I read the other day that the days of western civilization are numbered.
Only about five of them are left.
The elephant of the republic is mounting the democratic jack-ass
to sire a banana,
while Hillary rubs her hands and China laughs
over the price we’ll pay for the organs of executed prisoners...

—From “Continuing Story of My Life in Østerbro,” by Thomas E. Kennedy

Short Works: Poetry

Kennedy has published a couple of dozen poems. His recent poetry includes a series of what he calls “Transportations from Ferlinghetti,” long contemporary poetic commentaries inspired by the legendary founder of City Lights bookshop. The most recent poem, “Continuing Story of My Life in Østerbro,” runs six pages and had its debut at Copenhagen Poetry Day, 2006 and the Wonder Woods reading series in Copenhagen.


Short Works: Poetry:
“Amber Hunting”

If you see an old man searching, follow
how he stirs his stick amidst shell and weed.
Sundown no doubt is when you’ll find him out,
when light spreads low across the beach.

Notice that he never stoops for yellow
stone to bite or strike against his tooth
to prove with ear what eye already knows:
it does not shine, but fills, warms with a light

you do not catch straight on,
but thinking of other things, not looking,
not hunting, not wanting. This is what the
old man knows. He does not really wish to search,

Wants only to allow his eye to meet
the ancient glimmer tumbled from the sea.

—Appears in South Carolina Review, 2001


Short Works: Poetry:
“Continuing Story of My Life in Østerbro”
(A Transportation From Ferlinghetti)

It is a good life I live in Østerbro,
riding my bike
and eating low fat cheese.
I am eager to please.
I am waiting to be free.
I will soon be sixty-three.
I am letting my hair grow
to see how much of it is left.
I keep thinking of hiking up to Svalbard to shoot a polar bear,
but the Great Belt bridge is so far away.

Life is quiet here in Østerbro
across the lake from the neon chicken.
I drink draft beer at Kruts Karport
or Beneath the Clock
and bottled jazz at Femmeren.
Yesterday I ventured over to the King’s Gardens
but hurried home again
when Georg Brandes scowled at me.

Get a haircut! my son says to me.
Exactly what my father said
in nineteen sixty-three.

I was born in New York City
but moved away
when my neighbor fired a bullet through my door.
He had his reasons.
My faucet was dripping.
I have nothing against guns.
Knives can be fun.
A baseball bat has many uses,

though I never played baseball
or any sport at all.
I was afraid of the locker rooms.
I was a boyscout.
I took the boyscout oath:
On my honor I will do my best
to help the girlscouts get undressed.
I was a soldier in the days of peace.
The cold war was a breeze.
I bivouaced in the snows of New Jersey,
fixed bayonet and screamed for the death of my mother
with all the other American boys,
while my sergeant snickered
and the moonlight flickered on the tracer rounds.

Here in Østerbro life is quiet
though there is great danger on the bicycle paths
where bald young men practise ten-speed kamikaze,
screaming, Kraft æder mig!
as they whistle past.

Cyclists on street in Copenhagen (photo by Thomas E. Kennedy)

Cyclists on street in Copenhagen (photo by Thomas E. Kennedy)

I was brought up Catholic
and smacked down by nuns.
In sixth grade it was rumored that Brother Hubert
diddled all the boys.
He never diddled me.
I had to do that myself.
In those days sex was a big problem.
You couldn’t find it anywhere.
When I was twenty-two I got married
just to see a woman naked.
Two days later she got dressed
and moved to Reno.

I was a great reader.
I read Allen Ginsberg and howled,
hitchiked across the United States to San Francisco
looking for Jack Kerouac.
I didn’t know he lived in Queens
around the corner from my mother.
I read Søren Kierkegaard and embarked upon a philosophical journey
of existential sedus-a-ca-tion.
I always loved Europe.
There were naked women here before New York was born.
I saw Rimbaud shoot Verlaine in the finger
(Or was it the other way around?),
Hemingway kick Gertrude Stein’s corpse
and climb into the ring with Maupassant,
to knock him out, take on Stendahl twice.
Both bouts were a draw, but Papa said he had the edge
before Tolstoy knocked him on his butt
and wrote the sentence of his life in blood.
Full stop.
I saw Steinbeck defend Vietnam with a napalm of words,
turning the Grapes of Wrath into bitter wine
poured by Oprah Winfrey for Jonathan Franzen
somewhere east of paradise.
James Joyce is my Stephen Hero.
I saw him last year in Zurich,
smoking a cigar on his tomb,
looking west toward the zoological gardens,
an untitled book dangling from his hand.

I like it here in Østerbro,
but I am still an American.
I carry an American passport and a Danish ID.
My life has seen twelve American presidents.
Only two of them had sex,
though Jimmy Carter thought about it.
Democrats, all three.
They should all be free.
I keep waiting for George Bush, Jr., to grow up,
and George Bush, Sr., to do the same.
I think it would be a better world
if Anders would come out of the Fogh
and George would come out of the Bush
and carry on like Clinton used to do.
A man busy getting a blowjob doesn’t have time to attack Iraq.
I hear that George Bush is a religious man.
He should kneel and pray to Monica Lewinski
and take his turn over Hillary’s knee.

Ronald Reagan may have had sex, too,
in his third age. Imagine that. With Nancy.
Oo-wee!
Throughout his long unhappy reign,
I thought he was an empty-headed dunce
making nuke jokes and gobbling jelly beans.
Until he died and Fox News nuked my brain
with revisionist tales of triumph.
Only then did I learn the truth:
He was, in fact, a beloved statesman.
He had Garby eating out of his hand. Jelly beans.
That’s how hungry Garby was.
You can learn a lot about a man by the color of his jellybeans.
Like the color of the smoke that announced the new pope:
Jugend the First was a Hitler youth, but is now a great spiritual leader,
while poor Gunter’s ass is grass.

I am something of a nonconformist,
questioning the walls of norms.
In 1964, I wore a badge:
“Fuck, Verb,” it said,
and my mother clubbed my head.
She was dressed like a cop.
My father shouted, “Stop!
You’re hurting the club.”
In 1960 my father voted for Tricky Dicky Nixon.
He carried the New York Daily News inside the New York Times.
A man of the people.
But what people?
He saluted McCarthy. Poor Joe! He screamed,
while I got clean for Gene,
a McCarthy of a different color,
both losers.

I knew Che! And LBJ.
I did. I once stepped on his toe in an elevator
In the old Executive Office Building in the White House.
“Got yer balls in ma pocket, boy,” he said and smiled.
Even the president of the U-nited States sometimes must have to stand     naked,
I replied.
It was true. Lennox Raphael proved it
on a stage in New York City years later.

I don’t like politicians.
They should all be shot.
Why do assassins always pick the wrong guys?
And when they pick the right ones they miss.
I didn’t mean that in case anyone’s reading this.
I mean it’s not that I don’t like our beloved duly elected leaders.
I just think they’re after my money.
I mean they can have my money,
but I think they’re after my services.
I think they’re out to get my pension and the allowance for my dog.
My dog knows about this.
He knows exactly where to piss.
With taxes you build civilization,
eat pancakes in the City Hall,
pay the salaries of priests and tax investigators,
and the wine bills of celebrated mayors.
But life in Østerbro is mostly problem-free
as my hair grows toward my knee.

In the US we have guns,
in Denmark we have butter,
everything you need for an economy
except for dollar bills that say in God we trust.
Here we have the krone.
Without it we wouldn’t be Danes.
How would we pay for our McDonalds?
Absolon would topple from his horse.
We need him.
to charge across Rådhuspladsen with his axe
scattering tourists and battling the evil Burger King.
An axe can be constructive.
Georg Brandes said that, as he grooved on John Coltrane.

I read the other day that the days of western civilization are numbered.
Only about five of them are left.
The elephant of the republic is mounting the democratic jack-ass
to sire a banana,
while Hillary rubs her hands and China laughs
over the price we’ll pay for the organs of executed prisoners.
How can a fatman have so many women?
Chairman Mao asked Henry Kissinger.
Important state secret.
Sometimes a banana is not just a bannana, Henry replied,
polishing his glasses on his necktie.
It’s scarey out there in the world.

But life is quiet here in Østerbro,
inside my little home.
I like it here and I won’t go back.
I don’t answer the phone
for fear Pia Kjærsgaard is calling to catch me with my accent.
Life in Østerbro is just for me
where I can smoke without impunity.
Last month in New York I went to the Café Remo
where Jack Kerouac once smoked Subterranean pot.
I sat at a sidewalk table inhaling taxicabs and buses,
and the waitress made me put out my cigar.
It’s all right, I said, I don’t inhale.
Well, I do, sir! she snapped,
as the Fifth Avenue bus bathed us in carbon monoxide.

Kennedy smokes a cigar at Femmeren serving house (The Fiver) in Copenhagen (photo by Dave Sorensen)

Kennedy smokes a cigar at Femmeren serving house (The Fiver)
on Classensgade in Copenhagen (photo by Dave Sorensen)

I admit I have my vices.
I am not always a nice man.
Last week in one day I ignored five homeless folks
and turned my back on a UNICEF sidewalk solicitor.
I hear they are closing down Christiania but letting Barsebäck rise again.
They finally put a stop to Pusher Street
so now we can enjoy our warring drug factions
like every other world-class city.
Wonderful Copenhagen: Bang! Bang! Bang!

But I live this quiet life
and let others do the same.
No need to complain all the time.
Love it or leave it. I’m lovin’ it,
gettin’ fat on reconstituted potatoes.
While the Danish Peoples Party fights
to keep Danish culture alive
7-Eleven, KFC, and McDonalds thrive,
with Sausage Wagons rolling into the twilight.
When’s the last time you ate yellow peas?
Do you use foreign words like “fuck”
when the good old Danish “Satan” would suffice?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for it all.
Pia Kjærsgaard is a person, too.
Why shouldn’t she be allowed to decide
who should marry who
and Bertel Harder, too?
I have nothing to say about it.
It is long since I was twenty-five.

I am grateful to be alive,
assimilated in the integration
integrated in the assimilation.
It’s all the same to me.
I promise not to wear a veil or pray at the kiosk.
I speak Danish at home.
I live alone.
I believe in language.
I am a loyal Dane.
I emulate the Danish smile.
I carry my identity card at all times
as required by law.
I am a member of the Danish Folk Church
I go to mass on Christmas Eve and pray,
hear the Queen speak every New Year’s
and stand when the national anthem plays.
It is a herlig land.
Same procedure every year.
I eat pork,
sing psalms.
I am a patriot.
I will soon be sixty-three.
I am waiting for Bush, Blair and Fogh to set me free
so I can criticize all three.
I am off the dole
I am on a roll.
I never board the train without stamping my ticket.
I don’t dare wear a backpack on the S-tog.
They might shoot to kill.
I’ve had my fill.
I have one blue eye.
I smile.
The other is brown.
It’s purely genetic
whether smoking kills you,
but second hand smoke can break your nose.

I am living the good and quiet life in Østerbro.
I am letting my hair grow.
I intend to let it all out of my skull
to ease the pressure on my brain.
I think I might be going insane.
I am waiting to be free,
for the Little Mermaid to sing to me.
I will soon be sixty-three.

—Appears in The Booktrader Christmas Album, 2006


Short Works: Poetry:
“Giving Up the Money”
(Prose on poetry in the park, Copenhagen Poetry Day)

In this essay, Kennedy describes “subjective scenes” from Copenhagen’s Poetry Day, held in the Frederiksberg Garden on 27 August 2006.

Kennedy wearing his favorite hat and reading his poetry (from photo by Alice Maud Guldbrandsen)

… Robert Stewart and I are stationed together before a gravel path, out on a broad plane of grass in front of a grassy knoll that prickles with trees, he in his grey New Letters Magazine cap, I in the leopard skin pillbox hat Alice gave me for my sixtieth birthday two years ago. Now it is Bob’s turn for the six-oh, and this is how we celebrate, reading poetry aloud for three hours nonstop to a mass of people.

We are not the only ones. This Garden is huge, and there are poets everywhere, under trees, on the grass, in front of benches and lakes on whose banks herons strut, both the famous and the less known, young and old and in between, men and women, Danes, Americans, Germans, Muslims, you name it, over a hundred of us.…

Read more “Giving Up the Money” in The Literary Explorer. Essay includes photos by Alice Maud Guldbrandsen. Photo above shows Kennedy wearing his favorite hat as he reads aloud from his poetry. Standing nearby is Robert Stewart, essayist, poet, and editor of New Letters literary magazine.