Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rondeaux - Paul Lawrence Dunbar


Not they who soar, but they who plod
Their rugged way unhelped to God
Are heroes, they who higher fare
And flying fan the upper air
Miss all the toil that hugs the sod.
'Tis they whose backs have felt the rod,
Whose souls to sorrow have been bare,
Can smile upon defeated care,
         Not they who soar.

High up there are no thorns to prod
Nor boulders hiding 'neath the clod
To him the keenness of the share,
For flight is ever free and rare--
But heroes they, the soil who've trod
         Not they who soar.


'Twixt smile and tear so wags the world--
Today on happy pinions whirled,
We tempt the blue and spirit--gay
We neighbor with the stars--today
We seek the heavens planet-pearled.

Tomorrow, ah, our wings are furled,
And Heaven seems oh so far away--
We lift our voices up to pray
        'Twixt smile and tear.

And then in eddies swiftly swirled--
Poor straws upon the current twirled,
We cling, and lose and wage the fray;
Not where we will, but where we may
We lodge, on some far shore wave hurled.
         'Twixt smile and fear.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Complete Sonnet Series

The Sonnet Series


Every decision, it seems, is a trade-off,
and each choice,
a rejection of all other options.

We oversimplify
to mask our true feelings.
We generalize
to avert the difficult question.

Our friendship, our love is a complex being,
a life all its own
with wants and needs
that test our resolve.

Is it a mistake, a crime to feed it, to allow
it to blossom and grow?


The things that I've always wanted, I'll always want:
tea for two at bookstore cafes;
chess games and poetry in city parks;
tender kisses at midnight
under summer moonlight;
white wine with honey-roasted almonds...

The things that I've laboriously earned, I'll laboriously keep:
enduring friendships and trusts;
memories of special moments
when love was sweet;
the deep-seated satisfaction of success;
lessons learned from failure.

November 1987

Sonnet #1

Dear friend, the sonnet seemed to be the best of forms
To test and gage the status of our friendship born
Those years ago, amid the various interludes of summer’s nights;
Failure to give life to such a sweet creation would be quite
Disarming, and alarming, and a waste of all those precious
Talents, borrowed from the Muse of song and word and deed;
And if by chance our meeting and our wanting were unfounded,
We owe it to ourselves to search and find the function of that need,

Dear friend, though each has walked his separate path
To glory and to honor, let not the fleeting summer’s wrath
Blot out the blessings of the Sun to feed and nourish all we gained
And earned through work and play and love and joy and pain.
If reading sonnets opens up your vision,
Send me one to reveal your heart’s position

Jacksonville, March 1989

Sonnet #2

You try to steer me, gently, on a course
avoiding you, then call my love a butterfly’s,
point it to flowers new.  “Take my deep desires
elsewhere” is the song you sing to me.
“Let’s always hold fond memories of the
love that used to be.” Well I’ve been around,
I know this town, I hear all that you say,
you’d rather not get serious, just be
best friends at play. But my soul’s a mighty hunter
that has locked in on its prey. I will stalk
it, like the lion, in a very patient way.
And just when you least expect it, I will
be there for your needs, and we'll smile when we
remember other flowers...

Jacksonville, November, 1989

Sonnet #3

A wounded beast, I stalk the corridors,
the passageways of my hidden, broken soul;
hungering for freedom from the wretched pain
that hems in, that locks up, and that ties in knots
my twisted thoughts, and renders everything
I touch an ill-begotten, uninspired blotch.
The memories of our June embrace
I struggle to preserve.  The touch, the taste
of love was sweet and tender, not the salt
and rust my present occupation yields to me.
Yet as we speak, I pace the halls, the
closets of our mind, and searching, I uncover
the one I came to know and grew to love
Yet lives, and writes, inspired from above.

Mayport, February, 1990

Sonnet #4

Your sonnets reached my mailbox today.
I plunged into them like a dog in heat.
Absorbing them, my hardened soul was moved
to tears of passion, blinding, bittersweet.
The symphony of words you now compose,
Resulting from deep inspirations, pure,
You weave, majestically, as from an ancient source,
And share with me and cause me to conjure
New images. Lines that bear the current and
The voltage of the engine of my soul,
Your whispers loosen knots that bind me,
Your words unwind me, make me whole.
And work I must to now retain
These prayers I send up in your name.

Jacksonville, March 1990

Sonnet #5

Dear friend my evening well was spent
Engaged in thoughts’ exchange, review,
Revealing my ill soul’s intent
To heal itself, be born anew.
I love your rhythms, rhymes and notes,
They lift my spirits, higher, ever.
You are the perfect antidote
For poisoned darts and hearts that sever.
Tonight I need a stronger brew,
Poured in a mug, steeped with emotion,
Some blend of herbs my fathers knew,
a wine of sleep, a witches’ potion.
My thirst is far from being quenched.
My heart and soul in pain are drenched.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #6

I’m torn between two sinking ships,
Two jealous mistresses who hate.
To choose one is to choose them both:
The choice is clear; I hesitate
Deciding and the moment slips away.
New ships are landing at my pier
From places strange, from shores untold.
They beckon me to come aboard,
I hesitate. Once more events unfold
Revealing feelings that are blue.
My pilot bids me change my course,
Steer clear of danger, shallow shoals.
I navigate the ship through storms
To reach the resting place of souls.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #7

Dear faithful friend, the spirit
Of the verses that we write,
Excites us and invites us
To relive that summer’s night.
There are those who do not put stock
In resurrection’s power;
They hem and haw at warnings
Of the coming of the hour.
I too had doubts about beliefs
That dead could come to life,
Then my forgotten love for you
Was resurrected, born anew . . .

A stronger and far deeper love
Is one twice born, sent from above.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #8

Unclothed we come into this world, possession-less, alone,
The odyssey to reach each goal acquaints us with new pain,
Each stumbling block, despite the odds, becomes a stepping stone,
And every loss, a predecessor to a greater gain.

Our meeting was revealed to me when I was but a child:
A revelation of a form, a loveliness, pristine,
Yet planted in my heart was that pure vision, undefiled,
Someday to manifest itself just as it was foreseen.

I found you when I lacked the wherewithal to make you mine,
Distressed, perplexed, I felt compelled to spell my love that June.
That summer’s love was but a glimpse into a world divine,
A harbinger of better days, of times more opportune.

We’ll meet again and then we must decide upon the hour
When we’ll allow our destinies to intertwine and flower.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #9

We’ve been delayed from getting underway.
This pause affords me time to write to you
Some thoughtful verse, to contemplate, to pray,
To call my father’s gods, subdue
The passion, pain, excitement of the day.
I read your sonnets, gifts of Spring,
About our love one June.
I miss our chats when I’m away at sea.
Communion with you makes me know I’m blessed.
The poet in me prays you’ll always be
My friend, my lover, object of my quest,
And sonneteer of magic poetry.

March love outlives the summer’s fling,
‘Cause summer ends too soon.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #10

When overburdened with the cares and woes
Of everyday travail, I take a pause
To recollect, arrange my thoughts, compose
Some verse for you, attempting to disclose
A word, a clause, the laws that bind our hearts
Together in a single work of art.
Our love cannot be bound by words and notes,
Though flawed, confined to secrecy, and mute,
We can’t stand on a mountaintop, promote
Abroad this feeling, though it keeps our boat
Afloat amid the sunken wrecks, unmarked,
Unseen by those who fail to read the charts . . .
I love you, yes, I can’t ignore the force
That steers me steady on life’s stormy course.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #11

Before I fall asleep each night I read
The poems you’ve sent: they are my prayers, my hope,
My joy, prescription for my timeless need.
I read them twice, I measure every slope
And curve, defining and deriving their
Delights, despite the doom you recommend
Our end would be if we should ever touch
Our lips to lips, our flesh to flesh again.
My compass true, my anchor sound, I’ll find
The key to treasures long forgotten, long
Unrecognized, preserved within the mind
Of poets who still sing the sonnet’s song.
And you, my friend, write on your sullen dirge.
I wager we’ll survive its sterile purge.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #12 

One April day the crew got underway,
With Captain's-gig and hopes and spirits high,
Embarking on a lark to old St. Aug,
To seek for LUCE the blessing of the fleet.
We passed shacks, mansions, rich and poor that lined
The shore. Along the beach the sand was brown
Like mud; ebb tide exposed the rotted posts
Where fishing boats and captain's gigs could land.
LUCE led the slow procession past the stands
Where stood the Bishop, color guard, and friends,
He sprinkled us with water from his hands,
And smiled and spoke his blessing for the fleet:
God bless the fleet that shields our shores from harm,
Protect the ships that silence war's alarm.

Mayport, April 1990

Sonnet #13

A young man's life expired on my ship
Today.  He walked aboard at dawn, intent
(One must assume) to start his day, his life
Anew.  Then suddenly, without consent,
Without the chance to bargain, beg, or plead,
The messenger of death unsheathed his sword,
Cut off the breath, suppressed the beating heart
Of life once vibrant, cocksure, confident.

A young man died, was his the first, the last
To reach the end of dreams, the final breath
To take? When all the storms of life have passed,
And evil's jurisdiction over souls
Is brought to naught, the truth, once crucified,
Will rise to save the souls of hopes that died.

Mayport, April 1990 

Sonnet #14

Dear friend, I listen to your poems of late,
And contemplate the dreaded thought of life
Without the prospect of your fond embrace;
I reminisce about that kiss one June:
Too soon, too late to consummate; too true
To be denied, too pure to not be sure
That God intended for our souls to dwell
As one, exclusive, all-embracing love---
No matter what the future holds in store,
I did, I do I’ll always love you more
And more; though distance separate us far,
I’ll search the constellations for that star
That shines in you. And should I die, too soon,
Apart from you, we’ll meet again one June.

Jacksonville, April 1990

Sonnet #15

Dear friend, with pen in hand and feelings true
I sing for you this song. Despite my voice,
Too base in places to be understood,
You’ll sense the message: soothing, moving, light,
Disarming, satisfying. Rendezvous
Tonight with me, take flight, delight, rejoice
In that we share this love, exchange this word
That lives past sunsets, through the darkest night.
I can’t contain the energy this thought
Now generates: it makes me want to dance,
Sing, shout, tell all the worlds, turn somersaults;
It makes me grateful, thankful for romance.
When passing passions blue bid me adieu,
I seek safe harbors, true, kind friend, near you.

Mayport, April 1990

Sonnet #16

Today I watched the shuttle launched towards space.
A tail of fire plowed the southern morning sky
Until it disappeared. I thought about
The people there, behind the scenes, who made,
It all occur. There's someone there whose life
Is less than free from care, a lonely heart,
Dis-eased, distressed, beset by worries, woes,
Who, overcoming all, finds sweet the reaching
Of the goal. There're happy ones who feel the tinge
Of sadness at the thought of those who've missed
By fate the thrill of launch complete, the charm,
The pure romance of making dreams come true.
The shuttle jets toward heaven, far away
From troubles, closer still to hopes ideal.

Mayport, April 1990

Sonnet #17

Dear friend I left our poems ashore to gain
A clear and fresh perspective on romance
So new, unfolding through these notes exchanged
By mail. In some respects I'm at a loss
For words that rhyme: these thoughts, sublime, contain
The elements of hope divine, the chance
That you might share, with me, again, unchanged
Thrills sought and found that star-crossed night in June.
It can't be as it was. It must be less
Or more. Our lust for life has aged, matured,
We've wined and dined on bittersweets, endured
The loss and gain of joy's and pain's excess.
And yet I can't forget that night in June,
When we read Shelley, kissed, and touched the moon.

Mayport, May 1990

Sonnet #18

The spirit's come and gone. And yet remains
The hull, the shell wherein no true love thrives
Today. The salvaged traces laugh at me,
At us for make-believing fairy-tales
And happy endings where romance is sweet,
Where love runs deep, where passions overflow,
Eclipsing sun and moon and night and day.
The spirit waves good-bye and with a sigh
I lift my eyes, my chin, my sinking heart
To God, to plead for strength to understand
This plan, this life so fraught with strife, so full
Of chance and happenstance and foiled romance.
The deed is done, its end is near. Revere
The strength that overcomes a darkened year.

Jacksonville, May 1990

Sonnet #19

Two months have passed since last I read from you
A poem, wherein you bid your heart awake,
Return again, transcend that hellish gore
Where life and love are but the vapid glow
Which covers, hides and smothers innocence.
I beg to understand, to know the truth
About that grave whereof you speak, where fools
Like me are brought, at last, to dismal ends.
My love of life is greater than my hope
That we might share again the joy we knew
That June. Another spring is come, and June
Will visit soon enough to cast its spell.
My love for poems and poets knows no end—
I can’t be just the object of your pen.

Jacksonville, June 1990

Sonnet #20

Dear friend, take up your pen again, compose
Those works of art that live and breathe and sing
The rhapsody of love and hope. Revive
Anew in you the spirit of the Muse
To guide, to entertain, and to enthuse.
Restore the democratic art, the urge
To write, embraceable, attainable
By all. Take up your pen, today, obey
God’s highest call: express the good, the true,
The beautiful. Articulate in verse
Life’s purest, deepest, noblest sentiments;
Preserve in rhyme and rhythm secrets sent.
Take up your pen again, the times demand
Your words be heard, your dreams rise up and stand.

Jacksonville, July 1990

Sonnet #21

Remember years ago when we first met?
You selling books, me browsing, reading books
At Brandon’s store? We were so young, and life
So unrevealed, so full of promises
And boundless hopes and dreams, and guarantees
And opportunities. You went away.
I stayed and made mistakes. We met again,
You east, me west, you school, me ships and seas.
Confused, we erred and severed friendship’s bond,
And all seemed lost between us save a thread,
A laser beam of hope that, over time,
Compressed, distilled and purified, survived
Until today. We meet again. What fate
Awaits is ours to plan, to recommend.

Jacksonville, July 1990

Sonnet #22

I look back to the time we shared and smile,
And smile and grin and laugh with joy untapped
Before that smile. Our spirits span the miles
That separate our hearts, that keep us trapped
Apart, detached, disjointed from that source
of strength, of love the gods bequeathed to gods
At birth. We rendezvous beyond, outside
The force of chance and fate. Our senses fuse,
United endlessly in time and space;
The spark of life ignites and multiplies,
Acknowledging a power all its own.
Dear friend I can't ignore the call of June:
In just a few short weeks we'll meet, we'll taste
The chilled sweet wine, fermented, aged and pure.

Greensboro, May 1991
Sonnet #23

Dear faithful friend I count each passing day,
I pray for time to instantly elapse,
Events to fill the gaps that separate
And isolate my life from thine. Oh fate,
Do draw me nearer, nearer to the heart
That beats in sync, in step with mine-- to thee,
To thee, sweet angel of my childhood dreams!
I'll smile to see you, touch you, taste your smile,
And all the while my soul has longed to lodge
Near yours will seem like but a brief delay,
A short, short stay away from heaven's bliss.
I fantasize that when we meet we'll kiss,
And cry, and tears will rinse away, dissolve
The walls we've built to hold in check our love.

E. Palo Alto, July 1991

Sonnet #24

Dear friend, perhaps our paths may cross again:
Perchance, we’ll meet together at the top,
Or down below, beneath the crowds, inside
The underground. Perhaps we’ll be united
By a cause, a hope, a dream, a fantasy . . .
Perhaps we’ll join together out of fear
Or love for something we perceive to be.
It matters not my love, the force, the source
That consecrates the ground on which we'll meet:
It matters not the season of the year
(Though June is sweet!), nor the place that destiny
Prescribes, we’ll meet! The Muses tell us so!
Though circumstance as yet precludes the fate
The gods have planned, I wait, I wait, I wait...

E. Palo Alto, August 1991

Sonnet #25

Sweet peace, spring love was never meant to last.
But we've been blessed by chance and fate to taste
Its bittersweetness, to feel its incandescence...
Sweet peace, I tremble at the thought of touching you,
I stumble, hesitatingly, over-anxiously
As we touch, as our lips meet,
As our heartbeats synchronize.

Our paths may never cross again as in
this random moment, our lips may never meet,
complete, again, and spring, sweet peace,
for you and I, may never reappear ...
This word is all that I possess to give,
and all is all my fragile soul can bear.
Sweet dreams, sweet peace, I hear your angels' wings.

St. Louis, March 1992

Sonnet #26

Sweet peace, spring love was never meant to last:
Its budding branches bear a tempting fruit,
Whose taste is bittersweet and innocence
That glows with incandescent subtlety.
Acknowledging spring's temporariness,
I tremble at the thought of touching you:
I fear your petals may unfold too soon,
And, falling to the ground, disintegrate.
I stumble as our lips approach, then meet,
Our heartstrings and our heartbeats synchronized.
Spring love intoxicates us: spirits fuse,
Revealing in each other secret worlds.
Sweet dreams, sweet peace, I hear your angels' wings.
My winter-weary soul awaits next spring.

St. Louis, March 1992

Sonnet #27

Sweet peace, spring love was never meant to last:
It's just a stint, a pause, a brief delay
In what is otherwise a boring, gray
Sojourn we call our lives. Today her buds
And blossoms tantalize our eyes; in haste
We contemplate the taste of spring romance.
Sweet peace, spring's bittersweetness gives us cause
To recollect and circumspect love's laws;
And yet, spring love commands her subtle dues,
And moves our thawing thoughts to feel her views.
Spring love intoxicates us: drunkenly
We stumble, stagger, tremble, wild and free.
Sweet dreams, sweet peace, I hear your angels' wings,
My drifting, weathered soul awaits next spring.

St. Louis, March 1992

Sonnet #28

A lynch mob forms and dissipates each day
Conversing and rehearsing how they plan
To seal the fate of those they've chose to slay.
The eager group, polite despite, is dressed
To kill, to maim, to burn some flesh, to swing
A body from a tree until it's gasped
Its last. Horrendous though it seems, they cheer
And celebrate this morbid mass of death.
The bulging eyeballs slime through charred remains
That were his head, while children poke with sticks,
Investigate the flesh that's left, the parts
That didn't burn, that wouldn't yield to flames . . .

St. Louis, April 1992

Sonnet #29

I fight with all my waning strength
Distrustfulness and self-suspicious fear
That seeks free rent within my heart and soul.
The night's uncertainty surrounds me
And whispers in my ear: "Take arms, retreat;
Resist, cooperate. The will, the faith
To overcome escapes my grasp each moment
I attempt to make it mine. At times
It seizes me, this fear, engulfing
Like a parasite my source of energy.
I cannot let it win! My soul must hold
Its ground! Though wounded, bloodied, battered,
I must be … justified.
The sword of victory and peace is drawn.
The darkest part of night precedes the dawn.

St. Louis, December 1991

Sonnet #30 

"This is the Captain, this is a strategic launch!
Battlestations!" rings around my soul,
And rousing me from sleepiness and slumber,
Demands that I assume my chosen role.
We rise up, like a beast, from ocean’s bottom,
The hatches open, doomsday is at hand;
We push the buttons, random pick the numbers,
Then send the missiles after our command.

And afterward the afterword is zero…
There’s no one left to tell us how we sinned;
We are survivors, that makes us the hero,
We build the world anew and make amends.
But how can we ignore, erase our wrong?
We pay the price; we are the best, the strong?

Bangor Submarine Base, February 1983

Sonnet #32

My love for you is like a fire, raging,
Self-contained and self-sustaining, flaming
Brightly, all-consuming, all-embracing,
Separating, burning all my dross away.
How is it that the flame which burns my flesh
And sears my senses purifies my soul?
Why must it be that pain and pleasure, love
And hate co-habitate in hopes and dreams?

It seems, and it must be that fear hates love
As much as hate fears truth, as truth loves light.
It seems, and it must be my plight, to seek
Your soul, to fan the flame I fear the most.
My love for you is like a fire, raging,
Self-contained and self-sustaining, flaming.

Washington, August 1992

Sonnet #33

I tossed the ball to fall within her range
of view.  She thanked me with a friendly smile.
I looked into her somewhat saddened eyes
and found a friendly home, to my surprise.
Inside she showed me to an empty place,
and bid me have a seat and rest my soul.
I fell asleep, I went into a trance,
She smiled again, I touched her eyes, the doors
That opened wide for me (for me alone,
I'd be so vain to dream ... ).
I watched her pupils dilate from within,
Behind the lids that always blink too soon.
I tossed the ball again to fall within her range
of view.  She thanked me with a smile.

Harper's Ferry, October 1992

Sonnet #34

We sought asylum after we were freed.
Resettlement and refuge was our hope
And dream. We recognized that we had been
Excluded from the human race, and yet,
We chose to cast our buckets where we were.
Our nobleness convinced us that some day
We’d reap in joy what we had sown before
In blood and tears: and all the while our fears
Suggested otherwise; to wit, we had no right
To earn by birth what we had been endowed.
In retrospect, we should have sought asylum
Off these shores. One hundred thirty years
Have passed, too many years to resurrect those
Pristine hopes and dreams. And now, today,
The time has come to seize what we are due.

Washington, February 1993

Sonnet #35

I got your message and I called you twice…
each thirty seconds ‘til your line was free.
Until I spoke with you I couldn't rest
In peace, my wandering soul a refugee.
The magic spell you cast on me last spring
Has been revived, has come alive again.
Since spring it seems my poems have all been blues ...
My passion source has wandered far from joy;
The love we almost had lives on, and waits
and hopes to someday see the light of day…

Washington, February 1993

Sonnet #37  Return of the Muse - Cairo, Egypt

your spirit left me long, long years ago
your presence left me longer. I forgot
the forms, the rhythms of your loveliness,
the peace and calm you brought me, the silence
and the loneliness we shared. I lost track,
misplaced the way back, through the years, of all
you taught me about words, and songs, and notes,
and rhymes, and meter, and measure…and love.
Oh daughter, oh sister, oh spirit, deep,
who sent you back to me? What force or power
conjured you up and breathed into you life?
And why? Why here and now? And to what end?
It matters not. I worship at your feet.
I hear and I obey; I write, I write…

Cairo, August 2006

Sonnet #38 - Damascene Sonnet

You lose some things you cherish as you pass
Through life's transitions.  Letters you received
May not survive a flood -- first drafts of poems
You wrote get lost in shipments -- coffee mugs
Disappear, book collections may not stay
Intact when divorce or death parts the waves
Of time.  Friendships and associations
You though would be there in your grayer years
May only survive a season, or not --
And reasons for a friendship come and go
Like tides that flood and ebb and flood again.
The things that last a lifetime, then, are rare
And few, and even enjoy
The fleeting now, breathe deeply, smile freely.

Damascus, July 2009

Sonnet #39 (without punctuation)

We mourn the setting of a brilliant star
Who blazed a path for many, then burned out
At first he sang sweet songs of puppy love
He later sought through song to heal a world
His passions lifted us before his fall
As children we adored his boyish ways
We grew, became adults with his success
As men and women we thought we knew his pain
His stardom overswept us like the dust
That sweet melodic voice became a rasp
On our subconsciousness, his call to heal
Was crowded out by bills and laws and hate
And so we mourn a man who paid the price
And hope that lesser lights will now suffice

Damascus, July 2009