There was a rip. It was Celestina who heard it first; I saw her fur rise, her mandibles spread. At first I couldn’t see where it was, but then it became apparent; it covered what would otherwise have been a couple of yards of desert sand, an opening, shallow yet full – full of machinery, strange clankings and whirrings, wheels and cogs overlaid on each other, endlessly moving yet locked into a kind of stasis which, presumably, ensures the integrity of that appearance, that ‘show of things’ as Hardy puts it as he received the deathly wisdom of the yew tree which we rely on as we go about the hallucinatory business of what we cheerily call ‘daily life’. There can be no excuses; it was obvious that there was a way, a narrow companionway that led its way between hissing engines – Celestina pointed it out to me with one of her extraneous limbs – but I could not g inside. I thought I would be ground to a powder. Then I thought ofd things that might be worse.
Here is the poem with which I recently won the Poetry Prize at the Stroud Book Festival 2018:
We’ve got ’em bang to rights, the noisy screamers
and harbingers of our oceanic discontent;
Jonathan Livingston, George Barker, Chekhov,
fish and chips, snatched sandwiches, a certain
stink of half-remembered, half-digested fish.
Forgetting how huge they are is one thing; worse
is forgetting how gull they are, how unlike
anything else in the many wild kingdoms we
pompously incline to regard as our home despite
the anarchy of mosquito, buzzard, lynx.
A white head endangered among rocks, scrabbling
claws spread to meet the gust, there is nothing
romantic about this unseasoned life, bare feed
and guano, profitless, enduring, cold
as midnight, we think, is cold; but always cold.
In moments we are gull, instances of dream,
flapping from the black precipice, swooning
in the down-draught, knowing no knowledge
except the squawking mouths, the endless need
revealed for a second in cowl of black and grey.
We progress, it seems, to the heart of the matter. We are a little late: Graham Greene and Russell Hoban, at least, are there before us, and although we evince the utmost respect for their prior engagements they do not seem inclined to respond with offers of, for example, camp-fire hospitality. And so we must fend for ourselves, but that requires a fresh assessment of how many we are. Fabor strewn across some endless mountain-top; Bruna the victim of her own peculiar and derisive desires. So who have we?
Well, Celestina is with me. She is not yet fully-grown, which is, on the whole, reassuring, for although se is yet small, she has a wide mouth full of teeth, and her utterances, although frequently urgent, are unclear. And we have a mysterious trio of killers who come, they tell me, from a film called ‘McCabe and `Mrs Miller’. It seems they were all slain, one after another, by Warren Beatty but they keep claiming their deaths were unfair and they want to try again. Beaver the hunter; Creed the tracker; Kid the punk. Yes indeed, I remember them well, very well indeed. In the end, as I recall, they were condemned by their own silence; they knew not what or where they were and thus the only sound to record their present absence was the report – in their case, the report of their own poorly aimed guns.
Bruna has gone. She was but an artefact, of my devising, although she would have hated to be termed so. Somebody, carried on the wind, is reading us an interminable poem, called ‘Michael Scott, the Magician’. I am not sure I can stand it. It appears to be in a vogue, which was stable on the planet X-Zog for about thirteen years, known as alt-antique-mod, which was rapidly succeeded by post-alt-antique-mod and therefore sank without trace. Anyway, it cannot seduce me from my terrors (they are, delightfully, all my own). Down the side of this endless gorge which we now approach, there seem to be some beasts descending, and as in all such cases, there are decisions to be taken. Shall I attempt to speak to them (Fabor tried that approach, and his bloodied bones remain still, as far as I am aware, on the mountainside); shall I suggest to them that I might shoot them with my toy rifle; or shall I invoke the powers of my mighty fathers, unknown of course to you, and dislodge the very stones upon which they prance?
To be honest, I thought the whole thing was far-flung; she was much too young, but the way she clung to me, the way I found I hung across her shoulder as though every step were a rung on the way to some profound shelter, as though we could escape from the dung of her father’s flaying fields and yet it was clearly that to which we clung, as though to some green lung from which otherwise there could be no respite, or as though we had otherwise sung of hope and fear and taken the mad risk of becoming unstrung, the lyre ceasing to respond, strung though it was to the best of our ability, including her with the lips bee-stung, and at this point who could dare mention the tongue. Who could mention the tongue. Who could mention the tongue …
It occurs to me now, reading through those final stanzas, that what I was trying to say – or even, perhaps, enact – was a perfectly, even banally, simple thought: namely, that an event is an event, and although we may cast about us for reasons and causes, none of these will undo the event. So it was, I suppose, to some with the crucifixion of Christ (and I was lost in wonder at the accidental effect obtained here when I translated some of the lower-case ‘h’s into upper-case); but so it also is (and there are plenty of contemporary novelists around to remind us of this, Don DeLillo to take but one example) with more mundane occurrences. Maybe it’s mundane, maybe it’s apocalyptic, I’m not sure, but I cannot shake off the effect produced on me by William Burroughs’s remark about ‘that terrible moment when we all see what’s on the end of everybody’s fork’. I don’t think Burroughs was an ecologist, and if he’d met one he’d probably have shot her/him; but that brutal condemnation of the irredeemable event (and reminder that all events, whatever they may say, are irredeemable) resonates for me with the – portrayed; fictionalised; traduced – image of MS; forever known, although there have been so many competitors for the appellation – only as ‘Michael Scott, the Magician’.
from veneration by/words/by
the practice of prevention. Deceived
(among other things) by the circle of belief which
but is a small stone dropped
through the pitch abyss like
one’s own death falling
one’s own death falling and
prevention by crawling
under the eighth
the fall of death
which is deemed infallible
foreseen = prevented?
Not death is prevented death
Nor can be
except by practised divination of the book
which is prevented/which is not, but
on the festival of Corpus Domini
Michael Scott, the Magician
to fall when
he could have lowered/or not
his bare head
Benvenuto da Imola at the court of
Frederick II at the court of
Michael Scott, the Magician, one could have
been foreseen/fallen, and then
would come the circle
come the circle come among other things
he treats of
(yet is fallen)
and he, lowered under the eighth stone would seek
To prevent himself
from dedication to a natural history
(of practised festivals)
in whom he did not believe
always in the cap is bare
divined to be bare
dedicated to the cap which is
not to believe
one must fall from aloft
and circle under
to foresee the cap
infallible) to fall
the bare cap and the skull is
the festival and the raising up of
that which is to be venerated
(if it is not to deceive) to prevent
Entering a church
fell by deception
divination by the falling stone
veneration by the falling stone
at this deceived festival
circles the stone, divining
and conveying divinity though not
to the deceived
Veneration of the
Corpus Astrology, then deemed falling but
infallible, killing by bringing to life
a lowered divinity
That’s probably quite enough for now; a third of the poem over, gone, read, discarded, savoured, retained in the circulations of memory – how do we know (how do I know) where it’s gone? How do I know where Michael Scott has gone, or where this poem begins or ends, what these interpolations might be, how they might affect, transform the poem (if it is a poem). We live (I hope, and so did MS) in a world of magical transformations.