Friday, May 17, 2019

13 Ways of Looking at Donald Trump

A dozen plus one blackbirds just flew out of Wallace Stevens' poem expelling him from their nests.

Taking him out of the equation there are still dental appointments and dead batteries.

Does enormous red tie signify enormous red tie to Putin in plain sight?

Bound and gagged in an abandoned warehouse on the other side of town for 30 months while he ransacks our house.

After this morning’s rain each blossom on the coral tree rimmed with a silver lining making me hopeful for the 2020 election.

Sociopathic mob boss, pathological narcissist or flim-flam con-man… or all of the above?

Bill Sikes surrounded by versions of Uriah Heap. The Dickens you say.

Peaceable kingdom of squirrel, two mourning doves and hummingbird bullied by a crow. I refuse to think of him. 

As he worms his way into my psyche I finally get a chance to end a sentence with the word vermifuge.  

Red cap, orange hair, Pinocchio’s nose, forked tongue… no bird tweets so much.

After his rally the undocumented clean up the illegalities.

Opera composed each day with arias of false notes.

From high in the tower at 4 A.M. blurts drop from the weight of their deceit. Garbage truck awaits.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Mumsie: Woman of the Century

My mother claimed January 1st, 1900 as her birthday and NYC as her birthplace. I’m told many others born offshore and prior also chose that day but I happily grant her that auspicious date as the curtain went up for the 20th century. If nothing else she deserves credit for creativity.

It took a good deal of pluck and spunk to get by with five brothers to contend with in the mean streets of the Bronx as her father scraped by as a peddler and house-painter. I expect my uncles teased and tormented her in those tenement years. She learned how to become tough.

I addressed her as Ma early on. Mother was out of the question. Later she was Mom and after she died I somehow hit upon Mumsie as her reference for reigning matriarch; meant as a term of endearment along with my daughter’s memory of her unforgettable ways.

Mumsie did battle with the world. Marketing was a form of combat. Eyeing the fruit vendor if he put a thumb on the scale. If the butcher gave her a proper cut and good weight. If the landlord cheated on the radiator heat. If that truck was an assassin as we crossed the wide avenues. All this time, while she fought in the trenches, my father was behind the lines back in general headquarters, strategizing our survival, sticking pins in the map.

I remember how she would climb up the three flights of our walk-up apartment with groceries from the A & P, put everything away and then check the addition wondering what cost eleven cents. After ten minutes of verbal abuse she would say, Oh, yeah, the lemons.

She got my father through the high school equivalency test. And then tutored him through Pharmacy College which was a mere two year course. My Dad was a very slow reader, probably dyslexic. He was as non-confrontational as she was in your face. She cursed the shopkeepers (gonifs), damned the landlord (the momser should burn in hell) and even cursed God for God knows what.

I was called a good-for-nothing-kid. Not entirely inaccurate. I also had to fend off a barrage of Yiddish damnations, which supplied me with a rather limited vocabulary of the mother tongue. Suffice it to say Mumsie had a mouth on her. My well-being depended upon turning a deaf ear to her rants, a faculty I borrowed from my father.

However all is forgiven. She was making her way in what she perceived as a hostile world, masking her fears, which morphed into nastiness. I suspect my mother had many models of behavior by siblings in her growing years and later in those hard times during the Depression. I never heard of such a thing, she often muttered when someone crossed the line, a demarcation which left her behind. I also doubt that she ever heard her own words. They just poured out of her unconsciously. She gave voice to the aggravations of a generation.

Yet in spite of all that she also nurtured, encouraged and offered affection that only I could have received. The fundamental values came through so I was deprived of a deprived childhood.

She was fierce in her need to assimilate. To speak with proper, unaccented grammar and elocution. To dis-identify with old world ways. We observed no holidays yet in her rush to become WASPY she got a bit confused. Maybe she couldn’t cook a turkey because Thanksgiving was decreed to be for gentiles.

In her twilight years Mumsie mellowed revealing a frightened little girl. Even if she never ran from Cossacks she carried the shtetl in her bones. When I drove her around neighborhoods with pretty homes and flowering trees she couldn’t take her eye off the road warning me of reckless drivers. Mumsie, dear Mumsie, what a price you paid… not for the flounder at the fish market but for those decades unable to laugh at jokes or see a bloody rose bloom on the apron of the butcher in the midst of sawdust and fly paper.

She had a thing for cross ventilation as if bad air like an ill-wind, could enter from one window and exit as fresh air through another. I’d like to believe she left this world transformed having rid herself of a dreaded miasma able to finally manage a deep inhalation in the safe unknown.      
She had  for cross ventilation s if bad air like an ill-

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ninety-Eight Candles

There is a certain elegance about numbers particularly when your checkbook balances or your four digit pin opens the vault at the ATM machine. However we also know that numbers are a fiction. As for Peggy’s 98th birthday coming up on Thursday, May 2nd, it is the supreme fiction.

When we became a number she was a few months away from age sixty. I was forty-eight but never imagined how she would knock off a year every birthday while I have entered my late innings. It’s the difference between wine and cheese.

True, her architecture has bent, hair thinned, sound muffled but this is all superficial wrapping. Her spirit has never left the mind of summer. It charges the air, bursts like bulbs of wildflowers, communes with horses, purples her hair, and flabbergasts the page. Her daily poems articulate that wide embrace of life with an insistence of hope piercing the dread.

Six years ago when Peggy broke her hip she spend a couple of months in a rehab facility. Most people would count the days till they scale the walls and blow the joint. Peggy regarded it as a cruise ship to nowhere and wrote poems for all the care-givers and physical therapists. 

I think it was on our first weekend together we were driving around Santa Monica when Peggy told me about a favorite book she had read by Aldo Leopold called, Sand County Almanac. We came upon a yard sale and she suggested we take a look. Maybe they have that book, she said. I silently scoffed but sure enough there it was as if only eleven books had ever been written and why wouldn’t it be there. I knew then I was blessed with a mysterious woman who expands possibilities, who conjures what she calls to mind.

Peggy repairs a fractured, cacophonous world. In her Joseph Cornell-like boxes, in her collages, in her poems she brings together the often disparate pieces. The operative word is connectivity. She drags in palm fronds and bamboo bark, pods and stones, shards and shells. She keeps what she calls commonplace books (now up to number twelve) containing anything on paper which has captured her gaze… ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, business cards, menus, quotes, magazine images, faces, etc… However there is much more than her resumé.

Her Art is on a continuum with her Self. Put her in an elevator and she’s made connections with fellow passengers in the space of three floors. Find her in a waiting room and the woman in the next chair becomes her newest dear friend. Relationship comes with its risk of rejection, one that Peggy willingly takes. There is a safe harbor in her welcoming eyes. 

All this doesn’t quite capture her essence which eludes words. She enthuses life as it shows up and returns to those within reach her touch, her generosity.

If on a dark night a ship has lost its way let it navigate by the light coming from the room where Peggy's poetry shines with the incandescence of ninety-eight candles. 

Monday, April 22, 2019


By age ten I knew everything. I had movie-smarts. Those Saturday matinees taught me that most people wore tuxedos, sailors were all great dancers and cattle rustlers didn’t shave. I had it all figured out …the language of cinema, the difference between the clean chin and the villainy of the mustache. I could spot that double-crossing dame from the schoolmarm at the drop of an eyebrow.  

We could smell death. In war movies when a soldier spoke of the deli he would open in Brooklyn when the war ended he’d take a bullet a couple of foxholes later. When someone coughed it meant tuberculosis; a headache was shorthand for brain tumor. They’d be dead in five minutes. I knew it was a jungle out there like Tarzan said to Jane.

None of my friends ever rustled a cow or went up the river for packing a rod. Uncle Irving was in the navy and was a klutz. All the girls I knew were second bananas. I would never glide like Fred Astaire or be suave and debonair like Cary Grant. Henry Fonda, maybe or Spencer Tracy knowing not to bump into the furniture.

Movies prepared us for the life we would never live….and yet. We got to know the difference between real life and the dream factory of Hollywood. Movie maladies were part of the fiction we learned to separate.

Over time movies developed a new vocabulary. Authenticity required a vomiting scene. This demonstrated that the film aimed for real life…even if it never got there. The cattle-rustler moved to the big city and became a hit man but with a back story which almost excused him.

One theme that seems not to have changed much over the years is gender politics. In the forties the girl next door who became a successful career woman was empty inside until Mr. Right came along to provide her with two and half children and an apron where she could know her place in the world heading the bake sale for the P.T.A.

Today’s formula pits urban values against the Real America where men and women must return to reclaim their soul. After all, the big city with its inclusive urbanity (Democratic voters) is no match for the rural heartland (Trump base) with its bowling league, good old boys and deer-hunting.

Movies have always been a sneaky form of ideology. The themes often reinforce values through the side door. When our hero lands in the hospital after fracturing a few ribs or even after a triple by-pass he rips off his bandages tears away the I.V. and makes it out of the deserted corridors to avenge his attackers. The message is: real men are invincible and don’t feel pain. Of course not; not when we are the planet’s police thwarting terrorist’s plots. The stuff of comic books is the delusion of the Pentagon given support by the dream machine of Hollywood with big box office receipts to prove they have their fingers on the pulse of Main St.

It’s not easy to find a movie without the syrup of a small town or the carnage of the war machine. Our thirst for dead bodies must surely numb our sensibilities which is yet another link befitting a country with bases circling the globe and an arsenal unmatched in human history.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Plato, Pluto and the Whole Damn Thing

Peggy has been reading philosophy books and talking Plato lately. I got to sleep thinking how I must Google him one of these days to refresh my credential as a pseudo-intellectual even though I recall his Republic disinvited me with my poetic license. At 3:37 A.M. I woke with Pluto on my brain. I suppose anal-retentive Plato had trouble moving his vowel.

Pluto has had many lives. Probably my first encounter with him was as the Disney dog in cartoons. Then there is the faint memory of Pluto Water in my father’s drugstore. This was a laxative; maybe the one Plato used. However in the chronology in the Great Ledger the name goes back Greek mythology. Pluto was the early name of Hades who ruled the Underworld. He got the short end of the stick when the universe was divided among the three brothers, Poseidon (oceans), Zeus (above) and Pluto (below).

Of course, before any of that, but as yet undiscovered, was the planet Pluto. So named because it was dark being furthest from the sun. The first two letters of Pluto are also the initials of Percival Lowell, the astronomer who speculated there was a Planet X around 1905. Twenty-five years later Pluto was found and in 2006 it was un-found being drummed off the list and relegated to dwarf status. Imagine the humiliation. On the other hand it may be better to be the first among B list than the least among column A list.

The other notable thing about Lowell … all this between 3:37 A.M. and 5:23 A.M. …. is that in 1896 while pointing his telescope at Mars he inadvertently closed the aperture and swore he saw canals on the red planet which turned out to be the arteries on his own retina. However this spawned the fiction of H.G. Wells’, War of the Worlds and Ray Bradbury’s, Martian Chronicles. Art, said Picasso, is the lie that tells the truth….but does illusion spell truth? I don’t think so.

Unaccountable is the trace of the insomniac’s itinerant leaps. From there I went to Greenland or more accurately to the map of the place as it appears on the flat page of Mercator’s Projection of the world which was a sensation in 1569. How many school kids were raised to believe that Greenland was larger than Africa due to his distorted rendering as the latitude increases from the equator to the poles?  In fact fourteen Greenlands could fit into that land mass from whence we all came.

My rambling took me from the map to the territory. Namely what we now call Middle America or the Heartland or Fly-Over America….Trump Country. I know it’s a stretch but everything preceding this is gone into my pillow. The operative word is now Truth. What people believe often bears no relationship to the actual. Enormous Greenland. Canals on Mars. Plato’s shadows on the wall and Pluto, a planet no longer.

Aristotle had it right. The world is indeed in flux. But those in Trumpland won’t take that news without a battle. Where’s my gun?  Downtown is boarded up. Mom and Pop stores can’t compete with the Big Box. New-fangled gadgets. Folks don’t look like they used to. Money has gone off-shore. The Boy Scouts takes girls. Watch who you’re hugging. Better hang on to what is fixed….Bible class, the National Anthem, The Constitution as our Founders meant it.

And here’s the man with all the answers, the hollow man, who has no doubts, who tells it like it is, who promises to set the clock back to that old time religion. It was good enough for Grandpa and it’s good enough for me.

That got me to sleep. Wake me up when it’s over.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Conundrum of Pronouns

There’s so damn many of them. Almost as many Democratic candidates as there are pronouns. I count six Senators, five from the House of Representatives, two governors, a mayor, a former Cabinet member and assorted other wannabes.  

It’s not a matter of Us vs Them; it is Us against Us. The last thing we need is a discord of trumpets.

She’s good and Her also and for Him I still feel the Bern. I want to vote for Her or Her or Him but not sure They, in the heartland, will cast their lot for either of Them. It won’t surprise me if the primaries go to Him, that guy who doesn’t get it, the Delaware apologist for banks who can’t bring himself to apologize for his touchy-feely ways and whom I can’t forgive what He did to Her back then and now we’re stuck with that other Him on the high court.

If the white-haired He gets the nod over all of Them will Those with skin of darker shade even turn out and why should they unless the overwhelming issue is to get rid of the venal disgrace in the oval whose conscience must have been removed along with his tonsils? So tell me please, I beg you, there are plenty of undecided Us.

Can it be that the S word, once poison, is finally an electable tag? It would be a crowning valedictory moment as I ride off into the sunset. Not that long ago We had to whisper, Socialism, even though Socialite was an elitist word, Sociology an acceptable major in college and Social Tea Biscuits have endured…or have they? And there is Social Security and all those other government welfare programs for the defense contractors, agribusiness and football teams. 

In any case Bernie has ushered Socialism onto the American tongue as long as it is preceded by the word, Democratic. I expect Trump may be salivating over the prospect of defamatory epithets. He doesn’t bother with pronouns; He goes right to the noun of it.

Maybe Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren, She or She, can ride in through the back door given old man Biden’s age, actuarially speaking. Either one of Them. Undifferentiated pronouns. Republican defectors might go for Klobuchar or Gillibrand or Uncle Joe but not for the aforementioned. Do we vote our convictions or settle for the more likely winner, anyone of the Somebodies? The evil of two lessors is a familiar dilemma. 

These are no ordinary times. In any other election year I might regard our eighteen candidates as an embarrassment of riches. However at this point, with the most toxic administration in American history in the balance, my inclination is take the safer bet. Anyone will do who can deliver Donald to a rubber room observed through one-way glass by a man with monocle.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Gods of Spring

Gods love good stories and the ancients told the best ones. Three thousand years ago, give or take a week, those fabulists knew how to spin a yarn. How did it all begin? Why doesn’t it rain? When will it stop? Our tribe is better than your tribe, isn’t it? What happens after we die? Behold the flowers that bloom in the spring!

Homer and the Hebrews, separately, took a collection of tall tales, songs, imaginings, and assorted folk lore from peasants, sages, pranksters and hallucinogenic gurus….anything to allow the group to cohere and answer the overwhelming questions.

The pivotal moment in human history was when stories were recorded rather than just told. The alphabet took the oral tradition and set it in down for evermore. The Greeks let theirs devolve into myth. The Jews held theirs as sacred and Christians concocted a sequel complete with cheek-turning, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Athenians of the day took on the story of Persephone who returns from the underworld just about now on the calendar for a six to nine month sabbatical. She was the offspring of Demeter and Zeus. You’d have thought with parents like that she wouldn’t have been snatched by Hades, brother of Zeus, but she was apparently very snatchable. So it is that spring flowers bloom right on time and therein lies the seeds of eternal life.  

With the Jews the season is celebrated horizontally rather than vertically. The tribe trekked ahead of the pursuing Egyptians across the desert to their freedom from enslavement ... only to enslave the Canaanites when they got to the Promised Land. More important is the summit meeting along the way with Moses and Yahweh in the room where it happens. Admittedly, most of what I know comes from Cecil B. DeMille and snatches of Seders when I had the tolerance for such things.

The Jesus myth is far bloodier, but blood is merely wine after all and the narrative had legs. Of course Easter is like yeast rising and the resurrection a bit of a stretch signifying, again, the bursting forth of poppies, daffodils and an array of blooms painting the desert floor.

Whether up or across, the holidays all go back to the pagans and natural world which deserves any attention it can muster in this age of neglect. The fables need to be reconsidered not as literal truth but as literature pointing us to pay attention to the cycles of Nature and blessings it brings. Miracle enough for me.

Now that I've offended everyone I'm going out to smell the flowers.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Big Con

First there was Phineas. P.T. Barnum’s autobiography was the bestselling book in the second half of the 19th century after the Bible. We love the con. We can’t get enough of the schemer along with the ingenuity and audacity involved. It’s O.K. if it involves deceit, cheating and greed. After all Capitalism is all about scrambling to the top of the heap. Whatever it takes. It says nothing about how you get there, or the victims of the fraud. Call them losers.

Herman Melville’s last novel published in his lifetime (Billy Budd came posthumously) was titled The Confidence Man.  It is set on a riverboat making its way down the Mississippi. We are presented with an array of stock-scammers, charity hustles and panacea-peddlers. They feed on the trust of the sucker born every minute. Dismiss them and they call you a cynic. Try a bottle of this pain-dissuader. What have you got to lose?

Now who does all this remind me of?

We think we have the nose to know what can’t pass the smell test… the trouble in River City, cure-alls, the flimflam man, the hidden persuader that has us buy $400 sneakers. Gullible America voted for the real estate mogul who ventriloquized the grievances on the tongue of the working man.

Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos) put one over on an A-list of prominent Captains of Industry, a 4-star general, diplomats and ex-president. They heard her out and were bewitched by her hokum that a drop of blood could yield vast amounts of data. Investors were charmed by her presentation. They all wanted in on the ground floor. Disbelief was suspended.

Blind trust and total mistrust are first cousins. The other side of the same coin generates fright. The enemy is out there surrounding us in the jungle, said Jim Jones.  The Deep State is destroying America, folks. Those immigrants are taking away your jobs and raping our wives in their spare time. Big Pharma is vaccinating us to death.

Militant mistrusters have bought into a counter narrative as heedlessly as those victims of the con man. Once you are scared it’s natural to hate, to loathe, to shut down your critical faculty. Swallow the hoax and all the rest follows. Even to take arms for survival.

Otherwise enlightened folks have conflated Science with Big Pharma. We may not have evolved much since Aristotle in terms of moral development but we have made great strides in medicine. I have no love for pharmaceutical companies but given our economic system they are the only ones who manufacture and distribute biologicals such as flu vaccine, MMR, DPT, shingles and polio vaccine, Pneumovax, etc… Get over it. We have conquered most communicable disease but without vaccines we are back to mid-18th century. The anti-vax fools not only indulge their ignorance but impose it on the rest of us indifferent to the consequences of fatal epidemics.  

The election of 2016 demonstrated we are, in part, a nation of Gullibles. Certainly it all began before Barnum met Bailey. Looking for answers we see conspiracies. Correlation is mistaken for causation. We are suspicious of evidence-based scientific method as if it were some establishment hoax. We spend billions annually buying nutritional supplements unproven as to efficacy or purity as if anecdote trumps clinical trial. The word Natural confers neither harmless or therapeutic nor does it strike a blow against drug companies. Think again. Think digitalis and belladonna. Think opium and strychnine.

The riverboat chugs along with half of America on it. Who wants to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Baseball as Poetry

In a few days it will be opening day. There is joy or at least hope anew in Mudville. The tilted square of baseball replaces the rectangle of all the other sports. …and no clock to play hurry-up against. Baseball is a stroll in the park. It re-sets our natural rhythm. No whistles or unnecessary roughness. Not a car-chase or a deadline to make. Baseball is a vestige of pastoral America….the one that maybe never existed. It’s not a blurb or a tweet or a byte. It is a novel by Henry James or an epic poem. Ulysses stretching, stealing, scheming his way across the island-bases, making his way home. Zeus on the mound throwing bolts. Baseball is a tribute to Euclid with his sublime dimensions. It is has a certain divinity in the infield yet an idiosyncratic, erratic outfield with alleys, corridors and ivy walls. Updike wrote of the great Ted Williams who never acknowledged the cheers. Why? Because gods don’t answer mail, he said.

What is it that draws poets to the game? The confluence of wood and sphere which reminds them of an epiphany on the page? The pause between pitches, between innings as if stanzas might be written. The crowd (collective) focused on the lone batter. His futility to hit the unhittable or say the unsayable. Slumps like writer’s block. And what of streaks when everything feels so right, so easy and they have exceeded themselves? The fastball down the middle they’ve been waiting for.

The next word, next pitch is unknown. Where does it come from? The poet’s line travels faster than a radar gun and defies gravity with a leap. The game is new every day or night. A curtain goes up on today’s theater. There will be a drama never before enacted. When you may think nothing is happening consider the gulls counting innings waiting to descend for a midnight feast. Regard the umps in black anticipating possibilities. Coaches wiggling signs. Fielders in deliberate choreography. The pitcher with his leg kick. The hitter with his cleats, fidgeting with Velcro on his batting glove. Arm angles, launch angles. The route less taken in centerfield. Tarpaulin rolled out for the thunderstorm, gnats of August, October fog. The wind seen in the flag.

The rhythms of the game are poetic. The pitch, the slam, the dash, the throw…. constitute the line or stanza and then the long interval. It can be mythopoeic with outsized heroes, goats, scandals of the fix, the drugs, the curse, stats of super-human feats never to be met. Those glory days which get better every time I remember the feel of perfect contact which renders words incapable.

Baseball is a long haul. A season of sore arms, spiked calves, hitches in swings, pulled muscles, hours in the weight room, taunts from fans, ups and downs. Some salaries are obscene, some are bargains. Careers are uncertain and then what? It’s a game; it’s a business. For the fan it’s an elongated distraction from this deranged world of geo-politics. A magnificent regression to childhood. It was the first thing I knew that my parents didn’t. A time when we weren’t quite sure what mattered……but this would do for a while as we grew up…..and some of us never did.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Shadows of Doubt

To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, The trouble with this country is that right-wing nitwits are cock-sure of themselves and Liberals are full of doubt. True a hundred years ago and even truer today. However along with doubt are nuances, mitigation, forgiveness, empathy etc…

Judge Amy Berman Jackson castigated Paul Manafort for fifty minutes in what seemed like a prelude to an additional ten years in prison. Yet the final sentence was a mere three years plus. Spoken like a true Talmudic scholar. There’s this yet there’s also that. The Jewish tradition is disputative of text.

Search in and out and roundabout
And you’ll discover never
A tale so free of every doubt
All probable, possible shadow of doubt
All possible doubt whatever.

So sings a character in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Gondoliers. The tale told in this chorus is so unlikely it raises more doubt. The album performed by the D’Oyly Carte Company was played all night long during my college days in my friend’s basement to keep us awake memorizing structural formulas the night before a test. If I didn’t doubt how I would ever use any of this in the practice of pharmacy I should have. I would have been better off if we’d had the record of the Jimmy Durante song in the movie, The Man Who Came to Dinner.

I may stay a month or I might leave immediately… Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go / but also have the feeling that you wanted to stay?

Then there is Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers singing….

Hello, I must be going. / I came to say I cannot stay / I must be going. / I’m glad I came / But just the same I must be going. / I’ll do anything you say / In fact I’ll even stay / I must be going

Wit and doubt are first cousins. Humor is often irreverent poking fun at rectitude and authority figures with a puff of Groucho’s cigar or Chaplin‘s cane. There is an element of wit in the plural mind of rational thinkers which entertain multiple ideas in collision.

If doubt is funny it can also be essential. Intellectuals, said Zorba, are like grocers; they weigh everything. Tyrants make no room for doubt. I have never heard of Trump cogitating. Nor did Jim Jones. If I may be permitted to plagiarize myself… Dying begins when doubt is forbidden. This comes from a poem I wrote a long time ago addressed to my friends at Jonestown who lost their two teenage children. Freedom encourages the doubt they were denied.

The trouble with the world, as Russell saw it, is also our strength. Progress can be measured in the extent to which we move away from absolutes, and dogma. People of true faith wrestle with doubt in their dark moments of dread. Keats wrote of Negative Capability which asks for one to live in a place of uncertainty and mystery without reaching for resolution. Sounds like doubt to me. The pre-condition for allowing the imagination full sway.

However when objective facts are gathered and well-considered by scrupulous, deliberative minds doubt can be overcome and conclusions drawn. In other words bring charges against the man in the Oval who now soils our national fabric.

What Keats described applies to the creative, not the political, process. He, himself, was fiercely opposed to the Conservative agenda of his day. There can be no equivocating in the search for truth.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Our Remembering Brain

I’m a sucker for odd facts.

Today I leaned there’s no such bird as a seagull. They are just gulls. Just as sardines don’t really exist but can be herring or many other short fish under six inches. I don’t know what to do with this info.

I might try to casually work it into a conversation. I tried that the other day with another startling piece of presidential trivia. Namely, the fact that three of our last four POTUS were born within six weeks of each other, Clinton, Bush and Trump, in the summer of 1946. Perhaps Mercury was in retrograde. Or atomic bomb fallout was in the air.

Yesterday I read that the violin was saved from extinction by Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 16th century. The instrument was first deemed by the Church to be licentious, too screechy and for scandalous dancing. Maybe they felt its sound resembled the seagull which doesn’t exist.

Here’s another tidbit to drop at a cocktail party: ten million trees are felled annually just to manufacture toilet paper even though 70% of the world population does not use it. On second thought better save this for another occasion and try the violin material for the cocktail party if you want to get re-invited.

Blame the Internet for all this. Folks before the millennium didn’t have the cargo we have to sort out. Has it elasticized our brain or must we forget something to make room for each new fact? I wonder what Google has to say about that.

Eighty-five years ago they may have been bursting with news they heard on that newfangled wireless wonder called radio or perhaps from RKO Pathe News shown in movie theaters. What will they think of next, I ask you? 

Now, of course, we don’t need to spell, multiply or memorize anything. It’s all there waiting to feel the call of the click. I’m beginning to feel badly for my Remembering Brain. It may become vestigial and slough off. All that’s left for us is to never forget our Social Security number, pin and passwords. The rest is in the device for perpetuity.

It should give me comfort as I pass into my dotage but memory is all we have in the end. It has become our measure of sanity. A little wear at the edges is permissible but large holes in the short term are scary. 

And why do we remember what we do? I knew the answer to this but I forgot. Etched in my gray matter is the roster of the Brooklyn Dodgers team of 1941 but that won’t get me very far.
Nor will the names of everyone in FDR's wartime cabinet.

Memory is a randomly selective muscle. About fifteen years ago a friend fell from his bike, splattered on the street when the paramedics came. To check his cognitive function they asked him who was President and he said he didn't remember the name, only that he was an asshole.

If I could only un-remember Trump’s presidency I might live happily ever after. I’d even gladly delete all I just learned about gulls, sardines and violins and focus on the meaning of life. I swear I was on the verge of unlocking the mystery but it just slipped away.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Eighty-Six My Birthday

When I was in my twenties my wife-at-the-time dragged me to a psychic who also channeled. The wacko went into a pseudo trance and purported to make contact with some so-called masters, Father John and Ching Li. The only thing I remember from the sojourn to Hocus-Pocus Land was the declaration that I would live till the ripe age of 86. This news from that other dimension seemed like immortality at the time. Now I’m about ready for a second opinion. I’ll be 86 in ten days. Maybe Father John or Ching Li will offer an extension on my lease.

The thing that scares me about becoming 86 is that distant echo in my head from when I worked in one of those corner drugstores with a fountain. 86 on the egg salad or 86 on strawberry ice cream. Those were familiar voices shouted across the footstools meaning, we’re out of stock. I’m not ready to be out of stock.

One story has it that the term 86 comes from the address of a pub in Greenwich Village named Chumley’s. (Peggy use to hang out there). During Prohibition the police were on the take and the place would get warned ahead to hide the alcohol and have the customers exit the side door while the cops entered the front door. That term 86 soon spread around to every speakeasy and beyond.

Still another urban legend dates back to when a drinker had one too many the bartender would switch from 100 proof to 86 proof.

It gets worse. Another theory about the derivation of this term is that it comes from a Naval Inventory Code, AT-6, which loosely translated is ready for disposal. It’s bad enough to have been run out of but ready for the trash heap is worse. This is reinforced by yet another narrative which references the dimensions of a burial site, 8 by 6.

If I have any choice in the matter I’ll subscribe to the restaurant term simply that 86 rhymes with nix. So I shall say nix to 86 and emerge from the menu as a positive. I’ll be your blue plate special or the day’s prix fixe dinner.

If some of you never heard 86 it only means you haven’t lived enough years. You missed all that good stuff just as I am now baffled trying to navigate this techy world of clouds and apps while dodging viruses. I wonder what those two masters would have to say but my guess is that Father John ran off with Lydia Pinkham some years ago and Ching Li is a venture capitalist in Silicon Beach.

I've half a mind to 86 my 86th. I can hardly wait till I'm 87.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Of Muck and Sludge

I can’t seem to keep my mind out of filth. I was transfixed watching Michael Cohen, as if from the law office of Skullduggery, Swindle and Slime, describe Donald Trump as the debauched mob boss, Tony Soprano. It was a litany of cheats, curses, racketeering, lies, racial hatred, derision, greed and false bank statements with wanton disregard for truth or decency. In aggregate it makes me feel soiled. Our President is a walking toxic waste dump.

It got me thinking about our vast vocabulary for the hierarchy of sordid behavior and the increments of waste. If you live in gated America with a PhD you might call it detritus. For the rest of us it is garbage. I must admit I’m not clear about the difference between trash and garbage……and what is litter? British blokes like the word rubbish when they’re speaking of a T.V. program such as our Masterpiece Theatre. In the 19th century they spoke of swill and slop with hogwash also in the mix. The Yiddish words are drek or schmuts. Now we have to distinguish between organic garbage and recyclable trash…. I think. And let us not forget trumpery which has suddenly been given a second life and encompasses all of the above.

Why so many more words describing shades of negativity? Does our lexicon for happiness, honesty, love and all those nearly forgotten virtues reflect our disgruntled state of being? A case could be made that our inclination to express community or brother-sisterhood is discouraged by our impoverished language. Even more remarkable how Peggy finds that seam in the dread to express hope.

Last week I bought a new garbage container or is it a trash can? We have a relationship. More than that, I’m in love with it. It flashes a blue light winking as I pass by. If I get close enough the happy sensors opens its mouth wide for my deposit of pits and peels. I’m not sure if it is puckering up for a smooch or if that is a yawn.

I’ve given it a name. Since garbage takes the gar from garbanzo and the age from cabbage what’s leftover is banzo. So I have baptized my new receptacle, BANZO. The next time Trump tweets or rambles on one his extemporaneous tirades I’m going to move my beloved trash bin in front of the T.V. set to see if his garbage induces Banzo's lid to flash with its blue light, open wide and swallow.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ranunculus of Carlsbad

Remember Last Year at Marienbad, said I, well how about next weekend at Carlsbad? It was the spring of 1981 and that Saturday was to be the hottest day of the year. Peggy and I ran off for our first assignation, a forbidden adventure. She was happily unmarried; I was unhappily married.

We had heard about the ranunculus in that area which had just come into bloom. In the horticultural universe they were a world famous destination. In Carlsbad they were unknown. We drove around the town stopping along the way to ask people where these acres and acres of ranunculus were. Not a single person ever heard of them.
I had recalled Carlsbad to be a sleepy town with several first class hotels or motels. Unaccustomed as I was to last minute getaways I had failed to make a reservation. Every one we passed had the no vacancy sign posted. It must have been those ranunculus, which nobody living there knew about, that drew all these visitors. Finally we settled for the last room this side of Yuma.

It was called the Ebbtide Motel and well into its ebbing. I’m not sure if all the neon letters were lit but the L could have been preceding by an HEL. If the outdoor temperature hovered in the high nineties it must have been over a hundred in the room. Our deluxe suite came with a refrigerator as if someone might endure more than one night within these walls. It was a torrid affair but we kept the refrigerator door open in the hope to cool down.

If this were a movie it wouldn’t have starred Fred and Ginger or even Tracy and Hepburn but more like Desi and Lucy. We drove out of town shouting, Fuck the Ranunculus. It was only later that we discovered Carlsbad extended east of the San Diego Freeway as well. We were west of it where locals might live their entire lives ignorant of these magnificent bulbs bursting in the full spectrum of colors.

In fact there are fifty acres of flowers with a mirror like sheen on their petals designed to attract bees. They aren’t indigenous to Southern California but they seem to have accommodated quite well to their new habitat. They are at least as bright as roses with a characteristic black center as if the sun itself is beaming from out of a core of dark matter. There could be a poem in that image referring to our naughty tryst … if one thought metaphorically but I would never resort to such an objective correlative.

It took another two spring seasons of bulb-pushing up through the soil for me to finally answer the call of the sun. Peggy and I have since visited those flowering bulbs in Carlsbad with their perfect rows of petals. My guess is it’s no longer a secret even to those folks west of freeway. As for the Ebbtide Motel, we recently drove through the town looking for it, gave up, parked the car and there it was, almost forty years later, an historical monument in our eyes.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Two Poems

While looking for something else I came across an issue of Third Rail, a literary magazine that published two of my poems 37 years ago which I had forgotten I ever wrote. They’re not bad except I‘m not quite in the same place anymore. In those days I was more identified with orthodoxy both religious and political. A word of explanation.

The Communist Party in the U.S., during the late 30s and early 40s, had two outstanding features. Domestically they were the benign voice of compassion for the oppressed…..Jews, Blacks and the down-trodden masses. On the other hand they were apologists for the U.S.S.R. which, ironically, persecuted Jews, peasants and anyone else with a whiff of dissent about them. Of course Party members knew nothing about Stalin’s tyranny or at least they threw a blind eye at all the abuses of the Soviet state.

As a kid I romanticized the left-wing movement of which my parents were a part. It was a joke to imagine my father overthrowing the government; he couldn’t even overthrow my mother as she cursed the landlord for holding back the heat in winter. In my mind the members of the Party were angry but gentle folks who sat around commiserating. After all, Russia was our ally and largely credited with turning the war at Stalingrad.

The Party

It is the last Tuesday of the month.
They arrive by subway and trolley,
defeated in their bodies up the four story walk-up
filling the room on the other side
of my bedroom wall. It is 1943. I am ten.
Old enough to know this air is humid with Truth,
That Truth has stained their shirts.
Their curses of Wall St. are Truth.
When Morris, the tailor, shouts that too is Truth.
Tomorrow he will be silent with pins in his mouth.
My father with his soft voice triturates the enemy
And I fall asleep driving Nazis from Stalingrad
In a violent peace knowing this apartment is blessed
With Truth seeping through the wall.

I cannot for a minute be wrong.
If I’m wrong about geometry
I could be wrong about East and West.
If I’m wrong about who is the best shortstop
all my heroes could be wrong.
The world is the length of my arm
holding the N.Y. Times, hiding me in black and white.
My lips are covered with slogans.
I watch my father in the drugstore
with his mortar and pestle
grinding Fascists into dust.

Two F.B.I. agents at the door.
They want names. They want my father. 
Politely they get him.
He cannot heal himself. He sinks.
Now my father has gone to his father.
I have gathered him inside me.

I light the Yahrseit candle on the kitchen table.
His shadow is enormous on the wall.
His tongue in the glass
sings of all the sorrows he swallowed.
Later I will drink from this glass
some hot tea, a cloth wrapped around.
The Levites
                                  For Shari

He never wrote a thing
but your Grandpa was a scribe.
A real Levite. Believe in that.

No one heard what he heard
all day in the store,
short stump of a pencil in his ear.

He held on to what others threw away.
Across the kitchen table he told it best
while eating the heels of rye bread.

He listened and he sang a real song.
Don’t believe he never wrote a thing.
Your Grandpa was a Levite.
His voice moves through your hands,
a Levite’s hands, weaving poems from wool.
Believe in that.

Believe your loom speaking
what has never been said before.
The fibers grow like an ancient tree
rising from the soil
knowing how to make room
yielding to fingers and roots.