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Sonnets 1 – 30


Looking at the springs, sitting in the sun
something at my nape begins to tickle
like the wind’s moving a hair there, fickle
on my bare neck between the scalp and trunk.
I’m reading the poet Bill Kushner—Ah!
His April Poems are wonderful to hold.
It’s April and I’m here with Bill—But no
Something’s crawling on my skin. Is it? What?
I scratch and it vanishes like a thought
forgotten, but it’s not. It walks. I pick
from my neck a beautiful round red tick
with many tiny moving legs, enough
to turn my thoughts from Bill to blood and death.
It knows I’m here, where I wanted to rest.


Every time I come it is the same
running without end down the mountain stairs
rocks, giant eggs and heads of dinosaurs.
Elegant woods, soft, expanding gently
over everything, a promised dream
of health, happiness, not bombed little kids
without limbs, politicians getting rich
off suffering—Away! I want to be
among unfolding ferns and skunk cabbage
where the warm bright sun thaws the ground still cold
like Christ raising Lazarus. As I grow
old it seems possible to really love
even the startled snake scared in the leaves
but man—Who threw this bottle in the stream?


Silent morning, about to rain. Birds sing
conversations. The wind’s in the willow.
One lone dove coos. It is so beautiful.
Cachito, quiet at my feet’s sleeping
curled, paws over his nose, pointed dark ear.
Now I hear a bus down Avenue C
vanish, gone in its fumes. Voices appear
coming home or off to work. Way up here
I was happy, not a thing did I want
or fear unsure of what was real or not
then I heard my voice talking to myself
then the twittering of birds then a dove
then shouts of someone crazy on the block.
I thought I was alone, but I was not.


Jimmy, you let your dogs shit where they want
and you don’t pick it up. It is your fault
when unsuspecting others come and walk
through the crap or their toddlers catch some bug.
But you’re the one who’s most unfortunate.
I would rather not have lived than be you.
What you do to others you do to you
and your dog’s shit’s the very least of it.
I think you’ve not been loved; you steal, don’t give.
Once I wanted to kill you with a rock
Smash your head in behind the hill—And fuck
No one would have known, but I let you live
and though I know your suffering’s thorough
it’s still my fault it’s not a better world.


When I think of all the lovers I’ve had
it’s a blur, I’m afraid, of quantity
but there was quality in quantity
angels found in the common crowd, riffraff
whose amorous wings, far from this fact called earth
took me up in heavenly abstraction
from the orgy really to the action
of orgasm when remembered or birth
or flame or premonition, Adam Eve.
Who can tell us what has been? For love you
have to wait, be as chosen as a Jew.
Love’s not Godot though and fortunately
when I think of Love’s smile softly I can
remember those lips. Whose? I’ve forgotten.


The flies and itching heat are gone at last.
Lovely autumn, just a walk from my door
golden and energetic, I adore
you here with me steadfast as the promise
of middle age. Birds rustle in the leaves.
Or are they footsteps coming from behind?
No, it’s only a squirrel I turn to find
close to the bench as unafraid of me
by the East River in East River Park
which was built from the rubble of London
bombed, brought back, ballast in the emptied hulls
of battleships returning to New York
in World War II. Who really knows what was?
Brown and yellow, red they fall, spring’s green buds.


You weren’t the sort of friend to come and go.
Then one day the spit dribbled down your chin
and your chapped lips that never stopped talking
of Raphael and Michelangelo
grew silent. I knew that you had suffered
more than I could know though I know one day
perhaps I’ll know. Right now I don’t. I’d say
Do you want us to say The Lord’s Prayer
together? It seemed to give you comfort.
Oh the nonsense of this world! Who can’t see
that we all come to this, both enemy
and friend? It’s so absurd not to love
love till the end. In my pen when the ink
runs out, are my thoughts somehow diminished?


We met by chance in a shadowy place
not too far from the sea with enough light
that we could look each other in the eye
while another bent over your phallus
whom you left then abandoned in the dark
like peeling off a layer of your lust
to come to me, the kernel of yourself
directly, not stopping. I was the mark
the spot, all calm, the center of your storm
invulnerable place found in a dream
where you could unclothe and embrace. You seemed
like a friend I was seeing again or
a familiar stranger who somehow knows
the silent tender acquaintance of souls.


When I put headphones on it’s like I’m deaf.
The world goes by silently on its own
like schools of fish in an aquarium
or New Yorkers who appear to my left
my right again almost like trash or leaves
scattered by a thoughtless wind. I am not
alone but it feels that way without sound
until my CD spins Carlos Vives
singing, clapped to my head, his song the world
all that there is: Colombian rhythms
that move my hips and rump along with them
till in my ears and all around me whirls
even the stranger who sits down to rest
drawn from the soundless crowd to this park bench.


To know the truth we need to talk and read.
Two at least must do it, talker talker
writer reader revealing things that we
already know so absolutely sure
of our own selves because somebody else
was there to tell us. Ramón Jiménez
I know I lived because you did. You help
me see all that I am, the new sunset
sunrise, butterfly and happy sparrow
whose God’s the blue sky, the unparalleled
burro whose life’s like mine, joy and sorrow
light and shadow reflected in the well.
You can talk to friends even when they’re dead.
Their voices appear like words from a pen.


Work will overcome evil like the grass
covers dirty hypodermic needles
dog shit and broken glass. Good does prevail
while evil’s jagged edge is dulled at last.
Anarchists threw bottles to hear them crash
and never bothered, spoiled brats, to sweep it up
not blaming themselves when children don’t come
but let their pit bulls tear the tire to trash
where children used to swing. All day long they
gerrymandered the park bench to drink, drug
take a long piss when the beer filled them up.
Parasites can’t pervade a healthy place.
Work scared away the lazy, forgotten
and children play where they once vomited.


Curtis, when we cleaned out your room I took
some of your books and the Mexican scarf
I bought you. Now it’s mine. You could say ours.
It’s stained in spots. Should I clean it? I look
see some of your blood, a cigarette burn.
I think I’ll wear it like it is, mindful
of how you engaged the world in thoughtful
conversation. There’s always more to learn.
I know with your scarf wrapped around my neck
it’s curiosity keeps me going.
I’ll never be afraid of death wanting
to know what’s going to happen next.
Even when you went crazy I enjoyed
answering the phone and hearing your voice.


The hunter and the deer are in the woods.
Right now no gunshots explode the quiet.
Only the wind’s unafraid to riot
in a few leaves, shaking the branches good
the living skeletons of wintertime.
I hear some crows as far away as clouds
flying down in circles starting to caw
over the blue valley having just spied
a doe’s butchered guts steaming on the ground
where squirrels rifle acorns and a young pine
chopped down for Christmas has let a branch lie
green as the summer when the insects sound.
I hear a car come droning up the road
father and son inside with orange hats on.


I’m happy when the day begins and I’m
happy when it ends. I like to wake up
and start again and I like to sleep. Does
this mean I’ll be happy dead or alive?
The morning sun shines warmly on my head
through the cold window. I’m reading a book.
People get kidnapped, kidnappers wear hoods.
It’s tense and sad, by García Márquez
interspersed with a few ironic laughs.
Shadows of ladybugs move on the page
elongate words, cast from the windowpane
where they really crawl. An old lady has
to be taken out and shot. I could cry
as the year’s trespassed by the new and flies.


It is snowing, it snowed, and it will snow
but the city won’t cancel public school.
I have to go to work, something I do
whether I’m paid to or not. It is cold
outside. “Inside is warm.” Did I say that
before or was it something that I dreamed?
Warm’s a good sound. I teach people to speak
English. We know from opposites like cat
and dog, happy, sad, right, wrong, night and day.
Don’t be afraid; we learn from our mistakes.
Repeat after me, “We all strive to say
the same thing.” We understand and translate.
We laugh and say, “In the land of the blind
the man who is king has only one eye.”


The setting sun and I are way above
the clouds and far below us I can see
the snowy ground. A man in front of me
puts headphones on. Almost everyone
is watching the movie. I see the earth’s
a dark coal, a dying ember. The west
glows red and thin till it like the thinnest
eyelid closes and the day’s gone, a dearth.
My destination is Salt Lake where friends
and perhaps fame await. In the window
I see myself transparent as a ghost
staring through my reflection. The heaven
grows dark with light. From a crevice of clouds
a star comes out and shines in my eye now.


I did something I wasn’t going to do
Made the wrong choice and now I hate myself
Could cry, am so depressed, but why feel through?
Not far off some jazz plays. Oh what the hell
it’s the first day of Lent. I’m at the gym
getting ready to exercise. One foot
going through the jockstrap I’m poised standing
on the other. I want to be thin. Not
fat, do you hear me? Thin, not who I am.
Me I don’t want to be. Perfection
is finding joy in anything. I am
ashamed that I’m complaining. Me I am
like the masochist who says God is Love
then hangs Him beaten bloody on a cross.


I hate the month of February. I’m
glad it’s short. If you have to live up north
for one thing it’s cold. I do like them both
the hot and cold, but as I grow old I’m
much more inclined to the south and the sun
and its warmth. Today’s not winter but spring.
The climate’s changed. Here comes the sun. Birds sing.
Cachito at the window I’ve opened
first peeks his head then his whole body out
along the windowsill five stories up.
I whistle and he comes back in, abrupt
as if I’d given him a warning shout
afraid that he might fall. Do animals know
where they are? Well, when they don’t they howl.


My hands are numb and yet the sun is bright.
It’s early spring when death becomes alive.
Crows caw, geese honk and the mallards quack at
the pond. The ice is gone but at the back
of the barn there still was snow to be found
looking just like white flowers on the ground.
March and April are my favorite time.
Cold youth thinking only of itself smiles
as attractive as the photos of my
parents, young sailor and his happy bride
who has grown old and struggles up the steps
I slowly rise behind, waiting to step
into the kitchen which is warm unlike
the waking yard outside stabbed with wild chives.


Just as I write two hawks above the trees
fly fast away. Shadow of a buzzard
passes over my shoulder hopefully.
I was expecting rain, impeded start
but the sun’s come out, made the day open
as a pursued lover turning might smile
and kiss me on the mouth. Surprise! I am
chosen and as happy as can be while
everything gets worse. Soldiers still fight
in Afghanistan, a god awful war
I hadn’t wanted, but then who am I?
The wind blows my pages while I write for
those killed in battle. Wind, give me the breath
the word eternal not alive or dead.


The butterflies of spring are small and dark
not colorful and bright like butterflies
of summer hovering from flower to flower
in beauty’s camouflage. Two butterflies
on the asphalt road laid with silver stone
though small stand out. Because they’re dark I see
wings lined with white flutter and rise up, gone
in blurry jagged flight through the bare trees
whose branches, rusty buds blow in the wind.
There I lose sight of them like a prayer
vanishes when other thoughts intrude. In
the woods a bird whistles and I’m aware
of the three notes, a path I do not know
although I’ve walked here many times before.


The fortunate fish escaped from the net
knows what it is like to go to heaven.
Is life the net? Is that what Buddha meant?
Are the holes in the hands the nails nail in
not only bleeding, but open, the wound
the way out? No one answers the question
what is it like to be dead? Very soon
those we love are and we do follow them
going where love goes though it be the end.
In Iraq they say militants kidnapped
three Japanese humanitarians
and plan to set them on fire. More yet
yes much more suffering. Will it ever
stop? The wise may stop, but the world never.


Today class was canceled. I didn’t know.
It’s Sunday afternoon. Battery Park’s
over there with its benches and bowers.
I’ve never been there really so I’ll go.
Parks are the same. Whether it’s Tuileries
Or Chapultapec, there are birds, trees, squirrels
the insane with the sane. Here the whole world
comes to see the Statue of Liberty
speaking its many tongues. Every word
was the same gurgle in a baby’s mouth.
Observing tourists I can figure out
who strolls in love and who strolls together
for protection. Families stroll, children
run. I’m in class too sitting in the sun.


The sun is bright reflected on water
shimmering it to pieces. With too much
light I’m blind. They say when we see God up
close we die. I’m pretty sure I’ve never
looked on God up close but every day
along the way see God every face.
We try to add God up in countless space
and God keeps coming. Generations, waves
burn around the Statue of Liberty
ripple and sparkle the Hudson River
lapping its fire right up to me. We are
all in flames and existence I can see
flies up completely still on outspread wings
a seagull hovering against the winds.


My cat and I play chasing each other.
He jumps while I write and then stretches out
full length in back of the warm computer
to claw my hand when it comes in sight. Ouch!
Ow! I say but Cachito doesn’t care
about a little cry. Now if I die
and go to heaven, it wouldn’t be fair
if Cachito dead and gone couldn’t fly
to meet me. Hand in paw forever
like friends jumping from the World Trade Center
or tourists who’re caught in stormy weather
we will go or we won’t go together
having fun. What’s a little blood? I scratch.
Cachito bites me and I bite him back.


Petting my cat is like remembering
the tenderness of childhood. Once far off
I used to retreat to the valley, soft
between my mother and father sleeping
and unafraid of any nightmares then.
Woods now are full of murderers and ticks.
There were Indians when I was a kid
hiding in the branches, but only friends
I could imagine not real things like thorns
that meant me any harm. Running alone
through briars, swamps I jumped from stone to stone
as unharmed as the bee caught in the Rose
of Sharon’s petals that I closed buzzing
against my fingers unstung but touching.


Everyone’s seen a sunset and been glad
even sad, everyone sees the sun set
with different eyes, laughs or cries, but each loves best
what each fears most to lose and what each has
each holds from harm asleep in their tired arms
like Mommy held me walking through the woods
sitting me on a hill to tie my shoe
as if it were a city stoop. Ants swarmed
over me pinching my clothes and skin, stung
me like Willa Cather said it snows on
cemetery and farm. Mother was wrong
to have thought it was ours, the town she’d flung
me down on, her little boy in danger
who ran away a scared confused stranger.


Writing’s a thing of opposites, putting
on clothes, taking them off, whispering shouts
starting a fire and then putting it out.
You don’t want to burn the pages. Writing
flames, when words are on fire, they take flight
toward the horizon in an open mind
and they’re more combustible when they rhyme.
Very much like birds words fly out of sight
before us on our journey. What’s thinking
but flying, following thoughts? Why are they
always words? Love’s the word I strive to say
to you, believing it the place where striving
ceases, there pain ends, and even the best
of words. Love we’ll remember after death.


It wasn’t love—I only thought it was.
It’s true there is no fool like an old one.
People who believe in ghosts do see some.
The halls grow dark and there they are because
They’re what we think they are full of powers
The mind is a real place where thoughts abound
with speech and ears that listen hearing sound
giggling leprechauns and flying saucers.
Do you ever think when someone’s raving
in the street, some pathetic lunatic
it isn’t he’s the one who’s really sick
but us buffered from the truth he’s seeing?
What’s most important? Why do you think so?
Do you actually know what you know?


In the early dewdrop chilly morning
I’m alone gardening. What a delight!
It’s been hot and noisy. Now’s a quiet
tranquil dawn. New York City’s still sleeping
tired out. It was loud. Don’t wake the city.
I want to hear waking in La Plaza
beds of dark roses and gladiolas
sparrows chirping in the willows. Beauty’s
a lot of work and Manhattan’s landscape’s
a flower itself of stone, desire and sweat.
Yes I am determined and alive yet
with time to spare but not one hour to waste.
Reader, you might not know this ages hence
but my hands are dirty as I write this.

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