Tag Archives: Voltaire

“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



Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“Le Monde est un Bourreau Endurci” by Zireaux


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

You may remember my Turkmenistani character, Sayeed, from an earlier post in June. He lost his beautiful maiden to an ugly, old (but wealthy) banker — who infected her with syphilis, which resulted in her death. In this stanza, Sayeed suddenly breaks out into French. I thought I’d use this opportunity for French speakers and readers to help improve the lines, as my French is not very good. My gratitude in advance…

Le Monde est un Bourreau Endurci

To M.

Eyes as deep and dark as moon-
reflecting lakes she had. And hair
the substance of the starlight’s glare
in argent dreams of desert dunes.
I had no wealth, I do admit it.
Her husband was rich, but syphilitic
and vain, an old roué – what’s worse he
encankered her with his foul sores!
Le monde est un bourreau endurci.
Premièrement il tue, et alors
il s’éloigne!

                                         Were she my wife
she might have lived a pauper’s life,
that’s true, but O each morn her eyes
would feel my sunlight on them rise;

her sleek black hair the ripple of
my grateful, night-arrested fingers;
her ears would tingle with songs I’d sing her,
songs of sweetest, sweetest love!
(Not this sad dirge which her poor spirit
endures in heaven (if she can hear it)).

Published as part of the dVerse Poetry prompt.


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“The Exiled Mind” by Zireaux

The Exiled Mind

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
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.


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“On Meeting My Muse at Orbits Restaurant” by Zireaux

Auckland Sky Tower

Auckland’s Skytower, with Orbits revolving restaurant: “…a place for doughty eaters / spinning a hundred and ninety-two meters / above a revolving earth…'

On Meeting My Muse at Orbits Restaurant
by Zireaux


At dinner recently,
a fancy dress affair my wife
arranged (“to stimulate your life”)
at Orbits – a place for doughty eaters
spinning a hundred and ninety-two meters
above a revolving earth – a stranger queried
if I was someone famous.

                                             “No,” I parried.

But then she moved where I could see her better,
and all at once the restaurant’s lights beset her
glossy lips and shiny teeth, the streak
of jet-black vinyl hair which sashed a cheek
and veiled an eye, her sequined red camise
which shook out stars – entire galaxies! –
upon our tablecloth. My children
were struck dumb; this flashing lady thrilled them.
And then she spoke again – “I read
of you in Business Week,” she said.
“You invented _____” (I’m tempted to say;
but poetry was meant to stay
exempted from that philistine debasement
one finds in modern film: the “product placement”).

Her accent and her figure bore that treacly
trademark of America – both sleekly
made, and yet congealing where her curves
and vowels stressed more feeling than deserved.
(American women! What beautiful poses you strike
while making your noses say “Uhmigod” and “Like.”)
But something else I quickly noticed
in her face – the finest, remotest
trace of meager birth, a chink
of darkness in that sheen, the wink
of secret ancestry. I guessed
an early youth outside the West.
Sri Lanka, maybe. Or Bangladesh. Some place
economists would call a “basket case.”

“I’m actually a poet.”

                                 The phrase did flow
so easily from me – a sleigh where snow
had never been could now across the mass
of smooth white candor’s crystals pass.
Two scimitars, the eyebrows of my wife,
rose up as she set down her butter knife.
A poet! Our starry stranger draped
in pseudo-sari themes now gaped
at me; then turned and waved down curving
aisle where sat a man observing
us. A grimaced smile. His nose,
a huge proboscis, soon transposed
into a camera as he came our way.
“He says he’s a poet,” she called. “Our lucky day!”

Her name, we were informed, was Sheela Ray.
She’d traveled here to film an exposé
on foreign countries’ famous people. “Arrived
this morning – what a flight! I’m sleep-deprived,
but knew as soon as I laid eyes on you —
now there is someone I must interview.
This country is our fifth so far.
You wouldn’t believe how sick we are
of singers, athletes, news presenters.
It’s like, you know, the moment we enter —
Famous, you say? To interview?
Try John. He reads our nightly news!’”
Views and news. Were these some rhyming clues,
dear reader, that I was talking to my Muse?

She said she felt the poet was the “King
of Art.” That she’d, in fact, been hankering
to start a kind of poet’s club on-line.
Or maybe TV. But uhmigod! To find
a real poet! And one, you know, who looks
as though he’s found success outside of books
as well as in — “Really!” she cried,
above a sudden rising tide
of birthday song. “I recognized
the blaze of brilliance in your eyes.
But never did I think” — she paused,
then spoke beneath our neighbor’s applause –
“so swank a man could be a versifier.”
Enough. Suffice to say her praise went higher.


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

Suffice to say I took her number, agreed
to call, and possibly (“Oh please!”) to read
my latest stanzas for the Sheela Show,*
and added: “I’m half a Yank myself, you know.”
Suffice to say, I called, agreed to go
to her hotel. And Camera Joe,
who is all shadow to Sheela’s flame
(I still don’t know his real name),
had made the place a studio
whereby his vid- or voodeo
would stir me to rhyme.

                                              And Sheela Ray —
she was, her words, “quite blown away.”
Apparently my stanzas had seduced her;
she dialed her cell – “I’m calling my producer.”

Now hear me, reader: A peaceful dozen years
have passed since last I suffered Cupid’s spears.
And though I must admit the satin gown,
or rather, loose-fit shirt, a “button-down,”
which Sheela likes to sit and chat in (blind
to how it licks her thighs) — that shirt combined
with her Bengali eyes and breezy
smile (which brings to mind the easy
gurgle of purling water), her lush
black hair, the downward rush
of dark, delightful, switchblade brows
– although their presence might arouse
in me forgotten youth, I’m talking now
of poetry! Why Muses are chosen. And how.

And whether this coupling of Muses and poets is part
of some greater design! A Supragenic Art!
I mean, when Sheela opines – with elbows aiming
skyward from behind her neck (she’s taming
her hair, which lifts her night-shirt off her bare,
entangled legs) – “you’re like a modern Voltaire!”
(“Vous-avez lu Voltaire en Francais?” I ask.
Oui,” she says, “seulement pour un classe.”)
— then pouncing forward, trapping my hands
beneath her paws – “Your genius demands
attention! Your characters are so –”
and here zooms-in our Camera Joe
with squinting, view-finder’s grin – “they’re so alive!”
where was I? — Oh, yes, my point at last arrives –

when Sheela gives such plump and fertile views
as these, and I the crooning poet, can’t refuse
their promised tingle – their sweet, euphoric caress
of first bejeweled consciousness, a bliss
that curious room-bound species, Writing Man,
will kill for (are muses veiled in Burkhasthan?
Inspired poets maim and rape
as well as any artless ape)
— when I – stay with me, reader! – when I
cannot resist her lullabies
of tribute which, alas, produce
this metered, rhymed, ambrosial juice,
these shivers of delight – are they for me?
Or vital measures for my poetry?


*A popular TV talk show in India.

Read about the dream I had before leaving to India with Sheela and Camera Joe.


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Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux