Was a blanket of snow,
the frozen air filled with icy breath
of horse and soldier – and the condemned.
On the scaffolding, Feodor stood,
all Saint Petersburg before him,
white, cold, distant.
Below, tied to wooden stakes,
unrepentant, unhooded Petrashevski,
poor Mombelli, fragile Grigoriev,
waited, waited, rifles aimed at their heads.
Above, Feodor, next in line, sought peace
from agitation, the certainty of impending death,
in reconciliation, accommodation,
saw sunlight flash on church steeple beyond,
flashing light of uncertainty, of terrible truth,
of final, unknowable mystery.
But then, the roll of drums, the prayer of prayers answered,
the reprieve, the benevolence of kind Nicholas,
the prisoners unbound, the true sentence read.
Grigoriev hence mad, Petrashevski defiant still,
Feodor in transports of relief, the years of exile to come
a prickly balm for his epileptic soul,
a seething fire for his raging ambition,
the incandescent spark for his explosive genius.
Wind, dry and hot, coursing over
ruins, brown grass rustling,
miniature dust storms spinning.
Beyond, closer, an oval, light blue lake and
further, dry looking mountains, gray and
distant, smoke plumes rising from unknown fires.
Below, the usual ball field, reminder of
ancient ritual, heart sacrifice, bloody knife-wielding priests.
Beside, around, gray-stoned temples, reconstructed,
to feathered serpent god, and about
broken walls of homes, empty now
a millennium and half again.
Nearby, past squat pyramid and
erect, unfathomable stele,
an entrance, a cave, dark and uninviting,
vague light centered, awaiting solar equinox and
brilliant yellow shining beam.
Xochicalco, on leveled hilltop,
life long extinguished yet remembered,
among the heat and wind of summer still
one hundred fifteen decades on.
Anecdote of the Jaw:
Wallace Stevens and a Large Puddle of Water
February 1936, long, tall,
over-weight and middle-aging
Wallace Stevens, most excellent insurance company poet,
having exhausted his latest traditional spat
with Mr. Robert Frost, sought out bigger game,
at an upscale Key West soiree.
Drinking too much, as was his wont,
the executive bard trash-mouthed
the great Papa bear in company
with baby sister bear Ursula
and made her cry – all the way home
to big brother.
Confronted on the street by Papa, 36,
the actuarial verse-smith, 56, put dukes up,
swung wildly at the shorter, stocky man.
Papa, in a testosterone fit, wiped up
the wet street with the taller, heavier
word-worker – sending him sprawling
into a puddle of water.
Up came swinging, the big modernist icon,
his fist catching Papa’s jaw flush,
and shattering itself, and not the bear’s jaw,
in two distinct places.
Down again went Wallace, faster than Max Schmeling,
and again, until he was so beaten, bloody, and battered,
the large bear took pity and stopped.
No reason to tell anybody about this, Mr. Stevens,
the loser, suggested to his literary over-match.
None whatsoever, agreed Papa,
although nice letters to Dos Passos and Mrs. Murphy,
revealed the joy and pride he took in pounding
the daylights out of the sometimes drunkenly obnoxious
past his prime insurance company vice-president poet.
J. B. Hogan was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize for his story “Kerosene Heat.” His dystopian novel New Columbia was published in Aphelion and his prize-winning e-book Near Love Stories is online at Cervena Barva Press. He has many stories and poems in such journals as: Cynic Online Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review, Every Day Poets, Ranfurly Review, and the Dead Mule. His work has been anthologized in Flash of Aphelion and Best of Tales from the South: Volume 6. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.