Temptation

A Ballad “My country’s finally at peace,
Its enemies—at bay;
The Philitstines, like a disease,
Defeated, went away;
And more land than we’ve ever had is now under my sway.”

So said King David, cup in hand,
His lyre at his feet;
The ruler of his Holy Land,
He never knew defeat;
He’s celebrating by himself, cup full and heart upbeat.

He’s celebrating in his hall
His victory in war,
His people’s foes’ downfall,
His palaces’ decor,
And the honor bestowed by God on him to be Israel’s savior.

It wasn’t long, it seemed to him,
He was a shepherd boy,
And in his clasp, so hard and grim,
His sling—his former toy,
Which he now had to save his life, his people—to employ.

Nor had much time passed since he sang
To cure Saul the King,
Who deeper still in madness sank
The more he tried to cling
To power—which only helped his tragic end to bring.

“Ah, Power! You have not yet
Corrupted me so far,
My appetite for blood to wet,
My trustiness to tar.”
Ah, Power! You proved the end of many a king and tzar!

The hall is filled with evening heat,
And so the king gets up.
The balcony is dimly lit—
A perfect place to sup,
And so there moves the king, with lyre and his cup.

The summer air’s pungent, sweet,
It forms a gentle breeze;
And David gets up from his seat
To look at what’s beneath—
And almost falls, like one who is struck with a deadly disease.

For in the glow of the moon,
Beyond the palace wall
He sees a woman sweet as June,
Graceful, and queenly tall—
Ah, Love! Alas, to female charms the king is not immune.

The rest we know. Murder, guilt,
The Lord God’s damning curse,
The kingdom, which just bloomed, has wilt—
A ship that’s lost its course.
And of it all, a single look, a sinful look—the cause.

For it is hard to yet remain
A saint when stung by Love,
To fight it often is in vain—
Can an eagle be fought by a dove?
It takes your heart, it takes your brain, your soul—and takes off.


Orpheus

A Sonnet

When from the land of shadows you can’t
Bring back your love—what good’s your talent then?
You thought you were a god—be humble and repent.
You are by far the most misfortunate of men.

When you behold your true love every day,
Your song enchants a stone and a beast,
But in the end, your song the cruel Fates can’t sway,—
And all your talent doesn’t matter in the least.

Your soul sings, and poems pour forth,
You feel you are alive, you want to live
When you can share sorrow and mirth,
When with your love you celebrate and grieve—

But only grief and emptiness remain,
Your life is ended when your love is slain.


Eternal Life

A Ballad

Not for the first time, not by far,
Is the Eternal City threatened;
Not for the first time’s in the nadir Rome’s star;
And yet this threat seems very different:
All previous invaders, if successful, were absorbed—
But this one promises to put all to the sword.

The Etruscs, the Sabines, and later Gauls—
All were defeated or had mixed with Romans.
But if to this new invader Rome falls,
Its bitter end is foretold by omens.
This new invader did not come for loot—
But the Eternal City to uproot.

Even the Goths, barbaric as they come,
Were wise enough to use and not destroy
The order of the world established by Rome,
The proud heir of Homeric Troy.
To take advantage of, and not efface,
The infrastructure they retained in place.

“Who is this monster? And from where did
This Scourge of God come to invest the city?”
The rulers know, but they closed keep the lid:
As usual, the facts are not too pretty.
The “monster” had been raised in Rome,
Which for a dozen years he called home.

Yes, he grew up in Rome, Attila the Hun,
And now he has challenged all civilization.
Once Rome is destroyed, where can one run?
From Scourge of God where can one find salvation?
Attila’s host came to Rome from afar,
And no army can its progress bar.

The emperor, the king of Goths—are now meek,
And hurry to consult reverently with Pope.
The Hun threat’s made the powerful weak,
They haven’t lost it all, but they have lost all hope.
And so to the council they go,
To seek advice and consolation for their woe.

“Alas! My knights are paralyzed with fear,
And no reinforcements can we find.”
&dlquo;I knew him as a child. He then was also queer,
But he was smart. Perhaps I'’ll change his mind.”—
The Pope said, and so they decide
That he alone to Attila’s camp should ride.

“My old teacher! You just couldn’t wait
Till I myself pay you a visit in your palace?”
It’s an unfriendly welcome, mixed with threat,
Polite, yet subtly interlaced with menace.
The Pope stands with his head humbly bent.
“I’m here to convince you to relent.

You lived in Rome once.”—&dquo;A wild beast in a cage!
A hostage child so longing to be free—
Free to give vent to my infinite rage,
Free to embark on a destructive spree!
I’ve waited for too long. My hour has come,
And so has the hour of doom for Rome!”

“You were treated well.”—“Well like a pet,
But I am wild, and not domesticated!
Out in the steppes I longed to watch sunset,
To sleep in forests, wade in rivers long I waited!
I wanted freedom, not a piece of bread!
I wasn’t free, though I was clothed and fed.”

“The past mistakes are paid for by the present.
Not only are you free—you are a king.
All fear you, the consul and the peasant.
You are the Scourge of God, the people think.”
“For anyone but me, old man, it’d be enough,”—
The Hun said,—“but you see, I seek eternal life.

O, not the kind you offer when you preach—
That kind of life is for the meek of spirit.
A powerful king, yet I am within reach
Of Death. I know it and I fear it.
As the destroyer of civilization, I
Will live in memory of mankind when I die.”

“I think I understand your point of view.
And yet your means will not achieve your end.
With poets gone, who then will sing of you?
With sculptors gone, where will your statues stand?
Who will record your deeds with writers gone?
You will have lost when you think you have won.”

The king of Huns was silent, deep in thought,
For long, which to the Pope seemed like forever.
At last he to reality was brought,
And found himself saying, “Very clever!
I hate admitting it, but you are right.
Go back in peace, for I have seen the light.”


A Civics Lesson

After Thucydides

It was a hot and humid day in Athens, I remember.
I got up very early, packed my goods—
Clay amphoras and pots I had to sell,
And, having prayed to gods that all goes well,
I took the road I take always. Through the woods,
Across the hills, it leads right to the customs chamber.

Although I live quite far from Athens, yet I am a proud
Freeborn and full-fledged citizen of it,
And so, I’m assured, was my dad;
Before him—who’s to know? He is dead;
There is a rumor that my family’s from Crete,
But I have fists and documents to squish all doubt.

I hardly ever vote, but my goods are free of duty.
So anyway, I to the market went,
Set up my stall—the usual routine;
By ten or so emptied my canteen;
By noon, ev’n tho’ protected by my linen tent,
I was about to give up, all hot and sweaty.

I prayed to the almighty gods to send some wind or clouds.
They did not come. A messenger appeared,
Not from the gods, but from the town hall,
To tell us that they needed for a poll
More citizens of Athens, for, they feared,
They were short a couple hundred or thereabouts.

I figured something special must be happening. It was.
It is not every day we ostracize
A citizen too prominent to be
An equal member of democracy,
Too rich, too well-connected, or perhaps too wise
To be content to be a mere equal, not the boss.

I wouldn’t be so happy that I volunteered had it rained.
This was a new experience for me.
I felt a little lost, and so approached
A man who stood beside me, and he coached
Me in the voting procedure; and together we
Went to get stones used for voting, as he explained.

The stranger noticed the stone I picked up was black.
“What did he do to you?”, the stranger said.
“Aristides? The guy I’m ostracizing?
Well, nothing yet.”—And, further analyzing,
I added, proud of my logic, “Nothing yet,
But he’s too famous. We must put to this a check.

I’ve never met Aristides, and yet I’m sick and tired
Of hearing him being called ’The Just’.”
The stranger nodded thoughtfully and left.
I felt so proud then... and now feel bereft.
That stranger was, I’m told, Aristides, the last
Great champion of Greece, who by one vote was retired.


Farsalia

To Marcus Anneius Lucanus

I hope you knew, Marcus Anneius, when your blood
Was in warm water slowly dissolving,
That from a mere mortal into one with God
You at that time were gradually evolving,
That to eternal life, and not to death
You would step out of your final bath.

In those final moments, when your life
Was streaming forth from your unlocked veins,
You still remembered that this world is rife
With pain, that here Evil reigns.
And yet, I hope, even then you knew:
There would be others following you.

You were not the first, and I shan’t be the last
Of poets who want all men to be free.
The future always will repeat the past—
Until we win. I know you’d agree
That every day—in action or in thought—
Farsalia again is being fought.


My Bellevue Quest

To Olga

Seattle’s reputation’s well deserved:
It really does rain much of the time.
Its suburbs, like the one in which I’m staying,
Could well serve as a haven to vampires
(my daughter told me they are rumored to live here):
Sun seldom shines upon the grayish buildings,
Which seem to have more windows than people:
this is the antithesis of Manhattan,
You’ll hardly meet a person in the street.
A horde of harried autos hurries by,
whose drivers are apparently attempting
to leave this dreary place. A lonely beggar
looks at the cars. His eyes express no hope.
I pass him by. He notices, I think,
but doesn’t say a word. Perhaps he knows
from past experience: today is not his day.
Or maybe he just can’t believe his eyes
that tell him: someone’s out for a stroll.

But here I am indeed. The map says that a lake,—
the Bellevue lake,—is not that far away.
“A whole half an hour,” according to a worker
at my hotel—but that’s not a deterrent
for me, who’s walked across all of the cities
of Boston, Paris, and before—Madrid,
for me, who’s walked from my midtown office
the fifty blocks to where you used to work...
Although my incentive was much better
when I went to see you, yet one—in jest—might say
that I in both cases sought a “pretty view”...

I’m headed for the lake, my trusty map in hand.
I pass a gun shop and a Jimmy Choo—
my son and daughter would, I’m sure, love to visit
these stores, respectively—if just to window-shop.
A sign attracts my eyes; a word stands out “Ibsen.”
I have the time to see a play tonight!
I’m all alone in this boring suburb,
my conference is still a day away!..
Intrigued, I fasten pace a take a brief detour.
The sign is getting closer; somebody “directs Ibsen”...
Perhaps it is somebody I have heard of!
But no... It is not the great playwright
(he’s not my favorite, but well, it doesn’t matter)—
nor is it a theatrical director—
it is the owner of this abandoned mall
(abandoned, seemingly, by people, not by cars—
there’s an abundance of the latter in the lot)
who is directing Ibsen Towing Co.
to haul away the cars left here overnight.
My second disappointment of the morning!
The first was just before my embarkation
on this quest for the lake: dark chocolate mocha,—
vey’s mir!—cannot be had without sugar.
Oh well, at least I’ll get to see
the pretty lake—it cannot be too far...

Oh, wait!—I tell myself,—the map says it is here,
But all I see is buildings... There’s a puddle,
perhaps the biggest that I’ve ever seen,
but it can’t be the lake? Or can it? No!
I see the lake... It’s there!... It’s a pond.
A tiny pond surrounded by buildings.
Some—empty office towers for lease,
a seafood restaurant that is now closed,
some that apparently attract a lot of cars—
but no people, I’m the only one around...
There are two fountains, but neither is as pretty
as one I passed by on my way here, by the bank...
Oh well... You’d probably enjoy the restaurant—
it has a deck. But you are far from here.

I’m heading back, back to my lonely room,
made even lonelier by the enormous bed
(oh yes, there was another disappointment, when at night
I reached for you—of course, you weren’t there,
indeed, you were not even on the couch
in the adjacent room—you were way out of reach...
I’m heading back. The rain has now stopped.
Bellevue is pretty when the sun peeks out.
The cadmium of leaves, from yellow to orange
to red; the chromium oxide of firs and pines;
the cobalt yellow of Seattle’s skittish sun,
the bright cerulean of heavens it adorns—
a picture you would love... My disappointment’s gone—
all four of them: of course, not soon enough,
yet soon, I will see you again,
my dear love, my ultimate “belle vue”...