sonnet for a visionary

my love, your genius is hosted in you
like a parasite, a demon, an ancient
ghost haunting your wanting eyes—how
those little windows burn with the immense,
intense intelligence inside! what i’d
give to set foot in that cathedral, to behold
the hoard of treasure being held there
hostage by the fire-breathing monster
whose lair you are—it’s true, love, all i do
enslaved to this blunt, blind, unfeeling craft
is look for ways of understanding you
so one day i may be strong enough to
lay eyes on the unfathomable view
that is your soul & live to tell the tale.

In Sparta (A True Story)

In Sparta, in general,
lived men of few words.
However, whenever they used one,
it burned.

One day a tyrant,
fresh conquests in tow,
sent Sparta a threat:
“Will I come friend or foe?”

Unamused, Sparta’s leader said:

Neither.

That’s when the conqueror’s patience wore thin.

“If I ride in,” he warned,
“with my brothers in arms,
they will ravish your women
and ravage your farms.
Surrender! I might leave
your children unharmed.”

Once more, the reply came, pithy and swift:

If.

With that, the invader
gulped down his pride,
spun ‘round and feared Spartans
till the day he died.

 

*
Story sourced from Plutarch here and here. It’s also told on Wikipedia.
Painting: “This is Sparta” by Andrea Mazzocchetti

Wisdom

Wisdom is moderation of all things:
to neither be a puppet
nor pull strings,
to lead with strength
but not an iron fist,
to smartly borrow from, but not consist
of lessons learned in lifetimes besides yours,
to seize the day, yet not forget your chores
& take action, but give in when you’re wrong.

Yes,
balanced moderation makes you strong —
except in love, which wisdom cannot touch:
love proves itself by loving
far too much.

*

Superman

possessed by the curse of being the best,
he couldn’t help but help people in need.
power like his was easy to use wrong,
but Superman’s heart was bigger than greed,
too big to let him sleep around or rest;
he could barely go an hour without
putting himself in harm’s way for a stranger;
he chased danger, reined in fear & doubt, warmed
like the sun & quenched like rain in drought—
he was Superman until the day
he died, paralyzed on his deathbed
when, at last, the reaper struck him dead.

still, to this day, there’s no grave to be found:
no one can put Superman in the ground.

sonnet for a drummer

How is it that Time understands
your quivering twin wands
& their commands?
Now takes shape as it passes through your hands,
resembling strong youth, infancy & age with equal grace;

Some rhythms are warlike; some fight for peace;
right foot runs straight & the left syncopates,
teasing timelessness out between beats.

Where is your totem pole? What tribe taught you
the primal ecstasy that invokes gods?
Whose ancestral wisdom pumps life into
these hollow drums, mesh skins & tapered rods?

One thing I know: If hearts do measure time
for other hearts, yours keeps the beat for mine.

*

phoenix

in the shade under the Knowledge tree
lives a phoenix by the name of Poetry.
times change the shape & pigment of her wings,
how long her beak is & what songs she sings,
but, sure as the moon follows herself in rings,
the phoenix flies, dies & again revives.

when in the cooling coals her scarlet egg
shivers awake, born on its own deathbed,
she’s unmistakable—swallow or swan,
dove, falcon, owl or vulture, her eyes glow
with a long-lived fever; that’s how you know
she lives on—new, though she was never gone.

there’s no illusion here, no mystery;
this phoenix lives for all who want to see.

i persephone

i persephone though living wander
in death’s shade along the sidewalk by day

the moon raising her sickle overhead
reminds me monthly of the bloody dead
bodies who have carpeted battlegrounds
for generations laying their lives down
for the next generation & i am
a fly on the wall who will die with all
she has witnessed & not said & i’ve read
everything written about releasing
your final breath with ease & it’s no use
because fate just rolls a die & cuts the thread
but i wander in this land of the soon-dead
happy because i love you though doomed

*

photo by Angelos Michalopoulos

evolutionary

i picture the evolutionary
march from primates to homo sapiens
& stand in awe. i don’t need to carry
around the whole Origin of Species,
our genesis painstakingly described—
it’s a living truth, this instinctive
contest of minds that made sure we survived;
it’s in us all, in the nucleotides
that combine our twin helixes; it’s the torch
we burn running the course of ages,
our succession of phoenixes, the source
that makes us driven, loyal & courageous—
& love, too, was evolved, because, i think,
it yanks you back, hard, from the brink of death.

when i think about the Tao Te Ching

when i think about the Tao Te Ching
(though thoughts about it tend to distance it)
i fear the utter speechlessness it brings;
i dread being alone to witness it
when the universe of all things profound
pours out its annihilating secrets;
i’m scared of being infinitely drowned
in that vacuum where no light or sound
can interfere with the eternal Tao;
i’m scared of being disintegrated
& never returned to how i am now—
the fate to which all living things are fated.
but you dissolve all this. with you, i am
embraced by the great mystery, not damned.

all the great Masters recommend restraint

all the great Masters recommend restraint
of thought, word, action & initiative:
always be ready to respond, but wait
for the right time to strike. how do they live
so disciplined, their only time around
more competent than others, but less proud?
as a dam may serve to irrigate the land
& pens pinpoint the fine control of hands,
their limits must be what defines their aim.
is love, which knows no boundaries, the same?
if i want lasting love, is there some vow
that can bind & secure me to its course?
or are great works accomplished to allow
their workers to draw closer to its source?

if only, love

If only, love—if only I could love
a tiny bit more deeply than I’d grieve
in the extreme worst case, I’d be above
peevish paranoias that you might leave,
free to release my passion with abandon!
The trouble is that even bottomless
love can never swallow up grief’s canyon.

Like balanced scales, grief is love’s consequence,
& as my treasuring of you multiplies
day by day, in layers thickening
around your heart, your speaking voice, your mind,
the thought of parting grows more sickening

but I’m far too far, already, to turn back,
so I’m flooring it until I’m out of track.

how to write two poems

How to write one poem

start with vivid, ballooning, colorful
visuals that bring daydreams of childhood
out to play. celebrate the wonderful
carefreedom of your clear-minded
reader.
          catching him midair, feel his weight
thump your chest & answer it with a push
back to the sky
                          now, with his legs straight
out, let him relish the rushing WHOOSH
of the air through his hair, the swing’s chains
slackening where the arc stops—
                                                  that’s when he
bends his knees, leans forward with his face
facing the blurry earth & picks up speed, free
of you.
           last, let him decide if he’ll stay
smoothly swinging or fall (in love) someday.

How to write another poem

this time, it’s less about writing a poem
& more about feeling through this substance
that happens to be a poem. you’re at home
with your subject, but still, you keep your distance,
like a patient birdwatcher who listens
from far off before the binoculars
quietly confirm his intuitions.
some birdwatchers are great photographers—
not you. you don’t take well-timed snapshots
of beauty. instead, you try to capture
how your iridescent subject is wronged
when Time’s ruthless forward-marching nature
conquers it however fast it’s flying
& sketch it moving—moving, but not dying.

Camera Man

Last time I saw my son,
I was a young man. Now, he is.
It’s OK. I like listening.

I don’t resent the woman. I’m just tired
of traveling, listening, hauling
my tall three-legged robot & his box
of replacement eyes, ears & memories.

Things could be worse.
Want to see a grown man cry? Lie
& tell people he raped his daughter.