28 December 2011

The Call Home

For Dan Masterson; poet, teacher, mentor, and friend

The call home comes far too soon for those left
Behind. Not unexpected, of course – we
Each owe God this debt – yet somehow bereft
Of any divine sense of poetry;
We'll stand in loose circles at the viewing,
Grim-faced and consoling, while holding hushed
Exchanges, listening to those who knew
Him well, and the students whose lives he touched;
"He was a good man," someone will say, and
Heads will bob to augment muttered consent.
"The best…gone too soon," they'll echo off hand
As their thoughts quickly turn to the present.
But, I am one whose mem'ry will linger,
Holding your words in my mind and fingers.

23 November 2011

Il Mio Respiro

For "Her."

In truth, my words are writ by thy fingers.
Is it not you who first taught me to love;
Who enchanted me while my eyes lingered
On thine, and kindled a flame undreamt of?
What glory can be mine when the sound
Of your voice arouses my pen? O, spark
Imagination by thy touch; and compound
Thee little songs with kisses in the dark.
Lady, though I fear my desires blaspheme
Love, I pray by such devotion you know:
Your breath is my breath, your dreams are my dreams,
And your body houses my very soul.
O, Muse; O, Fire; O, living passion;
Thou art my bright heaven of invention.

10 November 2011

The Eye of a Hurricane

For Amy Lynn Watkins

A maelstrom of emotions torment me –
Love; hate; desire and desperation –
Infusing my thoughts with an energy
That breeds both destruction and creation.
Howling winds of insanity tear
My reason, and lash my mind with surges
Of doubt which leave my spirit in despair.
This tempest rages; wave and sky converge
In their fury, as I fear for my soul.
But, then I remember your eye, and take
Solace in the thought; for this peace unfolds
A haven ‘til the storm within me breaks.
Love has ever been both blessing and curse;
The sweet torture we suffer on this earth.

23 October 2011

My Heart Will Never be Safe With You

For "Her."

It is madness, I admit, to tender
My affections – tortured these thirteen years –
So freely, when my wit is like tinder
Spread ‘fore a storm of passion, and flames sear
My spirit. But, if ecstasy thou feign
To mock my devotion, then by your whim
I’ll endure a life of desperate pain,
Then go to my grave still singing thee hymns.
Love, my heart will never be safe with you;
Nor, in truth, would I desire it be so.
And while, too oft’, I’ve played the part of fool,
For thee I stand willing to risk my soul.
Though some think me naïve, I must confess:
All I am, or could be, thou dost possess.

16 September 2011

A Muse Lives Forever

For "Her."

A Muse lives forever – outlasting time
In the poems she inspires. While death
Conquers the body, love quickens the rhyme
That would will a spirit eternal breath.
Fashion doth oft’ make memory a fool;
But, when you have passed, art will bear witness
To thy toils. E’en if it be but a mewl
‘Gainst the storm of years, you’ll remain dateless.
Do not think, while I live, I could abjure
Thy face – a fairest fair age can’t erase.
Oh, command my heart and you shall endure;
For, through my words, the world will know thy grace.
By your hand, grant my soul serenity;
And, by mine, gain thy immortality.

22 August 2011

Ninth Step

For "Her."

Do not presume your ninth step is my first
Toward granting absolution. In truth, your
Effort is wasted on a man well-versed
In scorn; possessed of a heart love abjures.
Struggling to amend rips open old wounds
Festered in a decade of bitterness;
Revealing a soul where malice abounds.
Of sin I stand not guiltless, but confess:
‘Tis not my place nor power to excuse
Others, while I cannot forgive myself.
No, I am a fool whose mind is abused
By allowing hate to feed on itself.
Though pardon’s a grace that sets conscience free,
You’ll have to go on healing without me.

12 August 2011

A Whiney Lament O'er Dying Form

No one wants to read love sonnets these days.
We’re busy following what Paris tweets,
And devouring each word Gaga says.
Why think, when you can “stream” while Snooki bleats?
Will writes, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
How accurate that is today seems sad,
As we gauge our success by total “hits;”
Courting fame on electronic doodads.
We prefer shock to awe – ignoring art
And substance in favor of flash. ‘Tis crime
To celebrate invention wrought sans heart,
O’er iambic pentameter and rhyme.
The coffin nails arrive with little flair:
“We wish you luck in placing them elsewhere.”

05 August 2011

Theós Dó̱ro̱n

For TK

Ariel: Do you love me, Master? No?
Prospero: Dearly, my delicate Ariel.
– William Shakespeare, The Tempest (4.1.48-49)

I am transfixed by a spirit of air –
Sublime Ariel – and stand enchanted.
For 'tis by thy art my heart lies ensnared
In magic, and reason is supplanted;
O, command my eye with grace that transcends
Corporeal, theós dó̱ro̱n – thou gift
Of God. And as you, quick’ning muse, ascend
The stage, thy glory will become my shrift;
Tribute would o’erflow thy ears if you’d hear
It from my lips; though highest praise shall fall
Short of thy deserving, and ne’er come near
The admiration which leaves me in thrall.
I commend the beauty of thy nature,
And, thus, expose my soul to your censure.

17 July 2011

There is no Twelve-Step Program for Heartbreak

For "Her."

Tonight, I’ll get drunk on memories, and
Stumble down pathways within my soul where
Pain and despair still hide amongst wastelands
Of hope, seething; waiting a chance to tear
At wounds left unhealed by years of neglect.
As darkness grows, I cannot elude ghosts –
Old specters – that continue to infect
My mind with dreams in which I can almost
See your face and feel the warmth of your skin.
Sadly, there is no twelve-step program for
Heartbreak; no “group” to understand my sins;
And words give comfort, but provide no cure.
Love is a vile drug. I am addict
To this vice, and the torment it inflicts.

11 June 2011

My Sorrow

“…I say we go and drown our sorrows.” – Amy Lynn Watkins, 10 June 2011

I suffer in affection for I know
You’ll never be mine. My heart lies fallow,
And prayers seem merely pleas to a shadow,
As love strains to endure the stings and blows
Of self-doubt that leave me like a scarecrow –
Outwardly a man, but inside hollow.
My spirit crumbles in a crescendo
Of pain, and hope is dashed on rocks below;
Though I have no right, I beg you, bestow
Thy favor upon me; thus sate a soul
T'will dare to love thee every tomorrow,
And so thrive forever in your sun’s glow.
While desire restrains my voice, I am woe
To confess, Lady, you are my sorrow.

15 May 2011

Fair Katherine, and Most Fair

For Natasha Piletich
(Henry V, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival - 2002)

Beauty steps to the stage from the twilight
Of a sultry Hudson Valley evening.
I am bewitched; enchanted by a sight
Rivaling bright Polaris' gleaming;
She speaks, and magic drips from her tongue.
Her French, a Siren song, perfect in my ear,
Charms my soul, and steals the breath from my lungs
While I hang on each word. I long to hear
More, but I know this vision cannot last
Beyond these brief hours – all plays must end.
Though in my memory I will hold fast,
And commend her art with unable pen.
Such thespian Grace has exposed a fool
Who struggles with rhyme to praise a jewel.

09 May 2011

Regret Drifts in the Afterglow of Dreams

For "Her."

Regret drifts in the afterglow of dreams
About you. It lingers like mist and wraps
Me slowly in bonds of spectral moonbeams
Which shroud my thoughts as defenses collapse;
The visions, once kaleidoscopic – now
Faded and yellow as old newspaper –
Distress my sleep with memories of vows
Shattered upon an indifferent altar;
Too oft' I wake and struggle with the foe
Inside my mind. And, while I seek a way
To expel your ghost, one thought still echoes:
I’ll remember you for another day.
I fear only death can bring lasting peace,
For 'til it comes my love will never cease.

30 April 2011

What Shall I Write of My Desire for Thee

For Amy Lynn Watkins

What shall I write of my desire for thee,
So that I would not cause offense to thy
State, virtuous as I hold it to be,
Nor mar my reputation in your eyes?
How might I explain, without terms vulgar,
The fire burning in my body and mind
Amid dreams – both waking and in slumber –
That keep you in this damn’d lust enshrined?
Though my soul will stand condemn'd for sin,
And I will spend eternity disgraced,
I beg thee, Muse, give me the words to win
Thy hand, and so grant me a mortal grace.
I make no secret of concupiscence,
But seek your love to reclaim innocence.

22 April 2011

Will's Power

For the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Blogging Shakespeare Birthday Project - 23 April 2011

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest Heaven of invention...
- William Shakespeare, Henry V

Usually – though not always – it’s best to begin…well, at the beginning. The first Shakespeare I remember being exposed to was in my eighth grade English class. We read Romeo and Juliet out loud, in class. I hated it! Being a shy kid, I resented being made to read in front of the class. And, I’ll admit, I didn’t get much of what Will was saying.

After R&J, we read Macbeth. That was better. Witches and sword fights, ghosts and bloody murders, suicide and a severed head – that was cool. Though, again, I didn’t understand many of the words, and I was too young to appreciate the language Will used.

The first Shakespeare I ever truly understood was Henry V. In 1991, I was serving in the United States Army in the Republic of Panama. One afternoon – in between missions to the darkest jungles you can imagine and cutthroat games of Dungeons & Dragons – one of my roommates, Darryl Weeden, got his hands on a VHS copy of Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of the play. Darryl all but forced us – our other two roommates and I – to watch it with him.

I enjoyed it right from the start: Canterbury’s intrigue; Hal’s response to the Dauphin’s gift; his speech when treason is discovered in his midst; the siege of Harfleur; all of it. What truly set the hook, however, was that speech. The one Hal delivered to his men right before the battle of Agincourt:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (4.3)

To borrow from Hal’s speech before the walls of Harfleur: Consider my sinews stiffened! Saying that I was blown away would be a gross understatement. The beauty of the language struck me. It wasn’t only what Hal said, but how he said it. The next day, I borrowed a copy of H5 from the base library and devoured it. That’s when my love of Shakespeare began. I read every play the library had. And, after I left the Army, I began buying my own copies of Will’s work.

These days, my Shakespeare collection rivals that of the local college library. I own three copies of the Complete Works, individual copies – in many cases multiple copies – of the plays and the sonnets, and numerous books about The Bard and his works.

In addition, I buy movie versions of every play I can get my hands on, and regularly attend stage productions of Will’s work performed by several theatre companies in and around New York City. Then, of course, there is the Shakespeare action figure, the Shakespeare bobblehead, the Shakespeare doll, the bottle of Shakesbeer, the skull…you see where I’m going here.

While I admire all of his works, Shakespeare’s Histories are my favorite plays. The jealousy, greed, and villainy; as well as the loyalty, bravery, and self-sacrifice portrayed in those 10 plays remains unmatched. Truthfully, is there a villain in literature better than Richard III? (One might make a strong case for Iago in Othello. But, did Iago have his own nephews killed? His own wife? Wait, ummm, scratch that last one, bad example!)

Of course, there are theories that Richard didn’t order the murders of the princes in the tower. Some think that King Henry VII (Richmond in Richard III) had them killed to strengthen his hold on the throne. And, that argument illuminates yet another way to appreciate these plays. As a student of history, I enjoy comparing Shakespeare’s version of events with that of the history books and the theorists.

Twenty years on, Henry V remains my absolute favorite play. I read it again every couple of years, I’ve seen three different stage versions, and I watch various film versions a few times each year. As I watch, I think about my roommates, and the other members of my unit. I think about how Darryl – the oldest of us; he was 24 and a fantastic artist serving in the Army to make enough money to attend art school – made us all watch the Branagh film, and how we were inspired. I think about how Shakespeare really got it right with those lines; how those guys, who I probably would’ve barely spoken to if I’d met them back “in the world,” became my brothers.

I laugh when I think about my adventures with those guys. Like the time 20 of us piled into a room to watch the animated dinosaur movie The Land Before Time. When an earthquake struck, and the baby dinosaur became separated from his mother, we – 20 trained soldiers; men who would kill with their bare hands, eat someone’s guts and ask for a second helping – had tears in our eyes. Though, none of us would ever admit to that.

I remember our “Pool Assaults;” a score of Infantrymen scaling the 10-foot high decorative concrete wall of the base pool in the middle of the night. We’d climb up to the 10-meter diving platform and all dive at once, then scurry back to the barracks, leaving a trail of water for the MPs to follow. Why? For no other reason than it was something to do. We were Infantrymen; we worked hard and played harder.

I think about the night my friend Ken Perkins cut open a Cyalume stick in an attempt to discover what made it glow in the dark. It spilled all over him when he split it open. He then proceeded to leave glowing hand and foot prints up and down the barracks hallway.

Or, I recall any of the dozens of other good times we had in spite of the heat and humidity, and between the push-ups, and the jungle, and the stuff I wish I could forget.

When Hal urges his men to the breach once more, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up because I’ve been in situations that required that kind of bravery and I have had such brothers beside me.

That is where Will’s power truly lies. Not only can he use language to take me somewhere I’ve never been – Agincourt, Dunsinane, Verona, or Cyprus, for example – he can also take me back to the places I have. His writing connects the then and the now, the character and the reader.

When Romeo first sees Juliet, I know how he feels because his words remind me of the first time I saw the woman who broke my heart. When Hamlet contemplates suicide, I can feel his anguish because I've had those same arguments with myself. And, in the epilogue to A Midsummer Night's Dream, when Puck begs for my applause – "Give me your hands if we be friends" – I give it to him. No, not because I am a "merry wanderer of the night," but because he and his fellows have bewitched me with their words; words given to them – and in many cases created out of thin air for them – by the author.

William Shakespeare did not make me a poet – it took the aforementioned broken heart to do that. But, he lit the path by showing me how to use words to translate my feelings, experiences, and dreams into language. Using his form – the sonnet – just felt natural. (And, though some will argue that adherence to any form stifles creativity, I contend that it challenges a poet to become all the more creative.)

So, from The Mad Sonneteer to The Master, happy birthday, Will. “To me, fair Friend, you can never be old,/ For as you were when first your eye I eyed/ Such seems your beauty still.” – Sonnet XIV

18 March 2011

Eyes: Young and Blue

Not a fan of my blue eyes. I adore brown. Who wants to swap?
- Lara Schutz, 22 February 2011

Photograph by Lara Schutz - copyright 2008

Eyes: young and blue. One matched pair, slightly used;
Called striking, on occasion. Asking trade.
No known impairments, still sparkle like new.
Seeking an extra-genetic upgrade;
Recessive genes – too slow in receding –
Have denied me the brown shade I adore.
Thus, I beg an exchange satisfying
Purely aesthetic desire, nothing more;
My mind will retain the burdens perceived
Within a scant two dozen years of sight;
Memories – good and bad only conceived –
Remain, to fade slowly in life’s twilight.
Alas, I know this yearning is but vain
Hope, tinged with an envy I can't constrain.

17 March 2011

Once Upon a Time...

For "Her."

Let’s sit and write a sonnet together,
Just you and I. I’ll pour some drinks and play
Songs that still remind me, while you whisper
Words which linger in my ears. I’ll obey
Your charge wistfully, quickening the quill
To flagellate my soul in equal parts
Healing and torture, as grief beyond will
Suffocates the love that once filled my heart;
Anon we’ll return to the past; a time
I knew, even then, was but a broken
Fairy tale, and at the bell’s midnight chime
I am left a knight without his maiden.
I'll fill this page with things I long to say,
For your magic oft’ fades ere light of day.

17 February 2011

Poets are Fools and the Jesters of Love

Poets are fools and the jesters of Love.
Deceived by Cupid, they weave words into
Illusions stretching to the stars above,
For his intent, thought pure, leads men askew;
Love's gilt, seeming gold, has been stripped away
By sonneteers' tales of disguis'd lust,
And hearts – once immortal – now broken, lay
Hollow as promises crumble to dust;
Lyrics penned at passion’s fiery birth
Melt away, revealing concupiscent
Lies; and all our vows of Heaven and Earth
Burn to ash in flames fueled by discontent.
Oh, be thou prepared to defend thy heart
When poets swear devotion in their art.

09 February 2011

I Fear Sleep for the Dreams That Often Come

A villanelle for Arthur H. Monigold.

I fear sleep for the dreams that often come
In the darkest hours after midnight,
When my mind is defenseless, my heart numb.

Engulfed in blackness, I sense the phantom
Approach, but I cannot flee, cannot fight;
I fear sleep for the dreams that often come.

Powerless, I am once more his victim.
Past trespass will allow no rest tonight,
When my mind is defenseless, my heart numb.

My innocence again becomes flotsam,
Broken by incestuous appetite;
I fear sleep for the dreams that often come.

The shame of my own guilt becomes tiresome
To bear, though memory will still indict
When my mind is defenseless, my heart numb.

To unrestrained emotions I succumb,
While praying these nightmares fade in day's light.
I fear sleep for the dreams that often come
When my mind is defenseless, my heart numb.

16 January 2011

Of Ice Cream, Laughter, and "Shakespeare in Love"

A fantasy in sonnet form.

For Kristen Brownell.

Fingers trace over secret paths explored –
Each curve and cleft now mapped in memory.
Kisses and whispers linger on lips, as your
Scent drifts on an air of avidity;
With the gravity of a dying sun
We pull together, two bodies aflame;
Our flesh – now fire and fuel – joins as one,
Surrendering to this lust without shame;
Fresh hunger drives us. We consume the world,
Yet desire more as the appetite seems
To increase; even while pleasures unfurl –
Pushing our passion to the verge of dream.
This madness grows with every ragged breath,
‘Til we are enskied by our little deaths.