These poems are published with permission of the author. Previously published in various journals, they are also part of his book Spinach Days.I Remember, I Remember(Poem beginning with two lines by Yehuda Amichai)
The earth drinks people and their loves
like wine, in order to forget.
But I drink wine to remember.
I remember the day at school I thought
I had appendicitis. My father came,
supported me on both sides to the car,
into the doctor's. For that, when Gabriel
blows his horn, may Father be supported
on both sides to Heaven.
I remember the sensation of first love,
like falling down a mine shaft.
but shafts are dark, and all around
me was light, light, light. Her hair
light, and when we locked together
we were a dynamo generating light.
I remember not knowing what I wanted to do
in life. My ambitions scattered like newspapers
on lawns of people out of town.
until I had the right professor for
the right course. Suddenly I was on course
for what I'd do until the day I die.
I remember the day we were wed. In early
morning I walked down Marshall Street,
wanted to proclaim to everyone I met,
"I'm marrying a woman who makes me laugh,
a beautiful woman good as fresh-baked bread,
pure as a beach where no one walks."
I remember the day our son was born,
the longest day and night and day
of my life--imagine how long for her!
When the nurse brought our son to the window,
I was Robinson Crusoe discovering Friday's
footprint: stranger, companion, friend.
I remember, sometimes more than I care to,
the friend I let down unintentionally,
the brothers I hurt through simple silence,
the mother I didn't call often enough when
she was bedridden, weak as water. I even
remember a dog who wanted to play. I didn't.
I remember the day it was confirmed
one of my friends had been telling
lies about me for years - -
They cost me friends, a coveted job.
May his tongue be ripped out
and flung to the crows.
I collect memories the way some collect coins.Spinach Days
The memories fade like constellations at dawn.
Until my next glass of wine.
The odor of cooking spinach
brings them back: summer
evenings, the world's richest
city, Manhatten before my senior year,
when Cadillacs grew tailfins,
Buddy Holly and The Crickets alarmed
parents, Eisenhower full of wind,
Mamie tippling at The Gettysburg Farm.
A blue-chip ad agency awarded
me an "internship." I was recruited
for a world I could not afford.
In my one wash-and-wear suit,
by day I worked in a skyscraper,
aluminum waterfall a lobby construct,
rooftop restaurant for highsteppers.
I wrote clever copy: HOOVER SUCKS
for a vacuum cleaner client,
PIMPLES CAN MAKE YOU RICH!
to druggists for an astringent.
My boss rebuffed my greatest pitch,
KISS YOUR PAINFUL HEMORRHOIDS GOODBYE,
though called it a good attempt.
By night I sweated in my room at the "Y,"
non-air-conditioned, ten dollars' weekly rent.
The one window overlooked an airshaft,
but not a whisper of air shafted there.
I hung a repro of a Picasso lithograph
to make the cell less austere.
Rickety desk pushed tight against the bed,
but not so tight as my budget—
fifty-two dollars a week divided
between rent, food, books, cigarettes—
not necessarily in that order.
Even then books took precedent:
A secondhand Sorrows of Young Werther
at The Strand meant total absence
of lunch. Dinners I was resigned
to the Horn & Hardart Automat.
Cheap entrees revolved behind
glass doors, or the vegetable platter—
any three off the steam table
for a total of forty-five cents.
I thought spinach would enable
me with Popeye's omnipotence.
It was mushy, foul, overcooked,
the water dark as octopus ink.
For the rest, mashed potatoes, crook-
neck squashed, or corn. I was delinquent
in The Great Food Chain, but content.
Near pay day, no money even for spinach,
I let myself into my aunt's apartment
when she was away, quickly dispatched
whatever was in the Frigidaire,
hoping she wouldn't miss it, or
forgive. Dates were free: Washington Square,
The Cloisters, Natural History dinosaurs,
Lewisohn Stadium concerts where some wag
strung banners, EXIT IN CASE OF BRAHMS.
Summer nights strollers could zigzag
through Central Park without qualm,
or so I thought, amble through Harlem
back to the East Side, my date
swinging her handbag like a pendulum,
past laughing Negroes who'd gravitate
to front stoops. (Not for decades will
we say Blacks, then Afro-Americans,
finally African Americans. Nothing's still,
how many changes in a short life span?).
Spinach brings it back: long showers
at the "Y," simply nothing else to do,
Dark Victory billed with Now, Voyager
at The Thalia, monkeys at the Bronx Zoo,
browsing that smorgasbord for bibliophiles,
The Gotham, hoping to catch a rising star.
Never did, only fading James T. Farrell
imbibing at the The Biltmore Men's Bar.
(The Biltmore Mens Bar! Even the name
is impossible today. But that was then.
All males, all crème de la crème,
leaned on the mahogany bar like deizens.)
I elevated atop The Empire State,
saw nothing but fog on foggy mist,
like the White on White immaculate
canvas at MoMa, post-Impressionist;
hung outside gated Patchen Place
waiting for Cummings to cross cobbles,
or Djuna Barnes. Neither showed face.
The White Horse, where Delmore hobnobbed,
I shared a pitcher of martinis (a pitcher!)
with two older, hard-drinking pals
who were paying. I paid—a spectacular
hangover for days left me horizontal.
By August the city was a cement inferno.
My boss promised to get me away
to his family's Nantucket bungalow.
He never asked, not even by Labor Day.
One young man invited me to The Pines,
a place I'd never heard of or been.
Co-workers advised I should decline.
Instead I swam alone at the "Y," chlorine
stinging my eyes. (Stripling-shaped,
one-hundred-fifty pounds dripping wet,
the fat man inside me hadn't yet escaped.
Decades later he scored his upset.)
Hive-like corridors buzzed with queens
(no one knew the word Gays) cruising
in BVDs, one café au lait called Josephine
because of his effeminate languishing.
Locked in my oppressive room I wrote
parents dutifully, on sticky sheets
slept intermittently, dreaming anecdotes
of fame. I filled notebooks with meters,
not ads. Lines spilled like cataracts.
On occasion I wonder if I were mislead.
But most days I think I would go back.
Spinach. Loneliness. The future ahead.
Letter to My Mother
You helped me pack for that milestone
event, first time away from home alone.
It didn't matter the summer camp was poor--
long on Jesus, short on funds--bordering
a tea-colored lake. No matter we could afford
only two weeks. To help get there I hoarded
months of allowances. I was ten, felt grown,
I finally was going somewhere on my own.
You folded the ironed tee-shirts and skivvies--
you even ironed and creased my dungarees.
In Southern drawl: "And of course you'll dress
for dinner!" you said, packing with the rest
my one blazer, dress shirts, and rep tie.
I didn't protest, I was an innocent stander-by.
(The suitcase was a new brown Samsonite.
Even empty that thing never was light.)
First exhilarating day--after softball, archery,
diving instruction (which I took to swimmingly)--
came rest hour. While others took a shower
or wrote postcards home, I dressed for dinner:
The white shirt, the pre-tied striped tie,
the navy jacket. In process I received a wry
glance from my counselor. The dinner bell tolled,
I felt every bit the gentlemen as I strolled
toward the rustic dining room. I entered,
the room exploded with boyish hoots and laughter,
pointing at me, the funniest thing they'd seen.
They still had on their shorts or jeans.
The rest of the two weeks were impossible.ThingsFor Diane Wakoski
Not chosen for any teams, called a fool,
Mother, I was miserable through and through.
But when I came home I never told you.
No ideas but in things,
said Doc Williams.
Christ! I must have
an awful lot of ideas.
God knows I have
an awful lot of things.
I never have enjoyed
the luxury of living
with nothing, even
I never learned
the lesson of seeing
"isolate in the beauty
each thing by itself.
Unto itself, itself.
Jay Gatsby, opening the bureau
to display all his shirts…
I was planted in a crib
of things-- ducks, dolls,
rattlers of the non-poisonous
variety. Growing up I collected:
movie star photos, baseball cards,
matchbox cars. Live things, too:
My gerbils begat unto the umpteenth
generation. College years, things
worsened. I hated library books,
still do. Worth reading,
worth owning, my motto. Bookshelves
groaned. Paper napkins? Loathe them.
Linen closets groaned. Thoreau
would groan had he seen the van
big as the Mayflower (and so named)
lumbering toward Westchester
with all my unworldly possessions.
of books alone. No, not alone,
The Collier Brothers, leaving
a houseful of newspapers…
At night I prowl the rooms
of my house, glass in hand,
to survey my things. "I'll weed
the library," I say. "Throw away
two hundred record albums"?
And just yesterday
they were the very thing.
Christ! I need things to keep
all my things in. And this year,
things got worse. I inherited
(of all things) Great Aunt Eva's
amber collection. Every surface
gleams--glass amber grapes,
amber apples, amber ashtrays
shaped like gentleman's top hats.
I've had to hire a housekeeper
just to dust the damned things.
McCullers said, "First learn
to love a tree, a rock, a cloud…"
I do, I do. I love shoeOysters
trees, rock records, Rolls-Royce
Silver Clouds. Lord, help me
abandon these screens I stand
behind. Help me come to believe,
No things but in ideas.
One evening we toasted with whiskey sours
below Grand Central, in the Oyster Bar.
We sat at the rail, felt the world was ours.
We ordered some of every kind there are—
the Chincoteague, Box, Cotuit, Wellfleet…
You called their looks slimy, just like catarrh.
I quoted the poet, sounding effete:
"Oh, it was a brave man who first ate one!"
Feeling brave, we proceeded to eat.
We compared sizes, colors, con-
sistencies, all the nuances lovers
can extract from moments of pure fun.
Some we squirted with lime, some we covered
with horseradish or Tabasco. A few,
too salty, we sentenced to be smothered
in chilled cocktail sauce. With great ado
that night I showed you—the novice—the way
to act Mrs. Waters. You took my cue,
raised an oyster high overhead, in play
opened your mouth wide as the gates of hell
and sucked all the mollusk's juices away.
Darling, you learned that lesson much too well.Never Date Yourself(-Remark by Rob House)
You took my copious feast, dumped the shell.
Why not? It increases your chances for a date
on Saturday nights. I'd called every unfortunate
in town, been shot down. So finally I telephoned
myself on my own phone mail, left a high-toned
message: I'd be picking myself up at eight-fifteen.
Took a long shower, struggled into Calvin Klein jeans.
Next Ralph Lauren sport coat, Gucci loafers, no sox.
Reeking of Chanel for Men, I felt quite cocksure.
I dropped the Corvette top, drove us to Cinema II.
Ironically, a double-feature, both Gerard Depardieu.
Bought us a popcorn dripping with extra butter,
we dived in with both hands, busy as a knitter.
In the dark my left hand held my right,
one thigh touched the other, just slightly.
Between features I had to go to the john.
In the aisle I glanced back, me seated alone.
After the show, paused for a smoke in the lot.
Myself lit my cigarette. It was almost erotic.
Then a fern bar filled with Yuppie scum.
We drank double Dewars, Tweedledee, Tweedledum,
resisted urges to pilot us to the dance
floor. Others doubtless would look askance.
Back home I slowly undressed, just one kiss
on the mouth in the bedroom mirror, dismissed
making love to myself in the looking-glass.
(I'm no that kind of guy—I've got more class,
it was only our first date, there's time.)
Next day I leave myself a message: "I'm
glad we went out. I had a ball.
In this Postmodern Age, everyone dates it all."