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Fickle Muses an online journal of myth and legend

Gong by Steve Cartwright
by Steve Cartwright

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Two poems by Tony Zurlo

Still Without Rhyme

“If one does not study poetry, one cannot express oneself.”
Kong Fu Zi (Confucius)

Dear Mr. Confucius:

When I came to visit, your honorable guide said,
“Master pre-busy cave thinking mountain over river.” 
(discounts on poetic licenses for humble guides)
A man resembling the cypress tree you planted 2,400 years ago
agreed to photographs – I wanted to capture that air
of mystic poetry surrounding him.

An old woman stepped between us demanding cash, no plastic. 
She collected, then he opened his royal robe wide, exposing
(literal translation) Qufu Kiwanis and Rotary pins. 

So I walked on, passing through the Gates of this and that –
So many Gates to choose from I got confused,
so I stopped beneath a scholar tree. 

Not much shade to think by, but I sat and stared at the gnarled roots,
hoping to absorb the secret – My reason for coming, Master Confucius:
to learn how to live long and still be a spring poet. 

The guide didn’t understand why I insisted on sitting on the dirty ground
trying to rhyme Kiwanis with Confucius, and why rhyme at all. 
I told him that guide rhymed with died (poetic translation),

Anxious for wisdom I stopped to read the inscriptions on the gate:
“Li loves Wang,” “Zhou loves Wei Wei,” “Liu loves
Zhou and Wei Wei” – (rough translation).

I wandered deeper into my journey, circling back and forth
through the “Gate of the Great Mean” many times,
got so lost I missed the “Wall of Lu” – the Concealing Books Wall. 

By then, the guide had found me again and said he had a Panda-size
headache, and that I should go buy souvenirs
while he took a siesta under a row of chestnut trees.

At day’s end I boarded the bus, still without rhyme, but determined
to return. Until then, Confucius, don't let that cave thinking mountain
by the river give you any strange ideas.


Household Disharmony

“If a man’s self remains undeveloped, he is
 incapable of guiding his family properly.” 
Kong Fu Zi (Confucius)

Dear Mr. Confucius:

How to develop my undeveloped Self,
Sir, is why I come to you for help.
I’ve analyzed ten thousand poems,
read the Classics, and practice the Golden Mean. 
Was it as hard for you as seems to me?

My home I try to control, but my wife says
she’s quite smart enough to think for herself.
She says men embellish their value to history,
because women, not men, preserve the society.
Name me one pure virtuous man, she screams.

And she interrupts my reply to credit your wife
for your worthy maxims. It’s true, Confucius.
And your mother, she says, taught you everything.
That you could only prowl and growl when she
pulled you out of some tiger cave in the mountains.

There’s no harmony in my household, Confucius. 
My wife claims most of the world’s wisdom
is feminine, and that if I keep talking about Yin–Yang,
she’s going to yin my yang. And she says you,
Confucius, are a Male Chauvinist Pig –

I tried to defend you, Confucius. Calmly, I said,
“Naturally, Sweetie Pie, but Confucius’s mother
was only the ‘Exalted wife of the King Who
Heralds the Sage,’ his faithful, obedient wife
who knew her place in the scheme of life.”

Well, all hell broke loose in my household, 
like ten generations of angry ancestors
from her side of the family, my wife attacked
her “unworthy” husband. You cannot imagine
what it’s like, Confucius – life with the modern woman.

The next time I come, I expect to find you here.
After working like a slave to support my family 
I go for some masculine advice, and where are you?  
Out in the mountains dreaming up witty one-liners. 
What kind of man are you, Confucius?