Thursday, November 17, 2011
lead to the power of that female smile,
a bow that only callow youth can wield
on bloody battle fields of life and love.
The timid glance but growing confidence
of secret joys projected from within
fall suddenly like blossoms in the spring
raining down upon unsuspecting hearts.
Keen arrows pierce the ageing predator
and sting alive forgotten memories
of love stumbling helpless among the thorns
following then fleeing the longed for prey.
The mask of beauty briefly donned and then
replaced by irresistible desires,
the mouth pulled down with each sore panting breath
and urgent cries of love’s insistent song
Riding on the breeze the new butterfly
flashes ephemeral beauty on the world
knowing nothing of its brief span of life
it seeks out the perfumed path of its fate.
And so the woman child smiles at the world
not knowing the force of her fateful glance
so careless of the fires she may ignite
in sun parched hearts it falls across by chance.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
would not allow curvaceous joys to show,
although the jasmine thighs of Josephine
unlocked your dancing feet and a made you smile.
Slowly, with grim intent, your world had formed
in solitude, the storms of war shut out,
where nature’s wayward forms were brought in line
with cubic lore and space that was deformed.
In Paris, abstraction was all the rage,
the cafés blazing with artistic thought,
and rhythmic beats of Jazz upon the stage
where Louis blew and sang through strong, white teeth.
In La Rue du Départ, beneath the moon
wind precisely the tension on the spring,
place a shiny disk on the gramophone,
lie down and listen to your angels sing.
The horizon bore down upon the sea
seen through vertical lines of worn out piers,
half remembered from childhood’s waking dream,
distilled with tears to a philosophy.
Where shall they lie upon the pristine plane,
the horizontals and the verticals,
the width of every black, defining line
a question fit to drive a man insane.
Poverty, frugality, lack of success,
a daily blight upon the iron will,
transformed by habit and that careful dress
the aesthete forced his life into Der Stijl.
The list of friends grew long with loneliness
so neatly written down in books of notes,
a careful piling up of signs and words
undistinguished by woman’s fond caress.
The atelier long brought to order,
a work of art and tight conformity,
abandoned as Huns massed on the border
packed up, a refugee upon the sea.
Heavenly sight of towers seen through the mist,
safe haven for those who love the height
of vibrant streets arranged upon a grid
with neon lights and dancing through the night.
Refreshed by friendship and a studio
the black lines gave way to flowing yellow
bands of red and blue, like a radio
blaring visions of songs he loved and knew.
Now, at journey’s end, the culmination
of his art passed on the torch of freedom
to a younger nation of hopes and dreams
a keen vision more complex than it seems.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
when shadows of the past collect in pools
of memory, where lost loved ones cluster
clamouring for their share of living warmth,
clustered at the door jamb or window pane.
Running home, the children flee the grey cloak
of year’s eventide, when the black sow comes,
snuffling and squealing from each bush or tree,
learning the meaning of that mortal fear
that lies pushed out of sight by young and old.
Once, fishermen knelt in the flooding tide
and made offerings of ale to Poseidon,
master of the storm whose season had come,
praying for a fruitful catch in the year
just begun, and protection from the sea.
But fire and merriment outdid their fears
as chiefs and local kings gathered to drink
and feast the fateful evening to its end,
and herald the coming of the new year,
when bonfires would blaze briefly on the hills.
Candles, those symbols of the soul, flared bright
as processions of the faithful passed by
the windows of the fearful safe inside,
but soon devils came knocking on the door
demanding payment of cakes or sweetmeats.
The fear of death now generally allayed,
we sit content before our blazing screens,
quite unafraid of the year's dark season,
happy remembering ancestral fears
as entertainment and the joy of youth,
yet knowing that the month of blood will come.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Dr Norbert Martensen looked up at the faded copy of the periodic table pinned to the corkboard in his study. It had once adorned his bedroom wall when, as a struggling young chemist, he worked his way through college in the early sixties. The world had seemed simpler then, perhaps because the Cold War had stiffened the sinews of the nation into it’s preferred attitude of striving against a powerful adversary and toiling assiduously to create a better world.
He had been in the vanguard of the post war scientific and technological revolution, despising the sideshow of sex, drugs and rock and roll. His indulgence hadn’t extended beyond some furtive gropings with his wife to be, albeit to the civilised beat of the Modern Jazz Quartet. He had been a clean cut, reliable young man, dressed in polo necked sweater, crepe soled shoes and the kind of dark rimmed glasses worn by Nixon’s German advisor. A Nobel Prize had not been beyond all hope then.
Measured by the conservative yardsticks of business and government, Norbert’s life had been a success. Materially he was quite well off, even in early retirement, though his health was none too good. Alone now, childless, his wife dead three years in the fall, he went over in his mind what he had to do.
Uneasy with unemployment, following his forced redundancy from the secret laboratories of the Department of Defence, he had sought work with the State Government. Despite his impressive credentials, he could only get a part-time job as a chemical safety inspector. He didn’t care about the low pay and was happy enough to get out of the house for a few hours each week, ensuring that his fellow citizens were not being poisoned or blown up by the industrial hazards that threaten the inhabitants of any big city.
The redundancy had interrupted his research, which was abandoned as unfruitful after he left, his two assistants being redeployed to more relevant work elsewhere. Over the years, his interests had gradually moved from inorganic chemistry to the chemistry of the brain.
The secrets of controlling human beings (whether criminals, foreign armies or the unemployed) lay there.
During the Vietnam War, he had worked at Monsanto, but was soon assigned permanently to the DoD. He had become deeply involved with herbicidal and ant-personnel agents, particularly Agent Orange. His interest in biochemistry arose from his work trying to prove that dioxin was not harmful to humans. This question assumed increasing importance when claims were made that it was responsible for deformities in the children of US war veterans as well as countless children in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Everyone knew by now that the effects were catastrophic, but official lies had to be maintained to minimise the cost to the taxpayer and preserve the image of a humane Government.
Norbert knew, from his own research with veterans and field trips to Cambodia and Vietnam, the deadly rains of Agent Orange had permanently damaged the genes of the victims. Succeeding generations without end would suffer horrible deformities with no hope of medical aid or compensation. A third of Vietnam and huge areas of Cambodia had been sprayed and dumps of Agent Orange were still seeping into village water supplies, carrying on the deadly war long after the Americans invaders had been hurled ignominiously into the South China Sea.
He could not simply absolve himself from all this, even though he had been completely innocent of any deadly intent at the time. He had just been one man in a vast network of organisations, dedicated to protecting American interests and keeping the Communist menace at bay. It was impossible to wage wars without victims and wars were often unavoidable if enemies were intent on doing America harm.
His career had provided a prosperous life and a good pension but he was willing to testify
on behalf of US Veterans or the Vietnamese victims if it would redress the awful harm that had been done. The chemical companies had made some small restitution but the Government was largely immune from prosecution. He suspected it was his willingness to testify against the authorities that had hastened his redundancy.
Something more effective than admission of guilt and compensation was required. Something that would not only inflict retribution on the agencies concerned but would prevent a future recurrence of such tragedies. His own penance would take the form of altruistic revenge, even at the risk of imprisonment for life.
After his wife’s death, he had converted the back of the house into a makeshift laboratory. There were experiments he dare not conduct at the Department’s labs. He had worked on human subjects there, lifers from military and civilian jails. The effects of chemical and biological agents on combatants required such sacrifices of otherwise useless lives. He had become fascinated with the simpler behaviour of chimpanzees, which had also been used for military experiments.
He could not afford to acquire such rare animals for his own lab but had to be content with their brains, after they had died in the Government Lab. He had been fortunate enough to get hold of the brains of a couple of bonobo, a rare protected species only recently discovered. He had become fascinated why the behaviour of the bonobo differed so markedly from its human cousins and that of Pan Satyrus, the common chimpanzee.
The bonobo were cooperative and highly socialised but Pan Satyrus was highly aggressive, the males often murdering the offspring of their rivals. This behaviour might be a learned cultural pattern but was more likely to be the result of different brain chemistry. After years of work and considerable expense, Norbert found there was a difference in the chemical balance of the brains and, surprisingly, had been able to demonstrate his theory.
He had managed to synthesise a pink bromine-like liquid, which vapourised around fifteen degrees Celsius. When exposed to the gas his rats had behaved like the bonobo, but to an extreme degree. They copulated in a frenzy without regard to gender until they became too exhausted to continue. After a short rest, they resumed until death ensued. The remarkable thing was, that a single exposure seemed to cause a permanent change to the rats’ brains a fact confirmed by post mortem examination.
Like any good investigator, Norbert sought an antidote to the poison he had created. This turned out to be a similar, greenish yellow liquid, produced by swapping a phosphorus atom for nitrogen. It switched off the effects of the love drug all right, but induced a deadly aggression instead. The cage was soon strewn with dead and dying bodies as internecine war between the rats broke out. The behaviour of the bonobo and the common chimpanzee had been explained.
The plan had occurred to him by accident. He had been assigned to check the safety of the municipal firework display on New Year’s Eve. It had been a simple matter for him to read up on the regulations and apply the safety rules in the field. The display had gone off without a hitch and he had been confirmed as a reliable member of the Safety Directorate.
Most of his time on the job was taken up with routine testing of effluent and chasing up illegal dumping of chemical wastes. June turned into July and he was assigned the task of policing the massive firework display that was to be installed along Constitutional Avenue and other venues in the Capital. It was the President’s second term and no expense had been spared to mark the occasion with a spectacular display.
After the first display, he had taken an interest in the construction of fireworks and the chemicals used to produce the variety of effects, particularly the shells and their many kinds of payloads. There were palms, which curved downwards like the tree, rings of stars, roundels of maroons, chrysanthemums and many more. It was a lot of fun making prototypes and testing them along the quieter reaches of the Potomac. He got caught once, but his official inspector’s pass got him out of trouble.
Two big shells sat on the bench in the garage, ready to load into the blue panel van. He had bought professional fireworks, replacing the payloads with glass vials containing the pink and yellow liquids. He’d made some careful calculations to insure the vials would fracture at the right height. The prevailing wind would be blowing from the basin, with any luck and would carry the gas to its target.
When darkness fell, he suffered a mixture of excitement and terror. He was a man of science, not a man of action. He procrastinated over a cup of coffee before going down to the garage and loading the shells into the back of the van. He drove to his chosen site, south of the Ellipse, and parked the van. When he got out, he saw the operators were already busy checking their racks and testing the wires that communicated with fire control. They waved their acknowledgment that he was on the job and let him get on with his cursory inspection. It was a simple matter to unwire the big cylinders he had identified on the display plan provided by the Directorate and substitute his own modified shells. After he had finished inspecting the rest of the network of racks and fixed displays
He found the supervisor and issued a safety certificate. The rest was in the hands of the gods so he went home to watch the display on TV. He settled down with a beer and activated the remote. Most channels were showing parades from all round the nation. After a few more beers the enormity of his action Dawned on him, he felt depressed and on tenterhooks. He wondered, perhaps hoped, that it would fail and that the shells would explode harmlessly. Even if it did work, the presidential party might not come outside to watch the display. He wasn’t too worried about this. The cameras were waiting on the White House lawn and the lure of publicity was more than political blood could stand.
He sat through endless parades, beamed to his lounge from all over the nation; marching bands, miles of flags, twirling batons and the shapely thighs from Americas finest young womanhood. At last, the studio cut to Washington and dwelt lovingly on the national icons of the capital. The commentator filled in while the telephoto lenses tried to pick up the slightest movement behind the elegant windows of the White House.
The firework display began and the French doors opened to reveal a couple of sharply dressed goons. When they thought the coast was clear, they stood aside for the presidential party to emerge. The President came out first, followed by his wife and family. The dog was not with them presumably it was being kept away from the noise of the fireworks. The Secretary of State followed, then the Secretary of Defence, The Chiefs of Staff, The Security adviser and many more. The expensive dresses of the women folk made a fine display against the dark suits of the men. They chatted gracefully to each other, sipped champagne and looked dutifully into the sky. After a few massive bursts of light, their reserve soon turned into childish delight.
For what seemed like hours, the sky was torn asunder by an accelerating holocaust of sound and light, a truly grand finale to the glorious Fourth and tribute to the pyrotechnician’s art.
The display drew to its climax with the big maroons going off with a terrifying noise, causing some of the guests to duck involuntarily for cover. The penultimate shell was Quiet by comparison and was a bit of a damp squib, but the cloud of pink gas descended on the company as planned. Nothing much happened and some of the party turned to leave, coughing discretely as the gas tickled their throats. Some official seemed to be apologising to the President but he broke off suddenly to remove his trousers.
Before the G-Men could find anything to shoot at, they lost interest in killing and made straight for the nearest animal in skirts. Some guests seemed unaffected at first but it wasn’t long before the lawn was crawling with half naked bodies, grappling with each other in the quest for instant relief. Some fell back momentarily satisfied but were impelled to hurl themselves back into the fray. The cameramen abandoned their posts to join in but the studio soon cut the feed and struggled to explain what their viewers had just witnessed. No-one watching TV saw the final shell explode. There were only a few pathetic survivors still alive when the security forces arrived to clean up the mess, who either flung their arms round their rescuers or tried to murder them with tooth and nail.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The one who never sleeps can never wake
but must forever wait for the dreamer
to pull down a bright cloud of consciousness
into the deep void of insensate dread,
and dream of the conductor of lost souls,
that dark psychopomp, Ibis headed god
or swift messenger, flying from the heights
into the abyss of eternal sleep.
Unborn he rules alone, between all that
lies above him and all that lies below,
but she, pregnant with possibility,
squats ubiquitous, ready to conceive
from every seed that falls from weeping moon
or virile sun into her moist darkness.
No monster is too foul to call her own
or goddess too fair to rival her power.
Two conjoined, but forever separate,
begat a third, unrivalled in beauty
and fecundity, from their roiling seas,
to make substantial all the forms of life,
but only in the darkness of their dream,
for the garden of the goddess is lost,
spinning in the void, bounded and finite
among the fiery hells of burning stars.
Desiring to be her consort the first
becomes the fourth, ruler of her domain,
Emperor and lawgiver, unrivalled
among her creatures that think themselves real,
but remain expelled from the true darkness
of unbeing, caught in the delusion
of the cubic throne and bound to obey
the arbitrary rules rules of time and space.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
In imitating God’s long winded hand
the sinuous Quranic script takes wind
on sand as paradigm for truth and wit:
but life’s impermanence embedded there
leaves hoped for heavens nowhere to be found.
Those born into the faith must long in vain
for lost oases with cool waving palms,
displaced by rearing towers of steel and glass
thrown up by potentates grown fat with oil,
and foreign slaves who toil within their thrall.
One son born into this oppressive clan
was dutiful in studies and devout
but, while fortunate in wealth and power,
dissented in his heart and drifted far
from his family’s involvement with the west.
His world of minarets and ritual
now left for barren wastes of rock and sand,
low murmuring of women by water
in cool courtyards of decorated tile
abandoned for coarse cloth and jogging mules.
The bad breath and crooked smiles of his men,
dark eyes gleaming by the fire with God’s wrath,
revealing burning coals of hate within,
fed by left slanted verses, memorised
in boyhood and digested with each bow.
Now, the mountains rise, forbidding of life,
demonstrating the smallness of man’s dreams
and his pitiful span of life and hope,
brief shelter from Satan’s all seeing eyes
until the bane of aery fires rains down.
The only path between two living hells:
the gleaming luxury of worldly wealth,
or some soulless toil within Satan’s mills
was to restore the twin temples of God
in the land of his nurture and his birth.
But first, tear down the twin towers of Satan,
they said, with rising fervour round their fires,
use your wealth and influence with men
to capture and guide his soaring eagles
and dash them burning into his proud den.
And so God’s will came to pass, as it must,
mysterious in consequence, by stealth
the fires of Hell rose up from out the dust
and ravaged all the lands of faithful men
in Mammon’s name and lust for power and wealth.
Wraith like and hollow eyed the Prophet’s man
wandered in barren lands, beset by pain
and doubt, loved by some reviled by many,
knowing the ever testing hand of God
would lead him at last to His paradise.
Meanwhile, a sojourn in some doleful place,
would have to do while further plans were made
to rouse the world from sinful slumbering
and false enjoyment of a failing world,
mired in material faith and godless strife.
Such vain thoughts of glory were soon cut short,
by treachery and bureaucratic thought,
when Satan’s dogs did their master’s bidding,
intruding on his brief domestic bliss
administered the fruits of Judas’ kiss.
Now the right hand of God writes on the waves
another windy tale of hate and death,
and far beneath the pale faced Prophet lies,
perhaps dreaming of a better life, lived
again, but next time not so much in vain.
Friday, February 18, 2011
The child’s eye lights upon a dragonfly,
following the play of light and shadow
along the wayward, darting path of life’s
ephemeral and urgent search for joy.
Tiny prey swarm among the swaying reeds,
dancing above the gently flowing stream,
but the one who sees without yet knowing
lies naked on the pure white river sand.
Only a myopic microcosm
has opened here, a perfect realm balanced
upon the gleaming wings of summer’s world,
crowned by yellow Iris and celandine.
Below, the dancing stickleback flashes
fire and gleams, hoping to lure his drab mate
into a fishy nest of love and dreams,
beneath two tall shadows in human form.
The day wears away into memory
a lost tapestry wrought with the Devil’s
Needle, flashing bright on the wings of truth,
a single joy among the world’s false fruits.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The night is dark and I am small
but tall enough to stand
next to my father’s case,
battered leather, brown,
in the crowded corridor.
My mother is sitting down,
in fur trimmed hat,
on matriarchal luggage,
grey imitation crocodile,
its belly pregnant with camisoles,
sponge bags and old towels.
My childish world that day
a swaying cacophony
of piled up kit bags
and bracing legs,
wearing khaki or navy blue
and the Few
displaying stripes or wings,
Brylcreme boys in lighter hue.
Outside the window,
cinders spark and flash
with that funny smell
of burning coke and ash
that invokes the sound and fury of
Behemoth striding through the night,
on a working holiday from Hell.
In compartment and corridor
the dolorous air is full of smoke:
the stench of Woodbines,
Players and Craven-A combines
with the rank perspiration
of other ranks,
seeping from serge uniforms
and woollen socks,
brown or grey,
darned in desperation
by yearning wives,
inured to loss and separation,
ground down by force of habit
turning factory wheels
and keeping home fires bright.
The night is warm:
the window’s leather tongue
lolls out long, swaying,
buttoned down for ventilation,
a breath of air refreshing
the Victorian dream,
preserved for each new generation
of travellers in the age of steam.
Nose pressed to the window,
I see the repeating shadows
of the latticed bridges, black
telegraph poles and trees;
red and green eyes burning,
signals raised and lowered by
invisible hands and ties pulling levers
in windowed boxes along the track.
On the horizon Bessemers roar,
licking at the purple sky;
flaming desperation of a nation
facing sure defeat in war
or, maybe, the elation
of unexpected victory.
the Plough turns the celestial sod
about the ill-lit maypole,
a vacant carousel
without its rider god.
In glimmering cities light fingers
reach out in vain,
feeling for the throbbing aeroplane,
bearing incendiaries to rain
down fire on the Co-Op
courtesy of Heinkel
or Messers Smith and Co,
whistling into mean streets below,
and allotments (to maim
the odd marrow or geranium)
where stirrup pumps and red buckets
stand ready to dump cold water
on German ire and magnesium.
Underfoot the floor bucks and clacks
to the unwritten song of the railway tracks.
Sleeping heads loll and jerk,
Pontoon players brag and smirk,
knee to knee over yesterday’s daily rag,
dusted with droppings from a drooping fag.
Doors slide open and slam,
bodies squeeze and cram
in urgent procession
to the lavatory pan
or distant dining car.
A woman stoops and spits
into her handkerchief and,
with a toil worn hand,
wipes away the smutty smears,
puffed out from iron lungs by straining gears
and blown through the window where I stand.
On towards the North
the iron charivari rides,
shattering the silence of the night,
through England’s craggy spine
and lonely valleys striding forth
along the trans-Pennine line,
into the grey glimmer of first light.
From battered Crewe to Manchester,
Wigan, Huddersfield and Bradford,
the LMS express drags its motley load
into the industrial fields of grimy Leeds
where barrage balloons hang out,
hawsers dangling overhead,
angling nightly for a German scout.
Slowing before the destination,
we wait while the lights are red.
Ghostly figures loiter in the siding
beneath the curving iron shed
or lurk within the murky station,
shunting coal tenders up ahead.
Within the train, sleepers wake,
yawning, stretching, standing,
dragging luggage from the rack,
the weary throng prepares to disembark.
Couplings jerk and clang
and with a last triumphant shriek
and bang the monster comes to rest,
disgorging smoke and oily reek.
Windows crash down:
weary arms reach out,
dangling hands grope
for brass handles;
doors fly open and idly swing,
releasing the damned
from their mobile purgatory
into the Yorkshire morning.
Sixty years after, in my brain,
the travelling ghosts alight again
from their journey into night.
But none remain to haunt me now,
lost riders on that ghostly train.