on the anniversary of Marlowe’s death
The snake rises to her altar and reposes herself.
The common folk cower before the arts of the scholar
That tend the serpent, build her brazen altars,
Collect her secrets, and extract their sacrifice.
An army of lame, crooked, sick, and crippled bodies
Flocks to the temple of the great scholar
Who promises to heal all ills, all poverty, all gaping need.
The ailing and deformed submit to the lancet,
Draw blood, and sacrifice their own to promised comfort.
But the panacea is temporary, insufficient,
Each healing bringing an army of new ills.
As their numbers swell to monstrous multitudes
They thrust every earthly creäture out of its habitat
And poison every breathing body with toxic remains.
The scholar grows greater and all-powerful
His penitent subjects misshapen, in blooming grief
Grow greater in number and in need as he
Vanquishes the faithful of the Shepherd of the Cross
Who had replaced the Snake in times long past.
The scholar signs in blood and builds in clay,
He raises the great snake once again
And crowns her ruler of the fallen dominion
As he betrays in unkindness every child that comes
With love and promise of the future kingdom,
Robs the Shepherd of His pricey flock,
Cheats God of His crowned and sceptred regents
Reforms, reshapes, inverts His glorious issue
Into the base and twisted image of the ignoble beast.
Knowledge is sin redeemable only by faith in the Son.
Enter the poets, God’s soul-menders and apothecaries
Made of this ancient imperishable certitude,
Their courage tested in the task of charging the transgressor.
Will they withhold God’s grace from the beast’s apprentice
And have their little lives dashed to pieces?
To charge or not to charge, their predicament grows
For Christ is the snake that replaced all certitude
Save for the one nestled in the beating breathing heart
His commandment more binding to poets
Than to the fisher, shepherd, and the tinsmith.
The poet who damns the gravest of sinners
Damns himself and cuts his life shorter than a lark’s
For though the deluded Faustian scholar pretends to reign
It is the poet God charged with re-creating earth’s garden,
The guilt of self-slaughter lodged deep within his mobbed breast.
The crowd of ghosts closes in on the fallen sparrow
Its blood still warm, its heart no longer beating.
In the curt moment before the ascent, before
The grace of the Father swaddles the fading remains
Of the birdie bard whose song cheered and charmed
The blue heavens on summer days and inky nights
The swarm turns into a blood-thirsty gang
Lusting, drooling over the birdie’s warm but still heart,
As if reaching for the words that had refused to love them,
The lines that could have saved them from
The dusty greyness of their urban existence
And given them sweet, blessed Elysian peace,
The verses that failed to feed them while they lived
Briefly in the breath of his prolific oeuvres.
All the men, women, creatures, kings, and batsmen
The bard damned in his verse, strangled with a rhyme
Still clamour for life, reaching with their pale lanky limbs
For the cup he denied them, the breath of creation,
The eucharistic blessing, the blood that is the life.
The poet’s trembling soul hovers between the little corpse
And the big heavens beyond, unable to spread his wings
Held back by the love it still owes its creatures.
Too late for repentance, too late for mending and redress,
Rehearsals are over, and the last curtain burst in flames,
Fall he must, and with him the wondrous shades,
The dreamy shapes, the floaty world he lent his breath.
Beware, inky genius, judgment is not yours to have
And neither will you be pardoned for the seduced souls
If you fail to uphold God’s golden commandments.
Threading the dangerously thin lines between
Love and sin, judgment and forgiveness,
You, of all birds of heaven and all crawling creatures
Must stay true to your heart or be consumed
By the zombie crowd of your own making,
Your gift is your curse: to hear the unholy thoughts of others
And show them a faithful mirror of their unconscious world,
And then to find the strength to let God judge, NOT YOU,
To find the grace they need to survive eternity in a word,
A phrase, a line, a volume, a rhyme or monologist portrait.
Pale, trembling, sleepless, in life the poet stumbles
Among the graves and shepherds the shadows of death,
Loans them his rattled limbs and gives them voices to sing,
Makes sinners beautiful but sin itself an ignoble monstrosity.
This bird of heaven needs the redeeming eucharistic blood
More than any other creäture and holy personage in our neigh,
Lest he feeds the sprites his own blood and signs with it
The grand plans and treacherous communion of Lucifer.
In the hour of death his soul gains its wings by the strength
Of the forgiveness he could afford his sprites and creatures.
Beholden more to truth than to righteousness, the charity
Of the bard shapes the jewel in the crown of all creation,
His soul in the hour of flight, truth of his testament.