When Socrates Heard the Story of Job

 

For Jonah

 

In the long room hard by a street of marble cutters

they have taken turns submerged in a large pithos of greasy water,

and line the wet benches naked and gritty with fine dust

from the stonecutters’ work.

Humidity is flavored with cypress and sweetgum

and voices rise and fall between the excitement of dice.

Just beyond the offing dark and moonlit

the holy sails glide home from Delos.

So much for his defense when they return.

He has seen the cistern in a further room

full of terracotta shards still wet with hemlock,

and more than once has tried overhearing from his own bed

the sounds one makes from having sipped their death.

He is ashamed to have listened with so much attention,

and sorry, too, for the sense of comfort he’s found

in the relative quiet, almost casual talk

before the breaking of the clay cup.

Continue reading “When Socrates Heard the Story of Job”

Amerithon – (V)

Marathon Petroleum

“…one after another, and they produced their multitudinous offspring in this earth.”

 

There’s no metaphor for the sharp flatness

of the till plains of Findlay Ohio,

but imagine a vast carapace of ice,

some primordial, Pleistocene earth-god,

its bulk too large to experience time,

slumbering like a mountain for eons,

suddenly—not our suddenly, but its—

struck dead by the sum of infinitely

smaller motions of light and gravity.

How it slouches languorously to its core

and sweeps out the cliffs and frozen forests

and melts its mass deep, deeper underfloor,

becoming its own bed of glacial drift.

There’s a sense of this immense sinking,

walking the moraine of the reservoir,

of lands so low they could not raise again.

Its warm blood flows daily down the Blanchard

into the green, slow-moving Maumee.

Continue reading “Amerithon – (V)”

Amerithon – (IV)

Omaha Beach

“…and I wept over them, and men and women sprang into being from the tears which came forth from my Eye.”

 

O vision beheld on the beach of Normandy,

beheld from the starboard bow flashing,

climbing down the cargo nets over the starboard side,

our Higgins descending by the davit’s grip.

 

There I beheld the likeness of all things,

and fell in love so deeply with the past, for I had become intimate with the present.

Was it not the fire of Prometheus yielding to me,

green ignus fatuus flashing out of the dawn breaking,

light of the casemate’s lamp, and of the sparks that leap out of the bridgehead further inland.

Was it not unfurled before me like the wiigwaasabakoon, the golden etchings of Ojibwe?

Was it not the same vision as you had, Waynaboozhoo, from the shoulder of your dug-out,

as you weathered the Flood a full moon’s time?

 

I beheld all men breaching Easy Red

as seedlings of rice dipped one by one into the paddy water,

one by one planting their cheeks against the sand,

rolling backwards and dragging across the sandbar,

hedgehogs tenderly catching and cradling their bodies.

Waynaboozhoo, they were like the wild rice you gathered from the river,

as you fasted in your wigwam that long, chill winter,

the same wild rice you mistook for feathered headdresses of Ojibwe men dancing on the water.

I, too, saw E company, their Higgins like a cork upon the waves,

and felt as though I were dreaming,

for they and their flotilla breaking the fog

looked as iron-white seafoam riding in on the tide,

like Heavenly Aphrodite borne out of the ocean.

And from this vision three ideas seized me.

 

The first, as I descended the cargo nets,

my Garand’s sight snagging in the swollen knots,

lost to me climbing down to the Higgins,

was such love for these men I almost could not bear,

such delirious, selfish love for them,

both for those beside me, my own company,

in whose vomit we waded that filled the boat’s shallow draft,

and those men on the beachhead whose names I knew not,

yet I was in love with them all the same.

I was in love, even, with those men in the pillboxes and turrets,

for they were of the same seafoam washed up on the tide,

the same salt-water corrosive to their lost sea-skin.

 

The second idea was of importunity.

As the coxswain summoned his voice overhead,

my gaze dropped from the battle to look upon him,

and I fell to questioning, desperate and heartfull,

as princely Arjuna, scorcher of foes, as the son of Pritha

was full of doubt gazing upon the yellow plains of Kurukshetra,

surveying from his shaded chariot the armies left and right,

and fell into despair, and called upon his driver,

who was Jambul-skinned Krishna, Lord of the Universe,

Husband of Fortune, Chief Herdsman, Protector of Cows and Souls.

Bhagavan Krishna, the Supreme Purusha,

to cure the prince’s heart-sickness,

arrayed His Divine Form to Arjuna,

that world-destroying Time, Ishvara, in celestial gowns resplendent, Ishvara,

into whose myriad flaming mouths go all the heroes of men, and have gone, and will go,

as moths go swiftly to radiant perishment.

So as Arjuna beheld the terrific Lord Brahman on the lotus,

and trembled with consent,

I was brought before the same portal by the coxswain’s own doing,

the bow-ramp’s jaws drawing open for me.

 

Of the third idea, it was the same as yours, Waynaboozhoo,

returning with the wild rice cupped in your hands,

returning to the village troubled with long winter,

returning with news of hidden crops of long seeds in the river.

You told your families so they would not go hungry,

so they would not be weak and hungry in winter.

I, too, found those seedlings adrift in the unconscious sea.

And this was the third notion I had,

unbuckling my haversack to stay myself above the wine-dark waters,

to tell of those seedlings among salt-lettuce and cloudy silt,

whose names I hold in my heart, and cannot speak aloud without weeping.

 

O vision beheld on the beach of Normandy,

the intensest rendezvous I witnessed on your shore

was the same as that of the future and the past.

That was the likeness of all things,

the uniformity of bodies stacked like cordwood along the bar.

All of history has taken place along the bar,

where ignorant clashings of seas with land embrace.


R. Charboneau

Amerithon – (III)

Song of Pheidippides

“I laid the foundations in my own heart,

and there came into being multitudes of created things…”

 

All down to shore, for the tide is out.

Oh glorious victory, glorious

the gambit of Miltiades,

the swan-breasted prows at last unbeached.

 

Gone is Datis who sacked Eretria,

and the traitor Hippias, too,

once the tyrant who was so cruel to us.

 

We’ve seven Persian ships outfitted

with good canvas and sheep, and many pithoi

of wine and Libyan salt.

 

In the foaming breakers fair Kynegeiros

has seized the sternpost of another

as fieldhands drag their stubborn oxen by the yoke.

 

Trembled we at the thought of gilded Medes,

and the sight of their arms at the precinct of Herakles,

yet see you those bow and slingmen grasping

jellied seaweed, now gripless in their task,

 

a thousand more routed to the marshlands

thanks to thee, Themistokles,

and to thee, just Aristides,

 

the double center bracing to the beaten zone.

Nor will Athens forget those who came to her aid,

brave Plataeans who held the left,

 

henceforth will our heralds honor thee

at the Four-Year Festivals of our Fathers.

Come, let us to the burial work,

 

unroot the abbatis of our camp

and make us several pyres of tall smoke.

Send for a clean knife washed in milk

to meet the throats of nineteen ewes.

 

And where is fleet-footed Pheidippides?

Here’s a task yet for an apprentice of Pan.

Make haste afield across the high fennel

 

and cry to Athens and all Attika

‘Victory! Victory! The Greeks are free!’

Oh Pheidippides, our day-long runner

 

who strides with Hermes’ wingèd-boots beneath,

fly quickly over the plains of poplars,

take the busy fosse through Brilittos,

 

follow the marble-carts down from the quarry

and sing thee all the while ‘Victory’

until thy breath is spent,

until the wide world knows how we are free.

 

Lie quiet Plutarch. That is Plutarch’s account

from Heracleides of Pontus in the Moralia,

he says all this was done in full armor,

 

the courier who has at least five names

burst open the doors of a Romanesque Athens,

the poetry of ‘Hail! We are victorious’

 

squeezed from the last accordion note of his lungs.

(did no one offer him a bowl of water?)

Except he ran, not from Marathon but Athens,

 

and ran to the Peloponnese

entreating the Spartans for aid.

How embarrassing then, when his haste was met

with, let’s call it apathy, for they were busy

 

butchering rams and waiting for the full moon.

Even more embarrassed must’ve been

that Athenian a hundred years hence

 

who ran to Persepolis asking for aid

against a Sparta thirsty for the entire Aegean.

I wonder how much dirt he stuffed in his pockets,

 

how much water from the wells of Athens

he poured out before the feet of Artaxerxes.

In his treatise, Plutarch considers the merits

 

of Athens’ glory, whether by her warriors or poets

she won fame, and concludes that

without the deeds at Artemisium and Salamis

there could be no tragedies from the likes of Thespis

 

for it was in those places Plutarch says

Athens laid far-shining foundations of freedom.

This, of course, is a quote from Pindar.

 

Nor did those German scholars and archaeologists,

Winckelmann, Meyer, Burckhardt and the like

learn of Athens and her prolific deeds

by staring at the soros of dead Greeks piled in haste

but by reading the epigram of Simonides.


R. Charboneau