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’.

V

dedication
by prevention
from veneration by/words/by
the practice of prevention. Deceived
(among other things) by the circle of belief which
cannot fall
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
small stone
the fall of death
which is deemed infallible
foreseen = prevented?

VI

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
chose/was chosen
to fall when
he could have lowered/or not
his bare head

IV

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.
To prevent himself
from dedication to a natural history
(of practised festivals)
in whom he did not believe

III

always in the cap is bare
divined to be bare
dedicated to the cap which is
under bare
not to believe
one must fall from aloft
and circle under
to foresee the cap
(then deemed
infallible) to fall
Between
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
this disaster
Entering a church
fell by deception

II

divination by the falling stone
veneration by the falling stone
at this deceived festival
to which
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.

And so – on to the first section:

I

in whom he did not believe

there is escape under this small stone
escape under this iron hood
escape with the skull of the
body of the Lord
escape from the Lord
in whose court
in whose skull
you have foreseen escape
from the circle of prognostication
which is the iron circle of escape
under which
hooded
is the lowered body of the Lord

Well, that’s one part in six over! Unfortunately, as I reread it, I can see that there’s too much semi-digested T.S. Eliot, but what can be done now, now that we seem to accept that the published version of a poem is final and conclusive? A weird conceit, isn’t it – oddly masochistic, really, as though something wishes to preclude us from improvement.

A long time ago – in another lifetime, it sometimes seems – I wrote a poem about Michael Scott the Magician. This might be it. Or, it might be part of it. The whole poem, as I recapture it now, appears to be in six parts (over-eloquent, no doubt) as well as an extensive epigram. Here is the epigram:

Michael Scott, the Magician, practised divination at the court of Frederick II, and dedicated to him a book on natural history, which I have seen, and in which among other things he treats of Astrology, then deemed infallible … It is said, moreover, that he foresaw his own death, but could not escape it. He had prognosticated that he should be killed by the falling of a small stone upon his head, and always wore an iron skull-cap under his hood, to prevent this disaster. But entering a church on the festival of Corpus Domini, he lowered his hood in sign of veneration, not of Christ, in whom he did not believe, but to deceive the common people, and a small stone fell from aloft on his bare head.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, to be able to talk within a poem, to share speculation on, for example, the exact (but no doubt double) meaning of the word ‘veneration’, or the precise size and indeed shape of this ‘small stone’, and whether it was meant directly for MS himself (now known to us only in the form of ms, manuscript, texts reciting his life and times …)