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Fair.

By MARTIN THOM.1

… And what would Hone and Cruikshank do
With this dismal heartless crew?
And Shelley from the Deep returned
To walk again in poetry
What would Shelley find to say
Of Murder met with on his way?
Eldon, Sidmouth, Castlereagh
Are gone into that endless night
Their vice and virtue all forgot
Save in Shelley’s Jeremiad
– Which from Jeremy I had
And not by FedEx out of Riyadh –
But Anarchy, the Skeleton
Still works the bellows and the drone
And the keys are rattling still
On the instrument of Hell.
Chill music of the proxy wars
Is denied a published score
Lest we see that flying notes
Are infant heads on Murder’s floor.
The Arms Fair prospers yet, and Rudd
Has curtained off a mire of blood
Which the Few, the Good, the Great
In ermine gowns may contemplate.
….Through the rust of Lowestoft
Through canyon and container lot
By salt decision at the quay
There runs the line of enmity
Dividing dies, nox and so
Friend in absolute from foe
Now Fallon and the grinning Fox
Courier ethics to the Docks
And virtue’s mask to tyranny
To puppet, marionette, fantoche
Taser, manacle and cosh
By Cayman brass-plate devilry
While end providers near and far
Ride the ghost train DLR
The DLR, Prince Regent stop
Alight for ExCeL London where
To countenance the altering
In happenstance of distant souls
Robustness in criteria
Strict licensing of ordinance
Leave mortalizers in a trance
As by Darién too they dance
Through Gatun buccaneerier
And Panamax the cheerier
At a margin of collateral
Harm to school or hospital
In a hell-sent British shell.
….This Fox will dip and doff his hat
To despot and to autocrat
And Fallon on the red eye try
For global trading on the fly
With each defended nation state
Despite the UN, Amnesty
And innocents who turn and flee
The raptor or the UAV.
Crestfalls thus from blighted fields
Claw their way to crown-post shields
Where they bluster, crow and bray
In a chamber bright with stars
And with a reddled bough of law
Lopped from Sana’a’s tree to tally
The round of cruelty and folly
That they gainsay.
….Eldon, Sidmouth, Castlereagh
Are in the stocks that Shelley made
And in the cuts that Cruikshank drew
Rotten fruit that outrage threw
Turn to emblems on the page.
The house that Hone built is no more
Yet Shelley to this coast restored
From the ardent sands we number
In our stanzas and our days
What would Shelley find to say
Of Murder met with on his way?
….Beyond the Privy Council hall
And its barred and bolted door
There sits a weaver in the darkness
Far from tenterground and market
Who must sigh in sadness till
Rivers dry and cease to run
And all the rocks melt in the sun
So do not harien her and hector
The watches of the night to fill
She weaves a rug for Manchester
For the ryots of Bengal
For Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbeck
Or Afghan, where the Helmand shines
And high above its silver line
Glittering and serpentine
Above the juis and karez
Chinook, Lynx, Apache turn
Their fearsome blades against the sun
And bring to earth poor Noah’s dove
From its beak an olive grove
Where first love flowers in the shade
First love flowers, the crickets call
Deep indigo, you weavers all
The bludgeon-men are at the door
The Nilbidroha scratched and scored
In the annals of the poor
In Bengal, for ever more.
….By Mantova cradled Virgil heard
The Mincio murmur constantly
And through its waves the saving words
Claudite jam rivos, pueri
As in Murcia, terraced Sana’a
A fair division of the rains
To switch the certain, watered fields
By lowering of the pinioned wood
In ratios of the public good
To stem the apocalyptic flood.
….Hours of darkness thus disproved
The yeomanry by dream removed
From the field of Peterloo
The weaver constant in her chamber
Must unstitch by dawn and dew
Rags the ragged sort for hue
The shreds and patches nightly shared
With painter poet Baudelaire
Fife, drum, banner, cobblestone
The flowing wine, the fallen sun
The lamp of the chiffonnier
That glows when all the sorting’s done.
As the Perseids in August
From the heights rain down their spears
The Gunners, Hammers, Glovers, Hatters
Linnets and Canaries run
In rayon, lycra, polyester
Sparkling to their kingdom come
Until Aquariids in May
Above the frieze and the array
Must rinse the sainted names away
From Oxfam shirts that Homer folds
Eyeless in Rhodes and counting four
Beats to the Aegean floor
Passing now from reef and breaker
To the last soterian shore
The children of the sea in gladness
The children who are never more.
….That fair weaver in dismay
In her dismay, and candle douted
When at last she bows her head
To dream of dinghy and of raft
Of life ring, flare and landing craft
Is woken with a sigh and start
By Erzsébet from Bucharest
Who washes down the corridors
With mop, tin pail and slow hajnali
A lamentation of the dawn
From Erith to Trafalgar borne
In night’s bright ferry of the poor
The bleary, misted N89.
Weary and so far from home
Erzsébet from Kalotaszeg
From Bucharest and now alone
‘Bújdosik az árva wadár
Sminden ország szélén leszáll’
Forgive me for my Magyar’s rusty2
József Attila I cannot follow
As that stricken lad his mother
To the washboard and the copper
The watercourse, the slate and lichen
Where nice agreements of the air
In short and long to heart are taken
By lip and tongue, by battledore.
….Yet dawn and truth are at the window
And will unpin the common things
Dawn and truth are stepping in
To gently rouse their words so trust me
Erzsébet from Kalotaszeg
Sings about an orphan bird
That wanders lost through all the world
And on the edge of every land
She softly sings as she discovers
At the flowering hedgerow loom
The weaver in her sleeping room
Who woken and unwoven strews
On seven seas her deepest blues
And with cyanometer in hand
Or steel banjo for constancy
She offers to the candid frost
The candid frost, the ice and snow
And to the sands that stretch away
Red figure vases on the quay
And natal amphoras.
….Shelley with his Pindar stands
And stamps his foot in ancient lands
As to fate unreconciled
With ictus and with ostrakon
The weaver sings a ballad wild
From Cecil Sharp or Francis Child
Echoing down the common meadow
And rising to the common sky
She plucks for day that steel banjo
In the shadow of the Fair
While within the royal fold
In corporeal or spirit form
The guarded Privy Councillors
Read amazed the Great Report
Some in coat of scarlet red
And some in a titanium shroud
Cut a notch in Sana’a’s bough
And wonder at the House of Saud
Or would wonder as they read
And the branch of sorrow bled
Did not Hypocrisy and Fraud
With raven flows of jet black ink
That name into obsidian sink.
….Shelley in a wingèd chair
— He will not stand for King or Lord —
Reads the words that are not there
So too the armaments that are
And with a frenzied mind to collar
A lion or tiger of the state
He apprehends a bloodstained dollar
Floating through the tainted air
And not the Few, the Good, the Great
Who have sidled to the gate.
‘Abandon hope all you who enter’,
Carved the wrathful Florentine
On stone for stones to stand and ponder
Profit, loss and fearful screams
Yet now at the revolving door
Of BAE, they spin and spin
Like whirling seeds of sycamore
That in dragonnades prepare
The covenanted understory
To nihilate the basal spores.
….With intimations of The Hague
At the foot of every page
The Few, the Good, the Great
Hot-desking in the murderous air
Profess in aim a greater care
Than is known, well, anywhere
Outside of Cranwell in the fen
And Royal Air Force Waddington
Where Lincoln meets the Danish shore
Or Cranfield MK43.
….Yet in the Kingdom of the Sands
Within the House we dare not name
The devil dust, when captains err,
Brings mayhem to the mortal screen
So infant hope, pale despair
In a second are not there
And in Hate’s train, the Masque of War,
There marches silent cholera
With scythe and drip and staring eyes
And mottled famine on parade
With the orphans it has made
A spectre fallen into line
Its ribs as keen as carving knives
Its belly but a hollow drum
Its scapula a passerine
Wing folded in, and flight forgotten
Forgotten too the earth at dawn
The sweetly drifting light of morning
That gilds the wadi and the ghayl
The lifted veil.
….It is bead and it is button
It is brightness from the air
Tears God’s parchment like a stone
A puff, a flame, a name is gone
And in the pit of blasted rubble
The ashes of ius gentium.
I think of the heroic strand
And in her kindness, Nausicaa;
The clearing in the ancient forest
Thinned by Romans in their awe
For refuge and divinity;
I think of Malik two years old
Airlifted from the lethal zone
And jubilant at the birth of words
Dancing with a fork and trowel
Sovereign to the bindweed flowers
The lucus with its plough and altar
In second nature free from War
I think of Sana’a the Protected,
Of haram, hawtah and Hijrah
And then consider Fairouz silent
And the raybanned headphoned hawk-men
The denizens of glass and chrome
Dispensing with a high hand harm
The eyes and heart of love by fate then
Of a sudden judged and burned
The face and limbs of love to chalk then
In a fiery instant turned
To chalk and blood and nothing known.
The silver of the night’s first breeze
Is ashen cold to those who grieve
And cannot sail
With the oud, in reverie
Oum Kalsoum no longer heard
‘The Date Stone House Game’ is mislaid
‘The Fig is Ripe, O Crow’ not played.
….Shelley from his wingèd chair
Records old lamentation there
On the Cylinder of the Just
In crystal air
As mothers mourn in broken squares
Of cities far beyond the counting
The desaparecidos of the Fair that
Syllables may not restore.
So Shelley then in harsh disdain
For nitre and the flaming art
Shakes his hat, a Bolivar
At the moon and at the stars
And lost to mortal sight once more
Is gone into the sulphurous rain.


Martin Thom is the author of Ceremonial Devices (Many Press, 1976); The Bloodshed, the Shaking House (the x press, 1977); 19 Songs (the x press, 1980); and Republics, Nations and Tribes (Verso, 1995).
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For a copy of the printed edition of this poem, e-mail Ewan Smith, or contact the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL, +44(0)20 7269 9030. The pamphlet, which is published by infernal methods, costs £5 and includes some additional graphic material.
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NOTES.
  1. Drafted in the late summer of 2017, as preparations for the DSEI Arms Fair were under way at ExCel London, in London Docklands, this poem is concerned with the war waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, British arms sales to the Saudis, along with the training of military personnel, and with the humanitarian catastrophe suffered by the Yemeni population. Both Sir Michael Fallon, then Minister of Defence, and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, gave speeches at the Arms Fair. On 12 July, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, issued a written statement to Parliament announcing that a long-awaited report on the funding of domestic extremism would not after all be published but could be consulted by Privy Councillors.
  2. The lines in Hungarian (roughly translated below) derive from a hajnali or ‘dawn song’ from the Kalotaszeg region of Transylvania, as recorded by Ökrös, Kalotaszegi mulató énekek [The Blues at Dawn], ABT 001, Budapest 1996.

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