Thursday, April 26, 2018

Musical FĂȘte (Giovanni Paolo Pannini), Sonnet #402

Angels with trumpets adorn the valance
Above the apex of the proscenium,
That imaginary portal of distance
Between us and singing delirium
So intense the response is often tears.
I lived in this world for twenty-six years.
At times, I watched and listened from the wings
Urging them on like a ghostly maestro
Not always quite happy with the tempo.
Sometimes I sat in the chorus singing
From memory — I could not read a score.
I left because the patrons hadn’t stayed
No matter how well the orchestra played.
I do not go to concerts anymore.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

On Nothing, Sonnet #401

It’s my favorite word and the most frightening.
A self-negating word, not even a ghostly
Idea, or an empty round, a noose tightening
Around itself, and a stern critic of “mostly.”
We use it mostly in a soft, relative sense,
As if it were a verb in more than the past tense,
Existing by not, to describe what isn’t there.
I had a cupboard, but the cupboard was bare.
We think we know variable interstices —
Between Andromeda and the Milky Way,
And between different but similar species —
Such nothings are nothing but what’s lost in decay.
Real nothing, if it exists, should freeze the soul.
In death we’ll dive into light or a rimless hole.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Actor’s Mask (Klee), Sonnet #400

Hiieee! Hiieeea! Hi! Hiiee! Hi! Hi!
Look closely, now. I am cellophane thin,
Imbued by hand with the hues of a sigh
And the pentimento of ancient sin.
I hide my eyes with a mendacious squint
And my thoughts with an enigmatic grin.
My hair and skin share a fiery tint.
I am both angelic and indecent.
Gently I cling to any actor’s face,
But the visages I never erase.
On stage, our thespians deliver speech
After speech and reveal what?, you will ask.
All actors pour out their souls, each to each,
But all for nothing. I can’t mask a mask.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Old Farm Implement, Sonnet #399

Few men remember their names any more,
Or could say what job they were meant to do.
The farmers who could own them weren’t poor,
And sat on them with pride when they were new.
For years these implements, burnished with rust,
Could be seen abandoned everywhere,
Behind old barns or at the edge of fields.
What did they once do? Harrow, raise and thrust
Soil aside, thresh, reap, seed, or flay land bare?
What were these dead contraptions richest yields?
Today they’re posed on front lawns like sculpture,
Humbler remnants of Ozymandias,
The disintegration of ideas
In an unrecognizable future.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Woman Taken in Adultery (Pieter Bruegel the Elder), Sonnet #398

There’s one stone on the ground by a scribe’s foot,
His blackened hands gesturing “either/or.”
The Teacher draws one answer in the soot.
Soon he’ll tell the woman, “go, sin no more.”
By old law, by the gates of the city,
They would’ve clustered around her and thrown,
According to each man’s judgement, a stone —
Some, pebbles, some, a brick — without pity.
A slow death for the sin of hapless sex.
The small ones stinging, the large breaking bone.
It might go on for hours, the crowd vexed
Why she won’t just die? Then, a silent lull.
Someone with a flagstone crushes her skull.
The Teacher with a word dulled such evil.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Angry Sea (Whistler), Sonnet #397

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 —
What he called the portrait of his mother.
Yet he named this seascape The Angry Sea.
Abstraction, anthropomorphization
Are how we seek out, how we discover
The single me among the countless we.
At first the crashing rollers were lovely,
Even, ordered, making room each for each,
Until they laved the unwelcoming beach.
Was it the ship that made the waves angry,
Or, to Whistler gave them a cause to be?
He flung himself into the sea and swam
And nearly drowned in the surge of “I am.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mount Pinatubo, Sonnet #396

I lived near the shadow
Of Mount Pinatubo
Before it blew its top,
Awakening to stop
The sky with hot ashes,
Scar itself with gashes.
In days a typhoon flood
Buried the land in mud.

Sleep is not a muscle,
Though it stretches, tightens,
Can toss around Pluto
Like blood a corpuscle. 
Dream-bursted, it frightens
Like a blown volcano.