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Mr Cassian, Heavy Judger of Men (poem from “School of Night”)


Originally published in Southword #37

Mr Cassian, Heavy Judger of Men

There’s no telling the sins of Gemma Drive.
We bought the house because of Dante’s wife –
Gemma Donati, and no Beatrice Street –
but it may be now because it is hell.

From the porch what pederasts I see,
what fuck-ups, white-trash, whoresons and rapists
all masquerading as the geriatric and somnolently retired
or as newlyweds with a starter-house.

What suicides, what nightmares, lethargy, doldrums,
what suspicion, what peccadillos,
what narcolepsy and sadness they secret away,
some garage light not changed since World War Two
still oozing out its yellow at one a.m.

Strange cars circle the block and speed away
ambulances arrive and go away without a corpse
the cops come but leave with no one in chains,
the live-at-home loser twenty-something sons
jerk each other off with their souped-up Hondas,
and there’s an ex-con out walking somebody’s dog.

This must be the real why people have jobs
or why there’s daycare or why two incomes became inevitable,
because even with my stellar mind I go crazy.
I was not trained for days of concentration,
not raised for days of continued thought.

And so in my breaks from the quattrocento
in my breaks from Byzantium
and the sudden haul of Greek philosophy and icon painting
landing on the Adriatic side of Italy,
and so in my breaks from the barbarian migrations
and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain
or their slaughter in the Rhineland 1095,
or in the need for wisdom and magic (folk or sophisticated)
for a good birth a good life and a good death –
or in another temple to Mithras unearthed beneath London,
or in Michelangelo himself there at the spot
when the Laocoön was pulled out of seventeen centuries of ground:
three life-size marble bodies linked by the serpents
come from the sea to strangle them,
an astonishing lesson in the art of muscle and agony
and the controlling rigor needed to create it –

in my break from all of these I sit on the porch and judge such other lives
that must I’m sure mirror the history I consume
that must I hope bring me closer than I am to them,
those who are actually oblivious to words, art, and past –
and so what tragedies, what loneliness,
what regrets and unread books and what badly written ones,
what misplaced affection and perfectly placed sadness,
what toiling away, what endless pages.