A Liberal Manifesto
I’m not a namby pamby Democrat
who quails at being called a liberal
who says that “No, I merely hold
progressive views.” who wouldn’t want their friends
of a conservative and righteous bent
to ostracize them. Well, my family
and friends are well aware that I am out:
A left-coast pinko hugging owls and trees
who shouts, “Protect the spotted, green banana slugs!”
Their slime just might supply a cancer cure.”
Why I am even so far left that I
believe that women ought to have the right
to vote, and children ought to be in school
and not be working for a buck an hour.
I want to drink the water from my tap
and breathe clean air. And if a billionaire
will only make another hundred mil
instead of billions more, well, c’est la vie.
Destroyer of American ideals!
That’s me. A forty hour week? Well, yes.
And equal pay for equal work? Of course.
Why I am so far left I even think
our founding fathers screwed the pooch when they
decided slavery was legal here.
A curious dichotomy exists.
I wake again, but do I wake for spring
Or is it winter still? And am I full
Of dreams, or am I starving, ravenous?
Have the flowers of spring arrived, tra la,
Or is the salt enervated slush still here
To poison hopes? I wonder if the world
Is wakening or is it sleeping still?
And is it time to make a pilgrimage
Or time to huddle in my den again?
And will I find the man who sells balloons
To children in the park, or will I find
The lilacs breeding death—the perfumed air
Funereal instead of bringing joy?
And is the answer neither either or
A Pan of Fudge
I live where I can see the Milky Way,
And lived when that was all there was to see.
The universe was one big galaxy
And not a hundred billion trillion points
Connected each to each haphazardly
Like bubbles in an insubstantial froth.
When making fudge it’s critical to watch
The bubbles stitch themselves together in
Their boiling, ever changing, roiling mess
Until a pattern forms that says the fudge
Has reached the proper temperature to set
And must be taken from the heat to cool.
The universe is in a cooling stage.
And will the product turn out perfectly
Or will the watcher find it cooked too long;
Is ruined, burnt, and must be thrown away?
You know how when you get it right you feel
Like celebrating, feel like you’re the king,
The best, a dragon slayer, conqueror
Of armies, capable of anything?
Well that was me when, yesterday, I pulled
A six inch iris from my newest block.
It was a print an expert could have made,
And I had made it. Carved from MDF,
The detail I’d achieved astonished me.
And after looking at it for awhile
There only were a couple lines that I’d
Retract. I’d made a minor masterpiece.
Picasso and daVinci’d be in awe
If they could see what I’d created. Me!
And then, this morning, Pinterest arrived
With other email telling me I might
Be interested in a couple sites
Of people who’ve collected wood block prints.
I clicked the first of six sites new to me.
And there they were—a web of images
Entrapping my pretentions. Each of them
Was better than the masterpiece I’d made
And showed I was a journeyman at best;
And probably a hack, a wannabe,
A fool to ever think I could be great.
Ancient of Days
At fifty I decided to go back
To school. It wasn’t that I thought that I
Was getting old, although I did, it’s just
That I was feeling hypocritical.
I’d tell my students “Exercise your brain.
It’s just a muscle that you’ve got to use
Or lose.” And mine was feeling atrophied.
It had been decades since I’d gone to school,
Had been a student. What if I was just
A fool who couldn’t cut it any more.
I’d be competing with a bunch of kids,
With twenty somethings, and with those who’d reached
The ancient age of thirty, thirty-five;
And how would I explain it when I flunked
My classes? Would my students understand
The handicap of learning when you’re old?
Or would they certainly, correctly, say
“You idiot! To think that we’re supposed
To learn from you.” But still, it was a dream.
So I applied and found myself once more
A student. It was so much fun. And work.
I found that I was lucky I was old.
I didn’t have a life you know. My life
Was studying. I didn’t hang with friends
And didn’t have to find companionship.
It wasn’t long before I knew the kids
Were having trouble keeping up with me.
On Our 41st Anniversary
For more than forty years we’ve lived a lie.
There isn’t any way we should be here.
Statistics say there isn’t any way.
I‘d only known you for a couple weeks.
We’d only dated twice before I asked;
Before you answered yes. The chances were
Abysmal we’d succeed. Your parents knew
We wouldn’t last a year. We didn’t have
A thing in common. You were teaching. I
Was almost unemployable, a flake
With dreams the world would never see fulfilled.
And yet another year has passed, and we
Are here, together. But will it last?
There isn’t any reason that it should.
You’re still the one connected to the world.
I’m still the one who hasn’t got a clue,
Who’s head is stuffed with cobwebs and with dreams.
A Piece of Wood
A piece of wood’s not just a piece of wood.
A broken stick can beat the drums of hope,
Conduct a philharmonic orchestra,
Or catch a salmon from a raging stream.
It can be finer than Damascus steel
Dispatching pirates, enemies with ease.
A piece of wood’s not just a piece of wood.
It holds within itself the fall of man
And Eden’s loss. It is a bloody cross
And also comfort on a summer day.
Utilitarian, it stirs the pot.
In a basilica it stirs the soul.
A piece of wood’s not just a piece of wood.
Today I joined with those who don’t believe
That climate change is real. Well actually
I am a true believer, but today,
It’s April and the rain is sweet but cold.
And so, for just today, I’m changing stripes.
A turn coat. Quisling. Traitor to the cause!
That’s me. My carbon footprint’s shooting through
The roof, but I don’t care. I really don’t.
At least today I don’t. Tomorrow I
Will care, and I will try to save the world
By planting trees. But not today. Today
It’s raining, and my house is warm.
The insulated windows and new doors
Are keeping out the cold and in the heat.
The stove is burning up a log an hour.
I’ve got the damper almost fully closed,
And it is warm. It’s warm. It’s warm. It’s warn.
And now I’m grateful thirty years ago
I planted trees and glad that one of them
Has died, was cut in lengths to fit my stove.
It’s warm. It’s warm. It’s warm. It’s warm. It’s warm.
Drivel Keeps Me Up
This getting up at three o’clock is for
The birds. And why? A line about the moon;
The stupid, stupid moon is bugging me.
“The moon who’s piercing beams disturb the night
And shatters sleep.” I’m certain Shakespeare wrote
It, but it’s three o’clock. I could be wrong.
It could be Poe who wrote about the moon.
“The moon never beams without bringing me dreams.”
Or nightmares. Isn’t this the witching hour?
Or is it midnight? Never mind. The moon’s
The thing that turns us into lunatics.
And stupid poets writing stupid lines
About that crater ravaged, haggard face
Of doom that will not let me go to sleep.
What is the line? Is it romantic crap
With moon and June and spoon that vomits up
A swill of trite and hackneyed phrases? What’s
The stupid line? And was it Chaucer, Blake,
Or Byron? Byron wrote it! He’s the one.
I’ve never liked his poetry. Or him.
Byronic and moronic. Perfect rhyme.
This loss of sleep is all Lord Byron’s fault.
If only I’d remember what he said
About the moon I’m sure I’d go to sleep.
Or maybe it was Tennyson or Frost.
But Wait a Minute
I understand that most, who look at me,
Will say that I am old; a geezer who
Is “heading towards the light” who safely can
Be disregarded, placed upon a shelf
Or relegated to an attic space
Among important, half-forgotten, dreams
Of happy times and memories of youth.
And yes, it seems that every other day
Another picture of a member of
My class is captioned, “Rest in Peace.” And yes,
I know of people waiting for the end
Who’s lives are over, zombies, walking dead;
Who act like, tell themselves that they are old.
And I remember thinking I’d be old,
Mature, at thirty-five. Why I could be
The President when I was thirty-five.
And now when I hear people saying how
At forty-seven life has passed them by
And nothing else remains except the end,
I think, but wait a minute, you’re a kid.
So use your sleeve to wipe your snotty nose
And think about the future not the past.
So live like Ruth who lives a pirate’s life
at forty-seven years. Or better yet,
Ulysses, taking on the world again
A generation after he is old, supposedly,
And finished as a man who fights with gods.
While working at The Studios
a former student came and introduced
me to her children: three and six and eight.
I don’t remember how she did in school
(I don’t remember anybody’s grades.)
It’s only how they acted and behaved
in class that I remember. Were they kind
and thoughtful? Generous? And did they push
themselves to do the things that others thought
beyond them? As a teacher I admit
that I was lucky. Either God or the
computer placing students knew that I
could make it in the classroom only if
my students were the best. And so they were.
I never understood when colleagues said
their students wouldn’t work or that they wished
their students cared about their classes, tried
instead of being satisfied to fail.
I thought our students were the same, and yet
the students in my classes could have had
a scarecrow for a teacher and they’d still
have come to class and pushed themselves and learned.
I never really learned the proper way
to teach. My lesson plan would often be
just three short words. I’d tell them, “Get to work.”
and then I’d lean against the wall and watch
them while they worked and struggled, worked and learned.
I often think I should apologize.
My students certainly deserved the best.
Murder Most Foul
Sam Clemons said you shouldn’t start a fight
With people buying barrels full of ink.
Well, papers don’t buy ink in barrels now.
Instead they buy it by the tanker car
And print a million copies at a time.
Can you imagine drowning in the stuff?
It is a very nasty way to die.
The ink’s viscosity is such that you
Might think it dense enough to hold you up,
But could you float in mustard, mayonnaise,
or gravy, cooling, partially congealed?
I’ve never heard of someone falling in
A vat of ink, but often people die
From half a thimble spread across a page.
And which is worse, asphyxiation in
A giant vat or being killed by lies
And innuendoes on a printed page?
Juror Number One
Of course I’m not a lawyer, but I think
They really ought to have to take a class
Or two in structuring an argument,
In how to teach and get a point across.
I really shouldn’t have to wonder why
A lawyer’s droning on about a kid
Who doesn’t seem related to the case
Supposedly I’m sitting here to hear.
Who cares if he is two or three or five,
If he is three feet tall or if he is
A little more or less? He isn’t charged
With any crime. You aren’t defending him.
Perhaps a class or two on how to teach,
On how to organize your thoughts would help.
It’s been two days. There has to be a point
To all of this. There has to be a point.
Perhaps you get a bonus if your time
Exceeds the maximum allotted to
The case. Or maybe you are practicing
Your speaking skills to run for alderman
And want to show the people that you care
For kids. Well I don’t care a flying fig
About the kid. I was empanelled to
Decide a misdemeanor, if a crime
Had been committed. You’ve convinced me that
There has. Who cares about your client. You’re
The one I really want to put in jail.
It’s goulash just because my mama said
it was. It didn’t come from Hungary.
It came from hunger, and we made it when
the budget wouldn’t stretch. When shopping’s out,
and what is in the kitchen’s what you’ve got
to eat you improvise. A can of whole
tomatoes and a little bit of meat
for flavoring will feed three teenaged boys.
Just add a can or two or water to
the pot, a little salt and pepper and
oregano or basil, marjoram
and bay, a little onion, garlic too,
assuming that there’s any in the house.
Then let it cook until you’re hungry. It
can be a couple minutes or an hour.
The timing isn’t critical at all.
The only other thing you need is just
some noodles. Any kind at all will do.
Whatever’s in the house. But when there was
a bag of giant shells to cook and mix
into the sauce, I’d have a favorite meal.
And even now, it is a meal of choice.
Who cares if anyone’s still counting beans?
Now freedom of expression is the rage,
and it’s important that you break the mould,
and no one wants to stay within the lines
because an artist must be free to fly,
experiment, and to express himself,
or herself, free of all extraneous
restraints for spontaneity is key
when painting or when writing poetry.
It doesn’t matter how a nun may feel
about her convent’s narrow room or if
a hermit is contented in his cell.
A poet is a prisoner when forced
to follow any rhythm but his own.
For after all, a poem’s anything
and everything a poet says it is.
Da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum is dumb!
There’s no one left who still is counting bean
except for those whose souls are shriveled up
and are without an ounce of poetry
that anyone will ever care to hear.
King of Gophers
So, which is worse? A gopher eating all
your favorite flowers’ roots and killing them
or elephants stampeding in your yard?
Of course we’re only talking pachyderms
the size of pigmy goats, but still . . . but still
the damage and destruction they could cause.
So which would you prefer, and would it make
a difference if the gophers were the size
of elephants? I think that I’d prefer
the giant gophers. Just imagine what
it would be like: Instead of being pests
they could be worth a fortune. Can’t you see
them excavating tunnels? Course you’d have
to train ’em so they’d dig the tunnels straight.
Perhaps the PETA people would allow
a fashionista to wear gopher fur.
And just imagine all the gopher steaks!
These giant pests, the gophers in my yard
would make me richer than my wildest dreams!
Failure and Success
So is it really possible to know
that you’ve succeeded or you’ve failed?
I think the answer is both yes and no,
that it depends on what you’re measuring
and how it’s measured. Take, for instance, wealth.
Is failure or success how much you have,
and does it matter how the wealth was gained?
Are lawyers judged by losses and by wins
and only how their clients faired in court?
And what of teachers? Are they to be judged
by how their students do on tests in school?
I rather hope it’s how they do in life.
Has teacher failed if Johnny spent his time
in English drawing pictures if he now
has fifty people working in his shop?
And what about the kid who never did
the work assigned because his mind
was off in Neverland? Did teacher fail
when decades later his photography
and writing is astounding? Did he fail
the student? Did the student fail the class
if everything the teacher tried to teach
is now reflected in the student’s work?
I wonder, but I doubt I’ll ever know.
Waiting on Science
There ought to be a way of doing this.
A simple trick. A key. That’s all I ask.
A way to let me get from here to there
without the stupid interval of time
That makes me wait, that doesn’t let me know
the future now. I am a patient man.
I only want to know the future now.
The trick to reading mysteries is just
to read the ending first, and then if you
don’t like the way it ends don’t read the book.
And if you do, then do. It’s simple, yes?
The same with movies. If you like the end
then watch the film, and if you don’t, then don’t.
So what’s the trick that bends the wheel of time
and lets me know the future now not then?
There’s got to be a trick to know right now
what I will know eventually. I know.
I have been told forever, “Things take time.”
I know they do. I wish they didn’t though.
I wish there was a trick, a way for me
to skip the intervening time and see
exactly what it is the future holds.
There’s got to be a way of doing this.
A rather simple question:
I found myself a clodpate.
Is it love?
I collect Chaucer,
my neighbor cars,
my brother pencil stubs.
Perhaps collecting is
a way of saying
This is who I am.
like eating hot dogs
A dilettante excoriates the world.
He is the expert. Everyone agrees
with him. It’s not that they’re afraid of what
he’d say if they did not agree with him,
it’s just that they’re afraid of being made
the butt of his demeaning, cutting wit.
He never hesitates to tell the world
it’s gone to hell and what it’s problems are
and how they would be solved if people weren’t
so stupid; if they’d only listen. If
they’d only realize what’s good for them.
He has the answers. Everything is clear
And if he has to raise his voice and scream
at times, it’s understandable. How else
can people who are deaf be made to hear?
And Ken and Barbie Laughed
Remember, as an athlete, like a lot
of other things, I suck. But even so
there are a lot of things I want to do
like hiking in the mountains. Yeah. I know.
A couch potato really shouldn’t be
caught dead pretending he could climb a hill.
A mountain is a death wish. Never mind
the altitude. The attitude that I
would have the strength and the ability
to climb a mountain, well just look at me.
And even forty something years ago
I was the same. But still the mountain called.
We weren’t prepared. But still we’d never have
the chance to climb the Rockies’ highest peak
in Canada again. And so we went
with dirty clothes, canned food, and brand new boots.
It must have been that we were newly wed.
The hiking, camping was spectacular.
We woke to ice bergs calving in the lake
and towered over ancient, full-grown trees
while walking to the glacier which we rode.
I grant you that it didn’t take us far.
We didn’t even go a quarter inch.
That’s not the point. Who else has ridden one?
The journey back was painful. Blistered heels,
stubbed toes, and every step was harder than
the one before. Who says that going up
is harder than the journey going down?
The only benefit to going down
is every step is closer to the end,
is one step fewer that you have to take.
We sang to keep us going. Sang out loud.
We were the only people on the trail
so why not sing out loud? Why not shout out?
Our marching took us to Pretoria
and back again. We counted bottled beer
that lined the walls; a hundred bottles we
disposed of, counting steps with every beer.
They kept us to our ragged, foot-sore march.
The canyon rang with spiders eating flies,
old ladies eating everything of course,
and dying at the end. And we were dead
or almost dead. At least we felt like death
when Ken and Barbie came around a bend.
Clean, young, strong, with perfect hair and clothes,
the pair took just one look at us and laughed.
A Eucalyptus Grove
So here’s the deal. An individual,
my father’s father say, decides to move
from where his father lived to start anew
an ocean and a continent away.
Except for his descendants, where they live
and how they live, does anybody care?
His children and his children’s children all
are U.S. citizens. They’ve gone to school,
paid taxes and complained, were veterans,
taught school, bought houses, raised their families here.
But all too often to Americans
he was just one more dirty, worthless wop,
and treated him accordingly. They said
you couldn’t trust him. “After all, you know
where he is from. A Mafioso! Look
at him! Sardinian? Who cares. They’re all
the same. They’ll take our jobs, and all they know
is how to breed like flies and steal and kill.
Why take a chance? Degenerates like him
do not deserve God’s country. Send them back!”
You ever see the eucalyptus grove
before the monarch butterflies arrive?
These dirty migrants from Australia stand
forgotten and abandoned by the world.
But when the migrant monarchs do appear
and migrants mix with migrants then their world,
the universe itself is changed, transformed.