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Auto-da-fé

holly - auto-da-fe

An auto-da-fé1 (“act of faith”) was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed.

I wrote this poem to be read aloud, to be performed. It is not a kind thing – it isn’t calm, it isn’t polite. But it comes from the heart.

1. The ruins

regents place

A river bed, stick dry.
There above a pale pavilion
The purple pennants fly,
But limply in the mouldy air,
As if asleep.
And under there’s a toothless tramp
Whose gaping rotten maw
Emits a stink so raw,
So base and vile,
That you recoil.
Quick, turn away. Let him lie.
Police will move the geezer on,
And now you’ll never fathom why
You couldn’t ask him
How he was,
Or even look him in the eye.
His wretched dog knows better,
Though Buddhists warn us of
Attachment,
Preach a mantra of detachment,
Only toil wins peace, they say.

But in my plot I never mow,
I neither dig nor weed,
And barely break a sweat,
While all around
Ripe apples grow.
Or when I’m by the tumbling bay,
There as well,
Six limpets roasted in the shell
They’re all I need.

But you,
You stoke your pride
With sharp black coal,
And when it burns
I choke on bitter ash.
Ash blows all around me now,
That sour tang is in the air,
It’s in my clothes, it’s in my hair.

And so I stoke my rage
With hard black coal,
Though I could stroke it
With a feather
Until it rolls
And bats at flies,
As a leopard stretches
In a sunny glade,
Blinks surprised,
Then slinks to
Watchful shade.

We feed the furnace
Every day you see,
A plate for you,
And one for me,
Steaming juicy hot,
We love it so, we love the taste,
Pin the blame, act in haste,
Give a sorry little sigh
Send the withered goat to die.
A look askance,
Is all you need
To burn the bitch,
To do the deed,
‘Alright mate,
The fire’s lit ready.’

Light up the witch.


cracked mud

In hot wind and sour ash
Love dies a twisted death.
Who might be left, I ask,
To hold your hand,
To listen to your shaking breath?
On Mondays you go back again
To see the pale cadaver.
Who then will stay to walk
Beside your racking fear?
The fear you know so well,
The doubt that grows,
That belts your belly
As a deep dark wave slaps
Against a ruined pier,
And sucks the air from the support.
And who is there to show
Your crumbling cracks,
Your weed-green growth?
Who dares to point?
To say,
There, in that pile of coal,
There in that false smile,
There, there is the wet ruin
Of your soul.

2. The many deaths

sparrow

So let us stroll together,
You and I.
Let’s look one look,
With sharp bright eye
Of rook and crow.
Let’s amble down this modest lane
Of suffering and hidden pain,
Can we sit a while with death,
With each last laboured breath?
See that bright soul flicker out?
No need, it’s just a rat,
Poisoned in a musty hole.
Like you and I, it dies alone
In agony and shaking fear,
But never mind:
An update on your phone.

In this field, rare flowers once grew
That looked like flies, or bees, or frogs.
Who cares it’s bulldozed through
To make a box for men to look at screens,
Or that once the sparrows chirped
In every dusty privet hedge,
But now they’re quite usurped
By silence
(Such silence as we have never known).
And as you’re taken to the edge,
Are you then to look away as
With a tearing groan
The rotten pier slides beneath the
Dark deep green?

A shriek, and nothing more is seen.

Now seas of traffic hiss
And swirl around the island blocks,
The rocks of marketeers
And City types.
The morning runners
Breathe deeply of particulates,
Cycle fast to action points.
Weekends in the four by four,
We must protect the kids from harm,
Take them safely to the tomb,
Bury them in brick for hours.
Be careful, watch your shoes,
You’re no longer in the womb,
It’s up to you to choose.
To each according to ability,
Be prepared to slice some throats,
But you should do it with civility.
Yours is the path, no help from us,
Lunch at your desk,
Bathed in blood,
Or what’s permitted
In the windy pit
Between two towers
That cast a baleful shade.
Discuss the game, work ’til ten.
Again, again, no curlew’s call
Aching on the mournful mist
Of mere or fen befalls thee,
Broken child of angry witless men.

Tell me when
Did you forget the sound of stroking skin?
The sand shivers at the fingers of the unstill sea,
A thousand thousand leaves sighing in a tree.

3. Three o’clock

meissen teacup

There are tearooms here,
In the old monastic close.
Another life: a wrought iron chair.
One of a dinky little pair,
Donated by a sweet old thing.
‘I said, you know, I said’
Jackdaws nest behind the saints.
And in the shop
A set of gaudy watercolour paints.
‘I said, just nice.’
But that little brush is bristled like
An ancient swine.
Use the silly tuft
To dust the bone
You gawk at
In the crystal shrine,
The dismal relic of a conscience
That you’ve long forgot.
But not to gild the crumbling monstrance of your heart,
Not to limn a crimson line.

The teaspoon rattles,
The saucer grinds against the cup,
‘Better than bought, I said’.
And then the peace of the dead.

4. The fires

holly

November.
Robins guard the autumn lanes
Rain drips and drips from leaded panes.
A mournful trill grieves ruby hips,
Bright drops of blood hiss in the heat,
Yellow fat melts off the meat,
Full lips burst and bubble,
Branches snap and sinews crack,
In coils of silver smoke burned black,
From fires lit of dampen leaves.
And still the rain drip-drips from mossy eaves.
Forget the screams
Ignore the tortured flesh,
Regard instead the brass that hangs
From sooty beams around the inglenook,
Enjoy the pint of bitter
That will, perforce, refresh,
And talk of things you own.
“So and so’s a heavy hitter
Must dash, need the shitter.”
Leave a ripe and fruity fart,
For there’s no art to find
The mind’s construction in the face.

Your man who does,
Has murder in his heart.
Your tenant too has knives –
And just in case
You still survive
There’s poison,
Wrapped in yellow lace,
Buried in a little drawer,
Hidden in your cleaner’s place.

Do you ever take those walks?
Do you watch the berries glisten,
Brush against dry hogweed stalks?
Do you ever truly listen?

5. The twisted path

dead gannet

You talk your talk,
You raise the bar,
How fine and kind you are.
But you disown so much
Of what you cannot clutch
In both your shaking hands;
Break and destroy
The things you fear,
Much as a wounded boy
Will pull the wings from flies.
Thus and thus
You spit and whisper lies,
For in the tawdry race
To take some power
You drop your superficial grace
And show your secret face.
The dreadful mask that horrifies.

This is the quest you need to take:
To ask what ails a sickening King.
And do not ask which one, when realms
Of Sea and Land and Air
Are Waste.
But just like Percival, the fool,
You ride to hounds and do
As you are told by older fools,
Take some heads and lop some hands.
O you so long to be a Knight
And do what’s right (as you’ve been told).
What will you do in winter
When you meet the Sorceress?
Can you kiss those yellow tusks,
Or will you hold her gift in scorn?
As when in snapping frost
You find a rose,
Wrapped in the freeze,
Blood red and torn,
And loathe it
For believing
In the light:
So you hate your heart
That dared to love.

O go, just go,
Down from above,
Down to the sea.
Revel in idolatry.
Spend your money in arcades,
Forget all lustre fades,
Until one day you wake
To cries of gulls and scream,
Scream to find the beach
Is strewn with bones
And there are skulls on spikes.
And even then, with all your
Hikes on twisted roads,
The path you take
May be your worst mistake.
So sing your songs beside the fire,
Rake the coals
With bards in musty tents.
Drive back to town, and check your rents.
And then perhaps,
When all your hope is gone
When the kids have moved away,
And at last you stare at death,
You may,
In some small silent fashion
Find something like compassion,
And ask the man with rancid breath
What ails him.

Fuck wild geese.
Rather a coal tit in a bush
That sings “Be dew be dew, be dew”
Again
And again
And again.

That will do.

Footnotes

1. Definition adapted from Wikipedia

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