What’s a Nice Muse like You Doing in a Place like This?

A muse walks into a pub

What’s a Nice Muse like You Doing in a Place like This?

Copyright © 2021 by Michael Stone

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing.

Inquiries should be addressed to:

Mike Stone

email: mike.stone.email@gmail.com

Contents

Foreword……………………………………………………………………………….. 4

Poems……………………………………………………………………………………. 6

Bemused………………………………………………………………………………. 6

Want Ad……………………………………………………………………………….. 7

Seducing the Muse……………………………………………………………… 8

Hush My Heart…………………………………………………………………… 9

The Muse…………………………………………………………………………….. 9

Happy Birthday………………………………………………………………….. 11

The Muse……………………………………………………………………………. 12

The Ice Floe……………………………………………………………………….. 16

January Sixth…………………………………………………………………….. 17

My Dearest Erato………………………………………………………………. 21

Letter to Tiresias……………………………………………………………….. 23

Life Takes Small Steps………………………………………………………. 24

Do Three Impossible Things…………………………………………….. 25

A Story……………………………………………………………………………….. 26

A Postscript……………………………………………………………………….. 27

On a Day like This…………………………………………………………….. 28

How Could We Not Write Poetry?…………………………………… 29

With the Bases Loaded…………………………………………………….. 30

Its Glorious Complexity……………………………………………………. 31

In the Valley of Elah…………………………………………………………. 32

Leap of Faith…………………………………………………………………… 33

A Dew Drop on a Whippoorwill’s Wing………………………. 34

The Archer………………………………………………………………………… 44

Poems Are Things……………………………………………………………. 46

The Next World………………………………………………………………… 47

A Poem’s Soul……………………………………………………………………. 48

I Would Trust a Man…………………………………………………………. 49

A Path No Longer Taken………………………………………………….. 50

A Poet’s Lament………………………………………………………………… 51

A Poem Told Backwards………………………………………………….. 53

Planck Time……………………………………………………………………….. 54

Leaping Poetry………………………………………………………………….. 55

People Who Live by the Word……………………………………….. 55

Simmian of Locris…………………………………………………………….. 56

Ouija Poem #5………………………………………………………………….. 60

The Castle on Yon Promontory……………………………………… 61

Who Will Speak for the Rights of Trees?……………………… 63

The Caterpillar and the Butterfly…………………………………… 64

Imperfections of a Perfect World………………………………….. 70

Little Creek………………………………………………………………………… 71

Last Day…………………………………………………………………………….. 75

Foreword

Not all that many people read poetry these days, although that probably varies among countries and cultures. Although there are many metrics for judging what constitutes a good poem, such as rhyme and rhythm, I would venture to suggest that what most people demand of the poetry they read is that the content be inspired.

A poet (and I’m not talking about wordsmiths who can crank out well-constructed poems like some people solve crosswords) lives for inspiration. He is always on the look-out for inspiration. He can’t crank it out and he can’t control it.

Enter the Muses, the ancient Greek goddesses of inspiration of literature, the arts, and the sciences. The world has changed considerably since the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne walked the rocky hills of Boeotia and Thrace, but modern Muses are still as enigmatic, unattainable, and tantalizing as they always were. They have goddess-like beauty, but only to those creative all-too-human souls in their thrall. Others, who have little use or patience for the arts or sciences, are blind to their beauty and deaf to their singing.

It is the Muse who metes out inspiration, who has total control over it, at least in the mind of the poet. Her beauty and grace launch a thousand ships of creativity. The few words that pass her lips are deciphered wisdom. The poet begins to ascribe attributes to her, attributes that he lacks. She becomes his opposite, his perfect complement, his significant other. Thus, she coaxes him out of his comfort zone, out of himself, to create what is beyond his ability to create. Perhaps this is the key to understanding what inspiration is.

But inspiration is not everything. Inspiration does not write the poem, pluck the lyre, paint or sculpt a work of art, or publish a scientific theory. Inspiration must be translated to words and actions. The Muse whispers in a tongue that only the poet, artist, or scientist understands.

So, where do you find this Muse, or any Muse for that matter. Of course, you could fly to ancient Boeotia or Thrace and look for her on Mount Parnassus or Mount Helicon, or among the Balkan Mountains spread over Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

I looked for my Muse in musty museums, concert halls, lonely forests, and meandering creeks. I never found her in any of those places, but she found me – once in a busy hallway outside my English Literature class, once in a coffee lounge at work, and once at a poetry reading. She will find you in the strangest places.

This book of poetry is dedicated to the Muses for whom I have searched and those who have found me.

You may look for inspiration, but you will never find it. It will find you, but only if you are worthy of it.

                                                Mike Stone

                                                December 10, 2020

Poems

Bemused

Poets are a dime a dozen.

A good muse, on the other hand,

Comes around once a lifetime;

Now there are two –

What’s a poet to do?

                  March 3, 2007

Want Ad

Wanted muse to pose for poet

Work challenging but not too strenuous

(Just need to exist)

References desirable previous poets

Preferably Romantic though

Classic also accepted

Exquisite beauty and grace not required

Please reply in fourteen lines or less

Iambically

M.

                                           June 5, 2009

Seducing the Muse

The room was dark except for one dim bulb

Trembling its cone of light above her head

Balanced delicately upon her swanlike neck

While the poet sat in shadow scarcely visible

Scratching his quill inside a notebook.

What care I for your poems, poet?

I must have launched a thousand of them

But never read a single one.

Who has time or inclination for such pinings

When one is busy with life’s sordidness?

What’s that you ask for? Do speak up!

Oh, you want me to remove my blouse?

You’re all alike. My skirts, my shoes, my undergarments?

Shall I go on? My soft white flesh,

My muscles and my skeleton, you’re all the same,

Pornographers of the soul you are.

When all that remained was silence

And his empty head

He closed the notebook and wondered

What had just passed through him

And when it’d come again.

September 25, 2015

Hush My Heart

Hush my heart, be still

God knows how you stay whole

From swelling when those you love are near,

Your eyes see goodness or beauty,

Or ears hear truth,

And ebb when not.

The Muse will come one day

But she will leave the next,

Be wise and hush.

January 16, 2018

The Muse

I feel a bitter pleasure in remembering that day

In the forest outside our small village.

I was walking down a leafy path

Toward the little lake where I would sit

By the water with my back against a smooth rock

To make some modest sketches

And write what came to me.

Down the shore a way

The woman sat as was her wont

Without a stitch of clothing on her

Back against the generous trunk of a maple tree.

Her long thick hair the color of wheat

Gushed over her golden shoulders,

One eye was the color of dawn

And the other was sunset.

To tell the truth,

She was the reason I came down to the lake

Though I never had the courage

To speak to her. What could I say?

The blue sky deepened to cobalt

As the sun sank below the hills beyond the lake

And Venus was already where she was supposed to be.

I couldn’t tell whether the sunset streamed

Into her eyes or flowed out of them.

From the corner of my eye

I noticed she was standing now,

Pulling a skirt up her long legs

Slipping her arms through a blouse

And putting her small feet into shoes.

Next thing I knew she was gone.

It’s been many years since last I saw her,

I hardly go down to the lake anymore.

I can’t rightly explain it but

The lake is just a lake,

The sunset’s just a sunset,

And my pages lay blank

In one of the drawers.

March 31, 2019

Happy Birthday

You can choose any age you wish to be

As long as it’s thirty-four or less,

The day death snapped your photograph

Unexpectedly that rainy December day,

But I remember a different photograph of you,

Not yet twenty, cradling me between your breast and arm

And singing while my eyes filled with loveliness.

You suckled me on poetry

The youthful breast from which I feed until this day,

So, here’s to you, my birthing mother,

My first and finest muse, I raise my glass.

Would that you could know

The fire that you kindled in me

Still burns strong.

November 16, 2019

The Muse

I must have been dreaming

Because now I was awake.

The first time I saw her

She filled my sight,

Like a large planet fills

The night sky of

A small moon

Except I had no words

To think this yet,

As she filled me with

The feeling of her arm,

Her breast,

The smell of her skin,

Her breath,

Her hair,

As she filled my ears with

Her voice,

Her song.

She was so beautiful

That I thought everything

Must be beautiful

But I had no words

To think that either.

Neither did I know that

Ugliness was possible

In this world.

I fell asleep,

Full of her.

The first time I saw her

(It’s always the first time)

I could almost stand on my own

If I leaned against her strong legs

Before pushing away toward

I don’t know if I can make it.

She caught me before I fell

And told me remember her words

So that I could find her

If I lost her.

The first time I saw her again

After we’d lost her,

She came back to us

Through the mists of being lost.

It was a separate reality,

Not like a dream you could wake from.

It had its own set of rules

But I didn’t know them.

She took us home with her

And that filled my heart with soothing

And sang my pain to sleep

But it wasn’t our home.

Then she brought us back to our reality

And she went back to being lost.

The next time I saw her

I was old enough to throw a hand grenade

She came to me as a radiant vision

In her white raincoat

And pressed against me.

I could no more turn my eyes away from her

Than Moses from the burning bush

And just like a goddess

She disappeared.

The next time I saw her

Was at a konzerthaus that night.

They were playing Prokofiev

Or Stravinsky, I can’t remember,

But she was sitting a few rows down

On the other side of the large room.

At the end, when everyone stood,

After the thunder of applause,

She pulled the hood of her cape

Over her long hair, melted into the crowd

Flowing up the stairs and outside.

I followed her with my eyes from the other side

And when I stepped into the cold night,

I saw her in the distance, fading

Into the fog of night. By the time

I reached that point,

The streets were empty.

The next time I saw her

Was at a poetry reading.

She was half my age and

There was a crowd of poets

Standing around her,

Congratulating each other.

It was getting late and

There was no time for

The silences between words.

The last time I saw her

She was four years old.

There was something in her smile

That taunted me with its familiarity

And she put her hand in mine

When we crossed the street.

                        November 6, 2020

The Ice Floe

The noon sun barely rose above the eastern horizon

Far from the bow of an Arctic icebreaker plowing

Through the thick grey snow-covered ice.

There was an altercation among the sailors

And a poet was thrown overboard

Into the ice-cold saltwater.

The poet knew the sailors would not pull him out

And he could not survive long in the water.

He swam as fast as he could toward a nearby ice floe,

At one end of which he noticed a beautiful muse

And at the other end he saw a huge polar bear.

The poet asked the white bear whether

He would help him climb onto the ice floe.

The bear growled menacingly at the poet.

The poet asked the bear, “Say, don’t I know you?”

The bear answered, “Possibly, I ting the triangle

In the Juno orchestra.” “No way!” the poet said.

“I play third oboe in the same orchestra.

What do you think of the new conductor?”

The bear beamed enthusiastically and said,

“Not bad. Here, let me give you a hand.”

The muse slapped her “Vogue” down on the ice

And pouted, “If you are going to talk shop,

I’m getting off.” She pursed her lips

Prettily in her hand mirror.

                        December 11, 2020

January Sixth

It was a crisp thirty-seven degrees outside

But the double-paned glass warmed the thin sunlight

That eked through the window into his room.

He got up and reached for the phone beside his bed.

They had been instructed not to wake him before ten

But the birds outside the window had not read his tweet.

He got out of bed and walked over to the mirror.

They called him a narcissist behind his back

But they didn’t know the half of it:

He saw his reflection everywhere because

Everything that reflected his image was a mirror.

Every order that he signed,

Everyone who agreed with him or said yes to him

Was a mirror. Mirror, mirror, on the wall …

He stared at the reflection of his image

And it pleased him.

The others were only reflections of him.

It was lonely being him.

Today was the day, now or never.

His vice wouldn’t do what was needed.

He doubled-thumbed a short tweet:

“They’ve stolen the election from us

And now they’re gonna get away with it

Unless you get it back from them!”

The true believers read the tweet,

Grabbed their hats and signs,

And rushed to protest the thievery

At the seat of their democracy.

The Bible thumpers thumped their bibles

At the godless electors and prepared their sermons

(He may be a sinner, but he provides a

Prodigious megaphone for our messages).

The good ol’ boys, the Klan, and True Patriots,

Perked up their ears when they heard that tweet.

“Now’s the time, boys,” they were told,

“To do what we’ve been training for all along!

Bring yer rifles, bring yer guns,

Bring yer knives, and bring yer ropes!

Dress like patriots, bring Ol’ Dixie!”

They packed their six-packs and

Moonshine for extra meanness,

And jumped into their pickup trucks.

Meanwhile the dark ones nobody’s ever seen

Pulled some strings and jiggled others,

The good ol’ boys, the Bible Thumpers,

True Believers, and the narcissist-in-chief.

They all jumped, this way and that,

Though they all thought it was of their own accords.

The mindless mob surrounded the Capitol Building

And suddenly it had a mind to flood the barricades

And rush through doors and windows and hapless guards.

In the Sanctum of sanctums, they were counting votes

For the umpteenth time while the narcissist’s yes-men

Objected here or there. Suddenly the senators were herded out

And took their votes with them.

Faced with an empty sanctum, the good ol’ boys

Took selfies with the guards and pried loose everything

That wasn’t superglued to the walls.

In the end, the mindless mob was pushed back

Out the Capitol Building, the crowd dispersed,

And the counting finally ended

With the number everyone knew.

Democracy breathed a sigh of relief.

It had survived the night and

Would live to see another day.

Those who would have strung up Lady Liberty

From a nearby tree failed perhaps from

Too much moonshine or inbreeding.

Who knows whether she’ll be so lucky next time?

Democracy is never guaranteed,

It must be won each and every day.

                                    January 12, 2021

My Dearest Erato

Η αγαπητή μου Ερατώ (My dearest Erato),

I’ve finally tracked you down!

It seems so strange to write you in this language

But my Aeolian has deserted me

Now that I need it most.

How long has it been since we last walked together

In the fertile valley of the nine muses

Near Thespiai at the foot of Helicon?

Let’s see, it must be close to twenty-six centuries.

I remember being old even back then

But in my dream, I was young like you and your sisters.

When we chanced upon Athena bathing where we meandered

I alone of all of you was blinded by her naked beauty

Before I could cover my eyes. The recompense of prophecy

For my blindness was little use to me

Since no one has ever believed my prophecies, not a single one.

I’ve been locked away all these years.

Even my gaoler plugs his ears when he brings me

My crust of bread and filthy water.

Do you remember that terrible plague

In Athens during the Peloponnesian War?

A new plague is now upon us that is even worse!

I warned them about it, but they ignored me, as always.

My gaoler hasn’t come around lately

And I’m worried about him.

Now, I’ve seen you in my mind’s eye,

Walking past the tower of my isolation.

Your fragrance drifts up to me in lazy spirals.

I wait for you, my love, but I can wait no longer.

Make sure to don a mask outside!

Thalia’s comedy or Melpomene’s tragedy mask

Would suit you best these days.

Take care,

Tiresias.

                                    January 14, 2021

Letter to Tiresias

Dear Tiresias,

It seems like I closed my eyes only a moment ago

But your letter perturbed the gentle waves of eternal sleep.

I ignored your incessant missives while I lived

And chose mortal death when nothing more inspired me.

What care I of the years your life numbers or

Which sickness plagues you currently?

Have you ever wondered why you’re blind?

It’s not because you saw Athena’s naked beauty

Or some counterbalance against your prophetic gifts.

No, it’s because, after Athena, you stopped seeing

Anything else with your first-time eyes and

Nothing else inspired you. Go back to the beginning

Where you lost your wondrous eyesight,

Where you smelled and tasted everything the first time.

Inspiration comes before you know things,

Not after. It is between the things you know.

It is in the things you don’t know,

The things you’ll never know,

The things you can only wonder at.

Now, let me sink back under those gentle waves,

Don’t disturb my sleep again.

Erato

January 16, 2021

Life Takes Small Steps

Life takes small steps like a haiku

And moments bubble up suddenly

Like a little child’s bath,

Each one a different color

And everyone would know

That time moves in all directions

If they’d only think about it

And love is like a bridge over nothing

Between no one and no one

And death is but a starry night.

                        January 17, 2021

Do Three Impossible Things

Do three impossible things before breakfast.

One is never enough. It can’t make someone else happy.

Two is no good. They’re too busy with each other.

Three is the first of many. Besides,

Once you’ve done one, the others are easier.

Don’t just do the easy impossible things,

The ones everyone knows are impossible.

Do the ones nobody knows are impossible,

The ones nobody has ever thought of,

The ones that would exist,

If someone would just think about them.

                                    January 20, 2021

A Story

A story was once told

Of a man who was locked in a room.

After many years,

The man discovered that

The door was unlocked

There was no door

There was no room

There was no man

And there was no story.

All there was were

Quarks and anti-quarks

Popping into and out of existence

In a vacuum.

A thought popped into existence:

“If all is illusion …”

And an anti-thought popped up to meet it:

“… then who’s having the illusion?”

Cancelling both thoughts.

There was no universe.

                                    January 21, 2021

A Postscript

And after a few moments (or were they aeons?)

There was a flower, a single rose.

Oh, yes, and a field of grass,

Thin green blades swaying in a light breeze.

Nobody knew what they were

Or from whence they came.

There was nobody who could prove they existed

Or not.

They just were,

The rose, the grass, and the breeze.

Three things are necessary

To make a haiku

Or a world.

                        January 22, 2021

On a Day like This

If I should ever end my life

It would be on a day like this,

The late afternoon before a Sabbath

The quiet before the squeals of grandchildren

Not to be heard, but remembered or imagined,

That exacerbate loneliness,

A day like all the other days

But that once was different from them,

That shimmered and shone

Like candles lit.

Instead, there is only the anticipation

Of earth’s cold womb and

The oblivion of eternity,

But today,

Today is not the day,

Perhaps.

                        January 29, 2021

How Could We Not Write Poetry?

I’ve often wondered,

How can one ignore beauty?

I mean, how can one stand so close

To a thing that is truly lovely

Without being drawn into its gravity?

How can one be indifferent to love?

How can one withstand its piercing arrows,

The eclipse of it, the tang of its fires?

How can one not write poetry,

If we would be truthful to ourselves,

How could we not write poetry?

                                    January 30, 2021

With the Bases Loaded

You’re seven and oh.

Your grandma’s on third,

Your father’s on second,

Your mother’s on first,

And you’re up at bat.

Of course, they’re all dead.

God’s your pitcher:

Just let me knock this one

Out of the park.

            February 4, 2021

Its Glorious Complexity

The Universe did not care when

It exploded silently into existence

In its glorious complexity, whether

Anyone witnessed it or not.

The sea and sky do not demand we

Witness their vastness in awe,

Nor the tallest mountains whose

Peaks are hidden among the clouds.

So why do I care so much whether

You or anybody else deigns to read

A creation of my heart’s mind?

It is not for me, you read my poem –

It is for you since, by appreciation

You recreate all creation

In your mind’s heart.

                        February 7, 2021

In the Valley of Elah

In the Valley of Elah, not far from Gat

A young Philistine puts a smooth stone

In the pouch of his sling with one hand,

Pulls the leather thongs taut with his other hand,

And swings the stone over his head,

Releasing its lethal trajectory

At a squad of helmeted shielded soldiers

Patrolling the rocky hills.

It is always the same play –

Sometimes we are David and

Sometimes we are Goliath.

                                    February 12, 2021

Leap of Faith

if

there’s

nobody

underneath

you

then

don’t

leap.

February 13, 2021

A Dew Drop on a Whippoorwill’s Wing

She was conceived inside a dew drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

She was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

She learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

She learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

She met a handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

They married anyway, far from prying eyes,

Far from the king’s and queen’s disdain.

They followed the creek to the distant sea,

They thought they’d escaped the royal domain.

She and the handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

They shared a bed

But not a dream,

Two seeds were sown

And nine months later bloomed two seraphim,

For they married anyway, far from prying eyes,

Far from the king’s and queen’s disdain.

They followed the creek to the distant sea,

They thought they’d escaped the royal domain.

She and the handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

The first she fed with poetry

Instead of mother’s milk,

The second she fed with moonlit beauty,

Her voice was smooth as silk,

For their parents shared a bed

But not a dream,

Two seeds were sown

And nine months later bloomed two seraphim,

For they married anyway, far from prying eyes,

Far from the king’s and queen’s disdain.

They followed the creek to the distant sea,

They thought they’d escaped the royal domain.

She and the handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

Life was modest, yet idyllic,

For this vernal family,

Until above the clouds, the royal vultures spied

The prince walking through a field carelessly,

Whose wife had fed the first with poetry

Instead of mother’s milk,

The second she fed with moonlit beauty,

Her voice was smooth as silk,

For their parents shared a bed

But not a dream,

Two seeds were sown

And nine months later bloomed two seraphim,

For they married anyway, far from prying eyes,

Far from the king’s and queen’s disdain.

They followed the creek to the distant sea,

They thought they’d escaped the royal domain.

She and the handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

The king’s soldiers took the prince,

His two childlike seraphim,

And locked the dewdrop mother in a tower,

Claiming she’d bewitched them with a meme,

She, whose life was modest, yet idyllic,

For this vernal family,

Until above the clouds, the royal vultures spied

The prince walking through a field carelessly,

Whose wife had fed the first with poetry

Instead of mother’s milk,

The second she fed with moonlit beauty,

Her voice was smooth as silk,

For their parents shared a bed

But not a dream,

Two seeds were sown

And nine months later bloomed two seraphim,

For they married anyway, far from prying eyes,

Far from the king’s and queen’s disdain.

They followed the creek to the distant sea,

They thought they’d escaped the royal domain.

She and the handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

The mother’s sad keening was more

Than the tower’s cold stones could endure

And they cracked and crumbled so that

Escape she could procure,

But she had cried so much

She couldn’t see.

She heard the hither thither creek

And followed it to the sea.

The crashing waves did call her,

They said, “bring your tears to me.”

She brought them tears as sweet as dew

And returned not from the sea,

She, whose husband the king’s soldiers took,

And their two childlike seraphim,

And locked the dewdrop mother in a tower,

Claiming she’d bewitched them with a meme,

She, whose life was modest, yet idyllic,

For this vernal family,

Until above the clouds, the royal vultures spied

The prince walking through a field carelessly,

Whose wife had fed the first with poetry

Instead of mother’s milk,

The second she fed with moonlit beauty,

Her voice was smooth as silk,

For their parents shared a bed

But not a dream,

Two seeds were sown

And nine months later bloomed two seraphim,

For they married anyway, far from prying eyes,

Far from the king’s and queen’s disdain.

They followed the creek to the distant sea,

They thought they’d escaped the royal domain.

She and the handsome prince

Riding a piebald stallion

Who was rich beyond all ken

But his riches were his parents’ bullion.

They’d not be his if he married her,

Who learned wisdom from the owl

And beauty from the moon

Who learned poetry from the whippoorwill

And death she learned too soon,

Who was born between the roots

Of a proud elm tree

Beside a hither thither creek

That sought the distant sea

That conceived the dewy drop

Beneath a whippoorwill’s wing

Who chanced to rest on a whisp of cloud

Passing by a mountain djinn.

                                    February 28, 2021

The Archer

When I was born,

My mother was my home

She was my world

She was my entire universe.

Now that I’m old enough to know better,

My life is not my life

My home is not my home

My country is not my world

Earth is not my universe

And I can’t return time’s arrow

To its Archer.

                                    March 6, 2021

Poems Are Things

Poems are things that God would write

If He could only keep from burning things up

That get to close to Him

Like bushes, paper, and people.

He whispers them into poets’ ears

So they can write them

For people with hearts,

And that’s what makes the skies

Circle around the North Star

Like moths around a dancing flame.

                                    March 8, 2021

The Next World

In Hebrew when someone dies

We say he has gone to the “olam haba”,

The next world,

As though Death were a baseball game

Where one rounds first base

Steals second or third

And slides into home,

Or maybe a series of “Stolpersteine”

Or Stumbling Stones in Germany

Etched with names of victims

Who once lived in the village,

Stumbling from one stone to the next

Until one gets to the end of the Holocaust.

“Olam haba” almost sounds like an interesting place

A place with a bit of adventure attached to it,

A place from which one might return

With photos and slides to show one’s friends

How it was and what it was like.

                        March 13, 2021

A Poem’s Soul

I’m pretty sure a poem has a soul;

Otherwise, souls wouldn’t read them.

I wonder whether our enemies have souls too.

I know some people think I’m too free

Handing out souls to this or that

Person or thing, but I can’t help

Recognizing other souls

When they’re in front of my eyes.

Why wouldn’t they have souls,

Our enemies,

I mean how could they not have them

If I have one?

Stories have souls too.

People come alive in stories,

Even if they were once dead

Or not yet born.

Souls are just pieces of God

That everybody hands around

To everything that needs one.

                        March 15, 2021

I Would Trust a Man

I would trust a man who stuttered

Or stumbled over his words more

Than a man with too quick or

Too well-lubricated a tongue.

I would trust the speech of a man

Who spoke his words slowly,

Halting between his sentences

More than a man who spoke quickly,

Too well-rehearsed his speech.

For truth, when it takes over

A speaker’s tongue and lips,

Demands to get each word right

And thinking what is spoken,

Too busy to care about

The appearance of truth,

Whereas the speaker of falsehoods

Cares only about

The appearance of truth.

                                    March 16, 2021

A Path No Longer Taken

Along a path no longer taken

Rests a twig neither thrown nor chased,

And no one left to feel the emptiness.

Stories untold evaporate in the sunlight,

A Kristallnacht of time’s fires

Overrun by ghosts,

Memories detached

From the living.

                        March 21, 2021

A Poet’s Lament

It begins as a dimly felt discomfort

And then balloons into a voluminous

Need to write something significant

Which must be threaded through a needle’s eye

To sew together your tattered attention span.

If you should need a birthday wish

Or condolence for the bereaved

Of a friend of a friend I scarcely know,

Oh, I’m your go-to guy.

And if perchance the Muse should kiss my brow

And guide my hand with her sweet touch,

I pray that I’m not asked from a distant room

What I am doing and whether it’s important,

For my Muse would surely disappear

As though she never were.

But if perchance my Muse survived those queries

I’d pray my downstairs neighbor wouldn’t call

To ask about that leak in her ceiling,

For that may be much too much

For my Muse to bear.

But should you need a birthday wish

Or condolence for the bereaved

Of a friend of a friend I scarcely know,

Oh, I’m your go-to guy,

I’m your go-to guy.

                        March 30, 2021

A Poem Told Backwards

I must be losing my mind

It’s been almost a year now

Daisy of course

I’d closed all the windows

And turned on the air conditioner

Warm winds from the East

A large black fly was butting his head

Against our kitchen window

Punch-drunk like a boxer in the twelfth round

Trying to get out for all he’s worth

All because of Daisy

I opened the window

Til he flew out

To freedom’s warm breath.

                        April 7, 2021

Planck Time

She used to laugh at time.

She’d turn the clocks around

To face the wall

Like misbehaving pupils.

I wonder what she would have thought

Of Planck Time.

She’d have thought

One could have put

Whole lives and even epochs

Inside this smallest of intervals

With room left over

To go on vacation to an island

At the end of time.

A Planck length?

She could have put

Worlds and universes inside one.

Maybe she’s hiding there now.

                        April 10, 2021

Leaping Poetry

Nobody really knows

How to make poetry leap

But when it comes time to leap

And one is ready

One will know.

Until then

One can only wait.

                        April 10, 2021

People Who Live by the Word

It has been said

That people who live by the sword

Will die by the sword

But it has never been said

That people who live by the word

Will die by the word

Although it’s just as true.

                        April 14, 2021

Simmian of Locris

Simmian of Locris

(not to be confused with Simmias of Thebes)

Was a little-known student of Socrates

Who listened to the master’s wisdom

From a safe enough distance.

After the master transcended his earthly existence

By means of the hemlock offered him,

Simmian left ancient Athens

To see what he could see

And to know what he could know.

Now Simmian knew many things

But there were still many more things he did not know.

What loomed large on his philosophical horizon

Was the question, “what was he to do

About all that he did not know?”

Simmian of Locris purchased

A sea-worthy ship and an experienced crew

And set sail for wherever the breezes would blow them.

The breezes began pleasantly enough

But sometimes they blew rather angrily.

After some difficult days and nights

Simmian’s ship landed on the shores

Of a verdant green island

With a rocky promontory.

Simmian set foot on the cool grasses

And walked up a winding path

Until he came to a wide plain

With a thick forest to his right

And a stone castle to his left.

Coming out of the forest was a man

Wearing a crown and carrying a deer

On his wide shoulders.

Simmian met the gentleman

Where their paths intersected.

“Good day, sir,” said Simmian,

“I come from the City of Locris.”

“Good day to you,” said the gentleman,

“I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Locris

But I’m King of this island

And you’re welcome to sup with me.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” said Simmian,

“But I just have one question

And I’ll be on my way.”

The king said, “So ask your question, Locris.”

Simmian asked, “How do you deal with

What you don’t know?”

The king answered, “Since what I don’t know

Is fraught with unknown dangers,

I built a strong castle with thick stone walls,

A single thick door, and no windows.”

“Isn’t it rather dark inside,” Simmian asked.

“I light torches and candles to see the walls and floor,”

The king answered.

Simmian thanked the king, went back to his ship,

And set sail for wherever the winds would blow.

After more difficult days and nights

Simmian’s ship landed on a sandy shore.

The shallow water was warm

As Simmian walked barefoot,

Carrying sandals in hand.

The sandy shore became wave upon wave

Of dunes mimicking the waves of the sea.

He walked up and down the dunes

With the sand escaping and refilling his footsteps.

In the distance was a small stand of fig trees,

A stone well, and a man sitting against his camel

In the shade of the fig tree.

Simmian approached the man at rest.

“Good day, sir,” said Simmian,

“I come from the City of Locris.”

“Good day to you,” said the man,

“I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Locris

But I’m Pasha of this land

And you’re welcome to sup with me.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” said Simmian,

“But I just have one question

And I’ll be on my way.”

The pasha said, “So ask your question, Locris.”

Simmian asked, “How do you deal with

What you don’t know?”

The pasha answered, “Since what I don’t know

Interests me more than what I know,

I put up a flimsy tent wherever I happen to stay

And poke holes in the sides to let the light in

And let me see what goes on outside.”

“On second thought, I’ve changed my mind,”

Simmian said, “I’d love to sup with you, kind sir,

But I must go back to my ship and invite my crew.”

And the pasha offered Simmian his camel

To speed his going and return.

After Simmian and his crew had stayed

With the pasha three days and three nights,

They thanked their kind host, returned to their ship,

And set sail for wherever the winds would blow.

Eventually their ship returned to Athens

And Simmian sold his ship and paid his crew.

Simmian returned to Locris

And opened up a shop

To sell and repair sandals.

                        April 15, 2021

Ouija Poem #5

The snake slithered unhearing through the orchard

While eternity calculated the finitude of time

And the sparrowhawk flew low over the corn

Trying to get home before the cloud-portended storm.

In the valley of juniper, the chameleon foresaw the future

And camouflaged itself with future colors.

Empathy had the courage to leap into the wind

And God stuttered with a careless warmth

While his compulsion slept in the wild berry.

                                    April 16, 2021

The Castle on Yon Promontory

Who could see the castle

On yon promontory perched,

Hidden among the billowed clouds?

Only knights of yore.

Nights of lore told by heroes

Of deeds heroic in battles of

Good against evil and the God-King

Who sat on His invisible throne.

All alone was He,

Him, no knight could see

But they felt His Sword’s weight

On their broad mailed shoulders.

God-failed soldiers marched forth

Against the hordes of the Evil Lord,

Arrows flying from both sides,

Spears piercing and swords slashing.

Fears nursing widows’ breasts,

From windows keening wives and mothers,

What was will be against all effort,

Seers cursing lemming quests.

                        April 20, 2021

Who Will Speak for the Rights of Trees?

Who will speak for the rights of trees?

Their right to breathe in and out?

Their right to live on this land?

Their right to gather in the company of others?

Their right to raise offspring?

Their right to sunlight and water?

Their right to not to live in fear of axe or saw?

If they are poked, do they not bleed?

Is their blood not translucent?

Do we misinterpret their silence as acceptance

Of our thoughtless cruelties?

Do we think our thoughtless actions

Have no consequences for us?

Do we think our fates are not tied to their fates?

Who will speak for the rights of trees?

Will we?

Will you?

                                    April 22, 2021

The Caterpillar and the Butterfly

(inspired by Oddey and Lily)

Once upon a time,

(Yes, children, gather around,

I say, as I hug you closer to me,

Because all things that start with

Once upon a time

Promise to be a roaring good story)

There was a little caterpillar

And a mommy and a daddy caterpillar

That loved their little one very much.

The little caterpillar’s name was

Odysseus Caterpillar

But we’ll call him Oddey for short.

Oddey’s parents had to feed him

And carry him around everywhere,

But soon Oddey learned to crawl

All by himself and was so proud.

Oddey and his parents crawled everywhere together

And sometimes he crawled ahead

Of his parents as he grew up.

One day Oddey saw his daddy

Climb up a tree and out on a branch.

What are you doing, Daddy?

Oddey asked from below.

I’m making a cocoon, his daddy said.

What’s it for? Oddey asked.

When it’s time, you’ll know, he said and winked.

Oddey watched his daddy spin

Some gooey thread around himself

Around and around and around

Until he was all covered up

In this “cocoon” thing.

Oddey watched and watched

And waited to see what would happen.

Nothing happened

And nothing happened again

And again

But then one day Oddey saw

A small hole open up in the cocoon

And a funny black thing stuck out.

All of a sudden, the cocoon burst open

And the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen

Came out, all wet and new.

It winked at Oddey, flapped its wings

And flitted away in the sunlight.

Wait, Oddey called,

But it was already too far away to hear.

Oddey told his mommy about

The strange thing that

Came out of the cocoon

And she explained

There comes a time

When everyone does that.

When will that be? Oddey asked.

Nobody knows but when it’s time

Everyone will know.

One day Oddey saw his mommy

Climb up a tree and out on a branch.

Mommy, are you doing what Daddy did?

Oddey asked from below.

Yes, his mommy said, and winked.

Oddey already knew about cocoons

So he watched his mommy spin

Some gooey thread around herself

Around and around and around

Until she was all covered up in the cocoon.

Oddey watched the cocoon and waited patiently.

Then one day Oddey saw

The small hole open up in the cocoon

And the funny black thing stick out.

Suddenly the cocoon burst open

And that beautiful thing came out,

All wet and new.

It winked at Oddey, flapped its wings

And flitted away in the sunlight.

Wait, Oddey called,

I still love you.

One day Oddie met another caterpillar

And she was very nice to him

And he was very nice to her

So they decided to crawl everywhere together.

One day, after many rains and sunny days,

Oddie had a strange and funny feeling

That he’d never had before.

He didn’t know what it was,

But he knew exactly what to do.

Oddey climbed up a tree and out on a branch.

And did exactly what Mommy and Daddy

Had done before him.

Oddey knew about cocoons

So he spun some gooey thread around himself

Around and around and around

Until he was all covered up in the cocoon.

Afterwards he felt so tired

That he went to sleep.

Oddey had a strange dream

In which he climbed out of his old body

And put on a new body

Just like you get dressed in the morning

But the funny thing is

That’s exactly what happened.

Oddey’s new body got bigger

And bigger and bigger

Until it burst out of the cocoon

Into the sunlight.

He couldn’t see himself because

He didn’t have a mirror,

So he didn’t know how beautiful he was.

Oddey even thought he was still a caterpillar

But he had changed into a butterfly.

Somehow, he just knew he could fly

So he leaped off the branch into the air

And flitted and flew, high and low,

Fast and slow, from flower to flower

And up in the clouds.

Oddey winked at his caterpillar friend

Down below him and he called to her

Look at me! I can fly!

But he was too high up

And she couldn’t hear him

Or see him

Anymore.

The end of one thing

Is always the beginning of something else.

That’s the end of the story

And the beginning of

What do you suppose

That could be?

                                    April 24, 2021

Imperfections of a Perfect World

It is unapproachable.

It is inescapable.

You could not exist there.

Nobody you love could exist there.

Nothing you possess could exist there.

You could never possess anything that exists there.

Nobody who exists there could ever love you.

Life is the perfection of imperfection without becoming perfect.

There could be no life in a perfect world,

Only some kind of existence

That can’t really exist.

The desire for perfection is an imperfection,

Realizing that to desire imperfection

Is the closest we will ever come

To perfection.

                        April 28, 2021

Little Creek

Once there was a little creek

That fed off Mother River

When skies laughed so hard

They rained sweet tears.

Because the creek was little

And the fish were too

The gentle forest made a canopy

To protect them from

Father Sun’s harsh heat when

The skies stopped laughing.

Little Creek meandered through

A gully among the hills of

The people’s village which had

Been the people’s home

Since time’s memory began.

Little Brother and Little Sister

Lived with Mother and Father

In a small hut in the village.

Every morning after chores

They’d run and slide down

The pebbly goat paths

To Little Creek to laugh

And duck and splash and swim

With the little fish

In the cool clear waters

Every morning.

Time also meandered in Little Creek

And Little Brother and Little Sister

Went to sit with the elders

After chores to learn their wisdom

But afterward they still ran down

To Little Creek to laugh

And duck and splash and swim

With the little fish

In the cool clear waters

Every day.

Little Brother and Little Sister

Grew up into Big Brother and Big Sister

And each travelled far away,

Big Brother to study Water Conservation

And Big Sister to study Water Painting

In big schools with many brothers and sisters.

They both returned once a week

To Little Creek to laugh

And duck and splash and swim

With the little fish

In the cool clear waters

But Big Brother saw the waters

Weren’t as clear as he’d remembered

And some dead fish floated aimlessly

Making Big Brother and Big Sister

Not want to splash or laugh.

Time kept flowing

Though Little Creek stood still

And watched herself growing

Smaller and smaller and smaller.

Big Brother became full professor

Giving advice to all the elders

On Water Conservation

And Big Sister became a famous artist

Painting scenes of creeks from memory.

One day, after many years

Had made them grey,

Big Sister called Big Brother

And said Let’s meet at Little Creek.

They flew many hours in metal birds

From East and West meeting

In a little airport. They rented a jeep

And drove many hours to the hills

Above the gully where Little Creek meandered.

They walked slowly, carefully

Down the pebbly goat paths

To a dry cracked path

Strewn with twigs, pebbles,

And little skeletons of fish

Where Little Creek once flowed.

No gentle forest canopy protected them

From Father Sun’s harsh heat

But soon it passed behind the western hills.

They buried Little Creek

In their memories that night.

                                    April 29, 2021

Last Day

Of course

I would want my last day

To be bathed in sunlight

The windows opened,

And the breezes breathing

Through the curtains,

But if that’s not to be

Then your face is

Sun enough for me,

Your hand my window,

And your voice my breath.

                        April 30, 2021