Richard Greene



Internet Ambivalence

When I seek enlightenment

I pray to the great god Google

and sapience descends on me

like Saint Elmo’s fire.


But knowledge was the original sin,

so what is it I’m taking in

with electronic edification?

Am I wasting my life

surfing the web

in a sort of cybernetic endless summer?

Am I becoming obese

with information overload?

Have I put my head in a cloud?

What would Dr. Faust have said?


Beauty and Truth

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

                     Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn


Though the beautiful can be true.
and the true beautiful,
truth is often ugly
and beauty often blinds us to the truth.
Life isn’t as simple
as we’d like it to be.



The Ficus

The ficus in our dining room,

once scraggly and forlorn,

is sprouting new leaves

I noticed when I opened the shades

this morning.

We acquired it nineteen years ago

with the house we moved into that year.

The former owners told us

a friend would come to pick it up,

but no one did.

We nursed it back to health

watering it weekly

fertilizing it twice a year

adding fresh soil 

moving it to successively larger pots 

till now it occupies a large glazed one

with an old Chinese look

like something from a courtyard

in the Forbidden City.

We took it with us on two moves

fussily supervising its loading 

to the resigned annoyance of the moving men.

We did all this

not because it was beautiful

but because it was homely and left behind.



I remember the weddings,

remember them all.


My cousin Sue and her high school sweetheart

on leave from the Air Corps 

in ‘44

First time I got high.

I was thirteen.

It was champagne,

at the Beverly Hills Hotel.


Brother Jeffrey and his Italian-American bride

with her large clan 

at a country club in Pacific Heights.


Live orchestra.

Adults dancing with children

into the wee hours.


Brother Michael and Alice

at her parents’ home

on a hill overlooking Boise.

Guys with long hair and wire rim glasses.

The sky still light at ten o’clock

on that far western edge of the time zone.

My daughter, four, 

in her long white dress with strawberries

glowing in the twilight.


Brother David and Elaine

in their adobe in Santa Fe

Elaine and her sisters

dancing sinuously while lip syncing to 

“You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,”

and my son, about eleven, dancing up a storm.


Sister Deborah and Rob

in wine country

in an old Victorian hotel

their friend singing in a sweet tenor

“Makin' Whoopee.”


I remember others.

Those were just a few.

Three of them ended in divorce.



A Few Weeks in June

The seventeen year cicadas are back

sounding off like steel drum bands,

celebrating their freedom

after seventeen years under ground,

seventeen sexless years.

Were I a cicada I’d bust out long before,

have a night on the town.

Not only are they locked up without parole,

when they get out 

they don’t get a bus ticket and fifty bucks

but predators waiting at the gate

and the only ones that really go free

are the ones the predators don’t eat.

Then they get just a few weeks

and the males die right after they mate.

(I might too if I hadn’t been laid in seventeen years.)

O cicada, yours is not a gentle fate,

but who ever said that life was fair?



The rabbit whose burrow

is in the bushes 

in front of our house

shows no fear of me.

It no longer flees 

when I come suddenly

out the front door.

It no longer freezes

when I turn in from the street

fixing me 

with one large, lustrous, all-pupil eye.

It no longer even stops nibbling the grass

when I walk past.

It has confidence I won’t pounce.

It thinks that I’m domesticated.




You were born in France

and wild they say.

No, feral, wilder yet.

I didn’t think to ask how they lured you inside.

Milk perhaps,

the feline’s wine.

But you were too secure in yourself

to pass up free meals 

and so moved in.

Then one day 

they came back to America

and brought you with them

Born a chat you became a cat.

Did you miss your French terroir?

Do the mice speak a different language here?

No matter.  You made yourself at home.

Now you wear a collar

and sit in the sun 

in the catnip

planted just for you

and bring your masters—

pardon me, hosts—

birds, and mice and chipmunks

as any polite guest would do.

They react strangely

almost as if repelled.

Do they not like

French cuisine?


To Everything a Season

Spring, summer, autumn, winter,

eighty-two times I’ve lived that cycle,

for my year began in spring

born with the flowers 

and leaves and grass.


Spring, summer, autumn, winter,

always the same yet always fresh.

Pity him who tires of the seasons.

He tires of life.


 Homage to the Egg

I don’t know why lay an egg

is a pejorative expression.

What could be more perfect

than those gentle spheroids

in their softly glowing white,

subtle brown, blue and other hues

amiably speckled or plain?

Surely when UFOs are found,

evidence of civilizations more advanced than ours,

they’ll be shaped not like saucers but eggs.


About Love

When we say love

we mean many things

some similar

some almost contradictory.

There’s Christian love and concupiscent,

sibling, parent-child,

puppy, platonic,

love of friends,

of pieces of music, movies, pets, money,


This list is not exhaustive.


So men sometimes say they love 

when what they really mean

is that they want sex.

Young people ask

whether they’ll ever fall in love

when they already have.

A little later they say

I’ll love you forever

when what they really mean is

maybe a few years,

though they don’t know that yet.


No wonder we’re confused.



For They Shall Inherit


There was a red fox on our front walk today,

sitting there like the sphinx

or one of those lions in front of the New York Public Library,

calmly licking its paws as if it had just finished an ice cream cone,

looking around with what seemed curiosity

rather than wariness,

calm as if in its own living room.


The animals are getting less and less wary of humans,

the deer, the moose, the bears and,

oh yes, the rabbit that nibbles clover on our lawn

and doesn’t hop off hastily

when we come out the front door.


What’ll it be next?

Deer nuzzling us for a handout as we plant our gardens?

Rabbits hopping into the kitchen to share our salad?

Have we lost our credibility?



Northampton Meadows, 1864


I have a postcard of a painting

from a century and a half ago

of a landscape I can almost see from our window.

It could be a landscape by Poussin,

for another “Shepherds of Arcadia”;

meadows, copses, hedgerows,

a tranquil river meandering,

and, in the background,

low but dramatic mountains.

Now the meadows are cluttered

with commerce and cars,

strip malls,

parking lots,

boxy buildings,

fast food restaurants,

dropped down on the landscape

no matter how.

But on my desk is that view

of the scene before progress came,

and I look upon it as one might

on a photo of a love who has died

or taken up with someone else.


Late August Is Here


Pleasant days

cool nights

the way we’d like it to always be.

However I still feel a sense of loss

an end to summer fun

as if I’ll soon be back in school again

even though I’m eighty-one.





As a child I spent my summers

with a crew of cousins

at my grandfather’s house

on a lake in Michigan

where we passed much of our time swimming

and trooping into town for ice cream, or movies.

Horror films were a favorite,

Igor pouring molten metal on us,

in three dimensions,

from the tower of Dr. Frankenstein’s house

(which for many years

made Victorian houses synonymous in my mind

       with horror),

the Incredible Shrinking Man

fleeing a housecat bigger than a rhinoceros,

rubber dinosaurs

rampaging through The Lost World.

The youngest of the gang

I took all this seriously

peering out from between my fingers

through much of the show

clamping them shut when the going got too scary.


Then there was the amusement park

only 12 miles away

(which at the time seemed far to me

as if distance stretched

in inverse proportion to one’s size),

the fun house

with its whimsical mirrors

and the forced laughter

reverberating from its loudspeakers,

the papier-mâché monsters in the house of horrors

exciting more hilarity than terror,

and a large flat cylinder of a ride

that rotated so fast

you could hang on its inner side

defying gravity,

a sensation that visited me in my dreams.


The cousins with whom I spent those summers

almost three quarters of a century ago

are still young in my mind

splashing into the lake,

filing into the little theaters

in Coloma and Watervliet

or heading out rowdily for that amusement park.



To Everything Its Season


Through the open window next to my desk

this summer day I hear

the voice of our young neighbor naming things.

“Daw” he shouts, full blast.

“Yes, dog” his mother says.

“Daw” he shouts again.

Then “tee.”

“Yes, tree” his mother says.

It was only a month or two ago,

after long seeing him carried from house to car and back

(no light-weight he),

one fine spring day I saw him totter down the walk.

Now, merely a few weeks later,

he not only walks the walk

he talks the talk.





to the sound in a seashell

of blood

rushing through your inner ear,

the sound of streams

rustling over stones,

to waves

pulsing against the shore.



to a chorus of crickets

filling the quiet of the night,

the boom and racket and chirp of frogs,

a lone owl hooting,

the twitter of early morning birds,

the coocooroo of mourning doves,

the clamor of crows,

geese announcing autumn overhead,

the quiet clucking of hens,

a rooster’s fanfare for the sun.



to the sound of wind

soughing through the trees,

the patter of rain on a roof

or its voluminous tattoo.



to the sounds suffusing silence.





My grandmother

was ignorant, superstitious, opinionated

and full of odium.

Half old world, half new

she believed nuns were bad luck

like black cats

and was fond of describing people’s clothing

as looking like it came out of a cow’s behind.


She didn’t like girl children

and was hard on her daughter and granddaughter

but indulgent toward my brother and me,

pushing food at us

without asking my mother or sister

if they wanted more,

making special dishes for us,

and remarkably tolerant

of our shortcomings,

though she did turn dour

after she found a photograph of a nude

in my dresser, under the socks,

when I was 13.

She didn’t say anything about it,

but it disappeared,

and she gave me grim looks

every time our paths crossed

for the next few days.


She was five feet tall

and called herself “peanut granny,”

for she had a sense of humor

along with her paranoia and scorn.


She was married twice, and,

not surprisingly,

twice divorced,

and didn’t have much education,

but she made her way in business 

and took care of herself

without anybody’s help,

even giving my mother

a nice sum of money toward a house.


Then she suffered a stroke.

When I visited her in the nursing home

she still recognized me

but called my baby daughter Helen,


which was my mother’s name.





I heard a boy crying across the street

and went to the window to see why.

I was about to go out to try to help

when his mother came and picked him up

he three quarters of her height

and I thought to myself

how nice it would be

if we had mothers big enough

to pick us up throughout our lives.

If we weren’t comforted, at least we’d laugh.



Still the Same


Somewhere are young women

I once knew

some 50 years ago,

still young—

somewhere, with feline fealty,

in cities I know,

though no longer the street or house—

still the same,




hair still glossy

voices velvety…

somewhere in the lanes and alleys of my brain.





I’m a serial poet.

Many times I’ve committed poetry,

taken an image, a feeling, a thought, a phrase

and manhandled it into a poem.

I plead in mitigation

that it’s a crime of passion.

Or is it temporary insanity?



Poetry in the Suburbs


Sure, there’s poetry in the country

with its fields and woods

and hills and waters

and welcoming sky,

and in the city

with its multitudes

its landmarks

its storied neighborhoods.

But in the suburbs,

among the frantic highways,

shopping centers,

office parks,

overly neat subdivisions

and other conformities?


It’s there.

You just have to catch it

out of the corner of your eye.



Nothing New


Tonight a year ends.

Some will see it out tooting and hollering.

Not us.

My wife’s already in bed

and I’ll join her soon.

Were it not for this poem

I’d be in my armchair reading

my eyelids succumbing to gravity,

and my head may still be on its pillow

before the clamorous hour.


What’s all the fuss?

The planet goes round its star

and after a certain time

passes the point

where it’s arbitrarily said

to have started,

whereupon, all over Earth,

waves of humans bellow

and hug their fellows,

as if this carousel

hadn’t gone around

a few billion times before.


The Hospital Poem


My muse sidled up to me

as I lay in my hospital bed

and tapped me on the arm.

Write a poem about being in the hospital, she said.

It’s hard to write lying on your back, I said.

Besides, what’s to write about?

You can write a poem about anything, she said.

Hospitals are the antithesis of poetry, I said,

you’re wheeled about

poked and prodded

cut open and sewn up

stuffed full of things

like a culinary concoction,

and you’re always on your back

looking at the ceiling

or others’ heads and shoulders

as if you inhabited an upside down universe

while everyone around you

is privileged to live upright,

and what with the noise

you couldn't sleep

even if they didn’t wake you

five times in the night,

and the food tastes like it's been through the laundry.

No wonder the wards are filled with moaning.

And all those bodies being jockeyed around on gurneys,

like some kind of carcass race,

crowds of visitors coming and going—

you’d think they’d come to see a show—

attendants bustling

as if their exertions

kept the world turning,

and the strange words that fill the air

osises and itises and otomies and ectomies

like the buzzing of insects.

How is one to make any sense if it?

There you go, she said.



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