Lines on a Skull

Ravi Shankar
(Haiku Erasure of Lord Byron's "Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull")

Start spirit; behold
the skull. A living head loved
earth. My bones resign

the worm, lips to hold
sparkling grape's slimy circle,
shape of reptile's food.

Where wit shone of shine,
when our brains are substitute,
like me, with the dead,

life's little, our heads
sad. Redeemed and wasting clay
this chance. Be of use.

More by Ravi Shankar

Crossings

Between forest and field, a threshold 
like stepping from a cathedral into the street—
the quality of air alters, an eclipse lifts, 

boundlessness opens, earth itself retextured 
into weeds where woods once were.
Even planes of motion shift from vertical

navigation to horizontal quiescence:   
there’s a standing invitation to lie back 
as sky’s unpredictable theater proceeds. 

Suspended in this ephemeral moment 
after leaving a forest, before entering
a field, the nature of reality is revealed. 

Ants

One is never alone. Saltwater taffy colored 
beach blanket spread on a dirt outcropping 
pocked with movement. Pell-mell tunneling,  

black specks the specter of beard hairs swarm, 
disappear, emerge, twitch, reverse course 
to forage along my shin, painting pathways 

with invisible pheromones that others take 
up in ceaseless streams. Ordered disarray, 
wingless expansionists form a colony mind, 

no sense of self outside the nest, expending 
summer to prepare for winter, droning on
through midday heat. I watch, repose, alone.

Old Folks' Jokes

Porous the punchline
spoken through wads
of lettuce at lunchtime
by the septuagenarian
vegetarian who has never
flashed a peace sign,
nor could distinguish it
from a Vulcan salute.
He’s not the font
of the jokes he paces
in front of the mirror—
even the one liners
are anonymous, traffic
conversation like air
or money. Not to him.
No sooner he hears one
he likes, he owns it.
Spins the extended bits
out with panache,
skips an extra extra
extra beat from the end,
bringing out in the eyes
and bellies of his morning
shuffleboard or pill-
buddies, laughter in rising
cascades that mistaking
each pause as ultimate
begins to agitate the rows
of green jello in the thunder
of many dentures exploding
into pure guffawing.

Related Poems

After Reading "Antony and Cleopatra"

As when the hunt by holt and field
   Drives on with horn and strife,
Hunger of hopeless things pursues
   Our spirits throughout life.

The sea's roar fills us aching full
   Of objectless desire—
The sea's roar, and the white moon-shine,
   And the reddening of the fire.

Who talks to me of reason now?
   It would be more delight
To have died in Cleopatra's arms
   Than be alive to-night.