Kenneth Rosen

Graffiti
(for Bill S.)

I tagged. I breached

             The avid gates

Of anonymity, still

             Retaining my sweet 

Secret of livid being,

             My Blake, my white


And black. And then

              I retreated again, 

Into the truth, sooth’s

             Troubled sleep

And life’s

             Silent choler.


This is the hiss 

             Of this—rubber tires,

Traffic’s whimper. This

             The me that is me,

Not the hauteur

             That was I. 

No Beautiful Swan

          i.

No, Anderson, most ugly ducklings

          Grow up to be ugly ducks,

Done in confronted, day after day,

          By the vital yet vitiating

Disappointment of their faces

          In their mirrors and the mildest,

Most courteous and evasive 


          Excuses and abuses in the chaos

Of elective affinity’s pitiless 

          Marketplace: ill-concealed winces

As others glimpse the Dead-End

          Neon sign flickering toward failure

At the front of an ugly duck’s head—

Its daily prophetic condemnation.


Last night near here, a pale white male

In a gray hoodie struck from behind

 

          ii.

Another young woman walking home

          Alone with a club or other

Blunt object, ran away down Pine,

          Then Carleton toward Brackett

And escaped, despite police officers’  

          Efforts to track the bastard 

With their K9 dog. Fourth attack 


Like this in half a year, the man clearly

          An ugly duckling grown up 

An absolute swine, no beautiful swan, 

          A creep inflicting the curse of birth 

On women he imagines angels. Our tales,

          Hans Christian, are a demonic 

Masquerade, chunks of flint tenderly 


Flensed from our gray matter’s  

Dwindling store of stone water.

A Mirror of Furor

i.

Manufacture anger to justify

          Amorous failure. Call your former

Amor a bastard or bitch

          Before the pain of love’s cathexis

And avulsion—like the tail

          Torn off a cat a bitter janitor

Hurls alive and yowling 

          Into the roaring jaws 

Of an orange furnace—bites you 

          In the ass, just as it chews 

And chaws at your mind 

          And that dented Bing cherry-

Red valentine you call your heart,

          And you too leap or slip off a cliff

Or the lip of an Amherst stadium


ii.

Onto a street’s witch grass,

          Dandelions and concrete, 

And your limp, at least at first, 

          Body blocks the path of loveless,

Cautiously horrified pedestrians

          And that love-moth, which it was,

Flies into the abyss again 

          Of all and forever, away from

Earth’s tarpit memories of dinosaur 

          Anguish and writhing paralysis,

Where your body’s dead monkey

          Feeds worms and fungus, 

While your soul, like your poetry, 

          Flies free, pretty girl,

Now eternally breathless.

Settlers

i.

God sits in heaven and laughs

          At our infinitely 

Distinct yet familiar April snows 

          Fallen on thawed 

Ponds’ onyx waters, cares and woes.

          Up there with Him 

Are safe and happy billionaires,

          While down here we

Strive in labyrinthine social sewers  

          To win one hybrid 

Tug-of-war after another with friends,

          Foes, cousins. I once 

Had an uncle who, arriving at a family

          Outdoor affair, 


ii.

Was obliged to relieve himself

          Publicly: stand up 

And squat in a playpen arrangement,

          Sort of a framed

Open tent, and after he’d peed

          Or changed Depends, 

Would call me out—eldest, like me,

          At most gatherings 

I still attend, and inquire, Ken, what

          Do you think about

The world situation? He’s gone,

          That whole generation’s 

Gone, children of those who’d fled

          On foot Mount Ararat’s 


iii.

Turkish-Armenian slope—been there,

          I’d love to go back, 

But I'm way too old. Today I’d say, 

          Uncle, we are settlers, 

All of us settlers, despised for clinging

          To our shredded 

Or swollen, weaponized heritages’ 

          Pious hopes, rueful

Jokes and practices, earnest, almost 

          Honest myths of nothing 

But the shirts on our backs, of days 

          In the desert, or

Rocking on crowded boats, reviled 

          For our resolve to survive.

Three Robins

Three robins sat in a leafless thicket

            Of gaunt, self-strangulated, winter-

Bare, antler branches. Turdus migratorius.

            Sentinels. Reproachful. Morosely cold.

Studying me and indifferent to the flitting

            Of finches and darting sparrows

 

Deftly alighting, then again up away darting.

            Quite frigid out today, a mere 3 degrees

Fahrenheit over zero. At last those robins 

            Also arose in their larger, languid, muscularly

Dignified modalities, flapped and flew away,

            And I alone was left to tell thee

 

How I too shall soon arise and go,

            Lumbering me, to my own lake isle

In a sky gray as water lapping at mud as bleak   

            As those three robins’ brown-black wings,

Away alone alas aloft and free, the sky’s 

            Breast now ruby-red as any of the three.

Ostriches and Lions

Lots of gender excitement in those

          Wiki-votes as to whether an ostrich

With its four inches of claw 

          And two-thousand-pound power


Of kick can kill a lion, though also online’s

          A video showing a golden king of the beasts

Hopping onto to the back of an ostrich

          Absent-mindedly trotting along—not home


Guarding her eggs, so presumably male—

          The feline eagerly eating it raw awhile, 

As if chicken meat, sliding down

          When done, wandering away, ostrich


Sort of surviving awhile. So much of earth

          And hunger’s practical politics

And the metaphysics, cosmic or not,

          Of mercy and justice, are to me


Incomprehensible, or a baldly unbearable  

          Horror, such as why put such terror 

And gore as this online? Ask the dead

          Stars into which darkness pours.


Ask why people evolved to snore, foul

          Eden’s heavenly nest, or write poems

To inflate by your mouth your ego’s balloon,

          Which explodes and plasters your face. 

Kenneth Rosen lives and writes in Portland, Maine. He swims daily in Portland's public pools and before that ran marathons, one 50-mile ultra, a race up Mt. Washington’s auto road, one up Sugarloaf Mountain,  and many other distance races throughout New England. He's published poetry and reviews in hundreds of journals, and ten poetry collections. His latest, Gomorrah, is a collaboration with  Portland artist, Richard Wilson, on love’s illuminated life. Rosen taught at The University of Southern Maine, and was Fulbright Scholar with commissions in Cyprus, Egypt, and Bulgaria. He founded and directed  USM’s Stonecoast Writers’ Conference for many years, where he was awarded the annual Distinguished Faculty Award and held its Russell Chair.