Published Poems

The Garden of Saying
Daniel R. Schwarz


All the poems in this volume have been published separately in magazines over the past 30 or so years, including Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Marsh Hawk Press Review, Fogged Clarity, Shofar, Westview, Weber Studies, Tailwind, The Charlotte Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Ithaca Times.

Daniel R. Schwarz
Cornell University
January 2022


Table of Contents

I. Contemplating Nature

Predetermined Patterns

Hurricane Opal: Auburn, Alabama, 1995
Charleston Lake, Ontario: August 1996
Blue Heron
Spring Sounds
Tropism (1995)
Perkins Cove, Ogonquit (June 1996)
Ocean Pleasures
Life and Death on Black Oak Pond
Anecdote of the Bird Feeder
Ice Storm
Moon Blue
April 1, 2008: Codicil of Daffodils
Raising Tomatoes
February, 2013
Iguassu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
Safari: Wilderness Encounters
Pandemic Reflections: December 2020
Winter Thoughts: December 21, 2021

II. Generations: Elegies

The Garden of Our Saying
Elegy for Elizabeth Rose Lane Galloway (b. 5/7/97-d. 5/9/97)
Cindy at Schroon Lake
History Speaks: Sept 11, 2001
Cancer: The Uninvited Guest Whether

III. Family Matters

To My Only Brother: A Letter
My Father's 84th Birthday
My Father at 90
After My Father Died (Conversational Sonnet)
Inspecting the Wounded in Cleveland
On Seeing a Family Friend for Perhaps the Last Time
Mother in Hospice, April 2005
April 2005: The Man Whose Pharynx is Bad
Vermont: Family Thanksgiving, 2006
Cashmere Sweater; A History
December 2010: Awaiting Knee Replacements
70th Birthday, May 12, 2011: A Self-Portrait
Aging: My 71st Birthday
When I was Thirty
Sonnet at 80: Who I Am
December 20, 2022 at Eighty-One

IV. Between Divorce and Remarriage

Closure, 1986
Conversation: A Reminiscence
Collage (Paris): 1991
Broken Vows (1991)
Banquet Delicacy: Beijing, 1992
Depression's Vision: 1993
Reading Texts, Reading Lives
Four Meetings: Scenes from Adult Dating, circa 1994
Parallel (Paralyzed) Lives
Garden of Intimacy

V. Exploring Jewish Heritage

Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin
Tishah b'Ab, 1993
Rosh Hashanah, 1994
The Sarajevo Haggadah
The Shape of Memory in Prague

VI. Recollections: Portraits

Performance (Christopher Reeve)
House Razing
Lobsterman at Porpoise Cove, Maine (Summer, 1996)
James Thorpe's Daughter
Her World at 53
Meditation at 95
Bethe at Cornell

Mike Abrams at 95
Brett de Bary

VII. Haiku

Spring, 2005
Daylight Savings Time
2. Questions of Travel (Homage to Elizabeth Bishop)
High Meadow, Keene Valley
International Travel
3. Perspectives
Achievements by Others
Fractured Expectations

VIII. Speaking of Poetry

The American Scholar
The Muse Returns

IX. The Mind's Garden: Imaginative Journeys

Reading Dante's The Divine Comedy
Still Life: Raspberries, Apples, and Sheet of Paper
About Suffering: Response to W.H. Auden
Cezanne in Philadelphia, 1996
Picasso's Women
On (Re)reading Tolstoy's War and Peace
Reading Joyce's Ulysses: Leopold Bloom
Rereading Heart of Darkness
Jigsaw Puzzle

Scholarly Article About My Poetry:

"Speculations on the Lyrical and the Narrative Modes in Poems by Daniel R. Schwarz"
By Helen Maxson (Published in Westview 26:1 (Spring/Summer 2006), 15-20)


I. Contemplating Nature

Predetermined Patterns

A three-hundred year old white oak tree:
The turning of its leaves
puts senses at their mercy,
stimulates hortorium of memory's
shorter, cooler days.
How can decay smell so fresh!

For trees, too,
genes are carriers of invisible truth,
leaves enact their predetermined patterns,
battening down for winter,
according to hormonal change.
Nature does its Picasso:

The yellow pigment that has been there
all along emerges
as the green pigment disappears.

And I, a graying, balding,
stiff, pale,
and sometimes limping
Fifty-two year-old patron of the mind
whose eyes and memory are
also carry invisible truths.
Living once again alone;
battered veteran of interior autumns,
branches and leaves stripped bare,
decay that will not repair, I too
prepare for another spring.

Hurricane Opal: Auburn, Alabama, 1995

We arrange our flashlights, candles,
put water in tub,
tape up windows,
ready for the eye’s terror.
At first strong wind,
electricity fails.
Uprooted trees are
tossed like rubber balls.

House shakes, trembles,
roof bends, gives way in places;
beams shudder, crack;
windows, then ceilings, leak,
doors separate from casings.
Finally as sound of wind mutes,
blasting trees cease
to pound us
we drift off.

We awake to neighbor's knock,
sounds of anxiety--laughter, too--as we
hear fellow victims begin to
survey, organize, fix
nature's commotion:

“It took six major blows to the head,”
I observe, counting the large trees
tleaning precariously upon our eaves, or
resting upon roof.
Viewing collapsed patio roof,
its iron railing crushed
as if no more than a toothpick, you add:
“and one more to the body,”
“It tested the mettle of your house;
A wonder we're still standing.”

Charleston Lake, Ontario: August 1996


I caught at dawn
drawn by a dimestore plastic red feeder.
The whirlingwhirr of wings,
a sound much larger than themselves,
fills the morning air.
A dark, needle beak
inhales a sugary morsel,
facsimile of flower nectar.
The wary red headed one,
more regal than the rest,
approaches, takes startled peek,
rejects my presence,
beats her wings,
turns, departs.

Fragile birds,
needing constant nourishment,
always a few hours from death,
stopping to feed, soon leaving:
Images of ourselves,
seeking, inhaling pleasure,
enjoying this and that,
whirring our whirr,
dropping off
poems, photographs,

Blue Heron

Canoeing, my wife and I
gasped at blue heron
presiding over marshes,
majestically balanced,
delicate grey green
razor thin legs on tiny branch
jutting into swamp.
As we quietly approached
gently arched purple
"S" shaped neck, it mounted
ten yards in front of us
as if protecting its nest,
This became a pattern: our pursuits,
its abbreviated low flight to another spot,
always in front until
we turned towards dock
when it hovered behind and
we backpaddled to catch a final glance.
We recalled Thoreau on
Walden Pond trying to find a loon.
When we later saw our heron
(or another larger grey blue one?)
soar on enormous wing,
heard its honking mating, sound,
I was reminded how we fear
the incomprehensible
as we seek narrative patterns
amidst the marshes of our generations.

Spring Sounds

Spring sounds:  low-pitched baritone
of roaring creek, insistently,
slowly cutting shapes as it
gathers its strength,
rolls, tumbles, roaring
strongly in bass,
then, yes,  tenor surge
over ancient rocks
in three discrete small cataracts,
before coalescing at next plateau
returning to orderly pattern,
softer, gentler gurgling 
of soprano trickles and alto drips,
pleasurable cacophonous trilling.

Tropism (1995)

On December 21,
darkness descending at 4,
snow swirling
when sun barely
condescended to rise,
my interior weather
had reached spring;
seeds planted in autumn
were flowering:
unexpected colorful blooms:
asparagus, artichokes, melons;
memorabilia of heart
sat on mind's table:
cornucopia of pleasures.

Perkins Cove, Ogonquit (June 1996)

I hear ocean music of my childhood
moaning against ruins of ancient rocks
--giant brown stones left by glaciers
as life leaves its detritus.
As we walk hand in hand
on Marginal way, savoring memories
of fat red lobsters,
mussels by the dozen,
and smell of fresh cooked fish,
dawn pushes back darkness;
ebb tide reaches towards its turn,
chokes estuary with sand.
Gently touching, we saunter
along the shore, aware of
ducks washed by breaking ripples:
Now: not raging waves of adolescent passion,
storms of young adulthood ambition,
rather motion of graying middle years,
quiet rolling, slower days,

Ocean Pleasures

We walk beyond the genius of the sea,
cherishing dunes covered with sea oats.
The tide's small white eruptions
punctuate blue vista.
Sandpipers, gulls barely stir
as we stand beside one another,
enjoying surging white foam,
warning red flags
reduce us to cautious wading.
Outstretched, fishing pier dotted
with expectant anglers greeting
rising sun before mid-day reality:
"Fishing does not mean catching,"
someone says, as someone always does,
while another washes a huge redfish,
tosses innards back to the sea.
At twilight red clouds streaked with orange
trace patched blue brown sunset on horizon.
Capturing setting, I observe:
“As it has always been for me,
smell of fish, children baiting hooks
under watchful eyes,
shimmering waves,
odd shapes and bold colors--
shimmering waves,
odd shapes and bold colors--
disrupting purity of Boudin seascape--
give ocean definition as human pleasure.”

Life and Death on Black Oak Pond

Nine tiny ducklings
closely follow their mother,
Swimming on dense layer
of green algae; in pond’s center
lay fly-infested doe carcass,
floating legs up; we
extracted corpse, with help
of poles, ropes, and
grizzled wild animal expert
who himself got stuck in the mud.
Our work disturbed knot of
baby ducks, now circled
round their watchful mother,
indifferent to nature’s
other rhythms and
human comedy twenty yards away.

Anecdote of the Bird Feeder

Like Steven's jar in Tennessee,
Our metal feeder
took dominion everywhere,
transformed, magnetized
towering leafless birch into
winter alms station.

Hierarchies soon followed on heel of custom:
Jealousy, greed, wariness,
deference to size, to gender, to fierceness;
lyrical mockingbirds await
their turn on upper branches,
deferring to imposing
blue jay. Strutting female cardinals,
--overshadowed by its mates’ red beauty--
co-exist, perhaps uneasily,
with chickadees and finches,
only to give way to huge ominous crows,
while fearful warblers and woodpeckers
grudgingly concede spillage to squirrels and deer.


What summer raspberries are to sexuality,
fall apples are to mortality.
Whether green or russet or pied,
crispy, sour, hard or chewy,
they have feel of incipient autumn,
shorter days, grown children.
Cider is juice of middle age,
tart, tangy, and easily fermented.

Berries of our days and ways,
raspberries are to moment
what apples are to nostalgia.
Green succulent asparagus,
with brushy grainy flexible heads,
atop proud stiff reeds
stimulate memory of prior seasons:
Artichokes offer opulent pleasures
Within moist leaves.
Pale green honeydew melons
proffer soft lush whitish center;
ripe rich summer tomatoes
resonate with redness of sunset.
Sweet cantaloupes anticipate
bright orange yams, which play
their part in holiday rituals.


alone at home,
looking out on
faintly falling snow--
roads closed,
phones down,
my interior
swirls with words
like dark snowflakes
to score this
special day
when plans
give way
to nature's turbulence.


"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead" (James Joyce, "The Dead")

As far as eye can see,
quiet as pure white,
peaceful as country landscape,
still as frozen pond, snow
bends trees and ragged bushes,
blankets earth, buries roads,
homogenizes houses,
nullifies difference.

Blizzard awakens my soul.
It's as if I were enclosed in womb
from which I emerge reborn,
or crypt that magically reopens.
Smoldering passion, creativity, curiosity
melt snow, prepare
ground for flowering, renewal.

Ice Storm

Roads closed,
power down,
encased cars.
Icicles press
on trees, wires.

crackling fire
arouses sensuality,
awakens desire.

Moon Blue

Huge brilliant gold disc
against sable night,
its phosphorescent brightness
walking on rocky edge.
Fat moon crouches heavily
over mountain backwoods;
snowdrifts touch its fullness
swelling like pregnant woman.

Moonlight crystals burst flaming on white evergreens,
as if winking at snow's abstract patterns,
Etched by winnowing wind and snowshoes;
winking, too, at the aspen: scarred,
mottled with deadly red blight,
dappled grey, umber.
Moon blue seemed to bide its time
as if it were this once, this very once,
not to set, to recede, be overtaken
but rather stop us in our hurry
to watch its lighting, its birthing.

April 1, 2008: Codicil of Daffodils

creative man.
putative poetman.

Begin: hands wedded to keyboards,
wrapped around coffee cup
before winter daylight.

Daffodils spring
ephemeral, precious,
bursting brilliant yellow
drawing light to exuberant fragility,
reminding us of daffy droop,
white, wilted,
decaying, rotting stalks,

Source of effusing, oozing
poetry of rebirth:
Wordsworth, wordsmith--wordbirth?
Sliding off ass of winter
into precarious midwinter spring--
Jump ebulliently into crevices of seasons.
Play, silly dilly.
Odd liffs, riffs, lives loves
Idles, dos, sod, odes,
Odors, olfactory.
Have we left out (as) scent/ essence?
Heterogeneity of budding sounds,
heterodoxy of Daffodils
(Dedalian/Dedanielian) midrash.

Enough: Our yellow book
has let a thousand flowers

Raising Tomatoes

Our summer guests: friends,
children came and went,
stayed a few days, shared meals.
But Cupid, Sweet 100, Rutgers,
Early Girl, Best Boy, Purple Cherokee
arrived in late May
as seedling tykes,
stayed the season
growing to ripe succulent maturity,
yielding at different times to harvest:
A diverse community, hybrid and heritage:
yellow, purple and shades of red;
wildly different in size: cherry, grape;
smaller and larger full-sized;
some rich with fruits,
others stingy with a handful of treasures.
They took dominion everywhere
eight feet vines reached upward
sprawling bushes on the deck,
tentacles wrapping around railings,
or intruding. like
recalcitrant neighbors,
into each other’s space
until restrained by stakes and string,
finally coming together
as orchestrated vegetation.

Like pets or children, they
required nurturing, then schooling
feeding, protection
against vicissitudes of fungus, insects,
to ensure the blossoms set
until, overcoming spasms of drought,
more rain than needed, hail, heat  cold,
marred by cracks, blemishes, discoloration
they reach graduation: abundantly
fulfilling their fruity potential,
before dying at first hard frost.

February, 2013

Internal rhythm of lengthening
February days:  at close of
exquisite winter day when 
sun shone brightly on glistening
snow, knife-like icicles hung from
white birches, and brilliant sunset painted sky
blue-red, I wound my way back through
rolling hills from Syracuse--past frightened
deer, hungry squirrels, two dead raccoons--
always in tune with setting sun.

Iguassu Falls, Brazil and Argentina

Panoramic vistas
from diverse overlooks,
smaller falls,
foils for giant
spectacular ones,
all framed by vast
expanses of verdure
touched by sunlight.
symphony of water
cascading over rocks,
surging between cliffs, gaps,
mist hovering
--yes, rainbows, too!—
tessellated by colored
birds: cormorants, jays,
egrets, snail eagles,
strange anhinga.


Safari: Wilderness Encounters

Picture pride of eighteen lions
several of them playful cubs,
walking by your vehicle
in the Serengeti,
each of them within fifteen feet of you.
nudging one another,
resisting parental leadership.
Or how about finding two proud male lions
courting statuesque female, triumphant
lion giving mighty roar after copulation,
while disappointed male slinks away 
Or imagine watching male lion seize
from hyena remains of topi kill,
munching on it while hyenas,
jackels, vultures attentively
await to scavenge leavings.
Or in your mind’s eye watch four
female lions prepare for a warthog feast,
sneaking through the grass foot by foot,
stalking its prey while every other animal
in vicinity stands at attention.
But wait: No Kill.  As lions prepare,
other warthogs warn
their oblivious kin.
Or you might come upon three young
male cheetahs frolicking in the grass,
and be moved to tears
by cheetahs’ elegant  beauty.
Or park within a herd of elephants,
Assured by your driver of safety,
even while you recall a bull
elephant in Botswana’s Chobe
almost stomping your vehicle.
Finally, in Maasai Mara, beginning of
wildebeest and zebra migration viewed from
hot air balloon. Eco-tourism, stunning
photography,  yes, Safari camps, vehicles,
guides, trackers--
not without profit motive--
but still taking us into
privileged encounters with
nature’s unpredictable  splendors.



Is midspring heat or October snow
so different from blighted expectations,
friendship unfulfilled, love unrequited,
occasional sad piquant feeling
of lovers finished, separated;
searing memory of friend
recently wrecked
in conflagration of metal and bone?

Tropism: 1995

On December 21,
darkness descending at 4,
snow swirling
when sun barely
condescended to rise,
my interior weather
had reached spring;
seeds planted in autumn
were flowering:
unexpected colorful blooms:
asparagus, artichokes, melons;
memorabilia of heart
sat on mind's table:
cornucopia of pleasures.

Ice Storm

Roads closed,
power down,
encased cars.
Icicles press
on trees, wires.

crackling fire
arouses sensuality,
awakens desire.

Pandemic Reflections: December 2020

"I have traveled a good deal in Concord;"
(Thoreau, Walden)

My daily winter walks
slow down pace of life,
bring inner peace, joy.
One day: crimson sunset.
giving way to multi-colored
skyscape in late afternoon,
accompanied by sounds
of rain-filled creek
tumbling over rocks.

Nature's drama:
hungry deer stretch
on hind legs to feast
at bird feeder;
predatory cooper hawk
sits high in birch tree,
awaiting small birds,
while squirrels-red,
black-traverse fields.

First snow, glistening
in odd patterns,
blankets leafless trees.
Silence, stasis replace
usual ebb and flow.
Next day spectacular site:
Melting snow nurtures
cascading waterfalls
into gorges below.

Snowshoeing past
our frozen pond,
I ponder my
interior weather:
What awaits in
woods' shadows
as I approach eighty?
Such reflections challenge,
but do not impede
December's pleasures.

Winter Thoughts: December 21, 2021

A three-hundred-year-old white oak tree
survives the elements: casting shadows,
its statuesque bare branches
puts senses at their mercy,
stimulates memory's
shorter, cooler days.
As the year winds down,
I walk in damp, darkening
woods, buffeted by chilling
wind, alive to different
shapes of leafless trees,
roaring sounds of full brooks
foraging squirrels, chipmunks.

I behold a brilliant Turner
skyscape: dollops of passion's bright
red, gentle touches of pale blue,
incipient threatening black
punctuate orange.
Hasn't it has always
been like this, my seeking narrative patterns
amidst the marshes of my mind?

Battered veteran of interior autumns,
branches and leaves stripped bare,
external decay that will not repair,
I too prepare for another spring.

II. Generations: Elegies

The Garden of Our Saying

For George Eickwort (1949-1994) killed in an automobile accident in Jamaica, the West Indies, July 11, 1994

I. Dissonance

It was as if it snowed in torrid summer,
or zinnias burst forth
with shriveled marigold buds,
or the caterpillars arrested their progress
into butterflies,
or as if cawing crow disrupted
katydid's summer song.

II. Memorial Service

We sat outdoors amidst
roses' scents, blooms,
speaking of what he meant,
like lobs slowly crossing,
re-crossing the net.
I felt impelled to speak of his
fundamental decency,
groped, g(r)asped for metaphors
as if seeking inspiration in,
manicured garden of our obsequies.

III. Retrospect: Three Days Later

On the morning
when I heard about
conflagration of metal and bone,
I saw solitary
lissome blue heron by my pond.
long necked, catching sight of sunfish.
It snapped to attention--
but seemed to flag in its hereditary mission
for some mysterious reason
as if it knew of
terrible disruption
in nature's rhythm.
As unaware of its beauty
as zinnia or marigold,
George was Matisse among ordinary grey,
giving scintillant reds
to our being. Lamed Vov:
he justiced in his days, ways.

IV. October Reminiscence: Three Months Later

With outburst energy, intermittent quiet,
in bright orange foliage of year
-- my life's autumn?--he evokes
memory of that blue heron,
gangly legged walk,
head thrust forcefully forward
as if always on watch,
his long arms in motion
outstretched to ensnare butterflies
or retrieve elusive tennis ball--
or to reach for elusive
gifts of heart, mind.

Elegy for Elizabeth Rose Lane Galloway (b. 5/7/97-d. 5/9/97)

We stood on gray
May day in cemetery,
each lost in past griefs,
barely listening to minister,
trying to make sense of child's
life's lasting two days.
A tiny closed white casket,
standing in for her damaged body--
stopped breath, silent cry--
speaks to our inability to articulate grief
for a beginning that was an end.

Grief, too, has a lineage.
I hear her father's quivering whisper--
"We have had a tragedy"--
My mind's eye reverts to
Weeping fort for friend's baby
who fatally fell from his crib
months after my son
had tumbled down
concrete stairs,
barely scathed.

I see my younger self, eulogizing Paul,
devoured by cancer,
giving way to grayer version
celebrating gentle George
killed three years ago
in conflagration of steel and bone.
Shivering in the graveyard
I almost feel inevitable
ring in the night
tolling bell for one or other
of my frail parents.

Death's rites have their own geography,
staking a claim to a place in our memory.
Our obsequies become the map
we use to explore its terrain.
For me, late spring has become death's season.
As shriveled daffodils give way to tulips,
geese and ducks return to pond,
kingfishers resume their predatory watch
lone heron stands proudly
guarding rotting tree stump,
I cultivate raw feelings.

Cindy at Schroon Lake

As we wander through fields
of your family homestead,
even after thirty long years
you search for past
traces in debris of
tennis court, softball field,
reclaimed by brush.
Seeing shards, remnants
of a collapsed backboard,
you think of
childhood play
of your late son
senselessly killed.
Images of my living sons
flash suddenly
as if our sons were at play
on these very grounds.

History Speaks: Sept 11, 2001

History thrusts its horrors on television,
Planes flying into World Trade Center,
Massacring helpless victims, destroying buildings,
fragmenting family histories.
Desperately searching, rescuers discover
hieroglyphs of death: charred carnage,
smashed corpses of those who jumped,
Unreachable voices beneath rubble.

History's malevolent wink:
A collision of two commuter trains.
Tightly holding my mother's hand
I stand transfixed, helpless to intervene,
as smoke curls into dusk,
acrid smell of scorched human flesh,
fire trucks, ambulances helplessly hurrying,
frightened fearful women scan the scene.
Even today etched images still live of
twisted metal, maimed bodies,
transforming wives into widows,
depriving my playmates of fathers.

Veraciously immersed,
as reader, as writer, in horrific
conflagration of skin and bone: The Holocaust.
Escaping extermination by geographical accident,
trying to enter into horrors that
resist language, yet require words,
I retrieve shards of buried world,
remnants of indifferent history
echoing in nightmares, whispers.

Cancer: The Uninvited Guest

arrives as an unwelcome guest,
lurking in dark corners
of our bodily rooms.

It puts life on fast forward,
has its own grim time:
Cancer Standard Time
in which each day
becomes precious gift
yet space for helpless rage.

Gradually, cancer puts on its
masque, harlequin
in commedia dell'arte,
becomes flush spot, bald spot,
devours girth around waist.

It masquerades as dark spots on
x-rays, flush or pale spots on face,
imperceptive hollow cavities, cough,
even as it assumes other roles:
disfiguring grimace,
gnarled bent posture,


Is midspring heat or October snow
so different from blighted expectations,
friendship unfulfilled, love unrequited,
occasional sad piquant feeling
of lovers finished, separated;
searing memory of friend
recently wrecked
in conflagration of metal and bone?


III. Family Matters

To My Only Brother: A Letter

A montage of images of comity, conflict,
haunts my troubled dreams.
We have retreated to fortresses
of mutual suspicion, unyielding pride
built stone by stubborn stone;
It is not that you are Cain, and I Abel.
Yet our boyhood ties
dissolved by an act of betrayal:
the acid of a misdirected letter--
motiveless malignity or green jealousy?--
leaving in my flesh
a still quivering arrow,
a festering wound
twisting memory
into misbegotten shapes.

My Father's 84th Birthday

My ghostperson:
that man whose photographs
ruefully draw my likeness,
whose former shape
is my shadow walking
thirty years before me,
taking last laps
at what seems to him
hectic pace,
but oh so slow to
those who watch.

His legs throb with pain;
blockage dams riverblood,
heartpower pumps slowly.
Yet talking is kind of action,
like golfing, fishing were once.
Incessantly humming, buzzing
about his own symptoms,
he doesn't really hear words,
just pitch of empty sounds,
encroaching upon attention.
Outline of who I will become,
mirror of future
written by past history
as wrinkles, wounds--
wisdom ancient
or what passes for it.

As he blinks, shrinks, winks,
I see myself
as my children's shadow.

My Father at 90

"I have never been confused in my life,"
I heard this frail, bent man, my father,
say when I told him I had gotten lost
driving from Tampa to Bradenton. His eyes eagerly seek approval which I,
Haunted by recurring nightmares, grudgingly withhold.
No sooner do I warmly kiss my mother,
than I back up warily when he leans to kiss me,
as if still desperately trying to keep him out.
I am frozen in memory, an awkward boy
Dwelling in his house of outrageous generalization,
bathing daily in his critical loquacity,
quivering before threatened physical wrath.

Metamorphosed into a
shrunken, wizened old man,
garrulous, deaf complaining about infirmities
without knowing what they are,
proclaiming once
more intention to live past a hundred,
he will always be that large
man hovering above me
bullying with corrosive, acerbic remarks,
harping on my inadequacies,
scolding, blaming, whining— and I
the fearful confused boy
reduced to screams for help that go unanswered.

Now in my sixties,
well along in my own death walk,
living for decades with
fear of replicating his errors,
fretting about rejection from my children,
fearing detritus of guilt when he dies,
knowing that deep, festering wounds
prevented being ministering
son I might have been, I tremble,
wondering how his ashes will shadow me.

After My Father Died (Conversational Sonnet)

Father's death; anger thawed. No longer stuck
in iciness of recurring nightmares.
Mother's death gave way to
gracious tingle of forgiveness.
Gradually sweeter child memories
melted surface: catching fish, playing catch.
watching him excel in adult softball,
embarrassedly hearing weird shrill
whistle, calling us as if we were dogs;
balancing himself parallel to ground
as he wrapped his arms around street pole.
Ample knowledge, prolix advice,
displayed in flamboyant explanations:
teaching what he knew needed to be known.

Inspecting the Wounded in Cleveland

On Seeing a Family Friend for Perhaps the Last Time

For Mickey Friedman

No longer mobile, obese, her
legs thickened, scarred with blue black bulging
veins, dressed in widow's black, tastefully
jeweled, her smile and dancing eyes speak
welcome to my visit; her makeup
disguises age, emphasizes tautness
of thin porcelain skin. Her delicate
hands rest in her lap surrounded by
heirlooms enhancing elegant
space: Jacob Epsteins, Hummel's, Wedgwood.

Sounds flutter as if moved by breath;
Our voices, looks, gestures
relive playful and ceremonial gatherings.
Spectres occupy the room,
hover as we speak; conversations
weave customary texture,
like the worn Persian and Turkish rugs.

I, who will never occupy
a space for fifty years, hours before
meandered through my childhood home,
a block and an era away,
now overlaid with other gazes
Yet I rest on memory's rich upholstery.


I sit among fragments
of different cultures,
maps of travels,
benediction of middle years,
culled from probing journeys:
elaborate woven patterns of Hereke carpet,
Tarajan wall hanging
cloisonné from China, Bohemian cut glass,
Inuit soapstone--half human, half seal--
Mexican stone carving-
--snake devouring its own tail--
carved female statue
from New Guinea's Sepik River,
weathered African masks:
These are shards, too,
of who I am.

Mother in Hospice, April 2005

"I am drowning," she mumbled,
"I am ready to die. I don't want
my family's lives in suspension."
But her mind was lucid.
Crowded into cubicle with
Living remnants of her body, four of us--
my taciturn brother who
put life on hold to be caregiver;
my second wife, Marcia,
who knew what to do and say;
my younger son, Jeff, who had never
seen death's color and texture;
and myself, guilty for not doing more,
frustrated that doctors knew so little--
were, in halting whisper,
counseled to love each other,
avoid strife, anger.
Her final words were who she was.
To my wife: "Take care of Danny."
Eyes close, few minutes silence:
"Marcia, you make wonderful rugelah.
How is your ailing father doing?"
To me: "You have found joy in
sharing interests with your wife." Pause.
"We need to find someone for you, Jeff."

With barely audible laughter,
she recalled defending me
to fifth grade teacher who
thought I was inattentive, even ironic:
"You were smarter than your teachers;
children need to laugh and have fun."

She taught us to die with grace and dignity.
"A great lady!" I tearfully told my son
as we watched her fight for breath,
"She was quite a beauty into her sixties, but
is she not even more beautiful
radiating love for family?"

In intermittent moments of clarity,
she lived in fabric of
human feeling and memory
She always knew what I have come to learn:
Savoring small pleasures--smiles, touches;
sunrises, sunsets; cardinals feeding;
herons, deer visiting pond;
intimacies between tick and tock
when life momentarily blazes--
are not mere interstices
but warp and woof of life itself.
Her favorite color was blue.

April 2005: The Man Whose Pharynx is Bad

My clumsily handmade
warped wooden bird feeder
is alive with chirping birds
feasting on sunflower seeds;
finches, chickadees, blue jays,
cardinals, warblers,
musically sound their chorus
as if to serenade daffodils and tulips
bursting into bloom:
tapatap of woodpeckers,
hoothooting of owl,
shrill whining of
nesting pigeons in our eves,
robins seeking worms.
Returning to murky pond,
ferociously mating ducks,
haughty honking geese,
ignore predatory foxes;
deer transversing woods,
brown muskrats waddling
their cautious way
across awakening grass.

I, the man whose pharynx is bad,
whose ebullience of spring is
blighted by bronchitis,
silently, wondrously,

Vermont: Family Thanksgiving, 2006

We were six.
After feasting
with my wife, sons,
their lady companions,
I didn't say much.
I left the room,
catching sight of
organic turkey carcass,
leftovers—applesauce, cranberries,
stuffings, mashed potatoes, breads—
unwashed dishes.

With conversation dulled by
sounds of televised football,
I fell into brown study,
yearned for older ways:
Marriages, grandchildren,
respectful hierarchies,
eldest male carving,
saying thanks,
others responding,
polite to and fro
of blah de blah,
perhaps masking
pain and truth,
yet no less satisfactory.

Memories of
gregarious thanksgivings:
I watch my father
sharpening, twirling
carving knife,
elegantly dressed, blur of
uncles, aunts, cousins--
chic, slick, shabby--
footsteps that will
never be heard again.
Twenty years forward:
Myself presiding
at sumptuous gatherings
serving roast goose; children still pliable, playful.
Final scene:
Half-awake, I imagine
set table
fully decked but
lacking guests.
I am oldest, maybe last,
taking stock.


Bedding--faded woolen blankets,
frayed quilts, tattered flannel sheets,
bedspread rich with scents of living--
tolls and tells history:
motherlove ceremoniously
tucking in frightened child,
to ward off lurking specters;
awakening pubescence--
sticky wet sheets.
Later, night tales:
joyful naked couplings in moonlight:
intricate blending of human anatomy,
acrobatics, ballets of bodies entangled,
moving in rhythmic time.
Bedding is my life's solid geometry,
its night history,
quilting childhood's fears,
blanketing adolescence's anxieties,
comforting marital wounds,
camouflaging divorce's festers, fissures,
awaiting fragility,
hospitably welcoming
death's quiet knock.

Cashmere Sweater: A History

Frayed cuffs,
tattered wool,
nibbled by moths,
disheveled memories
that won't be left behind;
faded tints, buttons loose,
rips at tired seams,
elbows poking through sites
worn by life's use.

December 2010: Awaiting Knee Replacements

As this year reaches its dreg,
longer nights, bare oaks,
leaves clotted on
hardening ground,
I become moody gray,
looking back on tasks undone,
words unwritten, unsaid:
time ticking mortality,
body crumpling,
exhausting pain,
ebbing mobility,
winter surgery.

Yet turn of the year colors
possibility, looks toward
passages of conspicuous
simplicity: germinating
daffodils, red tulips, pink
roses, pied butterflies, days
outstretched into evening,
summer walks fueled
by replacement parts.

70th Birthday, May 12, 2011: A Self-Portrait

Contours of my life already drawn,
lines determined, prime colors
set off by
background combinations;
impasto, shading,
lighting (chiaroscuro).
Mostly finished: balance with
tinge of excess, flair here,
incongruity there. Small areas of
undefined negative space await
deft hand of ensuing years,
touching up slight inconsistencies,
dark spots that need clarification,
but not without possibility
of major reconfiguring.


Aging: my 71st Birthday

I do not like to think about aging:
dreading further reduced
sexual appetite, struggles
with forgotten names,
faces, highlighted by
embarrassing encounters
with people who remember a meeting
that is for me dim awareness or
blur, if it exists at all. When
reading obituaries of
friends, acquaintances, colleagues,
even celebrities, I think of others
who will read mine.
I could mention:
difficulty driving in dark,
watching tummy mysteriously
enlarge even though weight
doesn’t change, painful knees
after tennis, digestive discomfort
if I eat more than usual.
Worse yet: fear that ideas
are not valued, words not heard,
presence disregarded, teaching archaic,
energy reduced. Yet nothing
inflects emptiness
more than lack
of grandchildren
as if setting sun
has no subsequent rising.

Courage need be summoned for
waging continuous struggle to
maintain mental faculties,
sustain sensory awareness
draw upon physical reservoir.
rage against coming of night,
savor every morsel of life,
delight in delicacy of each day,
love fervently, passionately.

Aging: My 71st Birthday

I do not like to think about aging:
dreading further reduced
sexual appetite, struggles
with forgotten names,
faces, highlighted by
embarrassing encounters
with people who remember a meeting
that is for me dim awareness or
blur, if it exists at all. When
reading obituaries of
friends, acquaintances, colleagues,
even celebrities, I think of others
who will read mine.
I could mention:
difficulty driving in dark,
watching tummy mysteriously
enlarge even though weight
doesn’t change, painful knees
after tennis, digestive discomfort
if I eat more than usual.
Worse yet: fear that ideas
are not valued, words not heard,
presence disregarded, teaching archaic,
energy reduced. Yet nothing
inflects emptiness
more than lack
of grandchildren
as if setting sun
has no subsequent rising.

Courage need be summoned for
waging continuous struggle to
maintain mental faculties,
sustain sensory awareness
draw upon physical reservoir.
rage against coming of night,
savor every morsel of life,
delight in delicacy of each day,
love fervently, passionately.

When I was Thirty

When I was thirty I thought
what I did, I would do again,
every place I visited was
overture to symphony of returns.
Savoring my everyday
dishes of experience
as if they were foie gras.
World seemed endless banquet,
extravagant confection.

But now it is otherwise.
When I leave place or play
could this be my
final call? Take my recent trip to
London, where I seemed magnetically
drawn to reminders of mortality. Will I
behold again Holbein's trump-l'oeil,
The Ambassadors, with its
death's-head mirror of
my vanitas? Once more revel in
splendid St. Paul's touched by fire or
Parthenon remnants in British Museum?

That sense of infinite possibility decades ago
gives way to Time's inevitable advances.
I mourn books I'll never write, cities I
shall never walk, fabled books
I'll never read, lush paintings
I have missed or
hardly given more than glance,

knowing then I would return.

Mortality's arrow quivers in my flesh.

Sonnet at 80: Who I Am

Reflections: Getting older, I respect
admire, enjoy, respond to people who
care about personal relationships,
and behave with human decency. I
find myself indifferent to extended
debate on microcosmic matters. I take
joy in accomplishments of my students,
past, present. I am grateful for life
I have led: wife, sons, health, travels, students,
mind's rich life, pleasures of sharing knowledge.
As I approach my final semester
of college teaching, I do fear what is
happening to democracy and truth,
both under assault in the Age of Trump.


IV. Between Divorce and Remarriage

Closure: 1986

"You're interrupting
my radio," she said,
as I fell into my easy
chair, turned on TV,
seeking respite
from noise in images.
Divorce: Ours
more like slow
tearing of limb
than surgical amputation,
more drifting
apart than cataclysm.
Was it ever
passionate attraction
that tightens chest,
magnetizes eyes? Rather,
more moving
together gradually
to soothe needs, as if
burying head under
comforter on blustery
dark December night
awaiting dawn's


I was captivated by
preening, wooing
weathered woman,
sitting on her high branch,
voicing deep throated
warble on warm spring day.
She was surprise gift
to my middle years.
But migratory birds
soon depart
to make new nests.

Conversation: A Reminiscence

We never stopped talking,
almost as if words fueled
an engine that kept us going.
At times it was as if our sound track
were for the wrong film,
superimposed commentary
relevant to events.
As if laboratory specimens,
we held
conversational residue
up to rhetorical light
to be dissected, re-examined, catalogued,
mounted, preserved.

Collage (Paris: 1991)

romanesque bastion
of clerisy, history, and revolution:
I wander along the Seine—
journey of few hundred meters
encompassing millennium of Europe:
Notre Dame, Rousseau, Holocaust memorial--
retracing steps etched in memory,
Paris Bacchanalia, carnival of youth,
Les Halles, Montmartre, once
glorious days melting into
courtship, marriage, divorce.
Fast forward: sharing with her,
elegant gargoyle,
poised preciously between
panache and purgatory.

Broken Vows (1991)

Did you hear the silent sounds--
echoes, whispers, gestures of
broken promises, evasions,
telling omissions?
I heard your steps
on both sides of the street,
juggling life to
fit opportunity.

Banquet Delicacy: Beijing, 1992

After I was
invited to eat
succulent filament of
red snapper's eyes,
I reflected:
We, too, use our vision
to find sustenance,
protect offspring
avoid predators
by slipping into crevices,
spying warily hooks
set by two legged creatures.
Then, biting fish's
hard eyeball, I recalled
that woman's darting motion,
fragile splendor, rainbow colors.

Depression's Vision: 1993

"Herein did the shape of evil dip his hand and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could be now of their own" (Hawthorne, Young Goodman Brown).

There came a time that--
like Goodman Brown,
another who knew God's ways,
and found in prayer's darkness,
reflections of night's shadows--
she could see past nature's wonders,
the beauty of the autumn leaves turning,
red sunset hovering on the lake
before its evening disappearance,
could forget
moments of tenderness, warmth of a shared bed,
and know my secret guilt--
my sins in word and deed
or--and isn't that our curse?--thought she could.



As she packs, takes down woven
baskets she has collected,
boxes precious trinkets and treasures,
she speaks in detail of histories of things--
bowls, masks, fabrics--
gleaned from a lifetime of travels and friendships.
She gives gentle orders to my son
while I do not lift a finger.

Reading Texts, Reading Lives

I wired blue flowers
in the shape of a guitar
with a message:
"Woman in Sunshine:
After the final No
There comes a Yes.
I love you passionately;
Forgive me;
Keep hope alive.
The Man With the Blue Guitar."
A few weeks passed.
Her response:
"It's too late;
Time will not relent.
I wish you well
but I am not it.
Mrs. Alfred Uruguay."
Alas, we begin and
end with Stevens.


Four Meetings: Scenes from Adult Dating, circa 1994
(With apologies to Henry James for borrowing his title)

"I'll bet you are great in bed;
Will you read to me?"
she blurted primly, coiffed and kempt,
our eyes meeting as she leaned forward,
on darkening late fall evening
in drab restaurant
lit by our flirtation,
her foot massaging mine
as my ears reddened in rash of puzzlement.

"I want to do everything to please you.
With you it's wonderful,"
she gasped,
intermingled with me
in her Victorian parlor opened to
late December sun caressing
our mid life nakedness.

"Perhaps I have should have
mentioned Bernard, who has
returned to share our house and
whose illness requires my presence,"
she whispered grammatically,
looking away
as she lay beside me.

"I am a creature of duty and loyalty;
besides, I am in love with my house,"
she added formally, as she departed,
fastidiously closing my front door.

Parallel (Paralyzed) Lives

Cooking naked:
Seasoning salmon fillets
with sensuous overture—
olive oil, oregano,
lemon juice, black pepper;
I shave the asparagus stalks,
she tosses salad.
Dancing as one, we
revel in soft gazes, urgent touches,
tongues respond with bluesy kisses,
sounds in our throats as
sighs cross desires.
At dawn our music ceases.


Garden of Intimacy

For my wife Marcia J. with memories of 1994

Love is what happens when
mind bumps into heart.
It had been some time since I felt
suspension of disbelief, doors
of expectations, windows of hopefulness,
secret recesses of fulfillment.
Rooms of possibilities
took on names,
as if we could see carpenters and
masons building our interior,
hear gentle whispers in a home
occupied only by us.
We planted garden of intimacy,
seeds that might come to fruit:
plans proposed, fears discussed,
trust intersecting, bisecting doubt,
anxiety intercoursing with pleasure.



Wrung, wrinkled by time,
ringed by custom, wrought by need,
we converge, yet keep our individual markers,
bumps and potholes etched by prior journeys.
Our places on life's map already drawn,
unlike decades ago,
when I and another Marcia carved and curved
other roads with our sons. Now
country roads winding
through familiar venues--
let us say the Poconos,
or perhaps the Berkshires--retrace
the geography of memory,
meshing portals of discovery
with inns where bodies briefly sang.
Remarriage after mid life is more
a circumnavigation than a thruway.
On sailing days we are Magellans
sharing new discoveries of self,
revisiting past lives:
flashes of recognition, nuances of regret.
On port days, we need remember,
as routines fall into place,
to forget compass, discard maps,
let intuition dance.


V. Exploring Jewish Heritage

Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin

"In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the palm of the hand that wrote" (The Book of Daniel).

Awestruck, I stopped,
to once again be dazzled by
Rembrandt's Belshazzar's Feast.
I imagine a drunken
Belshazzar among his roistering subjects
drinking from the sacred vessels
plundered by his father Nebuchadnezzar
at destruction of the Temple
in Jerusalem.
I see him stare in amazed fear
at strange words on wall
written by disembodied hand
appearing mysteriously:
Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin.

My namesake read these words in Aramaic
and interpreted for the Babylonian king:
"Numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided"
I too am interpreter of odd texts,
the strange narratives of my life--
two or three women
of other cultures, other ways,
leaving their writing on my wall
in languages I cannot understand.
I, Danie, have been summoned
to read their signs--and they mine.
They have numbered, divided
my days, and I theirs.

Tishah B'Ab, 1993

(Tishah B'Ab is a fast day on the ninth day of the Hebrew month Ab, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and six centuries later in 70 A.D. by the Romans.)

It was on Tishah B'Ab that my second temple fell:
"I'm leaving; I'm on empty and have no more to give."
Since my midlife divorce--the destruction, alas, of my first temple--
I have always had mournful feelings
on that hot muggy day in late July
when Orthodox Jews fast and Sephardic Jews wear black jellabas.

Yet do I not now recall in remote Toraja
on eighth day of Hannukah, Festival of Light,
we lit candles of my simple aluminum menorah
where perhaps no Jews had been before?
Full of expectation and adventure, we
drove ten hours on a pitted road
to visit sacred burial rites,
culminating in animal sacrifice,
pyre of funeral buildings.

My spare hotel room
became holy temple;
as nine candles blazed;
I imagine I walk
along sacred Wailing Wall of
Solomon's Ancient Temple,
believing that another
temple always rises.

Rosh Hashanah, 1994

I beheld solitary blue heron,
with its drooping plumage,
standing by my pond,
oblivious to sound, unaware that
its odd beauty came from
El Grecoesque
exaggerated bill, elongated neck,
reedy legs.

Suddenly in one
swooping motion,
it dove, returning
to its station
with a blue gill.
Once more reminded
of how nature's grim
rhymes with its beauty,
I felt New Year's inevitable
oscillating cycle
of hope and disappointment in
heron's dazzling swoop,
and stillness of the pond.

The Sarajevo Haggadah

"Bosnia Jews Glimpse Book and Hope" (NY Times headline, April 16, 1995)

The book as bibliocosm:
Marked with smudges,
children's scrawls,
richly colored illustrations--
the Creation,
Moses blessing the Israelites--
frail vellum,
wine stains of 600 years of
Exodus and Diaspora
to perseverance, resiliance,
even thanksgiving.
Mysteriously re-appearing--
as if sent to the Passover sedar
by Elijah in his stead--
speaking of Jews persecuted in Egypt
bearing the scars
of its own diaspora from Northern Spain;
surviviving intermittent
shelling, civil strife,
this Haggadah
tells and tolls
its history in Saravejo,
ancient suffering land.


The Shape of Memory in Prague

Once again I learn what Shoah means.
In an ancient synagogue,
I examine children's art from Terezin--
dark gray, heavy lines;
mysterious large intrusive shapes--and
photographs of their creators;
I feel bound to those sad dark eyed victims,
knowing I belong
to an ancient race that stared down
outlived death camps.


The Maharal of Prague,
Rabbi Loew,
created golem out of clay
by means of cabalistic rite
to protect Jewish ghetto
from siege.

If potter's wheel could make a
figure to keep our hurts at bay,
if only we could
breathe life into clay to
keep safe illusions,
shield our children,
ward off wounds, and
protect feelings from injury.

Yet we need remember
that nothing is simple.
When his golem ran amuck
the Maharal had it destroyed.


VI. Collecting and Recollecting: Portraits

Performance (Christopher Reeve)

For my student Christopher Reeve ((Sept. 25, 1952-Oct, 10, 2004), thrown by a horse May 27, 1995

I recall teaching you as Chris twenty-five years ago,
confident, articulate, ambitious--
scintillating peacock among brown wrens--
magnetizing young women
who dressed for your approval,
waiting to see where you would settle
before choosing their places.
Feeling the presence of Joyce, Mann, Kafka,
your mind darted sharply,
like a rainbow trout in stream,
seeking its nourishment
but at times impatient
as if hurry were thought.
Bright, engaging, you bestrode
college mindscape like a Colossus,
never quite separating performance from living.

When I told my sons that
I taught Superman how to fly,
you still occupied a corner of my mindscape.
It piqued my vanity's palette
that you singled me out
during campus visit two years ago
I took unreasonable pride
in your public adoration,
preened myself
that in some oblique way,
I had infinitesimal influence.

Who would have thought that I
a generation older
would be running, swimming
while you,
thrown from your horse,
would be saying:
"There is more to me than my body."

Vacationing far from my moorings,
walking among sea oats,
wandering on the fishing dock,
exchanging stories with folks
with whom I have only in common
the love of fishing,
and forgetting momentarily
issues of mortality,
my father's aging,
my sons' efforts to find a way, a place,
I discover handsome smile, blue eyes
staring past Barbara Walters at me.
But between sentences you gasp, and
arm-like tubes embrace you
like mechanical octopus
enveloping an elaborate chair
designed to support muscle atrophy?
Does it matter if your indomitable spirit
performs your greatest role
or if audience is
wife, son, yourself?

House Razing

For Margaret Anne, Huntsville, Alabama

Flame ebbs, smoke clears;
we stare at charred remnants of rafters,
foundation stones,
two chimneys amidst ruins,
stairs to nowhere,
broken glass, ashes, shards.
More: tattered clothes, torn mattresses,
overturned swing, carriage remnants,
rusted, derelict cars
among huge shade trees.
Scattered bricks
mark history of house that
stood when Union army crisscrossed
Northern Alabama--a serviceable abode
nurturing inhabitants, reaching decrepitude:
A living organism with
muscles, tendons, nerves, and
bones peeking through flaccid skin.
My companion stands alone,
her pale fragility outlasting its wood frame.
History is writ in her ancient Jewish eyes,
wrinkled face, graying hair, seared memory:
last survivor of a homestead family
whose abandoned house now
attracts, like rusty magnet,
dispossessed squatters, vagrants.
After execution, dumb show elegy:
we picnic silently,
tasting dregs of wine,
staring at the burnt corpse.

Lobsterman at Porpoise Cove, Maine (Summer, 1996)

"About a hundred years,"
he said, anticipating my question,
as he stood on the dock proudly bent
above shabby, barnacled boat
hip booted. dressed in layered clothing
more suited to the chilled spring dawn
than July's oppressive summer sun.
On primitive pulley system,
he hauled lobster pots
for repair from winter's ravages,
working in silent tandem with his brother below,
each aware of necessary motions.
While fingering the torn wires of his pots,
he glanced proudly into the noon haze:
"Ours are the red flags with circle M,
but we all know whose pots are whose."
Pleased that my interest took a quiet bent,
he clipped words
as if for him expenditure of language
were more weary work than hauling pots.
"Last load up."
Finally, quarry: red brown crustaceans:
Captives wiggling, wriggling,
seeking water, space.
Squinting eyes surveyed the catch:
"Not much today."
Not much, I thought,
learning something
about sea's ancient rhythms
and how words
reveal as they conceal.


"Utz was the owner of a spectacular collection of Meissen porcelain which through his adroit maneuvres, had survived the Second World War and the years of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia," Bruce Chatwin, Utz

I met him after visiting
the Stockholm synagogue
on a June Shabbat
on year's longest day. "I'm a collector," and then a pause,
"of ancient Chinese artifacts,"
I turned to voice in what
I thought empty room of
Stockholm Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities.
"I too am a collector,&quqot; I thought, hearing
a mysterious stranger. This time:
a man about my height and age
dressed also in black, a short slightly stooped
angular figure of middle years,
pronounced pointed nose, preternaturally thin,
concave chest, and hollowed cheeks;
Giacometti's Walking Man,
bent and carved by experience and history.
By unspoken rapport that
develops among those who obsessively
frequent museums, he became my guide,
speaking in imperfect English about ancient
Chinese pots and statues, admiring details of one,
declaring another "not quite as good. . . ."

His eyes blazed with passion.
In him, I saw figures
who had approached me in Europe
when a twenty-one year old student: survivors
collecting me, fellow Jew, reminder of lost
sons, brothers.

Were it not for my probing,
he would have shared nothing about himself:
His father had volunteered to fight Franco.
When I asked if he were a
Jew, he responded, "I am a Marxist-Leninist,
but I go to the April Holocaust service. I left Prague
thirty years ago with mother. We survived Terezin,
but left Prague following the 1968 purges."
Marked by history like the Chinese relics,
his face seemed etched with the shifting
map of twentieth century Europe.
Divorced, lonely, cautious, yet intimate,
he spoke haltingly of painful
visits to daughter in Rome.

He was the connoisseur, my Utz,
but was I not collecting this cadaverous
treasure from archives of lost Jewish Europe
for my memory and imagination?
We parted without exchanging names.


James Thorpe's Daughter

"You are the greatest athlete in the world," King Gustav of Sweden, 1912 Olympics

"May I show you his medals?"
deeply lined, slightly stooped she approached
our table, opened her bag, took out
faded ribbons and medals signifying
triumph of the fleet and strong:
"I knew and didn't know my father."
"Few of us do," I thought, "yet we
carry their medals in worn wallets,
tattered handbags, of our memory."

A tired waitress pointed her out,
when I expressed interest in her
legendary father in a faded
Pocono inn near Mauch Chunk, renamed
Jim Thorpe, to flaunt its memories.
At his quaint mausoleum, where
celebration in stone struggles
with time's drab weathering, I had
overheard gossip dismissing her
as a sad old woman clinging to
muted echoes of stories spun.

On a day in the mountains when I found beauty in movement--
muskrats' slow poky probing, rustling leaves
of the statuesque red maples--I
realized her gift: resilient
withstanding storms of disappointment,
knitting felt knowledge from legend.

Her World at 53

She lives in her thoughts alone,
greying and pale at fifty-three,
rearranging mental furniture,
dusting dowdy slipcovers,
tidying drawing rooms
of her small experiences,
polishing woodwork of occasional bliss,
staring at boudoir bedspread,
quilted with disappointments,
she savors dregs of travels past,
smiling as she counted the cost,
recounted passing interludes of passion,
brief affairs, cold nights
with partially enabled married men;
she rehearses conversations
borrowing wisdom, bromides,
from discoveries made
decades ago in imagined worlds.

No peacock she,
costumed performatively,
feathers furled--
rather brown wren,
dressing for function,
never quite right.
Her little hands and face,
her nervous darting walk,
bespeak fastidious temperament,
alternating with fatigue.
She has gentleness of
still summer nights.
But she speaks in monotone
as if her world
were a faculty meeting,
I a colleague.


Meditation at 95

"I am living too long already; what's the point?"
Surviving my own children,
awaiting impatiently for death,
is this honey of generation?
Alabaster hair,
bent shuffle in worn slippers,
muffled words not heard--
often directed towards others,
as if I were a vase,
inanimate antique--
scents not smelled, sights dimly seen.
My riverblood runs dry
heartpower pump fails.
Bones rot, bowels clog,
physician's prattle,
often written out in crayon size letters
--"hypertension," "polyuria,"
"vertigo," "insomnia"--
as if I didn't know I had,
like skeleton outstretched,
outlived my life.
Were parchment face
memory's receptacle, were
eyes stored impressions
of lifetime's knowing,
I could live with sense of
ending soon to come.
But No! what's left is bits
and shards of memory,
childish fears repeated,
spectre of incontinence,
patronizing smiles,
sounds from moving mouths.
So I, return to my shrinking corner:
Self--self alone and only self--
dissolving into air, dust.


We celebrated New Years Day with
generation older than ourselves.
Time-- ghostly uninvited
guest--circulated like
stale medicated air in hospice room.
Conversational hum and buzz
touched by mortality
returned me to my past, even as
I saw my future self:
stooped bodies bent by time,
hearing aids, flaccid skin, canes,
wrinkled faces whose geographic
lines mapped worthy histories.

A warm touching occasion:
Among them, men and women I once
held in awe, who were my current age or
younger when I first arrived in Ithaca
bursting with words and promise.
"She is in its worst stage, the time
when one knows one is caught
in its inexorable grip," grieved a luminary
of his still elegant wife now
ravaged by Alzheimer's.
A few of the guests huddled
In corner, sharing the pain
Of adult children lost to heroin,
alcohol, and mental collapse.

Caught in warp of
another time, greeting me warmly
yet feigning full recognition,
others insinuated intimacy that never was,
as if I were bridge to
younger world they once knew.
Some never appeared, debilitated by illness,
loss of faculties, though present in
to and fro of regrets, memories, elegies.
Yet I imagined them as they were,
in full vigor, at similar parties years ago,
and realized I soon will be them,
my sons me, and the yet unborn
would watch my sons age.


Bethe at Cornell


"The beginning of the universe
must be older than the oldest stars.
I was called in when astronomers,
seemed to have shown
by their deft measurements
that the oldest stars were older than the universe,"
he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Speaking with his heavy German accent,
but lucid and witty, totally focused at 95
gesturing, looking at his audience,
using overhead graphics,
he unravels the mysteries of the universe,
to an audience of thirty in a crowded elegant seminar room.
He speaks of giants and dwarfs among the stars,
even as we think we are watching a giant
among if not dwarfs us ordinary humans.

His phrases whirl about in the cosmos of my mind:
"In the core of stars;" "the temperature at the center of the sun"
His periodic silences--pregnant pauses--
reveal a mind at work, as hot and
active as the stars he describes:
"I spent lots of evenings on these problems
but not as much energy as the supernova."
Isn't his mind like the "excited state of energy"
he attributes to the stellar world?

Listening , watching, I am puzzled by
"C+H==N 17 and 12C +11--13n+Y"
Yet I find in the folds of his speech
a kind of order and his delight in the
pleasures of sharing his discoveries.
Five weeks after the twin towers tumbled,
I exalt in this affirmation of learning
in time of turmoil,
and am humbled.

Mike Abrams at 95

"It will never be satisfied, the mind, never" (Wallace Stevens, ("The Well Dressed Man With a Beard")

The wonder of it:
Natural Supernaturalism.
At ninety-five walking erect
if slowly, driving
his own car, drawing
hundreds to his lectures.
Totally in command
of self and subject,
grey-hair combed back as
it has been since I met
him forty years ago.

He embodies reality
of gracious aging,
smiling affably, listening--
albeit with hearing aid--
attentively but always with
standards of steel. Generous
to colleagues, vastly read,
disciplined, controlled,
keenly aware of how
his time is measured,
divided. Never showing
pain and strain of his beloved
wife's decade long
drift into Alzheimer
darkness. Never allowing
anyone to glimpse behind
masque of certainty or
lamp of inspiration.
Speaking graciously, even humbly,
knowing Nortons and Glossary—
that outdistance old age--
will defy mortality, be
mirror of what he is.


Brett de Bary

Tall, dressed in her unique style:
large scarf wrapped around her,
pinned back hair as if  keep it from
interrupting straightness
Of her posture, her expressive hands
gesticulating, complementing her smile
And warm reassuring voice.

Lecturing with poise,
confident, modest
bestriding lucidly and subtly
world of the mind,
poised between  
erudite probings of
scholar and  
cosmopolitan breadth
of public intellectual,
she speaks of complexities of translation,
its postcolonial and diasporic nature,
how translated text
is torn from original
as if it were unwillingly
sundered from its parent.

Pulling together with integrity
a lifetime of study and thought,
she brings together a diverse
Intensely engaged audience
That speaks volumes
to her Cornell stature,
her generosity as a colleague.
Listening Intently, each of us  
seeks for the secret
of her quiet
commanding presence:
gentle,  respected, generous.

As she triumphantly
concludes her perfectly
paced performance,
she crosses her arms,
returning to herself
as if to say
her ideas have been
translated into words
as best she could.


VII. Haiku

1. Nature

Spring, 2005

Awestruck, I beheld
Goldfinches, dancing birches,
birthing catkins, leaves.

Daylight Savings Time

Suggests spring's bright blooms,
promises fecundity,
ripening berries.


Ripe fragility,
succulent juice on palate:
tinctures, stains, regrets.

2. Questions of Travel (Homage to Elizabeth Bishop)

High Meadow, Keene Valley

Mountain spectacle:
High Peaks in Adirondacks,
Twilight, pied skyscape.


Soft Clouds pillow planes;
floating forward, passengers
seeking flight from self.

International Travel

sealed in our separateness,
jetting oceans, worlds.

3. Perspectives

Achievements by Others

Recognition pricks
self-doubting humans, spreading
jealousy's green rash.


We best know ourselves
in silences, deft gestures--
and are known by them.


He once thought his life
could have the splendor of a
Raphael cartoon.

Fractured Expectations

Fabric: faded hopes--
once taut threads of woven plans
now unraveling.


VIII. Acts of Poetry


Words are my mind's mirror,
editing what I see of self and world,
transforming brine in which ideas soak:
Imagination's amanuensis and muse, giving shape to what might be.

Words are nets in which I try to catch
swimming ephemera of my life;
while I have woven them tight,
from filaments of experience,
I do not always know how to set the nets
to catch tortured thoughts, tender feelings.

Words are closets and drawers where I put my things,
ordering tentatively life's disorder;
honing tools to shape inchoate thoughts;
putty to fill insignificant gaps
where tiny drafts penetrate; whetstones to sharpen memory;
intricate mosaics shaped by experience
into elaborate patterns.

Words are memory's archaeology
by which I excavate my past,
recalling or creating lost visions of childhood,
capturing evanescent dreams. Words are
nocturnal fictions of fulfillment,
undoing day's fantasies.

Words are soul's music, tongue's plaything,
mind's geometry and poetry.
Poems are the default landscape of my soul.

The American Scholar

"The world is his who can see through its pretension" (Emerson, "The American Scholar")

"Write a simple happy poem;
Your pain bores me."
"I can't write what I don't feel."
"Had you any sense, you would
not write your damned poems
of gloom and doom.
Write a romantic love poem,
speak of lovely moon,
changing colors of October leaves,
red sunset hovering on Cayuga lake."

"Ah, but when I feel fine frenzy of a poem,
my emotions overwhelm me
like incoming tide surging over sand.
I need to chew on bones of experience,
Drink dregs of bitterness,
taste ashes of regret."

The Muse Returns

"I am in elegiac mood,
nostalgic for what should have been,
anxious to mourn days gone by
to find paths not taken,
words not said;
I need to drink from dregs of regret and loss."

"Let us not live in the world of
what if or might have been
or I should have and could have,
and almost or but. . . .
She's gone and it's time to build a tomorrow."

"I need to scold and blame myself and suffer
romantic agony."
"Ah poor man,
there you go again.
Revel in the world's
delicious cornucopia of pleasures;
each day's your harvest, banquet, and bouquet."

Credo at 66

To write one has to feel: I believe
passionately in possibility of
romantic love, communication,
intimacy. I have joyful
affirmative feelings--but am moved by
aging, reversal, loneliness.

My ideal writing voice: enthusiasm
tempered with judgment, generously
trying to understand others;
respectful of language's
potential to create precision and felt responses;
open to possibilities of life, empathetic;
romantic in the best sense:
knowing life is gift we should cherish.

My diction: dialogue of diverse
influences--erudite, nostalgic,
sensuous, academic, cosmopolitan,
Jewish, urban, perhaps even
worldly, but--notwithstanding
decades of sustained reading, travel,
museums (punctuated by wrenching
divorce, loss, sadness)--innocent:
always touched by tomorrow's hope.


IX. The Mind's Garden: Imaginative Journeys

Reading Dante's The Divine Comedy

"Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood. How shall I say
what wood that was! I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear." (Canto 1, John Ciardi translation of The Divine Comedy; all quotations taken from Ciardi edition).

Across seven centuries,
Dante's narrative speaks.
If I doubt a path to Heaven,
I have experienced life's journey.

If hell is a state of mind--disappointments,
spats, haunting memories of
occasions when I could
have done better, anxiety, self-doubt,
terrifying fear of aging, trembling in face of
what awaits--have I not been there?
"Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!"

If Purgatory is a testing time when
one, alive to natural beauties,
lives in vestibule of uncertainly,
waits for recognition, learns humility,
sorts out values, comes to terms
with shortcomings, overcomes selfishness,
grapples with misunderstanding,
stews in regrets, accepts who we are--
--and who we are not--knows
that body is failing,
learns about generosity,
forgiveness, I have lived those
healing, restorative ways, days.

"I lifted up my eyes."
Paradise for me is not heavenly bliss.
Rather satisfying moments
between tick and tock,
what my body can still do
at eighty, small pleasures of each day,
finding sustenance, stability
in loving others, being loved,
memories of significant moments:
satisfying accomplishments,
special conversations, shared intimacy,
recollected moments of awe:
India: tigers, leopards meandering.
Antarctica's snows, penguins, elephant seals.
Masai-Mara: wildebeest, zebra migration.

Completing our circle:
Just as we learn from Virgil and Dante,
so we become teachers,
sharing magic gifts of
imagination: reading, writing.
A nuance of Paradise is having made
students' lives ever so slightly better,
watching them take their place
in the world, perhaps in our best days
demonstrating examples of empathy, decency.


is for me hermetic,
an ordering: each trip
a life, with its own defined
beginning and ending,
an escape from
thick textures
of adult life--heavy weights
of work and relationships.
Travel is world
out of time:
anxieties controlled,
mortality put off,
attention distracted.
Trip is oasis,
abbreviated lifetime,
sealing world
from intrusion,
creating space
of two spare,
bare weeks.

Still Life: Raspberries, Apples, and Sheet of Paper

Signatures we are here to read:
Something about fleshy, fruity, red fall raspberries,
seductively inviting
us to sate lush craving:
rough textured and rare,
even iconoclastic
with an indentation between its two lips
oozing juice to fortunate touch, leaving
tinctures, stains, on disheveled clothes,
responding to gentlest touch of tongue,
to licks of pleasure,
encrypting its mark, its signature
on whatever it touches.

It is otherwise with apples:
crunchy, resistant, aromatic, tart;
or with sweet flavor
that lingers on tongue
almost with cloying taste.
Its juice stored in huge cider vats
offering its democratic pleasures
to those
whose palates appreciate slow autumnal
rhythms of nature's harvest
and its country nectars.


Like faded or skewed memory,
faint colors and blurred lines
of pentimento appear in oblique form,
Not quite painted over, and not quite there:
Our meanderings in Rome:
A Carravagio, unexpectedly discovered,
which refused to reveal in the dark
faint images beneath the virgin;
an intimate shared moment,
of words not spoken because there was no need,
and of chances missed,
affirmations shadowed by doubt,
reconcilings incomplete,
resolutions unke(m)pt.

December is month of pentimento.
Bare branches speak of loss, and past loves,
unfulfilled possibilities, like fruit that does not ripen,
but also of warm spring day in November,
awkwardly touching, yet alone,
in corridors of memory,
veins of leaves unread,
little shames like rashes on the mind,
searing actualities turned to dust,
or sweet regrets, piquant on memory's palette,
of delicate pastry or fine wine,
or mingled bodies—
shards of painted over
pages, days, tales
that no longer come into focus.

About Suffering: Response to W.H. Auden

About suffering they could be wrong,
The Old Masters: when and if they ignored
effects of massacres,
cry of mothers who
have lost their kin and kind,
when and if they could not imagine
paranoid fantasies triggering
psychotic explosive acts:
fingers wedded to guns,
perambulatory mindbombs.

For every Guernica,
there has been sound of silence.
Take Picasso's Vichy days:
Did he notice when
friend Max Jacobs disappeared?

Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Oklahoma City:
The Massacre of Innocents
is everywhere, takes many forms.
While Icarus drops from sky,
others lose parents, child, hope.


Cezanne in Philadelphia, 1996

Today I collected my inheritance
from Cezanne's estate. I behold draughtsman's
hand mysteriously drawing with
fat luscious swathes of sensuous
shapes and colors, transforming
sketches into illuminations,
travelling into imaginative
space, insisting that we see.

I meet my guide in the first room.
Skeptical imposing Uncle
--left eye raised, becomes
my Virgil, as he might have been Cezanne's.
Vernacular motif—raptly
intent card players--punctuated
regularly by deft psychological
probings of stolid, geometric Madame
Cezanne. Personality, even character,
disappears in search for perfect
arrangement of floating forms in The Bathers:
woman and trees become interchangeable
shapes as if they were anonymous
roofs in a small Provence village.
Sudden shift: redbrown earth color
intrudes, is taken up, played with,
reinscribed elsewhere; asparagus-shaped trees:
verticals reaching passionately skyward.

Millstone in the Park of the Chateau:
debris of an abandoned mill,
discarded building stone, loose rocks,
millstone. My mind wanders: dark claustrophobic
tumult of stones in the Jewish
cemetery in Prague. His final
journey to abstraction: geometric
forms, blurred, contoured;
blotches, swabs, dabs of color, surprising
shadows, efficiency of line,
distortions ordering perceptions.

Yes, I beheld Cezanne for the first
time today. When I drove home, the
foggy evening drew shapes,
colors into new patterns,
and I saw afresh.

Picasso's Women

Curvicular Marie Therese, earth mother:
passionate sensuous images
evoking children blowing bubbles,
romping on the sand,
gently swaying to Antibes breezes--
blissful memories set to gentle music.
Take Girl before a Mirror:
fantastic double image,
insistent wedding of opposites,
her head a marvel of compression,
half hidden frontal view becomes
a cosmetic mask of sexual lure,
evocation of astronomical rhythms.

But it is otherwise with Dora Maar:
Grimacing and swollen face,
convulsive postures,
weeping woman, cadaver,
disfigured, monstrous;
the macabre 1940 Head of a Woman;
a skull grits its teeth in rage.

Seated Woman: Francoise's inquiring visage,
fecund body, staring eyes, forcefully seated.
Woman-Flower: blossoming form
sheds its mass; her slim, oval
body like the stalk and bloom of a sunflower.
Her blue tonality injects a lunar coolness,
counterpointing the woman as flower.
reminding us of Picasso's conversation--and ours--
with visible and invisible worlds.

On (Re)Reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Living with the Rostovs and Boronskys
for several months as I wend my
way through early nineteenth
century Tsarist Russia;
over twelve hundred pages
opens the door to genius.

My mind lives in another time,
takes parts in the loves, disappointments,
losses and grieving of an immense cast.

War’s terrible cycle:
its human cost, exhilaration
horrors, triumphs,
pain, pleasures.
Victory for one side is
defeat for another.
Is peacetime, with its winners, 
its losers, any different? 

History as accident:
A compilation of a grammar
of motives and chance
coalescing retrospectively
into perceived patterns.

Tolstoy reads character in every
physical gesture, facial feature;
understands serendipity
of military history, even as generals
think they tightly control
crisscrossing European armies.
In his vast sweep, doings of
seemingly minor characters matter.

War defines males;
women stay behind, often
wrenching meaning from
lives of male relations.

Peace: inheritance and position
provide context for idle social prattle—
lonely, vapid “little princess” Lise,
for example, all but discarded
by bored husband Andrei Bolkonsky,
who touchingly loves
his cranky, eccentric father;
bacchanalias of Anatole
Kurgin’s circle;
Nikolai Rostov’s
naïve integrity.

Obese, cuckolded, bumbling, gauche,
puzzled, questing Pierre overcomes his faults,
winning our sympathy with his
simplicity, decency, and lack of guile.
loving Natasha,

Reading Joyce's Ulysses: Leopold Bloom

"Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred." (Ulysses)

"I belong to a race, too, . . .that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment. This very instant." (Ulysses)

His Jewish heritage pulsates through his veins,
he feels exile, diasporic pain.
Despite assimilation,
compromise, and tolerance, he
speaks boldly to such
one-eyed monsters
as Citizen Cyclops.

St. Leopold of Perpetual Responsibility,
and Lamed Vov,
visiting Mrs. Purefoy in her labor,
caring for the widow Dignam
loving Molly,
at once his Calypso and Penelope.
Living with hope of return,
willfully ignoring the Blazing disruption
of Eccles Street home,
haunted by pentimento of
father's suicide, infant son's
death; guilt and loss are
etched into his flesh like a tattoo.

His scars are psychic scars,
like ones we all bear.
His Hades, like ours, is within:
fears, obsessions,
dimly acknowledged needs.
He, too, is teacher;
his subject is humanity.
He is Stephen's Nestor
but also his Virgil,
accompanying him—and, yes, us--
through divinely human comedy.

Rereading Heart of Darkness

"Mistah Kurtz, he dead"


We prefer games with rules,
red and black pieces, even
mazes and conundrums,
rather than uncontrollable, unseen
darkness lurking within.
When we had hoped
to find mere banality,
discovery of inexplicable
terrifying evil and mindless
violence frightens;
We don't want to deal
with severed heads
or the stench of
buried hippo
--real or metaphoric.


An idealist armed
with values of his culture,
Kurtz reverts to racism, savagery.
Indifferent to elephants, humans.
his one-minded quest for ivory
is cursed with ferocious
accumulating impulse.
Is "The horror! The horror!"
his moment of self-recognition,
or the cry of a dying
megalomaniac whose hopes
are checkmated.


Fascinated, hypnotized
by Kurtz as an alternative
to imperialistic pawns,
does not Marlow go
ashore for a howl and a dance?
When Kurtz escapes, Marlow stalks
him in the jungle as if he were his prey
before confronting the danger in himself,
rediscovering moral track he almost lost.
Like Gulliver, he returns shadowed, checked,
yet enlightened by experience.
We readers, too.


I love woven tapestries--
comprehensible fabrics of harmony;
Especially those with loose and tattered thread
yet still
coherent in form.
I study asymmetry
within warp and woof,
irregularity in Persian carpets,
faded colors in Torajan wall hangings.

I even examine patterns of tiny threads
when buttons pop off.
I like to wear sweaters with frayed cuffs--
knitting unraveling at edges,
dangling loop awaiting to be recaptured
by darning needle.

A man of rough and ragged edges,
I now secretly enjoy cacophonies--
concert coughs, burps, belches, pshaws--
odd whiffs, slightly ripened tastes, incomplete experiences:
the unwoven tatters, rips, and tears of life.


Jigsaw Puzzle

Immersed in the doing:
feeling once again boyhood excitement,
turning 500 pieces face side up,
touching gently pieces one by one,
sorting contoured edges,
looking for exact fits,
holding up almost similar
colors and shapes to light,
ignoring bedtime admonitions,
watching pattern come to form,
savoring mindscape
as design emerged,
peeking at box's picture,
fearing missing piece
that would deface whole with hole, but
dreading consummation.


All That
  co co
     pa pa pat
blare, flare
brassy, sassy
bum de mum,
rum a tum
of drums;

December 20, 2022, at Eighty-One

“For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Wallace
(Stevens, “The Snow Man”)
Walking alone in quiet woods,
close to year's shortest day,
I notice odd shapes of leafless trees
laden with new snow, one with large nest
awaiting return of red-tailed hawk.
White-tailed deer foraging for food,
pricking up ears for danger,
staring at me staring at them.
red fox scutters across
my path. Winter sounds
punctuate silence:
Whistle of cardinals
competing for nourishment
with chattering squirrels,
while gaggle of migrating
geese honk overhead.
In these peaceful days
with year running down,
life-planning, past successes,
take back seat to gentle routines,
vague travel plans, sweet memories.
Later: When I try to write,
lassitude defeats imagination,
gives way to languid thoughts:
afternoon nap, leisurely dinner,
soothing hot bath, overtaken by
sleep while reading in bed.
But suddenly mortality enters,
perches on my chair,
intrudes on self-retreat.
Stalked by images of
once healthy people I know:
bent, pale, faces distorted
by pain, suffering the effects of
strokes, debilitating illness, dementia.
For terrible moment, I fear
something unruly, threatening,
inchoate, unstable, inevitable,
raising the frightening
specter of aging alone.
I revert to memories
of my morning walk,
finding solace in nature's seasonal rhythms:
the nothing that is.

Scholarly Article About My Poetry:

Speculations on the Lyrical and the Narrative Modes in Poems by Daniel R. Schwarz
By Helen Maxson (Published in Westview 26:1 (Spring/Summer 2006), 15-20)

In his poem "Spring Sounds," Dan Schwarz describes the sounds of a creek as a musical composition of separate voices sometimes singing in unison and sometimes carrying distinct parts. The structural pattern ascribed to the creek takes various forms throughout Schwarz's poetry, helping to define it as a whole.

Spring Sounds

Spring sounds: low-pitched baritone
of roaring creek, insistently,
slowly cutting shapes as it
gathers its strength,
rolls, tumbles, roaring
strongly in bass,
then, yes, tenor surge
over ancient rocks
in three discrete small cataracts,
before coalescing at next plateau
returning to orderly pattern,
softer, gentler gurgling
of soprano trickles and alto drips,
pleasurable cacophonous trilling.

There is much about this brook as an image that can speak to several themes and, thereby, to several of Schwarz's poems, revealing among them a common dynamic that unifies them as the brook unifies its trickles and drips. The brook participates in both order and cacophony. It flows over ancient rocks. Its flow is both urgent and casual. It carries impact, cutting "shapes"--(of self-expression and of impressions made on the surrounding landscape)--that mirror the workings of other poems. There is a universality to this brook that, engaging Schwarz's other poems, reflects what it means to him to be human, to be alive, and to describe, as music and language and paint describe, those experiences.

Schwarz's poem "Mother in Hospice, April 2005" enacts the creek's dynamics in various ways. A dying mother, surrounded by her family, honors individual members by tenderly commenting on their personal needs, struggles, and strengths. At the same time, she counsels them to become a unified whole (as the brook does), "to love each other, / avoid strife, anger. " In the final stanza of the poem, the concept of coalescing as a family becomes a mode of being or living in which individual elements of experience comprise the strands of life's fabric, rather than moments between them:

In intermittent moments of clarity,
she lived in fabric of
human feelings and memories. She always knew what I have come to learn.
Savoring small pleasures--smiles, touches;
sunrises, sunsets; cardinals feeding;
herons, deer visiting pond;
intimacies between tick and tock
when life momentarily blazes--
are not mere interstices
between ambition and career success,
but warp and woof of life itself.

There is a mystery in these lines: just as individual trickles and drips combine to form a larger stream as well as "discrete small cataracts," the individual moments of life form a fabric that celebrates each one separately and gives them precedence over any totalizing agenda that we might be tempted to impose on our lives and in which the moments would be lost. The mother's moments of clarity as she dies come to her naturally rather than as a function of her will. Coming and going on their own terms, they produce a fabric of individual feelings and memories that are "warp and woof of life itself." Embracing this aspect of her dying as a way of living, the poem's speaker affirms the workings of the brook as a mechanism that can detach us from what is artificial, connecting us with what is genuine and can help us to live well.

The poem "Generations" describes a similar mystery involving the coalescence of human experiences that, yet, remain distinct. The speaker of the poem remembers a New Years Day celebrated with his elders, whose poor health and approaching deaths have much to do with the atmosphere at the party: "Time--ghostly uninvited / guest--circulated like / stale medicated air in hospice room." Yet, even as the irrevocable marker of life's end is much in evidence, the generational boundaries defining the party guests blur for the speaker: "Conversational hum and buzz / touched by mortality / returned me to my past, even as / I saw my future self." The speaker imagines those at the party as they were when they were younger, "in full vigor, at similar parties years ago, / and realized I soon will be them, / my sons me, and the yet unborn / would watch my sons age." The speaker finds himself in both his elders and in his sons, in a perception that softens the influence of time, as well as the ravages of life itself represented by "Alzheimer's, . . . adult children lost to heroin, / alcohol, and mental collapse." There is a power here coming from identification with others--a form of coalescence with them - that defeats time and rises above distinctions that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives.

In fact, there is a component of transcendence in the mysterious coalescences of all these poems. It is helpful to remember here that Dan Schwarz has spent much of his scholarly career studying the workings of modern British fiction, a body of stories that behaves in various ways like the poetry of British high romanticism. We think of the language with which D. H. Lawrence describes human passion, language that sometimes leaves behind the linear, syntactical logic of prose for the more associative logic of poetry. We think of the moments of discovery and epiphany that inform the stories of Conrad, Joyce, and Woolf. These novelists reinforce the impulses toward transcendence that their readers have found in romantic poetry, and Schwarz's poems frequently enact those impulses.

At the same time, Schwarz's poems make use of many literary elements generally associated with fiction. The lyric moments of feeling and perception he describes emerge from narrative contexts of setting, situation, and character. To be sure, the lyrics of high romanticism happen within narrative contexts too: Coleridge studies the secret ministry of the frost in a midnight lull in life's activities as the parent of a baby in the English countryside, and the poem tells a story about that parent even as it explores his inner musings and discoveries. But the narrative dimension of Schwarz's poems is not often upstaged, or upstaged for long, by the sort of lyricism or epiphanic experiences for which the romantic poets are known. Perhaps we might see Schwarz's poems as poetic versions of the modern fiction he has studied as a scholar. Perhaps we might liken that the interplay between the narrative and the lyrical in these poems to the dynamics of his brook in "Spring Sounds," as it passes among its separate cataracts and the plateaux on which their coalescing transcends them.

One of the features of Schwarz's poems that emphasizes their narrativity is their use of quotation and dialogue. Schwarz's poems often advance an underlying theme by remembering words and verbal exchanges of the past. In fiction, even as it develops a story's underlying themes, dialogue helps to develop character and scene. In lyric poems those goals are usually secondary to more ephemeral or transcendent explorations. In Schwarz's poems, however, we find a balance between the narrative and the lyrical in which dialogue participates in an overall--ultimately transcendent--fabric of voices that together constitute the poem. It is a balance akin to that between the individual and the blended that we have already traced in Schwarz's brook and in the lesson represented by the dying mother for her son. The characters' voices in Schwarz's poems stand out as individual expressions that help to conjure a narrative, even as they are absorbed by some lyric exploration that is carried out by the speaker's voice.

Schwarz's poem "Snowbound" expresses well the balance between the concrete subjects that usually inform narrative, and the abstracted or transcendent experiences that tend to comprise the subjects of lyric poems. Schwarz introduces the poem by citing the lyrical ending of Joyce's story The Dead, in which snow is falling all over Ireland so as to bury the differences between individual things and diminish the differences between, "all the living and the dead." In Schwarz's poem, the snow, "buries roads, / homogenizes houses, / nullifies difference." For both Joyce and Schwarz, the snow clearly suggests some state that transcends the distinctions among concrete things, but there is at least one important difference between their views. Critics of Joyce have long disagreed on whether to find hope or despair in the final image of The Dead (and, for that matter, in many images throughout Joyce's work in which he seems deliberately to resist interpretation). Schwarz participates in that ambiguity in the first of his poem's two stanzas -- the snow is peaceful, but it nullifies, but in the second stanza, he casts the state of being snowbound as a process of gestation and hope.

Blizzard awakens my soul.
It's as if I were enclosed in womb
from which I emerge reborn,
or crypt that magically reopens.
Smoldering passion, creativity, curiosity
melt snow, prepare
ground for flowering, renewal.

In Schwarz's re-envisioning of Joyce's snow, it nullifies the individual only to prepare for individual birth. Distinct cataracts that coalesce in a brook, threads that intertwine in a fabric, delineated scenes and characters of narrative that transcend worldly distinctions in some form of lyrical experience --perhaps we can say that in the cosmos of Schwarz's poems, all these things gestate for a time in a loss of self that will, in the end, enhance each cataract, thread, and character. If so, perhaps we can also say that the relationship between the dialogue of Schwarz's poems and the speaker's voice that, in the end, absorbs their individual voices, mirrors that between cataract and brook, or between thread and fabric and, so, enhances those voices. Certainly the voices of the speakers in Schwarz's poems rise often to the level of the abstract. The nouns his speakers use are frequently offered without the articles that, in common speech, would attend them. In "Snowbound," the speaker describes being "enclosed in womb . . . or crypt"; in the poem's first verse, the extensive whiteness is "still as frozen pond " The family in "Mother in Hospice, April 2005" is "Crowded into cubicle." Throughout Schwarz's poems, his speakers' nouns rise--leaving behind articles--from the specific to the general, from the concrete to the abstract. As a result, the characters' voices are defined against them, to a corresponding degree, as reflections of specific individuals. Perhaps we might say that the abstracted language of his speakers offers, among other things, a fertile snow against which his individual characters are defined--a womb of thoughtfulness and transcendent realization in which the specificity of narrative is subdued in order to be later enhanced. To be sure, Schwarz's speakers tell their own stories with specific details. But they provide, too, something akin (though not identical) to the "conversational hum and buzz" attending the New Years Day celebration in the poem "Generations," in which individual voices are muted, and against which the quoted voice of the "luminary" grieving his "elegant wife now / ravaged by Alzheimer's" gains clarity.

The themes of speech, voice, and artistic expression are explicit throughout Schwarz's poems and reinforce our sense that the voices of his poems work in much the same ways as the sounds of his brook. The creek is "baritone," "tenor, " "soprano." In "Mother in Hospice, April 2005," the mother's "final words were who she was, " and the figure of Marcia "knew what to do and say." The speaker remembers his arrival in Ithaca " bursting with words and promise." The speaker's muse instructs him on the writing of poetry in the companion poems " The American Scholar" and "The Muse Returns." In treating the theme of expression, Schwarz's voices play out the opposition and, at the same time, the mysterious partnership between the narrative and the lyrical, the concrete and the transcendent that we have seen in his poems. In her advice to the character of the poet that he avoid burdening his readers with his narcissism, Schwarz's muse likens the poet to Joyce's Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, who cannot find his own poetic voice because, in his self-conscious attempt to write as thinks a poet should write, he cannot silence Shelley's voice in his own work. Schwarz's muse warns the poem's speaker against the same mistake: "Are you having delusions that you are Shelley or Wiesel?" Counseling against rhapsodic self-inflation that is out of touch with one's own reality and that of others, her advice is reminiscent of the wisdom of the dying mother who counsels her family to avoid conflict; both women urge a form of coalescence rather than self-assertion. Yet, the muse exemplifies to a T the premise that Schwarz's dramatized voices gain clarity against the voice of the speaker. The speaker rhapsodizes that when "I feel fine frenzy of a poem, / my emotions overwhelm me like incoming tide surging over sand. / I need to chew on bones of experience, / Drink dregs of bitterness, / taste ashes of regret." The muse responds "You need to take out our garbage and walk the dog." It is a comic triumph of the concrete over the abstract, of characterization over lyric rumination. While her message transcends the self-absorbed individual on behalf of service to others, her voice celebrates the genuine individuality that eludes both Stephen Dedalus and Schwarz's speaker. It is a healthy balance between lyric and narrative.

The allusions of Schwarz's poems to earlier works of literature repeat these dynamics, offering characters and situations well-defined, in part, by their familiarity to the reader as well as by the artistic strategies of the earlier writers. Against these specifics, Schwarz's speakers come to their own conclusions about them, generalizing in sometimes lyric terms. In response to Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts," Schwarz's poem speaks of "cry of mothers who / have lost their kin and kind. . ." In response to Joyce's Leopold Bloom, Schwarz writes
His scars are psychic scars,
like ones we all bear,
and his, like our, Hades is within:
fears, obsessions,
and dimly acknowledged needs.
He, too, is teacher;
his subject is humanity.
He is Stephen's Nestor
but also his Virgil,
accompanying him - and yes, us--
through divinely human comedy.
The phrases "He, too, is teacher" and "through divinely human comedy" underscore the abstraction of their nouns by omitting articles and speak with the graceful cadences of lyric. Furthermore, both poems treat broadly--inclusive subjects: the suffering of Icarus is extended to all mothers who have lost children to violence; the Hades of Bloom lies within us all and, like Dante's Inferno, is part of the cosmos of all people. Schwarz's citing of transcendent truths adds to the lyricism of these poems.

And yet, in these poems, the images of Brueghels's painting about which Auden is writing, the details of Picasso's painting hat Schwarz mentions, the historical detail of Max Jacob's seizure by the Nazi's, the plot details from Ulysses listed in Schwarz's response to that novel: these concrete specifics are the stuff of narrative. Perhaps this mingling of literary modes evokes Schwarz's brook on the subject of literary allusion, finding in it an author's personal experience with a prior work, through which the work transcends the specifics of its original creation and contents. As such, allusion becomes a gesture of both narrative and lyric impulse.

Not only the language of Schwarz's response to Auden and Joyce, but also their visions celebrate the specific while urging that we

transcend it. In the response to Auden, Schwarz's speaker urges an empathy for those who suffer, and a willingness to " imagine / paranoid fantasies triggering / psychotic explosive acts" that reminds us, in its extension beyond our own experience, of the speaker's willingness in "Generations" to imagine the elderly guests as they were when they were younger, realizing that "I soon will be them." In his response to Joyce, Schwarz's speaker celebrates the same impulse while meditating on the character of Leopold Bloom, his pain and courage in the face of insult as a Jew, his tolerant and forgiving nature reflected in a citation from Ulysses with which Schwarz begins his poem: "Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not the life for men and women, insult and hatred." It is the same tolerance and forgiveness that we, as readers of Ulysses, see when a hurt Bloom gives his persecutor the benefit of the doubt: "Perhaps not to hurt he meant" (Joyce 311). In their urging of understanding rather than self-centeredness, both poems celebrate the plateau on which the separate cataracts of Schwarz's creek coalesce. Ironically, in both poems, it is in exploring and honoring the experiences of specific individuals, and thereby lowering the boundaries between them, that both poems abstract to an overall practice of tolerance that would embrace all individuals. From this perspective, tolerance seems like an abstraction fostered by specifics. Perhaps there is a suggestion in Schwarz's poems that allusion is a lyrical process that starts with the detailed familiarity of narrative.

Schwarz's poetry is highly allusive, referring to classic works of literature from Dante to Auden, to works of visual art, and to figures of mythology and religion (like the Christ implied by the punning phrase "divinely human comedy"). In a letter to a Mr Kean, John Keats referred to the creative process of alluding to one's artistic forebears as an "immortal freemasonry" (quoted in Bate 201); in its allusiveness, Schwarz's poetry engages in just such a process, building an artistic edifice that combines the bricks of prior works with his own creations. It is a coalescing activity, and it enacts in the arena of art the same work of empathy for which Schwarz, echoing Bloom, calls. In his 1939 elegy "In Memory of W. B. Yeats, " Auden wrote, "For poetry makes nothing happen," appearing to disagree with Yeats's view that art could respond in constructive, efficacious ways to the events of history. However, Auden's skepticism is belied by his poem's celebration of Yeats's potential impact on the hatred of the Hitler era:
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
. . .
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

For Dan Schwarz, there is no doubt that poetry can make things happen. In its images, in the dialogue of its characters, in its allusions, Schwarz's poetry claims for art the work of his creek, making music that is a sound of spring and renewal, embracing the cacophony of disparate voices in "orderly pattern" that transcends them and suggests some improvement or desirable condition toward which we might work.

Works Cited

Bate, Jonathan. The Romantics on Shakespeare. London: Penguin, 1992.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Gabler Edition. New York: Vintage/Random House, 1986.
published in Westview 26:1 [Spring/Summer 2007], 15-20)