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.
A muse dances on the lattice of my dreams.
She leaves me wakeful, bobbing in her wake.
Mixed metaphors assemble into teams
of day stallions each to a whinny on the make
do or dozy doats. Pure logic flees
the coop. The grass, that’s greener on the other
slide, the one plunging similes in the seas
of humid kindness, grows high enough to smother
used meanings. Did you notice logic left
the building when the muse began her dance?
Optimism and depression, both bereft
of raison d’être by the circumstance
of being here where every time is now,
relax, leave off existing. Angels take
possession of the fleet. With furrowed bow
dream-spangled vessels chase the muse’s wake.
Atavistic’s too grand. We need a word whose definition
includes mean and cruel, desensitised and deluded
to describe ourselves. We pay money and our time
to witness publicly the mutilation
and public execution of a lion.
We applaud the undeniable bravery of one man
who stands alone as we would, we like to imagine,
implacable against the King of Beasts.
Down in the arena the spectacle looks grand:
the King of Beasts confronted by One Man.
It would be no contest were the man unarmed
or were the lion allowed to let the human go
or were, and here’s the rub, the lion not maimed.
We let words and bugle music sear our souls
and blind our staring eyes to what goes on
before us. We look down from our safe seats.
We are thrilled, we tell each other. The primal fight!
Man faces the great carnivore and wins!
Lions can leap and rend — we search for words
to connect us to our thrill at others’ danger.
As if we were one people with one goal.
It is simple here to let ourselves believe.
Out in the centre on the shining sand
the lion, head down and bleeding, sees the man
approaching with a red cape and a sword.
An hour before, a specially hard trained horse
had kicked out the lion’s teeth while it was chained.
Then “we” (our servants) remotely loosed the chains
and we ourselves watched the lion disembowel
the horse with rakings of its fearsome claws.
“Brave stallion,” we said. We, aficionados,
sharing culture-honed responses for each act,
mean that the horse died without crying out.
We don’t know, or we pretend we don’t, that “we”
months earlier had cut out the stallion’s tongue.
The lion is caught by cables cast from trucks.
Spread eagled. Extended weapons pull its claws
out. The lion roars. Bugle music plays.
Applause. Short intermission. “We” revive the lion
with electric shocks. “We” drive the trucks away.
The lion stands or tries to. We try — to applaud.
We watch each other. Who’s not one of us?
The man, our hero, shudders. kills the lion.
‘Be still my heart,’ he’d said. His heart had obeyed.
Not wasting a second to wait for his own final rites
he transcended the usual way. He alights on an edge.
‘An edge. Again!’ he says. ‘This looks like Somehwere.’
He is right. Down there to his right the Elysian Fields
invite him. They call, ‘Come tarry, do not dally.’
Straight ahead, Sweet Nothing extends for miles and years.
He knows what’s left. His strong hands grip a 4-wood.
On the edge’s edge he sees the familiar ball.
It lies in emerald grass, on a crimson tee.
He hooks his shot the way he knows he will.
The ball, and he, loft down again into Nowhere.
(He had not been to the cinema in decades,
decades Eight through Twelve, if you’re taking notes.)
He entered a lobby featuring popcorn and armed guards.
He went through to a bar with head-high stools.
He climbed a stool. He drank Dutch gin. He listened
to a waitress singing Verdi sotto voce.
‘Will there be a film?’ he asked. While no one sneered
the waitress snickered, pretending he was joking.
He took the hint and laughed along and waved
his hand near but fortunately not against his glass.
A bell tinkled … (No, here’s upmarket … “a bell tolled”).
In five languages including three he recognised.
a voice said, ‘Please go in. The programme starts.’
He climbed down from the stool avoiding jokes or toppling.
He followed the others. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffling.
He took his seat in tiered rows of luxury chairs.
The lights went out. On the intimidating screen
floods of coloured moving pictures glared.
Walls of noise drowned him. Surround sound.
The wind had ‘abated’. He plays with the word, lets it go.
His need to play clever departed an aeon ago.
He stands on an edge. It is always an edge, but of what?
He steps toward the centre, he hopes. Hope is all that he’s got.
An albatross stands in the only path, blocking the way.
He thinks of a smart word, forgets it. The bird wins the day.
‘You win,’ he admits. The albatross says, ‘So do you’.
They stand quietly together admiring the infinite view.