Time to time to time—from tock to tick,
to wall to window topple, stop, then stop:
a tower, wrist, a rest, a clerk, a click—
around around the sound (a drip) (a drop)—

and tripping, dripping, dropping I have been
a clock within a clock within a clock
that winds, unwinds—that rapes, that ropes me in
escapement wheels that lock, unlock—then lock.

But I can still draw pictures on my wall,
or eat a bowl of cereal at noon;
and there are days I’ve known that I recall
the evening coming just a bit too soon.

I haven’t seen the heights of the sublime,
but glimpses come—from time to time to time.



When memory’s cleared I’d like to know
where all those bits of data go.

Do they have cozy homes with wives
where they live out their off-line lives?

And are they ready just in case
somewhere out in cyberspace

some dark, pernicious subroutine
needs bits of data in between

two saucy bytes in a nick of time
to set in place some algorhyme?

Will they be ready to obscene-
ly splash across some yokel’s screen?

When memory’s cleared dare I suppose
where all that information goes?



Paul Oratofsky was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and has been writing poems since 1954. He recently self-published his first book—a collection of related poetic works called Continuum. His website—oratofsky.com—shows a sampling of his artwork and history. He studied poetry for 8.5 years with the poet Jose Garcia Villa, starting in 1968.

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34 Responses

  1. James Tweedie

    Four comments:
    1. I thoroughly enjoyed these delightful and wittily composed twists of poetic thought (see #4 for the one exception). Each is original and clever in its own, unique way.
    2. More specifically re “Bits,” I have often wondered about this my self, but never in such detail. You’ve given me much to ponder in the future when I clear my cache!
    3. In “Time” I’m guessing (from the clues that you’ve provided) that the inspiration for the poem is time through the eyes of a toddler?
    4. Whatever the subject of the poem (but particularly so if it does, in fact, involve a toddler) the word “rape” was jarring and, for me at least, totally off-putting. Might I gently suggest rewording the line as, “that winds, unwinds—that ripens, ropes me in…”? Let me know if I missed (or misread) something?

    • Paul Oratofsky

      James –

      Thank you so much for your highly supportive and appreciative remarks. I’m glad I’ve now expanded your cache-clearing experiences.

      About “Time” – I do see why you see it as through the eyes of a toddler – with the drawing pictures on a wall and eating cereal at noon, but the other references seem to me to be of someone who’s been in the world a bit more, with clerks, and wrist[watches], etc. Still, I can see it being through the eyes of a toddler, yes. And I kind of like that perspective.

      For me, it was, when I was in the working world, from the feeling that my life was so regimented by having to be places at exact times, and with deadlines and such. And I built software systems, which were also confining in that time-sliced way.

      A friend of mine was also jarred by “rapes” – so I accept that a better word could be used there, especially in these #metoo times. The feeling is of being abused by time’s too tight restrictions. But I accept that it needs a replacement there, and I tried another word (I forget now which), that didn’t quite work. Not sure ripens quite works either, although it’s true that we’re all ripened by time. “Rips” doesn’t work either. I agree I need a better word there – and that “rapes” is over the top.

      Thanks for your sensitivity and openness to these poems – and for your fine comments.

      • Monty

        I don’t agree that you need a “better” word than ‘rapes’; and I hope you don’t feel obliged to change it just in the act of bowing down to the curse of political-correctness.

        ‘Rape’ is just a 4-letter word from our language which originally had only one explicit meaning: to rape the land.. as in to raid, rob, pillage, plunder or ransack. In that context, your use of the word in the above piece is contextually appropriate – time rapes me – and should be seen as no different than if you’d chose to say ‘time robs me’ or ‘time plunders me’.

        We all know that the word has took on another meaning in the modern world (to such an extent that many in the western-world, I imagine, are only aware of its latter-day meaning) . . but that’s not your fault! If a reader of the above piece felt offended by your use of that word, without trying to gauge the context in which you meant it . . then they’re only to be pitied, but not to be taken notice of.

        If you were to take notice of such nonsense, then imagine the following: If you’d originally chose to use the word ‘robs’ instead – time robs me – might you feel that you should change that word lest someone reading your poem got robbed recently?
        See? Where d’you draw the line?

        They’re just words from our language . .

  2. Mark F. Stone

    James: Of course I could be wrong, but my read is that the narrator in “Time” is serving time in prison.

    Paul: These poems are very interesting and evocative. My only suggestion is that you add the word “there” to the third stanza of “Bits” so that it reads:

    And are they ready just in case
    somewhere out there in cyberspace,

    That would even out the meter and give you an internal rhyme.


    • Paul Oratofsky

      Mark –

      Thank you as well for your comments. Very interesting to see it as a view of someone in prison. Yes, that also works for me. I’m glad the perspective can be so varied – a toddler, a prisoner, a laborer.

      And your suggestion about the third stanza does also work for me. It seems to depend on which syllable of “somewhere” is emphasized. So if you accent “where” in “somewhere,” your addition does keep the meter; but if you accent “some,” adding “there” adds a bump. Both ways of reading “somewhere” seem to work, so I don’t know which is more appropriate. I think perhaps your way is better, though, since the previous line accents “are,” the second syllable. So you’re right about that. Thanks for that as well.

      • Monty

        In everyday speech, the “some” is always accented in “somewhere” . . never the “where”.

      • Monty

        . . .which would facilitate the following:
        And are they ready just in case,
        Out there somewhere in cyberspace,

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Rather clever stuff, but not great poetry. The several comments about how these poems might be slightly improved seem inappropriate; one might better ask why they were written at all. To amuse us is, I suppose, the correct answer, and so they did, but I wonder whether you consider such a trivial thing your calling. I won’t comment on the meter, because, for the most part, it was sound — as sound as a well-oiled metronome. Any hiccups can be attributed to the alarming haste with which these verses were composed. I’ve read worse, and you should take my comments as a standard of last recourse.

    • Monty

      Regarding L11 of ‘Bits’, CB: and the author’s placement of the word ‘obscenely’ . . I’m curious to know where you stand on one word being split over two lines.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Monty, I have done this myself, but I don’t do it often. Sometimes it’s necessary, and I have read examples in poems by respectable authors. It’s a peculiar thing, to be sure, and it’s rare, but not totally inexcusable. That’s my opinion.

      • Monty

        Regardless of my thoughts on it in regard to its place in poetry (and my personal thoughts are that it’s a cheap-fix: corner-cutting: taking ‘poetic license’ to the extreme): I also feel that, visually, it just looks ugly on the page. To have one line ending with a portion of a word with a hyphen; and then another line beginning with ‘ly’ . . I just don’t like looking at it.

        If you’re saying that you yourself have used this method, and you’ve seen such use from respectable authors, then I’ll begrudgingly accept that it’s permitted in poetry. But I seriously hope I don’t encounter it many more times in my existence.

    • Paul Oratofsky

      These two poems were mainly driven by playfulness – with their ideas, the sounds, and the language. Maybe to amuse myself – or why does anyone play? “Time” was my one and only attempt to write a sonnet. They were both written in the 60’s (in my 20’s), but “Bits” was slightly edited to use current computer technology terms. They took a bit of work to make them sound like they didn’t take any work. Thanks for your generous reading and remarks, C.B.

      • James A. Tweedie

        Paul, As far as I am concerned, there is no subject that cannot be elevated through poetry. Humor is no exception. Clerihews and limericks are legitimate poetic forms (albeit not particularly “classical”) and Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash were legitimate poets who captured the world’s whimsy with the same playful intent which I find infused in your poems. Like yourself, I have also used the sonnet form to capture silliness, and some of these silly sonnets have appeared on the SCP site.

        In the end, the fact that writing these poems “amused” you is all that matters. The fact that, as poems, they also amused me (and others), is also a matter of consequence! I hope that you continue to write poems and that you will continue to share them with us.

  4. Brent Pallas

    Love these poems Paul. They open up a whole new vista for me into your work and ‘classical’ i.e. rhythm, rhyme and, from what I sometimes saw as, unnecessary or contrived structure in poetry since I’m a more free verse guy. But I truly like these and a lot of the other poems I’ve read here. They are a great curative for a lot of modern poetry which, though, I love tends to read like prose written in ‘verse’ form and very false in that sense. Of course, I’ve always read Richard Wilbur and Auden. TIME is open to many interpretations though I can see how the word ‘rape’ in it would offend many. Strong language like that often tends to stand out like a red dress at a funeral. Wouldn’t change a word in BITS. Both nicely done. And thanks for telling me about this site. Enjoyed it immensely.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Brent, you need to take a course or two on the elements of English grammar, syntax & diction. Your comment above betrayed a lack of experience in any of the aforementioned fields.

      • Brent Pallas

        C. B. Anderson I think I admitted that in my comment. But thanks for all your thoughtful and kind advice.

  5. Peter Hartley

    “Time” is a quite brilliant evocation for me of the sound of a ticking clock in its regularity of stress and constant repetition of the sound of a short “o”, especially in the first half. The whole verse sounds like one great onomatopoeia, very atmospheric. Well done!

  6. Paul Oratofsky

    James – thanks for your support and encouragement. And I agree about levity and just about anything else being appropriate in a poem.

    Brent – thanks for what you say about my poems.

    I’ve tried many poem-a-day sites, and I’ve found this the best. Others’ offerings have been downright painful to read.

    I’m glad you’ve felt the value of rhyme and meter here. For me the music comes mostly from the meter.

    I agree one fault of free verse is that it’s just prose broken into unmeasured lines. Another fault (for me) is that it’s only about content, meaning – and never the aesthetic elements, or the language.

    Your poems are always structured, language-rich, and have other elements free verse doesn’t usually have. Maybe you’re a hybrid.

    Ideally (for me) poems need a right mixture of and balance between meter, rhyme, language, sound, structure, playfulness, and content. It’s a lot to juggle.

    Monty – thanks for your thoughts about “rape.” I agree with all you say. The priority should be the language, and not a reader’s emotional charge or history with a word. I still keep looking for an alternative – but haven’t been able to find one as good. The progression “…that rapes, that ropes me in…” feels just right. That sequence of words is like an interval in music – a correct chord – not only sound & rhythm-wise, but sense-wise.

    Monty – I have a different attitude about the breakup of obscene- and –ly – which to me has the feel of an enjambment, and it’s not accidental. I like the jarring of the word obscene at the end of the line, seeming not to fit, creating a tension by that, and then the resolution of it in the next line. I feel that’s how lines of poems should proceed – there’s a tension at the end, that gets resolved by the next line, which builds up a new tension, and so on – and the reader is driven through the poem by the energy of those tensions and resolutions. Just my feeling about it.

    C.B. – Is it possible you feel that way about Brent’s posting – because of one misplaced comma? Brent wrote “…modern poetry which, though, I love tends to read…” – but that comma after “though” belongs after “love” – so it should read “modern poetry which, though I love, tends to read…” Then all of what follows remains grammatical and makes sense. That threw me off at first too. Just a typo.

    Peter – thanks. Yes, I hear that ticking through the whole poem too, now that you point it out.

    • Brent Pallas

      Honestly no one reads poetry anymore but the people who write it for the most part. And the modern world of poetry (prizes, awards and such) I know does not really pay much attention to this ‘classical’ style which is a shame. Like wine it should be what you like that matters as far as taste. Poetry needs more readers! It’s really unfortunate there’s a split now in these two genres of verse. Obviously C.B has an ego the size of a certain world leader with his great, best, worse ever, just give up pronouncements. In one of the latest postings on this site he put, I believe, one of his own poems (maybe I’m wrong) as a finer example of the work the poet should aim for. That takes some nerve. As one of our finest American poets William Stafford said,
      ” Purify the pond and the lilies die.” Since he’s a gardener I feel sorry for all you people with winter coming on. And honestly I enjoy his work too just not the oversized and bloated ego. I’ll say it again poetry needs more readers and not snarky comments hiding out in the weeds as wit and truth.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Well, Brent,

        I don’t disagree with much you’ve said, but try publishing a poem for public consumption, and then see how you fare. I’ve worked myself up from the bottom, and I think I’m entitled to an opinion or two. Some authors take offense, and some others take instruction. Just as, in Libel Law, it isn’t libel if a statement is true, so too, in criticism, it isn’t snarky if the criticism is true. There are no weeds here to hide in; everything is out front and obvious. If you don’t like that, then subscribe to the New York Times. They could use your help and the help of anyone who believes that it’s better to say something nice than it is to say something that’s true. As for my ego, cogito ergo sum. Don’t think too hard, dear Brent, lest you strain your capabilities.

      • Brent Pallas

        Dear C.B. Congrats on your working your way up by your bootstraps, I guess. That still doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to be snarky and have a bloated ego especially about poetry which as I said needs more readers. I do agree that poetry could use a little more criticism sometimes. I often tell my ‘art’ (visual, painting etc.) friends that I have NEVER read a negative review in the TIMES or The New Yorker about an art opening. NEVER. Yet I have read a lot of negative theater, book, poetry and movie reviews. I wouldn’t say this but you brought it up. Actually you’ve probably looked me up already and I have been published pretty widely for ‘public’ consumption which doesn’t really matter in the end. Just went to see the thoroughly enjoyable verse play TARTUFFE by Moliere last night. It was beautifully translated (in rhymed verse) by Richard Wilbur.

  7. James Sale

    I think these are fine poems, and I am intrigued to learn that you studied under Jose Garcia Villa, as I did a review of his book – Book Review: ‘Poetry Is’ by Jose Garcia Villa – on these pages some while ago. And a very fine book it is too; and he was a fine poet. Not one whose style I like especially, but one who had a way with words that was exacting and nuanced. I can see that in your work, that same particularity. For example, the opening line, ‘Time to time to time—from tock to tick’, almost seems banal, but it forces us to reflect on the meaning of that enigmatic word, ‘time’. By the time you reach your concluding couplet there is a certain majesty in the exposition: ‘I haven’t seen the heights of the sublime,/but glimpses come—from time to time to time.’ As you yourself freely admit, the sublime eludes you but somehow glimpses do appear if the craftsman (woman) keeps harrowing the word – as you do. So I think these are significant poems showing some great qualities in the writing, and I would want to encourage you to do more.

    • C.B. Anderson

      James, you seem to be a liberal at heart: you are able to forgive almost anything, no matter how egregious. That makes you the kind of friend I’d like to have, no matter whether I deserve it or not.

      • Monty

        So, you refer to such actions as “liberal”; I refer to them as disingenuous.
        Give me ‘ingenuous’ any day; I know where I stand with such folk.

      • James Sale

        Hi CB, I am your friend – see my review of your last collection on these pages. I regard you as one of the most important poets writing today. I am only sorry I didn’t catch you in New York this summer! Also, we are allies: first, in the general movement to promote formal and classical verse and poetry; and second, in the particular support we extend to SCP, which is an incredible publication worthy of support from all true poets everywhere. So enough on that. But friends can, with respect, disagree, and to correct one point you make: I am of course absolutely not a liberal, though I can understand exactly why you might think so. Thus, speaking in our secret code which I understand from your collection that you understand, though not all will or can or even do accept, but it is this: if there is something more important than poetry then it can only be to possess ‘the mind of Christ’, which is to say, regarding the offerings of poetry, and considering the widow’s mite, that any production must be seen in terms of its true value, and not through the lenses of artificial schemata – for that would be to judge as the Pharisees and scribes. I’ll say more about this here, but on your other question on another post. Thanks, new friend, old friend.

    • Paul Oratofsky

      James – Thanks for all you say, especially for your appreciation of “Time.”

      Jose was brilliant – not only by his observations about poetics, but by how he conducted his workshop. His ideas were a continuation and expansion of Paul Valery’s observations about the poetic process, from his “The Art of Poetry,” which is wonderfully introduced and summarized by Eliot.

      Jose’s workshop and comments about poetry spoiled me for all future workshops and teachers.

      My favorite of his poems is “The Anchored Angel,” strongly musical and full of passion, delicious language, and almost spooky by its occasional step into the abstract.

      Personally, Jose had some edges and barbs. But he presented fresher and saner views of all the elements of poems that are typically taught, minimizing things like imagery and meter (not music, but meter) – that are traditionally maximized.

      Your review of Robert King’s book and overview of Jose’s ideas are excellent. And the credit you give both of them is right on target.

      Thanks, again, James.

      • James Sale

        Thanks Paul. Yes, JGV was a profound thinker about poetry, although as he observed, paradoxically, ‘thinking is not the business of the poet. His or her business is language and form and insight. And insight is not thinking at all, although it may be very great indeed.’ And he did shift away from metrics, which I don’t approve of, but can see why he went that way – his music/musicality is his way round this, at it is yours, since the repetitions you engender have that nursery rhyme effect that is musical, not necessarily strictly metrical. However, there is an important consequence of not ‘thinking’, and of the level of thinking, that I have no time to go into here, but will emerge as we see more of your really interesting work. Press on to the mark!

  8. Red Was Iceblue

    Paul Oratofsky in Black and White
    —Jose Garcia Villa
    “Blow space to time)”
    —E. E. Cummings

    In Brooklyn born, in January 1943,
    he got a Bachelor of Math and Physics from BC.
    He worked as a programmer time to time to time to time
    at New York City Transit, Honeywell—Was it sublime?
    at Bunker-Ramo Corporation in Connecticut,
    and as a writer in Chefchauen’s blue-lit etiquette.
    He worked at Rockefeller University as well,
    and as photographer in Maine, in Camden for a spell.

    Back with computers in New York, next with Columbia,
    at Pandick Press, job after job, like as a tumbling weed.
    Then Digital Equipment Corporation specialist,
    at Browne & Company he was a senior analyst.
    Consultant at Stochastic Models, then eventually,
    at Drexel Burnham Lambert he was technical VP.
    From 1992, he focused on photography,
    Paul Oratofsky, a quick black and white biography.

    • Monty

      That’s why I feel it will never be, Bruce.

      Lack of imagination: lack of patience: lack of feeling: settling for less than best: woodenness: mundanity . . . all of those things are displayed in just one line above; the line which contains the ghastly “time to time to time to time”. There can surely be no reason for one to so thoughtlessly deface a page . . other than the reasons I gave at the start of this sentence. A third use of the words “to time” would, in itself, have been so patently superfluous . . but a fourth use? Do you not care what you write? Two unnecessary uses of “to time” . . and yet the glaring omission of the integral word ‘from’ after ‘programmer’.

      Just an ounce of imagination may’ve produced something like:
      ‘He found employment as a programmer from time to time..’ . . but that’s just one way: there must be scores of ways of wording that line in a way which dispenses with two of the four uses of “to time”.

      How can you settle for such mediocrity? Or is it the case that you simply can’t see anything wrong in that line?

    • Paul Oratofsky

      It’s a bio collage poem! I’ve seen memoir poems, persona poems, prosy poems, nosy poems, and noisy poems – but never before a bio collage poem. It’s music is a little wobbly, but maybe that’s the nature of the beast. Thanks!

  9. Red Was Iceblue

    Ah, the wobbly, unimaginative, wooden mundanity of it all, and particularly the ghastly “time to time to time to time”, where I go thoughtlessly defacing another page and forgetting “from”! It’s all clouds and fog in black and white! What is wrong with me? Of course, my favourite algorhyme is Columbia/tumbling weed!

  10. Paul Oratofsky

    I love “Tumbling Tumbleweed.” It goes from an E to an F and then back to an E. I don’t know any other song that does that. And it’s a beautiful song. I don’t think what you did was unimaginative. It was a novel idea (I’ve never seen that done) and a good try. I’d say it needs some work. It’s a novel form and novel in where it gets its content. It really is a collage. And your mention of two strong influences in the beginning is a nice touch. Something possessed you to do that, and it took a bit of work, so that’s curious to me. And it’s certainly playful, something I feel every poem should be. It doesn’t seem judgeable as a regular poem.

    • Monty

      I didn’t say his writing of the poem was “unimaginative”; that word – and all the other words I used – was solely in reference to his four consecutive uses of the word “time”. I would’ve used the same words to ANYONE who committed such an act . . in ANY form of writing.

      I don’t wish to detract from the sentiment of Bruce taking the trouble to write a tribute-poem to you (as curious as I am as to why he chose to do so) . . and I hope you can personally disregard my comment.

  11. Paul Oratofsky

    I think I see what was going on here. No, I’m not a tumbling tumbleweed. The common denominator is language. Mathematics is a language. Physics is applied mathematics (the use of a language to represent the physical world.) The building of software systems is purely the manipulation of computer languages to create functional “objects” (software.)

    Black & White photography is the practice of an art, and a mixture of work with technical and aesthetic elements in the creation of aesthetic objects. Working and reworking a [photo] negative into what hopes to be a fine art print – isn’t unlike the working (the “development”) of a first line – into a poem.

    My most recent interest in cell biology, I realized, is another fascination with language – DNA – that gets expressed inside a cell to create proteins just as the language of a poem gets “expressed” in the reader to create its music and meaning. As if the reader parallels the ribosome in a cell.

    All of these involve the wallowing in a language towards the creation of either an aesthetic or a practical object or end product – whether it’s a software system, a mathematical formula, a B&W print, a poem, or a living creature.


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