Tag Archives: Virgil

Tuesday Poem: “A Sideways Raining of Metal” by Zireaux

Makhtumkuli, or Magtimguli, Magtymguly, was a Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet, born 1733 in Iran, died 1797.

Makhtumkuli, or Magtimguli, or Magtymguly, was a Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet, born 1733 in Iran, died 1797.

‘My mother, Arcady, a widowed furrier
and skilled equestrian, hearing the news
her only son was sentenced to lose
his life, was swept by such a fury, her
screams were even more fierce and tireless
than when that mother of Euryalus,
in Virgil’s song was told her son
was fed to dogs. Or when Jocasta’s
abandoned son became the one
she’d wed! Arcady! They say love lost is
madness found! This proverb fits
most aptly for mothers, isn’t it?
Forgive me, friend, your quiet demeanor
suggests you view my grass as greener.

But do not worry! Rescue will come!

I remember the night of my execution.
As if to loosen, or rather, un-noosen
the growing strain (for O, how glum
my guards became, in some ways dearer
to me than lovers, as death drew nearer),
it was decided I’d share a dinner
with my polite and cousinly captors.
Last meals are granted to death-facing sinners
in Turkmen custom, but only after
the crook is hanged (those gastro-requests
are for the hangman to ingest);
so what an honor it was to be
that night’s regaled celebrity.

And what a marvelous meal was sprawled
across the sofreh’s silk – the nans
like fighters’ shields, the lightly bronzed
and basted dumplings (mantί it’s called)
as tender as angels’ lips, and heaps
of sticky palav from which the sheep’s
fat trickled down our arms! The chal
(cool camel’s milk) was rich with cream,
the sweets with grenadine, and all
of it, each taste called forth a dream
more vivid than epic visions stirred
by Makhtumkuli when he, with curd,
would mix his bread; or Proust when he
would taste his madeleines with tea.

For I was due to die at dawn!
And here the food on which I fed
reminded me of what was spread
before me in my youth, the nan
and mutton, rice and soup all nicely
garnished, stuffed and spiced precisely
as mother would do. We hugged and toasted
with ardent, woeful farewells, the guards
and I; and never with better hosts did
I let nagging sleep retard
a happier evening – for never such ease
and satisfaction I’d felt, or pleased
with life I’d been as during that splendid
banquet, convinced my life had ended.

A moment later it seemed (so deep
my sleep!) those same lamenting men
who’d sworn with mugs aloft that when
I died a thousand days they’d weep,
seized hold my flaccid arms and legs
and like a boat on water dragged
my calm, blindfolded figure toward
the misty courtyard’s scaffold. I heard
a kind of off-key harpsichord,
a flight of swallows crying. The blurred
perception of a wall. I sensed
my bearers press my back against
its cool damp stones to sit unaided.
They left me there; and there I waited.

The cock and lock of old dragoons
(I thought I would be hanged, by God!
But did it matter? A firing squad,
I mused, was just as good) and soon
a bullet – a swift, unloosed and feral
mastiff – out from a gunner’s barrel
was shot and bit straight through my skin!
It tickled, I swear! It tickled and made
me laugh! Another was fired and in
my chest it sunk. A fusillade
I heard, at last, as the remaining
guns unleashed a sideways raining
of metal upon me, with deafening pops,
yet landing soft as water drops.’

…tbc
_____
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.

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“Be Clear, My Throat!” — The Story of Kamal, by Zireaux

I'm going to tell you the story of Kamal...

I’m going to tell you the story of Kamal…

My dearest followers, friends, subscribers, re-tweeters, and most of all, my good readers and listeners:

I’m going to tell you the story of Kamal — one of the great stories of modern American literature. I’m going to tell it through a combination of clear, explanatory text and rollicking, evocative verse, in a much abridged version of the original (the first book alone is told in 5,472 lines of structured rhyme).

It’s a story I know you’ll want to hear.

I begin with you, my small and most loyal following of readers. But of course, for Kamal to succeed — for the story to live on — it will require more readers as we go. Which means, if you’re enjoying the story, kindly request other good readers like yourself to join Immortalmuse.com as “followers” (or enter the email address in the left sidebar, or request to register here) so they can participate in the story as well. Users can unregister at any time if the story is not engaging (but it will be engaging, trust me).

I dedicate this telling of Kamal

to M.

…and to my father

Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

In the opening stanzas, the narrator — whose name is Arcady — describes his determination to tell the story of Kamal no matter what. Even if he, Arcady, is unknown to the world, or lacks the poetic skills, or the artistic angst, or even if he sings off-key or gets his words wrong. Even if he’s past his poetic prime. Because nothing is more important in his life than the story he’s about to tell…

I – echem – be clear, unthrottled throat! –
I do not seek to hail the Muse of Epics.
I’ll sing this tale even if my notes
should make dogs howl and editors dyspeptic
and readers seize the DVD player’s remote
to watch more handsome heralds in action
(A-list artists like Lucas or Jackson,
whose instruments are loud and long
and far more profitable than any song
I could pipe!). Because my story’s ripe!
I cannot wait for that perfect type
of angel! I’ll settle for a spirit more modest
– a muse for a poet who’ll never find a goddess.

Depiction of Russian firing squad, 1849. ‘No firing squad (concoctor, it, / of Dostoyevsky’s doctorate).’ Dostoyevsky was condemned to death, lined up to be shot, and at the last minute, issued a reprieve — an event which perhaps gave birth to the intellectual.

Never? O surely I could search the Net
for inspiration – ‘scarlet AND lips,’ etcetera,
a yearning Humbert ‘Googling’ his lost nymphet
(nymphomaniacs, most cyber Jet Setters are!).
But what if heaven’s website tried to get
my own details? I’d frighten off the Sirens!
They want deformities, like Byron’s
foot, or synesthesia in childhood,
the taking of drugs and lovers like Wilde would
and friends at The New Yorker! I’ve never
been published. I’ve never been told I was clever
by courting agents. I’m married, happy and rich.
A life too tame for muses to bewitch.

A life devoid of those credentials
which writers require – the Yale-at-sea
which Melville had; or that essential
diploma of wit – the jail degree
which made Voltaire so consequential.
No war. No firing squad (concoctor, it,
of Dostoyevsky’s doctorate).
I’ve never even smoked! My name,
Arcady, itself evokes the tame
suburban streets and shade-smeared grass
which I, like Virgil’s hero, alas,
would one day flee – O what a claim! I sought
to find a richer Bucolic. Aeneas I’m not.

Robert Graves

The poet, Robert von Ranke Graves (1895 – 1985): ‘Is it true what Robert Graves once said, / that any poet over thirty’s dead?”

But hear me out – I near my autumn years!
The sun shines low upon the sea, which heaves
beneath its silver breastplate. A south wind clears
out summer’s comfort and chills the yellowed leaves
that hang like badges on trees – those brigadiers
who’ve never fought wars, but hearing
the rattle of distant canons, and fearing
their forces won’t respond to commands
untested by battle, would rather stand
tall and be slaughtered than be retired!
Perhaps my ‘sell by’ date’s expired?
Is it true what Robert Graves once said,
that any poet over thirty’s dead?

And was I ever fresh? I was! Like Spring
I was! I swear that no one’s felt more loyal
passion for her Highness Beauty! To sing
until she wept! To kiss her pink and royal
cheek! To hold her hand, two wedding rings
enfolded in our fingers! I knew,
however, these visions wouldn’t come true.
I was like the peasant who –
though well attired – must jump to view
the Princess from behind the throng.
My dress was right. My lineage wrong.
Her carriage crushed my roses. A Moses or Milton
I’m not – but nor will I sing for Paris Hilton!

Lord Byron Paris Hilton

Lord Byron (1788–1824): “. . . I’d frighten off the Sirens! / They want deformities, like Byron’s / foot . . .” Paris Hilton (born 1981): ‘A Moses or Milton / I’m not – but nor will I sing for Paris Hilton . . .’

Yet look – my story’s bucking in its chute!
My hero on its back regardless! Dare I
leave imagination bard-less and mute
just because immortal maidens care not
for a star-less suitor of scar-less repute
– and the kind of life, in truth, like an ad
for life insurance? Adventures I’ve had
in youth were mostly on computers,
or televisions (those deadpan tutors).
Professional parents; the sort who wish
their Jewish brood were less Jewish.
Their parents worked hard so we could have it all.
I thank them. Now let me introduce Kamal . . .

__________
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

 

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“They Say Love Lost is Madness Found” by Zireaux

The mother of Euryalus receiving the news of her son's death, from the 1878 illustration by Alfred J Church.

The mother of Euryalus receiving the news her son was fed to dogs, from the 1878 illustration by Alfred J Church.

From the second book of Res Publica.

In these stanzas, our narrator, Mr. Sayeed, recalls the time he spent in a Turkmenistan prison, under a sentence of death — and eulogizes his mother’s love.

They Say Love Lost is Madness Found
by
Zireaux

‘Believe me, I’m not afraid to die!
I only fear the news arriving
to mother. For soon I was surviving
in jail on bread of wormy rye
and barley soup and pegs of whiskey;
and when my mother heard of this, she
sent the warden an urgent letter.
Her son, she wrote, is not like others.
“Barley gives him gas. It’s better
to feed him cabbage soup,” my mother
insisted. “And whole meal bread to keep
his bowels loose,” she wrote, “and when he sleeps
at night he likes to sniff a little
pillow moistened with his spittle.”’

‘O mother! My Empress Rose!’ Sayeed
exclaimed. ‘Our dreams each night are synched
together, or more like video-linked
— or more than that: A video-feed,
as palpable as when, years younger,
your founts of love assuaged my hunger.
What phone, what screen, what Microsoft
device as yet to be invented
could ever produce the soothing waft
of mustard seed and tangy, fermented
cheese that once my mother’s clothes
infused – and now, in dreams, my nose?’

For a moment, our orator stopped.
Then finding the story’s thread he’d dropped:

‘My mother, a widowed maid, and furrier,
and skilled equestrian, hearing the news
her only son was sentenced to lose
his life, was swept by such a fury, her
screams were even more fierce and tireless
than when that mother of Euryalus,
in Virgil’s song, was told her son
was fed to dogs. Or when Jocasta’s
abandoned son became the one
she married! O God! They say love lost is
madness found! This proverb fits
most aptly for mothers, isn’t it?

_____
Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry website and the dVerse Poetry Group.

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Filed under Poetry by Zireaux, Res Publica, Book Two

“The Exiled Mind” by Zireaux

The Exiled Mind
by
Zireaux

In this passage, the California-born narrator of Kamal digresses a moment, reflecting on what it means to be an exiled poet with the task of writing an epic poem set in his former homeland.

To M.

'...my own tableau of beasts and tribals / below a Cartouche of priests and bibles...'

‘…my own tableau of beasts and tribals / below a Cartouche of priests and bibles…’

O Reader! You know not what’s ahead.
I do! I lie awake in bed
(alone, alas – my wife is prone
these days to sleeping on her own)
and in my mind I see outspread,
just like an 18th century chart, a
detailed but vast, mapped but untread,
known but untamed world — my Carta
Magnifica
still unwritten, unread,
untold, unheard! To you, ethereal.
To me, no greater or more material
kingdom has ever existed. A giant
of countries – strong and self-reliant,
yet private, secluded, monasterial.

It is, you see, a land designed
by shifty sextant: the exiled mind,
detached but still in hearing’s range
of all the ways my homeland’s changed
(to help you better estimate
the course my former country’s on,
see stanzas sixty-six through eight
in canto ten of Byron’s Don);1
— and all these changes grow ornate
with Distance’s hyperbole,
which renders even more superbly
my own tableau of beasts and tribals
below a Cartouche of priests and bibles.
O Reader! To take you there verbally!

Just ask that convict Kenneth Lay: / Discordant views should not be scoffed at.

Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation, in handcuffs: ‘Just ask that convict Kenneth Lay: / Discordant views should not be scoffed at.’

But how? The country’s no longer mine;
for though our lawyers might define
our status as a “separation,”
the laws of cline transcend relation.
(How much we changed). But hear me through!
For if you pause your game controllers,
turn your headphones’ claws askew,
ignore the latest wartime pollsters’
news and from the Tube unglue
yourself – or as my son says, “off it!” –
and listen to me, no greater profit
possibly could come your way.
Just ask that convict, Kenneth Lay:
Discordant views should not be scoffed at.

Uneasy planet! East and West!
To you I make this same request:
Tranquilize your telephones,
and temple bells and megaphones
which for your soul’s devotion call.
Free your mind of Wall Street’s numbers,
the music in your shopping malls,
and SUVs, the latest Hummers
(there’s nothing wrong with feeling small),
the pills to help your loins grow bold,
your dreams of gold from daughters sold
or children’s PhDs endorsed
by foreign firms, or those out-sourced,
or what your priests or stars foretold –

ignore it, world! Ignore it all!
And hear my story of Kamal.
For you will be my orphan’s parent,
and like Cervantes’ poor knight-errant,
my hero’s born to give you pleasure,
not me – for I have seen his life
already, heard the mingled measure
of his strivings and his strife,
his strains and struggles mixed together.
Like I said – these words you read
are stains of blood. Kamal will bleed.
And if he is to long outlive me,
(and fame, you know, in yours to give me),
it’s through his pain. For he will bleed.

Kamal will bleed.
_____

Lord Byron (1788 - 1824)

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824)

To listen to the entire First Canto of Kamal, by Zireaux, read by Nick Ellsworth, click here.

1Here are stanzas 66 through 68 in Canto 10 of Byron’s Don Juan (to which the poet refers above):

I’ve no great cause to love that spot of earth,
Which holds what might have been the noblest nation;
But though I owe it little but my birth,
I feel a mix’d regret and veneration
For its decaying fame and former worth.
Seven years (the usual term of transportation)
Of absence lay one’s old resentments level,
When a man’s country’s going to the devil.

Alas! could she but fully, truly, know
How her great name is now throughout abhorr’d:
How eager all the earth is for the blow
Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword;
How all the nations deem her their worst foe,
That worse than worst of foes, the once adored
False friend, who held out freedom to mankind,
And now would chain them, to the very mind: –

Would she be proud, or boast herself the free,
Who is but first of slaves? The nations are
In prison, – but the gaoler, what is he?
No less a victim to the bolt and bar.
Is the poor privilege to turn the key
Upon the captive, freedom? He’s as far
From the enjoyment of the earth and air
Who watches o’er the chain, as they who wear.

As mentioned in my review of Barbara Reynolds’s excellent book on Dante: ‘As talent agency, Exile (and its partner agents Poverty and Lost Love) boasts a remarkable portfolio of lyric writers, not just Virgil and Ovid, but Voltaire, Byron, Pushkin, Hugo, Nabokov, Brodsky, Soyinka, Zireaux – and this is just a sampling from the A-list.’

Note: Quite a few guesses but still no solvers of my poem: “A Little Morsel of Immortality.” First person to solve it receives a free signed copy of my next novel. -Z

—–
Published as part of the dVerse Poetry group.

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Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux