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Mitch Sisskind
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"Oy" is one of the greatest words in any language and I've noticed that people of all backgrounds quickly pick it up and start using it. Let's take a look at some situations in which saying "Oy" is very appropriate (click on thumbnail for full-sized image): Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Schmegeges Schmegeges everywhere. Look over yonder Where schmegeges march down the street, See how the schmegeges cavort themselves Day and night, how new schmegege variations Appear, marching, marching, tailgating me, Telephoning me, telling me what they think, Singing schmegege roundelays, drinking, Dancing, eating what the schmegeges eat, Dressing like schmegeges, raising children As schmegeges, questioning how schmegege Has traditionally been understood, redefining Schmegege, and always marching, marching, Marching, I did not think there were so many Schmegeges and now I too begin to march. Mister Yes and No I called him Mister Yes and No because When you asked him a question he always Said yes and no. For example, if you asked Him if today is Friday he said yes and no or Even if you asked him if one plus one is two He said yes and no to my great puzzlement. Much later it dawned on me that maybe He was making a distinction between a Literal interpretation of the matter at hand And a metaphorical perspective like when John Ashbery wrote it had been raining But it had not been raining, in 1956. Or maybe John Ashbery was making A distinction between objective and Subjective realities like it was raining Outside when he wrote his poem but But it was a clear day in the subjective Landscape of his poem, entitled "A Boy." When I ran this by Mister Yes and No He said, 'Well, maybe" which had me Flummoxed coming from the man who Only said yes and no and seeing my look Of incredulity he added, 'Or maybe not.' Haha in life there is always more to learn! Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
The Girls Began Speaking Pig Latin When the girls began speaking Pig Latin On the school bus I saw the pleasure Women discover in a secret language And more importantly I understood how Learning Pig Latin could be a shibboleth Opening the door to love! Yes, love, Whereas sex such as it was existed Only as the Playboy pictures furtively Hidden under a mattress until one day Torn up and flushed down the toilet for The awful shame of it. Ethay answeryay Asway igpay atinlay andyay ohyay odgay Iyay iedtray. Oh God, I've tried but I failed, Andyay isyay ityay ownay ootay atelay? F. Compton R. Buzzard Apropos my field of ancient Egypt I refer to her as Queen Nefertari or Mut The Sky Goddess in my texts When the colloquium brings me Down to New Haven each week And she replies with her cutesy Bear Moniker as in Missing You Now Bear, Loving You Bear, Lonely Tonight Bear, Or Horny & Bare Bear which gives me A laugh but oh my goodness we have Such a paucity of common ground: That is to say, I more or less inhabit The 19th Dynasty while she is purely This lively and delightful quotidian girl. Sigh! Recently she has downloaded Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners From Amazon -- but for goodness' sake That will never get her through a papyrus. Helen of Starbucks Hi everybody! Let's look at that scene in The Iliad where some old Trojan warriors Passing time on the city wall gaze upon Helen, the world's most beautiful woman. She won't even give them the time of day And the old war horses wax philosophical Because what the hell else can they do? Goddamn it, if you get past the age of 75 Or 80 it's like you don't even exist anymore In the eyes of the young gal serving coffee At Starbucks so when you tell her you knew Milton Berle it's like speaking Chinese! God forbid you mention the names of Ben Blue or Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom! Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Of Wittgenstein here’s all I know and All you need to know, my dear friend: ‘I don’t care what I eat as long as it’s ‘The same thing every day.’ Genau! Thus spake the great philosopher! So don’t expect Cornish game hen Chez moi. I was raised on Swanson’s Chicken pot pies and the only change Now is we’ll have the Stauffers brand Plus an enormous orange Jell-o mold Which in the days my youth signified Gemütlichkeit, as the great philosopher Might say. Dessert will be fig newtons And I’ll ask you to please bring the wine. Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
The Old Pogue The Old Pogue said, ‘Class with just a touch of ‘Wicked sleaze, or more than a touch, right, boys? ‘Admit it. Class plus wicked sleaze is what we want ‘In women. Oh, I wish I was born in ancient Egypt ‘When the gals painted their cheeks a shade of ‘Yellowish red and wore a green eye shadow ‘Made from malachite, a copper derivative, and ‘Kohl, a charcoal-like eyeliner favored by women 'Of the aristocracy. During the 18th Dynasty ‘Queen Hatshepsut herself ground frankincense ‘Into her eyeliner and in the Minoan civilization ‘Around 2000 BC in the Aegean Islands servant girls ‘Wore short jumpers hanging loose from the shoulders ‘To the knees with no belt that yelled out to fuck me.’ I Got Nowhere In the whole world only one restaurant Was patronized by both Leon Trotsky And Bela Bartok. That would be the Old 57th Street Automat in Manhattan. Go into any restaurant today and ask Whether Leon Trotsky ever ate there. You'll get nowhere. Same with Bartok. You'll get nowhere. They'll shoot you A look of stupifaction. Apropos of which, Years ago I took the subway down to a Greek-run coffee shop on 86th Street Where I'd heard Isaac Singer used to Order a boiled potato. I got nowhere. I asked if Bartok ate there. Who? What? Charlie Livingston: A Novel He went into the jewelry business. He left the jewelry business and Went into the rug business. He left The rug business and went into The landscaping business. He left The landscaping business and went Into the ladies' ready-to-wear Business. He left the ladies' ready-to- Wear business and went into the Plumbing business. He left the plumbing Business and went into the pet grooming Business. He left the pet grooming business And went into the car detailing business. He left the car detailing business and went Into the shoe business. He left the shoe Business and went into the children's Furniture business. He left the children's Furniture business and went into the hair Replacement business. He left the hair Replacement business and went into the Leather goods business. He left the leather Goods business and went into the heating And air conditioning business. He left the Heating and air conditioning business and Went into the printing business. He left the Printing business and went into the exterminating Business. He left the exterminating business And went into the meat packing business. He left the meat packing business and went Into the organic vegetable business. He left The organic vegetable business and went Into the funeral home business. He left the Funeral home business and went into The bicycle shop business. He left the The bicycle shop business and went into The reinsurance business. He left the Reinsurance business and went into the Cow-and-calf business. He left the cow-and- Calf business and went into the yarn business. He left the yarn business and went into the Deep sea fishing business. He left the deep Sea fishing business... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Danny was a unique character having been The youngest prisoner in San Quentin for A period of time during his overall 25 years Of incarceration in Q and in other California Institutions of higher learning plus time In the old federal lockup in Marion Illinois. When I asked Danny how he felt when they Welded him into his cell he laughed and said That although he couldn't get out they couldn't Get in either so you could say it was neither Fish nor fowl. That's the way he always was, Cool as a cucumber with a smile on his face. One day however Danny seemed a bit out of Sorts so I asked what the matter might be. He said, 'I was in my car on La Brea Avenue 'When a good looking girl pulled up beside me 'And said I should pull over to the curb because 'She wanted to talk to me so I did as she said.' He continued, 'When I pulled over to the curb 'She said her car was falling apart and she 'Asked me to rent a car for her since she didn't 'Have any credit cards or even a driver's license. 'I rented a car for her but then she didn't bring 'The car back, she just kept driving around in it.' He went on, 'When I was notified of the problem 'By the rent-a-car company I went looking for her 'And when I found her I said hey you didn't bring 'The car back and now they are charging me 'Fifty dollars a day or whatever it is plus the car 'Is on my insurance so what if you cracked it up?' As he went on I noticed a small scar on his nose And tempting though it was to ask after its origin I thought better of it. Now here is the funny part. The next day I was accidentally whacked on the Nose by a fellow opening the door to Starbucks And the upshot was I got a scar just like Danny's. What are the odds of getting whacked on the nose So soon after seeing a scar on the nose of another? Einstein wrote, 'Die Quantenmechanik ist achtung- Gebietend aber eine innere Stimme sagt mir dass Der Alte nicht würfelt.' Very well! But instead of The Old One I speak of the Great Hippopotamus. Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
The Wandering Jew 1. In the Gremlin he drove Chicago to NYC And back again I-90 segueing into I-80 Outside Cleveland but neither Chicago Nor NYC could be called his destination Considering how upon arrival in one city He turned back towards the other without So much as getting out of the Gremlin. For money he had a small inheritance Plus some government disability payments That he accessed at the ATM machines In gas stations or in the motels where He stayed every third or fourth night But definitely at least one night per week And he paid little attention to his meals. 2. After months or years of Chicago/NYC He began crisscrossing the country with No particular rhyme or reason while in His brain mentations came and went like The fireflies that flitted in the gloaming After long-ago picnics at Potawatomi Park. However as winter came upon the Interstates A more apt metaphor of his thoughts was Snowflakes blown by winds like the one that In a blizzard near King of Prussia Pennsylvania Sent the Gremlin spinning on an overpass and Plunging through the side rail as an apparition Of the man he could have been appeared. 3. This was the the man he could have been Had he not had spent his life in the Gremlin, The law school or medical school graduate, Husband and father, grandparent, homework Helper, dumb joke teller, dryer of tears, loving And loved in return, and he wept at seeing The man he could have been except in the Last second or even in the final nanosecond Of his wasted existence an amazing joy filled His heart as the man he could have been Disappeared and in that man's place he saw A shining and spectacular vision of the man He was irrevocably destined to be when the day Of גְּאֻלָּה and מָשִׁיחַ at long last arrives! Amen. New Tires Eventually I saw how beautiful women are Stimulated by new tires on a man's car and Ever since that realization dawned on me I buy new tires whenever the possibility of Liaison with a beautiful woman presents itself. Isn't that awfully expensive? Yes and no. Generally I pay around five hundred dollars For four tires which is nothing to sneeze at But look at it this way: beautiful women are Nature's true masterpieces so if they want New tires, well then, new tires they shall have. As to why they want new tires, I have no idea But many things in science remain unknown. How aspirin works was a mystery until 1994. Meat Loaf He had been watching Meat Loaf videos Or rather he watched the same video Again and again, the performance of Paradise by the Dashboard Light from 1979 or 1980 which was Meat Loaf's Masterpiece and had received over Forty-five million YouTube views and Eleven thousand admiring comments Since it first appeared on YouTube Four years earlier. The very existence Of the millions of Meat Loaf admirers Reassured him like... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
He had been watching Meat Loaf videos Or rather he watched the same video Again and again, the performance of Paradise by the Dashboard Light from 1979 or 1980 which was Meat Loaf's Masterpiece and had received over Forty-five million YouTube views and Eleven thousand admiring comments Since it first appeared on YouTube Four years earlier. The very existence Of the millions of Meat Loaf admirers Reassured him like a quote from Seneca: 'Whatever time has passed is owned 'By death. Most of death is already gone.' Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
They called him Tight Pants Blair and he Favored an eccentric notion of time derived From A.N. Whitehead's Process and Reality. In a nutshell, Tight Pants Blair proposed that The past does exist but with a certain flatness So that nothing in the past is farther back or Deeper in the past than anything else. Thus, Our "distance" from the Egyptian pharaohs Is the same as our "distance" from yesterday's Hamburger or anything else in the past that You care to name. For example, when did you Lose your virginity? Tight Pants Blair would Argue that the meaningful question would be Not when, but simply did you lose it or not? Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
You there having coitus, I gesture to you, I salute you and I genuflect as befits you And myself also, wandering Santa Monica Tonight as you have coitus. Are you the School teacher bored beyond belief in The faculty meeting finally having coitus Or the fool having coitus or the wise man Having coitus? The gray-haired woman Who had coitus, the retired bus driver -- 'Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne?' as the Pole wrote -- must you now only recall Having coitus or can you go on having it As in Joshua 10:13 when the sun didn't set Or when the sea opened in Exodus 15:19? Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Oh, on summer mornings darting through The county club's immense parking lot of Antique cars restored with great affection Or perfectly preserved: reds, greens, yellows, As if snatched from the nearby flower beds, And here the thwack of a struck tennis ball Was heard, there a golf ball took to the air. War das nicht eine schöne, schöne Zeit? Oh, winter afternoons at the bowling alley Down a flight of stairs from Diversey Avenue Where outrageous transactions commonly Took place; oh, and the movie theaters all In walking distance of one another, the Covent, The Century, the Lake Shore, and the Parkway, Best loved of all, renowned for its decrepitude. War das nicht auch eine schöne Zeit? But oh, what has a beginning has an ending, Said Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the time Of his very grave brain tumor diagnosis. Alas, But let's not make a federal case out of it. As La Rochefoucauld observed, thinking of Death, like staring at the sun, can't be done For long, or shouldn't be. So grieve not. Oy. Und hast du dich nicht so gut amüsiert? Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
'Send your sick animals to me' Kim and I (but she was Marilyn Novak then) We smelt fished at Belmont Harbor one April As the restriction allowed but seeing as how Smelt only ran in April anyway the restriction To April was really much ado about nothing. Smelt fishing happened only at night. Did you know that? Probably not, with Smelt fishing now a thing of the past. April nights were chilly, the cold not Ameliorated by our tiny Coleman stove. By an unwritten rule the smelt had to Be cooked immediately when snared In the little nets, nor was it at all difficult To fill a gallon-sized bucket with smelt. However, Marilyn threw all of them back. This was a person who in her bedroom Window displayed a hand-lettered sign: 'Send your sick animals to me.' It seemed She was no less concerned about saving Smelt while I monkeyed with the stove. 'Where the hell are the smelt?' I asked, But oh ho ho, she only shrugged and smiled And Marilyn's smile could break your heart. That night we fished no more. Back in my car, A 1949 Chevrolet, I asked her to marry me. 'Buddha," she said -- I was called Buddha In those days -- 'I love you but the thing is 'I'm leaving tomorrow on a cross-country tour 'To model refrigerators at trade shows for 'A big refrigerator company. I'm sorry, Buddha.' That was in 1953. In Los Angeles Marilyn Won the title of Miss Deep Freeze and soon Her name was Kim. I never saw her again. As for the smelt, they wised up so no longer Running in April they started running in May. Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
The Secret Gas Cap How strange and wonderful the left tail light Of a '52 Cadillac was, how to fill the gas tank One pushed a round reflecting button and The fixture elevated to reveal the pipe's cap. Momentarily I was confused, frightened, Because how do you put gas in the car -- And then came the revelation. Once, twice, I operated the mechanism that seemed Such a wonder to my callow self, witless As I was of all the automobiles -- the '41 Ford, For example -- whose gas caps were hidden Or camouflaged no less cleverly than that Of the '52 Cadillac ever since the first secret Gas cap car rolled off the line in October 1908. Briar Patch Smialek -- he called himself Smialek -- He could take a car apart and put it Back together again fifty times like Walter Chrysler did in 1911. Smialek, Why, the junkyard was his briar patch Like Br'er Rabbit had his briar patch But what exactly is a briar patch? It's a place don't nobody want to go Except Smialek and Br'er Rabbit Who don't want to go no place else! Go ahead, give them a plane ticket To anywhere and they won't take it! Yes and No Will I do an engine replacement? Yes and no. It depends on do I Know you and if I don't know you Who you are. If you are with the Police department I more or less Have to do it even though you will Expect to pay little or nothing for The job and I don't even know you. On the other hand if I know you or You know somebody who knows me Then I may do it if I have the engine Available or if I can get it somewhere But nine times out of ten I will send You to A&B Auto Repair on Elston Ave. Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Norby I got Norby in my office, I said, 'Norby, 'I have an idea, you go out to California 'For three or four months, whatever, 'Six months, go out to California and 'We'll stay in touch, we'll be in touch 'While you're in California, but go out 'To California for some period of time, 'That's what I would urge you to do, 'I would urge you to go out to California 'For a while, three months, six months, 'Go out to California is what I'm saying, 'Get on a plane and go out to California, 'Go to California for five or six months, 'Or don't put a time limit on it. Okay?' The Door Is Always Open If you’re in the used car parts business For any length of time you’ll start seeing How this person is like a used fan clutch Or that person is like a used water pump Because of how they look and also how They fit Into the overall system of things. A water pump delivers coolant to the Engine and then back to the radiator And then back to the engine again So the cycle keeps going around To provide coolant to the engine Or else the engine will overheat. If a person started to overheat At my place of business Tony Drago Cooled them down like a water pump Which he always looked like anyway And when he started getting older He looked like a used water pump. It was the same with how Katsulos When he started getting older Looked like a used fan clutch and How he and Tony Drago were like The cooling system that you need In the used car parts business. But here is what else I’ve learned: In the used car parts business don't Let used car parts take over until Used car parts are the only things You think about. Because the door Is always open and so is the road. The Packard Eucalyptus Ha! The Packard Eucalyptus! Just like Walter Chrysler had the Chrysler Ozymandias, Just like Ransom Olds wasted all his money On the Oldsmobile Harbinger and just like Roy Chapin could not quit tinkering with the Hudson Gubernatorial, that's exactly how Jim Nance made a mess of things at Packard During the 1950s with the V-12 Eucalyptus Which never made it to production and could Have been called the Packard White Elephant. Someplace on the lot I have an axle assembly From a Eucalyptus, a muffler from a Harbinger, And a flywheel from a Hudson Gubernatorial But where? Where are somebody else's dreams? Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
When you really need a wimpy You get one. It was our mantra Those many nights awaiting Delivery of the Racing Form To the newsstand on Diversey Even as we called a longshot Like Greystone Park a whale Or how a consistent winner like Doctor Morrie Weiss was called A woolly mammoth with payoffs That could feed an entire village Albeit at even money or less. But a wimpy? You will get one When you need one. Period. * Very pleased that my Collected Poems is now available on Amazon >> Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
RABBI RABINOWITZ Julius Jaffe approached Rabbi Rabinowitz. He said, "I will marry Esther Tabachnik. I am 118 years old." Rabbi Rabinowitz said, "'Today I have begotten you.' (Psalms 2:7) On certain days -- every day, really, but also on certain days -- it is as if we are born anew. Our sins (feh) are not just forgotten but it is as if they never existed in the first place." He continued, "'Be fruitful and multiply.' (Bereshis 1:28) This is the first commandment in the Torah, which all these years you have not obeyed (feh.) He went on, "When we will stand before the Heavenly Tribunal we will be judged less for the sins we have done (feh) than for the mitzvot we failed to do. Most important of all, of course, are the mitzvot we have actually done." He continued, "Now, with your marriage to Esther Tabachnik and by your intimate embrace of her, you will replace your failure to enact Torah's premier commandment (feh) with the mitzvah of all mitzvot! Kinehora! Mazel tov!" NYPD BLUE Julius Jaffe and Herman Fishman watched NYPD Blue on television. Julius Jaffe said, "Sipowitz must complete his tikkun, from the sefirot of Gevurah to that of Chesed." Herman Fishman said, "This is the reverse of Abraham." Julius Jaffe continued, "When his tropical fish die, we can see struggle in the face of Sipowitz." Herman Fishman added, "Confucius said the most important thing in life is the expression on your face." Julius Jaffe added, "No matter what happened, Rav Zusha said, 'It is for the best.'" Herman Fishman added, "The younger brother of Rav Zusha was Rav Elimelech." "MY SIN IS ALWAYS BEFORE MY EYES" David spoke before YHVH, "Why is not a blessing concluded with my name, as it is with Abraham?" The Holy One answered, "I have already tested Abraham, and he stood erect before me." David said, "Test me then, O YHVH!" -- Zohar Julius Jaffe said, "Batsheva was the test and he failed that test." Herman Fishman said, "But Batsheva was his soulmate." Julius Jaffe replied, with a teaching of Rabbi Yishma'el, "'He ate her when she was unripe.' That is, she was still married to Uriah the Hittite." Herman Fishman said, "Oy." Julius Jaffe continued, "But he passed the more severe test of teshuvah, which is true repentance: As he wrote, 'My sin is always before my eyes' (Psalms 51:5) and further, 'Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow' (Psalms 51:9), and still further, 'Create me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.'" (Psalms 51:12) THE LIGHT AND THE VESSEL Julius Jaffe said, "Rav Ashlag, elaborating on teachings of Rav Isaac Luria, describes desire as existing in two forms: desire for the self alone (feh) and desire for the purpose of sharing." He continued, "YHVH has no desire for the self alone. The only thing he 'wants' or 'needs' is a Vessel with which... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
JUDGMENT Seeing that Herman Fishman was about to step on an ant, Julius Jaffe urgently intervened to let the ant pass. He said, "When a judgment against a man has been rendered in the Upper World, he is always given the opportunity to soften that judgment through some seemingly insignificant action." Herman Fishman said, "Has a judgment been rendered against me in the Upper World?" Julius Jaffe replied, "Oy. Bite your tongue." RABBI RABINOWITZ As he was studying Torah late one night Lilith (feh) appeared in Julius Jaffe’s room in the Rienzi Hotel. After she appeared again the following night, Julius Jaffe met with Rabbi Rabinowitz. Rabbi Rabinowitz said, “Oy vey. Did any words come out of her mouth?” Julius Jaffe replied, “She cast her gaze around the room and with wicked laughter she said, ‘And the appearance of the vision that I saw was like the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city.’” (Ezekiel 43:3) Then Rabbi Rabinowitz wept and quoted the Zohar: “We see that all the nations have risen, and Israel is lower than all of them. This is because the Above sent the Shekinah away from Him and took the slave woman Lilith in her place. Who is this slave woman? At first she sat behind the grinding mill, and now she has inherited the place of her mistress." Rabbi Rabinowitz explained, “As He consorts with Lilith above, the Shekinah consorts with Samael below, and so it will be until Moshiach.” He continued, “With Lilith He does not pour out his seed. But listen to this wonderful miracle. At Shabbat, when a righteous Jew and his soulmate intimately embrace, He and the Shekinah are reunited, whereupon He pours out his seed which pours down Light upon the world.” He went on, “However, when a Jew lives alone in a dark space Lilith arrives to seduce him and wickedly laughs in the lewd triumph of her usurping the place of the Jew’s soulmate in the Jew’s bed just as she has usurped the place of the Shekinah with God in the Upper World. Feh!” ESTHER TABACHNIK They were walking. Julius Jaffe said, "I will marry Esther Tabachnik." He continued, in the name of Rabbi Rabinowitz, "A man alone in a room, Lilith (feh) plagues him in the midnight hour. He went on, "But Esther Tabachnik, 'her price is above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.'" (Proverbs 31:10-12) Herman Fishman said, "Kinehora." JERRY CHAIMOVICH & RAV ASHLAG Herman Fishman asked, "Why are the wicked so strong? 'I saw under the sun, in the place of justice, that wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, that wickedness was there.'" (Eccl. 3:16) Julius Jaffe replied, "'The righteous and the wicked God will judge.'" (Eccl. 3:17) He explained, "No act of righteousness goes unnoticed by YHVH. Even Jerry Chaimovich once, perhaps, left a ten dollar tip... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
EMUNAH When Herman Fishman asked Julius Jaffe to discourse on emunah, Julius Jaffe’s mouth twisted into a rictus as if he were trying to lift a huge weight. Finally Julius Jaffe said, "Fools and silly people who refer to emunah as faith or belief are like ignorant farm animals. When Moishe called out to God on the banks of the Red Sea, God said, "Why do you call out to me? Tell the people to go forward." He continued, "Then Nachshon walked into the Red Sea and the waves parted, but not until the water had reached Nachshon's neck. This was to test Nachshon's emunah, his certainty." He went on, "Such is my own emunah that on Shabbat I can turn the Rienzi Hotel into a blimp that travels back into the past or ahead into the future at my direction. But you must tell no one about this. Do you agree?" And Herman Fishman agreed. MOISHE AND THE ROCK As the sages instruct, Julius Jaffe studied Torah at three o'clock in the morning, when most of the demons are sleeping. One night, as he read Shemot Chapter 17 (“Moishe strikes the rock”) Julius Jaffe merited a startling insight that illuminated all of Torah. He was overjoyed and recited the Sh'ma. But a moment later he was saddened by the thought of jackasses and their televised bonehead preachments. FUN FOR THE FEEBLE They were walking. Herman Fishman said, "In English there's there's an expression, 'fun for the feeble.' How would one say that in Jewish?" Julius Jaffe replied, 'Shpas far die schwach.'" He continued, "God sees the end in the beginning. If I show an acorn to a fool, the fool thinks that only a fool would believe that the acorn contains an oak tree." He went on, "God sees not just the oak tree, but all the acorns yet to come, and all the trees yet to come." "Therefore," Herman Fishman asked, "did he know that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit?" Julius Jaffe said, "Yes. It was shpas far die schwach.": "THE TWO JAKES" He said, "My favorite movie is The Two Jakes." He said, "My favorite novel is From The Terrace." He said, "My favorite song is Moments to Remember, by The Four Lads." Herman Fishman asked, "What is your favorite food?" He said, "Chicken pot pie." TRUTH Harvey Gershman asked him, "How can I know truth?" Julius Jaffe replied, "By three attributes." He continued, "Truth is simple, but deceptively so. For example, 'Buy low and sell high' seems simple, but what is high? What is low? You see, it's not as simple as you thought." He went on, "Secondly, the opposite of truth may also be truth. For example, money is everything, and money is nothing." He continued, "Most importantly, truth is funny. Consider a definition of zero: a number A which when added to a number B results in a sum of B, which is funny." Then Herman Fishman said, "How about when... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
FOUR ATTRIBUTES OF A TZADDIK Herman Fishman asked, "Was Shlomo Putchkis a tzaddik?" Julius Jaffe replied, "No, because Shlomo Putchkis did not possess the four attributes of a tzaddik." He continued, "A tzaddik must come from a lineage of tzaddikim, both in his generations and also in his connection with his teacher, and through his teacher in his connection with his teacher's teacher, and his teacher's teacher's teacher.." He went on, "A tzaddik must have traversed all ten of the sefirot, perhaps over the course of many lifetimes." He further stated, "A tzaddik must diligently learn Torah for its own sake. 'Those who seek Me will find Me.'" (Proverbs 8:17) He concluded, "As an exemplar of tikkun olam, a tzaddik must teach, inspire, and lead others in the correct path, and this work continues even after the revival of the dead." LILITH The companions were walking. Julius Jaffe said, "When Lilith was cast into the bottom of the ocean, Adam in his unhappiness consorted with demon women for 135 years." Sidney Plouse asked, "Did God ever consort with Lilith?" Julius Jaffe replied, "Yes. After the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the people, the Shekinah remained with the people while God separated himself from the people and consorted with Lilith." Herman Fishman asked, "How can a man know if his wife has been possessed by Lilith?" Julius Jaffe said, "A man and his wife must have a secret word. Also, if a wife refuses to lie beneath her husband, she has been possessed by Lilith. Feh. It was for this that Lilith was cast into the bottom of the ocean.." SINS OF THE MARRIAGE BED Julius Jaffe was walking with Herman Fishman. Julius Jaffe said, "Alike unto the dinner table, the marriage bed has many prohibitions. Wrongdoings can bring forth a child with two heads." Herman Fishman inquired, "Of all the prohibitions of the marriage bed, which one is the most dire to transgress?" To which Julius Jaffe replied, "When a man and wife are locked in intimate embrace, should one or both of them think lasciviously of another person, feh, no transgression is worse than this one. Their child will have webbed feet like a duck." As they walked on Herman Fishman said, "But what of Jacob who, at the moment of conjugal bliss, must surely have called out Rachel's name in the darkness, although his bedmate was Leah?" Julius Jaffe answered without hesitation, "Yes, but Jacob had been hoodwinked to believe he was with Rachel!" He continued, "Further, when Jacob realized the deception and upbraided Leah, she quite correctly answered in kind: 'Are you not my teacher and am I not your pupil? I learned from your fine example. When your father Isaac called you by Esau's name, you said, Here am I.'" And they continued on their way. EVEN BEFORE HE CREATED Julius Jaffe said, "Even before he undertook the creation of the world, even before he brought Adam into being, God revealed to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
OLD SONG Julius Jaffe sang an old song: 'Boys, boys, too much noise! Abie! Louie! Kum in hoyz!' CONCUPISCENCE Julius Jaffe said, "In Torah, the Land of Egypt is a metaphor for concupiscence." THE GODFATHER PART III Morrie Brier asked Julius Jaffe for his opinion of The Godfather Part III. Julius Jaffe said, "Feh! Feh!" BERNIE BERLOWITZ Julius Jaffe said, "By transgressing a single word of Torah -- 'yarbeh' -- King Solomon caused the splitting of the kingdom for his descendants. How much more so, then, for Bernie Berlowitz, who transgressed the whole book of Shemot!" FASTING AND FRESSING On Yom Kippur, Julius Jaffe attended services, and, as befits a Jew, he was fasting. But following the services he saw the Rabbi fressing on hard boiled eggs. In shock, Julius Jaffe exclaimed: "Rabbi, why are you fressing so?" The Rabbi smiled. "I am modest in my piety," he said. "When I fress, I hide from others that I am fasting." THE ANGEL OF DEATH Julius Jaffe was carrying a large box of bricks on his shoulders. The day was hot. Too weary to go on, Julius Jaffe dropped the box and called out to the Angel of Death. At that instant the Angel appeared and said, "Can I be of service to you?" Now trembling in fear, Julius Jaffe said, "Yes. Could you help me put this box of bricks back on my shoulders?" Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Virus: Good morning. I'll be glad to take a few questions. Reporter #1: What are you actually trying to accomplish? Virus: Well, there's a moment in The Possessed, the novel by Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, when the main character -- I believe his name was Strombolini -- says that since he's already made a mess of his life, he'll try to make as big a mess of it as possible. In other words, he'll transform destruction, or perhaps entropy is a better word, into creation by making it intentional. It's a bit like something Kenneth Koch used to say about writing poetry: if something isn't working, do it more. Reporter #2: So you're an intellectual. Have you read Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor?: Virus: Certainly not. But I've infected the University of Chicago. Did you know that Leo Strauss, the phlebotomist who for twenty years was the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor of political science at the University of Chicago, in private conversations used to worry about the schvartzes coming across Jackson Park? Well. he did. Reporter #2: Don't you mean phenomenologist rather than phlebotomist? Virus: Thank you. But rather than either phlebotomist or phenomenologist, I meant to say podiatrist. What used to be called a foot doctor. Reporter #3: Could you please be serious for a moment? Virus: I'll be serious if you'll be roebuck. It was a wonderful store at one time. People used to be able to order a whole house which would arrive disassembled in a railroad car, and then they'd put it together themselves. There were 31,000 parts. That was going on even at the time of the 1918 epidemic. There simply aren't people like that today, as Nestor says in Homer's Iliad, as translated by W.H.D. Rouse. Reporter #4: Can you please stop your infernal bookishness? Virus: All right. Reporter #4: What do you think of Donald Trump? Virus: (sighs) I knew someone would ask that. Listen, Trump is neither the hero nor the villain of this story. What's important is not Trump himself, but the response to Trump in you and you and you and you. In this sense, Trump is like the biblical Pharaoh. Some people hurried to leave Egypt when Pharaoh allowed it, and some people actually wanted to stay. Lindsey Graham would be somebody like that. Speaking of which, has it occurred to anyone that the name "Lindsey Graham" naturally suggests "Lindsey Graham Cracker," because Lindsey Graham would have been a segregationist in the old days, and "cracker" means a bigoted white person? You see, the universe is always sending coded messages like that, but you people need to be aware of them and understand them. Ahem. I myself am such a message. Reporter #4: Oh, for Christ's sake! Virus: Well, I'm getting a bit weary. But before I go, I'd like to ask you a question. Do you think I will be Time magazine's Person of the Year? Reporter #5: No, because you're not a person. Virus: (sighs) True... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Carlson Fenwick, Professor In our years-long correspondence concerning All things Shakespearian Alan Grosbeck and I Sometimes amused ourselves by concocting Hare-brained interpretations and pursuing Them to their risibly illogical conclusions. Aware for instance that in Elizabethan times ‘Nothing’ was a crude slang word for the Female genitalia, we searched past the oft-cited Double entendre of Much Ado About Nothing And discovered that "nothing" was possibly Shakespeare’s favorite word. In King Lear Nothing appears eighteen times in just Fourteen speeches including Cordelia’s First words to Lear – ‘Nothing, my lord’ -- And in Lear as a whole we found "nothing" Thirty-four times in twenty-nine speeches While in The Winter’s Tale "nothing" appears Thirty-four times in twenty-six speeches. There’s plenty of nothing in Hamlet too. So what was Shakespeare up to there? Possibly nothing. But plenty of nothing. We had some good laughs over it. I miss Alan, interred now at Mount Auburn, And he came to mind yesterday as I read Sonnet 73 and recalled how we used to Imagine all the possibilities of who is Speaking to whom in these fourteen lines. Oh, spare me the dull and obvious banality That it’s an old man addressing a younger. It could be an old woman and her cat or A young girl and her doll. Why the hell not? But then a rather novel interpretation came To me which I wholeheartedly welcomed. Was there really something new to say About one of the most commented-upon Poems in the English language? I hurried To my bookshelves and consulted Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, the Marxists, Freudians, The New Critics, and even old Yeats whose Remark that Shakespeare is only a mass of Magnificent fragments expresses not at all a Denigration but instead suggests an analogy Between Shakespeare and the post-Newtonian Description of the whole far-flung Universe. But it seems that no scholar in any age has Proposed that the ‘speaker’ in Sonnet 73 Is actually the poem itself, nor that the subject Of the poem is the experience of reading it. ‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold’ -- A coy invitation: If you’ve got a moment to Engage your imagination, the poem says, These ink spots on a page can conjure up A windy fall day, some trees, and a ruined Church or monastery, perhaps one of those Closed by Henry VIII. And that’s only the Beginning of what I, the poem, can disclose If – and it’s a big if -- you have what it takes To see it. My coy invitation was also a challenge. You may ‘behold’ the images, or maybe not, But the final couplet will offer a congratulation On what ‘thou perceiv’st’ – with a reminder that Perception won’t last forever. “This’ in line 13 Refers to the inevitability of conclusion, which Has been universalized in the poem and is now Demonstrated by the end of the poem itself. Is there more? Yes, or maybe not. Oh dear God. Ed. note: "There’s plenty of nothing in... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday, introducing the impeachment managers, Nancy Pelosi invoked Longfellow. It was the first time I've heard poetry spoken by a politician since Bill Clinton in the 1980's quoted Emerson's baleful line about the future, "When our sons have gone to where our fathers are...." Speaking of baleful, here's a Longfellow poem perhaps appropriate for these dark times: Haunted Houses (1858) All houses wherein men have lived and died Are haunted houses. Through the open doors The harmless phantoms on their errands glide, With feet that make no sound upon the floors. We meet them at the doorway, on the stair, Along the passages they come and go, Impalpable impressions on the air, A sense of something moving to and fro. There are more guests at table, than the hosts Invited; the illuminated hall Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts, As silent as the pictures on the wall. The stranger at my fireside cannot see The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear; He but perceives what is; while unto me All that has been is visible and clear. We have no title-deeds to house or lands; Owners and occupants of earlier dates From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands, And hold in mortmain still their old estates. The spirit-world around this world of sense Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense A vital breath of more ethereal air. Our little lives are kept in equipoise By opposite attractions and desires; The struggle of the instinct that enjoys, And the more noble instinct that aspires. These perturbations, this perpetual jar Of earthly wants and aspirations high, Come from the influence of an unseen star, An undiscovered planet in our sky. And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light, Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd Into the realm of mystery and night,– So from the world of spirits there descends A bridge of light, connecting it with this, O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends, Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss. Continue reading
Posted Jan 16, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
When she used the word bullnose to describe The blunt corner of a marble kitchen counter -- From that moment I was in love with Calliope, As I inferred a knowledge of carpentry which, Although I had been unaware of it, I do find Attractive in a woman whose slender arms Disguise wiry strength just as her vocabulary Unexpectedly includes a word like bullnose. Another turn-on for me is a sylph-like woman In a form-fitting wedding dress so with pleasure I anticipate browsing Modern Brides magazine With Calliope – notwithstanding how when I Looked up bullnose in the dictionary it was Defined as a disease of pigs. But no matter! Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Jared Korsauer, Student Every Sunday night a group of us Get together – a leftist lawyer, CU Students, a tough black guy Who got radicalized in the air force, Some chicks, a psychiatrist who Knows psychiatry is all bullshit -- Each with revolutionary intentions And with a revolutionary analysis Which doesn’t mean they’ve read Every word that Marx ever wrote Or all of Stalin’s letters to Molotov But they understand the dialectic And they’re action-oriented Leninist Bolsheviks in the context of 1967. * Carlson Fenwick, Professor Were we really to hear and Understand Lear’s words, ‘If you have poison for me “I will drink it,’ or Francesca Of Canto V, ‘Quel giorno più ‘Non vi leggemmo avante,’ ‘That day we read no farther,’ Or von Sternberg’s Blue Angel In which Jannings dies a tragic Cuckold and off the screen died An unrepentant Nazi in 1950 -- Were we to take all that to heart, Alas, in that case, I’m afraid We would just cry all the time. * James Rice, Student Pears are pear-shaped Jewish kids From Brooklyn most of whom Want to be doctors but they also Like Government which is called Political Science at a lot of schools. Pears hang out in the pear palace Which is the 24-hour study room Near the vending machines in Hartley Hall which are across the Way from the TV room where Pears are almost never found. Jocks who come here from Ohio Or Texas have never seen a pear And it hugely freaks them out. Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2019 at The Best American Poetry