Upon Reading an Item in a Newspaper
I would sew you in a sack,
rat-bastard, together with an ape,
a mad cat, and a snake,
or bind you in a web
with the spider still inside
and stand you in the blackest crypt
to listen to the anguished cries
of those who have committed
crimes like yours and are consigned forever
to the same perdition,
damn your eyes
Note: Written in anger and disgust, and meant to be read rapidly and in that spirit. Every once in a while, we read news items which fill us with horror and revulsion, a sickness inside that human beings can be capable of acts so monstrously evil. They might play on our minds for long afterward; we may perhaps never become immured to them.
It was Cicero who wrote of the poena cullei, the ‘punishment of the sack’, reserved for parricides, where the perpetrators were sewn into a leather sack with four living creatures – a dog ‘the most slavish and contemptuous of beasts’ [?!]; a cockerel (with beak and claws especially sharpened); a snake (the male principle); and a monkey ‘the gods’ cruelest parody of mankind’. The sack was then thrown into the Tiber. The practice was revived in Germany in the Middle Ages and persisted until the first part of the 18th century. Abraham Cowley, Essay on Solitude (1668) lists only three animals (an ape, a dog, and a snake), and it is from him that I take my slightly adjusted list, substituting a cat for a dog, with profound apologies to all cat lovers. The reference to the web and the crypt I have taken from the threats of Scarbo the Dwarf in the 3rd Part of Aloysius (Alo-wish-us) Bertrand (1807-1841) Gaspard de la Nuit. ‘Gaspard’ is considered the first prose-poem (I’ve just searched the shelves for my copy, and can’t find it; but a good few sections of it were also beautifully translated by the celebrated Spanish-American writer Angel Flores). Baudelaire stated that ‘Gaspard’ influenced his conception of his Les Fleurs du Mal.
It’s the twenty-first damn century,
and all light-hearted comments
uttered publicly will be interpreted
not as humour or as irony, but
deadly seriously. Should you err
by one degree, then you’ll be hounded
by a righteous crowd and by
a media scrambling for publicity.
So get ready to ‘repent’; for God’s sake
say you ‘acted foolishly’, and be prepared
to quit your post immediately.
Depart – and with the maximum humility.
Note: On a much lesser particular than is dealt with in the first poem, I suppose we’ve all become familiar with this tiresome witch-hunting phenomenon of recent years. Surprising is how University, etc., authorities don’t place all their support behind their accused faculty/staff rather than yielding so submissively to outraged fancies.
From ‘A Medley of Verse for us Riders of the Earth’