Copyright © 2011 John O'Loughlin
1. God's Sacrifice
2. Song of the Vicar's Daughter
3. Unrequited Love
4. The Lovers' Dream
6. A Vindication
8. To a Painting
10. Wishful Thinking
11. The Universal Song of Life
12. Song of the Lonesome Drifter
13. They Take the Letters
17. Dosshouse Blues
20. I Enter Song
21. Her Smile
23. Dream Poem
26. Scene from the Confessional
27. Five Prose Poems
28. Lines to Set the Imagination Adrift
Her Bible was a crown of thorns,
Her prayer debarred a mate,
She never saw the beast with horns
Who piped away her fate.
Her beauty blossomed like a tree
Whose fruit for man was ripe,
But, though she hankered after me,
She couldn't hear him pipe.
The Cross she bore was never raised,
The flesh was never torn,
And though of God she always praised,
Proud Pan would tap a horn.
He tapped the louder when, one day,
A lady's man passed near.
Oh God, with beauty plucked away,
No favours did she hear!
Instead she heard the pipes of Pan,
And though she blocked her ears
She knew her lover was no man,
The piper kissed her tears.
SONG OF THE VICAR'S DAUGHTER
My father is a vicar,
A vicar's toast is he.
He chain-smokes like a trooper,
But gives his love to me.
With Sunday worship on his plate,
A prayer book on the stand,
He staggers to the pulpit
On legs that need a hand.
Then down behind the lectern,
To help his sermon soar,
He tucks away the whisky
That keeps his throat from sore,
As "Praise the Lord for His good gifts
To mortals here below,"
Booms forth upon those ruddy lips
Where cherished blessings glow!
If I were to run to the ends of the earth,
Escape the place where love was blind,
An image of you would stay in my mind,
Regret would make war on mirth.
If I were to laugh until, on bended knee,
I cut my ears and let them bleed
Or throw to the winds all the things I need,
You'd still be around to haunt me.
If I, on request, were to slave for gold,
Recapture health in wine and bowl,
Then sell for a profit my body and soul,
Your face would stay young while mine grows old.
THE LOVERS' DREAM
Let us go to peaceful places
Far away from city dope,
Let us seek the distant faces,
Lands and climes that feed our hope.
Discontent contracts our jaws
As the day fades into night.
Where will we be when its laws
Change from darkness into light?
What respect is good advice
If boredom be the judge?
What sane man would sacrifice
His freedom for a grudge?
If in time we are together,
Travelling through the day,
If in time we share each other,
Love will find a way.
Give back, my love, that fleshy bowl
That I may fill it up
With lovers' dreams, fresh from the soul,
And drink its body wine.
Do not withhold, sweet sister, please,
I grant that you are fine.
When we have drunk and rest at ease
We shall refill the cup.
Tomorrow brings another rage,
Another lonely hell
Whose sadness you must camouflage
With educated skill,
Or act the part of happiness,
Who laughs and drinks her fill,
Not be derided by the stress
Of what your senses tell.
The gift of love cannot be bought
With worldly goods alone.
The food of love cannot be sought
By dreaming overmuch.
In short, love is a sacred thing,
As pure as sight or touch,
And when it comes, sweet sister, sing
Its praises in the bone.
In you perfection has its place
Among the treasures of your worth
Where, smiling, you alone could trace
Exquisite thoughts back to their birth,
And cast a glance on mirrored face
Reflecting beauty, joy, and mirth.
You spoke of places far away
Where temples "range in lunacy",
And though 'twould be unwise to say
That you had been their ecstasy,
That spirits spread along the way
Had praised your feet's supremacy,
I can't help feeling that your grace
Improves each building where you tread,
And that, if beauty shows its face
When fastened to your lovely head,
The only sense these lines can trace
Is one that leads to love instead.
As night deports the uncouth day's satire
And sets a spark of romance to my breast,
An image of the one whom I think best
Begins to kindle flames of my desire.
Her voice is sweeter than the sweetest lyre,
No music soothes the heart as well as she,
No potion grants a better fantasy
Than she who stirs my heart into a fire.
And yet 'tis only dream! I must be fool
To waste away in selfish thought. What tear
Could bring us close again, what tool
Could carve her shape and make appear
That priceless smile, what wish could give it breath,
And die each night a sweeter death?
TO A PAINTING
If miracles were my domain,
Dear lady of the Plastic Muse,
Your charms would know still better use,
They wouldn't stay long there in vain!
When painting gave you form, some years
Ago, it framed your soul in strife.
I only wish it'd given you life,
That sound could reach inside your ears.
For who would think that blindness hides
Behind those brilliant eyes, that sight,
In fact, was never there, when tides
Of hope flow-in upon my mind ...
To ebb as doubt that I could find
A beauty such as yours tonight?
Sky as far as the eye can see,
For which, says he, some poetry,
A rhyme, perhaps, to mystery,
Like birds fly free of misery.
It seems a shame though, clouding sky
With thoughts of birds who glide and fly,
With words on which to hang a lie
Or dream myself into a sigh.
I'd rather rest in love's sweet charms,
Far from delusion's fearful harms,
Wound tight about with tireless arms
To save me from those maddening qualms.
A pretty girl I called to mind,
The fairest thing that I could find,
Because the world had turned to pain
As night and sleep came on again.
Her face had come to mind before,
Her body much attraction bore,
But whilst I stripped her clothes away,
I sought in vain to make her stay.
Then as her image disappeared
And mind's conventions interfered,
I heard a voice exclaim: "How long
Before the real thing comes along!"
THE UNIVERSAL SONG OF LIFE
The universal song of life the Universe began,
Whose forms and feelings, unrefined,
Were soon bequeathed to man,
With ample scope, nay utter need,
To instigate a plan,
And bring about a sense of rule
Whereby the gods could ban
All those who sinned and misbehaved
Or failed to bear the can.
SONG OF THE LONESOME DRIFTER
His mind was like a furnace
And his legs were like a stoke.
Were dying for a poke.
With bias in the gutter
Few streets were hard to scorn.
The past was dead to reason,
The future still unborn.
"The present, that's what matters,
The present, aye!" coughed he.
"I'll have some pretty lady
To pass the time with me.
I'll not be out-of-spirits
When I find the one I need.
I'll not look so downtrodden
When I pump her with my seed.
She'll know she's got a friend
When she looks me in the eye.
I've known these streets too thoroughly
To settle for a lie.
'You'll have to learn the hard way',
They told me with a grin.
I've learnt my lesson truly,
On that I'll swear to gin!
With danger as my master
I've trod the dusty road,
And no poor fool can flatter me
Or lie about the load."
So saying he sauntered onwards
The streets were made for walking,
Of that he knew too well!
The air was turning colder,
The light was growing dim,
The crowds were spilling out from work,
But they cold-shouldered him.
The moon was shining faintly
Through some overhanging cloud.
He stood and watched it shimmer,
Transfixed and not so proud.
THEY TAKE THE LETTERS
They take the letters that he wrote
And offer them for sale.
Significant of what they quote,
The words disclose a tale.
The letters sell, the auctions tell,
The buyers swiftly give.
No shame can haunt the poet's dell,
The poet doesn't live.
And moralizing can't avail,
Nor sentiment deceive.
These words outlived a heart's travail
And now seem make-believe.
Yet when the letters have been sold,
And nothing's left to tell,
Will thoughts arise on dreams of gold -
"Let's sell his bones as well"?
Old Ezra Pound has gone to ground
And left his many songs around.
When years have gathered on his mound
See if a better poet be found.
See if, where sense and sound abound,
You can surpass old Ezra Pound.
Of all the poems poets write,
Regardless if they're wrong or right,
The ones that jar my mind the most
Are those which of their talents boast.
That intellect should choose to brag
Is seldom other than a drag.
With academic scholarship
Such poets give my soul the pip.
I'd like to ask them: "How succeed
With poems so difficult to read
That people turn to other things,
Preferring what their message brings?"
Indeed, the more they strive to fake
The less poor mortal minds can take
Until, with tower on a hill,
They find their sales are almost nil.
Yet even those whose pompous tones
Near shakes the marrow in your bones
Would seem to need the kiss of death,
To take away such foul breath.
Those authors whose deformities
Dictate their dour tones,
Whose place and attitude in life
Is mirrored in their bones.
Take those whose crippled limbs
Prevent them having fun,
Who rant and rave hysterically
Because they cannot run.
And what of those devoid of charm
Whose actions bear no grace.
Do people point in company,
Embarrassing each face?
Would ugliness suggest to some
That they should not be seen?
Indeed, if women shied away
They'd have good cause for spleen.
And even those of doubtful sex
Who play with their own kind,
They signify, if with regret,
A weirder turn-of-mind.
In truth, one sees how thoughts arise
In harmony with fate.
If equal justice ruled the world,
The world would have less hate.
To play the game,
Not take the blame
Appears to me
And not immoderate.
But though I tried,
My conscience's desire,
I often found
My neighbours bound
To all but their attire.
Should make things clear enough.
But I was wrong
To hope so long
When they were out to bluff.
Perhaps they thought
That I was fraught
With fear, not to complain,
And with respect,
I sought their trust in vain.
Thus with regret,
And much upset,
Their walls and doors I plied,
While, much surprised,
And grudgingly complied.
Was soon to cease
When habit reappeared.
For with their din
They raged again
As though I'd disappeared.
"Enough!" thought I,
"I'll have to buy
And hope no thief
Brings further grief
Into this status quo."
But that's the earth,
That larger hearth
Where armouries are sown.
His neighbour's reach,
Each land defends its own.
Incensed by incense beyond a blue room,
The nightingale flees from the thrush with a spoon,
While her mate weaves patterns of twigs on a loom
Where three silver-clad dancers stare hard at the moon.
No angels softly spin this song
Except to beautify a verse
Or grant a wing of magic to its theme.
No censers gently swing this way
Except where thought is lulled to sleep
Upon a bed of perfumed smoke.
No sermon fires these pensive words
Except when indignation's roused
By moth-worn thought's effective fuse.
No sins are boasted on this page
Except where Art is better served
By proud confessions in its name.
I ENTER SONG
I enter song and hang my cares
Upon a peg of soft delights
Where chalice spills the silken wine.
Against the locks of some fair maid
I fain would lay my head
And sniff the perfume, soft the skin,
Till morning rustles through the leaves
To plant its kiss upon our sleep
And wake us, like a charming prince.
Such a captivating smile (almost sincere)
To greet me with in the morning,
That my interest in her
Was aroused, beyond the fearful,
To a point of hope.
But that smile soon died in me,
Became soggy, like a damp sponge,
And granted me (unintentionally)
A deeper understanding
On the subject of human ingenuity.
Inviolate, the poisons lay over
The loose land of their obstructions
Where, destroying, they erected
A monument to death.
Now graveyard flowers bloom
Where hostile shells
Exploded in the mud,
And Death dispersed its cruel tyranny!
"His manner was most pleasing
And his appearance thoroughly
Commendable," they said.
"Thanks be to the gods!"
No such flattering comment, however,
Was accorded to the other contestant
Who, in the judges' view, had
"Traces of that coarseness
Not acceptable in these competitions,"
Or, as one wit later put it,
"The mire of the world
Hanging from around his neck."
This life's uncouthness wrenches from my soul
The thoughts embittered taste must spew.
As the candle flickers,
So my heart melts with feeling for you,
O burning goddess,
Radiant symbol of my night!
SCENE FROM THE CONFESSIONAL
You come here too often, Jimmy.
You're a sinner, Jimmy.
Does she keep making you come, Jimmy?
All the time, Father.
What luck! Tell me, why doesn't she come, too?
She does, Father.
Without my permission?
She doesn't think she needs it, Father.
Really? Then I'm afraid she's sadly mistaken.
You mean, she's sinning?
We're all sinners, Jimmy.
Even you, Father?
Even me, Jimmy.
That's no concern of yours!
So when is it due?
About to arrive, my son!
Er, it isn't, Father.
What d'you mean "it isn't"?
We've just had it.
Congratulations! Boy or girl?
Are you stupid, Jimmy?
Then what is it? Confess!
I can't, Father.
Why not, my son?
There's nothing to confess.
Forgive me for asking, Jimmy, but is she on the pill?
She is, Father.
FIVE PROSE POEMS
The Poet at a Party
Glasses of sparkling wine flickering in the party lights, their warm glow a charm to nervous hearts. Fear of ostracism provokes the casual frivolity typifying conversation as we exchange dream-like utterances. Cigarettes are passports to complicity, mais je ne fume pas.
Across the room lone wolves stalk their prey with apparent nonchalance. Some go in for the kill, others, evidently unimpressed by potential victims, sit aloof devising masks to conceal their frustration. Meanwhile music is clearly the protagonist of things. The initial exuberance having slowly subsided, everything now gravitates to the flood of sound drowning empty spaces. This is now our raison d'être, a transient justification for our continuing participation, a dispersion of this gathering's unpremeditated mishaps.
The Poet and His Solitude
You live in and of the city, an isolated being in a wilderness of concrete and glass. Casual encounters accentuate rather than diminish your sense of superfluity. Tentative arrangements become an exaggerated imposition, a hypocritical step towards sociability, a leap in the dark.
Somewhere, someone is lonely because you are lonely, cut off by chance and circumstance from that which you seek, that which you dream of every day, that which only a simpleton or a lunatic would deem superfluous in the quest for personal satisfaction. This city is a strange affair devoid of affection, a deceptive maze impregnated with the stamp of contemporary society, a miracle of perversity!
The Poet and His Spleen
This superficiality throttles me! The crowd has engendered a stultifying coercion to lie, has placed fatuity at its centre and consolidated its borders with hypocrisy, has knocked honesty from its precarious perch, replacing it with a society that reiterates seemly behaviour with the inanity of an insane parrot.
I have often felt compelled to discard those proud, egocentric gestures for something more candid, less theatrical, harder to beguile. I would rather people knew me as I am ... than as a caricature of society, a parody of docility in the ring of custom!
The Poet and His Love
She was the seductive oasis in which my cares sought to drown themselves, a mirage of love in a desert of boredom, a promise of delight in an Occidental hell. In her I sensed my genesis, the lure of desire. She unveiled me from behind a cloak of indifference, brought me face-to-face with myself, and then left me to rot in the turbulent wake of her swift departure.
So I demanded her love, the love she had brought upon me without requital. I cursed fate for having given her to someone else, for having taken her away when I most needed her. All men became potential enemies, all women - iconoclasts!
From the depths of sadness I grew anew, a brother to sorrow. I courted loneliness through the darkest streets, the most pedestrian pavements, the loudest days, the bleakest nights, and shared my shattered dreams with her. Nowhere was dangerous enough, nowhere the promise of consolation. But I pieced my heart together with obdurate pride and, focusing on other things, it slowly mended.
Now I am well enough to resume my former life, oblivious of love's enticements.
The Poet on a Street
This gigantic city has engendered oppressions far in excess of those numbered among the largest towns. Where are the women to soften our hearts? Have they grown hard themselves? Are they too busy to be worth looking at? Have they been swept into the gutter of their sex-starved imaginations? Or are they strewn with the debris of solitude, where the only scavenger is a mad psychiatrist who butchers brains with the aid of a mirror, asks questions which have no rational answers, and plays ludo with his equally demented nephew, the leader of a social club?
The babies wail, the children wail, the sirens wail, the workers wail, the bosses wail, the students wail, the cinemas wail, even a madman, half-sober and a quarter-lucid, laughs himself blue in the face for the sake of a few coins and casual wails!
Disaster strikes strikers in the guise of mounted police. Dogs scramble for safety, cats climb trees, and pigeons scatter. A bus, red and ugly, spews its raw contents onto a street that disappears below ground at the metro. A storm builds up, rain falls. Umbrellas open like giant mushrooms to ward off this necessary blow. No good! Fierce winds slant them across the clothes of their bearers.
But what's this - a man endeavouring to sell religious pamphlets in this infernal place? Good God, the people don't want them, they've had enough!
Darkness falls as the nebulous curtain on another city day.
LINES TO SET THE IMAGINATION ADRIFT
To wax philosophical and produce a Camus for Madame Toussauds.
He lost his balance and slid into insanity.
"This is a double-barrelled repeater," he said, "which I have tactfully named 'The Parrot'."
In one of my dreams I was a sleepwalker.
When we northerners set sail, we set sail to the south.
A swarm of people around an empty beehive.
Drunkenness abated, he staggered to his senses.
The "Tap-Dancers' Concerto" was recently played, in the key of blunt imagination, to a full house of chimps on Mars. All box-office records were broken and duly scattered throughout the Solar System.
To be buoyed-up, like a cork, on a current of enlightenment, and safely borne across a sea of tempestuous creativity - such is the raft every artist craves.
The seahorse, or hippocampus, is a kind of small fish that lives on plankton. The horse, a solid-hoofed quadruped, is a large mammal that lives on oats.
The sea lion lives on the land, but the lion does not live in the water.
An artist with the genius to execute a painting entitled "Capital Punishment".
A train of thought speeding through a small tunnel in the mind.
The monk's habits habitually came to grief in the presence of his habit.
We call it a rainbow because the sun's rays have fashioned from the rain an arch of prismatic colours which miraculously resembles an arrowless bow.
Her body was the magnet of my desire.
Nebular clusters on the sun-bleached sands of
We pitched our tents towards the enemy's camp.
As an unmarried mother who disapproved of abortion, she anathematized her lover's pudenda and subsequently gave birth to a eunuch.
They pay homage to the ruins of a former civilization, like mourners around a grave.
During the night the lovers, lying side-by-side, dreamed that they were making love. In the morning, the man informed the woman that he had 'taken her' in his sleep.
"Oh that," he said, referring to the overly hyperbolical assertion of a nearby cinema advertisement, "that is merely the stigma of inimical criteria!"
The composer was obliged to atone for his atonal music.
She became an iconoclast after breaking my heart.
Political asylums for demented politicians.
Had his madness not been so useful to society, he would most certainly have been classified insane!
The living dead bear flowers to their former lives in graves beneath a sombre sky. The flowers die, the dead live on.
In order to get aboard the bus, we had to jump the queue.
"Less of your cheek and more of your lips!" he retorted to his new girlfriend.
We lost track of love way back in the labyrinth of our pride.
After the clouds have stopped crying, I shall be obliged to wipe their tears from my spectacle lenses.
We sent each other large letters through the post, and subsequently discovered that the total number received duly added-up to each-other's names.
The fish was cured, but the cat was doctored.
He is a man sadly addicted to temperance.
Her iris is like a small, calm sea which surrounds the
We wade through a stream of traffic.
In his spare time the circus employee, whose task it was to tame wild cats, amused himself by making tame cats wild.
He dreamed that the local fire station had burnt down while the local police station was being burgled.
Smote by terrible passions, the wounded hug their tormentors like angry bears.
LONDON 1973–5 (Revised 2011)