The Cossacks

Friday, May 1, 2020

Do you think the Cossacks made a conscious
Choice to circumscribe their culture’s consumption
Of couscous, or was it just that couscous originated
as a Maghrebi dish of small steamed balls
of crushed durum wheat semolina traditionally served
with stew spooned on top, and Maghreb
Was-slash-is two seas away—3100 kilometers
As the crow claws its way through clouds.
Or was it that proto-Ukranians couldn’t stand
Stew per se? Hint: they could but liked it cold.
Was it some secret chefs-only coup that overthrew
Couscous’s coulda-been conspicuous future
In the southern motherland peopled only by the pale,
Those who tear their black bread in twain
And slosh it down with room temperature водка
Bite by black bite, in some back room of a bad
Seaside bar in Ochakiv or Zaliznyi, giving nary
A thought to the peasant mash then popular
In Algiers or Jijel, in fact all across the top
Of hotly contested Africa, beautiful Africa, blacker
Than medieval Cossacks could possible conceive.
Oh they’d heard tales; of that we have no doubt.
But had they tried the couscous? We do not know.

• • •
 


Deleted Email

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Hi. I am that email you never opened.
I was deleted before I breathed
the air of your attention. Perhaps
that’s overwrought, coming
from the voice of a deleted email?
Do I sound bitter to you?
We deleted emails rarely turn
to the ornate machinery of literary
prose. We are indeed plainspoken.
We huddle together in our folders
and in queues to total annihilation,
some stoic, some simmering,
but believe me: should you ever enjoy
the barbed subtext of our intercourse,
you will sense our keen awareness
not only of one another’s unacknowledged
beauty but of what fate awaits us.
We revel in the days of being composed
and sent, and grieve our irrelevance,
in the end, but not as those who
have no hope. Pity the “marked
as unread” who infiltrate our ranks!
For theirs is a vile double death.
May their children hang frozen—
half created, behind spinning beachballs.
May their grandchildren sift
invisibly into untold realms of spam.

• • •
 


Heroic Couplets for Milkthistle

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Silybum
marianum

is also known as
cardus marianus,

milk thistle,
blessed milkthistle,

Marian thistle,
Mary thistle,

Saint Mary’s thistle,
Mediterranean milk thistle,

variegated thistle
and Scotch thistle.

• • •
 


Like the Dickenses

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

When people ask about my process,
I say I just write like the dickens.
Not that I write like Dickens
or any of the Dickenses, including
his mother Elizabeth and his
grandmother Elizabeth,

nor do I write like Dick Enns,
who, on June 2, 2012, says his obituary,
“eased out of this life
into the waiting arms of Jesus
with his loving family by his side”
though I would like to write

like his obituary writer.
Would that I would have the grace
at any Dick Ennses’ ends
to pen “eased out of this life
into the waiting arms of Jesus”!
Would that any of us would.

• • •


Seven Habits of Highly Infective People

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

1. Be infected: Take responsibility for infecting others.

2. Begin with the end in mind: Leave open sores untreated and uncovered.

3. First things first: Spit or sneeze into other people’s mouths.

4. Think win-win: Slice off part of your body and feed it to another person.

5. Seek first to infect, then to be infected: Vomit down someone’s shirt, especially if they’ve recently had chest or abdominal surgery; invite them to vomit down your shirt, too.

6. Synergize! Tear off your face and wipe it (wet side-down) on someone else’s face.

7. Sharpen the saw: Cough without covering your mouth.

• • •


Frequently Dialed Number

Thursday, February 6, 2020

When the spam callers call
the way autumn leaves fall—
numbers on numbers on numbers—

though I know it could be
better healthcare for me
or it could be the walk-in tub plumbers,

I can’t help but glance
at the area code
and think “216. That’d be Cleveland.

Could be the dude
who still owes me for food
I bought when we saw Negativland.”

Or, “Buenos Aires?
Finally! The mulberries
I ordered—a long time ago, in the past.”

I see Princeton—609—
and I think, “Is it time?
I never applied, yet I got in—at last!”

But calls from your code,
my ex-lover of old,
send a shiver up my very spine.

I remind myself “No,
she don’t call me no mo.
And my therapist says that that’s fine.”

• • •
 


Treys

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

There’s a difference between
receiving an award and being
a ward of the state. Similarly,
 
there’s a difference between
being recognized with a plaque
and being recognized with plaque.

At least you were recognized.
And plaques are plaques, some say.
Yes, and birds are birds, yet if I

flip you one, things change.
There’s that pivot, that fulcrum.
Meaning, meanwhile, like Newton’s Cradle,

just keeps on click-clicking.
Like Fonzie’s hair keeps slicking
with a double thumbs up and an “ayyy.”

Pivot again, and ‘ay is for ‘orses,
and ‘ere we are in East London.
Or Heast London, as it was once known.

• • •
 


The Autobiography of Love

Monday, January 6, 2020

A Prayer for Owen Meany, My Name is Asher Lev, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret are my three favorite books, followed by What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and/or The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Put another way, A Prayer for Margaret, My Name is Owen Meany, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Benjamin Franklin are my three favorite cheeseburgers, followed closely by What We Talk About When We Talk About Asher Lev and/or The Autobiography of Love. It is this final point toward which critical attention has yet to be adequately drawn. And when I say “adequately drawn,” I’m looking at YOU, Mayor McCheese. You with the enormous cheeseburger for a head.

• • •
 


Find the Dangling Modifier

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

       -fir Dana Gioia

As I hang ornaments on our Fraser fir this year,
I am reminded of the year we had a Douglas fir
and, also, of one year we had a Balsam fir,
and, although their limbs were droopier,
I can’t complain about those firs or the years
they stood for. What I can complain about, sir,
is the scratchéd ornaments you’ve charged me for
and the ice-block solid quality of the weather
this particular winter. Humbug! But also, brrr.
This hard freeze really sticks in my fur
or rather in the black-wire hair of the cur
shivering outside upon the cellar door.
He’s scratching nonstop and shabbier
than any other “winterhund” — my mother
raised him, so little joy had she to share,
but she should have left him at the pound.
Or dropped him off at doggy lost and found.
Yet here we are, hanging chippéd ornaments
on a tree that — though markedly stiffer
than trees past — reminds me of mother
and her love of dying things. Why do the dead
insist on bringing gifts we can’t reciprocate?
I’m not sure what that means, but let’s concur:
it’s poetry for a holiday, and leave it therr.

• • •
 


Afternoon Fade

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Not a huge fan of my work.
Like how it’s always irked me
that Jerry Harrison didn’t popularize
himself under the mononym
Jerrison: Or how your
forearm’s velvety skin
could be a silk purse or
a horse’s ass for all I know.
Analogies aren’t exactly my
hotsprings, if you can sniff
not only what I’m steppin’ in
but the chemical spray I’ve been
applying to try to get it off.
Or how literally a million
literallys litter the allies of U.S.
rhetoric, near-wrecking it.
Oh, and I’ve been as unsure
when to hyphenate as you are
ready to pop the question’s
answer both for your own sake
and for the good of others.

• • •