IMG_7361The novel Clio’s Mobile Home is a facet of my creative work. Several characters in my novel write poems; I am serious about writing poetry. I also work on short shorts, and short stories. They are all modes of thinking about identity, transcendence and beauty in contemporary life. Art keeps us aloft, but it is more than decoration. Its force can be astounding. The artist becomes an instrument, and art lives to tell the tale.

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Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Pops of blue.  Against what.  Skeins of gray.  Lure of monochrome.  Screens of violence.  At 5 am I watched a match between two women, battling over tennis balls in Melbourne. Seven shot dead in Jerusalem after praying.  Grainy witness to the Memphis flaying.  Keening and pleading for his mama.  Around the world in an hour.   In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces.  These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet.  After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit.   Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in.  And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone.  Missing pieces.  Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad?  During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables.   Also, I was observing my oral French.  Somehow that mattered.  A traveler’s exile ends in language.  Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe.  Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail.  The open emptiness of cobalt blue.  Pop pop pop. 

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How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

SQUIRREL Meret Oppenheim

True discipline would have me attending to Winter Gray, waiting patiently for its secrets, listening to pale nuances of voices, sitting with dull flashes under a clotted cloud blanket. This season’s abundant rain and gray have worn down my thinking – first step achieved in an “art of erosion,” as poet Alice Oswald calls it! But alas, its proper song isn’t singing for me yet….

I go to other amusements, to what flummoxes me with love and delight.  For instance, a squirrel caught in mid-metaphor, courtesy of artist Meret Oppenheim.  Her retrospective at MoMA shows an imagination that loves the witty twining of reality (the German-born artist, who died in 1985, is best known for her fur-lined teacup, “Object.”)   How does Oppenheim evoke such squirreliness with a perfectly pitched strip of fur attached to a beer glass?  She gets the tail’s quivering stillness, erect in its S-curve, plush, sensual —full of lover’s escapades, all leaps and feats contained in that moment. Its finer thoughts, ancestors, its tasting notes of nuts, belief in better days to come – everything is contained in that pert tail.  Utterly distinct, yet refusing the idea of being utterly separated and distinct.

The mind leaps.  The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window.  Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest.  Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

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Through New Year’s open doors
a host of voices echo, Say Yes!

Back then, I was weary of Non: 
Don’t run down the stairs! Don’t cry!

OUI! Formed in France where I broke apart 
and transformed, child in my belly, “I” to “we.”

 The exquisite shell of myself shattered by my own egg.
A future lifetime of “we.”  As we all should be.

To the new year, OUI.

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Mellow the Morning After

The morning after, the room exhales
its smoke and mellow wax.
Bivalves cradle each other on a forgotten plate.
Lip prints, crumpled napkins, the tint of sun

like an unmade bed — all that happened, happened,
in an instant of excess;
like a poem, it wings itself 
without words, long life or perfection.

The slow unpeeling of a lemon 
on a painter’s canvas will not convince us
to mind our decadence.
Time does pass — that’s why we celebrate.

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Viva My Magenta!

Pantone’s 2023 Viva Magenta

Magenta?  I swoon, no matter how much naysayers insist I should pay attention to the end of the world.  Pantone may have anointed Viva Magenta the color of 2023, but I’ve been living in that color since the cusp of adolescence.  In a series of evolving poems, I’m exploring the how, what, why of colors.  Here, from childhood memory, are some lines with jolts of pure precision about self-construction:

streams of plastic beads in orange and pink
over my childhood window,
wall of color, and what of the palette I made of my skin,
vocabulary of my first identity
a bolder version of girl that I envisioned

black-haired, black-eyed, skin olivy (my mother
called it green) 
Picasso glazed a green girl before a mirror
Manet working magic with black 
I did magic with magenta, painting a hot-pink babe

The same poem includes a royal sighting: an image of the way colors erupt and disrupt with their beauty.  

Stunning, that man stepping from the commuter train cutting a cool
diagonal across the macadam —
his skin deep and black, his baseball cap magenta
vibrant, shivery, majesty shielded by his own boldness turning his palette into talisman
daring pink to blush and daring pale to scatter
‘pretty’ to man up in Red Sox country, to visionary 
himself a living painting 

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Colorists on the Brink of Winter

“The colorists get it entirely wrong: nature is colored in winter and cold in summer, there’s nothing colder than full summer sun.” Tell me more, Camille Pissarro!  Tell me, French landscape painter, about winter’s color, now that leaves now lying dry in piles, like potato skins or paper bags, light, giddy in the wind, when the pale tones of sky seem colored by remainders.  What am I, color addict, missing — what can I see better?

Oh, the brave red leaves still bright on the chokeberry! 
Oh, the clouds, neatly and darkly swirling as I leave the wine boutique, seemingly curated for a consumer outing.
No, those eruptions of drama are too easy, low-hanging fruit.

Pissarro was sure of his paradoxes, having meditated on painting, perception and landscape with a young Cézanne.  (I’m reading T.J. Clark’s “If These Apples Should Fall.”).  As I unravel this, I see that Pissarro was a consummate stylist suppressing the tick of giving humans what we want and need from nature, of pressing human eros onto landscape.  Instead, he gives us nature without desire. Instead of our narratives of drama and excitement, he gives us a swath of everything without hierarchy or privilege, the totality in concert.  It’s less a harmony than monotony, a stretching of a country moment, as Clark writes, “unique, noticeable, difficult unrepeatable persistence.”  

Not beautiful because of a hidden light, but because it is stubborn.  Winter’s long contemplation.

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The Early Bird and other Myths

Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye  —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices,
champagne-splashed agent of chaos,

so loud, you say, they keep waking you up.
Suspicious of the day’s order — FB couples,

poets in their happy dresses — I say,
mum and dad, they fuck you up. 

The early bird does not catch the worm.

I saw one writhing on my plate, 5 pm, 
in yesterday’s winter dark. 

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Why Rake

That patch of clean clear grass will last only as long as I stand there, brown elm leaves
falling around me, and yet I keep raking.  

The sea of leaves will overtake us, as will early darkness. 

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

Clapping the piles to my chest: the only thing I can only believe in is the absurd.

Leaf them their, they’ll melt like snow, or will they? 

Their crisp peering skins 

the brown leaf, waves, the surging sea of them.  If I made piles of leaves to jump in, the kids in the dorm next-door would all come for their goalless pleasure.  In the name of decomposition.

Animals, funghi.  There is always funk before recreation.

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Bastille to Puritan Village: Strange Magic

Each time, after countless trips, still strange magic.
Hours ago, we were eating croissants in the sun, 
looking at the soft green column of the Bastille,

the genie de la Liberté, golden wings aloft, still leaping.
Today I wake up to crisp carpeting leaves
in an old Puritan village.

The time capsule of my body registers the mystery.
Back home, friends say: how fast that went! 
Routine moves briskly like an airport moving walkway. 
Decades ago, dazzled by a bold travel escapade,
I vowed to keep displacement center stage.  
We met a friend outside our office building,

It was dusk on Sixth Avenue, New York.
He was cursing the broken Xerox machine.

Rimbaud says make yourself a stranger.
He was young, so was I.  Still we try.  Je est.  
I is.  Til I trip again.

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Back to Scroll One

[Some smart-aleck loser decided to hack my little poetry site — hope he got some jollies! We’ve been out of commission for a while. I am back-posting this piece, and will jump to the present presently!]

How amazing to be in Israel when the cycle of Torah reboots and goes back to Scroll One, Genesis.

In the beginning, a navel.

In the beginning, a gleam in God’s eye.

In the beginning, darkness over the surface of deep, an emptiness so charged and gusty you could hardly breathe.

In the seed of the beginning lies all potential: ribs, apples, hips, feral cats, wild bougainvillea, kings and wars, death and grieving, sexy knees, black leather jackets, billets doux, baldies, mobile phone junkies, black hats, the whole gamut into infinity.

Faraway looks, sea crashing on the rocks. Traffic circles, radiated sunsets, fission process, heartbreak and its abysses.

Trying to make order out of chaos — beresheit – was never an easy task, even for you know who.  You might even say, in the beginning was the beginning, and the rest is commentary.

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