Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What Do You Know, Joe?

When Joseph and Mary got to the inn 

God forgot to make reservations 

and there was no room except in the manger. 

That's what happens without Planned Parenthood. 

There was also no room in Joe Manchin's mansion 

to consider children, students, melting glaciers 

or overpriced prescriptions.  

That other Joe in the White House thought 

Manchin’s doors were open but the Maserati 

took up the space and the yacht was no Ark. 

Seventy-five years ago, Jo Stafford addressed G.I. Joe 

as she sang You Belong To Me

After the good war was over Joe McCarthy 

in his drunken stupor thought he saw Joe Stalin 

in every movie studio, every barber shop, 

and the bottom of every bottle he drank. 

Senator Joe was born with Joseph Conrad's

Heart of Darkness

Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis would have been next. 

It took Joseph Welch to ask if he had even an ounce of decency. 

How many cups of Joe will it take 

to wake America to the needs of the average Joe?

Joseph Campbell found heroes with a thousand faces

as he breathed new life into the archetypes.

Maybe the greatest Joe of them all was Joe Green.

Not Mean Joe Green, the football player 

whom I wouldn't want my sister to marry if I had one 

but Guiseppe Verdi, aka Joe Green,

composer of twenty-eight operas

including Aida to whose theme we dutifully marched

entering the auditorium at P.S. 99

with Joseph Koplowitz in front of me

and Josephine Sherashevsky behind. 


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Looking Back

These are the days designed for year-end letters and list-makers. Those among us with a knack for packaging life, wrapping it up and shelving it for easy retrieval.

Peggy was a world-class lister. Into her pad went every book read, movie seen, play performed, even every friend. Of course, poems written got a book of their own. I’m sure the origin of this need must have its deep psychological roots but who am to list them?

Not too many years ago I could list my ten best films of the past twelve months. Now I can’t remember if I saw that movie this past year or if it was three years ago and besides, I’ve long since been unable to rattle off ten of anything.                                                                              

I could dazzle you with my three favorite vegetables: asparagus, cauliflower and beets. But what about eggplant? Yup, they’re good. And yams. I never met a yam I didn’t admire. I almost forgot spinach and then there’s broccoli and corn and everything I throw into my salad.

The point of all this is, why bother? There is no hierarchy of veggies or fruits. Or pies. Or actors. Or art. Or Olympians. Let them all take a bow. No losers. Allow them an occasional wobble or bobble. Life itself has no straight lines. Give them all an exhibition, a metal and a first-class ticket home. 

I cannot quite leave this year listlessly. Here are a few offerings I leave you with.

Best place to resettle if the Repugnants win the next 2 elections: Portugal, Slovenia, California, only if we secede.

Preferred gadget or appliance to explain to visiting aliens: Ice cube tray.

Best novel of which I have read 22% according to Kindle: The Promise by Damon Galgut.

Proudest horticultural achievement: It’s been three months now and my orchid is still happily wagging its tongue.

Best resolution for next year: Resist making lists.

2021 never will be missed. Four months ago, Peggy left me, us, this world. The void is unfillable. I’m consoled by her spirit evidenced in so many she touched. In the diminished light she always found what is luminous in our midst.






























Monday, December 13, 2021

Art As Antidote

About thirty-five years ago there was a scary fire in the west San Fernando Valley. I remember speaking to a nurse at the time asking how she dealt with it as the flames were seen coming across a nearby hill. She told me she ran in the house and made the bed.

A few days ago, a chartered plane carrying the UCLA basketball team was experiencing a nasty storm causing the aircraft to bounce mightily in its descent. What did the athletes do in their distress? They told jokes. Might as well go as the giggling Buddha.

If poems are serious jokes, jokes may be their nascent first cousins. Both set the scene, create tension and end with an epiphany, great or small.

There is a conflagration in our midst. Making the bed won’t help nor will a pillow over the ears. A wildfire of imbecility and loathing is scorching our land, our decency, our institutions, civil discourse and language itself.

It seems that no evidence to the contrary, no rationality can reach their deaf ears. We are dealing with a confederacy of dunces, a lynch mob, with virulence pathological.

Poetry changes nothing declared W.C. Auden. Yet he also wrote (in 1939) we must love each other or die. How about massive doses of poetry, music, dance, painting et al… and the love it engenders.

Gatherings of liturgical music for the holidays may bring with it a short reprieve as long as assault weapons are checked at the door. We can usually count on the Nutcracker to generate a few hours of consanguinity, particularly if your seven-year-old is in the cast.

Any music from high to low can cut through the vitriol, even mine. There are many rooms in our manor house with unlocked doors. Surely Sondheim found an audience in both camps.

At his colloquial best Robert Frost’s poems reach the heartland. So does Theodore Roethke and Jane Kenyon, Ted Kooser, Barbara Hanby and Linda Gregg. Poetry taps into the commonweal. I would argue that even angry poetry contains within its seed a life-affirming impulse.

As I write this, I’m trying to convince myself. Like that nurse we sense our Democracy being consumed by some hellish inferno. We are reaching for any act to restore order and repel the false idol along with those who are in bed with him.

Mozart’s clarinet concerto is filling the room. I’m looking at a book of Japanese woodblock prints. The arts can be a backdoor to soothe the sin-sick soul.

Sinatra does it his way the year round. His voice along with Cole Porter’s and Irving Berlin’s songs are at the bedrock of our shared heritage. Add to this the creative burst of Handel’s Messiah. These Hallelujahs can bind our wounds, suspend the malice and the fear behind it in ways that political argument cannot.



Thursday, December 9, 2021

Words, Those Squishy Things

Language is such a chemical / alchemical thing, so elastic and combustible with salubrious smoke. Put two slumbering, inert words together and the drapes can catch on fire or, at least, cause serious giggles.

I just read an article about a sports team described as exceedingly mediocre. That was worth a sudden smile. Give me an oxymoron and I’m happy. One of my favorites is Dark White. but the most famous is probably from the Bard whose Juliet parted with such sweet sorrow.

My third request for an email address from my step(less) son caused me to write in the subject space, A Gentle Nudge. It worked. He not only answered my request but told me a Gentle Nudge was the name of my step(less) granddaughter’s pre-school.

This got me thinking about possible names for an ice cream flavor, Transcendental Fudge or Existential SludgeGet Ben and Jerry on line one.

I had names for my three daughters when they were mere tater tots. They are my aviary having each taken flight. Shari, my first-born, was Peanut Annie . Now, the strokes in her paintings move with a kinetic grace, a quiet ferocity.

Janice, my tiny one, now fifty-nine, was Chester Apple. As a deaf person she knows the walls of this world and how to climb them. She orchestrates her life through fathoms of silence with fingers like a Dudamel butterfly.

Lauren had to live with Brewster Gazelle. It is the strangest one of them all. She, in turn, dubbed me Chief Big Toe. Consigned as she is to the middle of the muddle, she has grown elongated wing spans reaching from porcupine meatballs to Venus in transit. She sees back from what use to be into realms beyond.

Those names of endearment were all scrupulously deliberated blurts that somehow stuck, at least in my memory vault.

I must have heard a sort of music or cadence in the syllables of Brewster Gazelle which later morphed to Brewster Gazelleshaft. Maybe I was influenced by the German term Gesellschaft but meaning has little to do with all this. Otherwise, I would have chosen Gemeinshaft. Look it up if you want to impress someone at a cocktail party.

Probably the best string of meaningless words is Fuckingbastardsonofabitch uttered by me only once in my life in a slapping, scratching, punching fight I had with Peter Dalebrook at age 12, I would guess. It was my first and last physical fight and those words flew out of my mouth as my entire repertoire of expletives. I still hear a mellifluous incantation in those sounds though I don’t suppose they would have much success as an ice cream flavor.






Monday, December 6, 2021

By Heart

It has probably been about 75 years since I last memorized anything beyond my pin number. Now, I consider myself fortunate if I remember where I parked my car in a multistory garage. How embarrassing it is walking around waiting for an answering beep.

So much of my college experience was memorizing structural formulas and botanical origins. I would have much preferred the Canterbury Tales in Middle English or a passage from the Bard. All that rote education was a colossal waste except, perhaps, to exercise the gray matter.

By heart, is what we say when someone recites a few lines from Basho or Emerson. It is such lovely phrase. As a habitat for deathless words, it confirms the heart's status as a lonely hunter.

My dear friend, Frank Dwyer, is a compendium of Shakespearean soliloquies and lyrical poetry. The lines flow like an inexhaustible underground spring, a muscle most of us have allowed to atrophy.

The art of committing passages to memory began to decline with Guttenberg’s printing press. (Safe to say nobody knew their phone number in the 15th century.

In preliterate times oral storage and transmission were our social media and about as reliable as Fox News. Hard to imagine Sean Hannity as a troubadour. No wonder the library at Alexandria was burned. More than likely the Iliad and Odyssey were the final agreed-upon versions of a consortium called Homer when set down on parchment.

There is a ratio to our sensorium. Literacy has taken its toll on acoustic space. When the visual is extended we diminish the auditory. Thankfully there are folks like Frank to recite the best words in the best order; and they also make great dinner guests with seventeen syllables of haiku between courses and a sonnet sorbet for dessert.

When words come from the heart their provenance is unimpeachable. It not only plays chamber music but is a repository of all we have let in, by heart.