Joseph Salemi      



                                    Interrogation at the Grassy Knoll:


                                               November 22, 1963


                                 Who are you guys?  We’re from the CIA.

                                 And you?  I’m Lucien Sarti from Marseilles.

                                 What about you swarthy types?  Who, us?

                                 We’re Cuban exiles, and we won’t discuss

                                 The reason why we’re here.  And how about you?

                                 I’m sent by Sam Giancana and his crew.

                                 And you?  J. Edgar Hoover is my chief.

                                 And you there, fella?  Clay Shaw has a beef

                                 With JFK, and that’s why I’m around.

                                 And you two guys there, squatting on the ground?

                                 Wall Street and the oil-rich tycoons

                                 Paid our way here.  What about you goons?

                                 Fidel Castro and the Revolution

                                 Must be defended.  This is the solution.

                                 And you guys?  We were sent by LBJ—

                                 That snotty Harvard brahmin’s in his way.

                                 And you there, buddy?  Santo Trafficante

                                 Wants to send down to the hell of Dante

                                 That little Irish prick.  Man, what a mob!

                                 So much muscle just for one small job!

                                 And all you others, crowding in the aisles?

                                 E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Jimmy Files,

                                 David Atlee Phillips, Chauncey Holt…

                                 Enough already!  I’m about to bolt.

                                 You sure there’s room behind this picket fence

                                 For all of you to shoot?  It makes no sense

                                 For me to hang around and spoil the fun.


                                 Hey fella—who are YOU?  And where’s your gun?


                                 Me? I’m Oswald, and I’m gonna split—

                                 It looks like you don’t need me for the hit.






                                             Thessalian Frenzy


                                                                Sine Cerere et Libero friget Venus.





                                     The centaurs gather for a feast

                                     Before the foot of Jason’s throne,

                                     Inviting friends who are half-beast

                                     (The satyrs).  Laden tables groan


                                     With fig trees’ summer-ripened fruit,

                                     The olive cracked, and wet with oil—

                                     Warm loaves of bread, benignly mute,

                                     Green produce of the living soil,


                                     Fresh eggs and nutmeats, apples, grapes,

                                     Hyblaean honey, wine, and cheese

                                     Pressed into wicker basket shapes

                                     By unkempt, savage Cyclopes.


                                     Wild maenads, hair in disarray,

                                     Contribute to the rustic board

                                     The bloodied limbs of luckless prey

                                     Dismembered for their Bacchic Lord.


                                     Amazons are also guests

                                     With cruel barbed arrows and a bow

                                     And quiver strapped across smooth chests

                                     Where once there rose a breast of snow.


                                     Cybele’s gelded troop has come

                                     (Emasculated priestlings all)

                                     With sistrum, flute, and throbbing drum

                                     To dance in frenzy, then to fall


                                     With wolfish hunger on the food.

                                     All present swill and gorge with glee—

                                     Centaurs, maenads, and the brood

                                     Of satyrs.  Soon the revelry 


                                     Stirs up libido’s sleeping snake.

                                     The Amazons are hot and wet—

                                     The maenads’ lust is wide awake.

                                     There is no dainty etiquette


                                     In what comes next.  The rigid prongs

                                     Of centaurs swive the maenad crew,

                                     While satyrs leap on Amazons

                                     And pump them till their loins turn blue.


                                     Cybele’s priests observe and weep

                                     As if their wounds were made afresh.

                                     The Cyclopes, in drunken sleep,

                                     Have dreams of Galatea’s flesh.



                             Don’t Become the Crazy Old Cat Lady



                             You’ve got too many of the filthy things:

                             Flea-bitten bags of fur, half streaked with mange,

                             Tiptoeing on your kitchen counter.  Hell,

                             There’s cat hair everywhere.  You can’t sit down.

                             And God, that stench—ammonia’s pungency

                             Mixed with the reek of dried, forgotten turds.


                             What is your problem, woman?  What sick need

                             Compels you to house useless, feline strays?

                             You’re still young, honey—there’s a chance for you,

                             But take it now.  For if you hesitate

                             I see distinctly what the future holds:


                             You in a flowered granny skirt, unwashed,

                             And straw sun-hat, bedraggled, broken-brimmed,

                             Plodding along in sneakers smeared with grime,

                             Pushing a supermarket cart piled high

                             With kitty litter, cat food bought in bulk,

                             Trudging the aisles and mumbling to yourself—

                             Everyone gives you leeway as you pass.

                             Propped by the register, the checkout girl

                             Gazes in boredom at her manicure

                             As you stand there splayfooted, frizzy-haired,

                             Dithering in an absentminded daze

                             While out of a tatty purse you dredge up dimes.





                                                   American Air Raid



                                                                         America is the Great Satan.


                                                                                       —Ruhollah Khomeini



                        One night of moonless terror, great Lucifer’s broad wings

                        Rose up in smoky billows from the flame of hellish things:

                        The pyres of the Ganges, the ovens of the camps,

                        The smokestacks of Chicago and the trashcans of the tramps.


                        They turned and swooped like falcons upon the victim earth—

                        Brought shadows of disease and grief, of destitution, dearth,

                        Of unexampled murder, atrocity full blown—

                        Whatever pain could touch us at the soul or at the bone.


                        They left behind them weeping, the groans of broken men,

                        The shrieking of the wounded at their mangled flesh.  And then

                        The wings sank back to darkness, like adders to their holes,

                        Where devils are inured and deaf to screaming human souls,


                        And where no breath of music, no lilting plaint of lyres,

                        No harmony of voices from the archangelic choirs,

                        No seven spheres in concert, no chiming of a bell

                        Can break the mirthless silence at the icy core of hell.



 Copyright Joseph Salemi 2012

Joseph S. Salemi has published poems, translations, and scholarly articles in over one hundred journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. His five collections of poetry are Formal Complaints, Nonsense Couplets, Masquerade, The Lilacs on Good Friday, and Skirmishes. A sixth collection (Steel Masks) will appear in 2012. He is a recipient of several scholarships and fellowships, a winner of the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature award, and a four-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Prize. He is the editor of the magazine TRINACRIA, and a regular columnist for the on-line journal The Pennsylvania Review. He teaches in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College in New York City.