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Self PortraitPieter Vanderbeck, a now-retired staff member of the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, is both poet and visual artist. His drawings have graced two Poet's Press editions, Poems from Providence and Twilight of the Dictators, a tiny sampling of the tens of thousands of line drawings the artist has produced over the decades since he settled in Providence. Pieter divides his time between Providence and the Adirondacks, where he hikes, camps and has produced a long series of conte crayon drawings.

Vanderbeck is the Gogol of today's poets, and many of his best works portray man's inhumanity to man with a sardonic wit worthy of a Slavic bard. He has accumulated a vast collection of minerals, which vibrate and glow empathetically with his even vaster collection of classical music. His beard has been listed in the National Historic Trust. He is co-author, with Brett Rutherford, of Twilight of the Dictators, a collection of poems about Eastern Europe, Russia and other troubled parts of the planet. An expanded, post-Bush-era edition of this book was published in June 2009.

The poem "Brawns 20, Brains 0" is baased on accounts published by Amnesty International of Rumanian sports club members hired by the government to beat up writers.


He lives down the street —
that writer —
there, alone, in his little house,
the one with all the lights on.
But he is not there.
They know it.

In the bigger building up the street,
with the lights on in only one basement room,
they discuss what to do with him.
He is out at the late night store, they say.
Buying things that are to no good purpose.
And he has to go by there.
They can see him.
They wait, and they discuss.

The cash box is opened.
Ten for you, ten for you,
and ten for you.
There is plenty here, and plenty more.

They are healthy ones.
The healthiest.
A strong body breeds a strong mind.
They are the pride of the State:
They work out, to breed their ideal minds.
Not like that weakling inferior.
Well, we'll show him.
They wait.

When will the money be again?
Let them report on this one.
The State is generous.
But wait!

Solitary footsteps on the deserted street.
He is always alone.
That in itself is suspicious.
If he is alone, no one can watch him.
Well, twenty are watching him now.
Twenty superior specimens,
watchdogs for a totally healthy society.

Here he comes.
Just like him.
Always alone.
What can he be thinking, if he is always alone!
Nothing good, we grant you that!
Damn him.
His arrogant solitary footsteps pacing by.
Well, twenty pace out behind him.

Block after block.
He walks on, steadily.
He must know what's coming.
Arrogant damned bastard!
They walk faster.
He walks on.

At the door,
their fates eclipse.
A punch, a kick.
Many kicks and many punches.
Kick after kick and punch after punch.
There go his glasses.
Stamp them out, then his eyes.
Break his fingers.
The left hand! The left hand!
That's the one he uses!
The right one's for salutes!
Kick him! Punch!
Out of the way! Here's mine!
Don't kill him!
A dead writer is no writer at all!

Six months in the hospital,
that's what they said!

Six months, no more, no less!
That'll show him!
Damned, bloody heap!
Some superior specimen now!
One turns to spit.
Our signature.
Not like yours!
Let's go, boys!
Back to the basement room of health!
We've done enough for tonight!

Love live the State!
All hail to the cash box!
A toast to superiority!
Makes a man feel good!
Makes a day!
A glorious day!

In the beginning
was the Word,
they say.

Well, in the end, was the boot,
his end,


There are communists,
I know.
I see them all the time.
They hurry in and hurry out,
plan mischief, mayhem, injury and pain,
and codify it all to make themselves seem grand.
Everywhere and every minute
are Communists being born,
little babies drooling malevolently,
their phosphorescent venom dribbling on the high-chair tray.
Oh, what they will do when they can talk!
What messages they will carry when they walk!
Their diapers cannot change fast enough!
For they were born to serve a cause!
Well, they are everywhere,
between the rocks and woodwork,
waiting for their hour to come out,
rallying in secret closets to amass a force of arms,
planning things that most will never know about.
I smell them, hear their many feet, a single body carried.
I have known so many! And come to think of it,
am still upon the list!
My children are on future lists,
their whereabouts never known, the last life moment
the night they
I will never know how much they ate,
if any bread or any water,
nor how many lashes they received,
how many years they got,
or what the charges were,
if any charge was written.
All I know: they disappeared,
usually at night, usually alone.
And no one ever asked,
or let concern be known.
Children raised in camps,
not knowing they were born.
The state invented them,
they die but by decree!
Yes, they are still there,
hiding in the corner, watching me,
planning what to do
when they arise again!
I think they will always be there,
until the end of time!


The following poem may be the only poem ever written about slime mold — if not the only, it is certainly the best. A few words of explanation should precede any reading of this remarkable "shaggy dog" poem. Rhode Island plays host to a large slime mold called fuligo, which grows around the roots and trunks of dead or dying trees. Although fuligo is believed to be stationary, there are other slime molds which display remarkable behavior: some can actually move from one place to another in quest of nourishment; others are capable of breaking up into thousands of smaller, mobile organisms, which can later rejoin to re-form the original slime mold. Fuligo is attractive in appearance at first, looking ever so much like a large loaf of French bread. Later, it bursts open, revealing yellow and purple patches, quite appalling. Pieter and I are both fasciated by this very Lovecraftian organism. Pieter's poem also plays on the re-division of life into three families: plants, fungi and animals. Some people resist this new classification, since they are convinced that anything alive must be either plant or animal. Biologists have now decided that fungi are so very, very different that they cannot be called plants at all. Without further ado, here is Pieter's slime mold opus:

Fuligo pic


He sleeps uneasily —
really not at all.
One thing is on his mind.
It turns over and over.
He turns over and over.
He cannot get it off his mind.
He cannot go to sleep.
He must not.
Once again,
he opens his eyes.
It is still dark.
He looks at the clock.
It is three.
Only three.
He looks out the window
It is not there.
It was there.
He is worried.
He gets up,
throws back the covers,
slips on the slippers,
goes downstairs,
goes outside.

Then he sees it.
It is still there.
But it is not on the tree.
It has moved.
It is at the beginning of his front walk,
about to turn the right angle.
He calculates.
Five hours, five feet.
He can get in a night.
Nothing can happen.
He goes back in.
He must get to sleep.
This cannot go on.

Who would think?
What looks like an omelette turned inside-out,
yellow, white, brown , grey,
amorphous and variegated,
defying any term of description —
Who would think?

He goes back in.
He must sleep.
The door is closed.
That will help.
He is on the second floor.
That is better.
His bedroom door is closed.
If necessary, he can stuff old undershirts beneath it.
Not now.
Not tonight.
He is sure.
The lights go out.
The night is dark.
Dawn. will be approaching,
but for now,
the stars are full out.

It turns.
The walk awaits.
The porch steps.
The porch.
The front door.
The others know.
The ones inside.
They await the joining,
the ones in the walls,
the basement,
the attic,
the contingent from the garage,
they all know.
They await.
Moving quickly now,
(now that he is not up to measure it,)
it slides up the rough walk,
picking up its trail behind it.
It needs every one.
It crosses the cracks.
There is a twig.
It consumes it.
Trail food,
No stopping on the campaign.

They are gathering.
They know the way under the door.
The garage contingent has entered the back.
They will meet at the stairs.
It will require cantilevering.
No problem.
The threshold has been crossed.
The rug is being attempted.
It is rough,
but it contains a cornucopia of dust mites, and their mites.
Snacks along the trail.
It will leave a swath.

Along the way it encounters various molds.
All colors.
All shapes.
But stationary.
The lower ones.
What to call them?
There is a name,
but it is not polite.
It eats them and goes on.
That’s evolution.
As it gains mass, it accelerates.
They are nearly all gathered by the stairway.
The basement contingent is eating too much along the way.
The night is going fast.
They do not want to put this off for another night.
This was to be the night.
There are other houses.
The city is big.
They can be big too.

He snores.
It echoes down the stairway.
He sleeps fitfully.
He is having dreams.
Let him have his dreams.
No more measuring.
He won’t need measuring.
What an empire will be started.
It can go in all directions.
It is only a matter of yards or meters.
A ladder has been established.
The stairway is full of mites.
It is that white carpeted tread,
Valley of Shenandoah,
They’ll, it’ll, whatever’ll, be there in good shape.
One cannot live by tree bark alone.
One, many , whatever.

He snores.
His dreams are over.
The crack beneath the bedroom door is large.
The others are already in there.
They came up through the hot-air register grate,
joined by the ones from the attic.
What a bunch they are.
It is. Whatever.
Why express a thing that changes shape?
It will soon.
It may not get through the door.
It will not need to.
It will be the house.

Only feet now.
Not even yards.
The bed clothes are hanging down.
On all sides they are touching the floor.
They can use Greco-Roman tactlcs.
Classical maneuver.
Right by the book.

He is not snoring now.
He is in deep sleep.
The sky turns slaty blue out the window.
They, it, forms a ring.
A yellow ring.
Brown and grey join white.
Their lack of form is its strength.
No shape, no confrontation.
No consistency, no injury.
No firm entityship, no name.
But one.
They have been called it.
But the terms are not agreed upon.
Is it, they, a plant , an animal, both, neither?
What does it matter?
It, they, gather, gathers.
E Pluribus Unum, E Unibus Plurum.
Soon the house, and then the street,
the so-called neighborhood.
Neighborhood, indeed.

He snorts a last.
His arm hangs over the side.
They will not modify its tactics.
The classical way turns best.
Gather all.
Wait for the strike.
The ascent.
The occupation.
Then they, it, and he will be no different.
There will be reconciliation.
The marriage of Fuligo.


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