Cat Roaches

January 22, 2014 § 1 Comment


Lovely walk today in the sun and snow, the park paths smooth and white, the sky bright blue, activity everywhere, the cold gnawing on my face. I wanted to walk a long time, but only managed the park and Citarella, pears and broccoli, salad greens. We’ve been inside without vegetables for a couple of days, because we’re pussies.

You’d think if I fed the cat bits of pork chop, on a plate on the floor, and he didn’t want it, I’d shrug and go on to other things. No. I put the greasy bits in the palm of my hand, sit on the couch and let him dine the way he prefers to.

“I’ve fed you by hand,” I said to Charles, who was laughing at us.

“I can’t remember when.”

“Fruit,” I said, “Berries, cherries.”

“That doesn’t really count. But it sounds nice—an orchard, summer—”

I was thinking of the grand feasts of our early days, eaten in bed. Delicious food was almost as exciting to us then as it is now to the cats. Before he met me, Charles didn’t live with anyone who cooked especially well, and I’d never had control of a kitchen before. It was vegetables and fruits we splurged on, not meats or cheeses or baked goods. Those were too expensive. When I was young, you could buy eggplants and peppers and squash for pennies, bags of fruit for a dollar.

California last week was a sweet break, perfect warm days, friends, family, Mom’s 89th birthday. If it weren’t for the droughts and fires, especially the fires, I might consider moving out there again. Fire scares me, far more than hurricanes or terrorist bombings. We were delayed on the way to the airport by the L.A. fire, and though it wasn’t a cause for alarm, it was unnerving.

We came home to thin cats. They’d been fed, but not the way we feed them. Mouchette bawled like a baby and Fitzroy growled and ran away from me. They got over it. They’re plump again now, like Handsel and Gretel.

I keep being reminded of all the stories I’ve read (fairytales & novels not newspaper accounts: reality is too much) about people kept hostage, kids especially, who don’t know there’s a whole world out there.

It’s not my fault my cats can’t go outside, but I do feel a bit like a mad jailer. And sometimes I feel like I’m the one in jail, and these creatures I imagine are pets are really pests, companions in filth and delusion.

There’s no doubt I’ve read too much fiction. My brain is pickled. I wish I had a boy to massage my feet and a coconut cupcake.

One of my poems, for a change–


Inside the fake Chinese chest
painted with dragons
armloads of unfinished work.

The sheets slide like new snow over ice.
All the typewriters are junked now.

Why can’t I ever be done with it?

It must be that I didn’t know
what should happen in the story
about the librarian and the aging

or the poem with its mouth full of poppies
like the signature of a serial killer.

You didn’t want to know
because you couldn’t bear the truth

or I didn’t know.

This is still the wide-open place
with a scarlet comma
in the middle of the page.

By Dark

May 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin

We went to hear W. S. Merwin talk and read last night. I thought it was last year I heard him at the Library, but it was 2 ½ years ago. It’s been a seismic 2 ½ years, yet still memory reshuffles things.

Merwin’s voice was a little weaker, with more of that static you hear in the voices of the elderly, as if they’re on the far edge of the transmission band. He talked about poetry and language both evolving as an attempt to express the inexpressible. I’m not sure I believe that about language, or even poetry. The fact that we can never say exactly what we mean is always the subtext of what we say, but is it what matters most? “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” Merwin quoted, defining “wildness” as everything that gets away from us, that essential reality we can never hold onto, that art evokes for those with a mind to listen. This is his most persistent theme: his poems are full of what is there and not there at once, his faintly melancholy, meditative tone like fingers endlessly sliding the same silky stone from thumb to pinkie, registering that coolness, smoothness, darkness, mystery.

In J. D. McClatchy’s introduction he talked about Merwin as a visionary poet—the thesis of the term paper I wrote on him 40 years ago, in Russell Banks’ Contemporary Poetry class. I wondered where that girl went, who was so madly in love with poetry, who would have gone to a dozen events in the last month, if she’d been here, if I were still her.

Fitzroy woke me this morning, wedging his purring face under my nose, then noisily chewing on my hair until Charles lured him out of the room, and I went back to sleep. I dreamed that I woke up and was depressed. Instead of trying to write, I went for a walk in a neighborhood that was new to me. I felt exhilarated and so happy to be in New York. I remember pale pink cobblestones and a dusting of snow. Then a woman spoke to me, referring to a climate event in a distant country, and I tried to say something about how extreme weather is moving like one big storm across the earth, but the gestures I used to illustrate my point—hands up and churning the air—were alarming, and I realized that what she saw was a stereotypical New York crazy lady. I felt sad that I could no longer communicate appropriately.

Merwin recited a half dozen poems. Three of them were elegies for dogs. Here’s one.

By Dark

When it is time I follow the black dog
into the darkness that is the mind of day
I can see nothing but the black dog
the dog I know going ahead of me
not looking back oh it is the black dog
I trust now in my turn after the years
when I had all the trust of the black dog
through an age of brightness and through shadow
on into the blindness of the black dog
where the rooms of the dark were already known
and had no fear in them for the black dog
leading me carefully up the blind stairs.

W.S. Merwin

Of Chicken Pies and Horned Gods

April 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Moses. Michelangelo

Moses. Michelangelo

Lovely belated birthday dinner last night with Janet and Ethan. My sweet poet friend had been at a reading at KGB featuring many of her students, which I wanted to attend, but I was too tired. Brain full of fog, aching to be stronger. We met in front of the bar, in the light spring rain.

The French bistro Janet had in mind had too long a wait, so we went wandering and came upon a spacious, comfortable, completely empty bar-restaurant on Avenue A. I was doubtful—utterly empty at 9:30 on a Friday night in a trendy NYC neighborhood is more than a little suspicious—but Janet was seduced by the words “chicken pot pie” so we went in. The choices were meager, but the food was good. My chicken curry was comprised of sizable chunks of meat with a mild, flavorful sauce, not too sweet, not too greasy, served on fries. I would have preferred rice, but this was an Irish curry. The pot pie was a sheet of puff pastry floating on a chicken casserole. Why don’t chefs understand that a pie is a pocket, a closet, a locked box, and therein lies its appeal? Chicken pie is comfort food, safe, but there’s always the faint chance of four and twenty blackbirds if the crust’s crimped tightly, nothing but steam escaping.

I think the pot pie was alright. I tasted the pastry. My mother made better. I can say this about most things. I was annoyed that there was only one choice of white wine, and no bread. My days of sumptuous dining are behind me. But I liked the quiet and the dim, cool space.

And the company was just right. I almost convinced Janet and Ethan to move to Panama with us, that paradise of low rent, cheap health insurance, two oceans, and lots of toucans. Janet almost convinced me to go to Mississippi with her to offer moral support as she researches Evangelicals for the novel she’s writing. (In Mississippi people raise the red heifers believed to herald the Last Days.) The deal-breaker came when she said she’s going in August.

I was slightly disappointed, in the name of America as the Home of Ignorance, when she told me I misremembered a story she’d told me years ago. My memory was that, while on a bus going to Lynchburg, Virginia, she and her friend got into conversation with a Southern woman, a nurse, who finally said, “Are y’all Jews?” She’d never met one (or so she thought). “Do Jews believe in God?” That part I remembered correctly. But my fiction-making mind had embellished the next part. My story was that the woman asked if she could see Janet’s horns. In fact, she merely said that she’d been taught as a child that Jews had horns.

I don’t mean to make light of Janet’s deep discomfort. She was born little more than a decade after the defeat of the Nazis. Anti-Semitism is no joke. But I was raised on different stories and even now would be quite happy to wake up one morning with horns (assuming they were small enough not to interfere with doorways and pillows).

Janet told me the myth of Jews having horns stemmed from a mistranslation regarding Moses, but a little Google research reveals a more tangled situation. Many scholars believe that Yahweh had the horns of an ox (or unicorn!).

The Canaanite gods Baal and El were horned bull gods as was, originally, Yahveh, which is why horns decorate the altar described in Exodus 27.”
– Wikipedia

So Yahweh resembled the horned gods of pre-Christian Europe, the stag-god, the Green Man, the Lord of the Wood, for whom I would have lain my silky, naked teenage body—in the pagan era of the early 1970’s— on the forest floor.

The great invention of the Jews, monotheism, took time. Delve into the history of Yahweh and you find yourself in a thicket of competing Semitic gods, which does a lot to explain Yahweh’s control issues. But back to the question of horns. Here’s a quote from a website called The Gates of Hell, maintained by Jason Nicholas Korning, who describes himself as a Roman/Ukrainian Catholic scholar and writer.

“One of the most fundamental issues concerning the God of the Holy Bible is His appearance. What does God look like? After thoroughly investigating the available research, a tentative conclusion can be reached. God is a giant, barbaric, bearded, circumcised male sorcerer that stands between 50-100 feet tall, perhaps even larger. Most importantly, He has horns upon each side of His forehead, like a ram or a goat, but in all other respects resembles a fiercely handsome adult male.” After citing a number of Biblical passages and scholarly interpretations, he concludes, “For this reason, the image of God having horns has remained somewhat of a secret over the centuries. It has been passed down from generation to generation, from father to son, by word of mouth commonly known as the oral tradition…. Some believers may become confused or even angry that the God of the Holy Bible has hidden the fact that He has horns from so many of His loyal and devout followers throughout the centuries. One reason may be because He considered it unimportant or because Zeus, the evil, sexually perverted, Pagan god without horns, has tried to usurp God’s place in the minds of men by trying to convince everyone that only Satan has horns. The fact remains that Zeus is not YHVH, the God of Israel and never will be. Just as his son Apollo, a savage homosexual, was no Jesus Christ and never will be.”

Oh, dear. The Celtic horned god, my pagan love interest, was probably also sexually perverted. Wait, I knew that already. All the men I’ve found attractive in my life were sexually…I wouldn’t say perverted…rebellious. Very rebellious. But none of them were gods and none had horns, and life continually disappoints the sensual woman.

In the Park

You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you’re a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
–you won’t know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park. He laid on me not doing anything. I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them. For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah,
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels. Certain
animals converse with humans.
It’s a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven’s an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there’s a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot. In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

Maxine Kumin

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

April 5, 2013 § 1 Comment

Foot bath

Foot bath

I have a bad cold and can’t write much. The skin doctor told me the plot of a zombie show while I wasn’t allowed to open my mouth. I don’t like zombies. They have no charm, no wisdom, no horrible beauty or seductive evil, nothing that a good monster needs. Much scarier: phone calls from the dead.

I have two gifts for you, pretty pictures and climate news. Stick with the pictures if you don’t want the worrisome stuff. And remember that April is poetry month so there are likely some interesting events near you (for US residents only)., national, and, New York, list events. Go listen to some young or old or middle-aged poets! I’m talking to you.

As the legs close, the cat is squished
Cat caught between closing legs

Recent weather news from around the world:

“’Tsunami of Rain’leaves at Least 54 Dead in Argentina.”

“Australia broke 123 weather records in 90 days this summer. In January, Sydney hit a record 114 degrees and the south Australian town of Moomba hit 121.3 degrees”

“The British livestock industry is in crisis with tens of thousands of cattle and sheep having died in the cold. Cereal farmers have not recovered from last year’s deluges and winter crops and vegetables lie rotting in sodden, frozen, or snowbound fields.”

The Arctic, of course is warming and melting at breakneck speed, and the U.S. drought continues.

But, hey, it’s spring and Ramona is taking me out to dinner. Enjoy what you have, everyone. And remember to recommend me to anyone who needs an editor or some pretty jewelry.

(for my email readers for editing; for jewelry.)


There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.

For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned

To a Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.

And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,

Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.

Tracy K. Smith

Cake Night

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment


We won’t hear about Mouchette’s test results until Saturday or Monday. Charles says he can’t think of anything else, but I’ve managed to make myself believe it will be all right. She’s occasionally moving her jaw back and forth as if to say, “There’s something wrong here, Mom, have you seen my teeth?” I hate looking in her mouth and seeing them missing, though she still has her front fangs.

We went to a poetry reading tonight at Cake on the Lower East Side. I used to go there often in the old days, when it was just beginning to become gentrified, my friends scoring cheap apartments among the Italian cafes and cloth merchants. I think there were maybe two places to eat. Now it’s a jumping and very young neighborhood,the sort of streets where you think they’ll card you in the bars, kick you out if you’re over 35. When I look into those joints—the talk, the drinks, the boys, the jive—I don’t feel nostalgia for youth but only for my youthful body, which has gone to the same distant happy place as Mouchette’s teeth. (Where you will also find the old Italian men who used to sit on their stoops or in chairs on the street—thick, short, round-shouldered bodies, drooping eyelids—looking at us with a gaze I’m beginning to grow into.)

The reading room at Cake, a café and bar, was in the basement of a narrow storefront and it was dark, dank and musty, with red glitter tinsel hanging at the back of the designated stage. Other than bar stools, there were only tiny, hard, plastic cubes masquerading as chairs, and Thai rock music on the sound system. Charles said it was exactly the sort of place he finds himself in his dreams when runs and runs but can’t find the exit. I thought it was more like one of those fictional bars where a handful of characters hunker down against the monsters that are eating the townspeople, much of the action happening as a result of a slow, inevitable slide into drunkenness. In other words, I liked it just fine.

There was a two-drink minimum and since one glass of the house wine (poured to the very brim of a jelly glass) was more than enough for me, Charles had three gin and tonics. He’s making dinner now. It’s okay if it takes a while.

We went because Alissa Heyman was reading. She’s the curator of the Cornelia Street Perfect Sense poetry series where I’ve read twice. I like her (she’s kind, considerate and wears great lipstick) and I liked her poems a lot: desire, fairytales, three poems about a girl who marries a skull. The last three lines of the first skull poem:

One day I will be a skull too,
and my husband won’t mind a bit.
He’ll say, “Now you’ve grown into a real beauty.”

To read more, click here

A few other poets read, including Cathy Park Hong. Hong, lithe and charming, is the author of three books: Translating Mo’um, Dance Dance Revolution and Engine Empire. says, “A review of her work in Rain Taxi Review of Books described Hong’s…work that ‘manages to create a space for the irreducibility of meaning.’”

How much space does the irreducibility of meaning take up? Would you know if it was in hiding your closet or sitting beside you in a taxi? Sucking out the contents of your wallet?

The poems are good anyway.

Remember to check out my Etsy site and BUY STUFF. Do it for Mouchette and, if you have no female friends or relations, give a pair of earrings to your favorite lady veterinary worker. I do.

Ontology of Chang and Eng, the Original Siamese Twins

Chang spoke / Eng paused.

Chang threw a beach ball / Eng caught it.

Chang told a white lie / Eng got caught for the lie.

Chang forgot his first language / Eng picked up English.

In letters, Chang referred to themselves as “I” / Eng as “we.”

While proselytizing, the preacher asked Chang, “Do you know where you
go after you die?” Chang said, “Yes, yes, up dere.” / Thinking they didn’t
understand, he asked, “Do you know where I go after I die?” Eng said,
“Yes, yes, down dere.”
Chang married Adelaine / Eng married her sister Sally.

Chang made love to his wife / Eng daydreamed about money,
his Siam childhood and roast beef. He tried not to get aroused.

Chang checked his watch, scratched his head and fidgeted/
Eng made love to his wife.

Chang became drunk, knocked Eng out with a whiskey bottle
and went carousing with his boys / Eng was unconscious.

Chang proved Einstein’s time dilation while drunkenly running
from one bar to the next / Eng was unconscious.

Chang apologized / Eng grudgingly accepted.

Chang paused / Eng spoke / Chang interrupted.

“I am my own man!” / Eng echoed, “We are men yes.”


Both broke their bondage with their pitchman, Mr. Coffin.

Both owned land in North Carolina and forty slaves.

Both were nostalgic for Siam: childhood of preserving
duck eggs, watching tiger and elephant fights with the King,
Mother Nok who loved them equally.

The physicians were surprised to find both were “personable.”

Both did not appreciate the outhouse joke.
“Are all Orientals joined?” “Allow me to stick this very sharp pin
in Eng’s neck to see if both of you feel the pain.” “Is it true that
you turn babies into cabbages?” “We are nice, civilized people.
We offer you bananas.”

Both were sick of fascination.

Both woke up, played checkers, sired children, owned whips
for their slaves, shot game, ate pie. Both wore French black silk, smoked
cigars, flirted. Both believed in the tenets of individualism.
Both listed these activities to the jury and cried, “See, we are American!”

Both were released with a $500 fine for assaulting another head hunter.

Both were very self-aware.

Both insisted on an iron casket so that grave robbers would not
dig up their bodies and sell them to the highest bidder.

Both did not converse with one another except towards the end:

“My lips are turning blue, Eng” / Eng did not answer.

“They want our bodies, Eng.” / Eng did not answer.

“Eng, Eng! My lips are turning blue.” / Eng turned to his body and did not answer.

–Cathy Park Hong

Poetry is Paranoia

December 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

On the way to the poetry reading Monday, under the arch in Washington Square, we passed a slim, freckled young woman with hair the color of November leaves who’d just received a down-on-one-knee marriage proposal. “Oh my God, oh my God,” she was saying, her hands covering her face, truly startled, excited, happy and everything she should be. Charles wanted to snap a picture but I said no. The man had chosen to do this in public; the woman hadn’t. I wanted to give her privacy.

“I’ve been married twice but I never went down on my knee,” he said, as we walked on.
“If I’d waited for that I’d still be waiting.”
“I get down on my knees to clean the kitty litter. Not to mention the cat vomit. I think that’s enough.”
“You make an excellent point.”

KGB was crowded and warm, and the air felt thick; it was a smoky bar without the smoke. I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t really in the mood for poetry, either, but as always the lengthy and beguiling introduction set the tone for pleasure. Matthew went off on a tangent, “How many of you would call yourselves Yeats fans?” Most of us raised our hands. “Well, I have a problem with his poem—you’ll see this relates to David [Lehman]—The Wild Swans at Coole. “ He then quoted a line in a Yeatsian manner, but I’ll give you a few more lines, since I can’t resist them

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

Matthew’s issue was how Yeats could tell there were exactly 59 swans and he went on a long, excited riff about dozens of birds packed close, in motion, behind each other, overlapping, squabbling, heads dipping, all that feathery white, how could you count them?

He had a point to make about precise description, about David’s poetry, but I kept thinking of Yeats seeing those swans year after year, and though I don’t doubt he chose “nine-and-fifty” for its potency and rhythm, I wouldn’t argue his authority in the number of swans. They returned, year after year, like the poet.

David Lehman (b. 1948), read his slangy, romantic, spontaneous-sounding, very American poems, poems with the looseness and swing of the New York School poets and a kind of pop, 1970’s sweetness—investigations of love and family without the deep irony and multi-faceted perception of the next generation, who somehow learned young what took us half a lifetime.

Lehman’s nonfiction book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs had been mentioned in the introduction and after David read, during the break, Charles leaned over (we were at the next table) said a couple of words, then starting singing the title song. David joined in. Could I do that?

A rhetorical question.

I nibbled at my wine. Mark Doty (b. 1953), National Book Award winner, read next and last. His poems were precise, generous, always clever (I liked one line especially, from The Beautiful and The Sublime “Paranoia is poetry/insomnia is prose”–better in context, part of a list building power), but he clipped his words and I missed a lot. I remember what he called his dog in the last line of a new poem about the animal stealing the stake marking a burial plot, running off into the woods, tail high. “Darling, you run…”

I left the reading just after it ended, while Charles was up at the bar waiting for the bill, chatting up some intelligent-looking young person. I was feeling a heavy press of wallflower melancholia, harsh whispers that all my recent rejections, personal and professional, were entirely deserved. My soul, for all its steel and shine in certain island neighborhoods, was on the whole tattered and rotting. It might not be entirely my fault, but I was part of the garbage of history, said my doleful inner voice. Writer’s envy sparked through this, not the story but the fuel for it. I needed the smack of cold night air.

Charles lingered and David Lehman pulled him aside at the bottom of the stairs to introduce him to his wife and to Mark Doty. “The three of us talked for a long time about everything,” said my dear husband when he returned to me and the cats and the sizzling pork chops. “David Lehman insisted on giving me his card…”

In my defense, he had had two gin and tonics while I had only a few sips of white wine. Trying not to drink in situations where I feel shy always makes me twitchy and hostile. But I was afraid he’d be angry at me for leaving—I hadn’t bothered to inform him—and he wasn’t. He came in happy, full of love, assuming I ran home to get a poem on the page (which I in fact did, a beginning anyway), and he chopped the parsnips and apples while I nipped the green beans.

We ate and talked poetry and he called Rebecca, his daughter who is now 42…which means I’ve known her 40 years…and it feels like a hundred.

I’m glad I didn’t drink. Yesterday was very productive. I have half a dozen poems in various states of construction and though I keep dreaming about the man who got away (to put it nicely), I’m willing to accept the dreams as my relationship, and let the waking connection melt like the Arctic ice. I have other things to do.

The English poet George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.” I first heard this aphorism in my early 20’s, reading the book of that title by Calvin Tompkins, about the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, friends of Scott Fitzgerald who had a slightly better time of it. It was a seductive idea then, full of the promise of summers on the Riviera, delicious food, wine, brilliant friends, plenty of money…

Now the meaning is knottier. There’s not as much life left and “living well” is deeper and harder. But it IS the best revenge, though I take the idea of revenge with a quart of salt. If, for example, years from now, that person ends up lonely, broken-hearted and penniless, knocking on my door (a fantasy I entertain): “I can’t seem to get a nickel or a dime for a cup of coffee—I need a hamburg—in fact a hot dog wouldn’t be too bad,” I won’t enjoy it at all. Life’s a bitch that way. Time focuses the lens and revenge turns to ash like a vampire in the sun. But the idea of it can be helpful.

(If you don’t recognize the lyrics in the previous paragraph, go look them up.)

I need a vein of newness not sexual, not likely to drive me insane. And not just more reading, writing and attending cultural events, or making friends: something else. I can feel it out there. It’s more important than money, though the wind is blowing in through the torn paper windows, and the rats are biting my toes.

A little embellishment there. It’s cats, not rats. And they don’t bite but leave long claw tracks where they used my right thigh as a ladder or launching pad.

The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke

Can’t swim; uses credit cards and pills to combat
intolerable feelings of inadequacy;
Won’t admit his dread of boredom, chief impulse behind
numerous marital infidelities;
Looks fat in jeans, mouths clichés with confidence,
breaks mother’s plates in fights;
Buys when the market is too high, and panics during
the inevitable descent;
Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference
between Pepsi and Coke,
Has defined the darkness of red at dawn, memorized
the splash of poppies along
Deserted railway tracks, and opposed the war in Vietnam
months before the students,
Years before the politicians and press; give him
a minute with a road map
And he will solve the mystery of bloodshot eyes;
transport him to mountaintop
And watch him calculate the heaviness and height
of the local heavens;
Needs no prompting to give money to his kids; speaks
French fluently, and tourist German;
Sings Schubert in the shower; plays pinball in Paris;
knows the new maid steals, and forgives her.

David Lehman

The Embrace

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out–at work maybe?–
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you–warm brown tea–we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Mark Doty

KGB: Three Women

November 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

photo from

photo from

We went the KGB bar the other night to hear three poets: Fanny Howe, Ana Božičević and Star Black. The small, very dark, old -fashioned barroom, up a flight of stairs, is red and black with Communist posters, pictures and flags of the hammer & sickle on the wall. There are wooden tables and you get your own drinks. After we’d been sitting in the dark awhile—the reading started late—a young man who looked one of the actors on Entourage sat down to talk to us about the bar. “I guess there are still a lot of Communists,” he said.

“The name is meant to be ironic,” I replied. “It was opened in the ‘90’s, after the wall came down.”

“Really? Well, yeah, but maybe not. Maybe there are still some serious ones and this is their place.”

What can you say to that? That idealistic American Communists would not open a bar and call it KGB? It’s strange to be the old ones, to whom this history isn’t history. I find myself feeling possessive—the 2nd half of the 20th century is mine, mine and my peers and our parents: if you want to know it, you have to pay very close attention; I won’t say anything twice. And I didn’t. I leaned back and let Charles talk to him.

Fanny Howe didn’t make it, sadly; her place was taken by Leopoldine Core, a poet who appears to be in her 20’s. She was suggested by Ana, and it’s easy to see why. They both hail from the left side of reality (which doesn’t make them Communists). Her poems are funny, sexy, digressive, alluring; she pulls you into her mind so fast, you have no chance to decide whether you want to be there are not. She sounds like the weird girl in the class talking to herself, the kind that in 1970 would have been fragile, no matter how smart, but in this era is self-possessed and unafraid.

Lots of sexual rumination and ruminating rumination, just chewing on those words, having fun; I, I, I, more little curls and nips of sex, wandering thoughts let wander, then closed with a buttonhook. It’s a bravura performance of how consciousness moves and her consciousness is of course like no other. Nobody’s is, but it’s very hard to capture that depth of difference. Listening, you remember the privilege the best writing gives: that glimpse into another mind, that shiver as your own mind bends down to taste.

Ana is an old favorite of mine. Her poems are also digressive, with startling leaps of imagery, words circling around around the clot of self in the brain, the cunt, the throat, all her provinces collaborating to figure out (or not) the sprawling world. It’s the world of an expatriate–she was born in Zagreb; moved here at 20–and she has that double vision that’s so powerful in poetry and comedy. Her poems are denser than Leopoldine’s, harder to follow, and the tensions are greater. One hand thrusts a sword into her stomach as the other tosses jags of lightning and zoo animals into the night; then you notice the sword has fallen out and the blood is flowing back in, red as a smile…was she in control of it all the time? I’m never sure.

Sometimes her poems remind me of riding in a limousine, very drunk and stoned but hyper alert to the world flashing outside, the stranger/lover beside me putting his/her hand under my skirt…an experience I’ve never actually had, in that detail, but I’ve done something similar in a taxi and I’ve ridden in limos at funerals when I was young enough to find it all acutely weird as well as sad. (Not my immediate family deaths; we had no limos). In Ana’s poems the memories fuse.

I also liked seeing her in the flesh; her tall sturdy body, her blond hair, her Slavic face, the way she rocks and sort of dances as she reads, dislodging the words from their homes in her hips and spine and pelvic girdle. (Strictly speaking, the pelvic girdle includes the hips, but I’m taking all the words I want.) It was hard to take my eyes off her body-her presence is very sexual in an diffident, slightly disjunct way. It’s hard to describe except to say she’s obviously not American.

Star Black I’ve heard before: she’s one of those poets, one of those people, whom you immediately put into the pile of the good ones who should never be taken, who should be restored after death in another body to grace the world. Her poems were less wild than the other two, her intelligence more orderly, but her imagination is full to the top and overflowing, like wave after wave of white birds in service to a Wiccan priestess.

She read the following poem, which is probably where I got the bird idea. I listened and thought: not me, grade school has disappeared utterly. But I’m with her all the same.


Moving away from rattled towns,
gaining, as a bird in a dishwasher,
an altered view, the owlish lakefronts
with their punch-clock crews

seem less luckless, the lunch-pail
chatter less dim; even recess seems pleasant.
Schoolmates from the third grade call
and nothing since matters,

you leap into kerosene waters
and swim, leaving the nervous talons
on a perch. The past doesn’t hurt,
the past is divine, everyone

the same age at the same time.
Moving is a white lie, a soft arrow.

–Star Black

I’ve already had a poem by Ana on this site, but here’s one by Leopoldine from The Paris Review that I’m probably not allowed to use, so it might not be up long.


I’m a freak

in a nightgown

and outside

a cool garden drips.

All this wasted time

could be full of something

but I’m always on the rug.
I’ve had good ideas

and placed them decorously

around the room,

all the little fish still

wriggling on their hooks.

I’ve had more good ideas

and kept them in the liquid

of my mind until they all

started to rot.

I’ve made a snack and

I’ve called a dead friend.

I don’t like everything I do.

I’ve let all the ghosts

feel me up

and it reminds me

of being on the subway

the things people will do

if you give them the green light

and then you do.

Well I do.

And then they touch me

and I pretend not to notice.

That is my joy.

It’s underwater all the time.

But it has not been a total waste

all this silence.

I think it’s more of a steak

than a hole.

And anyway


since now there’s no room

in the world unmarked

by human noise.

I’ve thought hard about this.

I’ve dug a dirt hole in my own

bedroom and lived there

rubbing my clit with a penny

under my blanket

there’s an old sandwich

and a jewel.

–Leopoldine Core

I’ve already published one of Ana’s poems, but here’s a link

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