Sunday, February 27, 2022


Imagine placing a jar on a hill in Tennessee as in the Wallace Stevens poem Anecdote of the Jar. The jar took dominion. It tamed the wilderness. The scene was decontextualized as the hill became a table.

A hill of pistachio ice cream changed the table in my eyes and transported me. Enter Proust. I love ice cream, all flavors except pistachio. Or so I had thought. I must have decided that over eighty years ago. My seven-or eight-year old self was not to be trusted with such a momentous decision.

Why do we dislike certain foods, I ask you? I suspect my head did not consult my palate. Associative thinking, perhaps. Maybe my shoelace broke at that moment or I had heard that breadlines were the headlines. More likely my older brother hid my tennis ball.

Up to now I have lived my life pistachio-deprived. It may explain everything. Now that I’ve discovered the nutty texture and pinch of almond in the creamy green pasture anything can happen.

The thing about pistachio is that it’s the only flavor that rhymes with mustachio. That’s a fact even though life doesn’t seem to rhyme anymore except with strife.

There is enough strife in nature, as my friend Roger once told me, with most animals dying by tooth or claw. It’s not for us to tame it. If I should go to that hill in Tennessee with a jar of pistachio ice cream it would be to create a transient collage of disparate objects and then go home and eat it.  


Monday, February 21, 2022


What would we do without them, particularly those of us without cousins by the dozens or even a crazy uncle in the attic? I am blessed with a small legion of friends in spite of the loss of Roger and Ralph and Tony and Ernie in recent years. And then there were two Ruths, Rene, Dick, Lily, Barbara and two Judys. I need them all to laugh at my jokes over Chinese chicken salad or challenge  my unshakeable beliefs. I haven’t had a good food-fight in a long time. Soon there won’t be anyone left for my eulogy.

I’ve made two new friends this year. Last week I loaded my trunk with several trash bags and drove around the corner to the respective receptacles. (This is what happens when one is no longer young). I got out of my car and was looked upon suspiciously by a man as if I might be a serial-killer dumping a few body parts. I immediately told him I’ve been living here for thirty-seven years. He then said he’s been living here for thirty-eight years. One-up’d again. We introduced ourselves and traded stories. Amazing how we’d never met even in the laundry room.

A couple of months ago I backed out of Fromin’s Deli parking lot into a car already on his way out. My bad. A dent in his Lexus. We exchanged info and in the course of conversation we found ourselves to be kindred spirits. There’s more to this story I won’t relate. If it were submitted to the New Yorker the manuscript would have been crumpled up and thrown across the room into the garbage pail. (This might have been how basketball was invented.) I do not recommend nicking cars as a way of making new friends.

As a kid I had four close friends. I never understood why Stanley liked Frank but disliked Peter. Johnny put up with Frank and didn’t really know Stan but ignored Peter. Come to think of it, nobody liked Peter. Things equal to the same thing are not necessarily equal to each other.

About 25 years ago Peggy and I thought it would be fun to arrange for a mystery guest to join us to celebrate each of our birthdays. The friends we choose were distant or from long ago, not in our inner circle. After a year or two we realized why we weren't close anymore. Besides, why ruin a birthday with a third party?

I thank Peggy for bequeathing me most of my friends or maybe we did it together. I can’t remember. But thanks for hanging around, all of you. I was going to name you. I counted forty and that doesn't include the man who waters the lettuce. Is that possible? Yes, it is. If I left you out, raise your hand. Maybe it’s easier to list the people I don’t know but may yet meet at the trash bin.




Thursday, February 17, 2022

Dangerous Essential Light

Poet in his atelier, past midnight

writes at his desk by lamplight

sufficient to navigate a boat

on the Thames, its cargo of freight.

Commerce supplied by Art and its light.


At St. Ives, Cornwall we rent a car.

Stick shift, stay on the left, mind the curb,

road as narrow as equestrian trail.

Peggy's destination: Land’s End

where D.H. Lawrence and Freida lived, 1915.

He wrote by his lamp. Obscene,

said Scotland Yard and furthermore

he, with his German wife, must be spies

sending signals to German subs.


It was that dangerous lamp

sent them off to Taos

to write by New Mexico light

desert sun and apostrophes of moon

produced diaphanous sentences

lit from behind to illuminate his words.

He wrote of lovers in naked passion

Reborn in naked grace.

His words and paintings showed more flesh

than English ears and eyes

could allow for high tea.


Let’s blame this dangerous incandescence

on much-traveled Lucifer, light-bearer, Yes,

that Lucifer, once son of dawn who fell

from grace the way lightning falls

to a Satanic underworld. Devilish light!

We never made it to Land’s End. Another car came at me and I yielded allowing him to pass but ours now stuck on top of a boulder. The driver with his two teenage boys came back. The four of us lifted our car returning it to the so-called road. Light was fading. I’d had enough. Not at all what Lawrence would have done.









Monday, February 14, 2022


Looking at six bookcases from my swivel chair there is no shelf without a vase, basket, or bowl in front of the books. Peggy loved vessels. Where else to put pods and weedy things.

Vessels are hands and hands are vessels. What is better than being held in a circle of arms? To be sheltered from the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to.  I held her against abandonment as in orphaned, never to know a father and barely a mother. I promised her I could be her father and her mother, her brother and her lover.

Better yet we found a gourd to scoop out and make of it lantern to light the way, lit by a radiance made together.

Over time my embrace became invisible. We had created a third vividly unseen entity, a shawl.  It could have been a clarinet concerto or a poem with encompassing lines she might crawl into surrounded in transport to her own sanctuary.   

Held aloft in this charged and rarefied air, together we pilgrimed to a safe unknown. Arms, not for shielding but for cherishing. Vessels running over.

The coral tree outside our window is still in its winter. Peggy resides in its root-stream. Three branches are shaping a vase in their bare arms as if red buds have gathered only she can see.




Friday, February 11, 2022


My first job, age twelve, was delivering hats on the subway from Queens to Manhattan.  The man in the change booth knew the weight of twenty nickels for a buck. I needed only two for a round trip on the F train. Maneuvering three or four big boxes became part of my skill-set.                           

I never saw the feathered flowers Mrs. Danziger had fashioned or the artistry she sculpted from velvet and scraps of ribbon. She lived below us in apt. 2-F. A quarter a box was my pay. Soon I would be rich.

New Yorkers in straw seats wore their subway faces, assured of anonymity, staring into defeat or dreaming of the the next stop off the map. I was the kid behind those boxes in that August heat of 1945. One hand gripped the straps while I disappeared, ground up by the overhead fan. In the whoosh and whir we went from Jackson Heights under the East River to a city of promises in a long afternoon.

I emerged on Lexington Avenue, proud how I mastered the Manhattan grid, scooting from one swanky address to another, unseen, as I darted from Bloomingdale's, to Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue.

No longer twelve, I was now going on thirteen that summer when something died in me and something was born. Yahweh, was gone when FDR died. Death everywhere: depraved, bestial acts of men at Auschwitz revealed, mass graves, Hiroshima, burned flesh. Going on thirteen was a secular bar mitzvah. Old enemies were our new best friends. Cartographers worked through the night reconfiguring Europe. 

I started thinking outside my boxes of divisions I hadn't noticed before. The well-dressed walked through the front door and soared with the uniformed elevator operator announcing women's apparel and notions. Sometimes a great notion. Others, like me, were relegated to the rear entrance and got yanked up with the freight. No spiffy regalia, no notions, no ceiling to protect me.

My initiation was a kind of faith. To think I could disappear at will in a sweaty subway. To know I had crossed that river. To believe I would not be crushed in the lift. To imagine I could live with the perils of indifferent streets. I would make my way with Mrs. Danziger’s creations, her felt and lace, her flight from the shtetl, refugee to these safe shores in her plumed birds, her deliverance.

Hats and words weigh next to nothing. I still carry an invisible box weightlessly. Millinery birds and words on the wing and always that elevator up and the risk of climbing.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Yellow Days

There goes a yellow-breasted finch to announce my morning. At least, I think it was or else just a flash of the eastern sun in flight yellowing another golden day in my golden years.

At a certain point one creates his own canvas. My breakfast table is a still-life, yellow with scrambled eggs, banana in the fruit bowl with a brush-stroke of Splenda. When Peggy was here there would have been a vase with yellow tulips bursting from its bulb and likely a number two pencil. 

If a Dutch Master came along with brush and easel, he'd probably paint a fruit fly on a cut lemon signifying, memento mori. Full of years, how can I forget even if I think dying is a colossal waste of time.

My preference would be an abstract impressionist depicting nothing recognizable. Splatters and drips seem apt. Just like the old chaos of the sun as Wallace Stevens saw it. A murmuration of finch wouldn’t hurt except finch don’t know from murmuration. They leave that to starlings.

In a few months gold medallions, aka butter daisies, will pop up between walkers and drivers in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. One day they are an unremarkable green-leafed tree and the next we see yellow lollipops. They are noted for enduring a high threshold of neglect. 

Which reminds me that order is not something I naturally seek. Humanity is messy and I feel comfortable with a fair measure of disarray. I even make room for the least respected dandelion  asserting its yellow in sidewalk cracks. Same with digressions, irresolution and the open text. Marching, as with soldiers in parade, feels faintly fascistic, unless a flock of yellow-breasted finch flies out of their rifles.

Yellow usually signifies optimism and is therefore risky business. But not always. A Happy Face has a lot of explaining to do in the midst of today's dread, a stain attributed to yellow journalism. Then again, I have a yellow shirt which Peggy loved, naturally. In its wide sweep yellow embodies both our hope and our fall.

Poems, too concluded feel gift-wrapped. There are no portals for entering, no bafflements or quarrels. No nests for goldfinch.

Yellow Days is one of my favorite songs, sung by Tony Bennett. The arc of yellow takes him from the early days of tender brightness to the withering years of echoes and harshness or as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, of golden groves unleaving.

Don’t blame yellow; it sits there on the spectrum between orange and green waiting inside sweet potatoes. When I want to transit out, with a return ticket, I might travel in that yellow submarine.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Wanted: New Words

Since Eskimos are said to have forty-seven words for snow why do we have so few for two of my favorite words, poetry and love? I’ve always considered it ironic that poets have not discovered a blizzard of other nuanced words to describe their own art form.

Verse has a pre-twentieth century feel to it. It suggests to me, rhyming lines inadmissible to contemporary ears. There needs to be a language distinguishing John Ashbery’s work from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s or Emily Dickinson from Charles Bukowski.

Love may be the most imprecise and misunderstood word of all. We can love a peach, our dentist, or new pair of shoes in ways totally unlike the way we love our mate. Groucho Marx loved his cigar.*

There is puppy love and tough love. Platonic love and crazy love. Love runs from cool blue-green to hot purple. The ancients knew all this when they assigned names from Eros, to Agape ( Godly) to Philia (brotherly love) etc..

I sign emails with love to many friends and don’t mean the same emotion. Such diverse sentiments in search of a name. To love is not at all the same as being in love.

In my years with Peggy our love was voluptuous, fully met and renewed each day. It attained even more dimension with the intimacy of caregiving. Yet we had to settle for that exhausted word, love. 

Words lose their potency with over use. A certain ho-hum happens, they grow limp when misappropriated. Hallmark cards are exhibit A. 

Love poetry is far more challenging to write than about rage or dread. It took Shakespeare to nail it as that which admits no impediments. Even there, I submit, tis better to admit impediments and still to love, undiminished.

Love (eros) is life itself. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.** It is the answer to loss and death. Yes, there are elements of projection and illogic yet love releases the best version of ourselves. It creates the soil from which a garden grows and overthrows the walls. With all its exclamations in stanza and song it still remains unsayable. Poets fail because words are incapable. Yet even in those vain attempts they are vitalized in writing creative bursts as varied as crystals of snow. 

With Valentine's Day approaching I'm aware mostpeople speak their love in the language of flowers or chocolate. Mostpeople have disowned their poet. Peggy and I were not mostpeople. We celebrated February 14th as a high holy day having discovered the divinity within. In the end loving is, of course, more about being than saying.

·  * This is the punch-line of one of my favorite jokes. Anyone interested in the full story let me know. 

** **Dylan Thomas poem






Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Remembering and Forgetting

I’m a sucker for odd facts in bite-sized pieces.

I just read that a chorus of fireflies can say everything they have to say by flashing in unison, sort of like the Mormon Tabernacle choir.

Recently I learned there is 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 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 five presidents were born within six weeks of each other, Clinton, Bush and Trump, in the summer of 1946. Perhaps Mercury was in retrograde. Or nuclear 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, inciting 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 / credit 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.

Ninety years ago, they may have been bursting with news 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 brain. It may become vestigial and slough off. All that’s left for us is to never forget our pin and passwords. The rest is stored in perpetuity.

It should give me comfort as I drive into my dotage. The rearview mirror 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 once knew the answer to this but I forgot. Etched in my gray matter are the names of everyone in FDR's wartime cabinet, the roster of radio programs on Sunday night and about a dozen names of candy bars from eighty years ago. I'm not sure whether this sort of remembrance is a virtue or an affliction. Gladly would I dump it all overboard.

Memory is a randomly selective muscle. During the Bush presidency a friend fell from his bike, splattered on the street when the paramedics came. To check his cognitive function, they asked him who the President was 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 be glad to 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 that ultimate mystery but it just slipped away.