On oak branches hang frosted leaves– Brittle, icy, and walnut brown– Among stones, wolves, owls, swans, and geese, Where flakes of snow fall thickly down. Fragrant pines and gnarled cedars stand In a gorge by the frozen stream Where fog lies in a milky band, And the sun makes the clear ice gleam.
Through this cold, all solitary, Walks a man most melancholy. All he owns is all he carries: His bread, water, hopes, and follies. He recalls a girl from his past. He dreads the long, poor road ahead For darkness here is most unkind. He has no place to lay his head.
He treks across the snowy plains Past the scrub oak, the pines, and streams, His mind is hard, his body pained. His clothing is worn at the seams. The moon rises, new and dark. Stars are woven like fishing nets. The land lies daunting, grim, and stark.
“The Riddler in the Labyrinth” tells the tale of a strange man with the head of a crow who is chained to a wall at the top of a mountain in the center of a spiraling labyrinth. One day, a woman, a weary traveler, reaches the mountain peak, and the strange man asks her three riddles.
The style is like that of an old fairy tale, and the rhyme scheme is abab.
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.
“The Place of Man” tells how a man and a woman talk through the night and make love. The man listens to his partner, thinks of what she says, and lies awake at night while she sleeps by his side. He thinks of the injustices of the world, and how they are mankind’s wrongs to be righted—no one else’s. Its rhyme scheme is simply abab.
There are moths circling the patio light
As she talks to him of justice and love.
His drink is sweating in the warm night,
And his skin is cool beneath the stars above.
She talks of rats in the WFP food, of dogs behind doors.
She speaks of fake soldiers in military dress,
And of real, live, wretched, short-skirted whores.
She talks, and he listens with no feeling or stress.
Somewhere, somewhere, she is telling him,
There ought to be virtue and decency.
Somewhere, here perhaps, she says again,
There ought to be a merciful society.
Still the moon shines high up in the sky.
He thinks that it’s a quarter of a million miles away.
There the stars tremble before his very eyes,
So far off that they’ll be lost come day.
And, of course, she’s right. So very right.
And if he could take all the world’s ills
And burn them, in a blaze to light the night,
Then he would, and damn the stars, the moon, the night’s chills.
For just a single night, if he could, he’d turn it all to day,
And like some great seething god, set the world aright,
And leave the good folk in a better way,
Then so he would. But no one has such might.
Late that night, they fall to making love.
And after it is over, and she lies curled,
He thinks that it is not the role of god above,
But man’s sole sphere, to better rule this world.
The Man of the Prairie
A boy was once born on the prairie
In a bleak night’s blizzard in January
The drifts blew high against posts
And the wind howled like wild ghosts
He grew to be a hard man and solitary.
A boy was once born in Afghanistan
Near the peak of a Hindu Kush mountain
He came during a short, gentle spring
To a mother who would sing
And he became a kind and gentle man.
The City Girl
There once was a girl born in the city
In a neighborhood both dark and gritty
Her mother gave her books and red bows
Her father called her his lovely rose
And she grew up to be both bright and pretty.
The Political Scene There once was a political scene
Where politicians were awful and mean
They loved to berate and to hate
And when they called themselves great
The people wished they’d get COVID-19.
The Coronavirus There once was a coronavirus
And news of it did much to tire us
All the games were postponed
And the children sent home
So the disease’s demise was desirous.