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Still Freaked Out After 30 Years

Still Freaked Out After 30 Years

chum, chummed, chum·ming (verb)
To fish by attracting fish by dumping cut or ground bait into the water.

 

The Blue Hole of Belize

Was I the fool of this sinkhole of the sea
Or its pupil in this aqua ocean?
As I fly home, it looks back at me
Without memory or emotion.

Three days ago, while taunting me, Miguel
Said: “You dived it but not with me before.
I dive it deep. I dive it right to Hell.”
He took my money but wouldn’t tell me more.

Off the boat, with Miguel still behind,
We checked our gear and descended into cold,
Deeper, darker, to fear of a different kind:
Sharks. Hundreds of then. Darting from the shadows.

At the boat Miguel offered a helping hand,
Laughing. ”You understand? We chummed it man.”

Long Ago and Just for Giggles — A Tale in Two Sonnets

Long Ago and Just for Giggles — A Tale in Two Sonnets

Almost 25 years ago, on November 29, 1995 I visited the Mayan city of Tikal with two stoners before its restoration:

The stars over Tikal are frightening and bright.
I am here, on sacred land, in the jungle
Before dawn in the Guatemalan night.
The moisture and pre-morning has its smell

But I modernize the scent with smoke
From a little match to start my cigarette.
Cesar comes through the door drinking a coke.
He says he knew the others would all forget.

He won’t take me into the ruins alone.
Down the dark path, I follow my flashlight
Into the past, to where time has made its home
And into the temple and sacrificial sites

Where people of belief played their cosmic part
And reached through ribs to hold high a human heart.

Many years later I went back to show my daughter but it was now open to tourists:

The exchanging of colored currency
As soldiers lounged and smoked their cigarettes
While an old woman washed clothes in the stream
Should have been enough to never forget,

But I wanted to show her so much more.
We crossed the bridge into Guatemala
And into the land of the living poor.
Skinny dogs and pigs with hanging tits wallow

In the roadside brush as we both bus by.
Not even Tikal, ancient in starlight,
In its totalitarian demise
Got the primal message exactly right

But heading home, past pack boys with a load
A twelve-foot Boa stretched across the road.

For Father’s Day – Shaving My Father

For Father’s Day – Shaving My Father

(From the draft I wrote the day after my father’s death at 104.)

This is the last small room he will live in.
Every day I visit him at 4 O’clock.
We balloon the room with our forgiveness.
“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”
“Not funny for a man this close to death.”
We share what only dark humor can express.
The Marx brothers, for both of us, are the best.

The men are waiting outside the door.
The electric razor hums in my hand
As it cuts along the cheekbone and the neck
Like a harvester on pre-Winter land
Across the snowbank of white paper skin
I harvest thistle from earths intellect.
They zip their bag shut but leave without him.

I really miss him on the holidays.

Don’t Settle for a Low Paying Job. Be a Poet Laureate — You’re Qualified!

Don’t Settle for a Low Paying Job. Be a Poet Laureate — You’re Qualified!

If you loved your education or even if you didn’t, but love the people, the culture — and you are pretty certain you should have never been admitted — you are a born Poet Laureate.

If you are worried about qualifications, no license is required. And what is really great is that there are endless jobs available because in most institutions this job has not even been created — so you can fill it by volunteering and hold it endlessly as long as you are keeping the alumni laughing.

And if you are worried about keeping your integrity this is absolutely the job for you! You can test this:

Call a restaurant and tell them you are a Poet Laureate. You will get a table next to the kitchen. You can insist on no favoritism and be certain that your request will be honored.

And it is not “a low paying job”! It is a no paying job, so you pay no taxes! And there are other hidden benefits:

I have found that as long as I have been a Poet Laureate they have not revoked my degree. In my case, that’s important.

I have been the Poet Laureate of the Harvard Alumni Association for the last eight years and I am living proof that no talent is richly rewarded for the pure pleasure of just doing this job.

Yes, I have proof:

The job requires that I present my “ode” at the Annual Spring Meetings of the Alumni Association and, for the last two years, for different reasons, it has been videoed.

Have fun with it. Two weeks ago, because of the coronavirus, I bemoaned the cancellation of our graduation and celebrated our student athletes and our football team:

The year before, I celebrated the Harvard Magazine and my former father-in-law:

For the text of the rest see the HAA website.

In truth, this is not a labor of love. It is more than that. I owe this school more than I can ever pay back. For me, it is my foolish way to say thank you. It is worth doing this for that alone.

If your institution does not have a Poet Laureate, volunteer. You will make a fool of yourself but you will open door for others to be free to do the same.

But if you are a graduate of Harvard, the job is taken.

Quarantine Journal Entry

Quarantine Journal Entry

Quarantine Journal Entry #*@!%😱!

On Friday, March 6th, I headed home on a mid-morning train from NYC. We had been busy. The day before, we had finished a third table reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine. The atmosphere had been wonderful and the actors had greeted each other with hugs and kisses, celebrating the act of making theater.

Other than my wife, this was the last time I have been within six feet of anybody for almost two months. Everyone in the world I know is in quarantine.

I have tracked my friends in New York and elsewhere, as some of them have gotten the virus, gone dark, and returned to report they are better but have lost friends to the disease.

The realization that this will not end easily for anybody has been made clear every morning as I’ve watched a cold spring come to Maryland under iron gray skies. I have been waiting for good news or some sign of change. I want the everyday life that I will always remember but will not see again.

Today, I decided to gather the little things that I might have taken for granted before, and make them into an exciting life that must be coming.

My social media manager Katie Marinello has already posted the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal article written by Michael Millemann about the law school class that we taught with Eliot Rauh. We have been notified that it continues to be one of the most downloaded current articles. I read it, and instead of taking it for granted I celebrated it as part of a new beginning, a new opportunity.

A year ago this week, I recited my 7th annual Harvard Alumni Association poet laureate poem (a “serious” bit of frivolity which I dearly love). This year, because the alumni meetings will be held virtually, I was asked to write it and have it videoed for presentation tomorrow. Instead of being disappointed I will not see my friends and fellow alumni and present it to a live audience, I reviewed the video and found myself laughing.

Finally, the play I was afraid would die in New York City after that great reading, we have just been informed is a finalist for the New York Rave Theater Festival and is being considered for perforce in NYC in October.

A different world is evolving now, but at least personally it is starting to feel like we are starting to wake up from a sleepless night to a coming spring.

Do Not Despair. We Have Our Art to Keep Us Wise.

Do Not Despair. We Have Our Art to Keep Us Wise.

The More Loving One

W. H. Auden – 1907-1973

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

 

I’m sure you did not know W.H. Auden. He died years ago. And I am absolutely sure he does not know you. But in times like this he is sanity from the dark.

Look at the care he put into this in order to talk to you. Carefully measured 8+\- beat rhyming lines that you can tap out on your knee, like a musician, as you listen. It is sing-song. It has humor.

Why would anybody bother?

Because the genes have made us human, and humans must communicate even from the quarantines of different worlds and times.

Why would a dead man reach out to you and encourage you to love in an indifferent universe ?

Humankind is nasty, but it’s capable of love and humor in the face of indifference. Why? It needs community.

We will get through this and we will come together because of it.