Sunday, September 11, 2016

Post 9/11 Poem

On September 11, 2001 I worked in Washington, DC at a publishing house within walking distance of the White House. I wrote the following poem soon after the terrorist attacks.

Bedtime Stories

Long ago and far away,
you are the sleepy boy, listening
to stories of girls and ghosts
while outside, trees tremble
in the vast, unforgiving night.

Somewhere there are people burning books.

Seven and wearing ski pajamas,
weary and sincere, you ask
for just one more story.
Remember walking in the woods,
like fairy tale children,
pausing by a pond
to watch mallards glide,
scooping toads in our hands,
laughing as they jump aside.

Somewhere there are people burning books.

In the morning, a list that begins
“Bottled water, peanut butter, duct tape”
changes to the first draft of a poem.
Here, in a suburb of Washington,
I sleep and wake to the great grumbling
sound of fighter aircraft as if the skies are hungry.

Brother,
Once upon a time America…

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Quietest New Yorker

"You're the quietest New Yorker I've ever known," the young woman cutting my hair said, pausing her scissors perhaps for effect.

I have lived in the south most of my life - Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland - and have been told by southerners that I don't seem, sound, or act like a New Yorker. The subtext of these comments is "You're not the least bit obnoxious." I think of a noisy, gum-chewing Damon Runyon character and sigh. Like the characters in Al Capp's fictional southern town of Dogpatch, Runyon's New York characters are sentimental and humorous. And it's fun to imagine Daisy Mae lunching with Nathan Detroit. There is nothing humorous about the epitome of the rude New Yorker stereotype, the Republican candidate for president. 

The New Yorkers I've known growing up on Long Island, at college and drama school in Manhattan, working in New York offices and theatres, are some of the most caring and compassionate individuals I have ever known.  If you have any doubts about this, recall what all of us witnessed on and after September 11, 2001.

Donald Trump seems, sounds, and acts like the man who as Mark Shields said in a recent PBS broadcast, "has gone to, on a consistent basis, the meanest corners of the American soul, appealed to the basest and darkest side of all Americans." As a native New Yorker, I ask that you not confuse New Yorkers with Mr. Trump. 

A neighbor who owns a small dog told me that he usually avoids other dogs "like the plague." His little canine, like some of our species, has a Napoleon complex. I  usually avoid discussions of politics like the plague. I'm more comfortable with poems and books. But this election year is not the one for Americans to be quiet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fireflies

My poem "Fireflies" appears in the July issue of Front Porch Review. There are some lovely poems in this edition.

Click here to read the poem.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Aging, Courage & William Blake

"And we are put on this earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love."
William Blake

My puppy Darby has a habit of pausing during fierce and furious play, coming over to me and giving me a cuddle. He then very quickly returns to his high energy and enthusiastic play, usually with a tennis ball. When my niece was a child, she did the same thing, interrupt her playing, run to me for a quick snuggle or two, then abandon me to my gentle joy as she returned to her doll house and other toys. I have a theory about this behavior shared by descendants of wolves and little girls. It has to do with what poet William Blake - who understood more than most of his contemporaries and most of ours - called "the beams of love." Little ones feel those beams and acknowledge them with a quick visit to their sender.

As I've aged, I've turned into a real scaredy-cat. It seems incredible to me that I once acted before an audience of thousands in Shakespeare in the Park in Lexington, Kentucky, rode a horse in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, and preferred the window seat on overseas flights. I don't act, ride, or travel by plane any more. Now, simply thinking these things makes me a tad nervous. Living in a gun-crazy culture where a possible presidential candidate encourages his supporters to "beat the crap" out of his opponents does little to calm me. I'm calm right now, Darby nestled beside me on a comfy sofa, my fingers tapping the laptop. I seem in real danger of becoming one of those daffy little 'ole ladies daffy about their dogs (spotted in posh neighborhoods, the dears and their doggies often wear matching coats, usually soft plaids).

Aging in a country where looking young is a national obsession can be a challenge. Compare the lined, character-laden faces of British actors to the frozen facelifts of American actors. Jonathon Goldsmith is still the perfect "most interesting man in the world" but he has been booted away by the beer company that employed him because he turned seventy-seven. I'm  not about to bounce into the annoying boosterism that touts aging is a bunch of fun. It isn't, unless you find arthritis, back pain, and short-term memory loss a bunch of fun. But the cowardice that keeps me from stages, stables, and airports doesn't apply to my growing older. I know there are more important things to be concerned about - especially in an election year - than crow's feet and gray hairs.

William Blake sang on his deathbed so certain was he of the joy that awaited him. I doubt I'll sing on my deathbed. My off-key lyrics might offend the angels.