If you could see the face behind the phone each time you placed a call,
touch the aching fingers that set each part in place
If you could smell in the cotton the sweat from the long coop shop
and taste the dread regurgitated as the foreman passes over
you might decide to invite your slave in,
for cake and talk.
You might ask them is your husband better
how are your eyes
did your son find work
and give answers too…
You might gaze in stupid silence out the kitchen window, you two, shrugging off the clock, ignoring all the calls
Guy Fawkes, 1605, plotted to blow up
his reasons were religious or something –
he was Catholic – or Protestant –
malcontent – psychopath –
(in truth, his grievances are lost to history
or even if they’re not, they’re quite irrelevant to this case) –
and he was guilty found.
How in hell did Fawkes haul two tonnes of gunpowder
into the basement of Parliament without anyone knowing??
I suspect a conspiracy.
King James I, who gave us The Bible,
but had the power to bend the rule ad hoc in extremis,
and he did.
James recommended the “gentler tortours” be applied first,
and then, well, you know, after that do what you have to do.
Fawkes signed his confession dutifully
with a line like a child’s drawing of waves.
The trial dragged on for a couple days.
Fawkes’ co-conspirators – a bunch of
stupid fucks with no names –
cried out their innocence,
even up to the commencement of hanging, drawing, and quartering.
A mighty throng – throng so mighty! –
assailed Parliament to behold the swelling scene!
So many young men and women of England,
so strong in body, so wise in their simplicity,
so generous with their goods,
so fearful of god,
so devoted to their king,
grown men wept to behold the assembled
pure stock vouchsafing England’s future. Amen.
They cheered as each conspirator was hoisted,
and, kicking, opened like a hog,
their sausages removed in bulk,
the craftsman-torturer heaving on the guts
like a man trying to pull a boy out of a well,
clipping a strip of white connective veil,
here and there, to make the whole thing
come out neat.
Sure, some stayed living for quite some minutes
and all that jazz you know.
Later they would cut the cocks off and toy
with them, stick them in each others faces
and say, “Oh, you make me so horny, give sucky sucky please?”
Obviously, they daren’t do such a thing
in front of Parliament. Or ladies.
But back at barracks, they could unwind a bit.
The arms and legs were separated publicly.
This was part of the ritual.
People expected it,
and they cheered like hell as each limb came loose.
When one executioner clowned with the right leg
of Robert Keyes conspirator,
the groundlings laughed.
But a conservative MP fumed
and said a mockery was being made of justice,
and he would make the saucy fellow pay for it
and maybe he would think twice next time.
Fawkes was left till last.
They wanted him first to watch it,
then after he watched it, he would mount
the scaffold it was going to be so great!
He ascended slowly,
like a grandmother afeared of a fall, hips
and shoulders barely holding true after weeks on the rack.
The rope –
limp, sleeping, and really thick too –
was looped over his neck,
and the crowd giggling glee,
to see it all
(Some ladies later reported to their maids that, well…
“A queer feeling, as like I would nurse a babe or – or – ”),
and Guy Fawkes, finally at the top, was heard to say,
So he took the plunge, a big jump forward, and out –
the hangman slapping his ass as he went,
saying “You go, girl!!” –
a jump enough to snap Fawkes’ neck and kill him. Ha!
The crowd had been robbed of the pleasure
of seeing the live body writhe
under the torturer-craftsman’s tools.
But they cheered anyway.
And then cheered when Fawkes steaming dead man’s guts
And then cheered as each limb
And the head too,
gray-faced and gray-bearded,
looking like the face of a man in prayer or on the verge of orgasm,
they cheered at that, when the head came off.
And when it was displayed to all
like the next item up for auction,
Eyewitnesses wrote the crowd felt “joy”.
And we watched the whole thing on tv, didn’t we?
We were there.
And there too.
And we were in there,
and in there.
Every part of that meat was ours.
And we cheered too to know it was accomplished.
We squeezed each other so tightly round the neck,
we came in our pants.
My notes on a John Singer Sargent painting at the National Portrait Gallery, “General Officers Of the Great War”:
These men are sated,
satisfied, tried and true,
censured and cinched,
catalogued and decorated,
and are those spurs
on their jackboots too?
Botha proud like a superman,
Allenby an Arabian beauty, half-horse,
Smuts white as a ghost,
and Field Marshall Haig right at the front,
front and centaah, SAH!!
Sargent made them round about life size –
22 men, hard, stiff,
behind them a gloomy looming tomb vault
or some edifice of state.
Top brass done up in the colors of sand,
of peaches, and leather buffed bright –
the hues of WWI –
and cadmium red kept well out of sight.
General Officers Of The Great War by John Singer Sargent
How lordly indeed you are, my friend,
In the new suit from La Confection des Élysées.
How you honour them
By condescending to wear it.
When I was in the jungle
With you, at your mercy,
I was afraid of you.
Now here in La Ville-Lumière,
Where no man like you has walked for 10,000 years, now you are afraid.
You showed yourself to me, naked in your jungle – the only fearless man in all the world.
And now I see you, hackles up,
Moving from stillness to stillness like an unquiet animal.
When the marquise shakes your hand and says “Honored. Honored,”
You smell the blood on his
Breath, and you chill and wonder why no one else does. Are they all in league?
When the girl in service curtsies, says “Bonjour, monsieur,”
You hear her heart breaking, and you wonder why no one else does.
Return to the jungle my friend, out of this dangerous place.
Return to the tranquil jungle, under your mother’s canopy,
Where the names of things come easily to your mouth, where things are called what they are.
Every word of French I taught you – like ashes in my mouth.
I said “God made you a gentleman at heart, my friend”!
I feared you so.
I hoped to make you into something more like me. How could I know that I was making you
More dangerous with every word? Injecting you slowly with urbane distemper,
Pasteurizing you with good intentions.
When tantor became l’éléphant,
Numa, le lion,
Hista, le serpent – per Académie! –
I turned the sweet opera of your world
into the jeers of packs of lunatics, the whoops and hoots of cannibals.
That you would save my life and mother me back to health and I in repayment, would set the dogs on you.
Forgive me, Tarzan.
There was a moment, mon ami, when you were almost saved.
Do you remember? Did you know?
I put on my helmet, ready to go,
Picked up my revolver from that wide table stump, the one I’d made my toilet table.
And – perhaps in fever still? – abruptly threw it into the brush.
I didn’t know why then.
But I know now. After that month with you, I felt so naked, vulnerable, like a baby cleaving to his rattle. I had to throw it away or lose all courage forever.
But you retrieved it for me.
You dived after it.
You put it back in my hand.
“Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu!” you chirped like a jungle bird, pressing the revolver on me.
And I accepted it.
I shouldn’t have accepted it, should I?
I ought to have thrown it again, farther still, and turned my back on you.
Should have run away down to the river and never seen you again,
Emerged from the jungle a better, braver man.
I waited for you to run away,
While hoping you’d stay
To lead me home.
Hoping – again, yes – that you’d do my work for me. Poor slave.
By nightfall, you had brought me to the Solomougou Post
Where the men smelled like bloody earth
And more vermin creeped than in the deepest jungle.
I held your arm.
Together we found a one who would take us down river next day.
All night you perched in a tree – do you remember? –
Watching the coolies, after hours, stagger and sing below.
On the river the pilot asked many many questions about the strange white man out of the jungle –
Not about me, one more European out of his depth – about you.
I answered them. I answered all his questions!
What a villain!
The gall I had to answer his questions about you!
Maybe I was fevered still. Not in my right mind. Not in my right mind.
Forgive me, Tarzan, my White Skin. Forgive me.
C’est une drôle d’idée – that you should be “White Skin”.
Among my shallow, colorless people, you are deep and black as your rivers, deep and black as your night,
Deep, black as the great expanse that cradled and suckled the world before the mind of Le Dieu blasted away all that was peaceful, wiped away all that made sense and was sweet and perfect.
I have a black top hat and a black coat. And in Belgium the winters are white and wide and cold.
The Africans, in those hell-squalors we saw along the river,
I swear I saw them shed tears at the sight of you.
I swear I heard them sing:
“Oh there goes an African. Africa has made that man. And only Africa made him. He was not deprived of his lordly heritage, no. No. He was rescued and exalted. Exalted by the land. Saved by Africa. Taught by Africa to be strong and wise and to hear all the knowledge pouring in like cataracts from within, from without. Oh, Africa, that unites spirit and mind. Oh, Africa, that unites heaven and hell. And, look, they are taking him away! And they are taking him away!”
Mon Dieu, my white ape.
I have returned you to the hands of your captors.
I have delivered you back into the clutches of the slavers.
I walked through the willows. I let them drape their sad arms over me, let their man-o-war tentacles of despair sweep me down. I let them drag themselves across me, I let them drag their long sad arms over me, I walked under their limbs and they did nought to me – did not destroy me, did not take any thing from me, They gave me nothing, they took nothing. They were sad and beautiful, and still they are sad and beautiful, and I love them now as much as before no less no more
Wise Daedalus – with only one wing done –
fled before a mob
determined to string him up
and pinata the hell out of the man.
Running for his life,
he donned the single wing and,
triple-jumping to the cliff’s edge,
leaving the killers marooned.
As he made into the open air,
wing outstetched on one side,
inadequate flapping hand
on the other,
he well knew that all
the weight of science and reason
would not support him.
This sea at the shore of seas, Where other seas begin, Where is conceived the great Pangaea of seas. Panthalassa! that stretch three quarters of the way into the future,
This sea, pubescent, Horny and tempestuous And desiring increase at every level, Ingenious and bursting at the seams, Throwing up all kinds of mad ideas, Shimmying, shimmering with milky life, Not yet self-conscious, unshy, reckless Grand-roiling stinking-green and then some,
What joyful possibilities and probabilities You had, before rhythm and the seasons And the practice of five hundred million years And filling the forms And seeking your own level And overthinking it
Brought you to that staid middle age In which the best trick You can conjure Is a mere blue whale.