Once I thought I’d knit the world back up,
Heroically—another Orpheus, but one
With lyre self-sacrificially unstrung
And husbanding for thread my lengths of gut.
So in my time I’ve darned a few loose ends
Inexpertly, leaving the places
Where the brittle cloth had frayed
Still all too visible. Still, mended.
Confessedly I took the greater care
Near home, not wanting to slip out
Of the world myself through a thin spot.
And if I went wrong it was there:
Narrowly tending to the world above,
Where the real Orpheus chose to harrow hell for love.
Insensibly, spring’s thaw had started. By then they’d begun
Reciting one another’s commonplaces like a favorite song.
Later, their sighs swelled summer’s air as summer’s days grew long.
Each met the other’s stolen glances, each one shining to the other like a sun.
As in the yard the new grapes imperceptibly prospered
Where the same force drove life up through the cinctured vine,
So she beneath his breathless hands, he beneath hers, in their good time,
Grew bountiful and swollen and about to burst.
After that perfect, endless season throughout which they grew
(Endless, because perfect; perfect, for seeming without end)
The early frosts began to come. Little was left unharvested by then—
And the young wine already making, that would be laid by,
Years on to savor of those dusty, languorous days, those earnest nights,
Those vanished morns when she, and he, and the whole world, were new.
The Thinker contemplates a moveless turbulence: men, angels, children, women
agonize eternally, leaping or cast
from shrieking Hell into a lesser torment, seeking what can’t last
beyond this frozen moment. Here are long hands, long arms stretched tight of bone and skin
in knotted ecstasy of pain; tight mouths caught too tight to scream;
sleek writhing forms trapped bursting through the gate that swells and thins to let them pass
for this caught moment, too fleeting for relief before Hell draws them back,
back below the seething gate, back to the wailing dark and the company of the damned.
It must be balanced; an opposing Heaven must exist:
a timeless, flat, cool, blandly pleasant place, where no stark weathered bodies strive
for respite from the blasted murk, that lacks this endless
doomed struggle. Perhaps this is what the Thinker contemplates: that Hell is,
and so Heaven too must be; that somewhere men, in sculptured bliss eternal as
these damned he watches over, are content: are blessed: are not so much alive.
Cockroach, eater of refuse, crawler
in corners, inhabitant of dark spaces,
unwanted denizen of all our
proud modern cities, scourge of all races;
disgusting, vile, unkillable
by any but the heaviest tread
or most corrosive chemical;
prolific, fecund, Darwinianly bred
to survive any adversity:
though your species will continue
long after the end of humanity
it consoles me somewhat that in two,
or four, — at most five billion years —
the Sun will explode in your sky
and your Earth will boil and sear
and every last one of you will also die.
(a book review in verse)
Much had I travell’d in the realms of gold
And never found a blessed thing to eat;
For laurels, though they may smell very sweet,
As nourishment – try one? – they leave you cold.
By not one teacher was I ever told
There was a land both lowly and obscene
That Bill Zaranka ruled as his demesne!
His book was sent me by a flame of old
Bought from wherever such odd things were selling;
And now, some decades late, to write I’ve hasted:
For though I know that flowers are for smelling
I were a liar if I kept from telling
How many precious hours and days I’ve wasted
Since first I of Zaranka’s garland tasted.