(Table of Contents at the end)
As usual, his hand shook slightly, but stopped with the pressure of the fat chalk on the board.
The equation in all its rigor didn’t emerge. With nary a hesitation, he tacked windward, and was
pleased that the faces of the small troupe of graduate students around the table didn’t reflect any
sense of his incapacity. The deceleration of his mind was unsettling enough without the sauce of
(A letter to some of my colleagues and students:) 12/10/09
Today is Faraz Haqqi’s, a recent honors student, last class. He doesn’t know what he is going to do.
Today is his professor’s last class. He doesn’t know what he is going to do either. Here it is, last
class day of the semester: Fall, 2009 in College Park, Maryland. Students planning their winter
break, their visits to family, distant friends, strange places; students applying to law schools, to
graduate schools, for jobs; students graduating. Faculty putting books on shelves, rethinking
research projects, reflecting on their semester, their good classes, their bad ones.
And Faraz’s professor? He is quietly considering the trip he has taken since 1970, actualizing the
dream of a college teaching career: thousands of students that came for a class or two, and moved
on. Many nurtured this dream. High school teachers of physics and history, and college professors
at Cornell. Professors Lowi and Lewis gave him extraordinary encouragement and helped him do it
and Oran Young and Marion Levy, Jr. at Princeton. Students became the fabric of his work, the
everyday joy and chore of the years that went by. Gaining their understandings of how to think,
how to grapple with life and their own intellects were both the occupation of his hours, and his
years. But beyond those thousands were the score of students who stay - in the mind - and
episodically occupy some lasting thought, triggering some real affection.
And they come to my mind today, before I go to this, very likely, my last class. I got up early to
think back on the steps to today. Today is my graduation day, my day to leave to the rest of my life.
No ceremony - I have next semester ‘off’ and probably will only announce my retirement to the
University sometime during the Spring. But today belongs to me, and as I dust off my belongings,
first in my memories are you - the few very special students who decorate my years and my
memories. Like the hundred or so kids in the New York Fresh Air Fund camp who first showed me
the joy of teaching, and the kids in DC projects who took extra time to try to master math and let
me understand the miracle of helping someone learn, like them you gave me the great joy of these
years. Teaching has been partly about the many students but also about the few. You were those
few, who, for what ever the reason, gave me the moments of high sharing and personal growth in
this career and I thank you.
Some of you aren’t here any more: Janet Boetner for example. Many of us have stayed in touch but
for various odd reasons, some of us haven’t: no matter. Still, in my heart, I thank each of you: it was
with you that I had my very best moments in this career and for that I will remain very grateful.
May you have as wonderful a career as I have had. And, happy holidays!
Time to be moving on. Thanks again.
2 Types of People
I had always claimed there were two types of people: those that pick their noses and those that
don’t. We all laughed that Thanksgiving in 1964, when my son returned from his first months in
college quite educated in the ways of world and ready to correct me when I repeated that old adage.
“Not two, Dad. Lots more. There are those who pick their noses in public, and those that don’t.
And even more, we could identify those that eat their booggers and those that don’t.” He’d learned
a bit about how to think, he did.
Clyde didn’t finish getting educated in school. We didn’t have the money to keep him there, and
the draft picked up in early ‘65. He was an early pick, but in those days, if you agreed to an
immediate two years active, you could get your pick of alternatives. His Ma and I rooted for the
navy, and somehow, we won.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Second draft: Sunday, June 24, 2012
I don’t count their number. Frowning.
And lately, with them, Hand in hand.
that mark ends. Even though
And in the box talking –
we see friends and don't
and brothers like life or
and eyes that look up each other.
while ours gaze down
Until quietly it turns
around. And their brown
orbs are up and
I would see a cloud.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 2
started: Wednesday, June 20; edited Sunday, June 24, 2012
My mind is full of doubts I still wonder why
Like the head after I
of a dandelion ripe built a house
to be blown away calculating all
always. Though putting in
I know cement,
I can calculate 2x4's
and two a roof
and two a floor
is always it doesn’t
And full of surprise So with wonder fear surprise
like a child’s eyes as we go over the rise
that Momma’s back home from a day
still there away
after each we find
peek-a-boo; the house
And when building so tall again
with blocks today.
just to see
(draft 3) December 5, 2012
Cartoonists draw Super Carrots to Determine Dads to
pick up donkeys’ pace; work with no stop,
so not to lose the race;
Motivate Moms to
change more diapers, But keep Kids from studying.
and iron mens’ messy shirts; They know a comic
when they see one.
Steel Soldiers to
deal death swiftly,
and then die in foreign dirts;
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 3
Comic Man (Saturday, April 20, 2002)
Old man, dead pan. Superman it
Past your prime, advertises -
pumping iron all the time: in small -
everyday a bit lighter lived here
Finish in the shower
cleaning your skin loose Did you leap
on that tower tall buildings
that maybe was to save
unremarkable in every way a friend
save the old marine or dream of stopping crime?
of now Perhaps you thought
missing hair, you saved Switzerland
from Nazi time
gray as the far faded red field or told old Churchill
in the small of a coming attack.
and yellow With such little reality
now ochre to hold
logo Why not
tattooed be bold
to your upper bicep. and proclaim
Last Day at the Office As with his old
December 4, 2012, draft 3 reprints, paper.
The last day His laptop
he didn’t stay was all he’d packed.
till quitting time -
He turned his back.
handed in his key.
Pulling stuff on a dolly,
To the library he wondered what was ahead
Went his cartonned books. in the little time between
the terminus and life led.
Awards and photos?
Going home. He only felt the loss
leaving the parking lot.
Research logs, notes?
out by paid help.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 4
Memories Ingrained Dream Traveler
Ingrained memories of kids Working part days
drawing, writing, doodling - dreams unravel.
pushing dull pencils, sticks -
on the old pine topped Working Sundays,
kitchen table. pushing his broom
picks up papers,
Left marks - as he saves Travel,
from too hot throwing all else
pots, and cuts in the barrel.
from too dull
choppers. Move through
Bringing yesterday next room,
into today. next gates, next rows;
Until after 30 years leave the airport -
refinishing leaves them a week of dreams
in sawdust of new travel
vacuumed – in his pocket.
Amounting to nothing When his working
but newly is not Sunday
glossy surfaces. Then he’s stuck
in the rut
December 6, 2012 of his one room flat.
And other days, cleans
now with no Travel.
It seems forever
then, stuck at home:
no dreams, in place.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 5
(May 5, 2006)
One can travel so far
be so distant
one is gone
alone in no where
even with a phone
Left alone with one’s mind.
Friends’ wrinkles, their eyes
can not quite be recalled
and distances make news a shadow
that satisfies little.
Half way around the world is as far as we can go I thought.
Not quite so distant as my friend Bill.
His death left only regrets. Although it
seems as though miles can cause fabrics to tear
It is death that really leaves one in the rags of solitude.
War on Terror
Joe A. Oppenheimer
(Friday, September 28, 2012)
Grey haired lady With a prod
by the dairy – I move
phones in ears: her basket.
can’t hear She yells,
my “ ’Scuse me!” “Go away!”
I touch her
shoulder A terrorist
eliciting in the local
“Oh, please, God!” Safeway.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 6
(for John Lennon)
Poets should live In their singular
till death comes their way. lack of production
Do not gun them down they appear to serve
on that day no function
as a demented soul But give a poor man
who twists his whole a moment of beauty
sense of symmetry and form a penny to spend,
for a catastrophic norm or a torn heart
of death. and he, with a whistle,
a radio, or a word
Poets give color to life will turn to art.
with their inked verse
and use of terse Give a poet a pen
verbiage Give an artist a brush.
doing so little They above all
of material give to the rest of us.
value. Do not gun them down.
Put their works around town.
Poets tell us
nothing Is not that killer
we do not also one of us?
already know. Does he not help
But telling it define our species?
again, Why not accept him
anew as the mark
can make it so. of our humanity?
Shed a tear 12/9/80
for the man
who gunned down
was a small token
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 7
Having turned 65, and come home from New Zealand’s winter,
banished back to Washington’s muddle,
I had a dream so true as to know it before it happened
although my dreams aren’t like that.
In it I was coming home, just then, and going to a party.
I was indeed: Evan was to be married in Philly.
But the dream was in the country, just now, in June, and his younger sibling
was to introduce his beautiful partner to friends and family.
We celebrated, and Herb Friedman came from my college days.
As did Howie. They wore ties and jackets, though we never did.
The ties were woolen, tartan and thick, like my mother used to give me.
Bill wasn’t in the dream, I wonder how this happened.
Did he use his heart attack to die? He was a doctor,
and knew the symptoms. But told his wife Katherine it was no matter
just a stomach upset. Did he want to die?
But no matter, for as I told you, he didn’t come. Herb did.
All to celebrate Robbie. I was so afraid I might mix them up:
the names of such good friends. How could I? And would I remember
Sarah’s name when she arrived in her maroon sweater?
Herb spoke; he brought a book
“Tools for Happy Wanderings.”
It was all about taking care of the elderly.
Funny, isn’t it, that he would bring such a book, and talk about it
at such an event. We know of happy wandering,
We aren’t even taking care of anyone anymore.
Francie died - years ago above 94.
and yet, I wondered, “Did we lock the car?”
I left to see; we had, but I turned on the radio
and sat a while. What for? I don’t know. It was winter then. Snow lightly falling.
Bonnie came with Herb and Howie to see to where I had wandered
and to bring me home.
I wasn’t sad until I awoke, home again from New Zealand.
The next night I didn’t sleep. How could I?
July 2, 2006
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 8
Songs Joe Oppenheimer
Tuesday, July 10, 1990 May 15, 1982
I asked my mother A run in a nylon: not just torn cloth -
to sing her song
unstoppable, disastrous, just like
by the campfire
in the moonlight a bleeding juggler vein or poisonous broth:
when I was young.
far too dramatic to be in my life.
No. No, no, no, no. Is the great unrepaired disaster but
a wet toilet seat, or a cold coffee
Not to you, my son,
Not tonight, by the fire with which I greet the dawn when I rise up?
in the moonlight.
Or is there unraveling others can't see
Before sleeping, Some, clairvoyantly perceive their own souls -
I watched the tops of trees
see their needs within without the combat
tickling stars so high
wondering why for truth I experience. But my life's roles
I heard no song tonight.
leave me to fear truth like a rabid rat.
When many years later, One night it receded so far from me,
she was fraile and old
I felt there could be none: it could not be.
not at a fire but in a bed,
ill and cold.
I asked Why was there never
a time, to sing your own song?
It had been long
but there was no wrong
in only singing others' songs.
Though I could not see
the reason before she died,
I still try.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 9
"How're ya doin', sir?"
Outside the Waldorf in gin talk
1/7/81 as you walk
Joe Oppenheimer by
tonight's self-selected victim
Did you ever see a rag shirt waiting to ask,
man "Can ya help me?"
asleep on the grate
of a ventalation shaft Pass by
at minus eight quickly!
in the city? But ears hear
though your eyes
Snow, drifting down can be willed
covering the town not to focus
and the top of him, on the locus
then melting below of his pain.
to flow On through the crowd
from grey whiskers. toward revolving doors
Cousins sleep in cardboard for the air
boxes in the shaft
to block the wind again tonight.
as flesh freezes Why does the encounter
in the city. stick
in your mind?
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 10
Lichen Ima Hogg
January 26 - March 13, 1982 Big Ima Hogg's
got two mean shepherd dogs.
In our time Daily, each gets only a bone:
days pass keeps 'em vicious when she walks alone
to form years. away from home
We have little to the corner store.
save rocks On the walk,
on which to root she asserts
- like lichen: her place,
pushing forever yet uses no words.
for warmth Her grey face
from the too scanty rays (like a bomb)
of our sun. is set to detonate
-- by fear.
But rapists and muggers
Would that we had won't come near.
the patience of Ima brandishes a well
primitive plants sharpened stick:
and could measure our success she's got deterrence.
in terms of the rock splits we
engender for future generations Ima's terror -
of oak and poplar. born
Our egocentricity leaves us narrower views:
We only see rocks July, 1981
our individual failures.
This is so
to the heat absorbing
stone's solidity -
us the nutrients
we need to bloom.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 11
A Song segment
for John Prine
by Joe Oppenheimer
Saturday, May 19, 1990
Suzie's mirror don't reflect the light.
It turned her day into night
in its shiny golden frame.
We get our mirrors from where we can;
some are straight and some are bent.
She got her mirror when she was four.
They were takin' her mother out the door;
Our dad took it off the floor
and said, "She won't need it anymore.
Your mom's always saying: 'It ain't right...
makes my lips seem awful tight -
puts a wave in my straight hair.'"
They come scratched and they come true;
my mirror's mostly blue.
One day Suzie's mirror fell and broke,
Hours passed - she hadn't spoke
She bought a mirror; put it on the shelf
in it she saw a stranger: not herself.
Suzie's world never looked the same
She put her dress in some gas to soak
and stuck a match to light the flame.
All we found was the old gold frame
and mirrored glass which had broke.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 12
Flying August 11, 2006
Flying to Germany on its pages
with the real and the art so confused by its phrases
that all the disappearance displacement dissolving
of my family, inheritances, and the Reich
were replaced modern glass domes
river walks with official reminders of the past.
An over read paper back thick as
Family lines broken seven to many tens times
on many krystal nachts
broken like seven hundred novel pages
falling out from its broken back.
with fantastized justice
imagined and extolled on its jackets
far less strangely planned than Berlin.
It sold millions. Beauty does.
Germany had no tourists when it was ashambles
Now it does.
What is past passed and morphed
as little bronze plaques “Israel Schwartz zu Auchwitz Jan 19, 1942”
und so weiter . . . and ersatz concrete coffins
- perfect play fields for Berlin’s children
hide and seek.
Berlin stays stranger than fiction.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 13
Meeting Place (published, Chronogram 12/2012)
by Joe A. Oppenheimer
On the mug
my mother held –
where birds she loved
under the storm
painted in grey,
over blue spruce, green pine,
and brown earth –
she and I
on its rim.
on its grip.
I let it slip
With no where else
Friday, September 28, 2012
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 14
Golden Calf by Joe Oppenheimer
March 13 & 14, 1982 for Bonnie and my children
What do I do - standing
in front of your kitch voodoo, Is that why
five legged mask with its metal she prays
eye bulges out front? with her back
Lipschitz, are you just another to the voodoo man?
Ethiopian Jew? No, I pray to no void,
to no God who first played with Job
Supplications to a void and then told him, "Question not!"
don't suit my mind: Our creator orders
It has always been so this universe
even before with peversity.
the first But I rebel.
Like Epstein's bronze
I pray to a cast primitive I anguish
and my wails over my powerless state
and torments and watch my loves'
turn to you for witchery. interiors
have your bronze lady pray for me. We come with our own
visitations to your primitive
You - who omnipotently created her, temples. "Listen ye bronzes!
froze her pain - We created you.
tell her to take mine. You
You - who bloodlessly must
six heroes my cry."
their exteriors -
can we know more
of those we love?
Are her eyes pierced
because she saw
beyond your six skins?
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 15
Depression by Joe Oppenheimer
Joe Oppenheimer Wednesday, April 18, 1990
Tuesday, June 14, 1988: 12:19am
---------- You get what you sow,
only in Hollywood
When Clarity and there
let her see: perhaps only before Eden:
the view was pain.
But now, without death and weeds.
obscures and Just watch a gardener with his many seeds
window grates and all the petro chemical
aren't needed. prophylactics against
his hostile parasitical enemies.
keep her in, On earth day
others out. they say to preserve
the crop the farmer
Joshua's men can't despoils the earth.
ethereal veils: Maybe so.
they don't shatter.
Gardening since Eden
10x10 is an uneven match
solitary, only won
too small to dance, in the short run.
too dark to see,
too low to stand.
Jailor? Not needed
Till the sentence ends.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 16
Eulogy for the Premature Deaths of Our Children
for Joshua and Sarah
Dull noise: a thud. II.
Too quiet to threaten others far away.
A fall, little blood. Violence of one to another:
Three hours later noone will see life died here the deaths died as we grow older.
today. From where do they come? Why?
Who is there to help?
Someone's toys: a gasoline flood Only the passerby.
from a Honda'a tank trickling Yet we wave him on:
blood red gas don't even try.
as from his gash
from chin to forehead.
A twitch. Raise children to fight,
Blue shutters close slowly rather than cry
over his eyes. for help.
"Noone to help?" Raise children not
the lone witness cries. to stop and kneel
Dust sprayed by the speeding cars or discover what the
dying feel. . .
closes his wounds only then do we know securely
coats they would die prematurely
the blued, unblinking stare.
Noone to help but
to cover him
and tow the wreck
and clean the spill
and wave the drivers by.
Let the cyclist die.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 17
Lost in the anachronistic gutters
those spirals filled with flutters:
black traps for catching the soul’s food
coming through the needle
mainlined to the brain.
Once a mass:
now so much junk.
Bach is dead.
Joe Oppenheimer, Saturday, October 28, 2000.
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 18
Not Even Almost Chronological
The place of time
in rhythm or rhyme
does not escape the mind.
But time’s orderings
our hanger of kings
and pharaohs -
knocked a kilter
to communicate our sensate litter?
How out of sorts
it would be
were it that we
Hard to conceive a cosmology
out side of chronology.
Where the end may come first
and the path of time
goes no where -
nor helps us
connect the dots.
But not even almost chronological
is the world we hear or read.
Out one mouth
In one ear, then.
But from when
did it come?
Learned so out of line
we make our patterns in
free form time.
To place sense
That is the way the world is told to you
not within a time
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 19
Fresh leaves and buds
on the trees;
new greens and cherry blossoms
in December. I have passed too many years
to consider it bold:
Merely waste, life spent
before its time,
lost in the coming of winter,
are the hopes of a still too foreign spring.
Yet my children see
in this last harvest warmth
-indeed, in the very same tree-
just another surprise
gift of joy in life.
Who has the better vision
does not seem to be the question.
Is it the old man's obsession for protection
against the winters which are foreknown,
or the child's
eye which sees
which are seasonless?
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 20
June 23, 1980
Dying on the street
Blood on his brain
Toppling from his feet
There in the cold rain.
Calling others as friends
they stopped, stared,
took pictures through a lens,
-refused to meet or rally
the pained soul in the alley.
he came as barker
to ask goodness from humanity.
But they laughed
rolled a joint
and passed on.
Both died then
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 21
Table of contents
Prose Poems 1
A letter to some of my colleagues and students (1)
2 Types of People (2)
Other Poems 2
Blown Away (3)
Super Heroes (3)
Comic Man (4)
Last Day at the Office (4)
Memories Ingrained (5)
Dream Traveler (5)
War on Terror (6)
Paradoxical Knowledge (9)
Outside the Waldorf (10)
Ima Hogg (11)
A Song segment (12)
Meeting Place (14)
Golden Calf (15)
Eulogy for the Premature Deaths of Our Children (17)
Not Even Almost Chronological (19)
Alley Death (21)
O p p e n h e im e r Po e m s Page 22