4 Poems


John S.K. Climacus





for Mrs. Bennett


I used to be a prisoner,

now I'm one of the guards.

Since leaving prison I remembered it

in a rosy haze

of youth,

my first beer, first joint, first

of many things...

all potential ahead of me,

now those memories


by seeing the place again.


flashbacks of confinement,


Whitman in the lunch room, Neitzsche in

study hall,

Hesse, Goethe, Homer, Marx

as the teacher lectured on spores

or cell growth,

or didn't lecture...

on whatever it was...


Fellow inmates reincarnated

in baggy paints

hanging to their butts,

listening to their


da DA, da--DA,

da DA, da--DA,

da DA, da, DA,

da DA, da--DA,

(I am to understand that

they smoke pot, they do drugs--have I ever heard of drugs?)

Dylan's nasal twang replaced

by filth,

Joan Baez' lilting voice

by repetitive percussion.


Showing signs of intellectual curiosity

at last,

They want to know

who were the gangs when

I was in prison there?

They are astounded to hear

there were no gangs

(other than the Greeks and Trojans).


Torturing the Gerbils,

blowing each other away,

with pretend guns,

for 90 minutes;

was my own testosterone


was my own aggression that


They lie on the floor

making funny noises,

they sit and wait for the universe

to come to them,

and explain the meaning

of life.


Forced to sit for hours,

when they should be hunting,

jousting, learning the art of war,

or working in the fields

warehoused like products waiting to be

sold (cheaply)

and left to cope

in a factory setting

with drunken beatings

and savage domestic neglect;

they must learn to sit and wait,

they need the practice for the

unemployment office.

the other guards tell me,

"you can't expect much more of them



I find a copy of National Geographic

with a nice spread on Walt Whitman.

It's in their room,

in their grasp,

and they will never know it exists,

never know Whitman existed,

never know what one might do

with words.

their more recent forebearers,

still don't know either;

mechanics, vending machine lackeys,

used car salesmen, telephone solicitors,

substitute "teachers"

they are being groomed for

the future,

so why bother them with

the past?


I think about Mrs. Bennett,

former guard,

who made me an historian.

She taught those who wanted to learn,

let the others run wild,

and kept a lookout posted for

the principal.

She died in the Reagan occupation, may as well

have been in the Norman conquest

for all they care.

But, then, why should they care?

They have been robbed of a much more ancient and grand legacy than that of their high school.

Robbed of all legacy, all tradition, robbed of all

that is ancient,

and noble,

robbed of all greatness.


I let them go early, in honor of Mrs. Bennett.





Parody of Two Poems Which are Far Better than I Could Write

for both Freds

(apologies to T. S. Eliot)




I. "Ash Wednesday" Made Obvious for the One-Dimensional


Because I do not hope to read again

Because I do not think

Because I do not hope to know

I never did strive toward such things

(why should the aged consumer not become his job?)

Why should I mourn

the vanished greatness of that which is

already unseen?


Because I do not hope to be trained again

The feeble prattle in those paper things

Because I do not think

Because I do not care to know

The one and only truth, reality transcendent

Because I cannot think

Except there, where bright products flower

and colorfully clad shoppers flow, for there

is nothing more concrete.


Because I know that there is no time but the present

and no place but where I live

And nothing is more tangible to me than my

bank account

I rejoice that things are as they are

for that is what should be.

I renounce all truth, all joy, but MCI and Mastercard

Because I cannot hope to read again

Consequently, I rejoice, having to construct

a self, in which to hide my emptiness.


And I pray to Reagan to have mercy upon consumers

And I pray that I may forget all I've learned

These matters that I hardly knew to discuss

May the judgment not include penalty or interest


Because these CD's no longer gain two percent

My mentality is now small and dry

My will is non-existent

Teach us to buy and not to sell

Teach us to save stamps.


Pray for us consumers now and when we are overdrawn

"Pray for us now and at the hour of our death."


Holy Elvis, Blessed Jackie, suffer us not to mock

our ignorance with knowledge

Teach us to save and to spend

Teach us to invest

Even in the Mall

Our peace in Reagan's will

Let us ignore that rose-shaped heaven

and deconstruct all truth

Let my impulse buying and immediate gratification

be satiated in the end.


"Pray for us now, and at the hour of our death"

let my cry come unto thee.



II. Journey of the Literati


A hard drive we had of it

Just the worst time of year

For a conference, and such a long conference

The stores crowded, the papers long

Christmas, finals

No time to shop.

And the Taxis hard to get, the hotel crowded,

Sitting in the bustling lobby.

There were times we regretted the chairmanship.

Then there were the colleagues,

Cursing and grumbling at the bar,

and wanting their liquor.

And the rooms being cold, and not having

enough soap,

and the towels were too small

and they couldn't make rum drinks

and room service was so slow

there was too much noise,

the restaurant messy and charging high prices

A hard time we had of it.

In the end we preferred to stay for all the

readings, sleeping through

the boring ones,

The voices ringing in my ears, that I didn't

need to pad my vieta.


Than it came time for my paper,

a fairly temperate room,

not too many questions,

Lots of penises, binary oppositions,

"Phonemes in Melville,"

"Ann Landers as Feminist Hero,"

"Christianity: The Topos of Hierarchicalized

Totalistic Logocentracized Oppressivistic

Maleistic Aphasia quaquaquaquaqua Athambia

And `Krapps Last Tape,'"

"Eva Braun: archetype of woman's experience"

and the best one of all

"Apaophatic Resonance and Liminality

in Goethe, Joyce, and

Thelma and Louise."

All seminal "gestures"

toward gestures

of academic acuity.


Set this down,

There was a paper, there was a paper read

I can document on my CV there was a paper read

I have read papers, this paper was hard and

bitter agony:

"Frank Sinatra: Image, Taboo, and The Male Gaze,"

I returned to campus

no longer at home in the end of the final dispensation,

with a banal people, clutching their PC's.

I should be glad of another publication.






The Relationship of Things to Reality


I go to the window and stare

when the dawn is pink and yellow

and the gray mist on the horizon is

a solid wall,

while the trees bathed in blue

and violet seem fragile, illusory.


The world is ruled by concrete


by charts and graphs

and statistical reality

The higher abstractions are the

higher realities

profit margins the greater good.

Compesinos murdered in El Salvador,

children roasted in the orange fire

of napalm

whole populations torne from

the sense of place

the rape of the earth

the death of oceans

all merely fragments of higher meaning,

wheat from chaff,

contigencies in a world of

higher necessity.


The world is ruled by things we know

by signifiers

and verification

hard tangible things

we know exist,

we don't need fairytales

like the rose-shaped heaven,

or heroes who mourn,

the tricks of dead white writers.


The world is ruled by facts at hand

by profit margins and observation

by techniques gleaned

from pure objective rationality.

The unseen is unreal,

and therefore,

has no reality.

we don't need the big man

with the white beard

we don't need final causes

or a being whose existence is its



Three trees of dogwood

bloom forever on a hill

red blood poured out

in solidarity

with the victims of rationality

and an empty cave

where no one mourns.

The tallow of a thousand nights

poured out over

musty texts of dead white men


Jean D'Arc, Madame Guyon, St. Teresa

of Calcutta


and his endless sports talk

Virgil and the poet lost in the deep wood

Frany mouthing the Jesus prayer

SK, Death playing Chess with the knight,

Godard characters writing insults to American

service men on the side of a limo

all bound up in the world without end--amen.


All unreal, all ego, oppression, maleness.

Abstractions are real, and run the world,

the concrete ready-to-hand

of my checkbook,

as tangible as an overdraft,

as fulfilling as whipped cream,

as permanent as the past.

Abstraction is reality.

the unseen, fantasy,

the felt,

merely illusion.


I do not see the trees,

I see only signifiers.