Thursday, April 30, 2015

Manhattan Love Song

for Barry Meisenheimer

I loved you when you were a dirty mess—
   The streets I couldn’t walk down after dark;
The thick graffiti on the 2 Express;
   Needles like fallen leaves in Bryant Park.
I loved you when you were a burnt-out car—
   An outdoor Lower East Side barbecue;
The swanky hookers at the Hilton bar;
   The skanky hookers on Tenth Avenue.
I loved you when you never slept a wink.
   I loved you when you were our culture’s nest.
I loved it when you pushed me to the brink.
   I loved you when to love you was a quest.
      And though you’ve changed so much it makes me ill,
      Those are the reasons why I love you still.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My body stares at yours and dreams of friction

My body stares at yours and dreams of friction.
   It wants to pave you like a country road
And fill its veins with you like an addiction
   And leave a crater when we both explode.
My soul considers you and dreams of fusion
   Of mind to mind, of inner heart to heart—
A shared path from the dead end of seclusion—
   For each one is the other’s missing part.
And everything our body parts can do
   To consummate the passion that we feel
In some hot wild ecstatic rendezvous
   Is nothing next to what our souls can feel
      When they, transcending flesh and its disguise,
      Caress the truth beneath each other’s eyes.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells


Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Birthday Letter to Shakespeare

Dean Lennox Kelly as WS in Dr. Who's The Shakespeare Code

Dear Will:

                Felicitations on your birth
from one who never met you on this earth
except through what you wrote to make a living—
those plays and poems that just keep on giving
the world great pleasure, and professors jobs—
the ones that in your day pleased both the yobs
and the entitled, like a perfect gem
that each group thought was mined only for them.
A trick that all your plays perform so neatly—
and yet the same trick seems to be completely
beyond your fellow poets, never mind
the modern ones, who all trail far behind
you like the field trailed Secretariat
during the Belmont.  And while some have wit,
and some have heart, and some have poetry,
and some have depth or heights you cannot see,
nobody seems to have it all, the way
you do—and damn, you only wrote a play
to make a buck, not statements—though you did
manage to let a thorn or two be hid
among the roses.  But you always made
those thorns the living stem your actors played.
A rose without a thorn is not a flower;
each tests the other, like the sweet the sour.
And that is why I think all of your plays
still have the inner power to amaze—
a field where actors harvest what you’ve sown
until they find a thorn to make their own. 

And why?  Well, it all comes down to the writing.
God knows, a life can be dull or exciting,
but nobody will ever wonder how
Writer X acted centuries from now
unless he leaves some work behind that lives—
something that still seems fresh, something that gives
an insight or an echo, something true.
Do that, and he could be our age’s you.
Did you have that in mind, I wonder, when
you scribbled cursive with your ink-nibbed pen?
Did you write for posterity?  Y’know,
if I had to put cash on it, I’d go
with you just writing what you knew would be
popular, and surf a trend wave or three,
yet deep enough beneath all that to make
people come back to see it, for the sake
of box office, not fame.  That’s how ‘twas done
back then—a new play never got a run;
it only got produced due to demand.
And knowing that was why you turned your hand
to write the way you did—to make what dunce
to sage can stand to sit through more than once—
because each time you played that verbal score,
it contained notes they’d never heard before. 

Who writes a play like it’s a symphony?
You did—and that’s why you’re hearing from me
and half the English-speaking world today.
You spent your brief adult life writing play
after play that makes the writer in me
consumed not just with bitter jealousy,
but sweet ambition.  One of them’s my rose,
the other is my thorn; and both of those
would not exist in me if not for you.
So thank you, Will, for all you did and do.
I’m really glad that you were born.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Time Keeps Saying

That hour is gone—you’ll never get it back.
   You’re wasting minutes you won’t see again.
Plan all you want—unless you walk the track,
   Each Now put off till Later dies a When.
That whooshing sound is moments passing by.
   That background noise is me, slipping away.
That voice you hear says patience is a lie—
   It yells out: “So—what did you do today?”
No matter how you try, you’ll never fill me.
   I am the tiny hole in your life’s bucket.
Nothing can stop me, get me back, or kill me—
   Your life’s a feather, and one day I’ll pluck it.
      So will that life be goals you were pursuing,
      Or lists of all the things you could be doing?

Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Friday, April 17, 2015


If love were physics, every time you moved,
   I would move with you; and each time you changed,
I’d change as well, diminished or improved
   As our quantum dynamic rearranged.
You would not need to speak, or I to tell,
   For we would be entangled in romancing;
And everything I do, you’d do as well,
   And we would go through life like mirrors dancing.
But love’s not physics, so I’ll never know
   Your feelings even when I’m next to you;
And all that you and I will share or show
   Is never a solution—just a clue
      To that great mystery of what controls
      The particles of our entangled souls.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Audience, or, Royalty Does Royalty

There are three styles of acting on display in The Audience, a delightful play which charts Queen Elizabeth’s meetings with her Prime Ministers from Churchill to the present.  One is epitomized by Helen Mirren, who embodies regality more than she plays an actual character, and it totally works.  One is displayed by the British members of the cast, whose familiarity with both the history of their characters and the social class they embody (and in Britain, it’s all about what social class you belong or aspire to) comes across as natural and precise; and that totally works as well.  And one is attempted by the American actors, who—in gamely adopting accents which either vanish now and then or become utterly controlling—wind up orphaning their characters—which doesn’t work at all. 
For instance: Dylan Baker actually begins the play very well.  His accent is impeccable, which makes him initially unrecognizable as John Major, but the longer he speaks, the more he starts sounding like Dylan Baker, and all the good things he did in the beginning are forgotten.  And I would have liked to see Judith Ivey spend less time working on Margaret Thatcher’s accent and more time working on Queen Elizabeth’s last nerve.  Her one scene with Mirren (the only scene in which the character of Elizabeth is in any way cowed or intimidated) seemed to be a battle between Ivey and the vowels she was speaking, rather than the actress she was speaking them to. 

Thankfully they are not the entire show.  That burden falls—with lightness and sincerity—on Helen Mirren’s shoulders.  She is the reason to see this play, and while nothing earth-shattering happens in the course of two hours except 60 years of British history, you do not doubt for a second that you are in the presence of royalty, both theatrical and hereditary. 

Along with the Prime Ministers scenes, there are flashbacks to the young Elizabeth with her Scottish nanny, and a series of flash-forward-backs between the Queen and her younger self, where the older woman instructs the younger one like some kind of Future Nanny.  It’s an effect that you’d think wouldn’t work at all, except that it does.  Thanks to these scenes, we get just enough moments of Elizabeth, when she was Lilibet, to see the sheltered child in Mirren’s performance.  This comes out in a couple of tense moments where Elizabeth’s reserve completely cracks, moments that are actually a little embarrassing because what is coming out of this proper woman is the volcanic wail of a child who has been bred from an early age to never display a feeling in public.  And again: it shouldn’t work, but it does.  (Sort of like the monarchy itself, when you come right down to it.) 

And of course what’s really interesting about all this (and deserves to be remarked upon) is that the young Queen is presented as someone who has had no male role models, and the kind of female role models which lead an audience to treat her like a self-made woman.  It’s a subtle touch—she has no scenes with her father; she only obeys her nanny; and while all her Prime Ministers save one are male, only one of them is portrayed as a superior (Churchill).  And even then she has her own ideas about what she should be doing. 

Of all the other Prime Ministers, you can pretty much figure out where the moderns stand in Elizabeth’s estimation by whether or not they like Tony Blair.  (It appears that she didn’t.)  In the published British script, Blair never appears, but he shows up here on our shores in a brief scene that both pays homage to our knowledge of the Iraq War, and makes the comparison between that colossal misadventure and the Suez Crisis under Anthony Eden even more (as Dogberry would say) odorous. 

Of all the other PM’s, only one is presented as what we would call a friend, but which the British would probably define as a cross-class equal-terms working companion, to the Queen.  That would be Richard McCabe's Harold Wilson, who was PM back in the Sixties—a man with whom those of my generation will be familiar primarily thanks to a shout-out in the Beatles song “Taxman.”  Wilson has the best scenes with Elizabeth and is the most entertaining character besides her because he’s the least posh.  In fact, their scenes together play like a romantic comedy where the only man the upper-crust dame can be herself with is the lower-class bloke without any airs.  And it's totally charming, and even gets a sweet and touching moment at the end. 

On the technical side, there are some stunningly quick costume and wig changes in this play, and by quick I mean in the space of less than fifteen seconds.  The effect is dazzling.  With each change, Mirren does something to her face, softening it for youth and hardening it for age.  And everything screams high class, from a Cecil Beaton photo shoot to the theatre seat prices.  (To paraphrase Lennon, the only people clapping their hands are in the rear mezzanine; the rest are all rattling their jewelry.)
So yes, it’s an expensive night out, but Mirren alone make it worth it.

Plus there are Corgis—awwwww-inspiring Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


“But I’m content,” you said; and it’s that “but”
   That got me thinking.  We all use that word
When we talk of contentment—we’ll say what
   We’ve done, we’re doing, or what just occurred,
Listing the reasons why we shouldn’t feel
   Content before we say we are, like it’s
A ledger trade: on one side, life’s ordeal;
   While on the other, life’s perspective sits,
Balancing content with contentment’s hand—
   Thumbing the scales until both fall and climb
Are equal—until all our glasses stand
   Half full, with pardons matching every crime.
      “But I’m content,” I say—which is to plead
      The equanimity of lack and need.

Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells
thanks, Rebeca!  :-)


Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Self Is Several

The self is several.  It’s like a zoo
   Where all the me’s I am are caged and fed
And angry—since, no matter what they do,
   I only free the ones who are well-bred
Or well-behaved.  There is a different me
   For everything I feel, pretend to feel,
Or cannot feel—and still there’ll only be
   One of me that the outside world calls real.
I am a traffic jam that just one car
   Will get through—a packed mob behind a door
That only lets one person out—the star
   That all the extras and the crew work for—
      A single tongue behind a wall of teeth
      That speaks over the unvoiced underneath.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Heartache Blues

I’d rather take ten punches in the face—
   From a gorilla—than deal with heartache. 
Even a giant ape fist leaves no trace
   A few months later; and though bones may break,
They sure as hell heal quicker than my heart
   Which bleeds, and bleeds, and (guess what?) bleeds
             all day
Because its toxic pain is off the chart—
   Hell, vacuum cleaners can’t suck it away—
The venom of lost love, which floods my veins
   Until my heart is full of cactus spines,
My mood is crappier than sewer drains,
   And all my doubts are dancing conga lines.
      Your heart may drink that up like sarsaparilla;
      But as for me, I’ll go with the gorilla.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Trees, by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.  

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.  

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.