The Saturday Night Special: “Faust” by Phil Slattery

Phil Slattery portrait

Phil Slattery
March, 2015

I have been negligent over the last few weeks regarding posting the Saturday Night Special as I like to do. Tonight, I would like to resurrect it, if only for the night, with one of my own creations: the poem “Faust”. This is one of the first works, poem or fiction, that I ever wrote. I wrote in in probably 1991. I remember it was a summer’s day and the weather was beautiful, but I had a drive to write poetry in those days and I decided to stay in until I wrote a poem. I decided to write on the German legend of Faust as it had always fascinated me.

So I stayed in my living room that beautiful day for eight hours until I had this finished. What I did after that, I am not certain, I probably searched the Poet’s Market (no Internet back then) for that year until I found a possible publisher.  I did not have a personal computer then, so I typed it up and submitted it by USPS, which was the only option then. I do not recall how many times I submitted it before it was accepted, but it wasn’t many. I may have even got it on the first attempt, which is rare. “Faust” was first published in February, 1992 by The Hollins Critic (for which I was paid $25, the only money I ever made from a single poem). It was reprinted by Blood Moon Rising Magazine on July 10, 2013 and by Literary Hatchet on December 22, 2015.

If you are not familiar with the legend, Faust was a German alchemist/scientist in the middle ages-Renaissance who sold his soul for knowledge. The legend was most famously made into a long play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and many consider it to be his magnum opus and the greatest work of German literature. Goethe published part I in 1806 and finished part II in 1831, but part II was not published until after Goethe’s death.

“Faust” is probably my favorite poem of all the ones I ever wrote.

 

Faust

Quiet.
All is damnably quiet.
I can hear the spiders spinning in the darkness,
the breath of a rat against the stone walls,
a cockroach crawling through the sulphur-laden air.
The roaring silence fills the air like the grumble of the sea.

Pitiless Eternity.

But a second ago he was here,
he whose eyes glowed like falling stars in bottomless pools,
he with the comforting voice of the practiced whore.
My wounds still bleed, my sleeves are still wet.
The rats have yet to smell the droplets on the floor.

For what have I been sold?
Square roots? Sines? Sums?
Will I profit knowing winds are not the breath of God
knowing the sun is not a chariot of fire?
knowing mountains are not the bones of giants?
knowing why the sound of pouring wine tickles the ear?
why lovers’ eyes sparkle as purest silver?
why cool grass and shade bring easy sleep?

Did Da Vinci paint with a carpenter’s angle?
Michaelangelo sculpt with a plumb?

I will be reduced to monotonous lectures and boring sums.
And should I escape eternal hell
I nonetheless lose my soul.

 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the Roman countryside by J.H.W. Tischbein

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