Brightly Knitted Bolivian Ch’ullu

Jack, my father, I am flying to you
on words,
on white-topped condor wings
of thoughts
to the high altiplano
where you are perched.
I need to tell you
the message hidden in the ch’ullu,
the pasamontana, the brightly knitted hat,
I made for your last winter.

I worked in magic tocapu patterns
and Bolivian pictographs.
It was a spell.
Bright green birds with yellow eyes
against a lavender background
meant don’t leave this world.
The waves knitted into the band
above your eyes
were talking about
how happy and well
the lake water would make you.

Oh I can’t remember what-all
I wished to say in my knitted hieroglyphs.
I clicked those needles furiously
watching Incan markings appear.
I wanted your ch’ullu to have powers.
When you pulled it over your ears
I whispered to you.

Alla Luna (a lunar cycle)

Last summer
we lived
on the planet
of purest sadness
looking at people
in the streets
like aliens –
looking at each day
as if it were the last.
We spoke to the moon
without words,
without hope.


There was a blue pool
in the sky.
We liked swimming
up there when the moon
and some stars
floated in the water.
You had to be careful
not to butterfly
through a cloud
or dog paddle
into the universe.


What was the deal last summer?
We were surrounded
by sky in all directions.
If it wasn’t dawn over the lake
it was dusk over the buildings.
Not to mention lightning,
orbiting sky furniture
like stars, planets,
then examining the moon
through your telescope.
All we ever did
was try to sit still
holding our breath
watching the heavens
for a sign.


Oh really –
let’s all gaze at the moon
and have a nervous breakdown
since life stinks.
I was looking at the lake sideways,
my head on a pillow
wishing and wishing
you would get better.
The moon went blurry:
space-garbage sneering
at me and my sadness.


A year ago
I stood at the window
high in the sky crying.
I focussed my father’s telescope,
saw lunar mountains, craters, valleys.
‘Well moon,’ I said,
‘How can I ever be happy again
when my father is disappearing
to a place I can’t visualise?’
Luna, I watched you change
all summer into a harvest moon
just before he died.


If you were still
in this solar system
we’d be e-mailing
comet sightings
to each other like crazy
and you’d have flipped
watching Hale-Bopp
through your skyscraper windows
on Sheridan Road.
But now I guess
you’re some kind of asteroid yourself
travelling to wherever.
Great timing, Jack.
You’re missing everything.

No Can Do

I know I’m a total party-pooper.
But there’s no way
I can go to Red Lobster.
I have to stay home.
I have to rest.
I can’t move.

Chip is like:
‘How come you don’t want to
to go out anyplace?’

I’m this huge moose
with no hair,
a cheapo wig and cancer.
And I’m supposed to go
and eat a Seafood Platter?
No can do.

The Great Blasket Island

Six men born on this island
have come back after twenty-one years.
They climb up the overgrown roads
to their family houses
and come out shaking their heads.
The roofs have fallen in,
birds have nested in the rafters.
All the whitewashed rooms
all the nagging and praying
and scolding and giggling
and crying and gossiping
are scattered in the memories of these men.
One says, ‘Ten of us, blown to the winds –
some in England, some in America, some in Dublin.
Our whole way of life – extinct.’
He blinks back the tears
and looks across the island
past the ruined houses, the cliffs
and out to the horizon.

Listen, mister, most of us cry sooner or later
over a Great Blasket Island of our own.


So what’s to live for?
I’m placing an American Express Gold Card
on the cash desk – seven hundred and fifty dollars
down the drain
for a fantasy rhinestone pump
with spike heels.
Yesterday, it was paisley-gilded
black brocade lace-ups with a louis heel.
My analyst said, ‘Indulge.’
So I’m indulging already!
I think I’d rather have an affair.
My Grecian slave sandals
would come in handy for that
or maybe my fuchsia satin court shoes –
depending on the man.

I started my girls off right.
As soon as they put a foot on terra firma
I got them little Edwardian slippers:
pink sides with a white toe and bow.
I can still see them teetering along
with frilly cotton socks and Easter bonnets.
I have those shoes up in the attic someplace.
I wonder which box they’re in…

Nobody gives a damn about shoes anymore.
Will Sammy the Hong Kong mailman
want to seduce me in my red-rabbit-fur bedroom slippers?
Who’s to appreciate – Glen, my spouse?
What a joke!
He trots off in his Gucci loafers to work
and you might as well be wearing
hiking boots under your negligee
for all he cares.
So I head for Neiman-Marcus Shoe Salon –
‘the place for women who love shoes’.
If he doesn’t notice my fantasy pumps
maybe he’ll notice the bill next month
from American Express.

I owned a pair of Maud Frizon shoes once
that had cute fake watches on the ankle straps.
He kept mocking them by kneeling down in front of me
‘to see what time it is’.

Did you tell that shrink of yours
about the Calvin Klein princess pumps
ya bought a year ago
and have never worn cause you say
they’re too pretty to wear
or those Texan snake and pony skin
hand-tooled leather cowboy boots
that you wear to the supermarket –
did ya tell him that –
what does all this mean?

Glen always toys with the dramatic
rather than the mundane in our relationship.

It was a pair of white patent Mary Janes
that made me the way I am today.
I refused to unfasten the strap
out of its golden buckle.
I wore them to bed, to school,
to play in – I even took a bath
with them on once – they made me happy.
One morning I woke up
and they were gone.
Words cannot convey that catastrophe.

Last week I wore a sea-green
suede-fronded ankle-boot
on my head to a party.
I went barefoot.
Maybe this is a development.

Saturday Afternoon in Dublin

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is in the process
of depressing me singing
the ‘Der Einsame im Herbst’ section
of Das Lied von der Erde.
A flute is playing as I look
at my sisters photographed in New York
in a crowd of twenty-five thousand people
getting ready for a bicycle tour.
I meet them for a few days
every two years or so
but I don’t know them anymore;
only how they used to be
before I went away.
Are you crying yet?
Sometimes you get to know your relatives
better when they’re pinned down
like butterfly specimens
wearing baseball cap and crash helmet respectively.
Kate, I see, has a blue-faced watch
with snappy red band.
Ellen has let her hair grow.
They both smile nervousl
because my father is taking the picture
in the middle of the throng.
Dietrich, meanwhile, has moved on to a beautiful, sad,
song with harps – I’m glad I don’t know any German –
it’s even sadder hearing words sung
that make no sense.
He says, ’Ja,ja’ better than anyone.
It isn’t music for New York, really.
A Hopper etching: ’Night Shadows’,
an afternoon in Dublin looking
out the arid window for inspiration,
wanting so many things to happen –
that’s when it gets to you.
Are you crying yet?

from NO CAN DO


You shoulda seen
what a lump on a log I was.
I was the certified chauffeur
for all the family.
Dolly has piano lessons?
Dad’ll drive you.
My wife is goin’ to the Jewel Food Store?
Get old drippo to sit behind the wheel.
But it was more than that.
There were these eight people
all grabbing my dough
on a Friday night;
eight mouths waiting for Hamburger Helper,
and after I’d bought them
their Dream Whip and their Keds gym shoes
they start calling me a square.
I was corny they said.
My daughter called me a male chauvinist pig
cuz I was enjoying the half-time entertainment
with the Dallas Cowboys’ cheerleaders
kicking up their heels.
This is a gyp, I told myself.
I can’t even relax
during a crummy football game.
I got my car keys
and headed for sunny Florida.
So long chumps.

Edible Anecdotes #24

The first thing you say is
‘May I help you Ma’am?’
If she answers ‘I’m still deciding’,
well then you reply
‘Our choc-o-licious offer for today
is imported chocolate-covered cherries,
one dollar and ten cents a pound.
Would you care for a sample?’
She’ll always say yes to that,
even if she knows all she wants
is a pound and a half of chocolate raisins.
Don’t watch them while they’re sampling,
except out of the corner of your eye:
it makes them self-conscious.

‘My that was tasty’, she’ll sigh,
as she wipes the syrup off her chin.
‘How much did you say those were?’
‘One dollar and ten cents, Ma’am,
will I give you a pound or two?’
‘Well, I am trying to watch my waistline,
but I’ll take a pound and a half
of chocolate raisins.’

Then you say ‘Why Ma’am, you certainly
don’t look like you need to count your calories.’
As you’re shovelling the raisins onto the scale,
make sure she’s watching and put a little extra in;
that way, when you say ‘Will that be all?’,
she may just giggle ‘Oh I’m in a naughty mood today,
you can give me a pound of those cherries as well.’
Say ‘Yes Ma’am’ humbly, so she
won’t notice you persuaded her.