Where towers were, a fragile monument,
twin slender lights anointing first fall nights.
I will not consider more petty than death the slights
that leave a solo life devoid, time rent
and fragmented to scraps. I build my tent
of twilights torn to rags, collapse, and flight,
your escape from intimacy into toxic blight
obscuring sweet sun whose gleams great death has bent.
I wrote for you once a nine-eleven piece
that was to include me in a Rodin group,
The Burghers of Calais, gaunt would-be siege-lifters
who offered their scrawny worth to plead for peace.
Peace is refused; our food the cough, the croup.
You shut the town gates; my road points north, among drifters.
Achilles hectors Hector all around Troy,
the absolute soldier pursuing the merely resolute.
Around a Trojan urn they trace volutes.
Or maybe on cords suspended, voladores.
Only when brought up short by a goddess’s ploy,
a hologram trick, does the Trojan hero stop.
He thinks his warrior brother of many forays
beside him, to resupply that spear he’s just misflung.
He must resort to the sword instead. That ghost
so solidly fraternal, melted, gone
behind air’s one-way mirror. Worst, his whole host
bleeding, dissolving, re-forming inside wallstone.
One snick of sword from his scabbard, razor on strop:
Priam’s best son now charges, sword too short;
like victors in taunting matches: the longest tongue
is Achilles’ ash tree spear. Thrown or handheld,
we know not. We know the jab gets past the shield
and into the throat, though it cannot abort
Hector’s last warning. Good heed falls out the ear
of Achilles, though, just as the sucking spearpoint leaves
great Hector’s neck. Like empty crayfish shells
the false Achilles of formerly best bronze
makes armored remains to stack upon a heap
—no, better, tow behind the chariot wheels—
as that Achilles himself killed a false Achilles
whose ephemeral hero skill was to bronze as is brass.
All devolves from gold to bronze, till crass
necessity, cried-out grief, entwines the bereaved,
the soldier bereft of Patroclus and the king
bereft of hope when Hector’s day sunk down.
Achilles the true slays false Achilles who killed
a sweeter Achillean clone? Who knows what’s false?
All we can tell implies the towered town,
whirled about, many laps, in that predator’s waltz.
SAM AND JIM
Impertinence, effrontery, calling them thus,
affectionately. Yet feel for them we do:
self-lifted from poor-many to eminent few,
a Rambler compulsively, solemnly prompt to discuss
our deviations from the ways of God
and ethics, treating our psychic health. A man
whose very Dictionary’s of moral plan
yet brims with poetry, sciences, all things odd
as himself. The other, confessedly deviant, all whim
and sexual licentiate, a legal dabbler
who yet, long years before Perry Masons ruled,
worked desperately to save a client criminal
from dangling. His biographies, much tattle;
yet a Shakespeare stuffed down somewhere in pretend fool.
My Isham version (uncensored) of Bozzy’s journal,
Sam terming their Scottish host the grossest bastard.
James lovingly recalling what they “eat”
(say “et”) one night. Port, spinach, roast grouse or bustard?
He’ll query advice-friend Malone, hard at diurnal
editor’s quill and ink: “Shall the dinner stet?”
POLISH / POLISH
(notes from an overheard classroom conversation)
Smoked kielbasa, tasty pirogi are Polish,
Savoire-faire, like shine on boots, is polish.
Polish is what we apply to shoes,
to manners, cars, and gemstones.
Polish refers to the mazurkas,
nocturnes, polonaises of Chopin.
Yet Chopin, being rarely if ever raw,
boasts polish mayonnaise cannot give slaw.
Polish directs us to Poland, a place in the world;
yet without polish, we’ll find no Pole unfurled
of kindness, music, or sheer red-white flag.
No Polish person of polish flaps a rag.
WHEREVER SHE MIGHT NOW WANDER SHADOWY
If none strives so alone as lives one dying
(how can we be sure?) the nearest to that most lone
degree of numb, forlorn, marks also one
whose prayers are tear-moist salted air spent sighing
for that loved heart-stopped creature prone on this bed.
Next to all terrible empty death, the void
that is both your anguish—connected as if alloyed
with her so lately breathing—and that bled
pale separateness forever drained and lightened.
She was here, she is not here, and you go there
wherever she might now wander shadowy;
yet tread tugged always back from that chill town square.
That dissonant clash of death and aliveness, free
and taken, as is her breath who’s cold, skin-whitened.
I fret for the one Frank Bidart book I’ve lost,
now that you have gone and it too has gone,
now that he’s BEYOND MASTERY, has embossed
his poetics to everywhere anguished stripes of dawn
rose superimposed on a page of sunrise lawn.
I read you gone with eyes that see no frost
nor cast of lucky dice nor coast withdrawn
in mist that isn’t my LOST one. Bidart-sauced
dawn language warms the white steppes, but cannot reach
to just where you’re stranded on all-wraiths’ sandless beach.
The world—okay, mainland US—reaches far out
to Hurricane Harvey victims; they live in Texas.
Now Irma topples not much San Juan in its nexus,
yet everywhere, voltage dissolves like puddles in drought.
Pity rich many-white Houston. Network-blown-
down Puerto Rico? Time-lag: citizens brown.
Our thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine Friday brunch as the shadows lengthen with the turning of the year. Head down to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento tonight for the Sac Unified Poetry Slam, sign-ups at 7:30pm, or cross over the Causeway to Davis for The Other Voice, presenting Nick LeForce and Barbara West plus open mic at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 7:30pm. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.
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