The Chimaera: Issue 4, September 2008

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A selection by John Whitworth

All these poems were written since the publication of Being the Bad Guy in 2007. Most, though not quite all, have been published in Quadrant; two won prizes in Spectator competitions.

Rabbit Rabbit

The Mekon is the stunted ruler of the evil empire in “Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future”.  

Learn to fossilize your rabbit.
Learn to terminate your aunt.
Can you see your chance and grab it?
Can you kick a nasty habit?
Is there anything you can’t?
        No. There’s no such word as can’t.

Learn to scale a Brecon Beacon.
Learn to swim the Hellespont.
Will you wilt and will you weaken?
Will you overcome the Mekon?
Is there anything you won’t?
        Nothing that I won’t or don’t.

Learn to count those hours on hours,
Eye to eye and hand in glove.
Learn to storm the brazen towers.
Can’t you see I’ve got the powers?
Won’t you feel the power of Love?
        What can you be thinking of?

Love is Sempiternal Zion,
Love’s Cathedral lined with steel,
Barred with Gates of Oak and Iron
Where the Leopard and the Lion
Interdict the Commonweal.
        Tell me what you truly feel.

Love has reasons and unreasons,
Asks no questions, buts no buts,
Tells no lies and acts no treasons.
Love the lily, sweet in seasons,
Shatters like a coconut
        I can win this coconut.

What I feel is what I’m telling.
What I tell is in my head.
What I know is chanting, spelling
From the loathly forest dwelling,
From the House of Gingerbread.
        In your life and in your head.

Chanting, spelling, what I’m telling
In my life and in my head,
All the dolours of the dead.
        Oh hear the dolours of the dead.

The Difference

The difference between men and women is like that between animals and plants. G.W.F. Hegel

Free men are Kings of menand women are their Queens,
It’s like poetry and daffodils, like sausages and beans,
But, when two ride out together, then there’s one must ride behind,
So, though Justice is a woman, she is blind, blind, blind.
           Men want cars and football. Women want romance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

The King was in the counting house, counting out his money,
The Queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey.
The money buys the honey but it buys a whole lot more
For honey keeps a woman sweet and that’s what honey’s for. 
           Men want sex and alcohol. Women want to dance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

The King was on the battlefield directing all his battles.
The Queen was at the big parade, parading all his chattels.
The Queen was at the big parade applauding her applause:
HURRAH-HURRAH-HURRAH for all the boys who win the wars.
           Men want power and politics. Women want nuance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

The King was in the bedroom telling fortunes to the Queen:
Big Men and Little Women that’s the way it’s always been.
The Big Men get to organise the Little Women’s lives
And machete-wielding persons kill their next-door neighbours’ wives.
           Men are in the driving seat, women in a trance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

There’s history and herstory but they are not the same.
When the man is up and doing then the woman gets the blame.
She was poor but she was honest, victim of a rich man’s whim.
When the in-laws make the outlaws then the outlook’s pretty grim.
           Men want this and this and this. Women want a chance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.


More Quarks

If Sasha were to come we could finish up the whisky,
        we could play three-handed cribbage,
        we could cook a baked alaska,

                 if Sasha were to come, were to come, were to come,
                        if Sasha were to come right now.

If Sasha were to come we could telephone your mother,
        we could tiptoe through the tulips,
        we could learn progressive cricket,
        we could calibrate your rain gauge,
        we could modernise the system,

                if Sasha were to come, were to come, were to come,
                         if Sasha were to come right now.

If Sasha were to come we could study Dostoevsky,
        we could buy a red Ferrari,
        we could ravish seven virgins,
        we could hibernate till Easter,
        we could infiltrate masons,
        we could colonise the bastards,
        we could bandy random numbers,

                if Sasha were to come, were to come, were to come,
                        if Sasha were to come right now.
If Sasha were to come we could dance away our troubles,
        we could modernise the penguin,
        we could save the bleeding planet,
        we could calibrate your mother,
        we could bastardise the system
        we could dominate the cricket,
        we could randomise the outcome,
        we could shimmy with the masons
        we could finish up the whisky,

                if Sasha were to come, were to come, were to come,
                       if Sasha were to come right now.


Four O’Clock

The fat clock ticks and ticks and ticks and tells
Me stuff I didn’t want to know I knew.
Across a million billion windowsills
The stellar dust is whispering of you.
A Balkan website that I can’t access
Texts messages to the Uranian rings.
Since Tuesday last American Express
Are threatening unimaginable things.
A fairy child with an enormous head,
A forky tail and huge, prehensile claws,
Is swinging at the bottom of my bed
And doesn’t seem to want to stay indoors.
Call me. I’m waiting for your call. What’s done
Is done. There’s nothing here for anyone.

Faith Zone

We hurl the homosexuals from cliffs,
Being enjoined to do so by religion
That scours our souls of maybes and what ifs.
Such wanton decadence is not our pigeon.
The Word is firm and clear and unambiguous.
Knowing and doing at every point contiguous.

We flog the godless traffickers in booze.
We stone to death the vile adulteresses.
Our sisters shall not marry where they choose,
Nor flaunt themselves in lewd, immodest dresses.
Such conduct is displeasing to the Lord
Whose Truth is sharp and gleaming like a sword.

Forgive our carnal trespasses in youth.
(Boys will be boys — we meant no harm at all.)
That was before we heard the voice of Truth,
That was before we answered to the call,
That was before the blessed Scripture spoke
And told us who to spare and who to croak.

The knife, the lash, the scaffold and the jail
Prevent believers from behaving oddly.
The Holy Word shall everywhere prevail.
It drops from Heaven like manna to the godly.
Our singleness of Faith is true security.
Its flame shall burn in everlasting purity.


On the Deaths of Philosophers

For Katie studying Philosophy

Socrates, tried for corrupting young people, was
         sentenced to death by the state.
Giordano Bruno was burned by the Catholic
         Church — a most horrible fate!                          
Seneca stoically opened a vein when he
         finally quarrelled with Nero.
Bonhoeffer said he was timid by nature, but
         faced up to death like a hero.
Viennese Schlick was shot dead by a mad Nazi
         student whose thesis he ploughed.
Pagan Hypatia, so learned and witty, got
         stoned by a Christian crowd. 
                  Yet, by and large, and it’s proven statistically,
                                    proven statistically
                           life does philosophers proud.

Poor Gödel was fearful of poison and starved, having
         lived all his life rather prissily.
Empedocles, much more intrepid, jumped into a
         smoking volcano in Sicily.
Gentle Pythagoras died in a fire, or a battle,
         according to source.
Whewell, the polymath Master of Trinity,
         died when he fell off his horse.
Rational Condorcet, imprisoned by Robespierre, was
         probably killed in his cell.
Atheist Lucretius (say Christians) took sex pills, went
         mad and lies burning in Hell.
                  But in the main you would have to admit,
                                    when you’re faced with the evidence,
                                    bound to admit,
                           most philosophers do very well.

Shpet, the idealist phenomenologist,
         perished through Stalinist thuggery.
Montague died at the hands of a boy he
         procured for the purpose of buggery
Bacon caught cold stuffing snow in a chicken and
         ended with scarcely a sniff.
Jevons was drowned, and Protagoras shipwrecked.. 
         Herbrand fell off a cliff.
More and Boethius took the king’s shilling and
         paid in the end with their heads.
Giovanni Gentile who praised Mussolini was
         slaughtered by partisan Reds.
                  Still, for the most part, as might be expected,
                                   in all probability
                                    should be expected,
                           philosophers die in their beds.

The Egg

Consider an enormous egg.
It is, perhaps, an ostrich egg.
Suppose it is an ostrich egg,
The ostrich egg beneath your chair.
(And what can it be doing there?)
Suppose it smells. Suppose it swells.
You’d like it better somewhere else.
You’d like it better in the loft.
(The egg is warm and strangely soft.)
You’d like it better in the shed.
(The egg is glowing strangely red.)
You’d like it better in your head.
It’s so much better in your head.
You cross your heart and wish to die.
(The egg begins to sough and sigh.)
You wish that you could put it back.
(The egg begins to gasp and crack.)
You wish you had a telephone.
(The egg begins to keen and moan.)
You do not wish to be alone.
You do not wish to be alone.
You leave your chair.  You leave the room.

The room is quiet as the tomb
You listen quiet as a mouse.
You leave the room.  You leave the house.
You vanish from the neighbourhood.
You’d leave the country if you could.
You know it isn’t any good.
(The egg begins to sob and squall.)
You know it isn’t any good.
(The egg begins to caterwaul.)
It isn’t any good at all.
It isn’t any good at all.


Something Ugly

Let me tell you of the camel
How you ride him like a pony
Though his hump is very lumpy
And his back is very bony
And his kick’ll send you sprawling
And he spits like a howitzer
And his hygiene is appalling25
And his character, charisma
And intelligence are dismal
And his manners are abysmal,
And his temper is infernal.
So to put it in a nutshell,
What in any other mammal
Is unutterably awful,
Is quite normal in the camel.


Morocco Bound

The last line of the chorus rightly belongs to Bing Crosby in “The Road to Morocco”.

We’re weirdy bards, we’re beardy bards, fine words are what we deal in.
When poetry is on the cards and poems softly stealing,
We winch them in with yards and yards of true poetic feeling.
        We’re horrible and hairy, but our principles are sound
        And, like Webster’s Dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.

We strike a pose, we strike a match, we light a lyric light.
It’s like an itch you gotta scratch, you gotta get it right.
It’s like a train you gotta catch, you gotta catch tonight.
        We might seem airy-fairy, but our feet are on the ground,
        And, like Webster’s Dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.

Some bards are miserable as sin and some are happy hunks.
A few get rich as Rin Tin Tin but most stay poor as monks.
A few will die of heroin, a lot will live as drunks.
        We’re seriously scary but we’re seminally sound
        And, like Webster’s Dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.

Our Eastern star, our Shangri-La, it cancels out the curse,
It nominates the fat cigar and writes the winning verse,
It shows us where the good times are, for better or for worse.
        We’ve bought a dromedary and we paid a thousand pound
        And, like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.

Life at Eighty

This world of dew is but a world of dew. And yet. And yet.
                                                                             — Basho.

I like to loaf, I like to laugh; I like to read the Telegraph;
I buy it at the student rate, it tells me of affairs of state;
And on the state I meditate: I am a wise old fellow.

I potter in a world of prose; grandchildren tell me how it goes.
They drink and disco at the club; I soak for hours in the tub,
Careen my carcass, scrub-a-dub: I am a hale old fellow.

I mutter when I do not shout; in welly boots I splash about;
I walk on rainy afternoons; I dine on cauliflower and prunes,
And never mess my pantaloons: I am a clean old fellow

A television haruspex; I like the violence, hate the sex;
I comb the Oxfam shops for togs; the country’s going to the dogs,
I chart it all in monologues: I am a stern old fellow.

The doctor gives me coloured pills to cure me of my various ills,
My smoker’s cough, my writer’s stoop, my lecher’s eye, my brewer’s droop,
My belly like a cantaloupe: I am a sad old fellow.

A world of dew. And yet. And yet a world not easy to forget;
I cannot let it pass me by; I stop and look it in the eye;
And, as you see, I versify: I am a game old fellow.

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