The HyperTexts

Arthur Mortensen

Webmaster on his exotic word processor

Arthur Mortensen is a much-published poet, and the webmaster of Expansive Poetry & Music Online. As you can tell from the picture, he's been on the job a long time!

Oppenheimer’s Error

He’d tried for years for some recovery of
the joy he’d found in his discovery of
the means to burn a city to the ground.
He knew some part of thinking had been sound,
his skills as theorist and engineer,
but what about the joy he’d felt as seer?

Striding about under a floppy hat,
smoking his pipe, answering this and that
query about the means to kill a city,
and feeling not the slightest twinge of pity,
he played the part from lines he wrote himself,
and where he lacked a word, from off the shelf.

How can a man describe himself as wise
when for his work mass death will fill his eyes?
The wisdom born in Hiroshima’s cloud
was death of innocence; he was not proud,
and tried to stop the consequence of thought,
but once in acts, it could not be untaught.

Originally published in Edge City Review


A siren wails; a cruiser rockets past
Pedestrians; I dodge behind a door
And find you lurking there, beyond the war
That rages on the street. We hear a blast
And know the gunman's hideout can't outlast
The SWAT team's aim to penetrate its floor
And fill the room with lead to empty gore
From one who surely knows he's been outclassed.
I turn away and find your hand in mine,
For comfort sought or offered. Eyes meet eyes
And fingers knit to bond two strangers' hearts
Which seem to beat in unison, a sign
To catch us unawares, a breach in lies
As nature's triumph stills the baser arts.

Originally published in the chapbook Venetian Spring, Musings Press, 1996

Painted Pony

A model for your passion's brush, this flesh
Seems pale, a flounder's underside, a beach
Against your sky. I think you need what's fresh,
A canvas not scraped down and hard to reach.
And yet I'm framed by your embrace; your hand
Has stroked a face for you, a soft romance
Where blots of pigment, thickly spread, remand
Temptation's eye for wandering from the dance.
By stretchers locked in shapes unknown before
We met, I press my face against the plane
And find myself as flattened as the door
You'd push me out if I expressed my pain.
To be the light in a painter's eye gives joy
Until you find the pattern formed is a toy.

Originally published in Nottingham Poetry

Stalking Madame Mina

I hunt for you, and follow tracks and scents
Through forest depths of tangled brush and trees;
And when my urge to bring you down relents
(As happens when I’m head to toe in bees)
I wonder what I’ve found in you that frees
My urge to calm myself and take a seat
Along some quiet beach, my tender knees
Unburdened, bent by gravity, not beat
By running hard in search of living meat
That I can neither kill nor cook, a meal
Instead for loving teeth to nip your feet
In hopes that you’ll unveil yourself, reveal
The hunter’s prey for me to gently take
With what some days you’d call a wooden stake.

Originally published in Sparrow

A Psychic Spy's Report to the Station Chief, 1977

Few stories illustrated the absurdity of the Cold War more
than the Pentagon's program of hiring psychics to do "remote
viewing" on the Russians, as noted in TIME December 11, 1995

I think I felt I saw a man inside,
And know he thought he felt he saw me near.
Though out of uniform, he had his rank,
And wore it as a soldier does—by ear,
Without a second thought, without a doubt,
His posture straight, his step a stride beyond
The mincing hesitation of civilians.

I'm sure I felt I saw a man inside
And know he hesitated when he knew.
He whistled within the missile silo's tube,
And held some matches up, as if to light
An imaginary fuse. I cannot say
Whether or not he wanted war or peace,
But, of his sense of play, it was intact.

I know he thought he felt he saw my eyes
And when he sensed I was too near, he smiled
And struck a match that neither one of us
Could see. And yet I know I think I felt
The heat of this incendiary, whose flame
He held against the solid rocket's casing,
Not caring that the silo's hatch was closed.

And, as I watched the man I thought I saw,
He raised a mask to cover up his face,
A bloody devil's eyes, a snarling mouth.
He held that pose no more than thirty seconds.
We shared a distant silent laugh, and then,
He turned and vanished from my sight. I knew
At once that peace would hold another night.

From Relics of the Cold War, published by Musings Press, and performed by The Medicine Show Theater Ensemble

Reflections On Imperfect Love
           canzone no. 7
      Whate'er the passion--knowledge, fame, or pelf,
      Not one will change his neighbour with himself.
                             from Essay on Man, Alexander Pope

"Stand upright on your feet!" She felt a ripple
Along her toes and saw a stain of mud
Where tide was turning, and would rise to flood
The beach if she remained or not. But leap
With leaden thighs and calves? "Get up! This trip'll
Invest you with new life."She felt a shudder
From unused muscles, and began to mutter
A curse against her waking from a sleep.
With sandy ruts erased, and axle deep
In salty foam, her chair began to move
Without the aide (who'd run away) to spell
Her aching hands. Across her skirt a shell
Washed up onto a knee, a glistening groove
Where once some curving creature lived. It glowed,
Distorting mirror, nothing left to prove 
A cause or circumstance, a nether lode
Of polished emptiness. She held it tight,
Absorbed by drowning in this small delight.

A natural curiosity, with dappled
And tender cheeks, robust of arm, yet dumb
With hurt below, she'd travel to and from
Our home on steel machines. Some fluttering dreams
Of happiness would bear a weight that grappled
With evening's haunted light, but she would shun
My help, as if my hand would reach to dun
A shadowed debt. "Oh, don't give me what seems!"
And in her small commands were written reams
Of comment on a lie of hope. She'd troupe
From scene to scene to prove a speech's end
My play for time away from her. I'd bend
To disagree repeatedly, a loop
Suggesting line by line an actor's pose,
Humility proposing her a dupe.
But in her scorching tears she'd burn the rose
I brought to her, and cheer me with no wine
But glasses full of ashen-petaled brine.

She'd lay her golden face in summer's lap,
Ignoring the dark and dust of the house, but shun
A sunflower's shadow, and, if she could, have run
Away from country garden comfort. Sweet
Repose, a vase with a single cut rose, a nap
To still the raucous enterprise, or rum
To make the looks and foolish questions mum
With drunken humor, none could force retreat
And show her nothing more than wasted feet.
No hollow-eyed despair, no brazen rule
To weed herself from Eden ever tempted
A bow to evolution. She'd pre-empted
A prime time snake, scorning him to school
Her able in avoiding Cain. Devoted
To life (not death excused as better's fool)
She would have sooner torched a man so bloated
With pride that he'd describe his shadow bright
And her scarred joy a proof of fading light.

"But such a love is mine," the shadow quipped,
"That I will seize you, force your mouth to shut
With wrinkling kisses, mangle you and gut
Your thoughts of better pleasures. You won't need
Another's pity in the loving crypt
I'll build for you." Such promises, so full
Of empty reckonings, will often lull
A wounded sensibility to greed
For drawing her own blood. But she'd been freed
Of like ambitions, kicking out the goon
Who'd haunted her with taunts that he would render
Her limb from limb. For him, who'd once been tender,
A hand so delicate she might have swooned
In some romance, when he'd begun to roam
She'd sent him to a crater on the moon,
And there, in the shade of Armstrong's steps, a home
Where he might torture dust or wonder twice
Before he shot with humans as with dice.

Afloat at last, she felt the current's rip tell
Her whereabouts, a pulse of ocean's blood
To lift her heart. A Botticelli nude,
With choirs of seagulls at a finger's keep,
She drifted from the hellish shore. A ship well
Beyond the rocks and surf flashed out a code
Of where to swim for rescue, signs imbued
With an apology twice more repeated
With longing by a crew once out of reach.
They waved to her in a celebratory mood
(No longer feigning some distress from Hell—
She understood that art), riding such swells
As kept the keel above the rocks, and lewd
In their appreciation of her pose.
Then how could any sailor who’d construed
Her lost refuse her offer of a rose?
The seas were calm; I had no cause for fright,
Absorbed by living in her great delight.

Originally published in Neovictorian/Cochlea

Seeds of Fire[1]
(Ways of Looking at the Pyramids)
            canzone no. 5

Under the eye of Horus, tourists yearned
For perfect shots, as if a photograph
Could overcome an urge to gape or laugh
Confronted by eroding monuments.
Such celebration of an ego spurned
By death had blown away the slaves as chaff
With orders. These they couldn't fill by half,
But, pharaohs had refused all argument,
Accepting only limestone and cement.
What are the hopes of man? The fields of Yaru,
Exposed to Ra by an archeologist's pick,
Are filled with sherds of bone, and angels sick
To stains of ashes on the dunes. And you,
Placing ushabtis[2] on your opened tomb,
Trying to escape your soul's last duties too,
What makes you think that heaven has the room?
Yours were the feet of Ptah, your thighs of Nut[3];
You walked forever; you couldn't keep them shut.

With lion body and the head of a man, it purred
At some remove, stripped by blowing sand
And by artillery. Faceless and grand,
Awaiting prayer to stir stone legs still bent
By gravity, a passerby to gird
And lift the death that, like an ampersand,
Tight-bound the ruined creature to the land,
The patient Sphinx confronted accident,
His sandy eyes vacant, his energy spent.
Its casing nearly stripped, his model's tomb
Has stood for fifty centuries to quash
These cowering caravans whose thoughts might wash
The desert's memory of kings. They loom,
However, in its shadow, now's hard route
That cracks apart the past, more sure than doom,
The road behind split open by its shoot.
And so this spirit world's become a slum,
Its watcher cracked and dusty, old and glum.

These thousand loaves are baked, that thousand jars
Of beer are brewed of stone. What whispered chants
Could soften them for teeth and tongue? Romance
Is lost between the mummies. Stripping their chests
Of wrappings, we so quickly find their stars
Are out, too weighty for the feather dance
And hidden from a dragon's bloody rants
Osiris and the forty-two addressed
To try death's power. But now—no further test,
And Thoth[4] throws down his pen, a useless tool
For records in the dunes—too quickly sloughed,
The blackest ink a fading dust aloft,
The transcript grain by grain become a rule.
It measures eyeless years and powdered ooze;
It finds in emptiness its class in school,
And memory lingering here so often rues
These days of light we feel its urge to dull
The desert night, its coffin's stony pull.

Why build an artificial mountain, spur
A generation's toil when nature's spat
Up piles of rock that make all towers seem flat,
And citadels are more like dust that's fled
The wind? The shadowed heroes caved in Ur
Are no less myths than these; where they once sat
Is no less plundered. Mummies on a slat
Are just as eyeless as the scattered dead
Of any other city we have shed
As lost to sight. The bone-filled, golden boot
That's wrapped to blackness in a linen sash
Can leave no sandy footprint in a dash
To hope. And sojourners who try to loot
These graves for history or wealth won't soothe
The desert's thirst, nor add a single shoot
Of green along the Nile. Its surface smooth
And distant from this harbor's long-dried mud,
Its future flows from music of the 'Ud[5]

On the horizon of Khufu[6], the seekers spurned
The warnings not to climb the angled cliff
Of blocks where, by its tripod peak, a puff
Of air could make their bodies incident
With headless stone. Wanting, as yet not urned,
To find a life beyond their own, they'd luff
To desert winds behind a false Sharif,
Who'd lead them to their arid testament
Beyond the dunes. Though blowing sand had rent
The mourning temple far below, they flew
Up treacherous, giant steps, their pace so quick
They left their angry guide. Their passions sick
With a jackal's dying love, they could eschew
The law, imagine that their fatal gloom
A hawk could lift, recasting them in blue,
Beyond Geb's[7] small horizon their ka's[8] new womb.
But looking in the sky they'll find their Mut[9]
Is gone, papyrus burned, her temple shut.
[1] "Timaeus," Dialogues, Plato, "the pyramid is the solid which is the original element and seed of fire."
[2] Prayer dolls
[3] Incantation from Book of the Dead
[4] The "recording clerk" as the trial of the dead.
[5] Egyptian lute, still used by nomad musicians
[6] Also Cheops
[7] Egyptian Middle Kingdom, god of earth
[8] Spirit of the body
[9] Egyptian Middle Kingdom, mother of Earth and all living things

The HyperTexts