The Seven Amethysts
I got to speak with a friend of his-
A smart old man in a soft, cloth cap-
Who said, "He owned a silver cup
With seven amethysts round the foot
That he'd take with him to public meetings,
Put on the desk and keep topped up
With whisky from a flask. One time
He chucked the contents into the crowd
And the heckler he was aiming at
Ostentatiously licked his wrist
And said,'It's water.'" "Well, why not?"
I asked." But my informant's eyes
Turned hard. "Not possible!" he snapped,
"Not possible!" This wasn't a man
You argued with so I demurred,
And, mollified, he carried on.
"The day he died," he said, "Was a day
In early spring. He'd seemed quite well
And the next door neighbour said she met him
Turning in at his garden gate
And he told her that he'd work to do,
Cheerful, like. Next day we found him
Face down on floor, with the cup
Nearby, as if it had rolled from his hand.
And all seven amethysts were missing."
With a gold ring round his helmet,
Fierce as a cornered hog,
The small man braved his enemies,
Unhorsed, down there in the bog,
Till William Gardner, commoner,
With knighthood on his mind,
And a damn big poleaxe in his hands
Approached him from behind.
Then all the saints and angels
To whom we used to pray
Came slithering out of heaven
Like trinkets from a tray.
The Lady Contemplates Resistance
My cousin has come, he pickets the house.
(The king brought this trouble upon us all.)
Shall I have my followers fire on him
And have the house wrecked? When we cousins were small
He dropped ripe peaches into my skirts.
No, I shall curtsey him into the hall
And there we’ll have someone sing us a song.
This way there’ll be peaches along the wall
For my son to pick in the years to come
And hand out freely when cousins call.
He planned to show Jimmy a fine time in Paris;
There were tickets booked, a carriage waiting.
But Jimmy said, “You know those fairs...”
So they spent the night on the hoopla stall
Playing for knives. Jimmy possessed
A clever wrist and they won eleven.
His leg was bad so he couldn’t jump
Down into the boats- or so he said.
Instead he tied floats to Moses baskets-
He and Alfred Vanderbilt.
He went to the bridge and Jimmy’s line,
About death- "an awfully big adventure"
Came into his head so he spoke it out loud.
Then he and his friends shook hands all round
And the wave came roaring up the deck
THE THOUGHTS OF SENG TSAN
1. Choose at random, shake the dice; when any old road is as good as another the journey will be pleasant.
2. Never state a preference. The only way to paradise is not to desire it.
3. When you prefer one thing to another you are declaring War.
4. The whole world belongs to you until you start to discriminate.
5. You can be busy or you can be still; These are not opposite states but different expressions of the Unity.
6. The meaning is in the root not in leaf or flower. Understand the inner self and you understand the world.
7. History is an illusion. The quest for truth is futile. Merely stop having opinions.
8. Forget about right and wrong; these terms are simply confusing.
9. Right and wrong both proceed from the Unity- and both betray it. Be clear about this and the complexity of the world will no longer puzzle you.
10. When right and wrong no longer puzzle you, they disappear. When the mind is in repose, it ceases to be. To quieten the mind let go of its object, let go of the object and quieten the mind.
11. The one who thinks and the one who is thought about both proceed from the Unity.
12. You and I are one in the Unity and each contains everything that exists. When everything that exists is one and the same how can prejudice arise?
13. Walk the road in calm acceptance. Nothing is easy; nothing is hard. Opinions create difficulties. More haste, less speed.
14. Desire is never moderate. Desire is always mistaken. Let it go and things become clear. Nothing you do can alter their essence.
15. Take things as they come, and the journey will be smooth; you will suffer no annoyance. Desire fogs the vision and makes our thinking sluggish and faulty.
16. Prejudiced thinking disturbs the soul, so what is the point of it? If you wish to make the most of your life you must love the world as it is.
17. When we love the world as it is we show we understand it. The wise let things be but the ignorant are restless. In truth all things are worthy of love, but the ignorant pick and choose. They create illusions and fall madly in love with them: How ridiculous this is.
18. The ignorant are torn by desire but the wise have no likes and dislikes. Good and evil, right and wrong, the lovely and unlovely- all are illusions, conjuring tricks, insubstantial pageants. Reach for them and your hand goes through them.
19. Without sleeping there is no dreaming. The unified mind loves the world without desiring it. When we see all things as manifestations of the Unity we are back in paradise.
20. When you cease to ask, “why?” you have attained eternity. Where is the motion when the wheel stops? Where is its repose when it moves again? Stop thinking in abstracts and even Unity becomes a meaningless term.
21. In the end there are no rules. The philosopher finds the roots of all actions in himself.
22. Retain nothing, remember nothing. All is empty; all is light, pure, tranquil, full of repose. Neither thought nor imagination will bring you to this.
23. In eternity there is no me, there is no you. When asked who you are, reply, “undivided”.
24. All is equal to the undivided mind. It contains all that is. The wise of every nation share this knowledge.
25. This knowledge exists beyond time and space. It experiences eternity in an hour. It embraces all possibilities.
26. The grain of sand is no smaller than the universe.
27. The real and the unreal: what is the difference? Shun the place where they think they know the answer.
28. The One in All, the All in One- understand this and you can forget about your spirituality.
29. Where there is wisdom there is no conflict. Where there is no conflict there is wisdom. My words exist in time, but time does not exist.
On Finishing Simon Schama's "Citizens"
So the revolution achieved nothing?
No, Simon, emphatically no!
It achieved itself.
It was theatre. It was performance art-
Red caps, rhetoric, the sound of clogs on cobbles-
And it inserted into the timeline a number of remarkable years when things did not run as usual-
When the likes of Talleyrand (amiable man that he was) did not entirely prosper.
It bequeathed us one very good song, one very good painting
And the aspiration (of a green-eyed promenader on Les Champs Elysees)
That the state might be virtuous.
Northumbrian Voices 7
When I rowed third oar in my uncle’s boat
We used to raid all along this coast
And burn the houses of the Christians.
I am not an incurious man;
These were strange people; They gave me much to think about.
Why would a man give up women for any god?
Why would he worship a god who let men spit at him and strike him?
And then I considered Odin and how he hung himself on the tree
And all for knowledge. Now we live in the land
This is the place where we trade, farm, fish- where we raise our children
And it cannot be war all the time.
Our king has had conversations with the bishop- a fine, brave man
Who says a man can be washed in water in the name of Christ
And become like a child. It’s a thought that pleases me.
I have done many things in my life that make me sad.
And, to be frank, I do not want what’s been promised us by our own gods-
All that fighting, bragging, feasting- that’s a heaven for young men
And I have been tamed by Time. I have grandsons. I like quiet best,
Sitting in my daughter’s house, hearing the hum of the wheel as she spins.
I walked out yesterday beyond the houses to the beach where the nets are hung
And saw the raven of Odin perched on a stake.
He tipped his head at me and fixed me with his very bright eye
And then he spoke. And what I heard him say was “knowledge”.
Leaving The Wall
Northumbrian Voices 6
Leaving The Wall
I met with some of the boys under the wall last night.
For a final bevvy.
We’re moving out in the morning, going, oh, gods know where.
Ours not to reason.
It’s the vets I feel sorry for. They’ve got a stake in the province-
Native wives, native kids.
Will they hang on now the army’s no longer there to guard ‘em?
Most probably not. .
But Piso, demobbed last year, says he’s seizing the opportunity-
The place will go to the dogs,
The tribes will fight each other, as they’re always itching to do,
It’s in their blood.
And be too busy feuding to guard against the Picts or the longships.
Give it a year-
Maybe two- and the wall will be down, the cities empty, the whole country wide open
Ripe to be plucked.
Give me fifty, no twenty horse- he says- time-served men, seasoned campaigners
And- fuck Caesar-
I’ll sell myself to some new king, make myself indispensable
Work my way up,
Then carve out a kingdom to share with my mates- raw, bleeding, the very best cut.
I wished him luck.
I’m afraid I like regular meals too much for that sort of game.
Too lazy perhaps.
Whatever; I’ve got no love for this country. I’m sick of police work,
I’ll die someplace else.
Besides we’ve been promised a war. A proper one. Marching in formation, fighting in formation
Like we’ve been taught.
I’m hoping they’ll send us where the woman aren’t all redheads
And you don’t need socks.
Building The Wall
Northumbrian Voices 5
We needed to draw a line so why not draw it here
Through this empty country only a god could love
Where the heather reaches all tickly up to the knee?
On this side Rome, on that side- some place else.
In theory, of course, our soldiers, hard pressed but hardy,
Could have carried on marching north and carried on marching north
Till the land grew too cold to farm, but frankly why bother?
Here was a ridge just right for putting up towers
And setting with fires like the crown of Roma Dea.
With a fall of some fifty feet on the northern aspect.
A walk on the wall is an education in civics.
It braces one in one’s faith to see where things end
And to know that this is as far as even an emperor
Can go with a boy at his side who is dressed like a girl.
The Stonemason’s Daughter
Northumbrian Voices 4
I sit on the wagon wrapped in my shawl,
The men are loading the stone
Father says there’s enough cut stone on the Wall to last the world until doomsday.
The horses tremble. They don’t like it here.
Some say the builders of the wall were giants;
That’s baby talk.
Could giants have carved patterns as pretty as these I’m tracing with my finger?
They were cleverer with their hands than us.
I wonder if they mind our theft of their stone.
I sit and think about ghosts.
The mist blows over and the wind wails like a woman at a burying.
Father leaves offerings. He shouldn’t but he does.
Honey drink and cakes. They’re gone next morning.
Maybe foxes take them or birds
Or even people. Yes, there are people living under stretched hides among the ruins.
Solitary souls- not Christian I think.
I’m not to mind them, says father.
He never goes far-
And when they come round the wagon, wall-eyed, hands outstretched, talking fast,
He sees them off with threatened blows.
We are building a fine new church
With the stone that we take.
And when the bishop has blessed it with water flung from a bunch of hyssop
No ghost will dare come near.