[from "In the Underworld" by Paul "Whitberg" Burgess]

We came then to a place where figures scoff
Eternally at those they call “unclean”.
Through verbal clouds of scorn that made me cough,
I spied that justly famous Florentine
Who put in Hell all men who’d pissed him off.
[…I shouldn’t use a phrase so damn obscene
To speak of he who used his words to paint
What Hell is plus a bit of what it ain’t].

Although the cloudy place was poorly lit,
I could perceive that Dante was quite sore,
And Will explained the cause of Dante’s fit:
“The poet, being one whom most adore,
Resents that some aspiring modern wit
Has housed him on the Righteous Scoffers’ Shore.
To Purgatory, Hell, or worlds below,
The Florentine had planned no more to go.

And now he feels as though he’s being mocked
And skewered by a batty youthful hack
[Not even thirty years from being rocked
Inside a cradle; lest he’d meet the rack,
The little lad should keep his dwelling locked
And, as you Yankees say it, watch his back.
[…but shields for blocking blows from weaponry
Don’t stop Assaults by Means of Poetry].

Increasing Dante’s rage, despair, and grief
Is that he’s been removed from Paradise
(To dwell in Hades’) by that scoundrel-thief.
This heathen underworld of fire and ice
Has gained his hate but never his belief.
To clarify, this couplet will suffice:
“I loathe this pagan place,” he oft insists
While still denying that the place exists.

The fruit produced by Dante’s fertile mind—
The works which landed him among the greats—
Include a realm of tortures he designed
[Where, by him, people were to hellish fates
And never-ending pain and woe consigned].
Into the pits of Hell they all were heaved
If not believing as he had believed.

He nonetheless will hold a stubborn grudge
Against this fledgling poet who now dares
To judge the one who likes to play the judge.
Although he whines, his torture’s one that bears
A gentler stamp…he pushed but gets a nudge:
He’s forced to visit all the lonely lairs
Where those condemned before (by him) now dell
[That is, he visits those he sent to Hell].”

Although I didn’t verbally reply,
I thought, “It’s sad but not the least unjust
To see believers in “an eye for eye”
Enraged when that belief in which they trust
Is plucked from dwelling in the holy sky
And brought to where one might perceive its rust.
But soon I had a change of attitude
[Which better fits a kind, compassionate dude].

[It’s only fair to say he does presume
To place some souls in Paradise, as well…
But readers mostly like to read of gloom
And tend to focus on the book of Hell.
(Of Milton’s epics, it’s the one of doom
That English teachers have to learn so well…)
Unless you have an academic post,
The happy books are where your cup might coast.]“

An Honest CEO

[He's honest...but he's still a bastard;)] ["Honest Greeting Card #2 from The Tasteless Greeting Card Sonnet Sequence]

You’ve been “involuntarily retired”
…ours is a slyer way to give the boot
[and thus avoid a not-so-civil suit]
Than saying, “Father Time, you’re being fired.”
The lawyer whose advice I have acquired
Suggests I act as though I gave a hoot
[Instead of calling you a “moldy coot
Who was by Abraham or Adam sired”].
We’re tired of underoverpaying needy teens,
And older folk like you have had their day.
Our future jobs will be for new machines
(which need no benefits and take no pay).
So, here’s a card and sev’rance bag of beans.
Enjoy your life, and go the hell away.

“Love (but not in LOVE)”

“Honest Greeting Card #1″ [from the Tasteless Greeting Cards Sonnet Sequence]

Although your inner beauty means a lot,
That side of you is only half the truth.
Your loving’s never really made me hot,
And, dear, I need some fire to light my youth.
You’re like the men I’ve read about in books—
The type to be a fine and faithful friend
And selflessly conceal his mournful looks
When Madame weds the Baron at the end.
Although you’re not the man of whom I dream,
I hope we’ll be the best of any pals.
Perhaps I’ll call to vent and blow off steam
And talk to you just like I do “the gals”.
I’d keep your tender heart and clever head
But spare myself from going to your bed.


[from "In the Underworld"]

“In modern wars to satisfy ambition,
The weapons aren’t always deadly arms
With slicing blades or piercing ammunition,
Nor anything that norm’lly kills or harms
(In all but wars of stony, cold attrition).
It’s lack of shame and wealth of cool and charms
That now can make a money-moving don
Of one who knows the Art of Clever Con.

That dandy fellow, looking overfed,
Is Bernie Madoff (who made off with a sack
Of cash)…” I stopped to say, “But he’s not dead,”
And Will replied, “Those bringing utter wrack
And ruin—cons with victims in the red—
Abound. Their count’s too high for me to track.
The name I thought he donned, we now may doff.
What’s key is that he’s eating at a trough.”

I waited for my guide to speak of greed
And carry on about this evidence
That seemed to show a sinful human’s deed
Avenged by holy wrath and Providence.
Instead, he said, “This man will always feed
But never feel fulfilled. Will penitence
Arise from tortures that will never stop
(Like feeding souls until they’re fit to pop)?

How could this torture ever benefit,
Enlighten, or—as some may hope—deter
Those never seeing or believing it?
Despite the righteous wrath this might incur,
I’ll say this torture’s neither right nor fit
For Hades’ worst-behaving mongrel cur.
The foulest people still deserve release.
They’ll find no bliss—at least allow them peace.”


pt. II of “Victor Frankenstein in the Underworld”

Despite my prior bout of disbelief,
My strong desire to hear what Vic would say
And meet the heir of legend’s noblest thief
(Prometheus) inspired me to stay.
His face displayed a world of grief
That passing eras never would allay.
He started speaking at a frantic pace
And never looked directly at my face:

“What we’ve discovered is the slightest bur
That’s found inside the smallest garden plot.
I sought to gather elements and stir
Ingredients in Mother Nature’s pot.
I mixed these parts to see what might occur
And used ‘what is’ to bring about ‘what’s not’.
The epitaph I wanted on my slab
Was: ‘Victor made the planet Earth his lab’.

The words of Victor prompted me to think:
“The monster’s often saner than the master
Whose works might bring us to destruction’s brink.
The age of technological disaster,
In which a world might die inside a blink,
Is plagued by folk of Victor’s mold and plaster.
If born today, when atoms roughly smash,
His monster might’ve burned our world to ash.”

Although I saw he truly was contrite,
I thought, “His type is apt to mope and mourn
Once it’s extinguished life and vital light
(which is more easily destroyed than born).”
…But human pity for his woeful plight
Began to soften and replace my scorn.
Recalling what a gentle sage had taught,
I kept inside the harmful words I’d thought.


Before Meeting Frankenstein…

[...in the Underworld"]

”and standing there is Victor Frankenstein:
The scientist who’s mad imagination
And sober skill combined to dream, design,
Then bring to life a wild abomination.
Akin to things conflated with their signs,
The maker’s oft confused with his creation.
[Perhaps the error’s one we should excuse
Since Victor gave the beast no name to use.]

Alas! The work of some is like a tune
To which the future ages love to dance
[As graduates are apt to do in June
(Or May) to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”],
While their composers’ are forgotten soon
Like most on which the sun has cast its glance.
For most of time, they’re as anonymous
As any water-treading platypus.”

Although I knew it might result in friction,
I interrupted his unending spiel
To carp about a seeming contradiction:
“Your story’s rotten from its mast to keel.
A character, from a work of science fiction
Or other sort of novel, isn’t real.
What never walked the realms of Time and Space
Must surely not reside inside this place.”

“Existing hasn’t made you very wise,”
He stated and then, “After mourners’ moans
Have ceased to lacerate the weary skies,
One starts the process of becoming bones.
The hard reality of one who dies
Is that of buried dust and hidden stones.
Their kind of real’s the cold and lifeless real
Of any beast that’s been another’s meal.

What’s left—that heap of hard organic matter
Decaying under mounds of dumped-on earth—
Inspires but little bits of social chatter
In talks about a famous figure’s worth.
What lives of Carroll is that crazy Hatter
Who by the author’s mind was given birth.
What robs the name of “true” reality
From fictions that exude vitality?

Let’s take the case of Shelley’s horror tale.
Consider well these questions that I ask:
A costume vendor often makes a sale
When children buy a suit complete with mask
To ape her monster’s face in each detail.
If words from long ago inspire a task…”
Before he asked, I gave his eyes a stare
That let him know I didn’t really care.

Captains of Industry and Finance

An “Underworld” scene from *The New House of Fame* (by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess)

His type is one we all too often find:
The sort to spoil a parrot or a pair
But sleep without a hint of troubled mind
When other parrots soaring through the air
Are casualties to orders, which he’s signed,
To strip the creatures’ leafy homes ‘til bare.
He’s one to lavish love upon the boar
Who’s mascot for his ham and bacon store.

He’s not—to use a popular cliché—
The type to beat a dog or harm a fly,
But, though his gentle hands aren’t apt to slay,
They’ll cause a distant swarm to starve or die
If it begins to slow or block his way
To owning all the Planet’s land and sky
[…resources which preserve his mental health
By showing how he bests the rest in wealth.]

To state the case with greater clarity:
His noble breed is one which often awes
The world with acts of private charity
Despite supporting policies and laws
That nurture social class disparity
As ill effects are nurtured by a cause
(…Or causal web of threads that intersect—
Since there’s no simple chain of cause/effect].

Before we ventured further down the hall,
I asked him, “What’s the fellow’s bloody name?”
At first, he changed the theme to Adam’s fall
To prove that ignorance should cause no shame
But soon confessed: “In sooth, I don’t recall.
Precision’s never been my fav’rite game.
My speeches are a peaceful compromise
Between the warring clans of Truth and Lies.

A bard ensures a story never starves
By seeing that it’s generously fed
With meaty bits the skillful teller carves
From flocks of sheep inside his head.
In winter, he’ll bedeck a tale in scarves
He knits from wool those mental sheep have shed.”
His speech, though crammed with sheep ‘til nearly full,
Contained, as well, a hefty share of bull.

“…and when the frost of Father Winter’s gone”
…I cut him short and said, “You have abused
My ears enough. It’s time for moving on.”
Despite my words, I often was amused
By madness that his addled brain would spawn.
He seemed a clever clown or sage confused.
His wit, at times, was straight as jets in flight,
But, other times, it was a flailing kite.