Wednesday, 23 January 2013

On the Intractability of Things

On a summer morning before eight
The sun may be shining, the kitchen
   Table warm, your mail already
      Delivered – so what? Stupid

With sleep you are furious – the bread
Won’t fit in the toaster and like a
   Five year old you are furious.
      Gloom like a headache invades

Your skull as the insensate glut of
Things – toaster, kettle, the leaking ’fridge
   Door – mocks your bad-tempered haste. It
      Has never been otherwise –

Always the miles gloriosus,
Man with his brainbox and two strong arms
   Embracing the stage of Event,
      Has torn the curtains or slashed

His ankle with his swollen sword. In
Phone booths a thousand coins are stuck, yet
   Purposeful in the morning light
      Production lines simmer, plans

In the office are all agog for
A fail-safe device which cannot fail.
   How galling it is that these things
      To which we gave order, for

Which we moulded strip-metal, arranged
Petro-chemicals in purities
   Of plastic, should lounge on their shelves
      In domestic aplomb. When

I pause for a second their puerile
Chorus of faint tinny sounds mocks my
   Stymied intelligence. They are
      Going to outlast me! Lost

On some dump, perhaps, but cocky with
Chrome, wire fingers raised to the air; whilst
   I, departing this life in a
      Shudder of atoms, lose hold

On the flakes of my flesh. How quickly
A silky skin lies down to folded
   Defeat! No one is lucky; those
      Who inhabit a ripe old

Age, nursing grand thoughts and adequate
Limbs, are as doomed as the runt who, pushed
   Into clerking and furnished rooms,
      Howls and dies of despair. Flesh

Takes its own turnings; no struggles with
Breakfast gadgets will divert its rage
   To dissolve in the mudflats of
      Matter. It is, after all,

Our most intractable creation.
Deep in the frothy crock of my brain
   Electrical charges stutter;
      My hand goes grey like a cloud.

© January 1982


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

"Achilles Slew Hector"

Achilles slew Hector,
Exultant on the blood-dark plain.
He held the lifeless form in his hand,
Baring his teeth to the sky.
Afterwards he ate.
      Men fight. They gather the harvest.

The sun burned bronze in a molten sky.
Men stooped as if to listen to the whispers of corn;
But the scorch of their hands
And ache of their backs were no joke:
The King’s champion rode slowly by.
      Men fight. They gather the harvest.

The women bewailed their shattered men,
Bathing wounds with cries by the water’s edge.
Blood mixed with dust and spirit with air.
The long wait began, and for the wounded
The helpless offer of food and drink.
      Men fight. They gather the harvest.

In a determined, roaring line
The combine harvesters process the land.
The work is unceasing, although
At a sudden report and a noise overhead
Eyes turn to the horizon, training like guns.
      Men fight. They gather the harvest.

Lord of benediction, of the calm face of waters,
What is to be said of the interminable
Passions of men? When I think on it now,
Of the gigantic fury of Achilles, I am thrilled:
Come. Offer me the offering of the bread and the wine.
      Men fight. They gather the harvest.

© October 1979


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Cuckoo

The days relaxing in a smile
Bring to the nervous and the cold
Who stumble on in single file
   The respite of the sun;
The missiles nestling in the wold
Gleam freshly in the morning dew
And, much more deadly than a gun,
Are used to prove a point of view.
   The people as they walk
   Do not indulge in talk.
   Sing cuckoo.

Industrial heartlands after rain
Sink slowly in the evening light,
A watchman makes his rounds again
   But does not really care;
In offices where men are tight
The cards are cut in hopeless hope,
A sales rep mutters, “Do I dare?”
The Sales Director, “Can I cope?”
   The ice that’s in the gin
   Makes a nervous brittle din.
   Sing cuckoo.

A courting couple in the wood
Sat down upon a fallen tree,
Discussed the nature of the good
   While sitting eye to eye;
An ancient woman suddenly
Leapt up and shook her angry head;
She said, “The children always die
And there’s no talking to the dead.
   The fledgling in its nest
   Knows a single, brutal best.”
   Sing cuckoo.

The moralist at work upon
The outline of his latest book
Was pleased to write “Eleison,”
   To which he signed his name;
After a time he chanced to look
Up at a mirror on the wall
As someone somewhere whispered, “Shame!”
Across his forehead, writ in gall,
   Was, “Thinker, dare you say
   What you saw upon the way?”
   Sing cuckoo.

A lonely cottage on a moor
Was inundated by the spring
Which scattered roses round the door
   And cuffed them in the wind;
An old man started muttering
And turned to face the morning sun:
Who was guilty? Who had sinned?
Who the sacrificial one?
   “Lord, save me,” is what he said,
   “From the acid in my head.”
   Sing cuckoo. Sing.

© August 1980