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Bedford, United Kingdom
A Reading group that combines the joy of reading with adaptations of books in various media; film, theatre, radio plays etc. Our reading material: the classics, science fiction, crime, literature, non-fiction - in short from Asimov to Zola and everything between. We meet every 2 weeks (flexible depending on groups availability), discussing the current read while reading it. We talk about the book and bring to the discussion supplementary material relevant to the author and/or story or period. Our aim is to lift the words off the page to enjoy and experience the author’s creation in a multitude of ways.

Friday 25 January 2013

More Poetry from the "Dreamer of Dune"

A poem by Frank Herbert - not from Dune but fun none-the-less:

First published in Mars, We Love You Edited by Jane Hipolito & Willis E. McNelly (Doubleday, 1971)

Carthage: Reflections of a Martian

Thy expected alien
Am I,
Weird of shade
And doomfire face:
All thy senses
Cry to my
Mourning mysteries
Which yesterday
Were commonplace.

We sit at Sunday breakfast
And I smell the dust of Carthage,
It drowns the spang
Of our automatic toaster.

That strange woman across from me
Smiles, butters two slices
Her smile arouses a multitude in me!
Her smile . . .
Frightens us.

I must look away!
Out the window beside my arm,.
Sunglow warms a brick walk,
Grass, a tree, a planting of forsythia.
It is spring.
In the spring . . .
The earth is covered with dust.

Thy alien surprise
Hides beneath a gentle mask.
The melting death lime
Covers all this woman’s yesterdays.
Where was she when the Martian came
And looked out through my eyes
Into this breakfastnook?

I sit at Sunday breakfast,
Sharing space and time
With a strange woman in a housecoat/
My trembling hands rustle the front page.
She smoothes Prince Valiant,
Not looking up.
I grow aware her hair’s
Englazed . . .
From a spraycan!
Our terror solidifies this alien world.
I long for the button to push:
One long hissssss
And this englazed moment
Will be rendered tame, smooth, harmless.

My kind walked among Greeks and Romans.
We’ve been aliens here before, you know.
Taught the Romans arts and letters.
And, I recall,
Taught them other things before their fall:
The joys of little boys
And a way to breed bureaucracy onto itself.
Parthenogenesis, it’s called—
From the Roman.
It spawns a durable kine
Which weathers inevitable decline.

Sunday breakfast
Smoothes eggs across my tongue.
I taste the clay of fate,
Which is only just and spittle.
My mind aches from reading
A little late in the night.
I’ve read many books,
But last night, the subject
Was de la Molle,
Who exposed the shambles of Carthage.

En passant:
You archeologist of a time
When I’m dustier than Carthage—
When you lift gently at fused green glass
And expose this breakfastbnook,
To which translation will you attribute
Your ideas about conditions here—
Our mores, habits, artifacts?
About this toaster, now,
From which she takes two more—
A collector of ancient gossip
Will need sensitive ears
To hear the scratch of a knife
Buttering toast.

Conversation at Sunday breakfast
In the presence of loud sunlight on forsythia,
Flowers echoing in the corners of our eyes—
She: “What’re the headlines today?”
Crystal flowers dissolve, shattered by that bright yellow noise.
Alien: “Ahhh, another crisis in the East.”
She: “Must you bring the war to breakfast?”
Alien: “You asked.”
She: “Well, you know it upsets me.”
Hear how the platitudes tumble the toast crumbs from her mouth?
She says: “One consolation; this time, you won’t have to go, my dear.”
Ahhh, she thinks it’s me, answering.
And I was always kind.
Martians aren’t really kind.
But we often display patience,
Often mistaken for kindness.
Her smile, exposing lipstick’d incisors,
Demands a bloody answer—
But she gets quiet patience, instead,
And splashes words against such annoyance:
“Anyway, I don’t think it‘ll come to war . . .do you?”

Martian anger cannot be explained.
Alien vocal chords within my throat
Play a subtle tympany:
“Are you through with the funnies?”
Difficillimum est inimicos amare.
It’s difficult, to love enemies.
Ira est causa belli.
Anger the cause of war?
Is it now?
Always before
I thought it was the poor
Punishing the poor.

A wind speaks to the forsythia:
Busybody petals!
Hawking your seeds for tomorrow!
Can’t you understand?
Nobody’s listening.

En passant:
No doubt M. de la Molle
Uncovered friends of mine,
Their dust inextricably mingled
With some who wouldn’t listen.
Why am I singled out, then,
For this alien role—
A wind ignored one more time?

The wind;
Shout me bureaucrats and bullyboys!
Howl with crime and the fall into darkness!
As translated from the Martian.
We’ve seen it all before, you know.
Carthage, Assyria. .
Israel before the fright of flaming bush
And angry Moses.
“You are servants unto me! Not servants unto servants!”
God! What a voice from the storm that was!
But they didn’t hear it in Knossos
Or Heliopolis.
And all through the long night of Rome,
The wind blew silently, full of ancient angers.
From the Inquisitional Jesuits
To laughing, stamping Hitler—
The wind could not be heard
Above the knouts and fires
And rampaging genitals
And official reports in quintuplicate.
Shout me official reports in quintuplicate!
Scream filing cabinets!
Howl thin, important, inflammable paper!
Si peccamus, puniemur.
If you sin, you will be punished.
Turn your back when the wind blows.
When exceptions multiply on the storm,
Agree that times are different.
A turned-back hides much.
What shames this time?
The usual.

Anything can be ignored . . .
If it’s too upsetting.

“That book you read so late last night-would I like it?”
I speak with the voice of de la Molle:
“Archeology.  It’s pretty dry.”
“I thought you’d never turn off the light.”
“Sorry if I . . .”
“Was it really that interesting?”
“It was about Carthage . . . the infant bones in the  temple pottery.”
“All that morbid, gruesome stuff!”
“They held a lottery, you know.”
“A lottery, to choose the ones they threw into Baal Ammon’s jaws.”
“I shudder sometimes at the things which interest you!”
“It was just their religion.”
“To sacrifice children?”
“In the fiery furnace.  Look it up in the Bible.”

Her strange red lips encompass a bite of toast.
Teeth crunch and she swallows.
“I don’t see why you read such things.”

I must turn away and stare out the window.
How brightly the thin young tree
Dances beside the brick walk,
Singing to forsythia,
A song which says:
“Flowers cannot read.”

Sunday breakfast peppered with Carthaginian dust!
I wonder what you’ll think
When you stir this breakfastnook
And find a toaster gone to rust?
Ahhhh, the shocking interpretations
Which will arise from things touched by us!


Time-intoxicated Sunday—
Dirty mounds of clouds drip ticks and tocks.
My morning sun, outglared by thunderheads,
Has fled the afternoon.
This day, an alien awoke in me.
He sits now in the artificial gloom,
In the skimmed-milk glimmer
Of a cathode livingroom.
We attend a face which booms through
The universal electronic view.
It’s Pinocchio education Pinocchios.
A Martin can see the strings, you know.
He’s lecturing on economics,
And that strange female in this house
Pronounces this ‘cultural and elevating.”
What a sad little two-dimensional creature, Pinocchio.
Puts me in mind of Cato,
Whose barracks voice echoed in the Senate:
“Ceterum censeo Carthaginems delendem esse.”
As for the rest, I believe Carthage should be destroyed!
What a windy little bastard he was!
But he know his economics—
A full credit balance in triremes
And interest-bearing Legionnaires.
Between then and now,
Banks note little change in men’s affairs.
One rocket in its nest
Is worth tow in the air.

Pinocchio didn’t do his homework.
Listen to him, Cato!
Damn’ fool!
He should’ve gone to school the way we did,
Hart-crouched, fearful,
Knowing what lurks out there beyond the fireflicker
They call civilization.
Times our own pulses sounded like tom-toms:
All those driving rhythms—
Carrier waves and harmonics
And harmonics on harmonics.
Poor slob of a Pinocchio!
He’s masked all those clues
In his properly discredited mysteries—
Calls them all astrology.

He should become like the clam—
Listening with his guts
For the passage of sun and moon and planets.
He’d know then when to rise and when to sink
When to bull and when to bear.
Even a willow bends before a gale,
Stupid little bastard Pinocchio!

Speak me the interest paid on those who seek
Their own kind the way a skipped rock touches a lake.
What do the rock and the lake share?
Pinocchio, I am your alien lake!
We have death in common and little else.
You lie about your manhood when that’s not at stake.
You’re always half-clothed in your furtive sex,
Forever hiding awareness of your mortality
‘in Sunday morning’s barbiturituals.
All warnings have one exceptions.
Is basic economics.

You have forgotten, Pinocchio,
That Babylonian lingua franca
Served its merchant would for two thousand years
Before Jesus.
There’s economics for you—
Gods, commerce and bureaucracy!
They endure, but you pass away, Pinocchio.
There is no interest-bearing Valhalla,
If we read gods deputy correctly. . .
As translated from the Martian.

Graeci et Romni plures deos habent.
But eternal flames were known to sear a careless virgin.
And you could always hear some foolishness in Minerva’s wisdom.
Ahhhh, Pinocchio,
Hidden in your Trinity you’ve just as great a pantheon,
And just as many careless virgins.
You’ve merely anglicized the names.
I remember rose garlands dripping blood petals
On Diana’s altar.
And the God, Ea, creator of all thins,
Possessor of unsearchable wisdom!
He’s the one who struck fear into captive Jews.
But Ea was Sumerian, not naturalized
And certainly uncircumcised.

Assur becomes Merodach.
And O’Brien comes out of Spain with a new name: Obreon.
Phoenician Astarte is Ashtaroth.
And Ishtar, moongoddess of Assyria,
Enters Athens as Artemis.
Who’s to blame a goddess of fertility
For changing her middle name?
If you can’t pronounce Czamokofsky,
Make it Arno.
In some flame-lighted night,
She who comforted nomad sheepherders
Has been seen
On a movie screen.
The name of the game is faces.

Before roman ways etched their deltas
In the mind,
There were things the bowels knew
Which no brain could comprehend.
Knowledge flared to music of bowstrings,
Warcries and whimpers
And kite-shadowed silences.
I cannot forget a fair Gutian slave,
Coffled and herded into Babylon
In the time of Cabyses.
She was an Egyptian woman,
Taken with her child,
The spoil of the bow to be sacrificed
Before Nin-Girsu, who blessed commerce and litigation.
It was a simple economic equation:
Armies equal slavery and death.
The sum is greater than its parts.

Leave your screen, Pinocchio.
Make way for a better instructor—
Assur-nasir-apli, cruelest of the cruel,
Whose reign began with patricide.
I saw him yesterday, alive,
Striding across Rockefeller Plaza.
Genes remain, Pinocchio . . .
Timeless, carried in a spilling river
Of tadpole-sperm:
Omen tablets, the germ of yesterday,
Resurrecting bodies out of Babylon.
I see mighty Ur in a dirty village
Called Muqayyar.

Pause for station identification:
That woman!
Advertising spray to extinguish body odor—
That’s the daughter of Kallima-Sin
Given in marriage to Amenophis III!
And that was three thousand five hundred years ago,
The way Pinocchio reackons time.
Commericial, sans the blessing of Nin-Girsu:
Now playing at the Roxy—
A man who’s really King Cyrus,
The one, you remember,
Who preferred archeology to a throne?

Tiglath-Pileser is not gone.
Sargon marches yet in Babylon—
Through Ishtar Gate,
Along Procession Street,
With Sennacherib,
Shalmaneser, Isem-Dagan
And Sin-sarra-iskun,
Whose walls were breached
By the Tigiris flood.
They remember yet in Birs-Nimrud.

But when their names tangle the tongue,
The unpronounceable
Is unpronounced.

And now, back to our program:
Pinocchio, professor emeritus
Of someplace whose name will change,
Given time—
Your familiar face,
With its long, pretentious nose
Overhanging cold lips—
You’ve forgotten, but your genes have not.
Beyond blood exists that world pulse,
Sine-pounding timewave:
Compelling blacksnake ripples
Whip across generations,
Generating a surfboard rider!
Does he feel a lift and thrust
Stronger than the sea?

That long breaker crashing white upon the coast—
What but a wavelet-harmonic,
Measured by the Martian scale!
Clams and stockmarket respond,
Counting sunspots and electrical charges
In the common air.
We Martians breathe out skipped rocks—
Where they touch, eons condense.

I bring you this message from our sponsor:
Start with Sheba’s time
(She whose camel-station metropolis
Withstood Aelius Gallus,
But now, like Carthage, is reduced
To jetty walls of crumbled mud)
And count forward, hurling aside
The dustspume from every sandwave,
Count forward to this micro-instant
Of comprehension:
In all that time, there have been
The same gods and the same long rhythms
Booming out the centuries.

You’ve timed your breathing, Pinocchio,
And sunspot cycles,
And that fifty-one-year slackdrum
Throbbing in your economics.
You’ve heard the music.
Why haven’t you learned the dance?

All that rhy-thm!
All that rhy-thm!
Clap your hands and stamp your feet,
Let your fingers feel that beat.
Workday trafdfic pumps along;
Listen to that bloodflow song.
And gee . . .
And haw.

Consider the artery of a country road.
Its diastaltic morningpulse
And systoic nightpulse.
Put your finger just so—there.
Feel it?
Now, over here—
Light, color!
How swift the fibrillation
Of a kerosene lantern!
Rhythms, rhythms—
Moon equals menstruation,
Sex . . .
Feel the erection/detumescence
In clouds an rain.
Sense the pulse of birth-death.
In the season of the winds,
There are wars and wars and wars . . .

From those moods conditioned by the chemistry
Ebbing and flowing in an ampiotic sea,
Pinocchio vaguely senses
A peristaltic barroom-boom-boom.
Yet, when he looks upward
At variable stars and spinning galaxies,
At comets and eclipses,
He fails to recognize
That he’s a bivalve on the tide-edge of the universe.

You must recall that I’m a Martian.
Which is vastly different in space and time
From Denubians and the people of Al Minhar.
We do not come as far to make our cruel observations.
I have my distant moods though,
When your history collapses,
And I forget—
Not the day—
Not the year—
But the age!
Which eon is this?
That sad little man on circus-video
Blends all together with Censorius Cato!
Old Marcus Porcius himself!
Which newsreel is this
With Roman words tumbnling
From a familiar, fat-lipped mouth?
“I say bury them before they bury us!”
And all around him I can see
Ghosts of Carthaginian judges.
”Rome!  That confederacy of barbarians!
They claim they invented the trireme!”
My Martian brain throbs with an effort of translation.
I say: “Listen to him! Cato knows!  He was our ambassador.”

Economics lecture;
I marked the day when romans taught
Their lesson of tens built on tens.
Ten cohorts equal a legion.
Behind each silver eagle march
Five thousand foot and three hundred cavalry.
As Cato remarked at the time:
“Fear kings whose slaves are crafty,”
Simple figuring which can be traced
To a script passed along by the Phoenicians.
Commerce requires more than mumbling,
That was, you know, a time of accounting.
End of lecture.
If I’d only had a camera,
Even eight millimeter with sound,
Anything to record those two kings of Carthage
As they looked around them from Citadel-Byrsa.
How they smiled at Corthon, their inner harbor.
It was a beautiful view—
Two hundred and five warships there,
Safely sheltered while their crews enjoyed shoreleave.

Convey duty can be a thankless job!
The merchantmen unloading in the outer bay,
Now, they had it easy and earned more pay.
What a day that was!
If I‘d only had a camera,
Anything to show you that familiar scene.

I get time-drunk just thinking about it.
Take that guy Cato.
Before you can understand him,
You have to realize he’s very religious.
He won’t admit, of course,
That he shares his gods with Greece—
Those gawdamn’ perverts!
Still, I’ve heard him say many times:
“Proper sacrifice and right thinking—
The gods reward such behavior with victory.”

Let me tell you about one day
In the Senate caucus room—
Old Marcus Porcius was vetoing
A Triumph . .  I think it was for Nobilio.
Yes, Nobilio.  Now, I recall.
Gods, what a voice old Marcus had!
“Nobilio indulges his troops!
He keeps poets in his camp!
And literary types . . .
If you ask me, Nobilio’s as fruity as a Greek orchard!”
That was Marcus for you—
Old straight-arrow himself,
Really up tight—
Always recounting his victory at Thermopylae.
A plain, conservative Republican,
Dead set against Greek luxuries.
He was a strict Roman
And with morals like your maiden aunt.
You should’ve heard old Marcus
Carrying on about Manilius!
And all because poor Manilius

Kissed his own wife in broad daylight,
Right out there in front of god and everybody,
Including one of his own daughters!
“Immoral, by Jove!”
Just for that, Manilius lost Cato’s vote
And, with it, command of the Fourth Legion.
Old Marcus put it just as bluntly as he could:
“I didn’t earn my surname Censorius
By being soft and decadent!”

Yes, that was old Marcus Porcius Cato—
Patriotic, courageous, arrogant, avaricious, revengeful.
He was a legionnaire, through and through.
See him there in your cathode-arena:
“Carthage must be destroyed!”
As translated from the Martian,
I have to remember who I am
And when.
It’s awfully easy to mix up two thousand years,
Just one hig kaleidoscopic blur,
Confuses me all to hell!
That bald peasant with stainless steel teeth
Could be old Censorius in the flesh,
A Sabine farmer schooled in earthy frugality . . .
Or that earlier one, Shirmirab uhhh, whatsisname?
Minerva help me! I’ve forgotten all my Akkadian!
It’s a damn’ silly situation
For a Martian to have to go to bed
In a split-level suburban
Which sold originally for twenty-one-five.
If I told you what the taxes are on this place
You’d pass out cold from the shock.
No wonder I have trouble getting to sleep.
The night drags itself across my bed.
Through a pulse of stale perfume.
What a fragile room this is,
Where expectancy in every light I see
Is a winkflare into burning darkness.

Did I lock the garage?
I should’ve told George
To have that Eaton report ready by noon.
This night congests my Martian soul
With drumsounds—
That infinite past!
And I have no book at last
In which to hide my mind’
M.de la Molle!
You and your damned infant bones
In the temple pottery!
I’m through with you,
But you’re not through with me.
I want to slam a fist into eternity!
What new monsters lurk on another page?
Whose windy rage must I record for next eon’s episode?
Martian sounds in my hidden voice
Fall silently on emptiness . . .
And somebody’s left a TV on with a late-late movie.
If that damned Aelius Gallus had only taken the siege engines
With him the way I told him to!

You know what catches on my sleepless Martin memory?
A troop of Boy Scouts breaking step across a bridge.
The wrong rhythm could bring the whole structure crashing down,
And ruined Nazis straggling through ruined Munich—
Haunted eyes that I get all tangled up
With Hannibals men,
Leaving their elephants and running . . .

I remember a great financier at his table.
This man, mind you, helped frame atomic policy.
But I recall him at a garden-party luncheon
In some western valley-never mind where.
Around him in the cool shade
Sat crafty Democrats and republicans . . .
“Fear kings whose slaves are crafty.”
This time, I had a camera and a voice on tape.
How like a kindly father our financier appears.
Listen to the recording:
“FDR’s big mistake was listening to Keynes.”
(He means old John Maynard, Lord Tilton)
“We’ll pay the economic consequences
Of listening to the spellbinder of Bretton Woods!”
(That’s a veiled pun on one of Loard Tilton’s ealy writings)

In the way such luncheons go,
You can hear the sound of crockery and a string orchestra . . .
Faintly, faintly-playing something from Rose Marie.
But it could just as well be
The slap of sandals
And Censouius  deploring the cost of keeping foreign legions,
Or delivering a tirade against Greek advisers . . .

Outside these luncheon pleasantries,
You can see the servants gliding by
With delicacies: honey-dates and burnt cream.
The waiters ear white uniforms and black pointed shoes
Which pinch their toes—
You can hear one often complaining to a friend:
“Damn’ shoes cost me sixteen bucks!
Oughta fit better’n this!”

Do they really hear?
You see them standing near
While the great sit at table.
A kitchen door opens creaklingly,
Green leaves go slither among the potted palms.
The waiter comes and conversation hesitates,
Poised above the dishes . . .
The host, a gnome with angry face,
Whispers to his companion:
“Put it in chemicals.  Not really a gamble, of course—
The world situation being what it is.”

And the white-coated, obsequious, attendant-waiter
Murmurs to the financier:
“The fishcakes are very good, sir.”
Is it any wonder I can’t sleep?
This damn bedroom smells of salt!
History collapsing all around my Martian soul.
If I open the window, I’ll smell the wind off Carthagae.
You know, right there above that citadel,
We layered on the salt, sterilizing the place.
By order of the Commander, the citadel got an extra toes—
“To be covered with salt to the thickness of a foot soldier’s toe!”
How about that?
Me, Private Flavius, one-time batman to Nobilio,
They call me out and have me hold my foot there
To get the proper thickness.
Took my sandal off and, Minerva pity me!
That sand was hot enough to feel right through
My marching callouses.
And you know what I was thinking?
About the booty, and a kind of vengeful joy
That we’d killed two more kings,
Destroyed two more palaces.
And underneath my thoughts, I suppose,
Lay that deep-soft-breath reflection
Any soldier knows:
                     I’ve lived through another one.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this poem - 10 out of ten. Moon Traveller