The Brothers Karamazov

In the opening scenes of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, we meet the elder Zosima, a gentle old monk ensconced in a rural monastery and attended to in his illness by the novel’s hero, Alyosha. The context in which we first meet the elder is one that would try anyone’s faith, but Zosima handles the confrontation with a sagacity and charm that would warm (almost) any atheist’s heart. There is almost a Buddhist turn to his witticisms, when he gently parries the claims of nonbelievers on his time.

This fan poem is inspired by the elder’s remarks to a penitent peasant woman, on the topic of shame – perhaps the central virtue of Russian orthodoxy, at least in the hands of devoted Schiller fans like Dostoevsky.

Where is the shame in the liquid notes
the passer-by plucks on the lyre?
Where is the shame when their fragrance floats
from the lilies downstream to the weir?

The music of saints is no less a song,
their pageantry no less a dance.
But the saints are ashamed to pine and long
for their love when the world looks askance.

Young lovers with bells on their feet take flight
when a footfall presses a stair;
the very swans guarding the lake take flight
when a huntress pauses to stare.

But where is the shame in the rose’s blush
when the sun warms the jasmine nearby?
Where is the shame in the eager flush
of a pilot first learning to fly?

Moonlight goes softly, but not so the sun,
for gentleness longs not for day.
The shadows of twilight cannot be outrun,
nor the noon be compelled to stay.

Gather your secrets all into one pile,
consign the lot to a flame.
Relinquish your heartache, relearn to smile,
and burn brighter for love of your shame.

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Filed under Music, Poetry

Harry Power

The True History of the Kelly Gang presents Harry Power, memorably portrayed by Russell Crowe, as something of an enigma. Does he really need Ned’s help, or is he just tired of drinking alone? As Ned narrates over our last scene with Harry in the movie, one can hardly trust anything Harry says about himself. His most paradoxical moments are perhaps his only honest moves. This poem, in Harry’s voice addressed to young Ned, is based on the 71st Psalm.

That’s you, sunshine – my little helper.
Never let them trammel on my name.
Your apprenticeship frees me from loathing.
You’ll lend me your ear, spare me snow’s silence.
Here in the bushranger’s bullet-proof shed
we will always be safe and snug – alone.
Sold into servitude at my side,
your hand will steady mine, too, in time.
My boy, we’ll range far from the grip of the laws,
far from the scabrous constables’ reach.
For the vastness of bush is our only hope,
a man’s surety is his remoteness – you’ll see.
I was whelped in the rough with the unimpressed.
From my mother’s belly loathing brought me out.
The curses of lawmen are our highest praise,
and we rake out our infamy under their sun.
If you go, do not leave me alive, boy,
for aging has stripped me of pleasure in breathing.
These constables whisper about me already,
lose on my scent and with heads bent together –
they whisper that strength has forsaken me,
they’ll rush me alone, if you leave me here.
Boy, do not turn your head – face me!
Be my helper in this, if only this – quick!
By your nerve, my pursuers will be disgraced –
with their hangdog faces lowered, they’ll sulk,
these men who could not stop my kind and yours.
Look at me, and see how I hold out hope
of making a true immortal of you.
All I’ve written of us will lay the scene,
and the pale sun that rises and sets on their soil
will flush at your wrath like a startled bride.
I will harry the sleep of their judges for you,
in my skull I will carry your blazon alone.
Long has the bush been a succour to me,
long have I sung of the bushranger’s triumphs.
And grim though the vice of old age is to me,
for our kind, for our ways, you will not betray me.
When you ride, songs I’ve written will mark out your fame,
and the young ones will relish your infamy,
they will eat from your table, praise you to the skies,
for the fell deeds begun at a bushranger’s side –
now my boy, can you taste the flint of your name?
Now, with the blast of your wrath in my face,
you will carry the stamp of my life for your fate
and the bowels of the worms cannot hold me.
Your exploits will outnumber mine by far –
the curses you’ll raise are a sop to my pride.
Just so, I wrote verses with you at my knee.

Our true claim to glory is testimony.
You and I sang of showing those constables up,
and though both of us hang, still our words can cut.
My lips will peel back on a bone-chilling smile,
bought back from disuse at the price of a child.
My tongue will swell, black as the seed of a grave,
fat with the tales men will tell of your name.
Those lecherous constables fear us, my boy,
fruitlessly scouring, dog-kneed and vile.

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Filed under Corruption, Music, Poetry, The True History of the Kelly Gang

Man of Steel

This poem, based on the 70th Psalm, and in the voice of Lois Lane (pining for help from Superman), was actually fun to write. It felt naughty, because it lets me vent about a bad habit of mine – looking to others for rescue. It’s a tendency we’re pressured not to acknowledge in ourselves, because it’s so trite and self-evidently self-defeating, but it’s a powerful undercurrent in the psyche, the notion that someone is just about to intervene on our behalf, if only we can hold on for one more instant… I associate this feeling with treading water, escapism, and internalized victim-blaming. But it is also a vote of confidence in someone, anyone – there is a shred of faith left in humanity there.

Someone unlikely is coming for me –
help me, for this is impossible – quick!
No one supported me – shame on my friends.
When they see for themselves they’ll lose face,
and regret having tried to hold me back.
They’ll take back their jibes and their pedantry,
the same friends who scoffed at me all along.
The world needs to know someone’s here for us,
the news will bring hope for all mankind.
Like me, they will see Clark is trying to help –
they will welcome this stranger, our savior.
And I know, in this, my hour of need,
he may come – I have hope – hurry to me!
My rescuer could free us all from fear.
I shout for help – our time is running out…

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Filed under False controversies, Man of Steel, Poetry

After the flood

In the wake of yet another series of terrible man-made storms, it seems fitting to write about Noah again. Some people are building Arks for wildlife to survive extreme heat waves these days – the time for desperate acts is already upon us. And they can only save so few – the tragedy unfolding around us is relentless.

I’m lucky to live in a part of the country where the electric grid is already almost carbon-free, and where the public transit system is robust enough that I don’t need to use a car to get around. I remember how helpless and resigned I felt when I didn’t have all these advantages of place. Now it’s easier to feel angry, and impatient with the rest of the world for not changing fast enough.

Is it really enough, in a global economy, to, “think global, act local”? My “local” goal for this year is to further reduce my carbon footprint by eating more local organic produce and cutting back on internet shopping. My “global” goal is to focus my retirement investment portfolio on financial products that have divested from fossil fuels. What’s yours?

This poem is based on the 69th Psalm.

God of my father, pull back these waters,
for the deluge now robs me of breath.
I have sunk to the basins of the damned,
on my knees in the slime – now all is lost.
I embarked on your voyage, my calling:
the frailty of my own heart failed you.
I am hoarse from prayers of supplication.
My strength gives out – I cannot lead on.
My very eyes dim in this gloamy hell
from straining after signs, bereft of hope.
Harried the whole of my life by the damned,
inexplicable hatred pursued me.
The men who intended to slay us drowned,
yet I see their weakness still, in my sons.
What Methuselah smuggled from Eden
bore fruit – how can I root out our line?
My weakness is not so different from theirs;
though I withdraw with shame, love stayed my hand.
Let these souls hope for grace in spite of all.
Creator, your Word decides each struggle.
Let my reluctance not condemn my sons,
for you are the father whose help they need.
In their eyes, in your name, I stand to blame,
and they turn aside, they avoid my face.
My wife has turned her back on all we once shared –
I became a stranger to my children.
The courage to attempt to do your will
has branded me a traitor to mankind.
I turned from the fruit of the earth and wept –
my own person seizes me with disgust.
I rolled naked in sand upon the beach
to the shame of my sons, who looked on.
Their talk then could only be of reproach,
for the vine and the press left me helpless.
And I – dare I offer another prayer?
In this afterworld, dare we mortals hope?
Creator, the kindness you showed us once
gives me courage – I ask again for help.
Wash away my fault, for it bears me down.
Pull me back from the riptides of despair.
I fear being swept far from those I love,
naked as driftwood on a barren rock –
the alien shore of death would have me.
Answer what poor remnant I am, O Lord,
out of your strange and perfect compassion.
Bare your face to your weary messenger,
for what I built for you is not enough.
Time runs short, and I would be near you.
Those that seemed vanquished corrupted us all.
Only you can plumb the depth of my fault,
I who have failed all those you sacrificed.
My very being stutters from the shame;
I look for a reprieve where nothing is,
and though I would be understood, none can.
Instead I suck on vines, eat bitter fruit,
and slake my thirst on dry, fermented dregs.
Just so, I longed to see Cain’s huntsmen choke,
who dragged each other down when all were drowned.
All this, that men blinded by greed see no more,
all this that men raised without shame should quake.
Torturous anger moved heaven and earth,
a convulsion of hatred engulfed them.
All the inhabited earth is stripped bare,
that of mankind nothing should remain.
The descendents of Cain are now wiped out,
long having hunted the innocent down.
To men who disowned their own guilt, add blame,
deny them the earth, and all that’s in it.
Their ways and their writ are rubbed out for good,
and their wickedness must be unlearned.
But what am I, save wretched and forlorn?
What shelter can I seek from works undone?
How can I sing my grandchildren to sleep,
whose heritage was meant only for God?
Theirs now the oxen, the flocks and the droves –
the innocents under them shy and stamp.
Those that survive now warm to the sun,
yet I cannot tell if they still trust the Lord.
But God alone hears us cry out in need;
when we quaked in his power, he softened.
The gray skies, the blue earth, stir at his touch,
green mountains, sea meadows – all life responds.
The Creator gave warning, saved our line,
to us gave the stewardship of all life,
to husband the fields and preserve the wild.
Perhaps we are equal to this great task,
and can ready the world to turn towards love.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Noah, Poetry

Recovery

This movie scared the pants off me. I picked up on it because I was in a David Tennant vortex on YouTube (a highly recommended place to be if you need some extra goofiness in your day) and it pulled me right in.

The writing is honest, the performances from David Tennant and Sarah Parish are heartbreaking. As the filmmakers said of the production, what patients with traumatic brain injury asked them not to do was to tack on a Hollywood ending that pretends everything is going to be okay. Because brain damage doesn’t just go away.

Sometimes with a head injury, even the injured person can tell something is wrong afterwards. But most of the time, it’s more subtle than that. And that’s why I needed this film. Because it shows what your loved ones are going through when you, yourself, don’t even realize anything is wrong with you.

Because you don’t remember exactly what happened. The you that was the “before” you just isn’t there, not even in your own memories. Major props to the filmmakers for showing that compassion goes both ways between carers and the disabled.

But Recovery is more than a film about loss – it’s also a story about moving on. About learning not to treat your losses as some sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card. About recognizing that who you are now matters more than what you once were, because tomorrow isn’t waiting around for you to get back up again and pull your life together.

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Filed under Acting, Dream Ensemble, Economics

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

This film takes me back to the beginnings of this blog, when I didn’t have any Russell Crowe fan poetry to show for myself and was reduced to posting leftover poetry from other fandoms… Of course, eventually I decided to make this fansite officially more inclusive, sort of a smorgasbord of poetry for different fandoms with a special preference for Russell Crowe movies (and music).

My longest-running experiment in fan poetry was a series of 100 stanzas about the star-crossed lovers in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, written as letters from Pelagia (Penelope Cruz) to Mandras (Christian Bale), about the gradually ebbing love she felt for him when he left her for the Albanian front and never wrote back. (This happens before Captain Corelli, played with distinction by Nicholas Cage, arrives on the scene to complete the triangle.) You can see bits and pieces of it here.

This poem picks up where that one left off, with Captain Corelli’s arrival, leading the Italian invasion of the island of Ithaca, all of whose young men have either died fighting or straggled back to their homes in secret to live in hiding under the Axis occupation. Inspired by the 68th Psalm, best known for its breathtaking imagery (“The wings of the dove are inlaid with silver / and her pinions with precious gold”) but actually a rather sprawling Psalm that shifts in tone and perspective many times, much like the film.

Let the victors be named, throw open your gates,
and may all our detractors scatter!
As smoke clears off when there is no flame,
as candlesticks yield to a lighted wick,
may the ragtag rebels and holdouts relent.
And let our heroes parade and exult
before the town, and take pride in their work.
Sing an aria – learn a libretto with us!
If our entrance is not paved with roses,
Verdi will triumph where Wagner fell flat.

Opera, the music of exiles abroad,
sustains us like players in strange concert halls.
Don Giovanni will lead the way home,
where Rossini will greet us, free men, with a shout.
Those who appeal to Das Rheingold, be damned!
For us, sing Bellini, and sing of love,
here in the heat, in half-conquered resorts.
We are ready for earthquakes, explosions,
storms – pour out your wrath, we tell the Greek gods,
Ithaca, too, is subdued by guitars.

A generous sunset, the bells at dusk,
this half-deserted village stirs to life.
The tango is known here, the mandolin,
who knew our poor soldiers could make ladies flush?
The officers beat out the time, make quips –
these women could make our whole army a match!
With long looks they reprove us, yet they smile,
saying our captain would flee from a skirt.
Those who lie with the Germans are warned, shunned.
The caress of my mistress shimmers like starlight,
her breast, like a songbird’s, thrills to the sun.

When at last we broke through the defenders’ ranks,
a chill obscured the zenith of the sun.
This island’s bluffs, like mountains of the gods,
overlook our ships disdainfully and slouch.
What titans are shaking their chains when they stir,
upending great temples of stone with brute haste?
The island remains and makes quarries of graves.

Our army outnumbers this country’s by far,
we came ashore like the breakers of storms.
Though only a captain, I lead these men,
and music is all that defines us here.
Your guerrillas recaptured the island,
you claimed your own hostages, took revenge,
the women who strayed, you hanged like dogs –
all for a certain idea of life.
I pray for our brave quartermaster. Enough.

Music to us was salvation, not hope.
Opera, immortal, helped us accept death.
True, in this war men are butchered like sheep,
or like wolves in sheep’s clothing, skulking and sly.
Our army sought power and patrimony,
to salvage a myth of our destiny.
Why? So our boots could sink knee-deep in blood,
while the dogs roll in offal from misfired bombs?

The villagers saw our parades in style,
my countrymen marching in fresh from the front.
Our singers were followed by brass and drums
filing through throngs of young girls and old men.
Our choruses gave thanks to Rossini first,
then Verdi, the greatest of opera gods.
For a few bars Bellini held sway as well,
Italy’s nobility know their own –
Padua, Naple and Rome sent royal guards.

Conduct our hearts, our wayward dreams – the strength
our music gave us in the breach, the love
this island showed us when our cause was lost.
To you, my muse, I owe not words but gifts.
The war that beat upon your shores is lost,
artillery will scour here no more,
for Germany makes reparations now.
The dogs of war are scattered and subdued.
The next time officers come from abroad
to shelter here, they’ll sue on bended knee.

Ithaca, sing of the loves you have known,
strum the guitar or draw notes with the bow.
Sing of the castaway heroes of yore.
Sound not one bell, let the voice alone ring.
Honor the courage your women have shown,
for strangers, for fellowship, some for pride,
their love as magnanimous as blue skies.
Fierce in the sanctity of their own homes.
Music embraces the woman alone.
Perfect as morning and fine as sea foam.

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Filed under Acting, Dream Ensemble, Music, Poetry

Troy

The Iliad is one of those epics you dodge in school, if you’re anything like George Bernard Shaw, who once opined that it was only useful as a missile to fling at another schoolboy’s head. But in her incredible essay about this ancient epic, Simone Weil brings out moments of illumination that she argues can best be understood as parallels to the moral vision of the Gospels. She sees in Homer’s poetry a vision of suffering that is so total that only the attentiveness to what is being lost in the violence gives the fabric of human experience meaning, in the context of a never-ending war. Even if you haven’t (and don’t intend to) read the Iliad, I highly recommend her essay, The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.

The 2004 adaptation of this story, Troy, doesn’t really capture this pathos, focusing instead on the egos of the protagonists, and their moments of glory. But it doesn’t entirely disregard the poem’s message that war is a fruitless enterprise, in which there are ultimately no winners – a message brought home the more vividly by the Greek tragedies detailing the fates of the Trojan women, Agamemnon and his family. But rather than foreshadow these gut-wrenching stories, the film’s ending focuses on the escape of Paris, Aeneas and the Trojan refugees, setting up the Aeneid’s triumphalist march to Rome in typical Hollywood fashion.

This quickie of a scrap of fan poetry, based on the 67th Psalm, just sets the scene for the Trojans’ rude awakening, the night after they admit the Greeks’ enormous statue behind the city’s protective walls.

Apollo grant us peace in our time,
and shine His face on Hektor’s sleeping son.
To countenance the ways of gods with men,
who look on high for rescue from the Fates.
Great nations bow to Apollo’s teaching,
and all men acclaim His arrows’ scourge.
The city of Troy can rejoice once more,
her prayers and offerings are well-received,
on her high walls Apollo’s blessing rests.
Even the savage Achaeans are awed,
all peoples of Greece acclaim our god.
The parting sea of ships has left a gift.
Apollo grant us grace – for we have won.
May this fell offering be brought inside,
to show our people how our god is feared.

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On sighting the Acheron

The adventurers in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World aren’t an overly churchy lot, so this version of the 66th Psalm is admittedly a stretch, but the Psalm had some nautical features that seemed to make it amenable to adaptation. I finally bought the books this movie is based on, but I can’t stand to read them – they’re too good! Reading one makes me feel as guilty as if I just wolfed down a pint of double chocolate ice cream….

Shout out huzzah, to all the world!
Sing out the glory of England’s pride.
Praise be to God for victory.
Say at prayers, “How fierce in battle.
Ships scatter before the Lord’s might.”
Though we sail the far side of the world,
with God’s help all we meet is subdued.
Witness the acts of our Lord,
awesome in catalogued wonders.
Out of the sea he raised fresh water,
and finches on bare cindercones.
He alone can crown England’s might.
For the Lord’s tests probe all nations.
Pity those who rise against him.
May all our people bless our God,
and all aloud give him praise,
who has kept us from harm at sea,
and permitted no fool to stumble.
Our duty to England tried us,
our baser needs were swept aside.
Like swimmers trawled in a net,
ship’s discipline bound us, group and heel.
The officer class rode over us.
And we strove through dead calms and storms –
but our captain brought us through with ease.
We gave him our all, unflinching,
and made good our oaths to the crown,
oaths renewed in the teeth of disaster,
when all one could say was, “Hold fast.”
Our bodies consigned to the surgeon,
we sweat out the pain without cries.
The butcher’s bill takes without leave.
Come close lads, we’ll tell you a tale,
one all God-fearing seamen should hear,
of miracles and of reprieves.
Three cheers for the captain of the Surprise,
huzzah from the bows and the rigging, boys!
When we languished in horse latitudes,
the captain looked calmly ahead to the prize.
God must have kept us in mind, I say,
for someone has answered our reckless prayers.
God bless our captain, our ship and the crown,
for God has looked kindly on you and me.

P.S. Most of the lesser-known chamber music referenced in the books is on YouTube, and it’s amazing…

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Filed under Master and Commander, Music, Poetry, Roll Credits

A Winter’s Tale

Russell Crowe plays the delectably evil henchman Pearly Soames in Akiva Goldsman’s modern fairytale, A Winter’s Tale. His seething enthusiasm for dashing the dreams of the innocent might seem like an odd choice of theme for a poem based on the 65th Psalm, but somehow, it just seemed like the perfect fit. Here I’ve lapsed into end rhyme, but the effect, like the villain in the film, just makes me smile.

For fans of The Ordinary Fear of God and Indoor Garden Party, this is not a film you want to miss – lots of cameos from Russell’s bandmates to enjoy here. Pictured above is Alan Thomas Doyle.

If silence is due praise, I will be brief,
and pay the wages of my vows in blood.
Who listens to a dying virgin’s prayer,
will hear all flesh expire, one by one.
My deeds of mischief now exceed my pay.
For chaos is rewarded but one way.
Fortunate those the dark lord holds to heart,
who revel in opulent, macabre courts.
May we slake awful appetites at will –
unholy forces, ring the dinner bell!
Though death-defying acts escape some plans,
maneuvers of a deft angelic hand,
that bright dog of the east comes hurrying
across the bleak Atlantic just to see
what monumental evils, set in store,
our dark lord has thrown up to dim the stars –
as if to try to still the roaring seas,
or smother up all hell’s ignominies.
Even from the world’s ends, our prince is feared.
By twilight his dark powers are revered.
With blood as his manure, he gives back
unto the soil the wealth that life extracts.
All chaos bubbles up, a seething stream.
For chaos is the impetus, the seed,
the fertile flood, and the great leveling,
and soaked in gore, the earth is quickening.
Our exploits tonight crown a record year –
the grilles of Manhattan are dripping with fear.
Even these fresh upstate meadows do drip,
all innocent joys are squeezed out in fear’s grip.
The wolves are at play in the sheepfold tonight,
and the rivers run cold to behold such a sight.
Hell’s minions whoop for joy – this scent they prize.

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Filed under A Winter's Tale, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, New York corruption, Poetry

The Missing

So the 64th Psalm turned out to be a dead ringer for Val Kilmer’s cameo in The Missing – pretty tickled to be able to write this poem. I really enjoyed Kilmer’s short appearance in this gem of a Ron Howard movie, opposite Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones.

I haven’t seen his newest release, but I’m eager to check out the material included on his long-awaited project about the connection between Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy. I honestly don’t know what the connection is, but I can’t wait to find out!

I once read a book written by the hypnotist who first introduced Miss Eddy to altered states of consciousness during her long, drawn-out ordeal with chronic back pain. Not too many copies of that one in circulation these days, but it’s housed at the Arts & Sciences library of Johns Hopkins University. It was fascinating, relating the story of a hypnotist who could raise a blister on your arm using only an imaginary heat source. Makes an interesting kind of backstory to the origins of Christian Science, a religion my father and his siblings were raised with – and those were definitely some troubled kids.

But back to The Missing, and the deadpan drollery of Val Kilmer’s lieutenant, when he encounters the search party looking for Maggie’s kidnapped daughter.

Look, ma’am, I’m just a lieutenant to this lot.
We, too, are hunted by Apache raiders.
These are enlisted men – turn aside your eyes,
I do not condone the clumsy thieving here,
and some would speak harshly of my command,
letting fly words of contempt for this disorder,
but such back-biting slanders innocent men,
and without a second thought, careers are up.
Men seek to climb the ranks by spreading mischief.
Already a few sulky men have laid traps.
They suppose me ignorant of common pranks.
“Search me!” such fools proclaim, “turn out my pockets!
What insurance I’ve laid by is hidden well,
and though you rake for it in my very breast,
not a jot will come to light – my cares are safe.”
Little enough do these men know of command.
As quickly as they speak up, they’ll be tossed out.
Their loose tongues will be their own undoing then,
and the rest will merely nod and mock at them.
The stolen valuables will all be paid for,
and by and by, they’ll learn to watch their missteps,
if only to grasp the likely consequence.
My duty and my means constrain my hand, ma’am,
I would offer you protection otherwise.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry