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.
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.
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.
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 !
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…
The Bible lumps the bats in with the birds, And oh, how we sneer. “A mammal is no more a fowl Than a dragonfly is like an owl.” But hang-on, none of those are Hebrew words, So none of those appear In the ancient texts – they’re our translations, Sent back in time to new vocations.
Maybe what we think meant ‘bird’ to them Meant simply ‘thing that flies’ – And likewise whales are fish that swim, And snakes are worms for lacking limbs. It’s unscientific, so we condemn, But that don’t mean it’s lies. Their names did the job they were assigned – So each to their own, hey, after their kind.
Disciples or Olympians, They always come in dozens, Keeping in the families With brothers, sons, and cousins. Add in Tribes of Israel, And Knights about the table, And clearly stories love their twelves As various yet stable. But always, there’s a glut of candidates From which to choose, And no two-tellings can agree On which ones win or lose – Oh sure, there’s half-a-dozen, maybe eight, All guaranteed – But for the rest, it’s anybody’s guess Who will succeed… They’re heroes of the second-tiers, The extras at the feast, Without a story of their own, But name-checked still, at least. A pool of six to eight will form As random plot devices – A few more names to fill the ranks As redshirt sacrifices. A handful get the nod this time, The rest stay on the bench – And of the lucky ones, we know These men are strictly ‘hench’. So two or three are left out in the cold, Cos here’s the rub – You’re clique is nothing special If there’s fourteen in your club.