Death of a Poet on a Bad News Day


on the death of Deborah Digges


Today, on a slow news day in the Globe obituary column, she is a suicide. Someone I met less than a week ago, fumbling through an introduction at a poetry reading, saying good things, perhaps heartfelt as it was a patchwork of articles pulled from the net. She was older than her picture but still as I saw her in person, nervous watery eyes, good smile and troubled but then I have known so many troubled women. Eyes glazed over, nervous talk plagued by illness, both real and imaginary, troubled by the streets, the sounds of a world that wouldn’t let go. She was gracious and, as someone had quoted her as saying, “good at poetry and sex.” I would add that she was kind, and made an effort to welcome me to Tufts, made me at home with delicate, well-chosen words and sat there throughout the reading. I thanked her, we shook hands and a few days later, unable to live in the world, left it before the end of Poetry Month, before I had a chance to ask her to sign her book or the Introduction she had forgotten to remove from the pages of my reading copy. Deborah, it was good meeting you. Thank you for introducing me, for writing poems, for being you.



Louis Auchincloss: A Tribute


In the 1950s a young Negro boy named Samuel Cornish was cutting high school classes, avoiding the bullies and girls who lurked in the halls and blew spitballs at him in the classrooms. Instead, he haunted Baltimore’s downtown -- the dusty used bookstores, drug stores and soda fountains. Sometime during the middle of the week the new paperbacks would be on the racks and there, one afternoon or was it evening, I discovered Louis Auchincloss; A Law for the Lion in a twenty-five cent Signet paperback. His smooth, elegant prose, those ladies and gentlemen with the long sentences that made an art of conversation were an introduction to a world museums, brownstones boarding school and private clubs and what was called then the drawing room (and I read on, searching for a room made of charcoal and pencils). He opened doors into the lives of bankers, lawyers, and the upper classes that saw themselves as the true minority. Indeed, we were Negroes then; black was an insult and “minority” had nothing to do with race or the ethnic poor. These fables and fictions held me from cover to cover. The pages turned themselves. Mr Auchincloss working weekdays writing (worker harder) fictions and essays on the weekends was a friend and teacher on the pages. He taught me that the ‘universal’ was good writing about what the writer knew best. My friends, with the exception of Melvin Bumbray, thought this world was remote -- a world of white ladies and gentlemen and ladies. For me, however entering the homes sitting in the living rooms of my Negro neighbors and friends was not possible being poor and unwelcome and in worn clothing often patched and dirty as well. They were strangers that had turned their backs on those of us without fathers and living on welfare. Auchincloss was the other American story and wrote about from the Winthrops through the 1990s and today in the 21st century, he was still telling his story and mine. He was the link to Henry James and Edith Wharton and of course John P. Marquand. He opened doors to language, manners, class and what a man of letters can and should be. Thank you, Louis Auchincloss, my life has been better because of you. May I write about my life and experience as well as you did your own.




Mr. Butch has clothes for sleep

His home is on foot

Blocks miles long

Mr. Butch talking to you

Like it’s himself

Give him some change

And he will spare you some

Of his time   Mr. Butch talks

To sunshine all alone in the city streets

Thirsty in parking lots

He’s got a lot to say

He’s taking the world

Into his head  my Mr. Butch

Is dead  he’s in the newspaper

Phone calls talkin' today

Mr. Butch was here

Mr. Butch ain’t homeless

He lived there

And now he’s gone




He’s gone

To dirt

And yesterday

Lord Jesus



Reach out

With a jug of

Italian Swiss cheap

and sweet

Kale steamed

Fresh from the pot

Chicken wings


With Tobasco


He liked it

Like that

Do a mashed potato

He was old


To remember that Negro



A scratch ticket

Some last

Good luck

Cuz I like it like that




For James Sock after one more midnight


This is about


A white


Like you

a jazz




me and you

One night

after the club

Shuts down

the last call

The drunks

let out

Into the cold


The after hours


This is about

a guy

A white jazz


Playing with


And that’s




On the drums

the bass

And he is going


In the

late hours

When  Old Blue Eyes  croons



the wee hours

Before the milk


Its after two

almost three

Into the morning

this is a man

Taking the

last long walk

To a house a dog

some kids

And a fence

and the cops

Are looking

for a man

In the night

and he is the man

Been wrong

a jazz man

Ornery like me

like you

And it quarter

to three

This is about

a guy and you

And me 

doing it a quarter

To three and no one else

but you

And me