Excerpts From A Brief History of World Literature [Part 1]

Agamemnon, forced to give back Chryseis,
Demands of Achilles, Briseis.
   So Achilles, unlaid,
   Will not join the parade,
And the Trojans think “No one can slay us!”
Then Patroclus, Achilles’ best buddy,
Takes his armor, but winds up all bloody.
   For despite his great will he’s
   Not as strong as Achilles— 
It’s hard to be a god’s understudy.
So Achilles jumps back in the fray,
Killing Trojans all night and all day.
   He turns their boy Hector
   Into just one more specter,
And his father, old Priam, goes gray.
Cassandra said “Don’t trust that horse!”
The Trojans ignored her, of course.
   But quite soon they learned,
   As Ilium burned,
That she could have been quite a resource.
Laocoön agreed it was fake:
To accept it would be a mistake.
   They laughed at him too,
   And now there’s a statue
Showing how he was killed by a snake.
Odysseus tried to get home.
For a decade he battled the foam.
   Telémakhos strove,
   While Penelope wove,
To keep suitors from her chromosome.
Nausicaa, Circe, Calypso:
They all had such sweet, pretty lips. “Oh!”
   They cried “Brave Odysseus!
   Won’t you strip down and kiss us?”
He said “Ladies, I go where my ships go.”
When Odysseus finally returned,
And learned that Penelope’d spurned
   The suitors’ lewd beds,
   He cut off their heads,
A reward their bad manners had earned.
Plato wanted to kick out the poet;
Called us liars and said we have no wit;
   Said it’s only philosophy
   That can free us from sophistry— 
But then why write a novel to show it?
Aristotle then taught us to state
Propositions with taxonomical weight,
   And when he taught school 
   He enforced each tough rule,
Sometimes spanking Alexander the Great.
In the Bible, in the very beginning,
Eve and Adam have no sense of sinning.
   Then they eat the wrong fruit
   And are given the boot
Out of Eden, where the snake slithers, grinning.
There were giants in the earth in those days,
But there was also a giant malaise.
   This roiled God’s blood,
   So he sent a flood,
Though the next time He’ll set things ablaze.
God saved Noah, who fathered a rabble
That soon built the Tower of Babel.
   They all spoke one language,
   Which gave God great anguish,
So he broke it and made them play Scrabble.
God looked down on the city of Ur,
And saw that its ways were impure.
   So he told Abraham
   To smash idols and scram,
And henceforth to address Him as “Sir.”

Later on, God said “Abe, kill your son.”
Abe said “Where you want this killing done?”
   God said “Get your tefillin,
   And stop quoting Bob Dylan.”
Abe said “Yes, sir,” and left on the run.

The Psalms

The Lord is my shepherd, I guess,
But I still seem to want — what a mess!
   His rod and his staff
   May fill your carafe,
But my cup seems to be holding less.


I envy good St. Augustine.
His adolescence was truly obscene.
   Later on he apologized,
   And so he was canonized!
Not bad for a great libertine.





About David J. Rothman

David J. Rothman is the Director of the Poetry Concentration with an Emphasis on Form in the new low-residency MFA program at Western State College of Colorado, and also teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is co-Founder of the Crested Butte Music Festival, Founding Editor and Publisher of Conundrum Press, and served for six years as Headmaster of Crested Butte Academy, an independent school in Colorado. He is President of the Robinson Jeffers Association and sits on a number of non-profit boards. Rothman’s volumes of poetry include Dominion of Shadow, Beauty at Night and The Elephant’s Chiropractor, which was a Finalist for the Colorado Book Award. A new volume, Go Big, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Over the last 30 years his poems have appeared Appalachia, The Atlantic, The Formalist, The Gettysburg Review, The Hudson Review, The Journal, The Kenyon Review, Light, Measure, Poetry, The Threepenny Review and scores of other journals. New poetry and prose is forthcoming in The Blueroad Reader, Contemporary Poetry Review and others.