Just You Wait

The doctor will be with you soon,

Or so you’re told.

You find a chair in row of chairs

With perfect Feng Shui,

Backs against the wall

Not too close to anyone else,

Where you can narrow your gaze

At the door through which we all must pass

As long as we have insurance.

 

You ask yourself

If you’re the first person who

Noticed the carpet’s infinitely repeating gray pattern.

Definitely not M.C. Escher.

More like…Escheresque.

The pale, Mission green olive walls and blond wood chairs,

The wall-mounted flat-screen showed smiling people

Stop smiling as they were told they should not despair that

More than a hundred bats

Were living happily just behind the dry wall

Of the house they just bought.

 

You ask yourself

If the red-faced sniffler,

Or that guy in the camo jacket contemplating gastrointestinal urgency,

And that bleary-eyed parent who had probably stayed up half the night

With the child beside her,

Were members of a secret society

Who only pretended to be ill

So they could explore the

Many fascinating and unique waiting rooms

And behave like those who are humbled

By stained glass, stone columns, clerestory windows

And the bird that flies in and doesn’t quite know what to do with itself

As a medieval cathedral reveals itself

As the house of the God

Who doesn’t have to make things right

Because they already are.

 

Did you hear a heavily accented guide,

Begin a bouncy little spiel

About the waiting room’s unique place and function in history of

commercial architecture and interior design?

 

Did you observe the gently enclosing,

But not confining

Effect of the coffee-colored blinds on the window overlooking the parking lot?

Now, come,  marvel at how the warm earth tones

With the the vibrant, if slightly worn covers of magazines

And the crucial absence of clocks,

Combine to evoke an institutional calm,

Suggesting that sickness and discomfort

(and a home infested with bats!)

Were all momentary aberrations

As we make our gentle, loving progress

On God’s green earth?

 

No? Well, then take these few minutes

While you endure the agony

Of bats screeching under your skin,

To be thankful that you have insurance (and the co-pay!)

So you can walk through that door

And be a child again

In front of the grown-up

You’ve been waiting for.

 

 

 

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To Go

When you drive a car in my neighborhood

You don’t notice

What’s between you and everyone else

Until

 

You’re stopped behind a light for so unbelievably long

You wonder what will happen to the garbage rolling across the road.

And when will they mow the median strip?

Or arrest whoever shot holes in the stop sign?

 

You realize that you are surrounded by people who just shouldn’t be on the road.

Banged up cars, smelly trucks, farting motorbikes,

A cyclist in the shoulder so everybody has to veer away

And look at that guy strutting across the crosswalk, like one push of a button makes him royalty!

 

And when are they going to plow the gray snow and salt the sheets of ice

That’ll kill you if you don’t watch out?

You want to change lanes but that creep won’t let you in!

And when are they going to fill the potholes?

 

It’s been two weeks and that streetlamp is still dark.

When are they going to stop raising the the tolls

Or finish the construction the tolls are supposed to pay for.

Stop slowing down like you’ve never seen a smashed car!

 

Where are the cops? That jerk in front doesn’t know how to drive.

Ever hear of turn signal?

Turn your high beams off and

Put the damned cell phone down!

 

I’m sure there are places where no one is in front of you, moving too slow

And no one is in back, flashing headlights and bearing down on you for going too slow.

Places with mountains, lakes and trees, and perfect weather

And city blocks with restaurants and shops and gleaming streets where

 

You can pretend you’re in a car commercial

Confident, smiling and admired from afar

For being the only person in universe

Absolutely certain that nothing ever ends.

 

 

 

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The Hero

They say you should never meet your heroes.

But you’ve met a few

None were what they were cracked up to be.

Some had merely cracked.

 

Not like a statue.

More like an egg.

You didn’t want what was inside

To seep out.

 

Because you didn’t know the right way to mop it up

And put it back in

And search for in that drawer marked Emergency Hero Repair

For the glue that would make the crack disappear.

 

But you tried with one.

You had seen him in his glory

Quiet, dignified, drinking beer:

A published author who wasn’t worried about who was paying.

 

Then you found him broken and

Angry at those who shunned him

Who couldn’t understand why

Partial paralysis and brain-damage had prevented him from being a hero.

 

He swore he would recover someday, and

He sensed that everything around you had lost its meaning.

He invited you to visit him. He promised beautiful sunsets.

He said he’d put you back together.

 

The sun sets were beautiful but his maid had quit months ago. The kitchen sink held a leaning tower of dishes and his referigator reeked from spoiled food.

You cleaned his house, mowed his lawn, cooked the food, fetched the mail and marveled how he had learned to drive a car with one hand.

You weren’t speaking properly, he said. He hated your writing.

He told you that you knew nothing about old cars, model airplanes, Swedish furniture, German beer, history, Puccini’s operas, Sibelius’ symphonies, science fiction stories and Raymond Chandler novels.

 

Could this be why,

You asked yourself as you watched the sun set,

His wife and children

Left him?

 

Then, before you had to leave, you saw his car slide down into a lake

You went in, freed him from the car, pulled his head above the water, put his one functional arm around your neck, dragged him to the water’s edge and carried him out.

He said you saved his life, then he yelled at you for not being as astonished as he was,

That you had done something right.

 

A few weeks later

He said he’d dedicate a book to you.

He was writing again.

You thought you found the glue.

 

You wrote letters.

He told you the sunsets were even more beautiful and

That book was at the publisher

And would come out, soon.

 

So you bought a hardcover edition

Opened it.

Saw it was dedicated to someone else.

Closed it.

 

After a while you read it.

It wasn’t his best.

You decided not to meet any more heroes

Until you became one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reasons for Not Writing Poetry #5

Someday a klaxon will sound in the swanky Disney Marvel Studios offices.

Those talented film-school graduates whose movies have made a pile of money

Will panic because

They’ve run out of villains!!!!

 

That big bucket stuffed with the stuff that

Makes nice, normal, reasonably good looking people

Put on a costume and make a big mess–

Is empty!!!!

 

And yet, when all seems dark for the Extended Universe

A plucky unpaid intern rounds up a bunch of quirky, trash-talking, highly talented film school graduates whose eccentric skill sets have yet to bring them a steady job.

They hatch a complicated plan that will require them to wear costumes, impersonate celebrities, fool security guards, steal fancy cars and get into high speed chases with the police, and other diversions

So they can break into the Writers Guild’s secret vault!!!!

 

That’s the storehouse of scripts that nobody–not even the latest internet streaming service– wants to film,

And pitches that nobody wants to turn into an original TV series,

And compromising, unquestionably career-shattering video and photographs of this producer and that director, which may explain why some of those scripts that nobody wants to film–are filmed!!!!

There, way in the back, shoved up against a wall, spilling out from a garbage can, are too many

 

Stepped-on thumb drives

Crumbling Post-It notes that were flushed down a toilet,

Restaurant napkins marked up with confusing plot details and the name of an A-list actor who might green-light the project

And furiously crumpled balls of paper!!!!

 

Inside one of those paper balls is a short, coffee-stained character sketch

About a humble person who

When not working in a coffee shop/Wal-Mart/cupcake shop (bookstore has been crossed out)

Writes poems!!!!

 

One day, you, the part-time poet, passes another coffee shop/low-price department store/cupcake shop (bookstore is again crossed out)

And you see a GREAT PERSON inside

You tenatively, respectfully approach and ask,

“Would you read my poems?”

 

Greatness pauses.

Greatness turns toward you.

Greatness glances down at what you hold in your trembling hand.

Greatness says, “Sure. Love to.”

 

And, for the first time in your life, you understand perfectly what a sartori is,

that feeling of effortless joy that comes from occupying a perfect moment, your body rising, your feet leaving the ground.

Until Greatness adds, “When I’m dead!!!!”

Your feet return to the floor.

 

Greatness explains: “While you’re scratching out your poem, I’m

Eating lobster

Driving a fast car with nobody in front of me

Making the play

 

Accepting an award

Taking a bow

Singing to a sold-out stadium

Making love on the beach

 

Guest starring in my own movie,

Making a half a billion dollars,

Telling a joke that gets a laugh,

Changing the world and then changing it back again.”

 

Greatness winks. “That Pierian Spring that you’re supposed to drink deep from?”

Your nod and remembering the interminably long “Essay on Criticism” by the famous 17th century English satirist, translator and poet Alexander Pope, who was sickly and deformed and never married and wrote that fabulous couplet, “a little learning is a dang’rous thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

“It’s a crock. What you want from life, you have to conquer.”

Your mouth shuts itself.

 

You walk for a while

Quickly

Without direction or intention

Until you find a costume shop.

 

The money you saved all these years appears in your hand. A caustic bile rises in your thoat. The putrid logic of violence-for-violence’s sake begins to make sense.

“I want to be Alexander…”

Your eyes move from pen that is in the clerk’s pocket, to the long, brutal sword on the wall.

“…The Great!!!!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reasons for Not Writing Poetry #4

Most people don’t know (and you’re not going to tell them)

That, if you had enough coffee

And a few cool locales where you could sit and be your marvelous, wonderful, imaginative, expressive self–

You could fill the world with so many poems that

Snarky people would make comments about quality and quantity.

They’d say you’re that you’re poem-luting the planet!

Poeming at the mouth!

While you wrap yourself in your creator’s cloak

And pretend to be oblivious

Of the self-righteous swagger of those 20th century American culture heroes

Those hard-drinking guys who led the pack,

Who went on safaris, drove Cadillacs into Las Vegas swimming pools, won awards, married badly and died ironically.

They didn’t care what their art was doing to the world.

They didn’t ask for whom the bells tolled.

They ate it up, spit it out

And kept going until they couldn’t go anymore.

Which is what people want from cars, farm animals, apple trees, beaches, and every mousetrap that’s better than the last,

But not from poems.

 

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Reasons for Not Writing Poetry #3

You can write a poem and feel so good about it

That you’ll do something else for money

Practice medicine (Williams), work in a bank (Elliot), act (Shakespeare), work in a post office (Bukowski), open your own bookshop and get yourself arrested for publishing someone else’s poem (Ferlinghetti)

Or teach, teach, teach and teach some more.

Sell your soul a little

Or a lot.

 

And while you’re at it, annoy those you live with,

make a beast of yourself, as Samuel Johnson said, so you can get rid “of the pain of being a man”

or a woman

or anything else that writing seems to justify and relieve.

You can bring suffering to those who are drawn to you, who put up with you, who will read your poems when, what they really want you to know is

life is mostly okay as it is, you’re okay as you are.

You want to tell them about a poem that meant everything, that had all the answers, that said what was in your heart so perfectly

Or seemed to, at the time.

You want to tell them that a poem can save a life!

 

So tell them. Let them know that you’re not writing poetry.

You’re saving your life.

Saving pieces of yourself, like coins in a piggy bank

Pictures in an album

Things you find, collect and preserve,

Not because they’ll be valuable some day

But because they make it easier for you to be okay as you are.

And be a little bit more than a beast

Most of the time.

 

 

 

 

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Reasons Not to Write Poetry #2

(for Kevin Stokker)

You heard about this magazine that’s supposed to have the best stuff in it

Written by the best writers, most of whom live in Brooklyn, New York and write about Brooklyn as if it is really all there is, unless the magazine sends them to Berlin or L.A. or Vera Cruz to write about art dealers, snarky musicians and astonishing chefs who never wanted to be chefs but, after they got their second Michelin star…

But mostly Brooklyn, which makes you remember your grandparents’ Brighton Beach apartment building that smelled of pot roast and rattled every twelve to eighteen minutes from the elevated subway, which you could see, when your grandmother took you to the roof, slithering over the streets in a steel cage open to the sky.

For you, Brooklyn was two blocks from the ocean and two blocks from the loudest elevated subway train and a few more blocks from Coney Island, and the bumper car ride, the merry-go-round where you could lean way over and grab a brass ring, a roller coaster that was too dangerous for you to ride and Nathan’s Famous where you could have as many hot dogs as you wanted with greasy brown fried potatoes until

your grandfather died and your grandmother moved down to live closer to your mother and told you that she was lucky to leave Brooklyn when she could.

So you’re in a dentist’s office, a barber shop, an automobile repair shop lounge

Or any others place that requires people to sit around for too much of that Slow Time that sounded great in that poem by Keats but now seems to be one long uncertain, unnerving, unsettling wasteland (from a 434-line poem by Eliott that you were supposed to read in college and only remember now as being 434 lines and important)

And you find, on a table, among the worn magazines about cars, guns, sports, home decor, movie stars, how you can have your first billion in two months, abs of steel in two weeks,  a home cooked meal in two minutes–

A magazine that is supposed to have the best poems inside!

You open it up

You find a poem

You try to read it

You remember how it was when you were supposed to read The Wasteland and you try harder to read it

You remember how your English teacher spent so much time talking about Slow Time and how understanding some poems can be hard work and you must read them several times before you understand them

So you try even harder to read it

And, though the poem doesn’t appear to be about Brooklyn–

You don’t get it

You don’t get any of it.

You read it again and again and you don’t even know why it was written, much less published in the magazine that’s supposed to have the best stuff in it.

You put the magazine down and you come up with reasons

Were these the last words of a poet who died pitifully in a garett near an elevated subway?

Did the poet and the poetry editor go to a school together? Are they neighbors who visit frequently? Is there a darker relationship whose queasy details will not be revealed until court records are unsealed at the end of this century?

Did the poet not want to be a poet but after winning that second award…

Or, has poetry changed so much from the ornate angels we wrestled in school

That our own glimpses of the divine, which we wrote so carefully, so importantly, so joyously, from inner needs, or because during of a sacred moment when we felt a connection to every poet whose work we loved–

are not poetry anymore?

You close the magazine and toss it back among the others, one more fish that some other fool may catch, and release.

And, just before you’re told about the parts your car needs, the barber turns the chair toward you, or you begin that trudge back into the antiseptic lair of a dentist who you just know will find something wrong and insist on taking a full-set of X-rays–

You tell yourself you’ll continue to write.

Novels, short stories, essays, blogposts and something short that may not rhyme or scan or resemble a poem

About anything but Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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