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Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallows Eve

It is Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, and it is the night when traditionally thinking, the dead walk the earth, hoping for intercession by the Saints, in order to pass beyond the Veil into their Reward.


On this, the darkest of nights
as those unliving forms
slither mewling from sundered graves,
casting off the shrouds
that clung to corpse-flesh,
the midnight moon
glides past uncaring,
offering its wan light
to horrors and victims alike.

Look past the re-awakening
dead, the grotesque
and unclean things that slink
through chill night air.
Seek not the faces
of loved ones past
in the death-masks
of rotting monsters,
fresh from their tomb,
for therein lies madness
and the pain of truth.

What spell has brought forth
these darkling dead?
What moldering magic
brings long forgotten
souls back from beyond
to walk the misted fens
of mottled dark?
The magic of faith,
hope in the intercession
of saints to break
chains of purgatory,
releasing bound spirits
to pass to their reward,
in the pursuit of peace,
the sweet release
of finality.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Ballade For Truth

I like learning about new poetic forms.

For me personally, wrestling just the right words into exactly the configuration I want them to have is a good time - intellectual bubblegum, if you will. Teach me a format, scheme or meter that follows a set of rules and must fit a framework, and I will spend happy hours working the puzzle backward, saying what I want to say within the stricture suggested. To my mind, it beats Sudoku, crosswords and Scrabble to hell and back.

Today, I'd like to share with you a particularly challenging poetic form, the Ballade, not to be confused with the ballad.

First of all, the Ballade consists of three mains stanzas of eight syllables each (which all share the same rhyme scheme) followed by a shorter closing stanza called the envoi. All fours stanzas have identical final refrain lines. They originated in France in the early fourteenth century. As one of the Formes Fixes (alongside the Rondeau and Virelai) Ballades were often set to music.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote English Ballades in the fourteenth century, and then they came back around into vogue in the early 19th century when presented by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Algernon Charles Swinburn. But enough history lesson.

Ballades are hard to write, but like the New York Times Sunday Crossword, if you complete it, you will understand the immense satisfaction. First off, the rhyme scheme means you need a LOT of rhyming sets.

The initial three stanzas all use the same rhyme-scheme:


with the shorter envoi as follows:


Now, just to throw you a curve ball, the closing envoi is usually written as an aside, addressed to the king, prince or God, allowing for a change in perspective at the end which concludes the poem.

Here is a fine modern example of a Ballade, by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) called A Ballade of Theatricals - a beautifully done example of the form.

OK, you still with me so far?

So what subject is worthy of the lingual calisthenics required to present fourteenth century standards to the iPad generation? There can only be one.


Do not be fooled, nor be misled,
let your vision be ever clear.
Pray you care what the poet said,
let ideas prosper and adhere.
Hear with more than your outer ear.
Truth is rarely freely displayed,
nor is it as it first appears -
fear actors beneath the charade.

Our senses always thrust ahead
to expand what is meant by ‘near’,
we’re amused by circus and bread
and corralled by that which we fear,
talking like a drunk auctioneer
is the only way to persuade,
or we watch the sale disappear -
fear actors beneath the charade.

Stability hangs by a thread
when signposts quickly disappear.
Virgin snow stained bloody wet red,
we run for safety in the rear
and drown our yellow in our beer,
ensuring our parts are well played,
the curtain rises on the premier -
fear actors beneath the charade.

When you forge a strong new frontier
Your true kingdoms you will upgrade,
your Grace will be without a peer -
fear actors beneath the charade.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Ghost of My Devising

I grew up in a big old Colonial farmhouse, fourteen rooms, even one room big enough to be a formal ballroom, which we called, logically enough, the big room. The house had window seats, a high second floor and an even higher attic, one with a cedar room built into the center of it, cedar drawers and cedar cabinets and cedar lockers built right in. We used to leave our toys strewn across the empty space, as the entrance was right outside our bedroom door, so this was our fortress, our sailing ship, our clubhouse, and our Vietcong jungle.

I’m certain my wife would have loved this house, and she would view the cedar room as a bonus beyond compare. But as a nerdy little boy with an overactive imagination, that attic was a source of sheer terror for me, and I eventually came to dread playing up there.

August days are often golden, rich and warm with light.

Soft focus, blurred edges, a boy playing with a whiffle ball and bat in the street, scrap of a thing, rangy, bespectacled, intense. Six years old, going on seven, with four months until my birthday.

The moment was just before dusk, that special time, when the clear soft blues of day fade through silver into the cool deep blues of night. The street lights had not yet come on, so the magic signal had not been given. Hungry, but unwilling to waste even a few minutes of ‘free-range’ time, I tracked the arc of my ball against the stone garage wall, weedy and dark.

Ball flipped high instead of low, I fumbled my catch and my eyes tracked upward, lighting in a window of the house’s attic.

Unknown to me at the time, the windowsill was a repository for a basketball in need of air, and someone had put a fishing hat on it, lures and all.

But what I saw burned itself into every cell of my being, and flavored the rest of the time I lived in that particular house. A cheap canvas hat, perched casually on top of a battered Wilson that had a slow leak. To the eyes of a soon to be seven year old male imagination generation machine housed in the frame of bespectacled youth that was no less than an escaped convict hiding out, on the lam, who was even then watching every move I made. My optic nerve took in the pebbled leather and glinting hat, and registered it as a human face watching in fear.

Suddenly, my world turned upside down.

Hiding in the cedar room, we had an escaped convict. In an instant I had carved that notion in my mind – scored it deep, where the grooves would have a long time fading, I became convinced, on the flimsiest of evidence, that the room above my head as I slept was sanctuary to a depraved, maybe even crazy escaped run-a-way, maybe even an escaped slave. I saw him. Look, he was right there.

My older brother Steve called me a doofus, but since he did that anyway, it disproved nothing.

I ran inside and told my mother in no uncertain terms that a deranged lunatic escapee was hiding in the attic, standing on my toys and stuff, but what if the cops come and there’s a fight like on TV? Do we have to get killed or can we help the good guys?

My mother looked at me as if I had two heads.

But mom, you got to call the cops, which prompted a dutiful and diligent search, mom in the lead, hammer in one hand, flashlight in the other, the eventual discovery of the ball and hat and the patronizing explanation of where the mistake came from.

Nobody was fooling me.

He was here, hiding, giving his hat to a basketball just to cover his tracks, like I saw on Colombo. He was a slippery eel, that’s why he could escape in the first place. A master criminal escapist like him could fool anybody, even moms. My family was not stupid, just honest, they had no idea how clever criminals could be. But In my barely post pubescent mind I had it all figured out.

There was a small bit of space over the cedar room, which sat in the exact middle of an attic space empty but for the scattered and various toys strewn across the floor. That place I could not get to, being a kid, and nobody else was looking up over into a crawlspace. So that must be where he was hiding.

For the rest of the day I tried dozens of times to get them to listen to me, but by the third trip upstairs my mom eventually reached her limit, and told me to stop making such a fuss of course there was no convict living in our attic, hiding from the spy network out searching for him. Honestly, where do you come up with that stuff? Comes from reading encyclopedias for fun if you ask me, even though nobody had.

Utterly convinced I knew better than anyone, I soon began interpreting every creak, groan or temperature change expansion sound as the ninja like movements of my invisible, almost ghostly opponent.

And what if he was a ghost? That would explain why nobody else was able to see him, I figured, that explains why he could hide in a tiny crawlspace, and why I never heard him going to the bathroom.

Because I could never catch him, and I was always sure he was just waiting for the chance to jump me because I knew he was there, even if nobody else did, I did not enjoy being alone in the attic after that summer. Always looking over my shoulder, expecting the worst, I hoped he was not one of those ghosts with the body parts hanging out, that would be gross, and why did an old dead convict ghost want to live in my attic anyway?

I spent less and less time in the ‘playroom’ and more and more time playing outside, riding my bike, and challenging every tree for ten blocks in any direction. I spent less time sitting around, because I did not want to give the ghost of the old escaped spy a chance at silencing me, and I thought about other things, and grew out of simple childhood fear, into a whole mess of man-sized fears, while the world turned and no secret agencies with initials for a name came by in their black suits and asked about any escaped chain gang dead guy, so one day I decided I was just wrong, and fooled by an illusion of life empty headed and air filled as a politician. There was no dead convict escaped from spies, just the spun gloss of a love for story laid over a patchwork mind.

But when my family moved away from that house, I took five minutes and I buried a box in the yard. It once contained soap flakes but now it was a coffin for a deflated, orange pebbled leather ball, with a fishing lure hooked deep in its flesh. It was a private goodbye to a guy that never lived, from a kid that lived mostly in his head.

But in the bottom of the box, underground where the fence meets the tree, in the middle of what remained of the ball, was a baby tooth of mine.

I figured it would not hurt to give him a chance to find me after I moved, so our cat and mouse game could go on.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Self Portrait

I used be be an artist.

Personally, I think the above statement is kind of like saying, "I used to be Irish" or "I've given up breathing."

Truth is, I became a poet from the back door, a frustrated and blocked painter wasting time online instead of painting, Keeping posts brief required a bit of word wrestling, I joined a couple of writing forums, and I was hooked.

At any rate, while I broke my dry spell with canvas, I still write poems. Here is one that combines both.


A stroke of ocher
and I smell the earth, loamy and cool.

A daub of blue,
and I have eyes to look up at his brush.

I cannot free myself from this frame,
I am glued to this canvas,
wearing his face,
hooked and wired to his wall.

He brushes past me
and I hate him.

Once the cool fresh paint
felt wonderful, creative and new.

As the pink and red slash of my mouth
huffs in indignation, he ignores me,
the pliable flesh he created
hardening into insoluble form,
never to change again.

I used to envy him,
strutting to and fro beyond my frame.

He painted me a broken form
only to emphasize his unique wholeness.

Now when his creased and worn face
searches mine, like a father seeking truth
in the eyes of his son, I know that I have won,
for I am the only one with a chance at immortality.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Wear A Mask

“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” ― Andre Berthiaume

Masks are a fascinating device. Slipping on a second skin, burying who you are under a false front, hiding under a gilded facade, etc.


I wear a mask, or three.
Or perhaps a dozen.
Maybe more.
I am afraid to take this one off.
But if I am forced, at least I have more.
Pretending is second nature to me now,
I am not even aware that I am doing it.

I give the impression
that I am calm, and cool,
in command.
But nothing could be further from truth.

I need no one.
Don’t believe me
I am OK
Don’t believe me.
It does not matter
Don’t believe me.

My surface seems smooth,
but remember the mask.
I panic at the thought of being exposed,
of the glance that see through the mist,
the look that sees truth.

Such a look is my only hope and I know it.

What else could release me?
Free me from the walls of this self-built prison,
the barriers that I so painstakingly erected?

It’s the only thing that can assure me
of what I cannot assure myself –
that I am worth something.

Of course, I will never tell you this.

So I play my game, my superficial game,
hiding the trembling child within.
I talk of everything that is really nothing,
and of nothing that is real.

Who am I, you ask?

I am every man you have ever met,
and every woman you have ever seen.

I am you, too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Legend of Jack O'Lantern

Hallow e'en is in the air, and the Veil between the Quick and the Dead grows thin.

As I'm sure you know, All Saints Day is Nov. 1, and back in the day superstitious folks would beseech the Saints to intercede on behalf of their recent dead, offering treats and sweet-cakes (usually because that kind of thing was expensive, and thus precious) to the Saints. Enterprising folks sometimes dressed as the dead in order to enjoy the gifts they could not otherwise afford. After time, All Hallow's Eve (as in "...hallowed be thy name,") shortened to Halloween.

Originally, it was only the dead that was to be feared on this night, but as we collectively grew numb to horror, then vampires, witches, werewolves and politicians became costumes and icons.

However, one icon always associated with the event was the jack o'lantern, originally a hollowed turnip with a candle, now the familiar leering symbol that is both decorative and functional as a light source. Here is a poem adapted from Irish Folk Tales.


Now, Jack was a no account lad, it’s true,
Everyone in the little village knew it.
He could talk a streak until your ears were blue,
But if there was work to be done he wouldn’t do it.

He had the gift of gab, Jack my lad did,
He could talk the birds down from the trees.
But he was lazy as a cat, and heaven forbid,
If he could not do just as he pleased.

Well, the Devil met Jack, in the fields one day,
And he thought he would bargain for a soul.
They wagered who could count every stalk of new hay
In the farmer’s field entire and whole.

Well, Jack climbed a tree, and scouted the land
Then gave the devil a number quite high.
He invited the devil to climb up and stand
Where he could see the entire supply.

When the devil was in the tree, Jack took his knife
And carved a holy cross in the tree bark.
The devil was now stuck, for it would cost him his life
If he attempted to cross that hallowed mark.

Well, the devil was angry, and who could be blamed
Still, Jack bargained for freedom with him.
He stated his case, his terms he proclaimed
And the devil agreed, his voice grim.

Jack had bartered for the safety of his immortal soul,
Never could the devil do him harm.
He would forever be outside of the devil’s control,
A sworn word was as good as a charm.

After freeing old Scratch, Jack went on his way,
And lived his long life as he would.
He never did much harm, you could say,
But he also never did anyone any good.

Jack passed on as men do, and went to Heaven’s gate.
However, they would not let him get through.
Try as he might he simply could not relate
A selfless act for St. Peter’s review.

Denied Heaven’s pleasure Jack turned his attention to Hell,
Irate that Heaven snubbed his failure to act.
But the devil gladly turned him away as well,
For he was still bound by the terms of their pact.

“And where shall I turn, and how to light my way?”
Jack complained, although his words Heaven ignored.
Therefore, the devil decided to vent his thwarted wrath
And flung a burning coal from Hell into a gourd.

Now Jack walks the earth, never to find rest,
His steps lighted by his lantern of shame.
Of all Halloween traditions, the one that shines best,
Is the Jack O’Lantern that today bears his name.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Aurora Shines

Gorgeous sunrise this morning. I am lucky enough to live 100 feet from the Charles River, facing east, and so I get a nice sunrise whenever I happen to be around for it, which is not all that often. But I caught it this morning and it was a heart-breaker, truly spectacular.

As I sat there, watching light do gymnastics, drinking coffee and petting the softest cat in the world, I understood just how small and petty my own problems were in the grand scheme, and how, despite the crap news from around the world, Beauty was here before we were, and will be here long after we have killed ourselves off, even if we are not here to experience it.

Lesson learned.


Awaiting the sunrise takes some getting used to.

It is not for the faint of heart, the timid, or the love-lost.
This sort of thing, first thing in the morning
has been known to make grown men weep,
women lose control of their emotions (again)
and children take note of their surroundings.

It is yet too dark to see what I mean,
but you can spend this idle time
rubbing the sand from your eyes,
and preparing your metaphors.
How many ways do you know to say ‘quicksilver’?
You will likely need them all before you are done.

This time of year it rises later, so you have a brief moment
to form a game plan, if that is your nature.

It is not mine.

When the time is right, and not before
the sky erupts in silent resplendence -
a strip tease in reverse;
every passing second fulminating
in yet another color unimagined,
another transitional hue
that was as fleeting
as it was celestial.

And only when the sky and your imagination
have reached the saturation point
does the blaze pierce the horizon,
forcing you to look away,
pushing the eyes anywhere else
but the majesty, godlike in its refusal
to be stared at.

Palpable light washes over the morning
and roosters crow,
birds take up harmonies,
and the world itself evangelizes.

Night gathers her shadowed skirts
and sits aside once more, as she must,
for aurora shines, even through clouds,
whether we see it or not.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lexophilic Delirium

I love puns.

Do not look at me like that. I know puns are called the "lowest form of humor." I don't care, I love the way words fold together and turn an idea inside out.

Puns, also known as paronomasia,  differ from  malapropisms in that a malapropism uses an incorrect expression that alludes to another (usually correct) expression, but a pun uses a correct expression that alludes to another (sometimes correct but more often absurdly humorous) expression. Puns have long been used by comedy writers, such as William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and George Carlin.

And now yours truly has taken the plunge, diving in to a pile of puns and wrestling them into verse.



While working on a rhyme, by wordplay I was inspired
I mused why a bicycle cannot stand alone; it is two tired.

I know that once you are gone you have lost your final say
But the fact remains that a will is still a dead giveaway.

Although I was distracted, I knew it could be worse –
I was learning that a backward poet writes inverse.

Words bumped and shouldered as a marina thick with boats.
A democracy means your vote counts; in feudalism, your Count votes.

Once I had gotten started I wrote with true devotion
A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

I tried to write without wordplay, my pen was sore distressed,
If you do not pay your exorcist, you can be repossessed.

I grabbed a fresh sheet, dove back in as inspiration beckons
When a clock is hungry, it always goes back four seconds.

Sometimes the meter plays hard to get, so I have to fudge it
You will be stuck with your debt if you find you cannot budge it.

Each new pun hits my mind with a clap like stormy thunder
I wonder if a Local Area Network in Sydney is The LAN down under.

I think of the midget fortuneteller, escaped from a prison barge,
Who now is on the loose – a small medium, at large.

The awful puns are taking over, invading all the space in my brain.
If you jump off a bridge in Paris, you have to be in Seine.

The puns stopped for a bit, one of those long pregnant pauses,
Then resumed by reminding me elves were subordinate clauses.

I scribbled and wrote as the stack of puns continued to grow.
Bakers will trade recipes if you really knead to know.

My desk was littered; my manuscript was now a mess,
With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

The puns overcame me, for a moment I thought I smothered.
The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.

I was not raised to be a quitter, never allowed to be a whiner.
Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I’ll show you A-flat miner.

By now you have guessed, my writing has become encumbered.
I cannot help that all of a calendar’s days are numbered.

I would just use them up! Then I would be free!
He broke into song because he could not find the key.

When I finally came to the end, I would feel sweet,
So let me just say a boiled egg is hard to beat.

This was working, this was working just fine!
A lot of money is tainted: ‘Taint yours, and ‘taint mine.

I was rounding the curve, I had outlasted the trend -
Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

So I am sorry for this lexicon graphic form of battery,
Because a plateau is also a high form of flattery.

I could breathe fresh air again, when once I was enveloped.
I had a photographic memory, which was never developed.

Only a few more to go, I was certain I would cry.
When she saw her first gray hairs, she thought that she would dye.

I could now see the desk top; the pile was now so small!
When you have seen one shopping center, you have seen a mall.

I was nearly finished; here was the next to last one!
Acupuncture can be best described as a jab well done.

Therefore, I finally ended my poem, victory tasted oh so sweet -
Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Nothing That Lives is Still


There is rhythm and pulse
to life everywhere, all the time.
The cat asleep in the sunny window
is not carved from stone,
the guy sleeping in a doorway
wrapped in last week’s news
only looks dead.

Only photographs bring stillness.
Photos of the dead even more so.
All that remains
is the standing around,
reacting to them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Pianist's Pain

The tormented artist is both a stereotype and a paradigm. Stereotypes do not get to become stereotypes without some truth to them, of course, and every discipline that has artists, has tormented and tortured artists. There have always been those for whom Art does not manifest without birthing pains, or leave without scarring deeply.

For many years I lived with a pianist, a woman of remarkable talent, who found real joy in her playing and teaching, someone that lived inside her music in a way I could never interfere with. When she could not play, she was miserable. And I know she tormented herself over musical choices, decisions, options. But she never let loose her grip on reality, or spun out of emotional control over it.

Then there are those who are simply distraught by nature, and through virtue of their unrelated talent, we know of them, and have their exquisite renditions of pain in memorium.

The death of an artist is a loss magnified, of course, but when they themselves instigate this loss, we can only stand aside and regret. This piece was not written in response to any one individual or event, but rather a look at the pain of the creative, using memes I am familiar with.


Alone she strides the bench,
fingers trailing
the ivory black and white.

Nothing less than the shiny
streak of a razor
caresses her flesh,
creeping crimson trails.

Thinking of the past,
disregarding the future
slippery red runs of tune
across the eighty eight,
a single note is born,

More follow,
as they must,
Silken webs
in the language
of her life.
Each one alone
has time’s rusted edge.
they sing a dirge
for her joy.

Mad as birds,
deluding the air,
with mazed clouds,
possessed by skies,
and taken by light,
to sleep in her arms,
red trails
marking both limits -

And the attempts to break them.