What an upstart little sapling you seemed to be
with riddles running wild in its riotous roots,
growing on hopes and pride into a tall tree
as you splayed your spread-fingered shoots.
How fast you grew toward the fanciful sky,
holding your ambitions like a glorious crown
stuck in the clouds— ever so deliriously high
that your spindly trunk snapped and fell down.
What a stark collapse that shook the earth!
And you, yourself, too, splintered all apart
so that you looked down at the upturned turf
and saw therein your dry-rotted heart.
You trifled with riddles and poems and wit,
thinking yourself wiser than the way of things,
but then you came aground, bit by broken bit,
and found but kindling in your recording rings.
The Green Man could not save you, oh no, no, no,
nor the rains of plenitude that always came,
and, so imbalanced, you were doomed to go
and now no one knows your secret name.
How inspiring was Ahab, and how inspired,
like a blacksmith hammering his will upon the sea
as well as upon the hearts of the men he had hired
to work his vessel as he sought his enemy.
He was a master wizard in a captain’s guise,
a leader born to take charge of other men,
steeping them in the vainglorious enterprise
of hunting down the albino leviathan.
What a madness was stamped upon him—
a feverish fury forged from fickle fate,
his leg having been taken by the cruel whim
of some trickster god for mirth of bait.
And to think, his lost leg should so doom
not only Ahab to join it down below
in the salty depths, but all those whom
entrusted themselves to his manic undertow.
He made such a defiant last stand,
propelled by the lingering phantom pain
as he clutched the wheel with a steady hand
and steered his ship, and himself, insane.
So many bodies dragged down to the depths,
like Fallen Angels slain in war with God,
cast from great heights as extinguished seraphs
for the pride of Ahab and the doomed Pequod.
There was a King who loved the thrills
of hunting beasts with his black powder gun,
and though he boasted sole pride in his kills,
he employed many hounds, also, for his fun.
The King had a Houndmaster who served him true,
staying with the hunting dogs all day and night;
he treated the dogs like his own children, too,
teaching them to sit, run, stay, and never bite.
Yet, the King had his Houndmaster beaten
for each dog that failed in the hunt,
and if no game was gained, nought was eaten
by man or dog—by leader, breeder or runt.
In time the King tired of his old Houndmaster
and gave him one last chance to prove his worth
or else the Houndmaster would not last ere
the next day’s dawn bled upon the earth.
It was evening when the King decreed
that a Hart would be his to stay his wrath
or else the King would thereafter feed
the Houndmaster to his canine riffraff.
The Houndmaster looked at the collared ring
that bound his beloved dogs in hand,
and he remarked, “Power is a fleeting thing,”
before loosing the dogs to scour the land.
The hounds did well, chasing a flighty Hart
toward the King as he took careful aim,
and the biting bullet found the most vital part
to stop the soul and down the game.
But as the King dismounted to peer
at the crowned beast felled by his pride
the hounds circled round and round, drawing near
to take their share from within the hide.
“Get back, you beasts!” the King thus raged,
striking them with his gun’s wooden stock,
“or I shall have you whipped, starved, and caged!”
But out here the pack did not fear such talk.
The hungry hounds growled and paced
round the King whom they did not fear,
eyeing him as they did the Hart they raced
and licking their teeth with a strange leer.
The King realized his deadly isolation
and shouted for help from his old Houndmaster,
but he was trapped, despite his royal station;
however fast was he, the hounds were faster.
He attempted to remount his panicking horse
and flee the bloodthirst he had unwittingly whetted,
but the hounds beset him without remorse:
each meal denied was now a meal regretted.
Before dusk the hounds returned to the castle
to be leashed once again and brought inside,
so the Houndmaster took them, without hassle,
to the kennel, their stomachs satisfied.
Sour grapes have never been sweeter
when victory, in the spirit of Pyrrhus,
dances in the scorched earth of Demeter
and chants loudly, “Fear us! Fear us!”
so as to endear ourselves to Dionysus
with a wine like hubris, a dizzying draught
confusing Athena unto a moral crisis
while we celebrate the destruction wrought.
Burn down all but the overripe vineyards
and let the fomented masses trample grapes,
otherwise their hearts may feel the poniards
of Nemesis, from whom no one escapes.
All life is a bitter festival of plays
whose tragedy is a captious chorus,
so make a satyr play of all the foolhardy days
when preachy tragedies begin to bore us.
Drink! Drink! Deaden the sorrow
so you may exult in a battle finally won…
for today, though the loss of tomorrow
will reckon the cost with blood-fingered Dawn.
Aeschylus of old, and Sophocles, held as second
among the Greeks, followed by Euripides,
a cynic before his time— they all beckoned
and yet we still attempt pure-lipped pleas
as we accost the Fates with approval
while our mouths are stained sour
with wine, and blood, for which no removal
is assured as we drink more with each festive hour.
This triumph is but the pomp of prologue,
so now comes the suffering of the Acts
which sobers those lost in the Bacchic fog
and clears eyes with wintry-winded facts.
More wine! More! Stomp the splendid fruits
begot by our labor; stomp while standing tall
upon cothurni shoes, those conceited stage-boots
which elevate while pressing down all.
Hold fast the mask, too, ere it drops
to reveal the flinching face which grieves;
a thing, like all other furnished stage props,
is true insomuch as the audience believes.
Like Janus, from whom January takes its name,
we are two-faced with every harvest
and pride ourselves while stamping shared shame
upon others for the same katharsis.
The error is ours, and so, too, the exacting price,
for in winning we have lost to our laurels
which strangle as ivy while we embrace our vice
as virtue, unrestrained by Homer’s morals.
And so comes the exodus, oft too soon,
because the winepress bleeds divine nectar
for Dionysus, always cursing with a boon
sees peripety befalling both Achilles and Hector.
Tragic irony does not teach us to be wiser
nor dissuade us from following Fate’s script—
rather, we are blinded by pride’s gleaming visor
as a horse, saddled and beaten and whipped.
So go on with the festival, the plays, the wine,
and drink behind your masks, and choke, then,
trying to add your voice to the choral line;
the goddess, Nike, has oft misspoken.
He was a frontiersman who liked to live by himself,
hunting all the beasts of land and water and air,
priding himself on his aim and his sense and his stealth,
never missing a shot at squirrel, turtle, deer, or bear.
Nor was there a tree he could not chop down with his axe,
swinging as well as Paul Bunyan in his prime
and felling forests faster than most lumberjacks,
building a cabin and a barn in half the normal time.
He also hated the Natives that lived near those lands
and, seeing an Algonquin boy walking by one day,
he raised his rifle with steady, unwavering hands
and shot that boy dead as he would have any other prey.
He then congratulated himself on his keen aim
and went about his life as if nothing had transpired,
feeling neither remorse for killing the boy, nor shame—
he went to bed feeling nothing at all, except, perhaps, tired.
That night, however, he slept in restless fits,
hearing a large beast prowling among the trees,
and waking up in alarm, thinking he had lost his wits
until he heard its roar among the violent breeze.
Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his gun
and ran out into the gusty wind,
spotting a large, dark, bristling abomination,
and aimed his rifle, seeking the beast’s end.
He heard it whisper to him, like a child,
and he pulled the trigger to silence that voice again
as the thrashing of the storm became so wild
that he could only scarcely discern the sharp ricochet din.
Thunder flashed and he laughed to see
within that shadowy and chaotic forest
that the beast he feared was but a cedar tree—
turning, he took two steps and toppled, felled by the bullet in his chest.
Each cricket churr-chirps his choir wings
to play a song with the rest of the churlish boys
like drunken coeds looking to score some flings
amid that frat-house background party noise;
but there are other ladies also looking for a lay—
to lay their eggs in a desperate cricket guy
while he sings his heart out, thinking it his lucky day
as that ochre-colored temptress stops by.
Lord Vanus was a sullen king
who resented the crowns of other men
as affronts to his own glory and everything
he prided himself upon as a sovereign.
In his resentment, Lord Vanus gazed upon
the fulgurous forks crowning the skies
and wished for his broody brow to somehow don
a crown likewise so blinding to human eyes.
So Lord Vanus ordered his blacksmith to form
from simple iron a crown of thorny rods
so as to draw to him the mighty thunderstorm
and outshine the brilliance of kings and gods.
The crown thus forged, he gathered unto him
his people from all parts of his many lands
and he stood atop his tallest tower, its crenellated rim
illumined as he spread out his welcoming hands.
“My people, I am to become as a god,” he said,
watching as another storm rumbled to the West.
“For I will crown myself as becoming of the thunderhead.”
He then awaited the storm with his crown upon his crest.
Lightning crackled and, in a dazzling flash of light,
his crown was of the heavens, branching and overspread
above his astonished people, who all saw that night
that he had a crown peerless upon his head.
When his people took his smouldering body down
they raised their Lord’s name up in a religious song,
saying he was now a god, because of his lightning crown;
their faith unquestioning among their singing throng.
They held a feast in honor of their ascendant king,
eating and drinking and dancing at great cost,
as did the other lords in their own lands, each laughing
and plotting, too, to take what Lord Vanus had lost.