The only way to climb that hill
they used to call Parnassus
is to keep walking.  You can see
the vanishing peak, the receding summit,
and you will never reach it.
No one has ever reached the top,
not even Jesus.

Some call that walk
the practice of poetry.
Some call it a broke-back
pain in the ass.

Whatever they call it,
those who walk it know shit
from shineola.  They know the names
they call themselves.  They pick fights
and scabs.  They pick nits
and knit pictures.

You will see me there sitting on a stone
smoother than a devil’s egg.
I will be strumming a stringless guitar.
A buxom and headless mannequin
will sing my heedless songs.

You will see me waltzing
mockingbirds and tree frogs.

You will tote a leather bag
for all your wrinkled shadows
and study every stone
to find your mother’s maiden name.
You will learn to master
the five-card-stud mazurka
and the three dog’s of mercy.

When you discover a bent feather
is all that remains
of the hand-fast love-clutch,
you will offer your wife
a bouquet of frozen roses.
There is an assurance and fearlessness to Murray Shugars’s poems which I greatly admire. They are worth their weight in conjones. Fortunately, he reads with equal weight. If you’d like to hear this and other poems read by Murray, Smartish Pace just hosted a reading for Murray which online at
Before Dawn
A narrow sickle of moon.
A smell of sweet-flag and duckweed
In the reed kingdom.
Darkness changed to whitish silence.
Night ladled up a silver treasure.
The Milky Way
Descended to earth:
On it, returning from town,
Trying to sing something,
Walks my father,
A belfry under his arms.
The contours of stands emerge
On the stage of day. Soon will be heard
The first strains of the sun’s overture.
Dreamed cities
Fade slowly in the windows
And in the well’s cool waters gleam
The shepherd boy’s sleep-filled eyes.
(trans. by Jonas Zdanys)
Alfonsas Kyka-Niliunas is one five Lithuanian poets that comprise the “Earth” group, all writing in exile, and attempting to wrestle with the spiritual and psychological challenges of such an existence in the shadows of the Soviet Union’s post-Stalin years. I’m not sure if Kyka-Niliunas’s books have been translated into English. I took this one from Emery George’s fine Contemporary East European Poetry anthology (Oxford U. Press, 1983), which I recommend highly.

Chaplinesque (Hart Crane)

November 10, 2008

We will make our meek adjustments,

Contented with such random consolations

As the wind deposits

In slithered and too ample pockets.


For we can still love the world, who find

A famished kitten on the step, and know

Recesses for it from the fury of the street,

Or warm torn elbow coverts.


We will sidestep, and to the final smirk

Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb

That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,

Facing the dull squint with what innocence

And what surprise!


And yet these fine collapses are not lies

More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;

Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.

We can evade you, and all else but the heart:

What blame to us if the heart live on.


The game enforces smirks; but we have seen

The moon in lonely alleys make

A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,

And through all sound of gaiety and quest

Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Everybody gets the blues,

    And I guess I get my share.

Everybody gets the blues, I guess.

    And I get my share.

If I could sell just half of mine

    I’d be a millioinaire.


I get the blues in my parlor.

    I get the blues in my kitchen sink.

Sometimes I just sit and holler,

    So blue I just can’t think.

I get the blues in my bedroom,

    The blues all round my bed,

The blues down in my shoes, Lord,

    And all up in my head.

I get a surplus of blues

    But the blues ain’t in demand.

And nobody wants a blues

    That’s second hand.
Reading Raymond Patterson today, I remembered a few lines from an old poem my friend Oscar Amaya wrote about Langston Hughes called “I Too, But Not So Well.”

     I wish I could sing brown

     As well as you did black,

     But I reckon I haven’t got

     As many lashes on my back.


I’ll gladly take Patterson’s blues second hand (Oscar’s too) if it’s this artful.