.

Under Which Altar

Eros, at last, has left the field.
The flowers on the bushes yield
__to coming winter.
See Lyssa, Mania, Ares, Furor,
older gods (and often purer),
__who now reenter.

Together with Hermes and Apollo,
they serve the eldritch gods who follow.
__They chant the names
of hunching Mammon and Dido’s god
through whom so many children trod
__the path of flames.

Above them, on the mortal plane,
their forces gather for campaign.
__There is no cost
too great—the devils howl for more.
The troops all rally to restore
__this ground they’ve lost.

Although hostility increases,
the sexes’ outright war now eases
__to queasy truce.
Co-educated troops deploy,
defend permission to destroy
__those they produce.

Battalions of the feminine
demand the right to live like men.
__They tell the nation
that Dobbs is a decision stunning
growth for this and every coming
__generation.

The men, in turn, take up the fight.
To women they’ve just met tonight,
__“The greatest treasure
and highest good,” these men decree,
“is not responsibility,
__but rather pleasure.”

Converging on the national mall,
these young recruits in D.C. sprawl
__across the pavement,
encamp upon the Court’s high stair,
and, in shrill voices, scream, “Beware
__this new enslavement!”

The civil gods, the civil games,
the civil tongues, the civil names
__stand at a distance.
Like prophets of that other Ba’al,
the frenzied soldiers raise their call
__with crazed persistence.

Like every war, in sundry lands,
this war is waged by brothers’ hands—
__with one great difference.
In this campaign, the brothers’ actions
are neither between warring factions
__nor belligerents.

No, for Moloch and his brother,
whoever serves one serves the other
__just the same.
The man who goes to patronize
hunched Mammon’s shrine gives equal prize
__in Moloch’s name.

For Mammon labors that professor
who calls the fetus an oppressor.
__At great expense,
defining pregnancy as crisis,
he turns abortion into righteous
__self-defense.

For Moloch works the poetaster,
composing paeans to her master.
__With verse in tow,
she stands before the maddened crowd,
her rhymes iconoclastic, proud,
__and comme il faut.

We hear harangues from Moloch’s priests.
They call us heretics and beasts,
__who will, they promise,
kill birthing people with a ban.
Besides, abortion’s good for man
__and economics.

Then Moloch’s priests, in symbiosis,
spread both disease and diagnosis:
__these sinecures
conceive of sex without its end
and have solutions they commend
__in sleek brochures.

For Moloch, Mammon sows the fear
of purpose missed, the great career—
__the winning brief
defending Amazon or Bayer
when courts grant some fool plaintiff’s prayer
__for just relief.

Magnanimous and gracious, he
will reimburse an employee
__for her expense
in traveling to be purified;
his corporate bodies can’t abide
__dismemberments.

To Mammon, all must pledge allegiance.
Children are an inconvenience,
__not a good.
The demon’s liturgies demand
his faithful terminate unplanned
__parenthood.

So pregnant people disassemble
their clumps of cells with fear—they tremble
__to be disgraced.
But, purified of their pollution,
Moloch grants them absolution,
__their sin effaced.

Then elder Moloch and younger Mammon
stand together to examine
__the offering plate.
From Moloch, Mammon buys each part
(some kidneys, livers, limbs, a heart)
__at market rate.

When Moloch, diabolic priest
presiding at this anti-feast,
__receives his price,
he mutters phrases euphemistic,
and parodies the Eucharistic
__sacrifice.

The liturgy almost complete,
he tells his brother, “Take and eat
__their bodies, broken.”
The congregants do not receive.
They say no great amen, but leave,
__no blessing spoken.

Though Dobbs dealt Moloch a mortal wound,
neither brother will be impugned.
__They won’t divest
themselves a semi-century’s power,
nor will they lightly be cast down, or
__dispossessed.

Restless Moloch, racked with pain,
nevertheless spreads his refrain
__through every blog.
Neither can we relax or sleep,
but rather pray and work, and keep
__this dodecalogue:

Thou shalt take both the bread and wine
and baptize any child of thine
__now or hereafter.
Thou shalt rejoice to step on toys
and triumph when you hear the noise
__of children’s laughter.

Thou shalt not fear the wrath of Twitter.
Thou shalt not wilt, nor reconsider
__nihilism.
Thou shalt not trust in princes, who
will wield no power in the New
__Jerusalem.

Thou shalt not give to politicians,
nor anyone who takes positions
__beyond the local.
Thou shalt not wrestle blood nor flesh.
Thou shalt not often read the press
__(and never the global).

Thou shalt not entertain a sophist,
nor those who read, too closely, office
__memoranda,
nor poets who write too free a verse
but rhyme when they dispense their terse
__propaganda.

Even now, when glimpsing victory,
thou shalt not credit Whiggish history.
__Thou shalt accord
no terror to the long defeat.
Thou shalt not fast too long, but feast—
__and trust the Lord.

.

.

J.D. Graham writes poetry from his home in Charleston, South Carolina. 


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9 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    This is an amazingly erudite classical poem which is essentially three poems in one. Mammon is the evil one and Moloch is found in Leviticus associated with child sacrifice. Dobbs is the short term for the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade. The dodecalogue of “shalt nots” and “shalts” demonstrates the shift in strategies of Mammon and Moloch to operate in the shadows “under the altars” to maliciously assault the populace and still commit mayhem and distress on us all through their own “sleek brochures” and propaganda. In your fifth verse I might have used “stunting” instead of stunning, but you were masterful in rhyme and meter. I had to read this more than once to absorb the essence and full meaning of your outstanding use of the English language.

    Reply
    • J. D. Graham

      Thank you for your kind words, Roy. It’s funny: an early draft used stunting instead of stunning, but I ultimately felt the ‘t’ broke the rhyme scheme too much. Perhaps it wouldn’t have!

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    This poem deserves a great deal of attention to profound treatment of the subject in ironically playful stanza form. It combines classical terms with neologisms like “birthing person,” and doesn’t hesitate to touch horrors recurrent in smothered reports of commerce in body parts, for instance. It will take me a second reading and more to fully appreciate it, but thank you for this work of art, Mr. Graham.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    Wow — I just can’t say enough good things about this poem. It is genius in so many ways. For one thing, it takes a topic that is so emotionally wrought (and rightly so) that it takes extreme skill not to make it sound merely propagandistic. It expresses profoundly the ugliness of the subject, while at the same time doing so in extremely beautiful poetic ways: consistent and creative meter; intelligent, musical, and unexpected rhymes; amazing imagery; perfectly pointed sarcasm. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read a poem of this length at this time of night; but once I started, I couldn’t stop. Exquisite work, J. D.!

    Reply
    • J. D. Graham

      I’m honored, Cynthia! It’s always rewarding to see readers engage so critically with one’s work. Thank you!

      Reply
  4. Alena Casey

    I echo Cynthia. Your rhymes were inventive and enjoyable, and you handle this topic with poetic taste and skill. I didn’t find it trite, as many handlings of abortion in the media are; in fact, you made some insightful connections. I found myself outwardly reacting as I read it.

    Reply
    • J. D. Graham

      Thank you, Alena. I try to avoid poems that are too “political,” and treat the topic itself. I hope I succeeded here.

      Reply
  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    J.D., this intricately woven poem demands more than one reading and is well worth the effort. You get some very grave points across creatively. I particularly like: “Battalions of the feminine/demand the right to live like men”… your poem is full of the consequences of equality at levels where it’s unattainable. Women (in the true sense of the word) are certainly suffering for trampling on the truth. Thank you!

    Reply

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