Sleeping with the Armoured Fishes

Model of Dunkleosteus terrelli, photographed by James St. John. I have been unable to uncover who made the model.

Sleeping with the Armoured Fishes

Ah lads, I love me a lonely building site,
But best be down to business – bring the rat.
It really is a calm if moonless night
And I’m in quite the mood to have a chat.
Yes, bring him here, and keep him gagged and bound.
So, let’s have a look at you – nothing to say ?
Ironic, given how you like to expound –
But then, I’m not the cops, and I don’t pay.
So pray, indulge me with a heart-to-heart.
You’re what, mid-twenties ?  Younger than I thought.
Are you a college boy ?  You think you’re smart ?
But not so brainy now that you’ve been caught.
Same age as my boy, infact, and just as raw.
When he went off to uni, I said “Son,
I don’t want you to study business or the law,
Don’t want you to follow in my footsteps none.
Go and find yourself in girls and books
And study something useless, something fun.”
“Alright dad,” he said, “goodbye to crooks,
And here’s to looking after number one.
And I know just the course for me –
It’s palaeontology !
Digging up the bones like any average Jones.”

So off he went to college with his hammer
Seeking out the placoderm and ammonite,
To live that student life in all its glamour –
Pasta, parties, politics and cram-all-night.
And now he even works for a museum,
Cataloguing shells and dating rocks –
He calls the place a fossil mausoleum,
Worshipping the dead, then seal them in a box.
But then one day, he’s telling me how rare
A fossil even is to ever find
When so much of the past ain’t even there,
We’re lucky that there’s any left behind.
And if we died, wiped out, in plague or war –
Well, when the dolphins rises, or super-ants,
In sixty-five-odd million years or more,
How would they know that we were smarty-pants ?
Now I know what you’re thinking of, young man,
Cos so was I, I thought I’d name that tune –
So don’t interrupt, (not that you can) –
But so I says “There’s footprints on the Moon !”
“Perhaps” he says, “but even these
Face meteorites and solar breeze,
And the Voyagers ? Okay, but so very far away.”

Steel structures ?  Not a chance, he said –
Rusted, melted, eaten, and the trail is cold.
The same with plastic, silicon, or lead –
The only stable currency is gold.
But not out here, where wind and rain can bite,
And bring the highest mountains down to sand –
But locked up in the Earth, well out of sight,
With pottery and diamonds shaped by hand.
And as for bones, we do ourselves no favours,
By burying just six-feet deep in loam,
And never mind cremation !  But our saviours
Are those who drowned a mile beneath the foam –
Sunk in shifting silt with little oxygen, ahoy !
Or in summat tough and clearly fake and littered by the score –
And here’s where we finally come to you, old boy –
It’s concrete !  Especially with rebar through its core.
And when it’s in the pilings of a bridge,
Then it’s already buried, safe as houses !
Okay lads, over here a smidge…and down he goes…
A rat, I suppose, to join the future mighty mouses.
I hope he makes it big some day –
How fitting for his feet of clay
To join a concrete shroud – my son would be so proud !

The Root of All Evil

wood street plane
Photo of the London plane tree in Wood Street in the Square Mile (taken by Katie Wignall ?)

The Root of All Evil

“Since it was first hybridised in the 1660s, the London Plane has taken over the world.”
                                                                          – The Manchester Gardener

Hybrid sap, mosaic bark,
Twisted bloom and swollen seed,
Bright amid the sooty dark,
This gnarlèd gothic breed.
He sprouts so slyly, this plant in the greenery –
One of the forest and part of the scenery –
No felling him, this mimic of maple, primordial cousin:
Hack off a limb, and this pollarding hydra will shoot out a dozen.

Spawned in the blooms of his immigrant parents,
A cuckoo inherent, a mongrel ill-born.
Wrought in the heart of Enlightenment steam,
From a fever-soaked dream on a dew-sodden morn.
With roots in the clay and his head in Orion,
A vigorous scion, a devil-blest spawn,
A chance aberration, a found’ry mutation,
With lacewood of iron and baubles of thorn.

Invading our cities while shedding his skin,
This cryptic chimera has crept his way in.
And none of his caste have succumbed to senescence, as yet…
Elixir of ever-youth pumps his capillary,
Sweeter than gin from an alley distillery,
Alchemised out of pea-soupers and coal-dust and sweat.
As if he were built out of ratchets and springs,
His ethic for work will be written in rings –
He’s still in his galvanised prime, through the dry-times and wet.

What hath we wrought ?, and what hath we mined ?,
That ought to lie buried or trampled behind –
But workshops of soil are shooting out hordes of his kind.
And what if we find that he just keeps on growing ?,
And fruiting and sowing, till all is entwined ?
Hammered and forged in the mill and pipette –
Who knows how engorged this goliath may get ?

So Says Sam Hain

The Storyteller by ‘Dutch School’

So Says Sam Hain

Mischief Night, and the Devil is abroad –
He could be here.
For on this night, be you tenant or lord,
There’s something near.
Be it a ghost, or the ghost of a thought,
The underworld or the over-wrought,
It may be all, or it may be naught –
It’s getting dark, my dear.

Mischief Night, and the Devil is amock –
He could be nigh.
For on this night, as our worries flock,
His jinks run high.
A will-o’-the-wisp, or a whisp’ring breeze,
A chill in the air, or a banshee’s sneeze ?
A frost tonight or a deathly freeze ?
It’s getting cold – oh my…

Mischief Night, and the Devil is alive –
He could be me.
For on this night, the shenanigans thrive,
And fools run free.
Is that a ghoul, or a turnip’s head ?
A friendly fright, or the living dead ?
And the Devil just smiles and goes to bed –
It’s getting late, you see.

Drothful Lucubration

astronomer
The Astronomer by Candlelight by Gerrit Dou

Drothful Lucubration

A dark and stormy night, this night,
Yet ‘tween the clouds the full moon bright
Looks down upon me as I write
These dark and stormy lines.
But hark !  A distant howling queer
I fancy I mayhap may hear
From out the corner of my ear
And through my very spine –
And though my heart may drown it out,
I cannot labour long in doubt,
For surely do I know that sound without,
As it knows me.
The gusting wind brings to my door
A growling low from off the moor
That chills my very being o’er
To tremulous degree.
These pluvious and savage spawn
Shall stalk the psyche ere the dawn,
Shall stalk my rain-lashed psyche ere the dawn.

The Hounds of Dogg’rel bay this night
To seek the forced and base and trite,
And dog the heels of all who write,
Lest we should lapse their way.
We ever fear to be their sport,
Their pity, ruth and mercy nought
To purple, blue or overwrought:
They hack their hackneyed prey.
So some poor pensmith faces doom,
His garret shall become his tomb
As bursting forth, those savage Hounds consume
Each leaden verse;
Their author thus shall meet the fangs
That shred the hand whose metre clangs,
And fore’er mute his blunt harangues
That brought him to these curs,
I pray all gods, I beg, I yearn,
This ill-dread night is not my turn,
This dark and stormy night is not my turn.

Day of the Dead

sugar skull

Day of the Dead

Nowhere in the Northern world
Could let the dead roam in the Spring,
When new life bursts and blooms unfurl,
And nights are shortening.
No, the Fall’s where they belong,
In piles of leaves and frosty air,
With creeping dark and waning song,
And the world in need of a scare.

Spooky Action

cathy
Cathy’s Ghost at Heathcliff’s Window by Laurie Bron

Spooky Action

The laws of physics make it clear
That there can be no spirits here,
Without a source to power them –
Perhaps it is the sunken sun
That fires them up and makes them run ?,
And entropy must surely still devour them.

The peer review remains unmoved –
They’re theorised but never proved
The evidence just will not fit.
So if the afterlife should dwell
On ev’ry side, in parallel,
Then rest assured we cannot interact with it.

They cannot pass through solid matter
Less their waves and atoms clatter
With the particles they pass.
And if they do, they must be part
Of this same universe at heart,
With spectral spectra showing up their ghostly mass.

So wraiths and shades that shake our poise
Are phantom readings in the noise
And not some higher powers.
And if, with heightened fear and nerve,
We misreport what we observe –
The failing is not physics’ fault, but ours.

The Supernatural

ghost
Ghost Drawing by Herman Marin

The Supernatural

It may exist – it may at that – though we will never know,
Unless it can exert itself – but then we must ask when and how –
For if we ever see it come, or ever feel it go,
Then that – whatever that is – is as much a part of here and now –
For surely, supernature cannot ever be at war with nature,
Never interact with any thing with which it shares its space –
For even restless spirits must obey the laws of nature,
And even ghost neutrinos sometimes leave the faintest trace.

Hippocalypse

horses
The Horses of the Apocalypse by Sharlene Lindskog-Osorio

Hippocalypse

Now that the herd is in the barn,
And now that the flock is in the fold,
Then huddle close and I’ll spin you a yarn,
The one my father told.
And he was taught by his in turn,
And he by his, the self-same airs
That someday your own kids will learn
When you tell them, and they tell theirs.

Sometimes, late at night,
Out on the plains, or on the road,
When the bats are in full flight
To the singing of the toad,
There can be heard the gallop
Of a lonely charger wild,
Through the ups of York and Salop
And the downs of Kent and Fylde

There’s those who claim they’ve seen him,
And they claim he rides a grey,
A snow-white grey so gleaming
That the very stars give way.
A king, they say, with bow and crown,
And horseshoes of cold steel –
And ev’rywhere those hooves stomp down,
The people come to heel.

Though some say he’s not invading
Through our castles, towns and huts,
But rather the land he’s raiding
Is our throats, and veins and guts –
Riding, riding, ever onwards,
There is no defence –
Though some may call him Conquest,
And others Pestilence.

But many will say No!, he rides a chestnut
When he roams abroad,
And he wears a shining breastplate,
And he holds a tempered sword –
And he is War, yet not invasion,
But a people one upon another,
Year-on-year, at any provocation,
Brother killing brother.

But fighting is fighting, and always near
To the likes of us who are called on to bleed,
And arrow or sword, it’s the same old fear
When facing down the next stampede.
Or maybe a few who see this horseman
Get to then escape to tell –
Yet whether Mongol, Moor, or Norseman,
All those roads lead straight to Hell.

Still, I have also heard it told by folks
That the horse is jettest black,
And gaunt enough that each rib pokes,
With scarcely strength for saddle or pack –
But its passenger can’t weigh much, at least,
He’s spindly as his balancing scales –
Clearly the lord of the Famine, not the feast
As he measures out losses from frosts and gales.

Then others say his is the best-fed mount
In any town it passes,
Glossy like the fur-coat of a count
Against their threadbare nags and asses.
And the dirt where its hoofprints have trodden is barren now,
The only thing growing is the drought –
The fields are always so shy of the plough
When Famine goes riding out.

Yet the final vision of our phantom knight
Is the strangest of all they claim to have seen,
When robed in black, or robed in white,
On a pale steed – maybe dun, yet maybe green.
Some say a skeleton, devoid of flesh,
And what does he carry ?  An hourglass of time ?
A downturned torch, or a flail to thresh ?
Or a sickle to scythe the stalks in their prime ?

And they give him a name, they call him Death.
But surely all these versions are that –
So death by what ?  Perhaps from a poisoned breath,
Or the slurry from the mines, or rancid fat ?
Maybe our souls aren’t chaff to the miller,
But the smoke in the lung and the acid on the stone –
Pollution, that’s the next big killer –
And surely worth a horseman all of its own.

So light all the candles and ring all the bells,
To ward off the Silent Divider,
And warn them in Wigan and Walsall and Wells
Of the grizzled new face of the Rider.
From Wetherby weavers to Tintagel Tin,
From the tar-pits of Derby to Sunderland soot,
So each time we breathe we invite the rogue in
And his fingers leave shadows wherever they’re put.

Then listen, my children, listen for his hoofbeat,
Listen as he slowly yet surely destroys
By dogging the trudging of your own two feet
In the choke and the grime and the constant noise.
His other visions are horrors of our past,
But it’s in our future that we all must die,
And the fourth of the horsemen will take us at the last
As he kicks up the dust as he’s riding by.

I suppose Pollution should cover the mass-deaths by human-caused tragedies, while Pestilence cover those from other living things while Famine has the natural disasters gig.  This would mean that a plague of locusts is definitely one for Pestilence, while Famine would deal with meteor impacts.  But don’t even get me started on green horses...

No Month for an Atheist

half-skull
Unfortunately, I have been unable to discover who the artist is

No Month for an Atheist

October is the month when all the dead
Are brought to life again –
In our imaginations spectres tread,
And sceptics howl in vain.
So why must we be common-sensers,
Jaded cynics, sober sisters ?,
When the world wants will-suspensors,
Playful panics, logic-twisters.

What the Hell !  And if it’s Hell you want,
Then take it – take it all !
Mine’s a holy water from the font
With a twist of lime, served tall.
At least it’s safe, when Satan is
A dentist wearing plastic horns.
It’s ketchup blood and dry-ice fizz,
And no-one’s killing newly-borns.

October is the month when all the dead
Are brought to life again –
In our imaginations, streets run red
With ev’ry guilty stain.
We’ve all got demons locked within –
Let’s keep them in until they’re slayed.
For that is worth believing in –
The luxury to be afraid.

What the Hell !  Take all the Hell you need –
I mean, at least it’s warm.
Mine’s a chilly wisdom, I concede,
In the face of an eerie storm.
So have the month, enjoy your frights,
And call me killjoy all you like,
It’s fine – we’ll all sleep sound at night,
As once again the dead don’t strike.

Breakfast in the Ruins

post apocalypse

Breakfast in the Ruins

This !  This is the time I’ve been waiting for,
When the cars leave the street and the planes leave the sky
And only the zombies are joining my morning,
While sensible people are waiting to die.

And I – I am a rare survivor,
Finally special – finally alone –
Scrabbling the rubble of civilisation
Shaking off every habit I’ve known.

I never said my fantasies were pleasant,
Wiping out humanity with barely a shrug –
But there they lurk, just itching for apocalypse –
Not some ugly famine, but a quick and silent bug.

Do I feel bad, now something is happening,
Finally happening !, to strangers I never knew ?
I’ve wished far worse in my many listless hours,
But wishing them does nothing to make them come true.

I can tell myself that this is all coincidence –
Out of my hands to cause it, or repair –
So I might as well relish the sudden upheaval
If this is our doom, then I’ll guess I’ll see you there.

But of course, thanks to the efforts of nicer folk,
We’ll probably survive this, and probably forget.
And I will be just one more drudge on the treadmill,
Still dreaming disaster to spin the roulette.