Tag Archives: Ulysses

Tuesday Poem: “O Majesty of Muses” by Zireaux

'...as bound Ulysses (cargo knotted) / condemned himself to ecstasies / and wept and begged to be unbound.'

‘…as bound Ulysses (cargo knotted) / condemned himself to ecstasies / and wept and begged to be unbound.’

‘We traveled from place to place — from Paris,
Chicago, Houston, Singapore.
Our doleful players would implore
my mother:

                               “Queen of Heaven, Fairest
Tzarina, wax our ears! The call
of shiny cars and shopping malls
and billboard-blazoned beer unbinds
our will – just as that Argonaut did
fail to keep a focused mind
and nearly drowned in siren seas;
or bound Ulysses (cargo knotted)
condemned himself to ecstasies
and wept and begged to be unbound.
Sweet-tuned temptations all around,
each sung in notes we can’t decline
– those paper notes with dollar signs.

O Majesty of Muses – our earnings
are sweet. The dollar seduces. And yet
it also cheats. The Soviets
just steal our prize on our returning.
And here, Madam, on freedom’s soil,
the banks from Lenin’s face recoil –
what can we do? How can we use
this cash we stow in growing stashes?
To stuff more pillows? Or – excuse
the language, Lady — blow our noses,
spread cologne across our asses?
How strange a fate this world composes!”

But to our bandit queen, our troupe
stayed true; a loyal, close-knit group.
We loved but never groped the Free-land.
Then one day — ’

                                         ‘ — you met New Zealand.’

These last words were mine. How many days
had passed since I’d employed my tongue
(not counting mumbled curses flung
across the island — Sayeed-ways)
to mingle with my co-survivor?
Perhaps four weeks. Or maybe five, or
maybe several months — or more.
So comatose was I to him,
so like a wooden dummy for
his fancies to ventriloquize,
he did not think to pause and trim
his story’s sail when I (surprise!)
emitted words.

                                            He said, ‘Well no,
Not yet. Another year or so
would pass. A massive fox-fur muff
and hat, where mother liked to stuff

her secret store of cash, were worth
a fortune now; and on a flight
to Spain one moon-palpating night,
these great white furs of puffed-up girth
became two ATM machines.
Withdrawals were made, and – split between
the pilots – handsome bribes were paid,
and never have two finer actors
more convincingly portrayed
despairing, helpless, hijacked men.
The players cheered my mother, backed her
mission to defect. But when
we flew to Rome, then Ashkabat,
and mother told them of her plot
to conquer all Turkmenistan,
they begged us for a change of plan.

So I was forced to slap a few
(the flutist and a back-up singer)
and break our tabla player’s fingers
and even stab a stewardess to
convince the others to comply.
But it is late, quite late, and I
must start my prayers. Tomorrow I’ll
return to Ashkabat – the year
that saw my mother put on trial;
how we escaped to Bucharest,
Ukraine, Japan, and finally here.
Or rather, there.” He pointed West.
“That country I’ve forsaken — though
she couldn’t have been more kind, you know.’

He gave his hairy lip a stroke
and took ten steps, then turned:

                                                              ‘You spoke!’

‘You spoke, Arcady!’ He rushed to me,
so close, his moustache brushed my cheek.
He spat into my ear: ‘You speak!
You hear! You heard, unconsciously,
the story of my puzzling past.
Each woeful word. And now, at last,
we can converse.’

                                ‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘I said at last we can – ‘

                                                         ‘No. There.’


More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.

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Filed under Poetry by Zireaux, Res Publica, Book Two

“A Flurrysnow of Printerspew”

The 'Gates of Paradise' from the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence, Italy.

The ‘Gates of Paradise’ from the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence, Italy. Kamal’s father’s door ‘. . . loomed in Kamal’s untarnished / mind as splendid and ornate / as any bronze and Bible-garnished / Florentine portal!’

In our previous episode, Kamal’s mother threatened to kill herself if Kamal didn’t leave their home immediately and forever. Suddenly Kamal hears his father’s piano from downstairs.

In this episode he follows the music to his father’s room and listens at the door. Perhaps his father can help him now? But no, it’s not to be. The canto closes with Kamal walking out of his Bel Air estate to the sound, the horrible crunch, of a book being eaten by a lawn mower (Joyce’s Ulysses, which Imogene had defenestrated the moment her mother entered her bedroom).

O what grief Kamal must feel!
Please keep it brief, dear Fate! Please seal
the deed and send him on his way
before the details of that day
should make me weep! Down he comes
– the hall, the stairs; just as the wild
horse, once caught and broken, succumbs
to pulling loads, so too my child,
tethered to that wraith which hums
and croons beside him, carries on,
so spiritless. And there upon
the wall his youthful colors smear;
while golden Oscars sadly peer
like pixies at a banished faun;

‘This way’ – the calm, enticing chords
now coax Kamal down corridors
he knows so well; and lead him toward
the shadowy place he once adored
to bring fresh clothes to – a hall explored
two times each day, a door behind
which lives that grey and ghostly, kind
and powerful figure of fatherhood.
A place Kamal had often stood,
pajamas in hand, devotion in mind.

Kamal Book One by Zireaux

‘…our desperate hero feels / the sting each soulful half-note deals…’

What sad, seductive music! At once
a balm, a palliative that blunts
his pain…and yet our hero feels
the sting each soulful half-note deals,
the prick of every minor chord,
the raw arpeggios which soar
straight through that threshold’s door – a gate
which once within Kamal’s untarnished
mind had loomed, as splendid and ornate
as any bronze and Bible-garnished
Florentine portal! But how that great
majestic door transforms from gold
to varnished wood. And how that old
and saintly force which once composed
the soundtrack to his daydreams grows
so distant and so deathly cold.

And worse, far worse! For more of course
now changes. Not just the source
of magic, not just his patron muse
but all the world appears a ruse
to our deceived Kamal. A stage
of secret devices. Trapdoors. False-walls.
A box with mirrors. An iron cage
with rubber bars. And as it dissolves,
that wondrous illusion, he seeks to assuage
his pain, his loss. The Steinway ascends
in volume and feeling. Kamal attends
its call, and clasps the doorknob, raises
a fist – but then, as if it appraises
his presence, the music, at once, suspends.

A horrible silence follows – jumbled
with Spanish banter, birds, the mumbled
mantras of machines outside
(when planes and mowers coincide).
His shoulders convulse; his fist now falls;
a sob grabs hold his chest and hurls
him back into the steadfast wall,
from which he bounces, lurches, whirls
past movie posters, and to the squalls
of sunlight in the grand foyer . . .
and out he goes! O terrible day!
He sees the Benz, a beached black whale
all barnacled with foam. A pail
of soapy liquid blocks his way.

The Guatemalan voices drop.
A rainbow spray of water stops.
The sky is slashed with vapor trails
yet does not bleed. A migrating snail
just recently spawned from all those suds
which soak the lawn is nearly crushed
as lost Kamal looks for some blood
within that gashed yet pure, unblushed,
cerulean sphere – while stepping in mud
and tripping across a hose (he spins
to see a mocking immi-grin,
and feels the flush and flood of shame).
He looks once more from where he came.
The old front door; the shadows within.

Ulysses by James Joyce

‘…A flurrysnow of printerspew / as Joyce himself might draft a spewing / mower…’

Dear Ana [the wind] now tries to hold him back,
but from the driveway’s cul-de-sac
he staggers toward the gates; past scenes
he’s painted countless times, the greens
and yellows, reds and oranges swimming
past his eyes; a million memoranda
mixed together, mountains brimming
above the trees, a jacaranda
weeping purple tears; and skimming
across his favorite sculpted lawn,
a giant beetle, with elytron
outspread, a driver on its shoulders.
Look up. Will his eyes behold her?
No. The verandah’s shades are drawn.

And then – just as he reaches the gate
and gazes back at his estate
one final time: the olive trees,
the liquid gems the fountains sneeze,
the palms at play in games of catch
with swallows and jays, while shaking off
the fritillaries – a sudden dispatch!
A hollow crunch and aching cough
resounds from aforementioned patch
of grass where Genie’s book last flew.
A flurrysnow of printerspew,
as Joyce himself might draft a spewing
mower. And what’s my hero doing?

The gate is open. He’s walking through.

— End of Canto the First —

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

The Taxi Driver’s Poem — Stanzas 109 to 116

Odysseus and Calypso in the caves of Ogygia. Painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625)

Odysseus and Calypso in the caves of Ogygia. Painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625)

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Second


Okay, my taxi bard, your time
has come to take my poem’s stage!
I’ll add a sample to this page
and let your poem play in mine:

The Taxi Driver’s Poem

Ogygia! [The island’s name
where poor Ulysses once became
the sex slave of that nymph, Calypso.]
How beautiful you are! And – ipso
facto – the lather of your shores
is Envy’s froth! The world adores
such thickly oozing golden light,
your sails and whales and sea birds in flight,


your Wearable Arts64 and well-carved boats;
[Our taxi driver here, of course,
reveals New Zealand as his source]
and surely if we took a vote
why all the trees would love to wear
your bright red bows in their summer hair!
But O, sweet country! Give me a raft
to sail back home on, and what a draft
I’ll write for you! How much admired
you will be! How well-attired
in Kowhai trees; how clean and green
– and perfect for a dancing scene!65


Not Hobbit caves;66 a Taj Mahal
you’ll have, my love –
[I can’t recall
his words precisely, but these ones fall
quite nicely on my page] – and all
your wondrous beauty, by all seen!
A Koh-i-Noor67 for you, my queen!
A dazzling pendant for your splendid
neck I’ll write, in rhymes resplendent!
Not ‘ice’ – as lesser bards68 now call it –
not some ‘piece’ to flaunt your wallet,
but rather such a rarity,
of so much carat, when you wear it we

Wearable Arts

A model at New Zealand's 'World of Wearable Arts'


will stagger at your brilliance! Swoon
at so much splendor!
[You’ll note his use
of exclamation marks – effuse,
to say the least!] Why even the moon
in clearest, blackest night, will pale
– nay, disappear behind a veil
of blazing brilliance when my readers
sing of you! What says my meter?
It says: Please pay my passage home!
And I will write you such a tome
that all the world will be smitten
by your stardom . . . especially Britain!


Okay – that last rhyme might seem odd.
Most likely I emended it.
It’s doubtful he’d have ended it
with such a perfect British nod.
But never mind. His point is clear.
And I agree. You are, my dear,
a country of such rare device;
the closest thing to paradise
I’ve ever seen. Refined, demurring,
well-built (attractively contouring),
a mix of prowess and of grace.
Your tallest tower like the mace


of Hanuman (that Monkey god;
who holds a rattle to your club)
You are the South Pacific’s hub,
a single triple-seeded pod
of land in fruitless, boundless blue.
You don’t do what the others do.
You’re young; and thus a leader of
our hearts. It is this spirit we love
– the way you shrewdly shirk the ships
who lewdly whisper, ‘Apocalypse’,
into your pretty ear.69 You set
the world’s best example – and yet


a side of you (all sheep and farm)
could use a lyric ornament
to earn the long-due compliment
of English patrons. (How fast such charm
transforms a debt-extractor
into an instant benefactor.)
Despite your beauty, it takes a jewel
to end a creditor’s pursual.
Now here’s my point (for too much drivel
will make narration’s compass swivel):
As unadorned as you appear,
your jewels might exist right here.

'Your tallest tower like the mace / of Hanuman'

'Your tallest tower like the mace / of Hanuman'


Right here, in our own hemisphere,
a Nobel Laureate could in fact be
sitting in an Auckland taxi!
Right here, a modern day Kabir70
could well be writing you a Wonder
of the World! And what a blunder
it would be –

                          (What’s that? A knock
so late an hour? I’m sure I locked
the door)

                          – and what a blunder we’d
commit to let it go to seed
without its fruit appreciated.
For beauty unseen is uncreated.

64 Part fashion show, part creative dress-up competition, Wearable Arts began in 1987, in the South Island city of Nelson. Today it’s recognized as an international art event.

65 More than 100 Bollywood movies have been shot in New Zealand, which is considered an ideal location for the romantic backgrounds common in Hindi song and dance scenes.

66 The Hobbit dwellings depicted in Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, Lord of the Rings, were constructed on a sheep farm near Matamata, a town close to Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island. This region is known for its beautiful limestone formations. The owners of the property negotiated with New Line Cinema, producers of Lord of the Rings, to allow tourists to see the film set. Cost: NZ$50 for a two hour tour.

67 In Persian, Koh-i-Noor means ‘Mountain of Light’. The Koh-i-Noor is a 108 carat (21.6 g) diamond which originated in the Indian subcontinent and is now in a crown owned by the British royal family. Legend has it, the remarkable diamond is worth all the wealth the world can create in seven days.

68 This editor guesses ‘lesser bards’ is a reference to rap singers. If so then I imagine this term belongs as much to the ‘Taxi Driver’ as to Zireaux himself. Interestingly, as a performing poet, Zireaux seems to consider himself both part of the rap genre and aloof from it. In Kamal, the narrator writes about the rapper Eminem flatteringly, as a ‘fellow’ Walt Whitman (or White-man) – but he also suggests the rapper ‘mashes’ metaphors and courts his fame by flashing his buttocks on stage: ‘And you, Vulgarity . . . ! / . . . rate dear Eminem on what his ass is! / (How well my fellow Whit’man’s self’s expressed. / The metaphors which others mix, he mashes!)’.

69 On June 8, 1987, New Zealand’s parliament enacted a law designed to keep the country free of nuclear weapons. Operation Satanic, referring to the sinking of Greenpeace’s flagship boat, the ‘Rainbow Warrior’, proved a major boost to the proponents of a nuclear free policy. Such was the importance of this event that even intense American pressure could not deter New Zealand from carving out its independent nuclear policy.

The Indian poet, Kabir (1440–1518)

The Indian poet, Kabir (1440–1518)

70 Fifteenth century Indian spiritual philosopher and writer, famous for his pithy, poetic epigrams about the beauty in a simple life. An example of his work (from the translation by Robert Bly,
Kabir: Ecstatic Poems, Beacon Press):

There is nothing but water in the holy pools.
I know, I have been swimming in them.
All the gods sculpted of wood or ivory can’t say a word.
I know, I have been crying out to them.
The sacred Books of the East are nothing but words.
I looked through their covers one day sideways.
What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through.
If you have not lived through something it is not true.


Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
What is religion but communal poetry? A cathedral, a holy book, a monkey god — poems of the crowd. And then there is Kabir, less poet than a poetic creation. More Mystic than musician. Saints are the masterpieces of their disciples. And no country shows greater proficiency in the mass production of disciples than India.

“If you have not lived through something it is not true,” writes Kabir, a quarter of a millennium before Voltaire, five hundred years before the founding of the Skeptics Society. Scientific enlightenment needed another step, of course: Truth beyond sensation, beyond one’s own interpretation of it. What endures from Kabir, however, if not the stirrings of a Renaissance, is the independence of spirit surpassed only by the likes of Byron and Beethoven (to affirm the sentiments of the great historian, Kenneth Clark).

Was Kabir’s poetry any good? I have no idea and don’t plan to formulate one. My Hindi is very poor; it would take years to achieve the level of lyricism required. I can say that quoting Kabir in English is unlikely to produce a poetic result. Despite the sententious reading of epigrams that always makes an audience go “ah,” there’s very little poetry in meaning.


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Filed under Res Publica, Book One