Corky Cain, Washed Up Surfer, Sings of Dead End Hedonism



sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal


My ash blonde hair has disappeared,

leaving a freckled scalp in its stead.

Two black bags bulge beneath my eyes,

All rheumy and rimmed with red.


They say sagacity is recompense.

(I’d settle for a dollop of common sense).

Hey, little lady, could you spare me a smile?

(Or at least a wink instead of a wince?)


No, when it comes to wisdom,

I’m an old lecher banging on a drum,

cruising the boulevards looking for love

in the suburban sprawl of Byzantium.


Playing the fool, the pantaloon,

howling for hours at the hollow moon,

waking in the morning with a broke down head,

knowing that never will be all too soon.


Old friend, Willy B, sing me a song

that will drown out the barbarous gong

of the death knell clanging in my brain

you, the king of love gone wrong.

Ayn Rand’s Treasury of Children’s Verse

“The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own hierarchy of values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness.” — Ayn Rand


Good Riddance

Jack and Jill went up a hill
to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.

And none of John Galt’s women
and none of John Galt’s men
lifted one little finger
to help either of them.


This little piggy went to market (as bacon)
This little piggy as ham;
This little piggy was injected with chemicals
And ended up as spam,
And this little piggy (see below)
went wee wee on the killing floor.

Pitch Black Night

Three blind mice
Three blind mice
See how they stumble
See how they starve.

All three were poisoned by the butcher’s wife
Who didn’t get the dosage of the poison quite right,
So now they spend their very last day
in pitch black night, pitch black night.


Georgie Porgy pudding and pie
Hung with the girls and not the guys.
Puberty’s hitting him, however,
Precipitated a change in Georgie’s weather,
So Georgie ditched his girly toys
And hid in the closet with like-minded boys.

Mistress Ayn has this to say
To all of you who might be gay.
Breaking nature’s laws
Denotes “psychological flaws.”

She finds you personally “disgusting”
For your perverted lusting.
If you want to join her nation
Then you better switch your orientation.


Now I lay me down to sleep
in a universe dark and deep.
If I die before I wake,
Tough shit, them’s the breaks.

Ode on a Tattooed Torso

Last Sunday, after returning a rented golf cart, Caroline and I walked over to Planet Follywood for breakfast and then over to the Tides for a rum-infused tropical treat (her) and a hoppy yeast-born malt-based brew (I-and-I).  As we sat in a slice of shade in the corner of the plaza of the outdoor bar, a shirtless, bearded fellow walked past.  He had a picture of a spine tattooed over his own spine, flanked by a pair of wings tattooed on his shoulder blades.  “Wow, dig that,” I whispered.

We continued our conversation as the man and two of his companions – also shirtless and heavily tattooed – took a seat at a table about ten meters away, the wings-spined fellow facing us.

“What’s that tattooed on his chest?”  Caroline asked.  “Jesus?”

“Looks more like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins,” I said.

We talked about trying to take a surreptitious snapshot but decided against it.  It was then that the title came to me: “Ode on a Tattooed Torso.”

When we passed them in leaving, Caroline asked him whose face was tattooed on his stomach.

As we entered the cool of the bar proper, Caroline asked me if I had heard what he had said.

“Yeah, Jesus.”

“No, he said ‘Zombie Jesus’.”

That stopped me in my tracks.  “I got to get a picture.”

“Do you think he’ll be annoyed?”

“I’ll ask politely. If he says no, he says no.”

“Okay, I’ll wait here.  It will be less awkward without me there.”

So I retraced my steps and introduced myself, handed him my Hoodoo website card, explained that I wrote a blog and would love to take a picture and write about his tattoos.  “Of course,” he said, standing up beaming.  “That’s not the response I was expecting to get,” he said.  “I was afraid you might be offended.”

I wished I had asked him if many people were offended, but I didn’t, nor how he came to acquire such an animus for Jesus.  Fanatical parents?  Anger at the horrors of the world?  He seemed the opposite of angry, just another hedonist spending the Sabbath in self-indulgence.

So we went home and studied the photograph, which prompted several ideas.  First, this tattoo was testament to our First Amendment rights, which allow us to say or display ideas that are anathema to the majority.  As George Orwell put it in “Freedom of the Press,” [a]t any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.”

Second, it occurred to me how tolerant we US citizens are for the most part.  If our tattooed man lived in Saudi Arabia and went out in the public square sporting a tattoo of Zombie Muhammad, he’d be a corpse faster than you could say, “All praise be unto him.”

I decided to write the poem “Ode on a Tattooed Torso” modeled on Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” employing the so-called ten-line Keatsian Ode Stanza.  Although I intended the poem to be comic, a sort of parody, it became something a bit different: praise for a brave lost soul who uses his body as a canvas to display his obviously heartfelt but unpopular beliefs.

If you decide to read it, I highly recommend hitting the audio and to read it along with my voice.



Ode on a Tattooed Torso

With apologies to John Keats

In the juvescence of the year

Came Christ the tiger [. . .]

The tiger springs in the new year.  Us he devours . . .

TS Eliot, “Gerontion”


Thou rotund torso beneath that russet beard,

Thou iconoclastic mockery,

Sacrilege silently, rudely, crudely shared

Like profane Pompey crockery

Uncovered from a brothel.  Zombie Jesus

Thorn-Crowned, blood dripping from brow

Come not to save but to devour us,

The antithesis of the sacred cow.

Its human canvas confronting us

With an objective correlative. Wow!


Shouted obscenities spit gall,

But those unheard are often ignored.

Though Bosch-like, the tattooed Last Supper doesn’t call

Attention to itself above the Zombie Lord.

Faintly rendered, half-hidden, a thatch of chest hair

Obscuring bird-beaked apostles,

Like Leonardo’s originals leaning here and there.

We barely notice them, if at all.

And who would have the courage to stare,

To lean in, to take it all in, though enthralled?


O badass iconoclast! Fearless commentator!

I wonder what images adorn your balls.

Onan perhaps spilling his seed? The traitor

Judas hanging from a tree?  The walls

Of Jericho richly graffitied?

Thou russet-bearded wonder, profane wretch,

You walking act of art, when old age bleeds

Away that ink, may this verse your protest protect,

Your icon-injected flesh preserve, your rude screed

Freeze in time, though an inchoate protest.


Screaming’ Jay Hawkins


Commiseration Via Poetry


Antidepressant by Mirjana-Veljovic

In college, back in the fall of 1972, my sophomore poetry teacher assigned our class the task to compile an anthology of contemporary poems that revolved around a common theme.  I chose despair because I reckoned that depression might be a common theme for poets, a notoriously withdrawn and navel-gazing lot.  I figured poems of despair, unlike, say, political poems or poems dealing with domestic bliss, would make for easier harvesting because they would exist in greater abundance.

So, I checked out anthologies and skimmed poem titles and promising poems hoping to amass thirty or so specimens to satisfy the minimum requirement. In 1972, Auden and MacLeish were alive, Sylvia Plath less than a decade dead, Anne Sexton about to kill herself in a couple of years, so many of the poems I looked at had been written mid-century.

Of course, I have lost my anthology, which was hand written and received a B (likely the lowest grade given), but I do remember two of the poems I included.  One was Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening,” whose rhymes and rhythms I liked and whose rather childish message was right up my cynical alley:

I walked out one evening,

Walking down Bristol Street,

The crowds upon the pavement

Were fields of harvest wheat.


And down by the brimming river

I heard a lover sing

Under an arch of the railway:

‘Love has no ending.


‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you

Till China and Africa meet,

And the river jumps over the mountain

And the salmon sing in the street,


‘I’ll love you till the ocean

Is folded and hung up to dry

And the seven stars go squawking

Like geese about the sky.


‘The years shall run like rabbits,

For in my arms I hold

The Flower of the Ages,

And the first love of the world.’


But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:

‘O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time.


‘In the burrows of the Nightmare

Where Justice naked is,

Time watches from the shadow

And coughs when you would kiss.


‘In headaches and in worry

Vaguely life leaks away,

And Time will have his fancy

To-morrow or to-day.


‘Into many a green valley

Drifts the appalling snow;

Time breaks the threaded dances

And the diver’s brilliant bow.


‘O plunge your hands in water,

Plunge them in up to the wrist;

Stare, stare in the basin

And wonder what you’ve missed.


‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,

The desert sighs in the bed,

And the crack in the tea-cup opens

A lane to the land of the dead.


‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes

And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,

And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,

And Jill goes down on her back.


‘O look, look in the mirror,

O look in your distress:

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless.


‘O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.’


It was late, late in the evening,

The lovers they were gone;

The clocks had ceased their chiming,

And the deep river ran on.




WH Auden

The other poem I remember including, a much better poem, is Archibald McLeish’s, “You, Andrew Marvell.”  As it turned out, the very next year I would hear MacLeish read the poem in person, he who was born the year that Tennyson died.

You, Andrew Marvell

And here face down beneath the sun

And here upon earth’s noonward height

To feel the always coming on

The always rising of the night:


To feel creep up the curving east

The earthy chill of dusk and slow

Upon those under lands the vast

And ever climbing shadow grow


And strange at Ecbatan the trees

Take leaf by leaf the evening strange

The flooding dark about their knees

The mountains over Persia change


And now at Kermanshah the gate

Dark empty and the withered grass

And through the twilight now the late

Few travelers in the westward pass


And Baghdad darken and the bridge

Across the silent river gone

And through Arabia the edge

Of evening widen and steal on


And deepen on Palmyra’s street

The wheel rut in the ruined stone

And Lebanon fade out and Crete

High through the clouds and overblown


And over Sicily the air

Still flashing with the landward gulls

And loom and slowly disappear

The sails above the shadowy hulls


And Spain go under and the shore

Of Africa the gilded sand

And evening vanish and no more

The low pale light across that land


Nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun

To feel how swift how secretly

The shadow of the night comes on …



Archibald MacLeish

Sometimes, like this morning, when sleep has stood me up and I don’t feel so hot mentally, I seek a dark poem with which I’m not familiar as a way to commiserate with a stranger who might have it worse than I-and-I.

And lo and behold I discovered this poem by Jane Kenyon a couple of hours ago. Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia, was the subject of the superb book-length elegy Without by her husband Donald Hall.  I read the poem in the New Yorker in the mid-Nineties right after I had recovered from a serious case of clinical depression. You can read one of the poems from the collection here, but I would love to share with you Jane’s poem, which I find profound and beautiful:



When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad — even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours — the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.


Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.


You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

  1. OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep’s
frail wicker coracle.


Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors — those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few
moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.


The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life — in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .


A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.

  1. CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.


High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.


Jane Kenyon

Happy Hump Day!




Do Lawd, Tennyson!


At the tender age of five, playing a card game called Authors, I first encountered Alfred, Lord Tennyson with whom I would forge a rocky relationship.

The Authors deck held eleven sets of four cards depicting an eclectic array of writers, a disparate mishmash of talents: Louisa May Alcott, James Fenimore Cooper, Dickens, Hawthorne, Washington Irving, HW Longfellow, Sir Walter Scott, Shakespeare, RL Stevenson, Twain, the insufferable John Greenleaf Whittier.[1]  You drew and discarded and drew trying to make a “book” of all four. I played Authors a lot with my mother when I was sick with rheumatic fever, so, I knew these writers’ names and faces before I read them – and the titles of a few of their works.[2]

Although I don’t remember exactly, I probably first read Tennyson’s poetry in junior high. His “Charge of the Light Brigade” appears in virtually every 7th grade anthology.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Tennyson, as you probably know, is descended from Mother Goose on his father’s side.

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

Although I was obsessed with nursery rhymes in kindergarten, for whatever reason Tennyson never flipped my switch.  I preferred Americans, Frost, ee cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose very name sounds like a poem. As an undergraduate, I took a Victorian Lit class for about a week but quit attending, not showing up again until the last no penalty drop day so I could cop the signature of the disheveled tweedy professor.

“So nice meeting you, Mr. Moore,” he said without irony. “I was hoping you’d show up again before the drop day passed.”

I smiled, thanked him, felt guilty.

I didn’t seriously study Tennyson until I took a grad course after I started teaching. That summer, I read him carefully, and although I prefer Browning, I learned to appreciate aspects of Tennyson, despite the Victorian bric-a-brac of his verse and his excessive morbidity.[3] The man was a master of versification. Here’s my favorite phrase of his: “the slow clock ticking.”  Try to say it fast.

You can’t.

It captures sonically the slowness of monotonous waiting.

On the other hand, the source of that phrase, the poem “Mariana,” gives center stage to a minor character from Measure for Measure who in Act 5 fornicates with her fiancé in a pitch-black room as part of a comic switcheroo. Her fiancé thinks he’s fornicating with someone else. It’s an elaborate ruse choreographed by the Duke, in part to force their marriage.

Here’s a parodist addressing the cognitive dissonance between the play and poem.

Mariana of the moated grange

about to get laid in Shakespeare’s play,

mopes in Tennyson night and day,

pretty fucking passing strange.

Tennyson’s poem imagines her waiting for her lover who has abandoned her because she lost her dowry at sea.

Here is the poem’s refrain, repeated with minor variations seven times.

She only said, “The day is dreary,

He cometh not,” she said;

She said, “I am aweary, aweary,

I would that I were dead!”


Nevertheless, I do admire Tennyson’s great elegy “In Memoriam,” that Moby Dick of mourning, written for his dear, dear friend Arthur Henry Hallam who had died of a stroke at the age of twenty-two.



Arthur Henry Hallam

The poem is written in a stanza now known as the “In Memoriam stanza,” a quatrain of tetrameter with the rhyme scheme ABBA, a very rigid form that makes fluidity extremely difficult (see above parody), especially when stringing several stanzas together.

After the death of my wife Judy Birdsong, I decided to reread “In Memoriam” to remind myself that mourning was in fact rather commonplace, that others, thousands, millions, billions have had to face heart-rending disseverment, “the blight man was born for.”

Well, I discovered my grief was in no way as profound as Tennyson’s, as deep as his, perhaps because I had had time to prepare myself (or perhaps because I am not as deep or as profound).

Nevertheless, these lines really struck a chord:

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.[4]

Anyway, after teaching Tennyson for the very last time this week, it occurs to me that I must be practicing psychological projection, attributing to Tennyson unconscious qualities that I have denied in myself.  How else to explain how often he has appeared in this blog? For example, here is a short story in which the narrator costumes himself as Tennyson to go panhandling as part of academic research. Type “Tennyson” in this blog’s search engine and eight posts appear, most of them mocking him.

Why the obsession?  What is it within me that I’m projecting on him?  Humorlessness?  Hypersensitivity?  Sing-song metrics? Pessimism?

Calling that great dissector of all things Victorian, Dr. Freud.


[1]Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!

[2]Because I was bedridden for three months, my mother taught me how to read, even though I wouldn’t enter kindergarten for another month after my illness.

[3]E.g., Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns

The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds

To dying ears, when unto dying eyes

The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;

So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

[4]During the last week of Judy’s life, I actually did algebra for recreation, sought escape in symmetry.


Green and Dying

The other evening as the sun was sloping toward its western bower, I sat on the porch of the Surf Bar enjoying the sway of shadows dancing on the tin roof of the dilapidated building across from me.  My eyes slowly panned down to the building’s façade, and the dull, cracked, and rotting planks suddenly struck me as magical. Even the window-unit air-conditioner seemed to me beautiful in the golden light of the afternoon.

A sad thought intruded: I have squandered the vast majority of my life pent in the small room of my consciousness with the venetian blinds slatted shut.  In other words, I have stumbled here and there for the last sixty-six years, lost in self-absorption, rarely noticing anything of interest when actually everything should be of interest.

So I went home and reread Robert Frost’s great poem “Directive,” which begins with the brilliant line, “Back out of all this now too much for us,” which echoes the first line of Wordsworth’s sonnet, “The world is too much with us,” an arena of responsibility and labor where “we lay waste our powers” in the realm of “getting and spending.”

In “Directive” Frost tries to lead us out of that blind little room of our consciousness with its spreadsheets and closed venetian blinds into “a house that is no longer a house/Upon a farm that is no longer a farm/And in a town that is no more a town,” in other words, into a landscape of ruin where folks once lived, a ghost town of sorts.

In soothing tones, the old poet becomes our guru.  He, paradoxically, “only has at heart [our] getting lost”  —  “lost enough to find [ourselves]”  —  guiding us through a grove of trees whose “excitement  [. . .] sends light rustle rushes to their leaves.”  At our final destination, we receive “a broken drinking goblet like the ‘Grail’” our guide has retrieved from “the instep arch/Of an old cedar at the waterside,” a child’s toy he had stolen from a playhouse and hidden in that tree.

He ends the poem with these lines:

“Here are your waters and your watering place.

Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”

Here’s the complete poem:

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretence of keeping covered.
And there’s a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You- must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
You see is no bigger than a harness gall.
First there’s the children’s house of make believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.



Visiting What?

Last week Porter-Gaud honored my colleague Bill Slayton and me by naming us Visiting Writers for 2019, joining such luminaries as Billy Collins, Dori Sanders, and Pat Conroy, to name only three.  Of course, the head of the program chose us not on the merit of our canons but to honor us in the year of our retirement.  To be honest, my publishing history is as thin as Donald Trump’s skin, though I do have both a poem and a short story in anthologies catering to South Carolina writers.

Although Bill and I both felt a bit odd about reading unpublished works to a packed auditorium, the students were quietly attentive and asked good questions when we visited English classes.  One of the highlights for me was having my poem ‘The Grill” projected on a screen and analyzed by the teacher, Dr. Lehman, and his students.

I wrote the poem in the wee hours after having almost burned my house down.  I had placed a charcoal chimney on a log on my deck as I had dozens of times before; however, on this night — perhaps the log had dried out over time– in the course of two or three hours, the log caught fire, igniting the deck.  Luckily, Judy Birdsong and I were sleeping with the windows open, smelled the smoke, called the Folly Beach Fire Department, and they put it out before it could spread to the house.

After they left, knowing that sleep was out of the question, I got on line only to discover that one of my sweetest friends from childhood had succumbed to cancer, so I sat down and wrote the poem, a bitter comment on the transitory nature of life.[1]

Here’s the first stanza:

I’m tearing apart paper,

newsprint, the obituary page,

shredding descriptions of lives:

of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,

bachelors, partners, husbands, wives,

shredding their black-and-white

faces, their smiles, their stares,

ripping also the memorial verses

loved ones have left,

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.

Dr. Lehman and students asked about diction and line breaks.  For example, did I break the first line after “paper” and the second after “page” to create an alliterative and assonant pairing at the end of the line? Why repeat the word “shredding?”

The sad fact of the matter is that what I do I do by instinct.  My ear, not my brain, told me to break the lines there, and “shredding,” like so many words of Anglo-Saxon origin, sounds like what its conveying, the sibilant sound of paper being ripped.  I did, however, consciously add “partners” to my catalogue of decedents to include gays.

Then comes a one-line stanza, quadrupled spaced.

Yet not enough.

Dr. Lehman cut the line and moved it to join the preceding stanza, changing it from this:

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.


Yet not enough.


So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies


to this:

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.

Yet not enough.


So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

The change actually bothered me, and I asked him to put it back in its proper place.  He told the students that we poets are very meticulous about matters such as these, and I guess I proved him correct.

He then highlighted the following stanza, which he admires most about the poem.

So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

dropped, paper ripe for ripping,

ripped, balled, stuffed, ready

for the match’s fiery effacement.

“Lots of plosives there Mr. Moore,” he said, and I said, “Yeah, it’s an angry poem. “  I mentioned that I did consciously end the second line with “flies” to sort of simulate dropping a baseball.

Anyway, what I learned about myself is that I’m not very analytical when I write a poem; nevertheless, it might seem as if I am, which suits me.

So let this self-indulgent post end a week of self-indulgence, so I can go back to my little life as an English instructor.  I will leave you, however, with the complete poem:


The Grill

In memory of Paul Yost 1955-2014

I’m tearing apart paper,

newsprint, the obituary page,

shredding descriptions of lives:

of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,

bachelors, partners, husbands, wives,

shredding their black-and-white

faces, their smiles, their stares,

ripping also the memorial verses

loved ones have left,

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.


Yet not enough.


So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

dropped, paper ripe for ripping,

ripped, balled, stuffed, ready

for the match’s fiery effacement.


And that poor chicken! Hatched, harried,

pecking its food among hordes,

pulled from transport crates,

shocked for the throat cutter’s convenience,

plucked, eviscerated.


This one’s also been

deboned, yet not sold soon enough,

skewered by butchers along with

aging onions and overly ripe peppers.


* * *


After its scraping, red and black,

slightly rusted, the grill stands ready,

top open, at attention.


I place the chimney

upon the barred metal, pour in

the briquettes, and torch the

shredded lives of others,

their wins and losses,

and watch the smoke

rising into the dissipation

of the silent, cloud-shifting sky.

[1]What we didn’t know at the time was that Judy, too, had cancer that would be diagnosed at the end of the month.