George Franklin’s books of poetry include Traveling for No Good Reason (winner of the Sheila-Na-Gig Editions competition in 2018), Travels of the Angel of Sorrow (Blue Cedar Press), and Among the Ruins/Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores), and he is the co-translator, along with the author, of Ximena Gómez’s Último día/Last Day (Katakana Editores). His poem “Agua” won the 2020 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, and his poems and essays have appeared in many journals, including The Woven Tale Press Magazine, The Wild Word, Broadsided Press, The Threepenny Review, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, Salamander, Pedestal Magazine, Cagibi, and The American Journal of Poetry. He practices law in Miami and, prior to the pandemic, taught poetry workshops in Florida state prisons.
Quick sunset bends the oak trees into twilight,
Crepuscular breezes, golfers returning home.
The neighbor’s Mercedes, windows rolled, and some
Figures on balconies, rusted ochre, white,
Squint at low hedges and a face-down gnome.
Mapping in squawks a sharp ascending flight,
Disordered geese, unflocked, wing-clamber night.
Below, mute fire ants tunnel the humid loam.
This green sphere is a middle realm despite
Nietzschean aspirations, or republican Rome.
Who reads by oscillating candlelight?
Nostalgie de la boue, the courtesan’s comb,
Are relics, an older century’s fistfight
With God or suburb. The golfers have all gone home.
He was not a good man, not even
A good king, his kingdom just a rugged island,
Crops, some sheep, dogs, a few slaves. There’s no
Record that he cared much for any of them—
Sheep, slaves, dogs, or even his wife. He slept
With goddesses and nymphs, or at least that’s
What he said he did. We know him as storyteller,
Clever warrior, beloved by Athena and hated by
Poseidon. This is what happens when a man mixes
With gods, with monsters, when he travels off
To a long war after pretending to be mad to avoid it.
Usually, his tricks worked better than that, the Trojan
Horse or telling the cyclops his name was No Man.
Not good then, but certainly, good at. He found
Achilles hiding among the women, dressed
In some harem outfit. Apparently, there were other
Heroes not eager to waste ten years laying siege to
Troy. Then, when he returns, he and Telemachus
Butcher the suitors—read neighbors—who’d made
The mistake of thinking he was dead. Noblesse oblige
Wasn’t something he’d been taught. Working-class
Thersites, who questioned Agamemnon, was lucky
To get off with only a beating. Odysseus, old trickster,
Why after so long do we still sit and listen, unless our story
Is really the same as yours, unless we, like you, want
More than anything to find our way home?
Their faces are soft, both Mary’s and Gabriel’s.
Their hands touch the world as light touches objects,
Gently, without force. Gabriel holds a stalk of lilies,
And the Madonna, who is not yet the Madonna,
Rests one hand on the pages of a book, the other
Over her heart as though to remind herself
That it still beats. She hasn’t noticed the angel.
He’s entered as wind enters from a hallway,
His wings dark and heavy, his gray robe creased
And bent out of shape like armor after a battle.
Behind the Virgin, a landscape, buildings on a hill,
A lone cloud, some mountains drawn crudely. This
Is the world outside the painting, a world
Different from the one held in place by the angel,
The Madonna. Bellini says to us, “Choose. There
Is the dullness of a dream, a landscape painted
With indifference, and here is the moment of
Becoming—every detail sharper than your eye
Can comprehend, the blush on the Virgin’s cheek,
The whiteness of her neck, the blue robe
That seems too large for her. What reality is
So real as these white lilies carried by the angel,
The fire-orange pollen that covers their stamens,
The angel’s hair that flies above his shoulders,
The same color, the same fire?
In the time it takes to draw a breath, the Virgin
Will look up, the angel will speak. Quick,
Choose before it’s too late.”