Barry Tebb |
(or ‘Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visited’)
What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?
“Phone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmy’s.
A benefit reading, he’d love to hear from you and have your help.
‘Like hell he would’ I thought but I phoned him all the same
At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing
At the uni.
But what’s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV?
“Well I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand,
Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher O’Brien, you know the kind,
The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.
We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet
Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about ‘One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the world’s.
Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred
Lyrics in his quiver.
Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire
Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally
He shrieked, “I have to go, the cat’s under the Christmas tree, ripping
Open all the presents, the central heating boiler’s on the blink,
The house is on fucking fire!”
So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour,
Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmy’s work:
The words of the letter before his stroke still burned.
“I don’t know why
They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once.
You and I
A whole year’s silence until the card with its cryptic message
‘Jimmy’s recovering slowly but better than expected’.
I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for
Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.
Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday
I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business
Where, next to the ‘closed’ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds
At a date long gone.
I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books,
At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster.
Desperately I tried to remember
What Janice had said.
“We were sat up in bed, planning to take the children
For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways,
His head lolled and he keeled over.
The title of the reading was from Jimmy’s best collection
‘With Energy To Burn’
with energy to burn.
Anne Sexton |
Mother, my Mary Gray,
once resident of Gloucester
and Essex County,
a photostat of your will
arrived in the mail today.
This is the division of money.
I am one third
of your daughters counting my bounty
or I am a queen alone
in the parlor still,
eating the bread and honey.
It is Good Friday.
Black birds pick at my window sill.
Your coat in my closet,
your bright stones on my hand,
the gaudy fur animals
I do not know how to use,
settle on me like a debt.
A week ago, while the hard March gales
beat on your house,
we sorted your things: obstacles
of letters, family silver,
eyeglasses and shoes.
Like some unseasoned Christmas, its scales
rigged and reset,
I bundled out gifts I did not choose.
Now the houts of The Cross
In Boston, the devout
work their cold knees
toward that sweet martyrdom
that Christ planned.
My timely loss
is too customary to note; and yet
I planned to suffer
and I cannot.
It does not please
my yankee bones to watch
where the dying is done
in its usly hours.
Black birds peck
at my window glass
and Easter will take its ragged son.
The clutter of worship
that you taught me, Mary Gray,
a memory of belief
that I do not own.
on your death and jesus, my stranger
floats up over
my Christian home, wearing his straight
I have cast my lot
and am one third thief
Time, that rearranger
of estates, equips
me with your garments, but not with grief.
This winter when
cancer began its ugliness
I grieved with you each day
for three months
and found you in your private nook
of the medicinal palace
for New England Women
and never once
forgot how long it took.
I read to you
from The New Yorker, ate suppers
you wouldn't eat, fussed
with your flowers,
joked with your nurses, as if I
were the balm among lepers,
as if I could undo
a life in hours
if I never said goodbye.
But you turned old,
all your fifty-eight years sliding
like masks from your skull;
and at the end
I packed your nightgowns in suitcases,
paid the nurses, came riding
home as if I'd been told
I could pretend
people live in places.
Since then I have pretended ease,
loved with the trickeries of need, but not enough
to shed my daughterhood
or sweeten him as a man.
I drink the five o' clock martinis
and poke at this dry page like a rough
Fool! I fumble my lost childhood
for a mother and lounge in sad stuff
with love to catch and catch as catch can.
And Christ still waits.
I have tried
to exorcise the memory of each event
and remain still, a mixed child,
heavy with cloths of you.
Sweet witch, you are my worried guide.
Such dangerous angels walk through Lent.
Their walls creak Anne! Convert! Convert!
My desk moves.
Its cavr murmurs Boo
and I am taken and beguiled.
For all the way I've come
I'll have to go again.
Instead, I must convert
to love as reasonable
as Latin, as sold as earthenware:
I never knew.
And Lent will keep its hurt
for someone else.
Christ knows enough
staunch guys have hitched him in trouble.
thinking his sticks were badges to wear.
Spring rusts on its skinny branch
and last summer's lawn
is soggy and brown.
Yesterday is just a number.
All of its winters avalanche
out of sight.
What was, is gone.
Mother, last night I slept
in your Bonwit Teller nightgown.
Divided, you climbed into my head.
There in my jabbering dream
I heard my own angry cries
and I cursed you, Dame
keep out of my slumber.
My good Dame, you are dead.
And Mother, three stones
slipped from your glittering eyes.
Now it's Friday's noon
and I would still curse
you with my rhyming words
and bring you flapping back, old love,
old circus knitting, god-in-her-moon,
all fairest in my lang syne verse,
the gauzy bride among the children,
the fancy amid the absurd
and awkward, that horn for hounds
that skipper homeward, that museum
keeper of stiff starfish, that blaze
within the pilgrim woman,
a clown mender, a dove's
cheek among the stones,
my Lady of first words,
this is the division of ways.
And now, while Christ stays
fastened to his Crucifix
so that love may praise
and not the grotesque metaphor,
you come, a brave ghost, to fix
in my mind without praise
to make me your inheritor.
Andrew Barton Paterson |
We have all of us read how the Israelites fled
From Egypt with Pharaoh in eager pursuit of 'em,
And Pharaoh's fierce troop were all put "in the soup"
When the waters rolled softly o'er every galoot of 'em.
The Jews were so glad when old Pharaoh was "had"
That they sounded their timbrels and capered like mad.
You see he was hated from Jordan to Cairo --
Whence comes the expression "to buck against faro".
For forty long years, 'midst perils and fears
In deserts with never a famine to follow by,
The Israelite horde went roaming abroad
Like so many sundowners "out on the wallaby".
When Moses, who led 'em, and taught 'em, and fed 'em,
Was dying, he murmured, "A rorty old hoss you are:
I give you command of the whole of the band" --
And handed the Government over to Joshua.
But Moses told 'em before he died,
"Wherever you are, whatever betide,
Every year as the time draws near
By lot or by rote choose you a goat,
And let the high priest confess on the beast
The sins of the people the worst and the least,
Lay your sins on the goat! Sure the plan ought to suit yer.
Because all your sins are 'his troubles' in future.
Then lead him away to the wilderness black
To die with the weight of your sins on his back:
Of thirst let him perish alone and unshriven,
For thus shall your sins be absolved and forgiven!"
'Tis needless to say, though it reeked of barbarity
This scapegoat arrangement gained great popularity.
By this means a Jew, whate'er he might do,
Though he burgled, or murdered, or cheated at loo,
Or meat on Good Friday (a sin most terrific) ate,
Could get his discharge, like a bankrupt's certificate;
Just here let us note -- Did they choose their best goat?
It's food for conjecture, to judge from the picture
By Hunt in the Gallery close to our door, a
Man well might suppose that the scapegoat they chose
Was a long way from being their choicest Angora.
In fact I should think he was one of their weediest:
'Tis a rule that obtains, no matter who reigns,
When making a sacrifice, offer the seediest;
Which accounts for a theory known to my hearers
Who live in the wild by the wattle beguiled,
That a "stag" makes quite good enough mutton for shearers.
Be that as it may, as each year passed away,
a scapegoat was led to the desert and freighted
With sin (the poor brute must have been overweighted)
And left there -- to die as his fancy dictated.
The day it has come, with trumpet and drum.
With pomp and solemnity fit for the tomb
They lead the old billy-goat off to his doom:
On every hand a reverend band,
Prophets and preachers and elders stand
And the oldest rabbi, with a tear in his eye,
Delivers a sermon to all standing by.
(We haven't his name -- whether Cohen or Harris, he
No doubt was the "poisonest" kind of Pharisee.
The sermon was marked by a deal of humility
And pointed the fact, with no end of ability.
That being a Gentile's no mark of gentility,
And, according to Samuel, would certainly d--n you well.
Then, shedding his coat, he approaches the goat
And, while a red fillet he carefully pins on him,
Confesses the whole of the Israelites' sins on him.
With this eloquent burst he exhorts the accurst --
"Go forth in the desert and perish in woe,
The sins of the people are whiter than snow!"
Then signs to his pal "for to let the brute go".
(That "pal" as I've heard, is an elegant word,
Derived from the Persian "Palaykhur" or "Pallaghur"),
As the scapegoat strains and tugs at the reins
The Rabbi yells rapidly, "Let her go, Gallagher!"
The animal, freed from all restraint
Lowered his head, made a kind of feint,
And charged straight at that elderly saint.
So fierce his attack and so very severe, it
Quite floored the Rabbi, who, ere he could fly,
Was rammed on the -- no, not the back -- but just near it.
The scapegoat he snorted, and wildly cavorted,
A light-hearted antelope "out on the ramp",
Then stopped, looked around, got the "lay of the ground",
And made a beeline back again to the camp.
The elderly priest, as he noticed the beast
So gallantly making his way to the east,
Says he, "From the tents may I never more roam again
If that there old billy-goat ain't going home again.
He's hurrying, too! This never will do.
Can't somebody stop him? I'm all of a stew.
After all our confessions, so openly granted,
He's taking our sins back to where they're not wanted.
We've come all this distance salvation to win agog,
If he takes home our sins, it'll burst up the Synagogue!"
He turned to an Acolyte who was making his bacca light,
A fleet-footed youth who could run like a crack o' light.
"Run, Abraham, run! Hunt him over the plain,
And drive back the brute to the desert again.
The Sphinx is a-watching, the Pyramids will frown on you,
From those granite tops forty cent'ries look down on you --
Run, Abraham, run! I'll bet half-a-crown on you.
So Abraham ran, like a man did he go for him,
But the goat made it clear each time he drew near
That he had what the racing men call "too much toe" for him.
The crowd with great eagerness studied the race --
"Great Scott! isn't Abraham forcing the pace --
And don't the goat spiel? It is hard to keep sight on him,
The sins of the Israelites ride mighty light on him.
The scapegoat is leading a furlong or more,
And Abraham's tiring -- I'll lay six to four!
He rolls in his stride; he's done, there's no question!"
But here the old Rabbi brought up a suggestion.
('Twas strange that in racing he showed so much cunning),
"It's a hard race," said he, "and I think it would be
A good thing for someone to take up the running.
As soon said as done, they started to run --
The priests and the deacons, strong runners and weak 'uns
All reckoned ere long to come up with the brute,
And so the whole boiling set off in pursuit.
And then it came out, as the rabble and rout
Streamed over the desert with many a shout --
The Rabbi so elderly, grave, and patrician,
Had been in his youth a bold metallician,
And offered, in gasps, as they merrily spieled,
"Any price Abraham! Evens the field!"
Alas! the whole clan, they raced and they ran,
And Abraham proved him an "even time" man,
But the goat -- now a speck they could scarce keep their eyes on --
Stretched out in his stride in a style most surprisin'
And vanished ere long o'er the distant horizon.
Away in the camp the bill-sticker's tramp
Is heard as he wanders with paste, brush, and notices,
And paling and wall he plasters them all,
"I wonder how's things gettin' on with the goat," he says,
The pulls out his bills, "Use Solomon's Pills"
"Great Stoning of Christians! To all devout Jews! you all
Must each bring a stone -- Great sport will be shown;
Enormous Attractions! And prices as usual!
Roll up to the Hall!! Wives, children and all,
For naught the most delicate feelings to hurt is meant!!"
Here his eyes opened wide, for close by his side
Was the scapegoat: And eating his latest advertisement!
One shriek from him burst -- "You creature accurst!"
And he ran from the spot like one fearing the worst.
His language was chaste, as he fled in his haste,
But the goat stayed behind him -- and "scoffed up" the paste.
With downcast head, and sorrowful tread,
The people came back from the desert in dread.
"The goat -- was he back there? Had anyone heard of him?"
In very short order they got plenty word of him.
In fact as they wandered by street, lane and hall,
"The trail of the serpent was over them all.
A poor little child knocked out stiff in the gutter
Proclaimed that the scapegoat was bred for a "butter".
The bill-sticker's pail told a sorrowful tale,
The scapegoat had licked it as dry as a nail;
He raced through their houses, and frightened their spouses,
But his latest achievement most anger arouses,
For while they were searching, and scratching their craniums,
One little Ben Ourbed, who looked in the flow'r-bed,
Discovered him eating the Rabbi's geraniums.
The moral is patent to all the beholders --
Don't shift your own sins on to other folks' shoulders;
Be kind to dumb creatures and never abuse them,
Nor curse them nor kick them, nor spitefully use them:
Take their lives if needs must -- when it comes to the worst,
But don't let them perish of hunger or thirst.
Remember, no matter how far you may roam
That dogs, goats, and chickens, it's simply the dickens,
Their talent stupendous for "getting back home".
Your sins, without doubt, will aye find you out,
And so will a scapegoat, he's bound to achieve it,
But, die in the wilderness! Don't you believe it!
Francesco Petrarch |
Era 'l giorno ch' al sol si scoloraro.
HE BLAMES LOVE FOR WOUNDING HIM ON A HOLY DAY (GOOD FRIDAY).
'Twas on the morn, when heaven its blessed ray
In pity to its suffering master veil'd,
First did I, Lady, to your beauty yield,
Of your victorious eyes th' unguarded prey.
Ah! little reck'd I that, on such a day,
Needed against Love's arrows any shield;
And trod, securely trod, the fatal field:
Whence, with the world's, began my heart's dismay.
On every side Love found his victim bare,
And through mine eyes transfix'd my throbbing heart;
Those eyes, which now with constant sorrows flow:
But poor the triumph of his boasted art,
Who thus could pierce a naked youth, nor dare
To you in armour mail'd even to display his bow!
'Twas on the blessed morning when the sun
In pity to our Maker hid his light,
That, unawares, the captive I was won,
Lady, of your bright eyes which chain'd me quite;
That seem'd to me no time against the blows
Of love to make defence, to frame relief:
Secure and unsuspecting, thus my woes
[Pg 4]Date their commencement from the common grief.
Love found me feeble then and fenceless all,
Open the way and easy to my heart
Through eyes, where since my sorrows ebb and flow:
But therein was, methinks, his triumph small,
On me, in that weak state, to strike his dart,
Yet hide from you so strong his very bow.