Michael Ferris is an American poet who was born in Los Angeles. His first true
love was JS Bach; since then he’s had reckless affairs with, among others,
Blaise Pascal, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rabindranath Tagore and Wislawa Szymborska.
He studied nothing of commercial value in college. He leads a quiet life in the
country with his beloved under the supervision of their lumpy dog.
Mr Sloth Extemporizes to His Mate
Thumb through a thesaurus and you will find
that my character has been perversely maligned:
I’m the pith of the shiftless, the loaf with a grin,
the gutter of gumption, and damn! Deadly sin.
What sermons this preaches on mankind’s condition:
my ease is their guilt; my peace, their omission.
I can’t think the Zen-like aplomb of a sloth
is really the trespass to make a god wroth;
I quote their Pascal: that the worst kinds of ill
all stem from men’s failure to simply sit still.
Twelve toes won’t suffice to count all the ways
I hang about blissing my belly with rays,
or lapping up raindrops, or watching the floss
of my fur blush to green, like the creep of the moss.
As for provender, it comes as sure as the tides.
I’ve never once doubted, the forest provides.
I’ve built no Alcázar, no Taj, I’ll admit;
the wake that l leave must be small. What of it?
Delight in the Sun, in the cloud — and in thee!
The best things in life are from Heaven. And free.
"Mr Sloth Extemporizes to His Mate" was published in The Lyric and won the
journal's quarterly award.
The angel trumpet’s blossom has to be
heaven to a hungry honeybee:
deep as a kitchen pot, and near as wide —
I bet a bee could lose himself inside.
We planted one from seed way back in May.
It started slow — but by July, I’d say
it grew a foot with every time we looked,
like something from a children’s storybook.
Stalk, stalk, stalk! — not the grace note of a bud.
Come August we were sure we had a dud:
the flesh seemed sweet, but oh, the spirit sour —
the spiteful thing just didn’t want to flower.
As thrush and robin took to waning skies,
the muted strains of hope came to our eyes:
one bud, then five, and quickly we lost count
and every day the tally seemed to mount.
September’s hues and cool declare it’s Fall,
but angel trumpets blast one last pink squall
of Summer. Play on! they peal, play
I bet that’s where the honeybees have gone.
"Angel Trumpets" was awarded the Leslie Mellichamp yearly prize by The Lyric, in a contest judged
by THT associate editor and Poet in Residuum, Tom Merrill.
Old Doggerel Verse
He’s calloused where his elbows rub
the floor; his snout’s gone gray.
Time has worn his teeth to nubs
and gummed his vertebrae.
He doesn’t hunt. He never did,
unless the chase was cheese.
He barks at darkness and the wind.
He’s busted both his knees.
These days he gets up just to eat
and answer nature’s call.
He sits there — while I throw, entreat,
and fetch his tennis ball.
His coat falls out. It gets re-sewn
with daily thyroid doses.
And once a month he gets a bone
to curb his halitosis.
I’ve worried plenty through the years
on his enteric status —
he’s had me to the point of tears
with his miasmic flatus.
(He doesn’t mind — he stands behind
old Auden’s intuition
that every gasbag is inclined
to like his own emission.)
In Summer, when I drive about,
I think, how sweet it were
to roll my windows down without
the hurricane of fur.
He’s lame; he smells; he sheds; he’s blind.
Of course, he’s just a mutt.
And once he goes, I know I’ll find
my freedom bracing — but
he’s thirteen years of life to me,
the life a man pursues
and reckons retrospectively
how bad it hurts to lose.
"Old Doggerel Verse" was awarded the fall quarterly prize by The Lyric, in a contest
judged by THT associate editor and Poet in Residuum, Tom Merrill.
The eternal silence of these infinite places fills me with dread.
Now is infinity’s joint.
The future juts out in a ray;
the past, from this vanishing point
struts endless the opposite way.
You will empty the sea with a spoon;
teach the serpent to knit macramé;
slap the smirk off the face of the moon;
before you can sing the first bar,
the first note of eternity’s tune.
It’s a notion to rattle and jar
the rickety scales of the brain:
as the nib of a quark to the star,
then that star, as it’s only a grain
in Saharas of star-dust and -sand;
then square that, and square it again ―
Now feel the strain of that span
on the reed, the frail hinge, of man.
A man can question everything ―
that first doubt’s like a thread
hanging from a sweater
that, pulled at, doesn’t end
until our cozy cardigan
lies garbled on the floor ―
a toppled pile of pasta,
a vile Medusa’s hair.
One mustn’t pull threads publicly;
our nakedness won’t please
the constables of decency.
Perhaps they’re right ― most men can’t take
the chill for very long;
a freezing heart, or cracking mind
might prove the project wrong.
A few, like Keats, need only briefs
of feeling to keep warm ―
then some, like Newman, quake until
they don the cope in Rome.
I hadn’t viewed the body
or touched the waxy skin
or heard that last ungodly
rattle of the wind ―
until a few weeks after,
the light of morning spread
from darkness to disaster:
your pillow by my head
and nothing, a depression,
where once your warmness lay.
Then dawned the recognition,
the fact’s eclipse of day.
I had myself to hold ―
oh how my flesh went cold.
Originally published by 14by14
To a Reader, Somewhere
Your amplitude can frighten other folks:
you quest for meaning, like a fabled shore.
A handsome boy, salt-wet and rippled, stokes
the melancholy churning at your core.
You’re lonely in a crowd; when you’re alone
you know a harder, deeper kind of ache:
the longing for a heart cruel as your own,
to surge as one, as one to crest and break.
The prophets say the way to happiness
is turning from your savage, native Sun
and ebbing in the puddled shadows, just
as tide on chastened tide of men have done.
What’s happiness for them is not for you.
Rise up, then: you have wilder things to do.
Originally published by 14by14
Metamorphoses, or Plus ça Change
A thought that’s worth your thinking
has likely been thought before.
An emotion worth your feeling
has been felt by somebody more.
Romeo’s not the first lover,
or the first to crash into fate;
Pyramus hit the same wall,
and even at this late date
the story of love is ever
as old as it is new.
A fool thinks he composed it ―
yet, that’s just what lovers do.
I thought this reading Ovid, dear.
A man today still sees
himself in the ancient fables
For example: the story of Baucis
and her beloved Philemon.
You know that you’re my linden
(or is it my oak?) to lean on.
My tone today sounds chatty
and whimsical as the weather,
but, like those trees in Ovid,
I mean we’ve grown together;
and like those rustics, sometimes
I believe enough to pray
that we neither outlive the other,
that the same hour whisk us away.
The higher the summit of bliss
the deeper the valley of woe ―
a precept of our physics,
tectonic of the soul.
Capacity is neutral:
itself neither good nor ill
it amplifies dimension
toward the terrible.
Descent must follow ascent,
Teresa and Isaac agree ―
the arc without inflection
mocks God and gravity.
I wonder about the whales.
Every so often you hear
of a beluga gone astray,
one that’s been spotted near
Hackensack or Trenton.
He swims the river upstream
past shipyards, and refineries,
to suburban death, it seems.
And then the yearly story
of the pilot, or the gray
who beaches himself at Montauk
and starts a colossal fray
over how, or if, to move him.
We say he must be ill,
or addled, or lost, to shipwreck
of his own cetaceous will.
Sometimes it’s forty, fifty —
an apocalyptic pod
wrecks itself on the ravings
of their hidden peg-leg god.
If whales just sail on instinct
you have to question why
millennia of wiring
so often goes awry.
How knotted are the ties
of ancestry we share?
Is the bowhead curious?
Does the humpback despair?
Could it be, that sometimes,
it’s more than mammals can do
to drift their days contented
under the deep, dumb blue?