It has long been my wont to write comic rhymes, silly doggerel, and what some think of as rather cloying tributes to friends on big occasions. But sometimes my imagination allows me to create more serious poems, some highly political. Occasionally the latter get published. Here is a sampler.
Evocation: September 11, 2001
Pine scent wafts on onshore breeze.
Up the slope the trees move
Matching the gentle pulse of surf below.
There is serenity on the Golfo Paradiso.
Little boats bob.
Bigger ones loll.
The sea is calm
Except for the wavelets.
At other times it is very different.
Roiling surf, waves pounding
Against the giant rocks,
Against the bottom of the cliff,
Reminders that peace is quite ephemeral.
In the spring of 1945 men gave their lives
Right near the place
Where pine scent wafts on onshore breeze
When tranquility became a raging storm.
This morning from this peaceful spot
I scanned the sea and smelled the air
And listened to the far-off sound
Evocazione: 11 Septembre 2001*
Odor di pini si spande nella brezza di terra.
E’ sereno sul Golfo Paradiso.
Le barchette saltellano.
Altre volte é diverso.
Primavera ’45. Degli uomini perdettero la via
Da questo luogo tranquillo stamattina
*Translation by Bonalda Stringher Gargnani, Milano. Published by Galleria San Bernardo, Genoa, Italy 2001.
At memorial services
Panegryrics fall on the deaf ears
Of the deceased
And unseen friends
Fill rows with tears of sadness.
How lucky to be able
To hear the accolades
Before it is too late
To see those who sing
Their songs of praise—
And feel their love.
—On occasion of retirement from Smith, April 6, 2003.
Reprinted in Postmonitions of a Peripatetic Professor (2013).
Conundrum in Cannes
White folks lie in the sun
The darker they are,
The better they feel.
On the beach at Cannes
Blacks folks ply their wares.
Trying to sell knock-off watches
And ersatz purses by Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
But it rarely rains in the summer in Cannes.
And nobody buys parapluies
Or knock-off watches,
Or ersatz purses by Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
And so it goes –
Sunny day after sunny day.
White folks lie in the sun
Trying to get black.
Black folks sell knock-off watches
Trying to survive.
—From Postmonitions of a Peripatetic Professor (2013)
To Die For
To die for what?
For a shortcut to Paradise.
To die for whom?
The emperor, the czar,
The king, the country.
For Christ’s sake.
In crusades to rid the world of infidels.
Obscenity begets obscenity.
And the orphans cry, “Stop the killing!”
But none pay heed.
They are true believers.
They just rattle their sabers and exclaim,
“Gott mit uns.”
—From They and We, 7th edition (2014)
Four quick clerihews from the 1980s
Prince Philip thought the mike was off
When hosts he did quite roy’ly scoff.
“Slitty eyes, indeed!,” as one thought they.
To see such faux pas every day.
Mao Zedong is now at peace,
His long, long road did finally cease.
He lies displayed in old Beijing.
Now isn’t that a curious thing?
Who’s Acting Now?
Reagan is the chief of state.
He alone controls our fate.
Brings good programs to a halt.
And all I think is “Oy gevalt!”
With verve he ruled the waves of air.
He was avuncular and fair.
Now he rides the waves at sea.
A moving anchor, Cronkite, he
—These poems, first published in various places, are reprinted in Postmonitions of a Peripatetic Professor (2013)
A Job to Do: A Poem Robert Frost Never Wrote
My neighbor’s dog did go
Down by the river.
Along its bank
He sought a place
To do his business
In the wood.
What bliss it is
To be a dog,
Removed from rules
By which we live.
Free to poop
Where ere we will.
An Ekphrastical Challenge: On Photographing Art
A term to make a poet swoon,
Ekphrastic: art and text
A new word for my glossary,
What will they think of next?
So let’s see if it will apply
For all who wants to see him,
My photo of a work of art
That stands in a museum.
Dark shades to shield the eyes
Of one who looks so cool.
This foppish man of early times
Could make our hippies drool.
—August 19, 2009
(Photo taken by PIR, Cleveland Museum of Art, May 2009)