Woke Up

I have always prided myself

On my open-minded attitude

Because when I was young

I slept with black men

And liked it

At least as much as I liked sleeping with white men

Which admittedly wasn’t much. Plus

I was a member of CORE

And picketed the Bus Terminal in New York

Which still had segregated water fountains in the South.

We sang Woody Guthrie songs and carried signs.

I have believed that

In my own way I supported

A multiracial society.

Not that I have been challenged in the last half century

Living in a Caucasian world

As I do

Where black people are so uncommon that

I do not presently know a black person.

Of course I don’t know any white people either

So perhaps that’s not important.

At any rate being married I no longer sleep with a variety of people

And my ability to march is limited.

I have decided that it is time to find another way to advocate

For racial equality.

Am I woke yet?

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Sidewalk Songs

My cousin Marty

Loved rock and roll

All summer that year

He sweated on the corner of Valentine Avenue and 194th Street

In the Bronx

With three of his friends

And sang Dion and the Belmonts songs

With harmonies

And the Everly brothers.

Marty had a pompadour and

Tight black pants

When I passed him on the street

I always called out, hoping to be noticed

But he didn’t answer

Intent on melody, swaying with syncopations

They practiced every day

Out on the street

I suppose

The apartments were too crowded, too hot

Smelled of chicken soup and garlic.

I suppose on the corner they could imagine

An audience as big as

The world.

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Tabular Rasa

I will never be able to write avant-garde poetry

With unexpected but meaningful spaces between words and lines

Because I do not know how to make tabs work on my computer

If I had a typewriter

I could be a real contender

In making poems located in the middle of the page

Or triangle shaped

Or strung out on a clothesline

I learned how to type in the seventh grade

On a black standard machine

A very serious contraption

The keys struck the paper with the force of my fingers.

At my finest

I achieved a speed of 20 words per minute.

When I went to college

I had my own typewriter

Portable in a matching suitcase

On which I typed my essays

Using erasable paper and white-out and

Even though my words were inflammatory

They were carefully written and

I knew how to use the tab key.

When I opened my law practice I bought an IBM word processor

It was slick

I used the tab key deftly

But my computer is different


So I am resigned to writing in rectangles

And will leave typographical advances to poets smart enough

To understand a screen.

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I have an animus

Which is defined as hostility or ill feeling

I had to look up the word.

I have an animus

For my neighbor who is viciously unhappy

And disdainful and parasitically feckless.

She once used the expression “greasy Jews” to describe men she rejected.

I think of my animus as a small mouse-like creature

Bad tempered

Ferocious in spirit

But more apt to hide under the front steps than confront an enemy.

When I see my neighbor I run the other way

Nursing my animus

Close to my chest.

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Pop Culture

All morning I look at the clock

Waiting for the moment I can announce that

I think I’ll have some popcorn. If it’s

Too early then I have nothing to look forward to later.

Too late and my stomach feels hollow and growly

When I decide that enough time has passed

I get out the machine

My jar of kernels

A big wooden bowl

Butter and cup

I measure out three tablespoons of popcorn

Place the bowl carefully under the chute

And plug the machine in.

While the kernels are heating up and starting to pop, their

Explosions drowning out the radio

I cut a tablespoon of butter into the cup

Melt it to yellow and

When the bowl is filled with popcorn

Pour the melted butter on top. I

Take my bowl to the corner of the sofa

And eat and lick my lips and when I’m finished

I wish

I had a bowl of popcorn to look forward to.

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Tripping the Light

I can’t dance

Unless I’m tripping

Then I am gripped

By the music, you know

I found that secret in dream town when I was

Down and out

Panhandling at the intersection of Haight and poor

That night about eight or so

Wearing a gauzy peasant blouse and

Long skirt

Bearing pheasants in my hair and


And barefoot

An old coot gave me a small square of LSD and a ticket to the show

I crow-walked in

Heart played on stage

Waves of music splashed through the hall

I started to dash and rage and jig and two-step in time

Lights flashing and pulsing in rhyme

With hundreds of others

All psychedelic colors and fancies tripping

And me with the best of them dipping and

Dancing fit to bust.

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Featuring Cat

Cats feature large in my world.

Just when I think I am writing a poem about death

A cat appears in the second paragraph

When I am drawing a portrait of my husband

He sprouts whiskers and pointy ears.

At the opera listening to Un bel di vedremo

I can hear meows

And Madame Butterfly swishes a furry tail.

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It’s infuriating

When someone has a secret

And is all hush hush about it

Winking and hinting about its power

To disorient

The more it’s a secret

The more I want to know

Tease it out

Ask twenty questions

Bribe the fucking secret succubus

With my own

Very worn out secrets

Such as they are

But since they are my only trade goods they

Will have to do. Admittedly

I am not a very good negotiator

Impatient and

Too lazy to lie.

My mother took most of her secrets to the grave

Never spelled out but tantalizing

Now I’ll never know

And with my mother I had nothing to trade

She knew all my secrets already.

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Married World

I am married to a man

So disconnected that when I ask him if he likes Beyoncé

He says who?

Never mind I respond

Not important.

He tells me about router bits and

The presidency of John Adams

He shoots arrows and throws knives and plays the piano

For hours

But he does not know about the riots in Minneapolis.

He is deeply concerned about the machinations of tyrants in the 19th century

But does not read the news.

Sometimes I play a popular song for him

Isn’t it great, don’t you like it? I ask

And he agrees and says he loves it very much

Hearing Mozart in his head.

When I show him an article about current events

Or a political meme that is funny

He asks, can’t we just look at cute cats?

I say fine

Because I like cute cats as much as the next guy.

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In the Garden

That afternoon was

Sunny and a little bit warm.

I was dawdling and doddering looking at green things

Pulling up weeds

Teasing the soil

Like I said, just passing the time

When I saw something move between the stones

A garden snake, scaled black and yellow

Making s-curves.

He had a small flat head and an honest-to-god forked tongue.

The next day digging in the dirt it was

Cold out but I wasn’t chilly

Because the sun was shining and I was hard at work.

I saw my snake again

This time on the other side of the path

In different rocks.

It slithered away, wouldn’t look me in the face.

Now I find myself searching for the snake everywhere

Calling to it in sibilant whispers, come

I have decided

It will be one of my spirit animals

Joining the possum, skunk and chipmunk in that role.

I am allowed to have multiple spirit animals

So long as they are small.

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