Bob Schwartz

Category: Poetry

Bird Breakfast

Bird Breakfast

The birds on the morning grass
Are happy.
Easy pickings
Company
Conversation
A little fighting
A little flirting.
I supply
The coffee.

©

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From Today to Tomorrow

From Today to Tomorrow

What is the thing
that will carry us
from today to tomorrow?
Not the clock or calendar
that simply mark advance
but do not force the issue.
Not the sky and sun
dark and down
light and up.
Love the prospect of love
of winning or losing love
of winning or losing whatever
we need or cherish
when we wake from sleep
is that enough to lift us
to drag us into and through this day?
Sweet comfort and bitter pain
sweet pain and bitter comfort
bid us good night
wish us good morning.
(A lie? A white lie?)
If a breath is good
more breaths are better
one more breath is better
one more breath
to blow a thought away.

©

L’dor Vador (Ramadan)

L’dor Vador (Ramadan)

Jews begat
Christians begat
Muslims.
Thousands became
Millions became billions.
Blessed and blind warriors
Pages of holy books
Edged in gold
Sharp as swords.
Angry and bitter blood transmutes
To sweet water in the scorching desert
Of seeking souls.

©

Note: We are in the midst of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, commemorating the first revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad. It is sad astonishment to students of all three Abrahamic faiths to see how zealously ignorant and contentious some of the faithful of each may be to each other. (Jews who will not dare to touch, let alone read, the New Testament; Jews and Christians who will not dare to touch, let alone read, the Qur’an.)

In fact, each faith has produced extraordinary core texts that should be the first stop for anyone claiming to know anything—not only about the other, but about their own traditions. The golden threads of Judaism are woven into Christianity, the golden threads of Judaism and Christianity are woven into Islam. The ugliness and terror are man-made; the best parts are from the compassionate and caring.

L’dor vador. From generation to generation. One family.

This I Can Almost Do

This I Can Almost Do

When I hear music I think
About playing I don’t play
When I see pictures I think
About painting I don’t paint
When I read I write.
Who are they to lay claim
To words on my lips
At my fingertips
Since words were born.
They don’t own the letters
Spaces stops and starts.
My music my picture.

©

Tilted Room

Tilted Room

Dreams are the tilted room
In the funhouse of sleep.
Outside (you hope)
The world is still level
But when you exit this way
You feel yourself
Falling over.

©

Note: Writing this poem, I realized that some readers have never experienced a funhouse, or even know what it is. It was an essential part of carnivals and amusement parks, before amusement parks became theme parks (and, presumably, amusement became themes). It is an awesome way for children to learn that things are not what they seem, but that that could be simultaneously fun and scary.

And in the spirit of tail wagging dog, or note wagging poem, note that funhouse also served as a titular inspiration for an important but now pretty neglected work of fiction. John Barth’s collection of short pieces Lost in the Funhouse (1968) is considered “a major landmark of experimental fiction.” Barth is better known for novels (often long novels) such as Giles Goat Boy (“a fantasy of theology, sociology, and sex”), but Lost in the Funhouse is an easy introduction to the early days of what is now called postmodern fiction. (A seriously misleading and meaningless conceit, since Joyce and others had been writing weird and wonderful formally transgressive things for decades, writing that delights and defies total comprehension.)

Anyway, Barth writes that the first piece in Funhouse, Frame-Tale “happens to be, I believe, the shortest short story in the English language (ten words); on the other hand, it’s endless.” Endless because it is a Moebius strip:

The rest of the collection, and his novels, are not so brief, filled with many more words of charged and challenging writing:

“One way or another, no matter which theory of our journey is correct, it’s myself I address; to whom I rehearse as to a stranger our history and condition, and will disclose my secret hope though I sink for it.

“Is the journey my invention? Do the night, the sea, exist at all, I ask myself, apart from my experience of them? Do I myself exist, or is this a dream? Sometimes I wonder. And if I am, who am I? The Heritage I supposedly transport? But how can I be both vessel and contents? Such are the questions that beset my intervals of rest.

“My trouble is, I lack conviction. Many accounts of our situation seem plausible to me—where and what we are, why we swim and whither. But implausible ones as well, perhaps especially those, I must admit as possibly correct. Even likely. If at times, in certain humors—stroking in unison, say, with my neighbors and chanting with them ‘Onward! Upward!’—I have supposed that we have after all a common Maker, Whose nature and motives we may not know, but Who engendered us in some mysterious wise and launched us forth toward some end known but to Him—if (for a moodslength only) I have been able to entertain such notions, very popular in certain quarters, it is because our night-sea journey partakes of their absurdity. One might even say: I can believe them because they are absurd.

From Night-Sea Journey

Artificial Tears

Artificial Tears

Tears won’t come naturally.
The eyes dry out
Like rainless desert,
Lids in rhythmic arc
Abrade instead of soothe and cleanse.
Tears in a bottle.
Actors cry on demand
Artificial tears instead of flowing
From single or shared sorrow
Or joy or the rough reality of days
Rubbing and scratching
The solitude of morning.
This is no act.

©

Proof of Dreams

Proof of Dreams

The dreams of last night’s sleep
Are as real and present
As this morning’s coffee.
Otherwise how could they
Poke and tug and shake
As we move on and say
They are over.

©

Always the beautiful answer

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question
E. E. Cummings, Introduction to New Poems (1938)

If you are a teacher or a student, it is the time of year to ask and answer questions. Actually, any time is the time for anyone to ask and answer questions.

The best line about questions comes from poet E. E. Cummings. Interestingly, it is not from one of his many poems. It is from the Introduction to his volume New Poems (1938), though the Introduction (see below) is pretty poetic and very Cummings.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question

It is easy to ask questions, harder to ask good and beautiful questions. Bad questions hardly generate good and beautiful answers. Good and beautiful questions ask for—demand—better and more beautiful answers.

I considered completing this post without an E. E. Cummings poem. But no:

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you’re young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man’s
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation’s dead undoom.

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance


E. E. Cummings
Introduction to New Poems (1938)

The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople– it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings;mostpeople are snobs. Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous superpalazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesirable organism. Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they’d improbably call it dying–

you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now’and now is much to busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.

Life,for mostpeople,simply isn’t. Take the socalled standardofliving. What do mostpeople mean by “living”? They don’t mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science,in its finite but unbounded wisdom,has succeeded in selling their wives. If science could fail,a mountain’s a mammal. Mostpeople’s wives could spot a genuine delusion of embryonic omnipotence immediately and will accept no substitutes.

-luckily for us,a mountain is a mammal. The plusorminus movie to end moving,the strictly scientific parlourgame of real unreality,the tyranny conceived in misconception and dedicated to the proposition that every man is a woman and any woman is a king,hasn’t a wheel to stand on. What their synthetic not to mention transparent majesty, mrsandmr collective foetus,would improbably call a ghost is walking. He isn’t a undream of anaesthetized impersons, or a cosmic comfortstation,or a transcedentally sterilized lookiesoundiefeelietastiesmellie. He is a healthily complex,a naturally homogenous,citizen of immorality. The now of his each pitying free imperfect gesture,his any birth of breathing,insults perfected inframortally milleniums of slavishness. He is a little more than everything,he is democracy;he is alive:he is ourselves.

Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn,a human being;somebody who said to those near him,when his fingers would not hold a brush “tie it to my hand”–

nothing proving or sick or partial. Nothing false,nothing difficult or easy or small or colossal. Nothing ordinary or extraordinary,nothing emptied or filled,real or unreal;nothing feeble and known or clumsy and guessed. Everywhere tints childrening,innocent spontaneaous,true. Nowhere possibly what flesh and impossibly such a garden,but actually flowers which breasts are amoung the very mouths of light. Nothing believed or doubted;brain over heart, surface:nowhere hating or to fear;shadow,mind without soul. Only how measureless cool flames of making;only each other building always distinct selves of mutual entirely opening;only alive. Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and yesno,impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong;never to gain or pause,never the soft adventure of undoom,greedy anguishes and cringing ecstasies of inexistence;never to rest and never to have;only to grow.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question

Strands

Strands

Separate the strands of spring song
From these ten thousand birds.
Sweet and strident
Simple and symphonic.
Follow just one
I am already lost
Follow them all
I am gladly ready
To listen and disappear.

©

Dream Butterfly

Did I dream the butterfly last night
Or remember yesterday gazing at it
Or both? Either way
Remembering the dream or the butterfly
Was a sweet syrup shot into my heart,
Which lightly fluttered.
As bad as dreams or days may get
There is a butterfly and a flower to feed from
In the heat of the sun
Or the cool mists of phantasmagoric sleep.