by George Held
On St. Cecilia’s Day
From harmony, from heav’nly harmony
This universal frame began . . .
—John Dryden, “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687”
They don’t make saints like you anymore –
Virgin, singer, lover of God –
And we remember your day less
For you than for the martyred JFK.
In your firm faith, you sent Valerian,
Your husband, out of Rome for baptism
And assured him your guardian angel
Said God had made you ever a virgin.
More than Purcell’s piece or Raphael’s
Ecstasy…,I recall Dryden’s “Song” for you,
And his ode on “The Power of Music,”
Written “in honor of St. Cecilia’s Day.”
The Romans’ overheated bathhouse would have done
Me in, not to mention the decapitation,
And I would no way sing to God as I lay
Bleeding. Taking three days to die, you earned
Your sainthood fittingly, more so than did
Those popes whom there was such an unseemly
Rush to canonize – for fear they’d be
Left out in the crush of events those days?
Like you, JFK bled copiously,
But died instantly; he had no time to think
Of God or sing to Him; his death made us
Uncertain . . . of so many things. Do we
Have the art to match his legend to yours
And the faith that new men and brave women
Will intercede for us, as you two did,
Now that the book of martyrdom is closed?
One of the day laborers, a shoveler
on the job building Doc’s new pharmacy
across the street from our apartment,
was named “Shorty” Lavelli,
and listening to the workers’ banter,
I learned his nickname was not so much
for his stature as for a war injury
he’d suffered in the infantry in Nam –
jumping over a fallen tree trunk
like a hurdler, Shorty was shot
between the legs and the bullet tore off
the tip of his penis. Luckily, he and his wife
already had a kid before his wound
became a joke among his fellow workers.
I was young and stupid when I hung out
with Shorty and the others at the work site,
and I didn’t understand the humor in losing
the tip of your dick, but Shorty laughed
along with the others when they teased
him about his loss. Thankfully, he resisted
their urgings to show me his stump, like
some carnival attraction in a dimly lit tent,
and I felt only a queasy curiosity before
the relief when he walked away with his
fingers fixed to his still-closed fly.
Shorty marched in the Fourth of July
Parade in Yonkers, but on Labor Day,
he told me, he took his wife and kid
to Rye Playland for the day, and tried
to forget about the work he’d done
for Uncle Sam, and about his wound…
until the next day on the job when
the ribbing began all over again
and Shorty, with the thrust of his spade,
tried to drown it out.
“Revolution” carries the seeds of “revolt” –
It’s the re-turn, the turning-back, around,
Revolving on the same axis that got us here
From there: 1776 to 2018, 242 years
Of progress and decline and about to fall,
The hardening of societal arteries,
The disequilibrium, the insufferable
Gap between the very rich (“different
From you and me”) quaffing Champagne
And the rest sucking hind tittie. Who knows
How to squelch greed, impose equality?
But gird your loins and prepare to join
The next revolters, the turners-around,
Who’ll rouse the crimson rabble, those
Who won’t hesitate to break the eggs
for a new revolutionary omelet.
Hear them? They are at the gates.
Cubs on Parade
“Children [called Cubs of the Caliphate] are taking a much more active role…receiving training on the use of heavy weapons, manning checkpoints on the front lines, being used as snipers and in extreme cases being used as suicide bombers.” – Juliette Touma, UNICEF regional spokeswoman (Reuters)
Cubs are cute, whether lion or bear,
but bear the genes of a predator.
The same’s not true of IS cubs, who might
become scholars or teachers if not recruited
to kill, toting second-hand AK-47s,
sniping with long rifles at other human
beings soccer fields away, or up close
and personal when detonating their vest.
The Cubs of the Caliphate might suffer
phantom pain like the annealed stump of a bomb-
severed limb or feel numbed by the carnage
they cause, though after the damage
is done, they are praised by their trainers
or else dead too.
About the Author:
A ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee, George Held contributes poems, fiction, and translations to various periodicals, including Adelaide, Blue Unicorn, Home Planet News Online, and Transference. His latest collection of poems is Second Sight (Poets Wear Prada, 2019).