Thursday, November 22, 2012

When Votaries Turn Into Pyres

Did you put down the cup of pleasing pain
in a moment of mild digress
only to find you'd traded the good for the best,
and picked up the cup of cold gain?
And when you drank it all in, did you find
that nothing can unhinge a mind,
like one moment, just one moment, insane?

Did we capture the phantoms we sought?
Or did they dissolve in the dark of the glass,
and melt in the darkness just past,        
leaving us, in the end, with nothing we'd sought:
and only the torturous regret of our oughts?
In the morning did we still fill[1] desire
when our votaries turned into pyres,
and the bitter dregs poisoned our thoughts?

Amidst the safe and the sound we had dwelt
for so long we'd forgot how it felt
to live lost in a world of pleasure-less gain,
and hold fast to hand that could not refrain.
It could never, we said, fall to us
to pray for dry clothes in the rain,
or seek joy in the paces of pain.
But our bright burning boasts waned to rust;
when we suffered at last our own dust,
and sung all the songs we'd disdained.

[1] This is not a typo. The natural word here is ‘feel,’ but I have something else in mind: the tendency to try and ‘fill up’ unquenched desires even when they should not and will not be filled. 

The Last Winter Solstice

There are poems to write;
there are wrongs to right;
there are battles to fight,
brutally, whilst duty is done,
and a dragon's curse undone,
and a lady’s hand finally won.

The summer sun shyly slinks;
the harvest moon wrily winks,
and hence winter, winter at last --
and not a moment too late!
Now I raise my cup and wait
with a broken, empty glass.

This is winter, unhindered
the coldest day of the year;
but, Ah! summer so near –
for the Spring is growing wings
and the cold is growing old,
in the last winter solstice.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Remember How It Ends

He said, I'm tired, and what good
is life on top of life. Life should
be lived, not endured, he said,
I'm tired.

And he said, it's over, it's the worst
thing I can say to you, 
and you don't understand how my
heart broke, and something died
in me, and I'm not alive anyway,
he said, I'm tired.

Do you remember the stories Steve used to tell?
-- when, around a campfire, 
fury faced ferocious children
stood stained in soot and sweat,
and clasped hands bloody, brothers 
until the ruddy, bitter end,
and fought world wars of ten on ten,
and lived wild like Comanche Indians,
content to live in ragged tents,
out on the lonesome prairies,
feasting only on black berries,
and river water, dirty, washed by fairies.

Do you remember when
we painted dreams in mud and tears
in the canvass of coming years
in strokes violent and clear,
then crossed the haunted bridge
because -- not in spite of -- fear;
and sometimes we didn't sleep for days on end,
but boasted that, instead,
we'd wait to sleep when we were dead?

You are tired, as am I, but I dare
say we all have moments when
life seems a merciless despair;
we all feel, now and then,
as if even a bullet were a kindly fare
into a world of lesser care;
you are not alone, unless alone among all others.
We all feel tired; we all feel we cannot bear
the burdens that buckle our knees 
and leave us screaming, cold, in pain.
These thoughts come to the best,
and the best stay barely sane.
So it was, it is, remains,
and I sympathize, a laden man myself.
But I still I must protest:
who are we to seek for rest?
I say now, as then we said,
we will sleep when we are dead.

Remember the stories Steve used to spin?
-- when, a brave and brothered band 
raised their small but angry hands,
and pledged to never give retreat
against a band of devils hiding deep
in the dreadful darkness past the creek?
We were younger, so much younger;
we didn't know our youthful strife
was the first battle of a long war
that would grow fierce with age and life.
We were younger, so much younger,
we did not know this war would weave
with rapacious rage, like a hunger,
across our ages, with no reprieve.
We sought fiends, but we were too naive
to find them; we fought evils which, we were,
too good to ever full conceive.
We saw demon visions, by youth blurred,
but visions we had sure received.
Miss Alexis said our devil foes
were nothing more than childish fear.
Well, we are grown, and I believe,
the devils who were there, are here;
across the creek, and ever near;
they have at last appeared.
They've come closer and grown bolder
with the passing of the years.

Do you remember, do you remember
how, when we were younger,
we swore to either die, or stand?
Come hell, or waters high, wraith, or man,
or demon, or danger, or dragon,
we swore to either die, or stand --
even if the stars went dark,
even if we stood on broken bones
in bodies frail with barely beating hearts.
We swore to either die, or stand.
We jested not, and neither they:
devils have returned in dark arrays.
And they have come to call our hand,
and test if men, as when boys, we are brave:
to see if men will either die, or stand.

Remember the stories Steve used to tell?
Remember that one?
That one about the three sailors
playing a game of poker
in a dusty old saloon?
Yes, he said, I remember that one,
though I had forgotten;
I just can't remember, he said, how it ends.

Three sailors are sitting in 
a dusty old saloon, and it's early morning, 
and the place is empty
except for them and mutt named 'Mutt,'
and they can barely 
hold their heads up;
they've been playing all night,
and the only sound in the border town,
is Mutt barking at the moonlight.
Just then, this wild-eyed prophet runs in, 
and he said, Hey, the world's coming to an end
at sun rise! You boys better quit with sin,
and put your houses clean in order,
he said, that's how the story begins...

He said, So put your houses clean in order.
And the first sailor jumps up,
and pushes his hand forward,
and he said, Well, boys, I've lived good,
and done what good a good man could.
I've been waitin' on this day;
I've been waitin' to meet my maker.
I best go on to the mission now and pray.
I'll see you boys, if I see you, on the other shore.
And he headed toward the door.

And the second sailor fell right
off his chair, and stood up shaking,
and he said, Well, boys, times short,
and as I've never been a righteous sort,
and you can't buy heaven your last dime,
I'll spend better if I spend mine
on a case of whiskey and a dame.
He threw his cards down on the floor,
and hung his head in shame.
And he, too, headed toward the door.

And the third sailor sat real still,
and shuffled his cards until
a light clear and steady rose in his eyes. 
And you sir? said the prophet,
Are you a fool, or are you wise?
Then the sailor tipped his hat,
to the prophet, and stared down 
at his hand, and he said, I can't blame 
you all for leaving, but I made 
a promise to someone,
and I can't see how that's changed:
time's short, that's true,
but my word is still the same.
So, go on, if you have to,
but, as for me, I'll go out as I came,
he said, I shall finish the game.

That's how it ends. 
And he said, I do remember
when Steve used to tell that story, and the camp fire
that burned before us,
and the fire even more,
he said, that burned within us --
and I can feel it, as before,
like a gentle rage ignited now again.
I remember, he said, how it ends.