Here is Michael Bennett's bio, in his own words: After having lived in The South
(Atlanta and West Palm Beach) from 1989 to 2010 and still feeling rather out of
sync with that part of the country, due, no doubt, to the fact that I am the
last of the Roosevelt New Deal Liberal Democrats, I returned to my Midwestern
roots after reconnecting with an old friend and flame. Born in Chicago during
the Middle Ages (January, 1942), I was fortunate to grow up in both an
intellectual and a highly integrated neighborhood (Hyde Park) under the
influence of my grandfather, a Ukrainian socialist émigré who fervently believed
that true brotherhood and charity and love were the only things that would save
the world from suicide. My childhood was the freedom to read everything and
anything and all the time and the liberal and liberating educational attitudes
fostered by the University of Chicago Lab School. Education followed through
four college degrees from the University of Virginia, Northwestern, and the
University of Iowa, all of whom contributed to my careers in education, law,
business, and back to education. Additionally, I have driven a garbage truck,
worked on a road repair crew, did a stint as a disk jockey, played piano in a
number of Chicago piano bars and did stand-up comedy, managed a customer service
department, and enjoyed other lucrative moments. My three daughters are
independent women whose successes I take no credit for, since they are all
bright and competent and self-sufficient. I started writing fiction in fifth
grade, switched to poetry during high school at the insistence of some
phenomenal English teachers, and finally, after thousands of false starts and
ten thousand rejection slips, managed to get published. Now, at age 72, I can
look back and say that my life has been fun as well as occasionally frustrating,
and the next 72 years should provide even more fun as I watch my exceptional
granddaughter and two amazing grandsons grow into adulthood. The joy of growing
older is that I can be a raconteur, curmudgeon, bon vivant, and troll; that I
get to continue my career as a Professor of English; and that I can thrill to
the wonder of a world that is constantly new and stimulating especially with the
woman who makes everything worthwhile. And now, "excelsior."
for Narelle de l'Atalante
In darkness absolute we wander, blind:
The lack of light diminishing one sense
Compels the others' struggles: how to find
The means to make our meeting more intense.
The mind as well has limited domain,
For brain cells die by thousands every day;
And logic fights, though blindly, to attain
Some vision that will help us find our way.
As poetry creates the world anew,
Illuminating paths not seen before,
So love directs a Red Sea passage through
The whirlpools that protect the distant shore.
These thoughts recall again the old refrain:
Je meurs de soif aupres de la fontaine.
Sunday in Bettendorf: 6:30AM
A Birthday Poem for Allison Ann
So resting now, in one thin amber glow,
Your hair spilled gracefully about your neck,
Your breathing marks an all too gentle rhythm.
And in repose, your face reveals the strange
Old wonders of the excesses of love.
Never have you been more beautiful
Than you are now, defenseless in your sleep.
And never have you been more vulnerable.
There is a sadness in this room, a soft
Recall of that small death which follows love.
For life devours life, though love lives on,
And all the strong desires to possess
Are yearnings trying to design a way
To keep those things that are unkeepable.
Then, smiling at the thought that you, so young
And still a woman partially unknown,
Could yet evoke such sorrow and such fear,
I turned, and softly closed the door, and went
Downstairs to brew another cup of tea.
Les Images du Coeur
The mind is far too subtle to play tricks,
Too gentle not to placate most desires.
Thus, in July and August, softest months,
When often cold, unseasonable winds
Prelude the coming of a harder rain,
The heart sets its most secret artist free
To teach the mind the craft of drawing well
Those things that eyes alone cannot create,
The richness that exists within the lines.
Larissa and Zhivago set the scene:
In their ice-frosted house at Verrichino,
They thought, at first, they had so little time,
So much to say, so very much to do.
Their love was not enough to turn the cold
Or course of history. And yet, they took
Whatever moments that were left for them,
Lived fully in the briefest space of love
The Gods allowed; not frantically, but with
A thankful prayer for life just once complete:
Of time enough for him to write her poem;
Of time enough for her to gain his child.
But soon that set scene fades. A moment's dark,
Then newer sketches, more projections, fill
The screen as less symbolic thoughts demand
A chance to satisfy the restless eye.
When loneliness requires intense response,
These pictures never seem to find an end.
What serves to populate a given place,
The careless walk of long- and dark-haired girls,
The caring words of lovers' banterings,
The ravages of all-too-loving hands,
Develops old and unfulfilled desires:
As if the malleable mind were stretched
By faithful artist's touch so taut, so fine,
That all its varied multiplicity
Of memories could hang sequentially,
Like drying photographs on one thin wire.
The visions which the mind draws carefully,
So that the eyes are tortured with delight,
Are but the desperate secrets of the heart
Turned loose to illustrate a starless night.
So skillfully he gathered all the wires,
Made arms and legs in wooden pantomime
Commit themselves to acts of his desires
Which he believed so artful, so sublime.
They moved in perfect counterpoint, as if
His music were the only minuet;
Yet never was their motion puppet-stiff,
And never was there more than their duet.
They whirled concentric circles, his designs,
As hand in hand they crystallized his dance;
They never dared to tangle any lines,
Although their hearts were grateful for the chance.
And when the dance and music soon were done,
He lifted his two puppets from the stage
And placed them in their boxes, each to one;
Then slept the sleep required by his age.
He dreamed without him they could never see,
That they, without his hands, could never live.
But they knew what they were was theirs to be,
And what they gave was theirs alone to give.
That Love Is A Heraclitian River
This landscape is not unfamiliar territory.
But unlike Wordsworth and his five long years,
this is not Tintern Abbey or the miles above.
Though it has been a long time between visits,
I still recognize the nature of the place,
and know the feeling that this scenery engenders.
Heraclitus understood it all:
the way the river flows around the scene;
the sound the current makes across the rocks;
the movement of the beaver and the trout
that dam and breed and somehow bring new life
in spite of all attempts to render static
that which must evolve, grow, change, die, renew.
And thus the river is the same and not
the same; different because I am not the same,
you are not the same. For everything that we have done,
have lived, have lost comes back to modify
that landscape, causing us, like the river,
to flow in different ways, to feel our current
cascade from different rocks to roar a different song
down the long valley. And yet the same
because we are the same as nature is the same
as the river is always the same. As is love.
The river, like the city’s narrow streets,
Winds slow, and underneath the aged ochre
Firenze dreams of the medieval world.
The Ponte Vecchio leads to crumbling shops
where craftsmen honed by ancient wisdom now
explore the wonders and the mysteries
of gold, and deep-veined turquoise, dark rich stones,
of linen and the fit of custom shirts,
reminders of those passions and those loves.
The Comedy was born in this strange light.
Old olive trees and vineyards guard her still:
Siena's Duomo cannot rival hers,
And Montepulciano sits atop the hills,
And Alberese's fountains are too new.
It's Florence where the modern world began.
Ghiberti found his love in gilded bronze,
And Michaelangelo in marble cold.
They closed their shutters to the dusty heat.
The Spring sun shimmers this historic town
where alchemy turns ochre into gold
and palace hallways whisper ancient tales.
The Carpenter's Son Mourns His Death
The carpenter attempts to trim the world,
to make it fit the vision and the need,
to plane and sand and square and join, fit flush:
but now that fickle bubble rests no more
between the level's arbitrary lines.
Before his work could weary of itself
the joiner broke, the job left incomplete.
It is the scent of pinesap I recall,
and resin, too, and heated roofing tar:
those smells that take me back to childhood.
And once again I am in awe of him.
On summer days, my father's sleight-of-hand
created cavalries of wood and nails:
his common sawhorses that were meant
to hold in readiness the workday load
became for me imagination's fierce
and war-like steeds, blazed by chalk dust.
And I rode recklessly as if I were
a savage, on a mount of raw and naked pine.
His hammersong of steel sang out, and made
me thrill to sounds like hooves make striking flint.
He told me not to weep for trees, for they
with honor and with grace desire the axe:
Their sacrifice would shelter weaker things.
Our homes, our lives, are gravestones, epitaphs,
and legacies of oak and pine and beech.
The forest bore the weight of loss, and in
the end, those same trees must have wept for him.
He was a kind of artist I suspect,
his softwood hands knew skills that shaped my childhood.
He lived and died alike with calloused palms,
with fingers resin-streaked and splinter-filled.
This memory song is late in coming.
If grace were something people could acquire,
like information gained in academic ways,
what use my songs as fragile as the air,
of last night's kisses, greetings made at dawn?
The mystery that's hardly understood
when you walk by, or hold your head at just
the proper angle (with ambered sunlight
caught and trapped and moving in your hair)
cannot be fathomed by those means
with which most men evaluate their world.
But you would all your gifts destroy, dismiss,
ignoring that most precious attribute
in order to obtain for three short months
some measure of a satiable desire.
Propensity for value should decree
a gift outright, a moment's fancy filled
without the anguish that so often serves
as passion's crude remuneration.
And what comes after wrinkled sheets
that evidence the battles of the bed
becomes the ultimate criterion,
the value of the deed. If that is all,
can it be said the cost of grace-filled love
was worth the necessary disappointment?