Thursday, January 07, 2016


Humpback Whale Sighted Off the Coast of Rhode Island
—Photo by Ed Hughes
—Poems by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA


Watching a first sailing boat
in the storm as an observer
floating by this wind
stirring up the craggy coast
off Rhode Island
yet trying not to make waves
as the Northeaster's breeze
pulls my legs under
the roundabout boat docks
as if my life is temporarily
hiding on watery hull rocks
twisting in a stymied turn of fate
by trying every push-up
to get the most warm
in my red Christmas sweater
embedded with a soccer letter
while watching with a camera
and a boast at a newly sighted
humpbacked whale
I'm anchored by the Coastline
by a shimmering fjord
shivering on the grey waters
annulled by eyesores of time
almost reeling
fearing to be sunk
by the fish's large ghostly tail
as if Melville himself would fulfill
his poetic mission wish in me
not willing to harm
or strike any mammal
with a treasured spear
from my bare trunk
of culled memory
here at the mirrors of high tide
watching an open mouth
of the biggest fish
with my halting camera
off the wide swollen banks
trying to bare my memory
of thanks for my life as a poet
to remember this skulking moment
of furtive pride in late December
wavering for shaking moments
like the prophet Jonah
having to wait for a higher power
to decide my furtive fate
I'm like a lost brigand
with a life-and-death wish
on a ship of low estate
in the few knots of a ship
not willing to have sinned
while trying to hear the wind
and to tell this allegory
to the local press
of a recurrent religious theory
why it's always an adventure
for a cultured poet's day
of feeling hypnotized
among the boat's sway
of floating in innocent streams
that my high-powered fans
will recognize this tale
of the reality of a daydream
on a mat at a once-even keel side
of being traumatized
by this documentary drama
enfolding here
of my own mimetic history,
not meant to be swept away
nor bent in kneeling to sway
by the winding shoals of bream
turtles swim by boulder and stones
praying for God's own glory
to rise up on the waves
by spray-spume sounds
over our cold dry bones
and to give my own cabin-fevered
testimony remembering how
the Old Testament prophet Jonah wept
for his own bold apocalypse
of a scroll's revelation plan
putting aside his kept diary
away from his chapped lips
around the emboldened Leviathan
in which he was saved from all
the flooding waters,
I resume to tell you of my story
of this day in re-creation
that I was not abandoned
nor died as I cried out here
on the perfumed island bounty
of lost trade ships of the nations
by the fishing net cargo
wading in from this home harbor
by five lighthouse stations
though shaken from the flood
yet feeling forsaken
remembering how lamb’s blood
was sprayed
on the lintels of the wall and door
and saved the desperate slaves
in Moses’ time
when Pharaoh swore
not to let the Hebrews go
on a saint's pilgrimage
from Mt. Sinai
to the top of the promised land,
that God is able to save us
from our own ill-fated ego
or journey of a protocol utility,
a poet wishes for a ghostly exodus
here off Rhode Island
near the iridescent Elm trees
when the spirited windy breeze
will blow its ghostly howling force
and take a poet literally
in his tense hand
when I sensed a holy presence
who recognized my need for safety
to lead me from the sea coast
when there seemed only futility
for me to unwittingly understand
my newly energized
and fertilized imagination,
hence to land here by Providence.



When a poet arrives
at the world's backstage
few critics are alarmed
at the Apollo Theater
in Manhattan's Harlem
that he survives with alto sax
to show up with live music
charmed by his knowable Muse
to read from his poetry,
then relaxes to schmooze
over his solo page,
born the same day
of Elvis Presley birth
has an early encounter worthy
of an earth-wise musical gaze
studies classical and jazz
shaped at a young age,
BZ loves swans on the Cape
art and what is modern—
Eliot, Crane and Auden
jams as a kid with John Cage
in a metamorphosis focused
and sifted as a grain of wheat
would go into sands of solitude
in the desert like the Baptist
eating locusts and honey
and washing another Brother's feet,
goes in the wintry snow
like his hero Dr. Zhivago
to a monastery for a retreat
when the gods set him loose
and escapes as a Beat.


She was a flower child
in 1968
Tina heading for the Golden Gate
with her cursed life fallen behind
from an everyday's appeal
waiting for her life to get better
here at an early hour’s peal
from the first-hour school bell
she puts on her Christmas sweater
marked with a sports letter
from Tom her boyfriend
both needing an innocent vacation
to mountain climb or ski and escape
from their family's aggravation
during an absent wintry sunlight
away from mad parental storms
Tina returning with the bouquet
with a warmed-over perfumed scent
from her sister's Las Vegas wedding
she not invited by invitation
yet was able to secretly attend
and reduced to bloodshot-ashen eyes
of laughter and tears
her head in a chocolate cupcake
she took from the head table
tells me that by her teenage days
she is a runway
a student of much swagger
with many unearned fears
yet able, well read and intelligent
far beyond her years
knowing by her interlaced
marked-up hands
she is a folk singer
on the guitar,
telling me she was
always shadowed by her sister
named Summer
and her father
who was a drunkard,
a hot-under-the-collar pianist
and the only drummer
in an old-boy Birmingham band
who threatened daggers to her
if she didn't perform
when she became this runaway
and escaped backstage
from her barracks in the dorm
with a backpack in the night,
calling out to the sleeping family
of Tom at the door
of the elementary school
who do the cooking
and are janitors
Tina asking them for a bit
of pin money
to sustain her for a week
as they went out to Twin Peaks.


(birthday January 7)

Sitting with my Aunt Sarah
and my Uncle Scriven
with our box lunch
being famished
for tomato juice, pomegranate
a cheese Danish croissant
a Russian-styled knish
and an assortment of summer fruit,
after I had my violin lesson
at quarter to eleven
then a solfège class in theory
with Lenny Bernstein
recalling the laughter
of his master class
on good days at Tanglewood
in Lenox, Mass.
with all the ardor of youth
here in the concert shed
hearing Poulenc's Stabat Mater,
the art director together
with the conductor
all in white searsucker suits
watching as the chorus and choir
are on the upper stage,
we're eyeing the birds
as Uncle Scriven opens for me
a book of ornithology
now just a childhood memory,
suddenly hearing the last words
of Jesus to brother poet St. John
on his exiled journey
to the Isle of Patmos
to take care of Mary his mother
with his last ten words
still alive to sing for us
from our lively last visit
to the springs by the monastery
in the garden of Gethsemani
weeping by the cross of pardon
at the Kentucky Abbey
with the poet Tom Merton
over a bed of rosary.

 Abbey of Gethsemani, with inset photo of Thomas Merton


In your loft's window
sitting under the Paris sun
near the tree-dusty shadows
in an accidental daydream
about a wonderful dawn
clouds glide by bird wings
like a poet in exile
with ever-fleeting looks
at Baudelaire's albatross and swan
searching for any smiling angel
with strings of a lost violin
of rabbis in Chagall in Vitebsk
next Peguy has a vision
of a time at peace
with Picasso's dove released
and the Messiah of love
carries a cross on his back
on the bloodshed soiled earth
of the first World War
here I am by the cool waters
at the monastery by Mt. Carmel
near a fountain and pool
carrying your poetry book
dear Peguy to bring to school
hearing an old Jerusalem peddler
crying out in the soft rain
for his smiling daughter
to be careful of the desert
and not be a fool
as she mounts a donkey
going to visit the poor
housed in a shelter
waves with a Russian kerchief
embarrassed someone has sent
for a carriage
hearing chords in the distance
as a violinist plays a French tune
with wounded fingertips
caused by the war.



I played the solo
from Massenet's “Thaïs Méditation”
on my half-violin
under my chin
at the wonder of my first recital
in the conservatory
arranged by my aunt
for her ten-year-young prodigy
and rarely laughing nephew
and then wherever I played
the serious lyrical part
on every new Hamletic stage
the various critics of my age
would watch my every move
as I became an adolescent
in love with you, beautiful Thaïs
covered with your footprints
and angelic perfumed scent
whether by a bench at the Seine
Charles River
or at a Los Angeles beach
you always reached out me
and never showed up late
even at an Italian bookstall
in the dark hallways
of bargain-basement antiques
or on a blind date in Rome
during winter vacation week
near the Venetian canals
far from home,
or in a far continent or near
the Golden Dome
or dressed in the bright masquerade
for the Greek bacchanals
pressed on as Fortinbras
in the New Orleans parade
or with the best at Mardi Gras,
nor with a delinquent Rimbaud
as a runaway reaches out
on the culling waters
of day-dreamt waves
sprinting to African Morocco
among the daughters
of Casablancan slaves
a poet never behaves,
or floating on a banana boat
with Sister Peach
and Brother Cantaloupe
jelling at a country island
your quarter-notes inclined to me
from an imaginary spirit
you are my saint still singing
your madrigals
up at the conduits with the saints
preserved at heaven's gate
serving the mourning doves
having leavened chibata bread
in a poet's repast on the earth
burning with your love for me
under a small sun
or planting new saplings
as a guest welcomed
in a Jerusalem monastery
by tall eucalyptus trees
experiencing an early spring
or hearing of Jason and his fleece
in a sequence of a metamorphosis
flying into your Easter-egg nest
passing over the begging clouds
in the last shroud of Thaïs.

(In memory of Bertolt Brecht,
born January 10, 1896)

In the late Fall
we stood there decked out
among your tall green branches
celebrating by those ignored
or who can ill afford
to buy you after all
for their Christmas hallway
always guessing that you
came from the Black Forest
who can be sure
at the best of our intentions
when our time seems so barren
even with your conventions
along the spire
where hungry birds
need to rest
rising by a Rose of Sharon
asking Bertolt to be our guest,
with poetic words
on the stage of Mother Courage
in an honorable mention,
the fir has bright bells on
even an icy decorated star
over the light's desired top
why do we not stop to recognize
who you are
with the world so well instructed
yet today one will hardly read
just march
off to war for sin and greed
losing the finest citizens indeed,
we know that in our hearts
Christ Himself bleeds
seeing through strife's injustice
when we forget our part
to visit the sick and cold who flee
among the lost troubled refugees
having sung "How Great Thou Art"
as your body hung on for three hours
coiled at an entangled
old wooden Jesus tree
double-crossed at Calvary
bowing to your Father
on your knee
yet at the judgment bench
we too must eat, drink, feed
dream, love or breed
even as we are politically incorrect
like Bertolt Brecht,
we acknowledge your birth
on each tenth of January
having a repast of your memory
in Germany and the States
as a trumpet and fife
reach for taps
to stir the waiting crowd
back to life
for those who are with the poor
who survived the collapse of war
stirring a pushing crowd back to life
who come to visit the bush now
and sit by the crowd
to celebrate the holidays here
only the fir tree remains
once so astonished and proud
even after wintry snow and rains
the fir tree has not vanished
nor have your unbowed remains.



Hero, patriot
Albéric Magnard
writer of opera
and composer of sonatas
let the notes of a voice
flow over the soul of Paris
lover of words, quotes, sounds
your music as a mystic
and gorgeous chorus
resounds in Guercoeur,
the critics concur he is
the French Bruckner
with his leitmotifs found
in a fleur de lis
of Richard Wagner
when the enemy came
to burn down your residence
in the World War
you fought back
for nothing can rob you
of your lyrical eminence
from gun-toting hacks.


Erik Satie
the French critics say
has his eccentricity
a particular friend of Dada
and the Hungarian poet Tzara
on his recital bench
from musical Parisian strings
to a thousand exceptional cities
as his magical tunes sing
moving us as a lyrical major star
sent from heavenly Saint Cecilia
plays from his classical guitar
all the way to Santa Barbara
through my memory of Erik Satie
we proclaim victory for his art
in the avant-garde community
with his creative electricity
swaying to his own solo part.


(born 1928)

Writing from
a Jamesian heart
in a world that stains
more than a church window
in the rain,
understanding what you
taught to us young poets
about Poe, Eliot and Crane
as a critic with a belief
with great class judgment
that our education in English
was not in vain
who learnt with discernment
as a resident in the Dublin library
teaching on the handwritten nature
of Heine, Burns and Shelley
who taught us about the Romans
Ovid, Dante and Cavalcanti
hidden on the home bookshelf
among the Italians and Latins
all about the Ghibillines and Guelfs
and the metaphysicals like Donne
the moderns from Joyce, Hopkins
Keats, Yeats and sonnets of Dickinson
capturing the wishful modified part
of a transmogrified Western culture
with great poetic wealth
from an Irish critic and talker
who defied the stealthy attention
of any vain literary mocker
with your sunny adventures
of intellectual consideration
and polite conversation
who cannot conceive
of a nature to believe you
as an intellectual mentor
in a civilization that cried out
from Vietnam's stealth vulture war
on all of us
you are still popular
as Doctor emeritus on the campus
far from our home
in Paris and Rome
like Jacques and Raissa Maritain
we will still read you, Dubliner
Denis Donoghue
in a certain wonder
by night light underground
in our shade and shadow
under lace curtains
from folded sheets in dormitories
or in Kentucky monasteries
enfolded in a cold abbey
of Father Tom Merton
your world in the word
that will remain.


Today’s LittleNip:

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

― Leonard Cohen


—Medusa, with thanks to B.Z. Niditch for today’s fine poetry. Happy Birthday tomorrow, BZ!