baron wormser | portrait of the artist

14 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 52 | February 2, 2006

Working online on POETRY DISPATCH and NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND, both of them ‘blogs’ of a sort, yet somewhat different (to me) than Blei’s Blog, which appears only on my website , I’m always amazed at the response (or silence) the work generates.

Some pieces I expect to hear from at least a dozen or more recipients (and hear almost nothing), others I expect to hear nothing, and the first response hits immediately, followed by reactions every hour, and for days to come.

Regarding responses (about the only ‘payoff’ in this kind of communication), I do thank those of you who occasionally (in some cases, religiously) take the time to pen a word, line, paragraph, essay. You alone make it all worthwhile, though I can certainly understand those who have neither the time or inclination to respond. There are a good number of recipients, in fact, from whom I have never heard one word. And that’s okay too.

The Baron Wormser poem, “January,” which I posted the day before yesterday was a poem I sensed would hit the mark with any number of readers,–and so it did. (I’m still hearing from readers.) It’s the kind of poem you would like to have in your pocket when you come across someone who says he doesn’t know what poetry is, and you can hand him “January,” and says: “Here. “

Given the father and son theme in “January,” not to mention the subject of cars, I heard from more men concerning this poem (twenty some, and still counting). than women.

The following response, by my friend (Chicago radio and TV celeb Marty Robinson…a mean reader and tough critic in his own right) is my favorite. Kind of a poem in itself. Following it, another Baron Wormser poem: “Portrait of the Artist.” Enjoy. Norbert Blei



This poem brought back memories. I had names for all my cars — girl’s names. And on cold Winter mornings I knew (most of the time) how to love them into starting. Pull the choke out about half-way. Tap the accelerator about four times. Five might flood the carburetor. Than turn the key, press the starter button and listen VERY CAREFULLY to the sound of the engine turning over. At exactly the right moment, when the engine fired, release the starter, praise the car by name and depress the accelerator a tad. After about a minute, push the choke in slowly and gently race the engine. Then ease off and let her warm up for a few minutes. You might liken this to foreplay.

Today with fuel injection, just turn the key and it fires up. A great improvement, but it sure takes the romance out of the relation between a man and his car. Or maybe a woman and her car — with a boy’s name. Best, Marty


Portrait of the Artist by Baron Wormser

I woke in the bitter, dark, winter morning.
I was eight.

There were the smells of the cat who slept
In my room on a braided rug, of eggs being fried

In the kitchen down the hall, of flannel pajamas,
Of the apartment’s mahogany air.

There was dressing and then there was school.
I had hands but lacked the capable motions.

I staggered and stuttered, unkempt as a mongrel.
I dreaded putting on the one light in my little room,

A table lamp shaped like an old, New York City skyscraper.
Light was so nasty.

There was the blue smell of cold metal pipes.
I had to get up.

Why didn’t familiarity make anything easier?
Putting my socks on, combing my hair, deciding

Which of my three pairs of identical shoes I should wear…
I held my hands in front of me

Like some sort of faith healer.
I looked at the little mezzotint on the wall of Christ.

He was so sweet and baleful.
He was so little help to me.

Winter was a cap your mother had knit that you
Didn’t want to wear because it was unmanly.

Winter was a grudge.
Winter was the silent type like Brother James

Who never spoke when he thrashed you.
I went to the window and breathed upon it

And traced my initials in the beautiful steam.
My father called. My day was done.

from MULRONEY & OTHERS, Sarabande Books, 2000


baron wormser | january

14 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 51 | February 1, 2006

January by Baron Wormser

“Cold as the moon,” he’d mutter
In the January of 5 A.M. and 15 below
As he tried to tease the old Chev into greeting
One more misanthropic morning.

It was an art (though he never
Used that curious word) as he thumped
The gas pedal and turned the key
So carefully while he held his breath
And waited for the sharp jounce
And roar of an engaged engine.

“Shoulda brought in the battery last night.”
“Shoulda got up around midnight
And turned it over once.”

It was always early rising as he’d worked
A lifetime “in every damn sort
Of damn factory.” Machines were
As natural to him as dogs and flowers.
A machine, as he put it, “was sensible.”

I was so stupid about valves and intakes
He thought I was some religious type.
How had I lived as long as I had
And remained so out of it?
And why had I moved of my own free will
To a place that prided itself
On the blunt misery of January?

“No way to live,” he’d say as he poked
A finger into the frozen throat
Of an unwilling carburetor.
His breath hung in the air
Like a white balloon.

Later on the way to the town where
We worked while the heater
Wheezed fitfully and the windshield
Showed indifference to the defroster
He’d turn to me and say that
The two best things in this world
Were hot coffee and winter sunrises.
The icy road beckoned to no one,
Snow began to drift down sleepily,
The peace of servitude sighed and dreamed.