Owed To Romans Earned, v.2


Beauty equals truth—
A judgment unknown
Where attacks are not critical
On paper alone.

To a gentle poet
From a gentler place
Comes this message proxy
With irregular pace
And hesitant rhyme
On heterodoxy
In a more brutal time
From those who would know it.


Running on the verge ill bodes
For poets dangling, like properties,
Whose owners want odes.

To whom much is given,
Should know when to seize—
Or what—and how avid—
Or risk being riven
When betrayed by a sneeze.

Poets, like a cat, tell lust
“Have no shame!”
The pet drones “Yes!”
But risks the blame.

To those loaned fame
Danger is rife
Not only to those
So brave or absurd
As to follow with deed
What had merely been word.

For history teaches
That support thus contracted
Is tacit and fragile.
To the furthest reaches
Of musings extracted,
Each facet must be agile
Lest the price be exacted.

Better to be sweet-toned
To patrons here present
With alexandrines well-honed
Over dormice and pheasant.

Better yet an epic,
Moral, patriotic—
And, dear Scheherazade,
Scorn the exotic.
No place on this plinth
To glory the Attic:
Save imperial facade,
It’s quite problematic.

Better an oration,
Fawning, pattering,
Strewn freely with awe
And due measure of flattering.
For that power gusts raw
When defied by a smattering
Of lines stolen true
From one’s own creation.
Best it stick in the craw
Than beg ruination.

(For your consideration:
In the oceanic hue
Of divine generation
Dyes the sanguine flaw.
That’s just what will do
To cover the splattering
That always attends the birth of a nation.)

princeps’ principle
Can never allow
Juvenile verses
Or satirical prose.
For satyrs can hollow
More than pitiless foes
The ruse that the ruler
Is something invincible.


Hoarse voices from afar,
Sound ashamed to me.
Blameless them, unlike we,
Who (for now) can shun tact
Toward the powers that be.

But not they, oh, not they
Of form Italic
Who, as careful as a tumbler
In a tightrope act,
Leaned as far as they dared,
Fearing the fall
To a black, lonely shore
Bereft by the sea—
Or rolling on the floor
Like a common chick pea.


In the capital of the empire
Where those unlucky poets
Made their home,
By sweeping steps
Of constant conviviality,
A poet, perhaps luckier,
Convalesced and died young.

Fertile, individual, versifier romantic,
A Prometheus unbound,
Died in Rome
From an infection of the lung.

But he was never prevented
To sing what he sung.

© 2006, Doug Tarnopol