The Poems

It’s an Old World: In Central Europe    poem 1 - 14

It’s an Old World: In the Mountains of Kyushu, Japan    poem 15 - 88

It’s an Old World: With Boy and Girl    poem 89 - 140

It’s an Old World: In Central Europe    poem 141 - 180

It’s an Old World: In Central Europe

1. Upon the Arrests of Miklós Haraszti, Gábor Demszky, Sándor Racz, and
    Four Others, in Budapest, March 15, 1988
2. Budapest, Római Fürdő
3. There’s this girl
4. I moved the bed forward
5. If they could wake in their graves they’d hear girls
6. On the eve of May Day
7. One was twenty
8. At the Csillaghegy Pools
9. Monika wore the barest shirt today
10. I had you then in Prague
11. You hate repetition, you say
12. When you were young,
13. Epithalamium for Bori & Gyuri
14. Cleveland, 1950

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It’s an Old World: In the Mountains of Kyushu, Japan

15. The Swallows of Taketa-shi
16. Stroked by Heaven
17. 30 Years, Same Question
19. In the Country of the Manyoshu
20. The Topiary Arts
21. Group Games 1, Life 0
22. Those Most in Silence
23. Those Poets
24. As you travel about Japan
25. Takayama 1
26. Takayama 2
27. Takayama 3
28. Letter to Butler
29. When they’re naked,
30. An Old Story
31. Ukiyo
32. Tsubame
33. They did another survey
34. The Twinned-God Consumerism
35. The Puritans weren’t all killjoys
36. The One Inside Herself She Hates
37. The New Kabuki
38. The Little Ones
39. The Boys of Fukushima
40. Thank you, Hisayo
41. TEPCO-shugi
42. Perfect, Usuki Day
43. Old Mountain Cultures
44. No Coffee at the Resort Hotel
45. Natsumi
46. Nanko-sai at Taketa Minami
47. School joins in celebrating consumerism
48. Resources Here and Not at Taketa Minami
49. Modern Life 1, Nature 0
50. Magic Under All New Lies
51. Lovemaking Katakase Style
52. Lingerie Arts
53. Learning Silence
54. The Girls Look Relaxed
55. Kagura for Kami
56. “Itching to Boil”
57. Near-Haiku on Ukabu
58. Innocence
59. Hemline Checks
60. Hisayo, 29
61. Hinata, Up Close, Sees Her Dad Flip Out
62. At the Hot Baths
63. Girls 1, Discipline 0
64. Gambatte, Ryusei
65. From Insult, Honor
66. For Yuki from Kuju
67. For Osamu and Kiyomi
68. Fabricated Doll
69. Dear Aby
70. The River Would Decide
71. Shinto Birds
72. Think Chikuden
73. Such Languorous Anonymity
74. In a Porn Tableau
75. Poof!
76. AKB-48 Land
77. Shogun Land
78. “Kawaii”
79. The Tides of Again and Again
80. Busy, Busy, Games, Games
81. My Young Japanese English Teaching Partner Hates Using English
82. Setsuko
83. Haiku: A Cycle
84. Oita Prefecture: Above Taleta Town
85. Moon Over the Castle Ruins (trans. from Bansui Doi)
86. Predictable Logic (trans. from Shuto Koichiro)
87. Mother: A Requiem (trans. from Shuto Koichiro)
88. Great Quiet Eyes (trans. from Shuto Koichiro)

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It’s an Old World: With Boy and Girl

89. A Michigan Lake
90. On receiving a candle from a Catholic virgin, 36
91. Well, I know we’ve had real passion
92. She was only nineteen
93. I love that thaw
94. Winter Camp
95. High Five
96. Let’s say, to learn
97. At the nude beach
98. Bud-shaped
99. Sperm on her belly
100. One Girl Studying Sex and Zen still Has more Studying
101. A Girl in Stress
102. Edit,
103. Sue, to Return
104. Please take this in reply to your letter
105. Panties work
106. Girls, some, many,
107. Nearing Age 60
108. Mahogany
109. Keep it all:
110. I’m in trouble
111. The Quiet Delta
112. The girls walk by in their summer dresses
113. How many books have you held in your hands?
114. You play the game
115. We kids sprawled on summer grass
116. Worship
117. With Cigar, and Brandy
118. Where Modern Advertising Doesn’t Reach
119. The Blossom
120. Three
121. The Goal
122. The Generic Regenerative
123. Ten Percent?
124. Rivers Electrical
125. Rhythms Joined
126. Massaging of a Different Sort
127. Like Rice Ponds
128. God is Great, God is Good
129. Forever Aroma
130. Culture’s Failure
131. ars poetica
132. “It was the early Beatles’ Period, 1963”
133. God gave us girls in short summer dresses
134. There, far out in the middle of the lake
135. It was next night came the thunder
136. Moon River
137. San Francisco Night
138. Epithalamium for Wanda and Mike, June 16, 1990
139. Epithalamium for Sayoko and Gyuri
140. Sounding Strokings New

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It’s an Old World: With Empire Rotting from the Top

141. We Did This to Them and, More, to Us
142. From Rand Corp. to Citizens United
143. 9th Grade English. Me, the Sub.
144. With Best of Debts to Woody Guthrie, Creedence Clearwater Revival,
       and Country Joe and the Fish
145. Bless You, Mom
146. The Focused Life
147. Our “Creative Writing” Programs
148. 5 Years, 4,000 Killed: Still Smirking
149. A Ditty for Out Time
150. Can We Ever Expect Change from "Our Best and Our Brightest"?
151. L. Cohen, B. Dylan, J. Lennon
152. Bubble in A, B, C, or D
153. Ode to the Homeless
154. Our Corporate Origins
155. A Logical Progression
156. 53 Years Later
157. If we have demons in us
158. Now Tim Geithner has our money
159. November 2, 2004
160. Our Corporate Rites
161. This year, in our national election
162. Were Woody Here Now
163. We’re Schooled
164. The Origins of Character
165. Out-Whoring the Whores
166. Long from Now
167. Keep It in Your Pants
168. For Miki G.
169. Escaping the Flock
170. Americans Learning Vulgarity
171. After Ursula K. LeGuin
172. Our Elites: Who Are, and Are No
173. Rule #1 for Corporate Academe
174. Specialization Habituation
175. Doggerel for our Times
176. With the coming of ‘09
177. Inaugural Poem, Jan. 20, ‘09
178. On San Francisco’s #22, Fillmore Bus
179. If Writing of Himself
180. Not Even Time Can Heal Some Sores

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It’s an Old World: In Central Europe

1. Upon the Arrests of Miklós Haraszti, Gábor Demszky, Sándor Racz,
    and Four Others, in Budapest, March 15, 1988

See those holes?
– the ones freckling all the walls there?
They’re not really bullet holes.
They’re not really from the 4,000 Soviet tanks
that rolled into Budapest at dawn November 4,
1956, machine-gunning windows and
movement everywhere throughout all this old baroque city.
And the Americans didn’t really
sit helplessly by, stunned
after all their years of brave talk
and McCarthyite swagger.
Those thousands didn’t really die in
Budapest streets. The refugees
didn’t really stream across the borders.
Americans hadn’t spent all their 1950s talking
in vain. Because Americans found
And now
the exploded buildings around the old Üllői street barracks
have all been rebuilt. Gay red flags by law always fly
side-by-side with the Hungarian red, white, and green.
Red stars crown every factory and public building.
So the tens of thousands of bullet holes don’t really exist.
Nor did Imre Nagy, nor Petőfi and ’48 a hundred years before.
Nor Mohács long before that.
Such crazy braveries can’t really exist, because most of all
it is lies we need, lots of lies,
for our truest comforts and continuities.
And lots more lies – and rhetoric and clichés;
we crave them best – and more lies still
and more, until
we have the truest sum of tolls
which nearly adds to all these holes.

2. Budapest, Római Fürdő, September 1987

This is an old country.
In September two children lie on a chaise lounge
with their mother behind the old garden house.
Mom’s thick blond hair falls brushing long-tufted grass
and her skin smoothens down to a mere fabric’s patch.
The children, too, are blond and almost, too, undressed,
the girl still not covering her new mounded breasts.
People visit easily this way, civilly near-nude
as weekends entwine obliging Danube
in latticework of gardens, docks, and decks
speckling sun and shade along length and breadth.
It is an old river.
It is late summer.
And in late afternoon in the leafy hush
a pear falls here, and apple there,
while ivy reddens, berries darken, and filbert boughs brush
rusted tiles of a garden shed
where trellised grapes pouch thickly red.
And sounds of watering boat hulls
note cleansings of rowings’ last grime away,
while foraging bees waft to the calls
signaling theft from time of one day.

3. There’s this girl

There’s this girl and she writes about Rufus,
thin – a waif – she always wears long dresses.
Or she writes about this man, Kukučin,
on her slender hips having pulled blue jeans.

Both men are simple and this girl is, too,
simply in the things they happily do.
Simply, happily, they always make love
to Slovakia – they can’t get enough.

Maybe it’s a daughter or grandmother
they love, or some simple soul or other.
Or maybe a mountain spring to drink from
or warm brown soil for bare feet to stroke in.

Simple it seems to love Slovakia,
to read folk tales and walk all over it;
their pens flying, her skirts waving, long hair
trailing over girl breasts and shoulders bare.

Traveling, traveling, she is, they are:
friends to love, mountains, language, friends more.
No shame at being naked in these loves,
the barest, simplest connections because

from the width and breadth of Slovak travel
– from valley springs, Tatra peaks, and marvel
upon marvel of moving legs and pens –
something more important also happens.

Between Rufus, the girl, and Kukučin
old seeds are planted again and again
– planted for love to cover distances
and soothe and touch the deepest needs in us.

4. I moved the bed forward

I moved the bed forward and then lay down
by the doorway to the balcony.
I could lie and look into the valley
filled with the dark – and a nightingale’s song.

Song? No, happy madness, a trilling chaos
filling a spring night in Slovakia
– one darkened bowl of mountains, anyhow –
blotting out, erasing, all daytime’s wrongs.

Those years of socialist fantasyland
had set too much good back too many steps
with rule by knaves and pygmies – what Joseph
Brodsky called mental proletarians.

Well, bureaucracies may all be the same,
more or less everywhere, and the same type
always gets to the top, loving their hype,
banalities, cliché, and their own small fame.

I’d had enough. Schools, the state, officials
had their dumb power – yet today now came
long soft grasses, wind wafting them: May
just blowing away low predictables.

                                Zemplin Sirava, Slovakia
                                May 6, 1990

5. If they could wake in their graves they’d hear girls

If they could wake in their graves they’d hear girls,
Slovak girls, young and laughing by the brook,
their voices sun-lifted in the May world.
They would love to hear this sound if they could,
save that winter forty-four forty-five
their thousands in heavy fighting died.

Who were the good guys then – who the bad?
Their common fate was the too bitter cold.
So, if life, a brief return could be had
these girls’ voices, this tumbling brook would show
how all that pain, that ice, and then their deaths
were moments against recurring May’s breath.

And the song of this woman, eighty-three
– she can remember how it was back then,
as in May old tunes come back easily,
such as those folk songs, old already when
the Jews died, and Gypsies – but now she, the girls,
the birds and brook again make the May world.

                                Jasenova, Slovakia
                                May 8, 1990

6. On the eve of May Day

On the eve of May Day boys raise a pole.
In every village you’ll see at least one,
fifteen or twenty meters high, its whole
shaft stripped bare in notification.

Village girls laugh, grin. They know what it’s for.
Moravia, the Czech land, everywhere –
it’s the time-honored way of paying court,
when boys make manly intentions clear.

Custom has it the boy comes in the night.
His dad helps, maybe hers, other male friends,
all conspiring in the outlandish sight
of desire’s straight mark risen again.

With its naked height unsheathed in the day
the May pole announces: here mine lives, sleeps!
– not that it frightens other boys away
but sparks common purposes most all keep.

Girls’ families can’t decline this invasion.
Some basic facts are what let them go on.
So it stands, this risen erection,
like that whereby earlier she was born.

She’s a young woman now. Innocent, not:
for all gazes rise with nowhere to stop
till up that pole where its finally notched
with a pine tree exploding at the top.

7. One was twenty,

One was twenty, the other twenty-five;
one on my left, the other my right side;
we talked, sipped wine, slept, ate, together lay
in one bed two nights and all day Sunday.

Each had a boyfriend. Well, never mind that.
The guys were back in Budapest, where paths
in Buda hills dogleg down runneled steps
in smoothnesses like turns of thighs and hips.

This was Debrecen, though, an eastern place,
flat, an old Calvinist town; the Great Plain
all around blanketed in warm dry air:
electric, purpled, still September.

I knew that Ady, the poet, lived here
exactly long ago as the girls’ years
added to mine, till doubling to ninety
touched back to the turn of the century.

Ady was angry at clear right and wrong.
His anger informed his lyrical song:
so Christian simple pure were his neighbors,
so righteous these Debreceni burghers.

Maybe it’s he brooding in wine dark skies
because one of these girls is going to lie,
explaining to her Budapest boyfriend
the mark on her neck she got that weekend.

8. At the Csillaghegy Pools

I remember one girl at Csillaghegy,
17, 18, in only a thong,
its mere bit of fabric barely a wedge,
exclamation point to nudity’s song.

How did she learn to be so casual,
long waist, lithe limbs, all the girl curves joining
as if here were Eden, she so youthful
in perfect summer day, poolside strolling?

Maybe it was the great Magyar poets,
who sang of gardens, girls, Hungarian
loves, even when, as too many knew it,
larger pains and history all were trapped in.

Not now, not when she’s sauntering here,
one of many girls, clothes off, at leisure,
so many nippled buds, blossoms, flowers,
as if, sometimes, we can suspend our cares.

9. Monika wore the barest shirt today

Monika wore the barest shirt today
– tričko in Slovak they call it.
Inside and out the warm breezes could play
with its pink and sleeveless, loosely-scooped fit.

Two dozen of us. A warm day in May,
and friends Svetlana, Maja, Alena;
we were on a bus tour to see the main
literary sites of Slovakia.

Another writer, another village:
mountains swelled in new green tufts above us.
And in a backyard garden we sat as
the sun played white off new purpling clouds.

No rain in these clouds – just rolling thunder
and around our heads – in flowering trees –
mingled the voice of another lecture
and the hum and patterns of working bees.

The lecturer didn’t like the Magyars.
He told us all about the oppression.
It was true. But I saw only blond hair
of a girl and the flowers, bees, and sun.

If I could put all these things together
– bare shoulders, new breasts, new buds, and thunder –
I’d accept history’s wounds like May weather,
young girls and old writers being culture.

                                Tajovo, Slovakia

                                May 9, 1990

10. I had you then in Prague

I had you then in Prague,
I had you on the train.
And back in Prešov, darling,
I had you once again.

Remember you were eager
to throw off all your clothes;
and though the berth was narrow,
we fit well together close.

From dark to dawn we had each other.
The train moved through the night;
rocking, stopping, rolling on,
we dreaming, waking, close and tight.

A Hradec bed gave larger space
for arched hips lifted bare,
your arms akimbo, pressing to me
warmest honeyed nectar.

I drank the longest time
round sweet hairs matted down,
shudders spreading outward
from that salty flowing mound.

Was there more to be, Renata –
more than two, three nights?
Should we also have been friends,
making plans around those heights?

I don’t know, but, if you’re angry
I’ve gone, please remember
the rocking, rolling, drinking holding
was also for your pleasure.

11. You hate repetition

You hate repetition – you say – in verse
and in life there’s no one place to stay.
To be settled, committed, is a curse
and so you are always running away.

Your folks – remember how you hated them
for the small limits they let rule their lives?
You, though, had that train pass, so you again
and again could follow your urge to fly.

You wanted friends who weren’t afraid to feel.
Remember how Tomaš, that first boyfriend,
lacked the courage to admit what was real
and left you, as he always went home when

the fear intruded that he’d hurt his mom.
Incredible: these habits, conventions
of old central Europe. Thus you were fond
of your affair with your American.

Me. And so light and perfect our love weighed
– as if our sex and walks and talks and poems
all meant you’d never have to be afraid
of how others’ deep fear became their homes.

And now three times is your repetition.
Three times, to deny us, you’ve gone home.
Three times like that pitiable boyfriend
and that Biblical cock that three times crowed.

12. When you were young,

When you were young, you had to be strong
– too many medical things could go wrong.
The girl in the bed next to you died,
your relatives feared, but you never cried.
You never cried. You knew from their faces
what they felt of the tests, the braces,
the blackouts and tubes – and you could see
the near zero hope of recovery.
But you did. You lived. And not only that,
you learned what it was to grow up fast.
To show how pity wasn’t something you’d need,
at four – surprise! – you taught yourself to read.
And, never crying, you learned the art of living
by concealing pain, the art of giving
illusions, creating, again and again,
the greater comforts we all get from fiction.
You grew and so too did your love for books
– those Slovak poets, Peteraj, Rufus,
and Krasko, growing, refining your sense
of honesty at least in loneliness.
You loved boys, what they could do to your breasts.
And real sex, when that came, was better, best.
‘cept your hair – you kept it long, like some girl
right out of Dobšinsky’s fairy tale world,
and long skirts you wore, like billowing trees.
Wide-eyed, you gave joy, and that mystery
which might come, though we couldn’t know why,
from one who’d taught herself never to cry.
You see, we believed those big brown eyes.
So behind the laughs, the constant surprise
of trips, we’d never know, never guess why,
nor the how, the need, nor the depth of lies.

13. Epithalamium
         – for Bori and Gyuri

Wedding at noon at Szent Anna Temlom:
Christian, proper – then the party all goes
to Kenese: tip of Lake Balaton.
June in Hungary – millions of cherries
– red meggy, black cseresznye – ripe on the trees,
the couple sober, but ripe, too, I see,
as Bori has written the words Please Come
in English there on the invitation.
God, yes, there’ll be coming this night down there
where the good smooth length of the Balaton
lies still and opens itself up to view
reminding us all of the powers where
things are attracted, touched, and, two by two,
go on touching, pulling, spinning, too,
like a great dance, the millions of cherries
– the tart and the sweet all joining the game –
though we know some powers just aren’t the same.
Some keep us together. We create them
when we know what we love. And so, again,
let the dancers dance and the cherries spin;
let the coming come – let it all begin
with sacred words at Szent Anna Templom
and the good waters of the Balaton.

14. Cleveland, 1950

Dark outside, I sit at the table,
the kitchen quiet, its cold black window
framing winter, and night, timelessly still.

Except away, beyond the horizon,
derricked above some radio station
one small red point blinks steadily on.

Grandparents sleep. I still feel the hum
of their Slovak and Hungarian,
syllables echoing like that beacon.

I speak but English. Do those Old World sounds
specially bear rosaries, currants, palm fronds,
gooseberries, crucifixes, and goose down?

I don’t know yet about the stone streets of Pest,
poets Kosztolányi, Ady, Attila József,
or the coffee house nights that they blessed.

I don’t know the garden hills of Buda
– like Istenhegy, on Diana utca,
where grew Radnóti’s hexameter stanzas.

But an old language, I feel, I can guess,
yet throbs, like that red light, saying yes, yes,
as if memory pulsed in accents, accents.

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It’s an Old World: In the Mountains of Kyushu, Japan

15. The Swallows of Taketa-shi

The swallows in Taketa-shi
nest throughout town under wooden eaves:
chicks head-to-head, white-necked, beaks beeping
helpless, constant, wide-eyed hungries.

The locals see such things
hatched in same nestled rows each spring,
soon launched in flights, able to sing
songs long part of this mountain town scene.

The locals see me lost in their Kanji
lettering all shops, lanes, and streets.
They smile on such words I repeat,
for more stupid grins back from me.

Huge basalt rock gorges deep valleys,
crags tufted in broadleaf, fir, and bamboo.
Everywhere rivers, streams, brooks fall in
language not mine, Japanese, or swallow.

16. Stroked by Heaven

after Boris Pasternak

In these, Japan’s, southern mountains
June brings the warm tropical rains
that start in nights quiet, no winds,
and pour on past dawn and all day.

Late afternoon there’s a clearing,
the air sounds of trills, caws, tweets, chirps,
the brooks bubbling, rivers humming,
and underground engorged all earth.

Ion aired, electricity
rims even the old dark stone walls
where lichens, moss, ferns, and ivy
drink, lap up, soak in all that falls.

A park’s large, spotted butterflies
alight on hills’ azaleas,
honeybees, too, energized
to the pink and red aromas.

Kids come out, old men and women
in awe, before rains come again,
how valley laps, breasts of mountains
get so long, deep stroked by heaven.

17. 30 Years, Same Question

dedicated to the tens of thousands poisoned by Fukushima,
and the millions more by advertising, shopping malls, and schools

For 30 years, Bert says, he’s always asked
“Are there any questions?” of every class.
30 years, with results always the same.
This is Japan, where some things never change.

The girls, anyway, have their own answer
underneath, in expensive things they wear:
orange, mauve, blue, scarlet, pink, green, black, and white,
lace-rimmed, two-toned, plaid, polka-dot, and striped.

But they keep this, like all questions, hidden.
Or can we say they have any questions,
who never raise them? So Bert asks, to wince,
at the years’-long joke of silence, silence.

18. Kanan, being asked . . .

Kanan, being asked, said her biggest fear
is that she might never find her passion.
She’s 25, though she looks much younger.

They all do – maybe as Japan lacks in
drama: for years they’ve had prosperity,
for years discouraged any strong action.

They’re proper about sexuality,
calm, proper, about everything, these girls.
But under decorum even young teens

often, it’s known, indulge sexual whirls,
for thousands of yen from salarymen
and the lark of spicing middle-aged worlds.

The girls don’t “need” money, but, then again,
the luxury goods aren’t just that, but show
veneers of control even for passion.

Their culture prizes this. Who needs to know
any girl’s secrets? Who’ll ever be told
what the calm of surfaces hides below?

19. In the Country of the Manyoshu

In the poems of the Manyoshu,
8th century, you can tell the country
by the words that recur: Mt. Furu,
cranes, plum blossoms, carp, and Mt. Mikuni.

In old Japan, while cherry blossoms bloom,
lovers meet by moonlight, by lake, bay shores.
But mostly they depart, and feel the gloom
and the longing – that’s what these poems are for.

The one word most in the Manyoshu:
sash. It binds the robes of these black-haired girls,
binds those of their departed lovers, too,
holding their love in a permanent whirl.

The sash ties, unties, the swirl of lost geese
and cranes again returned to autumn skies.
It traces waterfall gush and skin’s need
for the other’s warmth, the other’s old cries.

But mostly it shows what all poems do.
The sash, for our human time, contrasts to
mere places, even in Manyoshu:
Mts. Ogura, Kasuga, Ikomu.

20. The Topiary Arts

Let’s say air sculpting, in English,
for how the Japanese prune trees
to boughs in the air that flourish
floating, even-spaced balls of leaves.

Their language, too, builds each sentence
so prefixed, suffixed, clustered parts
oblige mutual reference
by back-&-forth connecting arts.

We in English typically see
linear subject-verb-object,
far unlike some cultures, whose trees
proclaim quite another project.

21. Group Games 1, Life 0

Here in Japan, by prolonged choice,
all education is group games.
There’s no individual voice.
If there’s writing, it’s polite, tame.

At our school, one boy killed himself.
Nothing changed. The kids weren’t informed.
“Shikata-ga-nai” – can’t be helped.
Group activities might be harmed.

This came at anniversary
the first, of the Fukushima
nuclear disaster – fairly
good time to observe what seems a

union with no respect for life.
U.S.’s GE sold Japan
the nukes, their idiocy rife
where no one questions any plan.

22. Those Most in Silence

Why is it, of those most in silence, so
many are those so deep immersed in noise
as if being afraid of oneself flows
into the need to join whatever buoys

one in bigger powers – hierarchies,
bosses, and all the “Yes’s” of routine?
Do they hum, all conventionalities?
Why to many does repetition sing?

Chikuden, the Japanese poet, knew.
200 years ago he painted, versed
on the mountain island of Kyushu,
where he saw beauty in even the worst.

The mountains, huge, volcanic, basalt, black
towered over all, like the skies, abstract,
like plants’ branches’ repeating jagged facts,
as if only in grid of blind attack

do the soft, many-petaled blossoms bloom,
as if in only cosmic silence can
we see the feathered crane, the lonely loon,
small, distant human house, lone fisherman.

23. Those Poets

They’ve no idea of agency
so think loves comes by accident,
then goes, as in their poetry,
where snow crushes, and clouds hide it.

We’ve no control of what we love,
so we’d better just learn to wait
and see, every spring, from above,
the cherry blossoms sing our fate.

24. As you travel about Japan,

As you travel about Japan,
people give you things you don’t need.
The culture says this should happen.
The point is the ceremony

of not objects, but their wrapping,
and unwrapping. The fine paper,
the bag it comes in: may not be
so vital. But the foreigner,

the gaijin, better not question
utility. Icons themselves
live mainly for rituals. Then,
at home, you best put them on shelves.

Sue gets very angry at me
when I observe I’ll never use
this or that. She’s mad I can’t see
culture as a matter of rules.

If I object to carrying
this item or that, or a bunch,
it’s huge insult I’m leveling
to all good Japanese as such.

Maybe they love their gifts, or not.
Maybe the arts of pretending
are themselves the Gordian knot,
something the gaijin cannot see.

25. Takayama, #1

Rice fields terrace the hills, bamboo thickets
rim the gorges, and rivers of turquoise
deepen their valleys as the train lifts us
higher and farther from the cities’ noise.

Even thousands of feet above the sea
the mountains are still terraced, with orchards
of peaches and pears, and more rice paddies,
till we reach Takayama, and deboard.

Quiet. An old Japanese mountain town,
it saw shoguns, it saw Tojo’s rise,
and, when the U. S. terror bombs came down,
was one of the few unburnt to survive.

Now all Japan is prosperous, and peaceful.
Only our America learned nothing:
except to keep at relentless war, till,
now, many more burn while our rich yet sing.

26. Takayama, #2

Michie dresses, like most young women,
part modern – tight jeans and bra straps count as
that – and kawai: layered silk and cotton
all flowered, lacy, pleats, frills, and flounces.

She just got a degree from Michigan.
She’ll soon work for an American firm.
She’ll have money. In Tokyo she can
eat, shop, in Roppongi, where high life turns.

Who knows? As much as that fast life beckons,
the bullet trains – shinkansen – and locals
can bring her back, up into these mountains:
Buddhist shrines, bird songs, sprung wooden gables.

Is it the food that keeps one Japanese?
Michie’s had western boys. She’s had fun.
She knows how to show bare shoulders, and knees,
But beyond youth’s sex she has tradition.

27. Takayama, #3

All around Takayama they grow tea,
plotted symmetries of low, round hedges.
Each a pubic row, each topiary:
Buddha must have liked that foods mimic sex.

All eat, worship rice – not just the white kind,
but fermented, too, into paste – miso:
salty, fish-redolent, it brings to mind
what’s between a girl’s legs that the gods grow.

Old Takayama also brews sake,
also from rice, sold in bottles and kegs.
Its tastes may vary, but in all ways say
yes to that blossom between a girl’s legs.

28. Letter to Butler

for Butler Crittenden

My cup runneth over. In Tokyo,
all over the country: millions of A
cups. They all wear bras. And why: I don’t know.
None need them. So they have their fashion game.

They love to go to Gucci, Prada, Yves.
As America is war-mad, Japan
is rich. For so many beauties this leaves
them free to shop, buy as much as they can.

One girl gave me a book, showing the moon,
photos, old Edo-era prints, and verse
– all a religion of cliché. But who
would count this, or A cups, ever as worse?

29. When they’re naked

When they’re naked, these twenty-something girls,
say, at the spas in the Aso mountains,
you may then well find yourself in a swirl
from the lithe limbs and curves they have on them.

But go ahead, you sixty-year-old man.
They look right through you. They speak Japanese.
Ikekbana makes each a flower’s fan.
Sakura wisdom comes from cherry trees.

30. An Old Story

The Japanese say muri desu
(with the second word rhymed with “yes”)
in contempt of all that’s “useless.”

Some Japanese kids hate English,
craving instead all promises
that sooner answer every wish.

It’s been true since Herodotus,
how some in all cultures reduce
to abstractions, castes, tracks, and groups.

Our modern world, too, entices
by cars, TVs, franchise outlets:
all not advertised is “useless.”

Schools add their own vulgarities
of info, info, and then tests.
Connections outside? Muri desu.
Everywhere the young feel easy,
available conformities
as freedom from humanity.

31. "Ukiyo"

from the Japanese for “floating world,” ours

In the world of appearances
Her short skirt’s hems lightly flash.
But what’s beneath appearances?
What parts of truth do not dance?

32. Tsubame

for Hirano Takamitsu

Tsubame is Japanese for swallow,
and mid-May for all the fresh, mud-daubed nests,
eggs new again, while morning skies follow
such loops, arcs, and calls of riotous zest

that we mere humans may wonder, with shame,
how we find ourselves just trudging along
or, worse, in cars, unaware of the game
our feathered friends exult in flight and song.

But, look: one old teacher yet walks to school,
seventy-five-years old, more than two-miles,
so freed of machines, the habits that rule,
tsubame mirror his own deeper smiles.

33. They did another survey . . .

They did another survey, and found
nobody in all Japan – none – had sex
last night. Girls like to make shopping malls rounds.
Men find pachinko, karaoke best.

They’ve had to do surveys these recent times
as, among the tens of millions so few
“do it” that population now declines.
They’ve learned, too, that some habits continue.

From schools, for instance, to “salarymen,”
people here still do everything in groups.
Even where there’s porn, it’s serial fun,
mainly showing polite, step-by-step hoots.

Across Japan the same carefulness grows
so on streets you never see young women,
or men, with eyes or walk that shows
any sign of what may still be in them.

Some cite the traditions of Buddhism,
which counsels peace through forgetting desire.
Whatever – survey results coming in
show saps and juices drying-up, expired.

34. The Twinned-God Consumerism

As in the U.S., even youngest here
– all girls of Japan – learn their budding shapes
must be paired, cupped, set to fashion’s brassieres,
to honor abstractions every girl makes.

They sport these forms of anonymity
in pastel colors, with frilled and lace rims
making modern life a new kabuki
by the plastic shells all strap themselves in.

Happy fashion everywhere in Japan
sells new, more pure versions of the human
so girls know they are easily women
merely by buying their cupped perfection.

And now Yuko comes back from Hungary
where two decades back, none strapped themselves in,
but where now, she says, all too spend money
for this same twinned-god consumerism.

35. The Puritans weren’t all killjoys

The Puritans weren’t all killjoys
originally, as some say,
but only meant to rid themselves
of whatever stood in the way

of truly touching pleasure, truth,
and the inner woman and man,
as if no need for churchly clothes
and rituals which could, and can,

be used by the authorities
to impose, maintain their order.
They thought God had said it’s simpler
to find the good in each other.

How strange this seems, here in Japan,
where old rituals and group sense
take precedence, even now, when so
much that’s modern seems also blessed.

It’s not. Maybe it’s simply that
the language still stresses context,
from the public cherry blossoms
to the tatami mats of sex.

Can a foreigner know Japan?
Not in that first Puritan sense,
but in the one we’ve had long since,
where public baths, too, have dispensed

with Edo’s previous tradition
where men, women, all bathed naked,
at ease, no shame from each other,
till the gaijin came, ending that.

It’s all still here: the delights of
food, the body of each person.
But remember contexts, contexts
to touch at all today’s Nippon.

36. The One Inside Herself She Hates

Only to me, among all faculty,
can she show herself emotionally.
Only to me she can be rude, angry.

Otherwise she thrives on the busyness
of office routine – the great happiness
for covering up one’s deeper silence.

She knows she was hired to teach English,
but can’t speak it, because of what she missed
in her own schools, and so can only stress

copying, and textbook recitation.
So, while she jumps to every office whim,
inside nags on this other, the human.

37. The New Kabuki

Why does porn here turn so to gymnastics?
Is it the schools? – that so many women
learn, just like the men, mainly robotics
for sponging info to tests’ regimen?

Here, none writes to grow one’s personal voice
or to see the role of people at all.
Forget the old poets. Now there’s no choice
but to engorge facts for short-term recall.

It’s porn that fills with human-slender waists,
the many A cup, B cup pretty breasts,
though never with any tender embrace,
nor eyes in one’s partner’s ever focused.

Instead, scores of sites online emphatic
with drilling and pumping fast and faster,
all only for the arch acrobatics
of athletic delivery into her.

This follows the cars, traffic, shopping malls
of modern Japan, where mechanically
everyone’s so busy, busy that all
love’s filmed now as this new kabuki.

38. The Little Ones

At the on-sen, or hot spring baths,
it’s still men apart from women.
Unthinking all accept this as
certain fears have all souls stolen.

So I celebrate the men who
bring their little girls to the baths,
peanut-shaped or pre-school, who show
twinned buds where they romp and splash.

After six years old it’s too late,
as all learn that Adamic curse,
which doesn’t just make shame our fate,
but now, more, lets in something worse.

Thus do so many girls, twenty,
and many as they get older
believe, put so much energy,
and time, to advertised culture.

Why do so many work and pay
to have a car, and fashions that
always include those cups so they
can shape themselves as, there, abstract?

But they’re free of this now, undressed
with dad or grand-dad unconcerned
about all the marketed stress
so haji – new shame – all will learn.

39. The Boys of Fukushima

So many, too many Japanese men
reach age thirteen, and maturity ends.
So whole Tokyo trains women ride in
must be women-only, for protection
from rush-hour hands cupping and groping them.

The schools, centered on groups, keep men children
where, by ritual regimentation
all silence the self for a modern Zen
which now benefits the corporation
and group roles for all as “salarymen.”

Step by step all learn never to question.
And as the new god, consumerism,
grew, so did corporate ritualism,
and Tepco built its nuclear stations
in ways, sites, they should never have been in.

Without the women’s-only trains the men
would still be groping, patting, and fondling.
So at least there’s that change in tradition,
though silence still rules men and women,
and Fukushima spews yet its poisons.

40. Thank you, Hisayo

Thank you, Hisayo, for our walk today
by the old courtyards where we made our way,
and loan of your youth by these gates, “tori-i,”
and the word in Japanese you gave me
for red blooming azalea, “tsutjui.”

41. TEPCO-shugi

“shugi,” Japanese for religion, or any “ism”; TEPCO, Tokyo Electric Power Co., of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, goaded & profited on by GE, Shaw Construction, and the CIA lie campaigns of the 1960s on nuke costs and dangers.

The teachers at my school love to give tests
with classes all rote and regimented
for kids to rank-&-file through info texts
and answer drills as robot-expected.

Writing? – for skills in human perspective?
– as likely as teachers who walk to work.
None do. All drive, their cars most seductive
to lead and keep all in “maigo,” the word
for souls so busy, non-thinking, and lost
to modern habits – by the cars they drive,
tests they give, and the shopping malls whose cost
is nuke disasters – all nice nicely die.

42. Perfect, Usuki Day

for our Katakase san-nensei, and Takenaga-, Takita-, and Yokkoi-sensei

Mid-June, Japan’s time of tropical rain,
we drove to the Pacific coast, where sun,
for six boys, one girl, and three teachers came
shining at Usuki sea and mountains.

The hundred-plus others from our high school
took their “refresher day” to shopping mall
choices – many at a coast city “cool”
with all new in consumerism’s sprawl.

Our little group had only sounds of waves,
kids first-time starting barbecue fires,
and hawks piping above, circling to stake
claim on what scraps they might later acquire.

Warm, the sun. While some fished, all seven swam,
jumping off the pier or just wading in
where black mountain bamboo, cedar greens spanned
all west while, east, blue sea and horizon.

Some, sometimes, get free of modern culture.
Our grills both sputtered sometimes, then they roared.
So small we were compared to all nature,
but perfect the day for spirits to soar.

43. Old Mountain Cultures

These mountains of old Japan remind me
of those in Slovakia, Hungary,
all, too, with their own local history.

Here it’s a mosaic of rice paddies,
ponds, like quilts their terraced geometries
mirror hills and skies for a whole country,

while bamboo groves and other canopies
ridge, tuft and fur ancient volcanic scenes
niched now in Shinto shrines, cemeteries,

and Buddhist courtyard temples, neighborly
amid lichen-rocked walls, and bonsai trees
in gardening arts coursed by their streams.

Old cultures have their own integrity,
like poems, whose stanzas and rhymes succeed
if only they balance what all most need.

44. No Coffee at the Resort Hotel

It makes some sense they never brew coffee
at this modern on-sen – hot springs – hotel
built on the river of old Hita-shi.
The Japanese, an island people, well

for drinks prefer their barley and green tea.
Those grow here, as do rice, fish, fruits galore,
and girls from first tribes jomon and yayoi
mixed from centuries of sex long before.

All one people now, they say gishiki
for how ritual keeps their harmony,
though this leaves out how Tepco and GE
brought in all that nuclear poisoning.

45. Natsumi

She wore her blouse open in a wide V,
a big, black, broad-brimmed hat, and bold colored
skirt, voluminous, reaching to the street,
Natsumi sixteen, like the girl with her.

Both girls were my students at the high school,
but only Natsumi was taking this,
off-day stroll in town, so beyond the rules,
with clownish hat, and skirt fit for circus

all saying I’m young and I’m alive
and I’m having some good fun and it’s bliss.
But the deep V showed no fabric to hide
anything, daring anyone to guess

if the always-polite Japanese girl
might ever unbind the always-bound parts
and with her good friend give the town a whirl
of big smile and otherwise open heart.

46. Nanko-sai at Taketa Minami

Yukatas – summer kimonos –
at Nanko-sai adorn the girls
in such flowers, colors, who knows
how such pure blossoms do unfurl.

These girls: 16 – or much, much more? –
such arts and graces float these robes
as old tradition underscores
Japanese beauty’s ageless codes.

47. School Joins in Celebrating Consumerism

with apologies from an American for the worst of his culture triumphant here

My school, in a small town in the mountains,
joins in the new religion of Japan
with field trip, so kids can learn to count on
consumerism as the new human.

So they take the kids one hour away
to the nearest coastal city, where all
can see, feel the new gods, with a full day
in all the delights of a shopping mall.

This is a school where of course they love tests,
so easy to score all humanity,
as shopping in its way is easiest
for all simply to buy identities.

The kids know it’s all lies, but go along.
They can’t correct adult love of things, things.
Till slowly they learn – give in – join the song
to the religion of shopping all sing.

48. Resources Here and Not at Taketa Minami

We use the resources we have.
Here at Taketa Minami
we have much more than tourist paths
of shrines and old cemeteries.

We have a motley bunch of kids
with old pains, disabilities,
and all that’s buried they’ve kept hid,
as if too painful these stories.

The kids don’t know what adults might,
that each heart has magic in it,
and that life is largely a fight
to deny all pain and to fit

whatever most easily gives
places most secure in the world.
Societies lie. These lies live
in hearts just hungry to be held.

As teachers we help the kids find
success – ways to fit grown-up life.
So have we chosen to be kind
as if silence weren’t like a knife

to hearts that may long for much more?
More? Have we adults all forgotten
that what comes from no shop, no store,
the human finds in connection?

49. Modern Life 1, Nature 0

Such narrow hips she has, and so tall,
tall, that is, for a Japanese,
so her jeans hold that place so small
made even smaller by tight seams.

Hers are other delights: money
and time instead spent on her car.
She’ll drive weekends to home family,
unconcerned for girl part in her.

It’s years, she says, since any guy
disturbed or aroused that small part,
so silent now anatomy
safely removed from all love’s arts.

So many girls here are like her,
busy with jobs, clothes like her jeans,
and modern life seeming so fair
for so much it so well buries.

50. Magic Under All New Lies

Just what has America given you?
First, the black ships. Then the mushroom-shaped clouds,
and now our shopping malls, as if more true
than all that old bonsai, all that haiku.

And you’ve embraced it all, turned your culture
into our consumerism, your schools
to insufferable test-giving vultures,
so corporate conceits rule, nothing other.

Ikebana, calligraphy lingers,
like the old temple gardens – vestiges
which more than a few shamisen singers
kagura drummers, and such still honor.

Quaint, quaint, quaint – though some pay attention
to the humanity Shinto priests served.
Some wonder more – like the young still smitten
by what’s under the name brands all dress in.

Or, undress from. Thank kami for the guys
and girls who can step past – or out of – what’s
so lost in consumerism’s disguise,
for oldest magic under all new lies.

51. Lovemaking, Katakase-style

Katakase is a mountain plateau
of small farms and rice ponds, our town below
where two rivers’ deep valley holds our school,
main campus there, Katakase then, too.

My co-teacher, Mayumi, was angry
at me this week, angry more at herself;
she’d so joined our school’s test machinery
she’d lost sight of kids she’d most aimed to help.

So at Star Festival, July hot, sweating,
for our bamboo tree’s streamers, for my part,
I wrote how I hoped “to feel the thawing”
of one un-named girl’s “stone-cold, angry heart.”

I knew I’d provoked her anger at me,
her American in love with his doll.
But Star Festival worked. Soon Mayumi
let me hold her shoulders as tears did fall.

The next day: more peace. The kids were delayed
returning to Katakase – we given
time to walk out amid rice ponds where rains
had brought all terraced paddies to their brims,

These showed the vast bowl of skies above us:
blues, whites, purples engorged from summer storms.
Hot, still, humid the day. A few locusts,
No other sounds, the girl no longer torn.

I can’t say I had my young Mayumi,
only that, for timeless time, summer-dressed,
we walked as mountains, valleys, fields, paddies,
and skies electric all joined in caress.

52. Lingerie Arts

Why wear them, these Japanese girls,
so wired all in plastic cups?
Is it protection from the world?
Do our times threaten all that much?

Cities need trains: women-only,
against suit-&-tied businessmen
who use the crowding for groping
silent, polite, standing victims.

So we have consumerism.
Girls in A-cups strap themselves in,
colors, laces, frills hidden,
as if such new may old fears win.

53. Learning Silence

Girls – young, old – learn silences to live in:
one: the many things one must never say,
for angers deep in too many women;
two: lips also silent between their legs.

But one woman here, Chie Nakane,
wrote a book about “the vertical world,”
Japan’s hierarchic patriarchy
where by few old men all power is held.

Outside Chie N., all learn to defer
to long-time customs, organizations
that keep women from questioning, so their
politeness fits all to less expression.

When young, girls and guys may video porn,
The girls especially natural, laughing
through larks of group sex. Then come the forlorn
years of “salarymen,” and wives stewing.

Ruth Benedict wrote The Crysanthemum
and the Sword long before about this split,
which still goes on. Though they bloom, these women,
they also learn – one, two – to be silent.

54. The Girls Look Relaxed . . .

In the large sex ensemble, the girls
look relaxed, lying back, while the guys do
what they do. Each in each’s private world.
Money calls for this. But the eyes are true,

and the eyes – from most of the girls – say, fine,
we’re taking a break from work, or classes,
it’s good money, and we have ample time
for interlude in modern life, which is,

face it, mostly just anonymous game,
impersonal, tatemae politeness.
So why not just lie back, and what’s the shame
from the pleasure of such stroking niceness?

note: “tatemae” is Japanese for the face, or many faces, built in front of oneself.

55. Kagura for Kami

for Shimozoe, the boy who told me

Kagura, as one boy told me,
is the dance and drum ritual
given to the goddess Kami,
so light may return to the world.

Kami had put all in darkness
and shut herself into her cave,
much like the personal silence
too many are locked in today.

That old kagura tradition
may yet help. Our new traps – the lies
built in all consumerism,
with all values now advertised,

so prey on all – every TV – .
that thanks, boys, for kagura drums,
as the new gods, slick new Kami,
may do worse than all the old ones.

56. “Itching to Boil their Children”

after lines from Auden’s “Voltaire at Ferney”

On our schoolyard grass I saw some songbird
in what looked like a dance with some insect.
Songbird small. Insect large. But what occurred
was no game, but death as the bird’s intent.

Bird tore the insect apart. This the week
of tests for students. Our teachers took days
to do the same, tests’ aim to prove who’s weak
and to show the kids their learning delays.

Why do teachers do this? Like birds, teachers
have beaks – more knowledge. Like birds they use this
to prove to the kids their learning failures.
So the strong send the weak to their abyss.

Even Yukako-sensei loves these tests,
loves how they show the weak they’re weakest.
And so we lose Kenta, for he has learned
how the strong behave exactly like birds.

57. Near-Haiku on Ukabu

Ukabu – 浮 ぶ – the repetitions whereby schools have all float mindlessly, meaninglessly

Ukabu – even at school:
no questions approved
for all those just floating through.

Life is so easy at school
when we just float through:
no thinking, no questions, too.

“Muzukashi” means “it’s hard,”
which is code for all
more to float in all school yards.

Cramming for tests is easy.
It all means nothing,
yet all look busy, busy.

We make life meaningless by
the arts of floating,
all “comfortably numb,” empty.

Adults model floating arts:
in repetitions,
silence eaten all their hearts.

58. Innocence

She likes to wear new running pants,
nylon, the bright and shiny sort
with English words that she thinks can’t
do any harm. Hers, “move” and “sport.”

Each in large letters, one swishes
her left cheek, the other her right.
23 years old, her wish is
innocent – not to name the sight

of such nicely advertised buns.
So otherwise proper this girl,
she’s no idea of the fun
each step announces to the world.

Though she’s an English teacher, too,
she’s naïve to advertising,
and would be shocked, shocked if she knew
the message she and this pair sing.

59. Hemline Checks

Love how you girls hitch up your skirts,
how as high school seniors you know where
in saucy ease sweet power lurks
– your season, till it disappears.

The faculty, worried, guard you.
So for this we have hemline checks,
which you smile at, merrily true
to all new ways you have to vex.

Real sex waits – around some corner,
those few years, partners, none yet sees.
You can laugh, game all adult fears
for what now floats above your knees.

This is old Japan, old and new,
but all a man’s world that quite rules.
You’ll learn this, though never at school:
too much, much for adults to rue.

60. Hisayo, 29

After the hot springs, or on-sen, the baths,
she sat in the lounge, knees parted, relaxed,
her pants’ cotton fabric soft on those lips’
paired outline as snug as I’d ever wish.

A week later Hisayo has birthday,
29, now last year of a decade.
God bless you, beautiful girl, Japanese,
with memory for me between these knees.

61. Hinata, Up Close, Sees Her Dad Flip Out

Kana is finally divorcing him:
husband who seemed so mild-mannered, handsome,
and so calm and good with their little girl.
Who would have thought he would one day strangle

her, his Kana, she gasping, clutching their
Hinata in her own sobbing terror.
So many Japanese have griefs like this,
though in public all wear the proper face.

Public? On many hills of my small town,
years ago, people built parks all around:
fountained, pavilioned, green-lawned public parks,
Shinto-shrined, mountain-vistaed, landscaped arts.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s families
would spend weekend hours here. One could see
generations together, kids running,
grilling, picnics, naps, lovers, sunbathing.

The parks are still here, partly mown, kept up
by the city. But no one comes. All are stuck
in traffic, at shopping malls, and engrossed
in pachinko, electronic games. Most

men have to work many hours to pay
for this money-focused life. No time to play
in parks. No more picnics. And Kana now knows,
and her two-year-old, how some men explode.

62. At the Hot Baths

They all know it’s near over, these old men
who loll in spa’s hot waters, the on-sen.
We’re all separated, men from women.
Modern life says that’s that and, no questions.

63. Girls 1, Discipline 0

Of the third-year girls, high school seniors,
most all of the prettiest like to wear
their uniform skirts short. Not dumb, they all know
teacher’s not blind. And so through class they show

restless energy, ever parting knees,
slapping hems’ fabric there, themselves to please,
shifting position, adjusting bare legs,
merrily innocent through all school days.

Some teachers try, and sometimes bring rulers
to morning assemblies, to claim rules here.
The girls nicely listen, but then in class
dear unrestrained limbs again start to flash.

Still, I teach. The girls play the learning game,
skirts tossing soft and light every which way.
They’ll answer questions but laugh, smile, and grin,
already knowing how real life may win.

64. Gambatte, Ryusei

e-mail to ichi-nensei Ryusei, December 15, 2012

Yes, I know about your mental illness,
how out of peacefulness blind rages come.
But while you're sixteen, in all your distress,
your brain is still growing, it won't be one,

whole, balanced, till you learn to be clear
about what you love – and hate. It's no fun,
but while brain circuits evolve you can steer
them – can shape the trials of being human.

65. From Insult, Honor

Shi-kata-ga-nai: “I’ve no choices,” “I can’t set priorities,” “We’re all helpless.”

Only to me, among all faculty,
can she show herself emotionally,
even if ever being rude, angry.

Otherwise she lives in the deep silence
that’s key to “salaryman” busyness
and builds in all shi-kata-ga-nai stress.

Strange honor the scorn, the anger she sends,
as if from her trap there glows some human.

66. For Yuki from Kuju

God! What a cascade of musical notes
from upstairs piano keys this girl strokes,

mad, forceful sometimes – melodies return
so good the struggles, the beauty earned.

67. For Osamu and Kiyomi

When you go into someone’s privacy,
you touch upon a web of so much more.
The loveliest parts of a girl’s body
let us err if the unseen we ignore.

I know, but make same mistake all the time.
The fetching lines of her back, or her curves,
all seem naturally real, far from the lies
of whatever culture is also hers.

In mountain Kyushu I love to see
the terraced rice ponds, the whole landscape wed
to Shinto shrines, temples, cemeteries,
as if old decorums spoke, but, instead,

predictable lures from coastal cities
sell more than cars, TVs, cosmetics, games.
They also all promise identities,
corporate, modern lies everywhere the same.

Everybody’s touched, even the girls here,
where, though curved lines point to natural lips,
as if bodies were real, and not veneer,
too many are sold on consumer bliss.

68. Fabricated Doll

for Hirano-sensei, who knows the girl,
though note, too, she was at the time unusually drunk

Where her scoop-neck blouse dips, billows,
the lacy-ridged A-cups stretch tight,
pulling so across her nipples
more so to lift bare swells to light.

Plucked, gone, her natural eyebrows
are replaced by high penciled arcs,
a young woman turned into doll
rouged, renewed by cosmetic art.

There’s a car, of course, new, red, small,
cell phone, name-brand boots and handbags.
They cost enough that we can call
this the culture Japan now has.

Though I swoon at billowing blouse,
young breasts halved by such tight ridges,
I fear consumerism’s house
now owns too many girls’ riches.

69. Dear Aby

with nod to John Prine

Dear Aby,
I’m living in far-back Kyushu, Japan,
where there’re lots of beautiful girls, and
they’re all so pretty, and so young, and
my evening consolation is a cigar, and
I need any suggestions, if you can.

Yours, Phil in the mountains of Kyushu, Japan
Dear Phil in the mountains of Kyushu, Japan
Buy more cigars, and try to understand
there’re probably laws that in jail you can land.
Yours, Aby

Dear Aby,
Should I take a side-trip, say, to Thailand?
Yours, Phil, in the mountains of Kyushu, Japan

Dear Phil in the mountains of Kyushu, Japan
Of pedophilia I’m no fan,
and you’ve likely been too Internet slammed
opening too much e-mail spam.
Try putting it all into poems that scan.
Yours, Aby

Dear Aby,
OK, but I know Auden, great poet, great man
spoke true when he asked us to understand
that poems, as he said, “make nothing happen.”

So it goes, Dear Aby, Dear Phil, where I am
amid the small breasts, small waists, great élan
of Mayumi-sensei, Yui, Mai, and Hisayo-san.

70. The River Would Decide

on flooding after typhoon rains July 12, 2012, in Taketa, in the mountains of Kyushu, Japan

The river would decide where it would go,
here, too, where, since the last flood, engineers
brought science and machines to change the flow
for what would be a much safer river.

Blasting and excavating, they deepened
it, with new bed cutting off the old loop,
its channel also in tiered-banks widened,
leaving the wild, old part to be improved.

So what the great poet saw, Chikuden,
200 years ago, was now a park,
with a quaint stone bridge on a quiet pond,
and little stream reduced to landscape art.

All around rose the new development.
Garden houses. City buildings. And miles
of new roads for tunnels and bridges meant
to link the cars, fast food, and shopping malls.

Till last night. In thunder and lightning storm
the river rose and, ignoring flood gates,
crashed back in its old course, the new roads torn
apart, homes flooded, and a giant lake

as if, again, prehistoric river
yet had mind, gods of its own, and would flow
by something older, deeper in nature
than all the new school-trained would have it go.

71. Shinto Birds

Spring’s swallows are all up by 5:00,
and one or two crows, all singing,
cawing needs of being alive:
so much to do to feed offspring.

Do they care that this town has shrines,
Shinto temples, cemeteries?
Yes – but only for how they find
food there to nests they can carry.

Pilgrims, tourists, will later come
and also find nourishment here.
Bugs, larvae, insects for some,
for others, food for human cares.

72. Think Chikuden

We all get busy sometimes, and that’s when,
pausing, we well might think of Chikuden.
He knew about this urge we have to go
with every flow. 200 years ago,

on the mountain island of Kyushu,
he looked at the massed, swirling skies and knew
of the laws of nature in which all life
might be pulled like clouds’ massive-flowing whites.

But he didn’t believe in the cosmic
only, and against that larger fabric
painted cranes in such detail to infer
each individual particular.

Same with the mountains. From volcanic times
their geometries loomed, too, abstract, high
above all, as if to dwarf the human:
the eternal challenge to Chikuden.

There’d always be a little house, or hut,
something to admit nature’s power, but
also that contrasting, small human be,
or flowers in branched tangled symmetry.

That’s what the arts can do. When we all get
so busy, like robots, we might forget
ourselves, other humanity. That’s when
we can slow down, best think of Chikuden.

73. Such Languorous Anonymity

Several dozen girls lying on their backs
in rank and file of adjoining futons,
all unclothed, quite bare, but each one relaxed,
each served by an also naked young man.

The guys all busily insert themselves
in that place most usually think private,
here all casually sporting other roles,
as if such joys need not be dramatic..

They’re Japanese girls, so their small breasts pool.
And it’s lovely all are so delicate,
though all are well focused that each boy’s tool
find what he and she both want as target.

Who arranged so many so at their ease,
so side by side in such intimacy
as if so easy the efficiencies
of such languorous anonymity?

74. In a Porn Tableau from Today’s Tokyo

with a nod to the Japanese principle of “jo-retsu,”
where anything goes so long as by regimented organization

It’s a new form of Japanese culture,
several dozen girls lying on their backs,
breasts mounded, nipples in the open air,
camera overhead, recording the act

of the several dozen guys, also bare
orchestrated so their buttocks all guide
into each girl’s triangle that pleasure,
camera showing all with nothing to hide.

What do you do with your arms, anyway,
I wonder, as the girls’ limbs lie here, there,
some with knees up, or not, every which way,
all staged in real privacies joined, his, hers.

Not ikebana, haiku, or bonsai,
but this, modern Japan, where someone’s paid
all these couples to rehearse for our eyes
these scenes of real girls all willingly laid.

75. Poof!

Poof! Burned to death. That’s August 6,
Hiroshima, and August 9,
Nagasaki, the deaths all with
horrid wounds for many years time.

By late ‘50s the C.I.A.
begins a full PR campaign
across Japan, happy to say
nukes are the peaceful, failsafe way

to bring prosperity to all,
not least those American firms
like GE, whose profits stand tall,
taxpayer subsidized long-term.

And so the neon towers rise.
Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe,
so thousands of towns can reprise
cars, sprawl, the American way.

Never mind how nukes sit on coasts
where tsunamis have eons come.
Advertising conquers all, boasts
only consumerism’s fun.

Old Japan? All those traditions?
The burned and killed of the nuked towns?
Gone. Past – for now, when all schools limn
the sprawl of lies in which all drown.

76. AKB-48 Land

in memory of Honda Yuhi – whom his teachers aim otherwise to forget

In AKB-48 Land
all schools follow the gymnastics
of that large, orchestrated band
of girls in well-drilled gymnastics.

By the time they go to college,
all have learned: never ask questions.
Such would disrupt the groups as staged
to ritual repetitions.

It would bring back the personal,
too, which could well recall that land
which, for the individual,
long had the culture of Japan.

So many had humanity,
in Meiji, even long ago,
from the Heian Murasaki
to the haiku of Bashō

and more. But it doesn’t matter.
Car sprawl and nuke power plants rule.
where youth suicides grow vaster.
in the trance which now grips all schools.

77. Shogun Land

to the memory of “Sensei” and “K” in Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro

Japanese teachers don’t travel.
Instead, busily as they can,
they cram masses of dead info,
so all yet live in Shogun Land.

Here, there’re no individuals,
but a forever testing plan
so built to kill the personal
and bury all in Shogun Land.

There’re sports, too, and many group games
whose fun makes it easy to ban
essays, questions, or any blame
for anything in Shogun Land.

But kids die, as epidemic
youth suicide hints even fans
of fun might not hide all those wrecked
by new return to Shogun Land.

78. Kawaii

Japanese for the Culture of Young Women Flaunting Baby-like Dress

As long as I dress “kawaii,”
none of life’s laws to me apply.
No need for ever questioning
any institutional “why.”

The lace, ruffles, ribbons, and frills
maybe don’t so much immunize
as they let us princesses thrill
at how cute it is to be blind.

Sure, the stresses build up in us
as we, unthinking, just conform.
But that’s the whole charm when our dress
hides such emptiness we adorn.

79. The Tides of Again and Again

after the wisdom of Natsume Sōseki’s opening to his “Kusamakura”

Japanese porn shows what Natsume called
drifting with the flow – “naga-sa-re-ru” –
girls surrendering to the rhythmic pull
of seas inside as if their own great truth.

Japanese have long honored the power
of all to which we may give in and float.
Tea ritual, arrangement of flowers
rehearse the forces masters know about.

But wait, said Natsume. Joining the flow
may hypnotize, as it does for the girls,
yet art, and the human, begins and goes
beyond that deepest repetitive world.

Is there art, poetry, to this, the show
of girls floating in the magic in them?
Can we guys in awe of that also know
more than the tides of again and again?

80. Busy, Busy, Games, Games

To play is fine
– as Masaoka Shiki loved baseball –
but to be human asks more, much more.

– annotated from beginning of Natsume Sōseki’s Kusamakura

Why do teachers so much love games?
Must all our students stay children?
Must all so busy, busy play
the safe, childish repetitions?

Two suicides now in two years
and teachers change nothing. Nothing
new wakens those who mainly care
for rote routines thinking, feeling.

Sōseki knew “adults” who stay
in games. He named it human crime
how busy, busy has all say,
“I have no time,” “I have no time.”

81. My Young Japanese English Teaching Partner Hates Using English

She thinks Japanese the only
true language, and in it her wish
for “Good morning” sounds instead as
“Fuck you and your English.”

82. Setsuko

In 1945 my father
landed in your native land:
the end of the war for us and for

In early ’47 I was born
in the City of Angels, in a day
when not a single freeway had yet torn

Orange trees ruled then – lemon, fig, eucalyptus –
tropical things you would also know
when you were born, five years later, as

Librarian school, travel, business,
love affairs – in good intervals you’ve had them.
Small breasts, small hips intensify, increase

As Bashō knew wine, Gary Snyder Zen,
and Murakami the Beatles in their day,
the salt airs and moistures of the Pacific rim
still play.

And San Francisco nights all night burn
for both of us as if we’re but 15
right up to February 4, 2002, as you turn

83. Haiku: A Cycle

Donald Keene wrote of
teachers’ “little or no help.”
Bashō’s pond, though, still’s there.

While official lies
still reign, and most hew to them,
frog readies its plop.

84. Oita Prefecture, Above Taketa Town
                                             for Wendell Berry

Farther south, in the Kyushu mountains,
where, like diamonds, rice paddies tier the slopes,
Sue's friend brings us home – says we can count on
her shochu, the spirit this region boasts.

At dusk, the grandma's yet outside, cleaning
plump, bright orange carrots, putting them in bags,
alongside the clear plastic of new peas.
Here famed, they'll sell – as many as she has.

Thick, lush flowers crown the hill by the drive,
where, also, we find just-picked radishes,
they, too, cleaned for market. We three all try
one, amazed at how fresh, zesty each is.

Then to the gardens from which all this comes,
on the south-facing hill nearby. Though June,
tomatoes are turning red from the sun,
other things ripening, others in bloom.

Hoeing, an old Japanese man joins us
from his thick-mulched rows nearby. He selects
cukes, green beans to try, the night quiet as
the valley floor darkens, purpling the crests.

Elsewhere abroad my own people, righteous,
sink deeper in Iraqi mire, mad war
spreading more death, destruction, and chaos,
all rippling only hatreds more, farther.

They're corporate souls, those who chest thump for this.
The sole thing their leader on real land likes
is to chainsaw things – Bush on his "ranch.” Worse,
his Cheney shotguns penned birds just for spite.

Such are our corporate souls, whose madness rules.
Such, our corporate schools, which complete the fit.
If decency lives, maybe it's thanks to
such unnamed who garden, others who fish.

                                              translations from the Japanese

85. Moon Over the Castle Ruins

Kojo no Tsuki original Japanese by Bansui Doi
accompanying music by Rentaro Taki

Spring cherry blossoms, high in castle parks
shone with the moon on rounds of drinking cups,
glowing through pines in a thousand-year arc.
But gone those times, those lights no more for us.

Fall colors and frosts at the post up there
glinted, too, off swords, stacked, while choruses
of geese in their ranked flights filled all the air.
But gone, those times, those lights no more for us.

Night moon now sees all the stones deserted,
no one up there anymore. Only vines
still hug, and they only fences, skirted
by winds no human hears, only the pines.

The laws, shadows of heaven haven’t changed.
They moved their rounds of lives that were, then weren’t,
as the lives, lights, of a thousand years came
to what the moon shows now all deserted.

                                              trans. Phil Balla

86. Predictable Logic

original Japanese by Shuto Koichiro

It was a lie, and all were cheated.
They’d say, “Fish don’t live in clean water.”
But it was a lie, constant deceit,
letting all pollute and pollute all rivers.

And now there’s no fish in the rivers,
nor worms they might eat – none tinier, smaller.
There’s nothing, no life, for any to eat.
Man’s destruction has been that complete.

Man thought human beings would just continue?
The men could live forever by themselves?
Reducing life made it easy to rule?
Humans could thrive from such lies they could tell?

The waters, now cleanly-bare, cleanly flow.
God sits bored with what his people have done:
rivers with no fish, humans gone, he alone
to see such predictable logic’s outcome.

                                              trans. Phil Balla and Setsuko Noda

87. Mother: A Requiem

original Japanese by Shuto Koichiro

At the hot springs, bathing, your veins show
and, listening, you tilt your head
to catch the song in breezes flown,
mixed to birds, keening overhead,
and light’s whispering, through trees blown.

One day a boy’s bamboo-leaf boat
in dawn mist bumps down the river,
till rocks and whirlpools end its float.
Still then you see, underwater,
the white baika – blossoms of hope.

Unkind times, though, awaited you:
the thin, hard futons of that day,
the orange crates as tables we used,
the burned wall clock, then the black rain.

While, hid in caves, we licked honey,
and that old-time wind-up doll stopped.
You were tired, but you held me
till air’s iron filings fell out.

In black cape, for winter, a man
sees you, bent to chickweed cooking;
his poems skirts repetition:
your, “Oh, what have you been doing?”

Again the wind blows. The mountains’
scents of akepia surround
you, and white flowers – you lie in
cradle, smiling at music sounds
, freed you are now of all burdens.

                                              trans. Phil Balla and Setsuko Noda

88. Great, Quiet Eyes

original Japanese by Shuto Koichiro

At dusk I hear the kids – “Bye!” “So long, see
you tomorrow!” I hear from the kitchen
the faint sounds of another supper being
fixed. And in quiet, as these memories
repeat, a man writes another poem.

It’s been thirty-two years since they married.
Thirty-two years – supper on the table –
always, without fail. Maybe warm breeze
of summer – inside maybe winter freeze.
No matter. Suppers ready, without fail.

For some years it was the family of four.
And other years, just the man and his wife.
Sometimes he alone – but supper was there,
for him, alone, who knew that he’d hurt her.
He couldn’t get it: why such sacrifice?

She accepted it, sacrificed herself
for the new lives, giving each her two breasts.
She always rose before anyone else,
always went to bed last. How could he tell
if this was some ancient code, chosen test?

So he asked, why such sacrifice? And she
just looked past him, her sole answer to “why?”
He knew then she was deep in God’s glory,
all hurts and pains, His, and each meal’s story
lit from above, and her great quiet eyes.

                                              trans. Phil Balla and Setsuko Noda

Back to Top

It’s an Old World: With Boy and Girl

89. A Michigan Lake

Drinking, I listened to Schubert –
last night, his Unfinished Symphony.
It was some years earlier, many years earlier,
I first heard that – I was twelve,
staying with a friend’s family
for several summer weeks
on a Michigan lake.
My friend and I learned to water ski.
There was a girl, thirteen,
who was a bit of a boy like us.
She learned quickly to ski.
My friend much deferred to her,
spritely, cheery, freckled tomboy.
In her bathing suit
she had her new breasts
and didn’t care how the fabric
fell open to show them.
I was twelve then.
Night came and in the cottage
on the freshwater lake
the sweet smells and lapping of canal water
filled the stillness as my friend and I
fell off to sleep,
the air suffused with the sounds
of Schubert a bachelor uncle
was playing – phonograph sounds,
from a day, a night,
that would never be finished.

90. On receiving a candle from a Catholic virgin, 36

This candle which I accept from you, white,
reminds me of things, the simplest things
which I know your find beautiful, and right.
It reminds me how your religion brings
centuries and saints, scripture and psalm
to domesticate things otherwise wrong.

Wrong. Misleading. Errant. And so your breasts
have never been freed to bare breeze or sun
because the book that tells how to live best
says no, never, and proposes shame come
to anyone who could be so careless
and show to all what’s reserved to marriage.

So you have kept them covered all these years,
pale pillows never used for mere pleasure,
pale like this candle, like colorless tears
that never welled in passion, nor there where
vertical pillows closer together
never once swelled to meet their measure.

So while I accept this candle from you,
I’ll never put to it burning flame;
as a symbol of what just might be true
it will stay white and untouched will remain
as long as theory can proudly retire
safe from the color and life and dance of fire.

91. Well, I know we’ve had real passion

Well, I know we’ve had real passion.
No girl could fake that grip when
helplessly clenched your nails enter,
giving me scars and tattoos again.

Relax. The pulse falls. Sweat cools.
And on my right hand you can move
your small hips lifting, gliding to
the motions of love we renew.

Not to marriage. We won’t end there.
Though your love may be strong, I’m sure,
your passion, yet, you know, will soar
for some strange boy with long dark hair.

Then I’ll remember the power
not of your nails cutting my arms
but of your hips floating once more
light like the stalk of a flower

92. She was only nineteen

She was only nineteen
when, her very first time,
she didn’t sleep all night,
and left in the morning by nine.
So this was it, thank god
it was wonderfully good.
Except the question nagging
where earlier no such stood.
He liked my breasts, he liked
my eyes – everything bare.
He knows how I did, too;
but how can he claim to care?
Who is this me he loves
if I don’t know myself?
What is this nighttime place
where no one’s love can help?
A man can say he loves, but
how can he ever know
there’ll always be something distant,
I’ll always be needing to go.
And the question is,
how can he know I’m right,
how can he love this distance
every time at the end of the night?
And so she thought, nineteen,
which he felt all night long,
awaking again and again to touch her,
two notes in a very old song.

93. I love that thaw

I love that thaw late in winter
when snow and ice first together
melt and drip from every fissure,

when earth awakes mineral smells
acrid and sweet, and moisture swells
in trickles, freshets, ripples, rills.

And well beneath deep snow masses,
like crushed cushions, matted grasses
lift and stir as if caresses

touched their darkly-woven bramble
rank from lying in their tangle
winter-long, dead, unseen until

melting, lubricating nature
– dripping, percolating water –
spurs engorgements taking over.

It’s a little embarrassing
to imagine the privacy
of all that new activity

safely hidden under the snow.
Take the color white: you know
it perfect for abstracting – so

insulating for us never
specially to have to get too near
wet and mussed and messy nature.

94. Winter Camp

Outside the cabin it was night
and the pines were dark, and the sky,
but everything was filled with white:
black window panes, the mountainside,

– even blue air reflected light
of snow, deep snow piled everywhere.
And inside we made the fire right
for bathing in the cold, cold air.

I stepped out of my clothes, and stood,
so you could ladle warm streams where
it ran still steaming to the tub
past breasts nosed up in brittle air,

all my skin winter white, my hair
in lower tufts whorled and cherished
by water’s warmth and then your care
in sleeping bag’s embrace like marriage.

95. High Five

Laughing, today a four-five year-old girl
ran past me, raising her hand for high five,
all that energy, to herself, the world,
saying this is how I’m – we’re – all alive.

So quick, past foreigner in her country,
easy the bridge to six decades older,
the slap of her hand saying, too, watch me
as I take, make life partner to partner.

96. Let’s say, to learn a language

Let’s say, to learn a language, one that’s hard,
you have to imagine a foreign girl.
Imagine you want her, but she’s far, far
away, like a new aroma, or smell.

Think of firsts for any fruits or spices.
Think: your first Turkish girl, her skin like cloves.
A Magyar girl’s apricots, or peaches.
Now you know how learning languages goes.

Even crazy rules, as in Japanese,
tell you: put wa with this word, de with that.
Do it. For as you reach a new one’s knees
it’ll come: apples! But, pippin, spy, or mac?

97. At the nude beach

At the nude beach you sit on the sand,
face lifted to sun, bare, propped on your hands,
your legs akimbo, the sun shining in,
on lips set there in their own little grin.
Your breasts don’t pool; an aureate gold brown,
they keep the shape of different boys’ cupped palms.
You’re nineteen. You like summer, this sweet lake,
cool fresh dips in it which naked you take.
The water dries on you. It’s history.
Gone, like night’s saltier wet memories.
Eyes closed, you can muse on machinery
of boys where now wafting warm wind can be.
You’re alive, Barbora, at peace; it’s summer.
Like loves, may you have many another.

98. Bud-shaped, they are

Bud-shaped they are, each cantilevered over,
one this way, one that, as if each pair
were set on each girl to sniff the air.

And as buds become fruits – apples, peach, pear –
so girls grow, changing, adding year by year
ovals, cups, goblets, bowls till boys but dare

to glance and glance away at what they’ve there.
We boys know – it hurts – how girls acquire
not just new outsides, but deeper power.

As men, we might will life be linear,
though we know earth’s a globe, seasons recur,
and feminine forces make all things turn.

They pull us to them: we, moons that hover.
So we pretend we’ve choice, as if laws were
arts, and we connoisseurs, and thus aware

of differences – they unlike each other
enough so we might see our savoir faire,
and they as apples and peach, plum and pear.

99. Sperm on her belly

Sperm on her belly,
sperm on the sheets,
sperm on her pubic hair
and on her facial cheeks.

It glistens in the candlelight,
it dries in dark of night;
she brings him once more into her
and holds him fiercely tight.

God bless that honeyed salty cream,
for generations running true,
and that one explosion 22 years ago
which gave birth then to you.

100. One Girl Studying Sex and Zen still Has more Studying

Well could I see, after our night,
how the Zen masters might be right
– that all is but appearances.
All that seemed so real seemed to melt
– but have the masters themselves felt
the truths of night-long entrances?

101. A Girl in Stress Unnecessary

Trust your center, where touching gives
the tingling, melting to collapse.
Nice, but behind the pleasure lives
something more, you must own at last.

Here, once you calm, locate yourself,
you’ll see all your life in context.
Strong heart and brain can only help
if, too, where you melt, you’ve access.

102. Edit,

Please don’t be afraid of your body,
don’t be afraid that The Book teaches fear.
Love is far more than lust only
– you should know this, Edit, my dear.

Love is intelligence, memory, anticipation –
it’s knowing the things God made can be good:
There’s a place for the Song of Solomon,
even amidst all those warnings and rules.

So go ahead, let God talk to you.
Let James and John teach you heavenly fear.
But be brave enough for the equal truth
– that your body may carry divinity here.

103. Sue, to Return on Her Birthday, Feb 4, ‘08

Nick and I sit by the fireplace
this January night you’re gone,
bay windows lashed by cold rain,
flames from oak logs keeping us warm.

Since before you left for Japan
we’ve had these same storms, every day
from far off the Pacific fanned,
reaching here days after L. A.

Nick’s restaurant has had three visits
from food critic Michael Bauer,
so the Chronicle can insist
its hits for menu, staff, décor.

Till then, little to do but wait.
Nick asks to hear Leonard Cohen.
We drink Calvados. No abate
in rain. More oak keeps flames going.

104. Please take this in reply to your letter

Please take this in reply to your letter
– the one where you said we wouldn’t be friends.
You said you’d much rather be bitter
at how illusions finally did end.

Maybe my soul is, as you say, no good.
Maybe it was wrong for us to make love.
I’ve still desire for others, and God
may quite agree with your wrath from above.

But let’s face it, Melinda, we had some
good times. Remember the garden and trips . . . .
And remember those nights how well you’d come
when we placed a pillow under your hips.

If my soul is no good and I suffer,
and for my sins God will give me my due,
please know that even then I’ll remember
the gift of those times entering you.

105. Panties work

Panties work. They smooth out the skin
– all those folds, crinkles, and ridges
which go with the wet, messy sin
of any ladies or misses
who dare step out of abstraction.

Clean God, help these girls to forget
– put on them that symbolic “v,”
so where their legs meet we can get
at least some slender victory
over that older, wilder net.

106. Girls, some, many,

“But he doesn’t love any serious parts of you, only those for partying,
getting drunk, and fucking a boy who likes fucking happily-stupid girls.”

Girls, some, many, like to get fucked. Once in,
they can pray thanks to God, not for boyfriend,
but just this tool, this bare stroking piston
giving – thanks God, thanks God – oblivion.

What, before, were all those complications,
those issues of respect held out to him?
What, all that theology about sin,
soothed now by strokings again and again?

Now, like clothes, we can put off these questions.
We can trust to the state of grace we’re in,
and lie back, and let divinity swim
in and out, melting, again and again.

107. Nearing Age 60

When I was 16, and the girls
my age were, too, I knew nothing
of sex, not theirs, not mine. I knew,
though, at dances, the Crests would sing

“Sixteen Candles” and, dancing slow,
you’d feel silk and rayon slips slide,
and straps and cups under clothes:
so much stuff for a girl to hide.

The years passed. The layers lifted.
I learned something about the ways
hooks, buttons, and zippers gifted
so many times of breath-paused play.

I learned the ways that barriers
may enfold, cover, and caress,
ways that they, like foreign grammars,
forbid, defy, but, too, undress.

Near 60 now I see the reach
of all those once long hid blessings.
Tan, pink, beige, dun, and dusky peach
all open thanks but to dressings.

108. Mahogany

Mahogany has that combination
of color – red, gold, some in between brown –
so it glows, it recalls some sensation
of other fiery warmth I have known

– like the brandy in Jane-Anna’s snifter
as she was cupping it warm to her palm.
Dark, bitter cold outside – it was winter.
Inside, furnace snug; she had nothing on.

I noticed the brandy color as she
lightly wove its sphere alongside her own,
one glass globe matched to those softer hers, free
bobbing to aureoles yellow red brown.

That was years ago. Moments like that pass.
Till it happens I see mahogany,
its glow, and I know time doesn’t go fast.
It stops, often, to show us what can be.

109. Keep it all

Keep it all: the books I gave you,
and the towels – big, thick cotton towels –
bracelets, shirts, brief small panties, too.
In the end it’s all yours. Keep it all.
You gave me your poets, Czech, Slovak,
with sex lubricating this trade
till you chose abortion and that
made you feel time to move away.
Other guys meant other cycles,
as if you could be different than
whatever it was that you got too near.
When you’re young you can unravel
and renew life like theater again,
where games, love games, defer fear.

110. I’m in trouble

I’m in trouble.
I know I still love her,
she who now sleeps with the famous poet.
He has money. They take trips.
Any restaurant is permissible, price no object.
Concerts. Tennis courts. The good life.
He is well-known. He can be introduced
to the society she knows
and friends from her French Riviera days.
She must sleep peacefully,
his hand warm on her breasts,
his eyes having discovered that a thin gold chain
around her waist
is all she wears at night.

111. The Quiet Delta

Setsuko has pictures of the delta
of Venus. She keeps them in a folder,
just a sheaf of old magazine cut outs,
though the girls must now be much, much older.

No telling, however, how old they were
then. For one thing, no one’s face ever shows.
And for another, they’re all Japanese,
who look so much younger, as aging goes.

The photos show some shell shapes, but mostly
the hairs etch themselves out palmate, fine-lined,
black, symmetries fanned out, each’s different,
labia barely there, scarcely defined.

Setsuko showed me these pages one day
for no reason, she who for all these years
has worked insurance: a life of paper,
offices, and similar public cares.

She hates porno, all those erect, engorged
parts of men pointed into and cleaving
each partner’s parts swollen pink and purple,
reducing all to animal heaving.

Better, she thinks, each soft estuary
centered, settled into time-stopped caress,
as if life’s pulsings might – perhaps – be seen,
but only signal to more rhythmic depths.

112. The girls walk by in their summer dresses

The girls walk by in their summer dresses,
under tall trees whose own leafy tresses
lift in the wind, their canopied foliage
in soughing, swishing soft sussurus as
if every slight shift in summery breeze
were nature enchanted, saying to trees:
yes, let my airs rustle amid your skirts
where your limbs and branches so do thirst
for moistures, resins, and pulsating sap
in odors which waft and muskily map
life itself with powers electrical,
bowering, hovering, rising in thrall
to cumulus whitenesses piled above
in floating pillows, engorgements of love
exhaled from the trees, blessed, nodding yesses
to girls below in their light summer dresses.

113. How many books have you held in your hands?

How many books have you held in your hands?
Tall ones, short ones: can we imagine
the stories you saw emerge from each one
secrets unveiled and plots building to come
in crescendos you too feel in the end?

Books differ in so many ways. Where some
show wide facts and parade information,
others regale senses, so subtly cooked
with salts and spices and sweets that you’re hooked
before you know how deeply you’re in them.

Some sport lovely covers. They stress their looks.
Their spines stay rigid. But others you took
loosened so much you remember the calm
of nights turning pages there in your palm.
So you know the gifts they can be, these books.

114. You play the game

You play the game of love, you get burnt.
Things aren’t supposed to last, to continue.
The names and players change – it’s so simple:
that the old moves go on is what I’ve learnt.

Now you have Honza, where once you had me.
He lies back, the good length of him naked.
You’re in awe at what you see. Breath bated,
you touch, caress, and stroke till, greedily,

eyes open wider, you brush back your hair –
now he’s long but you’ve gotten him longer –
and you take him in with his wide-eyed stare
till he arches to what dear God I remember.

Now it’s summer. I’m tanned. Well slender.
You’d like it, except we’re done, it’s over,
and new guys can lie and feel the power
of explosions which they’ll always remember.

115. We kids sprawled on summer grass

We kids sprawled on summer grass in the shade
of a front yard tree. Nine, ten, eleven,
and Ann was twelve – big sister of my friend.
We turned pages of comic books. Ann played

with fronds of tufted grass and, when she leaned
into the sway of her carrot red hair,
her shirt top fell open, too. She was bare
under it, where girl-soft freckled skin gleamed

on two rosy-tipped mounds I’d never seen
on anyone – never even heard names
for such new symmetry – no one’d explained
how girls could so perfectly bud and change.

In suburbia, 1956,
we’d heard about the A-bomb, polio,
and faraway commies. Soon now we’d know
all about the Platters, Crests, and Elvis.

116. Worship

Place your palm there, and let it rest.
Just cup the warmth from good stillness.
Wonder how mound of wild, crazed bliss
can also be such peaceful nest.

My first love fulfilled every wish
for what guys in girls most enjoy,
giving as gift to me, mere boy,
the Catholic Church as Venus niche.

It used all the senses – employed
sculpture, rites, texts – Latin, then – such
that all of us, a full parish,
together in same rhythms joined

with all the senses in one rush
of paintings, incense, bells, and wine
and priests’ robes scoring slow dance time
till chorales rose, then fell to hush.

Praise this fount, its urgent drawing
into deepest, warmest riot,
then still deeper, warmer quiet,
like hers that now you are cupping.

117. With Cigar, and Brandy, after She Leaves

to Roy Orbison’s cover of Boudeleaux Bryant’s “Love Hurts”

Chie’s beauty still lingers here,
exquisite, dangling in the air,
with her demurrer, when asked of her,
that she sit a little closer.

Doing her job, a reporter,
she had questions, and desires
many, but mixed, though mine she stirred
and mine would have to be deferred.

What is it makes them all so scared,
burning from inside their center,
fires tamped in fragile veneer
that, as with her now, go nowhere?

So she asked, and asked, poised, sincere,
safe within my couch’s corner.

118. Where Modern Advertising Doesn’t Reach

Lips – facial, vulval – they all speak.
the ones above, in open air,
so practiced, well-trained as they meet
in smiles, or not: the public pair.

Below is another matter.
No advertising has trained these,
this pair, to feign any postures,
so hidden quiet in their needs.

So how does anybody learn
to voice any deepest silence?
Does culture fail, do all girls burn
awaiting only accidents?

119. The Blossom

In memoriam Yoko, 1951-2008

Honeybees, it seems, are passing away,
a loss for our crops, our scientists say.
And: worse for us, if we forget the way

they alight, in that filigreed thicket,
stamens, pistils, biology’s ticket,
life’s fevered onset as we, too, know it.

There juices, nectars, and saps like sweat run
on warmed crevices, ridges all become
one singular swaying, bobbing to sun.

Pollination’s been this way everywhere,
Asian, African, all the world’s nature
so dizzies God’s mons and bees together.

But madness is transitory, so we
who shrink from that, from death, perhaps won’t see
so much divine we owe lubricity.

120. Three

I have seen some girls – OK, one –
atop a guy, he well in her.
None of us with any clothes on.
Summer night. Not a sound or word.

She my girlfriend; he, special guest,
on his back, girl breasts over him,
her eyes on him, on me: all blessed
by her slow, sure locomotions.

Yes, I know about jealousy,
betrayal, the pain of alone.
I also know that sometimes three
well can last in memory’s home.

121. The Goal

Your breasts, shoulders, and blossom count
so, inviting each he and him,
the goal’s not just in you to mount
but, more, more communication.

122. The Generic Regenerative

Why burn so, being near her?
Why loom so each small, swelling breast?
Why for her eyes do you so care,
and slim waist, furred niche, all the rest?

It’s nature that sets all these rules,
with attractions, contradictions,
and us the ever-willing fools
ever ready for her sessions.

123. Ten Percent?

When it’s ten percent we’re using,
so little of our lives,
it’s more than passion we’re losing,
more: it’s what each of us denies.

How to gauge this situation,
to see or measure what we do,
when we scarcely know the questions
on how so many habits rule?

What does it take to awake us?
Maybe lines from an old blues song?
Or do we think we can just trust
that better luck may come along?

And what is it that we’re missing?
Scary thing: most will never know.
So many living sleepwalking.
How’d so many let so much go?

124. Rivers Electrical

Small, this pair, both of them lift
about to the cup of a hand,
quite out of proportion the fit,
what she of her own self demands.

Twenty-two, twenty-three years old,
each swell years ago stopped growing,
but so she now breathes, flushes, glows,
you know no limits she’s knowing.

While again and again you reach
to the peaks atop each stroking,
what’s hidden inside her bespeaks
rivers electrical flowing.

125. Rhythms Joined

Morning’s warm, quiet, end of September,
air clearing under last night’s storm cloud scrim,
torn and emptied now of rain and thunder.

Garden surfaces glow, drenched, crystalline.
Birds sound, with an ocean of crickets
as if all last lush foliage were humming.

No car horns – few cars, anyway, in this
old town, where streams, rivers from coned mountains
roll as the fastest things in a music

of bubbling, perking their own times, to when,
as now, another meter times trees where
another year’s yellows appear again.

I comfort in all this layered order.
I hope, too, in some room, some boy and girl
are joining more warm, wet parts together.

126. Massaging of a Different Sort

Yes to cunnilingus at your fount,
so as you lie I taste your cream,
all of you naked, and you don’t
know to moan or gasp, breathe, or scream

but, lying back, still as you can,
but melt in blossom moistening
and so forget who is this man,
as if it’s just some borrowed he

with such stroking warmth so well deep
in this, your ache of privacy,
that you don’t care who it may be
who sets such newness in you free

and lets you float in drenching wet
stretched out while thrum of lips and tongue
so hums such chords that you but get
but wetter as you come and come.

127. Like Rice Ponds

A girl’s body has its terraced levels,
each blending each, like rice ponds on these hills.
She, too, built of wetnesses: several.
Hers, unlike ponds, all hidden. Like them, still.

Life moves, tugs, stirs her, even when unseen.
And like rice ponds approached by ion skies,
whose tropic rains will disturb, swell that sheen,
a girl’s own salts and saps so un-asked rise.

Day and night bid the same for quiet girl,
and quiet rice ponds, where begin distant
rumblings, then electricities that flash,
and fluids churn mixed with all the new wet.

128. God is Great, God is Good

from lines of the Joan Osborne song

Yes, girls – have sex – let blossoms bloom
– with mounds engorged and with warmth wet
from them inside while you still swoon
to cupping, skimming of your breasts

as you stretch out and back and set
to stroking melting where they’re in
so deeper rhythms further get
more juices sliding you to them.

Remember the words Joan Osborne
sang, “What if God was one of us,”
– and He is – you by nature sworn
even to His holy ruckus.

Especially then, back off, go slow.
Divinity may beg slow pace
as, though you worship, you can’t know
from all the boys which one’s His face.

129. Forever Aroma

Dripping, creamed, fragrantly oiled,
this soft, crinkled blossom takes hold
of all my senses, focused where
these aromas wafting have lolled
both sweet and salty together,
briny and honied the mixture,
and then the tasting, so time’s doled
out to turn into these, meters
so that blossom may live longer
in such wafting verse as we’re told.

130. Culture’s Failure

Lips – facial, vulval – they all speak.
the ones above, in open air,
so practiced, well-trained as they meet
in smiles, or not: the public pair.

Below is another matter.
No advertising has trained these,
this pair, to feign any postures,
so hidden quiet in their needs.

So how does anybody learn
to voice any deepest silence?
Does culture fail, do all girls burn
awaiting only accidents?

131. ars poetica

If you know how to love – and hate,
you need only one thing – arts, ways
to see context and separate
its good from its prevailing haze.

The Japanese have a word, ,
to show we never can stand clear
of all our complications, though
in them glow whatever is dear.

It’s painful, this thing we call life
but, embrace it – embrace it all,
for out of even messy strife
our best debts sing in rise and fall.

132. “It was the early Beatles’ period, 1963”

paraphrase of first stanza from Philip Larkin’s “Annus Mirabilis”

As a teen I was totally dumb,
blind to all those issues between girls’ legs.
Sometimes I’d see, just lying in nurse’s room, one,
but she’d smile, grimace, say she was OK.

Cramps, headache, blood, swelling? How could I know?
It was the early ‘60s – doo wop, Motown –
and priests in robes who said, boys, leave alone
all that might be the Blessed Virgin’s own.

Some boys knew – maybe most. Girls found them out.
But I thought it good to be good – never
question those layers and layers of stout
girdles, brassieres, and what-all under there.

When I look back, I rue that old fool, me,
not for what I missed, what some maybe had,
but that any so trust authority,
such neat lines between the good and the bad.

133. God gave us girls in short summer dresses

God gave us girls in short summer dresses
– lilac air billowing around their hips.
See them walk brightly for last night’s kisses
given by someone to soft portaled lips.

You think they dress so only for fashion?
– those with halter tops held up by their breasts?
– and those with jeans so tight with instruction
to which the alive know they are addressed?

You think they don’t know what they’re doing – girls
whom gravity pulls as if they’re cotton?
Ask God – whomever made spiritual worlds
fueled by yesses, energy, not caution.

134. There, far out in the middle of the lake

There, far out in the middle of the lake
on an inner tube I lay and floated.
A good hot July day to be naked,
too far from any eyes to be noted.
Green were the mountains on the Polish shore.
Those on the Slovak side, higher, were blue.
The whole landscape a bowl, aqua, azure,
its villages almost all long removed.
Why remember old times of this land?
Why sentiment for farms that had once been?
Instead, in their place, I float bare, well-tanned.
Lapping quiet, the sun: I imagine
how you’d love it – this warm scene, my sex – and
I still don’t know you’ve gone away with him.

135. It was next night came the thunder.

It was next night came the thunder.
August, hot, in still dark quiet
it came, rolled me from my nightmare
to lie quiet and feel the power of it.
The night before was also hot.
But poundings came in two close hearts.
All night what we needed we got
exchanging holding sweat-slicked parts.
I had asked you to stay over.
We each had much to say, and then
more closely we had each other
so, for awhile, again and again
I didn’t need to think of her
nor you, Kriszta, to think of him.

136. Moon River

“Moon River,” whose date, the early 60s,
threaded that film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s,
and had just come out, only recently.

We’d been at some basketball game,
the busload of us, all of us the same:
Vietnam distant; none of us could blame

anything. Livonia Bentley our school,
Jeanie, Gilly, Mardi, Laura, and Sue
in fall Michigan night – none of us knew

about the war coming. The girls were in
the Bentley choir. As if it were some whim
their voices joined, “my Huckleberry friend,”

“dream maker,” “my heart breaker,” and the night,
the fog, enveloped: so natural, so right
that teenage voices lift into the plight

of Audrey Hepburn, Peppard – one linked file
cocooned here, Michigan night, mile on mile,
and chorusing, “I’m crossing you in style.”

The bus rolled on, Bellevue to Livonia.
The years would roll on. None knew enough of
what lay in store for Liz, Marge, and Donna.

But I deny those years. I’m no wiser now
except I never left that bus. Somehow
that song, its refrain, yet carries their vow.

137. San Francisco Night

One night, late, Sue having fallen asleep,
I can hear in the apartment next door
my neighbor, Natasha, on Sutter Street,
who has put her mattress, too, on the floor.

Seems tonight she has her own visitor,
her blond head close to mine, through the wall,
where her deep sighs toll all his strokes in her,
one after another easefully slow.

Outside, in the darkened courtyard garden,
the long-branched fronds of a tall Norwalk pine
splay their horizontals like floating arms
swaying in the night as all lay supine.

And everywhere, out to the Golden Gate,
lightly atop tall, thin stalks bob flowers,
agapanthus: above each palm-leafed base,
a petaled explosion for each soft sphere.

People sleep, stir, turn all along the Bay,
moistures, colors, scents in slow motion,
as if the great green fuse has only to say
that all life burns, purrs, hums without, within.

138. Epithalamium for Wanda and Mike, June 16, 1990

The rhubarb may be gone again
as always so in Junes before
but there in southwest Michigan
strawberries will be coming in,
and when asparagus gets thin
in turn along Bankson shores,
vining Niagara and Concord
will see and bless a marriage ring.
Think of what these vows may bring
– mainly privacy, from which springs
love, respect, all kinds of friends.
So let them come from country, town;
may straight ones, odd ones all come round.
It’s their home, too, especially kin:
the sister whom good sex has found,
the drinking uncle who is proud
of old cars – if with tail fins –
and Nick’s granddad still standing ground
against hippies and modern sin;
welcome, too, the aunt of yoga cultism.
Show how they’ve all a place to come in,
and not just holidays, either,
but January’s ice, May’s flowers,
March mud, and smoking fall fires.
For, more than living together,
marriage offers the protection
that this place of yours may be where
all memories and affections
may entwine into a future.

139. Epithalamium

– for Bori and Gyuri

Wedding at noon at Szent Anna Temlom:
Christian, proper – then the party all goes
to Kenese: tip of Lake Balaton.
June in Hungary – millions of cherries
– red meggy, black cseresznye – ripe on the trees,
the couple sober, but ripe, too, I see,
as Bori has written the words Please Come
in English there on the invitation.
God, yes, there’ll be coming this night down there
where the good smooth length of the Balaton
lies still and opens itself up to view
reminding us all of the powers where
things are attracted, touched, and, two by two,
go on touching, pulling, spinning, too,
like a great dance, the millions of cherries
– the tart and the sweet all joining the game –
though we know some powers just aren’t the same.
Some keep us together. We create them
when we know what we love. And so, again,
let the dancers dance and the cherries spin;
let the coming come – let it all begin
with sacred words at Szent Anna Templom
and the good waters of the Balaton.

140. Sounding Strokings New

an epithalamium for Nick and Masako

First Nick and Masako sign the papers;
then they can legally live together.
This gives them, in Kotoen, full married
year, and then another ceremony,
in Nick’s Australia, for his family.

They met in Osaka, near Kyoto’s
temples, Buddhist gardens, and April shows
of cherry blossoms – pinks throughout Japan
which yearly flower, float, and glow – again
and again an eternal feminine.

But Kotoen looks other, masculine,
with high apartment views that only scan
a vast expanse of industrial plain:
urban towers, pylons, and bullet trains.
Here, can any of old Japan remain?

This is not a new question. The poets
from Basho on learned and refined it: that
surfaces and appearances never
tell the truth. Rather, they can touch the cheer
in rituals and forms hinting what’s there.

Haiku and tanka come in exactly
set syllables and lines. Ceremony
of tea, meals in stages, even the fall
of pink petals every April may all
sound strokes as are now Nick and Masako.

Back to Top

It’s an Old World: With Empire Rotting from the Top

141. We Did This to Them and, More, to Us

So now we’re in Iraq, hopelessly mired
in fates that began August 6 and 9,
years ago when, in flashes, new empire
arose in our atomic terror’s sign.

It wasn’t necessary. “Ike” said no,
don’t do it. All our top brass knew Japan
could fight no more. But other gods said go:
those who said, do all, kill all, if you can.

Kill meant men, women, children, old, young, all.
It meant decades more of permanent war.
We’d conspire to make all governments fall
who balked at our global, corporate power.

So now we find ourselves sunk in Iraq,
our best and brightest still stupid, guilty
as when, in thrall to terror we attacked
first Hiroshima, then Nagasaki.

142. From Rand Corp. to Citizens United

with nod to Auden’s”August, 1968”

The banks do what the corporate can,
deeds quite impossible to man.
But one prize is beyond their reach:
the banks cannot master speech.

About a derivatized mess,
the land in truly human stress,
Congress cows to bank lobbyists,
while drivel gushes from their lips.

143. 9th Grade English. Me, the Sub.

9th grade English. Me, the sub.
One girl, 14 or 15, tugs
spaghetti straps, two colored pair
over shoulders otherwise bare.
Please don’t use the “to be” grammar
too much, I ask them: like “They are
such-and-such,” “It is this-or-that.”
These only label and, too, act
to reduce, to take from our view
loose ends of things we thought we knew.
The kids want to argue with me.
The girl with the paired straps, I see,
angers at the thought that grammar
ever have any claim on her.
To sport control some underthing
– lycra? – has her new breasts nestling
each lower half snug in fabric,
tops swaying gently erratic.
She speaks in “to be” forms only,
her pique thus locked repeatedly.
I say, Miss Britney, please, you set
yourself imaginative nets.
I can’t look where her freed tops chart
their own shaping, re-shaping art.
I see her eyes, big, brown, moist, dammed
up in the last control she can.
She blurts, “But that’s the way I am!”

Note: “Poetry makes nothing happen”? — this one got Phil fired from the public school system of Northampton, Massachusetts, a few days before Christmas 2000. The girl’s name here appears as Britney, after the blonde singer and dancer then modeling celebrity sexuality to all adolescent girls.

144. With Best of Debts to Woody Guthrie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Country Joe and the Fish

This land doesn’t “belong to you and me,”
but to BP, Wall Street, Blackwater/Xe.
So if you ask, “What are we fighting for?”
think Country Joe and the Fish: “Whoopee . . .

. . . don’t know what for.” And, too, think CCR.
Their “it ain’t me” couldn’t account for war,
though the rich – “senator’s son” – guaranteed
for their ilk we’d always have “more, more, more.”

145. Bless You, Mom

In memoriam: Sonja Faye Balla, 1926-2006

Summer days we’d drive off to Camp Dearborn
– acres of lawns, Michigan lakes and ponds,
ball fields, beaches, and picnic grounds that soared
the million sounds into leafed oaks and elms.

Mom would make potato salad, Kool Aid,
and help Dad with the hot dogs. Kids, kids, kids
could trust in all these 1950s days,
that with parks far from the city, like this,

and more in town – more ball fields, swimming pools,
and arts and crafts and winter skating rinks
and public libraries and public schools –
cocooning goodness itself interlinked.

Let’s call the peak as 1956.
Mom was about to leave her 20s then,
our country about to change. It’s slid since,
from public life to corporatism.

50 years later, first Dad went, now Mom.
Gone with all that that buoyed all public ease.
Bless you, Mom. Bless not only your good home,
but, too, all those parks, schools, and libraries.

146. The Focused Life

“Don’t Wait in Line. Register Online.”
How many times have you seen words like this?
It’s more efficient. Of course it makes sense
to get a job done without wasting time.

Modern lives have no time for distraction.
Look at all the people glued to cell phones.
In their SUVs or striding alone,
mad, vacant gaze shows far-off attention.

The busy, well-focused cannot waste time
on twenty-somethings deliciously-sexed,
nor on kids in strollers, nor more homeless.
The empowered stick to their own sure lines.

They control, micro-manage everything.
All life will fit its good, entitled place.
They can thus speed on and need never face
such odd loose ends as may be surprising.

If you look up Nob Hill from Union Square
even in San Franciscan December,
you can see sun shining, slanting the air.
Its rays from above the near ocean shore
bask Marin hills vistas in one wide, sere
crystalline glow over the bay to here,
where the same light floods the Haight, the Fillmore,
and the Golden Gate with scented showers
of eucalyptus, jasmine, and cedar:
all gifts for all yet open to wonder.

But if you’ve been to our schools you’ve lost
this art. So well they teach their departments.
So many learn their place, they must vent
proud, focused power while blind to its cost.

147. Our “Creative Writing” Programs

Three hundred literary magazines
at three hundred universities seem
impressive – “literature” – all of them
subsidized, floating the creative whim
of the Master of Fine Arts industry,
where it’s always me that others will see.
In stories, plays, screenplays, memoirs, and, yes,
poems, too, these programs let all express
oneself, so the narcissism of each
thus blends with the same niche-world corporate reach
that reduces all so no one can be
anything but that repeat engorged me.

148. 5 Years, 4,000 Killed: Still Smirking

Funny, really quite funny
how predictable our goons may be.
Our Bush and Cheney

with now 4,000 killed both say
these “sacrifices” of “volunteers”
all the more mean in Iraq we must stay.

Fantasyland script says success is near,
and the corporate line is terse:
our honored dead must prolong all profitable fear.

Cheney always scowls. Bush always smirks.
Each safe in his cocoon,
each thinks he may judge what’s perverse.

But then, another surprise in a day or two
as Basra explodes in more war among Shia.
This might be a rebuff for our fools,

though they can’t see Tar Baby as a
truth, not fable. So our corporate Bush, corporate Cheney
live for never-ending war, never-ending death, never-ending flows of money.

149. A Ditty for our Time

We Americans love privileged classes:
big corporations that pay no taxes,
promises for all through consumerism,
and cars massing for the true religion.
Shopping malls make life safe again, enclosed
as professors tenured in their ghettoes.

It all adds up. So, in the Middle East,
we arm the strong to take land from the weak.
We know the privileged need and deserve more
gated communities and golf courses.
As our Indians learned not to resist,
they can kill theirs, calling them terrorists.

Adolf Schickelgruber well understood
how lesser beings must fare in Our World,
how corporate values, occupied towns,
CEOs, SUVs need Lebensraum

150. Can We Ever Expect Change from "Our Best and Our Brightest"?

I’ve just read another anthology
of “poets” who live only thanks to schools.
Their “poems” all come from the subsidies
for irrelevance that our state approves.

No one would pay real money for this stuff.
It comes from the great trade-off that occurs
when the Great Corporate Soul approves the bluff
and the void all through Narcissus’s words.

So they write and write – not for each other,
nor any public, but for that great god,
the one that worships “me” and “my” pleasure,
which across Corporate Land is all we’ve got.

“Me” and “my” lead always to cubicles,
as now swamp all university life:
so many “me’s” and “my’s” so entitled
to comfortable shelter, safety from strife.

None of their “poetry” ever shows this.
None can admit we all live deep in lies.
But charm shows, wit glows, and irony fits
all so subsidized in corporate disguise.

151. L. Cohen, B. Dylan, J. Lennon

First off, let’s get this one thing understood:
we’ve regulations for the public good
– and the public means the private, as in
that touching, listening, as best we could.

We’ve forgotten this. We’ve embraced the sin
that says “get stuff,” use money’s addition.
We’ve given all public power to those
who for this have killed all regulation.

They love war, too: Cheney, Bush, McCain, Rove,
and Palin: so many “Christians” all sold
on violence and power’s elevation,
for so much death, so much debt, so much cold.

What happened to those voices who joined in
– joined us in – that larger public – that hymn
to privacy, to love’s regulation?
Praise L. Cohen, B. Dylan, J. Lennon.

152. Bubble in A, B, C, or D

This Black guy, Oscar Grant, should have learned
from his schools that for which good guys most care:
how to see and test all humanity
to fit nice bubbles A, B, C, or D.

Too late. Now Oscar Grant can learn no more,
shot dead as he lay on BART’s platform floor,
where a young BART cop had him prone, unarmed,
and “something happened” in all fatal harm.

Why had Oscar Grant dropped out of school,
as so many Blacks and Hispanics do?
Don’t our schools that so serve standardized tests
also so serve our corporate culture best?

He’d have been such a good American
if he’d enjoyed as many such tests as one can:
if only he’d joined all those souls who see
all life set best to A, B, C, or D.

153. Ode to the Homeless

Here I’m going to address
the problem of the homeless,
and how the crux of this question
lies in habits we’ve well got ourselves in.

First – and last – our universities:
all divided in specialization,
all touting rich professionalism
as if departmental diversity
added up to much, much, much
– except that each other they never touch.

Experts rule each niche in this Babel.
It pioneers greatest efficiencies,
serving as globalism’s research tools
and all the government agencies.
Administrative pay grows and grows
as fits the logic of CEOs.

And who does the teaching? – the out-sourced:
temps, adjuncts, without benefits, of course.
Our schools all fit these corporate models,
aping them, mimicking; all follow
and build from within such privileged classes,
as serve the logic that grows the homeless.

154. Our Corporate Origins

These are the nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the shoppers that gorge on the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the TVs that bug-eye the shoppers that gorge on the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes, that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the corporations that put the dreams on the TVs that bug-eye the shoppers that gorge on the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the marketers, advertisers, financiers, accountants, and lawyers that free the corporations that put the dreams on the TVs that bug-eye the shoppers that gorge on the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the university departmental flow charts that silo the millions into the marketers, advertisers, financiers, accountants, and lawyers that free the corporations that put the dreams on the TVs that bug-eye the shoppers that gorge on the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

These are the standardized tests that fit the human to the university departmental flow charts that silo the millions into the marketers, advertisers, financiers, accountants, and lawyers that free the corporations that put the dreams on the TVs that bug-eye the shoppers that gorge on the malls that ballooned on the grids, clover-leafs, and cul-se-sacs that sprawled from the too-cheap-to-meter nukes that came from those first nukes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki felt.

Thus our corporate origins August 6 and 9, 1945.

155. A Logical Progression

I just heard NPR describe
how TV first advertised toys
outside Christmas, in ’55,
and how this changed all girls and boys.

Thereafter it came that all play
would depend more and more on things
that you bought – till gone was the day
that fun on mere fantasies hinged.

This was good for advertisers,
great, too, for TV revenues,
though we can see now the failures
in free thinking, which kids did lose.

All came to depend on structure.
While schools stressed expert comfort zones,
kids got fit to paid-for order
carefully arranged outside home.

Sure: we’re now all besieged by fear.
Each cubicle, lane, pre-made form
joins war on drugs, war on terror –
organized, costly, constant war.

156. 53 Years Later

My dad designed the Thunderbird,
the first one, back in ’55.
Now Detroit has given the word:
The city’s done – it can’t survive.

Dems say: give them all subsidies.
Republicans: so what? – some die.
Much has: Elvis, tail fins, and streams
who’ve paid for Viet, Iraq lies.

157. If we have demons in us

If we have demons in us – sins,
guilts, and desires scarce explored –
what Joseph Brodsky called “loose ends,”
we can rightly fear their power
to take us over. Imagine
if what David Riesman called “noise
of the self” could make us victims,
or we’re prey to the “still, small voice”
Babbitt felt ticking inside him.
Scary stuff. That’s why we need tools
as if we could master our whims
or simply forget them. Our schools
serve those myths of order, for, when
everything adds up, we can fool
ourselves into elevation.
Like helium in a balloon
we can rise beyond things that fail,
past Brodsky’s “loose ends,” Riesman’s “noise,”
Philip Roth’s “blizzard of details.”

158. Now Tim Geithner has our money

Now Tim Geithner has our money
to give to all his Wall Street cronies.
Banking’s no game for these, the rich
who cannot fail when all is fixed.

If they’re reckless, these CEOs,
they cannot lose, as each one knows,
but take their golden parachutes
leaving all debts to us the dupes.

God Bless America: so great
how, if the rich make huge mistakes,
they bail and bill posterity,
with big smiles for democracy.

159. November 2, 2004

So there: the good Christo fascists
have now got all our government
to serve war, their love of the rich,
sprawl culture, more national debt.

In their Fox News scripts, these owners
of big cars, trucks, and SUVs
can bludgeon the whole world over
for their fossil-fueled “freedom” screed.

They’ve nerve to call themselves Christian.
Strutting, their Bush puffs out his chest
so the fear they love to live in
masquerades as a smirking fest.

160. Our Corporate Rites

Look at the textbooks – “composition” they call it,
“multicultural” this and “argument” that.
These slick, glossy-papered tomes can never fit
in one hand, so heavy they are, and so fat.

Corporate text publishers get rich from them,
issuing new & improved revised editions
every year so students can’t sell them back when
all their comp and other such courses end.

Shell out the money for this corporate game!
All the tenured faculty who’ve dried up
and can’t write a line of decent English instead gain
contract after contract to edit this stuff.

They make it look impressive, with units
honoring formulae, and modular steps,
with jargon and procedures to which all genuflect.
All know specialization – that no niche lets

anyone stray from isolation’s habits.
So the students lug these texts around – thick,
expensive blocks all made to serve the rites
that ever prop up the privilegeds’ life.

161. This year, in our national election

we make our presidential selection.
The choice is great, but some things don’t vary
choosing between George Bush and John Kerry.

Both claim to be tough – real men – and their wish
is ongoing war on those terrorists.
Other issues all fade before this one
– so great yet the shock from 9-11.

Good Americans want to fight – kick ass –
including soccer moms and NASCAR dads
as they drive their pick-ups and SUVs
in the sprawl of U.S. prosperity.

We’re innocents, no? Aren’t we good guys here?
So, under attack, rage rises from fear,
as if foreign evils grow by themselves,
as if we’d done nothing to stir this hell.

Do they hate us “because of our freedom”?
Fox News and our good media minions
love to parrot this line, as if our need
for oil were of course God-given, and we

must never see that, for our oil to flow,
we prop up the worst regimes in the world.
In Iraq, Kuwait, and Nigeria,
Morocco and Saudi Arabia,

and Egypt, Oman, Indonesia, too,
we’ve ever subsidized all the thugs who
brutalize, terrorize, and repress
their Muslim millions excluded, distressed.

God Bless America. When we could know
these “others” – how their arts, landscapes, foods, clothes
link them to us even more than their oil –
we instead choose only more killing fields.

162. Were Woody Here Now

This land is your land, but you're no person
You're just a fiction, a corporation.
Too many serve you, as teach all biz schools
To see as numbers only you and me.

163. We’re Schooled

We know we’re people of many voices,
but, yes, maybe we’d better vote for him,
overlook all his pro-corporate choices,
like Geithner, Summers, Immelt, and Duncan.

The world’s a messy place, we know, so while
his drones take out lots of the enemy,
the laws of blow-back marshal growth of bile
so to permanent war we must agree.

We’re like kids who must take standardized tests
. Our betters say choose A, B, C. or D.
That’s it. We play their game. They know what’s best.
We’re schooled to this form of democracy.

164. The Origins of Character

Like all modern girls she, too, likes on her
those soft fabric cups where each twinned pair
poses both balance of oneself inner,
and more to the public, but underwired.

The fashion also lets straps on shoulders
hint of the color buoyed inside further
as if hues, nuance, self, and character
all take their foundations from what we wear.

165. Out-Whoring the Whores

In porn films, isn’t it strange, as limbs fly,
that, whatever gymnastics they’re doing,
no one ever looks in anyone’s eyes.

At least in porn it’s straightforward screwing
(or, from this way, or that), unlike our friends
in the universities who, posing

as expert, elevated, must pretend
such objective impersonality
that all references and facts extend

beyond all actual humanity,
ignoring every human in the room
to out-Rand Rand Corp.’s deathly abstract-ese.

Our departmentalized can’t be human,
though their specialized gymnastics can’t hide
how most match porno pro’s in tedium.

166. Long from Now

They’ll be asking, in the future
what we’d been possibly thinking,
how, for these nukes, we’d been so sure
we’d learn to stop the poisoning.

They’ll ask how we just continued
gridding, plotting, building that sprawl
of cars, roads, plastics, and this rule
of Wall Street driven shopping malls.

They’ll be asking, long since we’re dead,
how to future generations
we, so blind, never looked ahead,
and left them such radiation.

167. Keep It in Your Pants

for class of eight high school boys who can take nothing in life seriously

Keep you dick in your pants
and your hands off your dick
lest your IQ show, max,
as but single digit.

168. For Miki G.

She wants the pain to go away,
hates it that she feels so lonely.
Teenage, all her school courses say
things add up, are tested nicely.

They lie. Old songs track deeper truths,
like Boudeleaux Bryant’s “Love Hurts.”
Roy Orbison’s version best rues
that there’re no easy paths and, worse,

if you learn, “really learn a lot,”
you know pains, complications stay.
Advertising lies, too. She’s caught
in so many hyped easy ways.

Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse”
shows how parents, too, model lies,
which she knows first-hand – the sweet curse
when group-think appears civilized.

So she cries a lot, teenage girl
who just wants life to be normal,
who’s learned from adults that the world
fits best those fit to denials.

169. Escaping the Flock

Maybe they’re right, who say we should destroy
all old cultures – that they’re all only sheep,
and fitting groups is their only story.
Maybe – except that our own shepherds keep

us moderns, too, trained to more promises,
those of Corporate America, that fleece
by advertisements telling all of us
that just by buying stuff all are unique.

While corporate “souls” thus aim at all the world,
there’s still a chance that, somewhere, girl and boy
withdraw – or two boys – alone – or two girls –
touching newest and oldest private joys.

170. Americans Learning Vulgarity

Some want only to fit the system.
As a teacher, you know them best
when you also refer to the human
and they ask, “Will that be on the test?”

171. After Ursula K. Le Guin

for Mayumi, Shihoko, and all young women who by no choice live in the TEPCO-Land of men and their highways, shopping malls, and Fukushimas

There’s but one world, said Ursula Le Guin.
If institutional, it’s run by men
and set up with only one goal: to win.

There is no other public world so, when
any work, they fit the masculine
charts of all success and competition.

In her “Left-Handed Commencement Address”
in ’83, at Mills College, Oakland,
she posed another language – to say yes

to the life outside organizations
– to the weak, the young, and old, and helpless,
– to all the non-numbered complications.

Men can’t see this, if it doesn’t compute
to rankings, stats, rationalization,
and nature reduced to its money loop.

So she asked, especially of women,
to trust “the dark side,” the messy human
that organizations always hide from.

172. Our Elites: Who Are, and Aren’t

Has corporate academe more than Rule One,
which divides all by specialization?
Could it instead have quite another rule,
which asks all see and link to neighbors, too?

First: neighbors near – peers in the same classroom
who’ve values they express by hands that zoom
or faces lit, or frowned, that also make
inner lives glow for subtler values’ sake.

Imagine all others have inner lives
and: it matters. Most, though, in peace or strife
pull for safety, ease, comfort, and order;
however others for these scarcely bother.

True poets, artists, know how to measure
borrowings from those they’ve learned to treasure:
Bob Dylan from Woody and Odetta,
Springsteen from ballads and blues indebted.

And the King: poor white boy who loved gospel,
barbershop quartet, hillbilly yodel,
and used it all – black, white – reworking them
into world culture’s great revolution.

Compare these with our schooled, corporate elites:
all in niches – privileged, entitled – each
from our schools having learned only Rule One,
corrupting all to specialization.

173. Rule #1 for Corporate Academe

Corporate academe lets its poisons leach
till none anymore may actually teach
except for those having as their mission
yet more information acquisition.

Rule 1: Never touch an actual soul:
except for fear, all that’s human must go.
Fear stays. It spreads, that specialization
reduce all to the culture we fit in.

174. Specialization Habituation

Good Americans need only two words,
“specialization habituation,”
to explain it all – how it all fell: our
slick, corrupted finance institutions,

our idiot Iraq expedition,
Cheney, Yoo, and Rice’s love of torture,
and our schools increasing reputation
for us dumber now than we were before.

We’d been, once, The Ugly American,
but Vietnam saw us even dumber,
and Reagan upped our militarism,
till preachers preached Jesus of wealth and war.

We all loved our “exceptionalism.”
Good Americans were told: go shopping,
that in that we could find Jesus’s twin.
And our colleges had long been stocking

up on bright boys and girls who would all fall
to making corporate all education:
setting all to niches, for sake of all
“specialization habituation.”

175. Doggerel for our Times

My friend Ray sent me another clipping:
more on our growth of standardized testing.
Seems now they’re doing it to four-year-olds
– four million pre-school kids in one mold
that one test sets so, instead of faces,
all get more hierarchical places.
The four-year-olds have their demographic
as we all have ours, all of us but tweaked
subsets, fit to one consumerism.
Our marketers know us, our deep notions,
while our schools serve up their information
as if neutral, stripped of all emotion
– save teachers’ love of their elevation.
And standardized tests say it’s all OK.
No people involved any direct way.
No people – instead, the repeating fact
of war: there Afghanistan, here Iraq,
where the bin Laden family, and Saddam
were long our allies, and could do no wrong.
And drug wars in Latin America,
for our needs for coke and marijuana.
See all the dictatorships we’ve propped up
for our elites to have their privileged stuff.
And we? We know no languages, cultures.
The world means but oil and cheap labor
for our consumer never-never-land
where specialist multiple-choice tests can
tell us all we might know about ourselves,
loose ends reduced to “none of the above.”

176. With the coming of ‘09

With the coming of ‘09
we can say, thanks to the NY Times,
and the “green-eye-shade ladies” letting some online,
that some things may be a bit more fine.
Some things – in spite of those voices
in ’08, and before, who led our most corrupted vices.
America the Beautiful – it gave
us Larry "Footsie" Craig,
Ron "The Hammer" Delay,
and smiling John "Keating 5" McCain.
And think of those brains, to wit:
Paul "It'll Pay for Itself" Wolfowitz,
Alfredo "Mr. Loyalty" Gonzalez
and Rod “What’s My Cut” Blagojevich.
But let’s not forget
Kwame "Mr. Detroit" Fitzpatrick,
nor the perks of Randy "Duke" Cunningham,
or the harvests of Sarah "Shoot-'em-from-Copters" Palin.
And when we extol Phil "De-Regulate" Graham,
we get all our happy financiers on board, and
1,000s of lawyers whose only ethics are to scam
more what’s-in-it-for-me: thank-you, Mam.
And what’s in it for Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens,
for William "It's-in-the-Freezer" Jefferson?
Such dear lovers of power so want to be nice
but with their bosses they’ll never fight,
like sweet Condi "Aug 6 Memo" Rice,
like others we know,
from "Scooter" Libby to Smart Boy Rove.
These recent years have been so swell
for never touching the myopic or the views they’ve held:
never ruffling Rummy "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld,
nor keeping so many on the take from getting off
thanks to Jack "Black Hat" Abramoff.
Can we say these years have hurt any? – us? – we
who never learn, anyway, from history,
or that anything fretted Dick "Undisclosed Location" Cheney,
or that words may be contrived to do
anything at all – even torture approved
all nicely, legally by John Yoo?
Such Americans we are – so red, white, and blue,
though now, as ’09 dawns, may our words push
so sooner we bid bye our "Mission Accomplished" Bush.

177. Inaugural Poem, Jan. 20, ‘09

Obama now takes office from our choices
voted finally against those voices
who’d long but led corrupted vices.
America the Beautiful – how it gave
us Larry "Footsie" Craig,
Ron "The Hammer" Delay,
and smiling "Keating 5" McCain.
Think of all those brains, to wit:
Paul "Iraq'll Pay for Itself" Wolfowitz,
Alfredo "Kiss Posterior" Gonzalez
and Rod “What’s My Cut” Blagojevich.
But let’s not forget
Kwame "Mr. Detroit" Kilpatrick,
nor the perks of Randy "Duke" Cunningham,
or the hunts of Sarah "Shoot-'em-from-Copters" Palin.
Go on – remember how Phil "De-Regulate" Graham
got all greediest financiers on board, and
1,000s of lawyers whose only ethics are to scam
more what’s-in-it-for-me: get what one can.
And what’s in it for Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens,
for William "It's-in-the-Freezer" Jefferson?
Our dear lovers of power so want to be nice,
they kiss up to bosses, never question, never fight,
like sweet Condi "Aug 6 Memo" Rice,
like others we know,
from "Scooter" Libby to Smart Boy Rove.
They’ve had all these years, so swell
for never doubting the views they’ve held:
never ruffling Rummy "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld,
nor keeping so many on the take from getting off
thanks to Jack "Black Hat" Abramoff.
Can we say these years have hurt any? – us? – we
who never learn, anyway, from history?
Anything ever fret Dick "Undisclosed Location" Cheney?
Any words not contrived to do
whatever bosses want – like getting torture approved
all nicely, legally by law profs like Yoo?
So stupid so long our red, white, and blue,
till finally we see Jan. 20 push
and bid bye even "What, Me Worry?" Bush.

178. On San Francisco’s #22, Fillmore Bus

I’m reading New European Poets
when two very big girls sit next to me.
My mistake: I’m at the back of the bus
– their place – theirs a quite different poetry.

“Hey, ho’!” one yells – loud – into her cell phone.
The other shouts, too: “That Shanita bitch
don’t fuck wid me!” – while from my genteel tome
no Europeans ever speak like this.

Nearly three hundred poets, almost all
vaunt pallid, generic, generalized tongues.
From forty-six countries almost none call
people, places as actually named ones.

How do educated Europeans
– so many – learn diction so polite, vague?
“You tell Jolinda, bitch, I done seed ‘em!”
– while the fattest adds, loud, “No fuckin’ way!”

179. If Writing of Himself

He’ll say, if writing of himself,
“Phil Balla was born in Glendale,
California,” as if such wealth,
from sun and palms, can never fail.

He lived in Detroit, whose cars kill
all nature – good for the U.S.,
where too many will flee than feel
the juices and saps pulsing in us.

He learned poetry from Russians
and Hungarians – that old world
view: that love and kitchen gardens
pair best with history’s terribles.

Music wants all mixed in same lines:
a girl’s breasts, an old cabbage plot,
with a Bush or Cheney who finds
but wars, more wars, likely as not.

180. Not Even Time Can Heal Some Sores

When I left, he was four, going on five.
You dropped me off at some place on my way
to the airport. Then, his eyes opened wide,
getting it. His dad was not going to stay.

But not getting it. Not for a long time.
In night thunderstorms, that summer, you say,
he’d wake, call out, with you again resigned
to give the news how dad was far away.

Many years later I still see those eyes:
shock, alarm, and hurt never felt before.
Some things not even time can put aside.
Not even time – good time – can heal some sores.
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