My friend  Anna and I have a club reading classics.  Each time we finish one I  write a sonnet and she writes a haiku.  Here are the sonnets – and a couple of haikus.

Balzac’s Los Illusions

Balzac’s Los Illusions

Lucien could turn a phrase
Until more than phrases turned on him.
Just twenty, he lept to life’s maze,
With angelic face and figure trim.

Paris with its jumbled rues
Of dames and writers sweet as sucre:
Actresses and poets whose
Careers were impoverished or trés lucre.

Onto pages and stages words were poured:
Material met poesy.
And production wherein money is adored
Turned illusions black, once fresh and rosy.

Death, betrayal, greed, deceits
Come quick in modernity’s illusory treats.

Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglas

Like a novel his book does read
Three acts: and two so dire!
Born with raw intelligence, indeed
He lived on earth as in hell’s fire.

Not born a slave, for no one is!
Like all, he has the seed of freedom
Deep in his heart, nearly buckled, on his knees.
But he would not let the cruelty mislead him.

As the best sociologist, he writes
Of the inhumanity slavery breeds
The institution is the root of wretched bites
Overseers’ whips make black backs bleed.

But tyranny cannot work amongst civil members
Injustice ultimately burned in history’s embers. 

Undine Sprague

Undine Sprague

I am slender and pretty and fair
Surely, I turned your head and you took note.
Do you like what I did with my hair?
Don’t make me ask; I don’t like to gloat.

I learned that I must pay attention
To art and books so that
At dinner parties I can mention
The latest—though I don’t really give a squat.

A man is like a car:
You want a new model this year
For it can make you a star—
But soon about a sleeker model you hear.

I am as pretty as my name is not.
I never see I am a greedy bug in a flower pot.

O! Pioneers – Willa Cather

O! Pioneers – Willa Cather

Alexandra and the land
Dramatically one.
The soil: her wedding band.
She was father’s favorite among his sons.

She saw growth out there where others
Could only see what went on before.
Her hands to the crops were mothers;
Her days made our nation’s lore.

In history books we’re taught
Notions of white man’s plunder
Which the natives fought—
But this story is of Alexandra’s wonder.

Her soul was drawn deep in the earth
Where she could intuit husbandry’s worth.

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five

So it goes and so it goes and so and on it goes
War then birth then accidents.
Then death. Time has earthlings in its throes
But events all explode in one breath.

Someone trips then someone marries. Another gets a kiss.
Out the window over there the fat lady eats an Almond Joy
Live soldiers don as best they can what the dead ones will not miss. Isn’t it sweet how a slaughterhouse seems like home to girl and boy?

Once inside the slaughterhouse, the slaughterhouse is in you.
War explodes time and logic and sense.
It mixes cities, honesty, dust, and a shoe
While readers in beds and bathtubs are blinded by official pretense.

War exists to help us make sense that nothing ever makes sense
War takes you up in a spaceship and knocks you off every fence.

The Monster Wants Him Some Love

The Monster Wants Him Some Love

The monster learned to read and to speak.
He saw the joy that love can bring
‘til his longing for love began to leak
Into others’ horror at his face’s zing.

Events in Europe led us to a captain afloat
In the Arctic, longing for a friend who’d be dear
Not likely to find one among the brutes on his boat
But then Victor, almost lifeless, drew near.

Back to life the captain nursed him
Until he could speak his story
Details of which made him seem nearly Seraphim
And we shared in a human’s gory glory.

Captain and Victor and monster all wanted the very same thing:
Companionship to fill the hole of being on a human’s solitary swing

Frankenstein – or, It’s not so easy to be good

Frankenstein – or, It’s not so easy to be good

We want so much for a triumph;
Life helps us along sometimes.
But to hubris God says, “Harrumph!
And a hungry ego still climbs.

Victor Frankenstein gave his all to science
He labored at it hard.
Ignoring his love in the balance
Until by design he was jarred.

At first his creation was solitary
Spying on humans inside
A cabin where family love flowed in beauty—
And like them, he wanted a bride.

The appreciation for humankind that he showed
Was matched only by the wrath his need for love bestowed.

Middlemarch:  A Sonnet

Middlemarch: A Sonnet

In Middlemarch true love emerges
Amidst stilted, traditional ways.
Force and custom get their dirges
when freedom and will are set ablaze.

Dorothea, pure of heart,
Gave up a legacy
For she could not stay alive apart
From the spirit she did see

In Will. Will’s will, his mind, his manner
Captured Dorothea’s soul.
They were separated by social clamor
Several times until their lips got whole.

Happily, ever after lived almost the whole damned lot of them
sometimes closer to the flower of life—sometimes closer to the stem.

Ahem, Mister Nabokov

You and your Pale Fire
Uncle Vladimir has left us something from which we can learn.
He penned a book in verse that novel was.
And we, the beneficiaries, avoid it at our peril.
For in it he tells of teachers, nymphs and wives
And utters the thoughts we thought but could not say.
And, thus, he billows the mental sheet that is the life
Of a man who lived with wife on pillows and in chairs
With whom, over an uncomely daughter, he passed stares.
Vladimir, portly as a Hitchcock, wrote in English
Forsaking the warm Russian schlock
To chortle at the foibles of those who think
That they in universities do not stink as do the
Unwashed who live without degrees—
Who just watch television with afghans on their knees—
While they in gothic towers think lofty thoughts
Of all that is and of all the many oughts.
They hover over us for some reason
Despite the fact their great thoughts will never season
The lives of all those for whom they think they wrote.
Forsook, for soothe, for soot—and therefore why
Do we think so very much before we die?
When it’s about the end of Act Five that we really wonder:
When will intimate death our doorbell ring?
Suppressing the under-roof into a poof:
When surely our thinking shall cease.
Or will it?

To our dead Uncle Nabokov

It’s a pale fire, and then paler still
Never to consume more intimate history
Never more to creep or twist or twirl through logs
Wond’ring if a boy would ever, ever meet this girl
Who would think of her—yes, the very lift of my very nose?
Or my voice’s cadence—or my toes
Or with what pleasure I sometimes can drink a tea
Oh, would ever there be a he who would so think of me?

These thoughts and more dear Uncle wrote in this book
While we, from other shelves books took
And we read those or abandoned them or sometimes lent
A tome or two which destiny sent
To us, to pour into our holes
Yearning to be filled; so, sang our souls.
When all along Pale Fire was there.

Pale Fire. To be read, eaten, but never digested.
Tell me, God, or just a fellow human:
Is it for this cup of tea I live?
Or is it just to read this verse which our Uncle did give?
Oh, there is pleasure teeming in the lines of Pale Fire –
The book I have been dreaming.

Crime and Punishment Sonnet

Crime and Punishment Sonnet

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov:
a murderer and son.
His pride and anger might pull it off
Being as he was one

who was superior among mortals.
He wrote an essay about it.
But theory failed when his mental portals
swung and he could not self-acquit.

Sonia loved him—and her Jesus.
But Rodion could not find argument
for how the Lord raised Lazarus.
Still, Sonia’s constancy met Rodion’s torment.

He awoke one fine Siberian day
and sweet love, not dry, old reason, held sway.