By ANDREW JORDAN.
I SING THIS lament to mark the way that they might come back.
Although there seems to be no chance of restoration, this country
in being lost is known directly, not through the melancholy remnants
of the past, nor through songs and evocations, but in these last days,
where borders, buckled by storms, dissolve in shades that come
to let us know that whilst we persist, what we had is lost.
Guarded on the seaward side by an earthen bank, the steadings
and the fields. A cold blue lid containing the day within which
we picked potatoes into the dusk, insignificant figures working
the flat expanse. To show the force of images: my lord on the
threshold with a torch as I returned for the issue of a coin, for
products, institutions, rights; for liberties, once emblematic of the
state, as yet uncompromised; his light upon my face as I walked.
Just back from the colonies, they found a country in ruins,
imperial ports desolate, cities derelict. Bewildered warriors lament
force retreating into the past. The last of the speculators have
said their farewells and various pretenders, taking what they could,
have gone. When God has departed and the church is left,
the past, gold-bright, gleaming in splendour, becomes a living
thing once more and the presences referred to, which had
previously informed that continuity, are present again.
In the reception centre refugees sign for wealth, indicate permits,
recount lost hoards, plunder. They say they seek fixed benefits,
bonuses, a house not too far from the underworld. The speculator,
recounting his vision, mentioned risks internalised, a path down
into a deep unstable trough; the occult seer saw volatility, hedged
futures, lost holdings, the darkness engulfing Cornwall and Gaul.
We watched the traffic slow to a halt. Money faltered. A false coinage
is no true reminder, the image hangs loose on its hinges.
In Saxon genealogies the father and son were paired. The latter
an echo of the former. Hroðmund and Hryp. Cerdic and Cynric.
The son no more than a counterpart, “to authenticate by repetition.”
Shadowy in fact, that unknown figure, his features blurred by an act
of turning. The child occluded. Forced by the father to pursue
that fate he fought against, saw friends die for; afterwards he sought
his mother, finding then how his being might be erased by hers.
We saw, near Ipswich, the beaked frigate leaning on the barge
from which Edmund—descended from Erpenwald, descended
from Caesar and Woden—in stately progress surveyed the coast
of his kingdom, going from the Wash to Orford Ness, past
the rusted tankers, seeing the tips of the mounds at Sutton Hoo.
Losing what they’d known and looking for the core of it, they
went out through Stratford, on to Romford and beyond, with each
migration staged as a pageant lost within the metaphor it raised.
They set to work building fires in the field maple, recreating scenes
from autumn, atmospheres. They watched you run outside to play
in a mythic space contrived of lights within which Yule could still
raise his cup of mead regardless and the congregation, although
dwindling, still sing. They promised ruddy fruits, the kingdom
on earth as it was before, renewed by their more vigourous belief,
the folces cwen Diana rising triumphant from the ruin of the car.
On the bus to Thetford, a baby with encephalitis bounces on its
mother’s lap, hopefully attempting to engage with those who,
preferring to look away, glance out at fields and farmsteads passing by.
For this darkness, a boar upon the ritual helm. It peered out of the ark.
Outside Lackford, an imposing earthwork where, upon waking,
I felt that my head had grown vast; a great tumour on the earth;
a puffball placed upon the grave into which youths, for Hallowe’en,
had carved eyes and a mouth; I see how it regards me in the gloom,
the force of its smile coinciding with a sunburst in the world outside.
Ilford, Romford, Brentwood. Argent a cross gules;
banners, royal badges. The ruins bypassed in antiquity.
He looked silver in the fog, my schucke of the little fort;
hearth post, the defences restored, an English queen enthroned
once more; along the A12, as per US bases
in the war, at intervals, one every eight miles.
To arbitrate dissonance, that other Godric gone behind the shield wall;
now, behold, where levies formed up in the discrepancy between
the rich men’s sons who ran away and their heroic stand; a poem
to distinguish a nation. Between fact and legend, Byrhtnoð maþelode,
bord hafenode | Byrhtnoth made a speech within which we contend.
Coding difference and similarity, the poem extends automatic systems
in the brain; so what might be reconciled between those who survived,
and what they lost, and the traitors who did not look back to those days
when everything, located in the future, shone, and the foe as yet had
left unoccupied unguarded ground where I had been and I belong?
Mars as ever Mars must be; beyond shame, the warrior silent for years,
unresolved, his thoughts given as goods through passions imposed—
for the losses of gay kynges heaped, dishonoured pale, modern politics
within which poets variously comply, their material adjusted to please;
and all for a thumbs up on Facebook! The gentleman raised his shield
at Massacres Direct and signed up for the full experience as I, dithering,
gave up my rights for there are many Hamlets in this village and each
prince, compromised, must these long winters pass the gelding in the field.
When I looked from the train, cranes rising from inside the stadium
appeared to hold it above the world; an object lifted from within.
The world writ small in a narrative, Olympian or Imperial, is suspended
within the one abyss that we, unequally, all share. And so her Majesty,
impersonating the Crown, enacts her namesake on the royal barge.
In white with a silver breastplate, her helmet on a cushion born
by a page, she rides her grey gelding through scenes allegorical,
o’erpicturing foreign tyranny with an image lifted from The Faerie Queene.
Chased wives might turn, a weapon in their hand, fierce where we
see fancy outwork nature, to hold them back, that would in error fall.
In days of old they said she first ascended, in skirts of lead, with
grey crystals of lead formate folded and corroded about her throat.
Head tilted. “And her lips were dusted with white powder.”
The widow of the conquered king rising on unsteady feet to haul her
body back into the brilliance of my words; a pool of light
through which she comes to me for the ordeal of the long walk
back toward the grave; the dead cow suckling its calf; the spectre,
sensed as formidable, appalled by what we have done to the past.
Playing at the edge of a creek, her legs neatly stockinged in
black mud, her face caked in that muck, the others like tar babies,
and this couture a parody of my glamours: I heard them arguing
outside, the animals in the compound releasing their odours,
and I touched myself and they called her from the water’s edge
saying look at the state of you and all the time within
her hand the slate blue-black mussel clamped shut.
When the police arrived I merged with the bushes and watched
the archaic constable who, upon climbing from his car, grew larger
as if some libidinous god had entered him. He embodied the fertility
figured in his sex as he laboured up the path and I, the shadow
of Dame Nature, dark within the wood, remarked how bright Hector
beneath Illium had never looked so good. I saw you pause to scratch
your head, your flat cap in your hand. The conscious I standing close
to the Id and looking vulnerable. Father, where forces without names
form paths, authority—knowing only victims and witnesses
as sources—itself is modified by what it seeks to name and seize.
Elmham: The material and mechanical forces of the poem
form in structures at once felt and then revealed,
these might translate via mathematics into some other form.
The past, illuminated in manuscripts denoting powers
the mighty once endorsed, was forced by beauty through the
forms of things; in those days it worked at such intensity
that men mutated, uttered leaves from their mouths,
and women became trees—thus were all things given meaning.
In yielding to my form I saw how the father had prepared for
my ascent into matters since identified with him, his mode
of standing. In Beowulf the lady extends the power of her lord.
Pater Europæ, I reached through his gesture, the morning adding
lustre to that movement, the clamour of armour giving form to what
hides within; and Mars alighting upon the mere stood blushing
before my love, the small points of his rays tipped with vermillion.
In Elmet or Lindsey, where time adorns the bankrupt kings,
the warriors who kept their lords for the worship
and the gifts they gave lie crouched beyond the oppidum,
on hilltop and ridge, with their beakers and their pins.
Leaving the mouth, a tendril curls on the lip; rooted in
what life once lacked my flesh holds the certainty of the depth
and efficacy that streamed, at evening, through the open window.
Beauty will not force a way through me, but I can still
describe its absences, knowing loveliness by the crude
lines of my face and tenderness by my rough hand.
I shelter in this place, graven in black stone, my hand
always close to my mouth; my dog captured in
its turning to a movement quite close by. Loyal and true,
he turns his head to snarl at those who come to look
where I lie, long since forgotten, in this vast futurity.
Andrew Jordan‘s recent poetry books include Ha Ha and Hegemonick (Shearsman, 2007 and 2012 respectively) and Bonehead’s Utopia (Smokestack 2011). He edits the very occasional magazine 10th Muse and keeps aspirational creatives and faux radicals at bay with the theory and practice of nonism. Further details can be found here: nonism.org.uk/jordan.html