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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is a major character of Russian and Slavic folklore. She is said to ride around in a mortar using the pestle as a rudder, and live in a house on chicken feet. She is both witch-like in that is it said that she eats small children (and may perhaps be the original model for the witch in Hansel & Gretel) and she is also sometimes considered a source of wisdom and guidance to lost souls, both antagonist and protagonist.

This poem was written as answer to a writing challenge on the late lamented TIBU writer's site. The challenge was to take a folk tale character and place them in the modern world. In this context, the voice of the poem becomes much more clear.


Boundless anger bleeds her eyes,
more red than eyes can be.
A dozen centuries and more
writ large across her face
in crevasses and pustule
give lie to reports of her demise.

The dirty skies above her homeland
taste of grit, sewage and despair.
Her herd kills itself in slow disdain
for her gifts.
Likewise has her tribute
vanished like the white
of the snow along the Volga,
replaced by filth.

Movement, always movement -
stillness would prove fatal.
From village to urban blight
back to village
she hunts, seeking the goat
left by her herd in exchange
for life, health, abundance.
Finding nothing, her gut churns,
her anger builds.

Hunger threatens to challenge rage,
no tribute in over a hundred years.
Still she flies,
thrusting pestle at wind currents,
jumping from star to star,
outrage to outrage,
on to the next disappointment.

Worn weary by lack of homage
she retires to her haven,
chasing her insolent house,
avoiding its taloned rebuke.
Let them survive another winter without.
Perhaps then, they will
seek her favor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lexeme vs. Delineation



In this corner, in the black and white -
descriptive, sometimes sharp,
and always telling a tale.

And in the opposing corner, in every color -
worth a thousand words
except the exactly right words,
those come on their own.

The crowd draws ringside with fever,
the titans within square off
each sizing up weakness,
hiding flaws, ducking and weaving.

Delineation lands a devastating opening blow
with formal concepts of composition,
but Poetry gives Lexeme a fluid response
in nested rhyming couplets
and the first round is a draw.

Lexeme come back with a flurry,
driving Delineation to the ropes
with hundreds of names for color;
magenta, puce, teal, salmon and mauve
catch Delineation a brutal assault
but he rallies, blending the tones,
and catches a desert sunset while doing so,
and the judges award the second round to Delineation.

In a rage, Lexeme hurls invective,
cursing in several languages
with local idiom and inventive disgust
he shreds the dignity of Delineation
and others like him
with a withering stream
of hate.

Delineation responds with a swastika.

Round 3 goes to Delineation.

Delineation plays to the crowd,
toys with Lexeme
uses Lexeme as Art motif.

Lexeme relays critical review, gossip,
and water cooler buzz,
dismissive opinion equals dismissed.

Round four to Lexeme.

Back and forth the titans go,
Each one pushing harder and stronger still.
They have battled for thousands of years
and they are battling still, tonight.

They are doomed to fight forever, I’m afraid,
They are brother’s, after all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Black Lace & Bluebells

Ah, summertime. Oooh, sex.

Two of our favorite things together in one poem. Two great tastes that taste great together!

You know, it is not often that a poet's life goes according to plan. I mean, if it did, we would not often have grist for our mill, so to speak, but every once in a while a guy just gets lucky (in every sense of the word).

Soft grass, cool breezes, a warm and willing lover, and you have got all the makings of a romantic poem.


The lilt of floral summer
found me waiting
against a woodland tree,
in the early evening sun,
accompanied by birdsong,
recalling you.

Idling on grass
sprinkled with bluebells
and fairies' laughter,
you kiss the wine from my lips
and tug a blossom from my hair,
releasing me to fly.

We are the only two who exist
in this slice of the world.
Separated only by black lace
and animal heat,
which is no separation at all.

Pulling bits of earth loose
we mask the musk of our rut
with loam,
fecund and sweet,
just as you are.

A gamble for ecstasy
in a nameless game
older than the trees
which shade us,
we both shiver in an autumnal moment,
the silvering of this instant
the winning stroke.

You hold me as a I clasp you,
watching me with those magical eyes,
silencing my climax
with cloud-soft kisses
that steal my essence
in exchange for bliss.

Our wild, woodland moment
will live inside of me
as long as bluebells
dance across meadows.

Label Me No Labels

I have become increasingly more spiritual as I age, perhaps I am 'cramming for the final exam', as my grandfather might have said, or maybe I simply am more aware of the power of faith, but truthfully, I find myself more and more amazed at the logical and scientific basis for faith in an Almighty.

Now, I would be perfectly willing to debate, argue, discuss, banter, and agree to disagree about the topic with anyone who has an interest. I do try to keep my mind open, and I have read Max Lucado, and Lee Strobel, as well as the works of atheists, apologists, excusers and skeptics.

But that is not what this poem is about, not at all.

I find myself wondering how both political parties in this country can claim some kind of 'divine' mandate for their policies, and voice their opposition to the other parties policies as if they were heretical in the eyes of God.

I wrote this piece after listening to just such a debate on the radio, over an hour of both parties claiming a religious basis for their point of view, and decrying the other side as blasphemous.

In disgust, I penned the following.


Help me here to define a man, tell me how to name him.
I shall give you his ten parts, you give me his calling,
Tell me if you find him wise, or find him mad,
Do you think he is to be admired, or merely appalling?

In the first, he refuses bloodthirsty entertainment,
Finding it criminal to debase the human form.
In the second, he refuses to fight in his country’s wars,
Finding conquest and combat outside of the norm

In the third, he condemns all forms of abortion,
No mortal has the right to take another’s life.
In the fourth he respects and values all women,
Keeping them as partner and not slave or mere wife.

In the fifth, he is only faithful to his sworn spouse,
He would never consider extramarital sex.
In the sixth he would not lay with another man for sport,
Love to him is more than concave versus convex.

To the seventh point he is generous, giving and sharing,
His hospitality is unparalleled and freely bestowed.
In the eighth, he is radical in his support for the poor,
Feeling societies fringes are the ones to whom it is owed.

The ninth part finds him mixing all races and social classes,
Seeing no difference in a person’s culture, clan or skin.
And for the tenth he believes his God is the only One,
The path to redemption from all man’s sin.

Now if he only held to the values of the first, second and fourth,
As well as the parts labeled here eight and nine,
By all conservatives he would be decried as a liberal
A spendthrift, a fool with the ideology of swine.

But if he believed in parts three, five and then six,
And barreled his weight behind part number ten
All liberals would label him strict conservative
And denounce his ideas again and again.

But the men who held all of these ideas all at once
For whom only perfection of intent had sufficed
These men who neither conservatives nor liberals were,
Were early followers of the one known as Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reflections in a Steamed Mirror

I had written not long ago about my ex-wife, and subsequently a friend of mine left a note on my Facebook page to the effect that she was not entirely to blame, it takes two to tango, I must have played a part in what went wrong, etc.

Rather than get cheesed off at well-meaning but completely misinformed generic statements, I decided to put this poem back into general circulation.

It is one I wrote not long after my divorce was finalized, long before I met my current and fabulous wife, when I was still giving my ex the benefit of the doubt, before a long series of machinations, lies, thefts, and other behaviors came to light.

Back when I still regretted my decision to kick her to the curb.

Trust that I no longer feel that way.


I was in the shower, surrounded by steam,
in the warm, impenetrable wet
that I require, when I remembered
the excursion of your hand
on my skin, the idea
of family that you embodied,
the strength of the pull
that brought us together,
still intact,
like a city beneath the earth
that never prospered.

I can still recall the exact moment
when we met,
when we were young,
and so very different.
And I probe that moment
like a child with a lost tooth
until I am exhausted
by what-ifs and might-have-beens.

I watch the moments of ours lives together
take shape as the objects in this house,
and I can feel the fullness
of our time, the orchestration
of our bodies as they cascade
the quiet distillation of your essence,
filling this space with breath
different from my own.

What was and what might have been
evolved into what is.
Changes wrought by actions,
actions brought on by changes,
we each added our own ingredients,
and neither read the recipe.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Panhandler

This morning I bought a cup of tea for Lionel, a guy on disability who spends his days hanging around the intersection outside my office. Lionel is a decent guy, he cannot speak after a stroke, I believe, but he is clean, polite, unassuming, and has never asked anyone for anything.

He just does not want to sit alone in a room all day, and who could blame him.

But as I left the coffee shop, another denizen of the city streets who saw my gesture accosted me for a handout and was not happy when he was rebuffed. It reminded of this piece, which is at least a year old, based on a similar kind of street rat.


Scabrous, gelded man,
offering what he cannot deliver,
begs indulgences
he does not deserve.

Rust hair, rheumy eyes,
breath that could peel paint,
he accosts and accuses,
reviles and abuses,
the personal space
of those waiting in line.

Pornographic murmurs
and lewd gestures
with the hand
not reaching for your change,
he rubs himself the right way,
and everyone else
the wrong.

Wastrel on a summer eve,
layers of filthy clothes
stacked against the need
to hold what few possessions
he has.

Salted eyes, crusted
with a million tears
for what he once was -
the apple of
someone’s eye,
he looks through you
seeing only what
he can never be.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It Was Just a Kiss

A kiss is the juxtaposition of two orbicular oris muscles in the state of contraction, if you are a physician. If you are a mathematician, a kiss is two divided by nothing. I have also heard it said that a kiss is the contraction of the mouth due to the expansion of the heart. That one was from a physicist.

But if you are a poet, ah, a kiss is so much more than that.



It was just a kiss.
How was I to know it would drop me
into madness,

So simple an act.
Coming together for a slice of time,
yet I am bound -
a prisoner -

Lives intersected,
The heart’s addition of one plus one
equaling merely one.
Catalyst of

My mouth knows hunger,
having tasted of heaven’s banquet,
with earthly

A life completed
is now dependent on another.
it wasn’t Magic.
It was just
a kiss.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Distance Moves Slowly



For too long, I have posed
like a gray fox amid the cactus,
head low, ears high,
sun heavy on my shoulders.

A desiccated plain, roads lined with carcasses
and crosses. Distance
moves slowly,
moving mere inches in centuries.

I accept that this was once the center.
Views changes, truths get re-written,
fog surrounds in a snow-melt shroud.

I steal hours,
afraid of what I might find
beneath the giants
of our birth.

There was once a time
when I would have sacrificed
everything for a reason.

Unlatching secrets,
exquisite echoes
and noble myths,
pours the familiar over me
soft as vanilla
sweet as cherry and currant.

it is not you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Her Average Day

Erotica need not be blatant, then it would be porn.

To me, there is something inherently erotic in a woman transforming herself from the work-a-day world to the personal, shedding her public mask to reveal who she really is.

This poem was inspired by an advertisement in a magazine I saw in my dentist's office, one which showed a leggy model peeling back her hosiery to reveal silky smooth legs. I began musing who she might be doing it for, was there a regal Frenchman sitting off screen, drinking champagne and smoking a clove cigarette? Or how about her female lover, already freshly bathed and pink-scrubbed, waiting between silken sheets?

Ultimately I decided she was alone in the room, but she needed to share her realization that there were two sides to who she was with the world at large.


She slides into her room,
private, alone,
peels off her average day
one layer at a time.

Before the window
she strips off nylons,
jewelry, the cross at her throat.
Flips hairpins onto the bureau
then leans naked over the window sill
into the bat-black.

She balls her stockings
and hurls them,
into the street below.

He races along
head down,
late for the bus,
until the sheer leg-skin
caresses his down turned face,
curling as a lover might
across his shoulder.

He draws it close,
breathing in the remnants
of her average day.
He sees legs crossed under a desk
imagines feet clacking along concrete
his mind’s eye following
the legs as they walk upstairs.

He balls the hosiery
and stuffs them
into the pocket of his coat.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Translation Ascending

Like all poets since time began, I have been in love. And I have lost that love.

My love is unique, it is mine, and yet it is fairly average. As unique as a snowflake, and as common as sand. You can easily become buried in either of those.

Phrasing this ethereal connection is the meat and drink of poets. One hopes to be universal, yet the truth of the personal nature of love is what must come through to each and every reader. A conundrum, to be sure.

This poem developed slowly, over several sessions of writing. I would open the file, read it through, tweak this line or that phrase, re-read it, and then close it once more, saving my changes, knowing that it was not yet fully cooked. Over the course of two months or so, I kept coming back to this piece, wondering why I could not get it 'just so', and why I could not leave it alone, either.


I have crafted this kiss for you
and you alone.
Others doubtless await you
in the full span of your life
but this one,
this is more dreamt than direct,
and is the only one I have to give.

I have taken unholy risks
to prove that I am
what I cannot possibly be.
What is mere flesh to do?
Driven to its very end
by words with weight,
the forces which shape me
swept off the streets,

Yet I am not lost,
any more than brown leaves
are lost
as autumn turns bitter.

You know how to call me
although my name
in your breath
would only confuse the air.

I will wait for you
at this one place in your journey,
like the treasure you do not pick up
until you are returning home,
aware that your painful and distant destination
changed nothing.

Enigma rules.
There is no certainty in the heart,
and Fate has an imponderable,
somber rhythm.

Memories of Memories

Sometimes I wonder if we long for things we are genuinely missing, or if we are really longing for faded sepia-toned memories of what we are missing.

Perception is a funny thing, slippery and mutable. Perception of the past is even more difficult, our wants and desires of the moment coloring our views of the wants and desires of times past. Can we really trust our memories to give us the clearest picture of what was? Is there such a thing as emotional proof?

Psychologists will tell you that people tend to recall the good times in their lives with far greater clarity than the bad times, however the negative impressions of our memories tend to float to the surface more often.

So what does that say about how we feel about the loves in our lives that are no more? Or is hanging on worth it, can Love capital L find a way?


Your touch encapsulates me
like climbing vines on melancholy walls.

I cannot seem to recall your face,
but I see your smile in every window,
your eyes in every star.

Like perfume on a flower,
I am bound by memory
to you.
How did your lips feel on mine?
In what way did your voice
caress my ears, enflame my heart?

I am much like the statues in the park,
sightless, deaf, immobile.
Come and touch me,
breathe life into my form once more.
Thoughts of you fall to my soul
as dew to the pasture.
It was through nights such as this
that I held you in my arms.
They are all nights like this.

It is on nights like this,
memories of you
grip my heart with chilled, shadow-fingers.
My despair rides the wind
in hopes of touching your ears,
so that you may find me
while I still love.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thief of Words

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution." 
Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903)


The writer's curse; the greatest sin a writer can commit, the mistake certain to get you ostracized, denigrated, ignored, reduced and vilified. Writers view plagiarists one step above pedophiles and just below politicians. Plagiarists are the Icarus of their Craft. No writer worthy of calling themselves a writer would ever admit to stooping so low as to claim the thoughts of another as their own work.

I was a plagiarist.

Admitting that is tough, but I have admitted it since I was caught, trying desperately to redeem myself in my own eyes (and the eyes of the writing community I was involved in at the time) so that I can continue to write, to express myself honestly, and have my words matter. Having the shadow of plagiarism hang over my head has been one of the most painful, demoralizing, and self-introspective periods of my life.

And plagiarism is sometimes hard to quantify. I mean, where does it end? Certainly, taking someone else's poem and calling it your own is plagiarism, but what about taking the central joke of a cartoon, extrapolating that into metered rhyme, and publishing it? Is that plagiarism? How about culling the salient points from an on line article and spinning those like candy floss into verse? Is that plagiarism as well? Or is it research?

Steal from one, its plagiarism, steal from many, it's research. Wilson Mizner said that.

Please note that I stressed above that I WAS a plagiarist. At one point in my life, I was going through difficult personal problems including divorce and custody battle, and I was seeking the affirmation of my writing peers as a way to feel better about myself at the time. I got caught, got hung out to dry, and made a serious and concerted effort to make up for those mistakes. I lost some acquaintances, some self-respect, and a lot of credibility.

I am no longer guilty of theft. I will never again allow myself to be that weak. Understand that whatever of mine you ever read, is mine.


Warmed by the affirmation of strangers,
lured by the promise of praise,
blithely unconcerned for the dangers,
the stakes he continued to raise.

Here he found a quip that is witty,
there he spotted an essay well done.
And there was that poem so pretty -
as long as they believed him the one.

A genuine talent he mis-used,
to cover his perfidy as he lied.
The trust of his fellows he abused
as they enjoy the words he supplied.

Their approval fed his ego’s need,
appraisal and judgment gave praise.
All the while denying the writer’s creed
while setting his honor ablaze.

But being revealed crushed his casual game
bringing humiliation and stinging invective.
Never again will he view his actions the same,
as a revelation it was quite effective.

A pariah deserving of all he received
he humbly bowed before his peers;
before those who had previously believed
and those to whom his failure brought cheers.

To begin anew is no easy chore,
but there is value in standing upright.
Many former friends will trust him no more
and several will itch for a fight.

But if he would look himself in the eye
he must do the right thing at last.
No matter the cost he must honestly try
to leave his sins in the past.

Words are weapons, treasures and tools,
and their use can be for goodness or woe.
But only if he consistently follows the rules
will their trust in him get the chance to grow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Trophy of His Heritage

Family violence is a tough subject to approach without one of three possible outcomes.

Problem one, your writing gets preachy, holier than thou, taking a moral high ground while condescending to speak on the evils of domestic abuse, which usually has the effect of alienating the sections of your audience that have first hand experience, or reinforcing the stone-minded perceptions of those who only know domestic violence from after-school specials or news broadcasts.

Problem two, your voice takes on the persona of victim, a woe-is-me sort of weepy tirade to what your reader will assume was a trouble childhood, justification for the messed-up way that the writer turned out, and explanation for his or her own personal demons.

Problem three, the reader assumes that you are attempting to justify the actions of the abuser, explain away the whys and wherefores of bruises and scars, either out of some self-serving need to assuage your own guilt or a kind of digital Stockholm syndrome defense of the person who hurt us originally.

This poem was an attempt to address the issue reasonably, without rancor, defense or psychological insight. It is what it is.

A Trophy of His Heritage

He is using his fists
shattering crockery
and silence
in equal measure.

A man named for his father
lives the life
his father lived
in the same way
with the same mind.

Only when he is spent
and there is little left to break
is he able to hold
his rage aloft,
carry it about the house;
a trophy of his heritage.

He has locked himself in,
bolted and barred the door.
Whatever would like to get at him
will have to knock hard -
knuckle-bruising hard.

He thrashes against the window
watching Love walk through his garden,
enflamed anew
at this trespass;
how dare she ask
for an explanation.

Originally Published in "Grief Tattoos" - get the Kindle edition HERE
©2010 Christopher Reilley

I would love to know what you thought about this piece. Please consider leaving a comment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lexical Bagatelle


As a child, I would ring doorbells
and run off,
leaving tracks of potential.
Reciting poetry,
delighted in my ability
to mystify.

School meant diverse
conundrums to solve,
things to prove.
Different ways to
be an enigma.
And I mastered every one.

I failed as a bartender
because I would not
learn the meaning
of water down the wine.
It was an Arcanum of spirits.

Gardening was never meant to be.
I argued with the weeds
and snakes
that choked my flower friends
to death
Damn them.
The flowers, not the weeds.

But words
have never failed me,
never ignored me,
never misunderstood me,
like I have
done to them.

I unravel colluquies,
dance with etymon,
peer inside semanteme
to find the moist pearl within.

And then I throw them away.

Let there be more
to eternity
than day, night, repeat,
into infinity.