A LETTER IN MY POCKET – Poems of Communication in Earlier Times

dear friends


Thank you for your letter.

You might have phoned



but I couldn’t keep

a phone call in my pocket


and take it out to read

now and then.


valentine box


Remember the Valentine Box –

Ribbons, red foil, paper doilies?

One of the sins committed

By well-intentioned teachers,

Bringing dread each February

To two groups of kids:


Those too poor to buy any cards

And the unpopular ones

Who received no valentines –

Except for the ones sent

By the teacher and by someone

Who bought them for everyone.


This, then, is a valentine

For all who were forgotten,

Now or any other year.

To those for whom the box was empty –

Sorry: I couldn’t afford to mail

A card to everyone.



Once someone wrote to me:

“I am tying up my letters from you


with a ribbon, so my grandchildren

will find them that way.”


This is not an exact quotation,

since I didn’t keep her letter.




I ran into Bob, whose name

was now different and who now

was a photographer. He took my photo,

then handed me the camera, changing places:

he assumed my pose at the bus stop

and I, in the gutter as he’d been,

almost got hit by a bus,

but I snapped the picture.


A magazine announced Bob’s

“Retroactive Series,”

illustrated by two photos:

John Cage, taken by Bob,

and Bob, by John Cage.

I found the exhibition, huge room

after huge room–but all the walls

were hung with contact sheets.


I hunted and found us: Gloria Steinem,

Milton Glaser, etc., and me –

all of us famous people

were one inch high.

We all know what Andy Warhol said

about the 15-minute duration of fame;

for the thousands of us exhibited there,

the dimension was one inch.




Beyond the noise and sunlight of 42nd Street

And posters of the violent acts

Now Showing * Kung Fu Killers! * Vampire Hookers! *

Up stairs with grit and urine in the treads,

Across the balcony –


Up a steep steel ladder, through a door

Locked against thieves and lunatics

Is the booth at the theater ceiling –

Like an office, workroom, watchman’s lair,

With toilet, hot plate, incandescent light.


It is hot, the projectionist wears a t-shirt.

Small windows look down the vast darkness

To giants on the screen. The old projector,

Wheezing, sucks the strips of images

Into its throat, past its light,


The flame that hisses between carbon rods.

This is the arc light he tends;

He’s soft from inactivity,

Locked from daylight in this sanctum

As long as crowds come by.


He stacks cans of film, waits for signals

To flick switches or change the reels.

You’ve seen what happens if he dozes

Or turns away too long, reading or eating,

And the sound fails or light dies –


We hoot and stamp and whistle,

Summoning the protector of our visions

Who tends the flame and celluloid,

Guardian of dreams that fly across the dark

On motes of light.




You once knew writers were at work

By the sound of their typewriters.

Daytime in spring or summer

Whole streets of the West Side

And the Village were filled

With the music of clacking and bells.


Now there is silence – windows closed

For air-conditioning, computers

Too quiet to be heard below.

It may be possible to compose

Poems on computer screens;

Something in me doubts it.


Yet even quills dipped in ink

And scratching across parchment

Were a technological advance

Over chanting in firelight,

But for the same purpose: dispelling

Fear as the shadows grow.




We evolved eating nuts and fruit,

And meat when the hunt went well –

Not an endless glut of rich things

That clog the blood and kill

With kindness.


The ancients knew nothing of deaths

On the other side of the world;

They danced twice a year, sang rarely,

Welcomed the storyteller who found his way

To their hut.


But we hear beautiful music

As we shave, have dramatic experiences

Hour after hour by broadcast or tape.

Like rich food, too much art

May be dangerous to health.


lp s


The library was almost a shack –

a two-room white clapboard building

with a little of everything,

an oasis of literacy in the town.

They had a few LPs of classical music

and I always took out the limit

of two at a time.


When I was leaving for college

the librarian had me recommend

new records for purchase; she had

$200 of fine money to spend.

I gave her a list and she followed it

exactly – my taste at the time, my sense

of the beautiful, the worthy, and the outrageous

from Beethoven through Ravel to Stravinsky.


The library is gone, replaced

by a proper brick edifice;

I assume the records have been replaced

by CDs and cassettes.

But that was my first opportunity

for cultural influence, at least

in a two-room clapboard library.



One comment

  1. Dear Lew,

    They’re all lovely and, I confess, I’m envious of your talent. ‘Nuff said for the moment, though I may bring it up again. Quite soon, in fact.


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