A player meets his match in the form of a poet.
I know a man
ungirded by truth
the strips of his leather
unthreaded since youth,
think of those notches, all notched to one gash
the leather is stripped
like hands that unclasp,
a rhythm of metal and buckles and clips
everything jangling down at the hips,
everything falling and failing and fell
everything loosened that lessens like hell,
everything low though happy like whistles,
for even altar boys sing with hearts full of thistles.
And you have a song that percusses the heart
as you move in your skin like High Renaissance art,
Even David was carved from badly roughed stone
still the finest marble outside of Rome—
the quarries of Carrara, a Tuscany treasure
this marble—priceless—though twenty years weathered.
Molded by discipline—Michelangelo’s hand
the anatomy of a king—both a boy and a man—
the torso is twisted, he considers his prey
faith in his fingers, a giant to slay,
a shepherd of bleating, innocent creatures
with blind, soft faces—interchangeable features,
this boy with nothing but the bravado of his stones
yet a man in his strength to live entirely alone,
and when something is stolen that he is to shepherd
in wrath he can shut the mouth of a leopard,
slam his fist in the jaw of a bear or a lion
and for this the sheep consider him kind.
Reckless he takes and reckless he gives
Philistine sleigher with a heart like a sieve,
One who would love a woman on a wall
naked as Eve in the glory before the fall
and make her his bed-slave, adorn her with hopes,
dress her in mourning, tie her heart up with ropes
teach her to conceive in her innermost parts
then unbirth the dream before it can start.
And he rises from the ashes and asks for his meal
even his servants wonder if he actually feels.
Like a seventeen-foot David carved from limited block
with not even a heart, just a leather sling-shot.
Can you dance in the dust–more human in stature?
If your heart were a lens, I’d widen the aperture.
Expose every negative, leave my indelible mark
For my heart’s a bonfire … while yours just a spark.
I burn like Bathsheba, now bound to a King
Not some mindless concubine or commanded fling.
Is the bedroom your stage, must you strut in that crown,
Springtime’s for war–you should have left town.
I thought I was alone, cleansing my stains
Thought I knew love. Thought I knew pain.
But you summoned me here and taught me to feel
Like a royal edict I cannot repeal.
And you—you are like Jesse’s son, the one he forgot,
left up on that hill alone with your flock …
the wounds of a father derail the years,
There are tears in your harp though you laugh at the spears.
So I’m not surprised that you care nothing for love
You’re like some crazed Noah that killed his own dove.
The storms will abate but the cage stands wide
blood on the feathers and nothing inside.
And those who dare love you, you give them no purchase
no shoreline to seek—just the ark—and this worship.
But mostly like David with a harem of wives
you rotate affections, tread water, tread lives.
So sing of the slayer of 10,000 foes
Or whisper a song of his women’s woes,
It’s a plague to live as if you are free
none of us are, though we wish we could be …
there’s a calling to account on the threshing floor,
and though a King be rich, in truth—some are poor …
for the more they count the less they receive
the more they digress the less they leave
What is the path that leads to the hill?
Shepherd boy—God knows you still …
What is the cost for Arauna’s altar,
50 shekels of silver—don’t tarry, don’t falter …
Though it’s given for free, you must pay the full price
there’s no holy pyre without sacrifice
would you take all for nothing and call it a gift?
You can listen to the world, or my words you can sift.
So I seal these stanzas up with my kiss
You know who I am—the one you call miss
and miss you I will like a pen that has bled
inked from my heart much more than my head
and when you are old and warming those sheets
rickety bones wrapped round your treats
remember a girl, this rooftop-queen
you thought you saw her, yet she remains unseen …
a dream undreamed.
Now tell me, I pray, do such gifts come often …
about as frequently, I’d say, as your hard heart softens.
And you suffer, you claim from those seven deadly sins
but I think the eighth is when a blind man wins.
So stand on your stage, before the last curtain
Blink, blink again, so certain you are certain.
You’ve got this script pegged, right down to the marrow,
a player with bravado and a voice like an arrow,
so play, play, play-on—be that hope-teaser,
be Goliath’s slayer, be a Saul-pleaser,
be that boy with ragged feet—all the rest alabaster,
be a carved relic
be a living master,
be this girl’s homage
on the altar of the page,
be a life-long fool,
or selfless as a sage.
A king can only stand when kneeling in the dust
And a woman loves him best when he’s faithful to her trust.
So gird yourself again, wrap this belt ‘til it lasts
the truth is much stronger
than the ballad of a badass.