Archives for poetry

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All Things Must Die

You have a soul you know.

 I agree and say, I have two, not one

 and point to the bottom of my shoes.

Not those soles you fool echoes intimately inside my skull.

A fist grips my heart and the beat suddenly stops.

Now that you’re dead, you can see where your soul resides

echoes throughout my corpse with a still functioning brain.

 I know, but why do I have to go long before I want,

and when I do, where will I go?

Is there really pie in the sky?

It has been said, life is better after death, but I want to live

while I’m alive, to put ice cream on my pie and have one

more chance to have sex.

I search through all my body parts, but there is no soul

to be found. I’m a soulless man,” I cry to the skies above.

When you don’t believe in me, that’s the price you pay, the

crashing voice resonates throughout my dead body, causing it

to move.

Unfair, unfair, my lifeless form declares.

Tell me which God you are? Are you Achtland, the Celtic

Goddess of wanton love?”

Love is a word falsely attributed to me. If I loved, would your

world be such a mess?” the voice assumed I understood.

Tell me then, are you Xtabay, the Mayan Goddess of Seduction

without love in your heart?

Or are you an evil being who made me and the rest of humanity so

you’d have someone with whom to play?”

For a soulless man you should be begging for clemency instead

of questioning me.

You must be the Son of perdition,” I exclaim. The antichrist,

the deceiver, chief of demons, Beelzebub, the father of lies.

Laughter shook the entire sky and I got a preview of my soul being

carried away by birds of prey. Wait! I cry, I see my soul.

Laughter shook the sky and the Earth. Too late my boy,

it’s gone now and will never return. You’re doomed to the

bottomless pit for eternity since you didn’t know my name.

One more chance, I cry and see dark clouds fluctuating

throughout the darkening sky, merging into an image of a

terrifying old man with an unpleasant face.

The mouth made of clouds opens and releases crashing thunder

clearing all other clouds from the sky. You’ll never have another

chance, I’ll see to that, booms round the heavens.

I gather all the electro-mechanical energy within my brain’s

limbic system and send it to my amygdala to project my

thoughts onto the only cloud left in the sky, causing it to burst.

Screams fill the air as my mental powers disintegrate the God

who has made me and all others.

He should have known, because he made the rule, all things must die


Today is the birthday of American writer Laura Hillenbrand (1967)

The author of two best-selling books of nonfiction: Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001) and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010).Hillenbrand grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, and spent her childhood riding horses on the family farm, a stone cottage on the banks of the Potomac River that was once used as a hospital during the battle of Antietam. She had to drop out of Kenyon College after suffering her first bout with chronic fatigue syndrome and was confined to bed for the next 18 months. She first published an article about Seabiscuit, the legendary racehorse, in American Heritage magazine (2003). Seabiscuit was small, knobby-kneed, and lazy, and his rider was a half-blind failed prizefighter, but he became the winningest racehorse in history during the 1930s, a symbol of resilience and hope for millions of Americans during the Great Depression. Her agent shopped the proposal to an editor at Random House. The editor wasn’t interested, at first, since books about horses tended to be boring, and the main characters were all dead, but he signed Hillenbrand. She delivered the manuscript 17 months later. The editor read it and sent her an email, which read, “In terms of pure narrative, this is the most satisfying story I have every encountered in my eleven years as an editor. Reading it wasn’t even work; it was pleasure.” Seabiscuit became a New York Times best-seller. The film version starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges (2003). Because of her chronic fatigue syndrome, Hillenbrand rarely leaves her house, so she’s had to adjust her research methods. She buys vintage newspapers on eBay and does interviews with her subjects by phone. She also listens to a lot of historical audio books, which she says makes her a better writer. “Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it’s read aloud.” It was while reading old articles about Seabiscuit that Hillenbrand came across a story about running phenomenon Louis Zamperini, whose bombardier plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1943. He spent 47 days adrift on a raft, eating seabirds, until he and his companion were captured. He spent the next two years being tortured in three different Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Hillenbrand’s book about Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010) has been on the New York Times best-seller list for over four years. Angelina Jolie directed the film version (2014). About writing, Hillenbrand says: “I feel so fully alive when I’m really into a story. I feel like all my faculties are engaged, and this is where I’m meant to be. It’s probably what a racehorse feels like when it runs. This is what it’s meant to do, what its body is meant to do. This is what my mind is meant to do.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®
National broadcasts of The Writer’s Almanac are supported by The Poetry Foundation.

#227 Poetry is Evil

#227 Poetry is Evil

When I started an English course, my teacher said, “If you want to become a jockey of words and maneuver the English language so that splendor shines through the letters aligned in row after row, a poem must be written every day.”

“I’m not a poet, and I’ll never be a poet,” I said, and thought that rhymed.

My teacher said, “Try to put music into your words, try to meter your speech, try to rhyme the words you use, and you’ll soon see that even someone like you can be a poet,”.

“Why would I even try? I’ve never met a poem I enjoyed!”

“There’s beauty within everyone that needs to be expressed, and words are the means used for it to bloom.”

I decided to try. I wrote, “A golden orb slowly comes into view. The world awakens to the tap tapping of my fingers touching black & white keys, trying to make beauty from a language that isn’t at all passionate or easy on the lips.”

“Not bad, for a first try,” my teacher, Miss Sprite said, “but I’m giving you a D. You need to learn that a word like passionate can be said in many ways: avid, adoring, obsessive, ardent, fervent, zealous, fanatical, loving, are other words that could be used.”

My eyes were opened to so many connotations. I decided to try again using other language, terms, expressions, terminology, vocabulary, or lexis. I wrote, “Once again, once more, for a second time, I’m trying to write a poem, a verse, a rhyme, an ode, a sonnet, an elegy, a limerick, a couplet, or maybe an epic. It’ll be about war, conflict, combat, confrontation, hostilities, battles, fighting, and finally peace, harmony, or serenity.”

Proud of my poem, I showed Miss Sprite what I had written. The look on her face forewarned of what was to come.

“Joe, you may be right about never being a poet. You don’t seem to understand that rhythm gives a poem its sound, and there are many ways that rhythm is used, and lots of elements in poetry that are related to rhythm. This time you get an F for failing to listen to what I said.”

I thought she was mistaken, incorrect, off beam, just plain wrong. I’d show her I knew how to rhyme. I wrote another poem, a verse, a rhyme, an ode, a sonnet, an elegy, a limerick, a couplet, or maybe it was an epic. I showed it to Miss Sprite and her frown, her puckered brow, her scowl, her glower, her grimacing glare, warned me that she wasn’t pleased.

“I’ll give you an A, for effort, but another F, for your failure to understand. You must know there is no one way to write a poem. A foot is a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. Meter is the number of feet that is in a line of poetry and a line of poetry can have any number of feet.”

“What’s a syllable, what’s stressed and unstressed, what’s a foot? I know what a gas or electric meter is, but a poetry meter? Is it something that counts the words, or the rhymes, or maybe the syllables used?” I said.

I was tempted to quit, but I decided to try to make sense from all this gibberish Miss Sprite talked about. I wanted to write one more poem. I couldn’t decide if the first stanza should be a couplet or a quatrain, should it be a ballad, an epic, an elegy, or maybe a long narrative or sonnet? I’d use rhyme, rhythm and meter if I could decide what to write. Maybe a poem about Miss Sprite would influence her thinking and she’d approve?

I wrote, when the Devil recruited teachers to spread his awful words, he chose you as his special envoy to make my life hell on Earth. Why even your name is a derivative of his. You have helped me to understand the evil and ugliness of this world, and I have sinned because you wanted me to.

When the fiend made you his disciple, he enabled you to make me decide to do wrong instead of right, and to write words in a line that showed wickedness was the only way.

When the imp recruited you to recruit me to show the rest of the world that his way was the way, you bargained for a place in hell where you could teach wayward souls that they had done well by following the words you had taught.

When that mischievous sprite meets me face to face, I’ll tell the Prince of Darkness that you fell flat on your face when you tried to teach me about poetry and feet. Then he’ll teach you all about how he loves to put your foot in the fire so he can hear the blasphemy pour from your lying mouth.

When the Fallen Angel asks me why I say, ‘lying mouth,’ I’ll say, ‘Miss Sprite told me my poetry was good.’ And then I’ll watch while he puts your tiny white feet to the flames, the conflagration, the inferno, the flames and those are no clichés.

“I’m sorry that an F, is the lowest mark I have. The poem you have written is gross, and I’ll have you know, I take a size ten, and as far as putting my feet to the flames, I’ve already arranged for that to happen to you. It was part of the deal.”

I watched all my poetic words burst into dancing flames with a touch of her finger and a smile crossed her face.

“I’m sending your words straight to Hell where they belong, and pretty soon I’ll send you there too, if you dare to write another poem.”

I started to write, “This poem is for y…” the pen exploded and pierced my heart, and it was too late to take back my words.


#207 After the Poets Talk

#207 After the Poets Talk

Matilda’s voice sounded like summer rain falling after a long hot dry spell. Hearing her recite her poem in my English class relit my fire. I didn’t listen to the words that flowed from her dainty lips. All I heard were the raindrops falling on my heart. I decided then I had to have her for my own.

But she’s a poet, I told myself. To me listening to poetry is like standing under the El-tracks while a train goes around a curve and emits a loud penetrating screeching sound that goes all the way to one’s soul. But that’s not what I told her when I finally gathered the courage to speak to her. I said, “Poetry is like a melody playing in a breeze, a light in the sky that blends into a rainbow of sound, and a sweet spring rain mixed together like spumoni.”

She looked askance at me. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to speak to her in a poetic tone. I couldn’t help myself when I gazed into her eyes and continued. “When I look at you, I see beauty never before seen, spoken about, or heard of. It appears in colors of chartreuse, purple, and red.”

I wondered if I should have added another color or two to stroke the poem so it wasn’t too bright, or tone down any glaring words before I recited phrases in a language even I could understand. Or should I have spoken as a poet speaks and used some abstract anecdotes picked from a pile of throwaway words?

I could hardly believe the beauty so many people saw in poetry. It used phrases and verses not spoken in any tongue, words only poets heard, so how could I know what they meant? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t make any sense of metaphorical styles. How could I know what they connoted if I could only guess?

Her words astounded me when she said, “I give you credit for using an original pick-up line, but that’s all you’re going to get from me. I can see you’re one of those common folk who don’t see beauty in our world and only wants to take what pleases you.”

“That’s not true,” I pled, “I see the beauty surrounding you.”

She laughed. “You only see what you want to see. If you saw the real me, you’d run away.”

“That’s not true; give me a chance to prove that I’ll love you no matter what the real you is like.” 57

I was going to fall to my knees to beg when she smiled and said, “Okay, come home with me.”

I tried to think of a poem to impress her, but clunky words were practically all I knew. I followed her up the stairs and into her apartment where four more girls just like her sat at a long table with forks and long, sharp steak knives in their hands.

“Ah, I see you brought dinner,” one of them said.

I turned around to look, but there was no dinner to be seen. It was then I realized they were all looking hungrily at me. I turned and tried to run, but Matilda was stronger than me. They tied me tightly to the table and lit some candles for illumination.

“He may be a bit tough,” Matilda told the others as she passed out dinner plates, “He’s full of awful words, but if you come across one, why just spit it out.”


After the poets talk.

Duty to Die


Duty to Die

The years begin with a babies squall, and soon

pass on by. Then we’re old enough to go to school,

to drive, to drink, but no one  ever thinks they’re’

old enough to die.


Everyone wants to survive until the day comes

when death is welcomed as a friend.

Age gauges past years, and old people’s

desires are framed in a time when their faces

didn’t have more lines than a map.


Wrinkle free beauty is remembered by every brain.

Aged men want to kiss soft and tender lips

misplaced in painted memories of years past.


Mother Nature has a temporary cure for those

who refuse to accept the passing years. She

adjusts their eyesight so they can’t see

epidermis devastated by years.


Immortality brutally passes everyone by, and

all feel the toll taken and awaken to the fact

that old age is inevitably on its way.


Every one is headed to be shredded by time.

Room must be made for the new, the young, the

ones with a future, not a past, the young believe

those past their prime have a duty to die.

Joe practicing poetry to recite at The Peregrine Book Store’s open mike.




 A Request


Adam and Eve both had a brain.

I wonder if when they first met

they were the ones who set of the spark

that obliterated the dark and created the

big bang when their two brains were diffused.


Confused, maybe abused until a flicker like liqueur

instantly exploded creating the universe and a God,

instead of God creating them.


So why can’t you and me like a branch of stars we see

make an unknown world of our own by melding our bodies

and souls to create descendants who’ll remember every

November, that we fused to make a better world for them.


Born on the border.

I wasn’t born on the border, but I’m thinking of using this poem I wrote in my memoir. Do you think it appropriate?


Born on the Border

Where do I belong

in this civilization

where I appeared on

a map’s imaginary line?


My ancestors came from abroad

with their desire

to put intolerance to bed,

to make a better life.


Do I belong

to the genetic heritage

of my ancestors,

the countries they came from?


What allegiance do I owe?

Where should my loyalty go?

People born here long before me

had no right to choose at all.


No matter that I’m a breed –

Italian and Russian Jew.

My skin is white,

but if I had a tint of red


or brown, I’d be second class.

My skin color affords me

rights easily lost

when the law points a finger.


Our country’s freedoms

are unequaled in this world,

but Justitia’s scales of truth

and fairness are weighted by gold,


the color that lifts her blindfold,

realigns her mission

from the stage of equality

to the parlors of a wealthy few.




Azure blue, it’s true, is what I see when

I dream of the Golden State.


Like a string of pearls, I see sandy beaches filled with

surfers and the most beautiful girls from that state.


I see forests, rolling hills, mountains and lakes that

make it a beautiful state.


Agricultural fields filled with an enormous bounty that

makes it the promised land with abundant fruits and nuts.



Memories like this make me want to go back until I remember,


there is no azure blue. Only gray smog filled skies, and getting

to the beach means hours behind the wheel on jammed freeways.


Ditto for getting to the mountains where smog fills the air and kills off trees.


The agricultural fields are full of slaves working for less than minimum wage

and throughout the rest of the state roam many human fruits and nuts.


I ask myself, “Why, why am I going there?” as I start my car and begin

the long drive.


Ugly as can be, is the monster

I dream about while I sleep.


It leaps and the sound of beating wings

comes from above and awakens me.


What flies around my bed looks like

the gargoyle from my dream


coming to haunt my waking hours,

something I will not allow.


Without dispute, I reach under my bed for my

shotgun to shoot it with and send it back to hell.


Looking into its gruesome face there’s not much,

space when I try to squeeze the trigger.


I feel its icy mind, like a cold wind, penetrating mine

rushing to the center to be near where my fear resides


and tries to instill in me enough fright to make me believe

I’m not right so I will not blast it back to where it belongs.


Mentally it has me beat, but being fleet, I jump upon its back.

Flapping wings try to take me high into the sky so I’ll die.


I stick my rifle between its wings. Without room to flap

it falls back into my lap. I pound it with my rifle butt.


“Stay out of my dream and away from me when I’m awake,”

I scream as I beat it so bad it begs me to stop.


I do when I recognize the shrill screaming voice and know I’m

not dreaming, when I see my blood spattered wife.