An Electronic Book
Of Poetry

Beth Houston

Copyright © 1999 Beth Houston















St. Francis Preaching to the Birds
(Giotto(?), c. 1296)

Blue Diamonds
Nike Fastening Her Sandal

Madonna and Child

Just Passing Through
Joan of Arc

The Passion of Judas Iscariot

Ars Poetica


Kitchen Witch

Venus of Urbino
Good Seed
Three Goddesses


Happy Birthday

Poets of the Skull
Snake Goddess

St. Francis in Meditation




click to enlarge
Giotto di Bondone
St. Francis Preaching to the Birds (1297-99)
Fresco, 270 x 200 cm, Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi.


St. Francis Preaching to the Birds

Giotto(?), c. 1296

His dismayed disciple behind him balks:
Half the picture’s sky and tops of two trees:
Knowledge and life. One bird, spread-eagle, stalks,
Dives dovelike, making the whole landing breeze
Spirit-spawn, so the right hand’s birdseed could
Be drawn power. Birds equal, those patches
They’re perched on must be stations, black/white, good
/Bad, easy/uneasy trust in snatches 
Of prof proof or some black Madonna’s ain’ts
Fed to teach de light in de Lawd. Two worlds,
One chaff. Snug, smug, he could take home his saint’s
Sacrifice: Some baglady feeding squirrels
In the park, or at the beach, that old guy
Tossing up bread crumbs, teaching gulls to fly.





Behind her spreading fans she looks as young
And shapely as the year the astroid crashed
And seared extinct most species. Unabashed,
Or stunned, persnickety persistence clung
200 million years unmussed, her root
Sunk deep in dung and humus, cosmic dust,
Rich calcium of dinosaur bones, crust
Of her own leaves. What doesn’t suit
Her are those tiny yellow seeds, their smell
More sickly than the demons they evolved,
No doubting, to dispel. That threat well solved,
How sad they — in this garden! — still repel.
       Respect must bow to Gaia’s steadfast ginkgo.
       My nose, though, flees from that repulsive stinko!




                 Blue Diamonds

Composed of matter’s common element,
But carbon pure, crystalline, forged by heat
And pressure in earth’s core, Athena’s feat,
The Greeks called adamas (like adamant
And dame): unconquerable. Hard and strong,
One dirty, greasy beauty-in-the-beast,
When cut with high art faceting, will feast
The wise. Intrinsically octahedron,
Each owns refractive power to convey
And bend light to its center. Some burn blue:
The Hope, called thunderbolt; they’re precious, few.
Polished symmetry mines the inner play
Of light unique to each as fingerprints,
And rainbows vibrant white fire with brilliance.




click to enlarge
Eduard Steichen
Balzac, "Towards The Light at Midnight" (1908)
1908 gum bichromate, 19.3 x 21.2 cm


Rodin, c. 1892-97

Surveying this world’s cryptic comedy
With lofty, cloistral vanity, disdain’s
Withdrawal intensifies the agony.
Strange pettiness of savage pathos pains
Him. He would not be touched, too touched. Yet proud,
Aloof despair and fear of taint composed
His art. Now he is dead. He wears the shroud
Of paradox, his work’s wounds decompose.
The hand that crafts corrupts him, what mocks him
Resurrects. Love and hate are one. His face
In stone, collapsed, decayed, claims art, again,
Grants no glory. Like Lazarus disgraced,
The corpse who’s gazed beyond, brought back, instead
Resents returning to a world more dead.




click to enlarge
 Nike fastening her sandal (c. 410 BC)
Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis Museum, Athens.

            Nike Fastening Her Sandal *

c. 410 BC

Siroccos blasted gusts so fierce the heat
Forced her to take a dip before her trist
With Aphrodite, but, her being blissed
Out of her love-crazed mind, she failed the feat
Of stripping — Every drooping, sea-drenched pleat
Of mussed, transparent wisp-thin clothes, like mist
That teases stinging eyes, could not resist
Encircling, clinging. Leaning on her seat
Of wings, she’s hit with spray and laughter, sees
Her goddess naked on the beach, the dust
Washed from her feet in panting waves, hot tease
Of bending, splashing breasts that must be touched...
Not fastening the thong, but loosing frees
Her gesture, soaked with cool, nonchalant lust.

* Some art historians call this sculpture
 "Nile Loosing Her Sandal".




            Madonna and Child

The frenzied cult of underworld ennui
This worshipped heartthrob on her stage of psalms
Saves by adoring-fans idolatry.
What makes nudes of smoke, virgin/slut feet, palms,
Screams bound to a chair erotic poses
The patriarchal problem: fatherless
Child. Less loved than molested with roses,
She still possesses power to make them guess,
Like a movie’s "real world" myth, Madonna,
Plays Madonna living her mythic life.
Less molested than a prima donna 
Having wrested divine lust — the good wife
In her contradictory cathedral,
High gothic genderbender, with her doll.




Just Passing Through

Big bang! dense packed existence rushes out
In vast dimensions, suns exploding form
Huge galaxies unwielding, planets sprout,
Volcanoes gush, mud’s sudden microbes swarm
To feed the next seed bubbling, clustering
Freak fruits thrust outward, open, juice ripe plush
Unfurls tongue manna-fests, evolves How spring
To sex-crazed species? why flesh-rip lust rush
From egg to foetus, child, mature adult’s
Exposing consciousness, crushed spirit’s core
Confessed out through its chrysalis? Ghost molts,
Transcends... Two theories clip this cosmic soar:
Could zip uphill, slow, roll back down tonight;
Could top the grade, and beat the speed of light.



           Joan of Arc

Pierced by barbed shards of the Hundred Years War,
At age sixteen angelic voices told
Her to reunite France. What grants this poor,
Illiterate shepherdess power (bold
Friend of soldiers like "The Rage" and "Bluebeard", 
Who crowned kings, halting armies to listen
To churchbells) is what knights paradox, feared
Above all warriors. Her mystic mission
Legend, but the jewel, Paris, not taken
Back, tried by the Inquisition, in chains,
Ill, exhausted, head shaved, burned at the stake
At nineteen in men’s clothes.... Ancient refrains:
Die transgressing to heed your whole soul’s plaint,
Five centuries later, you’re deemed a saint.



           The Passion of Judas Iscariot

Tonight he knows his God extinct, he sees
Light’s firey birth 10 billion years ago
Flash; pass. The universe burns indigo,
Slow, cold moon blossoms. Fusions’ blazing keys
Unlock a hundred billion galaxies,
Their hundred billion stars. Lush brambles glow
In April’s dusky suburb of the Virgo
Supercluster: Home. All its silver tease
Of sense slips through his fingers. In the tame
Green trees, his body sways, the rope’s knots sigh.
How you have fallen, bright star, bound in shame
Nightmares’ flame eyes, flaring, terrify
Lucifer, light-bearer, Chaldeans’ name
For Venus when seen in the morning sky.





Ars Poetica

The pace of my writing here your reading will exceed,
Like a kitten unraveling the yarn not yet the mitten.
Yet what I'm writing, you are reading, and as you read,
I've finished writing what I've not yet written.

I am writing. You are reading. What you read
Leaks from my mind, trans-figures into words, leaks
Into your mind, transmuting the way a maple dropping its seed
Haphazardly? deliberately? or is that Nature "speaks".

I am writing. You are reading. The heavenly hosts
Already know, yet observe us, anxiously taking notes:
What separates sheep from —  I almost wrote ghosts,
Is the kind of information an angel quotes.

I didn't almost write it, despite what you read, and now
I'm fearful what pushy ghostwriters haunt my unconscious mind;
Maybe they're the ones not erasing this, or reading how
My mind works. Just like yours, I think you'll find.

I am rooting through your skull like a rampant weed;
With what future, really, is our verbal fecundity smitten?
What I'm writing, you are reading. But as you read,
I'm revising; and you revise, interpreting what's finely written.







click to enlarge
Donatello, David (c. 1430)
Bronze, height: 185 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence



Donatello, c. 1430-32

Worn Ingenue leans on his umbrella 
After a tedious afternoon fight
With the sun, his slight genitalia
Overpowered by bulbous hilt, long sleek might
Of sword blade. Which transgresses the myth, thus
This king cheated. The rock in his hand rests
On his hip, hat drawn down against this fuss.
Gut sucked in, coy pose flaunts pubertal breasts.
He’s nude, except for hat, and ornate boots.
He glances down at the slain to inspect
Its shield, small as a loin cloth. Notes it suits
What slithers up the back of his erect
Right leg (snake, angel, bird? oh, it too’s dead).
Left foot slack on the barbarian head.





   “And there was light.”

Fallen from transcendence, wings clipped and bound,
Light’s foreign body crouches in estranged,
Contorted exile. Its shout blasts no sound.
Crashed mirror eyes grasp its parts, disarranged
Metaphors flashing origin essence.
Layers within dark layers, spurned spirit,
Dungeoned in its own myth life, existence
Serves its “time,” groping through “space” so strange it
Screams with exploding creation. Hard birth
Of consciousness enacts truth’s puzzle: Shame
Wanders lost, longs to reunite the worth
Of lost souls solved in love, escape death’s game.
Galaxies of angels ignite, suns burn,
Caravans of sand and dust churn and churn.





When fame-and-fortune grants the Chief his power,
And nations bow to blood dark angels blessed,
When time and timeless forces crush then wrest
Life’s former life, do saints or cowards cower?
What fool resists fate’s fairy tale? No hour
To shun high culture blazoned on its crest.
Who’s sacrificed politely as a jest
Knows history breaks open like a flower,
Its bones and artifacts displayed at rest.
When luck, sex, sons, and hot stock options shower
Rewards, no Chief accepts this as a test.
In tux he’s photoed gazing from his tower
Not knowing his own shadow manifest
Before him, vast, immortal ghost of power.





The snake forever swallowing his tail,
Myth’s classic symbol of completion, mocks
Himself, another Zeno paradox
That proves all effort to exist must fail.
His skin tastes like his victor’s iron mail.
He sloughs tough chains and finds his brain’s their box.
One spring recoils, a mirrored maze of clocks
Unwinds. He dies and wakes up drunk in jail.
Why? His Chain of Being pyramid flips:
The bottom’s thick with particles, the tip’s
Discretely him, so much between he gasps:
Though evolution’s packed so many trips,
He’s made of links each step collapsed. An asp
So infinitely not escapes my grasp.




Kitchen Witch

When leaves and husks start scratching that hour of slakeless pitch,
Before ravaging fridge or hutch for some quick crust to munch,
Make such fete ‘tis fit to sate the wretched kitchen witch.

If thoughts of butcher butter spreader make your starved palms itch,
Consider beforehand why luscious roast beef gives you indigestion at lunch,
When leaves and husks start scratching that hour of slakeless pitch.

Why awakened do you slump slurping at the sink in scarcely a stitch?
Why risk, famished in her nitch, she won’t detect your peanut brittle crunch?
Make such fete ‘tis fit to sate the wretched kitchen witch.

When your stomach sours at your desk, even your lover tags you a bitch;
Crush that urge to cheat with even the tiniest sip of pineapple punch,
When leaves and husks start scratching that hour of slakeless pitch.

Sip the udderly delicious milk only after her sacrifice, dripping fat and rich,
Lest her puckish ruckus revenge clutch your gut till brunch;
Make such fete ‘tis fit to sate the wretched kitchen witch.

Don’t switch your dish with hers; then wolf that cold pizza without a hitch;
Leave cake with icing, untasted cheese wedges, grapes plumply bunched,
When leaves and husks start scratching that hour of slakeless pitch;
Make such fete ‘tis fit to sate the wretched kitchen witch.




click to enlarge

Titian, Venus of Urbino (1538)
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi.

Venus of Urbino

Titian, c. 1538

She watches her mirror, this painting: She sees
With voyeur eyes her impatient lover’s
Restraint over the kneeling maid hovers,
While hands search deep in that chest....Such a tease
Not knowing what they must find. Her fingers
Brush her....She’s reclined on pillows, soft sheets
Thrown on thick red cushions, holds cherries sweet
Tart as her lover’s skirt; her gaze lingers....
She’s wearing a pinky ring, one earring,
A bracelet, but her love is pushing up
Her sleeve, good butch. Her cuddle dog’s curled up
At her feet, but lust’s all woman wearing
Her furs thrown over her shoulder Moon hour
Come! Push back dusk’s dark half curtain! Devour!




Good Seed

The deed committed must have sown the seed
Of selfishness; if primal greed can thrust
Us into treason, deeper driven lust
For light could raise us, sprouting, groping weed.
My cells confess each season yields this creed
With shocking art despite my lack of trust:
I kill for crusts, my thirst roots through thick dust,
While bees seed breezy thoughts, sex flowers, feed....
What’s wrong with picture perfect paradise
Is reason’s brute force cannot check disease,
Or life’s tease. Standing, reaching... Fruits entice
And sate growth’s foreign needs, yet fail to please.
For exile’s passage home, we pay full price:
Small change of deaths we count out on our knees.




click to enlarge
Three Goddesses (c. 438-432 BC)
  East pediment of the Parthenon, marble, over life-size, 
The British Museum, London.


Three Goddesses

c. 448-432 BC

A seeming box constructed just of curves,
The Parthenon, Athena’s temple, holds
Her gold and ivory statue’s subtle swerves
That echo in the playful swirling folds
Of drapery roughly shaping bodies smooth
And sensuous: Three Goddesses repose,
Relax in fluid union, ease and move
Themselves, but grant us an eternal pose.
High on their pediment they lean and slow
-ly laugh; too thin and heavy clothes reveal
Athena balancing the feel, the flow
Of Artemis and Nike, but conceal
Their touch, immortal, flirting, teasing played
Through art’s relationship of light and shade.





Catching our breath on damp sheets... we notice
The sill’s moth orchid’s hovering arc crawls
With aphids Too much sun, or drought, and kiss
Our old angel goodbye...? One blossom falls,
Its languid crash, all sap sucked dry, appalls.
Spiderlike, I clutch you flexed in fierce arms
You prove lush love with fearsome will forestalls
Their feast. Outside we’ve given up new charms
Like marigolds and soap sprays; aphids’ harms
Sticky fat ravishments of our garden
Munch like ours. But clipped orchid wings alarms
St. Francis! No more rights for bugs, harden
The heart, protect us, while we catch our breath,
With poisons hungrier than lust or death.




Happy Birthday

This is the moment to remember: This too shall pass,
But even shucking the husk you know the sweet taste of corn
And Love like the spirit is ageless.

You know the feel of naked as you step from your stage dress
And into the taxi that carries you past the door where you were born;
This is the moment to remember: This too shall pass

Like threshing chaff, shredding leaves, bouncing checks written wageless,
You know like waste, like sloughing hissing poison-spitting skin, that torn
Love like the spirit is ageless.

When your animal drags its shadow behind you through the cage mess,
Feeding from your own shell, lustily drinking blood from your horn,
This is the moment to remember: This too shall pass

In the arms of dark angels. And should you pass the wizened sage, bless
Her shorn head, her ashen crone palms that know the urge to scorn
Love like the spirit is ageless.

Not youth’s stale love poems with crumbling flowers in pages pressed;
When those roses drop their petals, unconsciously or not we mourn:
This is the moment to remember; this too shall pass!
But Love like the spirit is ageless.




Poets of the Skull

Brooding students of the glum tomb exhume
The brain child of the skull, bringing back
Sad poets of woe-is-me doom-and-gloom.

Skulls held up by past quacks of wrack and rheum,
Cracked and crumbling in expressive grimaces of alack,
These brooding students of the glum tomb exhume.

Raven hair, crow-shadow eyes locked in alas, poor Yorick’s room,
Sullen, sulky, scowling, stricken, desolate hack
Mad poets of woe-is-me doom-and-gloom

Suddenly varoom in on a broom trailing a plume
Of melancholic fume, their black art bric-a-brac
These brooding students of the glum tomb exhume.

Disconsolate as oppressed beauty, in smoky shadows loom
Grim urges to smack those slick slack backpack black
Clad poets of woe-is-me doom-and-gloom.

They could get a grip, get a life, crawl beyond the word “womb,”
But well-fed worms have snacked, and ghosts laughed at the lack
Of what brooding students of the glum tomb exhume:
Bad poets of woe-is-me doom-and-gloom.




click to enlarge
Snake Goddess (c.1600 BC) 
Palace of Knossos, faďence, height 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm)
Archeological Museum, Herakleion


Snake Goddess

c. 1600 BC

At once the open bodice, full bare breasts
Usurp attention; active and alive
Her arms thrust up, bold, stern expression tests
The gods seduced and vanquished, yet the drive
Of power rests, tall stance braced, self-possessed,
Her wise protector hawk perched on her hair
Aloof, but spirit that could swoop or nest;
Her skirt, flounced like stones of pyramids, wears
An apron; Matriarch and talisman,
Erotic fetish milk and force of fates,
The real Eve in her Garden holds not one
But two snakes out from her like flags, like weights:
Life resurrected from death’s phallic sting,
Shaped like a sacred bell you lift and ring.




click to enlarge
Francisco de Zurbarán, 
Saint Francis in Meditation (c. 1635-40)
The Trustees of The National Gallery, London
oil on canvas, 152 X 99 cm.


St. Francis in Meditation

— Zurbarán, c. 1639

His rapt devotion, mystically austere,
Kneels rigid, tense, in its bleak, barren room;
Somber eyes, nearly invisible, peer
From his cowl shadowed like a cave, a tomb;
The skull clutched to his vampire cloak, a bled
Lover, its coffin lid locked tight, clenched hands
Pray memento mori, life and death wed,
His flesh’s tattered garments worn as bands
Of love sacrificing all he adores —
All but death; parted lips, facing his Dark
Prince, gasp, entranced not with light he ignores,
But grasping skull, his sadist devil’s mark —
   What good God would give, even to atone,
   Her beloved child begging bread, this stone.




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