Saturday, July 19, 2014


July 3, 2014

I try to get my daily poetry fix from Garrison Keillor’s, The Writer’s Almanac, on public radio when I can, but often must rely on Libby to print and mail them to me to read. Since we got married on Saturday, May 24, 2014, and I was in the visiting park when the broadcast for that day played, I paid particular attention to that day’s copy, to the interesting literary facts Garrison always includes. Sometimes, I feel a connection to people he talks about, as I did on this day.

May 24 was the birthday (1940) of poet, Joseph Brodsky, born in Leningrad in the communist Soviet Union. He lived during a time of great suffering and poverty, when the Nazis conducted the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. After reading Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground, as a teen, he began writing and publishing poems.

At 23, he was charged with “malicious parasitism” and arrested by the KGB, the Soviet secret police. When he testified in court, his testimony was copied down and smuggled out of Russia.

The judge asked him, “Who told you that you were a poet? Who assigned you that rank?”

Brodsky answered, “No one. Who assigned me to the human race?”

The judge sent him to a Siberian labor camp for five years, but his testimony only made him more famous.

After he returned to Leningrad, he tried to make a living as a poet, but everything he did angered the authorities.

That scenario resonates with me: angering repressive authorities with my poetry. I spent thirty days in solitary confinement because one hateful mail clerk didn’t think I should be allowed to write poems, despite what the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights, says.

While I was in solitary, I sent and received legal mail from my attorney, William Sheppard. The civilian mail clerk, the same person who fabricated the disciplinary report that put me in lockup, was required by prison rule to pick up any outgoing legal mail each day. I asked in vain to have my long letter explaining what had happened to my lawyer picked up over the course of days, finally being forced to file an official complaint to force her to do what the law required.

When the vulgar woman came to my cell, I pushed my letter through the door crack to her. She began reading my mail, which I protested to the accompanying guard. She mumbled something to him and stormed off. The officer began laughing. Being a decent sort, I asked him what she said.

“She said you were a f-----g poet.”

Everyone doesn’t like my poetry, just like the Communists didn’t appreciate Joseph Brodsky’s expressions. One day the KGB got fed up with Joseph Brodsky’s intransigence, and put him on a plane to Vienna, kicking him out of the Soviet Union. Professors and poets took Brodsky under their wings, taking him to America, where he met great success, winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 1987.

I don’t have any designs on the Nobel Prize, but if the prison KGB wants to kick me out to get me out of their hair, I won’t complain a bit. I will thank Joseph Brodsky for his sacrifices and for showing me his way.

In honor of him, I would like to say, Happy Birthday, Joseph! And I offer you this poem I wrote today.

Best regards to all,


Someone, please tell me how it feels
to stand beneath a tree at night,
the only illumination
being twinkling stars and moonlight,
the darkness alive with bird calls:
horned owls, nighthawks and whippoorwills.

Tell me, please, do the cicadas
sing their choruses, rapturous
in their joy to be alive now,
in this moment, riding the waves
of time to the shore, guaranteed
only this night forevermore?

While the summer breeze rustles leaves,
tell me if you feel your heart race
in anticipation of love,
of soft footsteps, soon approaching,
two shadows join in rendezvous,
Someone, please tell me how it feels.

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