Customary Wear

The attire of ideals ill-fit
in times of turmoil, times of want,
when hunger loosens a belt till it
slips to the ground, and we are gaunt,
nought but haggard skin, brittle bones,
starved from famines unbeholden
to kings sitting on their grand thrones
or prayer books long grown olden.
No, we waste thinner and clothing
slips off—robes, uniforms, and suits,
each badge, medal, and just-so thing
once honored by waxed marching boots
to give the semblance of order,
of hierarchy, place, power,
enforcing each make-believe border
between so-and-so in his tower.
The cufflinks slip off the narrowed wrist
like overlarge shackles from a beast
and the noblest scion cannot resist
the promise of the scantiest feast.
He springs, shedding old pretenses
like a Winter pelt cumbering
his hunt in Summer, his senses
overwhelmed after slumbering.
Even ladies doff their dresses,
their waists too small for bodices
as they prowl, twigs in their tresses,
wild-eyed like pagan goddesses,
seeking the next morsel to eat
to sate the pit between their ribs,
etiquette lost, thinking of meat
rather than wedding rings and cribs.
And children—children become ghouls
perching over impromptu graves,
soiled, feral, clutching bloody tools
while sheltering in charnel caves
to lick at cleaved skulls long bereft
of sustenance, the gray matter
drained, sucked to dry dust, nothing left,
though the children grow no fatter.
And so the ideals are piled high
like clothing for the End-Times pyre,
burning, smoke blackening the sky
as the starved and the cold aspire
to make a feast of their brethren—
naked, emaciated, stripped
by the hunger pangs and the ken
bestowed by the maw of the crypt.

Spiral

The snail shell glows, amber at dusk,
a small helix on the hot road—
was it dropped here, this inert husk,
forgotten by a passing toad?
Silent, unmoving, a snail shell
spirals inward, outward, a gyre
tracing Nature’s secrets, the Braille
of tornadoes, whirlpools, desire.
The helix shows what we know
as the whorl spins without motion:
what is above, too, is below,
the vortex an innate notion.
It is a spiral galaxy,
a paradox of space and form,
of rise and fall, a fallacy
of the exception, and the norm.

Entropy nibbles at the shell
like a toad fond of gastropod,
but no amount of life can quell
the hunger of that endless god.

The Monk

The heron in the cool morning mist
huddles beneath the oak by the lake,
like a monk with head bowed low betwixt
his gray wings while the sleepy woods wake.
He blends with the shadows on the shoals,
as unmoving as dawn’s torpid air,
while sunlight burns on the distant knolls;
the hermit stands like a statue there.
What does he read in that quiet lake
that scholar of mist-spun solitude?
What does he read in the mirrored make
of water while in his pensive mood?
Stoic, soundless, solitary soul,
what is the bounty behind his eyes?
He does not blink as the white mists roll
like tumbling smoke into gilded skies.
Perhaps he sees the leaves of the oak
ablaze with the futile hues of Fall,
painted gently with a master’s stroke:
light on water, water holding all.
Or maybe he sees himself therein,
pondering his beak, his crest, his wing,
like a Buddhist monk mesmerized when
staring at his navel’s spiral ring.
A soothing gray silhouette, he waits,
an anchorite heron by the lake;
silent and still, in between those states
such as when we dream and when we wake.

Envenomed

Black spiders dwelling in the dark,
weaving webs from their spinnerets—
unheard, unhurried, unseen…hark!
The bedposts are their minarets.
Hourglass upon fat-fed bellies,
crimson warning and silken spools,
their prey melted unto jellies,
kneeling husks becometh all fools.
Creeping midnight venom-vigils,
black prayers and turban-wound prey—
the adhan signal, the sigils
of an ancient faith here to stay.
The imams rub their steepled claws
in devotions to their venom,
hunger and death the only laws
that govern the soul within them.
And their congregation trembles,
the hollowed, hallowed husks bent low
on rugs beneath bedspread symbols—
what dreaded truths the husks must know!

Make-Believing

There is nothing more make-believe
than wealth,
nothing more in life which aggrieves
the self
than printed, pretend bills, values
that reign
in banks, stores, campaigns, minds, the news;
a chain
with which our god Mammon enslaves
the whole
of the world, from which no god saves
the soul,
a numbers game for which folks will
kill, die,
never understanding the bill,
the lie,
for which they pay the final debt:
a life
by market value summed and set,
a tithe
unspoken, below the fine print,
a cost
as bankrupting as any spent
or lost.

There is nothing more pretend than
Facebook,
Twitter, Tik-Tok, Tumblr, 8chan —
just look
at social media, how people
worship
beneath its digital steeple
to quip
at its altars—how it alters
a mind
until reality falters
behind,
thinking they vanquish the world’s wrongs
one post
at a time, singing their fight songs
to boast
while still working their dead-end jobs
between
rallying their share-and-glare mobs
to preen
in one-upsmanship as they strife
and flank
to earn more cred in Twitter life,
outrank
other keyboard warriors who
they fight,
though they should all be allies, too,
in plight.
While they fight over which of them’s
worse off,
the wealthy use them as victims
and scoff.

There is nothing more make-believe
than tribes,
that biased filter, sifting sieve,
imbibes
and expels what’s not classified
in sort,
panning for gold, dissatisfied
per force
with those not of proper karat,
weighing
for true alloy, for true merit,
laying
El Dorado with their paved souls,
conjoined
in purpose, riddled with pot-holes,
purloined
by compromise, never quite free
beyond
the gleam of golden purity,
their bond
a matter of gestalt conceit,
groupthink
run amok, no one so complete
when linked
in that Yellow Brick Road of Oz,
consigned
to a fiction of tribal laws
that bind.

“Things Happen For A Reason”

A young Australian girl reclines,
her legs dangling from the dock,
tacklebox, fishing poles, lines;
blind to the saltwater croc.
Her Sunday dress is pure white
like flowers before the Fall,
her hair modest and braids tight;
no ribbons or bows at all.
The girl hums a hymnal song,
lines drifting—not a quiver
to hint that something is wrong
within the silent river.
She hums a song about love
and the paradise that waits
after death, in realms “above”
such as the old Bible states.
She remembers her preacher
and a sermon last season
that was premised to teach her
“Things happen for a reason.”
He said, “Egypt’s children died
as proof of God’s great power.
Pharaoh Ramses could not hide
his child from that fateful hour.”
When she asked him how she might
avoid incurring God’s wrath,
he said, “Keep yourself pure white,
and stay on the righteous path.”
The croc springs up from beneath
like a devil from below;
she struggles, but the sharp teeth
clutch tight and do not let go.
She screams out to her father,
her mother, Jesus, her god,
but the sound drowns in water,
crying, helpless as she pawed
at the beast’s face, its wide snout,
slowing as she drowned slowly,
as she bled and faded out,
the death-roll now more holy
than any psalm or prayer
she could say in her defense
within Nature’s cruel lair—
no rhyme or reason or sense.

Caravaggio

The Taking Of Christ, by Caravaggio. Note the all-too-human despair in Christ’s face.

Dead, at last, in the Tuscany froth,
felled by the poison in the lead paints
which you lathered thickly, as if wroth
with your soul’s war of devils and saints;
ever on the run because your life
was as your paintings—passionate,
full of enemies, murder, and strife,
your soul made as if imps fashioned it
to earn their ladders out from the pits,
using wastrels for works iconic
while given to your violent fits:
your art and life were quite ironic.
With beggars and buggers you portrayed
the apostles and saints, your models
taken from the streets, their seedy trade
that of bathhouses and the brothels.
The shadows seeped darkly from your brush
to frame scant light and embolden the glow,
like whispers in a funeral hush,
your life a stark chiaroscuro.
You captured fear and doubt in the face
of Christ as he confronted his doom,
not as mere blasphemy, but to trace
the Doubt we must face within Death’s tomb.
You dove down into the pits of Hell
to ascend to Heaven from the bounce,
your life was an apostle’s tale:
sin and saint, poisoned paint, ounce for ounce.

“God-Given” Gifts

He visits museums and art galleries

to see the master works of sculptors and painters

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He goes to concert halls, opera houses, jazz clubs,

to hear deft musicians play songs

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He attends theaters and goes to the cinemas

to watch brilliant actors become other people

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He watches comedy shows and standup routines

to laugh at the witty jokes comedians tell

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He looks after the runaways, the prostitutes,

the transvestites and the vulnerable,

enticing them into his car, talking to them like

an old friend, kindly neighbor,

philanthropist in times of need,

taking them

somewhere remote, quiet, and alone,

and he bludgeons them, stabs them,

strangles them, rapes them, kills them,

chops up their bodies, takes

souvenirs

for his own home gallery,

disposes of the remains

and then he calls their relatives on the phone,

mocks them,

tortures them with his firsthand accounts,

relives his depravity through their fresh tears,

and he

leaves complacent clues at the scenes of his crimes

to taunt the cops,

watching the News media

to rejoice in his grand debut,

becoming famous as the anchors

talk him up to

Godzilla proportions of destruction,

and then, satisfied, he

lays low for a year,

waiting,

watching,

returning when the ruckus has subsided,

cultivating his celebrity once again

with a second season of murders,

elated as his alter-ego alias

passes along the lips of those who

pray against his trespasses,

and eventually he

betrays himself,

outs himself so he can be celebrated with

loathing, with infamy,

with international intrigue

through books, movies, cult status,

fan mail, declarations of love,

becoming a cultural phenomenon

as famous as Raphael or Elvis,

and all because

he has a God-Given gift, too.

Encoiled

Split apart, right down the middle,
between inertia and action,
confused as if by a riddle
and divided like a fraction,
you speak to me with a forked tongue
of your loyalties and the law,
but this is not what truly stung—
it was how you unhinged your jaw
to consume the totalities
and digest the contradictions,
the post-modern modalities
like coils fattened on such fictions,
all the while engulfing your tail
so as to not lose track of it,
the recursive act soon to fail
as you eat yourself, bit by bit.

Tempered Steel

By the pain of flame and hammer fall

thereby forged is Man, so one, so all;

by pain and trial and sacrifice,

Man takes shape when wrought within the vice;

some are beaten so smooth and so fine

they seem perfect casts, and, so, divine,

whereas others are much less imbued

with such work, being quite rough and crude;

some are discarded, and some stillborn —

all are melted down when old…outworn;

some serve as swords, and some hoes or plows,

some as bowls, or rings for marriage vows,

and some have edges as sharp as blades,

though intended for the softer trades,

and so cut the Hands which made such slaves

with Damascus folds of flowing waves,

drawing blood to infuse tempered steel

and remind gods what it means to feel.