September-November 2019

Included in three by 3 of September-November 2018 was “Calliope’s Conundrum”. The creativity and resourcefulness of the Muse also figures in The Tales of the Arabian Nights. Her name is Scheherzade  and she became the inspiration for “At Long Last the Sultan’s Won Over”.

Scruples #1 appeared in three by 3, December 2013-February 2014. Along with an explanation of intent, an audio clip reading was attached. #16 is the latest entry.

While critiquing my poems recently, I realized that none were written in the first person. “O Me, O My,” hopefully settles the score, once and for all.

At Long Last the Sultan’s Won Over

In this oasis, the king cobra
reigns supreme, his real estate
a lot of palms that can stand the sun,
as well as water rights over
a fountain waiting in the shade.

Trade bound caravans cross the desert
from dawn to dusk, along a silk route
which, if all goes well, finds them
heading steadily for the horizon.

Come nights they’re bound to tent
down among the dunes, pitched
against wind and restless sand.
Far better than out in the open
is an oasis of untold wonders…

Putting it into words takes
heart, imagination, a lullaby.
Among the Sultan’s brides, one spins tales
which please him over and over,
by now numbering a thousand.
How many more before she’s home free?
Woe upon Scheherazade whose chances
for a happy ending are subject
to his bidding, her services rendered.

             16           

Being born losers ups the odds
to dead set against us.
We game each day until
there’s none in play.

Luck, as it so happens, can run
short or long, change direction,
swing from good to bad.
Our lot takes chances by choice.
Dealing with all kinds at any time
makes us gamblers for life.

 

            O Me, O My

Lyric relates to poetry of limited length expressing
thoughts and especially subjective feelings.*

 

                   1

                            i…

                    2                                                    i…

                     3

                              I…

                      4

                               I…                                                           

 

Which of these selves can write a sonnet
so versed in rhyme and meter
that when read aloud it rings as true
as the “doodle dos” of a cock at dawn;
whose words, on paper, not only meet
the eye, they make a lasting impression?

May the bard within Michael Bates rise,
body and soul, befitting the occasion.

 

*A Reader’s Guide to Literary Terms
Beckson and Ganz

June-August 2019

This posting marks three by 3’s eighth year of publication. In commemoration, three poems are reprised:  “On Andean Time” was originally posted in December 2014, “The Main Attraction in Marrakesh,”  December 2015  and  “A Self Guided Tour of Pompeii,”  March 2017.  Accordingly, they all relate to a place within a context of time.

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.

 

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.

 

A Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

                           1.

The citizens of Pompeii worshiped lots of gods—
publicly in temples, privately at home.
Jove, Jupiter, Minerva, Apollo, topped the rosters.
Thanks to them fortune fared good or bad.
More, but of lesser stature, meddled in household affairs.
The Lares enshrined within atriums look human,
dress alike, carry buckets laden with wine,
big and small horns for serving.

                              2.

Tourists visiting the City view Vesuvius
to the north, weather permitting.
Its dark side hides within a deep crater
that can erupt at any time.
The latest, in 1944, lasted a week,
razed an allied air base, neighboring towns,
buckled the strada to Naples.

                              3.

On display among the ruins
lie mummies from all walks of life.
Cooling lava cast them, by chance,
in their final moments.
They remain mute while plaques
in French, Italian, English,
cite facts and figures
incapable of explaining why.

March-May 2019

“By Design and On Purpose” was posted in three by 3, September-November 2013. Since then, it was submitted to several journals for publication and accepted by Verse-Virtual. Their website is http://www.verse-virtual.com The volume date is April 2019.

I spent my end of year holidays in Brazil. “Last Laugh In the Funhouse” was begun before, worked on during, completed after returning home.  Like its predecessors, Scruples #15 deals with moral concerns. In this case, how time puts them in perspective.

By Design and On Purpose

   For Leslie Kingston

Lighthouses are put there to stay.
In no way should they
at any time, go off fishing,
out for lunch, look forward
to holidays—none on the horizon.
If they did, who’d warn boats
about local currents,
which ones spit shoals
which  braid channels?

Likewise, lighthouses are put there to last.
Above all, they’re trussworthy spines
of steel rolled in concrete—
tons of each—raised to face
sunstroke one day, wind bites another,
no turning away
from whatever the weather wants.
How long should they soar?
As big and bright as possible
without much upkeep:
between seasons
a change of lenses,
lamps nightly,
after blackouts, new fuses.

On paper—technically blueprints—
lighthouses are rendered
with reliability in mind.
From top down, they’re designed
to hold their ground,
stand fast on a cliff
or bluff, be seen
for miles, over and over.

 

Last Laugh In the Funhouse

                 1.

Among the attractions
there’s always a back room
haunted by mirrors.
Above the entrance—
intruders are welcome
flashes off and on,
along with a green neon
arrow pointing forward.

                  2.

Within appears deserted,
dim as a dungeon;
but before long, one after
another, reflections show up
on both sides, back and forth…
What poses for fun is figuring
out who looks like who,
whether they match a good
or bad impression?

 

 Scruples

             15.

Let’s sing Happy Birthday together.
Those who can remember
the words, still carry a tune,
please gather around the table.

Someone should lower the curtains…
another bring in the cake…

How many candles are lit?
Our lot awaits with baited breath
until the time comes to blow
them out, while we’re able.

December 2018-February 2019

Two previously posted poems in three by 3, “Origins on Galapagos”  (December 2014-February 2015) and ” Watch Closely, Listen Carefully”  (June-August 2018) were accepted for publication in the April 2019 online edition of Waterways. Their website is http://www.tenpennyplayers.org.  An encouraging start for 2019…

My first international position was sales representative for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. Our office for the Caribbean territory was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Casals residence was not far from where I lived. On occasion I passed by, but never had the pleasure of a chance encounter!

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 stalking terns.

 

Watch Closely, Listen Carefully

 

The sounds an owl mouths
            while stalking earmark
                       whether –he’s on a limb
                                    holding tight, or airborne,
                                                above the trees, biding time
                                                            for a swoop…

Ground shadows—mice and the like—
after a field day tracking down seeds,
appear in a hurry to hole up,
ahead of what stirs at dusk…

Blink by blink an owl awakes.
Night finds him wide eyed—
on high alert, aiming
to catch sight of stragglers.

Sly minded, he mulls them
            over—who, who, who?—
                           before making a choice.
                                    Those within close range
                                                  can hear him coming,
                                                              hoot upon hoot.

 

El Maestro At Home-Puerto Rico 1971

 

While sitting on his balcony
Sr. Casals becomes an audience of one
looking towards the horizon…

As far as he can see—the sky
and sea mirror shades of indigo
native to the Caribbean, hardly
any clouds, the sun at its brightest;
within hearing distance—breezes
tugging on palm fronds, a beach
combed by wave upon wave,
gulls squawking over flotsam…

Via sights and sounds his virtuosity
comes into play—con mucho gusto
he’ll perform a suite for cello
to the tempo of a meringue.

September-November 2018

“Windfall” was posted in three by 3  March-May 2015. Recently, I submitted it to the print journal Passager. Publication will be in the January 2019 open issue. Their website is: http://www.passagerbooks.com/our-journal/

“Calliope’s Conundrum” was written while I was living in Brazil. The year was approximately 1995 and the title was “Calliope.” Soon after I moved to the US in 2006, it was critiqued by a poet friend, Tia Ballantine. In mid 2017  I reread the poem and commentary. The revision, “Calliope’s Conundrum,” was finished the first week of November 2018 which delayed the three by 3  posting.

“Artist In Residence” was begun in June 2018 and completed in August. It was my default poem during the rewrite of  “Calliope’s Conundrum”.

        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.

Calliope’s Conundrum

                                                        For Tia Ballantine
                                                             1                     

Sure, I looked up to Icarus.
Supported him over
a mean-spirited king
half human, half bull headed.
What muse wouldn’t —
despite my sisters’ insistence
that, unless undecreed,
only trade winds can leave the island.

My heroes are mortals outclassed at birth,
but weaned on virtue; their mettle
tested often and sorely, even in good times.
They brave each day with equal zeal,
end one adventure, begin another,
stay the course, never lose hope.
Icarus was fitted with wings
that could survive a perilous journey.
Whenever he put them on, I imagined
a pilot in the making, airborne, heading
for the mainland—mission accomplished.

                                                              2

A golden orb rises at dawn, crowns
the sky, glows until dusk.
Any body, fowl or not, venturing
near is consumed by fumes and fire.
So why in the world did Icarus
change his flight plans —
went from gliding around
to soaring into the sun?

From aloft, the gods on Olympus are
ever meddling in the lives of others.
They know, but won’t tell, whereas
my sisters have their say about the meltdown.
Worse than silence is being judged
by a jury of peers— in this case
for conspiring with a minor, believing
that given a chance he’d eventually
become a hero, no doubt about it.

 

Artist In Residence

Crystal sparkles, so a bowl
like the one sunning
by the window appears to dazzle.

On occasion it’s fruit colored.
Yellow when the apples are ripe,
green grapes out of season, ruby red in,
pears as amber as honey…

What’s seen in the light of day
he renders truer than life,
still enough to hang from any wall,
high or low, its bowl laden
with the fruit of his imagination.

June-August 2018

The three by 3 posting of March-May 2018 announced the acceptance for publication of “Wolfish,” “What’s in the Attic” and “Re-Possessed.” in the summer issue of Horror-Zine. A subsequent editorial decision replaced “Wolfish” with “A Widow’s Diary,” originally posted in three by 3, March-May 2015.

Both “Watch Closely, Listen Carefully,” and “A Showdown at Seaside” were begun in January 2018. The former was finished in April, the latter in June.

     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 hers’ 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.

 

Watch Closely, Listen Carefully

The sounds an owl mouths
            while stalking earmark
                       whether –he’s on a limb
                                    holding tight, or airborne,
                                                above the trees, biding time
                                                            for a swoop…

Ground shadows—mice and the like—
after a field day tracking down seeds,
appear in a hurry to hole up,
ahead of what stirs at dusk…

Blink by blink an owl awakes.
Night finds him wide eyed—
on high alert, aiming
to catch sight of stragglers.

Sly minded, he mulls them
            over—who, who, who?—
                        before making a choice.
                                     Those within close range
                                                    can hear him coming,
                                                                  hoot upon hoot.

 

A Showdown at Seaside

 

Around noon on the last leg
of my combing along the beach,
I spotted a bottle, more than likely
landed by high tide…

Standing in the sand, it pointed
at the sun—glittered non-stop
until my shadow showed up…
but what I found was skinned
with moss, nothing inside
beside shells and seaweed.

Our encounter ended soon after…
the bottle cast back, caught
by an outbound current;
my heading home the way
I came, with no due regrets.

March-May 2018

The poems  “Wolfish,”  “What’s in the Attic” and “Re-Possessed”, were posted in three by 3  December 2012-February 2013,  September-November 2015, and June-August 2013, respectively. All will be published by The Horror Zine (http://www.the horrorzine.com/) in their June 2018 issue. (Obs. “What’s in the Attic” was edited before submitting. The revision is posted below).  

 

      Wolfish

             1

Critters caught off guard–
then, one, two, three…
we’re as hungry as wolves can be–
which should give the shepherd
something to stew over
once it dawns on him
who sheared down
his flock.

Such goodness on the hoof
standing out
oh so soft and white
under the moonlight
makes them clearly
much more appealing
than any holed up hares,
harder to snare, tough to eat.
There’s also a corral around them,
obliging outsiders
to either leer longingly,
or find a gate
which can be pawed open
without raising a bleat.

                 2

“Brute evil’s out there,”
the shepherd bellows
while stomping his staff.
“See how it fared
during the dread of night,
disguised as darkness,
invisible to the innocent.”
He calls us sly devils,
even though we’re wolves
specialized in cunning.

               3              

Hiding behind a hedge
listening to his mad mouthing,
we’re far too full
to howl out who’s wrong.
Meanwhile, on branches,
early birds´re chirping and singing.
What music for our forked ears–
enough to lull us
into lying low for a while,
counting fewer sheep
to fall asleep.

 

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,
starbright and moonglow.

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

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

     Re-Possessed

 

By dawn any vampire still prowling around
                                                 is as good as doomed.
It’s his turn to run scared, faster than the speed of daylight,  
                                                 toward an abandoned graveyard…

The name on the gate belongs to a family that lived
                                                high and mighty in yonder castle.

He’s their last of kin— has been since the serfs went
                                                 on a rampage, breaking in,
                                                           looting, armed with knives
                                                                     and scythes.

Hiding in the cemetery saved him. An angel or devil had them
                                                  combing the forest, until rain
                                                             and darkness finally fell,
                                                                        ending the threat.

Then came the Count’s revenge. On moonless nights he rises
                                                   to the occasion: blazing red eyes,
                                                              hand grown claws, fanged like a bat,
                                                                         shrouded in a hooded cloak.

Some die of fright, others bleed to death. Either way appeases him.
                                                    What the serfs sowed, so
                                                               shall they reap. All of them.

His down time’s spent in a coffin. It lies low, but not buried,
                                                     under a bush by the gate…
                                                                as a whole, beyond suspicion.

Once inside, he can rest on his laurels, sleep off the craving
                                                      that drove him to drink, wake up
                                                                 feeling like a new man.

December 2017-February 2018

“Scruples” #3 and “A Cabaret Called Janus” were posted in three by 3, December 2013-February 2014 and June-August 2013. They have been recently accepted for publication, the former in a forthcoming issue of  The Columbia Review (http://columbiareviewmag.com), the latter in the October issue of The Open Mouse.(http://theopenmouse.wordpress.com).

“By All Appearances” appeared in three by 3, September-November 2013. It was revised in 2016 and this version is posted below.

  Scruples 

         3.

Lazarus´s 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´re crying, but not
for joy. A pall´s fallen over the room.
He´s confused, angry…says
he was on the way to heaven
when it turned into a back
road to Bethany…that
their meddling in his afterlife
did more harm than good.

 

 

A Cabaret Called Janus

 

Downstairs, posters flatter the lobby
with a wall of fame.
Highlighted by a chandelier,
one star shines after another,
starting from left to right.

 

The man in the dressing room
looks like the magician
among them.
He’s wearing a white tux, matching
cape and sash, fake mustache,
same pearl turban.
The poster also shows him
waving a wand of lightening
over a fiery hoop.

On weekends he appears
after midnight, prime time
for a full house.
His fans watch closely,
never miss a trick.

Soon a blinking buzzer
will upstage the mirror.
By then he should be
all made up, or not.

 

By All Appearances

 

Today, at the peak
of my morning walk
along the beach,
I spotted a bottle
which, more than likely,
was marooned by a wave
in league with the tide…

There it lay, lost,
then found, made of gold
mined by the sun,
glittering bright, brighter
the closer I came…
but what I held up
against the horizon,
was skinned with moss,
dark green, streaks of light,
nothing inside
beside broken shells.

Our showdown was short
lived, ended when
I reached the shoreline,
shut my eyes, cast the bottle
to where it once belonged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September-November 2017

The current posting of “Scruples” amounts to #’s 13 & 14. The inspiration for #13 comes from a cruise on the Danube River in 2016. As for #14, after a recent reading of a chapbook I published in 1988, I selected one of the poems for a rewrite. Ethics is concerned with true or false; aesthetics, truth and beauty.  These two “Scruples” focus more on the latter.

“Sightseeing over Scandinavia” was posted in three by 3  June-August 2012. Recently, I submitted it to the online journal Verse-Virtual.  Publication was in the August 2017 issue. Their website is: www.verse-virtual.com

    Scruples

           13.

One good look at the Danube—
                     from bank to bank—
shows it flowing south, of course,
                     broad and deep, a full length
                            channel, the current
                                     more slick than surly…
As far as colors go, teal can appear dark
                      or light, except for a short time
                                    within sight of Vienna…

There the water turns blue, the river waltzes along.

 

          14.

If a bull enters
            a crowded café,
those near an exit
            can sneak out.
Others are better off
            hiding behind a chair,
or under a table…

Alone, at the bar
           a matador on a binge                            
sips another manzanilla…
           Today he fought badly,
more afraid than brave,
            his passes too safe,
spared by a stroke of luck
             during the toque de muerte.

The bull glares back from the bottom
             of an empty glass,
headstrong, looking for revenge.
              Once in the ring,
there’s no escaping a hangover.

 

 Sightseeing over Scandinavia

 

Not a road around.
Nor telephone poles.
Just deep green surroundings
stuck with miles of pines…

Dirigibles make our annual pursuit
of transcendental truth a moving experience.
We can cover lots of ground
while floating around, day
after day, at the same height
as any horizon that comes our way.

Scandinavian forests are supposed
to be full of dwarfs.
So far, we haven’t seen any;
only herds of reindeer,
and a preying wolf.

We’re heading towards the sea,
looking forward to the coastline
for a change of place.
There’s where the fjords are, and
maybe a mermaid.
Before running out of tides
or into unfair weather, we’ll
hover over each beach,
searching for a lagoon
that shimmers, sounds like
it’s singing.

 

 

           

 

June-August 2017

With this posting, three by 3 begins its sixth year of publication. May there be many more–and all for the best!

As part of the celebration, I’m re-posting three of my favorite poems. By giving them a reprise, hopefully they’ll find readers with the same bias! For additional commentary, their original posted dates were: March-May 2013 (“Priorities in Perfect Practice”), December 2014-March 2015 (“Origins on Galapagos”),  September-November 2013 (“The Likes of Master Shimu’s Artistry”).

 

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.

 

First published in Octavo

 

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.

 

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.

He’s seen enough, though,
for a full day;
between reflections
and the mirror between them…

It’s time
to let the watercolor dry.

 

 First Published in The Montserrat Review                                                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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