a villanelle

Today she spied the shadow of a snake
Slither through the spreading family tree—
A curse her startled heart finds hard to take.

She heard this serpent hiss. Though wide awake
A nightmare flared with fanged reality.
Today she spied the shadow of a snake.

She watched the burdened branches bend and quake
Beneath the scaly weight of trickery—
A curse her startled heart finds hard to take.

The putrid stench of poison made her ache
For fragrant days of sweet naïvety.
Today she spied the shadow of a snake.

She fears a once-strong, lifelong bond will break
Now she has seen the sin she can’t unsee—
A curse her startled heart finds hard to take.

The Eden that she dwells in is at stake
Now love has named a price that’s far from free.
Today she spied the shadow of a snake—
A curse her startled heart finds hard to take.




a pantoum 

That lull between your lie and my reply
(That pause that drenches senses in dismay)
Is where the bonds that join two hearts untie—
The price the cheat and cheated often pay.

That pause that drenches senses in dismay—
It simmers with a silence soaked in tears—
The price the cheat and cheated often pay
When treachery stills dreams and kindles fears.

It simmers with a silence soaked in tears.
It blisters with a searing sting of dread.
When treachery stills dreams and kindles fears
It crushes trust and lets suspicion spread.

It blisters with a searing sting of dread—
That beat before raw thoughts are given breath.
It crushes trust and lets suspicion spread.
It tastes of salt and grief and whispers death.

That beat before raw thoughts are given breath
Is where the bonds that join two hearts untie.
It tastes of salt and grief and whispers death
That lull between your lie and my reply.



Never Ask a Liar—Why?

a rondeau

Never ask a liar—why?
He has an endless lie supply.
Just know he’s out to flout the rule
Of trust. He likes to fox and fool.
He’ll torture truth. He won’t comply.

He’ll mystify then justify
Duplicity. When he’s asked why
He’ll sigh, deny, and play it cool—
__So never ask.

He has a sly and wily eye.
He’ll sell you pie baked in the sky
Then torch the proof—his fibs are fuel.
When quizzed on why his tongue’s so cruel
He’ll answer with his vilest lie—
__So never ask.



Susan Jarvis Bryant is a poet originally from the U.K., now living on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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21 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    All three are unpleasant portrayals of treachery and deception. The first clearly alludes to the Devil in the Garden of Eden, while the other two seem more personal. I like the rondeau best because it is crisp and snappy, and seems to have lightness that is missing in the others.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you very much, Joe. This is unusual territory for me, and I submitted these poems with more than a little reservation… but, I thought others might see something in them that hits the right note for them. Betrayal is a tough subject… especially when poets give a little of themselves to the words. I’m glad you liked the rondeau. I’ve written a quirky reminder to myself, never to give a liar the power of telling me why… based on painful experience it’s likely to be a lie.

  2. Rohini

    You are utterly brilliant! If I had an emoji that went all hail, I’d place it here. All delightful.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Rohini, I’m thrilled you enjoyed the poems and hope that emoji is created soon… it would be an honor to see it gleaming on this page! Thank you very much for your appreciation and your continued support.

  3. Sally Cook

    Susan, I just know something has given you an awful injury, and you have responded with your best weapon, which is your poetry. Like Joe, I prefer the first, with its Biblical allusions. This injury requires the classic.
    My heart goes out to you.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Dearest Sally, thank you for your thoughtful and beautiful words… it’s shining gems of friends like you in this harsh world that make the sun shine during dark times. With much gratitude.

  4. Roy Eugene Peterson

    “Betrayal” is at more than one level for me and provides an image both of Eden and of a present-day situation. “The family tree” is an inspired phrase.
    “Limbo” seems to be the interlude between a wrong and a response.
    “Never Ask a Liar–Why?” concludes this melancholy trilogy that exquisitely compartmentalizes a progression from being betrayed, the interregnum until confrontation, and the ending decision of what to do about it, if anything.
    All three are heart-rending, troubling, touching, and terrific.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Roy, you have summed up my three poems succinctly and perfectly and with an alliterative smile of a conclusion that has brightened my afternoon. Thank you very much indeed.

  5. Yael

    Sounds like you’ve gone on a warpath Susan. The first two poems have a mystical quality about them. Due to their rigid, repetitive structure and their sparse imagery they give me a sense of unavoidable foreboding, as if they are the tip of an enormous iceberg that’s mostly hidden out of view. The third poem seems to distill a lesson learned from the preceding two. All three poems taken together make me want to rebuke in the name of Jesus the spiritually wicked principalities and powers in high places who rule over the darkness of this world, which I’m already doing daily anyhow. Thanks for reminding me not to ask them any questions.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Yael, I thoroughly appreciate your perspicacious take on my poems, and I especially appreciate you getting “a sense of unavoidable foreboding, as if they are the tip of an enormous iceberg that’s mostly hidden out of view” (great poetic image) – you are so right. I’ve come to learn that betrayal is multi-layered, with most of the skullduggery hidden beneath a mere hint of its wickedness glinting in the bright light of day. I love your idea of “[rebuking] in the name of Jesus the spiritually wicked principalities and powers in high places who rule over the darkness of this world.” The Truth is a precious gift to all who seek it and danger to all those who thwart it… which is why it’s so important that it is spoken on a regular basis… no matter the cost. Yael, thank you for your inspiration and your support all wrapped up in your engaging and encouraging comments.

  6. Mark Stellinga

    Susan, I’m asked now and then how I’m ‘holding up’ after posting or reciting particularly poignant pieces that reflect these same sorts of betrayals, and can’t help but wonder what nasty circumstance might have prompted these 3 excellent but disturbing indictments. FYI – I know a very reliable and relatively inexpensive hit-man living not far from you if the urge to you-know-what happens to surface! So…how are you holding up? (Heads up Mike – 🙂

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Mark, thank you very much for your comment – a comment that has made me smile. I do, however, believe that those who tread the darker side run into heel-nipping critters that claw all joy from the wonders of life. I’ll leave it to those peace-sapping gremlins to sort out all ills while I bask in the sunshine.

  7. Brian A. Yapko

    Susan, thank you for sharing these three powerful, painful poems. Although they have the universality and shared experience one hopes for from poetry, one can readily interpret them as personal experience and, if so, the transformation of the subject betrayal into great poetry strikes me as the best revenge.

    “Betrayal” is exceptionally fascinating not only for your skillful use of the villanelle form (one which lends itself uniquely well to an emotional state in which ruminating is impossible to avoid.) But your use of the imagery from Genesis is particularly powerful since it is a reminder that any relatively small injustice may tap into a far greater Evil, that the damage to the individual family unit may also bespeak damage to the Human Family as a whole, that the mere shadow of the serpent is enough to remind us that a devil lurks always seeking to twist and ensnare the human heart. There are times when it seems as if every family Is represented by Adam and Eve, when every evil is the action of Satan. And, yes it’s hard to take. Especially when it’s someone you trust.

    “Limbo” is a fascinating poem which emphasizes that silent, troubled pause between two communicants who are no longer really communicating. And that is the limbo where relationships die. Sadly, that empty space gets dragged out until it reaches infinity and the relationship becomes nothing but a memory. Again, just the right use of a form with ruminating repetends.

    “Never Ask a Liar” is a poem which has general application and can speak to family relationships, professional relationships, or even the brutality of modern-day politics. It dives deep into analyzing the behavior (not the WHY) of gaslighters. As you put it, “he’ll torture truth.” I think such people get off on this type of behavior. It’s a form of asserting power over those who actually try to act in good faith. There’s no remedy here except to avoid such people like the plague when possible. And when it’s not possible, you look them in the eye, you stand your ground and you say “you’re the one who’s crazy.” You cannot be polite or indulgent here. The alternative is to let the lunatics take over the asylum, which we see happening with astounding frequency these days.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I had a fellow student in college who was a complete gaslighter, although we did not know that term back then. He was an incorrigible liar (even in minor matters), but many of us did not catch on because we were generally honest and assumed that others were the same.

      I actually thought that he was a friend, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized what had been happening. Out of sheer playful malice, he had chosen to lie and gaslight for his own amusement, since he enjoyed the looks of confusion and bewilderment that he could see in the embarrassed faces of those whom he tormented.

      He thought that he was funny, and exceptional, and the life of any party, and had no sense at all that he was acting like a narcissistic jackass, or any guilt about it. If I had known back then what I know now, I would have taken a baseball bat to him.

      Oh by the way — he was a drama queen, and a total left-liberal.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Joe, thank you very much for sharing your story. Three things struck me:
        1. “… we were generally honest and assumed that others were the same.” How helpful and comforting these words are. I’ve often thought how stupid could I have been not to have noticed? Your words tell me it wasn’t stupidity and that counts for a lot.
        2. “… he had chosen to lie and gaslight for his own amusement, since he enjoyed the looks of confusion and bewilderment that he could see in the embarrassed faces of those whom he tormented.” I now know that look. It’s taken me many years to understand it but the “own amusement” observation makes it all very clear.
        3. “If I had known back then what I know now, I would have taken a baseball bat to him.” – these words are a wonderful antidote to the poison of betrayal.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Susan, let me in turn thank you, for allowing me to get a little long-delayed payback from this gaslighting nuisance.

        His name was Peter Matarese (1947 – 2009), and in college he took it upon himself (unasked) to be the leader and mentor of a group of young guys. He’d decide what we’d do, where we would eat, what entertainment we should seek out, and what our opinions should be. And he especially took pleasure in “correcting” us for our naivete, our insecurity, our social errors, and our lack of his knowledge and sophistication. The smug, self-satisfied look on his face when he sarcastically pointed out our failings or missteps was intolerable. And much of what he said was totally bogus, designed to confuse and misdirect us.

        One example — we had an assignment in an English Lit class to read some poems by Ezra Pound. Before we arrived at the lecture hall, a number of us were discussing the poems, and in the course of talking we mentioned the poet’s last name.

        Peter, with great swaggering authority and condescension, said “The man’s name is not POUND. The proper pronunciation is POND. Be careful when you speak in class.” Then he gave us his signature smile of arrogant superiority.

        I had had quite enough. I had studied Pound’s work in high school, and had listened to several intelligent commentators who spoke the man’s name exactly as it was spelled. I said “Peter, that’s complete bullshit. The man’s name is POUND, and I don’t think you know what the hell you’re talking about.”

        The smug gaslighting smile disappeared from his face. He couldn’t argue, since we were all about to enter the lecture hall, where the Jesuit priest would certainly mention the poet’s name and pronounce it properly. Peter went into a deep, silent rage, and did not speak to me for another few weeks.

        Pure narcissism and gaslighting.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Brian, I am always grateful for your fine eye and sixth sense where my poetry is concerned, and I am happy to note you see the significance of the “universality of shared experiences” and that my poems check that box. I am certain there are many out there who have been horribly wronged and don’t know where to go with their pain and suffering.

      You are spot on with your analysis of “Betrayal”, especially the words, “any relatively small injustice may tap into a far greater Evil, that the damage to the individual family unit may also bespeak damage to the Human Family as a whole”. Many have no idea how a lie has a ripple effect that reaches places much further than they aimed… but so can the truth, and that’s what heartens me.

      Your words on “Limbo” mean a lot. You pick up on exactly what I wanted to say. This poem was painful to write and for a poet who gets great pleasure from writing and never suffers for the art, it was tough. But (as I am sure you well know) some poems just beg to be written.

      I am thrilled with your astute observations on the third poem. This poem is based on years of experience. I always wanted to ask “Why?” of those who had made my life a living hell with their lies… until I worked out that if someone doesn’t care enough about you to be honest, then they never will. It hurts but it’s strangely liberating. Yes – I have problems. But the one causing them won’t provide any answers to them.

      As for the word “revenge” – you have made me think of this stanza from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”:

      Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
      By each let this be heard,
      Some do it with a bitter look,
      Some with a flattering word,
      The coward does it with a kiss,
      The brave man with a sword!

      Sadly, I don’t own a sword. 😉

      Brian, thank you very much indeed!

  8. Joshua C. Frank

    I have to agree with the others that the first one is the best, with its Biblical allusions, and that the villanelle form is perfect for it. I also love the rich rhymes (take/stake, tree/trickery/free, reality/naïvety).

    The others are great too. It’s true; once someone lies, you can’t believe anything he says anymore, because now you know he’s capable of lying to you. There’s no point in listening, because you have no way of knowing if it’s true.

    Incidentally, that’s why I don’t believe any liberal ideas; the more I’ve learned about my faith and other fields of knowledge, the more I’ve found that everything they believe and push simply isn’t true. This has happened so consistently that if I learn that I agree with them about something, I seriously question the validity of my opinion and end up changing it. The belief system of liberalism is a pathological liar.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Josh, I appreciate your generous and interesting comment. I appreciate your fine eye for rhyme, and I’m thrilled you liked the poems. They weren’t the easiest to write and they’re not the easiest or happiest to read.

      I do believe there’s room for change… with compulsive liars it’s a tough call. I’m all for forgiveness… but trust is another issue.

      As for “liberal ideas”, I have liberal friends whose eyes are opening to the consequences of certain beliefs and are horrified by the results. Like I said above, I believe there’s room for change and hope and pray that those who think two plus two equals five just because the “experts” tell them just that, will see the light.

      Josh, as ever, thank you very much.

  9. Allegra Silberstein

    You have used form brilliantly to express betrayal. May your heart be at ease…Allegra

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Allegra, thank you so very much for your kind, thoughtful and supportive words. They mean a lot to me.


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