Poetry: Selections from Jack D. Harvey

Timor Mortis

We make him dress up,
hooded cloak, scythe and skull,
the Grim Reaper,
put a name to it
sinister slapstick
to cover the skeleton he is.

Furtive footsteps,
heard but not seen
in the wooly uncertain night,
in the darkened hospital ward,
in your last agony;
he's always eager for our passing
to sate him, bate
the restless life around him;
his petty noise in your delirium,
the ghost of sound,
echoing against old men’s ears,
against the baby's tiny shell of an ear,
against the nightingale's sweet
voice, captivating;
all these and others competing
for your last glimmer of attention
on your way out.

When he comes, when he comes,
the soft schuss of a shot skier,
making his lone descent.

These sounds and your last movements,
pure and simple as moonlight 
and the trees bending in the wind
come together, foretell the end,
one way or another
peaceful, resigned, painful, brutal,
in our midst, death, like clockwork,
regular and familiar as the morning sun.

Even in the last extreme
hardly ever do we say "enough!"
and mean it,
grasping for one more day,
one more blink of an eye,
one more good green spring,
we continue to hope,
until cut to the quick,
stopped cold,
we hear his voice say come
and away we go,
leaving all we know behind,
departing for whatever 
eternity holds of emptiness,
of death, of nothing,
of even less than nothing.

Limitless, hidden beyond horizons
the gape of the unknown;
at the end of the road
undisclosed forever what fate 
that fearsome spectre,
voluminously berobed,
that everlasting mystery 
holds for all of us
in his bony emphatic hand.

The Yellow Emperor

When the last lithe leopard
in the emperor's crowded preserve
leapt down from his arboreal perch
pink-mouthed and mottled,
where was the degenerated emperor,
taped and bandaged,
with all his skill for naught and
disowned by his own people,
slowly, grandly, greedily dying?

Nowhere else but
still as stone
in the hospital,
such as it was,
his golden skin wan 
in the crepuscular hospital light.
Was it his own disease, 
newly invented,
or whose disease was it?

Lengthy discourse
rattling out of the 
discountenanced doctor, 
made clear the cancer or 
so he called it,
was the last stop on the line.

Brutish cells, voyaging
in giant argosies of destruction
turn yellow to sallow
and, dappled with deceit,
dangerous sympathetic
friends and courtiers
dimly seen, daily on view
became more distinct,
more sovereign,
as death clumped closer
and the flesh, forever awake,
became a burden.

Death as a unicorn
in nurse's uniform
bides his time,
patient as Griselda
among bottles and needles.

Toward the last morning,
fading with the stars
the Yellow Emperor saw clear
as alpine forests, close as lovers
the luminous jade-green eyes
of a dragon, watchful and quiet,
watched it fade 
to its beautiful oblivion of myth
and the emperor arose,
a live wire of life and strength,
leaving cap and clothes,
leaping through the dawn
he went, bright as the Paschal lamb
he went, bright as the morning he went,
dancing to the harmony and peace
of nothing at all, 
to eternal heavenly equivalence; 
kingpin of the indeterminate, 
internal joyful void
where all power and life begin.   

Sacred The Braid
(Euripides' Bacchae)

Hieros ho plokamos,
up till now
improvident horn of plenty;
a schoolboy theme,
an easy text,
an easy ticket,
a mediocrity.

Up till now,
hieros ho plokamos,
the good guy
was darn cute
on a horse;
now he's just another cowpoke
coming in
on a scrubby mare,

somber and stupid.

Up till now,
hieros ho plokamos,
salamanders died
pitifully in the fire;
now they swim
through flames
like glittering salmon.

Up till now
the unicorn
a white horn
delicate as snow,
a sacred mane,
a head
white as bone.

But now vultures
make nests of blood
in his mane,
turn his white
to Phoenician red. 
His horn towering
frightful, awful
as the pillar of Taharka
looks down
on the Sphinx,
on the Acropolis,
on glorious buzzing Bangkok.

Hieros ho plokamos,
he stands there
sweet and young,
forever divine,
forever extinct,
starting his course;

look now
he nears his distant end.

Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and elsewhere. He has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies and has been writing poetry since he was sixteen. He lives in a small town near Albany, New York.