A Poem for You

“Hello dear. I wrote you a poem.”

“Gerald, that’s so sweet of you. Let me read it.”

Who cast the stone, who first the deadly blade
Did forge and sank it deep into my soul?
Who made these chains I wear, bound hand and foot?
Who caused this torture terrible, the heat
Of countless suns burning my charred eyes blind?
You, you have left my sundered body torn
to pieces—

“Jesus, Gerald. I just asked you to clean the garage.”


The Curse of Polyphemus

The words Odysseus had spoken rang aloud
as Polyphemus heaved the boulder high
and heard the splash that drove the ship to shore,
a sound devoid of splintered timbers and screams
of men. And so he cursed his fate, his lot,
and shook the hills with lamentation grave,
grieving his loss of sight. And lamentation
now turned to rage, he clawed the empty socket
and down his cheeks, viciously scoring them,
and said, ‘That I, far greater than lord Zeus
and all the blessèd gods, should be made blind
by such a squat and ugly man, a fate
already known to me by prophecy,
is more than I can bear, a Cyclops
removed from gods and men. What need have I
for Zeus’s laws or rules of feeble man?
No guest was he. A brigand come to steal
my flock. My might did make it right to smash
their heads upon the floor, to spill their weak
blood and devour their slackened limbs, still warm.
Such men deserve neither respect nor honor
nor life, nor does their god on high Olympus,
the tyrant Zeus.’ He raged, uprooting trees,
elm and tall ash, and cast them out to sea.
He smashed the mountain’s crumbling sides and beat
his fists against the rocks til bloody, bruised,
and broken. Turning to the sea he roared,
‘Poseidon, father, hear my prayer,
that great Odysseus should die at sea
by waves titanic, drowning ship and men,
and roll in shallows of forgotten shores,
not buried, grieved, lamented, or remembered.’
The Cyclops sat on hardened sand and cursed
his lot, lamenting sight and shame of loss
but most of all his flock and dearest ram,
companions, friends of lonely life and time.
His life for them and theirs for him, sustaining
with milk and cheese. But gone was joy and care
of tending flocks, of watching the great fleecy
ram run at once from the dark cave at dawn
to lead the flock to hill and glen and run
the river’s course, outpacing every other
before he led them home again at light’s
last glimmer when the Cyclops made his bed
and borrowed woolen warmth through cold dark nights.
And grief then shook the giant’s frame, as waves
upon the shore their rhythm beat in time.
Said he, ‘Where are you now, sweet ram so dear?
A lamb, so little once, then great and proud.
O Krios, taken by an evil man
to slaughter for uncaring gods and eaten,
a meal for No-one, who has earned his name.
Dear Krios, never will I feel your horn
so gentle nudge my hand to pet your head
or scratch your fleecy back. Never again.’
And Polyphemus, tired and alone,
sat watching a new sun he could not see.

The Farmer’s War

When Winter has released the earth at last,
Her frigid grasp undone and strength now past,
And winds do change and call the flagging Sun
To warm the soil, then may your oxen run
And strain beneath the yoke that guides the plow’s
Sharp keel, to churn the ground beneath the boughs
Of spreading elm and beech. Seek not their shade
To rest and play the shepherd’s pipes, no aid
To farmer’s work. So churn the ground and break
The yielding clods of earth, now tamed, to make
A home for Spring among the scattered seeds.
For there is little that is for man’s needs
By Nature made, spontaneous, unbidden.
Thus, lest we want and starve, the power hidden
Must every farmer’s hard labor release
In constant war, a battle without peace.
Beware when revanchist Winter returns,
As snow now falls and deadly frost then burns,
To snuff the newly scattered seed of life
And choke the land with one last snow, a knife
Held to its throat. But Spring she meets on high
And goddess Spring, shield girt, sword drawn, asks ‘Why?’
To which says Winter, ‘Naught else can I do.’
And battle joined deadly Spring runs her through.
As white-robed Winter falls, stained by the blow,
The farmers watch, transfixed by the tableau
Of heaven’s strife, and bow to fate’s demand
Ever to shape, to till, to work Spring’s land.

Katabasis

Down, down the deep hole,
Down the burning wrath,
Down the dispersing soul,
Down the mind’s dark path.

Down to the depths of the sea,
Down the executioner’s axe,
Down the towering tree,
Down to pay death’s tax.

Down the ancient throne,
Down to the sunless gloom,
Down the crumbling bone,
Down to meet your doom.

Up, up, Orpheus, along the track,
Up, Orpheus, and don’t look back.

Up the wandering way,
Up the kingdom high,
Up to the light of day,
Up to the dawning sky.

Up to life’s domain,
Up the soul’s power,
Up to the green plain,
Up to rebuild the fallen tower.

Up to time’s lease,
Up to the fair glen,
Up to strife and peace,
Up to live again.

On Hardship

The days and weeks pass unaccounted for,
uncounted. What was yesterday? What is
today? To live is to sleep-walk through life
for most, to wait for life to happen as
a thousand days slip through your fingers once
and twice, again and repeated until
the end. For others, life is lived and seized
for every opportunity and chance
to ‘do’ life and then, ultimately, death.
But for us all what is it that remains
when we look back? There stands luminescent,
eternal, undiminished by time’s flow
the memory of the hardships of life:
injustice, war, privation, grief, loss, death,
the times of struggle for others, for cause
and purpose greater than our selfish wants,
that brought us closer to strangers, and made them
strangers no longer. For the friendship, the
new bond forged in the camps, in the trenches,
on tired picket lines, in shared black grief,
though temporary, goes beyond the tie
of mere acquaintance during times peaceful
and plentiful. So seek out challenge and
shun ease and leisure, better to prepare
yourself. And when your test, your hardship comes,
as to us all it must, meet it head-on
with eyes wide and heart steeled for if you live
your suffering, your triumphs, your failures
you will never forget and you will stand
in the awareness of what already
you have endured, steadfast and resolute.

Just Give Up

Why try when you will surely fail? You won’t
succeed but disappoint them all and be
yourself most disappointed by failure.
You cannot fail if you do not try, you
can live without the sharp discomfort of
failure, serene, at peace, in comfort, wrapped
in the embrace of timid inaction.
So come, give up, give in and join me down
among the lifeless living sleep-walking
in the mire, staring out with bulbous eyes
watching the world like gaping fish in tanks
we made. So come and join us. Just give up.

Do As I Say

Clean your room, clean your plate
Go to school, sit up straight.
Wash your ears, wash your head
Do your work, go to bed.
Get a job, be on time
Obey the law, fall in line.
Pay your taxes, give to charity
Pull yourself up or live in austerity.
Don’t smoke, don’t drink
Don’t joke, don’t think.
Who said you could speak?
You’ve got some cheek.
Me? Of course I went to school.
A job? No, I’m not a fool.
Taxes? I have accountants for that.
The law? I have lawyers for that.
Now fuck off and do as I say.
Don’t question me or I’ll dock your pay
Fire you, put you on the street
And leave you with nothing to eat.
Now, I think I need a drink or two
It’s okay for me but not for you.

Where are you?

Where are you wand’ring and where did you go?
Why have you gone so soon? A brief moment
among the living, never seeing daylight.
And now, forever closed, your eyes milky
and gray, not ever opened by your will.
Where are you wand’ring? Under some distant
alien sun? Or by the moon’s pale light?
Perhaps you linger down among the great
multitudes under the pall of the dead.
Or do you walk an endless road between
the serried cypresses that nod in time?
Have you come back to us across Lethe’s
dark banks or yet wait, only to return
long years hence when I have joined that dim herd?
Do you exist only in my black mind
as firing charges of memory, as
mere flashes bursting in the inky black
illuminating the ghosts of the past?
My boy, where are you? Who have you become?
What do you want or need? Do you have dreams
or do you dream forever only in
my mind, to be extinguished when I die?
Not while I hope a selfish hope, a fool’s,
a hopeless hope to see you once more though
you have gone where I cannot follow, where
one day when time has turned to dust I will
find you and you will open your new eyes
and I will see the light within and know
you, where imagination dwells and gives
false hope to the anguished and the hopeless,
like honey on the bitter cup of life.

A Dream on High

I dreamed I stood below a mountain’s peak

Above me tall and snow-capped and its scale

I could not grasp then made me marvel more.

And looking down at me the mountain said:

‘Well who are you and what is it you seek?’                          5

And I could give no answer but just stood

And stared and felt still smaller than before.

I turned, surveying the lush wooded slope

That went far down the way that I had come

Although rememb’ring not the path I took.                            10

The oak and tower elm and leafy ash

There spoke to me apart and yet as one:

‘Well who are you and what is it you seek?’

And I could give no answer still as yet.

Instead I followed footprints in the grass                              15

To find a verdant stream I knew was there

Far down in shadows green on clear water.

The water spoke, its dripping head held raised:

‘Well who are you and what is it you seek?

Nothing can hide from you in my green stream.                    20

There is no secret here for you to find.’

I turned a pensive eye to the heavens

And saw an eagle riding unseen gusts.

It carried me on drifting thermal winds

And as I looked down, there I saw below                             25

The mountain and the forest and the stream

And there I saw myself now formed in them,

My face there looking up at me eyes wide.

And then the landscape folded and transformed

And was a mirror held before my life                                     30

Before the mirror shattered and became

The mountain and the forest and the stream.

At last I knew the answer I would give

For then my contemplation was over.

The eagle set me on the mountain-top.                                   35

Above the starry sky was full of night

And seemed to darken, coming closer still

And points of light on black-in-black canvas

Then filled my vision and surrounded me

Until the stars were there within my head                              40

And I encompassed them and all else too,

And I was there and not there, present

Unseen and tossed as though a mote of dust;

Unknown, forgotten like a hint of thought.

Through darkness and in light, I felt myself                                       45

Again once more and felt the mountain there

Beneath me and returned from my journey

Awakened and I answered their questions.

And laughing they invited me to stay.

I stayed and I decided not to wake.                                       50