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Poems by Richard Seltzer

Mist that Rises

The river breaks to channels,

the channels to jets of racing water

broken by rock after black rock

to droplets flying in formation

past the edge of the earth


their plummeting

jostling, joining, streaming,

and breaking again to droplets in the wind

sideways, rising, swirling

meeting other droplets

rising from the pounding depth

and drops of falling rain formed from the rising mist.

There is no shadow in this valley of death

where all is mist

and nothing is remembered,

where everything that falls must rise

and fall again

as mist

on the camera lens.

(written January, 1998, at Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe)

The Way of the Web   

Who owns the Internet? -- No one.

Who controls the Internet? -- No one.

Where is the Internet? -- Everywhere.

Can you understand all and penetrate all with the click of a mouse?

To produce things and to make them well,

but not to sell them,

rather to give them away freely to all,

and by giving to become known and valued;

To act, but not to rely on one's own ability,

to build on the works and lessons of others,

and to let others do likewise --

this is called the Way of the Web.

The best is like water.

Water benefits all things and does not compete with them.

Water dissolves barriers.

Water reaches out and covers the earth.

This is called the Way of the Web.

[written 1995, intended as epigraph for the book The Way of the Web]

Finnegan Died

(On the occasion of the closing of Thee Coffee House, San Angelo, Texas, and the assemblage of its' nostalgic friends, 1970.)

Finnegan died,

as people do every once in a while,

so they held a funeral, an Irish funeral,

and relatives and old friends who hadn't seen him for months or years all gathered,

and it being winter, they held the picnic inside by candlelight;

and everybody had such a good time

that Grandpa promised to die next year so they could have another good time just like it,

and Grandma volunteered for the next year,

then all the aunts and uncles and cousins and third cousins and friends,

till they had two centuries all booked up,

and some pessimist in the crowd complained that he probably wouldn't live long enough for them to celebrate his funeral,

and one of the aunts complained that hers was scheduled after one of the cousins, and she wasn't going to play second fiddle to any mere cousin;

so Finnegan got up out of his coffin and told them to stop their squabbling --

they'd just open up a coffeehouse,

and every week they'd close it again,

and if people died, well, they could do it when they felt like it, in no particular order;

but everybody could get together anyway, once or twice a week,

and celebrate the funeral of the coffeehouse.

[published in Colorado North Review 32/1&2, p. 137]

The View from Beacon Hill

Black Church spires

married in sunset silhouette --



of darkness --

(and no film in the camera).

[published in Colorado North Review 32/1&2, p. 138]

Brief Reprieve

Beneath the pound of the rain

and the rush of the tides,

a gentle peace abides,

a weary ease.

A thrush chirps softly,

calmly through the thunder;

a worm crawls from under

the burden of earth.

It's a reverential hush:

liquid peace pours from heaven,

as God snores

in weary ease.

published in The Calhoun Literary Magazine, May, 1966; also published in Colorado North Review 32/1&2]

On the Invasion of Cambodia, May 5, 1970

In May the bombs blossom.

The sweet aroma of gas fills the air.

The sing-song


May song




me lie

me down to sleep,

and pray the Lord

(what else can one




right face

the press of the crowd, shouting, mad

men giving orders

on the borders of insanity,

a neutral nation

at least officially,

but everyone knows


is an archaic term

in jail

waiting for trial,

by hook or by crook,

we'll pull this impotent giant

to a hard

line on

and on and on and

onward, Christian


in defense of freedom is no




Nixon, Mitchell, Agnew,

and a fourth horseman of the Apocalypse

to be announced,

so stay tuned

to looney tunes,

on most of our network stations,

brought to you by,



is a warm gun,

in the age of hilarious,

who cannot wash away our sins

with a flood

of tear


for there was a limited supply

of war,

one day

in May

the bombs blossom.

[written May,1970 in New Haven, CT]

Things Are War or Less the Same


next spring

not be



of housewives use Dove

so gentle to the hands

of this callous



the president for mercy

and the president said, "Oh, pardon me,"

and kept his peace,

for peace is a precious thing

and shouldn't be given away lightly,

it's just common sense






in mob psychology,


to burn




but side-burns shall not extend below the middle of the ear

and thine eyes shall see the gory


and unreal


in this atomic age

of unfishinable


of consciousness



or less

the same,



[written May 1971, Boston and Saratoga]

Saturday Night

Six days shalt thou labor,

till the long thin week becomes a broad

and work is forgotten.

For all our Saturdays have lighted fools their way to drunken beds,

that our accidents may be fruitful and fill the earth.

So we multiply allusions and illusions

and therein clothe our works and days,

for the joy of unbuttoning,

unzipping, and pulling off

to see

what we always knew was there.

[published in the Calhoun Literary Magazine, May 1966]


il errait dans la rue

tout seul, perdu

du brouillard dedans, dehors

rien que les mains dans les poches

rien que le coeur dans la tete

il ne cherchait rien partout

elle errait dans la rue

toute seule, perdue

du brouillard dedans, dehors

rien que les mains dans les poches

rien que le coeur dans la tete

elle ne cherchait rien partout

ils se sont rencontrs

ils flanent dans les rues ensemble

clart dedans dehors

rien que le monde dans les poches

rien que l'autre dans la tete

ils cherchent demain ensemble

[written December, 1964 in Brussels and February, 1965 in Brentwood, Essex; published in The Calhoun Literary Magazine, May 1966]

On Hearing Voznesenski

I heard a gong

and again a gong,

resounding long --

the sound of a hammer on a loose-held shield of bronze

They say the way he spoke

moved those who knew not

what he said.

He with the hammer,

me with the shield,

the short and bloodless battle left a long loud gong,

clear and strong.

The bronze still

quivers in my grasp.

(published in Yale Literary Magazine, Jan. 1967]

Tree Trip

tree leaves

its accustomed home near the ground

stretches forth


to the sun

[written Jan. 28,1971 in Brookline and Cambridge, MA]

Rosetta Stone

reddish stone

or only so at sunset

on snowy sand

with gull tracks

and other markings


with the rosetta


or only so at sunset

[written Feb. 7, 1971 in Allston, MA]

To Mary and Her Sister from Southampton

she looked so sweet

the way she crossed her feet

on the soft seat in the corner.

the flair of the curl in her hair,

of the pair of curls of the pair of girls

on the soft seat in the corner

was oh so right for such a night

so hard to resist, to desist

when they begged to be kissed,

with the flair of their hair

and the cross of their feet

on the soft seat in the corner

[written July, 1965 in the Irish Sea between Fishguard and Cork]

Human Race

black track

blue sky

the gun raised high

it's all a question of...

to soar with the shot

to the end

of the wind

to the bend

of the track

with the sun

at your back

at your side

in your eyes

with your spikes

in the ground

in the grit

in the sound

of the guy

at your back

at your side

and the dust

in your eye

in the stretch

and the fire

in your throat

at the line

as you jog

to a stop

to rest

in the cool, cool grass

it was all a question of...

[written spring 1965 in Brentwood, Essex, England; published in Greenwood, Brentwood School, summer 1965; also published in The Calhoun Literary Magazine, May 1966]

To a Teacher from Tournai met in Lille

J'y suis arriv

tout a fait etranger,

je venais de Calais,

le vent m'y poussait.

Poussiere, fum,

pierres, acier,

paves, chantiers,

pleine de gens, d'industrie,

peu de vent, de vie;

de beaut

il n'y avait pas,

sauf toi.

Mais tu as apparu

sur murs, sur rues,

muses, fumee,

chantiers, acier,

je n'y vois que toi.

Quelle belle ville

qu'est Lille.

[written April 1965 in Lille; published in Greenwood, Brentwood School, Essex, summer 1965]

The Land of Frost and Sandburg

I come from the land of Frost and Sandburg

The land of mountains and cities:

The land that shaped the people

And the people that reshaped the land:

A living organism,

A giant striding toward tomorrow.

I come from the new generation;

I dwell in tomorrow:

When tubes and paper shape minds

And minds reshape tubes and paper:

A maze-trapped mouse

Wondering where he started, where he's going.

[written Feb., 1965 in Brentwood, Essex, England; published in Cyclotron, summer 1965]

Journey to the West

In a hither, thither dither; rushing, shoving, pushing,

Dancing with the mob to the tune of horns, engines, brakes

I chanced upon Avernus in a department store.

The path indeed was easy on a downward escalator

An assembly-line inferno built to suit the population.

There in the emptiness of light-saturated air

Manufactured breezes smothered in sweaty mobs,

Mammon turned housewives into demons with magic slashes of price.

From this helter-skelter swelter the exit too was easy.

Glad to leave, yet swelled with pride, from Inferno I returned.

Here illumed from every angle, piles of bones, complex stuffed,

Lack the reassuring shadows of by-gone days.

It was just a lower circle.

In a hither thither dither; rushing, shoving, pushing,

Dancing with the mob to the tune of horns, engines, brakes,

Silently we praise and thank creators of confusion, divinities of diversion,

All sweet saviors from thought.

[written spring 1964 in Plymouth, NH; published in Flame, 1965]

Up There On LSD

on the sofa, squatting yoga-like

with protruding eyes

small empty island in seas of white

a Ben Gunn, marooned within himself

he hypnotized

or rather spoke with such contagious intensity

that all stared fixedly till the room swam

and he seemed to have a halo

for he had seen God,

or so he said,

and the way he said...

he was a Hebrew prophet

with foaming mouth and wild unworldly eyes

proclaiming the doom of Babylon and Nineveh

the curse of Israel

and a fate worse than death for the unbeliever.

he was a modern American prophet

endorsing the five-dollar God-cube,

the divine peep show

instant Zen,

the all-purpose household...

his eyes could see the essence of the soul

and speak with spirit

or so he said

and he had wandered through the city streets

staring wildly at strangers' eyes

seeing here a glimmer

there an impenetrable darkness,

stopping once to converse with a new-born infant.

he had the power...

but he couldn't see the soul without his glasses.

[written 1965, New Haven, CT] privacy statement