Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Partial Bestiary (For my Great-niece, Allison)

A Partial Bestiary
(For my niece, Allison)

The aardvark’s worthy of our praise
His name begins with a pair of a’s
He is clever, suave and svelte
The classiest creature on the veldt.

He loves to go and eat his fill
At a convenient termite hill
This is really no malarkey
He can’t help being aardvarky.


The butterfly’s a killer diller
He starts life as a caterpillar
But then he tires of that state
And decides that he’ll pupate.

Then he hatches and the guy
Becomes an adult butterfly
And the name for all this is
Complete metamorphosis.


The chimpanzee lives in a tree
He does not know astronomy
He is brave and he is bold
And clever as a five year old.

He wears a brightly hued bandanna
And eats a yellow ripe banana
If I could choose, I would not be
A creature like the chimpanzee.


Behold the friendly crocodile
He always greets you with a smil
But do not ask him for a ride
Or you may wind up inside.

If you meet him by a pool
Just apply the golden rule
Do not annoy him in his pride
Lest you end in his inside.


It’s very impolite to laugh
At the long neck of the giraffe
The reason why he is so tall
Need not then concern us at all.

He likes to eat the topmost branches
And read boring, cheap romances
And it’s interesting and true
He has a real stupendous view.


A furry animal is the gnu
He does not look like me or you
For lions, he’s a tasty feast
And also called the wildebeest.

He always travels in a herd
To try to change him is absurd
It isn’t profitable, it’s true
To have a friend who is a gnu.


The hummingbird came down the line
Of blossoms on the trumpet vine
Hummingbird, green one, I do find
Your flight a metaphor for the mind.

Pirhouetting, quick as a wink
As fast as the mind can think
Each migration do you go
Across the Gulf of Mexico.


The kangaroo she is no slouch
She keeps her children in a pouch
The children aren’t very showy
And each of them is called a joey.

The kangaroo she likes to bound
And covers lots and lots of ground
She likes to go out to a ball
Like any good marsupial.


Look how the foolish ostrich stands
With its had beneath the sands
The reason why is hard to say
But he does it anyway.

The ostrich lies on desert plains
To be oblivious he feigns
But it would be quite absurd
To imitate this silly bird.


Behold the bird known as the owl
He loves to eat both fish or fowl
And does his hunting all the night
And he finds that quite all right.

The owl, they say, is very wise
And easy is to recognize
And the bird is nearly mute
Except when he will give a hoot.


A funny creature is the seal
It doesn’t have much sex appeal
It doesn’t wear expensive clothes
But balances a ball upon its nose.

The seals live in big colonies
Which practically obstruct the breeze
You ask what is their favorite dish
It is, you’re right, a plate of fish.


The spider’s a creature very great
The number of his legs is eight
He spins a web to catch his prey
And so he lives from day to day

When he has a fine web spun
He likes to bask beneath the sun
You won’t believe it till you’ve tried a
Friend as useful as a spider


A lovely creature is the vulture
He is an advocate of culture
He likes it not if you ask why
He spends his days up in the sky.

The vulture dives upon the dead
Which is one way to get ahead
It would be better if he could sing
And get his meals at Burger King.

The whale’s the biggest one of all
His spout is like a waterfall
He does not use an escalator
And mostly lives near the equator.

To see a whale is quite a treat
He grows up to a hundred feet
He is not a rank landlubber
And people hunt him for his blubber.


The zebra’s coat is black on white
Or white and black
Is he a sight!!

(Roger didn’t finish this one. He wrote “rest of poem to follow.”)

Untitled (“A mind’s-length plot…”)


(A mind’s-length plot…)

A mind’s-length plot with thought was sown
In secrecy, but it has grown

Exotic spices, with strange faces
From having looked on distant places.
Gum Arabic, from the veins
Of noonday genii in heat-drunk lands
Or the hard-to-come-by foot
Of white centred anise-root.
Baskets crammed with saffron wands–
Nutmegs jostle, hearty oaves,
Embarrassing the comely cloves–
From far lands they bear away
Coriander, caraway.

Names whose iteration bear
Parceled gusts of foreign air
Subtleties but half revealed
To the importuning field–
As within a woman’s mind
Broods one half humankind.

On the Wild Hawk

On the Wild Hawk

For you is not the cap of fancy–
The soft, the sheer, the somber tones.
Rapacious form that deigns to clasp
A foothold on the jagged stones.

Brindled priest of precipice
An eyrie altar for your prey–
Where shadow in a wind-etched niche
Resolves the mountainside to grey.

The fire-course in the wild-blown eye
On swift wings rides aloft–
Obsidian beak on a blood-stained breast
Where the white-cream down is soft.

Beside the ice-eye lurks no soul–
The bird is soul incarnate, fiercely free–
Oh Lord, what heights aspired
To keep a raptore company.

Untitled (“Shrewd brown woman,…”)


(“Shrewd brown woman,…”)

Shrewd brown woman, what are you gathering?
And I fear to approach you, a fear understood
By the small breeze that scuttles in the leaves before you
And the bent asters hobbling away through the wood…

“…I search, for the purse of the long-dreaming poppy
And the tumid sweet apple that startles the bough
With its presence. For the thick streaming dyes
I will twist from the substance of leaves gathered now.

For the spring’s thin smile, that was merry and wise
Has bent to a frown in afe
And a resolute hand turns leaf on leaf
In the fall of a giant page.”

Untitled (“In ancient times…”)

(“In ancient times…”)

In ancient times, when chill winds blew
And folks for lunch drank reindeer broo
Each passing day the sun held sway for shortening duration
This lessening of lightening
Was generally frightening
And none but durst expect the worst from an overt cessation

As this fact deserved of mention
It was brought to the attention
Of the Magdalenian monarch and his court
Who were most of the opinion
That what passed in their dominion
As consternation, constituted sport?

But the public’s loud bewailance
Finally forced a mild prevailance on the King
Who, at any other season
Would have had sufficient reason
Not to do a thing!

And so, with superstitious rite
They chased away the hasty night
And drove the dread devourer to his lair.
And that the sun, at this request
Resumed its course, should well attest
To all the sure effectiveness of prayer.

Light Thoughts In Easy Words

Light Thoughts In Easy Words

I chained my love within my heart
To daunt him with the gloom
And when he’s spent for nourishment
Why, it will be his tomb.

I furled a smile maliciously
As red and cruel as blood
When that I saw to tatters tore
This banner where I stood.

Oh, cuses on young women whose
Lips assume their task–
Interpreter for humor their
Eyes in noting mask.

So once again reprieve was shown
To the dreadful prisoner
And it was known mercy was shown
Only because of her.

My love with a feathered cap stood there
With scorn light on his face
“–If I should mind being confined
How do you think this place

“–Should blunt my gaze and bound my step
Here in this cell you own?
–Before you still my waking will
I’ll break these red walls down!”

Untitled (“What a day this is…”)

(“What a day this is…”)

What a day this is
The clouds striding across the sky like lions upon a plain
The long manes of the hills rising all along their backs
For God’s sake–Friends I have
And in the swordlike swish of an eyelash
The widest, deepest silks are irredeemable
And individual voices flapping on the wind
I am the milkweed pod, scraped hollow,
Or that which has its home there
Peering from a boat at mooring in the air
To see the silk umbrellas tire and furl
Or tip to tip blow through the middle distances
But those that ever found their way to me
Were doves teetering on a new cote’s edge
Who, having sheathed themselves
Spun out determinate as thistledown
And forced back as much emptiness with their wings
Twirled far, and left to see
Nothing but a pair of trees
Talking into the curve of their branches
Strolling beside the path and going somewhere

Untitled (“How long does a road meander down…”)


(“How long does a road meander down…”)

How long does a road meander down
Through stark monotony
Of varied, varied greenery
Till, tiring of the scenery
Finds a town.

And Time attenuate a life
Launched as an owl in flight
Upon a black and star-burnt night
Till, tiring in the dark delight
Finds a wife.

Untitled (“Bending between the branches…”)


(“Bending between the branches…”)

Bending between the branches
I raised a dragonfly
All in a wood of pine it was
That saw a sobbing sky
As I was turning by.

As soon as my feet had found my path
It rose with the startled wind
But then clasped fast
In the aftermath
And for traveling had no mind.

A crowd of leaves was a clattering band
Like chariots through a town
When the roads are rising throughout the land
And the eyes of the watchers understand
That they are now alone.

He might have flown, but he did not move
And I plucked him from his place
Deep were his eye, with red leaves strewn
Around their edges, and Summer gone
Gleamed on his carapace.


A few of you knew him, and some of you may remember that I’ve written about him before. His was a life of great unhappiness and unfulfilled potential, his brilliance dulled by mental illness nearly his whole life.

Roger was born and raised in the Bronx, and spent his life as a New Yorker. He was one of the smartest kids in the neighborhood, reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover while in elementary school. As an adolescent, he was sufficiently gifted at entomology, and accomplished as a butterfly collector, to work (nowadays, he’d have been called an unpaid intern, I suppose; wouldn’t have mattered to him that he wasn’t paid) for the Head of Entomology at the American Museum of Natural History. One of the senior staff gave him what we’d now call a shout-out in what became a landmark book. He went to Cornell at 16, intending to study entomology, but gradually English took over. In his sophomore year, he won the university’s poetry prize, beating out, if I recall correctly, Thomas Pynchon and Richard Farina. By the time he graduated, he had mastered several languages, including Greek, which he had studied for only a year. By the time he died, he had along the way been able to converse and read in more than twenty languages, though in the end English and Yiddish were his favorites. He went to the University of Virginia, where he won the American Academy of Poets prize for producing the best poem among young poets in the country. By the time he finished his PhD, at 25, he was regarded as the leading scholar, for his age, of Anglo-Saxon poetry and oral-formula composition. Unfortunately, Virginia is where he was first hospitalized, though he was clearly psychiatrically impaired before then. Thus began a lifetime in and out of hospitals, in and out of functioning. My own view is that he was initially misdiagnosed and for many years was treated incompetently by a string of professionals; this was, however, in a relatively primitive time in our knowledge and treatment of serious mental illness Brutally, there was a moment when he had a chance at an upward trajectory in life–he interviewed, and was about to be offered a job at, the University of Michigan when his Department Chair at Virginia, with whom Roger had very little to do, called the people at Michigan and warned them off because of his difficulties. We suspect he was an anti-Semite besides. After that, he had trouble getting a job. He was hired at Nassau County Community College, because they needed PhDs in order to gain accreditation; once they got it, they started the process of forcibly retiring him on disability. It was only downhill from there. He did, however, continue to write poetry and picked up a few more MA degrees. He never married. For the last 25 years he was living in a distantly-supervised apartment in Astoria, with another State Hospital refugee, who has been a devoted friend for whom I am forever grateful. For the last 35 years, I have been solely responsible for his well-being and his care, as well as his finances. It has been a burden which I rarely wore lightly, but which I carried nonetheless.

At the end, my brother spent several days at the Jamaica Hospital Hospice, in Queens. I have only the highest praise for the facility, the staff, and the care he received. It’s my first experience as a hospice client, and it was everything I could have wished for, and more.

If you are interested in some of his poetry, you can find it at and at the online poetry site Innisfree Poetry Journal

My wife, Marla, wrote an article about him which appeared in the Washington Post Magazine:

Tomorrow I am going to say the following: My deepest wish is that now, in the world to come, you are granted the peace and happiness you were denied while you were among us.