six voices among the airwaves of today
Code Of Nomads With Little To Lose
Achieving anything at all takes balls
of muscles working hard; takes agile brains
alert to border squalls and heeding calls
of opportunity for causing strains
among the richer, snatching their remains
up first. Go further, help their children drown
in crib-taught doubt that enervates. Cast down
whole tribes in spirals, fearful they’ll be gassed
unless they do our will. Expand our frown:
shake knees to keep heads buried up their past.
Arriving From The West
Eternal life of ease, unruffled life
that moves from crib until retirement’s watch
is broken without serious fear, where ‘knife’
is but a tool, a metaphor to notch
our poesy. The Poll Pot horrid botch
of lives, its piling up of just-dead skulls
is gross, grotesque. This put-out food for gulls
in patterns we choose not to see demeans
our sense of good. We banish them as culls
and rejects. But, they’ve reached the Philippines.
Arriving from the East
When Istanbul became a Turkish town,
when Byzantine’s last emperors lost the day
and faded out in 1453
(or were impaled, the epic details slip),
it was another eager apex step
for ideas growing stronger still today
among the brethren in the Middle East,
South Africa, and maybe San Antoine,
about the proper role for Roman gods
and you and me descended from their spawn.
To be converted may exceed our reach
and once the Jihad beats us we may find
our love of dogs and barbecue is seen
as evidence for pogrom cleansing’s need
to purge us Europeans who have spread
and ruled the pecking order for a time
that we, used to our riches, think won’t end.
We give them tribute, call it foreign aid,
and are astounded not to get back love.
Why aren’t our good deeds lauded? We have paid
at least the finger back of our iron glove
we’ve wrapped in velvet, calling God above
to sanction ways we’ve brought them with the sword
along with wasting sickness and The Word.
How dare these others claim their god is true;
that now the times abandon us; raise Kurd
and man of Bosnia and near-dead Sioux?
Now never ever venture to forget
that we don’t need ourselves to criticise
ourselves. Such ways will only bring regret
to those of us surviving. We’ll be wise
and worthy slaves of hard men who despise
our private slant on what is free and just.
Like apes and bees, all creatures made from dust,
our fate’s to kill or die in the attempt
to stretch our genes and memes until they thrust
all rivals into graves. On guard. Pre-empt!
six voices among the airwaves of today
Killing Fields The Way of Life?
What can the women say about the pails
of beer the sexton’s ordered me to place
at intervals around the cemetery?
As little, I imagine, as they said
about the naked lodger at the parson’s.
They as a rule are not that much for words.
They keep their counsel, keep their clothes on till
Dionysus commands nocturnal presence
and suddenly at the bottom of the hill
there’s only sexton, pastor, churchyard, me.
Their music, scarcely audible down here
to humans, makes the dogs crawl under beds
and beer that had gone flat among the headstones
gains body and a modicum of froth.
What tourists think are fairy lights ignite
the ridges, and another young man’s missing.
Returning women rinse their faces clear
and walk unseeing past us to their beds
and dogs come out and stretch and sniff the breeze.
The one I throw a stick for bites the sexton.
The sexton tells me I can have the pails,
says there was no naked lodger. I go home
and smell the day-old beer, avoid the bed.
Dionysus has weathered leaner times.
A garland and a heavy, pointed stick
and pieces of a cat lie on the hearth.
I can’t abide the smell of fires gone out.
I hear the parson outside, softly crying
and saying were the candles here on time
there would be no women sleeping in today.
The sexton’s answer’s mumbled and I miss
what held delivery up; a washed-out road
was blamed the last time. We don’t have police.
One woman does the laundry. One pours tea.
The one who never would return my gaze
stares at me till I blink. She takes my hand
and leads me to the parsonage where mead
and meat and biscuits and a ruby wine
are given to me, and a splendid room.
She asks for and I give her all my clothes.
The species he’d just been and the one he was now
had never coexisted, he knows from reading.
He thinks this means that now he is in No Time.
He feels sulky in his immense and Saurian self,
each ponderous step one hundred paces of scampering
when he had been, till Tuesday past, a squirrel.
‘Think back,’ he tells himself. He thinks he thinks.
The time before the squirrel, what had he been?
Book reader, but what more? And what were books?
On the edge of something (maybe, nothing’s sure)
he assembles what were reasons some lives back.
Rhyming — what was that? — had seemed so pure.
Now he is less than bothered by its lack.
‘Or lack of lack,’ he giggles. A morass quakes.
He takes a step, another, and one more.
He plunges, wallows in the wake he makes
as his expanding body nears a shore.
Or edge. Or crevice. Chasm! Nothing’s right.
His body, just now massive, turns to light.
He thought, ‘I could get into this book I’m reading
or indulge in illicit love all afternoon.’
Not true. He lived alone with unread books
in a low-rent high-rise far out near the sea.
His penknife broke his pencil point. He wept
for as long as he’d read that heroes should. His cat
made sounds from purring care to impolite.
Together he and the cat walked to the door
and back again. And sat. They heard the wind.
They imagined hearing waves break shells and shale.
What they actually heard was moaning. ‘Let him loose,’
he told the cat. Who did. They watched the mouse,
too traumatised too long to hope, believe
it was free to go. It wasn’t. The cat struck
the last midnight for the mouse. So little blood.
The doorbell rang. The candle gutted. Wires
implanted in the carpet glowed and smoked.
‘It’s your turn,’ said the cat. He half agreed.
He threw open the door, winced and said, ‘Come in.’
The hooded creature, tall, without a face,
came in and brought the front door in behind him.
No outside left, no single place to run to.
‘I might as well,’ he thought out loud, and died.
‘Not so fast,’ the apparition said. ‘You have a task.
Your so-far clueless life acquires a mission.’
It handed him a wax-sealed parchment scroll.
He saw the cat was packing for a journey:
catnip, roach clips, goggles, tinned sardines,
and a silver whistle polished like a mirror.
‘You know more than I do, Cat,’ he said.
The apparition rubbed sand where the mouse had bled.
It said, ‘You both are criminals. That was foretold.
Get out, get out. Get out! I’m getting old.’
Outside was colder than he had remembered.
He carried the cat in both hands, like a muff.
The backpack the cat cradled weighed them down.
He walked the ridge, descended through the mist
to the shale that bore the onslaught of the sea
so easily that he said, ‘Eternity.’
‘Not ours,’ the cat said. ‘I think it’s time we read
our marching orders. Break the crimson seal.’
He tried and slipped. A rogue wave took the scroll.
The cat’s paw swiped and saved the red wax seal.
They shared the wax. As they chewed it, crimson fumes
spelled out instructions the cat read aloud:
‘Proceed to and surmount New Mountain Ridge.
Descend and commandeer a sturdy boat.
Sail to and anchor above St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Wait there for further orders. Don’t be late.’
That’s all?’ he asked the cat. ‘No how or when?’
The cat shook her head as he carried her up the beach.
New Mountain Ridge shown icily ahead
but the intervening forest was pitch dark.
Night fell further. The cat said, ‘We must camp.’
She, the cat, climbed a tall oak tree.
She let a length of coloured cord descend.
‘Tie it,’ she said, ‘to the ladder in our pack.’
He, the man, looked in the pack and found
among the catnip and the tinned sardines
and a snarl of things for which he had no name,
a ladder lashed from ropes and wooden rungs.
He tied it to the cord. The cat pulled it up
and made it fast. She called down, ‘Hurry, climb!’
With his rucksack swinging wide the man climbed slowly
until he saw red eyes below him. Then he sprinted.
From a moss-blurred branch they watched broad lowering creatures
congregating at the oak tree’s base, and sniffling
and exhaling, turning wet leaves into ash.
‘Don’t breathe a word,’ the cat joked. He said, ‘Hush.’
The no-neck creatures heard but could not gaze
upwards. He said, ‘Good you packed a ladder.’
‘And a small sword,’ said the cat. ‘But they are big.’
They watched the creatures circle. Then one stopped.
Its right side opened up. A man jumped out.
‘Those are vehicles,’ the cat said. ‘Like in old books.’
He shushed her, ‘Please be silent.’ Hours passed
in the seconds that the strange broad man below
looked up into the branches, seeing dark
and nothing else. He got back in his ‘truck’
—the word the cat kept whispering— and drove off.
The other trucks kept circling, burning leaves.
He is bigger than Life but he looks small by Death,
Death beckoning him the way that Death does.
He says goodbye to his wife. He turns away and nods Yes
and follows Death into the suds
of the No More Chance Sea. He sighs and he kneels
and is crushed by an incoming wave.
It pulls him away. It pulls him out of the bay
to waters that are deep, dark, and cold.
They say that he’s drowned. No body’s been found.
The newspapers print and forget.
When the moon sinks at night those who have second sight
see a light riding ebony waves.
They say he’s joined up — you can’t make these things up —
with the Spirit of Watery Graves.