Requiem for an Ocean Burial

I have a new poem up at Palette Poetry. This is one of the most difficult poems I’ve ever written – actually, unburial is full of those – and one of the most personal. It’s about dementia, and the spiral that loved ones are thrown into when a parent is slowly torn asunder by the waters of Lethe.


Requiem for an Ocean Burial

You wanted a rocky shoreline off the coast of Maine
with barbarous waves, a few small fishing boats,
a lighthouse reaching out across the fog
like a tired hand, waving farewell forever.

What you got was a cramped room in a nursing home
which cost a fortune and drained your bank account…

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Runaway

runaway_image

I’m excited that my poem “Runaway” has gone up at Baltimore Review! As an ex-Baltimorean, it means something to have a poem – which is an excavation of my own parents’ motives for choosing one another – in a high-quality hometown journal. I don’t want to give too much away, but [spoiler alert] it’s the opener in my forthcoming book unburial. So if you want to know what the book will be about, let’s just say this poem sets the tone. If you like it, you may want to read the rest of the poems, too. (Hint hint.)

Self-promotion 101

I don’t know what it was like to publish a book of poems in the past, though I do know that these days self-promotion is the reigning business model. And this seems true – to a greater or lesser degree – whether your publisher is big or small. Poets – perhaps all writers – are expected to do their fair share of promotion (in addition to, well, creating the work in the first place.)

A lot of people I talk to on social media think this is unfair, or at least that the publisher should bear the brunt of it. And at first glance I’d agree. What poet wouldn’t want to have all their precious time to themselves to write more poetry, instead of writing emails to bookshops and elbowing for space among social media followers and friends? This last takes arguably as much time as the writing itself, so it’s like piling a part-time job on top of a part-time job. I, for one, also have a full-time job. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all!

But, as Rilke said, for the sake of a single poem… You might spend your life searching for the perfect publisher who will take care of everything – and then stiff you in some other way. Or roll with it. I’ve begun creating bite-size images with lines from my poems to share on social media. It’s actually a lot of fun! Anyway, I’ll be sharing these on the blog as well. I hope they pique your interest so that when the book comes out you’ll want to read it. It’s really good – I promise!

Unburial_true roots
Background image from Sacred Trash – Schocken Books, 2011.

Forthcoming book – Unburial!

Unburial
[art by beatriz crespo]

I’ve waited a few weeks before going public, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. But, as they say, this is happening. My first book of poems, unburial, will be released by Kelsay Books/Aldrich Press in 2020! To say this is a dream come true is an understatement, as anyone who has ever put together – and shopped around – a first manuscript can tell you.

You can read some of the published material from the book here, here and here. Others are forthcoming from Palette Poetry and Baltimore Review – quite appropriately, as some of the poems in the book take place in – you guessed it – Baltimore.

I’ll be posting updates as more information becomes available: cover art, release date, book party, etc…stappiamo lo champagne!!

Still Life With City

Well, after 17 years, my 9/11 poem “Still Life With City” has found a home at Verse-Virtual.

Our terrible future has just arrived.
The telephone now rings ominously
as we falter, scanning briefly a sky
of asphalt gray, frightened what we seek. 

As I wrote in the note to the poem, “it was the first poem I ever wrote that felt like a real poem, where I wasn’t merely aping the poets I read but was building on their work and adding something of my own.” I’ve been told by a friend from that time that she has kept a piece of office stationery that planed down in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, sprinkled through with tiny shards of glass, since that day. She says it still smells like the air on 9/11, the air of death. The poem continues:

The air outside seems somehow to have died
as claustrophobic clouds conceal the week.

Those lines were written in the days after the event, surrounded by the poisonous clouds above Manhattan. In contrast to “On Maujer St.“, which was written 16 years after, this was contemporaneous with the event.

The larger point is this: it was this poem that convinced me I, too, could write poetry – that I  was cut out not only to imitate but also to create (I’ll leave judgement of its poetic merits to others more competent.) It was a breaking through, so to speak. My hope is that the reader is transported for a brief minute into the shoes of those who walked the torn and broken city on that awful day, forgetful of the past, fearful in the present, uncertain what future awaited them.

On Maujer St.

My poem “On Maujer St.” went up at the Flatbush Review this week. It was 18 years in the making! Poems often work that way, gestating inside you silently until – boom! – they find words in a burst of energy like an explosion. “Maujer St.” is an attempt to record, post-facto, the day of a real explosion – the one that shook New York City (and the world) on Sept. 11, 2001. Lots of poets flourishing now were still children then, much as I was a child during the Reagan administration. But I was on the eve of my 27th birthday, and it turned out to be one of those formative events in my life, a Where were you when…? kind of event.

At the time Maujer St. was a no-man’s land on the edge of Bushwick, sparsely populated with rickety old tenements and abandoned factory buildings, the kind of place you’d stop your car to empty out your trash in the street, then drive off. It looked like there should be pushcarts, apple-sellers, horses…it was also the exact block on which – a decade after I moved out – a terrible multiple homicide would take place. So, yeah, I’d say Maujer St. has a grim little history at this point.

Here is the beginning of the poem. I’m trying to recreate a sense of claustrophobia, of paranoia, which was the dominant sensation. Also: the incomprehensibility of what was happening. Nobody had any idea what was actually going on, what might happen next or where it all might lead. In hindsight, I’d say we’re still living in the aftermath of those events.

“On Maujer St.”

On Maujer St. we watched the smoke
swell like a genie from the East 
swallow the city, grope the air,
disturb intelligence. The beast
came menacingly, probingly;
its gaseous, tentacular arms
mushroomed indeterminately
into the blue. Sirens, alarms.

(from Flatbush Review)

 

Reboot!

I started my blog way back in March, 2009. At the time blogging was in full-swing and it seemed like a good way to engage with the online world. It was. I wrote about anything that came to mind, sometimes multiple times a day. Those things often came down to politics and religion, with a smattering of poetry and book talk. It was never a popular blog, and it never had any such pretensions. After all, that was the point of blogs — just this little private space in the void where one could talk about anything from cats to favorite bands or share a poem they liked or a stupid meme. Some blogs became popular, but most probably died quiet deaths.

This blog very nearly perished silently on more than one occasion. There have been years when I never logged on, lost my password, then got it back only to learn that the dashboard had changed so dramatically I no longer knew how to write a simple post. But it held on. To celebrate its 10th birthday, I’ve upgraded it to an actual website!

Let’s say I got tired of the unwanted advertisements cluttering every post. Anyway, I’ve spent the last few days updating the pages, removing some of the junk, and making it easier to navigate for anyone inclined to do so. The Home page shows my poetry, with titles of my published works and links to the journals that have published them. Something of Myself offers a bit of personal history. Contact has my contact information, if you’d like to get in touch with me. I use Twitter, not Facebook. If you want to get social, please follow me there.

I wish I could say If you’d like signed copies of my latest book, you can order them directly, but I don’t have any such book to proffer. Maybe one day. I’ve got multiple projects in the works. Stay tuned!

Dear Cuck

It’s been an interesting year so far. I have a couple of posts to write in order to catch up. My poem “Dear Cuck” was published in Rattle 62 – my first on-paper publication in seven years! The poem went up last month on the website; you can read it here. It’s an effort to deal with a nasty email I received. Some friends have praised it, while others have told me it was a mistake to have written it at all. There is a longish note I tacked on to the poem, which gives some context. I suggest they be read side by side.

Dear Cuck

“Dear cuck,” the queer email began,
“your verses are a monument
to doggerel. You are a man
spawned in an estaminet,
likely a faggot, ass-for-rent,
Jew or Jew-lover with a plan
to wrong what’s right. Perverse & bent,
your soulless writing is a stain
on what is proper, sound, upright.
You do not know me, but I know
your kind. As Uncle Ez, our light,
wrote, ‘Usury is cancer.’ Blow
my eight-inch cock. I’ll come for you
with tiki torch on seder night,
throw you from your bedroom window.
Daddy says, ‘Might makes white makes right.’”

New Year’s Eve

 

There is a new poem of mine up at Verse-Virtual called “New Year’s Eve”. It’s the first poem I wrote in 2019, and I wrote in on New Year’s morning. I figured if I could crank out a poem with a slight hangover, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad year after all.

The poem was suggested to me while watching my daughter and her friend playing among the smoking ruins of neighborhood fireworks. Where we live, people set off their own outside their homes, in the streets, cheap and awful-smelling contraptions that create a haze and sting the eyes. But the girls’ curiosity was as if an alien spacecraft had just crash-landed in the backyard. That interested me more than the bright lights.

New Year’s Eve

Tonight we watched the lanterns rise
up through the black and flinty air
as neon blossoms lit the skies.
We squinted in the smoky glare

of cheap contraptions struck & burned
like matchsticks in the littered street.
A pinwheel sputtered, lifted, turned
about, a pyrotechnic feat

of ancient alchemy – it flew
a foot or two, then comically
crashed in a plot of grass, where two
children approached it cautiously

as if it were a UFO
portending unknown auguries
or sizzling in the afterglow
of unavoidable demise.