Low like the mean dream
of Newark the sky must
have seemed to its builders.
Rickety now, unhinging

you fear you’ll reach the end only
thanks to magic - witch cauldrons
soldered (eye of newt intact)
to forge this highway hubris.

Fifty year old rock cackles
on the radio, loud as
the chemical sunrise, car
lifting over fetid pools of sludge.

Below lies ballad country -
swamps of sawed-up bodies
Saturday night specials
punks in concrete shoes -

and you’re stuck with flat
prose, a gas-good, yawn-blue
compact – probable
logical, responsible and dull.

A skyway wants a gasser
wants a singer, wants a lover
wants a souped-up chrome finned
speedster to ride the rising sky –

     last star, lost love
   wind  fist, soft glove

steel grates drumming
cattails swooning shoop-shoop
trusses bleeding rust
like America’s tied veins. 

                       from Sculling on the Lethe


                            for Timothy Snyder

Brawled their way into town halls
With the incontrovertible facts
Of their fears, nests of stinging terrors
Sequestered in clenched fists

Cast nets for other in their midst
Color wrong other, language wrong
Other, wrong prayers – poxes
Curdling dreams of pure power

Freed from inconveniences
Like history or heart, thus
To write with unchecked might
An epic revision of the land

There then, the darkness was loosed
Here now, its reknotting noose

                    from The Poeming Pigeon: In the News (vol. 4, no. 7, 2018)


In the Brooklyn deli during the Depression
she did what deli owners did,
packed up food and sent her son -- my father –-
to parcel out to neighbors on relief.

Ukrainian neighbors, one presumes, got more,
just a slice of sausage more,  
dollop of  potato salad, extra pickle.

Not that she had much except for the store,
a husband in the rail yards, a fine frail pale son
dying beneath blankets embossed Pensy,
another who survived and did what he was told.

She had Genghis Kahn cheekbones
and smelled like boiled cabbage.

From the looks of grainy sepias
she was never young, not ever.

Esprit, though, she had plenty,
esprit and solidarity with
those who were her people,
those who prayed and sang like home.

Her eyes were quick
but her worries were deep –
the fir forest of a folk tale where
she sat in a mud floor wood shack.

It was in those years, the deli years,
she perfected her egg bread
famous fifty Easters hence,
contracted wishbone-leg arthritis,
learned enough English
to read Winchell and The Eagle

On this day in that life
she stands behind the counter
in a leather smock marked Dilbert’s,
a gift from a friend who works
the late night shift at Dilbert’s.

The unsmiling Americans
have banned booze in their country
so she has done what deli owners did  –
mixed hooch in the back
to sell out of  brown paper bags.

A man orders a ham sandwich
and she makes him one, a good one,
piled high with plenty of fat.
He gets three tins of macaroni,
cole slaw, coffee, pickles.

It’s a big sale, a good day

until, squinting, winking, he asks…
if…as he has heard, he
might get… you know… schnapps.

This man is not a neighborhood man
but he’s courteous, knows the tongue.

In one ear the voice of reason,
voice which knows this is the law,
knows with complete clarity what is to occur.
In the other, prayer and song,
her people, the hope she has to sail.

She hands him a bottle.
He slaps on the cuffs.

And though she lived another five plus decades
and could sing tales all day long,
this one she never sang.

This one she kept
in a mud floor forest hovel
where only she could go
to explain again to wind
and other unsmiling powers
how much those damned medicines cost.

                                                from All I Can Recall


              for Jan Karski, the Polish courier sent
              by the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto
              to inform the world of the Holocaust​

​I am carrying the sea
In my cupped hands.
Not drops of it, not liters,
the whole dark sloshing sea.
Claws pinch. Nettles sting.
Teeth rip at my palm lines.
It hurts to hold this much,
to be so small and human,
running, running,
as the bloody sun runs –
west – carrying the sea
in my cupped hands.
The faster my legs move,
the more I try to get there,
the more I fear I spill.
Rancid fish and wrackweed,
broken shell and coral,
mark my travel like a tideline.
Everywhere I’ve been
I have sown salt.
Everywhere now, the rich
green earth laid waste.
But I do not look behind,
not behind and not above,
where the white moon
nightly is devouring
the stars, first in nibbles,
then vast mouthfuls,
bloating like a leech,
whipping storms
as cruel as history
inside my pressed hands,
these poor dumb beasts,
my hands. How much they want
to toss it all away,
to empty it in trenches,
to wall it up for good.
How much I want to fold
myself in pine boughs,
to lie on high ground

humming, to be free
of this thing I’ve been
anointed with, so
horribly, to make it all
mad fancy, mere nightmare.
It is not. Straight ahead,
fast forward, I must run,
run, as the bloody sun runs –
west – and bring the sea
for the whole wide world
to hold. The journey is
a minute. A millennium. Both.
But I do get there. I do.
I am ushered to a chamber
of telephones and chairs,
an ordinary room
of the twentieth century.
Three well-dressed men
walk in, mopping brows
with well-starched hand-
kerchiefs. I want to beg
forgiveness, to explain
I’m just the courier,
a small man, insignificant,
that the news is not
the messenger. But my words
are lost in wind. The three
stand stiffly, staring.
They smile. They nod.
And I… I let it go,
waves of salt and bone
flooding from my hands
drowning all the ordinary
rooms of this century.
And the next. From the sea
floor I start rising through
a maelstrom black as ink,
past the dead eyes of the living,
the live eyes of the dead…
till I surface with my hands,
two smooth and separate shells,
knifed open like an oyster
which can never join again.

                        from That Fall