Wednesday, October 20, 2010

402. Major the Honourable P. Arker

Four miles over the thing
the road begins, complaisant, lovely
just what you'd expect. When I look I see nothing
and everything, kaleidolly, scopically, slotting
bangles and hairworn twisted tangles
into dust. I must be brave. I can only save
some, not many; perhaps, I think,
not any, as the rivers race down to the sea.
I could have been happy, you know, as these things go,
in Middleton Park, 28,  just down the row,
happily coming home for tea
with my mad mother, my distanced father,
books in the library and a bit of cricket
on bumpy greens with a snarling yeomanry.
When I hit my ball through your window, darling,
did you hold it in a lewd lascivious way, thinking
Omigod I can carry on from this. When I had to piss
in the trenches (the War), booting aside the bodies,
I never thought of that, I thought of kidney pies
and roast pork and crackling. My mouth positively
watering with the thought of everything but you.
It's true you stood beside me on the hustings,
leatherlunged, God Bless You, in the khaki election
and I was so happy. Alive, like, after the war.
I'm so awfully sorry I had to murder you, doll,
but you were becoming such a pain and you wouldn't listen
so with a wink and a nod the lads did you in
and I attached myself to Churchill, the coming man,
and with my red-rimmed eyes and hoarse croaky voice
he believed every thing I told him. This radar, I said,
is a waste of time, and don't send boats to Dunkirk.
Bombing Germany is total nonsense, Winnie you berk,
and tell the bloody Yanks to back off, stay home.
I managed to extend the war by two or three years.
Later, when I was running my high-class nightclub
between several bombed-out buildings down in Soho
the girls would come screaming for champagne, naturally,
and so we'd give them shaken Algerian fizz. In this way
we set the taste for the next three generations. 
Later still, when I was elevated to the House of Lords,
I voted against everything, we always did on principle,
and had a charming pied a terre in nearby Pimlico,
where, rising from bed among languorous naked bodies
I'd complain, Can't you bitches cook an English Breakfast?
Laughter. I'd knot my tie, slope down to the Allingham Café
for bangers and mash, bacon, toast and railway tea.
And this is how I ruled Britain for the next twenty years.
Bring back hanging! I became peculiar and more dangerous
and was incarcerated off in the wilds of Walthamstow
not far from the High Street pub called the "Victoria"
where I'd appear on gala nights in tutu and lace stockings
because I knew the manager and they couldn't fence me in.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

401. Auden Reads Robertson Davies

In darkness, deep complexity,
dots of light and understanding
shine amid perplexity.

Words are not mere signifiers
for untold millions of civilians.

No, they act as signal fires,
calling, reassuring, reaching down

into shared uncertainty,
(born too late or born too soon)
deep in the human cocoon.

400. Moscow Ballet: 1917 (rewritten as a Rainis Sonnet)

This poem was rewritten in collaboration with Tony of Poetry Magnum Opus who introduced me to the form and came up with two alternate versions; he also contributed the final killer couplet!

Lithe and willowy, the sad-eyed soubrette
retreats from stares. Her alabaster lips
seal in cares she cannot speak of yet,
her gliding young body sways and dips.

Hidden are the yellow rotting fangs
brought on by war. In art she can forget
for passing moments her hunger pangs.

Grace under pressure by a crushed coquette,
foreshadow years of Soviet roulette.


Rainis Sonnet is a short meditation. Whether or not it is a true sonnet is up for debate. It is a lyrical meditation with a turn or volta, however it is shorter than the usual quatorzain of the sonnet. It is named for the Latvian philosopher and poet Janis Rainis (1868-1929)

Rainis Sonnet is:

1. written in 9 lines made up of a quatrain, followed by a tercet ending with a couplet.
2. metered, primarily iambic pentameter.
3. rhymed, turned on only 3 rhymes. Rhyme scheme abab (cbc or cac) and (aa or bb or cc).
4. written with the epiphany arriving in the tercet.

(with thanks to our very own Tink of PMO!)

Original version:

Young and willowy, the sad young soubrette
retreats from glances; she cannot say, not yet,
anything from behind her closed alabaster lips
as her body sways and moves, glides and dips.

Those lips press over stunted decaying yellow fangs
that all young Russians possess, from hunger pangs
brought on by poverty, despair, and this dreadful war
and they do not, cannot, understand what life is for.

Yet in moments of beauty and stylish grace
attention turns from a suffering face.

399. in a field of sorrow fling your medals at flying birds

Three-sevenths of my precious world
is under water, no longer responding to signals,
desparate signals, sent out by a mind, a brain,
itself water-logged, now somewhat clogged
by thoughts. O God, thoughts! Them things.

I recall an old newsreel, possibly from the BBC,
some hesitant bloke at the top of the Eiffel Tower,
strapped into homemade wings, his own invention,
hoping against hope he can fly. He stands thinking
much like me: I will, I won't. I must, I can't.

In late August at the Berghof, 1939,
an angry roiling sky of purple, green, azure, pink
confronts Herr Hitler and his retinue
on the very day the Soviet pact is signed
and they stand and look, appalled: this means
death and rivers of blood cries a Hungarian lady:
Was muss sein muss sein, barks a rattled Fuehrer,
thinking men, not the gods, control destiny.

Our man on the Eiffel Tower pauses  ... now he jumps!
He drops like a stone, a few moments for final thoughts,
maybe like Hitler. Sense of the end before the sickening SPLAT.
Expectation can make cowards of us all.
We do many things we do not want to, do not have to do
out of pride, out of the shame of turning back,
often out of the fear of being seen to turn back.
It is a feature of the weak to carry through with their convictions.

In the face of much misery and boredom there may be love
for the lucky few: there are times, my dear, when it seems
that the world passes by in a great parade, a rigoumalade
of kings and emperors, ticker-tapes for heroes, marching soldiers
and blasting bands and bunting, wild and waving cheering crowds.
It is never a bad thing to have a holiday: elections and wars
in their starting and in their ending seem to fill the streets
with non-involved citizens in an excess of emotion, an expression
of their national, safely removed, detached and private feeling.

Coming back from the war, this left me reeling.
I was unimpressed. I think this is true for all temporary soldiers.

I thought I might find some private paradise
between your thighs, heaving and groaning with gasping sighs,
but found instead your face and eyes, and something else.
When we visit Paris, long after this, our splendid honeymoon,
I shall not jump off the Eiffel Tower, with or without wings.
I shall do nothing to displease you, love, unless my love
you hold my hand. So easy then to jump together.

398. Anno Dom

O God, O God, O God,
get your blessed head out of the clouds
and look down here below, or else
give a final dumb paternal nod
to idiots speaking in Your Name!

Hindus and Muslims share the blame
of birth, brought up outside the empire
of our great cathedrals: here the stamp of grandeur
establishes holiness, in a place where shame
is thrown upon women, upon the weak,

and with contempt: the dark thick mud of centuries,
the long long generations of living in darkness.
But suddenly, O, such soaring music!

We are told to turn the other cheek
but never do. We engage in warfare,
unceasingly, with better and better weapons,
pretend all the while we are mild and meek,
kill people in their thousands.