Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Wilderness of Mystery

Photo by Art Beck

—Art Beck, San Francisco

In 1501, or was it 1502? I can’t remember. Cesare Borgia
gave a surprise party for his father, the Pope, and his sister, Lucretia.

It was a mild autumn, and on an impromptu stage under the great arbor,
fifty prostitutes danced, demurely dressed, and then,

danced naked for half an hour before dispersing to crawl
under the dining tables to beg for chestnuts.

Perhaps Cesare thought the revelry might cheer his sister
who was still mourning—though she’d be damned if she’d

let them see it—her treacherous husband those bastards
had strangled. She’d really loved that eager, ignorant,

frightened boy. But politics was business after all. And
did the chronicler mention Julia Bella, the comfort

of Pope Alexander’s declining years? Was she at the party?
Five years earlier, when he was sixty three, and she was still

the fourteen-year-old he’d married to one-eyed Orso Orsini
he wrote to remind her he was the Pope as well as her lover.

And if he ever caught her in bed with her husband,
he’d excommunicate her and damn her soul for eternity.

A nasty family. But history reminds us violent Cesare
was the most exemplary of princes; that Lucretia grew

gradually old and repentant, and died a near saint; that Alexander
was devoted to the Virgin to the point of superstition,

and—as corpulent as any well fed tenor—would sing
the Christmas mass in a voice so lovely it brought tears

to the crystal hearts of the pious. The righteous
may like to imagine their Borgias roasting in hell with Hitler, but

Christians should forgive and, personally, I’m touched
by the thought of old Alexander roasting chestnuts, sipping his Sangiovese,

waiting for the dinner to start and wondering
what that sly son of his had up his sleeve for the evening.

“What the hell’s the point of being pope,” I can hear him muttering,
“if you can’t indulge your own little sins, as well as the sins of others?”


—Art Beck

When Jack had Judith Exner brought around back
to the little maid’s room in the big White House,
he always made sure to do the job, three, four times
before relaxing on the pillow with his cigar.
He liked to tickle her nipple just so slightly,
nothing too blatant, while he set out to learn
what he wanted to know. “That old pervert, Giancana.
Tell me again, how he tries to do it to you.

I want to hear. I want to know everything.
I’ll bet he’s got some juicy things to say about Bobby, eh?
Just stick it out a little longer. Doesn’t that feel good?
Don’t I make it up to you? I just need to know a little more.
Sam will get what’s coming to him in the end, don’t worry...
Listen, Judy, all that stuff you hear about Marilyn, don’t pay any attention.
That’s all bullshit. Why would I want a fluff like that? ”

Fifteen years later, a new president—a man of Jack’s
very own party—but not very clear on the concept—
assured us that he, like the rest of us, suffered
from unrequited lust—and that he’d never, ever, tell a lie.
Hearing this, all across America, we slept peacefully in our
marital beds. But in Arlington, the earth quaked, as Jack sputtered
and turned, over and over, in his smoking grave.



The government of sneak thieves has finally
been overthrown by a revolution
of murderers. Our children
are in the streets, stalking their prey.
People are numb. They can’t
make simple choices, can’t decide
whether to go to work, drive
to the store. They cling
to their houses like trout behind
rocks in a winter river.

We watch the new leaders on television:
Master Sergeant Waldo, Monsignor Kelly,
the ascetic Police Captain Striker.
Each is wary of the others.
They agree on the points of order
without smiling. We realize
it doesn’t so much matter what’s forbidden.
It’s only important to know that all
penalties have now been reduced to death.

We lie here, naked, on the covers,
washed by the flickering silver light,
titillated by their static voices.
All non-procreative sex is now banned,
they agree, and our puckering
middle aged bodies are dazzled
by the forgotten excitement of mortal sin.

—Art Beck


—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove

Some people waded into the sea,
Like tourists in a poem by William
Carpenter. Others dropped from fine
Lines into the mouths of caves, never
To be seen again. Some boarded planes
Or ships or began walking away from us
Until they were no longer in sight.

They went back and forth into each
Other, buoyed by love and a welter of sweet
Declarations full of color and a brocade
Woven of intimacy and whispers.

They entered careers. They entered politics.
They entered priesthood, became cult members,
Began reading infinitely long books, joined one
Another on rafts across barely charted seas.
Left the clearings for the forest, went into Samadhi,*
Deep meditation, abandoned known methods
Of communication, joined centers of research
To carve the riddles of outer space, of inner
Space. They declared entrance into vast
Realms of magic, probed unafraid the worlds
Fictions, entered into communication with angels,
Those long dead, esoteric discussions of meaning
In the symphonies of great composers.

Most entered schools of one kind or another,
Marriage or deep friendships pathways of loss,
Or simply crossed state lines or passed into, through,
Around and out of places defined by geography.

This is a central activity here. This entering.
This earth life. We enter it. We are here.
We enter the next life. Every second
Seems a most extraordinary event if looked
At as a passage. These words enter your life.
You enter into conversation. I enter you.
As the words cease we enter yet another place.

May this be always so. May entrance never
Be denied. May mystery always reign as we
Enter. May we enter always with grace.

(*a state of ecstatic bliss)

Photo by Art Beck


Today's LittleNip:

We do not understand much of anything, from...the "big bang," all the way down to the particles in the atoms of a bacterial cell. We have a wilderness of mystery to make our way through in the centuries ahead.

—Lewis Thomas