Victorian Values by Simon R Gladdish

Victorian Values by Simon R Gladdish

VICTORIAN VALUES

BY

SIMON R GLADDISH

INTRODUCTION

‘Victorian Values’, Simon R Gladdish’s first poetry collection was mostly written in Marbella, Spain. In tone, the poems range from humour to cynicism to naked unashamed romanticism. When it was finished, his wife Rusty pointed out that several of the poems in the volume had a Victorian flavour so he decided to entitle it ‘Victorian Values’ in homage to Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Browning, Rossetti, Shelley and Keats.

DEDICATION

For my much-missed mother Enid and my father Kenneth (fellow author), my brother Matthew and his family, my sister Sarah and her family and last but never least, my wife Rusty, without whom there would have been nothing.

BIOGRAPHY
Simon R Gladdish was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1957.
His family returned to Britain in 1961, to Reading where he grew up.
Educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he trained as an English Language Teacher, a profession which enabled him to live for years in Spain, Turkey, Tunisia and Kuwait. He now lives near Swansea, Wales.
His poetry has been warmly acclaimed by other poets including Andrew Motion, the present British Poet Laureate who wrote to say ‘I really enjoyed the energy of your poems.’ (Despite this ringing recommendation, perhaps it is worth pointing out that the British Poetry Establishment has rejected every single poem that I have ever sent them.)
He has self-published eight volumes of poetry so far: Victorian Values, Back to Basics, Images of Istanbul, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Original Cliches, Torn Tickets and Routine Returns and The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse and The Poisoned Tunic jointly translated from Russian with Vladimir and Elena Grounine.

MOSQUITO

Look, I’m a generous host but
You’ve been helping yourself to Bloody Marys
All night long without my permission.
I know because when I woke up this morning
I was itching without intermission.

What kind of a house guest are you?
You’re rude and impolite.
You take without giving anything in return
And then take flight.

I’m growing tired of your softly, softly approach
And the sycophantic way you whine in my ear.
Frankly, your stiletto caresses are bloody painful
And my initial indulgence has given way to fear.

From now on there’s going to be a different regime;
You’ll have to sign the visitor’s book in red ink.
And unless I’m feeling unusually hospitable,
You’ll pay with your life for the next furtive drink!

LOVE SONG

How can mere words express
The tenderness
I carry in my heart for you?
How can empty song convey
The way
I feel about you?

When cloudlets drift across the sky
And rain descends in droplets;
My thoughts to you do straightway fly,
My muse to rhyming couplets.

And when th’unblinking eye of sun
Makes us our coats to loosen,
I know that you’re the only one
I ever could have chosen.

Until we meet again my friend,
Accept a fond farewell.
The future,
Like a ripening pearl
Contains us in its shell.

BOREDOM

The afternoons are worst,
I’m as taut as piano wire;
Tormented by my thirst
And trembling with desire
For something good to happen,
(A letter in the post?)
But fate’s unyielding pattern
Means the faintest hope is lost.
‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here!’
Runs the old familiar phobia;
I speak not of the gates of Hell
But a semi in suburbia.
Healthwise I’m hale and hearty
(Though shrunken by my labours)
I think I’ll throw a party
And invite my grumpy neighbours.
I can’t be bothered to enthuse,
I’m balanced on the brink;
Please God provide me with some news
Or an alcoholic drink!

AUTUMN GLORY

Why do I cherish the autumn?
Why do I love it so much?
Everything’s browning and hardy,
Everything’s soft to the touch.

Clouds scud about in the heavens,
Leaves swirl around in the air.
Deciduous trees undress in the breeze
While the sun snuggles closer to stare.

Birds silhouette in the branches,
The colours have all become brighter.
The puritanical pine looks perplexed
And pulls his green anorak tighter.

I am hit by a wave of nostalgia;
I wonder just where my youth went.
I console myself with the knowledge
That at least it was totally misspent.

I know why I so love the autumn;
It awakes in me seas of reflection
That crash upon a distant shore
Of slumbering recollection.

SWAN SONG

Birds are the most privileged creatures;
Proud owners of that for which we long.
They possess the joy of flight
And enjoy the gift of song.

They possess the joy of song
And enjoy the gift of flight.
While humans wallow in the dung,
They soar towards the light.

When I meet my Maker
(If I’m allowed a word)
I’ll plead: ‘Lord, if I must return,
Let it be as a bird.

On second thoughts, make me a man
(If I may change my mind)
I’d rather watch the graceful swan
Than suffer humankind.’

WORDS

According to St John
When all things began;
The word dwelt with God
And what God was, the word was.
The pen is mightier than the sword
For what is weightier than the word?
Frankly, I believe that words are insubstantial;
Their employment accidental, even circumstantial.
(The motives of the phrasemakers are frequently financial.)
Words are inky splotches which tremble on the page,
A linguistic cage, a literary guage.
But do they ever change the course of history?
Do they feed the hungry or elevate the pygmy?
Do they slake the thirsty or energize the weary?
Do they cure the sick or turbo-charge the quick?
The concentrated wisdom
Of the world’s sublimest sage
On the dusty stage of a bygone age
Means rather less to most of us
Than a living wage.

SUNSET

Sunset.
A walk to the docks.
The sun waves a leisurely goodbye
Then slides behind the ridge.
On the other side of the river
A lighted inn.
I search desperately for a bridge
And eventually find one
Miles along the quay.
I cross and hurriedly retrace my steps.
Inside, a lonely barman
Craving company
Greets me.
I don’t much feel like talking
So I turn away
To the electronic
Glass Bead Game
And start feeding it gold nuggets.
It must feel as sick as the gaudy parrot it resembles
For it greedily gobbles everything
And regurgitates nothing.
The smirking barman grants me a weak watery smile
And carries on polishing his glasses.
It is I who wish to talk now
But I’ve fluffed my chance.
I sit and watch the sluggish river fail to flow
And try to ignore the thin insistent voice
Whispering in my ear:
‘You have been balanced on the wave
And found slanting.’

SUBURBAN RHAPSODY

If there is a more melancholy scene
Than a suburban park
In mainland Britain
On a wet Sunday afternoon
When the grass looks like
Gangrene
And the sky is greyer
Than the grimy slate
On the grim rows
Of surrounding terraces
And groups of grubby children
Are desultorily kicking around
A muddy football
Vainly trying to fill
The cosmic time-warp
Between dinner and tea
Then I prefer not to know
What it is.

KEMPTON PARK

The autumn day loomed grand but grey
As we ran towards the races.
I clutched the form-card in my hand
For the hurdles and the ‘chases.

Then I wrote a minor tragedy
Upon a betting slip.
I thought my equine hero
Was perfect for the trip.

But when the race got underway
He failed to do me proud.
He stood upon his hinder legs
And curtsied to the crowd.

After signing several autographs
He sauntered down the track.
He flattened the first hurdle
And threw the monkey off his back.

He turned to bare his yellow teeth
And wink his evil eye,
As if to emphasise the fact
He didn’t even try.

He wasn’t suited to a sport
That celebrates the quick.
The animals that I support
Are elderly and sick.

He never had the breeding
To justify his station.
Now, like the boys at Eton
I’ve had an expensive education.

I’ll have to see my banker
To arrange another loan.
May God bless all dumb animals,
Especially this one!

I think I’ll found a society
And devote all my free time
To encouraging euthanasia
For quadrupeds past their prime.

MONEY

They say that money talks
And they’re right. It says:
‘I am everything and you are nothing.
You fool. You didn’t think you’d
Have me in your power for long. Did you?
I am desirable,
People dream about me every night.
But I am slippery,
Sparing with my favours.
If I do decide to reward someone,
I present myself by the sackful;
Obscene quantities of me,
Ridiculous amounts,
Way in excess of what my chosen one
Could ever spend or need.
But I’m a bit sadistic too,
When you’re as powerful as me, you can afford to be.
If someone is starving, for example,
I give them a teeny-weeny bit of myself.
Not enough to help, of course,
Just enough to jeer.
As for you,
When you’re huddled, shivering in your garret,
Ransacking your drawers looking for me,
I’ll be warmly ensconced in some thick, buckskin wallet.
And when you’re tramping through the city streets,
Searching for me in the gutter,
I’ll be being massaged by some rich banker’s pudgy fingers.
When you’re as sexy as I am,
It’s almost impossible not to feel a touch superior.
I know you long for me but I’m afraid it’s hopeless;
Let’s just say that we inhabit two separate worlds.’

DEMOCRACY

We’ve had a Tory government
For fifteen years or more
Which struggles to reward the rich
With proceeds from the poor.

Such selfless magnanimity
Merits our support;
Especially on election day
When they’re a few votes short.

It’s not been all plain sailing though
Despite the clear blue water;
The community charge or poll tax
Scuppered the grocer’s daughter.

They made up John, the cabin boy,
(The acceptable face of greed)
When he gets his politics O Level
He’ll be very good indeed.

What’s this I see? A mutiny!
They’ve made John walk the plank!
The poor chap was totally out of his depth,
He should never have left the bank.

VICTORIAN VALUES

We’re old, we’re poor, we’re sick, we’re sad.
Who said life had to be this bad?
We exist like ecclesiastical rats on our meagre money
Whilst the capitalist cats syphon milk and honey.

We’re not complaining we don’t get a sip.
We’ll carry on feigning with stiff upper lip
That we’re living in clover, our cup runneth over
And we’re saving up hard for a day-trip to Dover.

‘Ah but you’re free’ the landlords say:
‘Free to starve and free to pay;
Free to suffer and free to sicken,
Free to feel your arteries thicken.
If life is unfair, it isn’t our fault.
Without inequality, where’s the salt?
The rich toff in his castle, the pauper at his gate
(Everyone must accept their station.)
Wealth comes to all who are prepared to wait –
We till we’re twenty-one and you for your next incarnation.’

HUMAN SALMON

I’ve been thrashing around
Like a salmon in a shallow stream;
The only truth I’ve found
Is that living is a hollow dream.
I’ve been drowning like a flailing fish
Fighting for breath;
My search for certainties unearthed
Dragnets, hooks and death.
The salmon gives birth
Then turns up its fins.
Humans pay a slower
Price for their sins.
As I survey graveyards
Human and salmon;
Extinct civilisations
Egyptian and Roman;
I wonder what it really means
To be salmon or human
And I have to confess
That I don’t have a clue, man.
We swim in schools of ignorance
And sink beneath suggestions.
We never know the answers
Or even the questions.

EXISTENTIALISM

In the long run
We are all dead.
There’s a conundrum
To ponder in bed.

For a short space of time
We pace the earth’s crust.
Then it’s ashes to ashes
And dust to dust.

Compared with the cosmos
We’re laughably small.
The astonishing thing
Is that we’re here at all.

Some, fearing extinction,
Seek gods to anoint
But making up idols
Is missing the point.

Our deities mock us,
Our nightmares torment us.
That life is a farce
Is the only consensus.

In the long run
We are all dead:
A puzzling conundrum
To ponder in bed.

EXETER CATHEDRAL

Spread-eagled on the hillside
Like a sphinx about to roar;
Even among the heathen
You inspire a certain awe.

Your cantilevered majesty
Unveils the mason’s art.
You are the city’s sanctuary,
Its nucleus and heart.

The sandstone that composes you
Is honey on the comb.
When I step inside your portals,
I feel that I’ve come home.

Contemporary architecture
Makes comparisons seem cruel.
Contrasted with our concrete blocks
You are a precious jewel.

I’m glad that once there lived a race
Of builders who believed.
You stand as a memorial
Of what can be achieved.

LOVERS

They never arrive together
And leave nothing to chance.
They sit at separate tables
And deny romance.

Their cover would be perfect
Were it not for the occasional glance,
And the day I saw them in the cinema
Holding hands.

DESTINY

My poverty precludes the prospect of a family,
My skeleton shall be my soul remains;
When I worked with Stanley at the factory,
He warned ‘Don’t let your instincts rule your brains.’

I followed his instruction to the letter
And waited for my lifestyle to improve;
But waiting didn’t make things any better
For money proved illusory as love.

Now I’m at the zenith of my years,
Behind me little and before me less;
I’m still a prey to phobias and fears,
A pawn within a life-size game of chess.

It doesn’t matter what you think or do or say,
You can’t escape the hammer blows of fate;
Some dine on pheasant every other day,
While others eye the contours of an empty plate.

Some settle down to sleep in satin sheets
While others toss and turn on city streets.
O favoured sons and daughters of Design,
Which of you dares to swap your lot for mine?

DREAMSCAPE

In the first part of the dream
I was climbing a giant tree.
I suppose I was expressing
A longing to be free.

In the second part of the dream
I was admiring a work of Renaissance art.
The colours were magnificent
Though the painting was still wet.

It was twice as long as it was broad
And lying on the floor.
It was like a Bronzino masterpiece
With herald angels round the border.

Then I was in a medieval town,
Inside a stranger’s house.
I was trying to tidy up the lounge
When distracted by my spouse.

Some friends of ours came visiting;
Aged Donald and youthful Sonia.
They spent the whole day making love
Though they barely knew each other.

Eventually I took Donald home
Because he wanted to travel to France.
He needed some French currency
And requested an advance.

The streets were narrow, cobbled and steep;
The church had a twisted steeple.
The locals seemed to consist of dwarfs
And profoundly peculiar people.

It all got a bit too much for me
So I dived into a tavern.
I collided with the fruit machine
And the jackpot descended like manna from Heaven.

I woke up shortly afterwards
Rubbing my bleary eyes.
If anyone can decode this dream,
I’m prepared to offer a prize.

DEFINITIONS

Hooray for the middle classes!
They’ve got off their well-padded arses
And abolished
Stupidity and starvation.
Now when their kids are painfully thin
Or can’t read or write
We’re offered the explanation:
‘Matilda’s anorexic
And poor old Matthew’s totally dyslexic.’

SEAN

My friend Sean’s a bugger.
When I handed him a mug
Of scalding tea
(Handle towards me)
He cursed and almost dropped it.
‘Too hot?’ I enquired.
‘What?’ he replied,
‘Nah, not enough sugar.’

MYOPIA

I thought I saw a grubby kid
Rolling up our lino.
I looked again and found it was
The lid of our piano.

I thought I saw a daffodil
Dancing on a chest.
I looked again and found it was
A compass pointing west.

I thought I saw a vast amount
Of freshly minted money.
I looked again and found it was
A jar of mouldy honey.

I thought I saw a porcupine
Asleep upon our chair.
But when I looked a second time
I found it wasn’t there.

I thought I saw an albatross
Encircling my head.
I looked again and found it was
Exactly what I’ve said.

UNIVERSITY

When I went away to college
To amplify my knowledge
I lived on bread and porridge
For a whole long year.

The professor’s name was Skerrit,
A man of very little merit
Who used to keep a ferret
In his underwear.

He said: ‘We offer anthropology
With ancillary archaeology
And molecular biology
For the genetic engineer.

But what we really want are rowers,
Javelin and discus throwers,
Horn and trumpet blowers,
Do you volunteer?

Come and see me after matin,
We’ll translate a bit of Latin,
Why your skin’s as smooth as satin –
My dear.

Our proclivities aren’t fenian,
American or Armenian,
Although they have been called Athenian –
Do I make my myself clear?

We’ve a cellar full of port,
Wines of every different sort –
Vintages which can’t be bought!
Would you like a beer?

I can tell just from your greeting
That you’re Winchester or Eton
And your father is a mason –
You need have no fear.

In the mornings you’ll read Kipling,
In the afternoons go swimming.
You won’t be bothered by young women –
There aren’t any here.

POETIC LICENCE

Today I threw a song away
Which cost a month of labour.
Although I worked the thing like clay,
‘Twas not a work to savour.

I hope for fairer fate next time
I have poetic session;
The seamless match of rhythmic rhyme,
Perfection of expression.

Some cite inspiration, others work;
But I know the true reason.
It basically comes down to luck,
The mood, the muse, the season.

I think I’ll put aside my pen
Before my thought grows coarser;
And hand you on to greater men
Like Tennyson and Chaucer.

GREED

Is it the Rock Star’s destiny
To be a billionaire?
Is it ours to be sucked into
A vortex of despair?

Is it the Film Star’s fortune
To be as rich as teak?
While others have to face the fact
They won’t survive the week.

Is it the Supermodel’s beatitude
That swells her bank account?
It’s bound to change your attitude
When you’re ‘earning’ that amount.

Let’s not forget the landowners
Who don’t let you and me
Set foot upon their huge estates
Or enjoy the scenery.

I’m reminded of Boethius
Whose words are true indeed:
‘Nature is satisfied with little
But nothing satisfies greed.’

If these celestial superstars
Gave something to the poor;
Just think how many human beings
Could have a little more.

The wheel of fortune used to turn
With a reassuring click.
A favoured few found wealth to burn,
The rest of us felt sick.

Now inequality is so entrenched,
Most cannot change their luck.
I think that in the seventies
The wretched wheel got stuck.

In Britain nearly all the wealth
Is held by five per cent.
In Heaven, so I read somewhere,
There’s a different arrangement.

SHIP OF FAITH

Mary had a little lamb,
She named him Jesus Christ.
Everywhere that Mary went
The goods were overpriced.

Mary’s Son became a man
Who started to declaim:
‘Unless you hear the word of God,
You’ll have yourselves to blame.’

Jesus preached wherever he went
To prostitutes and thieves:
‘Unless you manage to repent,
You’ll fall like autumn leaves.’

The Jews found Christ a nuisance
So they nailed him to a tree.
(You’ll have to read the gospels
For the authorised biography.)

Let’s set aside all differences
And learn to work together;
Though I’m a member of a different tribe,
I recognise my brother.

You were born inside a stable
And in a manger laid.
A silver star stood overhead
Whilst kings and shepherds prayed.

Your father was a carpenter,
Your mother was a virgin;
Your followers were fishermen
Who cast their nets for sturgeon.

You’re Alpha and Omega,
The first born and the last;
The captain of the ship of faith,
The deck, the sails, the mast.

Remember how on Noah’s Ark
You salvaged eight or seven?
Let’s climb aboard our fragile bark
And steer a course for Heaven.

TREE OF KNOWLEDGE

In Andalucia you will see
An orange tree in every square.
At dusk its tangy fragrance
Invigorates the air.

Fresh fruit is firm and tempting
Inviting you to eat.
However you’ll discover
It is anything but sweet.

It tastes as bitter as wormwood
And sour as the devil’s sweat.
Those who have managed more than one
Have not recovered yet.

The moral here is crystal clear
And not confined to Spain.
Free lunches are inedible
And poverty is pain.

How long, how long in infinite vain pursuit
Of this or that free orange or grapefruit?
Unless we pay the supermarket tag,
We sadden after none or bitter fruit.

SELF-CRITICISM

When I re-read my early work,
I shake my head in mortal shame.
The best of it stands up quite well,
The rest of it completely lame.

I’m tempted to scoop up the runts
And hurl them on the hungry fire;
To build a paper pyramid
And set alight a funeral pyre.

But some force always makes my hand
Return them to the folder.
(It’s difficult to understand;
Perhaps I’m simply getting older.)

Burning the offspring of my brain
Would be a body blow.
So what if they are halt or lame,
What father treats his children so?

Tapestry weavers on the loom
Of language working late at night
Can always find a darkened room
To hide their failures out of sight.

THE BLUES

I woke up this morning
And decided to stay in bed.
I’ve got this throbbing threnody
Echoing inside my head.
Someone call a doctor
To see if I’m alive or dead.
Either way I’ve got the blues.

I stagger over to the mirror;
Bloodshot eyes return my gaze.
Puffed up like a pillow,
I barely recognise my face.
Last night was a killer,
You can end your life in various ways.
Anyway I’ve got the blues.

I fumble for the radio,
I need a soothing symphony,
Heavenly choirs to sing to me.
Come on, where are you channel three?
What’s this mocking cacophony?
Somebody’s got it in for me.
Now I’ve really got the blues.

RUSTY

When I met you I was lonely and dirty
But in those days I was only thirty.
I still don’t understand
Why you took me by the hand
And led me homewards
To my motherland.
Many thought I was mad or bad,
You realised I was merely sad.
You recognised my sorrow
And gave me a tomorrow
Together with a roof
As a tangible proof
Of your uncomplicated love for me.
The hope which was about to evaporate
Condensed and changed my attitude.
I was so overwhelmed by gratitude
That I may have forgotten to say
Thank you.
If I did, I say it now:
‘Muchisimas gracias amiga mia;
Te quiero ahora y para siempre.’

TRIBUTE TO DYLAN

Imprisoned in my attic,
I’m measuring the static.
The warnings are sporadic,
But none the less emphatic.

I can hear which way the wind’s blowing,
I can see the writing on the wall.
I sit and watch the river flowing
And I know a hard rain’s going to fall.

LONGING

I walked along the lonely brow
Of our favourite hill.
I saw the farmer with his plough,
The miller with his mill.

I saw your face etched on a cloud
(It was definitely you.)
My surprise was such, I cried aloud,
Transported by the view.

But you’re no longer with me now,
We’ve gone our separate ways.
You’ve left me with the problem how
To endure my endless days.

TELEPATHY

Last night I had a curious dream
As I lay on my own.
You were quoting poetry at me
Down a black old-fashioned telephone.

I couldn’t understand a word,
(Your voice was none too clear.)
When I asked you who the author was,
You claimed it was Shakespeare.

In future when you contact me,
Please will you stick to prose.
A rose by any other name
Becomes a rambling rose.

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE

When the good Lord devised the earth,
With land and sea around its girth,
He chuckled in his glacial mirth:
‘I’ll give people something to remember,
I’ll create an elaborate torture chamber;
Ostensibly delightful
But really rather spiteful.
I’ll introduce famine, pestilence, disease
In addition to lush meadows and green trees.
Hatred, war and blood-shed
As well as fishes on the river bed.
Terrorists, bastards, fanatics
Mixed up with mystics, saints, ecstatics.
Suffering, hopelessness, despair
In landscapes verdant, soft and fair.
But the cream of the joke
Is that I’ll write a boring book
Ordering my creation
(Plus all of their relations)
To bow done (wait for this) in gratitude
And worship me and me alone.
And when the planet is destroyed
And the rivers run with blood,
I’ll smile and say ‘I told you so!
That’s why I sent the flood!’
And when poor disembodied souls
Come hammering at my door,
I’ll tell them all to go to Hell –
That’s what I made it for!’

COWBOY BLUES

I built my house on shifting sand
And became a poor man in the land.
My wife said she’d outgrown me;
My kids didn’t want to know me.

Blood is thicker than water but water’s pretty thin.
Was I paying the price of poverty or the penalty for sin?
In the game of life, if you lose the prize
You wind up strangled by family ties.

God’s a capitalist. That’s for sure.
He gives to the rich and takes from the poor.
The Bible’s full of promises
But life’s just filled with compromises.

Am I bitter? You bet I am.
I feel like a strawberry in a jam.
I feel like a can of rancid ham.
I feel like a sacrificial lamb.
I feel like the track underneath a tram.
I feel like a baby in a pram
Careering down a mountainside.
I don’t know whether to scramble out
Or hide my face beneath the covers
And dream of other lovers.

DEATH ROW

I’ve been feeling a little flat lately,
Touching all the walls.
Peering through the window,
Examining my balls.

Waiting for the sun to sink
Like a chastised child.
Re-reading the Bible,
Gentle Jesus meek and mild.

Fighting a miasma
Of impotence and hate;
Dancing with chimeras,
(Where are you Terry Waite?)

Lying on my iron bunk,
Staring at the ceiling.
Listening to leaden music tapes,
Devoid of any feeling.

Still I’m not downhearted
Despite the things I’ve said.
Although my life’s just started,
Tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Roll on death and greet me,
I wait with open arms.
Do not try to cheat me,
I know about your charms.

You taste as sweet as honey
That lingers on the tongue.
You can keep your money –
I’m waiting to be hung.

WORLD WAR THREE

The poor are ignored by the rich,
The sane turn away from the mad.
The healthy recoil from the sick
But the good have to live with the bad.

The old are despised by the young,
The black are enslaved by the white.
The beetle rotates in the dung
As the daylight surrenders to night.

The people elect their oppressors,
The prisoner and jailer embrace.
The tyrant selects his successors
Whose features resemble his face.

Depression gives way to despair;
We need Sherlock Holmes on the case.
Why is humanity inclined to insanity
And did guns start the human race?

The earth is engulfed by destruction;
Mankind is destroyed by the fall.
Phosphorescent earthquakes
Make the firmament shake
Till a stillness saturates all,
Except for an echoing whisper:
‘This is the way the world ends,
First with a bang, then a whimper.’
Whilst on the dead ether
Comes drifting the sigh:
‘Man, that was just like the fourth of July!’

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

The rational thing to do
Would be to shoot myself.
But as David Hume pointed out,
Reason is and always will be
The slave of passion.
Smug, Tory, atheistic Edinburgh free-thinker,
I owe you my life!
(I don’t know whether to thank you or not.)
If we meet beyond this veil of tears,
I’ll order you a whisky and soda.
You can pay for it
With the royalties from your
‘Treatise of Human Nature’.
To quote from your fellow Scottish philosopher
Ian McCaskill,
We must be moderate or good.
He never said anything
About being generous.

REDEMPTION

My life has been a fairy tale,
It’s certainly been grim.
I fell into the well of fate
And found I couldn’t swim.

The well was dark and desolate
And full of scrambling rats,
Scurrying like bookies’ clerks
To avoid the cats.

The cats were miserable as sin
And cursing those who threw them in.
Their eyes resembled smouldering coals
From the fire of human souls.

I begged the Lord to set me free
And not to let me drown.
The bats were black as they could be
And hanging upside down.

I know I’ve been a sinner
And that my sins are grave,
But You who made the universe
Can also my soul save.

I’m wiser now but sadder
And running out of hope.
Please throw me down a ladder
Or just a threadbare rope!

Lord, I didn’t mean it!
Please let me try again.
I long to breathe unfetid air
And rejoin the world of men.

To fret about our destiny
Has been a waste of time
Ever since emerging
From the primordial slime.

We live, we die, who gives a damn?
Except our next of kin;
But just in case there is a God,
Let’s keep away from sin.

HELL

‘Hell is other people’
Wrote Jean-Paul Sartre.
My fraternal French philosopher
How right thou art!
Perhaps you should have mentioned
That it’s also poverty;
A grinding-down as constant
As the force of gravity.
Hell on earth began
When money was invented;
The silver coins were minted
And the pretty notes were printed.
Judas bartered in the garden
Then for mercy tried to beg.
He paid with his immortal soul;
(We limped off with an arm and a leg.)

CAIN AND ABEL

Today, on TV, I saw one snake eat another.
Their colouring suggested
They were cousins more than brothers.
The diner was dusty brown and striped;
The dinner was green as grass and well spotted.
The brown snake began with the other’s head
Swallowing it in one swift, sudden movement;
And then the body followed suit,
Inch by quivering inch.
It was an interesting philosophical conundrum
Whether the interior snake was wearing the exterior
Or simply being digested by it.
Judging by the reptilian satisfaction
On the suffocating, dislocated features of the stripy serpent
And the glint of triumph in its glassy eye,
It was enjoying the encounter more;
But not by much
(About a neck, I’d say.)
Besides, by now I couldn’t see the other’s face,
Only its sinuously trembling tail…
It should really have shed its scaly skin
Before feeling it dissolve in an acid bath
But when you’re caught with your fangs down,
You’re beyond help.
(No time for goodbyes, let alone wills.)
Still, fascinating stuff;
I just wish I hadn’t had my mouth full.
The nightmare sight of travelling, unravelling alimentary canals
Desperately devouring each other
Does somewhat dull the appetite.
In fact,
To get any lower,
You have to turn to human beings.

SOMETIMES

Sometimes I feel like
I’m under a curse.
I could have done better
And I could have done worse.

I could have done worse
But I might have done better.
Fortune seems to favour
The jet-setting go-getter.

Bob Dylan said ‘Choose
Fortune or fame.
Either way you’ll lose;
Neither’s what they claim.’

W.H. Davies said
‘Stop, stand and stare!’
He was a pauper,
Dylan a billionaire.

W.H. Auden
Was pretty good
About switching off the stars
And sweeping away the wood.

William Butler Yeats
Was a bit of a berk
To suggest that we perfect
Our life or our work.

I’ve spent too much time
Perched on my arse
Watching paint dry
And the growth of the grass.

I’m not complaining
That nothing’s gone right.
I go to bed in the morning
And get up at night.

When I feel restless
I bounce my ball
In the back garden
Against the shed wall.

When I feel sad
I pause to think
And if things are really bad
I’ll pour a drink.

When I feel lonely
I’ll phone a friend.
If no one answers
Then I’ll just pretend.

When I feel bored
I’ll borrow a book
And peruse a few stanzas
Beside a babbling brook.

Each evening I pray
For the Lord to deliver.
I’ll be dead one day
And it’ll all be over.

St Peter will say
‘Let the last be first!
Son, you should have done better
But you could have done worse.’

STORM

The noise of the storm
Turns the mucousy worm
In the moist earth.
The Donner und Blitzen
Startles the vixen
Damply giving birth.
The might and the main
Of the storm-driven rain
Whiplashes the plain
With a thunderous refrain.
It’s far heavier now;
Its repetitive thud
Unsettles the cow
Consuming the cud
Cankered over with mud.
The flowers rejoice,
Recognising the voice
Of the hammering, sheeting,
Metronome beating,
Savagely sleeting,
Juggernaut rain.

KATE
(In memory of Kate de Pulford)

Goodbye, dearest Kate,
What can we do?
Nobody dreamed
This would happen to you.

You cycled to work
Trusting to luck
But your bike was no match
For a twenty ton truck.

The paramedics worked hard
To prolong your survival;
They laboured in vain,
You were dead on arrival.

You went straight to paradise
When you left here.
A spirit like yours
Could not disappear.

At the risk of a cliché
(Which in your case is true.)
This world was not woven
For someone like you.

We’re so glad we met,
You had so much to give;
We’ll never forget you
As long as we live.

MATRIMONIAL ADVICE

You don’ wan’ no weak woman;
You wan’ a strong woman.
Strong enough to carry home
All de heavy shoppin’.

You don’ wan’ no thin woman;
You wan’ a fat woman.
One who know how to cook
Roas’ beef an’ yorkshire puddin’.

You don’ wan’ no pretty woman;
You wan’ an ugly woman.
Dat way she always grateful
An’ she never deceive you.

You don’ wan’ no young woman;
You wan’ an old woman.
Dat way she know how to run de house
An’ enjoy a good pension.

You don’ wan’ no intelligent woman;
You wan’ a stupid woman.
Dat way she don’ question
Why she doin’ all de work.

THE RAGING PROCESS

When I was younger my muscles were taut,
My limbs were well sculpted and lean;
As I get older, the changes unfolding
Are bordering on the obscene.

My body’s suffered serious wear and tear,
My spirit has followed suit
And although I’m increasingly inclined to prayer,
I’m becoming as bald as a coot.

The worst thing of all is that I’ve run to fat,
My thighs are now rubbing together;
My jowls would look good on a diplomat
And my skin has the texture of leather.

My sight is quite misty; my thoughts rather dim,
I’m consistently short of breath.
In fact my aspect has grown so grim,
I’m no longer afraid of death.

Hector, my doctor, is unsympathetic
And barks in his German syntax:
‘My friend it is all part of ze getting-old-process,
I sink zat you ought to relax!’

My eyes are baggy; my flesh is saggy,
I’m a canvas for varicose veins.
I’ve also become the reluctant recipient
Of innumerable unspecified pains.

My bones are aching; my heart is breaking,
My reactions are terribly slow.
All I have left is my sense of denial
Which I hope will be last to go.

DENISE

My friend Denise had a brilliant wheeze
For shifting a bit of her blubber.
She rode to work on an exercise bike
And became a weight-watchers clubber.

Pills and Slimfasts, laxative blasts,
On any gimmick she’d pounce.
I have to confess that it seems to be working –
She’s succeeded in losing an ounce.

With progress like this, the sheer self-denial
Into insignificance pales.
She’s now saving up for a distorting mirror
And a set of industrial scales.

Good Luck Denise! We all wish you well!
You know, fat or thin, I’m your friend.
Although I know that you’re going through Hell,
You’ll be a string-bean in the end!

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU

The rich dread dying
Because they’ve got so much to lose;
Their mansions and their palaces,
Their glossy Gucci shoes.
Their houses and their horses,
Their butlers and their wives;
The solid-silver coffee spoons
They’ve used to measure out their lives.
Their paintings and fine furnishings
Imported from afar,
Their Pollocks and Picassos
And expensive objets d’art.
Their power and their influence,
Their restaurants and their clubs,
Their so-obliging prostitutes
And charming country pubs.
Their hunting, shooting, fishing,
The retriever at their feet
And their neighbour’s nubile daughter
Whom they’ve just arranged to meet.
Their Rollers and their Daimlers,
Their Bentleys and their Jags
And their fatuous silly features
In the sycophantic mags.
(And visits up to London
When ‘funds are rather low’
For some brisk insider dealing
With ‘a friend who’s in the know.’)
They’ve got to leave the lot behind
(No hand-luggage allowed)
When they trade their frayed Armani suits
For a new Versace shroud.

MEMORY

When I was knee-high to a fly
I used to spend hours on end
Standing on the landing
Eavesdropping without stopping
My parents’ living-room murmuring
Beside the dying fire;
My father’s low drone
Playing tennis with
My mother’s mellow tone
At least an octave higher.
Although my mother’s time has gone
Those intimate echoes linger on.
When I too flee this vale of tears,
Their voices will still fill my ears.

AMATEUR ASTRONOMER

Andromeda is Heaven’s daughter,
Cygnus is her swan.
Aquarius holds water
But Aries rushes on.

Bootes is a herdsman,
Auriga a charioteer.
Canes Venatici are hunting dogs
Just in case you appear.

Camelopardalis is a deserted ship,
Cancer is a crab.
Canis major and minor are dog Latin;
Aldebaran is Arab.

Capricornus is a sea-goat,
Cetus is a whale.
Berenice’s hair needs Berenice’s comb
And Libra tips the scale.

Corona Borealis is the Northern Crown,
Corvus is a crow.
Sagittarius the archer who shot him down
With Sagitta, his arrow.

Draco lines his maidens up
But Delphinus is a dolphin.
So Crater remains an empty cup
And Virgo stays a virgin.

Equulus is a half-grown horse,
Gemini are twins.
Hercules is strong, of course,
And dominates the Lynx.

Hydra the winding water-snake
Longs for Eridanus the river.
Leo the lion and Lepus the hare
Look up at Lacerta the lizard.

Lyra plucks her seductive lyre
To Monoceros the unicorn.
From Orion’s waist hangs a hunting belt
And from his heel a Scorpion.

Pegasus is the horse with wings,
Pisces the dreaming fish.
Scutum Sobieski is Sobieski’s shield
Beyond reach of Perseus.

Sculptor is ambidextrous,
Sextans is his sextant.
Aquila is the eagle
Encircling the serpent.

Vulpecula is a crafty fox,
Ursas major and minor are bear.
Taurus the bull bodes rising stocks
And Triangulum is not square.

RITA

I don’t want to listen
To your pointless twitter,
Your emotional litter,
Your tedious squitter
Or your nervous titter.
I know that you feel bitter
Alone in your bed-sitter
In the centre of Exeter.
But I’m no arbiter,
Comforter or Presbyter
And your non-sequiturs
Make me jitter
For a litre of bitter.
I quite like the taffeta
You bought from the outfitter
(It’s a potent transmitter
Of your total lack of glitter!)
Per capita,
You’re the dullest rabbiter
This side of Sagitta
(You have no competitor.)
Look, I’ve got to read the gas-meter
And then see my solicitor
Before travelling to Jupiter.
I’m no counterfeiter,
Saccharine-sweet sitter
Or patient interlocutor;
More a rapid exiter
(I prefer the perimiter.)
You’re a heavy hitter,
A cerebellum splitter,
A fratricide committer,
An equanimity quitter.
Why can’t you embitter
The needle-clacking knitter,
The monitor or janitor
Or even the sub-editor
Instead of this poor crittur?

JUVENILIA – (AGED 11)

STAR:

S ilently still, they twinkle against the black.
T rillions of miles away, they look microscopic.
A imlessly they hang in the sky.
R ays hit the earth but there is no light.

RAIN:

R acing down the sides of obstacles.
A drop races for all it is worth to beat another.
I watch from inside a stuffy house.
N o-one stirs.

FROG:

F ascinating creature jumping on his strong hind limbs.
R ocking gently on a large stone.
O ccasionally giving a flip to satisfy himself he’s still awake.
G uiding his beady eyes along his surroundings.

TREE:

T owering high above the world.
R ising every year another six inches.
E arnestly I gaze up at its branches.
E ndlessly the network of branches goes on.

ANT:

A nother tiny insect reaches the tile.
N ine others arrive and then a host.
T ogether they start a new home.

The right of Simon R. Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

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