Not sure what to make of all this talk about a Gladiator sequel with Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, but if it comes to fruition this time, I will definitely be seeing it in theaters! Couldn’t resist writing a little fan poetry in anticipation…
Monthly Archives: October 2021
This paean to Indira Gandhi is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it pays tribute to a very real and very enduring dynasty in Indian politics, the Nehru/Gandhi family, scions of the Congress Party, once upon a time a party of statesmen with a platform, but now as much a family firm as any political party in India.
Dynasty politics is something my home country, the U.S., is no stranger to. Here, nepotism and family name brand politics seemed to have peaked when Clinton and Trump faced off in the 2016 elections, but the family firm’s place in American politics has deep roots, and the periodic reversion from statesmanship to “family & friends” politics is probably an ineradicable tendency in populist democracies.
The portrait of Indira Gandhi above is from a Time magazine story on the state of emergency Indira used to prolong her stay in power when the high court ruled that she must step down. Indira’s emergency powers eventually gave way to a resurgence of press freedoms, but contemporary India is under a similar cloud of violent oppression and censorship, causing investigative journalists to fear for their lives.
This poem is modeled on Psalm 72, the last of the Davidic Psalms, a poem addressed to the trusted heir to the throne, King Solomon.
Impetuous child of a tireless statesman,
take up for your country the torch of his name.
Refuse the temptations of office and purse,
safeguard the afflicted, the outcasts, the poor.
From the Vindhaya mountains to Chota Nagpur,
may your dynasty quell years of conflict and strife.
May this daughter of Chacha Nehru bring us joy,
lifting up the oppressed with a steady hand,
just as she steered us through war, without flinching.
Our rivals hang back when we join in her train,
green and gold – a new dawn white – a pure, freshet moon.
Where she turns her embrace of her people, monsoons
cannot slow her advance, and good practice ripens.
Men and women who press for fair wages will thrive –
and civil strife yield to the ballot once more,
from the Bay of Bengal to Maharashtra,
from the mouth of the Indus to Mahanadi.
Before her the Thar desert shimmers and nods,
and the glaciers of Kashmir safeguard Ladakh.
May the princes of Jaipur at last pay their way,
and the island Tamils take up pens and not swords,
may the gurus of Punjab inspire their flock
to build monuments not to divide, but to heal.
And all the Great Powers will line up in turn,
to pay court to our government – neutral, secure.
For the Congress spares the poor from begging,
and comes to the aid of the children of God.
Indira is moved by the laboring poor,
the barefoot rice-planters and girls look to her,
to outwit the absentee landlords and loan sharks,
knowing she came back for love of their cause.
Long may her legacy lead us through peril,
bringing prosperity, banishing famine.
All of our faiths owe her prayers of goodwill,
for her government has been a blessing.
Well has she watered the paddies and fields,
and even the mountains are greener today.
Mango leaves rustle with promises now,
and lotus blooms spring forth like stars in the sky.
Will her name always guide us in times of need?
As constant as moonlight, her family returns,
a blessing to people of all tongues and creeds.
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.
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.
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…