http://www.albany.edu/offcourse
 http://offcourse.org
 ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


 

Poems by Jack D. Harvey

 

From the Greek Anthology

Palinurus' stallion
was a blessed five
years old when
it floated
under the springs of
the hothouse.

Its master lies ashore
among ungentle folk;
no hope at all,
no help.
From that treacherous boat
the foam runs aft,
the wake of the wake,
taking the captain to hell.

For you, Palinurus,
cold stones
make a cap
on the cape;
your name,
your shroud
awake forever.
Awake the black-eyed birds,
the sea waves
press round
your headlands;
no blessing save
the wind and
the sailor's cry.
Your stallion sails by,
springing unhindered from
wave to wave.

A blessed steed
casts no eye on
a chastened ghost.

 


 

La Catrina

        (Deirdre Ferrini, in memoriam)

Is death as close as all that?
A scrofulous grim dark spring
afternoon at the seaside
burst into light.
I knocked on a door,
the door opened.
Pristine child,
her hair long, dark,
divided in two braids,
a girl of ten years
and there were no spectres,
no body snatchers;
who could have thought
of death and Deirdre?
Her hair in two braids,
she stood there.
Not a shadow in sight,
not a sign of bare bones,
the dreadful rictus
beneath the skin
of her face.
No Catrina Calavera there,
elegant mockery of life.

And who, after all,
is La Catrina?
Yes, yes, famous icon
of the day of the dead,
Dia de los Muertos,
the skeletons at the feast
being feted and fed,
a fiesta of food and drink
for the living and the dead,
happy among the tombs;
mourning and sadness
in God's golden light
an insult to the departed.

And there she is,
La Catrina,
iconic, mad, dead,
Posada's bare skeleton
a chapeau en attende,
maybe a parasol
on the furl,
maybe a purse
in her bony hand.

Catrina Calavera,
elegant mockery of life.

But death has the last
laugh and the first inkling
of that comes to us all,
sooner or later,
swaggering through life
or staggering
under a crowd of cares;
it comes,
vanity of all vanities,
comes quick
or slow, but it comes
wisecracking along,
speaking easily, gently
in the end,
affirming our insignificance,
our pretentious silliness.
In the midst of
the songs, the jokes, the sorrows,
the love, the hate, the betrayals,
we don't understand a thing.

All the kings and peasants,
the burghers, the soldiers,
the panoply
of the shield of Achilles,
the grinning fierce heroes of
the Heimskringla,
a vain pretense,
a decoration of skulls.

Catrina Calavera,
elegant mockery of life.

And back to Deirdre.
I emerged on the shores
of later years, got old,
but the vision of that child
never departed from my brain
and how do I tell it?

Aside with vanity and personal
shaping of the image,
aside with self-indulgence,
the bare fact of existence
of pretty children.
Deirdre died in the time
of her youth;
leukemia took her away
and that's that.
Her bloom, her sweet young life,
her expressive soul
were struck down mercilessly
and Herr Tod don't give
a damn about it
or her or any of us,
rolling around
on this shabby old globe;
even Posada's joking bones
don't answer the question
we all have to ask.

So be it and still we
make the myths and
still in death Deirdre rules
and across that infinite sea
from that unknown
charnel ground she beckons.
There in eternal youth,
so the poets say,
is the child, the woman,
the bride waiting,
even now, as the light-going
years fall,
one by one,
on her unfeeling bones.

But what do poets know?

And here, pimped out
in ghastly splendor and
grinning in her fancy hat,
rattling along as best she can,
the bare bones of La Catrina.

Catrina Calavera,
elegant mockery of life.

 


Jack D. Harvey's poetry has appeared in Scrivener, Mind In Motion, The Comstock Review, The Antioch Review, Bay Area Poets' Coalition, The University of Texas Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal and a number of other on-line and in print poetry magazines over the years, many of which are probably kaput by now, given the high mortality rate of poetry magazines. 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. He once owned a cat that could whistle Sweet Adeline, use a knife and fork and killed a postman.
This is Harvey's first appearance in Offcourse.



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