Gaby at the Jasper Johns Exhibition

She paid the senior’s fare For both of us It’s a donation, she said Not a freaking tax   Jasper Johns in Gray, I said That’s what I want to see! I should walk you through Rothko, she said That’s what I should do And we were laughing   Breathless, she led me through a dark hall, Up a stone staircase to a bright-lit room – Her hair was damp and wild, Her coat, frayed and lovely, sad   She was half-mad and half-brilliant, My little sister   I paused in front of something messy “False Start,” the title read This is not action painting, she said Glad to hear it, I replied   And then a room of large …

Read MoreGaby at the Jasper Johns Exhibition

Coming Back From the Safari

There we are Head to head Mouths open Eyes shut Bumpity bumpity In the back seat Of Dorsey’s Land Rover Gabrielle and Miguel And Kathy Sandy and that Guy picked and Picked his nose Bumpity bumpity Rickety tickety truck Rutty road Out to en brousse Then back again to Our little mud-brick house In old N’djamena (Before the sun rose Pascal woke us, whispering, Patron! Patron! Les camions sont arrivés! C’est l’heure à partir! And so I stumbled out of bed, looked back at you and there you were in your bra and panties, legs and belly bare, stretching… as if We would live forever.) In the fragrant darkness Nos amis told leur histoires Outside Crickets chirped gladly In the …

Read MoreComing Back From the Safari

America Speaking

  1. The Immigrant

The immigrant loves me

Waiting by the side of the road

Watching for a truck to slow

Hablando con sus amigos

He is happy to have come this far

To have worked so hard and saved so long

And paid the many propinas that must be paid

He remembers kissing his wife goodbye

Holding his niña tenderly, making promises

The long, dusty, claustrophobic ride

And the first view of his new country

The overwhelming hope

He is here now, here, waiting

If he gets work today

He’ll make ten dollars an hour

As much as he made in two days back home

Don’t tell me, he thinks, I am not welcome

Don’t tell me I do not deserve this chance

Don’t tell me there is no work for me

I am here and I can see: you need me


  1. The Firefighter

The firefighter loves me

Lying on the station’s couch

Thumbing through an old magazine

Watching a rerun of Law and Order

He is happy to know I chose him

Proud to be one of my children

And although his body is resting now

It is ready. His back is strong

His legs sturdy, his grip firm

He is waiting for the alarm

And he will be the first

On the first truck

To the first blaze

First to glory

That is how

He loves me

Read MoreAmerica Speaking

He Searches for Samantha Chang and Her Pastel- Polyester Cardigan

At 30, she recounts her life, starting at 19

And loving her name, he is happy to listen

And hears about the lava lamps and

Beyond-creepy laundry room and

Her job selling old clothes at a hip boutique

Wearing a “pastel-polyester cardigan,”

Too-much eyeliner, mauve lipstick

And a “beauty-school shag with

The platinum skunk stripe”

A brilliant start, he feels, he’s all hers now

She talks breezily about old boyfriends

Dreadlocks, odd jobs and blue-tinged skin

The grimy basements and beer-drinking rock shows

Even country-road car rides with bad boys

And “pot-infused sex” in a “patchouli-scented” apartment

He imagines her house – a lime green cottage

In Key West surrounded by mango trees and date palms

From which she provides oriental massage

And writes tankas on the porch with the parrots

At 21, she tells him, she graduated from beer to vodka

And then from pot to powder at parties

In the morning it was different too, with cigarettes

And wannabe men in well-cut suits with jobs

Read MoreHe Searches for Samantha Chang and Her Pastel- Polyester Cardigan

RIP: John Ashbery

All poetry seems to mention itself unconsciously And for some time it mentioned you like nerves Branching out from one another in the spiral of time That is now, at least for now, in stasis   You told us how afraid it all made you Either to give us liberty or to enclose us I could never tell, none of us could It was the dawning of the age of action   But now it’s time to put aside the wait again And make this thing of scalloped words and Curdled thoughts, of fresh-brewed angst, of Omelet ideas and opinions on rye with mustard   I can’t figure you out – the whole gestalt, not just The bit about surface …

Read MoreRIP: John Ashbery

Trying to Love a Bullfight

It’s not the death that really upsets you Death is, after all, a practical whore It is not the midday sun that scorches you That is what all the wide-brimmed hats are for It is not the cold, stone bench that hurts you Cheap cushions can be purchased by the door It’s the ritual death in small degrees That brings you down, with the bull, to your knees

Great Poets

If you read poetry, there are many great American poets to choose from. I recently read a list that recommended the following: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry David Thoreau. Among modern and contemporary poets, the list included Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Louise Bogan, Robert Bly, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Jane Hirshfield, Langston Hughes, W. S. Merwin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Oliver, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. I don’t think Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Jane Hirshfield, or Louise Bogan belong on this list. They are successful writers among academics and, in Angelou’s case, among the popular crowd but they are not great writers. Missing from the list …

Read MoreGreat Poets

Why Children Should Read Poetry (for Linda Pastan)

To find that someone else at twelve years old Had read The Highwayman like you had then And learned to love it – word by precious word Counting its meters in her blood’s rhythm And in the echoes of her “breathless heart” Who found in Bess, the landlord’s daughter, The black-eyed image of her mild-eyed mom And so the bundled world of her childhood Unraveled with every reading into An imagined place she could in thinking Enter, taking out the patterned phrases Like keys that would open up a future   For me – a chance to clatter and to clash Over cobblestones to reach my true love Whose red lips and dark-eyed beauty held me Whose long black hair …

Read MoreWhy Children Should Read Poetry (for Linda Pastan)

Bad News

Bad news isn’t mannerly It doesn’t announce itself It prefers to come to you When you least expect it to   Bad news isn’t courteous It doesn’t beg your pardon It insinuates itself Without consideration   Bad news is a good hunter It sniffs out your weaknesses Aims its malevolent force Where you are vulnerable   Bad news isn’t chivalric When it has you defenseless It won’t return your cutlass But moves forward to the kill