before the real dreams came,
we woke upon a time
to find that day had broken red.
Clouds building overnight,
(the threatened rain)
A voice said,
“Sheep are never well prepared for these grey hills
and arid plains.
Take care of them!
Blank, nonchalant, but self-
and will forgive.”
The heart bleeds;
Golden catkins hang
and pollen, wind-
while fingers weave the carpet’s magic and
either by omissions or inclusions say,
“It is finished,
take me; here I am!”
What could we do?
Nothing, expecting further news,
which, in retrospect,
was not so far behind.
(many there had passed beyond the walls)
cried out aloud,
“Why is this tree festooned with yellow stars?
The skies were never like this, blue
with clouds, light brown,
sunlit from underneath.”
A thief lay beneath the fine green tracery of lines,
but bear in mind,
there was no choice in this.
Nothing was stolen
only left behind
the one illicit gift bestowed on us.
Not need nor greed,
but fifty different mouths to feed.
Here dark ancestral voices whispered.
What they had to say was,
then, as now,
though it promoted quite intense discussion.
A few held strong opinions;
“This has nothing much to do with us.”
Others believed it came from such a long way off,
we should consider what rewards accrue along the road,
which would, to say the least,
be long and unforgiving.
there is some urgency in this
as they are just about to hatch.
was often heard,
but most thought,
This and that is done,
we’ll let it pass.
The son, dismayed, took all his goods into a distant land.
Some spoke on his behalf,
“His actions may be rough, but he means well.”
Those who remained
grappled with the Herculean task.
Each hydra's disembodied head spoke with a single voice.
was not for anything we could provide,
craving only foliage so rich that sheep,
who safely grazed upon it,
would produce milk so soft,
so, shall we say, emollient,
that any lady's skin must benefit
from deep immersion in it, twice a week.
For now, it seemed,
the plan was undermined at such an early stage.
we might continue,
but would not succeed
despite this setback,
munched and munched.
Not just the sailor’s wife,
but Bonaparte had chestnuts in his lap.
Born in his châtaignierie,
he did not sleep.
Able was he,
who until this time
had not turned eastwards from his mountain top.
His caravanserai stopped, his braids of silk,
his epaulettes dropped from him, he
husbanded not the golden grain.
But we would gorge ourselves on what we did not earn,
and stand on giant’s shoulders staring out to sea.
This was not rage,
just the dismay of one
who sees his writing sliding off the page,
but must go on.
Timely, you think,
to invent the print of history.
Those who knew their task
and did it,
did it well;
the memory of them is evergreen.
At least, that is what they thought,
but never stopped to ask,
what did it mean?
Well, it ought to mean,
both those who go and those who fall
and leave their bones behind
are more than stepping stones for him.
Later on, he would acknowledge this in speeches,
but, at that time, continued his campaign
and drew upon a background of support.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,”
“Eat up your greens.”
And he was right.
His army, marching, bloated,
might achieve its aims;
few would survive!
Now consider those rooting beneath the trees.
They did not complain,
nor saw, nor heard, an ominous crescendo.
Far from it;
“These bare husks are not enough,
we know not what we do,
and we have sinned, we pray
that time can be reversed.”
“We have had a skin-
time must stop!”
And then the spinneret, that single viscous jet,
achieved what man has not
and caught the minaret in such a noose of light
that anyone would think,
“It’s come to this.
Syrup and brimstone never brought such richness.
Put the kettle on,
I’ll warm the pot.”
No outward signs appeared,
no hint of an anointed one to come.
The road ran on beside a desert where
if you found yourself alone there, you would say
or fear, because your tongue was dry,
We will die here,
but thinking only,
we have brought such priceless stuff,
that hangs in deep gold swathes and is, or will,
become another skin,
for what we do, not patronized,
or given knowing looks.
So that was when they said,
walk out into the night.
Rigel is rising, Mars has set.
The Milky Way divides,
the path is not defined.”
Failing that feeling,
pleasing for more than several reasons,
no wonder thunder does not rumble here.
Find the one sided skein
that will not, by itself,
No arm rose,
fell back unclothed.
flashed across the lake.
reflection gave the only clue.
Before she found the time to say,
“One lump or two?”
started to unwind.
young fingers were confined by golden chains,
until the eye's acuity was compromised.
This, we felt, was not what we had come to do!
to keep the father's word,
is turning base materials to gold.
three nights on end
and hope to please the King.
He has made a habit of this kind of thing
and will indulge himself,
that is until
the named one comes to steal the son,
or, as he will say,
comes to regain his own,
because he knows this; because,
and this is what he knows,
gilded, but undeserved,
who once has worn the crown,
will never take it off.
What is it for,
and why does it exist,
this thread, that can make man, or woman, more;
the once and wished-
Not torn by sharpened jaws,
“Don’t wash, Josephine!
I’m coming home.”
yet strangers not,
who could be you or I,
(here, we believe, is where the secret lies)
coupled together one whole day and night,
but passed no word in language each could understand.
clothed in shining raiment
wanders blind amongst the tombstones.
Nothing can come of nothing!
At this stage he knew little
and learned less,
but he did know this,
if nothing were,
there could be nowhere for it not to be,
if the purpose were to recreate oneself,
now with some confidence,
I can do that!
We all can.
Let us play a game of let’s pretend.
Let us pretend
it never happened.
Let us pretend the soul goes straight to heaven.
Let us pretend
Christ died and rose again.
Let us pretend that now is all we have.”
So it was he, more than anyone,
who came to grief here,
his head caught in a forked tree?
I do not think so!
He did not write, nor talk about it,
but returned after his time.
I would not quite put it like that, in case it seemed
Nothing was seen,
nothing was learned, but silence spoke.
Perhaps he had,
he, who brought the precious load,
sold it all and then, betrayed, bound hand and foot,
fell by the wayside,
left until somebody found him,
set him on his feet.
We do not know.
All we know is this;
nothing was done without the most
thoughtless and unforgiving blows.
“Tell me,” he said,
“had we known about it all along,
followed this portent,
were the thread unrolled
even unto its end,
might this have done? “
lips pursed, a single warning finger held in front.
Best then to take out all the cards,
lay them face down,
then pick them up in pairs and claim to get them right
for who will judge,
who cares? But that's the point,
Faces were red all round.
An old wine-
clutching his purchase slip,
“Keep this for your records,
shored against a rainy day,”
in finer print.
So, you might ask,
was there some space, or time,
between final defeat and victory?
Was there any sense in which we could admit
all won or lost,
or must we think, some lead
and some just went along,
did it all pass underneath the light just once
and then repeat itself?
We listened hard,
but there was no reply.
A maiden cycles by, ringing her bell.
A severed head drinks juice.
A dead wasp stings.
The dogs of lust, that tear,
will soon be blind,
while fingers fumble with the last suspender belt.
and Mr Smith blows rings
to show he has come through.
The sources of desire find no receptors here,
no indication left of any soul.
shout it out aloud,
that we have just been part of all that is;
are paid, not pay, for what we had to do,
and now stand by while pale ghosts linger,
kings and princes die.
So, what was this all for?
Who commissioned it and who provides the fare?
The heart that kept the brains all right?
An old man of the cloth?
He sees his Julia pass
and holds the palms of both hands cupped,
but not turned down,
nor pierced by nails that underpin the scheme in its entirety.
He thinks the flame has not expired,
although he may have been deceived by our pretended innocence
and tells all that he knows in simple words,
hoping someone will add,
“We’ll kill the fatted calf,
you have done well,
Metamorphosis, larva into adult, egg into chick, although no more miraculous than any other aspect of the biological world, has the aura of the miraculous, but in the life of the silk worm, Bombyx mori, the reality is more mundane. The egg hatches, the caterpillar (whose voracious appetite is controlled by bombesin, a tetradecapeptide) passes through the five stages of growth and moulting, the instars. It then pupates and spins something that can be one of the most beautiful materials known to man. The moth emerges. The silk is destroyed, but instead of a vibrant living soul, what appears is little more than a ghost. Neither the adult male or female can fly, nor can they eat. Males are attracted to females by powerful mating pheromones. They remain coupled for a day and a night, separate and the female lays her eggs on the underside of the mulberry leaf before dying. The male apparently survives a little longer. But, as is well recognised by, for example, the Vegan Society, silk is only obtained by sacrificing the futures of the living creatures that produced it.
This poem borrows extensively from Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Quotations from works by Betjeman, Blake, Browning, Bunyan, Coleridge, Dickens, Eliot, Herrick, Homer and Keats are more, or less, explicit. Mr Smith (p.16) is from a favourite early poem by e e cummings and The Wasp (p.16) is from a poem by Phillpotts.
Points of fact are:-
My brief contact with sericulture happened in the primary school on the day when match boxes containing leaf fragments with grey eggs on the underside were handed out to all those willing to take them. Some memories remain clear until you try examine them too closely.....eg. the ominous absence of mulberry leaves and the beautiful golden cocoons.
THE SILK ROAD
To my friends, for their silent eloquent comments. Written in time stolen from more important things.
Underneath each grief and pine
Runs a joy like silken twine.
The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother’s grief.
The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.