Us Against Greed

 

 

 

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November, 2014

 

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A Fable for a Gilded Age

 

I recollect a party at my uncle's house,

some thirty years ago, a hundred hungry guests,

and tantalizing pie. But some began to grouse

when little Richie Leet (if memory attests)

was inexplicably allowed the biggest piece.

We couldn't argue, though, for we were satisfied

with what we had. As fate would have it - in caprice

or serendipity - my uncle would preside

at our reunion party, thirty years removed,

a hundred guests returning and a luscious pie.

But now, discretion notwithstanding, it behooved

me to complain, or short of that, to testify

for fairness: Richie's piece was bigger than before -

in fact, it nearly tripled in enormity!

"No fair!" I cried. Had Richie done some special chore

to earn his piece? The rest of us would quite agree

that we had even less than thirty years ago!

My uncle spoke at last: the years had made him weak,

he chose to step aside, and it was apropos

that Richie cut the pie himself. With this critique

of party planning sinking in, I looked around

at all the guests, and while I carefully refrained

from judgment or admonishment, without a sound

they stood and wondered why their hunger still remained.

 

 

October, 2014

 

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Proteios

 

As I embarked upon my catechismal quest

for noble humankind, I quickly came upon

a trader of securities, who would invest,

contended he, in any upper echelon

negotiation, regulation-free, of course.

While dallying between his yacht and his chateau

I felt I had identified a welcome source

of meritorious veracity, and so

I asked him what's important to society.

With little hesitation came his firm response:

"Without a doubt the marital fidelity

of our revered celebrities -- the nonchalance

with which they scandalize the public is a crime!

And while you ponder this, defer the moribund

economy to me -- it takes a little time

to prestidigitate a weak retirement fund."

Continuing my search, I quickly came upon

a seller of converted hedged derivatives

(if jargon of the sort is in the lexicon),

and with financial stress reduction expletives

he offered his opinion, at a modest price.

I asked him what's important to society.

With little hesitation followed words concise

and Constitutional: "the right to weaponry,

of course, for all injustice can be overcome

without the intervention of a referee."

Intrigued, but stubbornly unwilling to succumb

to such opinions till a sense of certainty

infused my spirit, I proceeded with my search --

and though in virtue's quest at best a hobbyist,

I felt in awe within the inner circle's church

and sanctuary, temple of the Lobbyist,

whose expertise would certainly reveal the Truth.

I asked him what's important to society.

In tones peremptory he answered me: "Uncouth

are those who tolerate the impropriety

of compromise! The left, the right, the gay, the straight,

devoted Socialist or Libertarian,

we must continue argument. To demonstrate

neutrality destroys the whole contrarian

foundation of our Founding Fathers. Put aside

concerns about impending economic woes --

free enterprise without restrictions will provide

prosperity for all. Of course, we won't impose

our will on you -- continue with your arguments,

and don't give in!" Enlightened now, but ill-at-ease,

I turned away, acknowledging these testaments

to Truth with the conviction of Diogenes.

 

 

September, 2014

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And All Shall Prosper

 

The splendid gentlemen breathe soothing strains

of wisdom like the seraphim, and light

uncertain paths and shadowy terrains

with inspiration certain to ignite

the bleakest soul. Their special expertise

is proffered: sleight and stealth and schemes they weave

to spirit treasures on a silken breeze

to godly pleasure rooms, where they receive

idolaters to covet bulging sacks

of golden coins, and men in jealous trysts

caress their spoils like aphrodisiacs.

But comes a promise from these alchemists:

for all of us their riches will provide,

when breezes, brash and bountiful, subside.

 

July-August, 2014

 

 

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A Capitalist Inferno

 

A winding path and gentle dusk invited me

to ease myself upon a sylvan pleasantry,

to seek my hearth and haven in the sunny white

celestial peaks before the ravages of night.

 

But woe of woes -- commotion on the path behind

disrupted my advancement and my reverie,

invoking wonder: was it beast or humankind

impinging indiscreetly on my destiny?

 

A moment later were identities revealed:

a warrior, a governor, a financier --

the first with gold accoutrement upon his shield,

the second predisposed to speechify and sneer,

 

the third an architect of some complicity

that couldn't be surmised amidst the secrecy:

and in a frightful moment they were after me,

so I discarded thoughts of intrepidity,

 

withdrawing quickly to a sanctuarial

retreat, where stood a ghostly shape that seemed inclined

to spirit me beyond the adversarial

triumvirate that loomed forebodingly behind.

 

"Identify yourself," I cried, "and don't forsake

a kindred spirit. Have you come to be my guide?"

The specter talked to me in soothing tones: "We'll take

another path to journey to the mountainside,

 

but pray beware! We'll travel through the deadly fires

and poisoned banks of Satan's isle before we reach

your lovely Zina, who invoked seraphic choirs

in voices liberal and lustrous to beseech

 

a messenger to shepherd you. The speaker's name

was Virgil, man or spirit never manifest,

with this and nothing else revealed to me: he came

because of Zina and her friends, at their behest.

 

The journey to the mountain started with descent

to entranceways of netherworlds that surely meant

we'd pass the lobbies, walls, and streets and fires of hell

and risk our trembling spirits to the deadly spell

 

of sin and deviltry, abandoning all hope

to malefactor, miscreant, and misanthrope.

We entered first the ante-Hell, where hapless souls

ran aimlessly in scalding air as worms chewed holes

 

in rotting flesh and blackish swarms of hornets chased

them -- these, said Virgil, were the lords of ignorance,

forever blind to all the treachery and waste

of wealthy men, and living with indifference

 

to good and evil. Then, appearing at the shore

of Acheron (a river on the edge of hell),

was Charon, ferryman, to take me to explore

the Circle First of Hell, whose vaunted clientele

 

included Homer, Horace, Ovid -- poets all,

and pagans; and another group who worshiped gods

from gilded ages -- flailing in a folderol

of egomania in businesslike facades.

 

Continuing to Circle Second, sins of Lust

for love and money: there the serpent judge decreed

that we should meet the sons of Plutus; we were thrust

inside a den of Hubris, where the dirty deed

 

of "carnal malefactors" augured lechery

in heads of government and war and industry,

the lot of them consumed by humanlike desires

but pleading innocence while marching to the fires.

 

In Circle Third were overlords of Gluttony,

whose lifelong legacy of sumptuous affairs

would render manifest, they felt, their destiny

to serve society by gathering the shares

 

of laborers, the indigent, and commoners

and managing the fortunes of these amateurs.

Their fee? Whatever generosity confers

upon elites, amidst angelic overtures.

 

Upon admission to the Circle Fourth of Hell,

we witnessed lines of businessmen in parallel,

along the scum-encrusted banks of the abyss;

and these were unrepentant men of avarice

 

who deemed it well and proper to be prodigal

with other people's money: they would push and pull

great boulders here, forever, on a battleground,

with homeless victims looking on without a sound.

 

In Circle Five we came upon the River Styx,

within the foul and muddied world of politics,

where every senator and representative

had come to validate the Master's words, to live

 

his life defending rich against the "poor and mean

condition" of the masses. And a ghostly scene

unfolded as their gilded Man of Steel embraced

a notion rare: by dying rich they died disgraced.

 

And next we stood before the flaming city Dis,

where demon Furies gathered, seeking to dismiss

us. "Come," said Virgil, "take the hand of messengers

from long ago. They'll lead the way for passengers

 

to travel to the mountaintop, as readily

as once they helped the gentle angels make their way

through man's imposed injustices of yesterday!"

The maiden Eleanor procured the city's key.

 

The depths of hell awaited us. In Circle Six

were housed the hordes of Hypocrites and Heretics

forever mired inside a sticky boiling mix

of silk to spin the tangled webs of politics.

 

In Circle Seven, those condoning violence

and servitude in other lands in search of gold

were chained in mines beyond the reach of Providence

to suffer in the heated pits a thousandfold.

 

Nearby, from what appeared to be a boiling sea,

a centaur - half a man and half a horse - appeared

to take us to a deeper space, where Blasphemy

on sacred Earth defined the hapless souls; I feared

 

the sights and sounds, the stinking gaseous flaring ground,

the fractured mountains, poisoned rivers -- a degree

of violation unforgettably profound,

the precious motherland exposed to Sodomy.

 

To Circle Eight. I noticed that the entranceway

was like a wall of earth - quotations filled the wall,

from those inside, perhaps intended to convey

the gist of capital ideas. I recall

 

the images they conjured: "No morality,"

shrugged Atlas, "in an altruistic man!" "A sin

is competition!" cried the Man of Oil. "A free

and open market works for all!" With great chagrin

 

I pictured Milton, once my hero. Sophocles

was also quoted: "Profit's sweet," his words proclaimed,

"if even by deception!" Then, from mysteries

Ecclesiastic came this final dictum, framed

 

in gold: "The profit of the earth must be for all!"

Beyond the wall were men of industry and war,

who fervently believed they had the wherewithal

to bribe the demon overlords of hell before

 

the shrieking Furies came to get them; now instead

the pits rang out with voices of the living dead:

the first was filled with panderers and lobbyists

and flatterers, the second sycophantic trysts

 

between the government and men of industry,

revolving doors that spun around at tempest speed

while whips destroyed their flesh -- so many came to bleed

their second death that I was choked with sympathy.

 

The other pockets (earthen folds) of Circle Eight

were filled with worms and snakes and great varieties

of slitherers who plotted to manipulate

the lending rates, and those who escalated fees

 

through whim or wickedness, and those who bit the hand

that bailed their vessels from the tempest; in a grand

display of justice they were crawling through the heat

with twisted heads that led them forward in retreat,

 

with faces puffed like bubbles fixed with grimaces,

their lack of empathy recalled and amplified:

regaling nightly at their gated premises,

condemning urchins lying hungry just outside.

 

We passed through Pluto's vaults to enter Circle Nine,

a sudden change to frozen depths containing souls

of those betraying workingmen; to them a shrine

was fashioned, and their bodies wedged in icy holes,

 

and just beside them, fittingly, was Lucifer

himself, interred inside the icy sepulcher

with financier and warrior and governor,

their hellish triple countenance to long endure.

 

And in the end we traveled, I and Virgil, far

from glacial blazing hell, from Lucifer's domain,

from scenes and spectacles perplexing and bizarre

and Plutocratic and satiric and profane.

 

And now the river of forgetfulness appears

in front of us, in morning's light, to cleanse our souls:

it brings me back to Zina, and again endears

me to progressive notions, which the dawn extols.

 

 

 

June, 2014

 

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Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children.

 

A World Apart

 

The children huddle in the razor cold

that numbs their hunger pangs, as nightfall paints

the stench of squalor on the walls in bold

assurance that their coffin-like restraints

shall never be undone. Once-sugary

and elfish notions barely blossoming

are slumped in grayish pulps of apathy.

Outside are tools of fire for butchering

the innocents, or seething from the great

industrial devices to defile

and blacken human breath. Tomorrow's fate

is cast, but spared in slumber for the while,

and ne'er to breathe the air of destiny

that surges sweet and giftlike over me.

 

 

 

May, 2014

 

 

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Till the Next War

 

Ashes flickering, taunting,

twisting to and fro

in the smoldering blackness,

shirking from sulfurish fleshy pustules

on the gravel below:

the whole grayish image

swelling with vapory reverence,

as if lifting the souls of

warriors never again to stir,

never to bounce bubbling infants

on their knees.

 

The night brings a merciful silence,

as the soothing rush of the breeze

through leafy poplars

seems to lend hushabye sounds

to the movements of the dark.

 

And when the silvery morning

dances through clusters

of contented greenery

and children tag and tussle

far from blurring memories

of tearful nights,

and the air breathes honeysuckle,

and the breeze teases and taps

against my eager lips,

a choir of doves will

pulse from the clouds

to replace the fiery clamor,

and for a little while

the doves will live forever.

 

 

 

April, 2014

 

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In This Way She Returned

 

Her lips, like unblossomed orchid petals,

pink and still, resting on a glossy bed

of fabrics that reflect glittery specks

of silver as lilac-drenched air settles

around us. Candles hint at life; instead

dance on her eyes, to startle and perplex.

 

For she remains steadfast in her retreat

to worlds beyond our own, a universe

where wind-borne whispering, a distant voice

rising and fading, hastens to repeat

its taunting and little-understood curse,

that resignation is my only choice.

 

I kiss her cheek and sing of cottontails

in the clouds and lavender ribbons soft

and silken on her ruffled party dress,

and ponies descending from fairy tales

with downy wings to carry her aloft

to magic lands of king and sorceress.

 

But she chose a path where powerful steeds

snorting plumes of steam and bolting at flames

that raged and ribboned through blackened terrain

inspired valiant feats of derring-do, deeds

so wondrous that as the vanquished proclaims

her brilliance, trumpets echo in refrain.

 

She stole like a satiny mist through lands

legendary with grandeur and danger:

the palaces of Xanadu - pity

to those who would heed not the reprimands

of a victor merciful, this stranger

at the gate of their Forbidden City.

 

The wrath of Alexander, son of Zeus,

Macedonian, no match for her skills

in acts of war, or her resourcefulness:

the celebrated Gordian Knot, loose

beneath her spell; and captive are the wills

of all who bow before the conqueress.

 

Mighty Achilles, slayer of Hector,

and lovely Helen, who coaxed men to war;

compare to their own this child's attributes!

In her sight their god is but a specter,

the brazen seductress of men a whore,

the heralded warriors dullish brutes.

 

All turn away from her in frenzied flight,

thrashing side to side like frightened sparrows,

stirring dust and grit in a rising gale;

impotent swordsman, an armorless knight,

a master archer stripped of his arrows:

with fists and bows and blood and brawn they flail.

 

But now, like them, she returns defeated,

snapping in the tempest, a sapling's bough.

As great machinery felled the phalanx

surrounding her, the battle conceded,

her spirit subdued, she heeded her vow

to remain to the end. Shall I give thanks

 

for this, or fall to despair? For she's crossed

endless worlds to explore the mysteries

beyond the stars, her destiny the grail

of the philosophers, who would be lost

as I, embarked on lonely Odysseys

seeking her trodden path, to no avail.

 

 

 

March, 2014

 

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Manifest Destiny

 

Unholy savages repulsed us in the west,

but we secured the land with every confidence

in our Creator, as His words made manifest:

the "heathen shall be part of our inheritance."

 

And in the south arose the vital routes of trade,

but primitive societies would jeopardize

our growth until a noble and benign crusade

could serve to "Christianize, redeem, and civilize."

 

And as the engine fueling our resolve ran dry

we ventured east to distant realms, where dusty tombs

and gleaming modern doctrines came to prophesy

the precious lifeblood offered up from ancient wombs.

 

And now the earth and its economies collide,

and frenzy in the markets grows in evidence,

and global appetites remain unsatisfied,

but we are comforted by our preeminence.

 

 

 

 

February, 2014

 

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Gini's Turning 1

 

A puppy's sigh, our princess, bloom of Babylon,

her dewy eyes obscuring the museum glass

of parents rising from the dust, a maiden swan

escorting chariots from starry bliss where brass

was turned to gold through whimsy-sculpted alchemy,

and fortune seekers on the gravel-slickened slope

were swept in giddy bounds of seven leagues with key

and compass to the money dens, kaleidoscope

of gaud and flounce and filigree, mosaic glow

of palace halls. But we have pledged to our betrothed,

the scorned and beggarly below, the overflow

of boundless cornucopia, and they'll be clothed

in satin robes and finery, the queen's trousseau.

For this we wait in patience, watching Gini grow.

 

 

 

January, 2014

 



 

 

The Reagan

 

Once upon a long and weary voting day, with chances dreary

for a quaint and curious choice, a liberal ambassador;

while I gauged the sense of voting, suddenly I heard some gloating

as of someone sugarcoating memories of years before.

"'Tis some candidate," I muttered, "ill-informed with good rapport -

only this, and nothing more."

 

Ah distinctly I remember, 'twas a leap year in November,

every Senate member had a hundred lobbyists or more.

Earnestly I wished for fairness, recognizing all the rareness

of the public welcoming purveyors of progressive lore -

condescending to the noble precepts of progressive lore:

here, then gone forevermore.

 

Now I heard this faint intoning, not unlike a distant moaning,

near the bust of Adam Smith above the Senate's chamber door.

Grave concern about tomorrow seemed to frame these sounds of sorrow,

sorrow that we haven't known the likes of since we lost with Gore -

sorrow like a candidate who'd never lost the vote before -

sorrow like a lost l'amour.

 

Heart of mine now all aflutter, hurried I to raise the shutter -

there appeared an old acquaintance in his saintly guise of yore.

Ghostly, gaunt, and ancient fellow, wrinkled, cheeky, pink and mellow,

Mister Reagan, ever tasteful, decked out with a pompadour -

speaking with the flourish of the surf on California's shore:

Quoth the Reagan, "Tax no more..

 

"..Minimize the legislation, put an end to regulation,

give big business all it wants, then turn around and give it more."

Nothing further did he utter in his Presidential stutter,

not the least obeisance would betray his movie star decor,

glowing like a quote from Milton Friedman on the Senate door,

"Laissez-faire and nothing more."

 

Then the Gipper, ever smiling, ever skillfully beguiling

all my anger into words to counteract his charm galore:

"Mister Reagan, let me state this: didn't you anticipate this?

All the wealth is concentrated, just a few have wealth galore.

Is there any balm on Main Street - tell me, tell me, I implore!"

Quoth the Reagan, "Nevermore."

 

There he dallied, never leaving, still deceiving, always peeving

those of us who choose the bust of FDR to stand before.

"Wretch!" said I, "Your righteous leaning surely is devoid of meaning -

still, it seems the Seraphim is on your side forevermore."

All my hopes for income fairness, lying on the Senate floor,

shall be lifted nevermore!

 

 

 

December, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crime Story

 

He says he couldn't find a job - c'mon,

keep lookin' - guy's a loser, guy's a con,

his children needed food, he told police,

the rent is due. Well, let him find his peace

in jail. A year is all he got? The clerk

was scared to death. The system's gone berserk.

 

Who, me? Still dabbling in derivatives.

Our bet against the mortgage market gives

a lot of business to my company -

all fees and carried interest, almost free

of taxes. Times are tough, though, bonus pay

is down. You can't afford a yacht today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

November, 2013

 

 

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Torn from Woman, Torn from Earth

 

In delicate and savage motions flesh

disgorges, like a rotting passion fruit,

as twisted carnival reflections mesh

with wailings from a ravaged prostitute

discarded to the painted grimaces

on alley walls. And tiny fingers scrape

bijouterie from womblike surfaces

till bloodied senses callus, as the rape

by phallic masters of a butchered earth,

bravado spurting from their whiskied seed,

ejects the wretches in disfigured birth,

in pull and thrust and pull -- the vulgar deed

proceeding in a violent reprise

that spirits boyish dreams from lifeless eyes.

 

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October, 2013

 

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Slave Boy

 

We run as if an agitated earth

were breaking up behind us, and we fight

to gain our stations at the gritty trough

half-filled with corn, where each survivor's worth

is daily measured by another's right

to fair apportionment denied; and off

our makeshift plates of muddied, calloused hands

ensues a squealing angry vulgar rush

to suck the greasy nourishment before

there is no more, beneath the reprimands

of our possessors, who behold the crush

of vermin squirming to and fro, and roar

with ridicule at other men's distress.

 

And now the furnace of the picking fields:

my sweat, like acid, so intense the heat;

the layers of my skin in merciless

assault laid bare, as one would flay the shields

of weary swordsmen crumbling in defeat.

For I am just machinery, a tool;

and I must step and lift and strip and clear,

again, again, until all hope becomes

a moment's respite from another's rule,

a storm-whipped seedling doomed to persevere

until its fleeting energy succumbs.

 

The night, at last, should be our time of peace.

Instead a tempest rises from inside

of me - my brother kneels before the fire;

and all the creatures of the darkness cease

their plaintive calls, the churlish winds subside;

to touch his breath the spirits all conspire,

as like a starry pond his amber skin

reflects a thousand beaded silver pearls

of terror; time and motion seem to pause;

a fearsome crackling - flesh explodes, the din

of horror as a scarlet vapor curls

above bewitching firelight; and the cause

of all the misery of humankind

is set aglow upon the lustful eyes

of those in witness to the spectacle;

his swelling body thrashes in a blind

contortion at the resonant reprise,

the whistlings of the lash a chronicle

of limits to endurance, or of prey

in final battle, and we both recoil

with every searing flash of brilliant white;

the wordless ritual proceeds till day

begins, and merciful the rite of toil

to shroud the distant memories of night.

 

The valuation: ox and mule and I

are harvesters, production's pulse and breath;

the traders, sure as scripture of their just

and righteous task, assess and quantify,

and probe and estimate each life and death;

like seed we will be spread among the dust.

I watch my mother's face: 'tis just as well

they hack away her arm, so great her pain;

but all her tears dissolve in scenes of mirth

and profit, as the men who buy and sell

the bucks and hands and breeders do ordain

for us a last embrace upon their earth.

Our dearest bond is cherished; as the men,

becoming restless, hurry us along.

Once more I'd like to gather a bouquet

for her, to see her smile; and once again

to drift to slumber on an angel's song

as all my fears of darkness slip away.

 

September, 2013

 

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A Son at War

At beck of Melancholy, wizened thief

of Time, I watch the hordes lift altar stones,

as sweat and levers ooze in bas relief

in turbid wallows of testosterone's

anointed soil, and this idolatrous

cortege invokes a godlike warrior,

the phallus of a lecherous abyss

where rabid gnarling men and beasts defer

to him, and flaming chariots arise,

orgasmic with revering royalty.

And with my withered guide they lionize

this lord of cardboard swords and fancy-free,

his boyish battle-sculpted mask to burn

in grownup realms from which he can't return.

 

 

 

August, 2013

 

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An American Tale

 

Upon a once delightful time, when I,

               abiding by a sylvan sigh of sycamore and pine,

contrived to pass upon my neighborland in scholarly repose,

I chanced to happen on a curious component of the wilds,

               at once buffoonish and benign,

a squirrel aslumber, tummy dumpling plump, a nutmeat at its nose.

 

"Upon my word," spoke I, "how still you lie,

               malformed aboard a rolling hoard of hickory delights,

content to ornament an oaken door, quite indisposed to move;

for all your cousins, scores and dozens, fill the forest,

               ever tending unrelenting appetites,

while you preponderate in plenty, more than Eden would behoove."

 

"Upon my pappy's scraggly stern," said he,

                      "you seem to be, cerebrally, simplistic to assess,"

as he commenced a roll in troubled tones to loftier terrain;

"I spurn this piteous portrayal of my rodentry, to wit,

                      my kith and kindred in distress,

all fur and flurry, sniffing fervidly for unbegotten gain.

 

"Upon my well-provided bastion I will gladly glut

                      on butternuts and sweetmeats of success,

and I will wax the night resplendent in celestial silhouette;

for as the progeny of honor I'm decidedly entitled

                      to the gatherers' largesse,

and I am pleased to sip the nectar of their sacrificial sweat."

 

Upon the gusty culmination of his lordly rant,

                      he huffed and panted, turning on his tail

in proud retreat in sluggish sweep into the shadowy inside;

and I sat quietly amused, and quite convinced that I

                      was party to a miscreantic tale

by which no member of a more developed species could abide.