Louis Daniel Brodsky – in memorium

The great poet Louis Daniel Brodsky passed away in June 2014.   Aside from 83 volumes of poetry, he authored William Faulkner, Life Glimpses (University of Texas Press, 1990), shared his Faulkner scholarship in publications such as Faulkner Journal, Southern Review and Studies in Bibliographyco-edited several bibliographical works about Faulkner, amassed the largest Faulkner-materials collection in the world (before giving it to Southeast Missouri State University) and penned over a dozen prose collections.  His daily output of poetry was dizzying: the man literally lived to write.  As someone who creates only after much crawling and many migraines, I marvel at LD’s prolificacy.  And the man seemed as if he could write about everything: from the most bizarre, Swiftian humor to the soul-splitting Shoah, from Thoreauvian nature worship to September 11th, 2001.  (Hell, he even wrote a poetry book about writing poetry books!)

I want to sustain part of L.D’s artistic spirit by sharing some of his works with others, so I plan on featuring selections here in the Tea periodically.  Below are several poems I transcribed from some of his key poetry books: At Water’s Edge, At Shore’s BorderShadow War (volume 1 and 2), The World Waiting to Be, Rabbi Auschwitz, Unser Kampf and The Words of My Mouth and The Meditations of My Heart (which is his final book, about convalescing after glioblastoma removal and during cancer treatment).  Below the poems is part of something I wrote the morning after I heard that LD was no longer among us, that my colleague and friend would write no more.  However, I’m sure he’d be amused to see that he left enough work to keep us busy and edified for quite some time.

Brodsky showing one of William Faulkner’s typewriters at Southeast Missouri State University’s Center for Faulkner Studies.

Black Box

Piloting his flying machine
Is a profession he’s been plying
For more than forty-five years,

Without experiencing a mishap,
Suffering a midair collision
With a low-gliding spirit.

Always aware
That the time will come
When a runway won’t be under him,

Rather a cold abyss
Into which his life-force will lunge,
All systems silenced,

He files a flight plan,
Before every takeoff,
So his remains can be located –

The black box,
Containing the data of his days –
That others might know his flown soul.

–      from
The World Waiting to Be: Poems About the Creative Process (2008)




Too often, I catch myself lost deep in thought,
Meditating about death, afterlife, eternity,
Despite not wanting to spend any more of my treasured time
Contemplating such overwhelming distractions.

I’d rather exhaust the remained of my restless spirit’s days
Exploring only the myriad now and here,
Feeling, holding, embracing, caressing nature’s wonders
Just under my eyes’ close focus,
Within my sensitive nose’s range,
Amidst my vibrant ears’ circumambience,
Beneath my curious hands’ gentle touch,
Behind my wandering mind’s wisdoms and intuitions,
Inside my imagination’s unschooled way
Of perceiving tiny and grandiose souls
Which know, by instinct and conditioning alone,
The complexities that distinguish the fittest from the weakest –
Realities only the blood can taste,
As it flows its course,
From one existence to another, millennium to generation,
Down time’s grand tributary, to death, afterlife, eternity…

Maybe, after all, losing myself to such overwhelming meditations
Is the only true calling I’ve ever been meant to pursue,
Down to this very Thursday noon’s hike,
As I venture into Camp Nebagamon’s woods, again,
And find myself lost deep in thought,
This time inside the mind of a falling raindrop.

–      from
At Shore’s Border: Poems of Lake Nebagamon, Volume Three (2012)



Meditation #196: Where Would We Be Without “It”?

Why I’ve awakened with death on my mind,
I can’t really say, fathom, dug up, exhume
Though it must be attributive to, have something to do with, non-vaguely,
The glioblastoma that was removed, more than seven months ago,
From the right temporal lobe of my brain.

Oh, I’m kidding, joshing, joking, jesting, ribbing you, pulling your third leg…
Only I’m not kidding.
I guess death must never get a rest, when it comes to cracking wise;
It’s got to be exhausted, flat on its back, dead on its ass,
Indefatigably fatigued, fagged out, for the life of it.

It’s what those sleazy comedy-club, striptease-joint,
Borscht Belt-schtick one-liners are all about –
“I’m going to live forever”;
“Where do you get off with a meshuggeneh name like Methuselah?
That doesn’t even sound Jewish”;
“Did you ever ask yourself why a guy’s just being a putz, a schmuck,
A schmegegge, a schmendrick, when he shrugs and hammers ‘it,’
Knowing the whole audience knows ‘it’ is it, which is death?
Like ‘Why doesn’t it ever happen to the other guy?’;
Then he burps, ‘The older I get, the better I was’;
And then, he burps, ‘We’re not going to get out of here, alive’;
And then he farts, ‘It’s a goddamn shame, I tell you.
Nobody can get into Lon Guyland cemeteries, these days,
Without reservations.  Everyone’s dying to get in there.’”

I probably should confess this, now, being a poet:
If I didn’t have the word “death” and its synonyms, in my lexicon,
I could never compose something true to life.
I mean, as “yin” needs “yang,” “here” needs there,”
“Is” needs “was,” and “now” needs “then,”
So “life” needs “Uh-oh, I’m fucked!”
All of these polarities need each other, to achieve completion, closure.
“Immortality” needs “mortality” and vice versa – get it?  Rigor mortis?

Imagine if we could outlive our souls.
We’d always reach eternity way too late.

Lord, thank You for Your unique creation of death, in the beginning.
Look how, without it,
We’d not know what we were missing of the premise of Your Promise.

As a poet, I have to say this: if death didn’t exist,
My lines about life would be lamentably pedestrian, plebeian,
As boring as doing crossword puzzles, Sudokus, Words with Friends,
Writing notes in condolence cards,
For husbands, wives, mistresses bosses, dogs, gerbils,
Composing verses about love.

And what’s to look forward to, after we master death
And get ready to go off, to our final, deathless resting place,
In Heaven, Paradise, Eternity – those green pastures
With rivers of flowing milk, honey, bagels, lox, chopped liver,
Kreplach, gefilte fish, derma, kishke, tongue, schmaltz?
I’ll tell you what’s to look forward to:Nothing but a fermisht stomach, constipation,
And God, Who sprays MiraLAX,
At your punim, kishkes, and farbisseneh wife,
From a Goliath-sized seltzer bottle.

–      from The Words of My Mouth and The Meditations of My Heart (2014)




Stunning! Amazing! Audacious!
Fantastic! Unreal! Surreal!
Unethical! Immoral! Unprincipled! Unscrupulous!
Unbelievable! Inconceivable! Unimaginable! Unthinkable!
Outrageous! Preposterous! Impossible!
Grotesque! Obscene! Horrendous! Horrific! Abominable!
Heinous! Despicable! Cowardly! Repugnant! Intolerable!
Crazy! Lunatic! Mad! Sick! Insane!
Sociopathic! Psychopathic! Megalomaniacal! Inhuman!

None of these desperate modifiers,
Adjectives uttered and muttered in shock and terror,
Words too imprecise to describe dread,
Whose Hydra heads have yet to coalesce
For sheer confusion about the future,
Doubt about right now
Not one of these ineffectual qualifiers,
No matter how thoroughly we explore its roots,
Can adequately encapsulate meaning.

Express a plausible answers, as to how one man,
With nineteen identified hijackers
And a network of operatives in America,
Can knock a nation of 285 million people
So completely off its feet,
Bring it down to its bloody knees,
Bury it under acres of glass, cement, and steel –
Thousands of pulverized bodies –
Create colossal chaos where order thrived.

Yet, lacking better solutions to our problems,
Better responses to the unknown,
Better mollifications of our insecurities,
We insist on platitudes from our president,
Bombast from our senators,
Obligatory indignation and venomous resolve
From our Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Jargon from technical and strategic advisors,
Cant from our spiritual leaders.

Since Moses received from God
The Word made palpable, visible, audible –
Ten covenantal commandments –
We’ve faithfully relied on the power of the word.
But what should we do when words don’t work,
And all we’re left with are rubble and bodies
Transported, in dump trucks,
To the deepest reaches of speechlessness?
Cutting our tongues off would hardly be enough.



Who hasn’t driven down a summer road,
A sporadically traveled passage
Between small country towns,
And seen at least a turtle or two,
Taking their trusting time to cross from one side
To some vague approximation of the other,
Guided by instinctive reptilian design?

Who, witnessing their unnerving progress,
Their reliance on blind faith, dumb luck,
Hasn’t wondered why so few die,
Don’t end their plodding existences flattened?
And who hasn’t imagined himself in their place –
The oblivious grace of fearlessness,
The inarticulate innocence of determination?

The attacks of fanatical terrorists on America,
Which leveled some of our proudest towers
Two persistently present two weeks ago,
Have awakened us to our precarious lives,
Transformed s into frightened turtles,
Withdrawing into our own personal shells –
Our neighborhoods, houses, heads.

But we must keep crossing the highway
Between birth and death
And not think about being hit by jets
Or stopped in our tracks by anthrax or smallpox.
We need to keep crossing our roads,
Believing that reaching the other side
Is our inalienable right.

–      from
Shadow War: A Poetic Chronicle of September 11 and Beyond (2001,2004)



Real Tears

All the interminable drive, this Sunday morn,
From Lake Nebagamon to Duluth’s airport,
I feel palpable sadness, weep real tears.

Finding myself caught between my recent happiness
And this unhappy vacuum
That’s leaving me lower than anything I’ve known

Since those last moments, four weeks ago,
Which I spent in this tranquil, unhurried land,
Resigned then, as now, to having to go home.

With my visits growing more frequent,
These woefully distressful episodes
Seem to bedevil my spirit more readily, of late.

I’m not quite sure
Just what to make of such shows of emotion,
Why departures keep cutting closer to the heart.

Could it be that mortality is getting the better of me
Or, possibly, that there’s yet hope
For my soul to grow, with the water from its tears?

–      from
At Dock’s End: Poems of Lake Nebagamon, Volume Two (2011)




Gold Medalist

Through most of your life,
You never knew or cared exactly where you were.
Only in old age has it become imperative
For you to master triangulation,
Get your geographical bearings,
Coordinates that locate you in the solar system,
On planet Earth, in your state, city, neighborhood,
Your residence in Delmar Gardens –
The “old folks’ home.”

In part, it had to do with your sense of immortality,
Who you were as a college youth:
A robust, vigorous sort,
A massively powerful human being
Who rowed, for Germany,
In the 1936 Olympics, in Berlin,
And won the gold medal.
In part, it was due to your time in Auschwitz –
A Jew with a Teutonic tattoo.

Oh, how painful it’s been,
Growing old with those memories of glory and travail
You accumulated in your “prime of life.”
(Euphemisms tell gigantic lies,
Rise, like corpses, to the surface of slime ponds.)
How sad to be cooped up, here in this compartment,
Relying on Meals on Wheels,
Watching TV, from sunrise to sunset,
Through cataract-clouded eyes.

The fate of refugees, even in the land of the free,
Isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  You know.
For years, you made minimum wage,
Working as a salesclerk for Sears, then JCPenny,
Ringing up cutlery, men’s suits, power tools.
These days, at eighty-eight,
You sometimes let your mind wander
Back to the single-sculls final you won,
And you long for another victory, in your defeat.

–      from
Rabbi Auschwitz: Poems of the Shoah (2009)




The demarcation of weeks into days means nothing.
Nothing to you, anyway,
Since time is just a serialization of changelessness

And you consider yourself but a piece of straw
In a frenzied eagle’s beak,
Destined to line its nest, beyond forever.

Time is as irrelevant to your existence
As summer and winter, left and right,
Memory and forgetting, life and demise.

For all intents and purposeless pretenses,
You can barely distinguish light from darkness,
Such is the mist in which your oblivious spirit operates.

That you’re a recluse is obvious enough.
You can’t even recognize yourself
In a mirror scribbled with your name, in Gothic script,

You, a spectral leftover of something too horrific
Even for God to resurrect from humanity’s ashpits –
History’s invisible misfit,

Issue of Yiddish-speaking Polish ciphers
Spit out of evil’s toothbrush-mustached,
Schnapps-fouled mouth,

Shipped off to the matzah bakery,
To propagate the zombie population,
Destined to line the nest of the crooked-wing eagle.

At eighty-eight, you have some right to complain.
After all, had you just been gassed,
The past sixty years would have spared you this death.



Ask the Rain

How could it have taken tonight’s rain shower
Sixty-five years
To find my shadowy silhouette slipping through the trees,

Trees which, for the past half-century, at least,
Have concealed me from grief’s argenteous spirits,
Protected me from death’s saber teeth?

Could it be that I eluded the clouds’ storm troops
Simply by pure fortuitousness,
A sheer matter of simple, godless probability?

Or was it a case of mistaken Jewish identity
That accounted for my unexplainable escape
From the roll call that devoured Europe’s 1940s?

How can I exhume adequate words, appropriate phrases,
To express my ineffable perplexity?
I don’t have an answer as to why I’m still breathing

Or whether being alive is better than dying might have been,
In that time of spiritual rot,
When decent Germans turned into demons,

Poltergeists who, once upon a civilized time,
Composed symphonies, concertos, sonatas, for the gods,
Created poems and paintings, dreamed millennial Reichs.

All I know is that in these days of my late eighties,
I’m very sensitive to the rain.
Tonight’s drops remind me of bleeding glass.

Could it be that Kristallnacht never happened, never passed,
And that those trees forming the forest beyond my soul
Never sprouted, never provided me with shelter,

That, in reality, I failed to survive the last sixty-five years,
Expired with the rest of my family, my people?
Ask the rain.  Maybe it can tell you why I’m still here.

Unser Kampf: Poems of the Final Solution (2013)



Now and No

The dramatically vast distance between now and no
Is no greater than the width of “w” —
A star illuminating the cosmos, with its lambent light.

I, an inhabitant of the planet Earth,
Know, authoritatively, of what I say, speak, postulate.
After all, I’m of the species Homo sapiens,

A member of human civilization,
A dust mote who’s fated to be born, live, and die,
Relinquish his paltry mosaic of flesh and bones,

Acquiesce to burial in dirt
Or transmogrification into cremated ashes —
Hardly sustenance for worms.

If only man, with all his astonishing genius,
Could devise a methodology, technology, science
For closing the gap between now and no, erasing it,

Creating a treaty, confederation, pact
Between life and transience, ephemerality, evanescence,
Existence and irrevocable nothingness,

Perhaps he could bloom into an immortal flower
That would blossom daily, even nightly,
Like a belladonna, datura, nicotiana, paper-white.
But if he can’t, dear God,
Might it be within Your humbling prescience
To let now subsume no, for the rest of man’s destiny?


The following is part of what I wrote the day after I heard of LD’s death.

I’m proud to say that a mutual long-distance respect grew between LD and I.  Our art brought us together despite being separated by at least three states and a few decades of life.  We trusted each other’s writing, even the poetic personae we created, to fill in the particular blanks.  LD put this miracle of knowing-through-art perfectly in the Welcome section of his official website: “If you’re willing to journey far enough, you might end up knowing me better than I know myself and, in the process, knowing yourself better than before.”

Honestly, LD became an important mentor to me, whether he knew it or not.  His guidance, encouragement and respect for my own work were priceless gifts.  I appreciated not only his superior experience, literary output and scholarship, but his peculiar vision and insight into all manners of things, from the horrible Holocaust to the love of a lady-like lake called Nebagamon.  Above all, I will remember him by his art, especially since he seemed to prefer having his art speak for himself.  So my last words will be LD’s words, from a poem called “Disciple” in his The World Waiting To Be:

…I’m the celebrated one,
The celebration itself.
All else falls away, for the moment,

As I proclaim, to the uninitiated,
That poetry saves,
Redeems the overloaded intellect from emptiness,

Resurrects its devoted novitiates from earthly notions.
At least for me,
It’s given dignity and purpose to my anonymity.