‘Ode on the Euphrates’ by Jake Sheff


After Book One of “The Histories” by Herodotus

Euphrates, full of half-pursuits the Tigris
Can’t excuse, informal in your silent
Symmetries for me and – cripes, this
Idiot again – you’re nothing short of epsilon;
Our byzantine accomplice in this effort
To unite the lizards and liaisons trying to
Untie themselves. No Lascaux cave
Produces wines like these, no fairy’s fart
Is sweet as our pitch-perfect vineyards –
Ain’t that right, Castor? Castor! Bollocks;
Simpleton or smarty-pants? This taciturn
Rotisserie behind me paddles for
The potlucks and siesta up ahead. Perhaps
The cannabis has turned him cannibal or
Is a cannibal itself? No matter. My Euphrates,
So much for the physiology of Babylon –
A rug of sand too calm; with Mercury and
Have-nots stuck in retrograde. Amazing
How, for toffee – most docile of dulces, –
Men will auto-tune the landscape; or
For pumpkin spice will snag an isle’s
Emerald. Maybe I’s be ign’ant, maybe
Tapas ought to send battalions into
Influenza. Maybe I need contact lenses
Dipped in Hellebore by that Aurelius fellow.
Are you my Enkidu, Euphrates? For
You certainly are smart…Smart:
An instance where our signs do justice,
Since it twines keen intellect like
Vines in search of anodynes. What say
You? ::The Euphrates gurgles:: Ah, you
Make joke; very well! This little boat
Perceives no spavin in its hock, nor the
Strange astronomy inside my partner’s
Eye. This cheeky, pudding-headed boat –
Assiduous as anything by Pentium!
::Castor: “Frickin’-a.”:: My man agrees!
Euphrates, tremolo of no republic, hip
Of some carnelian apparition; imprecating
Straw-men from Tahiti to the Himalayas –
May I auscultate, upon this vehicle, a
Little longer? As, paycheck-to-paycheck,
I ride freely down your Brahmin currents
By off-topic traders overland, I hear
Such hymns in your gymnastics that I
Can’t part ways; more Abrahamic than
Mosaic in my scouting skills. “My throat’s
Not sore, it’s soaring,” you’d say. And
A river’s never wrong. You’re dumb
And God-like; innocent and full of rage.
The bubbly rubble of your opus, born
To bend and ornery as Puck; a trickle-
Down economy of troglodytic echoes.
Like the ass behind me – gluten-free;
Beloved Salviati – your refusal to be
Balkanized: it drives the senses cozy to
The umpteenth power. Beautiful,
This donkey; our apocryphal rapport
Of a rococo plumage, if you will. This
Lobby of my horrible love – no glaucous
Love; no aloe soul where lobsters boil
Hobby-horses…Well, to cut the story
Short: the cities going by are like
Illuminated manuscripts reflected in
My donkey’s eye. Beloved Salviati, how
From Brokeback Mountain to this
Kentucky fried muss and fuss we’ve
Waded; now I’m rowing us by rooms
Where men know mademoiselles and
Angels tread like Raphaels. And Castor
There, in jorts upon the Windsor knot
Of agriculture; trading winds for knots
That can’t be traded back. So reason casts
Her breeze upon a shipless sail, eh Castor?
::Castor mumbles: “Reason is no thing, an
Accident of least resistance nothing
Can resist.”:: The river is no thing? This
Salient example of freshwater bliss!
::The donkey thinks: heuristics laced
With saline.:: This river’s not some long,
National nightmare, dude! It’s beautiful:
An average face. This river is a Kinsey
Scale; of all the nudist rivers, she’s my
Hands-down favorite! Malbec and a Hardy-
Weinberg tryst to punctuate our undertaker’s
Wait; not just some water to his waiting
Partner, eh? Where poetry and rhetoric are
Harmless, atheism reigns, supremely
Charmless, more or less. ::The donkey
Listens, and his pupils scold: “Y’all play
Nice, or else I’ll take my gift away.”:: On
My Euphrates, on my little boat that’s
Stepping on its bridge into a foolish reason,
Delta smog and brushes with the past
Until it doesn’t; not a separate peace with
Sons of Dis like Castor or the blogosphere, but
Her boom shakalakas at my clutch of seven
Chakras get me tender suddenly and
Vulnerable. The sun is brighter then, a 60
Watt addition like it had a novel thought.
So what? you’ll ask. And that’s the snow-
White question: So what? ::Castor grunts:
“Each metaphor: a banderilla for this
Matador whose bull is meaningless and
Pretty. He don’t get it: My Euphrates is
No empty-handed river. See her estuaries
Morphing mottoes on a daily basis, like
The lending libraries’ innocent reprieve.”::
This Castor is no renegade Sagredo –
A mouthful of gorp and disbarred cherubs
Primed my pal to see a thing not there.
Euphrates, be my nihil obstat; sanctuary
Film is no transgression, nor a pity crime.

Jake Sheff is a major and pediatrician in the US Air Force, married with a daughter and three pets. Currently home is the Mojave Desert. Poems of Jake’s are in Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, The Brooklyn Review, The Cossack Review and elsewhere. He won 1st place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and was a finalist in the Rondeau Roundup’s 2017 triolet contest. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). 

‘Slam Poem for Michael Jordan, or Air for ‘Air” by Jake Sheff

Michael Jordan Art.jpg

You were cut from the freshman team like meat!
But talent’s parceled out in men less evenly
than north and south.

(And no man slanders islanders to play.)

You had Dickie V. singing Danny Boy:
“The ball is passed from Glen to Glenn…
It’s stolen by Jordan! And Jordan’s on the breakaway!”

Your highlights subdued our merry nerves’ fast breaks,
the breakfast of champions for some dudes
like Wheaties or indignation’s indigo; faster trips than a fox trap’s.

In basketball you found that new car smell,
discovered ecstasy is going to get born.
A breakthrough to friendless facts, meanings
knowable and nameless, motionless motifs;
a tar heel’s. A tar heel’s unapologetic

love of justice knows that love is gain
and justice pain, but love and justice deflate
the flatterers in vain, their orchestra
of breakups and oil paint.

Your bird’s-eye view of time on purpose-purchased wind;
your fallout shelter in the air…
The muse of basketball said, “Leave Creation, come to us,”
and you decided to paraphrase a fireworks display
for fifteen seasons. (Fifteen repairs ripeness; a freak function.)

You dunked from a free throw line that stretched further
than a leap-year February! You made the crowd forget a poplar tree
was swimming in the sky and waving bye!

Your crossover’s mots justes gave defenders trick knees
and variable feet more juice. Your fade-away jumper’s sick beats
and sprung rhythm cost the night its sweepstakes.
(A glass of where the night has gone is bittersweet.)

Time – with stubborn enmity for all that comes between what’s left between
its two right arms – you toss a patient pattern and untimely contumely:
buzzer-beaters from beyond the arc (to beat the buzzard’s boozy timeline);
a quest too infinite for words and the final jest.

And baseball hemorrhaged a single harmony of chronic chances,
refused to help like such a good mountain.

“Only people make decisions,” you told the wonder-wounded air
and fate. (The backbones of our economy, some say.)

It takes a firm grip on reality to dunk the sun;
to you, a little triumph to jeer at abstractions.
I heard you did that with the flu –
(if Mom said it, it’s probably true) –
a bountiful annihilation! At nobody’s expense!

Etiquette would have an empty cup is friendly, but
this friendly cup of moderation – built on the same old
twelve bar blues and senseless marigolds
which give a trophy that portable semblance of prodigal fire –
is built for joy the days cannot destroy
with their opinions and agreements.
(Demerits: reputation’s dermatitis, nothing more.)

Without discretion’s misdirection, you pulled
a three-peat from a thirty-throated loon!
Its voices vouch for you and haven’t faded yet!
Nobody has to look too much; what torches chortle at:
your hyperboreal answers are question-rinsers;
make hyperboles of hosannas with sienna scents.
(The nostrils’ knowledge; lower rank.)

1990s Chicago Bulls – no windy bulls or sitting
city’s – your triangle offense
and ramparts as the reapers reappear and riper,
wearing red hats of hatred.
It’s time to slay the piper – softly, safely
up in fortune’s fortress; pay the sniper.

Michael Jordan’s running for our lives
just like our legs, clocks and span
of arms on our most gifted sun. Meanwhile,
in sweet-loving Spain, our Dream Team (what torches chortle at)…

But the sound of the horn marks the end of the horn.

Jake Sheff is a major and pediatrician in the US Air Force, married with a daughter and three pets. Currently home is the Mojave Desert. Poems of Jake’s are in Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, The Brooklyn Review, The Cossack Review and elsewhere. He won 1st place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and was a finalist in the Rondeau Roundup’s 2017 triolet contest. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing).