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Financial Advice to Poets

Plus three more by Joseph S. Salemi

Military Funeral

  • The muffled roll of drums, the folded flag;
  • Three volleys from bolt-actions, sharp and crisp;
  • The clink of cartridge casings, and a wisp
  • Of bluish smoke. Then Taps begins its drag
  • Of lengthened notes — a melismatic wail
  • That seems to last forever. Next the scrape
  • Of boots as guardsmen exit, while black crepe
  • Billows beside the bier, an unlashed sail
  • Loose in autumnal breeze. The moment hits
  • The widow, whose composure starts to break.
  • She cannot hold back sobs; her shoulders shake.
  • Except for her, the grief-numbed family sits
  • As if held in suspended animation,
  • Deaf to the murmured “…from a grateful nation.”

Kissing Cousin

  • I see her every two years, usually
  • When someone dies or marries. And we kiss
  • As if we were old lovers, passionately,
  • Just as a silly spoof. She says I miss
  • These hot encounters! Prudish maiden aunts
  • Are duly scandalized, and start to talk.
  • I say Now ladies, I’ve kept on my pants —
  • When they come off, you’ve got the right to squawk.
  • The family laughs, we smile, the joke is done —
  • The business that’s at hand takes our attention.
  • At dinner, while conversing with her son,
  • I learn that there’s a knot of fierce dissension
  • Between her and her husband. And my blood
  • Rises like rebel rivers in full flood.

The Final Checkmate

  • No strategy with chessmen
  • (Deploy them how you will)
  • Can stop the Final Checkmate as
  • He zeroes in to kill.
  • Your knights and rooks and bishops,
  • Your pawns in rank and file —
  • Not one of them can hold him back,
  • Nor all your force and guile
  • Can stop the Final Checkmate
  • From clearing off the board,
  • And finding you alone before
  • His unrelenting sword.
  • You sidestep to a corner,
  • You zigzag left and right —
  • You try to hold a candle to
  • The fast-descending night,
  • But Final Checkmate’s steady
  • In his approaching tread.
  • He leaves no loophole for escape —
  • Your king is trapped and dead.

Financial Advice to Poets

  • A poet is a silly sod
  • If he thinks he’ll earn a wad
  • Of money from his verse transcendent —
  • You’d make more as a john attendant.
  • This has been the decree of Fates
  • From Homer up to Butler Yeats:
  • Obscurity and empty purses
  • Shall dog poor fools who write in verses.
  • You only turn this trade to bucks
  • By teaching it to dumber schmucks.

Joseph S. Salemi teaches in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. He has published seven books of poetry, the latest of which is Steel Masks (White Violet Press, 2013). His poems, essays, translations, and scholarly articles have appeared in over 100 publications worldwide. He is the editor of the poetry magazine TRINACRIA and a regular monthly columnist for The Pennsylvania Review, an online literary journal.

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Military Funeral

  • The muffled roll of drums, the folded flag;
  • Three volleys from bolt-actions, sharp and crisp;
  • The clink of cartridge casings, and a wisp
  • Of bluish smoke. Then Taps begins its drag
  • Of lengthened notes — a melismatic wail
  • That seems to last forever. Next the scrape
  • Of boots as guardsmen exit, while black crepe
  • Billows beside the bier, an unlashed sail
  • Loose in autumnal breeze. The moment hits
  • The widow, whose composure starts to break.
  • She cannot hold back sobs; her shoulders shake.
  • Except for her, the grief-numbed family sits
  • As if held in suspended animation,
  • Deaf to the murmured “…from a grateful nation.”

Kissing Cousin

  • I see her every two years, usually
  • When someone dies or marries. And we kiss
  • As if we were old lovers, passionately,
  • Just as a silly spoof. She says I miss
  • These hot encounters! Prudish maiden aunts
  • Are duly scandalized, and start to talk.
  • I say Now ladies, I’ve kept on my pants —
  • When they come off, you’ve got the right to squawk.
  • The family laughs, we smile, the joke is done —
  • The business that’s at hand takes our attention.
  • At dinner, while conversing with her son,
  • I learn that there’s a knot of fierce dissension
  • Between her and her husband. And my blood
  • Rises like rebel rivers in full flood.

The Final Checkmate

  • No strategy with chessmen
  • (Deploy them how you will)
  • Can stop the Final Checkmate as
  • He zeroes in to kill.
  • Your knights and rooks and bishops,
  • Your pawns in rank and file —
  • Not one of them can hold him back,
  • Nor all your force and guile
  • Can stop the Final Checkmate
  • From clearing off the board,
  • And finding you alone before
  • His unrelenting sword.
  • You sidestep to a corner,
  • You zigzag left and right —
  • You try to hold a candle to
  • The fast-descending night,
  • But Final Checkmate’s steady
  • In his approaching tread.
  • He leaves no loophole for escape —
  • Your king is trapped and dead.

Financial Advice to Poets

  • A poet is a silly sod
  • If he thinks he’ll earn a wad
  • Of money from his verse transcendent —
  • You’d make more as a john attendant.
  • This has been the decree of Fates
  • From Homer up to Butler Yeats:
  • Obscurity and empty purses
  • Shall dog poor fools who write in verses.
  • You only turn this trade to bucks
  • By teaching it to dumber schmucks.

Joseph S. Salemi teaches in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. He has published seven books of poetry, the latest of which is Steel Masks (White Violet Press, 2013). His poems, essays, translations, and scholarly articles have appeared in over 100 publications worldwide. He is the editor of the poetry magazine TRINACRIA and a regular monthly columnist for The Pennsylvania Review, an online literary journal.

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