Thursday, June 23, 2016

Morning News (Francis Luis Mora), Sonnet #303

The Times is meant to be crumpled in tight places,
Smudged, barely dry print, the yesterdays of faces.
What's done is done when read and forgotten,
And not until. A caveman looms, leers, teeth rotten,
One eye white, as if turned around in its socket,
The other reading about the latest rocket
Planned to reach the nearest star in a century.
He doesn't stir the slightest curiosity
In young women who can't smell him through their perfume.
The scent of ink is stronger. The stink of the tomb
Draws the caveman back into the metro pages,
Which he'll contemplate as his winey blood ages.
The bus slowly empties of papers and people.
A fallen Times lays gutters up like a steeple.

Note: Among other things, "gutter" is the word for the white
space in a newspaper between the print on the left side
and the print on the right side of the crease.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Fall of Icarus (Picasso), Sonnet #302

The sun is father to the father and the son.
Maze-minded Daedalus almost invented Earth;
If it was (and it had to be) born, his reason
Rolled it into a ball of life and roaring mirth.
He knew what was needed, met the exigencies
Of power over nature and control of fate,
The harnessing of the mind and how it foresees,
The imprisoning of evil, the murder of hate.
He must have been a loving father, or a fool,
To fashion wings for his son as well as himself.
We know, he warned the boy, that they were just a tool
To scratch the sky, not calipers to span the gulf
Between dirt and light. The heedless boy died too soon,
To his earth-glad father a stripped and distant moon.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Memory of a Bird (Klee), Sonnet #301

A bird's memory is the memory
Of the bird. We share the same history.
The still bittern stays the marsh grasses
I saw as grass until he flew away.
The starling murmuration amasses
Like ink perturbed in oil in a glass,
Until a red tail hawk blots out a stray.
The pileated woodpecker, the day
I stood in the river and watched him rip
Through a limb, saw nothing below my hip.
I wasn't man to him, and no concern,
Just one more thing he saw not to unlearn.
I feed the birds so they'll remember me,
Returning them my fading memory.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ars Poetica, Sonnet #300

For Michael Antman

Here is one way others might have put it --
Others, each most certainly a poet:
"A poem is not voice, not It, not words.
A visage stuck on a tree trunk with eyes
That see a face in every disguise,
A barking, one more ring of the absurd."
This face of wood had a blank beginning,
But I see him in the middle of things,
Resigned, but not unconscious of his state.
The light in his dark eyes says, "I am here,
I and no other, and I've seen my fate,
So I have something to say, come nearer."
MacLeish: "A poem should not mean, but be."
No, a poem should be a beam of me.

Note: The Ars Poetica, or poem about The Art of Poetry has a long
tradition going back to Horace. The most famous 20th century
Ars Poetica is by Archibald MacLeish. It's a lovely poem in many ways,
but I've always hated the concluding couplet. I wonder how many 
bad poems have been written and published because of those two lines. 
A well-known critic recently said, by way of advice to poets, "What you
have to say is rubbish. It's how you say it that matters." Rubbish. How 
you say it is important, but if you have nothing to say, or nothing worth 
saying, or what you say is rubbish, then what's the point?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blind Pew (N. C. Wyeth), Sonnet #299

A knife's as good as a drink to a corpse,
Or so Blind Pew might have said, but he's dead.
How does a blind bastard commit murder?
At night, when everyone is blind, of course.
His senses like an owl's swiveling head,
He'd think, my prey's eyes? Nothing absurder!
A barred owl once perched on my shepherd's hook
Bird feeder -- I watched him for an hour.
He'd scan the ivy by the house, then look
At me, then back where some creature cowered.
His black lusterless eyes looked blind, like holes
Of night in a graying sky, unblinking.
He dropped and flew off with a mouse or vole,
Like Blind Pew, satiated, unthinking.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Sibyl (Edward Burne-Jones), Sonnet #298

The youngest sibyl reads from blank parchment.
What the gods once wrote about tomorrow,
She speaks, not understanding what they meant.
Her voice knows just one key -- that of sorrow.
She says, "You see today, but only dream
Of a next day; between them there's no seam."
When she predicts, her words are all esses,
Sibilant sweet. She names no day or year
(While she beckons you to step nearer)
For the coming of man's final excesses.
She doesn't speak of one man or woman.
She'll say, "There's no individual fate.
You seek from me some personal omen?
Then, for you, Dear, it's already too late."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Siegfried Tastes the Dragon's Blood (Arthur Rackham), Sonnet #297

Long ago, each dragon had his slayer.
The hoarding of gold was always a crime.
Armed with only a sword and a prayer,
The young knight tracked the serpent by its slime.
Some thought the worm slept on his rug of gold,
Never wakening, but like all creatures,
He must eat -- a lady perhaps, not old,
With pleasing form and nice facial features.
Surprised by the knight while guarding his lair,
The dragon, too sated to run, plunges
Forward as the terrified knight lunges.
His last thought glimmers: "This is not unfair."
The bloody sword drips on the knight's fingers.
He licks them. Only the gold smell lingers.