A Journal of Contemporary Arts 






A tiny curling starfish
No bigger than my thumb
Is floating in this tidal pool—
Its beauty leave me dumb.

A sea-horse swims beside it,
In size about an inch.
Neither knows the other one
So neither of them flinch.

Along the shore a crabling
As dwarfish as a dime
Makes his millimetric way
Through reeking piscine slime.

All are small and toy-like
And barely can be eyed;
I must crouch down on the sand
As soon as it’s low tide.

But now there come the giants
Who never gaze at earth.
They laugh at blurted ribaldry
In loud and raucous mirth.

These loutish plodding vulgar
Who bulldoze through the beach
Crush sea-horse with their calloused heels
And all else in their reach.

The starfish and the sea-horse
Are mashed into the mud;
The crabling is a smear of flesh
Awaiting the ebb flood.

And so the world is structured,
And ever shall it be—
The small go down to helpless death;
The large stay strong and free.



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The only valid response to the modern world
is total withdrawal, or warfare without quarter.

                                                 —Derek Burgoyne

To get there, you must pass a dark fig tree
And grapevines thick with clustered fruit. Sunlight
Penetrates just enough to let you see
The footworn narrow walkway. To your right

A marble bowl and column (a bird bath
In which a lumpish frog-in-concrete squats)
Stand at a tilt, just off the garden path
Lined with mossy stones. In random spots

Are white clamshells, far from their ocean home,
Laid out in mazy patterns, now obscured
By clover, sedum, grass, and earthy loam.
Grandmother and her house are well immured

In self-sequestered solitude’s long lease,
Far from the world’s confusion and misrule.
Here you can sit untroubled and at peace
Like pungent wine casks in the cellar’s cool.

Think of the stench beyond this place—the muck
Of pointless contestation and debate,
Where one must face the vast, untutored ruck
Of human dregs not even worth one’s hate.

Think of the lies, as thick as oozing tar,
The noisome cheats and propagandist frauds,
Illusion throned high, like a gimcrack star
Of tinsel on our self-appointed lords.

Remind yourself that all of it is dreck
Unworthy of a sideways glance. Instead
Remain here and avoid the moral wreck
That comes from traffic with the walking dead.

Grandmother’s house has all her grandsons need:
Order, reason, structure, measure, laws,
Inheritance, tradition, and the seed
Of vengeance with its red cathartic claws.


Teaching the Inner Couplets of one Rumi
Has left me truly desolate and gloomy.

They say he’s great, this Sufi poet Rumi,
But frankly, it is most astounding to me

That anyone can read the text of Rumi
Without becoming gaunt and pale and rheumy.

Old Shakespeare might have cried aloud, “Beshrew me!
I never read such drivel as this Rumi!”

So give me a damned break, please, and just clue me
In on why this whirling dervish Rumi

Is so praised and adulated. Who, me?
Teach the gnostic blather of this Rumi?

Not anymore. So next semester, sue me—
I will not teach this drooling mystic Rumi.

Let ’em read the crackpot weirdo Rumi
In places where the weather is simoomy

Like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or Bakhshtumi,
Where storms will come, all thunderous and boomy,

And sweep him to pits sepulchral, dark and tomby.
That’s the best place for all the work of Rumi.



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She loved him in the way girls only can
At sixteen, with a maelstrom of desire.
She lingered on his every word. He’d fan
Her glowing embers into open fire.

He pressed his clear advantage, and cajoled:
It’s nothing but a little patch of tissue—
Girls lose it every day. She tried to hold
Him back, explaining sex was not the issue.

She wanted their involvement to be holy—
As sacred as the altar’s golden cup…
Momentously transcendent, and not solely
A bloody splotch on bedclothes. He got up
And dressed himself, then said with calm precision
 I’ll certainly respect your firm decision.


The sonnet has its uses, but I doubt
That one out of five hundred passes muster.
There’s quite a number we could do without:
Prosaic exercises, lacking lustre.

I’ve had my fill of lovesick, whining pap;
Vague exhalations, breathing floral scent;
I’d much prefer a poet shut his trap
When tempted to “a moment’s monument.”

A flood of rapt epiphanies and moans,
Ecstatic psalms of triumph and resistance,
Combined with joyous shrieks and plangent moans
Blare in our ears with imbecile insistence.

I’d like a sonnet—none’s been written yet—
As sleek and lethal as a bayonet.



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The Roman augur practiced his divinatory skills by watching the movement of birds, and listening to the wind as it stirred the leaves.

In flights of birds, in whispers of the wind,
I find myself and through myself the world.

The wind blows solace, cool of blessèd healing,
Over both prey and preying of the earth:
How shall I speak the message of the wind?

A voice within, another voice without,
Speak one word in riddling, different senses:
How shall my tongue one prior voice reveal?

In flights of birds, in whispers of the wind,
I find myself and through myself the world.

Both god and demon, soul and earthly flesh,
Meet in me and signify themselves:
I am the rustle in the oak tree leaves.

At dusk-light, on a sparsely wooded hill,
I with the eagle slip behind a cloud
To draw the veil that covers what things mean.

In flights of birds, in whispers of the wind,
I find myself and through myself the world.


In the tale of Troilus and Cressida, Pandarus is the go-between who arranges and  expedites the love affair between the two main characters. His name gives us the word “pandar,” which means a pimp.

Your speech is mincing. I sense in your words
The formalized obsessions of Versailles
Turned to the ends of a procurer’s diction—
Room-rates, assignations, rendezvous,
Chiseled in flawless and patrician grammar.

Your language tiptoes, going between lust
And the cosmetic paints of whorish charm,
Making bows like silken courtiers who
Insinuate bawdy hints in verbal webs,
And smile like merchants hawking contraband.

Shunted to a corner, half concealed,
Your purpose dawdles like a bashful page,
Glance-stealing, modest, silent as a ghost,
And waiting for the lordly nod or gesture
That grants permission to come forth and speak.




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Some meddlesome and interfering fool,
Nurtured on imagined self-importance,
Is affronted that you are not serious.

Nonchalantly smirk him into rage;
Dissolve the coating of his self-esteem
With a glance of palpable ennui.

A minister complains you are too calm;
He frets over your complacency and ease:
Comfort deadens conscience like a drug!

Stifle a softly surreptitious yawn.
Grasp the decanter. Silkily respond:
Possibly. Will you have another sherry?

Your Great Aunt, monumentally obtuse,
Laments your long and happy bachelorhood,
And wonders when you will “do the right thing.”

Smile faintly. In apologetic tones
Describe how a mistress satisfies all wants,
And is far less expensive than a wife.

A prophet, rapt with paroxysms of zeal
That burns with rage (but glows with Love for Man)
Demands what you have done to Save the World.

Now you have reached the source of human woe:
Tell him you have wished and longed and prayed
Devoutly for his quick and certain death.


Remember there is nothing in the world
Important save yourself and your own interests.
Remember that these interests may include
An undetermined number of some other
Persons, places, and far-off events.

This is the limit of all brotherhood.
These are the marches of effective love.
All further windy claims and protestations
Are traps and pitfalls meant to capture fools.



Great questions hang from melancholic minds
Like stalactites in a limestone cave.
The “sensitive,” the “troubled,” the “concerned”
Meditate as earnestly as monks.

They are emphatic in their chosen mode
Of gymnastic mental exercise,
Remembering, during bouts of rumination,
The only panacea is: Think harder.

They fuss and fret and worry and find things
To grieve about for endless drawn-out hours,
To rack their consciences and bathe in guilt,
And chalk up points on score-sheets of their virtue.



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Imagine a barnyard soufflé
Of chicken-feed, pig-slop, and hay.
That’s what you’d serve
(f you really had nerve)
At a banquet for vegans today.

Never a well-marbled steak,
Or nicely fried haddock and hake,
Or baked ham en croute
With champagne in a flute—
Such foodstuffs would be a mistake.

You couldn’t have lobster or veal
Or anything else at your meal
That came from poor creatures
With non-human features
(You know how these vegans would squeal).

Don’t cook for such jerks. You will fail.
Eat roast pork and cabbage or kale
Followed by biscuits
With t-bones and briskets
Washed down by a tankard of ale.

And after you’ve finished the ham,
Wind up with a nice rack of lamb,
Then an egg-custard dream
Made from butter and cream,
And slathered in apricot jam.

That’s the way humans should eat—
With plenty of dairy and meat.
Not gnawing on grasses
Like rabbits and asses
Half-starved in malnourished defeat.



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      Ataraxia: (ἀταραξία - accented on the penultimate vowel).
      Untroubled stillness, pure calm, impassiveness, the absence

      of turmoil and disturbance.


My life has a firm, solid basis.

Friends say I’m enslaved to cold stasis.

But I gladly aver

That in fact I prefer

This unchanged and ease-filled oasis.


Morons and crackpots want change,

And novelties in a wide range.

They like alterations

And crazy gyrations

And anything freaked-out and strange.


I want things the same and familiar,

In patterns sedate that will fill your

Soul with calm leisure

And plain homespun pleasure

And nothing to rile ya or chill ya.


You dimwits with bright new ideas—

Just shove the damned things up your rears.

Don’t stir up commotions

With stupid new notions

That generate tension and fears.


Ataraxia’s the goal:

A placid and undisturbed soul

Free from vexation

And gross irritation—

Complacent, untroubled, and whole.


The path of the pig I shall follow:

I’ll mosey on down to the hollow,

Plop down in the mud

And the welcoming crud,

And in blissful contentment I’ll wallow.


Don’t tell me the world is in pain—

I’m keeping it out of my brain.

To me it’s all dreary

And leaves my eyes bleary—

I don’t plan on going insane.



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Tumult of noontide long ago dismissed—
The rent veil unremembered, and the sun
Relit, though shrouded in a new eclipse
Of rainswept sky. The garden seems to shun

That spectral agony of blood and bone;
Consigns itself instead to placid sleep
Untroubled as the moss upon a stone
And heedless while the three Marias weep.

Four decades’ growth of lilac by this wall
Stretches its shallow spiral to the sky.
Clustering blossoms, soon to swell and fall,
Gather themselves like nimbuses on high

Out of my hand’s grasp, yet I still can bend
The pliant osiers downward to my face,
And sniff the buds that already distend:
Late April lilacs, delicate as lace.

Unlike that rigid tree, untenanted,
And red with memory of three hours’ grief,
The thornless lilacs summon up no dread,
Demand no witness. Flower, branch, and leaf

Are only what they are. They have no words
For us to ponder, though we sometimes feign
To speak for them, as augury of birds
Construes an omen of impending pain.

The book is shut, the candle snuffed, the bell
Rings the finale of a troubled day.
Did lilacs grace the garden where we fell,
Or scent Gethsemane? I bade you pray

And watch with me a little while this night—
Could you not watch one hour?
The world’s bereft
Of that which once gave stomach for a fight
Or certitude to vision. I have left

The Office of the Holy Cross unsung
But patient on the rubricated page:
Open my lips, O Lord, and let my tongue
Announce thy praises—in some other age.

Here in this garden how could it displease
To let the lilacs offer up my prayer—
Sweet censers that, when shaken by the breeze,
Scatter their fragrance in the evening air?

And in that garden where a sepulcher
New-hewn from rock awaits the mourners’ tread,
Where cerecloths, unguent, aloes mixed with myrrh
Will soon enshroud the lacerated dead,

There is some solace from the thought of how
Late April lilacs, coming into bloom,
Shall dance the currents of the air, and bow
To shed their flowerets on an open tomb.


           —from Formal Complaints (Somers Rocks Press, 1996)




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If you’re lookin’ for salvation
Prove it with a big donation.
Down in hell there’s souls a-writhin’
’Cause they didn’t do their tithin’.

Remember what is owed to Caesar—
Amex, Mastercard, and Visa
Will work fine, but cash is dandy,
Or your checkbook, if it’s handy.

Christ expelled the shekel-changers
Claimin’ they were total strangers
To the house of prayer—but honey,
Tabernacles run on money.

Send your hallelujahs over
To the throne of High Jehovah
Decked out in His lordly raiment—
He takes prayers, but we take payment.

                   —from Trinacria



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Joseph S Salemi EPO Poems Prior to 2023