John Philip Drury – Ode to a New Regime

Drury LE P&W 5 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Five Nov-Dec 2023.

Ode to a New Regime, poems by John Philip Drury.

Ode to a New Regime

Maybe the tongues of men
O’er-riding truth’s sure word, deceive
With false-spun tales, the embroidery of lies.
—Pindar, Olympian Ode I
(translated by G.S. Conway)

And now the manifesto, the fluttering capes
of the movement’s ambassadors.
Wingtips click
on marble, the corridors
of hurry and hush, before the fanfares
tooting in the briefing room.

And I turn away, turncoat, shunning the victors
for the victims, however worn
and worthless,
pulled to the opposition
as one, loving music, at last flicks off
the radio, walks down flights.

And I stand there,
below the commotion and the statuary,
trying to ignore the ocean breakers
of voices, acclaiming themselves, their credo
in the night air of lilac,

Ode to a Bamboo Cup

Cracked culm, round-lipped and tea-colored,
gift from the botanist
who worked in Canton in the Thirties,
cultivating tree-grass:
yellow-groove, sweet-shoot, fishing-pole,
arrow, Chinese goddess.

I cannot drink from it—fractured
where bamboo leaves are gouged
and tinted white, where characters
are sunk like heron tracks
in a riverbank. I cannot
sip from the plant’s hollow.

But I recall
the botanist who also gave me
a lexicon in which to puzzle out
the heart radical,
and I recall how bamboo stands he planted
still unscroll their long, curved leaves
and bend in the wind.
How can I drink his health when he is gone?
With drafts of air? Instead, I’ll keep
the broken cup
upon my desk and plant a stand
of pens and pencils slanting on the lip.

Ode to a Room near the Spanish Steps

A man who looked like Chico Marx
collared me in the terminal.
“You want a room or no?” he said, “Come on,”
and led me to a hotel
not listed in the guidebook.
My narrow room cooked like an incubator,
no breeze through the window, a scant view
of the noisy courtyard. I lay
sheetless in the July night, basting myself
with sweat, switching on the lamp to jot
and drip on a spiral pad.

The forum jolted me to life,
the fragments like spare parts, blocks, disks,
an energy of blasted acreage.
I drank iced tea in a huge
boot-shaped glass, in a café
under a vine-covered pergola. I looked
at sunlight on broken stone and thought
of my tiny room, the gas jet
I had to re-light to bathe, the peeling
mural, and a lone man rowing a boat
on the chipped mosaic floor.

Out of depression rose remnants of pillars,
laughing faces in fragments of colored stone.
In the Temple of Vesta, I found myself
where wreckage and refuse are more
than part of the whole: they are its whole.
Without them, truth is fume and fog, beauty
blurred like a cataract.

© John Philip Drury

John Philip Drury is the author of five books of poetry: The Disappearing Town and Burning the Aspern Papers (both from Miami University Press), The Refugee Camp (Turning Point Books), Sea Level Rising (Able Muse Press), and The Teller’s Cage, which will be published by Able Muse Press in January 2024. He has also written Creating Poetry and The Poetry Dictionary, both from Writer’s Digest Books. His awards include an Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, two Ohio Arts Council grants, a Pushcart Prize, and the Bernard F. Conners Prize from The Paris Review for “Burning the Aspern Papers.” He was born in Cambridge, Maryland, and grew up in Bethesda, raised by his mother and a former opera singer she called her cousin but secretly considered her wife. (His book about them, Bobby and Carolyn: A Memoir of My Two Mothers, will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2024.)

After dropping out of college and losing his draft deferment during the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Army to learn German and served undercover in the West German Refugee Camp near Nuremberg. He used benefits from the GI Bill to earn degrees from Stony Brook University, the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After teaching at the University of Cincinnati for 37 years, he is now an emeritus professor and lives with his wife, fellow poet LaWanda Walters, in a hundred-year-old house on the edge of a wooded ravine.

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