TV in the ’50s

Always on, the ‘56 black and white Philco flickered promises
into crowded living rooms across America
A better tomorrow for working families
All it takes, stare hours at your TV screen
Let the subliminal messages do their work

Wishful thoughts, soaring away with Dinah Shore
You’re in the USA with a Chevrolet
What’s good for GM is good for America

In retrospect, we know better
Back then, what we bought was who we were

Many blamed TV for misdirecting youth
Bigger than life ideas filling their heads
Blame our Philco if you like
but there’s another side:
All those jobs in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, hanging
on whether folks bought the contraption
advertised during Phil Silvers Show

Diversion was our god, aided
by Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers
Making us laugh, rather than cry
as advertising created a nation of consumers
Having was how we found meaning

In another way, our Philcos, Zeniths
and GE TVs helped us get beyond
face-to-face sameness, filling
small towns across America
Hungry for new role models, TV provided them

For those growing up a long way
from New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles
TV sets brought them closer
to the reality, soon changing us all
Perhaps we should be glad someone told us
even if it was Howdy Doody

As September Draws Nigh

Summer plans one final act, readying
to turn over the stage to autumn, whose invitations
out early this year
have captured the hearts of the sun, leaves
remaining flowers and birds

None can resist fall’s impending magical dance of color
its extravagance, spell-bounding beauty
The trees must sleep, after a long hardworking summer
The flowers return to seed, rejoining the earth birthing them
And the birds draw straws, seeing who will stay
and who will flock and head southward

With just a glimmer of sadness, I watch
as September draws nigh
the last of summer drift past my window
and autumn’s glorious color show begin

Life Between Trash Pickups

Tuesday, trash day
Roll the big green dumpster to the curb
Filled, with life’s residual matter
Leftover stuff: corn husks, used tissues, cereal boxes
other unmentionables, revealing how we live

Life happening between trash pickups
Not a glamorous depiction, but realistic
for all consuming and disposing
Curiosity overtakes me…
I lift the green monster’s lid, exposing myself
to dreadful smells, making me wonder
what kind of life I lead

Ancient Near Eastern civilizations had their tells:
Mounds of trash and rubble, built upon
by their future societies
We have stinking landfills; some now larger
than the cities they serve

It frustrates me, we throw away so much
but at this moment, it haunts me even more
life is what happens between trash pickups

Our Attitude about Money

money isn’t the devil
some say it is
it’s a reality of our existence
and can be a resource for good

how we come by it matters, and
how we use it is important
not a ticket to happiness, and
many other things are more important

though, it concerns me
when folks disparage money
calling it the root of all evil
saying it doesn’t matter

it also worries me
when people only want money
don’t care about other people and things
believing money and life purpose are the same

our attention manifests the life we have
no more, no less
same is true with money, and
everything else in life

if there isn’t enough money in your life
ask yourself why
explore your deepest attitude about money
it may be an impoverished one

Unleashing the Child Within

children, so inventive
always something new
new things to do
new ways of doing
new ways of looking, and seeing

the child’s mind: nimble, malleable
open to the moment’s presenting
learning…a game
bringing joy and excitement
just for the sake of playing

as we grow older
mountains of beliefs, ideas
ways of being, expactations
bury our inner child

unleash your inner child
challenge him to leap these mountains
carrying you to fresh new starting points
just on the other side

Reflections on Rush Hour

I think of those people
trapped, in their Chevys and Toyotas
with their favorite lame radio talk show host
drinking up airwave poison
inching their way through stop and go traffic

A Dalai Lama moment seizes me:
Somebody taught these folks to drive
but forgot to teach them to think
I smirk, but glancing in the rearview mirror
see myself, also suffering
like the fish swimming in the bowl all about me

Each way, an hour or more
Trying to get somewhere
getting nowhere
Due to a bad hair day, their Imus is gone
A victim of self-combustion
But Howard Stern’s still there
interviewing guys, liking to suck women’s toes

My own fog aside, I cringe
watching the Goth chick next to me
engulfed in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke
Barely making out her University Hospitals parking sticker
I wonder, who’d come to her for healthcare
She passes me
I give thanks her window is up

Many, as they drive
sip and guzzle Starbucks grandes
As I reach my exit
a second Dalai Lama moment occurs to me:
Stop and go means something else to them

Showing Up

show up
like the sun, each day
nothing special asked
just be there
provide light, when needed
give warmth, always

special things happen
when we’re fully present
when we set ourselves aside
surrender to the moment
give ourselves to others
by simply being there

it starts by opening our hearts
reaching out with love
holding hands with truth
then, like the sculptor
setting free
what’s always longed to be beautiful

Dedicated to Jim and Elayne Devine
for their caring and sharing.

One Chance Left for Happiness

Born sad and broken-hearted
Happiness is so hard to find and guarantee
Most days I get up hopin’
My life will head on back to me
But no matter where I look
I can’t find it, happiness, no guarantee

Some days I feel like packin’
Sayin’ goodbye to all weighin’ so heavy on me
Don’t know where I’ll be goin’
But can’t stay here, luck’s run out on me
One good chance left to make it
Can’t waste it now, things aren’t workin’ here for me

Tried my best to make things work
And find that missin’ part of me
But no matter where I look
I can’t find it, and there’s no guarantee
So I guess I’ll just be leavin’
Takin’ that last chance with me

So I guess I’ll just be leavin’
Takin’ that last chance with me

Note: Another early 70’s poem in search of music.
This one felt like a Country Western song back then. And
yes, this is kind of a sad one.

Meeting James Wright at Dutch Henry’s Bar in Martins Ferry

finally met up with him, one blustery cold friday night
saw him, sitting at the far end of the bar
hunched over a blue spiral-bound notebook
his right hand, like a machine gun
shooting words onto a shadowy white page

the only other time i’d been to dutch henry’s
was with uncle hank when i was eight
as my uncle pushed open the front door
he cautioned me: never bring a lady here
didn’t ask him why
but after my maiden visit
i knew exactly what he meant

i felt so important
just sitting on a bar stool next to my uncle
drinking a coke through a straw
listening in on his conversation with the two burly men
whose massive sandpaper rough hands swallowed mine
when we shook hands
somehow i knew one would ruffle my curly black hair
before our visit was over
jake, the taller fellow, did just that
not once, but twice

i never knew my uncle laughed so much

james looked older than i remembered
from his black and white celebrity photos
but i still recognized him
his heavy, black-rimmed glasses, were a dead giveaway
a balding portly man
his gut hung, like a small pouch of dough, over his belt

i reached him at the end of the bar
just as his left hand grasped the neck of his beer bottle
without letting go of his beer, and
only barely moving his torso
he swung his right arm around
extending his writing hand to me
managing just a hint of a smile
he said with a slight lilt “don, i presume. i’m james wright.”

his hand was soft and warm
i thought it would be rough and cold
from the hard life he had lived
it wasn’t till much later
i saw the thick writing callous on his middle finger
mine was negligible compared to his
but then, so is my poetry

he chugged the remains of his beer
we ordered another round
as i sat down next to him
i strained to read what he was writing
but his handwriting and the darkness prevented me
from making out even a single word
he didn’t offer, i didn’t ask

he asked when i had left martins ferry, and why
it was the why part he was after
i wanted to move on, talk about writing
and what it’s like once your poetry ends
why i left no longer mattered, but
why both of us returned, just for this visit, did
we both knew more than our poetry carried us away
from this near dead steel town along the ohio river

james made me feel like a mirror
allowing him to see himself
at first, i felt like some hyperbole to him
then i realized…
dead men can’t see themselves
then i understood why i was sitting
in the town’s dingiest bar, talking
with the ghost of martins ferry’s poet son

like james wright
i had seen autumn begin in martins ferry in 1963
he was long gone from this place
and well on his way to infamy
i was still there (here)
an aspiring player, galloping terribly against other young men’s bodies
on shreve high school football field

back then, every night i went to bed
dreaming about becoming somebody important
hoping to escape the choking smoke of the mills
and someday make a difference in the world
here i am 44 years later, literally dreaming
about meeting a dead poet in a bar
locals would remember far longer
than their town’s poet laureate

isn’t it odd how dreams and reality stare back at each other
not only in poetry
but also in fanciful meetings with long-gone poets?


Author’s Note: Like the poet James Wright, I grew up in
Martins Ferry, Ohio. Wright died in 1980. Dutch Henry’s
is still serving drinks, and it’s still not someplace you
should take a lady. Someday I plan to sit at the end of the bar
and write a poem.

Livin’ the Hard Life

Sometimes life seems too hard
All I wanna do is run away from me
Sometimes pressures get me down
All I want is just to be free

Sometimes I get lost in life
Forgettin’ my reason to be
Sometimes I get stuck midstream
Life washes over me

Sometimes there’s more dark than light
It’s no wonder I can’t see
Sometimes the music stops when I’m dancin’
My legs collapse under me

Sometimes it seems life’s questions
Bring unwelcomed answers…
Those takin’ the better part of me
Sometimes life seems too hard
All I wanna do is run away from me

Sometimes life seems too hard
All I wanna do is run away from me

Note: Another one written back in the
early 1970s when poetry was music.

The Monarchs on Point Lobos

monarch butterflies, following their destiny
traverse the rockies and sierras in magical caravans
at the right moment, coming to rest in dense clusters
in monterey pines and eucalyptus plants on point lobos

perhaps it’s the call of the sea lions
catching rays on the staggered jagged rocks
or just their hearts beckoning them
to carmel’s deep peace and grandeur

in unison, their wings flutter in the cool ocean breeze
sweeping across the enchanted peninsula
always in pairs, they break away from the clusters
finding their way into the sunny meadows
flirting with the fragrant douglas irises and coffeeberry shrubs

until march, the monarchs call point lobos home
a safe haven where god stands watch
performing miracle after miracle
and where wintering monarchs invite their aquatic friends
the seals, sea lions, otters and whales
to help paint the breathtaking canvas

Larry’s Turning Point

the teachers called larry slow
kids were not so kind
to them, he was the village idiot
from the other side of the tracks

as a special education student
larry was stigmatized, ridiculed, teased
and treated as less than everybody else
though the butt of other boys’ jokes, larry played along
wanting attention, of any kind, from his classmates

teachers and the principal tried their best
to stop the boys’ malicious pranks
they were given detention
notes were sent home to their parents
nothing stopped them

sometimes problems solve themselves
that happened in larry’s case
one day, during morning recess
the boys convinced larry to remove his clothes
and run naked through the hallway

kids flooded the area
laughing hysterically, as larry emerged from the restroom
and began his first streak
he forced a smile
but his embarassment was obvious

then it happened
larry suddenly turned around, facing the boys
their laughter stopped abruptly
as they beheld, by far, the largest penis
any of them had ever seen in their lives
bigger even than their fathers’

the principal rushed to larry’s aid
covering him with his suitcoat
larry seemed grateful for the help
but pleaded with the boys to keep laughing
their laughter made him feel a part of them

after the streaking incident
the boys’ pranks and teasing stopped immediately
and for some reason
the girls suddenly took a liking to larry

Note: True story from my childhood. Names changed
to protect the innocent. Ok, I embellished just a little.

An Old Woman’s Memories of Her Father

the old woman sits on the park bench, alone
with her memories

most vivid, those from long ago
like in 1936, her father teaching her to drive

she still sees the dark gray ‘32 ford cabriolet
smells the black leather seats
and hears the sputtering sound of the engine
as the car climbs the steep hill near their house

fighting the tears, she remembers the ford
sitting in the garage, untouched for 3 months
after her father went off to the war
he never returned from

she still sees the chair, at the head of the table
where her father sat, empty
long after her mother died

now, she sits alone, remembering
small parts of her life, just before
darkness falls on the park bench
and death removes all memories

When a Man Grows Old

he wonders where his life has gone
with so little of himself left to get up in the mornings

the playful boy has a new home
and now walks the banks of the river
skipping stones with other boys

the young builder puts away his tools
to watch other young men build things

the wise gray-haired gentleman
living to counsel others
forgets more than he remembers
and concentrates on not spilling his morning coffee

the old man, living all week for a sunday walk
just sits in his chair, watching birds on the feeder
thinking of all that has been
wondering why autumn leaves surrender to the winter snow

A 1933 Ty Cobb Baseball Card

ty cobb, a.k.a tyrus raymond cobb
baseball hall of famer
driven man born in rural georgia
card #1 in goudy’s 1933 baseball card series

to teammates, the man always getting the needed hit
a guy who could steal home
as easy as bonnie and clyde robbed banks
but also the surly, arrogant sob nobody wanted to room with

to opponents, a ruthless competitor
sliding spikes up into second basemen
the devil sneering and glaring
stopping you dead in your tracks

to his friend “shoeless” joe jackson
a “stop at nothing” batting champ rival
one distracting joe at the plate
just to throw off his hitting

to fans, a magnificent hitting, running machine
they’d cheer each time he’d step to the plate
and too afraid to jeer
when he went down swinging

to detroit, the main reason fans showed up at tigers’ games
in 3,000 games, almost 4,200 hits
yet a man with few friends in the city loving his gamesmanship
perhaps that’s why henry ford never built a car called the “cobb”

to history, one of baseball’s greatest, but also
a player whose racial slurs made tempers flare
a man who thought, to his last game
negroes should always play in a separate league

a legend in so many other’s minds, but not in his own
those knowing ty cobb say, to himself, just a boy
trying not to disappoint his father
and go home a failure

to me, a prized 1933 goudy baseball card
a surprise gift from my wife
enjoying the hunt for trophy cards
even more than me

to the depression era boy, opening the waxed paper wrapper
finding the “georgia peach” in the pack, sheer uncontrolled delight
propelling him, like a rocket, through the neighborhood
proudly sharing his good fortune with envious friends
for his hand was the first to hold the card, now in mine

to those caring nothing about baseball cards
especially old musty smelling ones
just a colorful piece of cardboard
getting in the way of the slab of gum in the pack

in the larger scheme of things
a 74-year old door to history
kept open by someone
hoping others would walk through it someday

life doesn’t stop for us

life doesn’t stop for us
like some bus, picking us up, dropping us off
there’s no stopping what’s always been
and without reason
reinvents itself moment by moment

it just moves through us
that’s all it’s supposed to do
it’s not yours, or mine, to keep
given what it is
let’s not stand in its way
try to slow it down, or
even speed it up

don’t believe me?
let’s hold our breath
as though that changes anything
eventually, we’ll breathe
and life continues on

in case we’re wondering
death brings no end to life, only us
think naming things stops their becoming?
think again
better yet
just let life go on, and
let’s get out of its way

Trust Yourself

Don’t doubt yourself. Submit to the force of your own trust. You’ve survived worse: reams of self-doubt over a lifetime, plaguing you like death. You want others’ confidence. How can they, when there is nothing but terror and trepidation written on your face? Change it all. Trust yourself.

Note: If Charles Simic, our new Poet Laureate, can get away with this style, can’t I?

Walk Away with Me

Every time I see you
Reminds me…
I don’t wanna walk alone
Reach out, take my hand
Walk away with me

Can’t get past you…
No matter how hard I try
You tie my heart in knots
Impossible to untie
You linger in my thoughts
Sometimes you make me cry
Can’t shake you from my dreams
Don’t even wanna try

Just give us one more chance
To be what we can be
Let the magic of the moment
Paint our hearts, set us free
Don’t wanna walk alone
Reach out, take my hand
Walk away with me

Don’t wanna walk alone
Reach out, take my hand
Walk away with me

You got it…another early 1970s love poem
that wanted to be a love song.

Saturday Night You’re Not With Me

It’s Saturday night, you’re not with me
That much is plain enough to see
Sat at the bar, waitin’ for you
Closin’ time comin’, almost two

Losin’ hope, beer by beer
Life without you, my worst fear
Last time I saw you, in your pink and white dress
I thought what a beauty, I must confess

I glance in the mirror, hopin’ to see you
I look at the door, wantin’ you to walk through
It’s now past last call, this place is a closin’
You’re not comin’ tonight, that I’m supposin’

Part of me says, give you a call
Even better yet, stop by your residence hall
Then I think, what if you’re with him
My chances with you growin’ more dim

It’s Saturday night, you’re not with me
That much is plain enough to see.

Another one written during my college days
in Tucson. As I recall, this was written in 1971.
Again, shooting for song lyrics with this one.

Climbing the Chagrin River by Mary Oliver

We enter
the green river,
heron harbor,
mud-basin lined
with snagheaps, where turtles
sun themselves–we push
through the falling
silky weight
striped warm and cold
bounding down
through the black flanks
of wet rocks–we wade
under hemlock
and white pine–climb
stone steps into
the timeless castles
of emerald eddies,
swirls, channels
cold as ice tumbling
out of a white flow–
sheer sheets
flying off rocks,
frivolous and lustrous,
skirting the secret pools–
full of the yellow hair
of last year’s leaves
where grizzled fish
hang halfway down,
like tarnished swords,
while around them
fingerlings sparkle
and descend,
nails of light
in the loose
racing waters.

Note: This poem is about the Chagrin River,
a wild and scenic river in the Cleveland area.
A beautiful river, a beautiful poem.

Sit-in Roadshow Stops in Tucson

Scorching hot mid-May morning
UA campus, Tucson
Just a week following Kent State
In psychedelic-colored secondhand school buses
faded tie-dyed VW vans
and even a few in slick ‘57 Chevies, they arrived

Pouring into the Park Avenue neighborhood
the unexpected California sit-in roadshow
clogs the western campus entrance
Throngs of half-naked, long-haired people
Some say, 20,000 strong
My guess, at least a couple thousand
beaded, bearded, barefooted, stoned Hippie freaks
descending, like outer space aliens
overpowering campus and city police
National guardsmen arrive, dressed to kill
Even they couldn’t disperse the sit-in
lasting two long timeless days

Joints burning well into the night
That familiar sticky sweet smell hovering
like a thick smoky cloud over campus
Enough for a contact high
just walking through the motley crowd
The dope was one thing, but for me
the music and dancing took the cake
Upon reflection…
maybe even better than Woodstock

Then, without warning
on the morning of the third day
they left, as quickly as they came
Taking nothing, leaving only
thousands of MJ roaches, empty wine bottles
and their handmade Make Love, Not War signs
Next stop? Santa Fe

Catch Me Please

Remember that first night
when you saw me watching you?
Those hazel eyes of yours
said softly I want you too

Then when you walked away
you left me kind a blue
I think, pretty lady
I could fall in love with you

Can I ask just one thing
if there’s no hope for me with you?
Catch me pretty baby
before I fall too hard for you

If no is your answer
I’ll simply slip away
That void you left
I’ll fill another way

We can’t pretend to be
something that we’re not
But I wish you’d give
my dream for us
at least an even shot

Dreams need time
just like me and you
to unwind, and then come true
And while there’s no tellin’
where our love will go
Please let your eyes
dance with mine tonight
Maybe then
you’ll see things the way I do

Yes, pretty lady
just one night to show you
what our love can do

But if you can’t…
then all I ask
is catch me please, pretty lady
before I fall in love with you

Yes, all I ask
is catch me please
before I fall
too deep in love with you.

Written by Don Iannone in 1970, Tucson, Arizona.

A Soldier’s Last Songs

the eighty-two year old man
with the chalky white skin
and the permanently folded hands
lying in the casket
was the only one to know
the true reality at hand

his ability to see, no longer blinded
by his eyes, and other senses
his mind no longer gets in the way of his spirit
which waited all these years for release
he sees, in a different way, the shadowy figures
lurking, and flying about the room
like ancient winged creatures
right out of the alchemists’ Rosarium philosophorum

visitors paying last respects pour into the room
the shadowy figures multiple in number
like a mushrooming chorus
singing one familiar song after another
like the song of the children
where sons and daughters stand over their dad’s body
crying to be held just one more time
like the song of the grandchildren
wishing one more visit
to get to know the father of their parents
like the song of the wife
begging her husband to return to their bed
that tonight she might not sleep alone
there are no brothers or sisters
so this song, for now, goes unsung

then, the song of the friends, mostly older
streaming past the open casket, offering prayers
wondering when their time will come
among them, the man’s veteran friends
who sing the final song, the soldier’s song
reminding all of death’s disinterested stare

tears fill every eye in the room
as the haunting sound of taps
washes into the parlor
bringing with it
a legion of uniformed men
young and old
not from just one war, but all wars
one by one, they march past the casket
and with their voices lift up the man
and take him home

In Memory of Marie’s Father, Jack Keck

New U.S. Poet Laureate: Charles Simic

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Simic, who learned English as a teenage immigrant, will be the new U.S. poet laureate, the Library of Congress announced yesterday. The native of Yugoslavia, who lives in Strafford, N.H., will replace another New Hampshire poet, Donald Hall, as head of the poet laureate program, which promotes poetry across the nation.

A sample of Simic’s work:

The Something
By Charles Simic

Here come my night thoughts
On crutches,
Returning from studying the heavens.
What they thought about
Stayed the same,
Stayed immense and incomprehensible.

My mother and father smile at each other
Knowingly above the mantel.
The cat sleeps on, the dog
Growls in his sleep.
The stove is cold and so is the bed.

Now there are only these crutches
To contend with.
Go ahead and laugh, while I raise one
With difficulty,
Swaying on the front porch,
While pointing at something
In the gray distance.

You see nothing, eh?
Neither do I, Mr. Milkman.
I better hit you once or twice over the head
With this fine old prop,
So you don’t go off muttering

I saw something!

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

By Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Commentary: To me, this is an amazingly powerful poem,
overflowing with allusions, clever imagery, and voluminous
complexities, and unfoldings. For one, Collins’ reference to the
middle of the night reminds us of our own growing older
and our struggle to hold onto the past, to remember,
glimpse what we’ve been, and perhaps what we are
becoming. This poem rattles my cage. How about yours?