Monday, May 13, 2019

The Garden of the Seasons: The Perfect Day

On  the second Saturday of May, 
we had what anyone would call a perfect day
It fell between a month of rain and craggy skies 
It fell to show the truth to lies
It happened on a clear, cool, crisp and vernal day
spring-like because -- if any day we like in spring --
on Saturday we had the thing 

It happened in a time of record breaking rain,
Enough, almost, to go insane. 
And when we had that special one to blow the rain away
What happened next was Mother's Day
As almost every one of us recalls:
A paradigm of weather 
that universally appalls.  

            Ah, but to go back to the recollection of that perfect Saturday (especially as Monday kind of stinks as well) here's the unrhymed poem I wrote after encountering my neighbor about a half block away from where our houses abut -- he was walking his dog, I was merely walking myself -- who said to me simply, "So this is perfect." 
Here's the poem, in praise of a perfect day. 

Selling Points

It's just perfect today
This place, season, day
Folks outdoors waving their hands and jumping up and down
spraying another layer of 'just beautiful' on everything
Every few minutes something new:
Dawn Encounter! Morning Magic! High on Life at Noon!
Evening Splendor, coming to you in both sun and shade

The birds entertain, imitating themselves, spying on their competitors
Each little house in a postwar burg parked up against its neighbor
performs its own vernal rendition of the golden hour shine
on the fruit tree blossoms
Heavy on those closely packed ranks of
low phlox, in alternating shades of violet
An ancient border, from some other Era
of House-holding relaxing into lilac lust,
or, just now, in the door-shade blooms

Modest houses, unfashionable in their want
of many spacious open-plan rooms,
push up to the quiet street
Our own simple squeeze-box of empty-nester clutter
No need for carpet lawns of alien grasses,
low on staying power, high on chemical appetites
Instead, perhaps, a single tree blossoming
with the coin of the vernal realm,
its simple symmetry cupping the sky,
instills its nature on an entire front
its fat-lady diva hour,
clasping deep double-handfuls of ornamental cherry

Other, nearly tree-less blocks compete to border the world
with open-hearted handiwork
Chinese gardeners finding narrow strips of dirt
wide enough
to grow bok choy or leafy style, both prosperous descendants of the humble turnip,
where others see mere muddy footprints
or something to pave
Melons in later weeks rising like torpedoes
on handwoven frames

No shadows in this sun fest
No traffic jams, or barking doors,
or thoughtless teens, or angry bikers
Wrinkled hands untangling a hose
A sky finding a quiet place for a
gossamer moon
mocking bird warming up
Concert at seven

Earth gave us a continent
an ocean of green, a rainbow of cunning,
experimental hues to dazzle butterflies
And so many gentle hands
to trim the ribbons,
tie the bows. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Garden of Verse: The Stirrings of Spring in the Age-Old Human Heart

I was so moved by a couple of the poems I read in the previous issue of that I found myself attempting to write in the same key. Was this a good idea? Second thoughts aside, I simply did it.
           The result was the poem "At the Ivy Gate," which attempts to communicate the sense that nature's annual revival, rebirth -- all that marvelous starting over again -- triggers some deep, universal tristesse in the soul. Even as we open our hearts to all that new growth and beauty, all those new beginnings opening up around us, we know that our own beginnings, and renewals, are a limited set. We all come with a shelf-life.  
           We all know that one day a spring will come without us (or someone we love) to greet it. To paraphrase that most memorable line from T.S. Eliot, spring may be the "cruelest" season, in addition to the sweetest. 

           The phrase I borrowed from my colleague and friend Robert Wexelblatt's "The Last Poem of Chen Hsi-wei" is an old poet's characterization of his early poems as 'wind-borne chaff.' I used that image to begin my own poem, below.
At the Ivy Gate*

Such wind-borne chaff I write today,
the gate blowing listlessly in the wind
Ah, love! -- ah, spring --
Once more you rouse me from this calm
passage, a sail boat drifting on the open sea
to the final port
on the gray misty ocean where
the fantasy heroes await us with sad smiles
Ah, spring!  -- ah, time
Always we think we are riding you, fine beast
of animal flesh between our thighs
But you are riding us
             to that final stable
where we lay in the bed of old straw,
on our side, breathing to the gait of the final beats --
Oh, song of my heart...
a petitioner for some heavenly hail-ride service,
I wave and stand on tiptoes
            at the end of the avenue
while the parade goes by

*Title borrowed from a song by Brian Cain; heard at

You can find this poem and others in the May issue of Verse-Virtual at 



Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mueller's Report Laid Out a Road Map to Impeachment, But Only Congress Can Drive That Road..

             It's smack-in-the-face obvious that the current Pretender to the Oval Office attempted to obstruct justice. The Mueller report makes that point again and again.
            Acts of obstruction by the Pretender to the Oval Office -- I'm heavily tempted here to use the convenient and telling abbreviation POO -- include hindering a criminal investigation by pressuring others to lie to investigators or conceal facts, and by seeking to have the investigators removed from the job. All of these actions fall squarely under the category of criminal behavior called "criminal obstruction of justice."
            What's not so obvious to almost every one of us who is not a criminal prosecutor or a Constitutional authority is why special investigator Robert Mueller did not charge the Pretender with a crime.
            Mueller's report gives the answer to that question as well, but he states it in lawyerly language. For us non-lawyers, it's fortunate that some commentators familiar with the lingo have provided the translation for us.
            Here's the bottom line: Mueller did not charge the Pretender with committing crimes or seek to indict him because the current federal government policy (authored by the Department of Justice) is that you can't indict a sitting President for a crime -- under any circumstances. You can't charge him with X number of violations of such and such a felonious crimes and bring him to court, as you can to literally anybody else in the country.
            According to the Department of Justice, it's not permitted under our Constitutional system to charge a sitting President with a crime, for what many people believe are sensible reasons. We'll get to these later.
            First, here's a quick consensus summary of what Mueller report analysts had to say on the subject of obstruction.  
            According to Michael A. Cohen, a veteran political columnist for the Boston Globe:
            "...Mueller has laid out clear and unambiguous evidence that the president attempted, on repeated occasions, to interfere with the Russia investigation and obstruct justice."
            Most of us who follow national news, especially in the days after the redacted report was made public, are familiar with these "repeated occasions" on which the Pretender pressured subordinates to lie for him, or to fire Mueller as his investigation probed the Trump campaign-Russian connection during the 2016 Presidential campaign
            The instances include Trump's repeated attempts to have one of his appointees fire Mueller -- attempts that were deflected, the report states, by the President's legal counsel Don McGahn. Trump tired to get other government officials including his staff members to stall or put roadblocks in the way of Mueller's investigators, even urging them to leak "fake news" that would play down his acts of obstruction. 
           He tried to persuade former FBI head James Comey to drop his investigation into guilty campaign operative Mike Flynn. He tried to pressure then Attorney General Sessions to "un-recuse" himself in order to fire Mueller.
            Some of the other lies and acts of obstruction Trump engaged in (detailed in Mueller's report) include lying about the dirty-tricks Trump Tower meeting in order to conceal the fact that it was about getting dirt about the Clinton campaign. Also lying about the reason he fired Comey, including the whopper that he was ditching Comey because his reversals on the email issue during the campaign were widely regarded as unfair to Hillary! As if the Pretender would ever waste crocodile tears over that.
            Further (according to Mueller) Trump pressured a national security adviser to lie to the Washington Post about the contact between the felonious Flynn and the Russian ambassador. His director of national intelligence did lie to the Mueller investigation and to Congress about what Trump asked him to do. And serial liar Sarah Sanders wins her place in the Roll of Infamy by telling the whopper that FBI agents offered Rump a "way to go" backslap for firing their boss.
            Commentators in national newspapers such as The Washington and The New York Times pointed out that the Pretender's attempts to obstruct the investigation failed only because various aides, notably McGahn, refused to go along since they did not wish to be guilty of breaking the law themselves.
            So, the question remains, if these many attempts to obstruct a criminal investigation into possible violations of election law and other crimes are so clearly documented in the Mueller report, why didn't Muller charge the President of the United States with committing crimes?
            Here's the Mueller report's own answer. The report's authors state they chose “not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” -- that is, seek a criminal indictment -- "because of the Department of Justice regulations forbidding an indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president."
            Trumpets for Trump! 
            Enter the Watergate connection. (What fine company our current administration is keeping.) Forty-plus years ago Watergate commission investigators asked the same sort of question that Mueller's team was forced to consider. If you have evidence that a President has broken a law, what do you do? The conclusion drawn then was that too many strains would be placed on a Constitutional system based on "The Separation of Branches and Powers" if a President's enemies were permitted to charge him with a crime and haul him into court. In Nixon's era the Department of Justice termed that possibility "unthinkable." 
              How can a President do his job -- a big job in a dangerous world -- they asked, if he was sitting in a dock in Alabama or a Alaska and trying to defend himself against a charge such as lying to Congress about whether -- just to imagine a wildly improbable scenario -- he ever "had sex with that woman"?  
            More seriously, the Department of Justice considered, imagine that the Russians were getting up to something -- back then, the White House considered them dangerous enemies. Would you want the President trying to deal with war or peace decisions with a criminal trial going on?
            The result is that ever since Watergate, the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel has maintained a policy on its books that "a sitting President" cannot be asked to face a criminal charge.
            The question of the sitting President's immunity is not intended to place him "above the law," the experts say, but to protect our system of government from politically motivated charges of wrongdoing that would hinder him in exercising powers that the Constitution has given solely to him -- such as acting as Commander in Chief. 
             The policy says nothing about whether the person serving as President could be made to face those charges once he steps down from office.
            The central point -- the sitting President's immunity from criminal prosecution -- can still be argued. Some legal minds contend there are other ways to shield him from partisan manipulation of the court system without giving him a complete pass, and legal scholars have debated it since Watergate.
            But for the moment, the Mueller report concluded, correctly in accord with federal law and precedent, that charging the President -- as a prosecutor would ordinarily charge anyyone else -- was simply not something within its power to do.
            It's unclear to me how widely the general public has grasped that point.
            But it's hard to see how anyone would fail to see that the claim that the report "exonerated" Trump from committing the crime of obstruction  -- as the current scoundrel in the attorney general's office has wrongly claimed -- is simply a bold-faced lie.
            What the Mueller report does say is this: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”
            But the report did not so state. You have to be blind -- or a paid liar like the Pretender's fake attorney general -- to miss that.
            Michael Cohen, in his Globe piece, sums up the report's conclusion this way:
"Mueller seems to be taking the view that (a) it’s not his place to pass judgment on whether the president engaged in criminal wrongdoing, (b) it’s up to Congress to make that determination, and (c) the evidence his team assembled suggests that the president did in fact obstruct justice."
            Many commentators have since described the evidence assembled by the Mueller Commission as "a road map" for Congress to begin the impeachment process... if that's what Congress chooses to do.
            The bottom line is this. In order to protect the President from specious, partisan-driven criminal charges -- that could quite possibly keep him from performing his Constitutional duties and therefore screw up the correct functioning of our political system --
            (leaving aside, for the moment, the very real question of whether our political system is not already wholly screwed up and seriously dysfunctional for other, very serious reasons )
            -- the only court in the land that can hold a President responsible for criminal misbehavior is the United States Congress. That's what Impeachment is. Impeachment is not the same thing as Conviction. The best synonym for "impeachment" is the common enough word "trial."
            Congress put Nixon on trial, for very good reasons. In the '90s Congress put Bill Clinton on trial for very stupid reasons in a blatantly partisan attempt to weaken his political party. Although a conviction was not won, that gambit may have paid off at the polls when a weak Republican candidate (W), who knew little about the functioning of the federal government and paid his job as little attention as possible, subsequently defeated a much more experienced and prepared Democratic candidate, who was perhaps less successful in his imitation of a frat boy (Gore).
            Back in the 70s, Congress would have convicted Nixon, but that particular 'crook' resigned first. Back in the years after the Civil War, Congress impeached Andrew Johnson in an earlier partisan quarrel, but failed to convict him by a single vote. Congress failed to convict Clinton (as mentioned), but the attempt to manipulate the system arguably weakened the functioning of our system of government. It turns out that our 'political system' is based not only on what is stated in the Constitution, and its interpretation to meet present needs, but on high standards of ethical conduct by those who are elected, or appointed, to office.
            Federal officials swear to put the interests of the country before their personal and party interests. But, increasingly, they don't. This is obvious to all. And the more frequently, habitually, office holders lie, cheat, and sell their votes to the super-rich corporations, the more likely they make it that our government will be led by fatuous baboons such as the present fake-President.
            Somebody has to say that the country comes first. That the public interest comes first. That the welfare of Americans is more important than the career, wealth or egos of its so-called "public servants."
            And somebody has to stand up for the integrity of the American system of government. When it comes to criminal wrongdoing by the President of the Unites States, even a faker like the current fool on the hill, the only body that can do that job is Congress.
            Congress has to impeach -- even if a conviction may not be won -- to show that some branch of government is still trying to make the system work.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Garden of Verse: Ancient China, Faraway Places, Skinned Knees and Personal Bests in April's Verse-Virtual

            So many excellent poems in the April issue of Verse-Virtual. April may be National Poetry Month, but each page of the calendar makes for a very good month of poetry for Verse-Virtual. The optional theme for poets in April was, again, 'your best poem,' a choice that enabled poets to share some of their old favorites with readers.  
           (Find them all at   )
            Robert Wexelblatt's "The Last Poem of Chen Hsi-wei" completes a series of stories, with embedded poems, featuring the adventures of the fictional peasant-poet Chen Hsi-wei. The parable-like tale tells of a visit to an aging poet by a youthful aspirant who recites to him verses that the aging bard does not recognize as his own -- leading to a reflection that is no less affecting for being inevitable:
"Strange too to think of the poems I wrote long ago
and can no longer remember
.  They too will become so
much wind-borne chaff, having also served their uses."
             I found these lines intensely moving -- mentally jumping into stacks of that 'wind-borne chaff' and over-identifying the way good poems make us do.

            Poet Robin Helweg-Larsen responded with three nominations for her best poem, including "This Ape I Am" -- a poem with a brilliant premise worked out with inventive rhyme and formal patterning.
            An example of the poem's playful verse:
"Under our armored mirrors of the mind
Where eyes watch eyes, trying to pierce disguise,
An ape, incapable of doubt, looks out,
Insists this world he sees is trees, and tries
To find the scenes his genes have predefined."
            I love the internal rhyme and sibilance of "Insists this world he sees is trees, and tries..." The line might also serve as a good one-sentence definition of apishness. The whole poem is as fine as it is fun.

            Another putative best, Judy Kronenfeld's "Time Zones" links images from different cities at a single moment in time on an ordinary Old World evening: "rooftop squatters" in Cairo; a robed figure "scuttles from cenotaph to cenotaph" in Egypt's "Cities of the Dead"; a queue forming for bread in Bucharest; "someone weeps" in "rain-smudged" Istanbul; and in the market place of Classical Athens "a gypsy child/ hangs on a tourist’s hand."
            Oh, the humanity, I think, but the poem is braver, allowing the ghosts of all our evenings to gather "in my own room, some press/ against my shoulder," retaining (like Homer's 'shades') their interest in life. This is a poem with a wide and moving vision.

            Another reflective offering, Mary Makofske's "Milk Teeth" is an effort, the poet states, "to capture the complexity and ambivalence of motherhood." Too much time has passed for the speaker to distinguish whose milk teeth are whose, but the effort produces this lovely and fitting image of 'those years' --
"when time slowed to a leaf
seen on our walks, unfolding day by day,
or repeated itself like sandbox castles."
            I haven't thought of sandbox castles in a long time. This poem restores the memory of parenting days.

            Another possible personal best is Penelope Moffett's "Leavening." Something life sustaining rises up in this poem's images of what I take to be the memories of a crucial day:
            "Five hummingbirds hover in fountain spray.
Green and purple, with lacy wingtips,
coming in for midair gulps.
They chase each other off and circle back.
Noon. A dust-colored moth quivers up a screen
above the table, confused by some imagined glow
where all heat, all light swirl in."
            The vivid images of the existence we share with other living things introduces the poem's conclusion, which I will not spoil by citing here.

          Not all of April's poems are offered as personal bests, but so many are plenty good. I love the vitality of the imagery and diction in Steve Klepetar's "Old Neighborhood." I read it with a kind of anxious pleasure in the poem's evocation of a kids' wilderness neighborhood with trees you could climb, sighing with relief at the absence of visitations by EMTs or the cops.  
"We knew every shortcut
through the trees, leapt over roofs
without once breaking our legs
on the long way down." 
            Today people call this behavior 'limits testing,' if they let their kids outdoors at all. But the poem doesn't moralize. It's simply full of action verbs and vivid kid stuff:
"We blew smoke rings at the moon.
Girls giggled as wind tangled their hair.
Our skinned knees throbbed and bled. "
          If you haven't had a chance to read this or the poet's two other fine April offerings, treat yourself.

            Donna Hilbert's beautiful sonnet "Dark Spring" wonderfully captures the contradictions in its title in a rich, densely written appropriation of a classical form, as in these sonorous and happy-sad lines:
"Some happiness mistakes a cry for song.
So too, some misery’s notes are crossed
with joy, and life and death belong
to the same mad throng. ..."
            A marvelously executed poem.

            Among the rich pleasures of its form, Marilyn Taylor's "First Day in London" works in a super helping of Brit-speak. For example, this quatrain of ear-openers:
"I’ll chat you up, I’ll mind the gap,
I’ll not forget my bumbershoot;
I’d love to stay till Boxing Day—
My haversack is in the boot!"
            I could probably find the haversack in the boot, but I have forgotten my bumbershoot too often to pass for a proper Anglophile -- just a Yank after all. Gee whiz!
                Many more fine poems to reward our attention in this issue of Verse-Virtual. And when April's "perhaps hand" wipes away the month's final days, they will still repay a reading. 
                 Find all the poems and articles here:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Garden of the Seasons: April Flowers -- Our Pilgrimages and Chaucer's

In April we are raking it in. That blanket of last year's dried, brown leaves, I mean, the remnant of which you see hanging about the daffodils in the top photo, and crocuses in the second photo, and in pretty much all of the other photos as well. 
          And this is how the ground looks after I've already done the wide-rake heavy volume removal, to clear enough space around, and leaves off, the early round of bulbs. So we can see them. These places, and everywhere else in the garden will need a second round of small-rake leaf removal when the other ground covers and flowering plants begin showing up in force. 
            I can't remember a poem about spring raking. Spring planting, maybe -- that's for farmers, and for vegetable gardening. Almost all vegetable plants are annuals, at least in northern climates. Maybe this humble, yet labor- and time-taking ritual has yet to receive its proper attention. Most everyone associates leaf raking with the season in which they do it: autumn. But those of us growing more flowering plants than lawn (none in our case) know better. Yes, we rake in autumn as well, clearing walks and a car park area. But spring raking is our version of spring cleaning. Not for the faint of heart.               
               So while I rake I'm thinking about April poems. 
               The really big one is the first one, by one of the inventors of English poetry, the diplomat and courtier Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Middle English epic exploration of the various ranks of English society in his time is called "The Canterbury Tales." The organizing principle (and hook) of this immense achievement is the vernal pilgrimage his host of characters is making to the holy shrine of the tomb of Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury. Here are the first 18 lines:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. 

We were assigned to memorize these lines in my freshman year, giving them the Middle English pronunciation. Most of these words are close, or even identical, to their modern form. But we all need 'editorial' help to understand all the words. Quizzing myself today, here's what I remember:
line 1, "shoures soote" is 'soft showers,' the adjective following the noun in French fashion.  
2. 'droghte' is drought. Our professor pointed out there is no drought in March; the poet is pointing to a wintry 'spiritual drought'; an arid heart. 'roote,' though pronounced differently is our root. Spring rain, that is, pierces our heart to the root. 
3. 'veyne' is vine. 'swich licour' is 'such liquid.' It's neat to see where our word 'liquor' comes from. 
4. 'vertu' is virtue, meaning strength or power. 'flour' means 'flower' here; an interesting connection to what we make bread from.
5. 'Zephirus' is the wind, the west wind (I believe) that brings mild spring weather. 'eek' is 'also'. 'swete breeth' are our words, spelling and sound slightly altered.
6. 'inspired' is 'breathed in'; again good to see the root of our modern word. 'holt and heeth' is wood and field (the latter word is 'heath' for us).  
7. 'croppes' is our 'crops,' meaning new plants here; 'yonge sonne' is simply 'young sun.'
8. 'Ram' signifies the month of April; astrologers pick this right up. 'The sun has run halfway through April.'
9. 'smale foweles' are small birds (fowls); 'maken melodyes' is a lovely phrase for 'singing.'
10. The line means 'that sleep all night with open eye,' apparently a bit of folklore.
11. This line means 'so Nature pierces them in their hearts'; interestingly 'corage' means heart.
12. All the words are close to modern equivalents; 'goon' is 'go.'
13. 'Palmers' are pilgrims, because Crusaders carried them. 'straunge strondes' is 'strange shores'; we have 'strand,' British for shoreline, from the latter word. 
14. The Middle English here translates to   
'distant shrines, known in various lands.' 
15. We have 'shires ende,' words still used, but Americans no longer say 'shire' for county.
16. The old spelling of England, land of Engles, or Angles (or maybe angels). 'wende' sounds to me like 'wind their way.'
17. Old spellings for words we still use.
18. 'hem' is 'them' (where did 'th' come from?). 'holpen' is 'helped,' what martyrs do when you pray to them. Interesting that 'seeke' is 'sick.' How different this language sounds when spoken.

Enough words more pics below. The bottom photo shows hyacinths in the process of unfolding their petals.