To make an idol
I would devise
a fistful of daggers,
covered in fur,
Things have a tendency to lose themselves:
hammer, needle, the necessary spring,
a button, keys—they disappear like elves,
like roses, wishes, the words for everything.
Dive in. Ransack a drawerful of debris.
Wrestle with irritation, grief, self-doubt.
One earring, that pen, eyesight, dignity:
small things we learn, in time, to do without.
Her thighs are pillows pleasant to his eye,
And when he plumps her, how the feathers fly!
of a bird
on the clothesline
flicking little looks at
this and that until
with the tiniest strum
it lifts off
the way it
Celebrating Another Birthday?
About a million years ago,
when words were still unknown,
a birthday wish was nothing more
than just a grunt and groan!
Nice folks say “Happy Birthday” now,
but if the truth be told,
the ancient meaning hasn’t changed:
“Aaaagh! Uuunh! We’re getting old!”
All day the hippopotami
deep in the languid waters lie
which sometimes gently stir and seethe
when they lift up their heads to breathe.
Together thus the he and she
restore themselves to energy
until the blood begins to move
with massive pulse of mammoth love.
Then how the waters crash and churn!
Unquenchable the hippos burn
with every passion of their kind
in boundless flesh and fervent mind
till echoing for miles around,
their natural ecstatic sound
inspires an answering refrain
from every creature on the plain.
O love, as languidly we lie
late in our bed, warm thigh to thigh,
and slowly wake, there thrills through us
The Song of Hippopotamus.
Of Mums and Mummies
“In the 1800s, tons of mummies were shipped from Egypt
to England, where they were pulverized and used to fertilize gardens.”
—Curator’s Note in the Field Museum, Chicago
Let us exhume our relatives at once,
wasted in concrete vaults and crates of steel.
Put the bloom back in the garden with their bones,
and let the rubbish make the asters full.
Finally, I’ve found a way to lend my dust:
to phlox and pansies splitting apart my toes,
to dahlias and lilacs bursting in the breast,
and springing from my head, unpruned, the rose.
A Cat Recalls the Exodus
“For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats
at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.”
—Christopher Smart, “Jubilate Agno”
The book of Moses never mentions cats,
although he might have thought our power divine
who saved his people from the plague of rats
you never heard of, thanks to me and mine.
When Egypt let them go, along we went
on backs of beasts with sacks of gold and grain.
We’d make ourselves at home in any tent,
and listen to that ragged mob complain
until old Moses nearly had a fit.
But we were grateful for the feast of quail
that fell each evening. We cats loved to sit
with Moses while he spun tale after tale
of people whining, like at Rephidim.
Yet not a word of how we stuck by him.
Why Did You Become a Writer?
At first I wrote for comfort,
And then I wrote to blame,
And then I wrote in rapture
At the music of a name,
And then I wrote for reason,
And then I wrote for fame,
And now I never write—
And all the world’s the same.
“Cat,” “Pillows,” “Hippopotamus,” and “Of Mums and Mummies” first appeared, respectively, in Cricket, Light & Bawdy, The Random House Treasury of Light Verse, and Plains Poetry Journal. “Small Things” and “Hummingbird” were originally published in The Lyric. “Celebrating Another Birthday?” is used by permission of Hallmark Cards.