Genghis Khan At The Typewriter

Genghis Khan sits down at the typewriter, a portable Underwood.

His tortured soul desperately tries to conjure up a Mongolian metaphor for love.

It is a task of barbaric proportions.

Mongol is, as yet, an unwritten language birthed from bone and mayhem.

The sounds are raw and feral.

No font can cage their nature.

But the Great Khan, Universal Ruler, senses a sonnet steeped in The Steppes coursing somewhere under his leather-laced armor.

Certain tribal concubines have indicated this to be his heart.

They have placed their tiny bird-like hands over his iron chest and summoned forth strange visions.

A heart!

As if the Great Khan, master of Central Asia, scourge of China, has need for a heart.

Empires are carved out of destruction, death.

A heart!

A heart would be a liability, a stigma of weakness.

And yet?

Genghis feels an unknown creature course through his veins and stop to drink at the place where the concubines held their tender young palms.

His coarsened skin tremors at the memory.

And so, Genghis Khan, Emperor of Oceans, sits at the typewriter, a portable Underwood, hands bloodied with conquest, body still suited for war.

He sheaths his emotions in strands of silk and sends them forth like arrows of unspoken words in search of prey.

These weapons are of a language that cannot break, complicated, strong.

And once embedded in the heart, the tender teasing of the twisted silk opens words into poetry and the wound seems insignificant.

Copyright 2013

(For Bryan, who loves history, even when it’s invented)


To go to Chicago.
Which words for the South Side, if not in a nightmare, at midnight when frost coagulates on the bar’s last brew, when the “L” screams wickedly through the backyards of Hades like Satan unwanted at a baptism, chanting a novena of sacrilege over an unsuspecting newborn soul.
To leave in tentative measure for South Chicago, midday or midnight, the sky is as painful as the psyche, in September or March, the seasons are redundant.

But only if that polarized portion of the city exists, if it dares blanket the soft powdery skin of the delicate Loop, slipping it the ex-lover’s kiss before taking off for a night on the town, filling its own veins with the opiate of jazz, shocking its former lovers with voodoo moves and mouth music blues.
To pack and set off, to leave only the smoldering scent of sulfur and ash, to vanish like smoke curls off a stolen cigarette.

And buildings, abandoned buildings, cages drawn down across facades like the intimidating masks of muggers, and below, under the short circuit of epileptic neon lights, rats create choreography on a stage of urban blight.
But the politicians rise, you remember, so straight, as straight as opened pimp rolls, college degrees speaking in calligraphy, and my desire, which wasn’t born yet, only gang tag graffiti and the scent of brute force, and indecent promises of grants and renewal.  The lies of home.

There was always too much of the South Side, no one could comprehend its neighborhoods, decipher the accents of tongues scorched by the motherland, left at liberty’s door, neglected orphans who came for candy and stayed for drinks, all stranded on islands with names like Goose and Stoney, not islands at all, but ghost ships transporting live cargo.

At night, the pathetic percussion of the deadbolts of innocents bids bittersweet adieu to the safety of the sun, the artificial light of television bathing supplicants in benevolent amends, tenement confessionals awash in fresh whispers of sin and howls of contrition.
So unlike the cathedral of darkened city streets, the few functional streetlights beckoning sinners to worship.
Those without souls roam in search, cars blasting hymns of anger and obscenity, the scent of power and fear hovering like fallen angels.
Sirens squeal and the blackened air vibrates in a meteor shower of intimidating intensity, aggressive young men in turf wars of frenzy.

There is so much of the South Side that repeats and shatters into infinite fractals.

My family couldn’t have known yet that I’d resurrect them, they lived so guardedly, so full of life yet caged, servants of the blast furnace, pockets full of coins, lungs full of disease, the smell of whiskey coating the breath that diminished daily.
Life was balanced on the edge of a knife, intense, immediate, ready to cut to the quick or sever the cord.

Gwendolyn Brooks came as a visiting seraphim, offering wings and the comfort of balm in an ointment of words.
One of my friends kept writing a poem entitled “Believe” but it never went beyond the title.  I wished I had kept it.

There was too much of the South Side, it intimidated the soul of the city, bullied its way beyond unspoken boundaries, knocked on the unanswered door of staid City Hall.
It burst murals onto crumbling underpasses, overflowed gang tags on neglected “L” platforms open to the wind, morphed into the elements of fire, storm, and snow, challenged lightning, danced in heat, grew bolder, returned home, wrote its own bible, and developed a new religion born of personal fire and illegal brimstone.
There was no savior. There was only the saved.

But progress came, dressed in green scrubs of opportunity, pulling out its scalpel, cutting along unbroken skin, through muscle and bone.
Surgeons from skyscrapers pulled away layers, searching for cancer, finding disease, offering hospice in too-late tones of desperation.

And broken buildings tumbled silently, pushed over by gentrification, falling soundlessly in the jungle.  There was no one left to listen.  And all the while the cathedral of the streets trembled and cast out its sinners, their muffled pleas for penance washed over by the soundtracks of progress.
People bade farewell without goodbyes, no tears, such dry mouths, I won’t see you anymore, so much of the same awaits you,.  Why must every city have a South Side, and now in a hurry, just pack always, each day, and go expectantly, go in faith that is so rarely its own reward.  Go to the South Side, swung low on sweet chariots, going forth to carry away home, pushing past raggedy redemption sung in glad-rag gospel hallelujah.

(Parallel poem to “To Go To Lvov,” by Adam Zagajewski)

Copyright 2013


The dead Elvis stands in front of the entree table of the All Night China Buffet.  He is dressed in the iconic white sequined jumpsuit, the ends of his cape slightly soiled with soy sauce, the enormous silver belt buckle ready to burst.

Being deceased, he cannot see himself in a mirror.

The dead have no style or sense of time.

The hostess at the All Night China Buffet screams a monosyllabic sing-song announcing the presence of the dead king.

The staff is accustomed to this and pays no attention whatsoever.

Elvis temporarily forgets where he is and starts to rock back and forth in his heeled leather boots, singing “Hunka, hunka, burnin’ love” into a teaspoon.

The wait staff are again indifferent as they have witnessed these antics on previous nights.

They bring out more General TSO’s chicken as a distraction.  It works.  It always does.  The dead Elvis loves his spicy chicken, loves it tender, loves it sweet (and sour).

And when he has had enough, he pushes the plate across the table and removes his extraordinarily large sunglasses.  As he places the shades across the crest of the epic black pompadour, the wait staff gasp at the glory.  They will attempt to emulate the effect to no avail.

The influence of the dead king surpasses all time.  In his world it is always now or never.

Elvis reaches for the token fortune cookie, consistent in its content:

Your lucky numbers are:  4, 14, 28, and 31.

Your Chinese word is:  picture Chinese characters – “platinum”

The dead Elvis flips the slip of paper over as he crunches on the last bits of tasteless cookie.  The reverse side reads:

“You’ve always been a friend of mine”   (in bed)

He rises to the majesty of his full sequined height, bows respectfully to the staff of the All Night China Buffet and pivots on the words:  “Thank you.  Thank you very much.”

And so departs the legend as the “Open” sign in the window of the All Night China Buffet flickers quickly and then shorts out.


The sweet sound of surf echoes at my door and I can smell the serendipity and sea salt.

The brash pounding of waves beseeches an entrance and my ear is damp with the cackle of conchs and whispers of the oyster bed.

She is here.

It is Mid-Summer’s Night Eve and she is here, the mermaid of my youth, the one others call figment, hallucination, psychosis –  the one I have named Stella.

(For Stella, who did a kind favor to a stranger)


Poe sleeps in a shroud nightshirt,

head heavy against the prose.

laudunum seeps malevolence i

into sheets of blackened hell.

To dream is to suffer.

To awakenk, to die.

Moans weave despondent dirges

around his sleeping tongue,

Lachrymose echoes of

Lacerated thought.

The acrid taste of “nevermore”

drips lamentation down his throat.

To suffer is to dream.

To die, to awaken.

As vapors of nightmare

stain outline around his form,

night claims Poe’s body;

moonlight thieves his soul.

The Age of Victoria,

tatted in trepidation

elevates Poe’s abandonment

unravels bone into marrow..

A carriage of darkened dream

cradles Poe deep inside

to the edge of a cemetery

Iron-fenced in heavy metaphors.

Tombstones of canonized poets

toppled by amateur vandals

provoke the spectacle

into sacrilege and chaos.

Wrapped in self-loathing,

Poe dismounts from the dream,

kicking feckless bits of imagery,

rolling meter out the grave.

He is here to scavenge sonnets

rob sepulchres of rhyme

gut essence out of verse

loot catacombs of allegory

Poe embeds a shard of simile

inside his barren womb of work

gives birth to a stillborn concept

resuscitated by his words.


Copyright 2010


“It’s not in here.”

“Are you sure? Could you check again?”
The anxiety in my voice acts like scissors, cutting the edge off my consonants.

The robed saint sighs and pretends to look in the massive book…again… dragging his index finger down the pages.
He smells of alleluia and cucumbers.
He sounds like destiny right after a beer.

I know the answer before it is given.

“Maybe you should see that other guy.”
He’s careful not to make eye contact.

“And he would be…?”

“Down there.”
He points with a sadness that hurts my bones.

I wish he would look at me, at least acknowledge I am here.
I bet his eyes are the color of atonement.

But I will never know because I am off to see if I should be with that “other guy,” the one parents warn against, the one who shreds salvation and weaves it into a lanyard for the key to condemnation.

Just thinking about all this makes my conscience sweaty.
How did it come to this?

That other guy has a book, too, but this one is held together with rubberbands and lies.

I give him my name and feel all dizzy while he hums to himself, flipping the pages.
I think he is singing “Steam Heat” in the back of his head.
I chuckle a bit and his eyes lock onto mine like a sniper.
He smells of refried cabbage and feels like Monday.
There is no doubt that his eyes are probably the colorless hue of deep desperation.

I hold my breath.
I so don’t want to go with him.

“You’re not in here.”

The book snaps shut to the sound of a hurricane.
But it is just the exhalation of breath I have finally let loose.

“Are you sure? Am I even dead?”

The other guy, the ultimate sinner, reaches inside and pulls out my soul by the tail.
It wiggles with life.

So now I am at the bus stop, waiting endlessly in some limbo.
I guess I should be happy to be alive and relieved that this was all some kind of dream.

But all I can think about is why I’m not good enough or bad enough to make it into any book.

Copyright 2010


I swallowed a comet last night, fiery tail and all.

I hadn’t planned on doing it.

It just sort of happened, randomly, like most accidents do.

No one ever consciously says: let me lose a ten dollar bill, let me get hit by lightning, let me fall desperately in love with the worst possible person.

And, most definitely, no one ever says: give me a comet, over easy and combustible. I have a craving for something sweet and celestial.


Buddha came over the other morning and rang my doorbell.

I hate how he does that.

He rings it only once, sharp and sweet, and then just waits…and waits…and waits.

He has the patience of a, well, Buddha.

Sometimes I peek out the curtains to see if it’s him, wondering why he’ll wait there for such a long time and yet never ring the bell again, just to make sure.

He is so serene in his moment of patience that I wish I had a camera to capture the pure lines of his face, so perfectly in the moment, so beautifully benign.

All my life I have been in search of The Buddha, anxious to find him, frantic in my efforts.

Now here he is, unexpectedly persistent in his weekly visit to my front porch…and I’m in my pajamas, pretending I’m not home.


Every morning I wait for it – that freak of a bird that can’t even sing.

Not the one that collects all the quality notes and arranges them in perfection before displaying them in song.

That one is vain, and pretty, and has a gift for composition.

No.  Not that one.

And not the picky one that hones in on a sole flawless sound.

That one has perfect pitch and single-minded purpose.

No.  That’s not the one either.

There it is!  That’s the one!

The one that strains back into its ancestry to yank out a sound not quite reptilian, not quite avian.

Can you hear it revving up its vocal chords to sound like a reluctant car in winter:

     Start, start, start, start, START.

     Start, start, start, start, START.

What’s with that bird?

That freak just can’t turn over into song.

I can so relate to that bird.


Shakespeare sits cross-legged on the worn high-traffic rug, piles of periodicals strewn all about him like anxious groundlings.

“Ay!  There’s the rub.” 

He obsessively rips perfume samples out of various glamour magazines and swipes them all over his frayed woolen tunic.

The aroma of “Euphoria” and turnips is unsettling. 

 Masking the musk of 17th Century Old English is not as simple as it seems, and Shakespeare is beginning to feel outdated.

“Poor rat bastard!” 

 Ginsburg steps gingerly over Shakespeare’s brooding form and for a brief moment the feverish eyes of the 1960’s and the rheumy eyes of the 1690’s lock in a gaze of serendipity.

Ginsburg has no patience for unrequited love, but he does have tolerance for unrequited lovers. 

“Do you want to come to Cummings poker night with me, Billy?  We could use another queen.”

Shakespeare appears dazed.

  “Forsooth, Knave Ginsburg, thy tongue doth cloak itself around language foreign to mine ear.  The dainty blush of m’lady’s delicate meter is but the sole sound of love’s poetry and all that needs be heard.  Be off to thy game of chance and leave me to mine unrequited reverie, mine unwavering devotion to the sweet poet Sylvia.”

“Sylvia?  Poor rat bastard!  First Emily, then Elizabeth, then Gwendolyn and Anais…now Sylvia!  Poor lovesick bastard!”

Ginsburg howls a mantra at Shakespeare before heading up the aisle:

        The weight of the world is love.

        Under the burden of solitude…the weight, the weight we carry is love…

       “Carry on then, Billy!” 

Ginsburg grunts as he laboriously bends over to pocket some loose Oxford commas and unnecessary exclamation points left discarded by the patrons.

He always likes to bring unused punctuation and an unopened bottle of wine to EE’s poker nights.

The odds of winning big at Five Card Stud are so much more lucrative than winning at love.

Sylvia sits cross-legged on top of a table, hunched over the lone copy of Ted Hughes’ work.

She rocks repetitively back and forth, obsessively rubbing her index finger raw over the same line:

         In the morning, they wore each other’s face…

         In the morning, they wore each other’s face…

        In the morning, they…

The scent of patchouli and boiled potatoes snaps her concentration.

He is here.

Shakespeare’s face flushes with anticipation as he offers Sylvia a spring bouquet of sonnets, words carefully plucked at pre-bloom and delicately arranged just so.

“Did my heart love till now?  For I never saw true beauty till this night.”

With a barely discernible bow of the head, Shakespeare lays his literary arrangement on the table at Sylvia’s knees.

The unexpected action startles Sylvia out of her compulsion.

She begins to recite:

         I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

        I lift my lids and all is born again.

        (I think I made you up inside my head).

It is such an extreme Mad Girl Love Song.

Sylvia stares directly at Shakespeare and repeats the passage – one of her eyes is wide open this time, while the other is shut in a tragic wink.

Does it mean she, in fact, reciprocates his love?

Shakespeare is more enamored than ever now.

He gets down on his knees and pines like Romeo – he jumps to his feet and bellows like Petruchio – he spins and cavorts like Don Pedro at the ball.

Slipping unnoticed off the table, Sylvia pads down the aisle in her stockinged feet.

She really prefers her own drama, thank you.

Soon she is sipping wine right out of the bottle while sitting on Ginsburg’s massive lap.

Soon she is dangling apostrophes off Cummings’ earlobes and pulling in all the poker chips after winning a hand.

Tragedy becomes her in a way.

“Good night, good night.  Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

Shakespeare blows a kiss at the empty spot on the table where Sylvia once sat.

Only the skeletal spine of the Ted Hughes’ paperback remains.

Rushing over to the reference desk, Shakespeare reaches behind the counter and brings forth a large pair of scisssors.

“What light through yonder window shines.”

He runs with scissors to his favorite desk by the window, the one always bathed in moonlight, and begins to carve.

A jagged line obliterates the proclamation:  “Shakespeare hearts Anais.”

It is lovingly replaced by the wonderful cursive:  “Shakespeare hearts Sylvia.”

Dead poets should never be locked in the library together overnight.

Copyright 2010