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

Hero and Leander

O Muse, may I now inspiration drink,

A sweet and lasting draught from waters sweet,

That I may sing the love of Hero fair,

And brave Leander and the god’s revenge.

That night was when Leander saw her first,                           5

A maiden, skin that glowed, like ink her hair,

Her grace apparent through the sacred cloth,

Processed among her sisters robed in white.

Selene shone her moonlight, pale and wan,

On Aphrodite’s faithful servant girls.                                     10

There watched Leander, one among the crowd,

His eyes upon her shining face did stare.

He tried to keep up, pushing through the mass,

Then raced ahead, his gaze for hers searching.

He ran and stumbling fell down heavily.                                15

An outcry, shouts; he looked and saw her there.

She stared at him, expression calm, her eyes

Now locked on his. A smile then touched her lips.

The moment came and went, an instant’s time.

She passed like sunshine that’s obscured by clouds              20

And left Leander sitting stunned, on fire,

Infatuation now consuming him,

A sun that burned so hot within his breast.

He watched her lead the dancing band of girls,                    

The only one that mattered now to him.                                 25

She brought the cup of wine to each in turn,

The yield of Bacchus and his fruitful vine,

That brings the purple god whom we consume,

The draught of gods that makes a man enthused,

Like the Bacchant or Delphic priestess mad.                          30

She stepped toward him while his heart beat loud.

The cup extended, fingers brushing hers,

A momentary bond, a secret glance.

He lost himself and gulped and drank the wine

As he desired to hold her evermore.                                       35

His passion shocked her, and her own desire.

‘Leander,’ he said. ‘Hero,’ she replied.

Their understanding was expressed at once,

There was no need for words between the two.                     40

The woods were long a place for secret love.

Leander waited there among the trees,

And watched and hoped that she might come to him.

She came, an apparition, gleaming white

In virgin clothes, the badge of her office.                              45

They met with elm and ash as witnesses,

And pale Selene shining down on them.

He longed to touch, to hold, to feel her then,

As she uncertain stood with downcast eyes,

Afraid of what his touch might mean for her.                            50

In silence forest-shadows shifted slow.

From the horizon, rosy-fingered Dawn

Extending skyward ended night’s repose.

His face in sunlight shining strong and bronze,

She touched with hands both delicate and pale,                    55

And drew herself to him and held on tight.

She wanted never, ever to let go,

And knew she never would while she yet lived.

She begged for him to come to her that night,

To look and find the tower, shore’s high guard,                    60

Her light a constant guide across the sea.

He promised, swearing names of gods unknown

And known: he would return to her that night.                     

A promise made, the course of fate made fast.

But now Apollo’s coursers charged the sky,                          65

And he returned across the narrow sea.

The wine-dark sea in endless rolling crashed.

Into the surf he dove, the summer wind

A constant aid as then he struck forward

Through wave on wave with stroke on stroke.                       70

Over his head the sea came rolling then,

Now rising, plunging now it foamed ‘round him.

Leander’s breath now came still strong but fast,

His shoulders powerfully turning ‘round,

His hands dug furrows deep into the sea,                              75

Just as a farmer’s plow turns clods of earth.

Above, her guiding light, a lowly star,

Shone weak but steady, growing stronger still,

An imitation pale before the sun

He bore now blazing high within his breast.                           80

He saw the deadly cliffs, more black than night

And turned aside toward the nearby shore.

He came ashore, and scrambled through the surf,

A man, alone an army, stormed the beach.

A path around the promontory ran,                                        85

The tower high and lonely overhead,

The wind’s susurrus sounding soft on stones.

A gate stood facing east across the strait,

Its ancient Cyclopean stones piled high.

On through Leander went, and up the steps.                         90

The tower’s broken crown, long since collapsed,

Was where he found his guiding star alight.

He closed his eyes against the sudden light

And felt the warmth of her embracing him.

She gave him bread and wine by the fire.                              95

He told his journey, she her long waiting.

They shared the modest food, their hands entwined,

And watched the constellations wheel above.

She named each one in turn and he listened.

At the first hint of dawn, then she woke him,                            100

And Hero and Leander parted slow,

With a sure promise to return that night

And every night that followed idle day.

He watched her run as lithely as a sprite,

Herself a setting sun that disappeared                                        105

Among the shady oaks and verdant elms.

Leander left the way that he had come,

And swiftly crossed the strait again once more.

That night they shared together bread and wine

While Hero dried his dripping, matted hair,                           110

Leander gently stroked her flushing cheeks.

They laughed and sang the evening after that.

He whispered quiet words to her; she blushed

But pleased within her heart she held him close.

He passed his lips across her reddened cheeks.                      115

A warmth that flowed from chest to fingertips,

Inexorably drew her then to him.

She yearned to cast away her holy garb,

Devotion manifest in simple cloth,

The promised mark of reverence divine.                                 120

For what had she this fateful promise made?

For what had she discarded future love?

The words, her oath, in earnest spoken then,

Now rang within her head resounding words,

And dawn then saw her running home away,                         125

Her hair now flying over raiment bright,

And lost, forlorn Leander crying out.

In tears he wept frustration, sadness, loss,

But he remained then ever resolute.

That night he waited, hopeful yet hopeless.                           130

The dark and endless waves returned his gaze.

Then blazed a sudden light, a blinding star.

It pierced his chest; desire and joy drove him.

The northern wind began to blow the sea,

As gentle autumn turned to bleak winter,                              135

Unyielding waves now roared and dashed him ‘round.

His heart was brave, his arms were swift and sure,

But winds now whipped the waves to frenzied state

And sought to push him back the way he’d come.

He fought though he began to tire with time,                        140

And yet the light did seem to grow closer.

He knew that he would reach the shore this time,

Could feel fair Hero’s touch already then.

His heart did swell, as did the storming sea.

Into the early morning Hero went,                                         145

The moonlit darkness swirling ‘round her feet.

Her mind in two between her want and fear,

Desire and duty dueling fateful dance.

A light, the sun’s resplendence, shone on high.

Did someone know their secret held so close?                      150

She ran and sought to reach the tower’s peak.

There stood a figure dressed so bright and cold,

That Hero, awed and eyes averted, fell.

She spoke: ‘My child, do you know who I am?’

‘My mistress, Aphrodite ocean-born.’                                    155

‘Indeed, and I have come to stay your sin.

For you will not betray your oath to me.

But do not doubt me. I have seen to it.’

And Hero sobbing, turned and ran away

Toward the pebbled shore and crashing surf.                        160

There lay Leander, twisted, bruised, and drowned.

The sea had dashed him on the cliffs over

Again and rolled by surf, by rocks shattered.

She flung herself upon his corpse and wept,

Her tears then mixed with blood upon the sand                     165

As she now tore her hair and scratched her face.

She cursed the gods, and Aphrodite most.

She left her priestess robe behind and ran

Toward the tower’s crown and broken cliff.

The rising sun then greeting her, she leapt.                             170

Her broken body found Leander’s corpse,

Her arms extending reached for him in death.

And thus they stayed forever, night’s sorrow,

Eternal sign of love’s devotion, yet

A curse of Aphrodite’s displeasure,                                       175

In autumn’s sky at night, two sets of stars,

Their arms outstretched, and fingers straining far,

But not to meet a thousand years from then,

Though heaven’s dome still wheels across the sky.

Losing Now

I once believed that we have things our own,

a life that’s long with many years to go,

and love that’s full to outlast the ages

and wealth accrued by constant yearly grind.

But what is life when it’s behind you now,

and shining youth is lost in old age?

But where is love that’s lost to endless death,

and not to be reclaimed from cold despair?

But what is wealth that gilds a gray coffin

and builds a mausoleum marble-clad?

That all will end, that we will have nothing,

for past is gone and future is not yet,

that losing’s constant, ineluctable,

I know this now, both is true and certain.

Despite what we have lost there still remains

now, now is all we have, the sum total,

the only remedy is living now,

the recognition of the present time.

Though we are always, ever losing now,

there always is another now, once more,

and we need not lose now ever again.