Godless Devilry

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Godless Devilry

One day, I’ll be dead as a parrot,
I’ll feed the worms, I’ll buy the farm –
With neurons in my brain at peace,
As ev’rything I am shall cease.
One day – in my lonely garret,
Or else within my lovers’ arms –
But either way, when all is said,
They’ll tuck me in my final bed,
One day –
Aye, but not this day,
For this is the Day of the Dead !

So grab your tridents, grab your horns,
Your furry paws and crowns of thorns,
Tonight, there’s no-one weeps or mourns,
Unless it’s out of fright !
For this is a time to be alive,
In overdrive, till our veins run red –
There’s just no time to die tonight,
There’s a long long way to go before we’re dead.
At this time of year,
When entropy is near – let’s keep it light,
And laugh at our inescapable fate instead.

One day, I’ll be nothing but a past tense –
And that fact lurks at the back of my mind.
Ev’ry road will lead me to the grave,
With no prayer to pray and no soul to save.
It all makes simple, terrifying sense –
So I’ve learned to leave such thoughts behind.
For either way, come joy or dread,
They’ll close my eyes and shroud my head.
One day –
But not now, I say !
For this is the Day of the Dead.

So grab your accents, grab your cloaks,
Let’s haunt this technicolour hoax !
We’re just your av’rage mortal folks
Who laugh in the face of blight.
For this is a time to be alive,
Let’s joke and jive wherever we tread –
Who cares if we must die some night,
Let’s worry about dying once we’re dead.
At this time of year,
When existential fear is at its height –
Let’s laugh in the face of the mirthless void instead.

I cannot take any credit for the opening line. I just wish I could remember where I first heard it.

The Witching Hour

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The Witching Hour

Halloween falls as the clocks fall back,
When once more twelve is the mid of the night –
The dark comes early, and properly black,
For who’s afraid when the twilight’s bright ?
Gloom and confusion become our friends
To let the pumpkins glow so clear.
Halloween falls when Summertime ends,
When once more Winter’s the heart of the year.

So once again the world continues its Great War cosplay of tinkering with the time to appease a couple of farmers and the zombie lurch of tradition.

Appointments in Samarra

The Grim Reaper by Thomas Roth, showing a sculpture by August Schmiemann.

Appointments in Samarra

I meet the very best of men, too late,
At their very end,
I meet the kindest women, small and great,
As they unblend.
I also meet the very worst,
But even they become un-cursed –
I find a goodness in them all,
My temporary friends.

I couldn’t say what sends them on their way –
Biology or fate –
Who knows what dividends await ?
I’ve lost track of the holy text.
I only get to spend a minute or two,
To take them by the hand,
And help them pass on through
To whatever land shall be their next.

I meet the very best of folk,
And always just in time,
For one last breath, for one more joke,
Before they quit their prime.
I know not why it has to be,
Our sand runs out so fast –
But what an honour it is for me
To meet with you at last.

The title is a nod to William Maugham’s 1933 play Sheppey which, besides from being a rare celebration of working class life in a British play 24 years before John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, also popularied an old Arabian story. It’s so well told that it’s a shame to have to point out the absolute zombified world of Predestination it implies.

Middle-Class Voodoo

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Middle-Class Voodoo

The Wiccans are newer than Mormons,
Are older than Jedis,
As ancient as Hubbard and Xenu.
For all that they claim to be Pagans,
They’re Beatniks and Hippies,
And Goths in a green hue.

And that’s all fine,
They’re free to be free –
With crystals and Maypoles and love-spells galore.
But there’s a good reason
They call it all New Age –
There never were witches at Salem, for sure !

So write your magick with a K,
And write your faerie with an E,
And dance around Stonehenge all day –
But you ain’t fooling me.

These magpies of Masons and folklore
Make far more sense
As their Twentieth-Century selves.
The Wiccans belong with the Martians,
From skiffle to hemp-heads –
Suburbanite dreamers and nuclear elves.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

The Establishment honours one of its own…

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Through the village of Longbourn, the undead shuffle,
The unemployed and the destitutes.
The Luddites who moan in a rustic muffle,
Back from Napolean without any boots.
Mr Bennett says he can’t even hear them,
So alien is his world to theirs,
But they’re getting restless, threatening mayhem –
What if it spreads to the staff downstairs ?
Don’t worry, Lizzie, here’s bold Mr Darcy
With his wealth stripped from the backs of the poor,
He knows how to stop the rabble getting arsey,
Put them back down when they dare ask for more.
Crush their groups, and deport the whole crew,
This seething horde of the unwashed masses.
Best to wipe them out like we did at Peterloo –
Before the balls are overrun with jumped-up underclasses.

Mistress Blacklock

detail from Saint Peter in front of his eponymous basilica in the Vatican, sculpted by Adamo Tadolini

Mistress Blacklock

Throughout the gothic city-states,
Secure with many doors and gates,
The greatest craftsmen in the land
Were those who crafted locks –
Protecting life and property
Behind the password of a key –
And yet, with just a twist of hand
It frees our hearths and stocks.

Thus, whereupon the plague is rife,
The locals dread their very life,
And conjured up a chatelaine
To rattle in the night –
A mistress dark and grimly tall
With sturdy boots and sweeping shawl,
And ring-bound keys upon a chain
To lock the dead up tight.

Never in a hurry, she,
Yet striding on determinedly –
She visits those who’s fever runs
As fast as runs their sands.
No lock can bar her solemn deeds,
For she has just the key she needs
To reach all lovers, reach all sons –
Where’er the fever lands.

The doors unlock, and slowly swing
Upon the rogue and saint and king,
And in she stalks with silent ease,
And stoppable by none.
She takes the ring about her waist
And cycles, never in a haste,
Through all her heavy iron keys
To find the very one.

And that she lifts and points toward
Her victim, all the rest ignored
And presses to his chest her shaft
That bloodless passes through.
The fingers of her left discern
The bow upon the shank, and turn
As smoothly as the masters’ craft
Their workings, firm and true.

Her right she offers to he held
By him, that fear may be dispelled –
They say her bony, steady hands
Are warmer than you’d think.
And so his latches spring apart
To free his soul and stop his heart –
Her key withdraws from out his glands
With just the faintest clink.

And with that, speaking not a word,
And with no other neighbour stirred,
The plague has been about its chores
With not a jam or jolt.
As through the busy, ailing towns
She goes about her nightly rounds,
Of dousing lights and shutting doors
And drawing home the bolts.

Lonely Cross

Lonely Cross

Does the Devil lurk at crossroads ?
Doesn’t he have some place to go ?
It’s a waypoint, not a terminus.
But strum a guitar to the croaking toads
And see if the Highway Lord will show –
Or, failing that, the midnight bus.

Isn’t this where mediaeval priests
Would bury the suicidal souls ?
Is that why Satan’s such a fan ?
But no undeads tonight, at least,
Just jamming with the bats and moles,
With not a trace of a bogeyman.

Of all the places to meet with fate,
A junction seems a strange address –
It sounds like the Devil’s lost his way.
Whatever, the hour is getting late,
With only the hedgehogs to impress –
Time, perhaps, to call it a day.

These roads are just two country lanes,
That even in daylight are pretty stark –
The Devil has better things to do.
Now, which way did I come, again ?
All these paths look the same in the dark –
Where’s the signpost ?  Not a clue…

For Man was Made in the Image of God

     For Man was Made in the Image of God

Old Zeus loved to dress as a bull,
While Loki dragged-up as a mare –
Pan would never be short of wool,
And Bast had a head for feline flair.

Such tales from the priests and wassailers,
Of shape-shifting changers
Who scared dairymaids –
For the Devil had all the best tailors,
And demons were angels
Who loved masquerades.

It used to be said that only the gods
(And arthropods)
Could metamorphosise –
But humans watched, and wanted-in,
To shed their skin
For a cunning disguise.

And so came Hollywood,
Wigs and prosthetics,
And cosmetics enough to make Jezebel blush.
Till even the fay never had it so good,
And the witches spurned wands for our pencil and brush.

So we’re gloriously gothic and archly absurd,
We’re casting a glamour
To stammer the Word.
And whether we’re devil or psycho or clown,
We raise-up the dead for a night on the town.

And the gods all smile at how far we’ve run,
As they don a new style to join in the fun.

For all they may claim that religious festivals of the dead are deeply serious and purely about honouring souls and lost relatives, or about warding-off dangerous evil spirits, never underestimate the subconscious human desire to dress-up and have a party.

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 slowly 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 ?

It is uncertain if the first accidental hybrid occured in Spain or in Vauxhall Gardens in London (well, technically in Surrey, but close enough). Interestingly, for all the streets lined with them, I don’t think there are any woods with them growing wild. Infact, it would be fascinating to deliberately plant a patch of wasteland with nothing but London Planes and see how well they self-seed. Yes, I realise that they’re not strictly British natives, but then they’re really native to nowhere.