Wednesday, March 3, 2010

urgently communicating


“Urgently we try commu-
icating,” Donald Winnicott
declared, “while keeping out of view
what we believe is better not
communicated and revealed,
so what is literal is not what
we mean: although our lips aren’t sealed,
what’s said counts less than what we blot.

Ambiguity may come
to rescue us, if we are smart,
but if, like most, we’re really dumb,
a literal horse will pull our cart.
That’s why, of course, we need midrash,
which speaks in many, many voices,
and, giving a heart-warming rush,
connects us with a lot of choices.

The original idea for this poem is in my poem “Literal Meaning” (1/30/02)
The literal meaning is a trap
that Harold Bloom equates with death;
don’t fall into it when you rap
with prophets who declare, “God saith.”

Stacey D’Erasmo reviews “Oracle Night” by Paul Auster in the NYT Book Review (November 30, 2003) and writes:

[A]s the psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott once put it, artists are continually torn between ''the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found.''


analysis and phalluses


A problem with a phallus is
an indication, Freud would say,
for very deep analysis,
for which, of course, you have to pay.

He said the same of gals who try
to reach a climax with their clit,
and anyone just slightly bi.
I wonder, does the Freudian writ
apply today, or have the rules
now changed, unlike the laws of Moses.
Anyone whom either fools
will say they haven’t, one supposes.
Both, although they’re obsolete,
have lots of fans of fans who need, I think,
more than analysis, some neat,
aged Islay Scotch––hold ice and shrink.

I do not want analysis;
the laws of Moses are enough
for me, because my phallus is
quite healthy and still up to snuff.

Written while contemplating my Freud-inspired poems.


forgetting someone you love


Forgetting someone whom you love
is like when, careless, you forget
to turn the light off. With the sun above
before it slowly starts to set
you don’t know what you have forgotten,
but once it’s dark you surely know.
The light forgotten should feel rotten
since you all day ignored its glow
while the sun was shining, and
you wasted lots of electric-
icity. Do understand
forgotten friends feel just like this!
Their light, of course, enables you
to see them when they start to spark,
but you should keep them in your view
before you need them, when it’s dark.

Inspired by a very brief poem by Yehudah Amichai:

Forgetting someone is like forgetting to turn off the light
in the backyard so it stays lit all the next day

But then it is the light that makes you remember.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

double no trouble


By writing a concerto that was double
Johannes Brahms got out of serious trouble
with his fiddle friend, Joseph Joachim.
Although Brahms once had thought that he should sack him
when he divorced his wife, the lovely Amalie,
whom Brahms loved more than his own family,
he reconciled with him, when feeling mellow
about the cello of a friendly fellow,
who doubled with the fiddle in Brahms’ last
orchestral work, forgiving what had passed
between them, writing to indemnify
the fiddler who, though einsam remained frei,
which means that although free, he felt most lonely,
which doesn’t happen when connecting only.
What Forster would explain Johannes Brahms
expressed, helped by a cello fellow’s charms.

Written while listening to a broadcast to the Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello, introduce by Alan Chapman on KUSC on February 25, 2010.

This is the second poem I have written alluding to the motto of Joseph Joachim. Composed in the summer of 1887, and first performed on 18 October of that year it was Brahms' final work for orchestra. Brahms, approaching the project with anxiety over writing for instruments that were not his own wrote it for the cellist Robert Hausmann, and his old estranged friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The concerto was, in part, a gesture of reconciliation towards Joachim, after their long friendship had ruptured following Joachim's divorce from his wife Amalie. Brahms had sided with Amalie in the dispute, and this led to the estrangement between Brahms and Joachim. The Double Concerto acted as a form of musical reconciliation. The concerto also makes use of the musical motif A-E-F, a permutation of F-A-E, which stood for a personal motto of Joachim, frei aber einsam ("free but lonely").

This is the earlier poem, written twelve years ago, on 2/5/98:


Frei aber einsam, Joachim said,
free but lonely,
Frei aber froh, Brahms said instead,
free, happy, only
lonely when he could not write.
Composing, he
was happy when he got it right,
which made him free.




It seems in Shushan Jews were all renamin’
themselves, and changing Jewish names to Persian.
This may have been what really bothered Haman
when he found out about the brand new version
that Mordecai had given to the orphan
who had been called Hadassah when he took her
as daughter in his house, like an endorphin
relieving her from pain when fate forsook her,
for she had lost her mother and her father,
left all alone till she was given quarter
with Mordecai her cousin, who was rather
husband-like, though calling her his daughter.

He changed her name to Esther, which is Ishtar,
a goddess then in Shushan quite familiar;
all alternatives he might have wished are
forgotten, and may well have sounded sillier.

By giving her a goddess name he matched
his own, from Marduk, greatest god, derived;
both names from old divinities were snatched,
before in Esther’s scroll they were archived.

This yearning for the names of gentile gods
may well have greatly upset Haman who
cast purim––lots––with favorable odds
because he thought a Jew should stay a Jew,
not masquerading, acting like a goy.
Because he was defying Human Rights,
asserting Haman Rights instead, his ploy
did not succeed, when he fell from the heights
pursuing Esther, getting in a mess
harassing her, more sexually immodest.
He lost against the Jews a war like chess,
not only queened by Esther––even goddessed.

While Esther’s name may well be associated with the goddess Ishtar, Stephanie Dalley, in Esther’s Revenge at Susa: From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus (Oxford, 2007), suggests that links the orginial name of Esther, Hadassah , to the Akkadian hadaššatu, pointing out that that it is only found in a lexical (dictionary) text, as a synonym of kallatu, meaning a bride chosen by the father of the groom almost always referring to deities. She cites C. Wilcke, “Familiengründung in alten Babylonien,” in E. W. Müller, Geschichtsreif und Legimation zur Zeugung (Freiburg: Alber, 1985), 213-17, which gives the precise meaning of the word, Dalley adds (p. 169):
In the Hebrew book of Esther, the heroine is not selected for marriage by a prospective father-in-law.
Dalley may be mistaken. After stating that Mordecai had been exiled to Jerusalem with Jeconiah king of Judah, the text states:
And he was a nursing-parent of Hadassah, she was Esther, the daughter of his uncle, because she had no dather or mother. And the maiden was fair in appearance and good looking, and at the death of her father and mother, Mordecai לקחה, took her, as a daughter. (Est. 2:7)
לקח, take, is the verb the Bible uses to denote marriage. Est. 2:7 implies that Mordecai not only adopted Esther as a nursing-parent but married her as if she were his daughter. Why would the take want to imply that his marriage was like that of a father with his daughter? The answer may be because the text wishes to imply that when Mordecai took her as a wife, he was not the father of the groom but the adoptive father of the bride, making Esther like a hadaššatu, a bride chosen by the father of the groom.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

being lost


While constantly we reinvent ourselves,
how can we not get always lost,
just like assorted books that strew our shelves,
or wretched lovers who’re star-crossed,
unable to explain to others where
we are because we do not know
where we are going? Yet, why should we care?
Nobody knows the way to go!
Unlike the song, “I’d Like to Get You On a
Slow Boat to China,” we proceed
without a clear direction, while we honor
our destination less than speed.

Dwight Garner reviews “A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory,” by Peter Hessler (“Feeling at Sea on the Roads of New China,” NYT, February 24, 2010):
American travel writers over the past century have taken special delight in describing the intricacies, and the lunatic comedy, of driving etiquette in foreign countries. Some enterprising publisher is bound to scoop up the best of these observations and issue a queasy-making anthology: “Carsick: A Global Reader.” When that anthology does arrive, Peter Hessler’s new book, “Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory,” deserves a special place in it. It’s not merely that Mr. Hessler convinces us that the Chinese, being new to driving, are simply awful at it. He makes the additional, and delightful, case that perhaps no other people “take such joy in driving badly.” The Chinese rarely use turn signals or windshield wipers or seat belts or headlights. They tailgate and honk like mad. “People pass on hills; they pass on turns; they pass in tunnels,” Mr. Hessler writes. “If they get passed themselves, they immediately try to pass the other vehicle back, as if it were a game.”…
As Mr. Heller makes his way across China in a series of rental cars, watching trucks blow past him, he observes that almost any product we buy in the developed world has “probably already spent time on a Chinese road, and someday it may return there to be recycled.” He mourns the countryside that is rapidly vanishing in China, but he also admires the grit of the rural people who escape. “They had a gift for self-invention,” he writes, “that rivaled anything in Dickens.” “Country Driving” is most affecting in its portrayal of lives ripped up at the roots, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. He describes the “hollow feeling” many Chinese have, because rapid change has left them exhausted and uncertain. Peter Hessler is a fine tour guide for the new China, a writer who is capable of tossing aside the country’s (deplorable) maps and admitting: “In China, it’s not such a terrible thing to be lost, because nobody else knows exactly where they’re going, either.”


growing rings


Like Rilke, I live life in growing rings,
but often find that I am trapped
in squares, abandoned without any wings
on mountain tops that rise, snow capped,
never reaching heights where I may find
a glimpse of God, who disappears
each time I circumnavigate my mind,
unperceived by eyes or ears
in circles which I never have been able
to complete. And yet God’s staff
still leads me, since He spreads for me a table
where I can eat and drink, and laugh.

Inspired by a ppoem by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ich lebe mein Leben im wachsenden Ringen,” “I live my life in growing rings”

Ich lebe mein leben im wachsenden Ringen,
die sich über die Dingen ziehen.
Ich werde den letzen vielleicht nicht volbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn.

Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiß nocht nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein großer Gesang.

I live my life in growing rings
which move out over the things around me.
Perhaps I'll never complete the last,
but that's what I mean to try.

I'm circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I've been circling thousands years;
and I still don't know: am I a falcon, a storm
or a great song.


eve and ada


Simply she stands at the door of her house,
smiling beside her twin sister called Ada,
indifferent to cats, not yet using a mouse
when writing, she soon will become a first grader.

She’s not found a man yet, nor even the apple
her namesake discovered in Eden’s great garden;
with problems of siblinghood she knows how to grapple,
largely since Ada is willing to pardon
her claims to be alpha, for both twins are that.
In the lane that’s called Basswood there isn’t a beta;
I love her far more than my Figaro cat,
but also am dearly enamored of Ada.

Both sisters are very familiar with God.
Unlike the first Eve, they both say the shema
every night before bed, so I give both a nod,
adoring them equally, both above par.

Inspired by my two granddaughters, and a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Eve.”
Simply she stands at the cathedral’s
great ascent, close to the rose window,
with the apple in the apple-pose,
guiltless-guilty once and for all

of the growing she gave birth to
since form the circle of eternities
loving she went forth, top struggle through
her way throughout the earth like a young year.

Ah, gladly yet a little in that land
Would she have lingered, heeding the harmony
And understanding of the animals.

But since she found the man determined,
She went with him, aspiring after death,
And she had as yet hardly known God.

© 2010 Gershon Hepner 2/24/10

culture, politics, midrash, peshat


Culture, and not politics, determine the success
of society;
that’s the reason why of cultures we need more, not less,

Politics just blurs our problems and can only make
them worse;
culture on the other hand makes clear what was opaque,
like verse.

With politics the meaning of our lives is circumscribed,
whereas with culture it is open, by us vibed,

With politics we’re always faced both with decline
and fall;
without defeating anybody, culture can define
us all.

Inspired by information gleaned from articles written on the Op-Ed page in the NYT on consecutive days.

Thomas Friedman cites Patrick Moynihan on February 24, 2010 (“Iraq’s Unknowns, Still Unknowns”):

In many ways, Iraq is a test case for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

Piers Brendon writes in an Op-Ed in the NYT on February 24, 2010 (“Like Rome Before the Fall? Not Yet”):
On the other hand, Paul Kennedy may well be right to predict that the United States will shrink relatively in wealth, and therefore power, as its Asian and European rivals grow. Such contractions can be traumatic, as suggested by the experience of Britain, which, as Dean Acheson said, lost an empire without finding a role. However, the British now tend to echo the historian Lord Macaulay, who said that the end of their physical empire would be the proudest day in their history if they left behind “the imperishable empire” of their arts and their morals, their literature and their laws. In other words, national self-esteem should not stem from global might but from cultural values and achievements. Faced by the prospect of decline, Americans could hardly do better than to cling to the noblest traditions of their own civilization.
The contrast between politics and culture outlined in this poem is like that between peshat, the plain meaning of a text, and midrash, which reveals the text’s potentialities.


Monday, February 22, 2010



I think that if I ever met a
girl who’s cuter and coquetter
than Musetta, La Bohème
would seem like coffee without crème.

Actually I like mine black,
but am not fussy about color
of coquettes who have the knack
to thrill me even with out color-

atura, and to their bravura
respond with glee by saying “Brava!”
always hoping they’re not purer
than, in her prime, the Gardner Ava.

The opera’s mainly about Mimi,
but I would make a great Rodolf-
o. Wouldn’t you just love to see me
playing like a tiger golf?

Inspired by a review of “La Bohème” by Anthony Tommasini (“The Gang’s All Here: Mimi, Rodolfo and Zeffirelli,” NYT, February 22, 2010), and by Tiger Woods’s confession and apology at Ponte Vedra Beach for his multiple affairs Tiger Woods on February 19, 2010 (see “Overcome”).
The soprano Nicole Cabell brought a luminous voice and perky sensuality to Musetta, although, as with many Musettas, she overdid the coquettish bit during “Quando me’n vo,” when this impetuous woman decides to re-ensnare Marcello, her ex-lover.


sense of guilt


I have seen the squirrels fill their guts
in birdbrained ways which seem to be most queer,
for though, like me, they’re very fond of nuts,
they don’t add salt, or wash them down with beer.

They visit us on Sukkot, un-
invited to the booth that we have built;
I’m happy that they’re having fun,
and envy them their lack of sense of guilt.

The Vorlage of this poem was written on 8/26/00, and generated a poem by Linda which I paste below. Linda and I love to watch the squirrels in the back yard, except during Sukkot, when they eat the decorative fruit and vegetables. Linda’s anti-squirrel poem was apparently written before mine!


When God said:
There’s a tree whose fruit you may not eat,
The lion said,
No problem I shall just eat meat;
And God agreed:
Consider it my special treat.

The rabbit said
I’ll stick to grass
The robin sang
I’ll peck at seeds
The butterfly:
I think I’ll pass
The tortoise huffed
I’ll chomp at weeds;
The whale:
Crowds of brill are great,
The dinosaur…
Who knows his fate?
And body lice
Could pick and choose,
Then last, we Jews!
We read the list of don’ts and does
And offers we could not refuse
Like veggies, clean of course, and nuts
And berries, fruit and the best cuts
Of cows and sheep and… let’s not dwell
On flesh or fish or living creatures
Who share with us most genes and features.

But damn! the squirrel with his tail,
His cloven paws, his pointy ears,
Pretending to be cute, sets sail
Across the aeons to our years
Where in our garden grows a tree
Of peaches, succulent, sweet tears,
Bending each branch abundantly –
And like the worst of thieves, comes out
In brightest mornings, just to flout
Defiant joy and quickly steals
The fruit of God.
But no appeals!
For no one traps the devil, he
Comes visiting at will.
The tree
Grows understanding at its best.
The squirrel robs us in our nest
And when God says: Now taste the peach!
There’s nothing left to taste
Or teach.



Thursday, February 18, 2010



The crack in everything that lets in light
is also one where darkness tries to enter;
it may distract you if it is not right
where you should always focus, in the center,
because the light is best when it is shining
not everywhere where there may be a crack,
but in places deep where we should be mining
the darkness for the light it does not lack.

Cristina Nehring reviews a number of books on Heloise and Abelard in The NY Times Book Review, February 13, 2005 (“Love Hurts”) and concludes:
It is Heloise's tact and generosity that allow the dialogue to continue and even attain exemplary dimensions. Seeing that her beloved is no longer capable of the language of passion, she smothers her love song (''the loss,'' as Burge states, ''is history's'') and addresses him on the only terms he still knows and values. Like the star student she once was, she begins to quiz him on every biblical, monastic and moral question she can think of. In doing so, she inspires much of the most valuable -- and satisfying -- work of Abelard's life. Disdained by his own monks as well as by the Vatican (he was twice condemned for heresy), he found an enthusiastic audience in Heloise and her nuns. It is for Heloise that he undertakes what one scholar has called ''the most substantial writings of the 12th century on women's place in Christianity''; it is for Heloise that he writes countless sermons, hymns and disquisitions on spiritual themes. Heloise's convent becomes, in some sense, the couple's joint project, their spiritual child. Their cooperation struck onlookers as a dazzling example of friendship between a man and a woman.
If Heloise didn't get what she most wanted from Abelard, she got the very best he had to give. His reflections, his confidences and his final, all-important confession were addressed to her; his most urgent worldly plea was to be buried where she would be near him. Is their story a fraud because Abelard, as Mews has written, was ''tagging along behind'' Heloise in matters of the heart?
The love stories that touch us most deeply are punctuated by human frailty. Look at them up close and you see the fault lines, compromises and anticlimaxes. At the beginning of Shakespeare's play, Romeo is just as intemperately in love with a girl called Rosaline as he is later with Juliet. Tristan and Isolde's passion could well be the fruit of substance abuse, of a love potion they drank unknowingly. And Abelard and Heloise? They weren't equally strong or passionate or generous. Still, they put their frailties together and begat a perfect myth, as well as something perhaps even more precious -- a surprising, splendid, fractured reality. ''There is a crack,'' the Leonard Cohen lyric goes, ''a crack in everything: that's how the light gets in.''


shaun white's halfpipe


Pushing the limits of snowboarding, Shaun
wins a medal of gold in Vancouver, while I
remembering the snows of my yesteryears, mourn
for the medals that seem to be passing me by.

If I were as young as Sean White I might know
how to win a gold medal by Double McTwisting,
and if I would fail I’d perhaps blame the snow,
not my laziness problem, all twists preexisting.

To win in the halfpipe you need to be weird;
they tell me I am, but corks that I double
come out of wine bottles. I wetten my beard
not on unmelted snow but on words that I bubble.

In the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Shaun White wanted to call his signature trick the Tomahawk after a steak he enjoyed in Aspen. It sounds much cooler than the Double McTwist 1260, which is as hard to get off the tongue sometimes as it may be to land. Or maybe the Double Eagle. Doesn’t matter what you call the trick, it is White’s to own. The American snowboarder and international celebrity captured the gold medal in men’s halfpipe with as impressive a performance as any since his 2006 victory in Turin. It was his second run in the final, when he landed the trick he had worked on in secret at a remote halfpipe in the Colorado mountains, that earned him a winning score of 48.4. But his first run of 46.8 would have been enough for gold…
The double cork has become the essential trick in snowboard competition. So much so, few riders in the final chose to go without it. Those who omitted it from their runs received little benefit; those who flubbed it can justify the risk. The judges clearly rewarded aggression on the first run. “I’m not satisfied. I just wanted t do everything I could do. I couldn’t do it aggressively enough.” …. Markus Malin completed only the first half of a back-to-back double cork attempt. And the trick proved to be Kazuhiro Kokubo’s undoing on his first run too. His Japanese compatriot Ryo Aono didn’t even attempt one, choosing instead to throw back-to-back 1080s. He made it through his run, but without the double cork, it was only worth a 32.9, only 2.4 more points than the more daring Kokubo and significantly less than either Lago or Vito. Peetu Piiroinen of Finland only threw one double cork, which paled in comparison to Louri Podladtchikov’s stellar back-to-back double corks. None of them could touch Shaun White: massive air; back-to-back double corks; a backside cab 1080 to close. His 46.8 is close to unbeatable, unless he tries to beat himself. Double McTwist 1260, perhaps?


pathologically decent


Pathologically decent
is what I called a music friend
who had not kept up with my recent
poems, but assured me he’d amend
his ways, when feeling very bad
that he had when busy had ignored one.
I wonder if this friend is mad:
a shrink might help, could he afford one.

Pathologically being kind
to poets is abnormal: I
fear that he may have lost his mind,
but love this pathologic guy.
It’s clear that he is not tone deaf,
though even if he were I’m sure
he’d manage just like Ludwig, Lef-
kowitz poetically mature.

Thank you for your kind words!
I'm sorry that I've been silent for the past two weeks. This is "audition season," and I've been terribly busy. Rather than a cursory glance at your e-mails I've been saving them for the time when I can devote a sufficient amount of time to them. I'm hoping to get to them tomorrow.

My response was:

Apologies are NOT called for, David.

To which David responded:

Well, thanks, but I HAVE been feeling awfully guilty...


until you hear the score

In “Metropolis,” the actors all seem puppets
until you hear the score of Gottfried Huppertz,
performed first in the Friedrichstadtpalast,
and, if you want to understand them, must
be heard again to get to their gestalt.
Without our music, we live in a cult,
and do not understand the moves we’ve made
because we’ve never heard it. We will fade
before our music, waiting for a mu-
sicologist to find it and review
our lives together with what had been missing
while we had silently been reminiscing
unaccompanied by it. We’ll stop
when we can understand our own Metrop-
olis with music like the film of Lang,
and go out with a chorus, not a bang,
believing in a miracle that seemed
to happen, hearing music as we dreamed.

AJ Goldmann writes about a restored version of Fritz Lang’s movie “Metropolis,” long regarded as a cinematic Holy Grail, based on a 16mm negative found in Buenos Aires.
Without a reliable script of Lang’s cut of the movie, the print was verified, in part, by seeing how well it played to the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. “That score is the only complete document from the 1927 premiere,” said conductor Frank Srobel after the dress rehearsal. “The music played a big role right from the beginning because the film’s editing was based on the score itself.”…

“The score gave us information for the gestalt of the film,” added Mr. Koerber, explaining that the music was also the basis for the 2001 reconstruction. But back then, Mr. Strobel complained, he needed to bend and break the music to fit the film. Not any more. “When you put the score beneath the images, everything was clearer and flowed better,” he said….

Iss this the most complete “Metropolis” we will ever see? Or will the remaining lost footage (indicated in the current version by a handful of intertitles that describe the missing action) someday be found? Mr. Junkersdorf replies: “Miracles sometimes happen.”


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

how lovely are thy dwellings, jacob


“How lovely are thy dwellings, Jacob!” this was said
by Balaam in the wilderness, and then by Brahms,
who requiesced. Can we afford to go ahead,
converting them to condominiums lacking charm?

I do not live in any condominium when
I listen to the lovely music Brahms once wrote,
for listening to his two sextets I feel again
like Israelites in tents that led to Balaam’s quote.

This poem’s first quatrain was written on 1/31/07. The second was added on 2/17/10 after hearing a performance of the first Brahms sextet on KUSC. Linda responded with her most movingly plaintive lines cited below, and I have added my response to her hers.

Linda’s response to the poem was:

Oh let us dwell within our tent
and not depart for lack of corn or gold,
for wherewithal was here but then it went,
and we will lose our Eden as of old.

Linda’s poem is extremely moving, and elicits this response:

The tent remains, because it’s not prefab-
ricated out of stone and wood, but love,
transformed by it into a holy tab-
ernacle, not for raven but for dove.

My friend Bill Goldstein sent me a lovely composition he wrote to the words “How Lovely Are Thy Dwelling, Jacob,” to commemorate his beloved bother Jay, sung, I believe, by Avshalom Katz.


Monday, February 15, 2010

handwrting on the wall


Handwriting in our States is on the wall,
and on the hand of Sarah Palin:
Wall Street is ailin’, and about to fall.
If you read this you can mail in
your solutions to the problem. Sarah’s
may sound simplistic but have been
endorsed by most Republican wayfarers.
Were she a candidate for Queen
I’d surely not be trying to unmask her,
but since she wants to be the Pres-
ident I’d rather leave her in Alaska,
affording majesté no lèse,
afraid that that any time that I would ask her
a question she would read her hand,
on which the lifelines don’t seem to be healthy.
Issues she can’t understand
can’t be interpreted by all her stealthy
attempts to write them on her thumb.
Instead if she would write them down on paper
she would be sent to kingdom come,
and there would be no need to videotape her.
Divinely intervention struck
Belshazzar in his biblical fine feast,
and will, if we don’t stop the buck,
the doe-like Palin party arriviste.
What Daniel in the lions’ den,
confronting problems in the Middle East,
once managed, we’ll do too. Amen.

Inspired by an article in the NYT, February 14, 2010, by Frank Rich (“Palin’s Cunning Sleight of Hand”):
Liberals had a blast mocking Sarah Palin last weekend when she was caught addressing the Tea Party Convention with a cheat sheet scrawled on her hand. Even the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, couldn’t resist getting into the act and treated a White House briefing to a Palin hand gag of his own. Yet the laughter rang hollow. You had to wonder if Palin, who is nothing if not cunning, had sprung a trap. She knows all too well that the more the so-called elites lampoon her, the more she cements her cred with the third of the country that is her base. Her hand hieroglyphics may not have been speaking aids but bait. If so, mission accomplished. Her sleight of hand gave the anti-Palin chorus another prod to deride her as an empty-headed, subliterate clown, and her fans another cue to rally. The only problem is that the serious import of Palin’s overriding political message got lost in this distracting sideshow. That message has the power to upend the Obama presidency — even if Palin, with her record-low approval ratings, never gets anywhere near the White House. The Palin shtick has now become the Republican catechism, parroted by every party leader in Washington. Their constant refrain, delivered with cynicism but not irony, is this: Republicans are the anti-big-government, anti-stimulus, anti-Wall Street, pro-Tea Party tribunes of the common folk. “This is about the people,” as Palin repeatedly put it last weekend while pocketing $100,000 of the Tea Partiers’ money…
Her only concrete program for dealing with America’s pressing problems came in the question-and-answer session. “It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country,” she said, “so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again.” That pretty much sums up her party’s economic program, at least: divine intervention will achieve what government intervention cannot. That the G.O.P. may actually be winning this argument is less an indictment of Palin than of Washington Democrats too busy reading the writing on her hand to see or respond to the ominous political writing on the wall.


Friday, February 12, 2010

insignificant other


A husband turns into the insignificant
other if his wife does not make him look good,
because he turns into her side-kick if he can't
be coveted by desperate wives who’re in his hood.

Although my dear wife tells me that she doesn’t love it
when I show interest in the other wives who’re in
the neighborhood, I don’t approach whom I don’t covet,
for if I did she’d kick her side-kick in the shin.

I added the second quatrain on 2/12/10.

In his obituary for Ed McMahon, Richard Severo writes in the NYT on June 24, 2009:
Mr. McMahon regarded his friendship with Johnny Carson as a marriage of sorts. “Most comic teams are not good friends or even friends at all,” he wrote in “Here’s Johnny.” “Laurel and Hardy didn’t hang out together, Abbott and Costello weren’t best of friends.” But, he added, “Johnny and I were the happy exception.” “For 40 years Johnny and I were as close as two nonmarried people can be,” he wrote. “And if he heard me say that, he might say, ‘Ed, I always felt you were my insignificant other.’ ”




You never have to worry in
a sukkah that the roof may fall
because, according to the din,
there shouldn't be a roof at all.

The sukkah tells you: “Simplify
your life, try making do with less,”
for only when you see the sky
will life not be an awful mess.

Have sense, and try to keep it simple
or you will fail when you find out
no roof can make your home a temple,
and bliss is when you do without.

Do not put in chains your thoughts,
restricting them with shameful shackles,
you don’t needs crosses, you need noughts,
the open sky of Tabernacles.

Homes are prisons if their roof
and walls confine, but pressure cookers
for thoughts that boil, so do not goof,
forgetting the above on Sukkos.

Sukkos is the festival of Tabernacles, when Jews live in a sukkah, or booth, and din is the Hebrew word for law. I wrote the first three quatrains on 10/4/98, in a poem called “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and transformed the poem with its last two quatrain.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

with osmin not chez lily


She didn’t do it with Osmin
in the flat of Knickers Nettie.
She thought it would have been a sin,
and didn’t know he wasn’t petty
where some men are, and it counts most
for gals who’re looking to get laid.
She loved me so much, wouldn’t boast
about me, being far too staid,
and I was all she wanted then,
and she is wanting even now,
forswearing from all other men
their love. She still will not allow
an Osmin, or a Moish or Yankie,
to have her when I’m not around;
they all must spill into a hanky
their seed, or spill it on the ground,
as she, when living with Aunt Lily
allowed me, lying on the carpet,
to drown her, femme-sauce on fusilli,
or saber tiger in a tarpit,
Of course the house used to belong,
appropriately, to Uncle Dick:
I was her man and did her wrong,
a happy, horny, Hendon hick.
Poor Onans, I don’t pity them,
because I love her far too much,
and even jealously condemn
alternatives, like with a butch
of femme. She doesn’t go for either,
and considers me quite daft
to ask her if she’ll still take neither
when I’m away from her in Taft.

Inspired by Linda’s story of superfeminine restraint when, as while teaching at Holland Park School, she lived in an apartment with a girl she called Knickers Nettie and refused to allow a Gambian called Osmin to sleep with her.




To strangers names may seem amorphous,
without meanings bringing them alive,
from people serving as Yocknapatawpha’s
slaves from Faulkner’s probably derive.
There’s Moses, Isaac, Toney, Edmund, Sam,
Old Rose, and Henry, Ellen, Milly, Mollie,
and even, probably, there’s Absalom,
all slaves. It surely wasn’t melancholy
inspiring him to choose slaves to write
about white men. I think it gave him joy
to resurrect dead black men via white,
technique that any racist would annoy.
However hard you try you’ll find the past
cannot be bottled up, and Faulkner popped
the cork on it, by choosing to broadcast
slave names which he made his white men adopt,
thus posthumously liberating men
and women who had flat, not Jewish, noses
thus elevating them with Hebrews when
God brought the Jews from Egypt, helped by Moses.

Patricia Cohen writes about the names Faulkner used for the white men in his Yoknapatawpha County sagas (“Faulkner Link to Plantation Diary Discovered, NYT, February 11, 2010):
The climactic moment in William Faulkner’s 1942 novel “Go Down, Moses” comes when Isaac McCaslin finally decides to open his grandfather’s leather farm ledgers with their “scarred and cracked backs” and “yellowed pages scrawled in fading ink” — proof of his family’s slave-owning past. Now, what appears to be the document on which Faulkner modeled that ledger as well as the source for myriad names, incidents and details that populate his fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County has been discovered. The original manuscript, a diary from the mid-1800s, was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi whose great-grandson Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, now 79, recalls the writer’s frequent visits to the family homestead in Holly Springs, Miss., throughout the 1930s, saying Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s several volumes. Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulker’s hands and remembers that he “was always taking copious notes.” Specialists have been stunned and intrigued not only by this peephole into Faulkner’s working process, but also by material that may have inspired this Nobel-prize-winning author, considered by many to be one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century. “I think it’s one of the most sensational literary discoveries of recent decades,” said John Lowe, an English professor at Louisiana State University who is writing a book on Faulkner. He was one of a handful of experts who met Dr. Francisco at the hand-hewn log house in Holly Springs last month. There they saw the windowpane where a cousin, Ludie Baugh, etched the letters L-U-D-I-E into the glass while watching Confederate soldiers march by — a scene that appears in several Faulkner works. ..
Sally Wolff-King, a scholar of Southern literature at Emory University who uncovered the connection between the author and the journal, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime literary find.” “The diary and a number of family stories seem to have provided the philosophical and thematic power for some of his major works,” she added. Names of slaves owned by Leak — Caruthers, Moses, Isaac, Sam, Toney, Mollie, Edmund and Worsham — all appear in some form in “Go Down, Moses.” Other recorded names, like Candis (Candace in the book) and Ben, show up in “The Sound and The Fury” (1929) while Old Rose, Henry, Ellen and Milly are characters in “Absalom, Absalom!” (1936). Charles Bonner, a well-known Civil War physician mentioned in the diary, would also seem to be the namesake of Charles Bon in “Absalom.” Scholars found Faulkner’s decision to give his white characters the names of slaves particularly arresting. Professor Wolff-King said she believes he was “trying to recreate the slaves lives and give them a voice.”Dr. Francisco says he is still very uncomfortable that his family’s connection to Faulkner has come to light. “I wouldn’t have done it at all,” he said about publicizing the diary. “My wife urged me until I finally did it,” he said of Anne Salyerds Francisco, his wife of 50 years. “She pushed and Sally pulled. There were long-repressed things that Faulkner uncovered that I didn’t know were in the family,” Dr. Francisco explained, adding that his father never talked about Leak and his slave-owning past. “I just bottled all that up and forgot about it.”


can you write a silent poem?


Can you write a silent poem
silent as tree whose phloem
feeds the branches and the leaves
with magic of the soil, and weaves
a canopy that only sighs
when the breezes empathize?

I can try, but if you seed it
do you think you’ll ever read it,
or will silence tend to deafen
your sensibilities. Is heaven
a place where sounds or silence reign,
or combination of the twain?

I added the last quatrain on 2/11/10.

The poem wsa inspired by Linda, who wrote to me in response to my poem “Telemachus”: “Can you write a silent poem?”

1/29/02, 2/11/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

cat on a leaky roof


Groucho, Jupiter and apples by Cezanne
make life worth living in Manhattan
for Woody Allen. I’m less fussy for I can
survive with Linda, who’s my cat on
a leaky roof with one who’s neutered,
plus Boaz, keeping us trash-free,
so long as I can Google, internet computered,
for hiddush-powered poetry.

Woody Allen also listed Willie Mays,
by there’s no sportsman with whom I’m
in love, so long as I am able to amaze
my cat on leaky roof with rhyme,
and play with feline Figaro, who is her rival,
six-toed and clumsier than her,
less vital, maybe, when it comes to my survival,
but partial to me with each purr.

Exuberance will be my immortality;
though life is often somewhat rotten,
my cat despite her leaky roof locality
assures me I won’t be forgotten.
I have a love affair with her, most dominant
of all the players whom she likes,
and since with verse and prose I seem so prominent,
she hasn’t called me yet on strikes.

Inspired by Dwight Garner’s review of “Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend,” by James S. Hirsch (“A Nice Guy in a Perfect Baseball World,” NYT, February 10, 2010):
In his 1979 movie, “Manhattan,” Woody Allen made a list of the things that make life worth living. At the top sat Groucho Marx. But just behind Groucho — and before the second movement of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues” and “those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne” — came Willie Mays. By 1979 Willie Mays had been retired for six years, and his best years as a player were at least a decade and a half behind him. But Mays’s infectious smile, his casually electric playmaking, his pell-mell base-running style, his rocket arm (Joe DiMaggio called it the best he ever saw) and his home runs that blasted holes in outfield fences still defined — and continue to define — what baseball, in a perfect world, should look like. Mays’s gifts were almost preternatural. “Willie must have been born under some kind of star,” said Leo Durocher, his manager in the early 1950s with the New York Giants. The journalist Murray Kempton compared the originality of Mays’s plays to Faulkner and the Delta blues. The sportswriter Roger Kahn said that “Willie’s exuberance was his immortality.”…
This book couldn’t have been an easy one to write. Mays is known for his reticence and his distrust of writers. “Willie volunteers about as much information as a brass Buddha,” one once said. Mr. Hirsch seems to have gotten more out of Mays about his two marriages (he also has one adopted son) and his private life as anyone has. Mays remains, however, tantalizingly remote. “Who is Willie Mays?” Mr. Hirsch asks, as if in mild despair. “It’s a fair question.” Mays stayed in baseball too long, not retiring until he was 42. His final seasons with the Mets were painful to watch. He seemed like a man out of time in other ways. Mr. Hirsch refers to him as “a man of deference at a time of defiance.” But this book gives us a portrait of Mays as his own kind of pioneer, on the field and off. He played the game as well and as joyfully as it could be played, and he was a role model who disarmed the bigots with his discipline and infectious charm. “Baseball and me,” Willie Mays said, “we had what you might call a love affair.”


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

my cat's a clumsy klutz


Because my cat’s a clumsy klutz
he cannot do a triple Lutz.
The only skill of Figaro
is trying to refigure “O-
klahoma” when he says “Meeow!”
instead of lyrical “Yeeow!”
and with this fancy feline whine
tells me that he is doin’ fine,
always hottest of pertayters
competing with all kitchen skaters.
California, here he comes,
seems to be the tune he hums.

Never is too late or early,
siree, for him to sing, not surly.
That’s why I love him, F-I-G,
A-R-O. Great klutz he may be,
who won’t catch hawks but can catch flies,
floors, scraping, skating with surprise,
polydactyled, without gaiters,
most talented of all termayters
in C-A-L-I-F-O-R
N-I-A. Who could ask for more?
No chorus cat can be much cornier,
at least in California.

Inspired by my polydactylous clumsy cat, Figaro, whom Linda and I adopted about two months ago, after the death of Cato. Figaro will not be competing in the ice skating events at the Winter Olympic Games in California, where triple Lutzes have become routine, except for klutzes. I cite below the lyrics of “Oklahoma” and “California, here we come!” For the record, Linda and I like our pertayters and termatyers with everything.

They couldn't pick a better time to start in life
It ain't too early and it ain't too late
Starting as a farmer with a brand new wife
Soon be living in a brand new state
Brand new state, gonna treat you great!

Gonna give you barley, carrots and pertaters
Pasture fer the cattle, spinach and termayters
Flowers on the prarie where the June bugs zoom
Plen'y of air and plen'y of room
Plen'y of room to swing a rope
Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope

Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain
Where the waving wheat
Can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain

Every night my honey-lamb and I
Sit alone and talk
And watch a hawk
Making lazy circles in the sky

We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand
And when we say Yeeow!
Ayipioeeay! Yeeow!
We're only saying "You're doin' fine Oklahoma"
Oklahoma O-K


We've been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for #1
California here we come
Right back where we started from
Hustlers grab your guns
Your shadow weighs a ton
Driving down the 101
California here we come
Right back where we started from
Here we come!
On the stereo
Listen as we go
Nothing's gonna stop me now
California here we come
Right back where we started from
Pedal to the floor
Thinkin' of the roar
Gotta get us to the show
California here we come
Right back where we started from
Here we come!


nobody becomes excited


And we shall not become excited,
we’re told by Amichai.
I feel I almost die
each time no one becomes delighted
by what I tell them, deaf, benighted,
unengaged, untempted
to taste my mind exempted.
By nobody are they indicted,
their silence bullets. I must bite it.
No mediator knows,
verse averse––and prose!––
or is prepared to proselyte it.

Inspired by Yehuda Amichai’s poem “And We Shall Not Get Excited”:

And we shall not get excited. Because a translator
May not get excited. Calmly, we shall pass on
Words from man to son, from one tongue
To others' lips, un-
Knowingly, like a father who passes on
The features of his dead father's face
To his son, and he himself is like neither of them. Merely a mediator.

We shall remember the things we held in our hands
That slipped out.
What I have in my possession and what I do not have in my possession.

We must not get excited.
Calls and their callers drowned. Or, my beloved
Gave me a few words before she left,
To bring up for her.

And no more shall we tell what we were told
To other tellers. Silence as admission. We must not
Get excited


half the people in the world

There’s half the people in the world who hate
the other half, and half who feel great love
for all of them, The latter feel so great,
they look down on former, high above
the feelings of the ones who hate. They’re more
enlightened, they believe, since they’re prepared
to trust the haters whom they don’t deplore.
By being reasonable they make me scared.

Inspired by a poem by Yehuda Amichai


Half the people in the world love the other half,
half the people hate the other half.
Must I because of this half and that half go wandering
and changing ceaselessly like rain in its cycle,
must I sleep among rocks, and grow rugged like
the trunks of olive trees,
and hear the moon barking at me,
and camouflage my love with worries,
and sprout like frightened grass between the railroad
and live underground like a mole,
and remain with roots and not with branches, and not
feel my cheek against the cheek of angels, and
love in the first cave, and marry my wife
beneath a canopy of beams that support the earth,
and act out my death, always till the last breath and
the last words and without ever understanding,
and put flagpoles on top of my house and a bomb shelter
underneath. And go out on raids made only for
returning and go through all the appalling
stations—cat, stick, fire, water, butcher,
between the kid and the angel of death?
Half the people love,
half the people hate.
And where is my place between such well-matched halves,
and through what crack will I see the white housing
projects of my dreams and the bare foot runners
on the sands or, at least, the waving of a girl's
kerchief, beside the mound?

Writen after a pleasant dinner with our friends Barbara and Alan Burband, after Barbara told me that she had finally started reading poems by Yehuda Amichai.




From the bark of the Boswellia sacra tree
flows frankincense the magi brought,
allegedly the infant Jesus. Not for me
such gifts, or so I have been taught.
If they had asked me, I’d have told them I’d prefer
to have some gold, but had no choice.
I wasn’t given even just a little myrrh,
or if I was there is no invoice
proving this. Advised by some to turn the page, I
respond with, “Why was I ignored
when I was born? Why was it that the magi
were on my birthday merely bored?”
The answer, my dear bard, is blowing in the wind.
I’m not a meteor for rain
or sun as is that that other Wunderkind,
with frankincense as his refrain.

Inspired by an article by Jeremy Howell in the BBC news regarding the possible medical properties of frankincense, allegedly brought to the infant Jesus from Oman by magi. I seem to remember that the line "Gold would have been nice," is spoken by Mary or Joseph in "Life of Brian".

The gift given by the wise men to the baby Jesus probably came across the deserts from Oman. The BBC's Jeremy Howell visits the country to ask whether a commodity that was once worth its weight in gold could be reborn as a treatment for cancer.Oman's Land of Frankincense is an 11-hour drive southwards from the capital, Muscat. Most of the journey is through Arabia's Empty Quarter - hundreds of kilometres of flat, dun-coloured desert. Just when you are starting to think this is the only scenery you will ever see again, the Dhofar mountains appear in the distance. On the other side are green valleys, with cows grazing in them. The Dhofar region catches the tail-end of India's summer monsoons, and they make this "This is the first cut. But you don't gather this sap," he says. "It releases whatever impurities are in the wood. The farmers return after two or three weeks and make a second, and a third, cut. Then the sap comes out yellow, or bright green, or brown or even black. They take this.”..
Frankincense was sent by camel train to Egypt, and from there to Europe. It was shipped from the ancient port of Sumharan to Persia, India and China. Religions adopted frankincense as a burnt offering.
That is why, according to Matthew's Gospel in the Bible, the Wise Men brought it as a gift to the infant Jesus. Gold: for a king. Frankincense: for God. Myrrh: to embalm Jesus' body after death.
The Roman Empire coveted the frankincense trade. In the first century BCE, Augustus Caesar sent 10,000 troops to invade what the Romans called Arabia Felix to find the source of frankincense and to control its production. The legions, marching from Yemen, were driven back by the heat and the aridity of the desert. They never found their Eldorado. Oman's frankincense trade went into decline three centuries ago, when Portugal fought Oman for dominance of the sea routes in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Nowadays, hardly any Omani frankincense is exported. Partly, this is because bulk buyers, such as the Roman Catholic Church, buy cheaper Somalian varieties. Partly, it is because Omanis now produce so little.


larence of judaea

They call him Lawrence of Arabia, yet
he told Abdullah he agreed the Jews
should be allowed their homeland tents to set
west of the Jordan, territory he’d lose.

Abdullah told him what the British lion
proposed he would accept, quite clearly willing
to give the whole West Bank to Jews of Zion,
not zealously addicted to their killing.

By Lawrence Rudyard Kipling was appalled,
describing him as being too pro-Yid,
which Lawrence hardly minded being calle,
not only pro-Arabia, God forbid.

Inspired by an article by Martin Gilbert in Azure 38, 5770/ 2009, “Lawrence of Judaea”:

The champion of the Arab cause and his little-known romance with Zionism. T.E. Lawrence—better known in Britain and throughout the Middle East as Lawrence of Arabia—was a lifelong friend of Arab national aspirations. In 1917 and 1918 he participated as a British officer in the Arab revolt against the Turks, a revolt led by Sharif Hussein, later King of the Hedjaz. He was also an adviser to Hussein’s son Feisal, whom he hoped to see on the throne of Syria. For generations of British Arabists, Lawrence was and remains a symbol of British understanding of and support for the Arab cause. Virtually unknown, however, is his understanding of and support for Jewish national aspirations in the same era. In mid-December 1918, a month after the end of World War I, Lawrence was instrumental in securing an agreement between Emir Feisal and the Zionist leader Dr. Chaim Weizmann. The meeting was held at the Carlton Hotel in London (a building subsequently destroyed in the London Blitz). At this meeting, Lawrence acted as the interpreter. Weizmann assured Feisal that the Zionists in Palestine should be able “to carry out public works of a far-reaching character” and that the country “could be so improved that it would have room for four or five million Jews, without encroaching on the ownership rights of Arab peasantry.”1
As Weizmann wrote in his notes on the meeting, Feisal explained that “it was curious there should be friction between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. There was no friction in any other country where Jews lived together with Arabs…. He [Feisal] did not think for a moment that there was any scarcity of land in Palestine. The population would always have enough, especially if the country were developed. Besides, there was plenty of land in his district.”2
On January 3, 1919, Feisal and Weizmann met again in London, to sign an “Agreement between the King of the Hedjaz and the Zionists.” Lawrence, who was once again the guiding hand in this agreement, hoped that it would ensure what he, Lawrence, termed “the lines of Arab and Zionist policy converging in the not distant future.”3
On March 1, 1919 Lawrence, while in Paris as the senior British representative with the Hedjaz Delegation, drafted and then wrote out in his own hand a letter from Feisal to the American Zionist Felix Frankfurter. In this letter, Feisal declared, “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement.” Feisal went on to say that Weizmann “has been a great helper of our cause, and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness. We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another.” The Jewish movement, Feisal continued, “is national, and not imperialist: our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed I think that neither can be a real success without the other.” Feisal then added, in strong, optimistic words: “I look forward, and my people with me look forward to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their place in the community of the civilized peoples of the world.”4
If Lawrence’s support for Jewish national aspirations was not known to his contemporaries, it was perhaps suspected. In early 1920, as Lawrence prepared his wartime experiences of the Arab Revolt for publication, he wrote to the author Rudyard Kipling to ask if he would read the proofs of his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Kipling replied that he would be glad to see the proofs, but that, if it emerged from them that Lawrence was “pro-Yid,” he would send the proofs back to him untouched.5
Kipling was distressed at the thought that Lawrence might be pro-Jewish. And indeed, Lawrence’s view of the potential evolution of the Jewish National Home in British Mandate Palestine was far from hostile to Jewish hopes. In an article entitled “The Changing East,” published in the influential Round Table magazine in 1920, Lawrence wrote of “the Jewish experiment” in Palestine that it was “a conscious effort, on the part of the least European people in Europe, to make head against the drift of the ages, and return once more to the Orient from which they came.”6
Lawrence noted of the new Jewish immigrants: “The colonists will take back with them to the land which they occupied for some centuries before the Christian era samples of all the knowledge and technique of Europe. They propose to settle down amongst the existing Arabic-speaking population of the country, a people of kindred origin, but far different social condition. They hope to adjust their mode of life to the climate of Palestine, and by the exercise of their skill and capital to make it as highly organized as a European state.”7
As Lawrence envisaged it in his Round Table article, this settlement would be done in a way that would be beneficial to the Arabs. “The success of their scheme,” he wrote of the Zionists, “will involve inevitably the raising of the present Arab population to their own material level, only a little after themselves in point of time, and the consequences might be of the highest importance for the future of the Arab world. It might well prove a source of technical supply rendering them independent of industrial Europe, and in that case the new confederation might become a formidable element of world power.”8
It seemed to Lawrence—as it did to Winston Churchill when he discussed the question of eventual Jewish sovereignty with the Peel Commissioners in 1937, shortly after Lawrence’s death—that it would take a long time before a Jewish majority would come into being. Such a contingency, Lawrence had written in his Round Table article, “will not be for the first or even for the second generation, but it must be borne in mind in any laying out of foundations of empire in Western Asia.” These, to a very large extent, must stand or fall by the course of the Zionist effort.”9
When Churchill became colonial secretary in January 1921, he appointed Lawrence to be his Arab affairs adviser. At the outset of his appointment, Lawrence held talks with Feisal about Britain’s Balfour-Declaration promise of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Reporting on these talks to Churchill in a letter dated January 17, 1921, Lawrence was able to assure the new colonial secretary—responsible for finalizing the terms of the Palestine Mandate—that in return for Arab sovereignty in Baghdad, Amman, and Damascus, Feisal “agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine.”10
This was welcome news for Churchill, but there was a problem. Since the French were already installed in Damascus, and were not willing to make way for Feisal or any Arab leader, Churchill proposed giving Feisal, instead of the throne of Syria, the throne of Iraq, and at the same time giving Feisal’s brother Abdullah the throne of Transjordan, that part of Britain’s Palestine Mandate lying to the east of the River Jordan. Installing an Arab ruler in Transjordan would enable Western Palestine—the area from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, which now comprises both Israel and the West Bank—to become the location of the Jewish National Home under British control, in which, in Churchill’s words, the Jews were to go “of right, and not on sufferance.”11
Briefed by Lawrence at the March 17, 1921, Cairo Conference, Churchill explained to the senior officials gathered there that the presence of an Arab ruler under British control east of the Jordan would enable Britain to prevent anti-Zionist agitation from the Arab side of the river. In support of this view, Lawrence himself told the conference, as the secret minutes recorded: “He [Churchill] trusted that in four or five years, under the influence of a just policy,” Arab opposition to Zionism “would have decreased, if it had not entirely disappeared.”12
Lawrence went on to explain to the conference that “it would be preferable to use Trans-Jordania as a safety valve, by appointing a ruler on whom we could bring pressure to bear, to check anti-Zionism.” The “ideal” ruler would be “a person who was not too powerful, and who was not an inhabitant of Trans-Jordania, but who relied upon His Majesty’s Government for the retention of his office.”13 That ruler, Lawrence believed, would best be Emir Abdullah, Feisal’s brother.
The presence of Lawrence of Arabia at the Cairo Conference was of inestimable benefit to Churchill in his desire to help establish a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Lawrence’s friendship with the Arab leaders, with whom he had fought during the Arab Revolt, and his knowledge of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, was paralleled by his understanding of Zionist aspirations. In November 1918, on the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Lawrence had told a British Jewish newspaper, “Speaking entirely as a non-Jew, I look on the Jews as the natural importers of Western leaven so necessary for countries of the Near East.”14
On March 27, 1921, ten days after Lawrence’s suggestions in Cairo, Churchill sent him from Jerusalem to Transjordan to explain to Abdullah that his authority would end at the eastern bank of the River Jordan; that the Jews were to be established in the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan (“Western Palestine”); and that he, Abdullah, must curb all anti-Zionist activity and agitation among his followers.
The next day, in Jerusalem, Lawrence, Churchill, and Abdullah were photographed at British Government House: Churchill bundled up against the cold, Lawrence in a dark suit and tie, Abdullah in army uniform with Arab headdress. At their meeting that day, Abdullah agreed to limit the area of his control to Transjordan and to refrain from any action against the Jewish National Home provisions of the Palestine Mandate west of the Jordan.
Lawrence had thus helped ensure that the building up of the Jewish National Home could continue. He already knew that national home’s potential: Twelve years before the Cairo Conference, while traveling through the Galilee around Tiberias, he reflected on the glory days of the region in Roman times, and on the Jewish farm settlements he saw on his travels. Writing home on August 2, 1909, he explained, “Galilee was the most Romanized province of Palestine. Also the country was well peopled, and well watered artificially: There were not twenty miles of thistles behind Capernaum! And on the way round the lake they did not come upon dirty, dilapidated Bedouin tents, with the people calling to them to come in and talk, while miserable curs came snapping at their heels: Palestine was a decent country then, and could so easily be made so again. The sooner the Jews farm it all the better: Their colonies are bright spots in a desert.”15
The rest is well known: The “bright spots in a desert” evolved into a thriving state on the basis of the skill and capital Lawrence marveled at decades prior. It is hard to know how he would have responded to the Arab world’s growing intransigence toward the Jewish presence in the British Mandate, let alone to its violent attempts to destroy the Jewish State while still in its birth pangs—the same State that he believed held such promise for the Arabs of the region. T.E. Lawrence died in May 1935 of fatal injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident near his cottage in Dorset, at the age of only forty-seven. The accomplishments of his short life have assured his place in the pantheon of modern Arab history. Perhaps it is now time that modern Jewish history paid him homage as well.
Sir Martin Gilbert is Winston Churchill’s official biographer. An honorary fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a distinguished fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan, he recently published Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship (Henry Holt, 2007) and the revised and updated Israel: A History (McNally & Loftin, 2008).

1. From Chaim Weizmann’s interview with Emir Feisal at the Carlton Hotel, December 11, 1918, archives of the British Foreign Office in the Public Record Office, London, 371/3420.
2. Text reprinted in David Hunter Miller, My Diaries of the Conference of Paris (New York: Appeal, 1924), vol. 3, pp. 188-189.
3. T.E. Lawrence Papers, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship (New York: Henry Holt, 2007), p. 51.
4. Letter from Feisal to Frankfurter, March 1, 1919, reprinted in the New York Times on March 5, 1919, the Times (London) on March 6, 1919, and the Jewish Chronicle (London) on March 7, 1919. See Isaiah Friedman, Palestine, a Twice-Promised Land?: The British, Arabs, and Zionism, 1915-1920 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2000), p. 228.
5. Kipling to Lawrence, July 20, 1920, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 5, 1920-1930, ed. Thomas Pinney (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 2004), p. 126.
6. T.E. Lawrence, “The Changing East,” The Round Table, September 1920. Available at
7. Lawrence, “The Changing East.”
8. Lawrence, “The Changing East.”
9. Lawrence, “The Changing East.”
10. Letters from T.E. Lawrence to Churchill’s private secretary, January 17, 1921. Churchill Papers, 17/14.
11. British White Paper of June 1922, cited in Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews, p. 46.
12. Colonial Office Papers 935/1/1, cited in Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews, p. 51.
13. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 4, 1917-1922 The Stricken World (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), p. 553.
14. Message to the Jewish Guardian, November 28, 1918, cited in Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews, p. 51.
15. David Garnett, ed., The Letters of T.E. Lawrence (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1938), p. 71.


Monday, February 8, 2010

shed, shed yourself


Shed, shed yourself on me and mine,
and all your essence spill,
I mean the love I’ll drink like wine
and whisky, till I fill
the void that’s present when you’re not
with me. Please let the light
fantastic of my fantasy
\trip with you, day and night,
so night and day we both can be
within each other’s mind,
because your self you’ve shared and shed,
and my own self will find
within your heart, as I too long
to find yours in my own,
assured that yours and mine belong
to both, one flesh, one bone.

Inspired by an article in the WSJ Masterpiece series by Barrymore Laurence Scherer on “Heart of the Andes,” one of the iconic landscapes of the American painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) (WSJ, February 6, 2010):
For all their powerful visual drama, many of the iconic landscapes of the American painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) are relatively small in size and were originally intended for private collections. But one of his greatest paintings is also one of his largest, the monumental "Heart of the Andes," currently on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Lehman Wing. Painted in 1859, this canvas (measuring more than 10 feet by 5 feet) embodies Church's large-scale vision of scenic majesty and his overriding belief that God was revealed in the wonders of nature. Like other members of the Hudson River School, Church was influenced by the idea of the "sublime and picturesque" initially published by the 18th-century Anglo-Irish writer and statesman Edmund Burke. A 1756 Burke essay attempted to identify the differences between that which is beautiful and that which is sublime or great. Beautiful objects, wrote Burke, are "comparatively small," "smooth and polished," "light and delicate." Burke identified sublime or great objects as "vast in their dimensions . . . rugged and negligent"; "the great ought to be dark and gloomy . . . solid, and even massive."…
For sheer technique, one of the painting's most telling passages is the juxtaposition of the leafy crown of the tallest birch tree in that copse, vividly painted with innumerable strokes of greens and browns, against the soft misted grays of the mountain peak beyond: Though we are looking at two thin layers of oil paint, the contrast of textures persuades our eyes to perceive immense distance between the two. And as the final touch, in the far-left foreground is Church's signature "carved" into the highlighted trunk of another tree. Obviously this kind of Romantic-scientific thinking was not limited to painting at the time, and Church's contemporary, Walt Whitman, evokes a similar vision in these lines: "O sun of noon refulgent! / . . . Thou that impartially infoldest all, not only continents, seas, / Thou that to grapes and weeds and little wild flowers givest so liberally, / Shed, shed thyself on mine and me . . ."


Saturday, February 6, 2010

beyond god's jurisdiction

No light no sight no time
no space, just void till rhyme
takes me from hell, the Don
who focuses upon
discovering the cause
behind the contradiction
between life and the laws
beyond God’s jurisdiction.

Tour of 'Hell' in Evening Dress
How Charles Laughton taught America to love Shaw
Before there were regional theaters, there was Charles Laughton. Today most people remember him for having played Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and the snarling Captain Bligh in "Mutiny on the Bounty," but between 1949 and 1952 he spent much of his time not in Hollywood but on the road with Charles Boyer, Cedric Hardwicke and Agnes Moorehead.
Billing themselves as the First Drama Quartette, these four middle-age stars barnstormed from coast to coast, performing George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" in sports arenas, banquet halls and civic auditoriums that had never before offered anything more daunting than fluffy farces like "Arsenic and Old Lace." In addition to playing the Devil, Laughton served as master of ceremonies and directed the show, which was seen by a half-million people and was recorded by Columbia Masterworks, a label better known for Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
The legendary LP version of "Don Juan in Hell" has been out of print for four decades. Now Saland Publishing, an outfit that specializes in audiobooks, has reissued it at last, not as a compact disc but in the ultramodern form of an mp3 file that can be played on a computer or iPod. You can download it from for the paltry sum of $1.98, which buys you not merely 90 minutes of superlative acting but a glimpse of a chapter of American cultural history that ought to be far better remembered.
In the '30s and '40s, Charles Laughton was one of the best-known character actors in the English-speaking world, a fat, rumpled gent whose resplendent bass-baritone voice could make the silliest script sound profound. By 1949, though, Hollywood had stopped giving the 50-year-old Laughton worthy parts, and his career was in decline. Then he went on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and read the biblical tale of how King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down before a golden idol. Unlikely as it may sound, Laughton's appearance was typical of the Sullivan show, which regularly made room for actors, ballet dancers and classical musicians along with the pop singers and ventriloquists that were its usual fare.
Network TV was like that in the era of what came to be known as "middlebrow" culture. Back then and for long afterward, you could switch on your set and see a new play by Horton Foote or a lecture by Leonard Bernstein about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in between sitcoms, just as you could read all about the wide world of art each week in Time and Life. In those days it was taken for granted that the upward mobility of middle-class Americans extended to cultural matters, and that anyone, educated or not, could appreciate highbrow art so long as it was presented in an accessible and engaging way.
Paul Gregory, an up-and-coming young agent, saw Laughton on TV and immediately offered to send him on the road in a one-man show in which the actor would read from the Bible and other works of great literature. Laughton had already paid numerous visits to military hospitals during World War II, and had been struck by the passion with which wounded soldiers responded to such elevated fare. He accepted Gregory's offer, and the resulting show drew packed houses wherever it played.
Laughton and Gregory then cooked up the idea of producing "Don Juan in Hell," the scene from Shaw's "Man and Superman" in which Don Juan, two of his earthly companions and Satan, their host, spend an evening in hell chewing over matters romantic, religious and philosophical ("An Englishman thinks he is being moral when he is only uncomfortable"). It occurred to Gregory that the scene, which is a kind of verbal chamber music, could be "staged" in the same way that a string quartet gives a concert: No set, no props, just four actors in evening dress seated on stools placed behind music stands, reading Shaw's words out loud. Such a show could be mounted almost anywhere at modest expense—and that's just what happened. "Don Juan in Hell" went on the road in 1949, and by the time it got to New York two years later, it had played 500 performances, most of them one-nighters, in 35 states. The touring version brought in gross receipts of more than a million dollars—$8 million today.
The Columbia recording of "Don Juan in Hell," made in 1952, is a breathtakingly vivid souvenir of the original production. Laughton sets the scene by reading Shaw's first stage direction out loud: "No light, no sound, no time nor space, utter void." All at once you're thrust into a darkness of the imagination lit only by the four sharply differentiated voices of the cast: Laughton is unflappably urbane, Boyer amused and seductive, Moorehead stingingly haughty, Hardwicke crisp as Melba toast. What they give us is not so much a play as a conversation piece—the after-dinner chat of four geniuses. Imagine the impact it must have had on audiences in a place like the 12,000-seat Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., where you could buy a ticket for as little as 20 cents!
Brooks Atkinson, reviewing "Don Juan in Hell" for the New York Times, called it "a mighty and moving occasion, not only a performance but an intellectual crusade." So it was, at least as far as Laughton was concerned. Not only did he believe with all his heart that the plain people of America had what he called a "shy hunger" for great art, but he made it his business to bring it to them, whether on TV or in their local high-school gym—and he made out like a bandit by doing so. But now that middlebrow culture is as dead as Ed Sullivan and most of the mass media have long since given up on paying more than infrequent ritual homage to the power and glory of high art, I can't help but wonder: Who's going to tell the next generation of potential playgoers and concertgoers what they're missing?


on the road a tree


On the road a tree
with its branches drooping,
the birds have all flown free
because they are regrouping.
To the west three, to the east
another three, and aiming
southward the rest until deceased
the tree that no one’s claiming
falls in the dreadful storm
that merciless spares none,
except those which conform,
and therefore aren’t undone.
I stand there and I pray
each morning and each night
and afternoon. Oy veh,
my words don’t come out right!

Inspired by a Yiddish poem by Itzik Manger cited by Philologos in Forward, January 29, 2010:

Forward reader Marvin Polonsky writes:
“I sing in a Jewish chorus that is rehearsing some early Yiddish and Hebrew songs of the halutzim, the first Zionist pioneers. In one of the Yiddish songs are the lines, Got, got, groyser got,/Lomir davenen minkhe./Az yidn veln forn keyn eretz-yisroyl,/Vet zayn sosn vesimkhe. Lomir davenen minkhe seems to me a non-sequitur unless (and here’s my query) it represents some colloquialism, idiom, or Yiddish localism that I’m not familiar with. Or is it there merely because minkhe, the afternoon prayer, rhymes with simkhe, ‘happiness’? What’s your take on this?”
The Yiddish lines that Mr. Polonsky quotes might be translated, “God, God, O great God,/ Let’s say the afternoon prayer./ When Jews go to the Land of Israel,/There will be happiness and joy.” There’s more to the song than that, though, because there’s at least one other stanza that Mr. Polonsky doesn’t quote — an opening one that goes in Yiddish, Oyfn veg shteyt a boym,/Shteyt er ayngeboygn./Fort a yid keyn eretz-yisroyl/Mit tsvey farveynte oygn. In English this is, “On the road stands a tree,/With drooping branches./A Jew sets out for the Land of Israel/ With two weeping eyes.” And now Mr. Polonsky is going to have to be put on hold, because I can hear a whole chorus of you out there shouting, ““But we know that song — and those aren’t the words!” Of course you know it. Who doesn’t? It’s one of the most beloved of all Yiddish songs, poet Itzik Manger’s “Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym,” set to a sad, longing melody by — or at least he is sometimes given credit for it — composer Philip Laskowsky. Its first two stanzas go:
Oyfn veg shteyt a boym, Shteyt er ayngeboygn. Ale feygl funem boym Zaynen zikh tsefloygn. Dray keyn mayrev, dray keyn mizrekh, Un der resht keyn dorem, Un dem boym gelozt aleyn, Hefker far dem shturem. Or in English: On the road stands a tree With its branches drooping. All the birds have from that tree Flown far away. Three to the west and three to the east, And the rest to the south, Leaving the tree all alone, To the storm’s mercy. Manger’s poem is spoken to his mother by a boy who tells her that he wants to become a bird himself, so as to fly to the abandoned tree and comfort it during the cold winter ahead. His mother cautions him to dress warmly, with his boots, fur hat and long underwear — but alas, when he does, he is too weighted down by so many clothes to fly. On reading Mr. Polonsky’s letter, my first, obvious thought was that Zionist pioneers on their way to Palestine had taken Manger’s poem with its melody and written new words to it — a common enough occurrence in the history of social and political movements, which often appropriate old songs for their purposes. Yet, on second thought, my first thought didn’t make sense. Mr. Polonsky’s version of the song goes back to the late 19th century, whereas Itzik Manger was born in 1901 and wrote his poem in the 1920s or ’30s. What must have happened was the exact opposite: It was Mr. Manger who took the words of an old Zionist song and rewrote them for his purposes. (Which also means, of course, that Philip Laskowsky, who was born in 1899, couldn’t possibly have composed the song’s melody.) And now I’ll try to answer the query. Although I don’t know of any Yiddish “colloquialism, idiom, or localism” that would explain the reference to Mincha, the afternoon prayer, I do think that something deeper is going on here than a mere rhyme. Mr. Polonsky’s song describes the mixed emotions of religious Zionist halutzim departing for Palestine, anxious about what awaits them there and tearfully sad to be parting from family and friends and the familiar world they hold dear. One of their anxieties has to be — this is, after all, what the largely anti-Zionist rabbinic establishment of Eastern Europe has kept telling them — that as pioneers in Palestine, they will gradually fall away from a life of religious observance until they abandon it completely. Mincha is the shortest of the three daily services that observant Jews are obliged to recite, and the one that most frequently gets skipped by them, since the time for saying it falls during the working day, when they are busy with other things. Therefore, by stopping to recite it beneath a tree by the road as they set out on their way, the Zionists of our song are making a self-reassuring statement. We, this statement goes, will remain true to our religion and continue to observe every jot and tittle of it — and the proof is that even now, in the excitement of setting out, we have not forgotten to say Mincha, nor will we ever forget to say it once in Palestine. That’s my take. Am I reading too much into a simple ditty? I think not — and in any case, if I were to tell you how I read Itzik Manger’s “Oyfn Veg,” you would think that my reading of Mr. Polonsky’s “Oyfn Veg” is simple, too. Questions for Philologos can be sent to


don juan on hell


No light, no space, no time,
just utter void, until with rhyme
I heavened hell, a Don,
no longer mere emoticon.

Inspired by Terry Teachout’s article “Tour of 'Hell' in Evening Dress: How Charles Laughton taught America to love Shaw,” WSJ, February 6, 2010):

Before there were regional theaters, there was Charles Laughton. Today most people remember him for having played Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and the snarling Captain Bligh in "Mutiny on the Bounty," but between 1949 and 1952 he spent much of his time not in Hollywood but on the road with Charles Boyer, Cedric Hardwicke and Agnes Moorehead. Billing themselves as the First Drama Quartette, these four middle-age stars barnstormed from coast to coast, performing George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" in sports arenas, banquet halls and civic auditoriums that had never before offered anything more daunting than fluffy farces like "Arsenic and Old Lace." In addition to playing the Devil, Laughton served as master of ceremonies and directed the show, which was seen by a half-million people and was recorded by Columbia Masterworks, a label better known for Bach, Beethoven and Brahms….
The Columbia recording of "Don Juan in Hell," made in 1952, is a breathtakingly vivid souvenir of the original production. Laughton sets the scene by reading Shaw's first stage direction out loud: "No light, no sound, no time nor space, utter void." All at once you're thrust into a darkness of the imagination lit only by the four sharply differentiated voices of the cast: Laughton is unflappably urbane, Boyer amused and seductive, Moorehead stingingly haughty, Hardwicke crisp as Melba toast. What they give us is not so much a play as a conversation piece—the after-dinner chat of four geniuses. Imagine the impact it must have had on audiences in a place like the 12,000-seat Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., where you could buy a ticket for as little as 20 cents!


Friday, February 5, 2010

a pig from epicurus' herd


Although I speak without a velvet tongue,
because unlike the angels I am raucous,
let these words as my epitaph be sung:
“Like Horace, epicuri de grege porcus.”

This isn’t meant to prove the fact I am
the apikoros rabbis’ texts describe ;
the fact is that I’ve never eaten ham,
which makes me a close member of my tribe.

Frederic Raphael reviews the 17th edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” by John Bartlett and Justin Kaplan (Little Brown) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review (December 15, 2002). The book fails to cite Cyril Connolly’s, “Narcissus with his pool before him,” or his “It’s closing time in the gardens of the west”. Raphael suggests that Connolly’s epitaph should have been Horace’s description of himself, which means “a pig from Epicurus’ herd,” which might apply to me too when I forget to chew my cud.

The Vorlage of this poem written with the same title has a number of other poems written by friends, listed below:
Linda responded to this poem with her own:

It's when the nuts appear I watch the weather,
It's Scotch and crisps, not walks across the heather;
If you hog out you won't look like a feather,
And gourmet tastes won't turn your heels to leather.

Dave Leonard, recalling our walk in the rain on Hampstead Heath in November, wrote:

Sooner stay snug with food between the teeth
Than walk in water upon Hampstead Heath!

I replied:

I disagree, for when one's walking palily
it feels like walking on the Sea of Galilee.

Dave replied:

I can't deny your argument is strong;
The space between our meetings far too long.
True, recollection of the golden talk
Will gild the leaden skies above our walk.

I replied:

From our walk it seems we got much mileage,
Like dumpser divers sifting through the silage.
Gilding skies above when they are leaden
appeals to me, because I am a hedon:
hand in hand let’s talk of Epicurus
though promised bluer skies by other gurus.

Linda wrote:

Two poets met one day on Hampstead Heath,
The clouds above, the puddles underneath,
They read their poems and they laughed and sighed,
They were not published but the two had tried;
Then came the rain and washed their words away
So they held hands and walked. They were both gay.

Dave replied:

When I in China justice was dispensing
The Cantonese for gay foreplay was 'fencing'.
Men from my background take a different stand:
We Irish do our fighting hand to hand.

I replied:

In sano corpore with sana mens
I do not think you’re sitting on the fence,
but do you really act just like the Irish
when usqebae has made your spirit firish?
For when the spirit by the storms is tossed
and flesh is craving for a sharp riposte,
and Irish, like the Chinese, hold your hand
the bottom line must be to make one stand.

To this Dave replied:

The reference to bottom I deplore;
For me the bearded oyster comes before.
Yet when the lack of woman you can't stand
For perfect pleasure I can recommend the hand.

On the other hand, Linda wrote:

Now finally my dear you have me floored;
As if the oil upon the waters poured,
When all goes calm and boring like a lake,
Yet if you'd put the water on to slake
The bubbling oil, it would have caused my brain
To sparkle with some further comments, train
Of thoughts much sprinkled with some wit and salt
But it just won't. It's Eng/Lat Ed's fault.

I replied to Dave:

Unhand me, gentlemen, or I will make a ghost
of those who judge me with one more riposte.
To care about the gender of the geisha
is not politically correct, Horatio.

Linda responded:

I sometimes pen an answer to my hub,
And sometimes you who joined the poets' club,
I've got no more to say but "There's the rub"
If I write more you'll see I'm going to flub,
So farewell walks and words and fencing hands,
Adieu old Hampstead, puddles, Chinese lands,
Goodnight to rhymes and times with rain and sands
Of time, I'm jumping in the bath oils


longing for the sea and camelot


“If people want to build a ship,”
Antoine de Saint Exupery once said,
“for pleasure or to go on some long trip,
don’t tell them to find wood, and in a shed
work on it with a thousand tasks
but make sure every one of them can see
their goal so everybody asks
to help, because they’re longing for the sea.”
Although all people have to learn
how to survive in deserts burning hot,
the major goal for which they ought to yearn
is not for camels but for Camelot.

This poem is a free adaptation of a saying by Antoine de Saint Exupery, cited by Rabbi David Wolpe in his devar torah for Shabbat Yitro, 5770:

Yearning to Learn

By Rabbi David Wolpe
Knowing where to find information is not the same as possessing it. Each fact we learn is arranged in the matrix of all we already know. One who knows how to Google "Shakespeare sonnets" cannot be compared to the one who has memorized Shakespeare's sonnets. The latter carries the words with him. The former is an accountant of knowledge; he knows where the treasure is, but it does not belong to him. Real education instills a desire for knowledge, not merely the tools to acquire it. We are shaped by what we know and what we yearn to know. The Talmud tells us that as a young man Hillel was so desperate for words of Torah that he climbed on the roof of the study house to hear the discourses of his great predecessors, Shemaya and Avtalion. Noticing the darkness, they looked up and saw the young man on the skylight, covered with snow. The rabbis rescued Hillel, washed and anointed him, and sat him by the fire. "If you want to build a ship," wrote Antoine de Saint Exupery, "don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea." First teach children to love learning; the web will wait.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

psycho at two fames a second


As recently fine writers recently have reckoned,
Hell’s much like “Psycho” played two frames a second
for a day, not ninety minutes. I’m
not looking forward to spend there my time,
but can assure you that I am resigned
to go wherever I will be consigned.
I’m sure it won’t be heaven––fat chance they
will send me there, for I don’t like to pray.
I understand that that’s what they do, all
the time there, winter, spring, and summer, fall,
and take a break just in December to
enjoy “Messiah” ––words are by a Jew
in both parts, and the music’s quite supernal,
more enjoyable when time’s eternal,
than praying, which is always boring.
I’ve heard that time in hell can be rip-roaring,
and even if they slow it down as done
in “Psycho,” hell can terrific fun,
not etiolated like Beckettian prose,
although there is no sun there, I suppose,
but more like florid verse of Keats and Yeats,
both popular within the Pearly Gates,
though some choose either Eliot and Auden
where there are flames on which the gas is poured on,
while others’ favorite writer is Bob Dillon,
a Jew who smiles and smiles, and ain’t a villain.

Hell’s like a prison camp without barbed wire,
surrounded merely by a ring of fire.
Its friendly inmates generally are warm
towards arrivals willing to conform
to Satan’s rules, which make a lot more sense
than those ordained for heaven’s residents.
There’s nothing that is useful there to learn,
but since you’ll have a lot of time to burn,
watch “Psycho” at two frames a second, and
be glad that you’re not in the Wonderland
called heaven, thanks to your past acts of malice.
Enjoy yourself below the ground with Alice,
and if they let you see a movie choose
“The Ten Commandments,” which is hot for Jews,
and don’t watch “The Last Passion of the Christ,”
because they don’t serve drinks there that are iced,
and rub in to you noses it’s your fault
you aren’t in heaven with a single malt.

Inspired by an article on Don DeLillo by Charles McGrath in the NYT, February 4, 2010 “Don DeLillo, a Writer by Accident Whose Course Is Deliberate):
Don DeLillo, whose new novel, “Point Omega,” came out on Tuesday, is not exactly a Pynchonesque recluse. He travels, sees friends, gives readings occasionally. People know what he looks like: a slight, reserved man, now going gray, with an intense, serious expression. “I only smile when I’m alone,” he said recently, not smiling. But Mr. DeLillo, famous for novels about dread, violence, the dehumanizing effects of technology and the invasion of popular culture into private lives, shuns publicity. Though he has become a cult writer of sorts — particularly admired by readers who have found novels like “Players,” from 1977, about Wall Street brokers who get mixed up in a terrorist plot, almost eerily prophetic — he is uncomfortable with cultism. “I was called a cult writer in the 70’s, when that meant that very few people were reading me,” he likes to say. He is almost equally uncomfortable with his commercial success, which began after the publication of “White Noise,” his 1985 novel about Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies. Mr. DeLillo doesn’t teach or appear on panels or turn up at big literary gatherings, and he seldom gives interviews. He doesn’t use e-mail, because he says it “encourages communication I’d just as soon not have.”…
Unlike “Underworld,” a sprawling, near-epic of a book, “Point Omega,” like most of Mr. DeLillo’s recent work, is brief, spare and concentrated, a mere 117 pages. There are only three main characters, and their conversations seldom last for more than a couple of sentences. Writing in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani said that “instead of the jazzy, vernacular, darkly humorous language he employed to such galvanic effect in ‘White Noise’ and ‘Underworld,’ ” Mr. DeLillo had chosen to use “spare, etiolated, almost Beckettian prose.” Mr. DeLillo got the idea for the book, he said recently, in the summer of 2006, when, wandering through the Museum of Modern Art, he happened upon Douglas Gordon’s “24 Hour Psycho,” a video installation that consists of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho” slowed down to two frames a second so that it lasts for an entire day instead of the original hour and a half or so. “I went back four times, and by the third time I knew this was something I had to write about,” he said, adding, “Most of the time I was the only one there except for a guard, and the few people who came in left quite hastily.” The slowness of the film, and the way it caused him to notice things he might otherwise have missed, appealed to him, Mr. DeLillo said: “The idea of time and motion and the question of what we see, what we miss when we look at things in a conventional manner — all that seemed very inviting to me to think about.” So he wrote a scene, now the novel’s prologue, in which two unnamed characters, an older man and a younger one, visit “24 Hour Psycho,” and he later added an epilogue set in the same gallery. The action of the book takes place in between those brackets, and Mr. DeLillo said it didn’t become clear to him until he realized who those two unnamed characters were: Jim Finley, a young filmmaker (whose only previous work is a 57-minute compilation of clips from Jerry Lewis telethons), and Richard Elster, a 73-year-old conservative intellectual still smarting from an unhappy stint at the Pentagon helping to plan the Iraq war. Finley wants to make a movie about Elster and has followed him to the Arizona desert, where the older man has gone to chill out and to exchange his ordinary sense of time for a longer, more existential view. Eventually Elster begins to sound a little like the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, imagining an omega point beyond consciousness and human evolution. The novel too slows down, in sentences that are spare and condensed, without much metaphorical decoration, but Mr. DeLillo was reluctant to take much credit for that. “I feel that a novel tells you what it wants to be,” he said. “I know that sounds pretentious. But that’s the sense I have. I felt I was discovering rather than inventing.”
J. Harold Ellens’s comment was: Wow, what were you on when you wrote this? I hope the Scotch tasted as good as it sounds. Hal

This inspired me to add the last two lines, which were not in the version he had seen. Hal’s response was:

Greatly improved, my friend. Greatly improved. Amazing how a little Scotch can improve almost anything heavenly or hellish. Hal PS: I like your dissertation on DeLillo.