Legs

My new poetry publisher asked to meet for coffee, a while ago. We did, and he said I’ll tell you a story about me and then you’ll tell me.

His father was his favorite relative. He was a social guy, surrounded by people all his life. And even though he lived in a small town on the West Coast, Way Up There, the publisher said, he was a dandy (his word) with beautiful suits, and shoes to match. Whenever he could, he’d play poker. At 70, he had to have his right leg amputated from the knee down. That did not stop his poker playing, or his suits. He got a wooden leg, and made friends with the leg maker. At 75 he needed his left leg amputated from the knee down. He got another wooden leg, and made an extra set just in case. And kept on playing poker. When he died the publisher (we can call him William) took all four legs and made a poker table.

Then it was my turn.
Next time I’ll tell you a story is all I could say, after the very pedestrian Oh My God. I said that a few times.

Goodbye Betsy

Twenty eight tries
At goodbye Betsy
Twenty eight
Goodbye Betsy letters
I am grateful
Thankful appreciative
I will always remember
Recognize
Keep in mind
What you did for me
Sold two books
Helped me along

Encouraged supported
Made me laugh once
Took me to lunch
You sold two books
Why this is so hard
Impossible to find
Words I’ve been
Looking for all summer
It rained a lot
Goodbye

Donna Summer and a few other things

When I teach, which I do as much as possible, I often talk about GOOD STORIES. What are they? How do we recognize them? What do they look like and sound like? How do we know them? And how do we know BAD STORIES? There are many (many many) pompous essays explaining stories but really, a good story needs no explanation. You just sit there and listen because you want to know what happened.

I have a few. I wish I had an infinite supply. Here’s one. For ten years I taught at Parsons School of Design, where I wrote a curriculum (it wasn’t really a curriculum but that was the word the Parsons OFFICIALS you should have seen them gave what I did. They couldn’t think of a better word although I gave many suggestions) to teach writing to visual artists. In one class I had a student I instantly LOVED (you’re not supposed to do that) who was enormous and adorable and a gay male in madras bermudas. It was the 80’s. I guess some gay men had madras bermudas. I told the class that they should come up one by one and tell everyone what they’d do if they could do ANYTHING because I have always believed that we could do ANYTHING if we say it, and if we’re lucky. This guy I’ll call him GARY he lived in Hoboken with his mother and grandmother he said he could only tell us if we turned around and didn’t look at him (instead of him turning around) but we all did. They he announced to our BACKS that he would like to sing in Donna Summer’s back up band.

It turned out the way some things do that my friend SHEILA was taking care of her first Alzheimers patient, a famous Broadway Actress who lost everything except her singing voice. Sheila was taking the famous actress to a famous singing teacher once a week. I called Sheila and asked if Gary could go to the singer. “Of course,” she said. “Just say that Barbara (the Alzheimers Actress) recommended him. Barbara won’t know, and neither will the teacher.” That’s what Gary did.

AND THEN it turned out that the famous singing teacher DID CASTING for his OLD FRIEND DONNA SUMMER. In the end GARY sang backup for Donna Summer (and I claimed a personal and entirely unjustified victory).

A few weeks ago after many years I got an email (how did he find me?) from Gary. Oh My God he said. Did I love Donna Summer.

It took him a while to say that, but he did.

Relatives, Really

I am not family-ish. I don’t have that feeling that so many people do of OH BOY FAMILY. My family was not interestingly dysfunctional. They weren’t GOOD NOVEL OR THEATER material. They were in the OK category. OK being somewhere in the middle of life. And as a result, or because of apathy, or maybe because of some other reason that I really truly don’t know, I rarely see family members. Except for my own tiny nuclear and anti nuclear family of friends. I love my friends, and see them as much as I can. This week a friend named Ken arrived from Michigan, to live in New York. At least for a while. He’s 58 and for many of those years he’s dreamed of New York. Now he has a job and a place to live. Today was one of those Sundays that are unbearably beautiful: clear and full of people. Ken and I walked into the park and said Oh My God This is Beautiful about 3,000 times and then we went to the flea market. Where we both like, even love, staring at useless objects and talking endlessly to their sellers. I know them all, going there as much as possible. We were talking to a beautiful Burmese woman who makes greeting cards out of ginkgo leaves (I’ve bought hundreds of them) when I saw and heard a woman at the next table telling the seller there that 38 years before, her favorite relative gave her the identical fish set to the one on the table to her for her wedding. I just knew the woman speaking was referring to my mother, who’s been dead for many years. I turned and there she was, my mother’s second cousin. Standing with her sister. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

For You, For Tonight, or Help is On the Way

I’m reading tomorrow night with my friend Joanna Herman  at Book Culture, near Columbia. It seemed like a good idea to write a new poem.

Easier to talk about

almost anything my sex life, mother

anything Jewish

than it is to talk about my own writing.

You might want to know why. Yesterday, practicing for tomorrow,

Peter and I sat under an old railroad bridge on the river

in Astoria, a place that is really and truly a poem, and he said

maybe words are just harder

than pictures.

Some people want facts alongside

their words. I don’t know any facts

even how tall I am

make up all facts and then

they’re not facts. They’re poems.

Noguchi’s house across the road

from Costco, in Queens. Is that a fact?

Is that a poem?

Many years ago who knows how many

psychiatrist named Arlene she

wanted me to talk more about writing. Not my mother.

Go home she said. Write a bad sentence.

Then tell me. I spent a whole week

writing bad sentences. This was my favorite: Spot

was the only name I could think of for our dog.

It’s never hard to write

sentences. What’s really and truly hard

is to give my sentences to you.

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