Ken Mackenzie's Poetry of 2001/2002
ALL THAT GLISTERS
Gold comes from bacteria shit,
some scientists now say.
What's dug up on the Rand
and buried at Fort Knox -
and thus mysteriously makes
some men Croesus rich
and some go hungry to their beds -
we always knew was crap.
And the ornaments that hang
on exposed parts of vain women -
we always knew they stank.
Now a purple liquid proves it.
Bugs are the true alchemists.
O WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING NOT
Things turn upside-down. What
Granny always said was lies.
Clichés tumble upsettingly.
Folk wisdom is no longer wise.
Lightning does strike the same
place twice, and I've seen
on the other side of the hill
grass not all that green.
Punch is displeased. Larry
isn't happy. Fiddle is unfit.
The die is not straight, and
rain isn't right, when we're caught in it.
Elephants forget, like absent
friends. Ostriches usually keep
their heads out of the sand.
Crocodiles can sincerely weep.
Playing fields are not level
(even Lords has a slope),
and while there's life
there isn't always hope.
The love-thy-neighbour sort
of religion did not interest
St. Paul. Orgiastic spirituality,
which struck him blind on the road
to Damascus, was more his bag.
And politics. How to convert
the Gentiles. Circumcision?
Not necessary, he said. And
don't worry too much about
dietary laws. Leviticus Leschmiticus,
so long as they want to be saved.
Sorting out the bickering followers
in Corinth and elsewhere - that
was also a politics he understood.
And knocking down rival gurus.
His politics politics were Quisling
awful: "Let every person be subject
to the governing authorities."
He looked down on women, and lust
tormented him. Jokes he wasn't good at.
He dated the second coming wrongly,
but he wrote fine purple patches:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men
and of angels, and have not charity,
I am become as sounding brass,
or a tinkling cymbal, etc."
Charity also translates as love.
He had charisma, I suppose.
Something made them follow him,
sometimes with evident affection.
And courage, of course. He went back
after being flogged. But love?
Did he really offer or receive it?
Why the chill around his word?
And should we kneel to him now?
"Not in a shy way," Frank sang
as the highway inexorably slipped by.
Pulled away from my own concerns,
I thought: there is a lyric writer
facing desperation. I saw him
full of coffee, eyes rolling, muttering,
"There must be another rhyme
somewhere for 'did it my way'."
Not a success, his solution.
Even Frank, who has at times
given worse lines credibility,
sounded apologetic. Paradoxically,
I switched the radio off feeling
inspired. Ready to try again.
To find the right exit from
that inexorable highway.
To fight desperation. And
not in a not-in-a-shy-way way.
At the Monoprix checkout queue, the mother
remembered she had to buy yogurt, and
ran back, leaving a three-year-old about to cry.
He caught my eye and stopped. "Yes. It's a hard
life," I said. "And it doesn't get any better."
His mouth turned down again. "No," I said,
"that's not true. It depends on your attitude."
I hunkered down next to his pushchair.
I had his attention if not his understanding.
"Some people walk into a crowded room
head high, expecting to hear the good news.
Others come shoulders hunched, waiting to be hit."
He gave a little whimper. "The computer will crash,"
I went on. "The telephone exchange will put you
through to endless Vivaldi. Women will walk away,
like your mother. But it's all part of life's adventure."
He began to cry loudly. "Adventure!" I shouted, standing
upright again. His mother returned, clutching yogurt,
scowling. "I should call the police," she said.
Faith in improbable things
can sometimes be easy.
That the ground so firm
beneath my feet is in fact
spinning fast through space.
I believe that. And that
Australians stand upside-down.
Theories demand faith. No problem.
I believe in Friedman and the relation
of money supply to inflation.
And faith goes with hope. I believe
people may be motivated
by something other than greed.
It survives evidence. I believe
in the innocence of Alger Hiss
(look at who was accusing him).
I believe in telling your doctor
the truth and trusting banks.
I believe in Jane Austen,
George Eliot and Doris Lessing
(if you want a trinity). I believe
that if winter comes, spring
can't be far behind.
But some improbabilities are
more difficult. Like a virgin birth
and a resurrection. The poet's
paradox keeps echoing: "Lord,
I believe, help thou mine unbelief."
ONCE UPON A RHYME
Before the accident
"I don't really understand," said Jill,
"why you need a pail of water so much.
Even if it means walking up the hill."
"He wants to flirt," her mother whined,
" with that girl who lost her sheep.
"A pail of water? I know his kind!"
"The next-door couple, Joan and Bill,
get water from the pond," Jill said.
"Safer, easier, than that rocky hill."
Jack insisted. "High water is pure,
and I need the exercise," he said.
"Go with him," said her mother. "Be sure!"
After the accident
"What did I tell you?" Jill said.
"Watch the rocks, not the shepherdess.
You deserve worse than a broken head."
"What did I tell you?" her mother said.
"And my Jill came tumbling after!
She could have been injured - even dead!"
Vinegar and brown paper could start
to mend a broken crown, Jack knew.
More difficult - to mend a broken heart.
Abused, headsore, dropping off to sleep,
Jack thought that there must be
a better way to meet Bo Peep.
BRUSSELS MAKES YOU THINK
Round the corner from the Grand Place
is Mannekin Pis. Elegance and impudence.
As well as pompously gilded guildhalls,
a high decorated tower on the Hotel de Ville
seems to talk of real civic pride. And round
the corner, a grinning small boy, penis in hand,
winningly makes the case for anarchy.
Years ago, when the world was hopeful, I was shown
the carefully planned, star-shaped headquarters
of the EEC (as it then was). Knocked down now.
Asbestos. What's the Flemish for gang agley?
Over white beer in a café, a cynic said
the EU directive on cheeses contained
more words than the Book of Genesis.
Europe's Art Deco capital, the PR man boasted,
skimming over the fact that Horta's best
building has been destroyed by bureaucrats.
A museum full of magnificent African masks
makes no adequate apology for the Belgian
Congo's brutalities. But happily, round the corner
from the Grand Place stands Mannekin Pis.
What if St. George had fallen off his horse?
Or if the maiden had preferred
a dragon to a saint (not impossible, of course)?
Rescues could be fun, she said,
but who's going to pay the heating bills?
What sort of a lover can't even stay
on his horse? And his friends - scoundrels
like Ian Paisley and other patriots!
What if Mimi had found gloves for her tiny hand
and a cure for her hacking cough?
If Juliet could anachronistically understand
the need for a monastic cell phone?
If Portia had been less of an anti-Semite?
Hamlet decided? Richard II straight?
Macbeth sleeping, lacking ambition, despite
his awful wife? Giovanni impotent?
What if Marcel Proust before his time
had Alzheimers? Bit a madeleine
and couldn't remember? Heard a chime,
saw a groove in a church porch,
a hawthorn bush, a girl walking on the beach,
and could no longer recall whether
it was Gilberte, Albertine or some of each -
perhaps the sexually-odd Charlus?
What if...what if...I had that man's scope,
and this man's art, Will said,
with friends possessed, more rich in hope...
But he was, and could, and did.
ODE IN CELEBRATION OF
LORD, YOU MADE THE NIGHT TOO LONG
The sleeve of care remains ravelled.
No balm. Cramps of calf alternate
with the need to urinate. Leaden-footed
time turns minutes into hours.
A needle on the mind's disc jumps
thoughts come back and back, often
with one element gone. Must I get up
to check a Macbeth quote? Does it matter
whom we met that day in Finland? The name
of Emma's husband? Must I get up
to check a Macbeth quote? Does it matter -
Enough! Can it really be only 3.15?
Fugitive sleep will come again, I know,
rushing importunely in during tomorrow's
meeting. He's dropped off again, they'll say.
It was Mr. Knightley, of course. And: "Sleep
that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,
the death of each day's life, sore labour's bath..."
That was it. Still only 3.45!