Thursday, March 26, 2015

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (Sargent), Sonnet #235

For Julia Rose and Alice Bea

You watch from the periphery,
Until one begs you, "carry me,"
Or, when you're not needed, you turn
Away, then back, because you yearn
To remember all you now see.
They draw, or paint, or mold with clay
The world as it is on that day,
And little of it will survive --
Their art, not its world, stays alive.
Twenty years later, I still leave,
When I must, turn back one last time
For just a look at them, to grieve
With joy, days running out of rhyme.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kappa (Hokusai), Sonnet #234

My pet Kappa (more indentured servant),
Once returned my bow and polite address,
And the water poured out of the deep dent
In his head, leaving him quite powerless.
I replaced the water, brimming his bowl,
And since then I have commanded his soul.
A notorious eater of children
And cucumbers, and raper of women,
My Yokai river sprite is now the guard
Of a young redbud tree in my back yard.
Oh, he is miserable, lies and weeps,
And offers me coins of gold and twenty
Geishas, if I return him to the deeps.
He dies bowing low to water my tree.

Note: Yokai are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore. They can be mischievous or malevolent, or both. The Kappa, which resembles a turtle, has a bowl-shaped indentation in its skull, which it keeps filled with water. It is the source of its power. Being very polite, if bowed to, the Kappa will bow in return, spilling the water, leaving it paralyzed. If you refill the bowl, the Kappa will be your life-long servant. The speaker in this sonnet is a Japanese gardener from the 18th century.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Dance To The Music of Time (Nicolas Poussin), Sonnet #233

I once watched a conductor stop the world.
At the end of Mahler's Ninth, vibrations
Still fading from the concert hall, he held
His arms up, motionless, for a minute,
Forcing the audience's attention
On the growing silence, to the now mute
Voice of what had come before, of sorrow,
And obliteration of tomorrow.
It was as if he said, Behold, what's gone
Of suffering and death, all that's beyond
Us now; behold and do not be afraid.
And when he lowered his hands no one said
Bravo, cheered (though some wept), or applauded
For forever. Then the room exploded.

I believe in something we call Time
As if it were my own personal god.
I slow it with meter, speed it with rhyme,
And know when it's even and when it's odd.
Under anesthetic, I've completely
Vanished in a vacuum of duration.
In my dreams it embraces me sweetly,
Dancing me in circles of cessation.
I fight Time sometimes with my memories
And foresee circumstances to stop them.
Time indulges my mental forgeries --
Time's the poet; I am but a theorem.
Time is a beautiful woman, ugly
Only when she's gowned with eternity.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Indefinite Divisibility (Yves Tanguy), Sonnet #232

On planets unnumbered a rock lies among rocks.
Inside each skyscraper are painted staircases,
We have never seen or used; the mind erases
What it can't perceive; a man's death stops all the clocks,
Stairs go down to Hell and all the rocks grow faces.
And that's just the world we live in at this moment.
There are others of unimaginable torment,
Where my undying brain sits in a silver jar
Forced to think forever now and here and afar,
Fed equations to steer ships through the firmament.
Now, each time I blink at the sun I am made new,
Turned into, before I blink again, one of two.
By the time the sun sets I, having become three,
Will generate newer me's indefinitely.

Maybe we cannot know that A will precede B,
Or take comfort knowing B always leads to C.
Though we often do, it's just a human habit,
Says Hume. Tanguy, refusing to see, illustrates
The unlikely and all expectation frustrates.
The white fur around the bowl clock being rabbit,
The articulation of bones, interstices
Of machine parts, all trued, introduce new species.
There's another universe exactly the same,
Where the things in this painting actually exist,
But with one less bowl clock and a different name,
And faintly familiar songs too many to list.
I pick up my old coffee cup and take a sip.
It tastes of peat, ashes, and salt, and burns my lip.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ascending and Descending (Escher), Sonnet #231

I grew up in the old stone house of sleep.
I'd sit on the top step of the entrance
And dream mazes of stair, of room, and floor,
My youth's slumber oblivious and deep.
Growing older, seeking a deeper trance,
I entered the house through the basement door
Where myriad doorless, high ceilinged rooms,
All windowless, lead me onto the roof,
My mind alight like pyrotechnic blooms.
There 25 me's, robotic, aloof,
Marched up and down and up maniac stairs,
Marched pair by pair by pair by pair by pair,
Never, never arriving anywhere,
Unblinking, blind with insomniac stares.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Shell (Odilon Redon), Sonnet #230

Found empty on beaches, a snail's life's completion,
(But for the occasional hermit crab squatting),
The record of years of unconscious secretion,
Like an old oak tree's sawed rings, without rotting.
The exterior is rough and pointed, lining
As smooth as fired glaze, lucent, roseate, shining.
Pick one up and look deeper inside than you can.
All forgotten dreams fit snugly in living shell.
Ear-worms of time sing from the conch's well
And whisper secrets of the universe's plan.
(It's only the echo of the blood in your brain,
They say, or the pounding of the bounding main.)
The conch is -- we can reach inside, attempt to seize
Its mind. We can also try to swallow the seas.

Friday, February 13, 2015

War (Rousseau), Sonnet #229

Nations fight War because they have no choice.
Men silence with bomb, rifle, and the sword,
Trying to bury Death's insistent voice
(Though a command is just War's godlike word).
By killing each other men will kill War,
At least that's what they're told by king and czar,
Emperor, minister, and president.
A doctor, my dad had to shoot a man,
A "Jap" who burst into his patients' tent.
War keened, "First, do harm!" as the man's blood ran.
We are all divided into two camps,
Those who fight a war and those who do not.
War offers the latter up to his champs,
Then rallies them all toward riot and rot.