I grew up in a brand-new postwar neighborhood in suburban New York, my childhood a modest example of that era’s unacknowledged white privilege. My parents had experienced Depression childhoods, my father dropping out of high school to support himself. My mother’s family twice lost their home when breadwinners died and she went to work after high school, rather than to college, to support her mother. Because my father was a war veteran, he was eligible for GI loans that enabled him to buy a house in a new neighborhood and paid for his “night school” college education. I attended a couple of newly built public local schools and, when the Ivies were seeking to broaden their student body by accepting students who graduated from a public high school and were not related to alumni, received a needs scholarship from Yale. I majored in philosophy, but realized my true love was literature.
Things went downhill after graduation. A too-young marriage to my high school girlfriend ended in divorce (though we’re pals now) and my high school teaching career terminated after a single year. Good preparation, I guess, for writing poetry. I joined a group of poets who were writing and publishing in Cambridge, MA. While living in Boston I met, married, and started a family with Anne Meyerson, my personal bridge over troubled waters and forever best friend. While helping to parent our toddler, I got a Master’s in English from Boston University, had a second uninspiring fling at teaching, started writing fiction, and finally found a more satisfying day-job editing and writing for newspapers. These days I write one story a week for The Boston Globe.
I began writing poetry again, after a thirty-year sabbatical, when the experience of planting and maintaining a flower garden in our Quincy, Massachusetts home caused words to sprout in my mind. I remain endlessly grateful to Firestone Feinberg for enlisting me as a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual. In recent years I have published a novel and a collection of stories and two poetry chapbooks. That leaves a pile of unpublished novels, short stories, and poetry manuscripts looking for a good home.
Walking the beach alone, searching for the footsteps of fellow islander Walt. You know where he was born, which by your own early days had appreciated into an address better known for excluding, than including the common sort that first American poet spoke for. A kind of victory for bankers, say, over farmers and mechanics. But can you not find his footsteps – or even your own – in the waterlogged, eternal heft of so much precious sand? Playground for the masses, most democratic of vistas, public in its genes, ‘the beach’ entertained all ages. Escapeway for canoodling, picnic party place, even breakfast ‘out’ for parkway pioneers like our Dad who, deft of grill, patron of thrift, summoned nourishment and heat from dusty coals, having claimed a place in the early-preference parking spot before the uniformed collectors arrived to toll the weekend beach-bound masses. Later, joining with neighborhood playfellows, the kids on the block drew a morning-warning hoot from muscled guards tanning on their watchtowers who blew their pipes and waved their arms, a furious call to order to preteen swimmers floating outward, ever onward to the true-blue horizon, as if the red-bloodied rewards of American childhood and the promised goodness of the life to come lay just beyond childhood’s saltwater boundary. We got there at last, some of us at least, family-fortified, schooled by the public purse, stroking toward a way of life that seemed so natural, stretching before us like miles of free and stainless sand, even inevitable… some unsponsored quantum leap beyond the sanctity of a safe and modest neighborhood to the places unplanned by the planners, uncountenanced by the cautious overseers of youth… The gleaming sands, a charmed and soul-selected society, perhaps, of friends and lovers, beyond the deeper waters, the higher climbs to time’s summit where we found the plain-clad prophet of sad and happy truths, there, as promised, waiting for us.* * “Missing me one place, search another; I stop somewhere, waiting for you” – Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
Bob, Robert, Booboo, Obnoxious... Who was Bobby? Or, where has he gone? "Bobby," cousin Aud says, "you're a people person." I stare. "At least you used to be." I bet she likes ‘Bobby’ better than the solitary satirist and complainer I see in the mirror these decades later ‘Bobby’ had cousins He played games, he must have. He played with cousin Aud’s brother of the same first name, but for some reason called Robin, later adult-erated to Rob. ‘Bobby,’ that is (or was), the boy for whom Dad spread butter on his English muffins, and gave him the crumbs from his Entenmann’s crumb cake: "I know Bobby likes these." ‘Bobby’ got what he liked often enough, leading the gang through the interconnecting backyards in the unfenced Wild West, suburban version, of his virgin Long Island neighborhood Bobby went bowling, but foresaw a gutter ball life for his brooding right-hand hook and was slow to catch on when the others grew horns and prepared to rut. They gave him a puff of smoke and a stick of gum 'What?' he said, when others challenged, 'We weren't smoking gum!' ‘Bobby’ shut up, grew quiet, forgot the old ways, his old friends thought-experimented his way out of the old neighborhood and will never go to the Evangelical heaven of eternal genealogy, that wonderland of begats. ‘Bobby’ crossed invisible frontiers to find, at age sixteen, a late starter still, a girl with busy features, quick feelings, an active tongue. Got by on a simple surly surname, borrowed others for use forgot who he was or, rather, used to be til the cousins' reunion dug up that ancient boy – "People person"? The mirror cracks Dorian Gray expires in the attic Well, he wishes, but beggars a ride... The other-side cousins burst in about this point in a faint, old-fashioned family reunion. But don't ask them. They think he's 'Robert.'
My Mother’s Music
Debussy? my wife guessed. Rachmaninoff, I suggested. Both names sat at times on the plinth above my mother’s keys, certain moments, themes, quick-stirring romantic throbs, the instant cereal of childhood’s stirrings emerging, here again all these decades after those first imprintings. The babyduck follows ever after – and followed whatever else she played as well, when she played it, but that was never enough. ‘Practice!’ Mom complained, rising from the cancelled concert, the sudden jar of truce (or, perhaps, surrender) breaking out on a sacred field of combat, ‘Before I play any more of that.’ I wanted more, and wanted it now: Tchaikovsky, Grieg (or Grief?), Beethoven. But though she never practiced enough, I never practiced at all, enduring a life of passionate listening, as if listening, feeling, rising to ancient cues were in fact the business of a mortal existence. Mom mothered at home, sharing afterschool sessions of “Get Smart” and silly Westerns with us, they passed the time, but nothing more, while the longed-for practice sessions seldom appeared or tapered off too quickly. Still, lifetimes later, a bar or two of “Afternoon of a Faun” brings her back to me, time better spent than the leaps and follies of my own Nijinskian hijinks into selfhood And even in those later years when she played rind-peeled fragments of a simple theme lasting no more than a minute or two, a handful of bars through which to stretch for the freedom of a broader life, never quite permitted or, frankly, demanded and I would reply “Moonlight Sonata,” with something less than perfect certitude, my mental fingering all ahoo, she would say the title back to me, as if in search of a sacred charm, an eternal return, a nursery chant, or perhaps the name of a schoolyard’s best-remembered comrade, and inquire thoughtfully, “Do you know that’s what it is?” Yes, Mom, I’d reply, though feeling less than wholly confident, having learned the lesson she never meant to teach: Something beautiful, but never wholly sure.
At the corner of Massasoit and Mayflower, where Winslow relieved a sachem of a serious hurt, we settled in a white-wood tower to raise our kids on Plymouth dirt. Costumed history paraded still as in days of old, when Bradford promised "one small candle." The Pilgrims found no riches, furs, or gold. The locals found them hard to handle. Time stopped for us, the grown-up pair, migratory creatures looking for a base. We fed the fledglings, breathed salty air, planted beach roses to claim our place. Our young spread their wings in open space. We kept them warm with history tales, moral precepts performed with passing grace: Uplift the Fallen, Save the Whales. They grew up strong, their manners nice. Learned to save for what they ‘needed’ if they truly did. After all… what’s it mean to be a kid? Our nestlings graduated from this town, flew beyond the skies of our advice, went their way, won their own renown, and when we nestle up again, it’s always nice.