Feigning a Fine Fettle



Gassed – John Singer Sargent, 1919

The men huddled without hope in their trench,

A jagged gouge exposed in the earth, ripped

Open like a wound. Their thirst went unquenched

No matter how much water they sipped.


A jagged gouge exposed in the earth, ripped

Like the tattered flags flapping in the wind.

No matter how much water they sipped,

The fire inside burned for everything to end.



Forget what you had

Hopper, Excursion into Philosophy 1959

Excursion into Philosophy – Edward Hopper, 1959

Strains ride on billowed

Winds, traveling from somewhere

In time to this place


Like a dream slipped through

Narrow straits, like the sand that

Slips the hourglass


To rouse heavy lids

And to crank the mind awake

From memories locked




Alexander and Diogenes – Caspar de Crayer, ca. 1650

Humiliation and then bodily destruction:

The fire burning the bones, igniting

The marrow and crackling merrily,

Smacking its lips, perhaps to the savor

Of the melting flesh, or perhaps thinking

Of the lions enjoying their own flesh

Or the carrion birds and the scavenger


Dogs hunting for a foot poking from

Scant covering of dirt, or a hand

Grasping for the warmth of the sun

That has already descended past the

Hills around the city, sleeping as

Deep as the sorrow of the widow

And orphan, quietly huddled under



The Spanish Capture of St. Kitts - Don Fadrique de Toledo, 1629

The Spanish Capture of St. Kitts by Don Fadrique de Toledo in 1629 – Felix Castelo, 1634

The sun beams upon the forgetful memory

Of an indolent island, lost, facing a warm sea,

The days as long and languid as the years


Stretched out. And boys play among the glossed wood

Plantations, aromatic of sugar, bananas, spice, sweat,

And human fear that wafts and billows loose shirt tails,


White as sheets or even sails, rocking tales dreaming over time

And waves to a boy who sits in a preternaturally quiet study,

Idly tracing the embossed figures fighting and dancing


Automatic Response

Automat - Edward Hopper, 1927

Automat – Edward Hopper, 1927

Fan blades parcel apocalyptic light

Within a band, floating in the dark,

Sending sonorous waves of minced night

In a rapid, rhythmic electronic glower-

A buzzing sound sizzling solipsistic-

Metronomic, monolithic, monotone.


She’s solitary, party of one-

Closed-cropped expression,

Clipped, tight-lipped tongue.

Tile and steel, stainless reflection

Of the gulfing glass chasm reaching to caress

Compressed shoulders that shudder, breathing.


On the Cusp

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1558

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus – Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1558

This is the smoky dark of fervid alms and seedy recitations: hats are low

slung frames that shade the barley, that shake the quivering jowls

of stubbed shadows [cigarettes dance in bouncing constellations


that flash moons in the tobacco haze] – and pastoral earth

hugs the ocean against a grey sky and shepherds keep watch

from the hills [they look to the light of the sun frozen in its ascent,



The Appian Way, John Linton Chapman, 1869

The Appian Way – John Linton Chapman, 1869

Begin at the intersection of all ways,

the crux of the world – all partings

are merely the divergence of a cross.

Roads lead on to roads or, not taken,

lead on to roads not withheld anyway,

and one may choose to go, crossing


Til Death Does Depart

Marie held him tenderly, sweat dripping off her nose, shuddering, sharing his breath.

The French have a phrase, la petite mort. It means “the little death.” People use it to describe an orgasm.

He looked up at her, unfocused, shock written on his features. She was smiling beatifically, her eyes poring forth into his, glimmering his soul at the bottom of a pool, fading fast, deeper and deeper.



The Empire turned in on herself when winter came early — turned to huddle over her hearth and tend the coals, to pull the thin blanket of providence tighter about her shriveling form. If the Empire were a lady, then surely these far-flung provinces were her extremities. The frostbite was evident, even as the gloves were pulled on.


The Saint Stalls the Scum

The Saint was like a jewel in the mud, like a shaft of sun cutting through sheets of rain, like a dab of flower in a field of weeds, like a shiny copper bit in a turd. He was like a fair number of other poorly conceived similes, but Farred wasn’t a bard and the scene unfolding in front of him wasn’t worthy of song.


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