Perfume and Tears: A Chapbook of Poems©

By Ben Bohnhorst


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Perfume And Tears

They say this glass flask,
Still intact from Roman times,
Held perfume, not tears.

Taking a shower
Is a dangerous venture
After seventy.

Let your father rest.
His great grandchildren carry
His and your blood lines.

Slipping, sliding down,
Pretending not, filling time
With this and with that,

We go together.
None has mustard seed to give.
Look with love on each.

Multitudes are weak.
Other multitudes exploit
The weak. We need love.

At the funeral
Saw you -- knew you'd come to mine.
The same goes for me.

Under Winter's snow,
Iris sleeps. She will awake.
Rose, too -- and Daisy.

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The Anatomy Lesson

We are still waiting word.
They operated yesterday afternoon
To repair a valve inside his heart.

He and I are twins--
Exactly the same age--seventy-something.
Close alter-ego-type friends
Since grad school days.

They cut the cartilage of his breast bone,
Cracked his rib-cage apart,
And then used scalpels to carve their way
To the valve come loose from its moorings.

They would have to go through courage,
Some tough layers of loyalty, integrity, and honor,
And several softer layers of generosity,
Plus centimeters of seventy-year-old heart muscle.

They deliberately stopped his heart
With ice water. At the same time they turned on
Their mechanical pumps. Then they tried
To hook, snag, and stitch
His uselessly flapping membrane.

Six hours to rip him open,
Try to make the fix,
And then try to bend him
Back together again and to get
His seventy-some-year-old heart
To start going again--and to keep going.

We still do not know how they made out.
We still do not know how he made out.
We are still waiting. Still no word.

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Dreadfully Cracked Heads

Pull torn scalp away
Lift broken cranial bones
Suction the blood off.

See how much tissue
And which tissues are ruined.
Will the patient survive?

Can he go to sea
Search oceans for a white whale
Is he seaworthy?

Ishmael said it:
We're all somehow dreadfully
Cracked about the head--

We all sadly need
Mending! All! The doctor too!
What hope can there be?

Usually ignored
There's a whistling in my ears
Sometimes very loud.

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Soft And Gentle Evenings

After rain on a spring evening
Driving westward
Across central Michigan
Terrain molded by glaciers
Our highway laid over it
As a convenience to human traffic...

Clouds cooling--
An earlier blanket
Pulled apart in places--
Several large stretches
Of clear blue sky now alight
Behind quilted pieces of cloud...

When over all this land
Lay a continuous sheet of ice--
Advancing, retreating,
Advancing, retreating--
Were there spring evenings then
As gentle as this one?

Talked to a scientist
Who studies morains
And how sands lie in them--
Says they tell the ways the winds blew
Their directions
And their forces.

Spring may have seen
Soft and gentle evenings
Then, too. It is possible.

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Where Have All The Pheasants Gone?

Our subdivision
Is named Fox Hills--no foxes,
And no hills either.
A nice up-scale name
For an up-scale neighborhood.
Nearby is Tarleton.

This whole area
Was a farm--the old farmhouse,
Federalist style,
Stands not far from here,
Is still in use--small red brick,
Atop a gentle rise.

It had been wetland,
Mostly. Central Michigan
Was all mainly swamp
At first, but draining
And clearing opened the land,
Farms, towns, factories--
Now suburbs and malls--
Freeways--some fragments still of
Marshes here and there.

When we first bought in--
Only twenty years ago!-
A marsh edged Fox Hills.
Pheasants lived in it.
Cocks in their brilliant feathers
Strutted pompously.

One might try to fly,
An awkward bit of flapping.
But swift when they ran.
Foxes love pheasants
They might have been there, too.
We never saw one.

Today no pheasants
Are left in the marshy verge.
All the Fox Hills lots
Are now occupied
By residential housing.

Human occupants.

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Chained in Plato's cave,
Watching TV, mesmerized,
Benumbed by con-men,
We see flickering
Shadows falsely portraying
The war in Iraq,
Generals dressed up
In coy camouflage costumes,
Side-stepping questions.

Now game shows flicker--
Some so inane they defy
Belief--but we watch!

Switch to gentlemen
Tapping little golf balls
Into small round cups.

Bad melodramas
All follow formulated,
Predictable scripts.

Sometimes, however,
The boob-tube surprises us
E.g., Ian Holm
As Chekov's Uncle Vanya.

This loosens our chains.


But we mostly watch what earns
High Nielsen ratings.

Do not bother us
With questions--or with answers--
Re: x thousand dead.

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Desert Storm Sand In My Eyes

The Nazis tested their Messerschmitts
In the skies above Madrid
We found out if our bombs were smart
On the people of Baghdad.

O, very smart! Yes, very smart!
For bombing citizenry--
Did we get his daughter by mistake
When we aimed at Khadafi?

And in that case I don't recall
A Senate vote for war.
But never mind, we had to find
If our bombers would reach that far.

Have you met the Kuwaiti's noble sheiks,
With their Porsches and their whores?
When war broke out they fled in rout
To cooler, calmer shores.

But they're back in place where they've belonged
Since Britain made them royal
Some seventy years or so ago
In a deal to get their oil.

It's now our turn to prop them up,
And we shall get the crude.
It's our just due for freeing them.
Your ironic smirk is rude!

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Sex Sub Specie Aeternitatis

His chief love was philosophy
   He also needed bread
His lenses sold for guilders
   With the guilders he got fed.

Seventeenth Century rationalist
   Well-known in his own day
Among his fellow 'philosophes'
   --But philosophy does not pay!

So he ground glass lenses for spectacles
   Or for sailors' telescopes
Cameras had not been invented yet
   Only early microscopes.

So what if he stood for clarity,
   Minds clear in reason, eyes clear in sight--
So what if he stood for morality,
   Clear rationales of right?

One consequence of a camera lens
   Is bald pornography--
Is bare-ass nymphets in salacious pose.
   Big bucks for mere indecency.

In The Hague near the rooms where Spinoza lived
   Stands a cast bronze likeness which we sought.
We found Baruch there gazing at his street.
   We remembered the principle he taught:

"Sub specie aeternitatis," he had said:
   Act with all eternity in view.
In that same street is a porno shop
   Which sells a slick called SCREW.

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On Alternate Uses Of Fingers

(Prompted by Dix's "Self Portrait",
painted at twenty, before he was 
drafted into WW I.)

The youth stands and holds
Between thumb and forefinger
One pink carnation,
Painted precisely.
His Teutonic eyes
Stare at us glaring
Intensely! Passionate eyes!
One thinks of Durer.

Can this one hate war?
Will he be drawn into it--
Its slimy slaughter?

Opposable thumbs,
Evolution's great marvel,
Comes to this at least,
To holding betwixt
Fingertips one flower's stem.
Are there more marvels?
Yes! He stands upright!
And he might rhyme: 'mud' with 'blood'.
'Durer' with 'Fuhrer'.

Do Buddhists make war?
Ah! Sad to say, yes they do!
Christians make more war.
But someone somewhere
May enter a Zen temple
With mantra in mind,
Form a lotus, touch
Fingertips to thumbs, become
More tranquil. Purer.

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Song Of The Empty Helmet

The Sava River
flows into the Danube where
Beograd now stands.

A Roman outpost
at the confluence held back
dread barbarians.

Since then that first fort
has been vanquished and rebuilt
forty-seven times.

We saw on display
the National Museum's
Roman artifacts.

A Roman helmet
(except for its patina)
in mint condition!

It sits there vacant--
an ordinary headpiece
of a dead soldier.

Thought, anxiety,
passion, joy, terror,--AWOL
from this helmet's space.

So perfect a piece!
Did he die of a fever--
like Alexander?

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You may go to galleries where works already great are hung.
But do not go to Van Gogh's fields
Where flapping blackbirds flock and caw,
Carrying your canvas, paints, and a loaded gun.

It's better you should go to church on Sundays giving praise to God,
But not to Selma--please, no march--
Since rocks are hurled there, helmeted
Police swing clubs, or use a cattle prod.

You must do nothing strange, outrageous, dangerous, or wrong--
You must behave, be nice, play safe,
Be able to be counted on.
Now, sans amen, let's end this sorry song.

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Beware the shysters
Who claim to know all answers
By divination,

And the self-righteous
Who stake out and occupy
Higher moral grounds.

Moral uplands tend
To obtain less oxygen--
One becomes giddy!

Beware the unctuous
Uriah Heeps of this world.
Guard your vital parts!

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Conspiring Lovers

Should lovers conspire
To murder a woman's spouse
So they may marry?

Such circumstances
Rarely form a good basis
For a sound union.

Let alone effects
On the dead father's fond son,
If there be one such.

Or so it would seem
To this outsider, without
More relative grounds.

What's more, a mere month
Till a new widow's wedding
Seems very hasty!

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Rather than answers,
Some questions have claws, or teeth,
Or talons and beaks.

What comes from dealing
Napalm? Where does Juilliard
Obtain endowments?

Gulf Western's prexy
Makes how much? How much the hands
in Haiti's cane fields?

See Trident cartwheel!
Brilliant billion dollar blast!
Error. What went wrong?

There is a meeting
Tonight in New York plotting
To kill What's-His-Name.

Might I start screaming
And not stop till my heart bursts?
Is that how I feel?

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Black Asphalt

Macamdam is hard.
Asphalt macadam is black.
Asphalt comes from oil.

Black petroleum
Comes from Venezuela,
Makes into asphalt.

Met at the bridge club
An old guy who had worked in

Not Spanish women--
Indian women spit on us,
On Americans.

"They walk by and spit,"
He said, "In Caracas streets--
"Nothing we can do!"

Our monstrous machines
Spread macadam, roll asphalt
Over Caracas.

Roadways, parking lots,
Macadamed two lanes, four lanes,
Six lanes, a dollar--

Indian women spit
On American dollars
We all tumble down.

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No Business

Death slammed into it
As it tried to run across
The street. It lay there
For three or four days,
Avoided by other cars.

Only a possum.

Dead. Oblivious.

Someone finally scraped it
Off the macadam.

Damned dumb animal!
It had no business being
On our thoroughfare.

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Socrates' Last Question

After the trial,
Outraged-outrageous sentence,
His disciples there,
They sit together.
Those who weep don't understand:
He drinks among friends.

Drink. Lie down. No more.
Place a cloth over his face.
Let numbing begin.

One question remains.
He owes someone a rooster.
He lifts the cloth, asks
If they'll pay his debt.
"Yes, of course! Of course we shall!"
"Peace, dear teacher, peace!"

He replaces the cloth.
No more questions need be asked.
The numbness sets in.

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Iron Filings

A fur animal
Caught by one foot in a trap
May chew itself free.

If slaves ply a rasp
To their chains, iron filings
Will accumulate.

Escapes have been made
By tunnelling underground.
Some have used sewers.

Few who try succeed.
A good thing. If all were free
Who would be, what then?

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Mutatis Mutandis

Beware! O, suburbs!
Crabgrass grows where concrete cracks,
And moles push up lawns!

Her master lies dead.
The old dog refuses food.
She too will die soon.

After the heart stops
And brain and tongue cease, one's hair
And nails keep growing.

The skull of Yorick
Made the Prince of Denmark retch.
Gertrude! Worms shall feast!

Darwin hoped to lie
Close to worms, not in a vault
Of morticed marble.

Welcome! Beloved Death!
Forgive my not standing up.
We're so glad you've come.

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To create, destroy.
Learn to cope with failure. Risk.
Dare dance with Shiva.

Best believe beliefs
Best based in truth--though truth be
Glimpsed imperfectly.

Catch a glimpse of truth
While moving from one error
To the next wrong view.

How did he put it?
Thus: "The writer runs howling
To his art." Just so.

Ideas for verse,
Like wild horses, must be roped
Lest they gallop off.

Out there in the hills
Small herds of stallions and mares
Once ran wild and free.

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