Category Archives: Poetry

Poetry: Central Park

My suite of poems, Central Park, has just been published in the November 29, 2014 issue of the journal, New York Dreaming.  As is my practice, I present them here.  I do apologize – WordPress does not allow for more compact spacing (or, if it does, I don’t know how to do it).

                                                                       

Central Park

 I

Prelude

The path that pulls me through the park,

stained macadam, sometimes stone,

mortar bound to climb down stairs,

winding past a grass clean field,

a clique of trees,

a man who plays the violin,

he stands there every day

vainly hoping that

his instrument’s sarcophagus

will green like leaves,

bends around a massive crop,

Manhattan schist,

the bedrock of my life,

conquering kids crest its peak

arms stretched down and uptown,

straddling the world.

I have spent my life

in wanders such as these,

the paths seem always to lead

somewhere,

and I suppose they do,

if you know where somewhere is.

Resigned, I rest upon a bench

until the spruce green slats

annoy me up,

but I must stretch,

for pausing only ossifies

a body used as mine.

Before too long, I’m off again,

let landscape lead me where it may.

A straight and wider boulevard,

grand paving stones and sentry elms,

a saber arch of leaves,

announce its majesty.

I am pulled, striding solemnly,

as such monuments demand,

and then it stops.

Spread far beneath,

parade ground breaks at deep green lake,

my eyes are pulled to rise.

This is where it ends.

This is where it starts.

II

Bethesda Terrace

 Angel of the waters,

cascading robes embrace

the house of mercy,

compassion, lovingkind.

Your far-drawn fountains pour

healing music on a sultry afternoon.

You are the respite and the pause,

your plaza a fermata

holding still the winding tunes,

the point and counterpoint

of twisting paths,

the resting place of weary melody,

pulled together by your flat green lake,

arches harmonizing hold the highest note

and shade the brooding bass of catacombs,

the great sonorous chord before the music breaks

and scatters once again through paths of counterpoint

and coloratura warbling the far-flung fields.

Filled again with pure vibration,

I sing along my way.

 

 

III

Remember the Maine

Remember the Maine.

Do you?

I’m sitting here below her gilded scallop chariot,

borne by waves that wash ashore

the water graves of those who served,

much as time has washed

the names inscribed upon the

sandy plinth between the seas,

lofted high above the park,

fading into anonym,

two decades more, they’re gone.

Sentry of the circle,

staring clear across,

the circle’s eponym,

his back displayed.

You’d think that as himself a sailor

he could at least bother

to turn his face,

to grace defiant victory that crests the prow,

perhaps he just resents the slender pedestal

on which he stands,

and so prefers to cast his eyes away from grander stone.

Forgive the bombast for those lonely men

were just tools to start a war,

to build careers and dreams deferred.

 

IV

Different Strokes

The painters array on a swatch of green

beneath sporadic trees

before a massive stone,

more white than gray,

that breaches the surface with its back.

 

Elderly they are, white hats, white hair,

white pads,

some on laps, and

one or two lurch out on makeshift easels.

 

And they brush.

They dip and they brush,

struggling to capture the elusive uncatchable.

One with bold dramatic strokes,

another, almost pensive,

one precision-like to thrust

the sounding stone upon the page.

 

Their art will never lure

the rock to paper,

but who cares?

The end is in the brush

that makes tangible what goes behind the eyes.

V

A Great Day in Harlem

Flat beneath the rocky heights,

cathedral towers pulling high

the ground that holds

the sanctified of God and man,

baking in the summer sun,

the land gives way to water,

just as flat and dusty as the grass,

turtles collect on a broken log,

their nostrils peer from the brown of the pond.

 

I stroll along that uncertain shore

and see a boy, beautiful, glistening,

whose wonder world this nature is.

He lifts his pole,

a crappie dangling from the line,

glowing in the warmth of day.

 

His pride as vibrant

as the shimmer of the heat that

rises from the path,

he smiles at me,

salutes me with his fish,

and humble, I defer.

VI

Sunday Morning

A wailing erhu struggles just to pierce the air,

an improbable regatta, waves laconic,

ripples lazy up the lake unfolding, rolling,

brushed against the coaming framed so perfectly,

reverberates a beat or two and spreads again,

the pastel notes of children follow trippingly.

 

Shaded in an alcove lined with trees, I settle,

the benches form my sanctuary’s inner wall,

absorbing deep the ancient sound and childrens’ calls,

they are the only tunes except the snoring man,

Sunday Times spread out, innocently sonorous

harmonies arise as the Chinese music fans.

 

Another sits a bit apart, a bit aloof,

slumping wearily and peering past his folio,

expression sort of dour for one so bronzed as he,

the tunes he pipes are rather of a darker piece,

entrancing, not enchanting like the wonderland,

vibrations merging motivate grim fantasies.

 

And so I daydream pondering this fairy tale,

stupor swaddled in a blanket damp with summer,

listening for melodies that cannot reach me,

reaching for refrains buried deep in echoes past,

my soporific sanctity cannot hold on,

and struggling for escape I have to sing my song.

 

I open wide my heart to let the music flow,

but oily air compresses breath before it billows,

chokes it down beneath the surface of my spirit,

strangles still the beauty of my barbaric yawp,

surrendering I slowly sprawl my ecstasy,

asphyxiating in the lushness of the day.

VII

 Benches (The Names)

Swirling around like a jazz riff,

paths and perimeters sweeping,

along hidden byway and bold cliff,

sounds joyous, pensive, or weeping.

 

But while their melody never stops,

it often lulls behind daydreams,

blankets of snow or the leaves that drop,

or faintly buzzing moonbeams.

 

And yet each strikes out a silver tone,

like saxophone or like trumpet,

reminding me that it’s just a loan,

each dying note must confront it.

 

Many are named who have loved this place,

but most remain unacknowledged,

sounds once degraded don’t leave a trace,

sounds never heard can’t pay homage.

 

Beautiful music that’s passed is past,

new rhythms won’t come ‘till tomorrow,

the sounds that embrace me won’t hold fast,

music, like time, can be callow.

 

Each bench that I pass shall stay nameless,

and yet records lives beyond count,

though grateful I am, for the noblesse,

a moment depletes each account,

 

And so I shall sing for the moment,

without much regard to the tune,

denying the need for atonement,

since harmony ends much too soon.

 

Lawrence Mitchell

Poetry

As I’ve noted, I will post my poems here as they are published.  Sympathy for a Suicide, which began as an attempt to make sense of Robin Williams’ death, has just been published in the October-December issue of the journal, The Cat’s Meow.

Sympathy for a Suicide

The shattered heart that drains my peace away,

and drives the life force deeper into black,

displace despair to loose my thoughts to play,

the bargain of my life begs this attack.

 

Far from the depths in which I often lie,

and sometimes wallow with a bit of glee,

the slowly roiling muck lofts vision high,

and lets us share our strange integrity.

 

We only know the things that we can see,

can understand what we identify,

and that is how this sorrow makes us free,

for it creates the course of empathy.

 

The gift we share is one that we can give,

the need for love bestows it in return,

while it sustains it gives us cause to live,

when it abates, our sorrows inward turn.

 

So I embrace you even as for me,

the stark aloneness of my mind despairs,

holy blessing, vulnerability,

the beauty of this gift is what we share.

 

And so, although, I know that you are gone,

and understand the horror that you knew,

I celebrate the courage of your life,

for only through that end could you be true.

Lawrence Mitchell

When Jupiter Aligns with Mars

It’s been a tough week.  And yet.

This evening I was riding the Washington Metro from Union Station.  I had just put on headphones and was listening to Stevie Wonder’s fantastic rendition of “For Once in My Life.”  It made me the happiest I’ve been all week.  I must have been bopping and weaving more than I realized for, as I looked across the train, I saw a stunning young woman watching.  Her skin was the milkiest cafe au lait.  She had the most fabulous Afro I’ve seen in forty years.  Her gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses and perfectly Carnaby striped bell bottoms completed a look that was, well, perfect.

In any event, I looked up at her.  She, too, was wearing headphones.  She looked at me.  Smiled.  Nodded.  Raised her hand in beckoning.  And, together, across the train, to different tunes, we danced.  From Dupont Circle to Van Ness, each in our own world but, for those precious few moments, in the world of the other as well.   We didn’t notice the other passengers.  Who cared?

We reached Van Ness and both exited the train.  On the escalator, she thanked me for the dance and put out her hand.  “Time for a real connection,” she said.  I took it, but our connection already was wonderfully real.  I smiled as she danced up the escalator and out onto the sidewalk.  Stevie and I bopped behind her.  We went our separate ways.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Thank you, Shevaunee.

Lawrence Mitchell

Selected Poems 1998-2014

Life of its Own

Life gives ground quite hard.
Tiny moth, torn up
wings just half a bow,
unseen, unseeing,
with flutter force it
fights its fate so clear,
but will not gentle go.

The fuse force drives through
hard pack snow ’til ice
prevents its flower,
yet waits behind the
death cold veil in vain
for warmth that too late
comes to free its power.

A headless bird, an
open frog display
in their great death dance,
grotesque perhaps, the
lovely lasting life
that does not give ’til
no will can leave a chance.

Birth is where we start,
death the apogee.
And I watch you friend,
as life in death holds
fast without relief,
will not give you up
until it’s forced to end.

Power far beyond
any choice we have,
drawing out the day
’til failing flesh no
more can hold its spark
and must allow that
shard to find its way.

Lawrence Mitchell

Selected Poems 1998-2014

A Different Sort of Love Song

Don’t write for me
of cobalt nights
and blood-red moons,
of autumn air
that chills us close for warmth.

Nor tell me of the crystal spring,
of green so soothing soft
against a robin sky
when feather breezes
silken through my hair and
early warmth gleams brilliant
in my eyes.

Forget about the salty summer dusk
when sun shot arrows
splay across the ripples on the bay
as we hold each other deep within
the spruce green cave and watch
the blue go violet with the sea.

No, sing to me instead of winter storms,
of dark gray skies that claim the light,
of needling hail and pounding snow
that wind whips sidelong
in our faces
’til it piles dead upon the ground,
of branches ‘tombed in gleaming ice
drooping over banks of snow
made fitlhy by home-drawn cars,
of ripping cold, and crackling gloom
that shatters through the quiet day.

Versify me just these things,
the shadows not the light,
the fight and not respite,
the end and not the life.

If you can sing the wonder of these things,
then you can endure my love.

 

The First Day

On the first day of my death
I guess I’ll sleep late.
But how will I know when late is?
Perhaps some subterranean timekeeper
chimes the bell on the hour
just to help you keep your bearings.
But maybe you’re on your own.
That would be kind of lonely, so
maybe on that first day I’ll just wake up
and meet some people.
I should know a lot of them.
Old friends, who knows? And family too.
They must have made up some games by now
to pass the time.
But I’m kind of shy, so
on that first day
I guess I’ll sleep late.

Lawrence Mitchell

Selected Poems 1998-2014

Those of you who visit this space know that, when I write, I write from the heart, whether the subject is the stock market, music, art, or the bus.  I’ve decided to vary my posts a bit for a while, from prose to poetry.

Over the next few days, I will be posting a number of poems that I have written over the past decade and a half.  Lots of people write poetry, and they write for many reasons.  But the poetry I have written, I have written for me.  I hope that it is more than simply unburdening my soul, a function to which poetry may be uniquely suited.  While it certainly is that, I have tried to do my best to do so artistically.  For the poem is a medium which, at its best, can reach the highest art.

All of the poems I shall post have been carefully crafted, to what end you will judge.  While I accept at some level Alan Ginsburg’s dictate, “first thought, best thought,” and thus none of these would have been written had something not come out directly, still the craft of writing requires some – craft.  (Howl could have used some editing.  Leaves of Grass, by contrast, clearly was edited.)  I don’t have Ginsburg’s talent – hence more work needed to be done.  As for Whitman’s – enough said.

If I have written for me, why do I post these poems?  Good question.  I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that writing solely for one’s self is a bit autoerotic.  And I have been grateful to my readers over the years — from my scholarship to these blog posts — for showing some appreciation for what I have to say.

So it is.  I hope you enjoy them, or at least find something of worth in these efforts.

Lawrence Mitchell