The Newest Improvement in Failure
AN APOCALYPTIC COMEDY
The dearly assembled congregated a circle
with incense amist and joined hands in a tryst;
incanting the spells of an ancient raindance
they chewed off their limbs in a foul brotherhood.
It was the newest improvement in failure, that act.
The pyramids and coliseums were burnt
as offerings to the unfathomable fog
that mells with the spheres in sulphurous heavens
as the leperous doomed assumed jurisdiction.
It was the newest improvement in failure, that scene.
The castles all crumbled and the dungeons did flourish
as poisons and pistols turned blood into ghosts;
the sheriff’s department in absentia was tried
by harlots and vagrants appeasing cruel idols.
It was the newest improvement in failure, that play.
The eunuchs all feasted while the sultans all fasted
due to decrees erected by Bolsheviks;
dumbshows and puppets imitated mankind
while pontiffs and prophets filed patents on torture.
It was the newest improvement in failure, that schtick.
Vassals and serfs supported steam engines
which promised to mechanize the crushing of grapes;
satyrs and centaurs impounded the free press while
local economists rolled dice on split atoms.
It was the newest improvement in failure, that bit.
Sirens and naiads ensorcelled black pirates
who ransacked the skeleton of Cleopatra;
experts and scholars vilified effigies
but vandals and robbers blackmailed shrunken heads.
It was the newest improvement in failure; satire.
Adam and Eve had one last trick up their sleeve
automating childbirth with garlic and cloves;
in jungles and sewers centipedes multiplied
until an eclipse of the sun unleashed mutancy.
It was the latest innovation in folly; applause.
Herein lies the legend of
the Mata Hari mythos;
A ballad of deception,
guiles and wanton eros.
Back in time skip we
to a younger century;
A mere one hundred years-
a dollar of eternity.
‘Twas an era of invention,
steamships to the moon unfurled;
Marconi, Freud and Edison
laid maps upon the world.
From isolate South Pole
to the savagest Ubangi,
Zeppelins and submarines
the globe condensed ingeniously.
Exotic were the lands,
province once of fairly tale;
Deduced unto the Expositions-
circus trifles and cheap ale.
Kingdoms were erected from
sawdust, nails and staff;
To edify and entertain
carriage swells and ne’er-do-well riff-raff.
But, to the text shall I attend,
forswearing idle peregrination;
Our heroine, Margaretha Zelle,
born to the Netherlands, town of Leeuwarden.
With swarthy skin and twirling locks,
she was a child of especial charm;
Her father’s jewel, and pampered so,
with an intelligence that did disarm.
A princess in her fantasy,
a world of castles and of chivalry;
An exalted sire’s soft quiddity
fostered M’greet’s acute coquetry.
And then, in bud of maidenhead,
her father’s fortunes were bankrupted;
The luxury and indolence of this
blithe child was roused from bed.
To school she went to learn a trade,
that of a kindergarten teacher;
Polylingual, mild and clever-
“felicitous” leered the headmaster.
With a cherub’s bosom and a strumpet’s bum
Margaretha’s fate in full begun;
Her natural scent, Venusian blossom-
how many a man would come undone.
O what madness curses men
when women they consider;
Their blood does quicken and too soon
their yen becomes distemper.
And what can mere damsels do
when lust’s phantasm’s misconstrue;
To be a mortal, assigned a shrew,
or play the muse, and let wealth woo.
Why are men, who rule the world,
so powerless before a lass?;
They speechify and pontificate
while love songs make of them an ass.
And women who, like sovereigns,
control the globe’s libido’s weal;
They own so little else unless
a goddess pose provides a meal.
a symmetry of purpose;
fancies passing otiose.
The marrow of the matter
Shakespeare discoursed at length:
Women have been known to fall
when men possess no strength.
Which brings us back to the tale
of Margaretha Zelle;
Compromised and then disgraced
by the man she did enspell.
Fortunes waned but with ardors spry
our nimble nymph unto marriage hied;
Captain Rudolph John MacLeod, Dutch East Indies officer,
as a drunken prank did advertise for a young mail-order bride.
Stationed on the misty isle
of Java with her lord and sir;
A reprobate, immodest cur,
M’greet was married to disaster.
Vile ingrate, perverted knave,
he made his wife a bedroom slave;
Dark arts did corrupt her acts,
begetting wiles as her enclave.
A Hindu-Buddhist paradise at sea
infused M’greet’s muliebrity;
Subservience suborned, nourished and transformed,
the slave did master slavery’s diabolic artistry.
Sarong-attired and Malay-bejeweled
she learned the Dance of Seven Veils;
How to bottle hearts and encask souls
as recompense for dire assails.
‘Tis now the era of La Belle Époque,
Edwardian Gilded Age;
When neon absinthe cheered the fops
and laudanum drove poets sage.
Thus to Paris this narration moves
introducing our gay divorcée;
Now rechristened Mata Hari,
“Eye of the Day” — fey, recherché.
‘Twas Little Egypt who brought in vogue
the hoochie coochie from Cairo;
But Mata Hari, mistress to the illustrious Guimet,
had a museum in which to make her debut show.
And, she, Guimet’s exotic exhibit,
a Javanese parvenue,
did intoxicate the hoi polloi with
carnal charms and abstruse taboo.
Not original in particular
nor especially beautiful;
But sensually refined,
Mata Hari was amenable.
From Monte Carlo to Madrid
she ensorcelled aristocrats;
Her belly ballet salon-renown
and finely-priced, howe’er ersatz.
For Dukes and Counts, gentlemen of leisure,
will have unhallowed wassailing pleasure;
Games of chance, splendid repasts, then aperétifs and tapers quelled,
the evening’s pearl submits her treasure.
Affection — or affectation? What
difference cares jejune coition;
Jealousies and rivalries are aphrodisiac libations
when oblation is volition in courtships mephistophelian.
A lavish life, epitomized by opium,
perfumes and continental infamy;
Hormones heed no sovereignties,
courtesans ply internationally.
But now the compass of geography is aggrieved
with the apparatus of colonial conquest;
Contending nations, murderous statesmen
machinate the pestilence only seas of blood arrest.
Thus Mata Hari, flitting to and fro,
from Switzerland, Paris, Berlin,
et cetera, found herself increasingly
in offices athwart some tedious captain.
Passport stamps more frequently became
bureaucratic currency requisite;
That is how the serpentine intrigues of war
cast into motion the involvement of our heroine maumet.
Cruel though it is, ‘tis true
time moves at different tempos for each sex;
Men’s fortunes gain with age while women’s wane
thus pheromones lose their puissance to hex.
‘Tho Mata Hari could always love a man
(as long as he was someone new)
she finally found one unsusceptible to her
narcotic charms — French counter-espionage agent George Ladoux.
Her mission was the vendible seduction
of German high command Moritz von Bissing;
But, missing aim, she compromised with a middling Major Kalle
who grew suspicious of the queries which accompanied her kissing;
Wherewith code name H21 was publicized a double spy
condemned by both warring sides, femineity to no avail.
What tragedy, for only then
the courtesan did find true love;
A Russian captain, twenty years her junior,
would have wedded her save crimes convicted of.
And so, imprisoned in Saint-Lazare,
her trial contrived, defense a fraud,
did Mata Hari face, blowing kisses at her captors, true,
the firing squad.
Here is where we quell this tale
with admonitions quashing cheer;
No one loves a Ferris-Wheel
in dark December drear.
 A composition of plaster and fibrous material used for a temporary finish and in ornamental work, as on exposition buildings.
 Romeo and Juliet, 2:3.
 Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, professionally known as Little Egypt, popularized the belly dance at the “Streets of Cairo” attraction, held at the 1893 Columbian Exposition Midway in Chicago.
 Émile Guimet, a millionaire industrialist from Lyon, was commissioned by the French Minister of Public Instruction to study the religions of the Far East and with ample colonial spoils to his credit, founded the Musée Guimet in 1879.
 Vladimir Masloff, under duress of military discretion, publically repudiated his relationship with Mata Hari during her incarceration.
Come along and revel, I’ve got a tale for you;
(Excuse the carny humor; what can a tent mouse do?);
A sentimental story, fit for kids and grown-ups too;
I’ll ringmaster this lyric (and, for now, louche rhymes eschew).
You may think pigeons are all alike —
and you’d be wrong. A rube, in fact.
Louie is my handle and I’ll tell you off the cuff
location sets the destiny —
there’s creeds and breeds and sects; indeed,
classes. Me, I’m from the roughest town
and I’m the crown of the riff-raff.
I take no guff, I’m puffed and loud,
I’ll peck and gouge. (This here eye-patch?
You mind that I prevailed that flap.)
I assume the center perch in gothic spires
where I reside. I eat first and I sleep higher.
Quasimodo Corners is my alma mater
and gargoyles are my gauche ancestors.
I’ve sat on saints, I’ve crapped on kings,
I’ve commerced in convents and jails.
I’m the hoi polloi,
I ain’t your pretty boy.
Louie rules the rooftops like a kingpin, that is true;
A scrapper, a truant, an author of hullabaloo;
Your food, your nest, your mate — adieu!;
He’ll strut on your beak and then coo when he’s through.
What do I spy, from my one plaguy eye?;
A situation has come into view.
A traveling circus has rolled into town.
Oh, might this be rich! May not this be loot?
There’s whistles and bells and hot blinking lights
and popcorn aroma which fires my flight.
There’s banners and gears and ramshackley tents,
calliope noise and peanut brittle segments.
Damn! I love this country!
I hit the jackpot, the vittles are grand,
I better chow now; this secret won’t last.
But, waitaminute, pal — I smell something else.
Oh, yes. Ring-a-ding-ding. Soft focus, maestro.
A ravishing femme, with powdery plumes,
the fluffiest tail, the dreamiest wings.
This is a goddess, an avian Venus!
But, hey what the hey, she’s cooped in a jail!
What sort of crumbum imprisons a female?
My name is Francine and I’m awfully fancy,
a pedigree circus bird, avian artist,
a delicate mechanism of nature.
I ride the tightwire on a unicycle
and somersault through a hoop,
Then there’s the polka with fantail
refinement, engaging in curtsies
in a spinning ballroom. It’s immensely terrific!
Carny life, wooden nickels, travel by wagon,
up past our bedtime to glitter like gypsies.
And it’s a swell life … although there are times
I look to the sky and it whispers to me.
The clouds curl and surge forming fantastic shapes
of chariots pulled by aerial dolphins
through comets that rocket with unfettered colors.
The sky is a dream, a mirage of chimera
but … then again, my dinners are here.
So here we are, my friends, acquainted with our characters;
A boy, a girl, an obstacle, the rudiments of literature;
Few themes soothe our sensibilities as the labors of young paramours;
Such impractical endeavorments define love’s fine surrender.
LOUIE (Leaping on top of Francine’s cage):
Splendiferous bird! Inimitable girl!
How could you be so cruelly boxed in a trap?
What purposes such malefactions as this
and how do I get my heartbeat next to yours?
My! But I say! You’re a froward old rogue!
Besieging and rattling a damsel’s reserve,
audaciously preening and importuning,
I ween I have never seen such a bluff!
Calm down my dear, my intent is sincere
for here is the paladin who sets you loose!
Loose! I should say! Who’s looser than you
presuming I petition such liberties with you!
I dare say!
I love you!
I know that!
LOUIE (Grasping cage bar with his beak):
Release me now! Notarize love;
alight, alight, and clear me for flight.
LOUIE (Grappling with the cage door hook):
Grr, vexatious vault!
Capitulate this treasury
and yield me my mate!
POP! (Door swings open; they both fly up into the sky.)
So … this is the sky
and my wings engine it;
The further I fly, the more it expands.
And you, at my side, dilate it above
any speculation I had of ‘above.’
It’s truly numinous!
And, here, the magnet’s momentum dissolves
whilst I feel the springs of your pinions near mine.
This is abandon, my only location
is flying with you … illimitably.
How little I knew before in my bounds,
exertions in jest, exercises of sham.
This is quite unexampled.
The unknown astounds me
as I quiet my vision
to ken that of yours.
Now, where shall we dwell
and who shall we be
once we arrive?
We are renewed,
Where do I love you,
my intrepid partner?
Where ever we land
we double our lives.
Ending this lay, I’ll just have to say
our protagonists twice made a circle of earth;
Exchanging a glance and vanishing hence,
they multiplied futures with uncontrite mirth.
Craig Kurtz lives at Twin Oaks Intentional Community where he writes poetry while simultaneously handcrafting hammocks. Recent work has appeared in Outburst, Regime, Indigo Rising, Harlequin Creature, Otoliths, Randomly Accessed Poetics and Reckless Writing. Music work featured at FishFood & LavaJuice.