A young explorer from a distant land
embarked upon our shores. "A visage bold
yet peaceful greeted me," said he. "Her hand
held high, she bore a flaming torch that told
of liberty and progress, and a script
evoking justice, and a hopeful word
to wretched peoples, tired and poor and stripped
of dignity in other worlds." And stirred
to dreams and passion by this moment rare,
the visitor advanced beyond the shore,
then suddenly fell back in stark despair:
Before him, like the aftermath of war,
were landscapes scarred with toxins and debris,
and barrenness as far as he could see.
Kubla Khan II
Of pleasure crafts and vintage wine
shall those ensconced in gilt milieu
partake with auspices divine,
decreed the men of Xanadu.
Around them sylvan medleys rise,
and fertile gardens, amber green,
and fauna's prurient reprise
on sacred waters, cold, pristine.
But piecing the tranquility,
disrupting cadence and rapport,
come bellowings of blasphemy
as men are prophesying war.
Their words evoke the dulcet note
of lusting reed and dulcimer
as Cyrenaic maids devote
to innocents their overture:
"To you, our friends, a toast we raise,
to beg your future be foretold:
to serve your flesh on silver trays,
your blood in goblets made of gold."
My Son at War
At beck of Melancholy, wizened thief
of Time, I watch the hordes lift altar stones,
as sweat and levers ooze in bas relief
in turbid wallows of testosterone's
anointed soil, and the idolatrous
cortege invokes a godlike warrior,
the phallus of a lecherous abyss
where rabid gnarling men and beasts defer
to him, and flaming chariots arise,
orgasmic with revering royalty.
And with my withered guide they lionize
this lord of cardboard swords and fancy-free,
his boyish battle-sculpted mask to burn
in grownup realms from which he can't return.
A latticework of virtues, sisters clothed
in stiff and satin gowns, like mannequins,
unfeeling, heads above the clouds, betrothed
to traffic, trade, and trust, these charlatans:
they gamble with the lives of innocents,
a global huntress and a conqueress
who send unknowing minions to dispense
their brand of nation-building and largesse.
But brittle are these maidens, statuesque
as stacks of dominoes, their marks of doom
foretelling the arrival of grotesque
and vengeful former suitors to consume
the spirits of the innocents with sound
and fire and fury on a hallowed ground.
Enclasped and clawing, catlike, hackles raised,
I teeter as a scalding blackish breath
disgorges flames, demonic shibboleth
of hissing teeth and swollen embers. Crazed
with conflict I engage the seraphim
for cooling balm. I'm stagestruck as bouquets
from still-lifes far below attempt to raise
the ground to me as my impassioned hymn
implores the gods: let eagle wings be weaved
upon me! But a slicing whirlwind shears
and twists my wings to flaunt from the abyss
the fiery womb where I was just conceived,
her mate nearby, and from above appears
my maker in a covenant of bliss.
Upon a ruby-christened dawn they came
with tempests in their eyes, these warriors,
our mentors, their benevolence the flame
that heals the forest floor, in overtures
of vernal stirrings casting oaken seeds
to eager winds. But canticles of praise
were soon to spirit them with strings and reeds
and faceless murmurings on grand forays
to blust'ry peaks of pulpit, pomp, and wrath
that rendered inaccessible the path.
They Will Show Us How To Prosper
They descended from peaks of cumulus,
purple and dense in the ghostly pre-dawn,
shadows painting disdain on their faces.
Yet they are driven by a stimulus
selfless and just: neither brashness nor brawn
imperils what their mission embraces.
With drums and trumpets they came to foretell
resplendent pleasure domes and pathways paved
with gems and fair-skinned women tranquilized
by scented baths and spices and the spell
of sleek seduction, godly and depraved.
We idolized them all, and we despised
them with each breath while the delights we craved
were mirrored in their eyes, a fiery gleam
hinting at motives beyond our meager
understanding. For we would be enslaved
by the cost of freedom. Do we blaspheme
with these suspicions, are we not eager
for their gifts? With craft and cunning they earned
these ample spoils, now ours as well as theirs.
Unfettered by the anguished pleas
from sunless edges of our world, we learned
that fortune consecrates whoever dares
divine a palace from a trifling breeze.
Yet amidst the gathering plenty remained
a lust for things unknown. As I ventured
from idyllic gardens I saw the stains
of discarded life among those ordained,
as I, to be worshiped, to be censured:
ambition bartered for bejeweled chains.
And further on were the children, huddled
perversely, hoarding rations in a place
once swelling with pleasure seekers, the roar
of industry around them, the muddled
silent stares belying on every face
the sense of theft by those who came before.
In This Way She Returned
Her lips, like unblossomed orchid petals,
pink and still, resting on a glossy bed
of fabrics that reflect glittery specks
of silver as lilac-drenched air settles
around us. Candles hint at life; instead
dance on her eyes, to startle and perplex.
For she remains steadfast in her retreat
to worlds beyond our own, a universe
where wind-borne whispering, a distant voice
rising and fading, hastens to repeat
its taunting and little-understood curse,
that resignation is my only choice.
I kiss her cheek and sing of cottontails
in the clouds and lavender ribbons soft
and silken on her ruffled party dress,
and ponies descending from fairy tales
with downy wings to carry her aloft
to magic lands of king and sorceress.
But she chose a path where powerful steeds
snorting plumes of steam and bolting at flames
that raged and ribboned through blackened terrain
inspired valiant feats of derring-do, deeds
so wondrous that as the vanquished proclaims
her brilliance, trumpets echo in refrain.
She stole like a satiny mist through lands
legendary with grandeur and danger:
the palaces of Xanadu - pity
to those who would heed not the reprimands
of a victor merciful, this stranger
at the gate of their Forbidden City.
The wrath of Alexander, son of Zeus,
Macedonian, no match for her skills
in acts of war, or her resourcefulness:
the celebrated Gordian Knot, loose
beneath her spell; and captive are the wills
of all who bow before the conqueress.
Mighty Achilles, slayer of Hector,
and lovely Helen, who coaxed men to war;
compare to their own this child's attributes!
In her sight their god is but a specter,
the brazen seductress of men a whore,
the heralded warriors dullish brutes.
All turn away from her in frenzied flight,
thrashing side to side like frightened sparrows,
stirring dust and grit in a rising gale;
impotent swordsman, an armorless knight,
a master archer stripped of his arrows:
with fists and bows and blood and brawn they flail.
But now, like them, she returns defeated,
snapping in the tempest, a sapling's bough.
As great machinery felled the phalanx
surrounding her, the battle conceded,
her spirit subdued, she heeded her vow
to remain to the end. Shall I give thanks
for this, or fall to despair? For she's crossed
endless worlds to explore the mysteries
beyond the stars, her destiny the grail
of the philosophers, who would be lost
as I, embarked on lonely Odysseys
seeking her trodden path, to no avail.
From modern-day Alhambras, grand estates
attired in gowns of pampered lawns, arrayed
with gemstone gardens, fit for potentates
or splendid ladies on the promenade;
from halls of burgundy that bleed disdain
on lips engaged seductively with crys-
tal goblets raised to birthright; from the strain
of Herculean engines musing bliss-
ful celebrants to caverns shimmering
with silv'ry needles of erotic light,
of steaming perfumed bodies glimmering
with gold, as heartbeat frequencies ignite
the lovers and the swaggerers; from air
intoxicating, swirling in the eyes
of epicureans as they prepare
to suck the essence from their twitching prize;
from muscled phallic towers in a line
against the sky, empowered by the fire
of parasitic titans who divine
the blood-black marrow from a funeral pyre
of wasted realms, once-plentiful supplies
extracted with Promethean contempt;
in holy places, chanting a reprise
to magnanimity, are those who've dreamt
of brethren sculpted in their image, all
the world in plenitude, and all at peace;
but flaming sweat from earthen pores is fall-
ing on the distant soil, to never cease
its vulgar testimonial: all hail
the Great Provider, mystic, alchemist,
crude lifeblood turned to gold, the far-off wail
of torment in the heartland as the tryst
remains concealed; for from the arteries
within a long-neglected body, blind
and feeble, sons of Plutus come to seize
the bounty coveted by humankind;
the undeserving touch it not, but breathe
the deadly swelter of their gods; their roads
are scarred with beggars, urchins, men who seethe
with idleness, whose discontent explodes
in scenes of bullet-ridden walls and bare-
ly human children clutching deadly toys;
and swollen bellies, children unaware
of life beyond the fever that destroys
their ravaged mothers, fragile petals shorn
from immature bouquets; and babies born
near end of life, their bodies battle-worn
with plagues that other worlds no longer mourn.
And rising up are those who seek to mend
the rupture in this trust, and with their cries
extinguish all the flames; but they contend
with men of subterfuge, who hypnotize
with grinning masks and gaudy camouflage
that set the stage for their climactic act:
the loathing of their souls they will assuage,
the favor of their gods they will exact.
A More Productive War
To exotic lands were our children sent,
realms of sultans and barbarians, vaults
of precious ore; these young conquistadors,
in the name of a race benevolent
and God-fearing, waged merciful assaults
on the tyranny our homeland abhors.
But the sharpened barbs of the battlefields
extended by wave and wire to the doors
of the authors of this scripture, their good
repute lying moribund on their shields
while admonished by their inquisitors,
for their just war was little understood.
So these devoted high priests of Ares,
housed amidst fine woods and leathers, attired
in tailored silks and grandiosity,
addressed the wrath of their adversaries
by rant and public tirade, and aspired
to a shrewd Plutonian strategy:
the aggression of their forebears decried,
they turned to ledgers, logs, and reckonings
to perfect the financial alchemy
by which plenitude might be prophesied
for all classes, as in the beckonings
from Delphi, foretelling prosperity.
And thus the great machinery was oiled,
the underclass calmed, the overlords pleased.
But as predicted for the oligarch
of ancient Sparta, where the helots toiled
to mine the Croesian abundance seized
by a few, the horizon appeared dark
and forbidding as now, with harvest sparse,
life-giving riverbanks furrowed and dried
and cratered like a war-spoiled countryside.
Yet still we remained engaged in the farce,
thirsting for the bounty we'd been denied,
worshiping those who promised to provide.
Till the Next War
twisting to and fro
in the smoldering blackness,
shirking from sulfurish fleshy pustules
on the gravel below:
the whole grayish image
swelling with vapory reverence,
as if lifting the souls of
warriors never again to stir,
never to bounce bubbling infants
on their knees.
The night brings a merciful silence,
as the soothing rush of the breeze
through leafy poplars
seems to lend hushabye sounds
to the movements of the dark.
And when the silvery morning
dances through clusters
of contented greenery
and children tag and tussle
far from blurring memories
of tearful nights,
and the air breathes honeysuckle,
and the breeze teases and taps
against my eager lips,
a choir of doves will
pulse from the clouds
to replace the fiery clamor,
and for a little while
the doves will live forever.
I look out upon a weary land scarred with
beggars and urchins and harlots,
sinewy with bullet-pocked walls,
shocking with children not yet human
bearing deadly toys,
and crutchless wretches
flopping like newborn turtles in the sand,
babbling into the broken pavement
that obstructs their way.
A bowl of millet sustains a sticklike man
as fire-breathing iron skeletons
suck nourishment from the ground behind his hut.
A young girl dreams of pink lace and princesses
in the shuttered mounds of salty mortar
crumbling and parting with the wind,
home to orphans waiting to kill or die,
and to infants sucking at shriveled teats,
their undersized bodies
knotted with dysentery and cholera
and long-conquered diseases.
A mother ravaged by fistula,
discarded like a bauble in a belching gutter,
hides the shame and stench
under blood-matted sheets.
Resignation is the parasite that eats at her mind.
I turn away, seeking comfort.
Carpets of greenery soothe me back
to canopied rose gardens
and pleading violins and gentle percussions,
to leafy patterns on crystal
and flaunty glimmers of burgundy and gold,
to properly disdainful lips
smacking the warm blood
of their still-twitching prize,
to rare stones
and the fabrics woven of others' fantasies,
to the retreating sunlight
dancing in the flaming purple
of nectars sipped in congratulatory silence.