Edited by M. W. Davis
Four poems by LIAM GUILAR
Were we born for an age of cathedrals,
for the arrogant upward reach of certainty;
the overarching columns, neck wrecking,
sweeping the gaze from priest to heaven,
when prayer went straight to God, riding
incense and the polyphonic chant;
an age of miracles and heroes? Quests
we could devote our lives to, where
betterment and sacrifice were the rewards?
The long apprenticeship, the strict self-discipline:
hard earned knowledge shaping wisdom.
Did we learn our histories too well? Foundations
of misogyny were stained by the heretic’s pyre.
The workmen lived in poverty while
majestic buildings mocked their hovels.
We know the Pardoner inside the Close
was selling chicken bones as bits of John the Baptist
and the hellfire preacher, one hand up his cassock,
damned all to hell for any carnal joy
until there was no possibility of living after birth.
When our grandfathers blindly followed
white-gloved men through fields in France,
the survivors learnt the costs of certainty.
We grew up in an age of tenements. As I
fragments and we invites too many disagreements,
in damp bed sitters certainty was bollixed
by the automatic qualifying doubt
our educations taught. The snigger of derision
and the inevitable, How pretentious can you get?
Distrusting awe, denying the generous impulse,
the democratic urge makes it unseemly
to reach beyond what we’d been told we wanted
and instant art, like instant coffee,
instant love and instant disappointment,
is instantly available and cheap at half the price.
Presentment of Englishry
Mumchancing it, while the question takes a hike
past dark satanic mills and pleasant (enclosed) pastures
where we do tug a forelock as m’lady rides to hounds.
Us folks below the stairs do know our place,
stunned in the underground while bombs fall overhead.
We stood our ground at Ethendun, Stamford Bridge and Senlac hill
then bartered, buggered, battered, ground into the soil
from Agincourt to Waterloo we fell in well-drilled rows
in Somme slime screaming, there is a corner of some foreign
field that is forever foreign. Smashed, scorched and sunk
for Drake to Jellicoe. Hatred handed down amongst the people
we defeated, and we reviled by those we did the fighting for.
Prosperity rode misery to market, past sullen tenements,
street maggot urchins breeding in the gutters while
the gin-sunk stench of slack-jawed women at the gallows
slumping towards oblivion, transported, (not to joy) their men folk
beaten dogs, looking anywhere but up. By what grounds English?
West Midlands, I. Not mercenary, prat, a Mercian! Of Penda’s folk.
Gehyrest þu? (1)
1. Are you English? A ‘Presentment of Englishry’ in the 11th century was the offering of proof that a slain person was an Englishman, in order to escape the fine levied upon hundred or township for the murder of a ‘Frenchman’ or ‘Norman’. Gehyrest u? meant ‘Do you hear and understand?’ and/or ‘Are you listening?’
Robert Dudley and Elizabeth the First performing as you And me in the ruins of Kenilworth Castle
The architecture of devotion, gutted now,
stands testament to his obsession
made concrete in these ruined walls.
Weeds grow abundantly in third floor windows
where Dudley stood, imagining
she’d turn from watching fireworks
reflected on the artificial lake,
whisper his name and lead him
to the ornate bed; a promise in the shadows.
The Golden Boy, all England’s darling;
maids, mothers, rich and poor
grew moist anticipating his desire
but he went tilting for the one he couldn’t have,
the one who’d test how far he’d go,
to prove it wasn’t far enough.
Slight castle walls that stood a nine months siege.
Convert a fortress to a palace to seduce her.
Let there be festival! Bring on the actors
the dancers and musicians
as puppets in his passion play.
She said no, and laughed
and danced and drank then left,
still saying no.
Shut up the windows and consign the bed
to mildew in a shuttered room.
In the theatre of his early morning
she rises, pale as a drowned corpse,
resurrecting his affection.
The Golden Boy, now old, no longer England’s darling,
turns from the woman sleeping by his side,
steps back into those rooms he wrecked and stands
once more beside the window. She says no.
But arguments he’s since rehearsed
(his lovely girl, untouched by time
stripped of regalia, reaching up to him,
pale, perfumed, eyes wide in the shadows)
turn him towards her body double,
who never knows how often she’s betrayed.
(For Pete, on the anniversary of the ‘Falklands Conflict’.)
Answer: Friday 2nd April 1982!
Ruffling cellophane fragrance
buckets bouquets florist and the cost sir
an essay I wished I’d finished yesterday
stock footage of a strike jet rolling over
sagging lines of rocket vapor
towards a tank exploding in a desert.
No, that was later, that was ‘The Gulf’:
this was flowers for her twenty-first.
You were infatuated. Now I can’t recall her face.
Fit young men around a table,
kayakers, cavers, mountaineers,
plans for that summer shelved
pending diplomatic gestures
someone else will tell us where to die.
The radio broadcast the emergency debate.
Essay wouldn’t write itself.
Bad metaphors reveal poor intellects
default to rhetoric.
Mr. Normal on the bus: I’d nuke the bastards.
Until yesterday he thought the islands were off Scotland.
Sasha’s flat in Moscow, eating excellent piroshki
Years later, watching tanks clank south to Chechnya.
Answer: Russians in Afghanistan. Two Gulf Wars,
NATO Actions.’War on Terror’! We worry for our son.
If the armada sails [You forgot Belfast.]
for islands no one finds without an atlas and the index
do we enlist? Fine for the professionals, they love this stuff
but you and me, mate, we’re just rotting bodies in a ditch
or drowned and sunk so someone can declare how hard the battle was.
Must have been a radio in the florist.
Good for business in the long run.
I‘m not so sure they call them strike jets.
Answer: Smart bombs!
Inverted commas won’t suffice for that raped adjective:
just repeat: al-‘Amiriyya children’s shelter.
Men died for sheep. Now there’s a headline.
Answer: Weapons of Mass Destruction!
Babies Ripped From Incubators.
Question: If we’re so smart
Why do dickheads run the world?
LIAM GUILAR lives in Australia where he teaches English. He studied Medieval Literature first as an undergraduate at Birmingham University and then as a post graduate at the University of Queensland in Australia. He spent several decades searching for wild rivers in remote parts of the world. He has had four collections of poems published; the most recent Rough Spun to Close Weave, is published by Ginninderra press http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/poetry.html He runs a blog at http://ladygodivaandme.blogspot.com.au and in 2013 was the proud winner of the Australian Bad Joyce Award: http://www.johnbutleryeatsseminar.com/home/bad_joyce_essay