John Wilkes Booth

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Dante descends to deeper heat
warming the marrow of bones
so cold is he from where he’s been
but then the sweat begins again
sucked out from skin
quenching the night’s dry filaments
its threaded wisps of sound
soliloquies on Santa Anna winds
shouted scripts from Julius Ceasar
shot through with moans and pleas
some vain inflected voice
cutting like the vines that clutch
his cloak and scribe his skin.

He breaks through to a macabre stage:
ordered rows of muted harpies
staring down at an amphitheater
carved in a mound of ants
the sides and dome framed in green
poison ivy competing with kudzu
a tableau in jade tinged by high rouge
of roiling clouds
flashing internal lightning
that leaves a hinted taste of ozone.
Center stage stands an actor in toga
thin wasp of a man with a sword
ants crawling
on a face alabaster white
crowned by matted sooty locks.
He stays his act and stares.
“Pilgrim, be seated on that
root by which you stand.
My patrons betray their scorn,
sitting on their wings.

Dante feels repulsed
by the stench of recognition
an aquiline face with dead-coal eyes….
“Sir, I will not join this crowd
nor suspend disbelief on your behalf.
You killed the man who freed the slaves
robbed a Nation of its King of Reason
silenced the voice of courage
and blackened the stage of imagination.”

Your lines lack invention!” the actor shouts
You! Cast out from Florence to wander!
I played my part on the stage of life.
Be useful!
Approach stage front and brush away
these ants that stain my face.
Makeup was not meant to move.”

“You should use that sword against yourself.
Or summon Caesar from his grave
to wreak reprisal for feigned acts
here and others far too real.”
With that he backs away
leaving the harpies as sole critics
of this eternal play.

John Wilkes Booth was an American stage actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865.



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