Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Sirens and Ulysses (William Etty), Sonnet #197

Ulysses doesn't tell us what he heard,
Just "ravishing voices," their "urgent call."
He commanded his deaf crew to ungird
Him from the mast and leave him to crawl
Overboard and die in the Siren's arms,
To music he couldn't hear as alarms.
I've wondered what sweetness made of the air
Could enrapture a man beyond all care
For death or danger (the Siren's island
Was nothing but corpses and skeletons),
Turn him into prey, defenseless, unmanned.
What woman can turn songs into weapons?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Swans Reflecting Elephants (Dali), Sonnet #196

My brain sees all it seems to need.
Tearing eyes stare, hungry to feed
It with bloody meat and crushed seed
It devours with delicate greed.
The iris, that maculate bead,
Expands the pupil as lights speed
Through neurons, never to be freed.

The elephants cannot be freed
From the lake; they have slow will, no speed.
From a swan's beak a single bead
Drops, ripples what my brain agreed
To see, bird become beast. We seed
Our lives with all we've seen, and feed
On illusions illusions need.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mirrors, Sonnets #194 and #195

The False Mirror (Magritte), Sonnet #195

That sense of void, when the stranger in the mirror
Doesn't know you either, will not evaporate
Until a moment passes, as though time is fear,
And nothing vanishes between the soon and late.
I seldom question why I know which me is me.
My eyes are nearly always blue with flecks of gold.
It's when I'm caught unaware that eternity
Stares vacantly with a face neither young nor old.
Other times, the wonder at myself is so strong,
So unbelieving, I think something got it wrong:
How can my next few thoughts be anything but theirs,
Whoever they are, and the near-cloudless blue sky
Be mine (and don't chalk it up to mental errors),
Because it's mirrored in the pupil of my eye?

Starry Night Over The Rhone (Van Gogh), Sonnet #194

Today the stars are almost gone.
City lights have taken their place;
Their halogen fixtures erase
Them as thoroughly as the sun.
I lived on a river; some nights
I'd lie down on a pier and look
At rays I didn't dare to name,
As though I didn't have the right
To remember stars from a book
And think what I saw was the same.
Sometimes I'd watch Polaris fly
In the river, which made it grow
And blink like the eye of a crow
That could see itself in the sky.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Water Wars, Sonnets #192 and #193

The Oak and the Hoary Puccoon, Sonnet #193

The oak, a rigid octopus,
Dominates its sea of sand.
Deformed, but tough and vigorous,
It sprouts a leafy, dense island.
The high winds off Lake Michigan
Have bent and diseased it with burl,
Exposed its roots until they curl,
And hunched its back like Caliban.
Yellow sprays of Hoary Puccoon
Grow just beyond the monster's reach
And all the way down to the beach.
I've seen them under half a moon;
The Puccoon and octopus break --
The flowers chased into the lake.

Battle of the Sea Gods (Durer), Sonnet #192

After Neptune and Amphitrite, his wife,
The harpies, gorgons, and nymphs, Proteus
And Scylla, and hosts of lesser deities,
Who are these nobodies fomenting strife,
As though revenge wars were the only use
Of an immortal life beneath the seas?
Not even a rape, just sly flirtation,
Or theft of an old conch, cracked and silent,
Can lead to the thrusting of a trident
Toward flesh transformed, armored by mutation.
Lost to memory, they are now all gone,
Even the famous of the pantheon.
What catastrophe did they perpetrate,
What mass drowning, what tsunami of hate?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Disquieting Muses (de Chirico), Sonnet #191

What muse is not disquieting?
Whether a beautiful woman,
Or balloon-headed clothes-dummy,
All real muses are frightening.
She whispers an ancient omen.
Inspiration in summary
Becomes the fiercest idee fixe,
Which isn't what the artist seeks.
His silent freedom to create
A work original and great
The muse has wantonly outshouted,
His own genius rudely routed.
He must embrace her, kiss her lips,
And tolerate her little whips.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

T. S. Eliot, Shelley, and Balzac, Sonnets #188, #189, #190

T. S. Eliot (Wyndam Lewis), Sonnet #190
He understood much: the hippo,
The lilac, the estaminet,
The look of strangers never met,
The evanescence of woe.
He knew the teacup's emptiness
And the pub's spilt pint and stale smoke,
The working girl, hungry and broke,
And love's sad cycle of distress.
A young man's grousing outlasted, 
Silenced by a shuttered marriage, 
The casked distillations of age --
He emotionally fasted.
A life spent mulling waste and mire,
Then rose-leaves and refining fire.

The Funeral of Shelley (Louis Edouard Fournier), Sonnet #189
Not yet feted, the poet drowned in mystery,
His small craft staved in by a much larger vessel.
His body washed ashore, his coat over his head,
With only one boot, as if he had tried to free
Himself of his heavy clothes, but lost the wrestle
With a sea that doesn't often release its dead.
The quarantine laws decreed that he must be burned
On the beach where he was found, and not interred.
The painter would have us believe that Lord Byron,
Leigh Hunt, and Mary Shelley, watched the immolation
With somber recollections and prayers, and verse
Muttered from poems of beauty, death, and solitude.
But I see flames and smoke, a bier makeshift and rude --
And Byron damning the world with a profane curse.

Nude Study of Balzac (Rodin), Sonnet #188
Described as impudent, short, pudgy, badly dressed,
And doused with noxious perfume in lieu of a bath,
He had bedded two duchesses at twenty five.
He wrote two dozen pages every day, obsessed
With sex, usury, and the fools that drove his wrath.
He wrought characters coffee-bingeing brought alive,
More than a thousand; in his Human Comedy,
He diagnoses evil with no remedy.
Rodin sees Balzac as a demiurge of earth,
A man of metal and clay, of arrogant girth,
His manhood, chthonic, juts from the underworld.
His impassive face is gnarled black burl.
He died (at fifty, quill pen empty) as Rodin
Molded him: arms crossed, defiant, in his coffin.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Scheherazade (Magritte), Sonnet #187


A globe of ice at the bottom of a tumbler
Melts by a single drop every single night.
We live in a world tyrannized by the number --
A silver bell tolls three four five six seven eight,
And softly, oh so very softly, distant and faint,
The echoes ring off clouds and curtains, then slumber.
The last tone, which never comes, startles the egrets
From their rookery in the tower, its ramparts
Blasted and collapsed, abandoned without regret.
So, Scheherazade, the talker, dealer in hearts,
Each night turns a drop of her blood into a pearl --
Better to become jewelry than a dead girl.
The thousand nights will pass and leave her dreaded sire
Only her eyes and a smile to quench his desire.