Saturday, December 15, 2007

313.Dubbalin Town

The Irish Cycle: Baile Atha Cliath
Dublin, 2003

Jack B. Yeats "The Liffey Swim"

O, Dublin, sweet and slow,
I come and go
up and down your cobbled streets,
as the rain, insistent,
dampens down the lights,
and throws an orange fuzzy sheen
over half-seen sights,
over places I have been,
some near and some not far:
Grafton Street, Stephen’s Green,
The Coombe and Temple Bar,

The Traitors’ Gate.

Crowds of loud young English
shout and laugh, then urinate,
lavishly, groaning, here on the street,
beside the peagreen Liffey
(sweet Anna Livia Plurabelle);
well, at least they’re not in uniform,
and sure, dammit, what the hell,
it's a far sight worse we’ve seen before,
insurrection, hatred, famine, war:
and such a fine collection of bullet holes
in our central city monuments.

So let the hen parties heave their guts out
on the raincold cobbles:
let them stagger home and say,
what a wild time we had in Dublin!
Let them come back in ten years or so,
with their fourth or fifth bloke,
with all their kids in tow,
and have another drink, a smoke,
perhaps then they'll have some peace
(for peace comes dropping slow)
and echo these words of Louis MacNeice:
This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

Sweeney’s the chemist,
where Bloom forgot Molly’s lotion,
is still in Lincoln Place;
and so is the old post office
down on Westland Row:
O you naughty naughty boy!
I do not like that other world.
And please will you tell me
what perfume does your wife wear?
Bloom smell-sipped his glass of burgundy
at Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street,
a disappointing place these days,
so gentrified. I well remember
how one of the old barmen
was kill’t telling me how Joyce, yer man,
would be writing away at the back table,
dat filthy buik, Allergies, or wha’ever.
Ah, would you fuck off, says I.
Yeh bleedin bowzy, says he,
I took yeh for a fuckin Yank.

Come to Amazing Tourist Dublin!
Stay at our three-and-a-half star hotels;
eat like a pig, drink like a fish,
then lumber,lumber along
our lazy languorous streets.

Buy things!
Pretend the locals are nice to you.
Pretend you are John Wayne,
all quiet and dangerous;
pretend you are Scarlett O'Hara
home at last in Tara

On your ambling aisy rambles
you can squint up the arses,
the cool marble behinds,
of female statues
at our staid and steady National Museum.
Bloom did, our wandering Jew,
so too can you.
No money, honey;
but even stone hearts slowly melt,
so smile, unbuckle your belt,
make a voluntary contribution!
Oops, sorry, Yanks,
no dollars, thanks,
there’s an exchange-rate
revolution: the … the ingratitude!
(but we were neutral in the Second War).
Hang on to your cash, you’ll need it!
Are ye jokin’ or wha’? indeed it
does seem strange, no proper answer,
like a dropkick in the balls
from a reedy ballet dancer.

We still stack up the dead
next to my grandfathers,
maiden aunts, cousins and uncles,
in the wild sprawl of Glasnevin.
Poor poor Paddy Dignam!
(“No home is complete
without Plumtree’s Potted Meat”).
Poor dear betrayed Parnell.
O’Donovan Rossa.
Ah, Michael …
Macushla! … cut down at thirty-one,
our greatest chieftain since O’Neill!
Cut down, I might add,
by one of our own.
Why do we do this?
Ask Jonathan (Gulliver) Swift
who suggested, politely,
that the English should eat Irish babies,
help with the balance of payments.
England thought he was serious,
and so did some of the Irish.
“Where can I sell me baby, sorr?”
Well, without you, Michael,
we’d still be prancing around the world
on British passports.

Yerra, Carolan!
Tabhair dom do lamh.*
Give us an oul’ song!

Up on the flinty North Side,
Drumcondra, Marino, Whitehall,
sits my old local, The Goose,
just there by Sion Hill;
I’d be away three years, maybe more,
then I'd stroll into the gaff,
and the lads’d say, where ya been?
Japan. O yeah? Me, I went to Benidorm,
two weeks with the new girlfriend,
fuckin magic! Right, it's my round,
then we’d talk and sing and laugh.
Sometimes An Taoiseach lounges in,
good old Bertie himself, backed up
by hard-looking thugs. “Yo!” says I,
“is it the Prime Minister or his bleedin twin?”
“Ah, Malachy!” says he, priding himself
on his memory for names, a head like tin.
“No,” says I, “isn’t it me myself?”
“O, Jayz, the astronomer … the geographer,
or was it the stamp collector?”
“B-b-b-bertie! You got it in one!”
After that, a pint, a good long chat,
here at “home” in Dublin North:
he may be the grand prime minister,
but he knows where that home is at.

On Bridge Street, down by the City Walls,
sits an ancient pub, the “Brazen Head”,
and many a time and oft have I lingered,
langered, within its stout-built chambers:
this is the oldest pub in Dublin, 1198.
About fifty yards away is the bridge,
the – ‘Atha Cliath’ – the Ford of the Hurdles
from which the city takes its name,
a river crossing on the ‘Sli Cualann’,
one of the five ancient roads of Ireland,
the path from Tara to Glendalough.
That helps explain the licence plates:
we’re the citizens of “Baile Atha Cliath”,
and “Dubh-Linn”, which is also Irish,
is not where we live at all.

In the mean little streets near Christchurch,
winding and awkward to this day,
a proto-Nazi called Major Sirr
cornered the rebel Lord Fitzgerald,
then got himself stabbed for his pains.
Thirty-odd thousand died that year, 1798;
thousands more were transported
in creaking hulks to Australia,
a new setting for Irish prisoners,
a new continent to slowly transform:
America was to come along later.
Not many long years before that,
The Mad Dean of Saint Patrick’s,
that entrepreneur, that pamphleteer,
(the cathedral looms just down the road)
that purveyor of roasted Irish babies,
was laid to rest, now his epitaph
fairly bounces off the wall:
Hic depositum est corpus
Huyus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Ubi saeva indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem

God, it’s an old country,
but the weight comes down like a feather.
Nothing seems heavy, all drops down so lightly.
Freedom. Freedom, more than any other thing,
is central. You can go back through
all the old stories, the legends, the epics,
the Annals of the Four Masters, local histories,
you can listen to the voices of the rebels,
all those who fought and died,
four hundred, two hundred, one hundred years ago,
right on down to recent times,
and you sense this will never change,
you know this will never change.

All the tubby little accountants,
the cross-looking women in large automobiles,
the fierce young sporting men,
the giggling schoolgirls,
the languid poets and philosophers,
the businessmen in suits,
the regulars in the pubs,
the girl secretaries,
the skangers and headbangers,
the bus drivers,
the radio and TV executives,
the Nigerians, the Chinese,
the actors, the musicians,
the polite young Poles,
the flower sellers,
the asylum seekers,
the Spanish students

can gather in the streets, burn down embassies.

Ancient city of an ancient country,
ringed right round by the ocean sea;
great powers that rise and fall around us,
can do as they will, just leave us be.

Brief notes:

- “Dublin” by Louis MacNeice

-- Turlough O’Carolan, blind harper (1670-1738). The title of this composition is “Give Me Your Hand” in English.

-- Bertie Ahern, Irish PM (An Taoiseach – The Leader)

-- The Brazen Head Pub homepage

-- “Dubh-Linn” translates as Black-Pool, the remains of which (now drained) can be seen behind Dublin Castle.

-- Swift’s epitaph, translated from the Latin by W.B. Yeats:

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty.

-- Annals of the Four Masters Irish chronicles, ca. 2000 BC - 1616 AD

Thursday, November 29, 2007

312. In a Nutshell

In 12 short paragraphs Chris Hedges manages to hit the main points and clarify what it is that causes so many thinking Americans to despair of the course their nation has been taking. Friends and allies overseas have been finding it increasingly difficult to support US policies and public opinion in these countries with regard to America is at an all-time negative low. The more optimistic among America's friends hope that relations will improve with the passing of the current Bush administration, one of the most arrogantly disastrous interludes in American history, but it would probably be more realistic to expect a modification rather than any drastic reversal of US policies and trends no matter which candidate wins the 2008 election.

America in the Time of Empire
Posted on Nov 26, 2007

By Chris Hedges

This column was originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

All great empires and nations decay from within. By the time they hobble off the world stage, overrun by the hordes at the gates or vanishing quietly into the pages of history books, what made them successful and powerful no longer has relevance. This rot takes place over decades, as with the Soviet Union, or, even longer, as with the Roman, Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires. It is often imperceptible.

Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it.

The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

“There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers’ rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country’s managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Philadelphia is a textbook example. The city has seen a precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs, jobs that allowed households to live comfortably on one salary. The city had 35 percent of its workforce employed in the manufacturing sector in 1950, perhaps the zenith of the American empire. Thirty years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Today it is 8.8 percent. Commensurate jobs, jobs that offer benefits, health care and most important enough money to provide hope for the future, no longer exist. The former manufacturing centers from Flint, Mich., to Youngstown, Ohio, are open sores, testaments to a growing internal collapse.

The United States has gone from being the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor. As of September 2006, the country was, for the first time in a century, paying out more than it received in investments. Trillions of dollars go into defense while the nation’s infrastructure, from levees in New Orleans to highway bridges in Minnesota, collapses. We spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined, while Social Security and Medicare entitlements are jeopardized because of huge deficits. Money is available for war, but not for the simple necessities of daily life.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later.

It all amounts to a tacit complicity on the part of a passive population. This permits the oligarchy to squander capital and lives. It creates a world where we speak exclusively in the language of violence. It has plunged us into an endless cycle of war and conflict that is draining away the vitality, resources and promise of the nation.

It signals the twilight of our empire.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

311. Forgotten Debts: 1914-18

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Please go here for the original, longer article.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

310. The Irish Cycle: Lord Malahide

Fourteen years. Two children.
One miscarriage; her racking sobs in the night.
Her eyes reveal nothing; I hardly know her.

Her eyes are hazel with flecks of green,
She has noble carriage, a proud woman’s gait;
Her black sweeping hair has a blueish sheen,
She stands before me, my wife and mate.

- Dear wife.
- My lord husband.

Why have I ignored her all these years,
Under the one roof, food from the one table;
My voice when I speak holds back the tears:
Can I bridge this chasm, am I still able?

- The children?
- Quite safe, My Lord. They sleep.
- I have need to speak with you.
- My Lord?
- Come, let us move into a private chamber.
- Shall I disrobe?
- No, no, no, no, no – it’s not like that at all!
- Have I displeased you in some way?
- Not at all, my dear, quite the contrary.


- Sir, yes sir?
- Bring us some wine, like a good fellow.
- Very good, sir. The usual, is it?
- No, no … bring in the good Spanish.
- Not much left, sir. Are ye sure?
- Just do what I tell you, dammit!
- Rightyo, sir.
- And don’t say rightyo!
- Righty …very good, sir.

We move into the wind-cooled room,
It has Italian marble walls and floor;
There is a passing chill, a hint of the tomb,
I softly, firmly, shut the door.

- My Lord?
- My dear, I cherish and respect you.
- My Lord is most gracious.
- O, stop that! The fact is I love you.
- Love, my Lord?
- Perhaps I haven’t made my feelings plain.
- Lady Agnes, Lady Jane,
Lady Patricia, the parlour maid,
and that little blonde wench in the kitchen?
My Lord has made his feelings plain enough.
- O, come now, that means nothing!
- My Lord, I think it does.


- What now?
- The wine, sir.
- Bring it in, blast you!
- Rightyo, sir.
- And don’t you bloody well …
- Ah, sorry, sir.
The good Spanish, sir.
Not much left of it, mind,
I was just after telling the cook …
-Would you kindly pour the wine, O’Reilly?
Pour the wine, man, and clear off!
- There was fourteen sat down to breakfast
and every one, sir, was dead before dinner.
- What? Not now, O’Reilly.
- Tis a vision, sir. I saw it clearly.
These things will come to pass.
- I’ll wring your bloody neck, O’Reilly.
How’s that for a vision?
- Rightyo, sir.

A pause. A tasteless sip of priceless wine.

- My dear, the situation …
- I am aware of the situation.
The enemy has marched from Dublin.
We will soon be under attack.
- Yes, well, I suppose the whole castle knows.
- And now my Lord is … afraid?

When she spoke those words, love drained from my heart,
I gazed at her coldly from across four hundred years;
Like my forefathers I too could play my part,
I would never, could never, succumb to my fears.

- You misunderstand me, my Lady.
- I think I understand you well enough.
- I see. You will stay with the children.
Neither they nor you will come to any harm.

There was a glint in her eyes, a hint of derision,
a mockery in those hazel, green-flecked eyes,
and I could suddenly catch a glimpse of myself
as seen by this woman through all those years.
Upon this, not the battle, I reflected, ruefully,
as I strapped on my nearly new armour
and called for my old but sharpened sword.

Soon came the enemy to the gates:
dear God, these brazen, upstart English!
Well, it was the usual confused affair,
a lot of noise and dust and private agony.
We were deemed to have won since we didn’t quite lose,
the traditional form of Irish victory,
and our lives settled back to the normal round.

I continue to live at the castle,
Richard, Lord Admiral of Malahide
and the adjoining seas surrounding,
with my lady wife and children.
She looks at me now with apprehension.
O’Reilly has a brother, a prosperous smuggler;
we have twenty new barrels of good Spanish wine.
Upon occasion, as a means of diversion,
I ride to Dublin with a light escort,
there to visit certain friends of mine.

Malahide Castle was built by the Talbots in 1185 and remained in the family until the death of the last in the male line, Sir Milo, in 1973. On the morning of July 1, 1689 (by the Old Calendar) fourteen men of the family sat down together for breakfast and by nightfall all fourteen had fallen at the Battle of the Boyne. The castle and surrounding parklands were sold to the Irish State in 1975 and are a popular picnic destination for Dubliners. The pleasant seaside village bearing the same name is now home to Adam Clayton and the Edge of the rock band U2.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

309. Karl of the Corporation

circular arguments
bedazzle rigid minds

I was reinforced in my dominion
by ignorance and by stubborn pride,
by a belief in only one opinion.
Stand out of my way, sir,
if you know what is good for you.

I lied,
because I could not tell the truth.
Bare facts, an abomination,
lacked the salt of imagination.
I tried
to explain things always in a way
that would meet some expectation.
Unwelcome possibilities
got themselves shot down
like darkies in a cornfield,
like wetbacks in a river.
The bosses didn’t care:
never shouldn’ta oughta bin there.
Mow them down, rat-a-tat-tat
jump in the car and hit the town,
then talk of Rembrandt and Cezanne
and try to fondle Sally Anne.
Do the same old thing tomorrow,
a well-dressed man of constant sorrow.

Many versts across the barren fields
from the shining palaces of Petersburg,
a girl with snow-white arms upraised:
O Bog, she says (their word for God),
O Bog, get me out of here!

As an unwanted child,
lonely, destructive, anti-social,
I had no trouble believing
that God was indeed a special friend.
Little then did I know
what I've come to know in the end.
The Church, as ever, opened its arms
and welcomed my delusion;
it prays and preys upon
adolescence and confusion.
My son, do you have a vocation?
Get away to fuck.
(Get away to fuck, Father ).
I was not in the habit of talking to strangers,
unless, of course, idiot tourists,
eager and uncertain,
looking for a place to spend hard cash.
A furry masculine moustache
began with the hairs around my groin,
it would join in the fortunes of those parts,
the intricate lies, the broken hearts,
the additions, loans, debentures,
the many cold-eyed cheap adventures.
I held one truth to be self-evident,
that all men procreated
pretty much continuously,
so in order to stand out
one had to be a bit of a bastard.
In fact, I mastered the mechanics
at about the age of six,
an enlightening heady mix
of bluff and certain knowledge,
so that all the blows and cuffs and kicks
of the ambient adult world
became a poor boy’s college.
I’ll tell you one thing,
you can forget the rest:
those to whom evil is done
do certain evil in return.
They burn
with righteous and amoral wrath
they cleave a hard and frightening path
between the innocent and the innocent.
Stand out of my way, sir,
if you know what is good for you.

The guilty they leave well alone
(those boys can be dangerous).
I never really fell in love
until seven years ago.
I had a carapace of immunity,
ready-made, form-fitting,
born of the arrogant impunity
of treating people as things.
But I find love brings
little happiness, less relief.
It is my sad and certain belief
that love can never be learned
nor earned
when a loveless child becomes a man.
My plan
was to rule the world
or at least my little bit of it.
Then the whiskey got in the way.
God bless the whiskey;
pity it wasn’t tears instead.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

308. Ritter's Quiz

Scott Ritter, an intelligence specialist with a 12-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps, joined the United Nations weapons inspections team, or UNSCOM in 1991. He participated in 34 inspection missions in Iraq, 14 of them as chief inspector. Ritter resigned from UNSCOM in August 1998, citing US interference in the work of the inspections. Since then he has become a vociferous and outspoken critic of US Middle East policy, in particular the "selling" of the Second Iraq War to the American public. Recently he has been trying to warn that similar falsifications and misrepresentations will be employed by the Bush administration to justify an assault on Iran. Two of the main themes in his articles and public appearances are that the American public does not understand its own Constitution and has allowed the current administration to undermine it seriously if not fatally under the rubric of the Global War on Terror, and that the US public has little if any understanding (or interest) in the historical tensions that have been causing a rise in fundamentalism within the world of Islam.

Ritter writes:

The task of holding Congress to account is a daunting one, and can be accomplished only if the citizenry that forms the respective constituencies of our ignorant congressional representatives are themselves able to operate at an intellectual capacity above that of those they are holding to account. So rather than issue “pop quizzes” to our elected representatives, I’ve designed one for us, the people. If the reader can fully answer the question raised, then he or she qualifies as one capable of pointing an accusatory finger at Congress as its members dither over what to do in Iraq. If the reader fails the quiz, then there should be an honest appraisal of the reality that we are in way over our heads regarding this war, and that it is irresponsible for anyone to make sweeping judgments about the ramifications of policy courses of action yet to be agreed upon. Claiming to be able to divine a solution to a problem improperly defined is not only ignorant but dangerously delusional.

So here is the quiz: Explain the relationship between the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Baghdad as they impact the coexistence of Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni populations.

Most respondents who have a basic understanding of Iraq will answer that Karbala is a city of significance to Iraq’s Shiite population. Baghdad is Iraq’s capital, with a mixed Sunni and Shiite population. If that is your answer, you fail.

Click here to read the rest of Ritter's article "Calling Out Idiot America"

307. Adam&Eve

Hamid Bahrami is an Iranian cartoonist. Check out his work here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

306. The Grand Shrine at Ise

According to Japanese legend, around 2,000 years ago the divine Yamatohime-no-mikoto, daughter of the Emperor Suinin, set out from Mt. Miwa in modern Nara Prefecture in search of a permanent location to worship the goddess Amaterasu-omikami, wandering for 20 years through the regions of Ohmi and Mino. Her search eventually brought her to Ise, in modern Mie Prefecture, where she is said to have established Naikũ ( the Inner Shrine) after hearing the voice of Amaterasu Omikami saying that she wanted to live forever in the richly abundant area of Ise, near the mountains and the sea. Prior to Yamatohime-no-mikoto's journey, Amaterasu-omikami had been worshiped at the Imperial residence in Yamato, then briefly at a temporary location in the eastern Nara basin.

Officially known simply as Jingū or "The Shrine," Ise Jingū is in fact a shrine complex composed of over one hundred individual shrines, divided into two main parts. Gekū (外宮), or the Outer Shrine, is located in the town of Yamada and dedicated to the deity Toyouke no ōmikami, the deity responsible for sacred offerings of food to Amaterasu, while Naikū (内宮), or the Inner Shrine, is located in the town of Uji and dedicated to Amaterasu ōmikami. The two are located some six kilometers apart, joined by a pilgrimage road that passes through the old entertainment district of Furuichi. The High Priest or Priestess of the Ise Shrine must come from the Japanese Imperial Family, and watches over the Shrine.

According to the official chronology, the shrines were originally constructed in the year 4 BC, but most historians date them from several hundred years later, with 690 AD widely considered the date when the shrines were first built in their current form. Legends say that Naikū was established by Yamatohime-no-mikoto. The shrines are mentioned in the annals of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki (dating from 712 and 720, respectively).

The architectural style of the Ise shrine is known as Shinmeizukuri (神明造) and may not be used in the construction of any other shrine. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense, so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from 1993, are the 61st iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2013.

Gagaku Court dance

Site of the older shrine, now rebuilt behind the wooden fence to the right

Modern worshippers cluster at the rebuilt 1993 shrine (Note security guard at left reminding me photos are strictly forbidden within the shrine precincts! Oops.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

305. The No Name Bar Symposium

It's 2 am -- and the Usual Suspects gather round the table.
The discussion kicks off and soon slips into second gear ...
... while Da Boss (Mehmet the Wise) lays it on the line ...
... and the Valued Customer (Sam the Man) responds in kind ...
... as Chris takes all of this serious stuff in ...
... and So Hee thinks, it's 3 am and they're just getting started!!

Monday, August 06, 2007

304. Tambourine

Arrows pierced the hut when I was seven,
and my father fell stricken on the hob;
a chap with an axe finished off the job,
me Ma was screaming and I was silently

cheering them on, wide-eyed, frightened,
peering up from under the table.

Bad cess to me Daddy, thank God he's gone!
But me Ma, by God, was in floods of tears.
How can ye mourn him after all those years?
Ah, he was my heart and soul and moon and sun!

I shall never understand women.

The Sassenachs came when I was fifteen.
I was given a spear, shoved into the line;
sure, stay in the middle, lad, and ye'll be fine!
But they hit us in the middle and front and sides.

Bleedin disaster.

Dear God, these people had horses
the size of bloody giraffes,
and better dressed, too, than we were;
they sliced us up and killed us in dozens.

I went to ground in the woods of Wicklow,
and met a sweet girl, her name was Marie.
She said, young man, I cannot sleep with thee
until Ireland once again is free!

Molly Ivors.

I slippy-slided back to Dubbalin:
sure where else could I hope to go?

Go local in Kyoto?
One photo
says it all.

Shalangalang. Smack.

That was then.
This is now.

I have the power of prediction.
I have lived six hundred years.
That's OK. No, really.

There is a notch in the hills,
just there, please look at the horizon
as the sun goes sinking down.
This is why I love Africa.
Egypt, on the other hand, reeks; it does;
it has the smell of the Pharaohs,
the stink of whips and chains.
Stone pyramids.
Nazi mentality.

And I love the Greeks
for no good reason.
They delivered us freedom
to smash 200 plates
to bouzouki music.
God, how we enjoy that!
When we are slightly drunk
there is nothing better
than to sling around plates
unless you want to slap your wife
or kill your girlfriend.

Love turns sour in the baking sun.

Inspector Robinson, CID,
made an arrest
on Mykonos.
Jesus, that took balls.
The walls
gathered close around him.
Been there? You know
just what I mean. Deadly.
Israel? Don't even think about it.
Fifty-five machine guns
for every hundred yards.
Trigger happy maniacs.
Bad fuckin bastards,
and only half of them
in uniform. I tell no lie.

If you and I could fly
across the deep and wine-dark sea,
there could be hope, there could be love and mystery,
in the ancient cradle of our history.
We could look to the rising of the sun,
but some idiot fucker has a gun.

Come little lad, come home to me.
This world pushes kids like you to take it:
when you grow to a man you can shove and shake it
like a tambourine; I seen
that so many, so many times.
And not a thing you do
(I loved that girl)
not a single solitary thing
(I loved her from the start)
will make
the slightest difference.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

303. Nighthawks in Nippon

Cúirt an Mheán Oíche

Short was my sleep when I heard, thought I,
A violent quaking of the ground nearby
A storm from the north violently brewing
And fire from the harbour luridly spewing;
In my mind’s eye, a quick survey
Revealed towards me by the bay
A violent, bulging, big-assed crone
Her huge bulk hinting at testosterone;
Her stature, if I reckoned right,
Was six or seven yards in height
She dragged her cloak for yards behind her
Through the mud and mire and squalor.
’Twas mighty, majestic, wild and horrid
To gaze upon her blemished forehead;
The rictus of her gummy grin
Would make you jump out of your skin.
God almighty! In her huge claw
Was the biggest staff you ever saw
A brass plaque at its spike defined
The bailiff’s powers to her assigned.

In a gruff voice these words she spoke:
Up! Shake a leg! ya sleepy yoke;
Shame on you, to be stretched out here
With court convened and crowds drawing near.
It’s not a court without rule or code.
Nor a marauding court in your usual mode
This court is built on a civilized base—
The court of the weak with a female face.

Ba ghnáth mé ar siúl le ciumhais na habhann
Ar bháinseach úr is an drúcht go trom,
In aice na gcoillte i gcoim an tsléibhe
Gan mhairg gan mhoill ar shoilseadh an lae.
Do ghealadh mo chroí nuair chínn Loch Gréine,
An talamh, an tír, is íor na spéire
Ba thaitneamhach aoibhinn suíomh na sléibhte
Ag bagairt a gcinn thar dhroim a chéile.

The ancient race without wealth or liberty
No tributes, leaders nor legal autonomy
The rape of the land with naught in its train,
In place of the crops, a weed-rank terrain;
The nobles languish in a foreign land
While the jumped-up rich get the upper hand,
In betrayal ardent, in plunder greedy
Flaying the sick, despoiling the needy.

It is blackly baneful and sticks in the craw
That, in darkest despair over the absence of law,
There’s nothing from no one for the purposeless weak
But a depredacious future that is hopelessly bleak,
The knavery of lawyers, tyranny on high
Injustice, fraud and neglect apply
The law is clouded, the scales awry,
With all the pull that bribes can buy.

Ghealfadh an croí bheadh críon le cianta—
Caite gan bhrí nó líonta le pianta—
An séithleach searbh gan sealbh gan saibhreas
D’fhéachfadh tamall thar bharra na gcoillte
Ar lachain ina scuain ar chuan gan cheo,
An eala ar a bhfuaid is í ag gluaiseacht leo,
Na héisc le meidhir ag éirí anairde
Péirse i radharc go taibhseach tarrbhreac,
Dath an locha agus gorm na dtonn
Ag teacht go tolgach torannach trom,

Your race without young ones is sad to see
With women burdening the land and the sea,
Once buxom maids and lasses fresh
With boiling blood and sultry flesh
Are now lethargic, relicts debased
Once trim girls are gone in the waist;

’Tis a pity that these are without fruit of the womb
Without swelling breasts and bellies in bloom.
They just look for the word, please don’t wait
Until they are past their sell-by date.
The solons decided after deliberation long
Not to try the case before the fairy throng:
But to appoint a plenipotent magistrate
Who could, with the people, mediate.

There was an offer from Aoibheal, with a heart so clean
Munstermen’s friend and Craglea’s queen
To the assembled council to bid farewell
And in the land of Thomond to bide a spell.
This gentle upright lady swore
To rip out bad laws by their core
To stand steadfast beside the poor and weak
So the mighty will have to cherish the meek.
The powerful desist from inflicting wrongs
And justice enthroned where it belongs:
I promise now that no power nor lure,
Nor the blandishments of pimp or whore
Will undermine the dispensation
Of this tribunal for its duration;

The village of Feakle is where the court is sitting
Go and attend it—you’ve got to get cracking
Go quietly or at your peril dire
I’ll drag you there through the muck and mire.
With her crook she grabbed the hood of my cape
And off she dragged me with no escape
Down through the valleys I was propelled
To Moinmoy Hill church where the court was held.
For sure, I saw there ablaze with light
What seemed like a stately mansion bright
Sparkling, spacious, tapestried,
Spectral, sturdy, brilliant indeed

I spied Aoibheal, the fairy wench
Seated on the judge’s bench
I saw a strong and nimble guard
Numerously gathered round their ward;
I saw a household that was jammed
With men and women inside it crammed.
Then came forward a majestic cailín
She was soft and comely, of gentle mien
With tumbling tresses framing her face
As on the stand she took her place.
Her hair was loose and flowing free
But her face was the picture of misery
Her eyes were fierce and filled with hate
And she worked herself to such a state
That she moaned and heaved and sobbed and sighed
But couldn’t speak though hard she tried.
You could see from the flood of tears she shed
That she’d much prefer if she were dead
Than being on the floor facing the stands
Kneading her fists and wringing her hands.
After her protracted jags of crying
She cleared her throat, with much sighing
The gloom lifted from her tear-stained cheek,
She dried her eyes and started to speak:—

A thousand welcomes, we guarantee
O Aoibheal, venerable queen of Craiglea,
Light of the day, Ray of the sun
Worldly wealth for the hard-put-upon
Conquering commander of the hosts of the blessed
In Thomond and Tír Lorc you were sorely missed;
The crux of my case, the cause of my woe
The ache that has plagued me and laid me low
What knocked me sideways and struck me dumb
Caused a searing pain that left me numb,—
The finest of maidens wandering around
Without hope of a husband, a shilling or pound,
Despondent young things without help of a mate
Innocently barred from the matrimonial state.

I know these maidens whereof I speak
One hundred and one for whom prospects are bleak
I list myself among these wrecks:
I got my gender but I get no sex
At my time of life, ’tis depressing and cold
Doing without luxuries, jewels and gold,
Gloomy and cheerless is my plight
Unable to sleep through the pleasureless night,
But tossed with worry lying there
On a chilly bed, alone not a pair.
O Lady of Craiglea, you must assess
The extent of Irish women’s distress,
How, if the men continue with their ways,
Alas, women will have to make the plays
By the time the men are disposed to wed
They’re no longer worth our while to bed
And it’ll be no fun to lie below
Those old men who are so weak and slow.
Even if, with a young man’s fire,
One in seven of the beardless were to desire
To mate with a lass of his own age
He wouldn’t choose the noble or sage
With an hour-glass figure and a knockout face
One who can carry herself with grace
But an icy, cheerless, catty bitch
Who used all her guile to make herself rich.
It’s the scourge of my heart and a pain in my head
And fills my thoughts with a sense of dread
It’s what has made me sad and sighing
Totally wasted with all this crying,—

When I see a lad who’s brave and cool
Who is virile, vigorous and strong as a mule
Who is steadfast, skillful, bright as a pin
Fresh-faced, funny, with a ready grin
Or a boy who is frisky, frolicky, fun
With a well-built body, second to none
Beaten, bought, bound unawares
By a hussy who’s extremely light upstairs
Or a slovenly slattern, a workless wench
Who’d make you gag with her noisome stench
A prating, prattling, babbling bag
An indolent, irritable, horrible hag.
My God, I hear that an ill-mannered mare
With unshod feet and uncombed hair
Is to be hitched tonight which I find really grating;
What’s wrong with me that I’m left here waiting?
What is the reason that no one loves me
And I so lissome, so svelt and so lovely?

My lips so red are made to be kissed
My face so bright it cannot be missed
My eyes are green, my locks are flowing
Curly and plaited and healthily glowing
My forehead and cheeks are without zits or boils
A porcelain complexion that nothing spoils.
My neck, my breast, my hand, my finger
Each would make a young lad linger.
Look at my waist, my fine bone frame
I’m not crooked or hunched or lame
A butt, a foot, a figure to impress
I’ll not go into what’s beneath my dress.
I’m not a hussy, nor yet a drip
But a delicate beauty with lots of zip,
Not a slovenly, slatternly pig
Nor a joyless boorish prig.
Not a lazy laggard with no clout

But a choice young woman well turned out
If I were as worthless as some of my neighbours
A tiresome tramp who never labours
In the ways of the world without foresight or flair
What would it matter if I fell into despair?
But it has never been on people’s tongue
That, at wake or funeral for old or young,
In the hall for the dances or at the race track
On the hurling pitch among the pack
I wasn’t dressed from head to toe
In a tasty costume fit for a show.
My hair is powdered to a T
My starched cap riding jauntily
My bright-hued hood with ribbons galore
A polka dress with a ruffled pinafore
And I’m seldom without it, except in bed,
My cardinal cloak of deepest red.
My striped cambric apron is fit for a queen
Embroidered with a plant and animal scene
Stiletto heels attached with screws
Give a lift to my fashionable shoes
Gloves of silk and buckles and rings
These are a few of my favourite things.
But beware, don’t think I’m loose a screw
A witless fool or quaking ingenue
Who’s timorous, lonesome, whimpering, weak
A simpering, cowering, beaten-down freak.

Friday, July 20, 2007

302. From Famine to Free State: 35 Lives

The idea behind this post is quite simple. The intent is to show new and returning readers how Ireland recovered its cultural self-confidence and then forged its political independence during the crucial four decades between the 1880s and the 1920s. The method is to create links to the biographies of 35 individuals who were born between the years 1846 and 1891, the actual lifespan of the “Uncrowned King of Ireland”, Charles Stewart Parnell.

Most of the work is done by Wikipedia – and yourselves. I supply the birthdates and the names. Some of these names may already be known to you; others probably will not. The interesting thing is that most of these people either knew each other personally or had at least heard of one another. Ireland is a small country and Dublin, even today, is little more than an extended village.

I’m not about to offer any useful hints (politician, playwright, revolutionary, trade union leader) since half of the fun is discovering who these people were and how they related to one another and the “re-creation” of Ireland. In the separate stories of their lives you can piece together the story of the nation-to-be.

In closing, I would like to emphasize the rather significant fact that nearly half of the people on this list were Protestants, which, in the Irish context, makes them descendants of families who had been part of the post-Reformation invasions and settlements of the 16th and 17th centuries This did not make them any less Irish than their “native” counterparts, whether descendants of the Gaels or the Normans of the Middle Ages. In fact, their identification with Ireland was in many ways more acute than the others because it involved a conscious rejection of England and English ways. Without these people the Irish could never have created the modern nation in the way they actually did – and this should never be forgotten or swept under the rug by Irish Irelanders in the style of D.P Moran who proclaimed that only a Catholic nationalist could be a true Irishman or Irishwoman. This is simply not true, and the evidence lies in these various biographies.

1846 - Charles Stewart Parnell (d. 1891, age 45)
1846 - Michael Davitt (d. 1906, age 60)
1846 - Standish O’Grady (d. 1928, age 82)
1847 - Michael Cusack (d. 1906, age 59)
1852 - Lady Augusta Gregory (d. 1932, age 80)
1852 - George Moore (d. 1933, age 81)
1854 - Oscar Wilde (d. 1900, age 46)
1854 - Edward Carson (d. 1935, age 81)
1855 - Tim Healy (d. 1931, age 76)
1856 - G.B. Shaw (d. 1950, age 94)
1856 - John Redmond (d. 1918, age 62)
1857 - Tom Clarke (ex. 1916, age 59)
1860 - Douglas Hyde (d. 1949, age 89)
1864 - Roger Casement (ex. 1916, age 52)
1865 - W.B. Yeats (d. 1939, age 74)
1866 - Maud Gonne (d. 1953, age 87)
1867 - George Russell (d. 1935, age 68)
1867 - Eoin MacNeill (d. 1945, age 78)
1868 - Constance Markiewicz (d. 1927, age 59)
1868 - James Connolly (ex. 1916, age 48)
1869 - D.P. Moran (d. 1936, age 67)
1870 - Erskine Childers (ex. 1922, age 52)
1871 - J.M. Synge (d. 1909, age 38)
1871 - Arthur Griffith (d. 1922, age 51)
1874 - Cathal Brugha (d. 1922, age 48)
1876 - Jim Larkin (d.1947, age 71)
1878 - Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (ex. 1916, age 38)
1879 - Patrick Pearse (ex. 1916, age 37)
1880 - Sean O’Casey (d. 1964, age 84)
1882 - James Joyce (d. 1941, age 59)
1882 - Eamon deValera (d. 1975, age 93)
1882 - Bulmer Hobson (d. 1969, age 87)
1883 - Sean Mac Diarmada (ex. 1916, age 33)
1883 - Denis McCullough (d. 1968, age 85)
1890 - Michael Collins (d. 1922, age 32)

Here are some links to articles or poems on Irish themes to be found on this blog:
Thinking in Irish
The Runup to Easter 1916
Voodoo Drums
From the Normans to Michael Collins
The Celts – Intro
The Celts I
The Celts II
The Celts III
The Celts IV
Dublin Walkabout (1)
Dublin Walkabout (2)
Belfast and Derry (1991)
Joyce, Iraq, Michael Collins etc.

Terrorists on a Coffee Break
Maureen Rua
Joe McInerney
October in Ireland
An Clar
Irish poetry and comments on Heaney

Thursday, July 05, 2007

301. Airey Takes the Plunge

(a restoration drama in several acts)

Airey was a friend in truth,
a fairy, yes, but not a poof;
a tough guy called Reg
threw him off a high ledge.
It's a long way to tip poor Airey.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
far away from friends and family,
I think, by God, although I'm odd,
I welcome change, however strange:
in a cheerful melancholy way,
Death could be a holiday.

In fires forever burning,
on a spit forever turning,
just like a Turkish kebab;
I'm glad I never paid the tab
in so many clubs and bars.
God, won’t they be raging!
the thought is quite engaging:
they’ll be tearing their hair
as if I care
for all them drinks I bought!

I never thought,
I never thought I’d wake up
after I hit the ground
at ten zillion miles an hour.
Splat! That’s that.
Wishy-washy lack of belief
affords but scant and thin relief
for the falling, failing agnostic.
Here is a falsely true acrostic:
Sweet dreams by icy lethal waters.*

The myriad sons and daughters
of O’Leary of the Yellow Hand
have formed a band,
here in the place I’m at.
I told that them I couldn’t sing,
but they want to know what I can bring
to add to the balance of joy.
Where’s God? So sorry, m'boy,
He’s away, he’s always away.
And the Divil’s off in Osaka Japan
to follow up on his business plan,
(An Dhool is no fool)
trawling for souls in a language school.

Listen, will I be dead for a long time?
Just as long as ye like.
On yer bike, resurrect some hobby
and make it last ten thousand years.
Any wee jobby to keep yer mind off things,
but stay away from collecting stamps:
stamp tramps are pure ferocious:
Super Calley Went Ballistic: Celtic Were Atrocious.
Hierophants and sycophants
make me want to wet me pants,
revert to my psychosis.

But can I do that, like?
Wet meself, scratch, play with girls?
No, you can’t. You’re, like, disembodied.
What about this pain in me arse?
Imaginary, old son.
You can keep the pain
but yer arse is dead and gone.
Where’s it gone to, so?
The Soap Factory.

In cold brittle little exchanges
I accommodate myself to certain changes.
Aren’t ye glad ye’re Catlick?
Y’wha?? Fuck you on about?
Even so. You should see the shabby sheds
where they stick the poor sad feckin Neds.
The Jews have chic flats in the Mews
(they were right all along)
Oooh, baby, won’t you shake your thong?
Instruct us, don't you dare amuse!

And them towel heads? Don’t arsk.
I don’t ask. And the Jehovahs?
They’re stuck with the oul’ whores
knocking on doors, forever and ever
and ever and ever. Amen.

Well, I never! This cheers me up
considerably. Jayz, I could
kill for a pint. Are there any pubs in Hell?
Naturallement! As Monsieur knows well
the Squareheads, the Jocks and the Micks
couldn’t die without them. There are Czechs
and balances, mind you, like the Skandies
who have acquired a taste for shaving lotion,
an effective if quite "deadly" potion.
Har, har, a pun. What fun! Listen,
we send people back from time to time,
would you like to go? I don’t know.
Being dead's, like, doin’ in me head,
but it’s not so bad, y’know?
Even so. Pack up and go:
back to the World of the Living.
Cease receiving, son. Start giving.

Right, then, here’s me,
rejected back to Life:
-- Suit, white shirt, necktie: check!
-- Red underpants, socks with clocks: check!
-- Sunglasses, watch, gold chains: check!
-- Cellphone, iPod, 3 rubber johnnies.
Hello there, Life, Allo, Allo!
Jeez, it’s fuckin raining.
I’m out of training.
I’ve forgotten how to talk
I can hardly bleedin walk
sedately; innately, I feel
that none of this is real.

O Jayzus, damn, by heck!
I just got a bang on the back of the neck.
I turn to my oppressor,
a large and hairy male cross-dresser
in a pink tutu and fawn little boots.
Beige, ye barstid, fawn is outré!
but what I really want to say
is 'oo the feck are yoo?
I delivered a thump and a bit of a bump
'coz ye look just like a ghost
mon semblable, mon frere,
are ye back from under there?"

I yam. Right, so, whattya think,
will we call it quits and go for a drink?
Seventeen pints after,
ciggies, girls, and gurgling laughter,
it's home with young Ivy Malone
on the Bakerloo, she don’t live alone.
The thing to do, she tells me,
is climb up the garden ladder
Because I reelly don’t want me fadder
or mudder to see yez. Haul away.
Show a light in the windy, sweet darlint,
show a light where I can see yez,
yer luverly pearl-white arms,
yer full abundant charms!
And here’s a tiny little kiss,
a promise of a night of bliss.

I feel so drained
yet self-contained
as I gaze into the glass:
a faint recognition
of the apparition
I know to be myself.
Dead, mislaid, or on the shelf,
this, too, I think, shall pass.
Her flashing eyes!
Her thunderous thighs!
All in two words explained:
convent trained.
Her legs grab tight-ily,
mightily wrap around my ass:
heave-ho, puff and blow!
Sky is high and ocean deep:
will she never go to sleep?

Ah, it’s not bad to be alive
once more. I can’t remember when
before it felt this cool. A general rule
is to keep the head down low,
and let the winds crack and blow
above you, like young sweet Ivy Malone
breathing hard in her shoebox of a room
up there on Dollis Hill.
I close my eyes, I remember still
her posters of Duran Duran,
the night I was her only man.

Being dead ain’t that bad, either,
once you get the hang of it, like.
The thing is being killed,
being shot or stabbed or smashed to bits
or tossed off a high building;
that’s the bit I don’t much care for.
Reg had hairs sprouting from his nose
and he had a bit of a ripe smell about him,
so when he pushed me off the roof that day
I had a bit of a snob thing about him,
not at all in my league, I’d have to say.

Time to drop in on hairy Reg.
I can imagine his moonlike pasty face
as he takes my presence in.
I’ll slip in the icy uncanny wedge
of fear. Here is a ghost, my dear!
But things seldom work out
quite as one expects: in many respects
Death and Life are both unfair.
I stand before this old armchair
and gaze on Reg, unprepossessing sight,
He’s been out all night,
God, he looks the worse for wear;
wheezing, snorting through his nose,
crumpled-up clothes, drunk as a coot,
one filthy, ugly, smelly brute.

When he wakes up, I’ll top him,
but not until he knows,
not until he really knows.
Then I’ll walk into the hall,
and descend. I need a friend,
have none at all. I was in love
and then I wasn't in love.
I was also once in life,
and then no longer in that.
Snow falls on distant mountains.
Sweet dreams by icy lethal waters.
Drip … drip … drip.

* a falsely true acrostic, in that only 22 of the 28 letters are used with an extra 'e' thrown in; seven words.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Saturday, June 02, 2007

299. The Gathering Storm

Bahadur Shah Zafar II (1775-1862), last Mughal Emperor of India.


My dear Ghalib, you are exceedingly arrogant,
and seem to think you know it all:
I cannot follow your obscure ghazals.
Zauq is more the man for me, he is also
the chosen poet of our discerning king.
People say openly you should learn from him.
His language is limpid, pure, and clear.
Ahh, the son of Channa Lal, the moneylender,
I do believe. Forgive me, I am not mistaken?
Run back to your counting house, young man,
and do not presume to pass ignorant comments
on things you cannot comprehend. I am
the Light of Delhi, a star in the firmament,
and you, no more than a smoking guttering lamp.
I think we shall not speak again. Good day.

Captain Collingwood

Interfering oldJennings wants to convert the locals
and of course they bloody well resent it, even our
own people think he is pushing too hard.
We have more and more of these Blue Light
religious chaps, even in the Army, and I can
tell you, mark my words, it bodes ill for the future.
Incidentally, I met Elizabeth Skinner the other day,
very gentle-mannered and perfectly charming.
She's quite light-skinned even if her father's half-black.
The grandfather came out in the last century,
and like so many of those early Company men,
married into one of the best local families.
These days, of course, it's not the done thing.
Natives of the better class can be perfectly polite,
but while aping our manners, can never be English.


Bahadur, I am most grateful for the basket of mangoes,
intones the new royal poet, walking beside his patron
on the Raj Ghat, along the banks of the Jumna River.
Now that Zauq has passed on, I am conscious of your favour,
and yet I feel you have not quite shown me the same honour.
The Emperor, known to the Angreezi as the King of Delhi
walks slowly on, a smile comes fleetingly to his lips.
My dear Ghalib, perhaps you did not enjoy the kite flying?
It can be rather tiring to watch an old man behave like a child.
No, My Lord, it was enthralling; it was a pleasure and an honour.
I perceive it is an even greater honour that you seek, Ghalib?
In truth, My Lord, as your court poet it is no more than my due!
I see, Ghalib. You could never understand why I favoured Zauq?
I could not, Bahadur. His poems were too childish for my taste.
Childlike, Ghalib, not childish. Therein lies the essential difference.

Captain Collingwood

Take the King of Delhi, for example, a poor old codger,
surrounded by fifteen wives and at least forty children:
a museum piece, really, ensconced in the old Red Fort,
the last of the Grand Mughals, descendant of Timurlane,
living in the lost nostalgic corridors of a ruined past
with hardly ten rupees to call his own. I've been told
that his last great public procession through the city
with rented elephants and fireworks and marching bands
has put him firmly in the hands of the Jain moneylenders.
Our own people, not surprisingly, will do nothing for him.
The Punjab is ours, we took over Oudh last December,
and general official feeling about the poor old boy
is that he is the last of the line. On the other hand, he is
still widely admired, not only as the figure on the throne,
but as a quite subtle and accomplished native poet.

Hakim Asanullah Khan

Asanullah Khan stands with worried eyes in the doorway.
My Lord, this is not wise at your age, you must know that!
Yes, I know, but I am in my eighty-second year, old friend,
and must not pretend I can live forever. And I like the kites.
A great deal more than you care for the proud Ghalib?
Now, now, Hakim. I take an old man's pleasure in teasing him.
Why do you look at me so? O God, is it the concubines again?
I fear so, My Lord. Young Lalkoti with the Captain of the Guard.
Whip the damn scoundrel and send him off somewhere.
Should we execute the girl? What? No, of course not. Put her
in the kitchens for six months, no, better make that three.
My Lord, really, the punishment seems hardly sufficient, if I may ...
Yes, yes, but I may not live another six months! I could manage three.
Send for Chaman Lal. A skilled doctor, even if he has lost his wits.
I need my feet attended. Converting to Christianity at his age!

Emily Metcalfe

I know my father was poisoned by the emperor's concubine,
that evil schemer, Zinat Mehal Begum. All Delhi knows.
These filthy people are so beastly and corrupt, I hate them!
My dear good father spent his whole life among these heathens,
and he brought them Justice and the blessings of British Rule.
My Uncle Charles, and my brother Theo, along with dear father,
forged a tradition of Christian service within this benighted land,
but there is no such thing as gratitude among these conniving people.
I was there, I saw with my own eyes how my father wasted away
on the eve of his very first holiday in seven years; within weeks
my dear sister-in-law followed him, having given birth to a child
to the boundless joy of my brother. It was unbearable to see
his grief at her death, the wracking sobs that tore his frame apart!
They killed her as well. I know they did, I feel it in my heart.

Hakim Asanullah Khan

Bahadur ... jaldi, jaldi ... come here to the window, My Lord!
What is happening on the Bridge of Boats, what is that smoke?
What is the meaning of this, Asanullah, at this ungodly hour?
It is nothing good, My Lord. I fear the Army is in revolt.
But ... but, that is the army of the Angreezi. We have no army.
Nevertheless, they come to Delhi, My Lord. They come to you.
To me? Whatever for? What can they expect from me?
You are the King, My Lord, the descendant of great kings.
They want you to lead them against the Angreezi.
O God, first the concubines, now this! Can I have no peace?
Look, they have crossed the bridge, they approach the Fort.
They are calling out for you. My Lord, you must show yourself!
I have no intention of showing myself, Hakim Asanullah Khan.
Send these people away. Send a messenger under cavalry escort
and tell this rabble to go back where they came from!

Lieutenant Smythe-Pickering

They weren't bad soldiers, by and large, but times had changed.
They all came from the same villages as their fathers before them
and they thought they'd be treated as our sons and nephews.
Maybe that was the style in the old days, but those days had gone;
they were in uniform and paid to obey orders, and that was it, really.
We knew the words of command, but didn't really take to the lingo
since we were hardly going to chat with the black bastards!
They were always ready to make trouble of some kind or another,
usually starting with one of their nonsensical religious taboos
about beef or pork or some bloody thing. They were trying it on,
to my mind, in the midst of the overpowering heat and the general
short-tempered atmosphere. We had just issued the new cartridges
and set out to train this surly lot of peasants how to use them,
but do you think they would listen? In my opinion they were just
looking for any bloody excuse, and that's how the whole thing started.

Hakim Asanullah Khan

Forgive me, My Lord, for disturbing your repose.
Sawars have arrived, rough soldiers, and will not go away.
Also, I fear, they have entered the city gates
and have engaged in a slaughter of Angreezi civilians.
Riots have started and local Christians are under attack
and many, perhaps all, have been killed. The poor
have joined with the soldiers and wholesale looting has begun.
The banks and the moneylenders were the first victims
but now they are plundering the havelis of all the wealthy.
There is no force to prevent this, the kotwalis are deserted
and the Angreezi do nothing, they seem to be in disarray!
Ah, the moneylenders, said the King, with sly satisfaction,
but such badmash lawlessness cannot be condoned.
The English Resident must be informed and order restored!
Alas, that gentleman, My Lord, now flees for his life.


Glossary of Indian terms

ghazal - an intricate form of Urdu poetry, much admired.
Bahadur - Emperor, King of Kings
Angreezi - the English
jaldi jaldi - quickly, quickly
Sawar - native Indian cavalry trooper
haveli - a walled home with enclosed gardens and courtyard
kotwali - police post
badmash - hooligan

Notes & Sources

With the exception of the two military gentlemen, Captain Collingwood and Lieutenant Smythe-Pickering, all other people mentioned in the poem represent actual historical characters.

1) Indian Mutiny
3) rebellion 01.shtml

Friday, May 18, 2007

298. The Other Side of Paradise

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand." F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

The rich are different from you and me,
Said sad-eyed Fitzgerald, sozzled in Paris,
To which burly Hemingway, the boxer, replied,
Yes, they have more money.
That was the famous put-down,
Quoted over and over again, found
In all the literary gossip sheets,
But self-doubting Fitz had it right.

Daisy Buchanan had a voice full of money,
Tinkling, silvery, cold and careless;
With her shining hair and pouting lips,
She had been born to accept convenience.
Coolly, she witnessed the wreckage of lives,
Other people’s lives, little people’s lives,
And then blithely, gently, drifted away,
Leaving others to clean up behind.

Fitzgerald understood this.
Hemingway never did. He thought
It was all bluster and breaking through,
Being better than you, a two-fisted man
From Big Two-Hearted River.

Fight your first war from an ambulance,
Marry a woman, write short sentences,
Go to bullfights, drink, marry another woman;
Shoot innocent animals in Africa,
Write some more short sentences,
Get drunk, go fishing, get in a couple of
Airplane crashes, go to Cuba, get drunk,
Become a warzone tourist, show your teeth,
Burnish your he-man reputation,
Get married some more.
It wasn’t a bad old life. Macho man,
Successful writer, bit of an asshole.
But then it all came down
To that cold bleak day in Idaho
And the final metallic taste
Of that shotgun on your lips.
Tell me, how did that feel?

Fitzgerald understood.
In the Great Gatsby you can
See his secret life on display:
Just as Robert Louis Stevenson,
His brother writer before him,
He shows, by design not by accident,
His mild Dr Jekyll, Nick Carroway,
And then he carefully uncovers
His half-horrified fascination
With all the things that money can do:
I live in this mansion, Old Sport,
Haven’t quite counted the rooms,
All my suits come from Savile Row,
My shirts come from Jermyn Street,
My shoes, of course, are handmade;
I have servants, wine, food in abundance,
The whole place is lit up like Coney Island,
Mr. Nowhere Man from Nowhere.

Everything began to fall in place,
In Gatsby’s dreams, in Fitzgerald’s,
And all for the sake of brittle romance,
Shattered, splintered, they both broke apart.
A brilliant novel, “This Side of Paradise”
Had sealed his fate. His early success
Condemned him: assured, at last, of money,
His Southern belle had married him,
Ooops, let’s go to Paris! cried Zelda,
Where all the advanced people go.
One can imagine how well that went down
Among the embittered postwar French.
Champagne, champagne, toujours champagne!
The dollar then went a long long way
And all the locals (read the books)
Were landladies, waiters and taxi drivers.
Life was grand for Yankee layabouts,
Life was a fuckin jamboree.

It was 1928, says Fitzgerald,
Intermittently, inescapably observant,
That I noticed how soft we'd become.
Some of us were veterans of the War
But all the local boys on this Italian beach
Could have beaten the crap out of us.
Hemingway, of course, would have none of it.
He was still boxing in short sentences.
Hem, I want you to look at my prick.
Scott, tight, but not quite drunk, dragged
his uneasy friend into gurgling toilets.
Zelda says I'm too small, says I'm no good.
You're only small, says Hemingway,
because you are not aroused. Hey tiger!
I'm telling you, Scotty, pay no attention,
She's an emasculating bitch.
You can't say that. She's my wife, godammit!
Ah fuck it, Scott, pull up your trousers.

Seventeen drafts for a novel,
Written again and again and again
Just to get the tone exactly right.
I would say that was serious.
The Saturday Evening Post paid excellent money
For the popular Fitzgerald stories.
He worked hard at his craft, when sober,
Rewriting again and again and again.

Then suddenly he was no longer popular.
He went to Hollywood on a contract
To write screenplays from nine to five
In a breezeblock California building
With other sad less famous scribblers.
He wrote heartfelt letters to his daughter,
Until, finally, the drink did him in,
Or else those bruises in his heart.

He could see them so clearly through the window.
You are warm inside, I am cold outside.
Knock, knock, knock.
The rich are different from you and me.