Sunday, May 15, 2011


by Hank Kalet
“Almost overnight, the quiet farming region changed in much the same manner as the gold rush towns of the Wild West. The flats in the narrow valley of Oil Creek, averaging only around 330 m (~1000 feet) wide were quickly leased, and hastily constructed derricks erected. Towns sprang up out of nowhere with people coming from all over looking to make their fortunes. This once quiet area suddenly became louder than anyone could have imagined, with steam engines and other types of machinery necessary to run the hundreds of wells that sprang up in the valley in the first couple of years. And the mud was fast becoming legendary. Horses were the main means of transporting machines and oil in these early days. As soon as a trail became too muddy to travel, the trail was simply widened. Soon, the width of the trails stretched from the stream to the foot of the hills, with the entire area having been transformed into mud. Horses, which were worked to beyond exhaustion, would often sink up to their bellies in the stuff.”[i]

Plume of spreading petroleum
sucking oxygen from ocean,
like a tick sucks blood
buried at the hairline
on the neck
or deep in the dog’s fur,
massive underwater slick,
a bubble of toxic ooze,
growing, expanding, its outline
in the aerial photo
on TV morning news looking
so much like the blood stain
on New Road spreading from the carcass
of the dead rabbit I saw,
the one that must have been hit
just minutes before I passed.

The Gulf is slowly dying,
ocean, too,
like the creek along my house,
nothing here but liquor bottles
and empty cans, a rusted shopping cart
stolen from the Stop & Shop
to cart home the tan plastic bags
that blow
from trash cans and catch in trees
like flags placed on conquered ground.

Decay and degradation,
the slow dissolve of life
across the millennia, settling,
mixing with sediment,
the sandy mud and pudding-like peat
that line the sea floor,
plankton and sea weed,
the small feeder fish
that died in the past-time
before memory,
layer and layer and layer
deep into the core of the Earth,
shale and rock
that burn bright in the flame,
that smolder and glow
with the ignition
of internal combustion.

“Sure, you know oil and natural gas fuel transportation and comfort, but I bet you didn’t know oil and natural gas fuel American jobs, 9.2 million of them. And that’s fuel for our economy.” – television advertisement from the American Petroleum Institute.

“They put us out of work,
and now
we’re cleaning up their mess,”
he told the paper[ii],
fishing boat surfing along
soft swells,
dropping booms
instead of oyster nets,
a lifetime of fish,
a life really,
drowning in oil.

Remember the movie gushers,
oil spurting up, falling
like a Florida rain
soaking all in black,
wild-catter coated
like a mud-slicked pig.

Pelican or southern gull
or maybe some primordial beast,
brown, rocklike, spawned
from a biblical mind,
oil slicked, choked off
from flight, suffocating
in the oozing, spreading plume.

haze of gas fumes
like the heat playing tricks on the eyes,
rises, hovers
from the fuel nozzle,
a barely visible cloud
that stinks of decay
and chemical process –
nothing else gives off
the same sour stench

I like the smell she says
and she also likes
the Turnpike’s terrible toxic stink
and Staten Island landfills
in the summer

and all I can think of
is Robert Duvall,
yes, it smells
like victory

even along this interior coast,
the massive drums and
refineries exhaling black
and acrid smoke,
visible from the Turnpike
and New York bridges,
industrial menace,
engines of modernity,
straight lines and cold steel
made hot in the generation
of power, the breaking down
of matter into motion,
cloud of soot and stink,
the byproduct floating up
mixing with cumulus
and stratus,
a fog of grays covering the sky,
obscuring sun.

Energy in equals
energy out –
that’s what we learned in chemistry,
the black brown goo burning
into power, propelling
Plymouths and aging Pontiacs
north toward Newark Airport,
past Port Elizabeth
and the Parkway,
pedal pressed to push the pace,
my Toyota and all the rest
pushing eighty,
exhausts exhaling
the useless byproduct
of internal combustion

humidity hugging the hazy gas
of evaporating fuel,
the sickly sweet smell,
souring the stomach,
and I can only imagine what those workers feel
deep in their guts
slick of oil spreading
like our national malaise,
the plume leeching into wetlands
suffocating plants and plankton,
shrimp and catfish
as though we’ve tie
a plastic bag over their heads
cutting off air
choking the life from life
with a violent lurch

globules like puss,
the black brown bilge,
like blood coagulating,
tarballs of oil, crude
buds of a viscous brew,
like snotballs
the diver said on the news
an image as ugly as it sounds

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” – Genesis 1:26, New International Version, 1995

Is this what dominion means,
to use and abuse
and burn it all away?
God in the bible
blows life into Adam,
molded from
dust and dirt,
first man shaped
from tiniest speck
of dried ground,
water and dust,
and given dominion,
as the believers say.
To what end, though,
Residue of tail pipes,
exhaust fumes from burned fuel,
the slicks from leaks,
antifreeze, engine oil,
and dead cigarette butts
and fast-food orange drinks
tossed from open windows,
running off macadam in the rain,
hazy rivulets,
streaks of light
catching like rainbows,
as colors swirl
and leech into the aquifer.

Decay, degradation, dissolution,
a dead zone
of suffocation,
oil coating the seagrass
and underwater plants
that breath oxygen
into the Gulf,
That’s the irony, oil sucking oxygen
from Gulf waters suffocating
coral and grasses and the bottom-feeding fish,
the shrimp and mollusks and mussels
and with them years of trawling.

Oil slick still there
two years after lawn mower’s
rusted oil pan leaked
on cement floor,
after bag of cat litter
and straw helped
sop some up,
after dish soap
dispersed slick some,
but still that stain remains
and always will.

Thick smoke disgorges from
narrow stacks spitting flame,
black, heavy, waste from years of re-creation,
of casting thick ooze into
heat and energy
to power four-cylinder Toyota
through Turnpike’s slow-moving traffic
on way to airport,
an exhalation
like a cough choked out from
too many cigarettes,
too many years of menthol
and nicotine,
the emphysematic wheeze
of our addiction.

[i]The Story of Oil in Pennsylvania,” History of Oil/Petroleum Education, The Paleontological Research Institute website,
[ii] Fisherman Donny Campo, speaking with columnist Bob Herbert, New York Times, May 21, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Villanelle for Minnie Imber, by Hank Kalet

Here is a revision of a first villanelle, the French form that had been used primarily for bawdy lyrics but that had been made famous as a more solemn poetic structure by Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop. This particular villanelle has undergone significant revision -- this is the 11th version of the poem.

for my grandmother, 1905-1986

By Hank Kalet

She leaves the house, wanders the city
alone on a grid with now unfamiliar lines,
her mind untroubled, lacking clarity,

lost in headlights, streetlamps, whir of packed jitneys
that run down a street she’d walked so many times.
She leaves the house, wanders a city

of chattered English now foreign as she
fades back to girl’s shtetl Yiddish, her mind
splicing frames out of sequence, without clarity,

calling to long-dead mother, vacant and empty
in the cold dead space behind her eyes.
As she leaves home, wanders alone in the city,

damned by grainy scenes to obscurity,
decades of images, cutting from shot to shot,
her mind untroubled, lacking clarity,

as the film reel flickers, snaps, is spliced, turns gritty,
frame by frame, leaning into the stuttering light.
She leaves the house, wanders alone in the city,
unmoored mind drifting, lacking of clarity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

First try at a villanelle

This is my first attempt at a villanelle. I'm not sure what I think of it.

by Hank Kalet

Her mind untroubled by a lack of clarity,
memory decayed, sputtering in a buzz like
radio static that damns a song to obscurity.

She'd leave the house, wander alone in the city
on streets unknown to her brittle, fragmented psyche,
her mind untroubled by a lack of clarity,

echoed noise, nothing approaching lucidity,
a fog of vague images and sound and such, like
radio static that damns the song to obscurity.

muffled tones, a dress she recalls as so pretty
she refused to take it off, thoughts jumbled in time,
her mind untroubled by a lack of clarity,

dense calls to long-dead lovers; I have to pity
the emptiness and cold white noise in her eyes, like
radio static that damns a song to obscurity.

Film reel sputters, flickers, snaps, gets spliced, turns gritty,
frame by frame, leaning into the stuttering light,
her mind troubled by a lack of clarity,
radio static that damns her song to obscurity.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dogs in the Rain
by Hank Kalet

This is a new poem, mostly finished, I think, but I am open to suggestions -- including for a better title.


“Be wet
with a decent happiness.”
-- Robert Creeley

Rain pools on vinyl chair covers,
the dripping from the bent edge of the gutter
a rhythm that pushes
steadily into the hard
improvisation of a wind
chilly with the last
talons of winter grasping
to hold off the change of season.

The creek is full and flowing
beyond the fence, breaking in white
crests as the mud-brown stream
rushes across the rocks and
fallen limbs and toppled trunks.

The dogs run, bounding through a yard
stripped clean of grass from a wet year,
a vast sea of rain and heavy run-off,
mud spraying back into air
from fast-moving paws like
infield dirt from a base-stealer’s spikes.
They like it out there in the rain,
can sit for hours as it
pours down, soaks into fur,
or splash like two children in a puddle,
like my nephew Dan does,
stamping his sneakers
just to watch the surface crack
and the water spray out.

They love that spot at the rear of the yard
where the water collects,
a mucky pond, lake-like when it rains,
bobbing and digging in dirt-brown water,
tracking mud into the house and
smelling sour for hours as they dry.

This storm is biblical, a friend says,
but that seems extreme,
though the rain has been coming down hard,
beating the windows and the roof
like a heavy-metal drummer,
lights flickering, phone going in and out,
and the dogs jingling the back-door bells
to go out every ten minutes.

Is there
a lesson in this I wonder,
this deep pooling of rain water
in the sinking corner
of a yard ignored for years,
a depression in the ground
near our shed,
at the base of a slope that runs
the length of the street,
yard to yard, the runoff
a rushing river almost
and this temporary pond
an attractive nuisance for the dogs?
Is there a lesson
or maybe a warning,
the storm overpowering it all,
dimming lights and closing roads?

We’ll install a drain, re-grade the yard
to redirect the flow
of water, but nature always gets its way;
even the massive trees that
shade the streets we walk with the dogs,
the northern red oaks with thick trunks
the width of a sturdy fullback
or an Olympic power lifter from Russia,
even they fell in the presence
of the rain and wind, storm-soaked sod
giving way, the aging oak
tipping, ripping roots from saturated soil,
sidewalk’s cement slabs
wrenched upward and flipped
like burgers on a grill,
like the branches and stray sticks
the dogs will find and play with
after the storm fades to calm.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bare Tree, a poem by Hank Kalet

Bare Tree
By Hank Kalet

like an old woman's boney fingers

the tree's bare branches stretch out
in gnarled twists
swollen and knotty with time

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three readings

Three readings, the first featuring yours truly, the other two are part of the Sundary reading series in South Brunswick:

Wednesday, Feb. 17:
Somerset Poetry Group Poetry reading featuring New Jersey Poets Hank Kalet, Ray Brown, and Paul Sohar.
Followed by an Open Mic. Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.
Free. Bridgewater Public Library, 1 Vogt Drive
Contact: Bob Rosenbloom

Sunday, Feb. 21:
South Brunswick Library reading series featuring Metta Sama and DéLana R.A. Dameron
Sunday, Feb. 21, 2 p.m.
South Brunswick Library, 110 Kingston Lane, Monmouth Junction
732-329-4000, ext. ext.7635
e-mail, or
Readings are free, but a donation of a nonperishable food item for the South Brunswick Food Pantry is encouraged.
Open readings follow all features.

Sunday, March 21:
South Brunswick Library reading series featuring Madeline Tiger, Lois Marie Harrod and Renee Ashley
Sunday, March 21, 2 p.m.
South Brunswick Library, 110 Kingston Lane, Monmouth Junction
732-329-4000, ext. ext.7635
e-mail, or
Readings are free, but a donation of a nonperishable food item for the South Brunswick Food Pantry is encouraged.
Open readings follow all features.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Dog's Life by Hank Kalet

with the dining room table
covered in bills
and all the proofs
that responsibility requires,
the packing slips
and insurance cards,
catalogues and doctor's notes,
I think sometimes of when I was 8
and the worst I had to do
was homework and swing my bat
and miss at a slow-tossed pitch
and wonder where that time went
and, sometimes, I just
look at the dogs and think
they've got it right,
find a patch of sunlight,
crawl into a ball
and sleep, yes, sleep.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blue Wall in Chile
by Hank Kalet

es humillacion

on a blue wall in Chile
on the front page
of The New York Times as
is humiliation,
the graffito like a
chemical equation,
the two sides in balance,
the shock of no work
after years at a desk
and now home with no one
returning his calls,
the embarrassment
driving him to silence,
to lie to his son,
to avoid the mail,
the phone, to
bury himself in his house,
banging nails
into wallboard
and patching the dents
and cracks that come with time.
Idle hands
are empty hands, are
hands he’d rather hide
deep in his pockets,
holed up against the chill,
away from the elements,
the winter breeze
that pushes the trees to dance,
the painful numbers
trickling down
from the television.
-- Hank Kalet

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poem: Still Life: Graveyard on Woodbridge Avenue


Weather-beaten flags mark
graves of veterans,

red stripes fading to white,
to memory

weeds sprout like white hairs from
old-man’s half-shaven face

picket fence, gap-toothed
white paint chipped and peeling,
beaten by wind and rain

church façade, a scratchy red,
unwashed brick
like dead leaves in the sun

Poem: Notes on 'En La Casa De La Casa'

On a painting by Kevin Patrick Kelly
(seen hanging in Small World Coffee, Princeton, Sept. 18)

Curling of pigment, brush strokes that
sweep the sweating hues, a yellow
that’s more than yellow, more than the glow
of an oven flame in the steamy
Southern Hemisphere afternoon,
blue curtains swept back in
an unexpected breeze, farm fields
speckled in distant color with an ocean blue sky
hovering like a bird lost in thought.
Sauce pot simmers, its enamel
the scratchy red of the unwashed brick
visible on overcast morning
in an empty back lot.
Can you see the hand of god
in the uneven lines, the movement
in the shadows implied by
heavy outlines, the disjunction
of space and mind?
Can you taste the mole poblano’s
sweet spice or smell the yellow tortillas
crisping in the oven’s wood-fired heat?
The eye plays tricks, acrylic glaze
infused with life, with light,
flat wooden canvas under
fluorescent bulbs in crowded
coffee shop, dishes clattering,
Princeton morning skittering under a sky
empty of pigment, rain falling,
curl of coffee’s steam
twirling into nothing at all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tuesday Poetry Podcast:
Sonnet for Bob Gibson

This week's poetry podcast is of an older baseball poem -- "Sonnet for Bob Gibson" -- that appeared in the Elysian Fields Quarterly in 2002.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A nice Sunday for poetry

The readings today at the South Brunswick Libryar -- at the series I organize for the township Arts Commission -- were quite interesting. Above is Sander Zulauf, the editor of the Journal of New Jersey Poets and a professor of English at the County College of Morris.

This is Ken Hart, who teaches at NYU.

Thanks to the poets and stop by May 3 for the Idiom Poets.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday Poetry Podcast:
Little League Poem

This week's poetry podcast is of a new poem -- "Little League Poem" -- that has been accepted by the Edison Literary Review for an upcoming (2010) issue.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Tuesday Poetry Podcast:

I took the week of from the podcast last week -- and then almost forgot this week's reading.

Here it is: a poem called "Cleavings."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday Poetry Podcast:
The Cost

Check out this week's Tuesday Poetry Podcast here.