Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Three Deadly Sonnets, #221, #222, #223

Train Trestle (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #223

People still talk about Tarzan* diving
Off the south end (the north much too shallow),
Swimming upriver to the public beach.
Few recall cars and engine arriving
On either side, or a whistle's bellow,
Yet nothing's diminished its iron reach.
I once saw a man killed near the trestle.
A speedboat hit a sunken pier and flew
Up, tossing the driver backward; the screw
Bit him as the boat came down. I wrestled
A pram into the water, but he swam
To the other shore screaming, where a man
Pulled him out; as he died, the speedboat ran
On in a spiral toward the city dam.

*Johnny Weissmuller

The Snake Charmer (Henri Rousseau), Sonnet #222

The cobra hid beneath the house as we returned from church.
My father pinned him with a stick as my sister came near.
The serpent reared and flared his hood. We saw him vainly lurch
At my sister, who only leaned closer, quite without fear.

The snake charmer fingers his flute, his breath
Enchanted, a simulacrum of death
The snakes approach from curiosity.
To strike the man would end the mystery,
And leave an eternal ear-worm, a tune
Like the moaning of the coming monsoon.

Dad dispatched it with a thrust, but not right away,
Instead conducting a lesson for his children.
As he spoke of the farms where they collect venom,
The cobra danced a diminishing bob and sway.

Duel Between Onegin and Lenski (Ilya Repin), Sonnet #221

Thus in a duel the man who’s in the wrong
(In honor, good shots can be weak or strong)
Might find himself puking, stagger away
From his challenger swearing and bleeding
Out his life, supine in a dewy field.
Those who later hear of the fight will say
Of the killer, “But he’s of good breeding,
And the dead man was a fool not to yield.
After all, winning is vindication!”
Onegin killed his friend Levski over
His own jealous, vindictive flirtation
With Olga, Levski’s inconstant lover.
For both men, “honor" was nothing to trust,
Just a word for anger, ego, and lust.

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