Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ruins Of The Oybin Monastery (Caspar David Friedrich), Sonnet #364

The monastery, a home of belief —
It doesn’t matter which — slowly decays.
The roof beams go first, nothing wooden stays.
Moss paints the stone arches in bas-relief, 
Images of dead and forgotten grief.
We live in roofless rooms with a sly thief,
Who steals, first our parents and eldest friends,
Then our useless youth, which he quickly spends.
Our music and books are replaced with fakes,
Our mirrors with odd faces, double takes.
Though I could not kill the thief if I would,
I defy him — plant flowers, kiss the wind.
I have children I hug; I’ve seldom sinned.
He can’t have my memories, bad or good.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lake Michigan Lightning (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #363

The mantle of the lake, the shield of the sky
Holding back the stars, and, on cloudless nights,
The sunset, button the lake and sky closed.
The first barely audible thunder sigh
Is preceded by a cloud-blurry light.
The sound grows orderly, almost composed.
It’s midnight and I stand at the window.
The lightning never flashes where I look
And blinds me from above and below,
The lake refracting every crooked hook.
When it’s upon me, I cover my ears
And close my eyes to resurrect old fears.
Then the rain comes and the violence flies
Up the hills behind me and quickly dies.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Death of Sophonisba (Pierre Guerin), Sonnet # 362

I don’t know if my intentions for this painting
Will be interpreted by my descendant who
Will write about my treatment of a suicide.
I hid her beauty in a semblance of fainting,
Head rested on crossed arms, slumped, seated, eyes blue,
A victim of her new husband’s weakness and pride.
I hope he’ll see into what I’ve tried to convey,
Not the tragedy, or the waste, but the decay
Of sense and feeling in a woman betrayed
By politics and a perversion of honor.
Yes, a woman used like a beast, a perfect maid
Who died still with the worst sin dishonoring her.
My heir, absolve both her and me of betrayal
In the sympathetic lies in my portrayal.

Note: Sophonisba drank poison in 203 B.C. to save her 

Carthaginian husband’s life and honor. Pierre Guerin, 
the painter, is speaking of me, his “descendant,” though 
it is unlikely that I am one.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Anguished Morning (de Chirico), Sonnet #361

Morning light steals darkness from its hiding places.
The unadorned plastered wall or triumphal arch
Outlines the visible by what it erases.
With each second the shadows go colder and parch.
After dawn the dark runs flat and dense from the square
Over vast lawns up the side of the cathedral.
A locomotive engine with its human bawl
Stops silently for a few hours, won’t be where
Decades ago before the wars the tracks were laid —
It wanders up the plaza like a drunken shade.
We don’t venture then into the shadows or sun.
A fool would let himself be caught by either one.
Morning light steals our souls from their hiding places,
Defining what we are by what it erases.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ship of Fools (Bosch), Sonnet #360

The ships of fools — hardly a pram —
A million in a small puddle
Full of people squealing, “I am!” —
A multitudinous muddle —
Even the largest has no rudder.
Beneath the overcrowded weight
The untarred bow plankings shudder —
When they burst there be men for bait.
Till then the riotous party,
Victorious, brave and hearty,
Gorges and drinks to their winning
Saint they love most when he’s sinning.
A busted lute leads them in song:
“Dam’ned they be, both right and wrong!”

Note: Click on the image to see a larger

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wood Interior (Emil Carlsen), Sonnet #359

I’ve no more memory for trees,
Can tell a maple from an oak
By the leaves, but the difference
Between others, only degrees
Of shape, height, branch, texture of bark,
I can’t think apart, only sense.
Even when I have learned the name,
I forget seeing similar,
All so alike, but not the same.
Trees are only familiar.
I walk in deep woods with my girls,
Marveling at mushrooms and burls
Growing from trunks (empty of words).
They know the names of trees and birds.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Satyr and the Traveler (Walter Crane), Sonnet #358

The goat man had always felt it unfair,
That he must clutch his bare chest in cold air.
The only thing worse was to look a fool
By wearing some dumb animal's wool.
He despised all humans, their sickly lust,
Their clothes and their suspicious trust of trust.
One winter's day he met a traveler,
Plump and well-clothed but for her sandled shins.
He decided to play the caviller,
And ridicule weakly man's meager sins.
The girl blew on her fingers in reply,
Then offered the satyr a steaming stew.
When she breathed on his bowl, he asked her, "Why?"
"To heat! To cool!" she cried, her lips the clue.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hadrian’s Villa (Peter Blume), Sonnet #357

The olive leans like an old man
Without his walking stick, its bole
Struck by a lightning bolt that ran
Into the ground and split its soul.
Its upper branches, though, are whole,
Heavy this time of year with fruit,
The offspring of sun, bark, and root.
One day a year we beat the tree,
Standing on long ladders with poles,
Knocking each ripened olive free
To fall and gather in blankets,
Lifted so every ovoid rolls
Into waiting wicker baskets.
For days we’ll feel rungs in our soles.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Street in Venice (John Singer Sargent), Sonnet #356

Some of our streets are so old they've started to breathe,
A soughing of softened mortar and slate crumbling,
A soliloquy like a bedside priest's mumbling,
And beneath the city runs its river Lethe.
The centuries of life don't pass unregarded,
Won't be left to the cemeteries' serried stones.
The blocks of brick buildings replace our blood and bones,
Once our loves and fears, our years, have been discarded.
They preserve our consciousness and our time
Aggregated with a stone mason's grasp of rhyme.
Still, brother and sister can stand in a doorway
For a moment and hear neither love nor regret
Except in the few secret words they have to say,
A sweetening of the air the streets won't forget.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cave Painting, Sonnet #355

He didn't daub his walls with what he saw,
But what he thought he saw. The intervening
Eyes, which he rubbed till his eyelids were raw,
Lied to him, and made the seeing seeming.
The blank granite must have made him crazy,
Like seeing clear night skies devoid of stars.
He mudded a wall to make it hazy,
Only to find it dried and cracked with scars.
Why not purge his sight to cover the walls?
The staring eyes of his increasing brood,
Their ceaseless crying, then screeching for food,
Grew less loud there -- distant, near-silent calls.
His back to them, not telling them to hush,
He worked, erasing them with his paint brush.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Musicians's Brawl (Georges de la Tour), Sonnet #354

The sad oboist with his reeds and knife
Has gone blind looking at his faithless wife.
(The orchestra has other concerns: pay,
Benefits, selling tickets, and their say
In programming the least popular works.
They think the maestro's baton a dull dirk.)
The fighting began when the mad oboe,
Hearing mockery in the ostinato,
Blamed the clarinet for his cuckoldry.
The latter squeezed lemon juice in his eyes.
Mirable dictu! The oboe could see!
He embraced his colleague with grateful cries.
The harpist, his wife, slipped into the wings,
Where her dear concertmaster plucked her strings.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Dice Players (Georges de la Tour), Sonnet #353

When it was over we played dice by candlelight.
The musty catafalque was empty once again.
We passed the last of the altar wine out quickly,
Like warm beer -- ate the wafers with a tender bite.
When someone gave a toast to Death, we said, "Amen."
"A shame!" we said, "Quick to still, he bypassed sickly!"
We played a game of our own invention called "Gone" --
An elimination game. Each threw a bone die
Three times and survived if even one was a one.
If all three were higher numbers your turn passed by.
The last one left had to "bury" the rest with pence,
Like the old Greeks' tradition -- one for each dead eye.
To lose was to win, which to us seemed perfect sense,
And glad tribute to His Lordship's evanescence.

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

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.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fishing for Souls (Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne), Sonnet #345

They came swimming in with the morning tide
After three days of storms unmoored our boats.
Somehow, they guided each hull back toward shore.
Like a school of fish two miles long and wide,
They moved as one, some submerged, some afloat,
Filling the bay with hope, a pleading corps.
We launched the boats and went fishing for souls.
Our bows bobbed clumsily through the dead shoals.
As we leaned to take their outstretched hands --
Beseeching yet so difficult to grip --
We found them quite impossible to ship,
Since each boat was already fully manned.
We saved a few but most soon went under.
A rainbow blessed the sea; then came thunder.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

February Wind and Sunlight -- The Wind Harp (Charles Burchfield), Sonnet # 344

This year no snow but wind and rain
Met and ended February,
Rivers overflowing again
And again, and blinding fury.
I'd walk each time the storms ended
To show I was not offended.
The sun lit thin ice in the trees
That sang in the wind -- melodies,
High-pitched, rung like spinning tin rings;
Twigs were fret and tuner-less strings.
In March the crocus and snowdrop
Bloomed early and as quickly froze
In day on day of silent snows
That only kind April could stop.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Star Travel (Matta), Sonnet #343

The speed of light is molasses
Dripping from an overturned jar,
A slowness nothing surpasses.
Not quite the songbird stuck in lime,
We can fly, but we can't fly far,
Unless we do away with time.
I stand on a comet of stone,
The tri-star Alpha Centauri
Irradiating, blinding me.
I'm here because I am alone
In no known age or century,
(Yet no metaphysical zone),
Where all is either late or soon.
I leave to catch a passing moon.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On the seashore there are two visiting apples (Rene Magritte), Sonnet #342

Too late, the tree stump silences the ax
Under a root stepping down like a foot,
To render the blade motionless and moot.
Are the visiting apples ripe, you ask?
One wears a green, his bride a purple mask.
Are they real fruit or molded of old wax?
They totter on the sand inching nearer,
A mute duo smiling and curious,
Not quite what we see, perhaps spurious --
Nothing on the beach is any queerer.
Yes, a cupboard tree holds a waiting bell
And a new dollhouse with a bright red roof --
Articles no apple would buy or sell,
Only mourn, and doing so vanish -- poof!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Zone of Avoidance*, Sonnet #341

That is where the seventh dimension sleeps,
Tucked like a few mice in a cardboard tube.
The density of the galaxy seeps
What's beyond its mass, but no amplitude
Of star or nova can penetrate there
To reach my retina. Oh, but we care!
It's maddening, this secret extension
Of nothing we know and will never guess,
Like a rule the gods forgot to mention
That demands of us a No and a Yes.
A pretty phrase, the zone of avoidance,
As if we've chosen not to be bothered,
Decided that child will not be fathered,
When we'd rather ignore our ignorance.

*Note: The "zone of avoidance" is the area
of the sky that is obscured by the densest
portions of the Milky Way.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Divided Consciousness Nos. 1 and 2, Sonnets #339 and #340

Divided Consciousness No. 1, Sonnet #339

The stones think as though they are thought silence.
Ask the big guy and he'll mouth a nothing
He's sure will seem like astounding nonsense,
As if a pretty rock knew how to sing.
He assumes you will understand the sound,
At least that it was real, if not profound.
His minor lobe chatters like a mad bird,
Ideas made sentences like light made seen,
Each thought a secret of the grand absurd,
Pitched higher when it's noble or obscene.
They never speak or look at each other.
What an obfuscation that would create!
Each thought like second thought would obviate
The first, like Cain gunning down his brother.

Divided Consciousness No. 2, Sonnet #340

I, that insistent I, is all I am.
I have witnessed it from beyond idea,
When my senses didn't make any sense,
When I felt like stone, a virtual sham.
Drop me in the deepest chasm, a sea
Seven miles deep, when all is present tense
And the lights fracture color into eyes
And the tones of drumming drown in sighs.
It comes back on me, it all comes back,
Eternal replay of the last moment
Until there is no next second, all slack;
The next I of me will never be sent
Until I bang my head twice and collide
With myself and decide I haven't died.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Parade (Peter Blume), Sonnet #338

The invention of the assembly line,
The conveyor belt, the repetition
Of a single simple task by one man,
Produces all that is useful and fine.
Let me push the button of ignition
On armor as heavy as a tin can.
No bullet can penetrate my new skin,
Sleek and silver and exquisitely thin.
I'm so perfect now a parade of me
Runs past the smokestacks of the factory.
I'm joined by a smart, lock-loaded army;
As we march through every neighborhood,
Geese stepping, bright phalanx of right for good,
We stare down the decadent and smarmy.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mobius Birds (Escher), Sonnet #337

With a wing-beat the cormorant
Is airborne, static, and distant.
As I am the threat he glides
To a dead limb and settles down,
And memory of me elides
In a croaking flock of his own.
Their migration looks like a race,
Ragged but with erratic grace;
The leaders constantly change place,
Not to draft others, but to chase.
They'll burst from their path to make way
For an Arctic tern or osprey,
Wheeling around until they find
The Mobius they've been assigned.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Army Men Attack, Sonnet #336

The military objective: to knock the chip
Off the mysterious stone's shoulder, then tip
The whole evil mass over and bury its white
And gaping, bespittled gob out of human sight.
The soldiers, rigid with fear and umbrageous rage,
Are all innocent, young, exactly the same age.
Their memories are identical, none recalls
How his father fought the same war with the same balls.
Though they are many (the stone is ageless and numb,
Impervious to thought, its nervous system dumb),
They're dry sticks waved over dry soil by a dowser,
When what's needed is a six inch field howitzer.
They break against the stone, bounce back, and charge --
Small men to prevail over what is merely large.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The High Council (Mabuse), Sonnet #335

The high council deliberates in me,
Thirty-one wise morons who can't agree
Without a nod from their presiding lord,
Who's typically obliviously bored.
The peasantry shout in at the windows,
The scholars and lawyers from the cheap seats.
The aides are soft and unprincipled cheats,
And women left the chambers long ago.
I think never has indecision been
So richly rewarded, as conscious sin
Is rationalized in the name of change.
A vote is taken, the benches arranged
Again to reflect the switch of leaders,
Which elevates sixteen bottom-feeders.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (Gauguin), Sonnet #334

A question is meant for the gods.
Only they are made to ask them.
We worry more about the odds
That a fruit will grow from a stem,
Not why, or how a child will grow
When his thoughts are halting and slow.
We know one another too well
And learn to love our loneliness.
The sun and stars our only dress,
We aren't shy, and eagerly tell
Stories that explain everything:
The reason for the spider's sting,
Why a dead man isn't jealous,
And asking is ridiculous.

Please click on the image to see a larger version.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sunrise After Brief Ice Storm, Sonnet #333

The world is made of casual captures:
A rising sun caught in branches and leaves,
Branches coated in quickly melting ice,
The mind held by momentary raptures,
Concatenating chains and nested sieves,
A seeking, grasping, imprisoned device.
The light and time is really all we own,
The owning like the ear processing tone
From cracked oboes to make it musical,
Its fading, if not quick, eventual.
I must capture myself in the ice tree,
Permit no release to fear or distraction
Or the sun will melt waking inaction,
And in my next moment let darkness free.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Plow and Harrow (Van Gogh), Sonnet #332

The plow said to the harrow, "I am not like you.
I turn up and soften the soil and make it new."
The harrow said, "I teach the soil what to do.
It may be a hard lesson, but the soil must learn.
You signify nothing. You only churn and churn."
The plow replied, "It's not the soil, but the seed
That must concern us most, its future and its need."
The reply was furious, "You fluff its pillow,
While I obliterate its enemy, the weed!
The seed would sprout and choke if I didn't harrow
The earth, if I didn't do everything I must
To slash and bite and crush the filthy dirt to dust."
The plow and the harrow lie rusting in the field
And for decades there hasn't been a harvest yield.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Supernova, Galaxy M82, Sonnet #331

A mind goes supernova when it dies.
I have seen it with a telescope --
A vast expansion of light as it flies
Into space still empty of endless hope.
Consider: even when the Milky Way
Collides with Andromeda someday,
Very few stars are likely to embrace.
We are all surrounded by too much space.
Beware failure of imagination,
That sad waste and premature demise.
We must keep looking beyond our own eyes,
Past apathy's deadening radiation.
I lost a friend today and must console
His brother, and search the skies for his soul.