April 14th, 2022
Poems from UD’s Spring Garden: Poem #1


The bird that wants to nest in my rafter

Has birdlike clarity what it’s after:

The comforts of home.  Of course I agree

That water source, sight-line, privacy

All make for quite the nest.  The question though

(As I sweep off twigs and it returns

Tirelessly, with energy to burn)

Remains:  Which one of us will have to go?

April 1st, 2022
A poem by Richard Howard, in his memory.

A witty, erudite writer in the mode of James Merrill, he was 92.


May 26 1969: The Grievance

No one dies. That is all we can say for certain.

Something dies us,

As it lived us. We are lived. And died.

A personal pronoun is superfluous here.

It is simple;

Our grammar of death must be revised.

And we are not reduced to tears, not reduced. The thing

Our tears are for

Extends us: we are widened to the term

Which lies beyond our tears. We are not reduced.



Fellow Philip Larkin fans might be reminded, on reading this poem, of these lines:

Life is first boredom, then fear.
Whether or not we use it, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose,   
And age, and then the only end of age.


More tersely, fellow Adam Phillips fans might simply quote this remark:

When people say, “I’m the kind of person who,” my heart always sinks.

March 21st, 2022
Where I’m Calling From

Sunrise Rehoboth

Psychedelic ocean and the gulls slate gray

A man prepares his tripod for blastoff


Backstage the moon shot through with blue

Bows to the sun and gives way


Where’s the pilgrim fellowship chanting in the sand?

The mournful Scottish bagpipe band?


This morning all worship comes down to me

Godless, with sacred symphony


February 20th, 2022
A Walmart in Waukegan

A Supermarket in California!

A Walmart in Waukegan!


What thoughts I have of you tonight

Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg

As I scan the parking lot

Of the Walmart in Waukegan


Two strangers in SUVs met

On that fruited plain

They blew each other away

With their Glocks


As one they shot; as one staggered

Into their SUVs

As one staggered

Into the local emergency room

As one were arrested


O Whitman, O Ginsberg! O Walmart Waukegan parking lot!

I stagger beside you, dreaming of the lost America of love

Past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage

January 4th, 2022
David, December, Rehoboth Beach

How all occasions do evoke thee
My own Lord Hamlet.  Here, beside the sea,
With only Philly Airport contrails for clouds,
I slip on icy boards and say your name aloud,
Because everything evokes thee.  Those contrails:
Your father, who mapped the moon, regaled
Me with their chemistry and their meaning.
Your Swiss cousin, who never left off keening,
Sends text messages about your mysterious life.
After all these years I've heard from your wife
Who finally wants the books you left with me.
And there's my yearly visit to the tomb
Of your mad Ophelia.  That keeps the ghost in the room.

Beyond all these, your famous sister is another thread
That keeps delaying your entry into truly dead
For every end of year my ritual is to read
Her widower's account of how he freed
Himself, a little, from the long pain of her dying.
When he said the Heart Sutra her soul went flying.

"I had a distinct feeling of a kind of expansion
Emanating from the furnace into the room 
And beyond.  Something was being released
From Eve's body and expanding into space."

For me, for your memory, no such amazing grace,
No closing mantra, no sense of you unrestless,
Over on the other shore, life and deathless.


Clear winter sunset now.

Ho! The horizon takes a roseate glow.
Pink's the sand where the whitelets flow.

Between the two, a table setting silver blue
Darkens to gray. Evoking you.
December 31st, 2021


People are drawn to nothingness

Here on the coast at the end of the year
The horizon makes itself disappear
The banner planes are gone the gulls are gone
It's nothingness to which people are drawn

The sand is smooth the blue umbrellas went away
The noisy white boats that nose up and say
Ladies Night at the Bar and Grill are not missed
People are drawn to nothingness

The lifeguard stands are standing down
Calm waves make the only sound
Portugal  Africa  None wonder anymore
What lies along the other shore

Really all that's left is us
Drawn so hard to nothingness

Packs of winter scarves and coats
Black against the gray of the coast
Praising the sacred empty space
The misty mystic vacant place

People are drawn to nothingness
December 27th, 2021
End of Year Poem.

    It's the old annual end-times go-round
    When the revolution goes up in flames
    And everyone flees to an assisted
    Living facility.  But not you.  Yet.
    Checks still go out to the truly needy
    Which must mean that you yourself... You're young still
    In some senile way and unprepared to
    Abandon the ramparts and call the
    Revolution ended. 

                End-time subversiveness
                Mainly involves mantras. Surreality
                Of Everyday Life remains popular.
                A far remove from Here at Senior Sylvan Retreat You Are
                Never Alone.  Alone is what I want!

        Alone I can work out another New Year --

 Reckon up lost ground, lost troops, morale issues.


My basic animal spirits are sound. 
Born lucky, raised lucky, lucky in work
And love, I pause in the hallway, steady
My mug of tea, and undergo full-body gratitude.
December 24th, 2021
From a winter poem by Weldon Kees.

The room is cold, the words in the books are cold;
And the question of whether we get what we ask for
Is absurd, unanswered by the sound of an unlatched door
Rattling in wind, or the sound of snow on roofs, or glare
Of the winter sun. What we have learned is not what we were told.
I watch the snow, feel for the heartbeat that is not there.

October 30th, 2021
                Ancient Medieval Modern

The high-speed train site, a substation with an epic switchgear,
Also has triple-transformers: Ancient/Medieval/Modern.  
Roman/Norman/New.      Keep digging.
Further down, something neolithic will appear.

Piling on with every mood swing...  Then, years later, turning over 
Statues, witch-marks, scratch-dial.

And now we lay down our own dedicated tracks:
Frail rail.
October 14th, 2021

Brodsky Museum, St Petersburg

A life of poetic intensity

Circled by Belomorkanal smoke

And, near the Arctic, by fast-cooled chifir tea —

We want these old apartments to evoke

The depth of this, deeper than poetry,

Deeper than your bitter words that spoke

The nothingness of time and history.

That is: The bathroom stink you tried to cloak,

Sharing the bowl with two other families.

The desk display of poets who provoked

You into verse: Auden, Frost… A messy

Desk, a mid-modern aesthetic baroque

Of books and bottles and a cup of tea.

Asleep for years, these dusty rooms stoke

Unembittered hearts — too young for ennui —

Who press against the doorway to soak

In the atmosphere.  They pay the entry fee

And immediately want to stroke

The same cracked imperial walls that he

Lived sandwiched between, bitter and broke

But not broken.

Mary Gelman, NYT.
September 21st, 2021
Yeatsian Meditation as Varsity Blues Parents Begin to Be Released from Prison
And no more turn aside and brood
Upon law's bitter cruelty;
For cash still rules the Ivy Leagues, 
And rules the schools almost as good; 
It rules the fate of our dim babes
And all rich dishevelled wandering spawn.
August 11th, 2021
The Denial of Death in Shenandoah National Park.

The Denial of Death in Shenandoah National Park

Cold air, barred owls, and the smell of smoke:

Only a little data here, to evoke

The August woods off the balcony.

Woods that always prompt philosophy.

As when I read, in Becker, a phrase like

“Immunity bath,’ meaning cultic rites

That cleanse the cultist of the dread of death

(Page 12) and sometimes even of its sight.

Or anti-vaxers who, with dying breath,

Admit they thought their breath would never end.

“Consciousness of death is the primary

Repression, not sexuality.” Mend

Your dread by bacchanal, or by fairy

Story, and you’ll still get badly scarred.

A death-accepter, say Kierkegaard,

Knows this is merely where the fun begins:

The wisest owls unbarred spin and spin

Out of smoke mythic immortality.

Take, among those I love, N., P., and D.

N. strode in to save Detroit, then broke down

At the vastness of it. P. circles round

The earth’s atrocities, repairing souls.

D., who must perceive the very world, stole

His life through abstraction. Hard led

By dread, N. is struggling, D. dead.

From the balcony again the smell of smoke —

Of our own ashy end an easy token.

June 6th, 2021
Haiku: Summer, Cicadas

The world chants in the trees

And I fall asleep

Looking at fireflies

May 19th, 2021

You like to think the stars are dripping while
You sleep.  You like to think you'll snap awake
And step out on the deck, and in a while,
Your eyes ready, clusters will constellate
And then start dripping, just over the oak:
A weathered black and white Jackson Pollock
Whose silvers slap the cosmic curtain.

Like to think?  No - you're actually certain
That when you're not looking the universe
Loses its straight face and gets to mugging
Peeing its pants giggling and shrugging...
Stable?  Who said stable?  Metastable
Maybe and that's only maybe. Unstable
Is just as likely. Don't sleep too lightly.


April 19th, 2021
It is the responsibility of the dead to be forgotten, wrote Saul Bellow somewhere. Can’t find the quote. Maybe I made it up. Anyway, it seemed a clever way to introduce…

… a set of thoughts on the British poet laureate’s poem about Prince Philip. As in: It is the responsibility of laureate-induced poems to be forgotten. Compelled into existence by one’s acceptance of a public position, compelled to praise the high-born to a large audience, these are so unlikely to be non-piffle. Yet – as with Philip’s surprisingly moving brief funeral – this particular poem is surprisingly good. I’m not going to argue it’s all that good, but as an example of its type, it’s way better than it should have been.

The tone throughout is non-heroic, casually musing; the poet avoids grandiosity for a man who, while physically imposing and genetically way royal (his DNA was used to verify that remains found in a Russian forest belonged to the slaughtered Romanovs), seems in fact to have had a spartan and self-effacing disposition. The poem will feature little direct reference to Philip; rather, in a series of natural metaphors, it will evoke his wartime generation.

The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver.

He has died in April, and his singularity as the sovereign’s husband will, as the poem begins, be evoked through the singularity of the unseasonal snow. His long life and long physical decline is nicely captured in a slow winter’s final shiver.

On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Unusually self-referential, this official eulogy will ask questions about eulogies for the sort of person Philip was. So marked for life was he by his wartime experience, it makes more sense to remember him in his collective military identity than in his singularity. His funeral ritual (designed by Philip himself) was overwhelmingly a military affair.

Indeed looked at in its entirety, Philip’s survival, much less his longevity, does seem a minor miracle – smuggled out of Greece (in an orange crate!) during the Greco-Turkish War when he was eighteen months old, he went on to “finagle” (to use the poet’s wonderfully non-heroic word) modes of survival under punishing battle conditions.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

There’s a nice subtle evocation here of the soft touchy feely world we’ve become, in which only faint ancient traces of “hardened” boot-prints indicate the bygone, born old (great-grandfathers from birth), men among whom Philip belonged; the patriarchs (this is the poem’s title) who kept their thoughts and feelings to themselves and (in the phrase everyone attaches to Philip) just got on with it.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

Relentlessly and ingeniously pragmatic, men like Philip spent their post-crate lives fashioning further escapes, further solutions to a world always perilously out of sync, until the very veins in their hands became strategic maps of (to use Graham Greene’s title) ways of escape. Their final Houdini maneuver, of course, was the whole slipping the surly bonds of earth thing.

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

The poem concludes with a return to the present, to a continued observation of a singular April day in which enormous sturdy old trees (this one in particular) whistle their elegy, to be joined in time by tears of rain. Enormous sturdy old Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (thus the poet’s thistle-homage – thistle being the Scottish national emblem) has done his final magic trick, leaving a world “recast” for the better by his having been here — winter turns to spring, the world regenerates itself, and the prickly thistle (Philip was notoriously prickly) is now thistledown, the feathery white top of the thistle, which will disperse in the wind and scatter its seeds.

Really, take whatever position you want on patriarchs, royalty, Philip, blahblah – this is on its own terms a more than respectable poem, a clever finagled triumph.


Found it! The rule for the dead is that they should be forgotten. Ravelstein.

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