Brief Poems
and
Epigrams
   Ernest Hemingway began writing short stories very much in the manner of Sherwood Anderson.  Becoming dissatisfied with the language and manner of these, he began writing very brief scenes of no more than a paragraph or two, developing and honing his style.  From these he moved up to short stories of mostly 3-5 pages, and then finally to longer stories and novels.
    Though I didn't know about Hemingway at the time, I did much the same thing with poetry.  My early poems were formal and complex, including quite a few Italian sonnets.  I had a considerable proficiency with rhyme and metrics from the start, but didn't like the results.  The language was stilted, and the subject matter pretentious.  I quit poetry altogether for a couple of years, then began trying to write only two line poems, or failing that, four line ones.  I wrote very little else for several years.  After a time I put most of them together in a collection called One Eye Upon the Queen.  After that I began writing longer poems, including the book length The Lady of the Fountain, which I have placed elsewhere on this site.  I lost the compulsion to write very brief poems, though I continued to do so, and have written some since the first collection that I like quite a lot.
    As for the poems in One Eye Upon the Queen, though I still think well of most of them, a few seem immature, self-indulgent, or simply not very good.  It's not that I was so young; I was simply a slow developer.  However, I have decided to include the whole collection:   --Jack Hart
    The book has a fairly lengthy introduction, but I am no longer interested in many of it's issues, and so I will only include the ending as prologue to the poems: 
                    The oldest poem is the translation from Martial.  The
                    newest is "Cola Commercial."  The time of composition
                    has ranged from seconds to many, many hours.  The two
                    most labored were "Green Memories," and "Autumn
                    Light."  Among my favorites are "Maxine at a Party,"
                    "Among Black Holes," "Diamonds and Democracy,"
                    and"Emotions."  The most commented upon has been
                    "Emotions."
                         I would of course wish this collection to outlast me,
                    and though I would be pleased were it discussed by
                    learned scholars, I would be still happier if the young
                    used it to find models for poems to their lovers, or even
                    passed the poems off as their own.  After all, plagarism
                    is the purest form of imitation.   
1.
A SHIP OF FOOLS

"Where are their oars?" the burghers cry,
As we drift past the town--
The poet, hunchback, man of glass,
The queen with golden crown.

2.
WHAT WE DO

The poet harps on silver strings,
The queen enjoys the view,
The glass man serves her as a mirror,
The hunchback ties her shoe.

3.
A POET'S PROMISE

I'll clothe you like an heiress
In words beyond compare,
Give the moon for a tiara,
And stars to fill your hair.
4.
MAXINE AT A PARTY

You make a brightness where you walk
That lights a room and stills the talk.

5.
S.P.'S HANDS

One supple hand with dolphin's grace
Pursues its mate through pools of space.

6.
A SLIM NECK

Her head bows with the breeze of talk,
A violet on a slender stalk.

7.
TWO LITERARY REFLECTIONS
ON GROWING FAT

I shall grow fat, grow fat as I grow old,
And wear the bottoms of my tee shirts rolled.

I fear the belts I leave behind will tell
Of one who ate, not wisely, but too well.
8.
SELF PORTRAIT

I drink a lot, I ride my Hog,
I have long hair and curls,
I play the clown for sober fools,
And spend my days with girls.

9.
WEATHERING

Their gritty texture tells the hand
That things concrete are largely sand;
If so, what force can structures bear
Whose walls are subtler than the air?

10.
OVERCAST DAT

It rains, the clouds are grey and low,
The pear tree's petals fall like snow.

11.
KING SAUL

Though once the glory on my brow
Drew crowds to me, where are they now--
The men, the slender women who
To that, and not to me were true.
12.
EMOTIONS

Unwanted puppies of the mind,
I'll drown them all, unformed and blind.

13.
TO SOME I HAVE SATIRIZED
LITTLE OR NOT AT ALL

I could, but should one use a sacred flame
To roast the rancid flesh of such poor game?

14.
CAMPUS

How Eden-like a college green,
And if no snake, there is a dean.

15.
THE POET'S TEMPERAMENT
                                           from Sappho

I am not rancorous, but mild,
And simple hearted as a child.

16.
SAPPHO
How strong the vaulting of her heart
To raise aloft such weight of art.
    Commentary:  The first two poems refer to a group of close friends who wrote togeter and created Ship of Fools in 1984.  "Campus" refers to the academic dean at my college, who is the only person I have met that I was sure was a true sociopath.  When I lost my chairmanship in a reorganization, I had a great deal of impassioned support from my faculty, and so I calmed them down with a long letter/memo which was on the one had conciliatory, and on the other rather edgy.  I ended with Sappho's lines that appear hear as "The Poet's Temperament," but in Greek.  Hearing of the memo, which quickly became well known, the dean demanded a copy in threatening terms.  When he got it, he did not get it, and so decided the attack must be in the Greek which he could not read.  For the rest of the day he scoured the campus for someone who could interpret these ironically innocuous lines.
17.
AMONG BLACK HOLES

What nightmare hybrids walk behind
The zodiac of stars gone blind.

18.
FLORIST'S SHOP

Why does this place so take my breath?--
Is it the smell of love and death?

19.
AN INVITATION FROM DEATH

The invitation I received to dine
R.S.V.P., I cordially decline:
I fear that I for bread would get a stone,
While you devoured the flesh and gnawed the bone.

20.
THE PASSIONATE BIKER

Are cycles dangerous?--of course;
A wreck at speed cracks skulls like eggs,
But ride with me; you could do worse
Than share the death between my legs.
21.
MOTORCYLIST

By cypress bordered waters stands
A harvester of heads and hands,
But what is that to me, for I
Who pause to watch will pass on by.

22.
MAXINE'S EYES

Her eyes are strange,
But strangely fine,
Green apple hard,
And serpentine.

23.

MAXINE'S EYES

Green eyes to some mean jealousy;
To me, the moving restless sea,
And that primordal otherness
That mothers, wives, and buries us.

24.
MAXINE'S HAIR

A style that shows a slender neck
Is pleasing to the eye,
But if you cut your waist-long hair,
The springs will dry,
The stock go barren all this year,
And crops will die.
25.
MAXINE'S EARS

Hardly large enough for lobes,
They are so dainty,
Creased neatly like an angel's robes
In a Flemish painting.

26.
MAXINE'S HANDS

She loses rings--
A problem of her gender,
Of hands so small,
And fingers very slender.

27.
MAXINE'S WAIST

Roundly graced,
But little waist.

28.
MAXINE'S LEGS

So small of ankle,
And so broad of thigh,
And yet you stand
As well as I.

29.
A HEAVY WOMAN

The screen of flesh does not conceal
Her small, and finely scalloped heel.
30.
LONG BROWN HAIR

Strange that such a liquid medium could
Possess the gloss and grain of polished wood.

31.
COMMERCIAL ART

An emerald necklace 'round a naked thigh
Winks from the page, and asks a teasing, "Why?"

32.
WAITING AT THE WINDOW

The glass has clouded and grown clear
So many times, and you, not here.

33.
IN TWO MORE WEEKS

Why must I be so tired at night?--
Oh God, mind work, and let me write
One perfect poem that will last,
With slender lines precisely cast
To catch the memory of this day,
And draw you back, though long away.

34.
BENEATH A LIGHTED WINDOW

A silhoette against the shade--not she,
Some casual guest with no intensity
To bar him.  Oh Lord, find some small reason
That I may knock, and not be out of season.
35.
THE WISDOM OF AGE

I play the fool to complement
A world where all the rest are mad.
Although you would not think it now,
In youth I was a sober lad.

36.
FOLLOWING THE TENTMAKERS

In youth I sought the great "I AM,"
In age, the grape with old Khayyam.

37.
MY FIRST LOVE

Arms and cheeks both roundly turned,
And skin as smooth as butter churned,
And small, plump hands--
                                          she should have been
A shepherdess in porcelain.

38.
LEAVES
        for Louise Vest

A shame that summer will not wait
Till I have time to contemplate,
For I will think I hardly saw
The leaves and friends I miss this fall.
designed with Homestead
39.
LEAVES
         for Catherine B.

This time of year when leaves come tumbling down
To make a carpet, red and orange and brown--
A tasteful modern blend--one sometimes sees
Apart from all the rest, a single tree
That breaks the pattern, one too brightly crowned
To stand on any but a golden ground.

40.
CATHERINE

Why must things end?--the leaves so brightly gay
Be colored for a season, fall, turn grey?
And though in time the autumn comes again,
I do not think it will bring Catherine.

41.
To Helen
       from Sappho

I look at you and think I see
No mortal Helen, rather she
Whose name you bear--swan's daughter come
In dream from many towered Ilium.

42.
THE DARK OF THE MOON

A milk-white lady clothed in night,
Her hair dark waves and silver light--
She's pensive now, but when she's gay,
She makes a darkness bright as day.
43.
BACKLESS

The backbone's ridge sinks to a vale,
Then vanishes beneath her dress--
A question mark to make me guess
Beyond this prologue to her tale.

44.
STRUCK BY BEAUTY

Her slender, lathe-turned lines inspire
A lust too painful for desire.

45.
GIRL WITH A FLUTE

When shoulder, throat, and thigh invoke
A fleshly dreamworld of baroque,
Why mar this grace of coiled repose
With sound, with these, with any clothes.

46.
MAXINE

You are pure stillness, not repose,
As calm and beautiful as those
Who model for the cameos.

47.
GREEN MEMORIES
                           for Maxine
Such gem-like hours should be recalled
In language cut to emerald,
And clasped by slender lines of gold,
Too spare to hide the wealth they hold.
48.
ON A POEM

These lines have cost me seven hours,
Yet you'd rather I had sent you flowers.

49.
INCANTATION

How strong are words!--when chosen well,
They grip their object like a spell.

50.
ON ENDING MY CAREER AS
AN ADMINISTRATOR

Relieve me now to find my year's rebirth
Before the small, white flowers have freckeld earth.

51.
AN OFFICE OVERLOOKING THE GREEN

Pale leaves that have first learned to lay
A checkerboard across the day,
Grass that's freckled, frosted white
With flowers like stars in a green night,
And boys, and brown, bare shouldered girls
Who tumble freely as the squirrels,
All draw me from the textbook's page--
From golden age to golden age.

52.
STRAP LINES

These lines, as though by draftsman's plan,
Mark off her several shades of tan,
And form beneath the day's undress
A chronicle of nakedness.
53.
A THOUGHT FOR THE SEASONS

When virgins were in fashion,
The flesh was winter-white and cold;
This age of freer passion
Warms it to amber, brown, or gold.

54.
DIAMONDS AND DEMOCRACY

The Hope is public now, and glass
Must keep it safe, untouched, remote--
This shard of timeless beauty cut
To grace the moment's perfect throat.

55.
A CHARM
          for my daughter, Ursula

Great Bear, Little Bear,
From your starry height
Guard your little namesake
All through the night.
    Comments:  "Following the Tentmakers"--Paul and Omar Khayyam were both trained as tentmakers.  "Diamonds and Democracy"--I first saw the Hope diamond at the Museum of Natural History on my high school senior trip, although the thoughts about diamonds, democracy, revolution, aristocrisy, beauty, and the dubious and ironic concept of "public ownership" did not crystalize into a poem until twenty years later.  "A Charm"--Ursula, of course, means "little she bear."
56.
MAXINE STUDYING

How very strange to see you thus,
So thoughtful and so studious,
As busily about your books
As any girl without your looks.

57.
QUARRELSOME NEIGHBORS

Such neighbors are a gift of fate,
And leave no choice but to be great--
To be a saint in one's own time,
Or to commit the perfect crime.

58.
J. IN HEELS

Lines drop, concave, convex--
Espected squence all,
Until this lift of heel,
This last, seductive fall.

59.
DARK EYES

In each of these dark eyes I see
As fine and terrible a flower
As Earth sent up to draw Persephone
Into the All-Receiver's power.

60.
YOUNG LOVERS

Still wild, each from the other shys,
Afraid to show the naked eyes.
61.
THREE MEANADS IN RELIEF

Unconscious as the depths of sea,
They swim in pools of drapery.

62.
BODY LANGUAGE

Tight clothes leave hiroglyths to say
That flesh, like Sumer's texts, is clay.

63.
A ROSE IN P.C.'S HAIR

This rose that burns like candle light
Has made hair's falling darkness bright.

64.
SUNLIGHT ON THE OHIO

When sunbeams on the river play,
Their favorite game is Claude Monet.

65.
IN CERTAIN SHADOWS

Choose carefully what you stand beside--
In certain shadows, shadows hide.

66.
NIGHTCRAWLERS

Nightcrawlers such as these I find
In moonlit gardens of the mind.

67.
THE FOREBEARS AWAKEN

The slept while I was fortune's pampered cur,
But now I feel the wolves inside me stir.
68.
NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT

You think because I smile at you
       That I forget,
But though I smile a dozen years,
       I'll get you yet.

69.
MEETING BY MOONLIGHT

The moon misleads; I am not he.
Leave now, and cross yourself, not me.

70.
A LETTER OPENER FOR D.J.

What gift would suit her gentle voice,
And penetrating mind?--
A silver blade in a silver case
With purple velvet lined.

71.
SEEING D.J. IN A MIRROR

Not even her quick, cat-like eyes
Have caught these other eyes that stare
Obliquely at her classic face,
And lion's weight of curling hair.

72.
COLA COMMERCIAL

Two scarlet, almost liquid lips
And white, white teeth just half-way part,
Then close to rosebud 'round a straw,
And suck from depths beneath my heart.
73.
A LETTER FROM CATHERINE

Although I read the words, I seem to hear
A voice like melted pearls, rich, but clear.

74.
A LETTER

Pale ghost, go to her on your paper wings,
And make sleep restless with your murmurings.

75.
LINES BE EXCELLENT

Lines, be excellent as she--things of the heart
Do not endure, unless transformed by art.

76.
CATHERINE
IN WHITE AND PALE BLUE

What use are words, but to recall,
So let the title say it all.

77.
S.J.'S DARK EYES

Most eyes are goldfish flecked,
But hers, pure brown
Are clear through depth on depth
To darkness down.
78.
THE ERUPTION OF MT. ST. HELEN'S

How like a power plant's cooling towers,
This vent to nature's hidden fires,
And listening to its shattered lips,
We hear the new Apocalypse.

79.
OUT OF THE DEPTHS

As fingers like blind octopi
Rise to the catch, their wake has laid
A flow of liquid flesh across
The high, white crests of shoulderblades.

80.
THE FALL

While coils of geese writhe serpent-like
Across the hollow sky,
On earth a more than million lives
Broadcast their seed and die.

81.
AUTUMN LIGHT

When air, as now, is light, the eye
Sees every brilliant, bladed tree
Aflame with harsh intensity
Against the hard, blue shell of sky.

82.
TO LOUISE IN NEW MEXICO

Come visit us; not everything
Is gone.  The goldenrod and all
The other golden flowers of fall
Replace the small, pale shoots of spring.
83.
NOVEMBER

October leaves
And hours were bright,
But leaves decay,
The day turns night,
And golden girls
All fade to white.

84.
THROUGH ART

I'll make a harp of your white bones,
And strings of your long hair,
And they will sound at every touch
Of the soft-fingered air.

85.
A CHARM AGAINST
THE CAPRICIOUSNEES OF THE MUSE

Open your hoard of words!  I swear,
Unless you do, hardhearted witch,
I'll bind your wrists with your own hair,
And whip you with a willow switch.

86.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Seek out the magic word that justifies--
Blame time, or chance, or fate, or lack of skill;
Say what you choose, you know behind these lies
The cowardly acquiescence of the will.
87.
A SLIM WOMAN

Few words seem proper to express
The harmonies of slenderness.

88.
NO LETTER

One drop would do--My God, you'd think
I asked for blood, and not mere ink.

89.
INSPIRATION

I'd write quite other things
     Had I the choice,
But poets do not own,
     They hear their voice.

90.
MAXINE'S EXERCISES

Your breasts are firm as tennis balls
From lifting the Brittannicas;
Though knowledge pays no bills, at least
It's proved of use to one of us.

91.
TO LET

Three houseless demons will walk through
Your hollow chambered heart,
And one will look, and one will like,
And one will not depart.

92.
DEADLY EYES

Her eyes, crushed stars that swallow light,
Have bent my path, and draw to night.
93.
PREDATOR

Two slender hands with perfect nails,
Two large, dark eyes, a fine boned face,
A body with a weasel's grace,
And mind and soul--two mere details.

94.
NO AUDEN, I
          or
I WRECK MY HOG

Dear Hog, we've made it home alone,
In spite of treacherous limestone,
And broken shafts of steel and bone.

95.
EPITAPH

Here lies Jack Hart, and they'll say what done
Him in was liquor and Harley-Davidson.

96.
FORESIGHT

I dreamed a flock of gaudy birds
Sang in the pear tree by my well.
"Destructive birds!" you cried, and shook
The limbs until their nests all fell,
And strewed the winter-sodden earth
With flecks of iridescent shell.

97.
THE GAMECOCK AS PURE ARTIST

Although his lungs have filled, and death
Comes foaming up with every breath,
He shakes his head, impatient still,
And gulps for air enough to kill.
98.
DEATH AND THE GAMECOCK

Her lovers all wear finery
To strut in masquerade;
They flatter her with pagentry,
For death loves a parade.

99.
NIGHT HUNTING

My world is bound by carbide light,
Until the hounds give voice; then blood
Streaks hissing through my veins, and floods
All down the corridors of night.

100.
WITH THE GIFT OF A KNIFE
                                     for Jim Doubleday

Fat hogs and deer swing disemboweled,
Tobacco hangs like Bluebeard's wives,
The columned fields are stubble now--
Fall is the season for sharp knives.

101.
17th ANNIVERSARY

Cicadas came out of the earth,
And sang our wedding day.
They sang the beauty of the sun,
The closeness of the clay.

102.
CLOUD CAPPED TOWERS

I build my castles in the air,
Not on the common ground,
And all are intricate and rare,
Though structurally unsound.
103.
FALSTAFF

Although my reverend head grows white,
My reverend belly round,
I still will say, "We youth," in spite
Of age, and hair, and pounds.

104.
IV. 32
    from Martial

The bee in amber lies, and flawless gleams,
As in its native nectar frozen;
This honor paid to days of labor seems
The death me might himself have chosen.

105.
SLEEP
    from Sappho

I met Lord Hermes, guide to souls, last night
In dream, and said to him, "I want to die."
The many gifts the gods have given me
Are nothing to this weariness that makes
Me long to lie by Acheron's dark bank,
Where the dew-bent lotus drip forever.

106.
HUNTING FOR SHORT POEMS

No more big game--now fleet, elusive things
Draw me, small forms with feet as light as wings.
107.
HOMER

The truest gospel I have heard
Is yours, Old Lyre, the flesh made word.

108.
PEAR BLOSSOMS IN OCTOBER

Know, passer by, the house of poetry
By these white blossoms on an autumn tree.

109.
SEASON'S END

Cold weather comes, and geese are on the wing;
Their shadow passes like the hopes of spring.

110.
A CLEAR MEDIUM

As I perfect my craft, these eyes
Will fade into the world entire,
As diamonds in water lie,
Invisible, but for their fire.

111.
TO MAXINE

When our fires of youth shall cease to burn,
Then let us mix our ashes in one urn,
For surely something from such years as those
Must spring--perhaps a single, perfect rose.
112.
OUR REVELS NOW ARE ENDED

As when the blessed head at Harlaec lay,
And eighty years seemed briefer than a day
To all that fellowship, until the door
Was opened to the empty sea and shore,
And all that charm dispelled--just so with us,
And yet, what have we lost--all dreams end thus.

113.
VISION

The madness of my art now drops away,
And all--the earth, the sky, my heart is grey.

114.
AT OUR BEST

Then words were wine, and every day
We left half-drunk on repartee.

115.
END

The ship untended runs aground,
The fools all disperse,
The queen forgets her golden crown,
The poet, his mad verse.
    This is the first time I have read this collection as a whole in a number of years.  I was half embarrassed, half pleased by the freshness and sense of discovery in these.  Some, like "Diamonds and Democracy" seem to me to have a mature depth and complexity, but many are the sort that greater experience makes harder, rather than easier, to write.  I have reservations about a number of these, though there are only about six I would definitely take out.  On the other hand there are a number written since that I would add.  A number of these I have added below.
     Here are a couple that I like quite a lot.  They have the directness and simplicity of many of the ones in the collection above.  It takes no great wit to reverse a cliche, but in the case of "Another Visit," the reversal expresses a real truth that I don't think anyone has stated before.

              THE LAST GIRL IN SHORTS

              Late October, legs still bare,
              Still brown--how long it's been since spring,
              When swallows came with scissor wings
              To cut dead winter from the air.

              ANOTHER VISIT

              In absence only do you seem
              Quite real; to touch you is to dream.   
    I've always liked this pair, the first because it manages to play with Platonic
concepts in a simple and mundane situation, the second because it gave me so much trouble.  I started it in the spring when the cherry blossoms were out, and I wanted to express the idea of interlocking branches in three dimensions, but only had a few syllables in which to do so.  I finally gave it up on it until the blossoms were out the next spring.  I think it's the only four line poem that has taken me a year to write.

              WORKING UNDER CHERRY TREES

              So many petals drift into
              The forms that I admit defeat,
              And mix them in--suppose I do--
              Small matter with so much concrete.

              REFINEMENT

              Through latticed depths of cherry branch
              Dart hummingbirds at lovers' play,
              As silently as silken fans,
              And not a petal drops all day.
    Poets write a great deal about writing, not because they suppose that readers are necessarily interested, but because it is a subject always in their minds.  The first of these I like because it expresses very compactly how many poets feel about their inspiration and motivation.  Jim Doubleday pointed out to me how similar in theme "A Plain Statement" was to Yeats'
"The Circus Animals' Desertion," a poem I had not read at that time.

              WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO

              It's not for love or vanity,
              For coin, or cause, or spite--
              The white-armed muses come to me,
              And what they sing, I write.

              WRITING AFTER MIDNIGHT

              My brain has split, and round my head,
              My thoughts, like infant spiders, spread.

              A PLAIN STATEMENT FOR VALENTINE'S DAY

              I rummaged through my image box,
              My gems, my stars, my fighting cocks,
              My golden leaves and singing birds,
              But all had turned to empty words,
              So let me say in simple prose,
              I miss you more than you suppose.
    The editor of Hellas liked the first of these poems quite a lot, and was going to enter it in a contest, but if he did so, apparently it didn't win.

             MORE THAN A CUPID'S BOW

             Her culing upper lip suggests,
             In classic lines, that bow of horn
             Odysseus for long suffered guests
             Arched to a sudden smile of scorn.

             TO C. IN OCTOBER

             One flowless yellow rose
             Disputes the leafless brier,
             Asserting spring and you,
             And waking old desire.

             SLIT SKIRT

             Her calves, shy woodlocked dryads, peep outside,
             Whisper cheek to cheek, then laughing hide.

             STYLE

             I like the trashy elegance
             Of long spike heels with jeans . . .
             (This really needs another line,
             But you know what I mean.)
  Here are a few more:

             THE BRIDE

             As she moves to music alterward,
             And sacrificial rite,
             Pink roses roll and tear beneath
             The sweep of virgin white.

             C. G.'S FEET

             Such pretty feet, so small and white,
             And soft as blooms in May--
             You ought to keep a second pair
             To use for every day.

             ABSENCE AND TIME

             I miss, since you are never less to me,
             That joy of slow forgetting, memory.

             FROM THE STREET
                                         from Praxilla

                  Between the lattice and the sill,
             A glimpse of lips, two violet eyes--
             How beautiful, yet lovlier still,
             Her form, pure essense, pure surmise.