Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Roald Dahl / Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf
As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma’s door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, “May I come in?”
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
“He’s going to eat me up!” she cried.
And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, “That’s not enough!
I haven’t yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!”
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
“I’ve got to have a second helping!”
Then added with a frightful leer,
“I’m therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood.”
He quickly put on Grandma’s clothes,
(Of course he hadn’t eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that,
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma’s chair.
In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,
“What great big ears you have, Grandma.”
“All the better to hear you with,”
the Wolf replied.
“What great big eyes you have, Grandma.”
said Little Red Riding Hood.
“All the better to see you with,”
the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I’m going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma,
She’s going to taste like caviar.
Then Little Red Riding Hood said,
“But Grandma, what a lovely great big
furry coat you have on.”
“That’s wrong!” cried Wolf.
“Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.”
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, “Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.”
Caperucita Roja y el Lobo.
Estando una mañana haciendo el bobo
le entró un hambre espantosa al Señor Lobo,
así que, para echarse algo a la muela,
se fue corriendo a casa de la Abuela.
“¿Puedo pasar, Señora?”, preguntó.
La pobre anciana, al verlo, se asustó
pensando: “¡Este me come de un bocado!”.
Y, claro, no se había equivocado:
se convirtió la Abuela en alimento
en menos tiempo del que aquí te cuento.
Lo malo es que era flaca y tan huesuda
que al Lobo no le fue de gran ayuda:
“Sigo teniendo un hambre aterradora…
¡Tendré que merendarme otra señora!”.
Y, al no encontrar ninguna en la nevera,
gruñó con impaciencia aquella fiera:
“¡Esperaré sentado hasta que vuelva
Caperucita Roja de la Selva!”
-que así llamaba al Bosque la alimaña,
creyéndose en Brasil y no en España-.
Y porque no se viera su fiereza,
se disfrazó de abuela con presteza,
se dio laca en las uñas y en el pelo,
se puso la gran falda gris de vuelo,
zapatos, sombrerito, una chaqueta
y se sentó en espera de la nieta.
Llegó por fin Caperucita a mediodía
y dijo: “¿Cómo estás, abuela mía?
Por cierto, ¡me impresionan tus orejas!”.
“Para mejor oírte, que las viejas
somos un poco sordas”. “¡Abuelita,
qué ojos tan grandes tienes!”. “Claro, hijita,
son las lentillas nuevas que me ha puesto
para que pueda verte Don Ernesto
el oculista”, dijo el animal
mirándola con gesto angelical
mientras se le ocurría que la chica
iba a saberle mil veces más rica
que el rancho precedente. De repente
Caperucita dijo: “¡Qué imponente
abrigo de piel llevas este invierno!”.
El Lobo, estupefacto, dijo: “¡Un cuerno!
O no sabes el cuento o tú me mientes:
¡Ahora te toca hablarme de mis dientes!
¿Me estás tomando el pelo…? Oye, mocosa,
te comeré ahora mismo y a otra cosa”.
Pero ella se sentó en un canapé
y se sacó un revólver del corsé,
con calma apuntó bien a la cabeza
y -¡pam!- allí cayó la buena pieza.
Al poco tiempo vi a Caperucita
cruzando por el Bosque… ¡Pobrecita!
¿Sabéis lo que llevaba la infeliz?
Pues nada menos que un sobrepelliz
que a mí me pareció de piel de un lobo
que estuvo una mañana haciendo el bobo.

Versión de Miguel Azaola.
Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.(Revolting Rhymes)
Roald Dahl (Wales, 1916-1990)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Langston Hughes / Renaissance man of the south

Renaissance man of the south

Gary Younge remembers Langston Hughes, America's most popular poet, whose centenary is celebrated in London next week

Gary Younge

Saturday 26 October 2002

In 1920, an envelope postmarked from Kentucky arrived at the offices of the African-American artistic and intellectual magazine Crisis. Inside it was a poem called "The Negro speaks of rivers". When the literary editor, Jessie Fauset, read it, she handed it straight to her editor and mentor, WEB du Bois. "I took the beautiful dignified creation to Dr du Bois," she recalled, "and said 'What colored person is there, do you suppose, in the United States who writes like that and is yet unknown to us?' "

The "colored person" in question was Langston Hughes and within a few years of the poem's publication he would be known to all of Black America and to any lovers of prose poetry elsewhere whose appreciation allowed them to venture across the colour line at the time.

A full century after his birth, the breadth of his appeal and the durability of his work is now beyond doubt. Earlier this year, Hughes, who died in 1967, was voted America's most popular poet in an online poll by the Academy of American Poets, ahead of the likes of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. Now, contrary to the exhortations of Public Enemy's rap anthem "Fight the Power" - "I'm black and I'm proud / I'm ready, I'm hyped and I'm amped / Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamp" - the US postal service has issued a 34 cent stamp bearing his face.

Any doubt about the enduring and universal qualities of his work are easily dispelled by just one verse of "Let America be America again", which is as pertinent today as it was in 1938:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Given the huge array of talent that emerged from the Harlem renaissance, the rush of artistic, musical and literary energy that emanated from upper Manhattan after the first world war and was all but decimated by the Wall Street crash, it is shocking that only Hughes, and to a lesser extent his onetime friend, the novelist Zora Neale Hurston, appears to have made it beyond the confines of race, place and time. Other writers, such as Claude McKay, Rudolph Fisher and Jean Toomer are feted in literary circles and known to African-American readers, but have never enjoyed the mainstream acclaim they deserve.

But Hughes was, in every sense of the word, a Renaissance man. As well as writing poetry, plays and essays throughout his life, he worked on ships and in laundries, covered the Spanish civil war for the Afro-American newspaper in Baltimore and toured central Asia after plans to stage a musical in Moscow foundered.

He was born in Missouri to a frustrated father, who abandoned the family and America in favour of personal ambition and Mexico, which in turn frustrated and impoverished his mother. While she travelled the country looking for work, Hughes was raised by his grandmother - a highly politicised woman whose first husband had been killed at the abolitionist insurrection in Harper's Ferry, where John Brown, along with 21 other men - 16 of them white - had attempted to establish a base in the Blue Ridge Mountains from which they would assist runaway slaves and launch attacks on slaveholders. The uprising was crushed by the local militia and the rebels killed.

Hughes spent his boyhood in Kansas and adolescence in Ohio, a lonely, sensitive child, who recalled being driven "to books, and the wonderful world in books", counting among his main influences Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg. It was this teenager who posted his poem to Crisis. So by the time he arrived in Harlem, after a short stint in Mexico with his father and dropping out of Columbia University, he was already well known.

Both his personal story and the intellectual conclusions he had drawn from it embodied the mindset of the "New Negro" - the urban, urbane, self-confident, black northern relatives to their downtrodden, culturally deprived cousins in the rural south - of which the Harlem renaissance was the cultural expression.

In 1926, Hughes published a manifesto, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain", that still resonates: "We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual, dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on the top of the mountain, free within ourselves."

Hughes was true to his word, his work unashamedly informed by the black American experience - his ashes were spread under Harlem's Schomburg library - but never defined by it. In his autobiography he described his work as "poems like the songs they sang on Seventh Street - gay songs, because you had to be gay or die; sad songs, because you couldn't help being sad sometimes. But gay or sad, you kept on living and you kept on going."

Eager to frame his poetry in a manner that would lend it popular appeal, he was bold in his efforts to manipulate the genre. He once urged a publisher to bill him as "the original jazz poet". "Jazz gives poetry a much wider following and poetry brings jazz the greater respectability that people seem to think it needs," he said in 1958. "I don't think it needs it but most people seem to."

But while this made his work popular it also brought down stern criticism from the "talented tenth" of the black American intelligentsia (Hurston branded them Negrotarians) who felt he was vulgarising his artistic talents. Moreover, in the era of new criticism, Hughes's straightforward style did not sit well with literary scholars keen to abstract his work from its context. Even James Baldwin trashed his book of selected poems in 1959.

Hughes's work suffered during and shortly after his trip to the Soviet Union in 1932, when overt polemicism gave a shrill and occasionally hysterical tone to his work. It was a lapse in artistic judgment that would have political consequences. In 1953, he was forced to testify before the Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee. There, he named no names, insisted he had never been a member of the Communist party and effectively denounced some of his own work. It was a humiliating experience.

He started his testimony: "Poets who write mostly about love, roses and moonlight, sunsets and snow must lead a very quiet life - seldom does their poetry get them into difficulties." But that was not Hughes's style. Not that he did not write about those things, but when he did, the sun set or the moon shone in a world where black people, rarely depicted before with the full complement of human emotions, were the ones showing love and giving roses.

His strength, as a writer and a human being, was to understand that his talent was the starting point for his engagement with the world at large. "Words have been used too much to make people doubt and fear," he said. "Words must now be used to make people believe and do. Writers who have the power to use words in terms of belief and action are responsible to that power not to make people believe in the wrong things."

From Selected poems:


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over- Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it just explode?


Saturday, July 28, 2012

My hero / John Keats by Helen Dunmore


My hero: 

John Keats

by Helen Dunmore


Helen Dunmore
Saturday 27 March 2010

"Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – good God, how fine. It went down soft, pulpy, slushy, oozy – all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry."

Whereas Byron drank soda water to preserve his figure and Shelley wrote a treatise on the natural diet, Keats ate his nectarine, and we taste it 200 years later. Keats was always the man for me. I read his letters in my mid-teens, before I knew much of his poetry. He was warm, earthy, self-mocking, funny and endlessly interested in gossip, weaving a brilliant weft under and over the letters' darker warp of sickness, death and mental anguish.

In the Keats-Shelley house in Rome, you can stand in Keats's bedroom and see the flowers on the ceiling that he saw when he lay dying. All the furniture was burned, as it had to be by law, because he had died of tuberculosis. He'd foreseen the whole ugly business from the first moment that he coughed up arterial blood, because his medical training forbade self-deception as much as his nature forbade self-pity. "I cannot be deceived in that colour; – that drop of blood is my death-warrant; – I must die."

The words reveal an essential toughness. Keats sees things as they are, with all their contradictions. He moves within a few lines from a joke about Winchester's fresh-flannelled doorsteps to the news that he has been writing the "Ode to Autumn". He remarks ironically, in one of his most agonised letters: "The knowledge of contrast, feeling for light and shade, all that information (primitive sense) necessary for a poem, are great enemies to the recovery of the stomach."

When I first read these words I barely understood them, but all the same there was a shock of recognition. At school, poems were all about meaning, and that didn't correspond to what I experienced when I tried to write them. Keats knew that you could write with a nectarine in one hand, and the juice would run into a poem.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My hero / Ted Hughes by Michael Morpurgo

Ted Hughes

My hero Ted Hughes

Michael Morpurgo
Saturday 31 Octuber 2009

first met Ted Hughes down by the River Torridge in Devon where he was fishing. He was already by this time a huge literary hero of mine. As a teacher in junior schools I had listened to his Poetry in the Making with many classes of children, and been inspired with them to turn my hand to writing. There is no better invitation to write than this book. He simply says: we can all do this. We are all storytellers, all poets, it is a question of keeping your eyes and ears open, and your heart too. And listening hard to the music of the words we use.

That meeting down by the river was to change my life profoundly. He was a near neighbour, a great friend, and a huge supporter of Farms for City Children, the educational charity Clare, my wife, and I began over 30 years ago. He believed, as we did, that for a city child the experience of living and working in the countryside could be as life-changing as a great book or a great poem.
We collaborated on a book about the farm, All Around the Year, and from then on regularly showed each other work in progress. Can you imagine how encouraging that was for a young writer still finding his voice? When my children's novel War Horse failed to win the Whitbread prize, he took me out for the day, not to console me, but to tell me that I had written a fine book, and that I would write a finer one.
Shortly before his early death, he and I worked together to create the post of children's laureate, because he believed, as I did, that someone should be out banging the drum and blowing the trumpet for the best of children's literature.
He may be gone, but he and his work remain unforgettable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My hero / Les Murray by Daljit Nagra

Les Murray
Photograph by Adam Hollingworth

My hero: Les Murray

'His poetry celebrates sprawling beyond conventional boundaries'

Daljit Nagra
Friday 2 September 2011 22.55 BST

t may not be obviously apparent, but the Usain Bolt of modern poetry is surely the great Australian poet Les Murray. I love those speedy, powerful lines that can run on for several verses without the tedium of punctuationAs a connoisseur of lively rock music, I look for something similar in poetry, and Murray's comes closest to that raw, hard-edged experience.

I frequently dip into Murray's rough cuts to gain inspiration for my own poems. His poetry celebrates sprawling beyond conventional boundaries: "we are a colloquial nation / most colloquial when serious". His style is rarely formal, and its music is best understood when heard in performance: Murray rattles along in an intimate voice that's strangely devoid of modulation, with energy-release presiding over pedantic sense.

My favourite Murray moments are those where his pace is loaded with a baroque linguistic excess. This reinforces the illusion of someone thinking fast on their feet. He regards a bed as a "Pleasure-craft of the sprung rhythms", a bulldozer "stands short as a boot on its heel-high ripple soles", a shirt is "soaking in salt birth-sheen".
I don't share Murray's Catholicism, but I do admire his conviction; most of his collections are dedicated "To the glory of God". In a poem that addresses his dead father, he writes: "Snobs mind us off religion / nowadays, if they can. / Fuck them. I wish you God." I admire my poetry heroes on the basis of their work rather thananything else. As a result I've learned little about Murray's life. But I was fortunate to meet the great man at the Rotterdam International Poetry festival this spring, and I soon came to admire his warmth, openness and especially his quick wit: over breakfast one morning, the conversation turned to languages and I asked Murray what languages he'd learnt at school. He scoffed: "Languages? Where I come from it was considered an achievement to have a roof in yer mouth!"
Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy Machine!!! by Daljit Nagra is published by Faber.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cristina Peri Rossi / Saturday Night


“Lower Fifth Avenue at Night”, Guy Wiggins.
American Impressionist Painter (1883 - 1962)

by Cristina Peri Rossi
Translated by Tatiana de la Tierra
In the solitary dawn
through drifting secondhand smoke
and sidewalks sticky with spit
I go out walking
to escape the nocturnal silence of my room 
seeking bright lights 
oh, those neon friends who always ward off 
my internal wolves 
my hungry demons
(my Vallejo ancestors). 
I go in search of something 
losing myself in the narrow streets round the harbor 
looking for company, 
oh, the sweet drugs that since Baudelaire 
have run along the gutters of cities at nighttime 
—London, Paris, New York, Madrid— 
oh, the unknown flesh that stirs, aroused by a look. 
Finally I find it: some sleazy joint that’s still open 
a prison cell of solitary pleasures 
a peep show hidden between the trees: 
a bookstore open all night 
where I can wallow among the books 
luxuriate in other people’s verses 
and finally reach orgasm 
with one of Allen Ginsberg’s self-destructive poems.

Monday, July 23, 2012

My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban

Robert Lowell

My hero 

Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban

'In his greatest poems he brilliantly fused the most intimate details of his own life with the public turmoil of his century'

Saturday 3 July 2010
Jonathan Raban

was his fishing friend. In 1971, when Lowell was 54 and I was 28, he sent me a generous postcard after I'd talked on Radio 3 about Notebook, his epic sonnet sequence. We met for lunch at a crappy French restaurant on Old Brompton Road, near the house where he lived with Caroline Blackwood. We began with talk of poetry, then moved to fishing and the day-ticket trout streams in Kent and Hampshire where I was a frequent visitor. Four hours later we left the restaurant, having made a fishing date for the weekend.

From then until his sudden death in 1977, I was an immensely lucky recipient of Lowell's gift for friendship. I see him now, his grizzled hair, home-cut in the wild style of the later Beethoven; eyes enlarged by thick, black-framed glasses; cigarette never far from his lips; that Bostonian voice, tinged with the vowel-stretching accent of the old South. He was the most companionable man I've ever met, the most avid in his inexhaustible appetite for history, literature, politics, people, gossip, and one of the most funny. Conversation was for him a continuous experiment, in which he'd playfully draft phrases, similes and metaphors to fit the experience in hand, as if everything that happened might be a potential poem in the making. In his greatest poems, such as "Waking Early Sunday Morning", he brilliantly fused the most intimate details of his own life with the public turmoil of his century.
He was an afflicted hero. One month in every 12, he'd be cruelly humbled by a bout of mania, an event harrowing to witness as Lowell's furies took possession of him. I remember a visit to the hospital, the day after the people in white coats had come for him. Drugged, gentle, wanly smiling, Lowell introduced me to his fellow patients: "You see, I'm a freshman here." Wherever he was, whether sectioned in the madhouse, or home, sprawled on his red-velvet chaise longue, amid a blizzard of books, ash and paper, he was one of life's great learners, a modest student of the world he wrote about with such exhilarating power.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford

Edwin Morgan

My hero: Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford

'He radiated energy, yet was stringent, demanding. He eluded definition'

Robert Crawford
Saturday 21 August 2010 00.06 BST

n the middle of the week, around the time Edwin Morgan died in Glasgow, Kathleen Jamie, David Kinloch and I were in Edinburgh, acknowledging our debts to him. We were at the book festival listening to AB Jackson, winner of this year's Edwin Morgan International Poetry prize. Jackson spoke of how he lived two minutes from the care home where Eddie had a room, and how he often thought of him. Another prizewinner, Susan Grindley from the south of England, began her reading with a poem inspired by one of Morgan's. Almost no contemporary poet has been so loved.

In 1978 he was my tutor at Glasgow University – passionate about Emily Brontë and Milton's Areopagitica, that great defence of freedom of speech ("I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue"). Morgan, who had not yet come out as a gay man, must have had his share of fugitive experiences, and was fascinated by all kinds of speaking out. He wrote poems so weird and wonderful that some killjoys denied they were poetry. One of his best, "The Loch Ness Monster's Song", ends simply "blp". In 1978 this poet-professor had on his wall a poster of the earth seen from space, and had recently published a book called From Glasgow to Saturn. He radiated energy, yet was also stringent, demanding as a tutor and as a sonneteer. He eluded definition.
At the end of that course Morgan, who knew I wrote verse, gave me Hugh MacDiarmid's Collected Poems – published in New York but not available in Britain. It helped open my eyes to Scottish culture. So did Morgan's own poetry and prose. Like MacDiarmid, Morgan was a republican Scottish nationalist, but far more playful. He was to later 20th-century Scottish poetry what MacDiarmid had been half a century earlier: the central energising force, utterly international in vision, confident in what he called "the resources of Scotland" – a consummate encourager of younger poets, his name still identified with generosity even as he died.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Katherine Mansfield / Why love is blind

by Katherine Mansfield

The Cupid child tired of the winter day
Wept and lamented for the skies of blue
Till, foolish child! He cried his eyes away-
And violets grew.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rebecca Wee / The Philosopher

The Philosopher
by Rebecca Wee 

A man rides a bicycle into town. He's forgotten his clothes,
or maybe this is what he means to do.
He rides carefully into the burning town.Apartments of old stone list, iron balconies, awnings,
the window-grates blacken with heat. He rides by.
His lip perspires, his eyes intent.
In the hills behind him there is a glow that is not the burning.
The Acropolis maybe. The Dome of the Rock.
The man has a book under his arm. The pages are gilt-edged, the title
has worn away. He has a shoulder-wound also, an old crescent scar.
Now his chest sweats, now his abdomen.
He is more agile than laughter.
The road turns. A black sedan rounds the comer
behind him. They are leaving town or they're trailing him.
Either way it's too late.
The man is not cold without clothes. He sees whole worlds
wherever he looks, and this keeps him busy.
Maps and globes and civilizations not on fire.
Now when he stops and considers the spokes, the bicycle tires,
he sees ashes, nails, explosions of glass.He does not believe in this. He believes in something else.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bob Holman / Three Poems

Bob Holman


Constant eating Constant motion
We watched videos but only his videos
He gave a running commentary, a sort of gag-by-gag
Play-by-play: analytic and complete—imagine
“Animal House” with gesticular footnotes. He dubbed it
“Ye Olde Eternal Classic,” although I couldn’t quite make
That out just then, seeing as how I was totally preoccupied
With rolling on the floor at the time. I was not alone
In laughing, however; indeed, it was John’s laugh itself
That transmitted to me, immediately and wholly, his entire
Comic Cosmic Theory, as if, looking directly down and through
The clear Caprian Mediterranean blue one were suddenly
Face-to-face with the face behind the mask of Comedy.
His laugh functioned like a strange chemical, causing all substance
To diffuse at once into its parts, while simultaneously taking on
A physical appearance of nothing less than a sheet of gold,
Which again, as it slowly lifted, revealed, as if directly implanted,
The True and Complete Nature of Humor According to Belushi.
At this precise moment of revelling revelation, I was able to gasp
Just enough air between laughter-rapture convulsions to blurt out
“All comedy is a yearning!” a statement which stopped time dead.
It happened like this: a quick hitch in John’s eyebrows,
As if Confucius’s pivot were on the wobble, and then an odd wind
Rustled a few hairs on my arm: the congruent pause
Stretched Infinity. Whew. Like a balloon,
John ultimately burst into gales of hilarity, veils of relief,
As if I’d just delivered the punchline to end
All punchlines, the Ultimate Topper, and his antics
Certainly proved contagious, so much so that we were now
Both rolling, Pigs in Heat, yet another movie,
We were sweating Giant Turtles. Unfortunately, our cavorting
Couldn’t help but eventually awaken my family—the four of us,
Five counting John, were staying in a small room
In a small hotel, the Belsito. Capri itself is quite
Dear, quite touristy, and yet somehow quite charming and,
Indeed, quite beautiful: we were fond of saying that somehow
They had not been able to mess it up yet, all of which
Made Belushi think of the bella isola as “somehow appropriate
For an appearance of this kind,” the complete
Absurdity of which sent us guffawing straight
Into the bathroom, prodded as we were by the sleepy regalings
Of my poor family, who, thank God, must have been dreaming
That they themselves were the ones having the darn strangest
Dreams! as we shut the door and shushed each other, trying to hold
Our laughs in, listening at the door as best we could
To the deep breaths of my loved ones as they assumed
The absolute rhythms of sleep, a song which in turn
Signalled sighs and exhalations between the two of us.

And so we were hanging in the bathroom—here,
Things became a bit more somber. Indeed, we cried.
Light began filtering in, that peculiar light red
Gold light of Capri that they say “touches the skin.”
“My folks were from Napoli,” John was saying, and in the light
I saw him smiling far away as he remembered, “They always
Thought Capri a real hoot.” As far as youth goes, and college-
Type humor, John had a heart attack right then and there, like
“Time for work,” gagged with a spoon, way dead.
In the bathroom we discuss philosophy was another
Belushi-ism clincher. By this time John was doing heart attack
After heart attack, blue and brilliant, fibrillating all over
The swirling yellow and white tiles. The bidet kept
Getting in the way, but then I saw, he was using
The bidet! Twas an all-new Belushi, attuned
To women in a model modern male way . . . But no politics, puleeze.
Back to the puerile! To-Ga! he’d shriek—that classic refrain,
Rendered all the more poignant from atop the toilet can cover.
Suddenly he stopped, laurels sliding down over his brow,
And said he’d seen my daughters earlier that night
At the piazzetta, running through the legs of the macho rigazzi,
Busting their cool. That was fantastic, he whispered, looking off.
It’s a lot of tough yuks, really, he continued musing, serious
Giggles under the toga. And as for you, and your job, which
Was the next topic he veered into, his gaze blazing at me,
You’re a poet, what a riot! And just Righteous enough! he allowed,
Like a priest at a well. At this point he drew himself up
And started in poeticizing, a la Kovacs’s Dovetonsils, brilliantly
Satirical improvisations, accompanied by a little dancing.
“What a rapper!” I was about to remark, when again he abruptly
Stopped and, freezing like a statue, appealed, “But hush,”
And I saw that the room was filled to bursting by the light,
Dusty apples of April dawn, the girls laughing in their sleep,
My wife’s beauty peeping out from beneath the sheets—
“It’s time! Time to get out of the bathroom!”

These words had great meaning, and thus we did, we did
Get out of the bathroom, rest easy. But before we did,
John did an extraordinary thing, or rather, his head did.
I remember this moment as if crystal-etched: John’s looking at me
So beautifully, with such an all-embracing, all-loving look,
And his voice simply continuing on about this and that. And the reason
Why, Dear Reader, I happen to remember all this so very clearly
Is simply because what happened next was the most astonishing
Image of my life, succeeding in giving purpose not only to this visitation,
But also to my entire life from that moment on. For it was then,
Accompanied by a peculiar whirring hum, that the top
Of John’s head, from right above his ears and thence straight across
His forehead, began to revolve. His hair line became a blur
As it began spinning round, picking up speed, the low hum,
A drone behind his words, and the sounds of the words themselves
Began to abstract and fly around, not unlike his hair,
Although the meanings of the words remained clear,
Meanings that were now alternating between deep tones of tragedy
And high peals of comedy, meanings that picked up resonance
As the twirling head picked up speed, meanings that became
A language so direct as to not require the act of comprehension,
Instead becoming a simple link, a connecting sine wave of emotion
That was at once totally strange and totally comforting
And for which words can only desperately attempt to describe.
The drone began a slow crescendo, my eyes remaining glued
To John’s spinning dome which seemed now the pure Motion of Revolution.
And it was at this epiphanous moment that a sudden burst of light
Quite literally blinded me, causing the surrounding whirling noise,
With cascading fury, to become all, all, and all,
A frenzied cyclone of noise, a noise which, as my sight slowly
Returned, and focus turned to Sense, I could actually see:
Silver and liquid and pouring down a slender funnel
Directly into John’s skull, for as I watched, mesmerized,
The whirling third portion of his head began to lift off and reveal,
But No-o-o,
It was not a spinning ball of gold,
Instead it was blue and and green and sweet,
As the world itself grew out of John’s skull
And I followed it outside the bathroom and so back to sleep.


Oh Lordy, I’m so full of stories, you
Just try and shut me up in this tent.
Why, when I first climbed up these Rocky
peaks, some eight years or so ago, & set
My beer bottle down & let the wind blow
Across, resonating a lullabye, we had a
Smallish tent, barely room for my wife-
To-be, & me, & our chaperone. Now I sit
Alone, keeping an eye on el tento grande,
Big enough for her & me & the two who’ve
come along & matured so delicately in
The interim, little wildflowers, sown here
On the scorched ground looking for life,
& I, as the ancient farmer driving the pick-
Up replied to his wife’s query concerning
The growing distance between them (“We used
to sit so close together”), “I ain’t moved.”

These mountains still stun, mocking the poem.
In USA Today, weather passes for news, but I
Still can’t keep up with it.

The clouds progress
Over the Tetons, elders at their grandchildren’s
Graduation. I read with fascination about Detroit
City’s new poetry. Is there anything else? It’s
Windy, I’m concerned that the tent stay put or blow
Off with me in it. Tomorrow it’s Montana. Whoopi-ti.
A morsel for some grizzly. A landing base for a fly.


Or it just comes out in the mix
All over the Midwest, they got
One good idea, but it’s everybody

It’s all in the mix in the Midwest,
And it’s just one good idea,
But it deserves all the attention

Because I know who the enemy is
Being as I work in the advertising
And like it tight and weird

So let’s get shipwrecked on a fuckin poem
Where poem fodder sustains
A party, us and all the dead writers

Just the ones we like: Dorothy Parker,
James Baldwin and Jane Bowles.
That’s all literature, and I’ll pull

The wool over the Midwest with the new
Monster mix ad campaign if you hitch on
Another planet and swirl me right and

Call me everything, it’s the sound
That drives me bonkos. I’m standing
Around sincerely off to the side as

Stop! The moon’s a thief! you cry
Never stop telling me to stop
Swirling tight and weird and light

—Bob Holman, a poet living in New York, recently produced “Words in Your Face” for PBS’sAlive From Off-Center.