The Remaining Mystery
A swan only sings one time.
Just before it dies, the music
that has resisted its throat
is beautifully composed
& released into the darkening sky.
But let me succumb like Moliere,
awash in applause as he lay dying
backstage, tangled in the drapes,
after perfectly portraying Argan,
a hypochondriac in the comedy
that contained every firework,
chorus line, can can, & vaudevillian
sleight of hand as the play unspooled.
Everyone fooled & moved.
The audience surging for a curtain
call as they stood screaming
& whistling, hands clapping
amid the swell. No insightful
reviews or soggy resistance
to dispel the con of Monsieur Fleurant,
a specialist in the art of hilarious enemas.
The actor’s soul, like the disappearing
smoke of a distant train. His broken
teeth, swollen feet, velvet mind
a faltering flare whose remnants
sought a settled dry tinder
from which another spark
of laughter might take to life.
Moliere knew that the audience
grew weary of his voice, that his
grand clownish movements, his mottled
skin tones & emerald costume had
become tiresome as a wizened general’s
natty & war-tattered uniform.
Thus, he withdrew as the TB took
its toll & the hemorrhage of blood
gleefully pounced & disrupted
his dystopian stagger. The Great
Comedian refused to die on stage.
Enraged by the Catholic Church,
he solicited the audience, implored
them in this, his grand final act,
an imaginary invalid, strewn with
the trash of counterfeit flourishes
& hilarious lush dynamics.
Tartuffe reduced to caricature,
a shawl of darkness wrapped round
the silent bell of his shoulders,
under which the stiff wax
of his endless performance
hardened as the wick was pulled
out of his candle,
like the stinger plucked
from the tail of a quivering bee.
From the first time I was exposed to the work of Frank Paino, I became keenly aware of the tone, symbology, and aesthetic strategies that we shared. Geography is History, but perspective in literature, from the standpoint of the first person, allows a proximity to historical figures that bears an ekphrastic intimacy. Channeling the voice of historical figures in the manner of the late poet, Ai, or the great Robert Browning in the 19th century, gives the poet a powerful tool in the art of persuasion, drawing the reader, by dint of precise details and personal circumstances, into the previously hidden private world of the subject.
Paino’s poetry also possesses an acute emotional register that speaks to the most poignant aspects of his audience, the resonant humanity that only the best poets consistently reach, speaking to the individual reader in a language that is immediately felt, assimilating itself into their imagination by virtue of its rhythmic authority, a music that is dynamic and physically impressive, flowing unimpeded down the page.
Sarah Bernhardt’s Coffin
The French actress was known to travel with a custom-made
pink coffin she sometimes slept in, and in which she famously
made love to the matador, Luis Mazzantini.
It took a matador,
gore still wedged
beneath buffed nails,
to agree with me
the fear of death
of my hips
which clenched my waist
as I straddled him
in the slim width
of that rosewood coffin,
its satin lining pink
as a ballet slipper,
silver fittings ringing
our breathless apogee
as he, at last, delivered
that rendered me slack-
jawed, eyes fixed
as any martyr’s
the flung gates
but prays her god
for one more draw
of the flay-knife,
one more arrow, embered
and driven to the quick.
Frank Paino earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His manuscript, Pietà, was the winner of the 2023 Jacar Press Chapbook Competition and is forthcoming in late 2023. Frank’s third collection, Obscura, was published by Orison Books in 2020. He has received a Pushcart Prize, The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, including: Crab Orchard Review, Catamaran, North American Review, World Literature Today, The Briar Cliff Review, Lake Effect and a number of anthologies.
His website is: https://www.frankpaino.net