Thursday, October 19, 2017

Titan (NASA), Sonnet #374

Saturn’s moon is the mysterious one
Among the globes of gas and crusty orbs
That meander about our unfixed sun.
The elements earth has and will absorb
In infinite (call them) hours, from the lab
Of the solar system, have been stored up
In planets and moons, each drop in its cup,
No two the same, each its own unique tab.
Titan, though, would seem an alternate birth,
With oceans and sand, with mountains and rain,
(Even if what falls is only methane),
A negative of our radiant earth.
What swims in water seas under a sky
Of nitrogen? And, if something does — why?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Figure-Ground Illusion, Sonnet #373

Nothing is only one thing. Nothing.
An egg is both a womb and a prison,
A screech owl a hunter and great horns’ prey.
Funerals are gatherings and parting,
A thought both an act and a vision.
The sun is the start and the end of day.
In this shadowed bark we see a face,
Stern, discerning, a bit oblivious,
Contemptuous of all that’s obvious,
Stupid, loveless, cruel in the human race.
I see a bat fleeing a predator,
A cat or weasel nipping at its tail
(The eye being a restless editor) —
The man smiling because his cat will fail.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat (Simon de Myle), Sonnet #372

A billion species marched into the Ark.
Not one died off while the rain descended.
But Mt. Ararat was no pleasure park
And there half the lives Noah saved ended.
The suspension of the natural laws
That some will eat and some will be devoured
Vanished; unicorns found the lion’s jaws.
Raptors gorged on vermin and dragons scoured
The skies, while all fled the talons of the Roc,
A ravening, single, soon extinct cock.
Years on, man remade his cities and farms
And with the dispersal of beasts still wild,
Returned to the innocence of a child,
Immune to all but humanity’s harms.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mid-June (Burchfield), Sonnet #371

The tiger swallowtails eluded me
As a boy, lunging at them with my net.
Yet my daughter once put out a finger
And one landed like a bird on a tree.
She held it up as though she’d found a pet,
And cried “Come back!” when it didn’t linger.
It’s mid-September and growing colder.
I no longer wish to catch butterflies.
I take spiders outdoors (as I grow older)
And resent it when a cicada dies.
Why did I let June’s thick light disappear,
Leaving illumination of each sere
Spot on each turning leaf perfectly clear?
And don’t tell me it happens every year.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cicada (Ruth Diamond-Guerin), Sonnet #370

The cicada shifts the air like a loom.
Its sizzling klaxon rises in repeats,
Insisting on filling the summer’s room
Even as it winds down in lazy beats.
A pause. The shuttle shifts, then starts anew,
Reaching a pitch of pure intensity,
As if sound is the proof immensity
Of seething essence from which all life grew.
In September we see them fly around
Aimlessly, as if they want to be found
And later we do find them, on the ground,
While yet back and forth a few weakly sound.
The patterns in the late October leaves
Are what the now silenced cicada weaves.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Carpet of Memory (Klee), Sonnet #369

No one has a first memory, not one.
We can so designate any we choose,
The dimmest, the least associative,
A parent’s kiss or a promise undone,
The smell of mother’s milk, a game we lose,
But not that first moment we know we live.
For then they propagate like dry grasses
In a desert, patches of green, some sweet,
Some blown, or desiccated cactuses —
All ungraspable, too desired, too fleet.
I choose my first — not a moment, a dream:
“Wendy” and I are threatened by an ape.
She wears a witch’s hat and I a cape.
Then all fades away in a moon’s blank beam. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Second Day of the Creation (Escher), Sonnet #368

Today’s the second day of creation.
I’m sitting, sipping my coffee, and read
About the idea of ideation—
Interesting piece, though more of a screed.
The author is angry about something
He can’t express, but determines to try.
Over the ocean the cataracts sing,
The clouds dive dark and bright, and the waves fly.
The thunder, a clangor worthy of hell,
Fell silent an hour before the rain fell.
My reading’s become a hopeless muddle,
Some stones plopped into a muddy puddle.
I sigh and drop the book, disrobe, and leap
For the now pacific, still surging deep.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Stone Formation, Sonnet #367

The experience of enlightenment
Is the arrangement of a few beach stones
On an old wooden deck, not an event,
Not a vision, not a handful of koans.
Ikkyu had this moment of insight
On hearing the song of a soldier's slight
That drove two girls into a nunnery,
Leaving their general his gunnery:
“Sixty blows from my master’s stick would serve
As well to achieve what I don’t deserve.”
These four stones have been carelessly arranged,
Each chosen for its one flat edge to rest
And have in wind and rain remained unchanged.
In their presence I’m an unwanted guest.

Note: Much of Ikkyu’s life is apocryphal, though
the story of his enlightenment upon hearing the
blind man’s song about two women ill-treated
by a general is a central part of his legend. The
quote I attribute to him is consistent with the
legend, though partly my invention.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Three Spheres II (Escher), Sonnet #366

The past is images faded into patterns,
A dim, smudged diary of pleasures and concerns
We see through a crystal sphere of water and oil,
A second universe of calm and bitter moil.
The future yet to appear is already here,
Like the moon in clouds or a mask, a faceless sphere.
We can’t be sure, but we’re almost convinced it’s there,
As we take on faith there’ll be a next breath of air.
The present is our own distorted reflection
To be, added to the past’s fading collection
At the instant we see the next experience
With a curious and innocent prurience.
No; present is our eyes, myriad blinking spheres
That see through reflections to find that we are seers.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Cricket Eclipse, Sonnet #365

He chirps beneath our crabapple tree all night long.
The cricket’s krrrr is a two, three and four beat song,
Random and loud. He stops when a voice from afar
Seems to answer, rasping the same note bar for bar.
(The cicada’s bright buzzing in the August sun
Is lovelier, but isn’t meant for anyone.)
I do not understand the cricket’s existence,
His urgency, or his athletic persistence.
He fills the humid summer night with his griping,
Yet stops at the first pre-dawn robin’s sweet piping.
I’ve never heard him make a sound during the day,
Until today, when the air went from light to gray.
As the sun’s eclipse spread its mockery of doom,
I heard all the crickets in the neighborhood boom.

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.