Situational   Saturday, March 21, 2020


this life
is a situational type thing

in most situations, at 6 feet,
I am tall, at least until, as happened last week at the bookstore,
I run into Tim Duncan looking for books
for his kids
and I realize that in the world of tall
I'm just another piece
of shortcake...

a long time ago,
when my situation was that I was young,
I outran the fastest guy on the
track team,
whereas, today,
in my latest situation of being old,
I have trouble keeping up
with old ladies tottering
along in their foot-dragging, hunched over way
as they tetter down the

like, that
I was thinking of taking the day off,
a sick day, a day of not writing a poem
because I've been feeling bad for weeks
and think I need to take a day of extended

and then I thought of all the people in the world
in their sick beds, in pain, gloom, profound despair and depression
as their body seeks to keep hold on a life that, for many
will end before sunset, their own settling beyond the horizon
as their bodies and minds and life slip beyond the clouds of the forever-fade of death,
and even all those who suffer in lesser ways, children with
toothaches, elders whose feet ache after a day shuffling their mortal coil
down lonely and inattentive streets, mothers who sit in welfare offices, sickly child
at their breast, while they, themselves, wait for the call
of state compassion, the frail, the frustrated, the diseased, those
whose relationships crash and burn with each clumsy attempt
at love and intimacy, students whose greatest effort fails an important
test, teachers whose greatest efforts produce only children
who cannot read or write, children without breakfast, without
the covering of a warm coat in chill wind or freezing rain, standing
for the yellow school bus, late again, today of all days, a frail old woman
with children who never visit, who dies in her bed and is not found
until she is nothing but rags and bones...

a world for so many, a situation of hopelessness and bleak despair...

and meanwhile,
I suffer like an actor with bad hair and drooping jowls,
no longer up for the lead parts,
but still,
there are places for those like me, willing to settle
for lower billing and fading
ready still to do my song and dance,
toss up a few words
like a slick-finger circus juggler,
willing to drop a few balls
along the way

Another short, quick-turnaround post, there not being that much else to do in this time of nutin going on.


I want to believe in Heaven

night in a desert camp

Fady Joudah

on a mountain trail

Easter in Kabul

Robert Lowell
The Mouth of the Hudson

back on South Alamo

brown legs walking in sunshine

Charles Wright
Stone Canyon Nocturne


e.e. cummings
if you can't eat
red-rag and pink-flag

pretty young women with large bosoms want to be my friend


Gerard Malanga
The Young Girl Moving Through Sunlight

moonrise on the desert

I want to believe in Heaven

my companion for twenty years
in constant pain,
such that on her last night
I stayed up with her until dawn
as she circled. the hurt such
that she could not even lie down,
circling instead in constant
misery, the despair
of such impossible pain...

and I could take no more,
knowing it was time, holding
her head in my hands,
both of us eye to eye, as the
doctor injected the death potion,
even as the needle's plunger
pulled her last breath from her, the
transition from life plain
as her moist, brown eyes lost
their life spark, their deep pool
of life becoming dry glassy mirrors, the
passage from one state to the other
complete in seconds...


I cannot believe in Heaven
for myself or for any of my kind...

for entrance to any heaven, should such exist,
would require an innocence that the first of us
turned away from, seeking the world instead,
leaving behind our ancestral garden, the first and only
heaven our kind will ever see...

but I can believe,
indeed, want to believe, in a heaven for dogs,
a place where the innocence of all those
who lived with me is rewarded,
like lovely Reba who I left dead on a veterinarian's
table, her last keeper, the one who killed her, who brought
her relief from constant pain, stays with her as I leave,
stroking her still side,
his head bowed in silent prayer...

I want to believe his prayer is answered,
that there is a place where she
and all the innocents like her run free
under forever sunshine through forever green pastures,
living forever in the grace
of their simple lives, living forever under the loving eye
of a better and more deserving master than

night at a desert camp

night on the desert,
the orange crash of sunset
hours ago,
no light now
but the red glow
of our fire burned down to coals...

and the stars...

don't look at the fire, we are told...

turn your back to the fire
if you want to see the stars, he says

and we do

and once we do, the stars blazed
and we could see across the flat desert floor,
the undulating dunes, the cactus reaching like fingers,
grasping for the very stars we discovered
and claimed as our own...

I try to imagine how it must have been
to sleep every night under such a sky,
such a diamond field of stars...

a daily loss
as all the star-bright beauty is leached out by
morning light

and the Hindu Kush, lost to the night,
a smudge on the north horizon

This poem is by Fady Joudah, taken from his book The Earth in the Attic, published in 2008 by the Yale University Press.

Joudah is a Palestinian-American medical doctor and a field member of Doctors Without Borders since 2001.


The rice field birds are too clever for scarecrows,
They know what they love, milk in the grain.

When it happens there will be no time to look for anyone,
Husband, children, nine brothers and a sister.

You will drop your sugarcane-stick-beating of plastic bucket,
Stop shouting at birds and run.

They will load you in trucks and herd you for a hundred miles.
Old men will teach you trade with soldiers at checkpoints.

You will give them your spoon, blanket and beans,
They'll let you keep your life. And if you jump off the truck,

The army jeep trailing it will run you over.
Later, the will accuse you of giving up your land.

Later you will stand in distribution lines and won't receive enough to eat.
Your mother will weave you new underwear from flour sacks.

And they'll give you plastic tents, cooking pots,
Vaccine cards, white pills, and wool blankets.

And you will keep your cool.
Standing with eyes shut tight like you've got soap in them,

Arms stretched wide like you're catching rain.

on a mountain trail

on a mountain trail,
narrow, high rock walls on either side,
a twisting trail,
blind turns,
a long trail, about three miles,
from the basin floor to an outcrop
overlooking the pink desert sands below,
a long path cut into sections by the constricting
zig zag of the canyon wall, a trail cut through the softest rock
by thousands of years of melting snow pack, the fast-running waters
of spring racing down from the mountain crest to the dry desert, feeding
the annual spring blooming of million of bright desert flowers,
burning colors on cool spring mornings,
their short lives bursting with colors stored over seasons
of too-cold and too-hot...

ahead, beyond the turns that screen us from ,what's beyond,
grunts and grumbles of loose rock clattering under many feet,
a family of javalina,  bewhiskered one-eyed old grandpa
and his harem and offspring turn the next crook in the path
and suddenly we are face to face...

they pay us no mind as we flatten against the rock to let them pass. it is
their mountain and their trail, made by them and used for millennia year
after year and they pay no mind to us, except a small piglet
who breaks from the family single file to come to me to sniff my boot,
a change to be investigated in a lifetime of never-changing...

a snort from gandpa and the small one races back to take his place in line...

grandpa knows we are a temporary aberration, not worth the waste of time
when the green and tasty meadow waits in the basin below...

we move on...

and the family moves on...

a brief meeting on a mountain trail we climb to see the desert
we drove across just the day before - why do we climb just to see from afar
we saw up close before?

such a waste of time and effort...

or maybe not

for it is only from afar that the pink sand glows under mid-day sun,
the expanse of it laid out from this mountain
to the next one, a blue shadow on the far

Easter in Kabul, 1969

we walked the streets, three
of us, strangers to the city on a short leave,
through the downtown, buses and pedicabs honking,
crowding the street, each claiming dominance, donkeys and camels,

motor bikes and bicycles, and along the street, rickety stores,
none more than two floors high but the Spirizan Hotel,
watering hole for US AID workers, and Russians from their
embassy and a UN contingents and a few American travelers,
others looking to do business in a country that looked to be on its
way up, the bar at the top of the hotel neutral territory where all
could eat and drink without starting an international incident
leading to WWIII or just national humiliation...

and at a bookstore where I bought a book of poems by the country's
foremost poet (dual language, Urdu and English), and also in English,
Mao's Little Red Book, brought on the back of a camel across the Kyber Pass,
very thin, paper almost onionskin, and the red plastic cover utilitarian
and tough, holy writ of sorts from the cultural revolution next door...

as we continue toward the AID house where we will spend our
three-night stay, the road turns to red gravel, passing a restless,
snorting camel, buying fresh nan from a street vendor. the sweet
airiness of it melting in our mouth...


from our window in the morning
we see the children walking to school in their tan uniforms,

(how I will mourn the tragedy of their lives in the years to come)

a cat on a roof below us next door, wakes and stretches, a lazy cat
sleeping on a warm tile roof in morning sunshine...

Next, a short piece by Robert Lowell, from the book Robert Lowell, published by faber and faber in 2006.

The Mouth of the Hudson
    for Ester Brooks

A single man satnds like a bird-watcher,
and scuffles the pepper and salt snow
from a discarded, gray
Westinghouse Electric cable drum.
He cannot discover America by counting
the chains of condemned freight-trains
from thirty states. They jolt and jar
and junk in the siding below him.
He has trouble with his balance.
His eyes drop,
and he drifts with the wild ice
ticking seaward down the Hudson,
like the blank sides of a jig-saw puzzle.

The ice ticks seaward like a clock.
A Negro toasts
wheat-seeds over the coke-fumes
of a punctured barrel.
Chemical air
sweeps in from New Jersey,
and smells of coffee.

Across the river,
ledges of suburban factories tan
in the Sulphur-yellow sun
of the unforgivable landscape.

back on South Alamo

back on South Alamo,
in a dark corner at Madhatter's Cafe
across the street from my former coffeehouse lair
for several years, then Casa Chiapas, now a lawyer's office,
oh my, how good things fall
to a lesser state
in this world of unwelcome consquences...

evicted from my current coffeehouse home base
by water leaks and plumbers, butt-crackers anonymous,
regulars just as I am not a regular here...


but a return as much as possible to familiar
territories, disappointment, of course and the new
and unwelcome unfamiliarity of changing circumstance,
like seeing the latest picture of a girlfriend from 50 years before
and memories crash to the like lead pelicans
with anvils in their pouched beak - those nights in the back
of her dad's Studebaker Golden Eagle never to be remembered
the same again, the soft and pliant flesh of memory replaced, only
the sharp, cramped corners of the small back seat remaining...

like Casa Chiapas, the late afternoons on the porch writing
while life in this very old neighborhood went its slow, sun-falling
way, the sounds of downtown and the smell of the river as it passed
just a block away.


instead I'm reminded of the lawyer I need to call to write up a will which,
even at my age, I haven't done, reminded
on this misplaced day that as changes always come around me,
it will come to me as well, as well as, someday
I will change from my current fleshy state to a memory
in the minds of a few until they also depart
their fleshy state, then, the both of us always incomplete
and at best approximate
until even that too
is gone...

change, I am reminded by this cracked-mirror day -
it will get us

brown legs walking in sunshine

brown legs walking
in sunshine
and I'm sitting by the gym
and it's 1957 again
and I'm 13 again, and
a new center of the
is revealed to me

This poem is by Charles Wright. I took it from the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Vol. 2.

Born in 1935, Wright won the National Book Award in 1983 and the Pulitzer Prize 1998. From 2014 to 2015, he served as Poet Laureate of the United States.

Stone Canyon Nocturne

Ancient of Days, old friend, no one believed you'll come back.
No on believes in his own life anymore

The moon, like a dead heart, cold and unstartable, hangs by a thread
At the earth's edge,
Unfaithful at last, splotching the ferns and the pink shrubs.

In the other world, children undo the knots in their tally strings.
They sing songs, and their fingers blear.

And here, where the swan hums in his socket, where the bloodroot
And  belladonna insist on our comforting,
Where the fox in the canyon wall empties our hands, ecstatic for

Like a bead of clear oil, the Healer revolves through the night wind,
Part eye, part tear, unwilling to recognize us.


it is Christmas Eve
and in accordance with tradition
we will spend it making tamales with
a crew of related corn husk spreaders

my son will be in charge,
because in a large family of Mexican women,
inheritors of generations of mamas and tias
and abuelitas, all expert in the art, my half-Mexican son
is the only one who knows how to do the job
of mixing the masa and cooking the savory carne
(and a few frijoles refritas, "las especiales")

he has agreed to handle the techinical end of
preparing ingredients and the actual cooking, but only
if there are sufficient volunteers to do the grunt labor
of actually spreading the masa and carne and wrapping
the filled corn husks...

I expect it will be great Christmas fun for about
the first hour...

(I don't even like tamales so much, but the time
of gringo domination in South Texas
is past, especially in the vicinity
of mi casa...)

A little fun with e.e. cummings, from his book 50 poems, published by Universal Library in 1970.

If you can't eat you got to

smoke and we aint got
noting to smoke; come on kid

let's go to sleep
if you can't smoke you got to

Sing and we ain't got

nothing to sing;come on kid
let's go to sleep

if you can't sing you got to
die and we ain't got

Nothing to diecome on kid

let's go to sleep
if you can't die you go to

dream and we aint got
nothing to dream(come on kid

Let's go to sleep)


red-rag and pink-flag
blackshirt and brown
strut-mince and stink-brag
have all come to town

some like it shot
and some like it hung
and some like it in the twot
nine months young

pretty young women with large bosoms want to be my friend

pretty young women
with large bosoms
they want to be
my friend
on Facebook

this is a bizarre
development for me
at my age, pretty
young women
with large bosoms
wanting to be my
come to think of it,
pretty young
with large
bosoms wanting
to be my friend
is not something
I recall
to me at any age...

it seems to have
shortly after I shaved
my head, perhaps
it's a Daddy Warbucks
thing or maybe
exposing my
exposed the boiling
of sexuality
blazing within
my loins...

or maybe

at any rate
I've been hesitant
to become
with pretty young
women with large
bosoms on Facebook
because who knows
what they might
be after since
I'm not
I think
maybe it's my
or my scintillating
(though the bod
would be my
happy to save
my scintillating
intellect for tea
with the older

but in the end
I think these pretty
young women with
large bosoms
are just nurses,
social workers, out
to sooth the shriveled
soul and other parts
of dried-up old
or maybe they are
about the riches
I don't have...

best I decline
their offer of friend-
ship for the sake
of both of us,
me too old
and they too young
for the rending
that will surely
our mutual

if my wife found out
I was being friendly
with pretty young women
with large bosons
I would be in immediate
danger of losing
bathroom privileges
and sleeping in my car
with my dog which
is really
(the car
not the dog)
and already smells deeply
of dog...

it's for the best
my dears
I say to all the
young women
with large bosoms...

move on, dears, try to forgive  me,
you might check with
the old sailors'
teeming with old men
fully as bald as me
and actually,
you don't really have
to be that young
or of particularly large
bosoms for them, so you
can let yourself
go a bit -
wear a skirt and hosiery
for the them, for they,
after a lifetime
at sea
or experts in the
lessons of any port
in a storm...


and if it doesn't work out
with the old
you might
contact me again,
what evil might lurk
in the hearts of bald old men
given a chance for


(eudaimonia - translated from its Greek roots as "human flourishing)

she comes like a stranger to your door,
and demands entry
and, if you are ready to allow her passage,
becomes your friend

becomes the spark
that creates

the carrier
of human flourishing
that blows away walls that restrict you vision,
cuts the knots that bind your soul

opening the all-embracing sky
that carries in its winds
the contagion of your spirit's
deepest reach,
the fullness of your humanity

the bottomless well of your

Here are two short poems by Gerard Malanga, taken from his book No Respect (new and selected poems 1964 - 2000). The book was published by Black Sparrow Press in 2001.

Malanga, born in 1943 and raised in the Bronx, he is a poet, photographer, filmmaker, actor, curator, archivist, and, for several years, a close associate and collaborator with Andy Warhol during his most creative period.

Benedetta's Room

Something sanctified in the way
Grace enters her life
As rain changing to snow
Falling on our heads in the twilight
Outlining the field
You stand in the open
Until the truth is explained
In the square
Sunlight all day.
The first memory of the imagination remains
Of yourself sitting
For three minutes in silence.
A page folded not to lose
My place in your life I write about
You. In a moment sunlight would
Fall through the window.

The Young Girl Moving Through Sunlight

The literature ending the very beginning of you life
Story is a release from my own.
Even as I think of you you are
Arranging eh old and new flowers together.
All this begins somewhere else.
Beatrice observed by Dante walking across
The Ponte Vecchio. What was he
Thinking? What are you...?
In the street by yourself.
In the car going home.

moonrise on the desert

rises on the desert
as quiet as the day after death

a scrabble of rocks begins
as night creatures
begin to crawl into the cool night
from lairs beneath the earth
where they sleep through the time of the sun's

night blooms open,
yellow and orange and pink
beneath the sparkle cover of stars

a lone coyote cries,
calling to the vast night dominion
for a scent of his
lost love,
alone and lonely with each turning
of the sky

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