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Michael Rothenberg


"Free Man in Paris”

                  for Joni Mitchell


Wounded, injured, broken, painfully scarred

Possibility is conditional but the hero has his hour…

Art is not all imagery


But an experiment of explosions, underground testing

In the waiting room, in magazine

One page at a time or flipping through several expressions


It's too easy to be hurt, sometimes, belonging to no one

Michael Rothenberg is a poet, songwriter, editor and publisher of the online literary magazine Big Bridge, and co-founder of the global poetry movement 100 Thousand Poets for Change.  


His poetry books include Man/Women, a collaboration with Joanne Kyger, The Paris Journals (Fish Drum Press), Unhurried Vision (La Alameda/University of New Mexico Press),Choose (Big Bridge Press), and My Youth As A Train (Foothills Publishing)  


His editorial work includes several volumes in the Penguin Poets series: Overtime by Philip Whalen, As Ever by Joanne Kyger, David’s Copy by David Meltzer, and Way More West by Ed Dorn.


He is also editor of The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen published by Wesleyan University Press. 


Rothenberg’s book of poems, Indefinite Detention: A Dog Story is scheduled for publication in 2013 by Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, B.C., Canada, and in 2014 by both Shabda Press (USA) and Al Kotob Khan (Cairo, Egypt) in an Arab/ English edition, translated by El Habib Louai.



Toothpick, quarter, nickel, four pennies, red paper clip


No one to call

All heroes gone


Briefcase, calendars, fresh sharpened pencils

Business cards with another change of address


What did it mean when I said, "Don't stop" and she said, "I haven't even started."

Family photos


When will they bury me?


Puppet Shakespeare, stone crab claw relic, dead coral verse


Everyone complains, philosophical

Equipment malfunctions


Wash towels, dishes, sheets, face

Brush hair, teeth

Keep up appearances


until license plate, jazz lamp, onyx letter opener become slivers

in a nightmare-Armada of small jinxed boats

Like after hurricane Donna when kids paddled down flooded Miami streets


Or when the outboard motor leapt into an Everglades swamp and sank

No one told me to chain it down


I rowed home against a rising tide




Somewhere in the Keys,

a mile out, fishing for sheepshead and snapper

in rolling waves by tolling buoy when a storm blows in

We can’t beat it back to shore
Soaked in matching windbreakers,

tiny white sneakers and daybreeze scarves,

we bail with cup and saucer until

an old Dutch freighter takes us all aboard

Faces whipped by tears and rain

Mom thought it was the end of the family line




Tides played on, drummed black sand shores, thundering again. Seagulls, white-ruffled, perched on tide-bound cliff


Braced against flying Pacific swell and brine, while she thought of something else, Odessa, Black Sea or Crimea, not my deep need for intimacy


So I set sail, slept in a thousand rooms, drove desert west, then south through clattery muck and thick green flesh of Florida, turnpiked and truckstopped, aimlessly, so maybe just once I could face the ocean's fist, infinite daylight, play on bird's-nest reef, sift through olive, scallop, conch shell, painlessly, conjure the stroke of tide, her pale narrow wrists, adore. . .


But that beach has slipped. Only dark poetry drives me

Pocket change, typing paper, blood-red inkjets




I took my son, Cosmos, and a shopping list


Bought size 1 running shoes, gray heeled socks

Bounced across the mall parking lot picking up lost pennies in potholes



Columbus Day weekend

Sailing, synchronized clouds blossom overhead

Impossible blue jets in formation

cross between towers of joyous Golden Gate

Bumper to bumper we drove up the ridge

then down by foot, over slick face of scrubby Marin headland

Almost fell asleep in the treble of pebbles bouncing on our heads

But we couldn't sleep, and what she said and I said

counted for nothing




See an exhibition of women's art


Four plaster death masks

None of them mine


                   I sign the guest book

                     to make a place, always


But never enough of a place to make a point, make a trip, guide

my free broken spirit into myth.






Atop Musée de l’Institut du Monde Arabe facing Notre Dame

Under steel, glass and salmon tapestries draped between palm

Fronds, I eat lamb in a clay casserole of prunes, nuts, astrolabe

Forbidden magic texts, celestial spheres and astrological manuscripts


A mosaic of optical window shutters adjusting to hours of

Light and night, scales, Koran, oil lamps, fragments of funereal

Stele, Kurdish tapestries, The Hunt, The Flower, The Court

Funereal frieze, funereal column, tile, Tunisia, Syria and Iran


Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Jew, Christian and Islam, savoring every

Bubbling forkful of lusterware glass and pottery, a dagger’s crystal

Handled imbedded with rubies, pearl, a gold filigree necklace

Stuffed with perfume, hare, fish, lion, calligraphic morsel rescued


From House of Wisdom, illuminated, I buy a sweet baguette

A few postcards, admire the flying buttresses of Notre Dame

Cross the river again to sit in a park. It’s very warm.

I feed the pigeons. The pigeons eat their feast of crumbs.






“A madman doesn’t need success. All he needs is a good hospital.”

                                                                                 Mohammed Mrabet


Experiment is an accident

no matter how carefully planned.

Can’t you see

I’m walking

between abstraction and magic

Because that’s who I am


The buffalo of the Great Plains

ghosting skittish herds

on Champs d’Élysées

under deconstruction. Supervised

by The New Pound Projective


and The Magicians of Jazz Street


Medicines  & Mirrors

Weight gain & Hair-loss

Wallpaper of Hollywood Muse

Switching between Calvinist

projection and a drunken buffet

Call the doctor

or print your own magazine

Distribution is academic.




All work  (c)2013 Michael Rothenberg

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