Trickle-down Culture

   Trickle-down Culture
The Garden of Eden, a food store in New York.
Ajax, a detergent beneath the sink.
Paul Gauguin, a cruise ship in the Caribbean
A herd of filthy beasts in Jonathan Swift’s
mad imagination, a search engine in Cyperspace.
Jane Eyre, a Chinese light switch
Toilets in a Japanese hotel, which when lifted, ring out: “Joyful joyful we adore thee.”
Culture can trickle down no further.



The Real Presence

The Real Presence

Do you believe in immortal life?
Don’t ask me.
Do you believe in eternal punishment?
Don’t ask me.
Do you believe you eat the body of Christ?
Don’t ask me.
Ask Ann Askew.
She said that Bread was bread: “… for proof thereof let it lie in a box three months and it will be moldy.”
Ann Askew was a woman of common sense. She was a woman of common sense from a nation that is built on common sense.
Common sense has produced the best political system in the world.
Common sense has produced the best legal system in the world.
Common sense has produced the best poetry in the world.
Common sense is incompatible with the mysteries of religion.
It is against common sense that Christ rose from the dead.
It is against common sense that sin is redeemed.
It is against common sense that the sick shall be healed, the blind made to see, the hungry be filled, the last go to the front of the line.
It is impossible to live without believing at least some of these things.
Common sense believes that life is nasty, brutish and short.
The strength of all desire is for life to be otherwise;
for it to be joyous, replenishing and untouched by death.
Replenishing it is.
The Eucharist is the instrument of replenishment.
The blood and flesh of Christ replenish it.
Is it replenished symbolically?
Can a symbol replenish me?
Ahhhhhhhhhhh me. I don’t know.
I doubt it.
But don’t ask me.
Ask Ann Askew.
She at least knew.
They burned her for it.
They racked her for five hours; then they shaved her head, tied her to a stake, piled up the faggots, and set her flesh on fire.
She died for common sense
not for the rational mind
not for things unseen
but for the fruits of experience.
Her presence in the world was real.

Keeping in Touch

Keeping in Touch
Wired ears, in the subway, on the street.
Mine are not wired. It is 8 P.M
Three yards short of my home corner,
I overhear: “Do you know what I need?
I want the skinniest, the youngest girl.
You got anything like this?”
Glancing to the side, I make out, his ear
to a smartphone, shadowed in a doorway,
a large, bulky man in an overcoat.
No native speaker would repeat the “the,”
is my second thought. First is the inkling
that, with wired ears, “Cosi Fan Tutte”
might have preempted the picture in my mind:
A child of twelve handcuffed to a bedpost.
My last awareness is of the dark.
Central Casting? Not at this time of night.

In the Wake of the Miraculous

In The Wake of the Miraculous

                           I met an angel in a parking lot,
                           having stopped the car to ask directions.
                           He was thirty-esh, nondescript in feature,
                           and so light, I felt lifted too. He told me
                           clearly how to get to the Bourne Bridge,
                           and I did. It must have been five years ago.
                           The picture of his open face, its aura
                           of sheer happiness, his focus and address,
                           and his readiness to oblige, do not
                           leave me. How else could I have known him
                           for an angel? And why else now, alone
                           as daylight fades, in this familiar room,
                           do I remember him, and feel the need,
                           the very urgent need, to ask directions?

From the Tarot: Two of Swords

 Two of Swords: Equilibrium
Nowadays’ poets speak often of depositing in a poem this and that of their liking, as if the poem were my grandmother’s trunk, packed with the English alphabet A to Z. Dante Alighieri did them one better, putting into his his contemporaries. I remember, too, once urging Ludovico Il Moro to flee his dungeon in France, and fly back to his native Milan, his inglorious end-days so distressed me. So why should I not take a page from Dante’s Purgatory? It cannot offend to emulate the great:
One I hailed, who, treading that strait terrace,
was stooped beneath a boulder, while his gaze,
downward cast, searched for footholds: “Gerard,”
I cried out, “You here! Stop! Stop and raise
your eyes! Speak!” And he, caught by surprise
as great as mine, replied: “This weight betrays
a wrong I did you; painfully it lies
on me, til by degrees I wear away,
like steps on stone, the pride that petrifies.”
“If wrong to me, I swear it has no play.
Of all I ever loved, I loved you best,”
I answered him, “all blame sublimed away” –
then turning, left him, toiling with the rest.
A bonbon this, inside a box of words.

From the Tarot: The Queen of Wands

Queen of Wands:The Virgin Queen

She rose each morning to stand by her window,
where, what should meet her eye but,
on a high pole, his vantage point now,
who’d not scrupled in his thirsting ambition
to gamble his life for her throne and crown,
the head of Essex, a decaying gob
of featureless flesh and dank, matted hair.
What did she think about, staring at the wreck
of her last passion, what deceptions disown?
Or did she, with her strong-minded, if vain
and vascillating character, admit
her error in mistaking power’s magnet
for the magnet of sex? What bitterness,
either way, what rue! Did she remember
the gifts of jewels, the commissions, the favors
squandered on him, his hand on her arm,
leading her in the dance: or words he spoke,
she treasured, all turned sour now, all smoke?
The head rested a full year on its prop,
in snow, in rain, in radiant sunshine,
as day be day, she regarded it, drawing
from the grim sight, what arcane object lesson?
She alone could know, and knew it, alone.

For Raoul Wallenberg

For Raoul Wallenberg
I am baffled and beset
by the long braid of another man’s fate.
For how hours, days, months, years
did he sit it out, isolated, hoping,
then not hoping, praying, then not praying,
a man of the first courage, defeated,
the rescuer of many and many, abandoned
to the oubliette, his lifeline cut off,
gone deep into the pit, left to rot?
Officially, he was dead, unofficially
sporadic rumors circulated.
He’d been sighted in a prison infirmary
ten years in;
he’d tapped out his name on a cell wall
twenty years in;
he’d been examined in a psychiatric clinic
thirty years in, reported
“in poor condition.”
I have seen pictured unforgivable things:
a cat crucified on a row house door;
a man chained to a wall by an iron collar;
a man turned on a spit over fire in an isolated cell’;
But this my mind’s eye refuses: waiting
and more waiting, and waiting until waiting
no longer knows what it waits for; energy,
daring, resolve – mis en bouteille
in the Lubyanka, stored in its cellars,
after, discarded. At some point, one thinks,
blackness descended, enveloped, did not lift.
He is memorialized in the capitol of the country where he was born,
and which failed him.
He is memorialized in the capitol of the country where he died,
and which murdered him piecemeal.
To Stockholm & Moscow, add Budapest,
the city where his life was life behind,
after men and women in the tens of thousands
earmarked for the extermination machine
were delivered through his unstinting address.
This is the short list.
Vienna, Sydney, London, Buenos Aires… it goes on.
He is an honorary citizen
of the United States.
He is an honorary citizen
of Canada,
At Yad Vashem
he is first among equals.
It does not compensate. In a hundred years
it will not compensate.
Until hell is emptied the debt is not paid.


                  The penis is a fearful thing:
                  It gets drunk and beats you up and then it
                        says,”I love you.”
                  Thank God I don’t have one.
                  Thank God you do.

City Lights

City Lights
Now let us praise
the Is-ness of cities
for which even Jesus
wept prophetic tears
that man-made quiddity
of window, wall and door
that broken metaphor
for man’s incessant striving
Dresden swept by fire
Nanking drenched in blood –
that strict integument
of asphalt and cement
beneath which beats a pulse:
alive! alive! alive!