How the Demons Were Assimilated & Became Productive Citizens
The demons were more beautiful than the angels.
They had no qualms about plastic surgery.
They took to wearing black: didn’t show dirt
In the city like Innocence, which anyway
Couldn’t be worn between Labor Day and Easter.
They tired of grudging angels their gilded hair
& had theirs done. Their complexions were so pale
The blond looked natural, only more so.
They shrunk their wings into fashionable tattoos
So cashmere suits draped better from their shoulders.
Elocution lessons turned hisses to lisps.
The demons converted. They became Episcopalian,
Name-dropped high-ups in the Company of Heaven.
As for Evil, it became too much trouble:
The demons started to shirk the menial jobs
Which like good deeds, took one among the poor,
And bruised the manicure of rose-petal nails.
They preferred to stand by & watch Evil happen,
Or offended by odors & noise, even turned away.
They had become so beautiful, even the angels
(Who never looked in mirrors to comb their hair,
Afraid to be called vain, & never bought clothes
Since the old ones didn’t wear out, just got shabby)
Left the lovely demons to languish, dropping all charges
On the spoiled creatures. They were that good.
A. E. Stallings
first published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, vol. 46, no. 6, Summer 1996
also from Archaic Smile
Forget How to Remember How to Forget
“I have a rotten memory” began
The American version of that long
French novel: and save for the telling word
Leaping in all its colors out of the
Grayish blank, or for the mad turn of phrase
That I, unyielding judge, committed to
My bedlam memory, I cannot come
Up with exactly what was said even
In a recent conversation. Books can
Remember, for they have written it all
Down—they are in themselves all written down—
And, as Phaedrus was famously told in
That lovely grove (and this was written down),
Writing is remembering’s enemy.
Writing it down—thereby writing it up,
The “it” here being language or event—
Allows what was told to recall itself.
The flux of our experience will dry
Into mere flecks; once-great spots of time now
Are filmy moments of place, on the page,
In the full course—or somewhere on the banks—
Of all that streams behind me. And the dear
Name of oh, Whatshername, herself—oh, yes
Mnemosyne (lost for a minute in
An overstuffed, messy drawer, crammed with names)
Is all I have to call on for a guide
To wherever back up the relentless
River I might momently have to go.
And who, when hindsight frays, would want the most
Obvious compensation of foresight,
Prophecy creeping into the places
Recall was slowly vacating? Only
The young with so much to look forward to
And little to remember could call it
A reasonable deal, and better to
Go on climbing, as steps on steps arise
And it all keeps dissolving into that
Father of Waters that every fresh
Moment originates anew, the while
Some sort of sweet, silent judgment commutes
All that, accessible or not, streams out
Behind you into time already served.
John Hollander from Figurehead
January 1 World’s Popular Poem
Why is it modern poets are ignored,
and only dead ones get adored?
That’s how envy works, Regulus,
the dead make the safest rivals.
So we mourn Pompey’s colonnade
and its nostalgic, leafy shade
just as our fathers praised the temple
Catulus restored not wisely nor too well.
Rome reads Ennius, though Virgil is to hand,
as Homer was a joke in his own land;
Menander’s best plays were thought dull;
only Corinna knew her Ovid well.
So, little books, let’s not rush to our fate.
Since death comes before glory, let’s be late.
from The Mortal City: 100 Epigrams of Martial