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An east wind

 

Once,

before the real dreams came,

we woke upon a time

to find that day had broken red.

Clouds building overnight,

(the threatened rain)

had passed.


A voice said,


“Sheep are never well prepared for these grey hills

and arid plains.

Take care of them!

Blank, nonchalant, but self-contained.

they understand

and will forgive.”


The heart bleeds;

Golden catkins hang

and pollen, wind-blown, finds the cusp,

while fingers weave the carpet’s magic and

either by omissions or inclusions say,

“It is finished,

take me; here I am!”




A day off


What could we do?

Nothing, expecting further news,

which, in retrospect,

was not so far behind.


The crowd  

(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.”




The poisoned chalice


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.




In the market place


Here dark ancestral voices whispered.  

What they had to say was,

then, as now,

unheeded,

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.

One insists,

there is some urgency in this

as they are just about to hatch.


“What if?

  What if?

  What if?”


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.





The mulberry bush


Each hydra's disembodied head spoke with a single voice.

Their choice

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.

Most feared

we might continue,

but would not succeed

and yet,

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.




Marche militaire


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,”

he said,

“Eat up your greens.”

And he was right.

His army, marching, bloated,

might achieve its aims;

few would survive!




The five instars


Now consider those rooting beneath the trees.

They did not complain,

nor saw, nor heard, an ominous crescendo.

Far from it;

never thought,

“These bare husks are not enough,

we know not what we do,

and we have sinned, we pray

that time can be reversed.”

But only,

“We have had a skin-full,

time must stop!”




Cocoon


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,

second-hand, that we should be admired

highly

for what we do, not patronized,

or given knowing looks.


So that was when they said,


“Turn right,

walk out into the night.

Rigel is rising, Mars has set.

The Milky Way divides,

the path is not defined.”




A cup of tea


Failing that feeling,

pleasing for more than several reasons,

no wonder thunder does not rumble here.

Entrain.

Find the one sided skein

that will not, by itself,

hold fast,

meaning

endure,

not last.


No arm rose,

fell back unclothed.


No sword

flashed across the lake.


Pausing instead,

reflection gave the only clue.

Before she found the time to say,

“One lump or two?”

the spell

started to unwind.

In consequence

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!




Metamorphosis


Your task,

to keep the father's word,

is turning base materials to gold.


Melt

rut

silk

Spin


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-for self?

Not torn by sharpened jaws,

instead dissolved,

he signalled,

“Don’t wash, Josephine!

It’s me,

I’m coming home.”


They,

Strangers then,

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.




Stranger in a strange land


No-one has done it.

No-one is to blame

and no-one,

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,

that

if nothing were,

there could be nowhere for it not to be,

so,

if the purpose were to recreate oneself,

he thought,

now with some confidence,

“Yes

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.”




The golden fleece


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.

Burnt out?

I would not quite put it like that, in case it seemed

somewhat disrespectful.

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? “

But no;

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,

somebody did.


Faces were red all round.





The small print


An old wine-seller sidled off,

clutching his purchase slip,

with,

“Keep this for your records,

shored against a rainy day,”

in finer print.





An exit strategy?


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,

or,

did it all pass underneath the light just once

and then repeat itself?


We listened hard,

but there was no reply.




An old man’s dream


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.


Ma thinks,

“right thing”

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.

Declare,

yes,

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,


My son!

My son!

My son!”




Notes.


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:-. Red sky in the morning only heralds bad weather if the wind is in the west. Sheep fed on mulberry leaves produce extremely rich and creamy milk (DV personal communication). The Sweet Chestnut was of great economic importance to the Island of Corsica, Napoleon’s birthplace. Esoteric knowledge is said to be passed down in traditional works of art, exemplified by silk carpets, in carefully selected deviations from a design plan. Walter Ramsden, Professor of Biochemistry at Oxford University and silkworm expert, published very little on this subject. (See I.M. Walter Ramsden ob. March 26, 1947 Pembroke College Oxford, in John Betjeman’s collected poems. Ed. John Murray) Biblical references are from King James’ Authorised Version. References to Dante, such as there are, come from Eliot’s introduction to The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock.

 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.



CONTENTS


TITLE



1 An east wind

2 A day off

3 The poisoned chalice

4 In the market place

5 The mulberry bush

6 Marche militaire

7 The five instars >>

8 Cocoon

9 A cup of tea

10 Metamorphosis

11 Stranger in a strange land

12 The golden fleece

13 The small print

14 An exit strategy?

15 An old man’s dream



INDEX


1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

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.


Blake