Flammeus Gladius

Carmina et Verba pro Discipulis Meis

Month: September, 2012





(for Amy Summerhays)



Suetonius was way too much for Amy—

And all those details were superfluous.

She knew the Caesars’ souls smelled rather gamy.

She knew that Nero was a vicious cuss.

Why did she need to tour in Riley’s bus

The trials of that awful family,

The crimes of Gaius and Tiberius,

The sights no decent girl should have to see?

So out she walked.  If only I could be

Like Amy, and avoid the seamy side

Of this, our seamy world, then certainly

Into a saint I’d be transmogrified.

As it is, I apply corrupted smarts

To reading over all the vilest parts.



–Tom Riley

Pair in Review

The Pair in Review



She gave your book a positive review—

And thus revealed profound incompetence.

Ah, but her idiocy flattered you!

That is why you embraced it as good sense—

And just ignored her boundless ignorance.

That’s why you made her editor-in-chief.

Now, though, her screeching ego’s grown immense.

Now she imagines she can give you grief.

Still, do not stamp her flatter than lead leaf

Nor feed her, cursed for witchcraft, to the fire.

You need not intervene.  Her time is brief—

Like yours and mine.  To truth you can’t aspire,

Anyhow, since the lies began with you—

Who gave her false review a great review.



–Tom Riley

Poor Supergirl

Poor Supergirl

(for Regina Phelps)

Poor Supergirl is busy constantly—

Fighting some mechanoid in Tokyo,

Hauling a helpless panther from a tree,

Teaching the edgy Flash to take things slow.

Folks need her help – and she just can’t say no,

Not to the conscience gnawing at her ease.

She does what’s right, not just what gives a show.

She aims to rectify, not just to please.

When she shows up, the supervillain flees—

Most of the time.  But, if he stands his ground,

That’s more time from her day.  Oh, Clark agrees:

Superhood doesn’t just thrill and astound!

Superhood can be trying and exhausting!

She’s super.  Keep in mind, fans, what it’s costing.

–Tom Riley


The Lecturers



Professors offered us their heavy thinking.

The burden almost broke our little backs.

We sat in hard, bare desks, strove past our blinking,

And couldn’t find an instant to relax.

“Follow us!” they would bellow.  “For our tracks

Will lead you into regions that exceed

Your dreams of dreaminess.  Forget the facts:

Interpretations – ours – are what you need.”

Theirs were the sorts of howls you have to heed—

Or make your home in far obscurity.

And did we listen?  Oh, we did indeed!

Each of us learned to make a fervent plea

Out of an inconsiderate command.

We lecture in our turn.  Give us a hand!



–Tom Riley

Post-Magisterial Veto

Post-Magisterial Veto



(for Katie Muth)



“He brought up his other hand – and now both his hands had the brute’s knuckles in a crushing vice.  He felt himself possessed of a superhuman strength.  Hercules – he who cleansed the world of unjust and brutal men!  Rotto’s face quivered from the pain.  He groped for Conrad’s throat with his other hand, but the pain was too much.  His right hand was being crushed….”

–Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full.



You must not like the Disney Hercules.

I tell you I forbid it, Katie Muth—

And every Stoic exemplar agrees.

The Disney Hercules corrupts our youth!

Half bogus fight scene and half smooching booth,

The stupid thing is altogether lame.

It contains not a scrap of shining truth.

I love games – but I’ll never play that game.

His enemy was Hera: hence the name,

“Famous because of Hera.”  How she heaped

Misfortunes on him, that malignant dame!

She sowed – and it was agony he reaped.

He strove – and how the sages loved him then!

He fought to cleanse the world of unjust men.



–Tom Riley

Guardians of Charity

Guardians of Charity



Charity, lad, means everything to them—

So they’ll avenge their injured pettiness

With every low and dirty stratagem

Their tiny brains can generate.  The mess

They’re in, they will with one loud voice profess,

Was caused by you, uncharitable you!

The truths to which you said a pointed yes

Were hurtful truths – and hardly even true!

How dare you claim to know the things you knew?

How dare you offer nasty evidence?

The guardians have ruled that you will rue

Your thrust against secure, accepted sense.

You’re exiled, lad – and that from everywhere.

Charity is upheld.  Pretend you care!



–Tom Riley

Terrible Stillness of the Warrior

The Terrible Stillness of the Warrior



(for Alvin Guevarra)



You tell yourself you just crept on him—

And that’s how Alvin gets you in the end.

He’s there at Barnes & Noble, senses dim—

Or so the braggart in you might contend.

Have care, dear self, and be to self a friend:

No one surprises Alvin.  The surprise

On which your schemes of ninjahood depend

Is just the hook he’s baited for your eyes.

When you reach for your sword, you realize

It isn’t in the scabbard after all.

“Concept of ambush never quite applies,”

He says, not looking up.  Such truths appall

The arrogance that swells in common men.

He offers you your sword.  “Please.  Try again.”



–Tom Riley