A few ill-chosen words...

...being some poems composed, and re-composed, and decomposed, over many years.

And here also is a very lovely poem by a gentleman whom I had the pleasure of knowing. Not a single ill-chosen word in this! (He was a Southerner, in case you can't guess, and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas.)


     For J.R.

Haiphong, Tonkin, I never saw. Saigon--
sharp city of heat-- bestowed a Pentecost
of extra love and senses almost lost,
defined in flashing equatorial sun.
Shuttered and shaded till arc-light noon was gone,
we feigned siesta-- not to spent for lust
to be put off-- and body onto body thrust.
When gentle jasmined evening settled on,
soft wine that dulled my own strong arms, my trust,
we never thought: this time must soon be done.

Ah, let me be embraced again by heat!
Even now-- cold, northern, slowed-- I still recall
hot hands, hot breath! the sweating on the sheet--
and, roiling torpid air, the slow fan's drone,
the lime-and-rum, the lizard on the wall,
and tangoes pulsing on the gramophone.

(1960/1965/1975 et seq.)

Speaking of Vietnam, or forward to the future-- here are some lines written on 11/11/1982, probably after Pres. Reagan had made one of his pronouncements that "Vietnam was a noble cause." It does not pretend to be finished, and never will be; there is so much more to say, and yet, there is no more to say.


Not noble, no, Achilles never fought
in Nam,
nor drunken danced with b-girls in the Tu-do bars...

All the lives closed off--
even as mine, there some years before,
was opened up--
all the souls surprised, the minds awry,
at things unleashed within.
Mere clerks would see more horror in their year
than we in our chairs will see
in a lifetime.

...and so picked up our gods and fled the flaming shore.

Let love be hate, and truth
be called a lie, and shame, nobility.

It's not the killing-- that's just any war--
but the waste, the uselessness.
"You have not thought this through."


The Lord raises up the grain to become the bread on our table--
His Sun ripens the grape, and it is the wine of our delight.
He has raised up Man, fairest flower of His field,
And given him dominion over earth--
But even as wheat and grape are certain in their destiny,
The ending of our season is kept secret in His heart.
His blessings surround us on every hand--
But the evils of this world are never absent.

Lord, help us to be humble in the midst of plenty,
That all our days attest the wisdom of Thy creation.

(Composed quite some time ago--1970s?--and posted to the Conlang List on Sept. 12, 2002 (see http://tinyurl.com/yyfvxw for that posting and the ensuing discussion that included a nice "back-translation" into Hebrew by Steg Belsky)


Although myself no longer needful of toys--
no, not for me the shiny trucks
or windup ratchet cycles--
still the child in me stops short at this:
a child-size apron-thing one of whose pockets holds
a tiny bear peeping out.

Perhaps someday a child will play
Pretend-Mason, obverse of beloved Gramps,
in apron, surrounded by symbolic tools and instruments
culled from toolbox, kitchen drawer,
in youth not dotage photographed
upon the occasion of his induction to the umpty-umpth Degree.
Only the silly grin will be the same.
And a bear is just as symbolic as a trowel.

Or will perhaps play Mama Bear with child--
never mind the biology is off by several continents,
we can get around that by believing really hard,
and if some God wants bears to be marsupials,
He will so decree it.

(Or is it in fact a tiny kangaroo, not bear--
and after all the Chinese seamstress did not err.)

And then someday a doting father will caress this photo,
and see that tiny creature peeping out--
as poor Poldy in the darkness of his night
beheld the Lamb in little Rudy's waistcoat pocket.

(ca. 1981/2)

In 1978 I took part in a "Poetry Workshop" at the Univ. of Michigan. I think I learned something, and it was more fun than one would suppose. At the final get-together, we were honored with a Mid-eastern style belly-dance by one one of the women... I produced, over the course of two days, a new sonnet:


     For A.L.Becker

OM! may there be no hindrance! Speak the word
and worlds will be created. Let there be
breath before sound or sense, the name deferred,
as sight exists before the will to see.
Or did the ancestors first speak the world?--
and words were: such cerebral mystery
must have amazed them, like the fire. They heard
the power, and never afterward were free.

And they, long gone, live in us yet, around
our dreams' dark edges-- lost and secret race,
who mastered the mammoth with his name, and found
the charm to chain the sabre-tooth's harsh grace;
who first declared the days, and with new sounds
remarked upon the glaciers' quickening pace.


And polished this leftover from the mid-60s, into as final a form as it will ever have:


This is no Eleusinian grove, fragrant with pine
and myrtle, where stately dancers flow,
chaste in white chitons, and the Mysteries
bring down a presence, not quite understood--

Rather, a dusty oval, quarter-mile,
whose incense reeks of castor, leather, gas;
but the frenzy of the race, the lapping chase
creates a presence here as sure as in the grove,
and a man becomes immortal for a moment. Then,
sweating in leathers, later, drains a can of beer.
And we watching, some of us, we too
would dream ourselves possessed by black-clad gods.


One day, we were handed the "University Bulletin" and told to produce a poem from words and phrases in it. This was my rather amusing output:


Bilingual Vitalij Shevoroshkin,
guardian of the Nile,
unable to profit from English,
bogged down, not available, was invited to stop
building a recreational facility
for chairpersons only.
Whatever one gives,
smaller should not be interpreted as less.
What future advisory is necessary
if the state, alternative master,
will only tax
actuarial club?
B.S. ended.

(V.Shevoroshkin, then a visitor, eventually became a distinguished member of the Linguistics faculty, with interests in typology, Anatolian languages, and Nostratic.)

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