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Poems

The Arrival of Autumn

The Arrival of Autumn is a nature poem with rhymes at the end of every other line. It was written in Washington state on September 7th, 2018.

Autumn Leaf
Autumn leaf, September 16th, 2018

At the end of summer when the honey drips from the comb,
when the tall grasses wave in the warm gentle breeze,
and the orchards that lie north of the farmsteader’s home
are rich with apples that hang heavy from the trees,
then the shadows begin to lengthen in the southern sun
which sets over a heartland of fields and rolling hills.
And folk feel in their bones that autumn has begun,
a time of black and scarlet leaves, brisker winds, and chills.
It is a time of fog. A time of mists among dells and valleys,
when gourds and pumpkins ripen among the pastures,
and streams flow swift, cold, and clear along the rocky alleys.
Then comes the time for hot tea, woolgathering, and a peaceful book.
Then comes the time when the black cat, its eyes like gold sparked jewels,
leaps from the wooden fencepost, and, with penetrating look,
pads across the tufted grass, past the penned up cows and mules,
on to some destination, secret or lazy or otherwise.
The days grow shorter and dimmer,
until the heavens are lit by starry orbs and the lush moonrise,
and all the earth is silvered by their fair shimmer.

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Poems

Terry the Brontosaurus

Terry the brontosaurus saves the life of a triceratops at a great personal cost.

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Terry was a brontosaurus
With dry and pebbly skin
He ate from trees within the forest
And wore a very merry grin

One day a terrible tyrannosaur
Sighted a slow triceratops
And Terry cried, Watch out my friend!
As the T-rex licked its chops

So the triceratops it ran away
And the t-rex missed his brunch
The tyrannosaur felt angry then
And looked at Terry as his lunch!

Terry gave the tyrannosaur
His very best winning smile
And then he turned his tail to him
And sprinted for a mile!

The carnivore bared his sharp teeth
And started in pursuit
And through forests broad and rivers deep
Terry could not shake the brute

Then at last the worst did happen
As the t-rex caught his prey
On a grassy sunlit little field
In the middle of the day

The tyrannosaur held his claw
To the unfortunate victim’s throat
And said, My dear you’re at an end
For this is all she wrote!

But Terry was a kind creature
And he had a warm and cheerful air
That even the tyrannosaurus paused
Before making the final tear.

Terry gave a big old smile
And the tyrannosaur gave a sigh
Then the brontosaurus stood on his feet
As the tyrannosaur stood by

Then it was that Terry was heard
To address the t-rex and ask,
Don’t you think you’d prefer some leaves
Or some very tasty grass?

The t-rex said, I’ll try with you
Perhaps those leaves are fine
And Terry pulled down a clump of green
That was hanging from a vine

The t-rex tried to eat the greens
But his face blackened with dismay
Why this is the worst food, he said,
I’ve eaten in all my days!

Then the tyrannosaur changed his mind
And he pounced on the dinosaur
He ripped Terry from his tail to his heart
In the way of a true carnivore

So it was that the t-rex dined
On the brontosaurus’ frame
With the smacking sounds and cracking sounds
That were befitting of his name

And as the tyrannosaur licked its sharp teeth
Full of blood and raw proteins
He felt that a good brontosaur
Was certainly much more appetizing than his greens.

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Poems

Whiskey in the Jar

You can sing a song any way you want.  And you can make whatever kind of music you want.  The song Whiskey in the Jar is an old Irish folk tune, and I’ve always thought it was too short.  I always wanted more of it.  So, I wrote a few verses of my own.

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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!

Luke Kelly’s and The Dubliners “Whiskey in the Jar

 

Categories
Poems

The Hopeful and the Damned

 

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We are some of us moths flying into flame,
Burned and burning yet unable to give a damn,
Propelled by a force we cannot name
To escape, to wander this wondrous land.
We set off, in uneven times, with a strangled cry,
despite a prudent fear of the unknown,
There is sure loss of life for those that will not try
To flee the far, far greater peril of the known.
There’s risk in staying still: yawning to death,
Softening, or miserable suffocation.
Such hope for new life and free breath,
Brings us, panting, to the platform of a station.
And God knows we miss some things left behind:
The work unfinished, the plans unstarted,
Sentimental things, a cherished friend so kind,
The people and the animals, the heavenly departed.
But life is short. It is astoundingly, unflinchingly short.
It is but a blink in the universe, here and then gone,
It flashes by so quickly there is little time to sort
The nursery from the hospice, the sunset from the dawn.

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Poems

In Mexico

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Where in summer heat the street dogs laze,
Where coconut trees soak the sun and wave
Where dusk paints the coasts, the sand, and the bays,
And the family spirits talk between graves.

Where the Baja mountains lie capped in snow
Behind miles of desert, cacti, and mesquite,
Before the Sea of Cortez, smooth and indigo,
With shoulders of schist and dust at their feet.

In Mexico, where old men sit and stare,
With rheumy eyes and canes in their hands,
Beneath a sky so heavy it can’t just be air,
Near a dog so haggard it barely stands.

In Mexico, where old women mutter and moan,
In rebozos of black with their hair in a braid,
In the cool of the place where their children have grown,
And where they themselves have wrinkled and greyed.

Where there is laughter and drink, bright lights and bars,
Where the churches need priests, and the workers need pay,
Where there is sex in the night, fights, and white scars,
Where mirrors reflect careworn folk and their hard ways.

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Poems

Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe

Mr. McGraff the happy giraffe encounters four vicious crocodiles, and he takes action.

Mother and Baby Giraffe
Mother and baby giraffe. November 11th, 2014. Crescent Island, Naivasha, Kenya.

There once was a happy giraffe
Whose name was Mr. McGraff
He was brown and yellow
And a very tall fellow
And he had the most wonderful laugh.

Now Mr. McGraff the lovely giraffe
Went down to the mud hole one day
And it was there that he saw in four crocodile’s jaws
The child of a hippo named May.

Now Mr. McGraff was a quiet giraffe,
As it is in a giraffe’s nature to be,
But seeing this calf almost halfway in half
His cries rang from mountain to sea.

Although unable to swim, he charged right on in
And he attacked the grim crocodiles.
After much splishing and splashing
And fighting and thrashing
The giraffe emerged with a smile.

He shouted, You cool crocodiles
With your treacherous smiles
On this sunny day you’ve been beaten!
And my next endeavor
Will be to turn you to leather
For having my hippo friends eaten!

In the course of a while
After much musing on style
The giraffe was seen with a grin.
He took the lousy old brutes
And turned them into four boots
And those crocs were not heard from again.

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Poems

The Housefire

“The Housefire” is a short narrative poem written in free verse.  It describes a moment caught in time.

Fire at the Opera House
Hubert Robert – The Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal, ca. 1781.

 

She had skin
As smooth
As a watermelon’s
And eyes
As bright
As butterflies.
She stood,
Frozen for a moment,
With her mouth open,
So that her round white teeth
And the tip of her pretty
Pink tongue
Were just visible.

Her arm was outstretched,
Like a medusa
Under a deep sea.

I could understand her.

I suppose that’s
How
I might stand too
If I came home,
And I, like her,
Found my home
Burning.

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Poems

Water

Water is my favorite poem of the bunch, along with Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe and the limericks.

The poem was written on a winter’s night in early 2018 at about one in the morning in Washington state.  The rain had been coming down, it seemed, for weeks.  Darkness came early.  It was dark when I went to work, and it was dark when I left work.

In the middle of the night, I woke up, and the sound of rain was extraordinarily strong.  I reached over to get my cell phone to check the time, and I started writing this poem in the Notes section of my phone.  Sometimes I jot down ideas there, but I’d never written a poem before.  I wrote the entire thing, saved it, and went back to bed.

The next morning, I got up, read it while I ate breakfast, and I liked it.  I still do.  I love its music.

Agave Magazine, Vol.2 Issue 2 {Fall 2014}
Lamu, Kenya. 2014.  I love this photo.

The pelting pitter patter of precipitation
tick tip tip tap
ppit ppit
on the rain washed window
during the dreary day
sends me, wends me,
bores me, as no sun can gather.
Another rain washed day:
grey and heavy storms,
forms of rain in sheets,
windy wreaths of rain
spin like cyclones in the lane.
The dreary drops go drip drip drip;
the gutter filling rain
makes slipping hours pass, peculating time
on stealthy phantom feet.
The steady clock goes tick tick tock,
Pock pock pick, pick pick pock.
Seconds sound in time to steady drops of rain
clock pock tick tock;
Seconds sound in tune to rain that nurses earth…
A water song, a sing along:
rivulets of rivers run,
languorous lakes will swell.
A water song with wet world words:
moist monsoon, sea storm squall, great ungainly gales;
sails and masts and levies snap in times of wet travails.
Tap tap tap, tip tip tip.
Ships snapped; sailors dead,
sunk in whirling eddies deep, in whirlpools, fish schools,
entombed in worlds of water,
in a never dreaming, seaweed feeding, never ending, sound unceasing sleep.
Such a sad unnecessary slaughter of superstitious sailors,
star-crossed seafarers, unfortunate mariners,
in scenes both past and present has never been succeeded nor never yet surpassed.
What a word is water; what a world is water!
Drip drip drip,
tick tick tock.
Clocks chime ten,
the dusky hour,
and still the rain pours down:
days and nights, nights and days,
months and months of rain.
The endless drip, the dreary dusk,
the weary walks from work
in incessant rain on ho-hum days,
rain interminable as an hour.

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Poems

A Wildebeest Named Gnu

Wildebeests, or gnus, are the deerlike animals in the background of the photo below.  As you can see, they love to eat.  They are types of antelopes, and they are frequently seen on the Mara (a protected area of grasslands) in southern Kenya.

This poem is about a very lazy wildebeest whose name is Gnu.

IMG_9980
November 11th, 2014. Crescent Island, Naivasha, Kenya.

There once was a wildebeest named Gnu
The laziest beast that the veldt ever knew
One day a lion poked him and said,
Now either you run or you’re dead
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
Then the lion scratched the young gnu,
Said, From you I’ll make a gnu stew!
For I have claws that can shred
And I can bite off your head!
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
Then the lion jumped on Gnu’s back
Saying, I’m going to attack!
You’d better start running my friend!
Now I’ll give you some steps out in front
’Fore I start the hunt,
Then we’ll see what takes place in the end!
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
So the lion shook his head
He walked away and he said,
Such a riddle the world never knew:
For though the gnu just seems lazy
To be so idle is crazy
He must be some kind of statue!
And Gnu would have smiled
For he thought it worthwhile
But he couldn’t be bothered to move.

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Poems

The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses

The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses was a poem that I returned to many times over the years.  One draft then another then another then another was discarded.  This poem was probably reworked more than any other poem that I’ve ever written, with the exception of one which is called The Corner of Farm and Lincoln Rds (and which is still not finished).

The poem tells of a young man going on his way along a pretty road where he meets others and sees the sights.  I imagine it to be set in New England, perhaps in an area like Martha’s Vineyard.

The poem rhymes and is written in blank verse.

IMG_8473
The Amalfi coast, Italy.

I pass a seashell of no significance
as I follow the curves of a whitewashed fence
and the uneven coastline of the sea.

The fence is jagged, hardly even, somewhat ragged,
with braided rope in place of slats,
stretching further than I can see.

Above my head, squawking shrilly, are hoary seagulls on the wing—
circling, circling, flitting, snatching, snatching at a crust of bread
then aloft again to form a ring.

And in the distance, softly scratching their stemmed backs upon the posts,
are coastal grasses, likely latching their seeds upon white painted posts,
for the wind to blow and foster breeding.

To my left are pastel houses, built on stilts with reading nooks
and oriels for those with books
to put their backs to while they thumb through pages of Of Mice and Men.

While from a cattail, singing sweetly, warbles warmly the gentle wren
Brown and round and barred so drably, yet still considered very fair,
The pleasant wren makes moving music then flies upon a gust of air.

I continue on my road to fortune, whistling with the wandering wind,
Getting there as quick as those folk who have in mind no certain end,
And speaking with an amiable neighbor, I’m kindly told a thing or two
That when traveling over any distance, it’s but common sense to enjoy the view.

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Poems

The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle

“The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle” is a sonnet about the everlasting nature of love and how love conquers all.  It is one of those poems that I wrote straight through, hardly stopping.  I liked the 4th – 8th lines even as I wrote them, and I still like them now.  Those lines became, to me, this poem’s engine.

Sonnets have fourteen lines, and mine rhymes abab.

IMG_5872
David Murphy – Girl on a Beach.  Zihuatanejo, Mexico, 2012.

 

The clouds of passerines are brittle:
One sharp sound, or just the turn of a thrush,
Breaks them as easily as a forced committal.
But real love bleeds as red as indian paintbrush,
And will even alone wage war against armies
With white flags plied only as tourniquets
And no uncouth tactic too mercenary.
To such cogent arrears each heart is convinced of debt—
When innocent youth is mortgaged to adolescence—
That must be paid in full before death does foreclose.
Therefore each heart puts passion before common sense,
Folly before judiciousness, immodesty before clothes.
Still, ancient wisdom would rather be untruth,
Be forgotten, lost to desert scenes,
Than renege upon the human flower of youth
And the honest love of people’s most hopeful dreams.

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Poems

Music in Winter

Music in Winter is a rhyming poem that was written just after The Arrival of Autumn.

It’s written about a young couple who are in love and who are walking on a cold, dark beach.  The stars are out.  The clouds are scudding in front of the moon.  The couple’s feet are bare.  The rhyme scheme is abab.

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Outside Marmul, Afghanistan.  2010.

In winter, along the grey and green northwestern shore,
the freezing ocean draws its briny waves and bubbling foam
over beach crabs, Nautilus shells, and the crow-combed floor
as the sun sets beyond the sea into her western home.
Then the stars come out. One by one, they start to appear.
They are like lighthouses in the cold, black galaxies of space,
each with a message that says, Here, there are planets here,
circling round and round, far away, revolving round a fiery base.
And then, floating up from the water, comes the crescent moon,
scythe-like, Arabesque, swathed by scudding silver clouds,
and blinking behind a raven who flies, witchlike, through the woven gloom,
through winds whose warp and weft are the cloth of night’s dark shrouds.
In the midst of this a couple wander onto the sands.
They are lit by moonlight. Her hair is long; their feet are bare.
They walk like lovers and intertwine their hands.
They stop at sea’s edge and breathe the salty air.
It is a dark, cold night. A vagrant cloud covers the moon.
Not a light, not a lamp, not a glow can be seen.
The music of the ocean’s combers is an ancient tune.
The rustling of the firs lends woodwinds to the night’s song,
while the girl adds vocals to the primordial, ancient endeavor,
singing into the wind, into the wilderness, into the wild, high and strong,
a song that lasts a moment, with notes that last forever.

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Poems

English & Cyrillic

English & Cyrillic is a poem that describes the way I felt about the dissolution of the Soviet state and the confusion and inhospitable relations that existed at the end of the Cold War.  To me, the years from 1989 – 1993 feel very different than today’s times. It felt to me as if there was a great divide between the USA and the USSR, and even the alphabets, English and Cyrillic, were incompatible.  In the poem, loneliness, separation, and feelings of coldness, separation, and a forbidding future are portrayed.

Kamni - Mantra Music
Kamni – Mantra Music album cover

I. 101 Dalmatians

A… B… C… begins the lonely alphabet
and progresses, like digits in a limited set,
to a close decidedly sure and finite,
like the extent of clouds in weather systems.
Phonics and pronunciation mark lucidly
how we’ve arrived at our political geology:
by burning so many lightbulbs nobody can see the sky,
calling it poetry and lionizing warts—
There’s how we’ve arrived…
but what are we here for?
It doesn’t take a mathematician
to know two plus two makes four.

II. Gepetto & Pinocchio

Liquids, solids, gases /=/ steel machinery
amongst the Eastern European wheat fields,
the Ukrainian granary, the formaldehyde,
the slow, slow, Latvian lathe. People, terrified,
build boats to escape across the cold sea
from tall television sets, satellites, & the Rhine,
from the iron hand that broke in 1989.
A lone man wishes vainly on the stars.
коммунистические звезды

Wheat fields in the dusk, east of the Baltic sea bed.
There.
For once, we spoke plainly enough, she said.
Acknowledging alchemy can’t create gold from lead,
acknowledging there’s little blood left
that hasn’t been bled.
A naked Estonian boy takes a cold bath.
His mother shapes clay upon a lathe.
Across the grain fields, past the swather,
from the west, speeds a new gasoline car—
a lone man’s wish cracks on a communist star.

 

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Poems

Passion

Passion is a short poem in free verse.

It is a request that passion teach no more hard lessons.  No broken hearts, no scars or scabs, just love.

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Jacaranda blossom, Guadalajara, Mexico.  March 29th, 2019

Passion, amid that fair skulduggery that is Time,
Teach me no more hard lessons;
I need no more legions of tormenting lesions.
Leave me only love—soft as a pheasant,
Enduring as space—until my passing.

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Poems

The Monster, Malgremir

In this Gothic, fairy tale poem, a monster, Malgremir, wakes from an enchanted slumber and begins slaying children one snowy Christmas eve.  Over the years, the monster ruins the small town.

The church organist, Horace Anderson, attempts to stop the monster, and his journeys lead him to a desert labyrinth where he is met with a burning brazier and a strange surprise.

The rhyme scheme is abab.

IMG_9330 (1)
This is a brazier I made from rebar, steel, and expanded metal that I cut up then welded back together.  It works very well, puts out a lot of heat and light, and was very popular with friends and neighbors.  In “The Monster, Malgremir”, Horace Anderson finds a brazier that was inspired by this one.  I built the brazier during the last week of November in 2018.  Photo: December 6th, 2018.  The poem was written in a single day, my first day of writing in Mexico, December 17th, 2018.


The Old Railroad Track

An old railroad track arches over a dark, cold river
Whose banks are enveloped in glittering white snow.
A rumbling, screeching train barrels forth; the tracks shiver;
The falling flakes are illuminated in the headlight’s brash glow,
Sparkling, glistering for an instant, then moonlit and dim again.
The light catches the river, whose eddies spangle in yellow light,
Then the water, too, is cast back into darkness.
The locomotive plows on, its cattleguard hurling snow in its flight,
Leaving the old, arching track quiet once more, muffled and sparkless.
And still the river ripples unflaggingly on, rounding stones, carving banks.
The creaking pines stand still and portentous.
There then stirs a creature with ram’s horns and silvered flanks,
With scarlet eyes lambent in ursine skull, white and horrendous,
With muscular arms ’neath its glossy pelt,
And a long fleecéd tail finishing in the form of a spade.
That creature lugs itself from where it dwelt,
Long dreaming and woolgathering and artfully stayed,
Thrall to a woven spell, one gathered and cast in times forgotten and past,
By a profound sorcerer who fathomed that creature’s dark power.
And through seasons beginning and seasons last,
Age to age, plot to plot, sifting sands, hour upon hour,
The evil lay dormant. Time destroyed the mage.
But the spell remained, growing weaker as mountains grew,
Lessening in strength as the earth did age,
While the restful creature struggled with dreamy thews
And cloudy powers ’gainst that dwindling charm,
Until on the night before Christmas, when the town was aslumber,
The ancient abomination stirred and raised its arm.
Then its lucent, igneous eyes blazed, and it stood in wonder
To look about the snow-swept forest and peaceful star-washed night.

A Christmas Surprise

In the valley, white smoke billows sleepily from chimneys;
Snow lies pleasantly banked on quiet street corners.
Streetlamps cast their lemony glow on leafless, slim trees.
The quiet churchyard with its stones is absent mourners.
And as pearly clouds scud across the crescent mooned sky,
All is calm, all is bright.
Atop a hill stands a home in whose yard a quivering, lone leaf
Trembles in the cold night’s breeze, fixed by its thin stem
To an icy branch. Blustered and gusted in autumn’s withering fief,
And, having borne with silent fortitude the rain and wind,
The dead brown leaf at last releases its clinging grip.
The leaf floats past a lightless window, shaded by heavy sash,
On whose far side sleeps a child, fair of hair, soft of lip,
With dreams of peppermint, gifts, and seasonal Christmas hash.
A cloud sails away from the moon’s sickle shape;
Soft moonbeams filter onto the glittering snow,
As the hellish creature, prowling like some eerie ape,
Steals across the snowy lawn to the lulled child’s window.
And there, with its incandescent eyes shining redly,
It raises the unfastened glass, creeps into the room,
And with movements soft, practiced, and deadly,
Metes out to the sleeping child his untimely doom.
This ancient evil leaves only bones and blood
From its foul feast: pelvis and femur, ribs and skull.
That child, that dream-full spark, is permuted to an eternity of mud:
Far too calm, far too constant, far too distant, far too dull.
Then as the monster entered, so the monster leaves.
Thus it is that on the morning of gleeful anticipation,
The soul that is happy becomes the soul that grieves,
As Mother and Father scream for their lost creation.

The Monster in the Cathedral

It is a cold, sunny morning, remarkable for its shining snow.
Parishioners pass the church’s crooked wrought-iron fence,
Past the gravestones which a child, yesterday, dipped below,
And through the heavy, wooden double-doors of the entrance.
Sunlight filters through the cathedral’s stained glass,
Tinting pews and aisle in colored light thick with dust.
A polished family of four, dressed smartly for mass,
Amble down the aisle in pacific, heavenly trust.
There is a brown-haired boy and a brunette girl,
And it is the boy, who, peering amongst the rafters and eaves,
Sees hanging, its arms ’round its chest in batlike curl
And warily alert of the oppugnant congregation it perceives,
That self-same creature whose dark deeds blasted the town,
And threw its calm citizens into fiery, disconsolate animosity.
“There!” cries the boy, “Look there! Hanging upside-down!
There’s a beast! It’s some kind of monstrosity!”
And his sister, looking upward, screams at the sight,
For there is the creature, tense at being seen,
Now suddenly scuttling in furious, fearful flight
Across the nave’s ceiling, as, in one voice, the two children scream.
Strange it is to see, however, that the confused parents
See nothing of the fell creature that climbs on the ceiling
And so they hush their children with hisses and unfair comments,
Til other children take up the cry. They also see the monster.
The children all gesture, point, and howl,
But the parents see an empty nave, rafters, eaves, balusters,
Nothing that skitters, scuttles, or moves. Not a thing that prowls.
And, looking at the curious scene, of many children screaming,
And of many blank-faced parents searching with their eyes and ears,
The church’s organist, his hands full of sheet music, wonders what he’s seeing.
This man, Mr. Horace Anderson, a bespectacled, retiring gentleman far gone in years,
Considers a moment the strange spectacle, watching with some inkling,
And looks in vain toward the ceiling to find a creature there.
But, like other adults, he sees nothing, yet he sets himself to thinking,
As the creature passes out the nave, towards its belfry lair.

An Ancient Tome

Mr. Anderson, driving home, takes a bridge over a cold dark river,
Whose banks are enveloped in glittering white snow.
Plunged in deep consideration of an antique scrivener,
Mr. Anderson circles up an icy mountain to his home on a windswept, wet plateau,
While the details of an elusive passage frustrate Mr. Anderson’s recall.
Thus it is with furrowed brow that he pulls into his drive
enters his house, and makes for the books near the wall.
Fingering each spine, he mutters and feels his mind revive
As he pulls a book off the shelf and sweeps cobwebs from its cover.
He blows dust off its pale and tattered binding,
turns its brittle yellow pages, and there discovers
the fell description of a child-eating thing,
cast into somnolence by an itinerant wizard
then left to rot in a solemn forest uncolonized by man,
through seasons of sweltering sun and gelid blizzards.
This arcane chronicle details how the child-eating thing
Was invisible to adults but well-seen by children.
The text tells how the evil slept inverted in lofty places, wherever it could cling,
And how, when it devoured a child, it left but bones and patches of skin.
Mr. Anderson read on into the bitter night,
His brow furrowed, and his lips drawn tight and severe.
Behind the twisted yellow moon, stars lay spangled with dull, cold light.
Then Mr. Anderson starts suddenly as he learns the monster’s hateful name, Malgremir.

Seven Years Later

Seven years later, the quaint town lies abandoned.
Centipedes crawl fearlessly on homes’ stairs; mice inhabit dining rooms.
The cathedral, and particularly the belfry, is well shunned.
In the churchyard, in the cracks of the headstones, are dandelion blooms.
The cemetery gates swing creakily; a gentle wind rustles peeling paint;
The church door’s hinges are broken; the great Gothic door lies ajar and crooked.
Inside, mold grows behind a dusty portraiture of a haloed saint,
While the nave appears washed in hues of rose and blood and red,
For of the stained glass panes only the red remain unbroken.
The pews are covered in a thick layer of dust,
In which an occasional, devilish footprint is imprinted as a token
Of Malgremir, who remains in the belfry as still and as silent as a bust.
Only his brilliant eyes, vivid crimson, are visible in the darkness.
Malgremir hangs batlike from a rafter in the darkest, most shadowed corner.
His mind is as patient as a serpent’s, his behavior as indefatigable as a shark’s address.
Since that first Christmas night, he has made many more mourners
From the families of the staid and respectable parishioners.
He brought the strongest men limitless grief as their children were devoured,
And he bore comfortless heartbreak to loving mothers who fell, as wailing petitioners,
To their knees, beseeching mercy from that almighty heavenly power.
Searches for the monster were inaugurated, but they proved fruitless.
Children were consulted, and they pointed, quavering, at the ghastly thing.
Men fired guns at the points the children marked, their efforts bootless.
Malgremir could not be harmed by steel, lead, or matter made for firing.
Prayers were said against the creature, but they were ineffectual.
A Voodoo priestess was brought from the bayous south of New Orleans.
She brought garlic and woundwort, conducted exorcisms oral and textual.
Her incantations were for naught. That night, during her dreams,
A girl with a kind nature and gentle hand was consumed by Malgremir.
The townspeople sent the priestess away. The church was abandoned; still the wrongs kept on.
Children saw the monster in the night; street jokes grew black with fear.
More children were devoured; men mourned; women wept on.
School classes were cancelled, and the city council voted to desert.
Malgremir, placidly vicious, made a last raid, drinking drop by drop,
The lifeblood of sons and daughters, cracking and sucking their bones, savoring their hurt,
Until the townspeople vacated, and the demon-storm did stop.

The Labyrinth

Mr. Anderson left town in the fifth year of Malgremir’s ascendancy.
The erudite man left not for evasion, but to learn the solution to this fey riddle,
Searching far for a missive that would, for Malgremir, signal death’s embassy.
Long studied Anderson the lore housed in the fabled Alexandrian Library and the Bam Citadel,
But therein he found only hints and clues, trifling gestures as to the secret’s key.
Traveled he thence to the Beineke library of rare books and singular scripts.
Discovering there, at most, vague descriptions and veiled references to the monstrosity—
Yet also mention of a secret library whose doors open only during a total lunar eclipse.
A weathered volume, whose yellow parchment was delicate and cracking,
Told of doors in a Badakshan mountain that were fastened by a genius of the Dark Age
And which led a doughty traveler into an antique wasteland beyond all mapping.
The library, called Maktaba Ghazni al-Khan, lay at a desert’s edge,
And held within its labyrinthine shelves the scrolls of necromancy and power
That did at one time summon djinni, influence sprites, and banish Shayṭān.
And in the center of the Maktaba’s labyrinth was a glass for counting the hour;
Through its glass globes poured the very measurement of Time, in form of falling sand.
Deep study takes time. Seven years had passed since the monster’s ascendancy,
And again Mr. Anderson set out, now from Yale, now to Afghanistan,
For the matter that would snuff the fell creature’s lambency,
And restore fairness and order to the bedeviled land.
From Kabul he traveled the Hindu Kush road through cracking Soviet tunnels;
Thence from Fayzabad, Mr. Anderson set out by donkey,
With a guide promising to take him but halfway, to where the river funnels
Out past the old capital of Wakhan, Qila-e Panj, deep in the Wakhan Valley.
When the guide left Mr. Anderson, he had been traveling for a week.
He was tired, but he felt that his journey had barely begun.
He looked out of his spectacles, down his long nose, and he rubbed his cheek,
Taking in his surroundings. Tall, craggy mountains blotted out the sun.
The gorge that he was left in held nothing but sparse vegetation,
And the way forward appeared both trackless and treacherous.
He found himself longing for his music, his pleasant church, his former station,
And he had no desire to continue upon a path so adventurous.
Mr. Anderson made a few notes in his daily diary, then he laid out his bedroll and slept.
The stars wheeled magnificently above him; a snow leopard peered down on him,
While through the jagged peaks, the Persian wind galloped and swept,
And Mr. Anderson dreamt of caravanserai and carpets, shorn and silken.
In the morning, the sun illuminated the valley, and Mr. Anderson set forth.
He traveled for four nights through chancy mountain passes,
His faith in the book oft-times wavering, his compass steering him further north,
Until in the midst of his dangerous isolation, he came upon weirdly formed crevasses,
Whose lines of cleavage seemed symbolic or runic in nature,
As if fashioned by man rather than nature, and Mr. Anderson, studying the stone,
Noted how the shape of an arcade appeared within the granite architecture,
And that in the stony portal’s area there was a nearly seamless fault, thin as a crack in bone.
Here Mr. Anderson consulted his almanac, reassured himself of the upcoming syzygy,
And did then encamp before the fractured crag. There he remained for six nights.
On the seventh night, the lunar eclipse induced the nearby mountain creek to froth fizzily
And queer characters to luminesce in the adamant stone in tints of radiant blueish-white.
The fracture in the cloven stone did shine with that same color,
While strange shapes as of astrolabes, sextants, gnomonic sundials, and stars appeared.
Mr. Anderson—caught between exhilaration, hope, and dolor—
Observed the glow strengthen into an aura. And the night grew weird.
A flash of light. A purple fire. All at once, a door materialized.
Taking his water and his pack, Mr. Anderson stepped through the door,
And he found himself, quite suddenly, with the sun blinding his eyes,
For he was on reddish desert stone, swept as flat and clean as a palace floor.
Around him, in all directions, was a labyrinth of pathlessness.
There were no mountains to guide his way, no points of any kind.
The place was bleak and flat, dry and severe, wrathful and boundless.
Yet the learning from the Beineke manuscript sprang to his mind,
For its contents directed the traveler due west, two hundred-seventy degrees,
Until, it said, one meets “the fire in the desert”.
Ancient texts being mistily allusive by nature, Mr. Anderson had not fretted,
But now he wondered if greater consideration would have been wise.
But, he thought, it was not a mistake to be greatly regretted,
There being no other texts, to his knowledge, on the subject anyway.
So to the place where there was fire in the desert he bound himself,
Adjusting his pack’s straps, tightening his belt, setting out on his way,
And wondering, with black humor, of the feasibility of diagnosing insanity in oneself.
The thought preoccupied him as the miles turned to leagues under his feet,
And there was no change to the dullish red landscape
And only the compass’ needle to guide him as he crossed this desert sheet,
For he felt that certainly no other explorer could have survived this barren land, this plane shape,
For had another explorer gone but a degree astray in any direction,
Then assuredly death would have risen to meet them.
The wayward traveler would have, step-by-step, separated further from the connection
Until in the name of starvation or thirst, Death would greet them.
Yet Mr. Anderson found himself wondering if the desert were also a labyrinth for the mind,
Whether he truly was insane, for who had heard of such travelers, such places?
And he wondered how to test his insanity, for if the mind were cracked and brined,
How then to know the sanest of its many faces?
Doggedly, and by dint, Mr. Anderson continued onward.
The desert floor remained as flat as a chessboard, and he was its only wanderer.
The sky above was as blue as the sea, and the land as red as dried blood upon a sword.
For three days did Mr. Anderson continue on this path, as worried a ponderer
As ever there has been, nearly freezing in the desert night, doubting his sanity by day,
Until, at last, on that flat and featureless horizon that ringed ’round him,
There appeared to be a spark flickering in the distance.
Another day passed, and Mr. Anderson kept onwards, hopes now slim,
For his water had been used, and of more there was not a trace.
But the spark in the distance grew in size as he drew near,
Until he found himself standing before a hanging fire basket made of steel.
The fire basket hung from a chain that was supported by three legs welded to a sphere.
Inside the basket were logs that burned but did not diminish, crack, or peel.
Mr. Anderson, reaching out to warm his hand upon the flame,
And looking around the desert in some confusion and no little concern,
Then saw the sand beneath the brazier suddenly shape itself into a sandy lane.
On either side of this new path and at regular intervals torches did burn,
And so, ducking his head beneath the fire in the desert, Mr. Anderson descended.
The path was narrow, soft, and mellow, and it soon gave away to a spiral staircase made of sand.
The recessed sconces lit the vertical passage with soft, flickering light, and, as he wended,
he saw that, at the foot of the stairs, the shaft did expand.
When he reached the bottom of the sand-stair, Mr. Anderson found himself in a chamber.
The walls, ceiling, and floor were constructed entirely of sand,
And the room appeared to be round like a wheel laid upon its side.
A single shelf, stocked with ancient books, circled the room like a band,
And, at the center of the room stood another hanging fire basket, six feet tall, two feet wide.
Of the fabled hourglass of time there was no trace,
So Mr. Anderson wondered if there were yet more secrets within the labyrinth,
And whether those secrets held the hourglass in a hidden space.
There was, too, in the room, a kind of plinth,
And upon that plinth stood an unmelting block of ice.
The place held the mysterious air of an enigma;
Thus Mr. Anderson, feeling strange forces at work, was at the books in a trice,
Finding one leathery tome with the inscription, Mælgrymyr, beneath a lunate sigma—
Or perhaps a crescent moon—and, opening the book,
The learned scholar saw an illustration of that thing the children had limned.
As Mr. Anderson took a steady and careful look,
A grain of sand, then another, fell from the ceiling onto the open volume.
Rapidly then did he scan that venerable text for clues on how to slay the beast,
As his mind, able in reckoning, leapt at once to the affairs as they had come to pass:
That, surrounded by fire and ice and texts, he himself was in Time’s frothy yeast,
The room was but a chamber, a globe in Time’s hourglass,
And as the hidden library slowly disintegrated,
Mr. Anderson felt his reasoning fragment,
And the ice, dripping water, did at that time ablate
While the fire did flicker, sputter, and stagnate.
As Mr. Anderson gained more knowledge, the labyrinth crumbled.
Sand poured from the ceiling, onto the book, as Mr. Anderson lifted it vertically to read,
And, reading still, he made for the sandy staircase, reading as he stumbled.
Until at last, at the start of a paragraph, he saw the Latin lead,

“Ab extra, ab initio, ad astra.  The Monster, Mælgrymyr, having been called thusly, is not, in fact, named Mælgrymyr, and has only been so denominated by monks of the Apostolic order who follow His footsteps in the heavenly name of the Divine, and by servants of the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, and by those laypeople who speak of the Monster and know It by Its fiendish work. The true name of Mælgrymyr is a closely guarded secret, and it is thanks to anonymous, esoteric scholars—whose sedulous work and whose study of the arcane glyphs and ciphers found carved into long-buried ruins—that we of the Brotherhood at last learnt the true name of the Beast.

As Mr. Anderson read on, the sandy chamber, already deteriorating,
Gave way faster and faster, ’til he wondered how much time had elapsed.

Scholars now know the true name of the Beast, which, by saying its name, will spell the end of the Beast, and bring about Its sudden and immediate end. The Beast’s name is ‘Horace Anderson’.  Ab extra, ab initio, ad astra.”

“Horace Anderson!” he said, aghast, his frisson of horror accelerating,
Then the ice evaporated, the fire extinguished, and the chamber of sand collapsed.

Fin.

Categories
Poems

The Luthier Alone in His Workshop

The Luthier Alone in His Workshop tells the story of a solitary old violin maker who, when he is fixing a violin, suddenly decides to play it in his shop.  He plays a song by Johan Sebastian Bach.  The music fills the room, and when he stops, there is an echo, then silence.

The poem’s written in free verse.

IMG_2577
David Murphy – Dahlia.  Point Defiance Rose Garden, Tacoma, Washington.  2016.

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.

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Poems

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

This poem is written for those shy people who have a great deal of thought and a great deal of talent and imagination, but who do not express what is beautiful that is inside them.

Darger 3
Henry Darger – Untitled work from The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.  c. 1940s

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.

Categories
Poems

Bouquet

The Bouquet is written as a tippler’s lament.  It’s a poem imagined from the perspective of a man caught between earthly drink and the heavenly Holy Spirit.

The poem gives his thoughts as he looks out onto the world and wonders and marvels at all that goes on.

IMG_8693
David Murphy – St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome.

There’re engines roaring in the street
loud and angry as a fire;
I am drunk, and I am thirsty,
and I’m feeling tight as wire
cause one spirit’s got me woozy,
and the other makes me pray,
but neither makes me holy
in any elemental way,
but they leave me lacking, thirsty,
with the dawn of each new day.
I have already begun to wonder
what price I have to pay
for an experience so vital
that I’ll never lose my way,
for I’m lost and I am hopeless,
and I always feel astray,
so I shut my ears to street sounds
and I let the liquor say,
Is this a comedy or a tragedy,
this inscrutable human play?
What of life does really matter:
Wealth… or appreciation of a day?
And which will make me stronger:
Affection… or a nuclear array?
I ain’t askin anybody particular
cause I don’t want to be betrayed,
but with every drink I swallow
I feel a little more afraid,
and with every hour that passes by
I feel my understanding further stray
as I draw closer to a cold truth
that – no matter how much I pay,
and despite which side I take –
there will always be this fray
between the open-hearted folk
and citizens who recite clichés.
So I guess I must do something
cause I don’t think we’re all okay,
and it don’t seem to help much
to keep drinkin or to pray:
one spirit’s in the bottle
the other’s too far away…
It’s like knowing you can’t catch
but still hoping for the bouquet.

Categories
Poems

Blue

Blue is a poem about the first time that I ever went abroad.  I went to Malaysia, then put my impressions into couplets.

IMG_9455
Lamu, Kenya.  November 2014

Along Malaysia’s white sand lies a cerulean ocean,
blue until the water touches the blue sky.

Endless blue: water speared by luminous scales of fish blue;
shoreline women stating fashion, blue silk against brown skin;

and the wiry blue line on the fishing reel: long-sleeve, thin
white shirt, rod held swaying over water on a cobalt night.

Along beaches, at restaurants, folks hawk blue,
so even the paper lanterns glowing yellow seem sapphire.

Night and day stumble blue, snagged between purple and green,
and the sun moon tides roll between cerulean and steel-grey blue,

their waves flecked with white foam,
and even that white tinged ultramarine.

Categories
Poems

What Happened by the Half-Light

This poem tells of a woman in her doorway at sunset, watching the field workers come in from an autumn day’s work.
The rhyme scheme is abcabcdefdefghgh.

Van Gogh - The Sower
Vincent Van Gogh – The Sower.  Arles, June 1888

For but a short while has she lingered in the gloaming
Standing careless by the blooming hyacinths
Whose delicate petals sway in the easy wind by the door.
The filtered air and haze of autumn twilight
Send warm zephyrs to churn the crinkling leaves
And rustle the golden wheat in the harvest store
While her soul rests easy in the faltering marbled light
And the men and women make their labored ways slowly home
Through clusters of fragrant lilacs and fields of ocher brome.

Categories
Poems

The Bleak and Wild Desolate Shore

“The Bleak and Wild Desolate Shore” describes a beach along the Olympic Peninsula and tells of the indigenous Makah people whom I took an interest in during 2017.  The free verse poem relies on imagery.  I found the book The Sea Is My Country by Josh Reid and the Makah Cultural and Research Center to be good sources of information about Makah culture.

Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach, Washington, 2017.  Photo by David Murphy.

Along the very tip of the Olympic Peninsula—
harbored by sea stacks,
washed by the ablutions of frequent rain,
and scrutinized by the salmon-keen eyes of fierce eagles
who sit perched with feathers made wet and salty by ocean spray—
lies a beach spliced by piney evergreens and the wintry Pacific Ocean.

It wears as its mantle a cloak of becoming fog:
wide filaments of thick mist wreathe the beach’s shoulders,
narrow wisps tuck into the crevices of teeming pine,
and, like a stole, that pale brume softly embraces
the necks of the majesterial, protruding stones.
The beach’s curvaceous, serene form lies upon its side
with its back to the land, knees tucked up against the tide,
with its stone lips ever kissing the briny, icy waves.
Water is its heart. In the rain, in the sea and spume,
throbs the lifeforce that begets the beach’s growth and decay,
shapes its projecting stone fingers, and creates its austere beauty.

In the night, the wan moon with its grey craters
beams down on sword ferns glowing nearly phosphorescent
and flashes on the bottle-gold eyes of great horned owls.
The moon turns milky the evergreen forest that adorns
the beach’s hips, and the moon tints the bleached driftwood
from day’s ivory to an iridescent alabaster of night.
That moon casts upon the beach’s cliffs a lustre
that speaks of shining rock, and, with its hushing silence,
it seems to make the surf’s voice boom.
With wind, the beach’s trees move sinuously and with susurrant song.
In the moonlight, upon the beach’s damp and footless shore,
lie whips of bull kelp, washed up and drying,
with algae blades like Medusa’s chaotic hair, their origins
in the marine forests of stone mantlepieces and rocky shelves.

The crows cackle madly in their rookery, the wind whishes,
surf roars, eagles scream, seals honk and bark and cry,
clouds morph then rework their hues, tides ebb and rise,
marshy mushrooms rise and rot with the sun’s circling,
the fragrance of evergreen sap freshens the air, salmon run,
gulls bed their island colonies with bones, osprey preen and fish,
glossy baneberries bear fruit like murderous scarlet pearls,
and purple mountain saxifrage color the cliffs.

In antiquity, the Makah resided here
using yarrow for childbirth, red cedar for dugout canoes,
yellow cedar for clothing, spermaceti for candles,
stones buffed by water to high polish and wound
by withy willows for anchor stones, having halibut for dinner,
sea otter teeth and whale fins for art, cherry bark for basketry
which tightens as it dries, and bones for awls and adze handles.
They used tides and stones and fences to catch fish,
laid white clam shells on the tidal floor for better contrast
to see the fish in their traps. On a crisp, windy spring night
six hundred years ago, the tribe gathered on the damp beach
after partaking in a feast of salmon, octupus, and halibut
for a sacred ritual conducted to send its rowers and harpooners offshore
in a twelve-seater canoe to hunt whale. A chief chanted,
sang, worked the crowd into a frenzy before the night fire,
and when the throng felt most animated, the chief
poured whale oil onto the fire, so that it soared, crackling to
a crescendo, rose like the wave of a tsunami, and
in the dark night the bellowing and shrieking
of the Makah were swallowed up by the forest.

Over this desolate beach there is a kind of peacefulness:
gently lapping waves, the soft pattern of rain,
the rustle of a crow’s wings. It appears desolate, Shi Shi,
here in winter.

Categories
Poems

The Ghost

A poem about lovemaking, which is like a ghost that lives in a home.

Maria Kreyn - Ghosts
Maria Kreyn – Ghosts

Lovemaking haunts our spirits,
The way a phantom inhabits a home.
The sex is at first tormenting,
A rattling of the pots and cabinet doors of our hearts.
What could cause our bodies to shake so?
We curse, not knowing quite what shakes us.
Then when the lovemaking, the phantom, is gone—
We miss it, we desire it.
We silently invite it back.
We miss the banging, the crashing, the confusion,
The chaos—all that the ghost, the sex, has brought.
Where could that spirit have gone?
We wonder, arbitrarily, if the ghost, the lovemaking,
Has gone to inhabit someone else’s home.
We shiver, thinking, “Someone else is fucking—and it’s not me!”
Jealousy invades our hearts,
Then we whisk the jealousy away again.
We think, “It is not productive to have such thoughts.
Not when there is work to be done—
There are chores to be attended to,
Families to be raised, and
Things to do. There’s no time to be thinking about sex.”
But still, like the phantom in our homes,
Unseen, the lovemaking anguishes our spirits.
Where could that ghost of lovemaking have gone?
And when at last we find it again,
We are soothed, for a brief moment,
And we leave our suffering, for a while,
Abandoned next to our clothes,
And we embrace the spirit, the lovemaking,
In an exultation of joy and delight.

 

Categories
Poems

Aphorism Poem

My Oxford New American Dictionary defines an aphorism as, “A pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’” This is a poem comprised of aphorisms, some of which already exist but have been reworded, and others which are of my own invention.

St Jerome
Caravaggio – Saint Jerome, 1605-1606

There’s truth in every aphorism
And poetry in those gnomic things:
Like, Time may mend the greatest schism.
And, Chaotic are the ways of kings.

In every mishap, there’s blame to share.
In each home, there’s room to care.
Knowledge is an unquenchable flame.
And, Sarcasm is the crutch of the lame.

Anything can go from bad to worse.
Addiction leaves a lightweight purse.
Every age is made of strange times.
Some men aren’t guilty of their crimes.

Unproveable is faith in the divine.
We oil the wheel that does whine.
All men go inevitably unto death.
Sweetest is the liberated breath.

All those who are poets must be true.
Politicians are wont to misconstrue.
Though in severalty we unite in league.
The true spy makes his own intrigue.

Each maxim among these and many more
Help comprise man’s expressive score.
And although often spoken like a catechism
There’s yet some truth in the aphorism.

Categories
Poems

The Candle from the Cathedral

The Candle from the Cathedral has a rhyme scheme of ABCAABBCBCCA, and the poem tells the story of a young man coping with the death of a loved one.

IMG_5922

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 the 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.

Categories
Poems

Jack Frost Endeavors to Keep Winter

Jack Frost, the personification of winter, speeds forth in an icicle train to the north pole to stop spring from coming. To stop spring, Frost must keep winter’s candle lit.

Frederic Edward Church - Red and Green Northern Lights Over Seascape
Frederick Edwin Church – Aurora Borealis, 1865

Through the snowy passes
Hurtles an old and hoary train.
It dashes past crevasses
Along the cold moraines.

Its transit is annuary—
Only once in ice and snow—
Only deep in January
Is the Icicle Train prepared to go.

And how extraordinary
This Icicle Train is to see
It seems imaginary
As it curves ’round glaciers and the scree.

Its locomotive is wrought of iron,
Embellished with curls and coils
With raveled figurines of wire on
Its smokestack, which blows and boils.

Its cars are made of stained glass
Each are as vitreous as the sea
The glass is mullioned in fine brass
With designs of spruce and cedar trees.

The conductor is an old man
Jack Frost is his true name
For longer than mankind’s lifespan
He has steered this venerable train.

He wears a jester’s cap of black and white
With five points that have five bells
And he wears a cloak that’s black as night
With gloves and shoes as white as shells.

He drives the train into the north
Where the bears and walrus live
Into dark lands where few rove forth,
Where the cold does not forgive.

What does the conductor seek there?
It’s a secret you should know.
He is searching with intent care
For a faint and feeble glow.

He seeks the flame of winter
Which gutters night by night,
The flame lies furthest hinter
Beneath dancing aurora light.

The flame of winter shudders
With each approaching spring
And when at last it gutters
The earth begins to green.

But Frost wants winter eternal—
A world of snow and ice—
So he strives to cease the vernal
Tidings by this particular device.

For if he can keep that cold flame
Burning in the north
Then he will meet his own aim
And spring shall not come forth.

So the Icicle Train speeds onwards
Through the snow and ice and frost
To thwart the coming season
And to render summer lost.

Frost stokes the boiler’s fire
He throws in wood and coal
So the flames in it lick higher
As he steams on toward his goal.

But the winter’s flame has dwindled so far
Even as he comes
The fire flickers beneath a bell jar
As the locomotive hums.

Jack Frost speeds across a prairie
Of flat ice and winter’s snow
Across dazzling ice that’s glary
Toward the paltry distant glow.

Now he’s very near it
And Frost will fan its flame
But the candle is but half-lit,
Or half-dead to say the same.

And then the fire does choke
And a tragedy strikes for him
The fire becomes a feathered smoke
The flame dies within the glim.

And although no word is spoken
There comes a thundering crack of ice
As winter’s spell is broken
And spring is taken from its glacial vise.

The Icicle Train must go back
For another long, green year
And Jack Frost with his coat black
Must take his bow and disappear.

But this is not forever—
Every year he tries his worth—
And in eras when Frost was quick and clever
We’ve had a snowball earth.

But this year he’s been frustrated
And the north sounds with his rage
For Frost will never be placated
Till we live in a perpetual ice age.

Categories
Poems

The Place of Man

“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.

contemporary-oil-painting-emotional-portraits-joshua-miels-1
The Collector, Joshua Miels

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.

Categories
Poems

The Restoration of Frost

The Restoration of Frost is, so far as I know, the only mystery to ever be written in the form of a terza rima.  A terza rima is a kind of a poem that uses a rhyme in the pattern ABA BCB CDC DED, and so on.  The form was made popular by an Italian, Dante Alighieri, who wrote a terza rima poem which included the seven circles of Hell.  It was called The Divine Comedy.

My poem, The Restoration of Frost, tells the story of a cynical, hardboiled detective whose name is Frost.  One day, the wife of a diamond merchant comes to Frost, and she tells him that her husband was murdered by the butler, that the diamonds have been stolen, and that the butler has disappeared.  The police have proven powerless, and she believes that the hard-drinking Detective Frost is her last hope.

Illustrations by Amanda Güereca.

Restoration of Frost Illustration 1

He sits up nights with whiskey, learning French,
in a lonely apartment amongst sirens,
squalling sounds, swindling, and a human stench.

Alouette, je te plumerai … each pin,”
he mutters, “Fall naked from the sky, bird,
into men’s cold cities and thrice-damned dens.”

Outside the sun rises: pale, weak, obscured;
even as the man sets, sinks in his drink,
as the moon wanes, and the night is interred.

Sewers exhale their smoke; trashmen, their stink;
Madmen envision grey futures of death;
the sun shades the city sky orange and pink.

The rousted city draws its first morning breath.
It lifts itself from quotidian sleep,
aciers son esprit, et se déroule son fouet.

Yet the man, with his head on his hands, sleeps,
the unstoppered glass bottle beside him:
king of his castle, captive of his keep.

Then comes a knocking: hard and fast and grim.
“What?” mutters the man. “Who’s there? At this time?
I warn you, faults are thick where love is thin.”

“Open up! There’s been a terrible crime!
My husband’s lying dead, dead on our floor!
Ash and dust extracted from the sublime!

Are you Detective Frost?”
—“Not anymore.”
“But you once were? Detective Frost, that is?”
The man opens, just a crack, his front door.

“That was another life. What’s your name, Ms.?”
“Emily King. Can you investigate?”
She is a woman of puffy eyelids,

her mane of hair seems to be half her weight;
she wears short heels and a Desigual dress,
and sways like a pendulum oscillates.

“The police,” she says, “Have made no progress.
My love’ll be buried, to rest in peace;
his warm largesse became cool emptiness.

He is beyond the clergy and police;
he’s at the disposal of God’s great will.
And our lost wealth was in a worn valise,

but can be regained by a man with your skill.
I’ve heard you were once great. Almost divine.
So help me. Please. Come on, say that you will.

I’m in my hour of need—”
—“Stop,” he signs.
“I’m not the shadow of the man I was.
I’m a drunk now. I live like listless swine.

I’m not who you want, if I ever was.”
“Well for God’s sake, at least open the door.”
“You’ll just see straight whiskeys and neat vodkas.”

“Open the door! Damn it! Open the door!
All the way! Not just a crack! Look at me!”
He swings the door open halfway, then more.

There is a silence as he blinks and sees.
There she stands in the shabby corridor,
flickering like a candle in the breeze.

“Fine. Let me get my coat from off the floor.
It’s a bitter dawn, made worse by the cold,
and my intent to restart what I forswore.”

He mutters as he walks, “Where’s my billfold?
Where’s my coat and my hat and my resolve?
Time never brought wisdom, just made me old.”

“How long will this mystery take to solve?”
she calls, “How long till the criminal’s nicked?”
“Damn it,” he mutters, “I shouldn’t be involved.”

He calls back, “Impossible to predict.”
Silence. Then, “Can I call you Detective Frost?”
He mutters, “You can call me ‘Derelict.’

Or maybe even ‘Detective Well Sauced.’”
But he calls, “Yeah. Yeah, you can call me that.
Look, let’s go. I think my damn billfold’s lost.”

He walks out the door, putting on his hat,
leaving the front door unlocked behind him.
“You’re not locking up the door of your flat?”

“Lady, inside my place, pickings are slim.
Any robber is welcome to my trash.
Now, let’s go.” And he pulls down his hat brim.

The drive takes them past tall maples and ash,
along a quiet, winding road near cliffs
and views that overlook winter’s panache.

The houses in this part seem formal, stiff.
Quiet monsters that look down and glower,
giving the peons a conceited sniff.

“These places give fine looks to wealth’s power,”
says he. “I don’t like ’em.” There’s no reply.
They enter her drive, pass a stone tower.

Frost asks, “Why didn’t the guards raise a cry?”
“We think,” she says, “It was an inside job.
“William is missing with no alibi.

William is the butler and is macabre.
His sense of humor always disturbed me,
But he seemed cleaner than the pope’s façade.

His bad humor was the sole fault to see.
So we kept him… To my endless regret!”
“Hm. Tell each detail of last night to me,”

says Frost. “Any trifle may be an asset.
I must know the times, the places, all things.
Don’t withhold anything from your vignette.”

“My husband was known as a diamond king:
Michael was the CEO of DeBeers,
a job which brought us wealth and its trappings.

Last night, he got a shipment from Algiers,
a shipment worth fourteen million dollars,
which were to be bought by Dubai’s emirs.

Maintenance, by the company installer,
on the office safe, made that place unfit
for even the care of a prize much smaller.

Needless to say, Michael abandoned it.
He brought the diamonds home in a valise:
a small, innocuous, brown leather kit.

He told no one of the stones in the piece.”
“Then how did you know what was in the bag?”
“Well, he told me, of course, to keep the peace.”

“To keep the peace?”
—“I asked about the bag.
I thought it might be linked with a tryst.”
“Geld a stallion and you’re left with a nag.”

“Oh please! Men are pigs! True men don’t exist.
Some men are true to infidelity,
but that’s all. The honest man is like a mist:

looks white, but he’s gone with day’s clarity.
So Michael showed me diamonds in the purse,
diamonds of unusual rarity.

He said to me in a voice quite terse,
‘Don’t say a word of this to anyone;
Its loss would be too great to reimburse.

I’m revealing this out of affection,
trust in our partnership, and profound love.’
These words must have caught William’s attention.

He was passing on a small walkway above,
one used for that room’s second floor of books.
He’d been, I fear, overhead like a dove.

‘What’d you see with your stealthy, furtive looks?’
Michael asked.
—‘Nothing, just sorting the shelves.’
‘That little lie puts me on tenterhooks,’

Michael whispered to me. ‘Between ourselves
let’s not let that valise out of our sight.’
Then, ‘Will! Em and I want the house to ourselves!

Go on home, my man, and have a nice night!’
Then, in a whisper, ‘Better if he’s gone.’
Then, louder, ‘And see that your mouth’s zipped tight!’

Will came down from the walkway he was on,
gave us a little bow, and left the room.”
“Did he leave the house, not just the salon?”

“I can’t be sure. I can only assume.
I assume that he left; we did not check.
Then I guess he returned, through the sunroom.

The door was ajar, accessing the deck.”
“Tell me where your husband’s body was found.
In the sunroom? In the study? On the deck?”

“I found him in the hall, dead on the ground.
I had heard a scream, rushed out; a door closed.
It clicked softly shut with a fatal sound.

Mike was just unconscious, I first supposed.
I ran to him, neglecting the thief’s escape.
I saw piano wire, his neck exposed,

long lacerations across that landscape
of innocent flesh and beloved skin.
His mouth was lying horribly agape;

his lips were purple, his face white and thin.
His eyes stared into a world beyond ours.
All that was left was what might have been.

I screamed for what seemed to be hours
I then rushed to the door and found it locked,
but heard the window of that damned tower

pushed open hard by the one being stalked.
Then I saw diamonds scattered on the floor.
Then clearly as sun shines I could concoct

the whole scene as if I’d seen it before:
Mike was garroted by piano wire;
the killer had hid behind the hall door,

and when Michael had tried to retire,
the craven killer sprang out, strangled him,
and stole the valise that he did desire.

Michael’s screams—telling, bloodcurdling, grim—
brought me running from my chamber too late
with just time to hold him to my bosom,

to see my man forever insensate,
and the door of the study being locked,
and to feel on my heart a doleful weight.

Oh heaven, Detective Frost! I’ve been mocked
by a cruel fate and damned to lonely life:
all paths were open, now they are all blocked.

The servants entered, and, sharp as a knife,
the maid called the police, and the driver,
who kept his mind calm in this bloody strife,

ordered the grounds closed to that conniver.
‘The window!’ I cried, ‘I heard it opened!’
Bless the soul of the quick-thinking driver,

he said, ‘Will cannot get out! He happened
in his dark escape into a high room
in which he is now surely imprisoned:

to leap from that place would spell certain doom.
No, he must still be inside that study;
his quickest refuge shall be his fastest tomb.’

We waited in that place of perfidy,
like a hunter waits for dangerous prey,
near to the body, lifeless and bloody.

When the police came before the break of day,
they forced the door. But the room was empty!
The detectives checked for another way

that the criminal might have gotten free.
There is a drainpipe along the house wall,
but it is connected only weakly,

and any climber would certainly fall;
the frail pipe would tear away from the house,
and gravity would wrap him in his pall.

And the ground is soft. Not even a mouse
could escape without leaving a footprint.
Yet no impressions were without the house.

Further inquiry yielded not a hint.
The detectives left for other business.
And that is why I’ve asked you to represent

my side in this perplexing and anxious
matter, which seems so simple but is not.
The man, William, killed my husband, backless

in his fell execution. Then he sought
refuge in a room without an escape
except for a window whose height cannot

be negotiated by man or ape,
and yet when the door, locked on the inside,
was forced, there was within no living shape.

But there was not a single place to hide!
Where’s William? Murderer of my husband?
Thief, assassin, evil personified!”

“One thing’s sure,” says Frost, “Nothing will be banned
from the net of inquiry. All’s open.
Your account’s been near all I could demand.

Yet some questions remain. When all seemed done,
did the cops lock the door before leaving?
Could William have escaped from his bastion?”

“The detectives locked the door, perceiving
that if Will were inside, he could well flee.”
“And yet, while the cops were conceiving

that such a bold escape could come to be,
still they departed the scene of the crime?
Such actions seem, to be frank, unseemly.”

“Further inquiry was a waste of time,
was what the shrugging detectives told me.”
“Well, they’ve left us the work of muck and grime;

we’ll be on our own,” Frost replies blithely.
“Ah,” says Ms. King, “We have arrived at last.”
The mansion looms behind a copse of trees,

its wings spread, like a dark bat’s, wide and vast.
Great windows look, from behind the old copse,
inward: shared wine and spilled blood, dry at last.

The great home stands on a cliff’s rocky tops;
grey granite underlays its foundation.
Their car crunches gravel up to the door, stops.

Frost gets out. “I’d like an examination.”
“Certainly, my late husband is inside.
He has not been moved from his location.”

“Ms. King, I’ll begin my research outside.”
“Uhhh, as you wish. But the detectives said—”
“Ma’am, seasoned sailors trust but wind and tide;

they pay no mind to what the lubbers said.
This William left us with the silent dead,
So I’ll go where my thoughts will have me led.

I’ll see the clues, and ensure they’re well read.
Now, the wildest fires may start with sparks,
so keep vigilant; there’s danger ahead.

This scene could become the darkest of darks—
Yet still I’ll tell you, ‘Stay hopeful, Ms. King’:
even the softest killers leave their marks.

I’ll find the thief, the killer, the cruel thing.”
“In a time when everything has gone cold,
you’ve made winter’s white death show signs of spring.

Thanks. Some kind words are more precious than gold.
There’s in brave substances a common core:
invisible to the eye, lovely to behold,

in those that cast not their shadows before,
those who walk with their faces to the sun,
like heroes who stand ready at the fore.”

“I ain’t all that. I’m just a mother’s son.
Now go inside, stand your guard with the rest,
and I’ll work. Sooner began, sooner done.”

Detective Frost watches her leave, “What’s guessed
at in the darkness, without facts,” he states,
“Is a surmise which must be reassessed.

I won’t give her story an ounce of weight,
till I’ve confirmed the empirical facts:
the fox won’t tell of the chickens he ate,

and the stuff of greed is what honesty lacks.
I’ll take her story with a grain of salt,
til I see the grounds and scene of attack.”

Walking over wet leaves, puddles, and gault,
his eyes wandering over the edifice,
walking fast at times, now making a halt,

Frost strolls the grounds: solemn, thoughtful, cheerless.
He ambles to the foot of the mansion
where a drainpipe of uncommon thinness

descends from the rooftop then does run
past a window large enough for a man.
Frost shakes the pipe, which almost comes undone,

for the pipe is affixed by no more than
three rusting brackets of uncertain strength
from where Frost stands to where the pipe begins.

“Hm,” says Frost, “And most certainly the length
of the drop from the window to the ground
supports an extent of her narrative’s length.

Nor are there strange indentures to be found.
The ground is too soft not to be impressed;
the mud testifies: Ms. King’s account’s sound.

Now, let’s see what eggs the bird has in her nest.
In a woman’s home is her façade found,
and in her unreadable heart: the rest.

Detective Frost strolls quietly around
to the massive front door, which he enters.
He strides up the staircase that’s marble bound

with red and white tiles like blood in winter.
On the second floor, Frost finds the servants
and Ms. King waiting. “Not to the sprinter

will go this race, but to the observants,”
Frost says, nodding approvingly, “Patience
can be more opportunistic than chance.”

“We have stayed at our proper assignments,”
says one man tiredly. “It’s been a long night.”
“I believe Ms. King said you had good sense,”

says Frost, “You’re the driver, if I am right?”
“That’s right, I am. And my name is Michael.
We’ve been waiting outside this room all night.

We’ve been sleepless and angry and watchful.
The door of this study has not opened;
It’s not admitted nor dismissed a soul.”

“I’ll do my best to bring this to an end,”
Frost replies. “And see your care rewarded.
I must now see Mr. King’s tragic end.

Ms. King? Could you lead me to the blest dead?”
Ms. King wordlessly points to a sheet
that covers the corpse like a sad shroud’s spread.

Detective Frost walks to the corpse’s feet,
then steps forward, and he pulls back the cloth.
Mr. King’s face is placid, his look neat.

“Is there much to see?” Ms. King, her voice wroth.
Frost examines the neck’s lacerations,
“No, but with little meat we must make much broth.”

Then he says gently, “My consolations.”
He tenderly covers the departed.
Frost stands. “Another examination

of this puzzling study must be started.
Who has the key? Please, let’s open the door;
we’ll see if the law has been outsmarted.”

Ms. King produces the key, “Yes, let’s explore
the interior of this baffling room;
time’s come: we won’t find what we don’t search for.”

Ms. King inserts the key of the room,
turns the lock, then she enters the chamber.
Detective Frost follows into the gloom,

flicks the lights, says, “Let’s see what did occur.”
The illuminated room contains books,
a desk, a globe, a humidor of fir,

liquor bottles, paintings, knick-knacks, and nooks.
“All these things,” Frost says, “That I now see, were
in their same place before? Anything look

out of the ordinary? Or disturbed?”
“No,” she says, “Everything is in its place.”
“Well, all right,” says Frost, not a bit perturbed.

He examines the walls, books, and shelf space.
He walks to the window, gauges the drop,
pulls the pane on its hinges, steps back a pace.

Then he pauses to consider the chase.
He looks from the door to the room’s window,
passes his eyes over a standing vase,

mutters, “Where, indeed, could this killer go?”
reviews the room again, opens desk drawers,
and does, on Ms. King, a doubtful glance throw.

“Ms. King, if you’ll permit, I’ll step outdoors.”
“Do you have any clues, Detective Frost?”
“I have hopes. Michael and maids, guard the doors.

Don’t open or close them at any cost.”
With those words, Frost sweeps out of the study.
He heard the doors being shut as he crossed

the hall, past the shroud and body bloody,
then down the marble stair, and out the door.
“Not sure how to clear a case so muddy,”

he mutters, “Or which line to next explore.”
Frost pulls from his coat a Haitian cigar,
sits on a bench, brings his thoughts to the fore.

“What dark things were illumed ’neath night’s dark star?”
he wonders aloud, as he considers
the night’s events, and lights up his cigar.

“And those diamonds—sweet smelling, but bitter!
How’d the lady play her game? Fair or foul?
was it the sparkling stones that undid her?

Or… is her tale true as the hoot of an owl?
I shall just take time to review the facts…”
He sits; the smoke wreathes his head like a cowl.

He puffs and puffs: the cigar glows, reacts.
The smoke swirls in thick clouds around his head,
then wafts, by a breeze laden with bees-wax,

through brisk air, where it then dissipated.
Frost frowns. He stares thoughtfully at the smoke.
He looks at his cigar, wrinkles his forehead.

He looks again at the slow, drifting smoke.
He purses his lips, uncrosses his legs;
overhead rustle the leaves of an oak,

“I’m deep in the bottle, but not the dregs,”
says Frost, “I have one creative idea.
Shipwrecked sailors can still feel their sea legs,

just as I, a ruined hound, can still smell a
scent. I will smoke my coffin nail indoors,
and I will test the strength of my idea.”

Frost strides inside along the marble floors.
He ascends posthaste up the spacious stairs,
enters the hall, makes for the study doors,

past Michael, Ms. King, and the maids’ stares,
all while puffing madly on the cigar.
He shuts the room’s windows against the air.

“Leave the door open and stay where you are!”
he commands, sitting at Mr. King’s desk,
raising his chin, sending smoke near and far.

“Mr. Frost!” says Ms. King, “This is grotesque!
Get it together—don’t smoke in my place!
This is a somber scene, not a burlesque!”

“This smoke is needed for solving the case!”
Indeed, as Ms. King, Detective Frost, Mike,
and the others watch, the smoke slowly traces

to the wall, then drifts through a crack, ghost-like.
“My God,” Ms. King whispers.
—“Shh!” orders Frost.
“Don’t let the mouse see what the cat looks like!”

Frost motions to Mike and the maids, “No cost
is too high to pay for the man within;
he’ll readily ensure your lives are lost.

Between careless and care, let caution win!
The butler’s hidden in a secret space;
he’s behind the wall where the smoke got in.

The smoke was drafted to that hidden place.
His secret was betrayed by air currents;
so little reveals such a huge disgrace.

But I suspect he has no deterrent
to forced entry; his weapon was wire,
swiftly snatched in a mood black and fervent.

But come danger, we shall fight fire with fire.
Had he shown restraint, so would we now.
Both crooked and straight wood burn alike in fire,

so beware: righteousness earns no golden crown.
We shall take him by surprise, Mike and I,
but we may need you all to take him down.

Are you set? If so, stay. If no: Goodbye.”
“We’re set,” whisper the maids.
—“And I,” says Mike.
“All’s well if he’s in hell, so says I,”

says Ms. King. “While the iron’s hot—we strike!”
“All for one, one for all,” says Detective Frost.
“We’ll break through the wall as a hammer’s like,

fight him till he’s taken or we’re all lost;
we’ll never quit, never capitulate,
until that sinister arachnid’s lost!

On the count of three, no one hesitate,
we’ll put our shoulders to the dummy wall,
then wed the devil to his absent mate.

Ready? One, two, three! Shoulders to the wall!”
Ms. King, Mike, Detective Frost, and the maids
throw themselves against the study’s false wall.

The wall collapses beneath their combined weights,
as they crash into a dim compartment,
where dust thickens like fog in humid glades.

Cringing at the force of their bombardment,
is William the butler, valise in hand,
whose blood-stained hands tell of his dark event.

The five raiders untangle, try to stand,
as William beats at them with the valise,
and deals them blows with his bloody free hand.

Detective Frost, shouting, “Death makes good peace!”
launches himself at his deadly opponent
and begins beating him into pieces.

“Stop! Stop!” cries William, quailing, curled, and bent.
“Never!” roars Detective Frost, “I’m feeling good!
My life is becoming your punishment!”

“Stop! Stop! I’d take it back, if I could!
I’d have left the wire, forgot the rocks,
I’d have gone on home, as I knew I should!”

“The past is only a number on clocks!”
cries Ms. King, “You can’t bring my husband back!
What’s done is done, now our judgment talks!”

“Enough!” shouts Michael, “We’ve won the attack.”
He pulls Frost off of William, as Frost shouts,
“I haven’t had enough man! Hold me back!”

So Mike stands between Frost and the mad rout,
and Frost, a moment later, breathes deeply.
Mike says, “Stand up, Will; we’re taking you out.”

“That poisonous cobra got off cheaply!”
exclaims Ms. King.
—“There’s more to come,” Mike states.
“The judicial fangs will sink more deeply.

But come on, Will, you’re going to Hell’s gates.”
Detective Frost and Mike tug Will to his feet,
as Ms. King phones the police’s heavyweights.

They wait calmly for the police fleet,
resting in the study, hardly speaking,
till Ms. King asks, “How’d you solve it so neat?”

“While outside, I saw the cigar smoke drifting,
and I thought that result would happen as well,
if something was here to do the drafting,

such as a small crack from a secret cell.
I didn’t think the killer had left the house,
but he’d hidden himself so very well

that it was like catching the squeak of a mouse.
I feel like William probably observed
Michael use this hidden room in the house,

and, though the butler, himself he served
more truly than members of this sad place.”
“Take these three clear diamonds, richly deserved,

as my thanks for solving this opaque case.
I believe that you redeemed your name as well:
stumbling out the blocks, but winning the race.
Although I’m shocked to hear the tale you tell.”

As to my reputation’s return, only time will tell.
Frost replies. “But I’m not surprised, my green clientele:
I’ve seen worse in the past, more malevolent and fell.
Greed’s a terrible driver, if released from its cell;
it’s a cold-blooded killer, if it’s not thwarted well.
Better a closet in heaven than a kingdom in Hell.”

Restoration of Frost Illustration 2

Categories
Poems

The Ripps Go Fishing

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Brutus was a child of ten.
He spat at cats and stabbed dogs with pins.
Mr. Ripps, his father, was a wealthy man
And spoiled him as only true fools can.
So Brutus got whatever he pleased,
Till his teachers wished he’d get diseased.
Now life went on in this unpleasant vein
Till the school year stopped and holidays came.
Then the Ripps flew to the Caribbean sea
To do some fishing and be carefree.
They booked a place on a charter boat
Where the crew were hard enough to cut your throat.
Captain Burner was the toughest of all.
He was harder (and meaner) than a cannonball.
But the Ripps didn’t know this when they booked the trip.
No. Nope. They just liked the captain’s ship.
So the day arrived, and they all set out,
With Brutus asking if they’d catch some trout.
Captain Burner told him, “Alas, my friend, No.
We’re fishing for sailfish and dorado.”
Upon hearing this Brutus stamped and screamed,
And he demanded a cone of his favorite mint ice cream.
“What! There’s none aboard,” Burner said with a frown.
“Now, my child, won’t you please settle down?”
“Hey!” cried Mr. Ripps, “Don’t you talk to my child that way!
I’ll have you know I could buy both your boat and bay!”
Well, Captain Burner scowled, but he wandered off,
While Brutus wept and sneezed and dramatically coughed.
His father patted him gently on the arm
And said that, with him there—well! Brutus could know no harm!
Yet soon they reached the waters deep.
There, they woke Brutus who’d gone to sleep.
They threw in the bait, and they started to troll,
And that’s when Brutus demanded to hold the pole.
The Captain said, “Dear child, sit by.
If a big fish got on while you held that pole—well, you might just die.”
Then, quite unnecessarily, Brutus kicked him on the shin
And laughed and cursed and gave a horrid grin.
Well, the captain yelped and gave a black look,
While Mr. Ripps said, “Attaboy, son! You kick that crook!
Don’t you let the captain tell you not to hold that pole!
You be the fisherman, son; you know your role!”
So Brutus tried to lift the fishing pole out,
But it was as heavy as sin and stuck like grout.
Now when Brutus could not pull the fishing rod free
The unpardonable wretch wailed repulsively.
He screamed, “I hate this fishing, and I hate that man!”
He wept crocodile tears, and he pointed his hand.
“That’s right!” said the father. “Now I’ll make this clear.
I’m the boss of all of you here!
Now get something on that line, and let’s catch some fish!”
“Very well,” nodded the captain grimly, “You’ll get your wish.
We’ll put something on; no need to wait.
I’ll use you and your rotten son as bait!”
And so saying, Captain Burner commenced the dénouement:
He took the Ripps, and he tied them on.
Then he tossed his customers over the hull
And brutally ended that swift battle.
Well, that was incendiary,” Burner said calmly. “Brought up some sparks.
One small change here, my crew, we’ll now fish for sharks!”
And after a loud hurrah and a noisy hurray,
The crew caught two big sharks that day.

Categories
Poems

The Hollow Man and the Zealot

 

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This is an Arizona bark scorpion that I found on the wall of my bathroom in Mexico on the night of March 14th, 2019. They are the most poisonous scorpions in Mexico.  In this photo, it appears to be a shadow.  It’s not.

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.

Categories
Poems

Mr. Shaker the Undertaker

Mr. Shaker the Undertaker considers his prospects.

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Old Mr. Shaker was the town’s undertaker
And to see him marked a very dark day
He’d wrap you in sheets, burn you in heat,
Or embalm you in formaldehyde.
Old Mr. Shaker would pack you off to your maker
And he’d whistle as he went by in his ride.
He was the one not to meet if you passed in the street
For he measured you up with his eye
He’d say to himself, This man’s six feet, two hundred,
Why just think if he’s sundered—
I’d have the perfect shape casket for him!
Or maybe he’d think speculatively,
It’d be droll if consecutively
The Anderson triplets came in!
For the girl with blonde locks
I’d find a blonde box
And for the middle child with parted hair…
Now him, I’d dissect with great care!
I’d take his heart to Kentucky
To a transplant that’s lucky
Then I’d attend the Run for the Roses…
I’d send his brain to D.C.
So the politicians could see
The organ they should use when they speak!
I’d send his arms to the Navy
For times wet and wavy
So they’d have two more appendages to swim
I’d send some blind man his eyes
So that he’d realize
The colors of the world he lived in
And that last Anderson child,
The most beautiful and mild,
I’d have her embalmed for all time.
I’d drain all of her veins
And I would go to great pains
To ensure she was properly styled.
Then like a man with a truck who is mounting a duck
I’d find her a space over the fireplace
And affix her there as the revered child.
And if in a thousand years she’s forgotten
At least she’s not rotten
Although I wouldn’t want to say how she’d smell…
Old Mr. Shaker was a versatile undertaker
And he had been for a good while
He was at once butcher and baker
And beauty-maker
In his mortuary made of green tile.