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Formal Verse - Villanelles:

Note: There are a few other villanelles (parodies of "Do not go gently into that good night") in the light verse section on poets and poetry. Also see the new form I invented, based on the villanelle, called the villain-hell -- in the "new forms" section under Light Verse.

Weeds

Just God and neighbors know what makes a weed
A weed. I pull whatever looks ambitious.
Some plants are vile--have we not all agreed?

Succulent, voted most likely to succeed:
Up wrench the roots--who'd have thought he'd turn vicious?
Just God and neighbors know what makes a weed.

Can't judge by flowers--everything's gone to seed.
Dandelions are nutritious and delicious.
Some plants are vile--have we not all agreed?

Uprooted worms squirm; intricate spiders speed
Into the grass--the gods are unpropitious.
Just God and neighbors know what makes a weed.

A rose may be a rose, but ivy, treed,
Becomes a weed--pernicious, avaricious.
Some plants are vile--have we not all agreed?

How are we judged? Milky drops from burst stalks bleed.
I kill to claim I own--the deed's fictitious.
Just God and neighbors know what makes a weed.
Some plants are vile--have we not all agreed?


Being Young

We thought we were inventing being young.
Parents seemed not to see; could they have guessed
Who makes our face at them, sticks out our tongue?

We felt new fears, sang songs that none had sung,
Wrested pangs from the wretched with collectors' zest;
We thought we were inventing being young.

A kid, eyes spasmed with stuck tears: bee-stung
Lips spit poems at...us? Are we impressed?
Who makes our face at us, sticks out our tongue

At what we were--or weren't--or till now clung
To a ghost of? Heartless he beats against our breast.
We thought we were inventing being young.

He haunts us, and we, too, fresh ghosts who've hung
Around, yell "Hey! we're here!" to the jeering pest
Who makes our face at us, sticks out our tongue--

He can't hear us--we're dead! He struts among
Grave bodies, whistling--scared. Nothing's confessed.
We thought we were inventing being young.
Who makes our face at us, sticks out our tongue?


Dreamers

They go together off into the sun...
The sunset lasts forever, we assume.
Suns blacken; a dreamer's work is never done.

The audience goes home--the West is won;
Each finds the same mirror in the same bathroom;
They go together off into the sun.

The day is done, but the night has just begun--
And day's undone in sleep, Penelope's loom.
Suns blacken; a dreamer's work is never done.

Dreams gather round like toys, sleek hounds to run
With retinue before Pharaoh to his tomb.
They go together off into the sun.

What dreams give, dreams take from us--where's the fun?
Bird cries, gray dawn light--dreams won't keep their bloom.
Suns blacken; a dreamer's work is never done.

Clocks scream; dreams have an end--the dreamers none.
Life after life we light dream-fuses: ZOOM!
We go together off into the sun.
Suns blacken; a dreamer's work is never done.


Lamplight, Your Hair

Lamplight, your hair--things are just what they seem,
A room with space and objects preoccupied.
I touch your face, but cannot touch the dream.

Facts flicker us; time's a stutter, not a stream.
The future is a room where we once died.
Lamplight, your hair--things are just what they seem.

But suddenly--I don't see any seam--
The room becomes your smile, and I'm inside.
I touch your face, but cannot touch the dream.

Time stands still, quick! caught in the eye's caught gleam,
But space keeps coming; on its tide, twin swans, we glide.
Lamplight, your hair--things are just what they seem.

Time's a transition in a freshman theme;
Consequently, as it were.... When words collide,
I touch your face, but cannot touch the dream.

Only by dreaming now can we redeem
A future no man waits for. Time and tide,
Lamplight, your hair--things are just what they seem.
I touch your face, but cannot touch the dream.


Mom And Dad

Mom's voice on heart strings scrapes a grating bow;
We joke, then argue, bluster, cover our ears.
Dad's teeth are clenched; he has nowhere to go.

Laundary laden, she chants her epic woe
So Life Unfair (Me? Dad? My brothers?) hears.
Mom's voice on heart strings scrapes a grating bow.

"Your Father..." is a theme she dwells on so
He'll hear, slam a door, become the thing she fears.
Dad's teeth are clenched; he has nowhere to go.

Once I yelled "Damn you! Shut UP!" Now I know:
From eyes of staring stone can drip stone tears.
Mom's voice on heart strings scrapes a grating bow.

Rarely with tales of childhood a wan, sweet glow--
Dad holds his breath; he's held his breath for years.
Dad's teeth are clenched; he has nowhere to go.

Her NO! NO! NO!'s into a cancer grow;
She's gone. He goes on, loses heart, disappears.
Mom's voice on heart strings scrapes a grating bow;
Dad's teeth are clenched; he has nowhere to go.


Nibbling

My body, nibbling with mouth and eyes, grows fat.
I suck my gut in, but the mirror's seen.
I'm somewhere else; I can't be part of that.

I eat and read the papers, scratch the cat.
A fly gets in, can't get out, buzzes the screen.
My body, nibbling with mouth and eyes, grows fat.

Coffee wakes me; headlines, where'm I at?
"KILLER OF TWO..." "RECESSION..." "...GREET THE QUEEN..."
I'm somewhere else; I can't be part of that.

Far buzz of cars, sunlight, stretched out flat
On the table, funnies, want-ads--I feel unclean.
My body, nibbling with mouth and eyes, grows fat.

The cat's big eyes transfix me like a gnat;
Who knows me from that mask? Is it halloween?
I'm somewhere else; I can't be part of that.

The cat curls up in the warm place where I sat.
Headlines, seasons spin round in a star machine.
My body, nibbling with mouth and eyes, grows fat.
I'm somewhere else; I can't be part of that.


Rage

This rage does not become us--where do we go?
I'm sure we were right here five minutes past.
Mask glares at tragic mask--no one I know.

We chatted, smiling--saw no thunderhead grow...
Now cling to wreckage, pitch before the blast.
This rage does not become us--where do we go?

We look so silly--Medusa meets Othello!--
Surely one will laugh; this cannot last:
Mask glares at tragic mask--no one I know.

We hone our words, we strike, we score, we crow!
Triumph! Doors slam and virtue struts, half-assed.
This rage does not become us--where do we go?

My hate is pain inverted--does it show?
It hurts to hurt, but my rightness grows so vast...
Mask glares at tragic mask--no one I know.

From behind the eyeholes of each savage foe
A hostage, bound and gagged, love stares, aghast.
This rage does not become us--where do we go?
Mask glares at tragic mask--no one I know.


Spy Story

I take in mine your hand, your avid eyes--
It seems a way to have someone inside;
Now mine wears yours and yours wears my disguise.

If surface lies, the dearest depths are lies.
Twin mirrors mock my mirrors; do we hide?
I take in mine your hand, your avid eyes.

Your eyes my eyes, your thighs take in my thighs;
But we're not in the slick things we let slide.
Now mine wears yours and yours wears my disguise.

The password? Hello! Such relief! Two spies
From nothing wink, slip from the things we ride.
I take in mine your hand, your avid eyes.

With recognition comes a sharp surprise;
We took each other in, but no one lied.
Now mine wears yours and yours wears my disguise.

Chairs, lamps, smiles, faces flicker; the room's size
Keeps changing. Eyes, to lure us, open wide.
I take in mine your hand, your avid eyes.
Now mine wears yours and yours wears my disguise.


July Night

My head is full of poems; how can I sleep?
I stir--you lift your dim, half-woken head.
In summer heat unwritten poems won't keep.

I count iambs; perhaps I should count sheep.
My lines and I writhe on Procrustes' bed.
My head is full of poems; how can I sleep?

At our feet this sultry night a blanket heap;
But still I sweat--what labors to be said?
In summer heat unwritten poems won't keep.

You turn...turn back; clock hands in circles creep.
Blind through the night our twisting paths we tread.
My head is full of poems; how can I sleep?

Dawn's gauzy light peeks in; did a bird peep?
I've tried each fitting rhyme from A to Zed.
In summer heat unwritten poems won't keep.

I watch the room in sunlight slowly steep,
My poem and I wide waking, the last sheet shed.
My head is full of poems; how can I sleep?
In summer heat unwritten poems won't keep.


The Writing On The Wall

Nightly the sullen janitor scrubs each stall.
Each day the words and pictures reappear.
Each message is a trick played on the wall.

Jesus loves you...FUCK!...For Good Head Call...
Here I sit brokenhearted...Denise was HERE!
Nightly the sullen janitor scrubs each stall.

Walls separate: Here with my body all
Alone I sit... "Peekaboo!" the children jeer.
Each message is a trick played on the wall--

But "Fuck!" is a wall and "Jesus"--the crude scrawl
Conceals...a giggling child? A queer? A seer?
Nightly the sullen janitor scrubs each stall--

Does he snigger first? Can lust or wit enthrall
Him from his job? Or, fanatic in his fear
Each message is a trick played on the wall,

Can nothing we say reach him? Down the hall
He shuffles. Now, quick!--Put back the wall, my dear!
Nightly the sullen janitor scrubs each stall.
Each message is a trick played on the wall.


Victims

Men, women, children, says the morning news,
Were victims when the soldiers opened fire.
I burn my toast; there's no one to accuse.

Why am I safe at home? I didn't choose
To shoot or to be shot; who'd so desire?
Men, women, children, says the morning news.

Two fried eggs stare at me until I bruise
The yolks. See how they run. (This Fork For Hire.)
I burn my toast; there's no one to accuse.

How many slain? (A number numbs.) Oh, slews.
Any near and dear to me, may I inquire?
Men, women, children, says the morning news.

And did these dead have anything to lose?
A girl's shoe--bloody?--stuck in gutter mire.
I burn my toast; there's no one to accuse.

Stiff, pop-eyed puppets, jerking on their cues--
We're not like that! Is history a liar?
Men, women, children, says the morning news;
I burn my toast; there's no one to accuse.


Nova -- or Waiting is Waiting

"Join us--we're waiting for the world to end,"
They said. Did I miss something? I've been waiting
For the world to start, in a flash to comprehend

What's always promised just beyond the bend
In the road. Stars flash, on thin ice corruscating:
"Join us--we're waiting for the world to end."

In this cold light, my visions will offend,
For I'm just tuning up--fidgeting, annotating--
For the world to start, in a flash to comprehend

What music makes us; star-masked what old friend
Giggles. The serpant's gaze is fascinating:
"Join us--we're waiting for the world to end"--

But we're not born yet! Our best poems yet pend,
Awaiting the time to speak, fingers agitating
For the world, to start in a flash, to comprehend...

We Waiting. The world keeps ending. Hungers rend,
Ravage the walls we think we aren't creating.
Join us--we're waiting for the world to end,
For the world to start, in a flash to comprehend.


Philemon to Baucis

With you I can pretend to be alone.
I fetch the paper, crunching the wrinkled crust.
My heart against the winter's edge I hone.

You water plants and dust the telephone
And feather-flick my forehead, dust to dust.
With you I can pretend to be alone.

"Read me! Who, naked, sees the world turns stone!"
Claims my dull "Mirror": In Reliable Source We Trust.
My heart against the winter's edge I hone.

Staring at headlines, I see (so twined we've grown)
The frosted pane you see--how can one adjust?
With you I can pretend to be alone.

"Oh Dear!" you sigh, to let me know you've known
Or that our too-warm living-room smells of must.
My heart against the winter's edge I hone.

We end with a start: Take from these bones a bone;
If one is taken from one, is one non-plused?
With you I can pretend to be alone.
My heart against the winter's edge I hone.

[Note: The above may be a bit sentimental, but at least pause with me to admire the lovely pun three lines up -- "non-plused".]


The Night Poetry Died

The night poetry died I was out of town.
I simply couldn't believe it when I heard!
No mention in the papers, poor sad clown,

For poetry was not a proper noun.
We'd thought he'd never die, doting, absurd.
The night poetry died I was out of town.

Grass green, sky blue, and you-know-whats were brown
The day he died--and since (I mean a t-u-r-d).
No mention in the papers. Poor sad clown,

They say he drooled all down his hospital gown,
Gibbering--no one understood a word
The night poetry died. I was out of town.

Who knows just when he died? With frozen frown,
From breath pumped down the tubes for ages, he stirred.
No mention in the papers, poor sad clown.

The children take it well--the laurel crown
They soar at quoits. My regular nightmare occurred
The night poetry died--I was out of town.
No mention in the papers, poor sad clown.


Blackout

Put out those eyes! You'll give us all away!
Our foes surround us--please turn down that smile.
Quick! Douse that dream! (Ain't no one here but us clay.)

We've holed up here in heads. They're out there--they
Can spot a wink or twinkle from a mile.
Put out those eyes! You'll give us all away!

What's out there in the vastness of the day?
If caught, sans cards, sans body?--death most vile!
Quick! Douse that dream! (Ain't no one here but us clay.)

Stick together and we'll be well--don't stray.
"I will," contracted, is ill: Noman's an I'll;
Put out those eyes! You'll give us all away!

Sentiments are permitted; write or pray,
But keep it rote--they home right in on style.
Quick! Douse that dream! (Ain't no one here but us clay.)

"Hello..." Shush! Down! Play dead. Walls, windows may
Be spies. Gaze at grey screens, watch your watch dial...
Put out those eyes! You'll give us all away!
Quick! Douse that dream! (Ain't no one here but us clay.)


Another

I lie alone; you're with another man.
I, too, am lost in another man--and you?
Another woman, none more other than.

I trace the rift to see where it began...
Were we always strangers? Far back as I can view
I lie alone; you're with another man.

You try, you say, with me, but never can
Feel what you feel with him. Never? I knew
Another woman, none more other than.

To a pronoun, weighted, I anchored every plan.
Weightless, you floats out of reach; tomorrow, too,
I lie alone; you're with another man.

Someone else's delirium dreams me, hectic, then wan:
Someone wants someone to want him--God knows who.
Another woman, none more other than.

I can't let you go. Can I leave this groping clan
Of clinging me's behind? Can it be true
I lie alone, you're with another man--
Another woman, none more other than?


A Stranger Here

I feel a stranger here, but when in Rome,
How do you do? Where do we all come from?
From homes-away-from-homes-away from home.

All day thoughts buzz like insects: chants of "OM",
Or "Isn't this fun!" or "Love me!" We grow numb.
I feel, a stranger here, but when in Rome,

Do as the Romans--Do it in a poem:
But I've no words to say how I am dumb
In my home-away-from-home-away-from-home...

I stand before my mirror, moving a comb
Along the latest head that I've become.
I feel a stranger, here, but when in Rome,

No road leads home. I stand beneath a dome,
Hushed to make whole these parts that have no sum,
These homes-away-from-homes-away-from-home.

We haunt our homes when we're too tired to roam,
Peer in through panes to see what we've become.
I feel a stranger here, but when in Rome,
We make ourselves, at home away from home.


Rightness

Because we love the Lord or love the light
And know one child's pain does or doesn't matter,
Whatever we are doing, it is right.

Because we serve who stand and wait to fight,
Because we're getting older, sadder, fatter,
Because we love the Lord or love the light --

Love being light and bright and quite untrite --
The world, in light that flatters us, grown flatter,
Whatever we are doing, it is right.

Our pliant bodies lie in bed each night,
Ours to parade in sunlight, hurl and shatter,
Because we love the Lord or love the light,

Because our friends agree or else to spite
Them all; because we're sick of endless chatter,
Whatever we are doing, it is right--

Reason can't save us from our ponderous plight,
Doomed to be right, held high like head on platter
Because we love the Lord or love the light:
Whatever we are doing, it is right.


I'm Late! I'm Late!

We've lived a million lives? What's that to me?
Old magazines piled in a room where I wait.
I can't remember immortality.

I don't have time to look at what I see
Or see what I look at: Someone is late.
We've lived a million lives? What's that to me?

This room already fades like memory.
Room, meet who I've been; who I've been, meet fate.
I can't remember immortality.

Walls tremble with our efforts not to be
Here; tile-floor patterns fade, reincarnate.
We've lived a million lives? What's that to me?

"How you doing?" "You?" Our words agree
We're here: You, me, some chairs -- let's celebrate.
I can't remember immortality.

"You took forever!" Take another -- it's free.
It's where we meet -- a very important date.
We've lived a million lives? What's that to me?
I can't remember immortality.


At a Loss

Who hesitates is lost--I think that so.
Is this not hesitation where we live?
Our chairs are lost in chairdom; where can we go?

I dream of making things go poof--Presto!
No strings attached and nothing up my sleeve!
Who hesitates is lost--it must be so.

Our landscapes greet us, wait for our "Hello!"
Dreams free them; waking ends the brief reprieve.
Our chairs are lost in chairdom; let them go.

Each stone we see's a jittery tableau
Waiting to be understood so it can leave.
Who hesitates is lost--I think it so.

We're dumb because there's nothing here to know.
We're stingy, seeing nothing here to give.
Our chairs are lost in chairdom; can't we go?

These walls can live. Speak to them, and they flow
Like Moses' rock, till caught in thought's fine sieve.
Who hesitates is lost: We think, and so,
Our chairs are lost in chairdom; let us go.


Guilty Cages of the Gelded Guild

We ought to write our poems for the ages,
Not for the aegis, but time doesn't pay;
Fine patrons pay the upkeep for fine cages.

We have to please the folks who pay our wages.
We say what editors want us to say.
We ought to write our poems for the ages.

Government agencies, colleges pay for pages
That no one reads. We can't come out and play;
Our patrons pay the upkeep for our cages.

No wonder mobs of philistines outrage us:
We work for those who keep the mobs that way,
Too dumb to read a poem for the ages,

Poor brutes -- for so say Freud and all our sages --
Whose brutehood fine allusions can't allay:
Their cages aren't as tasteful as our cages.

Chapbooks, awards, anthologies assuage us.
Our schools now drug the kids who won't obey.
We ought to write our poems for the ages,
But there's no pay for rattling our cages.

[Note: Thinking that the pun in line two, above (aegis -- that is, sponsorship, being under the "aegis" of the gods, etc.) was too obscure, I offer you an alternate version. Just substitute the word "critics" for "aegis".]


Fancy Clocks

I'm sick of puns and wit and paradox.
Fuck poetry! Fuck style! Can't we just talk?
You don't get better time from fancier clocks.

This room is crammed with words. We're in a box
Of words. Let's go out...BRRRR! Don't talk. Let's walk.
I want to puke up wit and paradox.

Let's walk -- we could take off our shoes and socks,
To find our "authentic voices": kick a rock.
Poetic feet? Tick-tocks from fancy clocks.

You want Venusian Mind-Meld? Limp-dick Spocks?
To touch you deeply, I'll stick out my cock,
Not irony, not wit, not paradox.

Loud lunatics leap out between tick-tocks,
Screaming "I'm here! Adore me!" (Passersby gawk.)
The poets are the cuckoos in our clocks.

But I'm just ranting. Ignorance always mocks.
Jealousy. Sour grapes. This poem is a crock --
though sometimes I get sick of paradox
And time that's still just time...these fancy clocks...


Inside Out - 2003

I'm 61, Dad -- your age when you died.
I say "you died," but don't believe you're dead.
Your body fell apart: you weren't inside.

You weren't found lurking there, all glassy-eyed,
Holding your breath forever -- in a bed
Like me, now, Dad. I'm your age when you died.

But dead? I'm not denying that I cried,
Not knowing where you'd gone, much left unsaid,
but when that body stopped, you weren't inside.

Some mornings in the glass I coincide
With what has got to be the thing you shed,
Your bulk, your eyes, at just the age you died --

I make a silly face, quick patricide,
To say that I'm not any body's head:
I've had a falling out. I'm not inside.

I stare at it, its tongue out ("Open wide!"),
A joke, and yet...I think I've lost the thread...
Oh yes, I'm 61, the age you died,
But when it falls apart, we aren't inside.


Fuck You, Blank Page!

Words? WORDS? Hey, I don't need no steenking words!
Hey! You want words? I fill you up with scribble!
I tear you up to make nice nests for birds.

I shit on you! My periods -- little turds.
I vomit on you, piss and drool and dribble!
You want words? I don't NEED no steenking words!

I rip in thirds...again!...again in thirds,
Then shove them into crannies where mice nibble.
I tear you up to make nice nests for birds

Or fill you up with numbers (for the nerds) --
Or prophesies, then cage you like poor Sibyl.
You beg for words? Who needs your steenking words?!

I stampede buffalos, crush you with herds!
To feed my mutt, I grind you into kibble!
I shred you up to make nice nests for birds.

This dumb bandito accent quite absurd is --
It comes and goes, it's fake, but let's not quibble.
The point is, I don't need no steenking words.
I tear you up. You make nice nest for birds.

[The poet, here, takes on the imagined voice of the bandito in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", played by Alphonse Bedoya, who tells Humphey Bogart he's a Federale and needs to search Bogart's saddle bags. Bogart says, something like "Let's see your badge first," and Bedoya says (hope I have this classic utterance right): "Baaahj? I don' need no steenkeeng baaahj!" Using this voice, the poet is scorning the page for remaining blank, despite his best efforts to write. In other words, the them is writer's block. You knew all that already, didn't you? "Poor Sibyl" was a soothsayer, ageing and kept in a cage -- as described in the footnote to the epigraph of any edition of "The Waste Land."]


T...he...

Still blank, old page? I'll write a "The." Now what?
That's capital T with lower-case h-e...
"Teehee!" it cries, and claps the sentence shut.

The book? The page? The dog.... Oh, anything BUT!
A "thuh" the or a the that we call "Thee"?
The page was blank. Now it says "the". The WHAT?

You traitor, "The"! You empty hope! You slut!
An article is snickering at me!
"Teehee!" it cries, and claps the sentence shut.

The ant? The apple?... "Thee," thou'rt in a rut.
We call you "definite" -- be SOMEthing. BE!
The page says, blankly, "the," but won't say what.

A poem not working? Critics tell us "Cut."
What's there to cut? Without your "T", you're "he"...
"Teehee!" it cries, and claps the sentence shut.

Let's have a noun, a verb! Get off your butt!
Tee ticks. Aitch aches. The eerie EEK! of EEE!
You're better blank, dumb page, without the what.
"Teehee!" it cries, and claps the sentence shut.

[A few days after writing the above lines (about trying to outsmart writer's block by writing "The" on the page as a starter), I read this poem to ten poets. Not one seemed to notice the miraculousness of dumb, thudding "the" opening out into giddy "Teehee!" Not one recognized Chaucer's great line from the Miller's Tale: "‘Teehee,' she cried and clapped the window to." So I hope you'll forgive my insulting your intelligence by pointing out these bits of attempted cleverness.]


Last updated: January 7, 2006