I retired from the SUNY Buffalo English Department in 2004. Have published a dozen or so collections of poems. Such my addiction to the sport of squash racquets my headstone is to read: "ONE MORE GAME?" See more of my poems HERE.
Art of the Haiku
His finger then, now yours
here, where master stopped, went back,
Who is this great poet lapping near our feet?
--- this shaggiest dog that ever swam ashore
and shook its coat dry onto the dull pebbles.
The Atlantic itself? at Rockaway Beach?
Mumble-master of toneless sublimities,
who won't stick to a point or even get to one,
always talk-talk-talking with its mouth full
--- impossible to tell just what it feels
and, therefore, to understand why it goes
on and on about itself so, and in
some clunk's vocabulary restricted to
the slurps, thumps, bangings, rumbles and whooshes
Like a drunk trying to count his wad of dough,
this big lug is all thumbs and tongues,
helplessly unable to divide sound
from sense, or content from form, "organic"
with a vengeance, and woozily puttering
its fluent thumbprint over every shore.
Like the ungifted who invariably swear
(hand on heart before Art's customs agents),
"I only write for myself," it achieves
an exclusive sufficiency, which --- whenever
we sit on the beach or wherever we dip
into it --- goes on "relating to itself."
And why does it prefer its company to ours?
Surely it hasn't arranged this exhibition
--- in broad, horizontal, full-color
centerfold nudity --- just to be looked at!
Of course, one happily concedes its "greatness,"
and one did come prepared to admire --- still
we might wish for less conceit, oh, a touch
of vanity, say, some little hankering
to hear applause, a wink of willingness
to, well, uh, meet us part way, and put aside
the indulgences of its "song of oneself."
--- Obsessed old salt blubbering to our damp lapels
flecked with by-spray and bad breath from its brine maw.
Tell me, What damn duck did we ever do in
to be pummeled by all this humorlessness?
The bore is father to the solipsist:
feeling unperceived --- since unresponded to ---
one loses confidence in "reality."
Oh, we might call it "awful big poet," except,
unwilling to say anything large by way
of any little, it lacks, precisely, scale,
being a multitude of behaviors
that can't or won't get an act together.
And how can we know this poet from its poem?
--- with its naturalism of mental contents,
its "whatever I happen to be thinking now,"
its queasy slipslop of selves, wobbling riffraff
of fish and turds and tarballs, of orange rind
and old hats, kelp and tires and glittery grit
--- all this churning visionary trivia
and stuff, this "stream-of-unconsciousness,"
this lost topography that's left us "all at sea,"
this pounding platitudes into subtleties,
this diluting any old sludgy cliché
to the palest world-hue, this everlasting
running running running running away ...
Oh, too grand to blush for its banalities,
and grandly disdaining fastidiousness
--- this poem that cannibalizes all its texts ---
look at it guzzle the palimpsest of foam!
Incapable of pretense, of stepping back,
as we do, and taking thought, of putting
itself into (for example) our leaky shoes,
it ignores us perhaps from fear that we
may interrupt its droning and give it pause,
impose the artifice of closure, and beginning ...
"Sono un poeta...Scrivo"
At eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old,
my Bohème was a walkup on Willett Street.
And I bolted up--two, three steps at a time
to my garret under the stars...where Mimì
came at me in the dark hallway, eyes burning.
I thought she'd strike me with her cold little hand.
Or darted back with angry mutters, and stood
in her apartment door, pronouncing my death
in hoarse, undecipherable arias.
She had lost the key--to everything.
Dark, small, white-haired, darting, a Fury
derided by minuter, madder furies.
Or was Catastrophe, the idiot Fate,
gibbering a million strands together.
Then swipe of the shears cuts a city short.
And all night just beyond my bedroom wall
something, newspapers, rustled into my sleep.
What is she doing? my sleep asked me.
Go to sleep, she's burning the building down,
looking by firelight for the key in the fire,
lost homeless wind groping among our embers.
Garret? Star-infested? On the Lower East Side?
Near the middle of the twentieth century?
Charming had it been, oh, say, something like
a set for the real thing, the opera, I mean
--with underwear filling in for window glass,
and nesting icicles in the potbellied stove,
and tarpaper shreds festooned overhead,
letting starlight fall through with the snow.
And yet, whatever scenery was shifted on
or off, the thrill was in the being there
and singing out, "Who am I? I am a poet!"
The air we sang was city soil, tenement musk:
cooking grease, coal dust, mildew, piss, sweat, rot.
Ages of human habitation, failure, loss
--birth-cries crowding on death-coughs in the walls--
authenticated our art and love and talk.
Come January, hallway johns froze over.
And under my kitchen sink, lath bared its bones
--one tough rat had knocked a chunk of plaster out,
and perched in the hole for a good, long look around;
then, slumming god before my trite offerings,
turned up its nose, and faded into the wall,
as if to say, Keep it, kid--you need it all.
(Worse critics than the rat have condescended since.)
Picturesque? Of course--life imitates bad art.
Poor? Of course not--I was, we all were, young.
Kid poets, painters, actors, our collected works
you could have flushed down the hole of a pin,
but youth poured out of the holes in our clothes,
youth poured down from the openings in the heavens
--and poured on everything its shining possible.
We knew we were the whole show and theater:
authors, players, and the audience that counted.
And if we preened and played to one another,
we were the world's own preening to the universe,
admired in the bright, galactic galleries
--Because, we sang, we have the key, the key is
ourselves belovèd by and beyond everything.
And all the while, Mimì, like the faux-phénix
--cloud of ash and dust dying as it rises,--
Mimì, raving, scattered down on our heads
the starless, futureless snows of tomorrow.
Josie hemorrhaging her bank account
--she wants to give it away, set it free,
transfuse the whole world's neediness.
"Yesterday I went back there.
I brought these presents for my friends.
I have to rescue them--they have beautiful souls.
Bad things go on there. They hit people.
They wouldn't let an ex-patient in.
He was smiling at me as if I’m crazy.
I'm writing an exposé."
Mania only makes her insanely
tenderhearted, madly idealistic.
Are girls still that way these days, burning
in the furnace of the marketplace?
Thirty years after the year of our love,
ringing me out of nowhere,
from a thousand miles away, from Miami,
at two A.M., at three, at three-fifteen.
"They're out getting pizza.
My sons have me locked in here
--the boys say they'll commit me again.
My baby's charged with child-molesting.
Because he put his hand on that little girl's tushie.
He isn't epileptic anymore.
He's such a beautiful young man.
My older one's a doctor.
I'm sneaking this call to you--I'm sorry.
I'm sorry. They're coming!
The soul is beautiful. You know that.
If anyone does, you do. You showed me that.
Can you help me, Irving?
Goodbye, Irving, goodbye."
The year of our love in New York--the year
you were so confused, so tormented, poor,
the year I could have been an ant fiddling,
so strange to you the semaphorings
of my inflamed adoration that left you
out in the cold, in the dark, asking
yourself--I still see it in your heavenly eyes--
"What does this boy want from me?"
I want to fall to my knees in the street
under your window where you stand half
in shadow, or half of you is shadow,
looking out, your lips moving.
I want to consummate my stupid conceit,
be blind in the white light of midday Miami.
I have no right, no right to see your ruin.
I understand nothing anymore.
It's all a mystery. I never understood.
Is this what crazy old Mimì
was raging over back there?
What she remembered? What she foresaw?
I have to save a blessing from the curse.
Somewhere, it has to be here somewhere.
Throw the key, Josie. Throw it down.
The soul is beautiful, the soul is beautiful,
you cried out from the heart of brutality.
©2016 Irving Feldman