THE WOMAN I LEFT YOU FOR
FLASHES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
On three hours' sleep the car
has to run on autopilot,
I have renounced any pretense
My hands know where the wheel
needs to be turned, where
one road becomes the next
I am too tired for road rage.
Depth perception is for discussions
of Dutch and Flemish painting.
At least they give the illusion,
this morning I lack even that.
In the car listen on the CD player
to Carmen: Troyanos, Domingo.
Beautifully sung, pedestrian,
surprise me, please God, surprise.
USA, 8.48am, 7/16/03
So we read it: Uday and Qusay are dead,
Iraq's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
minus the recorders or Hamlet's lame jokes.
You can doctor a photograph.
Identity theft is big business
or a diversion depending on your mood.
They've got the dental records?
To hell with that--maybe they have Uday's dick too,
the way urban legend says the FBI has John Dillinger's.
If that's so, the Army should put it in the Museum,
plant photos in the Baghdad Enquirer:
"Here it is, proof that the biggest prick in Iraq is gone!"
Uday and Qusay belong in the Freak Show
of the Unspeakable next to two opera characters,
Radames and Ramfis Trujillo.
Anyone can fix anything: how do we know who is dead?
Perhaps the dead Hussein Brothers are Photoshop fakes.
Perhaps for that matter Joe Stalin is still alive.
Who would have been his body double?
Maybe that's why they shot Beria right after:
dressed him up like his boss.
Maybe they got Mandelstam's body
out of 15 years in cold storage
to be laid out in Joe's uniform and medals.
Politicians, after all, have strange senses of humor
and anything is possible in Washington, London,
or Moscow when you are utterly amoral.
USA, 2.44pm, 7/23/03
A day of not procrastination but of
nothing, dryness, one of my frequent
strolls into the Desert.
So not to get grandiose: I was not tempted
by the allure of Principalities and Powers,
I was not shown women waved in my face
as they've been before,
I was not even overloaded by work.
I was content. I slept
for the first time in two weeks.
Do I, I wonder, need irritation to write?
A finger upraised by another driver,
an argument with my S.O.,
having to clean up cat puke at 6:15 AM?
None of this.
How do people with nothing to bitch about
lead creative lives?
Do I lead a creative life even when
I'm bitching about something?
I want to solve...
The one I can't solve becomes the poetry,
what someone called the argument with oneself.
Public Radio at 7 AM while I'm in my car:
"Today is August 6, 2003."
I was 18 months old when it happened.
Still, it is Remembrance Day.
In a Chaim Potok novel a doomed rabbi
prays at the Hiroshima shrine, recites
the Mourners' Kaddish to remember the dead
by magnifying and sanctifying
the name of God.
I have dreamed, this night past, of myself
returned to that same faith, years renounced,
living as I never did before among the frum,
in a place that cooks New Jersey and the Bronx
into a cholent, sweet with the scent of meat and fertility.
Forgiveness, though unspoken, is possible.
Reconciliation--the forgiven life--is asked and granted.
There is nothing to it.
It is another Bronx dream
only now rabbis and women in sheytls
have replaced my parents.
I go back to the Bronx when the shrink
has changed the meds and my head
is still adjusting.
There is nothing to it. And yet
driving across the Rumson bridge,
knowing what I think I know, I hear
the Hiroshima date, and the taste
of earth and ashes fills my mouth.
Kenneth Wolman, USA Irondequoit Bay
THE BOULDER DANCER
(for John Berryman)
Elbow my damned way past obnoxious pedestrians,
Minneapolis Friday--to work, to class
I will cut. This is my day off, unscheduled time.
No sin then: forgiven though uncommitted.
Too responsible. Never a deed like this
on a day I'd teach Thucydides
or the Letters of St. Paul.
So cold here. And the warm apartment remembered,
she quiet, still smarting. Oh Kate, shut the hell up, cut the silent whining: you knew what I was,
what I am, I am Popeye, I yam what I yam,
cannot stop being: Hazelden, AA, nobody,
not even me, prince of my ego, could stop.
This stops, quietus made with a bare boulder.
Fear of heights, of everything, but not today, not now:
my valediction Lenny Bruce, "Father Flotsky's Triumph,"
this wave--not at passers-by but at God Hisself, gwine to face Him
get (Mr. Bones-to-be) Da Judgmen' fo' drunks, fo' cattin' 'round,
& now dis: but let go, cry "Yatta-yatta, Father, yatta-yatta!"
Kenneth Wolman, USA
FOR STAN RICE
I cannot even sit on a toilet seat
without bad news of mortality.
Read Poets & Writers, the intellectual's drekschrift
in lieu of People magazine
read about the task of editing Stan Rice's
last book. Last book. Le Testament de La Morte,
Psalms, prefigurations of 9/11, then
its afterglow: not of love but of smoking bodies.
Thrownback. Memories of "Some Lamb,"
the first poetry I read that left me quivering
wanting, praying to God, to be sick to my stomach
to purge the horror from inside me,
wanting to kill Death because Rice told me
that six years old or ninety-six
I stood in line.
It has taken me years to come
to my personal Center of Indifference.
My ex-wife points her accusing finger,
I feel like I am in the middle
of Bruegel's "Triumph of Death,"
embraced by the bony arms of
a shared past from which all flesh has fallen.
Yet now I can throw my arms around it,
the bony-raggy figure, dance with it,
take away its power with a shrug, a slough.
When my younger son comes to the car,
about to be transported south to begin
a life of his own, away from us,
my ex and I look at each other in a moment
of shared Something, perhaps merely
the knowledge of history, the memory
of fallen flesh: the marriage's, hers, mine.
Strangers on a Train
There was a very appealing
woman in her 40's who rode
the Hoboken train with me each morning.
She'd get on in Middletown,
get off at Newark, presumably
heading to lower Manhattan.
She wore blue-tinted glasses
and had long blond hair.
I did not know her name.
Our only conversations were
"Excuse me" and "Of course"
when she tried to sit down
across from me now and then,
sometimes rub my knee perhaps by accident.
Then she disappeared.
When I went back to work on Monday
after that horrid Tuesday morning,
she was not on the 6:51.
I did not know her,
I do not miss her,
But at this moment
I grieve her.
There was a dour-looking man,
tall and heavy-set, who always wore
the same distressed leather shoes
and carried a ratty briefcase.
I disliked him because he looked
like my girlfriend's ex-husband.
Then he disappeared.
When I went back to work on Monday
after that horrid Tuesday morning,
he was not on the 6:51.
Three weeks after that morning
when I stared up like a turkey
at the rain of Hell, I missed my train
and took a later one.
There he was on the platform,
the ex-husband lookalike,
chainsmoking and seeming unpleasant.
And I was filled with utter joy.
Marianne Moore cut the line from her revision of "Poetry":
"Beyond all this fiddle."
I can intuit why: the lady,
when she wasn't at Mets games
or buying funny hats,
must have shopped at Jersey malls.
Monmouth County is all fiddle.
We await with almost excitement
the hurricane that probably will not come.
Some will be disappointed if it's only rain,
not the ewige vernichtung of a Cat5 killer storm.
My car needs a brake job.
The dentist botched my root canal
and tomorrow I shall give her a chance
to finish the job.
These are things of no moment.
Even now they are of no moment to me.
I browse displays of hammered dulcimers
and dream of the celestial sounds
that drown out the click of failing brakes
or the sickening whirr of the drill.
Birthday, a Fragment
Years ago I found a picture my mother
kept of me at a birthday party, mine, and
I was one year old. It was February 1945.
The child that I know as Me is grinning,
he seems truly happy and unafraid.
I am still looking for where I lost him.
"You Stepped Out of a Dream...."
Six years later, she will walk into a dream,
interrupt it as she interrupted opera broadcasts,
poem-writing, autoerotic fantasies.
No "How've you been?" or pleasantries
as courtesy dictates for life in real life,
simply that jackhammer voice pounding
through the concrete block of the husband's skull,
affirming in dreams this marriage for eternity,
beyond the last kiss and the final embrace,
even beyond the stiff courtroom nod.
The husband speaks but can't hear his own voice.
The dream is all hers, the captious voice of failures,
mockery and ice proclaiming ruination,
every plan he has come to nothing,
every dream doomed to contain her.
On the other side of dreams one day they will meet--
or so he thinks--and then perhaps will come an end
to the cold that visits in July at 3 AM,
there will be a place for forgiveness.
Or maybe not.
Better to just wake up.
Kenneth Wolman Princeton, NJ
Star-Ledger, 10/1/03 (for Lynda Hull)
Not another yawnful knock on an easy target,
but a glimpse behind the stucco, a finding:
the moldy guitar, worm-eaten beneath the shored-up porch,
million dollar houses harbor the lives
we'd love to think belong in trailer parks.
A former investment bank executive
has not worked since late 2000.
After his death his former employer
will not disclose the reason they separated.
One may be married to his job
but business divorce is a private horror.
So he has, still, the high-priced house,
a beautiful wife with a UN job,
he spends his days keeping pace and losing ground,
running up credit card debt,
and caring for their young son.
Perhaps he cannot ask.
And if he can, what matter?
Community dissolves: cancer
is more easily handled than unemployment.
Lose your job, you are a Death's Head,
the fate awaiting others who cross the street
when you walk toward them.
So he floats adrift on the raft of the Medusa
and sees at last her snaky hair,
his heart turns not to rock but magma.
He strangles his son, age seven,
walks to the local railroad station,
hears a train, kneels on the tracks before it
as though in worship of this final God
of his eternal deliverance.
When his wife arrives home from New York
she is met at the door by local police.
"Ma'am, maybe you better sit down."
Suburban brickface crumbles,
porches rot, there is no music left.
Kenneth Wolman. USA
"Ora e per sempre addio, sante memorie!"
Don't speak save your strength
I do not need to hear your voice
need to talk to you
you amidst the hospital smells
I married your daughter
love you better than she
no strings attached voluntary
commitment her I loved
not wisely not too well either
Look at you not say goodbye
as though to say so is a curse
See you tomorrow instead
her face silent animated yet
twists putty gray
then the smile audible
"Only if you are prepared
to follow me tonight!"
Silence beneath not silence
but the wounded-beast tenor
the pain pounding tympanic.
Kenneth Wolman. USA
ERIC DOLPHY PLAYS NIGHT MUSIC,
SYRACUSE, NY, 1962
A bass clarinet crawls up
the patrons' legs,
curls round them serpentine
doomed man madman deathbound
diabetic who lived on demand
on a white bean diet
tonight violently revives
revolves draws a room to him
playing the black constrictor
no breath but his
the constrictor squeezes
the eyes shut
the lungs closed
the ears open.
Princeton/Sea Bright, NJ
Not yet I'm not--but last night, suddenly,
thought it might be fun,
though both my sons seem disinclined to marry,
understandable given family history,
still, accidents happen, and I thought then
how nice I'd have it,
bouncing the (literal) little bastard
on my knee, singing to him
(even though everyone in the house would
tell me to shut up, Verdi scares the kid)
even volunteering to change his diaper,
a skill I learned and mastered
with the same sons who've grown to be
the fathers of these mind-children.
Later, because he's still a mental creature, I could
take him for walks through my imagination--
or maybe not: I'd probably scare us
both to death.
KTW/11-5-03, Princeton, NJ
Tedium. Drive time. Donne wrote
of Good Friday heading westward.
The march toward Death, not the recalled
Passion leading to the Cross
but the shared Passion, the fact of humanity
the common ticket.
This is mundane: westward each morning
on Route 33, bad pavement, gravel trucks,
talk show hosts, NPR, sometimes broken by music,
a clarinetist playing Debussy--
barely a comfort, inappropriate
as Bjoerling singing in a whorehouse.
Westward not toward death but toward
employment, what was so long craved turned
to the morning small-p sexless passion.
MY LIFE AS AN EXTENDED X-RAY
Transparent for years--more now.
The chiropractor points at my insides,
turned to the question mark that is
nothing new to my mind,
but's moved now to my spine.
Scoliosis. Disk degeneration.
Not the first time I've been called
a degenerate, either.
But there are upsides:
if my voice holds out
perhaps I can sing Rigoletto
or cast myself in the miniseries
"The Voyeuristic Passions of Alexander Pope,"
made when Reagan became too controversial.
In the meantime I need to buy myself
The Comfy Chair.
A DEATH IN ENGLISHTOWN
A body on the roadside: someone
has moved her to the shoulder,
or the driver got a lucky hit
that threw her back and sideways.
The State is so overpopulated,
what is one more or less on
a cold November morning
when people's minds are elsewhere?
Death is a commonplace on Jersey roads
so she goes unnoticed.
In the next lane, a driver
sits and shaves.
Another has her cell-phone,
yelling as though she matters.
On the roadside, the doe is intact
but her shapely head is bloodied.
Sometimes a traveler comes who is amazed
that we share--human and animal--
this sticky red commonality,
both symbol and reality of our transience.
In an hour the County will send a truck
to fetch her. Perhaps, though unlikely,
a workman will stroke her cold fur
and whisper words of their shared fragility.
KTW/11-26-03, 2 PM, Princeton, NJ
... the murderous couple, victims of an all consuming amour fou
that drives their passions to extremes.--comment on The Postman Always Rings Twice with Lana Turner and John Garfield.
Big deal. This is what love is:
"Combats amoureux is amour fou"
Read: fluidic carnage,
kimchi for sure,
nutritious and rank.
How many hotel rooms
have needed fumigation
or been outright condemned?
The stuff of Medieval theory,
that passionate love is a disease,
it sweeps through families,
like a plague or death
or even love.
KTW, 12/3/03, Princeton, NJ
(after Sonny Rollins, 1959)
Rollins grows his legend,
sprawls tone across
the Brooklyn Bridge walkway,
into the black,
healing up hero
no longer heroin,
giving it back,
making love to lights
and velvet of City night.
God bless this child
he is is own
he is God's child.
In the building where he lives,
a God's child, newborn, sleeps sound
undisturbed by the weeping brass
for Sonny has gone to the Bridge.
Ken Wolman, 12/09/03-75, 12-10-03 (2:02 PM)
The Structure of Imperial Whoids in a Cartoon Universe
Whot is a whog?
An orthographic reminder
of Empire proceeding
from a heat-oppressed brain:
wog is a word, inspirational,
WOG an acronym,
fallen into ill-repute,
reminder so it's said
the Victorian Brits,
defined "Wog" as starting
across the English Channel
not just in Bangalore or Kashmir.
Change a letter, advance to WCOG:
Wiley Coyote Oriental Gentleman.
A cartoon Wog,
ultimately doomed to repeat
his weekly doom,
So the bird he pursues
becomes the face of Empire,
grinning stupidity charging
in this version invulnerable.
Ken (oh well, it's been a long day)br>
MuttBoy: On the Eve of Christ's Nativity
The only thing memorable in fifty-nine of them
is that Christmas night many years ago
was the first time I got laid.
Some present: I should have stayed celibate.
Have I said too much, spoken crassly?
Deal with it. I barely remember it: except
there wasn't no mistletoe to kiss her under first
or after: she was Jewish too.
I still think a monastery would have been
a better choice: for I also got into Pandora's box.
If you want to call that Sexual Nausea,
knock yourself out, for every Christmas has that memory.
When I turned Catholic I was denied even
the cursed dignity of mourning mirrors draped,
no one cared, I was alone, added Catholic sin to Jewish guilt
and let myself go almost mad.
Returned to my roots, formally forgiven (but by whom?),
I contemplate the lack of caring I feel, how I missed
the truth that God lives inside me, in the rain,
even in that same love I sought years ago, seek still,
that I have made myself a mutt of the Mansions of God,
but that mutts prance and dance even in the rain.
KTW/Christmas Eve, 2003
Someone invites me to write my way out of the year.
I feel today as though nothing is of moment,
there is a great sense of So Whatness.
Not everything is picayune.
Earlier, I received a note
to look on a website, at photographs,
taken before the fall of the city of Bam,
the city in Iran earthquaked into ruin.
I felt I was looking at Roman Vishniac's
photographs of prewar Polish Jews,
feeling not the superior knowledge of one
who knows how the story ends, but the tears
of God who cannot arrest the free will of
man or Nature run psychotic brandishing a knife.
There is another picture: a Bengal tiger,
up close, its eyes staring out at me.
He is in a zoo but he is not Rilke's panther:
there is nothing restless in the gaze,
his soul is calm and visible.
He has no interest in me, in others, even
in being let alone. He is content simply
to observe himself being observed,
confident in his self-knowledge
via my act of anthropomorphism that,
given the opportunity wrought by human stupidity,
he will eat my throat.
Tomorrow the memory of Bam will be in place.
The tiger will continue to stare.
The calendar will have changed.
So Whatness is too important to be wasted.
"Poet's Cat Detained as Illegal Combatant at GITMO"
So that's where she went.
Not to some Rainbow Bridge
(sniffle, barf) but got snatched,
stuffed into a carrier box
on a flight from McGuire,
sent someplace she didn't belong.
She'd be happy enough. All
she ever wanted, this dangerous terrorist
masked as a 15-pound feline Mae West,
was for a bunch of human-type guys to grope her.
Muslims? Christians? Made no difference,
not a bigoted bone in that body.
Sometimes we'd call her Madonna Cat
lacking only the stainless steel bra.
Real life makes me resort to theft,
my place to hide:
For I will consider our cat Macy
For she was the servant of the living God
For I perceived God's light about her both wax and fire.
For she died Monday, kidneys quit, heart seized.
For she and the God she served knew better than we
the best way to the egress,
For she beat the vet's poisoned needle,
For she eluded even our chance to say goodbye which this
a theft to answer a theft, and imperfect as its maker.
For she is departed someplace, we hope, even before her time,
to where she really belongs.
For if Theophile Gautier was right, a soul lived behind those
For it is here now.
Princeton, NJ, 11:15 AM
(after Geoffrey Gatza and Christopher Smart)
NPR's "Fresh Air" last night had an interview with Paul Auster. He said one of the things he would like to imagine is the first meeting of his parents. Delmore Schwartz did this in "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities." My turn. This is a fast sketch, nothing nearly finished.
First Meeting of My Parents, 1927
"Everyone knows what is in Room 101"
Inelegant in felt hat and vested suit
he looks her over in the furrier's office
hey nice ass
she knows he is looking
cocks her head over her shoulder smiles
maiden pre-Raphaelite pose
furs pelts in place of water lilies
and fallen leaves on a forest floor
eventually there will be
Imagination fails I cannot do this
the ultimate challenge
picture your parents Doing It
Almost 60 years old and I still can't
He will take her to lunch perhaps dinner
it will go as it went
does he tell her he is married
does she care
it will explode
legalistic acid spattering
him them both
what they do what he does is still a crime
in New York State
they marry in 1934
what is left by then but too much
knowledge of the other
they are pre-owned
misery burned into them even
at the vows
by 1944 undercooked
Kenneth Wolman, USA
Harp Seal Bark
No poem, nothing will come, only
our dog this week encountering
a harp seal pup, beached, surely afraid,
and the dog tries to get it to play,
the harp seal barks too.
A failure to communicate
even though they speak something
like the same language?
SANDBURG'S ALLEGED CAT
Damned if the little beast didn't walk
on little cat feet. What
do you expect from a feline?
Silence: questionable. Exile:
only if Carl by mistake left the cat
That's what they're for.
Maybe Carl had his cat declawed
so you'd never hear him coming.
Some people like surprises
along the line of IRS audits,
unexpected transmission jobs,
or a dose ("Jesus, she said it was okay!").
So perhaps, being of milder nature,
Carl liked the cat to spring up on him
from behind, never hear it coming.
Fog at the Jersey Shore rolls silently
onto the peninsula.
The dog, frightened, will not walk in it.
The cats live indoors.
Little cat feet in your dreams and mine--
they clatter and slide over the floors at 2 AM,
running side by side,
less the silence of Jersey fog than
Turnpike traffic and the Ben Hur chariot race.
Ken Wolman/2-11-04 (backdated like a bad check)
Birthday Letter 1: Metropark
Epitome of middle-aged beauty
rotating down the platform before me
red hair streams over her coat recall Botticelli but she turns face of Elizabeth I
porcelain makeup O Jesus Christ can I pick them
and the eye job her make-up case
brushes colors screwdriver and sterling silver pliers
removes an imperfect eye bright blue
polishes it lose that last trace of a cataract
reinserts it why am I still looking at this
is everything else on her what I cannot see
also an artifice are her hidden joys propelled
by a wind-up clock is she really a Woodbridge cop?
she examines the other eye in her mirror
satisfied leaves it where it is thank God
applies coats of eyeliner needs a palette knife
coats of mascara purple is the color
of my true loves eyes in the morning when we rise
fantasy trashed watch her eat a Twix bar instead
think that if the train had been on time
I would have missed all this
FIND HOME, MAKE HOME
Take things to heart about which no one cares.
Who cares if you feel homeless when there is a roof over your head?
Get over yourself.
Dennis Leary glares at you, whiner, snaps "Shut the fuck up!"
What are you? Not who, what.
To say "The heavens are silent" scratches at it.
Your spiritual self, assuming you have one
on its own, the world as the beehive you envisioned
1967 during an acid trip: everyone in little cells
of the comb, alone together.
It has not changed: today a bunch of people in a church basement
chanting the Our Father: wahoo whoopee,
look at me, I am spiritual.
We want conclusiveness. I do.
There isn't any. If you are lucky
one day leads to its successor
a dynasty of individual lives that ends
but you won't be here to see it.
Be-be-be-be-be-be-be-be-be: That's all folks!
Kenneth Wolman/Princeton, 3/3/04
The day job
Someone once sent me a card
an illustration like a 1930s horror film
"The Job That Ate My Brain"
People who think they are writers
should not have routine day jobs
I know Wallace Stevens managed insurance
Charles Ives had the same job
Dana Gioia was a Lever Brothers manager
until he sold out
They are exceptions if not
exceptional in their ability
to leap between two moving trains
like Hoot Gibson in a serial Western
Most days it's impossible
I fake work
fight on the phone with a cell phone provider
leave exhausted halfway pleased
only because I did not call
the customer service person an officious asshole
that lead to now, freewriting
that a Composition teacher would grade
Nice Start Needs Work.
Ken Wolman, sea bright, 9:50 pm
Macho Man Carries His Cross
Gibson is not the Jesus they taught me in RCIA:
even in blue-collar America Jesus was forgiveness,
unconditional love, Milton's One Greater Man
who died for us so we could live for each other.
It sounded great until I met some priests who
I don't think forgave their mothers for birthing them.
Go to the movie anyway.
Mel gets a lot right: the Jesus-actor
sweating blood in Gesthemane, the fear
eating into him even before the nail-studded whips
make him look like he'd been stuffed into a meatgrinder.
"Febrile terror": this guy was me before
I went to divorce court, before
I entered a roomful of strangers,
spoke my first name and proclaimed my condition.
Gibson does radio interviews now,
easy target on the senex Andy Rooney,
comes on like Mad Max and says
"If he had a pair he'd say it to my face,"
repeats "If he had a pair"
over and over, macho mantra,
a great feat calling out an 85-year-old man.
What a guy.
Maybe there's an answer, though: hand-to-hand combat,
expand the principle of A Pair to politics,
Kerry in gladatorial combat with Bush in a ballpark
retiarius versus secutor, sangre y arena,
supposedly George Patton challenged Erwin Rommel
to a man-to-man tank duel in the desert.
Nothing came of it: maybe though they
could have killed each other.
"You forgive and move on" says the good Christian Mel,
but damned if Detective Riggs, that lethal weapon,
still doesn't wanna take old Andy out
into the parking lot and whip his ancient ass
with those cats of nine tails.
Ken Wolman/Princeton, NJ 12:03 PM, St. Patrick's Day
Larry Adler Plays "My Funny Valentine"
Adler, old commie exile
scandal of his family for
his life as Al Jolson,
wanting not the life of a cantor
but to blow the harmonica
like a backporch schwartze,
expelled by HUAC from Baltimore,
stays instead in Britain,
adopts British style and dress,
but keeps the acid tongue until
it falls upon the chromatica
the sound the sound
I hear by night in
the darkness of my car,
Rodgers' "My Funny Valentine,"
the opening melody line, key of C,
crying, bending, sobbing,
a violin, a human voice,
a Bjoerling of the harp,
and the dark indeed is light enough.
(For Larry Adler, harmonicist
Two of us at work stand outside
smoking, homing to the light
like cats to a sunbeam
laugh and stretch ourselves
a day finally to purr.
Ogle the pretty girls
faces fixed in blank stares
or the not so pretty or young cashier
but with a smile
that could melt the concrete
that is your heart and stomach
when you hear the damage
the $29.95 oil change has become
Hunting World magazine filled with
ads for overpriced outdoor gear
articles on survival rifles
because you might be out camping
and have to shoot a drug dealer
or take down a charging grizzly bear
and you won't get a choice.
Another day without choices
you cannot afford to have
the transmission fail
the engine seize
the car is hateful it is
the means to your livelihood
a weapon of survival
outside nothing but a downpour
Route 1 night and fog at noon
steer the weapon back into traffic
Kenneth Wolman/Princeton & Sea Bright, NJ/4-14-04
A reaction to Deborah's poem...not a snap but written like a snap, fast enough so I could not think too hard about it. We are "condemned" to return to the same material over and over, or so I've heard. This is another take on something I described years ago.
For years I cannot say this
because I also live with it
my mother's eyes
Passaic General Hospital
in the Emergency Room
to which I have been summoned
the night of my 48th birthday
looking into those eyes
there is articulacy beyond
the speech she has lost
the acid tongue is gone
sarcasm vanished removed
the eyes say everything
knowledge that this is the end
Fear burning outward
into me who grew up afraid
Fear of what is beyond
the great Nullity of her belief
but mercy that denies Nully
even Fear removed
coma for the last two days
now the eyes shut
only the ears open
heeding me who tells her
it is time for her to go.
wind across the pavement at 4 AM
some guy fights to sober up,
too-hot black coffee sipped
in the car he dares not try to drive.
Woman in bare feet, filmy dress,
standing, crying on the sidewalk
someone has just finished with her
flung her out.
Everyone grieves as they grieve:
a cast-off man walks the pavement,
disprized where he placed his heart,
flung aside, Turgenev's superfluous man love-lost.
Who sees this: me, remembering
something, but hearing it first.
Ernie Kovacs, long-ago's doomed television master,
the clown in an unfunny truth-moment,
a street scene, Elmer Rice to the opening bars
of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra
tragedy in Prime Time,
sadness charred from blood to black.
Places at last to leave.
(not after Russell Edson)
Berryman came to David Wojahn
in a basement tunnel
where he was a night watchman,
Perfect timing--steam pipes
along the walls, darkness
broken by small bulbs probably
in wired-in covers.
How many metaphors for Hell
do we need?
One a day will suffice.
This is mine, yours if you want it.
Where better to read about Henry,
pussycat with untrimmed claws
pointed at his own throat?
not the name the word itself
suggests an act of oral sex
one finds no relief
the other only humiliation
what if they changed places
would it go differently
would the stars explode
in a cliched velvet sky
or would the stars merely
Ken Wolman/Cinco de Mayo 2004
this is a world where
radio talkshow callers
scream about how
what they just did
is worse than what
but nobody sees
fine copper wire
first bound around
a detainee's wrists
but now conducts
and holds together
the whole thing.
A lovely tribute, and yes, sad.
How sad to think
that, like Messiaen,
birds presage healing,
that Francois d'Assise
could hear in them angelic
orders, when all there was
was the Abysm.
in the distance stand of trees,
there is the hum the same low roar
you would hear it if you were
on route 22 nearing newark airport
still two miles away
cicadas their mating call
love me and die
if thou love me take heed of loving me
Old girlfriends sit aslant from you in the subway,
behind the Times, visible only the angle of their jaw.
Their hair draws light from the sun,
empties the sky to perfect darkness, cat vision.
Old girlfriends pass afar on midtown streets at noon,
pursued by the phantoms they have bequeathed you.
Old girlfriends sing the Miserere, brass and strings
pound in the stomach like moonbursts of lust.
-- Kenneth Wolman
THE ROSE GARDEN
(after R. W. Reagan, 1911-2004, in memory of the Rose Garden Martyrs)
The Legend on an Icon
"In the early morning hours of November 16, 1989, government troops forced their way into the Jesuit residence of the Central American University in San Salvador and brutally murdered six priests and two women. 75,000 others had already been killed in El Salvador's civil war and while each death was equally tragic, these eight murders immediately took on special symbolic importance. Shot in the head with M16s at close range, their brains had been blown out of their skulls. It was as if the army had wanted to wipe out the intellectual life of their country, trampling on all that the university and western civilization represented."
There is a rose garden at Universidad Jose Simeon Caņas,
San Salvador's Jesuit university.
It is a place to rest the eyes, collect the spirit,
perhaps--no, surely in this place--a space for prayer.
Perhaps, after all these years, it is so again.
Who Knelt in This Garden?
Six priests, scholars, trained
as the Jesuits have always done,
to think critically, even when
the result is danger, theological,
or to ones life.
Two women, one (Celina) only 15, daughter
of Elba the housekeeper.
People can leer: "Housekeeper, yeah right."
Does a hollow-point bullet
care about chastity?
It has its own chastening effect.
When you are shot through the back of the head,
when your brains are splattered among the roses,
it is the ultimate absolution
and the ultimate sin.
Who Was Not There
Jon Sobrino, priest and Jesuit,
also on the Army's short list,
but on that night away from the University:
become Ishmael, escaped alone to tell thee,
a bony pointing finger
haunted to a fury by the murder of his
friends, his community,
finding perhaps the seed of forgiveness.
Who Will Answer?
The Army of El Salvador said
it was the Communists.
They probably said this when
Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot
at the altar in a hospital chapel
while saying Mass:
"The Communists got him,
but we are true Catholics."
By now this joke is so tired
that only the large portion
of the American population
that has a "Duh" balloon over its head
is stupid enough to believe it.
By the night of the slaughter
Reagan is gone from office.
But he built this nightmare country,
he held power while the 75,000
Salvadorians preceded the eight.
They ended up Disappeared
in the city dump of El Playon,
scented with Eau de Buchenwald.
Reagan cannot escape:
from his hands the money poured
into Salvador to supply an army
that did not buy its M16s from
the back pages of Soldier of Fortune.
In a field of roses, six men, two women,
shot in the back of the head at close range.
The term is Sophiacide, the murder of Wisdom.
Wisdom is telling the truth of what one sees.
Wisdom is naming, wisdom is
not letting these names be lost.
Wisdom is pointing the bony finger
at the smiling drawling orator
cowboy hero (yee-ha)
and seeing justice: that for these
eight who lost their brains in an instant
in the University's rose garden,
who lost their brains to protect
the reign of capitalism, pietism,
shit in the streets,
daughters whoring to feed their families,
his own brain was forfeit,
he owed 10 years losing it.
Maybe at the end he could sense the
quid pro quo exacted on him as
he exacted it upon many.
Maybe he heard the voice of his inner creature,
maybe he saw at last that
the thorns that sprang forth that night
in the Caņas rose garden stuck in
his heart, tore out his mind,
but live in our memories.
THE CANONICAL BLOOMSDAY MADE FOR TV
The Cialis must have worked:
Blazes Boylan, priest manque, is into
the 11th Station of the Cross, the nailing
of Molly Bloom.
Magical Blazes: it is also Transubstantiation,
for Molly's insides by now are turned
from flesh to grated cheese.
People didn't realize DiCaprio
could play such a scumbucket
or that J. Lo could convince anyone
she's an Irish earth mother--
Yet it's all about illusion:
or call it Faith.
If Charlize Theron can be made
to look like she stepped
out of a bath of used french fry oil,
then the blind will have their sight,
the dead be raised,
and the location caterers
will divide two fishes, five loaves,
and feed the whole crew.
Edward Asner, Poldy's editor,
stands at his desk, shouts
"Tell him to kiss my royal Irish arse!"
and you don't even wonder
what a nice Jewish boy is doing
in a place like this--
for the power of faith
probably could make us think
that Ray Charles might have starred
in the life of Dale Earnhardt.
Poldy and Stephen hook up, travel
about in the Dublin dark.
The ghosts of Zero Mostel and
Milo O'Shea haunt James Gandolfini,
doing his best to carry the burden
of Poldy Bloom, yet failing.
Faith may move mountains
but New Jersey, like Eboli,
is the place where Christ stopped.
A film memory: Monty Wooley, imperious
impersonation of the critic Alex Woolcott,
wheeled into a room of admiring rubes,
looking about, stroking his beard,
saying softly "I may vomit."
Our house is on the corner. Chinese
deliverymen are afraid of the dog.
They don't know the dog is cross-species,
a big pussy: but to mailmen and guys
who bring Chinese food, illusion is all.
Via Ripa was known for years in town
as Calle de los Borachos, a collection
of wino clammers and fishermen, fighters
with truly vicious dogs that nevertheless
read the papers and summonses to their humans.
Our neighbors: the couple who spend days working
on a home improvement project they'll never finish,
one kid kicked out of the Navy in wartime,
the other the proverbial whiteboy asshole
with a turned around baseball cap on an empty head.
I may vomit, indeed. People with no visible
means of support amble about, drive Lexii,
My Dog's Bigger Than Your Dog, My Cat Beat Up
a Schoolbus, on summer days we will repeat
what has happened every year since I arrived:
a guy bashing in his buddy's skull with a 2x4,
us watching where the dog steps on his morning walk
because of broken bottles on the street and sidewalk...
the exquisite beauty of young women in halter tops
headed for the sea across the street.
The incomparable vision of the sun over the ocean.
Kenneth Wolman/Sea Bright & Princeton, 6/24/04
Poetryetc is a listserv relating to poetry and poetics which provides a forum for poets to debate their critical and creative work. The list has over the years run a number of projects for its members, of which Snapshots has been the most enduring.
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