Two Poets Lament, Part II

Perhaps the world is full of verse that fails,
inspiring none to act as heroes should;
and in frustration, lesser poets rail
against the confine and form of the good,
their self-aggrandized talents gone to waste
that they alone lament through sleepless nights
spent in a fruitless embrace of the chaste.
Would you have these sad wingless souls take flight?

These small words, you decry, may do no more
than taunt at nestlings yet to try their wings,
but to deny that role is to ignore
that first one dreams, and then one does, a thing.
The truest poet weaves philosophy
of the imagination into every phrase;
and in the face of man’s catastrophes
breathes new life into dark and bitter days.

So what if critics jibe and treat with scorn
the works that such a writer may produce?
For they, unlike the poet, are not born
but made – and made to work to prove their use
comparing one illusion to the next,
and in the vacuum of the known, resigned
to observation, that at best, reflects
a too swift movement through their time.

But poets are to blame, as well, for this;
they seek outside themselves for themes and signs,
believing the self-created, wild hubris
they use to justify a state of mind
too pure for common purposes or deeds,
accepting, without question, some great cause
in which they have no role or fate or need
except to garner temporal applause.

10 MAY 2004

William Butler Yeats

With William Butler Yeats I see a striking parallel:
of politics and prosody, a marriage made in hell;
each new idea casting an elusive, mastering spell
with only moments in between for time and space to gel
and being armed with will alone, in one’s own Book of Kells
to find only the missing pieces, husks and empty shells.

The tragedy of Poetry, perhaps, or an Irish Curse:
to reclaim places as your own that did not claim you first,
and seek beyond the shapes of things, to slake an inner thirst
that wrecks the lives of those you know, and your loved ones, the worst.
To know that which you think you know is only myth and verse
Composed by some like-minded fool lost in the universe.

In contradictions to define an image of a sage
who mirthless, hoards some trust of great lore, page by page
devouring through the night as restless demons, in their rage
rattle the bars that you now see, in corners of your cage.

Yet hoping, until that last breath
that as with living, so with death
a chain of endless counted days
extended, infinite, both ways.

With that vision in mind, there is no defeat.
There are countless stories to discover, tell and retell;
and somewhere on that line, that existential parallel
you actually find William Butler Yeats.

06 MAY 2004

Two Poets Lament, Part I

for W.B. Yeats

Some silken strains of angst-encrusted verse
or mystic message wrapped in words to woo
designed to part the patron from their purse,
or charm one’s snakes…what can these small things do?

An audience that can be misdirected
by such a simple ruse, where is their strength
and will to fight against being neglected,
their pleasures sought but found beyond arm’s length,

kept quiet in their apathetic lives
with promises of wealth in thirty days
empowered by not thoughts, but things and dreams
of avarice beyond the arts of gods to grant?

What good is such a crowd in praise of art?
Their graces can be bought at no large price
and the default rate on their loans is high,
conditions changed by fickle tides of whim.

And other poets, what use will they serve?
Since Hemingway, the writer’s world is filled
by just observing without much discourse
immersed in life’s most raucous noise and swill

to find escape from the plane of the mind,
absorbing and reporting vibrantly
the commonness in everything you find
without exploring or a need to see

the symbolism in a glass of beer
or archetype in the mad dancing crowd –
a study for some lost cerebral mind,
now deafened, needing life both large and loud.

There is no solidarity among
these artists; they lead strange and lonely lives,
each wrapped inside themselves and their own song,
producing reams of work that won’t survive

beyond even their next insipid phase.
and past their lifetimes? But then, no one cares;
the history of this time lasts just days –
a photograph, and not a flight of stairs.

And patriotic or dissenting lines
(it doesn’t matter much which one you choose)
may strike a chord or seem to redefine
the culture where you’ve chanced to pay your dues,

but really, what are these few sparks
against the bonfire of bombarding news
that daily forces all who live to choose
and blurs the lines between the light and dark?

What source do you imagine could resist
the Siren’s song of culture, breathing low
and whispering false promise of a kiss
to ease a mind engrossed with need to know.

In which new forum do you think your words
against the bread and circus, could succeed,
when books are used to line cages for birds
and seldomly for any other need?

The days for words are dead; they are no more.
Against these odds, you write and think to change
more than the channel, opening the door
to revolution of the soul. Deranged,

that’s what you are to dream of goals like these.
A job, some mindless task, that’s what you lack;
some visions are not blessings, but disease,
whose quest to is to consume and not give back.

06 MAY 2004

Desert Storms and the Battle of Anghiari

No winding caravans, trailing behind
the despoiling route of a conqueror,
have had to slow in their lumbering tracks
to scatter their spoor against detection,

hiding the broken lances and spent shells
that might make their way through the sifted sand
to the silt bed of Mother Euphrates
before their blood-smeared edges have been dulled

and baked away by the blistering wind.
Never have heavy-foot heroes trod here
and found their imprint even the next day.

In this place, time is a meaningless farce;
no lasting triumph can be long achieved.
The faceless dunes know no empire builders.

Beyond this edge of the world there exist
no monsters; no great devouring evil
ruminates out in this barren wasteland.
Only its scored skeletal shards remain,

crumpled into obscurity and dust
now lost to the infinite sagacity
of endless sand, the edge of an hourglass
whose shattered fragments mark the worn ends

of some desolate, clutching foothold
desperately proclaimed civilization
by the collectors of temporal might.

In this place, strength is a fleeting shadow;
no permanent kingdom can be maintained.
The shifting desert has no memory.

25 MAR 2003

“Tell me if anything has ever been achieved; tell me.” — Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks

NOTES:
“…You will give a reddish tinge to the faces, the figures, the air, the musketeers, and those around them, and this red glow will fade the farther it is from its source…Arrows will be flying in all directions, falling down, flying straight ahead, filling the air, and bullets from firearms will leave a trail of smoke behind them…If you show a man who has fallen to the ground, reproduce his skid marks in the dust, which has been transformed into bloody mud. And all around on the slippery ground you will show the marks where men and horses have trampled it in passing. A horse will b e dragging behind it the body of its dead rider, leaving traces of the corpse’s blood behind it in the dust and mud. Make the vanquished look pale and panic-stricken, their eyebrows raised high or knitted in grief, their faces stricken with painful lines…Men fleeing in rout will be crying out with open mouths. Have all kinds of weapons lying underfoot: broken shields, lances, stumps of swords, and other such things…The dying will be grinding their teeth, their eyeballs rolling heavenward as they beat their bodies with their fists and twist their limbs. You could show a warrior disarmed and knocked to the ground, turning on his foe, biting and scratching him in cruel and bitter revenge; there could also be a riderless horse galloping away into the enemy lines, mane flying in the wind, causing great injury with its hooves. Or perhaps some wounded man, lying on the ground and trying to protect himself with his shield, while his enemy bends over him to deal the fatal blow. Or a pile of men lying on the corpse of a horse. Several of the victors are leaving the field; they will move away from the melee, wiping their hands over their eyes and cheeks to remove the thick layer of mud caused by their eyes watering on account of the dust…Take care not to leave a single flat area that is not trampled and saturated with blood.” — Leonardo da Vinci, notes for the sketches of “The Battle of Anghiari”, MS 2038, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 30v; 31r.

“Apart from Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents, Goya’s Tres de Mayo, and Picasso’s Guernica, there has probably been no picture in the history of art as violent, brutal, and terrible as The Battle of Anghiari…Unfortunately, only traces of the painting remain – in the lines quoted above, in a few of Leonardo’s sketches (in Windsor Castle and the British Library), and in partial copies of the fresco by Raphael and Michelangelo.” — Serge Bramly, Leonardo: The Artist and the Man

The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

— William Butler Yeats

Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Mood for a Day

What rough beast…slouches towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born? – W.B. Yeats, from The Second Coming

There is a piece of writing sitting inside me now, fermenting and growing.

I am pregnant with it – it fills me, making it difficult to walk sometimes; it makes my bones ache and has affected my body chemistry.

It wakes me in the dead of the night, pressing against my side like a spear or a set of unseen fingers.

It wants to come out, it says, kicking against my diaphragm with no small level of impatience. Why are you keeping me in here, in this dark and fetid underworld?

My stomach is often in knots, thanks to its incessant yammering and its proclivity to loose bile from its being into my system. Sometimes, I feel as if I get flashes of what it will look like – like an ultrasound scan, some of these daily poems give fitful glimpses of what is to be. Sometimes, there is too much movement to make out its morphology clearly, and other times, when the camera is poised just right, there is almost a view of its future state.

Figuring out whether it is to be a poem, a song, a symphony, a novel, a play, a musical; and trying to do it in advance, so as to prepare for the accessorizing that will be required, seems very much like deciding beforehand, in advance of any real knowledge of their gifts and inclinations, what career an unborn child will be geared towards in its first years of schooling.

Truly, all that I can do at this point is paint the nursery, swab down the walls in some neutral color that will not offend, limit or otherwise predispose the young thing once it has been finally birthed. For now, I can but traipse around the edges.

You may ask, when is it due?

To which all I can truthfully answer is this: I do not know; but it feels as if the pressure is building. It is about to drop into position for delivery. I fear the labor pangs already, with a mixture of dread and anticipation. It will occupy my thoughts until it is safely in its cradle.