Archive for February, 2015

MONKS’ MOUND, CAHOKIA, ILLINOIS

The river valleys – Missouri, Ohio,
Illinois, Mississippi – are thronged
with prehistoric earthen mounds. Monks’ Mound
was lived on briefly by Trappists, hence
its English soubriquet. The city
of Cahokia – the name means ‘Wild Geese’ –
was six miles square, had more than eighty mounds.
At its thirteenth century zenith,
it was as populous as any city
in the then contemporary Europe.

The Trinculos and Stephanos came:
mockers and con men – drunken, violent,
slaughtering bison, fencing the prairie –
satraps of Washington and the railways,
converting, through alcohol, to the true faith
of dependence and destitution,
those whom they determined were Caliban.

Monk’s Mound is one hundred feet high. Westwards,
beyond the black slums of East St Louis,
over the river, on the waterfront,
is St Louis’s Gateway Arch – six hundred
and thirty stainless steel feet to celebrate
the final subjugation of the land.

 

 

 

 

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RANDOMNESS

As we walk on the path by the Dee, glad
a low wall keeps us from the river in spate,
its white waters covering the flat rocks
that stretch half across the river’s breadth,
waters whose unvarying roar fills the town,
we see, coming downstream from Chain Bridge,
bounced erratically by the relentless
torrent, a child’s ball, plastic, red, bright as new.

Later, as we cross the bridge to climb the hill
to the Llangollen Wharf Tea Room for
a welsh rarebit with smoky bacon,
having assumed the ball would already
have left Wales, we see it, once more, caught
in eddies made by one of the buttresses
of an arch and the smooth rock it is built on.

As we re-cross the bridge, after we have
walked off the rarebit along the canal,
we see the ball again, stranded on the rock,
and hope a child in Bala or Corwen
has another now – plenty of time
to learn about physics.

 

 

 

 

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SOME RISE BY SIN, AND SOME BY VIRTUE FALL

MEASURE FOR MEASURE AND THE THIRD MAN
TALES FROM THE SEWERS OF VIENNA

SOME RISE BY SIN, SOME BY VIRTUE FALL

 

Says Mr. Popescu – about Anna,
or Isabella – ‘She ought to go careful
in Vienna. Everybody
ought to go careful in this city.’ ‘Even,’
adds Lucio, ‘the fantastical
duke of dark corners.’ Tyranny has scope
in the paradox between nature and art.

The movie is shown, three days a week, on a loop
at the Burg Kino on Opernring. In the play,
Vienna, under the Duke, is depraved –
brothels abound, citizens, unleashed,
give the finger to laws as well as morals
but, in the dénouement, the Duke confounds
the dissemblers and offers Isabella
marriage. We never know if she accepts.

Beneath the statue of Franz Josef,
Dr. Winkle, Baron Kurtz and a third man
exploit victims of dissembling: children
who die needlessly, always elsewhere, always
bemused with pain. In the late Emperor’s
sewers, Harry Lime lives! The truthful poets are
excluded from ideal republics or
dukedoms. ‘Hence,’ says the Duke, ‘shall we see if
power change purpose, what our seemers be…’
So, Holly Martins, a successful writer
of Westerns, outguns his high school friend.

In the cemetery’s main avenue
of pollarded trees – which shed their leaves, art,
of course, confounding nature – Holly waits,
the handle of his hold-all in his right hand,
as Anna walks towards him and the zither
sounds. She passes by, unseeing.

 

 

 

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ONE FOR SORROW

Piero della Francesca’s painting
La Natività (oil on poplar panel),
hangs in London’s National Gallery,
‘acquired’ in 1874
after a botched restoration and being
slightly singed by an altar candle.

Top left is a winding Tuscan valley,
top right the artist’s home town, Sansepolcro,
more than half a millennium ago;
in the foreground, the infant Christ on a rug,
his mother kneeling, praying, beatific;
behind are five bare-footed angels, two
with lutes, two singing, one thoughtful, as is
Joseph, seated and looking away from
mother and son, with two shepherds beside him.
Possibly the third has been delayed –
as have the Magi consulting Herod.
One shepherd points to heaven or the roof,
with its weeds and holes, of the lean-to
beneath which a donkey is braying
and an ox peers at the baby – and on which
a silent, solitary magpie perches.

As the British advanced through Italy,
Sansepolcro was saved from bombardment
by a well read artillery captain
defying orders to protect the painter’s
La Resurrezione in the duomo.
The risen Christ – melancholy, determined,
posed to show the stigmata – holds a flag
with a red cross. Beneath him are four soldiers,
asleep – exhausted after a battle
in one of Tuscany’s continual,
dynastic wars perhaps. Two are sprawled
against the tomb – the clean shaven one
reputedly Piero.

 

 

 

 

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WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY…

…treat jostled treat: a wedding one day,
a memorial service the next… from casual
pretension to pretended casualness…
hired morning suits, fascinators… chinos,
backpacks… he was a great man… they’re such a
suited couple… he instantly recognised
my genius… they’ve lived together for years…
in a modest Georgian country house in Wales –
transformed to a wedding venue with bought-in
statuary… in a Camden Town pub
with asparagus risotto and rosé…
we celebrated something – money, luck,
aspiration, achievement? Someone died,
someone married, we were invited.
Nothing of joy occurred, nothing solemn.

Truly and beyond mockery, the sun shone
on the lawns and the distant, lovat hills –
and a gusting north wind threw the city’s dirt
against the etched windows.

 

 

 

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