"What did we do to deserve this?"
Asked the aging physicist
Pointing his professor’s pipe towards the backyard hedge
A radiance of pink camellias on an April afternoon

You think everybody gets a world like this?
A Sun that sets in the West
Streaking beams through a forest
Splashing puddles of light
(yes, yes–at a rate of 186,000 miles per second)
Onto pillows of moss?

On just how many star-circling globes
In this endlessly expanding universe
Do you imagine you can lift up your head
And see galaxies sweep a night-time sky
(who cares if they’re no longer there?)
Or the luminescence of a single crescent Moon
You can count on rising every 28 days?

Where else do you suppose
Autumn appears and reappears
With dusks that embrace you
Throwing a shawl of darkness soft as fur
Round your shoulders
Waking longings inside you
Like a haunting melody
For lost things, barely recalled?

Depend on it, this celadon cerulean spread
Isn’t a dime a dozen
run of the mill
easy to come by
(Even if everything’s relative)
Listen to your heartbeat
It’s whispering the secret of time
And don’t -- for a minute -- assume
That what you got here
Is universal

The Age of Iron

This coarse February night
Metal sheets of jagged sleet
Slash the windows
The rusty radiator hisses
And brackish water in a chipped
Enamel pan turns to steam
While within the tall pipe
Plumber’s damp ore
That climbs to the ceiling
Breaking through to the floor
Above pressure-forced hot water
Knocks against its core

The hollow ferrous door
Crashes against the crate
Of seltzer bottles in the hall
He’s come home
The subway still clanging in his head
Under his coat the New York Post
Grit-black, blood-red
Murray Kempton/MaxLerner
Gandhi was assassinated
The Rosenbergs electrocuted

"Guilty, guilty, no question about it,"
Says Dr. Kaufman, the judge’s brother,
To my father who is furious
Because I’m sick and missed a day of school
"You’ll be left-back!" he shouts
(Oh fear of ignominy)
They deserved it damn Communists!
Worse, Jews!
(Ignominy, ignominy)

Meanwhile my mother turns towards her shadow
And weeps in silence before the jangling rain
This is before her disillusionment
When she still believed in the Cause.


I can’t, I won’t let go of Earth
She told her angel guide
I won’t release my memories
To join you on the ride
That heads off to eternity
I’m not prepared to glide
Through star-flung space, no more to know
Deep dappled knolls of shade,
Bright broken moonbeams in a pool
Bare birches in a glade
And bridal braids of apple trees
Better that I stayed

Firmly grasped by gravity
With a pulse that beats to time
In metronymic regularity
Like the noon-hour clock-tower chime
This turning place of gloried grace
Draws me yet for I’m

Still too tight with day and night
Illusions they may be
But how discard a weighted heart
How set such carings free
So even though the heavens glow
This world is all for me.


"Chaque jeune fille veut seduire son pere," said the editor of Vogue-Paris

Lovely luminous Melinda
Curls caught up in a blonde barrette
Sweet Sixteen at her brother’s bar mitzvah
When her father lights her first cigarette
Escorts her over the threshold
In view of the gathered throng
Proclaiming in public the lustrousness
He’d witnessed all along
In this one and only daughter
The radiant love of his life
Tender and tremulous, silky, serene
And nothing at all like his wife.

Standing off in a shadow
Watching the gestured exchange
Someone raises her glass to join with the rest
But swiftly retreats out of range
When the instant of captured glances
Lit by the match’s flame
Reveals to her a connection so new
She cannot give it a name
For although she’s known a fatherly love
That has staked out a permanent claim
To her very soul from the spring at its source
It is hardly at all the same.