THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE
Sitting once in a very studious posture
and henceforth falling into the clutches of melancholy
I assumed the role of concubine to the empress. How many hours
went by until the pigeons left the roof of the den I cannot tell
but procrastinating ill becomes me as it transpires
so let's get on and get this over with.
With my paper before me
I began composition of a song to be uttered in perfect solitude
at times of extreme distress. But distress in the world must be
leavened by humour, to which end a buffoon enters stage right
carrying with some difficulty a baby elephant which then explodes,
covering rows A to F in blood and guts and umbrella stands.
My pen in my ear
seems to have caused a slight infection which in turn
has led to 85 per cent deafness on that side. When Penelope comes
into the story in Act XIV Scene VIII her diatribe is unreliable
because I couldn't hear clearly but the general drift is pretty clear:
she's pissed off about what happened to the bag of sparrows.
My elbow on the table
would not be surprising but the absence of arm is alarming. Every
artist has an intention concealed somewhere about their person
and in this half-light it will take you a more than usually long time
to find mine. Issues that confront the ordinary person
are no concern of your author, which is a clue.
And my cheek on my hand
reminds me at the end of life of my hand on Penelope's cheek
under the drooping eaves of the drying house. Always
the sound of workmen working disturbs the quiet hours I needed
to write down what I thought about everything
so perhaps what I offer you now is ill-considered and imperfect.
A village without a church of its own
belonging to the
parish of another village or town.
My heart is inhabited by some brand of snow fox
but I don't think animals care who they live with
so long as food and drink and absence of cruelty
is the deal. Sunshine seems to be as much like
a fiddler's music as anything else, and when
the owls I bought yesterday afternoon have found
their wings it'll be pretty much business as usual:
entrancing girls will be welcome but won't come.
Fortune, as much a fiend as a vixen, or so I've learned
from my inextensive and inexhaustive researches,
goes round and around in circles or egg-shapes
and everything turns out pear-shaped, which is curiously
interesting, don't you think? The bear just shipped in
from perhaps the Himalayan foothills (I don't know)
is finding his way around:
I wish he wouldn't eat the books;
I wish he wouldn't ravish the slavey;
I wish he wouldn't do anything.
Conflicting accounts of what I just wrote are coming in:
(shall we rest for a while
and listen to a Sting record?
Oh okay, fair enough.)
some people hold
that while Ophelia is sprawled bawling
at the bottom of the stairs I'm the psychoanalyst
who doesn't give a damn about how she feels; others
contend that what I saw I only think I saw and what I said
I didn't really mean when I said it. Well, Horatio,
there's a damn sight more to this than meets the eye;
at least, that's what I think I've come to believe.
THE NEXT TIME YOU WRITE A LIST POEM
1. (Found Poem from Various Sources)
I've forgotten how to play the violin,
how to scrape and abrade
and how from that scraping and abrading
draw moments of beauty and delight
or sadness and longing or
the sound of a cat in its death throes.
And I've forgotten the method you taught me
of retaining essence of rainbow into old age;
this forgetting occurred as the music slowly disappeared
down the drain into the sewers and far out to sea.
I've forgotten how to fly;
my wings are turned to stone.
I've forgotten what to do with all these mirrors.
I've forgotten that dragons are the new unicorns
and serpents are as trustworthy as most men.
I forget what I learned about how to tell the difference
between a kingdom close at hand
and distant realms of the imagination.
I've forgotten all about etiquette and decorum
and who to love and who to stay away from.
I've forgotten so much,
even how to say what one so desperately wants to say,
even what one wants to say.
2. (To a Gentleman Rumoured to
be a Horse Thief)
The next time you write a list poem
that sounds like one of my list poems
please put my name at the bottom of it. Thank you.
I think all sources should be acknowledged like
when a river begins to flow and it can't be stopped
like a mouth that can't be closed or an avalanche
that can't be outrun. I know those are bad whatyamacalls
but I'm trying to be original. Sometimes don't you think
mere disgrace is a bad idea and a hot iron on the rump
more a suitable weapon of choice for people
who don't really fit anywhere?
Society pisses me off and solitude
both enforced and adopted seems these days to be
a more comfortable way of life. There are between
no and two people I can comfortably live with now
and in their absence I have some spare chairs
and room in my bed for impossible imaginary friends.
I know this chunk doesn't really fit here but
there's nowhere else for it to go.
The next time you write a list poem
that sounds as if I wrote it then threw it away
please put a footnote at the bottom of the page
with my name and address and phone number
so people can call me and see if I'm still alive
and not been replaced by a machine. I think
all imitations should be acknowledged and
the only thing stopping me from naming names is
discretion. Sometimes don't you think a new career
would be better than continuing a mere scrivener?
I've often thought that restraint is an undervalued
grace. Anyway, thank you for your time. I know you
are busy with dictionaries and photocopiers and the like.
Nothing's realistic, especially reality,
so as the winged pig pokes its head out
of the corrugated cardboard crate you keep it in
and takes a look around at the junked vans
by the side of the junked river
and asks in its winsome yet whining way
how come there ain't no sunshine since you been gone baby
the assumption is that words of wisdom may yet fall
out of the tree we planted a hundred years ago
but what worries me is the way in which
nothing seems to be quite as it used to be.
in the good old days a dreadful monster called Beowulf lived in the sea
and came up out of the sea and ate everybody it bumped into at the mall
until Robin Hood came along and gave it some chewing gum and it choked
because it wasn't used to chewing it always simply swallowed whole
and in other old days when men wore armour to keep brains and balls safe
chain mail was delivered twice a day but just once on Sundays
they cut down endless mountains to build those impregnable aqueducts
and invented the gentle art of jousting because chess is rather boring
then in yet another history time when Queen George the Innumerable
ruled over United Britain in the time of The Age Of Irrationality
the theatre such as it was was full of sex and violence and popcorn
and it wasn't safe to go out on the street either before or after dark
and there are endless examples like these, demonstrating how
things changed between the time we decided which boat to catch
and when we drove out to the harbour in our donkey cart.
And I know what you're thinking. I know what you're going to say.
That I broke the solemn oath sworn upon the sacred stone so long ago.
That I abandoned you to the Fates.
That when you woke up this morning the Bird of Bounty
I brought home yesterday evening had turned into an oaken chest
within which ancient documents proved I was not of an old family
but only recently cobbled together out of bits of string, wire
and old batteries. Eyes of glass from broken bottles.
Come on. Catch up.
You can find my autobiography online if you look hard enough.
And history is written by the people who win.
Who's writing this?