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Midrash.

By ALAN WALL.

Part One.

1

Having no son
I knew I must sacrifice him.

Otherwise be condemned to take
leaf by leaf
the Hebrew scripture
into my mouth
and chew
till all was ashes
wormwood digested
masticated pap.
Without even the heavenly manna
of mango chutney
to add piquancy
to this mess of pottage
they’ll call for ever now my genealogy.

In the midst of heaven
stands a stone psalm
jagged as a shark’s mouth
when only teeth remain.
Here you will find
lingua adamica
no alibis
no sugar
no Valentine.

Every sacred word is salt.

Text is teeth and
what teeth chew.
Text the eating and the eaten.

The Lord devours his own
dark words
without a single one returning.

Selah.

2

Isaac Luria of Safed
crouched in the tiny synagogue
half a millennium back
comtemplating tzimtzum.

The owner of the tetragram
(blessed be His Holy Name)
did not construct creation
methodically fastidiously
as a Mesopotamian subcontractor might have done.

He took the biggest breath inwards
ever recorded
contracted His absolute immensity
by the merest fraction
and thereby ejected
this mighty catastrophe of space and time.

We perch above the whirlwind
a man on a surfboard
atop a fifty-storey wave
leaning
balancing
toppling.

Sun came pouring through a grimy window then.

Isaac swallowed it.

3

Kabbalah rebukes Noah:
so glibly setting to work on his Ark
hunting out gopher wood then splicing it
as clinkers for that mighty hull.

Telling his wife and sons to get to work
on so many al fresco meals to come
up there on deck amidst the breakers
while he’d grimace in his yolky sou’wester
hunting true north on a salt-eyed compass
eugenically selecting the prettiest pairs
out of his farmyard menagerie.

Why not argue
as Abraham argued on the road to Sodom?
Ten good men are surely worth a city, Lord.

Instead Noah sailed off to his sinless future
where amnesia and viniculture both awaited him
leaving Yahweh to ponder:

For five chapters (short ones too)
He’d invented
made things up daily
employing a creator’s whimsy –

land water light dark
stars planets good evil
Adam, his offspring
cities, their darkening alleys
creeks bayous post-partum depression –

Come Chapter Six of His own creation
one last invention
to bestow upon his children:
genocide.

How the future beckons.

Then as an afterthought:
a rainbow.

4

In Aleppo Safed Smyrna
women shriek themselves to prophecy
uttering pregnant paroxysms
automating verses of a curious beauty.

Sabbatai Zevi.

A fresh Messiah for a tired earth
a vision proliferating
orgies from Amsterdam to Cairo.

His third wife fornicated
all the way through Europe
always achieving glory
on her one-night stands.

All this was part of the plan.
For those from the Pale
nothing was now
beyond the pale.
If Pan is no more than an inch from panic
Venus is never too far from her mount.
Stars shine naked tonight
having shed
every accoutrement of decency and myth.
Even scripture slips its silky garments.
Shekhinah naked struts her stuff.

In great style our man arrived in Istanbul
announced himself Messiah
to the Caliphate.

One Turk smiled his cryptic eminence and recommended:
either bend the knee to Allah
and Mohammed his prophet
or be tortured to death
on a manifold of sharpened devices
slowly.

Zevi donned the fez.

Dialectics once more
sharpening its blades.

Between tzimtzum and tikkun
catastrophe’s exordium
and restitution
the breaking of the vessels
lets light force out at speed through fractures
by which at last we read
renewed
these first few words of Genesis
promised scripture
of our days.

5

Apostasy to Islam:
now there’s a turn-up for the books.
But be fair:
it was that or dying slowly
over blades and flames
and Torah should be uttered
never screamed.

In any case
his third wife had been so wildly
promiscuous
(ecumenical, she’d have said)
so why not Truth, her sister?

6

The rich sold up and gave it all away. Anything to egg on time towards its terminus, and call it a day. Yes, they made mistakes: the cottonwool blizzards, waterproof rain, the vegan butcher whose shop was always empty. But the Messiah was here among us, the sacred and profane had once more joined hands. If only to start arm-wrestling. A time to empty the bottle; dance naked in the dawn. Encounter finale’s melody, and join in.

7

Brothers at Qumran
fleeing the Gentiles
their profanations
also the Jews
profaned by gentile profanations
till even water in the bowl
without requisite blessings and curses
was profaned.

Wash yourself
you grow a little dirtier.

8

Apocalypse got started
every time you cut
into a fresh légume.
A carrot pregnant with revolution
as Cézanne had predicted.

Each door marked Exodus
every woman’s belly
Genesis
Torah printed in coloured inks
on your bicep tattooes.

Standing so long hungry
before revelation
you made a meal of it at last.

Apocalypse domesticated
like your cat.

Messiahs went down in history:
clay pigeons at a weekend shoot.

9

In the Wunderkammer of Emperor Rudolf
close by his palace in Prague
amidst the rotting carcasses of kraken
forty feet in diameter
several mermaid wombs
dehydrated beyond impregnation
hung the skeleton of an angel
fallen mysteriously out of use
on a mission somewhere between paradise and earth
not made of bone exactly
but an unknown silky white substance
that shone so luminously
(lux and lumen both)
whenever lamps coughed
candles guttered.

10

When Yahweh created Adam
He gave him thirty years
intestines full of masticated food
fingernails filed down
memories divinely implanted
(we all need a past
for the present to lean on.
Otherwise our life is bound to fall for ever
through eternal darkness.)

Without all this the first man would have died
even in Eden.

Rousseau insisted we are all of us born free
who sent all five of his children
down to the foundling hospital
where they could assess the virtues of equality
out of earshot of our man
busy scribbling liberation texts.

11

Midnight.

An appellation of the Holy.

When accuser angels
finish their inquisition
pursued throughout dark hours.

David would rise now and sing
knowing judgment had been accomplished.

Punishment blades all sheathed
at last
at least till day and its hard light
come round again.

Part Two.

1

My shadow ran away from me last night.

I couldn’t catch it
even with the speed a dream affords.

That’s Lurianic Kabbalah
freezing the primal scene
a scriptural encounter
horns in a tangled hedge of meaning.

Isaac sighs
Abraham sighs
text sighs.

An exhalation lifts up from the page.

Returns at dawn, that shadow
sieved free of darkness
invisible now to any but an adept’s eye
pellucid as a parable
whispered once by candlelight
recounted later through a microphone at noon.

2.

The Lord saw the shadow in Sara’s womb.

His gaze made it fecund.

Sara felt darkness grow inside her.

Shadow grew and grew
though she had long since
passed the time of women.
Abraham looked on in silence and wonder.

When the shadow reached its term
it laughed once on the threshold and was born.

His name was Isaac.

3

A mystic is the product of the world’s insanity. Who must interpret the cryptic text of himself over and over against extinction. A mystic is a live fish in a septic tank. The liquid in the tank is history; and he must learn to thrive on poison. The way Gregor Samsa wakes each day only to loathe the cockroach he’s become, his perceptions sharpening by the second.

Gematria: mathematics of linguistic revelation
linguistics of mathematical delight.

Each time a Kabbalist
coughs
a beautiful equation
discrediting Paradise
formulates a singularity.

Each blank sheet
announces our nativity.
The empty page
an arctic circle
a polar bear’s blizzard of words:
untranslatable.

Law to its victims appears
obscure excessive
for it thrives in darkness
like amorous entanglement
oneiric promiscuity
and rats.

A single raven cancels heaven
when heaven is defined thus:
the absence of any raven.

4

Step out of your shadow
into flame.

Each shadow a compass needle
quivering towards true north.

Its memory grown longer
as day declines.

Reaching back at last into the cave
daubs on the wall
first flames conjuring
their dancing shadows.

Between shadow and flame
a royal progress has been made.

5

In the first days of creation
light was so pure
Adam could see from one side of Eden
to the other.

Eden was everywhere then.

After the Fall
light was hidden away.
Talmudists say He slipped it
like spots of time
into the Torah.

Kabbalah was manufactured as an information manual
for finding that occulted light
its menses and its seasons.

I spent an hour or two
with my next-door neighbour
hunting through fragments of hidden brightness.

Later that evening he looked up
at the print on his living room wall:
Alma-Tadema’s Tepidarium.

Saw instead an auroch from Lascaux.

A better painting, he admitted.

6

When Jacob looked into his head
one day
he saw a modernist interior
geometric designs
so splashed with light
that every deed he’d ever done
displayed itself
an illuminated carcass in an abattoir.

Leah whom he’d mated
without love
Rachel whom he’d waited for so long
love almost drained itself of hope.

A father who mistook him
a mother who contrived
a blind old man’s mistake.

And a brother so brutish with affection
mind slow as a clunking farmhouse clock
spirit sluggish as his hands and blades were swift
cheating him of his birthright
turned the rest of your life
into one sour taste
no pottage no venison ragout
no charred holocaust however tasty
could ever erase.

And still they call me Israel.

7

Like Jacob I am an untidy dreamer.
He left the doors of darkness open
so angels could come in and out
always ready for a wrestle.
Some climbed mighty ladders
to clean heaven’s windows.

Last night I covered
every stone in Westminster Abbey
with foul papers.
When the Palace cohort arrived
ready for their coronation I asked if
maybe
they might choose another venue
while I finished off my drafts.

I woke at dawn to gaze on
sheets pillow duvet on the floor
all lying askew.
For how long now
have I been shivering?

8

Johannes de Silentio
(on other days Søren Kierkegaard)
argued in his dialectical lyric
how faith begins where reasoning ends.

A faith so lethal
it could kill your son.

The shadow grown
miraculously
in Sara’s withered womb
that fond old man’s now ordered to return
to shadow.

Imagine being told to
murder laughter
especially when it’s your own boy
smiling up at you.

For I who give life
shall take it too.

Selah.

You have no language
strong enough to contradict me.
Still we venerate
this muttering dotard
on his way to slaughter his beloved son.

Because a voice inside his head
he believes is not his own
ordains it thus.
These days we’d section him
calculate the cocktail of medications required.
Speak kindly during intervals
nod gently
promise a further visit soon.

Still he stood there
knife in hand
faggots and fire at the ready.

Isaac: the name means he who laughs.

He wasn’t laughing then.

And never laughed again except uneasily
thereafter.

9

The chronicle of matter is catastrophe.
Explosions chaos bifurcations
settling down at last to entropy
a sea of torpor
lit by a dead moon
to no known purpose.

So the pathology of matter
primes up as a riot of atoms
while the party lasts.

Revelation happens to the unredeemed
often as they sleep
before those sounds start up again outside.

Ah, the warring languages in Babel
Hebrew Aramaic Greek
Gaelic Polish Esperanto
squabbling for terms
out there on the scaffolding:
Clio’s first stab
at urban construction
a skyscraper
built askew
by warring parties in a civil war.
Next time, she thinks
I might try Pisa.

Or Xanadu.

Part Three.

1

He had come to this door as a dutiful believer, with respect for the Law, as a man might go to Mecca or Jerusalem once in a lifetime. To show the world that for him at least belief is not a toy, or a fashion accessory to hang around the neck and glitter. And here he had stayed ever since, never gaining entry, though catching glimpses once or twice of the shadowy world behind that door. The attendant had grown used to him; they would complain laughingly together about the cold. Right at the end, when he knew he was dying, he asked how come, since this was the door to the Law, no one else had ever arrived before it. The attendant explained that this door was for him alone. ‘You could not gain entry, of course. The few sights you had of what is behind me here were a portal at least on to your life’s great goal. But you could never have come through. Even these few inches between us would take you an eternity to cross. I see that your eyes are closing now, so I will close this door for ever, my task at last completed.’

2

By the terebinths of Mamre we welcomed three visitors
one the disguised creator
able to make a dead womb laugh.

Sara soon withdrew her laughter
out of fear.

A heaven-probing ziggurat
provoked His wrath a few chapters back
and made Him fracture language.

Now we live inside these
endless shards.
The vessels have been broken.

Light leaks everywhere
milk
sluiced from an astral bottle.

Afterwards, speaking a language
I’d not heard for years
she summoned me to bed

according to His command.
Thus did I impregnate the old woman
so belatedly
with Isaac’s seed.

3

Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin agreed:
between Lurianic Kabbalah and
Jetztzeit
canonic writing found its singularity
in Franz Kafka
who wrote as if propounding laws
in a world no longer able
to contain a single one of them.

Canonic writer for an age with no canon.

Such writing makes all newspapers
antique, your neighbour Palaeolithic
as he gazes at the cave art on his walls
through wallpaper patterns.

Each day you rise
yawn
wind up the clock towards eternity.

No man plays with light
without a consequence
for darkness is enseamed within it.

‘To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’
Thus Isaac Newton, who unriddled
a prism’s way with light
unmarried the colours
so entwined they’d merged
in every other eye on earth.

4

Jacob limped away at dawn
inventing asymmetry that morning.

Wrestling an angel all night
carries a price.

As anyone in Soho can tell you
payment is always required.

5

When tradition becomes
a mortician’s cosmetic device
no more than cryogenic maintenance

you must set out to find life anew
in grogshops shebeens
dusty roadside taverns

loud with disreputable drinkers carolling.
Each miscreant here knows he is outside the Law
if only by inches.

6

Where tradition is a grave
filled with mechanics
sharpening their instruments

a man takes care
choosing his words.

Every word betrays you
as Josef K discovers in Der Prozess.

Even the word you never utter
betrays you.

Demonstrates your
reluctance to fill accusing silences
with justifying sounds.

7

Last night I swallowed
the enigma of myself.

My mind’s entire digestive tract
grew luminous.

Torches to guide me through
the present’s midnight.

Every thought a glow worm
glimmering.

8

How zealous Kafka’s characters become
always striving to embody
their profession

even that of cockroach
hunger artist vanishing
or sometime executioner

on the Law’s behalf.
K becomes chief hermeneut
in a world now undecodable.

The midrash
on a
vanished text.

9

Time is your enemy
not its myriad creatures.

Time set its heart
on translating you to preterite.

The past tense
past sense.

Most of us (if anyone’s still counting)
dead already.

10

Present tense the only tense
worth the candle. Any candle.

Even as it gutters.

Is swallows was: life.
Was swallows is: love itself
turns antiquarian.

Leaves nothing
but the romance of the calendar.

We ring the ancient dates
like planets
orbiting a dead star.

11

That early terrorist the fox
slashes the throat of any
words soft-feathered in the snow.

They’d do well to hold their tongues
when dawn wind’s out for blood
and a hill’s white linen

craves roses for its punctuation marks.
Snow bleeds, clots
hunting its paradigm.

12

When the cult of reason
turns irrational
you need Goya to paint the result

in the black room
where he grew deaf
listening to human monsters.

13

A problem. How reconcile the holy text of Genesis with modern cosmology, which we now know to be true? Hebrew scripture being canonical. Well, God makes everything in six days before signing off for the Sabbath. But look hard at the words. A day. How long is that? How measure that? The orbit of one heavenly body in relation to another. In the first three days, before He sets lights in the skies, a day was any length the creator chose it to be. Yom is the word in Hebrew. Before those lights started twinkling yom could be lengthy indeed. 13.8 billion years perhaps.

Midrash.

14

In fashioning text
we fashion ourselves.

Become the text of life we’ve written.

Every loss sustained
since Genesis
transcribed in dictionaries
drama
the breath-taking
lineation of our verse.

Even in dreams
we text ourselves
weaving the words through darkness.

At funerals
we punctuate
our time on earth.
Some use a colon:
others a full stop.

Brave indeed the man
who leaves the final line unclosed…

Part Four.

Lingua Adamica.

1

All night long he’s been up
leaning against the fierce heat
of the alchemist’s oven
cooking darkness for breakfast.

Chanting incantations
words that fell from Eden to the grimoire
sacred locutions
gleaned by adepts
half-blind from squinnying at the moon.

Utter the original name.
Nature must bow to your bidding.
No one countermands the primal tongue.
This at least all Rosicrucians understood.

A man who eats darkness
becomes it.
Abolishes daylight with sleep
as sunlight is swallowed
by the dark silk hood
an axeman wears.
Life screens itself
in black and white
centuries before the Lumière Brothers
repeat the operation.

2

A second before the Big Bang
don’t say there was nothing.
Nothing as concrete as that.

Creation unwound
on Ariadne’s bobbin
back to the mute substantive
hulk of her brother.

Sometimes she thinks
her brother’s howls in the night
became night’s language
a lingua tenebrarum
Hugo Ball Zürich 1916 –
Rhinocerossola hopsamen
Bluku terullala blaulala looooo
originary syllables of darkness
till day arrived
a bright metal sun
strapped to a young assassin’s arm.

How she adored him.

A minotaur lies slaughtered
the labyrinth around him
disappears stone by stone.
A whole language
occults itself into the code of Linear B
no eye will diagnose for centuries.

While I compile
these numbered scholia for scrutiny.

3

This language separated
us from animals.
lingua Adamica
made deer birds crocodiles
turn away in terror

once they’d heard thunder ripping
over the gnosis tree.

See Wodwo step back to the forest
leaving his dictionary on the greensward.

Enkidu covered with hair
in the dominion of beasts
until she shaves him, the temple prostitute
he’s lain with three days now
sent from Uruk by Gilgamesh.
Never again will he hear those creatures speak.

Any more than Adam
once the filament between earth and heaven
fractures
will ever call them by
their primal name
to see them skipping or lumbering
so eirenically towards him.

4

Adam and Eve had no choice in the matter:
they chose one another or no one.

It was Eve or an ibis
a hedgehog a sloth
all friendly enough at this stage
accommodating in that happy garden climate.

But not a patch on Eve.

Who had been cloned
out of Adam’s heartside
where desire
proved stronger than the Law.

5

In the medium aevum
so they said
a child left to his own devices
unspoken to for years
would find for himself
the lingua Adamica
utter those immaculate Hebrew syllables
first names of every animal fish tree in Eden.

When such a one came out of the forest
in Aveyron
after the Revolution
he spoke not
that primal tongue
unless our forefather
uttered forth his being in parrotings and howls
there in the hortus conclusus
where he invented sin.

Entangled in verdant breezes
invisible if labyrinthine.

6

Prophets recount
the long divorce of my affections
from these creatures I invented.
Miscreants upstarts lonely sailors.
Part of my bemusement:
the scale of things.
Only needed one cool blue planet
a single star to warm it
maybe a pale moon to tell the fellows:
time for bed.

But that single heave of my breath
inward
tzimtzum
next thing you know
a universe the size of this one
flaming and howling in all directions.
Originally at the speed of light.
(Café Voltaire in riot mode –
minotaurs welcome.)
Could not keep count
(I who invented counting
shaping a single letter
aleph
that engrossed each number yet to come.
Now there’s economy of notation.)
So many heavenly bodies, their itineraries.

Some stuff so dark it’s still invisible.
Didn’t even know it was inside me.

Settle down to compose a haiku
over a glass of wine
rise from the table
War and Peace in a mountainous ms. before you.
Not even written in Hebrew but Russian
As unknown then as quantum mechanics.
Or cosmology.

Imagine.

Even a god can be taken by surprise.
I was.

Didn’t even concentrate long enough
to centre Eden.
Bull’s eye?
Hardly.

Billions of miles out of whack.

The Lord of Asymmetry
as Jacob limping on his thigh at dawn still testifies.

7

Baruch Spinoza was anathematized
by his distant synagogue
for arguing
angels are hallucinations.

Hallucinations can deliver truths.

When the Almighty
hallucinates
creation gets started.

Often in howls and splinters.

Through infinite darkness.

In a Nocturne
the left hand
always plays broken chords.

8

After the Fall
after that confusion of tongues
lingua Adamica
(such a perfect set of words)
was spoken
only in corners of the Temple
beyond the Sanhedrin’s hearing
in dusty outrooms of a synagogue
officially closed until further notice
behind the bare stone altar
of clifftop chapels voided by the storm
of every creature but jackdaw and petrel
certain upper rooms in sundry bars
where acqua vita was sipped
by aficionado topers
whose glossolalia
chorused to a Pentecostal service
speaking all at once –
and every word intelligible –
Eve returned as summoned
to the shadowed chamber
ravishing as a day before her ruin
merged now with Lilith
even the Shekhinah
stripped at last of corruption’s wicked rags
beckoning.

9

At the top of Cader Idris
a man could speak
lingua Adamica
only while the moon presided.
One word of the hidden tongue
uttered at dawn
you would instantly become
dead or insane.

Each word in the sacred lexicon
luminous
bright enough to flare the darkness.

In any daylight
after Eden’s
such light collides
lux annihilating lumen
in nuclear controversy.

Two waves of light
meeting in Thomas Young’s experiment
produced from their engagement
darkness.

10

The first time He heard it
had to remind Himself:
it’s post-Babel now. That grand tower came crashing down.
9/11 of Genesis.

When He fashioned Adam He made
each sweet word of his language too.
Perfect Hebrew fit for flora and fauna
so that whenever Adam spotted
a whippoorwill a reindeer a Dartford Warbler
the word located itself
unhesitatingly on his tongue.
Each fluttering creature understood and sighed.

These new sounds were different.
Not ones He’d put
in Adam’s lexicon.
Gobsmacked bollocks pussy-whipped mortido.
Catsick.
Words no longer sacred
a linguistic DIY.
First mighty contravention of Eden’s Ursprache
another term omitted in the Hebrew primer.

Looked carefully at the speaker
who lacked Adam’s perfections.
Shorter stockier
wearing a leprous sheepskin coat
in need of a shave.
Eyes of Cain
less focused.

Never occurred to Him before:
confusio linguarum.
His own creatures
(however distant now)
degraded to the confines of their chosen language.

Babel.

11

And they built a Tower
whose top breached heaven
a ziggurat with a celestial apex
so astronomers could spy on stars
discover the godly secrets of chronology.

Spoke the pure tongue of mathematics.

Until He came down with His angels
scattered them over the face of the earth.

Contrived it so their formulae
all turned awry.

Discredited for ever more
their Paradise equations.

No one’s going back there in a hurry now
except those mighty squatters, Nephilim
no bailiff ever approaches.

Snakes. Snakes and trumpets.
Only time an animal ever spoke
in that big Book of mine
except for Balaam’s donkey –
though Solomon could speak the lingo
of the birds and taught the trick to Sheba.
Until Revelation when all of them spoke in flames.
Methylated spirit ignited by apocalypse.
A fire-swallower’s binge.
A furnace worker’s quencher.
Then the worst hangover history has ever known.

But I don’t remember ever writing that one.

12

They looked about them
this disconsolate couple
checking each new neighbourhood.

Another urban renewal scheme
another cité radieuse
on the Mesopotamian plain.

They’d seen the high-rise
apartments already
in a levantine prospectus.

The contrast.

No geodesic domes
no cantilevered bridges
on Eden’s greensward.

Not even a wigwam
or lean-to
until the bulldozers moved in.

Only then did Adam notice
an inch beneath her breath
an inch beneath her breasts
the volcano.
You needed a ventriloquist
to hear it roar.
Vulcanologists transcribed from the Chinese
to catch its biometre.

Part of Eve
never belonged to the Garden
hallucinating snakes at will.
My beloved therianthrope
half woman half serpent
when she hisses a sibilant strophe
each line divides one world from another.

Last sight of Eden for them both
when spring arrived at last
over the eastern reaches:
vernal for sure
but mildewed.

Adam looked around.

Noted a single snakeskin
shed
amongst broken eggshells
whose birds had never flown.

Clung on to a sliver of bark
smuggled out of the Garden
stripped from the gnosis tree at midnight.

The world’s first rune
scratched by his penknife upon it.

Still there in his pocket
when they descended to the grotto at Lascaux
hunting down the perfect basement flat

well out of earshot of thunder.

13

Desolation: of the moors in winter
lakesides thrashed by puritan storms

or gulls
howling their scorn for humankind
from scavenged beaches

might lead a fellow to conclude:

Mother Nature is murderous Medea
translated out of Greek once more.

A hawthorn points black gothic fingers
at a sky
voided of utopian clouds.

14

When primrose spoke to bullfrog
weasel to owl
in a primal esperanto
taught in no school

When water sang to atom
river to molecule
cumulus to desert
graveyard to birthing stool

When widow embraced beloved ghost
revenant warm as body buried
when waking was miracle
resurrection unhurried

Each dawn brought
a racket of mustering daisies
nightfall astral flares
stars unsheathing faces

Each word within the lexicon
rhymed with every other
as linguistic sister to sister
linguistic brother to brother.

15

William Blake was envisioned by text.
Angels stepped off Bible pages towards him.
When he read Milton’s Eden
he was there.

Milton blinded was envisioned by text too
who had no vision now but printed words
except the female form unshrouded
a text enfleshed
graspable in darkness.

Not wind
at midnight
but moonlight whispering.

Frederick Chopin heard this too.

Transcribed it for piano.

16

Shades trod warily
through the House of the Interpreter.

Respected such a mighty vision
brightness summoned from afar.

Some turned up for conversations
after millennia of silence

hungry for human words
as the shades in Hades had been once for blood.

Moses Elijah Milton
let themselves in through the open door

talked all night
while Catherine lay pondering alone in bed.

Entered through elms in a mist.
Departed through elms in a mist.

17

The print shows
an old man in a shell-strewn cavern
talking either to himself or God.
The white blank of his hair
a page returned to
after his words had been erased.
Creases on his face
map out a country
never visited except by him.

Some call him Mage.
That title ricochets from silence
falls down among other empty shells.

Each one contains a sea.
The dry sea of a desiccated mind
singing and churning for ever.

The itching heaving
terrible flesh of the sea.

18

When Time turned to Chronology
the Ancient’s cavern
advertised accommodation.
Single rooms for those involuntary celibates
philosophers.
Poets could oscillate between library and bar:
some books themselves intoxicate.
And the clockhands in a bar-room mirror
must be read with care
to make sure time’s
not running backwards
as you drain the glass.

19

Each night
I transfer all relevant data
in suitcase dreams.

I’ll be motoring along some sacred route
the Silk Road the Via Dolorosa
swerving past pilgrims
monks in saffron robes tinkling bells
ritual cohorts holding aloft a plaster victim
flagellants who seldom pause for interviews
I accelerate around them all
past mosque synagogue temple
labyrinth Aegean island
Café Voltaire
civic amenity centres
aromatherapy boutiques
towards the handsome far basilica
you know the one
(you’ve seen the photographs)
which keeps the ancient light
aglow in its crypt.

Light that’s been
there for two millennia
between a single ancient tombstone
and the fissured Roman pillars.
Light questioned and sequestered
queried by medieval inquisitors
challenged by the Butcher of Lyon
out here taking Leica snapshots on a family visit.
Men in suits from the Lubyanka
jackets bulging with outsize pistols
still stinking vividly of vodka and necessary murders.

No answer has it ever given
under whatever compulsion
even the instruments of the Passion.

It will permit a dancing child
to move inside it
clapping hands around
a grain of floating dust
crypt light sustains
through gravitation and felicity.

Silence: language of light
nothing so mute
as a photon’s invisible velocity.

I wake and fall back to the present.

The noise of time
translates itself always
into the future perfect.


LandC150aAlan Wall was born in Bradford, studied English at Oxford, and lives in North Wales. He has published six novels and three collections of poetry, including Doctor Placebo. Jacob, a book written in verse and prose, was shortlisted for the Hawthornden Prize. His work has been translated into ten languages. He has published essays and reviews in many different periodicals including the Guardian, Spectator, The Times, Jewish Quarterly, Leonardo, PN Review, London Magazine, The Reader and Agenda. He was Royal Literary Fund Fellow in Writing at Warwick University and Liverpool John Moores and is currently Professor of Writing and Literature at the University of Chester, a Fellow of the English Association, and a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review. His book Endtimes was published by Shearsman Books in 2013, and Badmouth, a novel, was published by Harbour Books in 2014. A collection of his essays, Labyrinths & Clues, has been published by Odd Volumes, The Fortnightly Review’s book imprint, along with a second collection, Walter Benjamin: An Arcade of Reflections. An archive of Alan Wall’s Fortnightly work is here.

Note: ‘Midrash’ was published in two instalments. Parts 1-3 were published in March 2018. Part 4 was published in September 2018.

 

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