THE PRESBYTERIAN

The interviewer asked if you had laughed.
You said that, once, you had.
How well I know that laugh.
A purged cry, sterile as fire,
A primordial bellow of the joyless Just:
Your bark makes mothers weep, a child’s face charcoal
It’s thunder to fill the wards with those you’ve maimed.

They quenched you, like a brazier, as
They brought you to a more ascetic Faith.
But I have smelt the heat of inner flames
Trumpets of brass, blaring as though possessed,
To break loose of your frame, the prison of
Dim consciousness: bullish, preoccupied, vile,
Don’t draw me in; I’ll play my own
Fool, dogged and futile.
Make good your debts on someone else, not me.

Look at you, for a change: you, Preacher Man,
You and yours –
Your kindergarten of poisoned old minds
Whose laughter should be richest of them all -
But who, instead, sally forth: riding
A caustic tide of bile
Corroding distant shores
For their Imaginary Friend.
You thief of sense – subverting apt delights
Not reaping them. Usurping, rather, without end,
The better to rejoice in dread and shame:
The better to atone, what cannot be repaid.

I haven’t seen your Messiah laugh.
Better for him to be close to death, although a shade
Morbid, given the brevity of his expedition.
(So short! They always are.)
But no; sanctity may admit
Only the most ostentatious of defeats.
To venture close admits our scrutiny
- And we might not even like the joke.

At first I thought, How poor you make us look,
We, who choke on the convolutions of humanity.
We, whose only alibi is a threadbare conscience,
We, whose story never will come straight.
But then I knew: how mean and squalid is this god,
How much his littlest creatures could teach him.
“The world is a fine place, worth fighting for…”
St Anthony, do not presume to preach.

You make a strange marriage, you two:
Callow youth and imminent extinction,
Intertwined like graveyard ivy
Gilding unreason’s chasm with
Your ready-metalled words
Dragging by the hair, the sooner that it might end
The music of our one, bright day:
So keen to chafe our gentle lusts
You make Enchantment into dust.

June 2001 Stephen Jackson

THE PRESBYTERIAN

Stephen Jackson

London, United Kingdom

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    Notes
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Artist's Description

The seed for the poem was when a leading North Irish politician, at the time of the Troubles, was interviewed on national radio. Had he ever laughed? the interviewer asked, innocently. Oh yes, he replied, the once: he’d absolutely roared.

Artwork Comments

  • Suzanne German
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