The Artistic Cruelty of the Spanish Dancer

Spanish DancerIn the mid-1960s I was writing a lot of poetry. My idols in the world of poetry at that time were Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, W. B. Yeats, William Blake, Alexander Pope, and my long esteemed favorite, John Keats. I think it is only fair to say that my poems stunk and even with the support of one college professor who read everything I wrote and made comments, all of my collected works were probably turned into rolling papers when I was in grad school.

But I guess I made copies (this was in the carbon copy age before the rise of Xeroxtopus) since I occasionally find a yellowing piece of folded paper in an old book which still can cause me embarrassment.

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Houston: This Is Judas Calling

Judas

I am not sure why I kissed you that night…
But I think it’s because I’d run out of options.
My mind was too busy running for its life
And my stomach was preoccupied with turning itself into balloon animals
So all I could pay attention to was my flesh,
Cold, pale skin glowing in the night
As the moon shone through those low trees,
Casting inconsistent shadows that made us look like
We’d cut ourselves into pieces small enough to eat as sacraments;
Your cheeks were soft, and warm, and innocent,
Like a sheep just before it is slaughtered.

I watched you grow,
Watched your brown twiggy arm
Gnarl themselves into limbs;
Watched the shade of your face change
As the first stages of manliness
Began to plant its dark seeds in your cheeks;
Watched as your hair
Became long and winding vines,
Stretching itself into impossibly beautiful yarns
Like the ones you would tell us
When we and the boys would sneak off in secret,
Get just far enough outside the city
That we could howl like the wolves we were,
Drunk on more wine than any of us could remember bringing,
And then we’d collapse around the bonfire in fits of laughter,
Our bodies creating sand storms as they writhed;
But once we dust devils had settled,
We would all look to you for a story.

You spoke of your imaginary worlds with such eloquence
We couldn’t help but wish
One day we’d end up there.

It was on one of those nights
That we managed to fall into each other;
We both heard the call of gravity
But found the answer in each other’s arms instead.
Long after your eyelids had thrown in the towel,
My fingertips were still listening
To the Braille whispers of your whiskers.

But you were the center of everyone’s focus in those days;
And the way you were able to make something mystical out of the mundane
Gave a whole new meaning to turning tricks,
But still I stuck with you,
Even when you decided to take your show on the road.
You were a superstar, and the throngs became so large
That you asked me if I could start handling your finances.
… It was the only romantic thing you ever said.

But as the years went by, you grew more distant
And any alone time I could get with you was nothing short of a miracle,
And I didn’t understand,
Because what you seemed to be saying
Was “make love, not war!”
And all I wanted was a chance to let you practice what you preached,
Because those crowds were only with you conditionally,
And you were never too good at distinguishing
The difference between cries for an encore
And your own head.

I came to you one night,
Asked you if this was your ideal life,
Told you I’d been skimming some off the top for a while
And you could retire off the amount that I’d saved…
You told me you felt betrayed,
And to never speak to you again.

So, Jesus
I turned you over
But only because I hope that you’ll see the light,
That when they ask you if the accusations are true
You’ll deny it,
And you’ll be released with nothing more lost
Then a few pints of blood and some pride
And then we’ll run,
Buy two strong black horses and ride off into the sunset
Never to never be seen again
And if not,
If I find out I’ve condemned you to death,
I swear to… You,
I’m going to find the tallest tree I can,
And maybe, if I just take a leap of faith,
I can find a noose that will hold me as tightly
As I wish you had.

Yours forever,
Judas.

 This poem is by a young spoken word artist who goes by the name of Houston. It was included in the latest AHA newsletter and offers us two different ideas to contemplate. The first is the Humanist viewpoint of what others see as a key event in the history of their religion, and the second is a clear example that poetry does not have to rhyme or scan or whatever restrictions they taught us in Hallmark 101.