Say It Isn’t So

Say it isn’t so
whisper in my ear
it’s so soon for you to go
stay young with me dear
don’t make me grow old

Say it isn’t so
blue eyes once so clear
freckles on your cheeks
falling disappear
your skin where soft as milk

I used to slip the clutch
voluptuous your lips
your grip so loose
say it isn’t so
that now you’ve let go

There is no instant
metamorphosis
when bliss gives way
to the fish flouncing
in the bucket on the pier

Say it isn’t so
we’re all out of bait
you can’t remember
our last happy date
the old commiserate

but must go down alone
say it isn’t so
the best time of the day
when your eyes close
peace comes a wave

bubbles at the shore
at the tideline we talk
unsure is it going out
or coming in
say it isn’t so

After the Rodeo

One who behaves bears
want and likes we hear
called a good neighbor

not so with old friends
whose schisms gone
seeded of bickernesses

the aplomb the plums
you ate so cool and self
defining the sad clown

you know well long
after the greasepaint
has worn to raw down

and now we can laugh
at the one who slipped
and fell unexpectedly

but it’s canned laughter
the harmful joy
of this rodeo

where the cowboy
limps away to lick
his wounds

in the trailer
behind the tavern
plays a country song:

“I don’t know why
I married you.
I like you, but
I don’t love you.

It was just timing,
really, and I still
thought of you and
your friends as boys,

not men, the mean
characters my mom
went out with, and boys
could take you away

from the messiness of home
at least for a little while –
it wasn’t until later and
too late I thought

maybe I did love him
but by then I found out
it doesn’t take long
for most boys to become

men and now wonder
how and who is going to
take me away from
this old song again?”

The Urge

To bed, to bed, but quietly said,
with a quaint taste of ardour
and a slight touch here and there.

To wed, to wed, a bug to brush
away this so called love
of the troubadour,

whose quick amour
one does not miss
nor that tremendous bliss

of crushed roses steeped
in the gooey remains
of a Holy Grail lost,

whose love for itching
broke out in hives
along the flushed skin.

Temperature about the same
as yesterday,
rhyme outlook low.
Appears tropical
depression here to stay.
10 day forecast
too far out to say.
One never knows,
near or far,
but no one seems
in jeopardy tonight
who sleeps alone
in a bed of stone.

A War with a View

These are two very different books, but so close in flavors and effects. Both concern a soldier recently returned home from World War One duty. Rebecca West wrote “The Return of the Soldier” when she was only 24, living with her three year old, in 1916, the war still on and in some of its deadliest and darkest hours. J. L. Carr’s “A Month in the Country” was published in 1980, when he was in his late 60’s, WW1 at that time superseded by a number of other high and mighty events.

This is not a book review, that lockstep genre one learns in literary basic training. War narratives often exaggerate plot and action. The truth is action, if it comes at all, stops time, stops waiting, lifts the soldier off the ground or water, suspends. There is no plot to that moment. If he remembers anything of the action the memory stirs smells, sounds, touch, taste. World War 1 is memorable for its suspension of progress, the soldiers on both sides stalemated in their trenches for days, weeks, months, years, the most significant action perhaps a slow moving cloud or fog hugging the ground and when it gets to you takes the skin off your face. And of course in any war for every soldier that experiences what I am here calling action there are several others who experience only the waiting. Both experiences take their toll and can leave soldiers, whatever their experience, broken machinery.

In any case, for the most part, these books avoid that portrayal of action, and take place in beautiful natural settings, far from any action of the war. Both returned soldiers suffer from emotional trauma, but are able to enjoy life returned away from the front. They don’t suffer from anhedonia, usually the result of not enough action. Both books are necessarily novellas, because so much has been left out. Both concern a small cast of characters in a little window of time and action out of view of the mainstream. Rebecca West has her character Jenny narrate, so it’s a first person but not the soldier returned who talks, while Carr’s book is told first person by the returned soldier, Tom Birkin. Both books are love stories surrounded by nature in lovely landscaped settings mostly unspoiled. The writing is clear and concise, natural and unaffected but poetic, impressionistic, descriptive. Both books touch on class as a theme, work, and all the trappings and dressings of diversions and social nakedness.

“Penina’s Letters” too touches on those themes and uses some similar techniques to get its soldier returned story going and told, but I suppose its author may not have seen enough action, and so had to substitute satire for reality, or maybe should have relied on someone else to tell his story, Penina perhaps.

Moonglow

It must have been moonglow
drop these words down to me
must have been moonglow
I’m up in the old oak tree.

Your supermassive hug
your stellar eyes of blue
I can’t get out and away
I’m disappearing into you.

It must have been moonglow
high up in the old oak tree
that night you said those words
and held me so close to you.

pure poetry, 2000

Readers who like unlikeable characters will love Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Lila Moscowitz. Lila is stubborn, spoiled, angry, bitter, promiscuously self-destructive. And, frosting on the cake, she’s a poet. That’s not to say she’s without redeemable qualities. She’s funny, hilarious, in fact, a natural wit, and as honest as a person can be without losing all of one’s family and friends and readers. Her humor is laced with sarcasm and irony. She’s quick, street smart and intelligent, independent. Experienced readers will recognize that Lila is not Binnie, that the narrator of a novel should not be confused with the author. This narrative truth is emphasized toward the end of the book when Lila takes some questions after a poetry reading:

“‘Did you really dance topless at the Baby Doll Lounge?’ Another one of the college girls is contemplating a career move, no doubt.
I smile as if I’ve got a secret, and I say, ‘I refuse to answer on the grounds that it could incriminate me.'”

Lila may be a poet, but she’s not stupid:

“That I never danced topless at the Baby Doll Lounge or anyplace else either is not what they want to hear.”

Does she “write every day,” another student asks, and Lila pretends for the audience that she does write every day. She’s then asked “how much money do poets make?” Here she tells the truth (192-193).

But while the perspicacious reader knows Lila is not Binnie, we all know that poetry does not sell, so why not only does Binnie put “poetry” in her title but structures her book with poetic devices, informing each chapter with epigraphs, definitions of poetic conventions? Didn’t she want her book to sell? The answer has to do with wheels within wheels, or how to turn a stand up routine into literature:

“Many of the poems I write are about sex. I have a gift for the subject. The ins and outs of it. My poems lean toward the sordid side of the bed, the stuff of soiled sheets” (21).

We don’t get to hear those poems, but they apparently are full of the tension created by want harbored in inhibitions freed in seduction, romp enclosed in forms, procedures, praxis, which express mores without which somehow sex is not nearly as much fun. The fun is enclosed in a box of gravure etchings. The notion of form as enclosure is conservative. The poet might want out, not in. Lila’s own explanation might solve both Binnie and the reader’s questions:

“There is freedom within the confines of form the way a barrier protects you from the elements of disaster. The way there is love in the bonds of marriage. ‘Without boundaries, you can be only adrift,’ I say. ‘Lost. Without lines drawn on the map, you are nowhere. It is better to be a prisoner of war than to be without a nation, a place, a people'” (194).

Jesus may have said the opposite – Come, follow me, and leave all that nonsense behind. Of course, most of his followers wound up wanting it both ways.

“Maybe they should stay in their cages and sing their hearts out. Unbridled passion…results from being tied to the bedpost” (194).

Which is to make of Lila a dynamic character, one who’s changed over the course of the work. She finds love only by losing love. She’s human, fallen, having slipped on her own banana peel, but she gets back up, and writes a book that stirs and calms the forms.

Pure Poetry, by Binnie Kirshenbaum, a novel, Simon & Schuster, 2000, 203 pages.

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.

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.

Marine Layer

Loveliest of evenings long passed
close kissed in dark dwelling alley
irate tenants hissing us go away
and we felt the marine layer coming.

Felt with our youthful tongues day
and night passing slowly into the mix
of salt and hair and wet sandpaper
rubbing away our persistent presents.

And while yesterday we had sun
today we have none though they say
the globe is warming you wear your
flannel nightgown winter and summer.