DUST AND ASHES

Between Scylla and Charybdis
they cower amidst the ruins
fearful to look skyward
lest they encourage
the rains of hell.

Now and then they visit
the corpses, hastily buried
grief drowned by the sound
of the laugh of the gunner
peering down from the hills.
It is always night for the soul
and lookout must be kept
for Charon, who rides
silently along the rivers of blood,
that flow through her streets.

In the great halls,
far removed from the horror,
self-professed wise men
exchange maps
lines randomly drawn,
scythes slicing a people.
They trade in lives as chattel,
reaping a bitter harvest,
praying there may only be
but seven lean years.

They offer a sop to Cerberus,
three villages straddling the river,
but the army of the hills
knows they will take that and more
and waits patiently for the winter
when the odor of sanctity
no longer arises out of the city
to assail their nostrils
and Shadrach is
no more than a ghost.

First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.

DEFINE-ITELY

It takes only moments for someone
to ask for a definition of poetry.

That task is at once terribly
simple and equally impossible,

a poem is many things
but not now or ever:

a paean to a self-aggrandizing
leader without soul
or sense of direction,
moral and literal;

a rant on how
all are conspiring
against you despite
your stable genius;

a Jeremiad decrying
facts contrary
to what you wish
them to be;

any attempt you
make or condone
to rewrite
“The New Colossus.”

SOUL MUSIC

The first time I heard Mozart,
I swore I was in a biblical garden
and I was content to sit and listen for eternity.
The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens,
as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now
I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass.
I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion,
but once the food was there for the taking, but
now it has to be purchased, and even here
you pay and never know until you bite into it
just how fresh and juicy it might be.
And lately, so much has been overpowering
that I cannot digest it,
and my growing deafness makes
each purchase agonizing, even though
I know if I went without, I
wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.

VLADIMIR

Krevchinsky froze
his ass off on the Siberian plain.
The gray concrete box
was traded for concrete gray skies,
the whistle of the truncheon
gives way to winter’s blasts.
It was in many ways easier
when the beatings came
neatly marking the days
dividing days between pain
and exhaustion, all under
the watchful eye
of the meek incandescent sun
dangling from the ceiling.
In the camp day and night
are reflections of an unseen clock,
seasons slide
from discontent to depression.
The prison of the body is finite
built block on block,
the prison of the soul
is vast, empty, dissipating life.


First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).

A SIMPLE SONG

Much as every person is a Buddha
every guitar can play a simple song.
Some will lay it badly, some will
break a string, some will play
with an unspoken regret, but all
have the capacity, recognized or not,
to create a moment of memory.
On this night there are two,
both skilled, honed of fine wood,
carefully strung, a purity of tone,
and you know neither will
fail to honor the song they play.
But while one shows its mastery,
intricacy of notes dancing
from the soundhole, while the other
sets a gentle rhythm, it is when
the other takes up the song,
that you realize it is playing it
with a depth of soul
that you will not soon forget.

EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE

He captured the stray beams of light
in a small amber bottle
and tucked it into a dark corner
of a shelf in his basement.
He canned a small bit of the sky,
sealed it carefully, placing it
in his pantry, for posterity.
He stored his collection of dawns
in and old cedar chest in the attic
amid moth-eaten blankets.
He had a bookshelf
of genomes, arranged alphabetically
next to Mason jars filled
with the ashes of victims
of each of the genocides
of the last five centuries.
It was the Greek amphora
perched on the mantle
that he most prized,
waiting for the day
when he could look
within it
and bid good morning
to his soul.

STAR WALKER

His brother said that if you left
the windows open at night, the ghosts
would come in and might steal your soul.
He didn’t care, he wanted to hear
the song the stars sang every night,
to see them come down and move
in pairs across the mesa, for stars,
he knew turned orange when they
left their celestial perch, and would
certainly keep the ghosts away,
for ghosts were like rabbits and hid
when the stars came near, and
once in a while, if a ghost moved
too slowly he would hear its cry
as it was captured by a star.
And, he was certain, ghosts
preferred doors, and they kept theirs
tightly locked, for you never knew
what you’d find out on the mesa.

SEOUL MUSIC

The hardest part of getting old
isn’t the near constant aches and pains
but the senses that slip away,
replaced by an ever deeper truth.
She says to really play the blues
on piano you must have Seoul
and listening to her, you agree,
although you aren’t sure if hers
is Gangnam-gu or Jung-gu, but
the distinction is a fine one,
and she plays with a heart and voice
that you could only hope to find
in Insa-dong, recalling history
and hardship in each note, each run.
It is only later you realize
she said soul, but hers was
forged in Seoul, so it is really
a difference without meaning.