Wot Gnu

The lion’s coat, renowned in tribal vision,
is redolent close up of muck and dirt
and zebra remnants from the subdivision
of his last meal. Gazelles that you think flirt
with lions do so perhaps on television
but in real life the pride itself is hurt
by breath past fangs that flecked with unflossed prize
explain why lions converse with squinted eyes.

‘Who’s Wot Gnu?’ you ask. A magic gardener
conceived from little just like you and me
and thus with bugs and beasts and us coparceners
an inheritor of the sun, the fields, the sea.
Wot operates with me a veterinary
practice: we heal beasts to set them free
as they free us. They bring colour to our world.
We do not want a home that is not merled,
not foxed nor robined. We are for preservation
of rat-cheer rodents, sleeping ants, the chough,
and, in moderation, every nation.

‘What’s Wot got,’ you may ask, ‘to do with lions?’
I answer, ‘Everything from here to Orion.
It’s similar to asking how much twine
goes in a piece of string. All life is fine.’

‘What knew Wot Gnu to make you his disciple?’
you ask despairing of an answer clear.
‘Damn all,’ I say, ‘except he’s archetypal
of this whole confusing mess that I hold dear.’

The Pale Bishop Exits

(in his own words)

‘Too many words
now nothing else is left.
My dull life
livens up in face of death.

My what-I-mights
and catamites depart.
Their absence delves
no abscess in my heart.

Their absent selves,
less aberrant than when,
abrasively,
they laid claim to my thin

and feigned concern,
elicit not one jot
of pity, nor
remorse. The mood I’ve got

is but the one
sufficing me for years,
a camouflage
of caring, for my peers,

and for my Self.
I almost made it work.
It moved me up
from labourer to clerk.

Much later, when
the bishop caught a cold,
it worked again.
He wasn’t very old,

or very strong,
a wispy little man
who died of draughts
accepted from my hand.

They weren’t a curse,
nor poisonous, no need,
just chequered crowns
I conjured up to feed

his inborn fears,
inadequacy, pride.
Within five years
I had his horse to ride,

and bed to fill
with acolytes, like he
had never done.
I had to hang but three.

and after that,
and by the Prince’s grace,
a quieter fief
than mine, a calmer place

has not been seen
since Caesar’s dotage days.
I couldn’t care,
or understand the ways

of those who died
for faith, or those who stayed,
for days sometimes,
alive, while minions flayed

them for some slight
to Prince, or God, or me.
I saw no need
to walk to Galilee,

go mount a cross,
lead martyrs on crusade.
I built high walls,
for glory against trade,

let men dig moats,
then populate each ditch
with those I let
be marked as thief or witch.

I kept the peace
through three proud Princes’ reigns
and, without war,
avoided any gains

in any sense:
no population growth,
no pleasure parks,
no single place where both

sweet love and joy
could find one hour’s respite.
I made each day
a horror night, a pit.

Perhaps men think
I’m monstrous. No one says.
I never met
a single soul could faze

me in my thought
that nothing has a point.
That Nothing’s what
inspires me to anoint

all widespread death
as highest good, and try,
this autumn eve,
to will my Self to die.’

Catherine Darc

She is waiting for the death bug unaware
that she is waiting for the death bug. She is bored.
Her life remains a trick she’ll double dare,
like life did her, presenting her the gourd
of plenty when she asked it for a sword.
She had wanted war, a war to make things right.
War came and went and though her throat felt tight
she can’t remember details like who won.
She is waiting. Will the death bug come tonight?
She does not know what they’ve agreed upon.

Note: Catherine Darc, whose initials became in the late 20th Century synonymous with electronically stored music, was in her lifetime (early 15th Century) a non-celebrity.

Here I am imagining for her that she lived a long, peaceful life while hankering for the passion, armed conflict and bright, gaudy fame that was the lot of her sister Jehanne (Joan of Arc).

Renege: A Story

He’s a renegade, it says so on his Jeep.
He’s a man reflective as fluorescent paint.
He’s proud of what he has: the talk, the walk,
the replica hair-shirt that a drunken saint
gave him one time for a cocktail and a song.
Reneging not an everyday complaint
in his world, he is flabbergasted when
she stops, says going further is a sin.

He says they both aren’t married any more
than when he’d said ‘Outside’ and she had smiled
and followed him from Tucson to the sea.
‘I thought you were a priest, then, one who whiled
away his inter-sacramental hours
enjoying beauty: temples, birdsong, me.’
‘I am,’ he said, ‘both priest and renegade,
but neither knows what motivation made

me speak to you in Tucson. Was I bored?
Were spirits from a bottle in my blood?
There is something in your beauty I adored
when I had feelings, and an ancient flood
of what you call emotion made me call
the first word out that came to me. That’s good.
Analysis prevents me, quieter days,
from any action. Can this be a phase?’

‘An undertaking, while the undertaker
still disappoints by hovering offstage?’
she asks, and sitting up, moves feet away.
‘You hanker for me, but I’m half your age,
and you were born already twice that old.
Perhaps I am the ink set on the page
and spine of books you substitute for life.’
But you, not I, said No.’ ‘Don’t twist the knife

I handed you,’ he importunes. She laughs
and moving further off, she cries, and stands.
And he stands too, relieved, again alone
inside his thoughts, until one of them hands
him what she wishes he would call emotion,
as he listens to receding angel bands
and knows the moment thought about has passed,
and that soulless resurrections cannot last.

At Sea in Dreamland

These two squirrels are the size of squirrels. I find that strange.
Shep, my dog, is too big for the door
and I stand half a metre high, if that.
We’re off the windward side of Reason aboard a barge
of a houseboat with a rain-ruined squirrel as lookout
and another at the power-steering helm.
Shep barks and growls. He’s drenched and wants inside.
The tea things tumble from a pitching table.
A houseboat is not yar when it’s not home.
A klaxon awoogas! It’s time to relieve the watch.
Will I be lookout or hang ten on the rudder?
I hear a roaring surf. This won’t end well.

A White Russian Christmas

I know, when I see the white cattle egrets
tending the late December fields,
grazing like guinea fowl, gyring like gulls.

I know, when the rains drive straight across,
rinsing blood from the memories,
drenching the log where I cut back thorns
to sit and watch the birds and rains.

Behind the cattle egrets, red broad cows
stand down the horizon,
russet frames for miniatures
of empty portraits in the sky.

Portraits as troubling and graciously vague
as those of long-dead grandsons made
on future daughters by drunken soldiers
killed before next payday.

I know, but know a little rinsing
will irritate me more than cure:
the welcome of an opened door
spoiled by anxious questions.

The red cows turn their horns toward me.
Thorns fragile enough to break
on my finger’s bone, but not before,
slash back at my knife and hand.

– – + + + – – –

I let myself inside the field.
The grass, felt-pressed by sheep,
springs up around my ancient boots
mimicking marches I remember.

Marches like those being made
in Grozny on this Boxing Day
where the only wholly silence is
that of the usually vocal West.

The evil empire bombs soldiers
drunk on ‘kill the infidel,’
a draught drunk in our daughters’ blood
for so many aeons that we are glad

when an empire somewhere draws the line,
then bombs those transfixed on that line flat.
Recording both sides’ transgressions,
gods wish each side good genocide.

I walk the fields the sheep have grazed
and clean my boots in welcome rain.
I thank the gods for Gore-Tex
and pretend to hunt the cattle egrets.

Somethings

The peroxide-blonde possum looks alien strange
but she says with the passing of the seasons she’ll change
into something, into something we know of.

She grins like a fool and wears styrofoam horns
that she picked from the litter thrown down from a dorm
like they’re something, a valuable something.

She climbs down the locust tree avoiding the thorns
and follows me home watching out for loose dogs
that hunt something, and to them she’s a something.

I put a bowl down on my porch and we share my Mac meal.
She eats like a starveling with tales to conceal
about something, a frightening something.

I ask her no questions, she tells me no lies.
I give her the rest of my milkshake and half of my fries
and we’re onto something, a companionable something.

I sit in the rocker. She sits under the swing
and we talk without words if that makes any sense
about something, a valuable something.

Then she leaves in a flash of upended blonde fur
and somewhere I guess she is half up in a tree
waiting for something, an I-don’t-know something.

Unidentified Visitor

He had a scents-of-porpoise air about him,
not fishy, really, more at like detention
halls at schools that did not have a gym.
His walk was awkward, as if he was wrenching
his way through water known for salt retention.
A Dead Sea dolphin that had been seconded
to shore duty to dry out? The last enthroned id
from Freudian literature? That would be strange.
Stranger far is why we’d left the throne lid
up, and let him loose to stride our home range.