Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of Frank Polite

Distinguished Entry 2002

Hermes, for instance

The Black Butterflies


A Poet's Prose Essay:


HERMES, for instance

or, the Mythical Underpinning of Bill Gates

Gods are a lot like us, some are friendly, some are not. Some aren't very smart, it's not a criterion. Like us, all gods are thieves, but only one god is the god of thieves, and that god is Hermes.

What a god steals attaches to the god's name, a lot of titles, which is to say, the more Boards one sits on the better, the more famous. In this way, the gods order things out of Chaos, they tame the wild for us.

Hermes, for instance. Of all the Olympians, Hermes is by far the strangest and most interesting. He has more titles than any other god, which means, more than messages and flowers, Hermes tracks the wildest of the Wilds. As Perseus, he slew the gruesome Medusa, Fear itself, and Argus, Thousand-eyed Monster of Night.

Thief, Healer, Trickster, Giver of Gifts, quicksilvermessenger, Guide of Souls, Hermes-at-the-Crossroads, "Hermes, Hermes, Lord of Changes and of Journeys," an ancient invocation. The list goes on and on, Hermes this and Hermes that - an inventory in fact of all the traits and attributes and treasure Hermes has stolen.

We know that Hermes stole silver, all silvering, as in chrome, mercury, freshly minted coins, and mirrors (hence, all reflection); and green, as in emeralds and Spring (long before St. Patrick, Hermes stole Ireland); and silver-green, the way the leaves of olive trees glitter in the wind. And mint, the taste of mint, is Hermes also, its refreshment and sting. And wintergreen.

Winged at helmet and foot, Hermes steals swiftness, all speed, until he seems to exist, like a 4th-dimensional being, in every direction at once - which is why the Ancients devised this curious thought about Hermes: Unlike the other gods, Hermes rules his own world.

Dreams, magic, trickery - that is Hermes realm. He is Lord of Exchange, what takes place at borders and gates, barter and trade, give and take, all crossings over. Transformer, Shapeshifter, Joker - when Hermes card is played no position is safe. Hierarchies and Establishments tremble. Hermes steals whatever is nailed down, to effect change.

Master of crafts and skills, trickery to Hermes is craftiness - the wily and crafty ways we connect one thing to another, shaping Nature to our will. Stringing up a tortoise shell, Hermes invented the lyre.

If a thief appears in our dreams, if something disappears, lost or stolen, that is an omen of Hermes. It means there is change afoot, winged and swift; or, since all change is theft, the shift has already occured. In other words, what we don't know, we don't know, yet.

Fastening his wings to Viking helmets, those thieving marauders, Hermes rules all sudden and awesome arrivals. Hence, his most fearsome (and beautiful) name, Storm-footed Hermes.

There is reason to think that Hermes will eventually steal everything. As god of wealth, invention, commerce, all communication and delivery systems, and instantaneous connection - the Internet, the World Wide Web is catching up with Hermes, and when it does Hermes will steal that also. In fact, since the thought occurs, he already has.

The gods differ from us in this: they are guiltless. Whatever is stolen has, suddenly, always belonged to the god - the history of the thing, right through to its genetic coding, bears the god's imprint. In this way the gods and their possessions are infinite. In effect, Homer says this about Hermes: all his thievery and all his tricks, in the end, seem to favor us.

Hermes, for instance, within the flow of this poem - how he arrives, how restless he is, how he moves on. . .


The black butterflies of night
Clipped for sleep to nightshade and widowgrief,
Or in shaking luminous flight
On paired and silver wings, are rare,
And rarely seen by human sight.

Yet, they are there, surfacing
Out of range of neons and streetlights,
Preferring underleaf
And the dark offshores of air
To man and moth-maddening glare of things.

As crisis after crisis
Cracks our skies like lightning,
I think of death,
Of different ways of dying,
And of Egypt and the myth
That once held black butterflies
Sacred to Isis.

They lived forever in flight
In her private groves, compelled like
Flickering minutes
Never to touch leaf nor stone,
Never to rest, except upon her nakedness
When she turned to love.

And here is death to be envied;
To be crushed to a personal breast
Between goddess
And whatever bird, beast, lover
Fell to her lips.

We are something else. . .
Myth and love will miss us
When the night is suddenly turned on,
Turned blank white,
And the black butterflies
Appear against that vellum sky
As far, flitting, burnt-out stars.


I stick out my thumb, a dream
stops for me. Where you going, I ask.
I don't know, the dream replies.
It looks like my life, so we drive.

Here's my dream song:

Empty empty lawn, empty lawn.
Empty empty lawn, empty lawn.

Next thing I know, I'm back home
but my thumb keeps going,
It ends up in Florida, stuck on
a plastic pink flamingo.

I get cards from Busch Gardens,
glossy prints pressed all over
with pink kisses that fall
like rose petals from Heaven.

One card reads, I'm in love.
Another, Get a grip on yourself.
What to do about this?
What to do?

I go out and sit on the steps.
The Sun, tamed to a tolerable red ball,
rolls in my front door.

Later, dim house, dull dull gloom,
all Hell breaks loose.


Dante comes up from the cellar,
all soot and grimaces.
He says he got it wrong. Hell
is Right Angles, he says. I tell him

Hell is bouncing around in
my living room right now,
spitting fire.
It turns out
Dante loves Eggplant Parmesan,
so I talk,
he wipes up the sauce.

A card floats down from Above.
It's from my thumb. It says, if the ball
of my right foot is the Moon,
who can doubt that I stepped on it
before Neil Armstrong?

I begin to worry a lot.

Dante ladles on the sauce. He asks
if I have any Pastrami? When I don't respond,
OK, he says, what's bothering you?


I have this dream, I tell him.
It's 1946, Rita Hayworth is traveling on
Mahoning avenue, a block
from where I live.

I'm a kid in a crowd, jumping
up and down. I ache to see her - a wave,
a wink, a peek between curtains,
but I never do.

Rita rides by in a closed trailer.

I wrote my first poem that summer,
"Goddess in a Closed Trailer."

Bad title, Dante says, but true.
She is your Beatrice, she is your Soul,
hidden and virginal. She has
given you a life of poetry.

And sorrow, I tell Dante,
and sorrow.

Dante dismisses the obvious
with a wave of his hand. It could have
been worse, he says,
had you seen her, you might have been
dead within a year.

Dante's flair for the grotesque
is well known. But yes, it's all mixed up
in my head - poetry and sex and God
and death and. . .

. . .and Love? Dante finishes my list.
You mean Lust - the Master's eyes
narrow to those of an eagle
marking its prey.


Dante forks in another stack of eggplant.
I pour him a glass of cheap Chianti,
the best I have.

He sniffs, tastes it, puckers his lips.
This must be from Palermo, he says,
they serve it in Hell also.

Dante leans back, pulls a pack
of unfiltered Camels from his robe
and lights up.

This picture, he says, tapping the camel
and pyramid, it is the greatest
Art of your century.

I try to lift a mug of coffee
with four fingers, an impossible task.

Where's your thumb, Dante asks.


I tell Dante, lust is natural.
It's grist for the mill, it transforms
into better things.

Natural lust is normal, Dante agrees,
but that's not what I mean.

Think on the hunter Actaeon, he says,
and be instructed. How he shamelessly
gazed upon the divine nakedness
of Diana and was changed into a stag.

His own dogs tore him to shreds.

Suddenly, I am struck
by something Jung had written
which I never understood;

It is always fatal to seduce one's own Soul.

It is the curse of the poet, Dante says,
for that you go to Hell
and I should know.

I hesitate to ask, but I do. . .
do you mean you. . .and Beatrice?

A smoke-ring settles around Dante's head
like a wreath of laurel. A trick
I perfected, he says.


Dante sits on the lawn
picking dandelions. Dante and dandelions
- tiny fiery suns -
it seems fitting.

I think of Dante's ultimate line
when he ascends the spheres to Heaven
and his vision is one with God:

the Love that moves the sun and other stars.


Dante holds a dandelion under my chin.
If your throat reflects a circle of gold,
he says, you are telling the truth.

Without my Soul, Maestro, I ask him,
how would I know the difference?
Dante's cloak reaches to the ground.
He sits next to me on the steps. It's chilly,
he says, laying his cloak over
my shoulders.

Should I tell him about Rita, I wonder,
and what the Colonel did to her?

Would he understand?


A card flutters down on the lawn. It says,
Ask about Rita again.

It's true, Dante says,
I lusted for her when she was 9 years old,
and all through her marriage
to another man. And after she died - still
a young woman - I lusted for
her Soul.

- that's what sent me to Hell, and
gave me great poetry.

Do you understand?
Poets are not Saints, but Singers of Torments,
and Hell is their employer.

I don't know, I tell Dante,
my world is different. We don't believe in
Heaven and Hell as you conceive it.

What about Soul, Dante says,
and Love?

Those are two concepts I still cling to,
I tell him - a disembodied thumb
and a pink flamingo.


Dante lights another cigarette.,
he stares at the lawn. How to tell him
the dandelions are tiny fiery suns
for real, irradiated, and the Camel
will give him cancer.

And the horrors go on and on. . .

Holocaust, AIDS, rain forests
chopped down; the very air he breathes
is a chemical fog - and above
it all, through one of his lovely spheres,
the ozone is devastated.

The truth is, I am speechless.

Across the street, and on across an
endless tarmac, a Palestinian
shuts down his shop.

Someone calls 911.

All I can think is,
I should have thought of it before
- along with olive oil
and walnuts, the shop sells pastrami.

It comes down to this, I tell Dante,
Hell is sideways now,
in any direction,
and there's no great art in it.


Dante turns from the window.
He says, this
wine is a goblet of piss
(drinks it)
but I kiss your hand
in gratitude.

If I had an uplifting
thought to leave you with, I
would, but I don't.
You're in over your head
and you know it.

Work it out, he says.

What I work out is this:

the Colonel taped Rita's picture
to the bomb that melted
Hiroshima, and
I'll never get over it.

Imagine your Beatrice, your Soul
(her smile and pointy tits)
coming down to deliver the Blow-
job of the Century,

I wanted to tell Dante, but didn't.

Rita lived an unhappy life,
unhappy in love.
"Men went to bed
with Rita Hayworth," she said,
"and woke up with me,"
and died an old lady crazed
with Alzheimer's disease.

Dante bestrode his world
because he loved
and understood it, bit I have
no such luck.

I live a jump-cut
to his Epic, a 15 minute clip,
and when my thumb gets
back, we'll stick that pink
flamingo in the lawn
and on and on work on
working it out.



ALIENS: A Prose Essay on the Other




Now and then people come into town who are not of this world.

They can be seen in the parking lots of shopping malls and super-markets, approaching . . . and without looking up from the ground, or directly at you, they pass.

It's not that their walk is awkward, it is, but that somehow they are ill-fitted to the their bodies. Nothing you can put your finger on, but a sense of something - when a neck, for instance, doesn't quite measure up to the circumference of a head. Or, when chest expansion, whether a coat is worn or not, is out of proportion to facial cheek bulge.

Cheeks, by the way, that never blush, not even in sub-zero weather, which may be due to their varying blood pressures, we don't know. If make-up has been applied, it appears as if thrown in a gob from a long distance.

All aliens lean.

They lean forward or back when they walk, or to one side. They stand at odd angles as if their limbs were shipped at different intervals in separate containers, or their body parts arrived en-masse in slabs to be de-gelled later in, say, a Taiwanese warehouse.

It is not so obvious when one observes a thigh sliding widely east while a shoulder shifts west, but one senses that what approaches, eyes averted, is not a humanly tuned and crafted entity. This does not always give aliens away, as some humans are double, even triple-jointed, adding an awkward sway to their walk.


Aliens wear the plainest of clothes. Next to them, Amish dress looks like masquerade apparel in Rio. If dungarees (a favored word) were made of forest green dacron, aliens would stand in a week of blizzards to purchase them by the rack.

And they are usually dressed from head to toe, regardless of weather. A sure sign that aliens approach are those blue polyester inflato coats that one might see hovering ten stories above the Macy's parade.


These coats have created the mistaken impression that aliens are pod people. Pod people, people born out of pods, are of this Earth and are moist and sinuous like us. Aliens are anything but moist and sinuous. Also, their presence in our spatial zones is responsible for all mistaken impressions.

For instance, the disorientation of sea gulls.

Sea gulls, or "mall gulls" that end up hundreds of miles inland circling over mall and supermarket parking lots, picking through discarded fries and burger wrappers. It's been suggested that tarmac, catching certain angles of sunlight, reflects back a mirage of water, causing the disorientation of sea gulls, but that's not at all true.

There's so much we think is so that isn't so, due to the disorienting presence of aliens in our midst.


The truth is, aliens are OK. Like the rest of us, they just want to live, have cherry pie now and then, and catch a cheap flyte to Las Vegas. Aliens in Vegas, that is a sight to behold, especially at the craps tables.

It's not their fault that aliens distort our reality by being here, that things just don't quite jive (another favored word), that they're always a little out of date, awkward at parties, and mostly thought to be nerdish and/or social misfits, although the distinction is vague. An alien philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote, "Hell is other people." He didn't mean it literally - aliens like people - the hell is, no matter how they tug themselves, this way and that, they don't quite fit in. Aliens always overlap.


One identifying mark to look out for, if you're tracking aliens, is their sort of fish-like features - the slightly popped eyes, the somewhat puffed lips, and a smoother than normal, although dry skin. Also, aliens usually have a dandruff problem, and sooner than later all aliens wear glasses, although among themselves they refer to glasses as goggles.

"Hey, Goggle Eyes," however, is a not so complimentary greeting and should be avoided.

Think of fish faces like Jean-Paul Sartre, Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Allan Ginsberg, and a kid in school we all called "Fish," or in our mind or under our breath, we did.


Other ways of nearly identifying aliens are their attraction to chess, their lapses into archaic diction (whether spoken or written), and their humor. Aliens have humor, but are wholly lacking in the sense of what is generally considered funny in this world. For instance, aliens respond to riddles as jokes, the answer to the riddle being inconsequential to them.

Here is an alien "joke": You are in a house which has four walls with a window in each wall. All four windows face south. A bear circles the house, clearly visible through the windows. What color is the bear?

Aliens can hardly contain themselves from laughing at this "joke," although humans will readily recognize it as a riddle. The answer is, the bear is white. Why? Because the single place on Earth all windows of a house face south is at the North Pole, where the one direction is always south. And the only bear at the North Pole is the polar bear, which is always white.

Cool riddle, but hardly a gut buster.

Another "joke" that strikes to heart of alien recognition is: What goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night? Aliens will invariably unleash a sequence of high-pitched giggles, a sort of serial laugh, which indicates overwhelming delight. And again, invariably, they'll say, "That's my favorite joke, it gets me every time."

The "joke" of course is the ancient famous Riddle of the Sphinx, the answer to which is: Man. As a baby, man crawls on all fours. Grown up, he walks on two legs. Old, he walks with a cane, which makes three. The Sphinx, of course, is that grotesque creature with a human head and cat's body, and, as we shall see, it's always more than suspicious when a cat or fish connection is made. It's a dead giveaway.


Aliens point to eminent ancestors, such as the association of Jesus Christ with fish symbology, and the prophet Mohammed's with cats. A favorite story is how Mohammed was in a garden teaching when a cat laid down next to him and fell asleep on a swatch of his robe. When it was time to leave, Mohammed, observing the cat, asked for a knife - an odd request which alarmed not a few of his followers. With one quick slash he cut off that part of his robe attached to the cat so as not to disturb the peaceful creature. Aliens are quick to point out that only an alien would do that.

Also, there are aliens who claim Socrates, with his puffy, homely looks, as a fish-faced forebear, while others insist that Socrates most resembles a frog or a toad. All agree, and not disparagingly, that Socrates, lingering long over his cups, possibly sported the bloated features of a drunk.

To digress (aliens like digression, a narrative that teeters a bit, this way and that), unlike Jesus or Mohammed, we know through contemporary descriptions, drawings, and sculpture how Socrates actually looked. Not a pretty picture, but as was truly said of him, he was "all beautiful within." Of all the ancient teachers, Socrates was the most cunning and verbally astute, so if one quickly repeats dropping and replacing the r from his name, it becomes a game of cat and rat, the cat devouring the rat. The word "eats" is in there also, so accurately deciphered his name reads, "the cats of Socrates eats rats." The rats being, so the aliens say, the delusional "knowledge" and self-importance that humans claim.

Another eminent ancestor, Elizabeth I, the greatest monarch and ruler England ever had, or will have, who reigned 40 or so years and presided over its Golden Age, was a fish face, which explains why Bette Davis, America's greatest actress and fish face, was able to twice fit the role of Elizabeth to a tee. Remember that "Fish-face" is a term of honor and respect among aliens whereas "Goggle-eyes" is not. Although obviously goggle-eyed, no one called Ms Davis "Goggle Eyes." She was respectfully referred to as having "Bette Davis eyes."


It's not widely known that aliens use cats as fact-gatherers and transmitters. When a cat just sits there, motionless, staring at nothing in particular, its inner hum on, the cat is transmitting. Or, when a cat suddenly stares fiercely at something that isn't there, its ears up, its hum shut down, aliens say "the cat is receiving." Receiving what they receive from where, we don't know, and neither do the aliens. That knowledge was lost long ago, not when ancient Egyptians worshipped a cat goddess, Bast, but when countless cats were embalmed, jarred, and buried in catacombs under Bast's temples to be later sold as sacred relics. Somehow, the spirit, the communication, was lost, the aliens say.

It's been suggested that one measure of alien status is the number of cats in a household. The more cats, the higher the alienation. This is another mistaken impression, since one cat always bestows the status of all cats. Anyway, that cat on a swatch of Mohammed's robe was in a state of reception or transmission, and Mohammed knew it - but it was definitely not asleep as the Faithful have believed through the centuries.


Alien genius inspired the pyramids, although the complex mathematics and design elements were first transmitted through cats. That's why the Sphinx has a cat's body, and why the cat and the fish are often depicted together. When cats can get away with it, they insinuate their name into everything they transmit to the aliens, like catacomb, CAT scan, catamaran, etc. The catalog of cat transmissions is virtually infinite. Think of that widely misunderstood word, concatenation.


In closing, it should be understood that the pyramids were initially designed by aliens, not as pharoanic tombs or astrolabes, but as 3-dimensional chess games, with their labyrinthine innards as the ultimate moves. Toward what solutions, no one knows.

But, luckily, the "game" has kept hordes of "nerds" distracted for millennia, since the instinct for chess, in lesser than alien hands, is fundamentally indistinguishable from that for serial killers and mass murderers, no doubt about it.


Finally, the only known existent alien poem (apocryphally attributed to Stephen Hawking) which seems to echo down the long and haunted corridors of their thought:

I'm on a train. The train
passes between rows
of close houses.
In one window, eerily lit,
a fishbowl, a glimpse of a fish.
A cat is eyeballing it.
Memory, all that
darke memorye gives.