Poems

NON-RAPS by Bob Zaslow

Here are some poems I’ve written since August, 2017

 

Peace Piece by Bob Zaslow

As a ruse, I photographed Bill Evans with my Nikon at the Top of the Gate

And his jazzy notes were a jig-saw puzzle of harmony and discord, impossible to hum

But they made me want to sing

Made me want to move inside and around them

Made me want to go to church go to heaven go to Rockaway Beach in winter

And feel the music/cold/night pierce through me

I could hear his feelings like he was revealing them in black and white

Which he was: 36 black and 52 white speaking parts

No structure no sequence no solutions no salutations no cerebralizations

Just vibrations resonations actualizations ideations IDEATIONS

Without words or predictability, where expressions express

And we, the lucky audience, got to take it all in

If we also listened without words

Not like the rube talking up his girl while swirling the ice in his Singapore Sling

And we got to hear what heaven probably sounds like

I heard it, I swear I heard it that day in 1970-something

On the corner of Bleecker and Thompson

And somewhere, up in my attic in a box, I’ve got photos in black and white to prove it

 

Practice, Practice, Practice by Bob Zaslow

A Japanese sage once wrote enlightenment is an accident

but spiritual practice can make you accident prone.

I laughed at his wit, then wondered what he meant.

I used to practice. On my guitar, on my flute, on my times’ tables.

But spiritual practice…how do you practice on your spirituality?

Could I do that just by showing up in the moment?

And so, I imagined

what if I really tasted one raisin?

Really noticed how my fingers grasped this pencil?

Really smelled freshly crushed oregano?

Really listened?

Really felt my feet flattening down the grass?

Could I practice that?

Could the sage’s practice be that simple?

That innocent?

Really?

 

Alchemy by Bob Zaslow

I once watched a glass-blower at a Renaissance Faire.

And while his glob of glass was glowing

he transformed into a great alchemist,

changing the glob into anything–

a vase, a petal, a dragon.

It was pure potential as long as he kept it heated,

and spinning, and flowing like liquid fire.

And keep it heated, he did.

His face reflected the golden-white glow of the glob

as he spun and wove and danced and loved,

and showed the audience what it’s like to be at one

with the fire, with creation, with pure movement,

and magical change upon change upon change.

But

once his ardor cooled

and his glass hardened

there was only one way he could change his creation.

Break it.

 

Church at Auvers  by Bob Zaslow

I remember the first time a man-made object

took my breath away. I was twenty-two,

a young art teacher, traveling through Europe.

And as I rounded the grand stairs at the Musee D’Orsay,

I looked up, and saw Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers.

I opened my mouth and felt my lungs fill with cobalt blue sky.

Forgetting I was in a museum, I shouted, “Oh, my God!”

I probably looked like some crazy American

tourist/eccentric/worshipper on that landing

because I stayed and stared perhaps thirty minutes

devouring every square-centimeter of canvas.

I took in the deep blue sky as though it were an animated movie.

And followed the wisps of clouds swirling behind the church,

which looked like it was carved out of purplish gray rock.

But, though bathed in afternoon light, emanated none of its own.

Could it symbolize the unenlightened? Empty preaching?

Then I dropped the questions. What did if matter?

No symbols, no symbols, not now.

Just the color and shape and form and flow;

the emotion in his brush strokes and how they made me feel.

Much later, I read Van Gogh’s greatest wish was to show

what such a nobody as he had in his heart.

And when I read that passage, I flashed on the time in Paris

when I knew.

And for a moment, I felt my lungs fill again with cobalt blue sky.

 

The Poison King by Bob Zaslow

The myth of Mithridates

The king who beat up Rome

Revolves around his poisons

Arsenic to honeycomb

An alchemist with nightshade

The king turned life to death

With roots and herbs and venom

Far worse than King Macbeth

And every day he took some

A teaspoon, never more

A tolerance he built up

As an uber-herbivore

He killed a lot of Romans–

Poisoned arrows, poisoned swords.

For years, they posted “Torture Him!”

For all the castle lords

So, when they’d finally trapped him

He took a ‘lethal’ dose.

But did it have the least effect?

Oh, no, not even close.

He was forced to go to Plan B

So he’d not be ripped apart.

And he ordered his last soldier

To stab him in the heart.

Fast-forward two Millennia

To a new king’s bold-face lies.

If you get used to what he says

Don’t you dare feign surprise.

Please, listen, that man’s backers,

Learn from Mithridates’ fate–

Don’t let his poison normal-lies

Before it’s much too late!

 

The Chinese Monkey Trap by Bob Zaslow

The monkey grabbed in for a fistful of rice

But then couldn’t pull out of the snare.

Not relaxing her grip and releasing said rice

She clenched her fist tight and stayed there.

And there she got caught, holding on to her grains

As the poacher whisked her, “Goodbye.”

How much I’m like her, holding on to my gains

Without ever knowing quite why.

But what’s so compelling, why grip them so tight

That I’d rather hold on than run free?

What’s my fistful of rice, what drives me to fight

And keeps me bound in captivity?

Does my place in the line keep my hand tightly closed?

 (I cannot let go and don’t care.)

Or a fistful of gold and the world I suppose

That accrues to a millionaire?

Whether I clench my fist or my jaw

The result seems to ‘ere be the same

The rice in my hand ends up worthless as straw

Once the chaff in my head makes its claim.

 

The Trueing by Bob Zaslow (12/14/17)

When trueing your saw, file and stone twice,

with even strokes to expose fresh steel.

Stop when the flat disappears, be precise,

and move down ‘til you reach to the heel.

Then re-clamp and repeat, but do it reversed,

all the better to cut ‘cross the grain,

at the same bevel angle as the first.

Place it flat, handle over the plane.

Then lightly run an India stone

to even the set of each tooth.

And remove every burr for a fine hone

to reveal your saw’s own perfect truth.

Whether I’ve trued my saw or pen,

I think I’ve done what I could

to treat my tools like fine workmen,

trueing both words and wood.

 

Indefinite Definitions 

To forgive means

forgiving the unforgivable.

Easy to forgive a doe-eyed child

but what of a steely-eyed criminal?

To hope means hoping when it’s hopeless.

Not when you can see a tiny light down the cave.

To believe means believing when it’s not believable.

Not when you own proof.

And love means loving the unloved.

Anyone can love a border collie

but what about a flea-infested mutt?

Am I saying all I want is for you to

have hope where there’s none,

believe in the unbelievable,

forgive a criminal,

and love the

unlovable?

No. But

it’s a

start.

 

Until by Bob Zaslow

A match is just a stick until it’s lit.

Ice will not quench thirst until it’s thawed.

A flute is just a tube until one’s breath

Can make a music lover’s hands applaud.

A book is just a stack of bound papers,

Its wisdom hidden when merely kept closed.

A sable brush will never paint portraits

Until the artist guides it to compose.

Until I stop my chatter there’s no peace.

Until I cross that bridge I will be here.

Until I wake my eyes I cannot see.

Until my mind is silent I’m not clear.

Until the piano lid is opened

The sound cannot be strong

The same I say for your soul today–

Don’t wait until you die to play your song.

 

Oh, I am Intimate with Sorrow by Bob Zaslow

In the next booth, I heard her brag

“Sorrow? Oh, I am intimate with sorrow!”

I remembered when I said the same.

But her words seemed to stir a swirl of synapses

As I stared at the Formica and flatware:

Without embracing it like a lover,

Without living it inside-out,

Without taking it in with abandon

Wasn’t I – I can’t believe I’m saying this—

Running away from it?

Wasn’t I escaping this way, that way, any way?

The waitress came and left, my mouth and menu, open.

My eyes focused on the pattern in the table top

Repeating every two feet.

I wasn’t intimate with sorrow

Any more than I was intimate with plastic laminates.

I remembered my pattern:

Spiriting away.

Strutting away.

Slinking away.

I knew a thousand forms of escape.

I am intimate with escapes

from sorrow.

But not sorrow.

Maybe I’ll understand one day

When I don’t have the time to escape.

Mind the Gap by Bob Zaslow

From now here to nowhere.

The idea is to have no idea.

To be still. And get past

the gatekeeper,

do-gooder,

opinion-maker,

voice-over,

task-master,

pleasure-seeker,

be-righter…

…the mind…

And be.

Not be good, be right, be first–

But be still. In your being.

Not your ego, or your context-creating cortex.

Your inner being.

And return to the love that you are.

Warning: you can’t go back.

Proceed with abandon.

 

Cezanne’s Apple by Bob Zaslow

It’s not a piece of fruit on a tree branch

Or on a table, next to an orange.

It’s a shimmering symphony,

Lifted off the tree branch,

Rising from the table,

Ascending with the oranges–

A shimmering symphony,

Moving up the canvas

And moving down the spine.

A ripening admixture of

Cezanne, me, and the world.

An assemblage of music, form, and color

Which, without warning, unpeels a protective layer of skin,

Throwing habit off the linen table-cloth

Like a crumb onto the museum’s floor

And opening up one’s eyes to perceive the ordinary

As extraordinary–

As shimmering symphonies.

Not by changing the world

But by changing the eyes.

 

Road Map

There is a road map only I can see

Suggesting unknown states.

My finger traces lines expectantly

But then it hesitates.

If I travel there, might I hit a storm,

Mudslides or earthquakes?

Where will I find refuge from a swarm

Of wasps or slither of snakes?

The map won’t set me straight at all-

It says simply, You are here.

If what you want is not to fall

You’ve fallen to your fear.

I take out my inner compass

It won’t yell me what to do

It whispers with a purpose:

Remember what you knew.

Remember what I knew? I say;

Remember what I knew?

Then I see it clear as day–

My map and compass, true.

The compass I alone can hear,

The road map I can see.

From this journey, I can veer–

It all depends on me.

 

The Blank Page  by Bob Zaslow

Some nights it beckons

Like a coquettish lover

Yes, yes, yes,

You’re Hemingway today

You’ve found Pound

Unleashed MacLeish…

But other nights it turns to stone

Like Medusa

Or Abraham Lincoln, staring silently.

And I’m stopped dead

Unseeing, unfeeling, unbelieving

I can make marks that make meaning.

And yet…I try again…like my ‘88 Chevy Nova

On a minus two-degree morning:

You-can-do-this…you-can-do-this…

Trust your touch… that’s too muchI see my grandmother reach out, pale white on paler white

Like Kazimir Malevitch’s painting;

Green eyes beckoning, an ancient accent dripping with borscht–

“I’m vaiting, I’m vaiting.

Come on, Bobbola, sink or svim, sink or svim.”

So, I flop in and am freezing instantly,

Sinking, paralyzed. I choose svim.

I flail my frozen arms and see

What my frozen fingers have made:

A few words on yellow foolscap.

Fool. I don’t know what I’m doing.

But my arms feel warmer so I keep it up.

I’m warming up to the words…to the words…

And I trust those old pistons in their old cylinders,

The solenoid, every belt, the carburetor, the battery

Will all conspire to get the petrol pumping…petrol pumping

And maybe move me a block or two–

When I hear the Chevy’s motor turn over like spring;

Yes! I take my chances and trust the machinery.

After a time, the blank page is not blank.

And I can’t vait to svim ‘til tomorrow.

 

The Magpie

Nothing is lost on a poet.

A leaf of grass transforms the minuscule to the mighty.

A horse’s hooves sound the death knell for a lover.

A birch tree conjures up heaven, earth, and transcendence.

The outer world of image, in all its shapes and secretions;

The inner world of imagination, in all its scents and silences;

The netherworld of time, even if only an abstraction,

Provide grist for the poet’s mill-wheel-house.

She feeds on raisins and nuts and nuts and bolts

And a shard of bottle that bends the sun to release luminescence;

And cat-scratches on a chair leg that become hieroglyphics

Revealing stories of pharaohs or pheromones.

From neutrino events to celestial observations,

Meat to meteors, hammers to Hamilton,

Paris, Texas to Paris, France.

Her Muses– complex or simple, naïve or profound,

Favor bird chirps as much as Bach fugues.

Anything.

Anything that weaves words and unwraps worlds.

For nothing is lost on a poet.

 

NOTHING GOOD GETS AWAY by Bob Zaslow

 My son had been moping around the house

I said, “Come on, tell me what’s wrong.”

 

He said, “Dad you can’t hope to understand

About this girl I’ve liked all year long…”

 

So, I sat him down and said…

 

I too, was a boy in love with a girl

Who trailed rose scents when she passed.

But she didn’t know I breathed air at all

She was first while I was last.

 

Really, son, that’s not a metaphor,

Just listen and hear what I say:

Our name starts with “Z,” as you well know,

And her name started with “A.”

 

First row, first seat, I stared when I could

At that profile and angel-like face

And she never once, in eight months of class

Turned to me in my last-seated place.

 

I tried paper airplanes, but that was so dumb

Though I thought it might get her attention.

But she never noticed, no, not in the least

While the teacher yelled “Double detention!”

 

I tried raising my hand so I would sound smart

But that turned out to be my unmaking.

You can’t answer a question that makes any sense

If the second she sees you, you’re shaking.

 

By April, my love was making me ill

By June, I felt anxious and small

And I thought if my feeling was never returned

I’d never love any at all.

 

Then my father asked me, “What’s wrong son?”

I told him, he thought for a minute,

And said, “Son, nothing good ever gets away,

But you won’t know unless you stay with it.”

 

I said, “Dad, you can’t hope to understand,

I told you, I’ve tried all year long.

But each day I go on, I just feel worse

Like this whole stupid thing is all wrong.”

 

“Listen,” he told me, “Girls have a way

Of knowing your mind, so don’t fear it.

Tell her the truth and then take a step back

Because most girls, they’d sure like to hear it.”

 

So, that’s what I did, and to my great surprise

She smiled back at me that June day

And ten Junes from then, we were husband and wife–

Dad was right– nothing good gets away.

 

Your dad’s right– nothing good gets away.

 

 

Smokey by Bob Zaslow

Her name is Smokey.

She’s gray.

Gray coat, gray eyes, gray whiskers.

Maybe you guessed that.

Smokey’s a pretty common name.

But she’s an uncommon cat.

She was born in my yard

Probably in some dense pachysandra

Near the side steps by the garage

Looking like a wet mouse.

But when I bent down for a close look

She didn’t flinch like her siblings.

No trembling or fear at my hand.

And when she was four inches high

She watched me, near my feet, like some wise, gray woman,

As I read The New York Times sports section.

I thought she turned her head as I turned the pages.

When she grew five inches high,

She jumped on the bench and sat beside me.

And she didn’t flinch when I pet her.

She sat there. And then it happened:

The purr. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrr…mmmmmmm….rrrrrr.

And since that day, she’d always sit with me as I read.

She’d come from who knows where

But she’d come. How’d she know I was there?

She’d sit. And purr. And put her paws on my legs

Careful not to dig her claws into my skin.

Where did she learn to be considerate?

When I pull my car into the driveway,

She’s the first one to greet me.

And when I water the impatiens, she’s there watching

Making a game out of avoiding the spray.

This morning, I opened the door and she was there!

Looking up with those gray eyes.

How’d she know what I was feeling?

All I can do is guess, but I think

Smokey was silently saying,

Something like, “Yeah. I love you, too.”

 

 

I Made a Mistake by Bob Zaslow

I congratulated a friend’s wife on her pregnancy

But she wasn’t pregnant.

I made a mistake.

 

I bought five avocados to make guacamole tomorrow

But they were way too hard.

I made a mistake.

 

I forgot to shut off my phone at the movies.

It rang at the worst possible time.

I made a mistake.

 

I baked a birthday cake with baking powder

Instead of baking soda, and made a giant biscuit.

I made a mistake.

 

I thought my friend’s parole officer was a telemarketer

And told her to never call this number again!

I made a mistake.

 

I came up with a new communications system for my company

But the exec VP said, “This would be impossible to implement.”

I made a mistake.

 

All of which made me feel a little like Thomas Edison, who said,

“I make more mistakes than anyone I know.

And, sooner or later, I patent most of them.”

 

Although I don’t think I’ll patent the baking powder recipe.

Or that other stuff.

Still, it’s nice to know even geniuses make mistakes.

 

 

I’ve Lost My Juice by Bob Zaslow

Read, stamp, collate. Repeat.

Read, stamp, collate. Repeat.

Read…I’m just a cog in their machine

Stamp…Multi-tasking, must get seen

Collate…”A” goes here and “B” goes there

Repeat…I’m their dog on amphetamines.

But…

My paycheck’s good, so I’m content

It pays the food bills and the rent

So what if I’m another cog?

I’ve got to stamp this catalog.

Read, stamp, collate. Repeat.

Read, stamp, collate. Repeat.

Read…My body’s tight, my body’s tense

Stamp…I’m good at juggling common sense

Collate…Checks go here and Debts go there

Repeat…That’s how it goes, anywhere.

But…

I’ve lost my soul, I’ve lost my juice

My joie de vivre has gotten loose

By body’s torn, it’s run amok

My spirit’s down, my life is stuck.

My contract’s contracting me so small

There’ll soon be nothing left at all

Making money’s my excuse

But even so…I miss my juice. :o(

 

 

The Commuter Rap by Bob Zaslow

 

I wake up at five and I face the jive

The commute to work with the other jerks

First I take a bus with the rest of us

Then I take the train, I may go insane

See the wheels screech

The conductor’s speech- (Hell)

Every damn word is out of reach.

 

I get a spot to stand, So I lock my hand

Around a metal ring and I squeeze that thing

I get pushed and shoved so there’s no lost love

For commuters, persecutors, below and above.

 

The commuter rap, wish they had an app

But I gotta take this crap, like a busted kneecap.

The commuter rap, hey, mind the gap

But this is a stopgap ‘til I get a job with ASCAP.

 

I get off at six with the dix and the hicks

And commute back home slow as tectonics

I reverse the same as I take the train

Then squeeze in with the hicks, it’s called “mass-transfix.”

 

The commuter rap, The commuter rap

You can yell all you want, you’re still taking this crap.

The commuter rap, the commuter rap

See you at five George, now I’m taking a nap. Yeah.

 

 

Mr. Z’s Fifth by Bob Zaslow

(sung to Beethoven’s Fifth)

I need a drink.

I need a drink.

 

I need a drink, I need a drink, I need a drink

Here by the sink, what do you think? Here by the sink.

 

I need a drink, I’m by the sink, I need a drink I’m by the sink

I need a drink…wink…now.

 

I need fifth.

 

A fifth of gin, a fifth of scotch, a fifth of rye

A fifth of anything that will help me get by

 

I need a fifth, I need a fifth, by its length or by its width

I need a fifth…a whiff…now.

 

I need a fifth.

 

I need to blur the day and make the night all mine

I need to drink away and slake my thirst- a stein

I am not far, I’m near the bar, I’ve got the need, we’ve all agreed

I need a drink…wink…now.

I need a drink.

 

 

The Lizard by Bob Zaslow (with apologies to Edgar Allen Poe)

Once upon a summer’s night

I woke from sleep and to my fright

I heard such sounds as I had never

Heard before; I knew not whether

To run and hide or stay and fight,

Once upon a summer’s night.

 

Left to myself, I would eschew it

But my wife told me to do it.

“Don’t you dare your duties shirk

“Go and find what monster lurks.”

I tip-toed down the stairs, that’s right-

Once upon a summer’s night.

 

‘Twas in the kitchen that I saw it:

Green scales, a tail, its visage horrid.

And it looked at me with yellow eye

And sharpened claws that terrified.

And my mind flashed on my gravesite

Once upon a summer’s night.

 

Trembling now, I shouted to it,

“How’d you get in here, oh I knew it!”

His eyes lit on the fireplace chimney;

I pictured some dark green Houdini

Who slithered down with no invite

Once upon a summer’s night.

 

“Look, I’ve got some fresh roast beef

Take it, take it, please be brief

Then leave my wife and me alone

And promise you’ll depart our home.”

The beastie laughed and grabbed me tight

Once upon a summer’s night.

 

And with my dying breaths I yelped

To my wife, “I love you, HELP!”

And to my surprise for evermore

She entered with a .44

Two shots she fired, and the lizard

Got one in the head, one in the gizzard

Then she dropped the gun and hugged me

“I’m so sorry, my hero hubby.”

And the moral: “With wives, don’t fight.”

Let them be your shining knight-

Once upon a summer’s night.

 

 

Time and Space by Bob Zaslow

Time is mind

Mind is time

Don’t mind the time

Or time the mind

Listen

Just listen

To the silence

Look

Just look

At the spaces

Don’t denigrate it, obfuscate it,

Rate it, grate it, or berate it

Be in the space, not of it

Use each sense, and really love it

Park your mind way over there

And be aware, just be aware

Put ego’s thoughts into a box

Stuff in your To-Do’s and clocks

Don’t let your nows all disappear

Giving birth to guilt and fear

The space between the bars

Holds the lion

The space between the notes

Makes the song

The space between the words

Gets you crying

The space between the ears

Makes you strong

Time is mind

Mind is time

Don’t mind the time

Or time the mind

Rise

Above thought

Forget

What you’re taught

And look

Just look

At the spaces

And listen

Just listen

To the silence

 

 

Chatter-mind (a sonnet) by Bob Zaslow

I shut my ears and learn to hear the song;

I shut my eyes and see a cloudless sky.

But when I watch my mind I am headstrong,

I see myself judge all and classify.

So, if I watch apart from what I want

Like snowflakes landing where the wind will blow,

Then watchfulness becomes my confidant

And all the fires of mind will cease to glow.

And so, I try to focus on my now,

And as I do a clarity arises.

The chatter slows, my breath will now allow

A mindless mindfulness filled with surprises.

With songs to hear and cloudless skies to see

I slow my chatter-mind, and let it be.

 

 

Beamish and the Bandersnatch by  Bob Zaslow (and apologies to Lewis Carroll)

 

‘Twas the day that they had never sought.

But the quiet Borogroves never thought

They’d ever see that lizard body, snake-like head

All the posters said that she was dead.

But! There she was, her head re-attached–

That frabjous, fumious Bandersnatch!

 

And all the slithy toves in the Borogroves

Knew that meant one thing: The Snatch!

The Snatch! The Snatch! The Snatch! We must alert the king!

The Snatch was running, running snicker-snack.

Then jumping, jumping galumphing back

Each Jabberwocky boy, a pawn, and in the town, all joy was gone.

 

As that Bandersnatch would not shun

Anyone’s first or second son!

So the slithy toves, they snicker-snacked

Through the town, then galumphed back

To warn the others, THIS was the day

The oracle predicted—their May Callay!

 

Then, behind the oaken city doors

The Snatch burst though like dinosaurs.

“EVERY BOY NOW, RUN, RUN, HIDE!”

The slithy toves’ shouts echoed far and wide.

But the Bandersnatch belched sulfur and flame

And burned down the tavern and the owner of same.

 

But through the smoke and burning wood

One boy, Beamish, turned ‘round and stood.

This roused the uffish ire in Snatch, who spread his wings and soared

But Beamish withdrew from his own sash, a gyre and gimble sword.

And with that sword he smote him, the Snatch would harm no son.

His vorpal blade, to quote him, “made him mincemeat for a hundred-one.”

And all the momes outgrabe from hiding, even the borogroves, though flimsy

Gyre and gimble lifted Beamish, and all of Jabberwock was mimsy!

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
All mimsy were the borogroves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

 

This Doctor Makes House Calls (a rapping thank-you note to Dr. Schefer)

Some doctors think they’re gods, and they put up walls,

But this poem’s about a doc who makes house calls.

Alan Schefer’s got skills that make him a winner;

Not least among them–calling us during dinner.

 

“It’s Doctor Schefer,” he said, “How’s Ann doing?”

My jaw must have dropped, ‘cause I know I stopped chewing.

“You’re amazing!” I said, “Is this really you?”

Then put Ann on the phone, who was amazed too.

 

Less than ten hours after repairing her wrist

He called to find out if she could now make a fist!

He called to find out if she was in pain.

The guy’s phone-side manner is something insane.

 

No wonder he’s voted the best of the best

Of the county’s doctors, but what I’m most impressed

With is not just his skill and his will but his heart:

He’s the Rolls Royce of doctors, he’s gold, he’s Mozart.

 

So if you happen to fracture a hand or a wrist

There’s really no choice, number one on the list

Must be Dr. Scheffer, the best of them all–

Tell him I sent you, when you give him a call. Yeah.

 

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