Trade liberty for safety or money and you'll end up with neither. Liberty, like a grain of salt, easily dissolves.
The power of questioning -- not simply believing -- has no friends. Yet liberty
depends on it.***
e perasmènes mères pìso mènoun
remain back days of past
my eyes half-closed
and i’ve no words to say
while listening to things
of every day, things
that waver under the sky,
and slow down a little
fading and contradictory
waves on the water.
slow succession of the same days
lenta sucesión de los mismos días
in the fast escape of time
and a touching of hands
or a window open in the light
or a long row of burning candles
a lo largo de la travesía nocturna
along the night journey
of the old curved man
that you're now, you
looking yourself in the mirror
“constantine” is Constantine Kavafis, and his verse is transliterated
by Irene Parisi.
by Peter Byrne
The Farmer had created worms. Hat over heart, he now sent them forth with
“I call you earthworms, my little squirmy ones, because the earth
belongs to you. Your freedom is as wide and full as our great globe. Crawl
ever onward, gathering subterranean treasure for all creatures and your
own happiness. While crawling, eat your fill in joy. Let the planet be
Then he put his hat on and went back to his rocking chair on the farmhouse
Impressed, the worms did as they were told... for aeons. They weren’t
equipped for much else. But from time to time a worm appeared who mused
on the divine agricultural project.
Such a one was Cleverworm. He would spend his digestive breaks above ground
observing from under a hanging leaf. His curiosity raced over the scene.
His first thoughts were always that a lot of light was being wasted and
there was nothing to eat but air. Non-worms surprised him by their modesty
in concealing their higher purpose.
Once a tortoise bobbed along
“How do you do,” said Cleverworm. “I’m an earthworm.
We were created in the big finale to the famous first week. We keep the
soil loose for the good of all.”
“Is that so?” said the tortoise, batting both eyes.
“May I ask you what your role in the scheme of things might be?”
“Sorry Bud if I hare off. I got a lunch date with some seaweed.”
“I understand,” said Cleverworm. You keep the sea in order.
How else do you use your freedom for the common good?”
The tortoise was made so complicated and different from his own simple
tube that Cleverworm assumed its duties were many.
“You must be from the farm,” said the tortoise.
“Don’t we all labor in the vineyard?” said Cleverworm.
“Sure we do,” said the tortoise. “I like a nibble of
“But what else do you do for others while fulfilling yourself?”
The tortoise stuck out its head and nodded back toward its shell.
“I look after my house,” it said, “and I live old.”
Cleverworm frowned. He was confused.
“But what about your con-contribution?” he stuttered.
The tortoise folded under the ends of its front feet, poised for departure.
“I go into soup,” it said, “if they catch me. And the
Farmer has me tabbed for an ashtray. He likes a good cigar.”
Then it left with a rise and a fall, and another and another.
Thereabouts Cleverworm took to brooding. He was more than confused. Something
didn’t jibe. He wondered if it wouldn’t be wiser not to go
above ground. However, his curiosity undid his horizontal intentions.
He always veered upwards.
One day, from under another leaf, he was delighted to see an adder.
“You’re like a royal worm,” said Cleverworm, all admiration.
“That’s flattery from right out of the basement,” said
“You must be able to race straight through the earth, loosening
the soil marvelously and encouraging seepage no end,” said Cleverworm.
“I never cared much for that side of the business,” said the
adder, with a hiss that Cleverworm tried not to take as hostile.
“Oh,” said Cleverworm, troubled now.
“Why eat dirt?” said the adder and slid off a way as if it
wasn’t interested in a reply.
“Somebody has to make holes,” said Cleverworm, whose crest,
had he one, would have fallen.
“Really?” said the adder. “Myself I prefer a bath in
It slithered up the side of a big stone and coiled on top.
Cleverworm kept a respectful distance.
The adder raised its head and snapped its jaws on a midge. There was a
ripple in its lower region and it put its head down again to rest.
“You do keep insect pests in check,” said Cleverworm who had
to raise his voice to be heard on the top of the stone.
The adder slowly sought him with one eye.
“I sure do, Sonny. Now go eat yourself some holes and let me get
Cleverworm felt less and less sure of the world above ground. After confusion
came doubt. The eternal handwriting wasn’t so easy to read up above
as down below. Underground these days, even while boring and ingurgitating
at full spate, his thoughts would go vertical. He imagined a house of
his own, a sunbath, the taste of midge, a cigar.
The next time he rose to the surface he didn’t stop under a leaf
to gawk. He crawled straight toward the farmhouse. An inquisitive robin
kept chattering over him as he made his way through the long grass. But
in his distress Cleverworm didn’t feel like conversation. Anyway,
birds tended to natter on about bird food, a topic that had no appeal
The Farmer sat in his rocker on the front porch looking out over his fields.
Cleverworm couldn’t hold back his tears. Blurting out his misgivings
about the curves in the eternal roadmap, he understood why he had come
to the farmhouse. He needed a good draft of the Farmer’s inspirational
oratory. He needed to hear once more about his terrestrial destiny and
the importance of opening sacred channels between top and subsoil.
So he was disappointed at first to hear the Farmer speak to him only in
“I understand completely. I feel for you. You’re right to
be tired of going through life with your mouth open shitting humus. As
it turns out you’ve come at the right time. It just so happens there’s
an opening for a bright lad like you.”
And the Farmer gave Cleverworm a full round wink.
“From now on you can leave the drainage bit to those dim little
crawlers no good for anything better.”
Cleverworm wished to demur. But who was he to contradict decisions made
on high? What’s more, being taken into the Farmer’s confidence
flattered and thrilled him.
“You ever heard tell of mysticism?” asked the Farmer, narrowing
“I can’t say that I have,” said Cleverworm.
He tried to look as honest as he in fact was. His top segment glistened
with readiness to learn. He now found the Farmer’s intimate voice
even more potent than his oratory. The two of them were as good as equals,
“You see, my boy,” continued the Farmer, taking his fishing
pole from where it had been resting against the porch railing, “some
worms are a cut above the others, superior types not meant to be grubbing
around down there in the muck.”
Cleverworm, shivering with pleasure, struggled to keep pride at bay.
“The truth is your better class earthworm’s a mystic,”
said the Farmer, lifting his eyebrows generously.
Then he went down and got a rusty tin can from under the front steps.
“Make yourself at home in there,” he said, helping Cleverworm
into the can.
“Just like underground, “said Cleverworm, displaying his sense
“By gum, you mystic worms are one in a barrelful,” said the
Farmer almost to himself, with a chuckle.
He walked with long strides now, carrying the tin can and his pole.
“Are the other worms in here mystics too?” asked Cleverworm.
“Can’t you tell?” said the Farmer, “every last
one of them is an above average, thinking worm.”
Cleverworm tried in the dark to give an impression of thought.
“Does mysticism hurt?” he asked
The Farmer turned a shade stern.
“You never heard tell of that cross and the nails?”
The change of tone reminded Cleverworm how much he still had to learn.
But the Farmer hadn’t withdrawn his sympathy. He still cared.
“There’s a twinge of discomfort in one end or the other, but
I don’t have to tell a sharpie like you what the Good Book says
about the pain-gain equation.”
Cleverworm couldn’t disagree with that. Careful not to seem to be
seeking compliments, he asked how a mystic worm could be recognized.
“Easy,” said the Farmer. “He has a special gift.”
They had reached the riverside. The Farmer sat down on the bank and pushed
his hat back from his brow.
“A real spiritual earthworm knows how to talk to other critters,
just as you told me you got chummy with that mud turtle and chewed the
rag with a snake. And there’s nothing like your mystic fella’
for coaxing in the fish. He’s such a hand at it that we often don’t
call him a mystic at all, but simply an angling worm.”
Then, picking Cleverworm up ever so gently, the Farmer explained to him
about the barb of a fishhook.
US Elections & Democracy
April 3, 2016
The Story of the Four Bears
By Peter Byrne
“In a far-off country there was once a little
girl who was called Silver-hair, because her curly hair shone brightly.
She was a sad romp, and so restless that she could not be kept quiet at
home, but must needs run out and away, without leave.” The
Three Bears, Robert Southey, 1848
Papa Bear had a heavy hoof.
Mama Bear had a fussy step.
Junior Bear skipped by himself behind.
The Bear family had been on vacation.
They were tired of doing nothing and glad to see their front door.
They were surprised when it opened to them.
Cousin Bear said hi.
Papa Bear said ah shit.
Mama Bear said they hadn’t expected her.
Junior Bear noted his cousin had tits.
Cousin Bear winked her mascaraed right eye.
Papa Bear said she’d sat in his TV armchair.
Mama Bear said she’d been in her fridge.
Junior Bear wished she’d mussed his bed.
Cousin Bear told them there was salad for dinner.
Papa Bear asked what it was salad of.
Mama Bear said the table was set wrong.
Junior Bear hoped for pimento in his olive.
Cousin Bear served up left-handed.
The four Bears ate their dinner.
Papa Bear burped and demanded more.
Mama Bear picked her teeth behind her hand.
Junior Bear swobbed his plate.
Cousin Bear pushed emptied dishes to Papa Bear.
Papa Bear sputtered and harrumphed.
Mother Bear understood and gasped.
Junior Bear said he would dry.
Cousin Bear shuffled her deck.
Papa Bear swore in the kitchen.
Mama Bear took up her cards.
Junior Bear flicked his dish cloth.
Cousin Bear said time for a Silver-haired romp.
Papa Bear said Junior Bear had his chair.
Mama Bear said deal again and she would try.
Junior Bear put his chin on the table.
Cousin Bear said the game was Blackjill.
Papa Bear said it was Blackjack.
Mama Bear told him to shush and watch.
Junior Bear said off we go.
Cousin Bear cut the deck.
Papa Bear pawed the cards away.
Mama Bear turned to the dart board.
Junior Bear flexed his arm.
Cousin Bear hit the bull’s eye.
Papa Bear said no left-hand throws.
Mama Bear asked whose rules.
Junior Bear said right-handers’ rules.
Cousin Bear said they would talk.
Papa Bear reclaimed his chair.
Mama Bear raised her elbows.
Junior Bear feared trouble.
Cousin Bear said nobody’s boss.
Papa Bear slapped the table.
Mama Bear said he’d hurt his hand.
Junior Bear hoped for trouble.
Cousin Bear held her left fist high.
Papa Bear huffed.
Mama Bear said go ahead puff.
Junior Bear said hot damn.
Cousin Bear said it was time to vote.
Papa Bear said God trumped elections.
Mama Bear said His beard was in everyone’s way.
Junior Bear winked at Cousin Bear.
She winked back with her left mascaraed eye.
by Guido Monte
and yet a forgotten way inside, thereby we’ll go out to see the
world behind a world, full of tears at a too high price. and nothing
be understood, between blocks of stones following steps of fatigue, a
time for everyone of fatigue infinie, di fatica di vivere e di vedere
l’orrore effort to live and see horror
before and behind the world, before: ashabdham silence in the same breath
de vida, primeval breath…
and going now, after the hiding, to the life ins leben
Guido Monte teaches
Italian and Latin literature in Palermo, Italy.