Thought Crime (poem)

My latest poem was published today over at the weekly crime poetry blog The Five-Two. “Thought Crime” considers how the hard knocks suffered by a hard-boiled detective continue even into retirement.

While in grad school at NYU, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on cyberpunk science fiction, a movement strongly influenced by the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I had a lot of fun (despite the ultimately somber tone of “Thought Crime”) tapping into–and extrapolating from–that same hard-boiled formula here with this poem.

The Gunman’s Oxymorons

Reading Joe Hill’s “Loaded” (from Strange Weather, which I reviewed here) led me to look back on, and revise, a poem I had written several years back. The piece was originally occasioned by my personal fear of gun violence.


The Gunman’s Oxymorons

By Joe Nazare


loving wife
adorable children

lifetime achievement
moderate drinking

sure bet
savings account

employee benefits
company loyalty

weapons permit
workplace safety

innocent bystanders
pronounced silence


Ulalume and Ulalume II

Time and again, Edgar Allan Poe showed us that his male narrators were not to be trusted, but are the speakers of his poems any less unreliable in their expression of grief? My sequel to Poe’s most October-centric work was written with this idea in mind. In “Ulalume II” (first published in Autumn Lauds), the deceased female figure finally gets a chance at poetic redress.

This particularly dreary night in the late October (a squall rages outside my window as I type these words) seems the perfect time to pair up the texts of Poe’s original ballad and my own poem.


He said:


by Edgar Allan Poe

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere,
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year.
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir–
It was down by the dark tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul–
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll–
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphorous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole–
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere–
Our memories were treacherous and sere–
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year–
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber–
(Though once we had journeyed down here)–
Remembered not the dark tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn–
As the star-dials hinted of morn–
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn–
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said–“She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs–
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears they are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies–
To the Lethean peace of the skies–
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes–
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: “Sadly this star I mistrust–
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Oh, hasten! oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly!–let us fly–for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in thew dust–
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust–
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied–“This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight!–
See!–it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright–
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom–
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb;
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied: “Ulalume–Ulalume–
‘Tis the vault of the lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere–
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed–I journeyed down here!–
That I brought a dread burden down here–
On this night of all nights of the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber–
This misty mid region of Weir–
Well I know, now, this dark tarn of Auber,–
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”


She said:

Ulalume II

by Joe Nazare

You describe the skies as ashen and sober,
Establish the leaves as crisped and sere;
You mark the night in the lonesome October
And bemoan a most immemorial year.
Yet one key detail you gloss over–
Oh so conveniently you gloss over:
The smothering love that cost me dear.

In the dozen bloated moons since I died
You have looked out through a veil of gloom.
Copious the tears that you have cried
As you sunk into the role of forlorn groom.
But such utter self-delusion I cannot abide,
Knowing you were the blight on my natural bloom.

So dread not the dark tarn of Auber;
Disregard the ghoul-haunted woodlands of Weir.
Don’t stand atremble like some shocked rover,
Fretting that a demon has tempted you here.
On this ultimate night of October–
This final, eldritch night of October–
It’s only your aggrieved beloved you need fear.

The barrier between our worlds swings wide–
Hearken to the creaking door of this tomb,
And behold the shape of your ravishing bride
Waiting yearlong to escape her funereal room.
This triumphal evening grim truth won’t be denied;
Time at last for your deserved reunion with Ulalume.

The Impotency of Positive Thinking

This poem was originally written for Autumn Laudsbut was ultimately barred from the Table of Contents (it riffs on a classic piece of science fiction, and I didn’t want to violate any copyright laws), but I have decided to post it here in celebration of the Halloween season.


The Impotency of Positive Thinking

Really, they’re too old to be dressing up,
Have no business begging for saccharine treats
On this thirty-first night of October.

But it can’t be helped, they’re compelled
To dare the doorstep of the uninviting edifice.
The House of Usher has nothing on this manse,
Looming, gloom-enshrouded, incredibly decrepit.

A trio sets off down the sinuous, tree-flanked path
While the rest remain nervously stationed at the sidewalk.
Tonight Bill is a straw-spilling scarecrow.
Thelma the image of a fairy princess, and
Pat impersonates monstrosity via a cheap plastic mask.

Carefully, they make their approach, knowing
He waits up ahead inside, hidden but vigilant.
They labor to banish negativity from their brains,
To deny thought of the potential punishment they might incur.
Arriving at last at the dark oaken door, they pause,
Then knock in unison, the raps resounding like gavel bangs.

The occupant’s response is sudden and stern:
Out of nowhere, a murder fells Scarecrow Bill,
The swooping birds hardly alarmed by the man’s costume.
Thelma meantime vaporizes, but the vanishing’s fathomable–
An instant internment, no doubt, in a deep cornfield grave.
And when Pat retreats streetside, fast as his arthritic hips allow,
His mask is absent, his face transformed into true grotesquerie.

Such capricious treatment is terrible to behold, but
No one ventures or even considers any complaint,
Certainly not when the perpetrator is within mindshot.
“The boy’s outdone himself this time,” Pat proclaims,
Forcing his distorted features into a semblance of a grin.
“What a fine trick he’s played,” a prostrate Bill enthuses
Amidst countless thumping wings and cacophonous caws.
“Oh, it’s a good Halloween,” Anthony’s prisoners all agree.



The poetic equivalent of fanfic, focusing on my favorite character from The Nightmare Before Christmas:


This is Halloween, town of the premiere evening,
Where I oversee the grotesque festivities every year.
Yet my head spins nonstop of late, a centrifuge of discontent.
I might have the titular ribbon pinned to my vest,
But what real power here has been vested in me?
And forget about the respect of the constituency;
That is reserved for him, of the mantis limbs and skeletal grin.
He’s fawned over from autumn to autumn, adored even after
His misguided attempt to hybridize the holidays back in ’93.
Me, I play political second fiddle, serve as funnelform puppet.
Little wonder my running for town office always goes unopposed.
Maybe this October I’ll announce: “I’m mounting an insurrection!”
Let’s face it, Mayor’s a dead end in the realm of the Pumpkin King.