from the archives – Burns Night Sonnet (not about Robert Burns)

Robert Burns Night Sonnet

Everything’s autobiographical. I’m 12% Scot –
I take my single malt with soda water
And my dark chocolate with hazelnuts.

Lift your glasses high – we recognize
Our absentee Scottish fathers, sneaking
Out to the quarters at the midnight hour
To rape our enslaved mothers.

A special toast for our stepfathers –
who did their best to raise us anyway.
They stepped into the breach again
and again, overlooking our mothers’ pain
And their own. We are forever in their debt.

Still, the blood runs deep – in dreams
and nightmares we hear our mothers’ screams.

100 Days of Dante at 66

Although I’m only half way up the mount
of Purgatorio, I need to pause, to recapitulate,
to organize the things I’ve seen and heard
since getting lost, mid-aged, in these dark woods.

I’ve been mixing and matching, gathering
every spillover and overlap with
my winter reading list – marathon
readings mostly, of Whitman, Dickinson
and Mayer –  all drenched in references
I’d find to Dante, to my joyful surprise!
And even in August Wilson’s plays, such
tragicomedies all, I’ve found coded traces
of The Divine Comedy. I still wonder

who will be my Virgil, show me the ropes,
calm my every fear? And who, my Beatrice,
to intercede in the end on my behalf?

Approaching 66, pt. 2

How much would you be willing to spend
for a collection of the best written
articles, essays, book, theater, and film
reviews, poetry and the occasional short play
in one volume each month?

$15? $20? I would. Easily. It’s what
the great magazines of our time, like The Atlantic,
Harpers, New American Review used to do.
All had deep roots in the abolition movement.
All used to have excellent writing, impartial editing,
and timely curation – immediate calls to action.

We could use a new abolition movement.
Perhaps. Human slavery is at an all time high,
but “big media” doesn’t like to talk about it.
Too woke. Too high on Chinese dope, I suspect,
Too afraid of the “powers that be,” the powers
keeping human beings enslaved.

That may be a suitable starting point –
a publication “dedicated to the abolition
of human slavery.” Has a sad, mournful
ring to it, though, like the blues, like we’ve been
there before, like we keep making the same
stupid mistakes, like we’ve lost our moorings.

So maybe we should dedicate ourselves
to re-calibrating our moral compasses
first and foremost, so we can avoid
an impending civil war and instead
generate a new American Revolution.

Approaching 66, pt. 1

It took me months to break the habit
of getting up at 5 AM. My wife would ask,
“Why you getting up so early?” I’d give
her a song and a dance about beating sunrise –
milking the cows, feeding the chickens
and fetching eggs for breakfast like I used to do
on summer vacations at the farm. Then I’d recite
the opening stanza from the Paul Laurence Dunbar
poem, “In The Morning” in my best Negro dialect.
She’d just roll over and return to her dreaming

I’d open the front door and drag in the Washington Post.
“Democracy Dies in Darkness,” what a joke that was.
They had no idea how dark and cold it would get
in Biden’s “managed decline” America.

I wake up at 7 AM these days. I cancelled home
delivery of the paper when they refused to correct
the lies they told us about Russian collusion.
They can scrub their website all they want, but
the Wayback Machine is forever, baby.

I still read the New York Times. Only on Tuesdays.

I plan to resume my morning walks in the new year.
Got new sweats and everything! But for now it’ll be
coffee, freshly ground, french-pressed.

November 22, 1963

What were you doing on that fateful day?
In second grade our teachers huddled
together, softly weeping, trying not
to let us see the grief their faces wore.
They cancelled school and we went home early.
Our mothers, like our teachers, were weeping,
as if a family member had been lost.
Our fathers got home around 6, just in time
to watch Walter Cronkite read the news
on the black and white TV. Mine just shook
his head as if some tragic end was near.
(We didn’t know about his drinking then.)
It seems so long ago. The pain we saw
on adult faces scarred us in our souls.

What’s Happening at the Poland/Belarus Border?

I confess that before a member
of my poetry group mentioned it
and brought it to my attention,
I hadn’t really focused on the border
crisis between Poland and Belarus.

Despite the cosmopolitanism
we all claim, we tend to focus
inward, as if our country is the
only one, as if our border problems
are the only ones that exist.

I’m watching BBC news tonight
to catch up on the world. And I’m
sharing with my friends the seldom
anthologized Langston Hughes poem,
Song of the Refugee Road.”

I couldn’t attend a class reunion and wrote this sonnet to send instead.

Dear friends: we weren’t able to breakaway
for the Sunday meeting – these fourteen lines
will fill our seats, we hope, and share the space.
Did y’all know the demarche and the sonnet
traveled a common path? And did y’all know
A-100 is just a room number?
I just found out myself – the tiny threads
that tie us all together – a collage.

Fourteen points is enough for a message
exchanged between princes, across kingdoms.
A room number is a setting for a play
being staged – a romantic comedy,
one hopes, that will make us feel good, reflect
about the times we spent, the lives we lived.

For Nikki

A poet named Nikki Giovanni
came to Greensboro back in the 70’s
and read for a small group of students.
Somehow or other I found myself
in the mix. Can I just say I plumb fell
in love? She was younger then and I was
even younger and couldn’t find the words
to make an absolute fool of myself.

Since then, Poetry’s been my mistress
and my erstwhile Muse, guiding my vessels
through high seas and low, missteps and false starts
aplenty. I ride the nightwinds, trusting in
and steering by the stars I’ve learned to read,
making up the harmony as I go.

November 1, 2021

I love November!
I love November!
It’s not because of football.
It’s not because I came to my senses
and switched to cross-country my sophomore year.
It’s not because of the sheer beauty of browning leaves,
and reddening leaves, and yellowing leaves.
It’s not because sweaters are my favorite article of clothing.
It’s not because of Thanksgiving (although I do give thanks),
and meeting Filomena in London, and our mutual birthdays.

I love November!
It’s not because of silly elections – I live in Washington, DC
and my vote means absolutely nothing except keeping in practice
(taxation without representation, and all that jazz).

I love November!
It’s the slight twinge in the breeze telling me a new year is coming.
It’s the same drop in temperature that invigorates my brain,
wrapping around my legs so gingerly.
It’s the shortening of days, sunset coming earlier during the fast,
nights getting longer and longer.

November makes me want to stretch out
my sweatered arms and scream Hallelujah!

untitled, from the 2013 archives

A witty little 14-liner I sent out during my first session of August PoPo, influenced by the language poets in week #8 of ModPo.

High culture and low,
polished and profaned,
sanctified and ghettoized –
all the decisions we make
stem from false dichotomies
presented to us – opposing options
in a narrative, neither of which
makes us better or worse for the wear —
just older and grayer,
more wrinkled and cataract’d
until our vision is blocked,
and our tastebuds deadened
by the novocaine they give us –
for good behavior.

Midsummer

I don’t recall when I turned twenty-six:
There would have been no feast, just supper
As normal in the crew’s mess – pot roast
Maybe, with carrots and potatoes.
But I do remember when the days
Started feeling shorter as they passed,
When the tide rushing in for a quick kiss
Began to ebb, the twilight of our time
Together. Youth, the wasted source of strength
Spilled over the top of the containers
We carried, whether cup or bucket,
Then hastened its retreat into the depth
Of our experience. It shows up now
And then, a trace of paths we didn’t choose.

Thresher

Dear readers: when I wrote this poem over five years ago, I thought it was about a submarine and crew we lost in the 60’s. Now I think it is about the impending moral loss of our civilization. You decide.

I just learned the minimum time required
for human perception of an event:
fifty milliseconds for retinal
integration; 100 milliseconds
for cognitive integration. On board,
it all occurred too fast for awareness,
too quickly for human apprehension.
A tragedy befell us – a collapse
of moral order – it hit us so fast
we couldn’t integrate it with our eyes,
with streaming thoughts of empty thoughts.
A poem, perhaps, condensed, distilled the track
of every hope – and woe – that passed too soon
for our perception – slow-motioned, closely read.

Poems I read at #ModPoOpenMic 10162021

Optimized for Twitter

This poem has short lines.
It is optimized for Twitter

And your cell phone screen.

Your face still haunts me.

It second guesses my actions
And double checks all I say.

We live in lockdown.

I miss the freedom to travel,
Occasional lunch with friends.

But things could be worse.
It could be death by fire
Or flooding without an ark.

These lines are getting longer.
It’s a natural progression.
And I overran the 14-line limit:
Now it cannot be a sonnet.

Not a concrete poem sonnet

This poem defies the concept of concreteness.
It bubbles over the top of the walls
Of its container, like a boiling liquid –
Then flashes to steam, releasing its perfume.
Would that that were its final material state.
The perfume gets distilled into haiku,
Then changes state to sound, to melody,
Seeking eager and open noses and ears
Simultaneously in asynchronous effect.

It is still not at its end. Invisible
Atoms infiltrate the blood-brain barrier
And find a resting place. There it awaits
Retrieval as an oral combination, a word,
A passing thought, a feeling unexpressed.

To Filomena – my wife is watching

My wife says she can tell
When I’m writing poetry.
She says she sees me moving
In and out of space and time
And she wonders where it is I go.

I tell her I cross a mighty river

Again and again. One that separates
The temples of life’s renewal,
On the west coast facing east,
catching the first rays of sunrise –
From the tombs that guard the past,
On the east coast facing west,
basking in sunset’s glow.

Both a library and an archive,

A moving feast inside my mind.
Crossing back and forth between
Those two worlds creates an energy

source and a drug for my addiction.

She does that thing where she
Points two fingers at her eyes
And then at me. She’s watching.

Lockdown sonnet #11 – To Rona (AKA, the corona virus, COVID19), with love

Rona, you were never a passing thing,
Never a good time girl who tiptoed daintily
Through the sweetness of our days,
Leaving a faint trace of a summer memory.
OH. HELL. NAW! Rona, you came upending
All our ho-hum lives, taking us
To new levels of thinking and being.
Rona, you were never a sinful one-night stand.
I knew you were trouble when you
stuck your head in the doorway
And flashed that cunning smile.
My mother warned me about girls
Like you. Still, instead of chasing you away,
I brought you fully into my embrace.

Blues Villanelle for Seven Guitars

This love song is a villanelle:
The format makes it easy to recall –
Poetry in two shades of blue.

Repeating sends the thoughts aflight:
The lines of text emerge in time –
This love song is a villanelle.

The words and sounds convey their truth,
The essence lies inside the tune –
Poetry in two shades of blue.

The blues they wail at disco night

Become the Sunday morning hymn –
This love song is a villanelle.

Our wanderings are all askew:
Our feet are painted backwards bound –
Poetry in two shades of blue.

We celebrate in loss or gain,
In joy, in sadness, and between –
This love song is a villanelle:
Poetry in two shades of blue.
 

Mayakovsky

Reading Frank O’Hara first introduced me
to Mayakovsky’s poetry.
Then I stumbled upon the Langston Hughes
translations purely by chance –
it was during Hughes’ Picasso period
decades before O’Hara’s enlightenment.
But have you seen The Red Queen?
You know, the film about the Soviet
fashion model of humble origin?
She credited reciting Mayakovsky
for the perfect rhythm of her steps
on the catwalk.
Having many lovers doesn’t
make one a whore, does it?

F​rank O’Hara’s Mayakovsky is in Meditations In an Emergency: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53219/mayakovsky

L​angston Hughes Mayakovsky influences: https://read.dukeupress.edu/comparative-literature/article-abstract/66/2/227/7807/The-Coup-of-Langston-Hughes-s-Picasso-Period

L​angston Hughes – Cubes: https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/cubes

The Red Queen: Regina Zbarskaia http://www.kinokultura.com/2016/54r-krasnaia-koroleva.shtml

Predictions from November 2020 – Two Sonnets

Fourteen liner on the current crisis, pt. 1

Most Americans don’t know scarcity –
the store shelves are always stocked
and there’s plenty in the land of plenty.
But when supply chains weaken – and they
will with the coming reset –
there will be empty shelves.
The first casualty has already fallen:
election ethics. Half our citizens
ignore it because their favored guy won.
What shortage can that cause? It can’t be
like that run on toilet paper last Spring.
What empty shelves? What about the voters
defrauded by stuffed ballots and algorithms?
How are you ever gonna make them whole?

Fourteen liner on the current crisis, pt. 2

The second casualty is honest people
participating in the electoral process.
Next year or next election they’ll stay home,
leaving empty places at polling stations.
Zuckerberg’s money won’t be there to pay
off thugs. The third and greatest casualty
will be truth. With our reputation razed,
we’ll be one more banana republic
with kangaroo courts. No white wash will work.
Our place in history will be preserved
among the ignoble – the sacrifices
of our ancestors flushed down the toilet.
And we, this generation, shall be known
by history as the sellers of our birthright.

Monday Haiku – social media

Yes, my friend, Twitter
is not a real place. And yet,
it so seems to be.

Facebook’s not a book –
we go there for our news fix
anyway. We are so lost.

Social media
in toto – such a mindfuck –
alternate reality.

Our lives are a mess –
stuck at home for the lockdown.
Staring at the screen.

There is reprieve, a balm –
Take a walk along the river.

Late entry

there’s no great poetry
in his music, but Lionel’s
lyrics soothe the soul.

#MondayHaiku
#TwitterHaiku
#micropoetry

Weekend Haiku (with a non-rhyming couplet)

Pt. 1

People wear masks
To hide or to accentuate
Their true identity.

It’s all Greek drama –
A sad mask projects a frown,
A happy mask smiles.

That’s all fine if you
Live and breathe on a stage where
Performing is your thing.

But here in the real world,
We unmask and we see things
As they really are

Let’s not be any
More explicit than that

Pt 2

Some of the masks we wear
Depict our becoming into
A different identity.

Some, like race-face, black
Or white, double down on what
We really hope to be –

Others highlight moods swings,
Whether manic or in the dumps,
As we slowly navigate –

Still others genderize –
With wigs and hormone shots
And extra body parts.

Living the staged version
Helps hides a broken life.

Pt. 3

I tried to join a group
But folks ignore my postings –
Must be my altitude –

Or my latitude –
We’re sailing – you may not like
The cut of my jib –

And that’s OK too.
My wife hates the smell of brewed
Cacao in coffee

For example. Each
To his own – do your own thing –
Nobody’s keeping score,

Until the endgame –
When all will be revealed.

My wife’s favorite poem – Blues Villanelle for Seven Guitars

Blues Villanelle is my wife’s favorite poem in my collection, though she still refers to Invitation as my masterpiece. What do you think? Inspired by August Wilson’s Seven Guitars.

Blues Villanelle

This love song is a villanelle:

The format makes it easy to recall –

Poetry in two shades of blue.

Repeating sends the thoughts aflight:

The lines of text emerge in time –

This love song is a villanelle.

The words and sounds convey their truth,

The essence lies inside the tune –

Poetry in two shades of blue.

The blues they wail at disco night

Become the Sunday morning hymn –

This love song is a villanelle.

Our wanderings are all askew:

Our feet are painted backwards bound –

Poetry in two shades of blue.

We celebrate in loss or gain,
In joy, in sadness, and between –
This love song is a villanelle:
Poetry in two shades of blue.

Here’s one from deep, deep in the archive – January, 2013

Sunday Morning Mixtape  

French-pressed coffee, rich, frothy foam on top,
thick black sludge on the bottom – bitter black
sludge I love to swallow; and to think I used
to leave it in the bottom of the cup,
or collected in the bottom of the pot,
ending up in the garbage or down the sink.
Who is this matador? Tell me his name,
Show me her face, take off that mask,
You pathetic two-faced bastard!
Went to the factory this morning to
clean out my old computer. Passwords, favorites,
browsing history and such, autofill,
cookies, cache. Everything had to go.
Bye-bye. See ya. Ciao, baby. Wouldn’t want
the next one fooling around in my shit,
You know? Still can’t figure out the name
or the scent of that two-faced matador.
Why you playing hard ball, baby? Life is
too short to make it so complicated.

Day 7​ of the Emily Dickinson Marathon​

She often mentions bumble bees

And many purple things –

She’s clearly been in love

As she reveals, a time or two.

She speaks of business deals
And such. She must live near
A shipping port. She knows
how ships are lain
and how they trade as well.

She also loves geometry!
And all her threads
On immortality suggest
she has a strategy
for her escape at last.

Day 3 of the Emily Dickinson marathon

I love Emily’s mention of mills –
Of course, the cotton mills all moved
From New England to North Carolina
After the war – where labor was cheaper.
Then the same mills all moved
From NC to Vietnam – after that war.
When mills move, jobs also depart –
And that’s how we know who lost.
We found a 14-liner among the rest.
I dare not call it a sonnet – the experts
Might protest. But it was there,
Plain as day to any eyes that see
Or minds that count. It even had a volta
In its place. “I read my sentence – steadily -“

This poem forms the script of my Soundslide project, “My Occasional Morning Walk.” Week 5 of Digital Storytelling Bootcamp, Summer 2021 session.

Teacher say storytelling and poetry don’t mix.

I started doing this walk after
Returning home from a year in Baghdad,
Boxed and trapped in a cage called the Green Zone.
The walk was a stress reliever and a mind clearer.

Then events in my life took a detour.
I felt betrayed and dispossessed.
Somebody had to take the blame
To protect the Queen and her henchmen.

Passing back and forth through these gates
I renewed my strength, my sense of resolve.
I wanted revenge so desperately
But the only weapon I had was a pen.

That’s Robert E. Lee’s house on the top of the hill.
Well, it was community property
His wife inherited from her
Great grandmother, Martha Washington.

The government seized it after the war
To build a memorial cemetery.
Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee was pissed
Until the day she died. Life ain’t fair.

I compose poems walking along the river
Inside my head. Sonnets, mean poems, sweet
Love poems that I would write down
From memory as soon as I got home.

The Key Bridge was named for the
Famous songwriter, Francis Scott Key.
He owned slaves. Georgetown University
Sits in the distance. The Jesuits

Also owned slaves.
K street is where the high and mighty work.
But it used to be the address of saloons,
Funeral parlors, and whorehouses.

They will never drain this swamp.
The end of the walk passes through
Georgetown and a homeless encampment
Under the K Street overpass.

Random clippings from the cutting floor

A garden shot.
My place of mediation
and communion with Mother Earth.
There is no racial profiling in the garden,
no victimhood and no guilt.
Just cool people who plant seeds
clear out weeds, and watch things grow.

We share the watering hose.
Another garden shot.
Too much shaking of the camera
to use in the final assignment.
Children are playing kickball on
an asphalt court in the background.

The garden also borders
the community pool. When drenched
with sweat from gardening work
I’ve often wanted to take a cool dip.
Haven’t done it yet.