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Neeli Cherkovski is 75

Somewhere among the redwoods

in the Santa Cruz Mountains


Today is Neeli Cherkovski’s birthday

He turned 75 today

I’m writing a poem about it

Nobody can stop me

The family is asleep

The cat, settling down

The stars have even turned in

To keep me

From wandering out


Sixth night of vacation

Five more to go

In the Santa Cruz Mountains

Family sheltering in place

Away from the City

Went to bed on the regular

Kept track of the date

But not much more


2020, a pretty shitty year

For a birthday 

And for everything else


But that’s not Neeli’s fault

Goodness, no

He didn’t do anything wrong

Others did

Like the President

And the police

Showing us how they take a knee


The police fuck everything up

Just go away

What will we do without you?

We’ll read

We’ll write

We’ll listen

To poetry

To solve our problems


Everything I needed to know

About how to defund the police

I learned from the poets


In the place of each toppled statue

A thousand poets in its place

Town by town

City by city

State by state

They are coming down


Columbus finally got the hook

At the top of Coit Tower

An inside job

By the City

To prevent the spectacle

Of watching him dethroned

Dragged down Telegraph Hill

By the people

Down Columbus Ave

(I see a name change

In its immediate future in 3-2-1…)

And tossed into the sea

From whence he came


Denying the people 

This catharsis 

They did the math

Headed to Golden Gate Park

Knocked them down

Tilled the earth with bronze


I keep checking my phone

And my email

Waiting for the calls from the media

What does the Urban Forester 

Think about all this? 

Replace them all with trees

From San Francisco to Richmond, Virginia


No, Neeli didn’t do anything wrong

He’s not on trial here

It’s his 75th birthday

He showed more than kindness

To Bob Kaufman

He gave him shelter 

He gave him more than most

And writing this poem 

Won’t put me there

With everyone 

In the Harwood alley kitchen

But reading Raymond Foye’s words

In the Gagosian Quarterly

Will do just fine


When I wake


And my wife asks me

How it went

And our daughter asks

How what went?

And I gently remind her

That I was planning to write

A poem 

To honor poet Neeli Cherkovski

On his 75th birthday

After I got her to bed

That some of her

Memories of 2020

Many that have caused her 

To experience anxiety at age 9

Will be tempered

With recollections 

Of her father 

Intent to honor a great poet

After getting her to bed


Tomorrow I will tell

Them both

It went very well

I became angry at the police

I shouted at the monuments

I spat upon the President

That my phone did not ring

But for every image

Of a monument taking a digger

A thousand poets will be born

Trees planted in their place


I’ll tell them I didn’t have a dream

That I acted on my passions

This year

That I offered to buy and send copies

Of Neeli’s ‘Elegy for My Beat Generation’ 

To the first five who commented 

On my post on his wall

And mailed them to 

Bolinas, Salt Lake City, Iowa City,

The Netherlands and Kosovo


I’ll say I had a dream that

I was in the Harwood alley kitchen

Sitting there

Listening to Neeli, 

Talk with Bob & Ray, 

And that I brought the Budweiser


Thank you for the trees Neeli,

And the birds, 

And the 2nd story view 

Out your kitchen window

To the poet’s rear yard

Over a garden so lush


Thanks for spending

The time

To share a glass of wine

It cost nothing

But it built community


I thought of you today

I thought of you at times,

All week

I brought a few of your volumes

In my bag,

And for your birthday today

I thought of you

Sitting for a morning coffee 

At your kitchen table

Maybe checking the news on your phone

Taking a quick look at email

But really just watching for birds

Scanning the light

Standing to look down into the dark


Now it is time again

For you to write

And you move

To the front of the house


Thank you for your words

They are available to all of us

Anyone can try

To sting them together

(intended “string” but “sting”

Even better)

Like Scrabble

Just like anyone

Can grab some paints

And take a shot at the ceiling

In the Sistine Chapel


Not everyone should be the President

Not everyone should be a police officer

(I say replace both statues & police with trees -

It will calm everyone down)

But everyone should be a poet

And a few should be great poets


I need to thank you for more

Thank just the trees and the birds,

For putting words

To pain and suffering

To joy too


When the poets rescue 2020

Next year, or maybe the year after

At the start of your birthday

Families will comment at breakfast

The parents will,

Unless their high schoolers 

Beat them to it:

“Oh hey, it’s poet Neeli Cherkovski’s 

Birthday today”


While we wait for that to happen

I’ll start tomorrow

When my wife asks 

How it went

And our daughter asks

How what went?

And I tell her that I wrote 

A poem after she fell asleep

To honor a poet on his 75th birthday


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