Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Swinging Bridge, Belvidere, IL (Bill Eklund), Sonnet #220

There's just this moment, this perfect moment.
The past is there for us, but almost nil,
A deep and half-lit cave we mine each night
For silver only we can melt or mint,
Or capture in a photographic print.
The future is not even something still,
But a river of invisible light,
Empty of anything the light might strike.
Today, the swinging bridge has a locked gate,
At the other end of the span, its mate.
Years past, I crossed it whenever I'd like.
At its bellied center I'd fish for pike,
Or throw my weight and make it slowly swing.
Without me here, I'd think, there is nothing.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Siesta (Van Gogh), Sonnet #219

Most nights I wake up for an hour.
The scythes of sleep are out of reach
And there's nothing left of my dream.
That day past is a bright flower
In my head the darkness can't bleach
Or wilt, or dim its spectral beam.
I force myself to think of hay,
Of endless fields of solid gold
I must cut down by end of day.
If I just had two scythes to hold,
I'd swing away and never tire.
Each stroke would sharpen each blade,
The hay stack higher and higher,
Until I dream beneath its shade.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Triamphibiangle (David Birkey), Sonnet #218

The leopard, the tiger, and the lion frog
Have been the silent, devoted sentries
Of the last point-balanced triangle log
Longer than the countable centuries.
We might prefer to call the log a tree
As there is certainly a symmetry
To the branches, which do leaf out each spring;
Like faded memories, they quickly fall,
The last shudders of a nearly dead thing.
The frogs believe the balancing is all.
They live, first small, in the perilous gap
Beneath shorn bark that drips a mist of sap,
Then, grown, they form a protective cordon,
To wait and watch for any threat from men.

Click on the image to view a larger version.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Scream (Munch), Sonnet #217

Let's clap our hands for Mr. Scream,
Who can't awaken from his dream,
Who can't tell things that are from seem.
He's lost his former self-esteem
And stops his ears from blowing steam.
Perhaps the consultative team
He works with has begun to scheme
To discredit, tarnish the beam
Of his reputation's buffed gleam.
Maybe a woman of extreme
Cruelty and beauty poured a stream
Of contempt on him like soured cream.
Who once in his world reigned supreme,
Has now become a risible meme.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Two Tales, Sonnets #215 and #216

Sleeping Beauty (Viktor Vasnetsov), Sonnet #216

For Irina Velitskaya

Even the family brown bear
Joined the princess in endless sleep
In the embrambled castle keep.
The prince found her pale, cold, but fair,
And released her, her retinue,
From endless dreams to nothing new.
A wedding and two babes conceived
Enraged the prince's ogress queen,
Who ordered them served up in sauce,
Though she was easily deceived,
With hind and lamb in a tureen,
By the cook, who hated his boss.
She died in a barrel of snakes.
Each day the sleeping beauty wakes.

We've all been asleep for 100 years,
So, when we wake, vigorously alive,
As the creeping armies of night arrive,
We will wash them out to sea with our fears.
The cannibals will have themselves to eat.
The king and queen will summon a piper
To drive away the thorn and the viper,
But hear only their own hearts cease to beat.
What we will make of our new universe
Depends (like the fine point of a spindle)
On how tiny, sharp our hearts will dwindle.
Will we invite a new, more evil curse?
Sleep on, nothing will happen while we do.
The prince's kiss has changed into a moue.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Frontispiece from Visions of the Daughters of Albion (Blake), Sonnet #215

The rapist and his victim chained,
The lover, his anguish burning
Hottest where his tears had rained,
On pale cheeks, twisted lips: yearning
For her touch is all that remained.
The rape forged its own manacles,
The woman's shame and the man's fear,
(He finds, wherever he looks, a mirror).
She's no longer a miracle
Of virgin grace and purity.
The rapist is a stupid beast
She can neither hate nor pity.
The sun breaks through clouds to the east,
And melts the chains. The lovers kiss.
The third drowns himself with a hiss.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ruth and Christopher Guerin (November 27, 1977), Sonnet #214

Still my love, of 41 years, still mine,
You are both a truth and beauty of time.
A blizzard, as this picture was taken,
Danced up the town, as if to awaken
With skeins and wild cascades of wind and white
A lazy prematurely sleeping night,
As you, in our marrying, ignited
A new soul in me, the old one blighted.
After we kissed and I stepped on the glass,
Our eyes met and said our own private mass.
The beauty in this picture speaks to me
Every day, with word, gesture, mystery
Unspoken, not unheard. I answer, so:
We still love. That is all we need to know.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Memory (The Heart) - Frida Kahlo, Sonnet #213

Every memory comes to us incomplete,
A comet disintegrating as it passes,
An empty sailboat washing ashore at our feet
(Or perhaps we've simply forgotten our glasses).
But say this memory is like her heart removed
And left to beat out its blood on the beach,
The scarred remnant of one once much beloved
She had gladly exchanged for her own, each for each.
Now she has become a memory with a hole
In her breast, pierced by an arrow, vaneless, headless,
Her arms in the sleeves of other women's dresses,
Her white skirt all that's left of her immortal soul.
A woman once replete now completely empty --
Forgotten blood runs to the mountains and the sea.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Equals Infinity (Klee), Sonnet #212

Nothing equals infinity,
And that, yes, and that, all that crap,
Just a damned ambiguity
And metaphysical trap.

Infinite the galaxies.
Infinite the grains of sand.
Infinite the gaseous seas.
Infinity we understand.

Nothing we can't contemplate,
Because nothing has no equal.
There's no infinity so great
Or timeless, nor a thing so small,

Except, my eye on a migrating bird
At the feeder, there, equally absurd.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Le Salut (Delvaux), Sonnet #211

The ball and pyramid finials rhyme
With the snow-topped volcano far away.
The streetcar has arrived almost on time.
Its one rider escapes into dark woods.
A gent tips his bowler, as if to say,
To his muse, "Thanks for a peek at the goods."
She raises her left hand to draw him near;
Does she desire to stroke or slap his cheek?
Great muses are naturally unclear
In their gestures. Is it art or love they seek?
In each window on the street a model
Poses for any artist to ogle,
But there's no one else but the gallant gent,
Whose inspiration is already spent.

I've walked this street for so many years.
Always the windows are unoccupied,
And where the robe-draped muse stood beckoning
To others, turning blind men into seers,
I find broken flagstones some mole has pried
From below, and a tired old man, yawning.
I've heard the volcano grumbling, hissing,
And from somewhere padding of unshod feet,
Seen the gent's bowler rolling down the street,
And asked myself, "Is it me that's missing?"
The streetcar is late. Now I understand!
I run and reach it as it comes to rest.
The rider, a child, offers me her hand
And leads me away, into the forest.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ghost (Kawanabe Kyosai), Sonnet #210

Ghosts are the necessary dead.
Without them we'd take for granted
The world we ourselves have haunted.
Not all must chew the hairy head
Of a witch or maculate bone
Of a disenchanted loved one.
Some lie sleeping, tossing, mumbling
At moonlight flooding the bedroom.
Or whisper in our sleep humbling
Past actions that no longer loom
In memory, since they've taken
Their shape before we awaken.
They walk with us during the day as well,
Kiss our lips, take our hands, guide us to Hell.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Out of Doors, Sonnets #208 and #209

Argiope Spider (Judy Keown), Sonnet #209

Each day I walk on ground prepared for me
By ceaseless settling of stone and soil,
Or the pouring of asphalt and concrete.
The orb weaver shuttles from tree to tree
On the evanescence of his own toil,
The sculpting of air he'll never complete.
His hunger (his world is a deception)
Must war with his desire for perfection,
As each creature he catches and devours
Rips apart and tangles the work of hours.
Some unseeing oaf like me will blunder
Into the trap and tear his world apart.
As I stumble off (my neck stings!), he'll start
To rebuild: one thread out, one thread under....

Thanks to Judy Keown for permission to write about and
post her wonderful photograph. Click here to see more
of her work:  Judy Keown

Autumn Evening (Ferdinand Hodler), Sonnet #208

There's nothing there we haven't seen before,
But not so many times we can afford
To hustle past. Let's promise each other --
Never commit the sin of being bored.
Besides, so much has changed in just a year.
The sun-rustled air seems even clearer.
The pattern of the leaves left in the trees
(Yes, the postcard days ended yesterday),
Suggests paragraphs full of ideas,
Things we think but never think to say.
The colors play the least part of the scene,
And we must grant each leaf its final bow.
If we could stay to watch the last careen
To the ground, we might settle then at Now.

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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Portrait of Sonia (Henri Fantin-Latour), Sonnet #199

For Frank Wilson

We can't withstand a woman's eyes for long.
We will turn away from disinterest
Or hauteur, and a contemplative stare,
Which, like a physician's probe, would prolong
The moment of contact, will cruelly test
Our dissembling, to appear not to care.

"My Sonia," thinks Henri, "I have you now!
Your Tiger's Eye eyes and each petted brow,
Your smile, not lips, but your entire face,
Offering, accepting a smile's grace."

We meet Sonia and cannot turn away.
Her eyes accept our ardor without fear
Or love or pride or caring what we say
In her honor, which she will never hear.

I have dedicated this sonnet to Frank Wilson in 
gratitude for linking to Zealotry of Guerin
for the last three years from his fine literary
blog, Books Inq.
Also, to thank him for suggesting this 
beautiful Portrait of Sonia.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Three Witches from Macbeth (Daniel Gardner), Sonnet #198

Doyennes of the English aristocracy,
They posed as the three witches for a jape,
Not dressed as lurid hags, or Hecate,
But to see their Lords and lovers agape.
A Viscountess, a Duchess, and their friend,
(A sculptress who'd have arranged the tableaux),
They wielded charms and beauty to one end:
To forge history with a kiss's blow.
No adder's fork, witch's mummy, hemlock
Digg'd 'i th' dark (no hint of damnation),
For the pot, just a rose and carnation,
And a swatch from a Lady's prettiest frock.
Natheless, look at their eyes: come-hither, yes,
And alight with their men's powerlessness.

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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Love Song (Edward Burne-Jones), Sonnet #186

The organ not being an instrument of romance --
The golden woman, her eyes like old coins, fingers
Keys and sheet music, resurrects an antic dance,
As the last kiss of her lover, like dusk, lingers.
He stares through the pipes at his new passion; dozing,
The sister, with her fingers between the pages
Of Arthurian tales of knights seeking, losing,
At times finding honor and love for the ages.
He's no Lancelot, just an armored fighting man
Who woos, beds, and betrays every woman he can.
In scarlet, his new prey is pleased to bare her thigh
And knees, even her shoulder, to conjure a sigh.
In a sheath between those gilded knees, a short knife
Will take her own, her sibling's, or her lover's life?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sleep (Dali) and The Eye of Light, Sonnets #185 and #184

Sleep (Dali), Sonnet #185

Asleep, awake, the mind is all there is,
Or so our waking minds would have us think.
Asleep, it quails before its own image.
In crepuscule, without the drum and fizz
Of coherent ideas, or evil's stink,
It cannot muster love, regret, or rage.
It shivers, blanketed, fetal, offstage:
"But what a monstrously huge I I am!
I span vast deserts and dwarf whole cities.
I am all ego and all else is sham,
Imagined vanity no man pities.”
A cripple on crutches, it mutters, "damn."
The world fades from gray to color to gray;
We're asleep and awake, facing the day.

The Eye of Light, Sonnet #184

The eye of light is a spectrum of irises
With two dilated pupils, like binary stars,
Slightly blind, in need of Man's eyeglasses,
Its cornea a matting of translucent scars.
Light is a god, as consciousness is a god,
Illuminations we require to survive,
And each is useless, like a cracked divining rod,
Without the bird in flight or a bee-boiling hive.
The eye-beam that threw a rainbow on my ceiling
The sun sent minutes ago to find a prism,
Like the brain turns sensation into feeling,
Near purity, a benign astigmatism.
A man is godly then, in part, without being
A god, though he can often go blind with seeing.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (John Singer Sargent), Sonnet #183

As hard as he tries, Sargent can't make young girls real.
Portraits are problematic, distilling character
Down to a composition of static features,
Like stamping cooling wax with a family seal.
Each child, even the toddler, becomes an actor
Without a thing to say, a staring, masked creature.
I imagine an Edward Boit extremely proud
To hang this painting in the family gallery
Amongst the ageless, stern, ancestral crowd,
Where daubs of paint limn, entombing, each memory.
I hope, as well, he was a man to kiss each child,
Carry her up to bed at night when she was small,
And listen to her fears and dreams, however wild,
And linger, seeing, loving, equally, them all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mirror of Cronos (Matta), Sonnet #182

The present is the mirror of Cronos;
His mirror is the future and the past.
He deposed his father Uranus, cast
His balls into the sea; Aphrodite
Grew from the foam. He swallowed Ompholos,
A stone navel he thought one of his sons.
His Golden Age demanding piety,
He slew the Titan serpent Ophion.
So? We see all the same evil today;
Godly men who kill, corrupt, betray.
Cronos sees in his mirror his son Zeus
Dethrone and imprison him in the Nyx,
A cave of eternal life without a use --
Cannot see himself on the River Styx.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wall Painting From The Temple Of Longing (Klee), Sonnet #181

A full moon and a gibbous moon in the dawn sky
Shiver like arrowheads that just struck the bull's-eye.
The stars show us everything since the beginning,
Until we close our eyes and discover nothing.
We ask "Is that all?" The given answer is "Why?"
To appease us, the gods have granted us longing,
Desire for what we can't have, see, or know,
Since the future, like a broken frame of stained glass,
Is all that's left of all the moments we let pass,
And sheds upon the now only a splintered glow.
Some say time's arrow is just consciousness at play,
That duration flies as swiftly in reverse,
Mending all but the present with no delay.
Try reading this poem, again, from this last verse.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Gassed (John Singer Sargent), Sonnet #180

I drew a high number the last year of the draft,
But a childhood disease would have kept me 4-F.
I have a misshapen hip and couldn't force-march
Or negotiate a pitching deck, fore to aft.
I lost no friend or brothers to war; no one left
My high school to volunteer; no triumphal arch,
No memorial was erected in our town,
No first-hand accounts of battle were written down.
The nightly news showed all there was to see of death
And defeat: we lose each war the minute one man
Fails to open his eyes or to take a next breath,
And new wars start soon enough, because they can.
Both sides used mustard gas and we used napalm bombs,
Generously, Samaritans offering alms.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dante and Virgil in Hell (Bouguereau), Sonnet # 179

This, the eighth circle of Hell, where liars and frauds
Turn thwarted ambition to violent attacks,
Is the last refuge of all political hacks,
Where righteousness shrieks in the name of the gods.
Men of faith bite the throats of men of reason.
They tear at each other with once-ink-stained fingers
And vow to prove vast conspiracies of treason,
Calling to chambers testimonial singers.
Virgil and Dante cringe, impotent witnesses,
Appalled by acts born of conviction, yet witless.
The less guilty, forgers and fibbers, writhe like snakes
To flee the melee, though they voted for these fakes.
Above, a winged Lucifer grins his approval,
And schemes for our virtuous poets' recusal.

Inventions Of The Monsters (Dali), Sonnet #178

Who sets the giraffes on fire, strips the maidens bare?
Who shovels corpses into an empty chess square?
Who puts breath into a breasted horse-headed bust
And grinds all of mankind's fillings into gold dust?
(They knew a real monster once, a failing student
Who could dissect a soul with a few rude insights,
Trepan their insecurities, vices, and fears.
He'd laugh as he gave each of them the treatment.
They'd laugh, but each felt secretly that he was right.
Too timid to see the truth, they were his mirrors.)
We gather at white draped altars and contemplate
Not who we are but what perversions to create.
The monsters exist to give us a thrill, a scare,
Which is why we invented them -- not one is there.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Cube Made of One-Way Mirrors, Sonnet #177

Light is nature's effort to understand.
At the mote heart of mirrored repetition,
Like an ant lion in his bottomless cone of sand,
It waits, eager to devour all with cognition.
Our own consciousness, a smeared, vague copy,
Cannot conceive infinity because no seers
Have seen what's beyond the visible canopy
Or the vanishing point in this box of mirrors.
We can come closer, because the end of things
Is as hard to picture as the never-ending.
"There is not nothing," the mirrors seem to repeat,
And the omnivorous ant lion won't cease to eat.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lessons (Alice Guerin), Sonnet #176

The Eweman, still barren, had so far failed
To teach the terrified rhesus macaque
To see only with her eyes; he just quailed
And whimpered in her palm; he hunched his back,
Clutched his knees and stared into her eye prongs,
Which unrealed for him all the world's wrongs.
(Meanwhile a tiny snail climbs an Everest log
About to roll into a fern-choked bog.
The monkey sees it! "We must save the snail!"
He weeps. The Eweman spits, "Just like a male.")
Her eyes refocused and poured spectral light
Into pupils; he saw what's not allowed.
It was too much; he tried to scratch and bite.
"It's ever so," she sighed, yawned, and swallowed.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

WINGS, Sonnets #174 and #175

Cicada (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #175

The flight of insects has none of the grace
Of the bald eagle or the albatross.
Yes, they may have eyes, mouth, even a face,
But anthropomorphically, a total loss.
They're occult, as no other creatures are,
Colonists from a misanthropic star.
In late summer we find the chitinous
Emerald corpses, wings perfectly preserved,
Strewn up and down our root-ravaged sidewalks.
Why where we jog? Maybe to remind us
That flying is not something we've deserved.
Perhaps, too, their blaring summer song mocks
All wingless and unarmored nobodies
With insistent, monotone melodies.

Sea Eagle, Sonnet #174

The Japanese anthropomorphize birds
To understand flight without using words.
The soaring of the mind, or of the soul,
And the attenuation of time
Are the filling of an empty bowl
With the sound of a one word rhyme.
The eagle stands one-footed on the air,
His wings feathering balance with the wind.
He isn't hunting, but ready to plunge
Into the sea to make sure it's still there,
To purge himself and others who have sinned.
Diving a fathom he'll surface and lunge
Into the air and soar away with its prize
In clenched talons -- a thousand moons rise.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Seagram Building (Mies van der Rohe), Sonnet #173

What meant more to a strict thinker like Mies,
The building looked at or the looked out of?
The Seagram is what is, less what one sees,
A thing you might move through, but never love.
Was a man ever more ruled by the slide rule,
The right angle, and entrapped empty space?
Less may be more, but it's extremely cool,
Humorless, with a stern, unblinking face.
He's often pictured with a fat cigar,
A roundness, perhaps a form of penance
For abjuring the curvilinear,
Though for genius there is no repentance.
The Seagram is simple on a grand scale.
Sterile, and like dry ice, it can't go stale.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Yei Be Chei Dancers (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #172

From six to six the Yei Be Chei dancers,
Blessing herbs, heads in white and turquoise masks,
Shout and chant and stomp to summon answers
To ageless questions the Navaho asks.
Comic relief, the Coyote capers,
Makes faces, mocks the gullible gapers.
A Yei Be Chei also, he's serious
About making laughter delirious.
Only through disorientation
Will blessings descend upon the nation.
They are true spirits while the dancing lasts,
And as night becomes morning the sun casts
Shadows on faces in the audience --
At that moment the universe makes sense.

Please click the image to see a larger version.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Central Star (Mike Taylor), Sonnet #171

At the heart of the Milky Way the Central Star
Increases in mass as every black hole channels
The detritus of space into its empty core.
Replacing our sun, it would extend to Rigel.
As other stars burn away, grow cold, and dwindle,
The Central Star perpetually rekindles.
It has enveloped a trillion planets and suns,
And burns so intensely it glows with neither light
Or color, but with a visible intention,
The ultimate assertion of natural right.
We swing on a spiral away from its hunger,
Though, in its way, it makes the galaxy younger.
Someday black holes will all dry up: the Central Star
Will be the Milky Way, invisible from afar.