Flammeus Gladius

Carmina et Verba pro Discipulis Meis

Month: December, 2012

In Success

In Success





We warned you, little mister, not to try.

Now, in success, you’re far beyond the pale.

With absent explanation and a sigh,

We warned you, little mister, not to try—

But you’d prepared your innards to defy

The sense we offered.  Our lies were for sale.

We warned you, little mister, not to try.

Now — in success — you’re far beyond the pale.






–Tom Riley

Oracula Tacita

Oracula Tacita







We see you coming and we know your plan.

The oracles are dumb because of you

Who offer us, as Most High God, a man.

You would unmake our other customs, too.

But the response that we give to your cue

Will not be what your comfort might prefer.

Jealously, we will clasp our gods anew.

Our iron strength we’ll hoard and reassure.

Then to the beasts with you!  We know the cure

For foreign gods who do not know their place.

The Druids are no more the lords they were.

You too now, for the whole hurt human race,

We shall undo.  Behold our victory!

(But why cannot the oracles agree?)






–Tom Riley






They imagine they’ve buried me deep.

What they’ve scattered, they think they won’t reap.

But their vision is flawed.

From the earth I have clawed—

And I’ll soon trouble more than their sleep.




–Tom Riley



Salvation Scam

Salvation Scam



(for Grace Cortright)



Grace wins a prize – and I shall take the credit.

That is the only way I’ll make my mark

On a world I am not allowed to edit.

The fire leaps up – and I shall claim the spark.

When brilliant Grace herself undoes the dark,

I’ll send the world my high electric bill.

My cloudy mind will then seem sharp and stark—

Although I’ll be the same old grandpa still.

Sure, it’s a scam and makes the honest ill—

But I declare the feeling’s mutual.

Of nosy honesty I’ve had my fill.

I’ll work my scam until my world is full

Of glory bright enough to light my face.

Thus from obscurity I’m saved by Grace.





–Tom Riley





“We hate alike.”


–Tullus Aufidius



We hate the same damn people, you and I.

That is the basis of the love we share.

That hideous, smoked hag, that bulbous guy,

That wickedness no wishes can repair—

On these we fix the same judgmental stare;

These are indeed inspiring in their way.

They have inspired in us the same fierce prayer

That David, long pursued, had strength to pray.

Heaven responded then.  Ah, what a day

They had, well-favored David’s hapless foes!

O Lord, put on another such display!

Let it descend on these as once on those!

My friend and I have focused all our prayers:

Oh, let disaster take then unawares!



–Tom Riley






The sum of all that’s trivial and vain

She’s proud to be transcribing on the board.

She’s eager to mold every little brain.

She knows what every little hand has scored

On the most recent quiz.  With one accord,

Her cells embrace the lame, self-serving lie

That virtue’s what her wasted years have stored

Up in her being.  Think?  She doesn’t try.

Ideals she betrays are always high

Ideals: in betrayal, they become

Her own.  She whips those slaves until they cry.

She spanks them till their bottoms all go numb.

She tortures kids until their souls are screeching.

Where she was educated, that’s called teaching.




–Tom Riley

Same Book

The Same Book




“What you have written, never write again!”

He disobeyed this excellent advice—

And wrote the same book seven, eight, nine, ten,

And more times, sold each variation twice,

And lived high on the takings.  “It’s so nice,”

He said, “to do without imagination!

Churn the same product out – and add some spice.

That is the path to proper compensation.

My readers know no point of satiation.

They like the crap I write to be the same

As all my other crap – and innovation

Offends them.  So I simply play the game

That they prescribe with every book they buy.

Give it all up for art, you ask?  Not I!”




–Tom Riley






The surface, folks, of every study

Is all our shallow minds can stand.

We like it clear, though we are muddy.

We like it gone on our command.

Although we schedule very little,

We dodge the challenge of the riddle:

We don’t confront the hard-eyed sphinx;

We shape a paper foe – who blinks.

And off to distant wastes we banish

All who will not adopt our smile,

All who sneer at our empty style

And dare correct us.  Let them vanish!

Through paradox, our souls rebound:

The superficial is profound!




–Tom Riley




(First appeared in The Lyric, v.92, n. 4, Fall 2012.)







You didn’t sell your sister or your mother.

After some centuries of Purgatory,

That might have been forgiven, O my brother!

But what you peddled was Edenic glory

You should have understood.  An old, old story:

Older than Gondolin before the Fall.

Traitors like you can never say they’re sorry.

They have to peddle till they’ve peddled all.

What payment did you earn?  Do you recall?

From other pimps, whose beards were thick with lice,

You won some words of praise – and, on the wall,

Graffiti: “We wuz here and it wuz nice!”

You were not under Aphrodite’s spell.

I hope that truth will comfort you in Hell.




–Tom Riley

Start with a Prayer

Start with a Prayer





With fervent hearts, they pray before the Lord

That he will bless their necessary lie

With measurable fruit and sweet accord.

They pray that he will strive to rectify

The inconsistencies that liars try

To keep out of their complicated tales—

But still find cropping up, blinking and sly.

Humanity, they know, forever fails—

And, left unaided, falls and writhes and wails.

Still, with God’s help, it’s possible to shape

A lie so wise, so wrapped in clever veils,

That corresponding truth cannot escape

The prison of dishonest stratagem.

They beg the Lord to grant that boon to them.





–Tom Riley