The Sky is Full of Idols

The very un-Moorish Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo

The Sky is Full of Idols

The Renaissance artist loved two things:
Classical Greece, and boobs –
Yet Michelangelo must fit
His curves in the Sistine’s cubes.
The Old Testament’s full of beards,
And none of them are Zeus’s –
He needs to paint some younger flesh
To work-up papal juices.
He can’t rely on prudish Mary,
She won’t give much boost –
So thoroughly pagan, thoroughly female sibyls
Are introduced.
Said to prophesies Jesus,
Though we know the real reason –
They’re soft and pale, and keep just shy
Of heresy and treason.
There’s plenty of other supporting cast,
Presumbly cherubs and such –
There’s plenty of flesh to be bared up there,
All brushed with the master’s touch.
Yet these are merely window-dressing,
A choir of hangers-on –
But the sibyls command their panels with pride,
Content to be gazed upon.

Really, treason ? Well, surely in any theocracy like the Papal States, all heresy is treason…

But anyway, as everyone knows Michelangelo lay on his back for four years to paint the roof – but that didn’t stop him occassionally arsing around…

Turn the Other Cheek

God created the Sun on the ceiling,
To light up the Pope’s saloon.
And then he turned his back, revealing
How he created the Moon.

detail from The Creation of the Sun, Moon, & Planets by Michelangelo

Thou Shalt Not Gender with a Diverse Kind

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Thou Shalt Not Gender with a Diverse Kind

                    (in response to Leviticus 19:19)

I am the Lord your God,
And I clearly lay down word and rule –
Do not interbreed your cattle,
Nor produce a hybrid mule –
For if your beef is tough,
Then that is how I mean your beef to taste,
Do not allow these foreign cows
To make your home-grown bulls debased.
Don’t raise a mule, but make do with an ass,
And a smaller pack.
Don’t mix your strands,
But keep your garments pure upon your back.
Don’t weft your linen with your wool,
And mingle threads within your hem.
And though these laws be heavy,
Use no mule to help you carry them.

I say again, I am your Lord,
No things of yours shall fraternise –
Don’t plant your field with many seeds,
Or who can know what shoots may rise ?
Let pagans plant their carrots with their leeks
To keep them company,
But I say, let yours suffer by the fly,
For it is sent by me.
Now let the weevil dine on fruits and grains,
And slugs reduce your yields,
And praise my swarming locusts
As they take your monocultured fields.
Do not co-plant companions,
For all your crops must stand alone –
Just like my hungry chosen people
In this wilderness I’ve sown.

Jacks-of-the-Green

An early HE 11200s corbel in Bamberg Cathedral

Jacks-of-the-Green

Green men – as grey as stone,
All talking with their mouths full,
Look in any ancient church
And you may find a houseful.
Part of the grotesque gallery
To keep watch on us mortals –
Lurking round the capitals,
And hanging from the corbels.

Green men, as Pagan as they sound,
As yews and birches,
As nature-sprites whose temples got rebuilt
As parish churches.
Or are they jolly demons, greening Hell
And sprouting lies ?
They don’t look very evil, though –
But rather rustic-wise.

Green men, as vigorous as weeds
Where priests don’t mow –
Though Jesus doesn’t mind, it seems,
Content to let them grow.
So are they harvest gods of yore,
Or mistletoes in larches ?
Or are they merely hunkypunks,
To decorate the arches ?

Heathrow Terminal Ultima

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Heathrow Terminal Ultima

In this temple of angels,
We’re pilgrims in limbo,
Awaiting Saint Peter to check in our baggage –
To weigh out our burdens,
And peer at our passports,
And turn us away, or to bid us safe passage.
And then we are summoned
By guardian cherubim,
Prodding and stripping and shriving our souls.
Our pockets are emptied,
Our liquids are measured –
And we submit meekly, as humble as foals.
So on through the pearly gates,
Searching for metal,
And out into Heaven, we worthy and pure.
No longer unclean,
We are free of all duty,
Absolved of suspicion, we’re righteous once more.
We browse through the magazines,
Sip our espressos,
And wait for our boarding as one patient crowd.
And once we are seated,
We are the departed –
Our spirits are flying first-class to the clouds.

The Kine

The Kine

As the son of a dairy herd,
My father told me secret words –
On Christmas Eve, between ourselves ,
Our cattle knelt at the stroke of Twelve.
“Can I see it ?”  “No, too late,
You’ll have to grow up first and wait.
Let’s tuck you up, like the hens and geese,
And leave the girls to kneel in peace.”
But unlike Thomas Hardy, I
Was not prepared to pass it by,
And woke by chance at seven-to
When bursting for the landing loo.
This was my chance – I had to go,
Or else I knew I’d never know –
I creped downstairs, across the floor,
To don my peacoat by the door.
I left my slippers on my feet
For I had destiny to meet !,
Not a second’s hesitation
Could be wasted with a lace-on.
Lift the latch and out we go,
Crunching softly through the snow,
(Despite that day’s half-hearted thaw),
To squelch across the muck and straw
That filled the barn, those bovine halls,
And peeked into the Winter stalls
(And now I wish I’d worn my wellies) –
No !  They’re all led on their bellies !
Some had rolled onto their flanks,
And none had tucked beneath their shanks,
And all their heads were on the boards,
And none kept vigil for the Lord.
Our ev’ry beast was heathen-born !,
From Hyacinth to Meadowcorn,
And Rosie, Daisy, Pansy too,
They each and all just slept on through !
So distraught was I, so dead,
I didn’t hear my father’s tread
Until his hand was on my shoulder,
“Seems tonight you’re growing older.
I suppose I set this up,
But never thought my little pup
Would take my story at my word –
It’s passed down with the family herd.”
I tried to scream, I tried to cry
But all that left my lips was “Why ?”
“If you want to ask me that,
It’s too late for a lengthy chat –
So I will only answer once,
Then off to bed and no more stunts.”
“Then…then…I want to ask
How deep is worn this parents’ mask ?
Are all the rest a lie as well –
Like Santa, Jesus, Tinkerbell ?”
“Fair enough, the answer’s Yes.”
“For which ?” I blurted in distress,
But he just smiled, and shook his head,
And carried me upstairs to bed.

The Census of Quirinius

The Census of Quirinius by the circle of Willem de Poorter (I have no idea if ‘circle of’ is different than ‘school of’)

The Census of Quirinius

Ev’rybody, listen well,
It’s time to let the tellers tell –
It’s time to tally, toll, and tot,
To work out how much folks we’ve got.
Ev’rybody, near and far,
We need to count you where you are.
Don’t move about, don’t clog the roads,
We need you logged in your abodes.
Get off those donkeys !  Park those asses !
Stop this movement of the masses !
We don’t care whose tribe is yours,
Your genealogies are bores !
Whatever heritage you claim,
You know, we’ll tax you just the same.
So you’re descended down from David,
Centuries years ago, hey kid ?
But so is half the town, no doubt –
You are aware he got about ?
Ah well, I guess you’ve made it now,
Let’s have your data anyhow –

You say you are a carpenter,
And also you’re…a harbinger…?
So would you be, may I enquire,
Yet another Lord Messiah ?
Oh, your son, you claim, not you ?
I’ll put you down as Number II.
But wait…I hear upon your tongue
An accent…are you further-flung ?,
A shibboleth upon your breath –
You say you hail from…Nazareth ?
You mean you live in Galilee ?
Then why, by Jupiter, tell me ?
Why can you Northerners not grasp,
You pay your tax to Antipas ?
Well yes, they all reach Rome, each load,
But travel by a diff’rent road.
Now please, go home !, our time is done,
Now live your life and raise your son –
But give to Caesar, nonetheless…
So Hermes-speed, and Juno-bless.

Seven Seven

The Lord Fulfilleth All his Works by Clark Price

Seven Seven

The ant, the sloth, the kangaroo,
They came to Noah two-by-two,
Except the clean ones, those were more,
But just how many ?- he’s not sure.

You see, the perfect word from Heaven
Told him to load ‘seven seven’
Of the creatures that are ‘clean’ –
But what on Earth does than all mean ?

Which are clean and which are tosh ?,
When all these beasts could use a wash.
Perhaps he’ll know the spotless souls
Because they’ll come in multiples.

So is it seven beasts, all told,
That he must harbour in his hold ?
The Lord has reasons, without doubt,
But still – which sex is odd-one out ?

Or is it really seven pairs
That he must cram below the stairs ?
Well – “seven seven”, that’s the line –
But damn, that could be forty-nine !

How is he meant to feed all those ?
Will they be small, do you suppose,
Like tortoises – who barely browse ?
Of course not !  It’s the bloody cows !

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.

Thank-You and Goodnight

detail from a 1700s German painting by, well, who knows ?

Thank-You and Goodnight

The End of the World should come on a Sunday,
After a glorious night on the tiles –
When we’re hungover with breakfast at noon,
Then we’d welcome Apocalypse, fire and typhoon !
We’ve slogged all the week, so give us some fun, hey,
Hold off the Hades till priests fill the aisles –
Not with a Mardi, but Samedi Gras !
A season finale, and one last hurrah !

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…