The Common

Some people never think about someone’s feelings.
We’re not supposed to, you know.
Think about feelings.
One of the many things one doesn’t bring up in conversation.
That’s all right.

They say you can travel the wide world over
And always there are things people won’t discuss,
One thing or another.
But “old men always know, we old men,
When another old man hurts.”
People may wonderfully sweep away
Their cares, even parts of their lives

And they bounce roll the highway along,
Past the common where old guys sit or lean or smoke.
The old gold common Milne made so famous,
They snap their rustling newspapers in the breeze

And the old are happy, really happy, don’t mind them.
Go laugh and dance, have the fun you should have now.

The old men smile and are content
But they don’t sweep away their hurts anymore.
Who knows when they may cross over the line?
They may feel the last thing any time,
And really, we all go sometime, that’s the breaks.

Dad’s Interview

I remember once when I was five
My mother dressed my brother and me
And drove us to the local TV station in Kansas City.
My father was already there and met us
At the door to the network studio.

He had such a serious look and ushered us
Into the studio almost as if he were playing host.
This was the early days of television
And no one sat in the studio audience –
An improvised affair to my memory’s eye –

No one was there but our tiny family
A few other concerned parties,
And the director and producer sitting up behind us
In a glassed-in booth with a white pegboard partition

It was all new to me. I stared around with round eyes
Holding my mother’s hand. My brother two-and-a-half,
Bored and fussing, but my folks could ill-afford a sitter
This was a momentous occasion.
They were going to interview my father.

He was a disabled veteran and doctor.
The television station thought it was interesting
He had been a patient with such a serious condition
(He lost both feet) and a new young doctor practicing in their city.
No one at the station knew enough about his practice (anesthesia)
Or his malady (amputee) to interview him with any authority.

They had to recruit an older local doctor to supply them with copy
For a half-hour interview. My parents both thought it was
Pretty jazzy and something both us kids should see.
We little boys wondered at it all. We got to see the interview
Later that week on the folks’ old black and white Motorola.

And now it’s sixty-two years later. My mother is still alive.
I hearken back to that old early time as though it were
Two weeks ago, and wonder how much of it I have
Correct, straight, right in my mind after all these years.
I will never forget the look on my father’s face
When he ushered us into that white pegboard  studio,
Ushering us into the parts of his life we could scarcely understand.

Arts and the Man


Writing and poetry are not an illness,
Not a confession of mental problems
Nor is it an act of shame
Not even in America where it earns no money.


You may say “Well maybe
It earns money in South America”
But you would have to take a guess about that
And so would I, and that is the kind of shame
We Yankees love to wail and
Announce our guilts about –
The ignorance we have about foreign people.

As if we invented prejudice,
Surely a misplaced pride.
No, prejudice has had no discovery,
No scientific beginning
It was there when the first caveman
In Olduvai Gorge hit the second caveman
Because he was a stranger


No, we Yankees, we Americanos
We are really big on New! and Improved!
So our prejudices are new and improved, too
And they have to do with earning power and money


And poetry and writing earn no money anymore
None significant, not even on Amazon
So it must be mentally ill
And that’s a big taboo


So why write? Why try to do something so old-fashioned?
Because you must? You’ve got this big inspiration
That drives you to write with a bullwhip
As it were, wearing black stilettos and fishnet stockings?


No. That’s something you say to be friendly to your friends
To give them a reason, a comforting lie
You write, and you cry, and everyone cries, because
In a country where no one cries, you can.


So go ahead, read all this, say to yourself
“Huh. This is just self-empowerment.”
Except writing makes no money, right?
So no, this is not about power.


I mean, you might feel bad for fifteen minutes
About how thankless writing is
Or how little you have thanked writers
That changes nothing and is no kind of power.


So what’s it about?
You spent twelve years at least
Sitting at a stupid cramped desk
Being taught to solve problems,
Find answers.
Answers are not my job.
I was shouted at and shouted at
To give no answers
So now it’s your turn to use your head


And the answer isn’t about me.
You never met me, just my profile.
There’s no reason to wonder about me
I’m just a writer hunched at a desk
With a bright desk lamp.
People hunch over much harder things.
That’s hardly the point,
Is it?

Store Supplies

It was now Year Two
Of the great crash of civilization,
The end of all prosperity,
The surcease of communication
The winking out of all electronics

The grocery stores put signs up
Along all the windows
That said, in effect,
“Most of the food is free now,
As long as it lasts.

“We don’t know how long that is
It depends on the suppliers
And how much gasoline they have.
Put your guns and weapons on safety
Place them in your shopping carts,

“And come on in. The crew here
Are armed with shotguns
Have a nice day, actually.”
The grocery staff are nothing
If not sensible, and also punctual

And this whole piece of town is
Grateful for that. I tried a while back
To calculate how many people
Would be in this town’s quadrant
But came to realize no use

Would come of it. Why figure population?
Nor is it possible anymore, really
Who knows how many have come
Or gone, been killed, been born
And what does it matter to know?

Suppose too many come to the grocery store?
What would one say to them?
“Sorry, you can’t have any food”?
People try to delay going to the store anyway
But clean out the neighbors’ foods first

Waste not, want not. But we
Try to be nice to each other
And not shoot at each other
We try to be as calm and cool
As the days demand

Calendars fall to the floor useless
Are trampled underfoot

And if leaders of other countries
Call this a shithole country
Well, perhaps they will have a crisis too
In their own land, and suffer
A power outage with their Power Outage

Then they will understand
The time for malice, ill will
Is gone and won’t return ever.

He Copies To Learn

He looks and finds no ideas of his own
He sees other people and imitates them
And learns thereby to paint


He is a chameleon, a thief, a plagiarist
He paints impressionism
But it is neither abstraction nor realist
His heart refuses to accept it for years


He writes romance and humor
He tries poems and styles and stories on for size
Other people and their work amuse and fascinate


He grows old, he thinks he wants to paint for children
He paints deception in primary colors
He grows backward, he grows young


He is poised on the brink of discovering a style
He jumps out of bed to write it down
Before he forgets or before Samuel Coleridge’s gentleman caller,
“A person from Porlock” comes to visit


Something about youth or children?
No, youth….well anyway about painting
In primary colors, or writing, no, painting
He wants to write but there is nothing to write about
He wants to paint but there is nothing to paint about


A good night of sleep is what he needs
It will come to him tomorrow

Darksome Maze

Between the crescent of your smile and the aspect of your eyes

What is the inclination or the breathing predilection?

When I stay on your same page our talk is effortless.

I’m certain soon or later you will ask me in a question.

In a context, in a paragraph, in a sense I fly beyond

“Who are you?” and I whisper down my collar as it were

“Buddy what do I reply?” and my old morale will answer

“There isn’t a valid reply”

There once was an old, old labyrinth on the island of Crete

The remains are there to see still, and many stories sprang up

About it as stories always do about the old…..a monster

Half bull half man, perhaps pathetic, perhaps lonely

Perhaps vicious. A hero who finds him by spooling out

A thread given him by his lover, slaying the minotaur there

In the darksome maze’s middle. An arena of bull dancers,

Young women and men, given as tributes either to dance

With a bull or be slain by the monster, freed by Theseus

And led home to families they no longer knew.

How much truth is there in the dust of times? That’s the headache

That goes with the artifact digger’s job. The palace of Minos

Stood so long ago the pillars on one side stood painted brick red

The small end at the base, the large end at the crown

And this convention took however long to die out

And allow a new convention with the Greeks and the Romans

To spring up. Only then did they have what we call today

Ancient times. It was that arcane. It was that obscure.

It was that opaque and hard to penetrate

The clarity of that culture.

And yet it is nothing compared to

The way of woman with man.

Etiquette

Hi. I’ve got another rant. This is a short one, about human nature.

We have this practice, this custom, and it’s a funny one: for the sake of etiquette we pretend that everyone we know never makes any mistakes. To listen to us talk, we are all perfect. We don’t make wrong decisions. We don’t give into temptations with serious consequences. We are each harmless, and everyone we know is harmless.

We do this partly because we don’t want to fight with each other. We prefer to think of our friends as free of problems, as disinclined to fight, as perfect people. Why? Because we don’t hang out with people of low standards. With some of us at least, respecting our friends is really just respect of ourselves.

Why do we insist on this etiquette? That is to say, why does talking about out friends’ shortcomings piss them off? Why does talking about our own make our friends uncomfortable? The truth is glaringly obvious but we pretend it isn’t there, because at least part of the time we are all “Nice Guys.”

Nice Guys don’t tell the truth. Mark Twain wrote about this behavior at length, and claimed he thought it was hilarious sometimes and occasionally tragic. The writers of the oldest books in the world did the best job they could to present human beings by our truthful nature – that we were wayward, rebellious, disrespectful, dangerous, treacherous, with the attention span of butterflies. Quite a few writers have taken it a step further, and claim that since this is the way humans are, this is the way we ought to be.

My question isn’t a grand or glorious one about human nature. Just a small one – why do we have the etiquette that whoever we know never makes mistakes, and we don’t either? I’m putting this in the form of a survey. I think you would reply with different answers. In fact I would bet huge on it, and it’s a safe bet, because it’s something people seldom discuss, therefore no consensus.

Definitions And Meanings

“Wickedness and Virtue. Decency and Immorality. Danger and Harmlessness.” I looked at the old man.

“Are there ways to define or come to an understanding of these so one might define them for oneself, so one can come to a discreet peace with them in one’s life?”

“Hah!” He looked up with a sudden jerk, grinned broadly, and poked me hard in the short ribs with his cane. “Finally a question worth answering. Been waiting two weeks for a  good enough ‘un. Here, young fella, here’s some change. Go get us some pop. I’m partial to ginger beer. Get yourself what you like. This will take a while.”

The soda pop was icy cold, condensation running off it like sweat, like an antique magazine advertisement. The old guy took a gusty swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand with the carelessness of a person grown past the point of caring what people thought. “Make yourself comfortable young fella.”

He closed his eyes and a sort of peace fell over his face. “All these values you named to me in your question – they all have one basic thing in common. People always assume they have the same definitions for all human beings. For example, what is wickedness for one man will also be wickedness for another girl, the same for a man in another country, the same for all humans. It isn’t so and never has been.

“A definition is a bare start on understanding any concept. You must study wickedness and decency and all these words as they appear in context in any writing. Fortunately looking up where words appear is simple and fast with the internet today.”

He took a swig from his strange drink and smacked his tongue twice. I remembered my own. “You can find meanings for all of these words except Dangerous. A person who is dangerous is often unaware of his danger. Ironic, because a man may grasp its opposite, Harmlessness.

“What takes a while, and sometimes a long while, is to arrive at your own concept of these words, all six of ‘em, and unfortunately many other words. There are no universal definitions that are more than bare phrases. Just the same as there are no universal people. If you honestly want the Meanings of words, you make them yourself.”

I snorted under my breath into my bottle. “You are saying there is no prototype of a word or concept?”

He gazed at me for a long three seconds. “Think about it , bud. How could there be? Propose a word all people, even all who speak a same language, would understand.”

He waited. I considered. Generally universal words such as compassion, God, love and others had NO definitions. I gave up with a shrug and smiled. He said: “Bud, you’ll have to be more persistent than that. You are taking on nothing less than Meaning itself. Here’s my appointment card. Meet me in a week. Also, look up Jung’s archetypes and search for a fallacy. You’re turn to bring change. Bring change to all this argument, too.”

Window Jamb

If you are full of stories do not write one
Instead describe a scene – this description
Will be hard to write, full of stops and starts
Fitting and proper, the way a poem should be

Because in a life full of stories a scene where nothing happens
Is rare, as rare as a poem should be
(And if your life has no stories do not write poetry
Write stories instead. That is also hard)

And hard it shall be, like writing with the wrong hand
Like screwing a screw with a driver too long,
Like painting a sash with a brush too large
But when it is done it is like a window fresh finished

New casement, new paint, new glass, curtains, rod –
And outside is a piece of life like a square of your back garden
Sunlit, light and shadow playing, bees, plants,
Wind massaging the trees like a hair stylist shampooing matrons

A piece of life you designed, finished, painted and wrote down
But it probably can’t be easy. The easy poems were your
First ones, long ago, and usually “easy” vanishes
As fast as dust settles on your newmade window sash

Playing Smart

You know how some people play dumb?
Well some of us play smart

My problem
Was always happiness
It took a stranger
To reroute me

Happiness is not
Something I make
And it’s not
Something I find

Happy is something
I decide to become
Happy is something
I decide to be
It’s something
I decide to remain

No that’s not it either
Unhappiness is a problem
To be found out
And got rid of

And if I have to decide
A dozen times a day
That’s what I do
Unless someone is in the way
Then they’ve got my happiness

Then I hold up my hand
To their face
And say
Fork it over Buddy