Five Octavesby David R. Slavitt
In an up-market jumble shop in a glass case
were maybe a hundred silver spoons, all orphans,
most of them teaspoons, but some the small
demitasse size— fallen on hard times.
The last survivors of what must have been sets
of four or six, they sprawled there, noble metal,
indifferent to death, financial ruin, theft,
and all the other such vulgar vicissitudes.
A metaphor for age? The fruit of the medlar,
the nespola, is one of the few on offer
all winter long—but it is deplorable food,
either unripe or else beginning to rot
(which is when you eat it). The flavor, putting it kindly,
is odd, but when you are hungry or desperate enough
you learn not only to eat it but to take pride
in the range of a palate that tolerates even this.
A bitter disappointment: Zamboanga
exists, can be found on maps (in the Philippines),
and has deigned somehow to descend from the its lofty home
shrouded in mist where it teemed with acaudate monkeys
as well as armadas of predatory whales.
But that bizarre remoteness all of us yearned for?
They harvest seaweed and pack sardines; they have
a golf club; and the rush hour traffic is bad.
They're too pretty to eat or too weird looking,
but people buy them for table decorations,
so farmers grow them. What special niche is this
for evolution to have ventured into?
Dipper gourds, snake or finger gourds…
a tasteless, useless, but vital variety,
as if a god of gourds with nothing else
to do were amusing himself, devising these whimsies.
Hafiz is a name you have to earn
by memorizing the Qu'ran, every word,
But what honorific shall we award
to one who has memorized the entire Torah?
What title of respect for the Iliad,
the Commedia or Paradise Lost? Do we want
to broadcast such information? Better not,
or anyone could turn out to be wise.