French Suites

Each keystroke is precise, clear as a verb
Untouched by modifiers. Sharps and flats
Are reliable as death, the light trills
All mapped out. This strict staff allows no room
For cadenzas. Play it as he wrote it.
Still, out of all that, out of each note hit,
A lyric grows. It approaches dance. Tunes
Float over measure. Hear the absence of frills,
The Protestant neatness of mind—and that’s
All the truth in the music you just heard.



Sewn into the lining of Pascal’s coat
There lurked a one-way ticket, correct, hand
Stamped, express, to heaven. He could devote
His days to prayer. No need to understand
A god who’d already burned you pure,
Proofed you like a loaf. He wouldn’t be cut
Off again. His faith was something he wore
Like a habit. It didn’t quite show but
He felt it right there, sewn near his heart.
He was so certain, he never stepped back
To cast a cold eye, or take it apart.
He draped it like an old coat on a rack.
He unspooled scriptures, kept up his brawls
With everyone who thought he could be wrong.
He wrote out his thoughts in such lovely scrawls
They somehow crossed over from hymns to songs.


Rondeau Beginning with a Line from the Gospel of Judas

I laugh at the errors of the stars,
Dazzled by the impossible dance of cars
And headlights. They didn’t foresee our streets,
Our cities. They only circle and repeat
Their timeless dance and are held out too far

Away. They don’t remember how men are—
How they breathe, sleep, forget, love, how they eat
What they shouldn’t. How they scatter and meet
To ponder the errors of the stars.

Of course, their mistakes are different from ours,
With deeper punishments, strange rewards.
They vanish into the hollow lands of grief
While we make up games and find relief
Laughing at the errors of the stars.


Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologiesIt has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. Good Poems, American Places, Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. Two full length collections are in the works: Lent 1999 is coming soon from Leaf Garden Press and This Twilight World will be published by Popcorn Press.. His chapbook, Three Visitors has recently been published by Negative Capability Press. Artifacts and Relics, another chapbook, is forthcoming from Folded Word and his novel, Knight Prisoner, was recently published by Vagabondage Press and a another novel, A Book of Lost Songs is coming soon from Wild Child Publishing. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster.

Featured Image: a painting by Adolphe Menzel depicting Frederick the Great playing the flute in his summer palace Sanssouci.

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