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Copyright (c) 2000 First Things 102 (April 2000): 10, 23, 38, 43, 49.

Chowkiakow: The River

(September 1926)

On the day of the Chowkiakow raidan evangelist left down riverescorting three girls for the school therebut heard before arrival so stayed on board

After five days the brigands boardedbut the girls hid in the boat bottom under straw like Jericho spies& escaped

Our evangelist father of one girlwas taken We’re afraid he was killedfor a body was found near therelooking (the people say) like an evangelist

-D. S. Martin

The Names of Things

Take blue. It is the skybright with summer”a huethat gladdens the land.

Sometimes it defines the risqué”a blue joke. Then it’s anindecent devaluing sort of blue.

Occasionally it must name the blues”that gloomy soundthat never sees a summer day.

It can name the unexpected”news that comes out of the blue like rain from a cloudless sky.

Blue can even christen the rare and infrequent. That happensonly once in a blue moon.

-Frederick Zydek


The house is silent in the nightAs if all sounds have burrowed deepOr fearing dark have taken flightAnd closed loud eyes to mimic sleep.

The children dream in murmured breathsBy talking so (deep breaths to each)They in their chatty, wakeful deathsNew life with every word beseech.

The late hour swells with pregnant darkAnd phantoms of unsurfaced things,In sleep’s forgetting they embarkThe troubled passage which night brings.

That’s why we stay to talk or writeIn secret knowing we but keepA vigil by some fire’s lightTo linger at the door of sleep.

-Michael Karounos


Oh God, we struggle through sluicesof time like salmon calledby some instinct beyondinstinct

Oh God, we surge through fallsand reason’s streams like rivulets, luredby some will beyond our will”lent us

Oh God, we slice slippery through quietnessgathered into the folds of your netthat our run may be complete inYou our source.

-R. DeBacco

Memento Mori

The ancient monks saw the handwriting on the skull.Whenever their old Adam lusted for excess,Their grinning scold was there to remind themOf the grave’s everlasting austerity.Today we have a memento mori less stark,Much better suited to an age of artifice.I mean the old Hollywood movie, that phoenixRising from the filmcans to undeceive us,To tell us death has dominion even overThe purebred idols of the silver screen,Those who made life seem larger and are no more.Chaplin cooking his shoe in the frozen Klondike,Bette Davis imperiously puffing a cigarette,Cary Grant and Grace Kelly outshining the Riviera”How woe“betiding that these glittering are nowNo more than dust guests in the deadfall.For God help us, if death can granulate them,What about the poor unglamorous rest of us?Laugh if you like, but when I look up and seeThe late Charlie shiver or the late Bette poutOr hear the late Cary and Grace banter”well,I swear, not the angel of death pinwheeling down,Not Savonarola preaching by torchlight on Golgotha,Could speak to me as these on the place of the skull.

-John Martin