Narrative Poems

Contents

The Candle from the Cathedral
The Captain’s Company
The Cigarettes Play Farmington
Clean Dean the Mighty Marine
Dill and Cole Roll the World’s Biggest Joint and Blow Themselves Up with Dynamite
Dr. Proctor
The Grandmaster
The Hollow Man and the Zealot
Jake Attempts to Put a Santa Claus Hat on a Nineteen Hundred Pound Bucking Bull
The Luthier Alone in his Workshop
A Most-Forgotten History
Old Green Bottle
The Prison
The Riddler in the Labyrinth
Scotland Vs. Ireland in the Finals of the World’s Sunburning Championship
Shooting Beer Bottles Off of the Top of People’s Heads
The Stone Man, the Fire Woman, the Flower Man, and the Bird-Hearted Woman
There Needs to be a Word for Laughing at Horror
Whiskey in the Jar

The Candle from the Cathedral
In his memory he saw the old woman sucking her hankerchief in the pew.
The widow wore a funereal black bowler, a starched jib collar,
oval glasses with smoky plastic frames, and her hair spun white and curly.
She held a candle like all the others among the ranks of grievers, not a few,
stretching back to the entrance of the dark, arching cathedral sanctuary under whose
vaulted ceilings the sputtering flames flicked like constellations of stars.
He stood out in the cold and windfilled and trashfilled street filled with cars
and he saw through unfinished iron girders and steel transoms the dreadnought sky.
He saw the low, threatening clouds elbow the skyscraper bazaar.
He put his hand above his eyes and he squinted then he spit deliberately.
There was a punk nearby whom he once saw animaleyed with a switchblade in the alley
and the punk leaned against a building looking at him like a window to be looked through.

In his memory he saw the bell glass half full of the white willow and ethanol tincture,
the color of motor oil, that the old man swallowed as medicine in his last weeks.
The old man had kept the bell glass in his office in a cherry cabinet stained
dark red. It had lain behind handcut glass doors on a pad of velvety fur.
He turned and trotted down the subway tunnel steps into the city under
the city and he boarded the first train that came and stood and heard the car creak.
There were not many people in the car, just a seated woman with an antique
face whose nose was high and pinched and a man who looked insane.
He rode the car until the end of the line then stepped off and stood on the brick
platform waiting for the train to come back again.
A bag lady came up on the platform near him, nodding, chanting a weird refrain.
The train was a long time in coming. As he rode he felt nothing, no hurt or pleasure.

When he arrived back at his apartment he put the key in the lock and let himself in.
He had brought back his candle from the cathedral and he lit it and left it to gutter.
There was only one window in the apartment and rain began to patter against it.
When the flame goes out, he said to the candle, I’ll start to stop grievin.
He went into the bathroom and stripped off his clothes and stood thinking
under the hot shower as the bathroom filled with steam from the water
and he soaked until his fingertips looked like sundried fruit and fog coated the mirror
then he stepped out of the shower and dried and dressed himself and looked to see if the candle was still lit.
He laughed when he saw the flame creeping along the drapes and towards the furniture
and he kept laughing as t
he fire slowly crawled towards a black cabinet.
He debated awhile whether to let the fire burn, but chuckled and smothered it.
The candle he blew out, and it let off a silver stream of smoke snakelike and thin.


The Captain’s Company
Mountains scarred the dusk sky as the wain creaked along the ridges, grit and dust billowing beneath, while a man in a cotton jerkin sat upon a thwart leading a train of horses with loose reins through scores of leagues, through the grey and brown livery of the land.

Atop his wooden cart burned a lit brazier expectorating malodorous white smoke, and the brazier burned as its fuel the litter and leavings of the dross of humanity. Lying acrossways upon that brazier skewered through with a stick was the head of a blackened doe, the sharp stick having been passed through its ears, and the head all cooked until the flesh was carbonized and the driver, that partisan of violence and ciphers, dragged behind his wagon by a hawser a monstrous burin which graved upon the land a deep trail so that his track could be traced. And when the burin became stuck upon stones buried in the sediment, he only beat the horses carelessly, as thoughtlessly as if he’d learnt abuse by rote.

And there came after him a ragged lieutenant whose good eye was rimed by cataracts, and whose poor one was covered by a patch encrusted by mucus and blood, and there was behind them their crew slogging with horses through that calyx, that whorl of a valley surrounded upon by all sides mountains and the dust. There existed no liquid agent to slake any thirst, so the horses had foamed, and the limping animals had all dried of their lather some long time past. Yet the men continued to beat them, until one animal fell, and the men not even considering the future or perhaps making incongruous concessions to ritual or fortune or deity did not pause to butcher the bony beast, only left it exposed. When the men were some leagues further on, the moon lay in a crescent like the cushion of a lackadaisical, bohemian artist, and the horse was lost from sight. The men pitched their tents at the foot of the mountain, and they pulled from their pockets specie of gold and silver and muttering passed them about to study the faces and obscure origins of their dead makers.

When the sun rose in the morning, the lieutenant set down a dense sun dial carved of jasper, and aligning the gnomon with true north calculated the time, while the leader of that crew, having apathetically discarded both spit and the head during times previous, measured the altitude of the mountain with an iron sextant which he wore around his neck upon a lanyard. There was on that morning a man who would not rise, for he was sick with dehydration, and the lieutenant saying, So see this man’s true color amid this desiccant! did in fact remove from that man both his hands as an attainder, and burning the flesh from them, scraped passively the cartilage and muscle while he rode as a man is wont to whittle a stick, and the blind lieutenant was left with the bony remains of two hands that afternoon as the company passed up the mountains. When the men passed near a steep ravine, the lieutenant cast the bony hands into the gorge, and the men continued traveling. They turned a hairpin corner, found a spring of water was issuing forth from the granite, and the leader of them all put his lips and tongue to the wet wall in a kiss, and he sucked. When it was the last man’s turn to drink, he made haste despite his thirst, for the men were already riding further along the steep path, and in such circumstance he pressed his lips to the vadose wall which smacked of calcite and stone, and he drank.

At last the company reached the mountain’s peak, and they bivouacked in a fissure in the rock, without a fire that night, for their strength lay in their secrecy, and they woke before dawn, and by the time the sun rose they had descended down the mountain a quarter of its height.

The town below lay in a bed of silica, agate, yuccas, and aloe, and there was in it only one street and the leader of that company spit forward upon his horses, and he beat their flanks with a tawse riddled with glass shards. There were upon the horses’ flanks the scars of many beatings, and the animals screamed beneath that taxing thong. The burin acted now as an anchor by which to keep the animals from stumbling down the hill, for the heavy cart that the captain sat upon threatened at all times to overtake the animals from behind and to run them down, and so it would have if that great implement were not being dragged behind. The cart was loaded with the tools of miners: dynamite, powder, torches, picks, mattocks; and the weapons of fell armies: rifles, revolvers, grenades, machetes, bullets, shells, and even a chipped scimitar from God knows where. The town which lay at the foot of the mountain had by now onlookers filtering into the streets, and upon seeing the company in the mountains descending appointed a manciple to coordinate weapons and to revet the bank. A townsman glassed the party with binoculars, observing in that gruesome congress its cynosure and the wagon that he sat upon, and drawing his hand upon whiskers more salt than pepper, remarked, If that ain’t Dylan’s gang, I’m hanged from a honey locust.  And indeed as Dylan’s gang approached, the desert town assumed a sepulchral air, as the men in the town barricaded themselves inside the hastily fortified bank: a bolus of eyes peering around pillars and single shot barrels steadied upon countertops, muzzles aimed toward the bank’s locked door.

At the edge of the town, Dylan halted the men with a raised hand, and a company man unhitched the burin from the wain. He spoke to his men in a voice rasping with effort, as if he’d lost his voice in a sickness and would never regain it, No one here is getting out alive. I am the last dynast of the devil’s family, the armature of the dynamo of chaos machines, and the cholera of men. We will hang the tellers and the bankers naked and dead by their wrists to a rafter, for it is only through displays of hegemony that we can grasp dolor and sublimate it, for in violence we express our sorrow and in violence we celebrate our sorrow! At the conclusion of such rasping, the men let out a muted, ragged cheer, and Captain Dylan opened the chest upon the wagon and the men distributed among themselves weapons of war, while the captain hung grenades from rings gusseted into his jerkin and slung rifles by their straps over his shoulders and with a cocked revolver in each hand at waist level strode into town without looking back even to see if his men followed behind him or fled, and the lieutenant grasping at sticks of dynamite, for he was an admitted poor shot what with his eyes, stuffed the dynamite into the pockets of his jacket and hefted a half full keg of powder from the trove and, stowing the barrel upon his shoulder and thus armed with the explosives and feeling inside him a desiderate for wanton cruelty, he began the walk into town

Dylan’s company walked right up the main and only street.

The wind blew a hot breeze, and there were the sounds of scuffling about, of final preparations from within the bank, and a few mutterings from Dylan’s company. Dylan himself fired the first shot when the men were still some ways off from the bank, and he shot straight through the bank’s door, then ejected the spent smoking casing, and reloaded. With a whoop, the men stormed the bank, loping and shooting, and when they drew near the entrance the snipers on the rooftops began to pick them off, but Dylan’s men howled and were indomitable, and the flimsy lock upon the bank door gave way at the second shoulder thrown into it, while from inside the rifles were fired, and more of Dylan’s men were shot down like dogs.

There was a score of men inside the bank, and all were in the end beheaded and hung from their wrists naked as the captain ordered, and the vault of the bank was blasted open, and from that trove more gold and silver bars were thrown into the coffer, and a man who had lain in hiding rose above the counter suddenly, and with a single shot he terminated the life of the lieutenant and for his efforts, the townsman was hung upside-down and naked from a rafter while a company man slit his throat with a bowie knife so that the townsman’s death, among the many others, might serve as a terrible example and cautionary tale.

There were folk screaming from rooftops, and all were ignored.

Captain Dylan shut the trunk of the chest and locking it with an iron padlock bade his men to saddle up, and they did, a new man riding to the fore in replacement of the late lieutenant, this new man with a jacket whose mantle was of fox fur and he was without teeth and in such raiment he stank of something foul and wicked, and saying only very little the men beat their horses into activity and began the journey towards a distant town, their faces to the setting sun, their shadows lying long behind.

The Cigarettes Play Farmington
The Cigarettes were a hard core band full of righteous punks and rage,
The singer supported anarchy and sang it out on stage;
Lily was the drummer girl, a saucy lass in black,
She wore a fishnet pair of slacks, her thong rose out the back.
Jimmy was the trumpeter, always barefoot when he played,
Smoking reefers in the club and forever getting laid.
Molly was the bassist, she was a poet in her soul,
Writing chords and lyrics about Hell and money and control.

The city board of Farmington, a town conservative and straight
Booked The Cigarettes unwittingly for their Annual Harvest Fête,
When October came around the leaves turned orange and black,
The pumpkins ripened on their vines, the hay was heaped in stacks
Mrs. Trot put on a dress, her corset, stockings, and her hat,
And toodled out with Mr. Trot who was wearing his cravat.
On the way they met the Smiths who ran the local mill,
They were dressed in modest best, as humble as a hill.

The evening started very fair, with meats and fruits and pie,
There was cider in the goblets and a pretty autumn sky,
And then the band began to play, you could hear them from a mile:
A pounding drum, an ominous hum, the locals lost their smiles,
Then on the stage a screaming rage, as the singer yowled and croaked,
The sun went down, the lights came on, the fires flared and smoked!
The locals of Farmington were first transformed by fear,
And then they caught the wind of it and began to lend an ear!
“This band is fuckin rockin!” shrieked Mrs. Trot and threw the horns,
“Yeah, this is how we celebrate the reaper and the corn!”
And soon enough the town of Farmington said to Hell with our respect!
And threw themselves into a night of drink and dance and sex!
And every year thereafter… the townsfolk booked The Cigarettes!

Clean Dean the Mighty Marine
“Clean” Dean the mighty Marine
Couldn’t tell whom
He’d killed or he’d seen.
He was classified to be in many Black Ops
And his superiors referred to him as one of their “mops,”
Because Dean Ian the Cleaning Machine
Was able to leave no trace at a scene.
A contractor is working?
Now he’s working no more.
Disappeared forever to even a score.
Clean Dean the Careful Marine
Left the place looking like
His lethal hit had never been.
One day Clean Dean left the Marines.
He stopped lifting weights;
He became long and lean.
He got into the horses;
He got into the tracks;
He read books about gardening
And espionage paperbacks.
Clean Dean the mighty Marine
Met a lady one day whose name was Colleen.
They got along smoothly,
And he bought her a ring.
He proposed in the fall,
And they were married in spring.
Clean Dean bought a car for the baby
A safe car with four doors
For the expecting Colleen.
The years passed by,
These Dean could not sweep away.
He lived through the seasons;
He lived through the days.
Clean Dean grew old and found God.
His babies had babies,
And he once thought how odd
It was to grow old,
When he’d been convinced he’d die young.
Clean Dean, however, lived till he was ninety-one,
And before he died, his doctor marveled at him
Said, “It must be good living that has kept you so trim.”
And Clean Dean the Ruthless Marine
Gave not a thought to the horrors that he had seen
To the corpses he’d made or the dark places he’d been,
But said with a smile,
“Doc, what’s fascinating,
Is how the world keeps on turning,
Without taking notice of you
It’s a sphere of green and of white and of blue,
And taken at a distance, like from the nearest star,
We folk are so very tiny, that no one knows who we are.”
And so Clean Dean the Mighty Marine
Died one day and Earth kept revolving,
Persisting in its course as it does for all men,
Going and going as if we’d never been.

Dill and Cole Roll the World’s Biggest Joint and Blow Themselves Up with Dynamite
One day,
Dill and Cole decided to roll
The biggest joint in all of the world.

They thought it’d be funny
To pool all their money
And spend it on all the weed they could buy.
And they thought it’d be a fine joke
To watch their savings go up in smoke
As they blew puffy rings at the sky.

So they bought cartons of papers
For this magnificent caper
And a blowtorch to light the huge thing.
They invited their friends
Who invited their friends
And everyone brought all they could bring.

The people marched in quite happily,
Although not very snappily,
Because punctuality’s never been quite their suit.
But the folk were all smiles
And of a great many styles
And they brought everything from gummies to fruit!

Lily and Mary
Brought flowers and berries
Because they were two cool hippie girls.
They each wore their sandals
And they lit up some candles
And they prayed for peace throughout the whole world.

A guy who called himself, “King,”
And who could use a washing,
Began to build a low hut.
He said, “We’ll have here our prayers and our rituals,
Our moon-tithes and orbituals,
We’ll need peyote and blood from a cut.”

Wild Tom the Contractor
Showed up with his tractor
To help with lifting the weed.
Bright Jim “The Mad Scorch”
Showed up with an oxy acetylene torch
And dynamite in case of a need.

Well when they laid the weed out
It stretched ten yards just about,
And was as wide as an elephant’s ass!
They laid the weed on the prairie
And all comers felt merry
Contemplating the mass of the grass.

Well ole Dill and ole Cole
As they started to roll
Thought Jim’s dynamite should be a part of a plan.
For what if the joint’s lit
But then suddenly quit?
They’d need it to combust from within!

So ole Dill and ole Cole
Put dynamite in the roll
To be sure that the joint would stay fired.
Then Tom the Contractor
Rolled the joint with his tractor
Till it was as tight as the smokers required.

Then a teen named Colleen
Banged a tambourine
While a drummer, “Dragon,” joined in on some drums.
Tim the firebreather breathed fire,
Brit the slackrope walker walked wire,
And Jake the juggler juggled kiwis and plums.

Then Jim the Mad Scorch
Lit the joint up with his torch
As the festivities reached their climax.
And Dill and ole Cole who’d bought the green stuff
Let all of their friends have the first puff
And watched them all laugh and relax.

When the joint was half smoked
Dill and Cole approached it to toke
And they leaned down together, the two, that great pair.
And just at that moment the dynamite blew
Sending a fireball into the blue
And scorching the guys’ eyebrows and hair!

The blast rocked the whole place
And put surprise on each face
With a concussion each smoker felt to the core!
Then Dill said to Cole, as Cole looked at Dill,
“My man, my man! you look, my man, like a carbonized grill—
Let’s roll another, but next time with more!”

Dr. Proctor
Bill “The Butcher” Proctor was the town’s local doctor
And he had had much more than a nip.
When a woman came in with a broken hand,
He took off her leg at the hip.
When the woman woke up she just looked down and sobbed.
“Why, oh why, do you cry?” asked Doctor Proctor,
“It may be true that you’re left with one thigh,
But you’ll get used to that by and by.”
“You fool, you bastard!” the woman screamed at the man,
“I came in to your clinic with a pain in my hand!”
“Hm,” said the doctor, looking down at her leg.
“Well. Yes. Hm. I see.
“In my condition I thought I saw something wrong with the knee.”
And he thought, “Left uncorrected, this could spell serious trouble for me!”
“I’ll sue your quack practice for all that it’s worth!”
Screamed his patient in fury as she wept and she cursed.
Dr. Proctor scratched at his chin, then he put her under again.
He murmured, “I’ll fix this wreck right up in a sec!”
And with the sound of a snick and the sound of a sneck
He cut off his patient’s head at the neck!
“There,” he said, holding her head up by the hair,
“There, there, there! Now, now, she can’t complain to anyone anywhere!”



The Grandmaster
The old man was paralyzed from the waist down,
But from there up, he was perfectly spry.
His words flowed like water;
his thoughts were as pure as bees’ honey.
And what kind of a man was he?
He was insubordinate, obstinate,
Clever, and polite. They said he was a kind man,
A kind and gentle man, even if
He didn’t follow orders.
He was dominant at chess,
Where he sat at the table in his wheelchair,
While a longcase clock ticked behind him,
And he studied the pawns, the knights, and bishops,
As if he were looking out over a playing field of life.
His old friend, the doctor, would call on him
And bring him suits of charcoal grey,
Shirts of ivory white with soft collars,
And red roses for the boutonnieres.
These the old man would wear,
Dressing up every day, as if for his own wedding,
With a fresh flower pinned in the button hole
And a golden ring upon his finger.
In such dress, he would paint with oils.
He made great canvases of genre scenes:
Men and women at weddings, in funerals,
Sitting by lakes, and along beaches
With a range of magnificent mountains behind.
“I expect more from art than I do from life,”
He would say. “And I am apt to be more
Critical of a fine painting than of a life poorly lived.
For there is but one thing that the artist should focus on,
And in his pursuit of perfection, he must neglect all else.
While in life, a man must focus on many things,
And neglect nothing. Such is the paradox of the grandmasters,
That they must neglect life to reproduce faithfully
Its finest imitations.”

The Hollow Man and the Zealot
The hollow man and the zealot lay skylighting the vast desert on their stomachs
watching for anything mobile and columnular, squinting into the waves of heat
and the low hellfire sun which dipped crepuscular like a ball of blood.
Above the crest of the world the sun hung suspended, huge and balanced,
and the men fell in to watching it as if towed by a riptide into Andromeda and Ursula seas.
It set in a neon cataclysm, banded the faroff mesas, until all else became parentheticals and mud.

When the moon came out, it came out vanilla and strong
like the sunless flowering of night blooming jasmine
while from the distance rode a backlit man not deadtired nor horseworn before the floating circle
and the hollow man whose diction was three parts doggerel, whiskey, and graveyardsong
rasped smokily I tell thee wait; I have the time, the time.
He slid from under his belly a heavy revolver and spinning its cylinder made ready to kill.

Can’t hardly wait whispered the zealot who like all unwise men was mercurial
and who braided with such characteristic the strains of violence, insecurity, and assumption
and so saying he ran his hand through his short black hair as was his habit
and tendered the necklace of bleached doe’s teeth he wore for motives superstitious and bestial.
At a canter the rider lifted off his hat in that lonesome waste and the zealot spat in derision.
Hush hush hush! rasped his companion Hold your nerves and spit!

The rider came along across the shale, through the dwarf scrog and a crowd of desert bats
looking like some classical and celestial organism astride his white horse.
He wore a bandolier braced with bullets, pistols in his belt, a rifle across his back,
rode with the drumming energy of a raw heart while wondrousstar-staring as if the Leonids were at that
moment showering. He rode as if nothing lay or had ever lain in his course.
He rode as if, if he chose, he could empower a man to paint his godless world black.

The hollow man lay his thumb on the hammer of the revolver, cocking till it clicked and held.
He sighted along the barrel; just after he pulled the trigger the man popped crazy off his horse
and the hollow man seeing such sight rose and fired again and the horse fell
and so seeing turned his back and walked from that deathquilt without looking to see its pattern.
The zealot rose fingering his toothy necklace giggling at such dreadnought wanton force
then followed the hollow man, vanishing deep into the cobalt lit mesas and scrub chaparral.

The zealot and the hollow man sat sitting round a fire surrounded by soaring mountains
and near them sagged a dilapidated church, a steepled shack, with three rotten wooden steps
and inside: bare rafters termite ridden floorboards and a baptismal font of rose porphyry
carried by the zealot’s jackass through the metamorphosed and steep passes of the mountains,
and the hollow man sung singing, All the wicked man’s foibles and vile contretemps
the wicked man’s sins, the wicked man’s deeds, I make for free. I make for free. I have for thee.

And without a warning, the hollow man pulled from his holster his revolver and, aiming it at the zealot,
fired the gun six times in lethargic lethal succession and when the zealot dropped dead
the hollow man emptied the cylinder, refilled it with bullets, and left the fire burning,
for at his core he was empty, not full of hate, nor vengeance, nor malice, nor rot,
but full of no emotion, neither melancholic nor apathetic, just a husk of humanity in dread
shape with only a penchant for the spoken word and any skeletal song he might be heard to sing.

Jake Attempts to Put a Santa Claus Hat on a Nineteen Hundred Pound Bucking Bull
It was the night before Christmas
And way out in the field
Jake had an idea
Which held marvelous appeal!

Jake said, “Come to the next pasture—
I’ve got an idea for a dare!
We’ll visit Farmer Bixby’s old stable;
He keeps his bucking bull there!”

So the four friends marched over,
Through the snow and the fog,
Past barbed wire fences
And over iced logs.

With each step they crunched
The cold, glittering snow
And steam rose from their mouths
With each breath they did blow.

There in the distance
With not a light from within
Stood the old battered structure
Which kept the bucking bull penned.

At first there was no sign
Of the great bucking bull
Then they smelled on the clear air
The scent of that huge animal.

Then at last they saw it!
It lay curled in deep sleep,
Like a monstrous black boulder
On the far side of the keep.

Jake rubbed his hands happily
And said, “This will be a neat trick—
I’ll put my Santa Claus hat on the bull,
And he’ll be a bovine Saint Nick!”

His friend Chris was the calm one,
And he said, “Well, for my part,
I think that bull is a mean one—
He gored my old dog through her heart!”

But Jake’s other friends shushed Chris,
And they cheered for Jake’s plan,
Saying that this Christmas spirit,
Was the best one for a man!

You needed no bells or whistles
Nor flouncy decorative halls!
You just needed good buddies,
And a big pair of balls!

So Jake slipped over the railing
And into the pen,
As his friends they grew quiet
And looked on with great grins.

Jake slowly crossed over
The ground of the sty,
And he was quite near the bull
When it opened one eye!

Jake froze on his tiptoes,
With the Santa hat in his hand
And he murmured some calm words
That the bull did not understand.

The bull sprang to its feet,
And it started to run—
Moving quite quickly
For something weighing a ton!

Now Jake started to run
Like a sprinter, world class,
When the bull lowered his head
And put his horns up Jake’s ass!

Jake’s friends looked on in horror
And they grimaced in fright
When, with a flick of its head,
The bull made Jake take flight!

Jake went sailing and screaming
Through the dark sky
And landed in cow pies
On the far side of the sty.

His friends they raced to him,
For he moved not at all.
They were sick to their stomachs
From witnessing his fall.

The bucking bull watched them,
Snorted, and pawed the cold ground,
Then it turned in a circle,
And plopped right back down.

It lay on its haunches,
Relaxed in its pen,
Nearly completely assured
That he wouldn’t be bothered again.

Jake’s four friends they reached him,
And found him hurt but not dead,
He grinned up at them weakly, saying,
“The best place for that hat is my head!”



The Luthier Alone in His Workshop
Amid vacuousness,
vagueness, silence

ear to horsehair strings
(pluck, pluck, twing)

The luthier: polar, hoary hair
rivuleted, waxen face

planes, calipers, chisels
ebony bench

Sigggggghhhhhhh…..
stands, nestles, adjusts, lifts

bow strikes strings
(saw, pling, pling)

tattoo of sound
exequy of hush

a roaring, a splendor!
a workshop suffused.

(pling, saw saw, rush, whine orble, fade, seern, seeOyurn)
(pluck, pluck) hearken (saw) hearken (pluck, pluck) tune
(saw, neeor, seeor, zhhhh)

inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale

J.S. Bach
Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: VII.
Gigue.

Resonance, reverberation decamp
ultimate echo.

A Most-Forgotten History
Near an old stone cottage lies an old stone bridge
In a grass-covered valley beyond a green ridge.
The bridge spans a river that purls as it flows,
One that makes a fine mist that catches rainbows.

It is a place as tender and as soft as a pheasant
With soft, gentle breezes and pink flowers present,
Where mothers and children can swim and can read
And take the sweet rest that they both need.

But years before in the bridge’s mortar was mud,
Made from mixing dirt and man’s blood,
And the air, now pacific, was then filled with shrill screams
From a man cruelly murdered at this crossing.

It was in the 1700s as he set on his way
Past ripening orchards and stacks of gold hay.
He was riding a young horse and whistling a song
Through dusk’s fabled shadows: black, treacherous, and long.

Beneath the bridge were three murderous men
Who leapt out to greet him with evil grins.
They surrounded his horse with their swords all aglint;
He understood at once their wicked intent.

The thieves acted quickly; they cut at his leg.
The man fell from his horse, and he started to beg.
But the bandits, wicked bastards, they stole his purse,
Then they tortured that innocent till he left this earth.

They made their escape cleanly, and the man died in vain.
He was half-eaten by crows when the sheriff came.
And the sheriff he looked out over that stone-masoned bridge,
And he saw there, far-off, the sight of the ridge.

The sheriff shook his head at the grisly scene,
At the inhumanity of men and the cruelty they bring.
But the years pass on, and the generations forget:
A strong roaring fire dies, and is then again lit.

Seasons pass; centuries pass; the world turns.
The buildings rise and fall; the field grows and burns.
The geese they migrate, and the ducks come and go.
The whales make their journeys far down below.

And at the end of the day, what have we to show?
The human race is alive, that much we know.
Still we circle that fiery sphere called the sun,
And so we shall until our short day is done.

But till then the same places see new faces through years,
The laughter, the weeping, the joy, and the tears.
And the human race at once lovely, cruel, and so cold,
Lives in a most-forgotten history that grows ever old.

Old Green Bottle
An old olive green bottle with its label faded and worn
Is shaken by its neck. Its contents churn and whisk.
Its settlings rise up and whirl in the heaving swirl.
There’s a sharp pop as its cork is unstoppered,
Then an eddying flow as the amber liquid is poured.
From out its mouth comes a dear beverage
That fills the glasses which are toasted
To fireworks in the night sky and which set to riot
The lakeside revelers who dance beneath
Moonsilvered racks of billowing clouds.
Up above them, a good spirit is fishing.
He’s dropped his line from the sky to earth.
His beard is of curled cloud, and his eyes are twinkling stars.
His body is made of mist.
From time to time he catches, from the people below,
What he’s fishing for:
A kind word, a bit of hope,
Something to lead another
Through dark days.
He reels up such a catch, this kind spirit, and he
Observes what he’s got, there on the end of the line.
It glimmers, gleams, and shines.
When he laughs, he laughs with joy,
And all go running to get out the coming rain,
For they can hear the thunder rumbling
High above.

The Prison
He sat as the only prisoner beneath the low hanging ceiling with a drip
in the humid cell with the small barred window that looked into the jungle,
and he looked in at the captain who struck a match for the cigarette between his lips
while outside the rain splashed into the ferns and the dense vines’ tangles.
The captain was leaning back in his chair, and he was playing solitaire
with a pack of dog-eared cards as a ceiling fan spun slowly overhead
like a child pushing against a mountain, for the fan could not move the heavy air,
while the rain poured down in drops as big as grapes and as heavy as lead.

The prisoner knew that in this prison there was no time or meaning to life
that the thing to do was to survive with as little pain as one could manage,
and the captain coughed after he exhaled and set the matchstick near his knife
then set his chair down and laid his elbows on the table, rickety with age.
The captain turned over his card, and the prisoner watched with interest
for there was nothing to do in the monotony except to stare,
like living in the doldrums on the sea, and it seemed killing time was best
so the prisoner watched as the captain leaned back again in his chair.

The captain studied his cards, and he took the cigarette out and exhaled.
The smoke drifted up to the ceiling fan, and the fan dispersed the smoke,
then the captain laced his fingers behind his head, for his interest had failed,
and the prisoner glanced down and fingered his shoelace, which was broke.
Then the prisoner knew the electricity went out because the fan slowed and stopped,
but there was no change in the captain, so the prisoner lay back on his bed
and listened to the dull music of water as the rain continued to drop;
there was no wind, and there were no thoughts in the prisoner’s head.

Far in the distance came the deep whoomping sound of a mortar being fired,
so the prisoner lifted his head, and he glanced at the captain
but the captain hadn’t moved; he either hadn’t heard or was just too tired,
and the prisoner glanced around gloomily at the cell he was trapped in.
It was made of stone and cement and contained a toilet, a sink, and a bed.
The bed was a mattress without box springs, sheets, or pillows,
and on that mattress the prisoner lay again, his hands beneath his head
and considered briefly, without contrition, the paths that he once chose.

Six months ago, a white woman had entered the prison, and the captain stood straight,
and the prisoner spoke in his broken English to make the woman smile,
and after the translator interviewed him, the prisoner knew she had come too late,
for the prisoner felt her presence not as a warmth but as a kind of wicked trial.
And it used to be that on Fridays, the captain would serve them both coffee.
The captain would sit next to his cell and hand the coffee through the bars,
sometimes they would play cards and even talk in a way that was almost free
and the prisoner learned that his jailer, too, was a prisoner of the long hours.

Now the captain leaned back in his chair with his eyes shut, and the prisoner slept,
and there were no sounds except the steady drumming of the rain.
Whoever fired the mortar did not fire it again, and the peace was kept,
and the electricity returned, so the fan began to turn again,
then the captain opened his eyes, he lit another cigarette with a match,
and he shook the match’s flame out with a few flicks of his wrist
and the captain considered the loneliness of his official watch
and put out of his mind those chances that he had always missed.

The Riddler in the Labyrinth
There once was a man with the head of a crow
He had the feet of an ostrich and a lion’s torso
He had snakes for his arms that ended in fangs
He wore a torturous yoke like the Medieval cangues
In which a chain ran from an eyebolt to a brick wall
And kept the man from moving too far at all.
He was chained like a dragon or a king to his throne
In the heart of a labyrinth made of wood and of stone.
The labyrinth was a spiral; it was weathered, antique—
It began at the foot of a mountain and wound to its peak.
And there at the top, amidst the ice and the snow
Was this man with the snake arms and the head of a crow.
And to the weary traveler who reaches this labyrinthine lair
This man gives a riddle, at once puzzling yet fair:

What is fairly yellow but can be fairly black—
It shows its face with artful grace and then it turns its back?

The wily traveler laughs and says, I can answer this one soon,
The answer that you seek, strange friend, is the orbiting moon.
So the man with the crow’s head puts another question forth
To test the mettle of the one who is establishing her worth.

What is hard to swallow but impossible to choke—
It makes us, dear, each lend an ear with the feelings it evokes?
It can feel as captivating as the heaviest chain may be,
Yet it is at once so liberating that it can set us free!

The clever traveler laughs and says, I can answer this one too!
The thing you see, that we all seek, is everything that’s true.
The Truth! It is the answer, nods the strange and riddling man,
Now listen again to what I say and answer if you can.

What seems fairly simple, yet is always so complex
That no one’s yet succeeded in predicting its effects?
It’s not glowing like a rainbow, nor shining like the stars,
And yet it lights our lives and makes humanity be ours?

There’s just one peerless answer to this mystery thereof,
Says the savvy traveler, What you’re talking of is Love!

And at that very moment, the strange and patchwork man,
Turned into a handsome prince at the top of that mountain.
And the weary traveler, she cried out with delight,
At the quick reshaping, at the splendid sight.
For this, at last, was her prince, whom she long had sought to see
And traveled over many land leagues, and across stormy seas.
For a witch had cast her spell upon this handsome prince
And chained him in the labyrinth where he’s been waiting ever since.
And it took his true love who had journeyed all this time,
To free him with her courage, and her answers to each rhyme.

Scotland Vs. Ireland in the Finals of the World’s Sunburning Championship
It was noon in the tropics when Lily and Mary squared off
Each on the beach with all their clothes off!
Mary from Dublin, Lily from Perth,
To see who could be the most burnt person on Earth!
The winner would be the one who turned brightest red
From the tips of her toes to the top of her head!
They were the two whitest people that the Isles could find
They’d advanced to The Finals ahead of their kind—
They’d beaten out raven-haired girls with melanin-tinged skin,
And broad shouldered blond men with too much chest hair to win.
Mary had beat out a Russian who was as white as the moon,
But who forfeited as soon as her feet turned maroon!
While Lily had won a very close race,
With a Norweigan who lost due to her freckled face.

Now the Sunburning Championship is followed worldwide
With a million dollar prize purse and the accompanying pride.
The Sunburning Championship has been vied for for years
And its motto for the past hundred has been, “Sun, sweat, and sears.”
The two contestants, Lily and Mary, were not entirely unique
With light hair and blue eyes upon each pasty physique.
Both peeled and both blistered, neither’d ever browned.
But what set them apart was how UV treated them like a ground.
Sunlight seemed to channel right to them, like power through wire,
Then heat their skins inordinately, till you’d swear they’d catch fire.
While Lily was as white as her pretty namesake,
Mary was born like a girl bred to be baked:
She had albinos on each limb of her family tree:
So oddsmakers disfavored Lily at one to three.

Their corners each oiled the girls head to toe,
Slathered them with palm oil and pounds of Crisco.
Now the sun looked down like an unblinking eye
As the girls lay on the Saint Lucian sand and started to fry!
Within the first hour they turned as pink as a shell
Then started to heat up till they became hot as hell.
Soon Mary and Lily each turned vermillion
As they sweated and fried and dreamt of that million.
The fans of the Irish were waving their flags,
Till the Scottish supporters called the Irish, “Scumbags!”
Fights broke out and pints of beer they were spilled
And word spread that a Scotsman had been inadvertently killed.

Yet still the girls sweated and still the girls fried
Burning in misery till they wished they had died.
The sun burnt their foreheads; the sun burnt their eyes;
It burnt up their armpits, and it burnt up their thighs!
The girls started screaming and writhing in pain
While their coaches all shouted, “Don’t give up, or give in to the strain!”
An hour then passed, and then did another.
And in her sunstroke, Mary began to plead for her mother.
The judges looked closely and called a doctor in,
He said, “Can you finish?” Mary murmured, “I think I can win.”
So the doc nodded at the judges for the match to go on
While the girls kept on burning like badly barbequed prawns.
Time kept on passing, and the girls dreamed of the shade
While their skin slowly turned to raspberry marmalade.
When at last the sun set, both girls were burnt raw,
So the judges who checked them declared the contest a draw!
The Scottish fans rioted; the Irish threw stones;
While the girls they just lay there, burnt to the bone.

Shooting Beer Bottles off the Tops of People’s Heads
I met a fellow in the bar last night
Who thought he was William Tell
Wanted to shoot a beer can off my head
I told him to go to Hell.
But he gave me a look like the last buffalo
Dying out on the plains
So sad and lonely it made me act
Like I had forgotten all of my brains…
The barman told us to take it outside
But I told him that I liked where I was
Sitting in front of that big saloon mirror,
Listening to the neon lights buzz.
I took up a bottle of cold Miller Lite
And I set it on top of my head
But when the fellow stumbled ten paces off
I figured I’d soon end up dead.
He cocked back the hammer on his Colt three fifty-seven
And as I watched the cylinder turn
I froze up with my brain full of spiders,
And my stomach crawling with worms.
He closed one eye, and I saw the gun waving
Not a few inches upwards and down
And I cautiously asked him whether he meant
to shoot up the ceiling or into the ground?
The fellow slurred, “I used to do this when I’d hunt antelope
I’d calculate the angle, the distance, and slope.
I’d never miss then,
I’d put bullets through hearts,
For gunmanship is nothing but poise and practice and smarts,
And I possess each in equal parts!”
He stuck his tongue between his lips
And told me to stand very still
And as the barrel waved before my face
I turned a snake green, and I felt very ill.
The fellow slurred, “Whatcher eyes wide for?
I won’t do you no harm!”
Then he licked his lips and drooled a little spittle,
And then the fucker shot me—right in the arm!
The bullet knocked me back against the bar
And the patrons all screamed and ran
A tequila bottle shattered, my stool fell and clattered,
And I heard a shout of “Goddamn!”
Well I clutched my arm, and I started to stand
When I saw the fellow aiming again
I started a prayer, and I leapt out of there,
Talking fast on my way to, “Amen!”
He fired the gun, and the mirror blew out,
Shards of glass flew all over the place.
I poked my head up over a table
And found him aiming the gun at my face.
So I made myself scarce as the gun fired again
And destroyed a bottle of gin.
“Ceasefire, truce!” I shouted to him,
“The bottle’s broken—you win!
If you want me to tell folks you shot it first try,
By heaven, I’ll put it in song!”
“Can I count on you?” he slurred in a shout,
“I want ’em to know I don’t shoot wrong!”
“You can count on me till the end of your days,
From now until the end of all this!
By the time I’m done talking
The people will say, There goes the man who never once missed!”
“Well, I suppose that’s allright,” the drunk fellow said,
“My friend I’ll take up your word.”
Then he looked all around and he put the gun down,
And he said, “I’m sorry I shot up the bar.
But to see the mirror blow out
And hear folks scream and shout
Well that’s enough to make a man’s day.
And after all no one got hurt, just men being men,
Let me buy you a drink, my new friend.
This’ll all turn out right, the world’ll keep turning,
And we’ll all end the same in the end.”
I said I could use a beer and cigarette,
As I picked myself up off the floor.
“A cig?” he said, “I could shoot the cherry off it, I bet.”
And I took off running—right out the door!

The Stone Man, the Fire Woman, the Flower Man, and the Bird-Hearted Woman

I see this man he’s made of stone
His mind’s a steel trap, his heart’s of bone,
His eyes are granite, grey and deep,
He works without end, he does not sleep.

I’ve seen this woman, she’s made of fire,
With a mind as brilliant as a pyre,
Her memory is perfect, like licking flames,
She forgets nothing, no one’s names.

I’ve seen them both: the stone, the blaze;
They both impress me, they both amaze.
We celebrate them and set them high
On plinths to be watched by every eye.

I see this man he’s all alone
His heart’s of flowers, his mind’s of brome,
His eyes are blue, his hands are weak,
There’s a voice in his heart that cannot speak.

I see this woman, she’s huddled there,
Her clothes are tatters, her feet are bare
In her heart are larks that sing
While outside her is a cold that stings.

I’ve seen them both: the bloom, the bird;
They hide their minds, conceal the word,
Their eyes they seem to have lost their gleam,
But in their hearts beats the human dream.

There Needs to Be a Word for Laughing at Horror
There needs to be a word for laughing at horror
When something’s so awful that you laugh in surprise
And you say, “I know it’s not funny…”
But there’s still a laughing look in your eyes.
Like when you hear of the man who was a quadriplegic for life
Falling down in the kitchen to land on a knife.
He would scream out in pain, but he can’t move his lips!
He’d get off the knife, but he can’t move his hips!
Still he’s not quite dead yet, the very poor dear—
Though he may wish he were, as he’s overtaken with fear—
For in the thin walls of his house, a bad electrical wire
Has found inflammable ground and started a fire!
And as the flames rise up, our victim’s consumed
By smoke and fire that blaze him to his doom.
Whoever it was that said Nature’s so sweet
Has never been chaff, has been only wheat.
But for a man like me who is often the chaff
When cruel tragedy happens, I have to weep as I laugh!
And I know it’s not funny to laugh at these things,
When the blades of life are cutting one’s wings,
And the depths of horror are so profound that you cry
Yet an inapt smile appears near the tear from your eye!
So what can you call it when you are laughing at horror?
It’s not quite “schadenfreude,” and not quite “sadistic;”
It’s certainly not “tasteless,” because that’s too simplistic.
I really believe that we must make a word
For a feeling that each of us has sometimes incurred.
I have no proposals, nor have I quaint dictum,
So, like all of you, I’ll just try to not be a victim.

Whiskey in the Jar
(An adaptation of the folk song)

As I was crossin over the snow-capp’d Rocky Mountains
I spied an icy stream a rushin like a fountain
and sittin at a fire was wicked Captain Farrell
he was a’clad in bear furs, and sportin rich apparel.

Now Farrel’s name was known well, from Denver to the waters,
and evil deeds went with it, as blood goes with a slaughter;
there was no act of mercy he’d extend or would belabor,
but he cut off happy days with the sharp edge of his saber.

musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar

I stepped up out the shadows with my pistol cocked and loaded,
said, “Give me all your money! And yer leathers n yer coat, man!”
He took off all his clothing, and I left him nearly naked
without his hat or wallet, and I marooned him all unaided.

Captain Ferrell swore he’d kill me, no matter what befell him
I told ’im, “I ain’ bound for heaven, so I’ll see you down in Hell man!”
The coins they were a jinglin and a clinkin, as I headed home to Jenny
they were a sight so rare; they were so golden and so many.

musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar

I come down off the mountain and entered to our chambers
Where Jenny looked so invitin that I had to go and claim her;
I showed her all the money, and she said she was my darlin,
that we’d dance through all the nights and go drinkin bright n early!

She started buyin dresses of silks and tasteful satins;
I left my gold in taverns and I soon began to fatten,
I gave my friends all of my money without ever thinkin twice,
and left my pockets lighter in wild games of cards and dice.

musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar

And then it was it happened, that I was sleeping sober,
When Farrell tapped at midnight, and he beckoned Jenny over.
She stole away from bed then, a blanket wrapped around her,
And Farrell did with touch and silver tongue confound her.

So my unfaithful Jenny crept back into the chamber
and, taking up my pistols, she hid them with the liquor.
The two-faced scarlet vixen hid my saber in the dresser
before turnin to the captain to let his hands caress her.

musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar

When I woke in mornin, the captain’s men were all around me;
I had no gun nor blade and for that they did well ground me.
They took me to the mountains and stripped me nearly naked
and left me on a peak, boys, marooned and all unaided.

So now I do my walkin with feet well cold and frozen
never lookin back, boys, on the path that I have chosen
though I have thoughts a plenty to keep my merry mind full,
for Jenny took my money and that bastard Captain Farrell!

musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar

Oh I’d like to find my brother, he’s the one who’s in the navy,
I don’t know where they’ve shipped him, someplace surely warm and wavy,
Together we’ll go swimming on the beaches of Hawai’i,
Oh I know he’ll treat me better than my darlin sportin Jenny!

Some delight in fishin, and some delight in hiking,
Some take delight in warring like a Viking,
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
and courting pretty fair maids in the morning bright and early!

Musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar

Musha riggum durram dah
whack fol the daddy o
whack fol the daddy o
there’s whiskey in the jar!