Last night I found myself, quite unexpectedly, alone in the house for a few hours. Between the two kids, the online school, and the pandemic, someone is almost always home. This was a rare opportunity.
I decided to play piano, which I usually can’t do for more than two minutes without complaints from all quarters. And then I was struck by an impulse. When we first moved up here from the city, in 2005 or so, I went through a poetry phase. Why not dig into the archives and read through them?
Preparing my body for the inevitable cringe, I opened the files. And, indeed, most of the poems did make me convulse from embarrassment. I’m trying to affect a relaxed, easy tone, but the voice is stilted, uncomfortable with the form. What did Robert Graves say? When the prose writer encounters the poet on the street, he must step aside and let him pass. Worse, there’s a great deal of self-important whining.
The only poems I liked were the ones that had prompted the endeavor in the first place: a series of light verse called “Postcards from Europe.” And I saw that the impulse was likely caused by the first few lines of the first poem, when I compare the Church to the Mafia. Very much on brand!
Realizing that these ditties are a downgrade from Thomas Hardy and Roland Flint and John Milton and other stuff featured on “Sunday Pages,” I nevertheless hope you will allow me the indulgence of sharing them with you. If nothing else, they are mildly amusing.
Postcards from Europe
Disneyland with crosses.
Dead Popes like mob bosses
Laid out in gilded tombs
By the score in the catacombs
Beneath the basilica. Booty
Of all kinds, surfeit of beauty,
The spoils of twenty centuries’
Worth of indulgences, simonies,
Holy war, extorted tribute, tithes—
Everything the vow of poverty buys.
The pubs here at eleven close,
The bars at one. This can pose
Problems for an American tourist
On New York time. Only the poorest
Countries have curfews. Superpowers
Hold back last call a few more hours.
Its coolness went down several notches
When people started wearing watches.
“If I see one more depiction
Of the goddamn crucifixion,
I’ll scream. Why not,” I said,
“Paint something else instead?”
We were in and out in half an hour,
Off to the godless Eiffel Tower.
Every inch is colored over, like the arms
Of the tattooed man at a circus sideshow.
The paintings are sublime, yes, but their charms
Lie beyond the brushstrokes. Michelangelo
Was held prisoner in that drafty barn, slave
To a venal Pope. Even now, I can feel the raw energy
He bequeathed those figures, held in endless conclave.
They want to burst through the ugly vault and be free.
Photo credit: Diana Benutzer via Wikipedia. Tomb of Innocent XI in the Chapel of St. Sebastian of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican.