Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tempestuous Tempests

Skaidra Rita Zvaigzne
—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA


Seeing you now slink through the house in hurt,
Such contrast with the you we knew at the start:
That expectant-mom-and-dad drive up-coast
To Bandon-by-the-Sea, Oregon, where your breeder bred
You, fed you good fresh food once mom-dog’s milk
Was no longer whimpered for, suckled at. All your ilk,
In beehive-upended swarms: sweet beagle beagle
Beagle beagle beagle beagle learning to bugle
Day’s reveilles, bay and bark for “Scoobie” munch:
We’d known you only by photo: puppy-plump, well-fed.
How big? The Samuel Johnson definition,
“As much food as the hand can hold,” that’s “luncheon”:
You, sweet, lunch-sized (who’d salivate, now,
Pavlov?): our mouths water at thoughts of holding you…
Yet, palm-propped by a lady in that picture, who
Are you, how strong, how vulnerable? That truncheon
Power already in your dark eyes…seems masterful.
The domination gaze—masterless, in a sense?—
Not to be easily ruled; yet all innocence.
Who’ll have who tight-reined, who as if loosed, unleashed?


At puppy class, Pet Smart, it seemed you breached
Every rule of young-canine etiquette:
Turned sensitive nose up at our plain honest treats,
Went foraging after other doggies’ goodies;
Preferred the dog beds their parents provided them
For practice lie-downs. Ours, more plain and neat
But flat; too little quilting for your taste.
You willfully lagged in basic training, let
Alone impressive tricks. A beagle rival, Stanley,
Seemed born to test your mettle. Little League
Parents helicoptering their kiddies
Around the bases, baying at referees,
Aren’t spurred to keener envy than was ours:
Stanley, that teacher’s pet, that Goody Four-Paws,
Who never put dewclaw wrong, who always obeyed,
A sitting, Downward Dog taunt to Skaidra Rita.
But who’ll have the last woof? Nora takes charge,
Rehearses our girl with keen, tenacious patience.
It’s Graduation Day! Will Skaidra perform?
All dogs get a last chance to strut tricks for treats.
…Yet Stanley, though docile, seems off his doggie game.
Now watch! as Skaidra displays a concentration
Not publicly (till now!) displayed. Walk. Stand. Sit. Lie down:
Immaculate. Bravo Skaidra, bravo Nora!
Like Secretariat, Skaidra seems to know
She’s graduated at the head of her class,
Left the good Stanley, no hard feelings, lagging.
A win for our sweet dog…her snapshot’s beagle-dragon
Gaze: camera red-eye? Deserved pride’s blaze, I imagine…
Look now! Our Skaidra Rita Zvaigzne prances
In graduation cap and gown, all princess… 


Inevitably, years on, the event comes. Faint signs:
A near-constant droop of tail; low energy
Your sniffer fitfully recharges outdoors
On walks. You seem less interested in food…
A beagle lose love for food? We try new treats,
All the ones forbidden by illness up till now.
Beef, rice, potatoes, carrots, back on the menu.
You light up briefly at nibbles of white-meat chicken.
Soon, gloom again tightens. Today’s the day
We must let you go. Driving to pick you up
For your last vet visit, I’m close to home,
In the right lane. Down sidewalk, a loose dog runs
Toward, then past my car, still keeping to walkway
(good), but what next for you, fleet little black dog?

No more than I can help Skaidra can I help you…
We’re now at the vet, in gentlest of healing hands,
Where Skaidra, her gaze already withdrawn from us,
To come on command only to a much older master,
Shrugs peaceably inward. By and by, surrender:
Dark pupil and iris go darker. Iris out. Eyelids close.  

  —Public Domain Photo


The Laureate, soon to star young Robert Graves
—acted for our purposes by Tom Hughes—
Too recently returned from those half-caves
The trenches full of blood, mud, man’s refuse;
The film purports to give elegance and grace
Of setting (green England) to doings now in the news,
Revisionary, sordid, taken for such disgrace
As clings to the boots of those whose sole excuse
Is artistry. Now we can savor exciting clashes
Between Tom/Graves and imperious Laura Riding,
Who jumps—or is jumped?—from sky-high window sashes,
Played by Dianna Agron, no doubt most biting.
Sir Derek Jacobi (no knock on his ability),
Plays Dad to young Graves: dash of respectability…

  —Public Domain Photo


O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!

[Lord Oxford] saith…that the villains his
enemies were favourably heard at the Council board
with smiling countenance between my Lord
of Leicester and your Lordship.
            —Bernard Dewhurst, to Lord Burghley, 1573

A piece of him.
                        —Horatio, in

In council, meeting panjandrum and panjandrum,
Reading in faces villainy that smiles,
He’s old nobility, wishing to throw a tantrum.

The cause is debt, is money; same old anthem,
Young earl who’s overspent his high lifestyle.
In council, facing panjandrum and panjandrum,
All of a piece

With his poet self, exposing the conundrum:
Tear-trails from eyes concealing cynical wiles.
He imagines himself, throwing a lavish tantrum

Before new-risen men of state, whose one theme
Is “ancient riches,” raked in at their turnstiles.
In council, standing against ranks of panjandrum,

New poohbahs, quick to judge (perchance behead them?)
Old warrior knights of “swashing blows” and bile.
He’s young, hot-blooded, dreaming a lavish tantrum,
All of a piece

With playwright, actor; such gifts won’t recommend him
To these “reptilia,” grins of crocodiles
In council, new men of standing, high panjandrums.

In drama, words hang on air, for he’s had at them;
He strides, seeing red only, out the long aisle,
A “boy of tears.” Boy? Having left them his tantrum,
He’s had quite enough. Panjandrum and panjandrum.
Still in one piece?

 —Public Domain Photo

(Presented at Folsom Lake College by Actors from the London Stage)

For Arthur Wilson, excellent actor

Strange, long ago, to have seen The Tempest in Ashland
Played, while a genuine tempest pelted the groundlings
(In ponchos, not leather jerkins or Renaissance woolens);
Quite dry, us, lord-and-lady-lofty in a box
(Absent the odd stray splash on the guardrail),
Hearing stage thunders, watching the stage lightnings
“Contend with the fretful elements” for mastery.

Vast contrast with this all-indoors parched Tempest,
A stage of wooden flooring, blank backdrop canvas.
Some lengths of rope, a wide cotton sheet to shroud
A plain wheeled suitcase (turned Ferdinand’s load of logs).

A mere five actors, working hard to jest,
Soliloquize, argue, proclaim, voices a tad frayed
From three nights’ vocal fry in grueling shows.
Still, exuberant, all liveliness, yet unfrenzied.
Warm work, this? Thirst equal with outdoor drought?
Five players, running the gauntlet of nineteen named parts.

One actor peels off his Gonzalo shirt,
Displays wiry arms and pecs; he’s Caliban.
That shirt, yanked over shoulders and head,
Rolled and furled clockwise around his forearms,
Hints unseen Prospero-cuffs, mage-manacles.
Counterclockwise, head and shoulders back into shirt:
The good Gonzalo again. Quick flips or flicks
Of scarf; each different drape a different person.

Sweet Ferdinand one turn of cloth from scheming Sebastian,
Ingénue Miranda turns head-bobbing, birdlike Ariel.
What can’t a man become, pants legs hiked to show socks?
When Caliban offers to kiss Stephano’s foot,
The would-be usurper peels off boot and sock,
Sock’s flung (moist?) into a bemused spectator’s palm;
Brutish boy Caliban kisses—no, ew!—licks foot,
Just high enough up the ankle to call it shin
(Our Bard may be bawdy: don’t gross everybody out)…

That said, what’s the verdict? A minimalism, most apt
For displaying the players’ fine fettle, the actors’ art.
Our “imaginary forces” at work…with words? Gestures?
The two seem at odds; the famous lines oft slip past
The listening ear. And yet, when Prospero melts
Away the last scene, the Magick trickery, masque and all,

The lines come soft: much more humane than choleric,
This wizard so close to his destination, Milan,
An end-point, a chair, a seat, the resumed name of Duke,
That he will renounce the whirling power of spells,
Which really proceed from words which are the journey,
And all this lightly, sadly, softly voiced,
His accents, lit silver curls in short gray hair.

Nora and I drive home, in what? A tempestuous tempest?
No, a few spits of Leap-Day rain on the windshield,
Betokening not so much a grand typhoon,
As the emptying paltry contents of one small spittoon…  


Today’s LittleNip:

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.

—Vincent Van Gogh


—Medusa, with our thanks to Tom Goff for his poetry in these stormy times, his smooth rhymes and wide vocabulary (panjandrum!). And our thoughts are with him and Nora in the passing of their dear Skaidra.

Michael H. Brownstein sends us a coronavirus link regarding false claims: Be careful out there!

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