draft written quick today

Westinghouse Park Preprandial, 2020

The sights and sounds of summer’s civil twilight,
from June’s full moon to August’s august mood,
adjust in time with masked walks taken out,
right from home to head for former Solitude.

In June the darkness twinkles down the ridge
with childhood fireflies lashing through the night
and tiny conies fearless in their ignorance
and bats that flutter drunk across the sky.

The August air turns cool and hints of fall.
The field of lightning bugs has fade away.
Cicadas shake to make familiar calls in
Cryptic code. An old communiqué:

The season recapitulates the life.
The table set with bread, beside the knife.

Uber (nod to Harry Chapin)

About 23 years ago I started a poetry writing group in Chicago, where every week we invented an assignment for ourselves. On one occasion we decided to riff off pop songs (I interspersed Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” with my own lines), and on another we wrote our own songs (I composed a diatribe against Bill Gates called “Gates of Hell” that included a rousing chorus we sang in the coffeeshop — this was before Gates woke up and found philanthropy). Today I found a shirt from Southport Lanes, signed by the poetry group and other friends during my birthday party there in 1998.

While I haven’t been writing as much poetry, this weekend I drafted a song to follow Harry Chapin’s “TaxiandSequel“. 


… from the journey ‘tween heaven and hell,
With half the time thinking of what might have been,
And half thinking, just as well.

I took an Uber to Montauk that morning
To stay there a week or two
Before heading farther east out from JFK
For a Paris rendezvous

When the car hit the Long Island Expressway
And passed an exit sign in Jericho
I said to the driver in a voice hardly mine
There’s a place where I have to go

It took a while before he looked in the mirror
And to hear me, he turned down his song
Then he turned his car into the driveway
Past the gate and the fine-trimmed lawn

I walked among the stones that morning
Bowed back, in search of your name
A smile then came to me slowly
It was a sad smile just the same

And I said, How are you, Harry?
He’d have said, How are you, Sue?
Through the too many miles, and the too little smiles
I still remember you

You see, I was gonna be an actress
And he was gonna learn to fly
I took off to find the footlights
And he took off to find the sky

Don’t ask me if think often of him
Or whether I started to cry
Don’t ask me if I thought of what might have been
Better let sleeping dogs lie

I looked on the ground for some meaning
Blinking to heaven, then down to earth
He had left a six-line message
What one man’s life could be worth


Oh, I’ve got much more inside me
Beyond your spots gone blind
There’s a whole world living in me
Illuminating my mind

Oh, I’ve got much more inside me
And what my life’s about
It’s outside song and story
Writing, ’til my time, runs out

Now that you’re gone for as long as
You were here forty years
I’ll tell your songs were as wrong as
A dear old friend’s tears

There was not much more for us to talk about
No address to forward his letters to
So I lifted my fingers from the place where they rest
And brushed my dress of the morning dew

As I walked away in silence
It’s strange, how you never know
But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for
Such a long, long time ago

You see, I was going to be an actress
And he was going to learn to fly
He took off for the footlights
And I took off… well, did I –

And here, I’m acting happy
With some part of my story told
And Harry, he’s flying on the airwaves
Staying young, while I grow old

Oh, the years fly by, and I grow… old…

While this is a reasonable draft borrowing extensively from Harry’s own words, it feels unfinished to me. One of the virtues of Harry Chapin’s lyrics is how effectively he tugs on the heartstrings with direct turns of phrase. Although some music critics feel he can get too melodramatic, I find his tone perfect in these two songs. I haven’t done them justice yet.

I also need to work out the chords. There are at least four patterns (which I call Verse A, Verse B, Bridge, and Interelude), as well as the Intro and Outro. 

design outlets

When I was a professor teaching science, math, and writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1990s, I enrolled in graphic design classes as a creative outlet. This experience has given me confidence to make my own projects, although I do tend to rely on the perfection of geometric forms. While this conservative tendency goes way back, at least as far back as middle school when I enjoyed constructing mazes, I may have ossified more over the years. Let’s see:

About four years ago I created an emblem to be burned onto the surface of a music box, as a prototype for an artifact that would survive on the Moon for millions of years. I regularized and aligned medieval symbols for Earth, Moon, and Sun. Looking at it again now, I find this icon striking but static; it could belong on a headstone as much as on a time capsule.

Earth Moon Sun 2016 02

About fourteen years ago, before the children were born, I designed a family flag, which I later had made into a lapel pin. Focusing on this project must have been a comfort as I mourned Mookie; the four colors represent the surface tones of the four mammals who had been the members of the family. While I obviously lean on geometry here too, the colors help introduce some movement.

Family flag 2005

About eighteen years ago I completed a book project that combined my interests in design and in poetry (honed in the writing group I started in Chicago and in writing workshops I taught for Bard College). Below is a sample of page layouts.

Before the Rain Contents 2001 04

Invocation Violation 2001 04

My dog 2001 04

Your first time 2001 04

Given this limited sample, it does seem to me that I have become less daring in my designs. I wonder if this is due to a heavy reliance upon keyboard and trackpad, or perhaps just lack of practice to push myself in this way. The children continue to produce wonderfully sloppy, dynamic drawings, but this type of artistry is not limited to youth. After all, when we travel this winter I expect to admire how Gaudí and Picasso produced work that was increasingly more organic and free-flowing in their later years.

show me your throat

(This piece is about how intimacy and vulnerability are intertwined: 
intimacy and vulnerability between audience and reader, reader and text, 
doctor and patient, dog and master, lover and lover. This piece is called: 
show me your throat here’s mine. Can you hear?)

How about now? Is that better?

Does that hurt?
How about now? Is that better?

you take your self to the physician you tell the doctor what’s wrong you say, 
doctor what should I do: it hurts when I do this <Basho poem: left hand 
smooths, right hand jumps, both splash>
The doctor says,
stop <splash> 
don’t do that

It’s a joke, don’t you get it? <splash> 
It’s a joke.

Do you know what I’m talking about? 
Has this ever happened to you?

you take your child to the pediatrician the child sometimes can’t tell you 
what’s wrong you have to read the child
you take your dog to the veterinarian the dog can never tell you what’s wrong 
you have to read the dog

you have to walk the dog 
you have to read the dog

listen: the dog is telling you something:
the dog is saying, I’m happy to see you I’ve missed you awful okay let’s go for 
a walk
the dog is saying, if you dropped that piece of fried chicken then I’ll be here to 
help clean up 
the dog is saying, leave me alone you’re too warm I don’t want to be near you 
right now 
the dog is saying, I’m
     so hurt that you can take my paw between metal forceps and pinch
     so hard that your knuckles turn white but I won’t whimper or squirm I’m
     so tired I can barely open my eyes to tell you that I wish that you would stop
stop <splash>

don’t do that

no one wants to tell you – : no one needs to tell you –

Do you know what I’m talking about? 
Has this ever happened to you?

Open wide – say aaah.
Lie on your back – expose 
your throat.

Show me your throat. Here’s mine.