Introduction – to Jonathan Bennett Bonilla

Jonathan Bennett Bonilla knows from poetry.

And from prose.
And from criticism.
From Ricoeur and from Derrida.

And he knows from translation.

Him knows from philologists, and philosophers, and filmmakers, and philanderers. (Maybe not…)

And knows from publishers—venerable; specialty; art house. Letter press.

Need to reach an editor at Tupelo or Copper Canyon? Bennett is your man.
Need to find an early edition of Gwendolyn Brooks? Try him again.
Do you want to get a grant, or a residency—an inner track, or an outer ring—
Do you want any wordy thing, or literary personage—
There’s a good—a very good chance that Jonathan Bennett Bonilla can get it/him/her/they for you.

Do any of you lack for hubris? He lacks more.
Do any of you go down in darkness again and again to the bright page? He goeth more.

Have any of you graces to be shown,
Goods to be given,
Goings-on to be gotten to—

Have you wise friends and meek, and older, and younger, who need your conveyance to an order, to an ordering of words—
By tutelage, by example, by bracing applause and charitable retort?

I tell you in truth, our man hath more of these.

So many of us here are so very in his debt.

He and Pete M. and Bryan P. and I have been upholding and upbraiding each other in writerly concord for years. And are much, much the better for it.

What could be better for we happy three, for all of us here, than to welcome now to our ears – Jonathan Bennett Bonilla.

smaller bennett and me

JBB read his poetry from the Cabot stage in Beverly on March 31, 2016.

Chariots Chanting

Dear Brian O’Donovan,

Hearing you on BPR today was the last straw; another was on a dark December night in 2016, when my wife and kids and I found ourselves reluctant occupiers of a pew in the UCC church in Gloucester. There were handfuls of battened fisherfamilies evident in the wide, underlit space, all facing in the same direction as the klieglights’ throw. Up there where a pulpit should have been were singers, and players, reaching down into somewhere, time and again, to retrieve ancient tunes equal in spark and radiance to the dark that was—and that was coming. I mean they were caroling, and chanting, up among the strung pine boughs, behind a huge yule log, and teasing us out, cajoling us to join them. How? With hurdy-gurdy, a new sound to me, and fiddle, as my father called what he played, and wide drums they wielded like cymbals or flashing shields.

And didn’t we find our separate clusters blending into one big one, and our stiff hesitance softening and dissipating away, and our limbs moving in time, unbidden, and then our actual voices singing along, and even—who’d have believed it?—our bodies, old and young equally, deigning to lift from the pews, and moving out into the aisles, all of us, every single one, to join hands, even, and circulate the empty seats, the creaking floor drowned by the stomp and tickle of the music we made, and by the dance, wherever we may be, which was in a dark, bright Gloucester church on that night no one expected would hold such a thing, no one who was me, anyway.

The other straw was on a recent March Saturday afternoon by the sea in Marblehead, my kids and I in the car on an early day of our long withdrawing, listening, after climbing a rocky hill, to someone on your show who you’d recorded earlier, back from a tour or about to tour again, one of many such persons whose song that day, in whatever voice, male or female, with whichever instrument, sparked up like a fire against the strange darkness that we knew was coming, and has come—waiting in the loud car until the song ended, and only then turning the key, and driving on into the day.

I hope you’ll give 30 seconds to the attached audio clip [below] from that old December night; you’ll hear the stomp and tickle you’re so familiar with, and our voices, chasing our eager leader, following her with hope and heart into the long passage through night.

Brian O’Donovan is the host of A Celtic Sojourn, Saturday afternoons on WGBH radio.

Introduction – to Bryan Parys and “Wake, Sleeper”

Welcome to this wonderful, quite singular event,
a concert of sight and sound and taste – conspiring and consorting in this grand old magical Ware Theatre, now the Cabot—

All remarking and rising from the main attraction, which is the release and the reading from Wake, Sleeper by, yes, the author of all this artful synesthesia – Bryan Parys.

A man somehow loved by friend and foe alike…

I’m one of the friends, and former professor, and now current student of all of our readers tonight.

First, join me in appreciating tonight’s conspirators:

We’ve been loving the music of Cal Joss,
and of Aisha Burns,
and, soon, of Natalie Parys—

while savoring the art installations by Marika Whitaker,
and Maia Mattson,
and K. Lee Mock—

and while admiring the prints & posters of Jon Misarski,
and Grant Hanna—
that have beautifully inclined us toward this evening.

Shortly, we’ll relish the poetry of Pete Murdoch, and Jonathan Bennett Bonilla—and whoever else Jon might evoke or evince.

There are more people to be mentioned and thanked, but I’ll let Bryan get on with that.

murdoch bennett banner

Bryan Parys first showed up in my world a-couple-maybe-a-dozen-years back.

He seemed not to know quite what to do at first, and for a while he cast about, like a noiseless, patient spider.

Maybe not, exactly—but at length his intellect fastened on to writing, and there he began to spin, to see what might come of it.

Poems came of it, plays came of it—each and all with his evidencing style and appreciable appreciation of what is true,
the worth to be found in the serviceable phenomena of our everyday world.

Shortly thereafter in an office full of Norm Jones and me, he read aloud an essay he’d spun up about his childhood game of hyssop tag.
Didn’t Jones and I laugh and murmur?—suspended by his blend of humor and candor and discovery.

From that office, thence to UNH, on a scholarship, to study (and then to teach, winningly) nonfiction, the lyrical essay, and then, happily, back to Gordon classrooms again, this time to buffet and abrade and improve students who (like him not so long ago) don’t know what’s at stake, what’s worthy the reaching for, or how to reach for it.

In classrooms, I say, and in casual conversations, in the pages of Stillpoint he shows us just that—takes what is offered, what is available, and illumines it. His column, sporks, is the first illuminated manuscript turned to by 9 out of 10 Stillpoint readers, and for good reason.

For the last eight years he’s been essaying to discover something, and something worth saying, about his own available life—its beginnings in loss, its assemblings in gymnasiums, its arrival at a tentative equilibrium & a definite wakefulness.

Tonight we’ll hear some of his essaying-in-prose.

We’re enriched to know him, we’re enlarged to read him, we’re pleased to welcome him—and to recommend his terrific, new book

The man of this and every hour: Bryan Parys.

No one slept at this March 31, 2016 event—part-reading, part concert, part-gallery exhibition, part-art bazaar. Part magic trick: do that again.

bp front of cabot smaller

Wake, Sleeper is a brave, irreverent, funny and stunningly generous exploration of faith and resistance to it, of identity, of grief, of the joy of intellectual and spiritual inquiry.”
-MEREDITH HALL, author of the best-selling memoir Without a Map

Roast/Toast – At Gordon C

*sung to “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid

Your degree is always cheaper
If somebody else will pay;
You dream of an aunt-millionaire:
Ha ha, dat’ll be de day…
Now look at de toys around you,
You here on de fat North Shore;
De ponderous profs dat hound you,
Dat’s what you’ll be paying for.
(Oh no!)

At Gordon C, at Gordon C:
We think it’s better
When you’re a debtor–financially.
Dat’s why we keep you on de hook
For every bed and every book;
While Jones and we sing,
Your loan’s increasing
At Gordon C.

Our grads are all hip & happy
As into de sun they stroll;
Dey talking all smart & snappy—
Dey ready to take control.
But some of de grads turn chicken
Dey scared to perambulate;
And when Gordon job comes open,
Guess who goin’ to applicate?
(You know.)

Mark: That would be me,
That would be me:
I’d rather stay here
(‘spite what they pay here)
Than to be free.

All: Everyone else, do your own thing,
Fasten your seat, spread a wing:
Overachieve us,
Won’t you please leave us—
At Gordon C (at Gordon C),
At Gordon C (at Gordon C),
When you first get here,
Your ears are wet here figuratively

Even de profs seem wicked smart;
After a year dey seem old fart:
Everything new here
Soon be like Drew here
At Gordon C!

De dorm is too warm
De pool is too cool
De quad is too broad
De bell is too swell
And Frost is too mossed
And Lane is too plain—
De benches are drenched with snow.

Val Gin is too thin,
Dick Stout is too stout,
Mike Veatch is a Sneetch,
Steve Smith is a Sith,
Dave Rox never knocks,
Rog Green is so mean—
So go, you alumni, go.

[repeat, with variations]
De dorm is too warm
De pool is too cool
De quad is too broad
De bell is too swell
And Frost is too bossed
And Lane is too hein—
Can Borgman be more gun-ho?

Graeme Bird is absurd,
Steve Hunt’s an affront,
Norm Jones has unknowns,
Mark Stevick’s a gen-
ius, Irv has some nerve,
Kaye Cook needs the hook—
So go, you alumni, go!

From Gordon C, then you will see
How to exploit—
To get employed—
Your fine degree.
(Don’t put off your P.E.)
You’re like a mermaid in a pool
Who, after lessons at our school,
Gets a promotion
Up to the ocean
From Gordon’s sea.

Aaaaaat Gordon C, (I wanna see)
At Gordon C, (You’re gonna see)
Though you complain here
You grew a brain here – magically.
(How’d it come to be?)

Don’t bury talent in de sand;
You got de hot diploma in hand:

Each little frosh here
Think it is posh here
At Gordon C.

Each little soph here
Learn how to scoff here
At Gordon C.

Each little junior
Shoot for de moon here
Den got to wean here
When dey a senior—

Good you got stuck here,
Worth every buck here
At Gordon C.

Command performance at Alumni Awards event, homecoming 2014–by Norm, Steve, self, and Graeme.

Tribute – Carlbergian Nights (for Jud & Jan)

*Musical intro

NARRATION: …Tonight we bring you Menken, Ashman & Rice’s rags-to-riches story Aladdin—only our version is set not in Agrabah but in exotic Wenham. It’s not the courtship of street urchin Aladdin and Princess Jasmine that spurs our tale, but that of a couple of young, unknown Scandinavians…

Carlbergian Nights

We come from a land full of books and robes
Where the magical scholars pace,
And the guests stay here
Only four or five years
And then vanish without a trace—

—but for nights like this
When the sages you miss
Set aside their professional rites,
And with much less hair
Come back to remember their
Carlbergian Nights.

Carlbergian Nights – like Carlbergian Days,
So goofy, yet good,
Like Jan and like Jud—
Whose names start with J’s;

Carlber-gian delights – Carlber-gian romance:
Some shmoe and his bride
Combine to preside—
They both wear the pants.

NARRATION: It could hardly “Arabian Nights” with surnames like Carlberg and Jensen.
Now, our saga begins to heat up in 1976, when that “shmoe” arrives here in Wenhamabad as the young Academic Dean—anxious to prove he’s a diamond in the rough. But dark forces begin to conspire against him—strange entities like “Mobile Unit #3” and “the Players’ Shack” and “the Black & Blue Review”—and he must reckon with Jafarvin Wilson, the Grand Vizier of O.T., who may have sinister plans of his own.

One Step Ahead 

JUDLADDIN: Gotta keep—
One jump ahead of the riffraff,
One step in front of the line,
Uh-oh, I have to talk to Peter Stine.  [Public speaking!]

Gotta keep—
One hop ahead of Marv Wilson,
As if I possibly could:
Our Father Abraham is pretty good.  [Hine ma tov…]

CROWD: New kid! Light weight!
Can’t keep – stuff straight!
CROWD: Make a schedule with Ann Seavey!
JUD: I’m about to snap,
Can I take a nap?
Gonna make my hair go white.  [Right!]

CROWD: Oh it’s sad that Jud’s so heavy laden;
It’s so sad we can’t think up a rhyme.
No, his wife is not an iron maiden—

JUD: I’m the new man;
Wife’s name’s Jan,
Tell you all about her when I got the time—

Gotta keep
One hand in faculty welfare,
One foot compelling the board,
They buy only when they can afford.  [And I’m begging them…]

Gotta stay—
One click left of Bob Jones,
One click right of BC—  [One click?]
JUD: OK, better make it two or three.

CROWD: [spoken, fast] Hey, we need buildings!
JUD: Nope.

CROWD: Tightwad! Pinchfist!
JUD: I can’t – buy it.  [Why?]
Let’s not be too hasty…
JANSMINE: Still I think he’s rather pasty!
JUDLADDIN: That’s my wife Jan,
Helps me all she can,
Otherwise I’d get it wrong.  [Awww…]

One prayer ahead of Houghton—  [Houghton?]
One soul ahead of Calvin—  [Calvin?]
One dance ahead of Wheaton—  [Wheaton?]
One jump ahead of Marv Wilson—
It’s true:
Got the fatal flaw, no
Brick without straw, so
Why’d I ever take this job?

NARRATION: Well, Judladdin did seem kind of pasty… And, left to his own devices, his fortunes might never have improved—and some poor Carlbergians might still be living in Byington.
But there came a day when, trapped in the Cave of Wonders some call Frost Hall, our hero scrubbed an old coffeepot, and with a great burst of noise and hot air, out popped—a DONOR.

DONOR: That’s right! What would you wish of me?—the wisely invested, tanned and well-rested… Donor of the CAMPus!

Friend Like Me

DONOR: Well, Cinderella had her Fairy G,
And Harry Potter had his Dumbledore,
But for real power, summon me,
I got a hundred million charms or more.

Let’s put some bank behind your rank, my man,
And put some dollars to your policies,
Need a building?—poof! I’ll raise the roof,
All you gotta say is “pretty please”—

And stop tryin’ science in those
Lame facilities:
I’m your port of call and your wrecking ball,
You ain’t never had a friend like me. Ho ho ho—

I can’t stand MacDonald, no
I would never go in Emory!
Let me renovate – your resume,
You ain’t never had a friend like me. Yes sir—

I’m the wish you can keep on wishing,
And the infinite check you cash,
But like the gifts of pearls from boys to girls
I come with strings attached…

Like Grimm’s old Rumpelstiltskin
Or Faust’s Mephistopheles,
When I be your friend, you owe me, then
You gotta name your children after me!
Names like— [Waa-waa-waa!]
…Fowler…     [Waa-waa-waa!]
…Bennett…   [Waa-waa-waa!]

Can your friends lays bricks?     […Tavilla Hall…]
Can your friends make tracks?  […the Brigham Fields…]
Can your friends name pubs—  […pubs…pubs…]
After their little CAAAAAT?

So don’t mess with the magic
That can make you a VIP,
It’s in my blood to keep you, Jud,
Have you ever had a friend like me?

You might never – want a – friend – like – me!

NARRATION: Well, now we know where Jud and Jan got their kids’ names.
But the Faustian deal proved to be good for Carlbergia: lavish new dorms and
arts centers sprang up on the sites of hovels. And it wasn’t long before Judladdin moved into the big Frost office with a private bathroom—and started wearing that Big-Cheese medallion around his neck. He was The PREZ.

Prez Juddie

Shout yay—for Prez Juddie
Hey – hey—it’s Prez Juddie

Break out the kazoos and the big bagpipes,
Send texts, spread the news, tell your friends on Skype,
And savor the smell of success as he floats by…
When you see his car
Try to steal his car:
What’s it like to be this guy?

Prez Juddie! President, he! Juddie Carlbubwa:
Mount his bust – high upon Frost — permanently;
He’ll blow up every HUD dorm,
Drew Hall he’ll wicked transform
To something sturdy and warm — finally!

Prez Juddie! Excellency, Juddie Carlbubwa:
Taller than – any challenged – vert-i-cal-ly;
At every college affair,
Adjust available hair,
Then step up on a chair —
To meet Juddie!

He shares one name with our A. J. Gordon,
Which marked him for the presidency.
Like a stone you discover a sword in—
That name was a sign
Clearly divine
He was destined for royalty!

JUDLADDIN: Prez Juddie! Fabulous, me! Juddie Carlbubwa:
I say “caw-eege” not “college”— so what?
I wear a super-sized shirt—
I’ve just had another growth spurt!
I sing like Ernie’s friend Bert — I’m Prez Juddie!

I’ve got 95 faculty monkeys  [He’s got the monkeys, let’s see the monkeys]
But smart ones, I’ve got less than three.  [Mark Stevick and — who?]
There are 90 Jud Carl-bub-wa junkies—

ALL: Or so we hear,
It’s still unclear
Who those remaining five might be…
Actually… change the key…

Prez Juddie, soon retiree, Juddie Carlbubwa
Made this campus a place lovely to be;
And that, good people, is why
We’re loath to bid him goodbye:

Umpteen alumni, students galore,
Scads of deans, staffers and more,
His vast professors, his one successor
All honor his legacy!
Hooray—for Prez Juddie!

NARRATION: The Prez and the Prez-ess ruled many years, and accomplished much, and lived happily in the place they called home. And the time came to pass that they said one to another, “Let us go, while we are yet young-ish, to a whole new place—and conceive more children there, to name as we wish.”
And so our tale draws to its close. Exchanging words of hope and love, Jud and Jan now climb aboard their magic retirement, and turn their faces toward Somewhere we all hope won’t be too far, far away…

A Whole New World

I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, Janice, now when did
You last let yourself unwind?

Time goes slow and it flies,
Passing years make you wonder
What this spell is we’re under—
Can we take the time to find

A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
One with a wild address
That tells us, “Yes,
It’s good to go on dreaming”

A whole new world
A dazzling place I kind of knew
Now after all these years
It’s crystal clear
That I can make a whole new world with you
Let me make a whole new world with you

Unaccountable time
Free for fishing and boating
Writing, reading, freeloading
On your children’s dwindling dime

A whole new world
—Don’t you dare close your eyes
A hundred thousand things to see
—Hold your breath, it gets better

I’m like a kid again
Or Aladdin
With all my crazy wishes come to be
—A whole new world
Every turn a surprise
—With new horizons to pursue
Goofing off to the letter

And though we’re bound for there
We want to share
How we’ve loved just being home with you

A whole new world
—A whole new world
That’s where we’ll be
—That’s where we’ll be

A thrilling change
So wondrous strange
For you and me.

Performed at a celebration marking Jud-and-Jan’s 35 years at the college, on May 25, 2011.

Toast – Lindsay and the East

(riffing on Beauty and the Beast—new lyrics by CB and MWS)

NARRATION: … In our case, we’ve swapped the beautiful heroine, Belle, for a scholar-ful hero named D. Michael—or “D,” as he is known at the tiny Texas college where he teaches, yet yearns for more…

“D”  (after “Belle”new lyrics by CB)

TN-as-D: Little school,
It’s a quiet campus,
Here at Rice
Little school
In the heart of Texas!
Where the people say:
TJ: Howdy!
RJ: Howdy!
OK: Howdy!
CB: Howdy!
KD: Howdy!

TN: There goes a student with his pistol holster’d,
Down here it’s part of his degree…
But the thing I just don’t get:
Why he needs it for French Lit?
In the lone-star state of mind—

CB: Well, howdy, D!
TN-as-D: Oh, hello, Professor Longhorn.
CB: Where are y’all off to today?
TN-as-D: To the mailroom! I’m expecting a letter any day now from CarterBaldwin! Gordon College wants to make me the new president—
CB: Well, that’s nice. Clint!—y’all better keep those dogies in line!

RICE FOLK: Look, thar he goes, that feller’s strange, no question!
He’s really an anomaly…
KD: There are times it makes ya thank,
That he’s kinda like a Yank!
ALL: He’s a mystery around these parts, that D!

TN-as-D: Hello!
RC: Howdy!
OK: How are yer cattle?
KD: Howdy
CB: Rawhide!
RC: I brand ‘em twice!
DH: That truck — is big!
RJ: My truck is bigger!
TN-as-D: There must be more than this provincial Rice!

DH: Howdy there, Mr. Lindsay.
TN-as-D: Hello, mailroom lady. Any mail for me today?
DH: Yer darn tootin’! I think it might be the big one.
TN-as-D: Really? You think?
DH: Look here: “Gor-dón College.” Here you go! It’s all yers!
TN-as-D: Wow! Thanks, “pardner”!

RC: Look there he goes, that guy is awful differ’nt,
Our prof. of socio-molology…
RJ: Doesn’t wear a hat or boots.
OK: Doesn’t ride—
RC: And never shoots!
ALL: Ain’t a good old Texas boy like us, that D…

TN-as-D: Oh, isn’t it exciting!
It’s Gordón inviting me to see
If all of my credentials
Mean the president’ll
Be named “President Lindsay!”

CB: Now he’s a cowpoke with some brains, no question;
He looks just like a Kennedy!
OK: With a fancy three-part name
And a stylish looking dame,
ALL: What a wonder to the rest of us
He may just be the best of us
So different from the rest of us that D!

RJ: Gee, Gordón, you didn’t miss a single prospective student! You’re the best school in the world!
GORDÓN: I know.
RC: No high schooler stands a chance against you!
RJ: No applicant of any kind, for that matter!
GORDÓN: True. And I’ve got my sights set on that one!
RJ: Who, you mean the Socio-molologist?
GORDÓN: He’s the one! The lucky man I’m going to make my prez!
RC: But he’s—
GORDÓN: The smartest, coolest, most stylish guy in the CCCU. That makes him the best, and don’t I deserve the best?
RJ: Well of course, I mean, you do, I mean—

GORDÓN: Right from the moment that I interviewed him,
I knew for sure that he’s the one!
In the world, there’s only D
Who is scholarly as me!
He’s the lucky future prez of Me, Gordón!

WOMEN: Oh look! Gordón! Isn’t it stately!
My gosh! Gordón!
My first-choice school!
MEN: I think, I heard, a rumor lately:
ALL: They’re looking for a prez, I hope he’s cool!

-market scene-
OK: The stars
TN-as-D: Hello!
OK: At night
KD: Bonjour!
OK: Are big in Tex(as)!
CB: Did you talk French?
DH: Do you
CB: That’s gross.
DH: Recall
RJ: Yes, ma’am!
RC: The Alamo?
RY: A barbeque!
KD: It’s big!
CB: D Mike?
OK: It’s hot!
TN-as-D: That’s me!
ALL: The heaven’s blessed us!
TN-as-D: There must be something better fit for me!
GORDÓN: Come be our president, Michaél Lindsáy!

ALL: Look there he goes, off to the great wide yonder!
I wonder where he’s going to be?
TN-as-D: Now it’s time to head up North!
ALL: Saddle up and sally forth!
He really is a president,
A varmint, but a president,
A future Grapevine resident—
That D!


NARRATION: A presidential proposal! But who is this sudden suitor, this “Gordón”—so anxious to bring the capable D out of the deep South and up to the deep East? 

Gordón  (after “Gaston”new lyrics by MWS)

It must be tough to be facing, Gordón
Life without President Jud
Hé left you wíthout replacing, Gordón
All of your dorms that are HUD
But though they’re not swanky as Dexter or Chase
Still they fill up every year
There’s a real je ne sais quoi to this place
And that sais quoi is why we’re all here

Nowhere’s green as Gordón
Nowhere’s clean as Gordón
Nowhere’s half as concerned with cuisine as Gordón
There is nowhere as choice or as choosey
The food here is finer than fine
Queue early on Thursday for sushi
Or grow old as you stand in the om-e-let line

Nowhere’s fond as Gordón
Of a pond at Gordón
And the biologists that it’s spawned at Gordón
We use Dorothy in all of our publicating
Dorothy Boorse at Gordón

Give five “Oh, yeahs!”
Give ten “All rights!”
Gordón is the best
And the rest is not quite

YELLS like Gordón
Or rappels like Gordón
On La Vida trips nothing quite smells like Gordón
You can ask any dean—
Russ or Barry
Each evening the students have gone
To the newly face-lifted library
To read Hebrews in Greek with the fireplace on

You’ll be awed at Gordón
No one’s flawed at Gordón
Well—except for goose poop on the quad at Gordón
We support any species that’s still migrating
[clap] Eco-points for Gordón

When we were still young we left Fenway for Wenham
To help our enrollment to grow
Now our next move is to occupy Salzburg
And take over Or-vi-e-to

No one’s rude at Gordón
Or tattooed at Gordón
Every freshman is freshly shampooed at Gordón
All our students grow wise from Great Conversating
My, what a place


NARRATION: Well, D forsook his provincial life, journeyed with his family to the deep East, and got to work publicating Gordón’s praises. And everyone agreed he was the Belle of the inaugural ball.
Our tale draws now to its close just as D’s and Gordón’s begins. It’s a tale abounding in beauty, but lacking a beast: rather, it’s Lindsay and the East, and it all began with three little words…

Be Our Prez (after “Be Our Guest”new lyrics by MWS)

Be – our – prez, be our prez.–
It’s what every genius says,
Wear that honkin’ huge medallion
And your academic fez:
Oh, your face gives us thrills—
Print it up on dollar bills:
Though the letters down in print say
Your last name is spoken “Lind – SAY”…
Still, your staff and your veep
Say it “Lind-Z”—so we’ll keep
Pronouncing every letter “s” as “ezz”—
And folks from Ezzex – to Quinzy
Cheer for Michael Lindzee:
Be our prez, be our prez, be our prez!

He’s our prez –
Please, our Prez –
Teach us language to profezz
How the pride of Mezzachuzetts
Now resides at our addrezz;
Brilliant kids take out loans
When you call them on their phones—
All those boys-and-girls go mimsy
For a TEXT from Dr. Lindsay—
And we’ll all be in debt
To the zillionaires you’ve met—
You’ve probably interviewed Nebuchadnezz:
Let’s hope that helps you seek fer
A commencement speaker – who’s a prez—
With your rez you can get a U.S. prez—
Get a prez – a U.S. prez – get a prez!

Life is so discouraging
When you’re presidential searching,
You’re a chicken who’s about to lose its head:
Running ’round the academic barnyard
Wishing you could lose some weight instead

Eight months we were seeking
In committees who were freaking
With expressions like a jack-o-lantern makes:
Just as we became a Headless Horseman—
Guess who got appointed
You walked in and got anointed!

TN-as-D: I’m your prez! I, your prez,
Lead our campus Simon-Sez,
Help you conquer Academe with
More compassion than Cortez:
ALL: He’s so wise
He’s so young—
He’s a Gentile Solomon:
Give a Gordon rebel YIPPEE
For this Yank from Mississippi!
He’ll be nice – he’ll be neat,
I expect he’ll wash our feet—
So sing in Español and en Ingles:
From here to Machu Picchu
Mucho gus-to greet you – Presidente—
TN-as-D: El Lindsay—
ALL: Our prez!—
TN-as-D: I’m your prez!

ALL: [staccato] We confess – we’re all blessed –
And impressed by the success
And the precedents our president
Perfected in Texas:
He wrote books –
He got grants—
And he learned to ballroom dance!
[slowing] But it’s time to stop our crowing
And to help him to get going…

Course by course, class by class,
Till the trustees shout, “You’ll pass”—
And grant each employee a whopping raize:
Then when we stand to thank you,
Still we can’t outrank you
As our prez – yes, our prez – be our prez—
Lindsay our PREZ.

Celebrating the Inauguration of D. Michael Lindsay, September 16, 2011.

d-day copy

3 gordon presidents

Tribute – The Greatness of Sourber (in appreciation of our teachers)

My grade school classmate Sourber was the Evel Knievil of bicycles. I once saw Sourber ride a bike straight up a tree trunk—5 or 6 feet up before he fell back in a tangle of spokes and limbs. The bike had no brakes—which he probably knew. He just lay there on his back, laughing.

Sourber was the Franco Harris of sack-the-jack. I once saw Sourber shake my tackle, and three or four more, and juke and fake until finally someone caught onto his shirt, and we began to pile on, leaping onto him like salmon, one after another as Sourber staggered downfield with five defenders on his back. Finally Cheryl Groah dove and tripped him up. As the pile disentangled itself, Geoff Hauck shouted, “Jeepers creeps, it takes the whole doggone army to bring Sourber down!”—which was one of the most memorable things I ever heard anyone say. And Sourber lay on his back, laughing and laughing.

But Sourber’s greatest moment of those young years came as a result of Eichenlaub. Mr. Eichenlaub, reading teacher. Eichenlaub was really his name. And that spring he had it even tougher than his name—because he was student teaching under Mrs. Crotchety Frownface. Mrs. Frownface’s class was living death: book reports, SRA, and a general sense of mummification. But that spring, a small miracle happened: Mrs. Frownface took time off from teaching (maybe to get a mouth lift), and that meant Mr. Eichenlaub took over.

I didn’t know much about teaching, but it seemed to me that Mr. Eichenlaub had the right idea about how to do things. The deal was, we would work very hard and very attentively for a couple days and get a little ahead of schedule. Then the time we had saved up could be spent—on kickball.

Kickball! When we’d scrimped enough minutes, Mr. Eichenlaub would close his book and say, “All right, this is it. You know what to do. Let’s go.”

And we were so happy—but we were so quiet as we sneaked out of the school, the entire quiet sneaky class sneaking right out of school with the teacher who was sneaking out with us—

—out to the ball diamond. And then with model efficiency we divided into teams, and with model cooperation we assigned lineups and positions, and with model application we applied ourselves to our favorite project, the ancient game of kickball.

Which brings me back to Sourber, and the greatest moment of all.

The sun was out, big and bossy, I was standing near the dirt spot that meant second base, and Mr. Eichenlaub was on the mound—all-time pitcher. Then Sourber came up.

Sourber was the kind of kid that, whenever he was up, whatever team you were on, you felt something like hope or glee in your throat. There was something so pure and exultant about him as he prepared his body for the explosion—it made you hold your breath. Sourber called for a bouncer (as opposed to the roller), and Mr. Eichenlaub served up his trademark bouncing pitch.

The rubber KUNG! of the well-driven ball thrilled us as Sourber’s great boot blasted far over Netscher’s head in left—and it was pandemonium. Sourber was chugging around second before Netscher nabbed the ball, and flung it to Born, and Born zipped it to Szymanski, we were shrieking—and there!—there was Eichenlaub in shallow left field, waving his arms as Sourber ate up turf toward third—

Sourber rounded the base as Szymanksi relayed the ball to Eichenlaub who spun around quick—and then I knew that something momentous was about to happen—Sourber streaking toward home, kids leaping and hollering, and Eichenlaub with the ball steamed toward the infield, reared back and chunked an absolute rocket, the ball actually changed shape, changed into a red rubber missile that howled through the air, an adult throw no doubt about it, straight as a ruler and gunned at the intersection of Sourber and home—and Sourber, young as he was, his black hair flying, sensed it coming with that intuition of great ones, and at full tilt he flung himself into the air, arching his spine backward, the missile screaming at his body—he arched around into a perfect semicircle above the earth, and the red hot missile of Eichenlaub whanged neatly through that semicircle of Sourber and kept going and going, and Sourber cachunged to the ground at the plate, rolling, rolling, safe at home, safe!

It was a miracle. It was the sports miracle of my life. And Eichenlaub, bless him, waded into the hysterical mass of kids and grabbed Sourber up with a great shout, and hoisted him high up, shouting, “That was great! That was great, you’re great, Scott Sourber!” And Sourber was laughing, high in the air there, Sourber was laughing.

There was no doubt about it: Scott Sourber was the Willie Mays of kickball.

And there was also no doubt that Mr. Eichenlaub was the Scott Sourber of teaching.

I was nine years old; I was in fourth grade; I knew greatness when I saw it.

This first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week. For me, every week is.
I loved (and hope to have learned from) Mr. E’s unchecked, unguarded praise of Sourber, and of the rest of us. Being seen, being appreciated like that by a someone at the right moment—that can really stay with a fellow.
This piece was written as the closing monologue for a weekly variety show that the Austins and I produced on WEZE radio in 1994/5.

Tribute – A Scribbler on the ‘Teuch (for Marvin Wilson)

Pre-show: John Williams Fiddler on the Roof medley

Marv Wilson! – to be sung to the tune of “Tradition” (by MWS)

Intro: A Scribbler on the Teuch. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little college, every one of us needs a Scribbler on the ‘Teuch—someone to cobble together some knowledge on the Pentateuch, and share it with the world.

But knowledge doesn’t grow on trees—not anymore: remember how that turned out… We can’t just give it away for free (unless you’re Ted Hildebrandt).

No, we have to balance – making budget, and making young Christian men and women distinguished by you-know-the-rest.

Make budget—make character: on the one hand—on the other hand.
How do we do both?
I’ll tell you—SO LISTEN.

[all sing]
Tuition? – Tuition!—Marv Wilson!
Admission? – Admissions!—Marv Wilsons!

Give him mighty hair, a mantle of Harris tweed, and a chair from—Harold Ockenga.
His golden caffeine mug, mighty staff of one—aren’t the half of why his students pay.

He, all these years, while showing up on TV,
Sneaking off on field trips, claiming half the core, still
Broke records for the highest course attendance
And evaluations—how?

Magician? – Tactician?—Marv Wilson!
Politician? – Hypnotisian?—Omniscient!

Who can help the students turn a cushy life,
A gauche-er to a kosh-er life?
Shake ‘em up so they can make the most of life?
What are the steps he takes them through – to life!

Contrition! – Cognition!—(Who?) Marv Wilson!
Erudition! – Homiletician!—Lechaim!

We know to keep us solvent there are things we should avoid,
Like drops in our enrollment—even itty-bitty:

Attrition! – Eviction!—sans Wilson!
Demolition! – Debtors’ prison! – Need Wilson!

Who gushes knowledge
like the rock that Moses
struck instead of speak-ing
to (which was wrong)—and
what are the subjects
flowing from his mouth
that draw the masses forth like frogs?

Kábbalistic tradition! – Talmudic prohibition!—(Ah!) Smart Wilson!
Messianic Jewish mission! – Chalcedonian Definition!—(Oy!) Mensch Wilson!

Both! Both!
Lai lai lai lai…

Marv Wilson! Marv Wilson!—(Our) MARV WILSON!

Narrator: You know, with our Marv Wilson, our little school’s been kept in balance by… by a Scribbler on the ‘Teuch!


Testmaker – sung by a failing student to “Matchmaker” (by Jasmine Myers)

Testmaker, Testmaker
Make me a test
Throw me a bone
I’m doing my best
Testmaker, would it be so much to ask?
For once, make one I can pass!

Test failer, test failer,
Get in the game!
What’s the first blank?
Oh right! My name!
If I quote Heschel, I might swing a C,
What a miracle that would be!

Don’t worry, I’ve got all the answers
He’s taught this for many a year
In fact, I’m cheating from notes that
My mom took in this class when she was here!

Class skip-er, class skip-er,
That would be swell,
But I’m afraid I’d burn in – well,
How could I lie to those twinkly eyes?
I wish I had just …. memorized.

Cheater: What’s the big deal? You’ll never get caught.
Student: I heard he has his own Tent of Meeting in Frost Hall. I’m pretty sure he knows Moses personally. He knows everything!

Testmaker, Testmaker you know that I’d
Run out of loans
Please let it slide
When two commands clash, go with saving a life!
(Or so says the Talmud … right?)

I’m just glad that answ’ring these questions
Is not how the good Lord decides
Who to let into heaven
‘Cause only Marv Wilson would get inside!

Harsh Grader, Harsh Grader, I’m on my knees!
Have chesed on
a knucklehead, please!
This is why Jesus gave Peter the keys…

Cheater: It’s Y’shua
Student: Will I lose points for that, too-ah?

So say there’s a way
I’ll study lots
Ev-e-ry day –
– except on Shabbat!
So maybe one day I’ll pass!


If I Weren’t Marv Wilson – sung by “Marv” to “If I Were a Rich Man” (by Carl Schultz)

Dear God, you made many, many professors
I realize, of course, everyone needs professors
But it’s a whole lot of work
So would it have been so terrible if I had a different vocation?

If I weren’t Marv Wilson,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

If I did not dedicate my life
To the Testament that no one likes (What?!)
Could’ve been a lifeguard
Or a farmer, or a shepherd,
A trombonist might be fun
If I were an archeologist,
Or a dentist or a fireman

I would not have to be grading all through the night
And lecturing all throughout the day
Printing essays and syllabi by the ream.
There’d be no teaching students how to pronounce
Names that are very hard to say
Haggai and Chushanrishathaim             (*kew-shan-rish-u-thayeem)

I wouldn’t have to explain Mosaic law
Or list all my favorite Hebrew kings,
Dissecting topics of academic heft,
And every pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack! pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack!
As students are packing up their things,
Even though there’s still five minutes left.

If I weren’t Marv Wilson
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

All day long I’d biddy-biddy-bum
With a different career plan
Could work in a shipyard,
Or in movies, or in fashion
Or in chocolate, or in gum
If I were a slightly diff-e-rent,
Daidle deedle daidle daidle man.

I could be running like Jonah,
Off to a seaside spot
With an Adriatic view,
Or living like Elijah in a cave
I could be eating huge grapes
Like Joshua in Canaan,
Oh there’s so many things to do
Possibly I’d even start to shave [strokes beard] Nah…

There’d be no students at my door were I not faculty
They would not ask me for extensions,
Nor would they ask me to advise
“If you please, Marv Wilson?”
“Pardon me, Marv Wilson?”
Giving all the excuses they can devise

Ya va voy, ya va voy voy vum

And because I am their professor
And Old Testament is Core
To graduate they have to go through me

But if I weren’t, I’d never have had the chance
To take students to the Holy Land
Never would have kept a whole room engrossed,
And I’d have missed so many delightful discussions
With my colleagues and my friends
That is what I think I’d miss the most

If I weren’t Marv Wilson,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb
All day long I’d biddy-biddy-bum
If I were not at Gordon. Hey!

Wouldn’t have to work hard,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

Lord who made Brandeis and Barrington,
Looking back on all that I have done
I’ll admit it’s been a lot of fun
Just — to be a Marv Wilson.


Some Guy’s Subjects – sung by Marv’s envious colleagues to “Sunrise, Sunset” (by MWS)

1. [show Our Father, Abraham]
This is the weighty tome I’ve envied,
Written with scholarly aplomb.
Few authors rise to fame & fortune;
Marv Will—some.

How’d he turn Judges into wages?
How’d he turn Job into a job?
Eerdmans has made him an OT

Some guy’s – subjects:
Sinai. Shabbats,
Sweeping up the praise:
Parlaying Middle Eastern conflicts
Into a Marvin Wilson craze…

One guy’s – projects:
Rabbis. Prophets,
Fifty-something years:
One chapter bettering another,
Leading to Globetrotters and cheers.

2. What are the lessons he embodies
like a Marv Wilson-y Talmud?
He says that ‘work’ is wed to ‘worship’—
when Hebrewed…

How many students has he goaded
Into a happy avodah?
Must he retire his divine

One wise – pundit.
Winding down, yet—
His influence stays:
Bright’ning the multitudes like sunrise
Coaxes the darkness into day.

One guy’s projects:
Young intellects
Tended through the years—
Taking his mantle up at sunset,
Laden with happiness — and tears.


Blessing/Benediction – sung to “Sabbath Prayer”

May our Father bless and commend you
May to you He lift up His face
May your labors be
The instruments of godly grace

May He be your roof and your shelter
May He be your watchword and stay
Fasten them, O Lord
And seal them to your heart always


Tribute – RogerGreenable (for Roger Green)

ROGERGREENABLE  (after Nat King Cole)

Roger Up and Buy Right  (“Straighten Up and Fly Right”)

Roger took alumni for a ride in the air,
To see the holy land and taste the holy fare,
Alumni planned to sleep in a hostel bunk,
But Roger said “You’re gonna have to spend a chunk”—

Upgrade up and fly right,
Five star up and stay right,
Humus up and dine right—
Cheap alumni, time to charge it up!

Ain’t no use in slummin’
Ain’t you got it comin?
Smarten up and shine right—
Gold is glistening on the Dome of Rock!

Alumni said to Roger, “You’re bankrupting me.
At least my evenings will be free.”
Roger said, “You’ll need a private wailing wall:
I lecture every evening on John and Paul”—

Romans up, gentile right,
Galatians up and faith right,
(Rev)-e-lation up and scry right—
No alumni shall be goofing off!

Alumni said to Roger, “You’re a prize and a peach,
But here is some advice as you return to teach;
Your colleagues have approaches that you haven’t tried;
You’re not as good a prof as you’re a tourist guide!”

Ketchum up and pray right,
Whittet up, Lord’s Day right,
Wilson up, oy vey right,
Hang in, Roger—don’t you hang it up.

Ain’t no use retiring,
(Gordon isn’t hiring…)
Please don’t make us cry, right?
Keep on, Roger – don’t you e – ver stop.


G-R-EE-N  (“L-O-V-E”)

G is for the grade you gave to me,
R is for the reams you made me read,
EE’s are each and every – exegetic query,
N is never knowing – where the heck your lecture’s going…

GREEN were all the lights that led to you,
GREEN is how I looked when I withdrew;
Drew has one less tenant—
Took my check, I’m sure you spent it—
GREEN is coloring me blue.

G is for the games I played till 3,
R is for road trips to Biscayne Key,
EE’s are each and every – extra on my movie,
N is never knowing – what Netflix will next be showing…

GREEN’s the jealousy I felt for you,
GREEN—for each red letter word you knew;
New is my perspective—
Wish I’d chose a Hunt elective—
GREEN is yellow mixed with blue.

G’s for graduation-minus-me,
R’s for my revised reality,
EE’s are every, every – existential worry,
N is still not knowing – when my tears will cease from flowing…

GREEN is all the cash I’ve given to you,
GREEN is how I was, an ingénue;
You wrecked my vocation
With your special revelation—
GREEN’s the color of adieu.
GREEN’s a murderer in Clue®.
GREEN is Roger mixed with blue!


RogerGreenable  (“Unforgettable”)

Un-heretical – that’s what you are
Un-red-neck-able – you hate NASCAR

Like a fountain of inerrancy
You’re so pure it almost scareth me
Never before – has human been more

Sacrament-able – in every way
“It’s what life is for!” – that’s what you’ll say

That’s why, Rog, it’s – bona-fide-able
That someone so – suit-and-tie-able
Still can be so – a-good-guy-able, too.

Un-unbiblical – and un-unfair
Aldersgate-able – but such good hair!

All those years of new syllábuses
All but you and Marv moved offices…
Creed-cred galore. We all know that you’re—

So dear-heart-able – as you would say
Learnéd, laudable – we hoped you’d stay

That’s why Roger – sweet-embraceable, you
have been so – run-good-race-able
And you are so – irreplaceable, too.


roger and karen for blog


Roger Green  (after “Billie Jean”)

He looked more like a squeaky clean academic dean
When he rolled up in a limousine from Barrington.
I’m afraid
that my grade’s
going down.
(He survived Barrington?)
I’m afraid
that my grade’s
going down.

He told me his name was Roger Green and he taught Philemon,
I said, “Don’t mind, but I’m here to flee your New Testament.”
I’m afraid
that my grade’s
going down.

Pupils always told me, be careful of a dude
Who goes around blessing young folks’ hearts. (Please.)

And roomies always told me, be careful choosing profs:
It wicked matters who – when the Testament is New, hey hey—

Roger Green is not that clever,
He’s just a guy who claims that Titus is fun,
But my scholarships are done.

He says Micah is fun—
Oh, oops, that’s Marv Wilson.

[verse 2]
Spent forty days and forty nights with a study guide,
But who could stand his postponing of make-up exams?
Reading Day?
Far away:
Going down.

So take my strong advice: you do not want to take his course twice.
Don’t take twice! Not Green twice!

He said commit to your memory the synoptic three,
To which add John, and then master those letters Pauline.
All thirteen;
that’ll mean
going down.

Pupils always told me, be careful reading Jude
With someone who says, “Bless your hearts.” (Weird.)

I really, really need a permanent five-second break;
Can I minister to youth when I don’t like William Booth? No—

Roger Green is not that clever,
He’s just some guy who claims proof texting is dumb:
Isn’t that a heresy?

Roger Green goes on forever,
He tries and tries to claim John Wesley is fun…
Dude: the holiness moved on.

Candle lighting is fun:
“Surely” that goes when he’s gone…

Roger Green just wrecked my major.
Roger Green should not make Major.
Roger Green is no Bonheoffer.
Roger Green you’re no moonwalker.


Tribute – All Those Boxes Are Dave Rox’s (for David Rox)

(sung to “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” by George Strait)

All those boxes are Dave Rox’s,
Chock with years of ‘vintage musicology’—
Like old boomboxes, cracked maracas,
And his turtlenecks of Chuck Mangione.

All Dave Rox’s paradoxes:
He rocks on his trombone – like Tommy Dorsey.
He’s got a vox like Frank Sinatra’s…
But he can’t keep track of our attendance sheet.

Our man-called-Dave joined the facultāy – when he was just ten years old,
His department in lower Prince – with mildew, mice and mold.
His musicians used a precursor to – the Rox Rehearsal Room;
A private place, they shared the space – with dustpan, brush and broom…

All Doc Rox’s orchestraxes—
Saxes, brass, and horns – (one lonely timpani)—
Are all just practice Coy Piranxhas:
He thinks our new-old Lane – is New Orleans.

Who’s obnoxious as Dave Rox is?—
Stocked with fishy tales – of catching sockeye;
And all that talk—pain in our coccyx…
When he thought he caught a whale, he caught a tree.

When Dave’s at work – rehearsing with his bélovèd jazz band,
His ears are on the players, but his eye’s on the music stand;
He urges them – to keep the beat and make that rhythm drive,
But avoid the misplaced cacophonous minor 7 flat five…

When Dave Rox commits faux paxes
That time that he misplayed – Nearer My Dog to Thee,
Or mangled Plump & Circumstanxes:
That’s when Michael swapped him out – for a CD.

In that office next to Kwok’s is
A prof whose work’s in tune – after age 63,
Just like Johann Sebastian Bach’s is:
Johann and Dave: conducting royalty.

You’ve made music of a workplace;
We’ve grown accustomed to your face;
Now get your waders on and go play that stream.


rox salmon

Tribute – Accustomed to Suitcase (for Paul & Jeannie)

Libretto Tostato e Arrosto

featuring bowdlerized numbers from
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Sound of Music
My Fair Lady

Rudely Reckless  [sung to “Truly Scrumptious” by Paul’s true friends]

1. Rudely reckless – your plan is rude and reckless—
Feckless if you’ll pardon me to say.
When you’re here our $upply’s prodigious;
At your going, we all dine on dime-store dishes…

On-your-own-ness – means newly-nearly homeless;
They will never ever let you stay:
If you commit this folly,
It won’t be long till ya’ll be
Finished. Pauly: you’re through.

2a. Dude grabbed more bucks – in deals than Daddy Warbucks,
Milked more moguls than Nick Caraway.
When he’s pitching, he’s so Jack Nicklaus;
On his calls he’s – witty as a sweet Don Rickles.

-complaining narration-

2b. Do repent this – fool en loco absentis.
Who’ll be left to star in Gordon plays?
Plus, your “travels” seem so suspicious,
Seriously – don’t you think we know where Prague is?

-accusatory narration-

2c. Of his methods, last will-and-testament is
How he makes degrees from IRAs…
His appeal works like Judi Dench’s;
He puts names on – buildings, bleachers, boats and benches.

Go—exeunt us: your banner years among us
Mean your next job might involve a sleigh…
You’ve strewn all kinds of riches;
Now get this message, which is
All we, Paul E., thank you.

Someone’s Loot  [sung to “Something Good” by faux Jeannie]

Perhaps he might have clicked in Hollywood,
His act is Obi-Wan-meets-Babe-Ruth;
But face it, like in Wicked, Les Misérables, Cats
The smile is growing long-in-the-tooth.
Now there he is, stand-high-aboving me,
Which often rots my mood…
So Oscars and, forsooth, his knighthood,
Are lost to bum someone’s loot.
Ka-¢hing comes from mooching,
Poaching wealthy dudes—
So somewhere in Duluth or Wildwood,
He’s just begun playing
Robin Hood.

Ching-a-Ching-a Bank Bank  [sung by every single person at the college]

Go – get – ¢hing-a-ling-a-bank-bank,
Ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank, we need you.
Then – get – ching-a-ling-a-bank-bank,
Ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank, get more, ooo.

Near – far – in a rental car,
Get ching-a-ling-a-bank again;
Bank-bank ching-a-ling-a-bank-bank,
Our legal-tendered friend;

Bank-bank ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank,
our fine – for – spend – ing – friend.

[Bank-bank ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank,
Sometimes offending ching-a-ching-a friend.]

Dough, Oh Dear  [sung to “Do-Re-Mi” by faux Paul himself]

(Do!) Dough – oh dear, we need it here,
(Re!) Ray – it’s ‘pray’ but minus one;
(Mi!) Me – the way I call on wealth,
(Fa!) Far – I’ll go to beg for funds.
(So!) Sow – a seed’ll fall, then ‘bread’—
(La!) Law – school (I chose not to go…)
(Ti!) T – a note that rides the Fed—
…that will bring us back some dough.

When you know the hearts to wring,
You can wring both clan or king.

When you know the quotes to bring,
You can wring your nan of bling.

-everyone sing-
Dough – oh dear, we need it here,
Ray – it’s ‘pray’ but minus one;
Me – the way I call on wealth,
Far – I’ll go to beg for funds.
Sow – a seed’ll fall, then ‘bread’—
La – I sing when they say No;
Tea – we drink it black not red;
…that will bring us back the dough.

Don’t raid me for some latte, don’t. Sow dough!

[descending: Don’t eat lots of famine raid dough.]

His Famous Sayings  [sung to “My Favorite Things” by Development]

1. Name-dropping Moses, and “Which Preferred Outcomes?”
Might stop to wrestle with those who dole out sums.
Now rake the passage for dried wells and springs—
These are a few of Paul’s fundraising things.

2. Quotes from the prophets and dead desert fathers;
Cap funds and hedge funds and nest eggs for scholars;
Hustling while pausing to act and to sing—
These are the parlance of Paul’s fundraisíng…

3. Trust God to bless us with raiment and rubles.
Have faith and show faith like Gideon with bugles.
Them that give greatly get given good things—
These are the gist of Paul’s famous sayíngs.

In the dark—light! After freeze—spring.
When you’re least, be glad…
I can’t comprehend all these weighty sayings;
I may just, for real – go mad.

4. Guys in from Texas with silver mustaches,
Widows with tans and bifocal sunglasses,
Billionaires striving to buy angels’ wings—
These are Paul’s targets for fundraising stings.

5. Clean ordered desktops and calendared call logs;
LYBUNT* and SYBUNT and Stingy-As-Ball-Hogs;
Green paper package$ signed (without strings)—
These are important in Paul’s fundraisíng.

6. Scrambled with cheese and some hot Depot sausage;
Right here’s my office, it’s not at the college;
Fundraising letters require coffee rings—
These are his frequentest famous sayíngs…

When the quad’s ripe, when Dan T sings,
When our Thiele gets mad,
We savor his favorite famous sayíngs:
He’ll make an ideal – granddad!

*Last Year But Not This / Second Year…

Accustomed to Suitcase  [sung to Jeannie by her student ambassadors]

I’d gone through Customs with suitcase;
She sized me up when I came in.
I was a snowball’s chance in June,
Some day-old crab Rangoon—
A sloth, a schwa,
A lost coleslaw;
And so remarkable is how
She drew me out by diving in.
I was supremely inconsistent as a student (not too bright);
Truly my career was dim without her help—I might
Have grown lackluster in my work,
Disgusted with my choice,
And busted by this place.

I know to just come to your space;
We circle up and settle in.
You make our heavy afternoons
As light as Lorna Doones:
You charm; you tend;
Beguile; befriend.
Our disesteem, you won’t allow.
You make for real what-might-have-been:
You were the genie who appeared when I so hesitantly said,
You go on; I’ll stay and sweep the fireplace—instead
I’ve been adjusting through your warmth,
And trusting in your voice—
Accustomed to your grace.

I’ve grown adjusted in your warmth,
Entrusted with a voice—
Accustomed to suitcase.


audience for accustomed to suitcase

Crooked Rose My Youth – a Paean

I took a survey of British lit course in my first college term. We started at the front of our fat text, and over the weeks an exaltation of poems went winging past me and my fallow acre.

Two years—hear me, now—two real years later, while memorizing (because I needed to own it) “Lovers’ Infiniteness,” some insistent thumps began in my deep brain, my heart’s core. But they were not thumps of Donne.

Oh no, I thought. Those accents must be from a poem I read back in Survey. I’ll never trace them.

Still, I retrieved that old tome and, turning to Caedmon, put my ear to the page and started forward—from the strong stresses, forward through the wide centuries, into the accentual-syllabics (“and she me caught in her arms, long and small”)—with variations (here was “sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters”—that perfect double and)—into the strict countings (“to load and bless with fruit the vines”)—and the sprung rhythms (“that year of now done darkness I wretch”)—forward toward the new century—(“he, she, all of them, aye”)—its sonic mimeses (“Quick, boys!—an ecstasy of fumbling”)—beginning to despair now—

And then, there they were, sounding, sounding up from the print:

The fórce that thróugh the gréen fúse dríves the flówer

Blunt morphemes to me the first time, at 19—mad hammers, lacking all sense:

Dríves mý gréen áge

Beat-beat-beat-beat in me.
Break, break, break on my stone ears.
And then that thunderstruck finish:

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Years later, you see, and even more years, that Welsh silversmith is still
beating and beating at my intractable metal.

[The force that through the green fuse drives the flower]
Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

PWS was the professor of record.

o'keefe flower8

Poem – Burnt Bus

Burnt Bus

Left in a lot, one where a building stood
or one widely fenced and piled with odd iron,
one where the scrap man spits from his tin shed,
left in these unruly lots is the bus,
burnt, or half–demolished, propped up on blocks
but looking still in all this wilderness
like a bus. No matter its vacancies,
glass burst into random, unmelted hail
in the ribbed rubber aisle and fraying seats,
all the engine innards ransacked and loose;
no matter its vacancy at the wheel,
the great, flat wheel which so many times I
would have swung into wide, flat revolvings,
turning round and through the narrow canyons
precisely, with precious inches to spare––
this is not a vague, derelict metal:
the rust is bus–like, and can still compel
pedestrians with pockets of nickels
to run. The placard spells 11th STREET;
someone must have driven it here, of course,
and it looks as though he will be right back––
the door is open. I imagine how
he parked here with that particular skill
of bus drivers, using the wide mirrors
and the various signaling lights; then,
taking the keys, how he pulled the handle
and descended as he would step slowly
from a train to the platform at Cripple
Creek or Canyon Gulch, and walk, uniformed
and solitary, listening for wheels
on the rails as the sun–filled coach pulls out.

-Published in SWINK, and winner of the SWINK Literary Award in Poetry, chosen by Tony Hoagland.

Poem – Poem with Crow

Poem with Crow

for my daughter

I give you
in morning a man splitting wood
in March a man’s cut breath sudden
and the perilous beauty of steel arcing
around him

see how the
plaids of his coat are busy they
gather and flex for the keen wedge,
gather him to the greens and browns of
the pasture

I say the
greens and browns of sleeping horses
greens and browns of wet wood
this man stables for the splitting edge
in this March

I tell you
I am this man in morning
I am the wood and horse stabler
and it is my work unharnessed
in the axe

O the axe!
its bright weight a word for wood,
its quick insistent
talk in the ear, in the struck and
plied fibers

and how the
fresh hewn logs yield a fragrant hue,
yield such filaments of flesh I
cannot taste, cannot yet embrace
nor ignite

into this
(now the sharp waking of wood and axe
beneath the early mottled trees
beside the pasture-mantled mares)
March scene walks

jet, one crow
jet he is charcoal, he is his shadow
he is nearly not, an inked and
unblinking pupil at the center of
my fancy:

think of me
busting limbs by the waking sires
bursting steam in the unbuttoning sun
by the bark-strewn stump and the axe
as I say

this black stroke
this impudence of sheen, this concentrate
of crow crutching across the roots
grotesque as a straight-jacketed

was for me
a figment of a child I’ve not conceived,
a girl bearing what resemblance? to
this masked crow, eyeing me, turning
now its back;

such magic
in the burning March mid-morning
in the soft piles of flushing wood
in the right dominion of the horseshoe
and the axe

I saw my
black-bound daughter unmanacled as flame
in the pomp of every feather, mighty
in the muscling of flight, galloping, split-
ting the air

-Published in Wild Plum, winner of the Wild Plum Poetry Award.

Introduction – to Patricia Smith

In certain sessions, in certain chambers this week, what was heard – from certain stages, from certain specific rostrums, from podiums therein – what was spoken – out from prosceniums, what was finally heard, spoken—

Listen for the voices you don’t hear, our poet-at-large adjures – urges her own students. Write those unheard voices.

And she shows them – she listens-them how. And those listenings surely become her.

This week in 5 performances, at 4 high schools, to 3 thousand students, over 2 days, our 1 poet-at-large (even-larger than that) loosed mute voices into ear-ful auditoriums of students in this our Palm Beach Country. [sic]

And we – we, down in our all-unprepared seats – numbered seats and comfortable – what we finally – who we finally heard:

Child of – 6th-grade-children of lost mothers—
mothers – of once-sons, was-daughters—
daughters – throats crammed full of rivers—
other mouths now drained of names.

Say the teachers-of-Palm-Beach: Our students have been hit hard by this stuff. They’ve lost—. You can’t know—. These poems—.

There amongst them, sitting in a soft seat, legs languidly crossed, listening, listening to her, to them – how can I not rise to my feet?—

Because – upright.
Because – hear the X’s kissing as they cross.
Because – again – the chamber-mouth is empty.
                    And there’s my son. My son.

Would that no one dast speak such words.

I’m saying weakly what’s been said well in untold reviews, releases, citations: from Kingsley Tufts, Lenore Marshall, LA Times, National Poetry Series: Do we all attend and mark this poet.

And Jenelle, too, (she, student, who read all seven of Our Poet’s books to prepare for her fine memorized introduction before her peers) twice today affectingly said, “By being a four times National Poetry Slam champion, she gives indelible public voice to the many too-long silenced.”

Yes, Jenelle. (I wish you were here.)

But it’s me, so, more plainly now: Our poet-at-large, and our reader tonight, hails from Chicago. She teaches at the College of Staten Island, where she was recently made a distinguished professor of poetry. Her first poetry collection, Life According to Motown, appeared in 1991; her fifth, Blood Dazzler, was a finalist for the National Book award; her seventh, Incendiary Art, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Miles, Susan and Blaise sagely invited her to be our 14th poet-in-the-schools; you have alertly come to hear her tonight.

Darlings, any jazz could be ours, and tonight her jazz is. Please join me in welcoming back to our stage – Patricia Smith.

Delivered at Patricia’s 2020 Palm Beach Poetry Festival reading in the Crest Theatre. During the festival, impeachment hearings were going on in Washington, D.C.

Introduction – to Tyehimba Jess

This is a poet’s introduction, not a news story, but it’s got a lede, and I don’t want to bury it. The lede is this: that actions in our Florida state capital—certain capital offenses, chewed, swallowed and digested—have rippled their way to the poems that Our Reader Tonight, our poet-at-large, brought to three thousand students in five sessions over the last two days at high schools near here.

Just yesterday morning, our poet reminded auditorium-fulls about blackface, opening for the students on a big screen an ancient primer on the technique of blacking up—the burning of corks, the grinding-of-them into powder, the adding-to-them of petroleum jelly. And the application onto the skin… “So easy for gentlemen, and ladies, too.”

Then this morning at breakfast our poet read about this state secretary in the New York Times.

The Times, which aren’t a changin’, not enough.

Even before the object lesson, we knew: Our man’s poems are news that stays. For seven years he was devoted to the daily work of recovering personal histories from previous centuries, histories that resonate personally now—for him, and for us; for readers of The Times. What he made from them was Olio, a chronicling in poetry—part performance, part blueprint, part eavesdrop, part rant—in new forms that first engage the reader’s volition, and then step out from the sewn sections into volumes that stand, and deliver.

To encounter these poems is to remember that their speakers—Blind Boone, Box Brown, the McKoy sisters, Edmonia Lewis—each of them troubled this actual air with larynx and embouchure, with sound waves that are rippling out yet, diminished but factual, toward Ultima Thule—and that the sensibility, the instrument that catches – and renders – and returns them to us must be very fine, indeed.

Indeed, it is.

And prescient, too.

Tyehimba Jess is a native of Detroit who lives and teaches now in New York City. His first book, leadbelly, won the National Poetry Series. Olio, his second collection, won the Pulitzer Prize.

It’s with great pleasure and gratitude, Tyehimba, that we welcome you to our stage tonight.

-Delivered in January at the 2019 Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Tyehimba was scintillating and warm & welcoming to students, festival goers, and to me.

Introduction – to Aja Monet and Elizabeth Acevedo

A highlight from this festival is an event that only I and Dr. Blaise Allen get to witness—which is when, in sequence, two poets step to a lone mic in front of a thousand sullen students—and read, and perform.

I could have said, “perform magic,” seeing as how these poets can turn students from timid rabbits into rabid tigers.

—or maybe said “perform surgery,” on account of how these two stand up to stimulate the internal organs of empathy and recognition and resolve.

Is it too soon in my intro for all this?—to say these two poets perform a thousand acts of justice and mercy and salubrious upbraiding—in high schools?

Well, that is what they do—to those “thousand sullen students.”
They perform, they perféct, they deliver, they detonate certain time lapse detonations.

They make, of those students, a thousand splendid suns.

I said “two poets.” It’s true I could have said “raconteurs, rhapsodists, scops, bards, balladeers.” I say again: two poets, who assess from the page, and arrest from the stage, with throat & tongue, and timbre & timing & gesture—in form and moving. How express and admirable.

I say móre: these just poets justice; keep grace—thát keeps all their sass and sauce.

I said we “get to witness.” I could have said we “get in the midst of”—“get mixed up in”—because to engage their poetry with eyes & ears is to engage it with skin, and follicle, and capillary. Even tear duct.

As I have seen, and you will shortly know.

Please welcome Aja Monet and Elizabeth Acevedo to our stage.

-Delivered at the 2018 Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Aja Monet (above left; her poem “The First Time” is here) and Elizabeth Acevedo (above right; her poem “Hair” is here), brought brilliance to schools and the festival stage.