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Mitch Sisskind
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There can be no biography of him, Who was no one and everyone And went by many names such as Leroy Everybodytalksabout and Pan Smolarek and the man who Casts no shadow. He never married And his companion was a chicken. Winter and summer, rain or shine, His home was a bench in Lincoln Park Near the old miniature golf course Where he and the chicken performed Loosely choreographed dumb shows. When the police arrested him he laughed And said, “Mene mene tekel upharsin.” He rode city bus lines with the chicken. He carried a toy bow and arrow set. He wore an alarm clock around his neck. When the horseplayers gathered at night Outside the Commonwealth Hotel And a truck brought the Racing Forms, He and the chicken were also there. He had some literature, in Johnson’s phrase, And held Wordsworth in high regard. The Old Leech Gatherer was a personage To whom he often alluded – but when stung By looks of stupefaction among his listeners He would quote Hamlet, albeit imperfectly: “This was caviar to the general population.” He never made any money but he was A great businessman and was a great lover Though he remained a virgin all his life. “There are just so many fat people now.” Those were his last words, whose truth I reflect upon whenever I go into Starbucks So I try to make my own coffee at home. Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I’ve got about 700 million dollars With about 70 million dollars of debt So that’s pretty good. I’m 70 years old, I figure I’ve got five good years left, And I plan to be worth a billion dollars At 75. My formula for making money? Step one is read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Step two is put all Of Napoleon Hill’s principles into action. Step three is diversify your investments To avoid getting wiped out by the cycles Of boom and bust. Then plan your estate So when you die your children won’t Have a goddamned thing to worry about. Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
His family name was Goomniak but at fifty he changed it to Freed. Why Freed? Because he was freed of the name Goomniak. As a child he had been laughed at for his name and even as an adult he had been aware of suppressed laughter. When he became Freed his business took off. His company sold mail-order costume jewelry. His niche was Army and Navy enlisted personnel whom he reached through ads in military newspapers and magazines. Now, with his new name, Freed began an internet marketing campaign on military websites. It was like striking oil. Orders doubled at first, then tripled. One online ad showed a lady’s gold-plated ring mounted with a tiny diamond. The price was a hundred dollars. But a red line ran through the price, with text below: “Pay just $50 if you’re in the military!” More text: “Order by the Fourth of July and pay only $40!” Then: “Include this code word with your order and subtract another ten percent! The code word is BUTTERCUP.” Finally, in bold italics: “You risk nothing! Full money back guarantee!” Since the rings cost Freed only three dollars, his business was like a cash machine. The more money he made, the better he felt. He was introducing himself as Jerome Freed or Jerry Freed and no one was laughing at him anymore. He divorced his wife. He freed himself of her. The cost was high but so what? Their children were grown and his wife had become a millstone around his neck. A millstone was something heavy and Biblical. With his new confidence and his improved income Freed was attractive to women. His sex life took off like his business. He would never get married again. “Not in a million years,” he told his friends. “I’m having too much fun.” One night, lying in bed with a beautiful woman asleep beside him, Freed reflected on the self-sabotaging tendency that had afflicted him for so many years. Why had he remained Goomniak? At any moment he could have become Freed. Freed drifted off to sleep, and in that same hour he dreamed that he was locking the front door of his apartment. As he secured the lock and felt the bolt go out, the door somehow opened and a well-dressed businessman rushed past him. Freed awoke in terror. *** Friends since childhood, Freed and Mel Patak met weekly for lunch at a cafeteria in the jewelry district. Amid the clattering of knives and forks they amused and needled each other. But on the day after Freed’s dream, Mel Patak saw that something was wrong. “Jerry, are you okay?” he asked. Freed said, “I’m going to die. I don’t know where and I don’t know how. But I will die very soon.” Mel stared across the table. “Are you sick? Have you seen a doctor?” “A doctor won’t help,” Freed said. He told Mel about his dream of the locked door opening and the well-dressed businessman. The dream predicted his... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Sixth grade, a new kid came, Fat kid, terrible at sports, But a genius, played the violin, And when we got math workbooks On the first day of sixth grade He finished the workbook that night, Was supposed to take a year! So smart was he that the teachers Hated him, put the kid in front Of the class and said, ‘Do you believe In God or are you too smart to believe In God?’ The kid said he didn’t know At first but finally said he did believe In God, because he had to. Once at lunch he said the name Jascha Heifetz and we all laughed At the name and wanted him To say it again but he wouldn’t Say it because he didn’t like us Laughing at the name Jascha Heifetz That was like somebody sneezing. Then one day at a movie theater We were buying popcorn and there Was a cardboard cutout of a guy With a guitar and the kid said to me, ‘It’s Elvis Presley’ and I said, ‘Who?’ He said, ‘It’s Elvis Presley, he was on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show last Sunday.’ How strange, how unlikely it now Seems, my introduction to Elvis Presley. But we shared a destiny, the kid and I -- So years later, when I fell in love with His wife, I was all shook up: my hands Were shaky, my knees were weak, I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
John and I have worked together a long time. We are the godfathers of each other’s children. Every year we get together with a group of guys for a fishing trip and we don’t shave for a week. We are basically the same type of policeman but we like to kid each other. John kids me about how I carry three guns but we both know it might save John’s life someday since he only carries one gun. We have kicked in some doors together but mostly we just come to work and go home. I would not say we are cynical but after seeing the underbelly of humanity we don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. We investigated a death on West Wayne Street. A nice two-story townhouse with a parking space in back that was empty so we parked there. We drank coffee in the unmarked car for a while and then went in. There was smell of smoke on the first floor and balled up wads of burned paper scattered all over. The fire department had been there. Now there were just uniformed police and meat wagon guys. A body was in the second floor bedroom, a white man about forty named Robert Wisniewski. The consensus of the uniformed police was that he died from inhaling smoke. Since liquor bottles were lying around in the bedroom we thought maybe he got drunk, passed out, and inhaled smoke from the burned up wads of paper. But who was it that burned those wads of paper? We found three pages downloaded from an internet dating site, each page with a girl’s site profile, her picture, and her name, address, and phone number written by Robert Wisniewski. Great! Fantastic! We talked to people in the townhouse complex. Did Robert Wisniewski have a family? No. Did he have a car? Yes. What kind of car? One guy said an old muscle car like maybe a Dodge Charger. The large number of burned paper wads was the odd part. Somebody put time and effort into that and it made a lot of smoke. But burning the house down did not seem to be the idea. Back in the car we looked at the dating site pages. Three good-looking white girls, Shari, Lexi, and Joy. After we read the profiles and had a few laughs John called Shari and surprisingly she picked up. John said, “Shari, this is Detective Cronin from the police. Do you know Robert Wisniewski?” She said, “Um, not really, we just went on one date.” “Well, we’d like to come by and speak with you.” Shari lived in a typical single girl’s one bedroom on Surf Street with photos on the refrigerator and shit. She was blonde, medium height, sunny disposition and a decent body as far as I could tell. We introduced ourselves. Shari offered us coffee. I wasn’t sure about her body because she had on a giant sweater that went down to her knees. No shoes, fluffy... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
They live retired, and then they doze away their times in drowsinesses and brownstudies. -- Johnson’s Dictionary She was the love of my lie, The lie of my love. Oh God, I can’t think straight anymore. She was the love of my life! Convoluted or plum contradictory Are a lion’s feelings when it confronts A hippopotamus. Tell me about it! Oh God, I can’t think straight anymore. Lies, love, laughter, lucubration, Laceration, lasciviousness, lachrimosity -- Is that a word? I got news for you, pal, It is now! I can’t think straight anymore. Oh God, I can’t think straight anymore. She was the hippopotamus of my love, I was the lion in her eyes. She laughed So hard I thought she would bust a gut! Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
How else to keep alive the spirit Of sans souci, the flame of youth, But with sexual intercourse? That sphere of glowing delight To which, once I acceded to it, The luminous channel has never Closed to me – as all my work Is wrought there, charity obliges That I advertise its pleasures and Fairly attribute the curious vitality Derived there that each night Invents names and faces for me As if my heart were still a boy’s And my pen were the prick of one. Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
1. Today as I stared at the ceiling Meditating on a video seen last night Of Frank O’Hara reading his poems, Any prior ambivalence about him Deliquesced as I recalled the affection O’Hara showed to a cat in the video, Which, as he typed with one hand, He gently stroked with the other. 2. While much has been made of O’Hara’s adroit verbal skewering of Anyone who bugged him, in the video He patiently tolerated the loquacious Painter and filmmaker Alfred Leslie Nor did he exclaim, as we might expect, ‘Blow winds, crack your cheeks’ Or some other cultivated riposte. 3. But here’s the nub! I am obsessed With Patsy Southgate, the breathtaking Miss America-type beauty with whom O’Hara had a sexual dalliance and when I feel closer to him, I feel closer to her, As if, through him, I can touch her As he touched her, as he stroked the cat, So it makes great sense! Oh, my love! Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Approaching, nearing, curious... -- Whitman Is that you? Fuck! Well, it’s not exactly A surprise nor a happy one either -- But wait! Look! Why, it’s Old Fezziwig! He owned a chain of same-day cleaners, A wholesale-to-the-public auto parts store, A Montana cow-and-calf operation, And the Star-Lite drive-in movie theater On Mannheim Road out by the airport, The dear man! But what’s that you say? It’s not him at all? Old Fezziwig is a shot Of Old Crow, a glass of Old Grand-Dad, Of Old Smuggler, of Old Rarity, Pig’s Nose, Pittyvatch, or Loch Lomand, and it’s Only you and I now? Fuck! Fuck a duck! Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
How ironic that, as intellectuals and aesthetes, those of us who live by words may underestimate the power of the words we speak or write. Just the other day I was in pleasant conversation with a talented versifier when he happened to mention the name "Lilith." Although he was referring to the radical feminist magazine that may or may not still exist, there is no doubt that the real Lilith still exists just as she has since the time of Adam. And to utter her name without quickly pretending to spit twice over one's right shoulder is asking for serious trouble. Lilith (spit, spit!) as some of you may know, was Adam's first wife. When she affronted the Creator by insisting on "unorthodox" relations with her husband, she was banished from Eden and spent the next 500 years at the bottom of the ocean. Finally she surfaced, determined to wreak as much havoc as possible in human domestic affairs. When Lilith hears a man mention her name, she surmises (quite correctly!) that a secret wish for her appearance exists in the speaker. Of course, as with any repressed wish, the poor fool may not be aware of his own desire. That's why Lilith always appears in disguise. The new temp at the office, the Fedex delivery girl, the grad student in need of help with her thesis -- any or all of these may be Lilith. But those potential incarnations are relatively easy to resist. Lilith is much more dangerous when she manifests as a man's own wife! If a woman appears and sounds like his wife, a man -- and especially a poet, naive by nature -- may assume the woman is his wife indeed: "If it looks like a duck..." etc. He may also forget that he spoke the forbidden name that morning in Starbucks. Well, he's in for a surprise -- and the worst part is, Lilith is dangerously addictive. Not only is she erotically exciting but she's also an excellent conversationalist. There are two solutions for this problem, both recommended by the ancient sages of the Talmud. First, don't speak the name in the first place! Just refer to the Bad Girl and any educated person will know who you're talking about. Second, create a secret code with your wife that only the two of you know -- an arbitrary phrase like "plate of shrimp" from the film Repo Man. If you sense anything unusual in your conjugal affairs, demand the password. If it's not forthcoming, fill a bucket with water and pour it on the demon woman. Lilith has hated water ever since her five hundred years in the ocean. The images above are just two of Lilith's infintely various disguises. On top, of course, is Veronica from Archie Comics; below is a seemingly innocous dental hygenist. Poets! Choose Betty, not Veronica -- and floss daily! Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Why, it’s nothing more than this: To see the finish in the start, the end In the beginning, and in the acorn, The oak tree. Michael Jordan was cut From his ninth grade basketball team But God saw six NBA championships In Michael Jordan’s future and he saw How Harold Hamm the youngest Of a sharecropper’s thirteen children Born in the middle of nowhere would Become an oil-rich billionaire and He sees how girls that are funny-looking In the fifth grade can become supermodels Through the Ugly Duckling Syndrome. Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Leah’s shocking death in 1954, then Lou and I Alone in the apartment labyrinth, four bedrooms, Four and a half baths, so-called maid’s room, So-called library, so-called butler’s pantry, Fully carpeted, thirty-five hundred square feet, Walls like granite, yet cancer had entered Here as in “The Masque of the Red Death.” Marble nymphs and cupids, brass candlesticks, Lights in the closets turning on automatically Whenever the closet doors were opened, Here a wall-mounted antique brass lantern From a 19th century horse-drawn fire engine, There an amoeba-shaped glass tabletop on A battleship-gray hunk of shattered driftwood. Past the unused fireplace and unplayed piano Each night after eating soup or cottage cheese Lou and I to the oak-paneled television room Wended our way, drawn by electromagnetic Force of the floor-model Zenith on whose screen There churned and roiled liquid reds and blues Of flawed 1950s color television technology. Passing judgment on Lou, blaming Lou, hating Him for Leah’s painful end-stage renal failure Of uric acid seeping through her skin, seeing Him as another blundering President Eisenhower As we in silence watched George Burns & Gracie Allen, Then The Lawrence Welk Show and at ten o’clock The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar would come on. Yet Lou’s own death was not far off. O my father, How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have been A thankless child. I will watch Jack Paar on YouTube For three hours, I will dance to Lawrence Welk and the Champagne Music Makers, I will wear Bermuda shorts, I will eat a bowl of cottage cheese and sour cream With crackers crumbled up in it, I will fart, I will snore. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Every last inning is sad when one thinks How games, in theory, could go on forever, Scores tied in perpetuity, mitts handed down From father to son across the generations. But grieve not, for in the Upper Worlds Will be no horror of the last, as Johnson Decried it, no last kisses, no final fucks – And, say, that’s a toughie, isn’t it? David, fading, cold to the touch of Abishag The Shunammite, and she the hottest girl In Israel. Sternly his court regarded this: If the King knew her not, the King had to die. But that same night he fucked her in paradise! He fucked her brains out! He’s still fucking her! Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Where were you when televisions Multiplied in American homes And pastel-colored cars had fins On which at least once a boy Chasing a ball stabbed himself and the fins, like kings, died out? I lived when Eisenhower’s golfing And mumbled press conferences Affronted the intelligentsia whose Worship of Stevenson blossomed Into the miracle of Jack Kennedy’s Televised White House cello recitals. In the doghouse was an expression Extremely common in those days. You might hear a man who forgot The anniversary of his marriage Forty years ago refer to himself As in the doghouse, for example. People said, On the warpath. They said, You’re cooking with gas. They said, Fish out of water -- Jump on the bandwagon – A fly in The ointment – The jury is still out -- He’s always blowing his own horn -- Or how about this? Eke lullaby, My loving boy, thy lusts relent -- Four hundred and fifty years ago A man wrote that poem to his penis. Can you imagine it happening today? I can. I’m a board certified urologist. Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Look, the Batting Gods in silhouette Against the sky! Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, and Foxx, their war clubs Such as no man can lift today, Their statistics, their versatility As evinced by the major league Pitching experience of Ruth And Foxx, and Williams too Pitched in high school. Gehrig? The first baseman shrugged off Broken bones in his hands to Swing with homerun power. Look! The Batting Gods! And look! The Sex Goddesses of the 1920s! Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
That day in 1965 as Julie Christie Seduced the pool cleaning man I sequestered myself behind A cactus plant for the duration. It was quickly done. Palm Springs! This was before the traffic got So horrible and lawn sprinklers Rendered the naturally dry Desert air oppressively humid. Later Julie and I shared laughs Over cocktails rehashing her Recent film “Doctor Chicago” As we hilariously re-Christied it. But wait. Do I wake or sleep? Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
His real name was Tony but God help you if you called him Tony. You never called him Tony, You had to call him Joe. Jimmy Lombardo was fucking John DiFranzo’s wife and John was Fucking the wife of Billy Dadanno. Billy was fucking Jerry Copo’s wife. Jerry meantime was fucking John’s wife as was Jimmy Lombardo. Rudy Fratto was fucking her too. Rudy was also fucking Jimmy’s wife. My wife was getting fucked by a guy Named Mike Sacino and I was fucking Karen Rizzi who was married to Carlo The crooked cop that nobody liked. One day Tony said to me, ‘You can’t fuck a cop’s wife! ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake! A cop’s wife! ‘A cop’s wife can’t be fucked!’ Time stood still. All the bullshit Stopped. Then Tony said, 'Was she an animal in the sack?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘Yeah. Yeah.’ Tony said, 'Well, you can fuck her 'One more time!’ I said, ‘Thanks, Joe!’ Because you never called him Tony, You had to call him Joe. Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
I watch a cat video and Then Google a Japanese Sex webcam but lest I download a virus I instead watch badgers Cunningly escape their Enclosure on Youtube. On in vain I search for a sentence from An old John Updike story -- ‘She saw that his death Was not far off’ – and then Watch Michael Jackson’s 1983 Moonwalk debut on Youtube. I Google Diane Varsi And on Wikipedia I read How in high school she Was branded an outcast And was called an oddball And on Youtube I watch A clip of her in Peyton Place. I briefly visit, Watch another cat video, Then on I join the millions of viewers Of the Freestyle Photo section But decide that Voyeurweb is Worse since the site was redone. I Google Henry Howard The Earl of Surrey, Pinky Lee, Patsy Southgate, Selma Hyack, Rabbi Louis Binstock, Earl Scheib, And Maury Youmans, an obscure Bears defensive end who played College ball at Syracuse University. Rudyard Kipling never Googled Anything in his life but in 1897 He wrote our navies melt away. Marry, ‘nuncle, the mind of man Is what melts now! Cat videos, Pornography, time-wasters Like the film Prehistoric Women Of 1950 plus the 1967 remake Are Googleable and viewable On Youtube so can I Google Laurette Luez and find out Everything about her with Photographs and even a pic Of her grave? Let’s see. Yes! Marilyn Monroe (left), Laurette Luez (right), Shlepper Nussbaum (center). Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
No telling what time it was As he woke in darkness with The sleeping cat’s warmth, A gift from God, on the back Of his neck and, weeping, He willed himself to perfect Stillness lest the cat leave. But wait. Here was a thought, Here was another possibility: He was dead and, willfulness Be damned, could no more Stir himself than trisect an angle! Yes, that might be it -- And this was paradise! Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
To no place he is called And thither he is bound -- Cloudbursts, desiccated plains, Nothing slows his Volkswagen. Old Philadelphia disappears In the trembling rearview mirror, Chicago looms, then vanishes, Houston fades, Dallas evanesces. Those years of the yearning siren Voice’s call – the longing intonation Unheard or unacknowledged -- They like the towns and cities lie Behind him now as to no place He is called and thither he is bound. Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
‘Is not the death of youth the Iliad’s Overarching theme?’ Vachel Lindsay Once inquired -- and the answer is Yes, of course, as when the arrow Aimed at Hector instead pierced Young Gorgythion’s unarmored Neck and his head slowly bent As a poppy weighed down by rain Might so incline, or when aged Nestor Talked too much with his advice To Patroclus of dubious efficacy. Alas, the young warrior, the old king, Body, or mind -- the death of youth: But Vachel Lindsay? His death? You may hear it said as I once heard That he drank a bottle of Drano but Lysol it was -- death by Lysol, age 52, Springfield, Illinois, 12-5-1931. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
A poem is like a golf ball because A poem’s meaning derives from The multifarious denotations And connotations of words Compressed within the poem As in a golf ball tightly packed Rubber bands are compressed. A poem’s meaning is revealed By unraveling the poem’s figurative Rubber bands but let us be aware Of how this can discombobulate The poem’s energy compression mechanism. The good news is Not all poems work that way. Money is like a golf ball because Although one golf ball may cost More than another they are all The same size just as money can Come in various denominations But all American paper bills are Uniform in length and width. Also, people may have a golf ball In a pocket or a purse without Anyone knowing it or they may Actually not have a golf ball while Others believe they do have one. It’s the same way with money Because you just never know. Sex combines golf ball qualities Of both poems and money because Sex can be a compressed version Of an entire relationship just as Rubber bands are compressed In a golf ball or a poem’s meaning Is compressed in its words. Also, you can’t tell about people’s Sex lives by looking at people Just as without actually looking In someone’s pocket or purse You can’t tell whether they have A golf ball, or some money, Or much money, or no money. Death is like a golf ball because Just as a golf ball goes into a hole In the grass so most people go Into graves in cemeteries which Are like golf courses in their verdure And in the silence we are asked To maintain and also in the way Some golf balls smoothly and Easily descend into a hole while Others do not. Yet though death Is like a golf ball let us neither Weep nor grieve but take heart And look on the bright side Because life is like a golf ball too! Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Man had a big house outside Iron Mountain, his wife hot at The swimming pool, laughing As Nasko Hooten introduced Himself: 'What kind of a name 'Is that?' But not in the slightest Was he pissed off. Light shone In her eyes, he saw the woman She would have been were she Duncan Oklahoma born and bred. Man had a truck they looked at For a while – Nasko Hooten said, ‘I’d put a winch on the front ‘Of it were that truck mine.’ Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
You live long enough This day will come. You going to get Your teeth fixed Or fix your car? Can’t fix them both Because no man can. So fix your teeth Or else your car. Clock is ticking But I know what Your answer will be! Same damn answer As your daddy! Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Perhaps Lydia Davis is best known as a prose writer, most recently of very short stories. But her work has also appeared in BAP anthologies, Lydia's new book of stories is called Can't and Won't. There's also a profile of Lydia in this week's New Yorker magazine. The link is below. One little problem (maybe.) To read the New Yorker online you have to be a subscriber. So if you're not a subscriber, you can subscribe. Or if you're not a subscriber, and you don't want to subscribe, there's a link to another article about Lydia. Maybe a better one. Or maybe not. But about Lydia. And free. Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2014 at The Best American Poetry