Archive for January, 2005

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The Human is a Social Animal

January 15, 2005

4/1984 (edited 1/2005)


The human is a social animal,
Its ways are not our ways.
It sits at parties, chats with friends,
All happy joyous days.


But as for us, the human race,
We kill with loving ire.
We never live with joy, just strife,
Excel in friendly fire.

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Steady Procession of Mourners

January 13, 2005

2/25/1986


In they come, out they go,
Steady procession of mourners,
Wandering to and fro,
Steady procession of mourners.


Here they come, here I go,
Steady procession of mourners,
Into rooms where nothing shows,
Steady procession of mourners.


Has someone just hired them?
Steady procession of mourners.
To moan and cry and chant “Amen?”
Steady procession of mourners.


Yet all of them seem to know,
Steady procession of mourners,
About his love, about his soul.
Steady procession of mourners.


And, yes, they show their love for him,
Steady procession of mourners,
So I will stay and listen in,
Steady procession of mourners.


At the center of the storm,               Where it’s nice and safe and warm.
                  In my close confined cocoon,             In the center of the room, 
           While the maelstrom passes by,    Where they cannot hear me cry,
I will stop and breathe and rest,         As I watch them pound their breast.


In they come, out they go,
Steady procession of mourners,
Wandering to and fro,
Steady procession of mourners.

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“Seven at the Golden Shovel” or My Father Died and the World Passed Away

January 11, 2005

8/12/1986


Seven at the Golden Shovel,
Digging all the day,
Hoping with a Heavenly Hit,
To break their chains of clay.


Six at the Endless Table.
Feeding on “swich licour.”
Endless dining and reclining,
Heaven loses its lusty allure.


Five in the Incense Inferno,
Burned with sweet-smelling soot,
Chained to the Wall of Agony,
Bound, both by hand and by foot.


Four of the Angelic Altos,
Singing of “Gloria Deus.”
Ranting and chanting their praises
All to the Almighty Zeus


Three on the Plain of Nirvana,
Experiencing Passionless Peace.
Seeing their Buddha by Bodhi,
Knowing the wonders won’t cease.


Two hide in the fields of Elysia,
One is named Adam, one Eve.
Knowing too much about clothing
Now for Gehenna they leave.


One on each throne of Eternity
Are they that far apart?
He and She both fear each other,
Both of Them act as a part of . . .


Zero, the infinite in us.
Who controls all that we feel?
Defining what’s good and what’s evil
We extol _____ at the keel.




Another of the poems written after my father’s death.  An attempt at an understanding of the various forms the afterlife could take, and a real questioning of who is in charge. The title comes from Gwendolyn Brooks poem “We Real Cool”.

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The Teachable Moment

January 10, 2005

Dedicated to the memory of Robin Bookston


10/17/1997


As a teacher, I always look for the teachable moment.
But where is the teachable moment in this?
What lesson can my students gain from this tragedy:
Love will conquer all?
Ask for help and you can receive it?
I will always be ready to hear your call?
Suicide doesn’t solve anything?
Obviously these are lessons that come too late;
These are lessons I never taught and you never learned.


Together we studied the Holocaust, Anne Frank,
Images of Jews in movies and television,
Jewish law.


But did we ever study each other?
Did I ever tell you what special qualities I saw in you?
Your beauty?  Your radiance?  Your inner peace?


I remember in your Senior year in High School how you came to me at dinner one night,
So confident and self-assured,
And presented me with a package –
Gift-wrapped.
“Something small,” you said,
“I saw it in a second-hand store and thought of you.”
Imagine my surprise and how deeply you touched me.
A gift that was more than the Mickey Mouse tie I wear today to your funeral.


I remember your sense of social action and social justice.
Working together in a Public School in Dorchester,
Or a housing project in Roxbury,
Painting, sweeping, stirring others with your commitment to Tikkun Olam.


I remember your courage,
Speaking to teenagers about your sexual orientation.
Unafraid to share your struggle in hopes that others wouldn’t have to struggle.


You were a leader,
A role model,
A good person,
A mensch.


My heart, my mind, my body
Scream “Why?”
“Why?”


But there is no answer – no one answers.
No one can answer.


And all I am left with is another teachable moment.


What do I do with it now?
What lesson can I teach?
What lesson were you trying to teach us?


This week I started teaching this year’s students:
Eager, bright, committed, ready to learn.
Last May I said goodbye to some of last year’s students:
Headed off to college and ready to tackle the world.


Am I too late?
Did I miss the opportunity again?
Did I miss the teachable moment?


I hope not…

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Thanksgiving and Charlie Brown

January 10, 2005

11/2002


I smell the damp, dewy scent of fallen leaves,
As I watch them, red and yellow and orange,
Twirling in the sky,
I see the pregnant clouds,
Puffy, bloated, ready to unleash gentle flakes of newly fallen snow,
Dripping, cascading from the sky in near perfection.


I think of Charlie Brown,
And the T.V. special I watched when I was younger.
The many Thanksgivings that were only complete with his presence.
I think of all the past years,
The turkey, the long table, the friendly company.
I think of Snoopy
All alone (but with Woodstock, always with Woodstock)
Spending his Thanksgiving in a snow-covered dog-house
Left behind.


I return to the clouds, the snow,
Amazed at their torrent,
The way the snow blankets the ground, renewing it with whiteness.
I close my eyes and breathe the warmth of the holiday.
The good cheer, the toasts, the splendor, the thankfulness.


I open my eyes and sense the hungry in the streets, the poor in our alleyways.
A million Snoopys without a yellow companion
Spending their time in their own snow-covered dog-houses.
Can I ever know your sorrow, Snoopy?  Your joy?
Do you have anything this year to make you thankful?
I’ve never been alone or hungry or without a reason to give thanks.
I bow my head and pray for you, Snoopy, on this day of Thanksgiving,
I pray for an end to your hopelessness and your sorrow


And I also pray for myself.
And give thanks for all God’s blessings.


On this beautiful, sharp, snow-covered day I give thanks
And remember.

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Wave at Those Who Cry

January 9, 2005

4/1984


While resting on a shadowed street,
I wave and smile at those who cry,
But they don’t see me, and their feet
Continue marching slowly by.


And then I see a man in black
Waving a jug of water over me.
I cannot think to answer back
Since chained to the ground are my head and feet.


And then I hear a muffled cry.
And then a sense of falling flows,
And gingerly I think “Goodbye”
And then I know…




One of the pieces inspired by my father’s death, and also intentionally written to be reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death”.

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Book Review: W.H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse

January 8, 2005

Here’s the 2nd book review.


I finished reading W.H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse and I found it to be a mixed bag.  First some definitions:  this book was originally published as part of the Oxford University Press’ collection of books of poetry.  Commissioned in the 1930s, it is not, simply stated, a book of comedic verse, although many of the pieces are quite humorous.


It is rather a collection of poetry of popular verse, beginning with poems in Middle English (“Sitteth alle stile and herkneth to me ! / the kyng of Alemaignr, bi mi leaute,”) and carrying through to Auden’s contemporaries (”Spirits of well-shot woodcock, partridge, snipe / Flutter and bear him up the Norfolk sky:”).  Representing many forms, from nursery rhymes (the original “Jack and Gill went up the Hill” is in here — Gil, who knew it was Gil?) to elegies to limericks to odes, and many voices (some American, Irish and Scottish, though mostly British) it is a thorough collection.


And therein lies my problem with it.  As a collection, I found myself thumbing through, looking at particular pieces and savoring them, and skipping others completely.  It is collection which, to me, is often excellent, and occasionally horrible.


One of my favorite pieces (which I have marked since I am sure to read and re-read it) is “The Careless Gallant” by Thomas Jordon.  It begins “Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke, and rejoice, / With claret and sherry, thorbo and voice … In frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence / For we shall be nothing a hundred years hence.”


Another seemed particularly relevant to our current time.  John Gay’s “Ode for the New Year” makes fun of King George, and I drew some inspiration from it, so at the end of this review I present my re-interpretation of this poem, titled “Ode for a Second Inauguration.”  Much of the piece is based on the original John Gay piece — grab the original to compare and see for yourself.


So, in short, a worthwhile piece to add to a poetry collection, but not one to start your library.



1/6/05


An Ode for the Second Inauguration
Written by David Demm, Esq. Poet Laureate
 


God prosper long our gracious King.
Now sitting on his throne;
Who leads this nation by a string
And governs almost none.


This is the day when, right or wrong,
I, David Demm, Esquire,
Must for my pay recite a song
And strum my venal lyre.


Not he who ruled great Judah’s realm,
Eclipsed old Solomon,
Wise wiser that Ours at the helm
(He is the wiser son?).


Since born from wealth, he never felt
The weight of work or toil;
What does he care if tighter belts
Are coin to pay his spoils?


His head with wisdom deep is fraught,
His breast with courage glows;
Alas, how mournful is the thought,
He ever should need foes.


For, in his heart, he likes to win,
Like ‘poleon in his saddle.
If not in field, in Washington
He daily sounds to battle.


The Queen, I also pray, God save!
His consort thin and dear;
Who just as he is wise and brave,
Is pious and sincere.


She’s courteous, good, and charms all folks,
Loves one as well as t’other;
The far right and the Orthodox,
Alike the unwed mother.


God favor both the princesses
With many happy days
And keep their boyfriend’s caresses
Confined to drunken haze.


And keep that special brother Jeb
With harmony and love.
Tallahassee’s gracious ‘deb’
Please keep as Florida’s guv.


Heav’n spread o’er George’s family
That broad illustrious glare,
Which shines so flat in ev’ry eye,
And makes them all so stare.


But oh! ev’n Kings must end, of course,
And to their heirs be civil;
We poets, too, on wingéd horse.
Must soon post to the devil.


Then, since I have a brother too,
May he Parnassus rule;
So shall the Crown and Laurel, too,
Descend from Fool to Fool!


Patterned after John Gay’s “An Ode for the New Year: Written by Colley Ciber, Esq., Poet Laureate”