Three Poems

The Whitcombs: A Portrait

In old age they play chess at lunch each day,
the long-married couple.  What’s there to say?

With “check” and “checkmate” their most frequent words,
they watch their lives like pawns move one way—forwards.

They make moves quickly, keep the game a game.
Why get too serious?  There isn’t time.

Their hands stay busy: now a bite of food
and now a well-worn handcarved piece of wood.

(He wipes his right hand clean after each bite;
she makes moves with her left, eats with her right.)

For years, they gave and gave, and now it’s take—
her bishop with his pawn, his knight with her rook.

“Does it always have to be at lunch?”  “Ritual,”
she says, “keeps change at bay, at least for awhile.”

Someday, solitaire chess.  Or, better, sweep
the board clean.  Let the king and queen sleep.


Choreographing Whitman: Cento for Dance

How many heavens do we get?  Here’s one:
a crowded cocktail party, full of dance folk,
tongues loosened by champagne.  I wander in
and through, weave an adagio, to hear the talk:

“All dances”—it’s Doris Humphrey!—“are too long.”
“Unless dance is religious”—now Isadora!—
"it’s merchandise.” And here’s even—“Steps, boring”—
Balanchine!  “In dance, there are no sisters-in-law.”

“Dance and bank robbers both need”—Twyla Tharp!—
“perfect timing.”  “Dance is food for the eye”—
natch, near Twyla there’s Paul Taylor—“so up
with dance, down with choreography.”

Do the voices or the drink make my head spin?
“Nureyev?”  George again!  “Ballet’s Liberace.”
“In dance”—Graham, finally—“freedom means discipline.”
“Pretty’s not pretty”—that hair! Mark Morris—“to me.”

Someone’s just miming drinking.  Of course, Charles Weidman:
“Martha kept us a whole year on the floor.”
“All real ballets”—dear Auden!—“take place in Eden.”
And once more, Mr. B—he’s everywhere:

“My Muse, bless her, works only on union time.”
“La danse?  Ecriture”—Mallarme?—“corporelle.”
Yes, but who’s that with him?  Merce Cunningham:
“Words about dance are Jell-O nailed to the wall.”

And the old man?  Whitman!  In his hand a glass
of champagne, which he loved to indulge in once
he reached old age.  But why’s he here?  Ah, yes—
he’s quoting his poem “The Sleepers”— “I am a dance.”



1.  Portrait

Bedside, on the floor,
books scattered like stepping stones—
such fear of water!

2.  The Poet’s Lament

I confess: of everything, this burned
the most—that all my blurbs to promote
the work of other writers earned
more praise than any poem I wrote.

3.  Cinquain

Thanks for the company
of your hisses and knocks this long

4.  Pissing in the Cemetery

The dead don't mind, though
they are a little jealous.
Still, they say, "Enjoy."

—Philip Dacey, New York, NY