Coronation

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.

What the Three Fates Witnessed

There was little to say at his christening. We said it again.
He breathed. He was noisy. His minders hoped he would have friends.
‘Or not,’ we whispered as his minders took him back home.

There was little to say at his weddings. We said it again.
His brides mostly smiled. His best men were maybe his friends.
Or not, we had noticed. It was eventually just he who went home.

There was little to say at his burial. We added it up:
his occasional successes, how he had longed to have friends.
None were there that we witnessed. This time he did not go home.

Threaded

‘Try to relax,’ says Guide Number 1. We watch the entire world ending.
‘Not all of the world,’ says Guide Number 2. ‘Just all the life that is on it.’
‘Not even all life,’ says Guide Number 3. ‘Only the species depending
on plants for food or for their food’s food.’ To us it is way past ironic

to sit stock still and watch Earth burn. There must be a way we can fix…
‘What you broke,’ say all three Guides in chorus, too-easily reading our thoughts.
‘You began small like birds, building modest nests with found bright stones and sticks
but progressed, that’s the very wrong word, to mess with missiles and dreadnoughts.’

‘Not all of us!’ we shrieked (here ‘shrieked’ is the very very right word).
‘We, and many like us,’ we whined, ‘adhere to the venerable thesis
of live and let live.’ Guide Number 2 said, ‘Do not be absurd.’
Guide Number 2, we knew, when we knew, was actually Lachesis.

She took our measure, of each of us, meaningfully waving the rod
we had hoped she had forgotten to bring. Clotho (her sister, Guide 1)
gave Atropos (Guide Number 3) a weary dooming nod.
Clotho vowed that in times future if any she would shun

spinning life threads for human people. ‘They are irredeemably bad
for themselves, for us and for ‘Gaia’ — whatever you want to name it,’
she said. She looked for an immortal thoroughly hauntingly sad.
‘They inherited the Earth but soon misused their growing powers to maim it!’

said Atropos. She smiled softly then. A Fate’s smile is disarming.
Could it be that our fate that threatened simply disappears?
We smile back. We try to laugh. The planet keeps on warming.
Then we see that Atropos is sharpening her shears.

We forget again, forgetting our Guides’ — these three dire Fates’ — true names,
and then from fright we forget our own. There is nowhere we can run.
The shears’ edges spark. Our threads spew smoke. Our souls go up in flames.
The Guides count down, the last thing we hear: ‘Three’ and ‘Two’ and ‘One’.

Zipping Along Until

In the rough dangerous waters surrounding Charybdis and Scylla,
unlike the approaching sail-and-oars ship of Ulysses,
I do not need wind or muscle. I steer my Zodiac
powered by monstrous diesel motors that roar
haughtily and aggressively. The gods
themselves recoil from this din of modern men
then recover and melt the blades from my propellers.

Censored by Carpentry’s Inventor

‘Perdix flew wing on our fishing expedition.’
My song’s first line makes Daedalus cry ‘Halt!’
He fears, and rightly so, instant perdition
were the world to learn that it was through his fault
that his nephew died. He stifles each rendition
of lyrics mentioning Perdix or how he bought
the farm while flying vertically straight down
(which is why partridges fly close now to the ground).

Which Rock

They ask him one more time: Which Rock do you worship?
His answer chokes back when they draw their swords.
Not seeing them or him, girls walk small dogs.
A fly lights on his leg, points to one Rock.
A wave recedes and shows the Rock’s insignia.
Or was that shadow? He will get one guess
as to what’s accepted doctrine on this beach
so far from where he thought he’d started out.

He sees sky above the clouds above the swords.

Women washing windows of the restaurant
see him but not the fly. They see walking girls.
They see tiny jacketed dogs. They don’t see the men:
the men in mohair robes who point bronze swords
at approximately where he’s been told that his heart is
or was before he lost it on this beach
to a girl who walked small dogs that disappeared
when the tide rose and the brave Rocks in the shallows
became hidden, serving only to sink boats
like his that time he sailed here on his own
which is how he’s ending up. He hears, Which Rock?

No Fantasies

There is a large, fur-covered backpack on the spare bed.
When I sit up to look at it, it shakes and growls.
Is this happening in the real world or my head?
It is speaking now, a language without vowels

that I do not understand. This means I’m sane,
I hope. It really pains me to encounter
a backpack bouncing on a counterpane.
I’m reminded of Medusa when she found her

self skiing down a glacier without poles,
or helmet, obviously, or even skis.
She closed her eyes and slung her snakes like stoles
around her throat and screamed, ‘No fantasies!’

Monstrous Descent

‘What kind of wolf are you?’
                                              ‘I wish a were.’

‘Are you speaking grit,’ the gyring gorgon asked,
‘or subjugating us to the subjunctive?’

‘A were-wolf!’ whined the wolf whelp warily watching
the gyring gorgon’s garter-snake coiffure.
‘Why aren’t you venomous? Why am I not stone?’

‘Because we’re euro versions of old Europe,
defanged from funnelling finance to the Greeks,’
she fumed. She furrowed fang-scarred brow. She sat.

The whelp drew courage from that, and drew near.
It drew a Druid symbol in the sand.
It asked, ‘If we revert can I be dire?’

The gorgon hesitated, hissed green hairspray
at a spit-curl serpent forelock going astray.

She sighed, ‘Frankly, we must all now hang together.’
‘Surely Franklin,’ nit-picked pedantically the wolf.
‘Assuredly, we all hang separately
on every common interest we debate.’

Each regards the other, seeing nothing
they have in common, saving comedies
of errors, and they exit. Curtains. War.