Flammeus Gladius

Carmina et Verba pro Discipulis Meis

Month: September, 2012

Marissa Joins the Crew of Spaceship Earth

Marissa Joins the Crew of Spaceship Earth


(for Marissa Amador)


This day – what was it?  twenty years ago?—

The beautiful Marissa joined the crew

Of Spaceship Earth.  And we’re all pleased to know

That she is here.  Before she was, who knew

That summer skies could ever be so blue,

That autumn winds could ever be so cool?

We stumbled through our pain without a clue

And lived hard by a heavy, leaden rule.

But now we’re going to a lighter school,

And all our conversation’s elevated.

Now, for a while, the world is not so cruel.

Now, for a while, our spirits are elated.

She keeps those existential doubts in line—

And, when she’s in the room, the air is wine.


Happy birthday!


Tom Riley


30 September 2012

Macbeth and Wife

Macbeth and Wife


“And be these juggling fiends no more believ’d,
That palter with us in a double sense;
That keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope….”

They thought advice would help them master time.

They thought command would help them conquer fate.

The three uncanny sisters’ yen to rhyme

Made double-subtle sayings resonate

With bogus clarity.  Rather than wait

And see these bright predictions face the test,

The two conspirators, meant to be great,

Erred greatly in the way they judged was best.

She summoned hateful spirits to her breast

And gave suck to a brood of empty acts.

He murdered sleep – and knew at last no rest.

He learned on his last day the baleful facts.

And, after she was dead and all was known,

He faced the words he’d trusted in alone.



–Tom Riley

Flying High

Flying High



Soon we’ll be flying high – but far from free.

Not only are we squeezed in really tight:

We’re bound to an absurd trajectory.

Corrected, we shall never get it right.

Friends, this is the reality of flight:

The higher and the farther that you go,

The less your liberty, the less your might.

Soaring at last is nothing more than show.

But does this mean that flying is our foe?

In flight, you shouldn’t jump to that conclusion.

Your elevation need not bring you low.

Your clarity need not bring on confusion.

You’re in a rut?  Then know you can’t get out.

At least that way, you’re free from every doubt.



–Tom Riley




“Others abide our question….”


–Matthew Arnold


When Matthew Arnold had a crack at you,

All he could do was grab his puzzled head,

Gasp at a mystery without a clue,

And drone on till his final line fell dead.

You filled his heart with literary dread

Softened by customary admiration.

I hope that you fill mine with awe instead

And with the urge for open contemplation.

Your simple sonnets ring with complication.

Your plays are traps – but traps that liberate.

I know that I have need of liberation—

And turn to you.  Perhaps it’s too damn late

To understand what must be understood.

Still, I know this: you’re good.  You’re really good.


–Tom Riley




(for Lauren Pace)


“Lauren,” said Poe, “I find your brow attractive.

It reveals intellect beyond the norm.

You needn’t think my head is hyperactive

In amative concerns.  Not even warm,

My dear!  I just admire the brainy form

Your forehead takes – as many poets must.

I do not gather up a whirling storm

Of longing to disturb my mortal dust.

I am a genius, Lauren, you can trust.

I view you as another lost Lenore

To be by Frenchmen endlessly discussed—

A babe of sense, respected to the core.

So understand me, girl – and join the ranks!”

Lauren’s smile never left her face: “No, thanks!”


–Tom Riley

Poe’s Dead Ladies

Poe’s Dead Ladies



Though they were never Ivory girls, they’re clean

As wind-washed, rain-rinsed marble: I have grown

To love them and to love the way they stay

Forever out of reach of Poe and me.

Though they are past the point of speech, they say

The damnedest things in silence: I have known

True love – ill-fated, somber, and pristine—

Only in sight of them, outside their arms.

Though they are virgins now, though they will be

Virgins forever, they pronounced the doom

Upon my precious, pimply innocence.

And though I spend my life counting their charms,

I see their chief attraction: ever since

I’ve known them, they’ve been safely in the tomb.



–Tom Riley



(First appeared in Star*Line, May-June 1988.)

True Philosopher

The True Philosopher



Whatever gets me out of doing things

Is what I’ll do, or else refrain from doing.

I seek the leisure of unwarlike kings,

Of knights who know of no quest worth pursuing.

I come unglued – and charge you with ungluing—

When urgency intrudes upon my ease.

Can’t you folks see that it’s yourselves you’re screwing?

Why do you make demands, prove hard to please?

I would get up and fall upon my knees

To beg for peace – if only this deep chair

Were not so comfy.  Common sense agrees

With my restraint.  Activity’s unfair!

The true philosopher will opt for rest.

If you want to get busy, be my guest.



–Tom Riley

Raised for Slaughter

Raised for Slaughter




You’re sad to learn that lambs are raised for slaughter

And put in bowls of tasty Irish stew?

You might as well be sad to learn that water

Evaporates — that alcohol does, too.

You might as well be sad to learn that, new

Out of their eggs, sea turtles are the prey

Of every predator that gets a clue

Little chelonians hatch forth that day.

That’s nature, lad — and nature has a way

Of reinforcing all its iron rules

With repetition, eager to repay

In pain the thoughts of sentimental fools.

So stop your silly caterwauling, you!

Join the wise Irish: dig into your stew.





–Tom Riley

Little Leader

Little Leader


The little leader’s sorry for your sins.

He has been authorized to list them all.

When he screwed up, you offered hurtful grins.

When he fell short, you seemed, well, almost tall.

When he was mumbling in the men’s room stall,

You took notes – or he tells himself you did.

It does no good to say you don’t recall.

In the end, he’ll expose the guilt you hid.

The tough position he inherited

Is getting tougher, as you know, each day.

Of its demands he’s longing to be rid—

But only if its perks are here to stay.

What in the nasty world?  Are you still here?

He’s sorry – and his sorrow is sincere.



–Tom Riley




How beautiful, my dear, your ankles are!

Your calves are hideous, and, oh, your feet

Are wholly indescribable!  How far

The joints excel the ugly lumps of meat

Linked to them!  They’re a fine aesthetic treat:

I gaze at them with deep appreciation.

The rest of you is somehow incomplete.

The lovely ankles glorify Creation.

They are a wonder of articulation.

They are a miracle of shapeliness.

Too bad they don’t enhance coordination.

(Your klutziness, I’m sure, you must confess.)

Your ankles are a triumph.  Oh, it’s true!

It’s sad your body’s what they’re coupled to.


–Tom Riley


(First appeared in Light Quarterly, Nos. 76-77, Spring-Summer 2012)