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Michael Rothenberg is a poet, songwriter, and editor and publisher of Big Bridge magazine. His poems have been published widely in small press publications, including Berkeley Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Milk, Golden Handcuffs Review, Jacket, Prague Literary Review, Tricycle, and Zen Monster. His poetry books include Man/Woman, a collaboration with Joanne Kyger, The Paris Journals (Fish Drum Press), Monk Daddy (Blue Press), Unhurried Vision (La Alameda/University of New Mexico Press), and most recently CHOOSE, Selected Poems (Big Bridge Press). He is also author of the novel Punk Rockwell (Tropical Press). Michael Rothenberg has edited the selected works of Philip Whalen, Joanne Kyger, David Meltzer and Ed Dorn (Penguin Books) and the Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press). His newest book of poems, My Youth As A Train, will be published in Fall 2010 by Foothills Publishing.







Crossing through clouds, suddenly

                                         in New York


Nobody at the airport,

New York's a lonely giant

Looking for someone,

no one looking for me


Great poets die young

Great poets live long

Great poets write popular songs


I left home, I don't blame my wife


Tires squeal, horns honk

Eight million people, I know five


Loneliness is cheating

                        I have to please myself


I call and ask for you, Irina Svetlanova


Firebird with a rock and roll band

writing Beluga Night


Irina, you make me feel ordinary


Starstruck, I want to confess . . .


             Tell me, does your breath smell like candy?


Stoned in a taxi on my way in from Kennedy

                   Brooklyn Bridge a wonder years ago

                   Drunken sailors

                          topple in love without redemption


It's popular to be romantic




                                     if only because,

                                                                       everyday-muck rejecting,

                I awaited you,

                                                a poet of strife!

                If only for that

                                                resurrect me!


                                       I want to live out my life!

                So that love won't be a lackey there

                of livelihood,



                                                                     or worse.”

                                                                                         Mayakovsky, About This



All we are, we are, and you are

How many prophecies!

Even trees with roots

speak to the grave

Irina, can I say perish in your ears

Or do I always have to talk immortality?


I don't know you to know the rules

Is this my song or yours?


It's cold, 3rd Ave., Apt. 6C


Can I say perish in your ear?


Is this my song or yours?

Apt. 6C, it's cold


Great poets die young

Great poets live long


How long can I wait for you?

Is it you I'm waiting for?

What's a rose without red?

Who cares about a yellow rose?


Red rose

Your puckered lips

When your hair was still red...


Irina, dance with me!

Irina, sing my song!


              Who am I?


If the picture's still not clear,

I'll make myself into a mirror


If the picture's not clear,

I'll make a story out of you



I imagine you naked

My apologies,

it can't be your body I'm thinking of. . .


And what about my wife?


She's loving but lately monkish

Concentrates on a deadly art

Sits zazen every morning

Now I'm looking for another woman


"Go ahead," she said

"But what if I fall in love?" I asked

"I hope you'll come back"




I want to be somebody International!


At Dante's Inferno

You're attractive and intelligent

I'm married and just looking, so

nothing physical, please

unless we both want it and

I don't ask first


And if I knew you,

would I ever get to

know you?

Would knowing you

be all I needed to do?



In Brooklyn you emerge from a crowd


No one recognizes you but me  

In Brooklyn, that's all I know.

then you vanish



In the kitchen venture capitalists eat blintzes and think

My cousin’s got a crush on a pop star


I'll end up at the stage door,

reflection in a tinted window

as the limousine of night stretches away . . .


Irina, I'm going to send you my poetry,

my poem to you, this play

You could direct me

to the heart of my convictions


Lost and out of sense, you could direct me . . .


Are you a sex symbol?

You have sex I suppose

Your public image must be more than a pose?


             Your pantomime of glamour


I'm going to buy a page in Interview

And print this song on a giant gemstone heart

Supported by a pedestal of wrestlers

And I'll be strapped to the mast of a ship

Sailing through a crack in the heart

And you'll be the siren singing



          My mother would be hysterical if I brought you home


         "What's he doing with her?”


                     “What kind of girl is she?”


          “Where does he come to her?”


                                                                    “Is she wild?”


                               “Is she on drugs?”


                                        “Is she Jewish?"


           I'd say, she's an icon, only an idol



There's a man in a window across the street              

Taking isolation to extremes

He's got a mirror and himself for company

and anyone who’s watching



Sex and Death drive the cloud away

A light goes on, it's me in the mirror

Blue glasses, shaved and 43



Years pass and no stars,

I turn to you

Years and no stars,

now I turn

you open sleepy eyes

                                your naked feet

cross Russia...


Stalin's 30 million dead, 200 million silent

Frozen snow in Red Square

Two stars, not me or you

We’re just red, white and blue


You met great people in Russia

Did you meet Mayakovsky?

In the cranky halls of Siberian Hotel

6,000 rooms of KGB

In breezeways of bureaucracy

Did you find on bloody walls

Lyric Esenin in your head?


Standing at the window in trousers

A cloud without a shirt, waiting . . .


What I dream is red red lips



Wolves chase me from my dreams

The limousine of night stretches my reflection into dawn . . .


Siren of Wall Street!


How can anyone say you're not beautiful?

You were the only one in town

Honest and intense, uncomfortable at parties



Angry with your appearance

Disappointed in every man you meet


Siren of Wall Street!


Be loved by me in my bourgeois way

Receive me on a misfit's holiday

I'll read you poetry



It started when he offered me drugs

I offered him mine

suggesting superiority

And if I told him about my wife

he'd be especially nervous

about his life. Stunned

by exclusionary tactics,

            he was tragic

            in a romantic way, not romantic

            in an ideal way



Music thunders through the neighbor's wall

An axe falls between old friends

New lovers have their say


Valerie and Bill come home

Find the sofa extended to a bed

We order snacks, I pass out

No dreams of you, Irina


We were never in Paris!


I've never sat in a bar with you,

            or heard you say anything


We were never in Paris!


I'd like to be with you but I'm afraid

idols don't make good friends


Resurrect poets from graves!
Get up in the morning

Be glad to be afraid

Don't be afraid to get up!


I won't kill myself for you

Laying down the lyric beat


I might be right for you

Looking for you club to club

Sober as America allows the insane


Question to question, what are we?

Looking for ourselves

dancing through pictures. . .




The Rocker with nails like a Javanese dancer

said you were a brainless bimbo

who ruined Marvin Gaye’s song


Trashed by False Prophets!


“Just a teeny-bop singer packaged into a widget-star!”



Walking the Village in alarm

4 a.m., rubble is romantic

I'm a victim of self-sacrifice


Now Mayakovsky's hunting me out

Offering up my middle class bits to Lenin

Morning isn't fun when the revolution's over


Mayakovsky, the popular cause is the popular song!


10,000 KGB hear the Muse

on a Monday night at the Pyramid Lounge

Utopia's a fascist hangover


                "At such a time

                                        what foolish blockhead

                  will rave

                                     the word



                                                                                Mayakovsky, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin



And doesn't it mean, looking for you

No one's at home, there's no one to go to?

Doesn't it mean love's falling

When there's no plan to stay or depart?


Popular visions mimic a dungeon  


After three beers The Gold Goddess

Leaves the dance,

            she's feeling existential


Under the moon  

Under the moon


    She says what she wants to say

    She bops when she wants to bop


Someone's got to take a chance

Someone's got to . . .



I walk the lower East Side

Garbage soup to nuts


Music speaks louder than words


Friends love me

New York loves me


Popular heroes sing the songs

people sing when they're alone


And your angelic voice

leaves me no choice




copyright © Michael Rothenberg