Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No Man's Land

©  2012 Steve King
All rights reserved

It seems I’m caught between competing instances,
the push of past and pull of future,
nearest bit of each disguised as ‘now,’
the mask of an eternal present.

And here I stand:
empty as the eye of a needle
through which the thread of all must hang,
history and destiny drawn slack,
‘til someday they shall serve to scribe a kind of ragged seam,
and unify this narrative of dreams.

a patient link
in the contingent tale,
cleaving to each instant, first and last,
listening for fanfares and echoes
of distant ends and fast receding means;
spinning a biography
to binding futures
sprung from some unknown predicate;
working through familiar inklings
though without a syllogistic claim…

The racing times clamoring to distract:
new and new and new,
whole worlds turning in the instant,
madnesses and bright imaginings—
I would be grateful even for what madness would convey.
Now, sharpening my seeing to that needle’s point,
finally to know those things my fates may soon endow,

far too soon,
each dawning moment
slips to some other

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


©  2012 Steve King
All rights reserved

So much formality I should not force—
this coolness and austere reserve,
the unrelenting conversation
disguising just how little
there is now to be said.

Soon there will be silence,
and phantoms better suited
for this ceaseless shadow play;
the shrinking reservoir 
of common memories
must serve to drain the leavings of each day.

Then shall I drink quickly of the lees,
and wonder freely of what might remain:
listening for echoes where once were sundry sounds;
inventing better days that should have been.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John Brown

©  2012 Steve King
All rights reserved

I sing only of a man—
the rage must find some other muse.
Of arms and readiments for war,
the patient reader must excuse.
I seek one spirit of that time,
to wonder how it so inclined.

True, Harper’s Ferry had the guns,
bristling in a phony peace.
There was fratricide enough,
and death was hard upon the land:
the time was torn, the spirit fouled:
while Kansas bled, Missouri howled.

A house divided must soon fall.
How sooner must a man decay,
no passion there to unify,
to pull and pummel and upbraid
when destiny would sound a call.
All high-born aims must come to naught
when deeds undo promises made.
And so he felt his place and time,
and raced a path his heavens laid.

How empty is the soul that goes
to any easy pathway shown,
but hesitates at the Abyss
and trembles at the great Unknown.
Like Abraham, like Joshua,
the million stars would light his way.
A black tide rising to reclaim
its covenant would seize the day.

The problem left for later minds
was how to gauge competing crimes:
did subjugation and the lash
bring on itself the fatal clash?
Did slavery itself reward
with bloody recourse to the sword?
Could any reason yet accord
the place of minion, right of lord?

He led his sons through Treason’s gate,
held them all as ready tools,
as acolytes who would delight
their father’s will and share his fate.
In the old Books, fathers are stern
but few would so expect this faith,
and, contemplating on their ends,
seek sacrifice and not amends.

No plan is safe that must depend
upon the vagaries of men,
and so the army he would raise
was lost before his rifles blazed.
This blow to challenge infamy
was short of force and long of pain;
the dreamy triumph was undone
and only martyrdom remained.

Then it was over, he was gone,
or so they thought who strung the knot:
the great uprising would abate
as only force might demonstrate.
As if his gravestone would provide
a dam against the coming tide;
as if the blot the nation held
might, without bloodshed, be expelled.

       *   *   *   *   *   *   *

And now the bones lie peaceably
as far from rage as they might be,
forgotten in the farmstead turf,
his blood a fountain to the earth.

(Executed in 1859, John Brown remains one of the most important interlocutors in the United States’ continuing moral dialogue.  Those who are interested in particulars should refer to W.E.B. Dubois’ biography, John Brown, and Thoreau’s A Plea For Captain John Brown.  The John Brown Farm near Lake Placid, New York, is the final resting place of Brown and several others—including a number of his sons—either killed at the raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, or hanged soon thereafter by the State of Virginia.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Wars

©  2012 Steve King
All rights reserved

Old wars began with the fog of incense,
screaming rams, weeping queens;
ships to sea, armors flashing to the sun,
reflecting gladness of the smiling gods
guiding armies to their onslaughts.
And then the cries attending butchery:
spent victors draped in gore, each one a deadly priest,
invoking well those mighty smiling ones
who parceled from the heights all precious days to die,
even at the hand of such another.

So Time unwinds the warriors’ thread,
Time, that even old gods learned to dread,
now wraps its glories in new gathered song.
But still the call of deadly priests invoking the stern one,
days to die awaiting yet, attending each new sun,
new rages to bring down the veil at last;
armor blackened with the smoke of shattering sacrifice,
proud ships grounded on the beaten sand,
sprawled broken-winged across the sand,
each day to die an eon of gnashing and lament,
the wars still ending as they all ever began:
one warrior at a time, all gallantry and banners and drums,
and incense curling round the weeping ones.