Category Archives: Vignettes

The Lizard– a slam poem

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As heard on the latest PDAIS podcast (episode 17), my contribution to our Slam Poetry segment.  Enjoy!

If you’d like to hear me perform it, here’s the link: http://profdave.libsyn.com/pdais-017

The Lizard

by Lillibet

Absurd.

Clearly.

but–

‘More scared of you than you are of them.’

Not likely.

 

Stella, nose pointed, tail poised, legs primed for action

Nudges the blinds, opening…revealing

 

A hole in the screen, too tempting for this fine fellow, fatal mistake

There in the corner he wriggles— squirmed his way from predator to prey

I hesitate

She pounces

He flees

The chase is on!

 

Advantage Stella, sharp senses, whiskers, clever paws, tail to twitch

Me—with my weaker weapons, plastic cups and panic,

Both of us hoping to capture

He, in desperation, dodging under the desk, diving

From kindness and cruelty

 

A capture!  Triumphal procession to the living room.

A release! 

Not emperor’s mercy but a tyrant queen’s humor

A game to her

Run, little fellow, run

Me, stricken in two minds: save the doomed one,

and please God don’t let it run across my feet!

Too late– 

Again

Again

 

Then sudden…. Success!  Offering the panicked one

Ok… the other panicked one…

An alternative to paws and claws and jaws

Look, a nice cup.

Clapping the other atop it—no climbing out, please…. Please

Rushing out to the garden

Toppling the fellow over the fence—safety maybe in the ferns

 

Back inside

Throwing out the cups—I know I’ll never be able to use them again.

Stella, sadly, tracing where the games had been

Longing for bygones.

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one of the rank and file

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In my continuing series creating backstories based on epic literature, here’s a bit from Illiad.

One of the Rank and File

           

            Archanon was the only son of Darthian the Lesser and his wife, Lucilina, both bakers who died in a tragic baking accident.  His grandmother and grandfather took him into their home after the accident and raised Archanon as their own son; however, while he was still a beardless boy, he left, charging off into battle.  Archanon shipped away into the glory of war unwed, leaving his grandmother’s eyes wet with sorrow and his grandfather’s heart beating proud, though broken. 

The excitement-craving young men from the village joined the troops at Syme, under the command of the handsome Nireus.  Their band of two thousand men in their three sparkling cedar ships seemed unimaginably large.  Archanon thought they would be the greatest forces in all of the Argive army. 

The Symian ships faced a stormy voyage, during which Archanon kept to his bed or his position at the oars.  No matter where he was, he remained violently sick, as were many of his comrades.  Finally, they arrived at the beaches of Troy, shaken but with their spirit of adventure intact.  Archanon followed his commander down the gangplank and stopped dead in his tracks.  Swarming all over the beach, and flowing between the massive tent camp and the beached ships like a mighty river, were hundreds of thousands of hundreds of men and animals.  All around him was noise, clamor, and shouting. 

Archanon looked up from the spectacles before him to find himself alone; his troops had marched away down toward the camp.  At first, he thought he had lost his only family in this strange new world, but just before his moment of panic, he caught sight of the red horsehair and plated bronze helmet that was Nireus’s trademark.  Archanon ran like the wind until he caught the tail end of the troops.  As they passed by the established troops, some men said they had arrived late in the war—too late because the glorious battles were nearly over.  ‘Not our fault!’  Archanon thought, ‘The news took so long to reach us back home.  Who goes home from war to ask for reinforcements?’ 

Although he was stunned by all the activity around him, Archanon was bored after the first few days of camp chores, standing guard, and cooking for the seemingly endless feasts.  Archanon was tired of work and was itching for the scent of battle.  He had signed up for the army to have the excitement of war and sea travel; yet, here he was washing tent canvas, shining armor, and standing guard over the camp.  Boring.

        Early one morning, after along night of guard duty when Archanon wanted nothing but his bed, all the chiefs came marching out of the council tent.  The call went up to gather at the meeting grounds.  Rumors spread between the men.  Whispered tendrils of thoughts crept around the camp about great battles to come and royal treasure to be won.  Some soldier even nudged him with his elbow and told him in great secrecy that great king Agamemnon himself would speak at the meeting…

            “…Rank and file

 Streamed out behind and rushed like swarms of bees…

 Dark hordes swirling into the air, this way, that way

 So the many armed platoons from the ships and tents

 Came marching on, close file, along the deep wide beach

 To crowd the meeting grounds, and Rumor, Zeus’ crier,

 Like wildfire, blazing among them, whipped them on.”  (Homer 104)

a poem for wiglaf

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Continuing from my vignette from Inferno, here is a poem telling the story of Wiglaf, the protegé to the epic hero Beowulf [I read the Seamus Heaney translation.  As one of my teachers remarked: “Seamus’s work shows that if Beowulf had really thought about it, he would have been Irish.”]

Foreword:

Beowulf is so fascinating and heart-wrenching because it condenses the rise and fall of a great tribe into one man.  Beowulf, as he dies, passes his power onto Wiglaf, his only supporter at the end and the son that Beowulf wishes he had.  I think that some scop would have also sung about the tragedy of Wiglaf—the song of a good man who just isn’t an epic hero.  Like Hector in the Iliad, Wiglaf doesn’t have the power to hold together the world that has already begun to disintegrate around him, and so his story is not an epic, but a tragedy.  I have tried to create a shortened version of a Wiglaf song, in as close to the same style as I can working within the confines of our modern English…

Then the king in his great-heartedness unclasped

the collar of gold from his neck and gave it

to the young thane, telling him to use

it and the warshirt and the gilded helmet well

“You are the last of us, the only one left

of the Waegmundings.  Fate swept us away,

sent my whole brave high-born clan

to their final doom.  Now I must follow them.”

That was the warrior’s last word.  (Heaney 189)

The Lay of Wiglaf

Beowulf, great king                       Led the God-blessed Geats

Through many battles,                  A sturdy leader he.

Killer of evil things,                       He loved fame,

But drunk, he slew                         No hearth-companions.

Fifty-year monarch,                      The gracious ring-giver 

Honored true thanes.                      That was a good king.    

 

The Lord of Life                                 Decreed that Wiglaf      

The most loyal,                                 Who battled the dragon

Beside the old king’s side,               Receive the golden collar

And witness the going                    Of the greatest of the Geats.

Last Wægmunding,                        The young hero wept

To see his spirit-father                    Breathe his last,

Surrounded by gold,                         The cursed horde of the wyrm.

 

Wiglaf, now king,                          Lambasted the craven men.

Coward-monger,                               He rebuked those who

Deserted their ring-giver               In his fatal dragon battle.

“I carried my courage                      Into battle with my Lord

But too few remained.                   You too are now alone,

Oh shame-faced ones.                       You have disgraced yourselves.

Enemies will plunder                     Our homes and hearths—

Only guts and ashes                          Will decorate our beloved hall,

 Leaving our wives                          Homeless—our children

Covered in thane-blood                  And bereft of wergild.”

 

The abashed thanes                          Honored their fallen king

As he had desired.                              His funeral pyre and mound

Were the greatest                             Remaining in all memory. 

Then, Loyal Wiglaf                        Began his reign as ring-giver,

Gathering to himself                       The young men of the Geats,

Teaching them all                           Honor and loyalty in war.

 

When the tribes                                Hostile to the Geats,

From all around,                              Discovered the new king

Had but one battle                          Under his war-belt,

They swarmed                                    Wasp-like into Geatland

Descending in waves                       Across the doomed land,

Pillaging and plundering            Their path to destruction.

Flesh flew from                                  Frightful flashing swords,

Drinking blood                                  Like fountain-water.

Fires burned forever,                        Lighting the night sky

 

Wiglaf, young ring-giver,            Grasped at victory,

Leading his thanes                          Into the slaughter,

Calling out to men and God         For a righteous outcome.

Every man charged                          Forward with the king,

But when the vicious                    Tribes bared their teeth,

The Geat-men turned tail,           Leaving their leader alone.

 

He refused to weep,                          Though sorrow coursed

Throughout his heart.                    Doomed, the Geats

Would have nothing—                 No ring-giver left—

Would be only alone.                     Their cowardice within

Their hearts, like poison,               Killing from within,

As their enemies                                Destroy from the outside.

 

The young dying hero                     Held his hands to God,

Gave up his spirit                             Onto the quiet that

Is beyond death                                  For the loyal thanes.

Wiglaf let one tear flow,              Remembering his fallen lord

From long ago,                                   And left to join him.

a vignette from “Inferno”

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When I was taking a class on epic literature, we were required to keep a reading journal.  Once a week or so, we could wander from literary criticism and write a more creative entry using the text as our inspiration.  Here’s one of mine based on lines from Dante’s “Inferno.”  [see symptom 2 of Seven Symptoms of an English Major]

***

“I am Friar Alberigo,” he answered therefore,

“the same who called for the fruits from the bad garden.

Here I am given dates for figs full store.”  (Ciardi 278)

The following is my version of what led Friar Alberigo to his place in the ninth circle of Dante’s The Inferno. 

Figs from a Bad Garden 

            One afternoon, as the bright sunshine sparkled down upon my beautiful vineyard.  I was picking some of my best burgundy grapes as a present for the banquet I was holding in honor of my older brother Manfred when I found myself daydreaming as the little white butterflies fluttered in the distance among the ripening fruit. 

  

The previous year, Manfred had invited me to dine with him, his wife and the Bishop, as well as the sundry other guests whose presences are mandatory at those occasions.  I was rather puzzled, because Manfred and I had never really gotten along well.  Our mother had always favored him, and then I took the cowl, of which Manfred never approved.  He had always believed that I should have followed in the footsteps of father and hired myself out to the latest political party to make quick money.  I had told him literally thousands of times that I wanted to be my own man, even if it meant pledging myself to God, becoming Friar Alberigo in the process, but he simply would not let the matter drop.

 

            At the banquet, I quickly came to understand that Manfred wanted to rehash the ancient argument.  I finally lost my temper with him and asked him if he wanted to take our disagreement outside.  Instead, he slapped me on the face in front of all of the important guests and told me not to be a hysterical little boy.  He then sat down and finished eating his dripping, gluttonous beef.

 

            At that moment, I knew that I must exact my revenge and reclaim my dignity under the same circumstances in which it had been shattered.  As I took my seat again, and, like a soul-less thing, mechanically finished the meal without tasting a thing, various evil schemes rolled around in my boiling skull.  The heat in my cheeks kept the contents of my brain churning throughout the rest of the evening, and on beyond that.  Finally, I knew, and I understood–an instant strike wouldn’t do.  Only delicate, exacting patience would do justice. 

           

           Now, back in my vineyard, I called my men, the ones who would do the dirty deed, and handed them both large, overflowing baskets of my precious blood grapes.  “Now, when I call for the fruit, that will be your signal.  You know your jobs.  Manfred will lose much more than his dignity tonight.  He will lose his life and his heir, double retribution for an unforgivable crime.”

***

“I am Friar Alberigo,” he answered therefore,

“the same who called for the fruits from the bad garden.

Here I am given dates for figs full store.”  (Ciardi 278)