Augustus Young, CALABRIA AND BACK
[Black marble eye(s). From St Laurence Cathedral, Genoa. Foto di Marzia Poerio]
Maida Vale, July 1982 (after the Falklands War)
There’s hope for a stranger in this paradise
for the insects are wise to the best cracks
in the corrugated wallpaper; scene of
bloodcurdling recoils; Homeric waves coming back.
And the young men everywhere are only young men
stuck with nothing to do except stay, stay the dream,
tipping a King-size butt into a burst beer can,
Brando and Sinatra could have been their fathers.
Here only mongrel dogs inherit the sunshine,
and I have not spoken one grammatical phrase
for almost a month. My place is underwater.
There, goggled in the seabed, I can see clearly
carnivorous weeds entwine about a body
mosaiced with flints of granite and volcanic ash.
I flipper from what I see, a deadly warning.
Calypso’s Isle and Co. meet Siren Tours.
Still the layabout dog knows how to keep himself.
How to behave wise in all circumstances.
What to devour, and what to do with the sun.
Knows even the rain offers certain pleasures.
This is the knowledge missed by the inhabitants
left behind in the dead heat. Black marble eyes fixed
on the waste of wanting more than you have now.
Don’t move. The living are accused of ancient wrongs.
I demand back all the postcards I sent to my friends.
But where are my friends now? A hundred years have passed.
A hundred years of newspapers outside my flat.
A hundred years of rain. No wonder the print runs.
Over thirty thousand memorial milk-bottles
stand between me and home, a place to rest my head.
Should I recover in some antique shop’s attic
the postcards beheaded of stamps? And so the place
and date of issue would be lost. Only
the destination remains. And I am here
Meanwhile I’m not sure which side of my bread is spam.
Or why I am. The summer dust I sifted turned by the rain
to mud. I think of the grain it might have been,
and the harvest ruined by not being around for it.
Misguided melancholy. From dust to mud always.
The cycle of barren seasons. Rot fulfilled.
Mud huts of hope spring up, mushrooms to survive in.
Not a shroud in the house is dry. These walls are sound.
Shrouds treated with human blood that won’t clot quite yet,
impregnated with chemicals that preserve
so the face of grief is indelible. As long
as we believe in the image, and don’t test.
I’ve not wept for years, said the military man
at the Victory Parade through the Stock Exchange.
And foolish mothers wave flags over their dead sons.
Wives and children look lost, but are pleased to be seen.
The wounded wish they were there. Though not invited.
Still will watch it on television. Radar screens
track missiles on target across their decks in dreams.
Cheer up. Posthumous Awards. Pass the hat around.
And the decent dust turns to mud, mud too sacred
to be dug up. Though some want back the bodies. Bones.
The war dead should be left be where they fall, it’s said:
spares unnecessary grief in the public eye.
War widows unite. Only give interviews for a fee.
Grab what you can while your weeds have credit. Hold out
for a golden handshake from the State, not charity.
And if someone tells you something for nothing - scream.