A Landrace of Snails

Snail Race by psykle

A Landrace of Snails
The Roman snail was bred for the eating,
Bred by the Romans on gastropod farms –
Bred to be fatter and bred to be sweeter,
Bred for behaviour and oozing with charms !
Red shells and blue shells, thoroughly adaptable,
With endless potential curled-up inside –
Many shapes of eye-stalk, fully retractable,
And you should see how speedily these beauties can glide !
“You join us at the Coliseum, bursting to capacity,
For the Trophy Mille Denarii – ave, sports fans, and well met –
And they’re off ! Down the first straight, led by Number Three,
While Number Thirteen stalls, as he retracts into his helmet.
Hard into the corner at a tenth-a-mile an hour,
And slamming on the brakes – and out goes Number Ten !
Spinning in slow motion as she gives it too much power,
And slams into the backside of her team-mate, yet agen !
And the Formula Unum poll position passes on to Seventeen –
While her rival Number Twenty-Two is sliding for the pits,
To lubricate his tired foot, while they give his conch a sheen,
With a quick refuel of lettuce, and he’s back into the blitz !
Now shell-to-shell on the final lap come slithering the leaders,
Stretching their antennas out to take the chequered flag.
But competition never ends for Golden Helix breeders,
When looking for an offspring with a slightly better drag.”


don't be cross


“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
                                                                                        -Mark 15:33

An eclipse, right ?  It sounds so fine,
Especially when we learn of one,
A total seen in ’29.

Alas, we now can calculate
Down to the nearest minute
And the nearest mile its fate –

And this one was November,
And only nine-tenths partial there –
The dark was still a glowing ember.

The near-miss of ’29 –
The sky was dim, the air was chill,
But the Sun could still outshine.

An hour or so to noon,
And lasting just a hour or two,
So it was over far too soon.

And anyway, it just won’t do –
For Passover was always held
When the Moon was full, not new.

But what about a Lunar one ?
There’s one in April ’33,
At sunset too – job done !

Except…it’s partial, still quite bright,
And it didn’t last an hour in all,
And the only darkness comes with night.

Some suggest volcanic ash instead –
Though that would last for days, and stretch
Throughout the Eastern Med.

Maybe just a heavy storm ?
The legend doesn’t mention rain,
But thunderheads might fit the form.

And yet…is that the best that God
Can rustle up ?  A gloomy afternoon ?
His climax barely gets a nod.

We’re better off with desert dust –
When heavy in the atmosphere
It tints the Moon with rust.

But as the moon sails higher,
So the dust is less through which we peer –
So this one’s not a flyer.

And anyway, how come
There was no-one else wrote down the fact
Of what should strike them dumb ?

Three full hours of dark,
Before the sun had even set ?
Now that should leave its mark !

In our hearts, we know the score –
The sky did not go dark that day.
The world still turned, just as before.


Alas, this is another mystery as to who is the painter


The Greeks never had a canon,
Their gods were not in chapter and verse –
Despite a level of literacy,
They didn’t take gods literally.
Oh sure, they all believed in them,
As unavoidable (or worse),
But ev’ry city-state would give
A local spin to ev’ry myth.

The Greeks never had a canon,
Their gods made do with epic tales –
All unofficial, without guards,
And retold not by priests, but bards.
They probably believed in them,
But stuck their thumbs upon the scales –
As fan-fictions running free
That no-one saw as heresy.

The Greeks never had a canon,
Their gods were merely one of many –
Fighting ev’ry deity
For prayers and popularity.
Oh sure, the Greeks believed in them,
Yet outright-worshipped hardly any –
And who they did would change with fashion –
Sacrifices on a ration.

The Greeks never had a canon,
Their gods were tricky to pin down –
They changed their shapes and names at will
To stay alert and hard to kill.
If folks no more believed in them,
They merged with newer-gods-in-town –
So the Jews think just one god is best ?
Well, toss him on the altar with the rest.

Nice Try, Aesop

Like it says, 9 Aesop Fables by Antonio Frasconi

Nice Try, Aesop

The race ain’t always to the swift,
Nor the fight a cinch for the strong –
Though underdogs lose out nine in ten,
And the weak last half as long.
The race is won by the winner,
And the winner is usually fast –
The Hare can snooze all the afternoon,
But the Tortoise still comes last.

The point ain’t always with the smug,
Nor the sting a prod from the sharp –
And morals will lose us nine in ten
Whenever the pious harp.
The ears are won by the joker,
Who flatters more than he smarts –
The North Wind can bluster all he likes,
But the Sun will warm our hearts.

Twenty-Eight Alone


Twenty-Eight Alone

February, February,
Went and gave his days away.
He lent a trio to July
(Who’d bent a few of his awry);
He loaned his days out to July,
But never thought they’d beg to stay.
“Oh please, oh please !” would cry each splinter,
“Please don’t send us back to Winter !”

February, February,
Short on shorter days, for sure.
He’ll get no refund from July,
For he’s a seizer on the sly;
His days are dogs, his summers high,
And cancerous his lure.
“I’ll send them back when good and through:
Maybe in a thousand years or two.”

Et In Orcadia, Ego

Antonine Wall by Miguel Coimbra

Et In Orcadia, Ego

Did the Romans ever make it over Antoninus ?
Did their legions hike the Highlands, past the cirsium and pinus ?
Did they meet his high-king highness,
In his fiery hair and golden torc ?
And did they think this seaside caesar woaded-rogue or brutish-ork ?
So did the Agricolan Fleet heave-to in Scapa Flow ?
The orcas and the auks go by, but they don’t know.

Margarita Time

detail from Banquet of Cleopatra by Geovanni Tiepolo

Margarita Time

Cleopatra dropped a pearl in vinegar
To win a bet,
And watched her bead dissolve away to nothing
Without one regret –
Although in truth it must have fizzed a day or two
Before it’s done
And in that time she’d lost her land and lost her life
And lost her son.
And Rome, while once her lover, saw her lustre tarnish
Bit by bit –
For strip away her cultured beauty,
And she’s just a speck of grit.

The Triumph of the Magi

Journey of the Magi by James Tissot

The Triumph of the Magi

There came then Wise Men from the East
Unto a stable by an inn,
And there amid each lowing beast
Were sheltered weary folk within –
For knelt beside a feeding trough
A man and woman vigil kept,
As on the hay and woollen cloth
A baby lay and softly slept.
The elder Magus then addressed
The object of their noble quest –
Whose sleep was peaceful as the blessed –
And unabashed, the old man wept –

“Behold, sweet babe !  There in your cot
The future of mankind is held –
For you are ev’ry chance we’ve got,
With ev’ry hope and fear excelled.
We begged the heavens for a sign,
And with your birth the gods have smiled –
Yet not for any charms divine,
But virtues many, unbeguiled.
Now all who look upon you see
The future of humanity –
More precious than a deity,
Is each belovèd human child.”

Before Year Zero

roman jerusalem
A mural of the Cardo in Jerusalem.  Since the street was laid out in Hadrian’s rebuilding of the city in the HE 10130s, it’s a bit late for the poem but you get the idea.  Alas, I have been unable to find out who the artist is.

Before Year Zero

It is, they say, (or so it’s said),
An Age of Wonder in our Time !
An Age of Peace and Plentitude,
Of Reason and Sublime.
A Pax Romana to us all,
To all us tribes who lost the fight –
As vassal states, we’re better fed,
Than ever were through might !
Come, all Romans, and construct
Your forum and your aqueduct !
And set us on the metalled road
To ever greater heights !
So join our bacchanalia,
From Galilee to Greece to Gaul.
And merry Saturnalia to all !

We may not yet be perfect, true,
But hey, we’ve made a cracking start –
We’re all philosophers, these days,
We’re lovers of the art.
How civilised we have become,
How better yet we’ll grow to be:
Two thousand years of peace shall flow,
Where all mankind is free !
We’ve gods to spare, we’ve gods galore,
And ev’ry tribe will bring some more –
And best of all, they’re kept at bay,
To serve humanity.
So join our bacchanalia
And never mind the zealot’s call.
And merry Saturnalia to all !

Of course, for those of us who prefer the Holocene Calendar, this poem should be called Before Year Ten-Thousand.

Good News in the Silence of Josephus

The Massacre of the Innocents by Nicolas Poussin

Good News in the Silence of Josephus

Now whether Jesus was or not,
There surely were an infant lot
Who could succumb to Herod’s plot:
Their bodies drawn and quartered.
But where was God to stay these brutes,
And spare His people’s tender fruits,
And never let His nation’s roots
With newborn-blood be watered ?
For what uncaring god divine
Would only spare His royal line ?
His Promised Land – incarnadine,
His folk – unsoned, undaughtered.
Rejoice !  The children never died,
The massacre was not applied –
The priests are wrong – the Bible lied:
The innocents unslaughtered.