Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Absinthe (Degas), Sonnet #207

They say water poured in the absinthe glass
Awakens sin in the spirit, the green,
Distilled from anise, fennel, and wormwood,
Goes ghostly white; as though in some dim mass,
A transubstantiation into spleen,
Obliviousness of evil or good.
Elle has barely sipped her drink; already,
She feels her queasy stomach growing hot,
Her arms and legs loosening, unsteady,
Her soul becoming something it is not.
The cafe, full of smoke and stupid talk,
Will soon go soft, muffled, and disappear,
Like the one gone and the one almost here.
"I'll find you," she sighs, "if I can still walk."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two Childhood Memories, Sonnets #205 and #206

Iguana (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #206

Clark Air Force Base, Philippine Islands, 1960

Iguanas in the mango tree behind our house
Knocked down rotted fruit (smell of sweet dead mouse),
The sickened pulp caught in a blackened baseball glove.
The hope was to catch one still firm and ripe enough,
To save it from rupturing, to bite through its tough
Skin and suck warm pulp, while the lizards above
Threw at us more and more than we could hope to catch.
The Philippine iguana caught would bite and scratch,
Its venom put you in the emergency room.
We were taught never to climb the trees or crawl
Beneath the house where a cobra's hood might bloom.
It was a kind of Paradise, after the Fall.
In a typhoon, Mt. Pinatubo erupted
And buried our home, leaving it uncorrupted.

117 Sr. Officers Row (Harry Hargraves), Sonnet #205

Warren Air Force Base, 1958

The antelope never came near
The house we lived in for six years.
At five, of many things to fear
Was a neighbor my age, Wendy.
Little witch, she often bit me,
Drawing blood, until her mother
Bit her shoulder even harder.
Gorillas lived beneath the house.
I tumbled down the dark backstairs.
A brother flushed down our white mouse.
The garage stank of butchered bears.
I wasn't taught, so didn't learn:
I struck two matches, watched them burn
My fingers, tossed them on a chair,
Soon thrown out in the winter air.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Isaac Newton (William Blake), Sonnet #204

The rational and materialistic mind,
For Blake, is embedded in a muscled body,
A perfect machine such men will never construct.
Newton leans over to finger a scroll he's lined
With a triangle, a mental commodity
From which any semblance of nature has been struck.
His left hand holds calipers, measuring the line
His right forefinger traces; it's a god's design.
Men are the only gods he knows, because they think,
And thinking, as we all know, is what gods create.
He sits on algae-covered rock, ignores the stink.
Engrossed, he cannot remember when he last ate.
There's so much more to understand than gravity;
The apple fallen long ago eaten at tea.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cecropia (Alice Bea Guerin), Sonnet #203

This drawing (though freehand) isn't its symmetry,
Or the choice of Butterfly Bush or Rosemary,
Bleeding Hearts, Lily of the Valley, Lavender,
Or (seeming an afterthought) the signature bee.
"Cecropia," in its perfect detail, renders
What my daughter Alice, over weeks, remembers.
In cafes, on a bunk bed by Lake Tekapo,
She draws, on the far side of the world, a momento
For her mother, tapping all her creative will,
Love, intelligence, and her finest-tipped pencil.
Look closely. She captures mottled dust on each wing,
And a consciousness in the Cecropia's eyes.
Feelers tremble at the assault of everything
In the air, and if we should look away, it flies.

Please click on the image to see a much larger and detailed version.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Physiognomical Lightning (Klee), Sonnet #202

I met a man with lightning in his eyes,
A jagged scar on his nose and forehead,
Old acne pits on his fat cheeks the size
And color of old pennies, and he said,
"My name is Resentment; Sir God to you.
Do not speak or presume to ask questions.
I've something to say, though I'm no guru:
The time has come, the next second beckons."
He paused and a light split open his brow.
"Happens all the time," he said, "Do not bow.
I'm not that kind. A lesser deity,
I want neither piety or pity."
His face mended with a smile, then he left,
Leaving me with a forehead hot and cleft.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Untitled (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #201

Night, then thought-crushing life-bleaching lightbang
That burst your house before the thunder rang.
When it's right above you, it slaps your soul;
The sound turns the valves in your sacred heart,
And leaves your mind a maelstrom of a hole.
(The gods threw a lightning bolt like a dart,
At each other, playfully, or at men,
To prick forth their prayers again and again.)
Last night the city's lights withstood the storm,
But I, briefly, succumbed to its thunder.
A detonation ripped apart all form,
Idea or emotion, buried under
Avalanching nerves, reflected in skeins
Of lightning, and bare trees, stuttering veins.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Question, Sonnet #200

For Michael Antman

My daughter brought these stones from New Zealand.
At first we arranged them in a circle,
The white veins touching, mostly, band to band.
They seemed to me a kind of miracle,
Holding everything we know inside,
And all we don't brought in from far and wide.
But soon that seemed too pat an arrangement,
With a history, yes, and silent, but,
However Zen-like, it didn't hit my gut.
The circle must be cut open and bent,
As the thing it did not contain, allow,
Was questions (the world just is, here and now?).
The stones, like this 200th sonnet, speak,
And answer with a question what we seek.

To ask or not to ask, that is to be.
No answer has been satisfactory.
I can't know the secrets of my own soul,
Because, like Richard Wilbur's star-nosed mole,
I can only pass by the graves of men,
Whose own souls, if at last revealed to them,
May be whispering, like wind in the grass --
Language meant only for the dead en masse.
Instead, I'll ask for nothing but the sun
To answer with its rising tomorrow,
And listen to cicadas, one by one,
Respond with obliterated sorrow.
I love you all. That's an answer for now.
Someday I might learn more. I'll let you know.

Michael Antman has been the editor of this sonnet sequence
since I began it in February of 2011. His unerring ear, tact, 
and encouragement, are deeply appreciated, as is his friendship.
The stones were collected as a gift for me by my daughter Alice Bea Guerin.