i don’t promise you nothing
but this
what you pawn
i will redeem
what you steal
i will conceal
my private silence to
your public guilt
is all i got

first time a white man
opens his fly
like a good thing
we’ll just laugh
laugh real loud my
black women

when they ask you
why is your mama so funny
she is a poet
she don’t have no sense


(For the Rev. James J. Daly, S. J.)

Bright stars, yellow stars, flashing through the air,
Are you errant strands of Lady Mary’s hair?
As she slits the cloudy veil and bends down through,
Do you fall across her cheeks and over heaven too?

Gay stars, little stars, you are little eyes,
Eyes of baby angels playing in the skies.
Now and then a winged child turns his merry face
Down toward the spinning world — what a funny place!

Jesus Christ came from the Cross (Christ receive my soul!)
In each perfect hand and foot there was a bloody hole.
Four great iron spikes there were, red and never dry,
Michael plucked them from the Cross and set them in the sky.

Christ’s Troop, Mary’s Guard, God’s own men,
Draw your swords and strike at Hell and strike again.
Every steel-born spark that flies where God’s battles are,
Flashes past the face of God, and is a star.

The Holidays

"Ah! don’t you remember, ’tis almost December,
And soon will the holidays come;
Oh, ’twill be so funny, I’ve plenty of money,
I’ll buy me a sword and a drum. "

Thus said little Harry, unwilling to tarry,
Impatient from school to depart;
But we shall discover, this holiday lover
Knew little what was in his heart.

For when on returning, he gave up his learning,
Away from his sums and his books,
Though playthings surrounded, and sweetmeats abounded,
Chagrin still appear’d in his looks.

Though first they delighted, his toys were now slighted,
And thrown away out of his sight;
He spent every morning in stretching and yawning,
Yet went to bed weary at night.

He had not that treasure which really makes pleasure,
(A secret discover’d by few).
You’ll take it for granted, more playthings he wanted;
Oh naught was something to do.

We must have employment to give us enjoyment
And pass the time cheerfully away;
And study and reading give pleasure, exceeding
The pleasures of toys and of play.

To school now returning­to study and learning
With eagerness Harry applied;
He felt no aversion to books or exertion,
Nor yet for the holidays sigh’d.

The Log Jam

1 Dere ‘a s beeg jam up de reever, w’ere rapide is runnin’ fas’,
2 An’ de log we cut las’ winter is takin’ it all de room;
3 So boss of de gang is swearin’, for not’ing at all can pass
4 An’ float away down de current till somebody break de boom.

5 ‘Here ‘s for de man will tak’ de job, holiday for a week
6 Extra monee w’en pay day come, an’ ten dollar suit of clothes.
7 ‘T is n’t so hard work run de log, if only you do it quick–
8 W’ere ‘s de man of de gang den is ready to say, ` Here goes?”

9 Dere was de job for a feller, handy an’ young an’ smart,
10 Willin’ to tak’ hees chances, willin’ to risk hees life.
11 ‘Cos many a t’ing is safer, dan tryin’ de boom to start,
12 For if de log wance ketch you, dey ‘re cuttin’ you lak a knife.

13 Aleck Lachance he lissen, an’ answer heem right away
14 ‘Marie Louise dat ‘s leevin’ off on de shore close by
15 She ‘s sayin’ de word was mak’ me mos’ happies’ man to-day
16 An’ if you ax de reason I ‘m ready to go, dat ‘s w’y.’

17 Pierre Delorme he ‘s spikin’ den, an’ O! but he ‘s lookin’ glad.
18 ‘Dis morning de sam’ girl tole me, she mus’ say to me, ` Good-bye Pierre.’
19 So no wan can stop me goin’, for I feel I was comin’ mad
20 An’ wedder I see to-morrow, dat ‘s not’ing, for I don’t care.’

21 Aleck Lachance was steady, he ‘s bully boy all aroun’,
22 Alway sendin’ de monee to hees moder away below,
23 Now an’ den savin’ a leetle for buyin’ de house an’ groun’,
24 An’ never done t’inkin’, t’inkin’ of Marie Louise Lebeau.

25 Pierre was a half-breed feller, we call heem de grand Nor’ Wes’–
26 Dat is de place he ‘s leevin’ w’en he work for de Compagnie,
27 Dey say he ‘s marry de squaw dere, never min’ about all de res’–
28 An’ affer he get hees monee, he ‘s de boy for de jamboree!

29 Ev’ry wan start off cheerin’ w’en dey pass on de log out dere
30 Jompin’ about lak monkey, Aleck an’ Pierre Delorme.
31 Workin’ de sam’ as twenty, an’ runnin’ off ev’ryw’ere,
32 An’ busy on all de places, lak beaver before de storm.

33 Den we hear some wan shoutin’, an’ dere was dat crazy girl,
34 Marie Louise, on de hillside, cryin’ an’ raisin’ row.
35 Could n’t do not’ing worser! mos’ foolish t’ing on de worl’
36 For Pierre Delorme an’ Aleck was n’t workin’ upon de scow.

37 Bote of dem turn aroun’ dere w’en girl is commencin’ cry,
38 Lak woman I wance remember, got los’ on de bush t’ree day,
39 ‘Look how de log is movin’! I ‘m seein’ it wit’ ma eye,
40 Come back out of all dem danger!’ an’ den she was faint away.

41 Ten year I been reever driver, an’ mebbe know somet’ing too,
42 An’ dere was n’t a man don’t watch for de minute dem log she go;
43 But never a word from de boos dere, stannin’ wit’ all hees crew,
44 So how she can see dem movin’ don’t ax me, for I dunno.

45 Hitch dem all up togeder, t’ousan’ horse crazy mad–
46 Only a couple of feller for han’le dem ev’ry wan,
47 Scare dem wit’ t’onder an’ lightning, an’ den ‘t is n’t half so bad
48 As log runnin’ down de rapide, affer de boom she ‘s gone.

49 See dem nex’ day on de basin, you t’ink dey was t’roo de fight
50 Cut wit’ de sword an’ bullet, lyin’ along de shore
51 You ‘d pity de log, I ‘m sure, an’ say ‘t was terrible sight
52 But man goin’ t’roo de sam’ t’ing, you ‘d pity dat man some more.

53 An’ Pierre w’en he see dem goin’ an’ log jompin’ up an’ down
54 De sign of de cross he ‘s makin’ an’ dive on de water dere,
55 He know it ‘s all up hees chances, an’ he rader be goin’ drown
56 Dan ketch by de rollin’ timber, an’ dat ‘s how he go, poor Pierre.

57 Aleck’s red shirt is blazin’ off w’ere we hear de log
58 Crackin’ away an’ bangin’, sam’ as a honder gun,
59 Lak’ sun on de morning tryin’ to peep t’roo de reever fog–
60 But Aleck’s red shirt is redder dan ever I see de sun.

61 An’ w’en dey ‘re tryin’ wake her: Marie Louise Lebeau,
62 On her neck dey fin’ a locket, she ‘s kipin’ so nice an’ warm,
63 An’ dey ‘re tolin’ de funny story, de funnies’ I dunno–
64 For de face, Baptême! dey see dere, was de half-breed Pierre Delorme!

February 23

Light rain is falling in Central Park
but not on Upper Fifth Avenue or Central Park West
where sun and sky are yellow and blue
Winds are gusting on Washington Square
through the arches and on to LaGuardia Place
but calm is the corner of 8th Street and Second Avenue
which reminds me of something John Ashbery said
about his poem "Crazy Weather" he said
he was in favor of all kinds of weather
just so long as it’s genuine weather
which is always unusually bad, unusually
good, or unusually indifferent,
since there isn’t really any norm for weather
When he was a boy his mother met a friend
who said, "Isn’t this funny weather?"

It was one of his earliest memories


for Jim Cummins

In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton’s
twin. Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman,"
about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform. Donna dressed
like Wallace Stevens
in a seersucker summer suit. To town came Ted Berrigan,
saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell."
But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.

At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine’s
latest: the Pulitzer. A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell,
pour something into Donna’s drink. "In the Walt Whitman
Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan,
pulling on a Chesterfield. Everyone laughed, except T. S. Eliot.

I asked for directions. "You turn right on Gertrude Stein,
then bear left. Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine
and you’re there," Jim said. When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan
with cigarette ash in his beard. Graffiti about Anne Sexton
decorated the men’s room walls. Beth had bought a quart of Walt
Donna looked blank. "Walt who?" The name didn’t ring a Marvin Bell.

You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as
Walt Whitman.
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura
of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she
returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan."

Donna was candid. "When the spirit of Ted Berrigan
comes over me, I can’t resist," she told Marvin Bell,
while he stood dejected at the xerox machine. Anne Sexton
came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan
had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act. "I don’t care," he said, "if you’re Walt

Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn’t Ted Berrigan."
The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine,
up a point and a half on strong earnings. Marvin Bell
ended the day unchanged. Analyst Richard Howard
recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.

In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton,
not both. Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with
Marianne Moore.
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.

A Little History

Some people find out they are Jews.
They can’t believe it.
Thy had always hated Jews.
As children they had roamed in gangs on winter nights in the old
neighborhood, looking for Jews.
They were not Jewish, they were Irish.
They brandished broken bottles, tough guys with blood on their
lips, looking for Jews.
They intercepted Jewish boys walking alone and beat them up.
Sometimes they were content to chase a Jew and he could elude
them by running away. They were happy just to see him run
away. The coward! All Jews were yellow.
They spelled Jew with a small j jew.
And now they find out they are Jews themselves.
It happened at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
To escape persecution, they pretended to convert to Christianity.
They came to this country and settled in the Southwest.
At some point oral tradition failed the family, and their
secret faith died.
No one would ever have known if not for the bones that turned up
on the dig.
A disaster. How could it have happened to them?
They are in a state of panic–at first.
Then they realize that it is the answer to their prayers.
They hasten to the synagogue or build new ones.
They are Jews at last!
They are free to marry other Jews, and divorce them, and intermarry
with Gentiles, God forbid.
They are model citizens, clever and thrifty.
They debate the issues.
They fire off earnest letters to the editor.
They vote.
They are resented for being clever and thrifty.
They buy houses in the suburbs and agree not to talk so loud.
They look like everyone else, drive the same cars as everyone else,
yet in their hearts they know they’re different.
In every minyan there are always two or three, hated by
the others, who give life to one ugly stereotype or another:
The grasping Jew with the hooked nose or the Ivy League Bolshevik
who thinks he is the agent of world history.
But most of them are neither ostentatiously pious nor
excessively avaricious.
How I envy them! They believe.
How I envy them their annual family reunion on Passover,
anniversary of the Exodus, when all the uncles and aunts and
cousins get together.
They wonder about the heritage of Judaism they are passing along
to their children.
Have they done as much as they could to keep the old embers
Others lead more dramatic lives.
A few go to Israel.
One of them calls Israel "the ultimate concentration camp."
He tells Jewish jokes.
On the plane he gets tipsy, tries to seduce the stewardess.
People in the Midwest keep telling him reminds them of Woody
He wonders what that means. I’m funny? A sort of nervous
intellectual type from New York? A Jew?
Around this time somebody accuses him of not being Jewish enough.
It is said by resentful colleagues that his parents changed their
name from something that sounded more Jewish.
Everything he publishes is scrutinized with reference to "the
Jewish question."
It is no longer clear what is meant by that phrase.
He has already forgotten all the Yiddish he used to know, and
the people of that era are dying out one after another.
The number of witnesses keeps diminishing.
Soon there will be no one left to remind the others and their
That is why he came to this dry place where the bones have come
to life.
To live in a state of perpetual war puts a tremendous burden on the
population. As a visitor he felt he had to share that burden.
With his gift for codes and ciphers, he joined the counter-
terrorism unit of army intelligence.
Contrary to what the spook novels say, he found it possible to
avoid betraying either his country or his lover.
This was the life: strange bedrooms, the perfume of other men’s
As a spy he has a unique mission: to get his name on the front
page of the nation’s newspaper of record. Only by doing that
would he get the message through to his immediate superior.
If he goes to jail, he will do so proudly; if they’re going to
hang him anyway, he’ll do something worth hanging for.
In time he may get used to being the center of attention, but
this was incredible:
To talk his way into being the chief suspect in the most
flamboyant murder case in years!
And he was innocent!
He could prove it!
And what a book he would write when they free him from this prison:
A novel, obliquely autobiographical, set in Vienna in the twilight
of the Hapsburg Empire, in the year that his mother was born.

There Is No God, The Wicked Sayeth

"There is no God," the wicked saith,
"And truly it’s a blessing,
For what He might have done with us
It’s better only guessing."

"There is no God," a youngster thinks,
"or really, if there may be,
He surely did not mean a man
Always to be a baby."

"There is no God, or if there is,"
The tradesman thinks, "’twere funny
If He should take it ill in me
To make a little money."

"Whether there be," the rich man says,
"It matters very little,
For I and mine, thank somebody,
Are not in want of victual."

Some others, also, to themselves,
Who scarce so much as doubt it,
Think there is none, when they are well,
And do not think about it.

But country folks who live beneath
The shadow of the steeple;
The parson and the parson’s wife,
And mostly married people;

Youths green and happy in first love,
So thankful for illusion;
And men caught out in what the world
Calls guilt, in first confusion;

And almost everyone when age,
Disease, or sorrows strike him,
Inclines to think there is a God,
Or something very like Him.

On The Disastrous Spread Of Aestheticism In All Classes

Impetuously I sprang from bed,
Long before lunch was up,
That I might drain the dizzy dew
From the day’s first golden cup.

In swift devouring ecstasy
Each toil in turn was done;
I had done lying on the lawn
Three minutes after one.

For me, as Mr. Wordsworth says,
The duties shine like stars;
I formed my uncle’s character,
Decreasing his cigars.

But could my kind engross me? No!
Stern Art-what sons escape her?
Soon I was drawing Gladstone’s nose
On scraps of blotting paper.

Then on-to play one-fingered tunes
Upon my aunt’s piano.
In short, I have a headlong soul,
I much resemble Hanno.

(Forgive the entrance of the not
Too cogent Carthaginian.
It may have been to make a rhyme;
I lean to that opinion.)

Then my great work of book research
Till dusk I took in hand-
The forming of a final, sound
Opinion on The Strand.

But when I quenched the midnight oil,
And closed the Referee,
Whose thirty volumes folio
I take to bed with me,

I had a rather funny dream,
Intense, that is, and mystic;
I dreamed that, with one leap and yell,
The world became artistic.

The Shopmen, when their souls were still,
Declined to open shops-
And Cooks recorded frames of mind
In sad and subtle chops.

The stars were weary of routine:
The trees in the plantation
Were growing every fruit at once,
In search of sensation.

The moon went for a moonlight stroll,
And tried to be a bard,
And gazed enraptured at itself:
I left it trying hard.

The sea had nothing but a mood
Of ‘vague ironic gloom,’
With which t’explain its presence in
My upstairs drawing-room.

The sun had read a little book
That struck him with a notion:
He drowned himself and all his fires
Deep in a hissing ocean.

Then all was dark, lawless, and lost:
I heard great devilish wings:
I knew that Art had won, and snapt
The Covenant of Things.

I cried aloud, and I awoke,
New labours in my head.
I set my teeth, and manfully
Began to lie in bed.

Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
So I my life conduct.
Each morning see some task begun,
Each evening see it chucked.

But still, in sudden moods of dusk,
I hear those great weird wings,
Feel vaguely thankful to the vast
Stupidity of things.


Clear was the night: the moon was young
The larkspurs in the plots
Mingled their orange with the gold
Of the forget-me-nots.

The poppies seemed a silver mist:
So darkly fell the gloom.
You scarce had guessed yon crimson streaks
Were buttercups in bloom.

But one thing moved: a little child
Crashed through the flower and fern:
And all my soul rose up to greet
The sage of whom I learn.

I looked into his awful eyes:
I waited his decree:
I made ingenious attempts
To sit upon his knee.

The babe upraised his wondering eyes,
And timidly he said,
"A trend towards experiment
In modern minds is bred.

"I feel the will to roam, to learn
By test, experience, nous,
That fire is hot and ocean deep,
And wolves carnivorous.

"My brain demands complexity,"
The lisping cherub cried.
I looked at him, and only said,
"Go on. The world is wide."

A tear rolled down his pinafore,
"Yet from my life must pass
The simple love of sun and moon,
The old games in the grass;

"Now that my back is to my home
Could these again be found?"
I looked on him and only said,
"Go on. The world is round."

The Song Of The Strange Ascetic

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have crowned Neaera’s curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight-
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.


Mother, your baby is silly! She is so absurdly childish!
She does not know the difference between the lights in the
streets and the stars.
When we play at eating with pebbles, she thinks they are real
food, and tries to put them into her mouth.
When I open a book before her and ask her to learn her a, b,
c, she tears the leaves with her hands and roars for joy at
nothing; this is your baby’s way of doing her lesson.
When I shake my head at her in anger and scold her and call
her naughty, she laughs and thinks it great fun.
Everybody knows that father is away, but if in play I call
aloud "Father," she looks about her in excitement and thinks that
father is near.
When I hold my class with the donkeys that our washer man
brings to carry away the clothes and I warn her that I am the
schoolmaster, she will scream for no reason and call me dada.
Your baby wants to catch the moon. She is so funny; she calls
Ganesh Ganush.
Mother, your baby is silly! She is so absurdly childish!