Three quarters through the journey of my lifeI found myself within a forest dark,
The straight path lost like an abandoned knife.
Dislodging creepers, prodding crumbled bark,I pondered fecund August’s many hordes
Of stiff-legged insects blatant at their work:
Some like the beetle, cuirassed and with swords,Some like the spider with its hard-jawed bite,
Others like larvae dangling on their cords,
Mucously-deporting in the pool-brightSumps of sun. Querying the dusty gloom
I failed to notice a mosquito’s flight:
It settled slyly like a flake of loamOn my hand’s back and, slung between its legs,
Innocuously squatted down to groom.
Distracted by the pigeons’ cooing brags,Moments later a needle-crafty sting
Alerted me the gnat was drilling dregs
From my itchy skin. I slapped – it tried to cling –I swept it off and wandered on. Next day
That bite had swollen to a hot red grin;
By day’s end it had wrapped a purple-greyWadding of throbbing flesh from nail to wrist,
Immobilising fingers as they lay
Enfeebled in my lap. Three days that fist,A heat-stuffed bladder gone obesely fat,
Was useless till the venom flushed and I could twist
My joints once more. I thought: no insect thatSo suffered would survive: ichneumon wasps
Which paralyse their fated prey so that
Their larvae, hatched, may eat the living hostsAre emblematic of the natural world,
Its blank-eyed deafness to the screams and gasps
Of plundered creatures. When compassion’s furledLike dandelions on a glooming day
And lions do not nestle down with curled
Wet lambs, where is the love which wipes awayAll tears and fashions ploughshares out of swords?
That ground of being which insists this clay
Maintain existence like unnumbered gourdsToppling helplessly on a barren slope,
Described but not explained by blindfold words –
Is it brute necessity devoid of hope,A surd, an aimless dream within a dream,
Or is it meaning’s meaning, truth not trope?
Perhaps religion is an Elmo’s gleam,A scintillation on the face of things,
Which purifies the predatory teem
Of red-toothed nature which, however, flingsA spider’s weave to huddle mind and flesh
Closely as abstract form to matter clings.
Mired always, man like dogs in mud must plash,Rarely to reach the meadows where there’s smooth
Running, and racing streams in which to wash.
That’s why the country folk who gulp their brothOf roots about the fire on winter nights
Cleave to their charms, their ju’s, a lucky tooth,
Placating field gods, pool sprites, all which frightsThe dusk-bound labourer in rustling woods:
They know the retching palsy sprung by bites,
The stings, the stabbings, crushings, snuffled bloods,The gougings, poisonings – the daily fare
Of creatures ravenous for living foods.
All animals are pagans, and in lairOr nest there’s sensation but little sense;
Man only has been blessed or cursed to bear
Self-consciousness which toils the present tenseWith memory and foresight forcing him
To know both wisdom’s fruit and Judas’ pence.
Enigma’s gift, that skull crammed to the brimWith sweetbreads flashing with Prometheus’ fire
Enabling men like demigods to limn
The warp and woof of being! That folded quireOf brain-stuff, massed by man’s clamber atop
The pyramid of things, has fed on mire
Of flesh and fin which first has filled its cropWith greasy slaughterings of lesser fry,
So that even the smallest plankton drop
Has gifted man the protein-punch to hieBeyond mute unreflexive matter’s grip
Like muscled salmon leaping in the sky
Clear of the foam-mad water’s riotous rip:Thus fashioned, mind assumes old Adam’s curse,
To know death, judgement and the punishing whip.
There’s One pinioned on the thorns of furze,His blood drops aflash in the morning’s gawp,
Writhing like a spider pierced in that gorse
By a Butcher Bird, who aching, venom-taut,Must plunge the creature-depths of swamping pain
Until buried pupa-like in the droop
Of death, imago-pure, a three-day grain,He makes a Resurrection body, clean
Of matter’s sorrowing and fresh as rain.
Hence, there’s a justice in that bloody sceneOf self-known matter divinised by Christ
In suffering, which validates this dene
Of tears – its wastes and creature wars – as trystWith Being, therefore good, transforming tares
To grist, for all that is is always kissed
By the love that moves the sun and all the stars.
===============© April 2014