Sunday, February 28, 2010
When did a cry of pain become the word,
or shout of joy proclaim a hunter's name?
To mimic bird or animal with dance
and song, came long before those constant signs
were formed with breath and tongue as human speech.
But who decreed which grunt or scream should mean
hunger, thirst or water and mouth that feasts
on grubbed root, berry or fresh slaughtered beasts?
Pointing, touching and vocalising formed
a little stock of sounds for the leader
to impose a lexicon on his band:
the wind, the rain, the sun and moon became
magical sounds and gestures of the hand,
signs that could conjure up what was not there,
and so bestow the wisdom to deceive,
that devious basis of shamanic power.
And those who could not learn remained dumb beasts
to be shuffled off to low servitude.
Mayhap some babbling child became a fool
until grown savant, broke a tribal rule
of silence and became a talking clown,
tolerated by his small mob as mad
but good to laugh at for a half chewed bone,
but then cast out to wander off alone.
In some chilly cave, gorged on mushroom tart,
our sage may have beheld some shining god,
bearing the gifts of poesy and song
and, inspired, rushed back to the little throng
to share with them his new found powers of speech.
risking all on performance of his art,
there to be driven out by shaking spears
or to be welcomed home with grateful tears.
When the world had grown rich with spoken words,
and wise shamans had moved from songs to signs
those queer lines pressed on clay or carved on bones
appeared as sacred writ on standing stones:
secret language known only to a few,
preserved the power of scribes and priest who knew
that meaning carved on obelisks or tombs
would outlast mortal flesh from royal wombs.
Writing became the new game of power:
drawing contracts for pots of oil and grain
was all the same to the assiduous scribe,
but laws and speeches of great princes called
for subtler minds who weighed the loss or gain
that might hang upon the right turn of phrase
to calm an angry mob that could erase
a century of plutocratic ease.
Then libraries and scriptoria came,
where silence ruled and masters of the scrolls
accumulated works by men of fame,
and preserved the ruler's laws and decrees.
Knowledge, stored up like sacks of grain, became
the aim, attracting wandering scholars who,
by degrees, established their own schools too,
each with its rites and most peculiar rules.
The heaped up mountains of subtle doctrine
caused an avalanche of violent strife,
when youth, intelligence and beauty clashed
with desert troglodytes who'd tired of life.
The monotheists could not tolerate
so many contradictory points of view,
they sliced the font of learning to the bone
and set alight her seat of learning too.
Now safely in the care of monks and priests
the words basked in bold illumination,
scripted on white calf skin by fish stained hands
amid arabesques of red, green and gold,
God's glory was revealed to western lands,
until German monks and printers unleashed,
on rag paper, a leaden storm of words
set to be read by draper or great lords.
Once set free, to roam university
or private hall, the political tract
or scientific fact, laid plain and bare
the corruption or scandalous affair
of corpulent king or venal patrician,
seemed to pave the way to freedom for all,
but soon led to the gibbet or the noose,
once the dogs of law and order were let loose.
The need for lexicography was seen,
by Dr Johnson, then Noah Webster too,
who sensed the time had come ponder on
all the English words that had ever been.
Imprisoned at last in leather binding,
the word-hoard was finally brought to book,
so to find a word's accepted meaning
the curious scholar had not far to look.
The wordsmith jerks the strings of memory,
a clumsy puppeteer who mimics life,
but poets know that words must represent
the world of sensual play before the sign
can intervene and kill each pleasant state,
dreams or sublime feelings of joy or strife.
The art commands each desiccated word
to bathe in life's fountain and re-hydrate.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
A lonely ape sat on the highest rock,
beneath the circling stars and wondered why,
but then forgot what it was that moved him
to emit the dreadful cry that echoed
down the chasms beneath the darkening sky.
At rivers end there is no rhythmic sea,
just a muddy hole bounded by salt marsh
where thirsty beasts huddle in steaming mire
and baleful raptors circle patiently,
waiting for one to stumble and expire.
The city's glittering organ pipes rise up,
self reflecting in narcissistic prayer,
they sing silently of wealth and power,
swaying a foot or two in mourning air,
to Mammon's strains of infinite despair.
Red, green and amber, the congregation's
conga snakes below, exhaling foul airs.
Within, the informatics screens glow blue,
counting up the souls of commodities,
in mockery of ozone's failing hue.
High in the boardroom the ape screams again,
feeling the vertigo of falling stocks
as pain, but conquers fear with bonus plans.
Beyond, the desert and the mountains wear
that calm expression that was always there.
Monday, February 22, 2010
She will not reveal her identity,
or show her face to a curious world,
except for a brief glimpse, in a mirror
or a fragmented image here and there.
The lone suitor must prowl among the trees,
praying for a flash of bright clothing that
would signify his prey is moving near,
gracefully on foot or astride her horse.
Lying in wait, telephoto lens bared,
a sudden crunch of gravel and white flash
flushes him from his hide as Mercedes
clad, she wings by to some assignation.
Darkness falls, and worried night-jars chatter;
the stars peep out, soon to be covered by
moonlit clouds drifting over chimney pots,
where a few lights gleam behind ancient glass.
Waking to dawn's fog filtered misery,
a car door clunks and the house doors bang shut,
too late for even the slightest glimpse of
his elusive quarry who remains discrete.
Where the noble cheek and the merry eye
that struck the errant heart with deadly fire?
That convex geometry of beauty glimpsed
but once must now remain a mystery.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Living within the riotous realm of flesh
we forget duties owed to gravity,
until we stumble and fall to soft earth,
or sharp flinty ground, unexpectedly.
Even within our own teeming city,
our rule is slight, where breath and beating heart,
autonomous and true, make us forget
that their feigned allegiance is fleeting too.
Each motion of limbs seems to follow will,
another name for doing what seems right,
in seeking to satisfy appetite
and dark desiring of the inner ghost.
All our senses tell us in unison:
'this is real, this is you, they are other,
total strangers, outside your city gates,
not to be admitted, at least not yet'.
What goes on within is more alien
than those companions of our social life;
fellow images on our inner screens
where life's dark drama flickers fitfully.
Geometries of plants and animals
speak convincingly of law and design
but beneath all flows an endless river
of seething chaos so much more malign.
Our weighty substance is forged from pleasure
and increasing pains: the I is dancing
alone in delusion's bright theatre,
treading its treacherous, subconscious boards.
And when the curtain's drawn, sleep lulls us too
into some nebulous remembrance of
a world that never was and cannot be
those unknown canyons of reality.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The future is a doorway with no door
and the present a room where no waiting
is possible, unless it is the last
room, hospital ward or mortuary.
Of course, it might not be a room at all:
a pavement, hard and cold upon the cheek,
a patch of damp grass, bedewed by morning,
or a sandy beach with driftwood and shells,
a library, perhaps, sudden collapse,
from a chair or through an open window,
falling, half surprised by quick gravity.
Not now, no, never now but later on,
when there has been some warning of the end,
an announcement of probability.
Meanwhile, pass again through all those old doors
preserved in memory: Doors to those rooms
with their promises of desires fulfilled
or sanctuaries from danger or despair.
Wander alone in deserted mansions,
among the dusty splendour of lost lives,
or sit here and now in life's anteroom.
Monday, February 1, 2010
The avenue of oleanders ran
from the hollow of the suburban sprawls
to the gum tree lined road which once began
as forest track between the rocky walls
of a much eroded volcanic range.
A sea rose bound path of shady bushes
rose in stately clumps of gothic foliage
waving in the breeze like giant rushes
as bloomed on attic shores in Hero's Age,
those blossoms clutched in drowned Leander's hand.
Glorious masses of flowers pink and red
lifted the spirits of kids off to school,
gave joy to lovers with blooms overhead,
soon to be downcast by a Council rule,
writ by fools in antipodean Thule.
Foreign, toxic, too fatal to allow,
oleander was added to the list
of dangerous pests that councils must not grow
in public parks or nooks where lovers tryst:
and the order was given, "root them out".
Brown stubbled gnomes in green livery came
quickly with chain saws, spades and loam filler,
and slashed down the blooming lot with no shame,
gouged out roots or sprayed them with weed killer,
and planted the native lilly pilly.
Now order has been restored to nature
and insurance companies' fears assuaged
we must wait some years for lilly's stature
to rival oleander's when she's aged:
vain hope for such a vapid little bush.
A few green shoots of oleander thrust
up hopefully from the earth after rain,
fatal signals to those who feel they must
with diligent hate mow them down again:
beauty sacrificed to bureaucracy.