Poetry


Two poems by James Scully --

 

There Is No Truth to the Rumor

Donatello's Version

 

 

THERE IS NO TRUTH TO THE RUMOR

 

there is no truth to the rumor

the Constitution's

a goddamned piece of paper

 

it's not vegetable, but animal

dressed as parchment--

 

invented in Pergamon

in not yet Turkey

3rd century BCE

when the papyrus ran out

 

Ionian Greeks called sheets of it

diphtherai, or 'skins'

 

by the time of Herodotus

writing on skins was common

 

Assyrians and Babylonians

in what for now is called Iraq

were already writing on skins

 

writing and rewriting

past traces of earlier writing

on recycled skins

they'd scrubbed and scoured

 

they wrote what they believed

mattered

on something meant to last

 

rabbinic books weren't books

but scrolls of parchment, as

were, later, early Islamic texts

 

great civilizations as living cultures

writing themselves on skin

 

writing rewriting

laws, histories, religions, all

on cured skin: split

sheepskin, goatskin, cowhide,

horsehide, squirrel and rabbit

 

aborted calf fetuses

hairless through and through

as is the skin of angels

would be reserved

for especially precious stuff

 

yet regardless of grade, without exception,

skin being mostly collagen,

the water in ink or paint

would melt it slightly

creating a raised bed for the writing

 

like welts on a body

showing what's been done to it

 

even today, to write on parchment

or color it

the tiniest bit watery

is to bring all this doing up

 

each writing a rewriting

overwriting the life of skin

 

so if its breath is gone, its muscles

having lost all sense of purpose

bereft of heart and liver, still

in the heat and humidity

of human and meteorological exertion

it buckles, shifts, sweats and squirms 

 

uplifting a little,

like from a death bed,

giving lie to the rumor

the Constitution is a piece of paper

damned or not

 

because, even dead, it will let us know

this was a living matter

that was being painted up, written off on

chewed by dogs and lied over

 

 

DONATELLO'S VERSION

 

                  1

 

is unexpected:

 

the boy David

shamelessly naked,

one adorable leg

cocked at the knee

 

nonchalant

vulnerable

soft-bodied

a true killer

 

he wears his helmet

like a bonnet,

its pointy peak

garlanded with laurel leaves

 

                  2

 

the kid's a winner

 

little penis

big sword

 

standing astride

the craggy winged

head of the giant, Goliath

 

                  3

 

Goliath's head is peaceful,

his death like any death

is restful, untroubled

by desire or regret

 

                  4

 

David's skin glistens, obscurely

under a patina of melancholy

 

what's wrong with him

 

he should be dancing up and down

with joy

 

                  5

 

poor David

the good guy

 

victory is the worst thing

that could befall him

 

                  6

 

in the glass of his great victory,

through the loathsome mist

of world weariness

 

he sees himself

becoming King David

 

                     7

 

sees strings of victory

twining into distance

with strings of defeat

 

how he will conquer

and flee

how puff himself up

to hide

 

how he will dance around the sociopathic Saul

 

how marry, sire, beget

betrayals, adulteries,

murders, torture

prisoners raked

through the brick kiln

 

a weakness for poetry

will have him writing psalms

again and again—

 

for all he has won

by this great victory

is his own disaster:

 

his family, his kingdom, his people

tearing apart and apart

 

                  8

 

he will go through life

eating flesh by the fistful

 

choking on shadows

 

                  9

 

in the improbable blood

of his great victory 

 

he sees all this

and is famished

 

 

JAMES SCULLY is the author of nine books of poetry, including Raging Beauty: Selected Poems (1994), and three works of translation. He has also published two critical collections, including Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice, and was the founding editor of Curbstone Press's "Art on the Line" series. The poems in this issue of Logos originally appeared in Scully's new collection, Donatello's Version (Curbstone Press, 2007, www.curbstone.org ), and are reprinted here by permission of the author and publisher. He is a Professor Emeritus of the University of Connecticut and lives in San Francisco.