LYCIDAS: Off, are you Moeris? Tramping to town?
MOERIS: It's a welter, Lycidas.
We've lived long enough to see the unliving day.
We'd clung to our little farm, but now it's eviction.
A stranger says: “Mine now, and you lot can fuck off.”
Bashed.The cudgel on my naked back struck
sparks from the cobbles of my spine
which is to teach me Chance Is The One True God.
We've sent the new master some kids as a gift;
and each one is a matryoshka goat,
inside each curse a smaller curse, and inside that another.
LYCIDAS: Where the hills swell from the meadow's edge
rising to where the summit borders sky
daytime moon like an owl's eye;
the ridge of the land dropping again
sloping down to the whorl of water;
the old beeches with their now shattered tops:
it was only the songs of your Menalcas that saved all that.
MOERIS: That's the story. An unmarked grave.
Songs are useless now,
music tuneless, words senseless
only the angled weapons of war makes sense, Lycidas.
We are silly doves, filling
Dodona’s courtyard with coos
until the eagle comes:
swells, in the white sky,
from speck to
his clutch of hooks-for-hands
bundled onto the ends of two tight legs
and his talon-beak
loosening our sinews and
the fibres of our muscles:
the beak fidgets, fidgets inside our breast,
and comes out red
Inside an wormeaten oak,
hollow as an unworn coat
a raven on the sinister side
harshes its voice at me.
I took it as a warning, luckily.
It's why you're still alive, Moeris. Menalcas too.
LYCIDAS: Sad solace in poetry
Menalcas was almost torn from us, along with you yourself.
After the first prism pried the colours out of white
they never quite fitted back together again.
We call this “impurity”. There will be
nobody left to sing about the women.
There will be red flower petals littering the ground
a bead-curtain of lineated green shade from the trees.
I slyly overheard you reciting the other day
plucking the ghost out of your darling Amaryllis:
“Tityrus, until I come back – the curt way – feed my goats,
Tityrus drive the herd to water,
watch for the he-goat
he butts with his horn.”
MOERIS: Maybe you mean these fragmentary lines:
“Varus we know you want to flatten Mantua
Pound it with your ranked hefty smoothbores
Tenderise the ground to mud and craters:
We know it has strategic importance
as the key to unlucky Cremona.
If you spare us, swans will applaud you,
clatter their tasselled elbows together
strike rainbows from their huge wings
and your name will float to the sun.”
LYCIDAS: A swarm of bees puts all its voices
into one hairdryer cry of refusal refusal
at the yews of Corsica.
Heifers process clover with mechanical mouths
inflate their udders like party balloons.
The Muses kitted me out in a poet's polyester uniform
paid me the poet's minimum wage.
I bussed songs to all the tables.
Customers did call me bard.
But I don't trust them. I'm hardly sweet-swan-of-wherever
like Varius or Cinna.
I screech the black-wind, frosty goose cackle.
MOERIS: That’s exactly where I am, Lycidas,
silently turning it over in my mind, in case I can recall it.
A cool poem, too:
“Come with me Galatea.
Can pleasure live inside when all four walls are waves
and roof a scruff of white foam?
The carpals and petals of roses our the emblem.
Spring scatters a chaff-cloud of flowers behind it,
a thousand colours in its trail, hoping to confuse
Winter's shrieking, ever-closer AIM-9 Sidewinder.
as Autumn twists and hurtles.
White poplar bends over the cave.
The tangled fraying cables of vines.
Shadows recoil from the light.
Come with me Galatea,
A procession of newborn waves
wild as any baby,
bash their heads against the shore
desperate to suckle,
doomed to break and die.”
LYCIDAS: Not that one. The hypothermia one:
“Daphnis, staring yourself nightblind
as the tattered remnants of the old constellations rising.
Here, a luminous asterisk footnoting the whole black page of the sky
is Dionean Caesar's star
smiling on rounded bubble-wrap of cobbed corn
darkening the grape on the sunny hills.
Slit the veins of pears-twigs, Daphnis
and graft a cuckoo fruit onto the stem.
Your children’s children's children will gather what you have sown.”
MOERIS: Time defrauds our bank accounts.
The Platonic form of identity theft is Time.
The angular rock of Memory
is pebbled by this stream, smooth as a tumour-stone.
When I was a boy I played that song on my bedside tape-machine
through long summer evenings to send me to sleep.
Now my ears have forgotten all my songs.
My mouth has forgotten its own voice
The wolves see Moeris before he sees them,
They're a long way off, but their superpower
is annihilating distance, hurl distance behind them
all the time Moeris motionless
Still, we can rely on Menalcas to remember your songs.
Often as you like.
LYCIDAS: The more you beg the more I want it.
The perfectly flat mesh of the sea plain's surface.
The breeze that must move to fulfil the bare definition of breeze
stops moving and becomes dead.
We're halfway to Bianor’s remote tomb
you can see it in the distance,
coming into view.
Here, where farmers raise the shoehorn-shaped buzzsaws
and unleash its inner haunting of wasps
to devour bough after bough
here, Moeris, let us sing.
Here put down the kids.
We'll reach the town all the same.
Rain wrapped around a column of sleet
riddling such snow as remains.
Toads lurch across rain-drummed roads.
We can still sing, if we raise our voice.
I will relieve you of this burden.
MOERIS: There is nothing more to say, lad.
There are jobs to do.
Our songs we sound better when the master himself has come.