Thursday, May 25, 2017

Medusa (Caravaggio), Sonnet #352























An old woman nodding off on the porch
Awoke when the dying moon rose, a torch
Of wan fire colder than a fractured bone
Plucked from a filthy stream. She'd been alone
For ninety years in a house full of pests
(Tucked in her lap some dessert for her guests);
Rat, spider, possum, silverfish, and snake
Crept in each night from the surrounding brake.
She combed serpents writhing out of her head
With the splayed fingers of the recent dead
Who'd come to have their way with her, young sports
Who with one look had turned to milky quartz.
A wind whispered and slipped beneath her jaw.
The crescent moon was the last thing she saw.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Narcissus in Rome (Caravaggio), Sonnet # 351






















Some men are just reflections of themselves.
What the mirror shows them is all they are.
As the head moves, the unblinking eye delves
Into itself with an unthinking stare.
I knew a man bent to kiss his image,
Stopping just short, careful not to smudge
The glass or ripple the pool of oil sludge.
He saw the epitome of his Age.
When others dared to look into his glass,
He wasn't, he was -- it was hard to tell.
When they saw him, they saw themselves as well.
One day his image caught fire; flaming gas
Consumed itself and left a dull halo,
His semblance struggling to form from below.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Girl Chopping Onions (Gerrit Dou), Sonnet #350






















Moribund metaphors abound -- the slow reveal
Of the nested skin layers of the onion peel,
The dead hen who'll never precede another egg,
The beer mug emptied into some drunk's hollow leg.
My dear girl, with your empty grin and eyes dark ice,
Pardon. I've no objection as you dice and dice,
As you cut to the cool white heart of the matter,
Through insinuations and insincere chatter.
The chicken and the onions will make a fine pie,
And I, at least, will be the last to wonder why.
Beware the princeling who begs you to come play ball.
His ignorance of your state might cause your downfall.
I wish you all the grace of love in future years.
Bless you for working so hard, so hard without tears. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Screech Owl Being Petted (Julia Guerin), Sonnet # 349























The first eastern screech we took in was healthier,
But not enough to be released into the wild.
He'd hoot twice when I came close, as he perched
On my wife's glove, and at first I thought it was fear.
I wasn't wrong. It was the distress of a child
As if unsure he was to be scolded or birched.
My wife encouraged me to pet him. I deferred
That to her -- what could pets' pets mean to a wild bird?
Our second screech (the first found a home in a zoo)
Was badly hurt and required medicine and time.
Often he bated, broken wing flapping, and flew
Straight down to the end of the leash, then climbed,
With my wife's gentle coaxing, back onto the glove.
Petted, eyes closed, tufts up, he accepted her love.

Note: "Bated" is a term from falconry, meaning the raptor's
attempt to fly off the gauntlet or glove, in this instance when
tethered.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

World Map (Hans Holbein The Younger), Sonnet #348




















My mind was designed to click to the grid.
I could draw a floor plan of every home,
Each room I've lived in, etched as with acid.
The maps in my head make a heavy tome.
Some atavism shapes our love of maps --
An impulse to capture chaos in traps
Of paper and ink, odd shapes, twisting lines,
Repeat the world with approximate signs.
One old map shows an angel at each pole
Turning the earth, known by then to be round.
Monsters and sailing ships don't make a sound,
The land is mostly flat, the oceans roll,
The coordinate lines are tightly wound.
All is fixed and still as a sleeping soul.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

There Stood That Lonely, Gnarled, and Deciduous Tree (Sidney Sime), Sonnet #347






















It was a tortuous climb to the top,
And how I will get down the stone-strewn path
In darkness is a mystery -- the slop
Of fear I'll swallow after the bird's wrath.
Her nest is above in a nameless tree,
Quite dead but strong and stout, more rock than wood,
Whose roots broke the summit into scree.
All shrieking, beaks agape, the white crane's brood
Insists on her absence if there's no food.
She doesn't see me as she goes; returning,
She claws my face and blinds me with a wing.
Plucking a star, she sets her nest burning.
The smoke floats down on me as the birds sing.
I am locked in an egg until morning.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Woman Reading (Matisse), Sonnet #346



















The tea and scones not really appealing today,
She droops in her slip, her arm on the patterned arm
Of an old chair her vanished husband left behind.
Her volume of love poems is open to Millay;
What my lips have kissed has unnecessary charm.
The words are vague, as if not written, but signed,
Silent gestures of fingers churning the air,
When what she needs are his fingers clutching her hair.
She has sat like this for days, playing the statue,
Silencing time, since the night he didn't come home,
Leaving a note of four short words, the last one "you."
She found it in the bathroom under his black comb.
She clears the table, puts the dishes in the sink,
And spends the rest of the day failing not to think.