Jack D. Harvey

Jack D. Harvey

Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Bay Area Poets’ Coalition, 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, New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired.

 
Dionysus

Let blue dawn’s arpents,
lazy lawns and meadows,
announce him coming, coming,
in linen decently attired;
making his haphazard way
from someplace to someplace
with his drunken flock
of wilding followers;
the country folk gape,
the shepherds
standing still as cranes.
Any kind of close glance,
as offensive and out of place
as a looking glass pointed
at a dictator’s face.

All of his devotees yelling
their heads off,
right-handedly waving
their dangerous staffs;
pine cones and sharp iron
at the tips and
blood and worse
on their hands.

His legend,
sinister and old,
affords no relief
from anything
we really fear;
that special dark
that never leaves us.

His horns spell out
the moonrise
or used to,
his retinue so used to
his grace of unseen animals,
his robe or his half-naked splendor;
he holds them forever tight
with ecstasy and death,
the hedonism of madness;
his power catches the eye
breaks on the bystanders
like the sea over a reef.

His movement, undetermined and subtle,
moves his worshipers in strange ways,
moves them unbeknownst
as the divine ocean moves anew
in the ears of the sad seahorse.

His pride is peerless,
matchless; his mysterious heart
beats for more than the vine;
like the lion of the dune,
like the strange houses
lining the river banks
he is never seen twice
in the same guise;
his unruly crew,
filling the countryside,
cover the mountainside
with bloody carcasses and vines
and those sacrificed to him, even
far away in quiet gardens,
seeming safe from his storm,
are torn to pieces, piled up parts
become a heap of brilliant red.

The god comes and goes,
becomes vicious and sullen,
malicious in his playful ways,
requires more and more
freedom and frenzy, more
sacrifice from his people,
more food for the dead.

The air outside,
close and oppressive,
the air of an enormous attic
filled with the scent
of thyme and ivy intoxicating
and his wand
drips with honey and death.

Pentheus, defiant, curious,
jailed him, but chains
could not hold him,
the wards opened and
torn from a tree and
torn limb from limb,
Pentheus paid the price,
his dead parts
brought home and
more or less assembled,
even to his severed genitals
and booted feet,
laid out in state at the palace.
And the bull, the bull, shows
and tells the divinity
of justice and revenge.

Famed Orpheus paid in full,
confounded by happenstance
and the wrong abstinence;
spurned and rejected,
raging Thracian women
tore him apart,
their sacred female flesh,
asweat in Bacchic frenzy
and Orpheus’ sundered yodeling head,
goes floating down the river.

And Dionysus goes on
to his next stop and his next,
leaving the remains of his passing
to those possessed and empowered;
as to the rest,
let them lie where they fell.

What a longing we have for this!
Break it all down
to a release from reason,
as sweet and reasonable
as we think we are;
flowers of the field,
lilies of the valley,
the silent velvet beauty of the rose.

But there’s more than this.
For more than this
in her shell and
slide-out box
the rose sighs in the morgue.

 
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.

 
Penelope Again

She woke up early
in the morning,
the tree-bed holding her;
how far across the sea
his roving oar.

Did she batten on the dawn,
feed geese
coming across the lawn,
touch the raveled work
on which heroes and battles
were limned?

The door opens this day;
in its white frame
the bright blue sky
startles the shaded eye,
makes the mind, the heart
forget the pain, the time gone by.

In the highest heavens
the gods carom like bosons,
making up their minds.

The die once cast,
the magical black ship
quick as a falcon,
pilotless, rudderless,
already under way.
Odysseus, at ease,
sits in the stern;
in the wake,
tireless, mysterious,
one wine-dark following wave.

That bold wily man,
knees strung like bowstrings,
speeds over the sea,
coming closer;
closer yet
dog, pig-man and shepherd;
before supper
the great game, greater
than a maze, a rite
waiting to be played;
over the floor
the axe heads hang
high as geese.
Flickering like firelight
the arrows leaping
leave a long mark,
a curtain of blood,
a flood of death.

But this morning calm
the sea lies,
like a blue hand.
Will the day
be bright, the boisterous
gallants gone
like the wind?

She rests in wisdom
by the window;
the windy day,
her steadfast hope,
far off.

 
Aulis

King Agamemnon,
most astute of duelists,
his hand on false science
and beauty,
prepares to preside over
his fierce and lawless tribe;
bamboozling fancy effects
out of the evening sun
by happy chance
of light and shade.

A snow-white maid.
Gods approve:
the flimsy robe
doesn’t conceal
naked
pulchritudinous
boobs.

Avast! The sacrificial axe,
captivating unwieldy kinsmen
and black and cherry-cheeked allies
descends through eons,
fit to kill,
like the lightning of fantasy.

“Little that is lovely is safe,“
“Cave canem,”
the more educated lions in the
crowd sentimentalize
after the bloody act,
and the wind,
cathartic and unwearied,
the prize,
blows painfully hot.

The coast is clear.

 
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.

 
Poetry in this post: © Jack D. Harvey
Published with the permission of Jack D. Harvey