Wednesday, April 4, 2012

National Poetry Month, 2012, Apollo Addresses The Poetic Nation

Since once again we find ourselves in the midst of celebrating National Poetry Month (Huzzah!) I thought I would appoint myself Apollo for a day, if only to take a break from all of the lilacs, the lambs, the suicides, political speeches, disastrous love affairs, and the endless string of drearily deep thoughts. Today, I am going to give myself over completely to absinthe drinking and total sensory derangement and have a rollicking good time as primus inter pares, the chief unacknowledged legislator of the world.

[Bing!] I am Apollo now.

I am delighted to meet you. I am a Greek god, remember, not a Green Fairy. I am a representative of a Heavenly host that is reckoned in certain places in its billions. We are an older and more experienced race than this half-plastered version of humanity one typically encounters at a poetry reading. We get no kick from champagne. Death makes us yawn. We bore very easily. We like to play games. We can organize ourselves into a pack of wolves with a twirl of a finger. Or the twist of a knife. We take a very different view of the world than most people do.

Though, perhaps, not so very much very different from the poets of old, when you consider the fate of Troy. Or Cassandra. Or the millennia of excruciating patience we gods can show in removing the eyes and arms and legs and wings from the tiniest, most innocent, most irritating Angels. Or flies.

Apollo Speaks

A way of happening, a mouth.
-W.H. Auden, In Memory of W.B. Yeats

I have a feeling open mouths are not
The most propitious places to begin
A work of Art—but I am in a spot—
Your god—Apollo. Can’t I be forgiven?
You work with the materials you’ve got.
And when you have a bunch of gifts from Heaven—
Nice teeth like these, luxurious, long hair
That bounces beautifully—you want to share.

Although I’d never send a guy to Hell
For praising his own features in this way,
Not everyone up here’s so wonderful—
So I’d be careful with that resume.
Among my peers on Mount Olympus—well—
The sad divinities who now hold sway—
A somewhat jealous spirit still prevails.
Venus will extract your fingernails

If you annoy her. All I do is rhyme—
Brain a lazy reader with my lyre.
I used to pass out plagues for a good time.
I lent my son the Chariot of Fire,
He incinerated Persia. I’m
Sorry for that. Kids. Our laws require
Celestial beings to be licensed now,
For all light vehicles—from crane to cow.

Our modes of transport differ. Even here,
In Heaven, we find harmony elusive.
Although each god has been assigned a sphere
Of influence, gods can be reclusive—
Some would prefer we didn’t interfere
In Man’s affairs. Some turn red, abusive,
Chanting, “Blah, blah, blah—not anymore—
Just look what happened with the Trojan War!”

Let Homer dwell upon that dismal plain
Where Troy once stood—that heap of stones and ash—
Her towers toppled, all those horses slain.
Life goes on. Let’s follow Aeneas
From Ilium to Carthage, on again—
To Italy—Virgil’s Aenied. That was fast:
Aeneas left the cinders of his home
And one of his descendants founded Rome.

His wife near death, dad hoisted on his back,
His son, Ascanius, clutching his right hand,
‘Mid smoke and flames—and that spine splintering crack—
I watched Aeneas assembling a band
Of refugees—still reeling from attack—
Astonished, terrified, and angry—and
I was amazed: away these people stole,
With only life—Existence—as a goal.

Now, there’s a man I could work wonders with.
When the moment for departures came,
I joined the Trojan forces. I exist
Now thanks to them: Apollo. Same name, same
Athletic youth I always was—no myth.
Some gods are good at the survival game.
Since Rome was destined to devour Greece,
I felt that Heaven ought to get a piece.

I chose Olympus, naturally, and we
Crowned Jove with victory. And Zeus, poor dear,
Our late, lamented chief has been—you’ll see.
It can be odd to be a god. One year
You’re Lord of Lightning—next you’re History—
A bunny nobody would ever fear,
Banging a drum for better batteries.
As you can tell, I am not one of these.

I am the god of Prophecy. That’s why
I tend to show up on the winning side—
Even when the contest is a tie.
You can’t prevent the turning of the tide—
Although you are at liberty to try.
The last time that I saw the Moon defied,
I heard my sister sigh, and with a shrug,
She crushed this kid’s sandcastle like a bug.

Diana’s rather moody, for a rock,
A maiden prone to madness. Take the rage
She showed Actaeon—that bewildered buck
Who stumbled on a sliver of her image
Floating in a pond. It always struck
Me as severe—given his young age.
She sent a pack of hounds to chat with him.
They ripped the lad apart—limb from limb.

The birds still speak of him, so do the trees,
“O, Actaeon! Transformed from man to deer,
And then—a frightened fragrance on the breeze.”
You may have sympathy—but let’s be clear.
My sister does exactly what she please—
She’s not—what is the phrase—not in your sphere.
We all have boundaries that we must obey.
Perhaps one day we won’t. It’s hard to say.

But when we don’t, I’ll tell you. At Delphi,
Cumae—wherever strange events occur—
I’ll dress up as a lady, for a fee,
And murmur things to kings about your Future—
Things inconsequential, friends, to me—
Since Mars, remember, is our god of War.
I’m Archery, Arts, Medicine, the Sun.
I am in charge of germs. And hydrogen.

Making music is my main concern.
The Fate of you, your pets, your family,
The gases Pompeians give off when they burn,
Their density, volume, toxicity,
How many embers children can inurn,
Are governed by a different Agency.
A different Deity—I should say,
Since we are all Olympians today.

Aren’t we? I do not count that child—
Cupid—mixing milk in with his wine.
“Pray, Bacchus, see his empty skull is filled
With burgundy—with visions so divine
He thinks he’s God Almighty.” Love has killed
More than one mortal trying to combine
The forces which set God and Man apart.
Our differences aren’t subtle. People fart.

We do not. And we look better in
A leopard, dancing, tearing off your head,
Your legs, an arm, whatever is virgin,
Or available. Somewhere I have read
Men taste more like pork than roast chicken.
Not that it really matters. I’m in bed
Most evenings well before ten o’clock—
Long before the clubs begin to rock.

I am an early riser. Homicide
I find a bit disgusting. There’s no rush
In killing for me. And it’s hard to hide
From Jove—The Thunderer. I still will blush
When I remember how I almost died
One morning. Suddenly, no warning—Whoosh!
I happened to be hunting for my sister.
How narrowly that arrow missed her!

T’was then, I think, I entered Medicine.
“First, do no harm,” I say, with emphasis.
You can thank me for aspirin, Ambien,
Peroxide, dentures, and Q-Tips. And this:
This box of Trojans—in gold foil—just in
Case anyone should try to force a kiss.
Humanity will do that. Sometimes,
Men are deaf to Reason. Even rhymes.

You are exceptional. Don’t get me wrong—
I love humanity. I love the lark.
I add a pinch of brilliance to his song
Each dawn—when half your planet’s in the dark—
When Vulcan’s snoring in his forge among
Computer guts and cannons—it’s a perk.
We’ll share a Milky Way on Sunday nights,
Admiring you, and all your satellites.

I had Vulcan make the crystal ball
I gave Cassandra—Cassie. Pretty girl.
She hated my prophetic gift. She’d call
It cursed—called me despicable. She’d hurl
That innocent glass globe against a wall.
The silly thing thought she could change the world
By shattering it! Imagine her despair
When it bounced back and hit her. How unfair!

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