Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Inhuman Henry (or Cruelty to Fabulous Animals) - A.E. Housman

This week I've been obsessed with this bit of doggerel from my favorite poet. I hadn't bothered to read through his uneven poems filed under light verse and juvenalia in my Oxford Housman and so had missed this one. But I broke it out to read to for my friends' children last weekend. It was a hit and the line "eat the dog and drink the cat has been running through my head" since.

Oh would you know why Henry sleeps,
And why his mourning mother weeps,
And why his weeping mother mourns?
He was unkind to unicorns.

No unicorn, with Henry’s leave,
Could dance upon the lawn at eve,
Or gore the gardener’s boy in spring,
Or do the very slightest thing.

No unicorn could safely roar
And dash its nose against the door,
Nor sit in peace upon the mat
To eat the dog or drink the cat.

Henry would never in the least
Encourage the heraldic beast:
If there were unicorns about
He went and let the lion out.

The lion, leaping from its chain,
And glaring through its tangled mane,
Would stand on end and bark and bound
And bite what unicorns it found.

And when the lion bit a lot
Was Henry sorry? He was not.
What did his jumps betoken? Joy.
He was a bloody-minded boy.

The Unicorn is not a Goose,
And when they saw the lion loose
They grew increasingly aware
That they had better not be there.

And oh, the unicorn is fleet
And spurns the earth with all its feet:
The lion had to snap and snatch
At tips of tails it could not catch.

Returning home, in temper bad,
It met the sanguinary lad,
And clasping Henry with its claws
It took his legs between its jaws.

“Down, lion, down!” said Henry, “Cease!
My legs immediately release.”
His formidable feline pet
Made no reply, but only ate.

The last words that were ever said
By Henry’s disappearing head,
In accents of indignant scorn,
Were “I am not a unicorn.”

And now you know why Henry sleeps,
And why his mother mourns and weeps,
And why she also weeps and mourns;
So now be kind to unicorns.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Angel with a Pair of Scales - Ludwig Steinherr (trans. Rita Dove)

      St. Michael, Altenstadt (Bavaria)

The way I move
through these flowing
autumn days
breath eat sleep
make arrangements
touch someone's face
turn the leaves of journals

an acrobat gingerly on his high wire --

and only
the angel
in the mighty light
of the fresco
is holding his breath

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

European Signs I Woefully Misread

During my recent expedition to Scandinavia and the Baltic, I encountered perplexing signage which I admit, being American and not used to subtle European symbols, got me in more than a few sticky situations. Here are a few:

Do not give flowers.

The American dream (a car, house, and children) is strictly

Jump the shark.

Though dogs and cigarettes are not allowed. Pole dancing, on the
other hand, is fine.

Modern art this way.

Push button for inferno.

In 100 meters, run someone smaller than yourself down and punch
them in the armpit.

I have no idea.

Free hugs within.

An Epitaph - Callimachus (trans. William Johnson Cory)

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Memoriam

Gertrude Petra Landrum
(June 10, 2011 - June 10, 2011)

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom...

(Isaiah 40:11)

In Memoriam

Gertrude Petra Landrum
(June 10, 2011 - June 10, 2011)

Dear daughter,

We called you Gertrude as a placeholder before you were born and when you were taken from us after only a few minutes, it didn't seem right to call you anything else. It took me ages to be able to write anything about you but I finally did this January and wrote about naming you. There's so much I would like to say to you. But I'll say happy birthday for now. I miss you. I'll be seeing you.


And what should I call you, little daughter? Cartographer of expectation,
the blue veins beneath your translucent skin a map to the branches of hope

and all its tributaries? Strong spear that shakes itself loose from my grasp
and falls to earth without a sound, tight as I grip? Rock against which will shatter

the future’s glassine dodecahedron? Repetition of my toes
and the toes of my maternal grandfather before me? Foxes run wild

in the vineyard. Sailors go down to the sea in ships. Antelope leap
across the sunburned veldt, faster than the fastest lion. And you sleep

attended by my indelible wishes, by holding on and letting go,
by the instantaneity of pure affection, by love which is all you’ll ever know.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Marginal Notes from a Book of Horace

Spring has overcome the dim days of April. I wake in the morning light, sure I've overslept, to find that it's still early. I haven't written in months, here or elsewhere. 30/30 drained me and there was nothing in the bleak months to speak of. But now the black days of winter all are through; life returns with the blossoms. I don't often post my own poetry; I don't often post here at all anymore. But here's a poem for the day, dear reader, something to break the silence between us.


Let your hair down before you pull it back again. Time passes like a river,
carries us to death’s great Atlantic. But for now, we have these days
of pretty insobriety –– pleasure boating, wine, and walks in the orchard.
Raise your cup to the dusking light. Life isn’t always vernal flowers
and the pink moons of spring. But sometimes it is.