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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.’


                            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!’

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.’


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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).


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Anniversary of a Puzzle, and Final Two Episodes of Kamal

Niagara Falls With a Rainbow

Niagara Falls with Blue Sky and Rainbow

Just two more episodes of Kamal — this Tuesday and next — to finish Book One.

I’ll then introduce some brand new poems for children, illustrated by the brilliant Lynda Farrington Wilson, who helped me diagram the imagery behind “At Melville’s Tomb,” by Hart Crane.

By the way, still no solvers of the puzzle poem — “A Little Morsel of Immortality.” This week marks its one year anniversary. There’s still a free copy of my latest novel for the puzzle’s solver.


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Short break — back on 23rd

Will be traveling overseas for the next dozen days or so. Next post on Tuesday, October 23rd. A good chance for readers to catch up on previous episodes of Kamal.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One


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Zireaux for Poet Laureate of Nowhere Island

Alex Hartley and Nowhere Island

Alex Hartley and Nowhere Island

Subject: How Nowhere Island has copied my novel, Res Publica — and how Zireaux nominates himself as Poet Laureate of Nowhere Island

Dear Mr. Hartley,

It was astonishing to hear about your remarkable Nowhere Island project on the Netherland’s radio program “Earth Beat” earlier this month.

Especially so, because I’d already created a very similar, uncannily similar, artwork myself…a verse novel set in New Zealand called Res Publica.

I’ve sent you a copy of the first book (of three) and I’m quite certain you’ll find it as thrilling to read as it was for me to hear your interview.

The novel, which was broadcast on Radio New Zealand last year, tells the story of a young man who discovers a newly risen island off the coast of New Zealand and transforms it into a nation.

Listening to your interview with “Earth Beat,” I was particularly struck by your comments on the island’s size (“about the size of a football pitch”), its lack of greenery (“bleakest island you can imagine” — no, no, mine is more bleak), its artistic significance (“colonialism…the thrill to be the first person ever to stand on a piece of land”), its ephemeral nature (“there’s poetry in that”), its development into a nation and no forth.

All of these comments would equally describe the island of my Res Publica.

Of course, I have no objection to life imitating art — on the contrary, I can think of no greater flattery for the artist — and I have only admiration for what you’re doing.

But it occurred to me: Given my many years spent living on, and staking claim to, the imaginative territory of your very real artwork — and the fact that, as you’ll see, so much of my writing addresses what you’ve worked so hard to create — perhaps I’m uniquely qualified, and would be greatly honored, to be the first (and only) Poet Laureate of Nowhere Island.

I hereby nominate myself, Zireaux, for that esteemed position. I eagerly await an official confirmation.

In the meantime, I wish you and your island nation all the best.



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