Read an Excerpt
By A.D. Hope
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 1992 A.D. Hope
All rights reserved.
The End of a Journey
There at the last, his arms embracing her,
She found herself, faith wasted, valour lost,
Raped by a stranger in her sullen bed;
And he, for all the bloody passion it cost
To have heard the sirens sing and yet have fled,
Thought the night tedious, coughed and shook his head,
An old man sleeping with his housekeeper.
But with the dawn he rose and stepped outside.
A farm-cart by the doorway dripped and stank,
Piled with the victims of his mighty bow.
Each with her broken neck, each with a blank,
Small, strangled face, the dead girls in a row
Swung as the cold airs moved them to and fro,
Full-breasted, delicate-waisted, heavy-thighed.
Setting his jaw, he turned and clambered down
A goat-track to the beach: the tide was full.
He stood and brooded on the breaking wave
Revolving many memories in his skull:
Calypso singing in her haunted cave,
The bed of Circe, Hector in his grave
And Priam butchered in his burning town.
Grimly he watched his enemy the sea
Rage round the petty kingdom he called home;
But now no trident threatened from the spray.
He prayed, but knew Athene would not come.
The gods at last had left him, and the day
Darkened about him. Then from far away
And long ago, he seemed once more to be
Roped to a mast and through the breakers' roar
Sweet voices mocked him on his reeling deck:
'Son of Laertes, what delusive song
Turned your swift keel and brought you to this wreck,
In age and disenchantment to prolong
Stale years and chew the cud of ancient wrong,
A castaway upon so cruel a shore?'
Not these cut heads posed in a breathless room,
Their crisp flesh screaming while the cultured eye
Feeds grublike on the double martyrdom:
The insane virgins lusting as they die!
Connoisseurs breathe the rose's agony;
Between their legs the hairy flowers in bloom
Thrill at the amorous comparison.
As the professor snips the richest bud
For his lapel, his scalpel of reason
Lies on the tray; the class yawns for its food —
Only transfusion of a poem's blood
Can save them, bleeding from their civilisation —
Not this cut flower but the entire plant
Achieves its miracle from soil and wind,
Rooted in dung, dirt, dead men's bones; the scent
And glory not in themselves an end; the end:
Fresh seeding in some other dirty mind,
The ache of its mysterious event
As its frail root fractures the subsoil, licks
At the damp stone in passing, drives its life
Deeper to split the ancient bedded rocks
And penetrates the cave beneath, it curls
In horror from that roof. There in its grief
The subterranean river roars, the troll's knife
Winks on his whetstone and the grinning girls
Sit spinning the bright fibre of their sex.
Make no mistake; there will be no forgiveness;
No voice can harm you and no hand will save;
Fenced by the magic of deliberate darkness
You walk on the sharp edges of the wave;
Trouble with soul again the putrefaction
Where Lazarus three days rotten lies content.
Your human tears will be the seed of faction,
Murder the sequel to your sacrament.
The City of God is built like other cities:
Judas negotiates the loans you float;
You will meet Caiaphas upon committees;
You will be glad of Pilate's casting vote.
Your truest lovers still the foolish virgins,
Your heart will sicken at the marriage feasts
Knowing they watch you from the darkened gardens
Being polite to your official guests.
To be put on the train and kissed and given my ticket,
Then the station slid backward, the shops and the neon lighting,
Reeling off in a drunken blur, with a whole pound note in my pocket
And the holiday packed with Perhaps. It used to be very exciting.
The present and past were enough. I did not mind having my back
To the engine. I sat like a spider and spun
Time backward out of my guts — or rather my eyes — and the track
Was a Now dwindling off to oblivion. I thought it was fun:
The telegraph poles slithered up in a sudden crescendo
As we sliced the hill and scattered its grazing sheep;
The days were a wheeling delirium that led without end to
Nights when we plunged into roaring tunnels of sleep.
But now I am tired of the train. I have learned that one tree
Is much like another, one hill the dead spit of the next
I have seen tailing off behind all the various types of country
Like a clock running down. I am bored and a little perplexed;
And weak with the effort of endless evacuation
Of the long monotonous Now, the repetitive, tidy
Officialdom of each siding, of each little station
Labelled Monday, Tuesday — and goodness! what happened to Friday?
And the maddening way the other passengers alter:
The schoolgirl who goes to the Ladies' comes back to her seat
A lollipop blonde who leads you on to assault her,
And you've just got her skirts round her waist and her pants round her feet
When you find yourself fumbling about the nightmare knees
Of a pink hippopotamus with a permanent wave
Who sends you for sandwiches and a couple of teas,
But by then she has whiskers, no teeth and one foot in the grave.
I have lost my faith that the ticket tells where we are going.
There are rumours the driver is mad — we are all being trucked
To the abattoirs somewhere — the signals are jammed and unknowing
We aim through the night full speed at a wrecked viaduct.
But I do not believe them. The future is rumour and drivel;
Only the past is assured. From the observation car
I stand looking back and watching the landscape shrivel,
Wondering where we are going and just where the hell we are,
Remembering how I planned to break the journey, to drive
My own car one day, to have choice in my hands and my foot upon power,
To see through the trumpet throat of vertiginous perspective
My urgent Now explode continually into flower,
To be the Eater of Time, a poet and not that sly
Anus of mind the historian. It was so simple and plain
To live by the sole, insatiable influx of the eye.
But something went wrong with the plan: I am still on the train.
The Wandering Islands
You cannot build bridges between the wandering islands;
The Mind has no neighbours, and the unteachable heart
Announces its armistice time after time, but spends
Its love to draw them closer and closer apart.
They are not on the chart; they turn indifferent shoulders
On the island-hunters; they are not afraid
Of Cook or De Quiros, nor of the empire-builders;
By missionary bishops and the tourist trade
They are not annexed; they claim no fixed position;
They take no pride in a favoured latitude;
The committee of atolls inspires in them no devotion
And the earthquake belt no special attitude.
A refuge only for the shipwrecked sailor;
He sits on the shore and sullenly masturbates,
Dreaming of rescue, the pubs in the ports of call or
The big-hipped harlots at the dockyard gates.
But the wandering islands drift on their own business,
Incurious whether the whales swim round or under,
Investing no fear in ultimate forgiveness.
If they clap together, it is only casual thunder
And yet they are hurt — for the social polyps never
Girdle their bare shores with a moral reef;
When the icebergs grind them they know both beauty and terror;
They are not exempt from ordinary grief;
And the sudden ravages of love surprise
Them like acts of God — its irresistible function
They have never treated with convenient lies
As a part of geography or an institution.
An instant of fury, a bursting mountain of spray,
They rush together, their promontories lock,
An instant the castaway hails the castaway,
But the sounds perish in that earthquake shock.
And then, in the crash of ruined cliffs, the smother
And swirl of foam, the wandering islands part.
But all that one mind ever knows of another,
Or breaks the long isolation of the heart
Was in that instant. The shipwrecked sailor senses
His own despair in a retreating face.
Around him he hears in the huge monotonous voices
Of wave and wind: 'The Rescue will not take place.'
Mapped by its panoply of shade
There is the skull I shall not see
— Dark hollow in its galaxy
From which the blazing eye must fade —
And, though I cannot see it plain,
Within those stellar spaces roll
The countless sparks and whorls of soul:
My constellation of the brain.
These bones are calm and beautiful;
The flesh, like water, strains and clears
To show the face my future wears
Drowned at the bottom of its pool.
Then I am full of rage and bliss,
For in our naked bed I feel,
Mate of your panting mouth as well,
The deathshead lean toward your kiss;
And I am mad to have you here,
Now, Now, the instant shield of lust,
Deep in your flesh my flesh to thrust
Against a more tremendous fear.
For in a last analysis
The mind has finer rays that show
The woof of atoms, and below
The mathematical abyss;
The solid bone dissolving just
As this dim pulp about the bone;
And whirling in its void alone
Yearns a fine interstitial dust.
The ray that melts away my skin
Pales at that sub-atomic wave:
This shows my image in the grave,
But that the emptiness within
By which I know our contacts are
Delusive as a point of light
That froths against my shores of sight
Sent out from the remotest star,
So spent, that great sun's fiery head
Is scarcely visible; a ray
So ancient that it brings today
Word from a world already dead.
Ascent Into Hell
Little Henry, too, had a great notion of singing.
History of The Fairchild Family
I, too, at the mid-point, in a well-lit wood
Of second-rate purpose and mediocre success,
Explore in dreams the never-never of childhood,
Groping in daylight for the key of darkness;
Revisit, among the morning archipelagoes,
Tasmania, my receding childish island;
Unchanged my prehistoric flora grows
Within me, marsupial territories extend:
There is the land-locked valley and the river,
The Western Tiers make distance an emotion,
The gum trees roar in the gale, the poplars shiver
At twilight, the church pines imitate an ocean.
There, in the clear night, still I listen, waking
To a crunch of sulky wheels on the distant road;
The marsh of stars reflects a starry croaking;
I hear in the pillow the sobbing of my blood
As the panic of unknown footsteps marching nearer,
Till the door opens, the inner world of panic
Nightmares that woke me to unawakening terror
Birthward resume their still inscrutable traffic.
Memory no more the backward, solid continent,
From island to island of despairing dream
I follow the dwindling soul in its ascent;
The bayonets and the pickelhauben gleam
Among the leaves, as, in the poplar tree,
They find him hiding. With an axe he stands
Above the German soldiers, hopelessly
Chopping the fingers from the climbing hands.
Or, in the well-known house, a secret door
Opens on empty rooms from which a stair
Leads down to a grey, dusty corridor,
Room after room, ominous, still and bare.
He cannot turn back, a lurking horror beckons
Round the next corner, beyond each further door.
Sweating with nameless anguish then he wakens;
Finds the familiar walls blank as before.
Chased by wild bulls, his legs stick fast with terror.
He reaches the fence at last — the fence falls flat.
Choking, he runs, the trees he climbs will totter
Or the cruel horns, like telescopes, shoot out.
At his fourth year the waking life turns inward.
Here on his Easter Island the stone faces
Rear meaningless monuments of hate and dread.
Dreamlike within the dream real names and places
Survive. His mother comforts him with her body
Against the nightmare of the lions and tigers.
Again he is standing in his father's study
Lying about his lie, is whipped, and hears
His scream of outrage, valid to this day.
In bed, he fingers his stump of sex, invents
How he took off his clothes and ran away,
Slit up his belly with various instruments;
To brood on this was a deep abdominal joy
Still recognised as a feeling at the core
Of love — and the last genuine memory
Is singing 'Jesus Loves Me'— then, no more!
Beyond is a lost country and in vain
I enter that mysterious territory.
Lit by faint hints of memory lies the plain
Where from its Null took shape this conscious I
Which backward scans the dark — But at my side
The unrecognised Other Voice speaks in my ear,
The voice of my fear, the voice of my unseen guide;
'Who are we, stranger? What are we doing here?'
And through the uncertain gloom, sudden I see
Beyond remembered time the imagined entry,
The enormous Birth-gate whispering, 'per me,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.'
Now the heart sings with all its thousand voices
To hear this city of cells, my body, sing.
The tree through the stiff clay at long last forces
Its thin strong roots and taps the secret spring.
And the sweet waters without intermission
Climb to the tips of its green tenement;
The breasts have borne the grace of their possession,
The lips have felt the pressure of content.
Here I come home: in this expected country
They know my name and speak it with delight.
I am the dream and you my gates of entry,
The means by which I waken into light.
Imperial Adam, naked in the dew,
Felt his brown flanks and found the rib was gone.
Puzzled he turned and saw where, two and two,
The mighty spoor of Jahweh marked the lawn.
Then he remembered through mysterious sleep
The surgeon fingers probing at the bone,
The voice so far away, so rich and deep:
'It is not good for him to live alone.'
Turning once more he found Man's counterpart
In tender parody breathing at his side.
He knew her at first sight, he knew by heart
Her allegory of sense unsatisfied.
The pawpaw drooped its golden breasts above
Less generous than the honey of her flesh;
The innocent sunlight showed the place of love;
The dew on its dark hairs winked crisp and fresh.
This plump gourd severed from his virile root,
She promised on the turf of Paradise
Delicious pulp of the forbidden fruit;
Sly as the snake she loosed her sinuous thighs,
And waking, smiled up at him from the grass;
Her breasts rose softly and he heard her sigh —
From all the beasts whose pleasant task it was
In Eden to increase and multiply
Adam had learned the jolly deed of kind:
He took her in his arms and there and then,
Like the clean beasts, embracing from behind,
Began in joy to found the breed of men.
Then from the spurt of seed within her broke
Her terrible and triumphant female cry,
Split upward by the sexual lightning stroke.
It was the beasts now who stood watching by:
The gravid elephant, the calving hind,
The breeding bitch, the she-ape big with young
Were the first gentle midwives of mankind;
The teeming lioness rasped her with her tongue;
The proud vicuña nuzzled her as she slept
Lax on the grass; and Adam watching too
Saw how her dumb breasts at their ripening wept,
The great pod of her belly swelled and grew,
And saw its water break, and saw, in fear,
Its quaking muscles in the act of birth,
Between her legs a pygmy face appear,
And the first murderer lay upon the earth.
Excerpted from Selected Poems by A.D. Hope. Copyright © 1992 A.D. Hope. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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