Friday, February 18, 2011

Poor Max Jacob

Poor Max Jacob
Though a great poet
And enlightened soul
He was destined
To remain poor
All his life
For both lyricism
And food

Max was born a Jew
And he died a Jew
For the crime
Of being a Jew
In a German concentration camp
In Drancy
Even though he had converted
To Catholicism
Some twenty-nine years
Before his death
After viewing
A vision of Jesus
In his bathroom mirror
Or some such miracle
Or so he claimed

But to the Nazis
He was the eternal Jew
And he was rounded up
With all the rest of them
Yellow star-patches on their arms
Stuffed into the waiting cattle cars
For the one way journey
To German hell
Not long after
German troops
Marched into Paris
Strutting their stuff
Along the Champs-Elysee

But before the Nazis
Pestilence descended
Paris was still
The city of light
The world’s great city of art
And home for artists
Famous the world over

And Max knew all the great ones
From Picasso to Apollinaire
Though he lacked their resources
And was not nearly so debonair
He may have been
A poor man
A simple man
Yet he was a poet
Of wisdom and skill

He was mostly known
As the hermit like
Patron saint
Of the rue Ravignan
And as the author
Of Le Cornet a Des

He was a familiar sight
Among the bohemians
Of Montmartre
The Greenwich Village of its day
Dressed in his thread bare
Yet oddly elegant
Vagabond poet style
He was Charlie Chaplin
To Picasso’s glum majesty
And to Apollinaire’s
Hail fellow well met

They were the three musketeers
Who set the style and tone
Of the epic
Post war and pre war years
That gave the world
Cubism and so many
Now familiar works of art
Before the world
Once again decided
To go mad
And to again tear
Itself apart

The little bande Picasso
Might invite painters like Juan Gris
To supper at the Lapin Agile
To read and discuss
Poetry and art
While the wine flowed freely
All night long

Those were the happy times
The happy years
And I would have loved
To have been alive back then
And to have been able
To have taken part

But sadly
The good times
Were not to last
The war came
And all was lost
And Paris
Was no longer
The city of light

And like the poets Garcia Lorca
And Saint-Pol-Roux
Max Jacob
May he rest in peace
Was just one of the millions
And millions
Of women
And men
Killed by the war
Simply because
They were

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Don't Like You, but I Love You

I don't like you, but I love you
Seems I'm always, thinking of you
Oh, oh, oh, you treat me badly
love you madly
you really got a hold on me
(Lyrics and music by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)

In the dream
Meredith was babbling
Not making any sense
And baby
It was cold outside
The snow was falling hard
And the wind was kicking
And the apartment was cold
And the heat wasn’t on
It was clear
that stacks of bills
had not been paid
There were no lights
Only candles flickered in the drafts
The house was practically empty
Where had all the furniture gone?
Sold for drug money no doubt
What else?

My car was being vandalized
By neighborhood junkies
I should have known better
Than to have parked it where I did
Especially with such cheeseball locks

I had come to rescue my daughter
A fool’s errand I could see
Meredith had no intention
Of letting her go
No matter how far gone
The situation might be

And Amy was also there
A tiny figure in the shadows
Dressed in her candy cane nightgown
Dragging her favorirte teddy bear by the arm
Having been awakened
By our loud voices
And by all of our shouting

What’s wrong daddy?
Is mommy okay?
Yeah, baby girl
Mommy’s okay
Everything’s okay
Just you go back to sleep now
And everything will be alright
In the morning
Just you wait
And see

Okay daddy
Okay mommy
I love you both
Love you too munchkin
Love you too

I tried to reason with her
To plead with her
To beg her
To let me take Amy to my home
Where she would be warm
And safe

“She is home”
She said
“She is safe”
She said
“Amy stays here with me”.

I tried to reason with her
All to no avail
Whatever drug she was on
Was doing all the talking
For the both of us

Outside the cold wind hissed
And howled
And updrafts of freezing air
Seeped between the floor boards
And through every crack in the walls

The snow was piling up
I felt trapped
I could hardly breathe
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
Said she ever so pleasantly
“It won’t take but a sec.”

I watched her
As she went about her business
As she placed the empty tea kettle
On the flameless range

And I thought to myself
Even though I knew I was asleep
And having a nightmare
How very odd all of this was
How very odd
And how so very strange

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There Once Was a Man

There once was a man
Named Martin Luther King
He walked the earth
For only a short time
But he taught
Our hearts
How to sing
We shall overcome
No amount of taunts
Or wild dogs
Or torrents of skin searing
Water from high pressure
Fire hoses
Could keep him
From fighting
For righteousness
He believed in so many things
Like God and Love
And one man one vote
He believed
that all of god’s children
Are created equal
And should be judged
By the contents of their character
And not by the color of their skin
He was a dreamer
And he shared with us his dream
For a better world
And a better life
For all of god’s children
Because he believed
That the moral arc of the universe
may be long
But it bends towards justice
And he helped all the rest of us
To believe it too
He preached a gospel of love
For all humankind
Because he said the burden of hatred
Was just too heavy a burden to bear
With his wife Coretta at his side
And Dr. Ralph Abernathy
Watching his back
He marched into the teeth
Of the storm
And never once looked back
His feet never faltered
And his voice and his vision
Never failed him
For he had been
To the mountain top
And he had looked over
Into the Promised Land
And though he was shot
By a skulking coward
He knew that we as a people
Would all get to the Promised Land
Because he believed
In creating
The beloved community
Even when his home
Was fire-bombed
He believed in the beloved community
Even when J. Edgar Hoover
and the entire FBI
had tried to destroy
His good name
He believed in the terrible urgency of now
Because he knew that America
Had waited too long
To fulfill the promise of equality
That was won
On the battlefields of Gettysburg
And almost lost
On the battlefields of Vicksburg
And Fredericksburg
Twenty acres and a mule
The going rate
For 400 years of involuntary servitude
Called slavery
Twenty acres and mule
As payment
For the holocaust
Of the middle crossing
When human cargo
Filled the hulls
Of slave ships
Bound for the new world
In exchange for cotton and rum
Sugar and tobacco
When human beings had become a cash crop
But Martin Luther King
Had been to the mountain top
And he called out against
The Vietnam War
Because he knew that dropping Napalm
On children
Was wrong
Oh so very wrong
And he marched for all the poor people
And built a tent city
In the shadow of the Washington monument
Because the government’s promises
Had been returned to sender
Due to insufficient funds
Because he knew how hard it could be
To pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps
When there was no boot to be owned
And the only boots to be seen
Were those of Jim Crow and the KKK
On the necks and backs
Of free men trying to live free
So many tears and unanswered prayers
Looking for a voice
For a chance to be spoken
And heard
Because it took a man
Named Martin Luther King
To go to Memphis Tennessee
To support
The sanitation workers strike
Because he knew
That the strikers were men
Who only wanted to be free
Even though death awaited him
On the balcony of the Motel
Named Lorraine
When the shots rang out
That tore through his neck
And killed
One of the finest of men
Who ever lived
A man who believed
In the power and the gospel of love
Because the burden of hatred
Was just too heavy a burden
To bear

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

On My Birthday

Today is my birthday
And as luck would have it
All of the women
Who still remain
As semi real shadow figures
In my life
Managed to call me
Or to contact me
One way or another via
Or by
And one even sent
a hand made birthday card
With a present enclosed
Consisting of a CD
Of her song writer son’s collected works
I was quite surprised
By all of the attention
And, yeah I admit it,
Not a little pleased
With myself
That at my current age
there were still
some women out there
any women
Who still remembered me at all
Let alone on my birthday
So I had not been
expecting to have heard
From any of them
After all
I did manage
to burn my bridges
quite well
Thank you

Still, you never can really tell
Who might still be carrying
Some remaining embers of desire
For old time’s sake
If for no other reason

I also received a belated
Phone call
From my older brother
Who could always
Be counted on
To throw in a few taunts
And zingers with every phone call

“So how’s your love life?”
he asked
right off the bat
knowing full well
that I was still divorced
and still living alone
all these long years
save for my two
aging cats
and some cock roaches
and some gold fish
and two glum parakeets
and a canary that never sings

My older brother had recently asked me
The very same question
Not too long ago
during a very recent
brief conversation

I am not sure
If I called him
Or if he called me
But no matter
There was sure to be some taunt
Or zinger added to the conversation
Before the call would end
You could count on it
You could take it to the bank for deposit

Sometimes I am the one
Who calls first
Just to see if he is still alive
And sometimes he calls first
Primarily to see if I haven’t committed suicide
Or admitted myself to an insane asylum
As he fully expects me to do
At some point in my life
And all because
I have chosen to write
Poems for a living
An activity fit only
for pansies and poofs
in his book at least
Proof positive
That I was indeed
A misfit
and highly unstable

As far as he was concerned
who in his right mind
Would waste his time and his life
Writing useless poems
Surly not my practical minded
CPA brother
Who knows all the secrets about money
And how to file
Income taxes
That go to engorge
the coffers of the IRS
(His true alma mater)

Got to hand it to him though
He sure knew how to
bring home the bacon to mama bear
to feed his brew
of miscreant hatchlings
including me
after mom died

we were all being raised
to mirror his own life
and middle class value system
according to my brother’s
way of thinking
that did not include
writing useless poems
which he considered to be
an act of absolute insanity

Sometime he would call
To find out
If I was in dire need
of yet another
financial hand out
as I have so often been before
when I would have
to call him
to borrow a few
(or more than a few)
wrinkled bucks
just to tide me over
until I got back
on my own two feet
however long
that might take

In the not so distant past
I was often
In need of his grudgingly
generous help
I was as dependent on him
as Vincent Van Gogh was
On his brother Theo
And I often had to go to him
Hat in hand
many times
forced to eat crow all the while

So I guess that makes us even
Though I know his occasional
Taunts and zingers
Are meant to remind me
Of my lowly financial status
And, just in case
I might ever forget
The fact
That I was still
very much divorced
And still living alone

“So how’s your love life?”
he asked again
waiting patiently
for his pound of flesh

“Oh, you know”
I managed to mumble
Trying to sound
As non chalant
As I possibly could
“It’s the same old story
of love in all it’s glory.
You know, the same old, same old”.

“The same old, same old?”
he repeated
“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Yeah, the same old, same old”
I mumbled again
Something that he surely
Had to know something about
having stayed married
To the same woman
(I was tempted to say broad)
for nigh on sixty tumultuous years
with every
anniversary kiss
a triumph
as they say
over revulsion

“Well, try to have a happy birthday anyway”
he said coldly
with all the sincerity
that he could manage
to muster
knowing full well
that he had reopened
all the old wounds
drawing whatever small satisfaction that he could
from the sarcasm
that was his strong suit
yeah, he could really be one sarcastic
son of a bee when he wanted to be

“Yeah, I’ll try to do that,” I said
hanging up the phone
without seeming to slam it down
for you never know when
you’re going to need
another hand out
or have to phone again
to ask for another
desperate bail out
“Yeah, I’ll definitely try to do that” I said
“And a very happy birthday to me.”

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Poems Flare Through My Skull

My poems
flare through my skull
like molotov coctails
exploding in the night

like cannisters of tear gas
tossed into the fight
like rocks thrown
like cars burned
like rubber bullets that can kill
like police truncheons that can maim
like students running, chanting
like homeland security troops in riot gear

this never ending battle
between evil and good
never is a fair fight
when all the real power
lies in the hands of the state

when protesters' bodies
get tossed into the rivers
and are left to float down stream
back into the heart
of the gleaming city

while the middle class
watches on tv
clucking their tongues
and shaking their heads
sighing deeply at the tragedy
and waste of it all
while praying all the time
that they might emerge from the brawl
stronger and more secure than ever

poets and dreamers are expendable
or so the pundits like to say
and youth
well, youth must have its way

but it is the warlords
more often than not
who somehow manage
to come out on top

No matter how brave the multitudes
who may have taken to the streets
No matter how many trade unionists and students
wave their angry fists

shouting slogans
blowing whistles
using the tops of garbage cans
as shields
courageous yes
but victorious too?

Sadly it takes more than clever slogans
boldly painted on the palace walls
to topple despots from their seats of power
to chase them from their velvet stalls

someday maybe
when millions more
have marched and fallen
willing to trade their lives
for the sacred cause
it may be possible
to teach the puppet masters
a lesson
or at least to provide them with pause

haven't we all learned by now
that power yields nothing without a row
if making revolution were that easy
we'd all have had one by now

it is only much later
after all the battles
and after all the smoke
has cleared away

only then
after we've cared for the wounded
and buried the dead
will we possibly be able to know
if our sacred cause
(our always sacred cause)
has won the miserable day

Philadelphia,Pa. 2011

You (Yeah You)

(And a tip of the hat to Judy Garland)

Yeah you
You made me love you
Don’t think you didn’t do it
Don’t think you didn’t do it
Why deny it?

(I didn’t want to do it
I didn’t want to do it)

Yeah you
You made me love you

(It hurts so much to admit it
It hurts so much to admit it)

Give me
Give me what I cry for
If it isn’t too much to try for
It's what I was willing to lie and die for

Because you knew
you knew
that you had me
Dead to rights
(like a deer in the head lights
like a deer in the head lights)

Right from the very start
(with every beat of my heart
with every beat of my heart)

Yeah you
You with those big brown
Betty Davis eyes
(Jeepers, creepers,
Where’d you get those peepers?)
Where'd you get those thighs?

You knew
You knew I never even had a chance
That all it would take
was just one glance
But you always knew it wouldn’t last
Didn’t you?
Didn’t you?

(It hurts so much to admit it
It hurts so much to admit it)

I didn’t want to tell you
How could I ever do it
I guess I just thought
That you always knew it
(That you always knew it)

And I always knew
That, somehow, I’d find a way to screw it
I’d find a way to screw it
Dear, you made me feel so bad
Leaving me like you had
But there were times
When you made me feel so glad

(Happy sometimes, yeah I admit it
Happy sometimes, yeah I admit it)

Kisses sure
You knew that's what I’d die for
Why do you think I cry for?

Sure, I want some lovin that's true
Wouldn’t you?
(You know you do
You know you do)

Yeah baby
You made me want to love you
(Perhaps I should sue
Perhaps I should sue)

But then again
What earthly good
What earthly good
Would it do?

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is it all just a matter of Entropy?

for a
of the
to do
of the
in a
of the
of information
in a
for all
in the
a state
of a

Is it
a matter
of Entropy?

I say again

free at last
free at last
thank god almighty
I am free at last

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

When I’m Sixty-Four

Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I’m sixty four?
(Lyrics by the Beatles)

This coming February 11th
I will be sixty four years old
A birthday milestone
That I never truly
Expected to achieve
Belonging to the boomer generation
And having grown up
With the expectation
That everything
Sooner or later
Was going to go BOOM!
And we were not to be disappointed
Having survived
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The closest the world has ever come
To actual nuclear war
Based on the insane cold war deterrence doctrine
Of mutually assured destruction (MAD)
And again, we were not to be disappointed
For haven’t we done a fine job
Of mutually destroying each other
Despite six decades (so far)
Of desperate carnal embrace
Till death do us part
For better or worse
Clearly not
Marriage having proven to be
The most temporary and fragile
And breakable of states
Thereby sadly providing the answer
To the original query

Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I’m sixty four?