Monday, November 9, 2009

Shiny Things

It is the shiny things that fascinate
the childish eye and guide the questing hands
to satisfy what the brain calls its mind,
but after all those soft, round things have been
withdrawn, and their comforts replaced by pain,
the search begins of that other domain
that yields and resists our fondest desires.

The pin that pricks, the spark that burns, the eye
that gleams bright, but must not be poked or picked,
and a thousand more forbidden delights
that tease and beguile: the mysterious smile
behind the jewelled mask of cruel life;
the splinter and the knife, the broken glass,
the bruises and abrasions on soft flesh.

Before the metals were released by fire,
hands scuttled in the deep to claw the eye
from the musty oyster's shell, and delving
in stygian caves found specks of silver
or crystals of amethyst: beckoning
sirens to the desiring eye, seeking
its delight in the tiny and the bright.

Small accumulations of shells and beads,
feathers and nicely coloured seeds became
property and wealth, that foundation stone
of society that marks out the strong
from the weak and the angry from the meek.
Adorned in the glittering and the rare,
mankind's chieftains showed off their shiny ware.

Sharing the women out was hard enough
but how to deal with all that other stuff,
and the envious glances of the rivals
goaded by their ambitious sons and wives?
A few judicious gifts to the strongest,
or marriages to their fairest daughters
restored equity and balanced power.

Greed and envy gave way to kings and laws,
to divide by force of arms what was theirs
and yours, thus government evolved from strife
and conflict over ownerships of things,
including slaves and wives who did the work,
setting the owners free to contemplate
and enjoy all the finer things of life.

Luxury and uxorious delight
soon supplemented hunting animals
and men, but conspicuous consumption
attracted savage hordes, eager for their
share of booty, so warfare and great wealth
joined forces to defend their shiny piles
of gold and ornamented concubines.

Civilisations rose and fell, leaving
behind the detritus of their shining
past: piles of gold and trinkets to their gods
sank into the mud, overgrown by trees
or washed away by rivers and the flood:
their patient resurrection, piece by piece,
reveals lives of the wealthy steeped in blood.

Palaces and cathedrals rose and fell,
crammed full with all the finest works of art,
statuary, tapestries and murals
delight the eye with paintings, furniture
and jewels by Tiffany and Faberge:
soon enough dispersed by war and plunder
as the poor rise up and cannons thunder.

With peace, the houses of the bourgeoisie
were stuffed with every good and bric-a-brac
that took the fancy of idle housewives:
pearls for girls and fob-watches for the men,
pianos and gramophones with gold needles,
fancy mirrors, and silver tableware
jostled with candlesticks and gaudy clocks.

The engines of production, once let loose,
deluged the markets of the world with goods,
demanding ceaseless toil from lesser souls
and enslaving the wealthy with more goals
to possess the shiniest and the best
of everything avarice could digest.

Now cathedrals arise in every town,
as fast as fields are cleared and trees cut down:
glittering walls of glass contain boutiques
with the latest electronic trinkets,
winking with knowing eyes they speak in tongues
of endless plenty for all with credit
not yet exhausted by the quickening race.

Outside the stars are dimmed by human lights;
glittering towers reaching to greater heights,
dwarf the humbler joys of the simpler life:
a frosty morning with a million webs
adorned with dew, or snowflakes softly falling
on the hyacinth, just peeping through the
last vestiges of dark untrammelled earth.

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