Poetry















An ode: under the tree in the garden



'So sad I am! but should a friend and I
Grow cool and miff, O! I am very sad!'

- Coleridge

I

The bush in the garden is covered in fruit

I cut it right back to the root

But it grew back again against the wall

Pushing the bricks. I ought to cut it down.

The dead cat that I kicked there starts to smell

Under the tree where there used to be a lawn.

Out through the window glass there is no rain

But there is water coming from my eyes

And rolling down my face,

It’s better out than in

And there is wind to shake the memories.


II

I cannot tell if I’m alive or dead

I think I’m sitting on the double bed

That’s where I was at the last check

It’s true it is pathetic.

The motives and inspired ideas I had

When I think I was living don’t come back.

There are no memories inside my head.

Mostly the loves I had were a mistake.


III

While living I lived in an old empire

An empire reaching round the world

My forebears made it itchy and aware

Restless pioneers with mind and sword.

Bored and usually ill, broken and dying

Spreading and afflicted with disease

They navigated with their feeble limbs

With guns and pens raised up societies

Obsessive, pale and sickly in dark rooms

They died and then, more came with cold bodies.

Pompous, flag waving, cut down, and believing;

Scientists, observers, justices

With weakling women, peevish wormy kids.

And on it goes and on for centuries.


IV

See, they burn on the stake, their lungs fill up;

Or they sit at table in their monasteries.

Brown tattooed bodies dance around a fire

And black men shoot at them amongst the trees

While ladies birth more children to the air.

That could be over, but it carries on:

The leaky boats, the sweaty human,

Fickle beliefs of men, the nation state.

I do not know what it was all about.


V

I do not know. And what is that? I think it is a cooling fan

Rotating in the belly of the tower

Under the desk, under the PC screen.

The screen I’m looking at shines like a fire

At my immobile stare.

We are not fit to carry a real fire

A torch, a light, a vision, or victory.

Ideas, like love and justice, or the truth

Can’t grow inside a man like this and still be true.


VI

Not far away there is a dome

Not so far from the place I think I am;

There, cows stand up all day, stood side by side

And eat from troughs close next to one another

Row upon row high up into the air

A thousand of them eating happily

A bucket for each one for its excrescence

And milking pipes attached to all the udders

Their hooves are clean and everything that matters

Is there for them in such a calm existence.

And I’m the same as them with my computer

It never contradicts, it never fails;

It’s nice to turn it on and off whenever.

It has a kind of brain wired for electric signals.


VII

But I am one who rots and dies, in the end,

And like a fool I talk to myself, and more

Talk like a child to an unseen old friend.

My mental itch, like itchy balls

Believes that someone listens to me out there

Some really real one out beyond the walls

Of this confinement of the garden, the tree,

The rotting animal, the buzzing machine,

The dying generations, and me dying.


VIII

What lying gift and madness of clairvoyance,

What tiresome solitude to hear a voice

And visions of the departed famous dead!

Do they speak to me from their abyss,

To me in my electric room, to say:

What happened at Trafalgar and Biscay

And what Sir Isaac Newton really did?

The dead are all the same, and just like me

We are the same in mouldering away.

And what the ghosts say does not change

They murmur that they merely were around

That they survived, then struggled and survived.


IX

And then they say: ‘The one who bled

From hands and feet, and on his head

A crown of thorns, associate

Of tramps and sluts, came from the dead

Still with the cuts -

That one did not intend just to survive

As we do struggling and moribund

But he is alive.’

But it is not for me to understand.


X

Should I go on, make good, survive?

Or should I stop pretending and depart?

Because what I most want I cannot have,

Here where that divine hand and arm

Can’t touch my shoulder with a real love.

That cannot happen here.

Stop beating heart and breath finish.

I cannot see the ground before my feet

It would be better if I were to vanish

I am aware of dying.


XI

I am aware also

Of some beauty in existence

There is a true world where these dead men are alive

There, justice is not just expedience.

And yet, enough. I will not go on.

I will try to lie myself down in the garden.




Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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