Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Last Day of National Poetry Month 2017

This has been a great National Poetry Month, with lots of superb works by poets (here, here, here, and here) as well as songwriters in the Poetry of Rock n' Roll series (here, here, here, and here). Let's celebrate the close of this year's Poetry Month with a yearning work by Dorothea Lasky who kicked off last year's National Poetry Month here.

Promised Years
by Dorothea Lasky

I would tell her
Except she wouldn’t care
I’d write him
Except he’d never write me back
There is a rat they left hanging
I’d save it
Except it’s dead
What is the force that swirls me
I asked of the wind
There was no reply
It was beyond me
And I was floating in it
Circles and circles
I’ve seen them throughout my life
I tried to answer them
They bled their mouths on me
Call me call me I begged of the moon
It did not listen
It had left me alone
So many years ago
And as the world collapsed
I mouthed the empty rhetoric of my time period
Call me call me
I begged of the wind

Friday, April 28, 2017


In honor of National Poetry Month, I have been sharing my original poetry. In keeping with my recent "color poems" ("White here, "Pink" here, and "Yellow" here), I'll share an older poem called "Green."


When I drove by, I thought,
I’ll sit down on a bench
at the bus station and
watch people, look at
their faces for stories
but I’ve already done that
when I was young,
before I had a car.
I was restless, my
mother said, “Why don’t you
walk down to the bus station
and watch people,”
as though there was
nothing else to do, so
I went and I
sat on a bench,
arms hanging by my
elbows from the back.
But she never said that--
I’m remembering a
bus station I’ve
never been to
in a town that
doesn’t exist but the
people here are
the same ones
who were there.
It’s like trying to be
two different people
at the same time,
the thought of all this
sickens me, my
stomach roils, it
cannot digest
things big enough to
push past the periphery
yet remain over there,
Today, everything is
green. Sometimes
on certain days,
it happens that
is the same color
and this too sickens me,
sick with confusion,
sick with fatigue.
I don’t know why.
I don’t know why
any of this happens
so for comfort,
I draw pictures of
my veins or how I
imagine them to look.
They are small, safely
contained within my
own body-- they would
never want to hurt me.
They are mine--
beautiful, innocent,
meandering ceaselessly
but joining with others
and each other
not as though they’re
supposed to but
just as they do.

© JEF 1997

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "You Haven't Done Nothing'" by Stevie Wonder

It's National Poetry Month and every Wednesday I have been posting lyrics from pop or rock songs that also double as true poetry. This funk/R&B song, "You Haven't Done Nothing" was written by Stevie Wonder in 1974 (a period when political protest was everywhere--and was effective) about then-President Richard Nixon, who resigned two days after this song's release. But it seems to be applicable today, so we dedicate these lyrics to the current Monster-in-Chief. We all need to return to protesting like in the 60s and 70s. The apathy of the 80s, 90s, and 2000s will surely allow us to be steamrolled and oppressed. We need to voice our opposition.

You Haven't Done Nothing

We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you'll do
Though much concerned but not involved
With decisions that are made by you

But we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
"You haven't done nothing"!

It's not too cool to be ridiculed
But you brought this upon yourself
The world is tired of pacifiers
We want the truth and nothing else

And we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
"You haven't done nothing"!

We would not care to wake up to the nightmare
That's becoming real life
But when misled who knows, a person's mind
Can turn as cold as ice

Why do you keep on making us hear your song
Telling us how you are changing right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
"You haven't done nothing"!

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Until It's Gone" by Lang Leav

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have been posting work by myself as well as other poets. Here is "Until It's Gone" by Lang Leav.

Until It's Gone
by Lang Leav

“Some people don’t know what they have until it’s gone.”

“But what about the ones who do know? The ones who never took a damn thing for granted? Who tried their hardest to hold on, yet could only look on helplessly while they lost the thing they loved the most.”

“Isn’t it so much worse for them?”

Friday, April 21, 2017


In honor of National Poetry Month, I have been sharing my original poetry. This is a poem I wrote in 2008 but re-styled and edited this month. In keeping with my recent "color poems" (here and here), it is called "Yellow."


Waking in morning, white sheets,
curtains open onto yellow brightness,
clear yellow, orange tinged, already warm and warming,
the promise of yellow roses, the day ahead, I can see it,
the shape of it,
I can get my arms around it.
I am singing on the inside,
I am singing songs of blindness on the inside,
I can only sing of today
and she is still alive
and he is still alive
and I know where I have to go.

And they are still alive and I know where I have to go today.

And the room is furnished with
everything I have ever loved and
everything I will ever need
and they are still alive today.

I know it’s not heaven: “Not exactly,”
but it is today, shaped like today,
feeling like today, that’s all.
This iron trellis the yellow roses climb,
this plot near the road, near the freeway,
near the town, nearer to something
I don’t know yet
and they are still alive.

©JEF 2008-2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Big Man Restless"

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week I am featuring lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry.

Back in 1983, British band Kissing The Pink released their debut album, "Naked" which featured a song called "Big Man Restless." Not only was their musical sense unique but their lyrical sense was oblique and enigmatic...

Big Man Restless

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Big Man Restless

There's a big man restless,
Who pushes for humour,
He's so relentless

He's back to back, with no restraint,
He's so relentless, like forty Indians.

Then there's the group
That doesn't move,
To the sound,
To the humour.

No one knows whose friend he is,
He's always there,
He's the big man restless, like forty Indians.

I'm in the third group,
We push for humour,
We're so relentless, like forty Indians.

The legal quarter of tight-lipped men
Pushed for order
And repeat again

Anyway, the lot regarding the funny man,
The big man restless
Are so relentless
They scratch about
And like forty Indians
The lot turn on the funny man,
The big man restless
And what can he say?

If the sun's all gone and we're wafer thin
And we could scratch around in our so frail skin
You could say...
You could say

No flags in here, no cause to wave,
Just the slow, slow scratch in the final cave
You could say...
You could say

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Voidcraft" by Ben Mirov

April is National Poetry Month! Here is a poem, "Voidcraft" by Ben Mirov, that reflects pretty much anything I've ever tried to say as a poet, and pretty much the constant background idea burbling at the bottom of my psyche.

by Ben Mirov

When the time comes for you
to board death’s shifty raft

of mirror shards and plastic coffee cups,
I hope you’re ready.

I hope you’ve made peace
with everyone you’ve ever done wrong

and you feel no more use for pencils
and your robe is warm and dry

and nothing obstructs
your view of the void.

When the moment arrives
I hope you pass through the membrane

that separates this world
from the next whatever

snowstorm wishbone yadda yadda
with very little pain. And a modicum of pride.

That’s all I have to say for now.
That’s all I ever have to say.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter 2017!

Since it is National Poetry Month, I have dedicated this month, April 2017, exclusively to postings of poetry. But I'm interrupting the poetry today to wish a Happy Easter and happy spring renewal to all!

Easter developed from the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre, derived from the Anglo-Saxon Pagan month of Eostur-monath (which roughly corresponds to our month of April). This month was named after the goddess Ēostre or Ostara who symbolized the dawn, spring, renewal, and rebirth of the earth after the long winter.

Now we celebrate by decorating eggs, a symbol of birth and fertility and new growth, and with chocolate rabbits, since bunnies are also a symbol of spring.

When I was little, I always loved Easter time because my grandmother displayed vases of daffodils and lilies, and panoramic sugar eggs around the house. And my aunt hollowed out eggs, cut a window in the side of the shell, and painstakingly assembled pastoral scenes inside using miniature trees and flowers, and tiny ceramic rabbits to make literal panoramic eggs. But the best part was the Easter Bunny who came to deliver beautifully dyed and decorated eggs in a basket full of chocolate and treats; my mom and dad would guide me through the house with clues as to where the Easter Bunny hid my basket (thanks Mom and Dad--I miss you)!

I hope the Easter Bunny brought you some treats! Happy Easter!

BEAUTY: Drawing--Lee Boyd

As I have said many times here on "Oh, By The Way," if you want to see me, a grown man of a certain age turn into an ecstatic five year old, just show me bunnies. Or better yet, let me hold and pet one. I adore them, and this time of the year is chock-a-block with rabbits and hares in all kinds of forms in all sorts of venues.

I love fine artist Lee Boyd's work from his Manimal series. Although he depicts other animals blended with human forms, I am naturally focusing on the bunnies...he works in pencil so all the images you see here are rendered in graphite.

Top to bottom: Contemplate; Don't Look Back; First Step of the Dance; Hold; Know Thyself; Never Late; Not Quite The Black Sheep; Pause; Set; What They Do Best; When Harvey Met Sally

If you would like to purchase a piece by Lee Boyd, visit his website!

BEAUTY: Art--Drew Mosley

For your spring awakening Easter pleasure, here are diorama works by Drew Mosley who uses second hand wooden bowls, trays, and vessels: he fills these with layers of resin, painting on each layer of acrylic his images of hares going about rather human-like activities. Then he adds actual greenery and found insects for a sense of natural verisimilitude. Each one evokes a sort of sweet, old-fashioned style of story telling for children, like Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Epilogue" by Keaton Henson

Since it is National Poetry Month, I have dedicated this month, April 2017, exclusively to postings of poetry. But I can't resist interrupting the poetry for some musical and visual poetry. On Thursday, English folk rock musician, visual artist, and poet Keaton Henson released a surprise single song, "Epilogue." And it is kind of devastating.

Henson's style is usually highly emotional and melancholy, but this song veers into profound territory around the 2:10 mark with his repeated line, "trying to breathe" and the accompanying subtle electronic distortion.

This is followed by a dream-like string section that is effectively slightly off kilter but achingly lovely and heart-rending, full of a cosmic tenderness and longing...then a section of a murmured voice, possibly played backward.

And of course the gradual dissolution of the entire image is the perfect way to close such a deeply expressive and wrenching statement.

The letters at the end of the film are encoded words using a simple 3-letter shift, or Caesar Cipher: when translated, it reads, simply, "Be kind."

Here's to me
I'm on the edge of my seat
Bound to fall
But I'm hoping you fall into me

Here's to us
Here's to the ties that I've cut
Along the way
Here's to the eyes that I've shut

Here's to my soul
Here's to the weight of my gold
Here's to the words that I've sold
Here's to the cold deep in my bones

Here's to my door
Here's to records that no one would pay for
Songs that I wrote and got laid for

Here's to the floor
Here's to the floor

Here's to my rent
Here's to the money I spent on
Trying to do what I'm bent on,
Trying to breathe
Trying to breathe
Trying to breathe
Trying to breathe

Friday, April 14, 2017


In honor of National Poetry Month, here is my original poem, "Pink."


You lie tangled in pink lilies, throbbing reeking blooms,
a thick perfume, exquisite seizures.
Is this the illness or the cure?
Your languid half-sleep rolls toward a
glistening, swollen new world
suffused in warm, rose-colored light.

Lying on the same spot on the other side from you,
surrounded by white scentless flowers paralyzed
in crisp, clear air, I press my ear to the ground,
listening for your heartbeat through the membrane.
If I knock, will you knock back? One for yes, two for no.

Before the globe turns,
before these worlds flip,
before the curtains are drawn
and you make your choice,
tell me you love me,
tell me I mattered.

©JEF 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Walking and Falling"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am continuing a feature from years past: The Poetry of Rock n' Roll. Here are the lyrics to an absolutely fascinating short piece by legendary performance artist and national treasure Laurie Anderson (previously here, here, here, and here.)

Walking and Falling

I wanted you
And I was looking for you,
But I couldn't find you.
I wanted you,
And I was looking for you all day.
But I couldn't find you.

I couldn't find you.

You're walking,
And you don't always realize it,
But you're always falling.
With each step,
You fall forward slightly,
And then catch yourself
From falling.
Over and over,
You're falling
And then catching yourself
From falling
And this is how
You can be walking
And falling
At the same

Monday, April 10, 2017

"The Carousel" by Zachary Schomburg

In honor of National Poetry Month, let's look at Zachary Schomburg's devastating piece "The Carousel."

The Carousel
by Zachary Schomburg

I’m in a carousel.
The kind that spins
people to the wall.
There is a woman
and a man and a man
inside of it too,
and a man operating it.
Everybody I love is
looking down at me,
laughing. When I die,
I’ll die alone.
I know that much,
held down by my
own shadow, wanting
to touch the woman,
the man, the man,
across the curvature.
I won’t be able to even
look. I’m on a train.
I’m a tiny spider.
A tiny star.
Or a giant spider.
When everything stops,
I’ll open the only door
to the carousel and
it’ll be the wrong one
I’ve forgotten entering.

Friday, April 7, 2017


In honor of National Poetry Month, here is my original poem, "White."


You can’t recall how or when
but now you know what’s true.
You don’t have to ask anymore.
They are here,
they can see you,
they can hurt you—they want to.
Here are instructions for escape:
the way is always up.
You slip back to your childhood
home, to the second floor,
to your room with the toybox
and the window facing the backyard,
the unknown forest beyond
as far as you can see,
the full moon over dense trees,
glazing them silver-white.
That’s the route.
Outside, crickets rasp the air.
Inside, silence.
You feel your wings spreading,
white feathers as you step through the window,
white wings carrying you over
white trees,
everything white.

©JEF 2016

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "The Scent of Magnolia"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am continuing a feature from years past: The Poetry of Rock n' Roll. And we kick off this month of poetry with a song by an exquisite wordsmith and stellar talent, David Sylvian.

His song "The Scent of Magnolia" is a journey.

(As usual I will be posting songs for this month-long series without links to the actual songs since the focus is on the lyrics as poetry.)

The Scent of Magnolia

In the coldest hour something's going down
Whatever pierced the heart, it didn't make a sound
I am terrified but I'm not losing sleep
If I'm falling then I'm falling at her feet

I'm leaving America, I'm taking a girl
I'm selling my soul again, I'm gaining the world
Every sense defies this impossible dream
None of the history books describe what I've seen

The rose, the breath, the undying spark
The lotus heart's open, embracing the dark
On the uncharted road is the not-coming-back
In the language I speak is the words that I lack
The oncoming cars, the wedding of stars

Will I know your name or recognise your face
Or by what means I'll be delivered from this place
Here comes the gun, there goes the flash
Once the bullet leaves it's never coming back

The scent of magnolia, the face of a girl
And every detail embodies the world
What kind of goals define this impossible dream
None of the picture-books reflect all I've seen

I'm leaving America, I'm taking the girls
I'll fire from the future and ambush the world

On the uncharted road is the not-coming-back
In the language I speak is the words that I lack

The scent of magnolia, the face of a girl
And every detail embodies the world
What kind of goals define this impossible dream
None of the history books describe where I've been

I'm leaving America, I'm taking a girl
I'll fire from the future and ambush the world

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Taking It Home To Jerome" by David Kirby

In honor of National Poetry Month, I will be posting poems by poets, myself, and lyrics to songs that read as exquisite poetry even without music.

Let's start the month with a profound poem called "Taking It Home To Jerome" by David Kirby.

Taking It Home to Jerome
by David Kirby

In Baton Rouge, there was a DJ on the soul station who was
always urging his listeners to ‘‘take it on home to Jerome.’’

No one knew who Jerome was. And nobody cared. So it
didn’t matter. I was, what, ten, twelve? I didn’t have anything

to take home to anyone. Parents and teachers told us that all
we needed to do in this world were three things: be happy,

do good, and find work that fulfills you. But I also wanted
to learn that trick where you grab your left ankle in your

right hand and then jump through with your other leg.
Everything else was to come, everything about love:

the sadness of it, knowing it can’t last, that all lives must end,
all hearts are broken. Sometimes when I’m writing a poem,

I feel as though I’m operating that crusher that turns
a full-sized car into a metal cube the size of a suitcase.

At other times, I’m just a secretary: the world has so much
to say, and I’m writing it down. This great tenderness.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Is National Poetry Month 2017

April is National Poetry Month 2017! Sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. This year's poster was created by the fabulous, delightful, and endearing Maira Kalman (previously here) and features a quote by former United States Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks:
“Books are meat and medicine
and flame and flight and flower
steel, stitch, cloud and clout,
and drumbeats on the air.”

How to celebrate?

Read your favorite poet again.
Read some new poetry.
Find a new favorite poet.
Write some poetry.
Leave poems for people to find in public places.
Read poetry out loud to family and friends.
Dream a poem.

Throughout April, I'll be posting poems, some by me, some by others, as well as a series of lyrics to popular songs that double as exquisite poetry.

And this year, Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 27th! Every April, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, people celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others throughout the day at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, and on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Poem in Your Pocket Day was originally initiated in 2002 by the Office of the Mayor, in partnership with the New York City Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education, as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States, encouraging individuals around the country to join in and channel their inner bard. In 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada.

And in honor of National Poetry Month, let's start things off with "He said I wrote about death," a lovely, aching poem about the truth of life by Kim Dower.

He said I wrote about death,

and I didn’t mean to, this was not
my intent. I meant to say how I loved
the birds, how watching them lift off
the branches, hearing their song
helps me get through the gray morning.
When I wrote about how they crash
into the small dark places that only birds
can fit through, layers of night sky, pipes
through drains, how I’ve seen them splayed
across gutters, piles of feathers stuck
together by dried blood, how once my car
ran over a sparrow, though I swerved,
the road was narrow, the bird not quick
enough, dragged it under my tire as I drove
to forget, bird disappearing part by part,
beak, slender feet, fretful, hot,
I did not mean to write about death,
but rather how when something dies
we remember who we love, and we
die a little too, we who are still breathing,
we who still have the energy to survive.