Thursday, December 31, 2009

good and evil

Mazdanasyans, worshipping Ahura
Mazda, felt regarding evil, surer
than Jews and Christians, who do not explain
that it exists as something that’s as sane
as good, but as an aberration, evil
the product of God’s enemy, the devil,
whom God could, if He wanted to, abolish.

Mazdanasyans claim, with far more polish,
that evil comes from a most godlike master,
a theory proposed by Zoroaster,
thought by Jews and Christians to be
not just a heresy but fallacy,
because they think that God produces what
is bad, but we persuade ourselves is not.

This poem, written in two parts which are in antithesis with one another, was inspired by thoughts concerning Zoroastrianism that occurred to me during the course of a paper that I am writing, proposing that the pericope of the broken-necked heifer (Deut. 21:1-9) is in part derived from a Zoroastrian law found in a Pahlavi Vivedad text. According to Zoroastrianism “together with Ahura Mazda in the beginning, and likewise uncreated, was another being who was opposed to him, the Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainu” M. Boyce, “A History of Zoroastrianism (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 1.192).

12/31/09

thoughts I'v chosen to hold back

Fierce, unfallow, always bleak,
my mind, when it starts looking back
at what is older than one week,
is unprepared for the attack
presented by the past. Fun-shy,
I find but little solace in
my poetry, in which I try
to sublimate my thoughts of sin.

Verses cannot make up for
the absence of what I most lack,
the penetration to their core
of thoughts I’ve chosen to hold back,
and those emotions that, suppressed,
make my imagination bleak,
unfallow as a milkless breast,
and fiercer than an unturned cheek.


Writing about the third-persona narrator in J.M. Coetzee’s new novel, “Summertime,” Katha Pollitt writes in the NYT, December 31, 2009 (“Any Relation to Biography Is Pure Fiction (in a Way)”):
So what kind of a man was the secretive young writer? To his former lover Julia, he was “not fully human,” “like a glass ball,” sexually “autistic” — creepily, he insists that they make love by acting out the instrumental lines of Schubert’s string quintet. His earth-motherly cousin Margot, with whom he shared an intense childhood bond, describes him as cold, possessing a “Mister Know-All smile” and uses an Afrikaner vulgarism meaning lacking in determination. Adriana, a fiery Brazilian dancer, is still irritated to have been pursued by this “soft,” unmanly man. Sophie, his colleague and lover at the university, is similarly underwhelmed: “I never had the feeling I was with an exceptional person, a truly exceptional human being.” Another colleague, Martin, says of him that as a teacher, as a friend, “Something was always being held back.” Readers of Mr. Coetzee’s books know what that something was: the fierce, bleak, imaginative life running in his head. The notebook fragments with which the book begins and ends give us the man the interviewees didn’t know, the one who writes in the third-person voice, at once flat and intense and remorseful, of “Boyhood” and “Youth.” There, he portrays South Africa pitilessly: the staggering violence, the aridity and complacency of Afrikaner culture, the moral corruption of apartheid.

12/31/09

Sunday, December 6, 2009

hokey-pokey

Some people say that hokey-pokey
refers to Catholics’ loss of focus
when priests do things that seem most hokey
in the mass’s hocus-pocus,
for when put their right hand in,
and after this their right hand out
they claim to cleanse you of all sin,
raising hokey-pokey doubt
not just for Puritans, but me,
for though I really love to joke
I find it very hard to see
the point that priests who hokey-poke
are making when they claim that bread
is Jesus’ body, and that wine
becomes his blood and then is fed
into their mouths, their final shrine.

In a different ritual, I
put on my arm and head tefillin,
and if perchance you ask me why
I do this I’ll explain. I’m willin’
to do the hokey-pokey, but
quite differently from priests. My mind
is open and is never shut,
because the leather straps I wind
around my left arm, that is weak,
binds me to words the Torah states,
reminding me that God’s unique,
declaring this each day near neyts,
without tefillin on Shabbat,
a day that supersedes this ritual,
and takes all Jews out of their rut
that binds them to this weekday ritual.


Inspired by an obituary of Robert Dagen by Bruce Weber in the NYT, December 4, 2009, which drew my attention to the origin of the term “hokey-pokey”. The conjecture put forward by Tillotson reads: “In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation”. The Anglican Canon Matthew Damon, Provost of Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, has claimed that the dance as well comes from the Catholic Latin mass.[3] The priest would perform his movements with his back to the congregation, who could not hear well the words, nor understand the Latin, nor clearly see his movements. This theory led Scottish politician Michael Matheson in 2008 to urge police action ‘against individuals who use it to taunt Catholics.” This claim by Matheson was deemed ridiculous by fans from both sides of the Old Firm (the Glasgow football teams Celtic and Rangers) and calls were put out on fans' forums for both sides to join together to sing the song on 27 December 2008 at Ibrox.

Neyts is the Hebrew word denoting dawn’s early light, the best time to recited the amidah, the 19-prayer long “Eighteeen Benedictions” that are recited shortly after the Shema, which begins with the words: “Hear, o Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord” (Deut. 6:5).

Bruce Weber writes:
Somewhere along the line — at a wedding, at a child’s birthday party, in third-grade music class — everybody has done the hokey pokey. Admit it: you sang the silly song, you did the silly dance.
You know the one
You put your right hand in,
You put your right hand out,
You out your right hand in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about.
Popular as the song is, its authorship has long been in dispute, with the credit usually going to Larry LaPrise, who as part of a musical group, the Ram Trio, is said to have created it in Sun Valley, Idaho, as a novelty number to entertain vacationing skiers. The trio, whose other members were Charles Peter Macak and Tafft Baker, recorded the song, “The Hokey Pokey,” in the late 1940s. There are many reasons to question this version of the song’s provenance, however. Among them is that a very similar song, “The Hokey Pokey Dance,” was copyrighted a few years earlier, in 1944, by a club musician from Scranton, Pa., named Robert Degen. Mr. Degen — who claimed for decades that Mr. LaPrise had stolen his song — died in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 23, his 104th birthday. (Mr. LaPrise died in 1996, and the two men never met.)…A similar song, called variously “Hokey Cokey” or “Cokey Cokey,” was reportedly a favorite of English and American soldiers in England during World War II, the authorship attributed sometimes to a popular Northern Irish songwriter, Jimmy Kennedy, and sometimes to a London bandleader, Al Tabor.
Some Roman Catholic churchmen, meanwhile, have said that the words “hokey pokey” derive from “hocus pocus” — the Oxford English Dictionary concurs — and that the song was written by 18th-century Puritans to mock the language of the Latin Mass. Last year the Catholic Church in Scotland, concerned that some soccer fans were using the song as a taunt, raised the possibility that singing it should be prosecuted as a hate crime. “This song does have quite disturbing origins,” Peter Kearney, a spokesman for Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who leads the Catholic Church in Scotland, was widely quoted in Britain as saying. He added, “If there are moves to restore its more malevolent meaning, then consideration should perhaps be given to its wider use.”


12/4/09

orthodox mores

Jews who’re orthodox make forays
into areas where mores
emphasize an education
where the Torah brings elation,
doing so far more than Jews
who feel that it’s OK to lose
the halakhah. They tend to marry
Jews and do not hari-kari
the Jewish gene pool choosing “others,”
who don’t resemble sisters, brothers,
far more than Jews without this label,
and travel more, when they are able,
to Israel than the Jews who’re less
committed to what they profess,
and act as though their peoplehood
extends beyond the ghettoed hood.
To all Jews loyal to the core,
they don’t exclude ones who aren’t Or-
thodox, but try to bring them back
into the fold. They don’t attack
their mores, but believe that less
is not enough to share largesse
the Torah offers. More, they think,
works better, so they do not shrink
the halakhah that’s their tradition,
and of their mores first edition.

Of course we shouldn’t have schism
about the issue “Judaism.”
With such an issue we will lose
what we don’t want to lose, more Jews,
which we cannot afford to do
however we are labeled Jew.

Inspired by a letter in Forward, November 27, 2009 by Neil W. Schluger of Millwood, NJ:

Ben Dreifus writes: “We need to eliminate the idea that Orthodox Judaism is more anything and liberal Judaism is less anything.” Of course he is correct, but for the liberal movements, the issue is not Judaism, but Jews. There are many important and meaningful ways in which Orthodox Jews are in fact “more.” They are more likely to devote time to serious study of Jewish texts, and to be able to rad them in Hebrew, they are more likely to provide a serious Jewish education to their children; they are more likely to visit Israel regularly, and even to move there; and they are more likely to marry other Jews. These are critical behaviors, and they should not be more characteristic of one denomination as opposed to the other, but the fact is that they are. All of these “mores” are challenges to the liberal denominations, which are numerically larger, but which have not managed to create the same depth of attachment to Jewish history, tradition, leaning and people hood among their members…


12/3/09

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

predictions and prayer

When you give up predictions, preferring to pray,
you exchange crystal balls for a God whose attention
is often distracted, preferring to play
in casinos, where gamblers are His type of menschen.

Inspired by an email from Karin:

While we are assessing our feelings (I suppose we have all been in CA too long) I would say that I oscillate between optimism and fear. For the most part, I have faith that things will turn out fine, and we will all be celebrating. But then I realize that the world is unfair and unpredictable, so it’s best to just pray and stop making predictions.

11/19/09

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

watching your universe

WATCHING YOUR UNIVERSE

While you watch your universe
as it cracks above your head
remember that it could get worse
before it’s been pronounced as dead.
I recommend you make this choice:
just shut you eyes and never look
to see what’s happening, your voice
as silent as an unread book.
This seems to work for me. There’s not
much point in watching out for cracks;
once they have boiled, all pots are hot,
and you can’t ward off stealth attacks
by keeping guard to see what’s next
in line for you––it’s something bad,
for sure. Don’t pray to God, but text
your friends or Him when you feel mad.

Inspired by Dwight Garner’s review of Paul Bowles’s “The Sheltering Sky” (“Trusting a Sheltering Sky Even as It Scorched,” NYT, August 31, 2009):

Paul Bowles’s first and best novel, “The Sheltering Sky,” published 60 years ago this fall, was a book few saw coming. Its author was better known as a composer. Doubleday, the publisher that had paid Bowles an advance, rejected the manuscript, telling him it was not a novel. “If it isn’t a novel,” Bowles said angrily, “I don’t know what it is.”When the book appeared, in fall 1949 (it was finally issued by New Directions), no one else knew quite what to make of it either. But they knew this bleak, spare story about a young couple from New York who drift from city to city in the North African desert marked the arrival of a different kind of American voice. Tennessee Williams reviewed “The Sheltering Sky” in The New York Times Book Review and wrote that “it brings the reader into sudden, startling communion with a talent of true maturity and sophistication of a sort that I had begun to fear was to be found nowadays only among the insurgent novelists of France, such as Jean Genet and Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.” Norman Mailer caught the sinister undertones in Bowles’s work, writing in “Advertisements for Myself”: “Paul Bowles opened the world of Hip. He let in the murder, the drugs, the incest, the death of the Square ... the call of the orgy, the end of civilization.” This fall will mark a double anniversary of sorts for Bowles, not just the 60th anniversary of “The Sheltering Sky” but the 10th anniversary of his death, at 88, in 1999. You can’t help wishing he’d lived longer, if only so we’d have known what Bowles — a longtime resident of the northern Moroccan city of Tangier and the writer who did perhaps more than any other in the last century to introduce the Arab world to Americans — would have made of the events of Sept. 11...
Bowles was charming and attractive, and he quickly seemed to meet, either at home or abroad, everyone who mattered, including Gertrude Stein and Christopher Isherwood. The composer Aaron Copland took him under his wing and helped his music career. Bowles was bisexual, and the two also had a sexual involvement. In 1938 Bowles married the mercurial Jane Auer, who as Jane Bowles published her only novel, “Two Serious Ladies,” five years later. He was envious of her freedom: she needed only a typewriter to work during their travels; he required a piano. He too soon began to write, publishing the short stories that led to his contract for “The Sheltering Sky.”The glamorous couple lived like exotic cats, together but separate. Jane Bowles was also bisexual, and took female lovers. “We knew that we loved each other no matter who else might be in our lives,” Paul Bowles said. Among her nicknames for him were Bupple and Gloompot…
When he was stuck on an important scene in “The Sheltering Sky,” Bowles turned to hashish, which helped him keep writing. Bowles would come to be known for his cannabis use, which was one of the things that led Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs to Tangier in the 1950s and ’60s.Bowles had his issues with the Beats. “Every day one sees more beards and filthy blue jeans, and the girls look like escapees from lunatic asylums,” he wrote in 1961. Bowles’s career had many tentacles. He not only composed music but also, as a translator, gave the title “No Exit” to Sartre’s play “Huis Clos.” In the late 1950s he spent months recording Morocco’s indigenous music. Jane Bowles died in 1973, at 56. Bowles himself lived another quarter-century, mostly in Morocco, and he ultimately published dozens of books, including novels, poems, books of stories and translations. He remained distant, just out of sight. He mostly turned down his editors’ requests to do book tours or appear on television. Bowles’s best work remained dark. “If I stress the various facets of unhappiness, it is because I believe unhappiness should be studied very carefully,” he told an interviewer. “This certainly is no time for anyone to pretend to be happy, or to put his unhappiness away in the dark. You must watch your universe as it cracks above your head.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/31/09

Monday, August 24, 2009

philosophy rescues from rot

Finding bad reasons for what
on instinct we choose to believe,
philosophy rescues from rot
the thoughts we’d do better to leave
behind us, not searching for reasons
why some things seem true, and some don’t;
philosophy changes like seasons,
and we quite instinctively don’t.

Inspired by an article by Rabbi David Wolpe in the Septemeber issue of Commentary, where joins Jonathan D. Sarna, Michael MedvedWilliam Kristol, Jeff Jacoby and David Gelernter in a discussion, “Why Are Jews Liberals?” Wolpe suggests that the answer is because Jews vote their self-conception, identifying themselves with those on the margins and seeing themselves as arrivistes.” He writes:Politics is full of arguments, yet how many arrive at their politics through argument? While it may not quite British idealist F.H. Bradley’s definition of philosophy as the “finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct,” there remains a large reside of instinct in political alignments.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/24/09

Sunday, August 23, 2009

call girls,rent boys, hookers, hos

Call girls, rent boys, hookers, hos,
are, as everybody knows,
what makes the world go round since BC,
as well as AD. New York, DC,
and surely Sacramento too,
although it’s further from our view,
and London, Paris, Brussels, Rome,
are where sex workers choose to roam,
because they fill the politicians’
needs, and loosen inhibitions
of Wall Street men and CEO’s
of corporations with a nose
for sex-for-money. Men who’re wealthy
consider sex with them more healthy
than sex with other women whom they link
up with, till giving them a pink
slip. Dismissing them can cost
much more, once theyt feel they’ve been crossed,
than sex for free, as Oscar Wilde
observed mistakenly––he went to gaol,
enamored not just of one male,
but of the rent boys who’d extort
his money, as they found in court;
this cost him more than love for Bosey,
far more poetic and less prosy.
Paying money for sex service
ought to make the clients nervous,
but yet today most men who’re caught
with hos and hookers whom they’ve bought
get off scot free, without rebuke,
despite laws of the Pentateuch,
because we generally have pity
on them, providing they choose pretty
call girls, hookers, hos and boys.
The ones who’re paid are not killjoys
like mistresses who tend to turn
like worms, and make their lovers burn
once they’re abandoned, so to pay
upfront is really the best way
to go, and if not bargain quite,
a safer way to spend the night,
unless you’re famous and the press
gets wind, and causes major stress.
My own advice is choose good lookers
as wives, and stay away from hookers,
although it hardly has been easy,
as I’ve already said, since BC;
Right till our era which is AD,
avoid all ladies who are shady,
like hookers and a girl who rents
her services to horny gents.

Inspired by Toni Bentley’s review in the NYT Book Review on August 23, 2009 (“Meet Pay, Love”) of “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex,” edited by David Henry Sterry, who as a teenager David Henry Sterry was a male prostitute in Beverly Hills, and R. J. Martin Jr:
Money and sex. Sex and money. Sounds dirty already. Is it the money that makes the sex dirty? Or the sex that makes the money dirty? Or, rather, the puritan strain that says they’re both dirty? How sexy! I mean, how inappropriate! And yet here we are again and again . . . and again. It’s former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York spending $80,000 on escorts, the parents (the parents!) of Senator John Ensign of Nevada distributing $96,000 to their son’s mistress and her family, Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina using taxpayer dollars to visit his South American “soul mate” and the $4 million rock on Kobe Bryant’s wife’s finger after his adulterous mishap. Money to get the sex, and money to make it go away. If you are thinking this dynamic pairing is only for public figures, just contemplate your own divorce, past, present or future. And yet, still, it is taboo to regard sex and money as inextricably interwoven, to openly speak of them together. Why is sex supposed to be free? It never is. Ask anyone. Like Sebastian Horsley, England’s low-rent Oscar Wilde. “The difference between sex for money and sex for free,” he writes, “is that sex for money always costs a lot less.” Money is the elephant in every bedroom, making your parents’ constant presence look positively bourgeois.
But the connection is seeping into the mainstream. Witness Steven Soderbergh’s recent film, “The Girlfriend Experience,” which is about an expensive call girl and stars the real-life porn star Sasha Grey, and the new HBO series “Hung,” about a nice middle-aged dad who becomes a gigolo. The show, however, plays it safe, making him a financially strapped, reluctant gigolo and not, God forbid, a lusty one. Here, ironically, sex for money is more decent than sex for pleasure.
But if you want to know the real price of pleasure, ask the strippers, streetwalkers, Craigslist prostitutes, phone-sex operators, madams, pimps, drug addicts, porn stars and “performance artists” who offer themselves up in “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys,” a collection of essays, vignettes, rants and poems, edited by David Henry Sterry (who wrote the very good 2002 memoir “Chicken,” about his life as a young hustler) and R. J. Martin Jr., the director of development for the SAGE Project (Standing Against Global Exploitation) in San Francisco, which offers support of all kinds for sex workers. While good girls require dinner, trips, “commitment” or even an engagement ring for sex, here is a book by those who simply get the cash upfront.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/23/09

Friday, August 21, 2009

rising tide

RISING TIDE


They used to say a rising tide
could lift all boats, and making those
who’re rich more rich would help provide
the poor not just with food and clothes,
but things we all enjoy like cars,
vacations, ladies. Although Gatsby
envied Tom Buchanan, he
thought he’d, with friends who’re fat cats, be
raised with a fat cat to the sea,
like Owl, wrapped in a five-pound note,
when sailing with a Pussy-Cat
in a lovely pea green boat.
Marrying, the Owl and Cat
danced, lit by silver of the moon,
but life for us won’t be like that,
for, dancing to the piper’s tune,
we’ll have to pay him soon, because
the rich themselves are getting poorer,
and there’s no Wizard now in Oz
who’s capable to be our Fuehrer––
not that we’d want one, God forbid!
We all prefer, like King Canute,
to think we can control the tide,
as we our treasury now loot,
from reality to hide.
We’ll make all differences dissolve
between the rich and poor since we
will all be poor as we evolve,
responding to calamity
by finding turkeys who will marry us
with rings that cost less than one shilling
because we bought them at cost-plus,
washed up in tides of bail-out billing.

Inspired by an article, “Rise of the Super-Rich Hits a Sobering Wall,” by David Leonhardt and and Geraldine Fabrikant in the NYT, August 21, 2009:
The rich have been getting richer for so long that the trend has come to seem almost permanent.They began to pull away from everyone else in the 1970s. By 2006, income was more concentrated at the top than it had been since the late 1920s. The recent news about resurgent Wall Street pay has seemed to suggest that not even the Great Recession could reverse the rise in income inequality. But economists say — and data is beginning to show — that a significant change may in fact be under way. The rich, as a group, are no longer getting richer. Over the last two years, they have become poorer. And many may not return to their old levels of wealth and income anytime soon. For every investment banker whose pay has recovered to its prerecession levels, there are several who have lost their jobs — as well as many wealthy investors who have lost millions. As a result, economists and other analysts say, a 30-year period in which the super-rich became both wealthier and more numerous may now be ending.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/21/09

Thursday, August 20, 2009

cash for clunkers

Ford Motor Company asked Marianne Moore
to think up names for their brand new cars.
Agreeing to be automobile whore,
she couldn’t give them branded jaguars,
already taken, so Ford Fabergé,
Astranaut, Utopian Turtletop,
were names that she proposed to them, but they
declined as names for which no one would shop.

The situation’s changed now, since we pay
for clunkers cash. Like roses’ other names,
they all smell sweet. It’s not their sobriquet
that counts, but how much gas burns in their flames,
besides whicfh, names reminding us of bed sell
best, and Marianne Moore was too straitlaced:
the name they chose instead of hers’ was Edsel.
Like cars, a poet’s mind may go to waste!
.

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate and the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House,” writes about Marianne Moore’s attempt to help the Ford Motor Company sell cars by finding names for them (“Poetry in Motion,” NYT, August 16, 2009):
IT seems that we’ve done just about everything to get the American auto industry out of the doldrums. We’ve forced bankruptcies. We’ve exchanged cash for clunkers. But have we tried poetry? The question is brought to mind by the story of Marianne Moore, the famous American writer, who served for a brief season as the Ford Motor Company’s unofficial poet laureate. Moore, who died in 1972, was at the height of her literary powers in the autumn of 1955, when a letter arrived in her Brooklyn mailbox.A Ford executive wrote that the company was launching “a rather important new series of cars,” but his team was stumped to think of a name for the latest product line. Could Moore, an icon of American letters, help them out?
Moore embraced the assignment with relish, not surprising for a poet who enjoyed — and whose writing was frequently inspired by — popular culture, whether it be baseball, boxing or bric-a-brac. The correspondence became a cultural fixture of its own after it was published in The New Yorker two years later. Throughout the fall and winter of 1955, Moore’s steady stream of suggestions arrived at Ford: “the Ford Silver Sword,” “Intelligent Bullet,” “the Ford Fabergé,” “Mongoose Civique,” “Anticipator,” “Pastelogram,” “Astranaut” and, the highest flight of fancy, “Utopian Turtletop.”
Moore apparently had no qualms about enlisting her muse in the service of the automotive industry. She was also willing to embrace the risks of the marketplace, agreeing to be paid only if she came up with a winning name. As Moore’s biographer Charles Molesworth points out, she “had always enjoyed the language of advertisement, delighting in its inventiveness and ebullience, and even relating it to the poetics of praise.”
These days, poetry and commerce are rarely on such good speaking terms. Poetry doesn’t sell well, and poets almost never attain the celebrity that touched Moore, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg half a century ago. If some Detroit executive got the bright idea to consult a poet for marketing advice today, one rather doubts he’d know whom to call.It’s nice to think that the two groups — poets and carmakers — might find new relevance through collaboration, but history is not encouraging. After much thought, Ford Motors politely rejected all of Moore’s lyrical suggestions for its new car line. Instead, the company’s executives opted for a choice generated internally: the Edsel.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/16/09

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

transcendence

Like Leonard Cohen I may sing about
transcendence, but I don’t endorse it.
Inhibited by devastating doubt,
which is the skeptic scholar's corset,
I soar towards the sun and the supernal,
but tend to be too temperamental
to focus on what’s labeled as eternal,
and temporize, untranscendental.

Unlike Leonard’s gift my own, though golden,
was not a singer’s velvet voice.
To unsung words I’ve always been beholden,
and neither Carnegie nor Royce
have halls where verses unaccompanied
by instruments like a guitar
or piano draw the audiences I need
to validate my verse, as noir
as Leonard’s, and emerging from the same
Judaic sources we endorse.
Not wild—in fact I’d say extremely tame—
about the transcendental force,
I try to make the point that life must be
experienced without expectation
that we should wait for what we cannot see,
transcendent causes for elation.

Inspired by an article on Leonard Cohen in the New Yorker by Sasha Frere-Jones (“State of Grace: Leonard Cohen’s Return,” August 24, 2009):
Over the past forty years, Cohen’s songs have been covered so often they’ve become their own cottage industry. Aretha Franklin, Jarvis Cocker, Philip Glass, Will Oldham, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nina Simone, Willie Nelson, Françoise Hardy, Anthony Michael Hall, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, and the Whiffenpoofs have all recorded Cohen songs. During the fourth week of December of last year, two versions of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—one by Jeff Buckley and one by Alexandra Burke, a winning contestant on the British talent show “X Factor”—occupied the No. 1 and No. 2 slots on the U.K. charts. Cohen’s lyrics stand up in a variety of settings, and his limited vocal range tends to leave his melodies unfinished, allowing room for experimentation. On Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” for instance, the verse melodies ascend, and the open-throated singing transforms the chorus into a kind of earnest incantation that the songwriter probably wouldn’t attempt himself. Cohen may sing about transcendence, but he seems never to fully endorse it.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/19/09

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

wrong notes

It’s not wrong notes that matter when
the piece of music is performed;
wrong feelings are what tell us when
the composition’s so deformed
that we no longer can get pleasure
from notes which, though they may be played
without mistakes, cause ever measure
to clash, and make us feel dismayed.

Dennis Bartel’s “great composer” this morning was Beethoven, who apparently did not mind his piano students playing wrong notes, declaring that what counted was the feeling with which the music was played. If that is wrong, he said, it invalidates everything that is being played.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/18/09

Monday, August 17, 2009

freewheelin'

FREEWHEELIN’


Freewheelin, and unrecognizable
to those who think they know just how I look,
disrespected, and derisible,
I put some of my thoughts into a book,
but more are in my poems, which I’m willin’
to have interpreted as songs like those
that have the imprimatur of Bob Dylan,
celebrity who, like me, no one knows.

Unlike Felix in the Hebrides––
not the black cat somewhat like Obama,
but Felix Mendlessohn––celebrity’s
a fate for which I am a poor programmer,
without the skill Bob Dylan demonstrates
for decades without interruption, since
my own freewheelin’ discombobulates
my meanings making all my readers wince

Unlike Bob, I carry an ID
wherever I may be, but men are still
suspicious, since they think that I may be
delusional, distracted by molehill
when I should really focus on a mountain;
a wife, some family and friends will vouch
for me, but while on all of them I’m countin’,
I cause them pain, though they don’t cry out “Ouch!”

Unrecognizable, freewheelin’, like
Bob Dylan, I press on regardless, writin’
the sorts of poems that sometimes outpsych
my readers, though I think they rock like Brighton.
Without the sort of music Bob composes
they may not hit you in the gut until
you more influence of Prophet Moses,
than Moses Mendlessohn’s ascetic skill.

Inspired by a news item in the NYT, August 17, 2009, complied by Rachel Lee Harris “The Freewheelin’, Unrecognizable Bob Dylan”:

“How does it feel?” Bob Dylan wondered back in 1965, to be on your own, “like a complete unknown.” Now he knows. Two police officers in their 20s asked Mr. Dylan, 68, to provide identification as he took a stroll through Long Branch, N.J., last month, The Associated Press reported. The officers were responding to a report from residents that an “eccentric-looking old man” had wandered into their yard, according to ABC News. Mr. Dylan, right, who said he was looking at houses to pass some time before that night’s show with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, was not carrying identification, so the officers accompanied him back to his hotel, where concert workers vouched for him. “I’ve seen pictures of Bob Dylan from a long time ago, and he didn’t look like Bob Dylan to me at all,” Officer Kristie Buble told ABC News. “We see a lot of people on our beat, and I wasn’t sure if he came from one of our hospitals or something. He was acting very suspicious. Not delusional, just suspicious.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/17/09

Sunday, August 16, 2009

feeder funds

FEEDER FUNDS


When a fund that is a feeder
turns into a money bleeder
investors who’ve been badly scammed,
if not yet flat-line cardiogrammed,
call in for help the FBI,
and have to wave their wealth bye-bye.
There’s no point asking for refunds
from managers of feeder funds,
who generally are quite immune
to prosecution, though the tune
the piper played was paid by them.
The FBI cannot condemn
these rascals, or the bankers who
loaned money for this succès fou,
and still deny of guilt the onus,
awarding a humungous bonus
to all who got us in this mess,
themselves, by turning more to less.

The co-conspirators who’ve pissed
vast sums away will not be missed,
because the ones who do not keep
their jobs—and many will—still sleep
quite soundly, supervised by Feds
who’re also sleeping in their beds
when they’re not borrowing more cash
from China, and refuse to smash
root causes of the problem that
may force us soon to pass the hat
around, since we now all are bleeders.
Play close attention, please, dear readers.
The deficit’s the problem, stupid,
and while Rome burns no one can dupe it.

Our problems, worse than Madoff’s fraud,
loom did Damocles’ sword;
in wait for us they lie, while lurkin’
as once with feeder funds E. Merkin,
and Gabriel and Fairfield Greenwich,
famed predatory feeder ménage,
while everyone’s still in denial
until their case comes up for trial,
including Treasury that borrows
and puts off until sad tomorrows
the day of reckoning, a banker
that’s slower than an Exxon tanker,
which spills the wealth it bleeds like oil,
to Wall Street losers ever loyal.


Inspired by Michiko Kakutani’s review of Erin Arvedlund’s book “Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff” and “Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff,” by Andrew Kirtman (“A Scoundrel in the Land of the Lax,” NYT, August 14, 2009):
Bernard L. Madoff was not just the world’s biggest thief, who decimated the savings of thousands and wrecked countless lives, but he also became the hated embodiment of a gilded era that crashed and burned in 2008. He was a liar and a cheat who flourished in a bubble economy where people got used to living beyond their means; where cheap credit fueled pie-in-the-sky, get-rich-quick dreams; and where both the wealthy and not-so-wealthy bought into schemes that defied gravity and logic. As the investigative reporter Erin Arvedlund observes in her new book, “Too Good to Be True,” Mr. Madoff “personified all that was false, all that appeared to be upside down in the world” at a time when it was suddenly revealed that “homes weren’t worth what was once thought, stock prices stopped going up, all assets seemed to collapse in value at the same time.” Or, as the journalist Andrew Kirtzman observes in his new book, “Betrayal”: Mr. Madoff was both “a proxy” for the sins of “financial institutions whose irresponsibility almost brought down the economy,” and a “frightening example of nobody asking questions when the going was good,” of a society in which few “questioned the sanity of subprime mortgage derivatives” or the odds of endlessly rising house prices, and in which government regulators were too hapless or lax to put the brakes on abuses and outright deceit….
Of course, as the long-ignored Mr. Markopolos well knew, clues to Mr. Madoff’s scam were also available to his more financially savvy investors, particularly the heads of funds like those run by the Fairfield Greenwich Group and the Gabriel Capital Group. But denial seems to have been the order of the day on the part of feeder-fund brass who were getting rich collecting management fees for the money they were handing over to Mr. Madoff. Some simply failed to do due diligence. Some assured themselves that a successful broker like Mr. Madoff, in Ms. Arvedlund’s words, “didn’t need to be a crook.” And some suspected that he might be up to something illegal, but assumed he was doing it on their behalf. In the end, there was a broad spectrum of Madoff victims, who spanned many classes and communities and much of the world: friends and their friends and relatives who trusted “Uncle Bernie” to keep their money safe; ordinary people who had no idea that the feeder funds they’d invested in were actually funneling the money to Mr. Madoff; retail investors who thought they were being prudent in choosing funds that promised such consistent returns; wealthy clients who thought they were joining an exclusive club by handing their cash over to Mr. Madoff; and some clients who thought, as one banker put it, that “they were getting a real Rolex for 20 bucks.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/14/09

Friday, August 14, 2009

living my life anew

If could live my life anew––
Borgès fantasized he might––
my life would be a déjà vu
of all the things I’d not got right
the first time round, plus maybe more
mistakes in this re-rerun, for I
would not be able to restore
my kudos in my second try.

Just like Borgès, I might commit
more errors and would try to be
less perfect, but my next obit
would say fate was not accompli
for me although good fortune beckoned,
allowing me to run again,
like unsuccessful candidates, a second
post-dismissal mise-en-scène.

Perhaps I’d eat more ice-cream and
take more vacations, but each word
that I today can’t understand
would still seem to me as absurd
as it does now, and that’s what counts––
not ice-cream and vacations, but
attempts to make from life an ounce
of sense, whose door is always shut.

Of course I’d travel lighter, buy
less stuff, and always on the move,
would in a second lifetime try,
quixotic ever, to disprove
ideas that obviously are wrong,
believed by almost everyone,
like love will conquer all, and long
for life again to be well done.

Though life, I think, is like a steak,
I greatly want mine to be rare,
a second helping a mistake
for which I do not greatly care,
at 71, and not yet dying,
with 14 years still left to catch
Borgès at 85, while trying
to light my life without a match.

Inspired by Borgès’s “Instantes,” which my friend Sueila Pedrozo recalled after reading my Clarice Lispector-inspired poem “So Mysterious” that I dedicated to Linda:

If I were able to live my life anew, In the next I would try to commit more errors.I would not try to be so perfect, I would relax more.I would be more foolish than I've been, In fact, I would take few things seriously.I would be less hygienic.I would run more risks, take more vacations, contemplate more sunsets, climb more mountains, swim more rivers.I would go to more places where I've never been, I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans, I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones.I was one of those people that lived sensiblyand prolifically each minute of his life; Of course I had moments of happiness.If I could go back I would tryto have only good moments.Because if you didn't know, of that is life made: only of moments; Don't lose the now.I was one of those that never went anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, an umbrella, and a parachute; If I could live again, I would travel lighter.If I could live again, I would begin to walk barefoot from the beginning of springand I would continue barefoot until autumn ends.I would take more cart rides, contemplate more dawns, and play with more children, If I had another life ahead of me.But already you see, I am 85, and I know that I am dying.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/14/09

Thursday, August 13, 2009

my husband is not the secretary of state

MY HUSBAND IS NOT THE SECRETARY OF STATE

A rolling stone becomes quite mossy,
unless supported by its posse
when celebrating birthdays in
Las Vegas. Hillary can’t win
when in the Congo in a tizzy
she has to prove that she is busy
running the affairs of State,
and not the ex-pres who's her mate.
Such competition does not put
the wife in a good light. The foot
she shoots is hers, while rolling south,
and makes her limp with motor mouth
she ought to put to better uses
and now employs to make excuses
for ways that she embarrasses
herself, and hurting, harasses
the people who cannot forget
it’s easy to make her upset,
reminding her she climbs the Hill
with water for her Jack, called Bill.
Now she’s cut both bended knees,
no vinegar will help her heal
as long as people don’t feel she’s
become a bigger-than-her-husband deal.
State Secretaries should never flash
with pique but being diplomatic
should hide all skeletons that flash
to mind in basements or the attic.


Before the description of Hillary Clinton’s flash of pique in the Congo by Jeffrey Gettleman (“Clinton’s Flash of Pique in the Congo,” NYT, August 13, 2009), Maureen Dowd wrote "Toilet-Paper Barricades," NYT, August 12, 2009:
You may recall the seventh rule of “Fight Club”: Fights will go on as long as they have to. In this summer of our discontent, fights are spreading like mountain wildfires — from a town hall in Lebanon, Pa., to one in Kinshasa, Congo. Never before have we had so many tools to learn and to communicate. Yet the art of talking, listening and ascertaining the truth seems more elusive than ever in this Internet and cable age, lost in a bitter stream of blather and misinformation. The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished.
Hillary’s KO in the Congo on Monday made the covers of both New York tabloids. Using tough hand gestures not seen since “The Sopranos” went off HBO, Hillary snapped back at an African college student who asked about the growing influence of China on Africa and then, according to the translator, wanted to know: “What does Mr. Clinton think?” It turned out that the student was trying to ask how President Obama felt about it. But before he was able to clarify, the secretary of state flared: “Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am.” This raw, competitive response showed that the experiment in using the Clintons as a tandem team on diplomacy may not be going as smoothly as we had hoped; once more, as with health care, the conjugal psychodrama drags down the positive contribution the couple can make on policy. At Tuesday’s State Department briefing, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley explained that Hillary was particularly irritated to feel overshadowed by men in Africa, where she is pushing her “abiding theme” of “empowering women.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/12/09

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

orchid hymns

ORCHID HYMNS

In the Philippines the Ilongots
name orchids after body parts.
If for orchids you have got the hots
like those a randy man may have for tarts
you’ll love how Ilongots see blooming thighs,
as well as fingernails and elbows, thumbs,
and gorgeous genitals of giant size,
and teeth, without, I think, my bleeding gums,
where we see orchids not just as exotic,
blooms that blandish us expensively,
but, as described in Philippine demotic,
creations that evolved to make us pensively
aware that there exist among the flora
foreshadowings of all our human limbs,
with language, no less wise than is the Torah,
which sings unfragrantly in silent orchid hymns.

Inspired by an article in the NYT by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, "Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the Livig World," August 11, 2009:

Anthropologists were the first to recognize that taxonomy might be more than the science officially founded by Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, in the 1700s. Studying how nonscientists order and name life, creating what are called folk taxonomies, anthropologists began to realize that when people across the globe were creating ordered groups and giving names to what lived around them, they followed highly stereotyped patterns, appearing unconsciously to follow a set of unwritten rules. Not that conformity to rules was at first obvious to anthropologists who were instead understandably dazzled by the variety in folk taxonomies. The Ilongots, for example, a people of the Philippines, name gorgeous wild orchids after human body parts. There bloom the thighs, there fingernails, yonder elbows and thumbs. The Rofaifo people of New Guinea, excellent natural historians, classify the cassowary, a giant bird complete with requisite feathers and beak, as a mammal. In fact, there seemed, at first glance, to be little room even for agreement among people, let alone a set of universally followed rules. More recently, however, deep underlying similarities have begun to become apparent. Cecil Brown, an anthropologist at Northern Illinois University who has studied folk taxonomies in 188 languages, has found that people recognize the same basic categories repeatedly, including fish, birds, snakes, mammals, “wugs” (meaning worms and insects, or what we might call creepy-crawlies), trees, vines, herbs and bushes. Dr. Brown’s finding would be considerably less interesting if these categories were clear-cut depictions of reality that must inevitably be recognized. But tree and bush are hardly that, since there is no way to define a tree versus a bush. The two categories grade insensibly into one another. Wugs, likewise, are neither an evolutionarily nor ecologically nor otherwise cohesive group. Still, people repeatedly recognize and name these oddities.

8/11/09

Monday, August 10, 2009

dog was made to hunt and guard

THE DOG WAS MADE TO HUNT AND GUARD



The dog was made to hunt and guard,
the cat to catch a mouse,
but man was made to study hard
the woman in his house.

The ox was made to pull and plow,
the horse to ride and carry,
and man was made to make a vow
to someone he would marry.

The sheep was made to give us wool
the cow to give us cream,
and when a man is not a fool
a woman makes him dream.

The birds are meant to fill the cage
and fish to fill the pond,
but all the world can be a stage
for love when you are fond.

Perspective changes how we see
the world, but only love
has color that can make us free,
yet loyal as a dove.


Joseph Leo Koerner in "Inside Bruegel: The Play of Images in Children's Games" (The New Republic, February 1, 1999) writes that Abraham Ortelius inscribed one of his maps with the words: "The horse is made to pull and carry, the ox, to plow; the dog, to keep watch and hunt. Man, however, was born in order to contemplate the world in his gaze."


© 1999 Gershon Hepner 1/28/99

Sunday, August 9, 2009

margot

MARGOT



Eleh toldot Margot I will tell,
listen closely, do not break the spell.
Although there will be very few sensations,
you’ll learn from it all Margot’s generations.

Last of Walther Silbersteins, dear Margot
never favored Yiddish as her argot,
Hochdeutsch being her true mammeloschen.
She can, however, speak without distortion
the English we associate with Queens,
the meaning of whose every word she gleans,
like Ruth when walking through the alien corn,
untimely from her native language torn,
appreciating in these verses mirth
with which today we celebrate her birth.
A hundred years ago in Berlin, Prussia,
she first erupted like a Texan gusher,
born to Leah, loving wife of Gershon,
very soon the favorite diversion
of Walther, haberdasher to the Prussians,
who joined his firstborn Werner in discussions
regarding music, politics and Torah.
These subjects all were ones that would not bore her
as she grew up (and this is no non sequitur)
to be no yuppie but a frum young Yekkete.

She had a sister who died young, her brother
could not save her, nor save her ailing mother,
but Raja came to nurse and won the heart
of Werner whom she taught the loving art.
As soon as he began this girl to court
his sister gave him very strong support.
Their father went to Russia to be sure
that Raja’s bloodlines truly were quite pure.
He found they were, and Werner was delighted––
all Berlin to the wedding was invited,
approving of the huppah and qiddushin
once they knew she was Jewish, not a Russian.
Till she and Werner went to Palestine
in 1933, bad year except for wine,
all three were closest friends, but had to wait
throughout the war to learn each other’s fate,
although from thirty-nine to forty-five
she did not know if they were still alive,
for Werner went to Istanbul to practice
since Turkey did not seem to like the Axis.

Though to Marienbad she went for a cure,
she did not make a Palestinian tour
since Max would not part with her for one second,
a rule with which she every moment reckoned,
since by the apron strings she was most tightly tied.
She cared for him each day until he died,
most graciously accepting the great yoke
of nursing him, afflicted by a stroke,
in their own bedroom, turned into a ward––
no limits to the love she would afford.

Let’s now return to when she was a maiden
in Berlin which she thought was a gan ayden,
though Meir Simhah of Dvinsk concluded
that those who so believed were quite deluded.
She lit cigars for her dear father Walther,
deterring men who hoped they could adulter,
while searching for a vest and tie and shirt,
less on the haberdashery alert
than on the owner’s lovely daughter, Margot,
for lusty Prussian eyes a common target.
From what in the Lyceum she had learned
she knew what these men claimed they really weren’t,
believing all these Prussians to be third-rate,
preferring men from Leipzig in the fur-trade.
And so from Hepners’ clan she chose a Max, on
whom she would dote, although he was a Saxon,
no Prussian like her dad, not even German,
though he could understand a Yekkish sermon.
He managed very clearly to romance her
In Klopstockstrasse, center of the Hansa.
German nationality to him seemed phony,
yet they were joined in holy matrimony,
not naturalized her Max, remaining Polish,
which in the twenties seemed to be most foolish,
but smart when Hitler sent the German Jews
to camps, but let the Polish ones run loose.


One year the couple lived in Berlin, hard
for Max to stay from all his folk apart.
He missed his father’s blessing and compelled
dear Margot to leave Berlin, for he held
that she should live in Leipzig with his mother:
and she obeyed because Max gave no other
address for her to choose: he did not rush her,
but very soon they said goodbye to Prussia.
Though Margot liked the bright lights of her city,
where Cabaret was played, and girls were pretty,
and men like Isherwood became the cameras
observing bright young people who were amorous,
her husband made her move to Leipzig where
young Margot with her Max became a pair.

Now Leipzig was the home of J. S. Bach,
where Leibnitz was Professor. Auerbach
lived in a cellar there, where Goethe’s Faust
with Mephistopheles once chose to joust.
There Mendelssohn and Schumann used to live,
and Wagner too was born––can we forgive
his trespasses against us? ––and it is
where both would settle, for that’s where in bus-
iness the Hepner brothers tried to earn
their daily bread, where Elie, Jakob, Bern-
hard, older brothers of young Max sold furs,
the skin trade that’s the root of all this verse.
Their sister Sarah married Label Merkin
who thought the Hepner brothers were just jerkin’
around, and with his son called Herman moved
to New York, from the Hepner clan removed,
though Sarah was the one who in Victoria
would welcome Margot, when in great dysphoria,
the train brought her to London just two days
before the war made Margot change her ways.
Things changed, of course, especially when revenue
enabled them to live midtown, Park Avenue,
while in no forest like the one of Arden’s
Max, Margot rented rooms in Highfield Gardens,
where every year before Yom Kippur’s fast
the landlady would telephone and blast
the ears of Max and Margot with her whine:
“Why don’t you all go back to Palestine?”
The Merkin saga later was enriched
by Daphne’s famous chronicle, Bewitched,
a masterpiece perhaps, although I’d rather
bring honor to my mother and my father
by writing with respect. My fingers itch
to show how Margot’s life became so rich.

She joined the Hepner family like Elfe,
from Frankfurt-on-the Main whom Jakob fell for,
and Fanny, from the famous Hamburg clan
of Levy who chose Bernhard as her man,
as she would choose for David Pell much later
his wife called Rita. As a shiddach dater
she brought the two together, and now they
both come to visit Margot every day,
a tribute to the shadchan as to them,
for which we must thank Fanny and Hashem.

Three Yekkes joined the Hepners and were friends,
and tried to show their husband different trends
from those which Feige Leah preached and taught.
We have no record what my Oma thought
about these hoydens and heir naughty ways,
acceptable perhaps to Louis Seize,
but quite as foreign to the matriarch
as Tam O’Shanter’s girl friend’s cutty sark.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot? I wonder,
when these three girls round Leipzig used to wander,
and showed the natives how a modern girl in
Hamburg and in Frankfort lived, and Berlin,
did anybody think that they could scare ’em
by putting them, like Benedict, in herem?

She lived then on Thomasiusstrasse near
the church where Bach wrote music very dear
to Margot and her brother Werner, he
a most accomplished pianist, the key
to his appreciation Richard Strauss,
not often heard within the Hepner house.
To Thomaskirche Margot would not go––
for Hepners this would be a great big no,
and though enlightened, Margot did not search
for inspiration in a Lutheran church,
despite the organ loft where Bach would play––
she spent her time where she and Max would pray,
pre-modern orthodox, Mizrachi-minded
before it was the fashion, be reminded.

Die Grosseschul became dear Margot’s mecca––
and she was welcome though she was a Yekke,
by all Ostyidden of the Hepner clan,
who used to put all Yekkes in a ban
not quite as bad as that which kept sub rosa
in Amsterdam the heretic Spinoza.

(The difference between Yekkes and Ostyidden
to many Jews today is largely hidden.
Quite different strokes for different folks, the jokes
of Yekkes for Ostyidden artichokes
that seem to have no heart, quite unfamiliar
with humor that proclaims their Anglophilia.
The Yekkes to a meal’s end draw attention
with Mahlzeit, while rabboisay mir wolln benschen
is what Ostyidden say––without mezummen
you don’t know if they’re goin’ or they’re comin’.)

Yet often Margot dreamed of J. S. Bach
while playing with her children in the park
as she would play in later years with Gershy,
before he went to Mayo or to Hershey,
for on the sand in Bournemouth on the beach
while V2’s fell in London, he would teach,
when not exploited as an infant chaperone,
protecting Margot who’d not stay alone
with her admirers, for she’d only ride
to Isle of Wight if he was by her side,
the rules of cricket while his mother dreamed
of Gretchen at the spinning wheel, it seemed.

To Max she bore four children. First came Esther
who turned her into no-more-empty nester.
Two years later, father Walther died,
a sad even that they all tried to hide
from her for thirty days because another
delivery occurred, young Esther’s brother,
called Israel Judah on his eighth-day bris––
for Max’s father from Mezritch comes this––
but known to family and friends as Leo,
a name that for the English has more brio.
For Esther there is no need for apology:
she’s doctor of philosophy—psychology,
not only a disciple of Carl Jung,
but also mistress of the Hebrew tongue.
For eight long years then Margot sadly waited
till Walther’s name could be commemorated.
My middle name is his, and Gershon clearly
the Hebrew name of Walther she loved dearly.


Now Leo’s claims to fame are most impressive.
He leads all Europe’s Jews who are progressive,
and loves all modern music with bravado,
of chamber music an aficionado.
Not far from Marx’s grave is his apartment,
but pharmaceutics now is his department,
more tolerant than Marx and less splenetic,
to opium of the people sympathetic,
provided that the ritual is restrained,
by principles that Leo Baeck maintained.
He’s spent a lot of time to solve the mystery
surrounding Walther’s origins. His history
begins in far east Prussia close to Lith-
uania, an enigma wrapped in myth,
yet no historians had recorded how
the Silbersteins moved westwards and are now
in places where he found them to be scattered
as though their history is not one that mattered.
He’ll write this up, the truth will set us free:
we’ll have the facts instead of mystery.
Post scriptum. After Margot died he married
Regina, making all the years he’d tarried
without her seem to be a wilderness:
obliging Leo with her great noblesse.
He lives as if to her he is ligated,
in London’s west end high, no more Highgated.


The third child born in Leipzig then was Rita,
more pleasant than a J. S. Bach partita,
and dearer to her parents than a Passion.
Three children in those days were quite the fashion,
the triple cord that never can be broken,
but then more tender than a subway token,
perhaps an afterthought, came baby Gershon,
like Goldberg’s Variations a new version
of what they had produced before, so now
they were a family of six. Somehow
the timing wasn’t good, they said to Margot,
for now there was a baby as a target
for Hitler and his hateful S. S. minions
who spread throughout all Europe’s old dominions.
That baby later turned into a poet
who’d hold a line but often would not tow it.
Despite the timing that was awful she
took steps with Max to make sure they’d be free.

They all got out of Germany, for Max
had kept his Polish papers. There was pax
between the Germans and the Poles while crystal
was shattered in November, and no pistol
was fired in the city famed for Bach
at Margot’s best friend, Felix Carlebach,
whom she hid in her house while Nazis tried
to find all German Jews. Though many died,
she saved young Felix who would send her yearly,
November seventh, flowers, caring dearly
for her since she, when all the glass was shattered,
had saved his life. His praises never flattered
the woman to whom he quite surely owed
his life when hidden in her safe abode,
and though his language was extremely flowery,
she treasured it as if it was her dowry.


Soon after this the S. S. came to Margot
while nursing Gershon, story that’s been saga’d
in annals of the Hepners. She, no Pole,
a Berliner with Prussia in her soul,
was vulnerable in ways that Max was not,
but luckily that day there was no shot,
for she’d called Dr. Adler, who made sure
the baby became febrile. “There’s no cure,”
she told the S.S., muttering their curses––
that’s how I lived to write for Margot verses
commemorating how she brought her brood
to London, where their life would be renewed,
not forgetting to bring Bernard Shaw’s
collected works, and Shakespeare’s, to these shores,
verbessert und verteitscht. She would abandon
more precious objects, setting out for Hendon.
Few German works apart from Goethe, Heine:
she thought the English writers were far finer
translated into German, but she brought
all sifrei qodesh as a Jewess ought.

There is one loss that Leo would restore: int-
imidating portrait Lovis Corinth
once painted of her father without fee
some fifteen years before she had to flee.
She chose a portrait by a lesser master,
of her father an iconoclaster:
for taste there is a never-ending cycle,
and she preferred the portrait made by Feigl.

She spent eight months in Angel’s Mountain, Swiss,
with Fanny and was careful not to diss
her husband’s aging mother Feige Leah
whose rule was everybody should obey her.
She nearly keep them back. She had no visa
till Max found ways to bribe the Polish Caesar.
‘What do I owe?’ he asked, and took the hint
when told to give to Mutter und das Kind.
Though Margot went ahead and Fanny followed
with Feige Leah it was she who swallowed
the bitter pill of looking after Granny,
with no escape for her as for Aunt Fanny,
and it became her duty then to care
for what in Anglo-French is mal de mer.

They moved to Cardiff, then to Harrogate,
where she became a mother surrogate
for Sarah, old Elias Hepner’s daughter,
whom she helped marry in her rented quarter.
She paid for huppah and qedushin, not forgetting
all others costs connected with the wedding.
They moved to Hendon then, and then to Golders,
the Green where now you find beneath all boulders
a lot of shuls here Jews can meet their Maker,
including one that in those days was led
by Elie Munk, a Yekke born and bred
who after his barmitzvah brought immersion
in Talmud in a Hebrew class to Gershon.

His shul was far too Yekkish for Ostyidden
who wished to keep their German background hidden.
and that’s why Max decided to install
a Rabbi Knoblewicz who would lead all
the men who were not Yekkes to Adass,
in Hendon, where they davened without fuss
that Yekkes make to stop the people schmooze,
which is a sin that Yekkes all refuse
to sanction while they’re in the holy sanctum––
for this fine deed not many thanked him.
(Before R.K. a Michel Munk was hired,
who to the U.S. very soon retired,
attracted less to pounds than to the dollar
which was a shame: he was a major scholar,
while R.K.’s sermons were quite soporific,
though as my teacher he was quite terrific.)

Of Margot I must say how freely she
kept open house; her hospitality
was legendary. Her home became a shrine,
as guests would come en route to Palestine.
Support she gave was not more than a Band-aid
for those who fought the heartless British mandate,
but helped Jews who could not help one another
in Palestine as they were by my mother.
Her larder and her icebox Margot rifled
for sixteen of the Gardens then in Highfield.
While Max to Mansion House would go, a furrier,
she stayed at home, a warrior and a worrier,
and fed the needy in the town and country,
amongst whom there were countless schnorrers, sundry.
Since Sarah Dinah she at birth was named,
to emulate our Matriarch she aimed:
hakhnosas orhim in that distant era
she would perform just like her namesake, Sarah.

The food was rationed in those times. How did
one make a scrambled egg? From egg that’s powdered,
though Margot always seemed to know a farmer
who’d find her eggs. She surely was a charmer
of all the tradesmen in the neighborhood,
at least the ones who thought they understood
what she was saying, for her English accent
made what she said sound very Anglo-Saxoned.

Apart from Mr. Sulzbacher no books
of Jewish interest could be found in nooks
where Margot shopped. She’d tighten leaky faucets
when they would leak in winter, and bought corsets
from trusty Jewish women so her figure
despite the food she served, would grow no bigger.
She didn’t wear a sheitel for a turban
appeared in those days to be more surburban.
(I put a line in here about a Sikh,
but took it out since Linda said it’s weak.)
By doing this she hoped to commandeer
her youth, and seemed to do so year by year,
for though youth isn’t quite renewable,
renewal in her case seemed almost doable.
In later years, her husband didn’t pester
dear Margot when she took it off for Esther.

Like Soloveitchik’s wife she went bareheaded,
which is quite kosher––Soloveitchik said it.
He used to eat at Werner’s in Berlin,
when eating with a woman was no sin
as it’s become today when even pizza
may not be eaten if there’s no mehitsah.
One kosher butcher in those days, one grocer, Grabers,
no Jewish school within those pleasant arbors.
Two kosher bakers where one could buy challahs––
no smoking then, not even of Abdullas!
Education of the kids depended
on rabbis who were easily offended.
No Jewish schools to teach the huddled masses
of refugees, except some Hebrew classes
when school was over. First and second graders
would then be sent to learn in Hebrew cheders.
Esther went to school in La Sagesse,
a convent where they taught her more or less
all that a Jewish girl must know of Jesus.
She has not passed it on to any nieces
or nephews, for that matter, although one
might well now say to her, “Well done!”
for Lonny, having started out rabbinical,
learned la sagesse when turning ecumenical.


The family all moved to Highfield Gardens where
the sisters shared a room, with one to spare
for Feige Leah, matriarch and Oma,
who, till she finally lapsed into coma
would try to tell her how to run her home,
with orders beating like a metronome.
When Gershy ran butt naked through the house
she told his parents, “You must warf ihn raus.”
His nakedness gave her a dreadful fright:
“Was tiet das kind,” she asked “naketaheit?”
A doodlebug that threatened to rain doom
once shattered all the windows of her room,
but she survived, although she’d lost her wits,
the aleatory horrors of the blitz,
till in her sleep she died, far from Mezritch
which in Galicia was her natal niche.
(It’s sad to think how Margot later
would have to care for Max as for his mater,
when he became bedridden like his mother,
no ripe old age for him, like Margot’s brother.
She bore a double burden in her life,
far greater than expected from a wife.
When shows are over and they draw the curtains
they tend not to remember double burdens.
Life isn’t always sweet, it can be rotten,
which I believe should never be forgotten.)

Sometimes Margot and her children slept
beneath a metal shelter whose roof kept
the family protected from V2s,
until the BBC declared the news
the war was over, with its dreadful cost,
including, as we know, the holocaust,
for in that war all Jews had been the target,
as few in London knew as well as Margot,
and her close family, including Fanny,
my aunt who always seemed to be uncanny,
and Bernhard, Max’s brother, with strange habits.
he used to make fur coats from little rabbits,
and taught this skill to Arie who became
the last of Hepner furriers whose fame
was great in Leipzig when all Hepner brothers
made coats men give to girlfriends and their mothers.

Once the war had ended yet another
began in Palestine where Margot’s brother
had gone in 1933. The two
their close relationship would not renew
for many years, indeed they threw a party
for Werner when a hundred just as hearty
as that which they now throw for Margot when
she too becomes a D plus D doyenne.
While he became Professor with a lot
of prizes, Margot knew precisely what
the destiny of Jewish women is…..
to be not just a mother, but, gee-whiz,
grandmother and what I’d say is far greater,
a great-grandmother, that’s a Supermater.

She’s got two sons-in-law of whom she proud,
first Moshe, whom her daughter Esther wowed,
Professor at the Hebrew U. whose critics
admired for his German and Semitics.
In academia he was a mighty player,
definitive the text of all Isaiah
his magnum opus, though Aleppo Codex
smoothed Masoretic wrinkles more than Botox,
then David who would wow her other daughter,
called Rita, with a courtship that was shorter.
Aunt Fanny said: “See Rita, you must check her.”
he passed with flying colors though no Yekke.
Picture perfect they, like Andrew Wyeth,
more admirable than David with Goliath.
Though Moshe’s not with us, which is most sad––
he always made dear Margot very glad.
with his impeccable High German manner,
as hard to fault as was his Hebrew grammar!––
she still has David, with his weekly Kiddush,
and Wienerdeutsch, which I believe is Yiddish.
With Rita he still cares for Margot daily,
Like Queen Victoria by Disraeli.


One single in-law daughter Margot’s got,
called Linda, who, quite like the wife of Lot,
looks back to times when she was just a wench
whom Gershy picked up, practicing his French,
and still looks forward to the best of times,
correcting all her husband’s shaky rhymes.
To see his errors soon became her mission,
great vision for a daughter of optician
Joe Roer, who made sure she was a hoyden
quite worthy of the public school in Croydon.

Before I list great-grandchildren I’ll mention
some grandchildren who truly are great menschen
although they still have not produced, as far
as I know, any offspring. These men are
young Benjamin, the Binman of the Wicked,
a mavin of the Wisden scores of cricket,
when he’s not suing for a lot of cash
the papers who have rummaged through his trash,
and Johnny who is busy making money,
for Jo, his lovely wife, who is a honey,
although he is employed by Morgan Stanley,
she loves the man because he’s very manly,
and knows that it is proper for our nation
to have no truck with sex discrimination.

There’s Boaz who plays poker with his buddies,
and thinks the ones who don’t are fuddy-duddies.
He’ll soon be off the mark once he is ready,
and find a job that really is more steady.
And finally there’s Zak whose mohel knife
has still not helped him find a lovely wife;
like Margot’s husband he is fond of skin,
but when it’s fore, it does not help him win
a wife while on the Westside he is dating,
though maybe it brought mazel in day-trading,
for Margot’s grandson, grandson too, of Ada,
is more than a mere mohel––a day-trader.
He’s also a bal qore and a posseler
of sifrei torah. When trained by Reb Yossele
he learned to take the very greatest pains
before he cuts, and does so when he leins.
These are the four who have no children yet,
and Margot knows it’s so, and is upset.

Post scriptum, and it will be just a quickie.
Zak found himself at last a kallah, Rikki,
from Monsey, ex Bais Yakov, who intends
to be a doctor. As he makes amends
for all the time he spent as bokhor, Linda
and I happy, while we wait for Kinder.


Of great-grandchildren first come Lonny’s two,
Elisha, Neriyah whom Tamar grew:
extremely handsome both, I’d say, and brilliant,
and what is more important, most resilient.
Elisha’s in the army, Neri studies:
the two are most amazing buddy-buddies.
Then Tal and Mayan, Plussy’s little women,
for good luck they should be a happy simen.
Their grandpa living in the holy city
is my good friend, I should add in this ditty.
(Post scriptum, I should add that when he died
I was extremely sad, and even cried,
because in Kerem Yavneh he had been,
like me, on Talmud studies very keen,
and later, like me, studied the Tanakh,
which both of us enjoyed as much as Bach.)
Not cognitively dissonant, their father
decided, I think wisely, he would rather
add to his personal resume a minus,
which should become a plus to his great guyness.
(This turned out to be true. He found a beauty
in his new wife from Cleveland, who’s called Ruti.
She’s given him more sons, the first one Yuval
establishing a mishpakhah that’s nouvelle,
a child who’s as exciting and as wild
as nouvelle cuisine after Julia Child.
A second came, without a lot of waitin’,
and has the somewhat mighty name of Eitan.
Not with Milton’s hero will I rhyme
his name which makes me think of Stefan Heym,
whose Ezrahite recorded the events
of David’s rule and made of them more sense
than all the victories and Psalsm and flings
you’’ find in Chronicles and Book of Kings;

From Rita and from David Dany sadly
did not survive, though we remember gladly
the happiness he brought to all who knew him,
in his absence we will always rue him.
He surely does deserve a lot of kudos
for being second Daniel ish hamudos.
Gideon’s brood in Stamford is impressive:
an actuary, he thinks four are excessive.
Avidan and Raffi surely are
the greatest, although Jennie is the star.
Gaby has produced a son and heir, an Aussie,
quite like his mother Micki, though less bossy;
his name is not yet clear in Gabi’s manual,
but I believe it’s something close to Daniel.
From Absalom there come, with help of Karin,
three children proving Karin’s no more barren
in holy reproduction than when secular
her focus on biology’s molecular.
The oldest, Yoav, like a cherub smiles,
and with his beauty all the world beguiles.
Then there’s Eve and Ada who are twins:
each one in her own way always wins
the hearts of all, although most do not know
that they by names of great-grandmothers go.
Post scriptum. Avishai I won’t ignore,
born after Margot’s death. With him now four
great-grandkids live in Irvine. All are guaran-
teed to please the whole world, thanks to Karin

For Abigail all motherhood’s a hobby,
for which she has to thank her husband Robby,
the architect who reads banayikh, meaning sons,
and not bonayikh, builders. Theirs are ones
who quite enchant southwestern Pennsylvania,
although it’s hard to tell which one is zanier.
First comes Max’s namesake, Max,
who writes in rhyme already, sans syntax.
His real name’s Yosef Mordecai, for Joe,
who’s Linda’s late lamented father, as you know,
but Ada, when she saw his reddish tint
said, “Here at last I have ein goldenes kind.”
His hair is red like Esau and like David––
none could predict this while his mom was gravid,
although his great-grandmother Ada said
that hair of all the Adelmans was red,
and his dad’s mother Pearl declared that she
was red like all the best in Hungary––
she meant the Weisses, not of course, the Grosses,
and thinks that Magyar was the tongue of Moses.

He got the best from all the old medinos,
as Zachary observed about his penis
when he performed his bris––not quite his first,
for he assured them it was not his worst.
There’s Judah, who’s a redhead too, and there
is also Darius, twins who have to share
the limelight with their brother Wunderkind––
I hope they’ll have a sister too….hint, hint.

Eleh toldot, these are the begettings
of Margot in the very varied settings
that span from Berlin, Leipzig, London to
Jerusalem and Stamford, and, most new,
to Melbourne, not forgetting Allentown,
to which the singer Billy Joel brought renown,
and Irvine, Orange Country, and now last,
although not least, I hope, LA, whose cast
includes this poet-son and Linda, daughter-
in-law who tried to make this poem shorter.
She’s right, of course, it would have been expedient:
but she is good, and I must be obedient.
To make sure that her charms will never fade
she must, like Rumpole’s Hilda, be obeyed.


And so now ends my poem. It’s a tour
around a woman who has great allure.
It’s not a tour de force or tour de France,
that just a few lines I hope may entrance
the people who have known her and the ones
who, like her, are quite partial to my puns
and do not mind the digs I may have made
at people who are joined in this parade,
neglectful of their hopeful claims to glory,
less like a poet than rude rimatori.
Don't let the errors in it cause a crisis,
remember I am writing bobbe mayses,
where being quite historically correct
is trumped by any poetry effect.
The spirit of all wit they say is brevity:
I hope this poem adds to her longevity,
but fearing if I say more I may wrong her
I don’t propose to go on any longer
concerning her begettings, eleh toldos
are truly the true stories Margot told us.


© 2004 Gershon Hepner 7/5/04,
revised in Cambridge, Rosh Chodesh Ab, 5764, 24 days before my mother’s death, and 8/16/04, 8/6/09 and 8/9/09

Friday, August 7, 2009

mad men

Of mad men gulping vodka on the rocks
while ogling secretaries whom they’re scheming
to take to bed I sing, for forever dreaming
the fantasies a PC world now mocks.

The 60's is where I would like to be,
but times have changed, and I must change with them,
which makes me mad, as all my friends can see.
The former challenge was “cherchez la femme”––
pronounced, if you prefer, to rhyme with “dumb”––
but only losers hit on fellow workers
in games whose rules lead to a zero sum
because of laws that act like Muslim burkhas.

The world has changed, and men must manage lives
without the interludes that they enjoyed
back in the 60's. Will their lovely wives
step forward, please, and help them fill their void?


Inspired by Amy Chozick's article on the TV drama "Mad Men" ("The Women Behind 'Mad Men,'" WSJ, August 7, 2009).
In the fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency Sterling Cooper where “Mad Men” is set, male executives gulp down vodka on the rocks and ogle their neatly coiffed secretaries. Early in the series agency partner Roger Sterling tries to cheer up creative director Don Draper by assuring him that “When God closes a door, he opens a dress.” In response to a question about what women want, Roger replies “Who cares?” The story centers on Don Draper and his shadowy past, but a key part of the series, the writers say, is its complicated female characters. “It’s less skewed than it appears,” says consulting producer Maria Jacquemetton, who is married to fellow writer Mr. Jacquemetton….
Last week, at the Los Angeles Center Studios on the set of the Sterling Cooper office, co-producer Ms. Waller talked to director Mr. Hornbacher as he prepared to shoot a tense scene between Don Draper, Roger Sterling and closeted gay art director Salvatore Romano that Ms. Waller co-wrote. Actresses with up-dos and floral blouses tucked into A-line skirts held herbal cigarettes. An ashtray on the receptionist’s desk brimmed with cigarette butts stained with pink lipstick. Ms. Waller says she tries to keep a 1960s mentality in her writing. Last season office manager Joan Holloway’s seemingly perfect fiancé raped her on the floor of an office at Sterling Cooper, and “I wanted her to get revenge in the third season,” Ms. Waller says. “I didn’t even propose it. There’s no way that would’ve gone over.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/7/09

Thursday, August 6, 2009

inherent vice

In the faithless money-driven
world nobody is forgiven,
unless they can afford attorneys
who drive them gently on their journeys
while parting them from all the money
they’d landed as the milk and honey
that passes for the promised land
they and their lawyers understand.

The world in which they roll the dice
evinces an inherent vice
that can’t defy the gravity
of rainbows of depravity
no culprits see while it is raining
dollars: they don’t start complaining
until the judge pronounces sentence,
which coincides with their repentance.

Machinery of power makes
inherent vice confess mistakes
once etherized upon the gurneys,
when jettisoned by their attorneys
and ridiculed by them, and spurned
despite the money they have earned,
as money-driven as the clients,
with whom they’d had their vice alliance.

Inspired by Michiko Kakutani's review of Thomas Pynchon's new novel, "Inherent Vice" ("Another Doorway to the Paranoid Pynchon Dimension," NYT, August 4, 2009):
“Inherent Vice” not only reminds us how rooted Mr. Pynchon’s authorial vision is in the ’60s and ’70s, but it also demystifies his work, underscoring the similarities that his narratives — which mix high and low cultural allusions, silly pranks and gnomic historical references, mischievous puns, surreal dreamlike sequences and a playful sense of the absurd — share with the work of artists like Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac and even Richard Brautigan. Like “Vineland,” his other ode to the counterculture era, this novel conjures a California where characters talk in the trippy, spaced-out language of the frequently stoned and lead wacky, slacker-type existences. It’s a California reminiscent of the one Tom Wolfe depicted in “The Pump House Gang” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” a place that stands in sharp contrast to the capitalistic conformity of the “Midol America” that Mr. Pynchon had suggested would arrive in the Reaganite ’80s. The hero of “Inherent Vice” worries that “the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness,” that “everything in this dream of prerevolution was in fact doomed to end,” with the “faithless, money-driven world” reasserting “its control over all the lives it felt entitled to touch, fondle and molest.”…
Though “Inherent Vice” is a much more cohesive performance than the author’s last novel, the bloated and pretentious “Against the Day,” it feels more like a Classic Comics version of a Pynchon novel than like the thing itself. It reduces the byzantine complexities of “Gravity’s Rainbow” and “V.” — and their juxtapositions of nihilism and conspiracymongering, Dionysian chaos and Apollonian reason, anarchic freedom and the machinery of power — to a cartoonish face-off between an amiable pothead, whose “general policy was to try to be groovy about most everything,” and a bent law-enforcement system. Not surprisingly, the reader is encouraged, as one character observes, referring to George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” comic strip, to “root for Ignatz,” the anarchic, brick-hurling mouse, not Officer Pupp, the emissary of order and law.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

sense of play

Only with a sense of play
can we interpret our own universe,
ignoring rules that make our lives perverse.
A catalogue unraisonné,
containing all the rules that we’ve
invented. is the book of rules that we
create to play the game of life and be
good sports in whom some friends believe.

Inspired by an e-mail from Professor Brett Kahr, who is writing a “definitive” biography of the distinguished child psychiatrist Donald Winnicott and contacted me because of the brief engagement I had with Winnicott while I was editor of the St. Mary’s Hospital Gazette in the early 1960’s. Note that after the Israelites receive the book of rules called the Ten Commandments they rise to play (Exod. 32:6), albeit around a golden calf. Perhaps they knew something that Moses did not. Professor Kahr wrote:

I had just been reading some letters that you wrote to Donald Winnicott in 1961 when editing the "St. Mary's Hospital Gazette". You may recall that you had commissioned Dr. Winnicott to write a profile of himself, and then you spoke warmly of him in your Editorial introduction. So, I then tried to "google" your name, and discovered that you are in America, and a poet as a well as doctor.
I just read many of your poems, and I like them very much. They convey a great literary spirit and much wisdom, as well as sense of the truly playful. I can see shades of a Winnicottian influence, as you may remember he wrote an important book about the seriousness of play.Having just had a birthday myself, I found deep resonance in "Youth has no age ...", which is a wonderfully engaging idea.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/4/09

Monday, August 3, 2009

long view, slow looking

Long looking, like slow cooking, should
become the vogue, replacing speedy glances
with which we tend to focus on the wood
instead of trees, though every one enhances
our lives as much as forests where they stand.
Slowly cooking, bringing out all flavors,
looking slowly helps us understand
a world that no fast looker truly savors,
gulping sights at which he only gazes,
never relishing the banquets placed
before his eyes: no new sight thus amazes
fast lookers choosing to trade taste for haste.
Time passes quickly: only looking slowly
enables us to see within it what is holy.

Inspired by an article in Huffington Post on August 3, 2009 by Dylan Loewe (“Taking the Long View”) and by an article in the NYT on the same day by Michael Kimmelman ("At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus"). Loewe writes:
But, I promise you, fellow anxiety-driven friends, now is not the time to panic. Now is the time to start taking the long view. The 24-hour news cycle, the minute-by-minute blogosphere, all of it gives the impression that any single day, any single minute, is critically important. You see a bad story one day and assume the game's over. Viewers watching MSNBC last week heard Contessa Brewer and Dylan Ratigan talking about whether or not the Republican party was poised to make a huge comeback in the 2010 midterms. The discussion centered around new polling that showed Congress at a staggeringly low 24 percent approval rating -- the lowest recording of the year.
Kimmelman writes:

So tourists now wander through museums, seeking to fulfill their lifetime’s art history requirement in a day, wondering whether it may now be the quantity of material they pass by rather than the quality of concentration they bring to what few things they choose to focus upon that determines whether they have “done” the Louvre. It’s self-improvement on the fly. The art historian T. J. Clark, who during the 1970s and ’80s pioneered a kind of analysis that rejected old-school connoisseurship in favor of art in the context of social and political affairs, has lately written a book about devoting several months of his time to looking intently at two paintings by Poussin. Slow looking, like slow cooking, may yet become the new radical chic.


© 2009 Gershon Hepner 8/3/09

Friday, July 31, 2009

shaken, not unstirred

SHAKEN, NOT UNSTIRRED

Youth has no age, Picasso said.
In the long run we’re all dead.
We can’t deny this troubling truth
by claiming everlasting youth
after it has passed us by,
when, unprepared to ever die,
we’re forced to turn another page,
yellowed, mellowed by old age.

Learning from defeat far more
than victories, we call out “Fore!
never ready to retreat,
conceding that we’ve met defeat
because we’ve aged and lost our spring,
preparing for another fling,
our senior years a lagniappe
coming without handicap.

Although youth has no age I will
continue to feel young until
the long run catches up with me
and brings me to reality,
for though youth really is confined
to those who’re young, the undersigned
will take Picasso at his word,
by life still shaken, not unstirred.

On July 28 Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column in the NYT celebrating the near-victory in the US Open by 59-year old Tom Watson (“59 Is The New 30”):

Watson’s run was freaky unusual — a 59-year-old man who had played his opening two rounds in this tournament with a 16-year-old Italian amateur — was able to best the greatest golfers in the world at least a decade after anyone would have dreamt it possible. Watching this happen actually widened our sense of what any of us is capable of. That is, when Kobe Bryant scores 70 points, we are in awe. When Tiger Woods wins by 15 strokes, we are in awe. But when a man our own age and size whips the world’s best — who are half his age — we identify. Of course, Watson has unique golfing skills, but if you are a baby boomer you could not help but look at him and say something you would never say about Tiger or Kobe: “He’s my age; he’s my build; he’s my height; and he even had his hip replaced like me. If he can do that, maybe I can do something like that, too.”


On July 31, 2009, Charles Bock responded enthusiastically to Thomas Friedman's article by quoting Picasso, who said, “Youth has no age.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 7/31/09

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If Sarah Palin Looked Like Golda Meir

If Sarah Palin looked like Golda,
older and Alaska-colder,
would she be warming cockles
of our hearts in her debacles?
To have a race within your pocket
you do not need to be a rocket
scientist, but if you whine,
and do not reach the finish line,
the voters aren’t inclined to give
you their support as Tel-Aviv
once gave to Golda. Sarah Palin,
weepin’, gnashin’ teeth and wailin’,
cranky, crass and somewhat screechy,
prim, unpresidential, preachy,
aware electors will not choose her
is acting like a most sore loser,
by casting blame left, right and center
on every media tormentor,
collecting grievances like rent
while hoping to be President,
encouraging eviction of
the voters who don’t send her love.
It’s problematic. Why does Sarah––
compared with Golda clearly fairer––
do this, abandoning Alaska?
Perhaps we’ll find out if we ask her,
but since most probably we can’t,
just let her whine some more, and rant:
like dead fish that can’t swim, she’ll molder,
far more forgettable than Golda.
Of course if she were half as smart
as Tina Fey, she’d win my heart,
but since she isn’t, hope, not glory,
is her republican sad story.


Inspired by an observation made by Mike Murphy, a former John McCain strategist, made about Sarah Palin, commenting on her resignation from the position of Governor of Alaska and her rants about what she called “American apologetics”. Mike Murphy’s comment was cited by cited by Maureen Dowd (“Sarah Grabs the Grievance Bag From Hillary,” NYT, July 29, 2009).

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 7/29/09

Monday, July 27, 2009

grain of sand

See time as a grain of sand0
and heaven as the glass
you hold with care within your hand
to watch each moment pass.
Every instant lies below
our noses and our eyes,
and stay, not going with the flow,
if greeted with surprise.


Inspired by an article on Huell Howser by Robert Lloyd in the LA Times on July 26, 2009 (“Sucks and awe with Huell Howser”). Lloyd claims that Howser’s approach to life is not far from that expressed by William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of SandAnd a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your handAnd Eternity in an hour.Or half an hour, as the case may be."A lot of people say, 'You've been doing this so long, you've been everywhere. Aren't you about to run out of places to go?' " Howser said. "What are you talking about, 'everywhere'? You could tell me that I couldn't go outside of a five-mile radius from where we're having breakfast right now for stories and I wouldn't blink an eye. There's enough right within five miles to keep me busy the rest of my life. Why are we looking so hard? It's right under our noses."

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 7/27/09

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

defying common sense

Defying common sense by being not quite sure
about the questions that lie far beyond
scientific certainties may help us to endure,
so long as we’re aware we’re being conned,
while being so inquisitive that we do not
allow our minds to fall asleep, and dream
of what may be not just the plot but counterplot
behind the facts that are not what they seem.


Inspired by an obituary by Nicholas Kulish on the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski in the NYT on July 21, 2009:
Leszek Kolakowski was born Oct. 23, 1927, in the city of Radom, south of Warsaw. Like most Poles of his generation, Mr. Kolakowski knew hardship early. Under the German occupation of Poland during World War II, Mr. Kolakowski and his family were forcibly relocated to different towns and villages. Because the Germans had closed Polish schools, young Leszek had to teach himself and take exams in the underground school system that was created. After the war, he studied philosophy first at the University of Lodz and later earned a doctorate at the University of Warsaw. He took a teaching position there, rising to chairman of the history of philosophy section. Early in his life he embraced Communism as a reaction to the destruction inflicted upon his country by Nazism, greeting the Red Army as liberators after years of German oppression. But a trip to Moscow intended as a reward for promising young Marxist intellectuals proved instead to be a turning point, exposing for him what he described as “the enormity of material and spiritual desolation caused by the Stalinist system.” In an interview with The New York Times in 2004, Mr. Kolakowski said, “This ideology was supposed to mold the thinking of people, but at a certain moment it became so weak and so ridiculous that nobody believed in it, neither the ruled nor the rulers.”….
In a noted lecture in 1982, Mr. Kolakowski said the cultural role of philosophy was “never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious and definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense” and “never to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 7/21/09