Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Dead

My husband lost his shirt at cards; insolvent, he then drowned
in slick Cancun on our honeymoon; years now, it still astounds
how fast, how fast, a living hell can turn a life around.

My godchild told me pointedly if she were to attempt
to die that she'd succeed at once, a word that doctor kept,
and took a hundred opiates and drifted to her death.

My punk rock pimp, a crush of mine, loved theater and art.
He sodomized and strangled a young man who broke his heart,
then packed a bag of bondage toys and left for foreign parts.

Before her death, my mother called and calmly sat me down;
if she could do it all again, she'd have no children, none.
She lived her life in anger and, despite us, all alone.

My father drank and slept around; he was a well-liked guy.
He said I love you once to me the night before he died
Was that a feeling come too late, or panic in his eyes?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Late Summer Poem

You must have seen it, at a crepuscule shore;
It strikes as lightning does, trembling the sky,
with dying rose and aster glowing, calling "more"
to the last flash of egret possibility.

You must have heard it: mad crickets in the dusk,
the flap of lone water on smooth stone and bark,
the sound of a loon in the thick summer musk,
the breath of the mango tree whispering in the dark.

Self-centered, we cannot see God in ourselves,
and in others we overlook and miss the divine;
in nature, not ours, we sense eternal lives
for a moment alive in our chattering minds.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Girl @theParisReview Says Uncool

The idiot girl @theParisReview says uncool:
that, to critique, the phrase, the trappings of,
is used by “100% pretentious hacks.” And
the editor @PoetryFound retweets her crap,
and an article on pooping, besides. I was
going to tweet a Baudelaire, from “Beauty,” line,
line by displaced line:
I am beautiful, o mortals, like a dream of stone
But thought better of it (a proscribed phrase?)
—an unpretentious #Stalinist might
tell me not to translate, or Baudelaire not to write.
(But what does this mean:
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes?
Is the idiot girl @ParisCool right?) No, she is
an idiot, disliking a history without her part,
as I dislike the way the young are heartless, mean,
calling it honest (and I was different @18?)

This poem originally appeared in Gargoyle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An excerpt from "Mirror, or a Flash in the Pan"

An excerpt from "Mirror, or a Flash in the Pan," from my new collection #specialcharacters, available from Amazon and Unlikely Books.

$ $ $

Ritar dislikes children, but is writing a story, to be illustrated, about an adorable and precocious little girl who plans to visit “Parrots,” France. She starts drinking again after long sobriety during the process, downing large tumblers of cheap gin, until she tears the pages up and sets them on fire in the sink. She sobers up long enough to send out her sex genre piece, recycled from the last rejection.

Proposal 1, Mass Market: The Cult
A retired vice cop receives a letter from Hetera, a call girl he was obsessed with in the ‘70s. In her urgent correspondence, she writes to him of a complicated conspiracy to gaslight her. The conspirators are mobsters, rock stars, aristocrats, Park Avenue psychiatrists, Nazis, and a who’s who of writers and artists. As he follows her story, it will take him through the secret lives of the rich and famous; to sordid vaults of porn and prostitution; to the heyday of Studio 54 and Plato’s Retreat and Salvador Dali’s sex parties for artists and the poor; Warhol’s Factory; and down to the last chance A.A. meetings on the old Bowery. Is this the madness, mania, and mayhem of a professional party girl—or is Hetera the victim of a real cult?

. . . the papers, her eternal poet's rustling of papers . . . holding them in his hand, Henry had a palpable moment of remembering her in his hand, under his command, when the most important thing in the world was to be inside her. He shook it off. As a young policeman, a detective on vice still hoping to write the definitive novel, she was his muse, the Whore of Mensa, mad but gorgeous and brilliant, maniacally oversexed, and obsessed, at least for a few months, with him. The sex, he remembered, getting an erection from the memory, the constant sex, and the writing, page after page of poems and stories and the first full novel, raw, flawed, but energetic, alive, so alive . . . then her cure, her overweight, her depression; he was relieved when she married another. And he forgot her among more conventional women, went to law school and lived a solid upper-middle class life, but he never forgot what was possible in intensity between two people.

We will love like dogwood.
Kiss like cranes.
Die like moths,
I promise . . .

Ritar drinks another tumbler of gin, and writes another proposal.

$ $ $

Friday, August 15, 2014

New Life 5 (Mistranslation of Joseph Brodsky)

Imagine twilight in the new life: Clouds formed here
are better than sunlight in the old. Cicadas sing a
sonorous “ch,” and now that the tanks are gone,
a classical perspective reigns, although things remain
vulnerable. And the thoughts of things, how easily one
can forget them! And the thoughts as well that beget them.

Imagine people coming out of rooms, faint, important
only to themselves, where chairs stand, like the letters
“b”and “d,” and save them from falling. They have that
attachment to place, characteristic of Penelope, despite
the white walls with their tidy trim of maize, despite
the old divan, the bare parquet, the yellow Chinese vase.

You’ve been saved: Local Pomonas and Venuses don’t
seduce you, and now, having looked Cyclops in the eye,
you don’t suffer much from indifference. You don’t hide
your trumps, or play your cards close to your vest. The crow
sings “kr”at dawn. And you, like him, sing a pastoral song
with no especial fear or love or need to belong.

Imagine the radio is playing an old hymn, weaving
music from the alphabet, now “Betsy.”now “Abraham,”
now “Sam.” The airs hold influences: statues, rules of
multiplication, stamps. In the end, our curiosity about the
boundaries of these places, these once blank spaces, is
a kind of art. Twilight, crepuscule, the last sun’s ray:
In the new life, they don’t tell the moment: Stay.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Autobio, for Robin Williams

1968 Quebec get drunk 1st time in public 12 years old drink cider smoke a Cuban cigar get sick pass out fall down cheek on the floor hear my girlfriends rank me out they think that I can’t hear

1971 1st suicide attempt age 15 1st psych ward Gracie Square

1972 Smoke pot in the Waldorf bathrooms I say rich kids don’t get busted am right think about jumping in front of the 7 or out the window at school go home watch Star Trek instead

1973 Switzerland drink grappa in Lugano 17 & very cute suicide attempts: 1 slashing wrists 1 pills overdose check into cheap hotel with an orange and some gin take synthetic morphine & write a long note morphine like acid run naked hotel lobby punch a nun coma 3 days want to drink Calvados like Hemingway in Europe never do

1974 Providence University #1 take speed buy marijuana for $8 an oz cut classes play Monopoly with joints on free parking drink beer flunk out get a job as a waitress truck stop early shift take dexadrine my sister’s for clinical depression like speed

1975 New York City University 2 smoke pot drink coffee don’t eat save $ to drink drink as long as I have $ midnight start to drink my carfare sell my tokens to drink live in Queens walk home 2 fare zone age 19

1976 Flunk out go to Boston get a job in a bar Crème de Menthe in the morning nitrous oxide at night Kahlua in the morning scotch & water at night Godfathers for a quarter Amaretto ladies’ night come to hotel with a man I’ve never seen well hello on the Commons same hotel where I OD nice hotel

1977 Back to New York continue my education drinking Cutty by the Hudson boy falls into the river come to he is gone he is 20 he was 20 20 yrs old just like me goodbye
v 1978 I’m a hooker in a whorehouse in the kitchen there are bottles don’t like vodka I drink vodka hate gin but I drink gin smoke pot with dedication roll & smoke and go to work I can roll a joint with 1 hand I can roll a joint with no hands no one else rolls fucking fast enough I get so fucking pissed

1979 CBGB’s black and blue and I am bored I am tripping I am drinking I am popping I am bored a boy who looks like a grave painting asks me to leave outside of Phebe’s can't find the train station can’t find the street decide to go away

1979 The Yucatan take peyote dance with rattles my lover lets me drink a little beer black eyes & rib cage healed go to Cuernavaca dancing climb volcanoes every day till I see no human faces then I’m fine

1980 New York beautiful Bellevue locked ward scabies crab lice very bad little bugs jump on my elbows back and forth between my eyes bugs crawl on my skin and under in my armpits & my crotch have DTs but bugs are real have DTs very bad

1981 Fat depressed & unemployed live with parents treat me okay like the dog okay sleep all day drink Papa’s vodka watch TV until the dawn try to kill myself can’t do it this for 27 mos

1983 Antabuse & Lithium get a boyfriend get a job take both until I don’t

1985 Get married 3/19 & 3/26 he drowns fuck you God you fucking Nazi fuck you God you prick

1986 Prescriptions MDs give me lots of scripts Xanax Halcyon Lomotil Valium & Mellaril Xanax scripts in 7 drugstores uptown downtown & in Queens Xanax AM Xanax PM take a Xanax Dr. says

1989 West Side suicide why not no motherfucking reason not 300 pills and I don’t die brain is damaged but I don’t die why won’t I fucking die get a gun or jump the next time whisper: show me how to live or let me die

1990 Don’t die they say don’t die I listen & I don’t know why drop the bottle take their hands Lois Thurman Hans and Kate don’t die they say don’t die

1993 Glad to be alive almost not dead & I don’t mind maybe glad to be alive

2014 Look at me inside of me upon this edge there is a God inside I love her fiercely I love you (don’t die)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Course of Grief

This sorrow trips your steps like stones on a path,
always loosening, always falling, preventing a climb.

You will not emerge from her stone chamber. You,
even if you could, would not forget her subterranean voice.

Her bright call will never return, nor will her eyes
open in their sockets. Alone with her gemstones you cry:

emerald, iolite, rings for fingers now ash, for an urn
turned and emptied in the sea, a will like yours.

Show me your tear-scarred eyes, show me your face:
say to me, I was robbed, the best was taken

because one thing was missing, because the time
was a moment too short. Did I lose her I loved

because someone was dull or for no reason at all?
Because some fate failed did I lose my child?

I give you keening, silence, my hands for tears;
I, too, know that stone voice and the chasm of these years.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

100 Thousand Poets for Change day is September 27!

Izdubar (ekphrastic on Carl Jung's Red Book image)

Be careful, you who straddle
science and inner sooth:
giants collapse, learning
that we cannot reach the sun, and
scholars and sages are struck blind,
their heads spun full around; they
turn into prescient hermaphrodites
to plumb the Oedipal truths.

Can truth be done, without the sun?
Can you live without its light?
Can you blindly follow Apollo
with Tiresias through each doubt?
Can you live without your cherished truths,
can you learn to live without?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Love is an actor like Pitt, young and handsome and fuckishly fit;
Love flexes muscles so well, takes your breath away just like Denzel.
Seen on the screen by night, love's never paltry, but always delights.
It's Danny DeVito by day, though, when the curtain is taken away.

Love is an acrobat, jumps and juggles and passes the hat;
moves you in strange new ways as you're hypnotized under his sway.
Turning fast somersaults, Eros's gymnastics score 10 without fault,
But leave you with sprains and scars when, inevitably, you miss the bar.

Love is the rupture of heart; its sharp scalpel will cut mine apart.
Only a surgeon could see how to operate so well on me.
This is the intricate pain, come dissecting my frog hurt again.
Eros is clinically bold, and a professional, totally cold.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Exorcism (Found Poem)

Adapted from “Group Dynamics,” People of the Lie─The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck, and “The Forging of the Malevolent Personality” in Speaking with the Devil by Carl Goldberg. From the CD Exorcism by Larissa Shmailo

I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground

Consecration: On the morning of March 16, 1968
Elements of Task Force Barker
Charlie Company Task Force Barker
Moved into a small group of hamlets
In the Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam
Collectively known as My Lai

It was a routine mission
To search and destroy
A typical mission
To search and destroy

The soldiers were poorly trained and hastily assembled
They were tired, poorly trained, and hastily assembled
They had sustained casualties from booby traps and mines
They had not engaged the enemy but sustained casualties
Had had no military success for over a month
The soldiers were poorly trained.

The soldiers were probably not aware of the Geneva Convention
Which states it is a war crime to kill a civilian
A punishable crime to kill a civilian
To kill a soldier or enemy who has surrendered
Who is wounded and has laid down his arms
To kill a noncombatant

They were probably not aware of the Law of Land Warfare
In the Army Field Manual, the U.S. Army Field Manual
Which specifies that orders in violation of the Geneva Convention
Any order in violation of the Geneva Convention
Is illegal and not to be obeyed

The soldiers were poorly trained

The written orders were ambiguous
The My Lai orders were ambiguous
Just waste the place, a Louie said
A Louie might have said

Though essentially all elements of Task Force Barker
Were involved in some way in the My Lai operation
The primary element of ground troop involved
Was C Company 1st Battalion of the 20th infantry
Of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade

When Charlie Company moved into the hamlets of My Lai
They found no combatants not a single combatant
Only old men and children, unarmed women, men, and children
All civilian and unarmed

The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
Civilians on that day

The killings took a long time

The people were killed in a variety of ways
In some instances troops would simply stand at a hut
And spray it with fire or throw hand grenades
In other instances villagers including small children
Were shot as they attempted to escape

The killings took a long time

The most large scale killings occurred at My Lai 4
There the first platoon of Charlie Company
Commanded by Lieutenant Calley
Herded villagers into groups of twenty or more
Who were then shot down by rifle fire
Machine guns and hand grenades

The killings took a long time

The number of soldiers can only be estimated
Perhaps only fifty actually killed the civilians
Perhaps just two hundred watched them shoot the civilians
Only just some two hundred directly witnessed the killings
By the end of the massacre approximately 500
Knew of operation My Lai

None of them reported the crimes

A helicopter pilot in flyby to the mission
A warrant officer in air support in flyby to the mission
Could see from the air what was happening in the hamlets
He landed, tried to talk to the troops on the ground
Then went airborne and radioed headquarters from his copter
Told his superior officers what he saw at My Lai They did not seem concerned

The soldiers were poorly trained

When a panel was convened
Four years later to investigate
The events at My Lai
They inquired if this atrocity
Was similar or different
From other war crimes
Which had occurred
In this and other American wars

They noted that no study
Had ever been made
Of any war crimes or atrocities
Committed by Americans at war
And requested that a study
Of the subject might be made

The panel was told that the current administration
At the time would be embarrassed by the findings of the panel
And that further studies or embarrassment
That might ensue from such a study
Was inadvisable at the time

Lieutenant Calley was convicted
For his crimes at My Lai 4
But not his Captain Medina
His superior officer
Not Lieutenant Colonel Barker
Who Commanded Task Force Barker
Nor Lieutenant Barker’s com
Who said,
Boys let’s bring that coonskin home….

In Serbia a woman calls her youngest son now to her
She tells him to sit down she will now explain to him
Why his father has seemed cold harsh and cruel to him sometimes
She tells him of his life

When his father was a young boy at the time of the World War
He was captured by the Germans under guard at the railroad
He watched unarmed men and women emerge slowly from a boxcar
At the head of the ramp was a strong commanding figure
An SS man in the black uniform of the SS Medical Corp

He is singing Meistersinger as the people search for loved ones
For their children and their parents
German soldiers beat the people
As they run before the guns the SS officer shouts In a commanding baritone voice

“Freeze. Listen. Do as I say.”

One very old man perhaps eighty years old
A scholarly old man who has fallen to the ground
His clothes are caked with mud and his eyeglasses are askew
A woman crawls up next to him as if she knew him well
He turns to her and says, “God. . . .perhaps the man. . .
In the black uniform. . .the imposing man in the black uniform,
Maybe they sent him to save us?”

The officer is singing as he points to the left
To the right and the left
And the prisoners are herded to the gates of a camp
And the young Yugoslav watched the people as they marched
As they hurried to the camps where they would die

And the mother turned around and she said to her son
In a voice he’d never heard his mother use to him before
She said your father learned that day what I will tell you right now

“It is better to be a Nazi and survive
It is better to be a Nazi and survive
It is better to be a Nazi and survive
Than one of those people so helpless and naïve
That they have no choice but to pray to their God
That the Nazis will save them from harm.”

The boy he was well-trained.

In Iowa in ’66 a boy gets into trouble
Sells some pot and gets himself caught
And he gets himself in trouble
And the judge says join the Army
Or you’re going to do some hard time
The boy signs up for Nam

I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground I stand on holy ground I stand on holy ground I stand on holy ground

Sunday, August 03, 2014

AWP 2015 Panel: Daughters of Baba Yaga

Very pleased to learn that Katia Kapovich, Irina Mashinski, Gloria Mindock, Annie Pluto and I have been given a place on the AWP Conference program in Minneapolis in 2015. We will be reading our poetry in a presentation called "Daughters of Baba Yaga: The Eastern European Woman Poet in the United States."

Friday, August 01, 2014


Kalinivka, Kalinivka: The ground over the mass graves is hard, the soft grass grows. The Ukrainian Guard, boy and girl, make love, happy to be alive. In the Ukraine, collectivized, they walked on corpses. And the Germans alone protest, her father tells the girl. Siberia, purges. Like the Irish, their parents collaborate; Hitler fights the Russian and English masters of their rural lands. Now here, Kalinivka. The mass graves crack with green life. 1941 is forgotten in the summer of ’43. She is 19, pregnant soon.

By1943, the ghetto holds the few not deported, living in tunnels, basements, caves, the hiding ones, the ones who know. All the rest to camps in Poland, Germany, or dead. The boy no longer likes the girl, but through her, he got his Kapo job. Even his mother says, marry. Have a child. The female Kapo bears a boy through the camps, Prymsl, through the unknown tombs of Poland, the unmarked graves, the walls marked with Jewish blood, the bloody broken nooses, the dark rain. She wants the boy to marry her, he makes excuses, says, the Germans won’t permit. That the child will die soon after the war, that she will beat her head upon the grave until it bleeds, that sorrow is unknown. The death of the Jewish children is unseen. Poland is always green.

Germany, Harz Mountains. The Germans turn now, now SS. The war is failing. Fewer the slaves to command, the girl, heavy with child, translates, working, starving, carried in rail carts for miles to build the V-2s. A rachitic Jewess cleans the barracks, the boy’s eye turns, with pity, with lust; he gives her bread. From Erfurt to the extension camp, Buchenwald’s new Dora, Northausen. Here they spare the rope to hang. All are hungry, the Germans too. The Allies bomb the industrial camp. Liberation. Rows of corpses, the eternal rows, line Northausen. The Germans are forced to respect the dead. Kalinivka, Prymsl, the unseen dead, now here in respectful symmetry, no longer piled in heaps, but rectangular, marked. The flowers grow, the burghers sing, “After every December, there comes a new spring."

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