About James

I know a bartender who can relay a message, can smoothly slide a folded note across a bar wet from the slosh of many drinks. His causal manner suggests nothing unusual, everything ordinary to the noisy crowd, but the delivery seems to touch in each recipient the waiting hope that she or he may, by carefully unfolding the note, conclude this particular evening somewhere other than the expected return to solitary rooms. I post these thoughts to you with that same casualness. Unfold.

Reluctance

Ah, when to the heart of man
     Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
     To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
     Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost, Reluctance

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Gluttony

Hello. What are you crawling
up tomato plant? Green and fat,
a caterpillar yet of none I know.
Not hornworm, monarch, viceroy,
blending nicely into foliage.

You are late, you know.
Winds shake the maple tree
and nights grow cool.
Yet you, fat and slow,
continue climbing,
feeding.

Your greed has altered fate.
No time now to spin cocoon,
no time to metamorphose. Winter
will not catch you, unaware, but errant robin
hustling south will spot a meal.

No chance to fly. No hope of mate.
Your energies will spur the robin.
Yet you feed and climb
while maple
leaves
fall.

June

“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;

…Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a rippling cheer…”

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) What Is So Rare As A Day In June

The Axeman

Ring around the rosies,
Pocket full of posies,
Axeman! Axeman!
All fall down.
                        Jacobean variation on a medieval English nursery rhyme.
1.

The King

The axeman comes, you say?
I trust he’s tall, as well as stout.
Rude, unlettered, to be sure a lout,
all the merits of a Scottish laird today
without the verbal gout.

Stop thumbing through the Holy Text!
God chose me clear, by birth and right,
to be anointed British Rex,
and then abandoned me at Naseby to defeat and flight.
I was God’s Will but not, it seems, his Instrument of Right.
Now there’s a wit that parses men beyond our royal best.

Be calm, my dear, it’s only death.
Kings are murdered daily, and I go calmly to my grave,
but not consenting! It’s not a hand that steals my breath,
not peasants’ need, a son’s ambition or an errant wave.
It is the apparatus of the State which claims to save
the Realm and does so with my head.
God and my successors: read my grave.

What? Ah, yes, I see him now. Quite tall.
Good. I would prefer the single strike to two!
Smile, my dear, give no pleasure to the mob or hall.
No. No. Stay now. From here I walk alone. Adieu!
I go to meet my human fate and royal fall,
smiling at my justice: my royal tutored issue.

 

2.

The Axeman

What pretense! Politicians speak
and cite a law to justify their greed.
A king must die so others may his powers seek.
That alone is sum of this day’s deed.

My face concealed by mask according to that law.
My eyes revealed to terrify exactly whom?
My suit is black, my blade a silver claw,
and all to welcome one soul to his doom.

My father was a headsman, and his father too.
I spring from line as ancient as this king,
for death and kingship are the golden twins that hew
an order from the chaos of the human wellspring.

He comes, not shy, not fearful nor in dread.
Shall I whisper to him, as I have to any other?
“Close your eyes. Do not turn your head,
and death shall come as soft as kiss from mother.”

Ave…(1984)

“After all, we are not gypsies
living in a green wagon…”      Thomas Mann, Tonio Kröger

Shall I leave you when I wake
to gather up my clothes
and the obligation of another day?

I might contrive to speak
an art around such quick departure,
or smile as if I knew a thing at all.

The heart remains.
A door divides
rooms and loyalties. Just so.

Your eyes are closed to me,
to day, to thought, but in the night
they opened black a universe of joy.

Your arm rests on mine;
your left leg angles over my right.
Shall I wake you when I leave?

Ave…(1973)

I leave you, standing just
outside the door, a renaissance untouched.
Leaning (to be filled?) you turn.

Your eyes, becoming
modest, lower now.
(suggesting invitation?)

That flame upturning
cooled affection’s smile
stalks my thief, desire,

but civility
rules our day; banality
confines our conversation.

Sarah

Hope and Faith, Joy and Grace
are names assigned to fix a weight
against our living to the pace
of dullness and routine, experienced as fate.
Other names are incantations
to ward away mean expectations,
or desires invoked to claim
some virtue, art or fame.

But Sarah speaks of elder past
of prophets, warriors, kings conceived in rage;
of a mother’s will to cast
a nation through the world, her gift of age;
of hands that worked in desert tents, that grasped
a future from a nomad’s faith, a prod
of laughter that enabled husband, prompted God.

 

December

That time of year thou may’st behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
          William Shakespeare , Sonnet LXXIII.