The Fiddler and the Dogs
The man came from his caravan,
In barking of dogs. The strangers stood.
They said, we have to move you on
From what has been and what has gone.
The man replied, there’s nothing gone
But what you’ll lose not moving on.
They summoned writ: but move you will.
We’ve bricked a scheme for you, a dream
Of things made new by tick of tock.
We are the shepherds of the flock.
A click. Twitch cord to calm a light
Caught in the flicker of its fault,
To fix the sink, the bath, this vault
In limpid power-saving white
Here in my toilet, half past three,
The plug-hole’s clogged with matted hair
The rippled mirror warps my stare
The funhouse magic of the fair
For free; and on the other side
A dog barks to a fiddler’s stride.
These lives of genre to the core,
Content to do what has been done,
They said, it’s all been done before,
We know some like that kind of thing.
But we’ve no interest in what’s done.
What’s done is done, so you must bring
A clockwork head to shock a king,
And in a terraced house of chintz
You’ll work new marvels we decree,
But leave the fiddle and the dogs.
The caravan and carousel,
Mechanics of escape, will rust
In brambles, while robotic bust
Drones on its fortune telling spell,
In whirr of futures, stratagems
Of chess, computing rook and pawn;
Or gossip news in gloam of morn,
On breakfast show of golden dawn.
A thousand novelties you’ll shape,
No painted ponies, now you’ll make
Gadgets to rouse a kingdom’s mob
To work. This is a worthy job.
I have no words but his, no say,
This mirrored rake another’s mask;
But in his tousling love I bask,
Red neckerchief around my throat,
And sniff the weird upon his coat.
He sips a draft from pewter flask,
His action answer to the task,
As mine is but a show of teeth,
A sullen growl. It is his choice;
I only bark to fiddler’s voice.
So you’ve no interest in what’s done?
No sonnet’s iron taste in blood?
Are you so bored of ballades and
So restive roundels shout no sun
For you, hacked off with haiku,
Scathing scorn for all sestinas too?
Your jaded air won’t wind the springs,
But bring my dogs to mark your door
And bark as dogs have done before —
But you’ve no interest in such things.
I move as you stand still and mouth
Your rote refrain of moving on
The house half-built’s already gone,
The stripling of your studies dead.
So burn the corpse, the rotting head
On kitchen table of Scrabble games.
Set your slow flesh on fire and you
May scry wild history in the flames.
And as you burn your lives, your names,
I’ll fiddle the deep song in blue.
The song is deep, the song is blue
And never owned by me or you,
The author dead, the critic too.
But every singing rings it new
For chanting child and rat newborn
In ghetto slum. The song is worn
But stitched, a patchwork artifice
Of mystery, history and myth.
The song is deep, the song is blue,
And every lie in it is true.
Questions to ask a critic’s grief:
Can you admire an iamb’s beat?
Pentameter, the goatherd’s feet,
The lines sprung tight as catgut, fleet
In regularities of rhythm, rhyme?
Does classic cadence leave you cold?
Is free verse all so bought and sold?
And snapping Beats? And concrete words?
You know there’s cities to be heard
Where dogs bark at the flourish of birds?
There’s no dark lady’s dress, they said,
For that which was is now in shreds,
The blind man’s fallen seraph dead,
His trophied armour on display;
Each dying generation’s work
Is numbered in our ivory vaults,
Museumed safe for all its faults
And stacked in memory of its quirks.
The classic forms are finely placed
But they’ve been done and all decay.
So we must drive to pastures green
Where novelties evolve the taste.
Phrasings of fourteen lines have grace,
But there’s no volta truly edged,
No blade that shines, still slaughter-clean
And sharp. No, all are tarnished, blunt
With time and thug’s abuse, dull red
With grime of blood, desire and must,
So we discard them to the dust,
And urge you to new tools of lead.
Once in a foreign life and death,
He said, a dog had hate for breath,
A prick dipped in a cretin’s beer,
A fuck-you to a hack, backed up
With balls and swagger, jagged flash
Of switchblade wit and bestial sneer.
Last in a line of cuntish queers,
He swore new idioms — to fly
Into the fevered sun and die!
That cur moved on; so turn your eye.
Trumpet your folly. You presume
To judge what’s left, what’s to be done,
To scoff at snarls of feral hope,
The lineaments of untold scope.
And if cold fourteen lines should come
A volta’s kiss to twist your gut?
You hire your hangman, braid the rope.
A boar in blinkers at the trough,
Grunting at swill not rich enough
And shitting pearls as gaudy slough.
They: Can you claim commands misguide,
Demanding genesis anew,
When measured light must judge and right
The pandered passions of the mob
For empty teraphim of gods
And fiddles tuned to drunken dogs?
You raid an ossiary of dukes
For meatless bones and echoed lies —
Theft in a mock of gypsy guise,
That fleeces followers of crooks.
He: Do I frame the howls as sheep
A herd of woolen thoughts that graze
In idyll’s green consoling daze,
No, shepherd, it is you who bleat
That sonnet’s barb is obsolete,
Fence all in pricking wire of sneers.
In trenches sandbagged with denial,
Dismissing signs for peasant style,
You gouge your eyes out, eardrums pierce,
And weep me dark and silent tears.
It’s not, in any mode, the form
That has been done, but what’s done with
That form is all. You walk the road
Of footsteps’ fall that trudging swarm
Has trod to dust, but April rains
Pound as a drum till all is mud
To splash, the rain a beat of blood,
Your walk a hop, a skip, a prance,
That leaves the print of a new dance,
And this is all, but all is much.
Pastiche of flowers, archaic tongue,
Parodic ode to fag-ash urn,
Is pageant pony, joke told twice,
A jump of fence — the twist is trite.
But scratched with Biro, Bic or quill
Still there’s uncharted straits of love
To navigate, deep sounds to map
In hammock’s sway, in swell and slap
Of waves, matelotage at night,
Jade isles that sleep beyond our sight.
Some thieves come sneakily, craftily slip,
Into Arcadian eclogue’s frame
To show who’s also here, His game,
Scraping an antique blade to strip
A scale of paint on plaster frieze,
Reveal the pale of Death beneath,
Chloride of lime as soldier’s pall
The mud and meat of trench’s wall.
And if not, is it only schmaltz,
The swagman’s solace in a waltz?
Ignite the crucible of scrap
To sublimate the bent and botched,
But spires of scrit smoke as you say,
The blade is done, has had its day.
Talk trebuchets and tanks. Be heard.
But rattled cage won’t hatch the new,
As tyrant’s don’t is tinker’s do,
A call to weaponry of words,
To shatter sonnets as they choose
Or strap the volta to the blues,
Strum steel guitar, no Eton guns
But rifles, bayonets for scum
On missions from their gods of clay
To murder chaplains as they pray.
A hot-house of hymns, of fanfares,
Worshipping flocks, incense of prayers,
These are mere rituals, death in life.
Collections of coin or kudos
Out of time, unchanging dramas
Honouring sideshow salves of strife,
Betray dull care for craft of knife,
But there’s no duty of desire,
And fresh blood on an aged blade
Makes payment full upon the pyre.
To deconstruct and demonstrate
The glory in a neutron bomb
Is to be scribe of Bacchic rant,
Anatomist of head on plate.
You call your king’s machine as fate
To summon madness to his halls
Of bias-bolstered ivory walls,
To say I must move on, ignore
What’s done a dozen times before,
What will be done a dozen more.
All orreries as carousels
Of worlds and moons spin round a sun,
As clockwork seasons turn, return.
The tinker moves from horse to horse
To take the pennies from each corpse
Riding around its death for fun.
Rhapsody, rapture, waking sleep,
The fiddler’s song is not for sheep,
For shepherd’s fancy of a flock.
Disdaining schemes of ticking talk,
It whirls wild arcs beyond all cogs
And we but howl for him, we dogs.