The news from here is that my work is changing, moving from the personal and the politically topical to the perhaps more deeply political, satirical, even moral. But that sounds very foolish. I do not know whether the poems, which are a departure for me, are at all what I hope for them. They are based very loosely, merely inspired by, the woodcuts by Durer and a couple of other artists for Sebastian Brant’s Stultifera Navis, or Ship of Fools, a medieval satire first published in 1494. In any case, these poems are very different from the work in Without Paradise or Gold Star Road. Comments are more than welcome.
STULTIFERA NAVIS (Ship of Fools)
Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it; weep over them, you will also regret that.
Diapsalmata: Either/Or, An Ecstatic Lecture
Oh no daddy no big bad no money make moral;
no slow sad mamas wailing moan roll over.
All that hologram on hologram tomfoolery,
you’d think we were off to the isle of reward
and not toward Narragonia with sots, profaners,
phonies, gone where the wind untended tends
and schools of thought are born of errors made
enroute. You would think we had some idea.
Before we were born and after we are dead
are our coordinates: the chart is blank, our pockets
inside out. By morning we want to be glad and are.
Old buoys ding and dong us in. Gulls laugh.
All passengers on deck. Prepare the dinghies.
Hold your horses, people. Everybody gets there.
In the broken city of bread under guard,
our motives remaining subject to revision,
we were modified and sentenced. Period.
We had the right to remain silenced.
We had the right to consider the lilies
in the florist’s window. Missionaries
and recruiters taught us history, left us
freedom to choose a god to petition
from the pull-down menu. We went right in,
sat down before a screen. In no time
we were finished and felt relieved.
We liked what we believed we saw.
Licking our sordid fortunes we were sent.
Portions of the future have been pre-recorded.
A tri-corner hat and a flintlock for memory,
glockenspiels marching behind. Watch out
for horseshit and the little birds that peck there.
Speeches. Nobody can recall last week!
Flowers are never a part of the celebration,
nor is dancing. Children must be corrected.
Here come the tanks, the trucks with rockets,
war’s worst-off survivors lined up in a row
according to their missing parts. “You are
worse than callous,” one man scolds the boy
who points at them, “you’re cruel.” The flag,
chained to its pole, flaps hard in the wind
and tries to tear itself away. Ka-boom!
First of the fireworks and it isn’t even dark yet.
A handkerchief, cotton, monogrammed in silk
by inmates, for hardly more than the cost of a meal
for a family of four, a snot-rag of your very own
for purse or pocket, not for tears but for the stench.
Stay away from the vents! You know full well
what to call that smell, and also how to puzzle
over something else instead: what do those clouds
put you in mind of? Do you know what kind
of bird that is? Those cries you’d swear were human
are likely only gulls protesting this our voyage.
Nature is wonderful. Every creature in its own
self-interested domain, competing under one God
almost visible if everyone would raise their voices
louder, louder, everybody! That’s much better.
The anterior cingulate cortex serves as appestat,
cousin to both conscience and desire. Look:
a couple, handlocked, stand before a storefront
filled with merchandise, entranced; together
they enter the future, dreaming, in a dopamine
jacuzzi, jets full blast and good and hot. The ad,
3D, before them, offers a telescope of polished brass
fixed on a window, tromp l’oeil, with painted stars:
a library with its tufted leather chairs, mahogany,
oriental carpet, globe, and lifelike sleeping dog.
Take down a volume, read that this very world
is only nifty things to say, or if you don’t like poetry,
enjoy a tale about a man who wished his words
to live but turned, instead, his whole life into words.
We ferried our sullen sirens to the rocks and
handed them the music we composed so long ago
(of crooners’ modulated vowels sustained vibrato
and jingles for soap and beer that came to occupy
our parents’ minds) we had, already, forgotten.
We set the time when they would shed their ever
filthier silence, wired, a lyric bomb, and sing.
It wasn’t magic. Even our amnesia was strategic.
O land I love! I was born to your bright promise
and the hard terms of your peace. What I want’s
to be your one and only, take me in your arms
and gimme, baby. Gimme weregild of the slain
enslaved, the backpay of the disappeared, gemstones
someone’s bound to wear, it may as well be me.