Thursday, December 31, 2009

Foolish Wine

When the fool begins to play the lover 
the wiser fool's the fooler of another:
none other than his wiser muse amused
who delights in the foolish fool abused.
A muse provokes the poet when she's mute
her fingers toying with her unstrung lute,
as passions fruit hangs heavy on the vine,
the press of love is filled with foolish wine.
Speak, from the belly of your instrument,
let us hear the depths of your heart's intent,
beat upon the frets of passion's rhythm,
stir up foolish hearts and all  those with them
who cast wit aside in passion's favour;
foolish wines breathe the most heady flavour. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Out of this now rises that future when
this now becomes the shadow we call then,
a conundrum in the clay of being
smeared by time and moulded into meaning.

Within each now a world is built anew,
complete, entirely in itself a view
of that ego striving and remaking
heart-beaten paths between now and dying

Images, sounds and sense rise up to make
a dazzling panoply, just for the sake
of preserving that teeming bag of skin
and wayward journey to that carnal sin.

Yearning nomads on the road to nowhere
we monads flee the here and now to where
our gonads lead us on a merry chase
to that inner land, our most happy place.

Words rise unbidden and conjoin to form
those chains of meaning that define the norm
by which we know the world is what it seems
and not some supernatural land of dreams.

Words rattle on the ear like passing trains,
riding rails of discourse forged in our brains,
towards destinations not of our choice
determined by some dark, unconscious voice.

The distant now that was our beginning
marked in units of our planet's spinning
will become the bookend of our season
and, between, a book that had no reason.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Lady Earth

Our Lady Gaia
hallowed be thy name,
may your reign continue
and your ways remain the same
in Heaven as they have always been.
Give us our daily sustenance
and forgive our transgressions
as we must forgive yours against us
and lead us not into unreason
but deliver us from ignorance.

Our Mistress, and only home
foundation of our being,
protect us with your breath
from the wrath of your Master,
round whose awful fires you dance and turn,
who fecundates your body from afar.
Between the circuits of Venus and Mars
you blindly follow him, your shining Sun
among those distant and too many stars
turning slowly in spirals of despair.

We, your youngest children, are myriad,
our small fires burn away your precious breath,
mingling your life inseparably with ours,
tiny stars we blaze and quickly fade
but together feed insatiably
upon your withered breasts.
In your youth, you spawned monsters,
now petrified or burning on our pyres,
and the trillion eyes of the smallest things
that watch your skies, not knowing hope.

Obedient to your voracious laws
we have lusted and consumed your wealth,
enjoyed your bounteous ease of youth,
and suffered from your moody ways,
the pains of drought  and joys of better days.
Gaia, always fickle and inventive
we must now face your mindless enmity
your finest progeny cast out
as you endlessly create anew,
blindly shuffling your genetic cards.

When our last wanderer sinks down,
exhausted from your cloudy temper,
and mingles with your teeming soil,
who then will praise your cornucopia?
Millennia, aeons must pass away
before new sentient progeny
could rise triumphant from your hardy womb,
and notice that the rocks bear faint traces
of our kind, who share what we call the mind.
How long would you allow them to endure?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Behind the mask the supreme egoist
flaunts himself upon the stage of comic art,
no crimes too great to shuffle off with wit
are absent from his merry masquerade.

Childish fingers grip the dripping wafers,
melted ice-cream running down upraised arms:
the mothers lift the smallest up to see
the ire that reigns within the human heart.

Crouched down within the red-striped canvas stage
the Professor jerks the loggerheads around
to the squawking sound of his swazzling reed,
while seagulls feed on scraps upon the ground.

What journeys the hunchback has undergone,
since his surprising birth from Zeus's thigh,
from Greece, through Rome and France to his new home,
washed up and confined on England's windy shores.

Mean, vicious and crafty, Pulcinello
struts, hunched over, with timid Cockerel step,
pretending to be stupid, but clutching
a club behind his back, ready to strike.

Nose nearly touching chin, he talks without
pausing, his rictus grin beguiles the crowd,
who cheer his escapades and sympathise
with his vicissitudes and suffering.

The ancient plot has been transformed by time
and place, where clown tries to befriend Toby
the dog, who bites Punch on the nose and old
Scaramouche beats Punch until Punch fights back.

And so it goes, with endless violence
our hero murders wife and child, doctor,
constable and even the hangman too
when they try to bring our hero to justice.

Every man and woman looks on, knowing
in their hearts that the cruel blows rained down
on Punch's crooked back will be answered
ten fold by the undefeated peasant clown.

What better education for the child,
as foil to mild doctrines of religion,
than the knock-about fun of Punch and Judy
that tells the awful truth of human life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Aaron could see from the window monitor that the Earth had shrunk to a grey dot, set in a black sea punctuated by glistening stars. The biggest shock, though, was the overpowering brilliance of the sun, electronically muted to protect the eyes of the travellers. Born after the destruction of the old atmosphere he had never seen the Sun before, except as a brighter patch in the daytime sky. The Moon and the stars were no longer visible beneath the dense clouds that now wreathed the Earth. Everything was grey and gloomy, but often punctuated by violent storms that lit up the clouds from beneath as the torrents of rain washed everything away but the giant cities of the survivors and the matted forests in which they were embedded.

When the blue ticket had been delivered by special courier from the Retirement Commission it had been a shock: fifty-seven was hardly old, even in the long established pyramid of Citadel Nine. He had heard about the great ships that left on a regular basis, but had taken little notice except when one of his colleagues had been summoned. Dora, his wife, had been shocked of course, and had hardly stopped weeping since the truth of their separation had sunk in. He had tried to explain that it was a necessary service to society, like the colonists on Mars who could never return, but they both knew the voyage on the black ship had a quite different purpose.

The lottery was fair, or so he believed, a privilege really in recognition of his public service. As a physicist, he had been involved in the fusion breakthrough that had replaced the nuclear plants that powered the pyramids. This had made life much more secure and had delivered virtually unlimited power to safeguard the Citadel against external attack and for all their economic needs. The population was relatively small compared with those who had been abandoned to the wastelands. All the food had to be grown hydroponically inside the vast structure, for nothing useful could live beyond its artificial borders.

 The price for the continued existence of the community was strict economic control of all resources, including the population. There was a quota for children, and this was allocated without the possibility of appeal. For those not on the register, sterilisation was mandatory. The old idea of reproductive rights to satisfy individual needs was no longer possible and had passed out of social consciousness. Dora had been granted one child, but he had recently migrated to Citadel five, on the American continent, a much larger unit that provided more opportunities for the young than the European Citadels. There was even talk of reclaiming land for agriculture in the more favourable areas, but there were no such plans for Europe, much of which had suffered nuclear pollution from the rush for energy solutions. Solar power had quickly become useless as the cloud cover became permanent, turning the planet into another Venus.

The number of travellers was not widely publicised, and he guessed it varied each year according to the managed birth and death rates. Age was a factor, because no one under forty was included in the lottery, unless they requested it. He thought it might be around one thousand, out of a population of roughly a million housed inside the pyramid. There were a few scientific and military outposts dotted through the forests but these would have numbered no more than a few tens of thousands.

The popular story, learned in childhood, was that travellers would be sent to colonise the new planet that had entered the solar system just over a hundred years ago. It had been named Valhalla, presumably because the Earth's population was entering the last days of the great civilisation that had been destroyed by the unstoppable progress of climate change. Images from satellites had shown a completely black planet about the size of Mercury that barely reflected any sunlight.

 He had been about twelve years old when news of the planet's approach through the Oort cloud had filtered through from the dying satellites. The energy wars were in full swing, including tactical nuclear exchanges in the Middle East. Miraculously, all out war had been avoided, but the vast displacement of populations had led to the breakdown of all but the pockets of civilisation that had erected the energy pyramids. It had been a time of great uncertainty, as to whether they could be completed and secured before the starving hordes succumbed to the hostile environment outside. The sieges had lasted for many years, in dying waves of hopeless struggle between the powerless masses of outsiders and the military organisation of the pyramid dwellers. Eventually, nothing remained outside but the ugly tangle of vegetation that had adapted to the ruined atmosphere and the burning temperatures beneath the roiling clouds.

The chosen ones were not allowed to congregate in large numbers, but there had been a celebration of about twenty of the travellers in his sector of the Citadel. They had been given special presents for their families and granted permission to move freely about the pyramid for a few weeks, the nearest thing to a holiday that was on offer in the work orientated community. There had been some muted discussion of what it all meant, and even attempts at jocularity, but the end result was a cloud of worry and depression once the party was over. He had been given a bottle of tranquillisers, but threw them away, deciding it would be cowardly to use them.

A short week later he was lining up at the vast dome, beneath the sinister bulk of the transporter that would take them on 'holiday' to Valhalla. Saying goodbye to Dora was the worst part, but half his mind was focussed on his own fate in the darkness of space, where the black planet had stabilised some fifty million miles beyond Jupiter. As a scientist, he could not remain unexcited about actually passing near Jupiter, a sight that only the travellers got to see. This, he supposed, was what much of the fuss was about. They were going into a heavenly region that might even hold out the prospect of a better life: nobody knew but the travellers who had gone before them on the robot guided vessel that would return to Earth after they had disembarked for Valhalla.

After a long ride on the motorised pavement, they had been herded into elevators by uniformed monitors, and whisked upwards into the belly of the Leviathan at frightening speed. Instructed by small drones they were guided into their seats in pods of twenty. Soft music played all the while and quite luxurious refreshments were freely available. The interior was otherwise Spartan, but well furnished with monitors showing the world outside the transporter. Some of the travellers conversed with each other, while others maintained a gloomy silence: Aaron, too, remained subdued.

There was a knot in his stomach as the robot voices issued endless instructions about the rigours of take-off and the pleasant flight thereafter. He knew a bit about the electromagnetic pulse engines, because they worked on similar principles to the plasma bottles he had designed for the artificial suns that powered the pyramids. Enormous repulsive power would build up and hurl the giant ship into the clouds at around nine Gs. Some of the passengers would not survive such strains, but that hardly seemed to matter. Maybe he would be one of the lucky one to go early.

The take-off was more terrifying than he had imagined, but the interior magnetic fields were used to cushion the enormous G forces. In less that five minutes, they were above the cloud cover and exposed to the light of the Sun, at least via the wrap around monitor that gave the impression that they were completely exposed to the airless space outside. The nearest drone explained that he could turn off the monitor if he wished, and ride in the muted darkness of the pod, but the view was too exciting to waste cowering in fear. The experience of the traveller was indeed a privilege and a wonder beyond belief, after years of confinement inside the utilitarian environment of the pyramid. He thought of Dora weeping below, but there was nothing he could do but participate in the experience until the end.

The journey was a long one; even with the ion drive speed of some two million kilometres an hour Aaron knew it would take about twenty-five days to reach Jupiter and several days after that to Valhalla. The majesty of the stars was incredible, but the human mind soon tires of even the most magnificent experiences. Staring at stars, however bright, soon palls, especially when faced with the dangers of the unknown. The in-flight entertainment was extensive, ranging from a wealth of programs about astronomy, pure science and the arts to pornography. Needless to say Aaron avoided the latter as quite inappropriate to the seriousness of the voyage. Then there was sleep, aided by a selection of psychotropic drugs that promised thrilling experiences that had never been available in the Citadel. Morality, it seemed, was an earthbound constraint, which did not apply to the travellers, who were being invited to indulge in all manner of hedonism.

He reflected a little on the huge cost of the enterprise and its utter uselessness to the community trapped below. Perhaps it was the kind of hope that religionists had indulged in before the collapse of the old world. As a scientist, he had little sympathy with delusions of longevity, let alone immortality. His satisfaction had come from serving the community and the aesthetic delights of scientific discovery. Still, there seemed no reason now not to enjoy what delights were on offer on this unique journey into the unknown. He could see from their expressions that many of his fellow travellers were partaking of the multitude of delights on offer, and he gradually succumbed to the sybaritic life-style that seemed to be expected of him.

The days passed quickly, once he had become accustomed to the cycle of drugged sleep and the intensely pleasurable experiences available through a combination of electronic stimulation and drugs. When the finally reached Jupiter, the giant planet loomed with awe inspiring power in the monitors, rivalling anything he had experienced before. It remained in view for several days as they flew past the ever-changing panorama of the biggest weather system in the Solar system. The four great moons provided some further distractions until the great planet shrank in size as they moved swiftly to the far side. He had seen many astronomical images before but never with such intensity, and it was with a sense of foreboding that he realised his journey was nearly over.

The deceleration could be felt as a continual force as they approached Valhalla. His first view of the planet was in some ways more frightening than Jupiter, perhaps because they were much closer as the great ship sought out a stable orbit. The planet appeared smooth and featureless, and very, very black. The robots began to twitter information about what was to happen next. He was amazed to hear that they would be actually landing on the planet, not in the transporter but in the pods, which would be detached from the mother ship. He could hardly believe it, but what else did he expect.

As they moved closer to the planet, mysterious geometrical features began to appear on the dark surface, which could not possibly have been natural rock formations. The detail increased until the landscape seemed to be some kind of complex artefact, which reminded him of the old printed circuit boards that had once been used in computers. The robots began issuing instructions in earnest now, warning about the discomforts that might be experienced as the fifty or so pods detached from the mother ship. With little time to prepare, he felt the sudden surge as the pod was ejected and saw in the still active monitor that he was among a regular formation of glistening pods showering down towards the blackness of the surface.

The fall towards the surface was terrifying but exhilarating, and his hopes soared when the monitors began to display what appeared to be vast cities below the falling craft. It was all there, the advanced society that men had always dreamed about, perfect in every detail, the glistening buildings that must contain countless millions of settlers from the once fertile Earth. He understood the secrecy now. It would have been very unsettling for the majority on Earth to know of this far flung Utopia, the finest achievement of a race almost doomed to extinction by its rapacious way of life.

The pods slowed in unison now, as they approached a vast landing ground upon which many vehicles moved about their daily business. Aaron realised that the surface was deliberately black to maximise the absorption of radiation from the distant sun. It was all too amazing to take in, and he gasped in wonder at the scale of the achievement by the tiny, vulnerable creature that was man. He felt a twinge of sadness that Dora could not be here to share this moment of surprise and triumph.

The long-range cameras on the mother ship recorded the succession of flashes as the pods struck the barren surface of the planet, proof that another mission had been successfully accomplished. The Retirement Commission registers would be updated when the data reached Earth and any pensions due to relatives credited to their accounts. The dream of a new Earth and a new life was kept alive, and unrest quelled for the time being. The public relations division would celebrate with a modest party to mark the success of another mission to the dark planet.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Restless Dust

To speak or remain silent is a choice
that we can make, but not to stay the mind
behind the restless words; thought, spoken or
set down, is a more stringent discipline.
To ignore or be deaf to unwelcome
news is a choice that suits our purpose best,
when mind will not be still at our command.

The impulses of mind are never still,
but flash and scintillate unseen behind
the dull screen of habitual response.
In sleep, the music continues to play,
albeit in quiet whispers, rustling through
old leaves, fallen memories of past lives
real or imagined, rolling stones in streams

Layer on layer of semblances and signs
are sifted and arranged into the past,
discarded or held ready for fresh use
when light and sound stream in through tiny gates
with the endless question, is this a new
configuration or is it déjà vu,
or maybe unreliable memory?

The wind that is not restless is no wind
at all, but an improbable average
of air's gasses in equilibrium,
its motion independent of all sound
until mouths and ears make their messages
heard above the atmosphere's unceasing roar,
adding meaning where there was none before.

How calm the seas would be without the winds
to stir the surface into waves and spume,
like the mind endlessly disturbed by sense
to respond with motions in its defence
against real or imagined enemies,
or seek out ways to preserve the idea
that the cacophony it knows is real.

Deep beneath the earth, massive changes ebb
and flow, fissures form and mountains slowly
grow, unnoticed until the sudden strain
tears earth, sea and sky into a new Hell
for the tiny creatures scurrying below:
and in the brain, the subterranean
forces slumber, until they burst out too.

The Sun, so calm from where we stand, is the
paradigm of violent motion, restless
in its fearsome grandeur, implacable
in its burning majesty, so that we,
insignificant children of the stars
seem just like ephemeral motes of dust
rising and falling in a fading beam.