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We See Exits and Entrances

A poetry correspondence between the acclaimed novelist Herbert Gold and his sons

Herbert Gold,
Ari Gold,
Ethan Gold
January 24, 2022
Photos courtesy Ari Gold, Sue Kubly
Photos courtesy Ari Gold, Sue Kubly
Photos courtesy Ari Gold, Sue Kubly
Photos courtesy Ari Gold, Sue Kubly
Editor’s note: Nov. 27, 2023: Herbert Gold died Nov. 19 at age 99. 

In the early days of lockdown, while staring at mating dragonflies outside my window in Los Angeles, I became concerned that up in San Francisco, my 97-year-old novelist father was dangerously detached from the things that sustain him: the human carnival, and his own writing. His poor eyesight had made it hard for him to type, so I sent a poem to his apartment in San Francisco via U.S. Mail, 24-point font, with a self-addressed stamped envelope requesting a poem in return.

Soon my father and I were mailing poems back and forth, talking about a future book of poems, and sharing ideas about love, romance, death, and all the other fun stuff. My twin brother, Ethan, soon joined with poems of his own, and since he’s a musician, my father is a novelist, and I’m a filmmaker, we could compete without killing each other.

We and the poems will be included in “Helicopter,” my new film which was inspired by an assignment from Alejandro Jodorowsky to heal my family’s spiritual wounds. This first selection of our poems, “We See Exits and Entrances,” captures a season in the dreams of father and sons. —Ari Gold


Scribble me a poem, I tell my dad,
because he’s making excuses for not writing.
He can’t see the cranes of the typewriter
now gathering dust.

The tomato soup is empty, the prunes hard.
He mixed them for me at breakfast this winter,
in a glass bowl glazed with last week’s soup,
but I drew the line at eating that crap,
microwaved with loving ingenuity,
by a child of the first Great Depression.

At this moment he must be facing the view
from his window looking south,
over his couch piled with the New York Times,
to the golden mist of San Francisco at dawn,
where the spire of Grace Cathedral pokes the air,
doing his North Korean marching steps.
Scribble me a poem, I say,
but it must be me I’m commanding,
dreaming of the Baltics,
facing a Los Angeles garden,
a palm tree, waiting for hummingbirds
to meditate along with me. —Ari


This one thing I know for sure:
I’ll not die yesterday.
Tomorrow? Is that a question?

Yesterday and all those yesterdays
of forever endless times
when she smiled winsomely,
showed a leg
or looked gravely into my eyes,
our eyes locked together,
or merely winked for notice—
in my dreams—
even when I think I’m awake,
Writing these words.

The trees outside my window
shake and bow and shrug in the wind
even when the trees across the road
are still and unperturbed,
no breath of wind or words.
As I will never be.
As surely I will be. —Herb


My brother stares at the window with broken glass.
I’m not really into sliding doors, I say
Why not get French doors
that open to the night,
if you’re going to the trouble to fix it?
But my brother likes a quiet room.
Yesterday he made fun of dudes who dangle
their arm out the car window.
But I’m one of those dudes, I told him.
My friend Elouisa,
whom I was in love with a long time ago,
offered to diagnose me.
I opened her bungalow windows, and
she pegged me for restless.

The train in Glendale just blew its horn.
I don’t like to remember it’s only
a commuter train in Glendale.
I don’t like to remember
our dad’s in the hospital,
the unfulfilled promise of adventure with him,
a promise between father and sons
that windows will always be open.

In the Ballona Wetlands Nature Park,
on a sculpture of cement blocks,
I am a kid again, on smooth warm concrete.
A frail woman walks by, hunched,
nature smile on her face,
dog marching ahead.
I hope my dad has at least one cute nurse.

A shaft of light the width of a house
shoots from the earth to the sky,
from the sky to the earth.
Let’s breathe for all of us.
Brother, father, father, sons.
I want to release you of your broken heart. —Ari

Nobody gets out alive
Not from life
So we rush to escape
And we have but one safe exit:
Memories, those of others.

Not our own, of course,
But those of those
Who also will not get out alive
Into the final silence.

Does Time March On?
No, sir or madam,
It limps, it staggers, it falls.

Let’s agree, then
That’s music we make and hear
When we limp, stagger, and fall.
It dances!
Not virtually, not digitally,
But into the fire of love, love everlasting.
Even if temporary, burning, burning. —Herb

Clockwise from top left: Herb; family; Herb, Ethan, and Ari; Herb and Melissa Gold; Herb in San Francisco; Ari and Herb
Clockwise from top left: Herb; family; Herb, Ethan, and Ari; Herb and Melissa Gold; Herb in San Francisco; Ari and HerbPhotos: Jeffrey Bloom and Ari Gold


“Fickle dancer of mine pumped up my thighs
with helium,” I say. Helium, strange
word to use for love, but it can disguise
my teen heartbreak, and maybe rearrange
Dad’s stuck memories of his paradise,
since it’s been twenty years she’s been gone,
and the threat of selfish tears in his eyes
embarrasses him, so he blinks and yawns.
Ancestral memories tumble me back
to wink at his still-radiant young queen.
My half-formed self, couched in the living sac
she carried, could it ever have foreseen
one lover weeping as the other sealed
her heart, fate spinning us on the same wheel? —Ari


Why do you write poetry?
Do I write poetry?
I don’t know. But you’re writing right now.
Is writing poetry?
Is poetry writing?
No. Poetry is more like forestry. Or gardening.
I agree. Do you like daffodils?
I don’t know what daffodils are.
I suck in the outdoors.
That’s why I make
a life
out of words
and sounds,
Man-made. —Ethan

That photographer, who with his lens had chronicled so much decay,
I last saw at a funeral.
He waved to me, I waved to him.
I said, “How you doing, Jim?”
Death was written on his face.

When my heart stops
Or my brain explodes,
Oh please,
May death come to me
Before grayness, lostness, and despair
Are inscribed on my face.
Oh please,
Give me time to say to sons and daughters
“It’s okay, it happens to everyone.
You can make a song, or even not,”
Go onward keep on going on.
Lift your knees and your spirits
(My knees, my spirits)
On this exercise in disorientation
(a fancy way to say
I didn’t know extreme old age
would happen to me.)

My metabolism gives me time to consider it
Decide about it
And finally forget about it
Like everyone.

I’ll not miss the commotion
The commotion will not miss me
Yet, yet, I’m still here.
Sing it, please: “I yam what I yam,
I’m Four Eyes the Writer Man.” —Herb


The boy bathes by the creek
dreaming of faraway girls.
Goats peek over the bushes,
horns first,
and then scatter.
Sweat tastes good to him
lip sweat—
work sweat —
America sweat.
But he is not American.
He is not Russian,
not Belarusian.
Not Ukrainian,
not Polish.
He is all and none.

The goats, his last friends, are long gone.
The stiff wool uniforms of the Cossacks look sharp.
They take this 12-year-old man
—he is a man—
and laughing, lift him,
throw him to the water.
Now the taste is saltier,
Blood and springtime.
They are only playing with an animal,
practicing hockey with batons hitting a
puck, a face, softer than a puck.
Later my grandfather stands,
returns to father and mother,
I am not like you,
will not live like you,
will not die like you.
There is gold in the streets of New York,
or maybe Cleveland. —Ari


What to do when singing a song is like pulling teeth
When hearing from friends is like being bitten by gnats
When sex is like a stroll through a minefield?
When love is like a life sentence?
Is it time, then, to run to a swamp,
Let the body be devoured by the little buggers
Wander out of the swamp over a Demilitarized Zone
And stop at the dentist on the way home?

Get in the body, somehow
It hurts
It’s a terror to be alive
But I still prefer it to the alternative

Let us now praise unfamous dentists,
And bus drivers
And uncouth companions
And jealous lovers
And war
We humans are always looking for pain to remind us. —Ethan


Someone famous will die that day,
My day,
And the newspaper will report:
“More obituaries on page 24.”

For the curiosity of some,
the regret of several,
and the grief of a few.

Those few, they matter,
So they have a nice walk
in the Marin headlands
Shadowed by a weary and worn mountain
(still green! still fragrant!
with pine and transplanted eucalyptus,
and most important: Still there!),
where I’m proud that the few gather trash,
But drop my ashes downwind,
And remember as I fly away. —Herb

Herbert Gold is a San Francisco literary icon who has written more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Fathers and The Man Who Was Not With It.

Ari Gold has won over 50 prizes for his films, and has a Guinness World Record for commanding the largest air-drum ensemble on Earth. He is in production on “Helicopter,” which expands his student-Oscar-winning short about his mother’s death, and has just completed his first novel.

Ethan Gold is an art pop songwriter, performer, and composer whose most recent album, Earth City 1: The Longing, was listed on several international top 10 albums of 2021.