Ladderback Jack

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Ladderback Jack was as tall as a lamppost,
his spine reticulated, sharp, and longer than most,
his arms apish, hanging lax with lank hands
and fingers overlong from overactive glands,
his legs slender and knotted with knobby knees
while his greasy hair lay limp in any breeze.
He had a pale complexion, Jack did, like boiled tallow,
the whites of his eyes dull, waxen and sallow,
and he walked with his back hunched, bent double over
as if always looking for a rare four-leaf clover—
and Jack needed all of the luck he could get,
being an ungainly, gangly, graceless half-wit;
so much so that people said he was of the fairy folk,
born of a dimwit mother, herself a town-wide joke.
No one knew who Jack’s father could have been,
though they joked that it was Oberon, or some such kin.
As for his nickname, that was easily explained,
and once explained, that nickname remained:
when Jack sat down to relax in a ladderback chair
and then stood up, the chair would hang there,
hooked on his protruding vertebral pegs
as he pulled himself up onto his long legs,
and, so, crook-backed, overstretched, slack-jawed,
he was thought an entertainment as he shambled and hawed,
muttering to himself about finding his father in the sky
where the cloud castles, Fata Morgana, resided nearby.
“Jack, your father’s just a will o’ the wisp,” they’d laugh,
“so go look for him in the black bogs of a Kilt Gaff.”
Yet, though townsfolk laughed at him most days
they grew ever uneasy as he became set in his ways.
And then, one day, Jack asked to take for himself a bride—
the mayor’s daughter, Saoirse, her father’s pride.
Jack asked during the town’s Midsummer Fair
and thus everyone in and out of town was there.
The town laughed and laughed, whereas the mayor meanwhile
took umbrage at Jack’s presumption, commanding exile,
but even as Jack left amidst mean-spirited laughter
he vowed, in his quiet way, to have the last laugh hereafter.
“My father is both the Gate and the Key,” Jack said,
“and he will see that his line is hereby finely bred.”
The town returned to normal after the exile of Jack
and everyone forgot about Jack’s promise to come back
until one night when lights were seen in the midnight sky—
lights above the hills, each swirling like a firefly.
Jack came into town the next day, grinning ear to ear,
and walking, bold as brass, without any fear
up to Saoirse, holding a ring of strange onyx metal
and asking her to give to him, in return, her maiden petal.

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Saoirse was ready to call him an imbecilic cur,
but was suddenly transfixed by the ring held out to her.
Her father interceded, as did many of the local men,
and they beat Jack black, then blue, then black again.
“Go back to the hills, among the inbred Fae,”
the Mayor said. “Or you will hang from the gallows today!”
But Ladderback Jack was not of the fairy race,
nor was his father, that thing beyond Time and Space.
“My father,” Jack muttered, “is the Gate and the Key.
He is beyond the outer darkness, the stars, of all forms that be.”
And so the sky blackened in the middle of the day,
the villagers trembling to see the noonlight fray
as their town was pulled into a pocket of void, a world
unknown to Man, a place where madness unfurled.
Waiting for them there was a nebulous cloud of spheres
to which Jack pointed and declared, in worshipful tears,
“Behold! My father! The Lurker at the Threshold!
Behold what was, what is, and what will be! As foretold!”
The primordial sludge of luminous orbs and oculi
looked upon the people of that town, letting them see
in the fullness of its depths the endless cosmic chasms,
bathing their brains in luminous gulfs, the neural spasms
softening the meat of their minds unto a viscous pudding
and releasing them only after revelation could bring
them to confront the meaninglessness of their being
of which, ever thereafter, there was no unseeing…

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To this day that village still remains, quiet and quaint,
all of the villagers vacant-eyed, imbecilic with its taint—
all serving silently, reverently, the bloodline spawned
from Ladderback Jack, that avatar-son of the Beyond.

 

Paradise Among the Ruins

A young boy and girl
in humble shepherd frocks
dance together, all aswirl
among mossy stones, the crumbling rocks
of an ancient castle fallen long ago
to a mysterious cataclysm
when beloved ally became hated foe,
either side destroyed by a fateful schism.
The boy and the girl dance, hand in hand,
where the king once held his court,
his word the law of the land—
fair and prudent and without retort.
But the echoes of his baritone voice
no longer vibrate in wisdom here,
nor the instruments of his choice—
neither bugle or lyre or rattling spear.
The songs that sound so softly now
are giggles and childish sighs,
nor does cold gold weigh upon a brow
or sparkling jewel ensorcell eyes.
Dancing lightsome, pure, and free,
the girl and boy know no shame
in the shadows of toppled history—
they know not that dead king’s name.

Some More Poems

Deicide
With an envenomed tooth I write this
as in biting spitefulness of the hydra fang
with which the conceit of all gods die
as their devotees carry their crude idols,
(carved in likeness unto themselves),
stumbling gleefully toward the temples
whereupon to perform
their own grandstanding
apotheosis.
Know that you blaspheme
the sacred earth
from whose heart comes this
marble
into whose purity you deface
with the vain mask you wear
during your sermons of selfhood—
know that your vanity
corrodes beneath its own rigors
the fragilities of feature
carved in such godly visages,
thus fracturing that which is written
with a vainglorious chisel.
But take comfort, crumbling stone,
in knowing your vengeance, in turn,
against this fang
that melts all that you hold sacred,
for it shall succumb to its own venom
in due time, surrendering itself sweetly
to the acid of its own
nihilism.

Fall Scene
Fireflies flickering
in the wheatfield, the
stalk filaments below them
bronzed by
shadow and moonlight.

Anxiety
Anxiety like a single shrill
screech from a violin savaged
by a sadist’s razor-edged bow.

Poseur
Pity-party poetry
proffered from a power-point podium,
as dead in delivery
as a mummy in its sarcophagus
waiting for its gender reveal.
A lot of glass heart merchants
in the ponzi scheme of this
new century
always accruing interest
as people vacation on beaches
of shattered crystal shards,
cutting themselves
not to feel something, but to
post something to faux-feel
for fleeting instagram click-chicks
with shallow selfie-styled emotions.
Catullus never condescended
in the first-world forums of
Ancient Rome
to wail for attention,
nor sank so low to overcompensate a
lack of emotion
with a flailing pantomime of feelings.
And as much as Walt Whitman was a
self-obsessed narcissist
tone-deaf to his out-of-tune
Song of I,
he never but felt his own words,
however poorly expressed with
maudlin mediocrity
and shameless shades of adolescence.
I only spit spite to precipitate
rain
over the
hash-tagged mass graves
into which so many have
deliberately swooned to fall
with such self-satisfied melodrama,
gleefully delirious with their own
bandwagon sorrows.
Grow flowers over them, I say,
or, better yet, let thorns
grow like barbed wire
in trench warfare
and let the earth swallow them up
unto silence.
The sound and the fury
signifies nothing
and then a thousand other
wails rally to answer it
until the world echoes with
woeful dirges
and falling bodies.
So many wails and falling bodies,
all overlapping upon one another—
it is not unlike a
silence,
no one taking prominence
and everyone lost in the tangle of
each other’s self-interest.

Bland Bones

An unapologetic rebuttal to the praise of Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” and, generally speaking, the poetry publishing world at large.

Life is too short for
flavorless poems
a dime a thousand, ill-advised
and to be kept from children
lest they prematurely age into
cynics, or worse,
instagram poets.
The published poetry world is at least
fifty percent terrible,
and that is not a
culture-vulture’s estimate.
For every such Aryan-Carrion bird
there is a
hundred bones to be picked at
by the more modern among us.
For every adored confessional poem, I confess
another mediocre poem
too many, sunken into its own
bland language, collapsing as it is
eaten up with terminal
osteoporosis. Life is short and
the poetic world is at least half
blandness, and for every trite poem
deified
in the collective consciousness,
there is a thousand that would
benefit from
humbling sobriety and
iconoclastic terrorists.
A kind stranger might do well to
break you
from your banal habit of beautification.
Nor can subversion save unremarkable
imagery or diction. It is not that
decay
is not beautiful,
such as any fragrant flower
wilting and dissolving into
perfume,
but that your perfume is nothing more than
vanilla extract
being celebrated by Lotus Eaters
who have forgotten, in this time of
accessibility excess,
the stress-test standards of
yesteryears,
and so deprive their children
of a world not sold to
cookie-cutter
suburban planning and
the lowest common denominator.
The poetic world is a real
shithole
and nothing about its
bland bones
could ever redeem the
dead pledge of its
mortgage rates,
even as pretentious publishing elites
lounge arrogantly alongside
Motel 6 swimming pools.
Just like in the realty market,
anyone can be a poet,
but that does not mean that
any of them know what they are
blathering about
while touring the downtown neighborhood,
nor does it prevent the next
market bubble
when all such propped-up poems
collapse under their own
oversold listing price.
Even if you can talk up
good bones
it does not mean that you
have a good foundation to start with.
It is, at best,
affordable housing
with a vista into your neighbor’s
backyard, which happens to be
identical to your own.
You could make this poem beautiful,
right?
No,
you would only make it
bland.

Jellied Brains

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Feeling upset, Edmund went for a stroll
along an arboreal road, bole to bole,
and was surprised to find a lost cave troll.

“What is wrong?” the Apprentice asked him.
“I am trapped by the evening sun’s whim,”
the troll said, huddling beneath a tree limb.

Edmund looked up at the sunny sky
and remembered how easy a troll might die,
if sunlight should touch him, or even meet his eye.

The troll was very large and very hairy,
and his mane was like a lion’s, his tusks scary,
and Edmund knew it was wise to be wary.

Edmund said, “You appear trapped, friend.
If I help save you from this end
will you hereafter your life amend?”

“By the bones of the titans upon the earth
and the cavernous womb of my birth,”
the troll said, “I will prove my trollish worth.”

And so, trusting the troll to keep his word,
Edmund summoned clouds in a large herd
to block the sun, spread out like a bird.

But instead of fleeing for his cave
the troll grabbed Edmund, like a knave,
and told him what he really did crave.

“I’ve caught you now,” the troll thus said,
“and now I’ll butter my breakfast bread
with the sweet jellies from your head.”

He held Edmund tightly by the waist,
grinning toothsomely, all ape-faced,
while sizing Edmund up, and his taste.

“I am the Apprentice,” Edmund replied,
“and so it would not be good if I died.”
The troll only laughed, and Edmund sighed.

The troll said, “Flint-Tusk is my name
and I am a troll who feels no shame.
Apprentice, you have only yourself to blame.

“First, you wander near my house,
and now you speak like a mouse.
Never trust a troll, you dandy’s blouse.”

Edmund motioned again to the sky
and the clouds fled from up on high
so the sun could shine, by and by.

“That will not save you,” the troll growled.
The troll held him tight, safely cowled
by the shadow of the tree he prowled.

“Have you ever heard the old tale,”
Edmund said, “of the lion with a nail
who needed the mouse to get well?”

Flint-Tusk snorted in utter disdain.
“All I care about in your little brain
is the jelly that is used to keep you sane.”

Edmund said, “The lion’s paw hurt him so,
and a mouse helped his paw, even though
he knew, in the end, it might bring him woe.”

Once again the troll huddled beneath the tree
while holding Edmund in his fist, tightly—
each one trapped, neither one free.

Edmund knew if he did not use his brain
then it might as well be jelly, for all its gain,
and so he flexed his muscle without refrain.

“But the thing about such stories
is that they neglect to mention the mouse’s fleas
and, therefore, the subsequent disease.”

“Disease?!” the troll exclaimed in fright.
“What disease?” he demanded, as if he might
run away, out into the bright sunlight.

“A brain disease,” Edmund said with an even tone,
“a disease unlike any other ever known—
to love someone who will never be your own.”

The troll looked at Edmund as if to see
if there dwelled in his face any duplicity,
and then released him beneath that tree.

“I understand,” the troll said with a groan.
“Love is a disease that withers to the bone.
I, too, know what it is to love, yet be alone.”

And so the troll spoke to him about his love
who had rejected him from her cave with a shove,
speaking until the moon reigned above.

They then bid each other farewell and good will
knowing that nothing jellied brains like being ill
with unrequited love, a thing painful to feel.