My Longest Poem

The longest poem I have yet/ever written originated at Northpark Mall in Davenport during the long weekend of my poetry-writing grad course that got me recertified for teaching purposes the first time, back in 1984. I still like it, all science and mysticism blurred together that it is — resulting from my reading of too many things that I have probably mentioned on the blog already (or can easily discuss in posts yet to come). After the long weekend, I feel too tired to offer explanations today, but the verse itself will permit a post.

Iʼm going to break it into chunks for daily posting and then maybe create its own Longer Items page later.

The title, “Ayn-Sof,” is a kabbalistic reference to the unnameable and unknowable (and nonexistent) First Cause, the actual Godhead, the source of each emanation behind and between the realities of the Universe, the Bearded Secret originating and uniting all energies, things and particular energetic components of possible things everywhere (and nowhere). The Hebrew translates as “Nothing” but can also mean “Infinite.” Also, as James Joyce knew, paring his elegantly godlike fingernails, when one starts a poem, one is making (the Greek meaning of the word) a Big Nothing that might be or become Something. Or not. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to begin this poem with the instant of creation — the Big Bang itself.

Here are parts one and two (of ten — to match the Sephirot).

Ayn-Sof

The shapes which struggle from apparent chaos are strings
which lace the face of God: so count,
who may,
the multiple hairs in his huge beard
and shape at last his awful name.

1.

When the universe exploded
from a single lightmad point of splendor,
possibly fifteen billion years ago,
subatomic shrapnel blasted into directions,
colliding, annihilating, bursting apart and
beginning time.

Cooling of the initial radiation allowed
the original quarks to group into larger,
more stable configurations,
becoming protons, neutrons, electrons
and their antibodies.

Einstein’s kaleidoscope’d begun.

If the energy of creation
is insufficient
to continue to propel the matter of the universe
apart forever,
the cosmos will eventually collapse,
the force of its own weight inhaling
all the scattered stars, dust, gas and light
back
to a single point,
perhaps a dozen couple billion years from now.

That instant of universal gravity
could conceivably
ignite again,
blowing up a new universe,
and some cosmologists speculate about
the persistence of any structure ― even the strangest
quark ― from our World into that imagined future
resurrection.

Contemporary measurements,
however,
appear to indicate
the matter comprising the cosmos to be too small
at first ever to be gathered again.

Thus, each particle will continue its flight
from every other ― down to the upmost quark ― until
all energy is exhausted
and the universe is left
a lightless, flat and infinite waste
of inert and motionless unmatter.

2.

“Nur der Satz hat Sinn: nur I’m Zusammenhage des Satzes hat ein Name Bedeutung.” (Wittgenstein, Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, 3.3)

“The ‘experience’ which we need to understand logic is not that such and such is the case, but that something is; but that is no experience.

Logic precedes every experience ― that something is so.

It is before the How, not before the What.” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.552)

“Die Tatsachen im logischen Raum sind die Welt.” (1.13)

Ludwig Wittgenstein
effectively demonstrated
the bankruptcy of metaphysical propositions
in his first published book. His friend,
mentor and follower,
Bertrand Russell wrote
An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy
while in a British prison during the First World War.

The Viennese bachelor preferred
watching American Westerns while munching
a pork pie
to enduring the intellectual vacuity of Mind.

Both are now dead.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The Other Published Poem

All these tree pictures are from our yard, taken yesterday in the sweltering heat and sun

A while back, I posted a poem that had actually been published (although, as always, I received no remuneration in reward). In that same issue of the Iowa Journal of Social Work, edited for the nonce by friend and former professor Ron Palumbo (thus his choice to publish any poetry at all and to ask me to provide a few selections) was this second poem, one which I preferred to the self-portrait.

It was into Ronʼs married student housing that I once more-or-less gently drove my brotherʼs giant Chevy when its brakes went bad while I was heading up to Iowa City for a weekend away from Ft. Madison and my teaching self. (I needed the building to bring the big behemoth to a stop.) And it was in an apartment owned by his former wife that at an alcoholic and delirious New yearʼs party I had the honor for the one and only time in my life to draw the interest of a gay friend (he hit one me). I was so tipsy I am not sure just how baffled and disoriented this overture made me (after all, just moments before — as I recall the events — we had been discussing the Bahaʼi faith), but I had to refuse as I had my eye on some lovely female at that party (with whom I got as far as that gay friend got with me — sigh). And my sigh is not for some imaginary unreal gay alternate life I might have led — just not me, I am afraid.

This poem came from that same era, when I was fresh and flush in Ft. Madison, teaching my first year and actually making my own money. I think it concerns the break-up (again) of my first big romance, colored as always with poems of that era by The White Goddess (although I think these particular trees owe much more to James Joyce and Ulysses, episode two, Nestor, which ends, “On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins”).

In the poem the sunʼs bright coins cannot buy bliss for my disheartened speaker…

Leaves Taken

And so you’re gone, a poem scarcely spoken,

leaving not even echoes of your presence in the air.

You were a witch, but now the spell is broken —

you’ll master other faces, weaving others through your hair.

All the seasons will recall you, voice and eyes:

still leaves and sunlight spangle wealth from atmosphere,

but such gold coins fill no more pockets (fancied lies),

chlorophyll and photons untranslated. You are not here.

You were the Earth, Gæia, autumn crocus-kissed.

A solar music hummed about your liquid motion,

and all our days were vibrant with the oaken risk

of time and bodies. I knew that love transcends emotion.

Well be now done with me: I never noticed trees, together.

So you take the sun as well, love is like the weather.

Published in the Iowa Journal of Social Work

20 April 1976

Imaginary rewards for those who noticed itʼs a sonnet, one of my first successful ones.

I think the belovedʼs “liquid motion” owes much (or is an allusion, of course) to Theodore Roethkeʼs poem, “I Knew a Woman” (and itʼs also worthwhile to click the link and read his glorious villanelle, “The Waking” — itʼs worth reading all his verse).

My pseudo-scientific self shines through, hinting at the clarified direction into which I would head once I left Ft. Madison behind and moved to Maquoketa (and which owes as much to my love of science fiction as the influence of my science-teaching father), in the ”chlorophyll and photons untranslated” bit. I remember liking the seasonal conflation in “autumn crocus-kissed” (which sounds a bit artsy-fartsy to me now), and the phrase “of time and bodies” which sounds so portentiously (and prophetically!) like the culture of literary theory criticism just then being hatched (in French) for me to discover when I took my Modern Criticism course at St. Ambrose five years later (and under which so many have slaved these long tyrannical decades since to acquire undergraduate degrees in literature).

I am not sure I approve the punctuation in the last line any longer, but I donʼt know how to improve it any more than I did thirty-four years ago. The ending is also trite and wrongheaded — by which I mean false to truth and reality. But maybe thatʼs what I want this speaker to sound like (regardless how much he was once me). Love isnʼt like the weather (unless you emphasize the principles of physics and meteorology all combined to create the someday calculable natural forces that shape the weather on a necessary and unavoidable scientifically determined path — and so far so far beyond our human ken).

My favorite item in the poem is the bit of Greek-chorus wisdom (on which I should expand and expatiate as I did to all those Andrew English students for so long) that love is something more than a feeling or emotion. Because it is.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Thursday? Really?

Although I took the center of the day off yesterday to take lunch with The Lovely One (at Carolineʼs again, for you faithful readers, and it was delicious again for both of us), I still worked more than I had intended (in order to have hours saved for this Saturdayʼs payroll effort). The crew is really packing in the EQs. I spent the late afternoon working my way through a two-inch stack of completed questionnaires and making some phone calls. Although our ratio of vacants is definitely going to increase now that we have mostly completed the Leisure Lake region (a vacation community north of Maquoketa, for you non-Jackson County-ers), I still think the crew has been doing a wonderful job. Even my FOS thinks weʼre on the downhill grade for our project. So work goes well and is winding toward a close…

On Tuesday, I also produced fourteen containers of little quiches (plus one daily serving of four quiche-lets, which we consumed yesterday morning), which means I wonʼt have to cook more for 84 weekdays. The next time Iʼll undergo that quiche-preparation-and-cooking process will be after Labor Day (as I just calculated using the Google calendar on my home page), which is a kind of relief to me, making this end to the week much less stressful than the beginning.

On the other hand, it hardly seems possible that today is Thursday. The Andrew track team is out at state, with people actually running today. (Good luck, Hawk speedsters! I know you have worked hard.) I have worked this week (and the work has tried to take over these posts, too), but it doesnʼt seem likely in my mind that the week is nearly ended, culminating by the way with Janet and my wedding anniversary. Yep, weʼll be celebrating 28 years of marital bliss (no sarcasm or any other extra intonations involved here, either) on Saturday. Since we will be totally involved with celebrating our nearly three decades together, we shall have to see what this blog is like for the weekend.

the secondary weapon of the speakerʼs destruction…

For today, in honor of Thursday (which I still cannot believe it is), I have a poem from my rash youth about Thursday, although sadly not about Janet. It may well be the only bit of verse I ever wrote about doing theatre (and doing the thing I most identify with doing about theatre — lighting, the way I earned some money throughout college and at which I have labored regularly in just about every play in which I was involved until this past year of retirement). One would think that something I have done (not counting speech contest work) three to five times a year over four decades would have impinged on my writing more than this one little jotting. (On the other hand, I donʼt have that many poems about teaching, although there are some.)

So hereʼs a little kind-of love poem about preparing the lights for a play. Itʼs actually about discovering a muse to inspire a poem (like this one). This little piece of fantasia originated in reality, but barely.

• • •

Thursday

or

Foolishness Magnified

I fell in love while hanging lights:

I looked down laughing, and the ladder

(ladders never fail me — I am a ladder master)

wobbled; the unplugged light in my right

hand twinged electricity up my arm;

the ladder teetered, unbalanced, and

I recognized the signs. The adolescent,

wicked-smiling there below me,

was a woman, though I had not noticed — now

I recognized the signs.

The ladder tottered, and I tumbled, and today

she ignored me blithely (they always do

once I fall), let me splash upon the floor,

and lovely, a lady, passed by.

13 May 1976

Itʼs nice to have a muse

I like the sound and rhythms of this toy enough not to fiddle with some verbiage that might be less than perfect for public display. It creates in its words and patterns of accents just the right feeling/tone and ambiance (to me). The alliteration isnʼt intrusively obvious, I hope, but it works to connect grammatical elements (like some clauses) and to push the little storyline ahead. I also like how the rhythm moves (and changes) with the events/ideas/observations. (And the awful pun on falling in a sort-of love poem doesnʼt plop too flat. Does it?)

I should write something (perhaps a post) on hanging lights. There have been plenty of adventures for me in that trade, too many involving near-death experiences, including (unlike the incident recounted above) actually electrocuting myself on too many occasions (more than once while up a ladder). Recollecting now, and reconsidering, “twinged” may have been too weak a word choice above…

Happy Thursday, all. If I happened to win the PowerBall last night (too appropriate to help celebrate the anniversary), happier than we might imagine!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Publication news (after a fashion)

Quite a while ago, I actually got published (in a fashion)! Not paid, but you can go to the site/blog and find my poems for yourself.

If you follow the comments on this blog, I have received several peopleʼs approbation for my verse — and from strangers, mind you, not people I already knew. One approver is a huge fan of the poetic form I have presented here four times now — the villanelle. One of my (in my opinion) best  poems is a villanelle, which I posted here all the way back in history on October 6, 2009 — when nobody but me was reading this thing. I was desperately putting up poems of all kinds earlier this year when I had resolved to force myself to write something each day by posting daily for as long as I could keep it up. The second villanelle appeared on January 18, 2010, receiving a lot of attention (relatively speaking, of course, “a lot” for me and this blog). At that time I figured it was the only other villanelle I had ever written (it was the only other one I remembered without looking then). That was the one that caught someoneʼs eye, and he made a very favorable comment, inquiring about reprinting it on his site about a week later.

It took me a while to respond to his generous offer, mostly because I was actually writing creative stuff like stories daily in those days, but I accepted, pointing out to him that I had other villanelles as well, particularly “Busy Music.” He also took a while answering my e-mail, but when he did, he offered to print both of the ones I had previously published plus a third one that I had found in my poetry file and posted on January 22. And eventually I located a fourth (and still presumably last) villanelle, appearing on the blog on March 10.

Well, the news is that you donʼt have to click the links to see my posts of these poems, you can instead go here, to Christos Rigakosʼs site and look me up among the real poets (and others more like me).

His site is “The Villanelle: a blog about all things Villanelle.” And if you click here, mine come up as the featured poems. Even if my name, predictably, varies.

Check it out (repeatedly). I am sure that he, like me here, would appreciate the (multitudinous) hits your (repeated) visits would create.

On a Monday, as I head off to another day of handling Census documents and payroll forms over and over and over and over and over, it has been nice to recall (and of course bring to your attention) my little bout of unpaid publication outside a school or academic setting.

And, speaking of web publication, I donʼt think I have won the Twitter-story contest for which I wrote 21 words in 120 characters. So here is that story in its entirety for your delicatation:

“Twitter sucks,” he said and shot the fool who’d suggested anything of value could be said in fewer than 140 characters.

(I think I at least can see why I did not win anything with that.) And as recent posts have run long (and as always self-indulgent), Iʼll keep this one short. Happy Monday, and have a good week, all.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

An Act of Desperation

It is Sunday evening as I type. Janet is calling me to make our little “pizzas” on flatbread that we are going to eat for supper — my first food of the day. I spent four hours working for the Census, getting a call at nearly the last minute to drive again to DeWitt to deliver the payroll. I shopped at Wal-Mart for Janet on the way home (taking an eternity to finally locate their tiny stock of tofu). And I worked in the yard, attempting to nurture the grass and slay the creeping charlie and other weeds in the back, spreading uphill from the totally unweeded strip of grass owned by the evil Gasser True Value, source of all weeds and wickedness in our neighborhood.

I started the day by uncovering our freeze-protected little plants, and finally the day is drawing to a close. I have no post to arrive on your screens as I (I hope) am out for my run in the darkness before morning of Monday. So I am going to search out some poem and tack it on here, and I will be done.

Here we go…

When I got my teaching certificate upon graduation from Iowa Wesleyan in 1975, you didnʼt have to renew the license for a decade. So, in 1984, I realized I had better take some summer classes for the necessary educational credits to recertify (evening classes were never an option for me with my schedule of play rehearsals through the year and speech contest practices). I took a course on literary theory at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, which I found interesting (and was the closest I came to the nonsensical modern approach to teaching undergraduates literature with little or no actual reading of literature but plenty of reading of literary critics and general principles/hypotheses of interpretation) and for which I wrote two papers, one a close reading of “Clay” from Joyceʼs Dubliners (which I have still not located but would like to post one day) and the other an explanation of post-structuralism. I think I had a second class at Ambrose, but I donʼt remember anything about it now, and perhaps I only took the theory course. I do remember driving down to the Quad Cities daily for about a month for the theory class.

Later that summer, over a long weekend, for which Janet joined me at a motel in Davenport, I took Poetry Writing at the Quad Cities Grad Center in Rock Island. For that course we had to submit in advance a selection of poems. I used several that have appeared in the blog, including “Sanctuary.” That one stands out because the instructor, a lovely young woman (I believe the first time I realized I was being taught by someone younger than myself), really adored that poem and made a huge deal about it in front of the class. Everyone also wondered at the fact that I submitted my poems in dot-matrix print (meaning I had used a computer, so rare and unusual in those days; now everyone scoffs to think I write anything at all in longhand, but then my fellow budding poets felt it would be impossible to create verse without pen in hand).

On the middle day of the course, we indulged in some creative writing drills, one of which asked each of us to provide a word. In fifteen minutes we each had to construct a poem using the words in the order they had been suggested (or possibly I just decided to do that to make the problem even more challenging) as the first or last words in the lines of our verse. Evidently there were eleven of us in the course.

So hereʼs my “creation,” notable for being the only one attempting, however slightly, a narrative, and the only one suggesting violence (for which I was mildly censured all around).

I think even the title dates from that afternoon.

The Spiral Road

Licking fissured lips, he cursed the sun’s impatience

and his own fool’s wisdom in that instant—ditching

his fellow dolts sporting in the new snow’s sudden fun.

With silent certainty those dozen brownclad furry Eskimos

descended from the tundra, performed their bloody work

and trashed the camp. Now arthritis grated in the hinge

of the left elbow—right knee, too—dreadful after the run

through deep unscattered snow, beneath the sky’s delight:

he’d fought kneedeep to the trees and on to the perimeter

of the valley, clawing up the frozen flinty cliff as high

as strength endured: enfossiled in the rock, a nautilus.

A poetry writing class assignment—the final words of each line in sequence were mandated.

I donʼt recall which word was my idea.

…And thereʼs a post created in the least time of anything I have placed here in the blog (at least since this year commenced). But I do have a post for today!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Seasons of Poseidon, or the end of a bad day

Having enjoyed the middle of the day on Tuesday, I found Wednesday to be an unpleasant experience (although I did get to Dubuque and ate lunch with The Lovely One — that part of the day was excellent). I got ordered to do the first idiotic and pointless work since I took this job. There has been an excess of paperwork and duplication all over the place, but I have at least understood that a purpose existed. What I did today was pointless, will have to be redone correctly, and wasted time I could have been doing the same thing the right way. But now some bloated bureaucrat somewhere can feel his blushing cheeks polished by us peons: he can seem to be efficient because 100% of his cases are assigned to enumerators (in utterly random and worthless ways). Yes, it isnʼt reality, but then this is a bureaucracy.

Let us hope today is going better and with genuine purpose and productivity…

To relieve my mind of the torment of doing a ton of work worthlessly, here is a springtime poem I once wrote (early in my years in Maquoketa) in August as school started. The world didnʼt end when I posted the too frank earlier bit of verse, so this one is tame in contrast. I am pretty sure that it explains itself (rather unpoetically).

The central concept stems from something I had read that provided an unglamorous and rather unpleasantly sexual reason for teen girlsʼ love of horse riding. I do not know if that, uh, theory holds any water whatsoever.

I do like the imagery and description in the poem, though.

Poseidon, for the classically illiterate (and my apologies to everyone for that), was the god of oceans, earthquakes and horses — all of which enter into this poem. Thereʼs a debt to Robert Graves as usual, but mostly itʼs a bit of small town rurality overlaid with some classical allusion and semi-contemporary cynicism.

Horse Sense

Poseidon, your horses
have been taken by women
again (Poseidon, conqueror
riding on seastallions,
won’t you remember
such horses as used to ride
the white foamcaps with dolphins
within the dawn:

seahorses, limegreen
in a sunswirl of lemon and purple gold
leaping on wave crests
to meet the land
bell–beautiful.  Horses
with firm flanks and
mirrorhooves flashing the dawnlight
to scythe away morning mists.

Stallions and mares with
long dancing manes boreas–blown
burnished like copper
shook flying round corded necks,
shoulders wind–smoothed and rippling:
pounding down wavecaps,
fetlocks all foam spattered,
galloping upon the shore).

Poseidon,
horses are women’s joy
as young girls with firm breasts
just now exciting their dresses
canter with thighs pressed
tight against leather:
learn quickly of ecstasy, riding
sedately down afternoon streets
through quiet oak Iowa autumns.

Ironically, I would not read Roan Stallion until years later. I think that just about hits all the seasons in discussing and/or reading this poem (however pointless that notion is).

We hope you all have an excellent day.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Villon I concluded

Whew! That post yesterday was probably too much (however sincere and heartfelt), but weʼll relax today and return to the medieval days of yore in which we indulged last weekend.

We started on what little I have written of my Villon novel last weekend, and as I promised/threatened on Sunday, hereʼs the rest of chapter I. Enjoy.

Strange that he could still recall being innocent of all this. His innocence seemed so distant, so long ago, yet still clear in memory. Sometimes, when he bothered to recall. And other times when recollection chided his present state. Memory as conscience. Had some philosopher considered that? Had he read it, heard it at lecture, or was it actually his own, true insight?

He didn’t know.

Right now, the wine had filled his head, and the tavern, even the table he crouched against, wavered a bit in the uncertain lack of light. Quite early for such a feeling, but tonight was unique, or at least original. And he drank down the rest of his cup. He would need this warmth tonight.

Memory as conscience. No guilt without recollection. One must remember in order to learn. A lesson, and experience forgotten is no benefit, no lesson at all.

Thoughts tumbled shapelessly.

What could he remember? What had François learned? How had his experiences shaped him, wet mud dole clay, to become who he was at this critical moment on this unusual dark night?

Conscience? How could he in good conscience even be here? And what would conscience have to say tomorrow? Could he be about to kill conscience or rather prod it into hysteria? Whom or what could he blame for that which he was about to perform, what he was to become part in, who he was trembling to become? And what right had conscience to complain at all at this point? He had considered this and worse many times, as his fortunes waned and the dicecup drew him ever deeper under the shadow of his worst compatriots.

François realized he was staring across the smoky space at the flambeau nearest the door. The flames and we and intermingled, gold and red yellow white orange, wavering and vanishing, trembling and soaring, diminishing. He felt his soul strangely drawn into the bright mystery of fire, chaotic beauty.

Until raucous laughter cackled from the dicers near him. The wine had begun to work long ago: their voices clamored too loud for this narrow space, echoing inane annoyances that apparently no one attended. Words themselves were lost in simple noise, their bellowing all vowels, the clarity of consonants mislaid — sharing the same weary jokes. Again.

The active flames seemed sweeter. He recognized the wine had worked on him as well. Did he wish to be too drunk to do the deeds this night intended?

Again he felt his heart quicken with cowardice.

Suddenly, across from the dicers, still intent on their gaming, loud as they were, a trio at a more distant table burst into song — an old melody — barking a rondeau in honor of  wine, good friends and long revelrous nights.

Mine, thought François unselfconsciously. He had composed the lyrics years ago to amuse his companions — Guy impressively — early in his wastrel life. He’d heard it sung repeatedly, among others, since. Drinking songs, parody poems, caricatures of University figures and Parisian notables, and his first masterpiece — his Romance of the Devil’s Fart that Guy had so assiduously copied so many times, the fluorescence of his student days. Nights, rather.

And now, as Christmas and the year’s demise approached, he had made his choices. What advice, drink, sloth and violence had begun became fullblown crime tonight.

As if on cue, an actor in a mystery, Colin appeared at the tableside.

“Did you have to hide your self all the way back here? Get up, François. We are going. The rest are at the Mule.”

Making a face, François drew his lean body afoot and followed his friend (and master now) through a twisting path between tables to the door. And out into the cold toward robbery and betrayal.

And thatʼs the end of chapter I. (I was trying to keep them short for interest, Janet to the contrary on the interest part.) Iʼll do a little more from chapter II tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

TMI 2

Working to be ready for my week as a Census enumerator trainer, I have delved again into the pot of available material already written to develop a post for today. Being consumed by bureaucracy must be stimulating my poetic sensibilities (or else poetry is the best escape) because todayʼs post is another poem. This one, however, may be R-rated. In these modern days I am not quite sure.

I have already embarrassed myself several times by printing here poems that seem too personal and too obvious. Once I even accidentally (was it a Freudian slip?) posted a poem I was only drafting. I have been thinking of posting this one for a while but have hesitated. Clearly it’s a bit too blatant in its subject matter; I’ve done better bowdlerizing these things in other poems and other posts. But like some of the other embarrassing poems I like this one. A lot. Lines and phrases from it have stuck in my memory for decades and may have shaped my thoughts and life, possibly sad to say. This one ties in with other posted verse connected intentionally or unconsciously to The White Goddess, and it comes from that same era when my first serious and important relationship dissolved and I was first teaching school and living as what I believed was an adult.

For the biographically overinterested, the subject is the same person as in my third discovered villanelle. (It is hard to believe that one incident—combined with a chaste, previous traumatic night in Pella—could so dominate my imagination for so long.) This poem is unfortunately more overt than that villanelle. Thus the title for today…

But letʼs provide some interpretation. No, maybe I had better not. The White Goddess link above (although it will include todayʼs post) provides enough interpretation by me. The rest is mere biography.

The Odyssey — both as I imagined it and as it really has become once I have read and reread the epic (annually in Advanced English) — has influenced my imagination for nearly ever. And Circe is a fascinating (and seductive) figure well beyond my own fevered thoughts. I have just applied her name for a Celtic witch, thus welding two concepts together (I wish). I am not trying to cast the speaker as Odysseus, however.

Another influence is the King Crimson Islands album, which owes its own debt to Homer.

Night Eire

I’ve tasted desire on the wet lips of Circe:

a pre-Raphaelite Circe — perfect

and cupped her small breast
in the palm of my hand (nipple
a nut, hard on the moistness
between the lines,
love’s and life)

firm cheeks and thighs slender,
well-muscled, arching her hips
toward me in darkness thick
with confusion. Oh, Circe,
fertile and eager, dark hair
softly selfwilled (in rings and curls,
black foam from cold oceans),
all sleek like an artist’s line,
moaning behind kisses

with deft fingers delicate and
a quickly sly tongue.

Circe makes love like the moon,
polished, passionate,
apocalyptic and pale

like distance flesh firmly denies,
desiring no more
than that animal body’s
womanhard subtle helical embraces.

after a particularly passionate community theater party — with no hope of Neanderthals in the third generation

22 September 1976

The poemʼs title is a pleasant pun. ‘Nuff said, okay?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Change and Relax

I fell in love with the sonnet for many years (while I was still writing poetry; I am afraid that is one aspect of composition that has not revived with retirement, at least not yet). The form was good for me, teaching me much more discipline than I had exercised in high school or college, forcing me to be frugal with my words, and letting me explore the auditory aspects of verse by utilizing rhyme. I canʼt recall these days what first drew my attention to sonneteering; perhaps it was the many sonnets the Romantics (my favorite poets as I went through college and for along time afterward; I was first led into poetry by encountering T.S. Eliot after preteen reading in a collected poetry book of my motherʼs, edited by Louis Untermeyer — all that history needs to be its own post someday). But it was a fortunate interest for my writing.

The two parallel sonnets below are among the first I ever bothered to preserve (and in looking them over to become a post on the blog, I wonder that I felt even that much admiration for them once). I do enjoy the contrast in the pairing, which I did intend all along, once the second poem got written. The first sonnet fits easily into the Directions to Myself to Change category (a name I just invented) of which I have plenty of extant poems. The second tries to follow that pattern but drifts into its own easier and more graceful reality.

The first is darker, thus the title, I guess — with a bleaker, nastier tone and attitude (and it is about change and the necessity for changing). It was originally composed by itself, but within a day the second one also got written, and itʼs a whole ʼnother story — thus its title, I suppose. Of the two, I like the second more just now (with spring breathing life into everything; Janet and I just bought five new bushes to plant around our yard — once the forecast frost for tonight is over). It also tries to resurrect a wonderful warmth and splendor I used to milk out of sunny summer afternoons (and which I felt in a more mature way in a previous poem) and which I still deeply enjoy recalling and sometimes even feeling in the present reality. I need to write on “catbasking post meridian sunrhyme” sometime…

The night-and-day contrast is actually pretty good.

Mutation

Nocturne

Spit the poisons out behind you:

spew them back (bile, blood, acid, ooze)

into the botched and brutal maw,

the hideous night you cannot use,

dry with retching, burning, raw.

Ill-begotten, begin anew,

while stars drop moisture, angry dew

whipped by storms she never knew.

Let the wind blow cleanly through,

charging dust from your warm bones,

breathing blood from uncracked marrow,

sucking flesh from cement stones.

Let the rain reshape your brain, and go

in this strange winter without snow.

Day’s Turn

Nathan could be at home here…

Let the morning, let the afternoon

smear yellow magic through your fingertips

and fill that fleshy cavern, mouth. Tune

your toes to join the light that slips

as photon rivers in rectangular eyeless windows.

Stir with wet tongue the dust which time

settles evenly on eyes and face and lips;

and leap, a fish, where all light goes,

into warm pools of catbasking winter sunrhyme.

Let the light spill in your eyes, unsubstantial whips

which flog out former faded speculations (too soon

undone, too long remembered and reworked). Nose

and nostrils inhale winter warmth, and light

fills lungs, exhaled blind, kisses, fuses sight.

Ft. Madison

14 December 1975

Before launching into what I know I have to say below (I am adding this preface to the remainder after I have already written the rest), I want to note that I really enjoyed creating this post on Saturday afternoon — a brightly sunny one — while listening to Pink Floyd radio via iTunes, a perfect match to the second sonnet! Now back to the darkness…

Ironically, on Saturday, while I was downloading Richard Dawkinsʼs book The Greatest Show on Earth to iTunes, I also took the time to download a new program from SmithMicroQuickVerse, a not-very-liberated Bible program (you should see their choice of available Bible translations, defaulting of course to the very faulty, misleading and aged King James Version). Ironic, you wonder — how? Ironic in that Dawkins has become a notorious atheist (originally just for being a good scientist, latterly of course for his accepting the mantle and publishing The God Delusion, which I own but havenʼt read yet in two years), and I paired his newest book with the pretty traditional QuickVerse (thatʼs the obvious one). Ironic also in that I was about to work on this post, and the overall title presumes the actuality of evolution (as, of course, it should).

I sold a truck with this remaining on the back end yet — someone else bought that truck within 48 hours

Janet bought me my first Dawkins book for my birthday a while back. It was The Ancestorʼs Tale, and she was lured by the Chaucerian parallels, but I loved it, getting further into biology than I had for years, reminding me of one adorable summer in college when I took genetics and basic biology at the same time to fulfill my education requirements at the last minute, almost. I had heard about, looked at, but not purchased The Selfish Gene and some of the other books earlier, but I hadnʼt read Dawkins until this century.

In the mid-Nineties, Janet also bought me some Darwin Fish symbols for my truck (and computers). Mac Addict, sometime about 1996 included the Darwin Fish among items that were passé — the battle had been won. I wish. Then came Creationism (or should I say, Desperately Fearful Wishing-ism) and its bastard child (un)Intelligent Design. And then came Shrub…  Now I just wish that all the old stick-in-the-muds could grow up and live in the real world instead of inanely pretending falsities that lead to, well, Foxi-nonsense. As the London buses advertised for a while (thanks to Dawkins and some others): “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy your Life.”

—Apologies again, all over the place, but nonsensical pronouncements from the dimwit Right in the news lately have fired me up again. Maybe I should take my own title (of this post) to heart…

My more conservatively religious friends may beware that QuickVerse should simplify my use of bible quotes to quickly debunk foolish religious views (like those who believe God wants us to be wealthy: Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:24. Similar verses are in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25] — clearly the Theology of Wealth is nonsense in at least the Saviorʼs eyes).

I guess the commentary reverses the tones of the two poems…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Decisions and Choices

Here is a little poem I donʼt even remember writing. I found it scrawled in pencil on the backside of a different typed poem, so (I think) I took the date below from the formal one on the primary side, which means it may have been written later, even significantly later than the date indicated. Even so, the idea expressed sounds like what I was considering when still a first- or second-year teacher in Ft. Madison. I select it now primarily as a stopgap to ensure a post for today, as my Census training continues to keep my busy. I am also making choices these days, too, however, so in that sense this poem seems appropriate as well. The verse was untitled in pencil where I found it, but Iʼll call it…

Decide Already!

an appropriate image — click for another bloggerʼs take on choices

Choose: left or right or up or down.

Decisions fork our lives apart, and all

that might have been is lost: it might

have been, and, selecting, was not chosen.

Pick: the roads diverge, and you are not

Colossus to bestride them both at once

(fence straddling castrates), and so

you must leave all that unknown and lost.

Never ask what might have been,

for then you wonder, and wondering imagine

(taste, touch, smell, see and hear) and, foolish,

lost it all again; foolish lose it all.

in pencil on “Look Here” typescript

1975 / early 1976?

Not much here, really: choices are hard to make, and as Robert Frost had already indicated much more profoundly (in “The Road Not Taken,” on which I have a very strange but prize-winning not-exactly-an-essay of analysis and interpretation which should appear here one of these days soon), it can hurt to choose, especially if you keep wondering about your lost alternative(s) rather than enjoying the reality you have created by your decision. This isnʼt the only poem I ever wrote advising my (imaginary?) self to decide and stick with a choice. So am I realizing something about myself? (And if so, just what?)

I own de Campʼs novel in the hardcover edition, lacking this cover art

I like the unremarkable small classical allusion to Rhodes (how coincidentally appropriate with last weekʼs movie reviews and literary criticism — still unfinished in my mind). I am pleased with my younger self that I didnʼt let the reference overwhelm the poem, but I do believe that the image of the Colossus of Rhodes bestriding the harbor in ancient time does inform the poemʼs otherwise pretty simplistic concept. Humans are not divine, we have got to take what we chose and live with it. (Perhaps one quality of divinity is an ability to live in multiple realities… Hmmm, a story idea there?)

On a truly literary note, one of my favorite writers, L. Sprague de Camp, whom I have mentioned before, wrote a very fine historical novel on the construction of the Colossus, The Bronze God of Rhodes, very well informed by de Campʼs historical research and knowledge of engineering. I spent these first years of this century/millennium acquiring all those old historicals by de Camp — having enjoyed The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate since it was reprinted in paperback by Lancer Books (a fine, cheap house from which I received lots of early science fiction and fantasy — especially fantasy — reading experiences, including my introduction to Robert E. Howard [and de Camp] and Conan and the books emphasized in the Wikipedia article, if you click the Lancer Books link). Those Frank Frazetta covers lured me into making choices that have shaped my imagination if not my life. By the way, I continue with my own sword-and-sorcery story (-ies) set in medieval Moorish Spain — Sepharad.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.