Two Poems

By John Marvin

Is there a thing of which it is said–see this is new
it has been already in the ages before us
                                  Ecclesiastes

he thought perhaps
there is no remembrance of things past
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to happen
among those who will come later still

he thought perhaps
the search for lost time
was just one viscous circle after another
since all streams run to the sea
mother of the rain

he claims
thinking you are lucid
thinking you have language under your thumb
just means you are afraid
of letting loose
of seeing what is really there
of seeing what isn’t
and what isn’t vanity

Voltaire in shock over the Lisbon earthquake
–Un jour tout sera bien, voilà notre espérance
Tout est bien aujourd’hui, voilà l’illusion

Sisyphus sees an eagle greater than any beast
carry a maiden to a distant lair
across the wine dark sea
the river-god Asopus
weeps for his kidnapped daughter
the beautiful musical Aegina
Sisphyus trades his knowledge to Asopus
for the promise of water for his city

Asopus could never overcome
Zeus and his thunderbolts so
Zeus keeps the woman
but never forgives Sisyphus

Sisyphus makes his first trip to hell because
of the brilliant rhetoric of Hermes
by means of which
he is persuaded to go
of course he is dead

but he tricks death into shackling himself
with those damned adamantine chains
and comes back to the world of life

Hades sees his kingdom emptying
and enlists Ares to free death
enlists the aid of the Olympians
issuing a warrant for Sisyphus
and he is dragged back to Hell

When Sisyphus sees the rock rolling back down the hill
during those recurring moments walking back down the hill
he dreams worlds where all is well today
until he reaches the base once more
again again again again again

 

Still Another Letter On “Ein Brief”

 

Vienna as the Habsburgs fade to black
having saved Europe from the Turks
with a little help from Vlad the impaler
having soared above the Danube on waltzes
symphonies and tone poems
having become a palace of art
in which everything is critical
but nothing is urgent

I’ll ride in a Riesenrad gondola
with Harry Lime and Holly Martins
then sit in a Beisl for coffee and talk
with Apfelstrudl or Sachertorte
to sweeten the tone of friendly contention

Harry will praise the Borgias
who gave Italy 30 years of bloodshed
but produced the Renaissance

Holly will prefer the Swiss
who gave themselves centuries of democracy
and produced the cuckoo clock

I’ll bring up Hugo Hofmannsthal’s letter
Ein Brief he wrote 300 years before
he wrote he couldn’t write
because words are mere tricks
lending order and erasure

not enough of course
not even a means of approach
so full of the accumulation
of perception and interpretation
more distant as the tide
carries the unraveling raft
further from the fog bound strand
rocking in the rhythms
of the hollows
and the swells
as the timbers
float apart


John Marvin is a teacher who retired and subsequently earned a Ph.D. in English at SUNY Buffalo. He has poems in scores of journals, including 6 Pushcart nominations, and literary criticism in Hypermedia Joyce Studies, James Joyce QuarterlyPennsylvania English, and Worcester Review. He has a chapter in Hypermedia Joyce, and his book, Nietzsche and Transmodernism: Art and Science Beyond the Modern in Joyce, Stevens, Pynchon, and Kubrick, awaits a publisher.  

He seeks to marry the experimental, non-narrative with the lyric and traditional in the manner of Nietzsche’s marriage of Apollo and Dionysos. He generally avoids accessibility for its own sake, and the prosaic personal story with superimposed line breaks that is ubiquitous these days.  

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