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« Squib 445: Envisioning the Web [by Alan Ziegler] | Main | Our love affair was meant to be. . . »

August 14, 2020


Lost Face

I was not a fair-faced lad going to war
and by accident I came home unburied—
not lost in the earth of that foreign field—
but scarred, my face heavily disfigured.
I was a freak and a bad reminder
of what Britons had been up against and
now wanted to forget. I was nightmare
to them and myself. In hospital
I endured the multiple, painful
surgeries that I was told in time would
make me less abhorrent, more passable—
a laugh that! Surgery went so far,
I needed a mask, an artful disguise
to get a bit further with my new look.

Papier-mâché mask, flesh tinted with rouged
cheeks, hearty and hale, with a ribbon tie
all merely a curiosity piece—
What does ’e really look like underneath?

I stick with my kind, the mutually maimed
freak shows, who will not look away when I
remove the mask from raw visage to eat.
And any red light comfort comes with coin
as does drink—so lucky to be home!
I present a stoic mien that’s not mine.

[NB: last line of second stanza should be italic.]

For Tiresias

We come from the sea
but do not see, as dead fish
entombed in our selves.

The seas are rising;
they will engulf our cities.
Then shells will open.

My poems are strings
of flowers buoyed to surface:
floating messages.

What blind prophet can
read the future undivulged?
Nothing undeluged.

line 8 correct "floweres" to "flowers"

Words from a Painting by Giorgio Di Chirico

I am mannequin
and still life
plucked from wire
in Verdun. If you prefer,
think of my eye cups
as motorcycle glasses;
if you prefer, think
of my thoughts
as fish, noble,
never to be caught.
I’ll mount my Ducati,
speed through storms
to Santiago
de Compostella, become
a holy shell
in a field of stars.


“How slow life is, how violent is hope.”

What should one make of such
shadows and seams? There is
a cruel stillness in being—
it pierces mind, targets flesh,
becomes machine.
Poems will only bring
tomorrow when today
releases the fossil
imprint of receded seas,
when art and men
reach deep into the blinding
box, unleashing violent hope.

The Nostalgia of the Infinite

In the San Remo bar once, in Paris,
I met this old critic in shades.
Soon, under the fish-bridge, and bare-assed,
He said… but the memory fades.

We were just two old codgers,
but there, without a care,
I was Ginger Rogers,
And he was Fred Astaire.

He was fire and water
I was earth and air
I was Agamemnon,
And he, Apollinaire.

Oops, that was a quick one and I see you can'
t edit. I was sloppy with the punctuation, and perhaps meant "Juno's daughter" not "Agamemnon"

Je suis solidement bati

standing statuesque all day and night
watching fishermen come and go
I am glad of the clip-ons I've been given
Mon physique mystique est la musique
to all the sea nymphs of the deep
by my stride, windward and alee are riven
homecomers know exactly where to go
even when fogbound moonless nights obscure the sight
from my shoulder the harbor master observes how low
in the water cargo laden vessels are driven
by oarsmen so strong there is no need to tow
until dockside they become a welcome sight.
should Venus arise amidst loads of woad
I would dive to mate her, I, the Colossus of Rhodes.

as for my guess as to the artist i would say the following:
clip on sunglasses such as those shown probably did not exist
prior to 1920. so i would say this art dates from after 1920.
it could be an earlier piece where the clipons were added in
the manner of adding a mustache.
the paper is beige, which may be its natural color or may be
from aging. one would have to examine the actual article to
see just what the image is painted/printed on. it could have
been created and then naturally aged. it could have
been created on paper already aged. one would have
to see if it is pen and ink, or a print or lithograph. it could
be a page from a book or manuscript as an illustration. it could
be a print from a metal engraving, a common illustration technique.
there are literally thousands of possibilities.

woodcut, Georgio de Chirico, 1917

Thank you for the fascinating poem, Linda. I'm crazy about the title.

Eric, I love the rhyme of "earth and air" with "Apollinaire," and I see no reason to pull Agamemnon from the poem. Great de Chirico title, too. Thank you!

Thank you, Pamela. "Violent hope" -- like the "blind hopes" in Aeschylus -- is a phrase to reckon with.

Wonderful poem, Angela. I'm so glad my little challenge prompted such brilliant work.

Always a treat to see how you handle a brain-teasing prompt, Millicent. Splendid last stanza.

"A stoic mien that's not mine" is superb, as is the mask. If it were my poem I'd keep the last two stanzas and make the title more mysterious. It would stand on its own as a poem maybe entitled simply "The Mask." Try it. In any case I greatly enjoyed this artful disguise, David.

Peter Frank has asked me to post his contribution:

Trepanning for Beginners
For Giorgio de Chirico

Three lit gas jets
Mama, papa is wounded
There’s too-cool status and then
there is too cool as a rule
played as a shellfish game
But it took a flu and a half
to take out the fabulous brow
of Father William, leaving
petite Marie of France and
sister Thérèse awake
and breathless, allergies
aflame in the pollened air
In surreal-time play the
data is never as deep as
the metadada, or as
valorous as plastic

Peter Frank
Los Angeles
August 17 2020

Thank you so much, David! And thank you so much for the terrific challenge. The highlight of my week.

Mark Minton asks me to post this poem of his in response to the prompt:

APOLLINAIRE: Eternally "Cool"

Oh, it's not hard to become the Seer
an honorary Greek, a Nietzschean man
or to shape your corpse into a marble bust:

Why, even a Belorussian can turn Parisian hipster:
an Apollo in shades!

First, break all the idols of Baal
and expel God from the Garden
derange all your senses
and exult the new, the ugly, the mechanical

Race your modern car
into a modern war
get your skull crushed
and enjoy an early death

Dying beautiful and young
you can play in Elysium forever.

Thank you,David. Please,sir,we want some more.

Thank you, David. So nice to hear your voice.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

Click image to order


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