Tuesday Poem: “Great King!” by Zireaux

'...Just read your Thomas Hobbes:	/ We serve our King, as blood that throbs /  in veins, as nerves, as limbs - while you, / Lord Brain, command us what to do.’

‘…Just read your Thomas Hobbes: / We serve our King, as blood that throbs /
in veins, as nerves, as limbs – while you, / Lord Brain, command us what to do.’

I wobbled forth. Along the ground
was scattered rubbish – plastic bags
held down with nails, drill-bits, dregs
of soupy solvents, little mounds
of gravel. I saw a tilted pot,
or drum, engaged in churning thought
and staring at the sky. Before
it — packaged bundles of cement.
A little girl stood at the shore.
An anxious yellow kite went wild
upon its short-reined leash, hell-bent
to flee from this restraining child,
who waved (a faithful marionette) her
forelimbs from a red-puffed sweater.
A shout was heard. She turned her head.
She saw me, snatched her kite – and fled.

Three other children stood upon
a rock to watch me from afar.
(The kite-girl joined them). How bizarre
it was. This gang of human spawn
adapted to my island, observing
me – as if I was the stranger! Unnerving,
as well, to see their guardians around,
all still and staring, activities paused,
a hack-saw suspended, a bundle set down.
The generator now stopped (its din,
while I was convalescing, had caused
me such puzzlement – a ringing ear? The tin-
tinnabulation from my tumble?
A howling wind? A freighter’s rumble?)

Nearby, a very large camera hovered.
Its holder exclaimed: ‘Great King! You’ve recovered!’

Sayeed ignored this fellow. ‘The scrap’s
all gone,’ Sayeed was saying. ‘Dear Tug
of War
, all used. A hole was dug – ’

‘O King!’ Snap-click.

                                         ‘Remember that map
I showed you? Where once the chamber pot did
sit — remember? – we’ve now allotted
this spot for squatting. Downwind, you see.
Well most the time. Watch out. Please mind
your step, my Lord.’

                                         Including me,
two Aussie sheep-dogs, a shivering kitty,
and five bright yellow finches consigned
to a small white cage (Oh! The pity
I felt for those divinely pretty singers),
there were – count them, memory’s fingers –
some thirty colonists sharing my isle.

‘Here, your Greatness. We’ll sit a while.’

Snap-click.

                            I want to tell you, dear,
the details: How bad that rock had whacked me.
The damage done. How long, exactly,
I’d lain insensible. But it’s not clear.
Not now, not then. Some hours? Days?
Or longer? You ask – did I not raise
these questions with Sayeed? Indeed
I did. And he’d reply:

                                                 ‘A minute
or two at most, my Lordship. No need
to worry. Had it been worse, would you
be here? Our brain – and everything in it –
is all we ever own. I knew
at once your assets were intact.
I’ve been concussed myself. In fact,
in my mouth mother once did pour
that liquid treatment you adore.’

Which made me worry: How could I tell
what I’d ingested? Sayeed was right
about that syrup, spooned each night
to me – a julep of amarelle,
pistachio, served warm and spiked
with something, no doubt – and how I liked
to let it linger in my throat.
In truth, I found no peace without it.
In truth, it caused my mind to float
away on Time’s eternal seas.
I often asked Sayeed about it.

‘Ah yes,’ he’d say. ‘Immeasurable ease.
Immeasurable bliss! No sweeter drink
exists, my friend.’ He’d give a wink.
‘A Turkman saying: O Pleasure! You tease!
With every tingle, you jingle your keys!’

So maybe my concussion was mild.
But I was like a man conscripted,
impressed, Shanghaied, as coma’s ship did
save me and slave me together. Exiled
from life, I was. And the more circuitous
my return, the less it felt fortuitous.

‘The dwarf,’ Sayeed would say, ‘he told
me all. That’s right. About your wife,
your troubled marriage, and how you sold
your soul for Tug, to sail to this spot,
to launch a new venture – and, too, a new life.’

‘A Republic – of one.’

                                                 ‘Or Camelot?’
He bowed. ‘Your Grace. Whatever we build,
the story that dwarf recounted filled
my heart with more devotion. I knew
I’d found a kindred spirit – you.’

‘And I,’ he continued, ‘did all I could
to reason with that little twerp,
when you let passion’s voice usurp
the proceedings – as all great leaders should.
Oh what a sight! That swinging chain!
You broke his arm – ’

                                                 ‘He broke my brain.’

‘You broke his arm and cracked your head.
Your brain – unharmed, thank God. The bastard!
I said I’d find a way to curse him. He said
he’d sue us both. I said, or started
to say, I’ll see you in court, but mastered
my wrath. A snake is better outsmarted
than tangled with, you must agree.
A deal was made. This work you see
around us – it comes from me, undaunted,
determining what you most wanted.’

‘I wanted to be alone!’

                                                 ‘Alone
in charge, in authority, control.
Alone in self-assertion, sole
proprietorship – and look, you own
all that and more. The thing you sought –
you seek – is everything you’ve got.
The peak, the highest point, has seat
enough for one, and only God’s
more lonely than a King. I repeat:
You are alone, my Lord. These peasants
you see – and me – are but façades
compared to your more massive presence.
Why, we’re far less company than these
black snails, these shy anemones,
who rule themselves, recoil, withdraw.
While us? We’re subjects to your law.’

‘Great King!’ Snap click.

                                                 ‘Do snails take pictures?’
I grumbled.

                                  ‘And what if they did? You’d tell
the snails to stop? What else? Expel
all pests? Flee-bomb your country? Tic-cure
the trees? Fly-proof all the parks?
Pluck stingers from bees? Teeth from sharks?
Watch this.’

                                  Sayeed stood up, addressed
the gathered gawkers – twenty-one
astonished faces:

                                  ‘His Lordship requests
we operate in silent mode – ’

‘Who cares of sound!’ I said.

                                                                    ‘ — and…done!
You see? The fate you steer is rowed
by our paddles. Just read your Thomas Hobbes:
We serve our King, as blood that throbs
in veins, as nerves, as limbs – while you,
Lord Brain, command us what to do.’

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “The Settlement” by Zireaux

Title page of "Hesperides" by Robert Herrick (1648)

Title page of “Hesperides” by Robert Herrick (1648)

Continued from previous Res Publica post

‘And this?’ I asked regardless, observing
the burka slowly rise and spread
in flaring folds behind her head
(like dragon’s beard), the softly curving
corbel of her neck, the dawn
of lips, then nose, then eyes, the wan
demeanour of that smooth dark face
and how those lips appeared forever
formed by some surviving trace
of haunting melody. ‘Is she
the one whose love you – ?’

                                            ‘Wise and clever,’
Sayeed affirmed good-humouredly.
‘Your mind – you see? – has not been harmed.
Your senses (as we saw!) were charmed
by Noorya’s touch. I had no doubt
she also caused your brain to spout.’

A week would pass before I stepped
outside that dim-lit metal shed.
The sky was powdery blue. A thread
of high white vapour stalked – but kept
its distance from – a cruising spark
of jet-plane silver. The sea was dark
delphinium jelly, spread evenly
in all directions. Smoke. Some tents
and tarps and stocky men long-sleevenly
attired, with boots and stoat-fur caps
and rubber coveralls. The scent
of roasting meat. The whirring clap
of a generator – diesel, loud,
and spewing out a pale blue cloud,
as if my little island pet
were puffing on a cigarette.

It was, by God, a settlement.
A place where people choose to live
in ways we might call primitive,
with tents and sheets of metal leant
together in awkward angles, adorning
my rocky isle with extra thorning.
And midst this weather-beaten camp
of boxy blues and fish-tail greens,
was laid a lattice-work of ramps
and shelvings, narrow wooden planks
on which a tank of kerosene
could rest, or jug of water, or rank
of barefoot workers could walk, or gravel-
burdened barrows bobbingly travel.
Convenient, perhaps. But, too, I felt,
confining: a strip, or strap, or belt.

Of course – a corset! My virgin girdled!
A grill or grate. A wooden lattice
that made a gangway apparatus
through rocks which once I had to hurdle.
And laces! My darling isle was strung
with lines where clothes and bedspreads hung.
This lonely ground, this mound of mine
with waves all round, this gentle rise
both crotched and contoured, coarse and fine,
amidst the soft pulsating seas,
– if viewed aloft, from seagulls’ eyes,
you’d see a camp of refugees.
But more, a patch of beauty tented,
a cleavage shackled and ornamented.
O damn to hell! Such neutering lace
leaves beauty and her suitor chaste.

Quilts and blankets, carpets rolled
and bagged in plastic covers, incredible
cushions, divans that were bed-able
(though damp and graveolent with mould),
a single, blue-clothed table (a flirt,
with benches peeking up her skirt);
a washing board from which ungainly
suds were launching in the breeze;
and all of it — to put it plainly –
wedged in every gap between
the crowded rocks, the squeezing seas.
A jackhammer, shovels, picks. A scene
of litter-ality. A cramped
encampment. An isle with people stamped;
and cause of my despair (since cured,
now that there’s room to play with words)…

…and play with you, my ample love.
My continent. Your endless shores
are mine. Your mines and mineral ores
are mine. And all the air above.
One moment with a toe of yours,
this finger’s girth, these little furs
upon your rolling knuckles. This lip,
this lash is worth the seven years
of my confined indentureship
upon that tightly tenanted rock.
Compare your overflowing spheres
which sweep aside your flimsy frock
with my lost isle’s constricted crust.
No bum like yours to plunge in. No bust
to extol, as Herrick, the poet, would lay
his lips on Julie’s ‘Milky Way.’

Whole galaxies are in your breast.
This surge, this cleft, this sloped descent,
it brims with life – em>ebooblient!
(My fingers grope; my pen just jests).
With ripeness grows the urge to hug it.
Not so my sour little nugget
of the sea, all hardened flake and brittle
brine. Where once I deeply craved
to hold her, she seemed much less committal
now. The people. Their tools and tents.
A part of her was even paved.
(her South-most point, where came and went
a daily boat, which brought ashore
another stash of goods galore.
My poor, defeated Babylon.
And so much death…but let’s move on).

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “A Hand I Wanted to Kiss” by Zireaux

'A curtain parted.  A dark shape entered.'

‘A curtain parted. A dark shape entered.’

Continued from previous Res Publica post

I’ll tell you, Megan, what I remember:
Flesh and fire. Puddles of pain.
The smell of roasted lamb. Hot grains
of chilli rice like little embers
burning in my throat. Human bird-song,
lullabies with all the words wrong.
Lavender smoke, a candlelight blur.
A hand I wanted to kiss. The feel
of cotton pillows, alpaca furs.
A bitter, alcoholic drink.
A smooth round face of grave appeal
with soft brown eyes (they made me think
of mother’s). Jasmine scents and squeaky
nasal laughter. Rain. A leaky
roof with water dripping near.
A voice – my own – I couldn’t quite hear.

And music playing. And happy dreams.
And once, still sunk in fog, I swear
I felt a rush, a flush of air
upon my face. A bird, it seems,
had swooped nearby. And when I heard
it – “Cree!” – I recognised that word.

At first Sayeed, with cheerful eyes
and moustache-gabled grin, would try
to sooth my senses, stabilise
my thoughts.

                            ‘Now doesn’t that feel nice?’
he’d ask, massaging my legs, while I
– in agonising paradise –
attempted to reply: ‘Let go.’
But later: A sort of seraglio
of sweeter voices, softer hands,
more beautiful skin, more lusciously tanned.

And later still…

From stanza 39 of Res Publica Book One: 'I /  had spotted a bird, a Silvereye / atop a fence between the shaking /  pom-poms of an old, heart-breaking / cabbage tree. The bird sang, "Cree!" /  I sensed a person within it – me.'

From stanza 39 of Res Publica Book One: ‘I /
had spotted a bird, a Silvereye / atop a fence between the shaking /pom-poms of an old, heart-breaking / cabbage tree. The bird sang, “Cree!” /
I sensed a person within it – me.’

I fell in love – fell, not in a pining,
divining manner. Not with a person,
in fact; but literally immersed in
love, I was, as though reclining
in a sumptuous bath of honey or wine.
But slowly sensations began to define
themselves. My eyes caught hold of shapes
and didn’t let go; so too my mind,
— my being! — in struggling to escape
oblivion’s swamp, held tight some root
of thought, some length of verbal vine
to pull itself free.

                                         ‘That sound…a flute?’
I asked Sayeed. ‘And who – who’s this
old woman?’

                         At which he gave her a kiss.
The woman smiled. He gave her another.

‘My Lord,” he said. ‘Please meet my mother.’

Ovoid-shaped and shawl-encased
(an orange pushmina), vibrant-eyed,
with little frowning grin that pried
apart an over-leavened face,
this queer old lady sat on the floor
beside my cot. A moment before,
Sayeed had embraced her. She patted her thighs.
He rested his head there.

                                                  ‘She knows the kind
of man you are, my Lord. How wise
you are.’ He gazed up at a trembling
sheet-metal roof. “She says you remind
her of my father – not resembling
him physically, not at all (he was
obese and short), but rather because
of your beliefs, your independence,
your constant yearning for transcendence.’

A curtain parted. A dark shape entered.
It balanced hot soup, a cup of cream,
upon a platter plumed with steam.
Our speaking seemed to disorient her
her, I say, for show me a man
whose figure forms such draping span
from head to toe. And, too, I say
disoriented, as phantom-suited,
she froze in place.

                                         ‘Is it okay?’
Sayeed addressed his mother. ‘Sviv
poryadke
?’

                           His mother, with a muted
head-tilt, smiled affirmative.

Udalit yego,’ Sayeed commanded.

At this, the platter slowly landed
beside me; and with it, consequent,
the hooded figure approached, and bent,

and stayed a moment near me, and placed
a hand upon my forehead. At first,
her eyes could not be seen, immersed
within that veiled, unvaried space.
But as it neared – this shadow-flesh
that smelled of primrose – a narrow mesh
appeared above a hollow, as though
the gaslight’s glow had brushed aside
a surface layer of pitch to show
what lived beneath. Touched by the lamp,
this patch of darkness liquefied,
a dreadful, deep internal damp,
as when a patient is prepared
with sheets, just one wet hollow square
to let the surgeon’s hands embark
upon their mission — but dark, so dark!

And this, this sheeted creature stared
at me, alive – she lived! – despite
that cavity (unsettling sight!),
which cleaved her head and bared,
it seemed, her moistened brain — or more,
her very life. And even before
she looked to Sayeed (who now was seated
beside his nodding mother), then shifted
to me again (Sayeed repeated,
Udalit yego’), even before
she slowly – O slowly, reader! – lifted
her garb and let the lamp explore
her skin, the feeble light exposed
the fabric’s folds – and, too, disclosed

amidst the dark a vivid blue.
And then, of course, I knew. I knew.

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “And Then One Punched Me in the Chin” by Zireaux

Tame Iti (2012) by Sofia Minson.

Tame Iti (2012) by Sofia Minson.

Continued from previous Res Publica post

Res Publica! What good are you
to me when I’m outnumbered? Was I
too soft, too weak, too glad to die,
too quick to let my subjects do
to me what I couldn’t do to them?

They shared some clever stratagem,
those interlopers, and every word
they traded drove my holding lower.
Enraged, ashamed, unhinged — and spurred
by pangs unspeakable — I ploughed my tent
with feet aflail, a raving hoer,
to cultivate some implement
with weight or blade enough to kill.
I kicked and combed and rummaged, until,
at last, I found that stake (still flagged)
with which my island first was tagged.

And next to it some heavy length
of anchor’s chain. I drove the rusted
dagger through one ring, adjusted
its assailing angle. How little strength
was needed to swing this deadly dart
with all the force and skill and art
once flourished by the Stegosaurus,
which felled its foes with old knive’s tail.
(Look at me – puns of behaviour so warrish.
I’m like the TV news, with stirring
songs to score the worst travails).

Hone Heke removing the British ensign from Flagstaff Hill.

Hone Heke removing the British ensign from Flagstaff Hill.

‘Off, you devils!’ — the chain now whirring
above my head. ‘One man I bore
when half all men I was. But war
I’ll wage the moment my authority
becomes one less than a majority.’

‘I say, I bore one man. This land
we settled together. But later ships
must be repelled — as Tasman’s trip
to Nova Sealand was unmanned.
Just one Dutch sailor slain, devoured,
was all it took to keep those cowards
away a century and more! ‘Til Cook
arrived — a worthy man, it’s true.
But saint or sinner, Christ or crook,
the flesh still tastes the same. Too long
we waited. We should have Cooked that stew
at Poverty Bay. Heke was wrong,
and, too, Te Kooti, Te Whiti, Iti
— they all were late, too late. The Treaty
was signed. By 1858
we were outnumbered. What fools to wait!’

‘But me? Blah-ha! Not me!’

                                                         I swung
the chain, and through the drunken wind,
and rocks with flashing moonlight finned,
I moved – or rather, lunged and flung
myself in mad marauder’s sprint.

Te Ruki Kawiti far right, with his nephew Hone Heke and Heke's wife Hariata.

Te Ruki Kawiti far right, with his nephew Hone Heke and Heke’s wife Hariata.

‘Let sandflies eat your Treaty’s print,
as what’s-his-name, old man in the photo,
once counselled for patience. Patience? Ah yes,
Kawiti — no. Chief Maniapoto?
But not Arcady! This settlement matter
I’ll settle. A splattered grey-mattered mess.
And then the table, I’ll settle, with platters
of battered men (a buffeted buffet).
My stomach, I’ll settle, with twin soufflé
of offal baked and waffled brown.
I’ll settle accounts. Then settle down.’

‘Be gone, invaders!’

                                     I cocked my arm
to strike, for I was close enough
to bash two skulls with just one cuff
of halberd chain. But sensing harm
in my approach –

                                  ‘Slow down, now let’s
discuss this first…’

                                      my whoops and threats
and epithets, my out-thrust tongue
and popping eyes, my howling pledge
to kill, to eat – from this they sprung
in clumsy leaps, like gibbons greased
and flopping toward the island’s edge.
They split two ways. Sayeed squirmed East
and Dexter West. I shouted: ‘Pai-
marire hau hau
!’ – a battle cry
my uncle taught me – and chose to hunt
the hairy actuarial runt.

Photograph of Rewi Manga Maniapoto taken in June 1879: ‘Let sandflies eat your Treaty’s print! / as what’s-his-name, old man in the photo, / once counselled for patience...'

Photograph of Rewi Manga Maniapoto taken in June 1879: ‘Let sandflies eat your Treaty’s print! / as what’s-his-name, old man in the photo, / once counselled for patience…’

The rocks were slicker toward the West.
I saw the Simian splash and kick
and heard him squeal. The rocks were slick –
(I said that already) – all of them dressed
like plump, esteemed and fashionable guests,
with nacreous ties and velvety vests;
tuxedo shadows, barnacle buttons,
as if attending a dinner, or wedding.
Fat-men immobile, those rocks. Gluttons
ossified, stone-cold. But now they seemed
to come alive, profusely sweating,
pulsing, shifting about. They teamed
around my leaping legs; and now
and then – while ‘Paimariri hau hau,’
I screamed – they tried to claw my skin.

And then one punched me in the chin.

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “Conspiracy!” by Zireaux

Continued from previous Res Publica post

The Juggler, by Marc Chagall, 1943: ‘Remember my dream!… / …my neighbours flipped / some switch atop their spine, expanded / some wings, and each… / ascended skyward…’

The Juggler, by Marc Chagall, 1943: ‘Remember my dream!… / …my neighbours flipped / some switch atop their spine, expanded / some wings, and each… / ascended skyward…’

Remember my dream! That day I met
my isle. The fear, the noise, the threat
of something awful coming. Equipped
to fly away, my neighbours flipped

some switch atop their spine, expanded
some wings, and each – a dragonfly
or wasp – ascended skyward, while I
alone remained, abandoned, stranded
in my ignorance – spinally
un-avian, land-locked, but finally
alone, alone!

                                     ‘It all makes sense,’
I muttered. ‘My dream. Both past-
and future-inspired. The why and whence
of my seclusion. They’ll flip a switch.
They’ll motor away! Farewell at last!’

But just as fast, my hopes unstitched.
For oh, they could return. The hirsute
stooge was firm in his pursuit
(well-suited for my wife’s subordinate).
How had he learned of my coordinates?

My wife, it’s true, had pressed me for numbers.
And true some numbers I’d confessed
— which pegged my island falsely west.
But she is sly, and stealth becomes her.
Truth serums in my sleep? A tracking
device slipped in amongst my packing?

Dexter was reading: ‘Subterraneous
black holes, poison frogs, pink goo,
falling airplane wheels, spontaneous
human combustion, bowling ball,
time-travel mishap, killer cockatoo,
some scientific proof that all
of life is just a computer game…
But shipwreck…shipwreck… I see no claim
for shipwreck here in our — in your
consent to limit force majeure.’

To which I sneered:

                                              “What court applies?’
What laws? What currency? This pebble
here’ – I picked one up – ‘is treble
your dollar, and on the Forex buys
a thousand Yen.’

                                              I flicked the tiny
bit of calcified, moon-shiny
grit. To my surprise, our ape
accountant leapt to where it landed,
picked it up, examined its shape.

‘These whelks in safe-deposit pools,’
I said, ‘are bonds, each Federally branded,
and worth a ton of finest jewels.’

My isle, dear girl, I must admit,
had never looked so richly lit.
So argentine, so sterling-tinted.
A coin she was! By moonlight-minted!

'The stars, the ones / that always huddled nearest me / – I mean Antares, Achenar, / Mimosa, Betelguese – those suns / were stifled by the moon.'

‘The stars, the ones / that always huddled nearest me / – I mean Antares, Achenar, / Mimosa, Betelguese – those suns / were stifled by the moon.’

And too, much higher now, the moon
had cast the clouds in pewter plate.
The sea began to nictitate
where thinly ribboned light was strewn.
Impassioned breezes came and went,
massaging waves with lubricant;
and all the stars like captives marched
across the sky in perfect-held
formation. My throat had quickly parched
from so much speech so long restrained,
yet still I found a voice. I yelled:

‘What further cant’s contained
within that writ of yours! What terms?
What handshake does that sheet confirm?
For though, as king, I loathe beheadings,
my guillotines are great at shredding.’

Sayeed, however, had quickly guided
that epicene dwarf — that philistine
gynandromorph! — around a screen
of mangled metal which barely divided
his wooden sleeping plank from where
I moved my bowels each morning. And there
the two of them convened. They spoke
alone. Alone. The rancour of
that anchored boat, the gulp and choke
of sea-gagged rocks, the night air’s steady
rumble in my ear – above
this clank and splash, this plaintive eddy
of reckless wind and waves obstructed,
no words were heard, no sounds conducted.
And oh! How such a conference strains
the senses of an outcast’s brain.

Especially when said outcast
is Head of State! For what is ruder
than being snubbed by one’s intruders?
One’s total population massed
together in secret seminar!
What president, what King or Tzar
would sanction such conspiracy?
The minutes passed. The stars, the ones
that always huddled nearest me
— I mean Antares, Achenar,
Mimosa, Betelguese – those suns
were stifled by the moon. How far
away their fellows. Yet still they will
assemble, slowly gather ‘til
— some two weeks hence, their numbers grown
so large — the moon is overthrown.

…tbc

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“A Chance to Rid My Rock of Sharers” by Zireaux

And newsy we will be, I’ll say. / An article in Woman’s Day? / How much they pay for stories like these?

And newsy we will be, I’ll say. / An article in Woman’s Day? / How much they pay for stories like these?

Continued from previous Res Publica post

‘Enough!’ I cut him off. ‘You’ll puke
no further rubbish, wretch! You stand
on my Republic, a foreign land,
and spout your legal gobbledygook
as if it had some meaning here.
Your status, devil, is still unclear.
Are you an immigrant? A crazed
asylum seeker (if so, I know
your persecutor!). A tourist dazed
with culture shock? Quick! Declare
your purpose. And valid visa show.’

Now every contour everywhere
was charred or by a moonbeam chalked.
On every cloud, each gleaming rock,
each cheek and nose and tooth, was printed
a spark or flint of moonbeam glinted.

‘He’s knocked his head,’ Sayeed salaamed
and simpered, bowed, kowtowed
and said: ‘First words he’s spoken aloud.
Indeed, more like a man embalmed
he’s been these many weeks since we
were shipwrecked here – until the sea,
just now, delivered our deliverer…
Good Shepherd, have you spare clothes? Oh, not
for me, oh no. (I’ve been a shiverer
so long, no heat will halt this palsy).
For him, I mean…Now listen, you’ve got
a radio? I’ll make some calls – he
needs a doctor, someone at hand
when we arrive on New Z’s land.
And newsy we will be, I’ll say.
An article in Woman’s Day?

How much they pay for stories like these?
But come, Arcady, our mothers! Let’s go.
Our mothers await us! Alright then…slow,
No need to hurry either.’ He added: ‘But please,
I beg you, Arcady, dispel this trance
of yours. Let’s sail with circumstance.’

I, of course, was nowhere bound
but to that rock. My mind was wild,
my thoughts like orcas swimming round
some helpless, phocine, fatty schemes.
But all my flesh was firmly isled,
my legs two fixed and bolted beams.
The creaking sound of Dexter’s boat
was like a whimpering child, the note
of something helpless, adipose
and edible – and now, so close.

So close! That boat! A chance to tweeze
my Turkish tic from me (less direly;
not squeeze it from this world entirely).
A means to rid my rock of these
unwanted sharers (not homicidally,
no splattered blood or brain; but tidily).
And just like that, Fate’s indiscretion
was forgiven. She’d never intended
to cuckold me. A wrong impression.
An innocent error, that’s all. Sayeed
would sail away, my troubles ended.
Dexter, too, was sure to recede.

Alas. Narrators should never be trusted.
Plans revealed are always adjusted.

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “Container” by Fiona Apple

I’m the editor at the Tuesday Poetry blog this week. Join us in the comments and discussion. You can read this same post — and many other poems and commentary — over there.

Fiona Apple - Container

“Container” by Fiona Apple

I was screaming into the canyon
At the moment of my death.
The echo I created
Outlasted my last breath.

My voice it made an avalanche
And buried a man I never knew.
And when he died his widowed bride
Met your daddy and they made you.

I have only one thing to do and that’s
To be the wave that I am and then
Sink back into the ocean.

Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.
Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
“Speak, speak, I charge thee, speak” — this is Horatio, in Hamlet, imploring the ghost of Hamlet’s father not just to make some noise, to simply howl or to growl say (which would be astonishing enough), but rather to speak, to say something intelligible. More than any apparition, it’s words that bring a ghost to life.

And yet, Hamlet’s father aside, they rarely make good orators, these clumsy, techno-challenged spectres and their speech impediments; rapping on tables, sending codes through flashlights and will-‘o-the-wisps, playing alphabet games on ouija boards, making reverse recordings of their glossolalia on old LPs. But how else should it be? Speaking in tongues, or through mediums, offers a solution for those without tongues or bodies of their own. Divested of form, of density, what larynx can produce a voice? What brain suggests a syntax to the whims of the dead?

With her song “Container,” Fiona Apple produces the voice of a ghost — brilliantly, beautifully, but most importantly, poetically. Through lyrics, through words. It’s a wave, that voice. It rises and recedes, rages and calms. Apple starts with a tremor in her tone. Note the metrical structure here, the eerie, plaintive trimeter of the first quatrain — with its trochaic howling words, “SCREAMINGing,” “CANyon,” “MOment.” Then she belts the “echo” like no other singer, in no other song. The line becomes pure sound, pure mantra. The avalanche, meanwhile, seems completely out of place for an ocean-born ghost, but that’s the thing: This is a ghost voice. A vibration. It ripples and tsunamis through space, from sea to shining snow-top. There’s a oneness here, between language and sound, poet and phantom.

The first quatrain swells and solidifies into the event-driven physicality of the second, which is sturdy iambic tetrameter, reenforced with the “died”/“bride” girders of internal rhyme. Note the echo-effect of line five, with its ricocheting ictus in the canyon of iambs — my VOICE, it MADE, an AVaLANCH. Apple bounces back and forth. The literary device here — “My voice, it made,” “my abc, it xyz’d” — is called dislocation,* whereby the pronoun emphasises the noun by echoing it.

And it’s the echo, the ripple, the great wave of sound that becomes physical and powerful; that causes the avalanche, that causes the death of a stranger and a child to be born. The reference to “daddy” is intimate, child-friendly. “Containers,” I should point out, is the opening theme song of a TV series called “The Affair,” which just finished its first season on Showtime. The song lends the show a haunting artistic key with which “The Affair” never quite harmonises. Not for lack of trying. One of the show’s two main characters, Alison, insists that her dead son is still present in the world. “He’s watching us,” she says. “He’s caring for us every day.” If this is true — and at one point, yes, as Alison attempts to drown herself in the ocean, we hear the voice of a little boy shouting from the shore — if true, it’s definitely not something we want a main character to tell us.


Rather, we need to hear the ghost-voice for ourselves — which brings us back to Apple’s poem. We’re now at the third stanza, a tercet, in which the first two lines, still holding the dimensions of the previous stanza, start to tremble and collapse:

I have only one thing to do and that’s
To be the wave that I am and then

This is pure abstraction, pure searching, wavy, echolocation. It’s barely English. The five-lettered “thing” is the longest of the 18 words that flail about and say nothing. Beautiful, poetic ghost-speak. There’s a very soft, ghostly, syllabic rhyme in the enjambment — “and that’s” / “and then” — which Apple deftly stresses through the rhythm and tone of her voice, before the whole thing slams into the spondee of the original trimeter: “SINK BACK into the Ocean.” From the howling trochees of “SCREAMing,” “MOment,” “CANyon” we end with another, softer, more surrendering and mournful one: “Ocean.”

One of the most beautiful themes in poetry (which circles just beyond the black hole tug of a trope) is that of the passively almighty. The powerfully weak. The noisy unnoticed. A kind of stop-motion perspective in which things that appear silent and still and locked in eternity — the ocean, the dead, the ancient rocks of Australia (see that greatest of ghost stories, Picnic at Hanging Rock) — can rise up, knock us over, overwhelm our world with their substance. Apple’s poem contains that kind of substance. It dislocates our sense of control over our lives; and makes us stop and listen in wonder.
____
Zireaux’s most recent novel is A Charlatan’s Orbit, which is available on Kindle and in paperback at Amazon.

* Dupriez, B. and Halsall, A.W., A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, October 30, 1991; and later referenced in Huddleston, R. and Pullum G, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge University Press, April 15, 2002.

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Tuesday Poem: “A Charlatan’s Orbit,” a novel by Zireaux

Works by Zireaux.

Works by Zireaux.

This week’s “Tuesday Poem” is my novel-in-prose, A Charlatan’s Orbit, which is now available in print and on Kindle.

I should probably be making a bigger fuss about it. The book was picked up by an ardent and capable agent two years ago, and presented to some leading publishers in Australia. None of them, however, committed to the novel — which, in their defence, is neither set in Australia nor has anything really to do with Australia.

I nearly forgot about it; moved on to other things. I’d written most of A Charlatan’s Orbit when I was much younger (my first novel, in fact), then, following this agent’s advice, revised and updated it for publication. Over the years I’d almost grown accustomed to the book’s slippage into obscurity, which is one of its themes in fact: the spectre of artistic obscurity in our changing literary landscape. It seemed almost fitting that no one would ever read it.

But then again, with the book having come so close to publication, “bucking in its chute” as a narrator of mine once put it, it also seems a pity for A Charlatan’s Orbit to remain as nothing more than a manuscript in my writing room; so I’ve followed the necessary steps and, with this post, release it into the wild.

Make of it what you will.

A Charlatan's Orbit - A Novel (Pre-release Review Copy)

A Charlatan’s Orbit – A Novel. Now available in print and on Kindle.

A Charlatan’s Orbit – A Novel
by Zireaux
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
424 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1482019278 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1482019272
BISAC: Fiction / Literary

On September 15, 2009, the chairman of a major New York publishing house is found shot to death in his bedroom. Nearby, in the chairman’s study, lies the manuscript of A Charlatan’s Orbit, by one of America’s most successful and prolific novelists — Randall Ray.

The manuscript, Ray’s 98th and final book, is unlike any of his previous works. Part memoir, part confession, it describes Ray’s curious life — from his charmed childhood in California, to the strange cruelties of small-town India, to the financial and artistic pressures of New York City, and finally to a mysterious island where he now lives with an antique pistol, defending himself from angry natives.

But most of all, the book reveals the surprising truth behind Ray’s stardom — a truth which not only changes his legacy forever, but which exposes his passions, his duplicity, and ultimately the series of murders that have allowed A Charlatan’s Orbit to be written and published at all.

Get the print version.

Get the Kindle version.

_____
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Tuesday Poem: “That Foul Accountant of My Wife!” by Zireaux

Still from the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: '...My mental portrait fattened / into plump and Quasimodian life...'

Still from the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: ‘…My mental portrait fattened / into plump and Quasimodian life…’

And hunched and hairy and beastly-shaped.
No neck, although its head looked shrunk
enough to be the stalk or trunk,
of headless monk (an ape de-caped,
so to speak).

                              “Which one? Which one
of you’s Arcady Robinson?”

Bowed short legs, broad shoulders, slender
loins, vermicular arms, lengthy hair,
and puffed up torso, as if both genders
joined together, merged in cleaved
and clumpy surge of flesh somewhere
above the hips.

                              The water received
his rubber dinghy, and ferried it
toward us, the way a waiter would carry it
— level and smooth — were it a tray
that held a hairy canapé.

Did I resent that calm, obedient
sea? So welcoming (compare
that with my own arrival!
)

                                                            ‘Where’s
your – stop that! – your one ingredient
of fixed net worth!’

                                  The cretin – now clasped
by smelly, delighted and blighted Sayeed
— still scanned the dim-lit isle and rasped
a first impression:

                                  ‘Your what’s-it-called.
Release me, sir! The terms agreed
oblige the undersigned” – he trawled
a trouser pocket, produced a letter,
or no, a document – ‘the debtor
undersigned gives promise not
to liquefy an asset bought…’

Oh Megan-Muse! Although we hadn’t
met before, I soon divined
this fellow’s form! My hunch aligned
with fact. My mental portrait fattened
into plump and Quasimodian life.

That foul accountant of my wife!

The man who ka-chinged her bell (may he rest
in peace), the dwarfish Pan who hexed her
— and sexed her — was here now manifest!

‘…an asset bought with aforementioned
loan,” continued undaunted Dexter,
“without the undersigned’s intention
approved by said Investor.’

                                                  He stalled,
then hoarsely shouted: ‘Your what’s-it-called,
you vehicle, your boat – it’s gone! The barge
on which we hold a “floating charge”…’

…tbc

_____
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Tuesday Poem: “A Face Immense with Murder” by Zireaux

Kali trampling Shiva, Chromolithograph, by R. Varma: '...as from a face immense / with murder; swelled malevolence; / bloated, blue-skinned Kali among  / the Hindu’s devilry...'

Kali trampling Shiva, Chromolithograph, by R. Varma: ‘…as from a face immense / with murder; swelled malevolence; / bloated, blue-skinned Kali among / the Hindu’s devilry…’

Ahead of me a storm cloud masked
the dying sun, and seemed a tumour
there, with bolts of bronzy hair
projecting from its swollen bloom, or
swarming hive, or epiphyte
or gushing growth in crushing night –
whatever it was, the sea below
was cast in darkest indigo

and seemed, that level sea, a tongue
protruding, as from a face immense
with murder; swelled malevolence;
bloated, blue-skinned Kali among
the Hindu’s devilry. O pagan
horror! O see me tremble, Megan.
Great Muse! Lend me your size, your heavenly
amplitude, your wing-spanned weight
which magically rises, 747ly,
above those billowing effigies,
those dreaded cumuli of fate.
Lend me, love, your infinite ease
to tranquillise the Gorgon’s wroth.
O Utterfly! My Behe-moth!
Let’s travel, dear (you promised me)
to some unfathomed galaxy –

Okay. I know. First finish the poem…

The storm was not the thing I urged
Sayeed to see; but what emerged
from it — from that infernal foam,
what churned within its stygian throat.
A tiny moving thing. A mote
amidst that murky deep, a speck,
a spot, a floating fleck of bile
came drifting toward our island wreck.

‘A boat!’ my stowaway cried and leapt
across the rocks to where a pile
of scrap was gathered – a thing he’d kept
for just this purpose: a freezer box
was steeply wedged into the rocks;
and to it, obliquely, with rope attached,
the drum from which Sayeed had hatched.

And rings and winches; a blade from Tug’s
propeller, some davits, roller chains,
a crossbar from a hauling crane
— all jammed and hammered, crammed and plugged
in place, and bound with bailer bags,
and irons spars, and nailed-on flags.
Atop the highest point, about
four meters up, an empty jar
of Newman’s Salsa gave a snout
to that strange upward-sniffing creature.
Inside this high-hung reservoir
was stored some oil, its crowning feature
(peak oil, you might say). This cup
was what now fueled its keeper up
the sculptured peak. A boat was sighted.
That high-held cup must be ignited.

'Atop the highest point, about / four meters up, an empty jar / of Newman’s Salsa gave a snout /  to that strange upward-sniffing creature.'

‘Atop the highest point, about / four meters up, an empty jar / of Newman’s Salsa gave a snout / to that strange upward-sniffing creature.’

No torch-bearer at the Olympic games,
no squirrel-athlete could have scaled
that pile more quickly. Sayeed prevailed,
and with a single Flick-Bic’s flame
(where had he found my lighter?) the deed
was quickly done. A glowing seed
was planted in the growing dark.
And to that hanging lamp the boat
now honed, as when the dreaded shark
in Spielberg’s films locates its prey.
A far-off, faintly bleating goat
at first, and then a donkey’s bray,
the outboard motor rumbled nearer.
The pink that fogged the night-sky’s mirror
soon faded away. But just as soon,
behind us rose an amber moon,

which cast sufficient light, a golden
barley smear of light, for me
to track the roaring noise and see
the motorboat as it rolled in.
A sleek half-cabin craft it was.
Its engine slowed — a muffled buzz —
then silenced completely. Inside the gently
swaying craft I dimly perceived
a single figure, a child evidently,
a child all alone (although
my eyes were not to be believed).

‘Hello!’ Sayeed was there to throw
a rope.

                    The figure caught it, and now
it stood upon the moonlit prow,
a thing of physiologic distortion,
child-sized but adult-proportioned.

…tbc

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