Solid citizens seldom discuss it,
some wouldn't talk about it to
a living soul, but I know
they all know what I mean:
Usually, on a sleepless
after a frantic day, or waking
up early after a fitful sleep
into fretful restlessness,
They are alone, and they
are nothing, and
they are on the verge of dissolving
into the black hole of annihilation
beyond the void of death, forever.
And all that made them
uniquely themselves - their hopes,
fears, gains, defeats, experiences, memories, and sense
of life - will come apart and irretrievably disappear
into the numberless and lightless caverns of eternity.
And they know it's true,
they will, and they are
scared, scared, scared! from the tops of
their checking accounts to the tips of their
Because, for this instant,
and these I'm-in-control-of-life adults flash back
to the helpless children who want someone
to hold them tight and make the scary thing go away.
It will, for a while, until
the next sleepless
night or fit of restlessness, or the death
of someone close, or a forceful disruption of
expectations like sickness or failure,
Or a sudden soul-touching
with beauty, or even love - an ambush of love! -
wakes them up out of the dream of life
into the reality of living.
And perhaps this time the
blackness of extinction will yield
to the realm of light, and the dissolution of their consciousness
into a then-it-shall-all-be-clear serenity, and in that instant,
that twinkling of an eye, they shall not fear the Void.
Early one morning as I lay skidding between dream
sleep and conscious thought some idiot
revs and rrevs and rrrevs up his car
until its growing irksomeness jams
my full attention on his thoughtlessness
rrrevs and rrrevvs and rrrevvvs up his car
until I’d drop a brick on his thick skull
to make him feel my pain
rrrevvvs and rrrevvvss and rrrevvvsss up his car
until I'd kill to stop him
rrrevvvsss and rrrevvvsss and rrrevvvsss
up his car
RRREVVVSSS and RRREVVVSSS and RRREVVVSSS
up his car
RRREVVVSSS AND RRREVVVSSS AND RRREVVVSSS UP HIS CAR
then lLLURRRCCCHHHESSS out
and leaves me the
s i l e n c
* Sometimes, as the late Edwin Morgan of Scotland showed with considerable
humor, and of course our own e.e. cummings throughout his life, typography
is a principal tool for conveying the sense of a piece.
Steam swirls and dissipates a certain way
on New York rooftops on a freezing day:
first rolling low upon itself, it brisk-
ly swoops in an upcurving arc whose thick-
ness, thinning, spins and spits out flying is-
land whiffs which melt invisibly to sky -
that's how I know it's cold, the trail curtails
so short so soon. On warmer days, steam sails
serenely up in long, unhurried sna-
king flumes of smoke that endlessly play
with sun and temperate air. I stomp my ting-
ling toes and go - the cold lets nothing ling-
er here. But still, on photo-still and si-
ent roofs, steam swirls - the only sign of life.
A Moral Ode in a Victorian Mode
First one, then two, than many more -
The birds sing forth their herald score
To tell the world, in frantic din,
A great event is to begin:
Dawn breaks! and shooting streams of light
Into the sightless dark of night,
Soon makes the gloom recede and fade
And brightness flood the pools of shade.
What once was hid, is now all clear,
Another glorious day is here!
The gift that’s given all to use
To work, to play, or just to muse.
Then night returns, and day again,
And on and on in timely spend
Until for thee no dawn shall come,
When thou thy worldly task hast done.
But till that endless night arrive,
Do thou thy best and daily strive
To seize the day so thou shalt be
The special one that’s only thee.
Yesterday’s snows are all gone: now the fields are resplendent with green, the
trees sweetly softened with leaves;
all is transformed and renewed, with the melt-off’s that flooded the country-
side now returned to meek streams.
Couldn’t you imagine the Graces might venture out naked and lead
chorus of Nymphs in dance? But -
never forget, you shall die! warn the seasons that turn and each hour
swift to devour each day:
Winter dissolves in March breezes, and Spring is incindered by Summer;
similar fates await Fall,
bursting with harvests and bounty, till soon, all too soon, comes chill Winter,
back with its death-grip on life.
There in the night sky, the moon can return to the splendor it lost; but
once we descend and join King
Ancus, rich Tullus, and Father Aeneas, it’s ashes to ashes,
just dream stuff to dust for us.
Who knows for certain the gods will allot to our sum of today’s, the
windfall of one more tomor-
row? But for certain, one thing can escape from our heirs’ greedy grasp: good
times we’ve enjoyed with good friends.
When you descend and appear at the Lord of the Underworld’s throne to
hear him pronounce what you dread,
background, Torquatus, your knack for persuasion, your piety, too, can’t
win your return to your life:
Even the goddess Diana couldn’t free chaste Hippolytus, trapped for-
ever in Stygian gloom, nor
Theseus - hero of heroes! - release his Pirithoüs, boon com-
panion, from Hades’ hard chains.
- loosely from Horace, Ode IV vii -“Diffugere nives,”
approximating his meter, the Third Archilochian;
(# 99 - 5/97: 1/99 +).
Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
Mutat terra vices et decrescentia ripas
Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet
Ducere nuda choros.
Immortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum
Quae rapit hora diem.
Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, ver proterit aestas
Pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox
Bruma recurrit iners.
Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:
Nos ubi decidimus
Quo pater Aeneas, quo dives Tullus et Ancus,
Pulvis et umbra sumus.
Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae
Tempora di superi?
Cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico
Quae dederis animo.
Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos
Non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te
Infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum
Nec Lethaea valet Theseus abrumpere caro
- Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Carmina IV, vii
Sterling character and a life without stain:
he who’s armed with these has no need of knife-sharp
spears nor bows whose quivers sport poisoned arrows,
my dear friend Fuscus,
Anywhere his wanderings take him: whether
making tracks through sweltering deserts, or un-
welcoming Arctic, or those fabled places
lapped by the Ganges.
This I learned when, deep in the Sabine woods, wolves
while I sang of Lalagė, straying, armed thus,
past my safe farm, blissfully carefree – wolves fled -
– just like that! - from me:
Fiercer beasts didn’t lurk in the steppes of old Rus-
sia, where heartless Cossacks were bred to kill, nor
prowled the sand-duned arid Sahara’s vastness,
nurture for lions.
Set me down wherever: those sluggish regions
lacking trees or sweet summer breezes’ relief;
or that dark, dank corner where Jove, unkind, sneers
grey skies and drizzle;
Where the sun’s bright chariot blazes too near,
or those wastelands empty of men and dwellings,
still I’ll love my Lalagė, laugh and sing of
Lalagė, my love!
- loosely from Horace, Ode I xxii - “Integer vitae,”
approximating his meter, the Sapphic;
“Lalagė” is the name of Horace’s love interest of the moment;
(# 91 - 5/97: 1/99 +)
Integer vitae scelerisque purus
Non eget Mauris iaculis neque arcu
Nec venenatis gravida sagittis,
Sive per Syrtis iter aestuosas,
Sive facturus per inhospitalem
Caucasum vel quae loca fabulosus
Namque me silva lupus in Sabina,
Dum meam canto Lalagen et ultra
Terminum curis vagor expeditis,
Quale portentum neque militaris
Daunias latis alit aesculetis
Nec Iubae tellus generat, leonum
Pone me pigris ubi nulla campis
Arbor aestiva recreatur aura,
Quod latus mundi nebulae malusque
Pone sub curru nimium propinqui
Solis in terra domibus negata:
Dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo,
- Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Carmina I, xxii
(Scatting off Herrick’s poem of the same title)
I wonder, Bella, if you'll ever know your tell-
tale thread taught me a telling truth? With you so well-
dressed at work, so soullessly slick, so quick to spot
another's fault, I should have smirked and sniped and not
have spared you when I caught that thread hanging absurd-
ly from your skirt, as you harangued a nodding herd
of corporate sheep. But I had spied on you and seen
your sweetness ooze in gentle tears while you, in sec-
ret, kissed your aging father's photograph. So, when
I saw your dangling shame, I wished to shield you then
and snip it off before the others smirked. Instead
of letting me despise your frailties, your thread
had taught me how a slight disorder in the dress
can kindle one to love another's humanness.
You asked me why I loved you, Kate. I said
I loved you for that taste, that certain grace
you have, that lovely, other-worldly face,
that racy wit and charmed embrace. You said
I dressed you in my ready-made wish-fan-
tasies of ideal womanhood with no
regard to fit, and so I loved a hope-
ful dream, not really you. Then I began:
I love you for your cheeks that curve your part-
ed chin, your curls, your shining eyes, your girl-
ish grin, your cooling touch upon my burn-
ing skin... but cut it short to speak my heart:
I love you, Kate, because you satisfy
my soul, and know without your love, I'd die.
You left me with your loneliness today:
we parted at my door, shook hands, and then
you disappeared into the drizzling grey.
You left me with your worried need to spend
each dragging minute, hour, day on bus-
y things to do, indifferent friends to see -
a trick to keep your creeping anguishes
from pouncing in a panicked leap and scream-
ing out "I'm so alone, and no one cares!"
You left me with your fear of death today:
but surely, there's an answer; surely there's
a one whose company would make time race
by very fast - too fast - in shared delight!
Or is your dread of love too great to fight?
+ In Memoriam +
Sylvanna Alessandra Cerutti Frese
+ 1909 - 1956 +
Traversing many years and many tempests of
emotion, I've come to your grave today to face
your death, dear mother, both to make my peace with it
and end that wrongful separation from your love
it forced on me, so unsuspecting and so young.
If those who've died yet live, if they won’t rest in peace
till we perform these ancient rites to ease the grief,
if they still care: then it is right and timely that
I here present my offerings of death, so o-
verdue, and silently address your silent dust:
Therefore, receive as gifts these tears I should have cried
the day you died, and cried for all those years for all
those days without your love; then count them, and forgive
how long I've taken to release their pain - but how
long till it ceases? will my lifetime be enough?.
And hear my thoughts and know, although my boyhood's glowed
to youth and started fading into middle age
since you last smiled on me, that I still need you now
as on the day you bore me, miss you as the day
you left me, love you as if you were still alive.
Then mother, since you’ll always care, come back and fill
my life, freshly bereft of grief, with your resur-
gent love, and make the winter of your absence bloom
like greening spring; and with me, bid the sting of death
that parted us: hail now, and forever, farewell!
- after Catullus, ci – “Multas per gentes,”
in English Iambic Hexameter;
(# 1 - 5/77; 7/81, 6/97 +).
Let's live together, Kate, and love, love, love!
and let's resolve right now to count our neigh-
bors’ sputterings not worth their nosey breath.
Though suns can set and next day rise again,
our own brief flicker, once it fades, knows on-
ly one long endless night, slept through alone.
Therefore, before that loveless gloom, let's live
together so that any time we wish
we'll kiss, and kiss some more, and kiss again,
and kiss, kiss, kiss to make it ten, and then
a hundred, and a thousand, and again
a hundred thousand, and again times ten,
then like before, still more to mix up the
score, so those jealous spies can’t fly their e-
vil eyes upon our sweet and easy love!
- from Catullus v - “Vivamus, mea Lesbia”,
Viuamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum seueriorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus inuidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
He, to me, seems truly a god among men;
he, if not glib blasphemy, betters one, who
sitting right near by, stays so calm and sane when,
time and again, you
sweetly laugh. Me, I'd be distraught: just one quick
glimpse of you wreaks havoc in me: my knees grow
weak, my ears start ringing, all sights but you blur.
Then, when you’re near, my
insides leap, strange tinglings afflict my skin, loins
moisten, non-stop swallowings drown my well-worked
speech, I scheme new ways to connect but can’t till,
hopeful, confused, un-
done, I just stare, helplessly there. And when you're
gone, I'm still crazed: ease breeds my soul's disease as
thoughts of you seen - hoped to be seen! - obsess me,
desperate to love you.
- loosely from Sappho -“Φαίνεταί μοι κήνος”,
and Catullus li - Ille me par esse deo”,
approximating the latter’s Lesser Sapphic meter
Sappho, Fragment 2
Φαίνεταί μοι κήνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν ὤνηρ, ὄστις ἐναντίος τοι
ἰζάνει, καὶ πλυσίον ἆδυ φωνεύ-
καὶ γελαίσας ἰμερόεν, τό μοι μάν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόασεν·
ὡς γὰρ εὔιδον βροχέως σε, φώνας
οὺδὲν ἔτ' εἴκει·
ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσα ἔαγε, λέπτον
δ'αὔτικα χρῷ πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμακεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ' οὐδὲν ὄρημ', ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ' ἄκουαι.
ἀ δέ μίδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δέ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ' ὀλίγω 'πιδεύης
ἀλλὰ πᾶν τόλματον, [ἐπεὶ καὶ πένητα].
* from the collection Classical Thoughts In Current Words