Sunday, August 7, 2016

School Dreams

Universal public education
takes place in
inclusive classrooms 
where teachers
along with peers

guide all students 
through the changes
in their lives.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Excerpt from "Lyric"*

Wait for me my wild companions.
Let us slice this stagnant air.
For if nature can yet carve her canyons
then let her thunders lead us where
Aurora lives in liquid skies
and silence sings in silken sighs.

* I wrote Lyric for the Scribblers in 1973.  It was set to music by Mary Grace Bookhardt at the Pit, a coffee house in the basement of the church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on West End Avenue and West 86th Street in Manhattan. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Riding the Greenwich Street Elevated Railway (1873)

(re-imagining Walt Whitman)

Greenwich Street below me! I search the railway riders’ faces;
Half an hour before the sun sets behind that guy’s head! I observe his face.
On the elevated rails, trains are pulled above Greenwich Street by cables that claw at the cars. This is more curious to me than you suppose;
And you, guys and dolls, that shall travel by steam engine uptown and down, a millennium from now, are more to me, and more in my musings, than you might suppose.
Every station, that falls into disrepair, greets me with my future;
I’m dragged through the ebony street at dusk, looking for a blade of grass between the cobblestone paving, the muck and mire covering the earth, filling the riverbank and burying the dead;
The certainty of arrivals and departures.

Others will enter the railway turnstile, and ride from Battery Place to the farmer’s market at Gansevoort Street;
Others will smell the butter and cheese exchange and hear the din of the clam and catfish vendors;
Others will gaze the length of the iron rails;
Others will see the boarding houses and rowhouses of Greenwich Village;
A millennium hence, others will look over the lordly Hudson from the highway as they commute, the sun half an hour high;
A millennium, or ever so many millenia hence, others will enjoy the sunset over the landfills in the river.

  Just as you feel when you look on the railway, so I felt;
Just as you fear the meanness of the railway, the ashes and sparks of the train’s raucous roll, I was afeared;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the rushing hours, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numbered trains, and the great protruding headlights fixed in front, I look’d.

Many a time as the railway rode up Greenwich Street, I watched the windows on townhouses and tenements—
I peered in windows lit by kerosene and whale oil.
I watched oscillating bodies in the glistening yellow light, their exposed parts and the rest left in strong shadow.
I saw slow horsecar wheels turn in circles, while the city edged gradually northward.
I saw trains approach, casting their red sparks and black ashes over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets.
I too walk’d the irregular pattern of Greenwich Village streets, and bathed in the Hudson’s waters;
I too thought I’d float forever in that dreamlike solution;
It is not from you alone that crazy ideas emerge,
Those dark ideas arose from me as well;
My noble confessions, were they not in reality laughably evil?
I knew what it was to feel guilty;
I was confused and ashamed.
I felt insufferably dirty, dressed in lies, loved to loafe, swift to steal, and nurse bitter grudges…

But I was a New Yorker, friendly and proud!
Loud voices called me by my deep and inscrutable singular name; hep cats saw me approaching or passing on Bleecker Street, Washington Square, or sitting in Pfaff’s;

I roamed the freight yards of the Hudson River Railroad, the umbilicus of the Empire City.
Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to me than the heavy industry and many residencies of Manhattan?
Belfries and fire warning towers in the sun-set, patterns molded on the cornices of factories;
The iron workers toiling at their fires, the terra cotta manufactured in the twilight, and the carpenters in lumber yards; Curious lives amid the granite works and plaster mills.
The voices of residents I love call out to me from tenement windows that I pass.
What is more raucous than the cables whose claws jolt the railway car in loops, driven by steam engines in cellars adjacent to these elevated rails?
The distilleries above Tenth Street lead me north to you, they pour their turpentine and camphene into street lamps guiding me to you.

Roll on, railway! Roll on rails over ground and gravel, tunnel through the hills!
Dig on, you diggers, dig like badgers, earthworms and groundhogs!
Out gorgeous tunnels and on rails lit by the sun-set! spark your splendor for me, or the men and women generations after me;
Cross along the Erie and the Hudson, countless crowds of commuters!
Stand up, tall homes of Manhattan!—stand up, pulchritudinous palisades of New Jersey!
Suspend here and everywhere, elevated rail way line!

Be firm, rail over Manhattan, to support those who sleep on the railway, yet haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, falcons! fly sideways, or perne in a gyre high in the air;
Melt the winter snows, you iron rails!
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the cracks in the glass about the reflected shape of my head, or any one’s head, in the railway windows;
Come down, trains from Babylon on the Hudson! pass east or west, locomotives, gyrating engines, black cylindric bodies!
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the houses;
Thrive, cities! haul your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient rails – be the Meat Market for the World.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


(a play at play)

How’d it go?

It’s over.  I think.  Don’t let it trouble you.  Nothing falls neatly in place.

Do we ever find our place in this world?  Do we even have a place?

That’s just the wrong questions.  

What are the right questions?

Are we alone? Or are there angels watching over us?

Do angels exist?

Have you rejected them?

What angels would bother with us?   

They can forgive us.   Look at the art on the walls, the books on the shelves.
Those are your excellent angels.

They were inspired by the muses, but they’ve become material possessions, sought after by collectors.  

Once the collectors have acquired what they want what happens to the artist?

If I were dead, would my work increase in value? 

For the collectors.

American dreamers think money will solve their problems.

Let them dream. Everything must end. Even dreams.


Do you dream?

I dreamed that I was loved and valued.

Dreams are lies.  

They don’t matter.

I can't walk away.

You’re committed to the show.  Enjoy it.

My thoughts fly from the moment.

Then fly away with them.  You won’t suffer forever.

I've seen the world as it was and wished it wasn’t.
I’m quite satisfied with what you’ve put on exhibit.  It’s exhibited in the best possible light. What about the others?

I’m not expecting much from this.

We worked all year to select the works.

I want a private viewing of six paintings, and the opportunity to finance the exhibit.

You’ll never understand this work.

No. I’ve quit trying. It gives me a headache, but I want to own your art.

It’s not about selling. It’s about the experience.  Before the artist created, there was nothing. Beyond nothing was nothing. Zero.

One of these days you’re gonna miss me, Gaby.

Just leave my delusions intact.  I may not change the world with my art, but I can wield some influence.  

You ought to exhibit.  I brought bread and cheese from the market.

(a burst of light and sound of a loud blast followed by silence)

The city is under siege.


What will we do?

I worked past midnight hanging pictures.

These artists don’t know where to begin.  They don’t know what has to be done. 

I listen to the winds.

What do they say?

We should put up a pot of tea.

I live for the moment.

We share our moments with guests and strangers.

Send the audience home. The end is beginning and I’m feeling weak.

Get on with your life. Make the best of it.

The artists from the tea house are coming.

Do we need them? They threw my painting off the roof. They rage at the exhibit.

Warrior poets glorify war.

I pray for an early spring.

When spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple blossoms fill the air.

I’m opposed to war -- all wars.

You’re a dreamer.

An artist ought to be paid a living wage.

You need contracts.

Let’s not talk about it.

Do you prefer to be alone?

Does that surprise you?

We should quit using words . . . unless it’s to praise beauty.

We need to give voice to our anger.

Are you angry at Archy?

He did me no wrong.

You tried to sell his talent to industry. He had a good reputation.

They didn’t realize that.

I didn’t want to do this.

But, you did it anyway.

What was I doing? I climbed the Arch. Where could I go? It wasn’t in my nature to jump. Wherever I went, I wouldn’t get away from myself.

It’s getting late.

Why would you leave?

No one would know if you went or stayed.

All writers start with a single word. They continue writing until they come to an end. Then they analyze, criticize, and rewrite everything. All artists start with a single gesture, a response to a perception. They continue until they stop. Then they walk away.

Listen to the children’s voices.

I hear the children’s voices -- and I don’t want to perpetuate the species.

You can sustain their hopes.

Until they look into the abyss, and find despair for themselves.

You could have broken your chains to dance on top of the arch.

I would have jumped off the arch.

Your art would survive.

I’ll do what I have to.

Come, swift Spirits of might and . . . mirth,

I’ll live in the present. The audience sat through the entire play.

The audience leaves after every performance.

Our play comes to an end, but we’ll return with other bodies.

Can I exist outside my part?

At the end you are free. You may leave the theater.

It is time to begin again.

(sunrise. bright house lights)


(a dialogue)
by Richard A. Spiegel

What do you mean by desire?

It’s complex, eh?

Yeah.  It is complex.

Let me try to define it.

Oh, come on.  It’s really simple.

No.  You asked for complexity.

I’m kidding you.

But desire poses a real philosophic problem.

How so?  Tell me.

Is it an illusion?  You think you know what you desire, but are you fooling yourself?

I know what I want.

What happens when you get it?

Then I want something else.

So, you constantly desire.


Then you’re eternally wanting.  

I don’t think so.  

Desire attaches itself to an object.  That object of desire might be what makes a message jump from neuron to neuron.  The nerve message enters our body through the senses.  Then it finds its way to the brain, jumping from neuron to neuron.  Now, desire is what informs the message where to jump.

I think you’ve lost me.

Follow this.  Why won’t a message from the eye just stop?  What propels it on?  What force?  Desire!

Desire is a force?

Like gravity.  The gravity we know on Earth is this planet’s desire to hold us, to possess our presence.  If it let go, it would no longer desire us.

Mmmmm.  I’m not sure of that.  When we lose something, or let it go – that doesn’t mean we no longer desire it.

Ah, here comes the illusion of desire.

That’s not clear.  Let’s go back to the neurons and the message that jumps.

It jumps from the ends of the neurons; dendrites and axons or whatever they’re called.

Okay.  So they jump to the connector they desire.  They might wind up at the wrong connection, but their desire is constant.  
So they keep jumping until they arrive somewhere in the brain and the mind becomes conscious of that message which becomes a mental image.

Which could be a dream.  

We dream on.

Amygdala and Thalamus
(with Mary Clark)

 reflected thought off the cave wall.
“It is easy to see what you’re thinking
but try to control what you’re feeling.”
“I respond to this day’s daze,
this cycling drama of misplacement.”
Once judgment was sustained
the impulse was suspended, insecurely.
It wasn’t as if there was any disagreement.
The casual reader wouldn’t discern any
antagonism between Thalamus and Amygdala;
nothing of biblical proportions or classical reference.
“A musing on the seen ambiguities in uncertain contours,”
Thalamus contended, “would be of no use.”
You understand then,” Amygdala replied,
“how the pressure becomes unbearable.”
“Understandably so, if you lose the overview.”
But neither was there.  They disappeared into thin air.

All our feelings are within the cave wall,
all our thoughts are within the skin
said Amygdala.

When the feelings hit the wall
when we jump out of our skin
does that take us off course
or is that the course we’re meant to take?
asked Thalamus

Desire makes the pressure unbearable
noted Amygdala

and wearable, as wings
responded Thalamus,
I’ve wondered as I’m wont to do,
is free will another name for desire?

Don’t be so serious, I’m smiling because
you and I are having this dialogue
and that’s a rare pleasure,
and when we do as quoted from above,
there’s no antagonism
said Amygdala
Will you two shut up?
I’m trying to run things,
said the Basal Ganglia

(I know I can’t be as subtle as you are, but in my heavy-worded way I try to participate. MC).

Off course, of course, when direction lies
outside the old map.  Put aside the atlas.
Step outside the cave
and see the scattered leaves
from the almond and the walnut trees.

Unconstrained by circumstances,
free will takes flight
on the wings of desire.

And, I wonder about the heart of art.

And this is off course
from Amygdala and
Thalamus.  So it seems.

Bill Packard
wrote a series
of poems
about the erotic
aspect of vision.
He likened
eyeballs to gonads.

Something about the shape
of gonads, eyeballs and thalami
indicates a correspondence
between these internal balls.

but are these parts in dialogue?
that’s what i thought might be explored
in amygdala and thalamus
as if they were names of classical
personas.  instead they turn out
to be walnuts and almonds;
they don’t talk to each other.

except through this anthropomorphizing
that brings us back to the imagination
(where free will reigns).  

have you read keith douglas?
a british poet who died
in 1944 during the normandy invasion
he was only 24
but left some fine poetry

i found him in a 1957 anthology
a famous anthology
edited by donald hall and louis simpson
(and robert pack)

douglas is represented by a few poems
really fine though i think they
speak clearly across the years

in a poem titled OXFORD
about the university city
he writes

This then is the city of young men, of beginning,
ideas, trials, pardonable follies,
the lightness, seriousness and sorrow of youth.

(of course this was before
the university went co-ed
but, he continues)

And the city of the old, looking for truth,
browsing for years, the mind’s seven bellies
filled, become legendary figures, seeming

Stones of the city, her venerable towers;
dignified, clothed by erudition and time.

I wonder what he meant by “the mind’s seven bellies”?

Maybe he meant the bellies of walnuts,
almonds, pistachios, pecans, chestnuts,
hickory and leechee

Well, of course, the parts of all
are in constant and divers
conversation, this is the murmur
of the heart

Douglas is doing what we poets do
what humans do: we give personas
to objects, to parts of the body,
to cities, to stone

why do we invest “selfness” in things?

Packard’s eyeball-gonads bespeak Oedipus,
not to mention Stephen Daedalus
who saw such things…

About “the seven bellies of the mind,”
Augustine refers to memory as the stomach of the mind.

Watching Inspector Lewis,
I’ve grown curious about Oxford

In England, I was part of a communal theater
organized by Donald Gardner

We rehearsed at Cambridge
another university town

the new mystery series “Grantchester”
is set near Cambridge

the main character, Sidney Chambers,
is vicar of grantchester

the agon
between detective
and culprit

a tension

the Erinyes
pursuit of
Clytemnestra’s killer

in Aeschylus’s

a walnut (thalamus)
and an almond (amygdala)
make a nutty duo

both perceive
and interpret

but does either
recognize its actions?