Thursday, December 28, 2017

End of the Trojan War (Tiepolo), Sonnet #385

The painter doesn’t clearly show a single face
In the starving, struggling, victory-mad crowd.
The men inside the horse could be laughing out loud
Without fear of being heard above the fracas.
The Trickster proclaimed that the genius of his scheme 
Was revealed to him in a post-debauchery dream
By a god who refused to say its name or sex,
But who had addressed the Trickster as Regent Rex.
(An error in speaking T never repeated.)
“Do this,” said the god, “and All will be defeated.”
In later years, faced with sirens and a cyclops,
He’d beg that faceless god for more brilliant guidance,
Since his own soldiers, as fighters, proved hopeless flops.
He returned to his wife with a bow and split pants.

Friday, December 22, 2017


And tomorrow is Christmas,
the heart's havoc with delight.
Downstairs, the unnatural tree
dressed in glass and light,
pulses with memories.
Will my daughters see the ornament?
Will they see, as I saw,
watching for hours once,
the orb darkened by green-tinseled boughs
radiating needles,
crystal spark moon beam
still and silent as time itself?
Will they see the heart
that moved the hands to place it there?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pulcinella's Departure (Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo), Sonnet #384

“The voice of the people” can’t leave too soon.
The fun was almost all he could endure,
Especially making game of the poor,
Though he didn’t like being called a goon.
Oh, how he’d made the great all look the same,
Throwing merda on every “leader’s” name.
They laughed at his japes without knowing why,
And threw gold at his head with insane glee.
He’d peeked up their wives’ dresses for a fee.
He’d danced on toes defying all to cry.
The best was the gun he pulled from his hump
(Not a deformity — a holster’s bump),
And waved around the world with bulging eyes.
“See this?” he crooned, “No one who likes me dies.”

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Arctic Owl and Winter Moon (Burchfield), Sonnet #383

Having rehabbed injured owls for years,
She thought they only mimicked being smart —
Deaf to no distant sound, acute seers,
Intelligent of senses, dead of heart.
Having fed, flown and loved her birds of prey,
She released them only as night took day.
They always flew strong and straight to a tree,
Perched in plain sight as if they weren’t yet free.
She thought of each one later that evening.
Would it be starving or hot ravening?
A full moon is almost a handicap
When you can hunt in total darkness.
You hover and glide, drop without a flap
Of sound: the prey dies knowing no distress.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fog Day Painting (Julia Guerin), Sonnet #382

The country fog made driving a bus dangerous,
So they cancelled school and the sky was clear by ten.
Some days we escape the day and flee, not often
Alone, but it’s fine not to be too generous.
She had the easel up by noon and a canvas,
Gessoed and ready, a blank window on a field
Of milk thistle, nimblewill, foxtail and bentgrass.
She wondered, will all this come to me, will it yield?
She left herself, wandered the field as she painted,
Circling back every hour or so to find
If her seeing was approximate or tainted,
If the scene was precisely limned or loosely lined. 
As she packed, she thought, it’s worthy of a fog day.
The photo let the easel and the painting stay.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On the Edge (Klee), Sonnet #381

Look now, it’s time to stop screwing around.
A crow’s cracked nails clawing the frozen ground,
His ceaseless caw cacking a frozen sound,
Writing sonnets is no merry-go-round.
Our faces seek us again and again,
But there’s nothing but the sun to explain —
No sun, no poem, no rose, no weather vane.
Forget the sun you can’t see for the rain!
Theorems are no more valid than a list.
A rhyme is a lot like a broken wrist —
Both need to knit up if you want a fist. 
Sonnets are lists of theorems with no gist.
So I think of Paul Klee as my brother.
He draws not one right thing, but another.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Euphorbia (African Milk Stripe Plant), Sonnet #380

For Ruth on Our 40th Wedding Anniversary, 11/27/77

I bought this for your 21st birthday
In September 1975.
It was just one slender emerald stem —
Our wedding still two years, two months away.
Not only did your care keep it alive,
There are now more than a dozen of them
Inside our home, grown as big as the first,
And yet more — all cut from the mother tree —
We’ve given to our friends and family.
They need little water and do not thirst
For much but light — yours and that of the sun.
The plant has spines more hurtful than a rose,
But I’ve never been pierced by one of those.
So much life, love. You are the only one.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

American Pied-Billed Dabchick (Audubon), Sonnet #379

I once wrote a child’s fairy tale
About birds that didn’t have feet.
Because they could not rest on land
They beat the wind into a gale
Which they coasted, a sleeping fleet,
Coaxing rain from the clouds they’d fanned.
The dabchick can’t fly from firm ground.
Landing on concrete he mistakes
For water, he is trapped, earth bound.
His legs drag behind like branches.
He can rise triumphant from lakes,
Rivers and ponds — when he launches
From the earth, he only stumbles.
So nature exalts and humbles.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

General Sherman, Sonnet #378

The “scorched earth” general has his own tree,
The largest living thing on the planet.
(Enough of such obvious irony.)
A man may live to be eighty, ninety,
Be a beggar or a Plantagenet,
Become a name or a nonentity,
While one tree can live two millennia,
Which we claim ours with some insignia.
After surviving its first century
Of insect threat and impedimenta,
Prone to fall to elemental fury,
An imperturbable concentration 
On growing each circular striation
Inside, the tree (like me) does not hurry.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hanshan and Shih-te (Sengai Gibon), Sonnet #377

Giggling Shih-te and the scribbler Hanshan
Scrub the scree and pebbles on Cold Mountain.
Shih-te moves them aside with his light broom,
Then brushes them back again to make room
For the emptiness between each small stone.
Dust rises like ghosts, silent and alone.
He laughs, delighted at the nothing he has done.
Hanshan washes each gem, rock, and boulder
With a brush dripping with sticky black ink.
If he can, he will make the mountain think
Thoughts not the oldest, but even older.
The work drives needles into his shoulder.
He calls to Shih-te, tells him of his pain.
Needles broomed, all is soon washed clean by rain.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), Albert Pinkham Ryder, Sonnet #376

Here the devil Death exults
(Pale horse drums the circle),
Flays the exhausted beast
With the flat of a scythe.
The racetrack's bet results
A dusty miracle:
Riding from west to east
The new dead cry and writhe.
The race they run is bound
By broken wooden fence,
Gray, imperfectly round,
And guarded by serpents.
All search for the end sign,
But there’s no finish line.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

St. Michael (Raphael), Sonnet #375

St. George wounded his dragon with a lance
Then harnessed it with a lady’s girdle.
He slew the beast to force an alliance
Of the faithful; its blood did not curdle.
A spring of healing water spurt instead.
Some say death is evil, but evil’s dead —
Michael dispatched the devils with a sword,
Detachment in his face, without a word.
Today, evil walks this world with big eyes,
With boots of lambskin and silken drawers,
Laughing with untruths while telling no lies,
Without even a passion for lawyers.
Save us, Michael Archangel, from ourselves,
Haul back hiding Satan from where he delves.

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.