Three Men in the Breeze

Pinned to Ted’s chest a list of opinions
changed daily like a tie or underwear
and on his forearms his feelings tattooed
in secret for most days he felt nothing
unless he rolled up his sleeves

which he often did when Jocko came in
stinking of the couch where he put all
his cards into watching sports on TV
exercising his extensive vocabulary
culled from an encyclopedia of games

while story after story after story came
from the very vocal pen of one high
falutin bird dogging Mitch whose body
still twitched from his days in the ditch
of public service (“The buck stoppeth
here,” he liked to say, “safely in my
pocket. I did my time, it’s your round
to buy.”)

Mr. Moneybone knew all about finance
and happily pulled out a wad and spat
into a gold spittoon declaring one
on him for the whole house

though only Agnes in her corner chair
sipping rye correcting papers and
doubting Tom at the end of the bar
where the petrified wood curved
all the way into Montana and now

all their words gone to seed
mixed on the sawdust floor
with that tracked in from the road
in the Breeze a one draft pub
they considered their last deed.


Days of Wine and Roses

The days
of wine and roses
palm trees green
leaves dangling in bronze breeze sea
fallen fronds found for tiki faces
carved with pocket knives
in soft dry wood
of branch stalk deep eyes
and sharp shell teeth
long slender days
fat pug noses
and sunburnt legs
beaches galore
nevermore
a sober sunset for two
the days
of wine and roses
are here.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Mr Klein on Hydra, and Bendrix in the Wrong Bed

The theme tying the Palfrey, Klein, and Bendrix books together, apart from I read them near simultaneously, is how to live given our peculiar predicament in place and time. For Mrs Palfrey and Klein, the quandary is old age, for Maurice Bendrix, another of Graham Greene’s difficult but entertaining characters, it’s another man’s wife.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey finds herself widowed and looking for a suitable place to live out her remaining years. Daniel Klein returns to Hydra, the Greek island he first visited in his youth, now, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus et al his companions, “in Search of a Fulfilled Life.” And Graham Greene, obsessed with another man’s wife, tries to reconcile lust, love, man, and God in London at the end of World War II, no less. The trio of books forms a sandwich of bread fiction with filling of popularized philosophy.

In Elizabeth Taylor’s “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont,” first published in 1971, recently widowed Laura Palfrey decides she would prefer living in London at a partially residential hotel where she can take her meals and companions or not as part of the deal. She doesn’t have much of a plan, so the random but lifelike twists and turns come naturally, while old age seems to bring the same existential questions one faced in one’s foundling youth but perhaps put on the back burner during one’s years of forced employment or marriage, more concerned about the bread than the filling. But in old age, one returns to the choices of fillings. How, for example, we might fill our time.

Daniel Klein, in “Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life,” argues for simplicity in old age, the art of doing nothing contentedly, a choice of course requiring a bit of privilege. But his point, in part, is that even those with a ton of privilege often waste it trying to stay young, while old age offers a predicament thoroughly to be enjoyed. Part of that enjoyment includes the gift of being untied from the train tracks of sex.

Graham Greene’s Maurice Bendrix in “The End of the Affair” enjoys no such respite. Another Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with a movie-trailer-like Introduction better left unread or at least saved until after you’ve read the book, “The End of the Affair,” first published in 1951, is another of Greene’s fictions borrowing enough it seems from his own experience to qualify as fictional memoir, a good choice for those readers who might need the explanations of gossip as critical backdrop.

So, how does one live one’s old age? Well, one could do worse, for starters, than reading about it.

Once More to the Moon

The stars will blow out they say
tho none have seen one up close
or this far away for that matter.

And for now the center still holds
the “deep heart’s core” burns on
of course tempered with age.

The tool worn and bent its handle
once forged so hot to the touch
now almost cold the closer you come.

The further astray and adrift
solo in space in your egg shaped
spiral lost in your milky way.

Why nine chains to the moon?
Because things arranged in threes
allow a mysterious symmetry.

The Old Busker

He stood beneath a bank of trees
near the beach of a green spring
the wily busker taking deposits
of fruit in his cowpoke hat basket
a few choice purple cherries
a couple of greenbacks
and a nugget of fool’s gold.

He sang of broken hearts
paper torn into many pieces
litter along the roadway
how love collects like dust
up against the bent guardrails
that’s my heart in pennies
he sang out on the highway.

He worries the strings of his guitar
with his bent wire fingers
flap slaps the hook smacks the box
shapes his fretful music
the earth wants a cover
creeping vines and grasses
if any have many piled carpets.

Woolly and Blue

Yes, lend an ear or
if you can’t hear
a hand everyone
needs help some
day sooner or later.

A great funnel follows
this big bang spiral
the universe a canal
of turns and twists
through a milky orifice.

The birds play the leads
the melodies while the trees
rhythm leaves in the wind
as I wile away the evening
dressed in hearing aids.

More than sound is here
to hear is to feel motion
an eyelid angel’s kiss
across the baby’s lanugo
can you hear this?

To Forgo

For days on end we go without
disavow our yielding yellows
surrender calls our voices
You knew what was coming

The abyss, an abyss anyway
I often want to share mine
with you but then I forget
your name your hands

Every morning now I finish
flex the memory stretch
credulity as they say no
more evidence than an empty

basement the attic too
the whole house spotless
not a speckle or a flake
of what used to take place

the romp stomp jerkings
the peaceful long sleeps
no need to hark but now
lend an ear or a hand.