Poetics: 3 x 3
Christopher Swan
John Melvin, and Hugo DeSarro

by Christopher Swan

The closer I get to the Greeks
the more unfamiliar they become.
Not white columns, nor walls
studiously uttering nothing.
Not laws, texts, philosophers
—decipherable, ready to the mind;
but in Sophocles, Euripides, and
in and in—farther
down deeper in time
into tangled paganism
nights of rampant insanity
the dance of blood-red wine
and the god Dionysus,
his finger in the blood-pool
spouted from his preternatural heart
swirling . . . swirling . . . swirling
creating madness and abandon.
They say he is mythical.
But there are still, I am told,
by Pausaunius and others,
unremembered stones,
sacrificial signs in the earth,
leading into the spiral-turning vine,
twisting down and down
into the wine-dark soil—
past the bones of men, past
the roots of everything.
And there we hear him, terrible
in his hugeness,
rolling over
in his bed of heavy water:
soon, according to the best prophecies,
to turn the earth into a glowing globe
of irradiant lethally intoxicating
fruit of the vine.

© 2000 Christopher Swan


Odysseus In Siberia
by John Melvin

The thing I remember best was the dark argyle
of that ram, tufts like nylon wrapped
around my fists to cling to his belly,
sneaking out of Polyphemous’ ranch that way,
so afraid I actually wanted to be no one at all—
invulnerable, nothing—and I told the monster
as much. I told him honestly I was “No One.”

That life seems impossible now.
I’ve told the story about the one-eyed giant
so often I don’t believe it myself.
Did I really huddle in the black cargo hold
of that jet liner when Helen and Paris
made love in the luxury cabin above, the police
searching from below? I remember whispering,
“Still. No sound. Move on my signal,
and Troy is ours.”  Well, the city fell
that’s true, and Helen sits like a trophy
in Menelaus’ den, stoned before the TV.
And I don’t forget Paris was a pansy and a fool,
but even so, true to his silly nature.
I would like to see him now, even him.

After so much trial of war you find yourself
wanting to wander. I say “wander”, but maybe
“wanting to hide,” is better. Ten years
of blood in Troy, ten of swimming it off.
Then the pang hit me again. That’s what stole me
from Calypso, that stabbing-like addiction
in the center of my head. And then
it started all over again, now with my boy
at my arm: the murder. So, he’s something
like a man now, a petty warlord in a world
full of that kind. How can I think
of him and his future and not remember the sea,
how it stretches from one edge of the world
to its end, how it shows you no possible hope,
how my son will find himself drifting there?
I hope for him the wandering is real wandering,
and when he comes to himself at last he’ll fetch
back riches. I hope he brings back wealth
and not a bone saw of bullets to cut
humans to the ground. He shouldn’t follow me.

Tiresias told me to hitchhike deep inland,
far from the marinas and the gull cry.
He told me to carry this damned oar
and enter the steppes where tractors pull
the earth over into smoking ripples,
where people stitch the ground with wheat.
I keep wandering, keep true to wandering,
the kind where it’s not one TV melodrama
after another and the plot is foreknown,
and the hero survives till the final commercial.
He said go until you find someone who
never saw an oar before. Maybe he’d ask me,
“What’s that pole on your shoulder?”
And at that spot I’d plant the oar,
and there I’d find peace and die. Who was he kidding?
In deepest Siberia, they know what an oar does.
But I was desperate when the prophet spoke.
I’d believe anything was possible then.

I wave goodbye to a beautiful girl and slam
the door. She drives off. I grasp the oar
and jam it into a patch of oiled gravel.
I wonder if she’ll mention me to her mother,
if she’ll ever remember the stranger she stranded.
And the girl, she knew what a sailor was,
what an oar was. She didn’t need to hear
my story. One look was all she took to see
a washed-up old man wandering. I told her
none of my old, unbelievable stories.
I let her have her own true vision of me.

My thumb is out for the next ride. Maybe
the driver will buy me some food and tell
tales of gods who torment this part of the world.
As for the oar, it stays. I did find
someone who thought it was just a pole.
And for a moment that person was me.

© 2000 John Melvin


High Horse Rider
by Hugo DeSarro

There was a tendency, an interest;
never necessity. I would have
set aside the pen, had it been.

Compulsion is a harsh exhorter,
not a muse; a martinet that drives
pretenders headlong into folly
—endemic to this age of pretense
in the riddles of the anointed,
writing not with reason 
but with passion, telling tales 
thrice-told like dreamers,
confessing with bleeding metaphors
their neuroses—trespassers 
masquerading as mystics, sullying
the sacred legacy of Apollo.

I seek no solace. Though success
has given scarce a glance, and little
I can show, I’ve been discreet,
uncompromised. Not many make that boast.

© 2000 Hugo DeSarro


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