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© Pyotr Patrushev - Selected Poems

 

 

Boris
With every poem Escape from Alcatraz
Jack and Jill Chernobyl
Kaishing The Prodigal Cosmonaut
To Pushkin Fighters for Peace
The Magic Mirror and the Dark Queen Home
Space Boy Adam
Revolt of the Slaves Weightless I walk
A small Step for Humankind Corrida
Treasure Room 505

 

 

 

 

***

BORIS - in memory of Yeltsin

This bi-lingual poem was written during one of the many of Boris’ sojourns at the elite heart clinic in Moscow. He proved to be more enduring than expected, at least physically. As in Brezhnev’s time, wags joked that he would have been long dead if Americans would have imposed an embargo on importation of  spare parts for him. However, some years later, the main message of this  poem sounds truer than ever. It was publicly performed for the fist time during a poetry reading at the NSW Writers’ Centre. Read Boris in Russian

The raucous giant,

The broad grin and the bear hug;

To embrace or to suffocate,

A drunk conductor,

Leading an even drunker country

On a merry-go-round,

Pillaging the scraps

Of the past,

Mortgaging the future.

Dust of the Tsar's grave

And the blood of the Chechen bride

On grimy fingers

Soiled on the tennis court.

You had noble visions, Boris,

Now dissolved in the

Vapour of the 40 proof

And the vertigo of power

And the hidden despair

Of your ungrateful people

Who nurse visions

Of murdered Tsars

And betrayed people

Who wanted the millennium

And the New Rome

And who built instead

A derelict orphanage

Run by paedophiles.

But Russia endures

And you will lead on,

Even from your death bed,

The remnants of the nation

To more G7 rounds

And the debt talks,

Shaking a fistful of rusted missiles

At the gnomes of Zurich,

Tilting the bench with you big arse.

Back at home,

The sewerage does not work

But the Japs have put in

A cellular toilet.

While Russia's girls sell themselves abroad

For a bit of tinsel,

Men wear horn-rimmed glasses

And talk of the futures

If not the future.

Thank you, Boris,

The follower of the embalmed Chess

Player,

And the Murderous Joseph,

And the Peasant Buffoon,

And the senile Car Lover,

And the Jesuit Communist,

And Raisa's Reforming Lawyer.

In comparison

You have been

Almost a gentleman.

Rest in peace.

You will need no embalming.

 

go back

 

***

With every poem

I bare new skin,

More my own.

 

At the daybreak,

When night’s slow breath

Still fogs the valley,

A silent tree

Against the gray sky

Speaks to me.

 

go back

***

  Jack and Jill

(or Scarlet Rose)

 

Jack and Jill

Went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water . . .

 

Jack was a poor

Blind boy who,

When he was little,

Soon after his father’s death

And his mother’s re-marriage,

Fell on his mother’s brooch

And poked his eyes out,

By chance.

 

Jill was a poor

Lame girl who,

When her father went to a war

And her mother took a new husband,

Fell into a trapdoor

Her mother left open,

By chance,

And broke her leg.

 

On top of the hill

The view was lovely

But neither Jack nor Jill

Saw it.

 

Jack also could not see

How lovely Jill was

For — remember? — poor boy,

He was blinded

When he was only three.

 

Jill also could not see

How beautiful Jack was

For — remember? — poor girl,

Her broken leg still hurt.

 

But she felt his strong arms

Holding the handle of the pail,

And remembered something

She could not tell what,

But it felt nice.

 

And Jack touches her hand too,

Small and slender.

Something stirred in his breast

He knew not what,

But it felt nice.

 

So they thought,

Poor little devils,

That they were in love.

 

They stayed up on the hill,

Playing so,

Until Jack’s mother

Who waited for her pail of water,

In vain,

Came up and found Jack and Jill

Playing so.

 

She was angry with Jack

For wasting his time,

And she told Jill’s mother

That Jack and Jill

Played on the hill,

Naughtily,

With each other.

Jill’s mother was very angry,

For some strange reason,

And she called Jill “a whore,”

And a dirty little girl

Who was lost forever

To God’s grace.

(For Jill’s mother was

A pious and virtuous woman.)

 

When Jack and Jill grew up,

They got married, like all people do,

Sooner or later.

 

They were happy,

For a while,

For they remembered

How they held each others’ hands

On top of the hill,

Many months ago.

 

Jill did not want

To have children

Of her own

For maybe she was afraid

That one day

She would leave the trapdoor open,

By chance,

And her poor child

Would break her leg.

But she got pregnant,

Anyway,

And had a daughter,

And she called her Jill,

For some reason.

 

Jack was still blind

And could not see

How beautiful his two Jills

Were.

His world was so dark,

He started drinking.

When he was drunk,

He would flail his arms about,

So fearfully, or in a blind rage,

He knew not which.

He was afraid that

He could hit one of his Jills,

By mistake.

 

Finally, they parted.

 

Jill was very unhappy

Having a blind drunk husband

Forever angry, or scared

At something one could not see,

Or touch.

Jack was afraid that one day

He would hit one of his Jills

By mistake.

 

Jack went into a nearby desert

For he thought that if he

Meditated in the desert

Long enough

He would see inner light

At least.

 

Jill, when her daughter grew up,

Became a psychiatric nurse.

She had so much love to give

To these poor little devils

Who at times called her “an angel.”

As her love flowed

Free,

She started praying

First to her father in heaven

And later to Virgin Mary.

 

In the meantime,

Jack became very good

At meditation

And saw flashes of light

Sometimes.

Finally, he went back to the world

And started teaching.

He said that light and love and peace

Were really one and the same thing,

Funny fellow.

 

Some people thought

That he was nuts,

Bubbling so.

When war broke out

His talk of peace within

Upset them.

So they sent him

To a mental home

Out of harm’s way.

 

But he kept talking

Even there

Of inner light and peace

So they thought

It would be better

For everyone

If the light

Went out.

 

That night, Jill

Stayed for a second shift

And heard someone cry,

Faintly, calling

His father’s name

In a strangled voice.

She rushed in and stopped

The terrible crime.

 

Jack and Jill were old now

But they recognized each other,

Nonetheless.

For scales fell

Off Jack’s eyes

When he called his

Father’s name

In the darkest hour.

 

He asked Jill if her leg hurt

And she said she forgot her

Broken leg

When mending

Broken hearts.

 

And they cried

In each other’s arms

A very long time

For they saw

How beautiful they were

For the first time.

And Jill gave Jack

A scarlet rose

As a token of her love.

And they knew that the hill

They went to fetch a pail

Of water from, long ago,

Was called Penence Hill.

 

Everything would have been

Much simpler

If only the trapdoor was shut

And the brooch blunt.

But then, they would never have fetched

A pail of water

And learnt what love really meant...

Aaaahhhh . . .

go back

 

***

Chernobyl

 

Black grass sways over Chernobyl.

The heart of Russia,

The heart of the world.

 

Smudged with sooty tears,

Russia weeps, silent.

 

Chernobyl is the sick heart of Russia.

Each throb — a memory

Of the past, and future:

 

The wild Khazars roam

The darkened steppe, howling

Like homeless spirits;

Hasidic bones

Melt down

In your new inferno.

 

Bewildered pilgrims,

Smooth-shaven by mute terror,

Walk the wasteland

Pointing their peeling fingers

Back, towards the unseen.

Survivors of a camp,

The likes of which

You haven’t seen, yet.

 

I run my fingers along the swaying grass,

Listen to the dusty wind,

Look into the waves of the Dnieper.

 

I see Oleg sail

To vanquish proud Greeks,

Himself vanquished

By a mere snake.

I see Igor slaughter pagans,

And pagans split his white loins

Like a roast pig.

 

I hear the young Svyatoslav

Repeat the old refrain:

“Attack against one,

Defend against two,

Hold out against three,

Run away from four.”

 

Now

Your enemy

Is legion,

Russia.

Unseen,

Like your past deeds,

And the souls

Of your dead ancestors.

 

Ah, you listened to them again,

Clever talkers,

With brand new words:

Containment, not contentment,

Attainment, not atonement,

Power, not prudence.

They’ve talked you

Into a bargain

That may break your back

And your bank.

 

Black grass sways over Chernobyl.

The mass graves lie,

Quiet, pensive.

Old women hide from rescue

In quiet corners.

Dogs piss on pedestals,

Unmolested.

Linen flaps in the wind,

The blackest wash

In Europe.

 

Are you chosen,

Russia,

To atone

For man’s hubris?

 

Dnieper, the quiet Dnieper,

Your heart’s carotid,

Carries its silent cargo

Through the land, once fertile,

The metastases

Of your unspoken anguish,

Washing your dark bones

On the way to the sea.

 

Will you awaken,

Russia,

From your dream

Of man’s ruthless glory?

Can’t you see?

Is the omen not clear?

 

Your enemy

Is inside.

Don’t paint his face,

In strange colors.

Like a shadow,

He’ll haunt you

For жons to come,

Until you meet him,

Past and future,

Unafraid,

Without guile.

 

go back

 

***

A Small Step for Humankind . . .

 

Some people dance with stars

Some — with starfish.

Some explode

Into the weightless womb

Of the sky

At the tip

Of Apollo’s phallus,

Some — crawl into a pie

Of their submarine

Pressed deep into the ocean’s

Coral-lipped vagina

By water’s immense hug.

 

Some are the break-out types:

Jail-breakers, dancers,

Adventurers, astronauts,

Flamers, pilots, tax evaders,

Singers, skydivers, geologists,

Tightrope walkers, astronomers.

 

Some are the break-in types:

Burglars, scientists,

Rapists, tax auditors,

Spies, Peeping Toms,

Psychiatrists, demolition experts,

Ventriloquists.

 

Can you see a Cousteau

Making a small step on the Moon?

Or John Glenn boarding a Calypso?

A Flashing Tom?

An underwater astronaut?

An operatic ventriloquist?

 

What is the mystery

That scatters us so?

 

Is there a womb

In everyone’s heart

Where earth and sky meet

And each ventricle is

A window

To cosmos?

 

Yes my friend,

But the smallest step within

Is a giant leap of faith . . .

 

go back

 

***

The Prodigal Cosmonaut

 

Man is a seed,

First safe and anonymous,

Then bursting into the finite

Uniqueness of a flower;

Then the homeward journey,

The second childhood,

Of another seed.

 

He leaves the garden

In the gullet

Of a strange bird,

Exiled from paradise,

To fall, perchance,

On a rocky cliff

Or a verdant green.

 

His bird

Is a spaceship.

He — an adolescent

Leaving the Mother-Earth

For the big cosmic smoke.

 

The hurts

And the unfinished labors

Are left behind.

Pack your best clothes

Youngster,

Into your own

Suitcase

Bought with mother’s pension.

 

Eager, impatient,

Expectant.

He leaves,

Barely saying good-bye.

 

We know,

He’ll come back.

Chastised,

More loving,

His homeward journey

A flowering

Into wisdom.

 

The mother will greet him.

They’ll embrace,

Silent,

His battered suitcase,

Unopened,

Full of old toys

At the door.

 

go back

 

***

To Pushkin

 

They killed you,

The curly-haired cherub,

They called a monkey.

 

Your wife,

Russia’s first beauty,

Fit for Czar’s royal prick,

Embraced by a half-Moor

Half-ape —

That was unbearable!

 

Your thick-lipped mouth

Spouting sublime verse

Was worse than the talking apes

Of today.

It scared both the nun

And the countess

Out of their frilly pants.

 

True, the rabble and the rebels

Loved you.

But not enough to save you.

They loved you even more

Through the pure flower

Of your death,

Untainted for once

By debts, and scorn,

And the turbid

Delights of your

Untamed flesh.

 

Your own sweet wife

Was your Judas.

Your executioner,

As foretold,

Was a Weissermensch —

The blondest beast

Of the Hussar guard.

 

You knew your time,

And wrote your last poem

The red tapestry

On a pure white canvass

Laid for you

By your beloved winter.

 

Instead of thorns

They gave you enemas

Into your bleeding guts.

Sweet blackberry jam

Fed by the Judas’s own feline hand

Into your mouth,

Twisted by the vinegar of pain.

 

Then, like a dog

In a sack,

Into the frozen earth

So your ashes would not speak.

 

Later, a new Weissermensch

Scattered them

To the four winds

With a ton of TNT.

 

But in vain!

You are alive,

Your poet’s soul,

Ripened by eternity,

Still sings.

 

Your time has come.

Mozart and Salieri,

Pushkin and D’Anthes

Abel and Cain —

The lines are drawn

For the last duel.

That final glow of serenity

Foretold you the resurrection.

 

Will the rebels and the rabble

Help you now?

Or will they

Again

Purchase their

Faked immortality

With your blood?

 

I hear your soft voice

Through the lisp of acid rain

Falling on this funereal city.

 

Can you see from above

The rabbit-holes of bunkers

Built by the cunning Cains?

Or the fresh graves

Of Abel’s children,

The final mural

On upturned walls

Of their cities?

 

Hear it, Pushkin?

The Earth is crying already.

Hit in her pregnant belly

With every stamp

Of their goose-step,

Moaning softly

With her poisoned springs,

Peering, half-blind,

Through the sooty sky,

Sapped by the evil weeds

Of Cain’s anger and fear —

She is afraid of miscarriage.

 

Arise, prophet!

Your voice,

Unfettered by time and tongue,

Will awaken us.

 

The time has come,

The world’s soul

Has ripened for eternity.

Arise!

 

go back

 

 

***

Fighters for Peace

 

War is the herpes

Of mankind.

 

Now it festers

In the camps of Lebanon,

Now it erupts

In El Salvador

With the fragmented blisters

Of fratricide.

 

I am a herpetologist

Of war.

 

I see its virus

Flare

Through the pus

Of the ghettos

And the diamond cyst

At Sak’s.

 

I see it blanch

The hollow cheeks

Of the workers

And the hollow hearts

Of workers’ children.

 

It breaks through

In a rush of refugees

In Cambodia

And the welts of torture

In Chile.

 

War is the herpes

Of mankind.

It never stops

It just festers.

 

Fighters for peace,

I greet you!

Armed with the band aids

Of hope,

The incantations

Of simple faith,

And the litany

Of complex delusions,

You delight me.

 

Fighters for peace

Where is your Salk?

Do you really want to end war

Or just find

An expensive cure

With you

Ministering to the world?

 

We are all carriers.

 

Look into the base

Of your serpentine spine.

Do you see the bug

Lurk there

In the lymph

Of your anger?

 

Do you see

Your pain

Blinker your vision

Into a tunnel

Of callousness?

 

You, the white-gloved

Christian Barnards

Of disarmament!

Will you cauterize

The blistered vagina

Of Laos?

You won’t get

A nod from Nobel

For that.

 

Herpes is a congenital

Disease of mankind.

 

Fighters for peace!

You need a Salk

Of the spirit

To find the vaccine

Against war.

 

It grows

In the culture

Of forgiveness.

It is distilled

By trust.

It is matured

In the vats of loving.

 

This vaccine

Will cure our children

And the children

Will cure us.

 

Fighters for peace

Where is your Salk?

 

go back

 

***

Escape from Alcatraz

 

To my father, who didn’t live to tell it.

 

They say

No one escaped

From Alcatraz

And lived to tell it.

 

Do you believe it?

 

Alcatraz

Is a prison

For evil thoughts.

 

Al Capone was

J. Edgar Hoover’s

Evil thought

Escaped from the solitary

Of his mind.

 

These thoughts

Come to us

From the deep

And raw past

Loving us

Like a tenderly

Crushed bone

Is loved

By a hungry dog.

 

They swoop on us

Stopping our breaths

With a prowler’s

Razor.

Hitting us

In the ribs

With the mailed

Fist of fear.

 

They are

The delinquents

From our stained

Childhood

Prying the iron grill

On our facades

With their portable crowbars.

 

Alcatraz

Is a prison

For evil thoughts.

 

Bob Stroud

The Birdman

Was your evil thought.

He loved

The grog

And the birds

And the little boys

And the blood

Of the little boys.

 

George Kelly

Was my evil thought.

Sleek and clever,

Lover of juicy steaks

And lithe girls

Prodding the tied guards

With the muzzle

Of his machine gun.

 

Alcatraz

Is an almond-shaped island

Inside your head

That hides the time bomb

Planted by your ancestors

To explode

In your deepest slumber.

 

Alcatraz

Is a prison

For the living dead,

The sleepwalkers

Who read the Sanskrit

Of your dark past —

And live it.

 

Alcatraz

Is a prison

For evil thoughts.

 

They surface

In the twilight

Of your porno shops

And your brothels

And your army barracks

And the Mardi Gras

Of your Wall Streets

Where pin-striped

Robber barons parade,

Prodding waitresses

With the barrel of their

Steely eyes.

 

J. Edgar Hoover

Was Al Capone’s

Evil thought.

 

Feared and respected

Protector of orphans

And widows

Strangling the world

With a phone wire net

Feared by the Mob

And the bankers alike

Loved by the prostitutes

On the Hill.

 

J. Edgar Hoover

Lived on Alcatraz

An evil dream

In the brain

Of Al Capone.

 

They say

No one has swum

From Alcatraz

And lived to tell it.

 

I have swum

From Alcatraz.

Russia

Is the Alcatraz

Of the world.

I was Stalin’s

Evil thought.

 

Russia is power

Afraid of power

Hoarding power

Like an old man

Who hoards money

Dreaming of things

That money can’t buy.

 

Russia wears a veil

Of barbed wire

On its scarred face

To hide

Its cells of fear

Full of old rubles

Crumpled

Into the blood-stained

Pockets

Of its tortured prisoners.

 

Russia is

The uniformed Nutcracker

That cracks men’s nuts

In the basement

Of Lubyanka.

 

Russia is the world’s

Evil thought.

 

They say

No one escaped

From Alcatraz

And lived to tell it.

Do you believe it?

 

This Earth is

The Alcatraz

Of the Universe.

 

Marooned at the edge

Of the Milky Way

A green paradise

Behind the bars

Of greed and hatred

The legacy

Of an injured Earth

First blistered

By the merciless sun

Then frozen

By the icy cloud.

 

Man is a delinquent

Armed with a MIRV’d

Brassknuckles.

 

Man is God’s

Evil thought.

 

One man swam

From Alcatraz.

Bruised by the rocks

Stung by the sea salt

Chilled by the wind

He fell asleep

In my arms

A robber

Disarmed by a lullaby.

 

He stole his mother’s candy

On New Year’s eve.

She put him

In the closet,

The Alcatraz of his home,

While children

Played outside.

 

John Paul Scott,

The bank robber,

Was the toughest escapee

From Alcatraz.

He swam ashore,

Half-dead,

But they took him back.

No one thought

Of giving him candy.

He will try again.

 

They say

No one escaped

From Alcatraz

And lived to tell it.

 

Do you believe it?

 

You can break

Through the bars

Of Alcatraz

With the jimmy

Of compassion.

 

You can escape

From Alcatraz

On a boat

Of charity.

 

You can escape

From Alcatraz

On a rope of forgiveness.

 

You can fly

From Alcatraz

On a balloon

Of understanding.

 

You are a prisoner

Of Alcatraz.

 

They say

No one escaped

From Alcatraz

And lived to tell it.

 

Do not believe them.

 

I have escaped

From Alcatraz.

Today

I’ll ask God

To think kind thoughts

Of the Earth.

Today

I’ll ask him

If I can be a pelican

Again.

 

*Note: Originally, Alcatraz meant “The Island of the Pelicans.”

 

go back

 

***

Home . . .

 

I am a stray bird

Longing for home.

I flew thousands of miles

To this broken bough

To find my clay-layered nest,

So painfully familiar,

Torn by the shrill winds

Or a callous human hand.

 

Home? Where shall I find home now?

It’s too late to return

From whence I came.

The autumn is at its end,

The sunsets are touched

With the winter’s pale-faced foreboding.

 

My strength is waning

And the gathering of straw and fresh clay

Seems too much.

 

I’ll fly home with the wind

To a steep hill

With treetops

Weather-loved to a barren end.

On this hill,

Beyond which the sun sets

I’ll find my rest.

 

go back

 

***

Space Baby

 

To B.

 

A flea on a crab

A crab on the beach

A beach on the Earth

An ovary in the belly of the Universe

Called B.

 

When she was 4 billion, 891 million years old

She dreamed

To give Earth a present

For their birth-day

By giving a birth to

A Space Baby!

 

The time has come,

She thought,

For all those rockets

Thrusting their payloads

Endlessly

Into the blue virginity of the sky

To reach their true goal

And,

In one big organismic bang,

Create . . .

A Space Baby!

 

Death into life

Metal into fњtal

Bomb into womb

Rocket into socket

Dock into cock

Atom into Adam

Retrieve into Eve —

Love humanizing the space race.

 

The Gods thought it was the greatest

Cosmic joke

Cracked under this sun.

So they smiled

On the crab,

On the beach,

On the Earth,

On the Universe

And said,

“Why not?”

Space Baby!

World Baby!

Peace Baby!

Peace . . . maybe?

 

go back

 

***

Adam

 

I have forgotten

How to talk

To stones and stars

And trees and grass

Since I learned how to talk

To myself and my fellow men.

 

This is the meaning of original sin.

 

I have erected a Tower of Babel

Out of rocks carved

From the mountain of Divinity

And have forgotten how to climb

The mountain.

 

This is the meaning of original sin.

 

I have made my voice sweet and true

Capable of subtle senses

And have broken the link

Between voice and heart.

 

This is the meaning of original sin.

 

I have learned to sing

Notes high and low

But have forgotten that all sound

Came from the silence

At the center of Creation.

 

This is the meaning of original sin.

 

I have been fearful

Of shadows at night

And of howling wolves

And have forgotten

The dark shadows

Cast

By my own silent despair.

 

This is the meaning of original sin.

 

I have been angry with the gods

For forsaking me,

Weeping and helpless,

At the hour of trial

And have forgotten

That gods gave me life to live.

 

This is the meaning of original sin.

 

I have forgotten how to be grateful,

Daily and hourly,

For the gift of life,

How to prostrate and kiss,

Buddha’s dust-plated toes.

 

This is the meaning of the original

And ever-renewing sin.

 

It was my own anger,

Baby-hurt,

That made me afraid.

 

Forgive my ignorance,

Oh Gentle One,

And make my enlightenment

Retroactive.

 

 

Prince Gruff and Queen Prue

A True Story in Simple Verse

 

Invocation:

Jackdaw, Jackdaw, raven wing,

Swift and fleeting like the wind,

Flying over magic sky,

Seeing things with crystal eye,

Tell me story deep and true

Of Prince Gruff and his Queen Prue.

 

The Story:

Kind and virtuous King Grimard

Who had loved his muse and art

Lost his zest and spritely fling

On his seventieth spring.

 

Then his lovely daughter Prue

Who was but a cunning shrew

Had connived with her brother

To dethrone their loving mother.

 

So they built a palace cold

On a hill austere and bold

Where the old Mother Queen

Was no longer heard or seen.

 

As for old King Grimard

He no longer loved loved his art

And has hung his feeble horn

On his daughter’s bedroom wall.

 

Princess Prue became the Queen

When her brother was done in

In a courtly duel fierce

By a jealous rival pierced.

 

The she took her a consort

Prince, if not much of a sport,

From a mighty kingdom near,

So she’d govern free from fear.

 

Her new love had secret plight

That his heart disturbed at night.

Once, possessed by jealous ire,

He set father’s bed on fire.

 

Old King, with his last air,

Cursed his disobedient heir

And had placed his mighty realm

In his mother’s hand and helm.

 

Hence the Prince has sought no bride

Saying he was barred by pride

From accepting as his twin

One who could not be a queen.

 

But his mother saw his chance

When she took him to a dance

At Queen Prue’s resplendent court

And bade him be her consort.

 

Thus he moved to lofty palace

Drinking from the sacred chalice

But he showed his people no love

And was named by them “Prince Gruff.”

 

Five years went in gloomy tandem

With no child or sun to light them

Prince collected swords and furs

Queen has let him use her purse.

 

Prince had dreams of hunting boars

When he fell on ground coarse —

As he lay there nearly dead

He felt hooves upon his head.

 

Queen dreamed of a mirrored hall

Where she saw shattered wall

As she walked on mirror flat

Slipping in a pool of blood.

 

So that she’d forget her fear

She had trained a dove so dear

Jewelled bird she got as gift

From a friend who was no thrift.

 

With the sixth year at the door

Prince Gruff went to fight a war

Wounded badly and kept captive

He subdued his ire eruptive.

 

Queen has taken orphaned child

Girl so mischievous and bright

She had taught her joy and tears

And dispelled her nightly fears.

 

’Tho their parents were long gone

And were nothing but a bone

They have prayed to God their needs

To absolve their dreadful deeds.

 

And the Lord has heard their voices

From which Heaven’s heart rejoices

Granted pardon to the meek

So they could his Kingdom seek.

 

Prince had then a dream enchanted

When again he boars hunted

But the beast gave him a crown

So he would no longer frown.

 

Prue had dreamed of old Queen

Whom she woke from her spleen

Gave her gift of jewelled dove

As a token of her love.

 

Then they ruled their land in joy

And their people did life enjoy

Thus ends story deep and true

Of Prince Gruff and his Queen Prue.

 

go back

 

***

Revolt of the Slaves

 

On a tropical plantation

Among beasts and jungle untamed

Worn by grief and lamentation

Lived a slave Shee’illa named.

 

Petros was her boss commissioned

Who was cruel and abrupt.

He ignored her tender wishes

And was terribly corrupt.

 

One day in revolt she rose,

Took the whip from Petros’ arm,

And exchanged her tattered cloths

So that she could rule the farm.

 

Deep in Petros’ coarse heart

Was a tender loving spot

It felt good to play the part

Not of despot but of sport.

 

Nights, he’d fan the glowing ambers

As she lay in hammock loose.

He’d massage her tender members

Being ordered and abused.

 

Day, he’d work in sprawling gardens

While she stood with a tilt.

He fulfilled her wishes ardent

To atone for his guilt.

 

Thirty days of bliss and pleasure

Passed like one unending dream.

Shee’illa thought she’d got a treasure

Or at least so it would seem.

 

But when thirty days have ended

Petros felt the fun had passed.

Now he would feel offended

And by treatment crass nonplussed.

 

Shee’illa became more cruel

When she felt her power slip.

She fed Petros only gruel

Made him work at frightful clip.

 

She forgot that pain and pleasure

Must be balanced to endure

And ignored the even measure

That would make her slave demure.

 

So that he’d be soft and pliant

Every time he anger felt,

She forgot to give her client

Daily kiss below the belt.

 

So one day her Petros mutinied.

Wouldn’t work at speedy clip,

He ignored her protests muted,

And took back the brutal whip.

 

All went back to norm and order:

Petros felt his guilt no more,

Shee’illa thought it very sordid

That she’s lost her slave d’amour.

 

There’s a moral to this story:

It is good to be on top,

But do not give in to folly,

As the fortune’s coin may flop.

 

go back

 

***

Weightless I Walk . . .

 

Weightless I walk

On shore

Star cradled under arm

Stepping around bottles

Of broken dreams

And the discarded driftwood

Of hopes

 

The sea caps

Its froth-covered lips

On the wrinkled palm

Of the beach

Like a grateful pilgrim

At St. Peter’s

 

The birds tiptoe

Beads on an invisible

Rosary

Moved by someone

Who asks for nothing

 

My arms

Scoop the wind

Onto my body

My feet grind the sand

Into timeless dust

 

I am a mere pimple

On the faultless mien

Of eternity

 

I delight in my

Pimplehood

Brothers and sisters

Do you?

 

go back

 

***

Kaishing 

This poem is dedicated to the dancing T’ai Chi Master Al Chung-liang Huang who showed me how to move to the melody of my heart. In Chinese, “kaishing” means joy or happiness (literally “opening of the heart”).

 A heart can open

Like a floodgate;

Tears of joy

And benediction

Soul-cleansing rain

After a long drought.

 

Or like a squeaky door

Ever cautious

Of peering strangers

End even of itself.

 

Like an orchid,

So easily,

Offering the gift

Of its flower-child

To the sky.

 

Like a flutter of wings,

Reckless,

Jubilant

With its newly found

Freedom.

 

Like a light in the window

Which burned already,

Only the curtain

Was drawn.

 

Like a letter

From a beloved,

Lost long ago

In the mail.

 

Like a sea clam,

Now open,

And now shut suddenly

When another heart

Stirs nearby.

 

Like a bird’s egg —

Just waiting

For the ripeness of time.

 

Like a frozen river —

Look at all that marvelous

Flotsam

Rushing downstream!

 

How does my heart open?

Like a desert flower

Sensing the morning dew?

Nearby,

The ageless eye of a lizard

Envelops the rising sun;

Like a ruby tear

Unshed,

No longer joyous

Or sad.

go back

 

 

***

Corrida

 

The bull splashes in,

A terrestrial whale,

Washing against the fence,

Full of life.

 

The man with the rag,

An embroidered doll,

Kneels in mock submission.

The crowd ripples,

Eager for fun.

 

The bull measures

The open space:

“Are they enemies,

Or friends?”

 

They play hide and seek,

Like two brothers,

Matching their skills.

 

A huge wasp

Stings the bull

With its steel tongue.

 

The bull roars,

An overgrown child

Betrayed by his smart brother.

 

The bull chases

Its own pain,

Stunned, indignant,

Incomprehending.

The hide and seek —

Now a deadly game.

 

They pin

A bright necklace

On him.

The steamy orchids of blood

Spot the sand.

The red mist

Blurs the eye.

 

The smart one dances,

His eyes bright,

Sharp like lances,

Devoid of compassion.

 

He falters;

The mob gasps

One huge breath.

For a blink,

The bull’s horns

Hang above the arena

Like a giant fork

Of nemesis.

 

But no!

They outwit

The just vengeance.

 

He pierces the bull

With the lance

Of false mercy.

The bull shudders, falls.

The dust of the arena

Drains his heart.

 

The celebrants

Drink the blood

With their eyes,

Flesh aquiver,

The brain, the genitals,

Swallowed whole.

 

The drink of death

Clouds their eyes.

The memory of a dark,

Foul deed,

Long past,

Stirs alive.

 

Averting their gaze,

They drag the murdered brother,

Still warm,

From the smeared altar.

 

Who is next?

 

***

 

go back

In Amsterdam I spent time at the Van Gogh’s Museum, reading about his life, looking at his pictures. I felt an almost heartrending compassion for Vincent. His potato-eaters was a picture of my childhood. There was this feeling of great scarcity of love, of food. The atmosphere was dark, filled with unexpressed anguish and sadness. He aspired to know women and to love them, but he chose partners who symbolized the impoverishment of his own inner female, marred by his perception of his mother. At the end he gropes toward the light, symbolized by the picture of the sunflower, but burns his wings in the process, destroys his mind, his body, and his ability to live with his fellow men.

 

Finally he grasps at the shadow of his father and fails to find him. His only recourse is to the Heavenly Father, to whom he, like Christ, sacrifices not only his art but his life. I felt that all of Van Gogh’s art was religious art, in a more profound sense than the usual pictures of cherubs and rays of light. His was a personal religion, deeply felt and lived. His life was a tragedy. But somehow I saw clearly that at the end, during his last moment, when he fired the gun, he saw the meaning, he felt the beatitude.

 

The Sunflower Eaters

 

I am a stranger

On this earth,

A prisoner

Of my lonely fate,

A bearer of a burden,

Chosen blindly.

 

The smiling death

Awaits me patiently,

Its perfect cup readied,

The Jewish bride

Whose shadow

I never saw

Yet never forgot.

 

I am a broken statue

Rising from ashes

To perfect ashes.

 

Soiled, I came

Into the world;

A dead child

Reborn to witness

My mother’s guilt;

A rotted spud,

Marked for replanting.

 

I mine the dust of death,

The earth creeping

Through my soles

Into my soul,

The eaters of potatoes

Eating my sweet flesh

Like glad worms.

 

I am a waxed flower

Shrouded in my mother’s

Flawed love.

Fallen, I seek the fall.

 

My blood is bright;

My canvass —

The guilty flesh

Transfigured to faultless poise.

 

With each stroke

I reach the sky.

My paint brighter,

My body lighter,

The glad worms fatter,

More delighted.

I paint in living flesh,

I rejoice with the worms.

 

Magdalene,

Take my vanquished ear,

But not my innocent eyes,

For I have spent your love

On a fallen brother.

 

The ravens’ black beaks

Hover over

The ripe wheat

Of my body,

My soul ready

For harvesting.

 

The yellow bells toll;

Father, yes.

 

Take my vanquished heart

And my virgin eyes

For I have spent your love

On a fallen madonna.

 

Lo, my ear is whole!

 

How sweet

Are the sunflowers!

How pure the breath

Of my Jewish bride!

How gay the ringing

Of yellow bells!

How bright the light

Behind my darkened eyes!

If only . . .

If only . . .

If only . . .

 

go back

 

***

Treasure

 

When I was a child

I thought of a treasure

Hidden under the floor

Of our wooden hut.

 

When I was a boy

I looked for a treasure

In books and tales

Of love and valour.

 

When I was a young man

I looked for a treasure

In the bursts of passion

And the glow of pride.

 

When I matured

I kept looking for a treasure

In sacred books

And silent meditation.

 

When I am old

Will I lift

The worn-out planks

Of the wooden floor

I’ve been treading on?

 

go back

 

 

***

Room 505

 

Room 101

Is where your

Ultimate terror lives.

 

For some,

It is the rats

Gnawing at their eyeballs.

 

For some,

It’s people’s eyeballs

Gnawing at their innermost selves.

 

For most

It is doing unto themselves

What they most want done

Unto others.

 

We are our own worst

Executioners.

 

The gangster’s big cigar,

And the smoke of his bullet,

A vindictive monument

To his father’s

Long black cigar.

 

George Orwell,

A prophet of terror,

A songster of dread,

Let you sleep in peace.

 

The world’s torturers,

Our most frightened children,

Read you like a Grimm’s tale

Before falling

Into their sweet

Nightmares.

 

Their eyeballs

Bleach the canopy

Of their sleepless nights

With the nemesis

Of the executioner:

“Humans are flesh.

Flesh can be broken.

I am human.”

 

Today, I speak

Of room 505.

 

Room 505

Is where your

Most cherished dream is.

 

I dream of being

A maker of dreams

A builder of rooms,

A shaman of happiness.

 

I fall through my dream

Into the arms of my

Beloved

Then my mother’s,

Then Mother Earth’s

Green-sleeved embrace,

Then into a welcome

Lantern

Of the farthest galaxy

Spawned жons ago

By God’s child-like smile.

 

I dream of being

A builder of rooms,

An alchemist of rapture,

A furnisher of joys.

 

I want to guide children

Big and small

To a narrow door

In room 101,

A vestibule

Of imagined terrors.

 

I want to repeat

With them

The catechism

Of the dream makers:

“Humans are spirit.

Spirit flowers.

I am human.”

 

Come!

The door is open.

Each child’s smile

Is a new galaxy.

Take me by the hand,

Dream maker.

I am your child

As you are mine.

 

go back

 

***

The Magic Mirror and the Dark Queen

Invocation:

At water’s edge, with sleepless eye,

I sat and watched a maid

Weave snowy clouds in the sky

Into an endless braid.

 

My heart was heavy with woe

And so I begged the maid

To ask her King in depths below

The key to my heart’s ache.

 

She smiled and giggled and dove in

As slender as a sprite

And came with the story of Dark Queen

Her magic mirror and young knight.

 

The Story:

Held in an icy thraldom,

Unlit by summer’s warmth,

There was a magic kingdom,

Untrod by man or horse.

 

In realms of wintery delights

Where time seemed like a dream

There lived a bold and errant knight

The ward of the Dark Queen.

 

There happily he spent his days

By blue-faced moon caressed

Untutored in the worldly ways

And deaf to heart’s distress.

 

He rode whales that surfaced

On waves white-crested rim

And looked from heights unearthly

On glacier’s broken gleam.

 

When morns were dark and cold

And ice would turn to sleet

The Queen would take knight bold

And warm his frozen feet.

 

The months went by in merry race

Until one day the boy

Did see his lovely warden’s face

No longer shine with joy.

 

She told him the sun, her mate,

Would soon return to reign

And then he could no longer play

In his preserved domain.

 

The sun was big and brightly shone

She said, and circles she traced,

By throwing a weighty stone

On water’s placid face.

 

And then she mirror magic took

That could foretell the fate

And let him have a close look

Upon her absent mate.

 

He glimpsed his frozen paradise

Become a murky stream

And palaces that gleamed with ice

Dissolve as in a dream.

 

He held the mirror to the Queen

And to his eye distraught

It seemed her kindly face turned mean,

Which fear in his heart wrought.

 

Before his Eden was destroyed,

With mirror held to breast,

He felt his cherished land of joy

Across the farthest crest.

 

He met a wise and old man

In land that lay afar

A master from the wizard clan

Who knew the ways of heart.

 

Ten whole years with him he spent

And learned his artifice

He knew what hidden feelings meant

What snares the mind devised.

 

But ’fore he went away at last

And left the mystic place

He thought he’d test his looking glass

And gazed at wizard’s face.

 

He glimpsed the old man was sham

And all his tricks were trite

’Twas all but a deceitful scam

In ways of greed and pride.

 

Distraught, this sight he could not bear

And left for city near

And married maid so kind and fair

Who was his spouse dear.

 

For ten glad years he stayed with her

Begot a strong-limbed son

And near forgot the painful spurn

The Queen and the King-sun.

 

One night he dreamed a three-ringed snake

Attacked his heir conceived

His feeble hands did tremble and shake

As he brought forth Queen’s gift.

 

In shiny mirror’s magic clock

His son’s rebellious head

Rolled off the executioner’s block

By king’s relentless hand.

 

Away he rushed from home so cursed

Into unknown lands

And journeyed long with people dispersed

In desert’s parched expanse.

 

In ancient region of Pradesh

He met a shaman famed

Who cured all ills of mind and flesh

And other healers trained.

 

He stayed again for ten long years

Of study and of toil

So he’d forget his dreadful fears

And death’s embraces foil.

 

As he was leaving teacher’s place,

Well-versed in all his crafts,

He shone magic mirror’s rays

Under the ashram’s rafts.

 

To his surprise and great dismay

The tools of shaman’s trade

Were toys of mortals’ clumsy play

With death’s relentless blade.

 

Again he went with empty heart

And trod earth’s weary clay

For final ways to end his part

In God’s immortal play.

 

He came to temple of splendid looks

Where he was promised grace

If only he would read God’s books

And make the leap of faith.

 

In ten years time he read the tomes

And leaped beyond the Word

And thought that under holy domes

He voice majestic heard.

 

But then the Devil in the street

Met him and did advice

To see this loftiest retreat

With cold mirror’s eyes.

 

That night he prayed with fervent zeal

So he could Satan rout

And asked the God if He could still

His ever-growing doubt.

 

But God was silent and aloof

And so he mirror took

Under the sacred temple’s roof

At God’s true face to look.

 

But when he glanced at mirror’s frame

With his gaze half turned

All he beheld was blazing flame,

His eyes were nearly burned.

 

He left the temple as in daze

And walked to ocean’s shore,

His mind and heart with pain ablaze,

The pain he knew before.

 

His hope lost, his search at end,

He gave himself to waves

With no convictions to defend

And only death to crave.

 

But fate has deemed his life to last

And when he lost his force

And could himself to waves entrust

He took his rightful course.

 

A boat came through heavy seas

And took him in its hold

A palace gleamed in morning’s mist

Too dazzling to behold.

 

The White Queen came to meet her ward

And opened her embrace

He saw the love he used to court

In that forgotten face.

 

He held the mirror to his heart

And saw only ice

The Queen then used her long-lost art

And kissed his cold feet thrice.

 

And when the sun did rise from waves

His heart began to melt

At last he looked at sun’s bright face

And God’s divine grace felt.

 

He saw that wisdom, love and life

Were part of a larger plan

That magic mirror couldn’t divine

That Dark and White were one.

 

He threw the mirror to the waves

And as it sunk below

A nymph of truly Attic grace

Appeared in pulchric glow.

 

He knew that forty years went by

As if in moment’s dream

And saw whales he used to ride

On waves’ dark-crested rim.

 

go back

 

 

 

 

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