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SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

[Three Poems]

by Lou Lipsitz

Gregory Corso, 1930-2001

“Mrs. Lombardi’s month-old son is dead, such a small coffin!
And ten black cadillacs to haul it in.”
—Gregory Corso, Italian Extravaganza
i remember the first time i saw you 
at the standingroomonly studentshangingoutthewindows poetry reading 
in some big hall yale new haven, 1959, 
when crazy stuff like that really did not happen—
not yet—when decorum prevailed
and we were waiting and didn’t know it.
ginsberg there, on the edge of the stage, legs dangling, 
ringing Tibetan finger cymbals
(we’d never seen before); 
paying no attention, everyone guessing 
what was supposed to happen next.

and you came striding down center aisle, 
yelling words we couldn’t make out,
an intruder deciding it’s time to have his say; 
italian curls and big, startling black eyes, 
a crazy man for sure. but no,
it was the other poet, and you climbed on stage, 
goony and boyish, laughing, probably stoned 
and read to us from a bunch of crumpled-up pages 
you took out of your pocket 
and from that little red-and-white text GASOLINE.
strange damn poems—funny, odd, off the map we
had been taught to follow, some other territory. 
or maybe it was you yourself 
and not the poems. you, so unlike
the poets we’d studied; too zany, too close to us, too
flawed and coarse, too much strange delight, 
or, maybe the sense of some 
approaching wildness we couldn’t grasp, 
a confused ecstasy, a decade unscheduled, 
disasters waiting,  heroin they tried to pry
from your endless hand, 
and the “being-torn-apart-haunted-with-meanings,” 
searching for the beautiful worlds.
and now new century, swifter than delight, meanings
sogged out, beaten by information, 
and he’s gone, the black-eyed boy, 
Mrs. Corso’s kid—
we’re a memory.

—From if this world falls apart (Lynx House Press, 2011), a collection of poems by Lipsitz which won the 2010 Blue Lynx Prize; reprinted here by author’s permission

—Poem previously published as “Elegy for Corso and So Much Else” by the North Carolina Arts Council



—for Jeff, 1941–2004
“Time, the punch line to God’s favorite joke, one we never really get.”
—Sy Safransky
“Retinitis pigmentosa is an eye disease in which there
is damage to the retina. The damage gets worse over time. 
There is no effective treatment for this condition.”


One of your old students called last night.
He’d just heard and wanted to talk. 
By the end of the conversation 
we were saying we loved each other. 
We’d never thought to say that long ago 
when we’d felt it and were embarrassed by it. 
Now that we’re older, losses, life’s torturers, 
loosen our tongues. 

I could say death brings love out,
the way the hounds root out the fox.
I could say that, but we both know
love is the grass the horses trample down
and piss on. The fox is our amazing,
confused intelligence that in this moment
can do nothing but dig deeper
into the dark.


So, dear friend, for you, no more struggles,
no more retinitus pigmentosa—
eyesight ebbing away as if a wire screen, 
you said, grew thicker, blocking out the light—
no more bumping into objects, bruising 
your shins on your way to the kitchen 
for a midnight snack; no more hand on my shoulder
as I guide you through the dark restaurants;
no more bourbon, no more twilights, no more loneliness; 
no more challenging questions to your students,
no more wondering about Kafka’s Penal Colony 
where the great machine inscribes punishments 
on the flesh of the condemned.
No more misunderstandings, rages,
memories of your depressed, suicidal sister; 
dreams of your alcoholic mother 
who grabs you and forces you to dance with her, 
breathing in your young boy’s face; 
no more stories about your bullying father 
who cared so much about you  
he relentlessly pushed you around.

No more worries about money,
no more ex-wife, ex-house,
no more plans, no more sex,
no more thinking about sex, no more forgetting
about sex, no more anxiety about sex, no more
laughter about sex, no more memories of those girls 
you wish you’d known what to do with 
when they offered themselves to your hesitant touch.

No more thinking of C, arguments with C, 
struggles with intimacy; no more loving nights 
in the large, soft bed, your hand 
reaching toward her, finding the dear bone
of her shoulder; no more wondering 
how it would be to go blind.


You didn’t want a funeral, or a memorial,
but on Sunday we gathered anyway,
not sure what we’d do or say.
It was easy to recall your wild, inspired dancing,
how you loved your kids and your students
and loathed the indecencies of our lying world. 
Of course we ignored the tougher things,
kept stuff to ourselves and did a lot of laughing; 
we were like a flock of small birds 
unsure where to fly when those cold winds arrive.
We’d lost our radar. We couldn’t read the stars.
We laughed because we were lost.

You and I had good times I wouldn’t tell about 
either: moments of strange delight  
and mute brotherhood. And there was
your rage at me when I told you to learn braille 
so you could read Kafka in your darkness.

Instead, I am learning the searing symbols of departure.
In dreams, you pack a suitcase.
I imagine seeing you, unsteady, weaving down the street. 
There are hard ancient pathways inscribed in us. 
Logics that address me, but I don’t understand. 
A language of those left behind. 
It’s all we have.

—From if this world falls apart (Lynx House Press, 2011), a collection of poems by Lipsitz which won the 2010 Blue Lynx Prize; reprinted here by author’s permission


Have A ____ Day

Have a nice day. Have a memorable day. 
Have (however unlikely) a life-changing day. 
Have a day of soaking rain and lightning. 
Have a confused day thinking about fate.

Have a day of wholes. 
Have a day of poorly marked, 
unrecognizable wholes you 
cannot fathom. 
Have a ferocious day, a bleak 
unbearable day. Have a 
riotously unproductive day; 
a grim jaw-clenched, Clint Eastwood vengeful 
law enforcement day. 
Have a day of raging, hair-yanking 
jealousy and meanness. Have a day 
of almost grasping 
how whole you are; a finely tuned, 
empty day.
Have a nice day of walking and circling; 
a day of stalking and hunting, 
of planting strange seeds and wandering in the woods. 
Have a day of endearing nonsense, 
of hopelessly combing your hair, 
a day of yielding, of swallowing 
hard, breathing more deeply, 
a day of fondness for beetles 
and macabre spectacles, of irreverence 
about anything you want, of just 
sitting and wondering. 
Have a day of wondering if it’s 
going to help, or if it just doesn̵t matter; 
a day of dark winds 
and torrents flowing through the valley, 
of diving into cool water 
and gasping for breath, 
a day of sudden hunger for communion.
Have a day when the crusts you each 
were given are lost and you stumble 
with your fellows 
searching endlessly together. 

—From if this world falls apart (Lynx House Press, 2011), a collection of poems by Lipsitz which won the 2010 Blue Lynx Prize; reprinted here by author’s permission


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Lou Lipsitz

was born in Brooklyn in 1938 and was for many years a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, where he taught democratic theory and political psychology. He is currently a psychotherapist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with a focus on men’s issues.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury