About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Half-Dozen Poems for Your Pleasure

            My posts have been anything but lighthearted lately, so I thought I’d give you a break with what I hope will provide a few minutes of enjoyment. Through the 1970s, and into the mid-1980s, I wrote a lot of poetry, much of it not very good. But you know how it is with writing: I kept at it and kept at it and managed to finally write some poetry that was half-way decent. I’ve been working on a project over the last year that led me to dig up those poems. Here are six. I’ll provide some context.

            I enjoyed writing small, comical vignettes, a fanciful riff on something I read or heard. “Cognitive Science” sprang from a New Yorker profile of Marvin Minsky, a major figure in the last generation’s research in artificial intelligence and robotics. I was taken by Minsky’s purchase of a big jukebox for his wife and wondered what the result would be if he turned that whimsical streak to his scientific work.


“…in the Minsky house…there [is] a huge jukebox—a present from Minsky to his wife.”*

So this wizard of robotics

builds a big, grinning neon ox—

a thinking machine that flubs checkers

but carries a tune.

The maid palms its blue dome

and taps the keys for “Hound Dog.”

Graduate students take pictures

with their arms around it.  

Minsky brings it to conferences.

It rocks and flashes

and breaks out a case of beer. 

The chess machines are envious.

They always roll home alone. 


*From Jeremy Bernstein’s New Yorker profile of MIT computer scientist Marvin Minsky, December 14, 1981

            I was looking for a Valentine’s card in a Hallmark shop and, after being there for too long, began to imagine romantic life inside the world of those cards.


When we met,

I was temping at Condolences and

you were piercing arrows through lacy Hearts.

Your note came with the afternoon crates of Grief,

so, at the 5 o’clock whistle, I pushed through Bereavement

and hurried to find you drying tears

at the corner of 5th and Love You Dearly. 

I fumbled for a hanky.

Sorry For Your Loss, I said. 

Get Well Soon.

H-Happy Graduation! 

You turned away

and I felt Blank Inside. 

So I Passed On to my night job

at the Sympathies mill,

leaving you looking for Someone Dear. 

Later, I heard that Tender Regard

swept you away in his Heartfelt 88.

And now I’m staying till midnight in Sorrow,

rhyming the Gospel,

gaining overtime,

and Thinking of You. 

            Finally, there I was creeping up on forty and still seeing a dermatologist, so what else was I to do but write a poem about it?


“As you age, it will disappear,”

soothed Dr. Glop. 

But tiny buds defy gray beard

and Glop’s wisdom. 

The Medical Encyclopedia recommends

tetracycline, radiation, dermabrasion.   

The Psychiatric Handbook opines

“hormone imbalance well past the prime.” 

I say, rage little oils,

you’re my last stay against time. 

Women will say, “How his hair is growing thin.

But, look, the rosy eruption of his skin!”


            I also wrote poems—less goofy ones—about my forebears and my early life in Altoona, Pennsylvania. My mother and her parents settled in Altoona after immigrating from the region of Calabria in southern Italy. About one hour’s drive east of Pittsburgh, Altoona was a bustling railroad town that suffered gradual economic collapse as the railroad industry began its decline in the decade after World War II. I lived there until I was 7, and then we moved to Los Angeles. My mother and I visited Altoona regularly for family reunions until the late 1980s when the trip became too difficult for her.


Cut to Grandma vigorously stirring.

The daisies on her dress rise and fall.

She turns to the camera.  Smiles.

Scoops endive from a colander

and raises it to the lens.

This is a lesson on preparing greens.

Other lessons follow:

The shredding of cabbage.

The pounding of meat.

Grandma understood the limits of film.

She knew it would miss the spices,

the fine dicing. 


The ceiling bulb has tanned the shade

as has the dust of hapless moths.

The phlox and hydrangeas on the wall

are caught in the half-life of paper bloom.

Bedspreads and rugs lie monochromatically—

their Persian arabesques gone to beige

in this rented room in Altoona. 

A mother and her son play dominoes

on a table beneath the light. 

The rectangles shine against their fingers. 

A fly buzzes into a Pepsi bottle.

Silence.  One move.  Another. 

Then click click and the boy

hits his dots. 

The mother claps.

The boy laughs. 

Nothing fades. 


Cabot’s Differential Diagnosis,

Browne on Diseases of the Throat,

lace curtains, handwritten hours,

a soft voice explaining the inner ear.

Dr. DeSantis still sees patients.

A dumbwaiter locked into place

holds a cutaway of the vestibular canals. 

His voice carries my mother

through the curves and delicate bones. 


The dizziness of old age.

Fear of the open street. 

She stands on one foot.

DeSantis catches her.

Again.  His arm snaps up.

The curtains rustle.

The doctor explains the winds

beginning on the street.

How the bones are like sails.

How she can leave her fear

in his arms.

How the wind heals

with its own risky balance.  

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