March-May 2016

This posting comprises another trio of Scruples (#’s 9, 10, 11).  The previous eight and their posted dates are: #’s 1-3/ December, 2013; #’s 4-6/ March 2014; #’s 7-8/ September 2015.

All share the same leitmotif : “The idea of scruples has to do with ethics and morality: what is right and wrong. Scruples are a kind of moral compass that lets you know what’s right.”  (https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/scruples )

Written with the best of intentions, may they be well worth reading.

 

  Scruples

         9.

Too bad for the jar
of jellybeans
as a cat
with a sweet tooth
shows up, all
at once, out
of curiosity, on
the top shelf…
Worse comes soon
after, when
he starts pawing
around, by
and large, closer,
closer…

Their worst off
would be
if, in due time,
he devours
the strawberries,
key limes,
every cherry,
a whole lot
of tutti fruttis.

 

           10.        

               
Today was meant for me
                     to find a starfish
with seven arms, another
                          map stowed
in a bottle, a mixed bag
                                of old coins…

The best beachcombing comes
                        after a storm;
as soon as the tide lies low,
                            more and more
flotsam shows up…

Whatever does can make
                        any day’s luck
good or bad, sometimes
                               in a streak.

 

            11.

 

Honey—a bunch of Huns
                   is heading this way—
                           astride the mountain road,
                                                  raging at full gallop.

While I fetch the wagon,
                    take a last, fast look
                             around—make the load
                                                    good and light.

Those fiends won’t find
                    a soul to greet them,
                              much less do their bidding.
If all goes well, we’ll ferry
                         the river by dark,
                                    hide on the safe side…
Elsewhere, only a miracle
                   can save our home,
                             sweet home, from
                                                  the likes of them.

 

December 2015-February 2016

The Middle East was geographically far removed from South America, my home ground. What, then, inspired me to write the poems of this posting?

Aladdin on a Divan Overshadowed by Herr Doktor Freud  was written in 1988 soon after I moved to Brazil. It was my first published poem. A decade later, without any before thoughts, I wrote Arabic Numbers.  The most recent of the trio, The Main Attraction in Marrakesh, was written in 2014.

 

Aladdin on a Divan Overshadowed
by Herr Doktor Freud

Spot the lamp.
Ogle it.
Then ease into
the tent’s roomy gloom…

Now try your memory.

Start where the oasis
stands at the foot
of the horizon,
highlighted by half a sun
going under
while you’re bent on
sipping spring water
well before darkness.
When it comes
fallen palm fronds
make a mattress
soft enough
for slumbering
under a sheet of stars.

Later, a dream shows up.
It looks like an empty tent
with only a lamp
dangling from the ceiling.
You’re told to enter
through a voice
without a head or tail.
It’s a genie’s,
openly spouting off
about what’s his rub,
and why he wants a stroking.

That’s where you come in,
a child of the desert
with sand in your ears,
armed with a helping hand.
So far, are we in sync, Mr. Aladdin?
Furthermore, was backtracking
the right way
to run today’s session?

Once upon a time
you were gifted with granted wishes
which, in this case,
paired your youth
into before and after.
As such, the latter’s become
a no lad’s land.
Until you’re man enough
to tell the difference,
I’ll sit in for the genie–
grow a grey goatee.

First published in  Poetry Magazine

 

Arabic Numbers

 

At the back
               of the patio
I pat the concubine
        with such a light touch
that her skirt neither
        wrinkles nor rustles.
Then I vanish
                behind a curtain,
reappearing in a lamp-lit parlor
where, on the floor,
                there´re pillows for visitors,
                a sofa for the host.
A eunuch ushers me to mine. This time
             it’s lying
                beside the musicians.

The guests’ re friends,
neighbors, merchants from his oasis,
drinking tea, eating sweets, waiting
for the sand to fill an hourglass.

Our sheik´s the richest in Tunis.
Every month he gives away
                        a girl from his harem
                        and two gold rings
to whoever she chooses.
But before that her dancing must make
            his heart beat like a tambourine,
                  ours like hyenas in heat.
Tonight he´s promised to unveil
                                            an Egyptian.

I see a face in the hourglass,
       hear her whisper my name,
               and in the same breath, seven.

 

The Main Attraction In Marrakesh

 

On weekdays, as a rule,
the market opens
after morning prayers,
closes before evening call…                          

The old wall looks like a floor
covered with rugs in a range
of sizes, shapes, magic colors.
Whenever the wind blows,
they wave for attention.

Perfume vendors mind booths
lined with shelves.
They sell by scent, amount,
choice of bottle.
Each promises more
than he can deliver.

The spice stalls make
breathing a pleasure.
Deep draughts, one
after another, bring out
their best and worst.

In a tent armed with guards,
there’s much to see,
but not touch.
Glass counters, aisle
by aisle, showcase rare gems,
jewels fit for a sheik.

Tourists are always welcome,
even those who only
browse, complain about
the dust and heat.
Shoppers with hard currency
can buy whatever they want
without haggling.

September-November 2015

Time for another posting of Scruples? Numbers 4 thru 6 were posted in March of 2014. This time, it’s 7 and 8, the latter with an audio file. (Clicking on the triangle initiates playback).As for timeliness, both were written since the previous posting. They are the most recent poems published in Three by 3. The third poem, What’s in the Attic?, was written as recently as the Scruples entries. A first version from 2013 was revised in 2014, which is the work posted.

Scruples 8

       Scruples

                    7.

Bigfoot is back in season, should
      show up the more it snows,
              leaving fresh tracks
                   there and then.
After a while, trails will
       appear, clear cut
               enough to follow.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Mounting a search party
         takes some choosing.
Members must be as brave
          as savvy, able bodied, get
                along well, willing to bear
                      the burden of proof.

Once mustered, our mission
        is to make contact           
               with this man,
                     beast, or both.
If it looks harmless and
        waves a white flag,
                 so much the better.

 

                    8.

After a while the fountain appears,
as moving as ever, water galore
from the mouths of cherubs
streaming into a pool.
The coins come from elsewhere,
airborne, toss ups
that started out as small change.

They lie, by chance, scattered
about, some sparkling
like new, others mistaken
for moss.
Those down the drain, sight
unseen, might
be twinkling in the dark.

 

 What’s in the Attic?

 

One small, bare window
above the rafters,
under the roof,
lets all the light in.
During the day it comes
from sunbeams. At night,
star bright and moon glow.     

    
Boxes, stacks, piles
of something or another
have their place.
So does a door
the size of a hatch,
which opens up, shuts down.

Now you appear with more to store.
Not much room left– 
shelves are full, space is tight,
air cluttered with ghost dust.
Time to clean out the attic?
It´s long overdue.

 

 


June-August 2015

 

Water related images appear in three by 3  postings of July and December 2014, March and September 2013, June 2012.

This posting includes two poems with water imagery. Noah’s Notions was written in 1999 and published the same year. Skimming All the Way, from 2008, is one of my first poems written in the US,  post retirement.

Timely Observations has nothing to do with water! It shares with Noah’s Notions the year written and publication by the same journal.

CorrectionIn the March-May 2015 posting, the first line, last paragraph of Windfall   incorrectly read Could the crows change sides… The corrected line is Could the wind change sides…

 

Noah’s Notions

 

At first, ancillaries change.
Now it rains too often.
The birds have skipped chirping.
The rainbows are washed up.
Yes, this must be Mesopotamia.
My sympathy should sync in.
It’s pointless to long
after a rosy sky.
For one that went elsewhere.
Besides, I can’t backtrack
with both rivers bridgeless.
Their waters are taking
over my last memory bank.

Suddenly, like airborne flotsam,
I’m hearing even worse tidings.
Their drift’s coming clearer:
some day the sun’ll rise again,
but, meanwhile, there’s
more flooding to be forded.

As I’m lacking a lifesaver
any waterproof solution
needs nailing down—now.
Even ark work which,
though highly spoken of
by the world builder,
still sounds screwy.

 

First published in Kimera

 

Skimming  Along the Way

 

He can always find
at low tide, stone
after stone along this beach;
though only a few
land in his bucket,
each as round, smooth,
flat as a coin.

Besides choosing wisely,
he knows how to throw
far, so hard
that, on a calm day,
they skip on and on,
right for the horizon.

By mid morning,
his lot is cast
along with theirs.
He sends them soaring,
above and beyond
the sea’s reach.
They leave him standing
by the shore, holding
an empty bucket.

 

Timely Observations

 

Time out has no due date,
though it could show up
should someone stumble,
without waterwings,
into a whirl pool.

There’s no watch in the world
which works so well
as to tell when a will
will be needed for a reading.

The sand thins down, ad nauseam.
The middle ground undergoes
a shakeout…

…as an hour glass’ horizon sifts,
from top to bottom,
from one end to another,
adding both halves together.

So, a clock’s always unwinding,
with quartz hands
counting on pulses.

Then, when a busy body
runs late an alarm rings.
This time without stopping.

 

First published in Kimera

March-May 2015

Critters have shown up in the three by 3  postings of December 2012,  March 2013, December 2014. This trio might be the last of their lot.

As for time and place, Windfall was written in 2002,  A Widow’s Diary in 2005,  both while I was residing in Brazil. Style vs. Content is the earliest of any of the posted three by 3 poems. It was written in 1985, my last year living in Mexico.

   Windfall

 

A bonafide bluffer, the chameleon can lie
flat out on a rock—even when
the sun stares into his eyes,
the wind rubs him the wrong way—
from the front, down his snout.
Still—he doesn’t blink or twitch,
appear to breathe, turn tail
as the crows approach. 

Early risers, they’re ready to eat
anything—from the ground up—
that happens to be there.
By dawn the flock’s airborne, soaring,
some on top, the rest circling
lower, around his whereabouts.
In a few more loops, they’ll be
within swooping distance,                                                                                                                                                cawing for blood.

Could the wind change sides,
blow the crows black into the sky,
give him a chance?
There isn’t a chameleon born
whose camouflage hasn’t fooled
scores of high flyers;
nor one alive
that hasn’t been lucky—once
in a while. 

 

   A Widow’s Diary

 

Web…web…what did I expect
        from a spider stuck
               for months in a closet?
She’s accomplished a lot—
          strung her’s up and down,
                netted one..two..shelves.

Spring’s arrived. I’ve brought a taste
          from my garden, seasonably
                 sweetened by nectar.
Won’t the spider be pleased?
          She’ll have a butterfly
                   for company, bluer
                         than the sky outside.

 

  Style vs. Content

 

“Yoicks,” you sputter
as the hounds bound off,
brindle through the dust,
and the flushed fox
hithers across fields,
under fences.
Helter skelter we trollop
on our high horses
to where
four quarters land us.
And ho to the hunt!
Tally towards the bloody beast!

Sods on the spot:
the last hedgerow
is overrun
by an uphill onslaught,
as our straight away
wins out.
Now victory runs right.
The fox, too tired
for further feeling,
sulks tight.
The hounds badger him
at bay,
until we muzzle in.
Up close
he’s nothing but
poor sport.


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

December 2014-February 2015

The September-November 2012 entry included poems based on my travelling, be it for business or pleasure. Origins on Galapagos, Out of Close Range, and On Andean Time are a continuation. Location wise, the first relates to the Ecuadorian islands, the second to a wildlife photo safari in Kenya, Africa, the third to springtime fishing in the Andes mountains of Chile.

 Origins on Galapagos

 

Lucky ducks, though they’re terns,
that can always bank on
a cornucopia surfacing around them—
marooned onshore pools
with kelp, eelgrass, crabs
clinging to the bottom…

Their ancestors also fared well,
as per my post mortem memory.
Enough to establish a flock of birds
with blood lines tied to flowing tides.
My kind died out long ago,
overcome by an unstable volcano.
Had our wings been bigger
we’d have flown off the island;
or swam away if we’d known how.

Likewise, I can recall when
the first newcomber was spotted
poking around one sunrise.
He appeared alone, but as the sky shined
others showed up, mouthing sounds
like “right here” and “Dr. Darwin.”
Each day they arrived early, left
after hovering over scores of nests.

Naturally, they never saw a feather
nor heard us chirping.
We were no more than a body of ashes
left behind like lava—the darkest part
of the sand they stepped on
while doing their legwork
up and down dunes.
They came close, though,
those curious creatures
that ran around
after every tern.

Out of Close Range

 

The cheetahs parched, hyenas hoarse,
plodding pods of antelopes,
as a two o’clock sun smelts the veldt.
Between them and the river, men with rifles,
lots of bullets, time on their side, hide
behind a blind made from mud, woven reeds.

Not far off, nor much later, a zebra appears.
He’s all white with a black mane
that looks like wings.
The hunters‘ll shoot high
if he flies by, low if he trods.
One way or another they can’t miss,
unless it’s a mirage.

 

On Andean Time

 

By degrees, the lower slopes turn
into a kaleidoscope—
on one side, blue mingles with white—
a split image of the sky.
On the other, yellow flashes—
as bright as sunlight…

In winter these slopes look like
the rest of the mountain—
no flowers blooming out
of season, only near and far
the cold glow of snow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September-November 2014

The three poems selected for this posting relate to the concerns of work. Seasonal Unemployment and How to Succeed in Apiculture were written during the last years of my professional life. They seem to comment on the process whereas The Industrialization of Silk  critiques means and ends. It was completed during the first months of my retirement, in plenty of time!

For readers who would like to hear a poem,  I have recorded a sound file of Seasonal Unemployment. Clicking on the triangle initiates playback.

Seasonal Unemployment [Download]

Seasonal Unemployment

 

Once I was a scarecrow
with acres of corn in my care.
I watched generations of seeds
grow up and flourish.
They made me feel alive.

Since then, with each harvest
leaving me less to do,
more to reflect on,
it´s becoming
as clear as clouds
that I´m no longer
needed by the farmer
who made me his
stand in.

Now, autumn´s night frost
freeze dries my stitches,
and every day almost
winter winds pick them apart.
Limb by limb, I´m losing
all my inner support:
straw´s running out,
a broomstick’s severed.

In a barn, somewhere,
there´s a man
weighing his good fortune.
And here I am — over the hill,
facing a field full
of nothing.

 

How to Succeed in Apiculture

 

Plenty of bees swarming around
his hive, others flying in,
and out…

With veiled enthusiasm,
he’s there to take stock of the boxes,
prying not to upset any
while looking for honeycombs.
Those chosen for culling
should be found dripping, larger
than a man’s hands.
For stowing, his back’s
strapped with a knapsack
which, like always,
should soon be bulging;
by the end of summer,
much too small.

As for the bees, they’d
be a wild bunch without him;
their nest no more than a batch
of wax branching from a tree
nowhere near this pasture sown
with rye and clover.

The Industrialization of Silk

 

One summer, with the Empire in full bloom,
the mulberry trees stood leafless,
their branches alive with
tea colored cocoons.
Legend says that some fell
into a bucket of boiling water,
ending up as threads ready for weaving.

The first bolt was rushed to Court—
a fabric so fine it tingled, so light
it fluttered from hand to hand.
Finally, after much discussion
and no consensus, the Emperor decreed
that only nobles who paid taxes
could trade in silk.
He also forbad exporting
the eggs, with good reason…
Outside his realm, rulers
were as greedy as thieves,
and ruthless.

That was millenniums ago.
Now all sorts of bolts, from crepe
to taffeta, are produced, worldwide,
on high-speed looms. And thanks to genetics,
the larvae eat less, grow faster, spin
larger cocoons. Even the dirty work
of boiling is automated; no longer
done by artisans on a small scale.
Given today’s demand for silk, the worms
need to be massacred.

June-August 2014

“The Likes of Master Shimu’s Artistry,” “Museum Pieces,” and “Priorities in Perfect Practice,” (Three by 3: September-November 2013, March-May 2013 ) were written in English. A friend, Edward Shaw, whose resume includes working as a journalist for the Buenos Aires Herald and the author of many publications on Latin American art, culture and politics, kindly translated them into Spanish.

To facilitate comparison, each original is followed by its translation.

The Likes of Master Shimu’s Artistry

A stream springs up.
Ribbons of currents sparkle
as they curl around rocks;
turning, by late afternoon,
into the deep water
of a long, dark pool.

There and then, its slowly
moving surface features
the likes of Master Shimu
searching for shade
along the bambooed bank.
Are those his eyes
floating among the green leaves
whisked off by the wind?

An eddy enters the picture.
Soon the leaves are drawn
towards it, branching
away on separate waves.
Also, within drifting
distance, the bottom
appears again.

Las semejanzas de la calidad artística del Maestro Shimu

Un arroyo surge.
Cintas de corrientes relumbran
mientras que serpentean por las rocas;
virando, al atardecer,
hacia las aguas profundas
de un charco largo y oscuro.

Allá y en ese momento, sobre la superficie
en lento movimiento, se destaca
la semejanza del Maestro Shimu
buscando sombra
a lo largo de la ribera cubierta de bambú.
¿Son aquellos sus ojos
flotando entre el follaje verde
arrebatados por el viento?

Un remolino entra a la escena.
De repente las hojas son arrastradas
hacia él, dividiéndose en ramas
sobre olas separadas.
También, dentro de la distancia que flotan,
el fondo reaparece.

Él ha visto lo suficiente, sin embargo,
por un día pleno;
entre reflejos
y el espejo que los separan…

Es hora
de dejar que seque la acuarela.

Museum Pieces

    for Nora

          1

The art in this room
should share a single statement.
It’s supposed to say something
about belonging together,
though every painting
hangs on its own merits.

Now picture the place without them:
nothing would stand out.
Not even art lovers
with high standards.

          2

Where do we figure?
Your eyes are searching.
Are they clear about us?
Look at it this way-
as a whole, we’re already
a work in progress.
The problem’s with perspective-
you don’t see us
coming any closer
than walls apart
within the same gallery.
You’re on the side of still lives
while I’m aligned
with moving portraits.
What’s missing is a meeting
space for both genres-
a middle ground
between back and fore.

Piezas del Museo

    for Nora

          1.

El arte de esta sala
debe compartir una única declaración,
supuestamente debe decir algo
en relación a una pertenencia común,
aunque cada pintura
cuelga por sus propios méritos.

Ahora imagínense el lugar sin ellas:
nada destacaría,
ni los amantes del arte
con pautas enaltecidas.

          2.

¿Dónde figuramos nosotros?
Tus ojos buscan.
¿Lo tienen claro al respecto?
Mírenlo así-
Como una totalidad, ya somos
una obra en proceso.
El problema es con la perspectiva—
no nos ven
acercándonos más
que paredes apartadas
dentro de la misma galería.
Tú estás del lado de las naturalezas muertas
mientras que yo me encuadro.

Priorities in Perfect Practice

Not only a metronome
plays a key role…

At the piano
sits a virtuoso.
He’ll tackle anything…

Note the ivory steps.
They slope upward,
towards a dream door.
He’s rhapsodizing
over which riff
might make
a break thru.
Also, what will it sound like?

In real life
a living room
houses him.
The walls wear ears.
They eavesdrop
on steady solos.
Likewise, a low
ceiling listens in.

Those are his
full scale critics,
besides a
small metronome
ticking away
on a table.
That’s their measure
for trying out
latent talent.
All he has to do
is follow along.
Whether the door
will wind up opening
hinges on him.
As to when is up to them.

Prioridades de la Práctica Perfecta

No solo un metrónomo
juega un papel estelar…

Al piano
está sentado un virtuoso.
El es capaz de emprender todo…

Tome nota de los escalones de marfil.
Se inclinan hacia arriba,
hacia una puerta de ensueño.
Con rapsodia, considera
cual ‘riff’ podrá producir
una ruptura.
También, ¿cómo sonará?

En la vida real
un living
lo hospeda.
Las paredes visten orejas.
Escuchan furtivamente
los solos uniformes.
Asimismo, un cielorraso bajo
escucha a hurtadillas.

Esto es la escala completa
de sus críticos,
a parte de un pequeño metrónomo
que va marcando el paso
sobre una mesa.
Ésta es su medida
de experimentar
el talento latente.
La única cosa que tiene que hacer
es seguir.
Si la puerta termina abriéndose
gira sobre el gozne de él mismo.
El cuándo, depende de ellos.

March-May 2014

The December 2013 posting presented three of the six poems from the open ended series, “Scruples”. The poems in this March posting are a continuation.

For readers who would like to hear them,  I have recorded sound files of 4 and 5. Clicking on the triangle initiates listening playback. 

Scruples 4 [Download]
 
Scruples 5 [Download]

            4. 
        
At first, the youth
could barely twitter his flute…
He´d need years of practice
to grow up,
          into a musician.

One of the streams in the forest
edged a glade.
Kindred spirits gathered there.
While he soloed, they chirped, croaked,
even hissed.

His pluck and striving
                     pleased the gods.
They´d never overheard a mortal so hip 
                     at such a tender age.
Only Dionysus didn’t listen. No
              boy could play
country like his kid, Pan.

 

        5.

The rules of this boardinghouse’re
etched in stone.
We can’t miss the tablets—
they stand on
eye level shelves in the parlor—
one for does,
the other donts.

Our landlord lets rooms to strangers.
He’s in the business
of saving souls.

              6.

In Medieval times wives wore
chastity belts when their spouses
weren’t around. All were leather bound
and lockable…some lined with silk,
others  bejeweled.

The keys were custom made
from precious metals.
If her husband was a noble,
he’d have chosen gold; gilded
with their family crest.

Women were deemed the weaker sex;
fair prey for troubadours wandering
from castle to castle, waxing poetically
about forbidden fruit.
They were also musicians who could
make a lute sound sweeter
than plums, as bitter as quince.

                          

December 2013 - February 2014

After retiring in 2000, I continued living in Rio de Janeiro. My free time activities remained the same. An add on was volunteer work for a neighborhood civic organization.

One the poems I wrote was conceived of as an open ended work. “Scruples” now totals six entries: two from 2004, three from 2005, and the latest from 2006.

This posting to three by 3  comprises the first three. Each is a thematically linked free standing poem  The next three will be posted in the March-May 2014 installment.

For readers who would like to hear the poems,  I have recorded sound files of 1 and 2. Clicking on the triangle initiates listening playback.     

Scruples 1 [Download]
 
Scruples 2 [Download]

    Scruples

                  1.

Last night a meteorite fell
on our lawn. It´s as big
as a birdbath, but not
smooth, round, or white—
almost pitch black and
deeply furrowed.

In the spring they come
weekly, without much warning.
So far, none´ve hit a house,
just backyards.
This one landed damn near
our rose garden.
Thank heavens it missed.

                  2.

The gate opens wide
because you oiled the hinges.
Now even a breeze can easily
come and go.

But what about the latch?
Rusty…a spring´s missing…
another in pieces…
Tomorrow, next week, month,
it might fall off,
locking you in, or out.

                  3.

Lazarus is alive. He’s eating breakfast
with his sisters. On the table
there’s fresh fruit, hot bread,
enough tea for everyone, including
well wishers who’ll soon
be swarming in like locusts.

Mary and Martha are crying,
but not for joy. He’s sorrier
than they could ever be…
says he was on the way to heaven
before it turned back to Bethany,
that their meddling in his afterlife
did more harm than good.

First published in Mixed Nerve

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