John Toivonen’s poetry has been published in Norfolk Review, Midwest Review, and Paterson Literary Review. He published his most recent collection of poetry, Song After a Long Campaign, in 2015. Mr. Toivonen is the Editor in chief of Animus & Intellect, a cultural review with offices in Chicago, Illinois, and Lansing, Michigan. He is an attorney who specializes in criminal defense.
The Vanishing Monarchs
They do not return to us now.
They are the vanishing monarchs,
the ones found framed in replica homes.
They require our attention and knowledge.
We stare at the wanton, bastard misplacing
that comes with rude abdication. What now,
we ask for those still alive descendants
who are more than shadows but rarely sing.
We see the purple tint cast backdrop
for the countenance of ivory
and the bush of black, Cossack hair
tightly wound to make crowns of curls.
We see what would seem to be the burden of dress
that is the shell of punctured animals,
and the signifying stones in the crown
that mark capital and peninsula.
Some of the images in oil
know their moment of narcolepsy.
They are quieted down in attics,
hidden anachronism in a coarse age.
For the observant, drinking in
the image with the eyes
passes an ethereal blood
that cloud-like bestows the scent of monarchy.
This affection must be and is furtive,
for suspicion of God's grandeur
is enough to indict an unknown
signature of time. Whisper of the holy.
The all too modern survey the tops of roofs
but cannot examine the czars and koenigs within.
We have been hiding them for some time now
until they break forth from the attic wombs.
So many do not see them now, but we know
their wealth has become the statesman's scriptures.
They slumber in the sleeves of faithful homes
and count white moons until they embark.
An Officer Remembers the Romanovs
I cannot read of the Romanovs but that
I should solicit some slight sadness,
narrow like a vein pumping slow memory
until it reaches the brain. Now I'm done
again, outside the landed tapestry
haunted by czars and their meager slaughter.
Just a few collected prisoners, one-hundred,
maybe a few more ate meat and bread
for their brand of ideas in those days.
Mostly they just raced away on trains,
waiting for a war's failure and eruption.
They were distant with a czar whose vision said
that the sky's great architect gave commands
directly to him. The crowns and scepters
were shapes molded from the mind of God.
The Romanovs sit serenely in pictures
caught with the languid aperture of days
when the expensive would pose before the box
to make instant canvass of their steady reign.
Theirs were the last hands that would hold a land
that spouted blood too easily. They brought
sorcery with its cloaked meditation
to a room where everyone must leave until
he slowed the pulse to the point that it aligned
with the deliberate tick of the watch
that he revealed so that the course of blood
became perfect as time's steady mimicry.
Never again would the insignias
signify the nation, speak of the spirit
of a monarchy and reverence for God.
After the Romanovs only the brute was left,
its incisors driven in deep, herds of snakes
were a good bet against the mongoose.
For four years the agents of deity
drove their horses in the hills claiming
that the land was still deeded only to God,
that snow fell not as punishment but as
precondition of the one mind and his reign.
What faith fueled the crunch of hooves against snow
as the final band of paladins found
their numbers too few? This is not the world
of my Father, one cried out. Not the nation
where I found the constant imprint of the Christ,
where the Lady of Constant Purity
collected our tears, nurtured our love,
and guarded us from overgrown ambition.
Man was not made to disrupt all that was set
in motion by the Supreme Architect.
The face of the world's clock was broken by
those who believed they could change the pace of time.
I see the faces of the Romanovs,
and they capture me like a steady opiate.
I return slumber-drunk and serene
to the crib where words were first taught,
and the Czar protected me.
They find sanctuary where there is that
syrup-like sipping of corn on the bourbon tongue,
the crisp pitch of rye against the gums,
and the rolling moss scotch on the teeth.
There is blankness for a time, and then
one gives notice of how with 101 proof
the flavor of the corn burns a bit brighter,
yes it does, and then someone makes a slow,
sad rendering of a song, something about
Ireland. They are far from Ireland,
here in the Great Lakes region, it could be
Lansing, Michigan, or some city outside
Chicago. There is not that much difference.
They stare like scholars into the drink
asking questions of these intricate flavors,
finding meter in the mash, breathing bouquet
of high-alcohol reservoirs that stun the sense,
causing words to drop in a silent hymn
to what is better left forgotten.
My Grandfather's Cross
My grandfather's cross was the fixture sentinel
planted above the arch of each door.
It threatened into the eye,
was not consolation but notice.
He believed that the immobile symbol
ran off unkind spirits and the people
who possessed them. It was the ark
of torts to the unwelcome guest.
Black around the edges from the dirt
that he would rarely find time to wipe clean,
the sable corners were reflected cringe
of those prodded back to fenced pens
where the unclean ate uncooked pork
and mingled their hopes with mandrake root.
He entered his home with his feet playing
the song of thudding, wet boots on the floor
meant to remind that these same boots had marched
with the Conquistador cross,
had stomped on the crumbs of stone idols.
My grandfather kept his home secure
with the surveillance of the awakened God.
The primitive declension of this sign
cried like the first wolves in man's home
to guard God’s people from the barbaric.
My grandfather's cross was meant to menace
tax collectors and unworthy salesmen.
He made his Eden without those who should
race from the range of the tripartite God.
Casting Out Witches
He made it very clear that they would be
casting out witches.
All would hold the clarity of crystal
when the land had been purged by the curse of
talismans and secreted oaths.
With the clamor of his invocation
resounding like steel sprung in the air
he called for the cross and it became
omnipresent as it encircled the city.
The sky begot great orange crosses
that were the burning gas of stars too near
and these closed on man until
they were the vendetta to the unfaithful.