Self-Portrait with Ball
If I had a sense of self it was a rubber ball
That I was not bouncing or throwing or kicking
But that moved nonetheless would not stay still
But moved away—uncatchable—then came close
Within a hand’s reach but veered—uncatchable—
Then fell but bounced hugely—how great I am!—
Only to meet the ceiling of embarrassment and fall
Without grace or pluck and start rolling on the floor
Hither and yon as if seemingly directed pausing
Waiting for me—me?—to say something astute
Like “a ball cannot have a life of its own”—except
Here was the evidence, the first unnameable.
Lament for an Accountant (1959)
Asked about tomorrow’s weather, a baseball score,
The latest summit meeting, you would reply,
“It’s all about making a buck in America,”
Work being everlasting, the great decipherable sum
You marched with and through and to, as if
A melody were in your head leading you
To another set of books, though not reading books,
Not library books, but books of written figures,
Thick black ledgers of ruled pages
That told the stories, adding up or not,
Cooked or raw, their testimony highlighting
Your ever-twitching left foot, the stolid Pall Mall
Bobbing on pursed lips, ash sprinkled freely,
Cough resonant and dire, the confession
Of one factor among many, slowly but
Steadily erasing you along with the overhead fan
That in the summer “moves the heat around”
Or the galoshes you wore in winter, recalling
Your boyhood and “how much I hated these things.”
The calculated days would seem to accrue,
The yellow on your fingers deepening,
Your mutter lengthening when the pluses and
Minuses didn’t result in a calm balance,
Every measurement, alas, pursuing the daily
Shadow of your ruin. “The world’s got to have us,”
You liked to tell me, as well as “Don’t smoke”
And “women can be serious trouble.”
Did you ever smile or laugh? You must have,
Some error encouraging you to forget
Somehow the heartless truth of minute labors,
One long un-birthday, time hollering at
Your back to crunch the numbers.
A Memorable Occasion: Opening the Doors
Having earlier in the prolonged evening swallowed
some blotter acid that came in a West Coast
care package, I found myself lying beside a corn field
my person dew-soaked but reveling in the earth’s
electric embrace, full-force gravity holding what otherwise
might go spinning off into the dark that was so slowly
lightening, warm filaments penetrating the soft thick murk
around me as some birds began to speak,
their sounds forming sights like those tracer flares
I’d seen in wars on movie screens but here portending
no distress unless it was the sense of my never moving again
my body swallowed by the enormity, the planet for once felt
in its fullness and my grasping however feebly the power
running through each moment that dwarfed and yet lifted up
the details of this bird and that young man and asked for
no recompense or explanation but kept turning and turning
so that even my reordered faculties could discern the calm
majestic motion anchoring the little green shoots of corn
headed toward a sky that sang in my ears with hosannas
much like a Hendrix guitar solo plangent with joy so that
I briefly raised my head in obeisance only to fall back to ground
that someday would be my final dissoluble chemistry,
my vatic names leaking into this vast palpable unsuborned music.
At the orphanage Lee told another kid that
We all will be loved by someone at sometime.
Ruby did it for Jackie and the kids.
You can’t take someone out with that rifle.
Don’t put your elbows on the table.
Good manners will lead to a good job.
Lee thought Connelly had fucked him over.
I hate a lot of politicians.
Someone threw a brick through their front window.
He wanted to infiltrate an organization.
He said he was patient.
I never was in Dallas.
I was in Dallas but not then.
You can lead a better life over there.
I pledge allegiance.
Keep your hands in your lap.
He was a nut case.
The CIA does not make policy.
If you talk, don’t say anything.
When the President was killed,
I was 15, I wrote a poem about it.
On a Contemporary Locution
When I meet Others I smile, shake hands
Not overbearingly but firmly
And when I stand there and hear the usual crud
About the weather, politics, their partner, their ex-partner,
Their kids, money, work, all the dandruff of disappointment,
I keep smiling and nodding my head
Like everyone’s not-so-favorite good-natured,
And if they pause to look at me, which usually they don’t,
Since they have yet another issue, unhappiness, dilemma
On their copious plate but if they do, they ask
What the hell am I smiling about to which I answer
That the Buddha is light, each day is light,
Even death is light to which they rarely respond
Beyond “Well, that’s swell for you, buddy, but my car
Got repossessed last Monday and I got the divorce papers
On Tuesday” and I say “Too bad you are part of the human race
But cheer up we will be gone soon. All the other creatures
Will celebrate. The earth will be one big, rid-of-us party,”
Which leads to another “Thanks, buddy” and I say
The way people do nowadays “no problem” because
There isn’t any.
Baron Wormser is the author of eighteen books.