Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Eve

I stand by the shell of a dive
That was one of my favorite places
And wait for the snow to arrive
While around me the lonely pieces
Of the city's splintered soul,
With a hermit's scarf on their faces
And their eyes on the ground or the goal,
Like bees from a shaken hive
Swarm through the electric cold.

Past windows that advertise
The price of the latest craze --
The toy that will always please,
The game that will always be played --
Pedestrians on the run
From the job that eats their days
Attack the streets and weave
In search of immediate fun
Like soldiers on short leave.

Armed to the teeth with intent,
Movement is what they are --
I can see them from where I stand
As they arrow past the bar --
The lords of a scurrying race
Who fill the seasonal streets
Day in and day out again --
Not motionless even in sleep;
A race of sharks, not men.

Now snowflakes feather the sky,
And swirl on the whips of the wind
Through canyons that preach the lie
Of civilization's thrust
And the worth of the marked-down buy --
The lie that goods which are sold
Or bought by the shopping cart
Will answer the needs of the soul
Or buy an unquestioning heart.

The truth is a quieter voice,
A whisper which softly sings
That winter was made to rejoice,
And babies are born to bring peace,
And people are worth more than things,
And none of us are alone --
Which we all must learn firsthand
Before our immigrant souls
Return to their native land.

By the light of a pagan tree,
In the heat of a candle's glow,
We are part of a common name
That atomized long ago --
The sparks of a broken flame
That burns for the oystered pearl,
That seeks by uncommon stars
For the leap of persistent joy
And the answer behind the world.

But no stars shine above  --
Just the obstinate distant glow
Of a gray and thoughtless heaven
Which I cannot confront or know --
And there are no easy answers,
Just people with hopes and fears
Who pass by each other blind
On the way to a warm lit room
In the lonely way of their kind.

In this age where we make ends meet
Between the push and the shove
And huddle like lambs in the night
And yearn for a gift from above
To fall, like the snow, at my feet,
We must each do what we can
In the teeth of the old year's death
To affirm the worth of man
And the fellowship of breath.

All we are is a storm --
Like snowflakes we meet the earth
With an individual kiss,
And together we pile and drift
Till the blizzard of our birth,
Like a long-discarded gift,
Is forgotten, and we grow gray
By the side of a shining road
Till we finally melt away.

All we have is a day
In the calendar of Time
To light an affirming flame
Beneath the seasonal dome
Of distant tinselled stars,
To make from this desert a home,
And do our daily part
To keep the soldiers of Rome
From conquering our hearts.

All I can do is my best
To candle against the night --
To swear by each morning sun
That all of us come from light,
So it's all of us or none --
And to stand each day I live
For the rules that I yearly believe
When I bravely play at love
On the day after Christmas Eve.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Lulled by the mundane
we sleepwalk through gleaming knives
and think we're special

 Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cheer Up--It's Christmas - The 2011 Christmas Compilation

And I thought LAST year was tough.  

Outside of the michegas you might already know about, which needs no repeating, I’ve been fighting the sneezes and either an early attack of the Februaries (when the cold makes me curl up into a ball next to a picture of Diana Rigg) or a late attack of the Augusts (when the humidity makes me curl up into a ball next to an open refrigerator).

Plus there was the usual anxiety about actually having anything worth putting into a compilation. It’s the same thing every year. I turn around twice after Thanksgiving and it’s the middle of December, and I have a deadline with nothing but last year’s cast-off tunes to meet it, like the musical version of The Island Of Misfit Toys.  And yet every year, with maybe one or two hours a night of online tune-trolling (it’s a Christmas miracle!), my holiday cup overfloweth with musical cheer.

For this year’s mix, I decided to say screw it to the prescribed 80-minute CD length and just throw in everything that tickled my holiday fancy.  The only other requirement was finding an Australian carol, for obvious reasons.  And one which wasn't their annoying version of "Jingle Bells."  I thought the search would be extremely time-consuming, but, like waiting for a liberal politician to compromise his principles, it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would (cf. Track 22). 

The set list is below.  In addition to the antipodean, this year’s mix includes the sad and the wistful, the upbeat and the lonely, the silly and the sweet, the sexy and the French (but I repeat myself), and two instant classics (tracks 12 and 13).  Plus a chorus verse that makes the writer in me jealous (track 30).  Plus plus a Bonus Track because (like Russian novels) there must always be a Bonus Track.  The download links to the two zip files with all the songs are below the list.  If you want me to burn you the double-CD version, get back to me offline and it's a done deal.

Haddy Grimble, Randoobs.  And (in the words of Ms Spektor)  a Happy New Year to all that is living--to all that is gentle, kind, and forgiving . . .

01 Cheer Up (It's Christmas) - People On Vacation
02 It's Christmas Day - Family Force 5
03 A Little More Time With You - Greg Sczebe
04 Holiday (What Do You Want) - Mike Doughty (with Rosanne Cash)
05 Baby It's Christmas - Bananarama
06 Party Hard - Zach Gill
07 Lollie Holiday - Craig Wedren
08 Candy Cane - Caspar Babypants
09 I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas -  Kay Martin and her Bodyguards
10 I'll Be Home for Christmas - Tift Merritt
11 Dear Mrs Claus - The Barr Brothers
12 (Don't Call Me) Mrs. Christmas - Emmy The Great and Tim Wheeler
13 Who Needs Mistletoe - Julie Roberts
14 Christmas When You Were Mine - Taylor Swift
15 Christmas in London - Krista Detor
16 Christmas On Ward 7 - Chris Flew
17 Cinnamon & Chocolate - Butterfly Boucher
18 Little Drummer Boy - Nicole Atkins
19 Lonely This Christmas - KT Tunstall
20 I Lose a Little Bit of You - Jessie Torrisi
21 Maybe This Christmas - Leigh Nash
22 The Three Drovers - Chris Sporton
23 Christmas at the Trailer Park - Antsy Mcclain
24 The Cowboys' Christmas Ball - The Killers
25 X-mas Song - Fireflies
26 It's Almost Christmas - Chris Garneau
27 Kill a Tree For Christ - Celtic Elvis
28 Douce Nuit - Calogero and Zazie
29 Boom Boom - Maryse Letart
30 Hallelujah (Christmas Is Here) - Sunturns
31 Reset Holiday - Set Your Goals
32 Danse des Mirlitons - Xavier Cugat
33 Happy Holidays (Beef Wellington Remix) - Bing Crosby
34 What Are You Doing New Year's Eve (Mangini Vs. Pallin Mix) - Ella Fitzgerald
35 My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year) - Regina Spektor

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Winter nights are full
of human hearts like crickets
all chirping for love

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sonnet for Gary

Based on a line written by Carlos Fuentes.

Some people die so we can love them more
   Than we would love them if they were alive--
Death coffins up the flaws life can’t ignore,
   Loss weeds the bad to help the good survive;
Grief bleaches every stain, every disgrace;
   Time blizzards biting edges into curves
Until in death we happily embrace
   Somebody who in life got on our nerves,
Like you, my brother.  Every time we met,
   God, how I bit my tongue and rolled my eyes.
But now your death embraced by my regret
   Blinds me to what in life I did despise--
      And though your faults I never once forgave,
      I’ll keep your best alive beyond the grave.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Monday, December 5, 2011

When bad things happen to good friends: five thoughts

Neediness.  My response to tragedy is pretty consistent: I get grabbier than a lonely octopus.  This grabbiness totally ruined a relationship I was in when my mother passed away, and last year, when my brother died, it deluded me into thinking that someone was actually considering me as a destination and not a road.  (Cue Shaw’s final stage direction in Man and Superman, thank you very much.)  And the same weed is popping up all over the place now, continually sprouting afresh somewhere else whenever I yank it away by the roots.  Which makes it impossible to be around or in touch with anyone who might serve as a vessel for that neediness.  (Cue the final song from Bernstein’s Candide.)  

Condolences.  When something bad happens to a friend of mine, I feel more than a little dishonest and unworthy when people express their sorrow to me personally, as if it were a first-degree loss.  It’s not--it’s second-degree at best--and my initial reaction is to hand them a phone number or an e-mail address and say, “Here--get in touch with the person who really needs to hear what you just said.”  Which is the wrong reaction.  Because I am the person my friends see, and (because they are my friends) they see how I am affected (even when I don’t), the condolences are honest.  And yet, at the same time, they should never be taken personally, because that way leads to pride and vanity.  I cannot treat them as a crutch to lean on, but as a comforter, to pass on.

Support.  All true friendships are located on a seesaw which is poised between Sympathy and Advice.  ("Do you want me to just listen, or do you want to hear what I think?")  Tragedy changes those two drop points to Dwelling and Escaping--or (since I’ve been harping on this for  a while now and it totally fits) Destination and Road.  (“Do you want me to dwell, or do you want to go somewhere else?”)

Reflection.  Which is my personal (yup) destination, and since it shares its Zip Code with Wallowing, I have to be very careful about how long I stay there.  If it results in an activity, then I’m okay.  But if it doesn’t, then it’s like quicksand.

Perspective.  There are very few personal life-or-death issues that don’t become trivial when confronted by real tragedy.  One does not realize how often one indulges in the sweet self-delusion that this or that feeling or desire is all-important, until one is  either sideswiped or head-on’d by Life in all its senselessness.  Which at one and the same time reaffirms how unimportant mortal concerns are, and galvanizes every concerned mortal soul into a response that can affirm the opposite.  With the right perspective, quicksand becomes dishwater, weeds wither into dust, and that which is truly important--the community of mortality--takes precedence over everything trivial, and points us (if I can be allowed to paraphrase myself) down a road to the only destination that matters:

All we can do is our best
To candle against the night --
To swear by each morning sun
That all of us come from light,
So it's all of us or none.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fun facts: Spencer Tracy Edition

Middle name: Bonaventure.  Now THERE'S a trivia question.

And according to IMDB:

Tracy was offered the role of The Penguin in the TV series "Batman" (1966) before Burgess Meredith. He said he would only accept the role if he was allowed to kill Batman.

How awesome would THAT have been?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thought for the day: the glamorous on being glamorous

"Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." -- Hedy Lamarr

Sunday, November 27, 2011


for Michal Friedman

We think of lives as being interrupted
But when they end, they end.
There’s nothing more
To them but might-have-beens and fantasy--
Even though, whenever the great trap door
Opens, and the pure and guiltless fall away from this corrupted
Stage, the surviving actors will always pretend
The scene is not a hideous pointless travesty
By pointing out a purpose or design
That comforts and completes a broken line.

Except there is no broken.
The line is the line: the way
It always was and always will be meant--
And those whom Life has sent
To travel with us only stay
At Life’s pleasure, not theirs or ours--
And no matter how many promises are spoken,
Only two will ever be kept:
We will wake when we have slept
Until we are all plucked like flowers.

Except there is no plucking,
Is there? No hand that reaches down from above
To break away the blossom while it still has life.
The truth is, every different way
You can think of this is just another way of ducking
The one thing no one wants to say:
Life does not care.
This is how things are. Somebody’s wife
Can vanish like that, no matter how much love
She and her husband feel, no matter how many plans they share,
And he will be left alone trying to find release from some hidden rhyme
In wordless wailing down through meaningless time.

Except there is no release,
Not even in dreams of delicate golden time machines
To take him back through their shared years
To a moment of peace
Where he can pinpoint where it all went wrong,
So he can say “Don’t do that now!” or “This will end in tears!”
But no one can add a single verse to a finished song
Even though this means
A lifetime of going to bed every night
Wondering what sin
Made you unworthy in God’s sight--
A lifetime of hoping tomorrow you'll wake up from what sadly was
Into a world where emptiness becomes the might-have-been,
And die a little every time it never does--

For even though nothing is broken, there will still be a scar
Because that, too, is the way things always are.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Day 2011

Thanks, Maddy and Ben, for a dinner that couldn't be beat.

Unlike Occu-Pig the pinata . . .

Monday, November 21, 2011

Songs for A Tuesday Morning: the day we give thanks . . .

Ah, Thanksgiving--the day we give thanks that we no longer live with our parents.  Not as musical a holiday as Christmas, because songs about becoming your parents are a rarity. Unless you're Loudon Wainwright III:


And of course the one performance everyone should listen to on Thanksgiving, because, like a good Thanksgiving dinner, it can't be beat:

Alice's Restaurant

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Here’s how knowing too much about recorded history can totally mind-copulate you when you’re watching Hollywood history.  

In the opening five minutes of Anonymous, a guy with a parcel is chased to the Globe Theatre by soldiers, who set fire to the place in order to drive him out of hiding.  So I see this and think, “Okay, I know where I am now--this is the Globe fire, which happened in 1613.”  A few minutes later, there’s a flashback which says “Five years ago.”  Which to me means 1608.  But.  Elizabeth is still Queen, which means we’re still somewhere before 1603, when she died.  And. Essex hasn’t rebelled yet, so we’re somewhere before February of 1601, when he was executed.  And.  We’re in the Rose Theatre with, among others, Christopher Marlowe in the audience, so this is actually taking place somewhere before May 1593, which is when Marlowe was killed in Deptford--and which is when I start laughing so loud the people around me start shushing me.  All while my poor brain is going: “Why are you copulating with me, Hollywood?”

HOLLYWOOD:  Because that’s what I do.
MY BRAIN:  Oh--right--how silly of me to have forgotten.  So where the intercourse are we?

Honest answer?  In hell, if you know anything about Elizabethan theatre.  Or Elizabethan history.  The movie is ostensibly about how Shakespeare didn't write a thing, he was just the beard for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), a theory first proposed by a fellow named Thomas Looney.  (Heh.)  In the film, Oxford writes Midsummer Night's Dream when he's 11 (which makes him the theatrical equivalent of Mozart), has an affair with Queen Elizabeth when he's 18 or so, and somewhere between 1593 and 1604 (when the real DeVere dies), decides that since words have power, he will determine who succeeds Elizabeth as ruler of England by having his plays performed in front of the London mob, which will then do whatever he wants them to do.  Or something.  Frankly, the plot goes back and forth in time so often that the really ridiculous stuff, like the fact that Queen Elizabeth spends half her reign littering the English countryside with her bastard sons, is actually entertaining, in a Lizzy Does Dallas kind of way.  And there's something to be said for compressing the events of ten or fifteen years into five years of screen time; God knows Shakespeare did it all the time.  Or--excuse me--whoever wrote Shakespeare did it all the time.

But watching the movie is killing me; by the end of it, I'm lying on the theatre floor like some scholarly version of Colonel Kurtz, only instead of muttering "The horror! The horror!" I'm moaning "The details! The details!"  There are bare floors everywhere, which is totally wrong--floors in Elizabethan London were either covered with rugs, or covered with rushes.  Nobles did not sit in box seats while watching plays; nobles sat on stools at either side of the stage.  Julius Caesar was never done at The Rose, it was done at The Globe, and it sure as hell wasn’t done with Marlowe in the audience.  Essex wears red when he’s executed.  (Wrong--he famously wore black.  Like Hamlet.)  Richard III is performed before the Essex Rebellion, instead of Richard II.  And nobody--NOBODY--alive in the whatever copulating year we’re talking about between 1593 and 1616 would EVER react to the sight of Richard on stage with a shocked expression and the words: “He’s playing him . . . as a HUNCHBACK.”

ME: [yelling at the screen]  Of course he’s being played a hunchback; he WAS a hunchback!
THEATRE AUDIENCE:  Please--this is a movie, it’s not history.  It’s real, okay?
ME:  God help me.

But that's still not the funniest line.  The funniest line is when de Vere's wife walks in on him while he's scribbling blank verse in his study and looks at him with a shocked and mortally offended expression on her face and says:

DE VERE'S WIFE:  My God!  You're . . . WRITING again.

-- in just the same tone of voice that a strait-laced mother would use when finding her son in the bathroom with a copy of Playboy.  Now THAT'S comedy!

One thing the movie does get right?  Ink stains.  I've always thought that Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson, all had ink stains on their writing hands.  This is not an age when soap was either in common use or sufficiently strong enough to remove stains.  The fact that De Vere has a heavily ink stained writing hand, and that Shakespeare, to prove himself a writer, dips his fingers in ink before appearing in public, is a clever touch.

But one clever touch is like a single pure couplet in a poem where nothing else comes close to rhyming.  The film is a hilarious mess, and ridiculous long before (wait for it) royal incest rears its ridiculous head.  Never more so than when it deals with the subject of writing.  Bad enough that the De Vere authorship theory says that plays are actually poems which are written in the study, and only incidentally performed on the stage.  Bad enough that, as a major plot point, the act of writing is looked on as something ten times worse than, say, littering the English countryside with Tudor bastards.  In true Hollywood fashion, this film shows total contempt for writers and the written word, just like the de Vere authorship theory shows total contempt for the very idea that an actor with a grammar school education could write something like King Lear. Thankfully, in true Hollywood fashion, the movie itself is a copulating mess.

And by the way.  The next time time somebody says "No manuscript copy of Shakespeare's plays has ever come down to us," just say "No manuscript copy of Dante's Inferno has ever come down to us," or "No manuscript copy of Moby Dick has ever come down to us either." 

Or just show them this:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thought for the day--writer's edition

"Knowing isn’t my profession. Not knowing is.”

-- Krzysztof Kieslowski

Songs for a Tuesday Morning: Loco motion is the way he moves

I've been pondering the whole road/destination thing for the last month (People are either roads or destinations.  Discuss.), and have found some musical support for the road side of the argument--as long as that argument centers on how men like to treat women the way trains treat stations--by (you should pardon the expression) rolling in periodically and then (you should pardon the expression) pulling out.

Here are two songs that make the case for the prosecution, and one that makes the case for travel by foot.  The first is from Rosanne Cash, and as you'd expect, it's all country.

My Baby Thinks He's A Train

And on the jump blues side of the dance hall, what does Rosetta Howard have to say? Rosetta honey, what do you think men are like?

Men Are Like Streetcars

We'll leave Rosanne with the final word here, which is simply this: men may be trains, but God help you if you ever climb aboard one of them.  (Confession:  I adore this song.  Every time I hear the steel guitar and the drums come in at the start of the third verse, I get chills.)

Runaway Train

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thought for the day

Q:  Why you should you always marry a man who has an earring?

A:  Because he has bought jewelry and felt pain.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thought for the day

You can't set fire to ashes
but we all keep trying anyway
because that's where the fire used to burn.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Monday, November 7, 2011

A funny sense of fun

As Lawrence blows out the match, and we slam cut to a Saudi sunrise, and then the music swells in the crossfade to two tiny riders on camels in the immensity of the desert, my companion for the evening, who was seeing Lawrence of Arabia for the very first time (as opposed to the slightly first time), turned to me with her eyes wide and a look of WTF on her face and whispered, “Is that REAL?”

ME: Meaning did they actually film that in Arabia?
SHE: Yes.
ME: Oh yes, it’s real.
SHE: No special effects?
ME: None.
ME: Nope.
SHE: Oh my GOD!
THE GUY IN FRONT OF US: Will you two shut up?
ME: Give her a break--she’s seeing the movie for the first time.
THE GUY IN FRONT OF US: Ah! In that case, don’t forget to tell her the Noel Coward story.
THE GUY BEHIND US: And the "Clever lad!" story.

Point being, I guess, that in these days of modern times, we automatically see a movie screen full of thousands of extras and automatically assume that they were computer-generated, instead of Moroccan soldiers dressed up in costume.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

If She Must Love You Back, It Is Not Love

You cannot force her hand into your glove--
No matter who your aching heart adores,
If she must love you back, it is not love.

Push is the proper answer to a shove.
Her fingers have to want to reach for yours--
You cannot force her hand into your glove.

Demands never draw gods down from above--
It matters not how much your need implores:
If he must love you back, it is not love.

You make a prison when you cage a dove;
She has to wish to build a nest indoors.
You cannot force her hand into your glove.

No matter whose sweet kiss you’re dreaming of,
Constraint will not make his lips lock with yours:
If he must love you back, it is not love.

Some inner voice may cry “She wants you, guv!”
But shouting “Let me in!” won’t open doors:
You cannot force her hand into your glove;
If she must love you back, it is not love.

WRITTEN: 11/6/11, 12:15 - 1:30PM
BARTENDER: Lisa Seabury

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Friday, November 4, 2011

Seat 50-D

There was an empty seat right next to mine
   On the plane home, and all throughout the flight
I wondered: was it random?  Or a sign?
   And if a sign, of something wrong or right?
Was it there to tell me I am alone
   And always will be, wherever I go?
A waiting nest?  Or some bird that had flown?
   Just what I need?  Or what I’ll never know?
I think it was a test of character--
   This world’s the echo of an inner voice
That whispers what we secretly prefer:
   To hope or blame, to sulk or else rejoice.
      For what we choose, we will see everywhere:
      The empty hollow, or the waiting chair.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I remember you the way that I
Remember a bad movie that I saw
Back in the Eighties. 

Everything’s vanished
Except the best lines, one or two good scenes,
And the love theme that played under it all.

The actors tried their best, but when they got
Together, it looked like they were in two
Different movies.

And when it finally ended,
Everyone said, “Huh? That’s IT? What a gyp!”
And didn’t even stay to see the credits.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Songs for a Tuesday Morning Afternoon: If you were here, I'd only bleed you

When their first album came out, people referred to it as MUTTER or MUMBLE because the lyrics were so unintelligible that the songs sounded like a side project of the Cocteau Twins.  But their sound got--shall we say brasher?--over the years, an evolution you can clearly see between their IRS releases and their Warner releases.  The IRS REM has a small club sound that occasionally erupts into something that shakes the walls; the Warners REM has an arena sound that occasionally gets very quiet and intimate.

Side note: Rolling Stone voted Murmur Best Album in 1983, over Thriller and Synchronicity.  I'm guessing that you, like me, are trying to remember the last time you listened to Murmur all the way through, and knowing that it was a lot longer than the last time you heard a song from Thriller or Synchronicity . . . .

Shiny Happy People

Losing My Religion

(Don't go back to) Rockville

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Songs for a Tuesday Morning - Utter Nonsense

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when parents listened in to what their teenage sons and daughters were singing along to on their Japanese-made transistor radios. Imagine their approval of The Beatles (they wanted to hold your hand). Imagine their fear of The Rolling Stones (they wanted to knock up your daughter). Imagine their utter inability to understand the lyrics, never mind the appeal, of the Rivingtons' two mid-level R&B hits that were swiped by The Trashmen and turned into the #4 1963 hit "Surfin' Bird." Imagine these fortyish souls saying to themselves, "What total verbal nonsense!" And then imagine how easy it must have been for these ex-youngsters to forget that in their day they were doing the Lindy Hop to "Mairzy Doats."

Papa Oom-Mow-Mow 

Mama Oom-Mow-Mow

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thought for the day

"Strong women don't have a problem with 
authority.  Strong women have a problem with 

  --MJ Wells

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lines from a late-night cellphone text

We do so many horrid things on earth
the moon can only look at us full on
one day a month

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells but damned if I remember writing it

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's midnight, and I know you're not alone

It’s midnight, and I know you’re not alone.
   Someone is touching you, stroking your cheek.
You lean into his hand, and with a moan,
   You say three words I’ll never hear you speak.
And what his lips will give then is a kiss
   My lips have only dreamed of giving to you;
And what your eyes will say, he will not miss,
   For his eyes listen as they see right through you
While mine are here, looking at what will be
   And choking on it, like a broken pill:
A door that swings shut between you and me
   So it can open up to him at will,
     As you do now, when through that door you go
     To share a room that I will never know.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Friday, September 23, 2011

You can take us out of the city . . .

We all live one month’s rent beyond our means
   To order specials from the city’s menu.
When subways shut down, we’ll walk home to Queens.
   NYC’s not an address--it’s a venue.
We never stroll when we can dart or lunge;
   We move too fast to see our own reflection.
Our sidewalks soak up rainfall like a sponge
   And then make oceans at each intersection.
You’ll find the sound of traffic never stops;
   We locals all count taxis to relax.
Live here a month and you will earn the chops
   To play our streets like Parker played the sax.
      Prouder than Paris, confident as Rome:
      Manhattan’s what a special breed calls home.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Your sweet hands reach
Into the empty pocket of my heart
And leave a stone.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fat Tuesday

I had dinner with my future last night.
“You’ve lost weight,” I said.
“You used to be as wide as a freeway
With exits leading everywhere.
Now you’re so thin,
If you wore black, stood sideways,
And stuck your tongue out,
People would think you were a zipper.”

“If I’m thin,” my future said,
“It’s because you’re not feeding me enough.”

Then he hailed a cab,
Drove off to a midnight rendezvous
With my dreams, and left me
To share a cup of coffee with my past.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Sometimes I wonder what I see in you.
   You never give except for your own gain.
You rarely do the things you swear you’ll do.
   Your inconsistency drives me insane.
You lay the law down like a traffic cop,
   And then wave favorites through against the lights--
Swear up and down that bias has to stop,
   Then make exceptions for connected whites.
The rules mean what you say they mean, and we,
  Who follow them, get nothing but your scorn,
While you proclaim impartiality
  And then bend over for the better born--
     Upholding principles that can’t be bought,
     Then whoring them to power on the spot.

Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 Poems

Ten years ago I was sending out monthly poetry mailings called The Hundreds to a circle of friends. There were three to five poems in each mailing, one of which was always the latest canto in “2001: An Ottava Rima Odyssey,” which chronicled my personal life with what I hoped was a certain Byronic wit, given the form I was using.

There would have been twelve Cantos, but there ended up only being eight--heh; just as unfinished as Byron’s Don Juan, now that I think of it. And there were only eight because of September 11th. I stopped sending the mailings out after September, and the mailing I sent out at the end of September consisted of two poems, one called “Climbing Up Lombard,” which I’ll post at the end of the week, and one called “September 11, 2001,” which is below.

I won’t say much about it, except to admit that it was deliberately written to echo WH Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” which I used to have memorized before the details of my day job pushed that part of my memory into the recycle bin. It was written primarily at the upstairs bar of the Cedar Tavern (the “bar on University Place” of the first stanza). I sent it out to several magazines but it was either rejected or I never heard back, and if I had been blessed with a marketer’s brain rather than a writer’s brain, I would have sent it out a couple of months ago to a few places in expectation of this week’s anniversary. But I didn’t. So here it is.

September 11, 2001

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn:
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
--W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the bars
On University Place
Uncertain and afraid
As the new millennium’s hope
Is buried without a trace
In a heap of mangled steel --
And I wonder how we can stand
When the earth beneath our feet
Hums like a tightrope wire
And the soot of a thousand lives
Offends the September air.

My pen droops from my hand;
The only thing I can write
Is an echo of Auden’s poem
Of 9/1/39,
The one where he hated the line
“We must love one another or die,”
And changed the “or” to “and”
So his wrinkled husk could deny
The ardour of his youth
With a retroactive lie
And a palatable truth.

The truth I see on my face
Is the look of a shipwrecked soul --
The eyes of a homeless man
Who trusted and was thrown
Down to uncaring streets
By a cold intractable God
Who calls for a pharmakos
To suffer and to die,
So that the rest of us
Can walk past life’s defeats
With an averted eye.

But I cannot look away.
I search for God in the sky
And see a pillar of smoke
That marks our common grave --
Where death is unverified,
Where innocence is a joke
And sleep comes only in fits
Like a seizure between the sheets,
And hopes choke one by one,
Charred leaves that plummet and spin
To earth in the autumn sun.

The world can parse the Koran
Till Armageddon comes
Or catalogue affronts
From Sykes-Picot on down
That led to this offense
And still be blind to the why:
No matter what the cause,
A man who is in the wrong
Will always reach for the rod,
And the righteous will rejoice
To kill in the name of God.

In the face of such belief,
Our patriotic priests
Will clutch the lectern and say
Even Christ would not forgive
This impious infamy;
For God, who does not live
Within one flag alone,
Will surely advocate ours
When we rise up and fight
To avenge the death of our own
Because we are in the right.

And those of us who question
Or talk of common bonds
Or say we had it coming
Will wear the mark of Cain
Till we chant the required truth:
No one is better than us
And no one has been more wronged,
So we all must stand behind
A man who is for the birds,
And say that he speaks for us
When he barely knows the words.

When leaders do not inspire,
Where can we put our faith
To match man’s faith in God?
To trust that the human race
Is better than its worst
Is to wander in a wood
Where outlaws use the weak
As kindling for their fire,
And prepare an unmarked grave
For all who cross their path:
The luckless as well as the brave.

But I have to believe there exists
Some hidden higher power
Whose purpose I cannot see --
Some virtue in the blood
Of the common hurting heart
That drives humanity.
And whether it wears a face
Or comes down from the clouds
Or studies our flaws from space
Or commands us from the fire,
It is something bigger than us.

I bow my head to pray
And I’m begging under my breath
The way I ask for love
When I think life owes me one
Or I’m desperate to death.
It’s not the ask, it’s the act
That determines the return:
Whether Allah or Elohim,
We get the god we deserve
As long as we treat each other
Like the butcher treats the lamb.

And what I fear the most
Is that what gags us now
Will soon be swallowed whole
Down throats too raw to scream.
We will return to rote
And sleep the sleep of forget
And ignore the threat of loss
And barely acknowledge the wife
And give her the usual kiss
And watch the weekly game
And deal with even this.

This bar will be packed tonight
With voices like battering rams,
With nameless fears assuaged
And troublesome answers bought
By the pitcher or the glass
Until the brain has been gouged
Of abominable fire
And human ticker tape,
And a man can face last call
Where the broken promenade
Meets the stench of the rat in the wall.

I pay for my beers and leave
And hit the empty streets
Where soldiers and police
Control pedestrian flow.
In the distance a siren grieves
But its cry brings no release --
I yearn for someone to hold,
To stop the ticking clock
That counts the minutes of
A world that is dire and bleak
And dressed in the rags of love,

And I think of the ancient Greeks
Who invented tragedy
By pitting a mortal against
His morals and his gods
To create his destiny:
How suffering scales the soul
And every choice means loss,
So the question then becomes
Whether a man will be great
When he hears the hollow drums
That summon him to his fate.

And where are we called now,
I wonder as I walk
Down a street blocked off from cars
To Union Square and the park
Where bullhorns compete with guitars
And the hush drowns out it all;
Where little girls kneel down
While their parents, strong and tall,
Crouch over them like a shield
With their hands upon their heads
As if dismay can be healed.

In the park there are endless signs
With slogans affirming stands
And stands with scrapbook shots,
And candles that flicker and glow
Like an army of shooting stars,
Arrayed against the might
Of despair and the unforeknown,
Confronting each daily lie
With honesty’s true kiss
And the irreplaceable light
That flares from our common soul.

Drowning in deep unease,
At the crossroads where belief
Collides with necessity --
Where the way of the righteous sword
And immediate relief
Meets the precipice of peace --
With our innocence in tatters
And poisoned with hate and grief,
We search for the perfect word
That will keep the foolish wise
And a dream from being shattered.

Out of a sleepless bed,
Into a dreamless day,
We stagger towards our fate
Like children who have no say;
And every step we take
And all that we think we know
Mean nothing unless we try
To bare our hearts and see
The world as lovers do:
If you’ll be true to me
Then I’ll be true to you.

Under that heavy charge
Down the hard road of love,
Where every blatant lie
Confirms a hidden truth,
It is how we walk that counts
As we stumble through this gorge
Of panic and despair
In search of higher ground:
The weak to teach the strong,
The strong protect the weak,
The lost to find their way,
And all the silent speak.

* * * * *

This was written in San Francisco in late September 2001, during my 15 minutes of fame, when Schrödinger’s Girlfriend was going into rehearsals at the Magic Theatre.

Again, not much to say about it, except that, in the echo of 9/11, it was impossible not to feel the thinness of the earth’s crust beneath my feet wherever I walked. And I walked everywhere.

Climbing Up Lombard

Climbing up Lombard--
watching the fog eat up the Golden Gate
and auto headlights vanish in a thick

mist like the smoke of a huge fire, marching
down from a world of battle to a shore
where seagulls preen and children skim flat stones--

the land clouds curl with the south wind. And in
my nose I smell asbestos, steel, the harsh
unmentionable odor of decay,

the smelling salts of devastation, which
once sniffed will always linger in the air
and wake you coughing from unconsciousness

even out here, in this determined city
which sits precariously on a fault,
balanced like a thin tabletop upon

the twin pillars of hope and ignorance.
This world is treacherous and sly--without
a moment's notice it can open up

and gulp us down, leaving no trace behind.
No matter where we go, we are such stuff
as meals are made on, and what we call life

is nothing but a brief and fog-bound loan
which will be called in when the only way
we can pay up is with all that we are

and all we build upon this shifting ground,
as one by one we march on through the mist,
mindful of where we have to step to keep

climbing up Lombard.

Copyright 2001 Matthew J Wells