The American Measure




On my natural way to the discovery of what it dawned on me to call the single-line couplet,


I spent days on my back acre pulling wild grapevines from trunks & limbs of dead ash


that the emerald borer had killed, & now the trees would be firewood,

& grapevines


would obstruct my chainsawing, so, to be safe, I pulled them down,

some vines an inch thick,


cleared spaces, cleared entanglements, & then would fell a tree.

As I worked,


I talked to myself, having come to this voice, it was late summer, then early autumn,


then late autumn, I kept working, kept talking to myself in these single-line

couplets that were like


a chainsaw chain cutting into an ash trunk, the razzing & the chewing, the chips buzzing


to my feet, then the tree falling, & then the cutting into sections, good work,

the American measure


that Doc Williams always looked for to get himself said who never, so far as I know,


chainsawed, but who listened over my shoulder, the happy genius

of my woodlot.




My High School Flame


I found what seemed to be a human heart entangled in fish-

line & beach grass,


or maybe something from nature had washed up, coconuts

or brine-shaped


driftwood, or was it a rolled-up skirt or letter sweater

or cerise blouse,


but, yes, it might have been a human heart, or should have been,

but it was only


I danced up to it & bent to it & kept listeningit was only

an old song


I'd once sung, wouldn't you know it, not her heart, or mine,

just our old song.






No, I'm not protesting too much when I say I wouldn't want to be Paul McCartney


who is launchingthis is 2013a U.S. tour requiring thirty-one

trucks of equipment

including lasers, huge pyrotechnics, explosives, state of the art video displays


at one point in the show, Sir Paul will rise 20' above the stage in a spiral construct


as he performs "Blackbird" & "Here Today" acoustically. Imagine being one of the old Beatles,


traveling to sold-out arenas where berserk fans want your DNA so your bodyguards


have to cut a swath through them & through paparazzi

& you become


caricature with make-up & rush through changes of clothes,

& whole industries


of roadies & technicians & record labels & vendors of maryjane & hot dogs

& memorabilia

expect you to deliver. No, I am not protesting too much, he's my age,

I love this


easy chair of mine, candle & coffee & cursive, sure I'd like money, enough of it,


to fund my four grandkids' college educations, pay off a couple

family mortgages,


but all that hype & blare, that travel, & the burnished oldies receding,

"Hey Jude" & "Yesterday,"


& John in his grave, & George in his, strawberry fields, don't you & Ringo

just want to stay home


wherever home is, don't you just yearn, Paul, to compose something

even better


than what you've done, aren't you gut-sick of spending your power in such disquiet,


wouldn't you withdraw if you could, aren't you, compared to me, unhappy,


they're all screaming, you're seventy & spiraling up through colored smoke,

you're trying to sing


acoustically, "Blackbird," while my own "Redwings" &"Blackbird Spring" are much better,


I'm insufferable to say it, but it's true, "I celebrate myself," you could build on

your book of lyrics


Blackbird Singing, couldn't you, I'm going to write better every year, are you,

Paul you're wearing


too much rouge & lipstick this spring day as the males have returned to marshes hereabouts


to declare their territories, look, look at their bright red gashes, hear, hear

their warning songs!






Decades ago my late friend Martin Booth drove us from Cambridge

to London where we read


at the Poetry Centre with beveled windows behind us, on an afternoon



The rain through which we'd sped that November Sunday

had stopped,


& in that elegant room light intensified from behind us, coalesced on Martin's back


where he stood at a carved oak lectern & railed against English manners,

& remembered Chatterton,


& diatribed the current poetry scene in Britain as puerile, sterile, & said that the American


here with him today wasn't, so that by the time I read, half the audience

had sworn patriotic allegiance


to all those Martin labeled "decorous versifiers," & were pissed at me.

I don't remember


what poems of mine I spoke, nature or the Holocaust or both, but now

I'll leave merry England


its chandelier disappears as the room brightens with prisms

of polite applause,


then Martin's fierce aspect as he slammed his car door & drove us out of there

like bards from hell.


(Martin Booth, 19442004)




[This interview was arranged under the auspices of Cross-Cultural Communications.]



Bill Wolak has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.