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Letters of Blood and other works in English

Göran Printz-Påhlson

Letters of Blood: Poems


Texte intégral

The Green-Ey’d Monster

1I She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d,
and I lov’d her that she did pity them.

2II As if our hands, our sides,voices, and minds,
had been incorporate.

3III In thy dumb action will be as perfect
As begging hermits in their holy prayers.

I. The Mezzotint

4Imagine a picture.

5In an English countryhouse, Salop. or Derbyshire, Essex or Sussex possibly, upstairs in the gallery, to the left, between hunting engravings by Weenix and a sketch by Gainsbourough, ‘Lady in the wood with two Pomeranians,’ a mezzotint, of negligible artistic merit. You pass through the darkening galleries, at dusk, past modest rows of arms and armor, whispering sallet, greaves, ambrace, gauntlet, quarrel, snaphance. The print is there but impinged upon, by the house, by the windy park outside, the cawing of the rooks, it is a mezzotint, 15 by 10 inches, black frame, (illegible) sculpsit, scoured, harrowed by the hand, manière noire or English manner. It is the picture of a house, a manor-house, Salop. or Derbyshire possibly, not this manor-house, but similar. The pseudo-Grecian porticos, the mansard-windows closed.

6But one casement-window stands, to the left, in the moonlight, slightly open.

7But this is not the picture. The picture was painted by the dark-eyed interloper, vendor of plaster figurines, wares of Autolycos, free ladrone/improvisatore who, after having inveigled into the arms and favors of a hapless (downstairs) maid, having access to the kitchens and the larder, just had escaped though that window, facing woods and dark oblivion.

8The picture is of an Italian villa on the bleak Dalmatian shore, a
woman (his sister)
in the foreground, vacantly regarding
the iron billows of the Adriatic waters,
leaning on the gray granite, hands clasped
behind her, dreaming
of the handsome
giaour corsair,
mustachioed, with cone-tipped hat and puttees
who killed her parents, raped her, abducted
her young brother for a ransom and left him
on an islet, for dead (shades of Böcklin!). She does not know
her brother has recovered, discovered and abandoned
painting, in Germany, Westphalia, where now
his masterpiece is housed in Folkwang, Hagen, and
at this very moment (when? time is indeterminate)
escaping through a window in Salop. (or Essex) with
four shillings sixpence and a half-eaten
leg of mutton, buttoning up his trouser flap.

9But this is not the picture.
The picture is being painted far inside
the gray granite at a time indeterminate, by a
magician, some poor relation of Sarastro,
who in peaked turban and wide, star-spangled cloak (some soup stains)
is called to Frederick Barbarossa in the mountain.
He is now preparing, for the Eighth Centenary of Old Redbeard, a mandala
of Oriental opulence and splendor
straddling the world.

10But this is not the picture.
The hardly perceptible spot (minestrone?) on the golden
turtle’s shell, just beneath the Eastern
foot of the blue elephant:
a speck:
this is the starship U.S.S. Enterprise bringing a suspect
mimeobionic, infraquarcine, microplane android artist to Starfleet
Headquarters for questioning
by the Galactic Council.
His crime is Re-Creation of the Past,
and palinpoietic activities are, as every callow space cadet will know,
by Eternal Life.
In six days he divided
light and darkness, sky and water,
named the turtle and the elephant,
built the granite, cooked the soup and spilled it
and raped the maiden,
spending the seventh wandering down the dusky galleries, whispering
intercalary, astrolabe, Sidereal, diapason, equinox, in that manor-house in Essex (or Salop.)
But this is still not the picture.


11O precise pleasures of pedantry, ineluctable
routines of the imagination! It is the
sensuousness of the commonplace that breeds
philately, curling, Culbertson bridge
rather than ghosts;
yarrows talk auguries
ouija confidences
and orifices.

12Indeed, this has nothing whatsoever to do with
the picture.
Imagine a child, lying in bed wide awake in the whey-
coloured light, looking
at the rustic tapestry, counting
the tines of the antlers of the heraldic stag emerging from the
woods, surrounded by does and fawns,
or seeing faces of people, to be met in life or not
in the russet damp-stains
on the ceiling, or thinking of
the frightening figure who has just disappeared from
the mezzotint, leaving the window ajar
with a dead child in its fleshless arms,
or of the little boy who decided to
stay in the walled in, wainscoted bed of the old, old
grandparents while the house
crackles with fire,
going behind the fusty draperies, into the pickled air of old age
as if into an upstairs gallery,
soup, sun, morning, prayer, breakfast, embrace;

13Or imagine two lovers who have long since ceased to talk
to one another, or who will go on talking to them-
selves, whispering
quarrel, gauntlet, equinox, soon, same, graves.

14This is the same picture, the same
darkness scratched from the dry copper plate.

15Every conversation is inbetween these two,
not between the maiden and her ravisher, nor the child
and God, nor the artist and his shrunken world.

II.A. The Conversation: An Ode


  • 1 A magician and a sorceress vie in single combat. The transformations begin. He tests his weapon. (I (...)

16So she says: “The lambent disguise of my future employer
is the case in point.”
And he would say: “The cruelest enemy
to my face in town.
And I wander. endlessly forlorn, evading
the obvious recompense
of the peat turf of my childhood.
Then I was an Irishman of the mind
relaying quarrelsome


17murders in contumaciam. Remember?
And I revere actors like John Qualen, Andy Devine,
and pity poets (like the imitators of Frank
O’Hara who invariably refer to The
Cinema. Which is, after all but a poor
substitute for Nature) Where Wordsworth
would have hissed along the polished ice,
or else, ‘cut across the reflex of a star’,
benignly to forfeit the movements of the ruse,


18naturally, she goes, where existence,
a mandible, belatedly, of Science,
chewing the fat with who knows how
numinous and tuberous a crowd,
laughs, uproariously, at an opportunity of health
and variously dastard mulch, foresworn
in innumerably wicked ways
to what I call in lucid moments
despicably voracious happiness.


19That is how we have it plastered, friend;
(and do not spurn that sobriquet!)
Maranatha admen split our world in twain,
and for two short years I skated down the wold,
sequacious to reason and to my eye;
how much I loved you and how much
foray I rapaciously bestowed upon myself
is quite beyond the point and
ludicrously connected with other questions.”


20“May this aduncity suffice; let foregone conclusions
in antres vast beteach the adumbrations
of the bizarre bananas of intelligence,” he says,
“(indeed, as was observed by Pantagruel:
‘Que diable de langage est cecy?’)
thus, harnessing clandestine strategies,
in this world of blanc-mange,
I am looking for the crookedness,
the corners, in language and in love.’


  • 2 He resorts to anamnesis. (IIBb)

21Then he says: “I like to tell you
of Iamblichos, how he twice
stepped into a spring and twice
summoned a youth thereafter.
One with golden hair called Eros,
the other, darker, Anteros.
They clung to him like children,
like right and left.”
“Better,” she says,
“Eunapius, he told that.


22(Or else, of the leaping hare,
how she springs unto the fire,
and through it, singeing her back,
through crackling may and brambles,
emerges as she goes, with one
enormous bound, homing
to her
form, or home-hollow,
as does the poem, facing
its self-destruction, find its form,


23or, for that matter, any life or force – )”
So she adds: ‘The curls of his
beard are wet, Glaucus, and white
as gushing fountains to the sight,
but the little god Palaemon, sleeping
on a dolphin, is beardless
and suckling. The isthmos
is a recumbent demon. On the right
it has a youth, on the left are girls.


24These are two seas, fair
and quite calm. The sacrifice
is in progress. Life seems a joke,
a cruel, grim joke. You are
a laughable incident, or a terrifying
one, as you happen to be
less powerful or more powerful than some other form.
You are a comic little figure
hopping from the cradle to the grave.”


25And: “Furthermore, I don’t like irony,”
she says, “it indicates a small soul.”
“But metaphor,” he intervenes, “however
politic, never slaked a dry throat?
To enjoy Caprona’s romantic suggestions
we must have water,”
“Succotash! Cumquats!” he suddenly ejaculates,
“as W.C. Fields was, with some
justification, wont to remark.


26The gravedigger with the gravelly voice, yes,
in stronger moments I do identify
with the sage and his rage;
who, I say, is willing to look after
(all things being equal as they most decidedly are)
the casualties of verandah,
or jacaranda, elmtrees dying
in the West Country, old men flimflammed
out of their lingering lingam.


  • 3 Political solutions are tested and abandoned. (IIBd)

27Hey, you (and naturally I mean you)
greatgranddaughter to forfeits,
beldam of advice and underwear,
so you merchandised me
out of my life, inspiring
petty murders in the better circles
(how gracefully: you once gobbled it up,
not the splinter, but the whole bloody
ice-cold mirror).


28For this poor right hand of mine
is left to tyrannise upon my breast
—farouche memento of its spiel!—
simulating mascara-like
(Yeux glauques: green stalagmites of ocean floor,
verdant pools of peevish massacres)
in decking, speleologically,
with labyrinthine favors
any growth of fur one might suspect,


29as when Dolomedes, the intrepid
fisherman and skater, with coal-black
cuticle, majestically is striding cross the pond,
pushing his shadow like a wheelbarrow.
Often did I see him when a boy, on Scanian peat-pits,
contemplate his picture in acidulous dark waters,
which is a picture of some kind of quietism, no doubt,
part of my life, telling me half-truths,
which are, after all, true, too.


30How can you love a mirror-image?
How can you love anything else?
Such is the emptiness of enantiomorphs.
Is anybody happier, scanning,
radiant with sleep, time and time again,
the same hand, like a zodiac
with equal emphasis to all twelve fingers,
spelling out the alphabet of simulacra
to the biosphere? O romance


31of the gravity-defying leap when in
Stimmung belabours with might fa belle baleine
the oil-stained ocean and, emerging
al fresco and full length to view
above the eldritch image of its taunting paramour,
meets the refracting spectral gleanings of its
colloid hue; confirming thus its habit of
mating not a tergo but,
like Narcissus, frontally.


32“Jealousy is the delirium of signs,
at least according to Gilles Deleuze,” he says,
“how much more debris then in the other green-eyed
vituperative blandishments which have learned
to eat, Catullus-fashion, their own organs.
Left-handed electron meet right-
handed amino-acid: is called life,
an extension of the right hand,
like the Nuer spear.”


  • 4 She enters into eschatological detail. (IIBa)

33“I am sorry to interrupt your masturbatory fantasies:
Nuer spears indeed!” she retorts.
“May I remind you that Deleuze speaks of
aggression against the self
answer to Evans-Pritchard’s allegations)
which ensures, fastidiously
and blandly, the mere refusal of
everything. But the blunt
feeling of irreparable


34loss, the yearning for one’s lost loved ones,
the numbness of social injustice,
the irrevocable pain of past happiness
in the present; those are the real
transmigrations and not this
paltry transmogrifactioning;
for solace please reflect on how Loki
in venom-induced convulsions,
remembered the feeling


35of how to be salmon, and, sequestered
in some icy cataract,
endure the slackening of mighty
muscles, the dimming of his eye,
the loss of teeth, the shaping of his jaw
into that humiliating hook of age,
knowing that he never would reach
the looming estuary. So you never
shall, or could, catch me.”


36“It is not so much,” he says, “in personal terms
that I believe in vampires
(I’d rather believe in the pelican
whose blood siphons off to its nearest)
but the fantasies of colonialism are rife with creatures
winging the night with streaks
of darkness; an aide-mémoire
in how to use the fustian
in writing: sparingly.


37Yes, magic is equity, necromancy
national independence, autochthonomy.
My wife not a vampire, not a poor
harassed creature doomed
to terrible woe, but a splendid
woman, brave beyond belief,
patriotic in a way which has
but few peers even in the
wide history of bravery!


  • 5 Political solutions are once more abandoned for scatological detail. (IIBe)

38No wonder that she could find
a way to the battlements
mysterious to everybody else!
As she is a real woman, she is
in greater danger then ever in the
hands of Turkish ruffians.
Life-long misery and despair
must be the lot of a Christian woman.
She must be rescued – and quickly!”


39“Consider instead,” she muses dreamily,
“the pallor of the ptarmigan, or of
the streaking cotton-tail of the hare,
running errands for the shrivelled
crone. Magic is equity, yes, but milk-wise,
white as her talented hair or
the stolen sticks in her apron, insurance
against the tabernacle weight of
humdrum charity.


40“No,” she resumes, “I do not like it,
this studied innocence, this wearing
of an ‘I was a teenage werewolf’—badge
on the sleeve of a mouldy shroud.
That innocence smacks of insouciance.
Ah, this is what the poem tells you:
Can’t we get a laugh out of shroud?
She came shivering, looking for a fire
and found a dressing-gown.


  • 6 She deflects from her time loop. (IIBf)

41Instead of food, what is sent to stangers is
pictures of food, XENIA.
The hare in his cage is the prey
of the net, and he sits on his haunches
moving his forelegs a little and slowly
lifting his ears, but he also
keeps looking with both his eyes
and tries to see behind him as well,
so suspicious


42is he, and always cowering with fear;
the second hare hangs
on the bare oak tree, his belly
laid wide open and his skin
stripped off over his hind feet.
In a bed in her cottage the old woman
is dead, from hypothermia, or abdominal
cancer, or hunger: she has tried to chew
the white whittles off her firewood.”


43First now he says: “Lansdale,
CIA Intelligence officer of the Philippines,
most ingeniously used psywar methods
against the Huk insurgency:
he had his men catch a
puncture him and drain him,
hanging from a tree. The blame was then
on a local vampire, an
Like a dank breadfruit from a tree.”


44And a little further on: “My friend
who had been a naval petty officer,
told me a better story: once in
the Philippines he had done a band of Huks
a good turn. They came to him, in the evening,
saying in soft Tagalog lisp: ‘Hey, senor,’
you done us big
favor. Is there
anything we possibly
could do for you,


  • 7 Cycle completd. Hostilities resumed almost immediately. (IIBg)

45mister? Anybody we could kill
for you, a superior or sweetheart, no?’
And that really puts the lid on the question:
is not every true poem reading
like the ruined phrases of endearment
at the end of a relationship or life:
‘You are killing me, lady,’
‘My heart bleeds for you,’
and ‘Thanks for nothing, lover boy!’”

II. B. A Dream, A Memory, A Text Translated From Memory, Another Dream, Two Recursive Devices. Concluding Anecdote

a. A Dream

46In Southern Sweden where the sky is wider but the day is smaller (than in pretty parklike England) I found myself one morning at that chill hour when the owls have stopped their hooting and the birds not yet commenced their singing on a huge estate walking with my (then) love past the derelict cottages of tenant-farmers in the back of parks and gardens. A younger woman in an apron, hands akimbo looked out through the door almost rotten hanging on one hinge; over her shoulder we could see an older woman, an immensely old and shrivelled creature, born before the Flood it seemed in the absolutely bare room sitting motionless on a high stool. Her eyes were closed. A voice, belonging to neither of them, was saying:

Gack till de nidhra tecknen
och kallom opp de undre vecken!

47which means in slightly ancient Swedish more or less: “Go to the lower signs, and let us call up the subterranean undulations.” My companion went past the younger woman and, almost gracefully, pushed the old crone over. I tried to stop her. We went out: the morning was as crisp as glass. I looked into her green eyes: the world had ended.

b. A Memory

48When my granduncle was a boy, also in Southern Sweden, he was working as a sheepherder. His dog was called Pædo. One evening, when on his way home, he met with two very small men standing by the roadside. They looked at him and said, with utmost seriousness: “Dagen är förliden och natten tillstundar,” translated: “The day has gone by, the night is nigh.” They wore peaked helmets, like Bismarck, slighty frayed. Faintly, they smelled of pickled herrings; their eyes were invisible.

c. Fulle exerptis ot the Tryal, examinynge & Executionn of ane Johanne Andirsdother, a Witch, at the Forum Judiciarum Malmogiensis, or the Assizes there, in the yere of Our Savior MDLXXXVIII, in Inglis transl

  • ITem, ye saide giudwyfe Johanne, bein arraignit at the Assizes on various Testimonies forasmuch as schee tuke in hand tae helpynge those sairelie aggreivid & sufferyng with Sicknesse and Infirmitie & prepairynge Potions & Ffiltres for thos panit by Lufe vnrequitet, wars accuseth by ane Mogins, a youngcarle, ane orra lad and a Tinkler, og maleficia, quaha wars unco inamourit of ain Judith Hansdotr, a queanie of Alberta parishe quha nae abidith him. Ye Saide Guidwyffe Johanne had gefan himm a Locke of haire in Pretense it came of the heid of saim queenie Judith, ilkamorn to mixit inta hiss bros or Denner, But (quodh hee) qervpon hee hadde Lost his Powre of Manhuid. Said mogens thervpon seekit advyce & Succor of ye Weelkennit Boye of N. Aasum, a cannie man & auld, frae quha he learnit he bee beglaumit and For spake.

  • ITem, the saide Johanne quod I was ganging furth frae markit in urbe Malmogiae in simmer at Whytesunnetide ooten East Tolbothies shee met aforesaide Mogens acomin ore a Style hee caim vp tae her an liftit her Kirtel & sark. I wars nae afered thoo he lukit ferefui an Sweety. I thocht he was oer keisty & wishedh his wille wyghed mee, awthocgh me bee ane auld carline an mawkinhaunchit. He anelie pluckit twa hairies frae me Priuadys, neer tooching mee quihim lippis afore he slenkit awa.

  • ITem, Ye Saide guidewiffe was examynid as to quaar her Maistere, war, an wyth Pilli Winkies vpon her fingers quid is greevous tortvre, an schee tolde her guidman was deid and her bairn ill an her kyne deid, & she was make and hevye sair dule wyth hirself qhen shee met ane honest, wele, elderlie man, gray bairdit, and had ane gray Coitt with Lumbart slevis of ye auld fassoun; ane pair of gray brekis and quhyte schankis gartanit abone the kne ane blak bonet on his heid cloise behind and plane befoire, with silkin laissis drawin throw the lippiis thairof; and ane quhyte wand in his hand, and ane blak buik. He said he wars the Archebiscoppe Absolon and hadde come frae his Antres or Spelunkerhame on Yvey in the loch queher he hadde bee brocht by the Elphis levande neathe the Muckle Stane near Liungby. With him hee bracht iij Servant Spiriti or Familiares, a Merle blacke wyth quhite wingis ane Mawkin, and a Blacke Puddie quho weren to serue hir ilka quhim & licke ye Priuy Parties of Her bodie. Aforesaid Johannem confessit & fylit she was conuicta et combusta fuit in Anno Dominie 1588 feftane ochtye ocht on the Mounte of Executioun at Kiersebierghedh in cruelle paine quhill she gaiv hir ghaist leafande her the iij Familiares, l:mo ye blak Merle, secondo ye Toade, Third and laist the Maukin aspringande outen the Pyre.

49Synchronicity, the me mory-trace engulfs everything, annals of suffering and effluence, focus on two discrete points of geography. Desk-memories of Mogens Madsen’s Ciceronian periods: names of Rutger MacLean, Malcolm Sinclair, frigidaire nighmares of three mercenaries burning and lost on Swedish ice; Bothwell’s trace of pacing length of table in Eric of Pomerania’s fortress: he could have seen the reek of his desire: the burning of the witch. North-facing City, sequestered like any northern town between gasworks and canals, tethered to the cemetery: child watching sky-written letter of blood across the wake of père Ubu escaping, Hamlet haggling over the price of drugs with pirates or William Burroughs. Reich, the other Wilhelm, in his Wanderjahre commuting for nine months, before rebirth. As she said, in the sweet transport of burning on Cherry Mountain, haunted by the prevenant wraith of Anita Ekberg returning to nativity, echoing the fortunate fall of Melville’s ghostly sailor, from the tallest tree of the sea:

50Oh ffilme… that bluidy ffilm before me eyen.

d. Another Dream

51I was dreaming of Robben Island
that the inhabitants were,
somewhat like centaurs
half man, half sheep,
expertly stitched together
with South African skills
in grafting and immunology.
One man showed me with pride
his honorable scars
his record collection
(mostly bad)
and the little anus
in his left side.
Naturally, he was pissed off
with being forced
to give up the dietary
habits of sheep.
Due to the shortness
of the alimentary canal,
he was now training
to become a predator and insectivore.
I hate bugs, he confided,
and in particular the crunching
sounds they make, between molars.

e. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Lavatory Seat Refurbishing Rightwinding Leftbranching Recursive Selfperpetuating Paradox Memorial

52Here I sit thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

53Here I sit, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

54Here I sit, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

55Here I sit, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

56Here I sit, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

57Here I sit, flexing my prick, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

58Here I sit, sucking my stick, flexing my prick, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking, Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

59Here I sit, blowing my horn, sucking my stick, flexing my prick, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

60Here I sit, bridging a loan, blowing my horn, sucking my stick, flexing my prick, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

61Here I sit, entertaining a friend, bridging a loan, blowing my horn, sucking my stick, flexing my prick, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

62Here I sit, waiting for the end, entertaining a friend, bridging a loan, blowing my horn, sucking my stick, flexing my prick, farting through my ring, sticking my middle in, smoking some grass, scratching my ass, thinking: Aw, shit, think how great our country is.

f. In Freedonia

63with apologies to Professor Quine

64In Freedonia all men are free. Rarely is a capital sentence being pronounced, more rarely still is the punishment ever carried out. The reason for this is as follows.

65It is deemed inequitous to inform the prisoner of the exact time of his impending demise. But it is considered equally unjust to let the poor wretch sweat it out for an unspecified number of days. Therefore, when pronouncing sentence, it behooves the judge to give a fixed terminal date for the period within which the culprit can be executed, e.g.—given sentence is pronounced on a Monday—“before next Sunday.” The prisoner then knows that he cannot be executed on that Sunday. But he can also rest assured that the execution cannot take place on the preceding Saturday, as he then would not be ignorant of its date, having survived all the preceding days of the week. When he realizes, however, that this is the case, it is equally impossible to carry out the sentence on the preceding Friday. Come Thursday he is already alerted to the fact that any execution is out of the question for Friday, Saturday or Sunday: he can spend that day in happy contemplation of his safety. If it is further taken into consideration that he on Wednesday must fully realize the impossibility of using any of the days Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday as day of execution, he is clearly in no danger on that day. Again, considering his awareness of the necessary exclusion, for purposes of hanging, beheading, strangulation, garotting etc., of the entire week from Wednesday on, the omitting of Tuesday from the list of possible dates is already a matter of routine. He then knows that he must be executed on the Monday itself, but this knowledge is evidently contravening the intention of the law. Consequently, the prisoner is safe.

66When last sojourning on the bench of the accused, I conveyed this argument in identical or similar terms, to the judge. The result was unexpected. “Then, by all means, let’s have it over with right now, while you still think you are safe,” he said, carefully refraining from looking into my eyes.

g. That’s All, Folks!

67with apologies to Myles na Gopaleen

68When falling on bad times financially, which frequently happened, Keats and Chapman were wont to help out in the kitchen of a well-known Tottenham Court Road inn, called “The House of the Rising Sun.” One day, when arriving at the establishment just before tea-time they were surprised to find the chef, a sturdy German lad in a terribly agitated state over his dinner preparations. “Look here, fellows,” he hailed them, “I have mislaid yesterday’s remains of nasi goreng; be sports and try and find them for me: I cannot leave the parboiling of the rollmops unattended, as you doubtless perceive.” They gladly complied, looking everywhere for the missing victuals. Finally, in despair, Keats exclaimed, not without emotion: “Indeed, I know where the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is situated, but where, oh where, is the Rice of the Sousing Hun?” Overcome by the enormity of this utterance, Chapman reeled backwards and fell into a trough of Friesian coleslaw, where he was granted a speedy and merciful release from the shackles of human existence. Thus ended a beautiful friendship.

III. The Zodiac Of Life

69“Lord Saturn is a dry, cold and dexterous king
only fit for hanging or burying alive,
or, perhaps, for dancing. Old
age is elaborate and dumb.

70A carmen saliarum hurts my head;
feet and hands drumming, stamping:
‘Round and around and around
we go. Sow your seed under ground.
We are raking the fallow…’

71The cruellest thing you did,
Hartgrepa, was throwing a strangled
cockerel over the wall.
I could hear it crowing…:
‘The little animals follow me
everywhere: they importune me,
they enter through my eyes, my skull
and bring with them of their anxiety. Close
your eyes, o soul! let us absent ourselves
from all things, so that we are seen
no more, nor can see them.’


72Inside the mountain dwell the paladins
of pain: Ogier le Danois, Frederick Barbarossa,
Arthur, Charles XII, Durandarte…
all of them seated round the table,
beards and hair growing like tendrils.
I saw royal children playing,
armies clash, and clearly heard
from the other side of the enormous
wall a wasted cockerel crow.
They all seemed to be saying:
‘We were here long before you,
we are not awakened yet!’
The hebephrenic girl, barefoot,
with grimy legs and glittering eye,
the paranoid mutterers, the stony-faced
depressives, the catatonic old man,
contriving his own crucifixion,
they are all there, in silence,
but yet saying: there is pain here,
but more pain in being wakened
and remembering. They are the
houses, the little animals of cunning
wherein our lives, the wandering
planets, move, interpreting signs
which are not their own. These dragomans
inculcate, unwillingly, like the
dead trapper in the hut, the devious
truths of time and all times. They
court the
sparagmos when round-
faced Titans, their features stiff with
gypsum, tear them limb from limb.
They are the emblems of their
own silence, of the thoughts that never
were, and never can be, uttered.


73The woman who rose from the hearth,
was it you, Hartgrepa, fostermother,
nurse, more to me than lover?
Enveloping me in your cloak, as
you had borne me many times as a child
on giant arms, binding me here in the
earth, my skull shaven and tarred
to mimic the stones of the turf.
Do you remember the time when
we came to the deserted house
—no food, no furniture, just
the skins of small animals—
where we found the body
of a man long since dead?

74You sang your sullen runes,
dancing in the rank smell of furs,
stuffing herbs under his rotting tongue.
Slowly it rose, stiffly prophesying
the end of all things, us in particular,
Were you prepared for the monstrous
hand that you held while I
hacked it off with my sword?
Were you prepared for the
invisible hands of your nearest…?

75The little animals are posted
in my head, an antonymic sphere,
charred island in the green sward.
It is an orrery of stealthy
motion, like a nesting-place
under a bullock’s hide,
a head concealed in the Trappist
monastery of the mind.
The cave of Montesinos,
the head of Madame de Montbason.
It was your head, Hartgrepa,
torn from your shoulders by the
invisible hands of your kinfolk,
as the limbs were torn from the soft
body of the child watching its face
in the mirror. It was your cloak
enveloping the child in the fire,
like a bullock’s hide covering
the two dead bodies, shining,
and between them the child,
their grandchild, with only one
finger charred, having said:
‘I want to be with my grandparents!’
while the clasp of the cloak is
wrought in solid brass, not an
ouroboros, the scaly serpent
biting its own tail, but a snake
with two fierce heads, an
signifying the openness and pain
at both end and beginning (although
it’s hard to know which is which)
This clasp is fastened to a torque
with plates where the golden eagle
spreads its wings, of jasper, and of
pale selenite (the fading stone,
geared to the phases of the moon).

76Where the two brazen heads
of the serpent come together
—mouths yawning wide over
the eagle—peering with ruby eyes
unto a sea of grass-green
emerald containing all the
denizens of the deep: dolphins,
fish, whales and crustaceans:
not least crustaceans, like
the trusty crab, the lively shrimp,
prim prawns and the majestic lobster.
This is the necklace of Harmonia.


77Both brazen heads will say, in turn:
‘I claim divining space and hallow ground
where I have duly named them with meet tongue.
Whichever tree is good and true which I
declare to have pronounced, to the right
divining space and ground belong to me’; and the other:
‘I claim divining space and hallow ground
where I have duly named them with meet tongue.
Whichever tree is good and true which I
declare to have pronounced, to the left
divining space and ground belong to me.’ I asked
the heads to read my thoughts and future.
The Left replied: ‘Of thoughts I have no knowledge.’
The Right: ‘Thou knowest who thou art.’
I knew that one of them was lying,
so I said: ‘Answer me truly this:
is it the other head which is lying?’
They both said: Yes. And next:
‘Is the right head lying?’ Left
said: Yes, and Right said: No. ‘Is
the Left Head lying?’ Right: Yes
and Left: ‘No, I mean… No!’
Again: ‘Do both heads lie?’ The
Right said No, Left: ‘No, Yes… I am sorry.’
I looked at my hands, they had been
chopped off, and I had no more questions.
There were no tines of antlers to be
counted: no harts, and leaping does,
nor rust-coloured spotted fawns. The woods
were like the tapestry, two empty hands
clutching each other, writhing worms.
As I walked away, the heads were saying:
hidalgo. We know who thou art,
from thy sorrowful contenance. Thy fate
is writ in a book whereof we know the ending.’
I wish they had been more forthcoming,
especially the lying head
who is the more sincere.


78The ekphrasis is, as always,
pertinent. It is comforting to talk
of the sea when one is born to be hanged,
as it is to wash the gypsum off one’s face,
or to be buried in cool earth, or fall.
phalarae, or little reckless monuments
of words are shining bright, but words have
medulla. Or, to misquote Dr.
Samuel Johnson, to be hanged elongates
one’s spine most wonderfully. Inside words
there are dwarfs within our Giants cloaths,
but no Degree is vizarded, no little animals,
just a monster mocking the meat it feeds on,
green-eyed, or whey-faced like a corpse.
Everything else is in your head, just like
the crab inside its shell, the dead
in the earth, time in its moment.


79There is something right down
sexually attractive in the Jungian
way of confronting one’s own
anima (which should be you,
and also, through you, me)
but the experience is a little
like the feeling a cynical
poet might be subjected to
after having concluded a bio-
graphy of one of the lesser saints,
or, when a comedian has
so perfected a double act
that he knows it can survive
entirely on the strength of
the straight man and doesn’t need
the funny man (i.e. himself).
Yes, perhaps more like the comedian.
The poet may be more ardently content
with homilies. My song is
soon to end, but don’t mistake
my placid tone for equanimi-
ty. Most of all it is itself
a metaphor, in which the
vehicle is missing but the
tenor, in wonderful belcanto warbling
goes on and on and on.
Encore, da capo:
‘The little animals follow me
everywhere: they importune me,
they enter through my eyes, my skull
and bring with them of their anxiety. Close
your eyes, o soul! let us absent ourselves
from all things, so that we are seen
no more, nor can see them.’”
The voice stops. The earth continues to fall
like the first snow of winter, filling the space
filling his mouth, his eyes, silently
save for the faint sound of dancing feet
growing stronger and stronger as in a film
exposing its rhythm and gaining momentum
in this new rhythm, thousands of feet
tapping, finally to lose itself
in the scream of a falling woman…
Sleep tight, baby…


1 A magician and a sorceress vie in single combat. The transformations begin. He tests his weapon. (IIBc)

2 He resorts to anamnesis. (IIBb)

3 Political solutions are tested and abandoned. (IIBd)

4 She enters into eschatological detail. (IIBa)

5 Political solutions are once more abandoned for scatological detail. (IIBe)

6 She deflects from her time loop. (IIBf)

7 Cycle completd. Hostilities resumed almost immediately. (IIBg)


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