The Scream

Have you ever heard a scream
From that place between
Waking and sleeping?
The thunderous silence of a midnight dirge
To mourn the loss of
What you never had.

It’s the despair of two star-crossed lovers
Lying alone together, their world ill prepared
For love that never
Dies.

It’s the godless and unholy roar
Of Heorot’s pain:
A raw and tender obscenity screamed in search of
Heroes from a foreign shore.

It’s the rumble of this fragile earth
Of fire and stone,
But
There is no balm in Gilead
To soothe creation’s groan.

And no amount of drink
Can ever stop the sound,
And no endless reel of daytime television
Will ever fully drown
The Scream.

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Why I will not be wearing a Poppy this year.

Remembrance day, as the name suggests was designed to be a forceful annual reminder of just how horrific and destructive a war can be. Every year the country would have one minute of silence to remember those men and women who died in what we now call the two world wars, the idea being that if we forget what it was like then  we are bound to repeat our mistakes and plunge ourselves into yet another even more terrifying conflict. It seems to me that this message has been lost over the years and that November 11th has become yet another excuse for national pride and flag-waving. I find this extremely disrespectful to those servicemen and women (for the most part conscripts) whose lives were taken from them because political ideologies and national identities were allowed to become more important than the peoples’ lives. People died because we as a species lost sight of what is really important and now, almost 90 years on, on the day that we agreed to set aside to mourn and remember our mistake, people take to the streets with flags – the very symbol of the problem that caused such devastation. Wearing a Poppy has become intertwined today with smugness about winning 2 wars that ended long before most of us were even born, a war that we agreed was not really a victory for anyone, but a loss for humanity. I will have a private minute of silence for the dead – though I think that one minute in a year is hardly adequate, but I will not wear a symbol whose original meaning was noble but which has been stolen by the kind of people who would rather recapitulate their ancestors’ dubious victory than remember the dead.

Open-eyed

Sometimes there’s a moment when
A rabbit ventures, for the first time, from the warren;
It sees the world for the first time in light,
Taking in the everything that now manifests itself
In the bright and unclouded future.
That was me.

I remember the first time I marveled at a bird
Sitting on the stump of a tree in the woods.
I remember my eye meeting hers and being
Entranced by such humble magnificence.
Little over a minute ago that eye had seen
Sights that earth-bound men could only dream.
To me that sparrow was a seraph from somewhere else,
A messenger of God making contact with me.

Dreams come to an end,
And those first feelings of magic fade away to shadows
Of another life, leaving only the misted memory
Of a sparrow on a stump.
But moments like that do not die;
They remain the living essence of that child in the woods
Open-eyed.

Gargoyles

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Disfigured demon faces.

Ugly bat-like wings.

How could it come to be that these should be the things

To guard our sacred spaces

And hide our holy places?

 

And that is what fear is – a gargoyle, a voluntary evil,

A demon that makes us turn our back on what we truly feel,

A bat – a vampire, a remnant of the un-living, pain that’s yet to heal.

 

The longer that we turn away

From the monsters in our minds,

The firmer grows their grip

and the tighter grows the bind

on all that we hold dear.

 

Next time you see a demon

On the doorway of a church

Look inside your mind and find

The Devils favourite perch.

Two poems for the price of one.

It seems like ages since my last blog entry so I’m going to do a 2 for 1 offer to make up for lost time. I’ve written two new poems in the last few weeks and they’re both going in this one entry.
They’re going together because they both deal with similar ideas and sentiments.

The first is a description of a courtroom in which our attempts to excuse ourselves from our own decisions are sitting under judgement from an authority higher even that truth. We know that the judge is higher than truth because it is truth that the lawyer unsuccessfully hinges his argument on. I opted for a slightly naive sounding rhythm and rhyme structure for the piece because it adds a feeling of inevitability to the way it sounds when I read it.

The second is inspired by the times when I am tempted to think that the trials of life are at least partly to blame for my lack of resoluteness. It ends on a slightly more positive note with a Kierkegaardian leap of faith into the unknown which is really all that we can do when faced with the utter loneliness of existence. The final stanza in iambic pentameter was fun to write. I can see why the great bard was so fond of using it – expect more of it from me in the future.

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What to say when all is said

And answers, in the sinners seat,

Sit silent at the Judges feet,

Their zombie presence like the living dead.

 

A lawyer makes his final plea:

That answers may yet turn out true;

That there is yet much work to do;

That in the end the truth will set us free.

 

But no amount of argument

Can ever have the final word,

For all is said and all is heard

And we still wait for final judgement.

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If only streets were paved with gold,

And clouds of Colgate white

In Bombay Sapphire skies

Were more than lovely lies,

Then maybe this damned emptiness

Would be a little easier on my soul.

 

If only life were not a strain,

And you and I could see

The final end of pain;

If we could eat the fruit and be like God,

Then I could know that life were not in vain.

 

But here I stand and that is all I know;

It is not given to the blind to see.

So take my hand and show me where to go;

I’ll leap and pray that someone catches me.

The Name

There is a name I call when words
Escape my searching tongue
The first word on my lips,
And last to linger on,
Is a name I hardly even know
Without the sting of failure on my brow;
The knowledge that right now
Judgement time has come.
 
An only that name has the power
That I have come to know
can shine the saving rays of spring
That melt the ice and snow
Of my latest misadventure.
It lifts me up although
 
The name that I’ve so often called
Is silent like a song
That I cannot quite recall
Because it has been too long
Out of my mind.
But then again
I hear that name…

The Existentialist Penguin

Two penguins were stood on an iceberg and one jokingly said to the other

“You look like you’re wearing a tuxedo.”

To which the other unflinchingly replied

“How do you know I’m not?”

 

            This is my favourite joke because it draws attention to something that is rarely talked about and even more rarely understood and appreciated. It points to the invisible and unchallenged assumptions that form the foundational bedrock of language and culture. How so? Because the first penguin was making an apparently reasonable joke and, but for the Socratic thinking of the second penguin, that would have been fine. If the second penguin had done as so many other penguins in the pub had done before him and chuckled politely we would have a completely unremarkable interaction. Instead, we have a beautifully crafted joke about a joke, from which it is almost impossible to identify the source of irony. The second penguin did more than subvert a joke, though. I like to think that the first penguin left that iceberg a different bird; one that thought more, and more deeply, about what he assumed with his words and actions. He probably stayed up all night knowing the real meaning of existential angst for the first time in his life because for once somebody has questioned him. No-one had questioned his facts or his figures, but they had questioned him as a being that is able to be fundamentally wrong in a way that he did not even know existed.

            But the comedy (and I mean that in the philosophical sense of confronting absurdity) doesn’t stop there. Heidegger observed that we are all thrown as individuals into a world of meaning, which we do not need to observe and represent linguistically because the work has always already been done for us by the culture in which we find ourselves. But that culture, that language, that lens of sense is not an objective and cold reprint of reality – if it were we would be no better off with it than without it, for we would need a representation of the representation ad infinitum. It is “the world in which I exist” and as such can never be devoid of my being there. Like the first penguin, we vacuously assume to see the world without us in it as if that were a better form of the world to see but then we are challenged by that second and most lovably irritating penguin who invites is to once again become what we already are – angst-ridden subjects in a world of absurdity.

            This has implications. This has clear and measurable effects in this life. If, as the existentialist penguin supposes, our words are devoid, as it were, of objective foundations and rest merely upon the shifting sands of culture then we have reason to despair. Reality itself is compromised and truth has collapsed under its own weight. Nietzsche was right to preach the death of God for all of the assurances which we attributed to the divine have turned out to be smoke and mirrors. Morality can never be solid, certainty is impossible and love… well love is only a feeling.

            Yet the joke has a punchline, albeit an implicit one. Maybe our crude metaphysical ideas have fallen flat and maybe we have lost faith in those things that had comforted us before, but still there might be some salvation. Maybe we can hope for a truth that is not based on objectivity, a morality which rests on convictions, a love which has finality in its limitation, a faith which stands on the strength of the absurd and a God who embraces death like one of us. Such a hope can never be given, only ever chosen, but I like to think that our newly awakened penguin did not fall into the pit of self-despair and end his misery in cowardly inauthenticity but carried on living with a better appreciation of just how comic the whole situation is.