EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

SELECTIONS FROM PLAYS, A LIBRETTO & POEMS 

 

by

MICHAEL CURTIS
____________
 

 

Verses selected from Confession,
Volume IV of “Colloquies: A Review
of Civilization in Little S
ongs”.

 

 

SALVATION

 

I ask you, “Who would live to die a saint?”

   To scorch the feet on desert sands;

   To strike the thigh with leather bands;

To starve; to kneel in prayer until one faints:

Oh no, I would not want to be a saint.

   Neither would I be a martyr,

   Boiled in oil, or fried in sulfur,

Or fed to toothy beasts without complaint.

What then? Vivisection? My toe in Rome,

   My ear in Bath, my tongue in Paris,

   My collarbone the source of bliss

To pilgrims on a pilgrimage? No. Home

Is the place for me. The reliquary

Is for saints:  Sinners may write poetry.

 

 

 

MATRIMONY

 

We two before the world are wedded,

  Single in the sight of God.

We two are natured like the wooded

  Branches of a single rod.

Together we will leaf and flower.

  We together bear the fruit.

Together we complete God’s nature.

  We together seed the roots.

We come to God to seek our crowning,

  Earn His love and serve His plan.

We come to God to bless the wedding

  Of this woman and this man.

We vow before the earth and heaven

To serve our God in love. Amen.

 

 

 

 

TRIVIUM 
 

Grammar whose shackles give language its shape

Makes structures that no wayward word can escape

That thoughts well arranged on the sky of a page

Like birds in formation may fly away.

Logic will tell of a bird and its wings,

The course of its flight, how it lands, why it sings:

Deduction allows ideas to fly

Gracefully, sensibly into the mind.

Rhetoric colors the letters of birds,

Remaking a chick to a duck in a word:

Persuasion will prove that a chicken who clucked

Was truly the quack of your friend, the duck.

No term will be empty, no sentence go blank

If well-feathered words fly straight in a phalanx.

 

 

 

WHOLLY INNOCENT

 

The worm is turning, twisting, winding

   Around the skull who hatched a plan.

The flea is hopping, tick is crawling:

   Who’s the fool, who’s the wise man?

The fowle feathers in her heaven.

   The fish is fining in his flood.

The swine is swilling in her penen.

   What do you, my bone and blood?

The rusty plow won’t seed or feed you.

   The sword is useless in its sheathe.

The book, the hymn, the bead can’t save you

   Flesh and bone that will not breathe.

Then come: Hang your skin upon the nail,

Go to God, if good; if bad, go to Hell.

 

 

REST

 

A fawn is frightened in her bed,

    A sparrow chills in winter’s night;

In life we suffer, in life we dread:

   Your love is full, Your touch is light,

   We trust in You to do the right.

Each life will turn throughout its course

   From bad to worse, then good again,

Each hopes the good the stronger force:

   We each will suffer through the pain

   In faith our trust is not in vain.

In all the world of want and need

   I give myself to trust in You;

I cannot know, therefore I plead,

   “Please give me what is best and true.”

    I Trust, and I shall Rest in You.

 

 

JUSTIFICATION

 

Please, do not blame these simple lines

For honest faults and plain design.

The weakness is not theirs, but mine.

The lines were born in hopefulness,

With joy in bright-eyed eagerness

To live, to grow in holiness.

All things that live want to be loved,

To feel You smile down from above,

To be well-liked, well-spoken of.

Blame the corruption of the times,

Or blame my jingles and forced chimes,

But do not blame these honest rimes.

Each sound, each phrase, each stress, each word

Is ambitious of your grace, my Lord.

 

 

 

Return to Poems Menu

 

 

____________

 

From Potina, Lady of the Stag, second screen-novella of the Aegea Trilogy.  Each is a portrait. The portraits are mirrored, sacrifice and queen; priestess antagonist and novice heroine; flouncy servant and adventurous prince; mountain god and aged king.

 

PICTURED

Of feather-soft and water-smooth
She like a graceful peacock moves
Along the rolling ridge of hills,
Ever lovely, forever stilled.

And there are monkeys blue of skin,
And antelope well-lined and slim,
And there is saffron full in bloom,
And here her hair yet sprouts the plume

For which she passed from life to air,
And see, the layered skirts she wears
Are pretty now, as pretty new
When they from life the artist drew.

KEEPING

He has his work, and I have mine
To keep the house, its rooms, the shrine,
To light the incense, pour the wine
In offering, and trim the vine

That twines about the sacred stone.
We see the most when most alone
In quiet places, like the tomb
And the long-abandoned womb.

The goddess granted me a child,
A lion of a man and wild
And hungry for the sea. He roams
The waves, neglects his father’s throne.

                                             * * *

LADY OF THE STAG

Upon the grass a drop of dew
That sparkles a reflection, blue
Alike the sky that floats below,
A mirror of what she can know.

And here are stars in min’iture,
A moon that in the light demurs,
The sun, her God, shines brightly forth
In gold, in heat, in streams, with force

Upon the little drop of dew
That shows each morn the All, the new,
As she on grass tip steps in walk,
As she in mind talks and talks, and talks.

NECESSITY

A pretty dress, well, in its way,
Neat, though torn, clean, though frayed,
The color of the dye has gone,
As has the child when first ‘twas worn.

The other girls in this new place
Are pretty-skirted in colors gay;
They lightly move as light they may,
Born as they were to wealth and grace.

The girl is proud and too ashamed
Of the dress her mother made
In the queer place far, far away
In odd time, on a happy day.

                                             * * *

VEIL

A flounce, a bounce, a pretty turn,
The kind that is by study learned.
An imitation of the girls
He delights in swirls and curls.

And what’s to do when second-born,
The sea, tough work, or the court
To serve the prince in this or that,
To muse, to ease in silly chat

Of this or that. And see, he smiles,
His lash beguiles with girlish wiles
While all the while he serves the prince
A tasty dish, dainty and minced.

APPRENTICE

In beauty born with grace and wit
And looks and what’s become of it:
Amusements, quests, and errands dull
As father says, “This is my will.”

And he a god of sorts, and what
Am I, son of a god of sorts
Or something more, or something less,
A pretty boy, a silly prince.

Of course. Yes, I would be a man,
But how when merely what I am,
A novice prince strung on a leash,
Kept close, not soon to be released.

                                             * * *

KAPTARA'S JOY

Within, the heat, the stress, the force
That builds to flow along its course
Down crags and over trees to where
The priestess witch has kept her lair.

Up there the sky is charcoal gray
Now black with spots of ash that spray
Like sparkled blood that drifts through sky,
With one to fall to burn the eye.

Below, the ground quivers and cracks
Along some fissure’s gaping crack
From which up puffs the witch’s gas
Like fingers of green obscene grass.

JUDGMENT

The cicada sings to silence,
And so do I. A man sentenced
And soon to die from having life,
God’s greatest curse, and greatest gift.

Have I been strong. Have I been wise.
They say I have, but these are lies.
I fly upon the crested wave
Toward the rocks. What can be saved

Of what is good. Too soon the crash,
The splintered plank, the broken mast,
The torn sail. Hear! The mountain roars.
Stone cracks. The flame and tide of war.

 

 

Return to Poems Menu

 

 

____________
 

STORMY DAY

O give me the strife of a stormy day,
    Give me a wind that is blowing,
Give me a sea with angry waves,
    Lust in a tempest o'er flowing.

O give me a foe with fists of iron,
    Give me the race that is longest,
Give me a lie that I might oppose,
    Muscle to challenge the strongest.

O give me a trumpet of mortal alarm,
    A song of flame and of passion,
Give me an ear, God's voice to discern,
    A drum to measure my motion.

O give me the rapids of blood in my veins,
    Bowels well made for the breeding,
Fire to lick at the stem of my brain,
    And teeth for tearing and eating.

O give me one hour that I may exist,
    A minute to taste of pleasure,
Give me this most delicious of gifts
    In the moment of living, forever.


MANNERS

Genteel manners will not tame
The nature of the human brain,
And though the softer word may soothe
The beast untamed yet lives in you.

Try to hide him, though you do,
His grinning mask will show through
And there betray the stiff facade
Of the man who walks with God.

Beneath the trim and well pressed suit
Sleek and strong muscles move,
Within there sounds a hungry growl,
Below a fire burns the bowels;

An appetite that must be fed,
Lust fulfilled in frantic beds—
Every atom's life demands
Space, its compass to expand.

Let the poet not forget
That by which he was begot:
His slime but an afterthought,
A sop which was soaked up.

Hear me, O you blushing maid,
“The prostitute well knows her trade.”
If on this world you would survive,
Eat, that you may stay alive.

 

PLEASURE

But you can raise a mountain,
    But you can rain a sea,
But you can never taste the lips
    Who lusted after me.

What good your might and motion.
    What use your strength and pride.
What care I for length of years
    Who loves, and fights, and dies,

Who tears a second out of time
    To taste the swifting breeze?
Who in bed ponds in his lust,
    And smiles while he bleeds?

These my pleasures while alive,
    These, Time, from you I seized.
These things I took were mine alone,
    And ever thus shall be.

 

LIBATIONS

The northern seas are cold as ice,
The desert sand is hot and dry,
The jungle air is thick with flies,
The fruit of life is dripping ripe.

Your tongue was made to taste the meat,
Your bowels to ache, your lungs to breathe,
Your muscles tear from earth her wheat:
For this your flesh was given strength.

So take the pleasure while you may
From the hungry teeth of day
Whose angry sun will burn away
Your thread of time, your speck of space.

This fruit of life is dripping ripe
Like grapes too long upon the vine,
So taste its meat, and drink its wine,
And take your pleasure while alive.
 


MEASURE

Can planets tune the human tongue,
Can stars be captured in a song,
Are angels made from sacks of bones,
Can slips of clay “forever” hold?

This raging flame within my breast,
A soul of passion never quenched…
Blood to fuel a ball of fire
In a sun's sublime desire.

These hands, these miracles of life,
Though small, contain sufficient might
To raise from chaos of the earth,
The rocks of empire, seeds of birth.

This frame, well-muscled, thick and strong,
A male machine by ages formed,
And robed in skin rich as a pearl
Unequaled in a billion worlds.

These eyes, a glass into the mind
Where waves of life-eternal shine,
Where all existence is contained
Within the vastness of the brain.

These glories of the human flesh,
This sense of touch most exquisite
Will compass like a golden ring
A will supreme in its strength.

A waking dream to see beyond
The fact of the most distant stars…
This! the measure of our worth:
The grandeur of the universe.



BLOSSOMS


The spring of life blossoms white
    When light proclaims the morn.
The sun's quick flight too soon brings night.
    We weep that we were born.

What though the day has withered away,
    What though our time has gone,
What though we pray for another day,
    We pass with the passing sun

To then be laid with a million shades–
    A million more to come.
From mortal fate we cannot be saved.
    We cannot time outrun.

So while your leaves are waxing green
    Beneath the noonday sun,
While air is free, and you can breathe,
    Enjoy your life, and love.

 

____________
 

From AMOREM: A History of Love

 

Among the many flowers in the vase,
‘Tis I—the flower with the pretty face,
Full humor, sound stamen, and skill in fun—
Who is to say to you, Michele, “Well done.”
As so the master charged. Yet we who fade,
Who soon, like him, shall die, know we were made
To lend a blossom brief; but you, ah, you,
By art give life to Beauty ever new. . .

             *            *           *

 

The years’ ripe fruitfulness hangs upon the bough
  Awaiting, heavy in patience, sweet
If we would only taste our Autumn, now.

  O let us taste. Let us eat. The world is late.
    Time will not wait. Time will not wait.

The fairytale crystal sparkles the bones
  Of trees a-shivering. Rose the cheeks
When old hands fireside touching hold close.

  The world is late. O let us taste. Let us eat.
   Time will not wait. Time will not wait.

The Spring shall have its ever vining roses,
  Have strawberries to sting our bright teeth:
O let us drink full for we are chosen.

  Let us eat. O the world is late. Let us taste.
   Time will not wait. Time will not wait.

At home in Michigan now the sumac burns
  In deep red; the Summer hums; a treat
For we two while yet we may. Come! Let’s run.

 O let us taste. Let us eat. The world is late.
   Time will not wait. Time will not wait. . .

             *            *           *
 

This quaint bouquet of flowers
    Is by Nature rare, 
A thing of choice: a bud here,
    Two leaves there,
A blossom and a bow, a bower
     In a bowl, watered
By the Maker’s power.

This quaint bouquet of verse
    Is a thing of air,
A thing of voice: sev’ral words
    That disappear,
Aromas brief, a flower
     Heard then soon dispersed,
Forgotten in the hour. . .

             *            *           *
 

Too sweet the apple blossom smiles in spring,
Too sweet the autumn juice upon the tongue;
Too sweet the memory these pleasures bring
Of life when all was new, when we were young.
If I had known you then, my dear, too sweet
Would be the life of all these many years;
Too sweet the days if we when young did meet,
Too sweet if you were mine, if I was yours.
There is so much in life that is too sweet,
There is the love that fills the day with joy,
The ache of pleasure, and the pining need,
Just say … my dear, these aches shall go away.
Too sweet the loss of that which never was:
These flowers too sweet shall go, if you give cause. . .

             *            *           *
 

The field is empty of Rose and Gilly.
All there is has gone to you.
It was our pleasure to make you happy.
The season passed, as seasons do.

 
 

______________________________________
 

 
from the collection: BLACK-EYED SUSAN: VERSES FOR CHILDREN
IPTEE UM   
Quiet in the Ocean’s tower
the fish will grinkle by the hour:
    Till times are done
    the crabs have won
and everywhere the seaweed flowers.
So long ago wists whistled tunes
to dance the moon in shivery June:
    The dreams will float
    till night could go,
and spring would slowful to swift the loons.
And iptee um we sung, we sung,
we sung of iptee, we were young:
    The tiply birds
    in trimbling words
flipteed in the floating sun.
And so we go till children grow
of glopie glums and gropty ohs:
    And O my friend
    till time’s an end
we’ll glippity glop till glums are old.

WIGGLY SQUIGGLIES
I have the wiggly squigglies,
    in chairs I can't sit still.
I have an older sister
    who I'd like to kill.
She changes all the channels—
    boy, she makes me mad.
I do not like what she likes,
    my sister, she is bad.
My sister plays with all my stuff
    even when she shouldn't;
so I bopped her on her head—
    now I wished I wouldn't.
She cries so loud my ears do hurt,
    so loud that Papa hears her.
He always takes her side—the brat.
    My old fat Papa cheers her.
He looks on me with evil eye
    and says to me, "Who did it?"
I says to him, "It was her fault!"
    She deserved it.  I'll admit it.
So in this chair I must sit still
    and have the wiggly squiggillies.
My Papa says I must until
    devil thaws, or he believes me.

 

? QUESTION THE ! EXCLAMATION MARK 
Today I went out walking
    with no final point in mind
while walking I was talking
    long along a crooked line
till I tripped upon a  ,				comma
    fell and bumped my head
on the  —  between two clauses		dash
    and another thing I said
well it seems I broke my  :			colon
    and my  ;  too					semi-colon
and although I went on talking
    my tongue was of no use
so I reached into my pocket
    to find a long lost friend
who I placed upon my wagging
    tongue so that the walk could end  . 	period
 
RAINDROP
All that we know is found in this,
all that is or can exist:
All the universe is contained
within a single drop of rain.

TAPPING
When I nestle down to play
    beneath the broad oak leaves
I tap my hooves to pace the day
    and strum my strings to bees.
The grasshoppers will sing along
    under the summer’s sun,
the morning breeze will join our song
    urging the reeds to hum.
And we will smile the slow day long
    beneath the broad oak leaves,
until the sun in kindness yawns
    leaving us to dream.

BLUE BIRD
When wandering the pretty wood
    a bluebird called to me:
I stopped to listen where I stood,
    delighted by her peep.
My arms like gnarly branches bent,
    my feet became the earth,
green flowing leaves grew from my head,
    my flesh to bark gave birth,
and from my fingers blossoms grew
    in fragrance O so sweet,
then to my leaves the bluebird flew
    where merrily she peeps.

		

 

______________________________________

S
WALLOW SONG OF RHODES

Come! Come we swallows
with seasons of years,
with smiles and with tears,
flipped white underneath
to black on our back,
to nip as we fly
to the mansion rich,
to nick the fruitcake,
the cup of sweet wine,
the basket of cheese.
Give! Give, if you please.
We’ll not refuse. Feed!
Feed we swallows: we’ll not be content,
we’ll strip the lintel from the door it,
we’ll strip the lady, she’ll adore it.
So give us something big then bigger,
or we’ll getcha when we’re older,
wee children swallows.
So should we leave?
Please! Smile on us large large in deed
while we yet are swallows small. Please!
Feed with wine, and cake and cheese.

The ancient Greek "Swallow Song of Rhodes" tradition resembles our custom of “trick-or-treat”. Upon a night in the month of Boedromion (September-October), the children of Rhodes would parade as swallows, singing this song (above), begging door-to-door. Well, this song in Greek … mine is a free, though close interpretation. The song is preserved in Athenaeus’, “Deipnosophists”, a miscellany and cookbook (likely, the world’s oldest cookbook).
 

          _________

 

SKY AND EARTH TOGETHER PRODUCE OMENS

In harmony, sky and earth together usher forth
Their children, omens, unique, yet not divided:
All that is of earth and sky are one.
Each day portends a truth when planets line themselves,
By weight and measure into the open souls of men:
A melody of heaven, bodied.
 

       Translation from a collection of Babylonian, cuneiform tablets sometimes     
       titled “The Diviners’ Manual” by Classive, American scholars.
 

             _________

INVOCATION AT THE COMMENCEMENT
OF CLASSIVE, A NEW BOOK


Dear God: Of all the things that I might ask,
“For wealth, for joy, for fame, for sex” ‘tis best,
I think, that you should give to me the task
To teach, and this, a gift beyond the rest;
To give to each the thing which is most good
To health in thought, in life, as true you would.

 

             ______________________________________
 

...from Paideia. (published, February 1).
April 1, publishing,
Modern Art.


POSEIDON EARTH-SHAKER

Poseidon lays his hardened hand on water,
Gentles the violent waves who fall away
To rest as does the blanket of the night
In silent calm before the bat’ling day.
His other mighty hand reaches the depth
Of Ocean’s belly, pulls the fish filled bowels
Of wet away the shore. A million little
Seashells tumble down the sands, bump at corals.
The fishes’ gills in silence scream for air.
Alike the Bull of Sea He straining pulls
All wet, all whales, all monsters of the Deep.
Sore Earth unbalances. The Moon stills. Full
He lets his hands away. Ocean rushes forth
To break the hero’s ship on stiff-rocked shore.


WAR-LIKE ARES

The Battle-Din, Slaughter, Strife, Death, His friends
And His attendants on the Hill of Law,
Each grim in smiles alike broad maned lions
Who tongue blood, who on meat and sinews gnaw.
The God Himself, thick muscled, thighs in power
Wide spread, relaxed, reclining at ease, teeth
Hard white in grin, blue eyes pierce, the soft locks
Lay down the swelling, taught bronzed flesh; armor
In rich style shows handsome against bare rock.
Poseidon’s son deserved to die, all know,
Though never mind that Ares too did rape
The girls of Gods and men, and did have murders
In fun, by pleasure’s vi’lent escapade.
In truth, both Gods and men will have their bliss:
All know, a thing, a God is what It is.


ECLIPSE

“Our spears are dripping red, heavy with prey.
Let us go home.” says Actaeon beneath
The yellowed sun. “Come. Let us seek the cool
Water, a place to rest. Good Fortune smiles
On us. Let’s leave. Let us retire our nets.”
Entering the canopy of pines, sweet
And softly laid, he spies a shady place
Till then unseen by human eyes. A spring
A-gurgle glides slipping down the rocks into
A pool sparkling crystal blue. Rising there
The long-necked, keen-eyed goddess runs lean fingers
Through her raven hair. Stretching like a panther
To branches high, she glares with night-blue eyes:
The keen scenting dogs sniff his quivering thighs.

 
        Artemis & Acteon

 

REVERSAL

I shit upon your ancestors. And you.
Alax, today’s his day; now let it be.
Madame. Excuse. I shit, poop on yours, too.
Astyages, that wasn’t necessary.
You there, Alax, fetch me the skin in full.
Don’t press your luck, Astyages, day or no.
Lazy slave. A whippity whipping you’ll
Get. Alax, he’s drunk … you will bust my skull,
Archon? I’d like to see you try. Last night
I peeped the hole, saw mistress in the act.
Though you were limp, the God did fit her tight.
Now fetch my wine, or I shall tell, Alax,
That you are slack, and useless. Yikes! Master.
Go get him Alax. Wallop the bastard.

      Anthesteria
     Anthesterion (February/March)
     Honor Dionysus; a changing of roles; for priestess, an acting with the God


SYMMETRY

My beautiful Alexis; how are things;
You seem at stretch. I ache, my dear. Just now
On break. In minutes I’m to take the pose
Again. When next I stand, my buttocks will
Be turned toward the light. The boy now shifts
The plinth for best effect. We’re finished with
The measurements. The whole is planned. The man
Has eyed, has mapped each part of me by pechus.
And you’re to be. Why dear, I am Apollo,
Well don’t you know. Aphetor.
And? He will …
He fusses with my locks till tight in curl.
Just right. As well you know. A perfect wax.
Ah, years ago when sleek in form, in youth —
My dear, I much prefer you as a Zeus.

     Pheidias (480 – 430 B.C.); Polykleitos (V Century B.C. [dates uncertain])

 

 

 

AMOREM:  A History of Love.
           Selections from the first of three sections of the first of three canto, “Amare”.
               
Each canto contains three poems; each poem contains nine songs (lyric or didactic or narrative); each song contains nine stanza; each stanza is composed of six iambic pentameter verse lines (a quatrain [A B A B] and a couplet); most often, the song’s concluding couplet is an Alexandrine. The organizing outline:

Florum (traditional lyric)

      Amare
    
   I Epistle
      
II Testament (Mars & Aphrodite; Flora & Zephyr; Eros & Psyche)
     
III Acts

     Historia
     
 I Yearning
     
II Passion
    
III Ceremony

    Testamentum
     
I Chronicles
    
II Proverbs
   
III Genesis

Envoi (lyric, didactic, epistolary)

To date, there is not in Literature a history of Love; sure, there is Ovid, though little else. This history, rather more Herodotus than Thucydides; am not beginning with prepossession as do Progressives; instead, we shall tour, examine curiosities, telling episodes of the large cultural sweep. As most often, I hope to entertain while I inform.

Michael


Amorem, Canto I; Poem 1, Amare; Song 9

The conversation?” Bright and light. “And the
Night’s company?” Truthfully, a delight,
A stun, some lip-sticked, some brawn-thick, of these,
Above the rest, a man you’d pick: he writes
As well as me, if he’d put gift to use,
Which he would do if not for pining you,

My gorgeous girl. So here, steel pen in hand
I ink this sheet and pine for you at practice
Crafting words to canon as I planned, and
Then, I, beneath the vacant sheets, shall rest.
The God has granted gifts to each, in turn:
For you, for this, I thank him in return.

Eros: Awake! Tell me: Has poet kissed
His Muse; She, him? Why, “No.” How much better
That my girl is not a Muse. I’ll twist
She and I — with your favor — in these letters
By steps into romance. Hear! The song’s begun.
We learn to dance in verse, to move as one.

Michele, I ask, “How best to use ourselves.”
In sooth: in soon. We two have friended time
By long acquaintance. Near, we hear Death’s bells
Which yet for others ring, although we know the chime
To rhyme with our mortality. In truth,
The gods have favored you and I with youth

That we should use, or lose the favor. Breath
Is but a fickle friend who at our end
Shall trade we two to friendly, faithful Death,
And Death shall hold us close till all is ruined.
And yet, I know not fear, for I am strong,
As so are you. Days are full. Nights are long.

We two embrace tomorrows till forever —
Whenever that might be. Our friendemy,
Quick Death, will peer from far away when pleasure’s
Near to hand. My Dear: This verse is memory,
Our immortality, that seed I share
To grow in you, Age into Age, a rare

Conception crafted by the arts of verse.
Then do I say, “Merrily”? True. I do!
I here unmarry sorrow; unhitch the hearse
That we unsaddled smile as God intends; eschew
All dolor, dole, and worry to be happy
In speaking snappy, clever and chatty,

As spoke Boccaccio. My Dear: This book
I craft for you is health and truth, a kiss
Of flesh, a fact of fancy, poetic.
Look here: In metaphor I toy with sex
For your delight before our light is spent:
Hesitate, and we might lose the moment

Into forever, never to be found
Again. Michele, know well: When you read this
I shall recall the chairs where we were bound
Together soft in kiss, altered in promise.
Yes. Zeus graced Memory with many Muse;
I’ve loved them all, though none so well as you.

 

 

                            _______________________

EMBELLISHMENT

Compose your life as do philosophers
Along the middle course, and do not err.
Eat twice a day of modest, wholesome dishes.
Spare your hand from toil, and woman’s wishes.
Study well the ancients and the Bible.
Squarely set your tools upon the table.
Remember that the country egg is best.
Before you temper, leave the yolk to rest.
Now here … attend: Ease dust upon the air,
Breathe slowly, gently, easy lift the feather
To brush the vane along the sleeve … like this …
Then tease the gold upon the edge to kiss
The sheet and lift … to see … to look straight through
As does the bole and the design we drew.

PLAY RIGHT

Why write? To practice forming curly-qs,
To turn the tongue in twisting metaphors,
To please, to teach, report then bid, “Adieu!”
No, surely not to be stuttered by actors.
My squeaking shoes can better speak a line
When sneaking through a scene concealed by night.
The shoe knows when to pause, when to incline.
Why is it actors never get it right?
A rhyme is used in verses to explain
The deeds the drone of prose can’t comprehend.
A word is like a link within a chain
That holds a thought’s beginning to its end.
Better to speak in Lama to the air
Than to insert a stress that is not there.

TAKING ORDERS

We must, my friend, between us set the borders.
Sister in Mercy, I shall take the Order.
Not so. Then what becomes of me, I ask.
Perhaps for you, the Order of Saint Bruno.
To meditate on peas? A heavy task.
To fast alone, encelled. A Hell. Why, “No!”
Then follow in the footsteps of Assisi.
What, me? in rags and begging in the street,
High preaching of the good in poverty,
Not me! bowing to everyone I meet.
Perhaps then a Loyola, a Jesuit.
And they do what? They argue and they brawl.
They’re soldiers. Well then…so I could fight a bit?
Well, yes. Right! Perfect for a know-it-all.

APOLOGY

All liars, hypocrites and knaves, I tell
You; ne’re-do-wells, timewasters and fools
The lot of them: and worse, tempters to sin.
Now, I tell you: the poets should be banned.
Dear, my Sir: you, perhaps with too much vigor
Give slight regard to poets, to poetry,
That cradle, school, instructor of our country,
By God inspired to speak angelic power.
I’ll grant, some poets pen merely for hire,
And some will waste themselves in base desire,
And yet, poets by kings for truth are sought,
And seers in thought to poetry aspire.
If we should damn the poets words to fire,
Would virtue’s beauty be by lawyers taught?

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________________________________

Here you will find “Ax in Hand”, a narrative, jejune verse composed before I discovered poets who alike me had abandoned old progressivism to return to classive modernism, the goodness and the light. Here, now, my one button-pushing finger copies-and-pastes for you an early, honest, narrative verse true to our American tradition:

AX IN HAND

                  I.

THE WOODSMAN is a manly man
Who works all day with ax in hand
A-chopping trees to board and lath
In all the woods across the land.

He wears a shirt of colors plaid;
He wears suspendered denim pants;
He wears stout gloves upon his hands:
The woodsman is a manly man.

And when he works he has to sweat,
And when he sweats there down his neck
Run twigs and sawdust, dirt and nicks
That scratch his thickly muscled back.

“Timber!” the call that echoes through
The forest where the redwoods grew
Proud children of a Primal God
Who forced upon the fertile sod

The lusty passion of His seeds
That Mother-Earth in zeal could feed,
Could give a Race of Giants birth,
The proof that God once loved the Earth.

On “Timber’s!” echo follows quick
The bellow of a broken bark
Twisting with a creek, then “Pop!”
The body of a giant drops,

From the heights of heaven’s edge
Onto the ground where she lay dead,
Dead and heavy on the earth,
Dead and broken in the dirt.

And all around her siblings stood,
Sentinel soldiers made of wood
Who will neither weep nor moan
Keeping silence in root and cone;

Besides, a flood of resined tears
Cannot stop the ax they fear;
The ax they fear cannot be stopped
With tears or pleas that pity drops.

Again the woodsman’s Mighty Ax
Rises to the skies, then “whack!”:
Remorseless to the murder done
Ax shows itself before the sun,

Ruthless high in singing glee
Cuts through the air into a tree
Where the razor edges bite
Hungry for another life.

Again and again the woodsman’s Ax
On fleshy bark and branches whacks
Gashes the trees in silent pain
Again and again, and again and again.

And again the echo, “Timber!” sounds
As trees like thunder shake the ground.
Again the Ax does lusty swing
And giants fall in silent screams.

                  II.

Down the river’s windy road
The mighty mortal corpses float
To the buzzing sawing mill
Where workman subdivide the kill.

No solemn funeral is here,
No mourner sheds a woeful tear,
No epitaph in rhyme is read
Over the bodies of the dead.

There is no quiet of a grave
Only drill and saw and lathe;
No moss where life might spring anew,
No, every limb of wood is used,

Is stacked by width, by length, by height
Tall and close, priced and tight,
Strictly sorted, precise in count
That not a twig nor coin be lost.

A workman takes a long straight stick
And knifes it to a gear, then click,
The driving motor starts to turn
And metal through the thin bark burns

And tears and cuts and sands to shape
Until the will of Nature breaks,
Until the stick loses its self
Becomes a spindle on a shelf.

Like hording ants over a hill
The yard-men greedy orders fill
By pound, by ton on trains and trucks
Till every flat-bed is filled up.

Then with a slap they’re shunted off,
Each truck and train spit out a cough,
A burp of fuel, a puff of smoke,
A grunt like oxen on a yoke.

With a herd-like prod and nudge
The smokestacks steam, the axles budge,
The whistle screams and pistons sound
Like gears grinding in the bowels.

The muscled iron-cold machines
Are goaded like the horned beasts
To Chicago’s slaughter pens
By the grisly will of men,

Men who take their coffee black,
Men who drag on cigarettes,
Men who stride without a care
Because the open-road is theirs,

And men will drive the hot, gray mead
As if it was a docile street
And not the bloody killing fields
Where now the ghosts of crashes wheel.

Here upon the road of death,
Stiff gears will crank without a rest,
Will fed with liquor sucked from soil
And swallowed by the gallon, oil.

Black smoke like coiling djinn clouds
Speeds thick through meadows, woods, and towns
To reach the soul of she unborn
Before her house of wood is formed.

                  III.

The child in her mother’s womb
Cannot know that soon, too soon
She low shall lie within a crib
Encaged by sticks reborn, yet dead,

Tight turned by tools, a spindled tomb
Pink painted, centered in her room,
And round her room a merry border
Of woodland creatures lined in order,

And here the pretty child will dream
Of very many lovely things,
Will hear her father’s tender voice,
And sometimes hear a creaking joist,

And here she will become a girl
Dressed in frills, in bows, in curls:
Happy, she without a clue
Of the pains that built her room,

Of the mind that drew its plan,
Of the many strains of men,
Of the hunger of the ax,
Of the woodsman’s muscled back.

She windowed smiles to see the bird
Who hopping on a twiglet chirps
In Nature’s song of pure delight
Beneath a redwood shaded night.

 

 

 _______________________________

 

Selections From The Priapeia*


Argument of the Book

SOME have guessed that I was gathered
from around Priapos’ feet
of verses scrawled, of lines graffitied
and from inscriptions neat.

Others suppose I was composed
by Maeceans’ clever fellows
when toasting P. in meter’d verse
for bookish wit to show.

Many perceive the evidence
of a fancy pedigree
from Martial, Ovid, Juv, Catullus
and Virgil in composing me.

Most recently my pages swell
tailing on Sir Richard Burton,
as here by Curtis I’m augmented
and shortened, I’m certain.

Yet, to the point, it matters not
what ere the learned source is
so long as you do practice well
the lesson of my courses.

31.

O Damsel, darker than a Moor,
Limberer than a tumbler,
Shorter than a pygmy,
Drearier than a vulture,
Scarier than a she-bear,
Roomier in the cunt
Than Indians and the Medes,
May I be blunt?
If my girth were twice its twelve inches,
If I had a second rocket,
If I had balls big as melons,
Still I couldn’t fill your pocket,
Then, even if I could, my skin would squirm
To keep the company of crawling worms.

32.

If you, who banquet at my altar,
Who taste of each my pleasant fruits,
Who share my meat and share my figs
And wash them down with tinctured juice
And leave without the gracious thanks
Of a clever, sporting verse,
I pray to Alastor and Fate
To hear and then to grant my curse:
May your wife and lusty mistress
Enjoy your dozen rival’s cocks,
And may each cock be bountiful,
Delicious and as hard as rock,
And may you always sleep alone
While hungry mice gnaw at your bone.

35.

Today, the bailiff raked my garden
To clear away the winter’s loss;
Some succumbed to drought and wind,
     Some to frost.
Last spring we smiled upon the sun
And tucked our toes into the moss;
As one we joyed a-knowing not
     Who would be lost.
Now again the spring is come
And so we greet the summer’s stock;
Our joy is all the keener here
      Knowing the cost:
Save what you can; leave nothing good to waste;
As the poet says, “Works and Days, works and days”.

60.

Long before you looked upon the sun
I was a fig tree’s knotted trunk
In the coppice of an honest craftsman
     Who was, too often, drunk.
Some little time after I was made
He explained I was to be a bench,
Yet, well, he was over-amorous,
     And then there was this wench…
Well yes, I laughed, too. And so it is
With all of us who come of earth
No matter the chance particulars
     That trip us into birth,
We each and all in joy will sing
When planting seeds in gardening.

 

      *(31 and 32 are new translations of original verses.  35 and 60 are Curtis's inventions.)

    _______________________________

 

Five from Commentary....

 

LEGIONARY

“Soldier, be conquered or be the conqueror.
This, you Dogs of War, is my final order.”
Then the stream of red gurgled from his throat
Onto the ground; resolved, we took to oath,
Alike our Father Mars, the blood-ground pledge
To slash to cut to stab till all were dead,
To bring to women shame, then to set to flame
The eyes sight, that the land should lose its name.
And true we were, Sir, to our word, as you
Can see by all around: each man cut through,
The women lying as they are, whimpering
In tears, or beating on themselves, mumbling
Who knows what. We have done, so now we sup.
“Soldier, water?” No, Sir. “Go then, wash up.”

CICERO

Why yes, he had such pretty hands, you know.
   And used them in the Senate House.
‘Tis true, was no one like our Cicero.
  And gestured like an actor, he.
Why yes, he had such pretty hands, you know.
  And used them to train up his sprouts.
‘Tis true, was no one like our Cicero.
   In this he was much like a Greek.
Why yes, he had such pretty hands, you know.
   Antony from the Senate floor—
‘Tis true, was no one like our Cicero.
   And nailed them to the Senate door.
Why yes, he had such pretty hands, you know.
‘Tis true, was no one like our Cicero.

SERVILE III

At every twenty paces plant a tree.
The shape might be an “I” an “X” a “T”.
From Capua to Roma all the way
Of Appia—why yes, of course you may
Praise Mars with wine at every stade. And smile,
Show teeth along the hundred twenty mile.
Six thousand plant you, only then to rest.
We’ve work to do. Go, and bear the fruit of death.
With notch or stud or rope by what’s at hand,
Dangle, face them out, prove they once were men;
A little scourge to make them sting, and nail,
But do not kill them soon, let each to flail;
Knot up the neck that some may see the sky,
To treat the birds to eyes before they die.

LIBERATION

Fair Helen had but little choice
   When she was swept to sea
And went along with bitching voice
   Greek-like and practically.
When mighty Dido in the cave
   Gave flesh and heart for free
Fell jilted into sword and flame
   Roman, romantically.
When Kesha fell into a bed,
   Another and then three,
She did not check her sex, but head
   Quite scientifically;
Yes, women’s choices now are greater
As a cunt or calculator.

ORNAMENT

The simple, quiet, pleasant ways of earth
Are best to row, to seed, to bring to birth
The growing word, the pleasant play of verse,
The bud, the bloom, the fully swelling flower,
A sweet and pretty wealth to fill the dower
Of matron or of maid, playing or towered
With note neatly bowed, tidily rehearsed
To sing as does the nightingale in bursts
Of trilling song, as on the morning first
Upon Arcadia’s plane, rousing shepherds
And sleepy nymphs who lightly stretch skyward
To greet the golden sun and floating birds:
Then, bee-like busy, at work in sweet wild thyme
Of wide-watered Tiber, build your songs of rhyme.

Commentary, from the 504 sonnet sequence history of the world,
“Colloquies: A Review of Civilization in Little Songs”.
Commentary, The Studio Press, December 2019

 

 

                        --------------------------

 

 

 

 

“¡Bomba!”, should you not know, is a four-line verse composed extempore, or nearly so, in poetic competition,
or “bomba-battle” at cantina,  festival, et cetera. Often, there is drinking, and ruddy fun. Bombas are spicy, sharp quatrains
addressed to a competitor or, upon spirited occasion, an object of attention, when, always before recital,
“¡Bomba!” is articulated. Bomba means, “little bomb”, or firecracker lit, exploded to rouse fun and laughter in fellow Mayans,
in the Spanish. English is occasionally mixed-in. These nine Bomba are included in a collection of 245 epigrams,
“Prig E. Map’s Book of Pepigrams” to be released in the next few years.

 

“¡Bomba!”

1.
I wish that I could be the shoes
Who dress your little feet,
So that from time to time I might
See what your pretty feet see.


"¡Bomba!”




2.
When you go to Chichén
To see sergeant Pool
Do not be surprised when
He shows you his Choc-Mool*.


“¡Bomba!”



4. - 5.
   Me:                                                      She:

You, shrill and shapely bragger,            I’ll take the bet, my Señor Map;
There with the lying swagger,               Expecting the blade is brittle;
      Would flutter, I would wager,              And even should you stick it in me,
On my majestic dagger.                        I have no fear of needles.

 

“¡Bomba!”


6.
Watina is a fancy lady
Who wares a daunting girdle
Inside of which are stitched the names
Of heroes who leaped the hurdle.

 
“¡Bomba!”

 
7.
Laying next to sweet Sabrina
When she lied a slumbering,
I thought I heard her mumbling
Lovers she was numbering.

 
“¡Bomba!”


8.
Domina breaks the sidewalk
When her high-heels strut,
And when she swings her iron butt,
Domina cracks our nuts.

 
“¡Bomba!”


9.
For thirty years señora prayed
To be honest, good, and chaste;
But yesterday she got a taste
And said, “Thirty years, a waste.”


“¡Bomba!”

 

                                – so says Prig E. Map

 

                              *Choc-Mool, servant of the God of Rain, occasionally ithyphallic

 

__________________________________________________________________________


Excerpts from

AKADEMIA: THE POLITICAL REGIME

From Michael Curtis's new project, a play in five acts dramatizing Plato’s failure in politics, practical and philosophical; that is, his numerous failures at Syracuse, which destroyed the state, and in his book, The Political Regime, mistranslated, The Republic. From this new play, the opening chorus; and two songs with dialogue interwoven.

PRELUDE

                         CHORUS
Muse,
From light in shadow, Kleio, sing the truth,
On stage, where men in mind see not themselves
Show us what we are, fixed of form, ambition,
Conceit and pride, pain of the innocent.

Muse, form lines that speak the cursed theory.

                          KLEIO
This evil shall not cease for sons of Man
Until the sons of Platon quit the Stage.

                          CHORUS
Kleio, sing cause, expose the force of rope
And knife, the noble lie, the razor and
The gag: these players do not speak
For us, for ourselves we speak, in peace
Against the hand that grabs the gold and gives
The crumbs. Truly, Muse, we sing of liberty,
Freedom from progressive tyranny, the force
Which stops the tongue in broken teeth and blood,
Political coercion: Sing us, Kleio,
Communism, Platon’s failure in the State;
Sing truth sincere against the noble lie,
The big lie in progression then till now;
Speak! Show us here the facts of the regime,
Athens, Ortegia, the Academy,
Death, Platon’s foul, corrupt philosophy.
In reason, sing! Ring clear and sound the theme:

Cold blooded politics. Speak the tragedy.

ACT I, Scene 4

                          COURT-2
Hoya, hoya, saxa:

SYMPOSIASTS pound the couch.

                           COURT-ALL
Alala. Alala.

                           COURT-3
I tell of Dionysus,
stout son of Semele
born on a jutting headland’s
shore of the fruitless sea;
a stripling flush of manhood,
his dark hair waving free,
shoulders bear the purple robe:
to wine, to men, the king!

                          COURT-ALL
Alala. Alala. Hoya, hoya, saxa.

                          COURT-1
All hail the God!

                          COURT-ALL
Hail to Dionysus.

                           DION
Master of the feast! As conversation
Comes about.

ACT I, Scene 4

The AULETE now sounds the tune to start the dithyramb; enter the SATYR ACTOR drawn in mask of Sokrates; at arms as if for battle proud he urges on the men; full throated flute, in turning dance, the aulos follows home. Careful here, in dithyrambic twist and turn, now mind your meter.

                          CRATINUS
The Gods above, the Gods below,
The God who lives next door,
The God with rings upon His toe,
He who crawls, she who snores:
Will you believe me when I say,
With happy shield and pretty sword,
Worship I each God-head in my way.

                          PHILISTUS
Yes, I believe you Sokrates,
The wisest man that there can be.

                          CRATINUS
From my balloon up in the clouds
Down I write you on the ground.

The ship of fools, the ship of state,
The ship with leaks is sinking,
The ship with its first mate agape…

A telling pause; from the actor, Sokrates, a thrusting of the hips.

I pilot with my thinking:

Will you believe me when I say,
With happy shield and pretty sword,
Pilot I each trireme in my way.

                         PHILISTUS
Yes, I believe you Sokrates,
The wisest man that there can be.

PHILISTUS urges all to sing along.

                        COURT-ALL
From my balloon up in the clouds
Down I write you on the ground.

                         CRATINUS
The youth in love, the youth in lust,
The youth who lends me smiles,
The youth who meets me when I thrust,
The youth who twinkles in his wiles:
Will you believe me when I say—

                         PLATON
Dionysius—

                         CRATINUS
With happy shield and pretty sword,

A telling pause; a sword-hip-thrusting two times more than thrice.

Counsel I each student in my way.

                          PLATON
Enough, I say.

                          PHILISTUS
Yes, I believe you Sokrates,
The wisest man that there can be.

                          DIONYSIUS
Beg pardon, Platon.

                          CRATINUS [& A FEW]
From my balloon up in the clouds
Down I write you on the ground.

                           PLATON
I shall not accept your pardon.

                           DIONYSIUS
Platon. Again, you misconstrue. I do
Not beg pardon, pardon I ask from you.

 

 

 

                                *            *           *

 

 

Three Songs from the Galatea;
         libretto II of “The Aestheticon”

SCENE: The agora of Palaipaphos

        [A ceremonial chant is heard off-stage.]
Hypathia:   Aphrodite
Chorus:                golden colored
Doris:        God of Cyprus
Chorus:               subdue the soldier
Eudoxia:    the feathered bird
Chorus:              who dances sky
                  the howling beasts and thee, and I

      [Enter the priestess and her train of Asiatic
       dressed hetaerae.]

Hypathia:  lay the wreath
Chorus:              the flowered garland
Doris:        on the altar
Chorus:              of rich Kytherea
Eudoxia:   to feed the stone’s
Chorus:              resplendent fire
                 that life be granted Love’s desire

Hypathia: hail! Lady
Chorus:             Queen of Cyprus
Doris:       crowned in glory
Chorus:            of God’s design
Eudoxia:  a-like the moon’s
Chorus:            silver starlight
                 shine in arrows of delight

     [Several hetaerae mix with the men
      to engage in negotiation.]

Hypathia: we who symbol
Chorus:            forceful pleasure
Doris:       offer humans
Chorus:            taste sublime
Eudoxia:  You who rule
Chorus:            the heaven’s need
                 bless the acting of the deed

Hypathia: bring to Cyprus
Chorus:           carnal pleasure
Doris:       sing the hymn
Chorus:           of lust divine
Eudoxia:  give the power
Chorus:           will and beauty
                 through which we offer Love to Thee


SCENE: Open air taverna, The Ambrosia

     [A brief instrumental prelude and the stirring
      of the dance before the song.]

Stasinus:   silver shades                      (boys dance while singing,
Boys:               embrace the moon       step hard on first notes)
Stasinus:   caressing feathers
Boys:              breezes swoon
Stasinus:   dewy grasses
Boys:              dampen night
Stasinus:   ecstasy brings god-like sight

Stasinus:         Bakkos takes
Boys:        Ariadne
Stasinus:         Kypris purring
Boys:        is well pleased
Stasinus:         scratching flesh
Boys:        the blood runs down
Stasinus:         blossoms there, love's flowers abound

Stasinus:   Ares lays
Boys:              his sword inside
Stasinus:   Kypris sheath
Boys:             She stretching sighs
Stasinus:   skies open
Boys:             Kypris cries
Stasinus:   the God’s force is not denied

Stasinus:         volcano rumbles
Boys:        trembles earth
Stasinus:         fire and rock
Boys:        in painful birth
Stasinus:         rolling ground
Boys:        yawning parts
Stasinus:        gasses flow in screaming starts 

Stasinus:   faster beats
Boys:             a straining heart
Stasinus:   voiceless speech
Boys:             from mouth departs
Stasinus:   is it love
Boys:             is it art
Stasinus:   conscious thought is torn apart

     [General applause and a few murmurs.]


SCENE: The studio of Pygmalion

                              MAN II
Told you she would dance.
                              MAN I
And the poet sing.
                              STASINUS
Whiter Galatea
                       than are the snow-white petals
slimmer than the adder
                       more flowery than the meadows
fresher than the tender kid
                       more splendid than is crystal
smother than are shells
                       polished in the tides

Truer Galatea
                       than matrons of the moon
humbler than are peacocks
                       less astringent than perfumes
gentler than are cougars
                       less quarrelsome than are hens
finer than are women
                       who breathe and age and die

                            MAN I
Sad song.
                            MAN II
Sad and lovely.
 

                            DORIS
Lovely and sad.

     [Other hetaerae and hangers-on enter Pygmalion’s workshop.]

 

                                                                    __________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epithalamion

 Ahh: May is the month of sweetness & light,
              Of smiles & delights,
               Of love & of life;
May is the month that you marry a wife.
Sing in the Spring, “
Ding, ding-a-ling
              A beautiful thing
              Is a girl in Spring
In white in a ring. O, sing, “
Ding-a-ling
Ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling
.” Joy in a wife.
              Ahh: sing and give life,
              Bring smiles and delight.
O, May is the month of sweetness & light,
Of ding, ding-a-ling & love birds who sing
& flowers who bloom & brides & bridegrooms…
Ahh: sing, “
Ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling.”

 

Solstice                                                                                                  

 When you with winter lose your looks
    And I drop all my leaves,
When summer’s warmth has turned to chill
    And spring to memory,
I will my dearest love you still,
    Well though my buds may freeze,
When you with winter lose your looks
    And I drop all my leaves.