Saturday, December 3, 2022

A Change of Tires

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Winter's coming and it's getting cold,

The rain's become sleet and I'm growing old,

Turn the temperature up, another log on the fire,

The season is here for a change of tires.


Fetch the snow shovel love, store the lawn mower,

Streets are getting slick, the driving's getting slower,

Watch every step, so your situation's not dire, 

The season is here for a change of tires.


Enjoy second helpings to pack on the pounds,

Celebrate with family and toast a few rounds,

Count all your blessings, it helps to inspire,

The season is here for a change of tires.


Put away those tees and take out your sweater,

I'll hug you a bit closer to survive this weather,   

Forgive me the times I proved to be a liar,

The season is here for a change of tires.


I've loved you so long, stopped counting the days,

We've been here for each other, in so many ways, 

Some things stay the same, like our yearning desire,

And the car we take to get there, on a change of tires. 

Little hitler

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Nature doesn't duplicate 

copy

repeat

recreate


it speaks in variation

difference

dissimilarity

modification


looking at the tree

the leaves

seem exactly the same


the squirrels playing

on the branch of the tree

seem exactly the same


every impulse

to see them 

as exactly the same


is your little hitler

peeking out 

from the shadow.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Hurrah

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Some people are born

with the wrong name

to the wrong parents

in the wrong home 

in the wrong town.


Some people say

the wrong things

to the wrong people

at the wrong times

for the wrong reasons.


Some people see 

the wrong things happen

to the wrong people

at the wrong time

for the wrong reasons.


Some people hear 

the wrong things about 

the wrong people 

at the wrong time

in the wrong places.


Some people believe

in the wrong God 

and the wrong prophet

in the wrong religion 

with the wrong books.


The words come to me

from somewhere

(I don't know where)

and I write them down

right or wrong.


I've made my deal

with my destiny 

sing my song

right or wrong

Hurrah.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

A Bird

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You took the secret

to the grave

but what you took

is less important 

than what you left 

behind:


A caged bird

wings flapping wildly

to escape

into the air


a fearful angry bird

with fading plumage

standing on its sad tiny perch

in solitude 

like a question mark


waiting to be fed.


How did it feel

to tend it constantly?

What toll 

did it take on you,


what did you make 

of frightful chirps

at odd times

of day and night?


Did you buy

playthings 

to while away 

the hours, ropes

bells and rings?


I suppose you had 

your reasons


your secret 

has an afterlife.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Chappelle rises and Gallagher falls

Was Dave Chappelle's extended SNL opening monologue on November 12th anti-Semitic? Plenty of people and organizations thought so. At the risk of being called a self-hating Jew, I thought it was brilliant. 

I normally eschew controversy and reserve my blog for posting my poetry, which ensures that my readership stays as low as possible. But after a friend sent me a link to a thoughtful open letter to Dave Chappelle published online in Forward by the great-granddaughter of Sol Wurtzel, a Hollywood pioneer, I felt the need to respond in writing myself. 

I can certainly appreciate Sharon Rosen Leib's anxiety and concerns, and in fact, I share them. But it's utterly misguided to put Chappelle's masterful performance in the same category as Kanye's and Kyrie's off the cuff Tweets, as some have done, and actually insulting to Chappelle's courageous, well-crafted artform. As my brother succinctly put it in a message "Society has lost its sense of humour - context matters." Even worse, they completely miss the point.   

Admittedly, appreciating subtlety is not a strong point of general audiences, and that's unfortunate because all great art is made of subtlety, nuance etc. It’s why Chappelle is a great comedian, and why, watermelon-smashing Gallagher, who rose to temporary comedic fame in the 1970s and passed away this week, wasn’t a great comedian and won't likely be remembered. But when someone ‘goes into panic mode’ because a raw nerve has been hit from hearing a comedian, it sort of ignores all the subtlety and art of what he's doing. No, Chappelle didn’t ‘echo’ Kanye's conspiracy message. Kanye's craven sleep-deprived late-night Tweet carried the not-so-subtle subtext of violence against the Jews. The term "Defcon" is a military term, it actually refers to justified retaliation for aggression. That’s why it is so disturbing. And the fact that Rosen Leib feels the need to go into a history lesson on Jewish suffering to justify the presence of Jews in Hollywood is kind of ironic - she’s lecturing an American black man. As if he doesn’t understand the meaning of historical persecution. 

Again, I get her discomfort, and unfortunately that was Chappelle's whole point, to unsettle is the MO of all great comedy. Unfortunately, if you make fun of stereotypes and conspiracy-thinking tropes, you've got to refer to stereotypes and conspiracy-thinking tropes, and that's what Chappelle was doing when he said "I've been there, and there are a lot of Jews in Hollywood." It's a statement of fact, as Rosen Leib attests before launching into her history lesson about why that is. If making a statement of fact is so fraught, it's precisely because it draws attention to our ingrained biases and prejudices, which is Chappelle's objective. When he said, "A group of blacks is a gang, a group of Italians is a mafia, and a group of Jews... well, that's just a coincidence," he's making us laugh at our propensity for stereotypes. So we can be conspiracy-minded with certain groups and not with "The Jews"? And what does he mean by "The Jews" - the two words, he said, you cannot utter together (reminiscent of George Carlin's brilliant 'the seven words you can't say on TV'). Does Chappelle mean that it's okay to think that "The Blacks" and "The Italians" are criminals, so why not "The Jews"? Of course not, it's that all oversimplified prejudice is stupid, but also that thinking stupid thoughts and having dumb opinions is your right if you live in a democracy and not in Communist China or North Korea (where it's required by law). I know that's a subtle message lost on a lot of people, but it's also necessary if we are to live in a functioning democracy. We have to acknowledge that we all have prejudices, and the only way to combat them is to expose them (by laughing at them in the case of comedy.) This is why provocative thoughtful comedy is on the front lines of democracy. It takes the measure of free thought and speech by challenging its limits, which ultimately has the effect of strenghthening democracy. It's a weak democracy that cannot sustain the challenge of freedom and descends into political correctness and intolerance. Bottom line is this is why we need comedians like Dave Chappelle. To make us uncomfortable, to inspire debate, and to hopefully make us laugh in the most profound way possible.

PS

On "The Jews," which shortly after the monologue was apparently trending on Twitter as a hashtag, and not usually to offer compliments. Here I will connect with the main purpose of this blog, poetry. Not too long ago I was asked by an esteemed poet and senior literature professor friend to participate in a group reading of poetry he was organizing. I was flattered and promptly refused. I hadn't written any new poetry in many years at that time, and certainly didn't think that anything I had 'in stock' was worth a public airing. Well, he was persistent and after much arm-twisting I eventually gave in. He asked me to send him copies of the poems I proposed to read, I supposed to vet them for quality, which was understandable and appreciated. I perused my files and found 8 poems that were not too old and not too embarrassing I thought. Some time later he contacted me to approve the selection, except for one poem. He asked me to remove and substitute it with a new one. This poem was one of the more recent ones, and was actually my favourite of the lot. I even deigned to think it was pretty good, which is why I was so surprised that he objected to it. The poem is called "The Italian". When I asked him why he was rejecting it, he answered something to the effect of 'How would you like it if someone read a poem called 'The Jew'"? After some vigorous debate, I reluctantly relented to his request solely out of respect for him. But frankly, I was left feeling disgusted by how it seemed like decades of academia had cowed my professor-poet-friend, turned him into a politically-correct milquetoast, which is the death knell of creativity. What an indictment of academia I thought. And how sad for his art. We are all the poorer for it. Incidentally, there is nothing remotely offensive about the poem, except apparently the title, I guess.  

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Jerusalem Snow

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I was once in Jerusalem

in December 

when it snowed

like it was Montreal.

They don't have snow shovels

in Jerusalem only spades 

sharpened for burying the dead,

so the snow kept piling up

the cars and buses couldn't pass


we all came out from our houses

to witness what was happening

as if it was a miracle,

stood around listening 

to the unfamiliar silence

of the city that's never silent

except for one minute

on Yom Hazikaron.


The heavy wet snow

dressed the streets

in white like it was Yom Kippur;

the souks, synagogues, and mosques, 

the war memorials, Yad Vashem,

Mea Shearim, Silwan, the Temple Mount, 

Scopus and Sheikh Jarrah,

the Knesset, the bomb shelters 

and graves all covered

in an endless spotless garment

of white.


As if in unison

we all suddenly started to play 

in the snow

laughed like children

and the laughter echoed

through the narrow alleyways

in every quarter

like the call to prayer

for a new religion

and we were happy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Snow

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Clarity;

I want 

clarity of language

not speaking in tongues

no jawing jawing

about God.

I want a job.

I want a job

that pays a living wage.

I want

to understand 

what I need to understand

to get along

without much effort

just enough.

I want poetry

poetry

that enters my soul

like the sweet scent

of cinnamon danish

warm from the oven.

I want to see

an autumn day's

slanting light

as it plays among

the dying leaves

like flashing flagship

semiphore

from a sinking ship.

I want a signal.

I want a ruler

that measures

what matters 

like distance we feel

from each other.

I want to listen

and hear

and here

and now.

I want time.

I want to know

and not to know

and to be ok

with the coming snow

I want the clarity of snow

it’s already getting cold

and I’m not ready.