Category Archives: Poet’s Corner

The Boat People Don’t Care

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(In response to requests from Steve Alvarez and a couple of others who still remember The Levellers …)

The Boat People Don’t Care


Times are hard, any fool can see it’s true,

I’ve been waiting for my assets to accrue.

But I’m finding it’s a struggle just to maintain,

My standard of living is under such a strain.


I had to make another payment on my Maserati,

Not to mention my townhouse-condominium,

And you don’t have to tell me ‘bout the price of gasoline –

How come those Arabs have to be so mean?

And the worst thing about it is

The Boat People don’t care

They don’t care about me,

The Boat People don’t care,

They don’t care about me …


I can’t bear such a blatant incongruence;

It’s getting hard just holding on to my affluence.

So I try a little harder each and every day,

But every time I make a dollar seems like

Somebody’s taking it away.


Well, you should’ve seen the bill for my microwave oven

And the cost of maintaining my redwood hot tub.

It’s really put a burden on my adding machine –

How come those Arabs have to be so mean?

And the worst thing about it is

The Boat People don’t care

They don’t care about me,

The Boat People don’t care,

They don’t care about me …

Martyr’s Mirror

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    Fire, sword, or crucifixion

Were lightly borne where heart and mind are sure;

But where uncertainty’s the soul’s affliction

    A word or look inflicts a wound that knows no cure.


          Can martyrs know what pains we bear,

We who never saw our own true face?

We cower at the execution place,

     Doubting all the while we should be hanging there;


          Doubting our own disbelief

And disbelieving our own doubt; while he,

Fixed securely to the upright tree,

     Suffers, sure of comfort, bliss, and sweet relief.


          Reviled, he answers not, but rests

Impaled upon the spike of confidence;

He flinches not from lash of trials or tests;

     Barbed tongue unravels not his seamless innocence.


          He knows that he is in the right:

He does not swing in anguished oscillation.

The rope about his neck is not so tight

     As that by which self-doubt secures its own damnation.


          But as for me, how can I know

If black be white or white be black, whose eyes,

Accustomed to the shades of shadow skies,

     See nothing but the grays in which I walk below?


          I know, O Lord, you suffered much;

Yet at their worst those tortures could not touch

Your spirit’s singleness:  how can it be

     That you should know the petty pains of such as me?


 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  



Lion in a Land of Make-Believe

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I once met a Lion in a land of make-believe

And His mane seemed to fill the earth

Like the wind in the trees.

He smiled like the sunrise

And His roar was like the sea,

And He spoke with a world of tongues

And one was right for me.


And Lucy’s in the sky but she don’t need diamonds,

Flying while His eyes seem to flash like lightning,

Looking at the world from a different point of view;

And Peter’s got a sword, but he won’t misuse it,

Once you’ve found the truth, then you don’t want to lose it,

He can speak a word that will pierce your soul straight through.


I once saw a Lion on a road beyond the years,

And He scalded my eyes with a light

That could burn away my tears.

We plunged through a looking-glass

That overhung my mind,

And He showed me the truth at last

That had seemed so hard to find.


And Lucy’s in the sky but she don’t need diamonds,

Flying while His eyes seem to flash like lightning,

Looking at the world from a different point of view;

And Peter’s got a sword, but he won’t misuse it,

Once you’ve found the truth, then you don’t want to lose it,

He can speak a word that will pierce your soul straight through.


I once met a Lion in a land of make-believe,

And He told me He’d lead me beyond

If only I’d believe.

His jaws they were gentle

And His teeth they did not bite,

His yoke it is easy

And His burden is light.

* * * * * * * * * *

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I Am Not

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“I am not as other men,” he says –

Then shudders, for he thinks he hears

The posturing Pharisee

            In the shadows close at hand.


A pause; he stops; he stands;

Then chases tails of circling thought,

Smoking firebrands, little foxes;

            He ends in ash and stubble.


He returns again to his former place.

“I am not,” he says, “and I will not;”

Then hears their voices close at hand,

            “You shall, or shall not be.”


In terror then he runs, he flees

Before the awful Juggernaut,

He bends beneath the woeful yoke

            And buttons up the collar.


He stretches muscles that are not,

He paints a pleasant face and strains

To climb; he thinks he stands but falls.

            He ends with “I cannot.”


Sonnet II

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Sonnet II

It’s pride that bends the mind to self-disdain;

Ambition’s the green well-spring of discontent.

And hearts that love themselves delight in pain

And revel in the fond embellishment

Of every fluke and flaw that makes one less

Than the very god he jealously aspires

To make himself; and yet he’ll not confess

To such naked offense, but like all liars

Dissembles cleverly to make his sin

Appear his crown of thorns, himself the poor

And hapless victim, who, adread within,

Yet feeds the beast that crouches at the door:

And when it springs, he feigns dismay and fear

While casting backward glances at the mirror.    

Fair-haired Boy

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My Fair-haired boy, my blue-eyed son,

I see you as one lately come

From foreign lands and shores unknown;

And fearfully I look upon

Your face, and wonder what you are –

Native of a distant star.


A window to worlds beyond the sky

I see within your shining eye,

And from your infant lips I hear

A word to crush the man of war,

To silence scholar, scribe, and sage

From sun to sun and age to age.


My blue-eyed boy, my fair-haired son,

Your cradled head recalls the morn

When Heaven’s bright Sun came down to sleep

Among the oxen and the sheep:

Who grew so wise and kind and good

They nailed Him to a cross of wood.


When moon and stars are dimmed with tears,

And the passage of the fading years

Obscures my eye and fogs my head,

I’ll look to you in hope and dread

Lest world and flesh and evil one

Have made a man of you, my son.


Christmas Eve: Gower Street, 1983

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Silent, silver, aslant, the rain

Washes sky-dark sidewalks.

The gray sky weeps;

All hushed, the city passes

            In the street below.


Umbrellas cluster shadow black

Over sheeted pavements.

Headlights, tail-lights,

Blood-red, ghost-white,

Bend and ripple in the deeps

            Of the street’s dark mirror.


Cold, cracked comfort, brick and stone,

Rest the halt and hunching stalkers,

Walkers, derelict, alone,


            In the street below.

Gray faces haunt shadow-scrawled corridors,

And night draws near.


But silent in my room a single lamp

Lights this little corner without presumption;

And within the church’s thick rain-stained brick

The heart glows warm and red.

Here and there

Beneath the world’s gray crust

Quiet peace takes refuge,

Unseen, unassuming.

Enclaves of joy humbly hold out,

Unconquered, unyielding,

Under the rawness, rain, and night.

Hope haunts the catacombs;

Salvation goes underground.

Against all odds

The kingdom drops into the earth,

A grain of wheat upon the cold, hard, clayey ground.


Small and weak, we few insanely sing

Of life and hope and heaven’s newborn king.

We light our candles as the dark shuts down

And wait the coming day.

 Hollywood 001



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Baldur the Bright,

Wise and good and kind,

Undone by mistletoe –

Fragrant kiss of death

That touched the cheek

And choked the breath

Of life and left thee withered, empty, blind:


How is it that such beauty, truth, and grace

Could fall to a prankster’s trick?

Do idle jests

Decree the falling of the stars,

Or test the right of sun and moon

To keep their place?


Did Judas laugh to see his joke

Played out?  To take the bribe

And plant the kiss?

Or was it with a smirk

He took a twist

Of rope,

Or on a snicker

That he choked?


A joke that cracked

The pillars of the years

And rent the veil of sky;

The thundered earth

Yawed and yawned

And gave birth to the dead,

While blind he pulled the world

About his ears.


But Bifrost’s brightness

Now in ruin lies,

And Gotterdammerung’s

A Present Truth.

The brood of Loki laugh to see thy youth

Gone ghostly gray

With darkness on thine eyes.


While Hela croaks

And Fenris gapes with jaws

Wide as all the world,

And the encircling Worm

Constricts his coils and takes

Yet one more turn

Round the raveling roots

Of Yggdrasil;


While Jotunheim and Niflheim

Swell with pride and cold,

While wraiths rise white-eyed

From the crumbling mold;

Even now the light above thy brow

Descends and makes its bed

In Hell.


A star upon the sea, thy burning pyre

Sinks at last,

Like hopes of dying souls.

The cold and purple ocean

Heaves and rolls,

Its silence huge above

The phoenix fire;


Till Lif and Lifthrasir

Jump from the heap

Of ash – the Second Adam

And His Bride –

Whom Witch nor Wolf

Nor Serpent can deride;

And rising in thy light,

They dance and leap.   








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Once having cast me in this little mold,

So soon to draw me from the first hot fires

Of youth and zeal, and cooled and made me old

And hard with care for all the task requires;


Once having set my steps within this track

Whose stony sides grow sheerer either side

The farther on I go, where turning back

Is every foot less easily thought or tried;


How now, at this late date, will you demand

That I grow malleable, liquid, free; enlarged

To bolt my bounds, to quit the course, disband

The circle, slough the loves with which I’m charged?


In leaving loves, one finds the road may lead

Where other loves soon other leavings need.    



Summer’s Sun

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Summer’s sun is golden

In the cooling afternoon.

The autumn breeze in August,

Fresh and gently floating

Among the sun-green leaves,

Wakens nameless longings

And tearless hopes that burgeon

Brimming on the verge.

The garden droops to ruin

In the lightless afternoon,

And my fair sunflowers fade

And lose their yellow hair,

Bending sleepy heads

Above a sagging fence.

The wind-chimes of summer

Chinkle sadly on the breeze

Blown in from other climes

Where heat of southern shores

Never blasts the glistening trees;

Where mists shroud the peninsula

In folds of quiet gray

And the sea-spray on the rocks

Never dries; where fluted redwood

Columns with Christmas crowns

Drop fresh tears through fog

Meandering from the bay

Into the forest bed

Where seeds of giants lie.

The twining bean and pumpkin

Wither in the leaf

And mildew under morning clouds;

The fruit, past ripe, is picked.

The earth, soaked and baked

By summer suns, is cracked

And gapes, hard and dry,

As fluttering leaves fall.

The monarch of the garden,

Not long past his prime,

Yet bows towards the ground

And prepares to die.

So summer leaves drop

From greenly dancing boughs

To presage barren bones

Of naked winter trees

As friendly faces fall

Away by ones and twos,

And friendly places molt

And fade like summer’s sun.




The Battle of Maldon, Part 2

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Thus they stood firm,              strong-hearted,

Young heroes in battle.            Earnestly there they contended

To see who with the sword-point        might first of all

Win the prize of life                 from doomed men,                                                                  

The lives of warriors with weapons.                The slain fell to earth.

But the men stood steadfast;                Beorhtnoth spurred them on,

Bidding each of the young men           to set his heart on the battle,

Everyone who would win       glory from the Danes.


Then on came a hardened warrior,      upheaved his weapon,                                

Hunkered behind his shield,    and strode against the chief.

Just as resolute            the eorl charged the churl:

Either to the other        evil intended.

Then hurled the sea-warrior    a southern-made spear,                                               

Thus wounding          the lord of warriors;                                                                          

But Beorhtnoth thrust back with his shield     so that the shaft to-burst,           

Shivering the spear      and making it spring back again.

Filled with fury was the warrior:        with his spear he stung

The Viking proud,       the one who had him wounded.

Wise was the chief:      in he thrust in the javelin;                                                          

Right through the young fighter’s neck          his hand guided it                               

Until it reached the life-source             of his sudden enemy.

Then another shaft      he swiftly shot,

Bursting the byrnie,    wounding the man in the breast

Through the linked rings;        at his heart stood                                                             

The poisoned point.     The eorl was all the blither.                               

He laughed, brave man that he was,    giving thanks to the Creator

For the good day’s work          the Lord had given him.


Then one of the Vikings          let go a dart from his hand.

From his palm it flew;              straight on it went,                                                                 

Right through Beorhtnoth, the noble thane of Aethelred.              

At his side stood          a barely grown youth,

A mere boy in the battle,          who full bravely

Drew from the warrior            the bloody spear –

Wulfstan’s bairn,         Wulfmaer the Young;                                                                         

Back again he shot the spear                swift against the foe;

In went the point         so that on the earth lay

That very man who lately had             so terribly pierced his lord.                 

At this a crafty fighter drew near to the eorl,

Intending his arm-rings          to bring away,                                                                        

His armor and ring-mail         and ornamented shield.          

Then from the sheath               Beorhtnoth drew his sword,

Broad and bright-edged,          and struck the man upon the byrnie;

But one of the shipmen            deftly hindered him,

Injuring the eorl’s arm with his blow.                                                                         

Then to the earth                     fell the gold-hilted sword,

Nor might he any longer         hold the hard blade

Nor weapon wield.                  Yet still he spoke a word,

That hearty warrior,                encouraging the young men

And bidding the good comrades          to go forth.                                                                   


Then, when he could no longer on his feet      securely stand,

Beorhtnoth looked to the heavens        and said:

“I thank Thee,             Ruler of peoples,

For all the joys             that I in the world have known.

Now I have, Merciful Creator,     most need                                                                   

That Thou to my spirit            grant good,

That my soul to Thee               might depart,

Into Thy kingdom,                  Lord of angels,

To go in peace.            I only ask of Thee

That these Hell-fiends              may not prevail.”                                                                     


Then they hewed him,             those heathen cutthroats,

And both of the men                who by him stood …


*  *  *  *  *


(At this point many of Beorhtnoth’s men flee the field.  But others – especially his loyal thanes – press on, resolving to die beside their fallen lord rather than abandon him.  They make one last desperate stand.  One of their number, Beorhtwold, cries out as his comrades fall on every side:)


“Will shall be the harder        heart the keener                                                          

Spirit the greater         as our power lessens!

Here lies our prince                 all forhewn,

A good man on the ground;                may he ever mourn                                                     

Who now from this war-play              thinks to go.

I am old of years.                     I will not go away,

But intend by the side of my own lord,

A man so well-beloved,            to lie me down.”


(The manuscript cuts off as they prepare to fight to the bitter end …)          



The Battle of Maldon, Part 1

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Selections from

The Battle of Maldon

Newly translated from the Anglo-Saxon by

Jim Ware

 (In preparation for an upcoming reflection on a lesser-known work of J. R. R. Tolkien)

On the 10th or 11th of August, AD 991, longships carrying as many as 4,000 Vikings sailed up to an island in the Blackwater River (then called the Panta) in Essex, England.  Here the invaders waited, knowing that at low tide the river would leave a land bridge between the island and the Essex shore.  No sooner had they arrived than the Anglo-Saxon ealdorman Beorhtnoth, thane of King Aethelred the Unready, came to meet them with a small contingent of Saxon warriors.

This is where the 325-line fragment of Old English poetry known as The Battle of Maldon begins …


Out went the tide;       the seamen ready stood,                                                              

A multitude of Vikings           impatient for the strife.

Then Beorhtnoth, Protector of men,    commanded a battle-hardened warrior,

Wulfstan his name,      — that was Ceola’s son,                                                               

Brave among his kin —            to hold the bridge.

The first man to set foot upon the bridge,        boldest of them all,

He shot down              with the shaft of his spear.

There beside Wulfstan,            the undaunted warrior,

Stood Aelfere and Maccus,     a hearty pair.                                                                    

Unwilling they            to take flight at the ford.

Steadfast instead          they stood firm against the foe

Just so long as they were able              to wield their weapons.


When the enemy understood               and presently perceived

That here they would find       bitter bridge-wards,                                                      

Those unwelcome guests         betook themselves to trickery:

They bid the English grant them         leave to come ashore,

Over the ford to fare,               and bring up their foot-troops.


Then it was that the eorl,         out of overweening pride,

Conceded too much ground    to the hostile host.                                                         

Then it was that Beorhthelm’s bairn   began calling to them

Over the cold water — the men listened:

“Now you have room enough;            come quickly to us,

Warriors to the fight!               God alone knows

Who will command     the field of slaughter!”                                                            


Then the war-wolves raged,                recking not the waves;

West over Pantan        the Viking troop

Carried their shields;               across the bright water

The shipmen to the land          bore the linden boards.

There against the grim foe,                  proud and prepared,                                                   

Stood Beorhtnoth and his men.           With bucklers he bade them

Make up the phalanx               and hold back that troop,

Firm against the foe.                Then the battle closed.

There was glory in the strife.   The time had come

That doomed men there           should fall.                                                                              

There was the hue and cry upheaved,             the ravens wheeled,

The eagle yearning for carrion.           A cry was raised on earth.

Then from their hands             men soon let fly

File-hardened shafts                 and grimly ground spears;

Bows were busy.         The shield received the spearhead.                                          

Bitter was the battle-rush.       Heroes fell

On either hand.           Young men lay dead.

Wounded was Wulfmaer –      he chose the bed of slaughter;

He, Beorhtnoth’s kinsman,      his sister’s son,

Was by the sword        sorely forhewn.                                                                                   

And there the Vikings             received their due:

I heard that Eadweard             slew a man

Straightly with his sword,       spared not the stroke,

So that at his feet         the fey champion fell.

For this his Lord          thanked him,                                                                                     

Faithful chamberlain,              when he had space …

(To be continued …)


The Puffin and the Albatross

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 A Puffin and an Albatross,

          Just sitting down to tea,

Were startled by the sound of Grunion

          Running up their tree.

“Oh dear!” exclaimed the Albatross.

          The Puffin said, “Oh me!”


“Now calm yourself,” the Puffin said

          (The calmer of the two)

And let us try and clear our heads

          And see what we must do.”

The Albatross just sat and sipped

          His tea out of his shoe.


Across the streaming river wide

          The Grunion slyly surged,

Then up the boughs till in the leaves

          Their heads were half submerged,

And tangled mid the silvery twigs

          Their twinkling toes converged.


“My word!” declared the Albatross

          In undulating tones,

“I fear we’ve been invaded

          By a flock of migrant Krones!”

The Puffin simply sat and picked

          Her teeth with chicken bones.


“Three lumps or five?” the Puffin cried

          As down the trunk she sped,

Colliding in collusion  

          With a fat policeman’s head.

“No, thank you,” croaked the Albatross,

          And promptly dropped down dead. 



  (With apologies to Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear)


The Wing of the Black Crow

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The Wing of the Black Crow


The wing of the black crow

                   Sails silent down the sun-blue sky.


At rest he sits, head downward-cocked,

                   Upon a barren, thorny branch;


He utters raw and raucous notes;

                   He lifts his glossy, glinting pinions,

                   He dives into the sun,


                   And diving makes his blackness jump,

                             A flash of jet,

                             A somber star,

                   To sing bright his Maker’s praise

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