Easter at the Willow Brook Dairy

Please descend with me, you sentimentalists
and pilgrims, through our temperate grange smelling
of the vegetation, with the gravid
mare turned out among the strewing herbs,
which have their own names in French, and with our wedge
of day before us. There are so very many
different graduations of vitality
in life that logically it’s hard to say
where death exists. The risen Christ, we’re told,
appeared unto the Magdalene while looking
like a gardener. That’s hard to credit, but
I’m pleased to be here, hat in hand, among
the opiate philosophies, and seeing
how the windmill spins, the lister rusts
in Elam’s primeval barn. Continue reading “Easter at the Willow Brook Dairy”

It Occurs To Me That

in this season of unlikely miracles, we might enjoy the occasion to add to our concepts of spirituality:


Unlike the mirroring eyes, the pom pom heart,
I’m opaque, an oaf with no taste for driven individuation.
I’m blamed a lot these days,

I dumb down your cheekbones,
I assuage your nerves, calmed with my myelin sheathes,
your cells are founded upon my lipids. Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

It Occurs To Me That

this might be the perfect season to display Emily Dickinson’s talents as a nature poet—for which she is not often overtly credited. She seems at times to have required of herself a very particular scrutiny of the natural world outside her bedroom window—which allowed her to identify what she was watching, without ever naming it. And since, of course, none of her poems have titles, there are no clues to be found there either.

So the three poems I am offering are, therefore, riddles. Because we can see what she herself saw, you will have to attend to the evidence as she presents it, and arrive by inductive steps at your own recognition. The first one is easy (or should be): Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

It Occurs To Me That

we might all enjoy an accidental rendezvous, a chance encounter that adds to our day, and so, with that in mind, here is a poem by Aracelis Girmay, from her collection Kingdom Animalia:


Because she has a name
in the book of my family, the book

of my father’s brain & chest,
because everyone who looks

at the old photograph of the birdish
& beautiful child always says

the same thing: Zewdit.
I believe I have an aunt named Zewdit Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

Vital Signs


     In a memorable volume of Parnassus, Annie Dillard writes about contemporary poetry that “it is the native tongue of nobody. As a language it is useless for important messages. It is arcane and luxurious. It amounts to a secret code. Only the people who speak it think it can save the world.” Part of her observation–the incomprehensibility of poetry– is by now a commonplace among critics and readers alike. But I’m interested in the discrepancy she indicates between this obscuring secrecy and the social power that poetry is expected to wield. There is a remarkable disparity between the modest aims of individual lyric poems–they capture the ineffable, the momentary illumination, the fragile beauty–and the grandiose ambitions of poetry and poets in general. Shelley claimed that poets were “the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life.” Whitman maintained he was the voice of the people (who preferred Longfellow), and Pound was nearly shot for elevating poetry and the arts over the economic interests he thought were at the root of war and of the universal dissolution of culture. Of course, he was broadcasting his opinions over the Italian radio at the time. If he had been anything other than a poet, which is to say if his prosecutors had taken either him or his ideas seriously, he would certainly have been executed as an example to the nation. Instead, they locked him up in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital–the “bug house,” as he called it. So much for power. Continue reading “Vital Signs”

Market Day in Santa Cruz

Along the thoroughfares
approaching town, astrologers were offering
to read the stars, already confident
in Sarah, Goddess of Fruit-Bearing Trees,
according to their zodiac, though she
was humanly stricken by the troubadours
intoning hymns, and blowing flutes
on every corner of the market square all
the time, constantly. In cages, parrots
praised the red day. Continue reading “Market Day in Santa Cruz”

Body Image

At two in the morning one summer day in 1983, in Cambridge, Frank Bidart asked me to telephone the nearby Seven-Eleven to order a grinder, and just tell them it was for Frank. I don’t recall what kind of grinder that turned out to be, except that it consisted of some nondescript meat covered in onions and peppers. It reminded me of something you might get in a parking lot during a Red Sox game–if you were crazy about the Red Sox. Even then I was impressed by the implications here: a. that whoever was at the Seven Eleven knew which ‘Frank’ this would be who called at 2 a.m. to ask for a grinder; b. that Frank knew the guy would know him; c. that both of them knew what sort of grinder was called for. There were no questions asked on either side. It meant, of course, that Frank ate like this, at this hour, all the time. Continue reading “Body Image”


Technology has evolved considerably since my first years in the Medical Center and, as we all know, the speed of that evolution is itself increasing. Today any reasonable 10-year-old can remember a time before the first iPhone. I can myself recall an even worse epoch when there were no cell phones at all, not even flip phones. In those days, I knew the location of every single telephone booth there was along the corridor between my house and the hospital—and along both sides of the road–because when my beeper went off, I had to find a pay phone in a big hurry to call in. This made for skittish driving when I was on call. And not just me: I know of accidents–one of them grimly fatal–that occurred when a colleague’s beeper went off on the drive home, or on the drive into work, and good road safety was challenged by the programmed, urgent need to find a telephone. Continue reading “Handguns”


     Last Spring I enjoyed lunch in Santa Cruz with an learned, conscientious relative of mine, who is an uncomfortable transplant from the East Coast into Northern California, and who occasionally feels compelled to justify herself before a kindred spirit. Since I was myself a transplant from Southern California onto the stones of New England–a metaphorical reversal of her journey–, she sometimes has this idea that I possess a native understanding of her shame: she actually likes California, with its eternal sunshine, its sensual beaches, the endless mild summer days, and vineyards everywhere. Everyone is mellow, or tempted to be, which she instinctively mistrusts as a shallow, unconsidered, inadequate response to the dire state of the world–which everybody on the Northeastern Seaboard knows is better served by angry competitive sarcasm, and a sort of crowbar analysis that pries into every aspect of daily life. There are too many dudes in California. Continue reading “Thresholds”

When I Was Still a Freudian


I kept a night journal as you were supposed to do in those days, recording dreams and the alter egos that appeared in them. Then later in the morning when I woke up, I’d look for insight hidden in the slew of events–like the time when

Sarah disemboweled
a member of the serpent clan tattooed
with ugly snakes–and strangling Elam
at the time. She was quiet with that death,
and for a while went hand in hand with red
dreams, until the centaurs came, and freed
other proclivities.

Call them centaurs,
if you like. The females with their painted
lips were handsome in an eerie way,
ghostly milk-white-skinned—really
seriously pale—, with vestigial breasts,
and every nipple pierced by thin, delicious
ornaments of pain. A few wove bones
into their mane of hair. It’s how I sometimes
think my mother would have looked before
she stopped herself from being cruel–except Continue reading “When I Was Still a Freudian”

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