Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Bay Area Poets’ Coalition, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and a number of other on-line and in print poetry magazines. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies.
The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, N.Y. He was born and worked in upstate New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired.
In the Morgue
The body on the tiles seems cold as a block of ice; all signs of life have flown the coop. For the living the wailing wall waits outside, dark as oil; time goes rolling on, steady as a wheel.
God’s will be done; His word and deed breaking all bounds, including His own. Death itself, confronting His absolute logic, goes limp as a noodle. God’s will is doom; his extraordinary quirks shy chaos into the wilderness, among the other outcasts.
By the same finger that blasted the king’s wall, the body is resurrected, a brand-new loaf of bread, the bread of life, the true bread, the word of God. Wondering, wandering, embodied again, the spirit asks no questions, hove to in a sea of blood;
home is here.
Give us this day, weighed one way, our daily beef, our sacred host. Give us, O Lord, no miracles, please, light as flies, to tip the scales.
God’s will be done, but for eternity can a universe be, whirl within curly whirl, steady complex planetarium of eternal law, carrack always on an even keel? Or can it come unstuck? Can it become cracked like an old china pot, or perfectly and forever intact? These are ores unfound and unmined.
The body is cold as a mackerel, feet, legs, trunk, head, sunk forever, bound to the rules of a dark kingdom and do we care?
We’re uncaring as bees, busy about the best things in life, buzzing around nectar, trying to make things sweet, trying to stay alive in a nice way.
The body is cold, a conductor of the unknown, a train of cold going nowhere. Morticians meander in and out, doing the necessary; it matters not to the corpse, cold and dead, a stricken ferry sinking in a surfeited sea, to the unfathomable deep.
Cold and dead, the body lies, a market offering, glass-cased among the legumes, the fish and the lamb; no way no how to cheat the fates or the laws of nature. The corpse by no fell stroke, by no hocus-pocus, ever recalled from the back of beyond.
It lies there forever.
The body ain’t a body anymore; it’s gone, diminished to a naught, to less than nothing.
Human fate you say, this is the way it is, well, well, alas and ho-hum, like leaves of the passing year we come and go; more windy talk from the pulpit, at the gravesite bottomless, meaningless;
but say it anyway.
Goodbye life, hello portico of wealthy King Dis. Your coin good here, mortal, and will buy your passage to a kingdom built on time and money. Two pennies for the fare, for a stay that lasts forever, where a day outlasts the gold, the silver, the copper; your coins cheap metal for your reckoning with the dim realm, where all the glitters are the eyes of the dead.
Have no fears, penny-wise; step forth pound-foolish and assured from the heaving ferry; hell has no furies, no denying spirits; only the dead, mile after mile of them decked out and penitent and hell will last, thank God, among monuments, a monument more durable than the sin of Adam, than all our sins.
The body is cold, now remote as the moon. For the noble mourning kindred noble love and death go forth hand in hand and the rest of us struggle along; illusions become elusive among our daily crusts and bumpkins and our dearest bump us out of the park, this dump called Paradise. We struggle along, bound for a rude awakening in that last call to arms.
Body cold, body politic, fetch the means of meaning; of being here for a while in some peace. Puissant bird of dawn, take me, too, when it’s time to go. Longer is too much; still, the body is cold, still, even here in the land of blood.
Stay close to home.
Avoid people with cold hands;
in plain sight hide all the time.
Live at night.
Trust the moon.
In the City
Leaves leave their brittle skeletons on the sidewalks; marbles plinked by the boys hesitate, passing over the cracks between the sidewalk slabs, the candy wrappers, cardboard, plastic bags, other transient debris left by summer.
Up ahead on the trail, the haze of early autumn turns sluggish, hangs down in our faces.
Farmers off in the country look at the stubble in the fields and think of birds flying away south, get ready to move their machines to the barns for winter.
Here in this dirty city Ethiopia is bright as a dime for the black man, high and mighty on heroin; sinking to ruin in this city, he sees the polished spear-points in his white enemy's eyes.
One afternoon some poor black souls, lost in the ghetto wastes, in the urban decay, say, oh shoot, and burn Goldberg's emporium to the ground; in the smouldering ashes and remaining bric-a-brac, old raggedy women pick along and along the sidewalk people come and go, black and white and in-between, careless and unconcerned;
bound on their own business.
On the Island of Circe
On the island of Circe, safely landed at last, for these poor sailors, to laugh, to ramble, to lurk, that is indescribably ludicrous, knowing as we do and they don't what is to come; their chief, Odysseus, knows better as he always does.
Even with her sweet singing, woman and goddess, echoing out the shining doors, too quiet, ominous, her low dark palace, set apart from the woods; a crew of lions and wolves roaming around, docile as cats and dogs; the courtyard somehow too like a barnyard and the pigsty, destined for more than pigs, hidden out of sight.
At her ever-welcoming table, graceful Circe stands, invites these fools to eat and drink familiar homely food; no special repast this.
Set out with all the rest, the enchanted communal feed seems no more than part of the prepared display; the unseen singer, the over-friendly beasts opening the charade, the huge loom with its fabulous cloth, the long decorated halls in the quiet and eerie abode of the goddess; all of it contrived and ordered.
Not thought of in the offering, who knew this posset, deadly and honey-sweet, this seeming plain food, guaranteed, sure as night follows day, a one-way passage to beasthood?
Unconsidered destiny for these frivolous unsuspecting guests.
Only one escapes to tell and with Hermes' help Odysseus turns the tide, reverses the transmutation, defeats the sacred magic, the goddess' uncanny mastery of turning men to beasts; at the wand's touch, the upright brow and stance fall away, arms become forepaws, the speech-dividing mouth becomes a grunting snout, walking talking men brought down to the ground.
Saved by the witful wily Odysseus, his sword, his threats, his charm outdo the mistress of the house; submitting her sheath to his sword, she ends up keeping house for all of them, at once goddess and drudge.
They live out a year of good times, food and wine aplenty and Odysseus gets his time in bed with the treacherous goddess, gives the least trust and keeps his manhood for the long journey to come.
She confides the ways home and the way to the kingdom of the dead, that dark fabled place seen by no mortal.
The year out, the good times over, off he goes with his crew; new adventures and his fate and safety hold true; for his crew and their bad luck, bad fate and fatal appetites, it's another story.
What do we learn from this ancient myth? What do we want to know?
Your luck is your luck, your doom is fully fated, inexorable, here in this everyday world where the goddess is never seen and the gods' messenger never comes; for us, their absence seems to make no difference;
would it were not so.
Al Mein Gelt Verspilt After Grimmelshausen'sMelchior Sternfels von Fuchshaim
You son of a whore; you goddamned arrogant bastard, all your money pissed away, again and again, vagrant and on the move your locomotion never stops, travel never gets old and vagabondage becomes a rhombus; Paris to Vienna to the Schwarzwald, to Moscow, to mermen, ending on an island paradise; idylls of an out and out scoundrel, a picturesque rogue, leaving his life, his skirmishes on the road and of his own free will, coming to peace at last.
What a life! Melchior comes juggling along life's distorted turnpike, his cloak, a crust of wool, disappears around a corner, but like an architrave, supporting and adorning, Melchior, our low water, our ebb tide, our luck, reappeareth!
Along this road his breastplate creaks and squeaks, debased from too much hard use; a skillful soldier, a better captain, but bad decisions among gentle folk folded him up; a bungled passage, a few hasty words and departure was final.
Skipping out in the night, the moon is reticent and behind closed doors what goes on is nobody's business and no help to this wanderer; no charitable souls in God's light or livery live here.
Melchior strides on like the dragoon he never was, ramps comically and catching some dumb country lass, retires at last with a sphinx who stinks of more than knowledge; in the morning her lovely stone arms hold no more than the billow of Melchior's bedclothes. He left hours ago, marching across the inhospitable heath; his intent lasted to a satisfying root, a roll in the hay and no goodbyes;
doesn't have the time.
These adventures come in flocks, and what in all the world, what in all the world is as real as the red herrings thrown across his meandering trail, in the windings of his ways, and windy, too, from too many open windows, too many getaways;
no time for introspection in the heat of the moment.
Melchior whispering in the grey ears of Death, it's not time yet, it's not, but Melchior's fears assume oracular importance; on his snorting horse he rides hard, rides on and on;
any delay may pitch him down.
The poetry of the moment given to the most Fabian of his lights of love, the best of all his rare birds and clear-toned canaries; let her do with it what she wants, speak clear-toned vowels never before heard in any of the lands he saw, the cities and villages he visited; like a Bengal tiger raging and shifting his line of march, like a beggar, too, when occasion demanded.
This is the end. An island of peace, a romance of fate and abdication.
Before we resume our various hyperborean tasks, let us pay some respect to this scoundrel, this devourer, this waster, this wanderer; let us be warm and friendly all the livelong day to his memory, to a man not afraid to go his own way, large bold unpredictable, who performed tawdry wonders, who had his luck, good and bad, and laughed at it. Let a last percussion of prima-donnas shout loud the glad verbiage of approbation and love; glory, glory, glory, in excelsis, Melchior, cog and wheel, type and terminal of the armies of disorganized chance.
Melchior, props we are and we know it, not necessary for your support, but in your unwritten reports signal us sometimes, put us in your island scrapbook, for we, too, trace your footsteps and this, too, Melchior, remember delusion we do and deceit, when the harpoon of doomsday pierces our gloomy backs.
Don Juan (after Tirso de Molina’s El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra)
His memoirs falsely construed, a contrived Casanova is left playing in the dirt. Leave him and his fornications. Turn your heads instead towards a real legend, a damned titan of despite strutting across the boards, butting heads with his rivals, giving not an inch of himself to the house assembled.
Let’s hear it, all of you; let’s hear ten thousand cheers for Don Juan Tenorio, nickname, byname, byword, egged on by beauties felled and foiled in the blink of his roving indifferent eye. He’s better than the bible, thantheDivine Comedy, larger and clearer than life, coo the fallen madonnas, dripping fluid and passion and who should know better than they his insouciance, his insolence, I defy you! Not to be found elsewhere or anywhere, by God’s grace.
And after he’s finished with you, ladies, try to remain composed, I beg you; open the blinds and watch him go while the tears drain away and you bleed and weep at the usual ports for the loss, the shame, the invasion. You opened your wards, beautiful moppets and paid the price, let a passport to lust and indolence become yours by a chance flutter of eyelids, an unfortunate ogle; your own fault, little ladies, by your lack of innocence betrayed. His eyes took note, he took his pleasure and off he went to new ports, blissfully sailing away across his sea of immorality.
Be quick says the laird’s wife, getting poked hard in the pantry, but Don Juan pays no heed and with aplomb practices no economy of time; in his hot eyes streaking dissipation and no hoarding; spending it all, he gives all and his inspiration flows like rain from heaven. With a sigh and a gasp, they open their fortifications, the heyday of surrender, the radiance of munificence shine in their eyes. He smiles in satisfaction and what teeth in his smile, what teeth, I say! Don Juan moves on and on and the sun shines its magnificent espionage. A glorious day, surely, perfect and uncertain, a daydream of a day makes the birds seem to sing little operas in the park, sweet and melodious. The sun so warm, such a sweetie-pie in the sky, blinding us with its brightness; boys and girls skip hand in hand across the green meadows, shy and sweet, and under the green grass the septic tank keeps its peace, holds its foul burden.
Fuego! Fuego! Shout your guts out, dishonored Tisbea, one in a row of many, shout for revenge, go in the sea if you must, but don’t bother drowning just yet; time will tell all and time will ensure payment of every debt. Stick around.
Time now for a little killing, a little swordplay; a spilling of blood the old-fashioned way. Farther down the line, Doña Ana does some shouting of her own; Don Gonzalo, father of the deflowered daughter lies dead as a stone.
He’s not the only one nor is she, outraged by Don Juan’s careless taking; day and night Don Juan does his best to shame the snaky principalities, the powers of Satan, with his spiritual wickedness, his slapdash knavery.
So Don Gonzalo lies dead as a stone. Undiscovered witness, the green glass cat traps no mice on the lawn; the sun on her green head falls neat; like a green marble the sun makes with heated rhetoric her feline stillness complete. Death just dealt, with sun delicate, sparkling and deepening the scene is watered.
Such a day butchered Pentheus.
Don Juan turns away and saunters and saunters with a more rapid pace than his wont is.
A time for introspection? Not for him; too many open windows in his corrupt soul, too many opportunities for lust and mayhem, too many allegiances to the depths of evil. He eats his vittles and uproariously waving knife and fork, condescends to cut up with his butler.
A last supper beckons, a joking invitation to a guest of stone. This is the narrow gate and beyond the fable the stone apparition asks a favor not for himself or God.
Don Juan doesn’t care one way or the other; his humor, his sarcasm hold to the end. In fits and starts even God has his limits and wise-cracking cruelty and lust will crack open the earth to receive the perfect sinner.
Eaten by the earth, walking into hell, Don Juan winks back at paradise lost, smiles his arrogant smile, and continues on his way.
Schiller’s skull on Goethe’s table awaits interment. The unspeakable, the mothering earth, impressed with too many monuments, is dumb; unanswered Beethoven’s out in the cold.
Mann’s Faust, lost in spiritual ice, like a crane stretches from one shipwreck to the next; shipwrecked for good, Schiller’s skull, thrown up by an unsteady sea, lingers on the beach.
Consider the consequences of genius or exceptional eyes and ears, limbs and all the rest; like the rest of us consigned to jumping over fences till death do you part from the earthly part, the dross, the gloss on the text;
consider the ant, you dreamers, and fall back in line.
The fires of creation and the winds of the muses blew through Schiller’s head, possessing him and possessed; breathed on by divine lips, eyes rolling like windmills, he suffered the bread of pain, the water of anguish, scribbled away and the legions of the lesser built their castles on his books, built on his backbone.
Long ago in the dark German woods Varus had his problems. Rome marched back and forth in the damp and the cold; the southern Mediterranean light paled, and went out.
Centuries later Schiller turned south; dignity and sun drew on enthusiasm; the sacrifices of yore dimmed to a point and then all was light. Light from the dome blasted the dark sides of the temples white as sheets; Schiller, at the zenith of his flight, unmoving as Zeno’s arrow looks out: an eagle fixed.
Now on a table his skull grins at the skill not lost; the bard shall not go speechless to Orcus.
And Goethe, setting like Antares, sees a pattern everywhere; moonlight and hope at the last.
Goodbye both; you served us better than most, raised us high as the Venusberg, sunk us to the depths of the Brocken. Flesh and bone conjurers, sufferers of human ills, your secrets are safe with us, your honorable works stand in unbroken ranks.
Immer besser, immer heiterer, the dark side, the light, live off the flame; Schiller’s skull, balanced in Goethe’s hand, grins like an ape, and then dies again.
Guernica at the Prado
For a year or more I looked and looked at it, in my soul, lived under the spell of Picasso's baleful grey and black fandango of a bombed town, a farrago of agonies of bull and horse, parts of people caught and displayed in sharp outline; then it became too fine, too perfect in its kind, too much to take and I had to turn away, turn my mind and eye, try to isolate and banish the pieces, try to burn away the vision of that monstrous canvas, bury a pretense, a practice, a sacrifice of time;
none of it worked.
Never forgotten, that huge ghastly swipe of paint haunts me still, hurts me and will until the end of its world, ending as it did, and the end of mine.