sedative administered
the respirator turned off
an oxygen tank connected
to the trach opening in his throat

we gazed up at the computer screen
that monitored his heart rate
blood pressure
oxygen level
watching the numbers drop
then plateau
he’s still going on

the morphine drip was doubled
he was switched from oxygen
to fresh air
… for the first time in weeks
he was on his own

as the numbers plummeted
we said our good-byes
good-bye dad
good-bye my love
good-bye steve
good-bye uncle
we all love you
all of us love you
we love you steve
it’s been so hard for you
it’s time to let go
c’mon steve
you’ve fought hard enough
goddamn it
you fought so hard

i held his hand
warmish clammy
a thrum in my head
a quickening
i was crying
we were all crying
i could barely hear their sobs
this was happening
this was real
oh my god
this was happening
his life was ending
seventy-two years
my brother’s life
was ending

heart rate spikes
came further apart
pulse-ox was near zero
he was dying
oh my god
he was dying
no more isolated breaths
no more heart rate spikes
now a flat line
an unending flat line
he was
dead

oh man oh man
he was
gone

finally at peace

and that was it
that’s how it ended
i dry my eyes
on a sleeve
of the yellow disposable gown

his wife shuts his eyes
we wait fifteen minutes
wait for the soul
to leave through sealed windows
to return to its home

we cover his face
with the blanket
hug each other
hold each other
though the crying has stopped
tears continue
relief has finally come

Poem 363    October 7, 2013      (up to top)

grieving

it’s been eleven days
since the death of my older brother
a month after the death of my wife’s mother
and the death of her neighbor
too much death
three funerals over four sundays

i think now
i’m at the wistful stage
sighing envisioning shaking my head
miss calling my mother-in-law
to invite her for shabbos dinner
or join us for a movie
miss calling my brother
to ask him if it’s time to bring in the plants
kid him about doing the laundry every wednesday
find out something about our family’s past

now they’re part of our family’s past

i’m numb now
i’ve cried myself out
no more tears to shed
after my brother’s final breaths in the icu
put it over the top
and the soulful intoning of oseh shalom bimromav
– he who makes peace in his high places –
at his grave site
everyday i’m going along
doing what i’ve always done
i’m not beating my chest
or sobbing uncontrollably
maybe it’s delayed grief …
so i’m anxiously waiting
for perhaps a pin-point puncture
or a major blowout
afraid that a profound sorrow
will soon overcome me

Poem 364    October 14, 2013      (up to top)

my funeral

we’d gone to three funerals in four weeks
my mother-in-law
her neighbor
my brother

i’ve often said i’d like to be buried in the backyard
right near the bird-feeding station
alongside our patio
where i have breakfast and read the new york times
luxuriant in the lushness of trees and bushes
and the flower beds surrounding
… but i know this ain’t gonna happen

so it’ll be a jewish funeral
buried in our family plot
which we call our mount ararat timeshare
next to dad and mom and my brother

but what i really want
is a new orleans-style funeral procession –
to have ya’ll meet
at the cemetery parking lot off route 109
have the hearse lead the cortege
followed by marching musicians
with trumpets and trombones
woodwinds and drums
playing where the saints go marching in
just a closer walk with thee
down by the riverside
burgundy street blues
… you my family and friends
in your sunday goin’-to-cemetery finery
fulfilling the mitzvah of leveyat hamet
dancing your way past the orderly rows
of tombstones and markers
– just like on the intro to treme –
all the way east to section 85-g
followed by a traditional
– but not so grave –
grave-side service

let those cemetery laborers
lower the plain pine box
housing my body in a simple white shroud
into the sandy-sided grave
recite some psalms
including the twenty third of course
and the memorial prayer el maleh rachamim
prepare some eulogies
– the funnier the better –
say kaddish
intoning oseh shalom birmomov at the end
then shovel sand and pebbles and rocks
onto my coffin until it’s covered
– i wont’ be able to hear of course –
but those thuds against hollow wood
will resonate with finality

i want a party afterwards
it’ll be the se'udat havra'ah – or meal of condolence –
bagels and cream cheese and lox and whitefish
vegetarian tuna and mushroom and onion egg salad
black and white cookies
rugelach and chocolate babka
all sorts of comforting beverages

i don’t want you sitting shiva
confined to low hard stools for seven days
or observing the thirty days of shloshim
i want you to have your normal pleasures
to shave and bathe
have sex and go to work
go to the movies and the theater
watch tv and listen to music
i want you to go on with your lives

light the seven-day votive candle
put it on the stove or the mantle
say kaddish for me if you like
but please don’t be compelled
to attend an orthodox shul everyday
to repeat the kaddish praver

on the anniversaries of my death
i’d appreciate your lighting
a twenty-four hour yahrzeit candle
say a few of words of remembrance
tell me how things are going
how the kids and grandkids are
and definitely smile
recalling the saints
that come marching in

Poem 365    October 23, 2013      (up to top)

shpilkes

we’re coming awake
i want to hug her and spoon
so i turn over and reach for her
she says no … i gotta get outta bed
i say c’mon just for a coupla minutes
no i got shpilkes she says

we’re a mile or two out walking the dog
as usual i’m holding the leash
he’s still stopping quite frequently
i can tell she’s becoming impatient
if you wanna go on ahead go ahead i say
i got shpilkes … i got a lot on my mind she says
just go on … it’s okay i say
but it’s not really okay

a balmy crystalline november day
we’re outside finishing a very late brunch
she gets up and reaches for our plates
i say how ’bout sitting for a while …
revel in autumn’s colors
no i can’t she says i’ve gotta get going
i say shpilkes huh?

it’s no longer as crystalline
no longer as vibrant
no longer as warm

Poem 366    November 16, 2013      (up to top)

haiku 14

japanese maple

glowing candy apple red

before autumn’s fall

Poem 367    November 20, 2013      (up to top)

thanksgiving rumination

we’re going to gather
twenty strong
or twenty dysfunctional
depending on who’s counting
in the dining and living rooms
in our home as usual
for this year’s thanksgiving feast

it’ll take more than a dollop of tolerance
to overlook the hurt
the disparity of wealth
caused by favoritism and intolerance
of a patriarch and matriarch
now deceased

why these bastards did this
i’ve always wondered
though i was never allowed
thus never got the chance
to challenge them
i was the outwardly respectful son-in-law

but i’ve – we’ve – learned from them
everything’s split down the middle
for our children and their children
fifty-fifty / even-steven
the way it should be
the way it should’ve always been

Poem 368    November 20, 2013      (up to top)

looking like a bum

for years i wore an army-green columbia shirt-jacket
cost nineteen ninety-five
from marshalls’ clearance rack
over time it got faded and torn

it was ideal for walking
had six perfectly-placed pockets
for my cell phone mp3 player
money visa card keys
space for two bottles of water
and new york times doodie bags
for my dog

in winter i wore three or four layers under it
if necessary a hoodie
… with my faded black ski cap
and bicycle tights
my daughter-in-law has said
i look homeless

one late afternoon i walked into best buy
to check out toshiba laptops
sensed i was being watched followed
decided to tell the salesgirl
even though i might look like a bum
i’m really not
she laughed and said not a problem
it could’ve been a great pick-up line
or probably not

Poem 369    November 20, 2013      (up to top)

the maliciousness of leaves

on three successive tuesdays
we raked thousands – maybe millions –
of yellow red brown leaves
to be carted away
during wednesday morning’s pickup

it’s fatiguing arduous labor
though the raking is not really the hard part …
the back-breaking part
the extra-strength tylenol part
is cramming leaves into garbage pails
stuffing them into fifty-five gallon drum liners

we wanted to clean up for thanksgiving
so yesterday i was raking in the rain …
after filling the nineteenth garbage pail
over three weeks
the twenty-ninth jam-packed plastic bag
nature got its revenge
by sending a november nor’easter our way

now on our soaking front lawn –
pristine for less than six hours –
is a rash of yellow maple leaves
a plague of blown oak leaves
a pox of japanese maple leaves
taunting and mocking
and downright contemptuous

Poem 370    November 27, 2013      (up to top)

three in three months

first was my wife’s mother
spry and vigorous at ninety-three
until an intestine necrotized
on the friday of rosh hashanah …
she always said
she never wanted anyone
to wipe her ass
and got her wish
in a private room
at new york presbyterian
as a low-level inflow of morphine
dripped through her body
keeping her sedated
until her breathing
inexorably slowed
then stopped

second was my older brother
who following a precipitous decline
lasted six weeks in the i c u
dialysis would kill him
not dialyzing would kill him
he wasn’t healing
his quality of life was nil
he had no chance of recovery …
on a sunny thursday
the tubes were removed
his oxygen level was lowered
to an atmospheric twenty percent …
and as we comforted and held him
crying our good-byes
his spark evanesced …
a flatline and a steady tone
the indisputable affirmation

third was my wheaten terrier
my sweet gentle walking buddy
who touched so many
and was loved by all …
he took a petco picture with santa on saturday
walked us to the field on sunday
but on monday
lay panting helpless staring at me
with brown trusting almost-gone eyes
and i sobbed and wailed
cuddled and kissed him
heartsick about losing him
as our vet pressed a hypodermic
into an accessible vein
and without even a whimper
life flickered out
of his slackening body

they say that harrowing things –
like deaths you know –
come in threes
they virtually predict the inevitability
of the triad of despair
the insurmountable sorrow …
well i say fuck you you they
i want to scream
why couldn’t you stop it
at just one

Poem 371.1    December 29, 2013      (up to top)

in dog heaven

in dog heaven
every house has a dog-sized door
dogs can run and roam as they please
to the field and the woods and the lake

in dog heaven
cats have lost their claws
squirrels can’t find trees to scamper up
racoons have learned to just stay away

in dog heaven
there is no thunder
there are no fireworks
there are no stupid kids throwing rocks

in dog heaven
dogs have unlimited accounts on an rfd chip
carvel has vanilla cups ready
every mcdonald’s has a doggie walk-thru

in dog heaven
grandma is waiting with a boiled hot dog
every night is barbecue night
and an extra place is set at the table

in dog heaven
there’s a way through the impossibility
so owners can hug and rub and kiss
their lost beloved friends

Poem 372    January 11, 2014      (up to top)

safe driving award

half a century ago
at my high school awards assembly
i was presented with a plaque
– for the safe driving award

my classmates on stage howled
the principal chortled
even my parents joined in

i’d had an accident
the first week after getting my license
i’d looked over at some girl
sashaying on the sidewalk
gee whiz … i just couldn’t help it

that school year
my driving remained aggressive
erratic precipitous breakneck
i’m glad i never drank like my classmates

during college and after
i had some accidents
got some speeding tickets
wrecked a couple of cars
one was my brother’s …
sorry steve
maybe i got my ya-yas out
driving a cab in the city during four summers
imagine – racing the greens down ninth avenue
in someone else’s beat-up sedan

since then i’ve tempered some
though my wife thinks nowhere near enough
as she white-knuckles the hand strap
on the cross bronx expressway

i recently found that plaque
in the bowels of my office
it actually reads –
for the best grade
in driver’s education

i was always good
at book learning

Poem 373    January 11, 2014      (up to top)

joyfullessness

elation atrophies
party balloon pin-pricked
vulturous angst
consumes what remains

Poem 374    April 17, 2014      (up to top)

glass birds

two glass birds
purplish-blue and green
implanted in early spring earth
like one-legged egrets

recharging by sunlight
they wait for day’s end
to burst into life
their inner bulbs glowing

amidst ever-changing
polychromatic globes
they stand regally
throughout the night

Poem 375    April 20, 2014      (up to top)

doggie died

our youngest grandson had just turned two
i was on the phone with our daughter
she asked do you want to talk to eliyahu?
sure i said grimacing
it’s such a struggle to understand him
let alone carry on a conversation …
his first two words were
doggie died
i flinched at his words
that half-sounded like a question
yeah i said
jimmy’s gone
and i miss him so much

several months passed by
we’ve heard that eli’s talking in full sentences
we’re on the phone when his mom says
someone wants to talk to you
he’s gets on
says your doggie’s gone
again with the half-question lilt
i say yeah eli he is
then he says and you miss him a lot
i tell him i miss my boy every day
i don’t tell him i’m crying a bit less these days
i don’t tell him i sometimes miss him so much it aches
i do tell him but i’m gonna hug and squeeze you next time i see you

now can you give the phone back to mommy?

Poem 376    April 20, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 15

cut-rate cutlery

plastic flatware trays

passover still

Poem 377    April 21, 2014      (up to top)

imitation of marriage

when i was twenty or so
i yearned to be married
… not to get married
but to be married

i was hot and heavy about
some girl at the time –
maybe it was jessica or vickie –
i can’t remember which –
and we bought
cheap marriage band facsimiles
from a sidewalk peddler

i exhibited mine with pride
like a blushing bride to be
hoping that someone
would hold me in higher regard

and when i commuted to college
i drove one-handed
window wide open
elbow perched on the sill
my ring finger prominent
so another driver
might magically notice
might care to admire
my replica marriage

Poem 378    April 25, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 16

mobile phone plops

into porta potty

dropped call

Poem 379    April 25, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 17

silver-haired lady

garden spade bulbs seeds

beauty forever

Poem 380    April 27, 2014      (up to top)

dog license renewal

an innocuous business envelope
from the hempstead town clerk …
inside was jimmy’s dog license renewal

at first i put the form aside
then decided to notify them
that jimmy had died

the assistant clerk said
i’m so very sorry
i got choked up
then thanked her for her kind words

several days later
another envelope from the clerk
inside were three sheets …
a screen-capture printout
with jimmy’s status as D

a dog’s prayer
ending with
hold me gently in your arms
as skilled hands grant me
the merciful boon of eternal rest –
and i will leave you
knowing with the last breath i draw
my fate was ever safest
in your hands

and
just this side of heaven lies the rainbow bridge
which has these lines
together the animals chase and play
but the day comes when a pet will suddenly stop
and look into the distance …
bright eyes intent
eager body quivering
suddenly recognizing you
your pet bounds quickly
across the green fields
and into your embrace
you celebrate
in joyous reunion
you will never again separate
with the last line …
you cross the rainbow bridge together

— for Eileen Crispyn, Hempstead Town Clerk's office
Poem 381    May 3, 2014      (up to top)

weed killer

i haven’t used
pesticides insecticides herbicides
on our yard
for over forty years
except for milky spore bacteria
to control japanese beetle grubs

this is the first year
we’re letting a landscaper
rebuild our lawn
by first killing the weeds
then applying top soil peat moss and seeds

but we have an arrangement –
i will still be edging and mowing the lawn
except when we’re away
or if i just don’t feel like it
then they will come and mow

i like that flexibility
i’ve mowed and raked and fertilized our yard
since we moved in
except for a three-week period one april
five years ago
after a cardiac event

i like doing most of the work myself
though raking and filling countless plastic bags
every autumn is backbreaking and exhausting

i’ve been mowing lawns for almost sixty years
i get turned on by turning unruly disorder
into a freshly-mowed sweet-smelling lawn
with straight indentation lines from the wheels

i’ve given up cleaning the gutters
at the behest of my wife
– who likes frozen hands in december? –
but if water is spilling over during a downpour
i’ll take my tree pruner
with a long metal hook bolted to one end
and go out to clear the clog

i abhor the feeling and thought
of diminished physical capacity …
i want to be like mr hale
our neighbor from across the street
who did all of his yard work
into his eighties

it’s easy to entrust onerous jobs to others
by simply hiring them
it’s only money i’m told
what’re ya saving it for?
you wanna take it to the grave?
but those who say these things
don’t appreciate what it’s like
to be me

Poem 382    May 4, 2014      (up to top)

a peanut for little bubba

every couple of days
when i’m putting out the suet
filling the feeders
getting ready to scatter
handfuls of unshelled peanuts
one audacious squirrel
skitters just close enough
to take a peanut
from my outstretched hand

sometimes his tiny claws
touch my skin
as he accepts his treasure

as he scampers away
i say where ya goin’ little bubba?
even after he chews open the shell
to munch on its contents
he never returns for another
until after i’m gone

Poem 383    May 4, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 18

passover has passed

horseradish now sprouting

safe until next spring

Poem 384    May 4, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 19

binge-watching dexter

oh to be free

to wreak vengeance

Poem 385    May 4, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 20

did all three puzzles

in the magazine section

now on to bed

Poem 386    May 4, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 21

glistening

royal blue stilettos

stuffed with puffy feet

Poem 387    May 7, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 22

behind strip mall

oil-blackened sidewalk

iridescent puddle

Poem 388    May 7, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 23

debris in brook

murky meandering

pair of mallards paddling

Poem 389    May 7, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 24

atop aged building

soot-stained chimneys

mockingbird singing

Poem 390    May 8, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 25

bleach blonde high heels

once-stunning face

husband in hospice

Poem 391    May 8, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 26

in a miniskirt

liquid hips luscious lips

untouchable

Poem 392    May 8, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 27

white tulips so pure

perfect

for a child's funeral

Poem 393    May 10, 2014      (up to top)

lucky duck

they were outside smoking
on the nassau boulevard sidewalk
the thirty- or forty-something couple
looking a bit older perhaps
because of smoking and drinking
or just not being fulfilled

i’ve seen them before –
maybe not these particular two
but others so much like them
outside the shamrock south
lisa’s lounge menna’s main event
especially flanagan’s
a fictional tavern in a story i wrote –
his hair was barely combed … his face was unshaven
a shlump my mother would say
trying to hit on get into the pants of
a forty-ish woman trying to pass for half her age
in a tank top miniskirt and shtup-me boots
refusing to shiver in the evening chill

in front of the lucky duck
restaurant and bar
two lonely souls
were trying to relate to hook up
or simply be together
if just for the time it took
to finish a cigarette

Poem 394    May 20, 2014      (up to top)

fixing the ol’ black & white

in my young teens
i was the designated repairman
when the old zenith black & white
went on the fritz

vertical hold and contrast
were continuing problems
i’d unplug the tv … usually
unscrew the masonite backing
pull out several vacuum tubes
careful to keep their pins straight
place them in a brown paper bag
with tissue paper cushioning
ride my bike down to dad’s rexall store
and check them with a tube tester –
pushing them softly into the required slot
then reading the quality meter …
6L6 6BQ5 6SC7 and 12AX7
became a part of my new lexicon

then i’d ride home
with a tube or two in their tiny boxes
and replace them
into their proper slots

it was magic when the ol’ black & white
once again turned on
for the cisco kid and the lone ranger
mouseketeers and oh that annette
zacherley and tom and jerry
gunsmoke and have gun will travel
groucho marx and ed sullivan
and the brightness was just right
and the picture no longer skipped
and skipped
and skipped

Poem 395    May 20, 2014      (up to top)

floodgate of tears

when my mother-in-law died
when my brother died
when our wheaten terrier died
my long-suppressed
floodgate of tears
opened up wide

but especially the death of our dog
who was so entrenched in our lives
occupying nooks and crannies in our house
lying on his favorite spots in the yard
or watching me like a benevolent foreman
while i weeded and raked

everywhere we walk
contains memories
that surface unbidden
we’re forced to remember
then we smile
and cry

Poem 396    May 23, 2014      (up to top)

fat

i’ve been fat
for as long as i can remember
pleasantly plump
when my mother was kind
tubbish from tub of shit
when my father wasn’t
husky and portly
according to the clothing store
overweight and obese
according to my pulmonologist
heavyset chunky beefy
flabby lard-assed gross
and unutterable profane words to myself
when i dared to look
– truly look –
in the fuckin’ mirror

it’s not cute
in second grade
to be wearing dungarees
with ten-inch cuffs
because the waist size was right

it’s not fun
to have to worry
about the tensile strength
of a bicycle frame

it’s not enjoyable
to eat everything in sight
worry what people might think
and abhor myself later

i once hit one sixty-nine
for a coupla minutes one summer
when i was running marathons
doing six- and eight-mile
training runs
in the mid-day heat

but the weight found its way back
the despicable number on the scale
inched and leapt its way upward
when i dared to get on it

i hated to be weighed
at the doctor’s office
big-boned didn’t cut it
heavily-muscled was no excuse

two-sixty-two was my most recent high
a historical high …
you’ve gotta lose some weight
the pulmonologist said
he didn’t add
that it’s killing me

i’ve been working at it
for the past two months
i’ve been eating less
one bowl of cereal instead of two
several pretzels in a bowl
instead of eating from the bag
less processed carbohydrates
less fat-laden snacks
sharing meals out
still riding my bike
still walking many miles
… so far
i’m doing well

we have two scales …
yesterday the higher one read
two-forty-two point two
the lower one read
two-thirty-four point seven
i’d like to believe the lower one
but the higher reading
is more accurate

despite a number on a scale
i’m still fat
and always will be
for as long as i live

Poem 397    May 23, 2014      (up to top)

ice cream in the file cabinet

i worry about my memory
forgetting a phone number
forgetting someone’s name
forgetting a specific word
i’ve prided myself on my memory
now i’m no longer so sure

but it’s natural i’m told
maybe there’s so much more
to remember these days
maybe it’s a result of aging
i certainly hope it’s not
the big A or the big D –
alzheimer’s or dementia

my friend was worried and upset
he found a melted ice cream container
in the top drawer of a file cabinet
he knew it wasn’t his wife’s doing
he feared it was tangible evidence
that he was losing it

shit happens we reassured him
it wasn’t necessarily a sign of A or D
but perhaps simple absent-mindedness
but then we joked and kidded him
so afraid of our own frailties

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

— Appeared in Freshet 2014, a Fresh Meadows Poets Anthology
Poem 398    May 23, 2014      (up to top)

american flag blues

memorial day weekend
outside an elementary school
miniature flags pressed into the ground
circled pine trees and maples

in my gut were pangs of contempt
carried forward a half century
from when our red white and blue
was usurped by jingoistic hawks
who sent young boys
half a world away
to fight an old man's war
based on lies
based on idiotic assumptions
about the domino effect
of having all of southeast asia
overrun by the so-called communist scourge

and half a century ago
those american flag decals
those american flag patches
those american flags flapping on car antennas
made me loathe my flag
the symbol of a country
that once stood for freedom
a country that welcomed our grandparents
that provided us
a glorious land of opportunity

i am angry and disgusted still ...
and i am angry and disgusted
that i am still
angry and disgusted
about the travesty and atrocity
the polarization and acrimony
perpetrated on my country
by generals and politicians
so many years ago

i cannot forget
nor can i forgive

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2015

Poem 399.1    May 24, 2014      (up to top)

helicopter overhead

every time
i hear a helicopter throbbing
i’m brought back
to the beginning scene
of apocalypse now …
as the end by the doors opens
helicopter rotors swoop slowly
hypnotically in from the corner
of the audience’s perception
then behind
over a jungle canopy
that bursts into flame
like a deadly flower …

or a later scene
when robert duvall’s helicopters
perform an operatic napalm strike
on a viet cong-held beach
so martin sheen’s willard
can continue upriver
into forbidden cambodia
to terminate
with extreme prejudice
a rogue colonel kurtz
played by marlon brando

the sound of the low-flying helicopters
at the jones beach air show
or when a police helicopter circles overhead
searching for criminals
is noticeably different
from the ethereal sound –
the whoop whoop whoop
of rotors and turbines
deconstructed with synthesizers
then artificially recreated
and enhanced for the movie
in four- or five-tracks
for an output that ranges
from realism to hyperrealism
to surrealism

that inventive visionary film
i saw thirty-five years ago
in a now-defunct baldwin theater
has altered my perceptions
and made an inordinate impression
on a what is usually
a mundane experience

Poem 400    May 26, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 28

gentle sprinkles

unsettling hiatus

then the downpour

Poem 401    May 27, 2014      (up to top)

starlings join us for brunch

i’ve put out bird seed and suet
an onion roll and peanuts
and they’re at it again at the feeding station
those annoying demanding starling babies
clad in drab gray-brown feathers

though those rambunctious babies
– just as large as their harried parents –
are perched right next to that soft roll
they are still squawking to be fed
still squawking for seeds and suet
still squawking and brawling
still being downright raucous
obnoxious and aggravating

i imagine that their sleek parents
in black and speckled plumage
who are feeding them beak to beak
are complaining enough already!
we can’t stand it anymore!
when are ya gonna grow up?

the cacophony is so loud
that even i want to shout
would ya knock it off already!
would ya let me read my paper in peace?

yesterday
i noticed one of those babies
was all by himself
pecking at the suet

today
several particularly pugnacious ones
were squabbling
over a new block
i had just put out

it won’t be long
before those babies
are able to fend for themselves
and leave their parents behind
in finally!
a peaceful and quiet
empty nest

Poem 402.1    June 3, 2014      (up to top)

riding the streets

they tell me i’m crazy
riding my bike on the streets
of nassau county …
where the hell else
am i going to ride?
i ask galled and defensive

i think i know where they’re coming from
they’re all older than i am –
by eleven years or more –
i’m no spring chicken myself mind ya
but i resent the fear and self-doubt
their own projections
and thus their calamitous proclamations
have evoked

in my darker moments
i do wonder when i will have to
hang up the new sidi bike shoes
i bought just last fall
as a fuck you denunciation
of the fear-mongers
and of my own uncertainty

i know over time
we all lose reaction time
quickness and flexibility …
demanding my own four-feet-wide swath
of peninsula boulevard and park street
of old country road and jerusalem avenue
while monitoring traffic around me and ahead
timing traffic signals
scanning side streets
checking my rear view mirror
watching for cracks and potholes
requires a lot more attention
than doing lazy loops in my neighborhood
which i imagine
those opinionated farts
would somewhat good-naturedly
prescribe for me
but i wouldn’t get what i consider a decent workout
i couldn’t without repetition
travel the thirty or forty miles
i do when i’m out on the streets
and i also wouldn’t get …
that all-encompassing
unreproducible rush

yeah … i could pack my recumbent in the van
and head out to the bicycle paths …
to bethpage and jones beach
to the long beach boardwalk
or around and around in eisenhower park …
maybe that’s what it’ll come to
eventually

but not today
and i hope
not any time soon

Poem 403    June 3, 2014      (up to top)

mea culpa

ever since high school
it’s bothered me
how unforgivably we treated sandy w
how cruel we were to john f

sandy … who’d acquired a reputation
for being loose … easy … a quick lay
nowadays she’d be known as a slut
but no one in my circle
of equally vicious rumormongers
had evidence of her ill repute
did not even know someone
who had his way with her
yet we smeared and vilified her

john … who walked the halls
of our high school with a subtle swish
we snickered about his being
a faggot a fruit a homo
we stayed away from him
ridiculed him behind his back
at a most vulnerable adolescent time
when he least needed
isolation and shunning

this isn’t an a-a confession
but i need to admit to god
to ourselves
and to another human being
the exact nature of our wrongs –
the sin of lashon hara or evil tongue …
derogatory speech about another person
and the sin of motzi shem ra …
making untrue and slanderous remarks
about someone innocent …
someone who certainly didn’t need
tsuris and aggravation
heaped upon him

though i cannot make amends
to those who i hurt
fifty years ago
i somehow hope that
there’ll be a karmic accounting
and in the end
my sincere and humble apology
to you sandy
and to you john
will somehow be heard

Poem 404.1    June 9, 2014      (up to top)

t & a

if i were twenty years older
t & a would mean tits and ass
and i’d be all aglow and atwitter
but at age five
t & a meant tonsils and adenoids
which were to be removed
because of swelling and infections …
sixty years ago
maybe it was the thing to do

i remember not going to kindergarten that day
walking with my father up utica avenue
to the irt station at eastern parkway
standing at the front of the head car
watching as the train rumbled
above livonia avenue
through brownsville
and east new york …
it was fun being alone with my father
especially since he worked long hours
at the pharmacy

at the doctor’s office i remember
that suffocating smell of ether
a mask held over my face
being forced to inhale
as everything went dark

we took a taxi home after
– another rare occurrence –
and ice cream was waiting for me –
ice cream hand-packed
at the soda fountain on the corner

for over sixty years
i have still been plagued
by sinus trouble and colds …
asthma and bronchial problems

maybe the tonsillectomy
and adenoidectomy helped
maybe it didn’t accomplish a damn thing
but i did have a special day
with my dad …
and lots of ice cream too

Poem 405    June 9, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 29

a mother’s death

an empty house

echoes

— One of ten winners in the 9th annual Performance Poets Association Haiku Contest, 2018

Poem 406    June 11, 2014      (up to top)

tanka 4

solemn services

worshiping an almighty

trembling within

longing for resurrection

fuckin’ mumbo jumbo

Poem 407    June 15, 2014      (up to top)

frozen faces

ancient man in a wheelchair
under a building’s tattered canopy
his mouth agape
that ominous slackened jaw
glazed eyes staring at passers-by
perhaps unseeing
perhaps uncomprehending

ear-budded caregiver
standing beside him
insolent affectless expression
staring at his smartphone
thumbs moving
like a tarantula’s limbs
dancing over the keyboard

a young man killing time
an old man running out of time

Poem 408    June 18, 2014      (up to top)

solo expeditions to frenchy’s

several times in my young teens
i rode my three-speed english racer
an astonishing two and a half miles
to frenchy’s bike shop the next town over

more than a half century ago
the desolate stretch of union boulevard
between islip and bay shore
was bordered by woods and marshes …
there were no schools no doctor’s office
no garden apartments no commercial buildings –
just scrub oak and poison ivy on both sides

according to google maps
the riding time estimate is fifteen minutes
but back then it was a trek –
a daunting ride for a lone thirteen-year-old

at the greasy rundown garage
where my parents had bought my bike
i’d splurge on an accessory
have something simple repaired
or just hang around
until it was time to head for home

who’d a thunk that fifty years later
this sexagenarian would still be out riding
now on a twenty-seven speed recumbent
with hydraulic brakes and high-end components
and averaging thousands of miles every year

Poem 409    June 19, 2014      (up to top)

my mini-cadillac

i don’t remember ever riding in a cadillac 1986 blue Toyota Camry LE.jpg

not even to a funeral
i’ve joked that the first and only time
might be in a hearse

but for sixteen years
i drove what my auto mechanic called
a mini-cadillac –
a dark blue 1986 toyota camry le
the best in the consumer reports listings

i stopped behind one yesterday …
from the driver’s seat of my honda odyssey
this dingy gray model looked so small …
so dangerously small
and to think
i’d commuted to brooklyn in mine
close to three thousand times –
until it and i retired in 2002

in its time my camry was luxurious
plush blue velvet upholstery
super-comfortable seats
excellent handling and gas mileage
nimble and quick for a four-cylinder

one time my car had been stolen and recovered
the stereo was replaced with an inferior model
the dashboard was no longer like new
i’ve been emotionally bound to every car i’ve had
and i felt … violated

over time
which waits for no man and no car
my camry began to deteriorate
electric windows worked intermittently
a trunk lock had been broken into so often
i could replace it in minutes
a jerry-rigged headlight
that barely passed inspection
a metal hanger for an antenna
a rusting floor pan
and worst … a musty mildewy smell

after more than two hundred thousand punishing miles
my bantam-weight japanese sedan
could no longer be considered
a mini-cadillac

Poem 410    June 24, 2014      (up to top)

the queen of the berries

she can spot blueberries at a hundred paces
she’s the queen of the berries
the quintessential berry afficionado
in pursuit of blackberries and raspberries
blueberries and juneberries and mulberries
and once she locates their glorious source
there’s a feast to be had
a feast to end all feasts

there’s no patience for gathering
carrying away for later
there’s living only for those moments
of fructosic rapture
explosions of flavor
gastronomic bliss

i join her in her quest
revel in the spoils
and after … we journey on
with satiated bellies
stained sticky fingers
and smiles on our faces

— for Vivien

Poem 411    June 24, 2014      (up to top)


fisherman at the wharf

he sits alone
on an inverted plastic bucket
a dour dark-skinned man
in an oversized white t-shirt
faded baggy denim jeans
unlaced army boots
his shirt billowing
in the tropical southerly gusts

when he’s so moved
he picks himself up
retrieves the fishing rod
leaning against the worn wooden fence
starts reeling it in
pull then wind
pull then wind
shaft of the rod
arcing under the strain

when it’s close enough
he hauls up the line
entangled with dazzling green kelp
yanks it off
tosses it aside

he reaches into a plastic bag
for bait for the hooks
checks the spool and reel
and with a smooth sinewy motion
casts his weighted line
into the middle of the channel

he leans his rod against the fence
sits down on the bucket
reaches for a rag
wipes off his hands
and once again
gazes into the distance

Poem 412    June 26, 2014      (up to top)

love learned … love lost

i’ve been the so-called loving Jimmy, July 2013, after grooming

son husband father grandfather
but i truly learned to love
from loving and being loved
by a goofy and gentle
sweet wheaten terrier
who died seven months ago

even after my father died
even after my mother died
even after my brother died
i never so acutely felt
the profound sense of loss
that i had – and still have –
from the veterinarian-assisted death
in my arms
of just a dog

i gaze at his post-grooming picture on the screen
the shots in my smartphone’s gallery
the myriad images of his shenanigans in my memory
and still i can’t help it …
i start to tear up

i miss jimmy so much
i miss loving my best doggie
… my friend

Poem 413    July 7, 2014      (up to top)

my mother at one hundred

today’s july 7 – her birthday
my mother would’ve been a hundred years old …
she’d always pointed out with pride
that july 7 was also gustav mahler’s birthday
as if there was a connection or correlation
between my mother’s squandered talents
and the genius and renown of her favorite composer

sylvia’s been gone fourteen years …
she rushed down to florida
thirty-seven years ago
just months after my father’s death
to join the exodus of northeastern jews
to the new subtropical promised land

i couldn’t – we couldn’t
leave our children behind like she did
our oldest son was five when she cleared out
she couldn’t stand the cold
was plagued by arthritis
but it was a huge loss to us
and i wonder if it was likewise for her

though we spoke on the phone every saturday
when long-distance rates were cheapest
i’m so ashamed in retrospect
that we hadn’t stayed in closer physical contact …
i could count on one hand
the number of times
we flew or drove south …
however she did visit every summer
but for ten days only
five days with my family
five days with my brother’s
between dates coinciding with the maturation of her cd’s …
so she claimed
maybe it was as difficult for her staying with us
as it was for us being with her

towards the end
it was so awfully painful
to see a once dynamic quirky free-thinking woman
hunched and folded into a fetal-like position
in a dialysis center treatment chair
or to see her staring over my right shoulder
a bewildered look on her face
imploring lloydie … are you there?

she had made her own way …
and she made the choice
to stay in her condo
with 24/7 care …
and even at the end
while we conferred by cellphone
with her extraordinary caregiver
it was sylvia
who so adamantly decided
she’d had enough of dialysis
and wanted to put an end
to it all

Poem 414    July 7, 2014      (up to top)

smoke signals

my writing ideas are like smoke signals
so scintillating against a cloudless sky …
unless they’re seized and remembered
they will dissipate and vanish

Poem 415    July 9, 2014      (up to top)

times square at dusk (abr)

i stand in awe
at the midway
of intergalactic pizzazz
gaping at dazzling displays
news crawls flashy facades
blitzed by twang and slang
car horns and hubbub
but the clamor will subside
this vampiric phantasmagoria
will be klean-stripped away
by the cosmic light show
called dawn

— Appeared in Poets Almanac, 2016

Poem 416    July 22, 2014      (up to top)

phantom visitor

a warm afternoon at van saun park
my daughter’s family my wife and i
were crossing to the parking lot
a small convertible stopped
the driver waved us across
two dogs were sitting
with the passenger in the front seat
our grandchildren laughed
four human and dog faces
in their windshield

after i crossed
my mind morphed
their mutt at the side window
into a wheaten terrier
my dead wheaten terrier –
with his big terrier head
and i was at that window
scratching under his ears
just like jimmy and i loved it …
the feeling of wheaten hair
under my fingers and nails
so palpable so real

a second or two later
as i reached the parking lot
alone i silently cried

Poem 417    July 27, 2014      (up to top)

uphill angst

after my cardiac event five years ago
i was prescribed metoprolol
and several other medications

my doctor said that beta blockers
slow down heart rate
i wish i had known this before
i got back on my bicycle
when i set out on a ride …
it took twenty minutes of pedaling
to counter the drug’s effect on my body
especially if i was riding north
into a prevailing wind

i got used to these twenty-minute warm-ups
felt the sense of kicking into a higher gear
as heart rate finally synchronized with exertion

during decades of riding
an occasional challenge
has been an uphill stretch
on the eastbound l i e service road
it’s always served as a defining moment
of how physically able i am …
plus the award for the exertion
is the thrilling descent that follows
when i race past the ferrari-maserati dealer
at 35 or 40 miles per hour

on my most recent ride
as i turned from sunnyside boulevard
onto the service road
my rear tire flatted
i had to remove the rear wheel
and work through
the annoying but exacting process
at which i’ve become quite adept

after checking for more puncture points
after inserting a new tube
after remounting the tire
after inflating to 100 pounds
after reinstalling the wheel
after readjusting the brake
after stripping off latex gloves
after packing the tire irons away
after several swigs of gatorade
i realized that it had taken
about fifteen or twenty minutes
and i still had to ride up that hill

i became anxious
i knew how labored
my breathing and heart rate had been
in previous rides up that hill …
but to attempt this from a cold start
made me consider turning back
but of course i didn’t
i’m too damn stubborn
i was already there
and didn’t want to give in
plus i wanted that downhill rush
so i downshifted
both chainwheel and freewheel
decided to take it easy …
it was the smoothest ascent ever
and i hit 34.1 miles per hour
on the downhill

… then i smiled

Poem 418    July 31, 2014      (up to top)

anxiety trap

i’m sick and tired
of worrying about bullshit

we’ve never had to worry about money
about having a roof over our heads
about children with debilitating problems
some people might say
we’ve been blessed

when we go away
even to new jersey …
i worry about what shoes to wear
about bringing something to read
especially about traffic
on the george washington bridge

but my real anxiety kicks in
like a hyperactive mule
when we’re traveling on vacation
though we’ve never slept in our car
though we’ve never missed a meal
though our cars have broken down
and we’ve had them towed and repaired
and despite gps and a pocketful of maps
we’ve gotten lost in london and paris and jerusalem
and always found our way

yet i still worry
too … damn … much
perhaps i’m more like my father
than i’ve realized
he got caught in his own debilitating anxiety trap –
if he worried about something
and if things turned ugly
then he was indeed right to worry
but if things turned out all right
then his worrying ensured a good outcome
and his worrying was thus justified

my own joy-sapping anxiety abscess
needs to be lanced
and drained away
xanax helps a lot
but doesn’t solve the problem

Poem 419    August 1, 2014      (up to top)

a moment of vulnerability

we’d finished our brunch at the diner
one guy couldn’t make it
another had left to do errands
we stack our plates
continue to shmooze
i ask my friend how’s your wife
they’d been married over sixty years
but she’s had two major strokes
and a series of minis in between
he’s with her 22/7
by choice and by devotion
he gestures with his hands and sighs
says you know … the same

but in the air
he draws a horizontal line with his finger
then a dip
continues the horizontal line
and another dip
says sometimes she’s so out of it
but then she … comes back

as his shoulders shrug he sighs
his eyes and face brighten
he sits straighter
sighs once again
says that’s where we’re all headed
you know … in the end

Poem 420.1    August 5, 2014      (up to top)

chicago chicago that toddlin’ town

we’ve been in chicago for several days
for a religious retreat
i ducked out for long afternoon walks
along lake michigan
past shedd aquarium and adler planetarium
past buckingham fountain and millennium park
with its sculptures and gardens
its free concerts and an aesthetic appreciation

but as i walked back to our hotel
along randolph and state streets
i saw only national-brand chain stores
macys and men’s warehouse
office depot and urban outfitters
pret a manger and forever 21

the lack of local character was confounding
the mallization of the main drags was depressing
so antithetical to the creative environment
along the lake

but on another walk
along wabash avenue and under the el
there were local stores with distinct local flavors
flat-top stir fry grill and harold’s chicken shack
george’s cocktail lounge and buddy guy’s legends
terenze boutique and mon ami jewelry
… my appreciation for that wonderful town
was summarily restored

Poem 421    August 7, 2014      (up to top)

august 10, 2014

forty five years today …
that’s how long we’ve been married
we joke 23 for her … 22 for me
most people will smile and laugh

forty five years
we’ve lived together …
in our early years
we worried about my being drafted
my becoming cannon fodder
in the vietnam war

we worried about my working
in inner city public schools
a high school turning sour
about driving to brooklyn everyday
on the damnable belt parkway
… four years almost exclusively
on honda motorcycles
i sold the second after a minor accident
after an ultimatum from my wife
but in the first wipe out
at sixty-five near pennsylvania avenue
i almost lost my life …
and this occurred just two weeks
after my wife almost died
from an ectopic pregnancy
and two weeks before
my father’s heart gave out

forty-five years
with two children …
a boy then
now a suffolk county plainclothes officer
with two maturing tween-age sons
and a girl then
now a woman a mother
with three delicious younger boys
… five grandsons in all …
who would’ve thought
all this would’ve transpired
when we were fogging up the windows
under the verrazano bridge

so you see …
this is a love poem to vivien
my wife of forty five years
who despite our silliness and craziness
despite our differences and stubbornness
… or maybe because of th0se things …
i will love honor and cherish
’til death do us part

Poem 422    August 10, 2014      (up to top)

readying for show time

mid-august
a lush wall of green
glistening trifoliates
bathe in the sun

look here … a crimson leaf
over there … a golden orange triplet
and lower … two mocha purple leaves

ominous in their oiliness
mounds of poison ivy are morphing
from unpretentious yet sinister
to enchanting
and downright treacherous

Poem 423    August 12, 2014      (up to top)

our scales of injustice

if our electronic scales seem to be toying with us
it’s business as usual

we foot-tap on top
let the readout become zero
step on
exhale
await the severe decree

we have two scales side by side
the one that reads higher
is the one we beseech and implore

but there are problems
each scale itself is not always consistent
and the scales themselves are not consistently different
… so much for computerized precision

here’s one from the case files …
i came home from a long bike ride
weighed myself before my shower – 222 point 6
then after – 222 point 1
and the lower one read 216.8 then 217.4

another …
we came home from successive six-day vacations
after eating ourselves silly
or not so assiduously watching what we consumed
– it depends on one’s point of view –
… when we weighed ourselves
we’d gained almost nothing
which unleashed a fanfare of timpani and trumpets

maybe the scales were happy to see us
maybe they had sympathy for us
however after several days home
and we were back on the derech
the road of righteous eating –
the scales began reading higher again

maybe they’re like woody allen’s appliances
maybe they are out to get us
these machines of silicon and steel
maybe have their own code of ethics
regarding indignation and intolerance
reality and reprisal

maybe we should get back at them …
purchase an eye-level beam scale
like the ones in our doctors’ offices
the kind we absolutely hate
because they are undeviatingly accurate
and demoralizingly uncomplimentary
unlike the ones we have at home
that seem to be undeniably
fucking with us

Poem 424    August 20, 2014      (up to top)

missing my brother at the newseum

my brother died almost a year ago
but he’d been dying inside for some time

on our recent visit to washington
we visited the newseum
the museum that so eloquently displays
the history of the internet freedom of the press
media broadcasts videos photos
a wall of eighty daily newspapers from around the world
… my brother would have loved
to have been there with us

steve was a teenager
when he delivered the new york times
to teachers’ mailboxes
and was subsequently invited to the times building
then on forty-third street in manhattan
for a memorable guided tour

but he loved newspapers longer than that
i remember our publishing our own
when he was eleven and i was five
he wrote the articles
and printed them in ink
between columns ruled with a pencil
including all the news that’s fit to print
in a box in the upper lefthand corner
while i more or less sat around

throughout his life
steve cut articles out of the times
hand-wrote the date on them
and filed them in manila folders …
he not only read the paper
but processed and absorbed the news
in his own idiosyncratic way

but aging and his demons
caught up with him
he found it no longer as convenient
to drive to the convenience store
to buy the times
but rejected the idea of home delivery
he found it no longer as pleasurable
to keep up with the stack of newspapers
taunting him on his desk
he found it no longer as meaningful
to plow through newspapers
that smelled not of ink but of mildew

he eventually stopped going out
for a daily cup of coffee and to buy the paper
claimed it was too much to handle …
the bipolar beast and o c d
feasted on and consumed the joy
that the times for years had given him

as the consummate news junkie
he would have loved the newseum …
even though he wasn’t physically with us
he was there in spirit and in our hearts
… for him his visit would have been sublime

Poem 425    August 20, 2014      (up to top)

brooklyn circa 1950

my dad and i walked up utica avenue
stopping as usual at joe’s kosher deli
for hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut
before joining my grandparents
and the old men speaking yiddish
who filled the eastern parkway benches
smoking aromatic pipes and cigars
amidst exhaust fumes and arcing electricity
from the new lots line rumbling underneath

i savor those balmy evenings
the amalgam of scents and accents
the taste of a shtickle chocolate licorice
the smell of freshly-delivered world telegrams
and early editions of the times
the tenderness of my dad’s hairy arm
lingering over my shoulders
my being part of a convivial way of life
that was so long ago

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 426.1    August 21, 2014      (up to top)

call of the wild

as i go downstairs
i hear a steady
high-pitched chirping
like a plague of frogs
coming from the kitchen
but it’s not the smoke alarm
nor the c o 2
it’s got to be an insect –
a cricket or a katydid
or some other such critter

i can’t find where it is damn it
it’s coming from over here
no … from over there
maybe under the newspaper
no … behind the pots
it’s so loud so shrill
it’s driving me crazy
but there’s no prayer in hell
i’m going to find it

today i realize there was
silence
whatever it was it was gone
sadly
i kind of miss it

Poem 427    August 29, 2014      (up to top)

haiku 30 – a & b

a

my youngest grandsons

climb up astride my lap

i kiss and squeeze them

b

they're two five and eight

climbing into my lap

for some grandpa lovin’

Poem 428    August 31, 2014      (up to top)

official rememberer

a yiddish phrase my mother used
laim’n a’gailem
popped into mind
like words often do
i thought it meant an ordinary person
but as in so many things yiddish
had a condescending connotation
i googled a phonetic spelling
searched yiddish dictionaries online
checked rosten’s the joys of yiddish
no suggestions … no results

so i reached for the phone
to call my brother
instantly realized
he’s been gone eleven months …
steve was the official rememberer
the guy who remembered
not only birthdays and anniversaries
but calculated the day events fell on
he knew a lot of yiddish
having lived around the corner
from our yiddish-speaking grandparents –
six more years than i

unless i find someone
who’s fluent in yiddish
what had popped into mind
will remain a puzzlement

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 36, August 2015

Poem 429    September 4, 2014      (up to top)

patriarch

with the death of my father
my stepfather-in-law
most recently my brother
i am now our family’s patriarch

i will extend my autocratic authority
as pater familias
over my extended family

i will lay down the law
expect absolute obedience
demand subservience
command reverence

that’s me all right
that’s what i will do
and if anyone dares
to get in my way
or tries to thwart what i desire
well …
i will have to negotiate
i will have to accommodate
after all
it’s my role
to keep the peace

so … let us all bow our heads
in abject submission

Poem 430    September 4, 2014      (up to top)

faking it

in the legend of my family
there appeared a swindler – a faikir
in my maternal grandmother’s accent
who used his wiles to con my grandparents
out of a diamond engagement ring …
thus passed down to us was distrust and the dictum –
you always have to be wary

when i read my poetry my stories
in front of an audience or a crowd
i wonder if i’m the faikir
and i’m just faking it …
not exactly like the when harry met sally deli scene
but i wonder if my stuff – and i – measure up
because i’m not like the raspy-voiced metronome
who’s been published and worshiped
i’m not like the shameless self-promoter
with a pile of books for sale
i’m not like the city-wise sharer
of scatological moments

when someone has told me i like what you’ve read
– and i’ve often said the same words and meant it … to an extent –
i’m still never quite sure
that i’m any more than a dilettante
simply patshkying – playing – with words
so they have meaning and sound good
… and just look good on a page

Poem 431    September 25, 2014      (up to top)

frenetic frantic sundays

i ride my bike
through the suburban wilds
of nassau county
avoiding like poison
the friday afternoon rush hour
when the texture of the traffic
is palpably faster and threatening

but previously lazy sunday afternoons
have also become out of control
with speeding oblivious drivers
blowing through changing yellows
ignoring no-turn-on-reds
their restlessness anger impatience
like fire ants tweaking on meth
but nowhere near as civilized

i trepidatiously ride on the roads
with these impulsive agitated bastards
hoping i’ll get home
in one piece

Poem 432    September 25, 2014      (up to top)

lowered expectations

a mad-tv segment called lowered expectations
satirized the difficulty in forming relationships
are you having trouble finding your ideal mate?
… how about any mate?
… do you fear that you’ll be that last man or woman on earth
still not getting any?

i sometimes wish i could lower my expectations
like finding a decent television show to watch
after thumbing through several hundred
or choosing a movie for adults
when most are aimed at hormonal teenagers or illiterate eight-year-olds
or savoring printed matter although there’s still so much to like
except lately i’ve been noticing so many errors
and so much utter stupidity

i’m sick of being treated like a moron
by high-minded politicians
mired in deceitfulness and low-life lunacy
exhausted walking through stop&shop and costco and cvs
with their seemingly unending supply of merchandise
and being driven by our economy’s frenzied mantra of
shop ’til you drop

i wish i could just go out and ride my bike
on a glorious autumn day
without at the end
having to sate the gluttonous odometer
that demands to reach a round number

and then there’s writing
which craves more than a word count
i wish when i write a poem or story
that i can be satisfied
with just one comprehensive edit
rather than the three or six or eight
that my standards compel
… then i’d be able to write a poem a day
or two or even five
i’d be able to finish a story
without agonizing about consistency and verb tense agreement
dangling participles and the horror of adverbs
flow and rhythm and the melody of words

if i trained myself to just lower my expectations
i could eat fast food with impunity
i could drink irresponsibly
i could subsist on the edge of despair
without giving a good goddamn
and then just maybe
i wouldn’t agonize
about having to make the best choice
but could make any choice
– maybe even the first impulsive choice –
that pops into
my oblivious myopic mind

Poem 433    October 11, 2014      (up to top)

tzimtzum

tzimtzum is a kabbalistic term
that explains how god began the process of creation
by contracting his infinite light
so a conceptual space could be formed
to allow finite realms
to exist

and in the lonely realms we inhabit
as we play out our worldly roles
we too need to carve out a space
within our case-hardened egos
to create a personal tzimtzum
– a garden … an oasis –
in which our love for others
can blossom and bloom –
a love for parent … lover … spouse … child
or sometimes even
a fundamental love
for ourselves

Poem 434.1    October 24, 2014      (up to top)

unwatchable

i’ve loved watching baseball on tv
especially the playoffs and world series
until recent years
when i realize how the fox network especially
in order to build up tension
for what they must perceive
as an audience with ultra-short attention spans
at crucial points near the end of a game
between every pitch
starts showing half a dozen video bytes –
close-ups of a fan with bill turned upward
a runner on base adjusting his crotch
a manager spitting a wad of tobacco juice
the opposing manager chewing gum
a banner hung over a tier
another fan with a worried look
between every pitch …
every damn pitch

instead of allowing
the inherent drama and beauty of the game
to build its own tension
fox’s practice is aggravating and exhausting

i remember the old days
– and here i sound like an old fogy –
when i watched baseball on a zenith black and white
when there were far fewer cameras
far fewer camera angles
far less distractions
and the game was exciting
i got to watch duke snider and willie mays …
and yes … the mick – mickey mantle – my hero
i even snapped a blurry photo off the screen
when roger maris hit his sixty-first home run

i also remember one afternoon
when announcers were on strike
and the game was broadcast
with only fan-noise in the background
and it was glorious

despite the superb picture quality
from the latest high definition cameras
i don’t need the extra hype
the empty calories of artificially-induced hoopla …
as leonardo da vinci said
simplicity is the ultimate sophistication
– and the most exciting

Poem 435    November 4, 2014      (up to top)

eyes almost shut tight

sometimes when i lie in bed
sit in the dentist’s chair
or when i’m in front of the computer
i close my eyes real tight
then unscrunch them just a bit
to see what i might see

at first there’s nothing …
but after a few seconds
abstract shapes appear
ghostly lines blotches rectangles
irregular circles and patterns
perhaps the glow
of early sunlight streaming
through the balcony door
or the dentist’s harsh halogens
maybe the glow off the screen

i wonder what other artifacts exist
in this neither world
between darkness
and sight

Poem 436    November 13, 2014      (up to top)

moments of clarity

1    i was overwhelmingly unhappy
after i got home from work
i started my run
on a cool overcast humid afternoon
the kind my asthma liked best

i was thinking about quitting my job
as high school programmer
i was informed that during the summer
an editing tool i had used
to efficiently enter the master schedule
would no longer work
– i’d be facing hours hand-typing
each 80-column line of text
an onerous tedious miserable job

as i approached silver lake
– twenty-five years later
i still remember exactly where –
the solution flooded into my consciousness
like an epiphany –
using a paradox database
and a custom report format
to be uploaded as a text file


2    i was often unsatisfied and dispirited
battling a dysfunctional bureaucracy
dealing with petty brainless colleagues
while fighting to maintain my integrity

when i unlocked the reinforced door to room 206
i discovered that the computer server
which i had set up
for my two s a t prep classes
had been stolen over the weekend
my ability to coach my students
and monitor their progress
would thus be severely limited

when i returned to my office
after my second class
i also found out
that there was an ongoing meeting
to which the principal
invited representatives of a software company
to adopt a new programming environment
a meeting to which i
the person who’d be most affected –
had not been invited

i didn’t know if it was purposeful
or possibly an oversight –
i had always been outspoken –
but to be disregarded that way
was a fucking insult
… so i stomped down the stairs
strode in
and took a seat anyway

i went running that afternoon
still crushed and bummed out
and as i headed north towards home
running as therapy still wasn’t working
– it wasn’t calming my hurt and anger –
but on the quiet path along milburn creek
i felt – maybe even heard –
a voice whispering in my ear
one word
sabbatical
sabbatical … yes … sabbatical

when i got home
still cold and sweaty
i opened the u f t contract
deciphered the regulations
called the borough office to double check
applied by the deadline
– which was that friday –
and i was granted
a full-year sabbatical
at seventy percent of my salary
for independent study

… and i was saved

Poem 437    November 14, 2014      (up to top)

invalidated

for the past sixty years
i’ve mowed lawns and raked leaves …
i’ve often thought
i wanted to be like irwin hale
our neighbor across the street
who into his eighties
pushed a gas-powered toro
across a double-wide yard

this past spring
we hired a landscaper
to rehabilitate our lawn
by power-raking
killing off weeds
adding yards of topsoil
seeding and fertilizing
… with the new sprinkling system
there’s little left for me to do

our landscaper said he’d be flexible …
if i wanted to take over the mowing
i could just call him in advance
… but i never did
and now they are dealing with the leaves
i don’t have to mow and mulch and rake
and stress my back and arms and legs
filling scores of 55-gallon kirkland drum liners
to be put out on the street
every wednesday morning

my pulmonologist said this was fortuitous
you don’t want to breathe in the spores
dust and mold and allergens he said
and since this past spring
i’ve stopped using
my twice-a-day asthma inhaler
my asthma is still well under control

i also no longer get agita watching oak leaves
blow onto our property from across the street
i no longer worry about a drenching rain
making a soggy mess of the leaves out back
i no longer try to cut corners
by raking the leaves onto huge piles in the street
hoping that the village will soon come around
to cart them away

but i feel invalidated
by giving up the jobs
that defined my virility
like cleaning gutters
with wet freezing fingers
on a blustery day
like slithering under the car
to change the oil
like using charles schwab
to manage our portfolios

on the other hand
i’ve been riding my bicycle
much further these warm autumn days
… further than ever before
and my health
– especially my breathing –
has been so much better

my wife says
i should stop being such a dickköpf
stop being so hard-headed
and enjoy what i’m doing
… she says at sixty-eight it’s about time
to let others
do the heavy lifting

but no matter what she says
and how logical it sounds
i’m still not entirely happy
about relinquishing
my longstanding
manly responsibilities

Poem 438    November 15, 2014      (up to top)

signal to noise ratio

though i admit
i’m a huge time-waster
i’m becoming ever more impatient
when my time is wasted by others
at meetings and readings
at classes and conferences and workshops

i see it as a problem of
a chronically low signal-to-noise ratio
– a proportion from communications
to quantify how much signal
is being corrupted by noise –
but which translates as
too little worthwhile content
versus too much extraneous bullshit

plus i have an abhorrence
to being hijacked –
emotionally and physically –
stuck in a situation
from which i can’t
extricate myself
being forced to put up with
stupidity and hostility
pontification and self-righteousness
being held captive to someone’s
why-should-i-give-a-damn
cause du jour

and i ask myself
what the hell am i doing here
why am i wasting precious moments
on nonsense and asininity

and i want to scream
get me the fuck out of here

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2015

Poem 439    November 16, 2014      (up to top)

stages

i’ve lived my life in stages
overlapping surges and themes
like waves
washing over me
at ocean’s shore
with swirling eddies
ripples and riptides
or flowing and ebbing
in sensual harmony

because of the ephemerality
for as long as i can remember
i’ve been mourning
the evanescence of life
the sudden or gradual ending
of all the stages
that define my existence

Poem 440    November 23, 2014      (up to top)

no soup for you

more than anyone in my family
my brother loved soup

before he arrived for our seder
for rosh hashanah
or thanksgiving dinner
my wife would prepare a pot
of matzoh ball
or chicken noodle soup …
once she made stoup
– a thick stew-like concoction
for which we all demanded seconds

but vivien often
met steve at the door
with a distraught look on her face
telling him that somehow
this time
the soup hadn’t been cooked
the stove wasn’t working
the ingredients were spoiled
the pot had been ruined
and she’d say
with the line out of seinfeld
no soup for you

but of course
there was soup
and it always made him
so very happy

— rest in peace, Steve  …  October 3, 2013
Poem 441    November 27, 2014      (up to top)

like

in the facebook world
people post pictures and videos
poems and observations
experiences and accomplishments
rants and raves
… and reactions called comments

below each is the word like in blue
or an icon of an upturned thumb
so one can click the word or the icon
to be added to the list of people
who presumably
like approve fancy
that which is being posted

but in the facebook world
with over one and a quarter billion
active monthly users
it’s time to have real feedback

for admirers it’d be
kinda like think it’s okay adore
or it’s mahvelous
… for cynics
a waste of pixels think it’s stupid abhor
or makes me wanna puke

or consider an eleven-point scale
from minus 5 to plus 5
from revulsion to reverence
an average score could be computed
a bar graph from red to green would be drawn
accompanied by yellow smiley faces
or devilish emoticons

my ideal facebook world
would not be dumbed down
by just a simple passive click
on a hyperlink in blue
but rather
would be dumbed up
by one’s active contemplation
of what really really matters

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 39, August 2016

Poem 442    December 6, 2014      (up to top)

outside 7-eleven at 10:30 pm

an obese man
in a stained gray sweatshirt
tattered nylon warm-ups
holding a medium-sized coffee
hoisted himself up
onto a car seat spewing stuffing
and into the cab
of a white ford pickup
spattered with mud

he grabbed the frame
around the open window
yanked the door closed
took out a pack of cigarettes
lit one with a match
took a drag
exhaled slowly
out of the side of his mouth

a gray-haired woman in an overcoat
walked by
stopped
pushed open the lid of a trash can
looked inside
rooted around
walked a few more steps
pulled out a metal cigarette box
lit a cigarette
inhaled
exhaled
turned
and went back to the garbage
checked it again
still finding nothing

hey mary …
wanna ride?

thanks charlie …
but i think i’ll walk

charlie coughed
wiped his mouth on his sleeve
took a sip
then another drag

mary crossed the highway
and continued
on her way

Poem 443    December 14, 2014      (up to top)

what utter b s

a new york times magazine ad …
you never actually own
a patek philippe
you merely take care of it for
the next generation

i googled patek philippe
found watches priced
from twenty thousand and up …
there was a grand complications
men’s watch – a men’s watch –
advertised for $871,200
marked down from 990 thousand
i could save twelve percent
and can get it
in only one to two weeks
with financing available
but if i needed it sooner …

i’ve been reading
the sunday magazine section
for as long as i can remember
the stories are sometimes compelling
the puzzles are challenging

but the ads
are what really challenge me
multi-million dollar apartments
super-luxury hotels
bny mellon wealth management
i am certainly not
in the stratosphere
of their chosen demographic

so i’ve learned
to let these reminders
of unattainable opulence
slide right on by
’cause they simply do not fit
into my chosen life style

close to a million for a watch?
you’ve gotta be kidding

Poem 444    December 14, 2014      (up to top)

front and center

polio parkinson’s cancer
geraldo rivera’s willowbrook expose
hiv autism alzheimer’s
ebola and all those pink bows
and now … drum roll please …
als and the ice bucket challenge

we’re awaiting
with wheezing breaths
the next disease du jour
that’ll seal the coffins
and open the coffers

mccarthyism and the red menace
military industrial complex
khrushchev gaveling his shoe
bay of pigs invasion
vietnam war watergate
grenada – remember that one?
iran israel iraq
nine-eleven and guantanamo
m r d’s obamacare
afghanistan and pakistan
failing schools common core
political intransigence
korean hackers and cuba again
and now …
shootings by police
shootings of police

with a snap of the fingers
a rap of the baton
it’s on to the next news cycle
the next sound byte
the next info fix
for an a d d society
hooked on heroin cocaine and meth
on adderall prozac and paxil
on zoloft abilify and oxycontin
floating along
on waves of o m g concern
tweeting and facebooking
googling and yahooing
mandating what we should think
how we should think
what to like
what to ignore
how to remain ignorant
how to become
less humane
less human
lessened

Poem 445    December 28, 2014      (up to top)

packin’ peanuts

the blue jays are at it again
squawking up a storm
while i’m sitting upstairs
in the bathroom

i have a hunch that they know
i’m up there
and they’re waitin’ on me
to get with the program –
cleaning out the birdbath
refilling the feeder
hanging up a suet cake
but most important
tossing out handfuls
of unshelled peanuts
from five-pound bags
we’ve bought by the case

while i fulfil my pre-breakfast tasks
i hear them flittering in the trees
calling to each other
waiting for me to go inside already
so they can dive down
jeering and cawing
in twos and fours and sixes
to scarf up their peanuts
and cart them away
lately they have a new tactic
something i hadn’t noticed before –
picking up an unshelled peanut
stuffing it in their cheek or gullet
then snatching another peanut
in their beaks
and flying off with two at a time

about half of our blue jays do it
perhaps it’s only one band of jays
with a mensa mutation
but i do wonder
how they learned
this highly effective method
of carrying away
a double load of peanuts –
a savory snack
to be enjoyed
at their leisure

Poem 446    January 1, 2015      (up to top)

unremembered

we have a calendar that appears on boot-up
showing various events and reminders
but also birthdays anniversaries and yahrzeits

on every birthday or anniversary
we call our son and daughter and grandsons
our brothers- and sisters-in-law
our nieces and nephews
and sing our own horrid
dog-howling far-off-key rendition
of the happy birthday song
adapted for anniversaries as needed

during the second week of august
we celebrate our anniversary then my birthday …
this past august we were in chicago
for a five-day conference
and we received
not one call
not one card mailed to our home
not one fucking acknowledgment
of our anniversary
zilch … nothing … nada … zero

it’s not like we were off-grid in alaska
in the amazon rain forest or on the serengeti …
the palmer house did have telephones
and we always carry our mobile devices
therefore
the lack of remembering
from those closest to us
was dumbfounding and disheartening

so we called them on it …
we sent out an email saying
it was so disappointing that we didn’t receive
one call today from any of you … not one
and
we appreciate that we are all so incredibly busy
and have other things on our minds …
but it hurts – it really hurts –
to have our special day forgotten

i wanted to use harsher more caustic language
but our email was a collaborative effort
and thus was toned down

but sometimes
inattentive family members
have to be reminded
what’s really important
from the big things that matter so much
to the small things
that keep families connected

… and i did receive phone calls
four days later
on my birthday
… though our awful singing
could never be outdone

Poem 447    January 14, 2015      (up to top)

discounted

my wife and i are of a certain age
we’ve been around the block
we’ve got the t-shirts
we’ve been there done that
… feel free to append your own cliché

so when our daughter called
told us they needed a new washing machine
we said you’ve gotta measure the frame
around the basement door first
we’d been there done that …
the first time we ordered
a large capacity machine
it couldn’t be installed
because we hadn’t measured beforehand …
and we then had to buy a smaller one

but they went ahead and ordered
the largest one available –
they have three young sons
who find it easier to throw clothes
into the hamper than to hang them up –
and there was no surprise to us
that it couldn’t be maneuvered
down to their basement
past a steel-framed door

oh … the wish to gloat
the wish to say i told you so
was so lusciously tempting

our son had chest pains
went to a cardiologist
had to wait an hour and a half
to see the nurse practitioner
my wife was apoplectic when she heard this
chewed my ear off his waiting so long …
a few days later
he had a stress test

after
he told us not to worry
that everything was okay
it was probably muscular-skeletal
but because something looked wonky
he needed to have an angiogram
but he didn’t want to be hocked about it
he didn’t want to talk about it any further

well
i’d been there done that … twice
had the cardiac event
had the stents installed
it was no fun freezing on the table
watching on the monitor
as a catheter was advanced
to the opening of my coronary arteries
yeah … we shouldn’t worry about his surgery
albeit minor
but still an invasive procedure
just because something seemed
a little wonky

his cholesterol is through the roof
his family’s eating habits
are damaging all four of them
yet we say nothing
we can say nothing
without sounding critical
without castigating them
without denouncing
their fast-food way of life

yes we have the t-shirts
but we’d give the skin off our backs
for them to be healthier

though we have years of experience
we’re still discounted and deprecated …
maybe they have to learn from their own mistakes
after all that’s how we learned
but why can’t they just sometimes
be willing to listen …
we’re not the enemy
we want the best for them
all we want
is the best for them

Poem 448.1    January 14, 2015      (up to top)

it’s better this way

jones beach boardwalk
twenty-five degrees
old glory snapping in westerly gusts

i was walking from parking field 6
hat and gloves and six thin layers
avashai cohen the bassist on my mp3
… i was right in the zone

as an approaching couple neared
she yawped it’s better this way
i was disrupted out of my flow
grimace-smiled said yeah thanks
knew she meant
that it was less exhausting
walking with the wind than against

but i wondered why she needed to tell me
why she needed to encroach
maybe they lead parallel lives
and don’t talk to each other
maybe he was sick of hearing her voice
maybe she was overly exuberant
and couldn’t contain herself
or maybe she thought
she was just being helpful

i continued all the way to west end 2
and back around
and she was wrong
it wasn’t better walking this way
yes it was less arduous
but i became a bit overheated
and the heavenly sun
was no longer
shining
on my face

Poem 449    January 16, 2015      (up to top)

young and dumb

i was fourteen fifteen maybe
watching the varsity basketball game
in the old islip high school gym

i forgot the score
i forgot whom the buccaneers were playing
but i vividly remember
sitting in the front row in the corner
and when the ball bounced out of bounds
picking it up
and when the referee ran over for it
making believe
i was going to heave it
right at his head

he ducked
a frightened look on his face
and i chortled
but to this day
i cannot shed the regret
the self-humiliation
about my thoughtlessness
my lack of consideration
my utter disregard
that he was just a regular guy
in black and white stripes –
maybe even a moonlighting teacher –
out on the court
doing a noble courageous job

Poem 450    January 18, 2015      (up to top)

walking the streets

23 degrees and blustery
seven degree wind chill
out on the streets again
doing five … six … seven miles maybe
walking on salt-stained roads
awash with pebbles and sand and detritus
over cracked concrete fissures
around suspension-battering potholes
along unrelenting piles of filthy frozen snow

wearing two hats and two pairs of gloves
six insulating layers inside a windbreaker
listening to a radiolab podcast
to drown out the foreboding
about the condemnation and scorn
that’s going to be heaped upon me
by the readout of a cruel and heartless digital scale

wondering how much damage was done
by the forkfuls of peanut butter
shoveled out of a jar of smucker’s natural
by the medjool dates and sun-dried figs
by the handfuls of trader joe’s chocolate cat cookies
by the soup bowl brimming with sweet chili popcorners
mary’s crackers and stacy’s pita chips …
we no longer bring ice cream into our house

for sure … it’s going to be the extra long loop today
gotta make up for last night’s transgressions

Poem 451    February 20, 2015      (up to top)

golden years

my friend asked for my help
carrying the unwieldy parts
of an old hospital bed
out to the curb

his wife had several major strokes
multiple mini ones
suffers from cognitive decline
physical breakdown
and now lies inert
on her spanking new hospital bed
in their den turned sickroom

it was around noon when i visited
while an aide spoon-fed her lunch
i waved hello in her field of vision
but her wide-open unblinking eyes
like tiny disks of onyx
stared straight ahead
stared without seeing …
he said she’s better in the morning
i thought she sundowns so early

he’s also getting rid of the hoyer lift
no purpose having it …
with acute bedsores
she can’t sit in a wheelchair
has to be turned every half hour
he can’t do it anymore
and for much of the twenty-four hours
there’s no one there to help

his latest email ended with
these are our golden years

Poem 452    March 12, 2015      (up to top)

gettin’ high

it’s been twenty-eight years
since i’ve smoked a joint
lit up a corncob pipe
though i’ve wanted to
… you know …
take a toke
taste the hot smoke
whooshing through my lips

when i see someone on tv
or in the movies taking a puff
i still involuntarily
find myself taking a drag
feel the imaginary smoke
hissing through my tightened lips
… old habits are hard to break

until twenty-eight yeas ago
it had gone on daily
several times a day sometimes
but it was rarely high-priced hawaiian
or wacky weed …
and i always worried
it wasn’t laced with p c p
or agent orange
the scourge during those years
and it definitely definitely
didn’t have the potency
of what’s out there today
it - it being … okay i’ll admit it …
the need – some say an addiction –
ran its course through my life
smoking on the front porch before dinner
sometimes in the car
even sometimes on the way to work
during regents week
but that was rare
and looking back
it was very stupid

so i’m glad i stopped cold …
as i snap my fingers and say …
just like that

but my wife
– my wife who couldn’t say anything back then
because she had her own non-drug monkey
on her back –
says maybe i just switched to something
different

maybe what did i switch over to?
not wanting to admit an addictive personality
you know … you went from smoking pot
to your always being on the computer

but i protest a lot of it was my job
and my job did require a lot of computer work …
yeah i know she said
i know

Poem 453    April 26, 2015      (up to top)

creeping decrepitude

was a time years ago
i needed to see a doctor
had to fill out a questionnaire …
when i got to medical history
all i did was write a big n slash a
– meaning not applicable
across the entire section

now it’s heart disease? check
prior surgeries? check
pulmonary disease parentheses asthma? check
musculoskeletal? check
ever suffered from depression? check
familial mental illness check
but … are you pregnant? i leave blank

under list all medications i write see printout
give them a one-page inventory of my meds and supplements
specifics about my stents and cpap machine
addresses of my physicians
and whom to contact
in case of emergency
besides the obvious – 9-1-1

how could i possibly comprehend
at age twenty-eight
that those irrelevant and impertinent questions
would someday pertain to me

Poem 455    May 17, 2015      (up to top)

sandek

for most of our six grandsons
who are now 14 and 10 and 8
… 6 and 3 and 1 week old
i was asked to be the sandek
the grandfather who sits and holds the baby just so
while the mohel performs the brit milah
… the rite of circumcision

it is a both an honor and a duty
holding this eight-day-old miniature boy
feeling the awe and wonderment
being part of an ancient tradition
while i coo and hum to him
and hoping that my composure and tenderness
my courage and steadfastness
but not my concurrent abhorrence
about this ritualized act of brutality
will wash through him
and help him endure
this first most difficult ordeal

baruch ha-ba
blessed is the one who has arrived

– for Samuel and Ethan; for Yitzchak, Moshe, Eliyahu and now Avraham
— Sixth Place, 21st Annual Poetry Contest, Mid-Island Y JCC, June 5, 2016

Poem 456    May 17, 2015      (up to top)

truth teller

i need someone or some gizmo
to tell me the truth –
the real and absolute truth
because sometimes my perception
seems to be so far off
that i question my sanity

we were watching a comedian on broadway
performing a one-man autobiographical monologue
or so the catchy title proclaimed
yet he told one stale joke after another
and the audience howled
except for two people –
my wife and me –
who looked at each other awestruck
stupefied by their gullibility

i was at a poetry reading
where a popular and genial poet
who from a recently-published book
was reciting works that were so dull
and so un-fucking-ending
that i wanted to jab ice picks into my ears
yet the audience clapped after each one
as is of course expected
but later i heard remarks extolling the poetry
i don’t get it
i don’t know how to reconcile
the difference between my taste
and the taste of the so-called masses

i can’t stand shakespeare
though he was the one and only bard
i can’t stand movies
made for adolescents with raging hormones
i can’t stand top forty music
and the over-the-top hype that accompanies it
i can’t stand a lot of things
that the proletariat holds dear
yet which i consider
not only not worth my time
but utter dreck and garbage

i know it’s a matter of taste
but when people are so taken in
by what i see
as such derivative drivel
i stop and question
how much i truly need
a genuine
honest-to-goodness
bullshit detector

Poem 457    June 17, 2015      (up to top)

spoiling it

when i was a young teenager
i loved bicycling to a nearby field
and playing baseball with my friends …
returning home only when it was time for supper

we didn’t need adults to coach and umpire
we didn’t need uniforms
we didn’t need to be part of an organized enterprise
we just loved being out there
playing ball

in my adulthood
i spent many weekend hours
playing paddleball
and nursing achy muscles on monday and tuesday
at one point i had counted seventeen courts
i had played on
but then came the scourge of tournaments
then came the plagues of seriousness
and ranking
and prizes

i love sitting on my front porch
as i am right now
typing poetry onto – into? – my laptop
or during the after-midnight stillness
in front of my computer upstairs
… and then sharing what i’ve written
in front of an appreciative audience

so i don’t get the fierce determination
– the collective drive –
to publish a book
because anyone with thirty or forty poems
– worthwhile or worthless –
and a short stack of hundreds
can get a book published
… anyone

the act of pretension
of conceit
of grandiosity
takes away the purity
of a creative activity
and then spoils it
… and for what?

Poem 458    June 17, 2015      (up to top)

gratitude for life

besides my parents of course
there are very few people
i owe my life to

one was the american friends counselor
who advised me how to deal with my draft board
after they illegally rescinded my occupational deferment

another was the lady at the board of examiners
who found a creative way to apply my graduate work
so i wouldn’t lose my teaching license and then my job

still others were the anonymous drivers
who protected and cared for me after my near fatal
motorcycle accident on the belt parkway

but for my son jonathan
a suffolk county police officer
i want to kneel down and thank
either the chief or the commissioner –
whoever issued the directive following 9/11 –
forbidding any personnel
from journeying to ground zero
to help out during the days and weeks
that followed

yes my son and his noble brethren
wanted to go
– desperately wanted to go –
but short and long term studies
of not only first responders
but also rescue and recovery workers
found increased rates
of respiratory problems and that wtc cough
gerd and sleep disturbances
fatigue and irritability
cancers and sarcoidosis
and of course
both full and subsydromal ptsd

so yes i’m so damn glad
for my son’s sake
and the sake of his family
that their high-minded gesture
of helping out at the 9/11 site
was ultimately prohibited

Poem 459    July 1, 2015      (up to top)

getting humbled (abr)

a twentyish well-built guy
strumming an air guitar
on the 72nd street platform
beat me onto the downtown 3
grabbed the only seat
then looked up at me
he started getting up
said here take my seat sir
i waved him off
said nah i’ve been sitting all day
he smiled and we fist bumped
but inwardly i seethed
how dare he remind me
about the obscenity
of getting older?

Poem 460    July 6, 2015      (up to top)

holding a new baby

my youngest grandson
is perched on my lap
enfolded in my hairy arms
he’s alert and happy
looking around
with googly eyes
at his brand-new world
and finally not fussing

i feel inadequate
when he starts fidgeting and kvetching
i can’t give him what he really needs
especially when he’s hungry

but when he’s satisfied and dry
when he’s had his fill
after he gets that burp out
then he’s content
then he’s placid
then i can enjoy him

hey … what’s that gurgling sound
what’s with the shuckling
uh oh … what’s that smell
here mommy
you can take him right back

– for Avraham Dovid, b. Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015
Poem 461    July 17, 2015      (up to top)

a need for something bigger

one of my peak experiences
when the weather is conducive
takes place outside
after i finish my bowl of cereal
i push back my chair
marvel at the glorious trees
multi-hued plants and bushes
that encircle and fill our backyard

yet inside me is a yearning
a need for something more
not money
not things
i have or could buy whatever i want …
and as i approach the end
of my seventh decade
i would certainly like to be immortal
but i know that ain’t gonna to happen

i’d like to be a part
of something bigger
though whenever i’ve been close
whenever i feel
i’m about to be swept along
i run like hell
like bugs bunny on speed …
in the opposite direction

sometimes i’m envious
of the passionate fan
who calls into the sports radio channel
at four in the morning
to complain about my team
my mets my rangers my jets
who gloats when we win
who wails when we didn’t
… but then i think
how pitiful and ridiculous
his hero-worship obsession is …
still i’m jealous of his zealousness

or the groupie who’s seen
the same broadway show 79 times
the concert-goer who’s followed
the grateful dead around the country
the woman who’s knitted eight hundred shawls
the guy with a warehouse
filled with antique cars or squirt guns
banana stickers or sugar packets
beer cans or pez dispensers

… i mean i get it
i know how it feels to collect
– to amass –
but in the greater scheme
i just don’t get it

sometimes
i think about wearing my knitted kippah
– the skull cap i bought in jerusalem –
all the time
become an observant jew
be recognized as one
of a larger us
i’m fascinated
with losing myself
to and into something supposedly greater
but … as usual
i screech to a halt …
it ain’t for me …
i abhor the insularity
i scorn the abject attention to minutia
and then there’s the disconnect –
i’m an atheist or an agnostic
or whatever word describes
someone who doesn’t believe in god
although i will concede
that maybe …
yeah, just maybe …
there might be a higher force
in operation in our universe
… a generic higher force
that is

i loved programming my school
despite all the obnoxious bullshit
i had to put up with
like dealing with a demented bureaucracy …
i loved being immersed –
being totally absorbed
during my many hours in front of a computer
adjusting hundreds of classes
moving around thousands of students
determining teachers’ schedules
… being involved
in an all-encompassing activity
which was of my making
but that was a decade and a half ago
and it shocks me to realize
it was so far in the past

in a rectified version
of abraham maslow’s hierarchy of needs
on the top of the triangle
way above survival and safety needs
far above belongingness and love needs
above esteem and self-actualization needs
is the need for self-transcendence …
seeking to further a cause
and to experience a communion
beyond the boundaries of the self
through peak experience

i would like to get that involved
to be fully involved
in something larger than myself
before time runs out

Poem 462    July 24, 2015      (up to top)

invisible

i didn’t see
the old lady reaching into the garbage can
on the corner near c v s

i didn’t see
her pulling out a can
examining it
pouring out its contents

i didn’t see
her wobbling away
holding a cane in her right hand
in her left carrying a clear plastic bag
with maybe a dollar’s worth
of redeemable riches

i didn’t see
her
because i didn’t want to stare

Poem 463    July 31, 2015      (up to top)

worrying about the birds

we’ll be away for two weeks …
every single day for the past year
we’ve fed the birds
filled the suet cage
poured quarts of seeds into a lucite feeder
strewed handfuls of peanuts
for the blue jays and cardinals
for the red-headed woodpecker and
of course …
those incorrigible squirrels
they all certainly have a good thing going

so to salve my conscience
i put out two bricks of suet
tossed out fifteen handfuls of peanuts
and dropped an extra quart of birdseed
next to the feeder

i wonder how they’ll manage
of course everything we gave them
will be gone the first day –
that’s how quickly they’ll scarf it all down

i worry about them
hope they’ll be okay

Poem 464    August 10, 2015      (up to top)

another shedding of tears

we walked through rock creek park
to the vietnam veterans memorial –
that awesome awful wall –
and i couldn’t help it …
tears ran down my cheeks

all those thousands of names
in silvery optima
etched into polished black granite

all those thousands of names
of innocent boys
slaughtered
before turning into men

all those thousands of names
and mine could’ve easily been
yet one more engraved name
if my draft board had its way

all those thousands
and thousands of names
there
but for the grace of god
go i

— Appeared in Long Island Quarterly from Poetrybay, Winter 2018-2018
Poem 465    August 17, 2015      (up to top)

an anguished visitation

last night i dreamed about jimmy
our wheaten terrier who’s been gone
for a year and a half
but this time he was an oily shade of gray
jogging across six lanes
of sunrise highway traffic
i called to him
chased after him
he barely responded …
it was as if he didn’t even know me

i watched in panic when on the center median
he hunched over to defecate
i had to get near him
i had to save him
i had to stop traffic to cross
but he turned and lumbered
towards the opposite side

when i finally reached him
i picked him up
hugged him and held him
with utter desperation

he felt absolutely lost –
like a wandering soul
i too felt absolutely lost
like i too had lost my way

Poem 466    August 17, 2015      (up to top)

meth head bitch

so i’m hockin’ up loogies
in glorious pastel shades
of light green and yellow

and i know just when i caught the bug …
i was plastic-spooning instant oatmeal
from a styrofoam mini-bowl
in the fluorescent-bright breakfast room
of an emmitsburg maryland sleep inn and suites

this thirtyish skinny-ass woman
– so skinny and so unappealing –
was standing at the middle-most table
hacking a magnificently resonant throaty cough
over her two dead-eyed rugrats
and her white-t-shirted oblivious
shmoo of a husband

i wanted to go over and say
if that’s not a seasonal allergy
why doncha cover your goddamn mouth
but of course i didn’t
’cause i didn’t want to make trouble
you know how it is in a strange town

and she continued to cough
one wracking bark after another
then seats herself but she can’t sit still
bopping her foot under the table
looking around with wild suspicious eyes
yeah baby … like she was hopped up on something

and forty-eight incubational hours later
i started to feel crappy –
my throat was feeling raspy
my voice was getting hoarse
– it was the kind of crappy that told me
i’d better watch what i was coming down with
’cause i didn’t want the chest congestion
to get any worse
– the kind of crappy
that had me googling urgent care centers
in the middle of confederate flag country
… just in case

to add insult to injury
after another forty-eight hours
my wife came down with the same thing
so instead of making whoopee
we were whooping together
and she’s blaming me for it

so far
thank goodness
it seems to have been short-lived

Poem 467    August 25, 2015      (up to top)

peak experience

i’m pushing
my almost four-year-old grandson
strapped into the chair-back swing
in what they call firetruck park
push me higher papa he calls out
way up to the sky

in the waning light
of a crisp and refreshing late august day
i spot his two older brothers racing around
in an all-inclusive game of tag
i glance at their mom and their meema
– my daughter and my wife –
tenderly attending to the three-month-old
– their youngest brother –
and i realize with a silent ah-hah
that this moment
– this glorious transcendent moment –
is indeed a peak experience
and it cannot
– it can not
get any better than this

– for Eli, Yitzi, Mo and Avi; for Miriam and Vivien
Poem 468    August 27, 2015      (up to top)

four faces

our new medicine cabinet
has a mirror behind the shelves
and a mirror behind the door
if i lean in over the counter
with the door open just so
i can see
four varying images of me

from four different angles
the reflections are different
i sometimes try to trick them
by glancing at one then another
and then back …
but of course it doesn’t work

my facial expressions are different too
– people’s faces are not symmetrical –
sometimes from the corner of my eye
one likeness looks malicious almost devilish
others appear suspicious sometimes quizzical
but never do i look like an angel

so i wonder if angels
have hazel eyes and semitic noses
full beards and suntanned skin
or if they ever regarded themselves
in a quadruple mirror

Poem 469    September 7, 2015      (up to top)

refusing to be more compulsive

some years ago
when i was heavily into running
and bicycling and swimming
i filled up several volumes
of a jogger’s daily diary
with approximate mileages and times
plus a rough four-point scale
about the effort expended
during each workout

i found myself
sliding down the slippery slope
into having to do
one more run
one more ride
one more swim
to keep the average
above seventy percent of days worked out
which meant five out of seven days
or six out of eight
or at the very least
seven out ten
and all of this inevitably affected our family life
and other social activities

thank goodness i never
crossed my own line of lunacy in the sand
to filling out a spreadsheet
with more precise multivariate data points
then plotting the points on a graph
– it could easily have gone that way –
and becoming even more compulsive
about the number and intensity
of workouts completed
until after three or so years
i finally went cold turkey
with the accursed diary-keeping

so when i refuse to use smartphone apps
to store longitudinal data
about bike rides and long walks
and refuse my cousin’s request
to install an app called strava
which would allow me to – quote –
analyze and compare my data
against myself and friends and pros – unquote –
i’m acting out of desperate need
for self-preservation

for i neither need nor want
so-called friends and pros
or worst of all myself
to impel me to command me
to demand that i do
that extra workout
or ride that extra day
or walk that extra mile

as my wife says
i’m crazy enough as it is
i don’t need someone else
to make me even crazier

… and after all
there are some things
that are more important in life

Poem 470    September 8, 2015      (up to top)

storm passing overhead

mid-morning
like twilight darkening
out on the front porch
rain pelting on three sides
a burst of lightening
reflexively i count …
one one thou...
crash of thunder envelops
epicenter right here
wow … oh wow
more lightening
seconds pass
muted thunder
storm is rolling
away
ears
are still ringing

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Twentieth Annual Literary Review, 2016
— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 471    September 10, 2015      (up to top)

normal

my wife jokes that normal
is a just another cycle on the washing machine

recently
i stood in front of our full-length mirror
and i looked … normal
not slim … not lithe … not slender
and thank goodness
not emaciated

but not exactly obese either
not corpulent … not blimp-like … not elephantine

okay … i’m still overweight
– i accept that forever description –
but i’m no longer pleasantly plump
like my mother used to say
pleasantly plump … yeah right …
i was neither pleasant nor just plump
my father used to call me a fat bastard
which was wrong on so many levels

and despite my body dysmorphic bullshit
… oh yes … it’s there for sure
i’ve gotta say i looked kind of average
… kind of … regular
… kind of – you know –
normal

Poem 472    September 16, 2015      (up to top)

an honor realized

at the jewish national retreat
i wanted to be part of shabbat morning service
but didn’t have a long woolen tallis
the type of prayer shawl favored by orthodox jews
– not that i would’ve been prohibited from attending

i searched for a tallis around the pulpit – the bema
but couldn’t find any
so i walked through the hotel’s main lobby
searching for where a beginner’s service was scheduled
and by chance came upon rabbi hesh epstein
the chairman of the retreat
who was carrying a torah scroll covered by a velvet mantle
wrapped in a well-used tallis
i explained my predicament
rabbi epstein thought for a moment
then handed me the torah scroll and said
bring this over to the blue room
… and then you can use the tallis

i clutched the torah scroll against my chest
carefully counted the steps down to the room …
on the bema someone affixed the breastplate and crowns
and then helped me position the torah scroll
into the ark

at the time i didn’t quite realize the significance
but rabbi epstein had been given me a most valuable aliyah
– the cherished honor of carrying the torah scroll –
and though no prayers were intoned
and no formalities were adhered to
i am still moved by those precious minutes
bringing the torah to the holy ark

Poem 473.1    September 16, 2015      (up to top)

seat belts are not optional

i’ve been wearing seat belts
for over fifty years
before the chimes before the idiot lights
before air bags became mandatory
… not only for safety
but for comfort and security

when i drove a dodge cab in the city
i often had to reach through the cushions
to retrieve the seat belt …
the cab’s seat was smooth vinyl or leather
and the belt helped me stay put
in position behind the wheel
lessening my fatigue over a ten hour stint
and preventing me from sliding around
during sudden stops or turns

once i got into an accident on route 111
commuting home from college …
i had to swerve and crashed into a tree
and suffered only a suturable cut on my chin
where it struck the steering wheel

i’ve had other auto accidents
and my seat belt has protected me
so i still can’t believe
that people will forego using seat belts
justifying their stubbornness or sheer laziness
with mistaken and foolish arguments

Poem 474    September 19, 2015      (up to top)

halloween ’most any night

the bogeyman comes at midnight
in a beat-up robe
over yesterday’s underwear
kisses her on her forehead
whispers open your angel eyes sweetheart
and make sure you be quiet …
you don’t want to wake up your little sister
his raspy voice cloying inflamed
his beery breath oniony bitter
old spice over the sour stench
of what she knows … she knows is coming

while the wicked witch
of oblivious complicity
is passed out
on the brown velour laz-y-boy
in raspberry yoga pants
an x-x-l kenny chesney t-shirt
her fingers and toes flaunting
chipped crimson nail polish
a half-empty fifth
of wild turkey
beside the overflowing ashtray

trick or treat little darlin’ …
it’s daddy’s turn for some lovin’

— Appeared in Local Gems 13 Days of Halloween email newsletter, 2015, and in the print version published 2016
Poem 475    September 22, 2015      (up to top)

on gratitude

i’ve read that feelings of gratitude
excite the pleasure centers of the brain

with a productive attitude
i could do an end run around
and short circuit the blues –
that cloying colorlessness
that often insists
on hitching a ride on my back

when i’m pedaling east
on the bike path
fighting a steady headwind
it’s far too easy to slip
into that dispiriting haze

but if i instead realize what i’m doing at sixty-nine
i’m so grateful for being here – here i am!
riding forty or fifty miles a day –
more than i’d averaged any summer before –
i amaze myself! …
and when i make the u-turn at tobay
and head back west
at a steady twenty-four
which is my absolute top speed
on a level road
the exhilaration of the exertion
further scrubs away the gloom

Poem 476    September 29, 2015      (up to top)

staying aloof

on my self-imposed sideline
i take in the festivities
watching scrutinizing
silently judging

c’mon … join us one says
smiling … extending a hand
i almost imperceptibly shake my head
my scowl my body language
a warning to step away

part of me yearns to be drawn in
but the other part –
the dominant part –
inevitably has its way

Poem 477    September 29, 2015      (up to top)

almost … almost

i almost bought the farm today
biking rushing home
in a pelting rain that came too early
making a left from north jerusalem
onto bellmore avenue
with a light that had just turned green

a speeding gray maxima
that probably couldn’t stop
blew the red
and almost took me out

thank goodness
for rim brakes that grabbed
for just-quick-enough reflexes
for those extra inches of space
for perhaps
someone watching over me

Poem 478    September 29, 2015      (up to top)

an already lost child

she sits on the park-green
paint-peeled bench
with her fifteen-year-old face
or maybe she’s nineteen
with eyes looking as vacant
as the child’s
who’s perched on her knee
their only interaction
the contact
between threadbare jeans
and diapered bottom
while her boyfriend
or man friend
it’s so hard to say
is hunched over
in his khaki green puff jacket
smoking a cigarette
sipping out of a paper-bagged can
absorbed in whatever is displayed
on his cracked cell phone screen

they’re sitting together
sitting apart
bringing an already lost child
into an unforgiving world

— Sixth Place, 21st Annual Poetry Contest, Mid-Island Y JCC, June 5, 2016

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2016

Poem 479    October 10, 2015      (up to top)

haiku 31

the little one says

hashem can’t talk ’cause he’s a tree

how can one argue

— Eliyahu, 10.9.15

Poem 480    October 10, 2015      (up to top)

no room for self-doubt

i was almost struck and run over
by a speeding silver mercedes
while crossing merrick road
at the silver lake park gate

i felt like the figurative deer
trapped in high intensity headlights
as the car swerved when i stepped one way
then swung back and raced past me
when i moved the other

a four-foot median
separates the eastbound and westbound lanes
and i’ve crossed there innumerable times
and i did see the car approaching
from hundreds of yards away …
and i knew it was coming fast
but i was still quite sure
i had enough time to get across …
evidently i miscalculated

what rattled me
was that i so obviously misjudged
the car’s speed and acceleration
along with the driver’s unexpected recklessness
but also because the same anxious mindset
that contemplates
the trouble i have summoning up
the word croissant
that i can never immediately recall
the name of the trepeta family
that i sometimes can’t remember
why the hell i walked upstairs
makes me worry and wonder
and worst of all
… makes me doubt myself

what really haunts me
is this nagging self-doubt
because walking and bicycling
for many miles
on our suburban grid of roads –
not to mention driving –
all depend on dead-on accurate
perception and awareness

and i hope
i am not
losing it

Poem 481.1    October 13, 2015      (up to top)

my worst day of the year

the day i most despise
is that too-crisp day in autumn
when later there’s a danger of frost …
window and door screens must get switched
radiators have to be bled
everything has to get done
in such haste
especially bringing in plants
that have been flourishing outside

twenty-two free-standing and hanging plants –
wandering jews and a glossy-veined croton
spider plants and rex begonias
fragile jades and a forty-year-old cactus
will winter in my wife’s studio
though several do migrate upstairs

it’s certainly not life-threatening awfulness
but when the luxuriousness
of longer warmer technicolor days
give way inexorably
to shorter colder grayscale afternoons
when t-shirts and shorts and sandals
get supplanted
by thermals and sweat pants and shoes with socks
and our bicycles stand unridden
for months in the garage
i don’t have to like it …
one bit

but i will … i must embrace the change
there is no time for melancholy
no time for lamentation
cold weather does have its allure …
walking for miles clothed in multiple layers
shoveling snow while listening to jazz
snowshoeing at the park and on the beach
and i know
with almost absolute certainty
that spring
– the exquisite time of renewal –
is only months away
and with it will come
my best day of the year

Poem 482.1    October 16, 2015      (up to top)

haiku 32

diamonds

sparkling undulating

jewels on water

Poem 483    October 22, 2015      (up to top)

i love them … they’re poison

lyndon reede dark chocolate covered almonds
a 45-ounce jar cost only $12.99 at bj’s

i bought a jar a while back …
shortly after midnight
started munching on them
couldn’t stop at five or ten or thirty
couldn’t fall asleep
stomach was churning
nose started running
a zit begin erupting
in the middle of my cheek

the next morning
i still wanted more
– the hair of the dog so to speak –
it took only a few more binges
to empty the jar

as i rolled a shopping cart along the nuts aisle
i reached for a jar
caressed its perfect shape
slid it enticingly close to me
into the flip-up child seat
but at the self-checkout
i begrudgingly left it behind
… for though i was led into temptation
i delivered myself from evil

Poem 484    October 24, 2015      (up to top)

baseball unwatchable

the new york metropolitans
our amazin’ mets–
will be playing the kansas city royals
in the 2015 world series …
but i will not be watching

for most of my life
i’ve loved viewing our national pastime
but this season maybe i’ll switch over
between nurse jackie episodes
that i’m binge-watching on demand
just to find out the score
… or i’ll simply use my espn app

to watch baseball for any length of time
is excruciating …
at crucial moments between every pitch
broadcasters have decided
for their perceived attention-deficit-addled simpletons
to keep the camera not
on the most exciting aspect of the game
– the tension between pitcher and batter –
but on five or six superfluous views –
                         a fan with a distraught look on her face
                                         a face-painted guy with his hat inverted
         a manager with a wad of tobacco on his mouth
                                                 the other manager spitting sunflower husks
                 a player on deck readjusting his crotch
                                         a long shot of towels being waved in the stands
along with the unending chatter
of three bobble-headed announcers –
– but i can mercifully turn off the sound …
this sportscasting horribleness
has evidently become de rigueur
the nouveau broadcasting paradigm

once many years ago
i sat with my father
watching the yankees
on our old black and white zenith
the announcers had gone on strike …
we were able to watch the entire game
without their constant yakking
… and it was exquisite

during the 1960 world series
instead of playing ball
in gym class in high school
we sat in the auditorium
watching the yankees play the pirates
on a tiny television
perched on a cafeteria chair
… after eighth period
i walked in and saw
mickey mantle escaping a tag at first
and then bill mazeroski
hitting the deciding home run for the pirates

this year
instead of the drama
of the mets vs the royals
i’ll find out
if nurse jackie will relapse
what will happen
on homeland and the affair
and i’ll be free to watch anything else
without commercials
without the blather
without the extraneous
multi-shot stupidity

Poem 485    October 24, 2015      (up to top)

haiku 33

beside the cross bronx

strutting rooster and four hens

wildlife in new york

— Honorable Mention, Oceanside Library Haiku Contest, 2018

Poem 486    October 25, 2015      (up to top)

capturing the ineffable

riding the bike trail
southwesterly sun
shimmering through leaves
turned goldenrod and bronze
burnt orange and crimson
dazzling
stroboscopic
hypnotic

like frederick the mouse
i’m collecting colors and sunrays
to illumine monochrome days
when winter trees stand
naked and forlorn
when i hunger
for nature’s
kaleidoscope
and ache
for spring’s
resurgence

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 487    October 25, 2015      (up to top)

master of my domain

i was ensconced in my office
on a frigid january night
over-caffeinated
sleep-deprived
bleary-eyed
with the overheads off
just an incandescent lamp …
it was well after ten
when the mainframe
we were connected to
wasn’t being bogged down
by jobs run by 6:20 programmers
during normal school hours

i was hunched over
my wyse terminal
its green pixelated characters
on a black 24 by 80 background
with that cursed blinking cursor
scrutinizing the results
from the latest simulation run
merging ny thousand-line schedule
with the course requests
of three thousand students …
i wanted to … needed to
perfect the final sked run
to avoid the chaos
of killing and creating classes
and rescheduling hordes of students
at the beginning of the spring term

and thus i had the power
i had the power
energy surged through my fingers
into that clickety keyboard
through the acoustic modem
to that mainframe at kingsborough
and i sat back and envisioned
countless shapeless students
with amorphous liquid faces
being shifted and shepherded
from one floor to another
from one hallway to another
from one classroom to another
so my master program
with its parameters and limits
could be properly appeased

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 39, August 2016

Poem 488    November 12, 2015      (up to top)

a story shelved

lying in bed late
on a bright crisp
cold snap morning

was writing a story
in my head
which began
he lived alone
in their 80-year-old colonial …
bunk beds had been replaced
by pull-outs
for guests
who’d never come


i full-stopped …
i couldn’t wouldn’t
didn’t want to continue
did not want to dwell
for thousands of words
in that world of isolation
did not want to consider
the totality the finality
the inevitability
the end

Poem 489    November 23, 2015      (up to top)

rewarding mediocrity

not everything done is a good job!
not games or races lost
not work screwed up
not error-filled … whatever

last thanksgiving
one guest brought organic pumpkin ramekins
their taste and texture were awful …
but they were lauded
how wonderful! people gushed …
this years he’s bringing them again

our post-doctoral niece was curator
of a transgender exhibit
entitled bring your own body
displayed in a museum space in the city
the installation and the works
were amateurish
the show was devoid of content
but thank goodness conversely
there wasn’t much to see
later we practiced how to best respond
when asked what we thought of it

we were invited
to a violinist’s home
where accompanied by a pianist
several brahms sonatas were performed
the violinist played off key
her bow was scratchy …
how could i say
sitting there was like torture
that i couldn’t wait until it was over …
so i let my wife do the talking

people get credit
where credit is not due
when what they do stinks
because we need to be nice
to be tolerant
to be appreciative
to not hurt their feelings
because that is how
our relationships are lubricated

too bad there’s not a lexicon
for truth-telling
so people are not
so easily offended

sooner or later
this good job! phoniness
it’s going to come back
and bite you – bite me –
in the ass

Poem 490    November 26, 2015      (up to top)

our paris

our paris
was not the technicolor gay paree
of gigi and maurice chevalier
of woody allen’s midnight in paris
of moulin rouge! and paris je t’aime

our paris was brooding
dark and damp …
a four-day late november
whirlwind visit …
we stayed in a double standard
at a tiny hotel on boulevard de strasbourg
amidst stores selling wigs
but not the sheitel kind
where my wife minutely examined
the sheets before pulling them up

our paris was a shabbat evening dinner
at the beth loubavitch chabad house
near the arc de triomphe
whose address was on the champs-élysées
but whose entrance was hard to find –
purposely perhaps –
where orthodox men
wore baseball caps and nondescript clothing
because of wanton antisemitism

our paris was remembering
the internment and deportation of jews
by a complicit and willing vichy regime

our paris was realizing
that a government was willing to sell its soul
for the sake of its architectural splendor

but our paris was walking and walking
while i pored over my trusty maps
and taking the metro
to the père lachaise cemetery
to the louvre and to the notre-dame cathedral
to versailles and to le bon marché
whose prices were so high
we walked in and around and out
but then serendipitously
getting on a bus
that took us to the eiffel tower

our paris was having warm bread and cheese
while sitting along a boulevard
on a dreary afternoon

our paris was dining at an outdoor café
huddling next to a heater
whose filament was red-hot

but our paris was having an overwhelming need
to eat kosher food
which we found at la’s du fallefel
in the jewish le marais district

in this fabled fantasized-about
larger-than-life city
our paris was a mix of wonder and awe
but also of disgust …
turnstile jumpers
knocking aside passengers
over-eager souvenir hawkers
blocking exit paths
the squalor and sleaziness
of the porte de clignancourt flea market
… even the glittering strings of lights
alongside the overpriced stores
lining the champs-élysées
could not dispel
our feeling of sorrow and bitterness
that was impossible to assuage

— Appeared in Poets 4 Paris – a blog – November 28, 2015

Poem 491    November 28, 2015      (up to top)

haiku 34

two weeks ’til solstice

japanese maple leaves

refuse to leave

Poem 492    December 6, 2015      (up to top)

boketto

finally
there’s a word for it

boketto has no simple english translation
but it means gazing vacantly into space
staring at the sky without a thought
losing ones own self in the distance

i sometimes space out
when i’m sitting in the sun on my bike
deciding which direction to go
when my wife is demanding i make a choice
even when i’m sitting by myself
in the quiet of the backyard

when i thought i was having
a brief mind-less vacation
i also feared
that it was an ominous precursor
to dementia or alzheimer’s

now that i know
there’s a word for it
and it has an operant definition
i think it’s time
to take a brief time out

Poem 493    December 16, 2015      (up to top)

a walk to bedford avenue

on a late spring afternoon
when i was four
and my brother steve was nine
he decided
to take me to ebbett’s field –
home of the brooklyn dodgers

according to google maps now
it was only nine major blocks –
but for us back then
it was a really long walk

along montgomery street
i dawdled over the sweet smell
from the honeysuckles
that draped over chain link fences
and as we got closer
i trembled from the reverberating roars
of the crowd cheering dem bums

but when we got home
their roars were no match
to the screaming of our parents
for steve had neglected to tell them
where we were going
and how long we’d be gone

Poem 494    December 16, 2015      (up to top)

retribution

ships discharging sewage
leaking underwater pipelines
never-ending acid rain
the surging sea was so furious
that a mighty wave was summoned
and an arrogant narcissistic world
was cleansed
of its sins

Poem 495    January 7, 2016      (up to top)

contemplation on the bike path

blustery may/june headwind
i gear down
pedal harder …
at the upslope of the first bridge
a vista of verdant salt marshes
rippling swaying sea grasses
fisherman piloting a skiff
undulating on cerulean swells
mini whitecaps diamonds sparkling

glancing eastwards
overgrown mcmansions
crowded together
bunched along the creek …
once again i’m escaping!
the densely-packed suburb
but knowing that’s merely a fantasy

end of december riding
unreasonably unseasonably warm
calm quiet tranquil
fog and mist dampen
tires’ sibilance on asphalt
glistening with wetness …
from the bridge
a ghostly murky still life
of bluish grays and grayish greens and greenish browns
so disparate from the luxuriant resurgence
yet to come

Poem 496    January 9, 2016      (up to top)

commensurate relief

i can worry about
have angst about
obsess about
anything
from my school’s program being completed on time
to finishing a long bike tour in the city
from the traffic conditions on the g-w
to a tax payment being received
from the headlights on my car being properly aimed
to the gutters being cleaned before it snows

it takes a lot of energy to worry and obsess
– the checking and double-checking
– the calling and faxing
– the waking up in the middle of the night
it’s adrenaline pumping in overdrive
it’s invigorating and stimulating
… but it’s also joy-sapping exhausting

but then after …
when the school term did start on schedule
and i did get to the finish line without a flat
and it took only four minutes to cross the bridge
and the tax check cleared five days later
and i could see the road ahead of me
and the rain gurgled down the leaders
… i didn’t get the commensurate relief
i didn’t get what i needed and deserved
… a rush of exhilaration
and a great deep sigh of satisfaction

Poem 497    January 17, 2016      (up to top)

birdie

once in a while
a red-tailed hawk
alights on a tree limb
to patrol our bird feeders
to wait for a juicy fat pigeon
or an oblivious dove

my wife calls him birdie
the first syllable emphasized
– though birdie could be female –
and she also calls
all these glorious beasts of prey birdie
who perch atop light poles
along the meadowbrook
on the highest scrub oak
along the bike path to tobay
who float in the wind currents
with sinuous sensuous ease
over the turnpike and the thruway
over the hutchinson and the garden state

look! … at twelve o’clock i say
it’s birdie! she says
it’s our birdie
and he’s coming along with us
on our adventure

Poem 498    February 8, 2016      (up to top)

vicarious joy

i get irrepressible pleasure
from watching my wife
experiencing joy
when she was nursing our children
when she’s cuddling our grandsons
when she was riding atop butch
her handsome mellow palomino
with a big smile on her face
… and afterwards hand-feeding him carrots

i seem to get more delight
in my close one’s well being …
a virtue which the buddhists call muditā
than i do from inside …
rarely do i have that upswelling moment
or bask in rapture or exultation
unless it’s from the joy of others

i wonder if this aberration
is hard-wired in my genome
i wonder if this imbalance
is the result of seventy years of negativism
– my somber lot in life
i wonder …

but for now
i’m happy to experience joy
whichever way it comes

Poem 499.1    February 8, 2016      (up to top)

all-encompassing activity

when i’m done editing a poem or story
or sealed and stamped an envelope for submission
when i’ve worked for hours on our taxes
or got to the end of a long bike ride
when i completed my school’s master program
or finished shoveling a blizzard’s snowfall
i get a sense of satisfaction

but those four words
a sense of satisfaction
are as tepid as the feeling
i experience at the end …
a feeling i think should be greater
grander more glorious
more significant
more wonderful
more …

or maybe i’m delusional
because i’m expecting something
i’ll never be able to deliver
to myself

but recently i’ve realized
– and it’s taken me too damn long to realize –
what’s been most important
was the all-encompassing activity
the hours at the computer
the whirr of wheels on pavement
the steady slice and lift of the shovel
for rarely do i futz around
like taking long breaks
or stopping for iced tea
or even having lunch …
i get fully absorbed
in an almost effortless
stimulating and tranquilizing
hyper-focused state …
it’s being in the zone
being in the here and now
being one with the flow
i am in the flow
i am

Poem 500    March 7, 2016      (up to top)

compensation

they’d been feasting all winter
at and beneath the bird feeders
cardinals and jays and woodpeckers
starlings and wrens and goldfinches
pigeons and doves and chickadees
and of course … the squirrels

on an unseasonably warm march morning
as we’re enjoying our first breakfast outside
whistles and chitters and chirps
are serenading us
repaying us
for the many forty-pound bags of birdseed
the cartons of five-pound bags of peanuts
the boxes of a dozen suet cakes
for every morning going out
and chipping and melting the ice
from the birdbath
... or so we can believe

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 46, May 2018

Poem 501    March 9, 2016      (up to top)

oh-seventy-one

when i was a kid
i loved playing baseball
but i’d never been involved
with little league
or any other organized team

we – my buddies and i – played throw-up-and-hit
and sometimes lob-pitch hardball
so i never learned how to hit a fastball
let alone a curve

yet when i was an eleventh grader
i tried out for islip high’s baseball team
but only made the junior varsity …
i suspect that even that
had something to do
with my father’s friendship with the coach

i was so oblivious i never realized
how degrading it was
– to be the only junior on the j v –
until it got worse …
i had only one hit in my first fourteen at-bats
for a whopping batting average of .071
and that one pathetic blooper
barely made it past the infield

after the fifth game i rode the bench
– an inexpungible humiliation
that has endured
for all these years

Poem 502    March 10, 2016      (up to top)

halloween ruminations

1
there’s an old joke …
three boys are out trick-or-treating …
they walked up and knocked on the front door
an old man answered …
he asked the first boy
who was wearing two cap guns and a mask
who are you supposed to be?
i’m the lone ranger the boy replied
the man offered him a basket
said here take a candy
he asked the second boy
who was all in black with a mask and a sword
what about you?
i’m zorro the boy answered
the man said here take a candy
then he asked the third boy
who had on a robe a fake beard and a crown
and how about you?
i’m king david the boy replied
the man said nemen tzvey meyn kind
which in yiddish means take two my child

my parents told the joke often
and i even sorta got its ironic humor
– a jewish boy going trick-or-treating
on a pagan christian holiday
and an old jewish man playing favorites –
though now i can’t figure out exactly why
this joke was funny back then

2
i knew about halloween only in the abstract
because when i was a child i wasn’t allowed
to go trick-or-treating …
my parents frowned upon the goyische kids
who showed up at the door
or threw eggs at my dad’s pharmacy
even though they always handed out candy

perhaps their prohibition
came from my family’s ethos
which forbade asking people for things
you should never impose was our mantra –
or perhaps it came from excessive pride
and to never ever demean oneself
by for example
going door-to-door begging strangers for candy

3
the only time i went trick-or-treating
was when i was 29

after my dear sweet aunt sarah’s death
i was in a vibrant state
a vibrant and manic time
a time of grandiose dreams
of wondrous projects barely started
of nights with little sleep
fueled be adrenaline and pot
and on one shabbat evening
i accompanied our four-year-old son
through the neighborhood

we got home much later
than i’d promised
and when we finally did get home
the roast chicken was getting burnt
and my wife was so livid
that she pounded on the dining room window
and put her hand right through it

i couldn’t handle the mayhem
nor the disapprobation and acrimony
i had to get out of there
so i got into my car
drove up uniondale road
and pulled into a honda dealership
where i bought
direct from the showroom floor
– without ever riding one –
a red and black cb-360 motorcycle
and a red kick-and-go for our son

4
one of the things that endured
after that exuberant phase
was riding a motorcycle …
commuting to brooklyn
almost every day
until four years later
when i went down on my second bike
– a far less serious accident than the first –
i got my wife’s final ultimatum
it’s me … or the bike

i had the good sense
and self-control
to not channel jack benny …
a thug says this is a stickup
come on … your money or your life
– a long pause –
and the thug repeats look, bud …
i said your money or your life
and then jack benny answers
i’m thinking … i'm thinking

i didn’t say it
but i wanted to

Poem 503    March 15, 2016      (up to top)

alternate route

a dream …
after i get off my bike
i sit on some rocks
on the side of the road
which crosses the bikeway …
a highway foreman in an orange vest
walks by and says
we’re opening the water main
the street’s gonna be flooded
you won’t be able to get across
i said that’s okay
i know another way around
and i envisioned
circling the lake on the farthest side
like i had years before
in another dream
when i blissfully and effortlessly
rode my bike
on the remote and shaded
hard-packed trail

Poem 504    March 20, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 35

first morning of spring

sodden snowflakes gently falling

gone by end of day

Poem 505    March 21, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 36

a swarm of black birds

explodes from a thicket

shoulders ablaze

Poem 506    March 21, 2016      (up to top)

at the western wall

on a cloudless early spring day
after designating a meeting point
my wife and i go to our designated side

with the help of a chabadnik
i put on tefillin and a tallis
have a photo taken on my phone
slip a folded-up bill into the tzedakah box

i approach the western wall
the holiest of holy places
i reach out with trepidation
touch the warmed sacred stones
notice the hundreds of crumpled notes
stuck into tiny crevasses

as swifts fly in a swirl
chirping squawking
i turn my baseball cap around
lean my head against the wall
say the shema
and wait
wait for
… something
… a feeling
… a presence

other than being there
in that moment
i still feel unchanged
and not a little bit disappointed

Poem 507    April 14, 2016      (up to top)

it just felt right

once i was getting a haircut in queens
i asked the barber
what should i do about my bald spot?
he said why doncha wear a yarmulke

throughout our whirlwind tour in israel
though i certainly wasn’t compelled to
i wore a knitted skull cap or a baseball hat

even though i am not orthodox
by any stretch of the imagination
and thought at times i was a fraud
wearing my large blue kippah
just
felt
right

and i had this overwhelming sense
of belonging
of being at home
in my tiny jewish country
on the far side
of the world

Poem 508    April 14, 2016      (up to top)

wrestling with god

zalman – our tour guide in israel –
mentioned during one spiel
that even wrestling with god
is a form of relationship

i don’t remember ever believing in god
despite the now i lay me down to sleep prayer
i recited with my mother every night

i don’t label myself as atheist or agnostic
because i refuse to be labeled
though i do think that the need
for some kind of god-figure
or a belief in the supernatural
could be hard-wired in our genes

i can’t say that god is dead
like time magazine asked back in 1966
on its funereal red on black cover
i can’t say god doesn’t exist
because i simply don’t or can’t know
but my being jewish
– my jewish essence –
is based on the torah
supposedly given by god thousands of years
and thousands of tears ago

so just like i’m wrestling
with these words of explication
i guess i am wrestling with a god
who may or may not exist

Poem 509    April 14, 2016      (up to top)

at home

so i’m sitting outside of cofizz
on yafo street in jerusalem
watching the new light rail cars pass by …
i’m sipping from my second coffee freeze
cost only five shekels
about a buck and a quarter
so what if it’s not starbucks

and i’m feeling at home
watching the college students
and the yeshivah buchers gliding by …
the young mothers with strollers
and some visitors from our group
who’re also making use
of their limited free time

my feeling of being at home
is palpably different from my
fuzzy feelings in amsterdam
eating butter-soft herring …
and buying a diamond stud for my wife …
the giddiness after downing
a pint of house draught
in an ancient london pub …
even different
from sitting outside
a second avenue restaurant
in good ol’ n y c

in jerusalem
on this warm april day
i feel not at all
like a stranger
in a strange land

Poem 510    April 14, 2016      (up to top)

getting stuff done

when i’ve walked or bicycled by people
out in their yards
i’ve noticed an old man raking leaves
a headscarfed woman sweeping her stoop
… so ag-o-ni-zing-ly slowly
unlike my superior method
of working in serial spasms
of frenetic activity

but when the lady at the elections
reached for the wrong book
and started leafing through it
even though i announced
clearly announced –
my name begins with an a
and a line began to form
the impatient curmudgeon in me asked
with that so endearing irritated edge in my voice
am i the first voter today?
thus challenging her mental and physical deficits
although she was probably too dense
to even realize

but then i considered
the sweeper and the raker
who were not public servants
who likely hadn’t much else to do
had nowhere else to be
and were perfectly content
to drag out their jobs
even if it took
all the doo-dah day

Poem 511    April 19, 2016      (up to top)

midnight at the ohel

it was a few days before passover
we braved a crowd of shoppers
at aron’s – a kosher supermarket in queens
stopped for sundries at amazing savings
had frozen yogurt at berrylicious on main street
then drove to montefiore cemetery
to the ohel – the gravesite of the chabad rebbe
rabbi menachem mendel schneerson zt”l

the eleventh of nissan 5776
– the nineteenth of april 2016 –
happened to be the rebbe’s yahrzeit –
the twenty-second anniversary of his death –
so even at midnight
this 24/6 place was hoppin’

i was one of very few
who wasn’t garbed
in the black-suited uniform
of the ultra-orthodox sect
but i did not feel unwelcome
nor did i feel as if i didn’t belong
as i lit several candles
then inched my way
into the building housing his grave
and stood in a cleft in the wall
next to the men’s entryway

from a shelf outside
i’d picked up a book entitled
ma’aneh lashon
a collection of prayers to be recited
when visiting the gravesite of the righteous –
and struggled through a dozen tattered pages
of the english translation
while being jostled
by black-hatted devotees
who were gently but urgently
cramming their way in
to shukkel and sway
to mouth words of supplication
of adulation of sanctification
while packed so tightly together
i couldn’t avoid imagining
being on an over-filled box car
on the non-stop to auschwitz
… at least we had a choice

after … at the visitors center
my wife and i enjoyed a glezele tey
in a styrofoam cup
and a couple of sugar cookies …
our way of sharing
a few holy moments
and a little bite to eat
with the last lubavitcher rebbe

Poem 512    April 19, 2016      (up to top)

havdalah at the mamilla mall

on my new merrells
are still droplets of blue wax
from a havdalah candle
i was holding
at the upscale mamilla mall
after our sabbath

and this havdalah ceremony
celebrating the end of shabbos
we enjoyed with more than 300
of our newest friends
from our land & spirit tour

my braided candle wrapped in foil
was the first to be lit
i then turned and lit candles
held by people next to us
behind and above us

and in the early darkness
in the middle of this modern retail passageway
to the old city’s jaffa gate
on concrete risers built into a wall
the flame was passed on and up
until hundreds of candles were lit
brightening and warming
the jerusalem evening
… and our hearts and souls

Poem 513    April 21, 2016      (up to top)

peripheral vision

i’m out on the patio
reading the paper
enjoying a late breakfast

out of the corner of my eye
i notice a white shape
at the storm door
and it’s jimmy
our wheaten terrier
waiting to be let out

but it wasn’t
it couldn’t’ve been …
only a sad and wistful trick
played by my mind …
merely a reflection
of a styrofoam packing crate
heaped atop the recyclables

but for that momentary
warp in space and time
my good good doggie
was right there
staring out
patiently waiting for me

Poem 514    May 11, 2016      (up to top)

searching for catharsis

i was halfway out
on my north-south walking loop
listenin’ to israeli jazz on my mp3
while percolatin’ and cogitatin’ about
an idea-seed for a poem

and i couldn’t latch onto
a certain word –
a certain goddamn word
that i knew meant
the release of repressed emotions

i got close several times
sometimes it was just within reach …
synchronization popped into mind
and catheterization
though i hadn’t realized until after
how close catheter actually was

i knew … or at least hoped
that the word would eventually come …
i hate being held captive
by my own mental decrepitude
accompanied by the fear
– always that horrible unnameable fear –
that i was … you know …
losin’ it

Poem 515    May 13, 2016      (up to top)

sacred space

instead of our usual room
in the library
our writing workshop met
in the not-quite-so-elegant
lounge for employees

we politely applauded
asked questions
were gently critiqued
as we shared our poems
our stories
our thoughts
our feelings
our joys
our heartaches
our lives
revealing to each other
through a myriad of filters
and lenses of course
who we might be
but who we really were

from our courage to create
and through our interplay
sacred tendrils sprouted
that ever so softly
ever so tenderly
caressed the divine

Poem 516    May 19, 2016      (up to top)

torn between

i pedaled past a group of orthodox jews
picnicking in eisenhower park
alongside a red and blue and yellow
inflatable bounce house
filled with children in their permitted garb
chasing screeching reveling

i wanted to be part of them …
for a long time
i’ve yearned to be part
of a larger something …
their sense of community
their focus and purpose
their chosenness
even some aspects
of their insularity
are so alluring …
but as usual
as always
i stomped on my emotional brakes
and kept riding on by

an hour or so later
on the bike path to tobay
the image of pasty-faced boys
with buzz cuts and side curls
made me so furious
i screamed and cursed
into the whoosh of traffic and wind …
if people were within earshot
they would’ve thought
i was a madman
for then as now
i don’t remember
even in the distant past
ever being so infuriated …
my degree of rage
my subsequent hoarseness
astounded and surprised me

my daughter’s family
– my grandsons –
are living in the uber-kosher world
of buzz cuts and mini side curls
of tzitzits and kipahs
of car-pooling to yeshiva
of no tv because they have none
of prayers and proscriptions
of mandates and restrictions
and …
we’d just come home
from a passover weekend there …
perhaps my sense of relief
about the long hours being over
and my disapprobation
about having to abide
by their interpretation
of god’s supposed rules
might have finally
caught up with me

yet …
as much as i am aggravated
about their way of life
there’s still
something compelling about it
something drawing me towards it
and at the same time
something seems to be missing
in me

Poem 517    May 23, 2016      (up to top)

buzzkilling a joke

when i was growing up
i didn’t have much to do
with grandpa barney –
my father’s dad –
who lived in the next building
and who died when i was seven
and my father wasn’t particularly voluble
about his early years
or his extended family in providence

but there was one story i heard
and it’s the only thing i remember
about my father’s relatives …
one day when one of their children
arrived home from school
he found that his parents had moved
but had forgotten to tell him …
as a kid i thought it was hilarious

however
when i told the story at a seniors group
several people piped up and said
oh sure
that’s what happened
you got one month free
and then moved on
and the kid probably
just went over to a neighbor’s

sixty years after hearing the story
a more believable version was revealed
which contradicted the purported zaniness
of my father’s rhode island relatives

but it’s still
a funny story

Poem 518    May 27, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 37

ev’rywhere i walk

my dog is tethered to me

even though he's gone

Poem 519    June 2, 2016      (up to top)

wireless speed test

an invigorating spring afternoon
a non-workout day
i was itching to write

set up the laptop outside
on the front porch
as always at first
synched the download folder
with the computer inside
file transfers took longer than usual
accessed the browser
first had to update adobe flash
before running the speakeasy test
then got lethargic results
tested the wired computer upstairs
got the usual boost results
carried the laptop inside
got much higher speeds

so … it can be surmised
from the time spent
googling and testing
instead of writing
that the laptop is not faulty
but that the stone facing
and metal lathing in the plaster
causes a sluggish connection in front
and an abysmal connection out back
– where glare obscures the screen anyway –
and further
the problem could be solved
by (a) working inside
(b) setting up a repeater or access point
or (c) hard-wiring the laptop

so i chose
after deliberate consideration
option (d)
which was to lower my expectations
settle for what i had
and do … nothing

but from all of the
superfluous research and testing
needless bellyaching and irritation
i did get the basis
for this narrative poem

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 39, August 2016

Poem 520    June 2, 2016      (up to top)

a dollar and a dream

late afternoon in the bodega
a dozen or so hispanic men
sit around a makeshift table
wander around the aisles
lean against the glass door coolers
sipping out of paper-bagged cans
munching on cellophane-wrapped snacks
bantering laughing complaining
but keeping a wary hopeful
– perhaps desperate – eye
on the quick draw screens
on which twenty of eighty
possible winning numbers
are tantalizingly chosen
plus a multiplier
in case that extra option was purchased

landscapers and day laborers
restaurant workers and porters …
they could win hundreds or thousands
if their picks come up …
enough for a wide screen tv
enough for a second-hand toyota
enough for a down payment on a house …
but the chance for a high payout is low
the odds are stacked against them
especially when a new game
comes up every four minutes
almost ’round the clock
and the dineros keep slipping away
faster than a new york minute …
but hey … you never know®

— Honorable Mention, 22nd Annual Poetry Contest, Mid-Island Y JCC, June 4, 2017

— Appeared in Poets to Come, 2019, an anthology in celebration of the Walt Whitman Bicentennial

Poem 521    June 16, 2016      (up to top)

eyes gazing east

the spiritualized figure
in silver gray granite
is perched supine atop
the calderone mausoleum

with the mere suggestion of wings
this transcendent effigy
is joyful …
perhaps ecstatic …
in its contemplation
of nature abounding

– Greenfield Cemetery, Uniondale, New York
Poem 522    July 3, 2016      (up to top)

tired houses

if you walk around your neighborhood
if you bicycle or cruise by in your car
you can spot those tired houses …
barren lawns that’ve given up their thirst
scraggy shrubs overgrown and wilting
antiquated facades and chipping paint
that are inhabited by old and tired people

they’re different to a degree
from the derelict houses
that are so rundown and decrepit
that they’ve been deemed unlivable

the people who still reside
in their lonely threadbare houses
are living threadbare desolate lives
perhaps living hand-to-mouth
until their social security arrives …
driving – if they’re still able to –
their faded and rusting buicks and camrys
bought with joyful anticipation
during an earlier era
but driven now to doctor’s offices
or to the local discount mart
where they limit their purchases
to sale and coupon items only

i wonder how these tired people go on
or if just going on
day-to-day
is their sole and over-riding
purpose in life

Poem 523    July 4, 2016      (up to top)

like a kid again

two days ago
i placed an order
for a new recumbent bicycle
from the same online store in colorado springs
that i had bought my last one

it’ll be the sixth new bike in my life
and i feel like a kid again –
excited ecstatic ready to bust
but simultaneously plagued
with adult thoughts –
apprehension self-doubt
nagging fears about my mortality

but fuck that!
it’s going to be a great bike
a glossy black azub six
tricked out with tektro auriga hydraulic disk brakes
customized with an allight crankset
and fsa chain rings
upgraded with meks and suntour
front and rear suspensions
and sporting a lezyne gps cycle-computer

i can hardly wait
i am so hoping it’ll be delivered
before my seventieth birthday
which comes next month

Poem 524    July 7, 2016      (up to top)

slick striped club themes

the july issue
of the men’s style section
seductively sub-headed hot fun
was delivered today
within the new york times

since one major concern in my life
is sartorial elegance
i decided to examine what is hot
… and what is fun

page two highlighted slick striped club themes
where there were color photos
of designer looks
from the spring-summer 2017
men’s wear collections
from fendi and givenchy and gucci
but to my obviously untrained eye
they looked like mismatched clown suits
in stripes and checks and recycled patterns
cut to enhance the grossly anorexic –
nothing in size 38
nothing in extra large
nothing at all
that could gussy up my glorious pulchritude

and then i griped out loud
are they fucking kidding …
who the hell would wear such crap
but then i wondered
if the clothes even did come in my size
would i ever bother to try them on
… just to see

Poem 525    July 8, 2016      (up to top)

eliyahu and the berries

eli and i were bringing up the rear
trudging north from the pier
on the west trail at stinky hill
– our pet name for the norman levy preserve

the others had gone on ahead
our daughter pushing the stroller
our son-in-law and my wife
with eli’s two older brothers

i was trying to coax him along
c’mon … they’re waiting for us
but he was certainly moving along
at his own well-considered pace

and then we passed under a tree
– not just any tree –
but a mulberry tree
with its telltale purple stain
of fallen berries all over the trail

hey eli … ya gotta try one of these
i reached up and picked off
a big dark squashy berry
and offered it to him

like a typical four-year-old
he made a face
and turned away
but after i popped it into my mouth
and he saw how much i enjoyed it
he tried one
then another
and another

he soon got the hang
of holding down a branch with one hand
and plucking off the most scrumptious berries
with the other

i said okay … enough is enough
we gotta go
but then he recognized another tree
and so we proceeded to plod along
from one mulberry tree to the next
sampling many – many – offerings

we even found a tree
that offered luscious white mulberries
and he was quick to discern
which of these were the yummiest

i’ve always insisted
that a grandparent’s task
is to spoil and subvert …
and teaching a delicious grandson
about finding and picking
and devouring delicious berries
despite being stained
a sticky purple in the process
is an essential thing to learn

Poem 526    July 13, 2016      (up to top)

for no apparent reason

from under the feeder
dozens of pigeons
doves and starlings
erupt upwards outwards
s c a t t e r i n g
their furiously flapping wings
exciting a whooshing gust
on a sultry summer day

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Twenty-first Annual Literary Review, 2017

Poem 527    July 14, 2016      (up to top)

easy days

i usually bike or walk
two three sometimes four days
in a row

after years of pushing it
i now try to pace myself
don’t want to get stale
become exhausted
get sick from overdoing it

once i’ve decided
that today is the day
these non-workout days …
without rushing through brunch
rushing to get going
rushing to get back
become a sublime and delightful treat

these are the days
i’ll bring my laptop outside
sit on the front porch
with a mason jar filled with iced coffee
and update installed programs
make a leisurely phone call
perhaps write a poem
print it out
and then upload it to my website

these are the days
i could not possibly buy
these are the days
i live for

Poem 528    July 14, 2016      (up to top)

almost 70

the SURPRISE! was real
the silver 70 HAPPY BIRTHDAY
atop the mylar balloon trees was real
greeting and embracing
family and friends
sitting shoulder-to-shoulder
chitchatting and laughing
eating and drinking
older grandsons scanning iphones
younger ones vying for attention
… all real

my wife’s relief
at having pulled off the deception
with a lot of clandestine collaboration
my sister-in-law’s moving slide show
my daughter’s tender tribute
then my wife’s and my son’s
and right before the cake and desserts
my extemporaneous stand-up
– and yeah i got some laughs –
… all real

presents piled to the side
then hugs and kisses
thank you so much
it was so good of you to come
i’m so glad you could make it
the joyful-wistful happy-sad goodbyes
… all real

but that number 70 …
that ominous foreboding number …
i could hardly believe
it … was real

Poem 529    July 18, 2016      (up to top)

a bike ride to our timeshare

it’s a balmy blue-sky day
and the others are still here …
edelman and minsker and taub
jacobs and brofman and wittlestein …
they haven’t gone anywhere
aren’t going anywhere …
after all i’m in mount ararat cemetery
not far from the eastern fence in section g-85
gazing at the barre granite gravestone
with the name ABRAMS
engraved in regular roman caps
below an interwoven star of david …
sooner or hopefully much later
this will be my forever timeshare

i’m standing beside my bicycle
wearing an iridescent yellow shirt
with my helmet still on
take a swig of lukewarm water
then raise the bottle
to toast my parents and my brother
trying to not be too conspicuous
to the suspicious cemetery manager
who’d been giving me the stink eye
and to the mourners who’d emptied out
of the row of head-lighted cars
and who are slowly gathering
for a grave-side service

according to our chabad rabbi
a cemetery is a holy place
and with nothing in mind to say
– it’s hard having one-sided conversations –
i start reciting the mourner’s kaddish
that i’d bookmarked in my phone …
         yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba
         b’alma di-vra chirutei
        may his great name grow exalted and sanctified
        in the world he created as he willed …
and i enunciate each word without slurring –
for this time i’m not being rushed
by an impatient congregation
or by others who hurry through it by rote

i try to fill the subsequent quiet
interrupted by cawing crows
and the eighteen-wheelers rumbling by
and of course i start joking
because i can’t think of anything serious to say
and assume that the souls of my parents and my brother
– and the all-knowing god of course –
are aware of everything’s that’s going on anyway

but then i tell Mom and Dad about Vivien
and how we’re getting on
about the surprise party she’d just pulled off
about Jonathan and Miriam … our two children
about Sylvia’s and Philip’s six great grandsons --
Sam and Ethan … Jon’s and Maryellen’s boys …
Yitzchak and Moshe and Eliyahu and Avraham …
Miriam’s and Jeff’s sons …
– no pink in either of their families –
then i tell my brother Steve
who’d become a recent mount ararat resident
about Seth and Annelisë …his son and daughter
… about his wife Tove’s recent knee operation
and the moving slide show she’d created
for my 70th birthday

when i’m done regaling them
with my banter and witticisms
i stand in silence …
i overhear several hebrew words
intoned by the eulogizing rabbi
wafting over on the breeze
wonder in my cynicism
if he ever really knew the deceased

i don’t want to ride away
while the dozen or so mourners
are busy with their long goodbyes
so i recite the kaddish once more
– why not … it can’t hurt –
and then start quietly singing
         oseh shalom bimromav
         hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu
         v’al kol yisrael
         v’imru imru amen
– the verse and its variations
get repeated several times
and could become a serious ear worm –
but the tune always brings tears to my eyes
for it was sung at my brother’s funeral
and i’ll never forget
rabbi moss’s plaintive voice
and the desperate sadness i felt

        may he who makes peace in the heavens
        grant peace to us and all our people
        and let us say … amen

Poem 530    July 22, 2016      (up to top)

three score and ten

the day after my birthday
in an interactive exhibit
at the museum of science in boston
i entered 70 as my age

just like that
on the x-axis of a graph
i was shoved into the rightmost category
70 and older

later on a law & order rerun
a judge was suffering from dementia
and when it was mentioned he should’ve retired
… well ya know he’s over seventy
my wife glanced over at me
knowing full well what i was thinking

my father and grandfathers
never made it past 65 …
70 means diminishing abilities
70 means creeping decrepitude
70 means getting closer to
… well … we all know what

they say you’re only as old as you feel
they say 70 is the new 50
they say 70 is just a number
but i’m the one who’s 70
and so far
i can’t fucking believe it

Poem 531    August 15, 2016      (up to top)

fine dining

we’re getting weary of eating out
it’s not just the inflated prices
it’s the waiting to be seated
the waiting to have our orders taken
the waiting to be served
all accompanied
by an often unwelcome cacophony
enveloping and assailing us

of course if we drank to excess
anything but water and ice-diluted diet coke
we wouldn’t be concerned
about how long could it possibly take
to get a couple of parker house rolls
to properly broil a slab of fish
to bring us the damn check already

so now we bypass
the restaurant experience
by buying fresh vegetables and berries
cheese sticks and melons
and freshly made sushi
then feasting at home
– with our shoes off if we want –
and nobody but nobody
broils or poaches or pan-grills salmon
better than my wife

even if we’re off to the city
to see a broadway or off-broadway show
we’ll pack a simple dinner
and picnic on the virtually empty express
speeding into penn station

we don’t need restaurants
to gorge us
or to gouge us …
all we need
is clean uncomplicated food
a few minutes of preparation
and the joy
is all ours

Poem 532    August 21, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 38

blackbirds flying by

are painted demon orange

by the setting sun

Poem 533    August 23, 2016      (up to top)

highway patrol

in my tweens
before tween was a word
i had two television heroes –
clayton moore – the lone ranger –
and broderick crawford
who played dan mathews –
the gruff-speaking head
of the highway patrol

i idolized dan
driving his oldsmobile police cruiser
chasing and catching criminals
barking orders and 10-4s into his microphone …
i watched the show all by myself
when mom drove my brother
to his piano lessons
and dad was still at his rexall store
and because i was alone
i ensconced myself in the den
with the door shut tight
wearing my double holsters
and silver six guns
… just in case

the irony is that six decades later
in our own family
there’s a highway patrol officer
who’s locking up real bad guys …
our son jonathan
… a true-life hero

Poem 534    September 6, 2016      (up to top)

pitching a new reality show

a proliferation of cable tv shows
romanticize living off-the-grid
in alaska the yukon and other points north

you’ll see them
trudging through snow drifts at fifty below
scaring away ravenous bears just awakening
fending off black flies and swarms of mosquitoes …
but this retired suburbanite
has treacherous adventures just as comparable

they are tracking moose and caribou
while i am tracking fedex packages and tax payments
they are trapping lynx and wolverines
while i am trapping mice and carpenter ants
they are killing to survive along iced-over trails
while i am risking my life on the southern state parkway

so there should be a show
about the grizzled men and overly made-up women
who brave the wild frontier
of strip malls and stop-and-go traffic
of bloodsucking boutiques and dunkin donuts drive-thrus
of cvs’s and 7-11s lit up like the midnight sun
and of the family of man
marching everyday to the muzak of walmart

… let’s call it ultimate survival – long island style

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2017

Poem 535    September 7, 2016      (up to top)

at the center of the world

on a sweltering august evening
four statues of liberty
robed and face-painted
in fading aquamarine
lumber above the crowd
on plasterer’s stilts
in the teal-painted activity zone
at 46th and broadway
soliciting tourists
to pose for photo ops
at ten or twenty bucks a clip
– though tipping is optional
while minnie and mickey
elmo and the cookie monster
spider-man and captain america
work the periphery
dripping inside
their stifling outfits

fully-costumed cartoon characters
and scantily-clad desnudas
in thongs painted red white and blue
eight-foot-tall statues of liberty
and the naked cowboy
in boots hat and briefs
– artistic expression or not –
just another enterprising part
of the new york city scene

Poem 536    September 15, 2016      (up to top)

at the cardiologist’s office

every patient sitting with me
in the waiting room
is in some state of disrepair
… we all know it

some stride in like me
in shorts and t-shirt and sandals
tanned and looking fit
… we all take note

some shuffle in pushing walkers
with a spouse or child or friend
while others are rolled in in wheelchairs
by a caregiver slash nanny
… we all cringe just a bit

a man with slicked-back silver hair
wearing a blazer and slacks and deck shoes
struts in like he’s on a cruise
but a closer look reveals
the rumpled hopsack
the frayed cuffs
the worn-out soles
his tenacious pride

in this trepidation-filled atmosphere
you can almost smell the despair
you can almost cut the angst
with a scalpel
there are few happy faces
there’s no joking around
only furtive whispering
and worried conferring
for the grim reaper
the mal'akh hamavet
the angel of death
is waiting
ever so patiently
ever so quietly
just around the corner

Poem 537    September 20, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 39

i got dealt jacks high

no jokers in the deck

still a winning hand

Poem 538    September 21, 2016      (up to top)

the devil’s banquet

he’d sent come as you were invites
for the evening before all saint’s day
politely requested rsvp’s
but none really had to
he knew beyond doubt
they’d all respond to his summons

sitting there were idi and benito and saddam hussein
mugabe and lenin and omar al-bashir
attila and pol pot and ivan the terrible
kim jong-il and ho chi minh
augusto pinochet and françois duvalier
franco and brezhnev and robespierre …
everyone was able to make it
especially when beckoned so … adoringly

at the principal table on the dais
sitting with their beloved prince of darkness
were adolf and josef on one side
mao and hirohito on the other
bosom buddies
enemies no longer
reminiscing and shmoozing
belly-laughing about the good ol’ days

after the soup and salad courses
but before the entree
– he wanted to keep them hungry –
– constantly and eternally hungry –
the son of perdition threw back his chair
stood up in a haze of fetid luminescence
and cleared his throat
… instantly there was quiet …
he announced
let the fun begin

tables two through six were pushed aside
a curtain opened
and as vlad the third and the impalers
began playing hava nagila
the men formed a circle
joined hands without a second thought
and started dancing the hora

the beast of buchenwald
– the incomparable ilse koch herself –
sashayed onto the stage
in a tailored schutzstaffel jacket and miniskirt
grabbed a microphone
and began singing in hebrew
let’s rejoice and be happy
let’s sing and be happy
awake my brothers
with a happy heart

at first they eased into it
but at lucifer’s urging
the music accelerated
from vivace to presto
and as ilse belted out the song
they sped up and whirled around
from andante to allegro
        they sped up and whirled around
                  from presto to prestissimo
         they sped up and whirled around
their whirling becoming a vortex
a frenzy of unrecognizable entities
a maelstrom of white hot energy
until it erupted upwards … outwards …
spewing forth
its odious shrapnel

then there was silence
except for the wicked one’s cackling …
for his exalted spawn
was once again
disgorged

— Appeared in Local Gems 13 Days of Halloween email newsletter, 2016, and in the print version, published in 2017
Poem 539    September 23, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 40

i swept away wisps

of her silvery hair

and whispered good-bye

Poem 540    September 27, 2016      (up to top)

our tectonic plates shift … then settle back into place

the cleaning ladies were upstairs
my wife was reading the paper at the kitchen table
i was finishing up in the downstairs bathroom
as i walked out she said
it stinks in there
would you please close the door
i had and i gestured that i had
but when she stood up to look
to make sure
i raised my voice
what the hell’d you get up for

she was embarrassed
maybe i might’ve been heard
but i hate being condescended to
i hate being infantilized
i’m seventy years old for chrissakes
doesn’t she think i know what i’m doing
doesn’t she think i have any sense

i stomped upstairs
the ladies were finished in my office
i sat in front of the computer
reading email checking facebook
idly browsing a few sites

after the ladies left
she came up sobbing
sniveling
repeating
i’m sorry
i’m sorry
i’m sorry
i’m sorry

i felt so low
so small
so choked up

i stood up
hugged her
we held each other close
for a long long time

finally
i was able to say
i’m sorry too

Poem 541    September 28, 2016      (up to top)

fat boy on the court

hey fat boy on the court
i know who you are
with your air jordan knock-offs
and your nylon shorts
hanging below your knees
shooting baskets by yourself
hoping someone is watching
when you shoot from beyond the arc
and make that one shot
that doesn’t clang off the rim

i know who you are
when you’re on a fast break
and you’re running and dribbling
as fast as you can
but that much faster kid
is catching up to you
and you’re almost out of breath
and you can’t even make
that simple lay-up

i know who you are
when you’re playing four on four
in the adult rec program
and you don’t know how to box out
you never learned how to pick and roll
you have no idea that
you should pass the ball
instead of attempting
that low percentage shot
from way outside

i know who you are
when you’re playing
with two fellow teachers
against three of the best kids
in fifth period gym class
and you take
and you make the winning shot
because you have no clue
that it should’ve been scored
by their beloved teacher

i know damn well who you are
and it makes me cringe
when i’m watching you

Poem 542    October 1, 2016      (up to top)

jumpy bastards

crickets
basking like nocturnal moon worshipers
on the brick wall at night
have infiltrated the garage
sent an expeditionary force to the basement
but when one appeared in the small bathroom
and another in the kitchen
it … meant war

i stealthily shut the bathroom door
… after several escape attempts
cornered him with my toe
and squashed him
with a satisfying crackling sound
and when the other advance scout
revealed his position in the kitchen
i was lucky to get him with the first shot

i don’t feel particularly gratified
about doing them in
but to quell an invasion
you have to win each skirmish

i just hope that the chinese philosopher sun tzu
– the author of the art of war
was mistaken when he said
to know your enemy
you must become your enemy

Poem 543    October 12, 2016      (up to top)

WIN BIG PRIZES

at THE BIG ONE
in dave & buster’s game room
a young teenager
was tapping the four yellow-lit buttons
in an in-out-left-right diamond array
to exactly position a three-pronged claw
above the gaudy and dirt-cheap
stuffed dogs and bears
and fauna of unknown origin
deliberately packed together
and arranged just so
before hitting the red-lit button
which dropped the open claw
onto his animal of choice

chains then pulled up the claw
which nudged against
grabbed at
and while closing
momentarily lifted the prize
but that claw just couldn’t hold on
and it came up empty
… it was so infuriatingly close
just like the last time

TRY AGAIN
urged the electronic voice
and of course he did
because a quick d&b card insert
cost only 10.9 credits
which doesn’t sound like much at all
until you calculate
that it really costs $1.45 a pop
at OUR BEST DEAL rate

in this rigged game of chance
where the amount of pressure
closing the prongs
and keeping the prongs closed
while lifting up a prize
has been computer-programmed
to generate a desired profit margin
the vulnerable adolescent
– a nascent gambler –
who’s experiencing excitation and anticipation
lasting a few thrilling seconds
followed almost always by disappointment
cannot resist another attempt
and then another
and another

Poem 544    October 21, 2016      (up to top)

sacrilege

on erev yom kippur
the evening beginning
the most solemn jewish holiday
– and during most services –
we silently recite to ourselves
the shemoneh esrei
– the consummate prayer in the liturgy –
wherein we beseech god
for all our personal and communal needs
and we offer blessings
of praise petition and gratitude

as we rose to stand
in the hushed moment
a cell phone started playing
the merrie melodies looney tunes
theme song
… it was my 6:45 medicine alert

i shut down my phone
my wife wanted to
shrink under the pew
… of course i was embarrassed
although i’m usually the one
who denigrates such thoughtless people
but it was only a mistake
and it’s quite likely
that a benevolent and forgiving god
would indeed have
a most gracious sense of humor

Poem 545    October 22, 2016      (up to top)

undesired clarity

in the darkness and stillness
between midnight and dawn
just before falling asleep
or just before awakening
trepidation and terrors
usually inhibited and suppressed
ooze out and boil over

words cannot be conjured up
in any worldly thesaurus
to precisely describe
these malignant vampires

there is no lexicon
for overwhelming dread

Poem 546.1    October 23, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 41

plants come in crying

glass panes supplant screens

somber autumn day

Poem 547    October 24, 2016      (up to top)

an elder

i was making a rare appearance in shul
on the evening of simchat torah
the holiday commemorating the ending
and then the beginning
of the year-long torah reading cycle

before the service
the rabbi was leading a shir – a study –
and mentioned she might be older
than anyone else

i looked around and reckoned
that i was actually the oldest

bernie and charlie had passed on
marvin and elsie and al and shelly had moved away
herb and natey couldn’t make it
which left me –
the recumbent bicycle rider
the long-distance walker
the silly-joking grandfather
the three stooges devotee
the big mouth and troublemaker
– as the oldest

me … of all people
an elder

Poem 548    October 25, 2016      (up to top)

bicycling at eighty

tom – my eisenhower park friend –
was a professional bike racer
and later owned a bike shop
… he’s helped me a lot
dialing in my new recumbent

at one point
i mentioned i was 70
and he answered
you know i’m 81

he added between 60 and 70
there ain’t much of a change
but between 70 and 80
it’s a whole ’nother thing
… and it ain’t for the good

we ha-ha’d
but son of a bitch
that’s not what i wanted to hear
… i wonder if i will still
be riding my recumbent bicycle
ten years in the future

and i wanted to howl
like edvard munch’s screamer
about the inevitability
of it all

Poem 549    October 28, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 42

november second

sixty-five and sunny

can't get much better

Poem 550    November 2, 2016      (up to top)

tired of holding on to

if only
i could jettison
my suffocating possessions
corrosive worries
noxious relationships
as proficiently
as a sugar maple
drops its winged seeds
sheds its leaves
and weeps out its sap

Poem 551.1    November 3, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 43

a woman stretching

bends over touches her toes

and smiles back at me

Poem 552    November 4, 2016      (up to top)

devastated

so furious
frozen
can’t write

the election
a travesty
unimaginable

can’t talk
can’t listen
bottled inside

so many voted
for him
against her

so deplorable
so demented
how could they

embarrassed
disillusioned
about my country

my country
’tis of thee
sweet land
of liberty
and justice
for all

Poem 553    November 14, 2016      (up to top)

dey ain’t my leaves no mo’

there ought to be a spiritual
celebrating my freedom
from the tyranny
of gathering and getting rid of
every autumn’s fallen leaves

when i was a teenager
i raked my parent’s yard
– and our neighbor’s yard for pay –
burning up piles of leaves
accelerated by a splash of gasoline
– oh that wonderful whoosh –
before open fires were outlawed

when we bought our house
more than forty years ago
we were exhilarated by the annual show
of golden and scarlet and bronze-colored leaves
hanging from sugar maples and tupelos
japanese maples and sassafras
mulbery trees and oaks
until … they relinquished their tenuous hold

then … while being rushed by days growing shorter
it was time for the inescapable backbreaking task –
raking and mowing and mulching and raking
gathering the detritus into piles
then pushing carrying or dragging the piles to the curb

during the 1990s
an ordinance was passed
banning the placing of piles of leaves on the street
so we were required to bag the leaves
so they could be lawfully removed …
i ‘d stuff them into fifty-five gallon drum liners
bought in boxes of fifty from costco
because they were larger than cheaper bags
and couldn’t be as easily pierced

i’d unroll each bag
shake it to expand it
bend down and clasp it between my legs
hand-scoop the leaves
into the gaping black orifice
kneel onto the bag
to press out the air
and compress the leaves
then fill them more
– up to the top –
kneel down to press again
knot the flaps …
then shlep them by two’s
out to the street …
i’d rake up the excess
into a neater pile
and repeat the process
until scores of bags were filled

if rain were forecast
this grueling work
was compounded
by having to force myself outside
– sometimes with flood lights on –
to hurry through the job
because dealing with wet leaves
was an anathema

all this pressure to finish
was exacerbated
by the dust and mold and spores
that aggravated my asthma
and the muscle aches and exhaustion
that inevitably followed

and when those crinkly oak leaves
which weren’t ours
taunted me
by blowing across the street
from houses to the east –
despite the prevailing
winds from the northwest –
i became irrationally irate
about the prospect
of having to deal with heaps of
someone else’s goddamn leaves

two seasons ago
we hired a landscaper to reseed our lawn
we kept him on to mow though the summer
to then do clean-ups through the fall

the windswept oak leaves
became their leaves
the wet moldy leaves
became their leaves
the lawn-blowing and gathering
became their problem

my asthma has disappeared
i have more time for joyful activities
and best of all
dey ain’t my leaves no mo’

Poem 554    November 17, 2016      (up to top)

enough is enough

i was bicycling north
on the jones beach bikeway
on an unseasonably warm
and glorious fall day

i started to write a poem in my head …
actually it was a rant
about things i can’t stand
people i hate
institutions that don’t give a crap

i was considering
putting it into rhyme …
abhor ignore
abnegate subjugate
phony sanctimony

it made me feel shitty …
shittier
i was already
devastated and depressed
about the recent
debacle of an election
and for the horribleness
that i expect
will be coming

i dead-stopped
the flow of creative juices
for i could not stand
delving further into negativity
… especially my own

enough
is fucking
enough

Poem 555    November 18, 2016      (up to top)

in the crossword puzzle zone

it’s after two on a sunday morning
only the refrigerator cycling on and off
breaks the stillness

i’m at the kitchen table
working the times’s sunday crossword
it’s not the week’s hardest
but it’s twice as large
as the daily puzzles
more intricate
more esoteric
ultimately more fun

and i’m in the zone
answers streaming forth
as smoothly as the black ink
from my ballpoint

at 3:35 i fill in the last square
check the spelling of berezina
– the river napoleon crossed
and my only reference check –
smile just a tad
– no fist pump for me –
quaff down some chocolate kefir
then trudge up to bed

Poem 556    November 21, 2016      (up to top)

thanksgiving … later that evening

they’ve all gone home …
in the dining room
i fold up chairs
reposition the furniture
sweep up string beans
where the high chair had been

while in the kitchen
my wife loads the dishwasher
sponges and straightens the counters
stores away leftovers
we’re looking forward to enjoying

in the living room
i windex the cocktail table
rearrange the throw pillows
maneuver the big toys
underneath the piano

in her studio
she cleans up popped balloons
picks up bits of colored paper
kvells at carefully-drawn artwork
left behind

everything’s in its place
we have our home back
but it’s deafeningly quiet …
they’ve all gone home

Poem 557    November 25, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 44

first bike ride in days

steady wind from the northwest

oy my quadriceps

Poem 558    November 27, 2016      (up to top)

tyrants

clock
scale
pedometer
wireless cyclecomputer with gps

have become
harsh taskmasters
digital tormenters
mocking instruments
on the day of judgment
which is every day

and i’ve allowed it
i’ve let it happen
though the numbers
– their readouts –
enslave

Poem 559    November 30, 2016      (up to top)

tuck me

i turn off the computers
brush my teeth
pad into our bedroom

vivi is asleep
the tv’s still on
i click on my nightstand lamp
go around to her side
reach for the remote

as i slide off her glasses
she stirs
half asleep she says tuck me … tuck me
i slip a small stuffed dog
we’ve named little jim
under her arm
pull up the blankets
kiss her forehead

she turns over
i rub the small of her back
umm … feels good
do it some more
i do
and soon
she’s fast asleep

Poem 560    November 30, 2016      (up to top)

nature’s rorschach

the two o’clock sun’s rays
slant through the trees
most of the leaves are gone
but the sugar maple’s
have resisted
two days of rain
and raw gusty winds

today
the dazzling yellow leaves
are flapping fluttering waltzing
into mosaics
of perambulating poodles
and shape-shifting faces
asymmetrical butterflies
and golden lunar landscapes
all for my perusal
all for my enjoyment

Poem 561    December 1, 2016      (up to top)

unseen until now

trees have shed their leaves
and now stand like naked sculptures
exposing what’s been hidden …
woven-twig homes for birds who’ve left
papery nests for hornets who’ve died out
clusters of leaves on the highest branches
for squirrels who come by every day
to chow down on unshelled peanuts
and sunflower seeds

but also unveiled
are billowing plastic bags
from chain drugstores
fast food joints
twenty-four hour stores
and way up top
is a red and blue happy birthday balloon
being buffeted by the wind

Poem 562    December 2, 2016      (up to top)

double zeroes

before the new millennium
i would rather walk in a blizzard
and slog through puddles
in a freezing rain
than do my workout indoors
on our schwinn airdyne exercycle

i’d often be walking in the dark
in the street against traffic
because pavement
is often flatter and smoother
than sidewalks and curb cuts

while listening to music
on my sony discman
then later on sandisk mp3 players
there wasn’t much to do
besides avoiding getting hit
so i eyeballed the expiration dates
on parked cars’ registrations stickers
and grew excited
as the 98s became 99s
at the crucial time
when we were all so caught up
in the potential horrors of y-2-k …
when the world
as we knew it
would grind to a halt

early in 1998
i saw my first double aught
and then several more
and a year later
a couple of 01s
and as the shimmering ball in times square
hit bottom at midnight
and a radiant 2000 beckoned in the new century
the world did not end

i’ve kept piling on the miles
still walking the streets
still reading the registrations
and in the next couple of years
i hope i’ll get to see my first 20s
then maybe
some time later
even some 30s

Poem 563    December 2, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 45

i loved jim so much

that i could nod to the vet

to press the syringe

Poem 564    December 7, 2016      (up to top)

good & plenty penance

my wife had gone upstairs
so i began watching – alone –
the third episode of the affair

i needed some kind of snack
paused the dvr before fiona apple’s intro
located a six-ounce box of good & plenty
in one of our presumed hiding places –
the size one might splurge for in the movies
for more than i’m ever willing to spend
but the size we could – and did – buy in cvs
when they were on sale
for three for four dollars

i could’ve eaten the pink and white candies
just one at time
but i didn’t
i gobbled them down in twos and threes
because that was far more satisfying

i could’ve conceivably stopped at just a dozen
but i had hardly gotten started
so i didn’t

when i got down to half a box remaining
i should’ve stopped
but i didn’t

i should have had the goddamn self-control
to leave a quarter of the box
for another time
but i didn’t

i knew the next day
the digital scale would be unkind
– and unkind is too kind a word –
so to avert the severe decree
i dragged myself to hempstead lake park
on a raw and dismal december day
to walk the three-and-a-half-mile loop clockwise
and then counter-clockwise
trudging around puddles
through fallen leaves
damp from last night’s soaking rain
as the dingy afternoon light
ebbed towards darkness

but walking is always energizing
and though the monochromatic terrain
could be desolate and bleak
there’s beauty in the solitude
there’s comfort in the movement
there’s serenity in just … being

perhaps tonight
i’ll be able to avoid more damage
and …
there’s always tomorrow

Poem 565    December 7, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 46

the hardest thing

about walking or cycling —

getting out the door

Poem 566    December 10, 2016      (up to top)

perceiving my world

adrift through life’s amazement
stained by a palette of numbers
ratios square roots and primes
steps per mile and miles per hour
pounds per square inch and gigabytes on a thumb drive
express stops to our destination and estimated time of arrival
credit card balances and charitable contributions
transfer on death accounts and required minimum distributions

but then
hovering over a silent still lake
is an early morning mist
muting cézanne-honey-gold tones
of an adjoining field of soybeans
a japanese maple’s crimson leaves
basking in the rays of a ninety-degree day
a sunset’s red-orange diamonds
shimmering on undulating waves
a full moon’s porcelain glow
beyond a winter-bare oak tree

a star canopy above
so many i can’t see
so many i can’t count

Poem 567    December 13, 2016      (up to top)

haiku 47

winter solstice

slithers in on icy feet

days will get longer

Poem 568    January 13, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 48

near jones beach 1's dunes

a man’s wife says wasted land

fuckin’ moron

Poem 569    January 13, 2017      (up to top)

tanka 5

hundreds of cowbirds

flare upwards over the dunes

swarming and circling

dipping and swirling en masse

until settling back to earth

Poem 570    January 13, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 49

the stuffed animals

schedule a confrontation

to demand more love

Poem 571    January 13, 2017      (up to top)

dry spell

it’s been a month
since i’ve written anything

i did reread and print out a story
for a publication i contribute to
but except for that
i’ve been slogging through a gobi desert
of unproductiveness

it could be the election fallout
or the end-of-the-year accounting
or that i lost my website
which i had for free for 21 years
or the holiday alienation and angst
of being jewish in a christian country

so this is the first poem i’ve written
it’s as hard as getting back on my bicycle
after a self-induced mishap
with muscles tightening up
while concentration is forced
and joy is not yet forthcoming

but the pleasure will come
yes … the joy has returned

Poem 572    January 14, 2017      (up to top)

the joys of gaslighting

in a couple of years
we’re going to celebrate
our golden anniversary
… unless we off each other first

we’re not closing in on fifty years together
through energizing squabbles
styled after edward albee’s
george and martha diatribes
nor through make-up sex
after a brutal session
of spousal abuse
but rather through the exquisite torture
of a thousand minuscule cuts

she’ll place her pomegranate next to the sink
and i’ll move it to the other side
i’ll fill my cereal bowl at the counter
and find it later in the refrigerator
she’ll mention that the toilet paper roll
should go onto the dispenser a certain way
and i’ll switch it one day after the next
i’ll be in the middle of a book
and find that the bookmark has been misplaced

when we do a big shopping at costco
we take two shopping carts
split the shopping list
and go our separate ways
i’ve always had a craving
for the kirkland lattice-top apple pie
and one time i placed one atop my items …
i left the cart off to the side
to search for several more things
and when i returned
someone had replaced my apple pie
with a huge block of velveeta

this …
means war

Poem 573    January 19, 2017      (up to top)

a cautionary tale

at the dude ranch resort
you can’t miss them –
the group of three hugely obese men
and their three equally corpulent mates

though you never see them on the trail rides
or snow tubing down the timber chutes
you can’t fail to spot them
shuffling down the hall in front of you
as you try to hurry by

when you’re having lunch in the dining room
you can’t avert your eyes
when they’re piling up food at the buffet
trying to balance two plates at once …
and know at dinner
that they’re ordering more than six entrees
because in this calorically indulgent place …
you and they can

and when you spot them
you’ve got to watch them
– you just can’t help it –
and you slowly shake your head
because you – you
could easily have turned out like them
if you had done this and this and this
and if you hadn’t done that and that and that

Poem 574    January 24, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 50

vivi and lloydie

atop butchie and major

best friends forever

Poem 575    January 27, 2017      (up to top)

enema

my urologist said it would be a good idea
to have an mri
why not … it’s not invasive

when i made an appointment
i was told that only three of their radiology centers
had an mri machine powerful enough
i wondered what i was getting myself into

and then there was the prep –
no food for four hours before
no liquids for one hour before
no ejaculations for three days before
and two fleet enemas
though not at the same time

i used a cvs three-dollar discount coupon
to pick up a two-pack
for only seventy-nine cents
the box didn’t feel heavy …
not much in them i thought

i opened the box
read the instructions
studied the outline diagrams
of preferred body positions
– yeah this was going to be easy
and my wife
– my ever so tolerant wife –
– my soul mate and help mate –
was chortling and busting a gut
while i was trying to find a place
to get down on all fours
and give myself my own
reverse reach-around

the instructions warned
to call a doctor
if there were adverse symptoms
or if there was no ahem outflow
within thirty minutes
and i wondered
who the hell was i gonna call
at twelve fifteen in the morning

but everything came out okay
and i hope the results of the mri
will be equally as untroubling

Poem 576    February 2, 2017      (up to top)

whited-out conditions

i walked through a nearby preserve
in the murkiness of a late afternoon
while heavy wet flakes
and then pellets of ice
fell all around me

the ground was covered
with almost an inch of snow
mine were the only shoe prints
snow was clinging to tree branches …
as i passed along the rippling brook
it looked – and sounded –
like a winter wonderland …
a pristine forest less than one mile
from my home

but of course i knew what was real
i knew all about the beer cans and soda bottles
the cigarillo wrappers and the used condoms
the shreds of clothing and the plastic bags
all hidden under a blanket of white

as i was trodding through this primal landscape
it was easy – for a while – to suspend belief …
and that it would be so absolutely glorious
to cover up all the strife between partners
all the animosity between factions
all the domestic political craziness
all the hostilities of a world
seemingly out of control
by a simple one-inch-thick shroud
of immaculate snow

Poem 577    February 2, 2017      (up to top)

reprieve

i downloaded
the radiologist’s report
of my mri-3t prostate
pre and post iv contrast
from the zwanger-pesiri website
and it stated …
tumor localization:
no findings suspicious
for clinically significant
prostate cancer
are detected

Poem 578    February 4, 2017      (up to top)

a voice silenced

i’m at a tisch
a hasidic custom
of gathering around a table
to tell stories and share songs
to drink and have snacks …
along with sixty or seventy attendees
i’m getting into it
but as midnight approaches
most who remain are much younger

as the singing continues
the twenty-something girl
sitting next to me
who has an okay voice
– a sweet girly voice –
is singing along
while i am holding a paper cup of booze
and swaying and lai-lai-lai’ing

and i think of my daughter
who has a god-given glorious voice
but because of her adopted orthodox beliefs
would never again sing in front of men
for fear of arousing their carnal desires

i’m so angry and disappointed – still –
that her golden voice
– a gift from the divine –
will never again be heard

Poem 579    February 18, 2017      (up to top)

death beckons from not so afar

for my seventieth birthday
my wife bought me a new bicycle
– a high-end tricked-out glossy-black azub 6 recumbent –
which was delivered damaged
then overnighted parts had to be replaced

it’s been taking an inordinately long time
to dial it in –
to make the bike feel like a part of me –
a leaking shock absorber
a poorly-designed handlebar riser
the wrong-sized chain rings
all had to be swapped out …
with all the problems this bike is causing
i often wonder if i’ll ever get to ride it

some oldsters buy red corvettes
others splurge on a new cadillac
– after all you can’t take it with you
this bike was going to be my special horse
on which i’d ride off into the hereafter

i’m beset by the nagging suspicion
that i’m peering through the wrong end of a binocular
the image of me joyfully pedaling
north on the jones beach bike path
with the south wind at my back
is like a receding dream
a dream i frequently fear
i will never get to enjoy

Poem 580    February 24, 2017      (up to top)

on a bad hair day

a long-married couple
is walking the jones beach boardwalk

her – i can’t believe it
       … my weight’s really up
her – my arm is hurting
       … i think i’ve got tendinitis
her – you know where i cut my finger
       … it’s feeling really numb
her – i should’ve worn warmer tights and my blue jacket
       … this wind is so cold
her – i think i have too many layers on
       … i’m gonna get too warm
her – i feel so depressed
       … i don’t how can you stand me

me – it’s because i love you so much

her – you’re so full of shit

Poem 581    February 26, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 51

four grandsons watching

the three stooges on youtube

my heart swells with joy

Poem 582    March 7, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 52

crosswinds and headwinds

twenty-eight miles of oy

first ride of the year

Poem 582    March 8, 2017      (up to top)

only peace of mind

taxes electronically filed
got acknowledging texts from state and fed

three of four required distributions
– i turn 70½ this year –
are taken care of

all the anticipation
planning
preparation
gruntwork
all the worry
now over

meager sense of accomplishment
half-assed contentment
soon evaporate

i want more coffee
want some more coffee
to make me feel better
to make me feel
– at least –
some modicum of happiness

Poem 584    April 7, 2017      (up to top)

a new recurring nightmare

my regular post-retirement work dream
revolved around my high school
not being programmed by me in time

but in my latest dreams
there’s been a more ominous theme …
on my first day of class
the room’s not organized
nor am i …
i forget to take attendance
i can’t start the lesson
i neglect to write the assignment
i neglect to write anything on the board
besides the date
i don’t bother with scan sheets
and the kids who have appeared
don’t seem to notice
… or care

and i fear
– no … i know
that i’m becoming mentally ill
i feel debilitated
drained
enfeebled
i take the second day off
then the next
without bothering to call in
i’m afraid to return
so i just
don’t

but when i do return
after many days out
– when i think i’m feeling better –
the same awareness
that i don’t know what the hell i’m doing
comes flooding right back
and i wake up panting
heart pounding
head aching

and then on another night
the self-referential nightmare recurs
with its incapacitating ennui
with its crippling exhaustion
with its irrefutable recognition
that i have indeed
gone over
the edge

Poem 585    April 7, 2017      (up to top)

smelling the roses

last summer
when i ordered my azub 6 recumbent
it was spec’ed out with larger after-market chainwheels …
with the same pedaling speed
i’d be able to go faster

but the front derailleur
would not support
the gearing-inch difference …
i would not be able to top out
at the higher speeds i had hoped

as i was speaking to kelvin
– my bicycle dealer and recumbent guru
in colorado springs –
i realized that in five or ten years
it might be a moot point anyway …
maybe i won’t have the strength
the stamina … or the nerve
to be mashing the largest gears
and i would be forced to learn
to enjoy taking it s l o w

but right now
i still have
the need for speed

Poem 586    April 10, 2017      (up to top)

dueling woodpeckers

our black and white
downy woodpeckers
are evidently not satisfied
with the blocks of suet
we put out every day

they’re up at seven in the morning
pecking and hammering their sharp gray beaks
into the moribund sassafras outside our window
sounding like overly-exuberant children
banging their overly-resonant rhythm sticks

and then it stops
finally
but begins again
and stops
and begins again
i stuff a mono mini earphone into my ear
click the timer on my radio
switch on the cpap machine again
– just for the white noise –
and try and try
to drift back to sleep

when i’m outside later
having a late breakfast
one might be rat-a-tat rat-a-tat rat-a-tat’ting
on a tree to the southeast
while to the northwest
it sounds like another is repeating
the same cadence and delivery
so reminiscent
of the dueling banjos performance
in the movie deliverance

the woodpeckers’ stereophonic
virtuoso duo during brunch
is engaging and melodic
but their early morning
conking and knocking
has got
to stop

Poem 587    April 12, 2017      (up to top)

oriented x 3

disorientation
– an altered mental state –
disrupts attention
leads to confusion
saps one’s strength

a mental status assessment
might examine one’s relationship
to time place and person …
if one’s internal calendar is off
it can lead to
agitation and exhaustion

when our main computer died
it took with it a calendar
containing many years worth
of historic and upcoming events –
show times and doctors’ visits
holidays and anniversaries
birthdays and yahrzeits
bicycle mileage milestones
and tax payment due-dates

during the weeks it took
to reconstruct the data
and become proficient
using google calendar
and syncing it with our phones
i felt untethered …
out of touch in time and place
unhinged
at a loss
… disoriented

we avoided making appointments
put off ordering tickets
feared we’d been neglectful
hoped we weren’t forgetting
to make that punctual call
to members of our extended family
to serenade them with our forté –
a-way-off-key duet rendition
of happy birthday to you

Poem 588    May 6, 2017      (up to top)

two mule team

i remember hearing commercials
when i was a kid
for 20 mule team borax …
a google search revealed
that the detergent is still being sold

this all came to mind
when i was walking jimmy
our easy-going wheaten terrier
and his buddy rufus
another wheaten terrier
who was somewhat more rambunctious

these terriers learned from each other
rufus taught jimmy
– who was the strong silent type at home
or a couch potato depending on one’s point of view –
how to practice his deep bark at our front door
while jimmy taught rufus
– who lived in a fastidiously-kept home –
how to slurp water from the toilet
but when they got together for a walk
– both were on retractable leashes –
they picked up the knack
of getting a running start
– it felt like my arms were being pulled from their sockets –
until i learned how to brace myself
to withstand the frantic pulling
of two mule-headed terriers
chasing after squirrels and cats
either real or imaginary

— rest in peace dear jimmy and rufus … you were such good boys together

Poem 589    May 11, 2017      (up to top)

gone to the dogs

our chabad rabbi
– a soft-spoken benevolent man –
is teaching our torah class about the six-day war
and the moral and ethical justifications
for a preemptive strike

when he throws out a question
the dyed-blond pomeranian
yelps out answers and judgments
– the same way she yapped out the punch line
before the rabbi finished his joke

an emigre bulldog from israel
barks out an opinion
which is given gravitas
only because of his pauses
and his pedigree

a poodle who’d pranced in late
trailing the rancid scent of perfume
yips out irrelevant comments
that she – and only she – giggles at

i sit fuming at the time-wasting
and their energy-sapping
– at their need for attention and affirmation –
for the class has truly
gone to the dogs

Poem 590    May 13, 2017      (up to top)

tanka 6

a mockingbird

serenades and regales us

with its repertoire

beguiling and wondrous … but

not at four in the morning


Poem 591    May 13, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 53

the inside plants

as they're carried outside

weep with joy

Poem 592    March 7, 2017      (up to top)

four children within

my father died the day after
his sixty-fifth birthday

in six hectic months
my mother packed up her valuables
garage-sold what wasn’t
got rid of the house we’d grown up in
and emigrated by car and auto train
with my vodka-fueled assistance
from islip on long island
to century village at deerfield beach …
to the place she eventually called
god’s little waiting room

every summer for twenty years
she flew up for ten days
to visit her boys
and she’d spend five days with us
and five days with my brother

even in the early years
she’d whine about a cold draft
from a slightly open window
pine about my father
invade our personal space
freely proclaim her prejudices
without the filter of wisdom gleaned
over six or seven decades of life

her visits were at best trying …
to say i felt relieved
as she passed through
the boarding gate at j f k
would have been an understatement

but during the twenty three years
before her death
i can count on one hand
the number of times
i flew or drove down
to visit her

i wonder now
with irreparable regret
what the hell had
– or hadn’t –
been going through my mind

perhaps i never got over
that she’d willingly leave her boys
and their families
and follow the exodus of jews
to the wilds of south florida …
i’d always thought that family came first
so how could she …
how could she
just up …
and move

i’m seven years older
than mom was when she moved south
and one major reason
why we’ve continued to reside
in this land of extortionate taxes
is that our son lives ten minutes away
and our daughter less than an hour
if it’s a good day
on the george washington bridge

but now i’m beating myself up
about not visiting her more
and i realize
she would have loved to see us
she would have loved to hug us
she would have loved to show us off
she would have loved to be chauffeured
to publix or piggly wiggly
to the bank and to the beach
and maybe her yearly sojourns
and those five summer days each
would not have been so strained

i never claimed
to have cornered the market on wiseness
nor am i inherently wicked
i assume i’m not a simpleton
and i do have the capacity to inquire …
maybe i was just downright oblivious
– an obliviot in the worst sense –
for no one ever told me
nor did i ever learn
to do what i should’ve been doing
all along

and now
i cannot make amends
i cannot go back twenty or thirty years
to make things right
it’s just not possible
so i will carry this guilt
for the rest of my days

Poem 593    May 15, 2017      (up to top)

forever after

never-ending heartache
is acid-etched
on the face
of the queen of sorrow

she stares into a future
without solace
with eyes that cry
without tears

Poem 594    May 18, 2017      (up to top)

welcoming the oppressor

the tyrant goose-steps in
not wearing jackboots
not with lightning-bolts on his shoulders
but inhabiting a five-inch gorilla-glass screen
held by a self-absorbed mother
unattending her offspring cradling iPads
held by a jaywalking obliviot
tempting an ignominious fate
with every double-thumbed text
held by nearly five billion
worldly souls selling their souls
to the pixilated idol of always-on access
to the false gods of connection and intimacy
to an electronic divinity
unsanctified by benevolence

and you … me … all of us …
proponents of self-determination and democracy
believers in free love and free will
have grasped and embraced him
genuflected before our angel of light
clicked … tapped … swiped away our right to privacy
slavered and slobbered over an illusion
that what we’re getting
comes without
an ultimate cost

Poem 595    June 9, 2017      (up to top)

mr vincible

i stare into the mirror
and scrutinize the face
of a bearded seventy-year-old guy
who looks young for his age
– at least everyone tells me so –
still … i often cannot believe i’ve reached
the so-called age of wisdom

i feel an inherent pride
that i have the strength and stamina
to ride my recumbent bicycle forty miles
or walk seven- or eight- or nine-mile loops
though some say with foreboding
that i might be overdoing it

but on one saturday morning
when i had pressure in my chest
that had started the night before
and discomfort in my jaw …
and i’d been having minor twinges
for a week or two …
and when i called my cardiologist’s service
and the doctor on call got right back to me
and told me to get myself to the e r
not by car but by ambulance …
and i was admitted to the cardiac wing
where i spent four days and three nights
in a wonderfully private
but hermetically-sealed room
that kept the outside out
but the inside in …
and i was pricked and prodded and probed
attached to a portable heart monitor
with erratic high blood pressure readings
but consistently negative blood enzyme results …
and i was filled with anxiety
because the best way to determine
if something were amiss
was to have an angiogram
– a cardiac catheterization –
and what if something was really screwed up

my cardiologist didn’t do the angiogram
until monday evening
but afterwards announced
that everything … everything
looked the same as it had
after two stents were implanted
following my heart attack eight years before …
and so i was good to go …
good to go back to my normal activities

but i’m wary
i don’t feel quite as invincible
i tell myself that i should take it easy
– or at least easier
… but takin’ it easy
ain’t so easy

Poem 596    June 11, 2017      (up to top)

birds of a feather

while we’re outside
having a late breakfast
a male grackle
sleek shiny black
with his blue-green iridescent neck and head
stands preening
at the edge of the birdbath

look at him standing there
my wife says to me
you’ve got to admit …
he’s a lot more handsome than you are

while a less lustrous black bird
– a smaller scruffier version –
pecks at the suet block

and that
she points out
has got to be his wife

in years past
i might have made
a snide or obnoxious comment
but this time
i uh-huh’d
and remained silent

Poem 597    June 30, 2017      (up to top)

mistakes

i opened the cabinet door under the sink
to tear off a couple of sheets
of bounty paper towels …
but right away realized
the holder hadn’t been attached there
for over seventeen years

i’m the numbers guy in our relationship
– that’s been my skill set
and a major part of my occupation –
i use spreadsheets i’ve created and refined
to maintain our financial records
to keep track of deductions
to pay our bills every month …
i pride myself in my skill and accuracy
but lately … lately
i’ve been making mistakes …
number transpositions
misplaced bills and forgotten payments
despite using a monthly worksheet …
it’s an error here … an error there
not many …
but enough to fuck up my head

and it worries me
god damn skippy …
it worries me

Poem 598    June 30, 2017      (up to top)

doomed

we squeezed onto the uptown express
past a double stroller
holding a teary three-year-old boy
and a crying two-year-old girl

one of their minders who was pregnant
while the other stood tugging at her micro dress
the kids’ mother? … their aunt? –
was slapping at the boy’s hands
as he kept crossing them over his torso
into what we overheard her complain
– to somehow justify her actions –
was a defiant and insolent pose
but using not exactly those words

it was seven in the evening
as we were headed to the theater …
they must’ve been tired or hungry
– maybe all four of them –
but instead of showing a modicum of compassion
a defenseless child
was being bullied and chastised –
a child
who … without a doubt
was already doomed

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2018

Poem 599    June 30, 2017      (up to top)

the descent of an old friend

i’m fifteen years or so younger
than three or four of the guys
in our brunch group
of the world’s greatest minds

one of our founding fathers
has not been able to regularly make it
to our biweekly diner meeting …
he experiences debilitating bouts of dizziness
and has recently stopped driving

but this past week he got a ride
and sat with little to say
while we again solved
the world’s major problems

this once vital and stentorian technology teacher
fumbling to answer his cellphone
his six foot plus body looking gaunt
as if he were folding into himself
his eyes drooping
as if he lacked the energy
to keep them wide open
his need to sit down after a dozen steps
his melancholy affect
his hopelessness
his pallor
… so excruciating to witness
… and so awful to contemplate

Poem 600    June 30, 2017      (up to top)

the redolence of yours, that lingers

i’d just come out of the shower
wandered downstairs
embraced my wife in the kitchen
oh no … not that again
she mock-complained

she sniffed my neck and said
you know … you smell just like avi
– avraham duvid our youngest grandson –
or should i say
he smells just like you

i remembered how good
our two children smelled
when they’d been bathed and diapered
when i snuggled and read to them at bedtime
and now … even now …
when they’re big and grown-up

the power of pheromones
for sure …
and the indisputable power
of love

the redolence of yours, that lingers Aarushi Mathur (ishtaryaa)

Poem 601    July 3, 2017      (up to top)

double headstone

in a municipal cemetery
a simple gravestone
an enigmatic engraving
in classic roman font –

             RALSTON
1885 — GRANDMA — 1966
 1888 — GRANDPA — 1969

no appellation
other than the surname
no blessed
no beloved
no testament
no tribute
to their eighty-one years
except for some meager markings
on a solitary stone

Poem 602    July 3, 2017      (up to top)

inseparable

at the dog run
my large wheaten terrier usually steered clear
of a dark-faced alpha german shepherd
whose robust master
was fiercely devoted to his dog

after my dog died
i’d occasionally run into steve and fury
on their walking route
along merrick road
and when the man challenged me with
so when’re ya gonna get another dog
i’d tell him i still missed my jimmy
but then i’d make my usual excuses
about commitment and keeping it simple

recently
i spotted the stooped man
and his fragile graying dog
both trudging along
ever so slowly
ever so languidly
ever so forlornly
… all i could do was sigh
and sadly shake my head

Poem 603    July 10, 2017      (up to top)

tattoo

some vibrant and intricate skin art
is fascinating and alluring
but i’ve seen a whole lot more
black and blurred nebulous messes

i sometimes wonder
what kind of tattoo i would get
knowing that it’s only hypothetical
since i’m taking blood thinners
and i’d probably bleed out on the spot

maybe a bear or an otter … a crow or a hawk
perhaps a religious representation or symbol …
i scroll through multiple screens on google images
and realize they’re all – to me – as meaningless and ephemeral
as exorbitantly-priced baubles in a times square souvenir shop

though for a moment i consider …
how ’bout a particularly painful
under the arm rib tattoo
with four or five lines of text …
part of a psalm or a prayer
a haiku or a quotation
even something that i have written
but then i chuckle …
why would i ever want to desecrate
an already perfect canvas

Poem 604    July 13, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 54

long black wisp of hair

glommed on the men’s urinal

rouses the writer

Poem 605    July 13, 2017      (up to top)

savasana

i’ve done yoga only twice in my life –
both times i’d accompanied by wife
to some summer retreat

the first time many years ago
was at a waypoint in new jersey
along the appalachian trail
where yoga and hiking were combined

the second time most recently
was at a yoga and fitness weekend
at great camp sagamore
in the adirondacks

at the waypoint
i could barely get into
many of the positions …
i felt awkward and out of place
as if i did not – could never – belong

the second time
i felt less inadequate
though with my wonky left knee
my chronically-aching right shoulder
my overall muscleboundness
my lack of flexibility
i knew my limitations
… but i worked as hard as i could

at the end of the second session
– a challenging physical experience –
i get into the savasana pose
also known as the dead man’s or corpse pose
… with the soft music silenced
i am lying flat on my back
heels spread
arms outward
palms up …
my breaths slow and deepen
i begin to come down
from the stretching and twisting
the bending and balancing
the contortions and inversions
and the first thing that comes to mind
is how klutzy and inept i feel
but my self criticism
my reflexive self-deprecation
is quickly and surprisingly replaced
by the utter joy and realization
… that in the summer
of my seventieth year
i am able to do
as much as i did

namaste

Poem 606    July 27, 2017      (up to top)

a kettle of hawks

against an azure sky
above ticonderoga’s
bicentennial park
twenty hawks or so
are flying in lazy circles
soaring on updrafts
floating on thermals
scattering dispersing
then returning to formation

red-tailed hens and tercels
passing on skills
to their fledglings
on a radiant
midsummer
late afternoon

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Twenty-second Annual Literary Review, 2018

Poem 607    July 27, 2017      (up to top)

flintstones … meet the flintstones

we first took up hiking
decades ago

after signing in at the trail head
and embarking on our hike
with my wife in the lead
– and for no reason we can now recall –
we started singing the flintstones song
         flintstones … meet the flintstones
         they’re the modern stone age family
along one path then another
         from the … town of bedrock
         they’re a page right out of history
from one blaze to the next
         let's ride … with the family down the street
         through the courtesy of fred's two feet
around each boulder and vly
         when you're … with the flintstones
         you'll have a yabba dabba doo time
         a dabba doo time
         you'll have a gay old time
and we continue on
singing whistling and humming
what has become
our longest-lasting earworm

and we’re still at it

Meet the Flinstones – Hoyt Curtin, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna, 1961

Poem 608    July 27, 2017      (up to top)

serendipity

i was on the jones beach bikeway
riding south with a tailwind …
i dreaded that later when i’d be tired
it’d be a slog pedaling north

but i must’ve hit the bicycle lottery
for at the end of the afternoon
the wind switched direction
and a strong breeze off the ocean
carried me home

Poem 609    July 31, 2017      (up to top)

the titanic state parkway

on the first screen
when i googled taconic state parkway
were listings such as
outed as deadliest road in new york
the most dangerous road in the state
all lanes open after fatal crash

the 104-mile-long parkway
is the route that waze
– the traffic and navigation app –
will usually select on my mobile phone
for driving to and from albany
and the adirondacks

the wooded and mountainous vistas
are lush and voluptuous
but its straight wide four-lane stretches
will … without warning
morph into a series of switchback curves
with no shoulder on the right …
i sometimes feel like a race car driver
– an evel kneivel in a minivan –
while my wife … my loving copilot
besieges me to take it easy
berates me that i’m gonna get us killed
badgers me that i should slow the hell down
while i’m concentrating
on keeping a hair’s breadth away
from the box rail center barrier
which looks too insubstantial
to stave off any oncoming car

i’ve driven home from poughkeepsie at night …
though the weather was clear
i was still white-knuckling it …
it’s hard to contemplate
driving the taconic
through dense fog or pelting rain or blowing snow

the parkway is far different
from the faster-moving
– and presumably much safer –
new york state thruway
which meets interstate highway safety standards
but on the t s p
there’s no route 17 merge to contend with
no dazed woodbury commons shoppers
no tappan zee tollbooth slowdown
and according to waze
you could save at least twenty minutes
returning home on the titanic
on a sunday afternoon

Poem 610    July 31, 2017      (up to top)

after the prayers … after the hymns

under a waxing crescent moon
late on a sunday evening
i am taking a breather
from our cramped caboose lodging
alongside paradise lane

a sound overtakes the silence
that hovers over the lush farmland …
from a mile away
– or perhaps two or three –
i hear a faint
clip-clop clip-clop
clip-clop clip-clop

which gets steadily louder
as an amish enclosed buggy
with l e d running lights
makes the right turn
from state route 741

pulled by a saddlebred trotter
it clip-clops clip-clops
across the tracks
of the strasburg rail road
on four grinding steel wheels

when it’s near i raise my hand
the driver waves back
then i turn to watch
its red lights flashing
as it clip-clops clip-clops
over a rise
and recedes
into the darkness

Poem 611    September 7, 2017      (up to top)

old goats

the glen onoko falls trail
in lehigh gorge state park
features a magnificent waterfall at the top
and the trail is rated
as moderate

we discovered
that the trail might be moderate
for twenty-somethings
and mountain goats
but for us old goats
the trail became more demanding
the higher we got
and we’d heard that the trail
was even more difficult
near the top

maybe the signs should’ve warned us …
sections of the trail ahead are steep and treacherous
and this trail is extremely dangerous
and along with a skull and crossbones image
… people have been seriously hurt or killed

we clambered around and over boulders
crossed the gorge twice on slippery stones
and two wobbly logs
grabbed and pulled ourselves up tree limbs
… all while knowing that the return trip downhill
could be even more challenging

with my wonky left knee protesting
and my debilitated right shoulder
screaming abort the mission
with my wife’s pragmatic urge for caution
but less than a couple of hundred feet to go
we decided to
turn back

i know there’ll be other waterfalls
and other chances to test our mettle
but i never like to give in
i always want to keep on going
… but on this hike up along the gorge
i know
i think
and yet i still wonder if
we made the right decision

Poem 612    September 7, 2017      (up to top)

my roller coaster buddy

after lunch at hersheypark
we decided to trade grandsons

instead of yitzi
who was afraid of roller coasters
and moshe
who’d been with me for several hours
and who’d had enough
i got eli – the five-year-old –
who wanted to go
on some roller coasters

he wasn’t tall enough
to ride the big coasters
that do inversions and loops
like fahrenheit or the great bear
– at 45 inches tall he was only a “reese’s” –
but we did ride the comet
and the sooperdooperLooper three times
and i am so proud
that i got him to enjoy sitting in the first car
where the only thing you see
when you look down in front of you
after the first climb is …
the drop

Poem 613    September 7, 2017      (up to top)

old habits die hard

i’m watching a movie on netflix
they’re rolling a joint
and now they’re lighting it
then passing it

when they inhale
i feel air-smoke fff-ing between my lips
         and my lungs are inflating
while they’re holding it in
i feel its glowing burn inside
when they exhale
my own air-smoke pfffs out
         and my lungs are deflating

old habits die hard
yes … old habits die hard

Poem 614    September 15, 2017      (up to top)

silent witness

as i rode my bicycle in lynbrook
i passed a white split level house
with a new aluminum wheelchair ramp
that zig-zagged up over a lush green lawn

there was a honda odyssey in roosevelt
with its glossy black mobility scooter carrier

and in front of an expanded ranch in westbury
a pristine ez-access threshold ramp

along my favorite bicycle routes
i’ve been a silent witness
to the changes wrought in families
over months and sometimes years …

when the zig-zag has been disassembled
revealing patches of dirt and yellow-browned grass

after the rusting scooter carrier has been removed
and left leaning beside the house

and when the dented threshold ramp
has been finally hauled away

— Honorable mention, JCC Poetry Contest, 2018
Poem 615.1    September 22, 2017      (up to top)

tapering down

one late august evening in the 1980s
i was at my doctor’s office
with my usual complaint –
that i was feeling sick and run down

when he left the examining room
i opened my chart
noticed with amazement
that in the past i’d often seen him
around the same time of the year

i thought of one possible reason –
anticipating the stress of the coming school year
accompanied by the end-of-summer blues …
but then i realized
that during the summer vacation
– slowly and insidiously –
i’d been increasing my workouts

six-miles runs during the late summer
had become seven … then seven and a half … then eight …
two workout days in a row became three
and sometimes four

interspersed bike rides
became longer and harder …
regular rides were eighteen miles
more difficult rides were thirty or more …
unlike running – for me –
it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort
to ride just a little bit more the next day
… and then the next

and still it’s happening …
i started off this past spring
on my new recumbent bike
oy-oy-oying my sore muscles
dreading descending the stairs
promising myself
that i’d alternate bicycling and walking
and now
i’m doing forty-mile rides
– and sometimes farther –
on back-to-back days …
besides having disturbed sleep
i’ve been starting to feel
just a little bit crappy … and run down

so …
maybe this epistle is a pledge
– or at least an acknowledgment –
that for my own good
i’d better start
tapering down

Poem 616    October 3, 2017      (up to top)

the days of repentance 1

the days from rosh hashanah through yom kippur
are called aseret yemei teshuva
the ten days of repentance

except for the kol nidre service
– on the eve of yom kippur –
i’ve exempted myself from attending
the high holiday services

i do feel guilty
but my guilt is outweighed
by my annoyance anger then rage
at having to sit and stand for hours
through religious rituals
during which i become disconnected
disillusioned and disgusted

part of it is of my own making
if i knew how to fluently read hebrew
then i could perhaps recite the prayers
and chant the chants
to the melodies i love and am familiar with
but the prayer book used by our congregation
are in hebrew and english
with little or no transliteration
so … i don’t go
my wife faithfully attends
as well as our son and his sons
and for our orthodox daughter and her family
there’s not even a choice
… so i am the outlier

i ride my bike or walk
on glorious high holy days
i choose to not fast on yom kippur
perhaps i’ll do paperwork
or read and write poetry
it’s my way of connecting
to what’s relevant
meaningful
and spiritual
to me

Poem 617    October 3, 2017      (up to top)

the days of repentance 2

i got that feeling …
maybe something missing
maybe something added
a difference in air pressure perhaps
that there was something going on
just out of reach

on the tuesday after rosh hashanah
i was at a poetry reading
where the feature reader and his wife
taught in the high school from which i graduated
and also where my brother had taught for over thirty years …
when i was introduced during the open read
and when i read my poem the first day of tishrei
he and his wife both thought
i was my brother’s son …
they were colleagues with him in the same department
and they said … close to tears … that they had loved him

on the following day
i went to poetry workshop
and after we introduced ourselves
a new attendee turned to me
and asked if i had been a teacher
and in what school
and when i told her
she said that she was the daughter
of marion – my closest colleague –
a woman who i loved and admired …
a colleague who in a very large way
influenced my life …

marion had strongly urged me
to enrol in an administration and supervision program …
i was being groomed to take over her administrative job
and when she received her retirement incentive
at the end of a school year when principals and a-p’s left en masse
i was appointed later that summer
as acting interim assistant principal hyphen organization

– i couldn’t sleep the night before a citywide meeting of administrators
– i agonized about the additional responsibilities
– that i would be owning a position in a school that i didn’t respect
– that i’d be forced to attend a host of extra meetings
– that i’d be spending an inordinate amount of extra time
learning and doing a job about which i realized i had little idea
– that i’d be working with a new principal
with a limited intellect who knew far less than i did

and … i was already doing a job as school programmer
– a job that i excelled at and enjoyed
– a job for which i’d built computational and display spreadsheets
– a job that was overwhelming at times but also hugely gratifying
– a job that i could occasionally do from home
– a job that hooked into my love of numbers and my need for order
– a job that tapped into the sweet spot in my skill set
i lasted four days …
on the friday before the term started
i told the new principal that i was backing out
that i intended to continue as program chairman
and she warned me quite ungraciously
that i’d probably never get a similar opportunity

without marion’s prodding
i would never have had the chance
to make the decision i did …
to decide what was really important to me
– not ambition but self-respect
– not the extra pay but a sense of autonomy
– not being slave to a school system for which i had little allegiance
but the time to be with my family and to do the things i loved

during the ten days of repentance …
a connection to my deceased brother
whose yahrzeit – the anniversary of the date of his death –
was a few days later
and the thought that i could have been coerced into accepting
a stultifying and unsatisfying position
and i had a made the choice to change the direction of my life
… perhaps a coincidence
perhaps a message
perhaps …
something else

Poem 618    October 3, 2017      (up to top)

yearly ordeal

a shot in my left arm
of high-dosage fluzone
feel achy and worn-down
manage the soreness with
two days of tylenol
better than the real threat

– a 6x6 poem

Poem 619    October 6, 2017      (up to top)

can’t stifle the urge

a piece of writing
is like an ingrown hair
i can’t leave it alone
i just can’t

i need to find the right tweezer
the one with the perfect pincers
to pick at it
aggravate it
exorcize it
i need to make it bleed

even then
the steroidal calming
will not assuage
the irritation
the need
to go one more round
just one more edit

just one more

– in response to the writing prompt left alone

Poem 620    October 6, 2017      (up to top)

so is anybody listening?

a murky mucky dank dark day …
after a rare afternoon nap
after a rare afternoon tv show
i had to get out of the house
so i lumbered in crocs to the corner

a neighbor from across the street
pulled out of his driveway
in his black sequoia behemoth
lowered his window and shouted
so how’re ya doin?

i said i feel like shit
he said hey that’s great
he wide-smiled and waved
and went on his way

Poem 621    October 9, 2017      (up to top)

slippery slope

the vicodin prescription bottle
– 5 mg hydrocodone/500 mg acetaminophen –
stored in a plastic baggie in the medicine cabinet
is dated september 1 2002

i’ve held onto it just in case
and those just in case instances
– splitting the 5 mg pill in half –
have occurred fewer than a dozen or so times
over the past fifteen years

but when i’m on my way home
aching
from an extra-long walk or a hard bike ride
i often think about taking just a half
this one time
before stepping into the shower

the feeling of relief
from the opioid combination
is so soothing
so all-encompassing
that i know
it’d be difficult
to resist the urge
the next time i’m hurting
… and then the next

Poem 622.1    October 17, 2017      (up to top)

incongruity between beach 32nd and beach 56th

i’m pedaling westbound
on the rockaway beach boardwalk
rebuilt with concrete
after sandy’s devastation

to my left are wavelets
lapping ashore sandy beaches
shimmering ocean waters
illumined by the mid-afternoon
autumn sun

to my right are 24 blocks
of overgrown brush
ribbed by sand-covered streets
with one-way and stop signs
for cars that are non-existent
bounded by edgemere avenue
and the elevated A train
rumbling east above rockaway freeway
towards its mott avenue terminus

Poem 623    October 23, 2017      (up to top)

rocky horror on the a train

we got on at west 4th
for the two-stop trip
to penn station

20 or so young 20-somethings
– boys and girls and some in between –
were all dressed in fishnets and lipstick
black corsets and halter tops
and i asked one where she was off to
because – you know – inquiring minds

she said to the rocky horror picture show
and i time-traveled back to 1975
when the film was released …
when i smoked a pipeful in my car
before seeing the campy trampy movie
at the uniondale mini cinema

i could never predict
what a cult classic it would become …
how over forty years later
there’d be kids in costume
young enough to be my grandchildren
subwaying into manhattan
for their midnight happening

Poem 624    October 23, 2017      (up to top)

perhaps a holy visitation

i was sitting in the kitchen
sipping from a mug of iced coffee
reading from the light and fire of the baal shem tov
– a book of the life in stories
of the eighteenth century mystical rabbi
and founder of hasidic judaism

i paused … looked up
and before me
at eye level
appeared an almost transparent perturberance
a mucilaginous emanation
filling the filmy horizontal plane

whatever it was
lasted several seconds
and in those seconds
i felt strangely comforted
that everything was … just right
just like everything … should be

it felt wondrous
but i also wondered
– as a cynic and not-so-devout atheist –
what it could have been …
maybe the semblance of an angel
maybe a glimmer of god-consciousness
maybe the presence of the divine
maybe a ripple in the space-time continuum
or simply some shmutz on my glasses

but several days later
those moments of warmth and well-being
those feelings of spiritual immanence
are still with me

Poem 625    October 26, 2017      (up to top)

an unwelcome call

one of my diner buddies
called to tell me
that our fourth charter member
would not be making it
to the diner this tuesday

he’d been in the hospital for several weeks
with heart problems and pneumonia
followed by a stint in rehab …
he was able to be home for a while
but now he was back in the hospital

doctors had found a mass on his liver

i asked if he thought
if our friend was ever
going to make it out of the hospital

he said that things were not looking good

i called his caregiver
she said that this time he was very sick
they’ll do some procedures
to make him comfortable
arrange for hospice care

and then send him home

Poem 626.1    October 26, 2017      (up to top)

my go-to guy

there used to be a time
when i asked my older brother
– he had a special expertise –
when to bring in the plants
how to translate a yiddish word or phrase
about names and relations in our family lineage

he’d had electroconvulsive therapy
and i occasionally detected gaps
in his previously rock-solid memory
and a lack of precision
in his answers and advice
… but i continued to implicitly trust
whatever he did have to say

it’s been four years
since he’s been gone
but i still sometimes pick up the phone
to tap in his number
though i immediately realize
that i can’t reach him anymore

Poem 627.1    October 29, 2017      (up to top)

still … after fifteen years

i’d forgotten my attendance sheets
so i was hurrying into the main office
past the time clock
past the small cork board
with its thumb-tacked announcements
typed in black and red with underlining

and i thought
not another school dream …
but this time the scene was so vivid –
the dark oak moldings
the frosted glass partitions
the dymo labels on the mail slots
the fluorescents … the smell … the ambience …
that it had to be real
the scene’s authenticity was so self-validating
that it couldn’t have been
just … a dream

but i couldn’t find my mail slot
so i started bantering with two secretaries
– janet and wendy –
as i often did …
they were smiling and laughing
but they soon started acting
as if i didn’t belong there

and i didn’t

Poem 628    November 1, 2017      (up to top)

reverse gang bang

death has snuck up on them
and has fucked them but good
his lust is far too powerful to fend off
his profane and contemptuous hunger
cannot be overcome

a congregant dies from an embolism
a diner buddy succumbs to cancer
a fellow teacher is given six months to live
an internet friend has one of her few good days

all in this one week
he’s been so very busy

why don’t you take a break
you miserable son of a bitch

Poem 630    November 10, 2017      (up to top)

unconsummated

in my moral principia
honor and trust
overcome
passion and lust

i was married …
call me old-fashioned
pragmatic or sober
but i’d had a real opportunity
to stray …
but i didn’t

yet … i loved her from afar
and from up close
we were together on open school days
we worked side by side in my office
we could’ve easily taken the next steps
but we didn’t

she’s dying now
stage four lung cancer
she’s got six months she said
and it just might have been
the cigarette cloud
and her smoky taste
that empowered me back then
to push her away

but i will always love her

Poem 631    November 11, 2017      (up to top)

the juggler’s vision

when you first spot the big top
in the middle of the field
you feel your excitement building …
when you draw nearer
you take note of the tent pegs
and the thick taut woven ropes
holding it all in place
… because that’s the way you think

as you approach the entrance
the music of the calliope
gets louder and louder
– much too annoying for your taste –
but this time you don’t seem to care
this time you make an exception

there’s no one to collect tickets …
yes it had been advertised as
come one! come all! all welcome!
and the whole town would be there
so you and you and yours
slip through the open flap
find seats on the half-filled
makeshift wooden bleachers
though some people
– perhaps roustabouts and performers –
are standing off to the side

your eyes accustom
to the murkiness and haze
of the late afternoon sunlight
filtering through slits in the canvas
and there! … you see him!
in the middle of the ring
a spotlight has just flickered on …
a juggler made up like a clown
– like a down-and-out hobo of old –
is attempting to juggle

he’s successful with two balls
and you think
hey … what the hell … i could do that
and he tries with a third ball
but all three drop to the floor …
he fakes a pratfall
you hear a few chuckles
you sense the restiveness
as he bends over
picks them up
stares up at the crowd
stares up at you
with a look of embarrassment and exasperation
but also of determination
and he tries again
and again
and again

his balls don’t bounce
or they’d land all over the place
and then roll away …
they’re just primary-colored beanbags
he bought at dubé in soho
when he attended clown school
in downtown manhattan …
he felt so goddamn inept then
when he compared himself
to the late teens and the twenty-somethings
much more talented and agile than he
and much less than half his age

he picked up the balls
and he picked up the balls again
to a smattering of boos
but the taunting died out
when the rainbow balls
turned to gray and then black
one … after … the … other

the balls became a negative light
arcing up and down
up and down
– like fuzzy shadows you think –
and he got three balls going
and finally kept them going

there’s a collective sigh of relief
and though you couldn’t pinpoint where it came from
he threw up a fourth ball
and their arcs grew higher
and moments later a fifth
then a sixth
and their arcs grew higher still
and you could start to hear
whistling and cheering
rumbling and stomping
as a seventh and an eighth
then a ninth and a tenth ball
were tossed into the cascade

you wonder
how he could possibly do it
you couldn’t even see those black balls up so high
but all of a sudden
without a whimper or a warning
the grimy yellow-orange tent walls
start bulging and heaving and billowing
as some kind of maelstrom
groaning and howling outside
starts yanking out the stakes
starts rupturing the ancient canvas
and the cheering and the whistling
the stomping and rumbling
turn into a vacuum of silence
as the walls collapse
and the top is blown off
and whooshed away
like a sail in a tornado
though you can’t possibly fathom
how you could think
of such an analogy
out here on the farmland
at a time like this

the center support posts
are splintered and sucked away
but you and you and yours
are awestruck and dumbstruck …
you can’t look away
you can’t avert your eyes
from the juggler with the sad old face
the sad old beaten face with a bulbous nose
with the white greasepaint
with the ludicrous black eyebrows
with a salt-and-pepper beard
so out-of-place
and so out of time

but you’ve got to give him credit
he’s still juggling those black balls
higher and higher
and you’ve lost count
fifteen … twenty … thirty …
who could possibly keep up
with that cascade of so many balls
despite the turbulence
despite the chaos and havoc
despite the utter impossibility

just then
flocks of ravens and crows
– where did they come from –
and four and twenty
million blackbirds
coalesce with the continuing cascade
of more and more balls
all whirling and swirling
and you can’t stop gazing upwards
as all those specks of black
spiral up towards the heavens
like the soot from the ovens
like the souls of the lost ones
like the tears of those who weep
for the others left behind

Poem 633    November 16, 2017      (up to top)

winning’s the only thing

it’s simple
either you win
or you lose
there’s no middle ground

that’s the way i was raised
that’s the code i live by
there’s no good job! for losers
there’s no attaboy! pat on the back
there’s no plastic trophy
for second place
with your name
etched into make-believe gold

it’s time to wake up
it’s time to get real
either you make it
or you don’t
either you stand with me
or you stand way off to the side
all by yourself

– based on the writing prompt, “the game”
– Vince Lombardi – Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing

Poem 633    November 27, 2017      (up to top)

of blessed memory

at our second biweekly brunch
after gerry had died
not one word
about him or his passing
was uttered

in the recent
broadway production of 1984
there was a recurring scene
when one worker
sitting around a breakroom table
then another and a third
were no longer there
and were no longer mentioned …
they’d been physically removed
erased from the records
their lives and their deeds
were expunged

on this windy november day
at the embassy diner
with crows fluttering outside
there was more room around the table
but no space and no place
for our reactions
to the loss
of our dear friend

Poem 634    December 1, 2017      (up to top)

haiku 55

brittle brown oak leaves

on a drab december day

are crunched underfoot

Poem 635    December 5, 2017      (up to top)

sucking the sudoku teat

i know i’m overdoing it …
on my cell phone it’s sudoku daily
on my computer it’s sudoku expert
on the toilet it’s laser printouts
from the web sudoko site

i know i lose track of time
i lose myself in the challenge
of taking a pristine 9x9 grid
and then analytically and logically
filling in its blanks
with the correct numerical solution

as engrossing and addictive as sudoku is
it’s also an unequivocal time suck …
after all
there are more meaningful things to do
… things that actually have
some relevance and consequence

Poem 636    December 5, 2017      (up to top)

terms of endearment

when i was growing up
my mother
had particularly affectionate pet names for us –
my father was the fucking prick
my brother was the fucking schmuck
and i ... i was the fucking bastard

my mother
was a child of the depression
– an adult-child with depression –
who could rage at the shadows
in a room bathed with light …
when we announced to my parents
that my wife was expecting
instead of celebrating
by opening a bottle of wine
like my in-laws did
it was my mother who suggested
that there were things
that could be done about it

maybe it was the challenge
of living in an all-male home
– she’d always said she’d hoped i was a girl
and indeed cried when i was born –
but i could hardly imagine
our daughter-in-law with her two sons
or our daughter with her four sons
calling their boys
such heartwarming names
even on the worst of days

Poem 637    December 7, 2017      (up to top)

midnight visitor

with its pointy snout
fifty razor-sharp-teeth
prehensile rat-like tail
the opossum
wriggles under
slithers through
clambers over
our rickety fence
or ambles through
an open gate
sets off floodlight sensors
shinnies up the plant hanger
feasts on birdseed
picks at dried mealworms
gorges on suet

having had enough
it nonchalantly descends
scarfs up what’s underneath
then waddles off
apparently satisfied
and as delighted
as a marsupial
could be

Poem 638    December 23, 2017      (up to top)

of blessed memory 2

after a passing remark
at our biweekly brunch at the diner
that an old man with shrunken eyes
sitting at a nearby table
resembled our departed friend gerry
i once again mentioned
that we had never talked about
the recent loss
of our dear comrade
… not once

the reigning monarch
– our nonagenarian member –
bluntly replied
we’d been losing him for a long time
and then the image of gerry
evanescing into thin air
came to mind

over the many lonely months
after his wife succumbed
we felt he’d been losing hope …
he stopped coming to the diner
he stopped driving
he stopped caring for his health
it was as if he were just …
drifting away

his body was transferred
to hofstra’s zucker school of medicine
– according to his wishes –
so there was no funeral
no graveside service
no shiva
no closure
for us …
the ones left behind

Poem 639    December 27, 2017      (up to top)

survival in the backyard

with a foot of snow on the ground
and temperatures still in the teens
a cooper’s or a sharp-shinned hawk
– it’s hard to tell them apart –
regularly patrols
our bird-feeding station and spa
in search of an avian meal

we watch with gratification
and a sense of serenity
as dozens of doves and jays and titmice
cardinals and sparrows and starlings
wrens and pigeons and squirrels
feast on suet cakes and peanuts
bird seed and mealworms
and drink from and bathe in
our luxuriously-heated birdbath

but they scatter like guilty freeloaders
when a hawk soars down
to pick off the one that’s most sluggish

we know we’re complicit
in abetting the hawk’s predation
– though it’s exciting to witness –
but without our largesse
scores and scores of birds
might never survive
our inordinately frigid spell

Poem 640    January 8, 2018      (up to top)

marcescence

a gray and sullen
january afternoon
temps in the twenties
a day to stay inside

outside my window
japanese maple leaves
brown and still unfallen
pirouette in the breeze

Poem 641    January 15, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 56-59

56

at rocking horse ranch

one hundred eighteen horses

meet four hundred guests

57

some say they’re afraid

the horses are sooo big

neigh-sayers all

58

four of our grandsons

are with us at the ranch

so independent

59

on butch and major

best friends forever

we slog through the woods

Poem 642-645    January 21-26, 2018      (up to top)

one sabbath morning

my wife called me from shul
said there was music this morning
although i rarely attend shabbos services
i polished off a cup of instant
and drove right over

in the lobby
i joined fourteen congregants
sitting in a circle
holding small drums and castanets
balancing prayer books on their knees

i’ve always liked
the structure and informality of the circle …
instead of being confined in a pew
i could be present with my fellow congregants
it’s so much more of a group experience

but this time
as i gazed around
i was overwhelmed
by a collective sadness …
the despair was palpable –
the ones who’d lost husbands and wives
the ones who’d lost parents and children and siblings
the one whose father was dying
the ones who are living on the edge of normalcy
– whatever that means –

and so the service continued
the intoning of the prayers
the chanting of the haftorah
the binging and the bonging
the clicking and the drumming
the singing and humming
as the ancient words
and the ancient melodies
washed over
all of us

Poem 646    January 28, 2018      (up to top)

cast aside

an orange-covered
5.5 x 4.25 inch
narrow-ruled
spiral bound notebook
with 200 empty pages
lies on top of a pile
mocking me

just like
the silver cross ballpoint
with my name in script
engraved in gold
peeking out of
a chock full o’ nuts coffee can
stuffed with sharpies and pens
two pairs of scissors
and a 6-in-1 screwdriver

they’re waiting
oh so patiently
but they don’t realize
i need them like a toyten bankes
– like cupping would help a corpse

for the keyboard and monitor
have long been my choice
for enshrining
my magnificent words

– in response to the writing prompt an empty container

Poem 647    February 7, 2018      (up to top)

seeing yet unseeing

from outside mcdonalds
i watch through the window
as a frazzled ragged-looking
middle-aged man
reaches over the table
to napkin the lip
of an older man
seated opposite

the older man
startled
turns and stares at me
with coal black eyes …
agitated eyes
fearful eyes
that make me so uneasy
i have to glance away

— Tied for fourth place in the Mid-Island Y JCC Poetry Contest, 2019, along with № 687, “yahrzeit glass”

Poem 648.1    March 16, 2018      (up to top)

in jerusalem’s great synagogue

at the friday evening banquet meal
our chabad rabbi suggested
– even urged us –
that instead of sitting in a service
in the david citadel hotel on shabbos morning
we might rather like to walk up
gershon agon street
past mamilla cemetery
and gan ha’atsmaut
– independence park –
to jerusalem’s great synagogue

in this grand edifice
as we hurried past the glass cases
displaying hundreds of ancient mezuzahs
we had to separate …
vivien … to the women’s section upstairs
and i … to the larger men’s area below
within the octagonal-shaped sanctuary …
i chose to sit in the last row
below one of the dozens
of stained-glass windows
representing biblical events
shabbat and the holidays

because i’d been sick during our trip
and was sweating profusely
i had to wait for some minutes
until i eventually cooled down …
then i wrapped around myself
in my brand new tallis
– the long prayer shawl i hadn’t yet put on
after purchasing it on ben yehudah street
two years before

the chazzan – the cantor –
filled the huge sanctuary without amplification
in harmony with a chorus of thirty men
before a magnificent two-story-high
stained-glass depiction
of the physical / earthly
and spiritual / heavenly realms

and as i’m sitting alone
drawn emotionally within myself
… and within my tallis
in the last row next to an exit
for precious moments
that stretch to the infinite
the glorious music resonates
and uplifts me
and makes me feel whole

Poem 649    March 30, 2018      (up to top)

tanka 7

early april day

blustery forty degrees

in my new merrells

i walk a long eight mile loop

a good day to be alive


Poem 650    April 9, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 60

i’m trying to sleep

woodpecker’s jack hammering

please … give it a rest

Poem 651    April 13, 2018      (up to top)

the more light the better

i hate salads –
their wilted lettuce
tasteless croutons
salty feta cheese
impotent onions
oily calorie-laden dressing

i do love raw vegetables
fat carrots sliced horizontally
green and red and yellow peppers
crispy kirby cucumbers
raw turnip cut into chunks
buxom snap peas ready to pop

but someone’s gotta do the prep
so i switch on the extra bright l e d overhead
the 100-watt l e d over the sink
and start peeling and cutting …
all the extra light helps me
avoid slicing off a fingertip
         while i’m peeling a carrot
prevent gouging my palm
         while i’m un-seeding a pepper
stop from slashing off an epidermal layer
         while i’m removing the wax from the turnip

some might say our kitchen is glaringly bright
but so is the e r …
and you know exactly
where i’d rather be

– in response to the writing prompt more light

Poem 652    April 17, 2018      (up to top)

petey’s demise

one thing i still regret
after more than a decade and a half
is that i cajoled my wife
into taking petey to the vet by herself
to be put to sleep

some years earlier
we had adopted a wheaten terrier
from the pound …
paulie was a wonderfully well-behaved dog
he acted like the don …
i imagine him shrugging his shoulders
in a custom-made silk suit
and straightening his tie with elan
while keeping the lowlife canines
in the dog run
in check

but paulie had lung problems
and didn’t last very long
and there was that one day
while i was preparing breakfast
when he splatted onto the kitchen floor
and bam … died … just like that

after that we wanted and needed another dog
so we adopted petey
– a smallish poodle-wheaten mix --
who cozied next to me on the couch
but glared at my wife
with silent condemnation
when she had the temerity to
sit down beside me

the first night we had petey
he bit several fingers
while she was giving him a bath
perhaps he was nervous
in an unfamiliar setting
still … that was one

but then there was the time
vivien brought him home
from the field – a makeshift dog park –
where he enjoyed running around and barking

when they came home
she walked into my office
lifted him up by his front legs
and started to rub his belly …
he starting growling at her
so she pushed him off
turned away from him
yet he still ran around to face her
and jumped up and bit her stomach
necessitating another trip to the e r
and … that was two

we were told nothing about petey
when we adopted him
and we had two small grandchildren
so we couldn’t allow him the opportunity
to possibly maul one of them
to endanger other children
… other adults
… even other dogs

we talked to our veterinarian
searched the early world wide web
spoke to people who conveyed similar stories …
we thought about consulting dog psychologists
considered specialized animal trainers
but realized there was only a sliver of a chance
of actually reprogramming petey’s behavior

we couldn’t in good conscience
return him to the pound
so we decided
with a heavy heart
that we had to have petey euthanized
and i somehow persuaded vivien
to be the one
to take him to the vet

it should have been me …
after all he acted like he was my dog
and i was his man
and i should have taken the responsibility
to put an end
to the miserable but pitiable situation

Poem 653    April 17, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 61

in their pink tutus

allegros in the breeze

magnolia blossoms

Poem 654    April 25, 2018      (up to top)

stupage

a.word.a.day posting …
sillage – the trail of perfume that lingers behind

though some people think perfume is enticing
to me sillage is often cloying and repulsive

at the fire truck park in teaneck
a woman glued to her cell phone
attempts to lift her child
onto a faded plastic swing seat …
the webbing belts are frayed
the buckles are damaged
so she irritably says
you can’t go on this one
as she pulls her teary child off

with her attention elsewhere
she’s too oblivious to notice
the several other new swing seats
with pristine belts and buckles
nor does she hear me
calling out to her
trying to point them out

so with frustrated child in hand
she drags him away
still yapping on her cell phone
with stupage in her wake

Poem 655.1    April 25, 2018      (up to top)

closer to home

sometimes i glance at the obituaries
in the new york times
think of the old joke
about not seeing my name
so i can go on with my day

lately though
some of the names ring more than a bell
they’d been a small part of my life …
art bell from overnight radio / carl kassell from npr
harry anderson from night court / steven bochco from hill street blues
chuck mccann the comedian / bruno sammartino the wrestler

i have a nonagenarian friend
who laments that he and his wife
rarely have any visitors
because most of their friends
are lying down in green pastures …
he’s afraid to read the obituaries

and so it goes
until one day
i’ll open up to page b-14
and bingo!
i’ll notice my name in a headline
and know it’s about that time
to finally call it quits

Poem 656    April 25, 2018      (up to top)

what to do

one sabbath morning
an older woman
sitting behind me in temple
started chanting one of the prayers
in a tremulous soprano voice

it was my mother’s voice …
but mom’s is more potent
so … what am i supposed to do
when i’m nine or eleven or thirteen
and you burst out singing in public
joyous frenzied oblivious
or when i’m standing like a statue
watching an exhibition of lunacy
in our tan-carpeted living room
while the electrolux vacuum
bears witness from the corner

and what am i supposed to do
when you start whimpering then sobbing
during a mozart concerto playing on qxr
and what am i supposed to do
when your delta flight to florida
is announced at jfk
and your tears start flowing
so i stretch out my arm to comfort you
and you brush me away
sneering you don’t want to pay extra for parking
go ahead … just go on with your life
so what the fuck … what the fuckity fuck
is a forty-year-old son supposed to do

i never learned how to respond
you and dad never taught me how
i never watched dad deal directly
with your highs and your lows
except for the bottles of elavil and triavil
stockpiled in a dish cabinet in the kitchen
– why … doesn’t everybody keep them there? –
that my dad – a pharmacist –
medicated you with
and the sample packs of miltown and librium
that he kept for himself
in the top drawer of his bureau

i wish i could’ve been a better son
i wish i had known what to do

– elavil and triavil are (older) antidepressants
– miltown and librium are (older) tranquilizers

Poem 657.1    April 25, 2018      (up to top)

a simple pleasure

little downy woodpecker
dressed in black and white
with your scarlet crest …
i wonder if you're the one
who wakes us up
with your early morning drumming

i watch you shinnying up to the suet cage
pecking at the ambrosial fat
infused with seeds and nuts …
and after you have your fill
without so much as a goodbye
you flutter away

and I am infused
on this warm may afternoon
with a feeling of joy
uncomplicated

Poem 658    May 2, 2018      (up to top)

enervated

i used to think
that enervated was synonymous with energized
until forty years ago a fellow teacher
who was reading a story i wrote
educated me that they were opposites

much of my time spent these days
fluctuates between a flurry of activities –
         writing and uploading poems to my website
         doing the entire bill-paying cycle on the first
         riding my bike or walking for several hours
or a lethargic enervating downtime
         reading magazines and books and the new york times
         wading through emails and surfing the web
         playing goddamn solitaire on the computer
… but at least i’d long ago cut out daytime tv

sometimes i wish
that i can go along just easy-like …
do a little of this … a little of that
take a few minutes with a task
sip some iced coffee … maybe a beer
write a couple of lines of poetry
come back to it later … or not
you know … do stuff like a normal person
– whatever that means –
instead of someone driven
by an internal infernal on-off switch

Poem 659    May 16, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 62

windows are opened

cross ventilation

ah … the joy of spring

Poem 660    May 22, 2018      (up to top)

two grandpas sitting in shul

we’re two grandpas
sitting in shul on a friday evening
flanking yitzchak
our eleven-year-old grandson …
peter turns to yitzi and says
you know something yitz …
it doesn’t get any better than this

vivien and i are meema and papa
peter and bj are poppy and bubby …
and we’re all staying with yitzchak
and his three younger brothers
while their parents – our children –
are away on a much-needed vacation

later we figured out
that yitzchak was lucky
to have also met
five of his eight great grandparents

lucky … because when i was eleven
i had only one grandparent left
– my mother’s mother –
and grandma annie was
for long periods of time
emotionally and mentally absent

so you’re right peter …
it doesn’t get any better than this

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 661.1    June 3, 2018      (up to top)

shrunken and curled up

i drove the rented chrysler
from the fort lauderdale airport
up i-95 to her dialysis center
slipped into the hushed treatment room
and found my eighty-four-year-old mother
half conscious
shrunken and curled up
in a fetal position
within a caramel-colored
pleather-upholstered
hemodialysis chair

my mother took prescribed medications
only when she thought necessary
and pooh-poohed therapeutic advice
as if she knew better than her doctors …
she had always had an unhealthy disdain
for medical professionals ingrained in her
by my cynical long-deceased father
who’d been a partner
in the main pharmacy in town

my mother also had neuropathy
and congestive heart failure
but dialysis was her most harrowing
she had always feared
it would be her worst nightmare

we saw each other at most once a year
and most of those times
she flew north during the summer
for her usual ten-day sojourn
to visit my brother’s family and mine

thus i wasn’t the ideal son
i should’ve done much more
i should’ve visited her more often
i should’ve been there for her

so i was stunned
it was so hard to see her like that
shrunken and curled up
shrunken and curled up

oh dear god
how could i possibly deal with that …

twenty years later
i still can’t get that image
– and my overriding guilt –
out of my head

Poem 662.2    June 3, 2018      (up to top)

shrunken and curled up 2

i drove the rented chrysler
up i-95 to her dialysis center
slipped into the hushed treatment room
and found my eighty-four-year-old mother
half conscious
shrunken and curled up
in a fetal position
within a caramel-colored
pleather-upholstered
hemodialysis chair

i was stunned
i could not believe what i was seeing
my once vital mother
unconventional and eccentric
now shrunken and curled up
shrunken and curled up

how the hell am i going to deal with this
how the fucking hell am i supposed to deal with this

twenty years later
i still can’t get that image
out of my head

Poem 663    June 20, 2018      (up to top)

tryin’ to keep it simple

hey you stupid poem …
i’m starting to hate you
despise you
loathe you

see what i mean?
i’m trying to express one luminous thought
and you’re insisting
on more … more … more

i want to keep it simple
elegant
clear
but you want to feed
at the thesauric trough
and become bloated
tumescent
unmanageable

c’mon
you’ve gotta realize what’s going on here …
’cause arguing with you
quarreling with you
bickering with you
is like fighting with myself

so gimme a break
… will ya

Poem 664.1    June 21, 2018      (up to top)

out of the darkest valley

i was taken to the e r by ambulance
for syncope and severe breathing problems
then admitted to the telemetry unit
instead of a stay in the i c u

several people suggested
that now i had something to write about

nay nay i thought … nuh uh
i don’t want to dwell
in that bizarre medical world
of echocardiograms and ultrasounds
of bedpans and heparin drips
of early morning phlebotomist’s visits
of heart monitor sensors glued to my chest
of waiting and waiting and more waiting
for an abdominal cat scan with contrast
to confirm or rule out the presence
of non-benign growths

i’ve had enough … so no more …
i want to return to normalcy
i want to return to my life
and not focus
on my recent slog
through the valley
of the shadow of death

Poem 665    July 19, 2018      (up to top)

an unremarkable man

they’d diagnosed the condition –
bilateral pulmonary embolism …
now they’re searching for causes
and contributing factors

malignancies are associated with blood clots
though i much prefer the term non-benign growths
so to rule out or confirm
an abdominal c-t scan with and without contrast
is scheduled for saturday
two days after my e r visit

i want it to be done already
i need to know whatever it is
before the oncologist leaves for the day

the hospitalist shared the final report –
kidneys – no focal lesions
liver – normal in size
esophagus … appendix – unremarkable
spleen … pancreas … adrenal glands – unremarkable
prostate … lymph nodes … abdominal wall – unremarkable
no c-t evidence of occult malignancy

sometimes it’s so fucking wonderful
to be just
an unremarkable man

Poem 666    July 20, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 63

bend stretch turn my neck

i’m the rice crispies man

snap crackle and pop

Poem 667    July 22, 2018      (up to top)

in between time

i’ve gotten such joy
when i solved a trigonometric identity
when i finished our taxes
when i reconciled statistical reports at work
when my to-do list
had a minimum number of entries
… when life was steady and harmonious

i could never comprehend
how some people seemed to live
in a perpetual state of flux
and how they were able to
carry on and even thrive
as if nothing at all phased them

but now i …
i am in a capricious liminal state
between being just out of danger
and a future that’s much less assured …
and feeling a heckuva lot less rosy-cheeked
… not that anything’s ever guaranteed

i’ve always striven to simplify
but now life seems to be
forebodingly complicated

Poem 668    July 30, 2018      (up to top)

going nowhere but slowly

the doctor told me
i could still ride my bike
but – hardy har har har –
i couldn’t fall off …
my new anticoagulant
would make my blood clot too slowly
and i might get a brain bleed
… so pedaling on the streets
was over

for over twenty years
i’d defined myself
as a recumbent bicycle rider …
kids would shout out
cool bike mister
as i waved and breezed by
on my lounge chair on wheels

now that personification of freedom
– my oh-so-proud identity –
is fading
only four weeks after
a pulmonary embolism grounded me …
now i’m taking short rides in the garage
my bike tethered
to a kinetic road machine fluid trainer
while my odometer
which uses g p s data
has yet to pass zero

Poem 669    August 1, 2018      (up to top)

one-oh-three a m

when i’m lying in bed
waiting for sleep
a few minutes after one
the clock radio
makes a red l c d face



as if to mock me

with my left cheek
pressed into the pillow
i see
eyebrows
eyes
mouth
beard

… perhaps a transmission
from the great beyond

Poem 670    August 3, 2018      (up to top)

jimmy in my arms once again

a dream …
so i’m sitting cross-legged injun style
on the sidewalk at the lip of my driveway
telling some guy
about the dog we once had
&
jimmy’s in my lap
quiet not fidgeting
&
i’m telling him about the times
jimmy got into fights
because i thought
the guy was into macho
&
not the about the times
he walked us miles to mcdonalds
for cheeseburgers or ice cream cones
or when i gave him belly rubs on the bed
or when i sobbed into his side that time
i came home from the hospital
&
jimmy is sighing exhaling
or maybe it’s just air passing in and out
because if he is breathing on his own
it’s against the natural order
&
he’s not exactly fully alive
and doesn’t feel young and lithe anymore
at least he’s not yet desiccated
&
it’s like that last day
when he was so weak
when the vet injected him
and he went limp
&
he took his last labored breath
&
i was bawling and blubbering
i didn’t want to stop holding him
i didn’t want to stop hugging him
&
in the dream
and even then
i knew
i had to let him go

Poem 671    August 5, 2018      (up to top)

the loss of the ephemeral

i woke up early in the morning
in the middle of a dream
about the loss of our beloved terrier

i lay there trying to hold onto it
thinking … i’ve got to write about this

but i knew
that middle-of-the-night memories
– and many others i might add –
would deliquesce and dissolve
so i lumbered into my office at 5:17 am
brought up my poem template
and typed a first draft
… i even started to proofread
but that was a task
better put off until later

thus i have consigned to pixels and print
what should have perhaps remained
an ephemerality – a fleeting scene
from the fragments of my unconscious
because this reminiscence now has its own reality
that exists in the here and now
rather than in the detritus of dreams
often better left forgotten

Poem 672    August 5, 2018      (up to top)

invisible at the 7-eleven

in the middle of a walk
on a stifling sultry day
my wife and i treated ourselves
to 7-eleven’s 99-cent cold brew coffee

while we were out front
sitting on a couple of piles
of prepackaged cut logs
several dozen people drove up
parked their beat-up cargo vans
their aging pick-ups and nondescript sedans
and on their way in
and again on their way out
did not so much as glance
in our direction

we oldsters certainly didn’t look
like vagrants or meth addicts …
we clearly did not pose a threat
in our loose-fitting walking duds
and expensive merrells and keens

and even though i watched each one
not one of them made eye contact
… it was as if
we weren’t even there

Poem 673    August 8, 2018      (up to top)

greengage plums

august 1964
i’d finished my first year at stony brook
and my brother his first year teaching
at islip high school – our alma mater

we were on a road trip
in my new white mercury comet
from long island to miami
and then on to new orleans

on our first night at the castaways
– the garish and gaudy resort
at collins and 163rd –
hurricane cleo
– the first hurricane in 14 years –
came blustering and pounding through

the electricity went out of course
our picture window was throbbing
… i never knew glass could writhe
and palpitate like that without breaking

when it was over
our car took not a direct hit
as others had from airborne palms
but its once-glistening paint job was sand-pitted
and the rear window was shattered

we had the window replaced
and a few days later as scheduled
as we headed west to new orleans
the window became unglued …
we grabbed it before it escaped
lowered it to the floor
and traveled on with extra ventilation

we had brought a styrofoam box with us
from our father’s pharmacy
and had filled it with ice from the castaways
and at a farm stand off the hard road
we packed it with greengage plums
that were so cool and juicy and luscious
that we could not stop eating them
… our joy and feeling of well-being
helped us from becoming unglued

more than half a century later
no matter what plums or hybrids we buy
i cannot replicate how good they tasted
how good they made us feel
back there on US 90
on our way west
to the big easy

Poem 674    August 10, 2018      (up to top)

irregularity

i think i could tolerate it
would not get so exasperated
and downright furious
if my decrepitude
behaved like a linear function
and simply followed
a steady and even decline
… at least it would be predictable

but my senescence
doesn’t want to operate so rationally
it wants to drop in steep decrements
only to recover in smaller increments …
though mathematical functions
generally display as smooth curves
when graphed within prescribed limits
my son-of-a-bitchin’ debility
refuses to exhibit such nicety
with it jagged serrations
its sawtoothed nastiness
its loathsome capriciousness

– written on my 72nd birthday

Poem 675    August 14, 2018      (up to top)

if … then … else

the if … then … else statement –
if a condition is true
then something – or nothing – is done …
if the condition is not true
then something else – or nothing – is done

an if … then … else statement
can be nested within additional if … then … else’s
and other conditional statements
so that options and decision-making
could and would become more complicated

i thought of this spreadsheet function
this computer programming construct
this human transactional structure
one evening after i fell
and hit my head

because i’d been prescribed an anticoagulant
a head hit might cause a brain bleed …
i joke that they can put a tourniquet around my arm
but not around my neck
although my wife would sometime like to

if the shit hit the fan
there is a new drug – andexxa –
which can reverse the effect of xarelto
in cases of life-threatening or uncontrolled bleeding
but first i’d need a c-t scan of my head

i was feeling just a bit fuzzy
and after we ate dinner
my head was starting to also throb a little –
perhaps a one or so on the zero-to-ten scale

if … then
if … then
if … then … else
… caution won over my it’s doesn’t feel like anything … really
… prudence won out over my let’s wait a while
though there’s always
always
much more going on than that
so i packed a lands end attache with my medical records
with our phone chargers and reading material
and my wife drove us over
to south nassau’s emergency room

we spent three hours
on a breezy wednesday evening
working through a nested series
of emotional if … then … else’s
until i accessed the follow my health app
saw that the c-t scan had been interpreted
and read that there was no evidence
of acute hemorrhage seen …
no intracranial pathology

relieved but slowly shaking our heads
we wondered
what might happen
what could happen
what would happen
if any of those damnable first conditions
proved to be true

Poem 676    August 24, 2018      (up to top)

on the charm city circulator

to visit the art museum of baltimore
and the edgar allan poe house and his grave site
we get on the charm city circulator
at the corner opposite a whole foods market

on this sweltering august day
in our blue and chartreuse white-roofed coach
we’re joined by some other tourists
taking advantage of the cost-free ride
along with several junkies nodding off
a trio of young girls holding babies not much younger
a cluster of teenagers shuckin’ and jivin’
and a gaggle of street people yakkin’ it up
using the air-conditioned motorbus
as their meeting place
their social hall
their respite from a heat wave
their temporary escape
from an impoverished life
without – perhaps –
any relief
in sight

— Appeared in Bards Annual 2019

Poem 677    September 2, 2018      (up to top)

doing gooder

people who know
what’s been going on with me
for the past two months
ask me how i’m doing …
i answer i’m feeling okay
and joke – sort of –
ya know … i’m doing gooder

but i’m not really doing gooder
psychologically emotionally spiritually …
my pulmonologist says yeah you can ride your bike
then scoffs but don’t get hit or fall off …
with the anticoagulant i’m taking
if i get hurt i could bleed out
and even if i am wearing my helmet
i could suffer a cerebral hemorrhage
and die

yeah … i know i’ve been lucky …
i’m not holding on in stage four land
i’m not walking in the shadow of darkness
of chronic diabetes or renal failure
but for the past twenty-three years
i’ve gotten so much sublime exercise
i’ve lost weight and kept it steady
damn it all … i’ve defined myself
as a recumbent bicycle rider
and i often felt so euphoric
pedaling along suburban avenues
coasting along the rockaway boardwalk
and the bethpage and jones beach bikeways
riding beside the cross island
on the way to the throgs neck bridge
with the wind in my face
or better yet …
better yet …
with an exhilarating tailwind
propelling me forward

but now
my azub 6 is in the garage
propped up on a kinetic fluid trainer
and pedaling on it
is like going nowhere
which is how
i often feel

though i am getting healthier
and maybe i am doing gooder
i’ve also been feeling
that life itself
doesn’t seem nearly
as worthwhile

Poem 678    September 3, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 64

it sneaks up slyly

on cats’ feet and poof …

i’m an old man

Poem 679    September 6, 2018      (up to top)

affirmation

another new year
begins with our high holidays
but i won’t be in shul
i’m too apathetic
too resentful too angry
to stand up sit down
on command
leafing through pages
in a prayer book
mouthing intoning
repetitive unending
supplications
that i cannot feel
pieties
that do not resonate
within me

i sometimes feel guilt
it goes with the territory
but rather i consider it
an affirmation
that my judaism
is on my own terms
that i am on
my chosen path
towards spirituality
and wisdom

Poem 680    September 9, 2018      (up to top)

a good man

i don’t remember if vivien said it
while we were lying together
on the hospital bed
– preparing to hear the worst –
or when we were sitting
side by side
having high coffee
on our front porch

but of all the i love yous
the i don’t know what i’d do without yous
– all the endearments –
the one that has resonated most
the one that has made me feel the best
is when she said
you know lloyd …
you’re a good man

— Appeared in Performance Poets Association Twenty-third Annual Literary Review, 2019

Poem 681.1    September 16, 2018      (up to top)

friday night alone

this past friday
– the evening of shabbat
my wife was away

still
i set the dining room table
– but only for one –
said the usual prayers
lit two shabbos candles
sipped some bartenura moscato
munched on a pumpernickel bagel
thawed from the freezer
that stood in for a challah
then i microwaved and devoured
the meal she had prepared for me …
meatballs and onions in tomato sauce
cooked green peppers in a light red sauce
and also polished off half of the cole slaw
still left over from rosh hashanah

it was delicious
– her cooking always is –
but it was quiet
and still

i was alone
and i felt forlorn

Poem 682    September 16, 2018      (up to top)

hitting the rough road

things were going along hunky-dory …
riding many miles on my recumbent bike
walking a lot on alternate days
practicing tai chi on the front porch
writing poetry and going to workshops
attending religious programs through chabad
sharing an ever-challenging life with my wife
taking my meds and vitamins twice a day
eating right or as right as right can be
… just living as well and as safely as i could
as i slid along the smooth downward curve
towards senescence

and then …
the shit hit the fan
an unanticipated d v t
caused a bilateral p e
and i needed to learn
a new set of abbreviations
a whole new lexicon
that could have meant my death
if i weren’t so fortunate

now i’m buying compression stockings and socks
to keep my deep vein thrombosis in check
to stop from having another pulmonary embolism
i’ve given up riding on the streets
something i’d loved doing for over twenty years
because i’m now taking a powerful anti-coagulant
that has forced me to modify
my personal risk-reward assessment

and after i recently clonked my head in the shower
– just a small clonk when i slipped –
i had to again assess if it was time
for another trip to the emergency room
… where everyone now knows my name …
to have yet another c a t scan of my head
to check if this time
– this time –
there was a brain bleed
… and who knows
what kind of hell
would follow that

one moment
i was coasting along on brand new pavement
and the next i’m stuck in a jam …
on a milled road where barriers have been set up
and i’m tormented by the fear
that no matter how hard i try to maneuver
i’ll have nowhere to turn

… one thing
cascading to the next thing
and then to the next …

Poem 683    September 19, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 65

clonked my head again

’nother trip to the e r

more shits and giggles

Poem 684    September 24, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 66

every quarter

i update our spreadsheet

a reason to live

Poem 684    October 3, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 67

ebb tide receding

leeching my joie de vivre

rip currents ahead

Poem 686    October 3, 2018      (up to top)

yahrzeit glass

a yahrzeit candle 48-hour Yahrzeit Glass

most often contained within a glass
is lit along with prayers
and bittersweet reminiscing
on the anniversary
of a loved one’s death

at the end of the 24 hours
the glass can be repurposed …
the remaining wax melted away
the label soaked off
the inside scrubbed clean

when my mother
walked me around the corner
to grandma’s and grandpa’s
i sat at the kitchen table
with grandpa jack
– who many said i most took after –
as he drank his schnapps
out of a yahrzeit glass …
while telling me
with a phlegmy cough
that schnapps was his medicine

seventy years later
my favorite thick-sided crystal-clear glass
– from a larger 48-hour candle –
is kept next to the kitchen sink
to be ready to wash down
my morning
and evening
medicine

— Tied for fourth place in the Mid-Island Y JCC Poetry Contest, 2019, along with № 648, “seeing yet unseeeing”

— Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Issue 49, February 2019

Poem 687.1    October 13, 2018      (up to top)

at a loss for word

a poem
has been rumbling around
inside my head

i know what i want to say
but i sometimes cannot find
just the right word or words
in any dictionary
in any thesaurus
in any lexicon

since such a word
does not exist
the underlying thought
the overall idea or concept
thus cannot be
fully expressed

and i am left
unfulfilled

Poem 688    October 19, 2018      (up to top)

dehydrated

when i walked our large wheaten terrier
four … five … six miles at a time
i carried two sports bottles of water
in the large rear pockets
of my woolrich hiking shorts

but the water was for not for me …
rather it was for jimmy
who had learned how to drink water
straight out of the bottle

even on the hottest days
when i was heavily into running
and bicycling for many miles
i never felt excessively thirsty
so i rarely drank water or sports drinks …
i think that my thirst receptors
slowly became compromised

i’d come home from a workout
race upstairs to stand on the scale
… after all an extra tenth of a pound
makes a huge difference …
and only then would i step into the shower
and slurp from the spray

i never thought much about becoming dehydrated
– no not me –
i always checked the color of my urine
i paid careful attention to dry skin or dizziness
my heartbeat was always slower than usual
i didn’t suffer much from sleepiness
or lack of energy or confusion or irritability
… any more than my usual sparkling self

but i think it all caught up with me
– working out more and getting older –
because when there isn’t enough liquid in the body
blood thickens and flows more sluggishly
and thus clots can more easily form
as they did in my vulnerable left leg
and then traveled up to my lungs
to result in a bilateral pulmonary embolism

who could predict
that twenty … thirty … forty years down the line
that not drinking enough fluids
would probably do me in

these days
i’m still carrying two bottles of water
in my tru-spec tactical shorts
and i refill them as they empty
but now
they’re both for me

Poem 689    October 20, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 68

the fog has lifted

though dark clouds surely follow

a soothing reprieve

Poem 690    October 25, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 69

words engorged with pain

blood dripping from nouns and verbs

the wrath of haiku

Poem 691    October 25, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 70

three lines of text

so much time editing

still too imprecise

Poem 692    October 27, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 71

mickey mantle

plays center in my sneakers

switch hits with my bat

Poem 693    October 27, 2018      (up to top)

neither too hot nor too warm

consider this haiku …
         out on the front porch
         with a warm mug of coffee
         feeling so tranquil

if goldilocks were old enough
she and i would be sipping our coffee
that was neither too hot nor too warm
but just right

i’m miffed because i’m limited
to using the word warm
i’ve found no word
in any english-language thesaurus
that accurately describes
– without using a thermometer –
the soothing temperature of my coffee
that’s somewhere between hot and warm …
it was neither searing steaming nor torrid
it was neither lukewarm hottish nor tepid

but …
it was just right

Poem 694    November 3, 2018      (up to top)

primes & perfect squares

when i cannot sleep

i calculate primes and squares

note how they behave …

chaotic and haphazard

versus the predictable


primes are thorn bushes

in the forest of numbers

prickly and random …

perfect squares stand like redwoods

providing comfort and strength


Poem 695 – a double tanka    November 5, 2018      (up to top)

my wonky left knee

i am scared
that my wonky left knee
is going to do me in

i want to exercise
i need to exercise …
the deep vein thrombosis in my left leg
my ongoing heart problem
my sensitive psyche
have all demanded regular exercise

but …
every time i pull up my compression socks
every time i pull on my cold-weather tights
and every time i remove them
i put extra lateral stress on my left knee

it’s a knee already compromised
by arthroscopic surgery
we removed a lot more junk than expected
said the orthopedist –
a knee that’s somewhat arthritic
a knee that has already received
two rounds of cortisone injections
a knee that i took special care to baby
is now taking a regular beating

i fervently hope
that my rickety left knee
is not going to trigger a downhill spiral
towards physical and mental
decrepitude

Poem 696    November 12, 2018      (up to top)

down the rabbit hole

whenever i’m reading something –
a new york times movie review
a compilation of comics about the holocaust
a book called the music of the primes
i’ll inevitably get distracted

and i’ll google
imdb and rotten tomatoes for audience feedback
i’ll checking wikipedia
for a biography of stan lee …
i’ll search for information
about bernhard riemann or edmund landau …
i’ll download a scientific calculator app
so i could determine for myself
the truth of euler’s identity
which many say is the most beautiful theorem …
e + 1 = 0

i love and thrive on the distractions
– the digressions and tangents –
because i don’t have to finish what i’m reading
– i’ve got no test tomorrow –
i can meander freely and without guilt
wherever my curiosity takes me

Poem 697.1    November 12, 2018      (up to top)

one evening at our writer’s workshop

– three tankas and five haiku-form triplets written mostly in real time


she mentions reading
on saturday afternoon …
i don’t want to go
i’d rather be outside
walking my multi-mile loop

she reminds us
that the haiku winners
at the library
were going to be honored
and i would be one of them

as quick as a flash
something ruptures inside
i shrink within
unable to interact
i’d felt so buoyant before

i want to leave
i’m fed up with this with them
killing my spirit

i can’t sit here
but maybe i’ll try something …
i force a smile

they’re all laughing
i so want to join in
it’s not gonna work

yet my sourness
seems to be abating …
maybe it’s over

i think i’ve returned
i’m enthused and amused …
for now anyway
Poem 698    November 18, 2018      (up to top)

just once

just once
i’d like to stop at mcdonald’s
pick up a coupla big macs
a large fries and a chocolate shake
then sit back
and scarf it all down

just once
i’d like to take home
an icy six-pack of corona extra
sit in front of the large screen
and vege through a whole game

just once
i’d like to light up a cigar on the porch
or better yet a pipeful of pot

just once
i’d like to do
what almost everyone else seems to be doing
without having to hesitate
and wonder if it’s good for me
or worse if it’s bad

just once
i’d like to simply not give a damn
and just go with
whatever might make me feel … good

Poem 699    November 19, 2018      (up to top)

just simple forgetfulness – i hope

i can’t remember the name
of one of my favorite authors
… fucking unbelievable
i can hear his voice on npr podcasts
i can hear his slight speech impediment
but how his humanity and tenderness shine through

i remember reading so many of his books
about strange neurological anomalies
about his uncle tungsten
about the island of the colorblind

i mostly want to reread
the chapter about twin idiot savants
who communicated with each other
in their own language of multi-digit prime numbers
in the man who mistook his wife for a hat

yeah … i know i can whip out my phone
and do a quick google search
instead of flagellating myself
about the loss of my recall

but i think it’s coming …
yeah it’s almost on the tip of my tongue
and finally … oliver sacks
i breathe out a not-so-quiet
sigh of relief

Poem 700    December 8, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 72

forty-one vultures

circle the banquet tables

eyeing their prey

Poem 701    December 8, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 73

quiet and alone

i need to call my brother

but it’s been five years

Poem 702    December 8, 2018      (up to top)

equilibrium

the once-smooth road
is pocked with potholes
widening fissures
gaps between the slabs
maybe i could do better
if i detour onto the service road
… so i take the off-ramp

but it’s a horror
three lanes of stop-and-go
a white van cuts me off
i plow through a deep puddle
shudder to a stop
alignment’s out of whack
my heart’s pounding
i’m having trouble catching my breath
… just maybe
i can make it to the gas station
on the next corner

but the car begins to sputter
i press ever-so-softly on the gas pedal
try to stop it from stalling
try to keep it revving
… this time … this time it works

eventually
i’m back on the road
the storm is letting up
the snarling traffic
seems strangely pacified
… for the time being

i hope this episode
is not a harbinger
of worse things to come
of things horrible and unspeakable
of things … unimaginable

for right now though
as i’m moving along
somewhat chastened
i feel a sense of warmth
a sense of well-being
a welcome sense
… of equilibrium

Poem 703    December 10, 2018      (up to top)

finding holiness in the mundane

it’s come to this …
instead of struggling and waging war
against my new health limitations
and because i can’t do anything about them anyway
to be able to maintain a modicum of sanity
i’ve realized
that i’ve had to change my shitty attitude

so now …
drying off after the shower
and eucerin-ing my lower legs
has become a daily ritual
donning knee-high compression socks
with the heels placed exactly right
has become a ritual
swallowing my meds before breakfast
and then in the evening
has become a ritual
washing the socks in the shower
has become a ritual
filling the three pill boxes every twenty-one days
has become a ritual
placing refill orders every ninety days
has become a ritual

walking almost every day –
checking the latest temperature
pulling on the right number of layers
making sure my mp3 player is charged
tying my merrells just right
schmearing blistex on my lips
pocketing my hat and gloves
have all become a ritual

from monthly bill-paying
to mixing and filling the cereal boxes
from scrubbing my beard
and washing my face
to checking my email …
if i treat all of these
like dreaded chores
to be avoided
– or at best tolerated –
they become onerous
insurmountable obstacles
that suppress and deaden my spirit

however …
if i step back for a moment
and reflect on these necessary rituals
which are essential to my everyday being
they take on a certain sanctity
that turn the mundane
into the divine

Poem 704    December 20, 2018      (up to top)

finding bliss in nasal exploration

let’s face it …
there’s gotta be a massive neural pathway
from the inside of your nose
to the pleasure center of your brain

otherwise …
why else would you repeatedly
dig into each nostril
with your index finger or your pinkie
– though most of you have
your favorite combination –
and in a state of rapture and exhilaration
brought on by a rush of dopamine
so thoroughly probe and excavate …
even though droplets of blood
might trickle forth

you might once in a while
slip a q-tip into your ear canal
shmoosh it around a bit
– gently of course –
then check what goodies
have been exhumed

but like lay’s potato chips claims
betcha can't eat just one
you can’t perform just one
rhinal passage in-and-out
– a so-called one-and-done –
but rather dig you must
like con edison used to insist
and dig and dig
… and dig some more

Poem 705    December 22, 2018      (up to top)

tanka 8

i was out walking

on the eve of christmas

had to go real bad …

next to a construction site

my porta potty savior


Poem 706    December 24, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 74 Shmonkey_puppy_and_bear

shmonkey puppy bear

my three shluffy stuffies

until the end





Poem 707    January 4, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 75

the curtain rises

action reaction repeat

until fade to black

Poem 708    January 4, 2019      (up to top)

reluctantly passing on the baton

he always made sure to arrive early
to carry a box of extra books
and the computer projector
from the rabbi’s office
to our class’s gathering place

as well as insisting
on shlepping and setting up
the portable but cumbersome
roll-out and pull-up high-contrast screen

but in just a few weeks
he’s slowed down noticeably
he’s walking with awkward steps
he’s participating with far less spirit
as if he’s passing over an invisible threshold
on his lonely passage through senescence

so now it’s up to us
to pick up the baton
but we’re
not getting
any younger
either

Poem 709    January 4, 2019      (up to top)

looking back with 2020 hindsight

on a late december evening
just before the turn of the century
i was out walking
in the dark and the drizzle
because i was sick and tired
pedaling that hated exercycle upstairs

i was headed towards woodcleft canal
walking in the street against traffic
and began noticing
the inspection and registration stickers
on the front windows of the parked cars

this was during the hysteria leading up to Y2K
when it was feared that the millennium bug
would cause major computer systems to go awry
because their coding would not smoothly allow
a switch from a two- to a four-number year
… thus when 99 became 00
havoc and chaos would ensue

i started paying more attention
and became excited when i saw the first 00
on a registration sticker

yesterday i felt myself grinning
when i noticed the first 2020
on a red inspection sticker
until i saw the next one
in a railroad parking lot

and so baby …
the thrill was gone

Poem 710    January 5, 2019      (up to top)

tseh•krokh’•nuh

sometimes
when i lumbered into my office
on a monday morning
feeling ragged and blah
my secretary would tease me by saying
lloyd … you look so tseh•krokh’•nuh
with the guttural kh as in chutzpah
and the accent on the krokh

this vivid yiddish word
meaning untidy unkempt disheveled
– but by us somewhat bastardized –
sounded exactly how i felt –
debilitated and enervated and yecchy

in other words …
tseh•krokh’•nuh

Poem 711    January 7, 2019      (up to top)

recurring school dream

more than sixteen years have passed
since i retired from teaching
yet i’m still having
a recurring school dream
in which i cannot believe
i show up everyday
to program my high school
and teach my two math classes
and work against impossible odds
in an emptied-out office
on computers that won’t log on
with students who are demanding yet faceless …
and i wonder if i’d just been volunteering
because i hadn’t gotten a pay check
in all those years

and then i kind of remember
that i no longer really belong there
that maybe this is just a dream

sometimes i wake up panting
but other times
i feel so relieved

Poem 712    January 8, 2019      (up to top)

snouty

in the very early hours of the morning
i’ll look out the bathroom window
and watch a rat-tailed opossum
dining leisurely under the bird feeder

just like we’ve nicknamed every hawk birdie
and every crow blackie
and every blasé raccoon ring-tail
we’ve named our opossum snouty
for the blatantly obvious reason

but we haven’t spotted snouty
in perhaps a month …
we do miss seeing him
we hope he’s okay
and we do wish him
godspeed

Poem 712    January 8, 2019      (up to top)

prevailing weather pattern

my brother was an amateur meteorologist …
for decades he filled many looseleaf notebooks
with the daily records that he so scrupulously kept

i often complained to him
about how bleak the weather seemed to become
about how the wind always started gusting
during my son’s late afternoon soccer games

but my brother answered
that the incoming clouds and increasing winds
were part of the prevailing weather pattern
as day approached night
on the south shore of long island

it felt especially acute on sunday afternoons
after we came home
and then after dinner
when i had to work on lesson plans
and prepare for the next day

there’s certainly nothing like
the sunday night blues
following the sunday afternoon grays

Poem 714    January 8, 2019      (up to top)

gone with the …

during a conversation
i was about to say

        { something

                but then { … … … … …

                        and then {

i mock-waved good-bye
at the fleeting fleeing thought
which might have saved our world
but which was whisked away
by the perilous rip currents
of what i presume and hope
is age-appropriate
forgetfulness

Poem 715    January 9, 2019      (up to top)

no friend of mine

i was intrigued
when i read about a 731-verse
apocalyptic visionary poem
reflecting the waves of pogroms in eastern europe
written by h leivick – leivick halpern –
called the wolf (a chronicle 1920)

i searched for a translation
– a text or a pdf or a direct reference –
but the only hit was an anthology
titled american yiddish poetry
which was available
not through the nassau library system
but only from amazon

for $8.74 plus $3.99 shipping
and a few clicks later
a used copy was on its way
and in my hands within a week

with buy now with 1-click
– or only a few extra key-presses –
it’s been made so easy to buy anything
especially when i realize
that i have more money than time

but this 1¾-inch-thick tome
– this brick of an oversized paperback –
is eventually going to consume
some highly-valuable real estate …
there are already thousands of books
doubled-up on shelves measured in yards
categorized and piled neatly under each desk
collecting dust downstairs on pre-fab steel
… even the narrow wooden shelves behind the bar
meant for johnny walker and his extended family
have been commandeered
by decades-old science fiction paperbacks

so … amazon
and especially your prime offspring …
because you make it so easy
because you are an enabler
and because the wolf is so daunting
that i might never get through it
you’re no friend of mine

Poem 716    January 18, 2019      (up to top)

a rare victory over audacity

it was close to zero on long island this morning
as an arctic front came roaring through

i wanted to walk today
– i had stayed in yesterday
and took care of a lot of paperwork –
but the wind chill this afternoon
is minus fifteen degrees

my usual modus operandi
for running years ago or walking nowadays
was – and still is – to be stubborn and tenacious
to embrace ninety plus degree heat
to scoff at hurricanes and blizzards
to even sneer at blowing sand at the beach

but right now
i just don’t feel like doing battle …
so i’ll wait out the blahs until tomorrow
when it will be a tad balmier

and thus i can say
– this time anyway –
that wisdom
has triumphed
over valor

Poem 717    January 21, 2019      (up to top)

my motorman within

i remember i was only five
the day my father took me a doctor
to have my tonsils and adenoids removed …
i remember that strong smell of ether
as a spongy rubber mask was placed over my face
i remember the breyer’s vanilla ice cream
i was able to eat afterwards
but mostly i remember
the subway ride on the new lots line
when my dad and i stood
in the front of the first car of the train
and we watched while it rose out of the tunnel
and into the sunlight
of the elevated portion of our trip

some years ago in switzerland
we had stayed in a ski resort town
two hundred kilometers east of geneva …
we wanted to travel on to locarno
where there was a summer film festival

we took the bus from leukerbad
down the mountain to leuk
got on a swiss sbb train to brig
transferred to another sbb train to domodossola
where we’d again have to transfer
to a third regional local train to locarno
despite having to change trains
it was not at all onerous
because i so admired the precision
of the swiss rail system
that ran like clockwork

but at domodossola
there was a thirteen-minute wait
and when we got on the first cab-less railcar
i pointed out that a key
had been left in the lock cylinder

my wife noticed it too and said
hey lloyd … look … there’s your chance …
whyn’tcha go ahead and drive it …
isn’t that what you’ve always wanted to do
and oh man … i was so so tempted

but of course i couldn’t … i didn’t
and to this day
she’s continued to tease me
about my having given up
that one single glorious chance

for i have always loved trains
i’ve studied maps and timetables
now supplanted mostly by apps
but mostly i have loved
standing at the front of the head car
as my subway barreled through a tunnel
and watching a red signal turn to yellow
and then to green
while my train sped up
past local stations perhaps
on it way to its next stop

or standing at the front
of an older long island rail road m1 railcar set
traversing the maze of switches
of the hall and jay interlockings
east and west of jamaica
then stopping if it weren’t an express
at kew gardens and forest hills and woodside
on its way to penn station in manhattan

it’s so unfortunate
that in the lirr’s newer m7 railcars
and except for a few vintage cars on the c-line
a second partition now separates us
from that front door
so i can no longer press my nose
against just one pane of clear glass
and watch and be in the moment and enjoy

not long ago
we met a young man in jerusalem
who was really a committed train enthusiast …
a month or so later
he sent me a youtube link
to a time lapse video he had recorded
from the rear of the last tram car
of an entire jerusalem light rail run
from mount herzel in the southwest
to heil ha’avir in the northeast
accompanied by music by matisyahu
and captions in hebrew and english and arabic

and when i watched his video again
– and i have no idea why this hadn’t occurred to me before –
i realized that youtube would have many other such videos
and until four o’clock one morning
i watched more than just a couple
of the from-the-cab videos …
– an entire new york city a-train subway trip
from inwood/207th street
across two over-water bridges
separated by beach channel
to rockaway park/beach 116th street
– one of a rush hour 7-express westbound
aboveground from flushing/main street
passing a still-unfinished citifield
then dipping underground in western queens
towards hudson yards/34th street
– and another of a j-train local
traveling north and then eastbound
from broad street in manhattan
rising only to rumble over the williamsburg bridge
and then back below ground
on its way to jamaica center in queens

and there were so many other
from-the-cab videos
recorded all around the world
– a super-streamlined tgv train in france
accelerating to 320 kmh – 200 miles per hour
– a chicago el-train
rattling counterclockwise
above the streets of the windy city
– a japanese bullet train
racing through drifting snow …
commuter trains and intercities
in norway and britain and switzerland
in germany and china and spain

and i too was riding
in the cab with the motorman
but in my own train heaven
watching the speedometer
watching the ribbons of steel
watching the position of the switches
watching the world speeding by

Poem 718    January 24, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 76

a flicker of red

at the edge of a hedge

a male cardinal!

Poem 719    January 27, 2019      (up to top)

7 haiku for vivien’s 70th birthday

age is a number

immaterial

it’s what’s within


seven syllables

septuagenarian

so appropriate


in august we’ll be

married fifty years she said

enough already


thank you for slogging

through all our years together

it’s been such a trip


so who loves you

she asked then i get confused

why such a question


it’s been sweet with you

not all the time but enough

to make it worth it


you’re my soul mate

traveling on our journey

you’ve made me feel whole

Poem 720    January 31, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 84

we listen in awe

in the presence of genius …

victor wooten

– lloyd, vivien and jonathan at the iridium, nyc

Poem 721    February 9, 2019      (up to top)

at the graveside service

after the casket
is slid out of the hearse
carried to the grave site
lowered into the ground

after the eulogies
the rabbi’s remarks
the final prayers

we reach for the shovels

the first stones thud
atop the plain pine coffin
then pebbles and spadefuls
of sandy soil follow

until it’s enough

we take one last look
before heading away
but the thuds
and their resonance
remain with us

Poem 722    February 16, 2019      (up to top)

tanka 9

my new black merrells

are smudged with dried dirt …

graveside souvenirs

from shoveling soil and stones

at new montefiore


Poem 723    February 19, 2018      (up to top)

haiku 85

so many faces

i don't see her can't find her

where's my mommy

Poem 724    February 27, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 86

a crazed pigeon

smacks against the window

a hawk has cometh

Poem 725    February 27, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 87

swaggering seagulls

move just enough for me to pass

begrudgingly

Poem 726    February 27, 2019      (up to top)

on the good old bad old r32 brightliner

the half-century-old r32 subway cars R32 local on the C-line

– the first stainless steel cars produced
and the oldest subway cars
in continuous operation in the world –
have become the maintenance scourge
of the new york city transit system

but for a train lover like me
when i’m waiting
at the forward end of a c-line platform
and the unmistakable r32 local
rumbles into the station
and squeals to a stop
it’s like finding an old treasure

i stand at the front of the head car
with only one pane of glass
between me and the darkened tunnel
between me and the signal lights
changing from red to yellow to green
between me and the glistening rails
between me and the stations ahead
as we rattle and clank
under central park west
and eighth avenue
until i disembark
at 34th street - penn station
with a silly grin on my face

Poem 727.1    February 28, 2019      (up to top)

revelation

on a brisk late friday afternoon
i’m working on the crossword
at the kitchen table
the refrigerator is cycling on and off
there’s the almost imperceptible hiss
from the gas flames
under a simmering farberware pot

i glance over
and watch my wife
and then
wondrously
i’m not just observing her
but i’m really seeing her …
i’m seeing this other person’s essence
so thoroughly
that it feels as if i’m merging with her
for those few precious seconds
while my partner my lover my best friend
stands at the stove in her apron
adding kale and carrots and onions
into a chicken soup
whose redolence
also fills our home

Poem 728.1    March 8, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 88

walking side by side

our fingers touch like tendrils

then intertwine

Poem 729    March 11, 2019      (up to top)

another day … another levaya

another day
another funeral

this one
was a tiny graveside service
for my deceased mother-in-law’s
last remaining friend

in our kinship family
about a half dozen people
are hovering around ninety
… though they’re not yet circling the drain
they’re certainly not
getting any younger

but neither are we
– we seventy-somethings –
for no matter how you look at it
some of us will soon
be striding up to the plate


an angel appears before his old friend having breakfast in the diner
the surprised friend asks him what’s going on
the angel says i have some good news and some bad news …
which do you want first?
okay … how about the good news?
well … we have baseball in heaven
and what about the bad?
we’re playing a home game this afternoon
… and you’re batting third
Poem 730    March 14, 2019      (up to top)

gonna keep on truckin’

chained keep on truckin

to that unyielding cable
pulling relentlessly
from behind

i struggle forward
against
its inexorability

though i know …
yes i know

Poem 731    March 17, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 89

a great horned owl

keeps watch over their nest

a silent sentinel

— seen at Hempstead Lake State Park, March 20, 2019

Poem 732    March 20, 2019      (up to top)

remorse postponed

during this week nineteen years ago
my mother died
and i was not there

on a mild march morning in 2000
as i drove north with my wife on west street
to an art expo atop a midtown pier
sylvia’s caregiver rebecca called us

rebecca told us
that my mother refused
to get on the ambulette that morning
for yet another trip to dialysis
… that my mother said she’d had enough
that it was enough already
that it was … enough

and so my mother
would be having hospice care
in her florida condo
until the end

a google search
notes that with her infirmity
her death would have taken
at most a week or two

now
with wisdom and hindsight perhaps
i wonder why
i didn’t immediately
buy a ticket from delta
and fly down
to be there for her
to be there with her

there were certainly job-related reasons
but i could probably have gotten
a short emergency leave

but there was also an emotional component …
a contentious and complicated
maternal relationship
for she was both hostile and needy
aggressive and dismissive …
if she were lucid
i could imagine her spewing out
what the hell didja waste your money
and come down here for

she passed away eight days later

and now
i feel stupid and selfish
and i’m angry
and i’m guilty
and i’m disgusted
but i’m also
so … so sorry

— Rest in Peace, Sylvia Zwick Abrams … July 7, 1914 - March 19, 2000

Poem 733    March 21, 2019      (up to top)

at the wildlife refuge

many people stroll around
the elizabeth morton wildlife refuge
like one-armed zombies
with millet and sunflower seeds
in their outstretched hands
hoping that a random bird
might deign to fly down
and grab one of their morsels

but we brought peanuts
and i watched with muditā
– with vicarious joy –
as my wife fed dozens of titmice
and nuthatches and chickadees
who could not resist
flitting onto her fingers
to pick up a special
irresistible
unshelled
treat

Poem 734    March 24, 2019      (up to top)

on the road again

i hadn’t ridden my bicycle
in nine months filled
with anxiety and apprehension
about the possibility
of getting hit or falling off
and then bleeding out
because of my post-embolism
anti-coagulant regimen
and then … my hematologist
cut the dosage in half

on a warm and windy
saturday afternoon
after i’d charged the lights and cyclocomputer
lubed and wiped down the chain
cleaned off the grit
pumped up the tires
i sobbed when i got on my bicycle
then slowly circled our neighborhood
before setting out westward
to hempstead lake state park
to gaze with awe and wonder
at the nesting great horned owls

the first spring rides
are tough at best …
seldom-used muscles sorely complain
while i’m pedaling
and then … after

but for the first time
in a long time
i felt whole

Poem 735.1    April 4, 2019      (up to top)

a murder of crows

i’m sitting outside
around five-thirty or six
on a gusty spring afternoon
and then … from the east
the unmistakable cawing of crows

three dozen or so sleek and stately
black iridescent beauties are flying
sort of together
not circling frantically
like trained pigeons
nor in an exquisite ever-changing pattern
like a murmuration of starlings
because after all …
they’re crows

they act like they’re very independent
but from what i’ve read
they are indeed highly interdependent

a block to the west they circle around
some veer off
and others join them
but it could be the same ones …
my rough count stays the same

i walk around to the sidewalk
to watch them better
they’re several blocks away to the east
and again they circle around
soaring and gliding with the wind currents
as if they’re playing in the air

a few more circlings …
i thought i’d follow them by foot
to see where they’d end up
for i’ve heard that they’ll fly for many miles
to the same tree
to spend the night together

and then
they’re too far away
for i can no longer hear them

perhaps they’re tired of their fun
perhaps they’ve returned
to their special oak or sycamore
or perhaps
they have better things to do

for after all …
they’re crows

Poem 736    April 4, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 90

early morning rain

at dawn we awaken to

a tangerine sky

Poem 737    April 17, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 91

as evening nears

we’re serenaded by crows

circling calling roosting

Poem 738    April 17, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 92

benumbed and fatootst

after a pesach weekend

never again

Poem 739    April 17, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 93

a whole foods carton

arrives from amazon prime

mealworms for the birds

Poem 740    May 3, 2019      (up to top)

butchers

the unprincipled
still call themselves
arborists
tree surgeons
professionals
but they’re butchers
invading our old-growth neighborhood
with their whining chainsaws
with their roaring grinders
with their fuck-you attitudes
hacking down oaks and hemlocks
annihilating maples and beeches
and then …
that unmistakable thud
when a huge limb hits the ground

because a moron moves in
and is afraid that a falling tree
might harm his pigsty to be
and to hell with the nests
that’ve been destroyed

or because an urban obliviot
doesn’t realize how vital
one hundred-year-old trees
are to our environment
and for everyone else’s peace of mind

… and we moan
and we shed
yet another tear

Poem 741    May 3, 2019      (up to top)

overthinking

if i could be faulted
for one thing
out of many things of course
it would be my overthinking

because i drive myself nuts
turning a possible joy
into a dreaded probability

because when i can’t sleep
i rely on a half a xanax
to be my warm and merciful soporific

because i drive other people crazy
– most often people close to me –
with my obsessive attention to detail
with my ruminating and my worrying
which serve as synergistic accelerants
to make things even worse

my son has a simple and elegant
three-word solution
three simple words of wisdom …
just fuck it
just go and do whatever it is
and most of all
enjoy yourself

and now
i feel somewhat less anxious
about renting a 24-feet gulfstream r v
and visiting national parks in colorado

– and to be able to check off
a major to-do item
on my wife’s bucket list

— Dedicated to my son, Jonathan Abrams, who helped me over an agonizing emotional hump

Poem 742.1    May 3, 2019      (up to top)

tanka 10

cannas and lilies

hostas and irises

time to divide them

we shared rhizomes with neighbors

and embellished our world


— Was listed in “best of the rest” in Newsday's 2019 Garden Poetry Contest, June 2019

Poem 743    May 8, 2019      (up to top)

squirrel t v

the squirrels are at it again
a scurry of six take turns
shinnying up to the bird feeder
long-jumping from an evergreen
gnawing upside down on the suet cage
performing leaps and acrobatics
worthy of an olympian

our corpulent squirrels
vie with raucous blue jays
for unshelled peanuts strewn about
squabble with each other
with nips and tail-twitching
and sometimes venture
up close and personal
to our patio table
hoping for a handout
or perhaps just out of curiosity

then i’ll mutter gey avek
– yiddish for go away –
since they seem to ignore
imprecations in english
and respond only
to sudden movements
… and then only some of the time

Poem 744    May 8, 2019      (up to top)

tanka 11

an osprey

hovering flapping soaring

prowls milburn creek

when it eyes a telltale motion

it swoops down for its prey


Poem 745.1    May 10, 2019      (up to top)

it’s so hard sometimes

sometimes it’s so hard
to be loving and intimate
the mowers and the lawn blowers
the noisy neighbors and the dogs barking
the car belching music outside
the phone calls and the notification pings
the fear of asking and the unsureness
the foreboding and the trepidation
… there never seems to be
exactly the right time

then there’s the frailty
and the inadequacy
that has snuck up
after so many years
and so many decades …
and there’s the emergency room visit
that had forced a postponement
of our friday evening dinner
… and its angst-filled aftermath

we do so much for each other
we care for each other
love each other
and we tell each other as much

but there seems to be a wall
an invisible force field
an imaginary barrier perhaps
that doesn’t exactly tear us apart
but makes it less effortless
for us to merge
for us to be together
as one

Poem 746    May 17, 2019      (up to top)

tentative

i don’t like the new tentative me
… the post-pulmonary embolism me

i don’t like feeling hesitant
too cautious too indecisive
too unsure of myself

when i approach an intersection on my bike
i’m now reluctant to blow through a red
without double- and triple-checking
when i’m on the stairs
i’m wary about turning around
and changing direction
when i’m bending over to grab something
i’m leery about hitting my head

my timing seems to be off
my body’s spatial perception is off
my previous smooth sailing through life …
that seems to be off too

i’m told ya gotta adjust
it’s part of navigating aging
and yes i should be so gracious
that i’m still around
but my self-imposed limitations
– naturally prudent and wise –
don’t make me any happier

Poem 747    May 20, 2019      (up to top)

oh … to be a grackle

we’re outside having a late breakfast Common Grackle

a grackle lands on the suet cage
its mate flits onto the bird bath

wouldn’t it be wonderful
my wife says to me
if you were that handsome

the grackles are indeed splendid
with their sleek blue-black iridescence
with their strutting about
with their this world is mine haughtiness

but we also appreciate
that they come to the feeder is pairs
and engage each other
in their own guttural language
of squeaks and croaks and whistles

oh … to be a grackle

Poem 748    May 22, 2019      (up to top)

my beloved

vivien
is
my beloved
my dearest friend
mother of jonathan and miriam
the loving grandmother to six luscious boisterous boys
it’s nearly impossible to comprehend we’ve been together for almost half a century
that we’ve strode through the vicissitudes of life holding hands and we’ll be facing the
      inevitable – the inexorable – side by side

– a Fibonacci (Fib) poem. from the mathematical sequence (0),1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21, … which, in this eight-line version, is reflected in the number of words per line

Poem 749    May 22, 2019      (up to top)

as crow on the search for truth

i am crow Krahe Rudi Hurzlmeier Black Raven Crow_ in Boots

striding through a bristly barren field
on a somber nebulous day

i am crow
my boots crunch the freezing ground
i will be undaunted

i am crow
tramping through my haunts with clarity
i am neither late nor early

i am crow
i will reach my inevitable destination
for i seek to know all

– an ekphrastic poem inspired by Krahe by Rudi Hurzlmeier … Black Raven Crow in Boots

Poem 750    May 25, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 94

i type a text

to my brother’s old number

hit send anyway

Poem 751    July 14, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 95

my looseleafs explode

a mushroom cloud of wordlife

turned into ashes

Poem 752    July 25, 2019      (up to top)

not a cathartic poem

my writing has been stalled
for almost two months
– potent evidence
that things with me
haven’t been at all copacetic

in denver we rented a brand new 24-foot
state-of-the-art self-contained r-v
and stayed in three crowded campgrounds …
through the magic of 20-20 hindsight
we should’ve done a hell of a lot more preparation

even though this kind of vacation
was on my wife’s bucket list
i rarely shared the joy …
i had bouts of anxiety
that were scarcely balanced
by peak moments that never occurred
and worst i had interrupted sleep
quelled only by small doses of xanax

i often felt unrecognizable even to myself
until we returned the r-v two days early
and stayed in a suite at a la quinta hotel
a nine-mile shuttle ride from the airport

i started to write
what i thought might turn into
a cathartic and therapeutic poem
but i no longer wanted to dwell
in my miserable colorado mind space

so i decided to call it quits
on that curative and restorative attempt
and try to write off the challenges of our trip
to just another life experience
and then go on
with the rest
of my days

Poem 753    July 25, 2019      (up to top)

little bird

we were having breakfast outside … Little Bird - August 2, 2019

on the concrete path
a little brown bird was hopping-stumbling
in our direction
one unsteady bounce at a time

vivien said she’d noticed
perhaps the same bird
earlier that morning
wandering aimlessly near our back door
but it had flitted away

now it was weak and wobbly …
when it lost its footing
it stumbled off the path

vivien knelt down
tried to give it water
tried to hand feed it some wild bird seeds
some bits of dried mealy worms
some crushed peanuts
but it took only a few drops of the water
and shook the rest away
but ignored the food offering

we felt so helpless
we couldn’t do anything for it
but we didn’t want a cat to get at it
nor the red-tailed hawk on patrol

we put it onto a small plastic tray
and placed it in the garden
hoping that its mother
might somehow reclaim it

when we returned home
several hours later
we saw that the little bird had indeed died …
it was apparently too foregone

i dug a shallow grave for it
and as we buried it
under several trowelsful of soil
we said a few melancholic words
recognizing that we had tried
to help that tiny helpless bird

for those moments
on a mild august friday afternoon
we knew we had made contact
with another living being
which surprisingly intensified
our acute feeling of loss
and we were
so … so sad

Poem 754    August 2, 2019      (up to top)

baby love

when miriam was little
and she was fussy or upset
i’d hold her tight against my chest
inhale her special baby smell
and sway with her
as i crooned baby love
into the soft side of her neck
at a tempo slower and gentler
than diana ross & the supremes

baby love
my baby love
my ooh ooh
ooh ooh
baby love …
and i’d continue humming
the rest of the melody
the soothing vibrations
passing from me into her

in my arms
she would usually calm down
and often fall back asleep
and in my arms
with my beard next to her cheek
we would be connected
for all time

Poem 755.1    August 8, 2019      (up to top)

pitfall
         on the
                  stairs


yet another indignity
of getting older
is worrying about falling
especially on the stairs

five or six stairs down
it might suddenly occur to me
that i’d forgotten something

before the onset
of my so-called golden years
i might’ve done a quick u-turn
and scamper back up

but now i have to be mindful
about not wearing slippery socks
on our wooden staircase
about grabbing the bannister
and doing a hand-over-hand
while carefully pivoting
before my ascension

yes i know prudence is a virtue
but it still pisses me off
that i have yet something else
to worry about

Poem 756    August 10, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 96

mug of iced coffee

slurping what's left through my straw

the sound of sadness

Poem 757    August 12, 2019      (up to top)

tanka 12

another blood bath

hatred anger insanity

our flag at half-staff

meaningless “thoughts and prayers”

for god’s sake it’s gotta stop

Poem 758    August 19, 2019      (up to top)

how do you decide?

ma is ninety-four
she has at most a week left
unless there’s medical intervention
which she is resolutely refusing

several days ago
she watched her fifteen great-grandchildren
frolicking in the pool
and back at the end of june
she’d made it to a great-grandson’s bar mitzvah

ma now says
i’m done
i saw the kids
i’ve had a wonderful life
i have no regrets
i want to be with pa again

i don’t know
how she could be so ready and willing
to cash in her chips …
i don’t know
if it’s determination or resignation
i don’t know
if it’s audacity or sheer exhaustion

if i were failing but still lucid
i don’t know
if i could make such a decision
… perhaps i hope i could

Poem 759    August 19, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 97

no mortal being

can clear a room faster

than a gassy dog

Poem 760    September 1, 2019      (up to top)

our late summer swim

a warm mid-september wednesday
our first and only
beach visit this year

we stand in knee-high whitewater
that’s teasing us
roughing us up

we want to wade further in
but westerly gusts
are roiling the waves
rolling in much too quickly

we’re both apprehensive
and i am particularly trepidatious …
don’t want to be hurt
don’t want to get bowled over
unable to nimbly get to my feet

so we’re waiting
hoping for a several-second gap
in the turbulence

we notice that the tide is rising
we notice the three lifeguards
who are not just languidly viewing
their tiny beachfront domain
we notice that only half dozen
adults are bobbing in the waves
and then there is us …
septuagenarians refusing to back down

we eventually get our moment
we rush into the surge
dive into a cresting wave
come up through to the other side
and we’re standing in the trough
grinning at each other
happy that we finally
made it in

… but only for a short while
until we are pummeled
by a series of waves
from a fickle ocean
that heave us around
then spit us out

but we do indeed
have our late summer swim

– Jones Beach, September 11, 2019

Poem 761    September 13, 2019      (up to top)

contentment

in the golden hour just before sunset
as maples and tupelos morph into silhouettes
i sit outside with a mug of iced coffee
power off my phone
stretch out my legs
take a deep cleansing breath
rejoice in today’s bike ride
and watch as a jittery cardinal
forages beneath the feeders

Poem 762    September 17, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 98

my dad’s on the couch

his first grandson’s in his arms

glossy black and white

Poem 763    October 11, 2019      (up to top)

haiku 99

seventeen syllables

twice as many edits

enough is enough

Poem 764    October 11, 2019      (up to top)

Last updated September 19, 2019

Copyright © 2007-2019 Lloyd B. Abrams

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