Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Speaking in Ninths

by Steve King           
© 2011
All rights reserved

Voices never did quite mesh.
Whether one uplifted,
one drew the other down
toward an awkward median—
how is one to say?

A ritual chant perhaps,
some might have taken for a song.

Or just two lines
of strange accompaniment,
converging accidentals,
without that binding melody.

The strains remain at hand,
resonant within a realm
where echoes are relentless
and background chords
still drift beneath old moods.
in dark solo refrain…

Not disharmony, no:

Both moon and sun
might share a changing sky.
One must surely slip.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At the Movies

by Steve King
© 2011
All rights reserved

It seems so like a movie:
each scene passing,
one frame to the next,
with no decent pause,
no time for second shots;
no rehearsal scheduled
for swell special effects.

So like a movie,
right up to the end;
the end of each daily take, of course.
Who knows what length the finished version plays?
(I would cut that final credit roll,
                        and film sequels endlessly)

If only we were scripters
with a swank L.A. address,
sifting through distractions,
fleshing it all out
to some more leisured pace,
forging many endings
to suit us as the evening moods might strike.

Or one of those directors,
to gesture grandly from afar;
pondering, just so, upon each panoply,
summoning the great fates into play;
deciding, judging, wrinkling the brow,
‘Is it good enough?’
‘Where has my light gone?’
‘Is it lunch time yet?’

Or perhaps the makeup guy,
refashioning each flaw,
covering the ancient ugliness
with a new gloss of mud,
just enough to last
the next sweaty charade.

Or how about a cameraman
with a ready ‘on’ and ‘off’?
Some shadows aren’t deep enough,
to give a place to hide;
ubiquitous grey space
yields too much up to hard daylight.
Surely there are moments
to be lived off the record;
surely some regrets would fade
if only no one knew…

Far better yet to work the re-write shop,
where old mistakes and second-bests
would make for honest work;
where blind alleys and dead ends
might become useful paths again;
where finally, with amended lines,
I once again could stand my mark, and—

“Lights!  Camera!  Quiet, please!
It’s time for my soliloquy!”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Page

by Steve King
© 2011
All rights reserved


The blank page,
an unblinking annoyance
that will not turn away.
I cannot see beyond it,
though its glare does skewer me.

I inspect it, careful, and at length;
all its imperfection,
specks and whorls,
perhaps some remnants
of reprocessed rag,
or atomized remains
of old cardboard
and sixpack wraps.

That part there perhaps,
spun up from a soup
of crass handbills,
unanswered letters,
desperate replies,
holiday scribblings
and tart ‘good-byes,’
all well-seasoned with a spray
of bright confetti gaud.
A busy page, though blank.
Its breadth supports a second life
for all these transient things;
makes immortal life’s discards,
though not a strophe of mine.

Mottled and well used,
corners bent, creased and worn,
hammered near to death
by idle drumming fingers,
it’s figure is the very shade
of an exhausted muse.


It will outstay distraction,
this place where worlds do manifest
and legacies transport;
where far-seeing souls,
gone from time and place,
long the source of your close reveries,
strive for their communion;
as if they might impart some certain grace;
as if you might accept it
for your version of a sacrament.

Through darkening afternoon it stays,
a-dance before the eye,
upholding all the shapes
imagination might require;
a cloud, alit to render
hard won heavenly intent,
there to yield new spirits
in trade for your old dreams
and all the weary summonings.

All the old secrets,
all already known;
ancient stories leavened with new breath;
imagery ageless
as the breaching sun
or descending night
or red moon parting bitter seas
or narrow eyes upon new-risen heights,
opening to peer through an advancing mist…


No, nothing of this page is new,
save, at last, that part suddenly you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Devil His Due

by Steve King
© 2005
All rights reserved

The seasons of death have come and gone
And yet will come again, and go again.
And so will death itself live on and on,
replenished by our dying.

         * * * * * * * *

"Make a pretty song for me,"
said that other voice I hear,
"fit to move a mourning throng,
somber as they gather near.

"Harvest nightshade with your words
and spin it into brightest wreathes;
draw fine colors from despair
and paint them on a winding sheet.

"Stand bold reason on its head
and sing of tales to raise the dead;
find in silence things unsaid,
and conjure hopes to cure their dread.

"Your piecework suits me for the wage
to let you linger through your age;
for even Death, that labors long,
enjoys his labor with a song.

"Do these pretty chores for me
in gentle toil of sympathy;
a joyless duty, you will say,
though you would do it, anyway;

"And I will seek for other kin,
those without rhymes, or airs to spin,
and leave you safely with your muse,
to succor me, it's yours to choose..."

And so I dip the poison pen,
to sing so Death may dance again,
songs I never dare to end,
while he another does befriend.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dreaming of the Sea, From the Mountain

by Steve King
© 2011
All rights reserved

The dream washed over me,
a murmur to breach
my sleep-stopped ears,
as from a familiar;
I felt afar its call,
as the settled sea
might feel a lifting wave:

‘Do not fear me,’ it said.
‘I speak to you only as I must.

‘Giving sense both to your days
and to your small moments,
I will sing of what you most love,
will show you all these things,
if there is yet a doubt.
I will find for you the words
that wait, so separate now
from your reluctant tongue.
From pellucid airs
will spring the stuff
to make whole worlds,
and bring to hand
unmargined firmaments.

‘Do not fear.
You must believe;
and I will grant you
that which has eluded;
things that shall outlive
the transient pleasures
in these petty wants.

‘I speak as to a stranger
because you are;
I suffuse you and am within you,
though you do not yet see,
though you have never felt
the truest of my powers.

‘Do not fear me.
No more false witness!
I am the echo
to your heart’s solemn beat;
I will bring the song,
your joyous ode,
the flourish that does flatter.

I will sound at last
the note that sustains.
Yes, I shall be to you
the shout that declares,
the roar that defines.’

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helen's Dream

by Steve King
© 2003
All rights reserved

For years after,
she served pomegranates and wine
in the keep of her new/old lord.
The wine would soften their laughs for a time,
until the war stories
and then the war games,
and the names of the dead,
and their dead memories;
'til death took hold of their wine-filled mornings,
took hold of their morning wine-dreams.

She never saw the sea again from a boat,
though in her dreams she watched the waves,
heard them o'ertopping
along the reach of some far safe harbor,
felt once more the unrelenting pull
of sea on yielding shore.

Not for adventure.
Not now.
Not again for love, nor vanity.
Not now.
There wasn't time enough, she thought,
to nurture a new race of memories.

Nights, she heard the winds sing
through olive trees,
remembering the other-world scents,
wondering how it all had come to pass,
wondered at its passing.

Yet she remained, and must remain:
Her beauty was part of their wine-dreams, too,
though they hardly talked of her now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Soon Autumn

by Steve King

© 2001
All rights reserved

It came an early autumn,
but I’d an expectation,
an inkling of the coming phase.

They say you feel it in your bones
once past some certain age;
that each year passes quicker
the more years that one sees.
Yes, I do feel like that antic rat
upswept in his whirling cage.

The imminent future accelerates.
With like haste, youth recedes.
There is always distraction
from the present stage.

You think both in terms of moments
and great leaps of the heart.
Which hopes would you put aside
to gain yourself a day?
Which times would you banish
to recast a sorry past?
Which times would you now replay?
Which would you outlast?

How will you fill the void before you? 
How will you dream, and of what?
Just how will you finger each turning page?

Soon there will be only speed,
without note of seasons;
hastening twilights
to swallow vanishing dawns.
Soon, soon enough…

There is a coming autumn, true,
but not there in the bones:
it is an umber of the heart,
a rising shadow in the soul
no springtime may erase.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Case of Bananas

by Steve King
Copyright 1998

From out of nowhere, she turns on the light.
‘Suppose bananas aren’t really yellow?’ she says.
‘Or what if yellow is another color?
What is yellow to a banana?
Do we see the same colors at all?
What world of rainbows lives inside your head?
Why am I concerned enough to ask you?
I’m no friend to strange philosophies,
but you have told me that you are in love,
and my reality has changed forever
whether I choose to love you back, or no.
It all seems like bananas to me now.
Love and yellow, these are only names.
What are they really, and why are they so?
Just what does it mean for me to see it?
More than the banana just to be it?’

And me, I only spoke to her of love.
I thought it was so simple,                   
almost like black and white,
on or off,
here or gone.

Too late, I see that nothing is so simple.
Now we are like apples and oranges.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

sun lay across the plaza gold

by Steve King
© 2011
All rights reserved

sun lay across the plaza gold
shadows gathered in corners
from where we watched
a thousand footfalls
raise hot dust

while we waited
not speaking
not to speed the moment on
there came music
from some other place
murmur of a song
new that summer
now old and only passing fond

and flowers at the far café
I could not quite see colors
saw it as a spray
the idea of flowers really
it might have been a picture
or a bright tin sign
or anything at all

or it might have been flowers

we heard the train from far
took time with the drinks
as if time wouldn’t matter
couldn’t matter any more
it would make you sleep you said
I knew and nodded
sipping slow
you cursed but soft
a bright wine drop
upon white linen dress

that moment I was grateful

you would carry this along at least
like a charm
you would peer into this blot
and see what was this day
you would hold with you
a note of the plaza and the song
even the dust the flowers
or the bright tin sign
and the shadow where we waited
where you spilled our wine

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Song for Silence

 by Steve King

A vacant house still stands in memory,
lost in tangle, past the old orchard.
No ghosts there,
just the sound of owls at twilight,
and fireflies to light a hidden path.

An old door beckoned,
rusty hinge to greet.
Still, it was no struggle,
just a reminder
time has its distinct reality
beyond the call of clockfaces
and endless afternoons.

In the furthest corner, a forgotten picture
of some long absent face,
now to be unmourned
through all new ages.
It regards the empty room,
smiles with unflinching gaze,
keeping ancient secrets
now mingled with these memories of my own.
It was discomfiting at first to stay,
as if trespassing in this other’s dream,
as if appearing unbidden
in the midst of a stranger’s
most intimate, unfinished thought.

The most unlikely sight:
a piano, waiting,
amid air that never stirred,
for the sound of new voices,
for pealing gladness, and impertinence,
and a noisy hunger for display.
Now no laughter, nor despair;
in the truest of silence,
at last, no room at all for any song.

I surveyed the scale of abandonment,
each shadow now it’s own chapter
in a long closed book,
an unsung canto to recall in part
the muted meter
of some flown soul’s epic loss.

My memory seems just another relic,
resting on these settled ruins
of some further past:
it was not a place for looking back,
for time had simply stopped,
collapsing to a last instant,
no clue to an arc of devolution;
only remains that tried in vain to speak,
like disturbed earth
that marks the shallow grave.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fragments from the Vietnam Era

by Steve King
 © 1982
 All rights reserved


Thursday was the day
the numbers would disrupt
the cartoon screens
with dead, wounded, MIA,
and body counts (theirs)
to balance the equation.

As if sacrifice
was a matter of numbers
and not a matter of the heart.

As if the measured sacrifice
was not, too, a measure
of some diminished heart.


Some conflicts still exist
in the sheen of the soul’s night:
the memory of random death
and fast retreat;
the muffled howl
of strategic assassination,
silent feet gliding
through dead paddies;
garrotes, punji,
roaring green dragons, gunlit
descending out of the blood moon…


“If they would just obey the damned Accords…”


“If only we had taken the Yalu…”

All things pointed backward
and away.


Out of the eastern war they streamed,
out of polyglot hell,
away from the sting of death,
reprisal and reprimand, they thought,
away from the mute approbation
of the new

The dead,
by command and choice.

The dead:
seed of ‘scholarly misapprehension
within a dispassionate framework.’

The dead,
defining the moral question,
each moral question,
each side brandishing the dead
like tattered banners
hammering the dead
like broken drums,
each in their own manner
to remake the dead,
each in their own fashion
to explain…

The dead,
cause enough
justifying one thing
…or any other.

The dead,
framing expeditious analysis
in dead resolution;
giving new meaning
to the phrase ‘dead reckoning.’

The dead,
as ever before,
no need now
for the love of words,
yet the one last measure
of all words.


Boxed between four walls
ceiling and floor,
inside a pretty house
within the perfect yard
abutting on a quiet lane,
they shuttered tight the windows
that squandered precious light
upon the darkness;
and on the very worst of days,
they hearkened to distant thunder
sensing, first and foremost,
only the distance,
knew thereby
the parameters
of a perfect safety.