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,

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 –
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 –
And macabre.

Posted as part of Poets United Sunday Poetry Pantry

10 thoughts on “J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part II

  1. Mary December 6, 2015 / 7:19 pm

    You have used such excellent description in this Part II. So vivid I can see and hear what is taking place. A fascinating tale.


  2. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) December 6, 2015 / 8:06 pm

    Entering your poetry is like entering a new world… sometimes I feel like being led on an expedition excavating hidden libraries… To be there in supposed sanity.. I suppose there is the riddle in Riddle.


  3. Magaly Guerrero December 7, 2015 / 12:41 am

    “Mansions made up
    Of dust and sky.”

    Love the images these lines bring to mind…


  4. Jae Rose December 7, 2015 / 12:50 pm

    A poem rich of imagery and story – I, on a hill in Hastings – was the line that made me pause…somehow brought the vision of that into the here and now amidst the historical references..at once surreal and certain


  5. Steve King December 7, 2015 / 1:58 pm

    For me this marks humankind’s journey, put forth with great imagery and detail. A little bit


  6. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) December 8, 2015 / 12:11 am

    Oh,that Riddle .,. he sure did some travelling! Entrancing, in all the directions it took me. (Alas, poor Harold.)


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