Ghazal: American Boy

You played the old fool well, my love,
+++warmly greeting his son.
By night, Papa asleep, your warm
+++body’s treating his son.

…the day is a wounded
+++boy
” my adulterous father
raised like a pet, a half
+++brother unseating his son.

Real American crèche: Tony Jets
+++and his Shark virgin,
one dark breast exposed, Maria
+++unwed feeding his son.

Because I want to live with
+++that dark child
” my father said
to his mother at the hospital
+++on meeting his son.

My beautiful boy, “garden of
+++my agony
,” he pined
waiting by the phone like a
+++spurned lover, needing his son.

Naked cowered the boy, father
+++to the man, beloved
Poppi’s strap “a battle of
+++raging bees
” beating his son.

Father of my father “who gathers
+++your seed
,” take me in
and stride the circus fairway
+++ hand-in-hand leading his son.

Your dark boy sings in the backseat,
+++my “love between your teeth.
Your husband? Who loves you but
+++won’t tell you’re cheating? His son.

Vronsky, you cut the dashing
+++figure, stole Karenin’s wife,
so sharp in your uniform, “your
+++cool waist
” bleeding his son.

Crossing Broadway, his iPhone
+++full of love and agony,”
helicopter father run over
+++while tweeting #His son.

I may be your namesake, Eugene,
+++but I have seen your rage
against me in the wild eyes
+++of Kronos eating his son.

Eugene A. Melino

First published in Contemporary Ghazals No.5, Spring 2015.
Published online in Poetry in Form, Jan. 22, 2017.

Image is the author’s original photo of “American Boy” by the French scupltor Louis St. Lannes. The statue orginally adorned Rice Stadium in Bronx NY’s Pelham Bay Park. The plaque reads:

Youth is entitled to freedom. The future of civilization depends upon our children. It is essential, if we can hope for human progress that children should be unfettered by the domination and the conventions of the past. We owe to youth an untrammeled happiness guided but not stultified by stern obedience to rigid rules set down by elders. The proper spirit of play must be encouraged; it is the natural instinct of the young. Healthy clean mind in a strong clean body is the ideal for which we should strive. 


Francisco_de_Goya,_Saturno_devorando_a_su_hijo_(1819-1823)This ghazal is an ekphrastic poem inspired by Goya’s “Kronos Devouring One of his Sons.” In keeping with the Spanish inspiration, it samples phrases from Federico García Lorca’s last book of poems, Diván del Tamarit, a collection of gacelas and casidas (ghazals and qasidas). Just after finishing the book, Lorca was assassinated by Spanish Fascists. He was 38 years old. Several years later, Diván del Tamrit was published posthumously in Spanish and in translation. Its poems reflect not the form but the spirit of the ghazal and qasida, which Lorca knew only from Spanish translations of English translations.

While Lorca may not have had much reading experience with the ghazal, he had direct access to its spirit through his country’s Arabic-Muslim roots. Al-Andalus, or Islamic Iberia, began in 711 with the Berber invasion of Visigoth territories in Hispania. At its peak, it comprised Portugal and all but the northern quarter of Spain. Contrary to twenty-first century media images of Islamic culture, the Muslim conquest brought forth a golden age. “Moorish Al-Andalus was an advancement in human society,” writes Puerto Rican poet Victor Hernandez Cruz in the introduction to his recent book of poems, In the Shadow of Al-Andalus. Córdoba, the capital of Al-Andalus, became a great European center of progressive culture and learning where Muslims, Christians and Jews cooperated and lived together in peace. Muslim rule in some form existed in Iberia until 1492, when the sultan of Granada surrendered the Alhambra to Queen Isabella; that same year she sponsored Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic. Lorca understood that modern Spain, his Spain, began in Al-Andalus.

My ghazal tries to reflect the spirit of Diván del Tamarit by sampling phrases from several of its gacelas. Agha Shahid Ali employs this technique with Emily Dickinson in his ghazal “Call Me Ishmael Tonight.” My adaptation is ekphrastic in that it is a poetic response to Goya’s “Kronos Eating One of His Son’s.” I chose Goya because Lorca cites his art as a manifestation of duende. Without getting too deeply into it, suffice to say that duende is the deep feeling that infuses what Lorca considered the best Spanish art and true art in general. He knew that duende drew from Al-Andalus and Islamic Iberia’s sources deep in the heart of Muslim North Africa. I believe that this deep feeling manifests in the true ghazal in any language. It is more than melancholy and romantic love, which are easy. While the ghazal relishes humor, its devilish restrictions have little patience for easy feeling. Lorca emphasized that duende is not a form. I would add that duende results from the artist’s uncompromising struggle with form.