I live near Boston and teach philosophy at Boston University. Besides academic pieces, I write fiction (when I’m up to it) and poems (when I can’t help it). I use a fountain pen—my link to tradition—and write to music. I’ve published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals. A new story collection, Heiberg’s Twitch, is forthcoming.
Plenty of people die in April, the
elderly not so much holding on to
see one last as not imagining the
cycle will stop one daffodil dawn with
sparrows and forsythia, terminal
patients bent in too much agony for
irony, as if to prove parturition
postulates parting, space cleared, that
in the beloved grandchild the old
kiss both abstract immortality and
The one I was told
about last night, cancer spreading from his
colon like spilled oil in a sound, bought
himself a red Ferrari at Christmas,
went out blurry, pumped with morphine, last
word to a wife at the point of turning
And young people, caught in spring
offensives, flash floods, abrupt headlights, the
solitary suicides ending unbegun revels
who don’t even bother to leave notes.
Must we try so hard to be happy? Is it
a ferrous natural law, to yearn for joy
like birdsong breaking from an April sky,
not merely philosophers’ calm ataraxia,
serenity watered down with resignation?
“What we call happiness in the
strictest sense comes from the (preferably
sudden) satisfaction of needs which
have been dammed up to a high degree,”
Freud says. One thinks of the reticulated
bones and convoluted clasps of Victorian
underthings, winners bawling on quiz shows,
dreamy young women finally engaged,
fumbling with cell phones, planning for June,
unmindful of some fatal far-off April.
“In April” first appeared in Poem
A Couple Poets Doing Their Wash in Waltham, Massachusetts
If language lights the firmament between
the broken boards of nowhere towns where once
prosperity waved from long windowed mills
like a brick Rapunzel you could climb up
on herself, then what of the silence in
this laundromat, silence of hair rollers,
broken brogues, cheap sweaters cheaply worn
in the diurnal pursuit of happiness?
We’re two cigarettes logged like burnt galleons
in the muddy mains of Styrofoam cups.
The word that lit the beginning was sprayed
on that green wall at three a.m. and our
world oozed from it grey as this filthy floor.
A child’s blue sweatshirt
laid on white underwear
by his mother’s red hand.
Don’t you understand?
Socks, a little pair,
toes still dark with dirt,
an old man’s handkerchief,
a blanket end that’s frayed,
sheets stained by blood or beer—
all emblems of love or fear;
in here we’re wordlessly made
intimate with joy and grief.
That woman huge from eating french fries hoists
her basket up on her hillock hip, a
guignol tabloid for cherry atop the
sundae of computer-age poverty,
shrieks down at the inured boy stunning
ants at the open door—of what is this
correlative? The washing machine like
a Spenglerian Zeitgeist whirls through cycles
of burgeoning, froth, decay. This morning
I dreamt I was a pigeon hopping on a
cracked sidewalk. Between my squamous
toes I picked gaily at dried bubblegum,
then woke to a dawn void of devotion.
I went walking out at dawn
through quiet streets and thought
of the five years I was insane.
Fell overnight a little rain;
here and there a droplet caught
the sun and jeweled a lawn.
Cleanliness can be construed:
having sunk in each day’s mire
to wash away a week of hurt.
I would be my breadlike shirt
so fragrant from the dryer,
old and torn and yet renewed.
“A Couple Poets Doing Their Wash in Waltham, Massachusetts” first appeared in Sou’wester
Perhaps Not Quite All Ye Need To Know
You deny the beautiful can be false
as a hackneyed hateful electoral screed,
insist the blandishment of well-turned lines
can dress like an orchid the rankest weed,
extol the Pisan Cantos and prove your praise
by savoring their rhythms, each choice phrase,
abstruse allusion, the sense and sound.
I grant these verses are justly renowned--
yet prefer the Army to Mr. Pound.
©2015 Robert Wexelblatt