J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part II

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

II. Up and Up

Once wrapped in sweat and dust,
I, at the Holy Wisdom, in
That Great City
Of Constantine threw

Picks and metal at blocks
Of marble hewn
And hewn…
Time breaking up
Time, pounding
Entire days
Of pounding, pounding
Gaps in domes where light
Bleeds through. Hands
Bloodied hands that reach
Up and up.

Fingertips lost
In pale, setting suns.

In sands, too, I
Once went marching through
Sands with burning hands
Held up before faces tattered,
Cracked with lips unable
To bleed, to kiss. Trans-
Fixed by dunes always
So shapeless, so
Changing and windswept
Like soldiers lost like
Gusts and great swords and promises
By firelight, in shadow on tent
Walls with hands held up
And crying… burning
Like thunderbolts in the sands.

Mansions made up
Of dust and sky.

Even, I, on a hill in Hastings,
Caught an arrow falling
From the sky.

The form of one Harold, bloody,
Faceless almost
By blood. A King,
Once…

With a broken church lurching
Up from the gloom
Of hills tired and tattered. Swords
Left alone, stuck
In Earth with no one near.
Whimpers and horse smells –
Mud covering teeth –
Unable to call out –
Chaos,
And mist. Mountains,
Of Mist… Unreal.

Then I once walked
Off course. Confused.
Down roads hidden
By the stubble of undergrowth, trees
Not casting a shade, upright
And unmoved. Darkness,
And light. A door appearing,

Turning in at an unlatched
Gate – who I do not know who –
Legs only. Silence
Tomb-like silence. Yes,

Signs of an obvious an
Excruciating sickness.
Buboes black and batched
Along hollow armpits,
Crawling up weak,
Wasted legs. Skin
Ruptured. Peeling
Back laughter
Of hollow mouths –
Voids in the void –
Devilish,
And macabre.

Posted as part of Poets United Sunday Poetry Pantry

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part I

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

I. Claps of Thunder

I sat in a cell once, long ago,
In Athens it was, crying for that dead
Wasted body of pale Pericles… our hero.

Wine mixed
Not enough. I

Saw broken bits
Of corpses bouncing by –
Such sad women,
Such sad women – all
Pushed downstream to
The still, tepid waters of
Our port,
At Piraeus.

Wine mixed not
Enough. When

Young and bounding
Over rocks on
Star-cold sands by
The clay site at Siwa I
Stared at grimy papyrus
Scrolls, stared
At a king, a king left
Stabbed and silent by
A solemn pool,
A pool in
The dry, mythic mountains
Of perfumed Persia.

Wine mixed…

In Utica in a sparse room,
In a dead
Desert city, I
Found Cato mumbling
And mumbling about

The claps of thunder that come
Before the damp rains chill the
Silent statues the
Crowded squares of
Speckled Rome.

Wine…

Posted as Part of Poet’s United Sunday Poetry Pantry