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Thomas Sterns Prufrock Examined

T. S. Eliot. Unreal man!
Missouri born, Boston bred,
At forty, standing before a baptismal font,
behind a locked door, secretly,
deep in the Cotswold countryside.
Sui-generous. We will look at the facts
under a microscope.
Biographers laid bare the bones
until only the skin remains,
Performed psychiatric autopsies,
studied footnotes of footnotes. Yet you hide
between the pages
of all their scholarly books.
Some write a hagiography; others, venal attacks.

Our subject variously looks
distant, disillusioned, quizzical, terrified, bored,
He sheds a citizenship with the ease
a footsore man kicks off
a pair of poorly fitted pinching shoes.
But do the new shoes also rub a blister, generate
The English gent you wanted to create,
though polished
as glistening as Prufrock's balding pate?

(A Prufrock gene lurks somewhere deep inside,
How else create
this prosaic soul, and make us feel that we have met him
at some scarcely remembered dinner date,
picking a scone from Virginia Woolf's plate?
In this examination,
One must include a subject most profane,
that of your wife, the tragic Lilac Girl.
A feigned romance.

Lilacs, all early flowers, do droop fast--
Their blooms windblown across the fields and gutters
even before the Maypole dance.

Marriage to poor Vivy put you on the fast track
To social status which you did aspire:
Kings and Queens and history, Charles First and all,
Decorations, consecrations, coronations, decolations!

you lost your appetite for this wife
with eyes that darted wild, ablaze with fire.
Did your feet grow cold
When you first found the virginal bed sheet
Despoiled by female stain, much like a beast?
Sadly the diagnosis was more dire,
as you later learned.
Sanity Inspectors pronounced Vivian insane.

Your response was to cultivate a priest,
Join the Cee of E.
The prelate could not patch your broken dream.
You found no absolution for your life,
though guilty of no crime.
Churches deal in sin.
Hope sometimes leads to faith, and here you turned
along a cloistered inner path, a call,
a beatific silence where, all-enthrawl,
one might redeem the Time.

A final charge you must face in this court:
The trimming of your friends (Emily, Mary, others)
Much like a gardener whacks intrusive weed.
When the play ends its run,
The actors lose
supporting roles.
The star no longer has their need.
The verdict, “guilt not proven.”
Just perhaps,
when old friends depart,
(Or you depart from them)
One holds them that much closer in their heart.

I now and then divine your shade,
Always on drizzly foggy morns.
If in winter, then pre-dawn,
solitary, punctual, 6 a.m.
Umbrella in hand, walking on
to a bus stop in Chelsea.
You take the short ride down the Gloucester Road
To take
the nourishment you need to start the day,
The Holy Host.

A second image, half dreamed, hypnopompic,
places you amidst the mobs
belching out of the Russell Square tube stop,
Yourself in dark coat, as thin as a tube rose.
Few commuters know your fame.
When I blink,
the mirage will quickly abate.
If this were Yeats, one would expect a ghost.
You are too upright for this kind of game,
unless the Holy Ghost is hovering near.
A phantasm?
Yet I believe what I do see.

Just incidentally –
Did you once possess the golden key
That unlocks the Rose Garden gate?



Flora Fuller

Flora Fuller pulled the front room window shades
To measured length, six inches above the pane
On a steaming August Monday morning
As her digital watch bleeped eight. No hope of rain.

Flora wore comfortable shoes on her feet.
A cerebral sort, she crammed the New Yorker magazine
Into her overstuffed tote.
If a freeway accident, she would be late!  Wearing a yellow suit,
She began her commute.

Flora Fuller felt fine turning the key to her office door at nine.
Two hours later,
There occurred a cerebral accident.
They carried her down from the thirteenth  floor.


A month later, in September's drizzle,
The neighbors fanned out before Flora Fuller's rented townhouse.
There were no unpaid loans.
People talk in respectful tones.
A moving man arrived in a monster van.

The window shades remained at measured length.
They allowed light just enough

Delores Chesney

  A playmate, a six-year old girl
  pumped up with her mission
  of conveying fresh, great, terrifying news,
  spilled out the words:  Delores Chesney died!

  Accent on the DIED.
  Quiet Delores had performed a trick that none of us had  even come close to,
  nor ever been sick.

  All this was during the droning lull of a steaming summer
  between first and second grades at St. Bernard's School,
  many years ago,
  when streetcars clattered down Gorsuch Avenue, 
  when deafening electric floor fans Sundays at church
  stirred the dead air,  the sun dust that streamed through opened stained glass windows,
  drowning out the high pitch  of the priest's voice
   who spoke of Hell like he had been there, done that.

 We were not ourselves rich, except in a child's imagination.
 We made mud pies, dug holes in back yards.
  I thought a deep dig might take me to China.
 At the corner shoe repair shop I'd beg for an old heel
 to hit the eight-box in sidewalk hopscotch.

 We jumped rope, didn't have play dates.
 Yet we had fun.
 But this dying, whatever it was, was something different.
 This much, I could feel: 
 that when September came, Delores Chesney would not be at school.
 She got hit by a car.  Cars were scary (my family didn't have one).
 If you crossed the street without looking, they killed you.

 Now, when I'm old enough for matinee movies at the senior rate,
 I want to shed a tear for Delores Chesney,
 mulched by the metal monster with the cruel fender, the devouring grate.

 Did she cry?
 Did someone run to get her mother?
 Did she know about die?

Winter Solstice

My body in twisted bedsheets   acknowledges the morning.

I shiver, cold in the comforter.

A street light shadow jets across the ceiling, glittering in the frosty dawn, for the sunlight

Has traveled as far as it will ever go.

Icy chill coats the outside windowpane.

Across the narrow street, a curtain patch glows yellow, that grim first click of a lightswitch.

Crows emit their compelling shrill caws.

A dog barks from the stark and the chill of the no-longer night.

Phantom footsteps clatter on the sidewalk.






The Squirrel Lady

Late afternoon
On the last long day,

The amber, slanting sun tinting
Red-yellow toasted leaves
On my front lawn

And on the giant oak tree,
Leaves free-falling in the golden glitter.
On this very day,

Old Constance Crossworthy
Who fed fat squirrels from her sickroom window
Was taken away.

Yet only with the angled sun's retreat

Does gold or god or earth and heaven meet.



Mr. Little

Mr. Little, at six feet three, towered over many men
though later bent by the gravity of the atmosphere
pushing down on his sloping shoulders.
His waist size was Diabetes Two.
Yet, "Little" was no misname, a Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill
although our man offended no gods, defied no Kings nor ever sought fame.
"Mr. Large" could not have carried the charge.
"Mr. Big," no one would construe.

     Retiring at home after his job was taken,
(He left with a shopping bag and a vague grudge against the Mayor of the city.
New technology took his job.
Some said it was a pity),

He lived with a cantankerous older sister.
The pair drew energy from their fussing.
She nagged. He was passive-aggressive.
He took his daily doctor-ordered walks.

Big Sis had trouble with the stairs.
 She rarely went out,
fearful of neighbors' curious glares.
She never answered the door

but one time, paramedics pounding,
the day Mr. Little was found on the floor


Still, life ticks on. A one-way street.

I get clues who I am by the people I meet.
Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I sneer.
Other times I shrink with fear.

Tick-tick-tick. A one-way road.

Will the cars knock you over, or your cares,
Or, even more dangerous, not sensing the mode.
Could have prepared me for the next fifty years.
From all the scares and the scars And the wars and the bombs,
The spites, the fights, the hate.
For splitting the yin from the yang.
For "enlightened self-interest."
For the rants of the good and the merely great.
Tick. One-way road? Could it be a Path?


Instant information! Instant gratification!  No time to reflect
or you'll neglect something! No space! Cyberspace!


I don't know what may await at St. Peter's gate.
Could the secret be the quiet sound between the tick and the tock?





Millennium Song

When I was barely four
My mother told me bedtime stories. I always wanted more.

When I became five, my burning question,
Much repeated, much deflected, was
"Where did I live before I was alive?"
"What do grownups do?"

 They get jobs, they get married,
 They get tired, cross and harried.
  They don't play - all day.

By the time I was seven
I guessed I was headed for jail or for heaven.

Life ticks on. When I turned eight, I added
Fifty years to my age. Even twelve, in those days,
Seemed mighty old.
By the year 2K I'd be close to mold.


Elegy for Enid

It was you, my foundation-friend,
who once explained
that publishers have no truck with dead poets.
Does the poem die when the poet does?
Is the poem the poet?

You re-created, riding the G train to Brooklyn,
more vividly than the riders knew of themselves,
spinning their hopes and dreams and fears and dreads from true seeing.

That November evening with me,
full moon magical,
two sixty-year-old schoolgirls sipping chamomile tea,
snuggled in teddy bear pajamas, we could have passed for six,
giggling over school stories. Tea cups and cupcakes
and the morphine bottle,
your mind starburst-brilliant,
your body ruined, metastatic,
You were ever hopeful
but I had already dreamed the dream
that you journeyed to meet your mother at the station.



The Dying Theosophical Lodge
They arrive singly,
Creeping up the creaky, steep stair.
They were once so bold as to price an elevator.
The proposal died there,
Meeting minutes are vague.

Victorian women who carry books,
Once-earnest men with steel gray hair
And serious looks.
Some knowing nothing and others, too much,
Hunch over a large round table
A few take notes. They beg
For spoon-fed gems,
With faces a small child would make
For that forbidden piece of chocolate cake.

One stout old bearded fellow
Dozes off in a corner chair
He dims one sense, he claims, to sharpen another,
To better hear the music (of the spheres).
Inevitably, the snore, the gasp for air
Arouses him,
Prevents his pitching to the wooden floor.

One of their number asks the same question
Whatever the topic:
Meditation, levitation, healing touch
(Tonight's speaker intones on myth and fable).
Hoping, each time anew,
For the same safe answer he waits to hear in vain.
One wall is lined
With a monster mahogany bookcase....
The occasional mental case wanders in,
Desiring respite from boredom and rain
And, if lucky, stale oreo cookies.

Who are these to seek,
Week after week,
To solve the world worn conundrum
That men throughout all ages would explore:
"Unexplained powers latent in man"
While powerless to raise a hand?

The bulb has burned out in the bay window lamp.
The vestibule, littered with yellowed junk mail
Gives space for the homeless man to encamp.

 Spring Cleaning: Elaine Stayed

   Dust rags and hands-and-knees mopping,
   Kitchen tiles dripping, sopping,
   The vacuum cleaner running amok,
   Scaring the dumbstruck cat
   Out of her sleep, out of her fur,
   Scurrying under an armchair.
   Mattress covers flapping in the air,
   Windows yanked forward
   Like arms pulled out of sockets.


   The smell of every product to be had
   In the supermarket cleaning aisle
   Tipping its lid like a hat,
   Like an animated Mr. Clean TV ad.
   Respectable wood-polish fume.
   Debridement or some soul-felt gloom.
   Staid Elaine.


   Although frayed, aging
   And somewhat in fright
   Of what or who awaits beyond
   This neon arcade
   Of the conscious day
   That my mind has made,
   I exalt in the pre-dawn rising
   Of the waning crescent moon.
   The cardinal chirps at dawn.
   I am the moon, not the sun.
   I am the slinking, skinny cat
   Who stalks her prey at night,
   In windblown paths,
   In my dreams, while others sleep.
   Let no one set a lid on my overbrimming.
                     (Dorian B)
Easter Morning Ruminations   
  “The Lord is risen inDEED”
   intones the young, reedy voiced Episcopal priest.
  Spanking clean from the seminary,
   the last syllable suspiciously close to upspeak.
   Maybe he's not certain.

   “InDEED.” In thought, word and deed? Present tense.
   The priest himself looks tense. Felled by the Tridium?

   The congregation sings a hymn with a similar sentiment.
   I egress into the vernal drizzle, walking past the tulips and cemetery.

   “I believe for every drop of rain that falls...”
   What has risen for me lately?
   Never a cake...I could eat a chocolate egg.

   “Unless you eat the bread...”

   Price of gas has risen.
   Radiation levels in the         Pacific ...peaceful....pacify...placebo...pacifist...
   Opiate of man.

   Taxes, except for banks. Cost of cremation.
   Odds of global annihilation
   Bread prices rising and all items
   going to market, to market to buy a fat pig.
   Gene manipulation to raise livestock.

   Is there deadstock?
   I must take stock. The stock market...
   a tear in my new stockings, lucky to get two wears.

   People talk about raising issues
   like poor people once talked about raising a few chickens
   in the back yard. A chicken in every Republican pot.
  Chickens shot with hormones, we eat them too.
   Early puberty.

   “And drink my blood...”
   blood bubbling from oil wells in the Middle East,
   Gushing out of arteries of the East Baltimore street kid
   dying in the alley.

   The Samaritan woman at the well.
   “All will be well.” J. of Norwich was an optimist.
   My anxiety level has risen.