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Poetry Magnum Opus

Panta Rhei


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Ettore Schwartz, Triestine, inveterate smoker,

smiles contentedly, snuggles into the couch

and analyses himself, at odds with the expensive

acolyte of Adler who sits, seriously, out of sight,

just there behind his head. This is rather nice,

thinks Italo Svevo, for this is the name he employs

when he writes his excellent unappreciated novels.

I really must have a word with my English teacher

muses Ettore Svevo, and so thinks Italo Schwartz,

as both, acting as one, reach for the next cigarette.


I cannot imagine what was going through Benjamin’s mind

there on the dusty platform, surrounded by yellow hills,

in one of those dreary arse-end towns (I’ve been through it)

every country seems to have. This is worse than most,

also, not helpfully, in Spain. Might as well be Chihuahua,

with the same hayseed police, smelling of wine and garlic,

but mostly of themselves. As mongrels do they smell your fear.

But suicide? Sorry, my dear, you gave up too easily.


Franz Josef was a thick-headed limited old brute

but not the worst of the emperors by any means.

Nobody thinks or even cares of this crusty old character

who went through so much personal heartache, who can

actually know what went through his dreams at night?

His wife, one of the most beautiful women in Europe,

was flighty, horse-mad, and refused to sleep with him,

his only son and heir shot himself with a 17-year-old girl,

and the Hungarians and Czechs never left off badgering.

Then Franz Ferdinand, whom he never liked, got himself shot

and the whole ramshackle Empire blundered into War.

At least, poor dodderer, you never lived to see the end.


Simple advice; when a young girl offers you adoring blowjobs

and you are a middle-aged man, married, and also happen to be

the President of the United States, you should reach deep

into yourself, balancing the pleasure against the consequences,

and say, Why not? You never know when you’ll get the chance again.


I met Bob in Hawai’i when I was driving a taxi for Charley’s.

He was new, I’d been around, I was set up as his Driver Supervisor…


Stauffenberg should have made sure, staying behind

until the final moment of detonation, sacrificing himself

and not racing back to Berlin. I do not question his courage,

which had already been proven, only his judgment, his thinking.

Room was needed, the briefcase moved, and Hitler lived.

I wonder what really would have happened: perhaps not much.

The real heroes, or victims, were Hans and Sophie Scholl.


The first thing, Bob, is you’ve got to stop drinking and driving.

OK, boss. Next thing is don’t lock the doors, let them

get out before they pay.What if they don’t pay? Bob, if I was

your customer, I would definitely pay. Everyone in the company

was askance at Mad Bob, everyone but me, maybe because

he called me boss, and did some of the things I told him.

Bob had had a bit of a … chequered career in Vietnam. Later it all came out.


O turn aside and no more weep

Upon love’s bitter mystery …

Fergus rules the burning cars.


You never loved me. At night, darling, in the darkness,

You would allow me to hover and slip it in, you would

grunt and shift your hips, sustaining an angry passing joy,

and then you’d race, sticky from me, to the bathroom. I lay

behind you, dazed, exhausted, thinking this girl wants to marry me,

and if she does, this burst of spread-your-legs will come to

an abrupt skidding end. I could foresee years of tightened lips,

frowns, blankets of disapproval, and while thinking on these things,

a monkey came through the window and scared the bloody hell out of you.

He was a young hungry chappie and I laughed. You carried on so loud,

I knew for sure I would never marry you. Tight body and tits to die for,

but downturning lips and that glint in your eye. No thanks. I need

a relaxed little girl, a good cook, fine-looking, quick and handy.


Bob started to tell me his weird jungle stories

so I sent him out into to the bright lights of the city

which was a mistake: the garish night-scenes of Honolulu,

where the Mahu boys down on Hotel Street, bored and horny,

would fling themselves, baritone, at your crotch,

and you’d hear the polite pop-pop of handguns, soft sounds off,

as people settled their economic and personal differences.

At four in the morning you’d steer around the bodies,

most still alive, lying still, with pale goose-pimpled thighs

under a lightening sky of pale pink and streaks of purple,

and you’d take the dregs of the battered drunk young sailors

to their grey steel ships, bobbing bobbing in Pearl Harbor.


When she was young, you know, she was a tremendous beauty,

the toast of Edwardian London, Hove and the Isle of Wight.

It’s said that the Old King came out and saw her one morning

and brightened up considerably, asked her in for a spot of tea,

and said, My Word, what a sight for sore eyes, etcetera, that

kind of thing, and died, coughing, not very long after. She preened

and pushed out her chest, not inconsiderable even then, fluttered

her lashes over deep violet eyes and behaved like the stupid bitch

she has been ever since. In Wimbledon in the late fifties,

her garden adjoined the dank collapsing collection of bricks

my young parents were renting from the dying Mr Bannerjee,

and she would appear fully dressed with a damn parrot on her thin

left shoulder and say, Young Man (to me) would you desist

from making those distressing noises as I refought the Battle of Britain

with plastic Spitfires and Messerschmitts: and the sky in those days

was white or grey, with a menacing hint of rain.


Theo had been to Poland, France and Russia with the ever

victorious Wehrmacht, and reckoned it had been pretty good,

except for the last bit, freezing his balls off in Khaboroshtny,

Khonovreshnyev, something anyway with a fuckin Kh,

and he said, Bernd (they all called me Bernd) then I know

we lose the war. What about Herr Hitler, Theo? Fuck Hitler,

says Theo. One good thing you see in the Army you never must listen

to this verdammte gefluechte Scheisse. But in the Rheinland, you know,

1923, I was young boy maybe seven or eightund die Gebrueder Meerschlag

haben mich wie ein junges Maedchen gedresst mit tennis balls als tits,

eine Bluse und skirt, ja, langes Haare mit ein Wig, und dann in the Park

hineingeschleppt, so das die verdammte French Negertruppe

an mir gekommen sind, Hallo, hallo! Dann kommen die zwei Bruder from out

die Buschen mit knives from butcher und machen die Neger zick-zack alles kaput!

Blut! Everywhere blut, blut! They say go, go! I run. I laugh, ha ha. OK, war not so good.

In the beginning, champagne, in the end piss, ja, piss and dirty water.


Heil Hitler! Theo smiles. Theo is my pal.

Bob is also sort of a pal but he worries me.

Mr Bloom is a thoughtful Jew, miles and miles from Trieste,

nestled, unsettled, under the gaze of doddery old Franz Josef:

K.u.K, Kaiserlich und Koeniglich, Coocoo, Kakka.

The world turns. On its axis. Not much choice.


At dinner parties, journalists back from war zones are occasionally asked

what it was really like. Perhaps the most accurate answer would be to rape the hostess,

murder the host, cut the children’s throats and set fire to the house, without any further explanation.

On his deathbed, Ettore calls for another cigarette.

This, he thinks, will really be the last one. The Last Time, I don’t know

Benjamin thinks of the best way to die. Stauffenberg, his mind ticking,

looks down from a cracked airplane window, sees the damp fields of Germany

mutely yearning, helplessly spread below. Soon I’ll be in Berlin.

Soon we’ll all be in Berlin, more a metaphor than a city.

Could you kindly remove your moon-white arse, softly female,

from the region of my nose? Sweet-smelling. Thanks ever so much,

I was going to speak about Bob and Honolulu taxis. Bob arrived

from Saigon as it was known then after three years in Leavenworth,

one of those maximum security places where God-fearing white Americans

send their unruly minorities to moulder, to grow old and crazy , die.

Seems Bob had shot his Platoon Sergeant, some redneck hillbilly,

stitched him across the chest, brrrppp, brrrrpp, brppp, oops, dead,

and said, I’m gettin the fuck outta here. They called it in on the radio

before the Cong wiped them out, every single last little lonely one,

and that was the end of Bob’s platoon. Bob, who was large and loony,

hijacked some poor (God-fearing) little chaplain in a jeep, rattled his brains,

and turned up wild-eyed with his papers at Tan Son Nhut, the airport.

First they sent him to Leavenworth and then they sent him to me.


I fell in love with Molokai. I used to go there once or twice a year

just to get away from the nyah-nyah shite of Honolulu.

There were no hotels, no cranky tourists, no grinning Japanese,

only ill-dressed locals in battered pickup trucks, a third of whom were gay.

gently fondling your balls (chug-chug went the motor), softly sighing

as the message of polite rejection sank slowly in. They would bring

pakololo to your campsite, bottles of wine and beer, slyly chide you.


In life you meet all sorts. Life, ding, people, ding-ding, all that shite.

Bob was doing great until he murdered one of his passengers.

It was the night shift, I reckon the fucker deserved it, you’d almost

not want to drive on nights of the full moon, whatever people say,

the loonies would come out in squadrons. Some sweet little girlie

cracked my mate Jimmy’s head with a hammer, fractured his skull, he’s

never been the same since, tho’ not all that scintillating to start with.

Fuckin war zone. That’s how, dear friends, I paid for my Masters degree.

The PLO, come to think of it, were doe-eyed lovely young men,

not a bit like the tattooed hard chaws in the well-trained Provies,

although offhand little ‘do’s’ with both sets reduced me to trembling jelly.

I was ever the athlete, never a soldier, but I did two years in uniform.

I just don’t like getting shot at. Sorry. Could be a personal thing.

One of those bullets smacks home and no more poems. I know.

I can see that hopeful glimmer in your eye. There’s always traffic accidents.


Ettore got banged up in a traffic accident, somewhere around 1927 or 37,

not great with the dates: still, his old pal JJ had helped to make him famous

in France, followed by the furiously blushing snobberie of literary Italy,

and he died in bed, which is generally a good thing, longing for the last,

that very last and final cigarette. Ah, such bliss (puff) to be alive ….

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Interesting. Man, that is quite a piece of writing.   (I see Greek does not come through), so, panta rhei, indeed. Reminds me of 6 years of research where I made most of my money. Some of it involved finding ways of pumping Tootsie Rolls (unsuccessful) and Jello cubes (successful) through a pipe in such a way as to have them emerge whole out the other end. That is the Deborah Law, but I doubt that everything flows, really! I do know that everything, including concrete and glass, does creep.

Edited by waxwings
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Be careful. I can understand nearly all of that: Tootsie Rolls, hoo hoo! I wasn't drunk or anything, just a day-long flow of memories and associations. Every now and then quite a lot of this stuff just bubbles out. I get the feeling some people just wish it wouldn't! Thanks, waxie, you ma man ... :icon_cool:

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Be careful. I can understand nearly all of that: Tootsie Rolls, hoo hoo! I wasn't drunk or anything, just a day-long flow of memories and associations. Every now and then quite a lot of this stuff just bubbles out. I get the feeling some people just wish it wouldn't! Thanks, waxie, you ma man ... :icon_cool:


When I had to leave Europe (Ruskie commies took my land) and give up chances/hopes making a living as a writer, I got a degree in "instrumental chemistry". Available jobs took me into a branch of physics known as rheology, the study of material flow and deformation. Deborah is the biblical lady who, reportedly spoke of mountains retreating/flowing etc.


I love the way your writing flows, though I have less time to study your somewhat more lengthy tales. You should try to put more of your wide flung observations into like Rainis's-sonnet-like more condensed versions. That one of yours is really cool, I, having lived in that kind of situation, can vouch for the reality of. :unsure:

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Panta rhei ... rheology ... yep, I can see the connection. Thanks for the encouragement and advice. Seems you've had a bit of an up and down ride through life as well! You can be an instrumental chemist AND a writer. Loads of writers juggle with daytime professions, as did Joyce's friend and onetime English student, Ettore Schwartz aka Italo Svevo, the guy in the poem. Apparently all his life he kept promising himself he would quit smoking after "one last cigarette" but could never kick the habit. The story goes he was on his deathbed and asked his brother-in-law for a cigarette but the brother-in-law refused. ES sighed and said, "Now, that really would have been the last cigarette!"

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Hi Brendan, I hate long poems and usually pass over them, that is most of them but I always end up reading yours all the way through. I haven't a clue of the who, what or where of this poem. Well occasionally something sounds familiar Clinton and Hitler I got, the rest pretty much went over my head. I am not being critical of the poem, it is an admission of my own short comings.


But the poem sounds good to me, you have an incredible gift for sonics and rhythm. I love the flow of your writing. I will go back a reread this again, maybe it will come together for me on the 2nd or 3rd try.



~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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