Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tiny Autocrat Scolds Whiners

            New York, Dec. 29th (INS). Faced with rising anger over his city’s immobilization after last Sunday’s blizzardcane, Mayor Mike Bloomberg scolded his critics, calling them “whiners,” “babies,” and “scumbags.”
            “If I had known I’d face such ingratitude,” the tiny autocrat declared, “I’d never have taken the trouble to violate the two-term limit for elected officials so I could run for a third term in 2009.”
            “New Yorkers have to grow up,” he continued. “We’re doing the best job we can to clear the streets and restore service to our transit system. My people tell me that this should be accomplished by January 3rd, when real work resumes—unless you live in Sheepshead Bay, Williamsbridge, or Staten Island.” He added, “In the meantime, our tourists are having no trouble getting to the theater.”
            Mary Tobias, a Queens secretary for a Fortune 500 company in downtown, said she was just a schoolgirl when then mayor John Lindsay allowed a heavy snowfall to strangle her South Ozone Park neighborhood in 1967. “‘Goddamn Lindsay’ was the preferred name for that bum, and then he never filled our potholes. Now it’s ‘Goddamn Bloomberg’! I still can’t get to work in less than two hours from Whitestone.”
            Notable for her absence from her usual stance just over the mayor’s shoulder, so she appears there on TV newscasts, was Christine Quinn, the president of the City Council, who led the legislative way to allow Mr. Bloomberg’s third-term campaign. Often called the mayor’s heiress apparent, Ms. Quinn is following his advice to lie low lest she be tarred by the blizzard’s white brush.
            As for the mayor’s most recent retort, he told the press today at City Hall, “If these whiners don’t just shut the f--- up, I’m running for a fourth term!”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Black Cat II

An addendum to my previous post:

Black Sprite

The black fur and the big green eyes
Send forth most melancholy cries

From out in the hall or downstairs
Wherever they’re wrapped in cat hairs

And the cries always sounds like “George,”
Which I try to translate to “purge,”

To put this eerie feline sprite
Out of my ears and out of sight,

But its mournful cries cause me woe
Like the black cat of E.A. Poe.

The Black Cat

No, I'm not referring to Edgar Allan Poe's cat, but to the one in my hallway, crying from hunger and thirst and lack of companionship. This young black cat might belong to a neighbor one floor below, whose apartment door is open but who is apparently not home. My wife and I first noticed the cat last night when it began to cry and we went to see if it was all right and then saw the open door, the dark apartment, and got no response to our calls. I don't know this neighbor, because she is fairly new in the building and we simply haven't yet met. Cheryl and I decided to wait till morning in the hope that the neighbor might return by then. Other neighbors came home after midnight, but they ignored the open door and the crying cat.

Sure enough, this morning there she or he was, still crying, so I went to our nearby precinct house to report the open door, but the receptionist just told me to phone the super. On the way home, I bought a tin of cat food and put the contents on a paper plate and fed the famished cat under the staircase on the ground floor. I then brought it a bowl of water, and it already had almost finished the food. An hour or so later, I heard the cat outside my door again and opened it to find a large deposit of cat shit on my doormat and the cat looking up at me as though this was her/his thank you offering for the food and water.

The neighbor's door is still open, the cat is still in the hall, and the super, a cat owner who doesn't live in the building, says he'll feed the cat after work this evening and shut it in the neighbor's apartment for the night. I've taken the doormat down to the stairwell, hopeful that the cat will continue to use it as a litter site.

Oh, yes, I haven't taken the cat in, because I am allergic to pet fur and would get asthma from her/his company. And yes, if you know about cats and have any suggestions, please comment.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pragmatist III

I've written here about Pres. Obama's pragmatic move to the right of center as an aid to helping him politically, and in the wake of his recent legislative victories--the tax compromise, DADT, START, the health care program for 9/11 first responders--it looks like his new strategy of finding bipartisan allies in Congress is working. While I still oppose extending tax cuts for the rich, I have to give Pres. Obama credit for these important accomplishments, which have general bipartisan support and are crucial for their beneficiaries: if gays wish to serve openly in the military, they should not be denied on the grounds of their sexual preference; the START treaty helps reduce the number of nukes held by the US and Russia and makes us all marginally safer, and the 9/11 responders whose health suffered from their selfless work in The Pit deserve money for medical treatment. These achievements have bolstered the President's image as a leader. Let's hope he has more such success in this lame-duck period. Santa came early for Barack Obama, and for us.

Friday, December 17, 2010


My small family and I have decided to forego personal gifts this Christmas. Instead, the 8 of us who will eat Christmas dinner together will each chip in to send a check to a charitable organization. Yes, this decision grows partly out of being too busy or too disaffected to join again in the annual ritual of shopping for and wrapping gifts but also from the sense that our money can be better spent on helping the needy than on our comfortable selves. As we grow older, we need less and less, and luckily our young cousins join us in rejecting the gross materialism of our society. And yes, my wife and I will each exchange a small present on Xmas Eve, but there will be no gift-giving at Xmas dinner. Besides, each of us has a birthday, on which we can receive gifts if we like. Once a year to be gifted seems sufficient.

I write cognizant that some businesses need custom this recession year and, most of all, that Christmas was originally Christ's Mass, a holy celebration of the birth of The Messiah, to whom the Wise Men brought gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. But that was long ago...

I share this message with no intention of sounding holier than thou, but if you like the idea of helping a charity for Christmas, maybe you can adapt/adopt it for your family. If you do exchange gifts on Christmans, may you love the ones you get as much as your gifts are loved by others.

Monday, December 13, 2010

That Good Night

I am grateful for the readers' comments on "A Fine and Private Place." After all, death is, with love, the poet's most frequent subject. With death so often swept under the rug in decades past, perhaps it's refreshing for death now to be made public, as in the long dying of Elizabeth Edwards. She fought valiantly and when the time came, she yielded with dignity. We can only imagine her pain, her struggles with the side effects of medication, her fatigue. But we'll remember her aliveness in the face of death.

I thought of Mrs. Edwards especially in the light of Jane S's comment that we must rage, rage against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas urged his dying father. But eventually there might come a time when the dying person feels he or she has endured enough and prefers an end to the suffering. This was true of my mother after she had lived weeks in agony from a metasticized abdominal cancer. After she had achieved the escape she prayed for fervently, I wrote the following poem, which I chose to read last Friday night at the Cornelia Street Café:

How Sweet The Bye and Bye
               (For J.B.H.)

Once the pain preyed unrelenting
you could taste how bad
you wanted to go into that good night
you raged against the light
prayed for it to go out
for you no false heroics
just the stoic’s sort.

You could not taste at last
the bile rising to your palate
burned your taste buds out
as your huge tumor crushed gall
bladder and kidney and thrust down
your uterus till you could feel it fall
between your lips like a natural-
ly aborted fetus.

“‘There’s a land that is fairer than day’”
you sang me softly in the breath left you
“That’s where I want to be
where I won’t ever have to do
another goddamn thing I don’t want to . . .
‘I’ll be free in the sweet bye and bye.’”

Then you saw, being blind, the last dim light
your opalescent pupil could permit
and cunningly left behind your agony.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Fine and Private Place

Why Old Men Are Grumpy

They ache from arthritis
And hurt from grief

They rue the end of success
Or they rue their failures

Impatience dogs every slow step
And halting withdrawal from the memory bank

They mourn each dying chum
And every dwindling day

Inflation depletes their fixed income
As they contemplate death

They pray for a good one
And curse the bad ones they have seen

Therefore they are grumpy

            I wrote this poem a few years ago, in the wake of the deaths of two old friends, yet I generally resist writing poems about aging, because we live in an unprecedented time when many prominent older poets, even in their eighties, are themselves writing poems about aging. Among the elderly but still often published poets are John Ashbery, Galway Kinnell, Jack Gilbert, W.S. Merwin, Marie Ponsot, and Adrienne Rich. They were born in the 1920’s and have been publishing for about half a century.
            What’s in an age? Would it smell as rank by any other number? The only certainty about age is that the higher the number, the closer it brings you to the grave, that “fine and private place, / But none I think do there embrace.” As Emily Dickinson might have written,
I think about it every day
And wonder, when it’s come –
Th’exquisite moment that I turn
Entirely dumb –

If I shall know how I succumb,
Yet pray I’m not in pain.
Whether there’ll be resurrection,
I hear the word is “mum” –

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Pragmatist II

I received comments on my "Pragmatist" both pro and con, some of them on Facebook and not here on the blog. Here is a follow-up from AOL News this morning, showing both that the idea Pres. Obama is a pragmatist has some currency and that voters might cotton to his compromises with the GOP:

"Some political analysts are viewing President Obama's willingness to rankle Democratic leaders and anger liberals by striking a deal with Republicans on extending the Bush-era tax cuts as a bid to win back independents in advance of the 2012 elections. A new Gallup poll suggests that, politically, it may indeed have been a good way of moving towards that goal.

"Liz Sidoti, who covers national politics for the Associated Press, saw Obama's strategy this way: 'The compromise portended more likely to come as Obama courts the fickle center of the electorate and positions himself as the pragmatic president many independents want. . . . Enter Obama's dealmaking with Republicans and criticism of Democrats, moves intended to try to reclaim that swing-voting territory as he casts himself as a president who puts people above politics.'"
Seems we might be in an era of center-right dominance and Pres. Obama's political instincts have led him in a promising direction for survival into a second term. Such a situation might leave liberals and progressives even more isolated and without leadership.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Pragmatist

When Barack Hussein Obama campaigned for President, way back in 2008, he came across as an idealist, a man who believed in our capacity or appetite for change, and he promised important changes that appealed to such a broad base that the first black President was elected by a comfortable margin. The people gave him a mandate to enact the changes he'd promised them. However, once in office, he seemed to lose the steam of idealism, compromising on his promises for change in health care, the war in Iraq & Afghanistan, DADT, energy policy, and the economy to the extent that some of his followers felt that, far from initiating change in Washington, he was perpetuating the unpopular regime of his predecessor.

To top off his failed promises, on Monday evening he announced his greatest compromise yet: an agreement with the GOP to continue the Bush tax cuts at all income levels for two years and to grant other tax benefits for the rich in exchange for a 13-month renewal of unemployment benefits that won't cover those who with 99 weeks on such benefits, millions of whom will lose this income and, unable to spend, will help deepen the recession.

How could Pres. Obama, who had been campaigning for weeks against continuing tax cuts for the rich, capitulate so thoroughly on this issue? The answer might be that he is not and maybe never has been an idealist; he is a pragmatist. He might be best compared, not to JFK or Lincoln, but to Richard Nixon. Pres. Obama's embrace of sustained tax cuts might be compared to Nixon's opening to China--something that he could do in the face of the common wisdom is his party. Pres. Obama has read the Nov. 2 election results as the voice of doom for progressive politics in America today and has repositioned himself as a right-of-center Democrat who appeals to moderates, maybe in the hope that in 2012 moderation in governance will be the ticket to a second term.

For progressives, the loss of all pretense that the President might be left of center and the election defeat of liberals like Sen. Russell Feingold (WI) in November, paired with big gains for conservatives, presents a crisis. Who will lead progressives and liberals on the national scene and what leftwing policies can they hope to advocate with success at the polls of a nation whose pragmatic President has joined the ranks of those moving the country to the right?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poetry Reading on Friday

I'll be the featured reader at the last Son of a Pony Friday night reading at Cornelia St. Café:
Friday, Dec. 10, 6-8 PM. Emcee/curator Jackie Sheeler will be saying adieu to this venue, which she has done so much to create and support. When you arrive, please sign up for the open reading if you'd like.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Poetry Worth Reading: Nicole Cooley's MILK DRESS

For the past 2 days I’ve been engrossed in a wonderful book of poetry, Nicole Cooley’s MILK DRESS (2010). It’s (non-doctrinaire) feminist, maternal, biological: it’s about the poet’s body as she bears her two daughters, nurses them, weans them, and exults in their own growing bodies both within and without her. So it’s also about embryos, births, life itself. And the poems themselves give moving, articulate testimony to truths about a woman’s body: that it is fecund, animal, sentient.

The word “body” initially appears in the prefatory poem, “Homeland Security,” and in the first poem, “Self-portrait with Morning Sickness,” which begins, “Don’t tell me the body’s opposite is—” and leads up to the concluding assertion that “the body’s / opposite is not the spirit. // It is nothing but this wish.” Along the way, Cooley tropes her morning sickness as “My body is its own shipwreck” and relates that “inside my skin, another // body floats,” the fetus that causes her illness but will lead to great fulfillment.

Indeed, Cooley uses the word “body,” with more or less import, in most of the poems in MILK DRESS and ends the book with “In the Anatomical Museum,” The Mütter Museum, in Philadelphia. There she mentions her dream of being “pregnant / for the third time but there was no baby, // no ‘obstetrical interventions’ to remove this body / from my body,” as there once was, she tells us in “Caesarean,” in order to birth the “body caught in my body.” In the final poem Cooley recognizes that a hundred years ago she would have died in the birthing room, where she “had failed” to deliver the baby who would be “not of woman born,” as Shakespeare puts it in MACBETH. Now, however, she concludes by referring to her two girls—proof that she has succeeded: “my girls / who cannot be bodiless.”

Throughout MILK DRESS Cooley uses effectively the traditional elements of poetry, as in “Triage Sonnet” and the rhymed couplet that ends “Homeland Security”: “Write against blankness, a sheet strung tight, / a bed the color of ash: white, white, white,” where the monosyllables, the mention of ash, and the thrust of the repetition recall Sylvia Plath. But elsewhere, as in “Milk,” the cadences and imagery suggest those of Virginia Woolf’s admirable prose: “Save that woman / in the garden, folding and unfolding // clothes alone while the light lies / broken on porch stones.” Notice how often Cooley uses the imperative voice, a sign of her passion, one of her virtues, in my view. She fuses intense feeling and scrupulous form like the best poets—think of Dickinson and Yeats—and knocks the reader out in poem after poem, evoking tears and wonder in equal amounts.

MILK DRESS also contains strategically chosen excerpts from a poetically written 1959 scientific essay on “Love in Infant Monkeys” and poems about 9/11, which occurred when Cooley was nursing her first-born. Key among these is “Disaster, an Instruction Manual,” in which she meditates on the word “disaster” in an effort to accommodate the nearby disaster she and her family experienced on 9/11. This poem makes a bridge to her previous collection of poems, which was published only last spring: the excellent
BREACH, a telling account of another disaster, Hurricane Katrina, from her point of view as a native of New Orleans. I can’t think of another poet who published two such fine books in the same year. Cooley has already won the Walt Whitman award for her first collection, RESURRECTION (1995), and I’ll be disappointed if she is not nominated for a 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

I’m writing about Nicole Cooley now to suggest you consider buying either BREACH (LSU Press) or MILK DRESS (Alice James Books) as a seasonal gift for anyone who loves to read or for yourself.