Game of Words

I play with words the way rulers play with lives.
I elevate some of them, and I set others
against each other, slashing as if knives
were what they were. If I find a word that smothers
the others in my word menagerie
I snuff it out the way rulers do with lives.

Unlike with shamans, presidents, and tzars,
my powers do my subjects little harm.
When I am dead and done for, words will be
in dictionaries alphabetically,
and locked in novels, and free in open minds,
and floating between planets while they wait
for future speakers to provide them breath.

When shamans shame a person to go fight,
when presidents preside and send in troops,
and when tzars drive cars across their peasants’ heads
the people they run down stay grievously dead.

I can’t know if I am more moral than all world leaders,
but fortunately I am weaker, and I use words
as my objects for tormenting. Words can’t die.

The powerful trick or force the weak to work
on things that make the powerful more strong.
The strong earn billions (‘earn’ is here misused)
off the backs and dreams of people with less power.

I play a game with words, but those I exploit
remain as well off as do those I don’t.
To rulers causing torment, words are a quoit
they throw to ring in dissidents who won’t
kow-tow to them. Let them throw rings of iron
as often as they like till they expire,
these rulers, who like us must grievously die,
but our words and word games will survive their worst.

The Poets’ Dilemma

A cri de coeur can’t be a work of art.
Its zealousness drives sense away, sends rhyme
to moon at June and here (forgive me) ‘heart.’
From paucity, some poets may try on ‘clime.’
Aboard the wagons of the criers’ band,
the preacher’s prattle petrifies the mind
that tries to get away with sleight of hand.
We throw away the melon, serve the rind
whenever we press thoughts down for the counts.
We, Honest Poets, are prone to masquerade,
expose our raison d’être in petty flounce,
and lose an audience we quickly jade.
We could express ourselves in prose that’s terse,
but then we’d be believed, and that is worse.

The Poet’s Dilemma read by Peter Crofton Sleigh:

Grammar Rules OK

It is almost midnight. She reads rules of Spanish grammar
in Dutch. This lets her fall almost asleep
until she wonders, what rhymes with ‘soporific’
and her mind’s off to the races. Ballads clash
with terse short-footed lines
in epics she remembers or might write
a dozen times again, each time forgetting
that she needs the sleep that’s purchased with the boredom
she can only find in studying grammar rules.

Pauline Prose-Proust, Prussian Princess and Putative Protagonist of Unfinished Autobiography

I like to write in o.m.g. italics
with a font not seen since seventeen-sixteen.
It makes reviewers of my prose suppose
I’m original, or tetched, or must have been
in my merry minutes writing, running hose,
and shaping paragraphs to form a calyx
whose sense if any is sensory not flat
and factual. I am not ‘into’ that,
preferring quote-mark irony to ironing
and to too-perfect rhyme. I end up whining.