Quintains of the Red Death

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death
held illimitable dominion over all.

At the last midnight ever to fall,
the clock’s brazen lungs swelled full
and exhaled twelve sonic ebony sighs
that shuddered against the welded gates
and made the airtight abbey shake.

The dancers halted stupefied
and the music hobbled to a hush
at the advent of the uncanny guest
in his cadaverous eyeless mask
clad in the vesture of the grave.

Who presumes, who makes so bold?
Who dares dishonor this masquerade
of laughter and Terpsichore
and lotos-devouring lunacy
with uninvited grief and thought?

So cried the Prince, chasing the stranger
through his seven suites bedight
in lapis blue and lavender,
in emerald and tangerine,
in ivory and heliotrope,

until, in a chamber of sable velvet
glowing vermillion by fiery braziers
shining through panes of tinted glass,
the Prince cornered and challenged him,
guise to guise and mask to mask.

You! Profaner of mockeries,
delinquent in mandatory scorn—
kneel before your sovereign lord;
prepare your flesh for my dagger’s delight,
your blood to quench these stones!

But neither stones nor knife were sated,
and the Prince ached with unbidden sorrow.
How strange, he thought, that any mischance
should visit so noble a potentate,
so wise, so frugal, and so great.

Why, he wondered, should he be sad,
sequestered with his chosen kindred
while the Red Death raged outside?
He gazed upon the faceless stranger,
whose very silence made reply.

You fail to recognize me, sire?
Does the Prince deny his faithful son?
I’ve been too long from home, I fear.
But how could you forget a child
hatched fully grown from your lifeless heart?

You nourished me at your barren breast;
I learned all things at your cruel feet;
All that you are, so I must be;
what your will would have, so I must do;
thus I have served you throughout your realm.

No soul survives in Greed’s dominion;
No children play in the empire of Hate.
No life throbs in the kingdom of Conceit.
Do I appear in the guise of Death?
I am yourself—manifest, incarnate.

The privileged revels now all ended,
the stranger crumbled into dust.
The Prince retraced his wending steps
through the mute particolored suites
and found his merry throng all slain.

But tender no tears for the Prince;
rather you may envy him,
for Hell is Heaven for the Damned.
He abides in welded, airtight bliss
within his castellated walls

roaming among those putrid remains
(worthy companions at long last!)
sheltered forever from all he dreads—
new buds, new blossoms, new hopes, new laughter,
all bourgeoning amid death’s decay.

The Song of the Hole in the Sky

written for the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump
January 20, 2017

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no truths:
That’s a motto I’ve tried to live by.
But up yonder there’s a hole in the sky;
And you want to hear how it got there.

I’ll tell you now—but don’t expect
The truth to put you easy.
It’s a tale with neither reason nor rhyme,
And hardly a moral worth learning.

Up on that cliff—see that rubble and glass?
It used to be a lighthouse.
We villagers built her to keep ships safe,
And we took our turns as her keepers.

Don’t take me wrong—we weren’t good souls,
Nor generous nor kindly.
But we took our turns and shared her light,
And her beam shone bright and ample.

Walking one morning where we walk now,
I saw a gang of sailors
Crowding high by the lighthouse rail,
Smashing her windows to pieces.

I stood on this beach and gaped and stared,
Not thinking how to stop them.
I called out loud to ask them why,
And this is what they told me:

“This house is a whore who pays no mind
To what kind of man gets her favors.
This house is a whore who shines her beam
Alike on the good and the wicked.”

“This house is no whore—just a thing,” I said.
“She’s made of rocks and mortar
And means no love, and means no hate.”
That put them in a fury:

“You’ve been to school and read your books
And think you’re better and wiser;
But you’ve not spent your life at sea
So hold your tongue, young lubber.

“Unless you’ve spent your life at sea,
You’ve never had to suffer;
You’ve never been jilted or hurt or wronged,
So hold your tongue, young lubber.

“You owe us your all—your food and your drink,
Your every joy and pleasure,
The love by your side, your child, your abode,
Your every breath and heartbeat.

“We freeze and roast and puke and drown
So you can sleep in satin;
Our arms grow hard and hands burn raw
To keep yours soft and wanton.”

The sailors pulled her lantern loose
And threw it over the railing.
It hit the ground right where you stand,
And smashed into pitiless splinters.

“But the rocks on this cape are sharp,” I said,
“And hidden away at nighttime.
Or don’t you believe in rocks at all?
Don’t you believe in darkness?”

“We believe whatever we choose,” they said.
“And you’d best believe what we do.
We’ve a right to whatever truth we like,
And you’ve got no right to say different.

“The polestar’s got nothing to do with north;
Just choose some gull to follow.
Poxes and scabs don’t come from whores,
But from your books and learning.

“To calm a squall, just whistle a tune;
For a waterspout, snap your fingers.
An iceberg melts with the wink of an eye;
Stir up a fair wind by dancing.

“We’ve been to the edge of this flat world;
Believe it because we say so.
We’ve seen where the ocean drops into space;
Don’t dare to call us liars.”

By then the sailors were smashing the walls
To rubble with their sledgehammers.
As they climbed down the spiraling way,
They ripped up the steps behind them.

“But how will you fare without the light?”
I asked them all. “You’ll surely
Lose your way, steering wild and blind;
You’ll break on these rocks and perish.”

“The light’s no good, it hurts our eyes,
It softens us, makes us feeble.
When we’re not cursed by that blinding glare,
The dark will surely guide us.

“The dark will be true, the dark will stand fast;
The dark never sleeps on duty;
Sailing this way, we’ll look out for the dark;
The dark will lead and we’ll follow.”

They finished their work and left this place
A pile of glass and rubble.
There’s a hole in the sky where the light once shone;
Sailors now use it to steer by.

Is the darkness true? Who am I to say?
The sailors said to believe them.
I’ve never sailed, don’t know what they know;
I’m just a foolish old lubber.

And yet I’ve slaved hard for my food and my drink,
My every joy and pleasure,
The love by my side, my child, my abode,
My every breath and heartbeat.

My heart has been broke and trod underfoot;
I’ve starved, and I’ve been cheated.
Through rotting teeth in its naked skull,
This world tells its lies forever.

And I’m sick of it all, my heart clenches with rage
At legions of apes and hyenas.
But how could I know what those sailors knew?
I’m only a foolish old lubber.

For the dark is strong, the dark stands fast,
And sailors faithfully follow;
And the hulls pile up on these sharp rocks,
And the salt air stinks to heaven.

The hulls pile up on these sharp rocks,
Chewed at by gulls and vermin;
The teeth of the surf bite fast and hard,
And the salt air stinks to heaven.

You and me, we’ve been to school,
We’re deep in books and learning.
The better, I guess, for the work we do now.
But why do you stand there staring?

There’s dead on the beach, more washing in,
And not a corpse fit to bury,
Nor sand enough in this whole wide world;
Keep stacking them high for burning.

© 2017, PlaysOnIdeas