How Things Pan Out

Washing a pan that was more hope than gold
in a waterfall’s pellucid stream,
he was bent and tired and wasting old,
chasing the elusive American Dream.

He sighed aloud, unhappy with his yield,
the pan but silt and flint and rock,
and a young man approached from afield—
a jolly fop stopping by for a talk.

“Why so glum?” the young man asked.
The old man answered, “In all my many dawns
I have yet to find one golden that basked
in a sunrise, or blessed by Leprechauns.”

The young man glanced up the mountain
and saw the waterfall’s mist-borne cataract.
“There is your rainbow, that pretty fountain
as lovely as any Fairy’s golden contract.

“For poetry is the thing that enriches a man,”
the young man continued to say with a smile,
“and rainbows and beauty and all which can
inspire the spirit— that is what is worthwhile.”

The old man did not look up, not a span,
and continued sifting water over mud and silt,
gaining nothing in his old rusty pan—
not even pyrite, or such half so gilt.

Cursing, the old man smacked the stream
with the traitorous pan that denied him,
then glanced up at the foppish fool of a man
that smiled obliviously beside him.

“Can I buy food with rainbows?” he said,
“Or shelter, or clothes, or a doctor’s care?
“Listen to me, and let this settle in your head
like a dragon on his hoard.” His eyes did flare.

“You will understand more about real needs
when you are older, and by then it will be too late,
because the foolhardiness of youth only leads
to squander and squalor, for that is a man’s fate.

“You speak as if rainbows were themselves
something substantial to bridge empty air,
but they are things conjured by Youth’s elves,
so try walking those colors, if you dare.

“My complacency is as silt washed away
and all that remains are material dreams—
small, it is true, as bits gathered day by day
as I dig the darkness for whatever gleams.”

The old man said no more, standing with his back bent,
and grabbed his bucket, his pan, and his pickax,
walking toward a ragged, moth-eaten tent
where he rummaged for food amidst dirty sacks.

He sat down and ate from a bowl of gruel,
his face devoid, like a hopeless slave’s,
then took up his tools, being his own pack mule,
and walked uphill again, toward the caves.

The young man watched the old man ascend
and vowed never to be such a sad-looking man,
but his high dreams, too, came to nothing in the end
except a few bits of gold in a rusty pan.

Three Retroclassical Poems

The Suicides
In Dante’s verse the Suicides
became trees beset with Harpy claws
that broke branches and rent their sides
for defying the most “selfless” of Nature’s laws.
As I walk along this forest track
and hear the ice-limned trees all scream
and snap and splinter— crack, crack, crack—
I wonder what, exactly, was Dante’s scheme.
For trees do not themselves slay,
but fall by insects, blight, and weather,
harried by things beyond their say,
one alone, or many together.
Rooted in place without hope
to move against natural assaults
nor able to adjust, compensate or cope—
wait, perhaps we do share the same faults.
After all, what can a man really do
when his brain is insect-eaten and blighted
except let self-destruction fell him, too,
powerless against the Harpies of his head?

Mnemosyne
Goddess of memory,
chthonic widow
holding vigil for
an embalmed life
in the catacombs of the
hippocampus,
wandering as an exile
from her own shadow
and
weeping for yesterday:
you are in want of
forgetting,
to be as
urns emptied
in restless winds
or corpses caving inward
with burrowing insects,
dissembling toward
oblivion’s dust.
She wearies so
beneath the weight she carries,
like Sisyphus pushing his heavy stone
up a hill of remembering
only to let it roll down once again
into willful
repression.
What stone does she carry except
her own calcified heart
hardened with the density of its
yield?
The years have not been kind to her,
for she remembers them,
and they pull at her like
needy children
greedy to suckle
the same teat.
Passing through a forest
of hands,
she cannot fend off the shades,
longing for the River Lethe.

Repression
Hippolytus clenched his chariot reins
in fists so tight they seemed to choke
desire itself and, thus, recurring pains
from an id restless with each spinning spoke.
But as the wheels ground along the beach,
frothy with the sea’s lusty surges,
a bull emerged from the tidal reach—
a beast born of suppressed urges.
The horses bucked as if struck mad,
frothing at the mouth like the sea,
and though dragged, it was not so bad
since Hippolytus felt it chafe sweetly.
Trampled, at length, beneath his horses,
Hippolytus felt as if he had been ridden
by Phaedra in thrall to resurgent forces
which was quite thrilling, it being forbidden.

Funeral Crasher

The young man flew like Shakespeare’s Ariel
from woman to woman, with great flair,
himself more center-stage at the burial
than the man for whom they had gathered there.

He wore his tears like badges of honor
as he reminisced vaguely about the dead,
talking to each woman, and prevailing upon her
to embrace him, support him, bosom to head.

The coup de gras was the dirge that he sang
as if to conjure from air a chorus of sylphs
in accompaniment, yet his lovely voice rang
not for sorrow or pain, but for the MILF’s.

For he knew the flow of sorrow’s tears
was as good a lubricant for the ruse of Love
as any seduction by charms or beers
and so he sang smoothly, sweet as a dove.

Alas, while he sang without any shame
and with a talent that was duly silver-voiced,
he also sang proudly the wrong man’s name
and immediately dried up all that was moist.

Realizing his deceit, the mourners rebelled,
cutting short his golden-throated verses
and taking him by his arms, whereby held,
he was tied up and put into one of the hearses.

The funeral director said he would see justice done
and so drove the funeral crasher far away
until the hours flew by, and down came the sun
at the coffin-like darkening of the day.

The director was a pale man with a narrow face,
neither young or old, but seemingly ageless,
and he had an accent which nobody could place,
his hair slicked back and his eyes sagacious.

At length they came to a graveyard on a hill
far from the city, in the moonlit countryside
where many people had gathered until
the hilltop was crowded, all around a bride.

The nary-do-well was untied and brought out
and taken to the bride that awaited him there—
a paper-pale woman with her lips in a pout
of fangs, her eyes unblinking with an undead stare.

The funeral director grinned, his fangs agleam,
and he said, “You celebrate Death as we all do—
as an occasion for Love, an advantageous scheme
whereby joy is had while others only rue.

“Thus you will join us in our blood-linked clan
and live eternally, wed to my niece, Natalia,
thriving in shadows, feeding upon Man,
from now and forever a vampire, nox fatalia.”

The young man was brought before the bride,
and she pulled him close to her fetid face,
and no matter how much the young man tried
he could not free himself from her embrace.

As her lips parted, however, and her fangs flashed,
there arose a warcry as men flanked the hill,
their guns firing while their silver swords slashed
at the guests that had gathered in the dewy chill.

The young man was agog with confusion and fright
as a stake entered the bride that held him to her,
Natalia withering unto dust beneath the moonlight—
he ran as fast as he could, slipping in cow manure.

A vampire hunter approached, looming while astride
a horse as pale as Death, the moon at his back.
“I’m not a vampire!” the young man cried and cried,
but the hunter granted the rake no slack.

The young man tried to flee, but slipped once again,
falling as the hunter dismounted his ominous horse
and raised a hammer and stake, aiming to pin
him to the darksome earth without remorse.

Awaking as the stake struck his heart,
the young man found himself at the black gate
to the graveyard where he had plied his art
to women in mourning— the hour now late.

It had been a dream, but his neck still ached
where the mourners had tossed him out on his head;
standing up, he realized it was not good to be staked
out at funerals— a dating app might work better instead.

The Coo Coup Clock

Ascend the throne,
king or president
or emperor, alone,
even heavensent,
but in time,
as like tides,
with rhythmic rhyme
that blind-sides
you must step down
or suffer a fall,
no more crown
for you,
not at all—
coo coup!

The late hour
draws so near
lose all power,
know true fear,
for the birds coo
and ascend
toppling you,
all reigns end
as the cold
pendulum swings
for you, too,
as of old,
the way of kings—
coo coup!

Gaunt Haunt

The winds moan among the fallen trees
and the black-faced knobs all collapse beneath
the Eastern night sky while Bluegrass banshees
wail like wan women in endless grief.

Twenty-odd men have been buried
underneath the weight of other men’s greed
whose hankering for wealth’s harvest harried
them into a cult’s incautious creed.

Crawling on hands out of their dark lair,
the gawping ghouls of graveyards are thus gaunt
with want of food and water and sweet air—
they rise, they rise from their ashen haunt.

Those not smothered in their darksome holes
die topside with every labored breath,
the coal never leaving their sooty souls
even after they have escaped Death.

Burning away their fear and sorrow
with rotgut whiskey each night before bed,
they do not want to think of tomorrow—
once more descending, the living-dead.

Therapy over telephone lines
fails widows whose thoughts are ever so veiled
with the shadows of the catacomb mines
wherein their loved ones are thus withheld.

A wendigo howls among scalped hills,
the countryside a galled, ghastly giant
whose quarry are those its livelihood kills
and feeds, each the other reliant.

Assumption

Frogs and toads gather
upon the onyx highway,
squatting in oily rainfall
with their heads raised skyward
and their eyes bulging wide with
unblinking expectation,
like kneeling believers
beseeching their
God
in ardent prayer.
They are a
Heaven’s Gate flock,
a
suicide cult
awaiting the Assumption
to come with
brightening haloes—
amphibious souls
caught between two worlds
and
awaiting the rending
radiance
of swiftly approaching
headlights
from out of unheeding darkness
into unheeding darkness,
an elusive scrawl of
meaninglessness
strewn
messily
along
the
way.