My Sister’s Last Gift

by Joe Benevento

Memories seem more fragile and so
authentic in black and white.  The photo
from 1957 Barbara framed for me
captures our Grandpa Frank's last
birthday: he sits all sides surrounded
rich only in grandchildren.
Among the fifteen present, the five
Beneventos born by then— Barbara, a favorite
at four on grandpa's lap— me, off to one side
crying, holding some little object I can't
now identify, hoisted up to camera range
by my smiling oldest sister Rose Anne.

Barbara herself never gave me the gift;
it was among the Christmas presents
in a padded envelope she still hadn't mailed
in February, that shortest month
when she died.

To receive a gift photo featuring
a man you never had time
to know, from a sister you will lack
for the rest of your loss-fueled life:
small wonder I'm caught a baby
crying forever in its small, dark
frame.

School Year

by Joe Benevento

When a child, I understood the season
of dying coinciding with the start
of school. I recall one early September
Sunday night when it became cold enough
for my mother to place blankets on us
after we were already in our beds,
as if to snug us away from escape
from the next morning's ordering bells.
At sixty, I prefer order so well
I profess it for a living at a U.
Summer so soon gone hardly bothers me.
Instead the beach, flowers, songbirds, short nights
almost annoy me: I embrace the start
of another ending with each class I teach.

Nudes

by Stephen Gibson

Richard Avedon

The real shocker is the celebrity and not the nude.
Natassja Kinski with the boa constrictor is a pose.
Warhol and that band is anyone without clothes
until you see that it’s Warhol there, and that goes
for Christy Turlington who’s just a model from Vogue
until you know, or Ginsberg giving Orlovsky tongue,
or the young Nureyev in Paris, so alive, and hung.

 

Diane Arbus, Germaine Greer

Believe that this woman tasted her menstrual blood.
Or believed that western society existed to suppress
women and knew the means: to separate their sex
from them, leaving them fearful to be understood,
and, without men, nothing—The Female Eunuch
from too much protein in urine in the preeclampsia
diagnosis, to Greer’s portrait in Australia on a stamp.

 

Annie Leibovitz

Celebrity feeds upon everything and itself is food
and is never exhausted and is never satisfied,
finds pregnant Demi, ready to drop, in the nude
perfect for this occasion and only for this time;
if repeated (other naked Johns with Yokos), deified
in the original (thou shalt have one, not a multitude):
our burden, to know their future: her divorce, how he died.

 

Man Ray

The Classicism of solarized women posed as caryatids
holding up the temple; the Postmodernist droplets
dropped onto thighs before there was Photoshop;
the Surrealism of a nude woman becoming a cello
with F-holes, tail spike, belly, bridge, and pegbox;
Europe’s exuberance after the Great War: batting eyelids,
fucking doggy-style, kewpie doll mouth sucking cock.

 

Edward Weston

The erotic is nowhere to be found in these tableaux.
There is nothing to suggest they eat, fuck, are capable
of birth, will die, be put into the ground and decompose.
Settings change: Hopi reservation, West as memorial
to some vanished myth that no one really has to know
(fake as a Wyeth Saturday Evening Post Thanksgiving table).
He did better showing erotic resemblances in vegetables.

 

Cindy Sherman

Disarticulated doll parts, like L.A.’s Black Dahlia
separated by several feet of grass in a vacant lot
(Elizabeth Short discarded like a mannequin in what
would become one of Hollywood’s musts for film noir);
female doll heads, at a hacked plastic female torso, watch
a tampon string at bottom, a cock with cock ring at top:
clearly, women objectified (and some men’s darker desire).

 

R. Crumb

Someone in my generation would’ve drawn Snatch Comics
if he hadn’t already, not only because of the weed shit
and LSD and free-love shit, but simply to see Crumb’s us
with our heads disappearing up a woman’s ass at a bus stop
(telling us to hurry because the bus is coming), or to catch
a hooker off-guard (saying “Excuse me” as we jiggle her clit)—
anything to keep away the jungle and napalm and the ditch.

One Way of Looking at Grace

by Elizabeth J. Coleman

For 150 million years birds saw
their reflections only in the sea,

but now the last typewriter repair
shop in New York is going out

of business, and monk parrots
nest in Sheepshead bay.  Still

that fire escape casts a lovely shadow,
the way the wheel of a slow-moving

bicycle seems to slow time,
gorillas stay up all night to groom
their dead, and a woman in Ohio

who’d been laid off gave every building
in her town a new coat  of paint. 

What’s your name?  I asked
the woman at the post office
who takes my packages
and tells me about her cruises
to the Bahamas with her mother
and sister, and how much they love
the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Grace, she said, I thought you knew.

Island

by Ernest Hilbert

1.

Coffee did little to wake us since we arrived
On the volcano. We only wanted to sleep.
A clear summer morning smeared and bruised

As we tore the tiny car along narrow
Mountain passes over a frothing, fanged coast.
At tight shadowed curves, headlamps lit warnings

Painted on the streaked mineral walls,
Some word the locals use that we didn’t know.
We spun down a tightly wound switchback

To a small white village tucked among boulders.

 

2.

The villagers scarcely noticed us.
One slowly swept dust from the porch of a red house
That seemed like it might slough into the water.

Another watched from a high window,
But it may have been a retreating flash
Of sun. Our sandals crunched down on shards,

Smashed aquatic armor of blue crabs.
We located a thin steep trail hacked out
Of stone over the water. We took it.

It worried its slender way along the caldera.

 

3.

At trail’s end, we came upon a jagged spit
Over the submerged rim where heavy green
Water went black and the bottom dropped

Quickly down into the bottomless throat.
Another couple, just dried, dressed themselves there.
We waved, and they greeted us in return.

The man gestured vaguely to the island
And said something we didn’t understand.
They lingered for a while, as we undressed,

Awkwardly. We leapt from the jagged sill.

 

4.

Under, we saw enormous ancient chains
Blur faintly link by link into the murk.
We swam, as thin light receded further, toward

The ferocious rocky mass that shot up
Like the top of a tower from small waves.
We floated around to the far side of the island,

Craned our necks, breathed, and treaded water,
Shocked to find a temple carved in its side.
A wet black chain snaked up the sheer face.

I hauled my air-chilled body to the ledge.

 

5.

Then I coaxed you, as you floated, unsure,
In the darkening water, until you pulled
Yourself up as well, took my hand. We appraised

The fierce faces of what felt like gods,
Or their champions, worn by endless rains.
We peered deeper in, listened, but heard nothing.

How long had it been here? Did anyone
Still visit, or was it something lived with
So long it was forgotten, once hidden from view?

The sun rapidly embered out on the edge.

 

6.

Then it pitched darker, and it was night
Sooner than we expected. Neither
Of us had the strength, or nerve,

To reenter the water and swim back.
We shivered and slowly dried in wind
That fluted through the massive gnarled figures.

We heard something, distinct from the waves
Splashing toward us around the island.
We looked out into the older dark as it neared.

We gripped our knees to our chests, and waited. 

What I Did Not See Driving from Swansea

by Sarah Kennedy

Not the grave of Henry Vaughan, tombed
              by the yew at the top of that

tourists’ churchyard,
                                      not the sheela
              on her half shell of museum

plinth in Llandrindod Wells.
                                            And not
              the ruined round foundation wall

of the tower at Dolforwyn
              (where I stumbled over lovers

in the grass—a mirror to my
              burning, illicit face [record

heat—my trespass]).
                                      Not Dinas Bran,
              where, from the top, the suicide

bridge that cuts through Llangollen was
              visible as highlighter marked

on the map-sized town.
                                            Nor was it
the “largest mill wheel in Wales,”
                                                          nor

the badger that slunk from the path,
              my car’s headlamps, one midnight.
                                                                 No.

Just you—
                      smile across a room or
              a body moving over mine—

though my mind’s eye held you even
              as I watched the kites—
                                            they could not

be missed, wheeling outside my room—
              even as I studied the door

that opened and opened itself—
              though nothing (that I could see) came

through, and no one had stopped off there,
              at that roadside hotel, but me.

Canto V: The Forest of Humbaba

by Lewis Turco

Gilgamesh   
                 and Enkidu strode
Forth from the grand   
                                  gate of the city,
Enkidu leading    
                         the way from Erech
Toward the forest   
                             of fearsome Humbaba.
They marched many   
                                 leagues until
At last they approached    
                                        the verge of the woodland.
They stood and stared
                                 at the cedar forest,
stunned by the stature
                                    of the spiring boles.
Their eyes searched
                                for a trail through the trees,
for Humbaba’s track –- 
                                  “Here!” cried Enkidu,
“See where the ogre
                                has trampled his way
through the wood
                            toward his mountain
where the gods 
                        and goddesses dwell!”
                                                  Laughter
                                                 and revelry resounded
                                                       in the effulgent air,
                                                  echoed and rebounded
                                                       about the heroic pair!

The cedars grew
                           in groves and rows
casting shadows
                            cool and cloistered.
The forest floor
                        was thickly thorny,
ballukku trees
                        tangled with cedars
that fathered herds 
                                of cedar saplings.
The elder trees
                        seeped sap
that drizzled like rain
                                  and dried to scabs
until true rain
                        washed it away.
Throughout the wood
                                  birds called and cried,
till all was noise, 
                            cacophonies!
A cricket’s call
                        became a chorus,
a mourning dove
                           made subtle moan
until a turtle
                      replied in kind.
At the stork’s call
                            the forest rejoiced;
the francolin’s voice
                                 made the forest sing!
Monkey matrons
                            called their offspring
who replied 
                    with apelet shrieks,
drumming praise
                              before Humbaba.
The cedars’ shadow
                                fell on the King
Instilling terror,
                          Gripping his limbs
and enfeebling him.
                               Gilgamesh felt
Fear at the thought   
                                of the forthcoming fight.
He lay for a day   
                          and then another,
Prone on his pallet.   
                               He did not rise
Till twelve    
                days had passed,
And then he called   
                               His friend Enkidu,
“Comrade, you hate me   
                                      because in Erech
You were afraid   
                          of the coming combat,
Because you said, ‘friend,   
                                         let us not go
Down to the depths  
                                of the Forest of Cedars!’
My arms are weak now,   
                                      hands stricken
With palsy, Enkidu!”

                                  “Shall we be cowards?”   
 Enkidu replied.
                          “You shall surpass
All those who battle.   
                                 You are cunning
And shrewd in the fray.   
                                      Be brave and resist
Both trembling and weakness.   
                                                Have no fear
Of Death, nor terror   
                                 of what may come.
You have led the way   
                                   here from Erech
And have not flinched   
                                   in duty or friendship.
You have guarded me   
                                   and I will guard you.
Let it be so!”   
                     Enkidu said
unto his sovereign,
                               “Have no fear!
                                                           Let us raise
                             our pennants and banners high
                                       and sing boldly, in praise
                             of honor, our battle-cry!
                                     These are our city’s ways!”

Gilgamesh replied,
                                “Indeed, my friend.
“Why to we tremble 
                               here like weaklings,
We who strode 
                        over mountains?”

Entu the treeherd    
                             stood sentinel
At the sylvan    
                       entranceway.
Enkidu lifted    
                      his eyes and spoke
Unto the guardian   
                              who seemed
Himself a cedar:   
                           “Sentinel of the Forest,
For forty leagues   
                           I have admired
This timberland   
                          until I sighted
The towering cedar.   
                                The wood has no peer.
Six gar your height,   
                                two gar your breadth.
Your branches pivot   
                                 and interlock –
They were fashioned   
                                  in the city of Nippur!
If I had known   
                         that such was your grandeur
I might have sensed   
                                trouble no matter
Wherever we went!”   
                                Enkidu arose
And the heroes stood   
                                   staring abroad
At the height of the cedars,   
                                            scanned the avenue
Past Entu   
                  into the wood where
Humbaba dwelt.   
                           A path appeared,
Straight as a spear.   
                                Its passage was clear.
They could see in the distance   
                                                the Mount of the Cedar,
Home of Immortals,   
                                the shrine of Irnini,
The cedars’ pride,   
                              raised on the mountain.
The shade was fair,   
                                full of delight.
Bushes spread there   
                                  with the incense of cedar.

Enkidu said,    
                      “While I lay ill
I had a dream   
                        in which I saw
The two of us    
                       standing together
High on a peak   
                         and the peak crumbled
Beneath our feet.   
                             We were left standing
Alone in a desert.   
                             The mountain is
Evil Humbaba.   
                         We’ shall confront him
And throw down his carcass,   
                                               leaving his corpse
Abased at our feet   
                             upon the morrow.”

The morrow dawned   
                                 and they broke their fast,
Eating a morsel,   
                           then hollowed a pit
In the warm sunlight.   
                                    Enkidu stood
Above it and poured   
                                 a meal for the Mountain.
Then a chill wind blew,   
                                     the breath of Humbaba;
It passed over   
                        the King and caused
Him to cower and sway   
                                              like corn in a field.
Enkidu bent
                     to grasp and support
The King’s hips.   
                            The firmament roared,
Poured out lightning.   
                                  Earth resounded,
Quaking beneath them.   
                                      Smoke rose
Out of the mountain   
                                  dimming the day.
Flames flew   
                            from the throat of the cone
And molten stone   
                             flowed down its sides
As it gorged itself,   
                             the fires faded
And the hot brands   
                                turned to ash
                                                      as they fell glowing,
                                hastened by the breeze 
                                     like seeds of lightning flowing
                                into the forest of trees
                                     where fires began growing.

Gilgamesh took   
                          his great axe
And stepped forward,  
                                   the first to set
Foot upon   
                  the forest path,
And as he began   
                            to pass Entu,
The treeherd reached   
                                   down with his limbs
From above,   
                             grasped the King,
And raised him into   
                                 a tangle of branches,
Holding him tightly.  
                                 The sudden attack
Took Gilgamesh   
                           unawares.
The King gasped   
                             and dropped his axe
From a great height.   
                                 It fell at the feet
Of Enkidu the Hero   
                                who, unthinking,
Picked it up   
                    and swung it mightily
Against the trunk   
                             of the cedar monster.

The sharp blade   
                           sliced through

The massive bole   
                            and Entu dropped
Gilgamesh   
                  before itself 
Fell to the earth.   
                           The King also
Plummeted, howling   
                                 with pain, upon
The forest floor, 
                          his bones broken.

Enkidu lifted   
                       his arms aloft
To Shamash,   
                       God of the Sun,
And cried aloud,   
                            “Lo, on that day
In Erech the City,   
                              before we left,
I heard you swear   
                              an oath to the King
That you would aid   
                                this great assault 
On the Forest of Cedars.”   

                                        Shamash hearkened
And raised mighty   
                               winds against
The ogre Humbaba,   
                                 a wind from the North,
A wind from the South —   
                                        yea, a tempest,
A wind of  Evil,    
                         from East and West –
Eight winds in all:   
                              a chill wind, 
A hot wind,   
                    a whirlwind spinning
Which seized Humbaba   
                                       before and behind,
That he might go   
                                neither forward nor backward.

Humbaba surrendered,   
                                      whereupon
He spoke to the King   
                                 but not to Enkidu,
“O Gilgamesh,   
                        I pray you stay
Your hand and be   
                              my master now,
And I will be   
                     your own vassal.
Disregard my threats   
                                   against you,
For I will lay down   
                               all weapons before you.”

Enkidu said   
                     to his twin and comrade,
“Pay no attention   
                             to these lying oaths
Humbaba spreads    
                             before us here.
You dare not accept   
                                 his specious offer.
Humbaba must not   
                                 remain alive.”
Before the King   
                         could quickly reply
Enkidu lifted   
                        his monstrous axe
And with one blow   
                                      cut off the head

Of the horrid ogre.  
                                       It rolled upon
                                                             the ground, one eye staring
                                                into the sky, the other
                                         open and balefully glaring
                                                into Earth the Mother
                                      with neither sight nor caring.

 
 
 
 
 


Note from Lewis Turco:
After my version of the epic appeared in book form a lost portion of the canto in my book titled “The Forest of Humbaba” was translated and published on-line in October of 2015 by Elizabeth Palermo, Associate Editor of Livescience in an essay titled “Lost ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ Verse Depicts Cacophonous Abode of Gods” (www.livescience.com/52372-new-tablet-gilgamesh-epic.html). I then turned the translation of the new material into Anglo-Saxon prosody and revised my Humbaba canto by inserting my new material. This required some revisions elsewhere in the text, which I also carried out. The version of “The Forest of Humbaba” included here is the revised version. Here is my rewritten version of Humbaba.

The Apprentice Pillar

by Sarah Kennedy

The legend of course involves great desire,
pursuit, a gift from God, predictable,
final violence.  The stone swirls in ropes

around the straight and narrow ridges, stretched
to the crown: a private space more lavish
for worship than even the house’s best

room, the master mason sure of his skill
until that pause, his hand open in air
without a sign, his cold breath ghosting in

the dust.  His gargoyles and green men grin down
at him, sitting in the gap of absent
inspiration, and when his patron gives

him the pattern of a Continental
design, the Virgin, maybe some saint, dives
to his ear to whisper a pilgrimage

to Rome to see the original work.
So off he goes to do God’s will, as all
good quest tales demand, and leaves a young man

in charge, a simple boy, an innocent,
and as in good myths of the artistic
heart, the apprentice is visited by

a dream voice that murmurs the mystery
of invention and he feels the spirit
guide his tools across the pure, hard surface.

A curled dragon emerges from the earth
and gnaws the roots of the winding vines and
the boughs of a sacred Ash leaf out and

the trunk holds floor and roof in one perfect
syntax of creation.  William St. Clair
is pleased because he owns the whole place, and

the mason returns just then, no longer
master but an ordinary human
servant in awe of obvious divine

intervention.  The account might end here,
in a pretty reversal of fortune,
but the older man, bitten by envy,

heaves a nearby mallet into the head
of the startled apprentice, a “rash and
and cruel” murder.  Both faces still stare from

corners of the polluted, deadly spot,
though a swift “reconciliation” saves
the family’s tainted honor.  But wait, it’s

not over yet—now the tourists, unnerved
by a silly novel but all savvy
enough to know there’s no real comeuppance

kindling for them (age of science, after
all, come on), bow in the graveyard, searching
for clues to Jesus’s descendants.  It’s

a sexy story—Mary Magdalene
running off pregnant, a line of godly
kids.  Maybe they’ll chip a little piece off,

there, or there, a tangible narrative
fragment, an excusable souvenir
of their travels in an empty pocket,

the pillar fading into the setting
as blood once faded into the pavers,
now sealed inside the renovated church.

beloved 5

by Donald Kuspit

love rises like a phoenix
                                     from the ashes of absence,
spreading its wings
                           in renewed surprise,
riding the wind
                   to the rapturous heights,
where the sun
                 in your smile never sets,
darkness ousted
                   by luminous passion,
the fire burning
                        undimmed by distance.
fly with me beyond words,
                                 the ashes of memory,
fly beyond sun and moon
                               to the mythical stars,
where we will form
                          our own constellation,
haunting the infinite
                             with our intimacy,
the phoenix no longer
                             in need of death to live.