-- for the Prometheans

Here’s a Gillygaloo
Her eggs are made of air
And are perfectly square
Use them as dice to gamble
Or just scramble
She looks like you

This one is a Thermal Pig
Still hot from the Big Bang
He wants to sit on you
But whatever will you do
When he fries your thang
And melts your igloo?
He, too, looks a bit like you

This one’s a Pinnacle Grouse
With only one wing
Lifelong he circles a single mountaintop
Searching for his house
Will he ever stop?
Will he ever be through?
Maybe he resembles you

Let me introduce the Hoo-hoo Monkey
Most loveable of creatures
With peacock tail, elephant’s trunk and other endearing features
Warning: he smells pretty funky
This time of the year
Like you, I fear

Look up in that tree
And you will see
A pair of Weeping Me-Me’s
Wisely, they bury their tears in the dirt
And dig them out
In times of drought
Or when they’re sad or hurt
They remind me of thee

And last in our zoo
We have the Fruity-Bootie Bird
Just for you
A rare and intelligent species
He eats only his own feces
And smells, logically, like a turd
Invite him in
Invite him in for a laugh and a word
Your identical, umbilical twin!

                                                -- New York, December 21, 2010

Pastorale for vuvuzela

I miss you before and after I miss you
Amethyst taste of you

The experiment of your lips on Earth

Your fingerprints everywhere  

Off you go in slo-mo
Fine spray billowing from the waterfall of you
You evaporate

Oxygen for the life of me

Sesame seeds at the bottom of last Spring's picnic basket

And the words we left to their own devices in the meadow
In the juggernaut of time

Light laughing in its own language
For the sheer joy
Of August 3

                                                -- New York, December 18, 2010

Q and A: itching and scratching

Q. "If it itches, scratch it." Is that basically your philosophy?

A. Yeah, but "philosophy" isn't really the right word.

Q. What's the right word then?

A. Profession.

Q. What strategy do you use for a typical itch?

A. No such thing as "a typical itch". Each one's unique. Each has a first and last name, a birth and death certificate.

Q. That's not very helpful. Examples, please.

A. The best itches quickly escalate, going from your little toe, say, to your entire body in a matter of seconds. Sometimes even the earth beneath your feet itches. Sometimes you have to scratch the dark side of the moon, make the ocean cry. Sometimes you have to scratch your brain to get at an itch on your ass.

Q. What was your all-time favorite itch like?

A. It happened on January 3, 1993. Backs of my knees. I'll never forget it. I wept with gratitude. Almost got me into the Guinness Book of World Records. Showed up on seismographs halfway round the world.

Q. Any special scratching techniques you want to tell us about?

A. Well, that's kind of personal.

Q. This is off the record. Not for attribution.

A. Okay, sometimes only a book of contemporary poetry will do the trick. A Cuban domino. A fun house mirror.  A tuning fork. A perfect stranger. In emergencies, a red shoe.

Q. How long have you been an itcher and a scratcher?

A. Put it this way: I had a backscratcher with me in my mother's womb.

Q. What advice do you have for beginners?

A. Don't just rush into itching and scratching. Consider other career options. But if it's your true calling, go for it. And don't just scratch yourself. Scratch other people's itches too. Be generous with your talent. Nothing worse than a selfish scratcher.

                                                                      -- New York, December 12, 2010

Frijoles negros para Idelfonso

Yo sé yo sé
Mis frijoles no sirven para nada
“Son de bala,” decías

“¿Como va a hacer frijoles cubanos un yanqui?” decías

Cuando éramos dos náufragos de amor
Y me dabas refugio en tu islita
Pero el día de hoy

Aquí en Nueva York

Este gringo que te quiere
No te va a hacer caso

Te voy a preparar frijoles negros
Y te los voy a mandar al hospital en la Habana
Donde estas decidiendo si vale la pena vivir

Anoche puse a remojar  los frijoles 
En lágrimas

Pero cuidado, nada de llanto
Eran lágrimas de las carcajadas

Que provocábamos el uno al otro

Hace 35 años

La mitad de una vida

Ahora los tengo hirviendo en agua
Con una pizca de bicarbonato
Truco que me enseñaste para el ablandamiento 

Y mientras tanto
Preparo, también con lágrimas, el sofrito mágico:

Cebollas y mucho mucho ajo
Picadito con amor y saña

Ajíes verdes del coño de su madre

Hojita de laurel
Cilantro que no había entonces

Tomates y concentrado de tomate
Todo echado a la sartén al rojo vivo
Con aceite de oliva
(recuerdo una vez que tuviste que pedir prestado de la vecina de al lado
una taza de aceite medio pasado)

¡Huela, amigo, huela esto, que te va a salir la baba!

Ya es tiempo para mezclar el sofrito esquizofrénico  
Con los frijoles ablandados
Agrego sal
Pero cuidado

Menos sal que tú echabas
(Pero no por eso te voy a juzgar por debilidad ideológica)

Bueno, pasan un par de horas
Horas en que recuerdo a los dos caminando por el Malecón
 Tu, casado y divorciado como 30 veces
Con 129 hijos dispersos por el mundo
Dándome consejos que, idiota que soy, tomo a pecho

Y me cuentas del documental “Buscando a papa” que estas terminando
Con ternura y pasión

Esto hace siglos en otro mundo

Creo que los frijoles ya están listos
A probar….
Mmmmm, pero falta algo mi hermano
No puedo mandarte algo insípido

Bueno, ya se lo hay que agregar:
Una pizca de azúcar
Dulce como la caña de tu dulce patria

¿Y que mas?
 Ya sé:
Mi bata de baño

La mismísima bata que querías mandar

Al basurero de la historia
Por asquerosa
Prenda que he conservado medio intacto todos estos años
Añejándose para esta ocasión

La echo al caldo de brujas
Media hora más
Y listo, coñooooooo!!!

Estos frijoles que te mando
Por el mismo arcoíris mensajero
Con que me comunicaba con Ana la pecosa

Estos frijoles te los mando para que vivas carajo
Te los mando para que no olvides ni por un segundo
De la sabrosura de la vida
Y de tu contribución a ella

Te los mando para que
Con Rebeca y con Mariana
Te sientes a la mesa a comer
Un hombre libre y entero
En la casa digna que construiste con sudor y sangre

Te los mando
Al fin
Para que entiendes de una vez para siempre
Que mis frijoles negros
Son mil veces mejores que los tuyos

Idelfonso asere monina
Hermano del alma!

                                                -- New York, December 9, 2010

My fundamental and elemental ones

My fundamental and elemental ones
Present and gone now forever

This Gordon and this Dan
This Scott and this Gigi
This Sandy
This Milton and Moe
This Manolo
Roque and Carlos
This Andy
This Ben, this Phuc
This Paul, Joel and Grace
This Jim and this Gladys
This Irving and Sylvia
This Ruth
This Fran

These rudiments, quintessences
They went and took
Early retirement

Se los llevó La Calaca

They bought
La Flaca's
Permanent vacation package

They had too little and enough
They dirtied their hands with the stuff
Of the world

Present and gone now forever

They barricaded themselves behind their foreheads
Opened their hearts
Offered their jugulars to the wolf

Present and gone now forever

They and their ferocious dreams of betterment

Present and gone now forever

They were the golden ones
Who lived forward and understood backward
Who stood up
Stepped right up

Each a material fact of immaterial energy
Particle and wave
In the improbable world

Present and gone now forever

Oh how they squeaked and they howled
They grunted
They sang their beating hearts out
Couldn’t stop laughing or crying

Perforated and flayed
By the world

Each of them
These vessels of oh and ooo
Of ugh and duh and huh

Each had the honor of whispering
In the pomegranate orchard of midnight
Each bathed in the waterfall of things
Each made noise and had secrets
Each made music and trouble

Present and gone now forever

Each with birth and expiration dates
Off-label uses
Dying to live
Hanging on for dear life

They burned their fingers on the sun
Charred minute hands signaling through the smoke

My beautiful and rowdy friends

They lost and found their keys
And then they threw themselves away

They who were my explanation of life

These newborns
These clowns and rulers
These hummingbirds

They slipped out of the house
Before dawn
While we were sleeping
They drove alone to their appointments with pain

Enough of the respirator and the feeding tube of the world!

They broke with the caste system
Refused hush money
Ran away to join the circus of their own lives
Built a house of dignity out of water and breath
Bought La Flaca’s permanent vacation package
Laughing at the law of gravity

Present and gone now forever

They were bad just enough
Their goodness was good and good enough

Their names
Cleared now by these words
Of all wrongdoing

Gone now and present forever

                                                            -- New York, December 3, 2010

Questions I never got to ask Dan Lund

Did you like knock-knock jokes?

Were you, like me, Gramsci’s long term optimist and short term pessimist?

What rituals from childhood did you hang onto for dear life?

In order to think, did you need to whistle or hum?

Did signing a check require your tongue to be in the left corner of your mouth?

Did you dream en espanol?

How did you become so Mexican and stay so gringo?

Did you lose or find yourself in the films that obsessed you?

My perversely naïve Obama poem – why did you like it?

Kids with wings – what magic trick did you and Cristina perform? 

Where did you put your mistakes – into the pit of oblivion or the gnaw of remorse?

Did you ever get over the death of your parents?

Did you despair as our dreams were miserably defeated, hijacked and hollowed out? 

What was Utopia's address in your heart of hearts?

You who risked your life fighting the system, was there something or someone that terrified you?

Surrounded by love, did loneliness stalk you?
Did self-doubt take you out to the woodshed for a good beating?

What music reduced you to tears?

Why did you consider me a friend, me who knew so little about friendship until nearly the end?

Did you know you were changing history when you were changing history?

Why did you never stop laughing?
                                                                                                  -- Vancouver, November 19, 2010

This harebrained scheme of yours

For Orson, on the way

This harebrained scheme of yours:
Being born

Have you thought it through?
Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?
Have you made a list of pros and cons?

Well, here’s Grandpa’s list
And if you’re like me
You’ll want the bad news first:

1.      Let’s cut to the chase
Like the rest of us, you will die
Mortality’s part of the deal
Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise
Pay attention to this little detail from the start
Even if the ending seems far off, improbable

2.      You will never be given a map
You will be a seeker
You will go where you are going
Without a compass
Getting lost is part of the arrangement
Like it or not

3.      Heavy lifting awaits you
You will have lots of genetic baggage to carry
Our species is still climbing down from the trees
Learning to walk on two legs
You will stumble
You will learn about getting up
By falling down

4.      The Earth will be your home
But you’ll never own it
Even your body won’t belong to you
You’ll rent like the rest of us
And you’ll be sorely tempted
Life long
To destroy it

And now (drum-roll)
And now (trumpets)
Here’s the good news:

1.      For the important things
Life’s default setting
Is mostly automatic
Breathing, growing, seeing, longing
Just happen
You won’t have to lift a finger
Piece of cake!

2.      You will be one of the lucky ones
Loved into loving
Flown into flying
Laughed into laughing
You will feel beyond your fingertips
See beyond your sight
You will accumulate great wealth
Giving yourself away

3.      You will be
An everyday Gandhi
A Conscientious Objector
To the war against life
To the destruction of the planet

4.      The Great Mysteries await you
And you will adore and unravel them
With art and science

5.      You will have the great honor
Of being no different
No better
Than your six billion blood brothers and sisters
Not much different, even
And certainly no better
Than firefly, elephant and night-blooming jasmine

Welcome now
Sweet one
Orson Benjamin
Welcome home!

-- Vancouver, October 28, 2010

Orson Benjamin Wesley Cohen, 10 lbs 10 oz

Your grand entrance
On the night
We turned back the clocks
For an hour of extra light

Your coming weighty into the world
On the night of
Milk's Big Dipper

Your having made the mammalian passage
Into Dan's hands
And onto Sarah's breast

Into and onto our loving

You instantly wise to breathing and seeing

So starts your history
Your jump onto the calendar

Know-nothing know-it-all

Staking a claim to space and time

Bringing your sweet say-so
Your yes and your no
Into the spinning of the world
Adding your voice to the chorus

Bringing extra light
To the dark and awestruck world

                           -- Vancouver, 7:01 a.m., November 7, 2010

Oh, the torment bred in the race

(The results of the midterm elections in the U.S. reminded me of this passage from Aeschylus' THE LIBATION BEARERS)

Oh, the torment bred in the race,
      the grinding scream of death
         and the stroke that hits the vein,
   the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house,
      and not outside it, no,
         not from others but from them,
   their bloody strife.

We sing to you,
dark gods beneath the earth.
Now hear, you blissful powers underground—
   answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.

You over here...the perps over there

In the wee morning
You over here
And the perps
Over there
Are eating the same nutritious breakfast

It will be a killer
Of a day
But for now
The sun is behaving itself
Squatting just over the horizon
With last night's sex on its mind

You are prepared
You are up
For any damn thing the day has to offer

But what about the perps?
The perps
Who are superconductors
At any temperature
Say nothing
About their plans
For the day

Except that you
My friend
My bell and scar
You figure
In them

                                       -- Montevideo, October 5, 2010

Lunch with Penelope

Penelope Cruz
Wins the raffle
To have lunch with me

I bring my tuba
To the restaurant

Penelope arrives late

I’ve been hiding behind this cross
Since the 16th century
I’m a converso
She confesses

You alone know this
She says
And starts reading the menu

But she has forgotten something:
The nautilus shell in which she was born

Before we can order
Pedro Almodovar arrives
Smelling of night-blooming jasmine

Speaking ladino
He says:
This is not a kosher restaurant

Penelope blows a few sad notes on my tuba
And reluctantly departs

What’s up with Penelope?
She did not tear up her birth certificate
She did not tell me my name
She did not beg me for an autograph

I eat my lunch alone
Fatter and hungrier by the hour

                                                            -- New York, October 8, 2010

Poem for Dan at 30

Whatever was stalking you
Howling with hunger
At your back

You picked it up by the scruff of its neck
And put it down
In front of you

You sang to it
You put it to work
You made it laugh
You buried your fingers in its fur
You walked it in sunlight

You named and tamed it

At 30
Everything is in front of you

Ready for your hands

                                          -- New York, October 4, 2010