poetics unleashed: duane locke


rembrandt’s nightwatchman’s soliloquies 1

I found myself to be a tabula rasa,
I needed
To be written on, I sought a belief,
To find
A belief I strolled into the corner bar
To examine its ethos.

I saw the bar priests, men in body shirts,
Sitting on high stools, each were preaching
The same sermon

By flexing their biceps,  I was told by a drunk lawyer
Not to read the motions literally,
But as Ambroise told Augustine, read
As a figure.

All was vague to me.  It was a code
I could not decipher.

A drunk priest offered his interpretation,
But it was only three-fold, based on
Hugo of St. Victor.  I wanted four,
I heard a rumor that a raised vein
Is an allegory signifying a resurrection.

I desperately wanted four interpretations,
The literal, the allegoric, the topological
And the anagogic. I needed a faith.

The men in body shirts
at the bar continued their sermonizing
By the flexing of their biceps.

I noted the men all had the same faces, as if wearing
To play a part in a Greek drama, but the masks
Were all the same,
Expressing the same emotion, happy wisdom,
And a faith the defies rational
And logical understanding.

Each was accompanied by a pair of woman’s legs,
Their girl friends
Had no heads, ho hair, no torsos,
Only a pair of legs, a bracelet around one ankle.

I sat in a corner with a shepherd’s pie.
I looked around this pastoral landscape,
But saw no shepherds or sheep,
But I keep watching the men in body shirts flex
Their biceps,
Trying to trying to understand the theology,
So I could
Find a belief,
Find a faith,
No longer be a tabula rasa.


rembrandt’s nightwatchman’s soliloquies 2

At the bar, an imitation English pub, a pair of legs
At my table. I don’t think she suspected
What I was hiding–that I was a tabula rasa.

She said, “Répondez s’il vous plait.” Handed
Me a billet doux.

I noted she was bare-legged, and the bracelet around
Her ankle
Had a key on each link.

The letter was blank, but on the third page
There was print of the lips in lipstick,
But she did not have any lips, only legs.
I looked at the print of her lips,
And then looked at the empty space
Where her lips were normally supposed to be,
But since Picasso
Lips can be any place.

I looked at her knee to see if the lips were there,
But there were not–very disappointing,
Only a knee cap.

I wanted her lips, as much as I wanted a belief,
A faith.

I came to this bar to find a belief, a faith,
But I was still a tabula rasa,
Becoming more forlorn.  Now,
I wanted to find her lips.


rembrandt’s nightwatchman’s soliloquies 3

She, the two legs beside me, wore
Styled shoes.  I could tell, for I had seen
On documentaries the same type of shoes
On mummies exhumed from buried pyramids.

She dangled, one of the shoes
Off her foot,
Let the shoe fall to the barroom floor,
And touched the pants of
A body-shirted man with tattoos
Of portraits of painters from the Mannerist school
On his arms, Bronzino, Pontormo,
who was flexing his biceps at the next table.
She seemed to understand the allegory,
For she started praying.
He started praying.
He and the pair of legs were on the floor
Praying together.

I watched their rapture.  They believed.
They had faith.  They had found salvation.

As a tabula rasa, I sat there alone and sad.


rembrandt’s nightwatchman’s soliloquies 4

The two legs returned, after her baptism on the bar floor,
My table in the shadows, the shadows
Of the two Rosetta stones on each side.  But
The writing on the stones was


The same as found on funeral memorials,
Expressed sorrow
that something esurient had died before dinner.

The two legs with a pencil held between her toes,
Started writing something in Coptic.

She said she could not decide whether to call
her wisdom, “The Gospel of Tom,”
Or the “The Gospel of Jimmy.”  Then her two
Legs started to shimmy.

She said she just had a vision that the weather
Was balmy in Cuba.

She said she was returning to her hundred per hour
Job in Las Vegas, scribbled her Las Vegas phone number
On the tablecloth,
And asked me if I would take a trip to Egypt
And bury her writing in the desert.
She would make it worth my while.

For she was going to get the rest of her body
In Las Vegas.
She had secured it in a safety deposit box.

I sat there alone,
Wondering if I were going to spend
The rest of my life as a tabula rasa.


rembrandt’s nightwatchman’s soliloquies 5

A man, at the next table, wearing a construction worker’s
Helmet, and a black suit like Olivier wore in Hamlet,
Introduced himself
As one of my closest kin, a first cousin.

He said, “Hallelujah.”
I was puzzled since I had no kinfolks, replied,
“Cogito ergo sum.”

He corrected me, saying you are not a rationalist,
But an empiricist.  You are a tablula rasa.

He was the first to ever recognize that I was
A tabula rasa, so I said,


All the priests in body shirts at the bar
Who were flexing their biceps
And delivering sermons with four-fold meanings
Said, “Hallelujah.”


Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Five
February 2005

Duane Locke has a Ph.D. in English Renaissance literature, is a Professor Emeritus of the Humanities, and was Poet in Residence at the University of Tampa for over 20 years. He has over 5,000 poems published in print magazines, such as American Poetry Review, Nation, and Bitter Oleander, and since 1999 has had over 3,000 poems published in e-zines. He has also penned 14 print books of poetry, and in 2002, added 3 e-books, The Squids Dark Ink,  From a Tiny Room, and  The Death of  Daphne.  He lives in Lakeland, Florida.

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